A few days ago, I told you that the narcissist in me wanted to say I was worth taking a chance on. That, despite your concerns, I could be good enough to ease your doubts.

You, of course, rebuked my advances, but not without calling me out for my so-called narcissism. “You have self-worth. You call it narcissism, but it isn’t that. It’s you feeling your own value.”

Could it be that I have trained myself to believe that any sort of positive opinion of my own being is unearned, that to feel some semblance of happiness with who I am is a sign I’m a harmful, self-indulgent person?

2018 has taken a toll on me in a way I still haven’t fully managed to wrap my head around. The previous year had felt like the best of my life, and then everything slipped out of my hands. I got married to a wonderful person, and fell in love with someone else – and despite that sounding questionable, it was my husband who wanted a polyamorous relationship and I decided to try it out.

And now they’re both gone. They’re present in my life, but the relationships could no longer function. And I miss them in a way that makes me feel a deep sense of shame.

You were the person I turned to in the dark depths of this year, when no one else was really listening, and I found safety in your presence. You spoke to me in a way no one really had before, and it felt wrong, because you were the person my ex-boyfriend essentially replaced me with. He wouldn’t speak to me after the breakup, instead transmitting his thoughts through you, and not giving me much of anything. Even six months later, as I try to maintain my friendship with our mutual ex, I find myself breaking down at times, convinced he doesn’t want to actually keep this up, but I’m too oblivious to notice and he’s too meek to speak his mind.

It didn’t help that you let me know he mentioned feeling pressured into being my boyfriend. That what I thought was one of the great loves in my life was simply because the person I loved was too weak to deny my desires, despite him having 17 years on me. He apparently went along with my fantasies, letting me believe we had this beautiful relationship, consistently giving me exactly what I wanted out of a partner until I started questioning whether my husband and I were ever as close as I had felt.

I still don’t know what I am to him, and even after six months, he hasn’t given me the dignity to sit down and talk any of this over. You’ve mentioned that he’s never referred to me as a former romantic partner, that you didn’t even know the two of us were dating him at the same during the first month and a half of your relationship. He told me just before you two started dating that, while we weren’t having sex, it was because he had no desire to have sex with anyone at the moment. It wasn’t until I saw you tweet a comic about a night you spent together that I realized he was lying to me; cheating on me, really. I’m not even sure he comprehends that what he did was cheating – but it was.

Just like my husband. Because, despite both of these being polyamorous relationships, there are still rules to follow, and neither of them could keep to their word. I called my boyfriend out the day after I read your comic, and he broke up with me. Three months later, I had to have a similar conversation with my husband; that despite how much I tried after several years, I realized I could never trust him again, not the way I needed to trust a lifelong partner.

Through all of this, you were the person who was there. And soon after you and my ex-boyfriend also broke up (or, to be honest, during that last week where your relationship had clearly already fallen apart), I realized I was falling for you. Not just because you were there, but god, you really seemed to get me, despite our differences.

But I’m not who you want. You love me, and at this point we’ve explored quite a bit with each other, but that’s not enough. It’s a painful cycle. We get close, and then you begin to feel guilty because you’re still not over our mutual ex. Like you’d be betraying him if anything happened between us, despite the two of you having broken up over three months ago.

Which, god. No one’s shown that much respect for my boundaries even while dating. What did he do to be so lucky, despite having a history of actually cheating himself?

So that’s why I’m a narcissist. No matter how close I get to someone, I’m never enough. Because I loved these two people so much, more than I loved myself, so I don’t want to blame them for hurting me. It’s always my fault. I overestimate my importance to other people. I thought they loved me enough to respect me, to at least give me the dignity to say goodbye before moving on to someone else, or to wait for me to catch up before cheating on me as a way to force me into accepting an open relationship. I’m a narcissist because it’s clear I’m a person who has earned no one’s true respect; how can I believe I’m anything other than the lowest person? There must be something broken inside me that I can’t fix.

I’m happy you’ve never taken advantage of my love – I just wish that didn’t make me trust you more, and therefore love you more. I want to be the friend you want me to be, and I’m sorry my feelings can get in the way of that at times.

