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Category: watching

Irreal life top 10, late January 2023.

  1. Still Mastodon. It’s quieted down as the panicked #TwitterMigration has slowed, leaving people wondering what the hell they’re doing on a service that provides none of the twitch-speed algorithmic coercion of Twitter and all of the one-to-one accountability of an old-school BBS. What remains turns out to be its own thing — a ‘social’ media network that honestly doesn’t deserve those scare quotes. Clicking the Donate button on our server’s webpage I felt a rush of affectionate nostalgia, reminded so strongly of using Plastic and Metafilter back during GWBush’s first term in office. Mastodon has that energy and that potential, not least because its open and still-evolving platform makes room for innovation (how about choosing your own recommendation algorithm?). If it fails it’ll be fondly remembered as a beautiful experiment. Same if it succeeds, I hope.
  2. ‘You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all.’ (Philip K Dick, Do Androids…?)
  3. What We Do in the Shadows. I never saw the film, and checked out the TV show just to see Matt Berry — only to discover (after the usual, slightly stilted pilot) the most perfectly balanced ensemble comedy in years and years, a sweetly humane study of a semifunctional Staten Island vampire family with a poisoned edge befitting its odd mix of Kiwi, UK, and USA sensibilities. (It’s one of the most sexually progressive shows on TV too, maybe in mainstream TV history.) All five leads could carry their own shows; Berry and Natasia Demetriou, as Laszlo and Nadja, are my favourite onscreen couple ever. And the expansive, empathetic love story of Nandor the Relentless and his familiar Guillermo is as compelling as Sam and Diane. I’m rewatching it, this time with my wife, grateful for its irresponsible lightness and unexpected emotional weight; we laugh embarrassingly loudly several times each episode. A gift.
  4. Hawaii. ‘Island time’ is real. For an East Coast neurotic like me there’s a couple-day adjustment period, but by your fifth or sixth mai tai it all starts to make sense. Preposterously expensive and necessarily parochial in certain ways, for reasons of geography — and with the usual dark colonial history — but the complexly, matter-of-factly integrated present-day culture of the islands gives me hope.
  5. VALIS. PKD’s career was spent exploring themes that eventually (predictably?) overwhelmed him late in life. His hallucinatory/visionary experiences of Feb/Mar 1974 drove him to write his 9,000-page ‘Exegesis,’ from which several novels partially (never fully) escape; after his publisher asked for edits to his first concerted attempt to fictionalize those experiences (published posthumously as Radio Free Albemuth), he instead poured out this first draft in two weeks. Less a novel than an obsessive elaboration and criticism of his own breakdown and reconstruction in the wake of the ‘2-3-74’ events, VALIS splits PKD in two to stage a confrontation and then collaboration between more and less skeptical parts of his psyche. Which is to say it’s a spiritual confession — genre with unanswerable question mark at the center — a funny one at that, and gets away with being monumentally, monomaniacally boring by being incomparably brave in its self-inquiry. Everyone should regularly experience art where there’s no way of determining what it would mean for it to be ‘good.’
  6. Clash Royale. One important but poorly understood bit of Terrible News this terrible decade is that for many many people, ‘video games’ increasingly means mobile games — a commercial sector of very nearly pure and perfect exploitation and mindless sugar-snack pleasure. Because mobile-gaming time is budgeted in 5- and 10-minute increments and largely happens during brief moments of ‘downtime,’ deep thinking doesn’t come into it, indeed can’t. Clash Royale looks like a thinking game (there are ‘cards’) but what scares me is the realization that, for most good players, ‘strategy’ means spending their 3-minute games in a more or less threatening holding pattern until they can pop off a combo. Indeed, that’s all ‘strategy’ means in a broad range of games. Which makes sense, since that’s how typical players spend their workdays and schooldays too — waiting anxiously for a chance to really live. I hate this pay-to-win game with a screaming hatred, and have poured years of my life into it over the last two months. No more.
  7. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Sausalito, Halloween 1973 on KSAN. Because of the incredible reach of Island’s ubiquitous Legend compilation (25M copies sold!), when casual listeners think of Marley they hear the refined sound of his mid/late-70s band, with the I-threes on vocals sweetening the mix and psych-blues guitar washing over or through. No shame in that — the post-1974 Wailers were among the great bands of that decade. But Marley was a hit even before white audiences and stoners picked up on what was going on, and stayed real even after they did. This crew (minus Bunny Livingston) is tight-loose from the gun, with impossibly fluid chemistry and a percussive funk sound sweetened only by Wire Lindo’s organ. Marley’s incredible charisma comes through as always, but without guitar solos or the ladies’ gorgeous vocal harmonies the group ‘merely’ sounds like an all-timer party band — their connection to the source still unmediated. Timeless somatic intelligence.
  8. ‘Outside the cars are beeping / Out a song just in your honor / And thought they do not know it / All mankind are now your brothers’ (Regina Spektor, ‘Human of the Year’) A nice idea, maybe the nicest idea — ‘you are not alone’ — and the first episode of the astonishing Mike White/Laura Dern collaboration Enlightened climaxes with Dern striding with rediscovered purpose toward an uncertain fate as Spektor’s voice broadens and grows, her left hand’s own rising stride matches Dern’s; the actress’s face betrays just a moment of uncertainty and then she looks up past the camera into private light, ‘Hallelujah’ sings the young woman and means it, and Laura Dern’s smile is everything and wise like daybreak; she looks beyond us into herself and sees—
  9. Drafts folder. Museum of you, no wall text, each room an unrecoverable moment. Please step this way, here we have an untitled work dated late 2022: ‘Your eyes will be drawn to what represents life for you (though not only that)’ — no punctuation in the original. But we’re not able to be so free, are we, ladies and gentlemen.
  10. DC charging. The reduced range of electric cars relative to gas, and the sparse availability of charging stations in parts of the country, makes travel with an EV weirdly old fashioned. Planning a drive down the coast with friends quickly turns into a search for waystations, like old Pony Express. Puts a certain kind of idiot nerd in mind of Star Wars of course; in that fictional universe the fastest way to send information across the galaxy is by courier, and news spreads slowly. Ugh, why do I know this shit.

Irreal Life Top 10, Thanksgiving 2022.

irreal life top 10, thanksgiving 2022.

This is a thing I do sometimes. Title and form after Greil Marcus, tone from elsewheres.

