Archive for June, 2013

a-hijacking-poster-324x480I have a new review up at Zombie Hamster, for a film well worth checking out:

A Hijacking

Excellent stuff, great cast, completely believable. Check it out!

23-59-posterThere’s a new review up at Zombie Hamster! This time, it’s the Malaysian-Singaporean supernatural story, 23:59. I quite enjoyed its unconventional approach. Good stuff.

Check it out

images-1The living dead are certainly a lively bunch of late. Movies, books, graphic novels, video games, and even a well-reviewed television drama concern themselves with our obsession for all things zombified. Admittedly, I can’t get enough of the reanimated dead, which spurs my curiosity over their enduring popularity. In other words, what is it about zombies that is so damned appealing?

If you’re reading this, there’s a better than average chance that you’re human, to one degree or another; I’m not going to get into semantics about it. Let’s just accept the fact that for better or worse, we’re all carbon-based, bipedal life forms and leave it at that. As humans, there is little that we enjoy more than ourselves. We are the most self-interested, self-serving, self-worshiping species on the planet. We love ourselves, and are unabashed about celebrating our very human-ness. It’s what we do, and we’re rather adept at it. Being human, there are two things we do more prodigiously than anything else: consume and reproduce. Is it any coincidence that these are the only activities that zombies engage in?

How many times have you seen a mother with her baby, saying something to the effect of, “I just wanna eat you up?” From the Bible to the Donner Party to a certain Uruguayan rugby team, from Jeffrey Dahmer to Albert Fish, tales of cannibalism stir a sort of fascinated revulsion in most people, myself included. There is something that compels us to wonder, “Would I do that? Could I do that?” This is a moral dilemma the living dead don’t have to live with. Their rewired DNA simply says, “Eat,” and they do. If, for whatever reason, they don’t finish their meal, the person who was bitten becomes one of them. Consume and reproduce.

More than ever, we are one nation under medication. If a kid gets unruly, they’re given Adderol and Ritalin; if an adult has trouble coping with life, it’s time for Prozac, Lithium, or countless other chemical compounds that serve to shut down negative emotions. Of course, they also shut down positive emotions, neutral emotions, and pretty much every other emotion as well. To deprive a person of their emotions, positive or negative, is to remove their very humanity. I understand that there are cases when people need medication to get through difficult aspects of life, but the rush to medicate that is currently in vogue is disturbing, to say the least.

To take another angle, consider this: in the United States, we have had to endure leaders whose philosophies all but demand blind faith and allegiance, without question or introspection, regardless of the horrors perpetrated, deaths caused, and blatant hypocrisy; to question any of it was considered un-American, plain and simple. It doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to think that this individual (and, of course, his followers) doubted the humanity of those who disagreed with him. In order to live under these oppressive conditions, many Americans willingly abandoned their humanity to accommodate their patriotic bloodlust. Anyone who found waterboarding or the appalling images from Abu Grahib appealing had certainly given in to the collective hive mind of victory at any cost, despite the very real human toll. By endorsing such actions, if only by doing nothing and turning a blind eye, we forfeited our humanity, thereby taking us one step closer to the armies of the non-living.

It is not my intention to demean our service people; I have nothing but respect for those who choose to wear the uniform and serve. Rather, I am pointing a finger at the leaders who endorse the dehumanization of our enemies, and our allowing it to happen and not bring those truly responsible to justice for their actions. As a nation, as a species, we have lost a large part of our collective soul since September 11. We could have taken the higher road, but we chose to let our nation’s destiny be dictated by the power- and money-hungry. For that matter, the perpetrators of the attacks on September 11 were brainwashed by way of their own particular dogmatic beliefs, which are also, conveniently, dehumanizing.

Since World War I (when medical advances made it possible for injured soldiers to return to civilian life), we have seen countless men, shell-shocked and horribly maimed, who unwittingly and unfortunately fuel our fascination and revulsion. We have become so used to seeing the horrors of war that we scarcely notice it anymore, which I find most horrifying of all. Add to the mix that the wars in which the United States has been involved in for the last sixty years have been morally ambiguous at best, there is a groundswell of anger, of rage, at what has happened to our service people in conflicts that are, at best, difficult to truly justify.

