WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT [Review]

Whiskey Tango FoxtrotWhile Whiskey Tango Foxtrot releases in Australia today, it’s been out for two months in the United States. An Australian review is pretty much moot at this point. There’s nothing I can say that the internet hasn’t already: It’s a great film; it hits its dramatic beats and lands plenty of laughs; Tina Fey carries the film as Kim Baker, the journalist whose memoir The Taliban Shuffle the film is based on; and Margot Robbie is aces.

While it is a film about the absurd realities of war, what shines through most is its exploration of people whose livelihoods depend on attention, say, journalists who need their stories to make it to air. It fuels you, and it’s addictive, and you begin to do things you wouldn’t normally do to achieve and sustain it. It’s something I experienced first-hand as a celebrity journalist, and something I still have to keep in check when writing on social media. There’s always the urge to push the envelope further, for the extra favourite, the extra retweet. It’s easy to justify, you’re just doing your job, but you can lose yourself in it.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says, “Don’t.”

Goodbyes and Good Wives

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I’m a big believer in endings. I won’t start a story without a final scene in mind, or at the very least, an inkling of where I want the characters to end up. Because endings change the way we look at everything that comes before them, and let’s face it, how many back flips you manage is far less impressive if you don’t stick the landing.

The Good Wife ended its seven-year run today, and it didn’t stick the landing. Creators Robert and Michelle King had explanations at the ready: in the end, their good wife became a little bad. In the series’ pilot, she stood by her husband during a press conference, then, in private, she slapped him as soon as they were offstage. In the finale, once again, she stood by her husband during a press conference, then, in private, she was slapped by a co-worker.

“The victim becomes the victimiser,” the Kings explained.

Visually, the show was suggesting Alicia had morphed into her corrupt husband, Peter, or at least, was morphing into him. The Kings often teased that the show was about “the education of Alicia Florrick”, and this is apparently what they meant. While yes, Alicia has hardened over the years, the show has never been about her Walter White-ification, and to suggest that in the final minutes is to retcon her entire character journey.

There are so many moving parts in television (read: actors) that it’s often hard for creators to realise their end-games as they first intend them. In departing the series, Josh Charles (Will Gardner) gave the Kings their greatest season (the fifth), but also, robbed the series of one of its main narrative thrusts: the love-triangle between Will, Alicia and Peter. At first, the series meandered, as Alicia struggled to come to terms with a world without her Plan B, and it worked. It was the truest representation of sudden, unexpected grief I have ever seen on television. Alicia withdrew. To me, her grief manifested in her distancing herself. The sixth season’s political plotline separated her from the rest of the cast even further. When it came time to put its pieces back together, the show was struggling to get its cast members in the same room without CGI and had resorted to throwing male love interests at Alicia hoping one would stick.

While the story beats are there to suggest a darkening of Alicia Florrick, she never really darkened. Sure, she drank a little more, she was a little more sarcastic, and she didn’t cry when she found out about her husband’s latest possible affair, but really, that’s hardly her ”moving in the direction where there wasn’t much difference between who [she] was and who her husband was”. I mean, just this season, we’ve had her forays in bond court, her creation of a small firm to pursue the cases that mattered to her … those were the pursuits of a woman damaged by a foray into politics, looking to do what she felt was right. The bad stuff inspired her to rebuild herself, to do good on her own terms.

That’s why it’s devastating that after seven years of her “education”, she abandoned her husband onstage for another man. No, the shadow of another man she mistook for her lover. A series about a woman rediscovering her agency, re-entering the workforce after raising children, and finding her voice, ended with her acting on the advice of a dead man (Ghost Will, who features prominently) to finally end her marriage to one man, to pursue a new man, while trapped in another man’s political web (Eli has been organising her political donors without her knowing!). Somewhere in the finale, there’s a story about a woman who, no matter how powerful she feels, is still powerless.

But with a slap, the Kings made it about her transformation into her husband, and the ending doesn’t fit the story they’ve been telling. Unfortunately for us, endings change the way we look at everything that comes before them.

