The Batman: Holding Out For A Hero

When the credits rolled on The Batman I had a lot of thoughts, some good, a lot not-so-good, and one very bad one. At no point did I look at Robert Pattinson, while he was in Bruce Wayne mode, and think that’s Bruce Wayne. This is not a bash on Pattinson, I actually really like the guy from what all I can tell, he was really good in Good Time, and his charming career retrospective on YouTube, where he attributes getting cast in Twilight to showing up to the audition on Valium, is a treat. As an actor, he can definitely do wounded and he made his career on brooding but the singular and most effective way the film communicates his identity is having other characters literally point at him and say “That’s Bruce Wayne.”

It doesn’t help that the film is almost entirely humorless, which is not to suggest Batman should be a standup comic, but I think the fact that Michael Keaton is a naturally gifted comedic performer is what makes his turn so iconic and resonant; there was a sense of irony and dry wit in his Wayne. Over the years the actors portraying the character have gotten increasingly serious and dramatic, in my opinion to the detriment of the stories told and if that seems superior and broad it’s because my benchmark for the IP is Batman: The Animated Series. While there are good things about almost every iteration (sorry Clooney, no points for you…also The Midnight Sky sucked), The Animated Series is the only interpretation that embraces the nature and pathos of both personas, Bruce and Batman, exploring each to great effect. And if this feels like an incredibly long-winded tangent…now you know how I felt watching The Batman.

There’s a lot that the film does well. It is dripping with atmosphere, Gotham feels more lived in and palpable than ever before, you can practically smell the place and that’s a good thing. Gone is the austere, staged poverty of the Nolan films, where corruption is often talked about but usually happens off-screen. Matt Reeves’ Gotham feels dangerous and barely controlled. There’s a scene in the opening of The Dark Knight where a drug deal is about to take place but one of the criminals sees the Bat Signal and waves off. The other bad guy shouts something to the effect of, “Are you kidding? You got a better chance of winning the Powerball than running into him!” And I cringe during each and every rewatch because of it. I love Chris Nolan dearly but we are all aware of his affinity for expositional dialogue, and given the complexity of his movies, I can’t blame him.

Sometimes, though, it’s just grating and this concept, that the mere existence of Batman and his signaled presence is a part of his superpower, however illusory, wasn’t something I remembered until Reeves repeated the message. In The Batman the effect is amplified in the opening few mintues by the way it is almost entirely dialogue-free, with it’s potential evil doers spying the signal and then slowly slinking back into the shadows, it’s show don’t tell and is a brilliant way to introduce the character and his effect on this city at this point in his mission. Particularly when, and this is one of the great parts, Batman shows up and rights a small wrong, demonstrating that his contempt for evildoers is all encompassing, not just reserved for organized crime or secret mythical ninja death cults.

One of things I originally disliked about Batman Begins is how completely it ejected anything fantastical or surrealistic. It’s not, in effect, a comic book movie so much as an action film based on a comic book character, and as a comic book reader from a very young age, it irked the shit out me to ground in reality a story that is at it’s essence escapism, about fantastic and surreal things. To be more succinct, it took the magic out of it and that’s what I look for in these characters. I eventually came around to Nolan’s vision, when taken as whole but I was glad here to see that mystique returned, with that sense that this is another world entirely, with unknown boundaries and properties. The Batman, for my money, feels more like a graphic novel than any other film than Zach Snyder’s 300 or Watchmen, but I don’t count those, despite their qualities, for the simple fact that he literally used the books as storyboards. It’s one thing to crib and enhance someone else’s work in another medium, it’s something else to create the tone from scratch which is what Reeves’ film has done, to it’s great credit. However.

Had this story been told in the form of a limited series or a season of television I would have called it a grim but terrifically promising introduction to a new incarnation of Batman, brimming with vivid characters and potential for character arcs and rife with opportunities to improve in little ways that might ultimately lead to something like DC’s answer to Marvel’s Netflix’ Daredevil but with a premium budget and A-List talent. I would have done that, except this is a three hour long film. Instead, this entry feels like either too much story or not enough at the same time. At times it’s more Catwoman’s movie, which is great because Zoe Kravitz was terrific and at the conclusion of her arc I almost got up to leave before remembering there was this whole other drama going on.

I don’t really have a lot to say about Jeffery Wright’s take on Commissioner Gordon. By virtue of the film taking place in Year Two or so his relationship with Batman is already established, which makes it difficult to understand their implicit trust of each other. Stan Lee once said about writing that every comic book printed is somebody’s first comic book. And the movie, because of the broad popularity of the IP, ignores that with this assumption that we should just know who these characters are and why they put their lives in each other’s hands, which is a little disappointing. I’m not saying we need to see Thomas and Martha murdered all over again but for a three hour long film there seemed like time see why Jim Gordon is so close to Batman he’s basically Robin with a gun.

For the villains, man, it’s hard to not like Colin Farrell’s turn but I am baffled by the decision to cast him here. All in, it’s the prosthetics and make-up that are center stage and there are no shortage of talented character actors who could have brought Penguin to life without hours in a chair being done up. It was a massive distraction trying to constantly recognize the actor underneath it all but hey, I also can’t find Heath Ledger under all that make up either, so maybe I’m being overly sensitive but it just seems weird. Speaking of Ledger, it’s kind of in poor taste to compare anyone else in the Rogue’s Gallery to his Academy Award winning performance…but I’m going to. The thing that made his performance so memorable and evocative is that the way he is written, with his anarchistic dialogue and relentless confidence, he kind of makes some sense. It’s that brand of fuck society claptrap that incels and crazy people glom onto but everyone else was hypnotized because it’s delivered by Ledger with so much fucking verve.

When we finally get a conversation with Dano’s Riddler, something like 3 years into the film, he is absolutely unhinged. Nothing he says makes sense and I, personally, didn’t care that he was bouncing off the walls. There’s nothing calculated or menacing about the part, I wanted Hannibal Lecter and we got the Tasmanian Devil. Also, I love riddles despite being very bad at them, and the fact that I solved every one the second I saw them, followed immediately by Battinson, sucked the fun out of having a mastermind riddling genius as the antagonist. For a film that sets itself up and takes heavy inspiration from Se7en, all I can say is how dare you, this is more like a 2wo. Like Two with the number. Don’t know if that will translate.

