Ho! Hey there everyone. It’s been a while since we last spoke. I was sitting in an Enterprise Rent-A-Car last Thursday at around 1 in the afternoon when I had what Jules Winfield said alcoholics call a “Moment of Clarity.” I’d been dispatched to Burlington the night before for an early morning video shoot, just me and a SME and a camera, and now I was returning the rental car and heading back home to start logging footage and finishing off the edit - or rather re-edit, since the whole shoot was a do-over of an earlier project. I was talking to the car rental guy about what I do for a living, which for the last several weeks and much of the last year, has been making micro-budget videos on a variety of platforms for a variety of outputs. In May alone, this work has sent me to Victoria, Vancouver, the aforementioned Burlington, and (next week) Montreal. So car rental guy and I were talking about the relative frustrations of the Burlington do-over, which I promptly assured him were nonexistent, because every single thing about the preceding 24 hours had been brilliant. And that’s when the MOC hit me. There is not a single thing wrong.
Not for nothing, was the first chunk of 2013 a bit of a dark ride. Then New Zealand happened and I moved to a new apartment, and blah blah logistics, here we are on the other side, and - as tweeted - I am grateful beyond words to be standing here, writing to you. There was a particularly lucid dream, sometime in early January, where I found myself lying at the bottom of a large body of water, looking up at the surface, and wondering if I had air enough in my lungs to get there. Well, I did, but not without help. So to everyone who pulled, dragged and carried me up, just in the nick of time, thank you. I’ve been woken up in a very big way, which is going to have reach throughout the rest of my life.
I’m still not wildly thrilled that the Substream went down, and having that happen so close to Ebert’s death put a surprisingly strong “what the fuck am I doing” spin on the whole future of my writing, and the ambitions therein. So when Destroy All Monsters happened (little more than) moments later, it felt a whole lot like a gold bar fell out of the sky and landed in front of me. My beat for the column is Hollywood and pop culture - which I’ve covered before - and the brief is simple, write about whatever’s happening. The column drops on Wednesdays, and at some point I’ll redesign Tederick.com to feature it in a more findable way. It’s going to be a big part of the year, and hopefully, many years to come. (Hey - anyone want to redesign Tederick.com? I need to up my mobile compliance game, while I’m at it.) A lot of the thanks goes to Todd and the rest of the Twitch team for the warm embrace, but really, it’s down to Kurt Halfyard for getting my ass into the game on this in the first place - he is a men among men, and has been more supportive than I strictly deserve for a long while now.
My music video for the Marvelous Beauhunks dropped this week as well, one of the most purely pleasurable gigs I’ve had in the whole history of making movies and videos of any size, scope, or description - mostly because the guys themselves are, in every way, kickass. Plus, Demetre as Broom Jesus and Zoe as Bee Girl - because longtime viewers will probably realize that there’s always a Bee Girl, in some form or another. For this, though, the massive pile of thanks go to the monster on drums named Stephen Wright, who thought of me for the video in the first place, had utmost confidence in my abilities when there was not a single shred of proof that I had any idea what I was doing, and who is now sending me daily status updates on how the video is doing. Quite well, thank you.
There’s a whole lot more, but I’ll hold it there. The point of all this is only: we do not, as a matter of course, get a free pass most of the time; the next crisis is out there somewhere. But, holy goodness, when it’s working, you’d damn well better take a moment to be thankful. Which I’m doing. And am.
It’s May the 17th, 2013; there’s a new Star Trek movie out, and a Mamo (or two) to record this weekend; I’ve got a video (or six) in some state of pre-, mid-, or post-production; I work where it’s cool and write cuz it’s fun. In eight days, Return of the Jedi turns thirty years old, with significance not lost on me - and 1983 was just a hell of a year all around, wasn’t it?
I didn’t think much about the Spock/Uhura romantic matchup in the 2009 Star Trek film when I first saw it. I took it for what it was - a cheeky wink at the series’ established continuity by the people who were in the process of completely renovating that continuity. (On that subject, however: given that Nero’s time traveling misadventures cause no direct change to Spock’s life until about halfway through the film, we can presume that the Spock/Uhura liaison must have occurred in the original timeline as well! Now go watch “Charlie X” again.)
