Thursday, September 27, 2012
i went to see fish and then i made a movie
I love the big aquariums. The kind with sharks. Where you might see crusty old dudes in scuba gear scrubbing the glass, surrounded by catfish. Piraña and whatnot. Octopi.
(I also like zoos and aviaries.)
Hell, small, apartment appropriate aquariums are pretty cool too. When little kids have a tiny tank with neon betas swimming around, and they get all proud and proprietary...
That's pretty awesome.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
With the coming global super-collapse, and an extra-dimensional Lovecraftian apocalypse on the horizon, I believe it's important to prepare for an every-man-for-himself post-Rapture world. Much like Mad Max, all we will have to survive is the companionship of a mangy dog, and what we can carry on our person.
Knowing that this is what we all face, I have been acclimating myself to carrying a "go bag", with all the things I might need within. I am getting vital practice in shifting my center of gravity to accommodate an extra 40 pounds on one side, and developing shoulder callouses for the long march across the Wasteland, looking for clean water among the ruins.
My bag is a standard issue Brooklyn Industries Messenger bag. It is nondescript, but functional. Waterproof, spacious, and sturdy. I would recommend this model. I have no reservations in such a statement.
This pocket contains a small pair of wool cloves, fingerless. An iphone charger. Eyeglass repair equipment. Advil and alka-seltzer (see previous article). A chapped lip therapy item. A padlock. The padlock is for my gym locker, but I keep it in my bag all the time because Dungeons & Dragons has taught me that it is always handy to have a padlock nearby. So far I have only used for my aforementioned gym locker.
The other side of the bag is where I keep my pens, a Mag Lite brand flashlight, an extendable magnet, a Victorinox brand Swiss Army Multi-tool, a notepad, eight feet of coiled rope, and a small (but comprehensive) First-Aid kit. People routinely mock the rope and First-Aid kit, but those are easily the most frequently deployed items that other people need. Then they feel like Big Jerks for mocking me. I am a hero in those instances, just because I had a Band-Aid. A HERO.
Art Supplies. I don't draw for fun as much as I used to, but I do try.
A net-book and charger. This will not be as useful after the fall of civilization.
A novel (in this case, I am re-reading A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster), a sketchbook (again, I don't draw for pleasure as much as I used to, but carrying a sketchbook everywhere is a habit I probably won't ever be able to break), and a bandana. Bandanas are super useful. I always have a clean one handy, if possible.
This bag has carried biking supplies (extra inner-tubes, pumps, chain), water-bottles, granola bars, smelly gym clothes, extra shoes, shower and hygeine kit, comic books, prophylactics, tupperware filled with meals, sewing kit, keys, and anything else that might seem prudent in my many adventures. It keeps me prepared for the thousand little obstacles that face us between bed, sidewalk, train, bridge, sidewalk, gym, work, leisure, train, and back to bed. I feel naked without it. Fully nude, with my stuff on display, like some filthy animal.
And when the Great Old Ones come back from their waking slumber in the Outer Dark, witness the final battle between the God of Thunder, and Jormungandr the Midgard Serpent (he who eats the roots of Yggsdrasdil the world tree, since the dawn of time), and destroy us all in flame and desolation, I will be prepared to face the Cursed Earth, if I am unlucky enough to survive.
The Freemasons will have won their ongoing struggle to bring about the dawn of their three-headed tribulation god, and be distracted with Revelry. They will not help you. The Republicans will retreat to their ant-farm of bomb shelters, eventually starving after they allow the one remaining billionaire to eat all of their canned food, and the Democrats will be torn asunder in the indecision of trying to please everyone. The Bavarian Illuminati watch everything from the Dark Side of the Moon, after they are rescued by the Mothmen. They will not help you. There is only yourself to count on. So pack well, my friends. You will probably want a sword.
My bag is awesome.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I have never considered myself a "beach person", in the traditional sense. Surfing seems like an alien pursuit, I rarely wear bermuda shorts, and I do not tan. I was raised hours inland, nestled in the hilly bosom of this Great Land's Appalachian expanse. Before moving, at age 18, to the Coastal regions of Our Splendid Republic, I could count my trips to the ocean on one hand.
