Writer, sometimes interstellar hitchhiker, author of Dystopolis, a book.
Read: The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner

In a way, I think James Dashner’s greatest strength unfortunately becomes his biggest weakness - in creating a narrative that is constantly building to the next slice of exposition, and a world that bleeds right into your consciousness, his characters often get left by the wayside. What you’re left with is a curious phenomenon - horrifying things happen to the characters in these books, but they rarely carry the emotional heft that comparable works inspire. There is very little existential angst here - the mental wounds are present, but rarely very deep.

That world, though - the reality-bending nature of the environments Thomas finds himself in is ramped up here, and events and environments fade out of the dust in an almost dreamlike way. The current sweeps you along, before you really have time to question if what’s happening makes any sense. That’s probably a good thing - part of the novel’s delight is in spinning a grand conspiracy narrative, and at times the plausibility of it all would likely buckle under any rational pressure. It’s all good fun, though, and going in without an analytical eye is probably the best course of action.

I question why I’m reading these books, save for the fact that it’s all preamble to watching Dylan O’Brien perform in the upcoming film adaptation of the first in the series, The Maze Runner; it’s entertaining, though, and a welcome respite from the often-dry research I’m doing for my next book, not to mention a sharp reminder that if writing isn’t fun, there really isn’t any point. Maybe that’s enough. In terms of intelligence and - sorry - quality, though, this belongs firmly in the Teen Wolf camp of things I’m enjoying.

Read: The Scorch Trials, by James Dashner

In a way, I think James Dashner’s greatest strength unfortunately becomes his biggest weakness - in creating a narrative that is constantly building to the next slice of exposition, and a world that bleeds right into your consciousness, his characters often get left by the wayside. What you’re left with is a curious phenomenon - horrifying things happen to the characters in these books, but they rarely carry the emotional heft that comparable works inspire. There is very little existential angst here - the mental wounds are present, but rarely very deep.

That world, though - the reality-bending nature of the environments Thomas finds himself in is ramped up here, and events and environments fade out of the dust in an almost dreamlike way. The current sweeps you along, before you really have time to question if what’s happening makes any sense. That’s probably a good thing - part of the novel’s delight is in spinning a grand conspiracy narrative, and at times the plausibility of it all would likely buckle under any rational pressure. It’s all good fun, though, and going in without an analytical eye is probably the best course of action.

I question why I’m reading these books, save for the fact that it’s all preamble to watching Dylan O’Brien perform in the upcoming film adaptation of the first in the series, The Maze Runner; it’s entertaining, though, and a welcome respite from the often-dry research I’m doing for my next book, not to mention a sharp reminder that if writing isn’t fun, there really isn’t any point. Maybe that’s enough. In terms of intelligence and - sorry - quality, though, this belongs firmly in the Teen Wolf camp of things I’m enjoying.

Watched: All Is Lost
I feel like this is the sort of movie that will burn quietly and slowly for a long time after - Robert Redford communicates almost entirely in expressions and his physical movement throughout All Is Lost, and as a result you’re left wondering about the inner workings of his head during the downbeats. There are some cryptic ideas in the opening monologue, - an apology of sorts to family back home, maybe - but that’s the extent of the backstory he receives. And that’s good - so much of this film is about dealing with the immediate crisis at hand, and tying it to some emotional flashback or constant self-narration would just look awkward.
People have described this as Gravity at sea, and while there’s some of that - Redford’s character is subjected to the worst of the elements, and his situation goes from bad to worse to utterly dire - it’s also more meditative. You’re given time to contemplate life in this man’s shoes. The score fades in and out, more often than not allowing for a little harmony to open the film up and let it breathe.
This was good. Trying to ascribe some intent beyond simple survival on the part of the filmmakers is maybe going a little far, but a combination of Redford’s acting and the pace of the film gives the audience just as much room to fill in the gaps - and therin lies All Is Lost's heart. As a piece of participatory cinema, it's excellent.

Watched: All Is Lost

I feel like this is the sort of movie that will burn quietly and slowly for a long time after - Robert Redford communicates almost entirely in expressions and his physical movement throughout All Is Lost, and as a result you’re left wondering about the inner workings of his head during the downbeats. There are some cryptic ideas in the opening monologue, - an apology of sorts to family back home, maybe - but that’s the extent of the backstory he receives. And that’s good - so much of this film is about dealing with the immediate crisis at hand, and tying it to some emotional flashback or constant self-narration would just look awkward.

People have described this as Gravity at sea, and while there’s some of that - Redford’s character is subjected to the worst of the elements, and his situation goes from bad to worse to utterly dire - it’s also more meditative. You’re given time to contemplate life in this man’s shoes. The score fades in and out, more often than not allowing for a little harmony to open the film up and let it breathe.

