I wish I were better at hiatusing.

What I’m better at is writing notes about stuff and then leaving them in my phone for months.

Aforementioned notes, continued.

Selma // Ava DuVernay did a beautiful job of weaving together new and archived footage. The costumes, the acting, the looming anguish — all of it blends seamlessly. David Oyelowo is commanding as MLK, Jr., though it occurred to me that John Legend (who performed the movie’s Oscar-winning song) might have been a cool choice to play him, too, since he can generate those effortless vocal trembles. The rest of the cast is incredibly strong, and it’s thrilling to see them all come together from Moonlight (Andre Holland), Empire (Trai Byers), Orange is the New Black (Lorraine Toussaint), Get Out (Lakeith Stanfield), The Wire (Wendell Pierce) and so many other prominent but not necessarily non-fiction works of art. I’ll also never tire seeing Martin Sheen play a good guy, nor will watching Tim Roth ever get old, even when he’s depicting someone as deplorable as George Wallace.

Wonder Woman // I don’t have a ton of experience with recent Marvel or DC Comics-based movies, but I can say that the single-character focus of this one made it pretty easy for someone like me to jump right in. And focusing it on a lone female character left me feeling simultaneously invincible and disheartened as I exited the theater. Gal Godot is (to quote my friend Kate) “ass-kickulous,” as is the all-female world she lives in, but the world she enters isn’t. And neither is ours. It was pretty refreshing to see Chris Pine woo her without leading-manning her (though I could have done without the romance, actually) and enthralling to watch a battle scene that contained no men and exquisite armor. For once.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again // The late David Foster Wallace is brilliant for small reasons — like the phrases “pussified whisper” (p. 6), “the sky is the color of old jeans” (p. 87) and “a facial expression that looks the way a bad dream feels” (p. 157) — and medium reasons, like his in-graf abbreviations, his self-loathing footnotes and his entire essay about David Lynch, who is “one of these people with unusual access to their own unconscious” (p. 166). But the large reasons are somehow larger than DFW himself, as cliche as it may be. While reading this essay collection, a woman stopped me on the subway to talk about it. Looking back, I probably should have engaged with her more, but at the time, I wasn’t in much of a chatting mood. She did leave me with this advice, though: “You can’t write until you really know yourself.” And I feel like DFW would have thoroughly enjoyed the guilt trip I gave myself after the whole interaction. He may have even reacted the same way.

The Big Sick // The world needs more Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, I know that for sure. Seeing their imperfect, perfect story on screen was a true delight, and I feel a comedy-nerd pride swelling in my chest knowing that it has gained popularity and acclaim. They took a risk by writing something so intimate — reliving a trauma and portraying oneself and one’s family in an unflattering light is a monumental choice for artists to make — and it paid off. Ray Romano was devastatingly great as Emily’s father, too. I only wish I could have gotten more on board with Kumail playing his twentysomething self. He was way too old for the role, but no one else could have played him, either.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi // Not only will this tiny old Japanese man make you hungry, but he’ll also make you question your work ethic and redefine how you conceptualize “honor.” I don’t know if I’d call sushi master Jiro Ono a happy man, but I think “content” is a fair term. He’s found contentment in learning and honing a trade, in knowing that achievement is inevitable with practice and in unlocking dignity from repetition.

Lucky Number Slevin // It’s clear that the writer/director tandem of Jason Smilovic and Paul McGuigan was going for a Quentin Tarantino/Chan-wook Park vibe with this movie, though it had its own style. The mod, vibrantly colored sets stuck with me much longer than the plot’s twists, turns and timeline shifts, but those were pretty fun on their own, too. Suffice it to say that Josh Harnett, doing his best Benicio Del Toro impression as Slevin, gets caught in the middle of a feud between two crime bosses (Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman, as it should be) and enjoys the ride almost as much as the viewer.

