October Roundup: Matinee

I’m so old and boring that I’ve been on a matinee movie binge. Unless they are blockbusters*, they appear in Anchorage a few weeks or months behind their actual release dates, thus the reason for the delay.

2018-10-25_10-00-44A Star is Born. I don’t typically see these kinds of movies, though I admit when something is wildly popular, my curiosity tends to get the best of me. Capitalism tends to allow people to express their beliefs via consumption, so it’s always interesting to see what people are avidly purchasing at any given time and take it as a reflection of current societal values.

I am going to partially defer to my Facebook post for this. I am willing to admit that Hollywood perpetuates a lot of social/societal degeneracy; I think I was taken aback by the steady stream of people exiting the theater with stifled sobs. Everyone has pet peeves, one of mine is the way addiction is portrayed: in this case, as ‘a rite of passage for rockstars’ and, often, a sort of requirement for a talented artist, musician or the like. I linked to an article on Vox, and though I am typically averse to sharing feminazi rants, this article does mirror the reasons for my disgust and contempt for the message(s). Without yammering on for too long, I’ll simply say it’s disturbing to think that young people, especially girls who look up to Gaga, may see this codependent-narcissist relationship as one to emanate. This movie did an amazing job of glossing over major red flags and deep toxicity, not to mention the Vox article is largely right about a lack of consent. Gaga is a really talented musician (and an overall interesting person); I was disappointed in the role she chose to take in this film.

Fallout. This movie was fucking stupid. The action sequences weren’t even that good. My roommate told me if I loved The Fast and the Furious movies (I did) I would love this. No, this was lame.

MV5BMDBhOTMxN2UtYjllYS00NWNiLWE1MzAtZjg3NmExODliMDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjMxOTE0ODA@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The First Man. Slow to start, but ultimately good, not so much for the story line (which was OK at best), but because this is the first film I’ve seen that did not hesitate to show the sheer terror that comes with an astronaut’s job. On top of it being an extremely dangerous career in the 60s, leaving and reentering the atmosphere are awful experiences. There are plenty of of g-force losses of consciousness and vomit-stained helmets in this movie, and I appreciated that.

I, like many other young kids, was obsessed with space in my childhood and teenage years. I wanted nothing more than a career in the space industry (I think back to being in Huntsville at ASA, deeply annoyed that two hours of my short week there was spent watching Spaceballs. I was a very serious kid), so apart from feeling anxious nostalgia for the US Space and Rocket Center‘s centrifuge, I was enamored by how frightening the movie was in terms of the astronauts’ experiences. I was talking to a friend lately about hopes and dreams, I think we all have to make peace with the fact that you win some, you lose some: I look back and think about how much I wanted that life in my past, and what a different one I have now, and I think on a personal level it’s been an interesting transition over the last ten years, of transforming a feeling of loss into a feeling I have gained many other unexpected things. Long story short, for a combination of personal feelings and some realistic elements of the film, I really enjoyed this.

*I always wondered what the etymology of this term was, and my guess was completely wrong.

October Roundup: Streaming

My last blog featured a regular reading roundup, but I’m especially committed to laziness with this project, so I’m going to stick with ‘monthly,’ ‘abbreviated’ and extra random. I’m also going to break them up into multiple posts, because there’s nothing lazier than making three posts out of one.

Streaming.

Hold the Dark (Netflix). A little loose on the plot, but great production. This was sufficiently creepy and interesting, especially due to the occult vibe and the fact you really had no idea where the movie was going. Also, set in Alaska (though filmed in Alberta)… additionally, Alexander Skarsgård. The end.

