CategoryLandmarks

October Ovies

  • Girlfight (2000): Beating out Gimme The Loot (2012) for the title of “oldest cheap indie movie about hard-luck kids of color in the outer boroughs getting into scrapes, anchored by a charismatic young woman lead, which I have been vaguely meaning to watch since seeing something about it a long time ago,” I’m pretty sure I saw the trailer for this before watching The Way of the Gun (2000) with Jon and Ken in college. And then in 2019 I biked around the corner and rented it! Hail and farewell, Movie Madness!

    I don’t know if I’d exactly recommend it but I really enjoyed it, because of who I am as a person, and because this is a movie someone really wanted to make with care and effort. It doesn’t escape the borders of the novice-boxer story template—it even has a love interest named Adrian—nor does it do justice to its side thread about family, domestic abuse and grief. And there’s a queerness that’s trying really hard to squeeze in around the edges of the whole thing, which the movie should have opened up to, and didn’t.

    But man, Michelle Rodriguez is one of the most magnetic screen performers on Earth, and gambling on her really paid off here. It was not only her first starring role, it was her first acting job ever! She’s perfect for it. There are some great character actors in here too; I immediately recognized Paul Calderón, who plays her dad, from his scene theft in Out of Sight (1998).

  • The Ice Storm (1998): I act like I’m a big Ang Lee fan, but the numbers say that I’ve seen two of his movies (Eat Drink Man Woman [1994] and The Incredible Hulk [2008]) once each and one of them (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon [2000]) like forty times. Having now finally watched this, his most heavily cast-stacked movie and among the most heavily so stacked movies ever, I think I can say: I still like Ang Lee, though I have little interest in his newer work. I still like Kevin Kline, too, who’s not exactly the lead but does really get to put his particular gift to use: he can convey masculine hollowness and fragility with unusual dimension, and with what seems like personal humility.

    Watching this beautifully made film made me a little depressed, because it uses its distance from a particular time and age cohort to be excoriating about the failures its subjects were too arrogant or afraid to anticipate. “Wow, what a huge failure that I did not see coming” is a consistent theme of my own reflective writing, so you can see how I might project a bit there. Anyway most of the clothes were accurately awful but I’d still wear everything Tobey Maguire does.

  • The Driver (1978): Watched while packing, which I think was a good choice. This is a movie where a man drives and is cool, and another man is mad about it. You can feel free to look at the boxes you’re packing during the driving/mad parts. I picked it up because I’d heard it referenced as an influence on Drive (2010), which I still love; I can see the connection now, but its plot was quite different, and actually a bit closer to that of Baby Driver (2017). With regard to that, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate Easter egg or not: in this movie, the protagonist (credited The Driver) and another character named The Kid are enemies. But in Drive, the protagonist goes by both those names.

  • The World’s End (2013): Speaking of Baby Driver, I watched this while packing too. It was the only Edgar Wright movie I hadn’t seen. There’s some meat here in terms of an attempt to thematically unify the three Cornetto movies, and a potential rabbit hole to go down about the influence they bear from the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy: the latter arose from an idea Douglas Adams had about finding a new way to destroy the world on the radio every week, and each Cornetto movie is about British culture in confrontation with the destruction of a way of life. But back at the beginning of that sentence when I said “meat,” I backspaced over “interesting stuff,” because I myself don’t find it that interesting and I couldn’t relate to this movie very much. It’s a nadir for Wright’s narrative space for women and I really don’t care about aggressive masculine drinking as an activity. I did at least enjoy being able to trace Wright’s technical advancement across the movies, because he really is getting more deft with each film. But oh boy, does the climax play differently after a certain 2016 referendum than it did before.

  • Avengers: Endgame (2019): I don’t have anything new to say here, I’m just glancing at an emergent theme among “put this on while packing” movies and then looking at myself a bit askance.

  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002): Watched with Kat, AFTER a round of packing. I’d never seen it before, as it came out after I’d given up on romantic comedies, and it was very sweet. It reminded me a lot of While You Were Sleeping (1995), the pinnacle of the genre, and not just in its Chicago setting! This is kind of about what that movie would have seemed like from the perspective of Bill Pullman’s character, in terms of the weight a large family brings to a budding relationship. In fact, this one plays a structural game with the genre: there’s no real will-they-won’t-they between the protagonist and the romantic interest, because all the plot tension is about whether she and her family will compromise for each other in the end.

