Archive for the ‘Myles’ Category

WHEN TO SAY WHEN: ON NOT FINISHING BOOKS

Posted: July 31, 2013 by mwerntz in Book Reviews, Myles

Over text message this weekend, I confessed that–in the face of staggering commendations–I just wasn’t getting into John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars . And so, I quit reading it.
I have no idea how it ends, but I can guess with reasonable certainty (no spoilers here).

It’s nobody’s fault here, and certainly not the author. As far as the characters went, I found them really charming, and as far as YA literature that deals with heavy material like death and dying, it was well done. And it’s not the fault of the other Hands: I trust their literary sensibilities and their artistic tastes. And it’s not my fault: I’ve slogged my way through more unreadable books than I can count, so I can genuinely say that I don’t like to quit a book. So: why quit the book? Why not plow through the last 130 pages and see where the rabbit hole goes? Why doom myself to the fate of the characters of the book and not know what happens to characters who speak well and whose lives are somewhat interesting? DID THE MOTHER MARRY A CON ARTIST????? THE QUESTIONS!!!!!

The short answer is two-fold. First, I didn’t connect with the characters. Yes, the dialogue was well-written, and yes, I felt empathy for the characters, but I genuinely didn’t care about them. It didn’t help that I was reading East of Eden at the same time, and couldn’t stop thinking about the unwritten fates of so many of Steinbeck’s masterpiece. For the record, I’m glad that sequels to books are not the norm–some characters deserve the gift of fading out beyond the reader’s gaze. But the characters in Fault in Our Stars, for me, were like watching a movie that I was marginally invested in, but could go one way or another with when it’s bedtime.

Secondly–and more broadly–I don’t feel guilt anymore about not finishing a book or a movie. There was a time in my life not so long ago that I hated not finishing a work, that not knowing the ending was like a open mosquito bite, burning away at my attention. But then, it dawned on me that the world is full of books and brimming with movies, books that I want to read more than once and movies that I know I’ll love. And it’s okay to spend time with those more than ones I don’t. As a scholar, I’ll submit myself to work that I don’t particularly think useful for the sake of being fair to an argument; it’s my job and, I think, the mark of charity–to be willing to listen to something that you disagree with and see it through under most circumstances. But when it comes to art, I’m okay with stopping halfway.

Does this mean that I think art is somehow worth being uncharitable to, that art doesn’t get the same pass as scholarly material? In a sense, yes, and I can’t yet defend that. But all I know is that while I may think Oliver O’Donovan’s The Ways of Judgment isn’t a good argument (but one I need to read), Rainn Wilson’s The Super was’t particularly good and I shut it off after fifteen minutes. And I’m okay with it, but can’t yet say why.

What are the books/movies you quit? Do you regret them?

On Finishing ALIAS

Posted: July 15, 2013 by mwerntz in Myles, Television

As many commentators have noticed, Netflix has changed the game when it comes to how we watch television. No longer do we have to pine for a week between episodes, discussing the intricacies of the previous week’s episode, or picking apart the little moments. With the glory of Instant Watch, we can now “binge watch”, consuming multiple episodes at a single sitting.

The watching habits of my wife and myself have by-and-large shifted over to the television selections of Netflix, given that neither of us had cable for a number of years, and have some catching up to do on some of the better shows from the last decade or so: West Wing, Alias, Fringe….the last one will probably be more me than her. Even now that we do have cable, we still treat cable like Netflix, rarely watching live television; instead, we set it to record, and watch at our leisure.

There’s any number of reasons for shifting over to television, I suppose: films require a lot of sustained attention, and by the end of the day–after having looked at a screen for at least 3-4 hours that day for emails and writing, my attention span really dives off. So, when I do want to watch something for fun, television format usually fits the bill. But truthfully, when I’m not making excuses, there’s some great serial story-telling happening. Television allows you to tell bigger stories than film, over a more sustained period of time, bringing in more storylines, and even letting some stories lie dormant and undisturbed for weeks at a time.

All of this brings us finally to ALIAS, which was our latest Netflix watch.

**

I knew that Jennifer Garner came from somewhere, and for me, her films have always been hit or miss. Great in Juno, but you can put Daredevil in a dark hole somewhere. But, as everyone apart from me in the Northern hemisphere knew, both she and Bradley Cooper really became household names through Alias. The quick and dirty review: the first two seasons are really fun, sharp, inventive, and tight; the last three seasons get a little self-indulgent and bloated, bringing in too many new characters and getting a little too introspective and relationship-dissecting. But, we pressed on, finishing up last night with a fairly satisfying ending that ties things together well.

J.J. Abrams is really working out some things that you see much more fully fleshed out in the series he did after this, LOST. Many of the actors who float through Alias either find another bit role in the next show, or expanded ones; his use of music and montages is more refined in LOST. At times, I can tell that he plagiarized himself, using little bits of music or sound effects in later episodes of LOST. As Kiki noted in the previous post, it’s interesting to see certain directors develop, because they have certain signature moves that regardless of genre, they’ll go to, like fingerprints or tell-tale limps. And no–time travel does not make an appearance in ALIAS, thankfully. That appears to have been a latter-day sin more recently developed.

