Switching Lives, Finding Home- Your Name

When I tried to describe Japan to people after returning from a brief stint there in 2015, I always found myself using the word “frenetic.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe a place that seemed so reconciled to industrialization but also committed to its traditional culture. Sometimes, the disjunct was a little obvious: in Tokyo, people would go out of their way to help when they saw me struggling to buy a train pass, or if me and a friend wanted a goofy picture with our heads poking out of an anime maid standee. While in Wakayama, the proprietor at a cool sounding Archery Bar took one look at our very white, very touristy faces and closed the door on us. But, ultimately, this difference, and the way that convention and newness somehow find a hectic way to grow together is something that felt unique, and that I loved about Japan.

Your Name is not really about any of this. But it also kind of is.

It is first and foremost a love story. Mitsuha is a girl living in the Hida region, not content with her rural life, and Taki is a high school boy from Tokyo. Occasionally, they inhabit one another’s bodies and live each other’s lives when they dream. The film uses its Freaky Friday concept well, and despite being so simple and to the point, manages to be greatly emotionally affecting. It messes with the established body switching formula in one slight way that results in an unexpected raising of the stakes. At first, I thought, “I don’t know if this is actually that believable. I’m not as emotional as I expected.” I wasn’t prepared for how it picks up, and to have my face squishing up under the weight of brimming tears. “When did this happen?” I asked myself. Which is always a good sign.

This is obviously the main draw, and it is exactly what most critics are saying: an emotionally satisfying experience. But occasionally I found myself thinking about other things. I wondered about what the setting offers, having these characters split between the rural and urban areas of Japan. It isn’t the main emphasis, but at the same time, the sheer beauty of the painted backgrounds creates a kind of reverence for this place. Hints of Shintoism and spirits are alive and well in the story, as are Tokyo cafes with decadent desserts. The hectic nature of Mitsuha and Taki’s relationship, the soundtrack with it’s somber tones and energetic guitar licks, all of it conjured a familiar feeling. The weird coming together of these two people captured something about that thing I loved about Japan, but it did it with such delicacy.

Your Name has become the highest grossing anime film of all time, and I wonder if it’s initial popularity in Japan didn’t have a little something to do with this thing I was feeling as I watched the characters eat ramen in Takayama as I once had, the scene awash with sunlight. I wonder if this film might have captured something about this place for others, maybe even for the people who live there.

Whether or not this element of contrasting and complimentary beauty is apparent to anyone else, or if the love story really is that affecting, I’m confident in saying that Your Name delivers on one key thing: yearning. It’s one of those films where you go, and you yearn for the stuff of beauty, only for the film to take your hand and assure you everything will be okay.

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That’s My Boy- Hellboy: The Wild Hunt by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo

There are few artists and writers out there who truly understand the things you must do, and the things you don’t have to do when making a comic book narrative. Mike Mignola is one of those few. In Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, he, with help from artist Duncan Fegredo, continues to immerse his readers in a world of subtly shifting folklore with his signature, stunning, minimalistic style and storytelling. It’s a method that has always set an undeniably unique tone, one that is powerfully dark, lushly mythic, and truly haunting.

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Mignola is one of my all time favourite comic artists, so it’s always hard to not see his name filling both writer and artist spots on his books. Luckily, Duncan Fegredo is incredibly faithful to Mignola’s original style in The Wild Hunt. So much so in fact, that I feel I can’t commend him enough. It’s a slight sharpening of Mignola’s classic rough edges, and it’s just subtle enough to allow Fegredo’s personal touch to shine through. All while continuing to preserve colours that are both bright and fantastical as well as dingy and morose, static panels which expertly craft that classically occult Hellboy feel, and lines that have always been so simple yet descriptive as to capture the essentiality of myth.

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An example of the detail in Fegredo’s style, but still using classic Mignola panel choice and placement.

And what a myth it is. This is volume 9 in the well wrought epic that is Hellboy’s story, and it’s satisfying to see threads and tendrils from both the main arc as well as seemingly one-off jaunts into unplumbed cultural lore culminate in what might be one of the most personal Hellboy stories yet. The nitty gritty is that Hellboy now finds himself in Britain just as giants, unseen for many years, have emerged and begun to roam the UK countryside. This spurs on the next “Great Hunt,” and all the while larger and altogether more insidious threats grow. Some have likely always found the Hellboy narrative style to be simplistic. For me, this has always been the appeal: Hellboy takes a character who has no respect for the clichés of legends and chosen ones, destinies and tall tales, and puts a quandary of good and evil at his core, embroiling him in a story that breathes life and richness into those all too common narrative structures. There are prophecies and witches, King Arthur and giants, bloodlines and hellish blades. Not only that, but with a few terse lines of dialogue, and some truthful body language between Hellboy and his companion Alice, it is made a tale full of struggle for the titular hero, one that fills all the dark corridors and strange halls that drift throughout this lovely volume with a brooding and well earned emotional heft.

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In short, Hellboy: The Wild Hunt manages to do what all truly great Hellboy books manage to do, despite having a guest artist in tow. They’re volumes that give you a feeling similar to exploring an ancient and abandoned home, or a decrepit ruin. It is one of those works that, due to nothing less than the sum of its parts, creates an atmosphere that is magical in a very essential way. They’re stories that are truly occult and truly mysterious, that make you wonder at what secrets lay forgotten in the nooks and crannies of the world. I sincerely hope that this, and all the rest of Mignola’s work, never fades completely into those regions it so lovingly unveils.