I am still a human person, however, and the allure of sunshine, surf, sand, salty air, and scantily clad ladies is not lost on me. I am not cold-blooded. I have a heart. I understand that these are good things. My robot brain allows me some small pleasures in this life. Not all that is good turns to dust and ashes in my mouth. I like the beach.
New York is the city where I live, and it is a city that I know things about. I have spent many desperate hours exploring this stupid place, particularly Brooklyn, home of the Cyclones, Paul Giamatti, and Uncle Louie G's. (It is also, in recent months, the home of more single speed bicycles than I ever thought possible. The ride of choice among people with oversized sunglasses, tattoos of birds, and tight pants, these inefficient things vex me at every turn. It's okay to shift gears, you guys. Your calves and thighs will thank you for breaking convention with your peers this one time. Also, enough with the expensive, artisanal versions of shit like popsicles and pickles and doughnuts. And can we cool it in general with the arts and crafts already?)
Brooklyn is not primarily known for its beaches. College kids with cocaine in their ironic mustaches, and Mos Def probably top the list, while Coney Island is maybe in the top twenty. It is a disgusting beach, but if you like your swimming to come hand in hand with funnel cake tummy aches and Russian men with a pelt of back hair, it probably will quench your thirst.
Brighton Beach has less fried dough and other junk foods, and way more Russians. There is no better way to remind oneself of the fierce strength of the USSR's military than to go to Brighton Beach and see the multitude of amputees. Between the gorgeous girls with amazing nails and the hardcore men missing limbs, this beach is less about suntanning and swimming and more about mad respect for our former Cold War adversaries.
Rockaway Beach is on the Brooklyn end of Queens, and relatively easily accessible from both Boroughs. It is notable for it's proximity to Rockaway Tacos, which has earned a well-deserved reputation as being a destination joint for the best tacos on the east coast. With a belly full of tacos, Rockaway is mostly clean and wide and good for finding space to hang out. It is also on the same peninsula as Jacob Reis beach, which is a great spot that is usually not crazy crowded, and has some cool old municipal buildings, if you are into the architecture of old military facilities and whatnot. (Who isn't?)
There are more things to say but I am bored of this topic. Summer is almost over. It is better to enjoy beaches than write about them. Nevertheless, New York has some beaches that are awesome.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Most people I know stay pretty busy. There are lots of hobbies and activities and distractions to keep everyone from staring into the void. But sometimes it feels appropriate to just stop what you're doing, take some time, and just sit around like a dumb jerk.
Just stare off into the middle distance and sigh heavily.
I get really antsy if I don't get out and do stuff pretty regularly, or at least be semi-productive around the house. If I have time to waste, I will hop on my bike, or run errands, or write dumb blog entries. Something got hard-wired into my brain as a child that gives me panic attacks if I don't keep in some sort of constant motion; it's like I can hear my mom yelling at me to go outside when all I want to do is vegetate in front of the TV and watch syndicated re-runs of THE JEFFERSONS. Well, now I don't have a TV, and if I'm inside for more than twenty minutes without a reason I start to hyperventilate. It's a pavlovian reaction to sunshine that forces me to wander around aimlessly on my bike or risk severe depression. You win, Mom.
And so it is that just sitting around like a dumb jerk is a treat that I rarely get to savor, like eating a whole pint of ice cream. Or bingeing on fried pub food. Or sleeping through an entire night without waking up in a sweaty panic. As the cold embrace of the endless black grave approaches, I have found, more and more, that I can just plop down into an armchair and zone out, like that dude in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW who gets dosed with some weird voodoo drug and gets buried alive. (That's what happened in that movie as I gleaned it from the video cassette box.)