    Anyway I liked it very much, but man, the editing of this movie is the goofiest part. It seemed at times like someone had just installed their first copy of Final Cut and wanted to try out every cut-transition effect in alphabetical order.

  • Grandmother’s Gold (2018): The first movie I watched as a resident of Chicago! Last year Kat introduced me to the extraordinary web series The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo, a delirious expression of pure auteur vision that an old tumblr friend described as “millennial opera.” That rings completely true while also underselling how weird and funny it is. Its creator, Brian Jordan Alvarez, has made many other videos, including a couple of negative-budget features like this one.

    The best part of the movie is that it’s mundane sci-fi about technological regression, which then sideslips into cosmological fantasy, all done in a blithe and goofy way. And the fact that it’s YouTube-exclusive leads to an interesting emergent property: Alvarez can put all the famous pop music he wants on his movie’s soundtrack without paying for it, and lean on the platform’s licensing to keep from getting sued or taken down. Overall this is a project for diehard fans, though.

September Cinema Soundoff

  • Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019): Watched with Kat under certain influences, which was not a bad way to do it. I do not recommend this movie if matters like “the scale and logic of these events and creatures makes no sense” will bother you, but it has fun with itself, and in all honesty, I thought it executed on its premise with some similar notes but better than A Wrinkle in Time (2018).
  • Duck Butter (2018): Also watched with Kat, who avowed that it was a decent depiction of lesbian dating on fast forward. It’s a very sexy (and also frank-to-the-point-of-unsexy) movie, and I enjoyed it! I got a little tired of the handheld camera and lens flare, a very pretty aesthetic that I prefer in measured doses. It’s always a treat to see Alia Shawkat and Mae Whitman hanging out, though. In what was either a goof or a very goofy in-joke, Kumail Nanjiani has a tiny role as an actor listed in the credits as “Jake” who… I think in the movie… then played a character named Kumail?
  • Magic Mike XXL (2015): Rewatch, and in a proper ecstatic group setting, for this is holy writ.
  • Bringing Up Baby (1938): Another movie I cannot recommend if “the logic of these creatures and events” etc etc, and I found it hard to buy any real chemistry between noted iconic beautiful bisexual people Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Also there’s a scene between an actual terrier and an actual leopard that I cannot imagine the forerunners of the ASPCA were happy about. Not my favorite screwball or my favorite Grant, though I did enjoy how much he looked like a 21st-century avant-garde fashion icon in the scene where he’s running around in jodhpurs and tails.
  • Mikey and Nicky (1976): Now, see, THERE is the darkness I could feel trying to creep in the seams of A New Leaf (1971). I can’t say I enjoyed watching a number of these scenes—the sexual coercion, physical abuse and race-baiting by the title characters is a hell of a choice to make—but then, this is a movie whose tagline was “don’t expect to like ’em.” Indeed I did not, tagline! But I did like seeing that May’s technical directing had advanced to a striking degree in the years between her first film and her third. The mini-doc on its creation on the Criterion disc stressed again and again that despite the fluid, improvised feeling of the rapport between John Cassavetes and Peter Falk (and May’s own background in improv), every line between them was in May’s script, and even their spontaneous interactions were under her direction. That is impressive, and almost as impressive is the story about how May got fired from her own movie but (saith Wikipedia) “succeeded in getting herself rehired by hiding two reels of the negative until the studio gave in.” I have no desire to watch this movie again, but if I had to choose between it and the following entry, I’d take this one.
  • Being There (1979): Man, this movie. It’s beautifully photographed and well acted and it’s not for me. I posted on Peach (yes, Peach) after I watched it that it seemed like the most old-school Republican movie I had ever seen, and got immediately questioned on that by my movie-watching friends. I will concede that director Hal Ashby and star Peter Sellers were by no means conservative voters. I didn’t miss the satire of the political and media classes woven through it, which I am certain would later influence Armando Iannucci: the shallow characters’ hunger for a novel face and twistable platitudes, and their projection of political guile or sexual prowess onto the blank canvas of a simple man.

