cinema

When I first started my journey through reading 52 books this year, I only had one criteria that I thought needed to be sated: did I enjoy the book or not? This is the simplest, most direct way of deciding whether or not a book is “worth” your time usually.

But, as with many things I do, it’s become more complicated than that as the weeks have bore on. For everything that I do in my life, there seems to be an ever changing criteria sheet which I use to make value-based judgements on my performance. I believe I inherited this from my father. The 52 books challenge has been no exception, and of late I would probably afford myself a C. Despite being proud of how my writing is progressing, I think my main concern was immediately noticing how I was following a set pattern.

The structure is as follows:

> I didn’t know if I’d like this novel or not.

> But I did end up liking this novel.

> Clever one liner for personality flare and points for style.

> Light analysis unsupported by evidence.

> “Ultimately I liked this novel but it might not be for you, I don’t know.”

Knowing your structure isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to writing, but for me the fact is that I’m essentially saying the same thing for each book. Perhaps the pitfall with reviews is that we get caught into that trap of deciding whether or not a book is good enough in our opinion to be worth someone else’s time on a grand scale. That is, I’m tasking myself with the responsibility of deciding whether or not a book is suited to everyone who may or may not read my reviews.

The answer to the question of if a lot of people will like something is almost always going to be yes. When you try to wrap a piece of literature into a neat package of objectively “good” or “bad”, it almost always ends up being good unless it’s a complete train wreck.

Besides that, for as much as I talk about avoiding homogenising culture, literature, society, etc., I end up homogenising my own content in following my review structure. This is the final irony which does not escape me.

In my life as an under grad I got to a point where it was less about whether a text was “good” or “bad”, or if the story was enjoyable or not. Every part of the process was enjoyable for me. When you penetrate a certain level of analysing literature, it becomes less about the thing as a whole and more about tiny pockets of what it is that you’re looking at.

Recently, I read a fabulous Musing from Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha on my WordPress reader. In his Musing, he reflects on the need to approach people’s actions as neither “good” nor “bad”, and rather to approach them instance by instance. I of course, being me, misread this entirely and for whatever reason thought he was talking about books at first glance. This is the price I pay for constantly being focussing on creating content: many things are slipping through the gaps unless they appear immediately relevant. I’m learning to closely re-read again, little by little.

I think that the advice given in Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha’s musing can be applied to what it is that I’m trying to do. Perhaps it’s time to not look at each book as another point towards my end goal. My reading chops are back up enough again that I don’t need to look at the big picture of a novel anymore, and I can take the time to appreciate all the little parts of it that make it interesting or compelling.

We’re in a constant state of evolution and appraising what we can do better. Or at least, I know that I function that way. And so I find myself in the wonderful position of loving everything I am learning through this process, getting to read a lot of great books, and getting better and better at my craft in my own eyes.

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I’m really glad that I didn’t stipulate needing to have necessarily started the novel in order for it to count when I committed to the 52 books challenge. I’m going to get this out of the way early: Devil in the White City is taxing on the brain, and I don’t mean this in a negative way. Like most historical accounts, this is a very content heavy book. Where I usually fly through fiction, I was reading at a much slower pace to comprehend all the information that was being thrown at me. If not for this challenge, I probably would’ve taken another leisurely two years to finish the book.

I’ve never really been drawn in by the H.H. Holmes mythos – like most people, he isn’t the first person I think about when I think about true crime. In some ways I think his crimes were too horrific to be sensationalised by the media. They go past the point of being just the right level of horrifying and err more on the side of making me feel sick in my tum tum. I probably wouldn’t have picked this book if not for both Last Podcast on the Leftand My Favourite Murder raving about it. Ironically, despite my love of true crime, it was actually learning about the development of the Chicago World Fair that really sucked me into this story. I didn’t know I needed to know that much about Chicago soil, but I enjoyed learning about it none the less.

Ultimately, to me this isn’t really a book about either of the main male figures – H.H. Holmes and Daniel Hudson Burnham – in isolation. I don’t really think it’s even a book about what they achieved. Rather, I think this is a book about how consumerism and greed came to grip a nation in the American century (if you subscribe to the British century being the 1800s and the American century being the 1900s). It’s an ode to the great American past time of dreams and greed, and violence.

No facet of the American dream cannot exist in isolation. In order to have achieved the American dream, you must have fallen victim to its less desirable qualities.  Devil in the White City is an account of the different faces of the American psycho – the incessant need to destroy and rebuild, and the draw of greed, fame, and infamy alike. Holmes and Burnham are pitted against each other as representative of the American dream. Where Holmes represents the greed, violence, and mania that has plagued American identity, in turn Burnham represents the reach for glory, fame, and accomplishment.