The Incredible Jessica James // I am all for the world containing more Jessica Williams, but I’m not sure this movie did what it set out to do. It is, primarily, a vehicle for Williams’ infectious brand of confident comedy — she is effortlessly funny, smart and sexy, and she’s uncocky while showcasing all of it. It also breathes life into the sagging moving-to-New-York-in-your-twenties trope, and it’s the product of a tight script. No extraneous characters or tangents or background information. Yet it also falls victim to an unfortunate, predictable ending — young, struggling woman allows slightly older man to rescue her. Jessica begins dating Boone (Chris O’Dowd, who can do no wrong), and they have unique, unsappy chemistry. They’re a joy to watch and he’s in complete awe of her. But she teaches theater to kids and he is a rich app developer. There’s nothing wrong with one person supporting another, except when the first word you might use to describe the supportee is “independent.”

Bridget Jones’ Diary // Somehow I managed to escape my twenties without seeing this movie. A sin to some, but I’m glad I saved it for when I was closer in age to the title character. It seems strange that Renee Zellweger was nominated for an Oscar, considering how rom-commy the role was. Then again, she was so clumsy and real — and British! — and thus the ideal candidate. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, dashing suitors til the day they die, were given more than usual to work with here. Grant is Daniel Cleaver, the player boss, Firth is Mark Darcy, the short-tempered eccentric, and both play off Zellweger’s magnetism perfectly.

Next time, I’m really gonna go on a break.


The hiatus is coming, really.

My reasoning for it lies here.

I’ve just got several more jots to jot down before I do it. Here are some.

Other People // I love Chris Kelly for being an SNL writer, even more for bringing SNL and other funny people into the melancholy, autobiographical story of his mother’s death and the most for forcing said showbiz people to talk about the delusions of showbiz onscreen. Jesse Plemons (as David) and Bradley Whitford (as David’s father, Norman) were the sympathetic forces we already knew they were, while Molly Shannon (as David’s mother, Joanne) and Zach Woods (as David’s boyfriend, Paul) demonstrated a sorrowful sweetness that hadn’t emerged in previous roles.

Dodgeball // I knew more about this movie than I thought I did — “Nobody makes me bleed my own blood” — yet I’m so glad I watched it, because it was a revelation of Jason Bateman’s comedic versatility. So often he’s relegated to the straight-man role, and he kills it of course, but his color commentator Pepper Brooks made me cry with laughter.

Walk Hard // “Underrated” is probably an annoyingly common term used to describe John C. Reilly, but damn, it’s true. He’s such a quiet genius, no matter the role, and Dewey Cox is no exception. The movie is all about absurd parodies of other movies, yet he jumps seamlessly between each one, his presence consistently magnetic and curious. And I’ll take a Jack White cameo any day.

The West Wing, Season 4 // So many episodes stand out as brilliant in this arc — the whole team uniting seriously to prep POTUS (Martin Sheen) in “Debate Camp,” then playfully to tease Toby (Richard Schiff) in “Game On;” the high-stress, operatic tension of “Commencement” and “Twenty Five,” wherein Zoey (Elisabeth Moss) is abducted after her college commencement and Toby’s ex-wife has twins. Yet there is a soapy, melodramatic nature to this season, too, that I could have done without. The whole staff felt the strain of Toby’s broken relationship, for example, and the wishy-washiness between Josh (Whitford) and Amy (expert eye-roller Mary-Louise Parker) got to be annoying after awhile. But I welcomed the refreshing, Woody Harrelson-esque arrival of Will (Joshua Malina) as Rob Lowe started to phase himself out and I learned that Josh is a Mets fan. And I love all the characters dearly, even when they act silly, so I’ll keep watching. I’m anxious to see what it’s like post-Aaron Sorkin.

Terminator 2 // Linda Hamilton (as Sarah Connor) is kind of a metaphor for this movie — she is ageless, and so is it. James Cameron paid (and continues to pay) such meticulous attention to detail, from the subtle squeaks of the Terminator’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leather to the slick morphing movements of T-1000 (Robert Patrick), everything holds up. And the fact that a child — not a grownup — is the movie’s hook gives it an innocence and purity that should not be overlooked.

Manchester by the Sea // Watching this movie on a plane, and having read a few reviews, I expected to be drowning in my own tears for two hours. But it wasn’t quite that bleak. (Though it was pretty bleak.) The lilting music saved it, in fact, injecting ever-so-slight humor into some scenes. Michelle Williams (as Randi) was perfect, as usual, and Casey Affleck (as Lee) admittedly was too, though I suspect he’s peaked. Peaked with bleak.

