The Fate of the Furious

Okay, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I love Jason Statham, of course. I love that the women get to be strong and smart and add value above sex appeal to the plot. I love that we have a big blockbuster where the epitome of manhood is being a good father. I hate Scott Eastwood’s smug face. I wanted the prison escape to go on for ten more minutes. It was just so glorious.

I think the criticisms of the director not letting the camera linger long enough on the spectacle is spot-on. Like, there’s this amazing scene where we’re in a car as it goes out a window and heads toward the ground. We cut before the car hits the ground. It makes no sense. This is the rollercoaster ride you can’t do in real life–falling and hitting the ground and being destroyed. Why would you deprive your audience of the visceral thrill of experiencing it in the movie? And there are a lot of other scenes were it seems like they should be like two seconds longer, so that you can see the reactions of the other characters in the scene.

And it’s weird that, in order to keep it PG-13 we don’t get to see the deaths that are supposed to be meaningful. And physics means nothing in this movie. The whole last third, when Jason Statham isn’t on the screen, a little corner of my mind was screaming “I don’t think this is how any of this really works!” So, maybe that’s the trick of putting Jason Statham in your movie. I mean, nothing about the prison break was physics-accurate, but he was in it, so who fucking cares? But he’s off-screen and suddenly, you notice that’s not how things work.

Anyway, it was glorious. My biggest complaints were that you have to sit through Scott Eastwood and that, even though the movie was so, so long, a lot of scenes were a hair too short. But I’m all in for whatever movie The Rock does with Jason Statham.

The therapist was not easy. So, ha ha ha, going to a movie where the villain is psychologically manipulating the hero, maybe not a good thing. I don’t quite know how to talk about it or what I want to say about it. Even just two sessions in, it is helping. I know that. But it’s fucking rough.

I really want it to work, so I’m committed. But man, just damn.

Jesse Colter’s The Psalms

I have been listening to Jesse Colter’s new album, which is her covering the Psalms. I have qualms, which I’m going to state up-front, that there is a time or two on the album when I felt like she was musically trying to suggest that this is a project God’s Big Three religions could come together and listen to and I’ve grown more and more ill at ease with the Christian belief that, if Jews would just relax and let Christians have their way on things, they could be great allies. And I think it’s inevitable that this will eventually be the attitude Christians also take toward Muslims, so, I assume I will grow more ill at ease with that as well. So, that’s my huge caveat–that the ways in which the album nods towards a universal experience, I wasn’t so sure about.

Also, I don’t think her rendition of Psalm 23 is what it could be considering how brilliant other songs on the album are and how powerfully meaningful that psalm is to, oh, just about every Christian. So, I’ve included up top a less faithful rendition lyrically, but one that I think gets at more of the tension and uncertainty and hope and desperation of the psalm. (And for the record, my favorite Psalm is 62, which, in the version I learned as a kid goes, “The Lord is my rock and my salvation. I shall not be greatly moved.” I know most newer translations change that to shaken, but that doesn’t do it for me. To me, that changes the meaning completely. “I will not be shaken” says “I will remain firm and resolute.” But “I shall not be greatly moved” says “I won’t be firm and resolute, but I’m going to try to remain faithful anyway.” I like the uncertainty and the struggle of it. The promise not that you’ll do the right thing, but that you’re trying to do the right thing and often failing.)

All that aside, I want to talk about Colter’s album and I don’t know how to talk about Colter’s album. Some things are just stray observations. I love hearing such a country voice, left to be its country self without the music having to be country. I couldn’t decide what genre this would be in. It’s hard for me to imagine it being sold in Christian outlets, just because it seems raw in a way I don’t think Christian musicians are allowed to be.

I also recognize this in my bones in ways that make me uncomfortable–not in a bad way, maybe unsettled is the right word. From the moment I learned the Psalms were songs, I used to sing them to myself. And I felt a kind of religious…not ecstasy, but maybe a kind of trance? Like that the rest of the world would go muted and that it would be just myself and the song and the words. I hadn’t thought about that in years. I mean, I did this as a very young child. I’m sure I stopped either in high school or right before.