    But the shape of the actual narrative is at odds with that intent. The protagonist—well, the focus character, this movie has no protagonist—is simultaneously a naif and a cypher who spends exactly one day outside the lap of megawealth in his life. But he’s not an antihero, and the camera loves him. A lot of the plot is taken up with mourning the passing of Melvyn Douglas’s titan of industry, and the mourning is impossible for me not to read as genuine! I think that in 1979, before Reagan, this movie would have carried a lot of nostalgia for an era of bipartisan harmony between rich white men. I placed it next to the preceding movie because I think “don’t expect to like ’em” applies again for me here. The suits Sellers wears here have aged beautifully, but that central takeaway has not.

  • Enter the Dragon (1973): Rewatch, as the conclusion to the Portland Intermittent Hong Kong Kung Fu Movie Club. When I last watched it in 2012, I was struck by how directly some of my old favorite nineties movies had lifted its scenes or sequences; this time I was struck by what a joy seems present behind the frame, despite the grim attitude of its story and its central character. In this case, neither all of the movie’s scenes nor all of its suits have aged well, but the sense that they knew they were making something special here persists.
  • Burning (2018): This is an adaptation of a Murakami short story, and I’m not particularly a Murakami fan; it is also a thriller that takes a solid eighty minutes—the length of some entire feature films—before the plot gets going. The full movie is 148 minutes long! But I was interested enough in the costuming and set dressing, which are meticulous and subtle, to stick with it and enjoy it. The core cast is fantastic, particularly Steven Yeun, and I was very glad that the frequently absent score kept from hammering home any of its ambiguous points.

    For another take on Murakami that I really enjoyed, which does use music but lets you interpret the visuals, I recommend LeVar Burton reading “The Second Bakery Attack.”

  • A Room with a View (1985): I’m pretty sure this is the first Merchant Ivory production I’ve watched, and I only sort of liked it. I have seen few movies about such a trivial and silly cast of characters, which is maybe part of the point, but I appreciated Maggie Smith and Judi Dench and Daniel Day-Lewis bringing some deft and unspoken dimension to their stock types. I was going to say “understated” there but then I backspaced over it because, you know, Daniel Day-Lewis. This movie has great costumes and some of the shots are just gorgeously composed, especially in the first act! But as far as rich people having flings in Italy go, I prefer The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). I don’t know why I’m imagining being forced to choose between movies so many times in this roundup. Maybe because I’m writing this during my last week of opportunity to get things from Movie Madness?
  • North by Northwest (1959): I don’t know if you’ve heard of this movie, but it’s pretty good. I didn’t enjoy Mad Men very much, but I think if I’d been familiar with Cary Grant’s character here, I might have felt a little more fondness for it. The thrill of a grasped reference goes both ways, too: when Hitchcock lingered on a long shot of Grant blinking down an empty stretch of road, I got to hammer my thigh and go “plane! plane! plane!” with great glee.

Speaking of a long journey that involves both Mount Rushmore and Chicago, this is the last roundup I will begin drafting in Portland! I am on track to get pretty few movies on the list in October, but I am hoping to follow this with at least one entry like those from my original road trip out west eleven and a half absurd years ago.

As long as I’m doing the “remember that I have a blog” thing this year

I’m writing here about something that happened last fall; at the time my feelings about it were varied and fraught. In the early days of this web site, when no one read it, I would write about events in my romantic life in a very granular way. As this web site approaches middle age, when no one reads it, I have learned by example to be reluctant about sharing the specific and intimate with a world where search engines are used to destroy human beings. But this feels worth recording.

I am in love with my partner Kat, and we’ve been together for over three years. We live in different cities and we date other people sometimes. Kat has a girlfriend named Sophie, a wonderful writer who wrote a wonderful book about dating people other than the (wonderful) person she married. As part of promoting the book, Sophie submitted a column about falling for Kat to Modern Love, and that is how I ended up with a cameo in the New York Times.

Kat and I were actually in New Orleans for Sophie and Luke’s wedding when the American paper of record published details about my relationship that would be readily identifiable to anyone who knows either of us. The wedding was beautiful, and reading the column the morning after was surreal. I was simultaneously very elated and very worried that unforeseen consequences of the publication would come back to hurt me or the people I love.

