Spring Update

Lots of new an exciting projects coming down the pike- my work with The Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands, a television spot for the restaurant 712 (airing in June) a music video for Sack of Lions and a full blown musical commercial for Gorilla Wash! Stay Tuned.

What I'm Reading...

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What I'm Reading

The High Window, Star Wars Annual, The Atlantic 

The High Window by Raymond Chandler- 

I'm a big fan of Film Noir, a series of grim black and white films shot mostly on the cheap for a brief window of time after World War 2 (A few pre- 1945 films The Maltese Falcon, This Gun for Hire helped establish the trend.) The gritty pulp writings of crime fiction authors like Dashiel Hammet, James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler served especially well as templates for films in the genre. In addition to seeing the films, I've read Cain's most famous works on which they were based; The Post Man Only Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, both taught and sexy thrillers that last no more than 130 pages and whose big screen translations have become staples of the genre. I'm a big fan of Hammet's The Thin Man as well. Yet, before reading The High Window, I hadn't explored the writings of Raymond Chandler. Chandler's most famous works feature the chain smoking, disillusioned realist Detective Phillip Marlowe. While Marlowe's name might not be as famous as Sam Spade's or Mickey Spillane, I would argue that Marlowe has made a more indelible impression on the pop culture tradition of the anti-heroe with a moral compass that's right twice a-day than any other. Somehow Marlowe works when played straight and hard nosed by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep but also free and easy going by Elliot Gould in Altman's ultimately respectful send up The Long Good Bye. A young man of thirty in the novels, the Marlowe personae also transcends age when played by an elder Robert Mitchum in the 1976 nostalgia film Farewell my Lovely. Every Picaresque outsider in modern film from Wolverine to Dr.House to Martin Riggs owes a debt to Chandler's character of Marlowe. The character's hard boiled inner monologue manages to turn a fairly perfunctory and far too labyrinthine plot with a rather contrived ending into what feels like profound musing on the confusion, needless violence and waste in the post industrialized, oversexed world of Los Angeles in the late 40's. More than the character itself Chandler pioneered that idea that the journey through the underworld is ultimately more revealing and interesting than the big reveal moment in which the mystery is supposed to be paid off. In that way films and books like The Big Lebowski, Burn After Reading and Inherent Vice. Chandler's work has left an indelible impression. 

Star Wars Annual #2 by Jason Latour & Michael Walsh-

This is another well fashioned Star Wars yarn taking place during what must be a seemingly endless time loop between the events of A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back. But with the rebooting of the expanded universe by Marvel comics in the wake of The Force Awakens I suppose I can find room in my brain for more post Episode 4 stories. This great little story is the type that would have been published by Marvel in the late 70's but without all the redundant dialogue bubbles and captions and the artwork is much more confident and streamlined than anything Howard Chakin or Carmine Infantino put out in that exciting time when the parentage of Luke Skywalker was still up for debate. To be fair, Walsh is one of these new school artists born in the late 80's straight out of deviant art.com who regularly updates his Instagram account with fun pop culture sketches, an artist who grew up awash in Star Wars merchandise and VHS tapes and most have a certain familiarity with these characters unlike the former teams who only had press kits and recollections of multiple cineplex viewings to work from. Walsh has a wonderfully fluid familiarity with these characters and is fantastic at crafting fun expressions and movement almost cartoonish in their execution, he's clearly of the Bruce Timm, Chris Samnee school, of which I am also a big fan. This is a great little comic, well colored and briskly written, the perfect diversion. 