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Works Cited

Mignola, Mike, writer. Hellboy: The Wild Hunt. Art by Duncan Fegredo. Dark Horse Comics, 2010. Print.

Image Citations

Cover for an issue of Hellboy Wild Hunt. Digital image. Cartoongal. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <http://www.cartoongal.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/rsz_1rsz_1rsz_hbywh__2_fc_fnl.jpg&gt;.
Cover of Hellboy: The Wild Hunt TPB. Digital image. Comicvine. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <http://static4.comicvine.com/uploads/scale_large/6/67663/3754192-09.jpg&gt;.
Hellboy and Alice. Digital image. Tumblr. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <http://65.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lz2hx6IRcN1qc6p00o1_500.jpg&gt;.
Morgan Le Fay in Hellboy: Wild Hunt. Digital image. Sequart. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <http://images.sequart.org/images/Hellboy-Wild-Hunt-008-151.jpg&gt;.
Page from Hellboy Wild Hunt. Digital image. Blogspot. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <https://1.bp.blogspot.com/_Q2_ID6hflJQ/S07yMp1anpI/AAAAAAAABV4/9VyDmQPzB4Q/s640/Hellboy-Wild-Hunt-001-12.jpg&gt;.

A Bit of a Liar – The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is both highly traditional as well as innovative as far as modern fantasy goes. It’s a return to an eagle-eye focus on a single interesting protagonist, rather than ten or more like something akin to Game of Thrones. But it also uses its frame narrative to cleverly make comments about, or self-deprecate the genre. This makes for a fantasy adventure that, despite its hefty length, is quite light on the fantasy, heavier on the lyrical prose, and devoted to a character study of an intrepid, singular, Sherlock Holmes-esque intellect.

That character is Kvothe (“pronounced almost the same as ‘quothe.’”), a fiery haired man who in the present portion of the narrative runs a bar and hides from the world, and in his autobiographical retelling reveals that his life started as the young member of a traveling theatre troupe and musician. He and his family eventually began travelling with a scholar who Kvothe becomes enamored with when he sees the man control the wind. His teachings under this man, along with his natural talent and smarts, is one of the things that would propel him to the location where much of the narrative takes place: the University. The other elements that would inspire his journey to this institution are, of course, heartbreak, tragedy, and the mysterious creatures known as the Chandrian.

It’s a simple narrative, which is perhaps part of its charm. Rothfuss, like his central hero, understands that it’s all in the telling: “you have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way. Too much truth confuses the facts. Too much honesty makes you sound insincere” (183). As a result, Kvothe is offered up as a cocky, bravado wielding legend in the third person narrative, and a shy but sure student in the large third person portion. Seeing how he grows from one to the other, and how he portrays himself, is naturally part of the enjoyment.

The prose follows suit, being almost minimalistic if not for Rothfuss’ dramatic style, that plucks heart strings just at the right moments, not unlike the manner in which Kvothe plays his beloved lute. Take this scene as an example, from a chapter less than a page long, that recounts the quiet feeling of friendship experienced by Kvothe as he walks home with his mates after a musical victory:

The three boys, one dark, one light, and one- for lack of a better word- fiery, do not notice the night. Perhaps some part of them does, but they are young, and drunk, and busy knowing deep in their hearts that they will never grow old or die. They also know that they are friends, and they share a certain love that will never leave them. The boys know many other things, but none of them seem as important as this. Perhaps they are right. (395)

As mentioned, the fantasy elements in The Name of the Wind are significantly downplayed. In fact, “magic” in the Kingkiller Chronicle universe takes more inspiration from science and the conservation of energy principle than your typical portrayal of wizardry. It’s called “Sympathy,” and is just another academic subject, similar to mathematics or philosophy, taught at the University. There is of course the manner of controlling something by knowing it’s true name, a la the wind, but present day Kvothe says little about this and past Kvothe sees it as being largely shrouded in mystery, despite his dogged interest. It seems to work on a similar concept though, and it is a theme of a deeper emotional and intellectual understanding opening up the world that pervades Kvothe’s journey, and his mastery of these two disciplines is perhaps one source of his eminent skill and notoriety.

So, as you may have gleaned, The Name of the Wind can be an odd bird at times. Don’t go in expecting a swashbuckling magical adventure, as essentially what you’re getting is a man’s detailed biography of living in a fantasy world. Magic is minimal and pragmatic, creatures are wrapped up in myths and hearsay similar to our own, and the country has that oh so familiar fantasy Europe feel. But it’s the subtlety of it that makes The Name of the Wind unique, and the story’s willingness to critique itself makes it all the more enjoyable. Kvothe’s patient listeners, and their reaction to the reveal of the first supposed “dragon” in his tale is testament to that, one simply shrugging and citing his obedience to record the tale without question, and the other saying he can seem shocked if it will make Kvothe feel better. “There are few things as nauseating as pure obedience,” (545) says Kvothe in turn. We’ve all seen dragons, Kvothe. What we perhaps haven’t seen, is the next thing in literary fantasy: the tale that is great in it’s telling because of honest deeds done, not because of too much flash or trickery. A tale of a man who does not have the wind at his back, but eagerly searches for its name before him.

Works Cited

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. Great Britain: Gollancz, 2007. Print.

