HALT AND CATCH FIRE: Signal to Noise -S04E02- (2017)

HALT AND CATCH FIRE was a very little-watched show about brilliant folks navigating Silicon Valley at the beginning of the personal computer revolution, as well as the burgeoning world of the Internet.

There is a lot of strife on display in the show, especially between Joe who is a wanna-be Steve Jobs with severe emotional issues, played by the charismatic Lee Pace, and Cameron — Cam — an exceptional programmer who also has a creative heart. Mackenzie Davis, who embodies Cam, reflects the spark in one’s eyes when they have a revelation. She adeptly conveys the frustration that she constantly feels, partially because of the modern male-dominated tech industry, but also because she does not like to feel boxed in.

Signal to Noise — the second episode of the final season — encapsulates the heart of the show. Its focus is on a phone call between Cam and Joe. Cam calls Joe late at night because of recent life changes. They start talking. Cam falls asleep on her tethered, corded phone without hanging up. Joe stays on the line via his chunky cellular phone until she wakes up in the morning.

When she does wake up, they talk for hours and hours, learning more about each other, feeling each other out and comforting each other.

That’s the underlying theme of HALT AND CATCH FIRE, that technology can be used to communicate and bring folks together in ways that were previously impossible.

I told my wife that she should really watch this episode, despite the fact that she hadn’t watched much of the show previously.

When she watched it, she remarked:

“That’s us.”

My wife and I first met through friends. It was not matchmaking — she was friends with folks I’d recently met and she was in town for a very short time, but knew she’d return a few months later.

All of us went to an ATARI TEENAGE RIOT show and were showered with Alec Empire’s backwash, which is something you more readily accept when you’re young than say, now.

Matters escalated but not the way you think, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

My now-wife tracked down my phone number via directory assistance, which I doubt you can do now.

I answered the call via a very 90s translucent, candy-colored, nicotine-stained corded phone and we would talk for hours. Not two or three hours, but over ten hours and until dawn, much like Joe and Cam.

We’ve been together for many, many years now. We’ve always worked together, from wrangling bands to putting on club nights, to day drinking while going garagesaling, playing GRIM FANDANGO and SYBERIA together, reading each other’s writing drafts and wrangling fabric and aiding in non-conventional public artworks and even being on TV. We have done a lot together — we have put in a lot of work — and I’m proud of what we have accomplished as partners.

We were married on this very day, ten years ago.

If you’ve read prior posts, you may have noticed that life has been pretty rocky for me these past few years, and not because of the pandemic. (Yes, that didn’t help.) I’ve been dealing with a lot of therapy, a lot of mental processing, a lot of diagnoses, a lot of internal confrontation and recalibration, and a lot of coping mechanisms. Also, my coming out has only added to the emotional weight.

It has been a lot for her to endure. She’s been there for all of it, communicative and supporting and accepting and loving, even if what I’m going through is sometimes confusing.

If it weren’t for her finding me through technology, by calling me up one night, we might have only met that one weekend and never talked to each other again. Instead, through technology, we were able to learn about each other and feel matters out and we’ve been married for ten years now and, hopefully, many more.

“That’s us.”

NIMONA (2023)

(Netflix) NIMONA, the illustrated comic series this film was adapted from, immediately opens with shapeshifter Nimona ingratiating herself on the super-villian Ballister Blackheart by simply knocking on his door and insisting that she becomes his sidekick.

She’s alone in the very first panel, spryly sidling up to his hideout.

The filmed adaptation of NIMONA doesn’t reveal her for 15 minutes.

Despite being the titular character, with NIMONA — the film — there’s a character imbalance. This feels more like it’s Ballister’s story (now named Ballister Boldheart instead of Blackheart), not Nimona’s, which is a goddamn shame. ND Stevenson’s original comic did an astounding job of balancing both Ballister and Nimona’s stories, how one needed the other, their push-and-pull, how they mirrored each other while also being completely separate individuals.

Sadly, what’s worse is that Ballister feels sanded away from the thornier, more morally ambiguous, more complicated character that resides in the books. Granted, while Nimona is the one who gets a richer back story later on in the film, it still feels like she’s often only there to bolster Ballister, to right his wrongs. In the comic, while Nimona constantly posits that she’s merely his sidekick, they’re more or less equals; they balance each other.

