Saturday, January 7, 2017

This Will Not Save Your Life

"Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed." -Lev Grossman, The Magicians

When I was twenty-four, I wanted to kill myself. Or maybe I was twenty-five. Could have been twenty-six. I'm honestly not sure. I've never been very good at dating things in my memory, especially when it's been shrouded in the haze of clinical depression. It was a rough time and I honestly only got through it because I loved my cat so much. It wasn't that I thought no one would take care of him when I was gone, because he was an awesome and everyone loved him. People would have been lining up to take him. It was that I honestly didn't want to leave him. He was the only thing I could muster up emotion for.

Depression is so hard to describe because it's a shapeshifter. It's feeling nothing and everything and thinking you've found the terrible truth of the world and knowing you're the stupidest creature to ever walk the planet. I realized I was sinking in the Swamp of Sorrows while I was sitting on my bed, petting my cat and planning out my suicide. Casually. Like making a grocery list. I got hung up on it when I thought about blood getting in Cloud's white fur.

I say all of this because I get Quentin. He is, at times, heroically unlikable and that's one of the things I love the most about this story.

Now's as good a time as any for a spoiler warning. For the first season of the show and the first book.

Quentin lives in this cloud of depression, failing to really connect with anyone because he seems to think he's both better than everyone and the complete fucking worst. Simultaneously. He goes from a mundane but privileged life to being magic school and is still, always, constantly underwhelmed. He, an apparently straight boy, is mildly insulted when he discovers Eliot is gay and not into him. He goes for girls who are, in his mind, "good". They're smart and pretty and, in a way, chaste. And he ignores girls who do not fit that type. And he is always looking for the thing that will make life worth living. Magic school doesn't do it, so he seeks meaning in Fillory, a magical land analogous to Narnia or Wonderland. And when he discovers that Fillory is just as dirty and flawed as the "real" world, he is disappointed and slips back into his depression. He is literally having a magical adventure in another world and can't get over the fact that he might not be the main character. That maybe there is no such thing as a main character at all.

It reminds me a bit of Red Shirts by John Scalzi. A story of side characters who have to deal with the fallout of the main characters' actions. Quentin is forever trying to get to the forefront of things, only to discover that he's not special, he's not chosen, and he's not the smartest. Even Eliot, the ever-drinking, the ever-high, the silver-tongued bitch, is a better magician than him without even trying.

That's one of the best and worst traits of this story, both book and TV show. The characters are all desperately flawed.
"But I'll tell you something: I think you're magicians because you're unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength." -Lev Grossman, The Magicians
And they have to be. If they weren't, they wouldn't be magicians at all. Their trauma fuels their power the same way happy thoughts make a patronus. It's so rare to see a story about characters realistically dealing with depression and trauma that isn't just about them overcoming or succumbing to it. These characters just fucking deal with it and try to go on with their lives because the other option is... to not.

At times, it makes the characters very difficult to like. Margo (Janet in the books) and Eliot at least get to be magnificent bastards most of the time. In the show, Jason Ralph brings a lot of adorable charm to Quentin. In the books, he's, well, I think Alice says it best. "You're not as good as I'd hoped, but you're better than you know."

I think it's particularly interesting how the show deals with the source material. My friend, Jack, has this theory that the TV show takes place in one of the other timelines created by the Watcherwoman. I love that idea. I'm not sure if it totally works, but I still love it.

The show takes the darkness in the book and turns it up to eleven. The haunted house episodes when they find out the truth about Christopher Pullover were horrifying. Alice begging the others to go back and help the ghosts of the children while Eliot went on full on nihilist broke my heart.