Beyond Belief // There’s Going Clear and then there’s this. The inside scoop. The autobiographical horror story. I applaud Jenna Miscavige Hill — the niece of the group’s chairman, David Miscavige — for risking her life to escape, and then to tell her tale. It’s amazing that anyone can escape Scientology, especially if they’re born into it. From a young age, they’re taught that normalcy means no human variation, no nuance, no deeper meaning. They’re encouraged to be uniform, to be comfortable with vagueness, to speak with a vocabulary all their own (“TRs” are training routines, “OTs” are operating thetans), to recognize E-meters as true science and levels as sacred, exclusive accomplishments. It seems harmless until it isn’t. It’s real-life psychological horror.

Footloose // It’s scary when a 30-plus-year-old movie can have relevance today, and this one tells a very current story about different generations coming to understand each other. John Lithgow (as the Rev. Moore) is a close-minded, devout man and the father of a thoughtful, rebellious teenager. He’s unable to see the benefits of any behaviors he’s not used to, and despite being relatively gentle, he wields enormous power over a meek town. Kevin Bacon (as Ren) is charismatic sans the douche factor that a typical leading man embodies (something he’s quite used to doing, as he discussed on WTF) and I wish his love story had been with Sarah Jessica Parker (as Rusty the charmer) instead of with Lori Singer (as Ariel the hottie). Of course, Ariel is Rev. Moore’s daughter, so it was a necessary plot, but I felt he and Singer had no chemistry. The again, maybe their chemistry wasn’t entirely necessary. They just needed each other, as fellow semi-motivated people, to work up the courage to leave their town.

Intermission, I guess.

It’s almost time for a hiatus.

I say “hiatus” tongue-in-cheek because I haven’t posted on this blog since Oct. 22, so I suppose I was already hiatus-ing when I decided to write it down. I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, actually.

I’ve had this blog for exactly ten years. I’m old enough to have done a lot of things for ten years (or more) — drive, be out of high school, have a Facebook account, buy tampons, own an iPod — but this is the only creative thing I’ve sustained for that long. And yet I’ve only just begun to learn that it’s okay to step away from something when it has become stagnant — or has run its course.

I keep a list of notes in my phone about the books, music, movies and shows I’ve consumed, with the intention of translating those notes onto posts here. That list of notes has grown to an intimidating length over the past few years, so much so that whenever I get around to writing about a particular work, it’s not even timely anymore. Even worse, when I’m experiencing the work itself, I’m so focused on my notes that I don’t actually take it in as art. And so this little blog, which I loved so much and still love, has transformed into an onus. A burden of my own doing. It shouldn’t be that way. It should be joyous.

I started it pretty much in conjunction with when I started writing reviews for my college paper. I figured that whatever I wasn’t reviewing for them should get a review, too. I enjoyed it then because it was a novel concept — I was 20 and excited that someone might want to know what I thought of that Pepper concert or this Al Gore book. My job after college was similar — with a pay grade barely above the kind, pitiful stipend that the paper was able to offer — and it’s where I started to grow weary of the arts and entertainment review as a form of expression, but I insisted upon maintaining it for whatever reason. And now here I am, a decade in, and pretty tired. I’m ready for a break, if only for my brain.

But I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t jot down at least some of the thoughts I’ve had about things I’ve seen and heard this past year, taking up space in my phone and my conscience. Here goes.

Gattaca // I reveled in the design details of this movie — Vincent (Ethan Hawke) and Jerome (Jude Law) had such a meticulous, foolproof system to transfer DNA between them, from the blood on the fingerprints to the concealed urine — but I also wondered how the logic of their universe stood next to, say 1984. There were more social variables in the world of Gattaca — and had there not been, Ethan and Uma (as Irene) might never have had the opportunity to interact and become a real-life couple.

Jackie // Natalie Portman is the centerpiece here, and it took me awhile to “buy” her in the role before I realized I didn’t know much about Jackie O at all, or what was “authentic,” and she reeled me right in. She captured the lonely horror of experiencing a personal trauma in the public eye, and maybe her greatest achievement in the role was never really revealing Jackie O’s personality, because maybe Jackie O never did, either.

