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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

To kick things off for this year’s festivities, my previous review of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York is being included on Radiator Heaven’s John Carpenter Blogathon. While technically not brand-new, and not really a horror movie perse, this essay was a blast to write, and the John Capernter Blogathon is an amazing compendium of all things Carpenter, which, in my estimation, is a great way to start off the spookiest month of the year.

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previously unpublished short story

Q: How did the invention of plastic change the 20th century?

A: In exciting and meaningful ways to be sure. Straws for drinks are one way. Before plastic came along straws were made of wood which sometimes left splinters in the lips. If left untreated, the seceded wood could infect the area in which it was lodged, eventually leading to amputation of said lips (I’m assuming). Assorted organs are transported across time-zones in plastic coolers of various primary colors, but sometimes the coolers are absconded with, relocated to far-flung locales, sold to the highest bidder. A similar scenario happened to a co-worker: desperately in need of a kidney transplant and the one he was to receive was kidnapped by organ thieves at gunpoint. That would probably be organnapped, in point of fact. And: plastic drop cloths. Dear God and Father Christmas Who Art in Heaven, plastic drop cloths are everywhere in the house! They cover everything. Furniture mostly. Available in both 1 and 3 mil. thickness. They keep everything from harm, from air-borne damage. Discounts are sometimes passed along if bought in bulk (but I didn’t tell you). Avoid putting plastic drop cloths over the head, though. They (the plastic drop cloths) tend to blur the world around you in ways that are wholly unpleasant. Another: plastic utensils of every size and persuasion―forks, knives, spoons, the rarely seen spork. Picnics wouldn’t be the same without plastic utensils. How would we eat all of the animals and animal related by-products stored in plastic containers (Tupperware, and their resulting parties) and neatly packed in the wicker picnic basket that we hauled into the large grass clearing near the graveled parking lot filled with the gleaming cars hot to the touch? With our fingers? Savages! How on Earth would we kill the army ants that deploy themselves at the very base of our food; battalions of ants enlisted against their will for the good of their colony, the good of their Nation?―with our feet most likely: rubber-soled or steel-toed, perhaps both. Or the ends of our fingers, the middle digit descending like a missile above the frontline of those enlisted ants, crushing them into oblivion upon impact. Using your finger in this fashion is so much more personal than using a foot; like stabbing someone instead of shooting them with a gun―or so I’m lead to believe from all the late-night movies I’ve consumed over the years. There are other ways. Let me count them. TV Ads. I almost forgot those! Without plastic we wouldn’t have advertisements for plastic related products, undulating and luminous as they move across our eyes, inserting barely perceptible urges into our brains. The one where the child touches the side of the father’s whiskered face always makes me cry. These are the kind of things you take for granted, because they’re always with you, you never envision your life minus these sorts of things, you never think, “gee what would have happened if the person who invented blank was run over by a car, or hit in the head by a large rock―the kind one would find at the bottom of a quarry―when would blank have come along?” There are also these: Plastic Safety Men. The one in the closet is made entirely of plastic, smooth and cool to the touch, the sound it makes when you run your hand over it like a sort of resistance. It is just like the blow-up Incredible Hulk punching bag I had when I was a kid, although this one isn’t green, or angry, in reality he is completely without emotion, as if a lobotomy had been preformed. Plastic Safety Men are meant to accompany those among us who are too afraid to move through this world alone. It is in there now, sequestered to the back of closet next to the formal shoes I never ware anymore, and the tennis racket that never presumed to have made contact with a ball. I have dressed it with a nice, crisp white shirt and a golf visor (no pants; Plastic Safety Men are born into this world without legs)―otherwise they’re simply inanimate vessels for your oxygen. The one made of flesh left and the plastic one replaced her. All that remains in the house is plastic. And the ant problem—did I mention that? I kill everything with my finger now.

Q: Have dramatic recreations produced for a TV audience altered the way in which we view historical events?

A: The other day I was excavating various unmarked cardboard boxes from the attic―an unwitting archeologist of my own buried past―when I came across a video tape of my 4th grade history class play about Custer’s last stand. I played Custer. This was me: yellow-bearded and perched on stilts hidden under my Calvary uniform pant legs; my teacher―long, spindly limbs, back pitched forward, a face rendered dull from years of mediocre experiences―insisting that the false height lent more credibility to my performance. Near the end of the play I was the only Calvary solider that remained alive, as per the script, the other students/soldiers playing dead, heaped in piles of strange death poses and my other classmates―those playing Indians―closing in on me; tiny fists turned dead-fish-white, clutching plastic butcher knives. It felt all too real. I panicked and began to urinate in my Calvary-issue pants. However, I was unable to leave the stage; the stilts made every step awkward, belabored. Then I fell. My classmates, red-faced, baring the whitest of teeth, closed in on me. Their heads seemed too big for their smallish bodies, like floats in a parade. I began screaming, “Custard has fallen! Custard has fallen!” my teacher watching―how do they say it―from the wings?, holding the script, franticly flipping the pages with fingers coated in colored chalk, no doubt to confirm her suspicion that I was improvising my lines. The warm liquid in my pants was already turning cold. I watch the video tape in my living room, the sound muted, sitting on the couch, holding the remote control with both hands, clutching my breath in my mouth, as if it were my last, as if it might escape and not return, the house silent except for the heavy panting of the dog in the kitchen, the hollow scratching sound of his nails echoing against the tile as he stretches. I try to think of the worst thing possible. This is the only way to eliminate this videotaped atrocity that has been unearthed. I imagine myself jumping out of a thirty story window, cutting through the air head first, the concrete below coming up fast, upon impact my head going straight through my body, and out my ass. I try to replace this image with the one that I see on the screen. Unfortunately it still remains―my frantic, static-forged likeness crawling off stage, blood-thirsty classmates trying to pull me back on, under those large stage lights that rendered everyone a bleached-out sweaty mess. The day after the play my mother stopped at a corner convince store for milk and tofu and was shot dead when she walked in during the middle of a robbery. I couldn’t help but wonder if the last thing she pictured before she died was me pissing my pants.

