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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (1/22/18) 9:35pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Books:  The Book of Exodus, Thor: God of Thunder (The God-Butcher)
Movies:  Doctor Strange, The Hateful Eight, Spotlight
TV:  <none>

The Book of Exodus
Boilerplate intro: this is part of my ongoing project to read the entire King James Bible.

Since I have many friends who are devout Christians, and many friends who are observant Jews, I'll post a warning: I'm reading the Bible as literature, not as a holy book.  This means I'll point out what works for me and what doesn't, I'll assess its philosophical viewpoint, and I'll mention what bits of historical context I can glean from pestering Lindsey with questions.  If you are comfortable with a sardonic atheist 'reviewing' the books of the Bible, read on -- but if not, please skip this, as I genuinely don't wish to offend.


Exodus is the second book of the Old Testament.  It tells how Moses leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt through the wilderness to Mount Sinai.

Again, I have to remind myself that this is not 'storytelling' in the modern sense.  This is not trying to show us some internal transformation or growth in the face of adversity -- it's not really trying to show 'internal' anything, I suppose, since interiority in fiction is not really a thing yet.  There are no surprises, no rising tension, no wondering how it all will turn out.  This is not designed to keep you on the edge of your seat or to draw you into the fiction.

Instead, I'm trying to look at this in its historical context.  As far as I can tell, this is a world with lots of different peoples, who all have lots of different gods, and this is a story designed to tell us that Jehovah, the god of the Israelites, can beat up all the other gods.  From that angle, Exodus is fun -- you start with his chosen people enslaved by the Egyptians, and Moses finding a good position with the pharaoh, and suddenly ohhhhh they crossed our god, and he's piiiiissssed.

And then you cheer Him on as He wails on Egypt with plague after plague after plague, like some disaster movie where all the victims had it coming.  I have vague memories of playing FIFA and playing as the All-England soccer team versus St. Louis, and just punching their goalies out and winning by hilarious blowout scores.  There's a certain satisfaction in that sort of thing.

But again, it doesn't feel like storytelling as we know it.  From a modern perspective, it's just a bizarre choice to have God "harden the heart" of the pharaoh, since it makes the story morally akin to "God grabs the Egyptians by the wrists, smacks their hands into their own faces, and repeatedly sneers, 'Why are you hitting yourself?  Why are you hitting yourself?'"  It's commendable that The Prince of Egypt finds a movie in this, inferring characters and conflicts and tension into the Bible's usual wikipedia-like rundown of events.

Again, the language is poetic, and lovely in its simplicity.  And it's interesting to see just how much repetition Exodus uses.  Each of the ten plagues follows the same pattern, with lots of phrasing repeated verbatim from plague to plague to plague.  Seemingly the entire section on constructing the tabernacle (more about that in a bit) gets repeated, as Exodus explains that, yes, the builders actually did build something to those specifications.  I suppose the heavy patterning again speaks to the book's oral-tradition origins.  It's soothing.

And again, I'm sure the whole thing is far, far different for believers, who view it as truth and history.  If this is the story of your people, then it interests you regardless of tone or structure or tension.  If this is the story of your God, then it's affecting no matter what.  From my perspective, it reads more like a ritual than a story -- and it's intriguing, but I'm definitely viewing it from a remove instead of being drawn in.

Okay, back to that tabernacle thing.  It's tempting to make fun of it, but that would be mean-spirited and childish.  I'll only snark as far as "it was quite a surprise to see so many chapters devoted to basically the biblical version of an Ikea build manual."  The surprise beyond that: it's actually a really solidly-written construction guide.  I could easily visualize the exact object they were speccing out, to the point that I realized, "Huh, that looks exactly like the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- and then, a split-second later: "Oh.  Right.  Because that *is* the Ark of the Covenant."