Image Citations

Kvothe overlooks a town. Digital image. Forbes. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2016. <http://blogs-images.forbes.com/erikkain/files/2015/10/Kingkiller-Chronicles-1024×669.jpg&gt;.

Aladdin, Meet Anime- Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic & Magi: The Kingdom of Magic

It seems like it’s hard to find a truly great anime these days. So few hit the same pitch of either character depth or fine tuned over the top fun that iterations like Madoka Magica, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Kill la Kill have achieved. As a result, we’re left with a lot of not so stellar anime that is nothing but a collection of ham-fisted tropes and quite a few that fall into a middle ground labelled “serviceable.” Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and Magi: The Kingdom of Magic could be said to fall into the upper end of that middle tier. Imbued with the power of a truly unique premise and setting, and driven ahead by crisp and fluid animation in the more hectic moments, Magi’s characters manage to be just good enough to support this high production package.

Certainly one of the more interesting aspects of Magi is its use of Middle Eastern story concepts. Both seasons follow Aladdin, in this iteration a blue haired boy that is one of the Magi (magicians of exceptional creative power, or something); Alibaba, a king’s bastard skilled in swordplay, and Morgiana, a former slave from a race of intensely strong warriors. There are other significant supporting characters, but none more so than Sinbad, a man with enough power and charisma to form his own peaceful country dedicated to world unification. He’s also the most emphatic presence in the show, and it’s a welcome addition. You can simply tell that he’s a figure of intense sway, not least because of his massive attacks presented the few times he needs to engage in battle. These figures and others take part in interactions that offer up some of the usual anime musings about friendship, fate, and etc. This is fine, and doesn’t feel as forced as in some other productions, but the biggest surprise is that the politics present in the later halfs of both seasons is the most enjoyable aspects. Nations continually vie for power and influence, and characters you thought were completely benevolent take on a different hue when placed in this context of strategic warfare, keeping things surprisingly fresh.

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Sinbad definitely… makes an impression, in comparison to the other characters.

While the warfare provides intrigue and the middle eastern influence provides eye-catching visuals and concepts, it’s the formulation of magic in the universe of Magi that proves to be a bit of a double-edged sword. The irony of it all is that anything related to “Magis” within the show is its weakest link. In the first season alone, characters ask repeatedly what a Magi actually is even if they were present the last time someone asked about them. And after all of these explanations, you’re still left not exceptionally cef7779aa74ef1f74dad435972b5a169confident that you know what a Magi really is. The explanation of the world’s magical energy, the “Rukh,” also falls a bit short, essentially taking on the character of a Star Wars Force-like substance that permeates and binds everything, but this explanation is made needlessly complicated in Magi. However, the one magical area that the anime does not fail to deliver on is in relation to its take on djinns. Essentially, in this world genies do not only inhabit magic lamps, but also weapons carried by those strong enough to plunder harrowing magical dungeons and claim these mystical beings. As a result, the wielder of said weapon can draw on the djinn’s strength to gain a new weapon, elemental powers, and a makeover in the form of deific looking armour. This concept is unique, and results in some of the shows most visually pleasing action sequences and character designs. Character’s that have their djinn “equipped” look reminiscent of mythological gods and goddesses, with scale like armour falling away to reveal bare skin wrapped in flowing strands of cloth. I’m talking about some truly crazy and cool character designs here, with characters like Hakuryu and Kougyoku being real stand outs. It’s the most videogamey and “anime” aspect of the show, and it’s also the best.

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Example of Hakuryuu’s full Djinn Equip.

In short, Magi is a strange anime. With an okay cast of characters and plot, but a fantastic premise and setting, there’s somehow enough to keep you satiated all the way through and even keep you looking for more. It feels like a show just on the verge of understanding that sometimes the superficiality of anime is the most engaging part, but isn’t quite there, and thus gets bogged down in musings about fate and defying destiny and whatnot. So in this case: come for the beautiful fights between high-flying people wearing genie armour, stay for the beautiful fights between high-flying people wearing genie armour.

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Works Cited

Yoshino, Hiroyuki. “Magi: The Kingdom of Magic.” Magi: The Kingdom of Magic. Netflix. 07 Oct. 2012. Television.
Yoshino, Hiroyuki. “Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic.” Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic. Netflix. 07 Oct. 2012. Television.
Image Citations
Aladdin faces off against Judar, a dark Magi. Digital image. Static. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://static.tumblr.com/f9d0ca061d332460b6797341e0495dec/oktiqjb/ytqnomsmt/tumblr_static_1f21nie6wv8ggc8g88cosso80.jpg&gt;.
Alibaba’s full djinn equip. Digital image. Media-cache-ak0. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/ce/f7/77/cef7779aa74ef1f74dad435972b5a169.jpg&gt;.
Hakuryuu’s full djinn equip. Digital image. Vignette2.wikia. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/magi/images/3/38/Hakuryuu_DE.png/revision/latest?cb=20140807080409&gt;.
Sinbad naked. Digital image. Pm1.narvii. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://pm1.narvii.com/5895/ef39d83c70ff45a3499e58370a1b3dda9f29ed20_hq.jpg&gt;.
The three main characters of Magi. Digital image. Mangauk. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.mangauk.com/gallery/albums/album-19/lg/magi_2.jpg&gt;.

