Sunday, July 31, 2016

Of course I read it

I'm fairly sure I've made it clear that I'm not much for drama, that I prefer reading things that are meant to be read rather than watched. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has made that preference truly stark for me.

One of my major issues with drama is that what is said on stage has to be understood by everyone in the audience immediately. This leads to a lot of dialogue that sounds almost unspeakably unnatural. I'm sure it's easier to suspend disbelief if you're actually sitting in front of real people speaking on a stage than it is while you're sitting in a hot garage at four in the morning, but I don't have a stage with real people acting in front of me and so my disbelief went unsuspended. The dialogue in this play is really difficult to get behind.

I'm also pretty sure it took me less time to read this play than it would take me to watch this play (I read it in just under three hours) but even at that pace I found myself frustrated with the short-sightedness of basically every character and the frankly masturbatory conceits that peppered the plot.

***************SPOILERS*************but not major ones******just little spoilers**

Basically this felt like a piece of fanfic given the blessing of WoG. And I mean that up to and including the exploration of AUs, the needlessly complicated plot, and the closure with certain characters. It feels like it was supposed to be a feel good story.

I don't want to say much else, since it was released literally four hours ago, but I will say I'm disappointed. Of course it was never going to hold up to the originals, what the hell ever could? But even with my low expectations it felt trite and reaching. I didn't hate it, it may grow on me with time, but it is a totally unnecessary and self-indulgent addition to the Harry Potter series.

     - Alli

Tiffany, John. Jack Thorne, JK Rowling. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Scholastic.
     New York: New York. 2016.

Overachievers of rock

 This just in: Buzz Osborne is super nice and I am super lucky to have said hi to him

I swear to fuck I'm going to post that photo every time it seems even slightly relevant. Which has been at least six times already. Because I'm a huge irretrievable fangirl. Which is probably why I'm one of a couple hundred people in the Los Angeles area who went to watch a documentary about The Melvins last week.

Every time I talk to someone about The Melvins I hear "you know, I think I've heard of them but I don't know any of their songs," or "fuck those guys" or "OH MY FUCKING GOD I LOVE THE MELVINS." Those are the only reactions. No others. And the first reaction is the most common and was my position about a year ago. I'm not sure what switched flipped or exactly when it flipped for me but at least by last October I was tormented by the fact that driving to Sacramento to see Faith No More meant I had to miss The Melvins Lite at the Echo. They played the Troubador a few months ago and I couldn't afford tickets. And then Songkick (an indispensable tool if you're a fan of weird or semi-obscure bands that don't have massive tour announcements everywhere like some bands I know *cough*GNR*cough*) told me there was a Melvins show at the Regent Theater for $25. I bought a ticket without even reading what it was really about. I didn't know there was a movie involved until a week before the day of the show.

And it was really more about the movie than the set (which is slightly heartbreaking). The evening opened with an appetizer of The Melvins self-made tour documentary, followed by an amazing half-hour set, then came The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale; a Kickstarter-funded documentary about the long history and general adventures of a band that nobody's heard of who are largely responsible for the current rock landscape. We finished with a short Q&A and were released back onto the streets shellshocked and ready to rock.

The documentary is fantastically well made, let's start with that. The interviews are all a fantastic example of what to do well when you're trying to put together a narrative, the archive footage of the band is visceral and evocative, and the interactions with Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover (which are so long and involved that I can't really call them interviews) are a fascinating look at two people who may be among the hardest workers the music industry has ever seen. Pacing is a large part of what makes this film work, which is important since the movie has the audacity to try to break a thirty year history down into bite-sized chunks. I do think that it is perhaps a bit too long - I can't find the runtime anywhere online but I get the feeling that trimming 15 minutes would make it infinitely more watchable. The music is, of course, great.

Since this movie has JUST been released, and is in extremely limited release, I'd recommend that you try to go see the damned thing instead of reading reviews about it but I understand that it probably just won't be possible for a lot of people. Hopefully there will be DVDs and such available soon, and I wouldn't be surprised if it started showing up in music history class syllabi in a couple of years. It feels very important while never taking itself too seriously - just like The Melvins themselves.

     - Alli

Let's watch some suffering

The Melvins Across the USA in 51 Days: The Movie is pretty aptly described by its long title. In fact the title may be the most cohesive part of the film, which follows The Melvins (with a lineup of Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover, and Trevor Dunn - also known as The Melvins Lite when they play together these days) on their record-breaking 2012 tour across 50 states and DC in 51 days with no breaks or relief for their madness.

The movie was made on the iPhones of the band members. It's a short flick, spending only about a minute at each of the tour stops, with no real story aside from the endurance of the band members. Lots of time is spent in truck stops and Starbucks as the guys grabbed a few spare seconds of downtime on their grueling trek. They play pranks on one another and marvel at ludicrous landmarks. Some of the most engaging and hilarious moments are slow pans from the facades of the nightly venue to their neighbors, which include a Holocaust museum and a pet groomer. There are occasional absurd special effects thrown in to break the monotony, things like comets screaming across the sky or someone's head exploding for no reason.