As a culture, horrific violence and injustice have become commonplace; we see it every day. More and more, it is accompanied by a sense of futility, that there is nothing we can do about it. We are warned that serial killers could be living next door, that predators lurk in every darkened corner of our cities and towns, that political and religious leaders are lust-crazed lunatics, and the message seems to be that for most of us, we just have to accept these things as part of normal American life. Our deepest, darkest fears are sensationalized for ratings points, and our inability to confront those fears causes many to medicate, barricade, and insulate from life itself. In effect, we are becoming dehumanized. The problem is that bad things happen when people become dehumanized.

Is it any wonder, then, that the idea of a zombie apocalypse has proven so appealing as entertainment? Given a basic plot (‘something’ happened, and the dead have come back to consume and reproduce), people can imagine themselves as taking charge of their destinies, fighting back against the shambling hordes who were once their neighbors, coworkers, and family members, finally unleashing the suppressed rage created by modern life and re-creating the world in a flurry of head-shots and improvised weaponry. Within the constructs of zombie lore, there is a very distinguishable line between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ If we don’t eradicate them, we become them, existing only to consume and reproduce which, ironically, is all that a great many of us do already. Mostly, I think we enjoy envisioning the battle between the living and the undead because it provides a cathartic experience for acting out the anger and rage over what so-called ‘modern society’ has become.

We want to kill the zombies because, when all is said and done, they are a reflection of ourselves.

contagionI found this the other day, from a blog I started and abandoned back in 2011 and I figured, why not post it here?

Disclaimer: This piece is written for those who have already seen the film Contagion. If you haven’t and don’t want to know what happens, then don’t read the essay.  

On the surface, Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion is about a lethal virus tearing a path across the planet. We are along for the ride, from what may or may not be Patient Zero, until such time as a vaccine has been developed and the virus locked away in cryo-storage, ostensibly for research purposes.

Beneath the surface, however, there is much more at hand than a simple ‘killer plague’ movie. Released just two days prior to the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Contagion is an allegorical, haunting, and often painful look at our species and the way that we buckle under the slightest of pressures. Most tellingly, of all the cities represented as the story unfolds and the virus rages, New York is nowhere to be seen and, unless I’m mistaken, is not even mentioned. Even more telling is the conspicuous absence of police and firefighters, the very people we look to in times of trouble, and who played significant parts in the days and weeks that followed the September 11 attacks. The reason, as I see it, is an overt attempt to make us think of that cruel and stupid day ten years ago and the quixotic ‘War on Terror’ which ensued. By deliberately removing such iconic subjects, we are forced all the more to think of them, because they have become synonymous with disaster. The only real authority we see are military personnel in gas masks, whose presence reinforces the sense of absolute chaos our world has fallen into. The politicians, true to form, have vanished into their underground bunkers, where they will comfortably ride the storm out while the people they claim to serve are dying in the streets.

The story begins on Day 2, with an infected woman who has been traveling abroad. She may or may not have had an affair, and many of us assume that her acquiring the disease is a result of, and punishment for, her infidelity, thus beginning the central theme of the film, moralizing on things about which we have no knowledge. We learn early on (and are shown numerous examples) that the virus is spread through fomite transmission, which reflects the hand-washing and -sanitizing mania of several years ago, not to mention the cultural xenophobia so prevalent in the last decade. The question of the virus’ (eventually named MEV-1) origin persists throughout the film: is it a case of outright bioterrorism, a conspiracy launched by the pharmaceutical industry to generate profits, or a government experiment gone awry and if so, which government unleashed it? In the desperate chase to maintain a live specimen and develop a vaccine, we are subjected to political grandstanding, special interest obfuscation, self-serving medicos and bureaucrats, and a muckraking Australian blogger (shades of Rupert Murdoch) whose miraculous cure by homeopathy is ultimately shown to be nothing more than medicine-show profiteering off of the fears of a populace desperate for protection.

