Round-up

Here we are, as fall has truly fallen in Brooklyn. Well, not truly, I suppose, but today I left the house in flip flops and shorts and was too cold, which is the first marker in a list of many that summer is winding down.

Another marker is the arrival of football season, which is weird as hell during these pandemic ties, and–like everything the NFL does–ethically suspect. However, I have to pick and choose which compromises I make in my life to keep from going insane, and continuing to watch a league that spits in the face of my values is one of those.

Anyway, it was the first sporting event I’ve watched from start to finish since COVID began, and it was a somewhat surreal experience. Nice Midwestern dad/new Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy was masked up the entire time, and other members of ground staff, coaching staff, and officiating staff were–sometimes remembering to put their masks over both nose and mouth. Sigh. Add the empty stands and piped-in “crowd” noise on top of that and you have a truly dystopian vision of bread and circus, but hey, it beats staring off into the middle distance as the world burns. The Cowboys may have lost (helped along by a ticky tack OPI call in the final minutes), but I liked what I saw out of McCarthy in this game. He has a confidence and natural ability for the game that Garrett always seemed to be faking, reflected in his risk tolerance, end-of-game clock management, and post-game interview. Excited to see how the team syncs up under him in the weeks to come.

On Sunday Dana and I drove out to Long Island for a weekend getaway. That’s right, we now have wheels, boom! I’m really enjoying having a car so far, but Winter has yet to roll around. Parking is not as much of a pain in the ass as I thought it would be, but that’s largely because none of the ASP regulations go into effect until 11am at the earliest. Since becoming a regular motorist, my rate of yelling at/flipping off other New Yorkers has risen by at least 500%. Oh well, guess I’m finally becoming a local as I close in on a decade in da Big Apple.

Caumsett State Park was our main attraction, and it was a really nice nature walk down a wooded trail to a great coastal forest beach. It was rocky and breezy, with only a few other people there, most of whom were fishermen. I could see it becoming a regular haunt, but perhaps later in the year when the bugs aren’t so bad. I got the shit bitten out of me and I’m still scratching at the welts days later. Oh well, that’s the great outdoors for ya. We then had a burger and beer in Huntington, which was the closest semi-large town, and then did an improvved tour of where my grandaddy grew up, which has been the source of some short-term confusion for me. My mom was always saying he grew up in Glen Head, but the church his parents were involved with (and that apparently has a parish hall named after them) is in Roslyn, which is very close by. To complicate things further, the estate where I believe he lived until he was about 10 (his father was a groundskeeper) is in Roslyn Harbor, but what little I’ve turned up on ancestry.com shows them appearing in census records from Oyster Bay!

Well, it turns out I’m less of an NYC metro area vet than I thought because apparently all of that actually makes sense…Roslyn, Roslyn Harbor, and Glen Head are all “villages” (really no larger than small neighborhoods) within the “town” of Oyster Bay, Long Island. Fun fact that Dana dug up, Stern’s department store, which was the chain of stores owned by my great grandaddy’s boss, Benjamin Stern, was formerly headquartered at what is now a Home Depot on 23rd Street in Manhattan, which should be a pretty familiar landmark/public restroom to a lot of New Yorkers. I always wondered what that building had been before, because the exterior is very grand/faux baroque, and the interior has a wild layout that is fairly atypical of most Home Depots; now I know this was a chic department store my grandaddy may have played around in from time to time as a young boy.

Quarantine Brain in the Time of (more) Police Brutality

Now that I’ve got your attention, SEX!

Sorry, couldn’t resist. In all honesty though, I think it’s fair to say that we’re all going a little bit nuts here in New York City, where the lib-cuck nanny state has taken away our constitutionally protected right to cough into each other’s mouths and die for no reason. On the other hand, if you talk to the right people, they’re convinced that anybody who has left their house in the past 5 months is basically complicit in the genociding of the disabled and elderly. I feel queasy even typing that last sentence, lest I be mistaken for one of those “it’s not that big of a deal” chuckleheads that have infected (topical synonyms!) my home state of Texas.

I have gotten a little more bolder in recent weeks, it’s true. I went to a few protests, I’ve been riding CitiBikes around a lot, going to parks, I’ve even ventured into a few stores. I always mask up, sanitize and wash my hands frequently, and try to socially distance as best I can. After getting negative results for both COVID and Antibodies, I’m at least confident that I’m on the right track as far as my risk tolerance goes, and I take special care to give a wide berth to older people (though they don’t always make it easy). New York seems to be on the right track as well. As of today, we’ve entered phase II, which means non-essential businesses are open with limited capacity, and bars and restaurants are open for outdoor customers. While it’s true that some people are taking this as a cue that they shouldn’t worry about COVID at all anymore, I’ve found those to be few and far between here in Brooklyn.

My family lives in Dallas and Austin, respectively. Though people like to group these cities as polar opposites on the political spectrum, they’re both fairly liberal compared to the rest of the state. It’s been a back-and-forth saga between the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott—or as my brother likes to call him, Roller Pig—and its citizens, whom he is doing his level best to kill in ritual sacrifice to  “the economy.” Like most GOP strongholds, Abbott was reluctant to cave in to any of this scientific ballyhoo that suggested big daddy Trump was anything less than a genius, and so refused to institute statewide lockdowns, instead “leaving it up to counties,” which is basically the same as doing nothing. As non-insane Texans began to pass their own local ordinances/private policies about social distancing and face coverings, Abbott and his Wormtongue, Bathroom Warrior Extraordinaire Ken Paxton actually had the gall to threaten folks who exercised their constitutionally protected right to not die of preventable disease with legal action. Now, as Texas closes in on a New York-esque spike of infections, the governor has actually had to back off that death-cult stance. The question remains: when will Greg Abbott finally stand up for Texas?

As you can imagine, this has led to a lot of anxiety for my parents, brother, and sister-in-law, who have basically been treated like they are insane for wearing masks in public and observing even the most rudimentary of precautions. It’s also led to a lot of concern for me, because I haven’t seen any of them since well before COVID quarantine, and my parents are both over the age of 70, my mother with several medical conditions that put her at even greater risk. I’ve mostly been able to compartmentalize these worries and anxieties, aided by the fact that Texas wasn’t getting the worst of it, and that my family seemed to all be on the same page as far as risk assessment and not believing the GOP playbook, despite my folks both being lifelong Republicans. Well, now we’re several months into quarantine, and the picture has changed. NYC and Texas are more or less switching places, but my folks have been cooped up more than usual in this time, given their risk status, and the diligence is beginning to fade. My sister-in-law is now pulling double duty both as a doctor on the front lines of this crisis and as an enforcer of what should be common sense amongst her loved ones. I can’t imagine it’s been easy.

