My Favs of 2014

I also really like the polka dot duvet cover I got on sale.


This is by no means a definitive "best of 2014" list. I have not read, watched, or looked at enough things to make such a list. Just a few of my favorite things I read, watched, and looked at in 2014.


Books



Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami - My absolute top favorite piece of media in any medium this year. After the unwieldy 1Q84, some worried Murakami had lost his touch. But this year we got a translation of his latest novel, which is also one of his best. A shy young man's life is upended when his close-knit group of friends mysteriously abandon him. Many lonely years later, he finds the courage to confront them about what happened. The novel also handles a tough topic (that coincidentally became an explosive topic in 2014) with compassion and intelligence.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide - Man doesn't consider himself a "cat person." Then he meets a cat. I also read Tom Cox's Under the Paw, a book about a man who considers himself a cat person and obtains lots of cats. (Ironically, the above Murakami was uncharacteristically catless.)

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver - This collection is likely the swan song of this great poet. A Thousand Mornings is no American Primitive, and I admit I thought her poems about her late dog Percy were overwrought (until my own elderly cat passed away). But it did include one of my new favorite lines ever, in "Out of the Stump Rot, Something": "If you like a prettiness,/ don't come here./ Look at pictures instead,/ or wait for the daffodils."

Other favorites that are not from 2014 but that I read for the first time in 2014:

The Savage Detectives and Amulet by Roberto Bolaño - I went on a Roberto Bolaño binge this year. Like Balzac, Bolaño works with a large cast of characters who span the globe but are mostly rooted in Mexico City. Of these, my favorite is Auxilio Lacouture, a middle-aged drifter and literary devotee from Uruguay who calls herself the "mother of Mexican poetry." In one chapter of Savage Detectives, she tells her story of staying in a bathroom during the army's 1968 takeover of the University of Mexico. In the novella Amulet, we get a fuller picture of her hardscrabble, poetry-filled life.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - I don't usually read thrillers, but when I saw the incredible trailer, I knew I needed to read the book ASAP or I would look up spoilers. Even if you know some of the twists, it's still a tense "in one sitting" read. (Warning: there will be some spoilers in my ramblings on the movie version below.)


Short Stories



"Someone in the Room Will" by Falcon Miller in The Rag - Even when I'm fortunate enough to get a contributor's copy of a literary magazine, I'm still convinced my piece was the worst piece. My favorite piece, however, in my contributor's copy of The Rag #6, was Falcon Miller's clear-eyed but empathetic portrait of a woman who is just not going to make it in society.

"River So Close" by Melinda Moustakis in Granta - Another story told about people at the fringes, "River so Close" in Granta #128 tells the story of a younger, sharper woman who is a seasonal worker at an Alaskan cannery where danger takes many forms.


Art



For the Sake of Being(s), Katy Horan and Katherine Rutter at Gallery LeQuiVive in Oakland - I'm a longtime fan of Horan, but this joint show focusing on nature and dark femininity was my first introduction to Rutter's work.

Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George, O'Keeffe retrospective at the de Young in San Francisco - The giant flowers were there, but this exhibit showed off the artist's range of subjects, from abstract, modern cityscapes to landscapes far removed from her well known desert scenes.


Movies 

It was a great year for Marvel actors doing arty genre pieces.


Snowpiercer - A cruelly topical, claustrophobic, existential nightmare in which director Joon-ho Bong somehow seamlessly includes slapstick humor and kick-ass action. After the human-caused apocalypse, Earth's only survivors live on a socially stratified train doomed to circle the globe continuously (Marvel Person Count: 1, Captain America. Tilda Swinton: Yes. John Hurt: Yes.)

Under the Skin - This "alien has moral crisis on Earth" movie directed by Jonathan Glazer is...not for everyone. I had to reflect on it for a while before I even knew if it was for me. It's a contemplative film with beautiful visuals and little dialogue. Several people in the viewing I attended walked out, most memorably some guy who apparently decided he just could not watch Scarlett Johansson slowly, slowly, slowly, ever so slowly eat cake. That was where this unknown man drew the line. (Marvel Person Count: 1, Black Widow. Tilda Swinton: No. John Hurt: No.)

Only Lovers Left Alive - The main characters are vampires in this Jim Jarmusch film, but this is less of a "vampire movie" than it is a funny, moving family drama that takes place in deserted Detroit, USA and vibrant Tangier, Morocco. A sunny, earthy woman and her younger musician husband deal with his depression and her reckless little sister. (Marvel Person Count: 1, Loki. Tilda Swinton: Yes. John Hurt: Yes.)

Gone Girl - I read the book so I wouldn't look up spoilers for the movie, and then I had to wait for what felt like forever for the movie! I enjoyed this David Fincher adaptation - I'm sure it helped that Flynn did the screenplay. Some see Amy Elliot Dunne as the ultimate "men's rights activist" strawwoman, but I think she's her own great villain, and Rosamund Pike was excellent in this role (favorite moments: competitive miniature golf, post-murder hair-flip, and that grin at Ben Affleck from the examination room). Although true to the source material, the movie managed to add to a lot of dark humor. Missi Pyle as fake Nancy Grace was a great bonus. (Marvel Person Count: -0.5, with 0.5 for Daredevil and -1 for Batman. Tilda Swinton: No. John Hurt: No.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier & Guardians of the Galaxy - with a topical political thriller and zany-cute space comedy, Marvel proved it can keep their millions of superhero movies fresh. (Marvel Person Count: check with payroll. Tilda Swinton: No. John Hurt: No.)


