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Some time back—you'll notice that a lot of my reviews start like this—Marcin Wrona's final film Demon turned up On Demand, and I watched it; I definitely wouldn't have been able to see it otherwise, considering that it still somehow hasn't gotten a Region One DVD/Blu-Ray release. At any rate, it's an amazing piece of work. The demon in question is actually a dybbuk, accidentally conjured when a young Polish-British man—Piotr, who's come to Poland to marry Zaneta, his Polish fiancee—wanders outside the family farmhouse he's vowed to restore for her the night before their wedding, only to fall headlong into a sinkhole that proves to be a not particularly well covered-up mass grave.

In the morning, he's slightly ill and disconnected, but no more so than anybody else who got roaring drunk at their own bachelor party. The wedding proceeds as planned, getting steadily wilder and odder, until at last a beautiful young woman no one else seems to see enters the repurposed barn they're using as a festival hall, walks straight up to the groom and kisses him on the lips before disappearing. He immediately goes into spasms and begins to act as though he's lost his mind, weeping and raving in Yiddish, accusing his father-in-law of long-forgotten war crimes. The increasingly off-put wedding guests collude with the bride's family to cover this up until, eventually, Piotr simply disappears, leaving nothing behind but his widowed bride and an open mystery nobody actually probably finds all that mysterious, in historical context: “What we thought we took part in, we merely dreamed. There was never even a bridegroom.”

Though my husband was a bit dismayed by the film's apparent final open-endedness, I came into it having seen a lot of other films about that same sort of deep post-Holocaust social guilt, the deliberate dismissal of memory—the Pact of Forgetting, as survivors of the Spanish Civil War call it. Thus, I know that these are stories built around lacunae, the filled-in historical holes that tell you exactly what sort of horror your current life is built on top of. You really don't need it all spelled out: "Did [Zaneta's] grandfather build the house?" The groom asks, to which his prospective brother-in-law replies: "Oh, it was already here." The skipped-over question provides its own answer: someone else built the house, someone else owned it, but where are they now? Hana—the dybbuk—married the Polish boy who forgot her essential Otherness long enough to love her, and it was the end of both of them; now she doesn't even have a tombstone, let alone the bridegroom she was promised, so her unspoken presence constantly eddies back and forth like weed under the same lake Piotr's new relatives eventually dump his Range Rover into, re-erased again and again by the people who profited most directly from her murder.

And it really doesn't matter that Zaneta's father was probably only a child when all this happened, that he maybe truly doesn't know the details of his father's crimes, because his sheer devotion to destroying any lingering remnant of the world old Professor Shimon (sole survivor of an era when the town was half-Jewish) cries over—the one where even Orthodox Christians and Catholics wanted the local tzaddik's blessing—is enough to pull him and all his blood down, so much so that the only thing Zaneta can eventually do is simply leave her own home forever, take what little's left of Piotr back to the U.K., and start over. "This whole country's built on corpses!" As one guest blurts out. Or then there's the sentiment echoed by that one drunk guy, monologizing: "Once Poland was everywhere, it was as big as the world, it was peaceful and beautiful, everyone was Polish. But then evil ghosts came, and the land was split—first the Germans, then the Russians, then Israel!" Such a very shallow amount of dirt to scratch through before the blood and the prejudice seep up. It's horribly relevant, both generally and in specific.

I think more than anything else it's less the willful non-ending—Zaneta reborn as Piotr, wearing his jacket and making the same journey, becoming a stranger from Away—than the sense of resounding, un-fillable guilt that you get in so many movies from those areas, this sense of saturation as pollution: Europe is all so crushed together, and you've got genocides on top of genocides almost everywhere you look; someplace has always been someplace else, every green field is a ploughed-over grave. There's holes under every landscape. When I was still reviewing films, I saw a lot of stuff from the Balkans, starting with Before the Rain by Milcho Manchevski (the guy who managed to get himself bounced off of Ravenous in pre-production, opening it up for Antonia Bird), which has a literally circular motion; the three parts lead into each other, then braid and repeat, like a cycle that can never be broken. Tribalism overlays everything like radiation, like a gun you bury on to watch your children dig it up again, try to use it and blow their own hands off.

But what makes Demon so interesting is that most of these movies are about the acts, the events, not their fallout—they feel like they have to show them in full, accurate, terrible detail, just to be able to make you understand what they're talking about. Demon, however, knows that an empty hole is worse than any mass murder scene, and seeing people you love lie about these things having happened at all can be just as bad as seeing the things themselves happen...not worse per se, but a very different sort of pain. Weirdly enough, one of the few Hollywood films that ended up having a similar impact on me was Costa-Gavras's Music Box, from a Joe Eszterhas screenplay, which has Jessica Lange figuring out that her beloved father is an uncaught Hungarian war criminal—it's not exactly subtle, but it puts the point across that just because you love people and they love you, that doesn't in the least prevent them from being guilty and you from being equally so by association. (A lot of films from Argentina and other parts of South America play out very similar cycles of horror vs. erasure, as well as from Spain, while the U.S. has 12 Years A Slave and Beloved vs. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and The New World, but not enough of either, and far too many times told through white people's eyes, as though the mere testimony of the people who actually suffered through these deliberate genocides can never be enough.)

Retroactive amnesia is exactly what Zaneta's father is trying to sell his wedding guests, even though the shot of them staggering home past (someone else's) funeral procession after Piotr's disappearance gives the lie to it. There's just this basic human impulse to cover things up and "agree" to forget, connectedly intimately to the knowledge that if you allow people to remember these horrifying spasms of Othering violence, the cycle of revenge will never, ever stop. People reduced to bone fragments; people reduced to ashes; people reduced to rooms full of hair. We really are awful animals.
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Just came back from the States again, after serving as co-Guest of Honor with Laird Barron and Weston Ochse at Necon 2017. Everyone's been telling me what a great time that is, and heigh-ho, turns out they're right! Though I could probably have done without literally drinking myself into a blackout on the last night.

Me: "Yeah, I have a vague recollection of being in Catherine Grant's hotel room, and then the next thing I knew I was waking up at 11:30 AM. My underwear was lying on the floor, totally soaking wet; I had my pants on inside out and backwards, and my shoes were shoved so far down the bottom of the bed I couldn't find them for five solid minutes. So I packed really quickly, went outside and asked the first person I saw what I might have done during the portion of the night I couldn't remember. 'Nothing I heard about!' he replied, cheerfully."

Sovay: "That's hilarious. And sort of horrifying."

Me: "Yep."

Well, it is what it is. The rest was wonderful, and I'm an adult; I made my choices. And now I'm home.
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As ever, what I've been doing recently is running in place, pretty much. That's going to have to stop soon, though, because we're coming up fast onto June 26 (the beginning of my new Litreactor course), followed by July 6 et al (my Odyssey Workshop appearance), then teaching frantically, then going back down to Rhode Island by the end of July to be Writer Guest of Honor at NeCon. This last I got because Cherie Priest dropped out due to life-fuckery, though I was surprised as hell to learn they'd been planning to ask me sometime in the next couple of years anyhow. And all of this presumes I'm going to be allowed across the border anyhow, but I guess we'll see; one way or the other, there's a whole lot of New England in my future, though no Readercon this year.

And I have a new deadline, too: a story that has to be in by the end of August, for a venue I'd completely forgotten about. Much like Looming Low and "Distant Dark Places," and hell, THAT turned out, right? Riiight.;) Well, I've started to rough it out, and it's going okay. As ever, the main character is currently in the "so there's this [person]" stage, nameless, faceless and genderless, but at least I know their situation fairly intimately--I've decided that this is the perfect opportunity to use all my hard-gained intimate knowledge of what it's like to run a couple of illegal Air B-n-Bs, especially since Toronto's apparently become so infested with the things that they're currently being debated down at City Hall. There was this fairly amazing article I ran across describing how a downtown landlord had forced all his real tenants out, then basically converted the apartment building into an Air B-n-B hotel--he just pays people to come in and clean the apartments before and after, as well as maintaining someone on site to let people in and out; all the bookings and payments are done electronically, while he communicates with his staff by text. "Sounds exciting, and I'm sure not at all illegal," as Tobit Beecher might say.

As I recall, my basic thesis was that the main character would end up taking this job and then losing their home (maybe temporarily), thus necessitating them using the Air B-n-Bs as floating crash-pads while waiting for something better to come along; giving them a deadline would be good, because then you'd be like: "Okay, just a little longer, let's just deal with this for one week/half-week/day more..." And one apartment would be okay but constantly monitored by building security/neighbours who were trying to trip the owner up and get them bounced from their condo, thus making it increasingly difficult to squat in, while the other one would be overtly haunted, which would really suck when circumstances rendered it impossible to stay at the "good" one. I like the idea overall, given how super-Millennial it seems; it's got that nice punch of "yeah, we all think we'd hear the voice saying GET OUT and do so, but some of us are just too fucking poor to do so" that I think contemporary horror could benefit from. So...yup, that's where I'm going with this, I think. Now I just have to make up a ghost.;)

Otherwise, I've been beading like a fiend, making necklaces that I've sold to both friends and Facebook friends. At least ten of those are going down to Readercon, where we'll see if my name on somethinga lone is enough to pry $100 to $130 a pop out of fellow broke artistes. I can't really sell them for less than $75, though, and that's my "know and like you" rate--the component parts alone set me back more than you'd think, but then there's the labor piled in on top. (I can bead a necklace in sixty minutes, usually, and my time is worth at least $50/hr.). Again, I think this activity will probably turn up in the story, or possibly even in Nightcrawling, which I'm also picking away at. Firm February deadline on that one, after all.

In news slightly closer to home, we finally got Cal a tonsilectomy date--October 12th, God willing and the rescheduling don't rise. I had to keep him home from school to take him there today, but it was worth it. We've also finally started swimming at the Cooper Koo Y again, which is wonderful. I'd do that every damn day if I could (and I probably could, if I just drove myself to it. So who knows?).

Okay, so: those are the haps. And now I must get back to it.
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I make a point of trying to seek out and watch horror movies by female directors, especially ones that come with a recommendation, and the general consensus on Lucile Hadžihalilović's Evolution (2015)--which I agree with, BTW--is that it crossbreeds Lynch with Lovecraft, which sounded really keen. So when it turned up on Netflix, I checked it out.

The film has some of the most beautiful imagery I've seen in quite some time, especially in its underwater shots. It begins with a boy (Nicholas) swimming in the ocean, off the rocky shore of a small island entirely inhabited by creepy red-headed women and eleven- to thirteen-year-old boys. Nicholas tells his mother he found the corpse of another boy grown into the coral and snagged in the weeds, a startling red starfish nesting on his abdomen; his mother tells him he must have imagined it, but late at night we see her emerge from the sea with the corpse in her arms, then watch her and the other women burn it on the beach.