Rogue One // Damn it if the ending didn’t make me shed a tear. But damn it if the part right before it didn’t make me scream. I mean, it was a fun romp, but the romance was completely unnecessary. Jyn (Felicity Jones) and Cassian (Diego Luna) had absolutely no chemistry, nor was their relationship meaningful to the plot. This movie was about kicking ass, which both of them did handedly, but they didn’t need to make out in order to do so. Shoutout to Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Wen Jiang) for their significant ass-kickery, too.

La La Land // I didn’t want to like this movie because of Moonlight — and I’m thrilled Moonlight won, duh — but La La Land is a pretty fascinating portrayal of Los Angeles. It lets you fall in and out of love with it simultaneously. Its fantasy sequences — particularly those that bookend the movie — are particularly beautiful, as are the elements of the movie steeped in reality. Emma Stone is not the best singer, and that’s what I loved about her casting. She, way more than Ryan Gosling (as Sebastian), is so full of potential in the perfect way, which is to say that she’s imperfect. She works hard and she feels things and she’s a real person, and that came out in spades as Mia.

Hidden Figures // I’ve never fist-pumped more in a theater than when I saw this movie. (Except maybe for Miracle.) Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae were incredibly inspiring, as are the real-life geniuses they portrayed who went through hell to make vital contributions to the space program.

The Nightmare Before Christmas // I saw this 25 years too late. And now I get why Hot Topic was/is filled with Jack Skellington memorabilia. What a beautiful, twisted masterpiece. The movie is even greater than the sum of its brilliant parts, from Jack not having an evil voice to the mayor being two-faced to all the Christmas carols being in minor keys, because it’s got this undeniable, one-of-a-kind feel. There will never be another movie like it.

Dear White People (the movie) // Justin Simien wrote a mesmerizing wake-up call to the unwoke and woke alike. The ensemble, particularly Tessa Thompson and Teyonah Parris, lets you get to know its problems, lets you feel as close as you can to a conflict you can’t even begin to understand and lets you reckon with your discomfort.

Get Out // There is reckoning with your discomfort here, too, but it’s not in satire form — it’s tight, crisp suspense instead, and it’s hilarious when it needs to be and terrifying otherwise. The fact that this movie is Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is astounding — we’re just going to get more amazing works of art like this, and we’re lucky. Get this man an Oscar.

Eight is enough for now. More later.

Aliens and linguistics? Yeah, count me in.

Arrival was my favorite movie of 2016, I think. It wasn’t necessarily the best or most important movie — I’ll save that statement for an upcoming post on Get Out, probably — but it was the one that I enjoyed watching the most. It contained the most pure movie magic.

Its timeline was reminiscent of Memento, its sentimentality rang of Up and its primary partnership (and color palette) brought to mind that first glorious season of True Detective, yet it was its own unique entity, unlike any other science fiction story I’d ever seen.

When I say that the sci-fi elements of the movie are simple, I don’t mean that they’re rudimentary or boring. Quite the opposite, actually. They were complex, elegant and well within the realm of possibility. They didn’t overwhelm with an overdose of CGI (which has its time and place!); rather, they wowed by leaving a lot to the viewer’s imagination.

Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the Army to help a team communicate with an alien pod — one of 12 across the globe — and she and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) develop an application that allows them to translate the aliens’ language into readable English. The pods are ominous, intriguing and completely mysterious; they hover above the earth with a magnetic yet passive presence. The aliens themselves are heptapods, and we don’t see much more than their snaky silhouettes. And the inkblot-type runes that form their language, and which they squirt onto the clear surface between them and Louise and Ian are like next-level Rorschach tests. I’d tattoo one on myself, they’re that beautiful.

Louise, Ian, Colonel Weber (a very unfortunately slurry Forest Whitaker) and the rest of the Army not only work together to communicate with the aliens, but they’re also in contact with the other 11 countries trying to do the same thing. It’s an obvious metaphor, but a pertinent one nevertheless — we’re all better off together. Collaboration, especially in the face of something greater and more foreign than all of us, is the only way.

Lizzy Caplan and Alison Brie deserve better than a contrived rom-com.

They’re two of the most hilarious, likable, talented most gorgeous actors working today. They’ve been in brilliant comedies (Party Down, Glow, Community) and dramas (True Blood, Masters of Sex, Mad Men) alike. They are most peoples’ dream girls — sans “manic pixie,” thank you — regardless of gender or sexual orientation. They’re the best.