Such consequences have not yet come to pass. No one has shunned or shamed or exposed me, and my fear has receded, leaving the elation behind. I’m the happiest I have been in any relationship and, despite my worries about the world’s future, I’m excited about our future. And if I was going to pop up in the Sunday NYT somehow, this is pretty much the best way I can imagine that turning out.

I had a deep and personal talk with a dear friend, electrocuted dozens of middle schoolers for science, ate fresh bread and good cheese, played on swings and left treasures in a protogeocache, watched earnest college students (SO YOUNG) sing Doctor Horrible, ran a personal best 10k next to a pretty girl I hadn’t seen in years, cooked a giant lunch, took a walk in the sunshine, and spent hours at Planet Motherfucker eating incredible barbecue and laughing with smart people. I am very lucky. This was a good weekend.

The Great Brendan Hunt

Link to the big picture of my route.

So, when I got the aforementioned iPad at a delicious Moroccan dinner with Kara’s family, I thought I had had a lovely thirtieth birthday and now all that nonsense was over with. She and I had planned to go get lunch and see Meek’s Cutoff with our friend Arlie yesterday, and I thought that would be a neat Saturday. When we parked near the theater downtown, though, she kept insisting we had to go meet Arlie at Pioneer Square a few blocks away. Okay, I thought, whatever.

Except when we got there, I saw someone else I recognized. Hey neat, I thought, Kellie’s here too! And so are a lot of our other friends! Wow, this is a weird coincidence. Why are they holding signs and shouting at me?

Kara had been planning a giant pervasive game involving everyone we know–even utilizing international design services–for a month behind my back. I was completely unaware of this until well after she started explaining the rules. It was basically a version of Journey to the End of the Night, except during the day, and also the only person being chased was me. I had to run around, getting the signatures of people stationed at five different checkpoints on the “happy” side of my birthday card. Each checkpoint had a small safe zone around it, but outside those, everyone else would be chasing me down; if they tagged me they got to sign the “unhappy” side of the card, and the person who did so most often got a prize. (Spoilers: no he didn’t.)

Herein follows the narrative of my desperate attempt to evade my relentless, sadistic friends. You can follow along on the big map I drew. It’s color-coded by time: my route to the first checkpoint is in blue, then red, then green, then orange.

We started in Pioneer Square, where I took off in an attempt to get a head start before I had completely finished reading the handout. THIS WOULD BE IMPORTANT LATER. I circled around down off the bottom border of the map and made my way up along Naito Parkway to the first checkpoint, the fountain at Saturday Market. I got into the safe zone just ahead of Kellie, in plenty of time to get my card signed by Tony and Mandy, then successfully lost any pursuers in the crowd.

Unfortunately, in doing so, I also dropped the card and couldn’t find it even after repeatedly retracing my steps. I ended up paying three bucks at the Market for a little card with an engraving of a cat holding a fish on it just so I could continue the game. I headed up to a good place to take the measure of the second checkpoint, the Chinese Gardens, and even from blocks away I could see a cluster of chasers just waiting for me.

“Aha!” I thought, as the stealthy Matthew Schuler walked right up and tagged me from behind. “I have clearly tricked these poor saps into thinking I will hit each checkpoint in order, which is not required by these rules that I have not read all the way through! I’ll just skip up to checkpoint 4 now and double back after they get bored and wander off. Good thing I have limitless endurance and it is not hailing!”

I was wrong about many of these things.

I actually used the hail as cover to get into the fourth checkpoint, the Blue Room at Powell’s Books, cleverly evading the nonexistent people I was convinced were waiting at THAT entrance. I then wandered around the Blue Room for ten minutes, wondering where the hell my signatory was, before Susan finally deigned to arrive and inform me that the window for her checkpoint had yet to open.

“Window?” I said.

“Did you read the rules?” she said.

I had already missed my chance to hit checkpoint 2, by dint of sheer idiocy, but I had maybe enough time to still make it to checkpoint 3 if I really hustled. This is why the red segment on the map is the longest one! I did hustle, and made it to the ticketing counter at Portland Union Station with a minute to spare, though my desperate, wheezing jog meant that I had no time for stealth and got ambushed by a whole group of fuckers in the driveway.