  1. ‘Inclusion.’ Like harm, it’s been defined out of any recognizable meaning by the hall-monitor class of self-styled ‘progressive’ types: you are now as ‘included’ as you feel, and if you can’t instantly see why that’s a problem then I’ll assume you’ve never interacted with humans before. (Hint: I can’t change your feelings, and am not even allowed to assess them for myself — so how can I possibly know or change your inclusion-status, for the better or worse?) The new discursive fashion is to claim that Mastodon (q.v.) is insufficiently ‘inclusive’ because its decentralized, federated — i.e. hyperlocal — structure militates against ideological orthodoxy and the empowerment of a ‘protected’ class. The actual content of the ideology in question doesn’t matter; this rhetorical arrangement is a trap laid by the ascendant self-appointed nationwide HR department.
  2. Mastodon. A slow-moving, high-friction, decentralized/federated halfway point between IRC and Twitter, with a number of built-in checks on ‘virality’ and several judiciously chosen ‘missing features’ (e.g. no equivalent to quote-retweets). Most bourgeois complaints about it boil down to ‘I don’t want to start my Twitter clout-farming over from scratch, and I’m not computer-literate enough to manage the minor irritations built in to this platform’; one common variant is to complain about decentralization making it impossible to set up a status-seekers’ corporate nanny-state like Twitter became. Holds infinitely more promise than Twitter ever had, and is a bigger pain in the ass than IRC — indeed, Mastodon will be a nice low-intensity break for many people, me included, but it won’t (in its present form) get anywhere near Twitter in terms of scale or reach, partly because of the macrocommunity’s desperate longing for paternalistic moderation. That said, the chance to start over is priceless. And make no mistake, that’s what’s happening: a brief bad chapter in USA cultural history is ending. Something else is starting, and we might get to decide what it is.
  3. Alice Coltrane, DIVINE SONGS. I’ve been on Journey in Satchidananda and Ptah, the El Daoud for years like every other fan of weed music, but reached midlife before getting hip to Alice’s own midlife music. She spent the decade after her husband’s death raising her kids and keeping John’s music moving to the next place, but not too far beyond — still in a recognizable ‘spiritual jazz’ subgenre for the most part. Jazz people knew she was serious (see Ethan Iverson’s obituary) but partly because of the ambivalent-at-best consensus about Trane’s post-Love Supreme work, for years Alice was unfairly presented to tyros as the Hippie Widow, a curious footnote to her husband’s final act. Thankfully Alice’s music from that period has been more broadly reconsidered since her death, and she’s now correctly understood as an important psychedelic artist and heavy jazz player in her own right. This collection of homemade devotional songs goes way beyond her 70s work, though, into an astounding fusion of deep blues and rapturous New Age synth-colours(!) — not quite jazz but so what. Religious music isn’t normally this hip. Heroic, fully realized personal expression from a faithful seeker. (Geeta Dayal wrote a great piece for the Grauniad about the Luaka Bop reissue of Alice’s ashram tapes back in 2017; Geeta earlier wrote a beautiful personal essay about Satchidananda for the 2007 Marooned anthology.)
  4. Rian Johnson, GLASS ONION. The sequel to the perfectly executed Knives Out is the smartest agitprop you’ll see this year, a thrilling and funny and unexpectedly harrowing story about privilege, power, and the ideological limits of the drawing-room mystery. Both films are ‘secretly’ about minor(ity) characters whom fans of Doctor Who would identify as ‘companions’: Ana de Armas in Knives, Janelle Monáe here. (Spoilers follow.) Playing a character uncomfortably named after Sandra Bland, Monáe is deliberately underwhelming in the first half of the movie in order to set up its manic second half, which she then carries almost singlehandedly — where Knives Out slowly shifted focus to de Armas’s character while maintaining a relatively familiar formal character throughout, Glass Onion daringly breaks genre-narrative frame to embed a second story about the (fantastic) hero-detective Daniel Craig ceding power to Monáe’s haunting/haunted character. (Maybe that’s why The Last Jedi was doomed — Johnson’s story about handing story-control to a ‘nobody’ was misshapen by the fact that Daisy Ridley’s winning Rey was an empty vessel for wish-fulfillment, both the most powerful being in the story-universe and its sympathy-magnet. The deck was stacked for ideological reasons at the expense of story.) Onion‘s ending is a brazen progressive carnival that’s also perfectly satisfying in genre terms; longtime readers may pick up on the significance of me using ‘progressive’ without scare quotes. It’s that serious. Johnson means every word of this masterful film — he’s completely in command, from sly script to expert ensemble direction. And not for a second does this fiercely political artwork devolve into lecture. It’s just really, really good at everything it sets out to do — even the Breaking Bad homage is funny. And get this: the villain is Elon Musk! I’m sick with envy. See it in theaters so they keep throwing money at Rian Johnson.
  5. Kanye West, ‘Monster.’ Obama was right to dismiss him as a jackass and it’s sad that he’s genuinely lost his mind (rich asshole/fools getting divorced do tend to), but West’s self-consciousness and extraordinarily fertile musical talent made for a run of albums that’ll stand the test of time and deserve to. ‘Monster’ will stand the test of time because, after Kanye spits an ordinary verse with one extraordinary pharaonic couplet and Jay-Z tries for the millionth time to remind everyone he has nothing to say (we believe you Shawn dear), Nicki Minaj throws herself a patently insane debutante ball with an Eminem-level guest shot. The final lines — ‘Now look at what you just saw, this is what you live for / AAAHHH! I’m a motherfuckin’ monster!’ — are pure unvarnished truth, both perfect cathartic narrative resolution and sufficient justification for the rest of her career, none of which has been remotely interesting because Kanye West she’s not. (Ever notice how you can tell an arts-school grad from a mile off?)
  6. DARK. Turns out the thing Lost was missing wasn’t meaning or sense or courage or convictions, but rather a hilariously bad English dialogue dub. This German show is a total waste of a superb premise on pure puzzle-box cliffhanger design, or so it seems from the half-season of melodramatic deferral and scriptwriter onanism I was able to tolerate before realizing I actually like meaning, sense, all that shit. (Spoiler: the cave is a time-travel portal, which you’ll guess from the pilot.) Imagine a miserable, contemptuous version of Stranger Things and you’re halfway there. No need to go further.
  7. Emacs 29. The most impressive piece of end-user software yet written is nearly a half-century old and still embodies an anticapitalist philosophy of freedom which is more dangerous now than ever — that’s why it’s routinely derided by Right-Thinking pseuds just shrewd enough to know that one synonym of ‘dangerous’ is ‘unemployable.’ Version 29 is a massive update to a program that remains far more modern than it looks, radically designed and thoughtfully maintained; that there’s no other software comparable to it is heartbreaking testimony to what was lost when the movement for liberatory personal computing was strangled and devoured by the ascendant industry for personal computers. The fundamental problem with Emacs, from the perspective of the ‘mainstream,’ is that its development isn’t driven by greed; there’s no ‘therefore,’ that’s the problem itself. Freedom is a sickness. Eppur si muove.
  8. Tom Petty. Who’s more overrated? Billy Joel? Jay-Z? Pink Floyd? The fucking Doors?
  9. Hakim Bey against ‘curation.’ ‘The parallel term in sufism would be “journeying to the far horizons” or simply “journeying,” a spiritual exercise which combines the urban & nomadic energies of Islam into a single trajectory, sometimes called “the Caravan of Summer.” The dervish vows to travel at a certain velocity, perhaps spending no more than 7 nights or 40 nights in one city, accepting whatever comes, moving wherever signs & coincidences or simply whims may lead, heading from power-spot to power-spot, conscious of “sacred geography,” of itinerary as meaning, of topology as symbology…travel as the antithesis of tourism, space rather than time.’ (from T.A.Z.)
  10. ‘Protect me from what I want.’ An insightful, if perhaps somewhat politically naïve, essay from Tim Bray calls for bottom-up development of recommendation algorithms for ‘social’ media — and intriguingly suggests incorporating a platform for creating and sharing such algorithms into Mastodon and the ‘fediverse.’ But I’m left with the suspicion that ordinary human minds are constituted such that it’s (all but) impossible for someone to design his own ideal recommendation algorithm — he can satisfy his articulable conscious desires, maaaaybe, but the deep-down stuff will presumably elude expression and understanding by definition. Which leaves me wondering, perversely, whether it’s possible for our own deep desires to be unearthed and played upon without exploitation. Feeling strongly but not simply is the least we can do, so I’ll end here for now.

Irreal Life Top 10, Labor Day 2022.

Working so hard for those clicks that I’m spelling it ‘Labor’ instead of ‘Labour,’ whaddaya think of me now. Nothing irreal about this but there’s no changing the series title now.

