Archive for September, 2010

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A Piece Of Mind

September 18, 2010

I ventured into the park for the first time since I returned home yesterday. It was considerably later than usual, around 7 or so, and the whole ordeal was very different from the January walks through it. I wasn’t used to the abundance of trees masking 80% of my vision through the old shortcuts I partially memorized; the sky was virtually covered up with leafy hands, playing immature games with me as I wandered along. I did want to turn back after a few minutes so I could catch the sunset bleeding away on my shoddy camera, though I decided to cut through a wide detour on the side of the path to get a better look.

It was a darker place, definitely not meant to be explored at this hour. You could have scared the ghosts out of Hawthorne with this place; ritualistic spaces and circled meeting grounds had been formed from nothing but weathering and fallen trees, totems birthed from lightening and storms. The faintest haze of comatose blue managed to struggle through; it was truly a disorienting but otherwise beautiful scene. And, I might add, slightly unsettling because I was alone and unarmed. (I hadn’t planned on this trip, so I didn’t take my knife. A shame, as there was a large rock I could have etched my initials to.)

After some pictures, I decided it was getting too dark to proceed, so I retreated—but in the middle of the so-called proving grounds, rustling came from the right, and then to the left. My brain immediately called up images of wolves and coyotes, or even witches—so I didn’t stand aloof for too long, instead walking very rapidly with occasional glances over my shoulder. I don’t know what was in there, but it was in there. I imagined, wildly, that something or someone had been tracking me in there. And as my heart quit racing upon the familiar path out of the woods, I felt indescribable peace that there was evil which existed there.

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The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys

September 18, 2010

The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys was originally based on the unfinished novel by Chris Fuhrman, who unfortunately passed away before the book’s final draft. However, what was left behind was adapted and produced by Jodie Foster (who also co-stars) and became a wonderful and gruesome twist on the usual coming-of-age film.

The plot mainly revolves around the aspirations of two friends, Francis Doyle and Jim Sullivan, whose imaginations are centered along either causing trouble with outrageous pranks or working on their superhero comic book—which is fully realized in a few animated scenes done by the one and only Todd McFarlane. It’s interesting to note that these scenes corrolate directly with what’s happening in real-time. That is, certain objectives and trials will be mirrored via the world of the Atomic Trinity, which is comprised of such colorful characters like Captain Asskicker and Major Screw. Things quickly become more complex, as the pranks get wilder (Sullivan wants to kidnap a cougar from the zoo to set loose in the Catholic school) and the relationships become fragile, even bitterly so. Francis’ youthful romance with a girl named Margie, as well as his disintegrating understanding of his best friend Tim Sullivan, is handled with genuine innocence and limited wisdom. The troubles that send Francis and the others into a cyclone of uncertainty and bewildering emotional ascensions are best left for you to discover on your own, but I will say that the revelations and corrosions that happen are not only natural to a beautiful point, but also brilliantly accentuated by the epic battle going on within the Atomic Trinity’s twisted reality.

Emile Hirsch’s work as Francis is a strange thing for me to accept. He’s an actor who I still don’t know how to feel for; he’s fantastic in a film like Into The Wild, yet he’s little more than fluff in something like Speed Racer. His brand of cold, stoic movement is something that curiously fits into the role of Francis, though. He has flashes of total immersion into the character, and for that I can say he breathed a strange yet hypnotic life into what might have been an otherwise stock personality. However, though Emile Hirsch and Jodie Foster—the steadfast and believable villain as the calculating Sister Assumpta—deliver great performances, the real gold belongs to Kieran Culkin’s Sullivan as the poetic madman in this carnival of adolescence. A product of suppression, an alcoholic home, and general “lone wolf” status, he delivers what is probably one of my favorite performances by any actor below legal drinking age. Even his transformation in the world of the Atomic Trinity from the invulnerable Muscle to the fleshless, decaying Skeleton Boy is metaphorical to the inner struggles in Sullivan’s odd world. The dying friendship between he and Francis is a work of great chemistry that really jars your nerves to the brink. The scene with the dog by the highway in particular weighs heavily on me, for reasons that probably will fluctuate for many.

The film’s definitely a unique one, right down to the few animated segments of carnage. It really gives a haunting view on growing up in a Catholic school. All that repression, all that death of knowledge and creativity that could otherwise flourish in positive ways—I can relate, given the circumstances. It’s the kind of movie where I always say, “shit, I wish I thought of this first.” Well, not just the warp between fantastical alter-egoes and real people—just the overall characters in general, the plotline, the many tragedies therein. It’s one of the few movies that I desperately wish I reached first, in my own ficticious world of movie-making.