You got betrayed by someone you trusted.

I’ll note that these are disgruntled remarks from someone who expected a bit more fidelity from this adaptation. If you ignore the source material, it’s a progressive and entertaining film that is a breath of fresh air compared to many contemporary animated efforts. Nimona is brazen and fearless, with one hell of a sly grin, but still has her own insecurities and often feels like an aberration. Ballister and Goldenloin are still very gay. (Finally, a family animated feature that isn’t afraid to show two men kiss!)

The world kicks you around sometimes. But together, we can kick it back.

It’s also a visual marvel with a style all its own, even if it’s far denser than Stevenson’s evocatively simple thin line work. They capture Nimona’s wild expressions perfectly, and there’s a fluidity here that helps to recreate the kinetic nature of the original work. It feels like it’s a labor of love, encapsulated by the attention to detail paid to the end credits, of all things.

Hopefully this film will have legs, and will become the sort of work that is nostalgically discussed twenty years from now by those who stumbled upon it at a very young age. It traffics in characters that are seldom seen in family-friendly works; queer and monstrous characters who are just trying to be themselves, but are ostracized for being who they are.

Because once everyone sees you as a villain? That’s what you are.

Lastly, I’ll note that the trailer features a song from THE TING TINGS: That’s Not My Name, which I previously featured in a prior post!


Traditionally for my birthday I go to a local bookstore and buy myself a mess of books. I didn’t do so this year because of reasons but last year I was floating down the very stacked aisles of Ravenswood Used Books and Elizabeth Strout’s AMY AND ISABELLE caught my eye.

Given that I loved OLIVE KITTERIDGE and THE BURGESS BOYS, I nabbed it, and it sat on my ‘to read’ shelf for about a year. I didn’t realize that it was Strout’s debut novel. All that mattered was it was penned by her, and she has a certain sensitivity and New England sensibility that is catnip to me.

I usually prefer to go into books blind, especially from authors that have penned works I appreciate but, for whatever reason, this time I read the back cover copy. I won’t quote it, but it gave the impression of a late 1960’s staid mother (Isabelle) pushing against a burgeoning teen daughter (Amy) leaning into a queer life.

I was gravely wrong. This is a work about how men abuse anyone they can.

AMY AND ISABELLE is a slice of life about living in a turning point of America, of women being in the workfield, of being mothers to daughters, of daughters taxing their mothers, and simply just trying to endure their hardships, to live the life they’re handed, the life handed down to them. I know that description sounds too vague, too nebulous, but I can’t describe it any other way.

Thirty pages in, I could already see Amy’s trajectory. Fifty pages in, I was telling myself: “You really should not be reading this. You know this hits too close to home for you.” One hundred pages in, I asked myself: “Why the fuck do you persist in reading this?” It came to a head around page 118. I was reading this one chapter on a bus after returning from a rather stressful cross-state trip. I read the words, read Strout detailing how the daughter Amy was taken advantage of, and my fingers curled, gnarled around the cover and pages. I tried to keep reading, but instead thrust it into my bag. If I were at home, reading it while rocking in my chair on the porch, I would have thrown it to the ground; not out of disgust, but because it cut too close to the quick.

It’s the mark of a great author that can recreate traumatic scenarios that, to others, may seem endearing, but also to those who have lived through these experiences, rather harrowing. That’s what Strout manages here, in a way I’ve never read before.

That said, I fucking hated it. I hated reliving it through her words.

With texts, you can sit with words. You can put the forward momentum on pause. If it’s a positive piece of prose, you can revel in it. If it’s a negative piece of prose, you can either beat yourself up about it, or curse the creator.

When you’re dealing with something that you wish you’d never read? You do not want to read further, but you can’t put the full piece on pause; the unwanted part resonates in your mind.

I kept going, just like I keep living.

Amy and Isabelle endure, just like the luckiest of us, but both are left haunted. This is a brutal gut-punch of a novel, something I was not expecting, something I didn’t want, but it resonates so loudly.