I don’t like hating on something other people are loving. I really don’t, there are almost exactly as many started or unpublished drafts of reviews on my blog as there are published, I exercise strict editorial control of assholery. But. All of this is really meant to be constructive, as I’ve said publicly, this movie succeeds at being exactly what it wants to be whether or not it’s what I was expecting. Matt Reeves is a terrific storyteller, his Planet of the Apes movies had no right to be as good as they are. The Batman doesn’t hit the same compelling chords for me, for as joyless and pensive as it felt at times but, when it is hitting it’s stride, there is a fucking rock star under the hood. From the sound of the proto-Batmobile revving up to the hand-to-hand combat to the ridiculous cinematography that is both filthy and lush, the things that are good are very good. It’s anyone’s guess where the DCEU is going with the Snyderverse, which, despite my griping, is officially outpaced.

The Power of the Dog: The Least Among Us

This year I finally sat down with a film that I initially had no interest in, that I understand made a big splash in the awards circuit and had audiences debating it’s true purpose, breaking down plot points and characters to their core components. I had a strong reaction on my first viewing and understood both the hype and the frustration, I also needed to know more and decided to watch it again to truly mentally digest the experience and I’m happy to say I absolutely love that film. The fact that it is so unassuming and intimate, that the stakes are exclusively about family and the strange dynamics that exist between it’s members was a terrific break from the summer blockbuster formula, the end of the world drama that weighs down the completely human experience of just watching ordinary people in other walks of life negotiate challenge. I mean, I guess ordinary is a bit of a stretch because most of the people I’m talking about have magic powers and the film I’m loving all over is Encanto. The other film I watched was The Power of the Dog, which I didn’t like at all. Not one bit.

This is not to suggest that The Power of the Dog is a bad film. It’s not. It’s got all the things I want from my Oscar bait: good acting, cinematography, dramatic actors acting dramatically, impeccable set design, and A-List actors swinging for the fences with their acting powers. And if that seems snide it’s because it absolutely is. What it doesn’t have, to my mind, is a purpose. Throughout I was struggling to understand what kind of story it was trying to be, it hints at being a romance, then it seems like Jesse Plemons character is going to finally stand up to his brother but that doesn’t happen, then it seems like Benedict Cumberbatch might evolve or that Kirsten Dunst might overcome her bullying, then nope. Then the film ends. There’s something admirable about this ability to tease the viewer, to sort of sidestep expectations and flirt with so many different genres. There’s also something infuriating about it.

Is The Power of the Dog a western or is it noir? Answer: yes. And that’s where the film escapes me in it’s contradictory nature. In a western there’s some fundamental evil or purpose, either an outright villain in a lawless environment or the environment itself, manifest from the myth and legends of the American Frontier that is rife with conflict and existential violence. It’s the mundane called to greater purpose, to bring order to the intransigent wild, and it’s popularity comes from it’s extensive documentation and by the marriage of relatively modern technology meeting the primordial. Noir is, as the late, great Roger Ebert described it, the absence of heroes, to wit, stories in this genre are about bad guys matching wits with worse guys, usually in some attempt at redemption, often failing. The Power of the Dog has all the pieces of either genre and commits to neither. This may be the point. Rather than exist as a genre trope it seems content to exist as a sort of slice out of time, like a few obituary lines out of an archival newspaper from a forgotten, dead town brought to life in vivid, intimate detail; an artifact affected with context.

That’s a cool idea but before I start to like the thing, let’s get some major complaints out of the way. I like Benedict Cumberbatch for any number of projects and he’s, as expected, really good in this, however, while he is exceptional as a vicious, cold blooded asshole he is not convincing as a bully and I say this with the relative confidence that I could beat the guy up, no problem. Maybe it’s the name, maybe it’s his delicate features or the effete accent, but if this dude pulled half the shit he does in this film, not even contextualizing the old west, Phil Burbank, in either genre, would get tuned up like an old Chevy. I appreciate what he’s going for and the way that the character is written, but there’s an absolute lack of menace to the character. Take a Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma or a, god rest him, Powers Booth in Tombstone or Deadwood, these guys were threatening without doing anything at all. They just walked into a room and there was that sense of dread that something bad was about to happen. That is not here and the film, as I grouse about it, lives or dies on the ability of Cumberbatch to not only be vile but a real threat, and although I understand that there’s a kind of battle of wits taking place, that his character’s pathos is hinted at, it only succeeded at making me dislike everyone.

One final complaint and I’ll wrap it up. The Power of the Dog is set in Montana in 1925. This was a minor pet peeve that graduated into something I’m genuinely infuriated about, that got worse as the film progressed and it’s an odd thing to get pissed about but I’ll die on this hill and you can’t stop me. Montana, where my grandfather was born and, 71 years later, died, where I visited him a couple of times driving through the winter in my POS Geo Prizm like an idiot, is fucking gorgeous. It is green and sprawling, the mountains are massive and snowy, it is lush and ancient and breathtakingly beautiful. I almost hit a bald eagle with my car on the way to Helena one time, it’s cartoonishly cinematic. But Jane Campion, the director who is from New Zealand, opted to film there instead and, while I know beauty is subjective, I could not arrest my eyes from how desolate and barren the setting is, despite the admittedly majestic mountains. The whole film itself is actually guilty of something those mountains can’t help, it’s so goddamn brown and arid. It feels like a desert that no rational person would want to occupy but I definitely appreciate seeing new landscapes and environments but, to make my point, watch one of the most boring movies of all time A River Runs Through It, watch that film as long as you can before slipping into a coma and you’ll get an idea of what I’m whining about.

So, watch The Power of the Dog, make a pretentious ass out of me, I welcome it because if there is some insight into it I’m missing, all the better. In fact, I’ve been wrong about a lot of films, I used to hate No Country for Old Men for its nihilism and anticlimactic jerkiness but now I compulsively watch it once a year. And I actually love Jane Campion for Top of the Lake, the first season is an absolutely immaculate whodunnit that both hypnotized and rocked me in it’s finale. I’m just sad that I’m missing out here, I do not get it, with all the weapons and tools at her disposal I’m left wanting. Wanting to talk about Bruno.

Station Eleven: Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

It was difficult coming up with a review of Station Eleven, I’ve been meaning to write something about it since the first three episodes were released but ended up waiting until the finale aired, and I’m glad I did. Because after the mini-series concluded, while I still found myself at a loss for words I needed to process what I’d seen. Then, after enough time had passed, it finally dawned on me why I was struggling, why I was so baffled by this particular adaptation of a popular novel I’d never heard of. Maybe I’m slowing down in my old age or maybe Station Eleven is just confounding and pretentious, but I am confident in finally finding the pulse to this emotional slow burning drama and it boils down to this: I have never seen a show with such impressive production values, with such affecting performances and superb editing, with such an intricate, interwoven narrative and immense storytelling potential that is structured around an utterly aimless, nonsensical plot.