  1. Cherry Brown, Kailh Silver. Having made everyone’s second choice of keyswitches (Cherry MX Browns) when I bought my keyboard, and now having bad RSI for the first time in many years, I ended up switching this weekend to Kailh Speed Silvers while casting about for possible fixes. The keyswitches are the spring-loaded mechanism below the cap; you don’t see them and they’re what matters most in terms of keyboard feel. Cherry Browns are ‘tactile,’ i.e. there’s a bump in the key travel which you can feel; Kailh Silvers are linear switches, with no bump, just continuous resistance. I’m making an effort not to ‘bottom out’ or move the keys through their full travel as I type, sacrificing that incredibly gratifying THOCK sound on the altar of hand fatigue. I thiiiiink it’s working? Kailh Silvers are made for gaming so they actuate when you breathe on them, feather-light; the upshot is that I’ve moved fatigue from wrists to biceps, which is fine, and the experience gives much less sensual pleasure. It’s like I’m aging in reverse. I’ve got some Kailh Coppers coming, I think — short travel, light high actuation, tactile feel. Might not be worth it, but they’re not expensive. (I think I got 110 of them for $30, anybody need some keyswitches?)
  2. Harry Potter music. John William’s scores for the first three movies establish a soundworld on the Star Wars model (grounding fantasy doings in symphonic somaticism and familiar leitmotif) which seems inevitable in retrospect, even obvious: brass fanfares and low-string ‘mystery’ themes and the perfect ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ for initial Hogwarts impressions in the tween coming-of-age films, shading into richer darker colours as the generational story deepens and complicates. The third and best-by-a-mile film gets a very fine score from Williams, full of stark contrasts, eerie textures and shapes (the scansion on the witch-song is fucking strange), and several clever transformations and elaborations — check out the wide variations on Hedwig’s theme throughout the finale, ‘Mischief Managed!’ It’s all characteristically Williams in Spielbergian-wonder mode, though he stretched impressively for the Azkaban score. The rest of the series got a different composer every film or two, though: Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper, Alexandre Desplat. Results were mixed. Doyle’s Goblet of Fire score sounds like him and like Hogwarts, though not quite like Williams (without thinking about it, my sense is that the audibly Scots-Irish Doyle seeks/gets a very different brass sound in particular; damn I used to love his Frankenstein score), Hooper’s scores go for whimsical mimesis (the best moment in Phoenix has no music, but his ‘Weasley Stomp’ is a useful reminder that Williams was very much an American tourist in Rowling’s imaginary Britain), and by Deathly Hallows Desplat conjures a diffuse melancholy hardly recognizable as Potter-related, which unfortunately fits those movies well. Unlike, say, the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings scores — which flow together into impossibly rich macrocompositions — the Potter soundtracks stand apart from one another, sonically and thematically, and I’m not tempted to throw them all on for a long day’s listen. But amidst the stupidities of the Rowling-related cultural conversation, it’s nice to be reminded of how skillfully executed these ordinary movies are.
  3. Nuns on the run. On Adam Roberts’s enthusiastic recommendation I’m reading Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner that Held Them, the generations-spanning novel of a 14th-century English convent; after 250 pages I’m comfortable calling it the equal of any novel I’ve read in years. I keep wanting to compare it to Le Carré, his subtly barbed humour and skillful interweaving of the individual psychology of desperately focused people and their historical moments too vast to get ahold of, or even know about — only Warner writes men and women with equal mastery, which places her beyond Le Carré in at least that regard. The nunnery feels perfectly real, though the inside of that physical location is barely described (while the local countryside is vivid and clear); the women and men in the community are human beings, fully realized and empathetically, humanely rendered. Just an inspiring, perfectly executed novel. I’m sick with envy.
  4. Firefly. As preparation to run my Traveller-plus-Jedi RPG campaign with the lads, I threw the two-part Firefly pilot on the ol’ TV, and was reminded that Joss Whedon did the best, most perfectly realized work of his life while balancing three TV shows. Firefly is a masterwork in the classical sense, a carefully controlled showcase for every skill its chief maker had learned (though let’s not discount the contributions of his expert cocoreator Tim Minear). Whedon’s never been funnier or wiser, never worked successfully on so many levels at once. But even with inspired scripts and searching direction/production, the show might’ve fallen down without a star on the order of Sarah Michelle Gellar (or Gandolfini/Falco, Bryan Cranston, Julia Louis-Dreyfus), someone Whedon could count on to make sense of his characteristic tonal whip-pans and wild register jumps. Here Whedon lucked into a partnership with his most gifted male performer, the fucking Canadian Nathan Fillion, who gave the performance of his life in a role as rich as Buffy Summers — and then, with a sly character actor and ensemble comic (and born Western hero) at the top of the call sheet, the Firefly team surrounded Fillion with an oddball cast of equally multifaceted performers, literally any one of whom could easily have carried a spinoff. Special mention to Alan Tudyk, a comic virtuoso, and the astral projection known as Morena Baccarin, who slowly unfurled maybe the broadest range of talents in a talented cast. (Bonus points to a young Christina Hendricks as Saffron; watching her flirt with Baccarin in ‘Our Mrs Reynolds’ is one of the greatest experiences of my human existence.) The fact that this show existed at all is one of its fallen medium’s rare blessings; the fact of its cancellation is just another fucking crime. The sequel-feature Serenity is an overstuffed and hurried valedictory that boasts several classic Whedon sequences and a magnificent climactic showdown between Captain Tightpants and the impossibly charismatic Chiwetel Ejiofor; it’s a nice consolation but can’t touch the original series. Few shows can.
  5. ‘Effective altruism.’ Mostly the same sort of fraud as ‘AI alignment’ and indeed ‘rationalism’ writ large, starring mostly the same sorts of people. @chaosprime definitively sums up on Twitter: ‘Weird that EA converted on a focus that is addressed by nerds getting tons of money to 1) sit in rooms thinking big math thoughts all day then 2) telling other nerds what to do’.
  6. Harvard undergrads. They neatly illustrate, by contrast, how dowdy Cantabridgians are during the sparsely populated summer months; on the other hand, they manifestly couldn’t find their dicks with two hands and a dick map.1 Harvard Square in late August is trying for those of us who find privileged teenagers not just the worst but the most boring thing on earth.
  7. Frisell. How many artists are so powerfully and equally committed to both the gentlest moments of beauty and vulnerability and the weirdest psych-sonics? Listening to his debut In Line (recorded 40 years ago this month!) is one of those improbably deep experiences, where there seems to be too much detail to permit entry, much less immersion — too much pick and prickle — yet the sound slips across and around and then opens into something deep and enveloping, a whole soundworld in less than 45 minutes. Frisell is like Fillion: confident, unassuming, deep feeling, so’s you might not notice his virtuosity. I’ve enjoyed every note I’ve heard him play, but this album (maybe not surprisingly, as it’s half solo/overdubbed tracks) feels close to the bone. And Eicher’s production is just what the young seeker needed, of course.
  8. House of the Dragon. Unnecessary — and after the catastrophe of the latter seasons of Game of Thrones, faintly embarrassing — but Fire and Blood, the mock-scholarly Game of Thrones ‘prequel’ it’s based on, startled me years ago by being a joy to read and (fannishly) contemplate. It’s central to GRR Martin’s grand project and obviously dear to his heart, and you might read it instead of watching the show. Then again, I said that about Game of Thrones itself. Then again, I was right.
  9. Provisionality. Louis CK describes his creative technique in an interview: ‘When I develop material that’s in tough places, I have a method: I say the worst version, and then usually, they don’t like it. But I listen to that. I listen to the “Ugh,” and there’s a sound in it… Either I’m gonna take that “ugh” and I’m gonna play with it, or I’m gonna find a way around it… I need to hear the dissent… Sometimes I’m like, “I don’t want to upset these people tonight.” But I know there’s a bit in this that they’re going to like. And I work on it and work on it, to the point where everybody likes it… Every bit that I have that’s a great bit, started as: nobody wants to hear it.’
  10. Oscar and Basie. Peterson was a skillful host of his variety/interview TV show, and the Count was a wonderful guest, but their wordless opening duet is something more than entertainment: it’s a privilege to see an old master simply enjoy himself in the loving company of a younger master. Peterson’s adoration of Basie is evident, as is Basie’s love and admiration for Peterson. Their relationship to one another is their relationship to the music. It’s beautiful. There’s a moment in the video when a closeup of Peterson’s astonishing hands dissolves to a similar shot of Basie’s, gently stroking the piano keys like they’re his wife’s tired fingers and hands. Not much room in noisy transient modernity for quiet moments like this with a cherished elder, listening close to his life’s music. This is one of things jazz is for. This is what it is.

  1. Metaphorically speaking. 


Excerpt from mss. in progress –wa.

Yeats’s ‘lonely impulse of delight’ — the mundane-mystic vision at the heart of his Irish airman’s honest testament — comes back to me unbidden several times a year. It’s one of the few ‘adult’ poems I’ve memorized, and it’s hard for me to recite it without breaking down. OK, now how’s this for mundane: the aerial chase that brings the third Matrix movie to its climax, with Trinity’s flying-craft breaking through eternal oilsmoke night, vouchsafed her (our) first glimpse of the unscarred sky only to plunge to cruel death which in turn frees her blind lover-brother to save both the human and the machine worlds, is forever intertwined in my stupid head with Yeats’s ‘tumult in the clouds.’ ‘I balanced all, brought all to mind’: peace and equipoise, slow and life and quiet amidst machine-death. Trinity looks out at the old world (light from 93 million miles away, memory of faraway minutes ago) and whispers, ‘Beautiful.’ She flies toward grace.

On the DOCTOR STRANGE sequel.

The first 100(?) minutes of the Doctor Strange sequel, Multiverse of Madness, are a cartoonish mess, a Marvel panto featuring good actors chewing on bad dialogue. Cameos, callbacks, foreshadowing, brand-building. All of it stupid. Every quality-controlled moment of it is just…Disney Business, modulo the occasional moment when Raimi’s cockeyed indie humanism shows through the Product.

And then the bulk of act three, in which Strange does sorcerous battle with a hailstorm of musical notes, then performs a dread necromantic ritual and flies to a witch’s unholy temple on magical wings made from the souls of the damned, is like a teaser-trailer for an alternate universe in which Disney allowed its directors to make their own movies — not for adults, that’s too much to ask, but at least for people who’ve seen a non-Disney movie before.

The first Strange flick had some wide-eyed charm, a sense of good fun, a couple of groovy cosmic-psychedelic sequences, an unexpectedly excellent final act, Swinton, Mikkelsen. Here Raimi nails the dimension-hopping visuals; Wong, McAdams, and Ejiofor are welcome presences; Cumberbatch does his thing; none of it matters, none of it lands. It lacks magic. It doesn’t believe in magic — not until we briefly enter Raimi-ville at the end. By then it’s too late, and doesn’t last.

I’m glad Raimi made some money here, he deserves it, but this movie is a pointless waste of time, and I fucking well should’ve known better than to turn it on, much less stick it out. When the last Avengers movie came out, I predicted that Marvel’s run of luck was over. And you know what? I take pleasure in having been right.

The heavenly gate is down.

In The Matrix: Revolutions, the machines dig miles under the earth to reach Zion — heaven — while Neo rises up miles to the surface to reach the machine city and Smith’s Matrix: hell.

(Purgatory is within you.)

Irreal Life Top Ten, D-Day 2022.

