Something About Floating

Note: I promise I still have so many entries about my time in Europe last year (I think me writing about it might espouse the time actually spent there). But this week there's traveling for work and other things that keep me preoccupied with real life. Still, could not resist throwing in my two cents on this guy. Travel Tuesdays resume next week!

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I saw It this weekend. Initially, my plan was to tack on my thoughts during the weekly roundup: Hey, here are some interesting articles on It. Also I saw it last week and liked it. But then that alone started to get too long. So, screw it, here are my thoughts on the latest Stephen King adaptation.

First, a warning - I love Stephen King. I love the worlds he creates, the familiar characters and King-isms that imbue not only his works but a generation he's inspired. I cannot be objective about this film. I wrote a whole thing about it. Also, I was first introduced to Pennywise, long before picking up a King novel, via that TV miniseries from the '90's. I rented it with a friend when we were probably 10 or so, right before I started reading the books. The show itself was as daunting as the book - two cassettes! The only other movie I remember doing that was Titanic. And that's Titanic! The series terrified me. And somehow, in the thirty years since, the character of Pennywise has become ubiquitous. And while I think this latest iteration of the clown might even be better, as far as evil creatures go, I can't imagine anything replacing the iconography of Tim Curry all dressed up from the miniseries. I mean, do we have Bill Skarsgard smoking a cigarette under an umbrella? No, no we do not.

But onward! First, I enjoyed the film. It was a fun, and scary, 2 hours and 15 minutes. As an adaptation, it seemed to capture the spirit and themes of the novel without getting dragged down with the specifics. And look, we're beginning prime scary movie season. I just want to be scared. And that certainly happened. In a way, the film has two parts - the typical coming of age stuff that is more Stand By Me than The Stand. And then there's the scary stuff, big spectacle after big spectacle as the clown inhabits the things the children fear most. And I know I wanted to be scared, but I vastly preferred the former. The scenes between the kids, just being kids, are so excellent. There are some complaints going around the internet that this is a piggyback, cash grab off the success of Stranger Things. Honestly, okay, fine. Netflix, give me ten episodes of these kids running around Derry, getting in rock fights with bullies and jumping into the quarry. So many scenes were just perfect, like the boys' total awe at Bev in her underwear after the swim, the quick rally around Ben once they discover him. I wanted so much more of that, just them embracing that magical time in the lives of children that inhabits so many pieces of culture, especially from Stephen King himself. And while the scenes and interactions between them were excellent, the kids themselves shined. Sure, there were tropes and the movie didn't have time to get much beyond single traits (there's the black homeschooled kid, the one who stutters and has a dead brother, the Jewish kid not really into it, the hypochondriac, etc.). But even with that, this may be the best acting and chemistry I've seen among a group of child actors in a long time. Even Stranger Things didn't have it this good. For actors, I really appreciated the kid who played Richie, the one holdover from Stranger Things. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from this. But my favorites were Eddie and Bev. Eddie's humor and earnestness, his need for affection and acceptance from his friends, plus occasionally going toe to toe with Richie for bawdy humor, he was continually a welcome surprise. Bev had this cool exterior, all winks and New Kids on the Block references. And yet she was so vulnerable and so ready to help anyone else who might need her. In general, compared to the child actors from the TV miniseries, the teens were a dramatic improvement, but maybe none more so than the actress who played Bev. Again, can't wait to see what she, or her cast-mates, do next.

And then there's the other half, the scary part. And sure, it was really scary. The clown was excellent. While I have nothing but affection for Tim Curry, this version, in part due to technology and budget, was much more magical, much scarier. It was difficult to tell what was Bill Skarsgard and what was CGI. But Pennywise should be this magical, larger than life thing. I mean, he can turn into a spider whenever he wants! As for the scares themselves, there were some impressive ones. The painting coming to life, the awesome scene in the garage where Pennywise comes out of the screen. All terrifying. I jumped, I gave sharp intakes of breath. But still, when this movie comes out and I watch it again on HBO Go or Amazon in a few months, I won't be looking forward to the screams but just the kids being kids, throwing rocks and reading about Derry.

And now all the stuff that really bothered me. But I mostly liked it, promise.

First up, my heart for a gray character. Everyone in this show is either really bad or really good. That's it. There's one scene where the gang is riding the bike and they hear the bully beating someone up behind some trees. Without hesitation, they drop their bikes and run to help. Could we at least have a moment's doubt? Or have Eddie take off his fanny pack so it's protected? Something to show these guys are anything but good. I know, I know, later they have doubts about the mission, but no one guys so far as to actually not participate. But there's all the other characters. Eddie's Mom, Bev's Dad, and Henry's Dad, all just complete and total assholes whose kids would probably be better off raised by the direwolves from Game of Thrones. The pharmacist can't be a complex guy who wants the best for Eddie but also has to follow HIPAA. Nope, just your run of the mill pervert. The most galling, though, might be the bullies. There are two sets of bullies - the girl bullies and the boy bullies, the latter much more prevalent. And they beat up, to extremely disturbing degrees, our heroes. Why? I don't know. The one guy's dad is mean to him and that's really all we get. The Stand, a literal battle between good and evil, had more moral ambiguity.

And now I have the nittiest of nits to pick - the score. I feel like great movie scores are usually unseen. They assist the director in what he's trying to achieve without getting in the way. The score here bangs you over the head - you're supposed to be charmed by Derry, now you're supposed to be emotional over the dead kids. And now you need to be scared! BE SCARED! INCEPTION NOISES, INCEPTION NOISES. That was the score, basically. Watching it on mute with subtitles might have been more successful.

Finally, I saw this as someone who has read the book, seen the miniseries, and read most of the other books that take place in the same world. I know the history of Derry better than I know the history of my own hometown. So I can't answer this honestly, but did they explain everything well enough? With horror, I think you can go one of two ways - put out some horrible evil and just leave it. It's evil, who knows. Or you can try to explain it away. In The Descent, for example, there are creatures. They want to eat you. The end. Even looking at Stephen King, the salesman who shows up in Needful Things is clearly very evil and very old, but the book doesn't give you his backstory. Or there's something like Nightmare on Elm Street that gets plenty of backstory. It, in the novel, gets plenty of backstory. There isn't a definitive description of where the creature came from but you get an idea of how long it's been around and what it's done, how the creature influences the town and impacts everyone living there. This seems glossed over in the film. I kind of wish they had either gone all in or not at all, with Mike and Ben's attempts at explanations seeming half-hearted. Maybe this is something that will be explored more in the next film.

