183 words about Ossos

Drive your plow over the bones of want

More than anything, Ossos is marked by a distinct lack of want. Clotilde doesn’t really want her job or her husband; her husband doesn’t want her back; Eduarda doesn’t want to be alone; Tina doesn’t want to be a mother, doesn’t want to live; Tina’s boyfriend doesn’t want anything; nobody really wants the baby that drives the plot. Even the characters’ respective smoking addictions appear to be done with profound disinterest. This extends to the other side of the camera, where the Fontainhas neighborhood’s largely Cape Verdean manual laborers didn’t want a film shot in their squalid confines while they tried to sleep ahead of long days servicing Lisbon’s richer inhabitants, which famously led director Pedro Costa to shut the set lights off and discover darkness for a story that doesn’t especially want to explore its characters’ interior lives, let alone pursue those dark corners further or all the noise happening out of frame. In beautifully composed, slow-moving scenes, what’s most strange about the first of Costa’s Fontainhas trilogy is that you’ll find yourself not just wanting to watch, but to watch again.

200 words about Spock

Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end

I grew up in chaos. The mind accepts the reality with which it is presented. As a kid, I knew nothing else, but I wanted something different. Listen: My parents should never have reproduced. They fought dirty. They couldn’t handle their emotions. My dad was childish, selfish and violent. It sucked. At least they divorced when I was seven. It didn’t end the chaos, but it helped. Ultimately, my imagination — and later, my friends — saved me. On my favorite show, which I’ve been watching since preschool, I was drawn to this cool, collected, logic-driven scientist. There had to be a way to be like Spock — to know and control your emotions and not have them toss you around like a ship at sea; to respond to any situation, no matter how high the stakes, with reason and objectivity. He was everything I wanted to be. I’m older now. I’m weeks from 40, and I see my earliest role model in a way the scared, insecure little kid never could. The emotions I thought he deactivated are felt deeply but kept under control. He loves fiercely. He’s funny as hell. He won’t abide injustice. I still want to be Spock when I grow up.

198 words about Signs of the Sojourner

Cards for humanity

Signs of the Sojourner is a small game — four hours, conveying a single summer's travels — that feels nevertheless like a turning point for the medium. In it, you build a 10-card deck, each with a symbol on either side; conversations play out by taking turns matching symbols to create connections, convey ideas. After each conversation, you swap a card from your deck with one from your conversant's. That's it, mostly. And yet the thematic variety and narrative depth this small team wrings from the premise is astonishing, conveying, mechanically, sensations never summoned in a game before: Like the way more worldly people have richer demands on your deck, but greater rewards; the way sticking to the preordained route, endlessly matching circles, is a feedback loop with rewards of its own; the delight of an unexpected connection in a far-flung corner; the slow way friendships change over time, despite best intentions. (Also: the best "pet the dog" mechanic ever conceived.) After one run, you're left with your own rewards, like: If videogame dialogue could be this purposeful, why ever go back? And if such sensations as these could be felt in a game, what new possibility spaces remain unmapped?

190 words about Guillermo Saccomanno

Good air and unmarked graves

Quien sera el nuevo Bolaño? Loiter around the Latin American translated lit crowd long enough and it’s bound to come up, the inevitable question, the ghostly albatross publishers and booksellers alike have been grappling with how to move past for more than a decade, scouring the other American continent for someone showing similar potential. But what if you set aside your McSweeney's 46 for a second and hear me out that the closest thing we have to the next Bolaño is actually just one of his contemporaries? Enter Guillermo Saccomanno, who provides another avenue of understanding how often English readers are robbed of Latin American literature’s rich mosaic of voices. From the relatively approachable 77 to the (deliberately) Kafkaesque The Clerk to the beautiful 2666-esque behemoth Gesell Dome, Andrea G. Labinger’s translations of Saccomanno thus far paint an unsparing portrait of Argentina stained by the 20th century. His writing is a thing out of the ordinary, you can tell from the vibrations, full of inscrutable, unsaved damage and tremors where the pendulums swing. If you want some advice, get into him. Don’t give it another thought. You’ve still got time.

200 words about Midnight Mass

No place for children

“Religion is the opiate of the masses,” yet Mike Flanagan’s Midnight Mass imagines it as a harder sort of drug. This passion project of Flanagan’s seems an attempt to reconcile his altar boy past with his professed skeptic present. As such, it involves a lot of talking: dialogues, monologues, Christianity, Islam, rationalism, and a hundred other conversations swirl around here into a strange, chunky brew. But the devil’s in the details, and this show’s got them by the boatload. The central conceit (a confluence of a mythic horror trope with Catholicism) is a bit of brilliance and the series is rife with realized characters and stark imagery that bring that conceit to its fullest possible fruition, even if the dramaturgy does run a bit too zealous. At the end (or beginning) of the day, Flanagan has seemingly equal amounts of appreciation and terror for the various belief systems we choose to live by. Midnight Mass tries to find a harmony between the different songs we sing in the face of the darkness that engulfs us. The song it settles on is a mashup of “Nearer My God to Thee” and, uh, “Life’s a Bitch.” Awkward but, still, kind of slaps.

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