But it's just such a weird and unexpected jag for the book to take.  It's like if you saw an SNL sketch go on for fifteen minutes -- you ask yourself, "Are they seriously committed to doing this thing for this long?" over and over again.  I'd never even *heard* about this "how to build tabernacles" part.  Honestly, it confirmed a suspicion I had floating in the back of my head when I started in on this project: that there are long stretches of "junk DNA" in the Bible that very few people actually read.

And then the repetition -- where they detailed the builders' work and confirmed that it matched each of the specs -- was yet another surprise.  Going through several chapters of build instructions was one thing, but then seeing that entire description a second time was baffling.  I kept wondering if I'd accidentally turned back a dozen pages in the text.

All in all, Exodus was interesting to read, but it never really moved me.  And it *felt* like there *should* be a story in there -- seeking freedom from slavery is inherently dramatic, and the wrath of God committing genocide is inherently spectacular, and there is a fraternal bond at the center of it all.  (So: not totally surprised that Prince of Egypt could take it somewhere engaging.)  But I came away from it feeling like I'd read something poetic, yes, but also distant, and flat, and unmoving.

Thor: God of Thunder (The God-Butcher) by Jason Aaron and‎ Esad Ribic
This is the initial 2013 arc from the Jason Aaron run of Thor.  It follows several parallel storylines -- from his youth, his old age, and the Avengers years -- where Thor battles Gorr, a creature intent on destroying all of the gods in the universe.

This run was a real light-bulb moment for me.  It showed me just how much you can accomplish with a superhero comic if you get what, at core, that superhero is *about*.  Sure, you can construct a story around a superhero without getting that emotional core (oh, hey, I also wrote about Doctor Strange today -- wonder if that's relevant), but that's just going to be "a hero doing stuff".  It won't have any weight.

And there were actually a couple of aspects to this feeling of, "Oh, this writer understands why Marvel's version of Thor matters."  First off, the fact that Thor is a *god* is important.  It's kind of hilarious to see how the MCU practically runs full-tilt away from the notion of godhood -- "Uhhh this religious 'magic' is equivalent to science and so there's no need to ask any questions that might possibly offend customers."  Instead, The God-Butcher leans so hard into this that it puts 'god' right in the title.  This is a universe where planets have gods, where mortals pray to those gods, and where that relationship -- are your prayers answered? do you feel forsaken? and how do the gods feel about all of this? -- is crucial to the story.

It feels like an utter no-brainer to make your story about a god explore questions of religion, but it also feels terrifying.  The creative team must have wondered if they'd have crowds after them with pitchforks for somehow slighting their deeply-held beliefs.  But again, if your story is about a god, this is what your story is supposed to explore.  Any other direction is wrong.

Another point in their credit: if you know one thing about Thor in the MCU, it's probably about the hammer, and how only the 'worthy' can lift it.[1]  The genius move is treating that as the core of the character: being worthy.  This is a god who agonizes over being worthy -- he struggles to get to the point where he *can* wield Mjolnir, and then he lives with his father's disappointed judgment, and then even in his sunset years, he feels like a failure -- like he failed Asgard, and the gods, and himself.

Once you've set up an overarching goal like that for a character, a useful storytelling question to ask is "who is the exact wrong person to get saddled with this?"  If the goal is to cut loose and have fun, you give that goal to a character who is buttoned-down and repressed.  If the goal is to have a beautiful relationship, you give that to a character who's too scarred to easily trust anyone.

If you did it the other way -- gave the goals to the people who wouldn't have any problems with them -- then there's no struggle there, and thus no story.  It's about as absorbing as "my wife asked me to pick up some cheese at the grocery, so I bought some cheese."

And so you who do you give this inner goal to?  You give it to the most bro-ish of the Avengers, the one who, left to his own devices, would spend his time drinking all the ale, bedding all the women, and hitting as many things/people/planets with a hammer as possible.  You give *that* person the gnawing inner questions about "what is a valorous life?" and "how can I live up to it?"