The Atlantic, "God's Plan for Mike Pence"- Mckay Coppins-

This is a juicy little expose of Mr.Pence, obviously the more salacious portions of the article should be taken with a grain of salt but the main gist of the piece- the parts that analyze the possible secret motivations of Vice President Pence in the White House are very plausible and compelling. Come for the gossip and stay for the Machiavellian musings. Like most people I'm rather ambivalent towards Mr.Pence, partly due to his defunct Bush-era social policies and boiler plate stance on many conservative issues that in the era of Trump seem like a throwback. The guy's got a winning smile and looks like Race Bannon from Johnny Quest but at the end of the day seems to be a pretty prosaic politician. Thankfully, the article isn't a self righteous expose of Pence's shockingly bigoted stances on social policy (stances that were common place even for Hilary Clinton until 5- seconds ago) but a surprisingly in depth analysis of Pence's speaking cues and facial ticks that may betray his ambivalence towards Donald Trump and examines his mostly unknown political career to prove that Pence's accepting of the VP slot was perhaps a more calculated decision than just a willingness to play second banana to The God Emperor. Coppins doesn't try to paint Pence as any sort of Rasputin type, rather she simply asks that we look past the buttoned up and affable exterior and into a man who is maybe more ambitious than he likes to let on. 

What I'm Reading...

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What I've Been Reading

Orwell, Our Man in Havana, Captain America #695

Orwell by Jeffrey Meyers- Orwell is probably my favorite modern writer. I appreciate the terse and straightforward nature of his writing. Like Hemingway, he owes a lot to the economized brevity of journalism, there is urgency and a sense that one is getting "straight talk". However, unlike Hemingway, Orwell isn't afraid to imbue his work with humor and ironic detachment. Consider the hilariously self deprecating opening line of his essay Shooting an Elephant, "In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me." His tirade against central heating in his essay "As I Please" is a great illustration of his personae as a lovable and witty curmudgeon. His daily journal entries during the bombing of London during World War II  are an indispensable account for posterity written by someone who was truly level headed, patriotic ("It is exactly the people whose hearts have never left at the sight of the Union Jack who will flinch from revolution when the moment comes."), and brave. Orwell never flinched from an opportunity to defend his ideals and enlisted on the side of the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil war against the Fascists. There he experienced one of the many traumas that would lead to his early demise when he was shot through the throat by a sniper's bullet. I've read almost all of Orwell's novels and two collections of his essays (the editions edited by George Packer) and I felt that I still couldn't pin the man down. His ideals rather than his ideas were the most striking thing about him and often it's difficult to parse this man and his writing when trying to map his ideology (just as fractured and contradictory as anyones) onto the political spectrum of today. I had read Christopher Hitchens' tome Why Orwell Matters, which is very similar to his work on Thomas Jefferson. Besides the occasionally salient observation or reinterpretation of Orwell's life and work, I felt like Hitchens' goal was to vindicate his own world view with the assistance of Orwell. Jefferey Meyer's biography does a great job of separating the man from his venerable catalogue of literary works and paints a compelling picture of Orwell as a man. It's by no means hagiographic or exploitive and tawdry (though there are many detailed accounts of the author's sex life, none too flattering)  Maybe the most important discovery that I made while reading it was Meyer's illustration of the forces that drove Orwell, the middle class guilt that drove him to perpetuate his own suffering. Indeed, it seems that Orwell went out of his way to make life difficult for himself: enlisting in the colonial police force in Burma, sneaking into Spain to fight Franco's fascists, electing to live as a "tramp" for two years (a harsh experienced chronicled in the great Down and Out in Paris and London), moving into the city of London from the country during the  Nazi bombing raids when everyone else was moving out, venturing to the damp and murky Island of Jura to hammer out his masterpiece 1984. The living conditions on the island combined with the tuberculosis he never treated sealed his fate. Orwell is a fascinating character, a hard nut to crack and an icon that every political movement is trying to snatch up. Conservatives and Libertarians look to Animal Farm (my favorite of his books) as evidence of the horrors of communism, leftists point to Burmese Days and many of essays to advocate for socialist economic systems and social justice. I feel like I have a good grip on Orwell and enough respect for the man to have not tried to weaponize his ideas to fit my agenda. Many have, as evidenced by the spike in sales of 1984 the day after the 2016 election, interpreted the future dystopia of that book as a crystal ball with which to see the policy proposals of their political enemies. While surely many of these overzealous would-be readers will find plenty of solace in the "two minutes of hate" portions of the story, I would guess that many of them now have a barely skimmed copy of Orwell's final work on their shelf collecting dust. 