And hearing her do the same thing…I don’t know. I just don’t know. It feels like listening to someone’s most sincere prayer, like overhearing something that’s not meant for you. And yet, she put the album out, so it must be okay to listen. But it feels like eavesdropping on a woman singing a private song to her closest companion.

Which I think is part of what’s so brilliant about it. In a way, it feels like lullabies for God. The way you make up melodies for children because the point is not to PERFORM but to reach each other and comfort each other. There’s a kind of intimacy when the song is just meant for one other person, and a level of un-mindful-ness you allow yourself when you sing to a baby or, I suppose, your God.

And yet, obviously, she didn’t write these songs. Most Christians believe, and I assume she does, too, that David wrote them. Which also adds a layer of one artist trying to show what she loves about another artist’s work. Like doing a whole album of Bob Dylan covers, because you think he’s a great lyricist, yet, in this case, your song-writer was working thousands of years ago.

That makes me wonder, too, who her imagined audience is. Is it God she’s in communion with? Or David? Or both? There’s a way in which, for me, the connection between what she’s doing and her faith is so bold and profound that I haven’t gotten past it yet. I’m still only hearing what she’s doing for and with God. But I want to hear what she’s saying about David, too. I’m just not there yet.

A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo

Y’all, I’m not saying it’s been a strange year, but it’s been a strange year. This is the first book on non-poetry I’ve read since…Oh, I don’t know. Months. It’s been months.

But diving in to Tony Kail’s A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo was a good way to break my losing streak.

I enjoyed it a lot, both because I learned some stuff I didn’t know and I had quibbles with the stuff I did know. Like, I don’t think Kail is wrong; I’d just like to argue with him about stuff anyway–that kind of quibbling. Some stretches I thought he was making that I wouldn’t have made–like bringing the old Robert Johnson bullshit into it.

I think if you don’t know anything about hoodoo and are curious about it and Memphis’s role, this is a fantastic introduction. I think if you know some stuff about hoodoo, you’re going to be a little frustrated. His history of Memphis factories involved in the production of hoodoo is great, but I wish there’d been more about how hoodoo ideas were transmitted in the days before the internet. His work on the Spiritual churches and their conventions is a great example of showing how people come together and exchange ideas.

I wanted to know if we have any guesses about how that transpired in the 19th century. I mean, some of it is really mysterious. We don’t know for sure what the little metal hands mean, though we find them at the Hermitage and outside of Memphis. They certainly look manufactured and I wonder if anyone’s ever tried to track down where. I assume they have, but I don’t know. And how did they get into the slave economy as far apart as Nashville and Memphis? Is there someone we can track? Or a slave-trading pattern we can contemplate?

It does seem obvious that Memphis conjure is informed by New Orleans conjure (and possibly visa versa) but I would have liked some informed guesses as to how that worked, too. Were steamboat workers bringing this stuff up and down the river? Like what was the mechanism for refreshing standard beliefs?

The same goes for the idea that hoodoo practices and Native American practices greatly overlap. How would this have happened? Are we talking that black people, when they were kidnapped by Indians, were being taught traditional healing methods? Are we saying that there were enough communities where black and Indians lived freely together that there could be these information exchanges?

I’m not trying to insinuate that I doubt these things. I don’t. These are things that obviously happened, but that I’m still not clear on how. I mean, before 1865, it was very hard for most black people to travel very far in the South. And Memphis and New Orleans are very far apart. Also, after Jackson, the South wasn’t brimming with Native Americans.

So, how were these connections being made?

I guess what I’m saying is that this book is very, very good for what it is, but also that I was hoping for something a little more than just an introduction.

The Oxford American Music Issue: The Blues!

So, as you guys recall, I heard from the new-ish editor of the OA, who noticed that we used to talk a lot about the Music Issue and wondered if I’d like to talk about this one. I declared my feud with the OA over, but I should be clear that I’m not sure the new-ish editor knew about the feud. I mean, I’m sure there’s a whole side part to that job that is just learning new, weird shit about what happened before you got there and dealing with the reverberations of that. And let’s be honest, “picked a years’ long fight with a random woman on the internet” has to be way down the list behind all the other stuff he got up to.