Which brings me to my final concern - did they make a huge mistake in splitting the film apart like they did? The book and original TV series constantly go back and forth, from present day to childhood (though I do appreciate moving the action up twenty years; a little bit of Amblin for everyone), as the adults rediscover the memories they repressed as kids. And there was something really effective in that. One concern I had while watching the movie was a certain sense of 'and then this happened.' Each child gets their run in with It, seemingly at random and without connection to the larger plot. This isn't an issue in the book, as each character is introduced as an adult and remembers their encounters with Pennywise. So much of the greatness of Stephen King books comes from what he gets right about people, not the horror. And in It, he effortlessly demonstrates the power and strength in childhood, how kids can do things grownups could never imagine. And I worry that the second part of the film is going to miss that, as it's just a bunch of adults, as we struggle to remember the characters from a film that came out two years ago, that got us there. Or will the second part of the film be a mess of new material and recaps of the first film?

And here is the one thing I think the TV mini series may have gotten right - splitting it (because you do have to split It into two movies - thanks every YA franchise of the past seven years preparing us for that) when the adults return to Derry. Or does that make it too incomplete a story on its own, too much a setup for the next film? Outside of that "Chapter One" business, this latest movie could probably stand on its own, in case the studio decides not to proceed with another film (though given the box office, there's probably gonna be an other film, maybe even more than one). And the TV mini series definitely is a two-parter. But everything else is terrible. First, the actors. Neither the adults or the kids are particularly great. There is one seen between child Eddie and child Bill that was particularly cringe-worthy. I could almost imagine some PA off camera, mouthing the words, or a director instructing the kids how to move their faces to convey an emotion. There was no charm to the TV series. It felt like a chore, watching it. Where the most recent movie had its own wings, feeling like a true adaptation, the TV series feels like a copy of a copy. It reminded me a lot of the first two entries into the Harry Potter series, where the child actors aren't that confident or good yet and the director feels obligated to hit all the points from the novel, but forgets the heart and spirit that makes the books so enjoyable and important in the first place. Recommendation - don't watch the TV series. If you really can't wait for the next movie, check out the Wikipedia to see what happens to everyone or just read the goddamn book. Personally, I'm grateful to have a very busy week ahead of me and two book clubs already or I would be reading the thing for the second time right now.

And I am looking forward to the next film, my above-mentioned reservations notwithstanding. Until then, Vulture takes a look at who might play who. There seems to be a general consensus that Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain should play Bev. Personally, I'm fine with either, though I am concerned about the very different age ranges of the actors being considered. I can only suspend my belief so far and it's totally taken up by an evil clown for this series.

But maybe don't listen to me because It made shit ton of money this weekend, especially impressive given its R-rating, an overall crappy box office summer, and hurricanes pretty much everywhere. Side note - Reese's new movie didn't do that well. I'm disappointed - it looks cute, reviews were good, I like Reese, and we don't have many movies like that. But also I only had time and money for one movie this weekend and of the two, there was no question which one I was going to see. As for It, my personal perspective is just, it's been awhile since there's been an adult movie to really see in the theaters. Outside of comic book movies, what was there to be excited about this summer? And of course, it's a known property with a lot of affection. But really, at a time when this country seems more divided than it has been since the Civil War, when hurricanes are destroying lives and islands and reigniting the climate change debate in ugly ways, we really just needed to come together over a clown murdering kids.

But it's only getting better from here. The film mother! had a trailer before my screening of It (as did Disaster Artist, which looks amazing and may finally make me watch The Room) and I don't know if I've ever seen a trailer as aggressive. It promised me I would never forget where I was when I saw the film for the first time and suggested I pick up my tickets after watching It at the box office. I could see it in the same theater! It seemed a little desperate but guys, I'm already going to see it, chill. And then it's Oscar season and also Halloween season, as I try to stuff in as many scary films as I can. Gotta make up for all those times I didn't go to the theater this summer.

Finally, as long as my list of complaints were, I really had fun with this movie. It was the right amount of nostalgia and pulpy terror and just kids hanging out during the summer. But mostly, it removed that bad taste from The Dark Tower. Thanks for giving the King fans a movie we can celebrate.

August 4th, Weekly Roundup

It's August. Summer is almost over, go grab a spot on the beach and enjoy it while it lasts.

I'm going to be honest, Game of Thrones hasn't been perfect this season. But I don't care. There are only a handful of episodes left of the entire story and I'm really invested in Jon Snow and Arya Stark. Get ready for a lot of GoT-related shenanigans.

- In Olenna we trust. Welcome to the graveyard, in a much-deserved send-off. And anything to heighten the drama of eventually Tyrion/Jaime reunion/standoff. But first, a reminder of why we loved her in the first place.

- There have been plenty of think pieces lately about the women of GoT (side note: all of those women around Dany's war table are dead now, right?). But don't worry, the show has quality where it matters - Slate names Cersei the worst person in Westeros after last week.

- For some fun, the Cut looks at the series' biggest fuck boys (am I using that right?). Sure, whatever, this makes sense.

- For something else, I have a confession: I love Stephen King (the writer, not the shitty Congressman from Iowa). I'm pretty blind to his faults and am looking forward to the upcoming film adaptations with mild trepidation and excitement. To prepare, Vulture examines and ranks the Stephen King film adaptations and Jesus, some of my favorite books have made really shitty movies. But The Shining is where it should be, despite the author's own protests.

- Also in Stephen King land, the adaptation of The Dark Tower finally made it to the big screen. All accounts say it's a steaming ball of shit, but here's a glossary anyway. Personally, I really enjoyed the books and wouldn't mind seeing them adapted in a meaningful way, on the big screen or the small, with Idris or without.

- Twitter and Pajiba are here to remind you of the important of bro-speak and the sexism of clothing. Excuse me while I go mourn my pocketless pants.

- I recently saw The Great Comet on Broadway. It wasn't perfect but it was fun and just 2.5 hours of awesome escape. The cast was awesome, especially Oak, from Hamilton. Here is some drama over the casting. I hope the show can find its niche and stick around. Until then, I'll be listening to "Charming" on repeat. And this is from someone how loves Mandy Patinkin.