Our Man in Havana by Graham GreeneIt was my intention by reading Graham Greene to familiarize myself with post-war spy novels (John LeCarre is next on my list) and after having enjoyed films based on Greene's work (Lang's Ministry of Fear & Reed's "The Third Man") I considered "Our Man in Havana" a good place to start, after all it was rather short and I'd have another Reed film starring Alec Guinness to look forward to at the end of my venture. What I wasn't prepared for was just how funny this book would be. It's a scathing take down of accountability and the tendency to "fail upwards" in a corporate hierarchy and when the book is being poignant, a rather disenfranchised, anarchist look at the folly of waring nations. Can't we just be friends and see each other as fellow humans? This is the observation our lead character, bumbling vacuum cleaner salesman Mr. Wormhold finds himself bound by as he contemplates the murder of an enemy agent, a man who he recently discovers is impotent, and all too human. As for it's setting, post revolutionary Cuba, teetering on the brink of chaos, is a rather absurd place rife with class conflict. The old guard takes the form of Captain Segura, a brutal police chief who classifies prisoners into a "torturable class" (the poor) and the un-tortureable, "those who would be outraged by it. One only tortures by consent." It was these ideas about colonial supremacy and class strife that brought Greene into conversation with George Orwell, even though he was a committed communist. 

Captain America #695 by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee- The dream team who brought Daredevil out of his grim bell towers and dingy alley ways and sent him to San Francisco in a bid to recapture some of that colorful early 70's John Romita & Roy Thomas fun try their hand at the star spangled avenger. Their first issue definitely delivers. In a bid to recapture the fun of reading monthly comics and eschewing the labyrinthine calamity of re-numbering their comics every twelve issues (a confusing hurtle to new readers, which was initially mean to entice them) Marvel has conceived of "Legacy", a move away from social justice online blog baiting and a clean slate for the real fans who have been so long maligned. Samnee is doing some of his best work here and I can see him becoming my favorite Cap artists since the great Steve Epting. The colors pop, the action is dynamic but appropriately cartoony, almost with a Gendy Trakofsky vibe. Waid's scripting is appropriately  patriotic, playing on the heart strings as Cap bravely stands up for a collection of Americans from all walks of life. We get a nice trip down memory lane highlighting Cap's world war two exploits and thus torch bearer of all that is right and good with the country. This sunny optimism mixed with good old fashioned bad guy punching makes for a very comforting read that made me smile to myself a few times. Downside, Cap is doing battle with the sort of vague white supremacist hordes that are the only allowable villains now a-days and in Waid's estimation probably the only real threat to the country. Maybe it would be nice if Cap could take on some foreign terrorists, rogue government actors, anarcho-communists or any other fringe movement that happens to plague the nation. But that wouldn't really fit the agenda. Besides that, I'm looking forward to the next issue. Maybe, I'll even subscribe, and not to that new fangled digital comics malarky. Reading these new "Legacy" books, with their retro vibe and throw back advertisement stylings requires turning the pages of a physical comic book. 

 

Introducing: The Film Journal Show!

Check out my new Youtube series!

I'm very excited to begin work on my new Youtube film review and discussion page. I've watched a lot of youtube movie reviewers deliver painfully vague and surface level discussions of current movies that don't add much to the critical conversation. I thought that I could contribute a little bit more in the way of analysis of a given film's structure with emphasis on behind the scenes production and a work's cultural relevancy.I also hope to highlight lesser known cult movies and many classics that I admire. Here are some of my initial offerings: 

George reviews one of his favorite films: An American Werewolf in London, John Landis (1981)

"It" review with Special Guest Robert Siegrist!

George Doll reviews the Weinstein Brother's first film effort: The Burning!

My Appearance on The Philosophy Guy Podcast!

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Is the Internet over? What is Net Neutrality? What does it mean now that it has been rolled back by the FCC? What is Bitcoin? Is the fast rise in Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies a concern? Is Bitcoin a bubble? What's up with these sexual assault cases in Hollywood? Does Alabama keep their ethical principles? How is the new Star Wars movie? What could have been with Star Wars? All of this discussed! Guest George Doll! Listen Here!

What I've Been Watching...