And I know that whole negative thought process is nonsense. No, despite how much I loved them, my ex-partners really, truly did hurt me. They’re the ones in the wrong for what they did, no matter how they try to justify it. Instead of speaking their concerns to me, they betrayed my trust, delivering me into this low. It’s always twisted into my fault. You once told me how our mutual ex complained how long it was taking me to get over our relationship – only four days after he broke up with me. He expected me to just move on within a week – and here he is, over three months since your breakup, still not even trying to get over you. I’m expected to hide my problems away while he gives himself permission to sulk as long as he sees fit.

Likewise, I’m sure my ex-husband is letting everyone believe I’m the cause for the divorce because I’m the one who asked for it. Because how can I possibly explain to either of our families that he cheated on me and then forced me to choose between having an open relationship or losing him, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to someone I truly thought was the love of my life until that point? That, sure, it might have taken me years to finally decide when we could have avoided a whole lot of mess if I realized it wasn’t working before the wedding, but he was the one who shoved me into that ultimatum in the first place.

I’m not wired to direct my anger toward others. I inflicted all the wounds they gave me back upon myself. I’m not a narcissist at all, but almost directly the opposite. If I’m not hating myself, something must be wrong and I course correct.

But that’s what is wrong with me. I believe my self-hatred but not my self-love. I deserve better than all of this; because if I saw this happening to anyone I cared about, I would tell them so. So why don’t I say that to myself?

I just hope being aware of the problem can help me change it. 2019 is a new year, and the only person who I can reasonably expect to love me going into it is myself. So I better get started.

Review: The Favourite (2018)

The Favourite is a film I had to approach with a certain caution; Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous two films were promising concepts marred by bizarre narrative choices. There was so much distance from the characters in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer that any potentially meaningful moment lost most of its impact. It is clear Lanthimos is attempting a certain surreal style, but he hasn’t quite gotten it to fully work. The positives largely outweigh the negatives in both, but both failed to stick a landing. They have the touch of a master-in-training, someone with clear talent still figuring out how to make an overall cohesive and compelling piece.

The Favourite gets off to a strong start by never promising anything too big. This is a straightforward piece, a tale of two women fighting for the affection of Queen Anne, their battle growing increasingly desperate as the film goes on. Lanthimos avoids having to waste time elaborating on an oddball hook that works better in concept than in action, instead able to focus on his best traits as a director.

The Favourite offers up a simply phenomenal screenplay to three equally wonderful actresses. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz play perfect foils to each other. Colman’s Queen Anne is an eccentric, lost to her whims whenever they arrive, gullible yet convinced of her control. She is a figure that is there to be manipulated, always teetering on the edge of lashing out due to distrust.

Stone’s Abigail and Weisz’s Sarah are in a necessary war with each other. Abigail aspires to move up in life, a fallen lady, and the easiest option is to win the queen’s favour. Sarah, meanwhile, has been a lifelong companion to the queen, now manipulating her to carry on an unpopular war. These two characters play aware of the other’s manipulations, both knowing they must cover for the other lest they similarly be discovered.

The screenplay offers many muted yet blunt barbs between the two. Weisz is in control of her reactions, a woman convinced of her own ability to win out in the end. Stone, meanwhile, plays Abigail as a woman lacking in subtlety. She scoffs and turns away to mutter under her breath, only barely capable of hiding her intentions. Queen Anne, meanwhile, is the one character allowed to speak her true mind at any moment, granting her a certain oblivious straightforwardness that is both hilarious and frightening.

Lanthimos has an affinity for vulgarity. In his earlier works, it served little more than to remind us that the characters existed in a social world that operated differently than our own. We expect a certain response, but characters ignore these statements as if they are entirely normal. Here, the vulgarity instead works as a statement; the past is nowhere near as clean as other period pieces like to pretend. It plays against our expectations, but the actresses speak with such conviction that it never strikes as out of place. The greatest moments of this film come when a character says something entirely awful, in part because it reveals the power they believe they carry.

The Favourite, while great because it resists the glorification of the past so inherent in most period pieces, delights in visual pleasure. The costumes, the set design, they are all very gorgeous. Lanthimos uses this to play with us; we believe the designs as concepts of the past, allowing him to sneak in modern elements that create confusion before you catch up to the fact that, yes, this film made in 2018 is capable of mixing several eras together without justification. One of the film’s finest scenes finds Weisz dancing with a man at a party, their moves increasingly out of place as it carries on. Lanthimos finds comedy by adding pieces that don’t fit.

