Unreview: Doctor Sleep

 

In 1980, I was twelve years old, reading the books my father brought home and stuck on a small shelf in our living room. There were never more than five or six, but all of them were big. My dad likes to read, but he reads very slowly, and he likes to enjoy books, he likes savoring them. That’s how I got my hands on Dune. My dad was reading it, taking his time. I read it in a weekend. That was one of the few things my father and I shared: reading big, heavy books.

One day, he brought home a book called The Stand by a fellow named Stephen King. It was the first edition paperback with the creepy blue cover, the picture of a half-man, half-bird staring out at you from a dark sky. I read that book over the course of a couple days and went to the library looking for more. I found ‘Salem’s Lot and loved it. I found The Dead Zone and loved it (still my favorite King book). And then I found The Shining. Of all the books King has written, that one scared me. Generally, literature doesn’t scare me, but The Shining had me up at night. And it wasn’t the ghosts. It was the thought of being locked in an old hotel with a creature that used to be my father, chasing me with a roque mallet. That’s what scared me. Now, my father never laid a hand on me, but his temper got the better of him from time to time. And as much as I loved him, I was also scared of him. And King knew exactly how to tap into that love/fear children have for their parents, especially when alcohol gets hold of them.

When I saw the trailers for the movie version, I knew I had to see it. I was a fresh convert to the Cult of King and I wanted to see my favorite writer’s images on the big screen. Back in those days, our movie theater had two screens with the concession stand in between them. The left screen was for G and PG movies and the right screen was for PG and R. My friends and I had a way to get into the R movies. We’d buy tickets for the left theater, go into the men’s bathroom on the right side of the lobby, then sneak into the right theater. It worked one hundred percent of the time. The theater owner either didn’t look or didn’t care. That’s how I saw Conan the Barbarian and Alien. And on that Saturday afternoon, I was going to see my main man Steve King’s creepy novel about ghosts, alcohol and abuse.

I was twelve. Sitting in the theater, a victim of all the dirty tricks Kubrick used in that movie. Kubrick’s manipulations are subtle and genius. One of the most brilliant was the abrupt murder of a character who lives in the book, who is key to the ending. Once that happened, I cried. I mean, I @#$%ing cried. And after that moment, when Nicholson slowly rises up into the camera’s view, that smile on his face, looking directly into the camera, I heard exactly what Kubrick wanted me to hear.

Yeah, you’ve read the book. That’s cute. Now, you have no idea what’s going to happen next.

Since then, I’ve seen it probably one hundred times since that first time, shivering in the darkness. I’ve studied the movie from beginning to end, nearly memorized it. And I know King hated the film and his fans are divided about it. I love both of them. They’re different creatures with different endings. Both were designed by masters of their craft to scare me, and both succeeded. Damn, did they both succeed.

So, when I heard King was writing a sequel to The Shining, I got excited. While I’m no longer a huge fan of his work (I love his prose, his characters, and hate-hate-hate his endings), I looked forward to what he promised: a look at Danny Torrance at 40. He promised the cycle of alcoholism and violence. And while I was suspicious of the ending, I decided to pick up the book and read it all the way to the end.

I didn’t make it.

Around page 150, I got bored. The plot hadn’t even started yet. He was jumping around between multiple characters and it seemed Dan Torrance was the least important and least interesting. I didn’t care about his gypsy vampires, I didn’t really care about the little girl with magic powers…

Okay, I have to explain something.

In The Shining, Danny’s “power” emerges in subtle ways. He can’t “push” people nor can he start fires (like Andy McGee and his daughter, Charlie). He’s just hyper sensitive to things most people don’t notice. In Doctor Sleep, the little girl (subtly called “Abra,” as in “Abracadabra,” you know) has magic powers. She’s a wizard. She has telepathy, telekinesis, astral projection, psychometry… I mean, she’s really Doctor Strange. And honestly, it turned me off. I didn’t like it.