Q: Has technology enhanced or detracted from the way we interact with other people on a daily basis?

A: My leg for example. It is currently wrapped in duct tape―two rolls worth. No, wait. Actually, to be more specific, it’s what you would call electrician’s tape. There’s a difference, I’ve been told. One is for ducts, the other for wires. To begin again: my leg is wrapped in electrician’s tape―two rolls worth. I shaved my leg first (I’m not an idiot!) so that when I eventually extract the tape I will not (hopefully) be in an extreme amount of hair-related pain. Problem: I can feel the hair growing back under the duct tape even now.  At night, while I lie awake on my side of the bed, I hear the individual hairs emerging from beneath my skin, like bamboo in the forest. It’s lunacy, I know, I know. I am restricted to certain forms of movement, all of which seem overly dramatic, as if I were faking some sort of injury in order to gather sympathy from those around me. But it has to be done. No way around it. I have certain obligations to fulfill; specific experiments to conclude. I am a test subject, you see. For a company that manufactures electrician’s tape. However, for reasons stated in the contract, which I signed with my own hand, I cannot not proceed any further with this explanation. Rest assured this hasn’t stopped me from meeting people. On the contrary, I feel I am emboldened by the handicapping this presents. Video dating, internet dating, phone dating, inter-office/adjacent cubicle dating, park dating, bar dating, supermarket dating, movie theater dating, alley dating, hot air balloon dating, vehicle/bumper car dating, DMV dating, bookstore dating, blind/deaf/mute dating, dating abroad, dating while in mid-air, arms outstretched―I have attempted all of these rituals with certain vigor and a level of acumen I would classify as fair to competent. I am nothing if not thorough. When I am not occupying my time with all of these freestyle forms of dating I sometimes sit at my kitchen table and thumb backwards through a pile of outdated calendars that my wife collected habitually. Obsessively is a better word. Seasonal photographs of various country settings begin in winter, then transition to fall, then summer, then spring. She never threw calendars away; she thought it was bad luck. I pour over a stack of my old journals (I still fail to use the term diary, as if the very word were a knife poised to emasculate) that I have kept for reasons that having nothing to do with bad luck. I search for any indications of failure on my part, but there are only mechanical ones: the time I drove headlong into a neighbor’s picture window for example. I pay special attention to the entries that mark the first of a new year to determine if the resolutions I’ve made previously actually transpired. I have found that a life not lived in reverse is not worth living at all.

Q: Do you feel the government has done enough to address problems of pollution in this country, i.e. regulations, fines, etcetera, or do you believe more could be done to safeguard the environment in which we live?

A: The lake near my house is―to use a term of the slang variety―in a bad way. The chemical factory upstream has dumped God Knows What into the water over the years; chemicals of all colors and odor spreading its own patented brand of ruin across everything. Last year the factory was shut down and executives from the company were escorted out of the darkness of its placid headquarters and into the broad sunshine by plain-clothed government agents. They were ushered into unmarked cars, their sport jackets and raincoats placed over their heads as if in private contemplation. The following week I deposited myself over the landscape around the lake, looking for signs of chemical devastation in the wildlife that claimed residence there. I began to find squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds of all sorts, damaged in some way by the chemicals that had been poured into in the lake. I’m no vet, but I could see the resulting wreckage in their eyes. It was abundantly clear. Now: the animals are in my backyard, in the guest bedroom, in the garage. My dog has since runaway from home. Perhaps he was jealous of all the attention I was giving to the other animals. Selfish bastard. I strap birds to model airplanes and airplanes fostered from balsa wood, proxy wings by which they can fly. The birds glide through the air upon simulated wind and air currents provided by an array of various electric fans I have placed about the interior of the house. The animals migrate from one room to another. They are all in ceaseless pain, or so I am lead to believe by the way they look at me. I am on 24-hour suicide watch now.

Q: What other benefits that arose as a result of the industrial revolution still apply today?