The fact that Thor *is* a god seems like it might make this easier -- okay, just run around saving damsels in distressed from easily-hammered-to-death villains and call it a day -- but I think it actually makes things harder.  Now that you have all these powers, what are the quests that are worthy of them?  And it expands the scope of things to the whole universe.  Maybe the Defenders might wonder what it means to lead a worthwhile life in Hell's Kitchen, but Thor doesn't get to limit things geographically.

The questions for Thor are hard, and antithetical to his instincts.  That's a great core to a character.  That's always going to be worth exploring.

And it does lead to a surprisingly good "you are not so different, you and I" bit -- that clichéd exchange between the hero and the villain of so many pulp stories.  In The God-Butcher, we realize that Gorr's conclusion -- that the gods are not worthy of their powers -- is a suspicion that eats away at Thor, too.  A tossed-off exchange in the denouement brought me to tears: "What if he's right?" / "Then we'll have to work harder."

It was expressed best in the "letters" section appended to one of the issues.  The writer said "lifting Mjolnir wasn't the end of that journey -- it was the beginning".  And one of the fans noted that if Spider-Man is the story where "with great power comes great responsibility", Thor is the story where you have to prove your responsibility to get entrusted with power.

Also: I see, now, where people are coming from with their criticisms of Thor: Ragnarok.  In the right hands, the heavy, ponderous quality of the Thor-iverse can lead to great stories.  You don't have to undercut it for comedy, as Ragnarok so ably did.  And I see what they were trying with the first Thor movie.  I get why they hired on Kenneth Brannagh, even, with all the questions about rulership and valor at the core of these stories.

But I feel like the MCU, as it stands, has no room for the 'real' Thor.  Family-friendly film juggernauts can't ask questions about religion that would unsettle an American Christian audience.  They can't center stories around the gnawing sense of failure that settles in past adolescence.  They have to forego that frustration and sadness.  They have to focus on the silly fish-out-of-water of it all, and the hitting with hammers.

Ah well.  If there's one thing to be learned from The God-Butcher, it's that there is room for many Thors.

Man, I've gone on for a thousand words now and I still don't seem to be talking about the story proper.  I'll make some quick summary points. 

The comic uses multiple timelines -- following Thor in his youth, in his Avengers days, and at the end of his life -- very deftly, weaving them together like TV storylines, hitting cliffhangers like clockwork.  But it also tells us so much about Thor's character, seeing the whole span of his life like that.  Gorr is a bit two-dimensional for much of the story, but the parallelism with Thor (and the question of whether Gorr himself is becoming, basically, a god himself) saves that for me.  And The God-Butcher does delight in the blacklight-poster/airbrushed-van of it all -- the air of over-the-top heightened ancient mystery -- though it wisely delays the space-sharks until the closing issues of the arc, so that it can spend the whole run getting you on the wavelength of "we are living in a Led Zeppelin album".

The comic is very much worth your valuable time.

(Still no appearance from Freya though.  Boo.)

Doctor Strange
This is the 2016 Marvel movie about a neurosurgeon who embarks on a late career change to become a superhero magician instead, tasked with fighting off an otherworldly evil.

There were two things I knew about this movie going into it.

The first was that it had fun special effects.  And on that score, I got exactly what I was expecting: it's like the anonymous screenwriters and director had watched the trippy city-bending in Inception and realized, "Hey!  A *superhero* movie could do that!"  Granted, it was never clear exactly *what* was going on as buildings flipped around and perspective went wonky -- either how the magic worked or how the fights were proceeding -- but it was still delightful to watch, and it felt relatively novel seeing the various Inception events turned up to eleven.

It also brought a joy to MCU filmmaking that I hadn't seen before.  There are many things to love about MCU films, but there was always a grudging quality to their mise-en-scène -- "Ugh, okay, we have to have an office building, so I dunno, let's just make a bland high-end conference room.  And for god's sake, just make it normal-looking."