Things continue in this way, with dialogue at a minimum and creepy shit at a maximum. Nicholas ends up in hospital for a supposedly long-standing illness which requires multiple abdominal surgeries; his ward is full of other boys with similar abdominal incisions, all in various stages of healing. Sometimes boys are taken away and put into a tank full of seawater, from which they only occasionally emerge alive. At night, the doctors, nurses and mothers all assemble to watch films of caesarian operations, one of which pulls back at one point to reveal the caesarian being performed on an obviously male figure with a massively swollen abdomen.

Nicholas develops a crush on Stella, a nurse who takes him down to the sea at night and lets him touch the suckers on her back before swimming down into the sea with him until he starts to drown, at which point she pulls him back to shore a resuscitates him. On another night journey, Nicholas and his friend Victor follow their mothers down to the shore; Victor freaks out and runs away, but Nicholas persists, spying on his mother and the other mothers rolling around naked in mud in a vaguely starfish-shaped pattern. Later, he watches her shower the mud off to reveal more suckers on her back, and after that, he refuses to acknowledge her as his mother anymore.

Victor dies after his last surgery, but Stella's treatments--which may eventually have caused Nicholas to grow gills--seem to do the trick in Nicholas's case, in that he wakes up from HIS last surgery to find himself in the tank, with a really freaky-looking baby floating near him. Shortly after that, Stella steals Nicholas from the ward, pushes him out to sea on a dinghy and abandons him in the middle of the waves, allowing the current to pull him away from the island. He wakes up to find himself drifting into a brightly-lit harbor full of people who probably don't even know "his" island exists.

What's important to understand about all of this, though, is that even if I recall most of the above in some detail, I can't remember whether much of it occurs in the same order I've just placed it in. The film seems to drift from point to point, devoid of explanation for almost anything; time is marked and punctuated by weird lingering shots on stuff like the conch shell one nurse presents the ward of boys with after Victor supposedly "recovers" and moves away, or the grave the boys dig for what looks like a decayed, inside-out horseshoe crab, or the strange scribbly pencil-drawings Nicholas makes not just of (say) the boy's corpse and the starfish but really normal stuff too, exotic only by virtue of where he lives, like ferris wheels and dogs.

The music is hypnotic, but there's a lot of silence and sea-sounds as well, a uterine heartbeat sort of pulse underneath much of the action. It's definitely not the sort of movie where things build to much of a climax, but rather something cyclical and natural, a pattern of growth vs. die-off that's repeated itself an infinite number of times. Nothing that happens appears to interrupt it.
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It seems roughly that long since I've posted anything here, and indeed since I've thought creatively or analytically about anything. Part of that is because Cal got strep, yet again; we have an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor on May 10, thank Christ, and I will push extra-hard for the idea that taking out his tonsils seems like it might save us all a lot of grief. Will it work? Who knows. Then there was Echo Women's Choir's Spring Concert, followed by me thinking I had strep ("just" a cold, apparently), followed by various other forms of bullshit. Chores have taken over my life yet again; my digestive system hates me; I can't sleep and take my waking slow; yadda yadda yadda. All fucking that.

At any rate: I'm working on an essay for Nightmare magazine's "The H Word" column, because I can and because it's due on June 20th. I also have a couple of prospective story fills that I owe various places, and "Always Tried To Be A Good Girl..." is up to six chapters, just over 30,000 words. I've spent much of the last four days either beading necklaces (eight in two weeks, not bad for a hobby I let lie fallow at least five years) or reading my way through Blackchaps's Oz and Oz/Law & Order: SVU fanfiction, all of which makes me feel like a real dilettante; this person seems constitutionally incapable of writing something that isn't multi-chaptered, and her canon-based AUs rock hard. Her SVU stuff, in particular, is very enjoyable, because she almost always manages to create scenarios which posit a happy ending for Tobias Beecher yet never gloss over his inherent trauma and difficulty--her Elliot Stabler isn't just some sort of Chris Keller-shaped human door-prize, but a person with his own problems who manages to make a place for himself inside Beecher's often almost Gothically complicated life. And if she'd just transfer all her older stuff over to AO3 then things would be perfect, but I understand how hard that can be.;)

Last night, meanwhile, I watched two movies, one merely adequate--The Take, a Parisian-set thriller that doesn't quite manage to take full advantage of Idris Elba as a grumpy CIA agent, while also saddling Richard Madden with a truly shitty American accent as the pickpocket who stumbles into what initially seems like a terrorist plot to disrupt Bastille Day but (hey-oh) turns out to be camouflage for a heist--but the other quite low-budget brilliant. This latter film was We Go On, co-directed by Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland from a script by Mitton, who also composed the driving, skittery score. Miles Grissom (Clark Freeman) is an intensely phobic video editor who decides to master his constant anxiety by offering a $30,000 reward to anyone who can show him positive proof of an afterlife. His caustic, loving mother (Annette O'Toole) comes along for the ride, determined to make sure he doesn't get cheated, and the two of them make their way through a pile of submissions--restaurant-dwelling mediums, fear-studying scientists, a man who claims to own a Tibetan artefact that will show you the Other Side but turns out to be a complete charlatan. (This last guy at least doesn't get to waste much of their time, since Miles recognizes an FX expert he sometimes works with outside the dude's home, and gets him to spill the beans about his latest job.)

Things kick into gear about forty-five minutes in, when Miles remembers a weird voice message he got from a guy who claimed a woman's ghost told him Miles had already seen her "in the grandfather clock"--weird specifically since Miles's original ad didn't include his phone number. While editing some footage, Miles does indeed spot a female face reflected in a clock in the background, and realizes there's been a bit of a time-slip; he agrees to meet the guy at a park near the L.A.X. airfield, sneaks out of the house while his mom is sleeping, then downloads driving lessons as he sits in her car, willing himself calm enough to use them. At the park, Nelson (Jay Dunn) tells Miles there's "something not human" in a nearby abandoned house that's part of the original Hollywoodland complex, so they walk over there. "You already know it's real," he tells Miles, as Miles hesitates; Miles takes a deep breath, walks upstairs...only to find Nelson's own dead body lying there in its filth, apparently the victim of a drug overdose. "Surprise," Nelson says, from his elbow. "Now we're together." And Miles faints dead away.

The ghosts in We Go On are interestingly palpable, reminding me strongly of the spectres from Gotham; yes, they can sometimes appear and disappear in chunks or flashes, snarling interstitial cuts, but they can also just approach from the middle distance, slow and unsmiling, to stand rooted in the middle of the shot, or simply be discovered all soft-focus in the background. Nelson still talks like the person he used to be, though probably slightly more circularly, considering how his interests have been truncated by death; what he wants is for Miles to find and kill his girlfriend Alice, so that if he has to pass on, she'll be forced to go with him. And though Miles refuses to do this, giving rise to some of the best Lawful Good speeches I've heard in a while, the fact that he can now see ghosts everywhere--or, more importantly, be seen by ghosts, everywhere--makes it increasingly difficult to hold onto his moral standards.

In a lot of ways, it all goes back to something I've believed for quite some time now, which is that bad as not knowing what may or may not wait after death can be, having a definitive answer might be even worse. "We go out like lights, that's all," Miles's mother says, at one point; "that's what I want to believe, because the idea of there being more...well, that's not really very comforting, to me. I mean, it'd be nice to see your father again, but...I've done things in my life I'm not proud of, and if there was more, I might be judged. And I don't want to be judged! That would be worse than anything." And for all that Miles, when later facing his own death, feels qualified to whisper: "There is no Hell," the film as a whole does seem to agree with her thesis. It's back to the old refrain, one I've built into a couple of different stories, at the very least: Show me something, please...but oh God, please don't SHOW me something. Because doubt is grinding and fear is exhausting, but to know, completely, forever? That's when you've REALLY reached The End.

Movies

Apr. 21st, 2017 01:30 pm
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This movie meme that's been going around on Facebook is predictably baffling to me, mainly because I could answer each category with ten titles and still feel like I was shorting someone somewhere. Do I answer with movies I've seen multiple times, or movies I've seen once but keep thinking about--classics, or something more recent? Do I answer with films I find comfortable, familiar, sustaining, or with films that have challenged and disturbed me? The whole overrated/underrated thing is similarly difficult; there are films I wish more people knew about, but I've rarely resented films just for being popular.

I will say that in the Most Hated category, I do actually have an answer, because this film will genuinely make me leave the room when it comes on: A Few Good Men. It's chemical, basically; I hate everything about it, from all the characters to the philosophy it espouses. There isn't a single scene during which I don't want to throw things at the screen, or shut my eyes and yell "LALALALALA" until it goes away--I feel like the mere fact of its existence wastes my time. The fact that Steve will watch it whenever it's offered really doesn't help, either.

Okay, so here we go:

A Movie I Love: Gangs of New York
An Action Movie I Love: Set It Off or Die Hard or Full Contact or From Dusk Till Dawn or La Femme Nikita or The Accountant
A Drama I Love: Beasts of the Southern Wild or The Sweet Smell of Success or Whiplash or The Voices or The Lion in Winter or The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus or Cries and Whispers or Chungking Express or My Left Foot or The Fountain
A Western I Love: Ravenous or 3:10 to Yuma or Ride With the Devil or Near Dark or Dead Man or True Grit
A Horror Movie I Love: Session 9 or The Thing or Psycho or Suspiria or At the Devil's Door or Nightbreed or The Legend of Hell House or The Innocents or The Devils or The Haunting or The Witch or The Collection or The Invitation or I, Madman or Lake Mungo
A Comedy I Love: The Imposters or Raising Arizona
A Romance Movie I Love: The Handmaid or Morocco or Blonde Venus or Bright Star or Gotham
A Noir I Love: L.A. Confidential or Gilda or The Shanghai Gesture or Nightcrawler or White Heat or To Live and Die in L.A. or The Glass Key or Brick
A Disney Movie I Love: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
A Sci Fi Movie I Love: Blade Runner or Alien or Aliens or Scanners
An Animated Movie I Love: Princess Mononoke
A Superhero Movie I Love: The Avengers or Watchmen or Guardians of the Galaxy
A War Movie I Love: Laurence of Arabia or Full Metal Jacket or The Hurt Locker or Apocalypse Now
An Exploitation Movie I Love: Switchblade Sisters or Deep Cover or People Under the Stairs or The Purge: Anarchy
A Musical I Love: Across the Universe or Hard Core Logo or The Runaways or Stop Making Sense or Velvet Goldmine
An Historical Movie I Love: Queen Margot or Meek's Cutoff or Empire of the Sun or Elizabeth or The Age of Innocence or Malcolm X or Heavenly Creatures
A Bad Movie I Love: Con Air or The Core or Event Horizon or Death Race or Drive Angry
A Childhood Favourite: Flash Gordon (1980)
A Shakespeare Movie I Love: Othello (Laurence Fishburne) or Coriolanus (Rafe Fiennes) or The Tempest (Julie Taymor) or Richard III (Sir Ian McKellen) or Throne of Blood (Kurosawa) or Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh)
A Franchise I Love: Star Wars
A Trilogy I Love: The Trois Couleurs Trilogy (Bleu, Blanc, Rouge)
A Guilty Pleasure I Love: Silent Hill
A Movie Recently Seen: The Void
My Favourite of This Year: Logan
A Favourite of All Time: The Exorcist

Notes

Mar. 29th, 2017 01:09 pm
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I've spent the last two days transcribing notes from all the notebooks I found at the bottom of my bag while I was mucking it out (finally). Some of them were pretty freaking hilarious. I'm particularly intrigued by the one that just says "David Cronenberg = chimerism" (um...yes, I guess?!?) and the one that read "what is race, what is gender," like the world's most skeletal Tumblr post.