All in all it's a surreal and disorienting experience. The camerawork is as shaky and unpleasant as you'd expect it to be coming from cell phone cameras, periodically moving from landscape to portrait orientation with nauseating suddenness. It IS very interesting to watch, even if you don't know who The Melvins are, for the sheer value of seeing a group of grown-ass men torturing themselves for almost two months straight. Between each stop is a title-card featuring a cartoon; all of these are amusing and well-crafted, some are just fucking hilarious.

I don't know that I can recommend it. Watching it made me feel physically ill and I'm not generally susceptible to shaky-cam sickness. There is nowhere near enough music in the movie for it being a flick about a traveling band, but that adds to the reality and mounting exhaustion you feel as you witness this marathon of a tour. In all honesty I kind of want to call it a horror film or a thriller - there is a constantly-mounting, unpleasant but satisfying tension that ratchets up with every new location and that is a credit to the editing, which must have been just a monumental task.

But I enjoyed it. So I guess do what you want?

     - Alli

Friday, July 29, 2016

Indie darling

I'm really excited to see the kind of career Daniel Radcliffe is going to have outside of Harry Potter. Obviously he's been working on other projects and I've enjoyed every not-HP piece of work I've seen from him, but it's a bit sad because A LOT of his not-HP films are little indie oddballs that not enough people get to see.

Swiss Army Man is a great example. And it is great - the film is whimsical and sad and charming. Swiss Army Man evoked all of the feelings I wanted but didn't get from Where the Wild Things Are but used a farting corpse instead of relentless nightmare fuel to get the point across. But it is a TINY movie. It had a budget of around three million dollars (almost all of which I hope went to a brilliant set team and prop department) and it's barely made back its budget. Last weekend it took in around $100k, this weekend it's going to be on fewer screens.

You don't get to see movies like this if you live in Arkansas, you don't get to see them if you live in North Dakota. When I went to go see it with my sister only three theaters in a thirty mile radius were playing it, those theaters had only one or two showings of it each, and I live in Los Angeles where we get to see ALL of the movies.

I know DVD and streaming are the future of films - there's no way a charming indie flick is going to do well during blockbuster season but it can perform beautifully on Netflix a year later. And I hope that happens because I want people to see movies like this.

Dano and Radcliffe are both fun to watch but Radcliffe's performance is the more technically impressive because of how limited he was by the role and how much he still communicated in spite of that. The Dans who wrote and directed the thing should get a cabinet full of shiny awards, which they would deserve, and then hand those to their prop department and cinematographers, who were amazingly brilliant and pulled of wonderful tricks that I didn't even know to look for in this odd little movie.

Swiss Army Man has been described as Castaway with a corpse or an hour of fart jokes but it's so much more. It's sad and sweet and it's the story of two lost people (or maybe one lost person) finding out who they are.

     - Alli

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It me

Okay, confession time: before reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle the only work I'd ever read by Shirley Jackson was "The Lottery," which is a great short story but it was NOT ENOUGH.

Everything after this is spoilers. Just be warned, I'm spoiling the shit out of this book because I'm so excited but I can't really talk about it without talking about major important surprise plot points.

Y'all this book was fucking amazing, it made me feel whole and frightened, and it was maybe the greatest experience I've ever had with OCD in literature. I mean that's probably not a good thing, and look folks we can all accept that most people with mental illnesses aren't *spoilers* responsible for the deaths of their entire families. But SHIT. Shit this is so good. People have asked me what it's like dealing with OCD and now I can just hand them the book and say "it's terrible, have fun." Sure, it would be great if the best fictional representative of one of my illnesses I've ever encountered wasn't a murderer but it's so goddamned nice to see an OCD person who ritualizes and makes up rules and imagines the violent deaths of those around them and wants things in their place and makes up games to walk down the street but doesn't give two shits about whether or not her hands are washed.


God, and it's such a well-constructed story. It's beautiful, the whole fucking book is stunning and delirious and I love it. I love the sisters, I love the cat, I love the horrid cousin, I love the townspeople, I love the HUGE TWIST with the uncle.

I really want to read everything else Shirley Jackson has ever written now. I can't tell you how happy I am with this book, how much I enjoyed reading it, or what a fucking relief it was to feel a character who felt like me even if she was a fucking monster.

     - Alli

Jackson, Shirley. We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Penguin. New York: New York. 2016. (1962).

