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Stephen Alcala

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Online one day, I was looking at an event page for a local gallery show when I came across a picture of a young woman, mostly submerged in water with just her face above the surface. The details in the light and rippling of the water’s surface were fantastic, and I thought, “Wow—what a compelling photo. Somebody captured it just at the right moment.” Then, I read the description of the piece, “Immersion,” a 14” by 21” Prismacolor colored pencil drawing by visual artist Stephen Alcala. I stopped, sure I had misread. Whoa, whoa, whoa—drawing? This wasn’t a photograph? But, the incredible detail! The way the light was reflecting off of the water, and the expression on the young woman’s face; how could that possibly be drawn with colored pencil? Not long after, I had the chance to see the drawing in person, and like a modern-day Doubting Thomas, the proof was there for me to witness with my very own eyes, in the pencil strokes that were visible on the paper.

"Immersion" by Stephen Alcala
I’ve since had the opportunity to see more of Alcala’s remarkable hyper-realistic work in person, and I’m still stunned every time that I do. What surprises me more than the quality and intricacy of his art though is how very humble he is about his incredible talent, so I’m happy to be able to share more about him and his art through the interview below.

How long have you been creating visual art, and what first inspired you to start drawing/creating?
My background with art sort of lies somewhere within my family. I'm told it skips a few generations, but that there's always someone somewhere in my family tree that loved to draw. For me, though, I didn't realize it until my freshman year of high school, and even then, to be honest, I only took it to fill a fine arts credit. I was in orchestra for a time, but gave it up after inconsistencies and favoritism found their way into class. So I dropped that, and enrolled in Art 1. My freshman art teacher would eventually tell me that she liked where I took basic projects and placed me in advanced art, and under other teachers, I was given guidelines and was nurtured along the way. I fell in love immediately. Eventually, I was given free rein to do whatever competition was available at the time and to work on my AP portfolio. As a whole, I've been doing it seriously for five and a half years now.

"Counting Fish" by Stephen Alcala
Where did you get this start in the art world?
I was born and raised in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston, and moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin roughly two years ago. I decided that I could try my hand at art school in Chicago and move with a friend in my attempt to find my personal identity. I've made so many new friends locally who are just as--if not more--creative than I. It's so great to have found a niche amongst a community and friends whom are artists of some kind: writers, musicians, actors, actresses. I'm so grateful to have everyone that I do in my life for those reasons, and to begin again.

Can you describe your work for people who aren’t familiar with it?
I would describe my work as realism, predominantly in portraiture, that reflects my perspective on societal institutions, outlook on life in general, or responses to specific events in my life. I like to include some sort of tricky or challenging element, especially in recreating realistic textures like wet hair, wet clothes, or projections onto skin and clothing.

Most of your work, that I’ve seen, is done with colored pencils (which just blows my mind). Is that the specific art medium that you prefer, or do you like to experiment with different ones?
Colored pencil is where I've found my niche, as of now. I enjoy the amount of control and precision that they afford me, though I am looking to develop my skills with different paints, like oils and acrylics.

"Adaptation" by Stephen Alcala
Would you say that your imagination influences your work the most, what you see/experience in the outside world does, or a combination of both?
I would say that it's a 60/40 ratio with images and environment to imagination, respectively. As much as I want to be the person who envisions this full-fledged creation in my head and render it perfectly onto paper, I'm not. I think in words more than in images and I've learned to bridge that gap and work from there. In a way, I envision a micro-story or scenario and correlate words to physical representations to set a scene. From there, I set up a photo shoot and take a couple hundred pictures from different angles, with different lighting or varied poses, until I see the one that matches or best reflects my mental depiction.