As that first line of defense against COVID anxiety has broken, so too has the second; it was only a matter of time before even my boring-ass, suburban, WASP family succumbed to the brain virus that all boomers eventually succumb to, and began spreading easily identifiable misinformation. I just wish it hadn’t happened when the stakes were so high. My aunt decided late on the evening of Father’s Day was a great time to share some “information” she had received from my uncle’s “doctor” (note: acupuncturists are not doctors.) The pre-forward text from her read “Just an FYI,” which understated the horrors of CHUD chicanery that lay lurking within the body of the e-mail. This acupuncturist has a website, that, along with the fact that they passed along this bullshit chain letter, seems to point to an aging wine mom turned fake hippy-dippy “natural medicine” enthusiast…the kind of person who says “Namaste” but also calls the cops whenever she sees black people in her neighborhood and also isn’t allowed at Thanksgiving anymore because she won’t stop bringing up Antivaxx talking points.

ANYHOW, the chain text, which I can only assume was passed onto her by an endless chain of other mush-for-brains and not written by anybody she knows directly, is supposedly authored by somebody who is “OSHA certified” (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean) and is basically a screed against masks. Not the usual MUH FREEDOM anti-mask tirades, but a new, more insidious form of mask politicization that claims the best kinds of masks (N95, etc) actually don’t do anything to protect you against the virus and that some of the more improvised options (cloth masks, t-shirts, bandanas) are actually WORSE than going without a mask at all. I won’t go into details about the wealth of bullshit contained in this email, but suffice it to say I managed to debunk the “OSHA expert’s” assertions concerning OSHA and the CDC with about 2 minutes of googling. In short, OSHA recommends workplace compliance with CDC regulations, including face coverings for all employees, and that fraudster and the dope Karen who are propagating his bullshit are full of it.

Speaking of bullshit, the furor in New York has died down a little as curfew has been lifted by the reliably dumb DeBlasio, cops seem to have stopped outright attempting to murder protesters—or they’re at least being smarter about not getting caught—and the entire movement has gotten an injection of life and hope with the charges brought against the officers who murdered or were otherwise complicit in the murder of George Flloyd. Multiple protests are still happening across all five boroughs, despite the pleas from our “I’m-slightly-less-of-a-boob-than-DeBlasio” governor for everybody to pack it in, because systemic racism and state sponsored murder have apparently been solved forever. As the tide of public opinion across the country (and definitely New York) has turned against the police for all but the most hopelessly right-wing of mouth-breathers, cops are having their little fee-fees hurt, and have resorted to an old page in the Copaganda playbook: the crisis actor special.

You see, despite what every dumbass with a Blue Lives Matter t-shirt and/or Punisher logo Glock loves to tell you, most cops will go through their entire careers doing nothing but sitting in their cars, eating fast food, writing tickets, and fucking with teenagers and/or minorities to satisfy the superiority complexes that drove them into being cops in the first place. Faced with the gnawing realization that their jobs aren’t in fact the last line between “real” Americans and hordes of unwashed, gender-fluid Antifa super soldiers, the past week has seen an  uptick in a laughably naked and desperate attempt by police to make it seem as though the guys with guns who regularly slaughter citizens for no reason are in fact, the real victims.

Here in NYC a few boys in blue were busy keeping our city streets safe by stuffing their faces with milkshakes, when—in a turn of events that surely nobody ever could have seen coming—they felt a little queasy. What was almost certainly nothing more serious than a tummyache resulted in the officers being “treated” at a nearby hospital  on suspicion of “poisoning,” and TWO DOZEN cops clogging up the Shake Shack in question to interrogate the staff (who were almost certainly Black or Latino) for hours on end. Wouldn’t you know it, no criminal activity was revealed, and it turns out that the most fearless men to ever strut around the five boroughs are actually gigantic babies who definitely shouldn’t be trusted with firearms.

Even more laughable than this was “McMuffin Karen,” an officer in Georgia who had just gotten off a long shift ordered some breakfast for pickup at a local McDonald’s, and then lost her fucking mind when she had to wait for it, breaking down into tears because she was “afraid people were going to mess with her food.” In addition to highlighting the strange mental instability and hair-trigger emotions that seems to be part and parcel of being a police officer these days, this incident also highlights just how out of touch and entitled police are, as any halfway reasonable person would think nothing of having to wait a while at a fast food restaurant, one of the most universal experiences in American culture. Stuff like this only drives home the point that police are not to be reasoned with, reformed, or viewed as amenable to “dialogue” and “change.” They are hopelessly self-centered, violent, unstable, and fundamentally cruel people who break down into tears at the slightest perceived challenge to their absolute authority, which apparently includes getting sick from eating too much ice cream and having to wait during a morning breakfast rush.

In the interest of “both sides” (jk) I can’t pretend that this sort of “I am the protagonist of my own reality” magical thinking is limited to cops and their bootlicking supporters. A new conspiracy theory has taken social media by storm, and…hoo boy, it’s a doozy. One of the many things I like to poke fun at Northeastern libs for is their shrieking aversion to fireworks. Every year, when summer rolls around,  Twitter and Facebook fill up with post after post of people who basically think that teenagers setting off  a roll of black cats is tantamount to running down the streets waving a gun around. It’s a truly unhinged level of psychosis that defies human imagination. I remember once asking my girlfriend and her college friend if they grew up doing fireworks around the 4th of July, and the shock and barely constrained contempt that came out of the friend’s face and voice was astounding. “No, that’s illegal.” She said gravely.

Anywho, that’s only part of the story when it comes to this tinfoil hat conspiracy, that asserts Brooklyn and other places around the US have seen spikes in civilian fireworks-related tomfoolery in the past month or so. I personally haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, but I do live in an exceedingly white, very gentrified neighborhood. All kinds of people love to blow up small pieces of their country around this time, of course, but throughout Brooklyn (and Los Angeles) a disproportionate number of kids making shit go boom are teenagers of color, and the greatest concentration of more-annoying-than-usual explosions seems centered in Black and Latino neighborhoods. That said, there is apparently data to back this up: fireworks retailers report that their sales on the year are up (I believe the figure quoted in one article was around 15%), and several news sources have claimed an astonishing uptick in the amount of fireworks-related complaints lodged in the past several weeks.