This was good. Trying to ascribe some intent beyond simple survival on the part of the filmmakers is maybe going a little far, but a combination of Redford’s acting and the pace of the film gives the audience just as much room to fill in the gaps - and therin lies All Is Lost's heart. As a piece of participatory cinema, it's excellent.

Watched: Dallas Buyers Club
I wish I’d seen this film before Jared Leto opened his stupid mouth, because it’s really good and I prefer seeing things like this without the sour taste of an actor’s idiot remarks going in.
This subverts the one-man-against-the-system narrative, which this definitely is, by making the one man an utter asshole within a few minutes of the film’s opening. The Ron Woodruff of this movie is aggressively homophobic and often casually racist, throwing around slurs every moment he gets an opportunity. This is only doubled when he learns he’s contracted HIV and AIDS at the height of the eighties gay panic, but lulls and abates over time as he gets to know fellow sufferers through the titular drug buyers’ club; in particular, he finds himself drawn to Rayon (Jared Leto), a flamboyant transgender woman who begins her definition as an almost offensive caricature but becomes painfully rounded out as the film progresses.
It’s a shame that so much focus has been placed on Jared Leto, as this is really Matthew McConaughey’s film through and through. He’s transformed in this role, a far cry from the supposed sex symbol he apparently was in the nineties. He still retains some of the swagger that McConaughey brings to roles, but Woodruff is a more tightly wound character, more likely to throw a punch than crack a smile. Watching his redemption (though he would never call it that) brought a tear to my eye, even as the film refused to hold my hand.
To talk about Leto for a moment - concentrating specifically on his performance in the film for a moment, it is a shame that no-one thought to cast a transgender actor - one suspects that the decision was cynically made because of Leto’s star power (and no-one would presumably argue that, even accepting the huge number of talented transgender actors unable to find rewarding roles, that any of them have as recognisable a name). Complicating that fact is that Leto gives an incredible performance here. There’s a scene where he dresses in traditionally male clothing to meet with his on-screen father, and you can’t help but think that you’re watching a transgender woman go through the experience of posing as male, rather than seeing Jared Leto playing dress-up.
There is a difference, of course, between gender performance and gender identity, and the politicisation of this film comes with the latter - issues of representation of actors with non-cisgender identities is hugely important, and painfully overlooked. Within the framework of the film, though, performativity is everything, and Jared Leto’s assumption of a female role is far more than the way he walks or talks. Every moment of his feels meticulously played out and utterly believable, and while that doesn’t even begin to excuse the wider context, it does add a layer of complexity to proceedings.
So: this is an excellent film, despite the hubbub of awfulness that sadly surrounds it. It deals with important issues, and while this fictionalised version of Woodruff’s attitude toward self-medication is certainly a little rudimentary, it doesn’t lessen the critique of the US healthcare system that punches through in this film. There’s heart, and there’s tragedy, and there are two brilliant performances at the center of it all - one by an actor who is clearly enjoying one of the biggest highs of his career, and one by an annoying dick. Make of that what you will.

Watched: Dallas Buyers Club

I wish I’d seen this film before Jared Leto opened his stupid mouth, because it’s really good and I prefer seeing things like this without the sour taste of an actor’s idiot remarks going in.

This subverts the one-man-against-the-system narrative, which this definitely is, by making the one man an utter asshole within a few minutes of the film’s opening. The Ron Woodruff of this movie is aggressively homophobic and often casually racist, throwing around slurs every moment he gets an opportunity. This is only doubled when he learns he’s contracted HIV and AIDS at the height of the eighties gay panic, but lulls and abates over time as he gets to know fellow sufferers through the titular drug buyers’ club; in particular, he finds himself drawn to Rayon (Jared Leto), a flamboyant transgender woman who begins her definition as an almost offensive caricature but becomes painfully rounded out as the film progresses.

It’s a shame that so much focus has been placed on Jared Leto, as this is really Matthew McConaughey’s film through and through. He’s transformed in this role, a far cry from the supposed sex symbol he apparently was in the nineties. He still retains some of the swagger that McConaughey brings to roles, but Woodruff is a more tightly wound character, more likely to throw a punch than crack a smile. Watching his redemption (though he would never call it that) brought a tear to my eye, even as the film refused to hold my hand.

To talk about Leto for a moment - concentrating specifically on his performance in the film for a moment, it is a shame that no-one thought to cast a transgender actor - one suspects that the decision was cynically made because of Leto’s star power (and no-one would presumably argue that, even accepting the huge number of talented transgender actors unable to find rewarding roles, that any of them have as recognisable a name). Complicating that fact is that Leto gives an incredible performance here. There’s a scene where he dresses in traditionally male clothing to meet with his on-screen father, and you can’t help but think that you’re watching a transgender woman go through the experience of posing as male, rather than seeing Jared Leto playing dress-up.