Fortitude (series, Amazon Prime). fortitude-mainTough to turn down a series set in Svalbard, though I realized about halfway through season 1 it was mostly filmed in Iceland, which is easy to mistake for the former. I was skeptical, and initially watching to enjoy the beautiful, desolate Arctic vistas, but the show eventually became fairly interesting. I again felt like I had no idea what was going on, so either I am becoming dumber as I age or I happened to watch two unpredictable things consecutively. I’ve now watched both seasons and it sounds like a third will be released eventually. I would say it’s sort of a historical thriller-mystery, though I find their characters are not remotely representative of the Norwegian transplants who actually live there: they are way too brazen and honest. I made peace with what I found to be a lot of tedious inadequacies, and once people start showing their alcohol binges and rampant cheating and brawling, it starts to look a lot more like the real North.

Mandy. Mandy_(2018_film)I’m still not sure whether or not this movie was supposed to be funny. I’m pretty sure it was. It’s a sort of homage to the occult late 70s/early 80s (I just looked it up, it was apparently set in 1983, but these people could easily be mistaken for 2018 Cascadia hipsters). In any case, this movie was incredibly entertaining. It’s a new cult classic style horror film. Also, Nicolas Cage.

Dogtooth. The most confusing thing about this film is that on the front/poster/whatever, it says “HILARIOUS” in giant letters. It’s basically about a Greek guy who locks his wife and his children up in his sprawling compound, showers them with lies and they eventually start licking each other inappropriately. I still don’t know what I think about it. I suppose the effects of being completely removed from the outside world make for interesting conversation fodder. May or may not watch again.

Next up, Books and (Mostly) Shitty Movies I Saw in the Theater.

On Sameness

This opinion piece was shared with me yesterday, and it’s one worth a few more words. Its author could have said a lot more about how short-sighted the original article is, and it’s been awhile since I have written anything here.

The original article: The Unbearable Sameness of Cities
Commentary op-ed: Tragically Hipster

Without sounding like too much of a jerk, I’m mildly surprised NY Magazine published Schwindt’s article, even online. I consider myself judgmental to a flaw (it’s something I’ve tried hard to change over the years, but progress is slow, and I think I will always have a Northeastern chip on my shoulder)… but this article is astounding in its lazy judgment and generalization of strangers.

I found the Commentary piece especially charming because one of the books I read (and loved) this past summer was Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. American cities as we know them today have come full circle, with incredible revival especially in downtown districts. And on a more simplistic level, Schwindt might have had less time to focus on the Ikea light fixtures if she had taken time to speak to business owners, chefs or even the ‘young and tattooed and bespectacled’ people behind the counters. What she might have found is that today’s cities, from Nashville to Portland to Austin to Milwaukee to Sacramento, are home to people who love those places and through their commitment to their cities, add many individual pieces of passion that the cities in Jacob’s books had lost through urban planning. Anyone looking into the past at cities like Atlanta, Austin, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Seattle and even Los Angeles and New York would see vastly different human landscapes, and it’s tough to think of many things more authentic than these cities having grown into what they are today.

Reading the original article made me wonder what its writer is really looking for, as I’m not sure what is more authentic than breweries popping up everywhere with their own unique offerings (I think back to being in Denver years ago and stopping into Trve Brewing, a metal brewery erected and much loved thanks to the city’s burgeoning metal scene). Jacobs hated that people couldn’t dine out where they lived; they couldn’t buy groceries in the same block they drank a beer or did their laundry. She explained in Death and Life that restaurant traffic at night, when people were home in the neighborhood, put feet on the ground and added extra vigilance, and crime was less likely when that foot traffic existed in residential spaces where people lived.

In the Western world, prosperity has a sort of look; I mentioned this regarding Prague, and the way it’s begun to look like any other Western European capital. I’ve wondered myself if this is a bad thing, or a dull thing, or a vapid one. Overall, it’s probably a wonderful thing. The sameness Schwindt saw was prosperity, and the ease of doing business: the social capital and societal wealth of the cities and communities within them. What you read in her words is the high level of societal wealth you need to be born into to bitch about having too many restaurants to choose from, and to take the history of cities in America for granted.