It's like Doctor Strange heard the phrase "normal-looking", arched an eyebrow, and then started softly chuckling to itself, only to open its movie with HAHAHA CRAZY TWISTY CITYSCAPE WITH BROKEN-MIRROR AIR EFFECTS HAAAA.  And it's delightful to see an MCU film finally delight in *color* -- for being Silver Age comic-book IP, the Marvel movies are surprisingly bored with color, from Thor's attention-resisting teal-and-orange to the overabundance of drab grays in the Avengers films.

MCU bigwigs: "So, Doctor Strange, we're trying to do a standard-issue action-movie color palette -- y'know, nothing too -- "
Doctor Strange, wildly tripping on 'shrooms and waving around concept art for "The Dark Dimension": "TASTE THE RAAAAINBOWWW"

Again, the effects never really felt vital to the storytelling, but they were delightful in and of themselves, and they felt like a great way to kick down a door for future Marvel movies.  After this, we could have the Kirby-glo weirdness of Guardians 2, or the 80s-ing color palettes in Thor: Ragnarok.  All to the good.


The other thing I knew about Doctor Strange was the whitewashing controversy surrounding The Ancient One.  The Ancient One was an Asian character in the comics.  They gave the role to Tilda Swinton.

So what I expected was to see a movie that generally had its heart in the right place, but had made one egregious misstep in whitewashing their mentor character.  On that score, I did *not* get what I was expecting.

My experience of the movie felt like the opposite: it was just hard to be mad about Tilda Swinton's performance in the moment, because it was so winning, able to balance the ponderous wisdom of the character and the srs-bsns-face fighting with a sort of suppressed glee and humor that you could perceive just under the surface in nearly every line.[2]

So Tilda Swinton didn't piss me off.

What pissed me off was that you watch the whole rest of the movie, and you say, "Well of *course* they whitewashed their mentor character.  This is the kind of racially creepy movie that would do that."  I mean, this is nominally a movie about sorcery taking place in Nepal, drawing (however clumsily) on Buddhist themes and iconography.  Aaaand the lead is white.  The love interest is white.  The mentor is white.  The villain is white.  People from anywhere near Nepal barely have speaking roles.  The only time Nepalese folks show up in large numbers, the movie "others" the hell out of them, in massive city crowd scenes that emphasize how kuh-razily disorienting they are -- see?  Stephen's trying to speak English to them and they don't even speak English?  Whaaa?

I was thinking, watching this, that when Hollywood sets tentpole films in non-Hollywood cultures, there are two types of movies that result: movies that think that these people *have* cool shit, and movies that think that these people *are* cool shit.  In the former, the movie gawks at all the weird, cool stuff that's in Nepal, and then tells a story about white people discovering them and having adventures.  In the latter, you center the movie in the foreign culture, and you celebrate the people in it.

"But Peter, don't we need a viewpoint character?  Somebody who doesn't understand this place and provides an audience surrogate?"  Jesus, does nobody even watch science fiction?  In Blade Runner, did you have a cryogenically unfrozen dude wandering around saying, "I am from the year 1981, can you future-people explain all this future-stuff to me, and thereby, to the audience as well?"  People can catch up.  People can keep up.

So maybe it's more accurate to say that I couldn't focus on being mad about The Ancient One, because I was too busy being mad about *everything*.

(Side note: somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I imagine something akin to what we've seen in Black Panther: make the only white person Tilda Swinton, and make her the villain.  #wouldwatch)

It didn't help that the plot was as dull as a train schedule.  "But Peter, this is just superhero storytelling, it doesn't need to be novel or moving."  No.  No no no.  When that argument comes a-knockin', we are *not* at home.  I may have had my quibbles with the comic runs of The Vision or Thor that I've read lately, but those stories were surprising, and moving, and deep.  You can do real stories with superheroes.  There are no excuses.

But Doctor Strange religiously followed the outline, to the point that the plot moves didn't make sense.  The story wanted to go one way, but the outline dictated going another, so the plot lurched as per the outline's demand.  Example: when the Ancient One is brought in for surgery, Strange now suddenly trusts his surgical nemesis to do the work.  And this is a deliberate contrast to the start of the film, where he scorned the guy.  And we are supposed to see that, yes, as per the superhero outline, Strange has learned a moral lesson on his journey and become a better man.

