Sunday, December 13, 2009

Good, Bad and Ugly














Keepin' busy... Sharin' the wealth...

Theatrical

Alien: The Director's Cut ****
The Thing (1982) ****
Prince of Darkness (1986) ***1/2
Halloween (1978) ***1/2
They Live (1988) ***1/2
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans ***
A Christmas Carol: Disney 3D (2009) ***
Inglourious Basterds ***
The Box ***
Thirst (Korea) ***
A Serious Man **1/2
Surrogates **1/2
The House of the Devil *1/2

The Films of Akira Kurosawa
Sanshiro Sugata (1943) ****
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945) ***
No Regrets For Our Youth (1946) ***1/2
One Wonderful Sunday (1947) ****
Drunken Angel (1948) ****
The Quiet Duel (1949) **1/2
Stray Dog (1949) ****
Scandal (1950) **1/2
Rashomon (1950) ***1/2
The Idiot (1951) ***
Ikuru ***1/2
I Live In Fear ***


DVD/Home Video
L.A. Confidential: 2-Disc Special Edition (1997) ****
Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) ****
Homicide: Criterion Collection (1991) ****
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: Criterion Collection (1976) ***1/2
Samurai Rebellion: Criterion Collection (1967, Japan) ***1/2
Withnail & I: Criterion Collection (1986, UK) ***1/2
Life On Mars: The Complete Series (BBC) ***1/2
I Am So Proud Of You (Don Hertzfeldt) ***1/2
Kill!: Criterion Collection (1968, Japan) ***1/2
Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (1980) ***1/2
Cloverfield ***1/2
Ashes To Ashes: Series 1 & 2 (BBC) ***
The Boat That Rocked (UK, 2009) ***
Broadway Danny Rose (1984) ***
Stardust Memories (1980) ***
Vicky Christina Barcelona ***
The Sky Crawlers (Japan) ***
Stella: Live In Boston ***
Sword of the Beast: Criterion Collection (1965, Japan) **1/2
Samurai Spy: Criterion Collection (1965, Japan) **1/2
Castaway on the Moon (Korea) **1/2
Kung Fu Chefs (Hong Kong) **1/2
Flesh and Bone (1993) **1/2
The Detective (1968) **1/2
Max Payne: Unrated **1/2
Som Tum (Thai) **1/2
Blood: The Last Vampire (2009, Japan) **
West 32nd (Korea) **
Bandidas (2006) **
Lady Cop and Papa Crook (HK) *1/2

Rifftrax
The Bourne Identity **1/2

Music
Miles Davis: The Complete "In A Silent Way" Sessions ****
Miles Davis: The Columbia Years (Vol. 1-4) ****
Big Trouble in Little China (score by Carpenter/Howarth) ****
The Detective (score by Jerry Goldsmith) ****
The Third Man (score by Anton Karas) ****
The Killers (score by Miklos Rozsa) ****
The Beatles: 2009 Remasters Box ****
The Vanishing (score by Jerry Goldsmith) ***1/2
The Sky Crawlers (score by Kenji Kawai) ***1/2
John Coltrane: Live at Birdland (1963) ***1/2
The 'Burbs (score by Jerry Goldsmith) ***1/2
Tom Waits: Glitter and Doom Live ***1/2
Alien 3 (score by Elliot Goldenthal) ***
Mark Knopfler: Get Lucky ***
Colin James Hay: Looking For Jack (1987) **1/2
Clarence Clemons: Hero (1985) **1/2

Literature
The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories (Ernest Hemingway) ****
Motherless Brooklyn (Jonathan Lethem) ****
Chinatown Beat (Henry Chang) ***1/2
Downtown (Ed McBain) ***1/2
The Hunted (Elmore Leonard) ***
Riding The Rap (Elmore Leonard) ***

Comics
Die Hard: Year One - #1&2 (Boom!) ***
Predator - #1&2 (Dark Horse) **1/2
Ghostbusters: Displaced Aggression - #1&2 (IDW) **

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finding Strength

An Occasional Blogger's Journey
After A Rough Few Years,
Toward Feeling Like a Person Again.
Part Two: The New Religion
(please scroll down for "Part One: The Old Days")

Those were the old days. The days of healthy promise and lifelong dreams that threatened to never come true. Twelve hour shifts of grunt work in a hair net and heavy, non-slip boots. But then, as they often do, things got better.

I earned myself a position as a video editor at a nationwide press-clipping agency in the big city of Boston. It actually paid less money per-hour than the labor gigs, but it was work that was somewhat related to my field (I'd been adept at editing video since my high-school cable-access days) and it was city work. All my life, I'd been attracted to the urban life. Having grown up in a small Massachusetts town -- and on the dirt-driveway-and-swamp end of it, at that -- the concrete canyons and neon-soaked nights were always the spots my heart called home. That's natural, I suppose. They say the dream of Born Metropolitans is often the quiet little house on the tree-lined street in the country. So it seems human to me that where ever we're from and whatever we have, we often want to be somewhere and have something else.

And so it was that at the age of 24, I was going to become a Young Commuter. The lifeblood of the Metro Machine. Taking the train into the city in the morning, coming home late at night. I remember speeding my way into Boston on the commuter rail train every morning in the beginning days, staring out the window with the wonder of a child, watching all the local towns whizzing by, excited, and shocked that none of the people around me seemed interested enough to be doing the same. I'd wonder, "How can they just bury their faces in their newspapers? How does someone ever get used to this?" A year later, some friends and I got found a tiny, cheap apartment in Boston's North End and the dream continued. I was no longer a commuter, but a Young Urbanite. The original Pizzaria Regina was my front yard. Haymarket Square and Government Center were my backyard. Boston Common was my playground. There was a rough patch at the job... Having come from a blue collar background, I was still fairly inexperienced in certain behaviors needed to survive in the office-work world, and they hadn't quite gotten used to my often out-there sense of humor, though we all warmed to each other's ways and everything got very well smoothed out. Having performed one above-and-beyond assignment after another (so conscientious was I), my raises were always top-level... and I was given the title of Evening Shift Supervisor, even though my "staff" was composed of three people, myself included.

I started making what was, to me, real money. I was never late with bills, school loans or rent, spending very little on food and night life. My best friend was a manager at the city's largest cinema at the time, so I was happily awarded free admission to pretty much any movie I liked for the better part of three years. Then I did the next logical thing. I applied for a few extra credit cards and lived the high life for a while. Paying for meals, traveling a little, buying three or four new DVDs every payday at $20.00 a pop, going on the occasional date whenever fortune smiled upon me enough. I wasn't an extreme spender, by any stretch. I didn't buy or lease any new cars. I didn't go to Las Vegas one birthday when I'd hoped to... I always made my minimum payments and on-time, behaving, in short, just like the good little consumer everyone said "kept this world going strong."