 

Never Underestimate a Happy Ending- Pride (2014)

Ever since I saw Jake Gyllenhaal get killed near the end of Brokeback Mountain I’ve gotten the strange feeling that I’ve seen his character die over and over again in different ways. In addition to, and in thanks to, Brokeback, there are a lot of high quality works of gay literature, TV, and film. But there are also a lot of them that turn out less than stellar for their protagonists. There seems to be an obsession with a kind of academic and sobering historicism that LGBT films are forced to subscribe to. Because for many content creators, it seems that they can only tell the truth of the gay experience by uttering tragedy in the same breath. That’s why films like Pride are so stand out: a plot which centres around gay and lesbian characters but not around romance, and an ending that manages to include sacrifice and heartbreak while still being optimistic and uplifting. In a way, it seems like gay films are going through the growth of a lot of depressed gay teens in terms of plot and theme: “people will ridicule me if they find out,” “okay now I’m out but my life is still guaranteed to be miserable,” and “it’s going to be difficult but maybe I can do this.” Pride is amazing because it leaps ahead of that process. It manages to not only tell a unique piece of gay history while being entertaining, without being overly downtrodden, it also does it without simply saying “maybe we can do this.” It does it while saying “maybe that thing you hated about yourself is the thing that makes you a hero.”

The film tells the tale of the L.G.S.M (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners), a group that formed during the UK miners strike of 1984-1985 in support of the struggling British miners. It’s a unique tale, one that asserts the necessity of a political Pride, and one made better by a lot of smaller moving parts. We have George MacKay as Joe “Bromley” Cooper, a character who is a complete fiction, and who is a teen dealing with the struggle of being closeted to his parents; we have Stephanie Chambers, one of the few lesbians that stuck it out with LGSM when most women seceded to make a different but similar group; there’s Jonathan Blake that struggles with his HIV positive status, Gethin who’s been disowned by his parents, Bill Nighy’s elderly and still closeted Cliff Barry, Dai, leader of the men’s union, Imelda Staunton’s refreshingly benevolent Hefina Headon, and many more. Part of the pure enjoyment of the film comes from this odd but charming bond formed between this group of gays and lesbians and this Welsh town of miners and their wives. It really manages to show off the appeal and hilarity of films that can capture the positive idiosyncrasies of gay-straight interactions.

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The style of cinematography is brisk and upbeat, but also patient. One minute you’re seeing the group marching in the 1984 Pride, the next you’re watching the group form in a gay bookshop, and then they’re off to Wales amidst beautiful sweeping shots of the UK countryside. Often though, the film has the sense to slow down for some truly poignant reveals and growth. When Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton sit buttering bread for care packages in complete silence only to have Nighy’s character suddenly come out, clearly moved by the efforts of their new allies in the LGSM, it is an exceptionally powerful moment. There are a lot of tear jerking events and surprises like this throughout Pride, but the emphasis here is certainly on the happy tears thanks to the movie’s expert navigation of tone, due in large part to an uninhibitedly spunky directorial style.

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The ultimate fate of Mark Ashton, leader and founder of LGSM, and his struggle with AIDS is one of the more sobering water-works inducers in Pride. There’s a moment in the film where Mark Ashton speaks with Dai amidst the Welsh countryside. He says, “I grew up in Northern Ireland, I know all about what happens when people don’t talk to each other. That’s why I’ve never understood what’s the point of supporting gay rights but nobody else’s rights, you know? Or worker’s rights but not women’s rights. It’s-… I dunno- illogical.” And Dai tells him, “there’s a lodge banner down in the welfare. Over a hundred years old. We bring it out for special occasions, you know. I’ll show it to you one day. It’s a symbol […] two hands, that’s what the labour movement means. Should mean. You support me, I support you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand.” It’s that message in combination with Mark and the others gayness that makes the accomplishments of the LGSM so heroic. The two are inseparable, and that’s an accomplishment. Because of his struggle, Ashton became an influential activist who used his own experience to go outside his own culture and help whoever needed it. And that’s why the last we see of him in the film is him riding atop the shoulders of his friends and allies at the 1985 London Pride. The movie makes this conscious choice because the people making it have not underestimated Ashton’s accomplishments. They also have not underestimated what this ending, seeing this optimism, can do for gays or whoever else watches this film or films like it. Never underestimate that.

Pride film still

Works Cited

Brokeback Mountain. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Focus Features, 2006.
Pride. Dir. Matthew Warchus. Perf. Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton. Pathe’, 2014. Netflix. Netflix. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Image Citations
Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton in Pride. Digital image. Trbimg. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.trbimg.com/img-5484da48/turbine/la-et-mn-pride-wins-best-film-british-awards-bifa-1206&gt;.
The central characters of Pride (2014) at London gay Pride 1985. Digital image. Production.patheos. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/poptheology/files/2015/05/PrideMovieUK.jpg&gt;.
Pride (2014) Promotional Poster. Digital image. Garethrhodes. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <https://garethrhodes.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/pride-film-poster-638×424.jpg&gt;.
The Welsh ladies in Pride having a laugh at gay porn. Digital image. Latimes. Latimes, 25 Sept. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-pride-movie-review-20140926-column.html&gt;.