Continuing on with my, “everything comes back to Gatsby” theory of American literature, it is easy to see the circumstances in which characters like Jay Gatsby were created. Devil in the White City is an account of the lengths a man will go to in order to achieve their dreams – whether that is to run the most successful world fair, or to create a murder hotel to kill young women in. Maybe, after all is said and done, this is what makes it so engaging. It is in our nature to need to succeed, and maybe we’re always doomed to be drawn in and revolted by the lengths people will go to achieve their dreams.

Would I recommend you read this book? Well, it really depends. Do you have a lot of time on your hands? Are you a patient person? Do you think you could sit through hundreds of pages explaining how the heating system was used in the world fair, not to mention the pages all about the soil types of Chicago, and still find it exhilarating? If you answered yes to these questions, I’d recommend reading it. If not, then I’d probably just wait for the movie or listen to a podcast series about it. I recommend the Last Podcast treatment.

On a final note, here are a few of the fun things I learned from this book: Pabst got the blue ribbon from the Chicago World Fair, there was one case of “extreme flatulence” recorded as an ailment resulting from the fair, and the fair was host to the largest Ferris wheel built to date at the time. Most people assumed it was going to result in tragedy.

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Well, here we are: 2019.

I made the decision a long, long time ago to not touch this website until I had a better idea of what direction I actually wanted it to go in. I’ve gotten burned out with writing fiction if I’m honest; my heart isn’t really in it as much as I think it probably needs to be in order to be successful. Call me an old fashioned stiff, but I think if I’m going to do something I should either do it with my heart or not do it at all.

Upon taking the time reflect on what I had originally wanted this website to be for me, and thinking about what kind of writer I wanted to be, it was never about fiction. Rather, my joy comes from the art of intelligent discourse about such frivolous topics as pop culture and media in general. If I’m honest with myself I think it’s always been there, though the allure of being a fiction writer is surely quite a hard one to resist.

Growing up, when I thought about fiction writers, I saw them as representative of reaching a higher level of intelligence; of knowing the secrets of the world and human behaviour that mere mortals do not possess. Maybe I’m too old (lmfao), or a little bit jaded, maybe both, maybe neither, but that image of a writer has been disillusioned for me. Not because I think fiction writers aren’t all those things, but because I’d assumed a level of arrogance and superiority came with it. Every time I meet a fiction writer, I am meeting someone who presents their own window into the world and has the grace to share it, along with the humility of someone who I suspect may have been born without an ego.

Anyway, as most of you know I probably have double the amount of ego I should  have, which makes me perfect for writing opinion pieces!

So in 2019 the content I am bringing is more focussed on my musings of pop culture and literature, and less to do with my own creative works. Who knows, I might come back to them one day. Then again, I said the same thing in 2009 about wearing band shirts and listening to metal that boys liked. Needless to say, now I wear a tropical fantasy wardrobe with every colour of the rainbow and listen to Lady Gaga.

Who knows.

This year I’m doing my best to fulfil the 52 book challenge. One of my favourite things to do in 2013 when I was deep into writing novels was to read blogs that took the challenge upon themselves. I loved to read other people’s opinions on things, and found myself exposed to a lot of things I otherwise wouldn’t have been. In fact, not for the first time in my life, I fell really in love with blogs and the writing on them. I’ve been reading blogs since I was 13, and I still love and defend it as its own art form.

Over the coming weeks I’m going to start uploading an extended piece on each book I’ve read thus far, one at a time, at a pace of my liking. I’m also going to provide my commentary of different things going on in the media – from pop culture contributions to critiquing controversial advertising and so on.

Thanks for all being here on this journey with me.

From Paris (it’s pronounced “Brisbane”) with love,

Remi.

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In many instances of my life, I find myself towing a very frustrating line. Film is one of the greatest joys in my life – from a very young age it has been a place of refuge and entertainment alike. As a part of the human condition, I seek myself in film, trying to find the parts that I can relate to, and the parts that help me to not only understand myself but also those around me. However, in loving film, I am also faced with the parts of film that I do not like. The parts that make me question whether it is okay to like a film, even if it has parts that are not agreeable to me.

 

From around the same age, I have been abundantly aware of the inequalities between men and women as a result of being the poster child of gender confusion (credit for that title: The L Word). Many, many times as a child, I was faced with situations where I thought to myself, wait a minute, so boys can do that but I can’t? This is some bullshit. In being a tomboy, the double standards that girls face on a daily basis were especially grating for me.

