It's Lonely Out Here

So You Better Learn How To Talk

I’m having a lovely day! Two of my pieces have gone up and I would love if you would read and share them.

FIRST, and I am so very excited about this, my essay “It’s Lonely Out Here, So You Better Learn How To Talk” is up on BW/DR!

Second, a little piece on Toy Story 4 for The Reel Women!

That’s it for now, but I have some exciting stuff coming to this newsletter very soon, so stay tuned!

Peaks 6/24

Utah Arts Festival and Shrimp

The big event of my weekend was attending the Utah Arts Festival, which was a delight! I knew the event was a big deal but this was my first time going. I didn’t end up participating in everything, but there was plenty to love, including readings, music, puppetry, and the Artists Marketplace.

I love looking at art on a more local level. The tie between crafts and art at is very strong, and often these artists get to have a more specialized or local slant than you would get to see in a museum. Here are some of my favorites from UAF:

Prince Duncan-Williams’ work was absolutely fascinating. There’s the cubist influences, obviously, but what I specifically loved is that these pieces are embroidered!! With threads! Look closely and you can see. It’s absolutely mesmerizing. This “silk mosaic” art is inspired by art in Duncan-Williams’ native Ghana.

Artist Darrell Driver called his work “Cerebral thoughts captured in Oil Painting.” Needless to say, I am 100% here for pop-art influenced surrealism!!!

Julie Roth’s art is eye catching, partly because of the scale. It’s super dynamic, and after reading that she does a lot of public art and murals in Wisconsin, her home, I feel like I have a reason to visit Wisconsin. Is it weird to say that I love lines? Because I really do love lines.

Shawn Harris’s photography/digital art hybrids look like a cross between a photo in an old “I Spy” book and a b-movie sci-fi which is to say I LOVE IT. Harris says that most of the figures in his pieces are himself, dressed up in masks, in front of a green screen which he then manipulates digitally. Every piece of his I saw was delightfully weird.

Last but not least is Stephanie Swift, who I’ve been a fan of for a few years— I even have some of her prints in my apartment! Swift started creating her art when the vintage signs and old buildings she loved were getting torn down, and she wanted to remember them. At her booths I often have great conversations about my favorite SLC places in all their (often kitschy) glory. Her art is nostalgic and vital. At the festival I was particularly pleased to see a huge print of the Salt Lake Costume Co. sign, which got torn down this year for new development.

That’s it for the Arts Festival! I will definitely be attending again next year.

On the movies front, I did see Toy Story 4 which was a blast. I am hopefully going to have a review up on Reel Women later this week, so I’ll link to that once it’s live. Also, as a reminder, all of the Toy Story films are freaking brilliant and gut-hurtingly hilarious.

Three little things that brought me joy this week:

  1. Scientists got real excited about finding this boi:

  1. THIS! SONG!

3. A “Choose Your Own Adventure” twitter thread to see how long you would survive as Beyonce’s assistant (hint: unless you are much better than me, not long).

I hate heat and being hot and sweating, so summer is typically not a happy time for me. But this summer I am determined to enjoy myself! I have been using the Pool Party episode of Shrill as my North Star, and have been wearing shorts and going to the pool as much as possible and overall just living my best life. And it has been fun! I highly recommend it! Every body is a swimsuit body, and when it’s hot out bodies feel a lot better in a cool pool. Also I died my hair rose gold, which is definitely giving me energy.

I saved the best for last!!! I went to Taqueria 27, a local SLC restaurant with a few different locations, and very much enjoyed it. They may not be super authentic tacos but they’re delicious, hipster-y tacos. However, the best thing I at there by far was the “Grilled Shrimp Tostada Bites,” described on the website as “8 thick cut corn chips topped with fresh guacamole, cilantro pesto marinated grilled shrimp and balsamic-agave syrup.” I’m telling you, I could eat these every day into eternity. Easily my favorite SLC eat since the Dim Sum noodles at the Downtown Farmer’s Market and the Albacore Garlic sushi roll at Fat Fish. Next time you’re in SLC, try it!

That’s it for now! Have a good Monday.

Peaks

a new Monday feature

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would like to be doing with this newsletter. Mostly, it’s been a place for me to put the things I feel like writing but don’t have a platform for, and I’ve been enjoying that, so there will certainly be more little essays in the future. I’m also toying with the idea of doing some serialized fiction, but that will take more time to form.