The fact that the eclectic Joshua Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age scored four or five tracks for the movie makes me love this thing all the more. In fact, this movie marked the first time I ever heard Homme’s work before. The credits-roll song, “All The Same,” remained burned into the grey matter of my brain literally for years until I finally decided to pick up the work he did in his band. Great decision on my part, of course. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite songs ever.

This film has always been one of my all-time favorites. I rank it quite highly these days; I’m not entirely sure if I’d put it in my top 10, but it cracks the top 15 for sure. It’s definitely unlike most movies of its kind, and by the end you’ll feel such a rush. I’ve never read the novel—which is supposedly in totally readable form today—but I will definitely drop the cash to read it in the future. This film’s a sinister ride into the maw of the imagination—and at times, it feels as though this escapist fantasy into a realm of heroic monsters is preferable to the harrowing tempest we’ve marched through to reach the shuddering climax. I can’t recommend this movie enough to basically everyone and anyone who has ever been one of “those” kids; which essentially umbrellas us all.

And yeah, that’s a foreign language poster for the movie. It’s so much more stylish than the original American one, trust me.

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His N’ Hers

September 2, 2010

If you’re not familiar with Pulp, they’re sort of like a hybrid of disco keyboards, feedback-laden britpop, and a dose of frontman Jarvis Cocker’s typical alternative stylings. Lyrically and vocally, he’s always been a brilliant band leader; I can’t spare this guy. He’s probably one of the coolest musicians/artists/auteurs out there, totally engrossed with the finesse of aesthetics and art in general. He’s big on the “common” man’s mode of thinking, always humble but radical enough to protest over Michael Jackson’s infamous “Christlike” performance at one show. Some people thought Cocker ought to be knighted for that one, but that’s another story altogether. He sort of reminds of Rivers Cuomo just a bit—if only because they both give off this sort of geeky yet completely smooth style. But, that’s where the similarities end. I don’t think it’s much of a contest when it comes to sheer originality and consistence.

Anyway, His N’ Hers historically comes roaring off as the breakthrough success of the band after two moderately selling yet fantastic albums and one earlier dud. Sonically, the album is a basketcase of whimsical yet bent-sinister songs, especially the opening track which begs for the car “to take a girl to the reservoir.” To do what!? Aside from the occasional double-meanings and bitter pills, the album really has a “loved and lost” feel to many of the tracks that suits Cocker’s wail perfectly. The guitars and the bass are fantastic and they mesh well with the extensive use of the keyboards—a staple in much of Pulp’s work. You get the feeling that many of these songs could be remixed really easy, not because of a simplicity in some places but because they’re just so catchy. And it’s hard to make something that’s both catchy yet dynamic enough so it doesn’t feel it can be easily duplicated.

I feel like this album has that distinct “90’s” glitz to it, if that makes sense. Back when this was released in ‘94, grunge was big in the US. It didn’t catch on in Britain, I think they were still going through the whole Oasis/Blur fiasco—and besides, I feel grunge was always something that was wholly American, belonging to Cobain, Weiland, Vedder, and Lanegan. They had britpop; we had grunge. I can recall Public Image Ltd.’s song “Seattle” which details the initial confusion they had, as well. I can’t really picture John Lydon getting on in Seattle, to be honest.

But in the midst of all that there was shit like Roxette and all those distinctly poppy groups who cut through the radio waves with this glittery sheen. Why did so many of those mid-card bands have to suck so badly? They could have been great. Not that I’m saying Pulp’s like a better version of a lame singles-based 90’s band; they’re pretty alternative with their fusion of social drama and sparkly beats. It just seems like they were the ones who should have been part of the focal middle ground between the sludge of 90’s grunge and the eccentric “I’m more English than you” battles.

Well, I guess since the US has R.E.M., my argument’s null and void. Which reminds me, I have to write something about them, but that’ll be another time.

So, long story short: Pulp’s one of the only really “pop” bands I admire, if only because they stray from the slow roll of glitz all the time and venture into new ways to get your blood pumping. If you need a starting point for expectations, His N’ Hers is an excellent jump-off and just a great album altogether if you’re seeking the true “alternative” to the Britpop stuff that was from that era. Interestingly enough, the band has had a history of their success stemming from a large following in the US, especially due in part to this certain album. If this album was any indication of new variety, a few years later their dark and spinning carousel entitled This Is Hardcore would really get the cogs working. But that, like so much else, is for another day.

