I’m doing a podcast. About politics. Surprised, right? 😉
I’m doing a podcast. About politics. Surprised, right? 😉
It feels like a lot of my posts start with some variation on, “Sorry it’s been a while!” But the fact is, as much as I love updating this blog, there’s a lot going on in real life – some of which I’ll talk about and some of which I won’t – and often, after waiting for more than a few days or a week to update, I fall into the trap of thinking that whatever I post has to be hugely significant.
Sure, it would be nice to have something huge to say every week. But I don’t, really. And right now, a lot of my efforts (in writing at least) fall into two or three camps:
Even though the play is 4rd on the list, it’s an extension of the efforts I’ve put into writing something about the state of US electoral politics for a long time. Every day, what with the news that keeps crashing out of Washington (and everywhere else government reaches), keeping a steady hand on the play gets harder. And I’m well aware of how precarious writing this kind of political narrative can be – one reason Electalytics has been shelved for the last year or so (and to those of you who were reading it via my mailing list, I apologize) is that what initially seemed like it was going to be a wild ride of a primary turned into the flaming garbage heap that is our current political status. Staying on top of that changing, shifting landscape presents a lot of challenges. So I take them one at a time.
Last night, I went to see The Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar in Central Park, and in many ways it was a first for me. I’d won the tickets in the lottery, so it was my first time at the Delacourte theater in central park, but it was also the first time I’ve watched this particular Shakespeare tragedy and not been bored out of my skull.
The last few times I’ve seen Caesar, it’s been a rote, stilted mess. It’s not a play with a particularly strong plot, and part of the 100-minute production benefits from that in that we see Caesar’s assassination, the manipulation of the mob, and Brutus’ suicide, while the rest is glossed over. It didn’t feel like we were missing much, and in fact the brief length made the uncomfortable seating far easier to bear.
One of the strongest points in this production was how deftly it was reskinned to incorporate the Trump administration. From the guy who played the Republican primary challenger to Mellie Grant on Scandal (I’m writing on a tablet, and this isn’t an official review, so I’m not going to go look up his name, sorry), who blustered his way through a performance of a truly loathable Caesar, to the emotional depth of Brutus’ soul-searching in killing his friend (Brutus being played by the alcoholic congressman from House of Cards), there were subtle differences in watching this play about patriots trying to defend their country from a tyrant when you’re actually part of a movement trying to defend your country’s liberties from a wannabe tyrant.
The fight scenes weren’t super convincing, but our sightlines were a little weird – maybe seats nearer the center of the audience would have improved this. The set was inventive, and the many sly design nods – Calpurnia’s blonde hair, pink dress and Slavic accent; an arced set that at one point turned into the window behind Melania in her official White House portrait; RESIST posters and pussy hats; riot police and antifa – brought laugh after laugh. Perhaps the most telling moment about how deeply this production cuts was the when Caesar made his first, triumphant appearance. Nobody in the audience clapped. Nobody cheered. Not a whisper. I’ve only seen the play a couple of times, but generally speaking there’s at least one or two audience members who try to get in on the action.
The play gave me a lot to think about, and for that I thank the deft touch with which Brutus’ character was handled. Truly human and truly honorable, it was clear from the first moments of his conspiracy’s taking place that he had high-minded ideals, and that he saw Caesar’s murder as necessary to the continued health of the Republic. (This being Shakespeare, of course, it quickly devolves into battles.)
As I’ve struggled with my own current project, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is that my hero is not just an antihero – he’s a character based on a person whose humanity I have a very, very difficult time seeing. If you’ve read my work, you know that antiheros are kinda my jam – so it’s a weird feeling to try and repeatedly get into the head of a character who actually repulses you. The biggest influence for me has, thus far, been anger – but watching Brutus on stage giving one soft speech after another about the need to protect the ideals of Rome from a man too ambitious to keep them safe reminded me that for Brutus, Caesar’s murder was the most humane solution he could think of. It gave me a different take on my own piece, and besides making changes to the beat sheet for the play, I wrote a 15-page scene as the subway brought me home.
The Progressive Coder’s Network is still going well, and I’ve joined Fight Back Bay Ridge to help me get more involved with local politics. While I missed the New King’s Democrats meeting earlier this week, where endorsements were voted on, I’m hoping to get to the Bay Ridge Democrats meeting, where one of the first Democratic challengers for Dan Donovan’s congressional seat will be speaking. Since Donovan still refuses to hold a legit town hall (I think we get a facebook town hall next week), it’ll be interesting to see how his Dem challengers might approach their discussions with the area’s political clubs and associations. Personally, I’d love to start seeing cross-party, pre-primary debates for any and all contenders – but if I got everything I asked the universe for, we’d have Bernie Sanders in the oval. Oh well.
