Category: 2010’s


justified1

The second season of FX’s Justified orbits around the scene where Mags Bennett discovers that her son Coover has been killed by U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens.

Mags Bennett is the matriarch of a clan of weed dealers nestled in the hills of Harlan, Kentucky. Mags runs a general store as her legitimate business front. As long as you have the common sense to not interfere in her criminal business interests, you might mistake her for a feisty grandmother. She’ll treat you to moonshine. Her “apple pie” shine is the best in Harlan County although the glass in which she serves it to you might be poisoned. She’ll take in an orphan girl whose father Mags had killed. She’ll baby her grown sons; they still call her Mama… even when she’s smashing one their hands in with a hammer. Coover should have known better

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A thing I’ve thought about a lot since I was a kid is “praxis.”

Of course, when I was a child, I didn’t know what that word meant. “Praxis” is the practical realization of an idea. As a child, “praxis” was the answer to the question, “what does it mean to live a Christian life?” I’m not religious anymore. I’m an agnostic. But as a kid, I was very devout in my faith, and living a Christian life wasn’t some theoretical concern. These were questions that I arranged my life around.

I didn’t drink til I was 20 years old. I felt that maintaining a purity of body was essential to spreading the Gospel. I didn’t engage in sexual relations while I was still a believer. It was forbidden by the Bible, and I took that command seriously. I didn’t swear. I read the Bible. There were phases where I was so concerned with this question that I was taking my Bible with me to high school and reading it on the bus and before classes and at lunch. I went to a weekly Bible study. I didn’t want to simply “believe.” Being “born again” wasn’t enough. I had to grapple with the core tenets of the belief system that I was subscribing to. And if I wanted to be someone capable of proselytizing for Christ effectively, my actions in real life had to embody those beliefs.

Eventually, conflicts arose between my Evangelical Christian upbringing and a growing sense of social liberalism/faith in science and reason. The latter won out. But the question of “praxis” remained. Instead of asking “what does it mean to be a good Christian,” I was asking “what does it mean to live a life that embodies the pursuit of social justice and equities in the quality of life?” As it turns out, those ideals are much harder to live up to.

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Whiplash1

I started dating my first real girlfriend in the final weeks of my senior year of high school. Before that, I’d “dated” girls that I called “girlfriend” and they called me “boyfriend,” but that was middle school and considering the fact that we never kissed or went on dates or called each other on the phone or really did much of anything besides hold hands as we walked around the school, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t really count. I digress. This girl and I dated for a couple months. To this day, I’m not sure I ever had a more natural romantic relationship with somebody. We were both too young for the guarded cynicism of adult relationships. We were simply ourselves, and we were happy. Emphasis on “were.”

It was all well and good until this girl came back from a Christian bible summer camp. I’m a “teapot agnostic” now, but I was a devout Christian at the time. I read the Bible. I went to a weekly Bible study. My faith was integral to who I was. But this girl made me look like a militant atheist. She was a hardcore Southern Baptist. She exclusively wore ankle-length denim skirts to school. Her parents wouldn’t let her listen to the Beatles. My spirituality at the time was imbued with a degree of (and I hate to use this word now cause it’s so condescending but that’s how I was at the time) tolerance. I didn’t think gay people were sinners. I respected the rights of other folks to have different religious beliefs than me. This girl did not.

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(This is not a review of The Tree of Life. I reviewed the film for this blog three and half years ago when I was 22 and not yet a professional writer. You can read it here, but, like I said, be kind to young me and keep in mind that this particular piece is not a review but an essay on the philosophical subtext of Terrence Malick’s film.)

A child is yelled at by his father, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees men carted off by the police, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees his mother offer water and tend to criminals the same way she tends to him and his brothers, and he doesn’t know why. A child sees a girl, and he can’t look away or focus on anything else, and he doesn’t know why. A child shoots his brother through the fingertip with a BB gun after promising he wouldn’t harm him, and he doesn’t know why. A child straps a frog to a child’s rocket and fires it while other boys cheer him on, and he doesn’t know why.

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Leviathan1

Nature is cruel and horrific.Yes, it can be beautiful. It only takes a trip to a major natural landmark to establish that, but the entire premise of “life” is predicated on barbarism: murder to survive, starvation for those that don’t, ultimate extermination of anything that can’t assert its dominance at the top of the food chain. And a fair existential question is: If your chances in life of experiencing consistent suffering are so high — much higher than living a life of ease and pleasure — then why should we keep trying at this experiment in life at all? Most people — myself include — would respond with: family, friendship, romance. Those heights transcend the inherent tragedy of life, but in the bleak Russian drama Leviathan, it’s not easy to keep those escapes in mind when an avalanche of tragedy takes hold.