Artist Stephen Alcala
I’m sure it’s obvious that I’m a big fan of your work, but who are some artists--of any genre--who you especially like and/or admire?
As far as realism goes, I absolutely love Joshua Suda. There's always a slight twist on his portraiture, like a signature style that pulls me in. My absolute favorite artist, though, would have to be Esao Andrews. Once you see his works you pretty much see that it's the exact opposite, but that's what I love about it. They hold so much space and grandeur, like each piece is in its own world and holds its own mythos. They're just so fantastical and inspiring. It helps, too, that he is the regular album artist for a band called Circa Survive, whose music is dear to me, as it relates to strong and emotionally charged parts of my life, throughout my teenage years to now. That's also led me to Colin Frangicetto, who performs in the band but is also a visual artist, and makes some incredible pieces that are both brooding and whimsical. Just so much about these artists draw me in with their style, creativity and work ethic that pushes me to work past some comfort zones, explore new mediums and techniques, but most of all, to keep making art and keep refining my craft.

Where can people go to see more of, and possibly even purchase, your work?
They can go to www.society6.com/thehyperportrait.

Thanks for talking with me, and sharing your work with our 2FL readers!
My pleasure!


Valis by Philip K. Dick

by John Bloner, Jr.

"Valis is a masterpiece whose power partly lies in its ability to disorient and enchant the reader" - Erik Davis
Fiction. This word is printed on the back cover of the paperback edition of Philip K. Dick's book, Valis, which is shelved in science-fiction sections (and has been on my shelf long enough that the pages have yellowed), yet Valis does not squarely meet the definitions of fiction or science-fiction, even if the people and events described within its pages seem to be conceived by the unrestrained fancy of a novelist's mind.

Dick was a prolific writer, churning out 45 novels and over one hundred short stories in his career, and Hollywood has turned several of them into feature films, most notably Blade Runner and Minority Report; however, none of these facts can prepare you for Valis.

The book's protagonist is Dick himself, as well as his alter-ego, Horselover Fat, who, the reader learns, has been struck in the eyes by a beam of pink light from an unknown source. This incident provides him with momentary clairvoyance. "As soon as the beam struck him," Dick writes, "he knew things he had never known. He knew, specifically, that his five-year old son had an undiagnosed birth defect and he knew what that birth defect consisted of, down to the anatomical details."

Dick derived this story from a phenomenon he purportedly experienced in early 1974 when a girl from a pharmacy in Fullerton, California, arrived at his home to deliver pain medication for his recent tooth extraction. The girl was wearing a pendant, shaped like a fish. When he asked her about it, she replied, "This is a sign worn by the early Christians."

Upon hearing these words, he slipped into a state of anamnesis--a remembrance of a distant past--tearing away the veil of the world to show that he and the delivery girl were living in the Apostolic Age--the time between the resurrection of Jesus and the death of the last of his apostles.They belonged to the secret cult of Christianity, hiding from Roman soldiers and using the fish symbol as a cipher to recognize fellow believers.

This experience was the first of many visions, including the witnessing of the pink light, which Dick encountered. He would spend the rest of his life trying to understand them.

For eight years that followed, Dick filled over 8,000 pages with his handwriting in an attempt to decipher what had happened to him. He called this collection, his Exegesis. A dictionary describes Exegesis as "a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture." Dick's use of it expresses another dimension. "What the Exegesis is, above all, is the record of an exploration," says Jonathan Lethem, who, along with Pamela Jackson, edited the thousands of pages into a somewhat-digestible 900+ page book. Lethem adds, "It obeys no rules, except it's this heroic, impossible foray into understanding the unknowable."

Through Valis and Exegesis, Dick seeks to lift the veil on existence, describing the world as a phantom for nearly two centuries. "Real time ceased in 70 C.E. with the fall of the temple at Jerusalem," Dick wrote. "It began again in 1974 C.E. The intervening period was a perfect spurious interpolation aping the creation of the Mind."  Time is not linear; one period in our so-called history is overlaid on another. Dick was not experiencing a past-life in his vision. He was simultaneously a 20th century man named Philip and a 1st century Christian called Thomas.

The name, Thomas, means "twin," and it reveals a subtext for Valis. Just as Dick found that his modern day life was intertwined with Thomas' existence, multiple characters in his book are more than reflections of each other. They are each other. 

Dick is Thomas, but he is also a character called Horselover Fat. This odd name is derived from a Greek translation of "Philip," paired with the German translation of "Dick." It lends the author an opportunity to distance himself from the events he experienced in 1974 and therefore look at them with an objective eye. Had he gone mad? Was the whole affair a chemical reaction in his brain? Or was he an insane man who had suddenly gone sane?