  1. Phish, Spring Tour 2022. I didn’t notice until the eighth and final show of this mini-tour, when they played their second ‘Sigma Oasis’ of the run, that the band was avoiding any song repeats. They do this regularly, most memorably on the 13-show ‘Baker’s Dozen’ stand at Madison Square Garden, such that it’s now almost unremarkable; you can’t imagine how challenging it is to remember 150 songs until you’ve tried learning three — never mind improvising on them, never mind doing so compellingly. Pianist Page McConnell turned 59 a week before the tour started; what other musicians approach 60 in anything remotely approaching Phish’s condition? No other band in American history, in or out of ‘rock and roll,’ has consistently engaged in the kind of musical risk-taking that’s long been Phish’s basic approach to their art. That’s the positive read; the negative is that this was an unexceptional tour in ‘purely musical’ terms, if those exist, on Phish’s terms. The other positive read is that the rare show-opening ‘Character Zero’ from Orange Beach on 5/29 is instantly one of the two or three best versions of that tune, featuring perfectly seamless transitions in and out of an extended open jam, and the other other positive read is that a ‘bad’ Phish show is still one of the best times in American popular music — and they didn’t play any bad shows this tour, not even close. You might not like their music, I get it, but you’re obligated at this point to understand that in 2022 Phish are a miracle.
  2. Mass shootings and matter. We’re at the point where you can accurately predict demographic information about the shooter based solely on whether and how the national ‘news’ outlets cover the event — corporations like CNN are only interested in ‘motive’ when it suits a political agenda they don’t even realize they have, which is only to say that Capital never changes but changes colour. It’s worth asking yourself whether you’re more scared by stories about one lone nutjob going uptown with ten guns, or ten ordinary sociopaths going downtown with one gun each. It’s worth asking why.
  3. ‘AI alignment risk.’ Doomsday cults, like bugs in open-source software, don’t go away just because they’re publicized. Sane people have to fix them. Because the real risk from AI, already being realized (cf. your Twitter feed), seems to be the slow ruin of functional if inefficient social controls, it’s a lot more satisfying for socially disengaged pseuds who did better in Math class than English class to spin nerdfic about murderous superintelligences than to, say, reckon with the real (social) world, its boring politics and unmanageable actual people. See also ‘Effective Altruism,’ a form of fantasy football for people too annoying to play D&D with.
  4. 16″ Macbook Pro. After using a 15″ Retina model at home for years, I got a 16″ lappy from work — last year’s M1 (‘Apple Silicon’) model. This laptop is a proper chonky boi as the awful wankers say, unexpectedly bulky: nearly a pound heavier than the 15″ machine I already thought was unwieldy at just 4lbs. What does that weight buy, though, in addition to the massive gorgeous screen? It is blinding fast and gets wild battery life…not to mention the eerie silence, which I noticed because I noticed I wasn’t noticing fan noise. I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’s weary, shrugging insistence, when questioned about the ‘Apple premium’ at a conference: ‘We don’t ship junk.’ A difficult thing to hold onto, in a world where junk is what everyone’s used to.
  5. Thunder. A Fortnite streamer on Youtube, presumably an intolerable late teenager or early 20something. When he teams up with his buddies to play group games he has no charisma, nothing to say, no evident sense of humour; his solo gameplay videos are mercifully silent. But he plays like a fucking demon, a goddamn avatar of death — no gimmicks or trick shots, no comedy, no leaning on dull rote strategy, just the lunatic intensity of a boy in his sensory-integrative prime, perfectly in command of a complex instrument and manifestly addicted to the headlong rush of virtual motion. This kid plays Fortnite like pure poetry; it’s hard to imagine anyone being consistently better. Yet in the competitive scene he appears to be a nonentity — which for me is like being awed by an NBA player and then finding out there’s a human city somewhere, deep in some jungle, where everyone’s twelve feet tall. Put it this way, I check Youtube every day just to find out whether Thunder has posted a gameplay video that day. Best of all: the (rare) videos where he comes in 2nd or 3rd out of 100, and posts the clip anyway.
  6. Sweeney Todd. My son can’t stop listening to the beloved 2005 small-stage Broadway revival with Cerveris and LuPone, neither of whom could do an English accent to save a dying relative — LuPone’s is fucking atrocious, embarrassing, which colours the whole cast album for me (same with Dinklage’s mongrel accent as Tyrion Lannister — though he’s an immeasurably better actor in the role of a lifetime). The leads are very good overall, as they’d better be, and Sondheim’s fantastically complex score is the peak of Broadway composition. But there’s something irritating about the production, perhaps linked to the brilliant and daft cast-as-orchestra staging — a weirdly clumsy artificiality of phrasing, e.g. Anthony’s seemingly arbitrary accents during ‘Johanna.’ I bet it was hell to play. The best single performance of the 2005 revival might be Donna Lynne Champlin as Pirelli; she just kills it on her big number, plays flute and accordion too(!). Alas, the cast album suffers from ‘nearby movie’ syndrome: Tim Burton’s film (w/Depp, Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli) is musically far weaker — marred by ham-handed score redactions and simplifications, e.g. goodbye to Sondheim’s infernal dissonances in ‘A Little Priest’ — but beautifully acted by expert screen performers free to play to the camera and mic instead of the back row. The 2005 recording has its sublime high points (the quartet!) but it’s too wired or something. It’s come to sound…pleased with itself, with its cleverness? Somehow, this all-time classic production lost me.
  7. Renewal. We got an email from The Economist saying the cost of our 12-week autorenewing subscription was going up to $80 — I’ll let you do the annual-cost math on that. Lunacy. Three-year subscriptions cost $210 annually, a savings of 40%. I completely forgot that we were on the ‘gullible idiots who mistake hesitancy for caution’ plan, pissing away money for several years now. Of course, because the whole mad concept of ‘money’ is just a plaque in my brain, I immediately started thinking of ways to piss away the savings on something else. Can’t wait.
  8. Star Wars novels. You have to actually try reading them to remember what you’d tried to forget, all those years ago: they’re almost all just terrible. What a thinly, lazily imagined universe. What a waste of story. The haunting Youtube video ‘Obi-Wan Has PTSD’ is better than any Star Wars novel except maybe Timothy Zahn’s breakthrough Thrawn trilogy — and that’s grading generously.
  9. After the moonlanding. A little more than a month into the grand split/tented/mechanical/programmable keyboard experiment, the haunting realization that my layout — designed for efficiency and sustainability — is a grotesque misshapen waste, with an underutilized left hand on several layers and a couple of dead keys on the primary layer. Right there! Embarrassing, amateur-hour stuff. Why did I even go to college, why do I even breathe.
  10. Community, Season Six. Years 2 and 3 of Dan Harmon’s show were one long delirious dissonant crescendo, a work of sustained self-lacerating genius — one of the most complexly emotionally intelligent shows in TV history. But Harmon was an abusive alcoholic pill addict and an asshole, so they fired him. I suspect it saved him creatively and personally. He went off to do Harmontown, got unhappily married, and came back to do the excellent but uneven Season 5. Then it was off to Yahoo TV or some bullshit for the beautiful Season 6 — stretches of which are the deepest, strangest, darkest, wisest work of Community‘s whole run, culminating in the simple perfection of the finale, one of TV’s surest landings, a rich (self-)reflection on relinquishing and departure more mature than fans of Harmon’s earlier work might’ve thought possible. Harmon’s writing, here and on the impossibly complex and demanding Rick & Morty, deserves not just ‘an Emmy’ but all the Emmys — but so does his heartbreaking performance of Community‘s final monologue, which can stand with The Singing Detective‘s word game or the eulogy for Wild Bill on Deadwood: the highest compliment I can give. I expected to enjoy (again) this valedictory season; I didn’t expect to end up thinking it was some of Harmon’s best work.

Irreal Life Top Ten, allergy season 2022.

Title and form inspired by Greil Marcus, obviously, and little enough to do with ‘irreality’ but I like the name and what, I ask you, what is either of us really gonna do about it. I ask you.