A: Look in my garage. Wall to wall tools poised to cut-through, tear-down, break-up, nail-in, saw-off, adhere-to and split-to-and-fro objects that I deem necessary to alter. They hang there like hungry children waiting to receive a scrap of parental affection. We had plans, my wife and I. They (the plans) involved the building of extensions to the house, remodels of existing rooms, additions to existing rooms, the buttressing of interiors against the insidious decline of age. But the only remodels that we executed were those which involved our own failed structures; my wife underwent plastic surgery on her drooping eyelids, I on my crooked nose. The both of us were architecting remodels upon ourselves, tearing down that which was detracting or that had aged inappropriately. Curb appeal is everything these days. The house remained confined to plans which were still blue pencil marks upon graph paper, the unemployed tools meant to foster these designs loitering in the garage, a testament to those failed initiatives. Recently I have learned just this: Plastic Safety Man is not always reliable. Air escapes him, like exiting desires. Plus he is a man. I am not that way inclined. I have begun using the unused tools, constructing a new her from the ground up. This one will have legs, unlike Plastic Safety Man. There is much cutting of wood, forging of intentions. Yes, what I lack in woodworking skills I make up for in intentions. Intentions are as plentiful as the failures that followed them. It takes me a few weeks. Working into the night, toiling under mists of sawdust, festoons of curled wood that look like the fancy chocolate shavings they put atop ice cream in your better eating establishments. I nearly slice an errant finger with a table saw. I just miss impaling myself with a piece of rebar. There are several other near-accidents, but I am resolute. She is completed in the early hours one Tuesday night, the dangling fluorescent lights bathing her in a baptismal glow. She will assist me in my grief, unlike the Plastic Safety Man, that wretched bastard. The next night I am ensconced in a dream of myself and Veronica, the name I have bestowed upon the wooden woman. We are in the house, the house as my wife and I had dreamed it; the structure rising and vaulting, expanding and jutting-out, pregnant with the expectation of children. Even in my dream Veronica is still wooden, my quiescent imagination not sufficient enough to Pinocchio her up. I must then rely on myself for certain activities; she merely provides the color commentary. Then there’s my mom. Poof. Out of nowhere. She is wandering about the house, tidying up. She ferries a flowered vase to better spot. Adjusts pictures. Refills the ice tray in the refrigerator. The side of her head is gone. The grey matter is exposed, matter-of-factly. She looks small and shriveled, a balloon deleted of air. She stumbles upon Veronica and me; one hand on Veronica’s lovingly varnished breast, the other on my stiffened self. She tells me I’ll go blind and then she is gone. I awake in the garage, Veronica splayed into a position I am not aware that most figures made of wood can acquiesce to. I close up the garage and go to bed. I leave Veronica behind. She is not ready to move inside the house just yet.

Q: Are there are modes of transportation that might one day render the car obsolete?

A: Here’s one: Coney Island. I went to New York City once on a high school trip―you know the kind: excursions where parents who don’t trust their kids as far as they can toss them let said children go on a school expedition with little to no supervision. So: the girl that I had been dating at the time, Clair, she and I broke away from the group and ended up on Coney Island (or was it Carla? Cassandra. That was it. Like the sound a woman feigning seduction might make when she breathes the word snake). Cassandra was my first love, the first one I had crushed on. Her face, even now, was rendered in the most abstract of terms: a lollypop of sorts―her colors vivid as a cartoon, her scent sugary; the smell of adolescence. We spent the afternoon riding some of the amusements. We boarded the Ferris-wheel just as the sun packed its bags and went south. The air swiftly turned cold; neither she nor I were dressed for weather that was anything but considerate. Then, a few minutes into the ride, the Ferris-wheel suddenly ground to a halt and we were stuck at the top of the wheel, watching the ocean gobble up the sand then regurgitate it rhythmically. Cassandra was calm. A face of unblinking nerve. She placed a strand of stringy blonde hair behind her left ear, her fingers curled to form the top of a question mark. I, on the other hand, was flirting with panic. Had the guy operating the Ferris-wheel told us what to do in a situation such as this? Had he done so when I was concentrating on Cassandra’s blank expression? Maybe he hadn’t said a damned thing. Typical. Let kids board a dangerous machine and give them no clear instructions as what to do when it fails. The sky turned cotton candy pink. I vomited over the side of the Ferris-wheel, clutching the metal rail on the outer rim of the car, my knuckles drained of any color that might look natural. The pink of my vomit mixed with the pink of the sky as it went down. Leaning over the side I felt a hand on my shoulder, the carrier of the softest touch I had ever felt. I said Cassandra’s name aloud, but all I heard in response was the gritty, bottomed-out voice of the guy who was operating the Ferris-wheel telling me it was alright to let go.

Q: Has better hygiene in the last 100 years improved our overall health or simply made us more susceptible to newer diseases?