So what’s going on here? Well…according to a pretty vocal subset of folks on twitter and Reddit…(deep breath) cops and/or the government/CIA are either A)intentionally flooding black and brown communities with fireworks to exhaust residents and protesters B)actually setting off the fireworks in these neighborhoods themselves or C) doing either A or B as a method of “getting people used to noise and pops” in order to more easily begin mowing people down with live rounds.

…I’m not kidding, people actually believe this. A quick scroll through the greatest hits on Twitter reminded me why I’m not on that platform anymore, as it was clear that anybody who said “c’mon, this is fucking crazy,” was told they were “gaslighting” BIPOC and being “dismissive.” I’ve come to believe that the state and the police are capable of just about anything, but…c’mon, this is fucking crazy.

It seems much more likely that several factors are at work here. First, people, especially teenagers with no job or school, are stuck at home and bored as hell. Second, fireworks retailers have introduced new online ordering that makes it easier than ever to scoop ’em up. Third, it seems likely, though I haven’t verified this, that those same retailers probably have a surplus of product due to cancelled public and professional shows, and are trying to sell off their stock at a discount. Fourth, people who hate fireworks are stuck at home more, and thus more likely to a)notice them and b)complain about them, hence the dramatic uptick in calls and complaints. The only part of the “NYPD/FDNY are trying to terrorize Black people via fireworks” conspiracy that I buy is that the cops probably aren’t bothering to respond  to complaints about illegal fireworks as retaliation against the citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve. After all, those citizens said cops shouldn’t be allowed to murder them, it only stands to reason that NYPD should refuse to do their jobs.

Hoo boy, that’s all for now I think.

Masks Off

In the world of online leftism, “mask off” is a term that’s used to describe a creeping trend amongst the more conservative-minded on the right and the left.  Pre-2016, back when there  was still a general consensus around what constituted “norms,”  right-of-center politicians and commentators cushioned their socially abhorrent ideas with flowery language and doublespeak that catered to those who might harbor similar views deep down, but found a naked appeal to their baser political instincts unseemly. Folks like Frank Luntz made careers out of this, finding new and improved ways to sell austerity and neo-feudalism to rich people who’d like to think of themselves not as elites, but common people who worked very hard. This is “the mask,” a thin veneer of social acceptability and civility with which to dress up one’s selfish and evil ideology so as to fly under the radar of those obsessed with manners and optics.

“Mask off,” then, describes the exact opposite phenomenon. Punching the pedal of authoritarian, right-wing hatred to the floor and daring anybody to get in your way. This sort of sneering contempt for the vulnerable and oppressed in America had purchase in some pockets of the electorate before Trump (read: the Tea Party,) but the 2016 squeaker sent up a flare; enough people in this country were just as hateful, petty, and vindictive as the leaders they elected to represent them. Who knew? In most pockets of American conservatism, there is barely any attempt to hide the naked corruption and looting of the country at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable. Supreme Court justice seats are stolen in broad daylight, elections math doesn’t add up and those in charge of overseeing these things shrug their shoulders. Most notably, a global pandemic threatens to destroy civilization as we know it and those in charge say, in no uncertain terms, that the poor, sick, and elderly should be happy to die if it means our (perfectly robust and functioning) capitalist order can keep chugging along.

Which brings us to the current moment concerning anti-police protests that have rocked New York City, the response from NYPD, and the indifference—or at least ambivalence—of the folks who are supposedly watching the watchmen. They’ve all gone mask off. In the case of the NYPD, both literally and figuratively. Much well-deserved vitriol has been directed at officers who seem to make a political point out of refusing to wear masks at protests, inside of  businesses, and other places where they have been directed by the city and state government to do so. The same occupying paramilitary force that terrorized waves of Black and Brown people for inadequate social distancing in the early days of lockdown are now proudly interacting with the public every day, sometimes in close quarters, with almost no masks or distancing to be found. This despite the fact that NYPD, in predictable self-pitying fashion, consistently wail about how many officers have fallen sick to COVID-19. By going “mask off”  in the physical sense, these cops are also going mask off in the figurative sense. Make no mistakes, the police aren’t just macho and stupid (though they certainly are that,) they’re also using this moment to try and reassert their authority and perceived extra-legal status at every possible turn. The message is clear: NYPD are above the law, and rather than being protectors and servants of the public, they view themselves as soldiers in a war for control of the city. Does it belong to us, or does it belong to them? The countless scores of American citizens (the vast majority of them non-white) who have been murdered by police forces across the country for “resisting arrest” speaks to the true ethos of every police department: obey, or else.

And what do our elected officials, who supposedly oversee and manage these thugs, have to say for themselves? Next to nothing. More attention and outrage came out of the mayor’s office in condemnation of a too-crowded Hasidic funeral than against a police force that continue to paint themselves as victims while they run over peaceful protesters with squad cars, launch tear gas into crowds of innocent people with nowhere to go, and storm apartment buildings in Black neighborhoods for the crime of grilling too late at night. Against this bloodthirst, jackbooted racism and fascist travesty, Bill De Blasio will only shrug his shoulders, suggest that what people can see with their own eyes isn’t really happening, and sputter out a pathetic, simpering, Trump-esque “Both Sides” apologia that attempts to make protesters culpable for their own maiming. Governor Cuomo, enjoying his moment in the sun as a civil servant who has done a barely adequate job in the face of Coronavirus, is no better, taking the opportunity to further his personal vendetta with DeBlasio despite having a more-or-less identical stance on the police-incited violence. Both of these feckless imbeciles have made excuses for the police and their actions, and when asked directly about NYPD’s flagrant flouting of Cuomo’s executive order regarding face coverings in public, only wag their fingers and agree the cops are being very naughty, but what’s to be done?

No discipline, no oversight, no enforcement, nothing to address the decades-long rot that is the NYPD and their blatant contempt for the people who pay their salaries. It’s clear which side Cuomo’s bread is buttered on, as a 2024 Presidential run seems all but assured at this point, and lord knows you can’t win a general election if the word gets out that you’re anti-cop. DeBlasio is a stranger case, since it’s his last term for the next few cycles under New York State law, and NYPD have had nothing but venom and disrespect for the man who never met a center lane he didn’t like. This hapless buffoon continues to try and court the respect of cops who publicized information about his own daughter’s arrest at protests, and, in more simpler times, “joked” about murdering his family in internal communications.