In the novel, as in Exegesis, Dick speculates that the source of the pink light was a Vast Active Living Intelligence System (VALIS), which could be alien, divine or mankind's future self communicating into his present day California home. At other times, he refers to it as Zebra; that is, something hidden in plain sight.

Image by Lord-Iluvator
In the early Christian text of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus responds to a question, "On what day will the kingdom come?", with these words: "The kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it." In Dick's writing and in his beliefs, VALIS/Zebra is the godhead, which has revealed itself to him. The divinity that he experiences is not an old man with a white beard. It is insect-like, not only in its ability to camouflage itself, but in its ability to metamorphose from one stage of being to another, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.

In the summer of 1977, Dick wrote that his insight "explains what Christianity cannot: pain and suffering; this is all part of its grand metamorphosis process." While reading Dick's work, I recalled a poem, "The Yellow Dot," by Robert Bly, which also reflects on a dispassionate divinity. 

"That grave is not what we want," Bly wrote, "But to God it's a tiny hole, and he has/The needle, draws thread through it, and soon/A nice pattern appears."

VALIS/Zebra reveals itself to Philip K. Dick through the pink light and subsequent visions. In these encounters, he experiences life as man may encountered it until about 3,000 years ago, with a bicameral mind. According to the late psychologist Julian Jaynes, mankind lacked self-awareness until the late Bronze Age and was instead obeying the voices of gods. The turn toward consciousness was not a single moment. It came into being over many centuries and our minds have not ceased in their evolution.

Psychologist Julian Jaynes, author of "The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind."
At the heart of Valis is a quest. Philip K. Dick, Horselover Fat and friends embark on a quest like knights of King Arthur's court. The Grail they seek is not a chalice, though, but the fifth Savior who is the latest in a line that began with the Buddha and has continued through the prophets Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad. Along the way, they encounter a rock star based on David Bowie, who might really be the Man Who Fell To Earth, a composer modeled after Brian Eno, and a literally divine, two year old girl, Sophia, who brings healing, at least temporarily, to Dick and Horselover Fat's fractured existence.

David Bowie and Brian Eno in the 1970s
I read Valis for the first time about twenty years ago and only recently went back to it prior to writing this article, while I encountered Dick's Exegesis for the first time. The pages of my copy of Valis are yellowed and filled with markings from my highlight pen and notes, while the Exegesis' pages are often divided with whatever materials I could find as a bookmark while I was reading the text: Post-It notes, toilet paper, a red envelope from a birthday card.

Dick challenges the reader to look at the world with fresh eyes. You don't need to believe that everything he says is true. It's enough that it was true for him. His writing makes me, at least, lean a little closer to my environment, scratch around its edges, and delight when science cannot explain everything. In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced five mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries, to the rosary, which had been unchanged for hundreds of years. These mysteries tell of events in the life of Jesus that cannot be readily explained, such as the transformation of water into wine, and do not address them as fact or dismiss them as fiction.

We live in the radiance of a slowly dying star, on the Orion arm of our galaxy, at the edge of starlight in a universe that may have had no beginning, and yet we pretend to know how a mind may work and diagnose what is madness.

Dick's been called a "garage philosopher," whose "speculations leaked into everyday life," (see Erik Davis' article, The Metaphysics of Philip K Dick) but I'd rather spend my days in his shop, drinking his coffee and listening to his encounters with the mysteries than with many scholars and politicians who frighten me with their certainty.


House of Cards

by Dave Gourdoux

I'm afraid that I'm turning into one of those old, out of touch curmudgeons. You know the type--the aging grouch who doesn't get the current mass culture, who insists that everything was better back in the day. Next thing you know I'll be yelling at kids to get off of my lawn and to "turn that crap down." It bothers me, because for years I told myself I'd never be that guy.