 

As a result, I was hyper critical of all media between the ages of 17 – 21, before throwing in the towel to try and enjoy certain films just for being fun. It isn’t so much that I didn’t see the issues; it is more that I am emotionally exhausted. It is 2018 and I still see an abundance of misrepresentation (or complete late of representation) for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other people who belong to minority groups.

It is tiring to have to explain to people time and time again why it matters to me to see LGBTQ+ characters. It is tiring to have to explain why I take issue with misrepresentation of women. It is tiring to have to explain to people that I don’t take issue with representation of men; it is just that I want to see other representations too. Simply put, I am tired and more often than not misunderstood by people who don’t wish to understand.

 

The fact of the matter of this: I had a lot of fun watching Mission Impossible: Fallout (MI:F herein) and enjoyed the film for exactly what it was – a thrill ride. It was entertaining, tapping into our primal love of violence, sex, and an underdog story. There’s no getting past that fact. It was a fun movie.

 

MI:F didn’t sit quite right with me, still. I’m not blind to the fact that I only really consume media with guaranteed representations of the groups I belong to, and I’m also understanding of the fact that it is the job of the media to tell many stories, not only my stories.

 

Still, MI:F came as somewhat of a shock to me – and it reminded me of why I started paying attention to representation in the media in the first place. MI:F is essentially the story of a straight white man saving the world and getting his pick of women. Perhaps this is why I take such issue with this film – the seeming lack of emotional fallout that would be an issue in any other film.

 

Within the film, we see the main character (Ethan Hunt, an unfortunate moniker) with his first love interest, Elsa, then the second, the White Widow, and the third, Julie. I actually found myself laughing at something I wasn’t supposed to, that I’m not sure the filmmakers caught; Elsa and Julie essentially look and act like the same person. They are both the saviour for Ethan – the female character there to lick his wounds, love him unconditionally, and act as a prize at the end of the film.

 

I suppose this takes me to the crux of why the film didn’t sit right with me; why, despite the fact I was enjoying it, I had a bad taste in my mouth. Women in this film are footnotes and are interchangeable. They’re simply objects that Ethan has access to at whim. They are essentially all the same character with different hair colours to indicate easily to the audience what kind of person they are based on familiar tropes. The brunette love interests (Elsa and Julie) = caring loving figures who are madly in love with Ethan. The blonde love interest (The White Widow) = the girl who just wants to bang Ethan, who acts as the femme fatale element and the sexually charged figure of the film.

 

These female characters are a call back to the Madonna/Whore dichotomy that I haven’t had to overtly consume for quite some time. The fact is that all of these characters serve to act as a two dimensional love interest for Ethan. We see all of the typical tropes of female representation in films that I had assumed were extinct.

 

The only outlier in this film is the White Widow, but she still has the same behaviour when it comes to Ethan Hunt. She kisses Ethan, but then when it serves the plot, disappears and her behaviour has no consequence. And because she is the character with arguably the most sexual encounter with Ethan, she does not qualify for his love, because we all know that women who want sex are not proper women and, therefore, do not get the man.

 

Ethan has intimate moments with these women, with no emotional repercussions from any of them. He quite literally flicks between them at will, and none of them seem to care. Ethan himself never indicates interest in them overtly either, and none of them care.

 

The issue I see here is this representation of women as being at a man’s whim. There are all strong, intelligent women, who seem unaffected by the fact that Ethan comes and goes as he pleases in their lives. Even when they see moments of intimacy shared between Ethan and a woman, they are completely nonplussed. Their lack of emotional reaction renders them objects of desire for Ethan, and represents a toxic model that I thought was no longer in vogue: the model of a man being in complete control of the women around him, being allowed to do as he pleases, while the women wait for their turn.

 

Look, again, I liked the film. It was fun. And maybe I’m just sour grapes because there realistically weren’t any characters that I could identify with aside from Benji. But what I got from this experience is that ignoring the problematic parts of the media I consume doesn’t serve any purpose for me, and in being able to acknowledge the problematic parts of MI:F I’m able to once again get in touch with why it is important to be critical of media.

 

We can’t be mindless consumers, for the same reason we can’t be passive bystanders when we see bad things happening. Unless we are critical of our media, even when we enjoy it, things don’t change, and we don’t learn anything.

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Seriously Carrie, wtf

I have been watching Sex and the City since the ripe old age of 14. Watching Sex and the City was always something that made me feel very grown up (I was and am not), as if I were getting ahead of the game in terms of maturity and understanding of the way the world worked (I still don’t get it). I have watched the series at least 4 times over by now – the only program I have watched more times is Seinfeld.

