Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone. There are things I want to say about Black Friday, the War on Christmas, and how the multitude of kids no doubt blogging and tweeting and Facebooking what they got for Christmas speaks to a document-the-moment/miss-the-meaning culture we're in, but I can't be bothered. Instead, here's a Christmas tradition I've been maintaining: watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

There's the Cinematic Titanic version:

There's the Elvira version:

There's the MST3k version which initially introduced me to the movie:

And, of course, the original movie itself:

Take care of yourselves,

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Story Slam: Gifts and Giving

I was dubbed "the hipster Cinderella" after this story. I'll take that. Might even make it my OKCupid username.

I will not, for a variety of reasons, be posting this story to Facebook.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Anna Karenina Review

An adaptation of the late 19th-century Russian classic about the consequences of love outside of marriage.

That is not the best description of the plot of Anna Karenina, but it's hard to think of a one or two-sentence summary. The novel is sprawling, exploring both the cultural as well as political state of Russia at the time of its writing. Characters constantly act as mirrors for each other--Anna and her brother Stiva showing the consequences of infidelity for men versus women, Anna and Levin showing the pursuit of love inside and outside of marriage, Levin and Karenin showing social change from within the government as opposed to in their daily lives--and that doesn't even begin to touch on the myriad love triangles. The novel is neither small nor simplistic, and, I would say, an absolute delight.

How then to adapt it to the screen and do it in such a way that makes sense 135 years after the novel?

Wright (director) and Stoppard (screenwriter) seemingly decided to abandon any pretense of even telling the story from the novel. Oddly enough, I think that decision works even though the film ultimately doesn't.

They didn't film the novel. Instead of, for instance, having a scene at a train station filmed at a train station (or on a set made up to look like one), much of the movie is set in an abandoned theater. The drama of the film literally happens onstage but also travels backstage, into the rafters, all over. The choreography and set design done to accomplish this is worth the price of admission alone. The first half hour plays out like Moulin Rouge! without the flash and manic energy. Instead there's an unrelenting balletic grace in every move. It was so well done that I was actually disappointed when Levin returned to his estate and it became him actually working the fields at his estate--the first point where it looked like a normal movie.

With all the effort put into the set design and choreography, the storytelling suffered. The movie seemed to relate the story of Anna Karenina in shorthand, with nods to all the plot elements as though the audience will just know what's happening--especially regarding Levin's working the fields with his serfs and Anna's breakdown over being increasingly isolated from society. Which I think is the point. You're supposed to have read the book before seeing this film. There's a moment where a character tells Anna she wouldn't dream of leaving her operetta so early, and I think that's the key to understanding this adaptation--it is not a straight adaptation, it's the story done as opera, but without filming an opera. The characters aren't acting, they're aware of their presence in a story, and since they know the story it's assumed you do too.

Does that make sense?

My inability to successfully describe the film, frankly, is the problem with the film. I actually don't mind the movie having the assumption I know the source material. Rather than tell the story, it's stepping forward and saying, "We all know this story, so how can we make it new? What else can film do?" Only it doesn't go far enough. When the rear walls of the stage literally part and Levin steps onto the snow-covered fields of his estate, that's when the movie loses its nerve, when the movie returns to standard filmic methods. It should have stayed within the theater the whole time, forever contrasting the artifice of Russian society with the reality of Anna and Vronsky's love through the dissonance of the realistic sets being constantly subverted by the stage itself. Then I could say that this was experimental film as costume drama or vice versa. As it is, Anna Karenina is an abjectly gorgeous film with stunning choreography that ultimately left me cold. It moves well and is definitely worth seeing on the big screen just for the majesty of it, but it's not something you can get lost in.

3/5 stars.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Strike Debt

Hopefully you've already heard about the Rolling Jubilee and Strike Debt. These are outgrowths of Occupy attempting to buy up as much bad individual debt as possible and then erase it.

They've already done a proof-of-concept where, with $500 they eliminated $14,000 worth of debt. Today they took $5,000 of the money they've raised so far and erased just over $100,000 worth of medical debt.

An action like is is at once simple in its execution and radical in its results. Beyond the immediate good that can be done to families burdened by bad debts that they shouldn't have been hit with in the first place--be they medical debts because we still don't have a single-payer system or from fraud by credit card companies piling on fee after fee after fee--this action is the first step in undermining our debt economy and, in conjunction with other debt strike actions, goes a long way to brutally screwing the vampire class.

After all the time chanting, "They got bailed out, we got sold out," the people are finally getting their own bailout and, appropriately enough, it's not coming from the government but from the people themselves.

So if you think our predatory lending culture is unfair: support the Rolling Jubilee

If you think people shouldn't be punished for being too poor for a doctor: support the Rolling Jubilee

If you think credit card companies should lose: support the Rolling Jubilee

If you think your bailout dollars went to crooks who crashed our economy: support the Rolling Jubilee

If you want to give a big "fuck you" to politicians wringing their hands over a "fiscal cliff" but who wouldn't mention wages or income inequality during the campaign: support the Rolling Jubilee

Help your neighbors take their lives back. I donated, I hope you will too. And be sure to check out the livestream of their telethon tonight starting at 8 ET.

Watch live streaming video from lepoissonrouge at

PFF: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning 3D Review

John, while exploring his house to convince his daughter there are no monsters, encounters a group of black-clad men who savagely beat him then murder his wife and daughter. Just before John slips into a coma, one of the men removes his mask revealing that he is Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), setting John, once he wakes up, on a quest for revenge. Only he discovers a much larger mystery and an underground army of Universal Soldiers being trained for a revolution.