To put a finer point, I really wanted to like Station Eleven even though it constantly let me down. Because despite all the incredible qualities and hypnotic reflections on memory and loss… not a lot actually happens. Now, I am no heathen, I am capable of enjoying both an Armageddon and a Deep Impact, which Eleven, with its apocalyptic setting is solidly akin to the latter, but there are some fundamental flaws in the narrative that, in the moment, raise the level of tension but in hindsight are just annoyingly unresolved. There are beats or inferences or riveting things that happen without any kind of payoff or repercussions and I can usually forgive this kind of thing when the focus is on character but this happens a lot. Like, so much that I felt, when it was finally completed and all was said and done, that I’d been ripped off.

Taking place in year one and subsequently year twenty in the aftermath of a flu pandemic that kills 99 percent of the human population, Station Eleven, from a bird’s eye view, is about the collapse and reformation of society. It’s about family and kindness and the unraveling of social norms. It’s about how one generation affects the next and, importantly, both the vulnerability and strength that children possess. I like all of those things, if those things were in a buffet I’d be that guy walking to my table with a heaping plate that there’s no way I’m going to finish but I don’t care, I paid my 12.99 like everyone else. And then, alarmingly, I finish it, near comatose with a sopping bib. So the content is not a problem, in fact it’s refreshingly mature after the post-apocalyptic soap opera characters in The Walking Dead and it’s ilk, who are relentlessly the source of their own problems that repeat ad nauseum and treats graphic violence as a story tool.

Make no mistake, Station Eleven aims for those loftier things and hits lofty targets, one and all. I felt a deep emotional connection to the two primary characters, I’m tearing up right now just thinking about them, and the final episode was a lovely, powerful denouement. However. The story can’t seem to decide if there is an antagonist or not. Between a kind of cult leader type that is but really isn’t evil and a mysterious museum of sorts that seems threatening but isn’t what it seems, and children that may be of the corn, as well as an utterly wasted Enrique Colantoni, no one threat is either fully manifest or humanized. Particularly the cult leader, my god, does there not seem to be any actual commitment to what his motivation is or what compels him, I did not buy his pathos at all. This seemed like another wasted opportunity because the actor succeeds spectacularly at being both creepy and attractive, charming and unsympathetic. In a way his performance is precisely the show in a nutshell, perfectly crafted to no purpose at all.

Station Eleven, within the context of the show, is a graphic novel written by one of the characters in the wake of a messy divorce and has some mystical, indescribable power over the children who read or experience it’s story. What those qualities or powers are are anyone’s guess, as only fragments of dialogue are shared or brief scenes are acted out. Maybe there’s a metaphor here I’m not getting but it seems to me like lazy storytelling to suggest something so profound that you name your book and show after it but never share any of the suggested profundity. There’s an idiom; don’t pee on my shoe and tell me it’s raining. Station Eleven peed on my shoes and told me I was having an exultant revelation about the fleeting nature of life and love and it deserves a million points for trying, insofar as the people who believed in it were able to deliver on their individual roles.

Here’s the part where I either suggest the show or tell you not to waste your time. Despite my criticisms, which are so much more extensive and biting that I left most of them out to avoid spoilers, I highly recommend Station Eleven. I have what is essentially a love/hate relationship with the thing despite it’s emotional manipulation and Dan Brown-esque penchant for cliffhangers as a plot contrivance, and it’s belief that Shakespeare solves all ills (kinda does). It is also, for it’s faults, completely lovely. It is, while largely propped up by non-linear storytelling, compulsively watchable. And it is, ultimately, one of the most mature and thoughtful takes on the genre in a very long time as well as visually and emotionally gorgeous, to boot. As long as you don’t mind a little pee on said boot.

The Matrix: Resurrections – Logic and Proportion Fallen Dead

Between The Matrix Resurrections and Spider-Man: No Way Home and even some off-hand references in Hawkeye pop culture seems to falling into this meta-textual vacuum of self-referential awareness, like an ouroboros consuming it’s own legend until all that’s left is a smile, a wink, and a nod. It’s unclear if this is a bad thing or not, theater goers don’t seem to mind with Spidey raking in the cash but it does seem to be an impediment to the latest Matrix entry, which is convoluted, uninspiring, and a little self-important.

This is justified in many ways, The Matrix was a game changer, like a stone dropped in a pond it’s arrival was immediately felt, affecting the way action films were made to this day and is a near perfect cyber-punk hero’s journey. And the decision to revisit the source material isn’t a bad one, if it had only supplemented it in some way rather than simply pointing and shouting “…member?!” If this seems overly critical I only need reference The Animatrix, which demonstrated how diverse and imaginative this world has the capability to be.

There isn’t a lot that is particularly memorable about Resurrections, but one of the things that made the original trilogy notable, even the ones everyone hates, is that it had a kind of elegant violence, there was a balletic quality to the goings on even when it was a little absurd. Here, in this fourth entry, the action feels cluttered and unfocused with the Machines now able to dispatch “drones” occasionally turning the experience into a zombie movie to the benefit of nothing. As much as it may or may not have affected gun culture there was a definite fetishism of firearms and I’m not making a political statement; the guns were fucking cool when depicted in slow motion and fired while flipping through the air and out of speeding cars and POW POW POW BANG VROOM!

Ahem. This aesthetic is also completely missing, with antagonists that make stormtroopers seem like sharpshooters and relentless post-production muzzle flash that entirely takes away any sense of danger or consequences. It’s kind of like when the wands in the Harry Potter movies stopped being complex weapons that were as dangerous as the imaginations of the people wielding them and just turned into laser blasters color-coded to whatever side they were fighting for. To wit, it’s a disappointing omission and, to be frank, a lazy choice for a franchise that has new life because of it’s enthusiasm for the original material.

This all might seem like Resurrections is a bad movie, it’s not. It’s a decent one but is absent the clarity and focus of even the least liked films of the trilogy. Although there was an excess of philosophical rambling and existential gobbledygook, the plots had a clear direction and climax. Good versus evil. Freedom versus oppression. Love conquers all, etc. That’s not present here in what is kind of a reboot of the series. There’s less an impassioned desire to save the human race than a need to critique and disparage it. Gone is the optimism of a savior come to free mankind from their shackles and in its place is a kind of epic battle between two forms of middle-management, the micro-aggressor in Neil Patrick Harris and a defeatist Jada Pinkett Smith.