The biggest impression for me of the show, having finished it, is how melancholythe show is from beginning to end. The viewer knows exactly what they’re going to get from the pilot episode–both with regards to the long-arc plot of the show and with regards to its major themes–and it’s not popcorn and rainbows. Yes–there is comic relief; Marshall the tech-guy was one of my favorite characters, more so than Michael Vartaan’s leading man ‘Vaughn’. Yes–there is lots and lots of flash-bang spy tricks and close calls; I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, and why I’ll go see the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movies. But underlying the series is a pervasive sadness, that people leave, that danger is real, that lies are not innocent, and that power is not neutral. The show went on for five seasons this way, never getting away from this primal mood, which is fairly remarkable. Most shows either hit one side of this spectrum (funny/dramatic), but the way that ALIAS consistently kept this tension made it a pretty good, though not spectacular, show to watch.

There’s much more to say on the nature of the binge-watch, which I’ll do in the future, and on the virtues of the spy flick (given that we say that lying is wrong), but go check out the first few episodes of ALIAS. It’s worth your time, but be warned: once you get beyond the first season finale, you really need to watch the whole thing.

BREAKING BAD REWATCH, Pt. 1: Justifications

Posted: July 2, 2013 by mwerntz in Myles, Television

While I work on other things that don’t demand that much attention, I’ve taken to keeping the Ipad open and doing an impromptu BREAKING BAD rewatch. I had thought about waiting until the season wraps up this Fall before starting in on the series again, but I just couldn’t help myself. The cookie jar was just right there….

One of the great debates among viewers of the show is exactly when Walt “breaks bad”. The phrase itself is used by Jesse Pinkman to describe Walt in the pilot episode, not as a statement of fact, but in a completely incredulous way. Walt, in his mid-50s, is a high school chemistry teacher who has discovered that he has Stage 3 cancer, and can’t pay for the treatment. At least, this is the initial justification (more on this in a moment). So, he approaches his former student, Jesse Pinkman, who he happens upon in circumstances that lead Walt to believe (correctly) that Jesse knows how to make methamphetamine. The two begin to cook, and hilarity ensues.

And by hilarity, I mean people start dying almost immediately.

**

Walt enters into this scenario for plausible reasons: seeking to pay for cancer treatments, and (later) to set his family up financially after he has died from cancer. But even this justification is an addition to the first: caring for his family as a justification only appears in a later episode. The initial justification–paying for cancer treatments and for his wife’s pregnancy–grows into the second: setting his family up. Without spoiling anything for those among us who haven’t seen this yet (Gator/Hamster/Kevin), this justification changes…or rather, it blossoms. Without leaving the initial justification behind, the justification for Walt’s meth production changes to include more grandiose reasoning, more high-flying justification. And this, I think, is what makes his justification so interesting. In other films where people “break bad”, betraying their sense of judgment or morals, the justification changes, as in, they begin with one justification for their act, which becomes abandoned eventually for an entirely different justification.

Any other favorite films/shows where a central character undertakes a morally reprehensible act for seemingly good reasons? I’m trying to figure something out here.

So, Why the Return?

Posted: June 25, 2013 by mwerntz in Hand Banter, Myles

“But Myles–you’ve got like four books you’re working on! Don’t you have enough writing to do?”

It’s true, faithful reader! It’s ALL TRUE! I have more to write that I have time to write! In fact, I’m looooooooosing my mind with all the writing!!!!!!

But here’s the other truth. You get better at writing by writing. You get better at writing by reading other people’s writing, by putting words down in coherent orders and arrangements, such that hopefully even the chaff becomes worth keeping. This is where archives and collected letters come from, I think–after putting words down long enough, even the run-off pages and scribbles becomes worthwhile.

So–you get better by writing. All of the folks here, in one way or another, are engaged in writing, words, and writing words. All of us are people who love writing, literacy, the way that words come together and break apart. But here’s the other truth: none of us get the chance–in our normal veins of writing–to talk about the things which roll around in our group text messages or that haunt our day jobs.

I recently got the opportunity to write an essay about theology and music, about how Pearl Jam’s Ten is more than a seminal grunge album; it’s a meditation on how to get out of the vicious cycle of trauma. But this is the rare essay for me; somewhere in the back of my mind, I have a short book on the theology of Bruce Springsteen and a long meditation on dystopia and Tom Waits. But these, sadly, get left in the mind’s attic for the most part. Though, make no mistake–the Springsteen book will happen.

So, this site then. This is where the attic gets emptied, and the wild horses get trotted out. We’ll root around in film, to be sure, but here’s where things get wild: we’ll delve into film, books, music, social media, all the things which wait patiently for us during the day.

This site is, in sum, what all of us need to do in order to open up the attic to the light of day. Welcome back.