- The White House has been a spectacular shitshow lately but the recent claims of reverse racism and discrimination against white people are especially frustrating. Come the fuck on. How did the Kush get into Harvard again? To quote Bill Maher, his acceptance letter came with a receipt.

- But on a positive note, the months of activism and hard work paid off last week, when the Senate Obamacare repeal and replace failed spectacularly. I was up in the middle of the night (the time when all important legislation that impacts 1/5th the economy and millions of people is debated) to watch the vote, desperately refreshing Twitter. And John Fucking McCain came through, this one time, saving the key legislation of that guy who kicked his ass in 2008. Poetry! Here, Al Franken recounts the moment in the Senate chambers. Here is where I also note that I just finished Franken's Al Franken Giant of the Senate and can't recommend it enough. Funny, informative, and occasionally touching. Adding every one of his books to my to read list right now.

- Finally, it's Friday. Go get a drink and read these highlights from the Trump transcripts that were released this week. Maybe make your drink a double, because, jesus, we're in for a ride.

I Solemnly Swear...

Twenty years ago, a single mom on welfare published a book. And then everything changed. In honor of the milestone, here is my personal HP history, from dorky little brothers to first writing attempts and learning German.

For a brief period of time, my younger brother was a dork. He was a Boy Scout, on the chubby side, and basically a character from The Goonies. Then one summer, he shot up a foot or two, got skinny, and joined the football team. When he joined me at the local high school, it was as a popular kid. The dork was gone. But during his brief tenure in that world, he discovered the Harry Potter series. This was the late nineties, when the first few books came out and the series was popular but not POPULAR, not so ubiquitous. I mean, my brother didn't even realize JK Rowling was a woman. And me, in my high school kid wisdom, thought the books were childish and strictly for dorky younger brothers. Side note: while this entry is ostensibly about my love of children's literature, I am not here for grown adult women adopting YA books and calling it literature. Sometimes it's just for kids and you should be reading Jane Austen instead. End side note. Then it was 2001 and the first movie came out. I went with friends opening weekend not because I had to see the film but because it was something to do on a Friday night. I may have even needed some peer pressure to see it, initially. But I went and a world opened up. I had to know more, to explore the world so deftly introduced in the first film. Side note number two. Now that I can look at it objectively, the first two films kind of suck. They serve as a very removed adaptation, dotting i's and crossing t's, to create what's described in the books. But the charm and spirit of the books are entirely missing. And the kids kind of suck at acting. That being said, Chris Columbus had a momentous task in front of him, to visually create a world and fill it with characters, that each film afterwards took advantage of (or were sometimes limited by). So credit where it's due.

All that aside, the first film sucked me in. For the film's opening weekend, my brother was away at some Boy Scout weekend thing. He was irate to learn I, his sister who hadn't even read the goddamn books, saw the movie before him. Eventually, he got over his indignation enough to let me borrow his copies, before I bought my own. A shiny set for books 1 - 4. I gobbled them up and then entered the patterns that had been known to Potter fans for quite some time at that point - the wait for the next novel, the fear that the films would catch up and overtake Rowling (LOL, Game of Thrones).

After that initial introduction in 2001, at the age of 14, my growth is charted by Harry Potter. The next year, the second film came out. While I had to be dropped off by parents to see the first, the second was different. A friend's older sister took us, picking us up in her mom's car. We watched the movie opening night, getting pizza afterwards and discussing the film, comparing it with the book and wondering what would happen next. It's one of the first adult moments I remember - going out with friends, without needing parents for the ride or their money. Just me and some other women my age, analyzing art like totally mature adult women do.  And then the fifth book came out, the first book release since I'd picked up the habit. The day of its release, my mom and I drove to the closest biggish town with a book store, an hour and a half away. It was summer so we were there under the guise of school shopping, but really it was to get the book. I had two copies reserved at the Borders, one for me and one for my brother. He had transformed into Cool Kid at this point, Dorky Younger Brother already a notion for the past. But Cool Kid has a streak for nostalgia so he wanted a copy. On the drive home, I read aloud to my mother, excited to find out what the next chapter was. To wrap up - my brother started Order of the Phoenix but never finished it, too cool. To this day, he's seen all the films but I think he never read further than OotP. Goodbye, childhood.

Then there was the third film. This one I distinctly remember seeing twice. The first time, in a nearby town with my brother and cousin. This is another step in my ascent to adulthood - it was one of the first times I had driven that far on my own, having recently obtained a license. Neither my brother nor cousin could drive yet. We were just a few minutes into the movie when something went wrong with the sound and we were ushered into a screening a few theaters down, which started a few minutes later. We saw the first fifteen minutes for a second time and enjoyed a free round of popcorn and drinks. A month later, my brother and I, bored during the summer before my senior year of high school, decided to drive to the town of my probable college, to check out the school, and go see the film a second time. We got lost in the town I would end up spending four years. It's bizarre to me that those streets and landmarks were ever so foreign. How was there ever a time I didn't know where the friggin' movie theater was?

The sixth book came out the day before I started college. This is not an exaggeration. I went to the Wal-Mart of my home town for the midnight release. The Wal-Mart I was used to had pallets of books lined up against the cash registers. It was a mini reunion as I recognized most of the faces, people who would be going their separate ways all too soon as we wrapped up the summer between high school and college. I grabbed my book and we headed home. I was up most of the night, a combination of excitement for my big day and compulsion to read the fucking book. The next day my parents moved me into my first college dorm room, where I would start an advanced mathematics program the next day, a month before my freshman year started. The next few weeks were crazy as semesters of calculus were jammed into hours and days and minutes. I didn't get a lot of reading in and didn't finish the fifth book until the end of the program, long after that bitch Carolyn told everyone what Snape did.

The fourth movie came out during a school break. I was at my home town. I drove with my mom, sister, aunt, and cousin to a nearby town to see the midnight screening. This aunt was never particularly maternal or involved, but she had read each book to her son. Harry Potter makes miracles, you guys. We drove the hour back to our homes afterwards in a thrall, loving the book and the characters and always asking - what happens next. The next film came out between my sophomore and junior years of college. Family was replaced by sorority sisters for the midnight screening. We couldn't book ahead of time so we got to the theater hours before the first showing, almost the first in line, gossiping as the line grew past us.