And then, one morning in August 2002, the General Manager called two of my three-person department -- that is, my direct boss Mary Anne and myself -- into the break room. With no warning and completely out-of-the-blue, the GM told us we were being laid off. Not next month or next week, either... Right now.

"Sign this form accepting this severance agreement and please be out by noon," was the overall tone. We were stunned. Mary Anne had given this company something in the neighborhood of fifteen years... and I, seven of my own. We'd become very close friends over my time in the office. After my aforementioned rough patch at the start of my employment there, we'd often joke about how many times I'd either nearly been fired or had wanted to quit. And we'd gotten past all that to become each other's friendly shoulder to lean on. There was a recession going on, if you recall, and she had just made the decision to sell her city property and try to find something less pricey. I'd left my North End apartment after a couple of years, myself, for a better but further-away residence just outside the city. Now, both our lives were effectively in limbo. We cleaned out our cubicles, jumped in her Jeep, found a beach-comber seafood tavern somewhere North of Boston and proceeded to get pretty drunk. Toasting one another for our abilities and what would surely be a new freedom of some kind, we ate and laughed until later that night... when the sadness of being chucked aside and effectively being told you weren't as necessary as you thought set in.

I'd never been let go before. Never been fired, laid off, or even reprimanded for anything very serious. Ever been laid off? If not, I don't recommend the sensation. In my case, I became sort of defiant. I knew I had to find work but I felt I wouldn't be out of work for long. Not someone of my stature and ability. A local television station or something would come along and snatch me right up, tout de suite! I signed up for unemployment right away at pretty much everyone's direction. That allotment, added to my savings (a few thousand) and so-called severance package (another couple of thousand) would be plenty to keep my bills paid and living well for the short time it would take me to find work. Like the Tom Waits song said, I was "sleepin' 'til the crack of noon, midnight howlin' at the moon." And I'd often joke that I was living the life of "Kramer" on TV's Seinfeld -- I'd just wake up and take the day's adventures however they rolled in, catching a lot of movies, not writing as often as I should have... Pretty much just being lazy. I'd never really had any kind of extended holiday as a kid or working adult, having gone from high school straight into college and working full time. I was 32 and thought I'd take it easy for a while. A few weeks, maybe. Enjoy myself.

My few months of unemployment stretched out to eighteen months. That's one and a half years of being told "thanks for stopping by" and "we'll be in-touch" by pretty much every television, radio and print organization in Boston. The recession had begun hitting everyone and nationwide hiring began to fall off.

And it's true... Rejection is a hard thing to deal with if it's all you hear. You begin to feel worthless and unnecessary... and you start to believe it. You spend your money far less freely (which is something we've all come to understand, lately). You spend a lot of time alone. You feel isolated. You spend more time in bed in the winter months, because you figure it's cold outside so why bother even getting up today? You start putting on weight again, as a body with no daily purpose simply eats and sleeps and starts caring less about itself, since nobody who's hiring seems very keen to see it, anyway. There's nobody out there who wants to see you, it feels... Nobody out there who cares. Sure you've got family, some friends, but you don't want to trouble them with what's going on, don't want anyone to know the toll this whole thing's taking upon you. You smile and say "everything's fine," hoping people don't suspect what you're really feeling... Fear and loneliness.

Then the money starts to vanish. What savings you had start to dry up. You've gone through your allowance of unemployment benefit. All the time you're out of work, you're able to keep up with bills and loans... but now it's all run out. You start looking around your room, wondering how much you could get for your personal possessions. How many CDs or books it might take for you to buy some food this week (maybe something extravagant, like hamburgers!) or cover some of the month's gas bill or rent.

Then one day you're offered a job, the only job you can get, it seems. The only job that will have you. It's at the local video store. It's for half the money you were making before, and your pay is sporadic at best since you just started and they're trying you out as a part-timer to see if you're worth keeping around in this market. The Store Manager seems a decent guy, having offered you the job sensing that you'd be a good fit there, being educated and knowledgeable. In fact, nobody there even knows a third of what you know about the business, having followed it as a hobby for the previous ten years or more, just for fun. So you're hired, for better or worse. And the real chaos begins almost immediately.

The Bill Collectors start calling. There is a special circle in hell set aside for Bill Collectors, I hope. For they are the most ruthless and despicable people I've ever had the misfortune to run across. Having had next-to-no-money for the previous two months before being hired at the Video Store, I missed two months' worth payments on each of my credit cards. Some one the minimums were only $30.00 a month, where others had skyrocketed up to $230.00 per month, which was now completely impossible amount to reach. Never mind that you've never had a problem making payments until this point. Never mind that you've been able to keep paying, mostly on-time, even though you've been out of work for nearly two years. "We don't care," is their apparent motto.

Collection agencies, I'd read somewhere during my experiences, often intentionally hire ex-convicts to work their phones, since these men have rougher, more threatening voices and can just skirt the edge of being threatening by reading from a prepared script laying out your problems and their plans for you but doing it in a scary-sounding way, as if you'd better listen up here, Charlie, or something bad might happen.

One phone call from a Collection Agency had said to me, "If you don't pay up soon, you'll have to face the Man in the Black Robe." Fearful in my naivete, I blurted out, "Who? Death ?!" The Collector quickly corrected me with, "No, stupid!! The judge!!" It may be the the only time I've ever been relieved to be called stupid.

And not long after, I got the Summons. I was being hauled into Court for refusal to live up to my credit agreement. Even though I'd worked things out with four of my five credit card companies, and even though I'd, once, again, showed my desire to keep current by keeping up with all my bills while being unemployed, I was being "brought to justice" by the powerful and the elite. Me. Someone who'd never had so much as a parking ticket as an adult. I was now The Defendant. The Criminal. This, added to the depression of feeling like a useless citizen, a lonely and undesirable male
with no financial stability and unable to find romance, was beginning to really take it's toll. I went in and the court clerks and such could see almost immediately that I didn't belong there, as if they were looking at a lost child or foreign vacationer who didn't quite grasp the language or enormity of the situation. One thing lead to another and an agreement was struck... one that I stuck to, to the letter, happily paying things off as I was able. It's not that I'd ever claimed to not owe anyone any money. I did owe. And I acknowledged that. I just needed a proper schedule with which to set things right. Try telling that to a multinational organization who wants it all up front, right now. But things went as well as could be expected and were settled. Until that Collection Agency sold my case off to yet another Collection Agency, who then summoned me to court... again.

There were days when I would have to force myself out of bed and leave my room, just to feel as if I were alive. And on those days, as there was nothing else to do, I'd think. A mind with nothing to occupy it but introspection can be a dangerous thing.