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Ink, Like Venom, Stains The White Of Your Eyes

September 1, 2010

There’s something I need to get off my chest: The Nobel Prize in Literature is a fucking joke and a bloodstain on the otherwise well-kept rug of literature. It’s an institution I resent infinitely, primarily because of its terribly corrupt judging—which has purely political motives at heart, as opposed to rewarding masters of the craft for their work in writing and imagination.

When you think of the Nobel Prize, the word “greatness” comes to mine, doesn’t it? Yet when you glance the list of recipients of the Literature branch of the prize, you may notice two things: first, most of the roster consists of people you’ve never heard of, and likely never will (likely due to the fact that they haven’t actually contributed much to literary movement or passion.) Second, you’ll note the absence of a great many worthwhile writers. Like, I don’t know…James Joyce!? Vladimir Nabokov? Anton Chekhov? Salman Rushdie, Mark Twain, Arthur Miller, or Leo Tolstoy? Would it have killed them to award a posthumous award to Kafka when they can afford to hand out the medal to Dario Fo, a man who was mainly a performance artist?

It’s a known fact that the Academy—based in Sweden—favors Swedish writers, regardless of notoriety or overall importance. Hell, Sweden’s had more winners than all of Asia. What the fuck? Sure, nowadays the judges will flat out deny the favoritism up and down; but let’s hearken back to the good old days, shall we? When Nabokov, arguably one of the greatest writers to ever live, was turned down so that two Swedish authors could receive the prize for themselves. Oh yeah, one more thing: both of ‘em were judges on the Nobel committee. Again: what the fuck?  Can anyone name the two guys who “won” that prize today? No; yet everyone can titter the words “Lolita” or “Pale Fire” or “Ada/Ardor” or even “Bend Sinister.” They were pretty much unknown outside of their country. There was not only an apathy towards authors who lived in “wartime” countries in the early 1900s, but also Russian writers.

It’s all political; Borges was refused the prize largely due to his support of some right-wing leader of something-or-other; I don’t recall the specifics but the decision relied upon dislike with his personal politics. On a similar note, Harold Pinter used the speech following his win as an opportunity to speak out on—in layman’s terms—how much the USA sucks under Bush, and how it’s become a giant dumb puppy that doesn’t know how to control its bark or its bite. Well gee, thanks for telling me what I and a million other Americans know, Mr. Pinter. I also thank you for utilizing your position as laureate to spout more political bullshit, which is probably true but should be saved for another time.

It’s so disappointing to see an institution that should be a beacon for aesthetics and love of literature melt into the very opposite of what aesthetics stand for: the political, the overtly analytical, and the tired squabbling of interracial conflict between countries and creeds. It’s just one more reason that I regard so much of the literary world with disgust, dispassion, and general disregard for what the “elite” consider well-written prose. When the institution has been in a comatose state of bickering for decades, what can be gained from idolizing them? Nothing. Clive Barker will never come close to being instated in this hall; it’s because he will be dismissed as a genre writer, a splatterpunk enthusiast, and a stockboy to the gods—all of which are completely untrue. Clive Barker is a beautiful writer who’s done more than people like Elfriede Jelineck; a Nobel winner who is an antisocial, unoriginal hack who writes self-indulgent, melodramatic pornography, and feminist manifestos and communist prose that borderlines on laughable.

The elite has their world of make-believe heroes and medals; let them stay in their bubble so they don’t infect ours with their caustic tripe and masturbatory relish.

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Barton Fink

September 1, 2010

To say that I enjoyed “Barton Fink” is an understatement; it is one the greatest films I’ve ever seen, though this affirmation is somewhat tinged with my own subjective bias. It is, after all, a film about the craft of writing and the psychological neurosis therein; and such philosophies presented in such a pure state of madness could not have been offered to me at a better time in my life. However, I’ll try to set my own experiences aside and try to be a little more objective first.