Also gone is the distinct green palette and anonymous cityscape that made the Matrix so distinctive from “reality”, and the result is somewhat jarring. Resurrections clearly takes place in San Francisco and is actually very lovely rather than depressing and banal, which begs the question, how bad really is this simulacrum compared to the artificial sky in Io where a strawberry is, like, a huge fucking deal. Again, this is an odd decision from the filmmakers who took multiple takes depicting Keanu and Carrie jumping off a skyscraper in order to catch the perfect sunset shot. Lovely, yes. Antithetical to the concept that the Matrix is some Stygian prison? Also, yes.

I do hope there is a future for this franchise, it’s a compelling world that is still full of untapped potential, potential that is under-utilized here in service of a relentless need to, again, wink and nod at the original film. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to expand that world, the title itself is enough of a draw, I just wish Lana Wachowski and company didn’t feel the need to go back to the well, looking backward rather than out at the vivid, horrifying, and terrifically fascinating universe they created.

The Wheel of Time: Eps 4-6, Time Keeps on Slippin’

This might be a little spicier than it needs to be, I’m still cranky over the cancellation of Cowboy Bebop after a single season, only three weeks after it was released. I’ll grant that the live action adaptation has serious flaws to the degree that I trashed my review attempt because I’d been relentlessly pointing out things I thought were bad or dumb, but I ultimately really liked it for the effort the cast and crew put into it. I even understood some of the pushback to the introduction of Ed, which, mine was something like, “…well, that’s going to take some getting used to.” When it worked it was a joy, however rarely that was and it at least deserved some more time to find its footing. Whatever, man.

The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time were not a great experience, mostly serving to introduce the world and it’s characters and seemed to get a mixed response. Newcomers to Robert Jordan’s world seemed cautiously optimistic while veterans of the book series gnashed their teeth and wailed like angry banshees on a chilly Scottish loch. I landed somewhere in between the two, having affection for the series as well as a naïve, childlike, and decidedly uncharacteristic hope that everything will work out in the end, if given time. Three episodes later and I’m convinced that this series will not last longer than three seasons, max.

I’m not a stickler for adhering to source material, I get that a novel and a television show are totally different mediums, for example the changes made to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, which are good on their own, substantially improve the Outlander television series with minor but effective adjustments. And if, while watching Dune, I had to listen to Timothée Chalamet droll through his each and every thought as Paul Atreides I’d have been rooting for the Sandworms inside an hour. But the key words there were ‘minor’ and ‘adjustments’, not a complete disregard for the original story. I had to check with other reviews to be sure, because I am an old fogy with a bad memory for stuff that happened in the 90s, and a whole lot of things have happened already that are either out of sync with the book or didn’t happen at all, it’s like a completely different story with the same characters. The only explanation I can come up with is that these changes were made for pacing reasons and if the pacing were good this explanation would make sense. It isn’t and it does not.

I don’t do episode recaps but the last three deserve at least some snapshots, because they took me on a roller coaster ride and, if that sounds like a compliment, I fucking hate roller coasters. “The Dragon Reborn” takes the series aggressively into it’s multi-narrative approach, hopping between characters, sometimes to advance the plot other times to bore me to tears. The Romani Tinkers and their pacifist philosophy do nothing to advance the story and when they start getting slapped around, literally slapped instead of what is portrayed as brutally attacked, I had to laugh at what was supposed to be a dramatic scene and then ask myself what was wrong with me. However, in the same episode, Rand and Mat have an encounter with one of the Nazgul Eyeless on a small family’s farm and it was like I was suddenly watching a different, better, far more entertaining show.

This is when and why it occurred to me that there will not be more than three seasons of Amazon’s The Wheel of Time, this lack of consistency in both tone and storytelling. More than that, I went on about Cowboy Bebop and how much it varied in quality but the thing was at least fun, or trying to be. There is no joy in The Wheel of Time, particularly when the crew finally reaches the Amyrlin Seat where everything and everyone takes things super seriously. For example, I get that they are mourning a Sister and that her Warder can’t process the grief but the only comparison I can think of is spending half a Game of Thrones watching characters weep and moan over the death of Jon Arryn. We don’t know these people and watching strangers grieve is weird.

Further, a note on the Whitecloaks. What I do remember from the books is that the Children of the Light were an autonomous legion of magic-phobic religious nut-jobs who could be both dangerous as well as incompetent shit-heels. They had roles within the world but not important ones and certainly weren’t as center stage as the show’s version, and I get the reason for this. The role of fundamentalism and the subject of women’s rights in our current geopolitical doodly-whatnot makes this group the perfect stand-in for real world subjects, however they are also tangential to what is trying to be the main plot of the show, they aren’t trying to stop anyone from stopping the Dark One, so why bother establishing them before any actual antagonists?

Speaking of sensitive subject matter, I appreciate the diversity in casting and overt inclusion of LGBT interactions and relationships, however in The Flame of Tar Valon an interaction takes place that demonstrates another of the show’s glaring problems: sex. As in, it’s not sexy. I had real issues with some decisions in Game of Thrones but even through my distaste and high-handedness…I still watched the thing and felt shame later. Two characters with absolutely zero sexual chemistry have a surprise triste in this episode and I had to jump on Google to find out if I’d missed something in my original reading. I hadn’t, Moiraine and Siuan apparently had an implied thing in the prequel novel, but the experience was like watching an old lamp and a credenza come to life and re-enact the climax of a John Hughes teen film in the most agonizing way possible.

The writing in these scenarios is about as erotically charged and inventive as the label on a bottle of shampoo, and speaking of the writing, ugh. As young Siuan has to say goodbye to her father he says, ‘I could no more visit you than the fish could touch the moon’, and she, in her apparent precocious wisdom, ‘But the fish touch the moon’s reflection every night’, and he’s all, ‘Oh you are so wise.‘ The moon’s reflection is not the moon, it’s a reflection. You’re a terrible father. There’s a lot of this going on in the show, these dimly conceived truisms that sound like they’ve been dredged up from the depths of Tumblr and Jordan’s writing was better than this. I’m starting to feel like wailing on a loch somewhere.

I hadn’t realized until now that the Wheel of Time television series will only have eight episodes in it’s first season and that’s shocking considering both the budget and breadth of the source material. With only two episodes left Moiraine is suddenly taking the gang to confront the Dark One via a Waygate and I, even having read The Eye of the World, couldn’t understand or remember why. Mat Cauthon hesitates and bails on the group and I could not, after reflecting on what amounts to his character arc, understand why. And Moiraine has been banished from Tar Valon for not divulging her mission, because apparently even the Amyrlin Seat doesn’t know what’s going on in this thing. Amazon had the confidence in this series to greenlight a second season before the first was released, though I’m not sure at all where that faith comes from and with two episodes left and no Big Bad seen, no Quest structure, and no antagonists to the plot, there’s a lot to tell and very little time to do it.