More than anything, her exposé on sameness is a display of how easy it is to accumulate hypotheses based on sight alone, and how moronic it is to simply look at someone and pass judgment. Not once in this article was the content of a conversation conveyed. She did not stop once to talk to anyone, to ask important questions: ‘what are you trying to do here?’ to someone who owns a restaurant; not ‘what makes this city special?’ or ‘why here?’ to practically anyone. The real tragedy of articles like this is that there is no expression of curiosity, no desire for a depth of understanding. She wants to see authenticity, without having any real understanding of what she’s looking for.

As someone who finds myself defending New York on a fairly regular basis, I understand this constant search for authenticity. I’ve said many times I prefer New York to Boston, which always felt small and sterile and overbearing to me. I like a city with some garbage on the street here and there, some traces of flawed, impulsive humanity. When I lived in Boston, I found the emptying of its downtown at night creepy and unnatural; as though it was closed for cleaning and would reopen for regular business hours. I think the disarray of many neighborhoods in New York are beautiful and convenient, and comforting to me: everything is chaotically smashed together, and operations churn eternally. I remember moving to Boston for college and thinking it was bullshit that last call at the bar was so early; Massachusetts felt like a nanny state to me, where New York you could get a vodka tonic at 4am and a breakfast sandwich at 11pm if that’s what you wanted. These differences in culture are largely explained in a very cool book I came across, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America: New York/New Jersey’s mercantile beginnings are at odds with the Puritan “community first” underpinnings of New England. In New York, enough people want eggs at midnight to have a diner open and serving. By contrast, in Boston it seemed to me someone decided me ordering a drink at 2am was not acceptable.

But I digress. The two books in this post are well worth the read, if you’re into that sort of thing. And the NY Magazine piece is a great example of how not to live your life steeped in superiority but lacking any desire to really connect or learn. It’s hard to dispute that Jacobs (who died in 2006) would be pleased by the beautiful public spaces that have popped up in Portland; the incredible path from grunge to tech hub that Seattle has taken; the dramatic drop in crime in New York, and growing vibrancy in cities like Minneapolis, Kansas City, Nashville and Austin, which were nondescript blips on a map when she wrote Life and Death. In my lifetime, we will likely see Detroit, Pittsburgh and others rise to those same heights; it’s a shame people in my generation will bitch and moan every step of the way, too caught up with their own supposed uniqueness and authenticity to bother to delve into anyone else’s.

TL;DR

One of the items on my current to-do list was to create a recommended reading list for my colleagues. I’m a part of a high performing team (I don’t dole out compliments like this; we consistently beat our numbers and we have no interpersonal drama, which combined is a monumental achievement), and twice a year or so we go through our so-called ‘Group Norms’ in order to ensure we are all on the same page, and we properly integrate newcomers and keep the bar high. It has been a brilliant strategy for us to maintain ‘synergy,’ a buzz word I hate but a concept that is integral to consistent performance. On top of that, I am the team bookworm weirdo, and I am fairly sure they did not expect this long of a list. But I want to ‘keep it 100,’ as the young people say.

I think it’s safe to say I’m obsessed with reading. I spent three years of my life in a ‘good school’, Boston University. Otherwise, I don’t consider myself well educated in the way a lot of people mean it. I am well self-educated, and my glory years at a private college were wedged between primary education at a crap public high school in upstate New York and a tediously boring online MBA program I completed as quickly as possible (7 months) to stave off prolonged torture. Watching paint dry is more interesting than getting an MBA. If given the option of doing it again or a shotgun shell to the knee cap, I might honestly choose the latter.

I read all kinds of books. One category of many is what I guess you’d loosely call ‘business books’. I’d venture to call some of them ‘self help’ books (aren’t all books self help books? Books help you to learn, by yourself). Mostly they are books about being a part of the world and functioning in different segments of society.

In any case, below is the list I posted for my team. I left off the few I read that were wholly unimpressive. Most of these are very good, some are better than others.

Top 10 with asterisks.

If you’re ambling around here and think I’ve missed one (or ten, or fifty), leave them in my comments.