The Silence

I didn’t think of you all that much until we happened to end up in gym together during high school. By that point, you had gone silent – for whatever reason, you refused to ever speak. It’s one of those odd mysteries, the type of thing that makes people strangely compelled. Of course, I knew the answer – you had a disarmingly high-pitched voice for a boy.

I didn’t think much of it then, your embarrassment. In fact, I found it kind of amusing. How oppressive masculinity is, that you literally went quiet to hide an apparently feminine flaw. More than likely, you were terrified people would hear you speak and assume you were gay.

I briefly reached out to you – we met at a Mexican restaurant along with our mothers and caught up. I questioned why we stopped hanging out, it seemed clear it was the silence. I had read into it, but you had gotten that way with everyone in your life. There had to be more, for you to never reach out – but I didn’t really care.

I had found other friends, ones who spoke to me in ways more than just literal. We could have started to hang out again – but that dinner, that was all I needed. I got the best answer I would get, I could move on from you. Every future encounter would be from a distance, morbid curiosity as I checked out your social media. Our friendship officially ended with what was supposed to be a reunion.

Violence, Violence

A few years had passed, and your family had moved to a bigger house with a large backyard. We must have been ten or eleven, just hanging in your room playing Yu-Gi-Oh or something. Your younger sister by about two years came in, pest that she was, more than likely to poke fun at you as she tended to do.

Siblings fight and it sometimes gets physical. I recall the time when I was six and my sister got pissed at me for walking too slow to the car – she grabbed my hand and dragged me along, causing me to trip and scrape my forehead against the concrete of our drive. The hilarious thing is how pointless it was – my mom hadn’t even stepped outside yet, so it’s not like my dawdling was delaying us.

The less fun part of that was my mother’s panic over my kindergarten teacher potentially reporting this as a sign of abuse. I thought this was an overreaction, but later learned she had been threatened with the idea of having us taken away after my father was arrested.

I’d seen you get a bit physical with your sister before – you were quick to anger. But usually it wasn’t much at all – or perhaps with how little I had encountered such things before, it didn’t seem like much. But this time, you knocked her to the floor and climbed on top, punching her in the face. I was terrified. This was actual, dangerous violence. I’m not even sure how the rest of that day played out, it’s all kind of a blur after that point.

This isn’t where our friendship ended, but I quietly grew afraid of you. Your sister was a nice girl, she didn’t deserve that. No one did. We drifted apart – I used to think it was because you literally grew silent, but this is the real reason. The new friends I was making as time went on, they weren’t violent like you.

I hope you grew out of this.

Lonely Boy

I was happy to be invited to your birthday party – I didn’t have many friends, so it was a bit of a new experience to me. My mom made sure we got you a nice gift, though I can’t remember what it was. I’m sure we were happy as always to just spend time together.

After you opened your gifts, your mother handed me a gift bag. It wasn’t my party, I didn’t understand. Inside was a copy of Pokemon Red – and despite my memory lacking in this regard, I’m certain this was a bigger gift than what I had got you.

I was happy to have it, but I remember leaving with this strange mix of confusion and guilt. My mom seemed comparatively confused. I think they were thanking me for being there. Because despite having few friends myself, I think you might have only had me. Just me.

Every time I look back on us, I have this similar feeling. I don’t understand you, how we split apart so distinctly from one another. It’s almost nauseating to look back on someone you were once so close to and realize there’s nothing there – certainly not a desire to reconnect. I’ve gone through several friendships that didn’t work out, but I guess the first stings the most – or maybe it hurts so bad because you’re one of the few things I’ve hung on to from those desolate early years.

Best Friend

I can’t remember the specific moment we met, though it was certainly in grade school. Were we ever in the same class, or did we simply get to know each other because we both were stuck in the same after-school program since our parents worked late?

Many of my fondest memories of my early childhood were with you. Our mothers turned out to be childhood friends, which might have made it easier for them to let us stay over. We played Pokemon together, fantasizing about making our own adventures using the system. Rollercoaster Tycoon was a shared hobby, and I remember one night where we stayed up late watching a bunch of Power Rangers episodes on VHS.

It was an innocent time – though we were naturally mischievous. I remembered learning a new word one day, one I didn’t know the meaning of but through context knew it had to be bad. Of course I shared one day, when we were standing in line for some reason or other. “Masturbation.” You repeated it, and then said it again. You could tell it was bothering me as we neared the adults at the front of the line. You knew to stop before they were in earshot – and I learned to keep the bad words to myself.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine anything better.

Review: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel has been put in an unfortunate position – it is the penultimate piece to an arc that was put into motion several years ago. Despite this fact, it has an odd relationship with the franchise at large. It serves as a prequel by exploring Nick Fury’s early days, but being set in an earlier decade gives it this feeling of distance. Unfortunately, Captain Marvel feels like an afterthought, something that should have been established a bit earlier.

Let’s ignore these overarching hang-ups and focus on Captain Marvel as a single, standalone film. For certain reasons, Brie Larson has garnered a lot of attention for this role. She gave two of the best performances this decade in Short Term 12 and Room – but these are two very different films that required an entirely different type of performance. Larson has mastered this quiet grace, able to play coy which allows her to pull off a certain type of wry hero – yet something feels off.