The Favourite is a success through and through. Lanthimos avoids getting lost in concepts, creating his first film where the characters feel like actual people. As such, there’s a degree of emotional investment, even as the three leads become increasingly awful people. His playfulness is likewise more effective, as his toying is more obviously humorous. Like The Handmaiden from two years earlier, The Favourite stands as one of the best modern period pieces in large part by questioning and deconstructing the genre in a way that puts the past in an odd but more believable light. Behind all the fancy costumes and parties, this is an era where people had to violently struggle to survive in a world of rigid social structure, where everything can be lost on the whims of a single unsound person.

5 out of 5 Stars

Review: Bumblebee (2018)

I ended up checking out Bumblebee as a curiosity; a late stage sequel in a franchise that never quite did anything worthwhile, suddenly heaped with not exactly glowing praise but at least an overall sense of positivity.

The Transformers film franchise has always been steeped in nostalgia, and Bumblebee seems to finally make it work by pushing it to an extreme. This isn’t nostalgia purely for the cartoon, but the 80s as a whole. The film mixes in the music, the fashion, and everything else from the era. Little touches like the leads bonding over The Smiths really place it in a specific era, and the references flow naturally through the story.

My problem with the initial Transformers was how much time it wasted on human characters, and I used to suggest a perfect move in this franchise would be to reduce the narrative as much as possible and simply find excuses for robots to demolish each other for an hour and a half. Plot never seemed a necessity, and as a few key action films since its release have proven, you can make a film run almost entirely off action sequences if done properly.

Yet Bumblebee runs pretty hard in the opposite direction and makes it work. Specifically, it gives us a really solid protagonist in Charlie, the Smiths-loving proto-gothic teenager who rebuilds Bumblebee at a junkyard. This is a coming-of-age tale that happens to feature a few giant robots. She feels surprisingly real for this franchise.

Which, one of the flaws of this film is how shallow everyone else seems to be. Charlie is a human among cartoons. The school bullies are over-the-top, John Cena plays an obnoxious military agent; the challenges she faces are reduced by how absurd the people she faces are.

Bumblebee is a film with heart in a franchise that previously served as little more than a product, and it works by limiting the scope. Instead of getting carried away with metal-on-metal CGI fests, Bumblebee finds more creative ways to pit the lead robot against the environment he finds himself in. And when we do get those necessary robot fights, they seem to come with better framing than I remember from the past. Which, really comes down to one obvious element: Travis Knight is a much better director than Michael Bay, even in his first live action work. From his work in stop motion animation, it is clear he has learned a lot about how to properly frame action.

Even as the best film in its franchise, Bumblebee still has the annoying tendency to fall back into the juvenile humor found in the earlier films. This is luckily to a lesser degree, but there are quite a few scenes that I feel could have been reduced or cut entirely, especially since the film runs a bit longer than it needed.

Ultimately, Bumblebee is a perfectly pleasant film. It doesn’t push itself to any meaningful degree, but it boils away most of what harmed the other movies in its franchise. I can say I walked away having enjoyed myself, which I feel is all it really set out to do. In that regard, it’s a definite success.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Review: Aquaman (2018)

Aquaman might be on the upper end of the DC universe, but that really isn’t saying much at all. A bloated, meandering narrative that doesn’t do anything particularly well, the film is an easy skip.

My recurring thought throughout the film was, how could anyone think Aquaman demands the same running time as Mulholland Drive? What depth could there be to explore? Turns out, not much. It feels as if the movie is padded out, which is usually something people do when they’re struggling to meet a minimum.

Aquaman does a phenomenal job revealing everything it’s going to be doing wrong in its opening act. We begin with Aquaman’s parents meeting, because this is an origin story that apparently requires us sitting through the birth of the hero. You see, Aquaman is the child of both land and sea, a fact the film will remind you of in what feels like every scene. But, just in case you won’t figure that fact out through dialogue, the filmmakers delay the actual plot so they can show you that, yes, Aquaman really is half-Atlantean.

This opening is followed by a scene of young Aquaman being bullied while casually talking to fish in an aquarium. Which, yeah, you look kind of dumb, kid. He’s clearly old enough at this point to realize no one else does anything like this.

The movie sends a shark to his defense, banging against the glass until it cracks. But even with this dangerous creature, there’s nothing quite as nonthreatening as fish at an aquarium lining up in Aquaman’s defense, safely on the other side of some glass. Do you really want to start a superhero flick by drawing attention to how very specific and in most cases useless the hero’s powers are?