A: There are tiny animal corpses everywhere. I have become an expert of animal suicides. Squirrels climb to the top of the roof and jump off, pirouetting into space like tiny ballerinas. There I am in the kitchen, at the sink looking out the window and a little furry body goes screaming by in a colorful blur. I find raccoons that have drowned themselves in the pool. I scoop up them with a drooping pool net and cast them over the fence, into the neighbor’s yard. A robin tied to a balsa-wooded plane crashes headlong into a closed patio door. I hope the recently Windexed glass door was merely hard to see. I hope that was all there was too it. I disinfect surfaces and spray furniture. I build tiny coffins. The backyard is mined with little mounds of dirt where I have buried the recent dead. There is also the following to distract me: I move about the house attempting to discover bits and pieces of my wife, things she left behind. Her hair clogging the drain in the bathroom sink, nail clippings abandoned amid the cushions on the couch, pieces of dead skin that may have fallen into the shag of the wall-to-wall carpeting. I seek out her smell. It’s almost undetectable now; utterly eradicated. All that’s left are my own stale, awful smells that hang presciently in the air. At night I sleep as if my wife were still in the bed with me: curled into myself like a tick, at the very precipice of the mattress, her ghost-self splayed out next to me, arms open wide, as if waiting to embrace something from above. I am not so much losing sleep, as I am estranged from it. Still: I have a blouse. She doesn’t know I kept it. A white cotton blouse speckled with ivory buttons down the front. The same blouse she wore the day we bought this house. The same blouse she wore the day we brought our dog home from the pound. The same blouse she wore when I found her in the hallway one day after work, fidgeting with one of the ivory buttons, the fourth one down, her mouth working awkwardly, fumbling towards a sentence that was soundless. I can’t read lips, didn’t she realize that? Right now: I crawl inside the coat closet in the hall, next to the Plastic Safety Man and Veronica, and the apparitions of my mother and Cassandra. We are all in here, together. It is getting crowded. I raise the blouse to my nose. There’s a hint of a scent. It’s still there. I keep the blouse in a plastic bag with one of those sealing devices where the red has to meet the green. Did I mention everything in the house is covered in plastic?

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Over on the formidable movie blog, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, writer Dennis Cozzalio has posted a long, and articulate article about the Christopher Nolan blockbuster, Inception, just released on July 16,  and the mass of pre-critical buzz associated with the film and with Nolan’s previous movie, The Dark Knight. Mr.Cozzalio argues that in the case of The Dark Knight, all of the build up from fans, bloggers and pre-release reviews from critics created a backlash against those who wrote in dissent of the film.

This article got me thinking about the role of film critics in shaping the success of a movie and what responsibilities they have, if any, to the general public. More often than not, initial buzz initiated by the studio marketing department, fans etc, creates unreasonable expectations, expectations that may or may not be in line with film itself. Granted this all comes down to opinion, to taste, but I think the argument is also valid that all of this goodwill may be undeserved and simply camouflages the obvious flaws of a film. And in a world where You Tube, blogging and viral videos have made this sort of unstoppable, 24-hour hype machine a given, where does the hyperbole end and the movie begin?

Now, it would seem that the same controversy is brewing once again with Inception, and Mr.Cozzalio uses a recent article by Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick Goldstein lambasting New York Magazine’s David Edelstein—who wrote a  negative review of the film— to frame his argument. Here is a quote from Goldstein in his article regarding Edelstien’s review:

I give Edelstein points for lively writing, but in an era where critics have enough credibility issues as it is, the last thing we need is a critic thrashing a film because, in part, he’s chagrined to see it get so much open adulation. If you want to write that after the movie has opened, fair enough. But it’s the wrong stance to take before people have even had a chance to make up their own minds.

This is a ridiculous statement for many reasons, least of which is that Goldstien argues that the only reason Edelstien gave Inception a negative review is because it has received some much attention and good press, and foremost he claims that giving it a negative review is “the wrong stance” to take because the movie is not even out yet, and this could very well cloud the public’s judgment of the film. But isn’t the same true for a positive review before the movie has come out, specifically Peter Traver’s glowing review that is highlighted in the TV ad campaign for Inception, a campaign which has been running constantly for the last several weeks (more on that later)? You certainly can’t have it both ways and this, it seems, it what is most troubling to Mr.Cozzalio, as well as myself. Everyone wants to be right, no one wants to be wrong, and the very value of film criticism is undermined because everything seems to boil down to what will help or hinder a movie’s chances raking in gobs of money. David Edelstein is clearly not interested in whether or not Inception with do well money-wise, that is not his job. His job is to give his own assessment of the film’s ultimate value, which, according to Edelstein, is questionable. Yes, he can be rather snarky, which sometimes undermines his position, but it is clearly his writing style, and his past insights into other films have been thoughtful and well-reasoned albeit with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Edelstein closes the review by saying this:

For the record, I wanted to surrender to this dream; I didn’t want to be out in the cold, alone. 

Cleary he went in wanting to like the film but, in the end,  gave his unbiased opinion, about the actual picture. And ultimately this is what Patrick Goldstein finds fault with. But what is most disturbing is Goldstien’s unabashed defense of the film, especially since he’s a reporter. Even an industry reporter, as he is called, should be neutral, but Goldstien is operating as if he has something at stake if this is not the most beloved movie of all time. I would say that it is Goldstien’s entire stance that is suspect, and negates any true debate over the merits of a particular film. And really, isn’t this the kind of ridiculous debate that the studio would want anyhow? What’s going to grab the public’s attention even more than uniformly glowing reviews? Maybe a reporter creating needless controversy around a dissenting review? Again, it’s an assertion as pointless and stupid as the entire “controversy” itself. Of course all this posturing might be a moot point anyhow; as the film has just opened, public opinion is still out, at least for another few weeks.