Just got back from seeing The Revenant, and the last thing I’ve seen that was that brutal might have been…well, I don’t even know. Mild spoilers below. You’ve been warned.
I spent most of the movie thinking it took place in Alaska, either because I didn’t read anything about it beforehand or because I associate Alaska with the man-versus-nature conflict. (Thanks, Jack London.) But it doesn’t – it takes place in South Dakota and Montana. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in films before but holy crap talk about natural beauty. No doubt assisted by Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography (though I did see some lens flare there for a second, let’s not go all JJ, now), the setting is most definitely a character in this one. A brutal, unforgiving character.
Most of the characters in The Revenant are brutal (not the last time you’ll see this word in here, sorrynotsorry) and unforgiving, though, and those who aren’t don’t come out of things too well…or sometimes at all.
As the film opens, we get some smoky memories/images of Leo — sorry, Glass — and his Native American wife, and their young son, and the camp/community they’re living in. Then we see a lot of burning structures and hear a whispering voice recite the theme of the film – while you still have breath, keep fighting to survive. (Not a direct quote.) Next, we flash ahead to Glass and a group of fur trappers. He, his son (Hawk, played by Forrest Goodluck) and another member of the group (possibly Will Poulter’s Bridger, though honestly I have a hard time remembering faces the first time I see them so it might have been another member of the expedition) are hunting, trudging through ankle-deep watery swampland. They kill an animal and we head back to the fur trapper’s camp. We quickly meet our supporting cast: the captain, a bit naive and idealistic, with a father who apparently bought him his commission; Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is a bastard (we know this because he cares more about money than people, makes a bunch of racist comments about Hawk’s parentage, and eventually leaves Glass in the middle of the woods to die.
They’re attacked by a band of Pawnee, and the entire sequence was chilling and ghastly and bloody. We don’t know it as the attack unfolds, but the leader of the group is seeking his missing daughter, Powaqa (later played by Melaw Nakehk’o), and has decided that she must be with the Americans – only ten of whom (out of forty) manage to escape with their lives. Glass, Hawk, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fitzgerald are among them, as is Bridger, as well as a half dozen other men of varying importance. Henry and Glass quickly decide that they have to abandon the few furs they’ve salvaged, leaving them behind for later retrieval, and that they need to ditch their boat as well. (They escaped on the boat, but staying on the river will leave them open to the Pawnee group.) Fitzgerald and a few others are upset by the thought of leaving a fortune in furs behind, and when a few of the men are assigned to set the boat adrift, they instead stay on it and float off down the river. Not sure we ever found out what happened to them. Given the rest of the film, I somehow doubt it was anything positive, unless by “positive” you mean “a quick and relatively painless death.”
The men who stay behind – Hawk, Bridger, Glass, Henry and a few others – stash most of their furs and set out back to their fort*. As their scout, Glass goes ahead to make sure their path is clear. Just as we, the audience, are getting past the opening slaughter…Glass gets between a mother bear and her cubs.
In a three-stage attack that left me covering my eyes with one hand and my mouth with the other, Mama Bear rips up Glass’ back, then rips up his front, then nips him in the neck, then for a minute it looked like maybe she was going to use her teeth to sever his spine, she dislocates his ankle…it’s ten or fifteen solid minutes of watching one of nature’s most frightening predators do her thing. Every time she starts to move off, Glass tries to breathe through the pain and finish her off, but this just provokes her to come back and keep tearing chunks off him. Finally, he stabs her repeatedly with a knife, then they both end up sliding down a hill into a valley, where the fight finally ends.
When the other men find Glass, they tend to his wounds and try to make him more comfortable, but ultimately the prospect of carrying him all the way home on a stretcher proves impractical. A few of the men say they ought to put Glass out of his misery, but the captain prevails and offers a reward to anyone willing to stay with him. Presumably, it will only take a day or two for him to die, then they can bury him and be on their way to the fort as well. Finally, Hawk and Bridger both offer to give up their shares of the reward money if Fitzgerald will stay behind. I was a confused as to why the captain would put the guy who just wanted to shoot Glass like a wounded horse in charge of the rescue mission, or why he’d trust the man’s word, but I’m hoping there was some other reason for that and maybe I just didn’t catch it. Clearly the captain shouldn’t have trusted Fitzgerald, because by the time another twenty minutes go by, Hawk is dead, Bridger is cowed, and Glass is resting half-covered and not actually dead in a shallow grave.