I write far too much about how artistic works emotionally impact me, I know, but I will never, ever apologize for it. That’s what works like AMY AND ISABELLE do; they affect those who feel seen, but also impart a worldview to those who haven’t lived those experiences, and to help placate those who have, even if they can’t forget.

HEX (2020)

RachelSimons is dead.

Rachel was accidentally poisoned by her own hand as part of her botanic poison research and using herself as a test subject. Consequently, her death leads to the dissolution of her research department, including protagonist Nell Barber. Nell becomes obsessed with continuing Rachel’s research, which includes cultivating monkshood and castor beans, while still being infatuated with her mentor Joan, an older, prickly academic married to a bloated, gregarious man named Barry. When Nell isn’t spending her time mooning over her research or Joan, she hangs with her beautiful best friend Misha and shittalks about her gorgeous-but-vapid ex Tom.

In other words: There’s a lot of academic incest going on.

Rebecca Dinerstein Knight’s second novel HEX examines the fallout of Rachel’s death with brilliantly inventive prose that ducks and weaves through the lives of five individuals as they all desperately flail around seeking some sort of comfort, if not in their studies, then in each others arms.

It is very tempting to call HEX a botanist version of THE SECRET GARDEN as the two share a lot in common: both circle around a dead body, academia, and a severely dysfunctional group of high-minded adult students and scholars that are absolutely the worst for each other. However, unlike THE SECRET GARDEN, you don’t get the same sense of family camaraderie. From the get-go, there’s an immediate friction between everyone, and there’s a lot of toxic interplay and back-biting.

Initially I balked at writing this recommendation, solely because Dinerstein Knight’s prose is so inventive, so evocative that her words easily trounce whichever words I would utilize to pen this piece. She’s that good, and any attempts on my behalf to try to convey that would be — well, are — middling at best.

However, it’s too good to refrain from recommending as the construction of Nell’s interior thoughts are so delicious, and the tension between their fraught clique is so familiar but also very heightened, and the slow-burn is expertly doled out. It’s a wild ride, and one worth signing up for.

HEX can be purchased via Bookshop.


I haven’t covered the entirety of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels — in fact, I only wrote about the third — and I kind of expected to leave it at that, as while each novel is remarkable, the first three are rather remarkable in the same way: they’re all about the push-and-pull between two friends growing up together in Naples and their power dynamics and their multi-faceted journeys through life.

Consequently, I didn’t expect the final novel in the series — THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY — to stray much from the path, and I certainly didn’t expect to be penning this, but here we are.

THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY escalates matters far more than the prior novels. Time passes rapidly. Lenù and Lila age significantly. The undercurrent of the mafia bubbles up to the surface. Technology becomes foregrounded. Families are ripped asunder. Stagnation sets in for some, while others find solace in wildness.

This is a true epic of lives lived, and as always Ferrante deftly handles it bluntly, but also artfully. Ferrante’s prose is so succinct and exacting; she is so dialed into the inner voice of Lenù that you feel like you’re inhabiting her as the scales fall from her eyes.

While I feel that Ferrante could have drawn all of this out further, going more in-depth about Lenù and Lila as they navigate their older years, this seems like a fittingly spry end to their tale. It’s satisfying, poignant, melancholy, and often even angry. In other words, a perfect encapsulation of the Neapolitan novels.

DOOM PATROL VOL. 6 (2016-?)

If you aren’t familiar with the recent-ish drama at DC Comics, the Vertigo imprint is no more. Karen Berger, who spearheaded Vertigo, left DC a while ago. Without her, you wouldn’t have SANDMAN. You wouldn’t have Y: THE LAST MAN. You wouldn’t have Alan Moore’s SWAMP THING, and you certainly wouldn’t have Morrison or Pollack’s DOOM PATROL.

Yes, all great things must end, but sometimes they’re resurrected. Gerard Way — of the band MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE and the writer of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY — revived DOOM PATROL with his ‘Young Animals’ imprint, which is essentially a modern reboot of Vertigo; it’s all about the weird, all about the misfit ‘superheroes’ that don’t quite fit into the normal DC universe, but still have a rabid following.

According to the DC Database, ‘Young Animal’ is still active, but nothing has been published under the imprint in a number of years, so I’ll consider it defunct which is a shame, as those working under the imprint did a fantastic job but I guess the market for weird comic books just isn’t there nowadays.