 

Indebted to Originality- Proxy by Alex London

Sometimes I wonder if Suzanne Collins knew what she was doing when she kick-started the young adult authorial obsession with dystopias. Largely as a result of The Hunger Games, which now seems almost tame in its premise, we now have teen novels which posit some of the most bizarre organizational structures for sci-fi fascism. Societies divided based on personality traits, a giant maze, and, most lazily, the colour wheel. So you can imagine my skepticism when presented with Proxy by Alex London. The premise of Proxy is that there are individuals that seek to pay off their immense debt by taking on any and all punishments incurred by their wealthy Patrons. Patron steals, destroys, or murders? Proxy takes the beatings and does the time. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but contemplate the logical leap that was happening somewhere between our time and this proposed future. But once I started reading Proxy, once I saw how fleshed out London’s world is, it no longer seemed strange. Not only did Proxy turn out to have one of the coolest settings and some of the most progressive characters, it also might be one of the most accurate dystopias I’ve ever read in terms of how it speaks to a particular time.

This comes from Proxy’s consideration of two main concepts: targeted advertising, and debt. In “the mountain city” of the novel, divided between upper echelons for the wealthy and the grungy lower city for the poor, holograms are plentiful, popping up as one walks along the street or wherever they might find themselves. They try to sell you products tailored to your purchase history as well as online  and offline activity. This works off of the novels concept of “biodata”: software that gets mapped to ones DNA. Not only does this make for some vividly grimy and luminescent cyberpunk imagery, it also speaks to something that facebook and other companies already engage in. This concept of biological software is a big part of the plot, and is one of the novels most refreshing ideas.

The other fresh, and for some reason relatively untapped, concept is the fact that the Mountain City operates on a debt-based economy to the extreme. In order to enter the city from the wasteland outside, citizens must take on a massive amount of debt which they can pay off in the form of years, sometimes decades, of hard labour. Patrons purchase portions of this debt in exchange for the entering citizens taking on the aforementioned position of Proxy. London does an amazing job of making you feel how much his protagonists are either held down or relieved of responsibility due to the system. He makes it believable that such a system could escalate to the point of not only extorting work or money, but also giving a beating meant for the rich to the poor, or literally taking the blood of proxies to help their injured patrons.

We experience all this through the eyes of Syd and his patron, Knox. Syd is a black, gay, and impoverished, and Knox is white, straight, and spoiled rotten rich. This means that not only is the setting of Proxy interesting, the character interaction is decidedly new. Knox gets wrapped up in Syd’s greater destiny involving the “Rebooters” (a rebel group committed to complete debt forgiveness) and knows he’s incapable of navigating the seedy underworld on his own. As a result, we have Knox using Syd’s attraction to him to his advantage, using his playboy charms to flirt with the other boy to stay in his good graces. It often adds up to some hilarious situations amidst the frantic action and fast paced plotting. London’s journalism chops are showing here, as events move quickly but not without capturing those eagle-eye details of a world in turmoil as if he were still on the frontlines reporting from refugee camps and conflict zones. He also doesn’t miss out on making Syd and Knox’s engaging alliance naturally grow into one of the most unlikely but genuine friendships.

This is one of those books: a true hidden sci-fi gem. A world that is somehow highly original despite exploring issues common to the everyday, London has truly picked the best tools to discuss issues of advertising and debt while also creating an entertaining action story. This is for anyone who likes a lush world with their high-stakes Science Fiction, or maybe just for anyone who wants an entertaining book which prominently features non-white and LGBT characters engaging in character interaction that is classically enjoyable despite its originality. No one is talking about this book, so I’ve tried to show what it has to offer here and implore you read it if it sounds to your liking. For being this fresh and forward thinking, I owe it that much.

 

Works Cited

London, Alex. Proxy. New York: Speak, 2014. Print.

Image Citation

Proxy cover. Digital image. Thefaultinourwords. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2016. <https://thefaultinourwords.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/img_0535.jpg&gt;.

Stranger Things in a Familiar Time

I recently read Chuck Klosterman’s What if We’re Wrong (I know this is a Stranger Things review bear with me), and in that work Klosterman discusses what makes something enduring, something that will be talked about two-hundred-plus years from now. In the course of discussing this, he draws attention to the fact that one of the things many writers and content creators are afraid to do is “date” their work, even if decades down the road these dated aspects might prove to be the most interesting aspects of said work. There’s just a certain appeal to having that time capsule-like feeling, and in many ways saying your character is watching He-Man while marveling at their new Walkman might actually be part of what makes something last, not fade away.

Consider this in relation to Netflix’s new original series Stranger Things. As a contemporary creature feature that takes place in the eighties, certainly one of the most intriguing elements of the eight episode movie is its setting. But it’s not just the haircuts, the denim, or the tube televisions that make this choice of time so fascinating. Rather than feeling like one is looking from the outside in at a kind of kitschy and nostalgic eighties bio dome, Stranger Things gives us the pleasure of looking from the inside out. It uses modern filmmaking to strip away any veneer between us and the characters, and manages to be a shining example of just how important tone is to the construction of television, or a work in any medium.

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Take the various characters and their plots for example. All of them seem to add up to three (or more) different but standard arcs drawn from the canon of eighties movie history. There’s the love triangle involving Nancy, a cocky jerk kind of character, and a sullen weirdo; Hopper’s fraught investigation of the Hawkin’s powerplant is classic conspiracy thriller, and Mike and his friends meeting and hiding of Eleven is E.T.. In another show, these standard plots might seem cliché or trite. But in Stranger Things, they somehow feel fresh and reinvigorated, like your watching them for the first time, or at least like you’re watching them with a sudden appreciation for why people in the 80s would have cared about these stories so much.

