Employee of the Month Podcast

Employee of the Month podcast coverSometimes I scrub through top 10 lists to find what I’m missing and I ran into Employee of the Month. I don’t remember where. I use Downcast as my iPhone podcatcher, maybe there?

The show is Catie Lazarus interviewing people about their jobs. She does her research. It looks like she’s a comedy writer – she talks like a stand-up comedian, she’s quick on her feet. She sometimes asks really blunt questions and calls them out. The difference between she and someone like Marc Maron might be she’s comfortable putting the spotlight squarely on the guest and Finding the Truth, where Marc Maron injects himself into conversations so thoroughly sometimes it obscures the guest. The truth comes out with Maron sometimes but it’s often relational. He also heads where the energy is – if an interview shifts gears, he goes where the energy is. Catie seems to push very specifically at points until she’s satisfied or the guest changes the subject.

This deep analysis based on two I listened to by her – I’ve listened to a bunch of WTF. I picked out a couple related to music: Ryan Schreiber, creator of Pitchfork, the music website that manages to put the fear of God into indie bands everywhere, and Henry Rollins, who puts the fear of God into those indie bands as well as all other people who have listened to punk in the last 20 years.

The most interesting thing about Schreiber’s interview was Lazarus pushing him on still being an indie publication and forcing him to describe how after Pitchfork is now easier to find (for me, yes – they didn’t used to be the first hit on Google, it took a little searching to remember the URL, back in the day) and more mainstream, how are they different than Rolling Stone or other magazines. He basically says, our reviewers have better opinions and cover more obscure stuff (the latter definitely true, for good or ill). When she asks him to name music he’s finding that’s interesting now he blanks. This is truly odd. He’s a music critic. This is the point where his inner monologue should sort through the various albums from the past 10 weeks and settles on the three that stick out the most, gibbering about sharing the wrong one he loved the second most. I think he names one. So maybe he’s out of the reviewing game, and maybe pushing him when he’s the corporate head isn’t kind, except he says he isn’t the corporate head. Also, he leans back and forth from the mic so we can’t hear him sometimes. Come on, man! This can’t be your first interview.

She clearly came to the Rollins interview with child-like wonder. She mentions she grew up in DC, and went to ska shows in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In that scene, in DC, Rollins was a god. I grew up in Utah going to ska and punk shows in the early 90’s and Rollins was a god. In Utah.

But he’s an impressive guy. Over the interview I was tempted to draw circles – ‘scared of Mom and Dad’ and draw a line over to ‘works hard all his life to win approval from others instead’. Either way I admire the crud out of him. In high school I read a piece he wrote in Details magazine called “Iron and the Soul” where he talks about how weightlifting helped give him self-respect and identity. In the interview it comes out he was in a military prep high school, so the story about Mr. P pinning a kid against the wall makes more sense. Anyway. The essay meant a lot to me at the time. I may still have it upstairs in my Binder of Crap I Stare at Nostalgically along with my seventh grade class picture and emails with deep thoughts.

The thing about a piece like the Details article is, it’s obviously written for kids who have self-esteem issues. There’s no other reason someone who likes to work out would write it the way he did. This is a thing I really admire about Rollins. Besides his work ethic, he accepts that he’s a leader. He uses his power for good. He spends a lot of the Lazarus interview being self-deprecating about his success, but after a while it seems like he genuinely only lives to work. The work is the thing. When Lazarus presses him about joy, if it’s worth it, he hits on the best part of interview describing talking to fans after the show.

So that’s a job well done for Lazarus – I don’t come away from the interview with Rollins thinking, gee, Lazarus is a great lady, I come away thinking, Rollins, what a cool guy. So I admire Lazarus for that. I want to keep listening.

(PS If you haven’t, listen to her interview with Jon Stewart. She sets herself apart by being armed to the teeth with research but also some insight into some of his staff).

Can’t not share this great bit from Rollins – another inspirational bit that hit home for me a while back. He’s really plain spoken, something I’ve grown to appreciate.

Five Nightmares at Freddy’s

My son is obsessed with Five Nights at Freddy’s. He’s never played it. His older sister has never seen it. Boys in her class natter about it incessantly so through social osmosis he’s latched onto it, terrified. Someday* he’ll play it and wonder how it ate up so much sleep at the end of kindergarten.

We can’t talk it out. In his mind plain facts hunker down and shake. There is no solid ground when The Fear comes out, it touches everything. Freddy, like Chucky before him, is just a vessel**.

Freddy from Five Nights at Freddy'sIf the vessel can hold some of the general dark, I’m for it. Let Freddy hold as much as his sunken eyes can handle, as long as the air in my kids’ brain is clearer. Give the fear a place to rally so he can get more solid ground.

Maybe that’s horror at a tribal level, demons and witches sucking energy from pools of pain we dig around unpredictable things like jobs, sickness, rejection. The monster’s killed and we hope shotguns or sunlight works on personal demons too. Potential catharsis.

Some argue simulated catharsis unhelpfully medicate us — we’re too doped up on fantasy to face our own problems***. Maybe. Spending too long in worlds of carefully constructed narratives might lead us to oversimplify messy old Life, but spending zero time outside of messy old Life dulls down messy old Life.

At the bottom of all this is that I can’t control everything my kids see and what they’re scared of and I’m trying to make sense of it. I remember what it was like. I remember trading monster defense strategies with my friend (not play monsters – the ones really coming for you at night). And it burned off. I’m no longer afraid of the dark^, except its tendency to hide things like walls when I walk into them.