Also, I felt that I knew what was coming. The plot was so clear: Dan Torrance gets himself clean so he can protect a magic girl from psychic gypsy vampires. And yeah, I know the tale is in the telling, and King’s plotting isn’t his strong suit, but this time, I felt I knew where it was going and didn’t see any turns or twists in the road. So, I got on Wikipedia, checked out the Plot header for the book and read what I suspected. Yeah, that’s exactly what I suspected. Okay, don’t need to read this one. I dropped the book off at my local used book store.

So, you may ask, Faithful Reader, why I went to see the movie?

Well, I like the director. I like Ewan McGregor. In fact, I thought the casting was pretty smart. I liked what the director had to say about the differences between The Shining book and movie and how his biggest challenge was reconciling the two. He wasn’t going to be entirely faithful to either of them, but make a movie that addressed both. And then I heard him say that he changed the ending and King himself approved. The last time that happened was The Mist (one of the very few very good King adaptations). All right. I’m in.

A few weeks before, Ken St. Andre and I went to Harkins Classic Movie night and we saw Kubrick’s version. Ken had never seen it before and I hadn’t seen it on the big screen since 1980. I wanted to see it on the big screen again and I wanted Ken to see it so we could watch Doctor Sleep together. The audience was full of old and young people: those who had seen it and those who had not. Kubrick’s film had its desired result. The audience did not scream. They didn’t jump. They sat in quiet horror. This isn’t Friday the 13th or Halloween. This isn’t jump scares and gross outs. It’s being that frog in the pot of water slowly heating to a boil…

Armed with that recent viewing, Mr. St. Andre and I went to see Doctor Sleep. After the credits ran, we sat quietly. Finally, Ken said, “I really liked that.” I nodded. “So did I.”

And the more I think about it, the more I like it. The director, Mike Flanagan, turned the gypsy vampires that seemed so kitch and cliché to me in the book into a startling, terrifying pack of wolves. Clever, hungry and deadly. Ewan McGregor was exactly what I wanted to see from a mid-40’s Danny Torrance. The perfect mixture of his father’s rage and his mother’s empathy. And Rebecca Ferguson transformed Rose the Hat into a creature both beautiful and terrible. And yes, even the magic girl—played by the charming Kyliegh Curran—won my heart.

Now, those who have both read and seen The Shining know there’s a huge problem. The fate of the Overlook Hotel. The director was right: that was his biggest challenge. The way he handled it impressed me as both a storyteller and a fan.

I liked this movie. I liked it a lot. If you want to see it, let me know. I’m more than willing to go again. But watch The Shining first. And, if you can do it in a weekend, read the book. Both will only amplify your enjoyment.

Unreview: The Lighthouse

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I do my best to use E-Prime.

 

Jennifer and I were married once. We live different lives now, but we keep up with each other, send book and movie recommendations, chat about this and that. She loves a good ghost story, and has exceptional taste, so when she told me to see The Witch, I knew I should check it out. When I was done, we chatted for an hour, talking about the different implications of the ending.

That started me on a binge of movies that I liked to call “new horror.” They all seemed to have the same philosophy: lots of mood, beautifully shot, absolutely terrifying, but no jump scares. Because I hate jump scares. They’re easy and cheap and predictable. What I want is to feel the horror of the movie long after the lights come back up. The Witch gave me that. All the way through the film, I felt the tension I saw on the screen, creeping under my skin. And the ending… just floored me. The whole movie was a build up to the final scene. That final shot. I was weeping. I was terrified. The film accomplished its goal.

(When I talked to my friend Jaz Colbath about it, they told me, “I love that movie! And it has a happy ending!” I’m not going to tell you why they think it’s a happy ending—that would spoil the ending, and you should absolutely see The Witch—but when they told me, I laughed so hard, I almost choked.)

Jennifer’s second suggestion, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, found me trembling and weeping at the end as well. It Follows sent a cold shiver down my spine, amazed at how easily it made me feel alone and vulnerable. I stumbled on Happy Death Day which left me both scared and laughing. And I liked this trend. A new kind of horror movie, unreliant on cheap scares, but long, deep creeps aimed at my heart.