TV



Gotham - This prequel series is cheesy and trying to cram in too many famous characters, but I love it. Robin Lord Taylor is an absolute breakout as Oswald Cobblepot (better known as the Penguin) steadily working his way up the ranks of the Gotham underworld. Jada Pinkett Smith, as new character Fish Mooney, is over-the-top and entertaining as a villain who mixes deadliness with the camp of the 1960s series.

South Park - Who knew 18 was a lucky season? The show, which began as a crudely animated short in 1992, found new life in 2014 by drawing inspiration from Silicon Valley, gluten, and pop-star/middle-aged geologist Lorde.


Comics

And...the Rainbow Brite theme song's in my head.


Loki: Agent of Asgard - The Asgardians had quite a 2014, which should provide the foundation for a great 2015. Except for Thor, who lost the power to wield Mjolnir and was replaced by a new Thor (popular new name for old Thor as suggested by Katie Schenkel: Snortblat). Loki: AOA started in February, and then led to a mini-series, Thor & Loki: the Tenth Realm, where the brothers met their long-lost older sister, Angela, who then got her own book, Angela: Asgard's Assassin. And a new Thor has begun telling the story of the still-unknown woman who has taken Snortblat Thor Odinson's place as Thunder God.

Loki: AOA has been my favorite, though. Continuing the extreme identity crisis and self-hatred that Kieron Gillen launched for him at the end of Journey Into Mystery, AOA finds Loki living in New York, singing in the shower, playing video games, grilling salmon, and making yet another take-no-shit platonic female friend. But of course, drama finds him. With clever writing by Al Ewing and art by Lee Garbett, highlights have included a guest appearance by Doctor Doom and goddaughter Valeria, the most determined band of juggling-themed supervillains ever, and an obnoxiously heroic Loki who can turn into Thor AND a unicorn.


Top Three Cat Brother-Sister Internet Acts

Maybe Leslie and GOB worked better as siblings. :'(


Actually not as much "top three cat brother-sister internet acts" as much as "three cat brother-sister internet acts I happened to think of." Basically, this is a list that wouldn't even make the Buzzfeed cut, despite being 100% cats.



What is that gray lump in the foreground?

These guys are the reason for this list being made. Well, Scuba is. If you frequent reddit or reddit-cat-content-reposter LoveMeow, you've probably seen Scuba over the past week. Scuba, with her acid-trip eyes, lynx-like ear tufts, and a smile that ranges from coy to threatening, is likely the internet's next big cat star. Apparently she has a brother, Shadow. Shadow is a perfectly acceptable looking cat, and is probably very nice. But he just doesn't have that je ne sais quoi that will hopefully make Scuba this season's cat version of 2012 Jennifer Lawrence.



Sharing the spotlight? No.

Once upon a time in Arizona, a calico cat got knocked up by a stray tom and gave birth to a litter containing two deformed kittens. One of these kittens grew up to become the biggest meme-to-mainstream phenomenon we've yet seen, with celebrity appearances, merchandise, a line of cat treats, and even a Lifetime holiday movie. The other is Pokey. While Grumpy Cat (real, un-PC name: Tardar Sauce) scowls with character, although not quite $100 million worth of character, Pokey never managed to charm the masses with his vacant, if amiable, expression. 


Synchronized sleeping champions.

No Shadows or Pokeys here! We don't have the names of the cats of guremike. Such human designations are below them. (Cute Overload calls them Thing One and Thing Two.) While there might be occasional sibling rivalry, for the most part these two are in transcendent harmony.


Special Mention: Maru and Hana


Maru and Hana might not be related by blood, but they're still brother and sister at heart. They fight! They play! They cuddle! When Maru's owner introduced a kitten into their household, it wasn't clear how Hana's presence would change the blog and YouTube channel of the Famous Internet Cat trailblazer. But young Hana has proven herself an asset, being a befuddled straight man to wonderfully weird Maru one moment and frisky wildcard the next. On her own, Hana's a pretty normal tabby, but with beloved big brother Maru, she's a star. Or a co-star, at least.


But which pair should be dramatic superheroes?


Images:
Amy Poehler and Will Arnett in Blades of Glory: movpins
Scuba and Shadow: their Instagram
Grumpy and Pokey: their Grumpy's Facebook
Guremike: this adorable set
Maru and Hana: their blog
Magneto's kids: Marko Djurdjevic cover


Black Cats for October



A few years ago I did a post on black cats for Friday the 13th, which looked at kitties from art and literature. With their traditional connection to bad luck and the fact that they're not as "flashy" as other kittens, it's always a little more nerve-racking than usual giving a black foster kitten back to the shelter for adoption. Since it's the month of black cats appearing in decorations (often with witches), here are some more stellar examples of that much maligned, Halloweeny animal.


Bear

Won't someone give him a cuddle and listen to his poems?