“Masks off,” indeed. There can be no doubt at this point that the police, and those who are supposedly in charge of policing the police, have no sense of duty or obligation to the people who put them into their positions of extreme privilege and authority in the first place. They do not have an ounce of respect between them for the health, well-being, or safety of the people of New York, and would rather see the city burn to the ground than admit that NYPD, and every other major police department along with it, have ceased to exist as administrators of public safety and have instead reinvented themselves as occupying armies that serve at the pleasure of the rich and powerful. The only solution to this problem lies not in reform, but in defunding, gutting, and overhaul. Our idea of what policing means needs to be dismantled and rebuilt from its foundations. This is not a renovation job, it’s a demolition, and anybody who is still inside the building when the people tear it down will suffer the consequences.

Doldrums

I’ve been better, but I’ve been a lot, lot worse.

First up: politics. Not feeling great right now! I know there’s still plenty of delegates up for grabs, but even if Sanders squeaks out a plurality of delegates, I think we’re going to have a contested convention that almost surely ends with…*sigh* Joe fuckin’ Biden as the nominee. Honestly, I keep thinking I’m jaded enough to not be thrown by the baffling political decisions people make, but I the Democratic establishment keeps surprising me. The resurrection of creepy Joe starts out strange and gets more and more depressing the more you think about it. Why the fuck would anybody want this sack of sentient bones to run against Trump?  He’s got all the same baggage HillDawg had, but he’s sundowning at an alarming rate, and his corruption problems are even more severe. Outside of electability issues, his policies are dogshit. He’s a dinosaur of the right-wing of the party, a Republican lite. If/when this pudding-brain gets nominated, we’re going to see record-low turnout for dems, because plenty of progressive voters, myself included, did not sign up for this shit, and we’re not going to roll over and play dead for the DNC just because they snapped their fingers.

So why coalesce around old Joe? Well, it’s possible that the DNC really thinks he has a shot at beating Trump, but I think it’s more likely that most of the party faithful are actually the dreaded “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” types you run into so much at terrible parties. Long story short, it’s all about greed, and the internalized “Protestant work ethic” that’s infected so much of American society for so long. Deep down, the folks pulling the strings at the DNC and the voters lapping up their bullshit don’t want their taxes raised and/or they think poor people have it coming. Setting up a loser like Biden as the nom, especially with a snake like Warren playing spoiler gives all the usual suspects a convenient excuse to fall back on when Biden inevitably eats shit; it’s all the Bernie Bros’ fault! As though we should be grateful for the opportunity to get rat-fucked out of a true progressive agenda because somebody who is mumbling “I’m not Trump!” at campaign stops claims he can bring us back to the status quo of 2015. Goodie!

In other news, I went to a doc’s office for an EKG today (technically yesterday now, I suppose). It was supposed to be routine. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was around 7 years old, and was on Ritalin for most of my childhood. That tapered off as I got into high school and I pretty much stopped taking it completely by the time I was midway through college. Now I’m 34, but a variety of things that have come up in my personal and professional life have me considering medication once again. My therapist has been quite open to the idea, but wanted me to get an EKG before she put me on any ADHD medications. Anyway, I went in for the thing, and was surprised to hear from the nice old Polish doctor that I had an “abnormality” in my test results. She was pretty kind and reassuring, saying that it was nothing to be worried about, but also said I needed to see a cardiologist before I went on any ADHD medication. Needless to say, this was not what I wanted to hear. I’ve been fairly depressed about my body/fitness lately, and have been on a steady weight-lifting regimen, which has made me feel a lot better physically, but I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been now, and I suspect some of whatever is showing up on this EKG is due to my lifestyle and diet. I like eating shitty food, and I like drinking, and I loathe aerobic exercise…so I guess something’s gotta give. I have an appointment with a cardiologist on Monday, so we’ll see what’s up then.

Speaking of medical issues…Coronavirus, let’s talk about it. I keep going back and forth on whether or not I’m freaking out just enough, under-freaking out, or over-freaking out. My initial reactions were that this was going to be another SARS type thing that blew over fairly quickly, but it seems to be lingering in the media. I still haven’t seen much concrete evidence that this is going to be particularly dangerous for anybody but the elderly and immuno-compromised, but I guess all that remains to be seen. More to the point, March 2nd was Texas Independence Day, heretofore known as the Day I Made Some Guy At A Bar So Mad He Stormed Out, and this was over the disease nobody can stop talking about.

A little background: I showed up a little early for celebratory drinks for the Great Republic a little early, and as I was nursing a Lone Star, found myself half-eavesdropping on a conversation happening at the end of the bar. I could barely make out some guy saying *something* about the dreaded plague, but didn’t quite catch it. Somehow the talk shifted to Amazon moving into New York, and the successful effort to block their new HQ location and tax breaks. The guy who didn’t seem to know anybody else but was loudly talking to everybody (there’s always one) was saying this was a bad thing, for some reason. With the patience of a saint, other dude at the bar explained that he was from Seattle, and went on to detail very specific ways Amazon’s base on the West Coast has been awful for working class people and priced them out of the city proper. The annoying guy responded with some nonsensical shit about how if they had come to NYC “we would have forced them to donate to nonprofits” (???) I began to text James about overhearing this guff, but he walked in a few seconds later.

We drank and chatted for a while, and then James had the bartender put on Monday Night Raw. I’m not extremely knowledgable about wrasslin’ but I do enjoy it from time to time, especially watching with my old roommate who has an encyclopedic knowledge and is always eager to catch a n00b like me up to speed. Anyways, after a while of watching Raw, annoying guy comes over and asks if he can join. I haven’t yet told James about the conversation I overheard, but figure the guy’s harmless, and for the most part he is. We have a nice chat while watching flyers from the top rope and RKOs for a while, annoying guy came back from the bathroom and did a thing I’ve literally only seen on TV. “Wuhan? Did you guys say Wuhan?” before launching into his spiel about Coronavirus. James and I laughed and I playfully called him out on “mishearing” what we were saying, but was game to talk about it. Unfortunately, it became clear after a while that he had some pretty…unorthodox views on the subject. James and I were both expressing a shared cautious optimism about the whole thing, only in the sense that the prevailing twitterverse attitude that this was the end times plague we’ve all been waiting for might be slightly exaggerated. Annoying guy was having none of it, claiming, repeatedly, that “we’ll all be dead in three weeks.” This was one of those arguments when the other person is insisting on trying to own you with “facts and logic” but doesn’t really understand how numbers work, constantly making huge leaps in logic to feed into his belief that once the virus hit NYC “for real” it was going to be a bloodbath. I said that wasn’t really born out by the data so far, as I understood it, and he continued to talk at us for a long time.

