Bits of Film, Adventures with a Highwayman, and Dystopian Fiction

8 1:2


This website is a real gem. An anonymous cinema fan from Portugal created a website where he provides hundreds of selected film clips from classic, to foreign, to popular movies. There are clips from Star Wars, Dr. Strangelove, Fellini’s 8 1/2, and Requiem for a Dream among many more. At the bottom of the page you’ll find a link that randomly ques up one of the bits. The clips are short and sweet, some lasting up to five minutes while others are only a few seconds. This is a fantastic way to spend a minute or two, get a quick dose of cinema, and maybe find a film you didn’t know you needed to watch.

– Jessica Webster


Book: Captain Lightfoot by W. R. Burnett

One of my good friends once told me how she spent an entire summer going to dollar book sales and filling up her bookshelves with all sorts of genres. Sometimes she would have heard of the book before, sometimes she thought the cover just looked interesting. And it was only a dollar, so it didn’t really matter. That’s what this book was for me.

Captain Lightfoot is about an Irish boy who stumbles into the life of a highway man. It’s a quick, light, adventurous read about growing up, the struggle between being a successor or your own person, and light hearted romance. If anything, you’ll at least get a few laughs over Michael and Aba’s friction. –

– Richie Gowin


Book: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood:

Set in a future dystopia where money is scarce and many Americans struggle to find cars to make into homes, a couple finds refuge in an experimental facility named Positron. While in Positron, individuals can lead perfectly normal lives, doing normal activities for one month, but the next they are put into a prison and switch back and forth every month thereafter. As our couple escapes the cruelty of the outside world, they believe themselves blessed to have found such ‘safety’ in Positron. However, as they discover the true intentions of the facility they begin to realize the substitution of morality for obedience. Stan and Charmaine are ‘forced’ to make decisions that beckon the reader to consider the value of comfort and whether the price paid is for pleasure or just the abstinence of pain.

Atwood’s inspection of sexuality is raw and insightful; it appears nihilistic but there is overtone of ‘carry on’ that seems indicative of the normalcy of dysfunctional relationships. The author is willing to wrestle with ‘common uncommons’ and certain scenes within the book exhibit an imaginative exercise of human depravity that is not excessive. The work is often dark and even at times repulsive but it provides a geography that tests the characters like a Honda Civic off-roading. They are broken, bent, dismayed and even tortured by circumstance but by that test become the perfect setup for what I think is Atwood’s primary question of the work: How comfortable are you willing to be?

It was a good read and there are so many great sentences and paragraphs that even if the story was not compelling it would still be worth a pass over. Enjoy 🙂

– Christopher Rodriguez



A 70’s Japanese Film and a Pop Culture Podcast


Film: Belladonna of Sadness (Kanashimi no Beradonna)

This psychedelic, swirling, animated film was lost since its original production when the Japanese Mushi Pro company went bankrupt. It’s being re-released this year and I stumbled on it purely by accident at the Alamo Drafthouse. Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto the movie depicts a medieval world where a happy couple (Jean and Jeanne) is violently disrupted when the king rapes the woman. Her once innocent world changes forever and she soon enters a pact with the devil to save her and her new husband. Through beautiful sometimes shocking art, inspired by western artists such as Klimt and Mucha, backed by undulating progressive rock tracks the film explores themes of witchcraft, sexuality, woman, and society. While incredibly beautiful, this film is definitely not for the little ones. The imagery is explicit and intense. I left this screening feeling at once disquieted and speechless from the striking beauty and searing pain it portrays hand in hand.

– Jessica Webster



Podcast: Pop Culture Happy Hour, by NPR

I know, I know, NPR is by definition nationally available for free and easily accessible, even with old technology. BUT, did you know that they have some programs that aren’t on the radio? Pop Culture Happy Hour (PCHH) is a web-only show covering the week in – you guessed it – pop culture! I know I’m getting kind of meta here (I hope I used that term correctly) because the purpose of the Conversation Collective is to offer note-worthy cultural-media tidbits as well, but so far, I’m just not as smart or funny as the hosts and guests on this show. Also, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to recommendations by people with excellent taste. Sure, maybe good books will pile up even higher beside your bed, but there are worse problems to have. Considering that it’s their job to review every new piece of media that comes their way, these ladies and gentlemen have a host of recommendations and commentary on every genre and subject imaginable. Need a graphic novel for girls between the ages of 8 and 12? Want to know why “guilty pleasures” aren’t real? Unable to articulate all the things you did or didn’t like about the latest superhero movie? Look no further than PCHH. Each week, the show covers a recent popular movie, show, book, conference, celebrity etc. (something making a buzz), a topic of conversation (such as the Bechdel test) and personal recommendations from each panelist. There’s also the occasional trivia quiz or other segment. I have to be honest, it’s been a while since I listened to this podcast because it’s really hard to pay attention to anything for more than 5 minutes with two young kids running amuck, but I long for the day when I can get back to taking furious notes and cackling over what PCHH recommends or bashes.