But anyway, I wasn’t going to turn down an issue devoted to the Blues or pass up the chance to mull it over with you all.

But do we even remember how to do this? Who knows?

For starters, I really love the music in this issue. I’ve been thinking a lot about the approach of it. I think there’s a tendency when you’re compiling a blues compilation to ask yourself “Who will fans expect to hear here?” The problem with that approach is that a lot of blues fans are devoted to the “the blues had a baby and we called it rock & roll” mythology, which means they expect to hear the folks that influenced rock music, which leads to the “the blues is a lone, rural musical savant with a guitar, almost always male” bias. Which, on the one hand, fine. I love me some Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters as much as the next person (maybe more so in the case of Muddy Waters) and you’d be hard-pressed to put together a bad compilation that revolved around them.

But, on the other hand, that means reinforcing the sexist biases of the blues fans who would go on to be rock stars–you get a really male-heavy version of the genre, a genre whose biggest foundational stars were women.

The OA collection is easily half female, ranging from Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas to Ida Cox, Koko Taylor, and the more prominent Ettas, down to Adia Victoria and Alabama Shakes. Bessie and Mamie Smith aren’t on the CD, but they are well-considered in the issue.

I have to say, even as someone who bristles at the “lone Mississippi dude with a guitar” framing of the blues–in other words, as someone who intellectually knows there should be more women–I still find this CD wonderfully disconcerting. Here’s what it sounds like to put women back into the story of the blues with the prominence their influence warrants. It sounds strange.

It kind of makes me weepy to think of it too much, this idea that trying to hear the long, influential female traditions of the blues placed into their proper context, not as some add-on curiosity, sounds strange. I have to sit with this some more.

I also want to single out this version of Ida Cox’s “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” which is such a perfect song you kind of wonder why someone doesn’t remake it every year, but when you listen to Cox do it, you also feel like she is the only one who can do it justice, that everyone else is just singing along with her when they do their versions. Though, I’ll be honest, I’d be really curious to hear what the Knowles sisters might do with it, if they knew it and loved it. Anyway, I mostly know an earlier version of the song, so it’s really fun to hear Cox revisit it here.

A big shift in the issue for me is that I know a bunch of the folks in here. I adore Jewly, who I think is brilliant. I admire the shit out of Ann Powers. And y’all! NM is in the magazine. I’m not going to be too specific as to where or how as to not out her, but holy shit. I’m just reading along and there’s my friend, saying smart things. So, how can I even talk about the writing?

Except to say that I will always be biased toward the pieces that talk about what listening to the music feels like, that help me hear what it is in the music that so deeply moves the writer that he or she wants to write about it. And this year, as well, those remain my favorite parts of the music issue.

Anyway, we can talk about the music issue or cocktapusses or just sit here quietly together thinking about how nice it is to like things and to settle old feuds.



So, I watched this movie on Saturday night and I got halfway through it and I felt like I was kind of cheating on traditional Monday movie night with the guys without meaning to. This movie, I knew the second a dude got his head chopped off, the guy who ordered the chopping off complained, and then the minions had to figure out how to do it again, was exactly the kind of movie we love to watch together.

But it was so good that we watched it last night anyway and I still laughed and enjoyed it. The best part the second time through was listening to the Butcher and the Red-Headed Kid laugh at it. At one point, one of the characters calls another character a cockapus, which then led to us trying to figure out how eight penises would work. I was thinking a kind of arrangement where seven would just tuck down out of the way until the one in use was exhausted and then another could rise up and take its place.

The Butcher assumed the penises would be evenly distributed across your body, otherwise, how would you wear pants?

The Red-Headed Kid, though, began shouting in genuine distress for the cockapus–“No, man. No. It’s too many cocks. You’d break your arms trying to support all those women.”

I laughed so hard.

But in writing this, I remembered that dream I had about running around sticking penises on men–still a waste of magical power and evil villainry, I posit–and now I wonder if that was a prophetic dream?