Steve: Maybe you were thinking about a character?
Me: Maybe. I'd just like a little context.

Better yet, though, there's a hundred notes for what I can only think must have been a lecture on how to write ghost stories, stuff about the Weird and the Numinous, the entire spine of a short story and the seeds for maybe five more. Like a lot of what I've been doing over the last while, it seems like a sidebar but may actually lead to something extremely useful. Besides, I did manage to brainstorm the entire plot of Nightcrawling last week, and hammered out a full outline. I'm pretty sure I'm on the right track.

In other news, no other news. I continue writing "Good Girl," making inroads into the next chapter, which promises to be quite long. Crazy Beecher finally makes her appearance, not so much in the wake of trauma from Vee's patronage but in the wake of Vee's removal. Ha ha, Tom Fontana's gonna want to kick my ass.;)

Ugh

Mar. 20th, 2017 03:10 pm
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Spent so much of last week looking after Cal, who developed a freaking March Break cold (as usual--and partway through Mom started grilling me about trying to figure out why, like I even could; "Oh, this happens all the time, he's sick all the time, there must be something we can do." Really? Seriously? "He's so thin, he should be eating more stuff, he's going through puberty..." Yeah, I'll just FIX that, somehow. With the power of my mind. Jesus Christ.). Now, today, it's me feeling like shit for no particularly good reason; I woke up like this, as the old song goes. Can barely open my eyes, slept in with the alarm set, woke up and slept some more. Back and forth to the bathroom throughout for what seems like an amazing amount of slow, super-concentrated bowel movements. Now I'm an hour away from having to get Cal over to his choir rehearsal, and won't that be fun. Ugh.

In other news, I finished Chapter Two of "Always Tried To Be A Good Girl..." and posted it, here (http://archiveofourown.org/works/10268510/chapters/22879206). This section contains Christine Keller flashbacks, an introduction to Rhea O'Reilly and slightly more "normal" Schillinger action than we've had thus far. Also Toby Beecher, compartmentalizin' fool. The upcoming chapter has a lot of Crazy Beecher action, and this is a preview, in some ways. I'm still enjoying it far too much for my own good.

Stuff I found that's fun: This article about Basic Instinct at 25 and "Why We Need to Revive the Erotic Thriller", which I feel like I could have written (http://collider.com/basic-instinct-why-we-need-to-revive-the-erotic-thriller/#25th-anniversary); this hilarious post about Lee Tergesen watching Chris Meloni on Inside The Actor's Studio and crying over their fake prison relationship (http://handful-ofdust.tumblr.com/post/158579460946/vanillalime88-lee-chris-meloni-was-just); an article about the new wave of female horror directors (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/mar/19/the-female-directors-bringing-new-blood-horror-films-babadook-raw-prevenge?CMP=twt_a-film_b-gdnfilm); and this, which has the single best headline ever (https://creators.vice.com/en_us/article/meet-the-artist-using-ritual-magic-to-trap-self-driving-cars?utm_source=tcpfbus). Now I'm going to make a list of all the crap I need to get done and try and figure out how any of that's going to happen.
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Okay, so: Yesterday I went by the HMV superstore at the Yonge-Dundas Square, which is unfortunately closing down, which means that everything in there's been slashed by at least 40%. I was thus able to pick up three BluRays and three DVDs for less than fifty dollars, amongst them Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, which I finished watching On Demand in the late afternoon--I'm really looking forward to being able to watch it again with the commentary on, since it's a shared conversation between writer/director Damien Chazelle and J.K. Simmons himself that contains this hilarious exchange (paraphrased), which I reblogged on Tumblr:

Chazelle: That sort of...flicker thing you do with your hand when you're conducting, it's kind of...sexual.
Simmons: Oh yeah, some people have definitely told me there's some sort of homoerotic subtext going on there--
Chazelle: Subtext?!?


Things I hadn't known, going into the film: Miles Teller can actually drum (though not like THAT), so they mostly didn't have to cheat him while filming the drumming scenes, even that demented nine-minute solo he does right at the end. And not only can J.K. Simmons actually play the piano, he also A) studied music and B) has a degree in conducting, which shows throughout. I'm pretty sure they never taught him to stop people mid-bar by making a really contemptuous fist, though; that seems like a Starring Terence Fletcher As Evil Mr Clean character choice, to me.

I'm assuming most people out there know the basic plot of Whiplash, since it's not exactly complex. Andrew Neiman (Teller) is a first-year student at Schaffer Conservatory, an aspiring jazz drummer who first meets Fletcher--the legendary conductor/instructor of Schaffer's Studio Band class--while practicing alone in what looks like the middle of the night. Fletcher then shows up in his regular class, "auditioning" him briefly before bringing him into Studio Band as an alternate drummer. What ensues after that is a fast-paced plunge into toxic masculine mutual obsession, with Neiman wrecking himself while trying to live up to Fletcher's increasingly deranged demands--he practices until his hands bleed, he ditches his girlfriend (in a scene to rival The Social Network's break-up scene), he gets into a car accident while trying to retrieve his drumsticks before a competition performance, then shows up onstage covered in blood with a broken hand, then tries to strangle Fletcher when Fletcher "fires" him on the spot.

Throughout, Simmons lays on equal parts charisma and contempt; Fletcher grills Nieman about his family background right before a rehearsal, then uses what he learns to bully him until he cries ("Oh holy shit, are you one of those single tear people?"); he slaps him repeatedly in the face, insults his religion, comes up with more homophobic insults than you can shake a stick at ("This is not your boyfriend's dick, do not come early!"). At one point he makes all three Studio Band drummers try to master the same freakin' thirty-second section of the title piece until maybe one in the morning while the rest of the band waits outside, thus leading to the wonderful subtitle "[Fletcher shouting indistinctly]." He's not a total asshole all the time, but that actually ends up making him more frightening; by the end, you've learned that anytime Fletcher smiles and says: "Let's have fun," fun is NOT what's about to ensue, unless you're a very specific brand of masochist.

Then again, I guess Nieman is that brand, because of all the students Fletcher's practiced this shit on over the years--one of whom, it's revealed, hung himself just a few months earlier due to PTSD from Fletcher's "teaching" methods--he actually eventually seems to flourish and make the sort of breakthrough Fletcher claims to have been aiming for...ie, that aforementioned solo on the JVC concert stage. So is Nieman the fabled Charlie Parker Fletcher's been waiting for? Did Fletcher create/nurture that talent, or was it always lurking inside Nieman, only to emerge explosively under horrifying pressure? And better yet, what the hell happens now?

Chazelle ends the movie there, so basically, that's what fanfiction is for--but both he and Teller seem to assume that Nieman's probably going to live out his own self-fulfilling prophecy and die drug-addicted and alone by 34, after which I guess Fletcher will probably cry while eulogizing him to some other poor bunch of fuckers he's already in the process of tricking into destroying themselves at the altar of "art." (Or hell, who knows; maybe Nieman manages to avoid that fate by shacking up with a sixty-year-old dom who makes him his sole pet project for the rest of his life. Maybe they get married at some jazz-themed wedding ten years from now, once Nieman's won every relevant jazz award. Maybe Fletcher dies of a heart-attack in mid-scream and Nieman retires, then start teaching.;))

After that, I moved on to Park Chan-Wook's The Handmaiden, which I bought on DVD at least two months ago and still hadn't watched yet, which turned out to form a very interesting thematic counterpoint to Whiplash. But that will have to wait until after I'm finished the work I have to do today.
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So...I finally got the first section of "Always Tried To Be A Good Girl" into postable shape and put it up at AO3, over here (http://archiveofourown.org/works/10268510/chapters/22741202). Up to 21 hits thus far, with one kudos; I personally put that down to a combination of tiny fandom, femslash aversion and most people not wanting to see Beecher and Schillinger as anything like a functional coupling, but I knew what I was doing when I came in here, so.;) I'm pretty happy with how it's going, one way or another.

Next on the docket: keep fixing up "My Wife and My Dead Wife," blurb some books, write an honest-to-goodness class outline for a potential new Litreactor class(!), on to the next section. I still keep getting notes for "Good Girl" almost every day, and remain consistently amused that while toxic masculinity really is my favourite thing ever to read and write about, the way that characters shift when you transpose them over the gender divide is quickly taking second place. I also made some small reprint sales, got a bit of money through PayPal, and discovered I've been carrying the same two tiny little checks (one of them the yearly Wildside Press bitch-slap) around in my wallet for upwards of three months now without ever putting them in. That obviously needs to change.

It's March Break, which means Cal is with me 24-7, and makes it very difficult to do anything except what he wants or what Mom's set up for him. Today I had to get him over to a dentist's appointment at 8:30 AM, during which we discovered he has no cavities but is once again on the verge of developing a new tooth that's coming straight out the side of his gum, right above an existing tooth. Since his orthodontist said all his baby teeth are gone now, I can only think that one of these is eventually going to have to be extracted. One way or the other, he's starting to look like an upright shark.