I don't know. Maybe I'm not really ready to write this. I just keep jumping from one thought to the next. I know that I have some trouble really suggesting that someone else read the book or watch the show. And it's partly because Lev Grossman does such a good job of capturing how Quentin is coasting through life. It's occasionally difficult to get through with a cast of difficult characters doing their best to waste their lives. But it's so emotionally dead-on. And the show, even with it's witty dialogue and stylishly dressed, highly attractive characters (Eliot, I love you, but there is no way you were that hot in the book) goes to some really dark, very squicky places. I'm so accustomed to movie/TV adaptations backing away from those types of things. I expected this to be no different. I thought they'd probably totally ditch the reason Martin was trying to escape into Fillory in the first place. Then, for a bit, I thought they'd changed it so that Pullover was the bad guy.

So, yeah. It's not, like, a fun story to read. It less like Harry Potter for adults and more like if Fantastic Beasts was just about the New Salemists all the time. But, the thing is...

"[F]or just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever." -Lev Grossman, The Magicians
This may sound lame or ridiculous, but it's lines like that that helped me get the help I needed. These are the kinds of words that saved my life and made me realize that what I was going through wasn't normal and it didn't have to be that way. And reading this book, even when I'm doing better and almost a decade past the worst of it, it helps me to remind myself that this is it. With or without magic, this is the life I've got and I just need to keep living it.

P.S. Credit where credit is due. My friends did an episode about the show on their podcast, Pilot Inspectors. They've never steered me wrong before, so I trusted Dylan when he said he loved the book.

Friday, September 9, 2016

So, he turns around and says, "Ketchup"...

I've been doing a lot of things lately and I've not been very good at talking about them. Also, I'm having a little trouble thinking of something I want to post on this blog because I've suddenly decided that I hate the aesthetic. I just keep thinking about how much I want to tweak it. So, I'm going to play a little catch up.

Collective Snark is a podcast I'm co-hosting with some of the Purple Ink Writers. It releases bi-weekly. Every episode has a guest and we talk about... well, everything.

Speaking of podcasts, I got to talk to Jonathan Raab and Matthew M. Bartlett for Muzzleland Press's new cast, Spooklights. These guys are awesome and I'll take any opportunity I can get to geek out about horror movies and video games.

Finally, over at Murder we're working on a lot of new things. Step one was getting Patreon. Step two is... uh, wait, I guess.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bustin' Makes Me Feel Good

Like everyone else born in the 80s, I grew up with the Ghostbusters. Egon was my favorite. I looked up to him, but I never really felt like I could be him.

This was a thing that would happen throughout my life.

Sure, there were some cool female characters, but too often they were the only female character in a cast of men and, therefore, burdened with the task of being a paragon of all womankind. That makes it pretty hard to show a complex character. They're all strong and competent and, in their own rights, awesome. But there are very few acceptable templates for female characters.

So, Ghostbusters. I wish I'd had a movie like this when I was a kid. These women are bad ass. They talk about science and ghosts. They make weapons and crazy steampunk devices. They fight. And they do it without wearing skin tight outfits and ankle-breaking stilettos. They're dressed and treated more like Neo than Trinity.
They make gross jokes and don't cry about boys. Patty is an unapologetic history nerd. She's friendly and straightforward. Holtzmann is creepy and unabashedly excited about technology and dead things. She's a confident flirt. Erin is awkward and even though they tease her in the beginning, they all learn to accept her quirks. And Abby is driven and no one ever calls her bossy or bitchy.

There's no creepy camera, panning up from the feet to show off their assets and curves. They are allowed to dress like actual people, in ways that compliment their characters.

I nearly cried at multiple points in this movie. I didn't even realize how much I needed something like this to exist. These women made me realize how narrowly I write female characters. How weirdly fucked I am in what I think it is to be a woman. I am so angry that I've gone this long without having characters like this.

So, if you're still with me, I really liked this movie. I think, even if the characters didn't mean so much to me, I'd still really like this movie. I thought it was honestly funny. I saw it in regular 2D and immediately regretted it because the effects were so cool. So I had to go see it again in 3D and I do not regret that decision.