When I heard the director of The Witch, Robert Eggers, was working on another film, I got excited. Out of all the new horror I watched, The Witch stuck with me more than the others. When I heard the movie was inspired by The Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy, I could not wait. And tonight, I sat in a dark theater of strangers (more full than I expected), and watched The Lighthouse.

I have no intention of trying to tell you what the film is about or even what happens. I don’t want to tell you anything. I’m loathe to tell you even simple facts about the film, such as Eggers shooting it in black and white with a perfectly square ratio (rather that widescreen), which adds to the authenticity of watching it. The Lighthouse doesn’t feel like a film, but a journal entry or a window into the event, and both elements add to the claustrophobia the characters experience and Eggers wants you to feel as well. No jump scares. No seemingly immortal maniacs with masks or costumes. Just two men with disparate tempers on a small island for weeks with no other company and nothing but painful, exhausting, back-breaking work and what happens when one (or both) of them start to crack.

The performances from the two leads kept me on the edge of my seat. I expected no less from Willem Dafoe, but Robert Pattinson really stood out to me. Both bring an authenticity that made me feel they were real men stuck in a bad situation. The language both men use is thick with accents and jargon that forced me to pay attention. Dafoe sounds exactly like an old sea dog full of stories that are equal parts truth, lie and exaggeration. But the camera sticks with Pattinson’s character, giving us a…

… you know, I should shut up now. And there’s a reason why.

I want you going into this movie knowing exactly as much as I did. You can google the real story and know that much, but that’s it. The trailer won’t give you anything and neither will I. Don’t read any reviews. Don’t look it up on Wikipedia. Just pay the cash and see it in a dark theater with strangers. Then, after you’ve seen it, you and I can talk. 

I can’t wait for Jennifer to see it. I want to talk for an hour about that ending.

Unreview: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

 

I think it’s safe to say that one of the reasons I love Tarrentino movies is because he always seems to be ahead of me. Catching me off guard.

Start with Reservoir Dogs. A bunch of clearly criminal elements sitting around in a diner talking about Madonna. I did not see that coming. Then, the credits followed with a smash to a backseat full of blood. Nope. Didn’t see that coming.

Pulp Fiction kept me on my toes the whole time. Honeybunny and Pumpkin suddenly jumping up with guns in their hands, “Royale with Cheese,” and exactly how far are Marcellus Wallace’s wife and Vincent Vega going to let this sexual tension go? The non-linear storytelling forced me to think, “Okay, where are we?” The divine intervention and Jules re-thinking Ezekiel 25:17. That last moment, by the way, still gives me chills and sometimes chokes me up.

It seemed every subsequent QT film would take a left-hand turn straight out of the ballpark whenever I got settled in. I never knew when it would happen or how it would happen, but it would happen. My favorite is the stunning climax of Inglorious Basterds with two Jewish-American soldiers pumping rounds in…

… well, I really shouldn’t say anything else, should I? I don’t want to steal that moment from anyone who hasn’t seen the film.

A friend of mine once said the joy of reading a Philip K. Dick book was “that PDK moment when the protagonist becomes absolutely certain that everything around him is a lie.” I’d make the argument that the Quentin Tarrentino moment is when he hits you upside the head with something that was both inevitable and surprising (Aristotle’s key to an effective plot). If anyone can do it, it’s QT. Moreso, I don’t think anyone working in Hollywood does it as well or as consistent as Tarrentino.

Which is why this movie… well…

I’m not going to say I didn’t like it, because I did like it. I think it’s one of my favorite Tarrentino movies. On one hand, it contains everything I love about QT’s movies. Rock solid dialogue. The language of the camera. My favorite directors—like my favorite authors—have a distinct voice. When you’re watching a Tarrentino movie, you know it’s a Tarrentino movie.