In addition to simply being a dumb scene, it’s entirely unnecessary. The rest of the film takes place twenty years later; if we don’t already know what Aquaman’s powers are going in, it’s soon going to be shoved in our faces. Why waste so much precious time here?

When we finally get to adult Aquaman finally doing his thing, he’s just kind of there. He beats the crap out of some pirates, not saying much of anything and giving awkward mugs to the camera when things go his way. He’s simply ‘generic superhero stand-in #33.’ He’s just doing something heroic, with no context to why he’s doing it or even who he is; we know his backstory, but we don’t really know him, and we don’t really gain any meaningful knowledge about him during this sequence.

Making this moment worse is the introduction of one of the future supervillains of the work. He’s a pirate working alongside his father! And his father has this hamfisted speech about a knife that belonged to the grandfather that he’s now giving to his son! So of course the father’s going to die and the son is going to swear revenge. In addition to being the most generic supervillain archetype, this plot point really goes nowhere during the film. His entire character arc could have been cut without changing much if anything about the narrative; whatever he actually needs to do for the plot to get going could just as easily have been background information.

The movie continues into adventure territory, with some semblance of an actual narrative finally popping in after Aquaman drags its feet for the first half hour, but there’s not any particular moment that feels worth mentioning.

Even on a visual level, which is usually of some appeal in even the most generic superhero films, Aquaman largely fails. The costume design is laughable, so many close-up shots look like the actor is simply inserted over a backdrop, and most of the action sequences aren’t very compelling due to the film having to balance fighting with swimming.

Ultimately, Aquaman is simply subpar at pretty much everything it attempts, made worse by dragging itself out endlessly. The only thing that makes it a better than average DC film is that it doesn’t have a lore we collectively care about enough that it can desecrate.

2 out of 5 Stars

Meet Cute

We used to find comfort in the absurdity of how we met.

I was 19 and you were 18, both of us still learning the ways of the world. We had first met on a dating website, the summer right before your freshman year of college.

The wounds of my first breakup were still fresh, but we hadn’t talked about anything that romantic anyway. There was certainly an attraction, at least on my part, but we simply explored our mutual interests.

When the semester finally started up, I reached out and asked if you would like to meet, have me show you around campus. It was a purely friendly gesture, but you shied away.

Ten minutes later, I noticed you had blocked me.

This is a cycle I’ve become familiar with over the years. Instead of having the balls to just say “I don’t actually plan to meet,” gay men have the tendency to ghost. But to younger me, this was a fresh new wound. I had to have done something very, very wrong for you to do this to me. Why else would you completely close off all communication between us?

I beat myself up a lot during that following month.

We had a brief encounter at some queer meetup at a coffee house ran by a Methodist church. I have rarely felt more out of place. We didn’t speak to each other, just the people around us. I felt guilty for being there. I never wanted to go to another queer event on campus knowing you might also attend.

Eventually, you reached back out over Facebook, tried to explain it all away. A close friend of yours had gone through a traumatic experience and you couldn’t deal with all the people asking for your attention.

Oh, and my unkempt beard apparently scared you away…

The whole thing stung, but I kind of enjoyed the absurdity of it all. This would be a funny story I could tell years later if anything actually happened between us.

You finally let me show you around. We grabbed some awful food at Fat Sandwich, where I raved about Sufjan Stevens and a dozen other artists you hadn’t yet discovered. You were also appalled by the fact I had spent the night before playing a card game called Kittens in a Blender. Really, this was about as romantic as any first date could go, right?

For the longest time, this was a happy memory. Two awkward fools fumbling all the first moves yet still finding love with each other. You would joke about how embarrassing it would be to explain to our kids how we met, and it naturally came up at the wedding. It was as if you were saying, “And look. I almost blocked the love of my life before we even really met. How silly of me.”

If we could make it after all that, who couldn’t work out their differences and find true love?

But now all I can think is, wow. We really thought we were going to have a family to share this story with? We honestly thought this would be a forever thing?

So I guess meet cutes are only cute when everything ends happily.

Reasons to Be Furry, Part 3

Continuing this project will be a bit difficult without first acknowledging the elephant in the room – though perhaps it is a boar in the case of this particular author.