In the meantime, I do want expand on something I’ve sort of already been doing: consistent feature where I share media that I have found interesting/funny/beautiful/well-crafted. Basically, the good stuff! At risk of sounding a bit special, finding joy in things is such a novelty to me. A while ago I was telling my therapist that I was having a hard time telling if my depression was improving on a new medication. She asked me to simply tell her some of the things that I thought during the day, and I told her that I kept thinking about how beautiful the mountains are, and that every time I saw them I felt happy, she said “that doesn’t sound like a depressed person to me.” It was a landmark moment in my little life, and now each time I look at the gorgeous mountain peaks in Salt Lake City, I feel a surge of joy. So, on Mondays I will be giving you the Peaks— the art/music/film/culture/food that has made me happy recently. The first installment is below!


I would be lying if I told you that anything has made me as happy recently as this clip of Keanu Reeves sharing how much he loves movies:

My lil bro pointed out that Keanu ends this with a “prophet growl”— a little joke for my LDS friends there.

Speaking of my lil bro, he has been living in the living room of my apartment the past month, as he is working a summer job here in SLC and hasn’t been able to secure housing. This has been a blast, because not only does he take out the garbage and make Indian food from scratch, but he also is a fun human! He has sprouted new life into the little keyboard in our place (he’s a musician), so I often come in to hear him trying to replicate this:

It’s not a bad thing to hear.

Lil bro also had me play Inside and FOLKS. I am obviously a couple years late to this but I was FLOORED. This game was immediately engrossing, and so, so beautiful. The animations and sound design are stunning, and the physics and weight your character feels incredibly realistic. The mechanics of the game are also super simple. It’s a lateral movement puzzle game, and non-gamers (such as myself) could easily play it. The puzzles are intuitive even when they’re difficult, and consequently amazingly satisfying.

I hesitate to say anything about the story, because the journey and discovery is the whole point, but it’s a dystopian horror. It is also not for the faint of heart for as beautiful as it is, it gets disturbing. But man… this is sort of the vague, surreal, experimental, atmospheric sci-fi I dream of writing.

Moving on!

I saw Rocketman the weekend it came out, and while my initial response to the movie was more of a “that was fun,” I keep thinking about it! I think I underestimated how fun it was! While the story itself may have been a touch cliche, there’s simply something to be said for great music and inventive visuals— as well as real sincerity. Also, Taron Egerton’s performance is nothing to sneeze at. Anyway, I will be seeing it again. In the meantime, Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a great little bit on the movie. (I appreciate how MZS can thoughtfully approach the most pop of pop culture— his review of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is a classic)

In other movie news, Late Night was a delight in many ways, but mostly EMMA THOMPSON! The inimitable Hunter Harris of Vulture explains.

Another thing that has made me happy this week is all of my friends who are writing and creating beautiful things!!! My screenwriting group was a blast this week, and I’ve also had the chance to read some of my friends’ work and do some collaboration and it’s just lovely. I can’t share my friends’ writing here, but what I can share is some gorgeous art done by none other than my lil sis! Here is concept art she did for a video game pitch:

Yes, that second pic is a reference to The Third Man, I AM SO PROUD.

Last but not least, AURORA released a new album! A Different Kind of Human (Step II) is great, and, I think, better than Step 1 in the series. Here she returns to more of the atmospheric soundscapes, darker sounds, and folk/world music influences. I’m especially loving “Hunger”:

That’s it for today! I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts about any of the above, or would just like to share your own happy things, so reply to this email or comment via the website. Have a lovely week!

—MM

happy movies!

a quick follow up

Expanding on that last newsletter, here is a list of movies that make me HAPPY, whether or not they are critically worthy:

  • Austenland

  • Knight and Day

  • the Star Wars Prequels

  • Down With Love

  • anything Muppets

  • Peter Pan (the 2003 live-action version)

  • The Philadelphia Story

  • any Mission: Impossible film, but especially Fallout and Rogue Nation

  • TOY! STORY!

  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

  • Jurassic Park

  • Anna and the Apocalypse

  • Over the Garden Wall

  • Young Frankenstein

  • Private Eyes

  • Sing Street

  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople

  • The Horatio Hornblower BBC miniseries

  • The Conjuring

  • bad shark movies with friends!

  • any John Mulaney standup

And please let me know what your favorite happy movies are!! I could always use more in my arsenal.

Looking for joy

rambling thoughts on film!!!

There currently seems to be a widening gap between “film as art” and “film as entertainment.” Sure, it’s always been there, but as the Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm conglomerate is eating up available weekends and available budgets, it starts to feel like there are just two types of films: entertainment and art house. On one hand, you’re not allowed to expect a Marvel movie to rise above its formula, and on the other, realistic and raw is the only ideal.