I could go through a play by play – the deceitful French trappers/rapists, Glass’ arduous experience in the wilderness, a number of encounters with other Pawnee, how everything pans out – but what’s more interesting to me is the way this film portrays an ordeal of superhuman determination and vengeance. We’ve been seeing a lot of “lighter Leo” the last few years – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby – and the heaviness of this story stands in strong contrast to those roles. There’s very little (if any) humor to be found here (not that the script calls for it), but between the story and the characters and the acting, the film is still riveting.
From avalanches to mountains to frozen wastelands and eerie forests, every single setting is shot with an exquisite eye. From one moment to the next, you’re either rapt in wonder at its beauty or else you’re overcome by the idea that this man is trying to survive in this wilderness, sustained only by his desire for revenge. More than once, I thought, Damn. I don’t think I could do this. I’d lie down in the snow and be done by now. And yet Glass kept going. And kept going. And kept going.
One of the turning points in the film comes after we and Glass watch a pack of wolves bring down one Buffalo out of thousands. As Glass stares at the scene unfolding before him we can almost see him salivating. At the same time, with no real weapons, he has to hold himself back from surging forward – and the tension is palpable as this takes place. He sleeps, and when he meets a Pawnee whose village has been massacred by Sioux; the man takes pity on Glass and carries him, treating him when his infection rises and building him a shelter and fire where he can heal. Almost as mysteriously as he appears, the man is gone, leaving only a few words of wisdom behind: “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands” (in the hands of the creator? Not sure.). It’s a message Glass takes to heart, as we learn later. Abandoned by his savior, Glass wanders smack into the village of French trappers. He goes to steal a horse, but stops when he sees that the Frenchmen have a Pawnee woman captive and have been repeatedly raping her since her capture. He goes into action, first taking the Frenchman by surprise then allying with the woman – who we assume, then later confirm, is Powaqa. They both escape, though separately.
As he’s riding away from the French, the Pawnee warriors attack again, and this time Glass and his horse try to outrun them and end up running off a cliff. You know how it felt when Buffy killed off Ms. Calendar? Like nobody was safe anymore? Well, when your hero is mauled by a bear in the first act, you can be pretty sure that’s not the worst thing that’s going to happen to him. Time and again, Glass overcomes the odds. He keeps fighting to survive.
After the massacre of the French camp, as Glass lies inside his horse like Luke in a Tauntaun (sidenote: Google Docs appears to recognize Tauntaun as a word, whoa), one of the Frenchmen turns up at the fort – which we now learn is only about 13 miles from Glass…and said Frenchman is carrying a water flask that Bridger had left on Glass’ chest with a weak apology, earlier in the film. Assuming that the flask was dropped by Hawk, the Captain offers ten dollars to any man willing to head out with him on a search. They find Glass. Fitzgerald catches wind of it, and knowing his lies are falling apart, he takes off. The captain and Glass head out to find him, there are confrontations, and then another brutal battle where both Fitzgerald and Glass leave blood-covered chunks of the other in the snow. With Fitzgerald almost dead and taunting him about how he hopes revenge is enough, as it won’t bring Glass’ son back, Glass looks up and sees the Pawnees on the other side of the river. Remembering the words of the man who saved him, he pushes Fitzgerald into the river, where the current carries him to the Pawnee leader. Who kills him. As the band of Pawnee walk by on their horses, we see Powaqa, which is presumably the reason Glass is allowed to live.
Glass, left bleeding and weak by the side of the river, turns to look directly into the camera. Without a word, the screen fades to black.
There are a few things I want to look into: first, the film fails the Bechdel test with spectacular aplomb, so I’m curious as to whether there were women who worked as fur trappers (kind of like I’d never heard of lady pirates until a former roommate revealed her slight obsession with them). I want to know what Native American groups think of the portrayals of both the Pawnee and the Sioux. I want to read a bit more about the time period when the story takes place in general, to have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the entire unfortunate event. I appreciated that the film makes mention of things like “company store” contracts, and that it relies so heavily on imagery over dialogue (a good portion of which is subtitled). I’m curious as to other work by the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who wrote the piece with Mark L. Smith). And I might even want to read the book, if I get through my current “to read” pile any time soon.
Mostly, though, I want Leo to finally get his Oscar. He does a riveting job of bringing Glass to life, of showing the man’s depth of feeling and the range of emotions that shut down, one after another, as his desire for revenge overtakes everything else – and how letting that happen to him allows Glass to survive long enough to avenge his son’s death.
