Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Meet Your Guest Blogger

I’m traveling to Ghana once again with a group of undergraduates, where we’ll be teaching 200 African schoolchildren computer literacy skills (click here or here for videos about student experiences at the Boston College-Ejisu Computer Camp). More than teaching the students, however we will be the beneficiaries: we’ll learn about Ghanian culture, family life, and the nation’s long democratic history. I’m looking forward to traveling and immersing myself in Ghanian culture (and Burkina Faso and Mali, too).

All to say that I’ve asked my friend David to be a guest blogger for the next month. David has an ever-curious mind, like-minded politics, and an all-around great sense of humor. Wondering what to expect? Here’s David blogging about a typical (or atypical?) ride on the T.

Looking forward to David’s posts. Come on back to read more.

Filed under: africa, Blogroll, , , ,

Why “The Kids are All Right” is So Good

1.) Julianne Moore. 2.) An airtight, carefully constructed script. And 3.) the simple fact of representation–an ordinary family that happens to be headed by two women–on the big screen.

A couple friends, my partner, and I joined a sold-out theatre last night for Lisa Chodolenko’s The Kids are All Right. Man, has this movie been gathering momentum (and not in the kitschy NOM way). The Kids are All Right raked in more than a million dollars over the two weeks it’s been in theaters. In Cambridge, where we saw the movie, it was playing on two screens, both sold out. I haven’t been to a theater that crowded since the release of Brokeback Mountain.

There’s obvious parallels between the two movies. Both movies have a gay couple as the focus; both movies boast major movie stars. And though they may seem like indie flicks, The Kids are All Right and Brokeback Mountain manage to also reach for mainstream ambition.

But must mainstream also mean playing into tired old tropes? Stereotypes about lesbians seem particularly jarring in this film by and about gay women (e.g. watching gay porn, over-processing their emotions, transforming from a lesbian to a straight woman by the right man). Though there may be some truth in these stereotypes, portraying them without also questioning them provides fodder for uncritical audiences. When Moore’s character, a lesbian who has two teenage children with her lover, suddenly throws herself at a man, you can’t help but let out a little groan. Why couldn’t she fall for another woman? Why does it seem like all it takes to “cure” the character of her gayness is a handsome man?

Still, for its faults, The Kids are All Right struck a chord for me and my friends. Everyone in the theater, in fact, seemed to laugh (or cringe) as the movie hit all the right notes–comparing marriage to a Russian novel, watching the college-bound daughter awkwardly seduce her crush. Chodolenko takes what’s ordinary in urban gay life (and which many of us take for granter) and uses it to frame her story of an ordinary American family. Good stuff.

Go support this little film that could.

Filed under: film, gay life, humor, , , , , , , , , ,

Casey Affleck’s Tour de Force

You know when you sort of just happen into a movie, knowing only the scant details (say, that you admire Jim Thompson’s dark, noirish fiction or that Michael Winterbottom is one of those directors not to miss) and end up open-mouthed, slack-jawed, wide awake?

Yesterday I caught a matinee of The Killer Inside Me, an indie film for sure, but also one of the most grotesque, artful, admirable films I’ve seen in a long time. Why is the film such a must see?

First, the violence is outrageously graphic, yet with purpose. There are gruesome, gasp-inducing acts of evil. The acts on screen are not for moviegoers who like their action movies with a lot of cliched showboating (the hoopla around the Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz motorcycle gun fight comes to mind) or aesthetically stylized violence (in the vein of Kill Bill or The Matrix). This is violence intended to expose moviegoers to the screwed-up psychology of the film’s narrator, Lou, a psychopathic serial killer who has a double life as a small-town sheriff. As one reviewer described the film: “You were never going to get the Sunday School teachers for this movie anyway.”

But for all of the critical attention on the film’s violence, it is the performance of Casey Affleck that transforms this story from Hollywood schlock to Oscar-worthy consideration.

Affleck plays the film’s killer and protagonist, Lou. He’s got the most serene and creepy, thin-lipped smile throughout this film. As a viewer, you veer constantly between complete trust and silent horror. That smile hides it all.

When Affleck first appears, you’re thrown off by the boyish looks and his voice, which still seems to carry an air of teenage angst. Yet when he remains still, his face frozen, you know this is not a boy. When he walks down the hallway of a dank jail after murdering a young boy and casts a wicked, direct gaze at the camera, you’re chilled to the bone. I had forgotten how powerful Affleck was in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. That movie was about showcasing Affleck’s vulnerability; in contrast The Killer Inside Me highlights the young actor’s duality–his ability to embody the ingenue and the psychopath at the same time.