How alone have you ever really felt? How long could you say it lasted? Have you ever spent a Saturday afternoon aimlessly walking though your town and the surrounding ones, hour after hour, with no destination in mind? I'd walk through neighborhoods of wealth and privilege, past million dollar homes, seeing people younger than I with families and children and wealth and privilege. I'd look at these people... and I'd seethe with jealousy. I'd see them through their windows as I shuffled down their sidewalks, seeing them have their parties with their cultured, wealthy, good-looking friends. I'd actually begrudge them their success. "Must be family money," I'd rationalize. "They look so stupid and soulless and without a single creative thought, no way they earned any of that good life on their own." And I'd realize that the last few dates I'd had were decent, but they never led to second or third dates... I'd rarely get the invite back to their place... Maybe because I was too boring for someone, since I only have a few dollars and can't afford to take anyone out to more than a film and maybe, if fate smiled upon my paycheck that week, a coffee afterwards. I'd realize I couldn't go on vacations with someone if I'd like to, or to rent a car and go out for a drive anywhere... I couldn't even visit my college friends without having one of them meet my lame ass at a train station halfway there. I'd become very solitary over this time. I'd even skipped family holidays because I'd had no ability to buy any of my nieces or nephew any presents.

I thought to myself almost daily, for nearly four years, "You're a god damn loser."

And on a few particular nights, when the moon was high and the wind was cold, I'd be walking along, alone... and I'd be crying, quietly. Not out loud, as I wouldn't want to be noticed, but on those here-and-there empty streets, it would come out. My breathing would get heavier, I'd feel my blood pressure rising, heart pounding... These are the moments it takes years to tell people about. These are the moments of feelings of worthlessness so deep and of loneliness so complete, my spirit would break down completely. There comes a point where you can't hide from it anymore. And it just takes you. Maybe for a few minutes, maybe the whole afternoon. And every sad moment that you felt before feels as if it were nothing more than a preparatory session, a dry run, for the darkness you feel now.

But then...

Something... I didn't know what. But something... kept me going.

Maybe it was that same blind, stupid hope that I felt back in the factories in The Old Days, that thing that kept me from going out on that icy lake or standing too long on the train tracks in the winter snow. That thing, that hope, that doesn't quite let you give up. And only recently did I figure out what that thing was. That thing that kills the anger, the sorrow, the depression and the hate of everything in one's dark world.

It is... yes... love. The love of friends. The love of family. The love of strangers. The fact that in these times of need, people can step up. They do step up. They do come out in force.

When I was at the Video Store, the chain itself was folding up for good. You probably read about it. We weren't a Blockbuster, but were were a close second. And every day we wondered if it would be the last. We really expected to be closed up at any time. And when it finally came down and my sadness was at a fever pitch, an all-time high... Someone came out of nowhere and offered me a new job. A customer whom I'd connected with on personal level. Someone who appreciated me at the right place and the right time. He offered me a job in another store, this time a store of wonder and intelligence and warmth and of family. And in his kindness, he helped lead the way to another person of warmth, and another, and before I knew it, my financial issues were on the turnaround back to recovery (that's a whole other story for another time). And I no longer felt like quite the loser I had been, for so very long. And at about the same time, more things in this life began coming into focus for me. I'd begun experiencing things on a whole new level again.

Sorrow and depression can filter the way one experiences their world in a huge way, and once that black curtain of fear is lifted, especially after years of that fear, it's like seeing the sun again, for the first time in forever. You smile more. You can actually feel yourself smiling more. The little things bounce off you, they don't even register. You hear music differently, suddenly for the first time really talking in the nuances of artists you took for granted. People like David Bowie and the Beatles, Miles Davis and John Coltrane... who's work has been around for decades, but you now don't simply hear it, you feel it. You walk through those neighborhoods with the million dollar homes no longer filled with hate, but with happiness.

This is not an exaggeration. As I passed down one familiar street last spring, I actually stopped for a moment in my tracks, smiled and nearly wept for a short second. It occurred to me that... the hate was gone. For everything. And for myself. That feeling I'd had almost every day for the last few years was lifted. Vanished. And I was feeling like "me" again. I'm not sure how many of you out there follow this particular statement. But I sincerely hope that none of you... and all of you... can feel it someday -- none of you, in that I wouldn't wish such a path of sorrow on anyone... and all of you, in that we should all feel this sense of the purest happiness washing over you like a warm, soothing breeze atop a high, grassy hill under the summer sun.

Driving with a close college friend one afternoon earlier this year, I remarked, "You know what? This moment, in this car, in this blue sky, on this road, on this day, driving around with you like this, dude... I'm pretty happy." He laughed it off, maybe a little uncomfortable with the emotional honesty of that moment. I helped him out and laughed a little, too. But it was real. And I think maybe he could sort of sense that. I won't say who it was, but I want to thank him for that moment.

We go through our lives in these times of sorrow, of uncertainty. We don't know if we're safe, or how long we'll be healthy, or capable of supporting ourselves. We don't tell people how we feel, We're all guilty of it, every day. Life is too short, too fragile, too precious to let fall away in silence. It's come to my attention, more and more, that there are others in my life who might be going through a similar process. Loneliness and sadness are terrible killers of the spirit. And maybe your first instinct is to keep it all down, to bury it deep inside you. But that's a mistake. You need to open up, to share it, no matter how painful it might seem. There's strength in sharing, in finding out you're not alone. I have a few friends and they're going through, or seem to be going through, their own hard times. I've been there and I can see the signs. And if there comes a time when they need to talk, to be heard, I just hope I can do for someone what some have been able to do for me. To help, to heal...

And I want to take the time to thank the following people out there in my life, all through the years, who have helped make life worth living. In no particular order: Anne, Christopher, Chris, Shawn, Maggie, Jeannie, Mark, Cricket, Tim, Tom, Barbara, Melinda, Peter, Steven, Stephen, Marg, Meagan, Mary Anne, Michael, Alvaro, Mike, Jess, Maureen, Ailis, Martin, Lara, Peter, Ellie, Lily, Scott, Amy, Rick, Lis, Michelle, Matty, David, Deborah, Brittany, Christine, Mark, Becca, Akiko, Milo, Kristin, Fok, Jess, Joan, Danielle, Andrea, Jennifer, Stacey... If I forgot your name, I'm sorry... It's 2:45 am and I've been sitting here for hours... but be assured... If, when we see each other, I smile and seem genuinely happy to see you, you're up there, too.

You are all my friends. Thanksgiving is tomorrow. When I sit and think about all the things I am thankful for, you people top the list.

Thank you for being my friends.

Thank you for saving my life.

Thank you for helping me find strength.

--Matt

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Finding Strength

An Occasional Blogger's Journey
After A Rough Few Years,
Toward Feeling Like a Person Again.

Part One: The Old Days

Do you know who you are? Do you really know who you are?

It's human nature for someone to think they have all the answers, to think they know everything there is to know - or need to know - about themselves, their lives, their potential, their worlds. In this life, as we grow from infancy through childhood and young adulthood, we are bombarded with the great Societal Messages. Virtue is its own reward. College is the key to prosperity and success. A penny saved is a penny earned. Good is stronger than evil. Over the last few years, the gradual disintegration of our collective perception of safety and soundness - after the events of 9/11 and the War on Terror, the economic recession, Ponzi investment fraud and many other such events - has made it become more clear to the people of our world that there are, in fact, no promises in life. No guarantees. No answers.

