#Blackmendream is a short film created by the Philadelphia based artist Shikeith. It features nine different men, all of whom are filmed facing away from the camera and several of whom are either shirtless or naked, giving a certain sense of vulnerability. And ultimately emotional vulnerability is a large part of what the film is about. The participants are asked different questions like what makes you happy? Or what is a recurring nightmare you have?

The project is meant to deal with some of the misconceptions surrounding black men in America by presenting a more humanizing narrative about them. In an interview with NPR, Shikeith said the project began after a Facebook post in which he asked “What do black men run from?” The answers he received were things steeped in racial bias, like “the cops” or “child support”. This prompted him to start work on a film meant to counter a lot of the assumptions surrounding black men, a topic much of his work is about, and attempt to create a more human narrative around them.

The film has a 45 minute run time (certainly making it longer than most of the other short films I’ve posted here), but I think it’s well worth your time to watch, especially in light of recent events. If nothing else, I think the conversation surrounding the events in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland have shown me that we could all use a little more empathy. And projects like this are a great stride in that direction.

Keep Flying: A Review of Leaves On The Wind

Well, after the show was cancelled there was the movie. And after the movie didn’t generate enough for a sequel, there are now the comics. Firefly is finally back with Leaves On The Wind, the beginning of the continuation of the series. Picking up after the events of Serenity, the story follows our favorite crew as they try to evade the attention of the Alliance and try to avoid becoming entangled in a newly formed revolutionary movement that has cropped up following the revelation about the Alliance’s (alleged) ties to the Reavers.

I have to say that I really enjoyed what Zack Whedon, Georges Jeanty, and the rest of the Dark Horse Comics crew was able to do with the series. As much as I enjoyed Serenity, I do have to say it didn’t really tie in to Firefly. The Hands of Blue, who were an ominous set of villains in the show, and their patron Blue Sun Corporation, didn’t make any kind of appearance in the film. Other things from the show, like Shepherd Book’s past, were also never covered. Ultimately it felt like Serenity and Firefly were a bit disconnected from each other.

Leaves On The Wind manages to straddle both of them and begin a new chapter in the series. We see what “the ‘verse” is like in the wake of the events of Serenity, both for the crew and for the world(s) at large. But the writers also managed to bring back some things from Firefly, like the infamous bounty hunter Mr. Early.

And that weird Alliance cruiser thingy…

It’s great for the series to get back, at least a little bit, to its roots. And, as I alluded to earlier, the story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so it would seem that Dark Horse Comics has more to deliver in the world of Firefly.

The one critique I can make about the story, and this is a feeling I’ve had about other Dark Horse projects I’ve read, is that the pacing is a bit quick. What I mean to say is that events happen very quickly with minimal build-up. Perhaps I’m spoiled by comics like Saga that have an amazing sense for pacing in a story, but it seems to me that Dark Horse Comics writers jam a lot into a tale, and so some of their plot lines resolve rather suddenly.

Overall, I’d definitely say that this is worth a read, especially for fans of Firefly. I don’t know whether or not Joss Whedon has officially thrown in the towel on making a TV or film sequel, so for now this is probably the best we’re gonna get. But I have to say it’s still pretty good.

Fearbreeders, an Insight into the Future of e-books?

I first heard about this book series, Fearbreeders, when a link to an article from Amberr Meadows’ blog appeared on my Twitter feed (citations, yeah), but apparently the book has been making some waves with his approach to adding interactive elements to the “live text” of e-books.

In Fearbreeders a group of friends discover that the creatures from their nightmares are real and can pursue them in the real world. Being internet-savvy psychics (because this is the 21st Century, people), part of defeating these strange adversaries involves exploring different websites for answers. The twist here is that readers will be able to “play along” with the protagonists of the tale, following up on the same sites and trying to solve the puzzles that the characters face.

This sounds similar in concept to the Endgame series by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton that I wrote about earlier this year, though I’m not sure that series actually integrated hyperlinks into its text or had the readers act along with the protagonists so much as have other parts of the world to explore through cross-media platforms. Either way, it’s neat to see another author tackling some of the potential that e-books have in terms of creating a new kind of reading experience.

I don’t know that this sort of thing will work with every text or how well Fearbreeders will handle this, but I applaud the author (R. James) for doing it. I think it’s exciting to see the novel begin to evolve now that it has entered the digital space, and I am curious to see what boundaries people can push while taking advantage of the e-book platform in new ways.

Exploring The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Last week I ventured from my Hobbit hole to go see a documentary about one of my favorite storytellers, Hayao Miyazaki. The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness provides interesting insight into the life of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Specifically it follows the creation of his latest (and allegedly last?) film The Wind Rises.

The thing that struck me most about the film was Miyazaki himself and that he didn’t quite line-up with my expectations, though in a refreshing way, at least for me. I think a lot of people have a perception of Miyazaki as a monk-like figure. I know that I did, and I’ve seen a lot of people speak about him in similar sorts of terms. After all, he is a pacifist and an environmentalist.

So watching him smoke a copious amount of cigarettes along with his producer, Toshio Suzuki, was slightly jarring at first. But as I watched him speaking to the film crew, it started to make more and more sense. Perhaps I’m projecting, but I think a lot of artists and creative people are fundamentally unhappy with the world. After all, if you were content, why would you feel the need to make anything? Miyazaki came across to me as bitter, in many ways, yet driven to create his art. At one point he says that young people put too much emphasis on being happy and that’s not really what life is about. To prove this point, he claims that film making, his entire life’s work, is miserable.

The other thing I found very interesting was the insight into Studio Ghibli itself. For one thing, I left the film with the distinct impression that Suzuki is the unsung hero of that company. While he isn’t involved so much in the creative aspects of the company, he is the producer, and he is the one that keeps everything running.