But there are other things that seem distinctly different. QT’s characters are cool, sometimes to the point of caricature. They’re all consistent. Even when they are archetypal, he spends enough time so you feel you know the character, so when they make decisions, all those decisions make sense. The advantage of archetypal caricatures is you can use them to move plot forward, and Tarrentino doesn’t do that.

(Recent Marvel movies could take some lessons here.)

But in this film, he spends the entire first two acts taking a deep dive into the lives and thoughts of three characters: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth, and Margot Robbie’s  Sharon Tate. We spend nearly two hours with these characters, following them around, watching them as a dark aura of doom creeps over their heads. We learn to love them, and that means we begin to worry about them. Of course, we know what’s going to happen to Sharon Tate, but the doom lurking over the shoulders of Booth and Dalton is just as present. And for the first two hours of the film, that doom remains, but quietly. Waiting for the right moment to strike. The moment we know cannot be avoided.

As I said, I’ve loved QT’s films because I’ve always felt he’s been ahead of me. But this time… not so much. Granted, I don’t think that was his intention with the first two acts. It’s a hang out movie. He’s not trying to keep us on our toes. He wants us to settle in, get to know these people, get to like them, maybe even fall in love with them, because in the third act, something truly awful happens.

(Although, to be fair, there is a moment at the Spahn Ranch that put me right on the edge of my seat, holding my breath. That was the first time in the movie that I felt I was watching a QT movie. I had no idea what was going to happen next and I… yeah, enough about that. You’ll see it.)

So, sitting back, doing what was expected of me, the movie felt like a QT film and didn’t feel like a QT film. I like when directors stretch and try things they’ve never tried before, and that’s what the first two acts felt like to me: Tarrentino saying, “I don’t have to keep pulling rabbits out of my hat. I’m going to do this instead.”

And after getting to know these three characters well enough to care about them, QT set the third act into motion…

 

Okay. Here’s the thing. I respect stories, sometimes more than people. When I say that I won’t talk about spoilers, it isn’t so much out of respect for the storyteller (although there is respect there), it’s more out of respect for the story. And in this case, talking about the third act at all is a spoiler, so I’m not going to talk about it. However, I will talk about my reaction when the film was over.

 

When the film closed, I had mixed feelings. I loved the experience and will probably see the movie a second time. However…

Mr. Tarrentino,

I loved your movie. Sincerely loved it. I agree with you when you say this was your most personal movie. It shows. I fell in love with your characters and I remember the love I used to hold for Los Angeles when I lived there. (I’ve since gotten over it, but I encourage you to never lose it. I miss LA from time to time, the same way you miss an ex-, but then I remember how happy I am with my current love and that reminiscence fades.)

I loved your movie. But there’s this thing about magic tricks. As Penn & Teller say during their cups and balls routine: “The first rule of magic is, never do the same trick twice.”

That’s twice, sir. You don’t get a third time.

 

With admiration and respect,

JW

The Map is Not the Territory

Someone asked me about my Unreview rules recently:

  • I have to pay for it,
  • I have to like it,
  • I do my best to use E-Prime.

Well, here’s why.

 

Imagine someone who reviews movies after only seeing the trailer. Or reviews books after reading the back cover. Or reviews games after only reading the rules.

I know what you’re thinking. Nobody does that. Those people don’t exist. Well, you’d only be partly right. The first two don’t exist. But the last one is actually commonplace. I see it all over the internet.

The fact of the matter is, reviewing a game after only reading the rules is exactly like reviewing a restaurant after only reading the menu. One of my favorite little lessons I learned from studying Zen (stolen from Alan Watts) goes like this:

 

I can give you the recipe for baking the cake.

I can give you the ingredients.

But I can’t tell you good it will smell when it comes out of the oven,

Or how it will taste.

 

Let me give you a couple of examples.

In many editions of the World’s Most Popular RPG, rolling a 20 gives you a critical hit. It’s also an automatic success. That’s a rule. There it is. Look at it.

 

Of course, that doesn’t tell you at all about the emotions rolling around the table when the DM says, “You have to roll a 20 to succeed.”

It doesn’t show you the tense moment before someone rolls that d20.

