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Month: July 2017

Movie Review: The Big Sick (2017)

Directed by: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff
Release date: June 30 (limited), July 14 (wide)
Running time: 119 mins
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Dark Comedy

It’s strange to say, but The Big Sick is likely to be the best romantic comedy of this year.

The Big Sick follows Kumail Nanjiani (starring as himself) and a woman named Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan). Kumail is an Uber driver by day (mostly) and stand-up comic at night, Emily is a graduate student training her way to become a therapist. He’s trying to make it big all the while sleeping on an air mattress in an apartment that’s a step above a college room. One night during his comedy show he gets inadvertently heckled by Emily, and thus begins their budding romance. Kumail and Kazan have incredible on-screen chemistry from the first moment they interact with each other. Their deadpan delivery of “not dating” is juxtaposed by the sweet moments they share on-screen, and eventually they’re in a real deal relationship.

Where most rom-coms fall into cliches, and go into the big moments in a relationship, they don’t follow the nitty gritty everyday trials and tribulations of the modern couple — like, finally being okay with taking a shit in your significant others apartment, sharing each others favorite movies (there’s a line in there by Emily “I love it when men test me on my taste“, scathing volcanic levels even if it’s a quick crack of the whip), etc. The movie crosses cultural, societal and generational gaps. Kumail’s parents (played by Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff) are devote Pakistani Muslims, who constantly introduce women to Kumail during their family dinners in an attempt to begin an arranged marriage.

Later on in the film, Emily gets sick, hence the title of the movie, and falls into a coma. Enter Emily’s parents, Terry, played by Ray Romano (who did a surprisingly great job in a dramatic role), and Beth, played by Holly Hunter. They’re two people taking a traumatic experience very differently, Terry who is shown to be more level headed, and Beth who is the more angry, frightened mother. There’s little moments in the hospital, like covering Emily in her childhood blanket, that make those types of scenes very real, a special cocktail mix of hell and anxiety that you can truly empathize with.

During this time, Kumail is very much on borders in his life. Kumail is caught in extremes with his American and Pakistani identities, his relationship with his family, between Islam and Agnosticism, whether or not he should continue working as a comic during this time. He’s unsure of a lot of things going on in his life, but if there’s one thing he is sure of is that he can’t tell his family about the white woman he’s in love with lest it ruin his family. All of this comes to a head later on in the film, and I’d rather not spoil it for you.

This film covers so much, so well. It’s dexterous in its delivery, thanks to the strength of the script, and the actors involved. Emily isn’t in about half the film, but she reverberates through it’s entirety, which says so much about her character and her performance. In any case, this dark rom-com is one I think will resonate with a lot people, in and out of relationships, and is for people with dual identities. There is no moral right or wrong in this film, and that’s one of this film’s greatest strengths. Catch The Big Sick while you can, it’s absolutely worth your time and money.

9/10

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Book Review: Blindsight (2006)

Blindsight by Peter Watts
Genre: Science Fiction, Hard Science Fiction
Published by: Tor Books
Release Date: Oct. 3, 2006

Okay, there’s so much going on in this novel I have no idea where to begin.

Blindsight is a novel that follows Siri Keeton, a man with literally half a brain, one of the crew members of the interstellar research ship Theseus. Theseus is manned by a group of technologically/biological modified humans, and a resurrected vampire. Yes, you read that right. In this world, vampires were the apex predators (against humans) for centuries until a mutation in their gene started to kill them off. By mere accident, they come across an alien race inhabiting a gargantuan vessel they call Rorschach. And they are alien in every sense of the word, but they’re not malevolent…because they have no capacity to understand that. Malevolence lends itself as a conscious intention to harm another lifeform whether it be physical or otherwise.  The entities embodied in Watts work are inherently indifferent. They aren’t handicapped by consciousness, and that is terrifying.