Miyazaki’s relationship with Ghibli’s other founder, Isao Takahata, was also interesting. The two used to work together. In fact, Takahata is often cited as a mentor to both Miyazaki and Suzuki. However, Miyazaki’s attitude towards him alternates between respectful and dismissive. The two directors work in separate studios and don’t seem to interact or collaborate at all on their works.

The differences between Miyazaki and Takahata’s approach is a sort of sub-theme for the film. Miyazaki works continuously, is organized, and sticks to a specific schedule. Takahata, who doesn’t appear much in the film, is described as rather slovenly. There is also a lot of talk throughout the film about his last film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which was in production during the documentary’s filming. It was supposed to release at the same time as The Wind Rises but was delayed several months. Miyazaki and Suzuki speculate that Takahata is taking so long because he doesn’t want to finish the film at all.

If nothing else, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness shut down a lot of the presumptions (fair or not) that I had about Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It is an interesting look at a film maker and a studio whose work I’ve loved, but that I didn’t know all too much about. If you’re a fan of Miyazaki’s work, I think this documentary is definitely worth a watch.

Short Story Sunday: The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury

This is a story written by one of my favorite authors and dedicated to another of my favorite authors. Neil Gaiman wrote the piece for Bradbury’s 91st birthday and a collection of works called Shadow Show, which celebrated his writing.

The story is about a man who is forgetting things (perhaps suffering from Alzheimer’s?), and while he can remember Bradbury’s works and stories, he can’t remember his name. It was written as a monologue, as Gaiman presented it at one of his readings before it was published. The site io9 has a written version of the story along with an essay that Gaiman wrote giving some background on it.

But for those of you who enjoy Audible or just want to hear a really great reading, Denis O’Hare delivers a wonderful reading of this story that is definitely worth a listen.

A Short Film Review: “Wanderers”

“Wanderers” by Erik Wernquist is an excellent string of visuals about our potential future exploration of our solar system and outer space. As stated in the opening, the shots all replicate what different places in our solar system would look like from close up. They also show different vehicles that might be used for travel through space and across planets. An excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot is read over the images (by Sagan himself) and set to a great piece of music by Cristian Sandquist, which, when combined, makes for the ultimate epic soundtrack to these extraordinary images.

In terms of plot, there isn’t really a whole lot going on in this film. Its more like a trailer for hyping space travel and the future of humanity among the stars. Really, Wernquist should be making propaganda films of NASA. Our interest in exploring the stars seems to have waned, an insight that is largely the basis for Interstellar, and having more people creating film, or art, or stories that can inspire us to look to the stars again is something that I definitely think is worthwhile.

And after watching this film, I dare you not to be inspired.

Pan Trailer

While everyone was flipping out over the Jurassic World trailer and the new Star Wars teaser (which I’ll touch on a little at the end of this post), I’ve actually been most impressed by the trailer for Joe Wright’s upcoming film Pan, which is the origin story of Peter Pan.

Fantasy is hot right now, and we’ve seen films and novels created on the premise of updating fairy tales or turning them into epic fantasies. I think Peter Pan is an interesting choice for this treatment and an appropriate one. Off the top of my head I can’t think of too many versions of the story (especially in film) that explore the world of Neverland beyond the confines of its appearance in the original story. The only notable exception to this is Hook.

I will be very curious to see how the story for the film plays out, especially given the set up of Peter and Hook being friends. Obviously we know how things turn out, but what leads to the rivalry that we know from the original tale? As far as I know, Peter Pan’s origins haven’t been explored, so while (I’m assuming) the story will eventually turn to familiar ground, I think Wright has a lot of narrative space to play with, and turning Hook into a future fallen hero is a good example of how he’s using it.

Visually this movie also looks stunning, and not just in the CGI. I think the costuming and how strange and exotic it is, both for the pirates and the “Pan tribe”, is great and really brings the fantastical feel of the setting to life.

I don’t know much about Levi Miller, but aside from that, I think the casting choices are strong too. I will say that I do have a bit of an issue with Rooney Mara being cast as Tiger Lily. In a cast that is predominantly white, I think that was an opportunity to cast a person of color, especially because the character is often presented as Native American. In terms of acting quality, I think she’s a fine selection, and I suppose there aren’t any rules about how a fantastical character should be portrayed, but it is still somewhat disappointing.

Finally, I will be curious to see if Pan is a standalone film or whether the producers hope to create a series based on Peter Pan. Perhaps we can see Wright’s take on the original tale, which would be interesting given his film adaptations of Pride & Prejudice and Anna Karenina. His stylized approach to adaptations is very interesting, and I think it would be cool to see his take on the source material.


Visual representation of how I wish Star War VII would turn out…

As promised, here are my thoughts on the Star Wars teaser trailer for Episode VII. The short version is that it’s really too early to tell much. The teaser really offers no insight into what the story is. The only thing that seems apparent is that the conflict between the Empire and the Alliance (or is it now the New Republic?) is still going on and they’re still using the same old ships, which is honestly fine by me.

That being said, these visuals do make me somewhat hopeful. Why? Well, it looks very much like Abrams is leaning away from CGI. While it’s clearly being used, the ships still look like the gritty models used in the original trilogy, and it isn’t being used for stupid things…like the Storm Trooper armor, which is actually and thankfully a real costume.

I highly doubt that the story will stick to the mythological themes that made the original trilogy so great (and the mishandling of which is a large reason the prequels were so terrible and disappointing), but I’ve mentally readied myself for that, so I don’t think I’ll be too upset on that front. At the very least, it does appear that Abrams is aiming to capture the feel of world from the original films, and I think that’s promising.