Hi. I relaunched Sext Exchange, my twitter game from 2014, as a game you can play by text message or Whatsapp. I am almost at the point where the source code is cleaned up to release, for once. It’s overengineered for what it does but I’m proud of it. Anyway, email or text me if you want the number. I love you.
- Fantasia (1940): Rewatch with chemical enhancement, but instead of having some sort of transcendent trip, I ended up really focusing and finding wonder in the interstitial animations. I knew the Nine Old Men (despite the obstacle of the sexism embedded in that nickname) did untouchable work on the fantasy sequences, but I can basically understand how you model, storyboard, keyframe and tween those drawings. I have no idea how they created a character out of a sound wave and drew it, with the technology available to them in the late 1930s. Maybe they rotoscoped an oscilloscope? Did they even have oscilloscopes in 1938?! I’m writing this on an airplane, so I can’t look it up now, and therefore will never know!
- High School Musical (2006): The second film in the Zac Efron Basketball Typecasting Saga. Kat, one of its proponents, could not explain to my satisfaction why—in a movie about hesitating to sing or disagreeing with an individual’s choice to sing—all humans expressed their emotions and plans by singing. There’s a heightened reality to teen movies as a genre, and there’s a heightened reality to musicals, and when they overlap… hmm, as I type this I remember that Kat also loves Josie and the Pussycats (2001), School of Rock (2003), Reefer Madness (2005), and the song and dance sequence in Love, Simon (2018). The puzzle begins to piece itself together…………
- Blindspotting (2018): Now, see, this I was not expecting to be a musical. But I think it is! Specifically, a clipping. musical. From the trailer and reviews, I thought I was in for a street-level psychological thriller about the personal effects of police violence; that’s in here, but it’s also a meditation about masculinity—both fragile and loving—and race and community and women’s ambitions and the aftermath of incarceration and a deep love mixed with sorrow for a gentrifying Oakland. And when its principals’ feelings build up too much, they burst out into rap, which sounds like Hamilton but is not at all like Hamilton, despite starring Daveed Diggs. Hip-hop contains multitudes, and the songs here are not excursions into heightened reality: they’re reflections of how the constraints of men’s roles and their role models carve narrow channels through which they can express things to each other. This wasn’t always an easy movie to watch, but I loved it.
- Candyman (1992): It’s been years since I read the stunning Chicago Reader story that unpacked the origins of this movie, and now I live here, in the birthplace of the Chicago Reader! So I was glad Kat’s roommate Lauren let me join their movie night and watch this. I enjoyed it and also did not think it lived up to its origin. Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd give it their all, though. Interesting trivia: this movie features prominent 90s singer-actor Vanessa Williams, who is not prominent 90s singer-actor Vanessa Williams.
- War Walk: The Star of Sky Riser (2019): You can say this shit, JJ, but you sure can’t write it. I tried to go into this with low expectations, and that might have worked if this hadn’t chosen the working title of Takesy-Backsies: The Motion Picture. There is evidence in this very blog of my strident defense of the quite-bad prequels, but this is the one that broke me. I was a Star Wars fan for twenty-five years. I guess now I’m free!
Do The Right Thing (1989): I started this movie, then watched the above movie, then finished this one; I’m deciding to count this one as “last” so I get to be glad I didn’t end the year on a disappointed note. I’d never seen a Spike Lee joint before! I am aware of criticism of his treatment of women on screen, and it wasn’t hard to see the evidence here: this is a story that ends up saying as much about the hazards of masculinity as it does about race, and I don’t know if that was intentional. But it’s richly photographed and full of great performances. I didn’t know it was Rosie Perez’s first movie! Her work in the opening sequence alone—set to “Fight the Power,” which I also didn’t know was written for this movie—is something that could have fed a full story. But she didn’t get even a slight story of her own here.
After we finished it, Kat pulled up Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and said “see?!” She was right to recognize it as an influence, and I wonder if it might have been used as a temp track. But the score of the movie (composed by Lee’s father!) is one of its best and strongest choices, lending an old-fashioned expansive feel to a story that takes place in one block on one day.
So the end count for 2019 was something in the hundred and teens; discounting rewatches, I hit exactly 101, which seems appropriate. I don’t think I’ll watch as many movies this year, in part because I want to replace that time with reading a freaking book or two. But I do plan to keep writing little things about the ones I watch, here or on my Letterboxd account. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you… at the mailbox where I get Netflix DVDs mailed to me now because I gave up on their streaming offerings entirely!
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  and The Incredible Hulk ) once each and one of them (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon ) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.