But now I often find myself without a clue, mystified by so much of our culture. For example, I just don't get "hip-hop," or whatever term it's going by nowadays. I have friends who are big fans, who speak about the artistry that goes into the music, and I try; I really want to get it, but after a few minutes of pulsating bass lines and the rhythmic but flat monotone delivery of the words, my head stats to hurt, and I find myself struggling to suppress the urge to yell out, "That's not music, it's just some guy talking!" When they tell me it's the honest voice of today's inner-city culture, I want to tell them about Wilson Pickett and Howling Wolf and Smokey Robinson, but I know that more often than not I'll get a "Who?" in response.

The same thing is true with movies.  I became a serious movie buff in the 1970s, when some of the greatest American films ever made came out.  There was Chinatown, The Godfather, and Annie Hall to name just a few. There were major directors coming of age and making films of genuine depth, breaking old rules and establishing new ground.

Now, while I recognize that there are still a lot of great filmmakers making great movies, more and more I feel out of touch with the major releases.  With the amazing advances in technology, movies can go where it was only dreamed of a short while ago.  This has put a premium on spectacle, and we get more and more movies made from comic books and about super heroes with super powers. While these films are often amazing to look at, I find them oftentimes lacking in plot and character development.  For example, I recently saw the film Interstellar. I've admired much of the director, Christopher Nolan's, previous work, particularly the way he played with storytelling conventions in Memento and Inception. However, I found myself disappointed with Interstellar. It was gorgeous to look at, but ultimately it fell flat. It felt like consuming the empty calories of a Twinkie. In the end, I didn't care or identify enough with any of the characters; I didn't feel I was invested enough in them to make the suspense Nolan wanted the audience to experience work.  It became just another in a long line of "hero races against the clock and saves the world in the nick of time" formulaic releases, even when time is bent by black holes and dark matter.

Then there's television. This is one area you won't find me pining for the old days.  Television has always been 90%  crap. The first priority was to sell products. Stories and characters were always secondary, and any attempts to develop either plot or characters had to fit in between the important parts, the commercial breaks, and had to be wrapped up in a tidy bow before the end of the time slot, so the whole process could start over the following week. Cable television has turned into an even bigger waste of time, with hour after hour of cheaply made and tedious "reality" shows filling the airwaves.

But at some point, a minor storytelling revolution started fermenting, and a small but talented group of filmmakers finally began to realize the powerful potential that was always unique to television. Television has always been the most intimate of our entertainment choices, as it comes to us in our homes. Radio does the same thing, but with sound only. Movies take about a year to make, and are constrained by about a two hour time limit. Plus, you have to get out of your house and go to a theater.

Television is limited only by the constraints of the advertisers paying for the airtime.  It is the natural medium for telling a longer story, because the story can easily be broken into smaller chunks, or episodes that can be made quickly (compared to movies) and delivered directly to the audience's home. Time can be taken to develop characters and explore deeper plot lines that simply isn't available to movies.

However, the sponsors who are selling products have little appetite for the things that make a compelling story. Anything that might make the audience even slightly uncomfortable is avoided like the plague. And anyone who knows anything about storytelling knows how difficult it is to engage an audience without making them uncomfortable.

Then, in 1990, the bizarre and eccentric filmmaker David Lynch, who, in films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, specialized in making movies that made viewers squirm, decided he'd try his hand at television. Lynch's films were rich in atmosphere and told their stories from the inside of his characters out. In 1990, he brought these storytelling techniques to network television with his enigmatic series, Twin Peaks. On the surface, Twin Peaks was a mystery, about the murder of a popular and beautiful high school student in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. It was really about the deeper exploration of themes Lynch presented in Blue Vellvet; how just beneath the surface of the typical, idyllic American small town lies a dark world of violence and depravity. Twin Peaks took place where these two worlds intersected, and both became increasingly surreal.

Initially, viewers responded enthusiastically, as Twin Peaks became fodder for water cooler talk. People responded to the bizarre characters and twists, even if they didn't understand what they were seeing. But the show soon proved too weird; audiences were used to television shows that hit them over the head with obviousness, and Twin Peaks left them scratching their heads. Shortly into its second season, the network grew nervous that Lynch was losing his audience and made him reveal the girl's killer sooner than Lynch had planned. The revelation of Laura Palmer's killer killed any momentum the show still had, and it was cancelled after the completion of the second season.