There is a difference, of course, between gender performance and gender identity, and the politicisation of this film comes with the latter - issues of representation of actors with non-cisgender identities is hugely important, and painfully overlooked. Within the framework of the film, though, performativity is everything, and Jared Leto’s assumption of a female role is far more than the way he walks or talks. Every moment of his feels meticulously played out and utterly believable, and while that doesn’t even begin to excuse the wider context, it does add a layer of complexity to proceedings.

So: this is an excellent film, despite the hubbub of awfulness that sadly surrounds it. It deals with important issues, and while this fictionalised version of Woodruff’s attitude toward self-medication is certainly a little rudimentary, it doesn’t lessen the critique of the US healthcare system that punches through in this film. There’s heart, and there’s tragedy, and there are two brilliant performances at the center of it all - one by an actor who is clearly enjoying one of the biggest highs of his career, and one by an annoying dick. Make of that what you will.

Watched: Short Term 12
Oh my word, this was masterful. This film - about a group of workers at a short term care facility for underprivileged or at-risk young people - is in the sort of category that could too easily turn into melodrama or schmaltz, but it deftly avoids both. Instead, it retains a perfect balance between comedy and tragedy - there’s darkness here, but also just enough sweetness to counter it without invalidating anything.
Brie Larson is phenomenal (I mean, everyone is - John Gallagher Jr. is perfect too, and each of the kids in this film turns in a performance that feels aggressively natural), and there’s never a moment that feels like it’s playing to the balcony. You get the sense that the director (Destin Daniel Cretton, a relative newcomer) really knows how to respect actors, and they’re allowed enough space to - well - act. That space allows for performances that are nuanced and careful treatments of some incredibly weighty subjects - each character feels like an individual, rather than just a receptacle for trauma.
There is stuff here that might deter those averse to media with content warnings attached - abuse is the major one, though suicide also crops up - but if those aren’t triggers (and I mean triggers, here, because none of the upsetting content in here is played up or down) then I cannot recommend this enough. It might be the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

Watched: Short Term 12

Oh my word, this was masterful. This film - about a group of workers at a short term care facility for underprivileged or at-risk young people - is in the sort of category that could too easily turn into melodrama or schmaltz, but it deftly avoids both. Instead, it retains a perfect balance between comedy and tragedy - there’s darkness here, but also just enough sweetness to counter it without invalidating anything.

Brie Larson is phenomenal (I mean, everyone is - John Gallagher Jr. is perfect too, and each of the kids in this film turns in a performance that feels aggressively natural), and there’s never a moment that feels like it’s playing to the balcony. You get the sense that the director (Destin Daniel Cretton, a relative newcomer) really knows how to respect actors, and they’re allowed enough space to - well - act. That space allows for performances that are nuanced and careful treatments of some incredibly weighty subjects - each character feels like an individual, rather than just a receptacle for trauma.

There is stuff here that might deter those averse to media with content warnings attached - abuse is the major one, though suicide also crops up - but if those aren’t triggers (and I mean triggers, here, because none of the upsetting content in here is played up or down) then I cannot recommend this enough. It might be the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

Book research: help me out

So I’m writing another book. Well. Possibly two. (Probably two.) I don’t really want to reveal plot details publicly (in part because coming up with a pithy synopsis for what I’ve got planned is insanely difficult), but what I do want is to research something in particular relating to Christian belief.

I am not a Christian. You can see where this might get awkward.

To that end, if you belong to any Christian denomination and are willing to spend a few minutes of your time answering a few questions relating to your faith, email me at me [at] chrisjfraser [dot] com or drop your email address in here and I’ll be in touch.

I’ll be respectful and treat your answers in the strictest of confidence, and your responses will help me (hopefully) approach certain elements of plot with as much nuance as I possibly can.

brightwalldarkroom:

Coming very, very soon:
A brand new issue, focusing entirely on the films of Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson - get it the minute it’s available by subscribing to Bright Wall/Dark Room Magazine now!
We’re putting the finishing touches on it as we speak, and can’t wait for you to see it. As our art director, Brianna Ashby, is possibly the biggest Wes Anderson fan on the planet (yes, she’s even had theme parties), you can just imagine how much fun she had doing the artwork for some of these. Consider this cover a taste of things come!

That cover. God damn.

brightwalldarkroom:

Coming very, very soon:

A brand new issue, focusing entirely on the films of Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson - get it the minute it’s available by subscribing to Bright Wall/Dark Room Magazine now!

We’re putting the finishing touches on it as we speak, and can’t wait for you to see it. As our art director, Brianna Ashby, is possibly the biggest Wes Anderson fan on the planet (yes, she’s even had theme parties), you can just imagine how much fun she had doing the artwork for some of these. Consider this cover a taste of things come!

