Archive for July, 2013

Nerd Life, yo.First off, I use the ‘journey’ in a sardonic way; unless the journey in question relates to actual place-to-place travel or a 1970s rock band, I think it’s pretentious as hell to use the word to describe one’s life and experiences. Anyway…

I was an odd child. Too smart for my public school peers, I spent a lot of time shuttling around to various programs that were designed to feed my precocious brain, with varying levels of success. I had very little in common with the kids my age who went to the local grade school, other than outperforming them which, naturally, led to lots of bullying.

I was also a couple of years younger than the kids in my neighborhood and, while I could keep up with them in most subjects, I was still the young one, a matter which was never illustrated more clearly than the summer day when I was eight years old. We were riding our bikes home from the library when my front tire hitched on the seam where the asphalt of the road meets the concrete of the curb gutter, and I was thrown. I landed on the curb, tearing open my left knee. The other kids rode on home, leaving me there, blood running down my leg and into my shoe. I managed to get back on my slightly bent bike and rode the mile or so back to my house, and Mom promptly drove me to the hospital for stitches. As the doctor drained the pus and picked the bits of dirt from my wound, I was reading. When he pulled out the (seemingly) giant needle and sewed me up, I was reading.

That was the summer I abandoned the kids from the neighborhood. From that point forward, my summers were spent going to the library and back, sitting in my room or in the backyard, consuming books at a furious rate. One day, Dad brought home an 8mm film projector and as it so happened, the local library loaned out 8mm movies. So, in between all the books, more and more of which had to do with movies, I sequestered myself in the darkened hallway in our house and watched, fascinated, at the mini-dramas and comedies that played out on the white painted wall. After a while we graduated to a 16mm projector, which led to a visit to the main library downtown, where I was allowed to take out Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Nosferatu. I was hooked.

I also got deep into model building, which I had taken an interest in when Dad was recovering from his first heart attack. Dad was an insanely gifted builder, and I enjoyed putting to practice the techniques I had learned from him. Eventually, I went on to win a couple of contests. But still, my abiding love was books. Each Friday, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the Bookmobile, the mobile library that offered more eclectic selections than the local branch had.

And this was how most of my summers were spent, until high school or so. Summer also meant that the local UHF station, Channel 44, would show 1950s sitcoms every night, which I loved. The same station ran The Monkees in the afternoons; the bizarre show and its great music (I’m still a hardcore Michael Nesmith fan to this day) were a staple of my daily summer existence.

I was occasionally lonely, but most of the time I was just alone. Other kids were meaning less and less to me as I went deeper into my world of books and movies, a world in which I had more control and, subsequently, more pleasure. By and by, I made a friend named Neil who was similarly inclined, and we spent entire days taking the bus around town to used book stores, him looking for Star Trek paperbacks, and me looking mostly for horror and film books. We snuck into movies no one our age would have been allowed to see. Being a nerd alone was just fine; however, being in the company of a fellow nerd was liberating. To understand that I wasn’t the only one, there were others out there who were also obsessed with stuff that was off the beaten track was…nirvana. Nerdvana. Whatever it was, it gradually brought me back into the world of people around my age, who didn’t see me as a nuisance or a punching bag, who made me feel happy with being myself. From an early age, my friend dreamt of going to Hollywood and doing comedy and voice work, which he has done, with considerable success. My dream was to be a writer. I spent a lot of time dreaming of being a writer.

Now, at this most tender age, I finally have the confidence to stop dreaming of being a writer, and have become one. I guess I needed to go through some of the things I’ve gone through, seen what I’ve seen, felt what I’ve felt, before I found my voice.  So now, I write about movies, for a site that likes what I have to say, and the way that I choose to say it. My first novel is complete, and all I need is one literary agent to take me on. I’ve waited this long; a little longer is no big deal.

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250px-SerpentandtherainbowI am not a fan of Wes Craven. While I do like The Hills Have Eyes and The Serpent and the Rainbow, I think the majority of his work is derivative and extremely overrated. In particular, Last House on the Left troubles me. While part of it is intensely personal horror, focusing on the loss of control over one’s sanity and one’s self (truly horrifying, to say the least), the other part is this lame schtick-laden goofy cop thing that subverts the intensity of the bad stuff. I just don’t understand why he felt it necessary to do that.

The Scream movies are basically Craven’s way of saying, “I have nothing new to bring to this party, so I’m gonna re-package the same old crap and feed it to you. But I’ll feed it to you with a smug wink to let you know that I know that you know it’s the same old crap, and that’ll make it new.”

I digress.

I recently watched The Serpent and the Rainbow for the first time since its premiere, and found that it has only gotten better with age. Read on, if you dare:

Happy Happy Island People at Zombie Hamster

PassionI’ll be the first to admit, I was pretty stoked to see that De Palma had a new film coming out, and that it looked like a return to the kind of voyeuristic, warped, erotic thrillers with which he had made a name for himself all those years ago. However, after having seen his new film, Passion, I was left to wonder if maybe I was expecting too much, and had to consider that sometimes, one’s own shoes might be the most difficult to fill.

Passion at Zombie Hamster 

In my youth, as a growing devotee of film, I came across a book at the library, titled The Golden Turkey Awards. This book, penned by part-time film critic and full-time idiot Michael Medved, took great pains to mock many of the less-than-stellar efforts by movie makers down the years. In his opinion, Medved bestowed the title of Worst Director Of All Time on none other than Ed Wood, director of Glenn or GlendaBride of the Monster, and the immortal Plan Nine From Outer Space. Talk about edgy; picking on Ed Wood is about as challenging as looking at fish in a barrel.