And it doesn’t show you the cheer that rises from a table when it happens.

 

Those moments cannot be written down in rules. They’re what James Joyce called “sublime moments.” A short period of time that words could only fail to describe. Even now, writing it down, have I really captured that cheer? Has anyone? I can tell you about it. I can even try to show you that moment with lyrical prose, invoking your own memories of that one time you needed to roll a 20 and you did it and saved everyone’s lives.

But does it really capture that moment?

Gaming moments are sublime. That’s why gaming stories are so boring. Okay, for one, they’re usually told by people who don’t know how to tell a good story, but the other part is the moment was so magical…you just had to be there.

I’ll use a video game as an example. I used to play a lot of Left 4 Dead 2. That’s two teams competing for survival. Each round, they take turns playing the survivors and the zombies. The heroes want to move from one safe house to another and the zombies want to stop them from doing it. Pretty simple, right?

Except in the world of L4D, nobody is Master Chief. You need a team of four to make it, all working together, fighting for every damn step you take. It is an intense, brutal and merciless game. And there’s one mechanic that makes it all sing.

When you get knocked down, you need someone else to get you up.

Now, I know this mechanic has been lifted in other games—I’ll talk about one of them in a moment—but this is the point. When you go down in that game, you know there’s a good chance you’ll be…left for dead. Because going back in a game that’s all about going forward means you’re losing. When you play the game as the zombies, the whole point is to keep them from moving forward and pulling people back. So, when you go down, the whole team has to stop and get you back up.

As zombies, whenever you get one of the survivors down, it’s progress. Getting two down…oh, buddy. That’s the end.

So, here’s the situation. I’m playing online with strangers. Just two of us have made our way across the map, fighting for every step, like I said above. There’s just two of us left. The safe house is in sight. We get to the door and…my buddy gets pounced. I have a choice. I could stay in the safe house and score points, or I could go back and get him, and thus, score more points. But if I go back outside, there’s a whole host of baddies waiting to jump me. So, the obvious choice is staying inside.

I don’t take the obvious choice. I use a med pack and heal myself up. I take a shot of adrenaline so all my actions are fast-fast-fast. I grab the grenade launcher.

All the while, I’m saying over the mic to my buddy, “I’m coming back for you.” And my buddy is shouting, “Don’t you come outside! Don’t you come outside!”

I just tell him, “I’m coming back for you.”

I open the door. Fire the grenade launcher to kill the zombie that’s on him. (For fans of the game, it was a hunter.) Then, fast-fast-fast­, I get him back up and fire the grenade launcher again, just in case. And together, we shut the door.

“Holy shit!” the other guy shouts. “You come back outside whenever you goddamn want!”

Another story. I’m currently playing Mass Effect: Andromeda multi-player. Similar deal. Four players against waves of baddies. We have to work together to win. And, like in Left 4 Dead, if you go down, someone else has to get you up.

When you’re playing with friends, chances are, folks will run to pick you up. But when you’re playing with strangers, your odds are 50/50%. So, when you go down and you see someone running across the map to get you…there is nothing in the world like it.

I can show you the mechanic, I cannot tell you how the cake will taste.

Anyone who reviews a game without playing it is missing 90% of the game. And that 90% only happens at the table. I’m not talking about player banter, I’m talking about seeing a mechanic in play and how it affects the table. You can’t tell those kinds of things by only looking at the rules. You have to see them in play.

And until you do that, you’re just reviewing the movie after reading the script. Sure, you may get to see the best lines, but you’ll never see the actors or the special effects or the editing choices.

Or, you’re reviewing the album after looking at the sheet music. I’m sure Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah looks pretty boring on the page. But hearing it…now that’s something else.

I’m going to Italy later this year. I plan on seeing Michelangelo’s David. Because seeing the pictures doesn’t do it justice.

When I went to Scotland, the thing I wanted to see most was Rosslyn Chapel. Why? Because I had seen pictures and I wanted to see the real thing. Watching your favorite band in concert on video is not the same as being there, watching them live, surrounded by a few thousand other fans who are just as excited to see them as you were.

