Writer, sometimes interstellar hitchhiker, author of Dystopolis, a book.
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.

Numbers

First: if you haven’t already bought Dystopolis, you can do so here. It’s currently $8.99 in paperback, and $4.00 as an ebook. Quite a few people seem to like it. What follows is a breakdown of sorts of the first month-and-a-bit of sales, which probably won’t interest anyone who isn’t interested in the publishing side of all of this, but I’m guessing there might be one or two who are. So. Here we are.

In the last five weeks, I’ve sold 44 books. This includes 8 print copies (18%), 13 full price digital copies (30%), and 23 discounted digital copies (52%). When it comes down to royalty breakdown, however, I’ve earned by far the most from full-price digital copies (46%), followed by the copies sold during the recent discount (28%), followed very closely by print copies sold (26%).

The reasons behind this are fairly straightforward, of course - I make the most from digital sales, despite the fact that the retail price of Dystopolis in ebook form is less than half of its print counterpart - ignoring the fact that the Kindle publishing program allows for 70% royalties, it actually costs a substantial amount of money to produce and ship a print book in the first instance. Additionally, Amazon (as a third-party seller, despite owning Createspace, where the book was originally published) takes a decent cut even after the costs of production are taken away. Not that you should be discouraged from buying a paperback if that takes your fancy. It’s nice to hold something in your hand, after all, and I spent quite a lot of time on the typesetting.

The thing that maybe surprised me the most was the surge in interest over the last week, helped mostly by the fact that the book was being sold for a fraction of its original price (99 cents for two days, followed by $1.99 for another two, and so on) and possibly also helped by the fact that I was pushing it fairly aggressively.

Promotion has to be factored into all of this, actually. Most of the original batch of sales came from the few who know me well enough to trust this blog, and then a small sampling of the large number of people who follow Arden’s online presence. With the recent sale, I have no doubt that quite a few sales came from Ashton Raze, the lead writer of Starbound, retweeting this fairly desperate plea to over 3,500 people. The flip-side of this, of course, is that even ignoring the various other fronts on which people were highlighting the promotion, that creates a ratio of one sale for every 163 people.

I suspect the message of this is that only so much comes from exposure; initially, you need to nurture an audience. Which I sort of do - of all of the people I interact with on the interact with on the internet, I think most of them have bought my book (and if you haven’t, shame on you), but at the same time don’t. There’s an element of dialogue in the way I interact with computers, but it isn’t quite as two-way as it could be; this whole medium, for me, is still fairly one-way.

There are no grand conclusions, here. This is more of a data-dump, and I’ll need some time to figure out what it all means. But it’s interesting. And gratifying. Holy hell. The final point of all of this is that forty-four people have bought Dystopolis, and that’s pretty damn lovely. I hope you’re enjoying it.