But the thing is, nothing in that film convinced me this had taken place.  He was an asshole surgeon, who then when to sorcery school, and was an asshole student.  He blew off his teachers, he blew off the school regulations, and hey, he became a better magic-dude than anybody who had actually studied there for years, because that, too, is what the outline demands.  Cumberbatch sells the transition as best he can, but it's not in the script, and as you watch that scene, you can feel the gears grinding in the story at the arbitrary plot move.

And so it is throughout: things happen because a superhero origin movie has a lot of requisite checkpoints, and by god we're on a schedule.

This is not helped by the weak characterization.  On a meta level, it's phenomenally entertaining to see some of the best film actors working today do battle with a thinly-written script.  I just watched Spotlight, where Rachel McAdams plays a tense, professional, slightly-wet-behind-the-ears reporter who was fighting down her self-doubt and horror as she digs into the church scandal lurking in her own neighborhood.  Now she's the ex-girlfriend who just *cares too much* about the cool hero-dude, and I'm a little sick to my stomach.  (She'd better have gotten an amazing house out of this.)

And then there's the title character.  It felt like they were writing for Tony Stark, but writing it like they weren't 100% willing to commit to that, leaving us with a feeling like nobody's really *enjoying* showing Stephen as an arrogant asshole.  Plus, Cumberbatch's talent for playing icy intellect is kind of at odds with the breezy swagger that they've written for Strange.  The whole thing feels vaguely uncomfortable.

And... I'm going to pick on one very particular choice here.  Strange goes back to his penthouse condopartmentwhatever.  He opens a drawer in his closet.  And that drawer is filled with a grid of fifty underlit spinning watches.[3]  "Spinny watches" is my new pet phrase for "something that *should* perform characterization, but instead only shows us what the director thinks is cool."  I see this all over the place with aspirational characters -- they have the coolest car, the coolest house, the coolest outfits... and we wind up with a director trying so hard to look *impressive* that they forget to be *specific*.  We don't know anything about the character except "they're rich" and "they're supposed to be cool, I guess?" -- but we know plenty about the director's favorite car, favorite architecture, and favorite fashion designers.

I don't know what the spinny watches tell us about Strange, other than "he's rich," "he's weirdly obsessed with watches," and "he must like terrible UI designs".[4]

I've ragged on a lot about this movie.  But let's be clear: I enjoyed watching this movie.  The hoary old plot outline was an effective vehicle for shuttling me from one impressive set piece to the next.  And they've cast actors who are incapable of bad performances, though it's  frustrating that Ms. Swinton's performance, as the whitewashed Ancient One, was likely the best one.

And it's delightful that this is a movie where humor exists.  Not where jokes exist -- jokes have been, thank god, part of the MCU since the beginning -- but humor.  One character says something, and it's funny, and another character laughs.  It wasn't all just sitcom banter where people tell insulting badinage at each other while absolutely refusing to acknowledge any jokes are being said.  (Though there is a fair amount of that.)  It created this sudden little moments of relaxed realism in a movie that sticks very much to its job.

I recommend the film, but: set your expectations appropriately.

The Hateful Eight
This is Quentin Tarantino's 2015 movie about a group of mistrustful, post-Civil-War mercenaries who wind up snowbound in a small, isolated shop in Montana.

I enjoyed this movie.  In a way, it feels like the mirror image of Reservoir Dogs -- take a handful of suspicious badasses, trap them in a room for a couple of hours, and wait until some number of them are dead.  Here, he gets to cast a murderer's row of great actors, so half the time you're just delighting in the performances.  I did not know "watch Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson have long, adversarial chats together" was on my bucket list, but here we are.