Although the pandemic is a global disaster, Contagion is an intensely personal film. Unlike the disaster films of the 1970s, there are very few special effects set pieces, no soap-opera cheesiness, and no emotional swells of orchestral music to accompany the drama. The music is sparse and simple, and we get only small glimpses into the character’s lives, which echoes the disaster coverage to which we have become all too accustomed. What the people are doing right now is what matters, good, bad, or otherwise. This minimalist approach to character development actually makes the characters more accessible than if we knew their entire life stories, because any of them could be any of us, particularly because moral baggage usually just serves to allow us to place ourselves above the characters and therefore renders them unrelatable.

As I write this, there is an endless barrage of imagery on the television from ten years ago, the majority of which shows how we, as a nation, came together in the face of national tragedy and how so many worked tirelessly, side by side, to pull victims from the rubble of the Towers. This ‘strength of the human spirit’ theme is pervasive in TV disaster coverage, whether it’s 9/11, the ’89 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Northridge earthquake, and countless others. I agree that in those times of crisis, many people came together and it was an amazing thing to experience. These disasters, however, were severely localized, which allowed most people to experience them from a safe distance. With a global pandemic, things quickly degenerate to the level of depravity witnessed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake of 2010. Lacking the relative comfort of safety, authority, and separation, the human race largely goes feral. Unfortunately, I believe this to be a fairly accurate forecast of how things will be if such a catastrophe were to occur.

When a vaccine is developed, predictably, those in positions of power and influence are the first to receive a life-saving dose while the rest of humanity must wait until their birthday-based lottery number is called, a process that will take years to complete. In a final, savage stroke of irony, we finally learn that the global pandemic was the result of an infected bat dropping a banana it was eating, which was then eaten by a pig. The pig is taken to market and sold to a restaurant and is handled by a chef with no apparent regard for kitchen hygiene, who shakes hands with the woman who became Patient Zero. No corporate conspiracy, no evil government machinations, no terrorists, just blind chance and carelessness and that, perhaps, is the genius of Contagion: as humans, we have a desperate, driving need to place some sort of significance to the things that happen to us. Our collective ego demands that there be something much larger, something more epic than just a bat, a banana, a pig, and a slob to be the vessel of our ruination. It’s too random for us to fathom because if such a seemingly minor series of events can be our undoing, then maybe we’re not at the top of the food chain after all and for many, that realization is the ultimate terror.

I would suggest then that the real villain of Contagion is not the virus; rather, it is the human race’s uncanny ability to discard its humanity with reckless abandon and degenerate into a torch-and-pitchfork mentality the moment things go sideways while, at the same moment, steadfastly proclaiming ourselves to be the masters of the universe when in reality, we face extinction in countless, minuscule ways every day. Unnerving, unflinching and raw, Contagion is a cautionary lesson in social evolution that demands our attention.

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned…
   — Yeats

bg_german_expressionism_by_fikey-d38mld5The first installment of my series on the German Expressionist movement has landed at Zombie Hamster, and I couldn’t be happier. Big thanks to my boss Colin, who has given me the freedom to go nuts with this most important era of film, and one which I hold very near and dear to my heart.

Through A Fractured Lens

It’s really not as dull as it may sound; this era was the literal genesis for what we now to be the language of the modern horror film. Next time, we’ll take a look at the first vampire film, and how it carried over to the Golden Age of Hollywood horror. 

The-Cook-327x480I have a new review up at Zombie Hamster. It was…difficult. It turns out that after years of writing about movies, I realized that, until now, I’ve simply not bothered on those occasions when something came along that I didn’t care for, aside from a raging tirade I sent to Video Watchdog years ago, regarding a steaming cinematic turd called Scream. They didn’t publish it, and I’m glad for that. This time, however, I didn’t have the luxury of blowing it off. In short, here it is.

The Cook

 

spoiler-alertSpoiler Alert!

Is there no more idiotic phrase in the English language? It sounds like something a third-grader would come up with, and something no one but a fanboy in a severe state of arrested adolescence would actually say, like those guys who are really, deeply, into My Little Pony because seriously, what the hell is that about, anyway? When one considers the sum total of all intelligent and pants-on-head-stupid people using the internets, I am nevertheless amazed that this verbal turd rose to prominence.

Seriously, if I’m talking with someone (in person; it’s kinda like the internets but with faces and the potential for punching) and they actually use that phrase, it takes all the strength I have just to keep from smacking them in the head with a barn beam. Because I should. Everyone should.