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Follow the fish

Stephen King is 68, which I know isn't old old but goddamnit he's starting to write things like an old man and it worries me. I'm part of a generation that has never NOT had a new Stephen King on the racks once every year or so (and, let's be honest, it's more like once every seven months or so). I've grown up reading King, I've gone from panicked, wide-eyed, under-the-covers-to-keep-the-monsters-out-reading at thirteen to rushed, wide-eyed, I-can-squeeze-in-another-five-minutes-on-my-lunch-break-reading at twenty-nine. Every new King novel is intoxicating for me, I want to rush through it and rip the story into little bites that I can shove in my mouth as fast as I see them and I know someday that will no longer be a joy I can have and it worries me, and makes me sad, and King seems to be writing like he knows that. Like he and Bowie got together and talked about how they'd troll their fans.

End of Watch is like that. I raced through it, I adored it, and it scared me badly in a way that goes well beyond the spine-tingling creeps in the story. I mean, fuck, even the title's a bit grim and on-the-nose, isn't it?

This is a brand new book so I don't really feel comfortable saying anything about it out of fear of sharing spoilers. I'll just say that I really think it delivered in terms of the series, and that the writing in it seemed stronger than Finders Keepers and the story was a satisfying conclusion to the groundwork laid out in Mr. Mercedes. Actually this may be the best King novel in terms of pace, craft, and plot that I've read in years. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but perfect is the enemy of good and End of Watch really is a very good book. And it's a very good Stephen King book specifically - it includes many elements that have been absent in King's more realistic fiction but combines those old standards with the exploded-mystery-novel feel that's been present through the whole of the Bill Hodges trilogy.

And now that the trilogy is done I feel totally comfortable recommending it. It's all worthwhile to read and I may make time to read through the whole thing in the next couple of months so I can review it as a whole without worrying about spoiling it within a month of publication. There ARE things I have issues with in all three books (primarily the stereotypically racist diction that one character repeatedly falls into - and having all of the characters in the story realize the diction is a part of a racist stereotype doesn't excuse it). The good far outweighs the bad, overall, but I don't want to give the impression of perfection.

     - Alli

King, Stephen. End of Watch. Scribner. New York: New York. 2016.


Anna Archie Bongiovanni has cartooned for Everyday Feminism at the same time that I have, so I got the opportunity to chat with them a couple of times. They gave me some great advice for how to handle minicomics and how to put my work out there so that the people who I wanted to see it would see it. Part of the reason that this advice was so special to me was because I'd seen samples of their wonderful book, Out of Hollow Water, and I realized what a wonderful artist and creator they are. I recently had some Barnes & Noble gift cards to spend and was delighted to find that Out of Hollow Water was available through the book behemoth.

The book is. Um. Really intense. Really, really intense. Like I feel the need to give pretty strong trigger warnings.

It's a beautiful, small book. Only about 100 pages and with the rough dimensions of a CD it sits easily in your hands as it digs into your heart. It tells either three distinct story or one contorted story, and the simplicity of the narration is such that it's up to the reader to decide how the story is structured.

The art is staggering. Instead of the hard lines and flat colors Bongiovanni uses for their online comics Out of Hollow Water is full of soft graphite layers that show missteps and sketch lines through the bold strokes that reach out to the reader. It feels incredibly intimate and organic, unpolished but not unfinished. It honestly is one of the most beautiful graphic novels I've ever encountered.

The story is difficult. When I first sat down to read it I ended up going through the book three times end-to-end letting it wash over me and percolate in my mind. It's jarring and scary and sad. It hurts to read; it makes you worry for the characters, the author, yourself.

I loved it but it's hard to recommend. I'd say it's for people who need to heal but maybe it's more for people who know that healing isn't easy or pretty, it's messy and sordid. There's no right way to heal but there are many wrong ways and that's part of what this amazing little book explores.

     - Alli

Bongiovanni, Anna Archie. Out of Hollow Water. 2Cloud Publishing. Minneapolis: Minnesota. 2013.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Everybody's coming to get me

I don't know if I've mentioned it on my blog in the past but I have a real problem with conspiracy theorists. This comes as an outgrowth of living with my Mother-in-Law who legitimately believes that a common practice in Satanism is performing ritual abortions. She believes this because at one point she went to a spiritual warfare conference where a "former Satanist" told attendees about the "curses" he cast over millions of people while "flying" overhead - all of which was due to "powers" he had gained while "performing ritual abortions" as a sixteen-year-old at "black masses."

I bought A Culture of Conspiracy because I was frustrated with my Mother-in-Law and I was hoping that it might provide some insight as to how I could rationally approach her and temper the impact of her conspiracist thinking. As it turns out the book didn't have much to offer on that front, but did provide a comprehensively researched history of conspiracies in the US that was easy-to-read and very interesting.