Yes, it had issues. I wish they had committed, at least once, to playing the theme in full instead of giving us about seven hundred fifty different versions of the opening. 
This might have been a good time for it. Yes, I realize there was an instrumental version. We all know that's not the real thing.
I thought they'd do something cooler with all of the new weapons after Possessed!Abby went after the normal gear with Holtzmann's pipe. I wish some of the storyline had been a bit more fleshed out. The pacing was a little uneven.

But even though I've always loved Ghostbusters, I've never felt so much like I wanted to be a part of the fandom until now. I want t-shirts. I want the toys. I want to share this movie with my daughters so they can have these characters sooner than I did. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

What Big Teeth - The Neon Demon Review

The Neon Demon is not exactly what I expected. Maybe I should have, but I didn't. I really only saw the trailer and thought all that glitter and blood looked like something made specifically for me. I didn't really do any research before watching it.

Spoilers ahead.

There came a point while watching this movie that I felt bad for dragging Xian to the theater with me. I'd thought about going by myself and after a while, I really started to wish I had. I actually leaned over to him and whispered and apology to him.

It's not that the movie was bad. It was just... really fucking weird.

So, it's about a girl who wants to be a model and moves to the big city and gets eaten alive. Like, that's it. But the movie takes a long time to get there. Or, anywhere, really. Like, this was maybe a really great short film, but it seemed pretty sparse for feature length.

There's a lot of symbolism and metaphor. Which is cool. I mean, I dig that kind of stuff. But there's so much that I got pretty lost. Like, is this a supernatural movie? Magical realism? Surrealism? Giallo? I don't fucking know. Probably the last two.

The characters are all pretty thin and blank with very little insight given about their motivations. Actually, maybe that's not true. Near the beginning, Ruby (Jenna Malone) asks Jesse (Elle Fanning) if she's "food or sex". Then, when Jesse turns down Ruby's sexual advances, Ruby eats her. So, I guess there's some motivation there. But it doesn't really feel like we get very deep. And there's no real character to follow. I spent most of the beginning of the movie trying to figure out who was the demon (everyone, is the answer). But there's not ever anyone to side with. Even Dean (Karl Glusman), the sweet boyfriend guy, is a little dodgy. He knows that Jesse is barely sixteen, but he's still ready to get romantic with her.

We get definite shades of Elizabeth Bathory and Red Riding Hood. The character named Ruby is, at several points in the movie, shown near taxidermy wolves and cougars. Ruby, Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) not only eat Jesse, but they also bathe in her blood. Those metaphors, I get.

But then there's so much other stuff going on. Like, Ruby is a make-up artist for the living and the dead. I feel like that's important, but I'm not really sure what it means. I wonder if Sarah actually did try to drink Jesse's blood in that public restroom after the casting call or if that was some sort of... I dunno. Visual metaphor or something?

Surrealism is kind of lost on me, I think.

The movie is stunningly beautiful. I'm glad I saw it in the theater. The cinematography is brilliant. There are a lot of chances for the camera to sexualize the girls, to do that gratuitous body pan or focus on the boobs or butt, but it never comes to that. I really appreciate that. It's also worth noting that, while the male characters are clearly in control, great pains are taken to make them not rapey, except for Hank (Keanu Reeves). All the damage done to the girls is done by the girls.

Which is a thing that happens a lot. The idea that women are constantly in competition with each other. I mean, okay, I get it. This is set in the fashion world. And it's about people being eaten. It's about the value of beauty. People move mountains to get to something valuable. We make earthquakes to get to oil because it's valuable. So, Jesse gets destroyed by people mining her beauty. I get it.

My SO and I actually kind of got into about it this because I felt like the sparse narrative stayed a bit too neutral about this. As far as I can tell, two of the three girls who ate Jesse were just fine. But I could be wrong. Sarah didn't do so well. But it seems like Gigi probably goes on with the photoshoot like a rock star. And Ruby... fuck, I dunno. I mean, she was bleeding like a birth gone wrong, but she looked orgasmic. And I don't really feel like we need more movies about how shitty women are to each other.