And saying that someone who saw a concert on video is the same as seeing a band live, well, that’s as silly as…oh, I don’t know… maybe…

…reading the rules and thinking you’d played the game.

Unreview: Captain Marvel (No Spoilers)

Unreview Rules:

  1. I have to like it,
  2. I have to pay for it,
  3. I try my best to use E-Prime (avoid using any iteration of the verb “to be”) whenever I talk about the thing.

 

The thing I liked most about Captain Marvel and the thing I liked least are both liked to such a huge spoiler, I can’t talk about it. That means I can’t tell you the main reason why I liked the movie so much and the one thing I felt… Well, dammit. I can’t say that without breaking Rule #3. Let me try that again.

I don’t think the thing doesn’t need to be said—I think it does need to be said—but there’s a moment where the filmmakers lay it on so thick, I think it detracts from the point. And that moment, that tiny moment, pulled me out of the movie.

Again, not because I disagree, but because…eh, I should shut up. Because I really like this movie. I like it so much, I’ve moved it up into my top 5 Marvel movies.

When the trailers started hitting the screens, I must admit, I did not feel it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to see this movie. (In fact, according to my latest schedule, I’ll be seeing it two more times before Wednesday.) They just weren’t doing it for me. Trepidation crept into my heart. But once Brie Larson hit the screen, that moment died. The trailers completely failed to capture Brie Larson’s screen presence. That woman could loan you 10 points of Charisma and she’d still have 18+. She held my attention throughout the film; from the first tête-à-tête to the first post-credit scene. (There’s two. You should stay for both.)

And the way Marvel handles her throughout matches up with a few other films I’ve seen over the past year. Films like Bumblebee, Alita: Battle AngelIncredibles 2Ant-Man and the WaspOcean’s 8, and many others. Beautiful women who are not sexualized in any way. Sexy as all Hell, but not sexualized. Makes me feel happy. Makes me feel that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood has figured out how to make films women want to see. Hell, that want to see. I mean, I work in an industry where fetish and fantasy are used as synonyms and I’ve been fighting against that shit since 1995. I’m glad to see others are, too.

Funny story and a bit of a side-step, but trust me, it’ll make sense when we swing back. When I was in high school in Georgia, one of my teachers had pictures of both MLK and Malcolm X on his wall. I told him, “I know who MLK is…but who is this?” He gave me a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X to read. When I was done, he asked me what I thought. I told him, “I feel angry. And sad. And confused.”

Later, I went to see Spike Lee’s movie. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and when I went into the theater, I was the only white person there. The only one. I was frightened, but I stayed put. When the movie ended, I looked around. I was certain something was going to happen. And while I watched the film, I realized how few white people were in it. And it was at that moment I realized, “Well shit, this is what it feels like.” That moment when nobody in the theater and nobody up on the screen looks like you.

That walk from the theater to my car in the dark parking lot took a month. But nothing happened to me. Probably because everyone knew what would happen if something did happen to me. That night changed my life forever.

So, back to Captain Marvel. Watching this movie and watching Bumblebee and watching Alita: Battle Angel and watching Widows (why did you not see Widows, people?) showed me something new. All those movies showed me walking, talking examples of “the female eye.” Something I’d heard about before but didn’t understand until I actually saw it. That’s because I’m slow and I need to see things to understand them. When I sat in the theater for Bumblebee and saw young and gorgeous Jorge Lendeborg Jr. taking off his shirt, I suddenly realized: “That’s not for me.” And when the theater responded to him taking off his shirt, I was back in Los Angeles, sitting in a theater of people who didn’t look like me.

AND THAT’S OKAY.

No, wait. That’s not just okay. That’s pretty awesome. Because the people who make movies can make movies that aren’t just about people like me. They can be for someone else. But I still get to enjoy them because they’re great storytelling.