Otherwise, I started to watch Whiplash. I'm really trying not to engage with the protagonist, which is easier than I thought it might be, because he's a bit of a moron. That way I can sit there thinking: "All this for jazz? Ha ha, you fuckin' pair of knobs," and just revel in J.K. Simmons's performative contempt, as well as Damien Chazelle's genuine talent as a filmmaker. I haven't seen La La Land yet, but I gotta say, to everyone who thinks he thinks talentless white boys are the only one who understand jazz? I don't actually think he thinks that at ALL, because Whiplash makes both Neiman and Fletcher look equally, stupidly proprietary and hell-bent on misinterpreting the genre for their own fucked-up sadomasochistic reasons. That Fletcher's almost sixty and still believes all this shit about Charlie Parker only becoming "Bird" because somebody threw a cymbal at his head is beyond pathetic. Hilarity ensues!
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So...I'm still writing that Oz cisswap thing, which now has a title ("Always Tried To Be a Good Girl, But I Can't Really Say That That's True"), and figuring out the mechanics of how everything changes when you change one thing--gender, in this case--is absolutely fascinating to me. I also came across a bunch of fic I've enjoyed the hell out of, particularly from one person (drsquidlove) who remembers not only that Chris Keller is simultaneously a bag of sex and a lying liar who kills for fun, but also everything Tobias Beecher did while in Oz and never got prosecuted for, simply because the authorities just don’t know about it. These things include:

1. Straight-up murdering C.O. Karl Metzger with his sharpened fingernails.
2. Shanking Keller in the lung.
3. Conspiring to bring about Andy Schillinger’s death.
4. Putting a mob hit out on Hank Schillinger, which probably involved him getting money to pay for it with from his Dad and therefore making his Dad potentially culpable in a charge of felony murder.
5. Not telling anyone Keller killed Shemin or Mondo Browne; knowing Keller would be likely to kill anybody he had sex with and having sex with Ronnie Barlog anyways.
6. Selling Adam Guenzel into sexual slavery in return for getting a job in the mail-room so he could see Keller on death row; this later lead to Guenzel’s death, as Beecher was well aware might potentially happen, so I suppose he could also be considered culpable in that.

I mean, I love Toby, but seriously--he's bad fuckin' news, and there's no way he's going to spend the rest of his life being anything like well-adjusted. There is a massive repository of crazy rage inside him, and getting sober actually hasn't helped very much with him learning to process that. Of course, being in Oz really didn't help much either, so possibly it's six of one, a half-dozen of the other.

In the cisswap piece, meanwhile, I'm dealing with a basic difference: male Oz has no negotiation option, especially in terms of the Beecher/Schillinger "relationship," but in female Oz, people negotiate first and escalate later because they're used to being stuck in a position where they're routinely forced to negotiate for what they want. Also, Vern had one primary use for Beecher (sit around in my pod being miserable until I force you to service me), while Verena would have another (give my prison "kids" free legal advice, so they can get out of here and go replace the race). So when Beecher inevitably starts getting free drugs from Rhea O'Reilly, Vee's first reaction isn't "You're my property so stop that because it makes me look bad," so much, as "you're falling down on the job because you're a junkie and junkies fuck up, so I'm going to remove the immediate temptation by just killing that Mick bitch."

And female Beecher would then freak out because she knows it's going to be her fault, just like Kathy Rockwell's death is her fault, and for much the same reason; she decided no one else mattered as much as her getting drunk/high. "I'll do anything, what can I do?" "Learn from this." It then thus becomes a fulcrum moment for both Beecher and O'Reilly in terms of detoxing, but also for Beecher because the deal she cuts is to get punished and be seen to be punished in order to save O'Reilly's life. ("Oh, so I owe you something now?" "Bitch, fuck YOU." [Days later] "Well, I was an asshole about that but I did something for you, so we're square." "You could've just said you were sorry." [Shrugs] "Eh.")

Anyhow, as a result of thinking shit like the above through, I now have over 13,000 words' worth of notes on this bastard, and I still haven't posted anything. Sovay knows what I'm talking about.

My insomnia continues to be fairly consistent and horrifying, so much so that I'm seeing a doctor tomorrow. For example, I tried to turn my clock around twice by staying up through the night, once on Friday and once on Monday. Both times I browned out near the end and threw myself off, though I did get six to eight hours uninterrupted sleep as a result. I slept on the couch on Saturday night, upsetting Steve a lot, and we had a long talk the next day. In other words, it's fucking me up in ways that aren't supportable, and it needs to be fixed.

Otherwise: I saw Logan. Short review is, it's awesome. Longer review: Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23 gave me the same sort of jolt Kirsten Dunst did when she was in Interview With the Vampire; it's a very adult performance, managing to suggest all of James Howlett in sheer concentrated form, yet with an innocence and a willingness to learn and grow emotionally that speaks volumes about how she'll hopefully outstrip him as an integrated human being in the future. Hugh Jackman, meanwhile, does startling work in terms of showing his own and Logan's age (seventeen YEARS he's been playing this role, holy shit!). He plays him slow-poisoned, desperate, despairing; knowing it's the end of everything and yet that he's apparently doomed to keep on surviving, to outlive everyone, to never save anything permanently.

Patrick Stewart is quite brilliant and heartbreaking as old Charles Xavier, whose "megaton mind" has become a weapon he can't control anymore. The near future is horrifyingly likely, post-Trumpish, full of corporate greed and tapped-out resources--Logan is a Western that just happens to have mutants and the "adapted" (half-robot corporate anti-mutant mercenaries, with Boyd Holbrook giving outstanding asshole as Donald Pierce, leader of the Reivers) instead of gunslingers, and it's very much an offshoot of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. There's a secret double role I don't want to spoil that's thematically quite appropriate and wonderful.

A great bit of dialogue has Logan waking from a nightmare. "You have those?" He asks Laura, his sort-of daughter, made from his DNA, who we first see bouncing a ball but later exits from a house full of mercenaries carrying a human head; she nods. "Bad people hurt me." "Mine are different. I hurt people." "I hurt people too." "You're gonna have to learn to live with that." "They were bad people." "Even so."

I cried at all the right points, and at the end--when the credits were done--the lights came up and there were a bunch of people my age still left in the theatre, just sort of staring up at the screen. That was interesting. I mean, it was an older audience in general, I guess, since it's very definitely rated R; the violence is genuine and gory, and there's an amazing amount of f-bombs that get dropped, especially in one particular scene. (Charles: "Logan, she's a child!" Logan: "Oh, so she can kill people, but she shouldn't hear a few naughty words?") That said, it really was my generation I was seeing--forty-plus, almost fifty. I think it just hit us harder, because much like Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, this is a movie about getting ready (and willing) to die.

Oh, and I've been watching FX's Legion, which is pretty fascinating--I know the main character, David Haller, is canonically Charles Xavier's son, but are they going to go that way on the show? He's also a guy who's literally so freaking powerful that the only thing that's kept him from doing horrifying damage thus far is him being convinced he has schizophrenia. But with a person that powerful, I kind of think mental illness is part and parcel of the package...it might be better that way, really. Great show, one way or the other, with amazing visuals and a sort of cold, creepy whimsy; Dan Stevens sells the hell out of it. As sovay points out, it's a nicely twisty core concept in that being convinced that his powers are really mental problems keeps him from trying to exercise them, but that can only apply to conscious control, so his world is going to be pretty weird anyway. Plus, it's already become fairly obvious that there's a section of him that's fighting everything else--that he is his own monster. My kinda guy.;)
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One of the amusing things I recently recognized is that "bitch" is a word whose two meanings contradict each other, which is just...Oz as fuck as a concept, really. Read one way, it implies that the person it refers to (usually female) is overly intractable, aggressive and domineering; read it the other, and the person it refers to (usually male) becomes overly passive, submissive and ineffectual--ie "Oz didn't make you a bitch, you were born that way," as Keller tells Beecher in the very first episode of Season Four, when he refuses to give up on trying to find Vern Schillinger's son Hank. I mean, Augustus Hill could probably do an entire monologue on that subject, if he wasn't dead.

All of which is by way of saying that I am now officially one episode into Season Three of my big Oz re-watch, and still enjoying it far more than I ever thought I would. The idea of ending with Season One scares me a bit, but I think I'll be able to deal with it; I still remember inviting seven or so friends from the Serial Diners over and mainlining all eight episodes in a row. This was before we even knew if it'd been renewed or what, and by the end, we were basically high on our own shell-shock, much like Beecher himself--air-guitaring his way through the riot, choking people out and dancing amongst the flaming trash-piles while Vern basically hid under his bed. Oh man, it was great.;)

Over at AO3, meanwhile, I've finally started reposting the slightly tricked-out/fixed version of "My Wife and My Dead Wife," in roughly four section-long chunks. It's getting a little bit of action but no kudos thus far, and certainly no comments; AO3 Oz fandom appears to be pretty dead overall, except for maybe two people (though of those two, at least one appears to be obsessed with the Vern/Beecher dynamic, so there's that). I'm currently fixing up Rachel Renton Schillinger's first appearance and musing over her general classic Mary Sue-ness, but I guess it really is far too late for regrets, in that area. (I was extremely chuffed when somebody on Tumblr recently acknowledged that I almost "invented" B/S longfic, though.)

Meanwhile, I keep turning the idea of a cisswap AU over in my head, because A) I can and B) the dynamics really do tweak me, especially in terms of the way they shift when you reframe things to acknowledge that all female prisoners are far more overtly victimized by the system, and know it. Guys can convince themselves they have a limited amount of power, even with somebody like Hill constantly pointing out that they really, really don't; it's such a huge part of their identity as men, this idea that they have inherent free will and agency no matter what the situation, so even when the boredom and routine conspire to bond them together, toxic patriarchy fallout will eventually cause these spasms of violence that make sure they can't stay allied long enough to do anything useful. Then again, as Guard Whittlesey points out, if they were actually capable of making truly informed, long-term decisions, they probably wouldn't have ended up in Oz in the first place.

So far, one of the single biggest changes is that a female version of Beecher would come into Oz knowing that rape was not just a possibility but a likelihood, and that it might come from almost any direction (but most predictably from the guards), which means she'd immediately start shopping around for a posse to surround herself with and going at it in a very cold-eyed way: figure out what she has to offer, what she can potentially swap for goods, services and loyalty--free legal advice on the one hand, sexual favours that won't leave her potentially knocked up on the other. (The equivalent of "we sing in the choir together" would thus probably become "she's my lawyer" for short, "...my legal consultant" for strictest accuracy.) A bit like Shirley Bellinger, therefore, though constantly showing people Paris, France wouldn't be much of an incentive in a place that's literally jam-packed with alternate pussy. And also acting crazy from the get-go, too, though kind of in a "like a fox" way; doing her level best to channel her junkie tendencies deliberately into things that aren't quite as likely to wreck her parole as snorting heroin on the sly, or getting big-ass drunk on homebrew. But since the alternatives are sex, "good deeds" and/or violence, that could still be problematic in itself...