You could say that the neutrality started an interesting conversation. Or you could say it started a fight. Both are equally accurate. I just feel like, especially in the horror community, it would be so easy to nod and say, "Yeah, women are crazy".

Let me be clear. I think people should make the art they want to make. It is no single person's job to fix the problems of how tropes are dealt with in media. But as a person who has to deal with this shit constantly, I'm sorta done with it. I'm not really up for having academic conversations about this because I've been living with it for thirty-four years and I'm just really tired, man. I wish there had been a way to make this allegory work without sacrificing women at the altar of catty bitches.

I'm not going to give this a numerical value. I'm not upset that I saw it, but I would also really hesitate to tell anyone to go see it. I'm pretty certain none of my friends would be into it. But, you know, if you're into Lynchian films, maybe you'll see all the stuff I missed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

X Whoa Man

I like the X-Men. I have for as long as I've known they existed, which was, admittedly, long after they began existing. It was one of my favorite comics when I was really hard into comics and many of the characters and storylines stick with me.

I absolutely saw the movie on opening day. And the same X-2. And X-3. And... that was it.

Because, here's my secret, I don't like the Dark Phoenix storyline. I never have. I don't even like Jean Grey. Or Cyclops. Both of those characters always sort of rubbed me the wrong way. They were so perfect and tragic and completely boring. And X-3 was objectively not awesome. Like, not a single one of my friends came out of that movie happy.

So, I didn't go see First Class. It seemed like a lame attempt to get away from the travesty of X-3. Double that for Days of Future Past.

But then someone pointed out that Quicksilver was in Days. Played by Evan Peters. I love Evan Peters. And Quicksilver. So, for my birthday this year, I sat down and watched (most of) both those movies.

I didn't love them. Mystique, who is a strong, complex character in the comics, was reduced to one, single, whiny character trait. Emma Frost was told to "go fetch some ice" and she fucking did it. Angel (not to be confused with Angel) was asked if she wanted a job where she could keep her clothes on and then, as the stripper, she was the fist to go turncoat. The black guy who's one power was adapting to survive frakking died. It was just... really disappointing in so many ways.

So, I was one thousand percent not interested in seeing Apocalypse. Except... Quicksilver. I did love him. And the rumor was he'd be in it more. Then I saw a trailer. Nightcrawler was in it too.


So, I saw the movie.



It's really good.

I mean, okay, maybe that's a exaggeration. It's not perfect. There are so many characters being introduced that several of them get no development. Like, at all.

I think, of all of the superhero franchises currently doing movie things, X-Men is the most... about the characters. Like, there's a nearly infinite roster for them to pull from. I get really excited when I hear that one of my favorites is getting pulled into the spotlight. I mean, there are the usuals, the ones who's names are synonymous with the title. But the side characters are always a treat. So, let's talk about them some, yeah?

Spoilers ahead, probably.

Angel gets at least two makeovers, but we really don't get to know him beyond his love for breaking bottles and Metallica. Made me sad because I've always loved him. But, honestly, he doesn't really make much sense in this movie. I mean, Apocalypse is supposed to pick the best mutants to be his horsemen, right? Storm makes sense. Psylocke... that's fine, I guess. Magneto, fuck yeah, get that guy. But Angel? I mean, even in the comics his main powers are having wings, being pretty, and wealth. In this movie, he seems to be lacking the latter. Though he does make up for it with fighting skills, we're told. And, I mean, I guess that's true. But the pacifist beats him both times they fight.

Psylocke... well, she's hot and makes energy weapons that cut things. Unless the weapon is a whip and around the neck of a main character, then it doesn't cut. It just pulls. And that's the end of her. I don't know even know if Apocalypse's magical make-over powers worked on her.

Storm was pretty great. I was surprised that she started out as a bad guy, but it made sense. And her turn at the end was perfect. I've always loved Storm's design. I really liked that they went with the Ultimate version (which is based on a version from the 80s?). Alexandra Shipp really pulled of the character, IMO.