Everyone should carry a large, cumbersome piece of lumber with them at all times, for the express purpose of inflicting cranial trauma upon the dimwitted, dunderheaded perpetrators of dipshittery who use that most loathsome of phrases.

I mean, I get it. It’s a phrase of consideration, meant to warn someone that they’re about to see, hear, or read something that might give away critical information at a point in which they’re not ready to receive it. Which is admirable. It’s not what those two words represent that annoys me; rather, it’s the words themselves. I understand we’re only human, and that the internets obliterated the million-monkeys-at-a-million-typewriters theory somewhere around 1996. That said, couldn’t we, as a species, strive for better? A loftier goal that sounds less, well, infantile?

I digress.

The point of this post was, originally, to say that from time to time, I may write a piece about a movie, or a book, or a plate of shrimp, and I’m going to write it as though the reader has already seen, read, or eaten it. And I understand that unless I want to be accused of rampant dickery, it’s on me to devise some sort of warning for those who may not have gotten round to it and don’t yet want to know that Rosebud was a sled, Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze, Deckard is a Replicant, Cobb was dreaming, and everyone on Oceanic flight 815 died in the crash. And Twilight is shit.

So, I’ll be working on some sort of warning, and I promise it won’t sound like something cooked up by an idiot.

Even though it was.

cabinet-du-dr-caligari-03-gOne of the many fun things about studying film is learning about the times in which certain films were created. History plays an enormous part when it comes to understanding, for instance, why Citizen Kane is still considered by many to be one of the best films ever made, or why Night of the Living Dead was a landmark horror film. History matters, because history provides context.

In any year, in any era, popular culture is often a direct reflection of not only the fads, but also the social, political, economic, and cultural trends and taboo subjects. George Romero says that casting Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead was never about ethnicity; rather, he says it was that Jones was simply the best actor who auditioned for the role. However, casting a black man as the male lead, in 1968, especially in a role where his character is more resourceful and more of a leader than his white counterparts made the movie socially relevant, whether that was the intention or not. With regard to Kane, one needs to understand that the story was a thinly-veiled hatchet piece against publishing tycoon and media tyrant William Randolph Hearst, in order to grasp the sheer audacity of Orson Welles’ undertaking.

In composing an upcoming series of articles on the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s, I realized that while I could identify a film from that time, I didn’t know much about what was happening in Germany that gave way to this highly stylized form of filmmaking (and theater, architecture, and painting as well). As it turns out, just about everything that was happening politically, economically, and socially, not to mention Germany’s position in global politics at the end of the first World War, were all direct contributors to this particular style of art and design. So now, as I dim the lights and cue up The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Nosperatu, Der Golem, and a few others, I will be able to better grasp the full vision the filmmakers intended, and the movies will be all the better for my impromptu history lesson.

The articles will be landing soon at Zombie Hamster

 

This is the part where things begin to get exciting, and I must apologize for the lag between posts. The manuscript is complete, and now I step away from the novel completely for a couple of weeks, and then return to it to see if I’m still happy with it. And I think I will be; I got to say all the things I wanted to say, and in such a way that is appropriate for the characters and the setting. The research has paid off and by mid-July, Revival should be out and available for purchase.

Until then, it’s a crash course in self-marketing, an endeavor in which I have absolutely no experience. Hence, the Facebook link thingy to the left of this post. By the way, does anyone know how to add a Facebook ‘Share’ button to a WordPress site? I’m reading everything I can find about how to sell a book, and would gladly accept any info/advice that anyone would care to offer. Seriously. I need help here, so tell your friends, your family, the person next to you in line at the grocery store. I’m not proud.

Here’s the premise, seeing as how I haven’t yet mentioned it here. Revival is the story of a traveling tent show revival preacher in the American South, in the 1940s, his use of scripture as justification to do very bad things, and the former carnival worker who may be his undoing. While religion plays a part in the story, this is not, however,  a religious book; you will not find it next to the Left Behind series. It resides firmly in the horror/dark thriller genre, and it is my hope that it provides a few dark thrills.

So that’s it for now. Stay tuned, there’s more to come!