A free movie for those who saw John Dies At the End, this flick was billed as the craziest, most violent, most off-the-wall genre film the Festival organizers had ever seen. To say "don't believe the hype" doesn't insult the film--the organizers set a pretty high bar. The movie still didn't thrill me much, though.

I haven't seen any of the Universal Soldier movies, and apparently this is the fourth. However it was pretty easy to pick up the plot. The Universal Soldier program grew genetically-modified people to be perfect soldiers for whatever use the government wanted to put them to--and it only takes 9 months for one to become a fully grown killing machine. Only the soldiers have started going rogue, led by one Luc Deveraux.

I found that to be the most interesting part of the movie. Jean-Claude Van Damme is really creepy and compelling as this cult leader who seemingly can appear in characters' subconscious and draw them to him. I wanted to know what his plans were, what he was doing, just everything about him.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of JCVD in the film, nor much Dolph either. This is not my genre so I'm not familiar with these guys' work, but the movie was just more fun when they were on screen.

Instead of the stars of the franchise, we're following John who, while trying to figure out why his family was killed, slowly discovers a second life that he can't remember and gradually unravels the mystery around his connection to Deveraux. This is a much slower, more meditative plot line punctuated by scenes of extreme violence from the Universal Soldier that Deveraux has dispatched to kill John.

This is the bulk of the movie and, while neat, didn't grab me. I wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme. I wanted this scary bald guy appearing from the strobe lights. Instead I had Ben Affleck's stunt double trying to emote.

Plus, the movie didn't even begin to meet the standards of madness I was told to expect by the Festival planners. Apparently the version I saw was the uncut version which is otherwise not going to screen in the US. There are some excellently-done action sequences and moments of startling violence that come across as real on the screen, but nothing to meet the hype they gave it. Frankly, the movie felt like something that was ultimately too good to be direct-to-video, but not good enough to see wide-release. And that's the state of limbo the movie lives in. Much of it is very sharp and compelling, but the final product just left me tired.

3/5 stars.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

PFF: John Dies At the End Review

David Wong has a story to tell, a story about a sentient drug called "soy sauce" that opens the doors of perception to other realities. One of those other realities has plans for our world, though, and only David's friend John has the key to stop them. Unfortunately, you know what happens to John.

Another film on my must-see list, this one didn't thrill me as much as Everything Will Be OK. John Dies At the End is the follow-up to Don Coscarelli's adaptation of Bubba Ho-Tep, the story of Elvis, who hadn't died, and President Kennedy, whose skin was dyed black, living in a rest home fighting off a redneck mummy that's killing the other residents. That is about as wacky a premise as you can have for a story and that movie delivers, but, moreso, it unexpectedly explores aging and the melancholic inevitability of death. Bubba Ho-Tep turned out to be a thoughtful meditation on life choices and their consequences with a horror-comedy premise stretched over it, a film that mixes high-art with B-movie aesthetics and one that I would recommend to any person any time.

John Dies At the End, not so much.

The movie is not a bad flick nor unenjoyable. In fact, it delivers on many levels doing things that I've been wanting to see in monster movies for ages. The characters are somewhat hip and ironic and respond to their situations--even the most dramatic--with an appropriate detachment, with almost an awareness of being in a monster movie set-up. And that is fun. "You are the prophesied saviors of our world!" "Great. We'll be right back. [whispered]Screw these guys." I loved that and the opening of the movie promises something along the lines of a sarcastic Scooby-Doo.

And then it just doesn't deliver.

There weren't exactly continuity issues, but there was a level of confusion to the movie itself. The frame narrative is David telling Arnie, a reporter, all about soy sauce: how he first discovered the drug, what it did to him, and the ultimate adventure on which it led him and his friend John. By the end of the movie, though, I don't know why David is trying to tell Arnie the story. Plus there's a flashback at the beginning of their conversation that takes place after the events of the core story that doesn't really tie in to anything else. The movie, frankly, felt like the pilot for a TV show on HBO or Showtime--a show I would totally watch, but that didn't make for a cohesive movie.

Now maybe I missed something. Coscarelli's not new to the game and the movie is carefully constructed--it moves at a steady clip and is constantly entertaining and surprising--but it felt like there were plot holes and short cuts that didn't need to be there (how David ends up taking his first dose of soy sauce for instance). And maybe it says something of the movie itself that my first impulse is to lay the fault for any sense of dissatisfaction with me, but it just felt a little flat.

Much of the movie was very satisfying. The central plot of John and David being exposed to the soy sauce and then being roped into a plan to save the Earth from a Cthonic horror from a parallel dimension was lots of fun and Paul Giamatti as the reporter, well, Paul Giamatti ever, in anything, is a delight. The movie is a lot of fun, a total popcorn-muncher and great for a Saturday afternoon, but it didn't meet the expectations set by Bubba Ho-Tep. Were I judging the film exclusively on its own merits, it might have rated higher with me, I might have overlooked or simply missed the things that tripped me up, but Coscarelli is so good that I find it hard not to hold him to the standard he established. John Dies At the End is good, but it could have been better.

3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

PFF: The Everything Will Be OK Trilogy/It's Such a Beautiful Day

The latest from animator Don Hertzfeldt, this piece is three 15-20 minute cartoons about Bill, a man with an unstated neurodegenerative condition, and his common and curious thoughts and experiences.