Save the Date, however, is the worst. I watched it purely for the cast — those two, plus Martin Starr and Geoffrey Arend amount to what I thought would be a recipe for success, but it was achingly disastrous. I’d like to think that, despite my growing cynicism, I still have it in me to suspend my disbelief and enjoy a rom-com every once in awhile. But it’s impossible when the rom-com doesn’t give you much to work with.

Caplan is Sarah and Brie is Beth. They’re sisters who are dating bandmates, Andrew (Starr) and Kevin (Arend), respectively. Sarah’s more of a mess and Beth is more put together, which explains why Sarah cannot handle Kevin’s proposal of marriage and Beth cannot understand why she can’t handle it, because her wedding panning is going very smoothly. Sarah is an artist who also works at a bookstore and Beth… honestly I don’t remember what Beth does because it’s not important. What’s important is that she’s someone’s fiancee!

Despite being the main characters of the movie, neither of them are nuanced or believable. They inhabit incredibly boring stereotypes we’ve seen before — the put-together younger sister and the free-spirited older sister. One always wears pearls and one always wears plaid. They fight and make up. It’s kind of pathetic that this sort of movie is still being made in 2017, honestly. A straight female character can have some of her shit together some of the time. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. And she doesn’t need to wear combat boots in the summer.

After breaking things off with Kevin, Sarah starts things up with a bookstore patron who had been crushing on her. Switching from “Kevin” mode to “Jonathan” mode, we see an even more unbearable side of her: a needy, self-obsessed side that I simply could not buy from Caplan. Making matters worse, Sarah’s friends in the movie are even more vapid than she is, which only emphasizes how prone she is to making terrible choices. Caplan is way too cool, and way too self-respecting in real life, to pull off portraying someone that shallow with a world that small. Of course, neediness and self-obsession are perfectly normal human qualities, but knowing little else about Sarah forces those qualities to be magnified in the movie. Caplan is stooping to overdramatic, MPDG levels. In short: she sucks!

By the end of the movie, I was deeply disappointed in its unnecessary baggage. The cast of Save the Date gave it so much potential, and their magnetism was wasted on a script that didn’t take a single risk.

There is no one in the world quite like Sonny Wortzik.

Or, for that matter, quite like John Wojtowicz, on whom Sonny was based.

There’s also no bank robbery quite like the one John attempted, which makes its reenactment in Dog Day Afternoon so damn fascinating. No one could make up this story if they tried — except John himself.

Al Pacino is also the only actor who could have played Sonny, except John himself. (And frequent Pacino collaborator Sidney Lumet is the only director who could have brought it to life so exquisitely.) I feel comfortable saying Sonny wasn’t a stretch for Pacino, though the script itself had to have been the most unexpected, bizarre one he had encountered at that point in his career — even coming off the first two Godfather films and Serpico. Sonny is not anyone in particular, but he became someone by attempting to rob a bank to get money for his estranged wife’s sex reassignment surgery. He and his partner, Sal (John Cazale) aren’t particularly experienced in the art of robbery, so it quickly devolves from efficient operation to sloppy spectacle in a matter of minutes.

Once the police get wind of the funny business, it’s basically a farce. They’re both in over their heads as their demands escalate and their power surges beyond their control. Neither really wish harm on anyone, especially Sonny, who is about as compassionate and heroic as a bank robber can be. When medical issues arise with his hostages, he brings in people to treat them. His list of demands includes food for his hostages, too. He’s level-headed enough to stay in constant communication with the police chief, Moretti (Charles Durning) and consider the pleas of his wife, Leon (the sweetest Chris Sarandon). He’s also incredibly fucked up and brash — after all, the life choices he’s made culminate in the bank robbery he’s committing — and his lack of planning brings many moments of comedy to a relatively intense drama.

Sonny isn’t lovable, but he’s magnetic, and he’s committing a crime for a cause that’s better and greater than himself. He might be my favorite Pacino character so far, and it’s hard for me not to love every Pacino character. But a story like this doesn’t come around too often, and it’s a good thing it fell into the hands of the right artists to bring it to cinematic life. There’s no feeling in the world quite like watching this sort of movie.