Much like going to a dominatrix while coked up, this kind of waking coma can be terrifying and euphoric in equal doses. There is a "lost time" effect, where the day slips out from under you and suddenly five hours have vanished while you scratched your balls and wondered how much a used 1985 BMW might cost, and if you could repair it yourself if something broke down on a cross-country trip to the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. You wonder if it would be cost-effective to buy the used car, then abandon it on the west coast and fly back. Do you have to buy insurance if you're abandoning a car in Santa Rosa? Would the car have built in ashtrays? When did they stop building ashtrays into cars anyway? I remember people smoking in cars, but they always ashed out the window. Is that tacky? Smoking in general is kind of trashy these days, but dealing with ash and butts is particularly gross. My grandfather used to ash in the cuff of his pants. That was a pretty cool move, in a way, although I don't know that anyone under the age of 70 could pull it off. It seems really filthy. He had some sort of lung disease at the end, and required an oxygen tank, so maybe the cuffs of his trousers were not a high priority, all things considered. He sat around and stared off into space quite a bit. I don't remember him doing much else, actually, which might be why my Mom was so emphatic about me being active. It was either get outside and climb a tree or slowly descend into lung disease, alcoholism, and being kind of boring. Fair enough.
Of course she was correct, and like anything that is good in small doses, too much sitting around and doing nothing can turn you into a sack of crap. In a hypothetical situation that in no way represents actual people or events, let's say a live-in girlfriend of several years only wants to spend her free time vegetating like a sad stoner. It's a gorgeous day outside, and you want to hit the pool and maybe do ten miles on the bike, and watch a movie in the park. Hypothetical girlfriend doesn't want to leave the house, then goes on to spend the next eight hours in her pajamas illegally downloading music and talking on the phone with her mom. Days pass and she barely gets out of bed. No sunlight will touch her skin, like a vampire hiding in a tomb. Except this vampire sucks your will to live rather than your blood. SCARY STUFF.
As my friends get older, they get attached, married, with child, and gradually less and less likely to drop what they're doing at any moment and go to a random bar that allegedly has good nachos. With less people available for an impromptu hang-out on a Tuesday night, there is more time for other things. Reading lengthy fantasy novels, playing first-person shooter WWII video games, or updating blogs that nobody reads. After a while, though, all these things get boring, or repetitive, or deeply depressing. The only thing left to do is slump down into a chair, unfocus your eyeballs, and space out like a dumb jerk.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Remember when we liked STAR WARS? Remember when it was still a thing that wasn't horrible?
Those were the days, my friends.
When I was a child, I always had to be Luke Skywalker when playing STAR WARS games, because of my blondeness. I don't know that I even liked Luke best. I'm pretty sure I liked Han Solo better, but after years of being forced into the Luke role, I can't even remember anymore. (I was typecast at age four!) Now that I consider it, why would anyone like Luke better than Han? Han was what made STAR WARS great. He was a charming asshole, which is basically the best type of person to be, in movies and in life. He had the best outfits, and the best spaceship. And his best friend was Chewbacca, who is the ostensible topic of this post.
Chewbacca did not wear pants. Chewbacca carried a crossbow. Chewbacca was into S&M. Chewbacca was a surprisingly good cellist. Chewbacca ran in marathons to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy. Chewbacca wrote his undergraduate thesis on GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Chewbacca had an origina mint-on-card Boba Fett figure (with rocket-firing backpack). Chewbacca won a beatboxing contest. Chewbacca was friends with Godzilla and had a cameo in GODZILLA VERSUS THE SMOG MONSTER. Chewbacca's name means "easy lover" in wookie.
How warm is wookie hair, anyway? I only ask because when the rebels were on the ice planet of Hoth, everyone is bundled up in quilted parkas and scarves, but Chewbacca is just walking around like it ain't no thang. He subscribes to the Bugs Bunny school of dressing for cold weather, which is just putting on a scarf or earmuffs. Chewbacca should put on a jacket. He is going to get pnuemonia.
There are three things that almost ruined Chewbacca, but his charm and style overcome all obstacles.
1. He was in REVENGE OF THE SITH, which was little more than a glorified cameo, designed to make people think "oh, there is a good thing that I recognize. If Chewbacca is in this piece of shit, maybe it isn't so bad." Sorry, Chewie. You did not successfully raise that movie out of the dumper with your illustrious presence. Points for trying, I guess.