THE festival gem. I'm a fan of Hertzfeldt in general and had this down as my festival must-see. After all, a movie like this isn't going to see any sort of wide-release, it's only going to play the festival circuit.

Being a fan of Hertzfeldt, however, did not prepare me for this movie. I knew he could push paper animation farther than anyone else and that he could plumb the depths of absurdist, black humor. I never expected to be crying by the end of one of his pieces and trying not to cry now, nearly a month later, remembering it.

The trilogy, billed by the Film Fest as The Everything Will Be OK Trilogy (Hertzfeldt's title for the complete work is It's Such a Beautiful Day) is three cartoons: "Everything Will Be OK," "I Am So Proud of You," and, "It's Such a Beautiful Day." The first piece is posted in its entirety here and, while visually it goes beyond anything Hertzfeldt's done before, the content feels like classic Hertzfeldt--absurd, dark, and wry, which is not a criticism. The short has hilarious moments--"Downtown, the hot smell of manure blew past him as he walked. Bill soon came upon 3 dead horses in the road, apparently struck down by a large moving vehicle. Well, he thought, that would explain the smell then." "His ex-girlfriend said she'd be really creeped out if she knew Bill's severed head was floating around above her in space."--but had a palpable shift in the middle where I realized, while the audience was still laughing, this wasn't funny anymore, that there was something tragic happening on screen.

Rather than have sync-sound and dialogue, Hertzfeldt instead narrates the entire trilogy in a constant, straight, unaffected tone. This, initially, heightens the humor and absurdity, but, as the movie goes on, increases the tragedy. It's like having someone read a story to you were horrible things keep happening and they won't stop no matter how much you ask. They just keep plowing along. Which makes the really heartbreaking moments--when a scene is repeated 3 times with the same narration and the same cadence, when he says, "That hand keeps dropping things," when a character is said to be softly crying--hit harder. The unaffected tone keeps things from becoming melodramatic and makes the moment of revelation, that this isn't funny, hit so much harder.

I could go on and on about the beauty of this film and obsess over every part, every decision made in the telling, but it would make for boring reading. This is a trilogy and every part stands alone and is remarkable in its own way, but as a trilogy it manages the amazing feat of rewriting itself and your understanding of it by the end of the third part. The first part means something else after the third part and is no longer funny. Only tragic and sad and beautiful.

This is the best movie I've seen all year.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

PS. Halloween!

I almost forgot: aw shit son! It's Halloween!

I'll have the rest of my Film Fest reviews up soon. I got bogged down with the triple trouble of seeing the movies, grading papers, and getting a cold. And then a hurricane hit. Now I'm having a beer and watching Spike & Mike's Halloween Marathon. Happy Halloween!

PFF: Miami Connection Review

Miami Connection at NYAFF - July 7th! from Drafthouse Films on Vimeo.

A group of Taekwondo black-belts in a New Wave band confront life issues while being menaced by a clan of Harley-riding, coke-dealing ninjas.

No, you don't understand. I toned it down for that description.

This was one of the two midnight screenings at the Festival and, I admit, I didn't go. Because I saw it a few months ago at Exhumed Films, but I'd been excited about it ever since I saw the trailer on Everything is Terrible! This movie has it all if you're a 12-year-old boy in the '80's. I'll try to walk through the plot, what plot there is.

Dragon Sound is a New Wave band composed of Taekwondo black-belts who are all orphans and sing songs about, what else, friendship and the power of Taekwondo to defeat the ninja. The ninja haven't shown up yet, they're just opposed to ninja in principle (which you know will lead to someone totally flipping out). The guitarist is dating the female singer. Her brother is the eponymous Miami connection for a clan of ninjas to deal their coke in Miami. He decides he doesn't want his sister associating with the guitarist and so Dragon Sound must be destroyed to keep the band from interfering in the drug trade.

That they're not involved in.

And know nothing about.

And aren't trying to stop.

The movie doesn't so much follow from there as continue to have things happen on screen. Nothing really ties to anything else, there are long scenes that do nothing (a trip to the pizza parlor, a trip to the beach), all culminating in an ultra-violent freak-out at the end.

In other words, pure deliciousness.

The movie is not good at all, but it is unrelentingly gleeful. That 12-year-old's enthusiasm for all that's "awesome" positively beams from the screen. It's hard not to tap into the joy that inspired this movie. There's very little ability on display--apart from the Taekwondo--but that didn't stop anyone involved from going whole-hog because they thought it would be fun.

The movie is actually gleeful, and that's rare in just about any medium. Drafthouse Films is giving it a proper theatrical release, so if you can see it in theaters, do. If you can't, make sure to watch it with friends. The constant WTF moments won't stick unless you have someone to share them with. Also, you want someone with you who, when you inevitably go, "If they can make a movie, I sure as hell can make a movie!" will reply, "Fuck yes!"

4/5 stars.

PFF: The ABCs of Death Review

26 directors, each given $5,000, a letter of the alphabet, and complete freedom compile an alphabetical guide of ways to die.

This was one of the movies I was excited to see at the festival. It met all my criteria: weird, ambitious, and unlikely to be screened elsewhere. And while it did not disappoint, it did not thrill either.

This is the most anthological (not a real word) of any horror anthology I've ever seen. 26 short films, only one of which appears in the trailer above, becomes, as you would expect, a challenging viewing experience. It's not that the movie is particularly sick or perverse or lacking in any way, there's just so much of it that I became overwhelmed by the experience of watching itself. Once the viewing crosses that line, a touch of the joy is lost.