No, I kid. Because I had another dream about a massive anxiety attack the other night and I sure as fuck don’t want that coming true.

Anyway, Deathgasm. It’s delightful and a terrible bloody mess. And it’s on Neflix. Share your thoughts about cockapusses below.

(Ha ha ha. I always hate when blog posts end with some direction for what you’re supposed to comment about. But I would forgive it if it were always “Share your thoughts about cockapusses below.”)

Life is Short. I Give Up on Some Books.

I finished Hex, because it was 85% awesome and 15% spooky boobs. But the spooky boobs were jarringly hilarious. I remain torn about whether the author is afraid of boobs or if he thinks boobs are inherently scary or if he thinks women have unnamed horror about people touching their boobs or what. But women have a named fear about people touching our boobs. It’s not cool. I don’t want to understate that. But when you’re all “And then they captured her and then they poked her boob!” Like, yes, it is horrifying but he seemed to think  it was horrifying level 9 when it’s really like horrifying level 4.

I still think I mostly liked the book.

I tried to read Bird Box which people just loved the shit out of, but I could not get into it. I read about the first quarter, flipped to the end to see if it was going to get any less stupid and, when it wasn’t, I quit reading.

It also contains what I consider to be a massive misjudgment of women in that a woman gets pregnant during an apocalypse and decides to have the baby and everyone she tells is like “Oh, okay, sure. I hope you’re okay.”

There are two obvious fixes–have her have the baby right before the apocalypse or have her get pregnant further into the apocalypse. But instead, during a time when people are like “Something’s pretty massively going wrong,” but people are still around to notice it, she gives no serious thought to an abortion.

Of all the reasons to have an abortion–or at least to strongly consider one–“the world as I know it appears to be ending in ways that are painful to humans” has to be way up on the list. If you were being held captive by a serial killer of children in order to produce children for her to kill, and you had ways to abort your pregnancies, I think even the most anti-abortion people would struggle with and deeply contemplate whether abortion in that case was moral. The scenario in the book is basically that.

But it is as if abortion doesn’t exist in the world of Bird Box. And it just rang false to me. Like the author hadn’t really given much thought to being a woman in this situation.

Books, Books

I read The Ballad of Black Tom last night and when I finished it, I just said, “God damn.”

Whew, it’s…not just good. It’s…I don’t quite know how to say it. It’s perfectly realized. It’s like a beautiful egg of completeness and unwasted space. It’s the tragedy to Lovecraft Country‘s comedy, but reading them both so close together is really interesting.

I’m also a little way into The Geek Feminist Revolution and I just have to say that I spent some time earlier this week stumbling accidentally across opinions of this book–that the pieces in it weren’t real essays, not essays like this dude teaches his students to write; or that it’s filled with untruths about the history of genre fiction and women’s place in it; or whatever. The thing is that, as I’m reading, I find myself laughing at those opinions.

Like, you know, it’s one thing to not like a book. I can see why you might not like this book. Some people have been lumping it together with Shrill, but Shrill is a pitcher of lemonade and a sunny backyard where someone inducts you into a secret society of women who’ve run out of shits to give. The Geek Feminist Revolution is a dunk tank filled with ice-cold lemonade those same women have thrown you into. It’s bracing.

So, fine. It might not be for everyone. But lying about the contents of the book to mask your discomfort with it is just…I mean, when we read the book, we’re going to see you’re lying. The jig will be up. So, why was the jig so important in the first place?

I also have to laugh at the “I teach my students to write better essays” gambit. Like, dude, fine. We all see you positioning yourself over her in many ways. But who are you again?



I watched the movie, Ink, yesterday, which is kind of the holy grail of independent movies in that you always want to hear about one that is weirder than could get made by a regular studio and yet still really emotionally affecting, and that movie is it.

As it ended and I sat there with tears running down my face, I thought, “Now I know what it’s like to be a shitty dad.”

Now I just have to find some time this week to watch Frame.

Lovecraft Country

It’s been a long time since I read a book I was enjoying as slowly as I read Lovecraft Country, but I didn’t want it to end.But then the ending! Oh, man, the ending was perfect. What is a Lovecraftian Horror in the face of an American Horror?