I threw off most of them by sneaking out a side entrance and hiding behind a bus, but just as I was thinking I’d sneak up the stairs to the Broadway Bridge and take that back down into the Pearl, I saw Matt Nolan tripping eagerly down them. I was still very annoyed at having my tag-count increased fivefold at the entrance, and I decided right there that Matt was NOT going to get me. No way! ALL I HAD TO DO WAS RUN INFINITELY FAR.

You will note that after the point labelled “MATT ATTACK” on the map, the green line travels around to the far side of the bridge entrance ramp, then up it, across traffic, to the top, back down, and into the Post Office. I only got that far because Matt was lugging a giant bag and a belly full of Indian food, and because I hid in the passport office with my gut sucked in and the lady at the postal counter heeded my desperate finger-to-lips silence gesture. I probably should have gotten arrested.

Anyway I left the post office, now running late for my RETURN VISIT to checkpoint 4, and immediately got tagged by Arlie, plus Matt finally caught up just outside the door to Powell’s. So much for all that. Despite my pulling moves which might humbly be described as “Bourneian” within the confines of Powell’s, I got tagged repeatedly in there too before I finally got Susan to sign my stupid card, and Grace (whom I hadn’t even met before!) pursued me doggedly through Whole Foods and in front of more speeding cars. It was only then that it occurred to me that Kara really should have gotten everyone to sign a waiver.

I limped up across the overpass, got ambushed, and lost the card AGAIN, though this time when I backtracked I actually did find it. That didn’t keep me from getting tagged like a brick wall on a street named after a civil rights activist, particularly by Jonathan (whom I’d faked out earlier) and Matt, who were out for blood. Not even sneaking through a parking garage under a building could throw them off. I finally staggered up to the fifth checkpoint outside the stadium with minutes to spare, and everybody got Oreo cupcakes and went back to a bar for beers and war stories.

I measured that route against the scale on Google Maps and, by that rough math, I ran about fifty-six thousand kilometers altogether. I was tired and the leg I pulled last week was throbbing. I had also lost the game by every measure possible. It was awesome! Thanks to Laura, Amy, Arlie, Jonathan, Matt, Matthew, Matthew, Harry, Harry, Grace, John, Casey, Kim, Greg, Susan, Marie, Mandy, Tony, Jeremy, Holly, Kevan, anybody else I forgot, and especially Kara for pulling off the most ridiculous tailored birthday stunt I can imagine.

I am thirty now

Hand modeling by Kara.

There are two things in that picture. One of them is a FREAKING IPAD. Kara and her family got it for me for my birthday because they are ridiculous. I am still figuring out what it is for (besides giving me yet another platform on which to play Worms), but I already know that a) Flipboard is amazing and b) an iPad makes a much, much better laptop-analog than my poor phone. I’m typing this on it right now!

The other thing in the picture is a card from my Uncle John and Aunt Dana. I’ve told you about UJ’s birthday cards before, but this one is something else. You should click on this high-res version to get a better look.

Cross-section.

It’s covered in names from that thing I did for a while, which my aunt and uncle have always supported to an unwarranted degree. I can’t remember whether I told them I was bringing the project to a close, but I think I must have to get such a perfect gift! I’m framing it.

I started writing this on Friday evening, thinking that my awesome birthday was pretty much over, but I was mistaken. The entry immediately following this will elaborate.

Anacrusis

Anacrusis/Ommatidia is done! I started it in July of 2003, wrote 2003 stories, and now it is my 30th birthday and my present to myself is, I don’t have to do it anymore. (Landing on this date is only sort of a coincidence: I calculated the timing versus post count last summer, and you have probably noticed some bonus stories appearing on weekends since.)

The website won’t go away, but the every-weekday part of the project is over. You will probably see the occasional story pop up in future, if you keep the feed in your reader, and I’ll try to do a bit of curation and shuffling. I may end up keeping Anacrusis as the chronological record and Ommatidia as more of a categorized library. Or: not.

Now follows a list of things I got out of this deal.