The last ten years have been a fairly dark time for us all. The 1980's were an interesting time to grow into adulthood, around here. We were all fed the lines that "this is America and we deserve the best!" We grew up with a perceived sense of entitlement, as if we were (or are) due nothing but good fortune, if we work hard and live right. A few years later, we leased cars and bought McMansions and flat-screen televisions because we felt we deserved them. We cheated on our lovers or got divorces because this is the land of opportunity, damn it, and if our loved ones don't agree with us on some slight non-issue when placed against the grand scheme of things then we'll find someone who will.

None of this is meant to be any sort of essay about politics, not about assigning blame nor pointing fingers. Terrible things happen all the time, but how often do they happen to you? Loss, unemployment, financial difficulty... these are facts of life. We read every day of tragedy, sickness and fear in the lives of others and we say "how terrible." What are the effects of such tragedies? How have the last few years affected you? What have been the tolls upon our souls? And how have we changed?

Some time ago, my own particular collegiate and post-collegiate employment world consisted of nothing but labor gigs in warehouses and factories. This lasted for a year or two, all after spending nearly six years in college -- an institution I was told would guarantee me a better life, and being considered a fairly decent writer, filmmaker, creative-artist, even being told by one professor that he thought I was destined to make "lasting contributions in the industry." Powerful was my sense of entitlement. And the only job I could get in my podunk town, where I had no car and no money and no family contacts to make any sort of career or life for myself, was in Manual Labor. Sweeping loading zones, running conveyor belts on assembly lines, washing buckets in warm water and bleach, illegally driving fork lifts at the direction of my bosses, being surrounded by the "lifers," people who had been stuck in this same situation for years, sometimes decades, often drunk on the job, stealing from the employers, joking about their "stupid" spouses...

One morning after working my typical overnight 7pm-to-7am shift, I arrived home, sat in a chair, looked out the window and had a very strong nervous breakdown. Shaking, laughing and crying, unable to think about anything but what seemed to be a very dark future, I collapsed into hysteria.

This had been coming for quite some time. When one is depressed -- in this case due to the unfairness of my life direction given my hard work in college and perceived so-called talent as an artist, which is fairly self-aggrandizing in a certain respect -- one's relation to his or her world can snap in a heartbeat.

People often talk and often hear about that great monster, Clinical Depression. Every day can feel like a stay in hell. Simply waking up and getting out of bed in the morning can be a torture. Many get diagnosed, receive pills and move through their lives in a medicated haze. While I've never been diagnosed with such an affliction, nor taken extended meds, I do believe I have a sense of what said people often go through. Case in point: on my way to working that overnight shift, I'd pass by a lake and over a set of railroad tracks both to and from work every day. And there were a few times when I'd thought to myself during a sub-freezing winter's moment, "I wonder how far out on that lake I could walk before the ice breaks under my feet." Or while crossing the tracks, perhaps hearing the whistle of an approaching commuter rail train, "it would be so easy to just stay on these tracks and not move."

These are the thoughts of someone who's had enough. And, in a retrospective way, they feel very... I don't want to use the term "over-dramatic" so I'll say... "childish," which isn't to say that they're not serious or terrible, but perhaps lacking in knowledge or being of a world view, at that time. When you're a kid with very limited life-experience, all you know is your own life. Your own pain. Something as seemingly minute as being unhappy in your job can seem like the end of all things. "Why go on, if this is to be my life?" I would think to myself. And I'd joke about such thoughts with certain close friends that I thought (and hoped) could handle the gallows humor of it. When you're in dispair, sometimes it helps, however briefly, to have the right people around you to help laugh it off. Not that I would have ever done anything like end it all... I might have wondered about it, but never could do it. Why? A few reasons, really.

One: The whole Catholic concept of suicide leading to an immortal soul's eternal damnation. It might sound trite but even though I've never been the regularly church-going type and I'm not sure I'd consider myself overly religious, I've always - to put it simply - appreciated the Big Man and the Big Rules. And I've always felt that some pain in-the-now was nothing compared to the possible never ending darkness of the purgatorial void.

Two: My Mom and My Friends. She, my Mother, would truly be devastated if I'd ever gone and done anything so horrible. Never mind whatever pain I might've thought I was feeling. This is a woman who's had what I think many would agree to be -- if they knew all the facts -- a very hard life, one with doubt and fear and pain and some loneliness and the occasional ray of hope and sunshine. When things were bad, and they often were, it was us against the world. I know what I mean to her... And then my Friends... There was a time when I didn't have many friends. All through high school I considered maybe three people close enough to call friends -- and one of them was an adult, a teacher who saw something of value in my artwork. In those situations where your peers just don't seem to care - if you're a heavy kid, picked on, living in State-assisted housing and a form of Federal Assistance - loneliness is the greatest potential killer that I can think of. I knew about this as a child and high-schooler here and there, but this moment of Labor Work wasn't one of those times. This moment instead, the point of my college and post-college years between 1988 and 1994, brought me many of the friends I would consider my lifetime ones. Friends I still love and cherish to this day who I hope know this as fact... Friends that might just be reading these words right now... Friends I can't do without.

Three: Blind hope. If someone removes themselves from life, they could miss something better down the line. It could be anything... Love. Art. Career. Riches. Family. Sunlight. Music. Good books and films. People. Animals... How could one know things could get better if they weren't there to see it?

Some truly unfortunate people spend their lives in famine, disease, sorrow... What right did I have to consider such an end if I simply didn't like my current situation? And yet, some do just that. My cousin did. And my step brother. Boys I played with as a child, boys I saw movies with, exchanged birthday presents with, joked about girls with. My cousin was the athlete, the talented musician, had the girlfriend, the bright future... He seemed to have it all in ways I never had and in some ways still haven't. My step brother went the other way, I'd heard; alcohol and drug addiction. Another two people in my life got into their respective cars and drove themselves into trees. One drank himself to death and died alone over a Christmas holiday. What brought them to their last breaths? What sadness made them give up?

An hour or so later after my aforementioned breakdown, I finally calmed down enough to take some medication (given to me me by someone with several other issues that required such medication) and fell asleep. The sadness of what I perceived to be a wasted life in front of me hit me hard. Not long later, I got my first adult employment opportunity , a video/audio editing job at a nationwide press clips agency, lost a little physical and emotional weight -- no small feat for someone who grew up poor, heavy and never got a date until his twenties -- and moved into adulthood and into the city of Boston with college friends. So yes, things got better for the next, oh seven years or so... (More on that, later.)

This is all backstory, though. None of this is any sort of cry for help, any sort of "poor me" attempt at attention-grabbing. I only bring it up to place a few things in context.