This is all an oversimplification, obviously, but it has become especially concerning as I think about my position as a woman pursuing a career in the film industry. While representation has become an important aspect of the current cultural conversation, coming with it is a fetishization of what is “real.” On the whole, women’s films that dig into capital-I-issues are vastly more respected than those that don’t do it explicitly. In fact, when women filmmakers have drifted away from reality-first filmmaking, it has come with somewhat disastrous effects (films like Marie Antoinette and Jennifer’s Body were maligned upon release).

So perhaps the separation isn’t between arthouse and genre so much as it is between a film being “happy” and a film being “important.” I was listening to a DGA podcast episode that was a conversation between Paul Thomas Anderson and Barry Jenkins on If Beale Street Could Talk. At one point Jenkins was discussing how he felt it was important to portray joy and humor and beauty within such a tragic story. And he said that it’s been there all along: Joy and love and life has been part of black culture since day one, and all of that happiness is simply interwoven into the tragedy. To contrast that, in another podcast, a film critic said that she felt like If Beale Street Could Talk was too beautiful for the tragedy it was portraying.

I’m trying to distill many big-picture thoughts into communicable terms, but for me it comes down to this:

  1. Suffering is fetishized and trauma-porn is overvalued when it comes to films made by women, POC, and LGBTQ filmmakers

  2. Entertainment-first films are considered unworthy, and combined with their bigger budgets are consequently even harder for diverse groups to break into

  3. Joy and fun are often considered “less than” when it comes to films

I guess my question here is why joy is being discounted. The world is scary and chaotic and tragic— I, a certified buzzkill, am the first to remind you that we’re all going to be dead soon because of climate change! But it is strange to me that at times people feel compelled to poo-poo entertainment and fun at a time when it’s so desperately needed.

People were shocked—shocked!— that The Greatest Showman made so much money and had so much longevity. But of course it did! I thought the movie was mediocre but also it was fun and I saw it twice the week it came out and I still listen to the soundtrack often. The same could be said of Bohemian Rhapsody, a problematic film that made buckets of money because people. like. Queen. And yeah, I kind of hated the movie, but it had me and everyone else bopping to “Don’t Stop Me Now” so it’s not a total loss.

On Film Twitter, an often horrific landscape, people sometimes get shamed or looked down on if they haven’t sought out the most recent tragic, important piece. “If you haven’t watched ________ then you must not care—” etc. And yes, be aware! But at the same time it seems like a lot to ask of people to give up hours of their lives to watch a miniseries about Chernobyl, no matter how excellent and important it is. Personally, finding a balance between watching important films/television and not harmfully triggering my anxiety and depression is a something I constantly struggle with.

Joy is radical in its own right. Schitt’s Creek creator/actor/writer Dan Levy has said that he’s never included portrayals of homophobia in his show because it feels less effective than just showing a happy gay couple (and because there’s always viewers who will side with the homophobia!). And Schitt’s Creek does indeed feel radical. We get to root for David and Patrick with unabashed joy! And Crazy Rich Asians, a fluffy, pastel-colored delight, also felt radical— it was the first major Hollywood film with all Asian leads since The Joy Luck Club!— and it was simultaneously a fun fairytale with fantastic clothes.

And really, for so much of America, movies like Bohemian Rhapsody and The Greatest Showman are radical. Is it so bad to have people consider, however briefly, what belonging really means? Don’t these films, however flawed, also provide an opportunity for empathy? More widely— can it be enough that Mission: Impossible - Fallout shows an incredible technical prowess without attempting to be important in other ways? And doesn’t discounting these more audience-friendly films turn into a kind of gatekeeping that prevents people from seeing the very “important” films we hope for people to see?

I guess what I am trying to say that there is room for both art and entertainment in film, and one does not need to deride one in order to enjoy another. Happiness and joy should be sought out— they are not lesser emotions, even in a tragic world. And because, as Barry Jenkins says, happiness and tragedy are so interwoven, I would like to see more women, more POC, more LGBTQ representation in entertainment-first, joyful films, and I would like more diversity in making them! I want more like Booksmart and Love, Simon and I want more fun, romping movies a la Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy that represent and are made by more kinds of people.

One of these very “fun but probably not important” films is Rocketman, which I saw an enjoyed a couple of weeks ago. It’s a musical! a spectacle! a romp! I enjoyed it. At the same time, I’ve been struggling with the… flow… in the ebb and flow of depression, and it’s been rough. On a particularly dark day, I thought about Rocketman and so turned on one of Elton John’s albums. And it made me very happy, and even happier to think that Mr. Elton John himself, gleefully pounding out “Honky Cat,” has been through some hard times himself. And no, Rocketman isn’t going to change the course of film history. But it has helped me out the past couple of weeks. And I think that’s worth it.

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