People who deal with a lot of conspiracy theories experience something that is colloquially called "crank magnetism," a term which explains that someone who holds one irrational belief will be attracted to other irrational beliefs. So someone who believes that colloidal silver treats infections is much more likely to believe that vaccines cause autism than someone who spurns colloidal silver in favor of antibiotics and hand-washing. Similarly someone who believes in alien visitations is more likely to believe that the Illuminati is a threat than someone who is skeptical of interplanetary visitors. A Culture of Conspiracy is the academic exploration of the intertwining of very different conspiracy theories.

The three main theories that become themes in the book are Christian Millenarianism, the Illuminati/Freemasons, and UFOs and alien visitation. Some forms of conspiracist thinking are very exclusive and rely heavily on traditional dogmas, but some forms are more open and participate in a kind of cultural exchange until it seems to the conspiracist that most of the world is participating in the plot.

The book does a really excellent job of explaining this, and breaking down conspiracist cultural exchange into bite-sized chunks that are easy to get your head around. It's a bit dry, but then it's very academic. I enormously enjoyed reading it, but I recognize that it's not the sort of book that's really written for everyone. If you're interested in the history of conspiracy theories, or if you're interested in debunking conspiracy theories it's a must-read. If you don't have much of a stake in the conspiracy game you'll probably not find it worth your time.


Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America.
     University of California Press. Berkley California. 2006. (2003).

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Okay, we gotta talk about rape

Does anyone even know who Cokie Roberts is anymore? She was a somewhat familiar figure for me as a child because she popped up on TV a lot and therefore was occasionally made fun of in Mad Magazine. Supposedly she's wrapped up in some shady shit politically, but appears to have been somewhat inactive in the last decade or so.

Anyway, she wrote a book about the Revolutionary War that I found for a dollar so I read it.

Founding Mothers isn't quite insipid. It's not as inspirational as it wants to be, but it also isn't quite as stupid as could reasonably be expected. It's a totally middle-of-the-road history that places specific emphasis on the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of the American founders. By and large it is kind to its female subjects and a bit snappish towards the male subjects, but in a really weird way. Like, there's not a hell of a lot of criticism directed toward slave owners for, you know, owning slaves but she makes sure to call out every dude who made assumptions about his wife's ability to run a business.

Which is odd, right? Roberts tosses in these little you-go-girl asides with phrases like "I'll say!" tacked on to the end of paragraphs about Abigail Adams rising above John Adams' pig-headedness (and she puts A LOT of emphasis on how much Abigail could have used a love-letter from John) but barely mentions the Southern founders' slave ownership (and especially neglects to discuss AT ALL Jefferson's institutional and statutory rape of his slave and his dead wife's half-sister Sally Hemings). There are some skewed priorities is what I'm saying. Throughout the book you feel that Roberts has a very strong need to portray the "founding mothers" as sympathetic and kind and participating in a great work that was uniformly good. Buuuuut she only mentions slavery a couple of times, only discusses the freeing of one slave, completely leaves Native Americans out of the discussion, and really hammers home the great sacrifice that all these women were making by having just shitloads of babies. It actually kind of becomes a running joke that Kitty Greene is always pregnant when she shows up on the scene that Roberts is setting. How great and noble, Kitty Greene gets knocked up for the revolution and still shows up to dance with General Washington to improve troop morale. What?

I don't really know how I feel about this book. On the one hand it's a decent history that looks at the stories of people who frequently get left out of history or are banished to the footnotes, on the other hand for someone who appears to be vocally against sexism it's a weird kind of feminism that Roberts is showcasing here. It's okay, not great, and leaves a lot unsaid that I think really needs to be said.

Like the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant man who raped his slave and freed their children while OWNING A PERSON he was fucking until his death. That, I think, should have come up. Maybe around the time that Abigail Adams was sending Patsy and Sally to Thomas in France, when he likely started his decades-long "affair"/incidence of repeated rapes with a minor. That might have been a good time to mention that detail.

Okay I guess I'm off on a rant. Look, it's not as though Jefferson's rape(s) of Hemings invalidate every other thing that he did - he was a brilliant inventor and statesman but it's SO important to acknowledge that people who are in some ways admirable are ALSO in some ways repugnant and need to be held to account for it. Ignoring this sort of thing is how we end up believing that "nice guys" can't be rapists and seeing situations like Brock Turner's ridiculous sentence in the news. Until we can discuss that we're going to keep ignoring the suffering of victims out of fear of harming their attackers. Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant inventor and statesman who was also a rapist. David Bowie was a brilliant musician who was also, at least once, a rapist. Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby - all brilliant people, all apparently rapists, and all people who should be punished for their actions. But we barely fucking talk about it because "what about his career" "what about his work" "what about all that he COULD do" an we never stop to ask what his next potential victim COULD do if they didn't have a rape hanging over their heads.


Anyway. Yeah. Talk about rape.

     - Alli

Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women who Raised our Nation. William Morrow.
     New York: New York. 2004.