As Winterbottom says about his desires for Affleck’s character:

The Lou, as he sees himself, is different to the Lou he acts to the world. He puts on this front for the world and then when he’s at home, he’s a different person, so you want to constantly trying to work out “What is really going on in his head?” “What does he believe?” “What doesn’t he believe?” “What bit is the fake bit where he’s real?” “How much does he see that what he is doing makes no sense?” “How much is he lost in his world?”

He’s a very unreliable narrator in the book and you have to have that sense of someone you are trying to work out, really. I think Casey is a great actor generally, but I think that’s his particular strength, that he is able to make you curious about what’s going on inside his head.

Such an amazing movie. Dark, dark, dark–unapologetically so.

The Killer Inside Me is contemporary film noir (and exceeds, in quality, Thompson’s previous efforts to translate his pulp fiction to the big screen, like After Dark, My Sweet); similar to the faux-innocent suburban idyll of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, this film attempts to show evil as it manifests itself in ordinary men.

Also shocking are the moments–however small–of clarity and empathy within this man’s convoluted heart. For example, a moment when Lou pauses in the midst of a violent murder to read his newspaper and acknowledge his victim’s efforts to reach pathetically for her black purse: it’s pure clarity for the killer, and may even be the seed–untended, of course–of love. Unfortunately, Thompson never allows his characters the release of a proper dénouement. Lou is a killer at heart, and Winterbottom–a masterful storyteller–know how to squash any empathy we feel for Lou when he returns to his savage ways.

The Killer Inside Me is a visually stunning, absurd, unapologetically violent film. Forsake the bubble gum out there and go see this dark little gem.

Filed under: film, , , , , , , , , ,

Look Up: Objects of Beauty, Stylized Graffiti, Social Commentary

Above, an ingenious street artist whose iconic image is an arrow pointing towards the sky, has hit Los Angeles with his  art. The video above is a nice introduction to his work and influences (growing up in apartment buildings, saving money to go to Paris at 19), while the video below (titled “Movie Star Arrow Mobiles“) is less a tutorial and more an art object itself.

The artist’s new self-described project includes images of 100 Hollywood celebrities, dangling from electrical wires throughout the famous city:

Above flew to Los Angeles for 12 days and hung his new revised “Movie star arrow mobiles” in the heart of Hollywood giving Los Angeles a large dose of exactly what it obsesses about; movies and the actors that make the city of Los Angeles so uniquely scandalous.

Happening upon one of his mobiles, created from wood and stenciled with one or two-word directives, is a thing of beauty. Catching the shadows of these spinning art objects or watching people’s faces as they engage with the eponymous work is just as intoxicating.

Filed under: art, consumerism, culture, , , , , , , , , ,

Women Writers Rule!

There was a period of time when I allowed myself only to read women writers. I devoured Virginia Woolf, E. Annie Proulx, Amy Hempel, and Toni Morrison. I was reading (and still do) a lot of the astute, original, and, in an eggheady kind of way–loopy–writing of Lydia Davis. For some reason, I felt some sexist part of me gravitated to male writers.

I like that I forced myself to consciously choose women writers; I’m somewhat disappointed that I had never assessed my choices. Does the gender of a writer make a difference to you?

Flavorwire published a slideshow of their favorite female writers, including Sarah Vowell (pictured above), who (whom?) I adore. She’s a regular contributor to This American Life, of course, but I like the fact that book-length essays allow her the room to showcase her wide-ranging knowledge and her wry voice. Flavorwire’s lovefest for Vowell:

7. Sarah Vowell

Why we love her: Vowell validates our inner history geek. She was also the voice of Violet in The Incredibles.

Best known for: Assassination Vacation; The Partly Cloudy Patriot; Take the Cannoli

The line that made us fall for her: “Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn’t hear half of what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don’t bring up McKinley. Don’t bring up McKinley.”

Vowell is one-of-a-kind smart. Self-effacing, with one of those hard-to-believe life stories (she makes growing up in Montana as hilarious as David Sedaris makes growing up in South Carolina), Vowell is only one on this list of remarkable women writers. I’m a big fan of the fiction of Barbara Kingsolver and Aimee Bender, who also grace the list.

Filed under: literature, women, , , , , , , , , ,

Fiction

BIOGRAPHY

WORK
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
July 2010
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Pics from Africa 2010

No food for lazy man

Mao and Du Bois

Inside W.E.B. DuBois' library

Commemorating the great pan-African writer

African drumming and dance

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About Me

http://rsiasoco.wordpress.com/about/

About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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