Eventually, it started to exhaust me. I have very little patience for doom ‘n’ gloom nihilism these days, and suggested that if he was so preoccupied with his own death he might consider talking to  a mental health professional rather than strangers in a bar. I further said that being blackpilled doesn’t really do anybody much good, because we’re all going to be here ten, fifty, however many years from now, and there’s work to be done to make the world better rather than pretending that it’s all going to crash down in a matter of days. For some reason, this made him incredibly angry, and he started aggressively asking me over and over again what *I* was doing to make  the world better. A little caught off guard, I offered that I had donated a lot to the Sanders campaign and textbanked. “What else?” he demanded, in a tone that let me know he was about to logic-fuck me. “Yeah, I’m not doing this,” I said, and signaled with body language that I was done with the conversation. “Yeah that’s what I thought, that’s what I thought,” he spat at me before storming out of the bar in a huff.

I honestly didn’t know I had it in me!

Oscars Round-Up

As somebody who has long considered himself to be in a dysfunctional relationship with the Academy Awards, it pains me to say: I’m back on my bullshit. This year, without  even really making any special effort to do so, I’ve seen all of the nominees for Best Picture. I surrender my Oscar-hating credentials to nobody, but I have to say, this is one of the first years in which I’m not extraordinarily outraged by a decent chunk of the nominees. Of course, that’s mostly because I’m outraged at the shut-out of Uncut Gems, but that’s an entirely different post.

 

Without further ado, a run-down, dare I say, some CAPSULE REVIEWS of each Best Picture nominee, presented in ascending order of personal preference:

 

Jojo Rabbit

Directed by Taika Waititi

 

Ugh. I may have to walk back my claim of not being “outraged” a little bit. I guess I’m not mad, I’m just…disappointed. Full disclosure of biases here: I kind of loathe Taika Waititi. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and all, and I’m glad he’s a new face making original films in a landscape so bereft of them, but…sigh. I haven’t seen Hunt For the Wilderpeople (some Taika-stan on twitter threw this in my face as  though it were some ancient, obscure lost film that nobody’s ever heard of), but Thor: Ragnaraok is easily one of the most tedious and annoying films in an entire universe of similarly tedious and annoying films. Waititi’s sense of humor is gratingly childish, screamingly unfunny, and brings to mind the worst kind of Redditors in its arrogant self-satisfaction. ZOMG GUYS HE  MADE A COMEDY ABOUT NAZIS CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!?!? Snore.

 

A lot of hay has been made on film twitter lately concerning Jojo Rabbit and its humanization of Nazis, as the film seems to put forth the theory that those who are radicalized into right-wing death cults can be saved, and should be applauded for doing so. That’s not an especially appealing premise to me personally, but it’s made all the worse because Jojo Rabbit is just as grating and eye-roll worthy as the director’s previous outing. Hey, at least he managed to sandwich this in between Disney movies! Anyhow, once the initial “omg twee Nazis lol” thrill fades, there’s very little else to like about Jojo, until the third act, when Waititi absolutely bows the opportunity to turn everything on its head by showing the horrors and atrocities of the Nazi regime and treating its collaborators with unflinching judgement, but our man isn’t interested in anything that deep or cutting. Why not? It’s just about the fuckin’ holocaust, after all. That last scene with the dancing…I just…I can’t.

 

Marriage Story

Directed  by Noah Baumbach

 

We’re still firmly in “ugh” territory for now, though now the muck’s only up to our chests instead of our eyeballs. The smarmy David Spade character in me wants to say I liked this movie better when it was called The Squid and the Whale.  That may seem like a simplistic read, but a semi-autobiographical movie about Baumbach as a child of divorce is much more interesting and far less irritating than Baumbach making a movie about himself in the Jeff Daniels role. Marriage Story isn’t a terrible movie, it just doesn’t really amount to much, mainly because it’s so heavily centered around characters (I think) we’re supposed to love, who are boring, irritating, and have zero chemistry with one another. When this movie hit, everybody was talking about the infamous “wall punching” scene in breathless tones. I watched the movie, steeling myself for trauma (I don’t handle interpersonal toxicity well in movies), but I just thought it was pretty overwrought and silly. Honestly, it made me feel like Noah Baumbach has never actually been in a nasty fight with anybody he loved.

 

Speaking of things Noah Baumbach doesn’t know about, I’m not sure he knows the ages of his own children. That’s the only possible explanation I can come up with for some of the insane details buried within the stand-in son character in Marriage Story, who is eight years old but needs a car seat, isn’t 100% toilet-trained, and can’t read. Sorry Noah, either you have no idea how old your kid is, or they’re one of those Brooklyn weirdo kids (hair down to ankles, named Leviticus, favorite activity is eating rice cakes while reading Chomsky for kids).

 

Anyways, I often dry-heave when people object to a movie because there’s “nobody to root for,” but in this case  Baumbach builds the entire premise of his film around the idea that divorce is a messy and awful that happens to people with the best of intentions, and that we all can come away from it as changed, and hopefully better people. But Driver and Johannsson do little to communicate the goodness implied by such a reading, nor does Baumbach ever do much to make us think these people ever liked or even cared much at all about one another. It’s a flat, unremarkable story about the drama in the business of being alive and falling in and out of love, but Baumbach seems to think there’s a drama inherent in the telling. He’s sadly mistaken, in my opinion.

 

Joker

Directed by Todd Phillips

 

The hits start comin’ and they don’t stop comin’. What else is to be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said to death? I count myself firmly in the “Joker Centrist” camp. The movie is entertaining enough, I’m a sucker for the Batman universe, and I like the Joker a lot. Joaquin Phoenix turns in an incredible performance as sad sack Arthur Fleck, a mentally unstable, shakily employed man who aspires to be a comedian. In a lot of ways, Joker is back to basics for Gotham, transposing the comic book universe onto a slice of gritty nostalgia for the New York of Death Wish and Taxi Driver. As many have pointed out, Joker seems to borrow liberally from both movies, as well as King of Comedy, but most of the mainstream press coverage leading up  to and after the film’s release involve lots of fretting and hand-wringing, if not outright finger-wagging that a movie about a down-and-out mentally ill man could be interpreted as a paen to the would-be Incel massacres.