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It also has one of the most respectful treatments of “the monster” in most any television show I’ve watched. The creature and where it comes from are slowly teased out, building up a both genuinely haunting and unique atmosphere from the back lines. There are no cheap tricks here: Stranger Things doesn’t shy away from showing you the monster, but the creators know to keep these appearances just short enough to send your mind on a satisfying run. There’s also no great reliance on soundtrack as an emotional crutch, always a welcome choice in anything with modern horror elements. It’s yet another testament to tone: the fact that this twilight zone-esque monster story is mixed with these different elements of conventional drama in a respectful way, in a way that doesn’t constantly scream “look at me, look how eighties I am” is such a feat to me.

It doesn’t simply offer you a time-capsule, it puts you in this seat of emotion, puts you next to Winona Ryder as she struggles to move a chair to a spot where she can keep the phone in her lap to desperately wait for her son to call while her lights flash and things come out of the walls. It doesn’t just show you an eighties monster flick: for an all too brief and terrifying time it lets you live in one.

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Works Cited

Duffer, Matt, and Ross Duffer. “Stranger Things.” Stranger Things. Netflix. 15 July 2016. Television.
Klosterman, Chuck. But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking about the Present as If It Were the past. New York: Blue Rider, 2016. Print.
Image Citations
Stranger Things promo poster. Digital image. Ignimgs. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Aug. 2016. <http://assets1.ignimgs.com/2016/07/08/strangerthingsthumbjpg-6ab191_1280w.jpg&gt;.
Tommy, Steve, Nancy, and Barb at school in Stranger Things. Digital image. Cdn.hitfix. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Aug. 2016. <http://cdn.hitfix.com/photos/6274233/stranger-things-barb.jpg&gt;.
Winona Ryder in front of Christmas lit alphabet. Digital image. Ibtimes. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Aug. 2016. <https://d.ibtimes.co.uk/en/full/1529291/stranger-things.jpg&gt;.

Oblivious Espionage: A Look Back at Bourne

Author’s note: written before the release of, and before seeing Jason Bourne (2016)

With Bourne about to be reborn on the big screen after having gone deep cover for ten years, I thought it might be worth talking about what makes the series so enjoyable despite its heavy reliance on an established formula that it put forward with The Bourne Identity back in 2002. I won’t be talking about Legacy, as I haven’t seen it, and in many ways I think the symbolism of the series is wrapped up with the character of Bourne himself.

Things that I expect to see in Jason Bourne:

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Embryonic Water Imagery

The only thing that drives home themes of unformed identity more than literally naming your character “born” is having him constantly float around in a metaphoric liquid womb. Identity starts this way, Ultimatum ends this way, and underwater filming is showcased in Supremacy and sprinkled throughout various other moments of the series. It’ll be interesting to see how Jason Bourne extrapolates on this, considering this imagery of amorphous undefined identity was somewhat brooding and foreboding in the first film, but by the end of the series it almost seems to represent Bourne’s confidence in shaping his own personhood free from the fascism of the corrupt CIA rank and file. Maybe they’ll just keeping milking it, since it seems to fit the character and series prolific presentation of the fact that there’s not much of an answer to the question of “who am I?” for Bourne or for us.

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Half the film is Bourne speedwalking/running/driving through crowded areas while the other half are overconfident CIA officials talking sternly in a briefing room

By the time Ultimatum came around it was almost hilarious that the very CIA operatives who knew about and commissioned Treadstone still treated Bourne like he was a Spykid. But, the two sided narrative at least provides the interesting ability for the film to gravitate between portraying Bourne as the quiet, introspected, and confused guy that garners our sympathies and portraying him as the almost horror movie rogue element. It also provides the opportunity for Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy to be a right badass and assure us that they’re not all bad on the inside, offering a neatly wrapped external reflection of Bourne’s inner psyche.

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A freewheeling car chase where traffic is both a hindrance and an advantage/a lightning quick ounce of choreographed improvisational action

Sometimes it’s a pen, sometimes it’s a magazine, sometimes it’s a book. No matter what it is, the question is always when Bourne will make you question what should and shouldn’t be allowed onto airplanes on a deeper level. While it’s true that this (as well as 4 tonne vehicles squeezing through traffic and obstacles before maybe kick flipping and grinding a rail or something) has become something that the series is known for, it’s just a little unfortunate that you can see each of the three set-pieces coming no matter what order the filmmakers decide to put them in. This more than anything else makes Bourne films feel samey. However, despite the mixing and matching of these established portions, the action in Bourne is always grounded. It’s not showy or bombastic, and the pleasure in watching it comes from the subtlety granted by knowing that all these movements are being performed by a character who knows that this is the most meticulously effective and precisely efficient thing to do.

Sometimes I’m bewildered by the fact that the Bourne films are so entertaining. Despite all the backroom dealings, amnesia, conspiracy, secret CIA projects, and globe spanning chases, they’re really films with a very point A to B plot starring a character who, while likable, does sometimes seem like he has the personality of a very tactical set of blue drapes. They’re exceptionally predictable. But really, that’s probably the point. The structure of Bourne movies invites you into the position of the titular character. Bourne is what would happen if Sherlock Holmes were an American secret agent, with a slight twist. He enters a room and analyzes every detail. He knows what’s going to happen, rather than how it happened. And so do we. We see the creative car chase, the improvised fight sequence, the cuts to the briefing room, as the prime objects in the room that we know will be used and, if given enough time, we can know when and how too. As I watch these films, I am Jason Bourne. Whoever that is.