I’m especially going to be thinking about Ruby for a long time. I found the resolution to her character deeply troubling and I’m not sure what to make of it, which, obviously, is what the story intends.

But I really appreciated the humor of it, the horror of it, and the arguments about family and community that it makes.

Mr. Splitfoot

I read Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot last night. It was pretty amazing. I finished it and I was just like “wow.”

But man, did I really feel like every review or promotional material I read about the book beforehand really kind of missed the mark. I mean, I picked up the book because so many people had said it was great.

But it’s not a story about a woman who talks to the dead. Or at least, not how it was presented in the promotional material. It’s a book about mothers and sisters and aunts. It’s about losing things and trying to find them again. It’s about the kinds of love that aren’t romantic.

It’s really lovely. It’s just not really what I thought I’d been told it was going to be.

For Exposure

I finally finished Jason Sizemore’s For Exposure:The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, which I have been trying to read for the past three weeks. But I’ve literally gotten no reading done in my effort to my writing and my afghan done.

Anyway, the book is a really good overview of what it takes to run a small press and I say that as someone who works at a small press in an entirely different context. Especially relevant, I thought, was the discussion about how your successes can jam you up just as much as your failures. The best part about the book is that, as Sizemore’s telling his stories, the people involved in the story are given room for rebuttal. Sometimes it’s just a snarky footnote, but often they get a chance to tell the story you just read from their perspective.

Which means I got to not only read about Sara Harvey being a literal angel, I then got to read her more modest but also funny take on the same story.

Anyway, good times.


It was surprisingly good. You can’t think about it too much or the thought of turning everyone into “gentlemen” when the gentlemen are behaving so atrociously is disturbing and a group of white guys (and girls) taking down the black dude and the woman with prosthetic legs is a troubling dynamic.

But I had to laugh, because, within my lifetime, butt sex has gone from something you did not talk about and, if that’s the kind of porn you watched, you were considered some kind of hardcore pervert, to something that’s cheeky fun for spies.

A Head Full of Ghosts

[Mild spoilers] As I mentioned on Twitter last night, rather than writing, I spent my evening eating the rest of the brussel sprouts and reading Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. It’s pretty brilliant. In some ways, it’s like Cabin in the Woods, in that it really, really knows its genre and the tropes in it and it knows as many or more than you do, so, even when you think you’ve guessed the trope–I, for instance, became convinced at some point that there was a little The Sixth Sense thing going on and it was going to turn out that Ken was a ghost, but no, he interacts with people–it’s usually something else. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but, also, I felt pretty sure we were riffing off one Shirley Jackson novel when, at the end, it became quite clear we were riffing off another.

But the nice thing about all the references to all the stuff that’s come before it is that sometimes, say, for instance, a name gets thrown in, like there’s a Doctor Navidson, which is obviously a reference to House of Leaves, but nothing major directly ties the story to House of Leaves. In other words, the name is an Easter Egg, not a clue. But then, when the end happens, it’s like, oh, duh, the girl’s name is Merry. It was right there in front of us the whole time. That was a clue not just a homage.

The other thing Tremblay does really well–and it pisses me off because he basically has a character explain to you exactly what he’s doing and he still does it and it still works–is to utterly misdirect your attention. He sits you in the head of his point-of-view character and points your attention out at the people she interacts with. The story asks a series of questions–the main one being whether the girl at the center of the book is mentally ill or possessed–and you read along and you form your theories and you regard how well he manages the ambiguity and leaves enough clues for it to go either way. And then you get to the end and you realize you’ve been encouraged to ponder the wrong questions, to scrutinize the wrong girl, to even envision the wrong person at the center of the book.

It’s so well done.

The other really brilliant thing he does is to sense at which points his readers are going to be “Wait, isn’t this like that part in The Exorcist?” and has his narrator say “Wait, isn’t this like that part in The Exorcist?” or the like. And he then uses the similarity/homage to add to the sense of “well, is it like The Exorcist because it’s real or because it’s fake?”