18-year-old Bear is the subject of owner Tom Cox's many books about being a crazy cat man, but he's become so widely known because of cat's best friend: the internet. Photos of the melancholic Bear and the reasons for his sorrow are paired on his hit Why My Cat Is Sad twitter account, which currently has 172k followers. His persistently heartbroken little face just demands you pick him up for a hug and kiss. Fortunately, despite having a rough history, Bear is adored by his family. And understandably, Cox is a black cat advocate.



Isis

Not THAT Isis.

Batman sometimes-villain, sometimes-hero Catwoman is the undisputed queen of the felines. Fans of the classic, stylish Batman: the Animated Series might remember Isis, a sleek black cat who matched Catwoman's sleek black cat costume. Selina Kyle has been portrayed as having different "main" cats over the years (Hecate, for example, in the 1966 Batman movie, aka the best movie of all time), but Isis from the various animated shows is the definitive one for me.


Forget the diamonds, Isis has canned food!


Shorty

Shorty is appalled or stoned.

Half of popular YouTube cat duo Sho Ko, fluffy, cuddly, energetic kitty Shorty is also an advocate for black cats everywhere. (Except when sidelined by her addiction to catnip bananas.)



Cole

Good, 'cause I always need hair ties.

Like Shorty, Cole is the older half of a YouTube kitty pair (Cole & Marmalade). And like Shorty's owner, Cole's owner has a soft spot for black cats. Good news for this formerly tiny rescue!




Salem

...

Like Isis, here's another black cat the intersection of comics and television - and a witch's black cat at that. Salem, the cat of Archie Comics' teenage witch Sabrina, was once a sorcerer who tried to take over the world. His punishment? Being turned into a cat. And then sharing a bed with a teenage girl. Salem reached top popularity on the 90s sitcom, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, where he was voiced by Nick Bakay and portrayed by both real cats and a terrifying robot cat. Since then he's starred in Sabrina, the Animated Series, made an appearance in gritty smash hit Afterlife with Archie, and has even gotten his own origin comic about his adventures before living the Humbert Humbert dream.



Image Sources:
Vintage cat: The Graphics Fairy
Bear: Bear's twitter
Isis: DC Animated Universe wiki
Isis again: DC Animated Universe wiki
Shorty: Shorty and Kodi's Facebook
Cole: Cole and Marmalade's Facebook
Salem: from Afterlife With Archie #1, illustrated by Francesco Francavilla

Tusk: It Is What It Is



In the Roberto Bolaño short story "The Colonel's Son,"* the narrator describes to the reader a late-night, low-budget zombie movie he has just seen. The movie in question is "a bad film, or the sort we call bad," but he still finds it "revolutionary." He can't really explain why. He says that the film was, "pathetic really, full of cliches and tired devices, prejudices and stereotypes, and yet at the same time, every frame was infused with and gave off a revolutionary atmosphere, or rather an atmosphere in which you could sense the revolution, not in its totality, but a fragment...as if you were watching Jurassic Park, except the dinosaurs never showed, no, I mean as if it was Jurassic Park and no one even mentioned the fucking reptiles, but their presence was inescapable and unbearably oppressive."

I don't think Tusk is revolutionary or infused with revolution. And there are other odd genre films I've watched in the past twelve months that I've liked more but haven't written about (Only Lovers Left Alive, Under the Skin, Snowpiercer). If I hadn't been reminded so strongly of Bolaño's story while watching it, I probably wouldn't have written about Tusk, either. But like Bolaño's narrator, I kept sensing...something. The best I can articulate it is to say it is what it is. Is it a great film? No. But despite the fact that it was basically a dare that came from a joke and is purposely trying to be a movie like "The Colonel's Son" but without the lack of a budget, it is still sincere. It's hard to say what I would change about it. Another artsy horror movie I recently watched, We Are What We Are, by contrast, is so gorgeously shot and acted that the flaws drive you (or at least me) crazy. "You almost had it!" I wanted to scream at We Are What We Are's stupid-ass ending. Tusk also had an ending that makes zero sense, and yet it fits. It all fits together, even the parts that don't fit, into one curio that could rest on a mantel in the villain's creepy, intriguing mansion. 

Among the other parts that don't fit but do fit are a Quebecois caricature of a detective (played by Johnny Depp, whom I did not recognize), lengthy character monologues (a Kevin Smith standard), and a romance between gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez's Ally and pale, schlubby Haley Joel Osment's Teddy (another Kevin Smith standard, although to be fair, this is a picture of him and his wife of fifteen years). But even though I don't entirely disagree with the review Johnny Depp Ruins Kevin Smith's Tusk, I don't feel compelled to edit that character out of the film. It's a misstep, but it's a weird misstep in a weird film. Rodriguez is moving in her to-the-camera mid-film confession. And the affair between her and Osment's characters manages to feel sweet. 


Justin Long and Michael Parks in Tusk

The main character, Wallace, is played by Justin Long. Long is most known for a series of Apple commercials in which his obnoxiousness and John Hodgman's affability somehow made behemoth corporation Microsoft a lovable underdog. Basically, Long was a good choice for this role where someone gets turned into a walrus but you don't feel that bad about it.