The last book came out not long after. I was living in the sorority house and for a few days following its release there were two types of people - the Potterheads and everyone else. There was a clear charting of who was where based on tears and focus. Most of the book I read in the living room, where my sisters were either caught up in the book themselves or watching The Girls Next Door and rolling their eyes at us. When it came to the last few chapters, I went to my room, knowing I would embarrass myself. I cried when Snape died, when Hedwig died. And then I went to the frat party next door like a champ.

When the sixth film debuted, I was in the big city by myself for the first time, my first internship, in my first apartment. I made plans with my college friends to attend a midnight screening at a mall. It was the largest screening I'd been to, with special signs and every theater full and a parking lot busier than it is at Christmas season. I didn't have anything Harry Potter to wear but found some Gryffindor colors in my closet. I returned to my apartment around 2 in the morning, full of energy and excitement. The next day at work, I was mostly worthless.

For the last two films, the two parts of the seventh book, I was living in Portland. The last film came out in the days before I moved from Portland back to the Midwest. By which I mean, the midnight screening was the night after I left my job. I went to work, had a meeting with HR, then went to a bar with coworkers and proceeded to get drunk. I went to a friend's house and took a nap before going to the midnight screening. The line was long, snaking around the building. Someone had brought chalk and there was artwork everywhere. Afterwards, my then-boyfriend braved the crowds to pick me up. And a thing was over, done.

But not really. While it's been twenty years since the first book came out, it's been almost as long since I discovered the series. Since then, it's been a huge comfort. The fandom might be crazy and Pottermore might be a bit much and maybe JKR really did need a stronger editor those last few books, but there's still love and comfort there. It got me through high school, college, and the years beyond. I can't imagine growing up without Harry and his friends.

I also started writing with Harry. I remember my brother, too cool to read the books, staying up all night to fix the plot of my first chapter-length Harry Potter fanfiction with. I remember posting something I'd written for the first time and getting good and bad responses but feeling party of a community, inspired. And then this past year, I got to visit London, to go to King's Cross and get my picture taken at the famous platform. The fake magical world Rowling had created briefly coming to life. This January, I gave my goddaughter, for her third birthday, a set of the beautifully illustrated editions of the first two books. A new generation of Harry Potter readers and fans starts.

I'm So Much Happier Now That I'm Dead

In January 2014, I took a girls' weekend trip to Minneapolis for a surprise baby shower. It was the first pregnancy in our friend group and it was very exciting and important. Caveat: a weekend in Minneapolis meant two ten-hour trips within three days. Seriously. Three of us took Friday off, meeting at a friend's house Thursday night and driving a chunk of the way, then getting in the rest Friday before dinner. After a lovely weekend, we all bundled up and did the reverse trip on Sunday. Twenty hours in a car? That needs an audio book.

I went with Gone Girl. I knew a little bit about the book and the big twist. It had been hinted at and talked about for months so one afternoon I caved, inhaling the Wikipedia page and forgetting everything except the fact that she orchestrated the whole thing to frame her husband. But the three of us who were carpooling from Indiana had widely varying book interests and this seemed like a safe bet. Since then, I've read the book three times (it's one of my go to books on Kindle, always downloaded on my phone or tablet, for those moments when you're between books but need something to read at a solo dinner or during a necessary wine and bath and book night), seen the movie countless times (it's surprisingly rewatchable), and listened to the audio book twice, once on the Minneapolis trip and again when my mother and I drove out to Rhode Island a few months ago. There's something about the book that just lends itself to revisiting. And the audio book, I have to say, is excellent. There are two narrators, one for Amy and one for Nick, and they do a great job of it. And that's my history with Gone Girl. I recently joined a meetup group and the first event of interest was a book club on the novel. I've been desperately trying to find a good book club here and was willing to retread on a well-read and well-worn novel just to enjoy it. But reading for a book club made me really analyze the text in a way the generic 'it's a good book, I liked it' take doesn't require. So here are my serious Thoughts and Opinions on Gone Girl, the novel, with occasional film references.

My copy of the book on the beach last week. This copy is almost on its last legs. It's been partially chewed by a rabbit and suffered various drips and drops of many baths. This weekend, it also endured a somewhat serious water bottle spill that may have fully destroyed the spine. I'm going to hang on to it through the book club, then I may have to invest in a new one. Soldier on.

My copy of the book on the beach last week. This copy is almost on its last legs. It's been partially chewed by a rabbit and suffered various drips and drops of many baths. This weekend, it also endured a somewhat serious water bottle spill that may have fully destroyed the spine. I'm going to hang on to it through the book club, then I may have to invest in a new one. Soldier on.

This isn't a discussion on the plot. If you are interested in that, go read the Wikipedia, see the movie, read the damn book already, etc.

When I think of the novel, there are a few themes I keep coming back to that I want to explore here - various forms of role playing, our public personas, what love and marriage should be. And then there are some hodgepodge thoughts and film comparisons. I'm sure these thoughts have been assessed before in some article - the book hit peak popularity four years ago, after all. But I have a book club to prepare and a blog to fill. Book club people, please like me and let's have an interesting discussion.

Here we go!

I'm going to start off with something that really struck me with the book, that the film  attempts but doesn't explore to the extent the original text does - the timing. You are firmly in the recent recession. There's the sudden but not surprising loss of Nick and Amy's jobs as free online content takes over real writers. Nick is especially poetic, espousing how New Yorkers used to be able to making a living as a writer, how there used to be real magazines. How he entered a career that wouldn't exist in eleven years. Coal miners - please get to the place Nick is before you destroy the planet, thanks! My favorite bit during Nick's various inner monologues - his imagery of the Internet, starting out as a pet on a leash in the publishing world. Feed it some kibble, it definitely won't destroy you in your sleep. Ha! But it's not just the job loss. There's also the house itself - Nick and Amy rent a McMansion in his home town, new new new (do I have to remove my soul to enter?) and never inhabited, surrounded by mostly empty houses, built during much sunnier and hopeful times. The big mall, once employing 4000 people, now sits empty and abandoned, nothing to be done about it. It reminds me of all the photo essays we've seen the past few years, empty malls and big box stores, slowly but steadily being taken over by nature, abandoned by the economy or the new Super Wal-Mart down the road. There's the homeless Blue Book Boys and the drug epidemic. All so timely! This is a book that will probably be around for awhile, read by teenagers and college women looking for a break from all that Jane Austen years from now. But the way Gillian Flynn paints the novel, it very clearly takes place in a specific date and time.