  1. RIP Vangelis. Ευάγγελος Οδυσσέας Παπαθανασίου had a pop songwriter’s instinct for hooky satisfaction and an experimental sonic approach but worked on a ‘classical’ scale, i.e. he wrote Hollywood music and was perfectly suited to film scoring. His Blade Runner score is better than you remember, not just the future-chintz of the main titles and love theme but the ambientronic weirdness of the underscore for scenes like the replicants’ murderous visit to Mr Chew, the man who designed their eyes. Vangelis’s 1975 Heaven and Hell is pure excess and bombast — it even features Jon Anderson on vocals — but at the deepest point of its second half, ’12 O’Clock,’ he manages to wring an unexpected intensity out of the humming and wordless singing of Vana Verouti and choir, bringing a ridiculously pompous synth-prog megasuite to one of those unironically moving climaxes, a passage that works only because it’s both sentimental pop hogwash and the 30th minute of a ‘neoclassical’ work hyperextended to the point of madness. (Don Joyce took this section as the theme to Over the Edge, and one of the greatest OTE episodes is a three-hour improvisatory remix of the Blade Runner score. With a wink of course, it’s Negativland, but not at the expense of the work’s weird integrity.) The hardest and best and most important thing for an artist is to sound like himself. I mean ‘…for a person,’ and I hope Vangelis enjoyed his final years knowing he had only ever been Vangelis. All these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…
  2. Paxlovid. My wife and I both got this minor miracle-drug, and our worsening Covid-19 symptoms immediately turned for the better and stayed that way. As soon as I stopped the medication, I began to feel that familiar post-viral bronchial thickening — sign that I was over the initial assault and now thrown back into my own body’s well-worn patterns and limitations and miswirings. You start to recognize ‘the devil you know’ as a part of yourself, both horror and comfort. Covid-19 is survivable and manageable for most people, Paxlovid is widely available, and you should do what you can — including lie about comorbidities — to get a prescription a couple of days after symptom onset.
  3. Buffalo. My fury and despair at the mass murder in Buffalo was wrapped up, I’m embarrassed but not sorry to say, in long-simmering anger at the way mere mass death and suffering isn’t enough to engage Audience Attention in this year of our absent Lord 20-and-22. There needs to be something to sell, a Compelling Narrative Hook, which in this case — for this seemingly neverending moment — is White Supremacist ideology. A decade after the Columbine massacre, it began to be understood even by our determinedly witless national press that Harris and Klebold were (respectively) a psychopath and a depressive, and that their horrifying mass murder/suicide wasn’t fundamentally ‘about’ anything, and reflected only their alienation from normal support networks, i.e. loving parents and other adults able to understand their lives and willing to put in the time. Their grandiose rhetoric masked something stupid and banal: they didn’t like being alive and didn’t see any reason to keep at it, and the kids at Columbine High were luckless scapegoats for their rage. The ‘motivation’ for their act was, in other words, the sickened world around them, of material plenty and poverty of meaning. The vicious little son of a bitch who killed those people in Buffalo lived in their world, in ours, which has only gotten less hospitable to human souls over the last quarter-century. He’s unprepared for the world as it is and the world to come. He really is a racist fool, and the actual problem his actions remind us we must solve is the absolute emptiness that makes racism — about as stupid a set of ideas as you can now imagine — more attractive than whatever else you’re peddling. Which is to say, I’m not interested in his ‘manifesto’ and you shouldn’t be either, by all accounts it’s merely incorrect; what matters is that he managed to reach age 18 without having the faintest idea what the world is like or how to live in it. We must not forgive him, and we must understand him. There is always worse to come.
  4. Digitonal, SAVE YOUR LIGHT FOR DARKER DAYS (2008). Weary instrumental affirmations, that older person’s prerogative: arriving at a difficult middle place and seeing in it the possibility of rest, of being deeply in the time of passage rather than looking always forward or back. Digitonal started out as ‘chillout room’ music but this gorgeous album feels a bit like getting on with life, not just the moment or morning after the beat stops (contrast effect, descendent effect) but over the rest of the ordinary week, sharing private smiles and nods with faces you recognize from mad kinetic nightworld, nonetheless belonging to the waking world. Being here, just here, all the same.
  5. Reeves/Pattinson et al., THE BATMAN (2022). Normally I incline to sympathy when it comes to art that nobody wants, nobody needs, nobody asked for, nobody would miss if it didn’t exist. But there’s not a single joyful or lively frame in this movie, not a single performance (save maybe Colin Farrell’s) that overflows the bounds of what’s ultimately Yet Another Sad Batman Movie. It’s fascinating that Batman has come to signify not ‘moodiness,’ which at least implies tonal variation, but a kind of self-indulgent mopery; the character I grew up with was grim but blackly (or indeed campily) comic, with ‘knight’ right there in his nom de guerre and a giant penny in his Batcave. Hollywood appears to have misunderstood the success of both Christopher Nolan’s movies and Frank Miller’s astonishing DKR/Year One source material, which makes sense; Hollywood is made of money and money is a contagious kind of stupid. I’m with Alan Moore on this, among other things: the point of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns wasn’t the bad mood. (Y’know who understands this? The Wachowskis. Imagine what they could’ve done with Batman.)
  6. Harald Grosskopf, SYNTHESIST (1980). The Berlin School gives the drummer some — makes sense, his name’s on the cover — and the result isn’t quite a party album but it likes a nice beat just fine. The title track is pure effervescent space-disco, the sound of a car commercial drifting through the rings of Saturn. For a week this didn’t leave my metaphorical tape deck. It’s been that kind of year, and the silly season hasn’t even started yet.
  7. Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (1987-1998). West End Games did the all-time classic Ghostbusters game, an early push toward ‘storygame’ territory that’s still funnier and more clever than nearly everything that’s gone by that name since, but their hit Star Wars RPG fleshed out the earlier game’s minimal task-resolution mechanics to Fast! Furious! Fun! effect — and for years it was the only place to get the kind of paratextual nerdstuff that Star Wars fans wanted. Timothy Zahn famously used WEG’s RPG supplements when working on his trilogy of novels that singlehandedly revived the commercial fortunes of Star Wars — he even commissioned maps from their art department to help him plan out the trilogy’s climactic fight against the Dark Jedi clone ohgodwhydoIknowthis — and repaid the favour by writing several well-received supplements for the RPG line. And what do you know? The game really is fast, fun, and a friendly sort of furious: mechanics are minimal, fights resolve in a couple of (big) dice rolls, and a mildly optimized Jedi character is nigh untouchable, which is why the emphasis of the game was on the storyworld’s Other Guys… Classic supplements like Galaxy Guide 6: Tramp Freighters, i.e. ‘Firefly plus the Force,’ helped redefine the Star Wars universe in ways that continue to pay off today for (ugh) Disney, and the best WEG books still give that prickle of innocent excitement even now. There are other Star Wars RPGs, of course; money must be made. But the first is still the best — though picking one of the WEG game’s three editions is a tricky task, and good luck to you with that. (I’ll be running a 2e Revised/Expanded game next month for old friends, maybe with something closer to the 1st edition skill list. Can’t wait.)
  8. ‘Parasite in chief in her idiot hat.’ So wrote Christopher Eccleston, son of Salford, beneath a photo of the Queen in her crown. Salford City Council’s ‘About’ page begins: ‘Where is Salford? … about 200 miles north west of London.’ Which is like describing Boston as ‘about 200 miles north of New York City,’ and fuck you forever, you who teach that the limit of your vision is all that is or could be. She seems like a nice lady but I can’t blame him and he’s not wrong, though other parasites successfully compete.
  9. Trey Anastasio in Boston, 7 May 2022. He comes out for a solo acoustic encore, as is his wont, and in the middle of a beautiful improvisation out of ‘Chalkdust Torture’ he unexpectedly segues into one of the middle sections of ‘Harry Hood,’ such a smooth transition that half the crowd doesn’t realize what’s happened — plays for a minute and a half, then glides without effort back into ‘Chalkdust’ with his characteristic audible smile, Anastasio’s most winning musical attribute. That way he has, now, of being pleasantly surprised that he’s alive in his late 50s and sharing his genius with strangers and family, strangers who welcome one another into strange family. Anastasio’s ego was always matched with a self-abnegating generosity, and that difficult integration found ideal expression in the radical democracy of Phish’s improvisatory method. Anastasio has grown beyond Phish in many ways, but only because of his three bandmates, their own exploratory openness and iron dedication to transformative craftwork, was Anastasio able to discover and express his best self musically. Trey still plays music he wrote with classmates 45 years ago, and every time out he sounds like he just learned it and can’t wait to share it with everyone. His eagerness not just to impress but to bring light was always evident, generously onstage and pathologically in the business world backstage; since he got sober it’s tinged with an autumnal gratitude for the chance — and the second chance — to make a living and a life out of doing so. He’s lost more than a step on the guitar, but something inside him has grown beyond measure. Making and sharing art with his best friends, on their own terms, got him there.
  10. Catalytic converters. Our electric car doesn’t have them, which didn’t keep me from racing down the back stairs when I saw a shabbily dressed guy walk into our backyard early this morning. Turns out he was there to paint the fence, as he had been for several weekends running, which goes to show that I might be the main character but I’m not the hero. He’s done an excellent job painting the fence, by the way. It looks great.

off twitter, sorry i didn't write down the name of the artist.

ACAB: Title of your sex tape. (Or, on BROOKLYN NINE-NINE.)

My wife and son watched the whole run of Brooklyn Nine-Nine over the course of 2021, and I saw a bushel of episodes from the couch and many more out of the corner of my eye from the other room. It was a perfectly ordinary workplace sitcom, i.e. a low-calorie pleasure, and ended…poorly.

Cocreator Mike Schur’s earlier show Parks and Recreation began as an experimental ‘how the sausage is made’ serial reminiscent of a Christopher Guest flick (or the UK Office), but gave up on its ambitions after Season One — also wisely shedding its painfully unfunny Male Romantic Lead — and ended as an insufferably sweet waste of time, a hell of endless hugging and affirmation with each member of the ensemble taking turns doing his or her schtick. The show’s writers didn’t know anything about Parks Departments, but I’m sure one or two of them grew up in parochial towns, and the show did find its rhythm as its ‘Hillary Clinton stars in…Green Acres!‘ premise softened into an unusually saccharine iteration of the standard American workplace-sitcom ‘These people are our real family’ autocelebration. But it had a strong ensemble — Amy Poehler is an extraordinarily reliable ensemble performer and the rest of the cast brought vivid distinct personalities to their roles, especially Nick Offerman in the role of a lifetime as Ron Swanson and the unassimilable Aubrey Plaza as April — and enjoyed the usual two or three strong years before the novelty wore off and the show utterly deflated.

B99 maintained structural integrity a bit better, but it didn’t start with much. It had two big problems, and found ways to work around them to varying degrees but eventually succumbed to both.

Its first shortcoming is this: its ensemble was extremely inconsistent.

Andy Samberg’s ‘Hot Fuzz: the series’ setup cast him undemandingly as a cocky manchild, but he grew into his lead role; his performance anchored the show and he’s due all praise for learning as he went. Luckily, or perhaps craftily, Samberg’s three main scene partners — Melissa Fumero as Amy Santiago, Joe Lo Truglio as Boyle, and Andre Braugher as Capt. Holt — are all expert ensemble performers with plenty of miles on them (Lo Truglio was a writer/performer on The State; Braugher was the heart of NBC’s Homicide series; Fumero put in more than a half-decade on One Life to Live — soap-opera work might be an aesthetic crime but it’s a proper acting bootcamp). The core of the ensemble, then, was dead solid. Braugher in particular, like Alec Baldwin on 30 Rock, gave a career-altering comic performance, as (kudos to the writers for seeing this) his initial ‘humourless’ deadpan opened up into an increasingly weird and complicated character with Braugher obviously loving every second of it.

The trouble started once you got beyond those four.

Terry Crews has wonderful charisma and appears to be a truly excellent human being, but in the role of, uhh, Terry he needed more and couldn’t bring it. You can see him working hard and he attained a certain clumsy dignity at times, but — not coincidentally — only in his scenes with Braugher, his superior officer and the only other black guy around most of the time, did Crews settle into a real performance.

It’s said that Stephanie Beatriz is a strong actor, and her vocal performance in the overpraised Encanto is absolutely fucking incredible, but you just wouldn’t know it from watching B99. I’m sure that working in her second language, in a weird artificial vocal register, without her glasses, made the job extra difficult. But her Rosa Diaz was an underwritten character and then an overwritten one, and Beatriz never figured out how to make her funny. The contrast between the goth-butch Rosa and Fumero’s anxious-perky Amy was wonderful in theory, and it’s a tiny miracle to see two Latinas holding down those roles. But Beatriz, or perhaps Rosa, was a weak spot in this ensemble.