Dear reader, I am a big gay furry. This would likely be a niche detail that doesn’t really say much about my life that could have gone unspoken, but it’s going to come up…a fair amount. From meeting my most recent romantic partner at a local furry group to overwhelming convention weekends and even a death that I cannot reasonably untangle from the community, it is a background detail that every now and then will take center stage.

So I guess it’s not really a minor part of my identity. I’d say about half the people I regularly associate with these days are furries, and the other half I am secretly converting. Perhaps you can add a bit of comedy to some of my future pieces with the knowledge that I unironically referred to myself as a husboar and boarfriend to my most recent ex-partners.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m simply unboarable.

Now that we have that acknowledgement out of the way, I kind of want to dig in and ponder the questions I regularly hear asked about the community. “Why did you decide to be a furry? Is it, like, you know? A sex thing? Can I set your suit on fire and watch you burn inside it?”

No to that last one, of course. I don’t own a fursuit! Do you know how much those things cost? Not to mention my claustrophobia, nearly had a panic attack when I tried on a friend’s head.

So, why am I drawn to such a concept? Well, on the most basic level, I do think it’s kind of simple.

As a child growing up in the 90s, there were hundreds of cartoons to choose from, many of which involved cute animal creatures just going about their otherwise human lives. Some kids hone in on princesses, others on superheroes, but I could never get enough of those funny animal people. In a way, I guess I have always been a furry; not that I have always associated with the community, but I would always lean towards work that had the animal aesthetic.

I really do believe it’s that simple for most of us. We grew up with media that featured these things and eventually developed a strong affinity, much like any other nerd culture. Perhaps the confusion is in part due to there being no centralized cultural work. Even if you don’t get the intensity of their passion, it’s easy enough to get Trekkies just really like Star Trek. Furries are based around a concept.

But what I really think trips up outsiders is the concept of the fursona. We don’t just consume media that happens to feature anthropomorphic animals; we end up creating our own characters. There’s also that always lingering question about sex, which I think is brought on by another apparent factor; the furry community is much queerer than the average population. From my perspective, I believe there’s a clear link between these concepts, of being queer and the desire to create an alternate identity.

I believe one under-discussed difference between cisgender straight people and queer people is how we view our own bodies. Of course, plenty of straight people have concerns about their appearance, but many queer people also have to struggle with comparing their bodies to those of the people they are attracted toward. And, obviously, a transgender person is constantly made aware of their own physicality.

As a queer person, I’m rather lucky in the sense that I do fall into the general range of what I find attractive; but even then, the simple fact I even consider whether I find myself attractive is a telling sign. There’s a drive to fit into a certain mold, and to be unhappy if we don’t. It seems almost nonsensical; why does it matter if we find ourselves attractive as long as other people do? Yet, ultimately, I present myself in the way I do more for my own sake than to try and appear attractive to others. But even with my general body positivity, I’m still aware of the small pieces I would change if I could.

What I’m suggesting here is, a fursona is a method of creating another version of yourself, an idealized one. This is a community where people are encouraged to consider their own self-image, to dress up as a form they can be happy with. This has a natural appeal to a community consisting of people who spent their teenage years being questions by themselves and others.

Let’s look at me specifically. Why did I create Bleu? A boar is an especially uncommon choice among furries, perhaps because porcine creatures get a bad rep. I idealize the concept of being misunderstood, of being better than what people assume from a first glance. Male wild boars are solitary creatures, which I felt fit my personality. I’m a bit heavyset, and boars have the right shape to be chubby without immediately coming off as fetishistic. There are other creatures that could tick these boxes, but I simply like tusks.

Which is funny, because despite settling on a boar due to the tusks, I immediately decided to break one. Not on a stylistic whim, but because I was in the process of needing a root canal while my friends were pushing me into finally making my ‘sona. So I guess while selling this idea of creating an idealized self, I’m the type to embrace flaws…

Another key element here is the possibility of visual diversity and symbolism. A boar and a fox is going to come with different social connotations. “This guy is a horse so he must be depressed, and this dog is obnoxiously excited at all times.” There’s shorthand in how we view animals, both inside and outside the fandom. There is an endless sea of animals to choose from; creating a fursona offers up infinite possibilities.

Just don’t ask me why, with so many options to pick from, half of us settled on dog.

At the heart of it all, this is a community that asks you to visualize yourself in another form. It gives you a mirror that only reflects what you want to see.