I enjoy the book, but one semi-serious quibble: stop shitting all over the Midwest. Flynn is from my old neighbor, Missouri, and spent some time in NYC before settling in Chicago. And I totally get it! Whenever I'm regularly disgusted by something the current administration does or the NRA or education  numbers, I'm reminded, hey, that's where I came from! But also, it's not that bad. You need to chill on the hate, Flynn. Assholes and saints come from everywhere. I'm also a big proponent of the theory that the divide in the country isn't coast/flyover but rather rural/urban. All that being said, I noticed her flyover rancor much more this time and am preparing myself to defend my place of origin at the Book Club. Hey, the Midwest isn't so bad! Also, New England, please welcome me with open arms. For example, Amy bemoans the prevalence of Sam's Club and Costco (though she is pretty accurate - in Indiana, everyone had a membership to one and it did tend to split right along party lines). She can't find a single Midwesterner who likes New York City - either they've visited and decided it 'wasn't for them'  or they've never been and are shocked someone is really from there. Hey! This Midwesterner loves NYC! I'm faux outraged. At one point, Rand goes out of his way to say how ugly Nick's home town is. Sure, big box stores and empty malls aren't pretty, but antique barns and covered bridges and miles and miles of corn are out there, Rand. At one point, Nick says he can't figure Amy out, can't untangle her with his clumsy, bumbling country fingers. This one I'll allow because it's more rural vs urban. And there's what the real 'holy shit, is this a different country' business lies. End my defense of the Midwest rant.

Okay one more semi-serious quibble - the timeline. It's tough to follow, to be honest. Even though every chapter is clearly marked 'xx days gone' or 'xxx days since the return.' And maybe this is intentional, like Nick and Amy are speeding trains colliding. But it was jarring and somewhat confusing. Nick's first few days following her disappearance take literally hundreds of pages, while in that same amount of space Amy's diary describes years. Then she's at the Ozarks only ten days and yet that gets way more coverage than her time at Desi's lake house - which was more than thirty days. And then at some point the Nick and Amy timeline's collide and suddenly the time period that once took us a hundred pages now takes us a couple of chapters. It's jarring and maybe that's the intention. But it was enough I took note and had to write out the numbers.

That's it with the hodgepodge, on to the meat of the thing. One question that keeps popping up: what's marriage for? Any relationship but especially a marriage. At the beginning of the diary entries, Amy talks about being single and enjoying it, even as Amazing Fucking Amy gets fucking married. She looks at all her friends who settled. But then there he is, the rest of her life and suddenly marriage doesn't seem so bad. The book seems to support this idea of maybe not soul mates, but at least people who are arranged just so, so that one person's barbs fits in the other person's holes. Settling doesn't work. It's the taunt that ultimately gets Nick to really stay with Amy, as he imagines life with some boring girl next door, how he'll become his angry dad, thinking - but did you murder for me? Could you do any of the things Amy did? Would you care enough? Be clever enough? Nick even admits at one point he prefers the idea of Andie - the real thing can fall short. And there are the dancing monkeys, a brilliant and scathing retort to those women who beg and implore and nag for their men to continually demonstrate their love. But then Amy, always, turns it into a competition. If he doesn't take out the trash, you lose! If he gets away with fucking the cunt, you lose! And what's the point of being together if you're not the happiest? A central question for Nick, as he chooses between Amy and Andie (did he ever really have a choice?): should your wife/lover/spouse enable you to be who you are or make you be better? Amy: should love come with conditions? Is unconditional love complete and total bullshit? Because Amy totally elevated Nick. She made him above average. In her own words - the bitch who makes him better. And isn't that the point? And boy does it work, as he strives to be the perfect husband. Because if he's anything less, she'll kill him. Or put him in jail. Or leave him and plot some grand plan that puts him in a room with his kid once a week with a state-appointed therapist and guardian. Because only Nick can really be the husband Amy thinks she deserves and vice versa. Their barbs and holes fit just perfectly. They make each other better and isn't that the point of the whole thing.

And then we get to the role playing aspect of the novel, as Amy writes her own version of the events in the novel's final chapters. Nick won't totally acquiesce into the perfect husband? He's still just going through the motions? That's cool, she's got a novel. She'll write the perfect version of Nick, will him into exist. Because what's the difference? Throughout the novel, there's a desire to have the perfect image, whether it's to the public in the novel or to the reader herself/himself. The public image is of serious concern in the book. I'm not sure who Nick is talking to, but when Andie is finally introduced, after several references to a mysterious disposable phone, he says: here is the part where you stop liking me and I become just another lying, cheating bastard, because I have a mistress. It's not just a reveal of this other potential motive, this other imperfection in Nick's life. It's a direct address to the reader and the reader's perception of Nick. Back in the public opinion of the Gone Girl world, Ellen Abbott is introduced, in her most Nancy-Grace-est. She's essential to Amy's plot because if it's not picked up by the national news, what's the point? She fakes a pregnancy not to help her case or punish Nick and her parents but because everyone loves a pregnant woman. Throughout the novel, Nick's constant need to put a good face on things gets him in trouble - lies about who wanted kids and who didn't, his 'don't punch me' smile at the wrong times. And then Amy makes her first real appearance and her hope is that the reader likes Diary Amy, because she was meant to be liked. 135 entries, all written to curry favor with the police, the public, the reader of the book. As Tanner gears up for trial, it's entirely based on the public's opinion of Nick, which isn't great. It's public opinion, based on sound bites and 24/7 news coverage. Nick focuses on Hugh Grant and his hooker, because that turned out so well. His interview is play tested to death, only for Sharon to show up with pins on her dress. Ugliness to make the front look prettier. Later, when she reunites with Desi, Amy only allows herself to cry for two minutes. Anything else and she starts to get ugly. Her moment of true emotion, minimized to paint the right picture. Later, Desi gives her a sweater and turns up the AC and turns on the fireplace, because his mental image of them is perennially in fall. When Nick tries to convince Amy to divorce him, he doesn't appeal to their relationship or lack of love but the story it offers - Amazing Amy, leaves cheating scumbag. Nick and Go don't move forward with their version of the truth because all of them - Tommy, Hilary, Nick - are all less credible than Amy. It's all about who will believe whom. Before Nick's book is squashed, he thinks about selling some fucking tshirts - Team Nick versus Team Amy, Amazing versus Psycho Bitch. The public's perception, the story they tell, that's what matters in the end, that's how Amy figures out who wins.