The Wheel of Time: Wheel In The Sky Keeps On Turnin’

The Wheel of Time book series by Robert Jordan is one of those things I picked up during my Fantasy phase way back in the years of nineteen hundred and none-of-your-business. At that point what would become a 14 book series (+1 prequel) was only about two thirds of the way written and I distinctly remember liking it for both the characters and how well realized the world and its politics were. All the different factions and cities felt real and there were so many plot threads to follow, it was a challenge keeping track in the days before the internet, still so today. However, I can also remember the exact thing that soured the experience for me, the reason why I stopped at around book 7 or 8 and it wasn’t the occasionally frustrating narrative or the complicated lore or the relentless diversions as it built towards some massive, Endgame-like climax we could only dream about as fans of the genre; it was clothes.

For whatever reason, Jordan had this thing about going into detail, exquisite detail about seemingly every stitch and button and weave that each of his characters were wearing in every scene. This obsession with over-explaining extended to the architecture of a town, to the buildings, and the roofing, to every single meal; not only was each book on it’s own utterly sprawling, but the world itself was throttled with adjective and elaboration. So for that reason I, as a teenager with a reasonable attention span, quietly set the series down during The Path of Daggers and never picked it up again even though I still did and do care about those characters. I wonder what happened to Rand and Perrin and Mat, even Egwene, but not Nynaeve, because she was the worst, and I didn’t have to google any of those character names all these years later. They are still fresh in my mind, for as well written and realized as they were. So take that into account going into my assessment of the first three episodes of Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

The question of what will be The Next Game Of Thrones has been thrown around relentlessly since before HBO’s worldwide phenomenon imploded on itself, so that every network from Netflix to Amazon to, well, HBO, has been throwing money at every Fantasy property that exists in an attempt to beat each other to the prize, and they have almost all been doing so without a real understanding of what made Game of Thrones so successful in the first place. There’s this misconception that Game of Thrones blew up because there was some massive audience for Fantasy desperate for dragons and swordfighting that had suddenly been unearthed and that the correct way to follow up it’s absence is to throw some more Fantasy out to fill the missing place in our hearts where Arya inexplicably stabbed us. However, Game of Thrones was successful because it had complex themes and characterization, because of it’s mature subject matter and powerful writing, because there were real consequences to the character’s decisions, also violence and sexuality, and all that happened to be set in a Fantasy world. It’s practically a Moneyball error in reasoning, what they want is George R.R. Martin quality writing and what networks are buying is the part about the magic powers and the funny accents.

All that said, at first glance The Wheel of Time will disappoint people looking for the former, and that’s too bad. It’s not wrong to feel that way, a TV show about a story this big is going to take more than three episodes to really capture an audience. Focusing on the first parts of the first novel in a series of 15 books, many of which are close to a thousand pages or more, is just too small a sample size, and it’s not nearly as graphic or dark as the pilot episode of Thrones. What it is is more or less your typical Fantasy television show that feels like a knock off of the worlds Tolkien made famous. There are simple villagers, odd traditions, and odder costumes, magic things happen, everyone speaks with an English accent, and there are monsters that feel the need to roar while chasing our heroes…like, a lot. I never understood all the roaring, it seems egregious, but it’s fine. But it is, and will be, a lot more than that and I know this because I made it about 8 books into the series.

What it will be is a story about a man accepting his destiny and struggling against his demons, both the internal kind and scary literal ones, about a woman discovering her power and potential in the face of obstinate tradition, it’s about a man whose incredible luck becomes a curse, and another man who becomes a wolf-boy. All of this is very cool. And the world itself is only hinted at so far, three episodes in and I am basically the Leonardo DiCaprio Pointing At The TV meme every time someone mentions a thing or a place. There’s a lot more here to discover, the world is going to get a lot bigger by the end of the first season, and with a second already in production, I’m excited to see where it goes, even though it may not scratch everyone’s particular Westerosi itch for violence, incest, and ice zombies.

Some shop-talk: Rosamund Pike is the only recognizable star and she still kind of freaks me out a little bit because of Gone Girl, but everyone else, sadly, has that television actor look to them. This might change as they grow older and their characters evolve but every time the camera caught…certain main characters whose destiny I won’t spoil, I had to make a mental reminder that I wasn’t looking at an extra. Of note is the actor playing Mat Cauthon, who was recast for the second season, someone I was paying particular attention to. No reason has been announced for his (Barney Harris) removal so I was curious if it had something to do with his performance. At first this seemed like the case because Mat, in the books, is a fan favorite, written as a kind of roguish ne’er-do-well with a sense of humor. Kind of a young Han Solo type is what I pictured, and the Mat in the series, so far, is not that at all. In fact, he’s kind of a prick and a thief, and yeah he cares about his little sisters, but he’s otherwise a charmless weasel. But by the third episode I decided that that wasn’t really the actor’s fault, as far as I could tell; it was just the way the character was written.

Maybe he didn’t get a great audience score or something, I don’t know, but apparently HBO once again set the standard for just yanking one actor and throwing in another (poor Daario) and not caring if the audience notices, although this is pretty extreme for a principal character. I would comment on some of the rest of the remarkably diverse cast but, again, I don’t know any of these goofballs. One other character that bears mention is the setting. Ever since the Lord of the Rings films introduced the world to New Zealand and blew us all away with unfamiliar vistas and breathtaking scenery, new shows and films have scoured the globe to find the next otherwordly Fantasy landscape and The Wheel of Time takes us to….Prague. There’s a lot of desolate looking plainland and some remarkable mountain peaks that may or may not be CGI, I can’t tell, but either way it has a quality and it does look like nowhere else, fantasy or otherwise.

I’m now talking about scenery so obviously I’ve ran out of things to comment on. As I said, there’s more to come and with the weekly release schedule being a thing here, it’ll be awhile before I get back to it. Until then……there’s no sexy catchphrase for this show like WINTER IS COMING, so here’s the trailer:

Ted Lasso: Season 2, The Substance of Things Hoped For

Random thoughts and spoilers on the second season….

I never really know how to pin down why I love Ted Lasso so much, it’s such a ludicrous premise held down by it’s sheer enthusiasm at existing. The same might be said of the eponymous character, and while Ted is those things, it’s his flaws that keep the experience so redeeming. At a little more than halfway through the second season it’s clear that there is a lot of steam left in the writing room, however predictable the episodes might be. The redemption of Jamie Tartt, the coaching of Roy Kent, and the resurrection of AFC Richmond’s side were hard to not see coming but damn if every minute hasn’t been working the way they want it to. I believe.

