A Reaction To Cloud Atlas

It's clear that CLOUD ATLAS was very difficult to make. Telling 6 stories at once, in 6 different genres, with a repeating ensemble cast should be a nightmare if you want to do it well. Indeed, the only thing everyone seems to agree on in all the reactions to this film is that it's ambitious. But the thing I can't figure out is if there's anything else. I can't tell if this is a difficult to unpack because its depth is hidden so well, or difficult to unpack because there is no secret compartment. It's just empty.

Remarkably, no one seems to be calling it "pretentious," which is a tag that seems to follow every film that aspires to be important. Part of the reason for that is, despite the interlocking stories, it's kind of a simple film. Individually, the stories (ranging from a seafaring slavery play to a post-apocalyptic journey) are so one dimensional and simple by necessity. They're slider burgers. Nothing fancy, because they want you to eat a lot of them. Taken together, I can appreciate the tapestry and work, but it doesn't seem to add up to much more than a 3 hour rumination on the interconnection of lives.

At the same time, that seems like the wrong assessment. The sheer scope and ambition keeps insisting to viewers that there's a lot more to this work, like something with such a degree of difficulty couldn't be so flat and empty, there must be some threads you have to unravel. How you confront the challenge, or the illusion of the challenge, will determine how you receive the film. You will rub up against its complexity and see the tip of the iceberg, as Roger Ebert does, or you will take a step back and see a big stupid ice cube, as Pajiba's Daniel Carlson does. When confronted with the question of whether a piece of art has depth, we tend to look at the credibility of the people behind it. It's hard for me to go this route, as the Wachowskis seem to straddle the line. They often seem to possess great ideas, but execute them in annoying or clumsy ways.

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I Read Oscar Wao

It took me forever to read this book. I'm not proud of it. It's the reason I have refused to update that sidebar, because the fact that this book cover was still posted under "Reading Up" was my punishment of public shame. I've always read slower than I should, and I thought maybe book status updates such as Goodreads or my sidebar would give me enough pressure to plow through more novels in shorter time. I was wrong. I am the worst of all things.

It's amazing what 20+ hour drives up the west coast will do, though. In truth, I should have knocked out this book in a week or two, even at a relaxed, casual pace. But what kept happening is that I would read the first section, about 40 pages or so, and then stop. For a couple of weeks. Inevitably, I'll want to start over, and read the first 40 pages, and then stop again. It was a cycle of forgetting and restarting and breaking too long out of lack of discipline. It is a pathetic thing.

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I Watched Me And You And Everyone We Know

I'm relatively new to the luxury of Netflix. My sister got an account for the  Xbox only a couple of months ago, but already I am well versed in the common internal struggles of the everyday Netflix streamer. For example, every time I boot it up to watch something whilst I eat, I see a delicious queue full of movies I've always intended to watch or documentaries that will surely enrich my brain. But at the same time, I am not looking for a serious mental commitment at that very moment, seeking what Dan Harmon calls the least objectionable option. A movie I've already watched, or something dumb and fun like Star Trek or god forbid episodes of Pawn Stars. More often than not, I give in to the demons of sloth, because as much as I should see Rashomon, they've got episodes of 30 Rock I can re-watch in less than half an hour.

But I make progress. The easiest way to get things done is to just shut the fuck up (in your head) and do it. So I pulled up Me And You And Everyone We Know, Miranda July's film that I've had pegged for at least a year. Miranda July is a likeable artist. She works in a variety of mediums but her stock-in-trade is the weird, whimsical and quirky circumstances of lonely crazy people.

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I Watched The Wire

Credit: Mickey DuzyjLate to the party, so that the party is all mine.

I guess I could simply say The Wire is great, that the tension was so well crafted, that nothing on television has ever felt so real and that so much of it hangs over your head long after you finish watching. It paints this extremely detailed, heart-wrenching, terrifying and incisive picture of an American city where everything is connected and everyone is doing their best to get by with varying degrees of morality. But everyone is also reacting and doing things they don't want to because of things they can't control, and you, as the audience member, are the only one with the omnipotent point of view that knows the real problems.

Except even knowing the real problem doesn't mean you have the real solution. Everything is so wrapped up together and fucked up and inescapable that it feels like this slow lurching towards doom is the only place this story can go, with very little exception and wiggle room. I guess that's what gets you the most: It feels like the real world, and the real world is such a fucked up place with small victories and bigger losses. Nothing ever really gets resolved, no one really wins. Situations change, and those come with new baggage that will continue to compromise and cripple any and all hope.

But if you've even heard of The Wire, you've probably already read all kinds of ranting and ravings about how amazing and powerful and important the show was. I don't have anything new to add except an agreeing nod, a subdued "Yep." It is probably the greatest show I've seen so far. But I was particularly interested in its depictions of criminals and criminality.