The weird thing about a female Vern, meanwhile--as I've established with Vee Speller, the Schillinger expy I've already slipped into two short stories and a script--is that a good part of her power would probably come from being somebody's widow, the mother of somebody's kids; that last name wouldn't even be hers, which is strange to contemplate, though I very much like the idea of a back-story where a younger, punked-up version of her (probably straight out of Lardner) sees her husband-to-be preaching White Power Conspiracy Theory 101 somewhere and comes up to him afterwards with her eyes on fire, going: "Man, you just explained my entire life to me!" She'd also be far more in tune with her own motivations, especially in terms of the whole gay-'til-graduation aspect of jail, which means she'd be less likely to press on Beecher 'til she explodes, because it just isn't threatening to her to admit she's enjoying her company; the dominance aspect of things wouldn't be as much of a motivator, because she wouldn't need to alleviate her own unexpressed feelings of helplessness by making somebody else feel helpless. So they'd be more likely to be co-conspirators, not enemies.

Ah yes. The question then becoming how that sort of set-up would affect the whole Keller menage, if and when she turned up...

Anyhoo, that's part of where my head is right now, in and between everything else. Still working on the fetish piece; still doing all sorts of other stuff. On Saturday I did a reading for Women in Horror Month which was fun, and you can watch it here, if you're so inclined (https://www.periscope.tv/damnedlibrary/1gqxvqPeVWgJB?t=8m); on Sunday they broadcast a podcast interview I'd taped last Thursday, the bulk of which is here (https://soundcloud.com/whatshesaidtalk/author-gemma-files-talks-experimental-film-what-she-said-ebook-cafe). Otherwise, it's back to the grind.
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Cal got sick last Thursday, so I kept him home on Friday and cancelled everything we usually do on the weekend, which we basically spent indoors, me working to deadline with 2017's first completed story, "Distant Dark Places." I finished it on Monday and sent it in to [venue], after a good 3,000 words of sustained writing: 10,327 words, cosmic horror, done in part as a tribute to Caitlin R. Kiernan; the science is probably pretty shaky, but I'm happy with the result.

Otherwise, Cal is ostensibly "better" but still pretty moany and pissy, especially in the mornings. Yesterday I had to browbeat him to get him to eat his breakfast; today started out the same, but I was able to turn it around by the time he left, in a far better mood. Tonight I take him to music with his Wednesday teacher, Roey, so I guess we'll see how that goes. I'm just really glad I don't seem to have picked up his cold, for once, though I have been fighting my way through the worst period I've had in quite a while. Last night was mainly spent on the toilet, bleeding heavily and excreting painfully--boy, I love middle age! Ah well.

Otherwise: this review of Experimental Film (http://www.ada-hoffmann.com/2017/02/11/autistic-book-party-episode-29-experimental-film/) is very interesting and weirdly heartening, mainly because A) it contains feedback from actual people on the spectrum with honest-to-Betsy diagnoses who don't think I've made Clark into a Magical Autistic Kid, which was one of my greatest fears about the narrative, and B) it's not only the first review to recognize that Lois thinks of herself as potentially autistic, but it confirms her/my opinion on that score. What Ada Hoffmann has to say about "me" is a bit painful, but I'll quote it in detail here nevertheless:

Lois begins the novel in a fairly traditional posture, for an autism parent – exasperated and worried by her child, pessimistic about his prognosis, and generally stressed and exhausted. The first scenes in which Clark appears are difficult to get through, because of some of Lois’s negative mental comments about him. But the scenes also introduce a complication that the back cover didn’t mention:

But my version of fucked up was never going to be enough like his to help us meet in the middle; I come from the other end of the spectrum. And I remember sitting next to my mom, going down the list of Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis points one by one, showing her how much they reminded me of how I’d been as a child, an adolescent, before socialization kicked the worst of it out of me. “Little Professor Syndrome,” check. Rabid enthusiasms, check. Inability to converse without monologizing, check. Vocabulary far exceeding normal age standards, check. Frustration, check. Inability to form friendships, check. Violent tantrums, check. Self-harm, check. Check, check, check.
“Don’t you see?” I asked her. “This is why this happened. Because I’m just like him, except it’s all on the inside.”
She looked at me then with what might have been sympathy, but what I read (at the time) as contempt, the way I’m prone to do. Because – another check – I’ve never really been able to tell what other people are thinking just by looking at their faces, unless their faces are up on a movie screen.
“Come on, Lois,” she said. “It’s bad enough as it is. Don’t try to make this all about you.“

What the book shows about Lois confirms that she is, in fact, autistic. She is fixed and fanatical in her interests. She comes of to other characters as strange, prickly, difficult to deal with. She is easily overwhelmed, shutting down and dissociating under stress. She is confused about human motivation, or sometimes fails to take it into account at all. Lois’s narrative voice is not the stereotyped “autism voice”, but it is a voice full of intense detail, dense information, frequent asides to passionately explain something – a voice that rings very true to me, as an autistic person.

So – this is important. “Experimental Film” is marketed as a book about an Autism Parent, but it’s actually a book about more than one autistic person. Lois – low-support, depressed, passing for abled, and additionally disabled with more than one form of chronic pain – experiences her autism in one way. Clark, who at this point in his life cannot possibly pass, experiences it in another, and Lois doesn’t always know how to deal with him appropriately, any more than an NT mother would.

Lois does several things right. She never denies her child’s humanity or devalues his life. There’s no mention of ABA or any other abusive therapy. Lois consistently pushes back against people, including her own mother, who suggest that Clark should simply be trained to parrot the correct response. She knows very well that Clark needs to be accepted for who he is, and is extremely critical of her own failures to do that.

Because Lois does fail in many ways. She barely pays attention to Clark for the first hundred pages of the book. She says negative things in front of him that she assumes he will not understand. (And is called on it – rightly – by her husband Simon, a very sweet and patient man who seems to do most of the childcare.) Clark is shown being clearly affectionate to both parents, but Lois insists that she cannot know he loves her, that his echolalic statements about it somehow don’t count the way they do when they’re directed at Simon. Her general pattern with Clark is one of distance:




But I have to protect myself, first and foremost: not from him, but from my own… disappointment in him, over things he can’t even help… I have to keep myself just far enough apart from him to be able to love him at all, knowing it’ll never be as much as he deserves to be loved. And that’s not because he’s broken, no. Not at all.
That’s because I am.

Did I mention Lois is depressed? Lois is really depressed. She is consistently even more critical of herself as a person than she deserves. She is also so consumed with interest in her work – which is, of course, an autistic trait – that she barely has patience for anything else. She consistently pushes herself hard enough that it actively worsens her pain, her sleep patterns, and her relationships with her family. And that’s before the supernatural horror aspect of the novel kicks into high gear.

When we try to think of good representation, we are so often thinking of role models. Lois is not that. She’s also not a stereotype, not a plot device, not a supercrip or Evil Disabled Person. She’s a flawed, complex, breathing human whose flaws and complexity are fully portrayed. She is not sugarcoated, and once I got used to her level of internalized ableism – “A defective person, raising a defective child“, as she calls herself at one point – I appreciated that.

(I’m reminded of a Short Story Smorgasbord I did a while back, when I said that I didn’t object to having unlikeable autistic protagonists, I just didn’t think the one in that particular story was done well. I guess it’s time to put my money where my mouth was: Lois is an unlikeable autistic protagonist, done right.)



The running charge of internalized ableism is a hard one to face, but I have to say, it's also a pretty fair cop. Then again, I think this may well be yet another generational issue; I never got my diagnosis, so I've spent most of my life thinking of myself as someone who just doesn't work the way the world's default setting calls for, and feeling pretty bad about it. If Hoffmann's managed to get to adulthood without that, more power to her--but then again, when I write from Lois's POV about Lois, the things I say about her are basically me talking about me. I'd like to hope I say better things about Cal, or even Clark--in and of himself, as opposed to where his behaviours intersect with my fears for him. Certainly, in real life, I envy Cal's ability to be what often seems like unaware of his own difference, and all the happier for it.

Anyhow. What else has been going on is mainly me taking stock of what needs to be done next: I have a fetish erotica piece that needs to get finished up sometime next week and sent to [other venue], and I'm still reformatting my Oz stuff for the AO3 while simultaneously re-viewing the series in reverse. Last night was Episode 15 of Season Four, the back half, which contains one of the absolute dumbest plotlines Oz ever had, the one about the premature aging drug trial group. Then again, it's also the episode where Vern briefly gets religion under Reverend Cloutier (Luke Perry)'s influence and tries to apologize to Beecher during one of Sister Pete's reconciliation interactions, as well as the episode where Beecher and Keller sort of start to make up. In their case, of course, this involves Beecher seducing his new cellmate Ronnie Barlog after learning he's an old friend of Keller's (Keller's already pissed Beecher off by saying his visiting brother Angus is cute and asking if he fools around); Keller naturally responds by seducing the guy too, telling him he's always loved him, to which Beecher responds: "Jesus, Ronnie, he doesn't love anybody. It's just another ponzi." Then that FBI agent shows up, trying to get poor, dumb Ronnie to flip on Keller for his serial murders, dangling a sentence reduction in front of him. "I have to call my lawyer," Barlow says, and goes straight to Beecher, ready to swap sex for a consultation. Beecher then goes straight to Keller and warns him about what Barlow's contemplating, and Keller snaps the guy's neck in mid-blowjob. So romantic!;)

(People did see it as sort of romantic at the time, as I recall, though to me it just rings of Beecher going: Well, if he's dead-set on killing every dude I sleep with, why the hell am I playing hard to get? The sex is fun, and it's not like I don't know not to trust him anymore--that still puts him at least one up on Vern, right there. Because there's nothing like the legally-trained mind for cutting deals or justifying the need to cut them, at least to yourself.)

Okay, done. Back to it.
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Today starts February, which is (amongst other things) Women in Horror Month, something I almost always forget to celebrate. I usually tell myself it's because i'm too busy doing other stuff--writing horror, for example. But really it has far more to do with the fact that I'm behind in general; blame it on that guy, this time 'round (I think you know the guy I mean). I'm finding it really hard to rationalize "indulging" myself creatively while all this is going on, which is stupid at best and arrogant at worst; not like I can stop any of it, after all. So the very least I can do is try to write stories that show the world the way it can be: inclusive, moral, emotionally mature. The fact that said stories are horror might undercut these ideas, in some people's eyes; fuck 'em, I say. If nothing else, I can honestly state that bad things usually happen to my characters not because of "what" they are, but because of who.