One of the finest moments in my mind is the Christmas episode but not just for the relentless joy, it’s actually pretty weak from a storytelling perspective as there is no real conflict outside of poor Phoebe’s horrendous breath. It’s in the Sexy Christmas conversation with Keeley and the coaches. She talks about her sexuality openly and is not mocked or shamed, she’s teased and they are all in on it. It’s just accepted as a part of life, a particularly fun one and in another TV show this could have gone horribly wrong but, and I don’t like to repeat my adjectives, joy is all that’s there. It’s a joy and fellowship and a respect for her that belongs in the real world far more often.

Jamie had an admittedly quick turn around after being essentially the main villain, if such a thing exists outside of Rupert, the ex-husband of the team owner. Bill Lawrence and company have done their jobs making everyone essentially the stars of their own show, even Nate had a prominent arc while also being the least interesting side character of all time (sorry Nick Mohammed). I will make a case for Tartt, that after his ejection from the reality show…. sorry, the hilariously silly reality show LUST CONQUERS ALL, he spends a reasonable amount of screen time meeting and greeting fans with absolute dignity and respect. He was a massive asshole in the first season but he was a massive asshole because of the first season, that was the point. A gentlemen I met who had a Ted Lasso jersey could only go on about how much he disliked Jamie Tartt (Do Do Do do do doot) but if you missed the scene where his father is emotionally abusing him you missed the whole point of Ted Lasso, show and person. He’s as much a victim as the people he spent the first season abusing.

I’d also make the argument that Roy Kent, while being my favorite character and essentially an analogue of Dr. Percival Cox from Scrubs, is almost too perfect. His wisdom is all encompassing. He has less of an arc and more of a shortened curve. There’s no real conflict there and I say this as a grown adult man who is going to, if I can find an AFC Richmond jersey, dress up as the character for Halloween (I’m working on my gravelly “NO“). But I’d adore this show even more if he had anywhere near the character conflicts that Ted is going through. Which brings us to Ted.

Mental health, anxiety and panic attacks, these are all serious issues that are devastating the medical community at the moment. For a variety of reasons, including work from home, climate change, and political divides have wracked the popular consciousness, we’re all dealing with some aspect of this either personally or with a friend or family member and it’s both honorable and admirable that Ted Lasso is so serious about showing how even the most relentlessly positive character, however fictional, can still suffer from these issues. It’s what makes him human as opposed to a caricature.

For the record, I called Sam Abisanya and Rebecca. I called it after obsessively watching the first season while dealing with my own depression and mental health, there’s a moment before she does karaoke when Sam takes her coat that they look at each other and it’s Sam and Diane, it’s Jim and Pam, it’s everything expressed in a simple exchange and, while I appreciate the head-fake in an earlier episode, there is no chemistry between Ted and Rebecca. It’s just not there, I said looking at my friends with accusatory contempt because they have social lives and I’ve rewatched Ted Lasso…. none of your business-times. At this point in the season it’s too early to tell if they are going to try and make this work but given the progressive approach to each episode I really look forward to seeing it unfold. Also, Sam deserves a queen and a queen is what Rebecca is in a nearly literal sense.

Predictions for the last half of the season, well, I should have piped up about Sam and Rebecca earlier but now there is no record of that happening or my amazing knowledge. I predict that Ted is going to have to find some way of combining himself with his alter-ego, Led Tasso, a character I am bummed I did not commit to tattooing on myself before I chose his BELIEVE type. I predict that Sam and Rebecca won’t be a perfect match but they will have fun trying. I predict that Jamie Tartt is going to try and win back Keeley, that Roy won’t even bother putting up a fight, and that she’ll make the right choice in the end. I predict that Nate is going to continue being sort of boring and off-putting. I predict that AFC Richmond will succeed in getting promoted from the confusingly named Champions League and, as Ted put it so eloquently, get on the road to winning the whole fucking thing.

For what it’s worth, Emmy nominations and wins aside, Ted Lasso has been such a fun time that the second half of the season could be awful and I wouldn’t care. That Roy Kent quoted Jerry Maguire, that Jamie stood with Sam and his boycott, that Keeley keeps saving people from themselves, that Higgins and his wife are the Turk and Carla of the show, that Nate spit on a mirror for some reason (?), that Rebecca continues to reinvent herself, that Rom-Communism, the belief that love is real and sometimes we’re in the middle of the dark forest but that that isn’t the end as much as the middle, is a thing I’ve been trying to put into words for years on this blog, so to me Ted Lasso has already won.

Ted Lasso: Give A Little Love, Get A Little Love

I like to complain about Cormac McCarthy a lot. Like, at every possible opportunity, for example the other day I was listening to a compilation video on YouTube called Behind the Curtain that explores the writing processes for all kinds of things from True Detective to Arrival to the video in question, The Office where what sounds like Michael Shur explains a concept that I champion every chance i get. And, paraphrasing, it’s the idea that the world can be awful and scary and terrible so why not, given an artistic platform, find a way to create a solution, what’s a path out of that, a way of saying here’s some things that help show how the world can also be a better place, if at all possible. To anyone unfamiliar, Mike Shur is responsible for, aside from the American version of The Office, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place. So feel-good comedy is kind of his wheelhouse.

What does that have to do with Cormac McCarthy, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and author of, among other things, The Road, No Country For Old Men, and Blood Meridian, the last of which is one of the most revolting and unpleasant experiences I have ever had since I first started, you know, reading? I don’t have a problem with darkness or nihilism or pessimism in art, be it cinema, literature, or any other medium, but misery for the sake of itself, without any contrast or context, is exactly as much of a waste of time as anything that is on the polar opposite of that. Your Live, Laugh, Love crowd or the people that say Happy Monday and want everyone to go around the room and say something about themselves. Life, and I’m not an expert but I do recycle and chop up plastic soda rings before throwing them away, is pretty weird and complicated. It’s got so many odd layers and tides, the way it gives and takes, painting it as entirely one shade or another is reductive, simplistic, and, in a way, pornographic, which is what I find McCarthy’s inexplicably lauded work to be.

It’s very easy to tear something down or paint an awful picture of life’s inequities. It’s very very difficult to celebrate life realistically, with one foot in optimism and the other in realism, and if you told me a few months ago that an NBC promo for Premier League coverage starring an SNL actor I couldn’t pick out of a lineup of generic white guys, that was converted into full 10 episode season on, of all things, APPLE TV, would or could succeed at doing exactly that, I’d have called you a cab or an Uber or a Lyft because you are clearly drunk and what time is it, what time did you start drinking, I think one of us has a problem.