Chelsea Peretti presented a bigger problem: she definitely cannot act to save her life, and while she might be funny In Real Life, she was an utter null in the Weird Chick role of Gina Linetti, an expressionless void for the cast’s manic energy to fall helplessly into. Unlike, say, Aubrey Plaza, Peretti can’t communicate intelligence or imagination onscreen; her Gina was just a vector for canned putdowns and tired alt-cool schtick. It’s useful (if unfair) to compare clips of the two: Plaza’s bizarre energy prickles through her stage monotone, giving it a surprising variety of colour, while Peretti just hammers one note the whole time. Note that while Plaza and the intuitive dude’s dude Chris Pratt turned out to be a brilliant comic pairing, Peretti never found a successful match in the entire cast. I can’t think of another recent TV character (minus the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory) who could so completely suck the energy out of a scene.

As Hitchcock and Scully, Dick Blocker and Joel McKinnon Miller embodied a single joke each — the same joke, really — and while they might’ve been strong comic performers in other settings, they collectively functioned as a blinking light saying ‘This is a workplace sitcom and these guys are the obnoxious loser coworkers.’ They didn’t have enough (or varied enough) material to make an interesting Greek chorus like the drunks on Cheers; they just sat there.

The supporting players were stronger — Wunch, Pimento, and Professor Kevin Cozner are impressive roles that were fine on the page but blossomed onstage, and Craig Robinson was as funny as ever playing the silly ‘Pontiac Bandit’ — in that regard, B99 was similar to Seinfeld, able to rely on a deep bench of supporting actors to bring weird stories to life. But Seinfeld only had one dud in the cast, Jerry Seinfeld himself, and it only took him and Larry David a couple of years to figure out how to write for his limited toolset, by which point he’d toughened up enough to hang with his three world-class castmates. B99‘s ensemble felt, to me at least, like a bunch of lightweight players carried by a handful of seasoned pros (and the gifted but untempered Samberg).

And that might’ve been fine, had the show not aspired to seriousness and ‘relevance.’ The Rosa-comes-out plot was a duff note, an example of its simultaneous under- and overwriting: as Rosa, Beatriz projected no sexual energy or identity at all (an impressive feat by the producers and directors: how the hell do you so completely mute an Argentine fashion model?!). So making a big deal out of her bisexuality had more than the usual network TV tokenism to it. Her relationship with her parents were telescoped and TV-conventional; the writers gave them too little substance and too much airtime, so at least they had something in common with Rosa.

Jake’s (Samberg’s) parents were more richly imagined — but what do you expect? I bet you $10 everyone on the writing staff was raised by people like them (hence Jake’s constant ‘I’m fucked up because I’m a child of divorce’ asides, which had a writerly special-pleading quality), and bet you $20 none of them have ever set foot in a house full of working-class Latinos like the sketched-in Diaz family. Terry’s family life might’ve been interesting, but again, the writing smacks of projecting white-bourgeois values onto a black actor (a bit like the way Sonja Sohn’s lesbian cop character on The Wire was essentially written as a man and gender-swapped in performance; note that Deirdre Lovejoy’s Jewish woman lawyer character was much more richly imagined by the same writers; well, you push yourself a little more to differentiate characters closer to your own experience, because you can’t congratulate yourself just for having created them). And Crews played the character with everydad generality, letting the writers off the hook in writing a black cop.1

But then…the show wasn’t really about cops. This is the smaller issue on paper — workplace sitcoms are about dumb hijinks and chosen family, not the intricacies of any given field, right? — but in the eighth season of the series it suddenly became a serious problem, because the show’s writers made it one.

The annual Halloween Heist episodes perfectly illustrate B99‘s strengths and weaknesses. They’re basically tightly structured absurd summer-camp fantasies that the writers and actors clearly looked forward to — but the concept flatly does not work in an NYPD precinct…unless you completely abandon any pretense of realism. Doing so is a good choice! Brooklyn Nine-Nine was comfort food and it’s fine to make it silly. The heist episodes are excellent — even I looked forward to them, and as you can see, I hate everything.

OK, so you’ve committed to a show that has nothing to do with actual police, that means you’re free to—

Aah, but no. The show’s perfectly conventional Hollywood writers wanted to tell Socially Relevant uplift-cliché stories in which our sympathetic lead characters, themselves banal NPR liberals (except the half-villainous Hitchcock and Scully of course), run up repeatedly against all that’s Incorrect about modern social mores. Again, this on its own would be perfectly fine; sitcoms have long aired Very Special Episodes to get people (and critics) talking, and it’s well within the expected meretriciousness envelope for network TV. But how do you tell a story about a committed black father (his twins weirdly named Cagney and Lacey!) working under a black mentor in the post-9/11 NYPD if you only occasionally remember to give him an inner life beyond ‘harried father-husband’? How do you make the story of a Latin Catholic bisexual coming out to her standard-traditional immigrant parents interesting if none of those character tags have ever mattered to the story? (Answer: you don’t, it’s not supposed to be interesting; instead you pull out a sitcom script from the 1970s, change ‘lesbian’ to ‘bi,’ add the line ‘Title of your sex tape!’ and hope no one notices that they’ve seen this exact episode a hundred times before.) How do you tell stories about Holt’s life as a gay black senior NYPD officer if you’ve never shown any interest in the topic beyond the purely personal dimension — i.e. if you don’t actually care about his place at the NYPD, only its function as notional backdrop for Andre Braugher’s unsung comic genius?

The writers demonstrated the ability to infodump Wikipedia quotes in the middle of Heartfelt Dialogue Scenes but they only ever approached dramatic weight or even believability when they found ways to analogize the show’s stage-scrim ‘NYPD’ to their own world, i.e. the B99 ‘serious’ stories that worked were the ones that would also’ve worked on a show about a TV writers’ room. And that’s why Season Eight was an off-putting mess. The writers notoriously scrapped half a season’s worth of finished scripts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and cast and writers made noises in the press about the importance of Rethinking How to Tell Funny Cop Stories in the BLM Era. Their solution to this nonproblem was to spend a large portion of Season Eight lecturing the audience in the form of implausible, half baked Biden-supporter wish-fullfillment: Rosa honourably bails on the NYPD — but she’s still around all the time to mope at the rest of the cast. Holt shifts his career toward reforming the police from within — but he’s still around all the time to participate in the foolishness. Jake wrestles with How to Be a Good Ally in the usual Hollywood-corporate way, and ends up quitting his dream job to be a stay-at-home dad, which nicely completes his relatable-to-the-writing-staff ‘daddy issues’ character arc at the expense of the show’s widely advertised social responsibility.

(The final seasons’ running plotline about Jake and Amy’s baby-scheduling troubles really did work, but only to the extent that it was a costumed version of ‘How can I afford a nanny on a Production Assistant’s salary?’)

In chasing virtuous relevance — and assuaging the Money’s justifiable white guilt — the writers couldn’t hide their inability to balance sentimental lectures with silly farce the way, say, Rick and Morty or Arrested Development manage to; the problem is that B99 took the deflated USA Office and Parks and Rec as its template and tonal model, and lacked the astringency and authentic lived-in self-criticism of Harmon/Hurwitz’s shows. (B99 didn’t break the fourth wall, if I remember rightly; its vanilla earnestness was part of its appeal, though in Season Eight it didn’t quite work.)

The upshot is that the show didn’t have anything interesting to say, wasn’t pathbreaking or fearless or hilarious — it was just a good workplace sitcom with an inconsistently strong cast — so its decision to ‘engage in serious conversation’ in its final season yielded the sanctimonious nonsense you’d expect from a Hollywood that’s terrified of ‘left’ cultural gatekeepers and prefers simplistic #ImWithHer fantasy to uncomfortable complexity.

(The Wire remains the high-water mark for mainstream TV depictions of crime and policing; nearly everything else seems faintly silly in comparison, and B99 functioned superbly when it didn’t really pretend to be about policing at all.)

Critics liked this shit, of course, and made predictable proclamations about the Importance of the show’s Efforts to share What We’ve Learned (or at any rate What We’ve Recently Read on ‘Progressive’ Twitter) About Policing — but the series’s self-congratulatory ending, like the contemptible final season of Lost, felt like a farewell to our new best friends in the Drama Club rather than an ending to a story about cops (or human beings stranded on an island). Nobody wants a ‘realistic’ Brooklyn Nine-Nine, are you kidding me? Just basic believability. Just the slightest effort at keeping the story’s head from flying up its ass.

Pretentious mediocrity bothers me. I’m good with art that reaches for something extraordinary and fails spectacularly, or tells an ordinary story in extraordinarily precise and personal fashion, or just nails its beats and doesn’t fuck around making excuses for that being its goal. But art that’s ashamed of its ordinariness, which trades on perfectly familiar spectacle and manipulation to deal with its status-anxiety about having nothing deep to say…this is worthy of contempt. Ordinary isn’t a sin. Be ordinary, but don’t insist despite evidence that you’re extraordinary. Be weird, but be all the way weird! Tell a cop story, but don’t fall back on telling a generic sitcom-office story when you turn out not to know anything at all about cops. Tell a wacky-coworkers’-holiday-hijinx story, but don’t stick a badge on it and claim you’re something you’re not…

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was really good at being itself — a lightweight show about a bunch of office drones entertaining themselves in a dumb job, with handcuffs and pistols for set dressing instead of spreadsheets and HR departments. (You know they even did a whole episode about how frustrating it is to deal with an IT department, right?) It was frankly terrible at being anything more, just like Parks and Rec proved terrible at telling stories about local government, and B99‘s eighth season brought out its weaknesses while needlessly sacrificing some of its biggest strengths. If not for the tight core cast working at a high level right up to the end — check out that beautiful final conversation between Jake and Holt, the show’s only believable love story — it would have been intolerable.