Barton Fink tells the somewhat surreal tale of the titular character, played by the fantastic John Turturro. A writer who wants to cut away at the plastic sheen of Hollywood archetypes, Fink gets more than what he bargained for when his first success on Broadway leads to a damning contract with delusional high-office movie producers begging for a script about a B-grade wrestler. Now, faced with complete isolation, a chronic writer’s block, and dispassion for his current situation, Barton Fink experiences a series of odd and even horrific events in the strange Hotel Earle: a dimension that houses not only Fink’s frustration, but also his erratic neighbor Charlie Meadows (one of John Goodman’s finest character roles.) To say more would spoil the film entirely, though I can say that the ensuing events that follow Barton in his quest to transcribe the plight of the “common man” from his creative genius is equally fascinating as it is pitiful and perhaps obviously doomed.

The film’s a combonation of slick noir, itchy mystery, uneasy drama, and surrealism which bleeds out faster than the wallpaper in Barton Fink’s hotel room. Where things could easily take a boring turn, they never do; the movie keeps you on a tight rope that could either be the way out of the wishing well or the noose to hang yourself and abandon all hope. Though the phrase “Kafkaesque” is overplayed these days, I can’t help but compare the lead character to Franz Kafka in some instances throughout his struggles. Both are Jewish, brilliant writers, and are long-suffering in their line of works. And both are haunted by an existentialist nightmare to somehow simultaneously rise above it all yet remain a man among “the people.” The sheer duality of this wish and how Fink wrestles with the truths of his existence is a ride enhanced even moreso by the excellent portrayals of human beings who inhabit this ghost world with him. I wish I knew of better ways to further describe this film, but I guess in this instance comparisons might help. It reminds me of stories akin to Eraserhead, The Shining, and maybe even shades of Bartleby. The unsettling nature of plasticity of the mind and the subsequent imprisonment of it unfolds like one of Barton’s plays that he so idolizes. And yet, in the midst of all these psychological indemnities, the movie remains surprisingly accessible to viewers of almost any background. That, I suppose, is one of the strongest points of the Barton Fink.

It’s no surprise that given the nature of the film’s plot and message, the viewing of this would have a supremely profound effect on me. Though I do not believe in fate or predestined things, I do believe that I made the right decision by choosing this movie to finally see. A small portion of my inspiration to keep writing was rekindled by this film and I suspect its influence on me will be very apparent for quite some time in the future.

Though it seems I have little to say about this movie as opposed to the previous films I reviewed, it is only due to the nature of which this film is presented. It is something that can’t be analyzed very simply, and must be seen to truly believe in the brilliance of its movement. Balancing thunderous aesthetics with a kind of minimalist approach of energy, Barton Fink may very well be one of my most treasured viewings of all time.

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Cupcakes

September 1, 2010

The candy factory was in arms—the sound of dripping sweat from the teeming, groaning masses rose to an unbearable octave. Uncle Joe was coming soon, and the cupcakes weren’t done. He wanted them all to be perfect, but—a sprinkle askew here, and a chocolate nub misplaced there, and—he’d have their heads for sure.

“Oh my God! Dear Lord, smite their stupid heads—they know not what they do!” Spartacus lamented, wiping his brow with a tattered lambskin.

The one hundred and thirty eight workers toiled ceaselessly, feverishly—but still, it would not be enough to appease Uncle Joe.

“I demand a million cupcakes, for I hunger,” he had ordered in a booming, totalitarian tone. “Also, my daughter’s birthday is approaching fast.”

And Spartacus, in his meek effort to appease Uncle Joe, agreed to have it done by Tuesday evening.

It was almost midnight now, and not even half the pasty delights had been finished and shrinkwrapped in day-old bags. Spartacus tore at his hair and gnashed his yellowed teeth, running down the stairwell and onto the main floor of the factory itself.

“Judith! O, Judith! What is going on?” he cried.

One female worker, with lank mousy hair and a fair olive complexion, turned towards Spartacus apprehensively. She was holding two frosting cups with each hand, with a pair of scissors dangling from her thumb.

“Judith, tell your row to raise the production level! We cannot waste a single moment!”

“Sir! We are working as fast as we can!” the young woman protested.

Spartacus bit his lip furiously, wringing his hands like an old man.

“Tell them to work faster, then! And what are those scissors for?” he asked.

“To cut the cupcakes precisely congruent, sir,” Judith replied breathlessly. “Uncle Joe has stated that all of his delicious treats must be perfect in both a cosmetic and culinary sense.”

Spartacus nodded grimly, and went around the production lines to make sure everyone was toiling at full capacity. He took extreme care in the handling of the miniature cakes into wide cardboard boxes—as if these delicacies held the secrets of life itself, and any blemish could result in the loss of that valuable answer.