Not to say there weren't very good shorts here. "D is for Dogfighting" was being screened before select prints of V/H/S as a preview for this movie and with good reason. The short is markedly well-done, constantly inventive, and conveys a full story in the briefest span. And it was fun to watch.

Likewise "Q is for Quack," "W is for WTF," "K is for Klutz," and "T is for Toilet" which all stick out in my mind. Ti West's short disappointed as did his piece for V/H/S, which was, again, doubly disappointing because he was one of the directors I was excited about. His short here came off as a cheap joke, almost lazy, and, after the joy I had seeing The Innkeepers at last year's festival, I'm wondering if the short form is really where he should be working.

There is a lot of good to this collection and I'm selling it short by criticizing it as I am. The problem ultimately lies in the presentation. This shouldn't be one program with piece after piece after piece. That becomes too much to take in and, since it's structured around the alphabet, kills some of the surprises. I found myself as the shorts went on trying to figure out what the cause of death would be. "If it's this letter, what could it be? What are they showing?" It didn't help that I became so exhausted watching that I forgot how the alphabet went, thinking U immediately followed Q. I would have enjoyed all of it more if it'd been sprinkled throughout a horror movie marathon--like a cable channel having a month of monsters and throughout playing random selections from The ABCs of Death. Then the shorts would have arrived in digestible chunks and not necessarily in order, adding a little more of a surprise.

Although nothing could be as surprising as Z. That, in all fairness, was the most ardently insane thing I'd ever seen on a movie screen and, yes, worth the price of admission alone, even if I'd had to pay.

3.5/5 stars

Story Slam: The Unknown

I told a ghost story. Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

PFF: Waiting for Lightning Review

DC Shoes and Megaramp present the story of Megaramp founder and DC Shoes co-founder in a DC Shoes production of a Megaramp film brought to you through special promotional consideration by DC Shoes parent company Quicksilver in association with Monster Energy Drink the story of oh crap we've run out of money for the last ten minutes quick Bud Light will pick up the tab and do we still even need to do a movie?

I haven't seen The Greatest Movie Ever Sold yet, but it's hard to imagine it having less aggressive product-placement than this documentary. Even the trailer is constantly marked "DC Shoes." I actually liked DC Shoes before seeing this movie--their shoes were comfy, simple, and fit well. But having wasted one of my festival viewings being tricked into watching a 90-minute ad has made them join Nike on the list of brands I'll never wear again.

I'd be able to overlook the product-placement if the movie itself weren't already two movies forced together and failing to have a happy marriage.

The film is supposed to be about skateboarder Danny Way jumping the Great Wall of China in 2005. This represents the signal moment of his career, the pinnacle, where he pushes not only himself beyond what he had imagined was possible, but skateboarding as a sport. A technically massive undertaking that requires building a 120-foot-high ramp with a crew that doesn't speak the language of the project heads and where a half-inch imprecision could mean Way's death.

That's a story right there: how does something like this get off the ground, how does it come together, what drives a man to pursue such a thing, and, obviously, does he make it?

The problem is, that's not the movie, that's the frame that the movie keeps returning to, forever teasing a little more of the jump throughout so that when the jump finally arrives, not only does the outcome seem a given, I'm too bored to even care.

The movie we get instead is a VH1 Behind the Music-style biopic about Danny Way which involves equal parts archival footage of Way skating, talking heads, and recreations/dramatizations of what the talking heads are saying, usually with the players in the recreations wearing DC Shoes. Bad enough that the biopic follows the tragedy-passion-downfall-redemption arc of Behind the Music, and ignoring that all the interviewees speaking in elegiac terms of Danny throughout as though he died in the jump (which was the biggest giveaway that he did it successfully), the film fails to translate skateboarding to the layman.

I know I'm asking a lot of the documentary to make me understand the difference between good skateboarding and bad, to generate a literacy I would never otherwise have, but there is such a lost opportunity here. The talking heads keep returning to the fact that Way's the best out there, the best ever, and that was clear from day one, that watching him skate was an unrelenting shock. We don't want for videos of Way on the skateboard. He does some moves that are, yes, very impressive, but most of the videos are of him grinding an edge, getting vertical on a ramp, doing a kickflip or a turn. He may be doing these things very well, he may be demonstrating an obvious and unparalleled skill, but I don't know good from bad. All I saw was him doing skateboard things I've seen other skateboarders do too. I can't do them, but I don't know why him doing them was amazing.

I've seen documentaries inform me in exactly that way. Planet B-Boy made me understand breakdancing in ways I never did before and has allowed me to be truly impressed by what I see. Hell, even Wordplay made me understand the thrill of crossword puzzles. How can a skateboarding documentary actually make me care less about skateboarding after watching it?

A relentlessly frustrating film and probably the worst I'll see at the festival this year. On the upside, things can only get better.

2/5 stars

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Philadelphia Film Fest

This will be a placeholder until I can update it with more, but until then, I'll be attending the 2012 Philadelphia Film Festival.

If my students put that in a paper, I'd tell them they'd written a sentence that says nothing.

Of course I'd be attending the Fest. I love movies, I love weird movies, and I even love just going to movies so the Fest is right up my street. Plus festivals are one of the rare venues where you can see short films which tend to be amazing in ways wholly unexpected.

What makes my going to the Fest this year significant is that, thanks to UWishUNu, the Philadelphia tourism blog, I won two silver badges for the Festival. They include free entry into every screening plus access to various parties and the Festival bar. If you're anything like me, you stopped reading after "entry into every screening" because who gives a toss about the rest?