2. The early action figures were not so great at sculpting hair, so Chewie kind of looked like a poop-monster. Also, it was the same color brown, when anyone can plainly see that Chewie has beautiful fur, ranging in shades from auburn to dusky grey to black. Poor form, Kenner Toy Company. Maybe if you spent less time designing dumb lightsabers that slid out of forearms and looked awful, and more time sculpting wookie hair, I wouldn't be zinging you in this horrible blog entry right now.
3. In RETURN OF THE JEDI, when Chewbacca swings on a vine, he yodels like Tarzan. What the fuck?
These are three things I choose not to like about Chewbacca. Maybe you have more. Maybe you hate his creepy Grandpa from the STAR WARS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. Maybe you hate the way he bullies Artoo into losing that weird chess game. Maybe it upsets you when he gives Han the wrong spanner while they attempt to fix the Falcon's hyperdrive. Or maybe you can't stand the fact that Chewie is mortified by the stupid garbage monster.
It doesn't matter. He is still great. Let the wookie into your heart. Chewbacca is awesome.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Cabbage is a vegetable that comes from the ground like magic. It is sometimes mistaken for lettuce, which is a terrible mistake. They look alike, in many ways. It can be very confusing.
Cabbage has been eaten by many people throughout history. It has gotten the silent stamp of approval from millions. I think it is a thing of Europe? Is that true? Do Europeans like cabbage? I seems like they would. I'm going to go on record with this. Europe loves the humble cabbage.
I was taught to cook cabbage in three ways. The first involves eating it raw, right out of the dirt, with a little salt. That is a satisfying and simple method. It is crunchy, and requires no effort, aside from maybe a little rinsing and slight chopping. The next way involves slicing it into pieces with a knife (or a small hatchet), throwing it in a pan with some oil, and cooking it down until it is hot and steamy. Maybe some salt would be good at this point. I would not presume to tell anyone how to season their veggies. I am not a presumptuous man.
The third method is passed down from the Deutschlanders from whence I am bred. It is the way of sauerkraut, and it is delicious. Many were the autumn afternoons I spent with my family, shredding cabbage with large graters, packing the stuff into mason jars, and watching the jars then be sealed with secret spices and vinegars.
(Full disclosure: I did not do this very often. It is super boring.)
The jars would then go in our "kraut cellar", which was mostly just a big hole under our porch. In the months to come we would crack open those jars, and then eat that kraut. We ate that kraut so hard.
I enjoy the nasty, soggy sauerkraut that comes on sidewalk vendor hot dogs, and also the fancy stuff that expensive bratwurst and knackwurst sit on top of at fancy Bavarian restaurants. When I was a young child, one of my neighbors was in Patton's Third Army, and marched across France in World War Two. He said that the Germans would carry sacks of sauerkraut as part of their rations, and that they smelled something terrible. I was really young and didn't quite realize what he was talking about, and took him at his word. In retrospect, he may have been fucking with me.
(Thinking about the stories I was told drove me to google "german army rations ww2". Someday, when my body is found slumped and cold due to "mysterious circumstances", that will be on my browser history, right after "Susanna Hoffs" and "cabbage head kids in the hall". I hope I am not judged too harshly by posterity.)
The World War II veteran in question was a really nice guy, and he had greenhouses that were fascinating places when I was a kid. I remember how the small pebble gravel crunched when you walked, and the air was always humid and aromatic. A system of pipes hanging from the rafters misted the plants now and then, and there was an occasional piece of interesting or comical pottery hidden here and there. The way the sunlight diffused through the ceiling and walls gave everything an ethereal quality, and coupled with these antiquated, purple, florescent lights that ran in long rows throughout, walking into the greenhouses was like being in a completely new world. I get the same feeling going to the different climate pavilions at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and it's still a weird and quietly thrilling experience.
I once saved up my money because I decided I wanted a cactus, and when I went to buy one, he refused to let me pay for it, insisting I take it as a gift. His wife always called him by his last name, which made me laugh, and the first time I ever saw DOCTOR WHO was at their house, one night while they were babysitting me. It was a super creepy rerun of an early black and white episode, and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen on television.