Wallace is an insecure prick of a comedian, and very much of the zeitgeist: his podcast consists of Tosh.0-style mocking of people's internet video fuck-ups, and his "ironic" racism includes Nazi jokes and inaccurate imitations of his Hispanic girlfriend's supposed accent. He's just charming enough - or rather, they can remember when he was just charming enough - that Ally and Teddy can't quite bring themselves to say, "That's racist. STFU." But I - and many (most?) of the audience - am complicit in some of this. If you've never laughed at someone's stupidity-fueled misery on Youtube (Go! Bwah!), you're a better person than I. With the internet, viciousness is easy.

But while Wallace's material is current, there's nothing new about his white male hubris. During their initial meeting, Wallace and Howard Howe (Michael Parks, also in We Are What We Are, giving a brave, delightful performance here) reverently discuss Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling, and it's clear Wallace sees himself fulfilling this role of "young male adventurer" without care for whomever gets trampled in the process. Later, Howard brings Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner** into the conversation, but Wallace doesn't catch the subtle warning there.

It's too late, anyways, because he's been drugged and will soon be subjected to a series of Regretsy-level surgeries that will turn him into a walrus...sort of. Meanwhile, even though they've been sleeping together behind Wallace's back, earnest-at-heart art-lovers Ally and Teddy set off to rescue him. And there's a battle scene it would be a crime to not release behind-the-scenes footage of that made me feel bad for snarking on Justin Long. He's a trooper.

And that's Tusk. Somewhere in between The Human Centipede's pure-shock surgery-horror and Boxing Helena's*** wannabe-artsy surgery-horror, with a million Canadian jokes thrown in. With something corny but affecting to say about tears. Maybe the tender way Teddy puts his arm around Ally as they leave a ludicrous but sad situation reminded me of the end of "The Colonel's Son" when a strict, bottled-up military father calls out in vain for his son who has decided to die with his zombie girlfriend.

It is what it is.

Medically accurate diagram from Smith's Instagram.

*"The Colonel's Son" was published in issue 117 of Granta. It's not available online, but there's a visual representation of part of the movie-within-the-story here. The story is included in Bolaño's collection The Secret of Evil.

**I recently reread "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and man, the mariner was a dick. After the albatross meets the sailors, it "every day, for food or play,/ Came to the mariner's hollo!" This sweet little (well, not little) albatross is having a good time playing with the crew and getting snacks, they probably named it Mr. Flap-Flap or something, and then this dick-face shoots it for no reason. Yeah, you ride on your zombie boat and think about what you've done, douchebow. 

***Don't want to watch Boxing Helena? You don't have to, thanks to Jason MacIssac's in-depth review in its vintage 90s habitat.


A Biker Gang Version of Shakespeare's Cymbeline is Coming Out?



Yesterday I was on IMDB and wondered, for whatever reason, what Anton Yelchin was up to, and was shocked to find there's a movie version of unpopular Shakespeare play Cymbeline coming out! I'm usually pretty on it with these things, so this was exciting and upsetting at the same time. But yes, there's a movie version of Cymbeline, and it's about motorcycle gangs (Shakespeare's play is not about motorcycle gangs).

And it comes out...sometime. It's not terribly clear from the IMDB page what distribution plans are, but it is at least getting shown at the Venice Film Festival in a month or so. Hope you make a splash, Cymbeline! Shakespeare movie adaptations have had a rough time lately. Julie Taymor's 2010 The Tempest flopped (and also kinda sucked, despite having Alan Cumming), Ralph Fiennes's 2011 Coriolanus barely got shown, and apparently a crappy Romeo and Juliet came out last year. At least Josie Rourke's stage production of Coriolanus, buoyed by Tom Hiddleston, was a hit simulcast in theaters around the globe. Maybe that bodes well for Taymor's film of her stage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Anyhoo, back to Cymbeline. Like Winter's Tale and Troilus and Cressida, Cymbeline is no one's favorite Shakespeare play (although the Oregon Shakespeare Festival did a fun production of it last year). Sample conversation about Cymbeline:

"How did you like Cymbeline?"
"Oh, it was fine. I guess."

Which is why I feel both snarky and intrigued that the trailer for this movie calls it an "undiscovered masterpiece." That's a pretty bold statement (though not necessarily in Shakespeare scholarship, where you have to pretend you "discovered" something new and exciting about Shakespeare a lot), and the premise is certainly bold too: the setting is not the kingdom of Britain but a biker gang. A drug-dealing biker gang. "Like Sons of Anarchy!" the press release begs, while also bringing up Baz Luhrmann's 1996 Romeo + Juliet. Luhrmann made this gritty, flashy aesthetic work for him in that adaptation, so it will be interesting to see how and if director Michael Almereyda pulls this off (he also did a modern Hamlet in 2000). Although there are ridiculous cases of mistaken identity and implausible schemes, there is also a lot of darkness for a biker drama to play up: threats of murder and rape, a beheading, death sentences, etc.

I have a folder full of Romeo + Juliet screenshots.

Plot Summary:

Cymbeline sounds like a girl's name, but it's actually the name of the king. Imogen, his only heir after the long-ago kidnapping of his two sons, secretly marries Posthumus, a noble but not royal orphan who has been raised in the palace. This angers her father and stepmother (especially the stepmother, who who wants her son from a previous marriage, Cloten, to marry Imogen and become king). Posthumus is banished and obviously, since this is a play from early 1600s England, Imogen has to go on a journey disguised as a boy. Spoilers for a 400-year-old play after this!