The Vegetarian and the Meatlover by the BrigoPotatoes

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Today was my final day as Writer In Residence at Brigidine St Ives. I was sad to say goodbye, but as one last hurrah, the Year Sevens united to produce what they believed to be the best worst romance ever written. Selected at random, students contributed a sentence each, while I stood to one side shouting encouragement. I now present you with the fruits of their labour, The Vegetarian and the Meatlover by the BrigoPotatoes:

Victoria walked past the butcher with disgust, how could be so cruel, she would never go in in her life. As she was looking through the window she saw her reflection in the window, no it was gross. The boy in the shop was looking at her through the shop window. Her eyes melted as she gazed into his beautiful eyes. As she was taken back to reality she knew that she could never be with him. She wanted to go in now but knew she couldn’t. he watched as her curly orange hair disappeared into the distance. He would never see that georgeous face again. The reason she left was cause she literally puked on the pavement.She saw him chowing down on a piece of steak as he licked his lips in delight,YUK! As she glanced back at him she pondered ‘ could I ever become a meateater?’ but she pushed that horrid thought away. She started to walk away from the shop until she had a thought, “Do I love him”? She laughed at herself in disgust and ran away, the boy saw her and ran after her luscious locks. The next day, I walked arcross the carb shop and I noticed a familiar face and tall figure. He leans across the counter to grab hid big bread loaf that’s my favouriyte she said. He waved at her and she blushed at the sight of his biceps. “Hello, my name is Wayne!”
‘Wow, that’s an amazing name! My name is Victoria. She sighed dreamily without knowing it.
He pushed his thick blonde hair out of his face showing his tunning crystal eyes, how could anyone be as beautiful as the human infront of her? Maybe?
“why are you following me?”
“you dropped somemthin.”
“IM A VEGETARIAN!!!!! I DON’T EAT MEAT!!”
He thought about this for a minute in his head, now he couldn’t be more attracted to her than ever but suddenly his girlfriend came around and hugged him. Then suddenly, Victorias mum, a nun walked in, and stared at the three.
“whats gping on ere you lovebirds?” she said
“he is a meat eater I do not love him momma” Victoria said with a huff>. The disgust Victoria saw on her mothers face was absolutely hallarious, the thought of eating an animal was atrocious.
“come on darling we have to go home to feed your dog”
“don’t you mean Tiana-Kyle Umpa?”
She stared back in horroer as wayn and his girlfriend kissed. She thought to her self “ I thought I loved him” then she told him that she was ay to pretty to have him as her girlfriend!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Beautiful. Georgeous, even.

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 [Review]

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Writing has ruined reading for me. When I read my own work, I’m poring over sentences as my own harshest critic, making sure everything works, from the big-picture structural stuff right down to the individual word choices. I have trouble suppressing that critical voice when I read for pleasure, so it takes a special book or film to silence it.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is not that film.

I’m torn. The film is brimming with heart. There are moments that reflect my life back at me, and I wanted desperately to like it, but it’s just so lazy. It feels like a collection of skits, loosely tied together by a thread of Mana-Yiayia sight gags. It’s a film of As and Zs, with nothing from B to Y that make arcs work. There’s a lot of treading water between the introduction of problems and plot points, and their resolutions, if they’re resolved at all.

The worst is the bait-and-switch of Gus (Michael Constantine) and his ailing health. In a voiceover with zero chill, we learn Toula (Nia Vardalos) struggles with caring for her ageing parents. The film then drops this entirely, after a half-arsed callback to the original’s famous Windex gag. Instead of following through on a plot that’s painstakingly established in the film’s opening minutes, Vardalos reduces it to the set up for a joke we’ve heard before, an easy laugh. But by that point, we’re thankful for some plot resolution, because the film has introduced 600 other mostly non-essential plot strands.

The film tries to do so much — Estranged brothers! College! Gay secrets! John Stamos and Rita Wilson! — that its main plot — Gus and Maria’s (Lainie Kazan) remarriage — falls over flat. Maria driving her wedding planner to quit is genuinely hilarious, but we don’t see its climax. We’re simply told it happened because the film is too busy showing something else. And then it has the nerve to spin “the wedding planner has quit!” into “the wedding is off!” and one does not equal the other.