Anyhow. Here's that list of characters I like, slanted at least a little in favour of the non-cis white male portion of my brain. Some of them are new, some very old; I note a fair amount of creepy zealot grandmothers, bad gay role models, female monsters and supernatural creatures of fairly fluid sexuality in the mix, but seriously: this is how I roll. Y'all don't know that by now, y'all don't know nothin'.

Joan Watson (Lucy Liu, Elementary)
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller, Elementary)
Tara Chambler (Alanna Masterson, The Walking Dead)
Michonne (Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead)
Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan, The Walking Dead)
Sasha Williams (Sonequa Martin-Green)
Philip Blake (David Morrissey, The Walking Dead)
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead)
Matt Murdock
Claire Temple
Elektra Natchios
Foggy Nelson
Karen Page
Frank Castle
Jessica Jones
Trish Walker
Luke Cage
Misty Knight
Alex Eames (Kathryn Erbe, Law & Order: Criminal Intent)
Rafael Barba (Raul Esparza, Law & Order: SVU)
Bobby Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio, Law & Order: Criminal Intent)
Samantha Groves aka Root (Amy Acker, Person of Interest)
Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi, Person of Interest)
Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson, Person of Interest)
Sarah Manning et al (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black)
Felix Dawkins (Jordan Gavaris, Orphan Black)
Mrs S. aka Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy, Orphan Black)
Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson, Empire)
Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett, Empire)
Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, Penny Dreadful)
Clara Webb (Gemma Arterton, Byzantium)
Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan, Byzantium)
M. (Dame Judi Dench, Daniel Craig James Bond movies)
Chrisjen Aversarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo, The Expanse)
Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper, The Expanse)
Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams, The Expanse)
Dutch aka Yalena Yardeen (Hannah John-Kamen, Killjoys)
Seyah Pawter Simms (Sarah Power, Killjoys)
Delle Seyah Kendry (Mayko Nguyen, Killjoys)
Nikita Mears (Maggie Q, Nikita)
Alexandra Udinov (Lyndsy Fonseca, Nikita)
Amanda aka Helen Collins (Melinda Clarke, Nikita)
Annalise Keating (Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder)
Michael Pratt (Aja Naomi King, How to Get Away With Murder)
Laurel Castillo (Karla Souza, How to Get Away With Murder)
Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil, How to Get Away With Murder)
Eve Rothlo (Famke Janssen, How to Get Away With Murder)
Ophelia Harkness (Cicely Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder)
Lady Eboshi (Mononoke Hime)
San (Mononoke Hime)
Belit of Shem (Conan)
Gabriel Elohim (Constantine, The Prophecy)
John Constantine
Asia the Invincible aka Dongfang Bubai (Brigitte Lin Chin-hsia, Swordsman 2, Swordsman 3: The East is Red)
Snow aka Xiue Qianshun (Joey Wang, Swordsman 3: The East is Red)
Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska, Crimson Peak)
Lady Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak)
Maya (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty)
Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery, Salem)
Anne Hale (Tamzin Merchant, Salem)
Mercy Lewis (Elise Eberle, Salem)
Tituba (Ashley Madekwe, Salem)
Emily Thorne aka Amanda Clarke (Emily VanCamp, Revenge)
Nolan Ross (Gabriel Mann, Revenge)
Judge (Simon Yam, Full Contact)
Moses (John Boyega, Attack the Block)
Lucrezia Borgia (Holliday Grainger, The Borgias)
Cesare Borgia (Francois Arnaud, The Borgias)
Micheletto Corella (Sean Harris, The Borgias)
Loki Laufeyjarson
Medea of Colchis
Xena (Lucy Lawless, Xena: Warrior Princess)
Milady de Winter aka Anne de Breuile (The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years Later)
Stahma Tarr (Jaime Murray, Defiance)
Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz, Defiance)
Irisa Nolan (Stephanie Leonidas)
Tenar of Atuan aka Goha (The Tombs of Atuan, Tehanu, The Other Wind)
Violet (Jennifer Tilly, Bound)
Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon, Freeway)
Madame la Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons)
Jadis of Charn aka the White Witch (The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Lada Dragwylya (As I Darken)
Radu Dragwylya (As I Darken)
Rhani Yago (The Sardonyx Net)
Zed Yago (The Sardonyx Net)
Dana Ikoro (The Sardonyx Net)
Zorayas daughter of Zorashad (Night’s Master)
Narasen of Merh (Death’s Master)
Simmu aka Shell (Death’s Master)
R.M. Renfield (Dracula)

Also:
The whole cast of Oz
The whole cast of Vikings
The whole cast of Hannibal
The whole cast of Ripper Street
The whole cast of Copper

All my dear dead shows. Bad people doing bad things, mostly for the lose.
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Almost a week without an entry. During said week, that guy (I think you know the one I mean) has managed to do an amazing amount of damage, so possibly that's what's been throwing me off. I keep on wanting to write about things and then deciding there's no point, which really doesn't bode well for the future, does it? Because this shit is just bound to keep right on happening.

One good thing about that guy (I think you know the one I mean)'s tenure--for certain values of "good"--is that it's at least given me an excuse to send my Dad the long-pending email about his awful book and its fallout. With fascism literally sweeping the globe, as I observed, how can I stay angry with him about the way he chooses to remember things that happened a lifetime ago, in context? That said, I was pretty clear about why I'm not interested in discussing my reaction to Vol. 1 of his autobiography, let alone in reading Vol. 2. We can agree to disagree, but only if he understands that I think what he wrote about Mom remains reprehensible and that I will never condone it. I want to retain a relationship with him for Cal's sake, not to mention because he's the only father I'll ever have, but I refuse to hear that sort of shit about the one parent who stuck around during the period of my life where I really did need parenting. So he can take that or leave it, I guess; we'll see, either way.

At the moment, I'm trying to make a list of my favourite characters, something suggested to me by evewithanapple. It's hard, because I find it difficult to separate people from their relationships, which means that all these people come with other people attached; I also wanted to make them all women because she likes that and because it's an interesting challenge, but that then reminds me how seldom I run across the character traits that tweak me straight in the id in female characters generally, which is why my own characters so often start as cisswappings. And blah blah blah, we've all heard this shit before: I like monsters, I like monster-enablers, I like potential monsters, I like conflicted heroes at best but more often antiheroes--hell, even Matt Murdock's a bit of an asshole, just ask his friends. And that's what I like best about him, the fact that the "light inside" doesn't even vaguely begin to chase away his shadows.

(Speaking of which, Gotham got big points from Steve and I during their Winter Finale by A) having Oswald Cobblepot realize he might not have loved Ed Nygma before but definitely does now, in a "I will sacrifice my happiness for yours" sort of way, and B) managed to actually convince me of how Bruce Wayne's commitment to the no-kill rule might have happened, and why. David Mazouz continues to be one of the best Batmans I've seen, and he's never yet put the mask on--too bad he never would have made it into that guy (I think you know the one I mean)'s America, if today's standards had been applied earlier. Oh, the irony.

TV also makes bad decisions, though. See Outsiders Season Two's idea about killing Asa Farrell off in the opening episode, something so out of left field I initially thought it was a fantasy sequence--it's a move that fairly reeks of "contract re-negotiation goes badly for Joe Anderson, news at eleven," and it would have been soooo fucking easy to fix: yes, take Asa off the board for a while; who knows better how to disappear than him, and who's been more betrayed by the Mountain? But let him come back a year from now or more, and see how that goes. Damn, dudes.
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Earlier today, I found myself suddenly thinking about Alicia Witt, an actress who seems to have made a career out of playing universally dislikable female characters. She's played overt psychopaths since being cast as St. Alia the Knife in David Lynch's Dune at the age of eight; her turn in the sadly forgotten Rafal Zielinski movie Fun as a folie a deux spree-killer who meets her doppleganger/enabler at a California bus stop (based on both a play by James Bosley and the crime which inspired it) is truly chilling.

Since then, she's blown through parts like the smiling shark of a "D-girl" who flirts with offering Christopher a Hollywood alternative to Mob life on The Sopranos, an incredibly brief stint as Logan's partner on Law & Order: SVU as a brash "Mick/Wop" detective who manages to offend everyone she runs across, and a one-shot guest appearance on The Walking Dead as Negan acolyte Paula (this article gives a good summation of what Witt brought to the role: http://ew.com/article/2016/03/13/walking-dead-alicia-witt-paula-the-same-boat/).
Yes, she's apparently done comedy too--always a gap in my brain--but her particular note seems to be playing acerbic bitches with a high self-opinion and not a lot of patience for fools/life in general.

As I observed to a person on Facebook, she's a bit like "the Miguel Ferrer of redheads," aside from the fact that Ferrer was eventually celebrated for playing literally unrepentant assholes. Goes almost without saying how a facility for assholishness is never really something mainstream narrative likes to cheer on in females, though.

I'd build a whole show around Witt if I could, especially now I know she also plays the piano and writes songs, just like Robert Downey Jnr. or Jeff Goldblum, but like I said, chicks like her rarely get the showcase they deserve. Where's Alicia Witt's version of Tony Stark, Ian Malcolm or Mister Frost? Angela Bettis can still eat out on May, I guess, but she too most often gets stuck playing the character-part freaks, maybe because of that weird wandering eye. Whereas Witt is attractive in a supposedly acceptable way, and yet...and yet.

(Yes, I get that actresses of colour have to deal with this basically all the time, which is why I'm so glad Shonda Rhimes is as successful as she is. Viola Davis's recent observation that she eventually had to start turning down "five-minute parts" even if she thought they were likely to net her Oscar nominations is one I can absolutely identify with; my Mom's done her share of those, or probably more than. But aside from getting renewed, how well is The Catch actually paying out for Mireille Enos, another slightly off-putting redhead? I guess we'll have to wait until March to see.)

I suppose I stumbled onto this whole line of thought in part because Mom and I went to see Paul Verhoeven's Elle last night, which is organized entirely around a recently Oscar-nominated Best Actress turn by the blindingly talented Isabelle Huppert. Huppert plays Michelle LeBlanc, who we first meet literally in the throes of being raped by a home invader in a ski mask. We follow her through aftercare and the rest of her day, noting that she isn't responding "normally" to the trauma at all; Michelle, it turns out, is a woman whose entire life has been shaped by a neighbourhood killing spree conducted by her father, who seems to have suffered a psychotic break the year she was ten--even now, every time he comes up for parole all of France seems to go into a spasm of nostalgic hatred, causing random strangers to dump their garbage on Michelle or scream shit at her in the street. Thus, she's not exactly likely to go to the cops when something bad happens, for fear of them also blaming her for being his daughter.