Magneto is, I think, better in the movies than he was in any of the comics I read. I'm not saying he was never that good in comics, just my small little segment of the comics. I love the tragedy in him. Michael Fassbender plays him so well. My main issue is his turn in the beginning. This is totally personal, but I am 1000% done with watching terrible things happen to dark-haired, blue-eyed little girls. Also, Apocalypse didn't really change Magneto's look. Just gave him a new version of the armor he's had before. Everyone else got new hair-dos and stuff. So, I dunno what's up with that.

Jean Grey, as I mentioned before, has never been my favorite. For a long time it seemed like her only real powers were being pretty and dying. But Sophie Turner is so good. She brings a lot Sansa Stark to the role and makes me actually believe that she's afraid of her powers. But she doesn't come across as totally fearful. Throughout it all she has an underlying strength. Even if some of her lines are really terribly written. I don't know who was in charge of her dialogue. It wasn't great.

Cyclops is another long time unliked character of mine. It always seemed, in all the comics, cartoons, and movies, that the writers wanted me to believe there was more substance than they showed. Or that he was cool enough to not need it. Or something. I dunno. He was just the typical flat, vanilla leader character. But this time, I like him. I'm not sure exactly what changed, maybe it was him being actually unsure and following Jean's lead. He backed her up and was supportive and that was really great.

Jubilee what do we have to do to get her to actually be in a movie as more than a cameo? Because I'll do it.

Nightcralwer is perfect and adorable. I love everything about him. Kodi Smit-McPhee is so incredible. I love the moment when he's in the ring with Angel and Angel tells him they have to fight or die. Nightcrawler goes into entertainer mode, getting all showy with his attacks until he realizes he's actually hurt Angel. It's perfect. And when he fights Angel the second time and, rather than hurt him, he ports him into a trap. They just did a really great job with his characterization. Side note, for some reason, Google thinks Kodi also played Jubilee. But, for real, he voiced Norman in ParaNorman, so I think I love this kid.

Quicksilver is so good. "It seems, no matter how fast I am, I'm always late." And his whole spiel about being a loser in the jet. This is a huge departure from any version I've seen before, but I love it so much.

Xavier is my favorite version of him. Like Quicksilver, it's so different from what I'm used to, but I love it. James McAvoy is such a sarcastic, awkward, borderline asshole and it's fantastic.

Mystique, oh Mystique. She was so disappointing in the other movies, but in this one, she shines. She's brave and heroic. And also awkward and clearly undersocialized. But she was such an active participant in every part of the movie. She drove it.


I really like this movie. I'm not sure I'd really recommend it, especially not to someone who isn't really into superheroes. But I've seen it twice now. I might see it again. I'm gonna buy the blu-ray. I think it's probably the best one since X-2.

But that could also just be Nightcrawler.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Fight Like a Girl

My daughter has thunder thighs. She has a double chin and a pot-belly. Her cheeks jiggle when she laughs. Her shins are covered in bruises and her knees are a cross-hatch of scratches and scrapes.
She doesn’t know that, someday, she will be told all of those things are bad.

Right now—today— she is two and beautiful. She smiles with complete abandon. When she laughs, she does it with her entire body.

And she laughs a lot. She thinks burps are funny and farts are hilarious. But it won’t be long before someone—someone well-meaning and with her best interests at heart—informs her that good little girls are sugar and spice and everything nice. Burps and farts belong to the realm of snips and snails.

Other things in that boy realm include primary colors. Green, blue, black, and grey. Jewel tones, earth tones, stark contrasts. Everything but pink— because that is a girl’s color— lives there. In that realm, there will be shirts with robots and dinosaurs. Astronauts, planets, outer space. Math jokes. Science puns. Superheroes. Monsters.

In the Pepto Bismol colored parts of the world, she’ll find pastels. There will be princesses and t-shirts that extol the virtues of shopping. There will be ribbons and lace. The sleeves will all be capped, ruched, and ruffled. Buttons will be rhinestones because diamonds are a girl’s best friend. The graphics will be lipstick tubes, compacts, jewelry. Whether or not she likes these things, they will be her main choices.