The fleeting success of Twin Peaks planted the seeds that would eventually grow and blossom into television's finest moments. Lessons were learned. First, the success of the first season of Twin Peaks showed that there was an audience hungry for complex and original storytelling.  Second, it showed that network television, with its need to satisfy advertisers and its thirst for ratings, probably wasn't the ideal place for such ground breaking storytelling. Third, the standard paradigm informing the life cycle of a television series, to run it for season after season until it lost its audience, was challenged. The brief run of Twin Peaks and its inability to maintain the momentum of the first year established an arc to the stories that would soon be told.

A few years later, The Sopranos premiered.  Instead of network television, The Sopranos aired on HBO. Free from the pressures of commercial sponsors and network censors, The Sopranos was able to develop at its own pace and tell a story that hadn't been told before, about the personal life of the head of a crime family, in the same language and violence Martin Scorsese used in his gangster films. The difference was that every week, the Sopranos came into its audience's living rooms, and there was time to plunge into the depths of the characters. There was an intimacy we felt watching a brutal and powerful man balance the same everyday banalities we all deal with at the same time he was wrestling with his own internal demons; all while trying to keep his finger on the pulse of the organized crime syndicate he was leader of.

The Sopranos paved the way for a "new wave" of television shows like Dexter, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and the sublime Breaking Bad. These shows are attracting talented actors, writers, and directors and have completely changed the rules. Some day we may look back at this decade as a renaissance, the true golden age of television, when the medium finally achieved its awesome potential to deliver the highest quality of entertainment into people's homes.

There are so many of these shows now that it's difficult for anyone with a life to keep up--when you're a stodgy old codger like myself who has been conditioned to turn the television set on only for sports, it's overwhelming. But from time to time I try, and occasionally I am rewarded for my efforts.

Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, about to let us in on a secret
Recently, I went to Netflix (high tech stuff for a fossil like me) and started watching the series House of Cards, and I am officially hooked. It's taken me a week to watch the thirteen episodes that make up season one (I don't have the stamina for marathon viewing like so many of the young 'uns do these days--thirteen episode in seven days is about at fast as I can go) and I can't wait to see what unfolds in season two.

House of Cards stars Kevin Spacey as the deeply cynical, highly manipulative, and brilliantly evil congressman Francis Underwood, and it's perfect casting. I can't think of another actor whose love of and devotion to his craft comes through as clearly articulated in his performances. His mentor, the great Jack Lemmon, is the only one who comes to mind. Whether it's Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects or the man going through a mid-life crisis in American Beauty, Spacey throws himself into each role, he inhabits the character, and he invites the audience into the character with him, so we see out of the character's eyes what Spacey sees.

What makes Underwood such a perfect character for Spacey to play is the fact that Underwood himself spends half of his time acting, as he schemes and manipulates his way through an incredibly complex and evil plan he has to gain even more power. The show is told from Underwood's perspective, and from time to time he breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to us, letting us in on what he's really up to. Underwood is a character of fascinating depth, with surprising and effective traces of vulnerability that rise from time to time; just enough to keep us on his side, even as he is perverting everything public service is supposed to be.

Robin Wright as Claire Underwood
Underwood's wife, Claire (played by Robin Wright), is his equal in  every way--in depth and capability, and in the capacity for evil. To say that Underwood and Claire have a unique and complex relationship would be an understatement. They are the ultimate power couple. Their marriage is open, yet they are devoted to each other in ways that transcend the physical. They truly love each other, but more than that, they deeply respect each other. Respect is the deepest and most powerful emotion either one of them is capable of, and is reserved for nothing except each other and raw power.

As Claire, Wright is a revelation. In her film work, she never really made much of an impression on me. But here, playing an incredibly complex character who has even more layers than Underwood, she is absolutely brilliant. She gives Claire a blank and expressionless face that at times can be warm and beautiful, cold and unfeeling, or sensual and smoldering.

Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes - she might look young and innocent ...
For those of us who love memorable characters, House of Cards is an all-you-can-eat buffet. There's the young and ambitious reporter Zoe Barnes (played by Kate Mara), who at first comes across as young and naive; she quickly shatters that first impression. Soon she ingratiates herself into the halls of political power, and Underwood uses her as his unnamed source, leaking stories that advance his Machiavellian agenda. But as she climbs her way up to celebrity status, it becomes clear she is using Frank just as successfully as he is using her. A begrudging respect for each other emerges, but neither one trusts the other, even as they begin a sexual affair. They both struggle to convince the other that they are really in control, even as they both seem to be spinning out of control.

Another fascinating character is Underwood's loyal and trustworthy chief of staff, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly). Stamper is every bit as slimy and cynical as Underwood, but he is endlessly loyal.   He is also a recovering alcoholic, and every now and then he reveals just enough traces of decency to make you wonder why he goes along with Underwood's endless scheming and manipulating.

One of my favorite characters from the first season is the junior representative from Pennsylvania, Peter Russo (Coey Stoll). Russo is a young and divorced father of two children. He cones from a working class background and he earnestly wants to help his constituents. He is also a pathological drug and alcohol addict and womanizer. But you don't have to dig too deep to see that in his heart, Russo is a kind and decent man struggling with his demons, who loves his children more than anything. It's these internal conflicts that make Russo vulnerable, and while we see that vulnerability, Underwood also sees it, and uses it to his twisted advantage. Russo becomes one of Underwood's pawns in his cynical and corrupt plan, and we watch helplessly as the tragic events unfold.

All of these characters are so well drawn because time is made for each of them, and the writing is first rate. This is what makes the show so compelling. Each episode is presented as a chapter, and that's what House of Cards is: it's a novel. Like all good novels, it takes the time to establish real and human characters and flesh them out, so we have enough information to really understand why they behave the way they do when the plot summons them. Like a good novel, it engages us in the narrative early on, and the parts developing characters advance the narrative at the same time. Finally, like a good novel. it has a style and a cadence all its own. In House of Cards, the style is in the visuals, the rhythm is in the dialogue. It carries the viewer along to the end of each chapter. As each chapter ends, more is revealed, and more is introduced. The viewer is given enough information to more fully view and understand how events fit in to the overarching plot, while at the same time, more characters and story lines are introduced to keep us guessing. I've seen all of season one, and I can't think of a single superfluous moment in the thirteen episodes. It's lean and tight and highly efficient storytelling.

The Underwoods: the ultimate power couple
Seasons one and two of House of Cards were released on Netflix in their entirety in February of 2013 and 2014, respectively. Season three will be released at the end of this month. This is the future of television: it still comes directly into your home, but now the viewer has total control. Any episode can be watched at any time, on any device. The viewer is in charge, and doesn't have to put up with the Jolly Green Giant or the Maytag Repairman or those constant "ask your doctor" pharmaceutical ads.

Why, back in my day, we never had it so good ...



by Jav Rivera

Sometimes it's as quick as the first scene in a movie that grabs me. In those first few seconds my attention is piqued, and I think to myself, "Oh yeah. I'm gonna love this movie." And I'm not sure how exactly it happens. I don't know how else to say it except that some movies have magic. New Zealand director Taika Waititi's film Boy possesses so much magic it's almost transcendent.

Boy's storyline is simple enough: a boy named Alamein Jr. (nicknamed Boy) and his younger brother, Rocky -- both with creative imaginations -- meet their ex-convict dad for the first time. Both brothers have impressions of their father, neither of which are accurate. But it's what Waititi does with the characters that make the layers of the story more surreal, and yet extremely relatable. 

The fact that the main character's name is simply "Boy" could be interpreted that it's a story about anyone. And even though it feels like a very personal film, there are a multitude of moments that just about any child can identify with: bad haircuts, bullies, trying to fit in, and obsessions with artists -- in Boy's case, most things he sees are influenced by Michael Jackson references (more on that later).

James Rolleston as "Boy"
Boy stars James Rolleston (as Boy) and Te Aho Eketone-Whitu (as Rocky); both actors deliver performances that could put Oscar-winners to shame. This is difficult material and yet Rolleston and Eketone-Whitu make it look so natural. I often cringe when filmmakers use child actors as secondary, tear-jerking tools. The only worse thing is when filmmakers use children to make the audience say, "Awwww". Waititi, instead, gives these children the limelight. They're not precocious, they're not the cool kids; they're simply well-written characters who happen to be children.