“Supposing it’s just — instinct,” I suggested. “Flounders hide against their background pretty well, but they don’t think about it.”
“Where are they going to get that instinct from, Keeton? How is it going to evolve? Saccades are an accidental glitch in mammalian vision. Where would scramblers have encountered them before now?” Cunningham shook his head. “That thing, that thing Amanda’s robot fried— it developed that strategy on its own, on the spot. It improvised.”
The word intelligent barely encompassed that kind of improvisation….
“…I think we’re dealing with a species so far beyond us that even their retarded children can rewire our brains on the fly, and I can’t tell you how fucking scared that should make you.”

The book is front loaded with a lot of science, which honestly, went over my head but I didn’t really care either way. One of the novels main ideas the novel thrusts upon the reader is — Is consciousness self destructive? Is sentience even needed? In the grand scale of the cosmos, are we advantageous because of our consciousness, or are we hindered by it? Is control an illusion: think about moving your finger, and it will already be in motion. These are the heady questions that run throughout Blindsight, and others have tried to ask the question (and in some cases answer), sure, but never so frigidly, so mechanically. Horrible things happen daily for no reason whatsoever, but the universe is like that. Watts doesn’t give himself an out with the meanderings of a higher power, etc.

“Evolution has no foresight. Complex machinery develops its own agendas. Brains — cheat. Feedback loops evolve to promote stable heartbeats and then stumble upon the temptation of rhythm and music. The rush evoked by fractal imagery, the algorithms used for habitat selection, metastasize into art. Thrills that once had to be earned in increments of fitness can now be had from pointless introspection. Aesthetics rise unbidden from a trillion dopamine receptors, and the system moves beyond modeling the organism. It begins to model the very process of modeling. It consumes evermore computational resources, bogs itself down with endless recursion and irrelevant simulations. Like the parasitic DNA that secretes in every natural genome, it persists and proliferates and produces nothing but itself. Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.”

As you can see, Watts is far and away, a writers writer. His prose is poetic and warm, and on the sentence level there’s not many that match up to him, but he’s also cold, indifferent, calculated. It’s a thrill to read a writer on this level. His characters have depth, have full fleshed out personalities and quirks, and almost all of them are not nice people.

There’s so much to unpack with this novel I’m not even sure I’m prepared to say much more. I’ll just leave you with this: if you like hard science-fiction, this is absolutely a must read. It’s one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and that’s not hyperbolic in any sense of the word. Honestly, this is a masterpiece.

10/10

Buy Blindsight:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound, Powell’s OR read it for F R E E
You can find Peter Watts on his website

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Book Review: Gravity (2017)

Gravity by Michael Kazepis
Genre: Crime, Literary, Mystery, Horror, Sci-fi, etc
Published by: Broken River Books
Release Date: June 9, 2017

GRAVITY is Michael Kazepis’ follow-up to his 2014 novel LONG LOST DOG OF IT, which I believe will be re-released sometime in the future with new artwork, and new interior design. GRAVITY is a short story collection with short stories ranging from his most early work and possibly unpublished work, to more recent work like the incredibly dark story “Minerva”, and the sci-fi/Lynch-esque “Goodbye to the Holy Mountain”.

GRAVITY is comprised of nine short stories spanning multiple genres all the while avoiding the atypical tropes you’d see in lesser collections. In many ways GRAVITY seems like a love letter to the artists, writers, philosophers, films, directors, musicians, etc that have shaped Kazepis’ life. For instance, Kazepis wears his Latin American Boom influence on his sleeve with his opening story “This Is A Horror Story” seeing the protagonist (likely to be Kazepis himself) visiting the grave of Cortázar in Paris, France. It’s a short, somber story that encapsulates how much they mean to Kazepis, ending with the aforementioned visit to Cortázar’s grave. Salvador Dalí makes an unexpected appearance in “Time In The Shadow Of The Thing Too Big To See”. “Minerva” is practically oozing with nods to David Lynch, and Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Bolaño.

Kazepis makes unexpected turns in stories like “Thrush” examining the inner thoughts of an assassin as he stalks his target, and “A Song For Our Fathers” which follows a group of Russian, and Romanian ex-pats on an irradiated Earth committing some pretty horrendous crimes in order to survive.