However, Gerard Way did give us two new volumes of DOOM PATROL weird. (Three, if you count DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS, which will not be covered in this write-up as it’s technically not part of the sixth volume.)

As with every new DOOM PATROL volume, this is a different DOOM PATROL, one that resembles the one of Morrison’s run, but a bit twisted. (Apologies, I have not read each and every DOOM PATROL book — I just found out there’s an entire Keith Giffen run — so I might get some facts wrong here.) Robotman Cliff Steele is here, obviously. Danny the Street is back, but in a far smaller way. Larry Trainor is …kind of back. A sort-of-Rita pops up for a bit. Jane has returned. Nowhere Man is taunting them and then turns into a sort of Max Headroom for some reason. Niles continues to be the narrator of his own creations.

So, essentially: it’s Gerard Way getting his vision of the band back together again.

It mostly works! Way also introduces a slew of new characters, such as Casey Brinke, the other side of the Cliff Steele coin; she loves to drive fast and her interests include: women, robots, her apartment, and her cat named ‘Lotion’. Way maneuvers Casey from outsider narrative commentator to one of the Doom Patrol gang so expertly, I barely even noticed.

There’s also the exuberant Terry None, one hell of a tap-dancing chaotic influence on the team. (I’ll note that her costume? Immaculately designed. Watch it as you read!)

Volume Six also includes the Reynolds family — husband Sam, wife Valerie, and teen son Lucius — which I am far less keen on. Doom Patrol has always been about found families and to shoehorn an actual family there feels incongruent to me, especially considering the closing issue of the second collection, which boils down to: the Reynolds play D&D but with real-life consequences.

Nonetheless, Way managed to keep the Doom Patrol weird candle alight, and with such an amazing team!

I do wish that DC had allotted ‘Young Animal’ more time than they were given. Unconventional comics are what contributes to visual narrative progress. You can see it not only in comics, but in film and TV and video games as well. Vertigo, and Young Animal, helped to nurture that experimentation, and apparently now … no one is willing to make that very small investment.

(Lastly: Yes, I know I said Vol. 6 and the cover says Vol. 2. It’s comics, so it’s essentially Vol. 6.1 and 6.2. No need to overthink it!)

LAST STOP (2021)

(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Xboxes) Every gamer has encountered a game that desperately wants to be a film instead. (I’m looking at you, METAL GEAR SOLID 2.) You know the type: long-winded cut-scenes, overly flamboyant camerawork that often gets in the way of interactivity, shamelessly cribbing from other films — usually Tarantino — all with the intent to make the player feel something.

LAST STOP, from VIRGINIA developers Variable State, is one such game.

LAST STOP consists of an intertwined story of three primary characters: John Smith, an aging father who has a precocious eight (excuse me, eight-and-a-half) year-old daughter named Molly; Donna, a teen girl who sneaks out at night to be a bit rebellious with her friends; and Meena, an agent with a nebulous intelligence agency that deals with the supernatural or aliens — that isn’t quite clear out of the gate — but it also leads to some body switching and other high-concept notes.

While ostensibly it’s interactive fiction by way of Telltale’s games (THE WALKING DEAD), the dialogue choices really don’t matter, and most of the interactivity consists of walking to a door or clumsy item finagling, a la David Cage (the ‘auteur’ behind HEAVY RAIN, DETROIT: BEHIND HUMAN, who also desperately wants to create ‘cinematic experiences’ and they often ring false).

When you get to the third chapter of LAST STOP, which nakedly indulges in the trope where a camera circles around a table during what is ostensibly heist planning, well, yeah, it becomes crystal clear that this should just be a film rather than a hackneyed patchwork of filmic gaming experience.

That may sound harsh, but I couldn’t scrub that feeling from my mind and it’s a shame, as their prior game VIRGINIA managed to navigate those interactive narrative waters far more smoothly, partially because it felt more thoughtful and thought-out.

So why am I grousing about it in this blog that’s all about recommending works? It’s because I’m still a sucker for these sort of games; they’re perfect fodder for tucking into on a lazy Sunday. Also, Meena? (See above.) She is one hell of an ice queen and one of the best modern video game characters of our time. However, it’s a far cry from the silent meditative and askew nature of VIRGINIA.