In the years since, though, few collateral pairings in all of SF have fascinated me to quite the degree of Spock/Uhura, or to be more specific, Spock(Quinto)/Uhura(Saldana). (I mean, there’s always Dany/Drogo, but that’s a conversation for another time.) For one thing, pushing Spock and Uhura together is just good old-fashioned shipping of the highest order, cementing Star Trek ‘09’s place as terrific fan fiction, among other things. In addition to all the self-referential massaging of Star Trek’s long and illustrious history by a team of geeks who love Star Trek (there’s even a one-off reference to the fate of that awful beagle from Enterprise, fer cryin’ out loud), Star Trek ‘09 boldly gives us two fantastically hot fantasy characters making fantastically hot whoopie with one another, spiced up with that exogamic tang that, according to some, made Spock such an avatar of SF fetishization to begin with. (Theoretically, we can thank Spock - ahem, and Kirk - for the whole notion of shipping in the first place. Well, thanks boys.) And regarding Kirk: it should not go unmentioned that Spock/Uhura represents the long-awaited usurping of Star Trek’s ostensible romantic/sexual lead by the character who, some fans would argue, was always the more alluring fantasy on the original show: the cold, logical, secretly-burning-with-passion Mr. Spock. When Kirk and Spock are heading off on their suicide mission to Nero’s ship and Kirk realizes he is standing alone on the transporter pad while Spock - cold, logical Spock - is holding up the mission by making out with his girlfriend, the white heterodox sexual paradigm of Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek finally splits open like a piñata. In my review of Star Trek back in 2009, I lamented its whitebread approach to sex; in this regard, I was dead wrong.Read more
Having finished all of the existent A Song of Ice and Fire novels only days before the new season of the show started, my “meh” responses to episodes 1 and 2 of Season Three of Game of Thrones were enough to convince me that I’d just run out my level of engagement on the thing, putting enough of the plot before me that retracing its steps by way of the TV show was a tiresome exercise in redundancy. But no: it turns out those two episodes just sucked.
Episodes 3 and 4, on the other hand, are the real deal, quite possibly two of the best episodes of the whole series.Read more
Look, I’m not saying that Vampire Sisters is a “great” film in the usual sense, but I think it would make a great remake, and I want to make that remake. Get it? Unsurprisingly, this flick plays straight to my base, and if it’s overloaded with a lot of dumb humour - fart jokes, “Vampire lingo” swear words - it’s ultimately a resoundingly successful empowerment fable for tween girls about the importance of being oneself in the face of overwhelming social pressure. And it lands that ending, where the Vampire Sisters on question - Dakaria and Sylvania, each half-vampire, the former wishing to be full-vamp, the latter wishing to be full-human - must choose to stay exactly as they are. The lead girls, Marta Martin and Laura Roge, are perfectly cast, and cast at the perfect age. The script is structured flawlessly, even if a polish on the dialogue would pull out substantially more richness out than is found here. This film has the bones of a great story. Basically, this needs to happen: so let’s make it happen, Hollywood! Surely we’ve greenlit enough Twilight and Hunger Games knockoffs to let this one pass. Or more to the point: exploited properly, this has Harry Potter franchise potential. Don’t mess with me on math.Read more
Stepped out of the game for what was going to be a minute and turned into four months - four months in which I never visited the Lightbox, rarely went to the movies at all, and sat on the sidelines while the whole world flipped on its back like a drunken sea turtle. And then I went to New Zealand, and had one of the best moviegoing experiences of my whole life. And then I came back, and then the Substream died and then Ebert died, and absent an outlet or even a clear sense of what I’m doing, I’m a writer sorely in need of a content strategy; until then, though, there’s always the blog, and Watched, and here we are.Read more
TheSubstream.com, for which I’ve been providing written and video reviews for the better part of 2 years, is going on indefinite hiatus. When I say “the better part of 2 years,” I’m extending that beyond the colloquial to the specific: by and large, working with Mike and Rajo and the rest of the Substream team, since 2011 or thereabouts, has reliably been one of the better, even best, parts of those 2 years. It’s a deep and heavy loss to see the site go.