Meanwhile, in another public display discussion, following her grand return, Nick and Amy pretend to be two people in love. And what's the difference? Their inner turmoil or everyone's take on the couple? Nick, while in his head saying 'come home bitch so I can kill you' pretends to be exactly the husband Amy wants, the husband that gets her to kill Desi and return to him. She falls in love with the version of him that he presents, a reverse of Nick in Act One, as he falls in love with the Amy she creates in her letters to him (you are WITTY and WISE and BRILLIANT). Ultimately, everyone is playing a role. First, Amy pretends to be the wife Nick wants, making him swoon with just the right words. And then he returns the favor. They know each other so well and finally have the impetus to once again put in the effort. As Nick repeatedly says, we've already experienced it all via television or movies or Youtube. Loved one sick and dying? Grey's Anatomy will give you just the right response. Want to see Mount Rushmore? Don't bother. There's a video online that has better angles, lighting, and musical cues to get your emotions manipulated. Nothing is new. When Nick is first interrogated by the police, it seems like a TV show, down to how Gilpin sits. What's real and what's just copying what you saw last night on TBS? Everyone has a part to play, everyone is reading from the same script, nothing is new any more. Nick doesn't behave like the husband is supposed to so he's a suspect. So he scripts his interview with Sharon. Just trying to say the right things, in the right way. Amy herself is always playing a role. Desi's damsel in distress, down to hair color and weight. Nick's battered and put upon wife. And then there's Amy piece de reistance, her Cool Girl rant, which is cruelly undervalued in the film. She beautifully lays out the pathetic Cool Girl - pathetic in that men believe this woman exists and women are willing to be her, not for themselves but for men. And suddenly it all fits into place. Seriously, thanks for Cool Girl, Flynn. Maybe it existed before you, like Darfur references and dead hobo jokes, but thanks for bringing into our vernacular. We needed it.

The plot of the book is maybe perfect. Nick's innocence in the first part of the book is never guaranteed. I wish I could read the book without knowing the twists and turns. He has his dad's rage, at one point assuring the reader that he really can't handle tearful women and oh boy, could Amy confirm THAT. He's way too comfortable with the phrase "fuck you, Amy." He's angry and spending money after his layoff - that shit is bespoke. He turns her into a nag, which she really doesn't want to be (don't worry Diary Amy, we like you). She becomes a problem to him, something that needs to be taken care, that interferes. At least that's how the diary and occasionally Nick present her. Hey, it's all about public perception. There are several iterations of "Nick can't just divorce her." She gets old and loses her money. At one point, Nick is disappointed he didn't get 'dumb cops.' The reader has to ask - why hope for dumb cops? What are you trying to hide? There's the facts - the crime scene is funny, so much blood! But there's also just Nick acting like an idiot, not acting like an upset husband should. He rapes her and beats her and becomes a domestic abuser so easily, almost as easily as he became a cheater after a not so great round with Andie. Amy even tricks Go into thinking he did it! And in Nick's own words - lately she was enough to hurt, a razor-wire knot his bumbling country fingers couldn't handle. And if that's not enough to keep the reading turning the page to figure out what the hell is going on, who can really be trusted, Flynn continually puts the legitimacy of our narrators in question.

Throughout the first chunk of the book, before the big reveal, there are discrepancies between the diary and Nick and other hints at what's to come. Nick mentions Amy crying about pregnancy, which surprises him since she didn't want kids, pages after a diary entry stating the opposite. The New York bed bothers me - in the first chapter, Nick mentions lying in their New York bed. Later, Amy insists they leave it in New York for one of his friends. I can't imagine this is an accident - Flynn does this on purpose. Which is true? At one point in her diary, Amy explicitly mentions that Nick hates an Amy that doesn't exist. I have to imagine this is a scapegoat to the reader (of the book or her diary) to account for any discrepancies. Later, Nick mentions, in passing, taking care of his mom, only pages after Amy insisted he was too busy having fun and Amy did all the lifting for Mama Mo. When he visits Desi, he mentions his nicest suit costs a couple hundred bucks, a far cry from the bespoke designer duds Amy mentions in a New York entry. The first time through, these discrepancies might just confuse the reader or make Nick look guiltier (my heart to read this afresh) but going through this time, it just pings out as well-done writing, little clues all over the place, like Scorsese's visual winks in Shutter Island. Some other bits I loved - in the first or second chapter, Nick mentions Go stealing from the tip jar. Later, we learn this is one of the many sources of the cash that Amy has been stock piling. A lovely and telling detail - Amy really did know Nick. And his relationship with his sister. She eventually manipulates him through three simple letters, knowing just what to say to get him to abandon Andie. And he in turn knows just what to say to get her to literally murder a person to make her way back to him. When Nick visits Desi, he doesn't understand the suicide comments and questions to Rand's behavior, a hint at Amy's lies and duplicity. While gearing up towards the big reveal at the woodshed, Nick and Boney briefly discuss a runaway wife scenario. Which she quickly dismisses for a litany of reasons, all items Amy will discuss in a few pages as part of her big list. 

And one more thought about the book: let's talk about Amy. Nick, sure, fine, whatever. But Amy! She's worthy of a goddamn book. We finally meet the real Amy after pages and chapters of bullshit Diary Amy. And she is totally right - the real Amy is so much more complex and interesting! She mentions the Hopes and it's a perfect encapsulation of Amy - also a throwback to a Nick comment - no he didn't know the story of her name. Everything is about winning and losing to Amy. No, really, everything. Getting Ellen Abbott's attention is a competition. She eventually shows the real Amy to Nick and is so pissed that he prefers the former (here is where we note the irony - she also fully prefers the Nick he was pretending to be for her). And that's when the hate starts. That is when she decides to be Dead Girl, because she's always in vogue, Cool Girl be damned. Or Gone Girl. And boy does she know Nick. At one point she makes a joke, that some criticism is derivative. And chimes in, mentally, Nick would say even to criticize as derivative is derivative. Which he did literally pages before. They might be a version of twisted soul mates. And Flynn quickly introduces us to the real Amy. When she's in the Ozarks, she's perturbed the cops aren't getting there sooner. The real Amy is always waiting on dumb people to catch up. Not getting Cokes for Stucks. Also super helpful: the Massachusetts truck driver story. She's Old Testament God vengeful. Later, she states that she and Nick will have a happy marriage, even if it kills HIM. She gets the last word of the novel, and, hey, she's earned it.