Ted Lasso is my favorite show in the last…I don’t know how many years. It’s my favorite show, of the laugh/feel/think type, since Scrubs for obvious reasons, Bill Lawrence is the showrunner on both, and what he succeeded with there, he succeeds with here. Ted, on his own, is a funny concept that lives exactly as long as the NBC promo videos that spawned the character but relying on this slightly insouciant yet deceptively insightful coach to carry a full order is both unwieldy and practically impossible; Lawrence and Sudeikis clearly knew this coming out of the gate, so what we have instead is an ensemble of interesting, quirky characters with their own particular journeys and hang-ups. While Lasso’s fish-out-of-water plot is suitably explored, it’s his personality and approach to both coaching and life that invert the trope. To wit, it’s his team and their owner who have to adjust to him and his relentless positivity; how they react to his idiosyncrasies is what generates and provokes a lot of the plot, when they aren’t exploring their own fully realized stories.

Further, if Ted was a perfect, flawless man sent to right everyone’s wrongs and ride off into the sunset, the show would find itself beached on a different shore. While it might not be perfect (I mean, I think it is, but that’s just me), it succeeds in turning Ted’s greatest strength into his greatest weakness, which is where it graduates from good to great. The premise of why exactly an American football coach with no soccer experience or expertise would be hired to coach a Premier League team is reasonable, if a little bit borrowed from Major League, but why an American football coach with no soccer experience or expertise would accept the position is, again, what pushes Ted Lasso above what could be a mediocre novelty.

I don’t really care for Coldplay but in Fix You there’s that line, “When you love someone but it goes to waste, could it be worse?” Coldplay is an English band so this feels like an appropriate reference. As much as I don’t care for their music songs, that line always hits me and, if you can’t relate, Ted’s collapsing marriage can put it in context. Louis CK (may his career R.I.P.) used to say, “No good marriage ever ended in divorce“. Well, that ain’t true. Sometimes people really care about one another but just can’t make it work, they feel around in the dark and can hear each other’s voices but things are always just out of reach; in a way, it can be worse than if that love just died on the vine. In fact, I’ll get even nerdier on you, as Captain Picard once said to Data (with a lot more stank on it than the measured, fatherly memes might imply), “It’s possible to make no mistakes at all and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.” I know that it absolutely can be worse but, when love goes to waste, it is no picnic.

One of the reasons I have a blog, a blog where I will regularly quote Star Trek or wax sentimental by bringing up, of all things, a Coldplay song about crying, is because of a character named John Dorian (J.D.) from the TV show Scrubs played by Zach Braff. Zach and Bill Lawrence showed me for the very first time that it is possible to be a sensitive geek who listens to Dido and cries during movies, and that didn’t make me any less of an adult or a man, that being in touch with my feminine side or willing to be the butt of my own jokes was actually empowering because empowering is what happens when you accept and embrace your own personality. J.D. never apologized for being those things, he was never embarrassed to be them and he made me feel okay about being me.

This was something I needed very much in my early 20s and, as I get older, I have found the next version, the next example of that in this unexpected place. I don’t possess Ted Lasso’s optimism or his charm, but I love being as silly and self-aware, I do believe in an individual’s ability to affect their environment, that lifting up others and being a source of comfort and patience is a very difficult thing to do that pays off in orders of magnitude for everyone involved. And I do know what’s it’s like to love someone and it goes to waste. Ted’s an inspiration there, too (Onward, forward). And so is the rest of the cast of Ted Lasso, as they learn from each other and mature and just try to do and be better, I can’t wait for Jaime Tartt’s redemption arc and the potential promotion of AFC Richmond over the coming second and third seasons, and the clever, hilarious ways Ted and company will find their solutions through the awful and the scary and the terrible. Fuck Cormac McCarthy.

WandaVision: Eps. 3 through 9- The Great Red Hype

Well. That was some bullshit.

………okay, fine. My original intention was to post something every few episodes of WandaVision, an approach I had a lot of fun with during Game of Thrones, which, for all it’s faults, had enough content to make silly conjectures and theories about all while joking around like a Jokey Jokerton, but damn if that wasn’t both impossible given how lean nearly every episode has been and, come to find out, would have been an utter waste of time anyway. I’m not going to sugar-coat this reaction lads and ladies and non-gender identifiers, this first step into Phase 4, regardless of the delays and rescheduling due to Coronavirus, is a colorful but toothless piece of fluff, it’s exactly the commercial for Disney Plus I suspected it would be, and the best part of the experience were the conversations about what it could have been.

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I bear no ill-will towards the cast and crew, WandaVision, ultimately, is a pretty terrific creation in terms of scale and scope, there’s a lot of attention to detail from the craft-making perspective and I have a great deal of respect for the amount of love that went into putting this odd experiment of a show together. But my contempt, of which there is a lot of, is for the higher level decisions and the writing. Good lord, how do you waste Randall Park at every instance with this Jimmy Olsen caliber, aw-shucks dialogue; this terrific improvisational actor who exudes personality and quirk has been made utterly forgettable. Director Hayward was successfully mysterious, then troublesome, then stupid, then downright Snidely Whiplash evil, not because he was complex and well-written, but because they had no idea how to write him except to be a foil and make bad decisions. Additionally, I even got frustrated with Kat Dennings’ character being limited to exposition and snark, she could have been a completely new character and it wouldn’t have mattered so why bring her back at all? 

The long awaited finale, that was supposed to usher in the next Doctor Strange movie and have some kind of crazy cameo or reveal or something, had and did none of those things. This was, in fact, a self-contained story about Wanda being sad and doing some crazy magic and then stopping. There were no consequences or stakes, no Multiverse reveal, Evan Peters casting is revealed to be, in the most meta of meta ways, just an actor cast in a role which some folks have found to be a cute in-joke and I have found to be a gigantic ‘fuck you‘ to the audience for getting our hopes up that something significant was taking place. We are all dumber for having experienced it, I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

The only saving grace of WandaVision, the raison d’etre, are the performances. In a very short amount of time Kathryn Hahn has elevated herself to full-on meme status, she was one of the few actors whose role had some meat on it, who managed to exceed the relentlessly mediocre writing and put some stank on it, which is no surprise considering she’s, well, Kathryn Hahn. Paul Bettany and Liz Olsen also comport themselves well, but that’s also a given, I even experienced emotional emotions when they were emotionally emoting. But holy Marvel Studios, was any of it worth it at all if the end result was a gigantic reset? I am almost more surprised by the lack of actual plot or movement of the MCU than I would have been if Doctor Strange or Professor X had showed up. What a waste of a great setup and a great concept and great comic book source material. What a waste, period. 