This doesn’t fall on Larson as much as it does on the position Captain Marvel is in during the course of this movie. She is cast against too many concepts at once, a stylistic clash that doesn’t quite work.

The issue with Captain Marvel is largely structural. It wants to be a space film, a 90s nostalgia piece, while also spending a large portion on the American military. The Kree-Skrull War isn’t particularly compelling here, and we’re quickly stuck on Earth. There are a few 90s references, but most sequences are in generic enough locations that the decade doesn’t seem to matter besides the fact that they have to establish this film as taking place in the past. Most of what we get is music, though the choices are admittedly rather strong (if a bit too on-the-nose at certain moments).

This is the most basic kind of Marvel movie. It starts with a lot of promise, especially a sequence as Carol is forced through her forgotten memories in a rapid, surreal fashion. But any visual inventiveness falls to the side as we reach the second act. The presentation is all rather standard Hollywood fare, not putting much effort into standard shot composition. And, as always with a Marvel film and especially predictable with a spacefaring protagonist, the finale naturally calls for the inclusion of a sky battle.

Captain Marvel simply feels stale at this point. It got hype for being the first film in the franchise to have a woman in the lead role, but that’s all that really feels new about it. Other recent Marvel debuts do something to set themselves apart. In addition to being the first MCU film with a predominantly black cast, Black Panther had a stunning dedication to visual design. Even the third attempt at the Spider-Man franchise felt fresher due to the way it mixed in high school comedy tropes. Captain Marvel lacks stylistic focus in comparison.

The film feels like a lot of potentially great elements working against themselves. Marvel’s space storylines are always a bit harder to digest than their more traditional superhero tales – Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded by finding humor. Captain Marvel, comparatively, takes itself seriously. The Kree-Skrull War takes a few interesting turns over the course of the film, but it feels like a backdrop to Danvers discovering herself. Ultimately, I didn’t feel invested in this battle – which I feel is also due to this film being cushioned between a two-part film with higher stakes. The military base segment is straight-up bland, and Brie’s mumblecore-esque style feels out of place in this larger than life picture.

There are a few highlights – Samuel L. Jackson is strong as always, and it’s fun to see him play a central role after largely being a background figure. And there’s the cat – best animal in a 2019 movie for sure, even with several months remaining. Being a formulaic Marvel movie isn’t that bad of a position to be in – the formula works, just the better films in the franchise modify it in just the right ways. It’s pleasant in its mixing of humor and action but never exceptional.

Captain Marvel simply lacks the extra oomph found in more recent Marvel films – in many ways, it feels like one of their earlier works where they were still figuring out how to make each hero have their unique feel. Larson is new to this type of role, and hopefully this character will fall into her quieter style and drop the unnecessary attempts at bravado. It doesn’t quite land any of its stylistic goals, but the parts on their own are good enough that the film is worth a watch for those invested in the franchise.

3 Stars Out of 5

Review: Paddleton (2019)

Paddleton is a Netflix film about two men with a close friendship coping together as one discovers they have terminal cancer – the film coldly opens with that awkward discovery, as Ray Romano’s Andy Freeman questions the evasive doctor while Mark Duplass’s Michael Thompson quietly takes in his suddenly reduced lifespan.

Paddleton is one of many movies released every year that tries to coast entirely off an emotional premise backed by high quality but not especially noteworthy performances. While I value film for its ability to capture emotions, Paddleton is one that feels particularly lazy – a simple appeal without craftsmanship.

Much of Paddleton is shot in simple medium close-ups, repetitive shot composition to the point of being grating. So many scenes in this movie look like any other scene. None of the people involved seemed to take the time to consider how they could more effectively use the medium; for them, the camera seems to be an obstacle in the way of telling their story.

There’s some acclaim going around for the film’s improvisational acting; that Ray Romano and Mark Duplass lend an air of realism through their natural conversations. And, I will admit, these two actors do a fine job with the material – but that does not excuse the lack of planning in other regards. This is the blandest of bland movies, every technical element merely in service to the narrative instead of lending its own emotional potential.

I’m certain plenty of people will watch this movie and be moved – with such a theme, it’s something most people can find a connection to in some way. To me, it feels largely exploitative. This is the type of story you will encounter several times over in a freshman Creative Writing class, written by students unsure of their abilities but aware that certain elements inherently have resonance. It’s hard to criticize such works for being otherwise shallow without appearing to make light of a serious situation. But why settle for such base emotions when there are more masterful takes on the same subject? Cinema is an artform; the story is perhaps the backbone of most films, but that’s all it is – you can’t have a body with just a spine.

It has a few pleasant moments; male bonding is rarely handled with such delicacy, and the two leads do play off each other well. A years-long game of hangman, a shared obsession with an overlooked Kung Fu movie, there’s a lot of charm and specificity to the characters that make them feel real. But a lot of these elements are overshadowed by how quickly the film reaches its inevitable conclusion – Michael decides from the beginning that he is going to commit suicide before the cancer weakens him. The second act falters under this weight. Romano’s Andy pathetically attempts to fight back against this choice, but it’s clearly the course of the film.