So, now for that question that has been sitting on the edge of your tongue since I first mentioned it; is this a sex thing? Well, this is a people thing. Do I need to tell you whether people can be sexual?

There is this strange trend in parts of the furry community to adamantly deny the adult side of the fandom; but any quick google search will show it’s there, and boy is there a lot of it. Some of us want ‘outside respectability’ to the point of being self-defeating. The constant denial only adds an air of shame to the whole thing, one that shouldn’t be necessary.

So, of course there is an element of sex to this fandom, largely because it is a community where people create idealized versions of themselves. It’s not about sex, but sex is there if you want it. It’s really a simple thing; a central element of this fandom is to commission artists to create images of your character. A lot of it is entirely innocent; my first piece of Bleu existed just to capture the boredom of walking to work. But all it takes is a tiny bit of horniness while you’re shopping around, and you have plenty of options to get something lewd. So it’s not so much that the furry community is sexual as much as it allows people an open form to express themselves. It only seems natural that a community based around self-expression and content creation would have a notable (but not centralized) pornographic side.

So, yes, furries are humans who sometimes like to think about, and maybe even have, sex. It may be hard to believe, but furries don’t have a monopoly on horny.

To close this out, I want to cycle back to what I consider the most important element. This is how I met a romantic partner and numerous other friends. It is a community all about acceptance, sometimes to a dangerous fault. It’s a place not just to be yourself, but to imagine who you want to be. At the heart of it all is the people.

Now, let’s get back to exploring my traumas in intimate detail. I promise not to boar you with any more misplaced animal puns.

Review: Roma (2018)

After crafting two of the greatest sci-fi films of the 21st century in Children of Men and Gravity, along with giving us the best Harry Potter film, Alfonso Cuarón returns with a work reminiscent of his breakthrough, Y Tu Mamá También.

Roma is the story of Cleo, a poor maid working for an upper class family in early 70’s Mexico City. While the film stays focused on Cleo’s journey over the course of a year, it uses her tale to explore so much more.

Like Y Tu Mamá También before it, Roma is set against a backdrop of political upheaval. And much like the protagonists of that earlier work, Cleo herself never becomes particularly involved; these events exist as a looming threat, one most would rather ignore until it physically comes to them. So, while this story is about Cleo (and hers truly is a phenomenal tale – the final act of this film is both devastating and revelatory), Roma is just as much a story of the city itself.

This is accomplished through Cuarón’s stellar cinematography. Nearly every shot runs for an extended length, usually set in an incredible deep focus. Many scenes find several elements battling for attention; for example, an early scene finds Cleo with a man at the theater as a comedic war film plays in the background. The relative motion draws your eyes to the film, despite knowing the true action of the scene is the conversation in the foreground. Even in all these wide shots, Cuarón is expertly in control of where eyes will land.

In many ways, Roma is a slow film – but I would say that is ultimately to the film’s benefit in the long run. Minutes can go by without much happening, and I found myself questioning just what this movie was about during its opening hour – but so much is subtly put into place through these moments. The opening hour is like a lift hill, a necessity before we rush into the inevitable. It’s easy to be an hour in and come to the conclusion that this is an ‘art film’ to an annoying extreme; by trying to be about everything, it appears to really be saying nothing at all.

But by setting us up to believe that this is a film of vague intentions, Cuarón manages to catch us with no expectations of where it will truly land. Despite its relative visual distance from its human characters, this film truly is concerned with the human experience. This is a rare film where I had to let the credits run through, so in shock at my feelings that I had to take several minutes of silence to recuperate.

There is a key image Cuarón returns to throughout the film. The first time it happens, the father of the family returns early; Cuarón cuts between various shots of the car pulling into the drive, avoiding the father himself until he finishes pulling in. The excruciating detail of this scene is how clearly the car does not fit in the narrow drive. We return to this same scenario, the car both causing damage and becoming damaged itself. Both for the characters and the audience, there is a desire for something bigger, some grandiose meaning to everything. But sometimes, too big is too much. Cuarón is aware of his excess from the beginning, and it’s when the mother of the family returns with a smaller vehicle that the plot is also allowed to narrow. Cuarón knows when to go big, but he is always in command.