I'll be posting about every movie I see, but I wanted to throw this post up beforehand just to express my gratitude to both UWishUNu and the Philadelphia Film Society for the passes. I'd be trying to see as many films as I could regardless, but that would have come down to what I could afford. Now it's all an issue of scheduling.

I'm going to nerd out so hard you don't even know.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

V/H/S Review

V/H/S is a found-footage anthology horror film--two difficult forms that come together surprisingly well. I just got back from a preview and rather than post the trailer up at the top, I've posted the video of the song that closes the film for two reasons:
  1. I love the Death Set and that song is among my favorite of theirs
  2. Any advance information about this movie takes away some of the fun of it
I watched the trailer which made me check Wikipedia and thus I knew the backstory of everything in the movie

Check the archives. I never claimed to be smart.

If you want to see the trailer, click on the film's title, but frankly, even the brief clips there give away too much.

I'm not giving anything away when I say that it's a found-footage anthology film, though. The frame is a group of hooligans who videotape their various antics and are hired to get a videotape from a house. When they arrive, rather than find one tape, they find many and start watching them to figure out which tape they're supposed to leave with. The five tapes they watch--and that we thus watch--make up the rest of the film with short returns to the group in the house between tapes.

The five stories are:
  1. A trio of guys, one with a hidden camera in his glasses, go bar-hopping to pick up girls.
  2. A couple is making a video diary of their trip in the Southwest.
  3. Four college-age kids go for a trip in the woods and bring a video camera.
  4. A couple videochats with each other, the woman telling her boyfriend that she thinks her house is haunted.
  5. Four guys go looking for a Halloween party in 1998. One is dressed as a Nannycam--a teddy bear with a camera hidden in its head.
I realize these are the thinnest of descriptions, barely even set-ups, but they're all I'm comfortable relating. The second piece was done by Ti West who blew me away last year with The Innkeepers and was a big reason I was excited about seeing this movie. Unfortunately, while good, it's also the weakest of the five--partly because it's too subtle, partly because the horror at its core is too mundane (although it is a nice dramatization of certain urban legends). There are hints of stress in the couple's relationship, but that can't be effectively explored in a short, and the found footage element isn't as interesting as it is in the others pieces. I would have preferred if this wasn't in the movie but was rather done for Masters of Horror. What is has right now isn't enough for a feature-length film, but could be fantastic at 45 minutes to an hour.

The other four shorts, and the frame itself, have the medium very tightly integrated into the story. Even the third story where it's just some kids taking a camera with them--which should sound as unambitious as the camera in the Ti West piece--ends up making the horror that emerges very uniquely video-based and visual. If anything, it reminds of the video game Slender

I don't want to say much more--that's a lie, actually. I want to talk about this movie in giddy, giggling terms. The film is just a fun, fun ride. Watching it makes me feel like the Halloween season has officially started. If I have any other criticisms, it's the same one that I have of Grindhouse: the affectation of artifacts being added to the film. In Grindhouse it was unnecessary film scratches and other elements to make it look like an old grindhouse movie. Here, it's video artifacts: digital hangups in the videochat, blue screens and static when cameras get hit. The artifacts are affectations and, curiously, decreased the manufactured reality of the clips. They seemed to shout, "You're watching a video!" which broke the spell. Fortunately, the pieces themselves were strong enough to overcome those moments.

V/H/S is available on Video On Demand, but has a limited theatrical release starting Friday, October 5th. Catch it in the theater if you get the chance. It'll be gone too quickly and that's where it's really effective--because that's where it's immersive. This is something you want to fall in to.

4 out of 5

Monday, October 01, 2012

Friday, August 31, 2012

Story Slam: Guilty Pleasures

I was bone tired when I told this and I think I might expand this into an essay because the story is so much larger than what's sketched out here. Anyway, latest Story Slam piece:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Everything Is Festival-Streaming

I've loved Everything is Terrible since I lucked into a live performance of their third feature, Doggie Woggies, Poochie Woochies. Their annual festival (Everything Is Festival III: The Domination) is going on right now and various events are streaming. Right now I'm watching an Evening with Joel Hodgson and am very excited that these events are streaming. Enjoy!