The interesting thing about Elle is that although it's naturally a bit over the top, like all Verhoeven films, the overall effect is that it's nevertheless one of the only non-period pieces I've seen from him in which all the characters are recognizably effed up within normal human ranges of effed-up-ness. It's human, humane, empathetic, and yes--often quite funny, in a pitch-black farce sort of way; Michelle has very little self-censorship in her nature, stating at one point that "Shame is an emotion so weak it doesn't really keep anyone from doing anything." She attempts to seize control of the rape in much the same way she tries to seize control of everything in her life, which appears to have been one long flinch away from the very idea of victimization; after figuring out the rapist is her next-door neighbour, a guy she's been genuinely attracted to, she even briefly tries to integrate him into her life as a sort of kinky sidebar. But eventually, she figures out that having consensual sex with him is literally like fucking her Dad, which is seriously twisted, and offers herself up one more time right after denouncing him as the asshole hypocrite he is, perhaps assuming he'll kill her.

That that doesn't happen is--in many ways--a testament to her own realization that while she's been bad, she's not evil; she really is capable of love and friendship, of empathy, even if her acerbicness and commitment to as little cooperation with bullshit social niceties as possible can make her look (and feel) like the biggest bitch in the world. And since this is something I've often felt about myself, I guess that in the end, Elle confirms a theory I've held since I was a film critic--we respond best to emotional manipulation from films which reinforce our own world-view, not question it, or make US question it. It's a bit like my reaction to M. Night Shyamalan's Spilt, which continues to fall squarely in the "wound as superpower = hooray" camp, rather than the "intersectional issues so bad I can't even" camp; I get that that's faily on my part, but that sort of failure is, I can only assume, also part of my nature, much like caring more about people than dogs. I know it. I own it.

TL; DR: Not for everyone, but some may find things here that they like--could be the tagline for Elle, could be the tagline for Alicia Witt. And on we go, probably racking up other universally dislkable characters/opinions with every move we make.
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Okay, so I am officially excused from jury duty, thank the Powers That Be, who in this case appear to be a very pleasant older lady with a strong Scots accent who works in the Toronto Courthouse's Sheriff's Office. "We don't send those naughty little summonses out, dear, so please, write us a letter next time," she told me; I had of course picked the very busiest time to show up and make my case for exclusion, which I apologized for profusely, addressing her as "ma'am" throughout. Turns out, it's a lot easier to do that when you actually respect the person you're dealing with. At any rate: sorted. On to the next disaster.

I did write that piece of Outsider fanfic, BTW, and posted it up on the AO3--"Lostie," which is mainly Asa Farrell thinking about all the stuff he learned during his ten years away "down there," and how little it turned out to matter. It's here, if you're interested (http://archiveofourown.org/works/9431606). Today, meanwhile, I'm trying to rough out the second part of "Samaritan"'s epilogue, in which--inevitably--Beecher can't resist the impulse to keep poking the bear, until Chris Keller appears out of seemingly nowhere to offer Vern an alternative method of revenge; the destined threesome, which must apparently occur in all versions of Oz, even the AUs. I think I can make it sort of fun, though, before moving on to the next re-archiving project--possibly "Two Lions," which I imported last night.

Ughhhh, I'm tired as hell. No apparent end to my snuffliness, which means every time I fall asleep my dreams are crowded and contradictory, doubly exhausting. I was up really late due to PMS, then slept in a bit, but it took me an hour plus to get back up to speed after that. More coffee may be in order.
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Well, it's been quite an amazing couple of days. I am...probably still low-grade ill, in that there has never yet been a moment where I went: "Oh thank God, I'm well again." Friday was a PA Day and I made the choice to stay off of TV/social media as much as possible in order to give as few clicks as I could to that guy (I think you know the guy I mean); on Saturday I couldn't attend the Women's March in Toronto, but I followed along and reblogged various things. Today, meanwhile, we get the fairly hilarious one-two punch of the White House straight-up lying about shit while accusing the press of lying about shit, then calling the result "alternative facts." It's been pointed out already that the main aim of this sort of fuckery is not to refute any one claim, so much, as to imply that all facts are unprovable by nature, so you might as well just agree that something is "true" because that guy (I think you know the one I mean) says so...or not. Holy fuck, we really are living in a dystopia.

I had friends who went down to Washington and didn't get stopped at the border, presumably because they lied cheerfully when asked if they were "pro-"that guy. I tried to rehearse a conversation along those lines in my head, since I'm going to have to go down to the States at least once this coming year, but kept glitching on the idea that the only thing I could possibly answer to "Are you 'pro-'that guy or 'anti-'that guy?" would be: "I'm Canadian," since that was what I ended up telling some dude I don't know who turned up on my Facebook page to argue with me about what I thought were two fairly innocuous statements I made last week. "I see you've chose your side," he said, to which I replied: "I'm Canadian, so both your sides mean equally little to me." So yeah, I'm sticking to that from now on, I think, until it's not true anymore.

On Friday Steve and i went to see M. Night Shyamalan's latest, Split, which is definitely not a definitive portrait of a person living with DID, but manages to be a very entertaining, weirdly moving film nonetheless, especially in its final scenes. I can elaborate if anyone's interested, but I'll tell you right now that I'm not interested in debating either Shyamalan's talent as a writer/director or his right to make up such a character, even if "most" of the representative portraits of people living with DID that we see in today's media are inaccurate and ableist. (Then again, I also don't think Buffalo Bill from Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs is or was ever intended to be a transphobic representation of a trans character, so there ya go; I'm an asshole, yo de yo.)

The rest of the weekend's been spent not sleeping, watching other films, and finishing up Steve's first viewing of Daredevil Season Two. At least two other films I've seen thus far are totally worth talking about, but I need to get myself turned around in order to spend Monday telling people at the Sheriff's Office that I cannot possibly get tapped for jury duty, so I'm not sure I can format those reviews today. I also had an idea for a piece of Outsiders fanfiction (gen), which is exciting, in a weird way. So I'm going to jot those notes down, possibly format it, then keep working on my "real" stuff.

TL;DR: there's going to be a lot of this shit from now on, so get used to noting the daily stream of fake news coming from that guy (I think you know the one I mean)'s office, but not acknowledging and/or validating it. Four more years.

Back to it.
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Well, not being sick is pretty choice, gotta say. Routinely getting to sleep before 4:00 AM. Having a good reason to regularly leave the freaking house every day, and interact with people I respect. All of these are wonderful, I'm almost certain, but it feels like I haven't done them in years and years--more like fourteen days, my Mom recently pointed out to me. I am sick and fucking tired of being fucking sick and tired.

Anyhow. As you (probably) know, Bob, part of what I've been doing recently is transferring my old fanfiction to the Archive of Our Own, and thus being amused by/revelling in the things which apparently inspire me towards creativity, even if it's only of the interstitial sort. I'm finally on the Oz portion of the project, which is hilarious and horrifying in equal measure: we're talking about Tom Fontana's Oz rather than The Wizard of, obviously, that demented HBO soap opera about hard times while doin' hard time, with its endless roundelay of naked guys, sexual violence, canon-typical racism, manipulation (lit and fig), surreal social commentary, reflexive anti-authoritarianism and instiTUtionaliZAtion (say it with me now, kids). Oz was where I plunged into the deep end first, writing a 100,000-word plus novel straight out of the gate--"My Wife and My Dead Wife," which posits the potential events of Oz season three, put together at high speed over the post-season two hiatus. I haven't cracked it as yet, but I will, and given the way I've been reformatting the stuff I've transferred thus far, I'm sort of dreading it. It does hold up okay as a basic read, though.;)

One way or the other, going through my AO3 dashboard these days definitely reminds me of what seems to turn my crank--things which absolutely do not turn many other peoples', in the main. I like:

A) Terrible people doing terrible things.
B) Lying liars.
C) Violence.
D) Unreliable internal narration.
E) Arcane language.
F) Historicity.
G) Insults.
H) Consent issues. SEVERE consent issues. Holy shit, check out the consent issues, those consent issues are whack.
I) The people other people think are too ugly to fantasize about. Pretty fucking consistently.
J) Doing the same things over and over, expecting a different result.
K) Canonical deviation AUs, not straight-up AUs.
L) Mainly slash, some het, some OT3, but the default setting is situational bisexuality.
M) Redemption, little as that ever seems to happen in the stuff I consume or the stuff I write.

So: spent a lot of the last little while bingeing on Crave TV, because I can and I don't have the brainishness to do much else, which is how I was able to blaze my way through the first season of Outsiders, a truly odd Appalachian crime thriller show developed for WGN America that (at first glance) runs Justified through a Silver John filter. Magic realism abounds, but there's also a nasty sense of inevitability and down-the-holler bad teeth fatalism to it I find particularly compelling. Our scene is set in coal country, ie the town of Blackburg, Kentucky, at the foot of Shay Mountain; the Mountain is home to three extremely exclusive clans of freeholders, the Shays, Farrells and McClintocks, who live 5,000 miles up and rarely come down except to raid local supermarkets for shine-brewing yeast and power tools. They don't use money, can't read and speak a dialect that's influenced by Elizabethan English, though they also talk about "signs done in the Ruthark," and a lot of their ceremonial language sounded Welsh to me. ("Ged-Gedyah, cousin!" is the normal greeting.)

So...sort of like Vikings, sort of like hillbillies. Local people also think the Farrells can control the weather and curse people, two things which explain why Blackburg's own Sheriff Houghton goes so far out of his way to never go up the mountain if he can at all help it--his father was a mining company negotiator who tried to cut a deal with the Farrells during which two Farrells were killed, only to later be struck by lighting on his way home from work. People from "below" think of the Farrells and their subsidiary clans as freaks who barely live in the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first, while the Farrells think "them below" are demons who deserve whatever they get. Strangely enough, this doesn't lead anywhere good, especially when another coal company comes to town offering free jobs to anybody who'll help them kick the Farrells off their mineral-rich home.

Our main character is Asa Farrell (British actor Joe Anderson, all shaggy hair, squint and bad teeth glower), who spent ten years out in the "real' world and now knows just enough about computers, the legal system and technology to psychologically manipulate the norms. He returned to the Mountain six months ago, only to find himself doubly an outcast, branded a cultural traitor by the people he still considers his only kin. Released from imprisonment just before the current Brenn'in (leader) Lady Ray Farrell is due to turn her staff over to her eldest son, "Big" Foster Farrell (David Morse), Asa finds himself caught up in the struggle between Big Foster's upstarts and the Mountain's council of elders; he also falls back into a weird, antagonistic three-way with G'Winn (Gillian Alexy), his former lover, and Big Foster's own son Li'l Foster (Ryan Hurst), once Asa's best friend, who were left behind to console each other when Asa took off for "the distractions of civilization."