So, again, the question becomes where do movie critics fit into all of this? It’s a sticky proposition at best, one that can be perilous to navigate these days. Ideally film criticism should argue, with distinct clarity, for or against a certain film, all the while illuminating the movie’s virtues or transgressions. Criticism should provide a new view into the picture at hand. Group think, should be abandoned. There is no room for the writer that simply follows the views of other writers in the field. The film critics I have always admired, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, David Bordwell—while I have not always agreed with them—have always given me something to think about. They have provided me with a method of looking a film anew, and have never shied away from controversial remarks about how terrible a film may actually be. Yes these are lofty goals, I did say ideally, but in an age where lines are becoming blurred between what is actual film criticism and what is simply bullshit—a quote emerging from a traveling press junket and  used heavily in an TV ad for a film, for example—it becomes easier to wade in with everyone else rather than be he lone voice against a film, especially when there seems to be so much positive criticism surrounding it (particularly when it comes from someone as well-respected as Peter Travers). When is a positive review simply a positive review? I’m sure many of the critics that have seen Inception really enjoyed the film, and found it be a nice change from the usual mindless summer blockbuster, hence all of the stellar reviews. Memento was a taut, well-made thriller and, I can’t believe I’m still saying this, but I really enjoyed The Dark Knight*, so when I began seeing trailers for Inception I have to admit I was not put off by how grandiose it all seemed, in fact, given Nolan’s track record, I am actually very interested in seeing it. But as a Kubrick fan, I bristle at quick comparisons, even when attached to a competent director such as Nolan. Take for instance this review from Anne Thompson, with the title, Inception Early Review: Nolan Delivers Kubrickian Masterpiece with Heart:

As intricate as the script is—Nolan worked on it for a decade—the movie is not just a feat of cinematic wizardry, even though it comes close to the level of technological derring-do carried off by the likes of Stanley Kubrick. (Indeed Nolan works in repeated homages to the late great auteur beyond the obvious use of moving sets on gimbles to allow athletic Gordon-Levitt to bounce weightless and walk on walls and ceilings.) The movie also has heart. So that even if you do get confused (as I did in the James Bond snow section, filmed in the Canadian Rockies), the emotional through-line pulls you along. It’s as simple as The Wizard of Oz: The Extractor wants to go home.

Now, not having seen the movie, I can’t really say otherwise, and it may not really be hyperbole in Thompson’s view to compare Nolan to Kubrick. But if you ask me, comparing a film, not even out of the gate, to be on par with the cannon of Stanley Kubrick is not only incredibly premature, but unduly persuades a moving going public, and hardcore film buffs, more so than a negative review ever could. Much of the reason that directors like Stanley Kubrick are highly regarded is that enough time has gone by, enough writing has been done, and enough clarity has evolved to permit that sort reverence. Some of Kubrick’s films, which are now seen as masterpieces, to use a buzz-word, were first released to luke-warm reviews, and or out-right controversy and hatred, as in the case of A Clockwork Orange. In fact, Pauline Kael bestowed a scathing review upon the film, denouncing its extreme violence, concerned that it would have a de-sensitizing effect upon audiences . It is an articulate, well-reasoned review, which, written by someone as highly regarded as Kael could have been disastrous for the film( in addition to being branded with an X-rating when it was first released in the United States). Of course, it has become a cult favorite, and considered one of Kubrick’s best. Make no mistake that A Clockwork Orange is a difficult film to watch, and it is not a film that can be well-received by everyone because the material itself is so aggressive. Pauline Kael did her job as a film critic and gave her honest impression of the film without regard to its box office or its future place in film history. And I this is the ideal situation I spoke of earlier. One without regard for ridiculous Rotten Tomatoes ratings and they’re impact on box-office, or what the denizens of some fan sites might say.

It is worth noting that there has always been a disconnect between what critics enjoy and what the public at large likes. Film critics often get a bad rap for hating everything mainstream and only liking “arty films” (outside of film critics, historians and film students, I have been hard-pressed to find someone who would count Citizen Kane among their favorite films). While there may be some truth to this, as a whole, I think film critics are really film lovers first, writers and critics second and third, and probably, for the most part, want to go in liking a film. After all, if it is your job to write about films wouldn’t you rather write about what works in a movie rather than what doesn’t? (OK, maybe some critics really enjoy writing scathing reviews) So when public and critical opinion actually converge with unanimous admiration of a film, should it be that any reaction against be met with skepticism or at worst some sort hateful backlash?