Watched: The Wolf of Wall Street
I think this deserves a preface. In the last week, I’ve been renting movies off Amazon (avoiding paying for them by using Hitbliss, which gives you rental credit in exchange for watching strange government ads), which means I’m beholden to their in-site video player, and holy shit I’ve been having trouble since Windows 8.1 updated itself. So know in advance that I spent the first hour of this movie frustratedly refreshing the page, full of tension, waiting for the next browser crash. The last two hours, I found a workaround, but up to that point I wasn’t exactly having the optimal experience.
All that said: I do not know how to feel about this film. It lacks the clear social commentary that other Scorsese films have. It’s a portrait of a truly awful person who is still thriving today, and that introduces a moral component that’s hard to get to grips with. By the end of the movie, it’s hard to believe that anyone would consider Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort a good person, but he also has moments of brilliant charisma that lure you in, only to spit you back out again when you witness his private life.
Maybe that’s because this film is about a salesman first and foremost, a drug addict second, and a criminal third. When talking about the technicalities of Belfort’s financial crime, DiCaprio winks at the camera and suggests that the viewer doesn’t really care about the technicalities, and he’s right - when so much debauchery is going on, and with so many rich (if chiefly male) characters, the sheer criminality of everything falls by the wayside. There are plenty of reasons to dislike the man without considering the lives he ruined.
It’s certainly not Martin Scorsese’s best film. For me, that remains Goodfellas, which feels like a thematically simpler cousin of this film, and benefits all the more for it. The style of these films is balls out, screaming into the night, unloading a tanker full of testosterone - and that’s fine, as long as we aren’t ascribing too much complexity to it all. DiCaprio’s Belfort can be wonderfully stupid - the much-referenced scene where he attempts to reach his car on industrial-strength quaaludes has to be seen to be believed - but he also has a complex internal monologue that he doesn’t necessarily deserve. It would have been nice to see a little more of Kyle Chandler’s FBI agent - the emotional payoff at the end (where the chief operators of Belfort’s firm are arrested) is sweet, but to spend a little more time on the good side of the fence, if only to provide a better contrast for the bad side, would have helped things.
There is something to be said for the way this film treats women, too. It’s not quite as bad as I’ve seen some reviews claim, but neither is it balanced, and I think so much of that comes from the fact that the camera so often focuses on Belfort. Margot Robbie’s Naomi as Belfort’s long-suffering wife (based loosely on her real-life counterpart, Nadine) is thinly-sketched, but you nevertheless find yourself rooting for her, and not always because she usually stands in opposition to the protagonist - there are moments of genuine humanity in her character, and she is elevated beyond a lot of other Scorsese women. She does get angry, and she is casually degraded by the male characters, but if anything her character is where a lot of the editorial comment comes in. Ultimately, she becomes the lone voice of disgust, rather than just another victim, and the film benefits for it.
What you’re left with is a film that is a ridiculous romp, throwing into stark relief the hollow excesses of Wall Street but never quite convincing you that it’s a bad thing. Which might be the genius in the film - wealth is intoxicating, as are, uh, intoxicants, and the fact that there’s no condescending message at the end of the film about how Belfort became completely sober (there’s every suggestion of a relapse) or became a total ascetic (he really, really isn’t) possibly speaks to the film’s intelligence. Either way, there is an interpretive jump with this film that allows for a diversity of opinion - or, if you’re like me, a sense of uncertainty when it comes to a final judgment. But that’s good. It’s refreshing to not be spoon-fed for once.

Watched: The Wolf of Wall Street

I think this deserves a preface. In the last week, I’ve been renting movies off Amazon (avoiding paying for them by using Hitbliss, which gives you rental credit in exchange for watching strange government ads), which means I’m beholden to their in-site video player, and holy shit I’ve been having trouble since Windows 8.1 updated itself. So know in advance that I spent the first hour of this movie frustratedly refreshing the page, full of tension, waiting for the next browser crash. The last two hours, I found a workaround, but up to that point I wasn’t exactly having the optimal experience.

All that said: I do not know how to feel about this film. It lacks the clear social commentary that other Scorsese films have. It’s a portrait of a truly awful person who is still thriving today, and that introduces a moral component that’s hard to get to grips with. By the end of the movie, it’s hard to believe that anyone would consider Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort a good person, but he also has moments of brilliant charisma that lure you in, only to spit you back out again when you witness his private life.

Maybe that’s because this film is about a salesman first and foremost, a drug addict second, and a criminal third. When talking about the technicalities of Belfort’s financial crime, DiCaprio winks at the camera and suggests that the viewer doesn’t really care about the technicalities, and he’s right - when so much debauchery is going on, and with so many rich (if chiefly male) characters, the sheer criminality of everything falls by the wayside. There are plenty of reasons to dislike the man without considering the lives he ruined.

It’s certainly not Martin Scorsese’s best film. For me, that remains Goodfellas, which feels like a thematically simpler cousin of this film, and benefits all the more for it. The style of these films is balls out, screaming into the night, unloading a tanker full of testosterone - and that’s fine, as long as we aren’t ascribing too much complexity to it all. DiCaprio’s Belfort can be wonderfully stupid - the much-referenced scene where he attempts to reach his car on industrial-strength quaaludes has to be seen to be believed - but he also has a complex internal monologue that he doesn’t necessarily deserve. It would have been nice to see a little more of Kyle Chandler’s FBI agent - the emotional payoff at the end (where the chief operators of Belfort’s firm are arrested) is sweet, but to spend a little more time on the good side of the fence, if only to provide a better contrast for the bad side, would have helped things.