Roma is the best film by one of the greatest directors working today. It is a pure visual feast, clearly inspired by Fellini’s most excessive works but never losing its humanity. But where Cuarón really outshines Fellini is his treatment of women; Roma is ultimately a tale of womanhood, of the expectations thrust upon women by society and the harsh methods of coping that are sometimes necessary.

Roma is about women, about Mexico City, about political revolutions, abandonment, despair. Roma is one of many art films that strives to be about everything all at once; but it’s a rare one that largely succeeds at the endeavor.

5 stars


This town is beginning to eat you alive.

His words pierce through you, despite the fact you’re certain he was looking for an easy excuse. “I don’t want to follow you to California.” Though you assured him you’ll likely be in town for several more years, as you would prefer to finish paying off your students loans first and are actually managing that goal surprisingly well, he apparently sees no point in seeing where things can go. He cannot see you for who you are today because he is aware that the you of tomorrow may not be here.

Really, you might as well be dead already.

You know better than to pack your bags and head to California. Breaking into Hollywood is a pipe dream, and your mind has always been set on the indie circuit anyway. But, hey, if you can manage to get into one of the top screenwriting programs, why not check it out for a couple years and try to network?

But no one here seems to understand the big ‘if.’ You try to explain that both programs you would consider have an acceptance rate lower than Harvard Law. There is a five percent chance you can manage to claw your way in. And, since you have no other reason to leave this town, that’s a 95% chance you stay right where you are.

But that slim, nearly hopeless chance of success? You’re a ghost. You live here but you don’t, transient despite your enduring presence. You moved here in 2011, and honestly, you wouldn’t mind dying here. Even in your perfect future, you imagine moving back to a quiet town like this once you have truly established yourself. At this stage of your life, only one thing could reasonably convince you to leave.

After all, your main goal in life is to continue writing. This project alone is proof that you can write anywhere you want. It might not be your ‘dream project,’ but maybe it is? Maybe you just want to get your story out there, and the only reason you have put so much focus on making it as a screenwriter is because you personally prefer film to other forms of media? Perhaps these people see staying here as a sign that you have given up, when you honestly don’t see it that way in the slightest.

But if this is how they perceive you, you are gone already. Your life has been put on hold until you achieve your dreams. You’re ‘California-bound’ and suffocating under the weight of that label that has been so carelessly inflicted upon you by your closest friends.

Perhaps they think this is encouragement. That denying you anything meaningful will push you harder toward your ‘ultimate’ goal. Maybe they don’t notice that the more you are pushed, the more you view your artistic pursuits as a negative aspect of your life. Art has become conflict. You are certain no one wants to put any meaningful emotional investment into you because they are already living in the future where you have left, and you sometimes regret ever speaking of your higher aspirations.

The town you have called home for several years is slowly being corrupted into a pit of loneliness. You want people to see who you are, right here and now.

But they see through you.

Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse towers over every superhero film since The Dark Knight, outpacing the Marvel Cinematic Universe by never fearing to experiment.

Into the Spider-Verse is practically a necessity at this point, after three other distinct Spider-Man film franchises have been thrust upon us this century. As much as it tells the story of Miles Morales (originating in Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man comics) and his familiar tale of adapting to newfound powers in the wake of a multiverse-shattering cataclysm, the story is just as much a commentary on how and why we revisit the same stories over and over with slight variations. This is a film that pushes artistic boundaries while reveling in the familiar, a flawless reminder that a great work is not in the originality of its material but the fresh new ways that story is told.

More than being a great superhero film, this is a phenomenal comic book film; which is to say, this is a film that goes to great lengths to simulate the way in which a comic book looks and reads. Purely on a visual level, this movie captures the style of a comic, from elements as subtle as framing to the blatantly obvious use of action words popping on screen. Into the Spider-Verse unabashedly evokes its source material.

The most key element in translating this language from comics to cinema is the film’s rapid editing style. Each shot feels structured like a panel, establishing a singular point before cutting to another angle, another concept. Due to this structure, Into the Spider-Verse never loses a sense of rhythm during its two hour running time. There is a poignant brevity to its presentation.

At the heart of this all is a rather simple plot. We follow Miles Morales, a kid who lives in a city that already has its own Spider-Man. Miles is distinctly not Peter Parker, of both African American and Puerto Rican descent, with two loving and living parents and an uncle that encourages his more mischievous side. Following the comic run he originates from, Miles must soon pick up the mantle of Spider-Man after the sudden death of his world’s Peter Parker.

