Nonfiction

All Quiet

Paste Magazine | Two Views of All Quiet on the Western Front

My latest from Paste Magazine is a look at the two major adaptations of All Quiet on the Western Front, in honor of the century that now separates us from World War I.

The Great War is a kind of subject of fascination for me, because it really is the height of folly. It’s everything we all hate about humanity, and the terrible people who we agree to allow to lead us. It was so bad that we don’t tolerate any kind of true monarchy anymore. It made the heads of state realize that if we didn’t agree to specifically pull our punches, we could end humanity. I think those of us who ponder these things really look back at it and feel afraid that we didn’t truly learn anything from it. This was a difficult viewing for me, especially the 1930 version I detail in the article, blissfully ignorant as it is of just how terrifying the scenes of dumb, eager white boys gleefully signing up to wear fancy uniforms for no real reason would look a scant six or seven years later.

A really great video series on the debacle that led up to the war comes to us courtesy of Extra Credits, and you should totally watch the whole four-part series.

Death Bed is a thing

Paste Magazine: Bad Movie Diaries, by Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe | Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Jim Vorel is a good friend and now a year-long collaborator with me at Paste Magazine, where he was kind enough to help me get a foot in the door way back in 2015. Since last year, we’ve been working together on “Bad Movie Diaries,” in which we chat back and forth about truly terrible films.

Jim is a true connoisseur of bad movies, with an encyclopedic knowledge of them I’ll never be able to match. Our combined film knowledge is hopefully edifying and entertaining to folks. I’ll start posting more of these here. This one is a particular doozy: Strange Gothic trappings, ridiculous scenarios, incompetent camera work, and an utter failure even to capitalize on the exploitation they were clearly going for, maybe. Also the bed gets indigestion and drinks Pepto Bismol at one point. I’m not even making that up.

You should be reading Pete Nickeas

The Foundation: 006 | Blessed Are The Peacemakers

My friend Peter Nickeas, a stalwart reporter at the Chicago Tribune, has been covering crime and violence in the city for years. I won’t say he’s tireless because I think he’d dispute that he is. Among one of the many reasons he inspires the admiration of most people he meets is that he’s candid about the toll his work takes on him. Besides admiring his work, I attest to him being an all-around good guy. You should check out his writing.

A running transcript of the story of King Arthur, as told by me to a sick 7-year-old (with her questions paraphrased)

King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler. Public domain.

“It was a very long time ago in a faraway kingdom called… England.”

I know about England!

“Well, it was different back then than it is now. It was a thousand years ago. There was no electricity or airplanes or car insurance. There weren’t even any laws.”

She’s very surprised by this.

No laws?

“No. The only law was what the warlords said was the law. There wasn’t even really a king, because if somebody said he was king, every other warlord would argue with him and fight him with their big armies. The warlords could do and say whatever they wanted and nobody could stop them.”

There were no police?
 
“There were no police at all. The warlords were the ones who enforced whatever they said the law was in their little corner of the country, and if they were jerks about it, nobody could say anything. If they decided they didn’t like somebody, they could kill him for no reason. If they decided they wanted something somebody had, they could just steal it. And there were no courts to punish them.”

She’s really surprised by no courts or judges. Read more…

The Great Tragedy

Soldats Inconnus. | Promotional image courtesy of Ubisoft.

Life’s been a roller coaster, first off.

Like a lot of my friends, coworkers, and relations, I am – well, it’d be an understatement to say “disappointed with” but melodramatic to say “horrified by” our latest presidential election here in the U.S.A. Yet, on that very same night I became official with the most wonderful girlfriend I’ve ever been with.

My job, here in state government in Illinois, is a daily horror show of political gridlock. Yet, I am more comfortable, more confident, and more easygoing in my job and with my personal finances than I have ever been in a decade of living independently.

Incidentally, I’m also getting published more frequently in Paste Magazine, which has been gracious enough to let me write about movies for the past year, including a major trip to Colombia to talk about the nation’s beleaguered image and, just recently, another about the absurd output (and absurdly low quality) of Steven Seagal’s latter-day… art.

Point is, I’m stressed, jubilant, and/or wistful on a daily basis now. And I find that my time is a bit more divided in ways that are equal parts ponderous and joyous. It’s serendipitous that as I try to get a foot into the door with my own game design, I played Valiant Hearts: The Great War.

I lost it, folks. I haven’t cried at anything – film, play, book, or game – in close to ten years. I shed a few manly tears for this one. It is a celebration of fellowship and devotion in the midst of great chaos. War, the game is saying, is callous and absurd. It treats individual life as disposable. The rest of us would just prefer to live without it, but it comes for us and try as we might, we can’t escape.