Casting:

Main character and pretty great Shakespearean lady Imogen is played by Dakota Johnson, who is about to become famous for 50 Shakes of Grey, which I'm not touching with a ten-foot-whip. Apparently she got the news that she got that part while filming Cymbeline. Milla Jovovich plays her stepmother, who is classically evil, and that could be a really fun role.

Ed Harris plays King Cymbeline. I have no thoughts on this other than that Harris is also in Snowpiercer, which you should check out if you haven't already.

Tom Hiddleston won the 2008 "Best Newcomer" Olivier for his turn as both hero-lite Posthumus and villain-lite Cloten (it's an important plot point that they look similar...especially their thighs), but here Posthumus will be played by Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley and Cloten will be the more dramatically tested Anton Yelchin (to return to the beginning of this long sentence, Yelchin and Hiddleston co-starred in chill vampire family drama Only Lovers Left Alive). TBH, Yelchin is looking pretty damn hot in promo pics. Too bad his character's an inept mama's boy wannabe rapist.

Are those...Hersey Kisses?

For some reason the casting isn't complete on IMDB. Although I hoped it was John Leguizamo, my guess is that Bill Pullman is Belarius, a nobleman who, when wrongfully banished by Cymbeline, took the dude's kids and high-tailed it with the toddlers to Wales, where he turned out to be a pretty good dad. Spencer Treat Clark, a secondary villain in Joss Whedon's excellent Much Ado About Nothing, will be the elder son and rightful heir of Britain. I'm anxious to see Clark in this role. His acting in Much Ado was very low-key and droll, and this role suggests more range and action.

After finding photos taken of Jovovich and Leguizamo filming together, I think he's probably Cornelius, the doctor/druggist/potion maker (a role which should actually translate well to this version).

More Romeo + Juliet. How great was Leguizamo as Tybalt?

Vondie Curtis-Hall (hey, he was in Romeo + Juliet too!) is Caius Lucius, who in the play is the Roman general sent to forcefully obtain tribute from puny colony Britain. From the trailer, it looks like he'll be a cop demanding bribes here.

And Ethan Hawke is Iachimo, the scummy dude who tries to be Iago.

So Anyways:

Even if this turns out to be terrible, I obviously will watch it. But I hope it isn't terrible, and kudos to Almereyda for taking a chance on Cymbeline.


Oddly Precious Melancholy: Music and Writing

Nikolai Roerich's backdrop for Rite of Spring.


I don't usually listen to music while writing. Some writers have huge, hugely specific playlists for when they're working. Sometimes they're obvious; sometimes they're counter-intuitive. Bubblegum pop for horror? Metal for young adult angst? I've tried, but I find it distracting. It's fine in the background if I'm in a cafe or other public place, but if I'm writing at home...it just doesn't work for me. I end up making up music videos for the songs in my head. But I say "usually" because music became necessary for a particular project.

In my short story "Oddly Precious Melancholy," out in The Rag #6, the title refers to, among other things, a flavor of contemporary alternative/pop music I've defined loosely and inexpertly. Music that's weird and sweet and introspective. Music that doesn't always seem sure if it's being ironic or earnest with its DIY aesthetic and offbeatness, and yet is delicate and beautiful. The cutesy ennui of a sincere hipster or someone mistaken for one. Music that defined and was listened to by my characters, a group of flippant millennials in timely timeless peril.

I started making a playlist. The first songs were added when I started writing, somewhere around 3-4 years ago (this included Gotye...before it was universally and unambiguously decided that we didn't want to hear "Somebody that I Used to Know" again for at least a decade or so). Other songs got added much later, during the drawn-out editing, submitting, editing, and waiting portion, when I tried to be brave and tell myself that my protagonist, Kimber, would take care of shit. The songs below aren't a complete list, and the order has nothing to with when the songs were added, but it is a kind of thematic soundtrack for my story. This might not be interesting to anyone else, but I thought at the very least I'd share and give credit to the music that got me through this story, from scribbled notes to publication.


Screenshot from The Lumineers' "Ho Hey" video.

Opening

Ho Hey - The Lumineers: anguished and low-energy and plaintive but charming. So, a perfect introduction.

A Change of Days - Smith's Cloud: I know this song because I heard it on a cat video have an encyclopedic knowledge of cool indie music.

Internet Killed the Video Star - The Limousines



Screenshot from Alpine's "Villages" video.

Middle

The Cigarette Duet - Princess Chelsea

Just a Boy - Pikachunes

Villages - Alpine: early on in writing this story I went on a YouTube binge, trying to establish its "sound." It was on this binge that I found Alpine, Pikachunes, and Princess Chelsea.

New Slang - The Shins

Dashboard - Modest Mouse

We Are Young - Fun

Shake it Out - Florence + The Machine

Born to Die - Lana Del Rey

The Gulag Orkestar - Beirut

All These Things That I Have Done - The Killers



Screenshot from Grouplove's "Tongue Tied" video.