That cover. God damn.

(via filmprojections)

I love whoever wrote this.

I love whoever wrote this.

Leave a review of Dystopolis →

Hey! If you’ve read Dystopolis, I’d appreciate it immensely if you’d leave a review over on Amazon about it. I’m not just saying this to massage my ego (though there’s always that) - the more positive reviews there are of my work, the more it boosts Amazon search rankings, the more I sell, the more I buy chocolate to stuff into my stupid body.

Of course, if you hated it, um. Probably keep it to yourself. I’m not telling you that you can’t yell about how awful it was, but it’d be pretty depressing for everyone involved.

We have this in our room now. It feels appropriate.

We have this in our room now. It feels appropriate.

Watched: American Hustle
I… I dunno. There was so much posturing in this, and so much construction, that it was sometimes hard to get at the heart of this film. I’ve loved David O. Russell’s previous work (yes, including Silver Linings Playbook), but this ultimately left me a little cold.
Maybe part of the problem is that this is a movie where all the women are beautiful, and all the men are flabby, ridiculous creatures; yes, on the one hand, the female characters in this are brilliantly etched, and even have their own voices (this movie passes the Bechdel test, by the skin of its teeth), but they are also painted by a male libido, all flashes of sideboob and so much classiness that you feel blindsided by it. It’s more of a disappointment because the female characters in this movie are characters - on the page, they come to life, but thrown into a visual medium, it’s immediately clear that there’s a man behind the camera.
All that said, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are great in this, as are the rest of the cast - it’s a true ensemble piece, and brings with it the curious sense of satisfaction you get from other ensemble movies, as well as the lack of emotional catharsis. The film ostensibly centers around Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld, but sometimes shifts to Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent Richard DiMasio, and so on, until there’s such a multitude of perspectives that you never quite land with any of them. That’s fine, of course - this film keeps you on your feet, and you don’t feel the 150-minute running time - but it lacks the emotional punch of Russell’s earlier work.
There’s humor to be found in American Hustle, but it’s incidental, an accident of the unfolding events rather than a series of wisecracks. Everything feels wonderfully organic, as Irving struggles to keep control of a scheme that, thanks to the ambitions of Richard, threatens to burst at the seams. You feel the excitement of the high stakes, but none of the fear - everything is told at such a breakneck pace that you never quite peer into the psyche of even Bale’s character.
All that said, it’s hard to figure out what could have made this movie better. You don’t want it to be any longer for fear that it might suffer from being as bloated as Bale’s paunch, but at the same time the characters often feel like placeholders. You’re happy that the right people end up on top by the end, but it’s more of a smile and a shrug than a dab-at-the-eyes moment. It’s a well-told, well-performed caper, but not much more.

Watched: American Hustle

I… I dunno. There was so much posturing in this, and so much construction, that it was sometimes hard to get at the heart of this film. I’ve loved David O. Russell’s previous work (yes, including Silver Linings Playbook), but this ultimately left me a little cold.

Maybe part of the problem is that this is a movie where all the women are beautiful, and all the men are flabby, ridiculous creatures; yes, on the one hand, the female characters in this are brilliantly etched, and even have their own voices (this movie passes the Bechdel test, by the skin of its teeth), but they are also painted by a male libido, all flashes of sideboob and so much classiness that you feel blindsided by it. It’s more of a disappointment because the female characters in this movie are characters - on the page, they come to life, but thrown into a visual medium, it’s immediately clear that there’s a man behind the camera.

All that said, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence are great in this, as are the rest of the cast - it’s a true ensemble piece, and brings with it the curious sense of satisfaction you get from other ensemble movies, as well as the lack of emotional catharsis. The film ostensibly centers around Christian Bale’s Irving Rosenfeld, but sometimes shifts to Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent Richard DiMasio, and so on, until there’s such a multitude of perspectives that you never quite land with any of them. That’s fine, of course - this film keeps you on your feet, and you don’t feel the 150-minute running time - but it lacks the emotional punch of Russell’s earlier work.

There’s humor to be found in American Hustle, but it’s incidental, an accident of the unfolding events rather than a series of wisecracks. Everything feels wonderfully organic, as Irving struggles to keep control of a scheme that, thanks to the ambitions of Richard, threatens to burst at the seams. You feel the excitement of the high stakes, but none of the fear - everything is told at such a breakneck pace that you never quite peer into the psyche of even Bale’s character.

All that said, it’s hard to figure out what could have made this movie better. You don’t want it to be any longer for fear that it might suffer from being as bloated as Bale’s paunch, but at the same time the characters often feel like placeholders. You’re happy that the right people end up on top by the end, but it’s more of a smile and a shrug than a dab-at-the-eyes moment. It’s a well-told, well-performed caper, but not much more.