In the end debate is good, it is always good, and in this case, with film criticism, it is necessary, and even helpful in the ultimate enjoyment of a film. Everything released can’t be a masterpiece, it can’t be directed by the next Kubrick, because, in reality, those sorts of films, and directors are ultimately few and far between. Just think about how many movies are released every year, in the United States alone (and I mean everything from straight to DVD to festival circuit fare), and of the really good ones, can they truly be called masterpieces? We all know hyperbole is what get’s asses in seats, for lack of a better, and studios use it all the time, so why not bloggers and critics? It becomes a problem when there’s no room for a second opinion, when that opinion is dismissed as simply disliking anything that may have a whiff of mass appeal. This, I would say, is the downside to the internet (one of many). With so many voices trumpeting so many opinions, often with such rancor, truly good film criticism becomes few and far between, trying to etch out a place amongst the din of mediocrity.

 

*OK, OK, I know how bad that sounds, but given my utter disdain for blockbusters in general, The Dark Knight was a bit of a revelation.  I liked The Dark Knight; I liked it a lot, more than I wanted to. In fact I went in not wanting to like it, as my exceptions were incredibly low given the track record of the movie franchise (I went to a free screening, and even with that as an incentive, I almost didn’t go). There are problems to be sure with the film; a throwaway, hammy monologue by Gary Oldman in the final scene of the film served to end the picture on a bad note; Heath Ledger’s performance, mostly riveting, sometimes teetered on the edge of the ridiculous, in way that could have undone the entire character; and yes, had there been another absurd scenario that followed the people-on-a-boat-with-a-bomb plot device, the movie would have collapsed under the sheer weight of itself. However, the film in general, was thrilling to watch, in way that only pure entertainment can be, thrilling because blockbusters usually remind me of the ridiculous plotlines they’re trying to camouflage, and The Dark Knight didn’t. With a different director at the helm, one with not as much obvious confidence in the source material as Nolan, The Dark Knight’s endless plotlines and characters, and it’s three-four movies shoved into one, would have surely failed. But Nolan makes it work for the most part because he is able to maintain the momentum; the tension is omnipresent and by the end of the film it feels as if you’ve run a marathon, but in a good way I suppose. The Dark Knight is nowhere near a perfect film as some would believe, but it finally did the character justice. The film, in many ways, emulated Frank Miller’s dark vision of the character, which is perhaps one of the most compelling in the comic book’s history.  Nolan’s first stab at Batman, Batman Begins, while not the worst movie version of the comic book (that goes to the Joel Schumacher atrocities) was a ho-hum start, it was an origin story, it went through the paces, but did nothing to really elevate the character. With The Dark Knight, Nolan turned a corner to be sure. He was more assured with his vision for the franchise, and finally, finally a movie version of Batman appeared that wasn’t campy, that wasn’t throwaway, that wasn’t completely forgettable. I would hate to think that I’m a part of anything labeled, “group think”, but there you are, a blockbuster that’s likeable, that’s entertaining, that at the very least gives you your money’s worth. 

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Exiting Eden

 

Once upon a time is how the scene begins (don’t they all?) and this is how it unfolds: first we see a sprawling lake, a supine giant, the water of which falls from emerald green to thick, murky browns. This lake has existed here, presumably for a thousand years or more. An old tire, fading, threadbare—a slight impression left in its center where countless children have hunched―hangs from the branch of one the hearty pine trees which populate the acreage that surrounds the lake―a vast, unbroken woodland stretching for miles, the majority of which will be burnt to the ground by arson in the near future.

Feces covers the floor of these woods, the copious dejecta part of an intricate topography of what animals have left behind―the shedding of skin and fur the least objectionable of the lot. The excrement is the by-product of various denizens of the lake region: black bears, chipmunks, skunks, snakes (do snakes actually shit? it occurs to me that I’ve never witnessed a snake having a bowel movement) ferrets, wolves, feral cats, and, of course, birds, the deposits of which are perhaps the vilest; smart bombs dropped from the sky. 

Hideous, filthy birds! cry the other animals.

If it were not for the ability to fly, the birds would be up shit-creek-without-a-paddle―this is, of course, in regards to Bird Vs. Bear, another such scene I have concocted previously: the bird’s wings broken, held together with the aid of tiny splints, must use only their wits, and possibly a well-timed stab of the beak, in a final showdown against the boiling rage of the bear, having been shit upon―literally and figuratively―by just such a bird one too many times. The ending of this scene is too horrible to recount here, although, it should be said, if black bears had a human counterpart it would be that of Charles Manson.

Meanwhile, back at the previous scene: The stench that surrounds this lake is so foul that not a soul dare breach its soiled shores. The lake, once picturesque in its beauty, now wallows in its own filth.  But what could possibly illicit such a deluge of droppings? Too much bran in the diet of the animals? A predilection for jokes scatological in nature? Or had they simply scared themselves shitless?

I have left the evacuation of animal bowels in this scene because it seems as much a part of the lore of these woods as the two people I have previously placed within it: a man and a woman, their lusts and desires anything but errant, their wills obscenely willful and free, roaming the land around the lake as if they owned the joint, naked as they day they were born, (“this isn’t a nudist colony”, I informed them again and again) frequently, unabashedly partaking in the rib. They were over-sexed, as horny as wayward adolescents, their constant copulations embarrassing, so I have since removed them from the scene. They will have to fend for themselves without aid of my pleasant and evocative descriptions forging the world around them.