For those who manage to get invested, the final act will get hard. But nothing within the establishing narrative moments of the technical and stylistic elements suggest anything worth that emotion. It’s an impactful shortcut taken by seemingly novice filmmakers who didn’t want to invest too much time into structure – the type of people who believe the camera is more of an obstacle than a boon. There are dozens of better movies with similar themes that also put in stylistic effort – or if not that, at least have consistently stronger writing and better performances. Why bother with Paddleton when films like 50/50 and The Big Sick exist?

2 Stars Out of 5

Future Frontiers

Perhaps I glorify this club too much. Perhaps it isn’t really the club at all that matters, but the people it brought together at a specific time and a specific place.

The structure was always quite odd – board games, television, movies. It’s the remnant of a group of friends who wanted to hang out and simply threw together whatever would keep them engaged from 5 in the afternoon to whenever everyone felt like leaving, on the best nights not until the next morning.

There was something undeniably organic about the nature of Techfront, and inviting new people is kind of like telling an in joke to an outsider. Anytime it’s brought up on Quad Day, the same questions are repeated. Why Techfront? Why all these things mashed together? How is this queer? Everything here makes sense to us, but did we fall into a hole so niche that it only appeals to us?

Yet it still remains. Perhaps it’s smaller than I would like, but a new group has formed. This does matter to some people; they show up every week just like we used to do.

So even if Techfront eventually dies off, we’ll always have the memories. Those oddball foreign films I inflicted upon you all, Arkham Horror all-nighters, passionate discussions about Chelsea Manning. Techfront bent to whatever the current members needed it to be, and god, I really needed all of you. Your consistent Saturday night presence was a lifesaver during my hectic experience known as college.

Parting Shot

Though I hang around to this day, I decided I should stop meddling in the affairs of Techfront once my then-partner graduated. As a student organization, we were floating in an endless abyss among one thousand like-minded clubs. How do we reach those that might need a club like this?

I reached out to our LGBT resource center. If the previous president had put in the effort to make this a queer-friendly group, I wanted to be the one to finalize that transition, make it official.

I’m not sure if it’s worked – despite being officially associated now, I feel we haven’t made much use of that connection. The first week of that following school year, the resource center had a welcome back event, where clubs were allowed to introduce themselves. Unfortunately, the new president likely wouldn’t make it, and I somehow got talked into the role of presenter – the president ended up arriving anyway, but our battle of who is the more anxious forced me to the front. I sort of froze – how do I explain what Techfront is? Why the hell were we still calling ourselves Techfront after all this time?

But maybe it will linger. All we need is one lucky moment where a couple people check it out and decide to come back the next week.

But I keep thinking to myself – why do I specifically care so much?

Shadow President

I always wanted to be Techfront president – the unfortunate fact being I was in the same graduating class as the first. It simply wasn’t an option for me.

When we hung around for your grad school program, you seemed to be the natural fit. Really, I wanted you to be president because I realized that would give me the closest thing to having power.

And as we all know, there’s nothing more empowering than having a tiny bit of control over some small college club (specifically after having graduated).

Yet I can barely even remember those years. We were so caught up in us that maybe we let things fall to the wayside. The wedding and everything surrounding that time…we were far too busy for you to be in charge of anything.

I think around this time Techfront started to crumble. We had already encountered the unfortunate situation with my class – it turned out most of the regulars graduated together, and a bubble burst. We went from regularly having a couple dozen attendees each week to less than ten. None of us were in a place to build it back up.

Is Techfront going to die? Did we kill it? Or do things just fall apart sometimes?

…I thought there’d be a place for what we all built.

A Radical Queer Agenda

You took over as the second president of my time at Techfront, though you seem to have been running it from the shadows for a while before, the figurative and sometimes literal showrunner.

The previous president was your typical straight white nerd, alarmingly conservative considering the people he surrounded himself with. Yet our choice of subject matters became increasingly, subtly queer under his rule.

I remember when you came out; it was the day after you hosted a Techfront at your apartment over the summer – or could it have been a winter? All I remember is you tended to host over breaks. For whatever reason I felt guilty about misgendering you the night before, even though I obviously didn’t know until the following day. I had met plenty of transgender people by that point, but you were the first who I saw go through the coming out process.

I don’t think I began questioning myself until watching you navigate this territory. Despite my previous encounters, the idea of being transgender felt like this distant thing until that weekend.

We collectively jokes about there being a radical queer agenda taking over Techfront – but it wasn’t really a joke. It was an active effort on the part of several members. So many of us had tried out other nerdy clubs on campus and found ourselves out of place among largely straight and unfortunately unwashed men (though a few of our members were admittedly lacking in hygiene as well…). There were plenty of queer clubs on campus, but they carried it as a focus that similarly rubbed many of us the wrong way. We wanted a halfway point – a place to just chill on the weekend while carrying an actively accepting atmosphere.

So I joined Techfront when it was a general nerdy Saturday evening affair, but it’s your influence that really made Techfront what it is in my mind. It was so relieving to have a place that was queer but not about being queer.