Big Foster hates his mother but hates Asa even more, so most of Asa's plot has him trying to find ways to rationalize being allowed to stay, usually by finding ways to help Big Foster fight of the latest mining company incursions, but hopefully without things going where Big Foster always wants them to--towards guns, violence and blood.

One way or the other, you'll probably never find another show out there on which people swap moonshine for drone reprogramming and automatic weapons, whose characters' internal addictions range from Oxycodone to witch-cap, or one which shows a penniless guy courting a girl by offering her a wood-carving of a bear he made because "bears are big an' fierce, just like my love for you."

(This last relationship is really cute--Asa's relative of some sort Hasil Farrell (Kyle Gallner), a heavily tattooed young man in a kilt with Cavalier curls and a musketeer moustache, goes mooney-eyed over the girl working the cash register when he and his "cousins" come to town, a sweet lady named Sally-Anne (Christina Jackson) who comes from one of the only African-American families in town; it's a distinction he genuinely doesn't really understand, any more than he understands what TV is, where marshmallows come from, and whether or not the drug dealer he briefly befriends' significant other is a girl or a boy. [She seems trans to me, but Hasil eventually decides it doesn't matter.])

Fandom-wise, "Sasil" is the big ship, though I (of course) am interested primarily in either the OT3 vibes between Asa, G'Winn and Li'l Foster, the foe-yay between Asa and Big Foster, or G'Winn's internal wrangling over how best to serve the Mountain, her community and her own heart, divided as it is between three equally difficult men. She's a fun chick overall, especially in terms of being perfectly willing to marry Li'l Foster's father in order to take the clans' reins, then immediately start low-grade poisoning him to boil off his inherent shit-stirring instincts. But then again, even the comparatively "nicest" Farrells are apt to pull a knife on you if you keep poking them--these people shit in the woods, give birth in ditches and walk five miles before breakfast almost every day. As Houghton warns the coal company's main smiling shark, "community liaison" Haylie Grimes (Francie Swift), "if y'all really knew what you was dealin' with, y'all'd be runnin'."

Otherwise, I cut a deal yesterday to reprint "A Single Shadow Make" in an anthology called Daughters of Mary Shelley, which is cool, and I'm trying to bull my way into at least one of my outstanding pro pieces. I'm also almost done reposting "Samaritan," which turns out to be some truly insane amount of words long. I know I wanted to write an epilogue to it and only finished the first part; maybe I'll do the rest of it, if I can remember what the hell I was trying to say, by the end.

Okay, back to it.
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Now on Netflix, so I watched it. Interestingly, it too was directed by Gavin O'Connor (who directed The Accountant, and is best known otherwise for his MMA championship movie Warrior, in which Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy play brothers competing for the title). It's probably best known as a former Black List screenplay that later became the project that Lynn Ramsey got bounced off of within the first two weeks, Milcho Manchevski-on-Ravenous style, which meant that once again a female filmmaker had been shut out of doing a "big" Hollywood film, essentially for "being difficult"; a particular piss-off in context, given that star Natalie Portman had fought so hard to midwife it as a producer.

The film continued to have its share of birth-pangs--male lead Joel Edgerton was originally supposed to play the main villain, Bishop, but switched to playing "hero" Dan Frost instead (if you can even call him that, given he's at least as morally compromised as Jane and her husband Hammond); the Bishop role then went through at least four considerably higher-profile actors, all of whom quit because of scheduling conflicts, before Ewan MacGregor was finally cast. I'm interested to note that the one characteristic all of these actors share is a certain brand of movie-star good looks--neither of the men who fall in love with Jane is "handsome," per se; Hammond is a mainly good-intentioned but violent hulk, Dan a bit of a rumpled non-dude even in his better days, perfect for a character actor like Edgerton. This fits with the story note that Jane's own beauty is a minus in her life, not a plus; it's what causes men to fixate on and pursue her, to remember her even after seven years, to resent her loss as a commodity, while Bishop's own fatal glamour is a tool/weapon he uses expressly to put people off their guard, especially ones he's planning to tie to a bed and sell tickets for.

A little research soon reveals that O'Connor might have always made for a surprisingly good replacement for Ramsey, since I'd totally forgotten he's also the director of Tumbleweeds (1999), a female-centric indie road movie starring Janet McTeer I reviewed when I was still at eye Weekly. Plus he's an actor as well as a director, so he probably handled Portman fairly well in terms of what she wanted out of things. Similarly, Edgerton was eventually tapped to rewrite the script, something he's well-qualified to do, as demonstrated by queasily effective 2015 thriller The Gift. (Sidebar: Edgerton's always been an interesting presence as an actor, to me; often tarred with the same Yet Another Boring Fucking White Guy brush as Sam Worthington, he actually reminds me strikingly of Russell Crowe with his facial hair all grown out--and Dan is definitely an early Crowe role, one which Edgerton handles with the same no-nonsense strength Portman brings to Jane.)

First reaction: like a lot of the things critics shit on en masse, Jane Got a Gun actually a perfectly fine example of its chosen genre; like I told Steve, all I can think is that people might have been generally unhappy with a genre narrative in which the central character is a multiple rape survivor, because otherwise, it's got everything you could possibly want in a classic siege Western: tough-mindedness, grit, stark New Mexico landscapes, the overhanging post-Civil War lure and trauma of the past, the difficulty of retaining a capacity for empathy, love and forgiveness in an essentially lawless, violent world.

When we first meet Jane Hammond, she appears to be the prototypical frontiers wife: doing for herself and her daughter ably out in the literal middle of nowhere, occupying what we later learn is the local homestead built furthest away from "civilization," and deliberately so. Then her current husband Ham (Noah Emmerich) finally comes home, slumped low over the bridle of his horse; he's run into trouble in town, been recognized as a wanted fugitive pursued by a posse of equally bad men, four of whom he shot before being perforated by bullets in his turn. Jane's reaction to this news immediately tells us she's not exactly the stereotypical innocent that we were initially led to believe--she wrangles Ham into the house, undeterred by him being roughly twice her size, and immediate starts the process of removing as much of the lead in him as she can, then packing the wounds with gunpowder and setting them on fire.

Much like her husband, we eventually realize, Jane has a past: she rides first to her neighbor's to drop off her child, then straight to the house of her former fiance Dan Frost, war hero turned drunk, with whom she shares painful history--he's the metaphorical gun she first tries to recruit before being rebuffed and riding off to nearby Lullabye instead, where she invests her savings in the real thing plus as much ammunition as she can carry. We've already seen her side-eye the cathouse as she stalks by, collar buttoned high and her hair twisted tight underneath a neat little hat; moments later, she's pulled into an alley and threatened with rape by one of Lullabye's town drunks, Fitchum (Rodrigo Santoro), who gleefully reminds her how much the Bishop Boys will pay to repossess her, as well as the bounty on former gang member Hammond's head. As she lies there in the dust, stunned into traumatized silence, Dan--now as cleaned up as he's ever likely to get--comes up from behind, drawing on Fitchum; they argue for a minute over Jane's fate like she's just some sort of prize, a victim we expect Dan to "rescue." Seconds later, however, it's still-prone Jane who hauls out her gun and puts Fitchum in the dirt, holding it two-handed to shoot him straight up through the belly; not something she's done before, necessarily, but she doesn't hesitate a second after her initial frozen moment of doubt and fear...and she never will again.

Both revisionist and respectful, Jane Got a Gun never falls squarely into the category of mere payback for sexual assault past, though it does check some of the boxes--and in hindsight, it's more than possible that this was one of the things which alienated audiences and critics alike, back during the film's theatrical run. As eventually demonstrated, Jane has already survived being prostituted against her will by Bishop and his gang, who promised her safe passage to San Francisco only to take her straight to a tiny room and an endless line of customers instead; having embarked on this journey because she though Dan had died in the War, she was travelling with their daughter, who she now believes is dead.

Hammond, then part of the Boys, was attracted enough to her to want to marry her even after rescuing her from Bishop's rape factory, and she's repaid his kindness the only way she knew how: married him, had his child, made a life for them both. When Dan turned up later on, it ensues, she refused to apologize or explain, waiting for him to want to hear her side of the story himself; like everything else about her, the way in which Jane chooses to process her pain is entirely practical, possibly something else that puts people off her as a "worthy" protagonist--she isn't fragile enough, let alone forgiving enough, having settled into the idea that life is now "not a thing to be lived, but a thing to be endured." Is she a bad woman for not breaking, or for daring to take what comfort she can from her marriage, her child, her routine? Or is she a bad woman for not hesitating when given the opportunity to finally avenge herself, if only to permanently remove Bishop's lingering, poisonous influence from her life, Hammond's, that of her second child...and Dan's, too?

We see Jane before Bishop's betrayal and we see her after, and in both slices of time she's a woman who'd always rather act than not, rather make her own mistakes and pay for them later, rather stand than run, let alone crawl; what she can't fix she'll endure, right up until she's given the opportunity to do something a bit more effective. "They come to my house, whatever happens, I got to set my face to it," she explains to Dan, who she never does chide for all the time he's already spent hating Hammond, let alone the fact that he can't set that hate aside even now his rival's wounded and probably about to die. It's almost like she trusts that the Dan she once knew will eventually find his way to a place where he can ask for her story, after which he'll understand why that attitude is pretty amazingly selfish and put it aside, so they can get back to the important reddish work at hand.

But maybe audiences didn't like that part, either--not the fact that Dan rises to her expectations, or the fact that Jane doesn't rise the theirs, when given the chance to do the expect "heroic" thing and NOT plug Bishop full of holes.

Much like everything else about her, however, Jane's moral code always matches itself neatly to the job at hand, be that bread-making, amateur doctoring or stuffing paraffin-filled mason jars full of broken glass and nails, in pursuit of the definitive removal of threats to those she loves. When Bishop tries to cheat death by telling her her first-born daughter is still alive, she doesn't negotiate for the girl's whereabouts--she demands the information, backing those demands up with lead. Then she loads this loathsome pimp gunslinger's dead body onto a wagon along with those of the rest of his gang, drives them into town and collects the bounty for each corpse, so her reunited family can start over.

TL; DR: Natalie Portman is so ridiculously beautiful that we sometimes forget what she's capable of, a plot point Jane Got a Gun makes liberal use of, to fine effect. And again, when she and Ewan MacGregor finally get down to it, she doesn't flinch; the result is really sort of beautiful itself, in its own stark, hard-ass way.
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