If I’d been in charge, I’d have doubled down on the fantasy, rather than trying (and failing) to make a Wacky Workplace Sitcom that Appeals to Limousine-Liberal TV Critics. You could still have ended everyone’s stories the same way — Rosa and Jake can leave, Terry and Holt and Amy can push for reform — their characters could handle those plots — but there was no need for pedantry and sanctimony on top of the self-congratulation and sentimentality that inevitably go with the end of a sitcom that’s reached syndication age.

Well, I shouldn’t be in charge.

The best of the Nine-Nine was blissful semiserial comedy, and the worst was tedious banal horseshit. And that’s what I have to say about Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

  1. The show got reliable but hollow laughs out of Crews’s extraordinary physical presence — his periodic dancing-pectorals trick felt obligatory and lame, the fit-dude equivalent of the writers finding a lame excuse to flash cleavage, ‘apologizing’ for it, but doing it all the same. Crews has remarkable charisma and presence, but it’s not exactly stage presence: he commands attention but doesn’t use it like a skilled stage-comedy performer. (But scenes where he, for instance, led the group in aerobics brought him instantly to life.) Like Beatriz, Crews often seemed half-paralyzed in performance, his vocal equipment limited and physicality punishingly restrained — the writers would use the two of them as furniture to play with rather than letting them play, and we can understand that decision while still regretting it. 

Notes on the MATRIX movies.

The following, written a month or two ago, is excerpted from a manuscript in progress. –w.

The Matrix / Reloaded / Revolutions / Resurrections

The release of Lana Wachowski’s Matrix Resurrections will muddy the critical legacy of the original trilogy++. Not to say it isn’t time for a reevaluation: it’s long been fashionable to backhandedly compliment The Matrix as a ‘perfect’ yet pretentious and intellectually slapdash film, complain about Reloaded as a bloated indulgence with impressive setpieces and a ludicrous ending, and dismiss Revolutions as an overlong and ultimately mundane messiah-tale. All three of these judgments are incorrect. But today’s American film audience — raised on secondhand Star Wars and Marvel’s sub-cinema of expensive reassurance, in a discursive context that prefers video ‘explainers’ and ship-fics to meaningful ambivalence — isn’t capable of meeting the original films on their own terms, and Lana Wachowski’s reinterpretation of the trilogy serves, I think, to narrow and reduce it, even while seeking new things to say about sentimental nostalgia. The Matrix trilogy is more ambitious, with more on its mind, than any ‘blockbuster’ entertainment since, and much morseo than the surprisingly modest Resurrections. It continues, even now, to transform.

The center of the Matrix story is the widely mocked and parodied conversation between Skywalker (Neo) and Emperor (The Architect), which serves as anti/climax to the astonishing second film, Reloaded. I suspect, as I did then, that the Architect scene caused titters partly because its dialogue is a little complicated, but mostly because it explicitly undermines the seemingly familiar narrative which the The Matrix had established.

The first film is the straightforward hero-story of a soul’s liberation: a young Hero fulfills his Destiny as The (Chosen) One, guided by allies from the Hidden World, only when he learns to Sacrifice his illusory Self for Love. The superbly expressive kung fu, snappy dialogue, and wondrous vfx make the Wachowskis’ tale of modern-day gnosis look like sf, but as with its key forerunner-texts Star Wars and The Invisibles, The Matrix is basically old school mythic fantasy (i.e. allegory of self-actualization and restoration to authentic existence) told using familiar, indeed universal, magical terms: Neo/Anderson (tr. ‘Son of Man’) comes to know himself and gains the powers of flight, martial mastery, truesight, transcendence of death, etc. It’s fast and funny, and has a killer ending. No wonder audiences loved it.

But Reloaded all but chucks the surface story of the first film out the window, and after a lot of baroque plotstuff it ends up with Neo confronting the Architect behind, as it were, the curtain. The villain tells the hero that the first film, ostensibly about seeing the hidden truth behind the world of illusion, is itself a long lie: the prophesied messiah, ‘The One,’ is an emergent phenomenon which the evil robots have accounted for in the design of the Matrix; the machines wrote the prophecy. The One exists to keep dissident humans in line, who otherwise might attain critical mass and actually endanger the entire system. The human city of Zion isn’t a paradise, it’s a safety valve (remember what William Empson said about those); the war between humans and machines is a line-item in the machines’ energy budget, and the ‘imaginative freedom’ peddled by The One — i.e. the regularly recurring ‘messiah’ function which our hero/avatar/figure of identification happens to be fulfilling this time around — is another system of control. It’s Plato’s caves all the way down.

On top of that explicitly political rug-pull, there’s the central philosophical proposition of the second film: ‘free will’ being an illusion, the real action is not in choice but in understanding (i.e. a combination of thinking and feeling our way into) the nature of our choosing. The mark of the awakened human isn’t ‘free’ choice, there’s no such thing; it’s insight, self-knowledge, which enables authentic living, and The Matrix‘s iconic ‘red pill’ scene will be recast in Resurrections as a fakeout, a trick — pseudo-agency, a choice undertaken in ignorance of the system which gives rise to it. The weakness of the perfectly logical computer-villain, the Architect, is that he/it can’t conceive of truly free choice. The eminent British sf novelist/critic Adam Roberts cites this as the series’s most interesting idea; I agree and am reminded of the fifth Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones. (Stay with me.) That otherwise risible film revolves on Anakin Skywalker’s private interpretation of compassion as ‘unconditional love,’ which he takes not only as ‘encouragement to love’ but as exhortation toward selfish, destructive passion — which the monkish code (to his mind hypocritically) rejects. The secret marriage that closes Clones is presented to the film’s audience as a consummation devoutly to be wished, but of course the Star Wars prequels are antiheroic tragedy, and Anakin’s willful blindness to the cost of his selfishness destroys the/his world, obligating his (and other people’s) kids to fix things, and sometimes die trying, a generation later. This is the attractive paradox at the heart of the messy but unbelievably ambitious Star Wars films, the motivating misreading which makes Empire possible. The Wachowskis make a similar move in the parodically wooden Neo/Architect scene, sabotaging the trilogy’s pleasure-system, tearing up the contract.

Not for nothing does most of the third film, Revolutions, take place in the real world — we even see the sun for the first time, my favourite moment in the trilogy. Having undercut their own apparent ‘truth will set you free’ message, the Wachowskis finished up with another conceptual backflip: Neo ends up fighting to preserve the Matrix against Agent Smith (The Zero), and ironically fulfills the messianic prophecy by ending the Machine War from the other side. There’s a soporofic mechs vs robots battle scene beneath the earth, and a glorious climactic fistfight in the (virtual) sky; the climax sees Neo deliberately lose his fight with Smith, allowing the code which created ‘The One’ to disseminate into all people plugged into the system (of control). Which is to say, Neo returns to the mundane world after his journey of self-questioning, bearing the magical gift of self-knowledge, and dies in order to share it; it’s one of the cleverest, most elegantly structured hero-journey payoffs in pop-art history. Audiences hated it. Here I’m reminded of the disturbing transhumanist finale of James Cameron’s Avatar, in which our human hero rejects his species (after mowing a bunch of American soldiers down) to become part of an alien world-tree — another weird, subversive image/message laughed out of the Overton window by the usual taste-enforcers. It’s telling that the Wachowskis took the risky path of shooting both sequels at once, embodying the gotcha at the heart of their story from the beginning: if The Matrix was about self-knowledge and the ironic irrelevance of prophecies, why were we so eager to misread it as Neuromancer-plus-Superman?

That’s the real affront of Matrix Reloaded — the Wachowski’s insistence that The One, the messiah-fairytale, wasn’t their ‘mislead’…it was our misread.

Lana Wachowski’s Resurrections doesn’t expand on the in-world mythology of the trilogy in any way, disappointing the nerds; it features hardly any fisticuffs, disappointing action fans, and (worse) what’s there is artless and weightless; it loses two of its best performers, Hugo Weaving (whose unhinged performance as Smith is one of Hollywood’s great villain turns) and Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, letting down the pure nostalgists, then ironically recasts those parts with young actors whose characters are explicitly acknowledged in-world as doing a nostalgic bit — even watching clips of the first movie to ‘train up’ on their mythic destinies. Wachowski’s broadside against capitalist necrophilia (per Roberts, ‘The Reboot…our contemporary fascination with reshooting (as it might be) the same Star Wars film every few years’) feels too explicitly/narrowly contemporary to resonate in the mythic register as did the original film. The best thing about Resurrections is how weirdly personal it is: Lana Wachowski, Hollywood’s best known transsexual filmmaker, moves the action from ‘The City’ to San Francisco and shifts the allegorical focus of the original trilogy toward the comparatively mundane present-political, reducing ‘transhuman’ to ‘trans’ and losing most of what’s interesting about the trilogy but enabling a liberated explicitness of theme and message. Resurrections functions as a kind of fan-essay about the original films rather than a continuation of the original story. In the end, Trinity gains the powers of The One (the 1+1?), and she and Neo beat up the evil psychotherapist(!) who entrapped them before flying off into a rainbow sky (yes, really) with actual smiles on their faces. They’re still in the Matrix, mind you, but they’ve relieved the tension of their tantalizing artificial separation. They refuse to be rebooted as they were; one suspects they’ll now allow themselves to both live and die on their own terms, in a story no longer obligated to be heroic.