His writing is immediate in its intimacy, and raw to your nerve endings when dealing with the visceral:

“He kept thinking about the woman inside, the cold body she was trying to warm, that special quiet king of love that builds between beings that can’t talk to each other.”

“The flesh had been carved out of his chest and stomach and now exposed an empty ribcage. His spine coiled down to where his pelvis had been. Blood filled two of the shit buckets they used.”

It’s difficult to say more about GRAVITY because it’s so short (coming in 126 pgs), but it has writing that will stick to your bones, scar you, and turn your insides out as your sanity spirals downward in the dark reaches of space. It’s dedication “for nationless children” is apt as you feel each story carries pieces of our wide, confusing world and the diverse, multi-cultured people in it. A collection that demands to be read, and you’ll be the better for it.

10/10

Buy GRAVITY: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s
Find Michael on Twitter
Check out Michael’s micropress King Shot Press

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Book Review: Entropy In Bloom (2017)

Entropy In Boom by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Genre: Most things under the sun (Noir, Bizzaro, Crime, Weird, etc)
Published by: Night Shade Books
Release Date: April 18, 2017

In the foreword to Entropy In Bloom, Brian Evenson states: “In Johnson’s world, anything can happen. The most crazed, twisted ideas are given life, pursued to their bitter limit.” This hits one of the things that grounds Entropy, and other thing is the heart with which these stories are told. It’s weird to say that when the tone of this collection is often very dark, but it does have a lot of heart, and every story reads blazingly fast.

Opening up the collection is “The League of Zeroes”, a story where body modification is taken to the extreme, and the more bizarre the modification the more you’re treated as royalty. It’s a story that is easily believable in a world where reality TV gets more and more airtime,  and our constant engagement in social media lets us become voyeurs in other people’s lives leading our fascination and curiosity of one another to grow and expand.

“The Gravity of Benham Falls” sees Johnson flexing his horror muscles as this story follows the protagonist, a woman named Laura goes on a trip with a mark, a handsome man named Tony to Benham Falls, a place where her younger brother died years ago, and the implications that a Native American woman still haunts the waterfall, killing anyone in the vicinity. Not your average ghost story, that’s for sure.

One of the most impressive things about Entropy In Bloom are the ideas/themes running in and out of this collection, specifically: the failing boundaries of reality, and the trauma that one endures throughout life and the lasting consequences of this trauma. These ideas are especially prevalent in stories like “Dissociative Skills”, “Saturn’s Game” two stories that are vastly different from one another but share that same kernel of a thought pervading each. In “Dissociative Skills” a drug addled teenager pushes the limits pain he inflicts on himself, leading to a bloody, gut-wrenching finale. “Saturn’s Game” takes the approach of being a person with a failing perception of reality. It’s an incredibly humanizing story about mental illness that stems from a physical trauma. It’s a bloody mess that puts you in the shoes of someone who’s losing everything — time, touch, smell, emotion, etc.

The final story I’ll touch on is the original novella “The Sleep of Judges”. It’s for anyone whose ever experienced being robbed, and the underlying effects that has on a person’s psyche. It’s compounded by the fact that the protagonist actively questions his masculinity, and whether or not he can keep his wife, his child, and his home safe from harm. It has left turns throughout, but it has a great payoff at the climax of the story.

Johnson writers powerful stories. It’s an undeniable fact, but the thing that impresses me the most is his ability to humanize things so well, and make them so incredibly relateable even when the most bizarre thing is happening (like a man who makes a cockroach suit to escape a nuclear apocalypse, or a Lovecraftian parasite that slowly transforms your body in extreme, grotesque ways). It’s this that makes the collection so vivid and unique. Entropy in Bloom is a book that any reader of any genre can get into, and find something they’d enjoy.

10/10

Buy ENTROPY IN BLOOM: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Powell’s
Find Jeremy Robert Johnson on Twitter

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