Ozark (TV Series, Netflix)

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There have been many iterations of the Sherlock Holmes character in the now 100 plus years since his inception and one critique often leveled at failed adaptions is that Holmes can only ever be as clever as the person writing him. The writer must first conceive of dire circumstances from which the protagonist must utilize his wits to extricate himself. Secondly, the machinations of our hero must reveal themselves in surprising and clever ways, conducive the entertainment and surprise of the audience. At this, Ozark succeeds spectacularly. Ozark is one of the scripts that I only dream I could one day put to paper. The story, conceived of by Bill Dubuque (The Judge, The Accountant) concerns personal financial manager Marty Byrd, a survivor existing on the fringes of conflicting criminal regimes and the dredges of society who uses his wits to preserve his life and the lives of his wife and children. Constantly confronting mounting challenges (Owing 8 million dollars to the second largest drug cartel in Mexico, being tasked with the laundering of said drug money through failing cash businesses in the lake of the Ozarks, having a brief case of money stolen by local criminal elements of the 'redneck' variety, trending on the toes of entrenched Missouri Heroin dealers, being pursued by the F.B.I., etc.) Byrd manages to outsmart, outwork, and outmaneuver his enemies using only his wits, penchant for money management, and business acumen. There is plenty of thrilling moments and unexpected twists in the show but by far the most enjoyable aspect for me (and I will only focus on this one element in order to keep my review mercifully short) is the sheer joy of watching Marty come up with another plan, another deal, lie, or opportunity to keep himself alive. Jason Bateman is fantastic in the lead role and even took over directing duties for 4 out of the 10 episodes of this first season. Bateman has a fantastically compelling face. He has a way of raising his eyebrows in anticipation during a conversational scene (which has served him well as a straight man in comedy films) which is often employed here when proposing a new idea. If macheavelian scheming that entices you, the themes of the ordinary man adapting to extreme circumstances, mounting dread and suspense, or family disfunction, this show has plenty to offer. 

What I've Been Watching at the Theatre...

Valerian, Brigsby Bear, Logan Lucky

I frequent the new Alamo Draft House Theatre in western Omaha, had it not been erected a year ago, in all of it's glory I would probably attend the movies a lot less. This is a real shame considering the impressive crop of films that have been released this summer. Despite the negative void of public conversation and appreciation that continues to expand in American pop culture, I've managed to drag many of my friends (Taylor Cambridge, Andy Donaldson, Josh Cochran) to a film or two and had a wonderful post viewing discussion. 

I've really had a wonderful summer moviegoing experience despite the dearth of public interest and have managed to also to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Spiderman: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Dunkirk (at Star Cinema, in our very own IMAX, where blockbusters should be seen), Alien: Covenant, Baby Driver, A Ghost Story (at the equally wonderful Film Streams venue), It Comes at Night, as well as retrospective showing's of Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and Predator at the Drafthouse. All in all, it's been a great summer and I enjoyed every one of these movies on their own terms. However, having failed to keep pace with the rapid world of internet blogging it seems that my more nuanced thoughts on all of these films will never been put to keyboard and all three of you who find yourselves reading this will have to be contempt with a recap of the last three films I've seen before the Fall season picks up with Kingsman: The Golden Circle (maybe my most anticipated film of the year).

Without further ado-

Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets- This film would have been considerably better had it stuck to the implications of it's own title. Presumably this fantastic "city of a thousand planets" plays a central role in the narrative of the story. Perhaps it will become a character in it's own right similar to the dystopian Los Angeles of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner or the comic book art of Moebius which inspired Besson's previous effort The Fifth Element. While I can report that the conception of this inspired city (and a wildly creative and well executed montage chronicling it's inception) is a real show stopper. We are introduced to a massive city of 22 million aliens, robots and humanoids floating in the vacuum of space, a beautiful amalgam of production design and an exciting mesh of computer effects and cinematography. Unfortunately the films hackneyed anti-colonialist plot figures little into the city itself and could have been set anywhere. The city becomes just a pretty backdrop and an excuse for Besson to treat this film like a greatest hits album of the comic book, a revolving door location conducive to set pieces. I was getting Hobbit vibes in certain sequences. However, I'll happily report that the issue of romantic chemistry between the two leads, an apparent sticking point for the internet hoards and bait clickers who yell into the wildness about such things wasn't an issue for me. Perhaps I have a tin ear for sincere romantic dialogue and Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones is a high watermark for me in the romance depart but I actually found the two leads to be rather endearing. They certainly looked good. Visually they are interesting people, worked well within the film and I probably would have cast them as well despite protestations from people with the beating hearts of spectators rather than mechanically minded futurists like Besson. 