“We’re all dolls in the service of Uncle Joe,” Spartacus’ wife had quoted so famously.

“Yes, I agree,” Spartacus openly stated.

“Then you won’t objectify to Uncle Joe’s demand for me,” she clucked.

“How can I?”

If anything, Spartacus was secretly pleased that his wife was considered to be pretty enough to take to bed with Uncle Joe. It made Spartacus feel like a bigger man. This made his son Klaus very depressed that his mama should be labeled a whore. Spartacus slapped his son with his entire hand for that snide remark.

“How dare you question Uncle Joe,” Spartacus snorted, pawing the ground with his heavy boots like a mad old bison. “You should be grateful that your mama will be given precedance over other women. We will benefit from her beauty.”

Klaus never shook his head to defy his papa again.

“Spartacus! Spartacus! We need more frosting!”

The poor frontrunner of this frantic candy carnivale skittered as fast as he could up the stairs, sweating with a nervous euphoria.

“What is wrong? Oh God, please let there be more frosting!” Spartacus yelped, whimpering like a kicked puppy.

“The reservoir is dried up, sir. No more chocolate topping can be squeezed through!” one worker said mournfully.

“No! It cannot be! There must be more—“

He rushed to the enormous tubes, banging each one with desperation. He pushed buttons and pulled levers, turned knobs and spun various contraptions. But, nothing. He began to feel genuinely doomed as the mechanical regulation meter showed zero percent frosting outtake.

“No more chocolate flavoring? Uncle Joe will have my head for this!”

He tore what little greying hair he had left, and turned to his employees with red, smoking eyes.

“Who…Who was in charge of the frosting? Who didn’t refill the tubes like I asked?” he inquired through gritted mandibles.

A shivering ripple of silence fell over the workers and veiled their potentially guilty faces. Spartacus looked at each of them carefully, wishing he had infrared senses to better view waves of inferiority in the human spectrum.

By chance—by fate, maybe—his steely gaze fell on Judith, and the heat felt more intense than it did when he merely cast a cursory once-over. She seemed to know; the flaming, treachorous leech.

Spartacus pointed an accusing finger at her frail, trembling self; his chief digit unwavering and unforgiving in its choice for a reasonable scapegoat, beyond all logic save for the logic that Uncle Joe would not hesitate in cutting off said digit—along with the other nine—when he found out that his daughter’s birthday surprise would be partially disrupted. All due to the incompetence of this pitiful, homely woman.

“Judith,” he rasped, effectively summoning the voice of a dragon in his whispered croak.

She mouthed the word, “Me?” to which Spartacus slowly nodded his head, sneering with dispassion and disgust. She retreated several steps, carefully minding her so-called comrades who seemed to be forming a barrier of oily gauntlets and frosting-smattered smocks around her.

“Judith,” Spartacus repeated, tasting the acidity of her accursed name.

Damn her; damn her twist of merely existing and damn her parents and all the seed to come from her harlot hive. At this moment, Spartacus could think of nothing he despised, utterly loathed more than his young employee. Even the devil—in his cast-iron hide of gnarled elephant skin and bloody goat masks of archaelogical origin—seemed less of nuisance to him.

Spartacus was going to kill her with his bare hands.

“When you feel the meathooks tear the skin from your bones, and the fire smoke your flesh till it has disintegrated, thank Judith! For she has ensured our judgment; the punishment which will surely rain upon us by His Greatfulness, Uncle Joe. Thank her! Hold up your arms and bless her head—now, only a god can save her, and subsequently, us!”

Spartacus reached for Judith, who was buffeted by her many friends turned hypnotic foes, all under the spell of puppetmaster Spartacus. They became jerky and erratic in their movements to halt her escape, drawn to and fro by the invisible marionette strings of a corrupt demagouge.

“Kill her fast; do what must be done. Don’t let the ruse of the afterlife bar you from vengeance; justice in this life means more than that in the next. I say to you all—attack!”

The shocking intransigence of her formally taciturn bunch made Judith’s blood run cold with honest fear, and in the ensuing chaos that followed, she scarcely summoned enough fortitude to muster a hasty escape. The flailing hands, caked with vanilla and chocolate and strawberry—all the flavors of dissent—reached in vain for her.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Spartacus roared, his sweaty face splitting into a sinister grin, yellowed teeth bared like feral fangs, and dripping with blood-red cherry filling.

They raised their frying pans and sharpened sporks to murder Judith.