Anyway, I really liked it and I about died of jealousy, because, damn, I want to write something that smart and unsettling.

I Watched a Lot of Movies

I felt pretty sick to my stomach yesterday so I basically sat on the couch and made octagons and watched movies.

First up was Bessie, which was on HBO. I really want to see it on the big screen or sitting closer to the screen. It was so beautiful and the costumes were amazing. I heard some complaints about the pacing but I didn’t notice. I really felt like I was watching something amazing. I really liked, especially, the way the movie got at how performing and being a performer is a give and take with the audience, something you do together, for and with each other.

Then we watched Sunset, though I sat outside and thought about “Ashland” for the first part. It was good, but we more enjoyed it for the “Oh, hey, it’s that guy!” aspects.

Then the Butcher fell asleep and I rewatched Lake Mungo, which might have also fallen under “thinking about Ashland.” This time I was really struck by how I still thought it was really good, but how much faster things seemed to happen, and how less dreamlike it felt. I also want to take to heart how, again, simple it is. I think that, in order for a haunted house story to work, it’s probably best to not convolute the plot.

And last, I watched As Above, So Below, which was… I don’t know… really stupid and not scary and somehow much, much better than it had any right to be.

I feel like I’m on the verge of figuring out what’s not working for me about the little bit of “Ashland” I have done.

I really want to see copies of the paperback of The Wolf’s Bane, but I’m trying not to be all nutty and pushing about it.


I’m just about finished with Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told. It is just as fantastic as you’ve been told. I only wish I’d read the bad reviews on Goodreads before I’d read the book, because it would have provided me with some levity in a book where there’s very little. (One of the reviewers seems to think that Baptist is black and doing his part of make white people feel bad. A few seemed to think that Baptist’s book had nothing to do with the economics of slavery–even though the whole last half of the book is how Southern speculators managed to tank the American economy in the 1830s and the fall-out from that for the next thirty–and more–years.)

I really highly recommend it. Baptist’s an academic, but his writing is accessible. It’s lengthy and I had to take substantial mental-health breaks between chapters. But I also felt like he walked a really masterful line of showing all the kinds of terrible thing that happened without fixating on a few bad actors, so as to let everyone else off the hook.

I also appreciated how he wrestled with the language we use to talk about slavery to try to really get at what was going on. He calls “plantations” “labor camps,” which is really evocative. But I also ended up feeling like “enslaver” is not entirely satisfactory. On the one hand, it gets at the fact that it was an ongoing, continuous process. You couldn’t just make a person a slave. You had to do things that constantly reinforced to the people you held in captivity that they were slaves. But it also has the effect, to me, of seeming like there was a specific social role or job of “enslaver.” And maybe you could argue that, yes, this is the social role of slave owners. But I kept having to stop and figure out whether we were talking about all slave owners or some subset.

But I don’t think that’s a drawback to the book. I think one of the arguments he’s making is that we’re so familiarized with a certain story about slavery and we have to do things–talk about things we don’t normally talk about, look at things we don’t normally look at, use words we wouldn’t normally use–to jar ourselves out of thinking about slavery in the usual way. That they’re not always going to be satisfactory is to be expected.

Ghost Graduation

Trying to find a good spooky movie on Netflix is always something of a challenge. So, when we saw that a movie stupidly titled “Ghost Graduation” had over four stars, we were unconvinced. (The best horror movies on Netflix usually have a rating just under three stars, for some reason.)

But we watched it.

And it was fantastic! It was like, kind of, if Beetlejuice and The Breakfast Club had an affair and left their baby in Spain to be raised by rabid Bonnie Tyler fans.

I would love to know why Spain churns out such satisfying ghost stories. I thought The Orphanage was tremendous, intensely satisfying, and utterly horrible.

There are so many ghost stories I love–The Orphanage, The Haunting of Hill House, The Red Tree, Lake Mungo, The Devil’s Backbone–that I keep thinking I would like to try my hands at one. Not that I don’t already write ghost stories, but something spooky and sad and lovely.

Wolf in White Van

I read it. I didn’t like it. I think it’s really well-written and well-executed, but I just didn’t like it.