It’s lovely at times, particularly its final shot, and parts of the movie are fun, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Lana needs Lily — indeed, I left the theater wondering whether the whole thing wasn’t at some level a regretful love letter to their own perhaps broken collaborative relationship, as much as to their parents whose death drove Lana Wachowski’s to revisit the story after years of refusing.

What Resurrections isn’t, makes no attempt to be, is strange — which in retrospect seems inevitable and probably healthy, but dull. The original trilogy is enveloped in mystery from its classic opening sequence (Trinity’s narrow escape from the hotel) to the Superman finale that tees up the ‘real’ story, but insofar as Resurrections is about making peace with sundered selves and being earnestly explicit about love (which literally conquers all this time around), it makes sense that its dramatic arc is one of demystification and dissipating tension. Indeed, its dramatic inertness stems partly from the fact that it seems to want to put its own world behind it; since it’s a big-budget Hollywood film rather than an experimental French or Russian one, there’s just no way in the world it’s not going to function ultimately as an affirmation. Lana Wachowski’s desire to attain and celebrate integration is purely admirable, but there’s no tension in the film, no threat — its antagonisms come off as pedantic and deflationary. (Fun fact: Resurrections premiered not in Los Angeles but at the Castro Theater, the nation’s temple of gay bourgeoisie.) It doesn’t have to explain its ideas because it doesn’t have any, just feelings; that’s beautiful in its way, but in today’s idiotic political climate there’s something weird and worrisome about the association of ‘transcending (gender) binaries’ and ‘not wrestling with ideas.’ (This isn’t to say Lana Wachowski doesn’t have ideas aplenty — only that this movie doesn’t much.) Matrix Resurrections is less a Matrix movie than a movie about the creation- and reception-history of the original trilogy, set in a parallel world. It could as easily, and more succinctly, have been an interview with its stars and director.

Which is to say that the technobody horror and erotic-philosophical charge of the original films might’ve been a side effect of whatever demons of disintegration plagued the Wachowskis from within, or maybe just natural storytelling modes for two writers who got their start scripting Clive Barker comics for Marvel…but their aesthetic upside was to ground the trilogy’s tragic transhuman transcendence in a world both as heady as the Baudrillard it namechecked and as achingly bodily (though not fleshy) as the PVC domme-wear that inspired its look. It’s enough, maybe, to note that in Resurrections Neo never changes out of his work clothes — he spends the movie dressed up, let’s face it, as middle-aged Keanu Reeves. From one angle that’s just lovely, but even if (part of) Wachowski’s point is that maturation and integration involve letting go of a suffocating attachment to thwarted longing (they do! you should!), movies still need to work. The first three, the ones the Wachowskis made together — they worked.

Indeed, the closest the movie comes to having an idea is Lana’s sly decision to replace Reloaded‘s Architect, the archetypal inhuman(e) central planner, with Neil Patrick Harris’s Analyst, whose job is to keep Neo/Thomas taking pills and trading on his reputation and allowing his memory to be ‘weaponized’ instead of doing whatever it is that movie protagonists do. The Analyst is the only interesting figure in the film, embodying the old-fashioned idea that emotional control is the trustiest means of political subjugation. This is how Lana kicks back at ‘redpill’ fetishism: the villains of Resurrections generously offer their subjects plentiful false choice, including those stupid (symbolically overloaded, wonderful) pills, but the trilogy’s story of becoming-One was about insight, inner plenty — and the Analyst knows how to manage that shouldabeen-sacred innerworld directly, cutting out the materialist middleman and speaking directly to/of desire. Harris himself remains a sympathetic figure in his own middle age, and sympathy in place of action is one pseudopolitical trap that Neo ends up having to escape. ‘Am I crazy?’ ‘We don’t use that word in here.’ Of course not: pronouncing capitalist subjects crazy is the sole domain of the state, the machine. Integrated selves might make integrated communities, and unlicensed community runs the risk (from the machine-state’s perspective) of illegibility. Better to keep Mr Anderson fixated on the problems of middle age, to keep his eyes off the possibility of a new one.

What you changed that nobody believed could ever be changed: the meaning of ‘our side.’

In a movie not exactly overflowing with strong dialogue, this — one of the new kids reminding Neo what he was once capable of — is a good line. It’s a lovely expression of solidarity, but in the context of a movie where the villain works in the ‘helping professions’ in order to monitor the inner lives of his prisoner-subjects, the line is also awfully bleak: Neo/’Tom’ pays handsomely for the Analyst to redirect him inward, chasing an atomized and isolated and terminally static ‘wellness’ instead of the (re)union which might make him fully human…at the risk of making him unrecognizable. His sense of himself as self-contained and sick is capitulation to the machine.1

The first time Neo and Trinity get coffee, she’s impressed by his work on the in-world videogame, The Matrix, and pushes him to acknowledge his achievements. (This is the during the long, charming stretch of the movie that’s a kind of ‘real-person fic’ about the cast and crew of The Matrix — much the best thing in the film, but it desperately wants another dialogue pass.) Keanu/Neo/Tom misses the point, just like he’s been trained to: ‘We kept some kids entertained.’ Not just false humility, this is a failure to see art as a bridge between souls: Anderson (Wachowski, in one meaning-frame) dismisses the original story as something other than an exhortation to engage and transform, even while the cast of young would-be heroes whose lives he and Trinity made possible are begging him to support their own ongoing struggles. He mistakes ‘keeping it together’ for being whole, which requires points of interpersonal contact that a well-managed Citizen no longer possesses. The Analyst helps his patients maintain an acquiescent longing that mistakes busyness for action, spectatorship and nostalgia for meaningful engagement — helps them become Matrix fans, rather than protagonists.

Of course, the trilogy has already been here. Remember, this is how the first film ends, with Neo speaking to the machines:

I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you. (my emph. –w.)

This is an odd moment: a movie ostensibly about choosing freedom over enslavement ends, triumphantly, with the hero explicitly announcing that the real story is what happens after the supposed hero-journey, and then offering the bad guys a role in deciding what happens next. But of course, the direct address in that scene is also aimed at the audience: I remember seeing the film in theaters nearly a quarter-century ago and understanding myself to be both one of ‘these people’ and the ‘you’ that Neo goads to action. The man even looks at the camera before flying off to begin his work, after all. He may as well say ‘Give me your hands if we be friends.’

And of course, the rest of the trilogy reveals much of Neo’s closing monologue to be merely incorrect: The One is himself an artifact of the system of control, the machines have nothing to fear from humans, and the two tribes’ fates are forever bound together. But beneath the plotstuff, the message (we might more gently say, the perspective) is consistent: emancipation, gnosis, transcendence, is ongoing work rather than a permanent achievement. Neo is just one guy, albeit a superpowered one; he is the hero but the story isn’t ‘about him,’ it’s about the magical boon he brings back to the mundane world, which is a work assignment. Even the choice to liberate oneself from the Matrix (or stay behind and pretend to eat steak) is, at a certain level, predetermined; what’s left is meaning, self-knowledge, resting transparently in that choice.

In English-language versions of Buddhist texts, the term nibbana (nirvana) often goes untranslated — it is understood, at times vaguely, as an exalted state of awakened consciousness, and the ‘exotic’ label subtly reinforces a sense of magical otherness, along with a certain unattainability. In a community which venerates the Buddha (the first truly awakened being) as a self-made semi-divine figure, this choice carries extra weight and some annoying metaphysical connotations. The American monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu, in his translations of the Pāli Canon2, chooses to translate nibbana as ‘Unbinding,’ close to the literal sense of the extinguishing of a fire. The American Buddhist scholar Glen Wallis, following TB’s lead, in his own translations knocks the capital letter off the front: it’s just unbinding, an ongoing process of relinquishing our death-grip on unease/stress (dukkha, conventionally translated as ‘suffering’) as a fundamental premise of our existence. Further along the path to awakening, but still on it: awakening as skill, not reward.

This right here is a good idea.

Neo/Lana spends all of Resurrections trying to awaken from a bad dream to a better one, and then to awaken Trinity/Lana — it works, they win, and the Wachowskis remain smarter than the movies’ fans. But if Resurrections is critical of those who see the trilogy’s call to self-knowledge and ongoing action as mere entertainment (while ruefully acknowleding how easy and tempting it is to see it that way), it doesn’t join in the original work. In the end Love Conquers All, which is a fine message for those living in this world but, as Paul McCartney might’ve told John Lennon, not much of a plan for changing it. Our young sequel-Morpheus tells Neo…

You gotta fight for your goddamn life if you want to see Trinity again.

…which is, lemme tell you, the actual best line in the movie by a long leap, stirring in context — but the movie can’t live up to it. It ends with Neo/Keanu and Trinity/Carrie-Ann thanking the villain for giving them ‘a second chance.’ Irony and self-reference, sure, but not only. The trilogy had the good guys fighting for peace; this adjunct-art sees them settling into love, if not for it. The Matrix movies have gotten old. That’s OK.

  1. It’s a brave story, isn’t it. Annoying as it is in purely cinematic terms, disappointing as it is when compared to the heights of the original movies, there’s something wise and admirable about Lana Wachowski’s insistence on the beautiful wrongness of freedom. 
  2. ‘Pāli’ is the name given to the language of the conservative Theravāda Buddhist scriptural canon, collected and written down a touch more than 2,000 years ago, and this footnote is probably the right place to apologize for not being too concerned about getting my diacritics consistent. You know what I mean.