Sadness, fear and sorrow all take a huge toll on the human spirit. You see, much of this was all between 1993 and 1995. Years before the World Trade Center, the Taliban, Bernie Madoff, George Bush, the Failing Dollar, Ten Percent Unemployment... All the above, all that seemed so sad and harsh and important, was "only a test," compared to what would eventually come to town in all our lives. You really never know who you are -- or what you're capable of -- until the time comes. When you're feeling strong, the phrase "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" might come to mind. And maybe, for a time, you feel like you can handle anything life can throw at you. "That other stuff, that was kid stuff. I'm an adult now," you might think in such moments. "I can take anything."

We were all about to find out just what we could take. Just who we were. And just what we were made of.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Finding Strength

An Occasional Blogger's Journey
After A Rough Few Years,
Toward Feeling Like a Person Again.



Coming Soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Midnight Passage

Sitting in the window
under the cover of night

he fantasizes
about love.

He knows not her face

nor the color of her eyes, her hair...

but he imagines she's there.

He knows she's there somewhere.

She comes to him at the window

and whispers "move over"
as she takes a seat next to him

and leans her body back into his.


Her hair spills across his chest
and he can feel her breathing

as the cool, night air passes over them.

He feels as if he's going to fall
asleep
right then and there,
and he wonders
why
he always feels this way with her.

He realizes why, after a moment.
He's been searching for this, for her,
for this feeling of being needed,
of contentment,
for so many years,
of course
he needs a rest, by now.

"But fear not," he whispers

into her perfectly shaped ear.

"I won't sleep forever
and once I wake up again,

I'll make you happier than you've ever been."


She smiles as their eyes slowly close

in mutual contentment... He knows
once he opens his eyes again
she'll be gone,
into the
night,
taking this wondrous feeling
of being
needed by someone
with her.


He tries not to think about it
and silently looks forward

to their next midnight rendezvous,

sitting in the window

under the cover of night.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid

Looking through the past via my e-mail inbox, I'm struck with the amount of notes and passages I've never gotten around to deleting. Many are rather personal. Many are quite random. The one I'm going to present to you here, though, has something interesting in there, I think. (Maybe.) It's all in good jest, naturally, as if written by a drunken cross between Andy Kaufman and Hunter S. Thompson. But if it were real... Oh, man. What a world this could be...

A few of my friends take part in public readings of their personal childhood diaries and journals, sharing in the nostalgia of young adulthood and poking light fun at all of the things that seemed so important back then when they really weren't. Posting the following scribble might be as close to doing that as I'm likely to get. So, that said... have a seat, put your feet up, and enjoy my rambling insanity. Please excuse the ridiculous amount of all-caps text, and try to remember... Some ideas are just ahead of their time.

Sent: Thu 10/13/05 - 5:01 PM
I had an idea today for what might just be the most experimental film of all time. "Experimental" in that it follows absolutely none of the rules of natural film making or storytelling. In fact, there will BE no story. Not in a SEINFELD way. In a NO STORY OF ANY KIND way. There will be NO actors. Perhaps, right now, you're saying to yourself "No actors?" No. None. There will be PEOPLE, maybe. Or parts of people. But no actors playing characters. And no dialogue. Words, spoken. But not written.

There will also be NO DIRECTOR. The footage will have an editor (necessary, I think, considering how random the footage will be). But there will be NO rhyme or reason in the cutting, nor artistic intent. There will be no mise-en-scene, no subtext of the linking of images, and no points will be deducted for mistakes. Because if there is no plan, there can be no mistakes.

There WILL be music. But it will be random, and performed without musical instruments by non-musicians. And it will be rendered unintelligible. For instance: the "opening theme," if there is to be one, will be interrupted a great deal by other sounds from later in the film.

Imagine a film with a Hate Index that's off the charts. Rottentomatoes.com should destroy itself trying to measure how hated the film will be. The confusion and negativity surrounding it should rival the that of Vincent Gallo's THE BROWN BUNNY. Cripsin Glover's WHAT IS IT?, all the UWE BOLL movies, FAT GUY GOES NUTZOID and BIRTH OF A NATION... COMBINED.

Despite the theoretical impossibility, imagine watching a nine hour version of Jamie Lee Curtis's VIRUS, but somehow watching it ten times in a row... and ALL AT ONCE. Audiences should not only demand their money back but should demand SEVEN TIMES their money back and be crying and/or yelling and/or shaking their fists while they do so. The idea, I think, is to make THE MOST UNIVERSALLY DESPISED MOTION PICTURE OF ALL TIME

There's a certain timelessness in that. Ed Wood's been dead for years and it's about time someone knocked his lame ghost's ass off that slimy post it's been perched on. Besides, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE maybe be awful, but it's gloried and almost beloved by millions (or thousands, anyway). And if SOMEONE likes it, then to me it fails as a TRULY bad film. It must be HATED. It must be spoken of ONLY IN WHISPER. It must be the VOLDEMORT of the film industry, to borrow from Rowling -- but even MORE evil. If Voldemort is "The One Who Cannot Be Named," then that is a name of a kind, itself.

Our film, our Bastard Film (and no, that's not it's name) will have NO TITLE and NO TITLE will never be referred to. If, somehow, society deems to name it someday (like they did with Prince when he changed his handle to that SYMBOL THINGY), then that title will be refuted. Even something as simple as THE UNTITLED MOVIE or THAT MOVIE WITH NO NAME will be tarred and feathered and fed to Satan's Dogs before they ever appear on any kind of posters for the film.

Which brings me to advertising. There WILL be a campaign. Posters and a website will promote this thing, whatever it is, to the masses. I was thinking something very simple for the one sheet, like black text on black letters, or white on white, or... NO! I HAVE IT! TRANSPARENT ONE SHEETS! Nothing more than THICK CELLOPHANE! PERFECT! For text: the posters should read something like DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE and that's all. Though how one reads transparent text on a transparent poster is up for discussion. I'm leaving the content and design of the website up to XXXXX. Nobody is more suited for this task than you, XXXXX -- after all, it doesn't matter how crazy the site is. It will never be crazy ENOUGH.

Perhaps the idea behind all this would be of interest to some people out there in the world. TOUGH SHIT, WORLD! Only five people will EVER know. They are: names removed by request. And that is all. We'll have to assume new identities or at least use fake names making this thing in order to shield our loved ones from the backlash... although these loved ones will probably excommunicate us during production, anyway. No matter, pop stars and supermodels will likely offer us pleasures on an hourly basis for the sole purpose of sexing the secret out of us and releasing it the world on MTV's TRL Live or something. Hotties love bad boys. And nobody will be badder than us once the film is released. Not Manson. Not nobody.

I've concocted a cover story for the press, as follows...

"Two hundred and seventeen years from now, Earth will be visited by marauding Aliens from a distant star system, Hellbent on destroying Mankind. They will arrive in the night under silence, The word "genocide" is not strong enough for what they have in their Alien minds. They will invade, contact and destroy. And that the last possible second, one Under-Alien will discover... OUR FILM. It will advise its betters of the film. And Earth will be spared. Why? Will they love it? Will they fear it? That is uncertain. The above is all the information we have."