  • About 266 subscribers on Google Reader, which is to say, by my estimate, 133 total readers
  • Some useful characters
  • A lot more confidence about my word choice
  • Very little confidence about my plotting
  • A great deal of evidence that I thought stupid things were clever at 1:30 in the morning
  • A name-drop in a doctoral dissertation that I’m not allowed to read
  • A gig writing for one of my favorite comic artists
  • Some really nice letters from cool people
  • Approximately 2003 fewer hours of free time

If you read and enjoyed this thing, thanks, and I’m glad. I owe a debt to Holly Gramazio, Sumana Harihareswara, Leonard Richardson, Andrew Cole, John Dixon, Stephen Heintz, William O’Neil, Kevan Davis, Ben Wray, Riana Pfefferkorn, Joe McDaldno, Tim Coe, Dave Michalak, Ben Carson, the indefatigable Geoffrey Pieper, Christin Clatterbuck, Kris Straub, Penny Arcade, and all the regulars from the LJ/FB feeds for putting the occasional gleam on my raw monument to doggedness. Many of these people have done me the additional kindness of writing guest stories! I’ll be posting them over the next couple of weeks.

I look forward to having my evenings back so I can devote more time to writing code and also homoerotic fanfiction about Inception characters. You think that’s a joke but it’s not.

It’s a threat.

Bruce

These days I carry around most of the information in the world in my pocket. Ten years ago I was still thrilled to have my dorm-room connection and a Dell desktop. But a few years before that, I didn’t have anything you could really call the Internet. Instead I had Bruce.

Bruce was my eldest cousin, fifteen years my senior, and I revered him. I was interested in sci-fi and fantasy books; Bruce knew about them. I liked board games; Bruce won them all. He had the sharpest wit I have ever encountered, but he was also unfailingly kind, and I never heard him use it to be cruel to anyone.

That included me, even at my most juvenile and annoying, when he spent a while living in our basement and attending classes at EKU. Remembering those days now, I would have been unable to stand me. Bruce listened, and laughed at my jokes, and gave me things.

That was another thing about him: he was never attached to material possessions, and generous with them almost to the point of carelessness. At one point he gave me what must have been nearly his entire collection of gaming books, obviously something in which he’d invested years and hundreds of dollars. He was offhand about it, as if he’d found an odd thing I might like in his pocket.

I treasured those books. For years I could reliably be found in a corner paging through a banged-up hardback with monsters on the cover, spending far more time reading them than actually playing, and blissful to be doing so. I’m sure I didn’t thank him enough, but I hope he saw how much they meant to me.

But if Bruce helped doom me to geekdom, he also rescued me. I was undersized for a long time, and at one point I lagged so far behind the curve that Mom was consulting growth-specialist doctors. When he heard about that, Bruce took a long look at me, then told me to finish my dinner every night instead of leaving most of it on the plate. I listened, and that was when my growth spurt finally hit.

It shames me to say that Bruce and I drifted apart. He waited most of his life for a kidney transplant, and got one, only to have his body reject it a few years later; his health was never the same after that, and his illness frightened me (I had another male role model who got very sick, you see). We had political differences, and the geographical distance between us grew as well. But his patience, kindness and generosity never changed.

I didn’t find the time to see Bruce on my most recent trip back to Kentucky, a few weeks ago, and I will spend the rest of my life regretting that.

When somebody you love dies you’re supposed to put together all the good words you can about him, and assemble an image for your memory that omits their shortcomings and sharp edges. But I can’t do that, because I see now that I was always the one coming up short. All my memories of my cousin are of a man who was better to me than I ever deserved.

I’m sorry, Bruce. I miss you.

I am a lot better at Javascript than I was a few months ago

I am, under normal circumstances, a very reliable exhibit of the human behavior pattern that goes “my stupid system sort of works so I will never change it.” But there are times–rare ones–when my desperation to avoid writing fiction actually overcomes my desperation to avoid writing code. Tonight, after three years of counting words for Anacrusis with a hacky PHP script I wrote in 2007, I finally reached one such point.

This is the word counter I’m going to use from here on out. Unlike the old script, which I was reluctant to publicize because it involved processing user-submitted text on the server side, this is all Javascript and it updates in real time. You can also click the little tab at the bottom if you want to see what the hell it thinks it’s doing.

I am posting this entry from my iPhone.

That is all.

© 2019 not falling down

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