I’ll be the first to admit that Ed Wood was not a talented writer, actor, or director. His films are difficult to watch, and their imperfections are the stuff of legend. I get that, and I’ll not contest the opinion that surely there must have been other things he could have done better, like maybe selling vacuum cleaners or being a chimney sweep. HOWEVER…Ed had heart, and a genuine love for movies that transcend the quality of his oeuvre and that, if nothing else, sets him apart from the countless number of hacks who commit crap to celluloid with a paycheck, and little else, in mind.

Medved, who I won’t bother to link or tag, was once upon a time a somewhat decent film critic; unfortunately, he decided at some point that he could only review films through the tainted lens of his personal beliefs and politics, completely subjugating the objectivism that is necessary for competent film analysis. And that’s okay, because he makes the rest of us look awesome by comparison. But his empty-headed stance on Ed Wood pisses me off, and I’ll tell you why.

If one is going to attempt to bestow such a title on a filmmaker, there are a great many qualifications that must be considered. In my mind, a truly awful filmmaker must be able to evoke terrible performances from decent actors, must be willing to throw narrative out the window in favor of pretty visuals, put more thought into the trailers than the actual films, and must, above all else, embrace the cynicism of Hollywood which dictates box office receipts are infinitely more important than competent storytelling. With these factors in mind, there can be only one ‘filmmaker’ who is truly deserving of being called the worst ever.

Michael Goddamn Bay.

No other director has achieved the heights of empty-headed nonsense peddling than Bay; his films all but scream at audiences: “I am a big, stupid, expensive movie! I am going to fill your head with noise and overwhelm your senses with crap and you will pay me to do it, again and again!” And it works. It bloody well works. This speaks volumes, not just about Bay’s ability to make people line up to see his tripe again and again, but also about how low the bar for American filmmaking has sunk. We are living in an age when dunderheaded nincompoopery is openly celebrated as popular culture (Honey Boo-Boo and Kardashians? Is this really who we are in the twenty-first century?).

Michael Bay is the storyteller for a generation of idiots, and is largely responsible for helping turn them into idiots, sheep willingly herded into the queue at the googolplex, to watch his latest cinematic turd splash into the empty space where their brains are supposed to be. Moronic dialogue? No problem, just blow something up. Plot holes through which a cow could easily be thrown? Blow up something bigger. No clue what to do next? Easy – just have the stars staring slack-jawed into the distance while the camera spins around them. Take thirty shots where five would suffice, it’ll confuse them into thinking something important is happening. No filmmaker, past or present, better exemplifies the cynical commercialism and bloated-budget mentality that is almost singlehandedly killing the American film industry than this clown.

sunrise_murnau-580x396And so we reach the end of my abbreviated retrospective on the German Expressionist era of filmmaking. It was fascinating to take some time learning about the sociopolitical dynamics of the movement, and to see the interconnectedness of a society on the brink of a national breakdown, not to mention the ominous foreshadowing of what was to come in the years ahead.

To my line of thinking, and this is hardly a unique standpoint, film is oftentimes a direct reflection of the society in which it is produced, and carries a great many messages to those who are inclined to look for them.

Exodus & Rebirth

Thanks to all who have checked it out, and there will be more historical retrospectives to come.

bigstock_story_2226743Okay, I finally have a bit of news to share on the book front. My novel, Revival, is at the final draft stage. It is at this point that I would upload it to the e-book aggregator and let them have at it. Except I’ve decided against going that route. Let me explain. No, there’s not enough time.

Let me sum up.

I gave the manuscript to a trusted colleague for review, and the feedback I received far surpassed any expectations I held, so much so that I am now going to take the admittedly more difficult track, which is to find a literary agent who will shop the manuscript around to various publishers. Yes, this way takes patience and perseverance, two things which, historically, I have in short supply. I am, however, held aloft on a cloud of positivity which, again, is a rather precious commodity for me. but this is how we grow, or so I’m told.

Seriously, his review of my work is something I want to frame and hang on my wall, it’s that amazing and if all goes well, he’ll get cover blurbs if I have anything to do with it. After reading it, I just sat there for a while in a daze, amazed at how well things are going of late. I guess I spent enough time waiting for something to happen and am finally ready to actually take charge of this life.

However, getting the story published the traditional way will allow me an inroad to organizations that electronic self-publishing will not, and will give me that most desired thing, treasured by all writers: legitimacy. There is nothing wrong with e-publishing; many have done it, and some have done well. To my mind, at this point in my life, I want to be able to walk into a bookstore and see Revival on a shelf, to pick it up and pretend to be engrossed in it, to tell some innocent shopper that they might want to check it out and walk away giggling. Because I’m that mature.

So yes, there will likely be rejection letters, because that’s how things work. If I am to try to make a life of writing, however, I have to do it this way, if only to say that I tried.

So…Revival will not be available this summer for Kindle, Nook, iBooks or any other platform. It’s written and done, and now comes the hard part: shifting out of creative mode and into marketing mode. Wish me well, it’s going to be tough. But if it pays off, it will be awesome.

MetropolisThe second installment on my series of examinations into the world of German Expressionism is now at Zombie Hamster, In this essay, we take a look at two of the most influential films ever made: one provides the basic blueprint for all vampire stories (whilst cleverly portraying a growing sense of national xenophobia), while the other is still considered by many to be the best science fiction film ever made (whilst illustrating the ever-expanding rift between the privileged and the poor). I’m quite enjoying visiting these classic films, which I regard as dear old friends. Curious? Check it out:

A World Distorted