– Karissa Tucker


High Fantasy, A Suspenseful Road Trip and a Comic Book

Book Series: The Dagger and Coin Series, by Daniel Abraham

Let’s be honest. We all have our favorite classic books, and we would love to be the person who reads only deep, “impactful” literature that appears in the Atlantic (or whatever). But sometimes you just need a story to hold your attention for a little while. It’s like food. You can only eat so much filet mignon and red wine before you need some beer and pretzels. If I had a nickel for every light fiction book I’ve devoured because I just needed five hours to not think, I could buy my next book.

That next book will be The Spider’s War, the final volume in Daniel Abraham’s five-part high fantasy saga, “The Dagger and the Coin,” just published this past January. With this series, Abraham has demonstrated deceptively masterful craftsmanship. The books read like any other light fantasy you might pick up off the shelf, but without the syntax errors and formulaic plot-lines that usually plague the fantasy genre. The characters are rich and complex, and Abraham treats startlingly relevant themes (such as the hidden power of a bank) with nuance and grace. Bottom line: if you just want a distraction, this series can give that to you. And if you want food for thought, you can have that too.


– David Shelton


Movie: Joy Ride, directed by John Dahl (and co-written by J.J. Abrams)

Ok, am I the only person who didn’t see or hear about this movie (came out in 2001)? I’d never heard of it before watching it with friends on New Year’s Eve a few years ago, and they put it on right after forcing me to watch Labyrinth for the first time. Sorry if you love Labyrinth, but after that, I didn’t have a lot of faith in their movie-picking choices. At this point, my husband had fallen asleep and I had drunk 3/4 of a full-size bottle of Martinelli’s by myself because as a nursing mom, I wasn’t drinking booze like everyone else (for the record, I finished the bottle, and it wasn’t my brightest moment). Anyway, this movie starts out kinda 80s/90s with two brothers on a road trip, and maybe it was just because I was expecting so little of it, but it was gripping the entire time. It’s perfectly suspenseful without being horror-y. The basic plot is about the brothers messing around on their radio making fun of some truckers, who may or may not decide to kill them for their pranks. It’s funny and believable, and you keep wondering, “are they actually in danger”? That’s the genius of this story. It really creeps up on you. It sounds like a ridiculous premise, but this movie really just impressed the heck out of me and continues to. I did not see it coming. At all. Also, cliffhanger ending, so you have been warned.


-Karissa Tucker


Graphic Novel: Daytripper, by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon:

I’m admittedly pretty embarrassed about how I used to look at the graphic novel. I thought comic books were a waste of time and a bunch of fluff. How could I not recognize the potential for amazing art used to tell poignant, gripping, and funny stories? blind reader snobbishness. Well, my eyes are opened to a whole new world. I’ve read several graphic novels recently including The Underwater Welder and The Gigantic Beard that was EvilThis genre is rich and rewarding, somewhere between literature and film.

Daytripper is a beautiful book. To begin with the art is stunning and beautiful. The artists are genius at using gesture and progression in each frame to tell a story in such a way that you almost feel you’re watching a movie. The story itself is about an obituary write, Brás, who aspires to become a “real” writer. His obituary writing naturally provides a theme of death and, necessarily, the life (quantity, quality, and content) leading up to the end. Each section/chapter is imaginative, profound and thought provoking. The only thing I regret is how fast the book went by, but it was an amazing experience and I’m sure I will re-read this one.


– Jessica Webster

A Guide to Life-enrichment, Some Outsider art, and a Supernatural Novel


Kind-of-a-book: Experience Passport by Alex Egner:

This little diary-pamphlet was designed to mirror a system of learning offered to students in the Communication Design program at the University of North Texas. Think of it as providing the growth experienced in art school without the price tag. Yet it covers more than fine art – it’s “part life coach, part Sherpa guide, part itinerary of amazing activities.” It’s “how not to be boring”, wrapped up in a cute slightly-larger-than-passport size book, complete with passport-like stamp stickers to mark completed experiences and page margins with those nifty patterns you find on real passport pages. Two examples of prompts in the book are as follows:
1. Watch three Academy Award winning films made before 1945. What stood out most about the film making compared to today’s cinema styles?
2. List three of your most strongly held convictions. Choose one, and using a minimum of 500 words, try to persuade yourself to change your mind.
I would love it if someone blogged their way through this entire book. I’m fascinated by how we change as people if we allow ourselves the opportunity to do so.
Karissa Tucker 
Artwork: The Electric Pencil Drawings by James Edward Deeds: 
An unlikely and lucky thing happened when a someone happened to stumble on this lost notebook filled with drawings. The drawings, most of people with cavernous, staring eyes, were colored onto pages of an old ledger from State Hospital No. 3 Nevada, Missouri. These drawings were found and eventually revealed to the art community as the “outsider art” of James Edward Deeds. Deeds was a patient at the State Hospital which housed mentally ill people at a time when electro-convulsive-therapy was coming into vogue as a treatment option.
Deeds drew obsessively during his time at State Hospital No. 3 and these remaining pieces are what is left of his work as a self-taught artist. The pieces themselves are fantastic. Mainly flat, colored, portraits mixed in with some animals and buildings, the images draw the observer in with their mystery. Several have words like captions such as “Why Doctor?”, “Look Out”, and the most emblematic from the collection “ECTLECTRC” with a picture of and the word “pencil” to the right.
I’m very interested in this idea of self-taught original artists who can create such incredibly imaginative work. Deeds was considered mentally ill, perhaps schizophrenic, and spent his life in an institution, yet he drew these pictures which are considered great and valuable works of art today (each two-sided drawing sells for ~16,000$). To see some of the pictures click here, a more in depth article can be read here.
– Jessica S Webster