Pay close attention to why Carol Danvers becomes what she is. I can’t say much more without spoilers, but trust me, you’ll want to pay attention here. She isn’t given anything, it’s because of the choices she makes. Because of who she is. This isn’t empowerment, it’s empowering. There’s a difference. Take a Mythology 101 class and learn the difference.

Loved the cat, loved the friend, loved the friend’s daughter, loved Jude Law…

I did not love the Stan Lee thing at the beginning. At the end of it, someone in the theater shouted, “Thank you Stan Lee!”

I shouted, “And Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko!”

That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Unreview: Adjustment Day

Normally, my rules for an unreview include an attempt to use E-Prime. In other words, I try my best to avoid using any iteration of the verb “to be.” Let me start this unreview by breaking that rule.

This shit is mean. I mean bleak. I mean if the Red Wedding got you to throw a book across the room, this one is gonna make you head out to the garage for the gas can and start a bonfire. I mean this shit makes Fight Club look like Club Med. In an interview, Chuck said, “My parents are dead. I can write what I want.”

That’s your warning. Your last warning.

When I started reading Adjustment Day, I felt like I was reading Fight Club, Part 3. That’s how I felt at the start. That feeling didn’t last long. I quickly grew to understand this was something different. Something meaner. Palahniuk has always been a satirist, but not all satire has to be mean. This shit is mean.

It’s mean to the identity politics of the Left. It’s mean to the separatist movements of the Right. Like the “protagonists” in the book, this book has a List. And you’re probably on it. I’m on it.

Talking heads who are too busy making millions commenting on the system rather than trying to fix it. They’re on the List.

Politicians who are too busy making millions abusing the system’s loopholes rather than trying to fix them. They’re on the List.

Conservative pundits who scream about globalists, Jews, and Libtards being responsible for all their problems. They’re on the List.

Liberals who weaponize identity politics to make sure they can point blame in all directions. They’re on the List.

Separatists in Texas, Alaska, California and The South who holler about bringing about the next Civil War. They’re on the List.

We’re all on the List. Including me. Including you. Really angry men with guns are tired of our shit.

And Adjustment Day is coming.

 

I read through the book, laughing all the way. When I laughed, Jessica looked at me curiously. I told her what I was laughing about and she did not laugh. She winced.

I’m laughing because I’m wincing.

This is Swift’s A Modest Proposal on Percocet. And unlike science fiction, this shit ain’t about what could be, it’s telling things the way they are.

People don’t care who the leader is so long as there’s a leader. That may as well be a quote from the book—and I mean the book inside the book, the book called Adjustment Day that’s being passed around by really angry men with guns. And two years ago, I would have scoffed at that thought. Not here. Not in America.

Yeah. I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things. Like saying “Adjustment Day is coming.”

Nah. It’s already here.

 

GLOW

Glow on Netflix—a show about women in wrestling that isn’t just for wrestling fans.

Every GM should watch professional wrestling.

Let me amend that. Every GM should watch good professional wrestling. And yes, before you ask, let me say that there is such a thing.

For most people, their experience with the genre is limited to 80’s style WWF kick-punch-repeat. Well, my fellow gamers, that’s like someone saying, “I don’t like gaming” after playing Tomb of Horrors.

When friends of mine ask me how I can watch pro wrestling, I ask them for twenty-five minutes of their time so they can watch Max Landis’ Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling. And if you aren’t a wrestling fan and you’re wondering why I am and you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Video below (probably NSFW, depending on where you work).

I could go on about this, but that’s not why I’m here. Why I’m here is to encourage you to watch GLOW on Netflix. A show that’s loosely based on the real all-woman wrestling promotion from the ’80’s. I say “loosely based” because while the show does tell the story of an actual wrestling promotion, the characters are completely fictional. Now, me being a nut for history—especially the history of the things I love like gaming and pro wrestling—I recognized a lot of what’s going on. There are tips of the hat to the actual people involved and that’s kind of cool. Almost like making a fake version of Europe for a fantasy roleplaying game…

Watching the show reminded me of running an all-woman game of Changeling a while back. Running a game for women is entirely different than running a game for men. Priorities are different. The tone is different. And watching a show run by women, written by women with an almost entirely female cast about something I love gave me an entirely different perspective on professional wrestling.