 

That concern is plainly hogwash, as Joker is a film about a man who feels left behind by society and gradually comes to focus his resentment on an appropriate target: the aristocratic Wayne family, as well as the less-deserving talk show host he idolizes, who mocks him on live TV at Fleck’s nadir. Never does Fleck shift his anger towards minorities or women, who are the universal targets of the abhorrent individuals the anti-Joker crowd claims will be emboldened by this film.

 

The problem with Joker is that Phillips has less insight into the themes his movie purports to deal in, and he’s not terribly interested (or perhaps not up to the task) of wrestling with them in any meaningful way. It’s remarkable and telling that a movie like Joker has gotten the widespread commercial appeal and critical recognition that it has, considering the subject matter, but it feels like a wasted opportunity in the hands of the guy who brought us the hard-hitting social commentary of The Hangover.

 

Little  Women

 

OK, we’re safely out of the woods now. Take a deep breath, and relax. Wait, who’s that, in the distance, is it…BOB ODENKIRK?!?!?

 

So aside from having the most delightful bit part of any movie this season, Greta Gerwig’s take on Little Women does interesting work with the source material, couching the whole thing in a sort of meta-narrative that centers the agency of all the women involved, both fictional and “real.” A few Academy dunder-heads have admitted on voting exit surveys that they got confused by the time jumps, which is proof that we shouldn’t be giving any sort of critical award power to folks who can’t stay off their phones for a solid two hours at a time, particularly when those folks work in the MOVIE BUSINESS.

 

Ahem Anyways, I have nothing particularly negative to say about Little Women. Oh wait, actually, Emma Watson is a bad actress, and that’s never been made clearer than by sticking her next to Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Laura Dern for two hours. Whew, she is awful. Just absolutely wooden, behaving at times like an animated porcelain doll. It’s hard to tell if she was always this bad and used her young age as a cover, but man, she is following the trajectory of a Heisman-winner that goes  bust in the pros. Stay tuned for my next blog entry, entitled “Why Emma Watson is the Baker Mayfield of Hollywood.” Ha, I’ve managed to alienate people who hate sporpsball and silenced women’s voices in one fell swoop. Take THAT, libs! (mostly joking)

 

Gerwig deserves a lot of credit for bringing this movie to life. I’ve never read the book, but watching the movie mirrors the experience of falling in love with an incredible novel at just the right age, a fact I’m sure was not lost on the many people who hold this story near and dear to their hearts. Suffice it to say, I’m not exactly the target audience for Little Women, but  I saw it anyways (please acknowledge my bravery), and I’m only more eager to see what Gerwig’s going to do in the future.

 

1917

Directed by Sam Mendes

 

A particularly annoying subset of Left-twitter have been haranguing 1917 for the crime of being a war movie that is not sufficiently anti-war, which is something I usually roll my eyes at. In this case, however, I’ve got to come down a bit on the naysayers’ side, only because the movie makes the cardinal sin of pretending to very much be an “anti-war” movie with a few lines of lip service coming from a 1.5 minute long Benedict Cumberbatch performance. If you’re not going to commit to the bit, just move on, in my opinion.

 

Anyways, Roger Deakins is Roger Deakins, and our visually-stunning King has found new ways to challenge himself here, creating incredibly immersive, unbroken panoramas that make all the senseless bloodshed and heart-pounding fear feel all the more real. Unfortunately, with an absence of any real character development, I was pretty detached from the movie’s events as they unfolded, outside of marveling at the sheer technical artistry on display. In that regard, watching 1917 is a little like watching somebody else play a very beautiful video game. Not altogether unpleasant, but nothing particularly mind-blowing or connective either.

 

Ford V Ferarri

Directed by James Mangold

 

OK, now we’re into the hot takes. I will defend James Mangold to the death. His movies are good. They aren’t jaw-dropping, they aren’t life-changing, but dammit, he does a certain kind of prestige picture better than almost anybody in the game, and at this point, competency and a commitment to craft is more than I expect about most things that make boomers and/or nerds wet themselves, so I’m all in. I mean, Mangold is the guy who always turns in the best iteration of a thing that’s been played out. He did it with Walk the Line, Logan, and now he triples down with Ford V Ferrarri, a movie that’s sure to satisfy your elderly parents who “just want a nice story,” that annoying friend of a friend who never shuts up about cars even though you live in New York and haven’t owned a car in almost a decade, and the sniveling whiner who thinks filmmakers should try new things, even when their staying safely within a tried and tested formula (it me!)

 

Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here (pun intended, thanks very much), but if it ain’t broke, well shit. Damon does a very passable Texas accent, and it’s a delight to watch him and Christian Bale carom off each other as stubborn car-racing aficionados whose job it is to convince a big fat idiot with tons of money he needs to trust the experts he hired to win him a race. It’s interesting that this movie was one of the last huge projects produced at Fox prior to the huge Disney acquisition, as the movie has a tragic coda, and struggles with what it means to try and think outside the box within a tightly controlled assembly line.

 

Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

 

Mmm…that’s the good stuff. I’m something of a QT-stan, but The Hateful Eight left me feeling pretty cold (no pun intended, thank you), and I was wary of the hype going into this one, but…man, what a movie, and what a movie for Tarantino to make. All of his calling cards are there, but the director’s ninth film feels very restrained compared to the rest of his catalog, even the slow-burn, neo-noir 70s throwback Jackie Brown. OUATIH is shot through with Tarantino’s aching love of movies, and of Los Angeles itself, a city that looks grimy and impossible until those magical moments when it looks perfect.

 

The movie unfolds at a languid place, telling the intertwining stories of the aging has-been Rick Dalton, his long-time stunt double and friend Cliff Booth, and Rick’s next-door neighbor, actress Sharon Tate. The fiction Tarantino weaves into the true story that many cultural historians label as the death of the 1960s is one of two men watching the world around them change before their eyes. Dalton goes practically kicking and screaming, while Booth tends to stoically take everything in stride, as he’s the man Dalton only pretends to be. All of this adds up to a revisionist history showdown, the likes of  which Tarantino’s become fond of, both in Inglorious Basterds  and Django Unchained, but there’s more going on than historical catharsis here.

 

OUATIH is about friendships, community, values, art, love, and expression, and how all of those things crash together in the chaotic frenzy we call life. It’s an ultimately uplifting movie, telling us all we have the power to change our present and our future, if not our past. Featuring stellar performances from a stacked ensemble cast, beautiful, scorched earth photography, and Tarantino’s typically flawless musical selections and crackling wit, OUATIH is a movie I’d be content to keep watching over and over for a very long time.