I have also been playing Darkest Dungeon, whose similarities basically begin and end at the cartoon styling of the characters and the fact that death is so pervasive and inescapable in it that it becomes almost a dark joke. Valiant Hearts and Darkest Dungeon both know how nutty are their central premises. Valiant Hearts’ premise just so happens to also have actually happened.

I hope to write a bit more about my game design ambitions. I’ve made some programming headway and done some illuminating research on the time period I hope to portray. In the meantime, I’ll leave it to the professionals at Extra Credits to talk a bit about why I found Valiant Hearts so bittersweet.

Apparently people like reading about Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers, pinball machine illustration by Morgan Weistling, 1997 | by Tom Simpson. Labeled for noncommercial reuse by Google Image Search.


20 Years Ago, Starship Troopers Showed Us What Happens When Fascism Wins
Paste Magazine – March 2, 2017
Article link | http://bit.ly/2mO4Wsw

This little fellow tore up Reddit the other day. According to Paste’s site traffic, it got something like 232K unique views. So, good for me, I guess. It might actually be the most widely-read piece of writing I’ve ever written, ever. I doubt I ever got that many views writing for the Herald & Review of Decatur, Illinois (2010 census population: 76,000). I’ve certainly had way more fun writing other pieces – this one was a rougher go of it, mostly because I wanted to keep things focused on the film adaptation and not wander into the weeds on the book.

I’m careful not to shove in too much apocrypha when I write these articles for Paste, and my editors have been really gracious about letting me write in a way that might seem a little quotidian or overly academic when I dive into some of this stuff. I do it, though, because standards at a lot of entertainment websites are just Not Very Stringent, and you can make a lot of ridiculous-ass claims without backing anything up. Approaching this one, though, was almost too easy: It seems like every damn reviewer has circled back at some point and put on a whole big production about how this silly movie was swinging for the satirical fences and just didn’t quite get a hit.

I mean, look at what the A.V. Club wrote like, years ago now. Check out Rotten Tomatoes, where you can see that its score is buoyed, as I mention in this article, by reviews from the middle of the last decade. I felt a sort of intimidation at knowing I was tackling pretty well-trod territory already, and I had to resist just linking to about half a dozen other (let’s face it, better) articles.

And also, god fuck it, I just don’t want to write about the current political climate at all. I know it’s whining, but I spent a good half a decade writing about what I now regard to be a pretty much inexorable decline in society. It is exhausting to have to drag all of that into my fun writing, but what other choice did I have? How can you watch this movie these days and not marvel at how creepily plausible it is?

Published: 2,000 years of this Sicilian thing

The Godfather. Labeled for reuse on Google Image Search.

2,000 Years Of This Sicilian Thing: Watching The Godfather Epic
Paste Magazine – 7 Feb. 2016
Article link | http://bit.ly/1QQGtKl

I’ve been terrible about updating stuff here, but it’s been a couple months since I got published again. I’ll link more soon.

Who doesn’t love The Godfather? The 424-minute (!) edit of it did nothing to diminish my admiration for this gorgeously-shot, deep meditation on family and immigration and totally killing the shit out of people who disagree with you or even just look at you the wrong way one time. It was a grueling affair finishing it in one sitting, of course, but now it’s behind me and I have this awesome article as a souvenir.

Published: “In The Shadow of Narcos”

Fiesta en la Comuna

A festival of colors and culture in Medellín, Colombia’s Comuna 13. | Kenneth Lowe, Oct. 2015


In The Shadow of Narcos
Paste Magazine – 18 Dec. 2015
Article link | http://bit.ly/1S8L4fF

I’m particularly proud to unveil my latest byline, which I proudly share with my friend Alvaro Márquez Arango of BlacSuan fame. This was a long and a hard one, but we made it to the end, got what we needed, and told our story.

Colombia is a beautiful country coping with a lot of anger and sadness, but the new generation is ready to lay that aside and embrace a peaceful future. I hope to be back there soon to write more about the next page of in the story of its history.

Ken Plays Outlaws, Part Two

I’m still yakking about Outlaws, which still stands the test of time as #2 in the Top Two Western Video Games That Have Ever Been Made. Seriously, game industry, I’m pretty sure people would buy more of these. This video does a quick tour of Levels 1 and 2 and sums up Level 3 with the words “Ah, fuck, a train level.”

Up and down

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

It has been a trying past couple of weeks. I plan to write a bit more about it very soon, but my grandmother passed away last week. It set me on a long period of rushing back and forth, which was compounded by the wedding I then had to go to the day after her funeral and a looming medical procedure. Through it all, writing has fallen to the wayside, but I’m hoping to find the endurance to get back into it this weekend. More updates to come.