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I Watched Blue Valentine

Credit: artofthetitle.comI don't know why I keep gravitating to sad things. It's obnoxious, but it's a comfortable place. I like the sad song, the sad book, the sad people and even sad dogs. So it shouldn't be surprising that after hearing the initial buzz and rumbling, I was looking forward to watching Blue Valentine.

On paper, it sounds too pedestrian and run of the mill. Two people fall in love but then they aren't, and they live in a city, and they're young and dress well, and then they become not-as-young and dress in awful bald eagle pullovers. If you read a synopsis or a summary, you would think, hasn't this movie been made already? Likely. But I don't know if its been made this well.

In our modern world, films about love have become the territory of Nicholas Sparks, where someone has a terrible illness and someone loves that person and then one (or both) of them die. It's a jack-in-the-box of feelings. You turn the crank in one direction, over and over, of course you get the desired emotional response: Jack springs out.

Blue Valentine doesn't need any of the fancy dressings of sailing scholarships and Alzheimer's disease. Patton Oswalt called it "a movie for fucking adults"and not just because it bounced back and forth between an NC-17 and an R rating. This is a film that goes to great lengths to capture reality, and just like reality, it doesn't sit well with you at all. There aren't extreme world-ending stakes or star-crossed lovers, but the way the details of their misery have been presented makes them feel just as heavy.

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I Read Persepolis

In my quest to eat up the best that the comics medium has to offer, I turned my hunger onto PERSEPOLIS, a two volume graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. It's one of the latest admissions to comics canon, a modern critical darling, and was even most recently animated as a feature film. It's a memoir about her time during her time, first as a child and then as a teenager, during the Islamic revolution in Iran.

There is an issue in the non-fiction genre, particularly with memoirs, about whether the storytelling/craft of writing is actually good or if someone  has just lived through, what my non-fiction professor called, "craaaazy shit." Because anyone can be (un)lucky enough to be born into an absurd, extreme situation (Augustin Burroughs), but not everyone can tell that story well. It is even rarer to find a writer who can make the mundane, ordinary life seem full of universal power.

I kept this in mind in trying to decide which side of the fence Satrapi fell on. While I'm not keen on being one of those reactionary douchebags that likes to hate things that are popular or critically acclaimed, there are some significant annoyances that hindered my enjoyment of the book. The big picture is this: Satrapi has had an interesting life, and tells it well enough. But giving it MAUS status as one of the must read graphic novels might be a little much. She might certainly have the potential to craft a masterpiece, but this seems only an indicator of her potential.

The art is the soul of the comic, and Satrapi uses a flat, stark black & white cartooning style that is passable in terms of ease of comprehension. I don't mind that it doesn't have a lot of flashiness to it; I am, in fact, a big fan of minimalist art styles. But it tends to be flat a lot in Satrapi's work. Too often are characters draped in pitch black forms, whether in Iran or Vienna, and they become difficult to distinguish especially since the writing context doesn't always help and characters will change hairstyles. While there's something to be said about difficulty vs. ease in comics, the way Chaucer is harder than Hemingway but both are good in different ways, this feels like the type of story that would benefit from ease.

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I Read On The Road

On The Road by Jack Kerouac is one of those books that I know I was supposed to have read by now, but haven't. I'm sure some of you were required to in school or something - I didn't have one of those classes. My English 1C teacher was making us read Wicked instead. I read the beginning, skipped the middle, read the end, and then wrote my paper on it. It was cool. I lent it out to someone, and they never gave it back, whoever that person is. I don't even remember.

The thing about On The Road is that it seemed like something that I would be into. According to the absolute truth of Wikipedia, it has been responsible for influencing a whole host of folks I admire like Bob Dylan or Hunter S. Thompson. Warren Ellis used to read it once a year. It's about road travel and America and emotional yearning and bonding those are all things that I think are swell. This should have been in my head years ago.

Well, I did. And I decided to write about it because my "books" tag only has one entry, and that's for a comic.

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Review | I Read Jimmy Corrigan

Some day, I'd like to write a comic. It doesn't have to be superhero, though that would be great, it just has to be something with pictures to go with my words, told sequentially, and have dialogue trapped in little bubbles with a funnel pointing at the principal's head. In order to make this pipe dream a little less pipey, I need a wealth of knowledge of the medium. So I decide to make my way through the classics and the acclaimed: Gaiman, Moore, Tomine, Eisner, Hernandez, Satrapi, Spiegelman, Morrison -- There's a lot of them.

Recently, I decided to pick up Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy on Earth by Chris Ware. You've probably seen it around in stores. It's that odd, long, rectangular book in the graphic novel section with the flat, basic shape art. It exudes differentness, that is, you can tell it's arty and difficult because it doesn't give a shit about fitting nicely on your bookshelf. What follows is my amateur thoughts and ideas, having now finished the thing.

My first exposure to Ware was a curious cover/comic he did for an edition of Voltaire's Candide for Penguin Classics. It was weird and even out of place, but that just made it seem like a daring choice. That's the basic vibe I get from this book too: an overall strangeness that is a little difficult  read, but the investment brings you in closer overall.

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