However, with Jason Bourne, Greengrass and Damon will do away with one key to the formula: the crutch of amnesia will be gone. Despite all the thematic good it does that is undeniably what Bourne’s lack of memory became. But with the promise of everything that was good about the series, at it’s core a character driven romp from sequence to sequence, this proves more hopeful than discouraging. For the first three films, Bourne has been in the same room and using the same crutch in creative ways to fend off his enemies. With Jason Bourne, he’ll put that weapon down and enter a new room. Imagine the potential of whatever he, and the writers, will pick up.

 

Works Cited:

The Bourne Identity. Dir. Doug Liman. Perf. Matt Damon. Universal Pictures, 2003. Digital Rental.
The Bourne Supremacy. Dir. Paul Greengrass. Prod. Frank Marshall. By Tony Gilroy and Robert Ludlum. Perf. Matt Damon, Franka Potente, and Brian Cox. Universal Pictures, 2004. Digital Rental.
The Bourne Ultimatum. Dir. Paul Greengrass. Perf. Matt Damon. Universal Studios, 2007. Digital Rental.

Image Citations:

Bourne Supremacy newspaper fight scene. Digital image. Maelstromcore. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2016. <http://maelstromcore.com/sandbox/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/bourne-supremacy-knife-fight.jpg&gt;.
Jason Bourne’s passport. Digital image. Halifaxbloggers. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2016. <http://halifaxbloggers.ca/flawintheiris/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2016/08/jason-bourne-passport-photo.jpg&gt;.
Joan Allen as Pamela Landy. Digital image. Theiapolis. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Aug. 2016. <http://media.theiapolis.com/d4/hMO/i1MEL/k4/l1MRC/w1HC/joan-allen-as-pam-landy-in-the-bourne-legacy.jpg&gt;.

The Jungle Book

For a movie focused so heavily in the wild Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book shows a surprising amount of restraint. Almost every moment where a thematic element could be so easily exposited upon or conveniently voiced, the film chooses the high ground and sticks to an organic and subtle portrayal rather than a clumsy explanation. It seems at first blush like a film whose dialogue is so simple, whose plot points are so straight forward, whose themes have been explored many a time before (not least of all in Disney’s prior animated film of the same name and Rudyard Kipling’s original novels) that how could it still be so engaging, so emotionally impactful? Favreau answers by showing just how key execution can be, how some ideas are so primal that at this point they don’t need for characters to discuss them outright, but only to be supported by a stirring soundtrack and passionate performances in order to remain fresh.

As is delivered with bravado in the film: the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack. The Jungle Book’s pack is composed of a multitude of big names, and each one brings a certain gravitas to their particular character: Idris Elba’s voice is ragged and menacing as Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley is gentle but authoritative as Bagheera, and etc. Bill Murray is of particular note as Baloo, imparting perhaps slightly more inflection than he is known for but maintaining the basis of his classic deadpan, creating a pitch of calm and optimism that the character truly requires. Baloo is a buddy whose laziness manages to be charming, he is funny just by being, and is, most importantly, sincerely relaxed.

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A moment when the film shows it’s penchant for delivering the aforementioned nuggets of untamed ideology beneath the generous coating of bombastic adventure is the Peace Rock scene. When drought causes the water of the jungle to be so low that the Peace Rock is revealed, all animals partake in a water truce. Predators don’t hunt prey, and a temporary peace is established while all animals drink from a singular water source. The movie doesn’t pause to wax thematic here, though it does pause narrative and pacing wise. It’s a scene that develops what makes Mowgli Mowgli, and what makes him not a wolf. All the while in the background presenting the notion that peace is not something that arises when everyone has something, or when some are in comfort and others not, it is something that arises when everyone needs something. In another film, this might come across as a cuttingly cynical notion. But within the framework of The Jungle Book, a film filled with animal characters and taking place in the bounds of nature’s seemingly unchangeable law, it simply emerges as honesty. Kipling likely understood this, and the movie operates with the necessary rigor to make the audience feel it.

This frankness results in the emphasizing of certain concepts that can’t help but feel a little bit emblematic of the time. The 2016 Jungle Book is the Jungle Book where Mowgli doesn’t return to the humans in the end (why would he want to? They’re pretty frightening and destructive on average), and where the true lesson taught by the “Law of the Jungle” is that you shouldn’t try to be something you’re not: no matter how disparate a human and a wolf might be, they can work together. The way the film touches on identity and honesty with a little bit of self criticism adds layers to a story reinterpreted, making it enjoyable to look for small markers of generational difference in each telling.

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There are so many moments in The Jungle Book that in the hands of others could seem ham-fisted or obligatory. But when you see Mowgli and his wolf mother parting ways in the rain, Lupita Nyong’o’s voice cracking in just the right moments as she tells her man-cub that he’ll always be her son before they solemnly touch heads, it matters little that the film has been running for a mere fifteen minutes. You feel it. Few films can get away with this, and not even every Jon Favreau film has had this kind of tight execution. But he pulls it off with aplomb here and creates a film where it seems like everyone involved in its production gave 110% in order to have this familiar story and these emotional elements not seem stale or trite. Their effort is rewarded with a tale of how finding oneself is not the same as finding others like you, where tried and true ideas don’t feel like tired cliche’. In the rugged and untamed jungle, they simply feel pure.

Mowgli + Mom

Works Cited

The Jungle Book. Dir. Jon Favreau. Perf. Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley. Disney, 2016. Film.

