When Normality Is a Blessing

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The other day, I did something that would’ve been considered normal during any other time in my life: I went out to a movie.

Of course, it wasn’t at a movie theater (the vast majority of movie theaters in America are still closed). Instead, it was at a pop-up drive-in movie theater created by a local restaurant called Canlis. I vlogged the experience and you can watch the whole thing here:

In the Before Time, Canlis was a high-end restaurant offering spectacular views of the Seattle area from its location at the top of Aurora Avenue. In recent days, their owners have realized that Seattle doesn’t need a high-end restaurant right now, so they’ve launched a series of experiments to keep their workers in business while also serving the community.

While these initiatives (found on their website) are ephemeral and seemingly random, there’s one thing that unifies them all: A level of care and thoughtfulness that you rarely find in the service industry.

Typically, the people who go to Canlis are celebrating a major life event like a wedding, a birthday, an anniversary. But when we arrived for the drive-in movie along with about 50 other parties, I imagine that many of us were in a state of exhaustion. The quarantine has worn many of us down mentally and the ongoing slow-motion train wreck of the pandemic just saps whatever energy is left.

That’s why the entire experience was so rejuvenating. Just being in the presence of people who valued the customer experience while being understanding that we are living in a situation where we are all fearing for our lives. It had been awhile since we’d received that level of care.

Sometimes the things that we used to consider as normal can be a great blessing in times of distress. I hope you can still find some normal things to celebrate these days.


It’s been awhile since the last email update! (So what else is new?) Something I’ve been struggling with is how to balance my time between the email updates, my many podcasts, and my YouTube channel. Whenever I start focusing on one, the others start calling for my attention, and I feel as a result that I don’t make that much headway on any of them.

But I’ve started making short, quick-hit videos on my YouTube channel and hoping to keep that consistently, while updating this newsletter with shorter pieces that summarize all that I’ve been working on. We’ll see how it goes.

A few things I’ve been working on lately:


Other interesting things from around the web:

A few thoughts on ‘Hillary’

Love her or strongly dislike her, Hillary Clinton has led an interesting and remarkable life in American politics. Nanette Burstein’s 4-hour documentary (now streaming on Hulu) is a fascinating, insightful, and expansive look at her career. Virtually every major event in Clinton’s political life is covered here, and you get to hear Clinton’s perspective on each one in a way you never have before.

I love the way Burstein structures this doc, cutting from her 2016 election campaign back to critical milestones throughout Clinton’s life. It allows you to see parallels between the present day and the challenges that have dogged Clinton throughout her life.

There is a TON of candid behind-the-scenes footage that gives you a glimpse at Clinton and her staff in a far more unguarded state than we’re used to. You really feel like you get to see the human behind the figure that the media has created.

All that said, those hoping for an extremely even-handed perspective on Hillary will likely be disappointed. This is a largely sympathetic portrait, but not necessarily one that feels undeserving.

But even those who aren’t Hillary fans I think will find a lot of insight here as to how media and politics have changed and shaped our perception of Clinton throughout the years. This being the week that Elizabeth Warren has dropped out of the Presidential race, there are too many parallels to count.

‘The Invisible Man’ Review

Wow it is really upsetting to see Elizabeth Moss being controlled by a sinister force that seeks to strip her of her individuality and define her actions and beliefs in increasingly upsetting ways.

Anyway, on a totally separate note, I saw The Invisible Man recently.

Leigh Whannell hits another solid one out of the park, crafting a horror thriller that’s equal parts scary and upsetting (and seemingly doing it on a pretty low budget). Whannell understands that with a concept like the invisible man, even a simple camera pan can convey terror as you have no idea if the villain is actually standing right there.

Moss is doing top tier work here. At one point she has a conversation WITH A DOORWAY that is one of the most mesmerizing pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. Her performance really elevates this  material.