Brigsby Bear- The premise for Brigsby Bear sounds considerably less creative if you've seen the first season of The Unstoppable Kimmy Schmidt. However, the presence of a creepily charismatic bear helps to set this story apart as well as the unique screen presence and voice work of an actor like Mark Hamil. Despite that pained expression that conveyed the wisdom and pain of the ages that he deilvered in the closing moments of The Force Awakens I don't think he's ever been a particularly good actor, but I was jazzed to see him here. I can't figure out if he really is just a shot of weirdness into a film that teeters on the edge of off-putting and endearing or if I'm happy that after 40 years the man who played Luke Skywalker is finally beefing up his IMDB page. Apparently this film is the brainchild of some new SNL cast members, after reading James A.Miller's "Live From New York" I can appreciate just how difficult it can be to squeeze in the production of a film on one's summer break from SNL. This is a film that isn't incredibly funny and therefore cannot be recommended as such but it offers up a very compelling vision of the neurosis and preoccupation of filmmakers and is probably the best film since J.J. Abrahm's Super 8 to illustrate the communal and coming of age experience that making a home movie provides. This sort of 80's cheap chic is in vogue now but works well here. I'd highly recommend Brigsby bear. Come for the quirky fish out of water plot ("...Brigsby tape?") and stay for the scenes with genuine heart. 

Logan Lucky- I've watched interviews with Steven Soderbergh, I've listened to his commentary tracks and he doesn't seem to be the most gregarious guy. If you were to have dinner with him I'd imagine that there would be a flurry of mixed signals due to awkwardness or the sort of innate aloofness that is apparent in his demeanor but that also functions to add to his mystic as a auteur. That being said, how is it that the man is able to reliably crank out these crowd pleasing, light on their feet, free wheeling films? Logan Lucky is a relaxing afternoon movie, its not really in a hurry, it loves its characters and its environment. In fact, it loves it's character so much that many of them seem to have no real place within the narrative and are rather just extraneous bursts of flair a la Coen Bros. The heist in Logan Lucky is exciting and fun but most of all, the movie (written by Soderbergh) doesn't treat its lead character (a pair of lovable southern brothers played believably and genuinely by Chasing Tatum & Adam Driver) like Rubes or contemptible blue collar hicks whose stupidity and hubris is the draw (like Bay's Pain & Gain). I enjoyed my time in North Carolina with the people of Logan Lucky. It's great to have you back Mr. Soderbergh. I'll be sure to watch The Knick as soon as I can...

 

What I'm Reading...

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What I'm Reading...

The Man in the High Castle- Phillip K. Dick: This is my first foray into the writings of PKD, though I'm more than familiar with the films which utilize his novels and short stories as source material (Blade Runner, Total Recall). This novel manages to take a blockbuster premise (Nazi Germany and Japan defeated the allies in World War II and now occupy the United States) and turn it into a sparse existential tale about the amorphous nature of history, time, and perception. Once you get over the initial disappointment that this novel bears little resemblance to its television adaption the reader is able to appreciate more subtle observations about the nature of oppression, even when benign, and its ability to crush the spirit and obfuscate simple interpersonal interactions. We observe many fascinating scenes of white Americans humbled in the presence of their Japanese or German superiors. There are obviously many more interesting themes emanating from the novels fascination with cultural objects and obsession with the true meaning of history but my plan is to keep these entries short. This was an enjoyable read and I look forward to exploring more of Dick's books. 