Matt Price and I ran into Mike and Rajo in line for Midnight Madness at TIFF ‘08 or ‘09 or thereabouts, and for a while they were just those weird dudes that did awesome video coverage of MM - which, as beats go, is one of the best ones. Something flipped over in 2010, though, as they became more aware of what we were doing with Mamo, and we became more aware of what they were doing with the Substream, and suddenly we were all up in each other’s shit in the best possible way. We started doing 2-minute critic reviews and Watch This Instead, and went into the roster of hosts for the same Midnight Madness coverage where we originally hooked up with these guys. Before long, there were seasonal previews of the content at the Lightbox, and more recently, the Very Important! Podcast. At the end of 2011, I started writing reviews for TheSubstream.com itself. I can say quite unabashedly that the whole thing has been one of the best and easiest creative partnerships of my life. Stuff like the Batman video? Bonus points. And I won’t go on at too much length about it because lord knows I’ve pestered you guys enough on this point, but From A To Bond is probably my favourite thing I’ve ever written about movies - ever.
Last year, too, the Substream threw all-in on my elevator movie idea - which would have gone absolutely nowhere without their support - and we besides building a fucking elevator together (well, Rajo built it; I watched), we made a short film that I’m incredibly proud of, and a series of behind-the-scenes how-to videos about the project’s creation as well. Between Kat, Mike, and Rajo, Who Remembers How It Ends was basically a dream-come-true from a production/creative standpoint - and those don’t come along too often.
Mike and Rajo are the sort of friends and collaborators I would follow into a war. No really: an actual war. I’m sad beyond words that the site is going away, but - of course - there on Day One of whatever they do next.
(Being a somewhat spoilery post about Game of Thrones which will discuss all five of the books, not just the TV series)
I’m no huge fan of airlines, but if long flights accomplish anything for me lately, it’s that they let me chop through huge reams of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which itself comes in huger and huger reams. My round trip to Colorado last summer was enough to nick the last five hundred pages of A Feast for Crows, and the return trip from New Zealand this weekend let me put A Dance With Dragons in the ground, just a week shy of the premiere of Season Three of Game of Thrones, which was the goal all along. (Once the series threatened to start using material from the increasingly-interwoven latter three ASOIF books, my earlier strategy of reading one of the books per year went by the wayside.)Read more
Auckland - The fellowship is broken. Dave has taken Chris II overland to Auckland, while Demetre and I have chosen to attack it from the sea, which worked so well for us in Wellington. The ferry runs from Coromandel to Auckland in the evenings, a barnstorming run across the strait under a waxing moon that gets us into port around eleven o’clock. We fly home tomorrow.
The Lord of the Rings got to New Zealand first and it’s obviously the fantasy property with which the country will forever be associated (for better or worse, in a huge jumble of ways). It’s indescribable and marginally alarming to think back on how many different types of environments we’ve moved through in the course of three weeks - flatlands, mountains, river valleys, rain forests, glaciers, deserts, scrub land, farms, coastal villages. That one can frame a series of movies with locations this diverse which are nonetheless all within twelve hours’ drive of one another, give or take, is remarkable, and my most enthusiastic compliments go to Mr. Jackson’s location scouts - it’s one thing to see the finished product on film, but you have to take the drive out to Matamata or Mount Sunday to realize just how genuinely incredible it is that someone found those locations at all, let alone seeing how they could be used for their Middle-Earth equivalents, and making it happen.
But in spite of the Ringsiness of everything, I think I got an even stronger Narnia vibe out of the place than I did anything Tolkienish. Narnia has stuck with me a long time, even if I’ve mostly outgrown it - I now think of C.S. Lewis like a lunatic grandfather who had an incalculable influence on the development of my psyche but whose opinions about the world I now don’t agree with at all. Regardless, the displaced otherworldliness of all my experiences here has that very through-the-wardrobe sort of feel to it. I’m not really referring to the movies, which were shot here but weren’t very good; but I certainly walked in Aslan’s country down south, more than once, as vivid and verdant as anything I ever saw in my mind’s eye when I was twelve. And this week, upon arriving on the Coromandel Peninsula, we hiked out to Cathedral Cove, which was used in the second Narnia movie and nearly approximates the crashing beaches around the ruins of Cair Paravel that lives in my mind. This place gleams, and seems so frequently like a waking dream that after a point one simply stops bothering to question it. I can’t see, really, why anyone would ever want to leave.