Other random notes:
-The opening sequence of this film is a masterclass in showing instead of telling.
-I saw this movie in Dolby Atmos and I’d recommend that presentation (or IMAX) if you can, as the sound design in the film is truly excellent. For much of this film you’re only hearing the action as opposed to seeing it.
-I wasn’t a fan of the later plot developments in the film, which I thought gave the whole thing a much more muddled and ambiguous message.

‘Birds of Prey’ review

There’s a scene in Birds of Prey where a character is breaking into a prison and accidentally activates the sprinkler system before she starts fighting the prisoners one by one. Why? Because it looks really cool when people are fighting in slow motion in puddles of water!

That’s the aesthetic driving force of this film: Because it looks cool!

And indeed, it does look cool. None of the characters in this movie have super powers, so in place of the typical CG-heavy razzle dazzle that we’re accustomed to, the movie features extremely well-choreographed and performed hand-to-hand fight sequences. All the actors, Robbie especially, do a great job selling these sequences and they are a joy to watch.

But is there any substance behind the style? Birds of Prey focuses primarily on Harley Quinn and poses the question as to whether this character, who has often been defined by her relationship to another character, can support her own film.

To make that happen, the movie throws a ton of ideas at the wall. It introduces a colorful cast of characters, including Ewan McGregor playing a scenery-chewing villain and Rosie Perez playing a cop who is straight out of an 80s TV show (a fact that’s remarked upon by several of the other characters). It tells its story Fight-Club-style with a first-person narration and rapid time jumps just to make sure you don’t lose interest.

But the fundamental problem with making a film based off of a villain is that at some point the villain needs to be someone you can root for. Harley Quinn always struck me as one of the scariest characters in the DC Universe. When I’ve seen depictions of her in the past, as in Batman: The Animated Series, I always found her psychosis to be terrifying. How could someone who was once a regular, functioning member of society be changed to a killer over something like love? If it could happen to a psychiatrist like Harley Quinn, it could literally happen to anyone. Such was the Joker’s persuasive power and madness.

The film doesn’t do anything to explore that dynamic. Instead, it gives her a redemptive arc – one that I didn’t find particularly convincing. Whether you feel the same way will dictate how much you appreciate the film.

It sure is a lot of fun to look at, though!

1917 in IMAX

Last night at 9:45pm, I had a chance to watch 1917 in true IMAX at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. It was the final IMAX screening of the film in the city, and I’m a bit sad that more people aren’t able to experience it in this format. Alas, its run got abridged by Rise of Skywalker on one end and Birds of Prey on the other.

This was my third time watching the film, but my first in IMAX. In this format, I was able to fully appreciate the meticulous details within. The background work is incredible. As the leads walk through the trenches, we see literally hundreds of soldiers alongside them, each playing out their own mini-narrative. They are sleeping, eating, washing clothes, smoking, praying. You appreciate these details more when the screen is five stories tall.

You also can see how much goddamn work went into these sets. There are decaying horse carcasses and rusty nails and bloated cadavers and worn out bunk beds and you can take them all in and marvel at the artistry.

I know there are a lot of people down on this film but I still think it’s a masterpiece. It’s interesting to me how people have reacted differently to the film’s one-shot technique. While some (like me) find it immersive, others think it puts the viewer at a distance to the action. The videogame-like structure to the film makes people feel like it’s a heartless simulacra of war, as opposed to a heartfelt tribute to its heroes. It sometimes seems like people would prefer a Spielbergian Saving Private Ryan-esque shaky cam to fully convey the horrors of war, but I believe that different techniques can bring to light different elements of the experiences depicted. As is obvious, though, your mileage may vary.

The only thing that continues to grate on me about this movie are all the cameos by famous people. An alternate version of this movie in my mind would have been populated by complete unknowns. This way when the characters are introduced, there’s not a big party that goes off in your head, screaming “HEY IT’S MARK STRONG! SHERLOCK AND MORIARTY ARE BOTH HERE! ROBB STARK IS MY BOY!”

It’s possible this movie will get limited runs in the future as part of a “Best Picture Winner” series. If you have the chance to see it in IMAX, I’d urge you to make the effort. It’s worth it.