 

Blindly, for ten years, I have followed the dating advice of a television show that at one point ran out of bizarre sexual fetishes to showcase. As a fourteen year old, watching Carrie Bradshaw bumble through terrible relationships, I thought to myself, I understand this entirely and I am an adult, and also, this is real love that I am seeing. Watching Sex and the City has simultaneously been one of the straightest and gayest activities I have ever engaged in, and is probably in some part responsible for the fact that I have always wanted to be a writer.

 

But this afternoon as I tried to wash out the violet pigment shampoo that stained my hands and hair time after time, I couldn’t help but wonder – why did Carrie find it so easy to rinse and remove her stains before going right back into making the same mistake over and over again?

 

I present to you my case in point: Carrie Bradshaw exists in a state of purgatory for the entirety of the series, including the films. She is doomed to continue repeating her mistakes, and cannot move on to heaven or hell.

 

Exhibit A: Kurt Harrington

 

Right from the get-go of the series, Carrie sets the stage for us with Kurt Harrington. In the very first episode, upon seeing Kurt, she allows the audience into her past follies and fallacies.

 

“It was Kurt Harrington. A mistake I made when I was 26, 29, and 31.”

 

So, Carrie is self-aware – she has made the mistake before. This first episode sets up a premise that we are lead to believe is the truth. Carrie seizes her power, has sex without emotion with Kurt, and goes on her merry way. She is done with repeating her mistakes – she’s ready for real love.

 

Except that she walks right into her next mistake – Big.

 

Exhibit B: Mr. Big

 

I consider Mr. Big to be the worst of the worst. With the benefit of 20+ years since the original airing of Sex and the City, it’s clear to the audience that Mr. Big is a serial user who doesn’t really care about anything or anyone. I hold Mr. Big, at least in part, responsible for a generational acceptance and endurance of subhuman treatment, because that’s what you do for real love, isn’t it?

 

No Carrie Bradshaw.

 

And yet, I was promised by Carrie in an unspoken contract that she was done with the mistakes of her past. She liberated herself from Kurt, didn’t she? Hadn’t she learned her lesson, that once a relationship is done, it’s done? Didn’t Nick Carraway tell us we can’t repeat the past?

 

Not Carrie “Gatsby” Bradshaw. Repeat the past? Why, of course you can.

 

Throughout the entire series, Mr. Big is held up as representative of everything that Carrie wants. No matter how many times they leave each other, no matter how many times she asserts that she’s learned how to be strong now and that she was a different person, she keeps going back. She reverts to being the same person, waiting on Big to call and be ready for her.

 

Exhibit C: Sweet Cinnamon Roll Aidan

 

I have no complaints for Aidan. I always told myself that he was the kind of man I would grow up to marry, something that I still laugh gently to myself about today.

 

But even when graced with the chance to date Aidan (yadda yadda yadda if it’s not right it’s not right I gET IT that’s not my point), Carrie fucks her shit up by going back to Big. Then she goes back to Aidan. Then back to Big.
So not only is Carrie repeating the pattern, but she’s now repeating the pattern two-fold.

 

Exhibit D: Burger

 

Seriously, I think I’ve said enough.

 

You know, literature is supposed to teach us something about the human condition, and when it’s done well it achieves this. I always thought Sex and the City was a television show about how no matter what, true love finds a way. I bought into the Big and Carrie narrative, because we’re conditioned to accept less from people when it comes to dating. Lack of communication is a labour of love, and you should accept it if your significant other drops off the face of the planet without explanation. If they leave you, they’re just not ready, and so you should wait for them to be ready.

 

The same messages about what real love is that I brought into have been flipped on their head. Carrie and Big aren’t a success story; they’re a cautionary tale. No matter what happens, Carrie continues to circle purgatory, unable to stop making the mistakes of lovers past and move forward to get what she deserves. Carrie tells us,

 

“I am someone who is looking for real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t live without each other love.”

 

But time and time again, she accepts less and less. And so, dear audience, I argue that we have been watching Sex and the City wrong – that we must learn from Carrie’s mistakes when she can’t.

 

And as I sat here, sitting alone in my apartment writing another article for my website, I couldn’t help but wonder – why was this life never enough for Carrie?

As seen in my love letter to Hereditary (2018), I hold the horror genre to a particularly high standard. Of any given weekend, I will usually spend a good hour lurking the internet like a lower level bottom feeder looking at lists of what people deem to be their favourite horror films, before usually eventually reneging to watching reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race, or one of the following films.