Our last hike, yesterday, took us out to Port Jackson (yes - Port Jackson) to do the Coromandel Coastal Walk, a full-day hike that took us out around the edge of the peninsula, over rich green mountains and across sloping sheep-dotted hills, along paths which dropped away sharply in hundred-foot plunges to crashing waves far below, and past jet-black rocky shoals being ceaselessly pounded by frothing cerulean waves. In other words, it was yet another incarnation of heaven, with glistening New Zealand unfolding herself for us once again. When we reached Stony Cove, the end of the hike, we found ourselves in a wide, silent bay, ringed by thick forest enclosing a stony shore. And since I wasn’t likely to ever be back to that place and since leaving any action untaken is a shame under such circumstances, I stripped naked and dove into the bay, and swam around in the sunshine for ten or fifteen of the most perfect minutes of my life. There is peace and freedom here that cannot be bought at any price. At the end of the long walk back to our car and the beginning of a very long trip home, I took off my boots and brought it in Hobbitstyles for the last kilometre of the track - barefoot in the grass. Any exhaustion seemed very far away.
I have seen shades of green in this country that I have never seen anywhere else. Blues too - though I don’t pay much attention to them. Browns - you would not believe the browns I’ve seen. And stars like the light in her eyes that will stay with me the rest of my life.
There is something I noticed way down in the South Island very early on the trip, when hiking the second or third of our many tramps: these people don’t litter. Miles and miles of hiking ground, and on exactly one occasion - ONE - I saw a discarded bottle of Coke. I choose to believe that this is down to the cathedral-like reverence that overcomes anyone faced with such astonishing natural beauty; you take out what you bring in, and don’t fuck it up for everyone else, or for the environment itself, or for yourself. This tells you a lot, I think, about everyone in this country. They don’t litter. There are responsible recycling choices everywhere. Every menu calls out its gluten-free options. And of the six or seven million GIVE WAY signs we passed over the course of the road trip, only one was modified to read GIVE HEAD. Every New Zealander is unselfconsciously proud of the place - and unimaginably friendly about it - and as invested in your enjoyment of their home as they are themselves. They enjoy their riches to the utmost. New Zealand is a kind place, full of adventurers.
To the one who gave me the journal I’ve carried in my bag across every step of this journey, and for all the words that followed, I cannot sufficiently express my thanks. To the others: Dave, who took on every detail, every logistic, every fiddly bit of business that needed fiddling with, and did it brilliantly; Demetre, who is indomitable and really knows how to kiss; and my parents, who coached from the sidelines - thanks all. To them and everyone else, this advice: travel. Far, often, and well.
Coromandel - As we moved through the North Island we found a more and more commercialized, tourist-ized New Zealand; I must admit that this did not leave me in any great hope for the remainder of our last week here, as we approached the Mecca of all Lord of the Rings tourism - Hobbiton - before reaching our final stop on the Coromandel peninsula. But New Zealand, it seemed, had a few last tricks up her sleeve - and these last few spots could be paradise.
Hobbiton is sublime. On walking up the garden path (the one Bilbo runs down while screaming “I’m going on an adventure!”) and catching sight of the Party Tree over the hill, I was filled with the same deep bubble of emotion I felt when seeing the place in The Fellowship of the Ring, twelve years ago - a weird, touching, and very resonant sense that I had walked in this place in my mind and in my dreams, and the people of New Zealand had somehow found a way to build it out of wood and stone. The ensuing two hours were like nothing so much as a waking dream - we bagged a good tour guide, who bent a few rules for us, and we all ended the tour in the Green Dragon, which has been newly built out as a working tavern - meaning that we three, Dave and Demetre and I, concluded our pilgrimage across NZ sitting by the fire in a pub that is both made up and real, one table over from the cat, and enjoyed half-pints of good ale (and a meat pie, natch). It was surreal enough, and powerful enough, to nearly bring tears to my eyes.