I hate books like that–where you feel like you should be able to enjoy it, because look at how objectively good it is, but you just can’t ever settle into it as enjoyable.

Though, honestly, I don’t know. I feel a little numb myself still, in ways that continue to surprise me. The other night, the Butcher just opened the door and let the dog out without hooking him up, because it was raining and he was convinced the dog would come right back in. And when I went over to check on him, of course, he was gone.

And I turned to the Butcher and said, “that was a dick move.” And then I sat back down. That struck me as odd–that I could recognize that the dog was missing, but I couldn’t give a shit (and believe me, this whole discussion becomes funnier, in context, as the month goes on).

And there’s been lots of good news, too, that I just can’t give a shit about. I mean, I care, just, not that much.

I know I will come back to myself eventually, but it’s taking a while.

An Evening of Movies

First, I watched Thale, which is short and sweet and amazing. Maybe it’s because I’m emotional and I have all kinds of feelings about my parents coming down and being genuinely helpful and tender, but I cried at the end. I guess this is supposed to kind of be a creepy movie, but it’s more like a beautiful fairytale. Yet again, well done, Scandinavia. (Though, fair warning, one of the main characters is named Elvis, which, I suspect, in Norway isn’t funny, but it kind of colored how I saw the character.)

Then I watched The Punk Singer, which is a documentary about Kathleen Hanna. It’s really, really good. I was too isolated to have been plugged into the whole Riot Grrrl thing as it was happening and I kind of thought that I knew nothing about Kathleen Hanna, so I was really pleasantly surprised to discover how many of her songs I knew and to see how influential her–and her peers–had been on me, three or four or a million ripples removed from the actual impact. I don’t really have a huge punk rock influence, but I do believe that this world sucks and that the only way to survive it in any meaningful way is to band together with like-minded people and to make and do things that matter to you. Art, to me, is the court jester’s fuck you to the human condition.

So, yeah, I really liked it. Though it’s impossible to watch and to not wonder what the fuck is wrong with Courtney Love (though she’s mentioned very, very briefly) which I guess is why Netflix then recommends Hit So Hard, the documentary about Hole’s drummer, Patty Schemel. It’s also really good, but it’s heavy and I can’t quite shake the feeling the documentary gave me. It’s weird to finish a movie about a band you love and end up feeling like you wish almost every one in it’s lives could have gone better.

The Day the Whistles Cried

This afternoon, I read Betsy Thorpe’s The Day the Whistles Cried, which is about the Dutchman’s Curve accident, which was the worst train accident in history. It’s a quick read and really interesting. It’s arranged kind of like an episode of Law & Order. The first half is all about figuring out what happened and the second half is a courtroom drama about who’s to blame.

I’m thinking a lot about how to write about history in a way that’s interesting for people who aren’t scholars, so I was paying special attention to how Thorpe handled it. She takes a narrative approach, where she’s telling you the best story she can based on the facts she knows. And she seems to have run down just about every fact a person can still get his or her hands on this many years after the fact. I cried. I found it really moving and effective.

I think she also does a really good job of bringing up a lot of issues that you need to know if you want to do more research into the accident without overwhelming you if you don’t care to know more than she shares with you. I mean, you come away with a pretty thorough understanding of how trains in the South were set up to be death traps for black people and how black people in Nashville were taking huge risks to get that changed. So, if you want to know more, you know there’s meat on that particular bone and can go look.

I want to say that Thorpe’s book is an excellent place to start, but I’m afraid it sounds like an insult and I really mean it as a compliment. I think her volume is the place you should start if you want to learn about it. For some folks, this book will definitely be enough–it’s very thorough–and for others, Thorpe’s laid out clear paths to other interesting topics.

Lake Mungo

So, they have it on HBO right now and the description calls it a mockumentary, which meant that I spent the first twenty minutes waiting for it to be funny. Happily, it was weird and creepy, so even though it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, I kept watching. And wow. I don’t say this lightly. I think this is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever seen/read. At least among the most satisfying. It’s not a typical horror movie. There’s no brutal murders (on-screen or off). There’s no inexplicable malevolent forces of evil. There’s not even anything that jumps out at you. It’s just a whole movie’s worth of dread and horror.