For no apparent reason, all of the superhero logos will have turned pink.

Yes, even Batman.

A fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle will have appeared. One with a pink bandanna and no weapons or initial on her belt. She’ll have a bow on her head. In an office building, there is a person patting themselves on the back for being so very inclusive over that one.

Straight-faced and with no animosity, a good person will tell my beautiful daughter that she could be so pretty if she’d only… if she’d just grow out her hair. If she’d just smile. Wear a dress. Be less aggressive. Be less bossy. Be quieter. Sit still. Just be less.

Before commenting on her intelligence, people will tell her how pretty she is. Because it will be more important for her to be pretty than smart. Or athletic. Or creative. Or loyal. Or generous. Or strong. Other adjectives will be bonuses, but ultimately unnecessary.

They will innocuously ask her if she really needs another piece of birthday cake.

They will tell her not to wear makeup because it is vain. It attracts the wrong kind of attention. She’s beautiful without it. It is deceitful. They will tell her she should wear makeup. To cover up those flaws. To find a man. To show that she cares about her appearance. They will tell her not to wear so much. To not wear that color. Only a certain kind of girl wears blue eye-shadow.

They’ll tell her that she doesn’t want people to think she’s that kind of girl, right? It won’t really be a question.

A boy, sitting next to her in class, cross-legged and watching a movie near the end of the school year, in the summer heat, will look down and notice the peach fuzz on her legs. He will say it’s gross that she hasn’t shaved her legs. Even though he hasn’t shaved his legs. Even though he probably never will. He’ll shave his face someday, or maybe he won’t. And either option will be okay with most people.

My beautiful daughter will someday menstruate. She will learn to be embarrassed about buying tampons. She will compulsively check between her legs every chance she gets because of that time she bled through her pad and everyone saw. A person, doing what they think is best, will try to calm her down by suggesting that maybe she’s only upset because Aunt Flo is visiting. That whatever is bothering her, it really isn’t so bad. It's just hormones, not real emotions.

She will learn to speak in code. Doublespeak to keep from making people uncomfortable, including herself, about her body. She will be a magician—watch her left hand while she palms the sanitary napkin in her right.

Her breasts will be small and, her classmates and friends will make fun of her, and she will feel insecure. Or her breasts will be big, and people will stare, and she will feel insecure.

She will have girlfriends and boyfriends, and some of them will be romantic and some of them won’t. Some will wish they were. A boy, who doesn’t know any better, who has been taught his whole life that a girl who says no is just playing hard to get, will get angry that she told him no. Someone will ask her what she did to lead him on. They’ll wonder what she was wearing. What color was her eye-shadow? What was she doing alone with him?

She will discover that girls can’t be funny because good little girls don’t make fart jokes. They don’t tie their skirts up around their waists so they can climb trees and dirt piles. They don’t wear revealing clothing. They don’t kiss anyone they don’t intend to marry and they certainly don’t go any further.

Those are rights held for boys.

Boys, who can laugh about burps and bodily functions. Who don’t have to worry about things like who can see up their skirts or if their belly is showing and, if so, is it flat enough. Boys, who can post pictures of themselves shirtless on social media. Who are encouraged to have sex. Lots of it. No matter the cost to themselves or others.

She’ll start to understand what it means when characters in movies say, “You were beaten by a girl.” She’ll get the jokes about women drivers. The silly, capricious emotions of girls. You throw like a girl. You hit like a girl. She’ll learn that what they’re actually saying is that she will never be as good as a boy. She’ll understand because, no matter how pretty or polite she is, she also has other adjectives. She is smart.

Someday, my brave/intelligent/curious/artistic/happy daughter will wish there was more space between her thighs. She’ll want a Photoshop figure and magazine-perfect skin. She’ll forget how to laugh with abandon.

She will learn that, even though she has to do it every day, fighting like a girl isn’t a compliment.