This is one of the few movies where I love how self-indulgent it is.  Nobody but Tarantino could get away with half of what he pulls here.  It's a nearly three-hour movie, which suits my "occasionally nibble at a film for a week or two" habits fine.  I can settle into the world like it's a TV miniseries.  He goes sharply nonchronological with how he tells the story, providing a lot of fun surprises-by-recontextualization that other screenwriters just couldn't get away with.  He gives long monologs of backstory to almost every character -- again, most screenwriters would see that cut, or never think to indulge in it in the first place, but here we get to see those speeches expand the world and deepen the characters.

Hell, he throws in a narrator, heretofore unheard, literally an hour into the movie.  It's the sort of move that would usually make you roll your eyes, because it's a sign of a screenwriter who has no clue what they're doing.  But QT knows what he's doing, so this is instead refreshing and different.  And hell, one wonders if he created this entire project just so he could commission a score by Enrico Morricone.

In the end, the movie didn't mean a lot to me.  It didn't move me emotionally beyond the tension of wondering who's lying, and who's going to survive, and how it's going to turn out.  I doubt this story or its characters will stay with me for long.  But frankly, if a movie delivers solidly on "how will this turn out?", I already kind of love it.  It's a nicely-designed machine, full of plot twists and shifting alliances, and it's almost Coen-Brothers-like in combining a sense of dangerous, mounting chaos with a sense of heavy inevitability.

I was intrigued by Tarantino aiming to dive into race, as it was treated in the post-Civil-War period.  On the one hand, I hadn't really seen that in film before, and it was nice to see a western finally acknowledge this.  (Yes, there were lots of African-Americans in the Old West.  No, the western genre seems terrified to admit this.)

On the other, I feel ambivalent about how a lot of Tarantino's ouvre feels like revenge fantasies for the disenfranchised.  You could read Kill Bill as a revenge fantasy for women; Inglourious Basterds as a revenge fantasy for Jews; Django Unchained (from what I've heard) as a revenge fantasy for African-Americans; and The Hateful Eight feels like it leans a little into that feeling as well.  Mr. Tarantino's heart is in the right place, and it makes for satisfying narratives, but I sometimes get taken out of the story, wondering if this is the guy to tell these stories, or if an exploitation-inspired take on their oppression is something I want to partake in.

In the end, I always settle back into enjoying the film, but questions like those always flit around in the back of my mind.

I do recommend the film -- it's a long drawing-room mystery full of tough guys giving great performances, and everything clicks along with the precision of a watch.  It's entertainment, and there's nothing wrong with that.

This is the 2015 dramatization of the Boston Globe's 2001 shattering exposé about pedophile priests in the Catholic church.

To my surprise, I watched all of Spotlight in one night.  I say "surprise" because, at home, I tend to nibble at movies and TV shows: ten minutes here, ten minutes there, squeezing time in whenever I don't have a zillion other responsibilities pressing in on me.  I flit over to the TV, I watch for long enough to eat a snack, and then I flit off to fix stuff around the house or sort out some improv project.

I expected that I would watch Spotlight like that.  It seemed like a tepid, well-meaning drama, the sort of thing that coasts on name recognition and a warm and fuzzy sense that it's cheerleading doing the right thing.  Yes, we can watch this glorified Lifetime movie, we can all pat ourselves on the back for knowing that pedophilia is bad, and we can give the movie some awards for its trouble.

Again, that is what I expected.

What I got was a movie that basically grabbed me by the collar and shouted in my face, "I DARE YOU TO DO ANYTHING TONIGHT BESIDES SEE HOW THIS MOVIE TURNS OUT."  And, well, I did what the movie said.

Part of it is just this world that they build up.

I want to start with the simplest thing: how they depict the Globe offices.  There is nothing cool about the Globe offices.  There are cheap desks with piles of papers and old, blocky, gray landline phones.  The color scheme is almost aggressively bland, with gray walls and industrial carpeting designed solely to hide stains.  The fluorescent lighting is a bit sickly and relentlessly flat: everything everywhere is lit the exact same amount, to the point that the rooms often seem to lose depth and flatten out into two dimensions.