...As far as society goes, that's all they'll GET, too.

WE will know DIFFERENT. Here's the skinny: Maybe ALL OF THE ABOVE is a ruse. Maybe our intent SHOULD BE simply to spread the RUMOR that we're out to make THE MOST UNIVERSALLY DESPISED MOTION PICTURE OF ALL TIME. Start the website up, quietly let it worm it's way through the internet, wait for people to hear more, hit us up with questions and all, let some sort of Media Circus Swarm create itself over the film. This smacks of INTENT, though, and while I love the idea of it, I'm not sure. I'm torn between creating this GIGANTIC HOAX of a film and shooting a documentary about it (the easy, real-life application of the above theories) and doing it for REAL. Maybe we can do both. Will the Film Industry, the World and Valhalla forgive us for our trespasses? Who knows?

There is one more secret I have on the project. I want the final shot of the movie to be an image of film critic Richard Roeper, sitting in a cinema moments after watching the preceding film. I want him to utter one simple line. "Fuck!" for example. (Swearing is encouraged). And then I want him to pull out a revolver and blow his brains out. END OF FILM.

Yeah, I know... that bit above smacks of planning and "creating." It wouldn't be real, though -- I envision it to be pulled off via optical effects like that fire extinguisher scene in IRREVERSIBLE. No... It's not the central idea of the movie to get Roeper to commit suicide on film as some sort of wish fulfillment, nor a comment on the concept of film criticism in any way. It would just be a great final shot, is all. Right? Um.... thoughts? :)

Producers are encouraged to contact me here, with offers. My people are standing by. :)

Theatrical Reviews:
Ghostbusters (1984) ****
District 9 ***

DVD/Home Video
The Royal Tenenbaums: Criterion Collection ****
Rushmore: Criterion Collection ****
Bottle Rocket: Criterion Collection ***
Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) ***
Howl's Moving Castle (2004) ***
The Darjeeling Limited ***
Alien Vs. Predator: Unrated Edition (2004) *1/2

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Facing The Music: A Film Score Geek Session

Soundtrack: 1) The physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound. 2) Recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, television program or video game. 3) A commercially released album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show. -- from Wikipedia (paraphrased)

Yes, as a great fan of all-things-cinema, my admiration also crosses into my personal appreciation of music. Way back when I was about seven years old or so, I stumbled across one of those classic "12 albums, cassettes or 8-track tapes for a penny" ads Columbia Records & Tapes Club ran in TV Guide every week and my young eyes trained on the two most important words a kid growing up in the late 70's ever came across: STAR WARS.

Not that I knew anything about music when I was seven... but as far as I was concerned, I knew the hell out of everything about Star Wars. I also didn't understand the concept of joining a music club through the mail, but from what I'd gathered... for a penny I would own Star Wars... somehow. And that was all that mattered. I sent in the order form and six-to-eight weeks later my pile of tapes arrived and I popped the one I'd wanted most into my trusty Panasonic one-speakered, mono recorder and got my first taste of John Williams' greatness...

"What is this, old-people music?" I remember thinking. :)

And of course, years later, this "old-people music" makes up about 80% of my listening. John Williams (still a hero of mine), Elmer Bernstein, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, and later the synth stylings of Harold Faltermeyer, Jan Hammer and Hans Zimmer... Over time I grew to appreciate more and more, becoming quite the aficionado of the contemporary motion picture score. And of course, soundtracks and scores are the rhythms that the characters of a movie live and breathe to...

But what about people? If people had soundtracks, what might they sound like? Often, you're walking down the street, maybe a song will float into your head and you'll bounce to the beat. You're the only one that can hear it. But it's there, and you're loving it. If you were a character in a movie, what would that track be? A soul classic? A bit of bebop? A country twang? Or a fully orchestrated symphony? Most soundtrack fans have pieces they feel they identify with personally. Maybe the character the music underscores resonates with you. Maybe they remind you... of you. Whatever the reason, it's possible that some film scores or songs stick to you more than others. Maybe you consider them your soundtracks, too. I realized I have a few...


"The Man In Me"
Bob Dylan
from The Big Lebowski

Lebowski came along for me at just the right time. In my old uptight world of office politics and career non-advancement, this classic track ushered in the epic story of an unemployed bowling leaguer who knew how to relax. The film taught me to just relax; to be the Dude and abide... and this song sets the stage for peaceful easy vibes, every time.



"Main Title" and "Sneakers Theme"
James Horner with Branford Marsalis
from Sneakers

Maybe it's the mix of Horner's chorus/piano combo and Marsalis' jazzy solos. Maybe it's because I first saw this very-influential-to-me film having just arrived at KSC for film school -- the movie's concept of a group of surveillance experts working together always reminded me of my friends and I shooting each other's projects. The lightness and playfulness of these two tracks always enlighten the mood... and they go well with a cool fall day (college season) or snowy winter's night (holidays). Very impressionable, I seem to be.


"A Different Drum"
Peter Gabriel
from The Last Temptation of Christ

"Opening Titles"
Jeffrey Taylor & Ned Rifle (Hal Hartley)
from Amateur

"An Ending (Ascent)"
Brian Eno
from For All Mankind

There's a soulfulness and spirit to these songs that I always respond to. "Drum" is rather like arriving somewhere new and a feeling great promise, like crossing a bridge into New York City and feeling the first wave of anticipation. "Ending" and the track from Amateur, conversely, feel like the end of a long, perfect day, with the sun setting ahead of you, heading home to relax, smiling and falling asleep while someone else is doing the driving... or maybe the musical representation of a soul at complete happiness or peace. Sometimes, you just need to hear something like that.


"End Theme"
Eric Clapton
from Homeboy

This country-blues influenced track has a quiet, dependable beat coupled with the greatness of EC's guitar work. Coming from a little-known Mickey Rourke film about a small time boxer in a corrupt sports organization, it's one of those songs that resonates homespun decency and quiet dignity. (Also along these lines, but more orchestral: Randy Newman's The Natural and John Barry's Dances With Wolves.)


"Main Title/Love Theme"
Jerry Goldsmith
from Chinatown

"Blade Runner Blues"
Vangelis
from Blade Runner

Sometimes you need a little of the old slow-and-low. Some warm trumpet over a sad bit of strings for after a hard day at work or a lonely night where you feel isolated in your environs. Or a synthesized clarinet and organ combo sounding off into the night sky. Both tracks are perfect for a hot summer night walking or biking through town, or a rainy night in the big city. Perfect for when you could really use a soothing caress or a whipsered word of kindness, but there's nobody there to deliver them... (Also, but occasionally more up-tempo, Goldsmith's music for The Detective and Dave Grusin's score tracks from The Fabulous Baker Boys.)