Ending

The Rite of Spring, Sacrificial Dance - Stravinsky: breaking from twee alt-rock/pop, here's the finale to Igor Stravinsky's 1913 composition about human sacrifice in ancient Russia. I was properly introduced to this piece in spring 2013 when San Francisco Ballet performed it (despite watching Fantasia a billion times as a kid, it never struck me then - sorry, battling dinosaurs). By the time I saw the ballet, I had finished the story, but this episode kept me inspired through the work that followed. Besides relating thematically, it also has the horrible, breathtaking tension I wanted to emulate.

Tongue Tied - Grouplove

Young Blood - The Naked and Famous





Image sources:
Roerich's Rite of Spring backdrop
All screenshots taken by me from linked videos.

Shakespeare at 450: Birthday Party Post

Puck's ruling the dance floor!

Today* is Shakespeare's 450th birthday. Four and a half centuries. A tiny amount of time in the universe, but time enough to make an undeniable impact on Western society. So let's party!

*Possibly. We know he was baptized on April 26, 1564, but Trump hasn't been able to bully the birth certificate out of anyone. So April 23 is celebrated (which was also the day of his death in 1616).


Oops. Partied too hard on the party boat. Damn it, Trinculo.

There is no way I can sum up Shakespeare in a blog post, not even by navel-gazing and trying to explain my own love of his work. I realize it's fair - even necessary - to question the idolization of him, to ask why this white male who is among any number of writers thorough human history has become "the Bard."


Ms. Bernhardt dons her Danish best for the bash.

But then I read or watch, and cannot deny the power of his creations. Language and society change (often for the better with the latter), but the humanity in Shakespeare's works remains as true as ever. I even love the works I hate. Recently I was talking with my mom about our upcoming Oregon Shakespeare Festival trip, and I was going on and on like, "blah, blah, blah, I hate The Two Gentlemen of Verona, but when we see it at Ashland -" "Wait," my mom said. "Why are we seeing a play you hate?" Even the plays that aren't my favorites I enjoy watching: seeing what decisions directors made regarding them, thinking over the problematic aspects, marveling at the perfect moments within them, questioning why I feel the way I do, wondering what contemporary theater-goers would have thought of them...


Shit, Ophelia's tripping. Someone get her out of there.

Sometime in childhood, I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream outside on a warm evening, and that was that. So today I'll be wearing a locket in which I put fragments of my favorite Shakespeare passages, including Oberon's description of Titania's bower in A Midsummer Night's Dream, act II, scene I:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night


Shakespeare Stuff:

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: As good as the hype. Even better. Excellent, thoughtful productions in a lovely town.

MIT's Complete Works of William Shakespeare: All of Shakespeare's work, online with simplicity and readability. A great public service. No, I don't know why Troilus and Cressida is in comedy. It's more like a relationship sad-trombone.

Talk Like Shakespeare Day: Can't say I'll be calling people sirrah today, but this site has some fun resources. My personal favorite Shakespearean insult is from act I, scene I of Coriolanus: "Who deserves greatness/ Deserves your hate, and your affections are/ A sick man's appetite". Damn, Martius.

Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood: Pre-Raphaelites and Shakespeare: A series of blog posts by Stephanie Pina focusing on some of the beautiful art Shakespeare's canon has inspired.

Folger Library Digital Image Collection: You want illustrations of your favorite play throughout history? A manuscript page? A costume worn by the famous actor brother of the guy who became more famous for assassinating Lincoln? Look here.


No one blames you, man. Join the party.


Previous Shakespeare Stuff on this blog:
A Young Dragon: Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus
A Party at the Whedons': Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Whedon
Occupy Shakespeare: Coriolanus


Image Info:
Puck being a dork
Party boat
Mucha Sarah
MDMA Ophelia
Sad Edwin


A Young Dragon: Tom Hiddleston as Coriolanus

Thou boy of tears. Beautiful, beautiful tears.

Last weekend, the event I've waited for and annoyed my friends about since July arrived. I sat in a theater in Northern California and watched a recording of a play in London. The play was Shakespeare's Coriolanus directed by Josie Rourke at the Donmar Warehouse, and the titular role was played by Tom Hiddleston, which was why it was so exciting.

And nerve-wracking. When I first heard Olivier Award winner Hiddleston was in the play, I thought, "Oh, he'd be a great Aufidius." But he wasn't Aufidius. He was Caius Martius Coriolanus. This is a role usually played by "prime-of-life" actors in their forties or fifties, and Hiddleston is an exceptionally sprightly thirty-two. In the film version that came out two years ago (which got shafted in distribution but I enjoyed and reviewed here), Coriolanus was portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, aka Voldemort.


This Martius is grown from man to adorable man with a teacup.

So wondering if Hiddleston could play Slaughterbot 3000 was my biggest worry. I also had an actual nightmare, while I was sleeping and everything, that I was watching the production and they had whittled down the women's roles to next to nothing, because I am no fun.

But while Hiddleston's youthful Coriolanus felt odd at first, it soon proved to be an intelligent choice. After his latest victory, Roman soldier Coriolanus is pushed by his mother, a family friend, and his general into politics, which he doesn't really want to do, and which immediately turns into the PR disaster from Hades. It's understandable that a younger man would succumb to this pressure, and it's easy to see why so many would bank on the hotshot ingenue. After seeing Hiddleston's Coriolanus, I kinda wanted to grab Fiennes's by the shoulders and shout, "You're a frickin' adult! A real one! Why didn't you just brush off suggestions of a career change you didn't want? Why are you throwing a temper tantrum in public? Why do you still have mommy issues?"