And these two young gents have an excellent supporting cast, starting with the other young actors playing very developed characters. Their characters are so well-written, in fact, that it would be simple enough to produce individual films for the majority of the supporting characters! Despite their limited screen time, they all make the world that Waititi directs feel very real. And then there's the older cast, starting with Waihoroi Shortland who plays a homeless man nicknamed "Weirdo". The usually distant Rocky makes friends with Weirdo, and immediately after their first scene together you want to see more of their story. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with how well two characters -- and actors -- play off of each other. 

Te Aho Eketone-Whitu as "Rocky"
Beyond the young actors and supporting cast is the actor who plays Boy's father, Alamein
(who later nicknames himself "Shogun"). At the time I started watching Boy I was unaware of Taika Waititi. During the credits I noticed his name both as a director and actor. It turns out that Waititi is full of surprises, and the man can act as masterfully as he can direct. When I discovered that Waititi plays Boy's father, I started researching him. I found his name attached to other films (Eagle Vs Shark) and television programs ("The Inbetweeners") that I'm a fan of. He also directed several episodes of "Flight of the Conchords" which is on my list of "Shows To Watch" based on several friends' recommendations.

Taika Waititi as Alamein aka "Shogun"
But going backwards in time, while watching the film I wasn't aware that Waititi was also the director. At the time of viewing I was simply amazed by this actor. He had charm, humor, intensity, and vulnerability. Well before the credits started rolling I knew I was going to look this actor up to see what other films he had acted in.

Waititi is one of those artists that has a very unique point of view. Much like Wes Anderson (Rushmore) or Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), Waititi has a distinctive style. When trying to find a word to describe it, I found myself at a loss. I wouldn't say that his work is exactly quirky -- I think the term "goofy" would be more appropriate. But goofy in the sense that he's humorous in his approach to art. And he is an artist. Literally. Among filmmaking, Waititi is a painter, comedian, and writer. I quickly added him to my list of directors that I'll follow. His next film, 2014's What We Do in the Shadows is one to catch when it's available in the United States. In fact, Waititi currently has a Kickstarter campaign to get that film into US theatres. The trailer is hilarious and I'm looking forward to watching the film. Directors like Waititi make watching movies fun and unpredictable. One of my biggest frustrations with most films is being able to determine the outcome of a story five minutes after it begins. Waititi allows me to just enjoy the story as it is being told.

In writing about Boy, I cannot skip past one of its more hilarious bits: Michael Jackson references. The film is set in the 1980s, a time when Jackson was the most famous person in the world. Boy's fandom of the King of Pop is closer to obsession. The first scene expresses it in a way that couldn't be more perfect. (I won't ruin the moment with too many details.) But Michael Jackson is referenced many more times throughout the film. One great moment is when Boy imagines his father to look just like Jackson. (Note: Stay tuned after the film, as well as after the credits, for some more Michael Jackson fun).

"Shogun Jackson"
The Real Thing: Michael Jackson from the "Thriller" album
With references like these, the film is, of course, very humorous, but it's also heart-warming. These characters may be damaged, misguided, and definitely skewed, but they all care about each other. There's even one scene from a bit character that offers Boy his popsicle (or ice block as it's known in New Zealand). It's a tiny moment but because of the context of the scene, it's a lovely sentiment. And though the film has many moments like this, I never felt like the film was on the verge of over-sentimentality. Every aspect of Boy was delivered with just the right dose.

One note to non-New Zealand viewers is to turn on the subtitles. A few minutes in, I realized that I was missing a lot of great dialogue because of the thick accents. It's not necessary, but recommended. Personally, I got much more out of the film once I turned on the subtitles.

For more information, visit the film's official website here: www.boythefilm.com or on IMDb here: www.imdb.com/title/tt1560139

TRIVIA: The term "Egg" is used throughout the film. It's a popular New Zealand term from the 1980s, and is a minor insult meaning "dork" or "fool".