While it’s far from perfect, it is quite playable — for as little that you actually can play it — and while I played, I was quite invested to see where all of the high-concept facets would lead to. Additionally, the visual design and artistry is quite compelling in a LIFE IS STRANGE simple, but effective, way. When the story hits, it lands well; these are complex people living different but vastly similar lives to the way most live.

I’ll note that it is extraordinarily British. One chapter practically feels torn from a Mike Leigh film.

Again, it’s a bit of a misfire and isn’t for everyone, but it is a fun lark and we all need that sometimes.


One nice touch: one of the lead characters has a very visible caesarean scar, perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen that in a video game.


(macOS/PC/PS4/PS5) VIRGINIA was the first game from Variable State, and it made quite the mark. Not only is it 100% dialogue-less but it frequently quits scenes, leaping forward in time and to different locations, even if you aren’t done interacting with them.

I’ll note that Variable State was inspired by the experimental indie game 30 FLIGHTS OF LOVING — they even included a special note in the credits to underscore what they owed to 30 FLIGHTS — which also jumps around in time and locations a lot.

While 30 FLIGHTS OF LOVING felt thrillingly chaotic, VIRGINIA is the other side of the coin.

VIRGINIA is a slow burn of a thriller. You play as Anne Tarver, a wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent whose partner is seasoned special agent Maria Halperin. The two of you are in Kingdom, Virginia, investigating the disappearance of a young boy named Lucas. Tarver then gets drawn deeper into FBI schemes, and matters escalate in a dreamline way.

(Unsurprisingly, the game also takes a few notes from TWIN PEAKS, as one location practically recreates the Roadhouse, even down to a Julee Cruise-ish backing band.)

I’ll note: this is essentially an experimental point-and-click adventure game, albeit first-person. While it is a ramshackle indie game, Terry Kenny’s simple but evocative art styling does a lot to imbue the spirit of the game, but the silence is what I find most intriguing. Occasionally, the game even lacks room tone — it’s dead silent. Everyone speaks with gestures and motions and physicality. It’s a glorious limitation to place on a modern narrative-forward game, one that makes VIRGINIA so memorable.

And when the game isn’t silent? When the score swells? It resonates volumes.

This isn’t a game for everyone. If you’re impatient, if you expect proper answers, if you want fire off a gun, this is not the game for you. However, if you’re looking for a surreal, atmospheric, story-driven mystery that isn’t the most interactive game ever, but looks and sounds great and can hit where it hurts, it’s a great Sunday experience.

BOUND (1996)

Apart from perhaps CLOUD ATLAS (which is technically a Wachowski/Tykwer film adaptation), the Wachowski sisters’ BOUND is probably their most under-seen and under-appreciated work which, sure, given it’s their first film, but still! It a very queer neo-noir that, while stylish, doesn’t rely on the gonzo effects of their later films. In fact, one of the most effective shots simply involves buckets of white paint, squibs, and a body.

The fact that it isn’t heralded more is a shame because it’s certainly an iconic queer film, and it’s also my favorite of theirs.

I’m getting ahead of myself. BOUND is a very simple neo-noir with a small cast, smaller locales — almost all of it takes place in two Chicago apartments which, I’ll note, has appropriate trim — and some smoldering, absolutely perfect casting.

Corky (Gina Gershon) is a very butch ex-con who served five years and is now reworking apartments for the mob. She meets the apartment’s next-door neighbors, the sexpot femme Violet (Jennifer Tilly, doing what she does best) is entangled with low-level mobster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano before he was on THE SOPRANOS). Corky and Violet get lustily involved via a number of very heated scenes and, as always, watch how they handle hands. Violet decides she wants to leave Caesar and be with Corky, so Violet fills Corky in on Caesar’s task to pick-up and hand-off over $2.1 million dollars to his mob bosses.

Corky brainstorms a plan to steal the money from under Caesar’s nose. It sounds like the perfect plan.

As this is a noir work, it is not the perfect plan. Matters escalate, and quickly.