EDIT: Really interesting talk where, I think for the first time, he explains what made him leave MST3k, but, more interesting, explains what lay at the core of his creative process to building puppets and also his sense of regret over how the follow-up to MST3k, X-Box/TV Wheel, didn't work out. I was checking the DAP for episodes of TV Wheel, because I remember watching it from there, but they no longer host it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hellblazer, Vol. 3: The Fear Machine (New Edition)Hellblazer, Vol. 3: The Fear Machine by Jamie Delano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Remarkably wordy, this feels more like an illustrated novella than a graphic novel or trade. There's also a touch too much deus ex machina, coincidences where Constantine and the secondary characters are either witnesses to or dragged along by the plot. Their decisions, and thus them at characters, come across as irrelevant, which is one of the downsides of Hellblazer as a series. At its best, it's the adventures of Constantine in the shadow-world of magic-infused London. However, here it's Constantine as half-capable tour guide of the magical horrors the writer and artist dream up.
And not to be relentlessly negative--I did give it three stars, nearly four. There's still a neat story at the core and, as wordy as the book is, it's well-written, so much so that I'd almost prefer reading it as a prose piece. Constantine's interiority and wondering about himself as the corrupting force and whether he can ever be redeemed, escape that corruption, or refrain from ever hurting others with it is the most compelling part of the collection. While the action picks up as that falls away, that's when the book becomes less interesting; becomes watching someone watch a story.
The biggest downside, apart from what I've noted, is the moral absoluteness of every character. The good guys are uncomplicatedly good and the bad guys are irredeemably bad. That doesn't determine anyone's fate--which would have made the book childishly obvious--but since Hellblazer involves literal deals with devils and real choices between lesser evils, these characters seem lazy and didactic. I find that when characters reveal essential information shortly after they appear and quickly die to keep from complicating the plot it's a sign that the writer knows what they want to have happen in the story, but don't know how to make it happen.
As a side note, I find it difficult to imagine reading this series issue-by-issue as it came out. This particular storyline is nine issues long with very little payoff at the end of each chapter. What is a very carefully, almost lackadaisically-paced story took nine months to tell. If nothing else, this volume is evidence of how people read comic books before the current age where being collected into a trade is assumed.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol. 26: Traitors of the EarthUsagi Yojimbo, Vol. 26: Traitors of the Earth by Stan Sakai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No one joins a series at volume 26 so I'll avoid contextual commentary (I'd suggest vol. 12 Grasscutter as a good introduction point--Sakai is well-skilled as a storyteller by this point and there's enough narrative to stand alone while also enticing the reader to explore earlier volumes).
This volume is composed of shorter stories, a few 2-3 page affairs from Dark Horse anthologies and 1-3 issue story arcs. There's less of the epic feel that infuses Usagi at its best, but the stories deliver the fun, adventurous side of Usagi. "Plot-driven" would be the best description of this volume with characters arriving at precisely the right moment and conclusions being obvious from the start--not due to a deficit of storytelling, but because these are stories relying upon old tropes.
Rather then being stories Sakai needed to tell to further the tale of Usagi, these are short pieces he wanted to tell. They are fun because Sakai is a master of comic storytelling, but they don't inspire further excitement in samurai stories the way other Usagi trades do.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

One Missed Day

I didn't post yesterday because I didn't try to train Aisling by putting her in her cage--she'd already destroyed it by the time I'd come home from a brunch date.

And she pulled down the curtain.

And chewed up a library book.

And gnawed on the corner of a table.

And tore the molding off the door frame.

The situation struck me as evidence of things getting worse and that I needed to pursue other options.

I'd already picked up some Benadryl to see if that would work on her since I knew I'd be spending a good part of the evening at a friend's birthday and then going to see a midnight screening of Mommy Dearest. Dosing my dog still strikes me as extreme, but if it's an issue of her potentially hurting herself versus having a sedative, I'll give her the pill.

Also, lest I come off as some fussy city-living pet dilettante, "Oh, taking care of another living thing is so inconvenient. Why can't she just be cute and make people like me for owning her?" That's not where I'm coming from. I've grown up with dogs, I take care of my dog, and I'm worried about her hurting herself while I'm at work. I'm not interested in her as a status symbol.

After seeing all that destruction, the pills were an easy choice, and a bit of an experiment. I don't know what is the root cause of her anxiety, but even my friend noticed Aisling's been different over the summer; not only in regards to this acting out, but seemingly depressed and needy in a way she wasn't before.

So there's more to the dog situation than I initially thought. There may even be a food-based allergy going on. I'm continuing with the training, but only locking her in my room with no cage at all. The cage itself seemed to be a source of stress for her--she'd start panicking as soon as I put her in--so maybe it's for the best that she destroyed it. The cage wasn't the sole problem, though. She destroyed my room once when I hadn't put her in the cage at all. Her anxiety is still the core problem and I don't know how to address that. I don't know how to help her stop feeling sad.

Friday, August 10, 2012


This was supposed to be a post about how I went skydiving today. Only instead of jumping from a plane, which, is always the best option, my group of jumpers was delayed by a passing thunderstorm and then uncooperative winds that were blowing one way at ground level and, strongly, in the opposite direction half-a-mile up. We rescheduled.

I was taking pictures here and there throughout our 3-hour wait to jump and everyone kept asking to review the photos to approve them before I posted them to Facebook. Then I told them I had quit Facebook. Which surprised them. The organizer of the trip said he thought I'd defriended him. I don't find that curious--suddenly he can't contact me on Facebook, that'd be my first assumption as well. However, he never asked me about it. Not only was I going on a trip he organized to jump out of a plane, I meet with him every week as part of a workshop group. I sit and drink with this man more often than I do with almost anyone else. Yet, because he couldn't find me on his friends list to invite me to the jump whose details I'd already confirmed, he thought I'd dropped him from my list out of some unknown spite. And he never mentioned it to me.

When I initially thought about writing this "Why I Quit Facebook" post, I wondered what I could say that was new. I thought there was nothing to add to its annoying omnipresence, how every update ends up ruining something that worked, how looking at Facebook at all just makes me depressed. The thought struck me that the only thing more common than quitting Facebook is Facebook itself. Then I had that conversation and I realized that was the very reason I quit Facebook.

via Shmitten Kitten

Facebook makes us stupid in friendship, makes us stupid in our emotional connections. The site and our use of it becomes not just an interface between friends but an actual stand-in for that friendship. Our Facebook connection becomes our real-life connection. Facebook was depressing me because I didn't hear from my friends on Facebook. They didn't comment on my posts they way they commented on each other's, I'd set up events no one would come to, and couldn't get support for any of my Story Slam appearances. On top of all that, I was constantly worried I'd see my ex commenting on a friend's post or would worry about attending an event that she was also invited to.