I had a half-hour argument with Mum about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 this morning. She enjoyed it. She says I shouldn’t look at films with so critical an eye. They don’t have to be perfect. I’m not saying they do. I just really wish they’d try.

*I would define it working as it being the best I can make it, as the writer I am today.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE [Review]

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I know what you’re thinking — the only person in the world who enjoyed Zoolander 2 is back with another review! This time, it’s 10 Cloverfield Lane … And it’s pretty darn good!

A lot has been made of its development from a not-Cloverfield movie into a Cloverfield movie, and while conversations about its production history are interesting, having them now does the film a disservice. Director Dan Trachtenberg has crafted a film that treads the knife-edge between restricted-domain thriller and dark family comedy. The fact that it has the Cloverfield brand attached means more than increased box-office takings, it means viewer enter assuming a shared universe with the found-footage, alien-invasion romance Cloverfield. When Howard (John Goodman) tells Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), that he is keeping her prisoner in his bunker to protect her from an “attack” above ground, we think of Cloverfield. Even though Goodman’s shtick is transparent as all hell, we second-guess ourselves because we have seen Cloverfield. This may have evolved into a Cloverfield film, yes, but the belief it occurs in a shared universe adds a complexity to those bunker scenes (and that’s before you start to doubt yourself, as I did, and genuinely think JJ Abrams only had the title changed to mess with us for JJ giggles).

10 Cloverfield Lane is tight, claustrophobic and tense. It will make you squirm, thanks in large part to Goodman’s stellar impersonation of Sam Smith when you don’t return his texts. Goodman plays entitled-nice-guy to perfection. Winstead and John Gallagher Jr are given less to work with, but when the film calls on one of them to carry it in its final moments, they do it with aplomb.

See this one in theatres. The sound design deserves more than laptop speakers. There’s a scene with a set of keys that gave me a tension headache, thanks in large part to the sound choices.

For the moment, Cloverfield is an anthology series. JJ has said there is a “larger idea … [to] see through”, but until then, they’re stand-alones. Support this one, if only so we can see JJ’s plans come to fruition, and write catty think-pieces if it doesn’t meet the hype (Oh, hi, Super 8).

Vale #PTAChat

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Tonight at 7:30pm AEDT, Twitter is hosting the final #PTAChat. While I’m certain there’s amazing bookish stuff just around the corner, this is a bittersweet moment for me. It was the #PTAChat community who embraced me when I resurfaced with The First Third. Their encouragement was inspiring, and the book banter was always top-notch. My TBR pile is five times its usual size because of the recommendations I’ve accumulated over the years, and I just wanted to say thanks, not only to the awesome @PenguinTeenAus but to every author, reader, blogger who made #PTAChat the incredible beast it was.

We’re sad to see you go, Felicity (@FlossAus). You led the way, and made us so. excited. about. everything. Thanks for believing in me, @FlossAus. And for old times’ sake, here’s a collection of my greatest shirtless selfies, ordered by gym pump …

Loving someone is never age-inappropriate

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I thought I’d post a quick hello (Hi!), and thank you to everyone who commented and shared messages of support (Thanks!). Last week was an intense week, both professionally and personally, and I really appreciate your words. While I haven’t heard back from the school regarding last week’s events, I’ve been made aware of the school’s response, copied in below:

FROM THE PRINCIPAL
Dear Parents/Caregivers,
Over the last few days, there has been story in the media that involves [Redacted school name]. I am writing to you to clarify some of the details about that story.
In 2015, author Will Kostakis was invited to the College to speak about writing and, in particular, his first novel, The First Third. The talk to students was well-received and Mr Kostakis was invited back to speak to the Year 7 and Year 8 students at the end of March this year. At that presentation, Mr Kostakis would have the oppor[t]unity to promote his new novel, The Sidekicks, which was about to be released.
Part of the due diligence that teachers undertake in preparation for these visits is to ensure that what is being presented to students is content and age-appropriate. Because The Sidekicks had not been released and therefore read by teachers, a request was made to Mr Kostakis to reference his first book in his presentation to students. Mr Kostakis’ blog had indicated that his new novel includes a same-sex relationship between two young people. Without having had the opportunity to read the novel, and to ensure that the content was appropriate for Year 7 and Year 8, a request was made to Mr Kostakis to reference his first novel rather than his soon-to-be-released one. I want to make clear that Mr Kostakis’ invitation to the school was not withdrawn.
As a Catholic College, we are inclusive and compassionate and tolerant. I am disappointed that there could a perception anywhere that would suggest something different than that. Of course, the teachings and the ethos of our Catholic faith sit at the heart of who we are and what we do. We also take our responsibilities to our students and our parents very seriously. The request to Mr Kostakis was made in this context.
Thank you for your understanding with this matter and for your continued support of the College.

