Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

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Well. Here’s one that fell under my radar (came out in 2013) and I am fully, madly, deeply in love with now. A Western set in 1970s Texas about a Bonnie and Clyde-type couple trying to get by…trying to get back together. You can read the film’s description (on the Internet) if you need more than that, but really, while not a perfect film, the direction is gorgeous (reminds me of Andrew Dominik a bit), the score is unwaveringly beautiful (and fitting), and the tone is so lyrical, so magical, yet at the same time so raw and real…well, I haven’t seen anything like it in a long while.

My score: 4 out of 5 sad, old letters

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Bonus: Soundtrack via YouTube

Inspiration: Michigan-style

Every so often I need to recharge: Go out into the woods, camping and backpacking, enjoying the quiet, the stillness. I recently trekked Up North to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to do just that, stopping off at some various points along the way—Grand Island was the destination. I’m working on a couple new projects and although they don’t necessarily have to deal with forests, I always find trees, the denseness of a forest, comforting and inspiring to my work.

These are some of my favorite photos from my recent adventures, for one reason or another, photos and images I come back to often in my head when I think about what I’ve seen and done, what I need to recall when I’m writing.

Moral: Michigan is one beautiful state.

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Andrew Newell Wyeth: Self-portrait (1945)

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Self-portrait (1945)
by Andrew Newell Wyeth
The National Academy Museum and School

*Note: Wyeth is well-known for his regionalist, realistic paintings (such as the exquisite Christina’s World), but something about this self-portrait—the haunting expression, the ominous setting—is irresistible to me. New life goal: To see it in person some day.

DAMTSIO reviewed at Heavy Feather Review

Brett Beach recently reviewed my chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out at Heavy Feather Review:

Russell’s collection especially shines when focusing on the details and particularities of the narrators. For example, we feel a narrator’s discomfort while watching a new lover eat steak and eggs, the “gristle between her teeth, yellowed egg juice on her chin.” Russell’s humor shows when another nameless narrator is suddenly self-aware while he and his girlfriend sit in a bar, a disagreement souring the mood. A familiar song comes on: “… half the place singing along, and all I can do is regret buying that fedora a few months back that I’ve never worn.”

I’m so thankful to Brett for the kind review (and glad he enjoyed it, too)!

Ex Machina

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Finally got to watch Ex Machina, a beautiful, smart sci-film that absolutely destroys machismo, patriarchal hero-worshipping we so often see in our culture (and, espcially, in sci-fi films!). The film is…simple: a series of philosophical conversations in the guise of a straight-forward genre film. Only, it’s not really simple or straight-forward. It’s about—as I see it, anyway—men and women, and how identities tend to be created (or, at least handed out) by our male-dominated society. It’s powerful, because even the soft-spoken Caleb—the normcore “hero” who thinks he, too, can save Ava, the very much alive artificial intelligence created by King Bro Nathan—is setting standards for Ava’s identity, who she is and how she should and can behave. In the end, the two dude bros are…well, Ava wins. She’s the hero. She creates her own identity, her own path in this world, and that is absolutely a marvel to see in a film like this that could so easily have gone done other, more archaic avenues.

Also: the Oscar Isaac dance scene (above) is worth the price of admission alone.

My score: 4.5 out of 5 cute robots

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It Follows

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I’m trying hard to write anything non-gushy about It Follows, easily one of the most original and beautiful horror films I’ve ever seen. Ever. So, here goes…

If you know anything about this film, sure, it could be a parable about the dangers of “easy” sex or STDs—STIs, I think they’re calling them now?—and sure, that all works. And it works well. But for me this was about the inevitability of adulthood, as it looms on the horizon for us all. These are all students playing with very adult themes (drinking; sex; relationships; finding their place in the world; etc.), and, conspicuously, there are very few adults present in the film. As if the characters, most of them teenagers, are inheriting the world, whether they want it or not. They are left to fend for themselves, left to explore, left to figure out what their worth and meaning is in a place that’s quickly passing them by. And that is terrifying. For us all. And at the end, they come out a bit more world-weary, a bit more wise.

Plus, the soundtrack is killer, the cinematography is gorgeous, and…hey, filmed in Michigan. Win.

My score: 5 out of 5 above ground pools

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Interview at DSP’s Story Project podcast

Dane Bahr, Editor and Founder of Dock Street Press (which is putting out my Western novel Mesilla this fall), puts together a most-excellent podcast called the Story Project and was kind enough to chat with me in the latest episode. We talk about dogs, Star Wars, writing, Westerns…lots of other stuff. The episode also finds Dane reading an essay by the supremely talented Ben Tanzer.

You can listen to the podcast in its entirety here.