Book: The Place of the Lion by Charles Williams: 

Williams is known for his ‘supernatural thrillers’, stories that take place in contemporary England, which is then filled with the supernatural. My friend said Williams, “wrote his doctrine in novels.” While Descent Into Hell is mostly contained within the mind, The Place of The Lion is a physical invasion of the Platonic forms, or the Celestial hierarchy, into rural England. Anthony and Damaris, both philosophers in the novel, find the things and ideas they have studied are coming from the ethereal into physical manifestations.
It’s certainly not the lightest fiction I’ve read. I found it helpful to be familiar with the Platonic forms and the celestial hierarchy of Dionysius, though without having read them, one can still appreciate Williams.

Richie Gowin

The Conversation Collective

The idea for this website began developing on a long scenic drive from Phoenix Arizona to El Paso Texas. After the wedding of a friend where I talked with both familiar and new people I began thinking about the way people recommend things in conversation. It begins with a common interest and like wildfire you start volleying back and forth. “Have you heard of…?” “I think you would really like…” “That reminds me of this other thing” and so on and so forth. I was reliving some of those conversations and reveling in the feeling of finding something I’d never heard of. These referrals build on one another infinitely. In a world where people are constantly creating it’s exciting to share in discovery and learning with those around you. One problem was that I am separated from so many people I have, or could have, these experiences with. This collective will be an experiment in an effort to bridge gaps of distance and time, to build community, and to share life.

Recommendations will encompass a virtually limitless spectrum. From a new book you’re reading to an old one you’ve loved, an article that sparked your interest, music you wish the whole world could hear, art that moves and inspires you, a story you wrote, a website that needs to be shared, a business worth patronizing, an activity someone else should try, an idea sprouting in your head, or anything else you want to share.

To begin:

Music album: b’lieve i’m goin down by Kurt Vile:

This record was perhaps easy to miss, but easily could snuggle its way into anybody’s ‘best-of 2015’ list.  Do you know Kurt?

Kurt Vile:  Likeable Kurt Vile:  Father Kurt Vile:  Unheralded anti-prodigy Kurt Vile:  Sophisticated Funnyman Kurt:  Vile

I first saw the man whilst he was opening a set in the Hollywood Cemetery for Connor Oberst’s Bright Eyes (Don’t even trip dog! Bright eyes ruled and you know it.)  He was hidden behind long dirty locks of hair but the sound he offered that night made the tiny hairs on my neck give up any notion of getting distracted.  Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t run out and snatch up every record he’d ever made (and there’s a grip I tell you) in fact I listened to relatively little of his songwriting after that.  Listening to this album felt like catching up with an old friend: The friend that never judged you The friend whose face never changes but that you can’t quite picture The friend who will be there 20 years from now even if you don’t speak until then. The songs on ‘B’lieve I’m Goin Down are the perfect companion for road trips, airplanes, soundtracks and bedroom corners.

(also see: Feel-good-not-feeling-good-tunes)  

– David Webster

Book: If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino:  Not a new book, but a great one. Calvino’s postmodernist narrative explores the idea of beginnings by never losing sight of them. The reader finds herself questioning the relationship of the reader to a text, of the text to it’s author, and to other writing.  In reading this book I am at once distanced from the story, and forced to relate to it more intimately than with most books where I am simply the observer. Since starting this book I’ve been challenged to be a more responsible, aware reader and freaked out a little by how Calvino seemed like he was in my bedroom watching me read it.  – Jessica S Webster

Anime: Code Geass: Rightly so, Anime has a bad rap of being something that is hyper sexualized, primarily constructed for the geeky inclined and a place for adults to prolong that season of their lives consumed with cartoons.  Though I believe a majority of anime can rightly be criticized for the above, Code Geass stands apart. It is the story of a boy on a quest for vengeance, against a malicious father. The boy, Lelouch Lamperouge, attempts to remake the world in his vision of justice through what we can safely call magic and wit. I love this story because it is a classic “strike against the heavens in self-righteous disdain”. It has awesome robot fights, scorned love, and asks freakin huge questions like can justice be brought about through power and is hope the final opponent to peace. 50 episodes, 19 mins each, total time 16 hours.  justchris