But I digress.

Of particular note to this scene: the lake is similar in some respects to a lake I once frequented with my girlfriend of several years. We would smile brightly, sunning ourselves on the shore, making plans for the future as I inscribed arcane drawings into her newly sun-screened back; an index finger indexing our entire history together. We stayed in a cabin near the shore, one that was built by some pioneering spirit of the recent past. We had gone on like this for months, the insular beauty of the lake keeping us from the troubles of the outside world.

That was until three days ago when I found myself crouching in the dense underbrush beside the lake, covered in mud and leaves―partly for camouflage, partly for the obscene drama that it evoked―watching my girlfriend: she in the lake swimming nude with another man, the pruned-pair eventually conjoined; their bodies at work below the placid surface. Nude I tell you! Just like those two heathens in the previous scene.

Nonetheless, I am making plans for her in my head.

A few moments later we are talking:

She: Stop following me.

Me: I wasn’t following you. I just happen to be at the lake this weekend.

She: Covered in mud? Spying on us?

Me: I was bird watching.

She: You threw our clothes in the water!

Me: You looked cold, like you could use a pair of pants.

She: I have a restraining order!

Me: You don’t mean that.

She: I don’t love you!

Me: You don’t mean that.

She: Brian, get your pants on!

Me: You don’t mean that―

And then the fist of Brian―pants now on―hits me squarely on the nose, the crunching of bone loud inside my skull.

My girlfriend’s face is pinched, unforgiving.

The latter section is meaningless digression. I am creating a new scene concerning the lake in a darkened motel room off of I-7, scribbling on a notepad I found in the top drawer of the nightstand. I watch a compact TV bolted unceremoniously to the wall, the breaking newscast composed of quickly scrolling fonts and graphics and music built of menacing chords―

FIRE AT LAKE PONCHOTOCK

―the well-groomed anchor needlessly buoyant given the subject matter. A carefully edited montage of video footage follows—firefighters in action poses, blasts of water striking the towering flames with little to no impression. A wider shot, from a higher vantage point, reveals fires on all sides of the lake, the mad reflection of the flames gyrating obscenely upon the surface of the otherwise undisturbed water…

(I have been careful to leave all of this out of my previous scene—it has no substantive relevance, particularly the part where I initiate several small brush fires in the vicinity of the lake with the aid of an engraved lighter that my girlfriend gave me two birthdays past)

…wait, wait. Again I am drifting―at hand, the new scene: I am a bird―that is, I am myself dressed in a giant bird costume, taking wing across the lake, my girlfriend and Brian sunning themselves on shore as she and I had done so many times previously. I swoop down from the pale, dreadful sky and snatch her up with my yawing plastic claws, voiding my bowels upon Brian as I ascend. She lays limp in my grip, a fainted heroine in a b-movie, Brian on the ground below marshalling a look of hurt and surprise. Poor put-upon, shat-upon, Brian, shackled by gravity, effluvium rising in contrast.

The lake hums with vivid colors.

We soar above everything, altitudinous in our coupling.

I with my love―our convergence complete.

Happily ever after.

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One of my favorite film bloggers, Kimberly Lindbergs, proprietor of the fantastic 60s, 70s film blog, Cinebeats, has joined the unstoppable Voltron of collective movie bloggers that is the Movie Morlocks, the official blog of TMC. She has already posted a few excellent reviews, so don’t pass up the chance to become a fan of her work outside of Cinebeats.

Kimberly has also been nominated for a “Rondo” in the 8th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards for best horror blog. Huzzah, and good luck!

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After their successful pairing in the hilarious and light-hearted Lucio Fulci film, Zombi 2: Electric Boogaloo, Zombie and Shark decided to have a go with their own television variety show. This was not the first time a famous duo attempted to solidify themselves among the pantheon of memorable variety shows; Frank Sinatra and Fidel Castro, Albert Einstein and Phyllis Diller, The Wolfman and Frankenstein are just a few of the pairings that failed stupendously. But Zombie and Shark were confidant. America was ready for a primetime variety show hosted by the undead and a deadly shark. 

They pitched the show to CBS and the next fall, The Zombie and Shark Musical Variety Hour Which Sometimes, Very Rarely Mind You, Has a Cooking Segment at the End of the Program, Show premiered to the highest ratings in the history of CBS,  a record which was previously held by the televised launch of the first monkey in space. The nation was collectively smitten with the charismatic duo. Frequent guests included Harvey Korman, Carol Bernett and the man who invented processed cheese spread, Charles Gouda.

Zombie and Shark were the toast of Hollywood until The Smothers Brothers burst upon the scene with a retooled version of their old variety show. Initially called Mr. Bagorium’s Fantastique Ice Cream-A-Torium before it was changed the title everyone remembers, Now We’re Gonna Sing At You, the show was an instant hit for the Smoothers Brothers. Zombie and Shark were hastily removed from the spotlight.