My return visit in March was intended as a book launch for The Sidekicks. While some might argue that you can’t have a book launch for The Sidekicks without the book, The Sidekicks, I have sought to clarify whenever interviewed that I was only told I could not talk about my new book (as evident in the initial Buzzfeed article).

I respect the school conducting its due diligence. I had, erroneously, assumed that since The First Third was deemed “age-appropriate” (it features a same-sex relationship, consensual casual sex organised through a gay dating app), then a novel that features a similar sub-plot, written with similar language, would be equally appropriate.

I call it a sub-plot because it is “sub” to the actual plot. The Sidekicks is about three different young men navigating grief after the sudden death of a close friend, learning to be more accepting of each other’s difference. There was no mention of the sub-plot on my website beforehand, because I wanted the reader to experience that part of the story unspoiled.

In the school’s email requesting that The Sidekicks launch event go ahead without The Sidekicks (which again, is not technically cancelling the event), it was stated:

We have a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.

The only blog post that touched on same-sex attraction was my own “coming out”, a personal reflection on how a former partner’s cancer diagnosis made clear just how my being in the closet during our time together diminished his significance in my life.

In embracing The First Third, and its representation of diverse sexualities, the school did prove it was inclusive, compassionate and tolerant. The school then rejected The Sidekicks for not being content or age-appropriate without reading it, based on a blog post I wrote about my own personal experiences.

I need to make this clear: I am a male author who is attracted to men. While my experiences inform who I am, and how I write, that is not all I am, that is not all I write. When I visit schools, my main priority is to foster a love of reading, and I cannot do that without promoting my own work.

In the spirit of being inclusive, compassionate and tolerant, I would suggest that the school treat a book that features two boys kissing in the same way it would treat a book that features a boy and a girl kissing.

Loving someone is never age-inappropriate.

In case you want to send me this email

sidekicks1I’m going to try avoid editorialising this as much as possible. This is an email I was sent today, and this is my response to it. And my heart is raging through my shirt.

The email:

Hi Will,
We have a concern about promoting your new book at our school as it is a Catholic school. We were reading over your blog and I think it might not be appropriate, and parents might not be happy.
I have nothing personally against you and it sounds like a touching story that would love to read, however I feel it isn’t appropriate. If you want to promote The First Third on March 30, you are more than welcome however I have been advised we can’t promote your new book. I understand this isn’t in your best interest so we can cancel the meet and greet.
I spoke to [your agent], we still absolutely want you in June, but if possible can you please do the same talk as last year with focus on becoming an author and The First Third?
Thanks,
Regards,
[Redacted]

My response:

Hi [redacted],
I appreciate you taking the time to email, and I understand it probably wasn’t the easiest email to write.
I was worried about this happening with The Sidekicks. To be honest, I was worried about this happening with The First Third – which in addition to zany Greek hilarity, features a gay character coming to terms with his sexuality in the context of his disability. That gay character engages in casual sex through an app, fearing rejection, but yearns for something more. In the end of The First Third, he gets it.
That plotline wasn’t for Catholic schools, it wasn’t for parents, it was for students, students like me, who felt less than adequate because they loved someone “they weren’t supposed to”.
I am thankful for the leadership my high school showed in selecting texts that championed diversity. Some people were uncomfortable reading about two boys kissing, but it prompted discussion and working through prejudice. And even though I was not out, I felt like less of an outsider. I felt safe.
Coming out publicly was difficult. I feared I would have to choose between doing what I love/earn a living from – engaging kids to read and be truthful in their writing – and not having to hide my partners from colleagues as “friends”. I had hoped, having spoken at some Catholic schools, those schools would be comfortable with my revelation knowing what I bring to my presentations and workshops. And that my sexuality, while it informs who I am, is not the subject of my presentations.
Professionally, it would probably be wise to still present in June, your students were a lovely audience, I have to stick up for my 16 year old self, and say this is personal.
The First Third dealt with queerness only slightly less than The Sidekicks, both are written carefully and with respect to students (and their parents) who may find confronting the idea of two people of the same gender kissing. The First Third was acceptable, but now I have a blog post saying I like men, The Sidekicks is not.
And that is not something I will accept for the promise of a pay cheque.
All the very best for the future, and I hope you find the courage my teachers did.
Cheers
William