This doesn't mean I think the traditional middle-aged Coriolanus is now invalid. Just different psychologically. After all, Coriolanus was groomed for war since birth, had his first major victory at sixteen, and has had no other job since, not even working at Dairy Queen over the summer. Despite his tour of Roman Imperialism, his worldview is extremely limited. He's stunted, no matter his age.

But there's perhaps more hope for a young person to grow emotionally, and that adds to the poignancy of Rourke's production. Hiddleston's Coriolanus's bewilderment when he shows up at the home of arch-nemesis Aufidius and is greeted with open-armed joy is touching, as is his affection for and attraction to the sensible wife he hasn't quite figured out how to connect with.


She realizes butterfly torture is creepy; trust her!

Oh, and Rourke certainly did not cut down the women's roles. Brigitte Hjort Sorensen has poise and strength as the woman who finds herself wife to Slaughterbot 3000 and daughter-in-law to Rome's most blood-thirsty stage mom. Virgilia (the wife) and Volumnia (the mother, played by Deborah Findlay) are an interesting pair in the catalog of that most notoriously difficult of relationships: mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Virgilia is almost an interloper in Coriolanus and Volumnia's icky mother-son thing, but much like Ruth and Naomi in the Bible and Edmee and Madame Peloux in Colette's The Last of Cheri, the women become a powerful team once the guy is out of the picture.

The rest of the cast is stellar as well, but I particularly enjoyed Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger as the politicians working to undermine Coriolanus. Their characters move from nebbish academics to power couple in an authentic and fresh way.

There are still quite a number of encore performances coming up in February and March at theaters across the country via National Theatre Live. I highly recommend it, even if you're not (but especially if you are) a devoted Coriolanus booster like T.S. Eliot.

The Lark Theater in Larkspur, CA.

Night Vale in San Francisco

Welcome to Jan 21


I wasn't sure what "Night Vale" was when I first saw it mentioned on Tumblr and Twitter. Was it a TV show? A comic book? A game? When I found out it was a podcast, its popularity was only more confusing. Old-timey radio dramas are what the kids are into these days? I knew The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had started as a radio show, but that was in the 70s, and Douglas Adams figured out other mediums pretty quickly. I love animator Leigh Lahav, but I found her "Night of the Raging Fangirls" short perplexing. Were people that obsessed with the relationship of two fake people they've never seen? (The fact that you don't "see" characters in books either had no effect on my logic.)




But I gave it a try (episodes are free) and played episodes while I was cleaning, while I was in the bath, and during my Muni commute...and quickly found myself completely caught up with over two dozen past episodes. (They're currently up to 39.)

"Welcome to Night Vale" is a spooky, off-kilter comedy in the form a radio newscast from the titular supernaturally afflicted town. Cecil Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin) is our host, and often (but not always) the only voice we hear. We see Night Vale, an isolated desert town, through this proud resident. In some respects it's a typical American small town; it's made up of chain stores, fast food franchises, and optimistically named condo developments. But then there's the dog park no one is allowed to enter, the spires, the pier at the non-existent waterfront... Oh, and it's ruled (until recently!) by a sinister government of hooded figures, secret police, and mysterious mayor Pamela Winchell.

Through friendly Cecil we "meet" Night Vale's inhabitants, which include Cecil's crush-turned-boyfriend Carlos, a heroic scientist and Night Vale newcomer determined to solve the town's mysteries; Josie, an elderly lady watched over by angels; Koscheck, the floating cat who lives in the radio station's men's bathroom; Hiram McDaniels, an ex-con and mayoral candidate who is also a five-headed dragon; Dana, an intrepid intern currently on an other-dimensional journey; and fearless child revolutionary and summer reading program champion Tamika Flynn. And many, many more.


Cecil and Carlos's romantic Arby's parking lot outing as depicted on an official t-shirt.


Night Vale came to San Francisco as part of its live show tour, and I managed, without murder (but not without a lot of F5 hitting and bloodstone circles), to score tickets for the 1/21 show. And a bonus was added: Cecil Baldwin, writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and credits/proverb reader Meg Bashwiner did a free panel and Q&A at Booksmith in the Haight on 1/19.


Baldwin, Fink and Cranor (or possibly vice-versa?), and Bashwiner at Booksmith.


I won't recount the whole history of "Welcome to Night Vale," which the panelists discussed (they met as members of New York theater group Neo-Futurists), but I was impressed with their commitment to the show. It's clear from hearing Fink and Cranor speak that keeping the writing excellent is important to them. When asked about their favorite episodes, standouts "A Story About You," a haunting episode told in second-person, and "The Sandstorm," a two-part episode where we get a full broadcast from Desert Bluffs, Night Vale's neighbor and rival, were both mentioned.

I also liked their answer to a very good question that came up regarding the Night Vale book that will be coming out in 2015. When asked if it will be illustrated, Cranor and Fink said they would push against that, as they value fans' interpretations of how the characters look. Since we're given little description, fans have made their own art of the characters, celebrating Night Vale's premise as a diverse community. How characters look, the writers said, belongs to the fans.