Miles soon finds himself among five other Spider-Man equivalents from alternate realities, from a slightly different Peter Parker to a Gwen Stacy who took on the mantle of Spider-Woman in a world where Peter Parker turned to villainy. The film focuses on both their distinctions and the familiarity of their plot beats. Though they are their own characters, the ultimate lore of Spider-Man shines through. Bitten by radioactive spiders, becoming heroes, and ultimately losing someone very dear near the onset of their journey (an effectively blunt use of foreshadowing considering Miles has yet to experience this loss). Though they have only just met, there’s a distinct sense of unity among these Spider-people. There is comfort in the familiar.

But what ultimately pushes this film into the upper tier of superhero films is not its narrative elements, but the rather extreme stylistic shifts it performs throughout. This playfulness is at its most obvious with the three other Spider-people, all of which draw attention to the absurd degree the Spider-Man myth has been spread. From the anime-inspired Peni Parker and her mecha-spider friend, to the funny animal Peter Porker and the self-describing Spider-Man Noir, Into the Spider-Verse pays homage to earlier works that pushed the basic Spider-Man structure to its extremes.

Their presence lends the perfect excuse for the film to sacrifice typical visual cohesion, allowing the film to sprawl out in whichever direction it feels best suits any individual moment. The final act is a descent into absolute psychedelia, a pure visual feast. It is a rare gift to have a film that goes this far out of its way to embrace style over realism. Into the Spider-Verse joins the ranks of films like Hausu and Scott Pilgrim as examples of just how unrelentingly stylish a film can be without losing track of its purpose or audience.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a testament to the concept of style as substance. There’s nothing shallow in its appeal to visual pleasure; it is rooted in several distinct eras and movements, evoking concepts with the right use of color here, a distinct sense of framing there. Like any good adaptation, this is a work that simultaneously admires its origins while striving to communicate its purpose in a distinctly different medium. It’s not just an adaptation but a translation. This is assuredly the Spider-Man we collectively know and love, but in a way we’ve never seen before.

5 Stars

The Christmas Conundrum

You really need to explain to me the point of this whole Santa concept. What exactly do you get out of buying me gifts and attributing it to some person that does not exist?

Is it, perhaps, a sense of humility? That by hiding your own presence in the purchasing of these gifts, you have created a selfless act?

But why? Giving gifts is one of the most obvious expressions of human love. All you did was take this intimate act and bury it in an anonymous box, turning love into an object that carried a purely material existence. You allowed yourself to give love and denied me the tools necessary to perceive it.

Writing this down makes me feel stupid. Why does this matter in the grand scheme of things? I guess, looking back, I never really felt loved as a child. I lived in constant fear of abandonment and grasped desperately at any sign that I mattered. But instead of anything obvious and real, I was given this fantasy of some elusive fat man who only dropped by one day a year.

I look back on perhaps the most essential gift of my childhood with a strange sense of shame. You used to sign up to buy gifts for poor families, and one year you got a family who, for whatever reason, owned a Game Boy game (I believe one belonging to the Donkey Kong series) without actually owning a Game Boy. You brought me with you to the store and I remember being jealous; I had wanted a Game Boy Color for so long, and to see you buy it for someone else was absurd.

Yes, I was a selfish child.

Then, Christmas Day came, and of course you knew the perfect gift for me; my childish outrage had made it clear. But the gift did not come from you; it came from Santa. While I was obviously overtaken by excitement in my youth, I also remember thinking about how much better Santa was at knowing what I wanted. What did that say about you?

This myth did more than needlessly shroud your care; like everyone else who engages in this fiction, you one day had to admit the truth. I of course had my suspicions, but it still left me feeling hurt. Not that he didn’t exist, but the fact you would commit to this act in the first place. I felt betrayed in the moment, and it took years to retroactively credit you for the gifts I had received in the past.

And, really, did I need yet another man whose sole purpose was to spontaneously disappear from my life?

I’ve always viewed myself as a rather staunch anti-traditionalist, and I wish I had a better explanation than looking back to something like this. This knowledge that the person raising me would choose to lie brought so much into question.

We call it a white lie, but I don’t believe the intent there is true. To believe this is a lie that doesn’t matter is to suggest the lie had no true impact; but it did.

Really, there are no white lies. Just lies.