 

Parasite

Directed by Bong Joon-Ho

 

I saw this at this past year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin. Prior to this I had only seen Memories of Murder and Snowpiercer, both of which I enjoyed. I had heard nothing but incredible approval come out of every festival where it had screened, so I kept to my usual playbook and resolved to not learn anything about the movie until I could see it for myself.

 

The offerings at Fantastic Fest 2019 were already stacked, but Parasite stole the show for me, and it almost doesn’t seem fair to have this one hanging around in competition with genre indie hopefuls that might never get distribution. In a new era of pronounced class agitation, existential anxiety, impotent rage, isolation, and hopelessness, this is the movie that people were just begging for, whether they knew it or not. I’m not the first or only person to make this point, but Parasite achieves what Joker sets out to do, and it does so with humor, beauty, and a vibrant love for humanity and cinema shining through. The usual crowd of folks who need to find something wrong with the thing everybody loves have occasionally remarked that it’s too “on the nose,” but I really feel that would only be a problem if it felt deeply self-important or didactic. While the film is very clear in its politics, Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece is less of a polemic than it is a tragic wail of grief.

 

The Irishman

Directed by Martin Scorsese

 

Well…here we are.

 

I’m not sure if you could count me as Scorsese-stan, but the best of his films are ones I go to again and again. Even his most commercial and mainstream films are achingly personal, and as mentioned in Bong Joon Ho’s victory speech for Best Director on Oscar Night, “the most personal is the most creative.”

 

As somebody who was deeply moved, even enthralled by The Irishman, I’ve been increasingly put off by the sneering contempt people seem to have for Scorsese’s epic, presumably because they’ve resolved to stop glorifying “old white guys,” or perhaps it’s because they’re put off by his completely restrained, publicly shared opinion that he doesn’t like Marvel movies and thinks they are bad for cinema (King).This came to a head when the crowd I was watching the Oscars with on Sunday night felt the need to continuously share just how little they cared about the movie, despite the fact that most of them hadn’t seen a frame of it.

 

When I offered that I thought it was perhaps Scorsese’s best movie…you would have thought I threw the cat out the window. It’s certainly his most achingly personal, and if you have been a fan of Scorsese the artist and followed his career, it’s hard to not be moved by this movie, which is something of sorrowful reflection on emptiness. Moments like these are when I wonder how much I actually share with other people in terms of how we look at the world. How can anybody watch the final third of The Irishman and not be devastated, or worse yet, continue to write this film off as “another mob movie?” This is the coda Scorsese has been gesturing at for all of his career, beautifully realized. It’s a coda not just to the movie, but perhaps to his own life, an exaggeration of his own complicated feelings about his Catholicism, his fascination with the swaggering tough guys of his neighborhood growing up and their swanky, glamorous lifestyles. It’s an aching plea to do something bigger instead of making yourself small and insignificant by making every compromise in order to reach the stars.

 

Frank Sheeran gave away everything, because he lived in fear of authority, but came to respect and find salvation in it. His entire life was based around the steadfast conviction that attaching himself to the right people would be his salvation, and in the end, as one FBI agent tells him outside his nursing home, “they’re all gone.” All the more heartbreaking, the “they” here isn’t just the mobsters and the union reps, it’s his family, his friends, everybody who exists to make one’s life more than waiting around to die. And so The Irishman ends, with an old man, so completely emptied of any meaning that he can’t even bring himself to feel sorrow or remorse for all the blood he’s shed, all the people he’s hurt. He only feels nothing, as the end draws near.

 

 

 

 

10 Days/10 Films #6: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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I can’t really remember when I made the decision to “become a horror guy.” I guess it might have been (subconsciously) around the same time that my mother confiscated my copy of The Shining, as mentioned in a previous post. I’m not really a “horror guy” by “horror guy standards,” but I think there are a lot of horror movies that stand on their own as legitimate classics, and not just within the genre.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of these, notable and demanding acknowledgment for the boundaries it crossed, the genre-defining parameters it set, and the just plain dull and mean worldview it projects. TCM is, unfortunately, among those horror movies that today’s poorly educated and even more poorly brought-up audiences would probably snicker at if they happened to wander into a screening, but if you can properly contextualize a film in a way that allows you see past its technical limitations, it’s clear that TCM is a straight-up nasty film, with a ferocious, nihilistic message that remains one of the more true and terrifying themes that continues to endure in modern horror: there is not necessarily any “why” when it comes to evil. Mainstream audiences are often disturbed by this notion, which is reflected in the newfound popularity in horror “origin stories” that suck all mystery out of films that rely on the unknown to create fear. The potency of TCM’s game-changing ethos is revealed in reading outraged critics of the era breathlessly describing images that do not actually exist within the film, so powerful was Tobe Hooper’s well-oiled machine of menace, so refined his coaxing manipulation of our senses. A similar phenomenon occurred years earlier with the media response to the granddaddy of all slashers, Psycho (critics were certain that Hitchcock showed us images of the knife penetrating Janet Leigh’s body).

The groundbreaking nature of TCM, the fact that it’s a well-regarded Texas film, and the knowledge that it was all put together with little else than some drive, a few twisted ideas, and a camera, makes this film one of my all-time favorites. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre puts forth the idea that the world is an unknowable and terrifying place, and it’s one that resonated with me into my own creative endeavors. Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece not only inspired one of my great cinematic obsessions, it made me think that I could create things that explored and played with this idea as well, which in my mind is one of the most noble things a piece of art can do.

10 Days/10 Films #5: Adventureland

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I’ve always thought Kristin Stewart got a bad rap. Blame Twilight, I guess, but it’s a tragedy that Adventureland, written and directed by Greg Mottola (director of the more-appreciated Superbad, along with some other notable projects) never got the credit it deserved, and I occasionally felt like kneejerk reactions to Stewart wer partially to blame.

Whatever your feelings on KStew, there’s something magnetic about her in this movie, or maybe it’s just that I connected so much to the tone and mood of this bittersweet, dreary summer story. Most of the characters in Adventureland are college-aged or close to it, but it reminded me of being a brooding high school kid, bumming around long hot summers, somehow being aware on some level of how fleeting and rosy that time in my life would seem looking back years later.