Today, Zombie and Shark spend their sunset years in a retirement village in Florida, recreating their memorable match-up from Zombi 2 in the community pool every day at 3:00 with an evening show at 5:30. The audience, consisting entirely of retirees from surrounding communities, couldn’t be more pleased with the two minor celebrities.

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You Have Been Selected

Congratulations (place Government Work Program ID number here)! You have been selected in an extremely important and highly rewarding mission that will lift the spirits of this country while at the same time forwarding our government’s encroachment into outer space. If you are reading/inhaling this Informational Pamphlet /Nasal Insertion Pill (IPNIP) you are already on your way to Mars, strapped in your Gravitational Fun Chair and no doubt preparing for the task which awaits you. As you read/inhale this pamphlet, please, feel free to consume one (1) delicious Mutton Shake, compliments of the folks at Goodtime™ Mutton Shakes.

As you are well aware, the Earth and the Moon are no longer able to sustain the rate of growth in both population and industry that we have promoted over the last century. Since becoming the focus of a furious media blitzkrieg back in 2004, the Red Planet of Mars has been viewed as the next great suburban frontier, and, subsequently, the government has diverted billions of dollars from many useless public service programs to fund FLUMP’s (formerly NASA) excursion into the cosmos. To this end the American government, along with other coalition forces including the Mega Country™ Russia-Europe, recently incorporated America Part 2 (formerly Canada) and Cuba, have sent terraforming teams to Mars in order to establish an initial operational foothold. It is now the proud task of selected civilian/military government contractors and thousands of manual labor workers to build a massive infrastructure which will include a multitude of Terrestrial Housing Developments, Emotion Dumping Receptacles and McDonalds. You may be wondering, “What about robots? Why can’t they do this job? What’s wrong with them?” Firstly, that’s too many questions and secondly the notion that robots would be able to fulfill these posts by this time is the stuff of science fiction and popular fancy. Robots are designed for civil service employment, low-level management positions, and as dealers in casinos, not manual labor. Put that idea out of your mind. By the way, we can read your thoughts, so we’ll know if you really put that idea out of your mind.

Who then will be building this mammoth infrastructure on Mars if not robots?

That is where you, (place Government Work Program ID number here) come in. Thankfully the repeal of child labor laws in 2012, AKA Ross Perot’s Second Coming, means that no child will be left behind in his/her usefulness to our program. You can now join our government in charting the next great chapter in this nation’s history: American Colonial Usurpation, Phase 3 AKA I Can’t Believe It’s Not Earth. You will work along side prisoners, unskilled immigrants, animal/food hybrids, reality show contestants and other such individuals without regular employment/self-worth, in creating hospitable living conditions on Mars. Be advised, (place Government Work Program ID number here) this will be a difficult undertaking. You must overcome your size, your need for constant attention and nurturing and any residual attachment to your parents that you might have. You must understand your weaknesses and systematically neutralize them. Just think: human children can fit into spaces fully grown adult humans cannot; deep ground holes, sewer lines, duct work, air vents; use this to your advantage! Do not be discouraged by the fact that you have tiny limbs, or that your immune system has not completely developed, or that the recently discovered Martian Flesh-Eating Virus, which wiped out the first wave of development teams, has mutated into at least five other strains that we know about. Be emboldened by the knowledge that your diligence and hard work will pave the way for your fellow citizens to enjoy a more spacious, Mass Produced Entertainment-filled life on Mars.

Upon your arrival at the Martian Labor Corps base of operations, you will receive the following:

1.) Two (2) Meta-Terrain Oxygen Masks, with internal time release Strawberry Bubblegum Air Freshening Devices®, for work and leisure.

2.) Your choice of one (1) of the following Animated Nasal Insertion Videos:

a.) “Barney and the Martian Flesh-Eating Virus”, b.) “Popeye vs. the Old-Timey Martian Flesh-Eating Virus”, c.) “You’re Not My Martian Flesh-Eating Virus”, d.) “The Effects of the Martian Flesh-Eating Virus on the Human Anatomy and You”.

3.) One (1) Location Identifying Micro Pin, AKA/FYI “Monkey On Your Back”, that will be embedded at the top of your brain stem.

4.) One (1) Digital Music Nasal Insertion Disk of John Philip Souza’s greatest hits.

Any questions you might have after the disintegration of this Informational Pamphlet/ Nasal Insertion Pill, please direct to your nearest Ground-Level Field Supervisor. If you cannot locate one, one will find you. And don’t pick your nose. It’s disgusting. Remember, we can read your thoughts. We heard that. No, you’re a jerkhead-fart-brain.

In closing, if you are ever unsure of your own value in this vital operation, simply recall the words of expert marksman/child actor, Gary Coleman Clone 3, officially endorsed spokesperson for the Martian Labor Corps, “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout (place Government Work Program ID number here)?”

Good luck, and on behalf of President Arnold Schwarzenegger Clone 2, thank you.

Stewart Redgrave, Government Work Program ID Number: 98911132-2137888-12 Operations Manager, Martian Labor Corps

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