But for El Kindergartnero the Fear has kicked in. It needs something. If it wasn’t Freddy, maybe Slenderman. Scary robbers. Grease pens. The fear needs a vessel. All told, an aversion to life-size animatronic animals is specific and manageable. One building in town he doesn’t go to and he’s good, and that doesn’t break my heart any.

* Age 27, 28, somewhere in there.
** The 1988 horror movie doll has ground floor with k-6 kids in Boise.
*** Or bigger problems corporations or the government want us to look away from, like war, corruption, endless movie remakes.
^ Unless I just watched Jaws. None of this applies to Jaws.

Fury (2014)

It owes a lot to Saving Private Ryan. I bet writer/director David Ayer watched Saving Private Ryan a dozen times as he got this project ready.

Ayer has a thing with people getting stabbed in the eye. Twice, with something that specific, is a thing: this and End of Watch, which was also a mix of drama and horror with gore. He has jump scares. Many. There’s gore, a surprising amount, like End of Watch.

The least forgettable thing is a section where Brad Pitt’s character and Logan Lerman’s character (he of Perks of Being a Wallflower) lock themselves in an apartment with two conveniently aged attractive German women who are terrified of them while they wait for orders. While we wonder if Senor Pitt will rape one of them, order Senor Lerman to rape one of them, or force them into prostitution or some combination of the two. It’s a scarier version of the relationship Jean Gabin has with the woman who hides him in Grand Illusion (a gal for each guy this time), but it just feels yucky. I have a feeling it’ll be the only thing I remember about the movie in a couple of years because other than that the film is pretty straightforward narratively.

Technically it has some problems. The music is on the nose and out front, with chanting German hymns running right into or out of Save The Day music that wouldn’t be out of place in a TV war movie. It’s shot pretty well, but has choppy editing. It wants to be an art movie, but it cuts away from every scene before any emotional resonance kicks in. There are too many cuts – regular cuts, not Baz Lurhman cuts – where there should be pans or tracking shots. Screen time better used for a few more moments with characters were stopped short to spend time watching the tanks drive down roads. Oddly, I spotted a glaring dub gaffe, which confirms my editing problems suspicions.

Shia LeBeouf does a great job being the beating heart of the group with the Bible character. The (older) woman in a creepy position with Brad Pitt in the apartment played by Anamaria Marinca put a lot into her limited screen time and got across a lot of different emotions without having to say much. The green, Star Wars-like gunfire (and tankfire?) looked and sounded cool or terrifying, depending.

Link to Parents Guide for Fury on IMDB

The Oscars (Guest Post – Mary Aagard)

My amazingly bright wife, Mary Aagard, wrote a piece on the Oscars.

After all this broo-ha-ha about the 2015 Oscar nominations — I’ve been thinking about my own favorite movies. Those nominations has even spurred quite a fiery conversation with the purveyor of this here website/blog.

You see, I’m a film school graduate — or rather, a film school lite graduate — not that the school was bad, just the my own choices inside the major were scattered, they didn’t form a coherent base of knowledge and skills. At the end of my college career, I had started working in the university library as a student employee and I saw a future for me there, where I didn’t in filmmaking — hmmm, a library full of women, or Hollywood, full of men. It’s kind of funny to look back now, I could not have chosen two more opposite professions in terms of ratios of men and women in the field.

family watching movie on lawn
Sadly, not us.

I was going to write screenplays, with my incredible wit and conscience and biting dialogue — now that biting dialogue is used in working with student employees and telling patrons that yes, libraries are no longer silent spaces, but playing your guitar in the middle of the book stacks isn’t okay.

Also, I am a full-time employed mother of three small children. Movie going is kind of a pipe dream at this point. Is it sad or hopeful that I keep track of time by what movies are coming out, and then I never see them in the theater?

So back to favorite movies, yeah— I give myself cred for My Brilliant Career being my favorite movie — and it is truly my favorite — watch it, you’ll cry, you’ll feel for Sybylla and her struggle, the choice she chooses to make — it’s marvelous and horrible at the same time. I love Gillian Armstrong and love her movies but if I think of my favorite films, she is the only woman director in that list. I want to see more women represented in the Academy nominations — but I guess I need to do my part and watch movies by female directors (and screenwriters, producers, cinematographers…).

So what do award nominations and winners mean for any of us — for most of us, media is a hobby, a diversion, a moment of pleasure, a way to track time. Most of us aren’t industry insiders that will get better jobs, more prestigious scripts, better parts if films we work on are nominated for awards. This is just a spectator sport for the majority of us.

Besides the issues for diversity in filmmaking, let me see if I’ve seen any movies that have come out this past year are worth mentioning —

And of the nominees, as of this writing I’ve only seen:

  • Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Wild
  • Into the Woods
  • How to Train your Dragon 2
  • Maleficent
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Lego Movie
  • Begin Again
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Nightcrawler
  • Imitation Game

Other movies this year that I loved:

  • Belle
  • Chef
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • What If
  • Frank

I have only seen 2 of the best picture nominees — as much as I’d like to have a definitive opinion about movies that came out this year — I don’t. Every year I think I will have more time for going to the cinema and every year I don’t get to see everything I’d like to see. Soon enough my daughter will be old enough to accompany me on my cinema adventures and movie time can turn into bonding time. Will we still be complaining about the lack of diversity in award nominations?