The vague and inarticulate frustrations that cushion everything in Adventureland seemed very familiar as well. Characters fumble around each other, aware of connections but afraid to explore what they mean, and so they say and do the wrong things and it’s all a grand tragedy, but Motolla somehow manages to capture the ethereal experience of being just old enough to realize you’re never going to be this carefree again, even though everything seems so important.

There’s one scene in particular that feels like Motolla and I had similar upbringings, even though he’s decades older than me. James (Jesse Eisenberg) and Em (Stewart) are the only two people swimming at a small, impromptu, semi-drunken but quiet gathering while Em’s parents are out of town. There’s no bathing suits so they go in their underwear, and talk about nothing much in particular. Nothing really happens, and it all seems very innocent, but there’s an awkward and intoxicating electricity crackling across the water. Neither really knows what to do about it.

The film continues in that fashion, for most of its runtime, with their relationship progressing in fits, starts, misunderstandings, and forced nonchalance. In the end, taking chances and being vulnerable is what wins the day, but the path there is what always makes me feel nostalgic. Adventureland more accurately captures what it’s like to achingly yearn for somebody–the way only young, aimless, frustrated people can—more accurately than other flicks with ten times the acclaim.

10 Days/10 Films #4: No Country For Old Men

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This movie is—quite literally—about as far as you can get from my experience of growing up in Dallas, but that only cements my love for what it “gets right” about Texas. That I lived for eighteen years in the same state as the events of this film, but nearly 450 miles away says it all. More than that, the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Lonestar Noir is an unforgiving look at everything that makes my home state terrifying and beautiful. The vast, open landscapes are treated with just as much reverence and awe as the creeping rot underneath everything—“the dismal tide,” as one character quips. Characters are at once quiet and strong, yet weak, ruled by greed and malevolence.

We can’t forget the genius of Deakins. No Country came out in 2007—along with two other entries on this list—and it’s widely believed that the DP split his own Oscar vote by being nominated for two movies in one round of voting (the other being The Assassination of Jesse James). Deakins holds the incredible honor of being nominated for best cinematography 9 times in the past 10 years–finally earning a win for the underappreciated Blade Runner 2049— and No Country For Old Men makes it easy to understand why. The magnificent opening shots, believe it or not, are B-roll that Deakins shot by himself in natural light, just to give the Coens an idea of what he had kicking around in his head.

The sublime opening images lay over a monologue by Tommy Lee Jones’ Sheriff Bell, and it’s McCarthy’s writing, shining through in a straight-ahead adaptation by the Coens, that really brings the entire thing together, along with career performances by Jones, Brolin, and Bardem. On the surface this is a relatively straightforward hardboiled flick about a man who takes some money that doesn’t belong to him and the horrible consequences that follow, but it’s also about Sheriff Bell coming to grips with a world that seems to grow more and more brutal with each passing year, and the bleak hopelessness of trying to believe in something that gets you through “all that cold, and all that dark.”

It would be a tougher watch if it didn’t sing on every level possible. An absolute masterpiece.

10 Days/10 Films #3: The Night of the Hunter

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When I was younger, my mother was fairly strict about the content of what we watched and read (I still bristle when I remember having my brand new copy of The Shining, bought for me by my much more laissez-faire father, taken away when I was 12 or so). That’s probably why I gravitated to films steeped in darkness and horror as I grew older, but back in first grade, I often had to rely on friends to recount the plot of Aliens or Terminator 2. Remember, this was back before every household in America had high-speed Internet.

Speaking of bygone technologies, I also spent a lot of time in the school library, and one book I kept returning to again and again was this volume full of glossy photos that was basically a collection of synopses about various horror films. A lot of them were classics like Dracula or The Wolfman, but some of the more contemporary slashers were in there too (I think both Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the Thirteenth made appearances). Why this was stocked in an elementary school library I have no idea.

Anyway, on the more “classic” side of the book was an entry for a film I had never heard of before: The Night of the Hunter. The story of an evil, itinerant preacher/conman who finds himself stalking two small children in order to gain access to a small fortune hidden by their deceased, bank robber father. I remember being fascinated by the beautiful photograph of Robert Mitchum leaning on the fencepost, his famous tattooed knuckles flashing the words “love” and “hate.”

I wouldn’t actually see The Night of the Hunter until college. Maybe it was all the years of childhood buildup, but I found myself entranced by Mitchum’s performance, as well as the razor-sharp themes the movie put forward that seem controversial in god-fearing, capitalist America now, let alone in 1955 when it was released. Charles Laughton’s only feature as a director is also steeped in beautifully orchestrated shadows and light, clearly influenced by the German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s, creating a sinister fable about evil and imposters that stands in stark visual contrast to more celebrated American films of the era.

The Night of the Hunter went on to influence future generations of filmmakers (see Radio Raheem’s monologue and gold knuckle-rings in the wonderful Do the Right Thing, and  famous “street lamp” shot from The Exorcist), but it remains somewhat obscure in 2018. At a recent screening, I was dismayed to hear the audience snidely chuckling through most of the film. The Night of the Hunter is one of those movies that taught me about the importance of history and taking classics on their own terms…the only way to learn anything new at all.

10 Days/10 Films #2: City of God

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City of God is another benchmark film in terms of my development as a member of the movie-going public. I’d always been into movies, courtesy of my mother (an addict who still goes to the movies weekly at the age of 69) and father (a painter and architect who once eschewed film as an inferior art form), but up to high school, my tastes had run fairly commercial and mainstream, excepting the time my mother brought me to see The Big Lebowski at age 14.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I met Jacob Sloman, who has remained a lifetime friend and collaborator. It pains me to give him the satisfaction, but Jacob was the one who opened my eyes to the rich and untapped world of global cinema, particularly the beautiful films of Brazil. It’s because of him that I even heard of films like Carandiru, Bus 174, and I’m Not Scared. But the one that always sticks out in my memory is City of God.

Vibrant, sensuous photography, a riveting story that spans years and intertwines the lives of several different characters, crackling with energy and originality, City of God was a film that showed me, even earlier than the aforementioned The Assassination of Jesse James, that movies were so much more than Hollywood. It’s a story about poverty, violence, and inequality that avoids becoming too message-laden or despondent, instead painting a richly realized landscape of Rio slums that are populated with characters who make us laugh and cheer as much as they  make us cry.

Despite its bombastic presentation, City of God is all about balance. It’s a perfectly-oiled machine that pushes and pulls its audience through a variety of different moods and tones, which perfectly reflects the complex and complicated realities of subject matter that is too-often boiled down to the sum of its parts.