Side note: one thing that concerns me, in addition to the New York bed business, why did she tie her disposable cell phone to the security office? I could see wanting to know when Nick had made it that far. But was it worth it to create any tie to Amy Dunne and the phone? I'm thinking no.

Finally, let's talk about the movie. First, some caveats. I love David Fincher. The Leftovers and the latest round of Fargo have made me incapable of being critical of Carrie Coon. And I like the film! I really, really do. In 2014, I was home the weekend it debuted. Friday night, I drove with my cousins, aunts, moms, sisters, to see it in the nearby town, half an hour away. I did a family weekend. Then, Sunday, when I was back in my city, I saw it again. I, like, really liked the movie. That being said, here are my concerns. First and foremost, Ben Affleck is seriously miscast. Not that he isn't fine in the role.  I'm generally meh on Affleck but he's really fine here. But the description in the book is so jarring. He's supposed to be younger than Amy and have an 80's villain, punchable face. And I'm not feeling it. There are a few changes - no Hannibal, fewer flashbacks. But other parts are word for word. Maybe the stuff Flynn, who wrote the screenplay, was really proud of? For me, besides Affleck, the two biggest changes are Amy's transition and Tanner Bolt. In the book, I feel like her transition from happy wife to sad wife to wife plotting serious revenge is more understood. You, as the reader, are more sympathetic (not that she's not totally crazy in both iterations) to her plight and understand better how she got to where she did. In the film, there seems to be more leaps, making her sympathetic and taking away some of her complexity and agency. In general the film focuses more on Nick than Amy. Guys, it's not Gone Guy. Finally, Tanner Bolt. I don't care how many times he's referred to as a white/orange guy, I'm going to imagine Tyler Perry. I don't particularly like Perry (and as a white woman, I don't think I'm his demographic) and yet there's something about his Tanner Bolt, I can never imagine another. Also, how Nick approaches Tanner and how Tanner comes on board are very different. There's no Hilary Handy, etc.

But hey, you are two fucked up people. And I specialize in fucked up people.

Weekly Roundup, June 2nd

Here we go again.

Three months into my Rhode Island move and so far the food is one of the best parts.

Three months into my Rhode Island move and so far the food is one of the best parts.

Slate has a compilation of film scenes and the painting that inspired them. All are really lovely and I mostly just want more.

- In good news, Vox reports that abortion hit an all-time low. Thanks, Obama. Similarly, Salon revisits TV's questionable history of discussing the controversial topic.

- Hillary Clinton gives her first big interview since the election. I recommend reading it when President Bigly is not on a Twitter rant unless you're a masochist. In the same vein, Buzzfeed talks to the thirty year old who goes through all those Clinton letters, offering an insight into Clintonworld post-2016.

- Let's get technical for a minute: Wired offers the oral history of the hashtag (hashtag blessed) and Android's next big thing (to sum up: CTRL C + CTRL V).

- For your weekend entertainment, Pajiba ranks Netflix original series. Be warned - last weekend I wallowed in a Kimmy Schmidt hole that I mostly regret. NYT gives their summer reading list. I recently joined a book club and, for it, read A Man Called Ove. And by read, I mean gobbled up in a weekend. Check it out but bring tissues.

- More importantly, the finale of the Leftovers is this weekend. Eventually I'll get around to a post on this show but it's one of the best I've seen in years, maybe since The Sopranos or Mad Men. It's beautiful and inventive and spontaneous. I'm going to miss it, and Justin Theroux, so much. Uproxx looks at its best moments. Fuck, I'm going to miss this show so much.

- Finally, some political roundups. Real talk, I'm still pissed about that Paris bullshit. But that's not all! Here's a look at the loneliness of trump. I especially like the Great Gatsby reference. Very apt.

Bossypants

One thing I have learned: book clubs on Meetup are mostly bullshit. In the past few weeks, since moving to the East Coast, I have thrown myself into Meetup with a fervor, forcing my inner introvert to shut up and deal with it. Last week, I went to a book club meetup to discuss Bossypants. The day before, I had spent hours quickly rereading the book. I took notes and marked passages. Then I show up at the book club, only to spend the next three hours listening to grown women yell at each other about planning next month's book club and to also fantasize about trips to Disney World and to repeatedly say the phrase "T-I-Double-Gger." It was embarrassing, honestly. I'm not judging adult Disney fans because right after this, I met up with another professional adult female friend to see Beauty and the Beast. Afterwards, at dinner, we talked about the film and had a more intelligent conversation in the ten minutes while we were waiting for drinks about the movie than I had witnessed in the three hours I was at that "book club." According to my friend, she tried several book clubs when she first moved here and found the same thing: high on personal drama, low on actual discussion of the book.

Okay, end meetup book club rant. Now, let's talk about the book! I should talk about it with someone, after all. I first read Bossypants a few years ago. While getting ready for a business trip to Las Vegas, I picked it up at the airport bookstore as something to read. For me, Bossypants is always going to be associated with a pool and margaritas after leaving the conference early. Sorry, Tina Fey. I remember enjoying the book. But can you really be critical while hanging out in Vegas for a week on the company's dime? Side note, the conference was about Agile Software Development and I learned stuff, really! But you know when you can be critical? When reading it the day before your first book club, when you think you'll be having a good discussion and you want to impress the other women with your insights.

And here is my next confession: I really, really didn't like it this second time. Maybe it's just the timing (does her humor fit in to the 2017 world?) or the medium (maybe she should stick to TV or maybe I should have listened to the audiobook instead). There was something about her writing that seemed desperate, like she was trying very hard to be funny with every sentence. Everything felt forced and not at all natural. Everything was a comparison to running a television show which, surprisingly, was not something I, an engineer, could relate to! She also went on for way too long about the Sarah Palin stuff and I am just not in the mood to revisit that right now. And then there was the random bit where she responded to emails. It felt like her agent said she really needed another chapter and this is what she pulled out at the eleventh hour.

But that being said, I think I found it most effective when there were insights or pieces of pseudo advice. When the writing was less about comedy and more about the message. Like when you knew you were a woman or reflecting on your first period or identifying the things about yourself that have been labeled deficiencies but that you actually like.

She was also good at creating people. She refers to her college boyfriend as someone who swore to wear a shell necklace until Apartheid ended. Yep, we all know that guy. She mentions crying in college because she listened to "I Will Always Love You" and didn't associate it with anyone. Jesus, that's real and more effective than any of her jokes.