Reintroducing myself

sidekicks1Before each of my young-adult novels, I’ve had to introduce myself. When Loathing Lola came out, I was William Kostakis, the teenager. When The First Third released, I was Will Kostakis, a little more mature, and a lot more ethnic. With each release, I have grown more confident sharing more of myself. As The Sidekicks hits shelves, I feel like I ought to tell the rest.

A close friend was diagnosed with cancer last month.

That was how I told most people. “A close friend”. When we dated, I would never admit he was close to that. “Oh, him? Oh I know him through a friend,” I would say. He was always just an acquaintance, to throw anyone off the scent that maybe, I liked kissing boys. I was scared people would look at me differently if they knew.

It was an act of self-preservation, hiding him for the eight-or-so months we dated. And when he told his friends about me, I was angry he had the nerve. They could tell someone, who could tell someone who knew me, and they might look at me differently.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s hard to preserve yourself by making someone else invisible, so we faded, from more to close friends.

And after a phone call, last month, he went from invisible to almost gone.

I’ve always been comfortable gently implying where I sit on the Kinsey scale, hoping I say just enough, or write just enough that surely, people realise without me having to say.

But I have to say. Time tricks us into thinking we have a lot of it, we don’t. One minute, all is fine, the next, you’re driving your close friend to a sperm bank before he undergoes chemotherapy.

We stopped at McDonalds on the way. I filled the space with awkward jokes. I asked if he thought the nurses made pornography recommendations. Kind of like David and Margaret at the Sperm Bank.

“Production values leave a bit to be desired, but it’s Australian. 5 stars!” I joked.

We laughed and I worried. I didn’t want it to end. And I regretted everything. Romantically, we had failed, but he had never denied me. He had never diminished my significance or value in his life, and I, like some horrible cliché, was only recognising that when he was almost gone.

Almost. Turns out, his surgery was successful and he doesn’t need chemotherapy. There will be two years’ worth of tests and anxieties, but it appears, my dark-hour fears were just that.

He isn’t going anywhere, and I get another chance:

He is my close friend, and we used to date. He was my first relationship, the confirmation this wasn’t a phase, and that it could be just as wild, messy, lovely, perfect as hetero love. He was significant.

He is significant.

ZOOLANDER 2 [Review]

Zoolander 2I suppose ‘review’ is probably the wrong word. ‘First thoughts while walking home from the train station’ just isn’t as SEO-friendly.

Zoolander 2 touches on a lot — fatherhood, conventional beauty — but it is the way it deals with the passage of time and the transience of fame that has stuck with me most in the two hours since I saw it. The film holds a mirror up to those old guards who have been replaced by artists they perceive to be inferior, in a way I don’t feel I’ve seen before.

A character the first film ridiculed, returns to ridicule his contemporary counterpart. It serves to remind us that even at our peaks, we are disappointing someone who came before us. We are all unworthy successors in somebody’s eyes.

Unworthy younger successors.

A character literally wants to rip off the faces of teenagers and wear them, while countless others think their successors are useless, gimmicky imposters. There is a contradictory push and pull, a desire for and rejection of youth, like the older would do youth better, if only they had the chance. The tragedy is they can’t, and they look ridiculous when they try.

The fact that Stiller crammed that into a film with enough cameos to make Entourage cry, “Excessive!” and enough off-colour jokes to make your head spin, is an admirable achievement. The film will be dismissed for its surface-level stupidity, which is masterful in its own right, but I really hope critics far better than me, and quite possibly younger, have a crack at unpacking it. There are gems there.