The story of Job as I imagine Michael Haneke might conceive it, Leviathan equates the oppressive cruelty of nature and life with existence under the post-Soviet Russian state and unlike Job, a benevolent God doesn’t exist at the end of the tunnel of your trials. Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), a hot-headed mechanic in a small, coastal town in northern Russia, faces the seizure of his home and garage by his town’s corrupt mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov). Although Kolya’s former army buddy and closest friend Dima (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a handsome lawyer from Moscow, has dirt implicating the mayor in gruesome crimes, Kolya’s temper, the deep unhappiness of his long-suffering wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and the oppressive power of the Russian state threaten to grind Kolya away until there’s nothing left but his bones… not unlike the titular skeleton of the “leviathan” whale on the town’s coast.

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A Walk In The Snow

For the first time in my adult life, I do not mind the snow. It is the first day of Spring on the first Friday after my first week in New York City as the managing editor of Baeble Music, and I find the snow rejuvenating. It is a reminder that weather exists in this concrete labyrinth of brownstones, row houses, office complexes, and skyscrapers. And although any one who learned to drive on the mountainous slopes of West Virginia’s rural back-highways and the congested hills of Morgantown should dread winter and snow like it’s the return of the locusts — here to destroy everything you love — I can’t. Not today.

I regret not snapping a picture of the over-burdened branches of the firs, their extremities sagging over the steep walls of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway like an out of shape man stretching and failing to reach his toes. I regret not having a spare coat to offer the young black man with his hands shoved wrist deep down his sagging pants because he was not wearing any jacket or top with pockets. And I highly regret my terrible personal health, my calf muscles seizing after only a week’s stay in the city with only a short walk from subway to home and subway to work to strain me. But I do not regret the cold. And I openly welcome the snow.

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Best of Year 4

Now that I’ve gotten my unplanned mini-essay out of the way on what the last four years of this blog have meant, I want to do the thing that I always do on the anniversary of my blog (though I’m almost a week late this year) which is lay out my superlatives for the whole year. This whole spiel was more meaningful when I watched more films each year, but it’s okay. I watched a lot of really great movies in the last 365 days, and I’m looking forward to sharing my favorites with you all. As usual for my most recent superlative lists, I’ll link to a review/podcast if that exists. Otherwise, I’ll include a short spiel about why that piece made my list. Anyways, let’s head to the races.

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Four Years

MeAndSis

The above photograph is from June of 2011, and it’s a picture of me and my sister at our dad’s place back home in Philippi. I was 22 — I know; it’s hard to believe I’m not a 12 year old in that picture — and my sister was a couple months shy of her first semester of college. This blog was only 3 months old. A lot has happened since then, and I’ll get into all of the opportunities this blog has afforded me in due course, but the biggest change to my life since that photograph was taken is that I can call myself — devoid of any hint of irony or self-effacing humor — a professional writer. This blog saved my life, and I owe the world to any readers who have supported my work over these years. You all have kept me going, and that’s not an exaggeration.

I started this blog on February 7th of 2011. That was the spring semester of what should have been my senior and final year of college at West Virginia University. But I’d spent the two semesters prior to that wandering through a depressed haze. And I don’t mean I was simply sad. I was suffering from depression. I had devolved from being one of the top students in the political science department at WVU — I’d won a major departmental scholarship my freshman year that students at every year level could compete for — to a lost young man quickly entering his mid-20s with no anchor tying his world together.

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Best of Movies: 501-550

And it’s that time of the year again where I give out my awards for various superlatives in the films that I’ve watched over the course of the last six months. We’ll also be doing one of these soon again for the best films of Year 4 of Hot Saas’s Pop Culture Safar which is honestly just sort of mind-blowing to think about but that’s a post for the beginning of next month. As with any of those posts since my reviewing slowed down, if the film has a review (or was discussed on the podcast), I’ll link to it the first time the film pops up on one of these lists. Otherwise, I’ll write a short 2-3 sentence post about why it deserves to be here. I hope you enjoy and find some films worth checking out!

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And with my review of Blue, I’ve completed another 50 film circuit for this blog. This time, it took me way longer than it ever has before but that’s cause I got my first steady, paid professional writing gig, and there have been multiple weeks where I’ve essentially worked two full-time jobs at once. It can be exhausting but I’m also so happy to be getting paid a decent wage for my work. It feels really great. I’ve missed my goal (again) of reviewing all of the “A” and “A+” films that I watched for this 50 film block but before I put up my 50 film superlatives tonight, I wanted to give everybody a low down on the scores that I gave to each film that I watched. And, then, of course, stay tuned for my best of lists. (As always, links will be provided for the films I actually reviewed or a link to the podcast where we discussed said film if there’s a podcast conversation but no review)

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