It is filmed like a documentary, which means that there’s a lot of reminiscing about what happened, and a lot of pretending like these events would have been so well-known to you, but here’s the real story. This leads to this wonderful moment about a third of the way into the film, when a handful of really creep things have happened and you’ve convinced yourself that it’s okay, because they’ve–in real life–just done it with mirrors and trick camera work, when they “reveal” in the movie that they’ve just done it with mirrors and trick camera work. I can’t tell you how delicious this moment is, when you feel like you’ve drifted off into a “not real, but close to real” realm so there’s some distance, some ability to sit back and just enjoy, and the film makers reground you hard in the real world.

I was telling the Butcher, too, that it’s a little like watching a Penn & Teller act as a horror movie. They show you how they did everything. I still found the last frame of the film to be fucking terrifying.

I don’t know how this didn’t make a bigger splash when it was released. I mean, yes, it’s a low-budget Australian ghost story, but it’s so well-done. I was really hoping I could talk the Butcher into rewatching it last night, but he didn’t seem that game. But he eventually conceded I had been right about Trollhunters, so I think I can get him on-board with this eventually.

Edited to add: I ran across this, by the guy responsible for making it look the way it does. It makes me want to watch it again.

All Them Witches

I told the Butcher that this is what happens when a kid raised on Black Sabbath and Zeppelin goes back through time and discovers The Doors. He said, “Is that supposed to make me want to listen to it?” I said, “No, I’m just trying to explain to you why I love them.” Seriously. If you don’t hear it in the way they “Ooos” go, then this is just not going to be for you. But, if you do hear it, this is going to be the best thing you hear all day.

I don’t know who Charles William is, but I’m secretly hoping it’s the Inkling Charles Williams.

Ender’s Game: The Movie

Allowing for the fact that I never read the book and I never was a boy–what the fuck was that hot mess? Let’s just start with the fact that, on a planet with seven billion people, why did they keep being all “The aliens killed tens of millions of people.” We have seven billion people on a huge planet. And I’m supposed to believe that the whole world came together because an intergalactic force wiped out Southern California? We couldn’t all come together to stop Stalin and at the scale of space, he lived in the same house with us, sat on the same couch, put the moves on whoever had the middle cushion, even if we were dating them. Couldn’t the aliens have killed a billion people?

But the main problem with the movie, frankly, is that it tried to hew too close to the book. Ender’s family could have been way parred down because all that shit about being a third matters in the book (I assume) but means nothing in the movie. We needed less time with the whole “Ender beats up bullies” and more time with “Ender is having something weird with this game.”

But the Butcher and the Red-Headed Kid looooved it. Loved. So, you know, to each their own.

More on Sound of Noise

Okay, so here are some other things I loved about it. There’s a man and a woman at the core of it. They might even be said to have a very tiny thing. But it doesn’t go anywhere! And that’s not a tragedy. It was really fun to listen to. In that way, it kind of reminded me of The Innkeepers. (Just in that way, though. South of Noise is not at all, even in the slightest, a horror movie.) And, for a movie about music and making music, there are a lot of really delicious silences.

It makes me wonder just how outlandish a central premise you could come up with and still frame it with “real”ness.

I feel like many of my stories are obviously not quite here, like we have all moved over together into unreal Nashville (or wherever). But this movie was very “real” except for the central two things. And I kind of like thinking about that, moving one or two strange things from “unreal” into real.

Like everything is the same as it is here, but you can use butterflies as a heat source. Like, how little a change could you make?

I don’t know. I’m thinking about it anyway.

Men in Black III

The Butcher, the Red-Headed Kid, and I watched it. We all really liked it. I’m not sure we would have liked it if we hadn’t heard it sucked, but, because our expectations were so low, we were pleasantly surprised at every turn.

We did laugh long and hard when Josh Brolin’s character said he was 29.

It’s too bad he’s such a douche in real life, because I have had a huge crush on him since that Pony Express show.