"Prelude and Main Title March"
John Williams
from Superman

This one's easy. It's all about hope and desire. The soft beginning of the track, all flutes and strings, recall a youth spent on the farm (Smallville, perhaps) and looking out at the stars dreaming of something more... and then the tuba and cellos come in... and you're there, growing up... evolving, making your way out on your own... and then the trumpets blare, the violins sound, and you're where you want to be and who you want to be... And your future is assured... and you, like Kal-El himself, feel like you can do anything. Pure empowerment, personified.

There are just a few personal examples. How about you? What's on your soundtrack?

Theatrical
Watchmen: The Director's Cut ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ***
Public Enemies ***
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra **

DVD/Home Video
Annie Hall (1977) ****
The Double Life of Veronique: Criterion Collection (1991) ****
Chungking Express: Criterion Collection (1994) ****
For All Mankind: Criterion Collection (1989) ****
In the Realm of the Senses: Criterion Collection (1976) ***1/2
Man Stroke Woman: Season Two (BBC-TV) ***1/2
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) ***1/2
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (1991) ***
White Dog: Criterion Collection (1982) ***
The Shinjuku Incident (Hong Kong) ***
Hyperdrive: Season Two (BBC-TV) ***
Lynch (one): (Documentary, 2007) ***
The Hit: Criterion Collection (1984) ***
Bullets Over Broadway (1994) ***
Roving Mars (IMAX, 2006) ***
Mighty Aphrodite (1985) ***
Family Business (1989) ***
Radio Days (1987) ***
Celebrity (1988) ***
Everyone Says I Love You **1/2
Small Time Crooks (2000) **1/2
Shadows and Fog (1991) **1/2
Hollywood Ending (2002) **1/2
Anything Else (2003) **
Predator 2 (1990) **
Push (2009) *

Rifftrax
Tommy Wiseau's The Room ***

Music
Tom Waits: Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) ****
Makoto Ozone: Wizard of Ozone (2000) ***

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Art... and Commerce

Anybody who knows me knows my love for movie poster art. Let me rephrase that. Anyone who knows me knows not only my love for movie poster art, but knows and probably agrees that the old one-sheet, she ain't what she used to be.

Growing up a short walk away from the one-screen theater in my small Massachusetts town, seeing a Saturday matinee was often the highlight of the week for my grade school friends and I. We'd line up for almost anything that was playing in our 1970's and 80's early youths. Herbie Goes Bananas, Tootsie, T.A.P.S., Lady and the Tramp, Twilight Zone: The Movie... It just didn't matter what was on the screen that week. If was was "rated PG" or below, we'd be there. And waiting in line, often one wrapping around the front of the building way back when that happened on a regular basis, we'd study the "now playing" and "coming soon" movie posters hanging on the walls of that theater, inside and out.

I still recall being amazed by the Close Encounters one, and scared by the one for The Shining, and wowed by the now-classic Star Wars ones. But we always looked on these posters as simple advertising. It hadn't hit our young minds that these prints with cool looking imagery along the top two-thirds and all these strange names at the bottom could actually be hung on your wall at home and admired as art. Not until VCRs took over and every Video Hut in the area would hang up posters on their front windows, later taking them down and tossing them in trash tins with hastily-labeled "$5.00 each" signs taped to the front.

That was where it started for me. The Terminator was my first one. Many, many more followed. I started working at a movie theater when I was 17 and began to grab as many as I could get my hands on... and would sometimes make the journey from my small town world to the Big City (Boston) to the old Pix Posters shop in Cambridge where I picked up what was then the pride of my movie poster collection, the original one-sheet for Back to the Future, by the great Drew Struzan... the last real artist in the movie poster business.

Posters nowadays, though... They've not continued in the footsteps of their forerunners, sadly. Streamline-centric advertising agencies operating during the home video boom started to change things. Suddenly, advertising art wasn't all that important, they seemed to feel, and thus began the now-common practice of utilizing nothing more than simple photos of a film's star players (often half-obscured by darkness to give the viewer a sort of a feeling of menace) to take up most of the art-space.

Take, for example, the 2002 teaser poster for Reese Witherspoon's pseudo-comedy, Sweet Home Alabama. It's her face. That's it. Just a big, huge close-up. What is this image telling us about the film? Nothing. Is she a single girl in a turtle neck, making her way in the world today? A sassy housewife and mother? A maniac Stepford Wife preparing to wipe out every non-comformist in the deep south? Who knows? Who cares? Never saw it, never will. My college pals and I looked upon this abomination at a local mall and realized that as far as some are concerned, art is no longer necessary in film advertising. Dumb It Down was taking over. And by that rationale... why even bother with clever or catchy titles? With a poster like that, why not just call the film something like Reese Witherspoon #7 and save the ad people all kinds of cocaine time and money?

But all's not lost just yet. Greats like Drew Struzan are still around (although it was reported that he's given up illustration to concentrate on his also-great painted works). And filmmakers are getting more hip to the cause. Steven Spielberg even went on-record to say that if Struzan didn't create the poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he wouldn't make the film. A mixed blessing as it turned out; the poster was arguably more well-realized than the film. But whatever keeps Struzan's paintbrushes in action is good enough for me.

And as recent posters have proven now and again, even simple photography can work with elegance and style. Here are a few recent ones that caught my eye. What movie posters have you seen lately that caught yours?


Duncan Jones's Moon



















Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse



















Zack Snyder's Watchmen (Comedian Teaser Version)



















Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York



















Armando Iannucci's In the Loop



















And now, a buncha quick reviews. It's been a busy couple of months... :)

Theatrical
Pulp Fiction (1994) ***1/2
Whatever Works ***1/2
Moon ***1/2
Terminator: Salvation ***
Observe and Report ***
Wolverine ***
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen **1/2
The Limits of Control **1/2



DVD/Home Video
The Friends of Eddie Coyle: Criterion Collection ****
The Witches of Eastwick (1987) ****
Escape From New York (1984) ****
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) ****
This Is Spinal Tap (1983) ****
The Conversation (1972) ****
Mean Streets (1972) ****
Goodfellas (1990) ****
Oldboy (Korean) ****
The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974 ) ***1/2
Who's That Knocking At My Door? (1968) ***1/2
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic ***1/2
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) ***1/2
Ashes of Time: Redux (Hong Kong) ***1/2
White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) ***1/2
Rent: The Theatrical Experience ***1/2
Over New England (PBS, 1990) ***1/2
IMAX: Fires of Kuwait (1992) ***1/2
Futurama: Bender's Game ***1/2
King of New York (1990) ***1/2
Solaris (2002) ***1/2
The Wrestler ***1/2
Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon (HK) ***
Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs ***
Fantastic Four: Extended Director's Cut ***
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within ***
Homestar Runner: Sbemails Volume 6 ***
Kaiju Big Battel: More Better Fighto! ***
Spinal Tap: Back From The Dead ***
24: Redemption ***
Colors (1988) ***
Homestar Runner: The 50 Best Sbemails **1/2
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer **1/2
An Empress and the Warrior (HK) **1/2
Achilles and the Tortoise (Japan) **1/2
Driven To Kill (aka Ruslan) **1/2
Legendary Assassin (HK) **1/2
While She Was Out **1/2
LoveDeath (Japan) **1/2
Transporter 3 **1/2
Sniper (HK) **1/2
Melinda and Melinda (2004) **
Against The Dark **
Ong Bak 2 (Thai) **
The Grudge 3 **
Mirrors **
Chambara Beauty (Japan) *