I’m not usually one for Westerns, so I’m not well-versed in the contrivances of the genre, but one thing that stands out to me as particularly smart was how Inarritu and Smith turned the convention of the kidnapped woman on its head. In something like The Searchers, and throughout Western (genre) literature, the idea of “the Indians” capturing the innocent white girl is pervasive; here, and perhaps in a more historically appropriate setup/synechdoce, it’s the white man who have kidnapped and brutalized a Native American woman. I don’t adore that the one named female character was basically there as motivation for the opening brutality, nor that she’s being repeatedly raped – that one hits a little close to truth, given national statistics about sexual violence against Native American women – but in terms of genre convention it was certainly a twist.
Much like how I’m not a fan of car chases yet thought Mad Max: Fury Road was freakin’ amazing (another Tom Hardy flick, funnily enough), I highly recommend seeing The Revenant on the big screen in order to appreciate just how stunning the scenery really is – and to give you the best view of Leo’s raw emotive power during this two-and-a-half hour experience.
The Revenant is currently in theaters.
Putting together Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change was a challenge. I wrote two stories I’m extraordinarily proud of. I worked with four other writers, an illustrator and a graphic designer to publish the piece as both an e-book and a physical one. The experience of releasing the anthology was emotionally and artistically rewarding.
That said, after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hot Mess has reached the end of its journey.
It’s not that I think the threats posed by climate change are over – far from it, even if there was a historic climate agreement reached in Paris over the weekend. There’s still just as far to go, and it’s just as important now as it was four years ago when the anthology was published. Senator Bernie Sanders, my favorite prospective presidential nominee, has said repeatedly: climate change, more than even terrorism, is the single greatest threat to national security that the US faces.
This weekend’s agreement, which relies on governments around the world cutting their dependence on and use of fossil fuels significantly, is the first baby step towards that. With targets that are to be discussed and met every five years throughout this century, it’s a long-term plan for a long-term problem. Climate change didn’t just happen overnight, after all. Closer to home: Buffalo just smashed through a 116-year-old record because there hasn’t been snow yet. That’s right – earlier today, in Buffalo, New York, in the middle of December, I was walking around in a light jacket.
(And by the way, I’m sorry if I’m rambling a little – there were a lot of different and tangentily-related lines of thought that went into this decision, and putting together a coherent blog about it is harder than I thought it would be.)
When I first thought about taking Hot Mess down, something surprised me. I would have expected to feel a sense of sadness or dread, but instead I just felt…lighter.
Tangent: approximately one million years ago, when I was trying to decide where in England I was going to study for my junior year abroad, I had two choices: Kent, which was the program my university sponsored, and Middlesex University, in London – a program I’d applied to through another SUNY school. Each option has its appeal, and I couldn’t decide which to do. My mom gave me some advice that served me well then and has ever since: When you’re trying to make a decision and you have two choices, imagine you’ve chosen one or the other. Live with that for a few days. See how you feel. If it feels right, then do that. If not…move on to the next possibility. I wound up studying in London, and it was one of the best years of my life.
When I thought about taking down Hot Mess…it just felt right.
So…yeah. I’m not sure that it’s even that important that my thought process on this be clear to anyone else – I’m pretty sure that it’s not, so far, and I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg on the vast cloud of ideas that have led me here. But I do know that I at least wanted to give people a heads up, that Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will be taken offline at the end of this year. I’ll migrate the reviews its received from Amazon and other sales venues to a page here on my site (just to make sure they’re not lost), and that will be that.
Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will go out of print in the new year; order your digital and print copies before December 31st, 2015.
When I first got my Chromebook, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a screenwriting app that would let me write plays and screenplays as easily as Final Draft. (Final Draft, for my non-writer readers, is the industry standard for writing in either format.) While there were a few online environments that allowed you to write in screenplay format, they were a) expensive and b) unwieldy.
A quick refresher: because Chromebooks operate in an online, Linux-based environment, it’s difficult to find software that’s compatible with special formats. While most well-known screenwriting software has versions compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems, so far there’s been very little in the way of creating specialized software for Chromebook. At one point I heard that Google was working to make any app available for their ultra-lite notebooks, but to date there doesn’t seem to have been much progress on that front.
Anyways. I’m working on a sitcom pilot, and one of the practical challenges I’ve had to work with is making my edits to the text. My Windows laptop, which is limping along with the help of both external mouse and keyboard, has my copy of Final Draft on it – but at this point, the program runs so slowly that it’s frustrating to use.
I printed out and edited my script the other day, and was dreading finding the time to break it down into manageable chunks to input the changes.
Enter this morning.
I decided it was worth taking another look for screenwriting software that was compatible with both Final Draft and Chromebooks this morning – after all, the software scene is constantly evolving – and after some searching, discovered two things:
This alternative is called Writer Duet. And it’s unbelievably powerful, incredibly well-designed, and completely intuitive for anyone who’s already used to writing in Final Draft. It imports and exports to multiple standard screenwriting format, doesn’t require knowledge of markup or formatting, and best of all?