Preacher- Garth Ennis & Steve Dillion: I was absolutely blown away by this comic. I remember having seen it prominently displayed on comic book store shelves as a young kid and being overtly frightened by the grim imagery on the cover, saying nothing of Steve Dillion's straightforward and grisly artistry that does for comic what what Hemingway did for prose, the guy is a master draftsman, not so much in his ability to craft art that is striking or stylized but simply from a storytelling perspective. This stuff is tight, legible and it flows wonderfully. (Read Bendis and Yu's Secret Invasion for an example of poorly paced comic art.) Initially it took me a moment to adjust myself to Ennis' bleak world view and hectic first few issues (There's a lot of information coming your way and plot points that seem annoyingly convenient until they are later fleshed out) but after issue 4 it was off to the races and I couldn't put it down. This book is gory and takes no prisoners. Ennis is able to imagine the most dastardly of villains like nobody else in comics. I can't wait to pick up volume 2. 

The Atlantic, Can North Korea be Stopped?- Mark Bowden: While it's tempting to look at the failed state of North Korea with its sodden, ghoulish leader and be tempted to mock or dismiss this article does a fantastic job of articulating the true threat that the unstable nation poses to its neighbors and to the United States. Bowden does a terrific job of framing his article by focusing on the four detailed plans the Pentagon has in place for dealing with North Korea. Bowden dismantles them all and by the end of the article a little seed of doom is planted in the mind of the reader as it becomes more an more apparent that neither all out attack or appeasement will contain the North Korean threat safely. The regime is combustable in a multitude of ways that many readers, including myself never imaged. Reading this article with it's articulation of possible military scenarios is what I would imagine the secret board room of Hollywood directors and fiction writers tasked with prognosticating all possible doomsdays is like. A must read for engaging with polite company about the North Korean threat. 

What I'm Watching...

The Founder- John Lee Hancock (2016)

 Michael Keaton in  The Founder

Michael Keaton in The Founder

I'd recommend The Founder to anyone who enjoyed Fincher's The Social Network but found themselves annoyed by their inability to identify a clear cut villian within the legal melee. Michael Keaton plays Ray Crock, a shrewd businessman who could teach Eisenberg's Zuckerberg a thing or two about skullduggery and Machiavellian scheming. At first a hapless over the road salesman of cumbersome gizmos meant to service burger joints and shake shacks, fate soon smiles upon Ray Crock in the form of those now iconic "golden arches". Crock is bowled over by the brainchild of two good natured brothers from southern California: McDonald's, a fast food destination unparalleled in its efficiency and quality. Crock delivers his tried and true sales pitch to the unsuspecting brothers and soon transforms the humble hamburger stand into something the brother's find unrecognizable. Keaton scampers through the film fighting tooth and nail to fend off various elements in his life which he sees as impediments to his success. His wife, played by Laura Dern (in a rather thankless role) doesn't share his penchant for risk taking when it comes to the mortgaging of their home, the McDonalds' brothers back at home base in California complain that he is shirking quality in favor of maximizing profits.

 As Crock, Keaton affects a rat like demeanor and his voice is often shrill and brimming with bile. Initially I found this choice to be a little over the top, however Upon viewing the inclusion of super 16mm footage of the real Ray Crock during the end credits I realized that Keaton actually played down this grating trait. Crock was not an apparently likable fellow. Imagine Bob Barker's less appealing brother in a smoking jacket. While by the end of the film it becomes lazily obvious that Crock is nothing but a schemer and crook who is lying to himself about his own greatness and who has built an empire on a foundation of deceit...it isn't so obvious throughout the second act. I felt for Crock every time he hit a wall in innovation or was hampered by the small-mindedness and jeers of others. Perhaps this narrative unease stems from some defect in my character finding virtue in what was obviously written to be a heartless capitalist. However, it seems more likely the result of uneven writing that didn't quite stick the landing in its attempt to portray Crock as nuanced.

The film seems to imply that the biggest defect in Crock's character was his unbridled ambition and that perhaps he should have found solace in his station just as the McDonalds brothers were content with having a single proprietorship. Yet without the vision and guts of Crock we wouldn't have the fast food mega giant that we have today. Billions have spoken and we have all apparently found utility in McDonald's specific brand of fast food. It's just a little disingenuous to view a screed against ambition and tenacity by people who are making films in Hollywood, a business that nobody just stumbles into.