But then again, this isn’t a show about professional wrestling. It’s a show about women in professional wrestling, but it’s still a show about women. And in the hyper-testosterone world of wrestling, that’s not just a breath of fresh air, it’s like opening the door on Socrates’ cave.

I not only enjoyed the heck out of watching GLOW, I’m also grateful for it. I ran all the way through it, watching episode after episode. And I’ll probably watch it again. Seeing GLOW and Wonder Woman in the span of a couple of weeks had a profound impact on me as a writer, a storyteller, a game designer and a man.

A friend of mine once asked me, “John, why do so many women play your games?”

I replied, “I try to make games women want to play.”

GLOW isn’t just a show for women, but it is a show about women. And women shouldn’t be the only ones watching it.

UnReview: Luke Cage

marvel-netflix-luke-cage

I just finished watching the first four episodes of Luke Cage and after the first, I came to a realization.

I could not write this show.

The other two Marvel shows, I could have taken a swing at. I could write about Daredevil, I could have written about Jessica Jones. Whether or not the shows would have increased or decreased in quality isn’t the issue. I could have taken a swing at those shows and written with some skill.

I watched the first fifty minutes of Luke Cage and knew I wouldn’t have stood a chance at making something this awesome. Not only that, I would have been lost in the woods.

Back in the ‘90’s, Spike Lee took a lot of heat for saying a white man couldn’t direct a movie about Malcolm X. I understood what he meant at the time. My 10th grade Civics teacher was a black man. We were in Georgia. He had a picture of King and Malcolm on the wall. I knew who King was, but I had no idea who Malcolm was. So, he gave me a copy of Malcolm’s autobiography on a Friday. I read it all weekend. Stayed up at night. I burned through it like a Stephen King novel. I returned it on the following Monday. He was surprised I read it that fast and even suggested I hadn’t read it and gave me a small verbal quiz. Then, he asked me what I thought.

I told him, “I understand why you don’t trust white people.” Then, I said, “In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t trust white people anymore.”

So, when Spike Lee said a white man couldn’t make a Malcolm X movie, I understood what he meant. The same goes for Luke Cage.

Sure, I could write a Luke Cage script, but it would not have the nuance or substance this show has. It wouldn’t have the same dialogue, the same nuance. I would have never thought to put the Notorious B.I.G. on Cottonmouth’s wall. I couldn’t write the basketball dialogue. I wouldn’t know the black authors and poets to invoke. In short, I would have made the script white. And Luke Cage isn’t white.

I love this show. I can’t express how much I love it. I spent five years in Georgia, and for three of those years, I was steeped in black culture. That’s because I was a kid from the North. The white kids literally tortured me. For the latter part of my life in Georgia, most of my friends were black. The black kids didn’t trust me at first, but I earned that trust. Even still, that was a long time ago and I was still an outsider. But I learned blues and jazz from men and women who played and sang. I learned how to tell stories from an 80-year-old black man, sitting on a back porch, drinking sweet tea. But I was still an outsider.

Watching Luke Cage reminds me the world is a lot bigger than I see. Luke’s Harlem may as well be on the other side of the world. The language is different. The culture is different. If I stepped into Luke’s world, I’d be stumbling around helplessly trying to figure things out.

But the people are people. They care about family and friendship. They care about keeping your word. They love good food, good music and good sex. And…

… hey, let’s stop for a moment and talk about how amazing the music is on this show? Marvel, can I haz soundtrack, please? Please?!?!?

Luke Cage is a hero. A different kind of hero who lives in a different kind of world. It’s a world that I’ve seen as an outsider, but I could never write with the degree of authenticity and urgency this show has. If I wrote Luke Cage, it would be his story through the eyes of a white man. And that would be a goddamn shame.

Oops. Swear jar. Sorry Pops.