I'm not saying any of this isn't small, petty, and pathetic, it absolutely is. I'm arguing, though, that Facebook exacerbates this, that it makes all the small hurts sting more because it's composed purely of the small things. If no one responds to my inane comments or meme references in conversation, I'll shut up; if I call around to see if anyone wants to get together next weekend and no one's available, I'll be bummed but I'll lump it; if the people whose readings, events, and competitions I support won't reciprocate by supporting me, they're not really friends*. And if I want to avoid my ex, I can avoid going to the places she'd go. I don't need to preemptively worry about running into her at an event or getting angry over her commenting on a mutual friend's marriage announcement.

Facebook, by being composed purely of these small interactions that otherwise would have no space--and would not be missed if absent--makes them seem large and significant because they are removed from any context that shows exactly how small they are, and I needed to remind myself of the context.

So for the moment I am not on Facebook (though I am on OKCupid which raises its own issues of a web interface as a stand-in for a real relationship), but I will probably return. The ubiquity of the site is a strong case for it and the sense that I'm missing out on things, that I won't be invited--even though Facebook itself exacerbated those feelings--may eventually force my surrender. Until then, I am feeling much happier without access to the site and enjoying my time a little more. And hopefully I'll be able to talk about something more interesting than not jumping out of a plane next time.

UPDATE: Forgot to include this:

*Not to imply some need for tit-for-tat, but I support these people both because I think they're talented and because I like them. For them to constantly give me the cold shoulder when it comes to my own work says something about their opinion of me as a writer and as a person.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Back in the Archive Again

The Internet Archive, where I uploaded as many films as possible during the PD Project, is now offering torrents of material from their site.

This is a good plan for many reasons, and well overdue. Of course there have been independent torrents of material from the Archive, but those were generally packs of books or the complete music catalog of a weblabel. This development means people can download more from the Archive without stressing those servers as much.

I've gone back to all the movies I posted in the PD Project and am seeding torrents for several of them (I'll try to seed all of them eventually, but there are space limitations). I've also edited a few of the uploads--removing the nonstandard formats (the iPod and PSP versions) that probably weren't much use anyway.

I still haven't given up hope of making a midnight horror host show or MST3k thing from those movies, but, frankly, I've been wanting to do something like that just with friends on a normal weekend. Get a few people together, have some drinks and watch a bad movie. With the right kind of people that can be a very good time and I recommend you try it if you haven't.

From what I can tell, 34 of the movies I uploaded to the Archive are still there (some received copyright challenges after the adjustment of international treaties and no part of that sentence is made up). Here is the list of what I've posted with links to their individual pages:

The Amazing Transparent Man
Attack of the Giant Leeches
Attack of the Monsters
The Bat
Bloody Pit of Horror
Colossus and the Amazon Queen
Cosmos: War of the Planets
Dead Men Walk
Dementia 13
Destroy All Planets
First Spaceship on Venus
Hercules Against the Moon Men
Hercules and the Tyrants of Babylon
Hercules Unchained
Horrors of Spider Island
The House on Haunted Hill
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
King of the Zombies
The Little Shop of Horrors
The Lost Jungle
Monster From a Prehistoric Plant
The Monster Maker
One Body Too Many
The Phantom Planet
The Screaming Skull
The She Beast
A Shriek in the Night
Teenagers From Outer Space
Warning From Space
The Wild Women of Wongo
Zontar the Thing From Venus

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Back in the Box

My dog is suffering from separation anxiety. What this means in technical terms is she gets upset when I leave her alone in the apartment. What it means in literal terms is she destroys anything she comes in contact with every time I leave her alone to the point where, today, she squeezed her way out of her crate, chewed up the rug in my room, knocked over a lamp and chewed on the top of it--including the light bulb.

This brings the total amount of things she's destroyed in the past month-and-a-half to
  • 2 standing lamps
  • 1 set of sheets (because of the broken light bulb on it)
  • 2 pet crate trays
  • 1 pet crate
  • 2 towels
  • 1 dog bed
  • 1 box fan
  • 1 area rug
  • 1 autographed book

Needless to say, I'm upset about that list, but I'm more concerned about her freaking out and potentially hurting herself. Here's a picture of her in the crate after destroying her dog bed:

My dog weighs about 50 lbs and her shoulders stop just before my knee. In other words, she's not small. The first time she broke out of her crate, she kicked the pan out then squeezed through the gap it left. That gap was about an inch tall.

My dog's tail is the only thing that would fit through that gap.

She stretched it out. After she escaped, the gap was 3 inches tall, the crate permanently distorted.

So now I'm trying to re-crate train her, part of which is this post. I have to reacclimate her to the crate and to the idea of me leaving. The vet suggested doing it in 15-minute intervals where I lock her in the crate and do something else. Thus the blog. I'll be updating daily while she's locked in the box.

Lest I come off as making light of locking her in a crate (words not chosen accidentally), it's a situation where I don't have any options. I've tried letting her run free in my room while I'm gone and she did all the things I mentioned. I came home from giving blood today and she hadn't only escaped the crate and destroyed the lamp, there was also the issue of the compact fluorescent bulb that had formerly been in the lamp. Her freaking out when I leave is the problem, not that she doesn't like the crate.

To end on a lighter note, here's a clip from last night Colbert Report about dogs:
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Steve King's Dogfighting Defense
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Philthy Living: Aztec Chocolate Ice Cream

Yes, not the most original name, there's a (very nice) Flickr set with the same title here, but so much of the shape of my life right now seems built upon the fact that I'm living in Philadelphia, living in an urban area instead of the suburban Midwest that I grew up in that it deserves highlighting in the title.