Here’s the part where I would normally expound on some of the deeper themes and resonance of WandaVision, how it explores some metaphor or concept but I’m still grasping for straws. Wanda’s grief, in the penultimate episode, is effective in retconning her history and what I was worried about was a subsequent giant CGI slap fight which is exactly what took place. I will give credit for, and this is important to note, that the Vision versus The Vision (typing words about the MCU is getting so stupid) was concluded in a very satisfactory way. Something that gets lost in all the green screen and computer effects is that in the comics the action and big splash pages were only half of the draw. The rest is the writing. More often than not the heroes had to reason their way out of a problem, as opposed to punch the problem away. This has only occurred a handful of times so far, with Doctor Strange outsmarting Dormammu (ugh, fake words) and the conclusion of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which has a lot of punching but ultimately Peter snags the pistol Mysterio has aimed at him because he still has his guard up, because he learned. So, good job, WandaVision, you have continued the tradition of setting up Bettany with some of the best lines and insights into the human condition. 

Let’s talk post-credit scenes. While it’s not clear what Monica Rambeaux’ powers are exactly, some research on the interwebs (because good writing always requires a google search to understand what’s happening) reveals her as Photon/Spectrum, and she will play a role in the upcoming Captain Marvel 2. Also, there are Skrulls and Nick Fury is in space, both things that were revealed at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, so, who gives a shit? Further, Wanda in a cabin in the mountains being maniacal at the camera and implying…something, that smacks a lot of Ed Norton’s failed turn playing the Hulk. Again, I’m more confused than anything else at the dearth of content. Why are they holding back at all? Why won’t you talk to me Marvel?! This was like having a messenger conversation with someone where the little ellipses go wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, for five minutes and then the message you get is “LOL IKR” and you’re like, what the actual hell.

Say something nice, my mom’s voice is chiming in my head. Fine. For seven weeks or so WandaVision was a successful pop culture phenomenon that raked up all kinds of otherwise obscure comic book references and lore. It’s always fun watching the internet buzz about something that isn’t awful or offensive or divisive, and although the week-to-week releases are annoying in the age of instant streaming, it also unifies people in real-time and becomes a shared experience in a time when we can’t have a lot of those or, you know, nice things. So, cool beans. Even though the entire venture would have made more sense as a four-part mini-series or even a full-length feature where they can still give every single crew-member their own credit screen in order to artificially stretch out the run-time right down to the craft-service people, because you can fool some people Disney, but you can’t fool me, I’m hip to your game and I’m not going to stand for it. Not any more. This far, no further. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…you can’t get fooled again, is what I’m saying.

….anyone know when the Loki series debuts? I’ll take The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, whatever, just give it to me, already.

Nomadland: Not All Who Wander

I absolutely despise the film Into The Wild, starring Emile Hirsch, that tells the real life story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who decided to walk away from a college degree and a good life in middle America in order to become a drifter and live off the land. He, with no actual training or survivalist experience, eventually made his way to Alaska in order to become one with nature and have a lot of deep, existential conversations with trees or whatever. Eventually, after nearly starving to death, he poisons himself and dies a short distance away from a bridge spanning a river he was isolated by, that he would have easily been able to traverse and possibly save his own life, except that he had not bothered to consult a map of the area he was in. He died in an old abandoned school bus that he was using for shelter, a school bus that in real life had to be removed by authorities because too many copycats and admirers were getting lost or injured trying to find this absurd landmark.

If it sounds like have a particular note of contempt in my tone it’s because while I understand the sentiment and even some of the adulation towards someone who boldly swears off the shackles of a consumer society and communes with their ancestral instincts and desire for adventure, I grew up poor. And when you grow up poor you walk by the windows of these homes, with their firelight and Thanksgiving decorations left up for too long, you wonder what it’s like to go to college first and then decide what your major is going to be, because unless you’re one of those Very Special Episode kids, you don’t even know what a game plan looks like to earn a scholarship, it’s all loans and debt. For every amazing teacher or counselor there are about 10,000 more who do not give a shit. So Christopher McCandless, while the ambition is respected, is an asshole in my book. Into The Wild is a very good film, though, context aside.

Nomadland is a film that is both antithetical and complimentary to Into The Wild. Rather than a celebration of the potential and wonder of youth and the power of nature, it’s a patient meditation on the quiet slide into disrepair and obsolescence. It’s about people who have been left behind finding a way back to community and purpose, while marking time towards eventuality with dignity, in the face of relentless indignities. Nomadland exists in and examines that inevitable time and place when our wounds will stop healing and get the better of us, but does so without losing sight of the beauty in the desolation, in the in-between forgotten places full of artifacts and ghosts.

Frances McDormand is that rare talent who can not only carry a film this minimalist, but tell a story with this little dialogue or conflict and Nomadland, while populated with the actual nomads and itinerant people the film is based on, lives or dies on her ability to humanize and emulate them without pandering. These are the odd-yet-familiar people you pass on the street or see driving by in a camper and don’t think twice about. McDormand’s character Fern, is that woman well into her twilight years still working a fryer, wearing a fast food uniform, with a map of the world on her face, and cigarette stained fingernails. She, and they, are the people you know have a fascinating story that brought them to this place or another, and it must be a sad one but oh, well. That will never happen to me, which is exactly what they must have thought once upon a time.

To say Nomadland is bleak does a disservice to what is a powerful and remarkably confident film about what it is to be an outsider, even among outsiders, and still find ways to be kind and considerate. Fern, having lost her husband and the idyllic life they had made for themselves, has committed herself to living out of a van. She works hard and treats the people around her with the kind of motherly/sisterly respect that you would expect if you ever had the opportunity to work around or with Frances McDormand. To say Nomadland is uplifting also does a disservice to how much faith director and writer Chloe Zoa has in the audience to confront the realities of mortality and the fundamental inhumanities inherent to late-stage capitalism, which isn’t a political statement so much as the full-throated iteration of the fact that the moment you stop producing or consuming, you are only so much chaff to be recycled or stepped over.

For that experience, and the cognitive dissonance found in feeling both depressed and fulfilled afterwords, I am on the hype train for Nomadland and it’s inevitable deluge of awards and accolades. This is a film that is a slice out of time in a place that only exists because of the people who have decided to occupy it, people who lost their livelihoods or loved ones or homes and said, fuck that, home is where I say it is. I suspect it will inspire that same romantic wanderlust that Chris McCandless and Jon Krakauer artfully inspired in folks searching for meaning or substance in their own lives, that abandoning one’s problems is a valid alternative to working them, selectively ignoring the fact that these denizens of the road have, in many cases, lost every other choice. For them the option is not romantic, simply the only one left. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe wandering with the purpose of getting lost has been the point all along, I have a feeling I’ll find out one day.