She's extremely self-deprecating, which I appreciate because that is 99% of my humor. She talks about being a woman in comedy. While it might not get a Vanity Fair cover, I went to a school that was 78% male and I work in an industry with about the same ratio, so that hit home for me as well. There are only so many roles for women, so many spots. It creates a competition for women and her reflection on the changing role of women in comedy was the book's most personal and also most effective bits.

Some other random advice I flagged with a Post-It note: the show doesn't go on because it's ready, it goes on because it's 11:30. My new company is super Agile so I might put this on a board somewhere. It's just a nice sentiment. Shit isn't always perfect, whether it's a sketch comedy show or a design document. Do your best and meet your deadline. I like it!

Another idea that was interesting: school tells you when to leave. You graduate and move on, whether it's high school or college. There's a clear progression. How to decide to leave SNL? How to decide to leave the cushy job you've had for six years and move to a state where you don't know anyone? Good questions, Tina, good questions.

I'm going to end on a throwaway bit that wasn't very personal to me but still funny and true and a very different take on things:

Photoshop is good. It's easier, safer, and cheaper than surgery.

Pop Culture: In Flight Edition

Part of my expat agreement includes one trip home for personal reasons. I used mine this past week. There will be a separate post on the trip but a trip home means, in total, 20 hours in a plane and almost that long in an airport. Plenty of time for movies and books!

First up, movies, with a bit of HBO thrown in at the end.

The Nice Guys: In the vain of In Bruges and the Travolta/Jackson bits of Pulp Fiction, we have the wrong-side-of-the-law version of a buddy cop comedy, with lots of violence and cursing. It's a fun movie, with plenty of twists and turns. The seventies setting gives us a chance to see Ryan Gosling in hilarious and horrible facial hair and both he and his partner, Russel Crowe, in disastrous fashion. It's a bit noir, a bit procedural. It's one of those movies that won't, and shouldn't, get a lot of love at awards time but it's probably going to be popping up on cable, Netflix, and airports for years to come. There's something re-watchable about it, comforting. It didn't get much attention when it first came out but I imagine, as it gets to the aforementioned venues, the word of mouth will start to improve. Check it out when it comes your way. And one final comment - the version I saw had all the curse words edited (but not the violence or nudity) so there was a lot of 'freaking's and 'dingus's thrown around. It took me out of the movie a few times, so maybe find an unedited one, though maybe they'll improve the dubbing by the time it makes its way to TBS.

The Lobster: If I hadn't read a review of this movie, I would have ignored it. But knowing a bit about the plot (single people get turned into animals if they can't find a companion, basically), I had to check it out. It's an odd film but I couldn't shut up about it. I explained the plot a half dozen times while I was home, in whatever conversation I could shoe-horn it into. It's a fascinating idea, providing commentary on society's focus on relationships. I especially appreciated it when I was home and my grandmother could only think to ask me whether or not I'd met a boy in Germany yet. But hey, at least I don't have to turn into a horse for reaching thirty unmarried. The film is bleak but also humorous. Also, if anyone is looking at an excuse to laugh at a kid getting kicked in the shin, this is it.

Neighbors 2: I really enjoyed the first movie. And the second movie is basically a Mad Libs version of the first, replacing 'fraternity' with 'sorority' and adding more babies. If you liked the first one, you will like the second. The feminism is super blatant, so anyone who thought the female Ghostbusters ruined their childhood need not apply. It was a little overhanded at times, but given how sexist the sorority and fraternity systems are, we can use some obviousness. I was in a sorority in college and so much of this hit close to home. The dumb party and alcohol rules. The strict codes that are nowhere to be found for the guys. At first I was annoyed that the girls started a new sorority - just get an apartment off campus and call it a day! - but I get it. I like knowing that I always have a place at my alma mater, whether it's a stay at the house or stopping by the Tri Delta tent at Homecoming. Having a family and all that. But also wanting to have wine while watching The Girls Next Door and have a party without dealing with dumb frat boys. One more comment - this one was also edited and the dildo baby Stella kept playing with was blurred out. Honestly, it made the gag more funny.

Me Without You: It was part my lack of sleep the two nights previous, part the jet lag, but I tried watching this movie twice on my flight back to Germany and fell asleep both times. Emilia Clarke, your eyebrows are adorable but it wasn't enough.

WestWorld: Brief foray into TV now. I spent my first day back from Germany on my couch, exhausted and with a huge to do list but not wanting to move. Honoring a promise to my brother, I binged the first three episodes of HBO's next big thing. I don't have real thoughts this early into the series. It doesn't seem to know yet what it's really trying to say or even which characters we're supposed to be rooting for. But the world-building has been impressive so far and I like how the humans interact with the robots. The world outside Westworld honestly interests me more. I want to know more about that. But overall I'm enjoying the show. That aside, my biggest reaction so far is questions. Why the West? Are there other worlds out there exploring other eras, like in the movie it's based on? What do the hosts think of planes? Do they see planes? Is Westworld a no fly zone? How do they prevent harm to guests besides shooting? Is there some type of panic button they give the guests? Also, how do other guests know it's a guest or host? The guns aside, what is preventing a guest from raping another guest, mistaking her for a host? Stabbing another guest? Is that picture really the first anachronistic thing to make it into westworld? Do guests really give up their cell phones? How far in the future are we? This awesome new technology is really just used for a theme park? Would westworld really be any fun, just watching other people shoot at each other? How did that one guest transition from his dressing room to the train so easily? Also, is it that cost efficient to have so many bespoke clothing and hat options for each guest? How long do guests stay in westworld? Wouldn't they need to bring luggage? Okay, that's enough of that.

Next: books! I was a bit lazy here and only read two, though I started In the Garden of the Beasts in paperback and started a re-read of To Kill a Mockingbird on my Kindle app.

The Good Girl: This book is really not perfect. The story line is a little silly and I hated the tacked-on ending. But I also read the whole thing in one day, which I don't think I've done since college. I just couldn't put it down. The romance is believable and there's chemistry between the characters. The central mystery is interesting and different from the usual romantic drama plots. It tries really hard to be Gone Girl in that respect and it's just not. None of the characters are as complex or interesting as Amy Dunne and the writings not as good but that's okay. It's perfect for a long plane ride or a beach.

In Cold Blood: This is the opposite of that. I don't recommend this on a beach. Maybe a plane.