There is something to be said for the way this film treats women, too. It’s not quite as bad as I’ve seen some reviews claim, but neither is it balanced, and I think so much of that comes from the fact that the camera so often focuses on Belfort. Margot Robbie’s Naomi as Belfort’s long-suffering wife (based loosely on her real-life counterpart, Nadine) is thinly-sketched, but you nevertheless find yourself rooting for her, and not always because she usually stands in opposition to the protagonist - there are moments of genuine humanity in her character, and she is elevated beyond a lot of other Scorsese women. She does get angry, and she is casually degraded by the male characters, but if anything her character is where a lot of the editorial comment comes in. Ultimately, she becomes the lone voice of disgust, rather than just another victim, and the film benefits for it.

What you’re left with is a film that is a ridiculous romp, throwing into stark relief the hollow excesses of Wall Street but never quite convincing you that it’s a bad thing. Which might be the genius in the film - wealth is intoxicating, as are, uh, intoxicants, and the fact that there’s no condescending message at the end of the film about how Belfort became completely sober (there’s every suggestion of a relapse) or became a total ascetic (he really, really isn’t) possibly speaks to the film’s intelligence. Either way, there is an interpretive jump with this film that allows for a diversity of opinion - or, if you’re like me, a sense of uncertainty when it comes to a final judgment. But that’s good. It’s refreshing to not be spoon-fed for once.

Signal to Noise

This isn’t about me. Or maybe it is. Maybe it’s not about anyone in particular, and instead it’s just about the state of the world.

Hang around with enough decent people, and you find yourself around awareness-raisers. People who fight the good fight, and point out injustice whenever they see it, and take it upon themselves to ostracize genuinely bad people in the name of the public good. And that’s good. It’s all wonderfully, inspiringly good.

And yet.

People who do this sort of thing in a public sphere, by virtue of what they do, have a habit of drawing your attention to a lot of bad stuff. It’s all stuff that doesn’t disappear by virtue of not directly engaging with it, of course, but it’s still stuff that slides into your field of vision and impacts how you feel.

Understand, too, that this all comes from a place of immense privilege - there are plenty of people for whom injustice and unpleasantness is an everyday fact of life, one that they can’t avoid even if they disconnect from every awareness-raiser and activist. There are a lot of godawful people out there, and as a white man whose queer sexual identity usually has low visibility thanks to my choice of partner, I have a tendency to be able to avoid direct encounters with most shittiness.

So there’s a certain, slightly-backwards degree of guilt when I say that on Twitter, I’ve created about a dozen muted keywords and unfollowed about thirty people in the last week. When my self-esteem is at my lowest, it feels like I’m somehow avoiding the issue. As if leading by example isn’t enough. Maybe it isn’t. I’m not sure where the line is.

I don’t write call-out posts and angry tweets because it would jar with my online persona, as someone who largely talks about culture and writes fiction. I also don’t feel like it’s my personal responsibility to do so. I’m not sure if there’s a morality clause in all of that.

In terms of my own exposure, though: every bad thing that I see, usually upon waking up, creates its own little micro-anxiety. There are victims out there going through so much worse than me, I know that. Talking about my own mental health after trawling through a hundred tweets about the CEO of Mozilla, or one of countless awful men in the video game industry, or the terrible human being that Woody Allen most likely is, does reek a little.

With all that said, though, the idea of measuring affect is a horribly labyrinthine concept in the first place. It’s “starving children in Africa” as a way to wriggle out of things. Someone groped you in an elevator, but there are starving children in Africa, so keep quiet. A video game borrows Nazi-related imagery in a display of a lack of cultural sensitivity, but the USA has had a policy of sending drones to indiscriminately target civilians for years now, so shut up. Every time you check Twitter, you get a horrible build up of anxiety, but it’s all about far worse things that are happening to other people, so maybe get some perspective. Jeez.

I mean: it’s all unpleasantness, right? Not the tweets themselves - pointing out the awful things humans do is usually good, especially if there’s a chance that by raising awareness it’ll stop those humans from doing awful things - but my anxiety about it all is a bad thing, and I should just be able to take that at face value, rather than to let it mingle with the guilt of the issues that my anxiety chiefly concerns.

I wake up now, and check Twitter, and I see people talking about anime, and their writing schedules, and the mundanity of day-to-day life, and telling heaps of stupid 140-character jokes. I get out of my bed with a smile on my face, while the world rages on a few clicks away. That might be cowardice, or simple self-preservation without regard for context. But I’m still smiling. I feel better equipped like this to leave a positive stamp on the world. That has to count for something.