That’s right. FREE.
Sure, there’s a paid version (which, at $99 for a lifetime membership is a bargain) but so far the free version looks and feels just like writing in Final Draft.
This morning, while lying in bed icing my back, I was able to edit a 46-page script in a fraction of the time it would have taken on my laptop. There was no lag inputting or processing commands as the document got longer (which has been an issue in Final Draft), the formatting is highly intuitive (perhaps more so than FD), and the output is easily downloadable and back-up-able. Signing up took less than a minute. Imports of documents in .fdx were flawless (.pdf imports less so, but you shouldn’t be saving in-progress docs as .pdfs anyways). The program was so easy to use that I almost immediately recommended it to a friend of mine who’s taking his first shot at writing for the stage. (He was confused by it, but it took me a few tries to get used to FD, so I’m not counting that against Writer Duet at all.
If you’re interested in writing in stage or screen format, and don’t want to shell out $125+ for Final Draft, check out Writer Duet. If you’re on a Chromebook and despairing because you can’t find an elegant solution to the issue of formatting your stageplays or screenplays, check out Writer Duet.
I don’t think you’ll be sorry.
Please note, this is not a sponsored blog post, I am endorsing this program because it’s amazing and if you want to write in screenplay format for a Chromebook, it is far and away the best solution I’ve found to date.
Sometimes, one leaves a theatrical experience and the foremost thought in one’s mind is, “That’s X hours I’m never getting back.” When attending plays as a reviewer (i.e. with free/comped tickets), I always stay through to the end. However, when I’ve paid for my ticket – as in this case – I no longer feel it necessary to sit through an entire production once I’m convinced it’s not getting any better. Please bear in mind, while reading, that for all I know the production takes a massive upswing in the second act and I missed out on something truly brilliant – though this writeup in The Buffalo News makes me doubt that was the case. Here’s my reaction to the production.
ACT ONE REACTION: SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE BY THE SUBVERSIVE THEATRE COLLECTIVE
Subversize Theatre Collective
Great Arrow Building
Manny Fried Theatre
Directed by Michael Lodick
Adapted by Eric Simonson
Saturday night, I left Slaughterhouse Five, produced by the Subversive Theatre Collective, at intermission. While the presentation was competent, it wasn’t compelling enough to keep me and my parents in our uncomfortable seats — or the overheated auditorium.
If you haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut’s masterpiece, the story of Slaughterhouse Five revolves around a man named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck” in the space-time continuum. The novel itself is disjointed, offering a broken narrative – the book incorporates parts of Vonnegut’s own time in the service and as a POW. While the script seems faithful to the story, even setting up Vonnegut’s narrator conceit, something about the production meant it never really seemed to offer much spark.
Tim Lane’s set is colorful and visually engaging, and its versatility allowed the players to move seamlessly from scene to scene. The brightest moment of the play’s first act came from Rick Lattimer, whose performance as Elliot Rosewater suddenly came to life during a conversation with Pilgrim (Shane Zimmerman) and his fiancee (Brittany Gabryel as Barbara). Suddenly animated, Rosewater describes the book he’s reading to Pilgrim, ranting about an alternate view of reality. For a few moments, there was a sense of welcome tension from the audience. Then it passed.
As the narrator, Tim Joyce kicked the play off with a one-man scene that set the stage. There were times when some mannerisms began to feel affected, veering more towards Mark Twain than Kurt Vonnegut, and smoothing those moments over would help the audience forget that they’re watching a performance. Generally speaking, there was very little about the performances that was notable.
One of many huge challenges inherent in mounting a production where each scene is only a few minutes long is that it’s difficult for the audience to remain emotionally engaged without a connection to each scene. After nearly an hour of story, no one in my party felt a strong enough connection to the show to stay and watch the second half.
Fan of Vonnegut looking for new insights/perspective on your favorite author and one of his most famous works? You might very well enjoy this production. Casual theater-goer looking for a thought-provoking experience that also entertains? This might not be the show for you.
Edit Edge Solutions, LLC launched their website yesterday – and featured an article by yours truly.
Check out 6 Reasons Your Site Needs a Copy Editor for my take on why it’s vital that every business use a copy professional when constructing their website and marketing materials.
Edit Edge Solutions is a company that specializes in helping political candidates and small businesses improve their online presence, and is headed up by Elizabeth Dagostino, who’s spent over 15 years working on political campaigns at all levels of government.
(And as always, a shout-out to my mom, who regularly copy edits my blog. As always, I appreciate when people point out my typos!)