Abbott and Costello
Keep 'Em Flying (1941) ***1/2
Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) ***
Pardon My Sarong (1942) **1/2
Who Done It? (1942) ****

CD/Music
The Alan Parsons Project: Ammonia Avenue (remastered) ***1/2
Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (score by Kenji Kawai) ***1/2
Terminator: Salvation (score by Danny Elfman) ***
Spinal Tap: Back From The Dead ***

Literature
Wrong About Japan (Peter Carey, 2004) **1/2
Sayonara Bar (Susan Barker, 2005) **

Video Games
Ghostbusters: The Game (PS2) ***1/2
Yakuza 2 (PS2) ***1/2

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Naked City

Taking advantage of a two-day-off stretch from work over the weekend, I made one of my famous one-day excursions to NYC. Stopped into the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, finally walked the Brooklyn Bridge, grabbed some cheesecake at Junior's at Grand Central, caught up with the awesome Brooklyn Mike (of Jungle Transmissions blog fame, linked here just to the right). Had a pretty decent & inexpensive day of fun and discovery... and even managed to squeeze in a little moment with two of the locals.

On my way to Movie Star News, the only still-operating (and legit) "theatrical one-sheet" movie poster shop that I know of, I found myself moving north up 6th Avenue to the 18th Street area when I passed by one of NY's famous "adult entertainment" establishments... the kind with glowing neon signs reading "peep show" and "novelites" in the front window masked displays. These places are common in some stretches of the 6th-7th-8th Avenue area and nothing particularly unusual makes this particular "den of sin" stand out. Except this day. Two ladies of the evening were holding court at the front door. Author's Note: I placed "ladies of the evening" in the preceding sentence in red italics not to emphasise the phrase, itself, but to point out that (1) this happened at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon and (2) I'm not entirely convinced that these ladies have, shall we say... always been ladies. Regardless, they they were and there I was.

"Hey, honey..." one of the smiling, buxom, low-cut top wearing creatures purred out to me. "Wanna come watch a movie with me?"

Normally, that would be an opening line dream for a guy like me. But like the Dyl-man says, I don't need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows. So, being me... A guy who loves to spread confusion and have fun with the masses... I just perked up, bulged my eyes, doing my best "functional but definately goofball bumpkin" voice and saying to the two aforementioned trick-turners... "Oh-boy-I-loves-movies-is-we-gonna-watch-that Watchmen-movie-I-loves-dat-movie-I-seen-it-twice-can-we-get-ice-cream-after-I-loves-me-some-ice-creams!!"

They just rolled their eyes and disappeared back into the store, presumably until I walked away.

People say there are a lot of weirdos in Manhattan.
I say... were just tourists. :)

DVD/Home Video Reviews:
No Country For Old Men: 3-Disc Collector's Edition ****
X2: X-Men United ****
Chinatown (1974) ****
Abbott & Costello: Buck Privates (1941) ***1/2
Man Stroke Woman: Series One (BBC) ***1/2 (see video below)
Keane (2004) ***1/2
Abbott & Costello: In The Navy (1941) ***
X-Men: The Last Stand ***
Ichi (2008, Japan) **1/2
Wanted (2008) **1/2

Sunday, March 29, 2009

You Never Forget Your "First"

Venturing through Boston's Chinatown yesterday on the search for the Hong Kong import DVD of the recent John Woo movie, Red Cliff, I walked by an old haunt: Kneeland Electronics.

I say old haunt, but that's not quite accurate. It's a spot I've stopped by a number of times, perusing their DVDs and admiring their various posters, doo-dads and appliances. It's one of those places -- a neighborhood shop that seems like it's always been there. Never touristy or overdone in it's decor, bright, clean and well-operated by the same people; friendly folks who enjoy making suggestions and helping the consumer decide what's right for them.

Kneeland also has a special significance for me, as well. It's the store where I bought my very first Asian DVD, something I've become quite practiced in over the years. The movie was Dream Of A Warrior, a not-great Korean action flick with Leon Li. The film wasn't a classic by any means but I was intrigued enough to continue seeking out cinematic fare of the like -- a Jackie Chan film or two, works by Zhang Yimou (Hero), Steven Chow (Shaolin Soccer), Johnnie To (A Hero Never Dies) and how many others I can't recall. My purchasing has waned a bit recently, but I always stop into the store for a brief moment whenever I'm in the neighborhood, if not to buy then to just enjoy it's presence.

But sadly, those days are over. Kneeland Electronics is gone. Showroom empty, shudders down, window posters removed. This is nothing new in our current economy, of course. Lots of our favorite stores, coffee shops and such have vanished in recent times, be it due to changes in customer needs or the difficulties of business operations. Walking by, I stopped in my tracks almost disbelieving what I was seeing. I was struck with a sadness at the sight of the place being locked up. I find myself thinking of those who ran Kneeland, hoping that they're okay and provided for. With all the changes happening to the downtown Boston area, especially in Chinatown with the arrival of several incongruous, new high-rise luxury condo towers, I couldn't help but wonder how much longer the neighborhood has...

Moments later I found the Red Cliff disc I was looking for at another nearby shop that I frequent and purchased it, along with three or four more DVDs. I didn't really need them, and in the end I might have to skip a meal or two in order to afford them. But I guess it's my small way of making sure that another local merchant can stick around a little while longer. The next time you get a chance, and if you have the extra time and money to spare, think about doing the same. And feel free to discuss a shop that means or meant something to you in the comments below. :)

Dedicated to other cool spots from the past: Disc Diggers (Davis Square), Mystery Train (Newbury Street), Flipside (Brookline), CD Spins (Newbury Street), Fuddrucker's (Boston), Oasis Video (Lechmere), City Video (Boston), Cinemasmith (Brookline), Sony Theaters Nickelodeon and Cheri (Boston), Gary's '50's Diner (Keene, NH), Luke's Record Exchange (Pawtucket, RI), Tri-Boro Cinemas (North Attleboro, MA), Mon Kou (Attleboro, MA).

Theatrical:
Knowing **1/2

DVD/Home Video:
Contact (1997) ****
Space Ghost: Coast To Coast Season Five ***1/2
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) ***1/2
Under the Volcano (1984) ***1/2
Red Cliff II (Hong Kong) ***1/2
Red Cliff (HK) ***
Once Upon A Time in Corea (Korea) ***
One Night in the Tropics (Abbott & Costello, 1940) **1/2
National Treasure: Book of Secrets **1/2
Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem **1/2
The Producers (2005) **1/2