Image Citations

Mowgli and Bagheera walking by waterfall. Digital image. Playbuzz. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <http://cdn.playbuzz.com/cdn/4399313c-f196-49d1-8de3-958d7f526961/20f4ca0c-1676-47cc-8994-2e65b9dc4bad.jpg&gt;.
Mowgli and Baloo. Digital image. Screenrant. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <http://screenrant.com/wp-content/uploads/jungle-book-2016-posters-mowgli-baloo.jpg&gt;.
Mowgli and Raksha. Digital image. Ytimg. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <https://i.ytimg.com/vi/GgGOcEgRh7k/maxresdefault.jpg&gt;.
Shere Khan approaches the peace rock. Digital image. Standbyformindcontrol. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2016. <http://www.standbyformindcontrol.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Jungle-Book-peace-rock.png&gt;.

Master of None

Sometimes, it seems like people assume that “comedy” means “un-meaningful.”  There’s been many a comedy whose setup is “none of this matters, we’re making jokes which by definition means we don’t mean anything by it.” Naturally, this makes a lot of comedies substance-less. However, there are just as many of us that realize that “comedy” can have an entirely different ring to it. Azis Ansari’s Master of None is one such example. It is yet another example of Netflix’s ongoing TV revolution, giving audiences more freedom and, what feels like, more freedom to the creators. Master of None isn’t bogged down by the shortcomings of serialization, yet it simultaneously has its own undeniable variety from episode to episode. It dares to make you laugh, to make you worry, to make you think. It challenges as much as it delights, proving itself as not just something entertaining, but something beautiful. As overzealous as it might be to talk about Master of None so closely to comedy in general, it is undeniably refreshing to have a show that sings its own unique brand of “comedy,” and what’s heard isn’t “emptiness.” Instead, what’s heard is honesty, and what’s given is a feeling of truth.

It’s hard not to feel a little spoiled by Master of None. The recurring characters are equal parts lovable and quirky, each one getting their moments to capture some unique idiosyncrasies of modern culture. Of special mention are Ansari’s parents, who play his character’s parents on the show. They serve to drive home the shows unabashed frankness through a strangely engaging cocktail of deadpan, catchphrases, and heartwarming reliability. Frankness should not be confused for a lack of subtlety here though. Despite having episodes titled “Parents,” “Indians on TV,” and “Old People,” all of which cavalierly set up the themes at hand, the execution of some of the sequences expertly steers you through a slight puzzlement and confusion to a punch line that hits you so hard, with both humour and teaching, that one can’t help but succumb to big laughs. It’s paced to perfection, with the wit and wisdom rising and falling at that oh so satisfying pitch.

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When the show sees a point it cuts right to its heart, and unearths it over as much time as is deems necessary. You might feel like it’s targeting you, maybe for racial biases or antiquated notions about marriage, but in the best way possible. Like it’s telling you to suck it up, or to take a look at your life, and at the way other people tell you to live it. A defining example of this is the shows main through line. Other than Ansari’s character Dev’s struggle to make it as an actor in New York, Dev’s relationship with Noël Wells’ Rachel is a significant focal point. Their performances and on-screen chemistry is infectious, and the episodes centering on them truly feel like a window into private conversations and interactions. The show just drops you in and asks you to sit in that relationship as it spawns and flourishes, and through all its dips and challenges. When you’re in that zone, the thirty minute installments seem to stretch outward into uncertainty, into a hanging on. No episode drives this home more evidently than “Mornings,” which chronicles select mornings from a year in Dev and Rachel’s relationship. The two move in together, which leads to fun firsts which tumble into trials and tribulations and by the time it’s over it seems as if a feature length movie has concluded, but in a good way, in a momentous way. The show holds you tight and won’t let you go in those moments, causing bated breath, and even a not insignificant helping of awe. It’s up-front, intellectual, and starkly intimate.

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If there’s criticism to be lent then it might be over the fact that some of the jokes seem to try and reach so high as to forget where they were reaching in the first place. Or it could be given over the few guest characters and other elements that confusingly never seem to reconcile with the overarching theme by the time everything wraps up at episode’s end. However, these issues seem minor, because in truth, Master of None is incredible television. Despite how pretentious some might find the claim, it’s hard not to look at the work and call it art. That shouldn’t scare away those who are just in it for the giggles and guffaws: Ansari knows how to make his show accessible as much as he knows how to make it poignant, having a masterful grasp on those all too common traditions and transforming concepts of contemporary culture. But for those looking for something more, something equally light and heavy, something that leaves you stunned and impressed, makes you take a deep breath, really brings you in, Master of None is that too. It’s amazing how much it can show you, how much it can make you look at you, just like that.

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Works Cited:

Ansari, Aziz. “Master of None.” Master of None. Netflix. NA, New York City, New York, 6 Nov. 2015. Television.

Image Citations:

Master of None promotional poster. Digital image. Ignimgs. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2015. <http://assets1.ignimgs.com/2015/11/05/masunnamedjpg-997151_1280w.jpg&gt;.
Scene from episode 10 of Master of None. Digital image. Vanityfair. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2015. <http://media.vanityfair.com/photos/563a7c08eccc21966e934a1b/master/w_900,c_limit/master-of-none-aziz-ansari.jpg&gt;.
Scene from episode 6 of Master of None. Digital image. Hitfix. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2015. <http://cdn.hitfix.com/photos/6157102/master_of_none.jpg&gt;.