That place. The reverence that overcame me and Dave particularly, as we laid our hands on Sam’s letterbox, as we looked up at the ancient Party Tree, as we sat in front of that brilliant green door - whose colour, I swear to you, no camera was able to precisely capture. The silence afterwards, as the bus took us away - I couldn’t bring myself to look back at Bag End, could not allow myself one final incomplete glance. The bus trundled on.
Then it was a long, leisurely drive across country to Coromandel, and up into yet another verdant wonderland of towering peaks and lush green rainforest, before pulling into Hahei as the gloaming fell, and driving two blocks past our hostel to arrive once again at the sea - and those white sand beaches, and those spires of rock out in the bay, and all around, a vast, deepening sky. I walked that beach as night fell, and listened to music, and something I have carried with me all this way finally broke - and I looked out across the sea at Toronto, and looked down at the surf as the push and pull of the tides created the perfect vertigo of the whole world slipping away.
And then I listened to a song - three times - and right then and there, it all felt done. The stars last night - you would not believe your eyes.
Running jokes in need of retirement:
The “ferry/fairy” spelling joke
The “Hey, Mike!” joke
The “Have you ever been kissed, Demetre, like really kissed?” joke
Permanent additions to the lingo:
Lord of the Rings location check:
The Dimholt Road (The Paths of the Dead)
The Old Forest
Stone Street Studios (so, Everything Else)
Rotorua - We’re clattering down towards the end of the road, and every cell in my body can feel it; that juuuuuust-pre-exhaustion of a well timed marathon. We’re ticking the last of the boxes in the North Island, but nowadays when we make friends with other tourists, we’re the ones giving advice rather than taking it.
On that subject - did you know that every single New Zealander is a part-time tourism adviser? This has astonished us through every single day of our journey, up to and including yesterday, when we visited the Mission vineyards for a bit of free wine-tasting, and the guy cleaning the fountain outside had more to say about our route to Rotorua than the woman in the i-SITE. (The apex of this particular phenomenon, though, was the wino who took Dave and I under his wing when we were searching for our restaurant on Friday night in Wellington.) These people are as comprehensively enthusiastic about our maximum enjoyment of their country as we are - more so even. When was the last time you could say that of a Canadian? But then again, Canada sucks.
We’re old hands at driving NZ’s roads, too; that torturous pretzel-logic that sees at least one person in the car chanting “left” multiple times per hour if it seems like the driver is in any jeopardy of pulling out into the right side of the street at any point. Left is right, green is red, the shotgun seat is (of course) called gunshot. Chris II has proved a much more capable hand at the uphill pass than Chris I, and if I continue to have a particular talent for ferreting out massive trucks to fly towards around every turn of every mountain road, well, so be it.
We’re sick of meat pies. Fully fucking sick of them. This is our own fault. By the time I was taking a runner on a cheeseburger pie yesterday - imagine a McDonald’s cheeseburger, baked in a pie, including ketchup - I was quite committed to never laying lips on the miserable things again. If we had started in the North Island and worked south, as originally planned, would the meat pie have even happened? The pies at Fergbakery in Queenstown remain the champions of the whole trip, and that was two long weeks ago now.
Here in Rotorua - which is best pronounced in Scooby-Doo voice, “RO-ROH-ROO-AH!” - we have ended up in the party hostel to end all party hostels - best pronounced “RUH-ROH!”. We checked in to the site of bikini-clad spring breakers in the heated pool, and the advisory that we’d missed the wet t-shirt contest by a couple of days; but then, we and all of our hostel-mates got caught in an unbelievable typhoon last night, so we pretty much got the contest anyway. On hostels, the Adventure Backpackers in Queenstown and the Wanaka Bakpaka (yep) in Wanaka remain the best; this one right here, Base Rotorua, is far and away the worst. The mileage on the rest varies somewhere in the middle, though the overall average has been good.
Finally zorbed yesterday. The experience was about as you’d expect - I yelled “ZOOOOOOOORRRRRRBBBBBB!” at the top of my lungs all the way down the hill. We made up some zorbing codes for use by the staff in case of emergency; “We have a red zorb!” means the occupant of a zorb is bleeding heavily; “White zorb! White zorb!” is a zorb struck by lightning. Unfortunately, neither of these happened - though Dave did manage to jump his zorb out of the track, for which no code words were prepared.
Meat pie count, trip thus far: 12