So, the story: I'm going salsa dancing with some friends and someone I might be interested in. My friends don't know she's coming and may be bringing someone to set me up with—a nice gesture, but give a brother the head's-up if you're doing it, please?

Since it's going to be a Latin dance night, I figured I'd prepare a Latin meal and talk through the various recipes as I put them together. First, the menu:

Opening: Gazpacho soup
Main dish: Quinoa and black bean soft tacos
Side dish: Mexican blackened corn
Dessert: Aztec "hot" chocolate ice cream

I was thinking of having chips and salsa as an appetizer, and salsa as a garnish, but that gets to be a bit much, more along the lines of what I'd plan if we were only having dinner or if I was hosting a dinner party. You'll notice, if you click through to the recipe sources, that they're all vegan except (obviously) the ice cream which is merely vegetarian. This isn't accidental. Partly because I find vegan/vegetarian food allows for more play with flavors and spices, and partly because I don't want my date overstuffed with meat and thus too logey for dancing. While this meal provides a nice mix of proteins, carbs, and fats, it won't leave us feeling bloated the way a side of beef tends to do.

I'd go through the gazpacho, but it's literally slice the ingredients, dump in a food processor/blender, chill overnight. The easiest thing to make and it's very satisfying, especially on hot summer days when you don't use air conditioning (though maybe I've said too much).

I'm going to focus instead, this time, on the ice cream. The recipe is here and I pulled it from the same book they cite. I'm not reprinting it here because I do not have, nor have I sought, permission. I was initially introduced to this flavor by an ex-girlfriend who made it for me one very fun night and it's what prompted me to buy my own ice cream maker. If you're thinking about getting an ice cream maker, I'll note two things. 1: it doesn't make ice cream cheaper so if you eat a lot, you're better off buying it from the store unless you like specialized flavors, and, 2: avoid buying retail if you can. Lots of people buy them, never use them, then post them on Craigslist. Give it a little time and you can find a brand-new one for $25 like I did.

Anyway, here's a shot of all the ingredients lined up plus the Philly Roller Girls' mug that I'm going to drink a milkshake out of once this ice cream is done.
You'll notice that while the recipe calls for brandy, I'm using Kahlua, because that's what I have and because the hint of coffee adds an extra richness/darkness to the flavor. I'm also using imitation vanilla flavor instead of extract. I've been told vanilla's only added for taste and the flavor does the same job at a much lower price so I use that.

I combine the cream, cocoa, and sugar in the saucepan and heat. I, unfortunately combined them while heating which produced pimples of unincorporated cocoa powder. I recommend stirring it all together as much as possible before you start heating. You can make the pimples disappear, but I think it's simpler to get it all as mixed together as possible before you start.

Now I add the chopped chocolate. I didn't have any problem with the chocolate melting as pieces, but, as mentioned earlier, I don't use A/C so my apartment can get pretty hot. In this or other chocolate ice cream recipes, it can be useful to grate the chocolate or run it through a food processor so it's in small, easily-melted shavings, or to just melt it in a microwave and dump it in. If the chocolate doesn't melt all the way, the ice cream can come out with a slightly gritty texture. Not a problem if you're adding various chips or chunks, not great if the ice cream's supposed to stand alone.

I transfer the mixture to the cooling bowl—just the piece of Tupperware I'd typically store the final product in—and add the milk, spices, and other ingredients.

The recipe calls for putting the mixture in a blender to smooth it all out. I've never found that to be necessary, but it does help integrate the spices a little more. Unfortunately, I don't have a blender. I do, though, have an immersion blender which seems to do the job fine (and is an essential purchase if you ever eat hummus. Seriously. It's like a dollar a batch if you make it at home and what's it cost to buy? You make your money back in 4 batches or less).

I put the mixture in the fridge to cool and, when I'm about ready to pour it into the ice cream maker, put it into the freezer, stirring periodically. You don't want it to start to freeze, but you want it to be as cold as it can be before adding it to the mixer. I had to try 3 times to make my first batch before I figured this out. This may also be a consequence of no A/C. Regardless, let it get cold before adding it to your mixer.

This batch froze up problem free, actually becoming full-on ice cream and not just soft-serve before I scooped it out. The batch, about a quart, fit perfectly in the larger Jämka containers from IKEA, which makes me glad I bought them.

The girl, for those seeking narrative closure, declined my invitation for dinner at mine so we're going out before dancing instead. We'll see how it goes, but at least I have some delicious ice cream waiting for me when I get home or for the next time I have a chance to make dinner for someone.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Story Slam: Detours

I promise, I'll have content beyond just these stories soon. Until then, the story of how I became the Reverend and the best possible way to quit a job.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Story Slam: My Favorite Mistake

What it actually takes for me to cut a person out of my life and why I don't talk to the people I've dropped. I almost won this time.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Story Slam: Your Mom

My latest story. I don't know if I'm comfortable watching this after telling it.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

Story Slam 2

I forgot to mention it earlier, but I told another story:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sometimes I just need a friend who doesn't know me at all.

I had to delete someone's number from my phone to keep from sending this to them at 4:30 on a Saturday night as the snow had only just begun to fall and I walked someone else's dogs.

There's a story in everything, but right now I don't want to tell any of mine. So here is someone else's.

That was, of all things, a first date.