I realized, seeing that, that I'd seen so many films with so many hip, cool, idealized, aspirational office spaces that this -- showing a newspaper office that actually looks like a newspaper office -- was practically a power move.[5]  It shook me out of my expectations somewhat and it made me realize that, at the very least, this movie cared about accurately depicting the business of reporting.

And that draws you in -- it's up there with season five of The Wire in caring about the *business* of reporting.  The grunt work.  People work the phones in those drab offices.  They plod through records.  They argue about stories.  Soon, you want to see the rest of the movie just so that you can experience more of this world of journalism.  You want to see how that careful, steady pursuit plays out.[6]

And the reporters themselves are engaging.  They start with charismatic actors -- one is hard-pressed to find bad performances from Michael Keaton, or Rachel McAdams, or Mark Ruffalo -- but then they put the same care into building these characters as they do in building up that workspace.  These are not reporters sanctified into some bland ideal.  These are people who mess up and have rough edges.  These are strong personalities that you could imagine meeting up with in the real world.

Hell, this might be my favorite Mark Ruffalo performance I've ever seen -- and that's saying something -- just by dint of all these specific choices he's making that all seem to add up to something consistent.  I absolutely buy that he's an ex-cabbie who is now a very, very good reporter at one of the nation's top papers.

In fact, let me be more specific.  I want to praise the acting in Spotlight by (of all things) briefly ragging on The Last Jedi.  Specifically, the acting in Spotlight made me suddenly really pissed off about Benicio del Toro's stammer in TLJ.  That to me is the canonical example of a useless, self-indulgent, actor-y choice.  It tells me nothing about the character.  It doesn't add into any consistent picture of who the character is.  At best, you can say it's "randomly quirky" -- at worst, it draws focus hard and makes it difficult to attend to the rest of the character.  Mainly, it's just something actors indulge in because they think it's fun, and they think they're impressing people with that sort of speech-defect minstrelry.

Spotlight got the hell away from that "look at me acting" acting.  Ruffalo played very far from himself, but utterly convincingly.  Keaton played, I thought, relatively close to himself -- apart from the accent, the changes were subtle -- but that's what that part called for.  It was a movie full of people who showed up to do the work that supported the film -- to build this world that is scary and moving because it feels honest.

In a lot of ways, the movie feels custom-made for me, here, now.  It takes place in Boston right after I moved out, so there's that frisson of recognition.  Hell, they talk about how one of the crimes took place on *the street I lived on* in Boston.  And to watch this *now*, right after the Weinstein stories broke in the New Yorker and The New York Times, makes it almost painfully timely.  Hammering at these exact sorts of conspiracies -- that's what reporters are doing *right now*.  (Also, Cardinal Law passed away a couple months ago.)  And after seeing so many movies and TV shows that rely so much on spectacle, it's great to see a story that is literally just a series of conversations.  A wants B to do C, over and over again, and we watch the matches play out.

Go and watch this movie.  Don't let any suspicions that it's tepid Oscar-bait keep you away.

For next week: I'm watching The Good Place and reading a book about Vladimir Putin.  On audio, I'm still catching up on podcasts.

[1] Steve Rogers making the hammer budge is one of my favorite moments in the whole MCU.
[2] Let's be clear here: I'm a white dude, and I have no background in the comics.  I totally understand that my relative lack of concern, in the moment, about The Ancient One's casting, could stem mostly from those two factors.
[3] "But Peter, it's foreshadowing for the time-travel stuff later on!"  NO ONE CARES.
[4] Given that he also doesn't know why you use an iPhone mount in your vehicle, we can actually say that his lack of understanding of user interfaces nearly kills him.
[5] For your consideration: most TV and movie sets just tell you about what the director thinks is cool.  It's only the set that *isn't* trying to impress you that tells you, instead, about the characters and the world.
[6] Side note: I can also recommend The Breakthrough, a podcast from ProPublica where they interview investigative reporters about how they broke their biggest stories.

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