My headcanon Pamela Winchell is Laura Fraser as Lydia in Breaking Bad.

So after lots of waiting, tonight was the live show. It was held in the Mission District's Victoria Theatre, a 1908 venue. And it was packed. This shouldn't have been a surprise, seeing as the show sold out within minutes (they had to add a second), but seeing all 491 seats filled with happy Night Vale fans really put the show's popularity in perspective. And I don't think a single fan left disappointed.

The opening act, Night Vale "weather" alum Jason Webley, was well picked. A charismatic, Jack Sparrowish hipster, his instruments included an accordion and a bottle of coins. Everyone goes into a theater just wanting the main act to start, but Webley's lively foot-stomping and songs about Orpheus and giraffe ranchers got the crowd laughing and ready for even more fun.

You know your podcast is beloved when the person who reads the credits (Meg Bashwiner again) comes out onstage and is greeted with applause and screams. And then Cecil Baldwin stepped up to the mic, and the audience got even louder. Even as a Night Vale fan, I was floored by Baldwin. Although backed by Fink and Cranor's clever writing, he has to carry the podcast himself, and for the live show, this means standing up onstage alone most of the time, sans props. His stage presence was perfect. He was engaging, expressive, and had great timing. Being able to witness his vocal range in person was enlightening. I learned during Sunday's panel that Baldwin read the creepy verse parts of "The Woman from Italy" himself (I had thought it was a different reader), and this episode gave him a variety of voices to play with.

He was joined a few times by guest stars, which was a wonderful bonus. I wasn't going to spoil it for those who haven't seen or heard it yet (a recording will also be available later), but since pictures are on Twitter, I might as well. Recent fan favorite Tamika Flynn made an appearance with Flor De Liz Perez, who silenced the ecstatic crowd with the poise and assurance her character should have. The audience also went justifiably crazy for Dylan Marron, who was nervous but adorable as Carlos.

If I'm gushing...well, the show deserved it. They did an amazing job.


I'm sure Kevin is just as beloved in Desert Bluffs.


Bye, Kids: Thoughts on the Young Avengers Afterparty

Do you even go here?

Disclaimer: I really did love Young Avengers. It was great in a lot of ways, and I want to get the trades and cradle them to my bosom. I just was not crazy about the way they handled the ending.

The epilogue of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers was split into two issues (#14 came out on Dec. 18 and #15 came out yesterday) dubbed the "afterparty," and honestly, I'm not sure it was a great choice. Maybe it would have worked better as a single long (but stilled pared down) issue, as two low-key, repetitive issues spaced weeks apart kinda deprived the series of its "oomph." Rather than being a snappy, satisfying, Austen-style wrap-up, this dragged a bit. Billy and Teddy's relationship is fine, which we knew. Noh-Varr and Kate's relationship is over, which we knew. America is gay, which we knew. Loki's having an existential crisis, which we knew. No one cares what happened to Tommy, which we knew. Oh, and he's back, and Kate's dating him again, even though that sounds like the most aggravating punishment a person could inflict on herself. (Why was he in this series, again?)

By the time Noh-Varr rambles on about his romantic and Earth-related choices again and Loki half-heartedly hits on David and Patriot arrives and is still mysterious for whatever reason and the gang is like, "well, I guess we'll go on another adventure or whatever," I just wanted Loki: Agent of Asgard to start and kick some life back into at least one of these characters. We know he gets to go to Paris, at least, so hopefully things for him look up after he ditches the drab party.

Another questionable choice was the use of guest art. While the art was good, and some of it wonderful, this is our big "goodbye" to the characters, and since McKelvie's art has been so key to the series, it was jarring to have the many different looks here (the multiverse arc would have been an awesome place for this). Of these two issues, I think it worked best in America's section in YA #14. Christian Ward's bright, star-studded look felt right for the story of America's childhood in another dimension's utopia, and I loved how the watercolor look started playful, became frenzied with angst and rage, and then muddied into disappointment and resignation.

America leaves her princess-superhero wonderland.

Ok, so that was almost all kinda negative. What did I like besides the America part?

-Kate and America's banter.

-Noh-Varr walking around shirtless and with headphones, especially by Annie Wu and Jordie Bellaire.

Damn, girls. Nice work.

-Learning Loki tips service workers well. Looks like he stopped by his parents' for some funds. Did he ever pay back Billy for covering his diner tab, though?

"No, I don't know what happened to the treasure chest, Moms. God!"

-David's face when Patriot violates his personal space (Joe Quinones's work).

New best reaction image.

So, it wasn't a great ending, but it was a great series. Witty, fun, pretty, inventive. Seamlessly diverse. Even if Gillen and McKelvie are done with this story, I hope what they've built here lives on. I want to see America wrestle with her past and be awesome. I want to see Noh-Varr grow as a person. I want to see David be super smart and stylish. And I especially want to see all these characters interact again. I hope Loki and Kate text their friends some invites for Loki: Agent of Asgard (out Feb. 5) and Hawkeye (#16 out Jan. 22).


Lunch is on Kate and Loki, since they're the only ones with jobs now.


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