It’s worth noting that half of this film works because Gershon and Tilly have amazing chemistry and an amazing wardrobe and suits each perfectly: Corky is all leather, tight white t-shirts and dirty pants and Violet is often dressed like Marilyn in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, all glamor dresses and finely coiffed hair. The other half is because of the Wachoswkis’ script — which is far more funny than I remember — but also because of the way they visually frame Corky and Violet’s tryst; it’s restrained, knows when to linger and when to cut away, but is still tantalizing.

I’ll grant that you can see a lot of the Coen Bros. in BOUND, from some Sonnefeld zooms and heightened close-ups to the humor, but out-of-the-gate you can tell these are more-or-less nods, and that the sisters have their own voice and approach.

Lastly: as usual, I saw this at the Music Box Theatre — it was a personal print from the Wachowskis! — as part of the Music Box’s ‘Rated Q’ series, which explicitly is — in the words of Rated Q’s programmer/director Ramona Slick — “A Celebration of Queer, Camp, & Cult Cinema”.

At the time of writing this, it’s Pride month and Chicago’s Pride parade is only a few days away.

Obviously, the screening was completely overflowing with queer folk and it was glorious.

The screening opened with a pre-film, brazenly and enthusiastically over-the-top drag show in the main theater: a lot of torn clothing, a lot of skin, and folks stuffing bills into the performers’ works or throwing money at them. (I’m not 100% sure that the Music Box is zoned for all that I saw, but I will not complain!) The audience was so, so very game for it.

When the film started? Folks went bonkers but, as is the Music Box way, no one ruined the experience for everyone; there was a lot of hooting, a lot of laughter, a lot of veiled recognition at foreshadowing and villainous characters, and a lot of clapping (and even some snaps). In other words, the perfect communal viewing experience.

If you read the interview with Rated Q’s Ramona Slick, they discuss how formative cult and queer films were for them, as they lived in a small town without much of a queer community. Now they’re helping to introduce others to these films in a way that interweaves performance with projection. It also gives a venue for those who love these films and want to see them with likeminded folks instead of alone in a scuzzy dorm room on a tiny cathode ray TV and an exhausted VHS tape.

I know I endlessly beat this drum, but the Music Box has been firing on all cylinders as of late. They’ve slowly pushed back to being a repertoire theater instead of a new-release indie theater, and it’s paid off handsomely for them as practically every older film I’ve attended there has been packed to the ceiling. While that’s not the Music Box I grew up with — they have been around since 1929, and their repertoire period pre-dates the late 90s — I embrace the change. It fills a much-needed absence in the local film scene, and every screening has been a delight.

Corky: “Know what’s the difference between you and me?”

Violet: “…no.”

Corky: “Neither do I.”


THE SEVENTH MANSION is the debut novel from Maryse Meijer, who has previously penned the acclaimed collection HEARTBREAKER STORIES (as well as another collection of shorts with RAG, and the novella NORTH WOOD), and if you’re a member of any counter-culture you will find a lot to love about this. If you aren’t, well, you can at least appreciate the intentional and interior and effective fragmented prose.

THE SEVENTH MANSION centers around Xie, an extreme vegan/naturalist who has been moved by his divorced father Erik from L.A., mostly due to an oil spill that Xie couldn’t physically or mentally tolerate. They relocate to a rural Southern town and Xie is quickly singled out, mostly negatively by most of his school, but positively by two very rambunctious queer girls: Jo and Liam. They see a kindred spirit in his lassitude and rebellion and environmental badges such as ‘TAKE NOTHING. LEAVE EVERYTHING.’

All three of them decide to take their environmental activism to the next level and liberate a number of caged minks waiting to be skinned, but only Xie is caught via their activities.

It doesn’t help that Xie — someone whose friends unknowingly chastise him for being celibate and asexual — has a thing for bones. As in actual skeleton bones. He steals the remains of a saint from a church — St. Pancratius, the patron saint of youth — and matters escalate.

I’ll note that Xie’s father is one of the rare depictions of a positive, understanding father in fiction. He legitimately wants to help Xie and he’s supportive and listens to him, even when Xie shuts himself away.

It is a slow, twisted burn of a ride and full of fragmented thoughts and feelings and sensuality and builds to one hell of a climax in more ways than one.