Two things: although it goes without saying, Hereditary will not feature on this list, purely because I gave the film its own whole article some time ago. Additionally, my main criteria for this list was whether or not I’ve had multiple viewings of these films and still enjoyed them.

The Shining (1980)

 

Being a consummate Stephen King fan, watching The Shining is a little bit of a treat for me. I once discussed with my English Literature lecturer how the film is atmospherically different enough from the original narrative that it feels like an extension of the novel universe. This film appeals to my need to be subtly creeped out while confronted with all the terrible parts of humanity. Every time I’ve watched it, I’ve noticed something different.

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The Uninvited (2009)

 

I was 16 the first time I watched this film, and I watched it almost exclusively because it had Emily Browning in it. This was much the same for the second viewing. However, by the third viewing, I thought to myself, damn, this movie is actually really entertaining. Also, I hope I’m not gay.

Don’t get me wrong – I was definitely gay, and The Uninvited is very much a late 2000s horror film in terms of tropes and themes. However, it offers something more than that, and was a genuinely good watch.

Pro-tip:Don’t see this film with someone who’s already seen the film. I made that mistake and 20 minutes into the film my friend asked, “wait a minute, isn’t this the film where…”

Yes it is, and now that I know that I will never get to experience the joy of the ending organically. Thanks, dickhead.

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Let Me In (2010)

Let Me Inis my wildcard for this list. I don’t really feel like it’s exclusively horror, although it has horror themes. It deals with issues that are quite compelling, and presents what I found to be a really unique representation of the awkwardness of adolescence. I typically really hate vampire films because I find them corny and overplayed, but this film was different. While it was released during the vampire film hype, it doesn’t rely on the tropes of the time with a heavy hand, and doesn’t let trend get in the way of good cinema. This is on this list less because it’s a good horror film, and more just because it’s a really good film.

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Photo Credits:

https://geektyrant.com/news/alternate-endings-revealed-for-stanley-kubricks-the-shining-and-why-they-were-changed

<https://pin.it/5cw46ujuprpuuj&gt;

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0169lsv

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I have a lifelong love affair with horror. However, as much as I love it, my relationship with the genre has been plagued with periods of animosity followed by dizzying spells of happiness, and ultimately crushing disappointment.

I still remember my first brush with horror. The first two horror films I ever saw were Anaconda (1997) and Scary Movie 3 (2003), after both of which I had chronic nightmares. I was exhilarated. I have since been informed these films are in fact classified as comedy.

But that’s not the point. The point is, I was hooked.

As an adult, however, I simply don’t scare as easily. A jump scare may tickle me and briefly make me feel optimistic, but I’m mostly immune to scares. I’ve felt like I exist in Ezra Pound’s The Bath-Tub– having to tell horror through water devoid of warmth and full of wrinkled skin, it’s not you, it’s me.

But I was wrong. It wasn’t me – it was them.

I’m not into hysteria when it comes to the quality of pop culture, art, and so on. I simply don’t believe that artistic expression is as watered down as people seem to think it is. I have faith in the creativity of human beings. I roll my eyes at “back in my day” sentiments, knowing full well that this is simply nostalgia at play. Have you ever tried to watch something you genuinely enjoyed as a child again? Usually, what you are faced with is a bland predictable narrative designed to sell you toys, and a second hand embarrassment for your younger self.

When it comes to horror, however, I’ve been put through the ringer enough times over these past few years. A lover burned, I’m no longer open to just any promise of fright that walks through my door. I look down on new releases time and time again, uttering with complete malice, “I know your type.”

But not you, Hereditary. True, I was sceptical, but I was wrong. My standards aren’t too high. I can expect actual scares AND a compelling narrative.

Every piece of Hereditary feels purposeful and curated. The soundtrack works perfectly with the visuals. The film is a tour de force. From the opening scene I was pulled into the narrative world, where my lack of knowledge was perfectly balanced with the amount of information they gave away. Where characters felt like real people, experiencing real horror. The film’s depiction and handling of my favourite literary term – the transgenerational phantom – was satisfying, instead of feeling tacked on and cheap. The film had heart – the characters were all of us, dealing with loss, familial conflict, and demonic possession. I for one can relate.

Hereditary, I believe in horror again because of you. Even now, several weeks after seeing the film, it’s on my mind. I’m still reading about it. I’m still talking about it. I’m in love.

Do yourself a favour: don’t bother with people who don’t text you back, get enough sleep for yourself, and watch this damn film.

Photo Credit:

<https://www.flickr.com/photos/89191738@N00/27564342187/&gt;