I often wish I had had the foresight and wherewithal as a teenager to take a tape recorder over to those greenhouses, and interview this gent. I wish I had his stories about World War II on record, and I wish I knew more about the plants that sat in neat rows up and down the greenhouse walls and in a huge trough down the center. Mostly the World War II stuff, though. This is a major regret in my life.
The last time I was in Tennessee, I noticed that the greenhouses were in total disrepair. My neighbor and his wife have long since passed away, and creeper vines and entropy have taken their toll on the buildings. The cactus did not last either.
Amyway, I like cabbage.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Recently, I put together a list of the Top Fifty Greatest Comic Book Movies for a popular website. My list was solid and honest, but the number one slot was met with much horror and derision, as many people could not handle the truth of my words. It was hard for some folks to face reality.
SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD is kind of a masterpiece.
Not only that, but it is the Number One Greatest Comic Book Movie yet made and anyone who says otherwise is incorrect in their opinion. Also, they have something wrong in their heart. Their cold, shriveled, charcoal briquette of a heart.*
Beyond the fact that SPVTW** is a fun, visually innovative, genuinely moving film, it accomplishes a number of things that yank it up by it's bootstraps to the "classic" level.
- This is a movie that perfectly captures what it means to be young, single, and stupid in an urban area in the 1990s-2000s. Living in a shitty apartment with a roommate, having a terrible band, going to bars and parties filled with other young and stupid people; SPVTW has a verisimilitude that is insane. Having spent my 20s in Manhattan, surrounded by exactly the type of kids that populate this movie, it is more real a depiction of what my life was like than any movie I've ever seen, particularly those that are making a point to capture that feeling (I'm looking at you, REALITY BITES). This film is a sliver of life specific to being right out of college, falling in love too easily, and living in a city filled with other like-minded people your age, all in ironic t-shirts and dirty jeans and fashionable sneakers.
- From a technical, craft-oriented standpoint, SPVTW is a master class in how to stretch the film medium to tell a story. It plays with aspect ratios, focal depths, editing, split screens, color theory, and all the other myriad tools of film-making in a way that seems so effortless that it truly and without exaggeration reminds me of that most name-dropped of movies, CITIZEN KANE.*** All of these tricks and treats are put to use in ways that enhance the story; none of the visual flash is there just to be showy. In fact, much of the visual playfulness is incredibly subtle; I didn't notice the fact the aspect ratios shift (dependent on plot and tone) from scene to scene, until it was pointed out to me on my fourth viewing. This is the kind of stuff that gives movie nerds boners, and I respect that.
- The soundtrack is absolutely killer, and as well-used as any movie since SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. Part of the conceit of SPVTW is a battle of the bands, so aside from the general background songs scattered throughout the film, you have several bands that all require unique sounds and audio-personalities****. When you have Beck providing the music for one of the bands, you have already scored an easy A on this exam. Then you start adding Metric, Broken Social Scene, Frank Black, and The Black Lips. Pretty soon you have one of the great soundtracks of the 2000s.
This is a new millennium, you guys. Time to shelve the PULP FICTION and SINGLES soundtracks. They kind of suck, in retrospect.
- SPVTW is second only to SAY ANYTHING when it comes to distilling the Obsessive Crush into a two hour experience. Seeing a girl at a party, followed by awkward first flirting, awkward first half-naked make-out, awkward first public outings, and awkward first argument. Everything is on display, and handled with unflinching honesty, including the strained hours before you lean in for a kiss, and the neurotic nit-picking of every signal (or not-signal). Scott's single-minded devotion to the process of making Ramona his "girlfriend" is a perfect depiction of post-adolescent Young Love, and probably the best since ROMEO AND JULIET, except without the melodrama and euro-trash. Anyone who related to Matthew Sweet's seminal album GIRLFRIEND, or spent the 1990s listening to anything by TEENAGE FANCLUB or THE LEMONHEADS is already primed like an oily shotgun to completely understand the fascination Scott has with the one cute, aloof, too-fashionable girl at a friend's house party. There is so much that is true about their relationship, and all the video game veneer and slick movie-with-a-capital-M artifice falls away when you see them look longingly at each other, despite all of their ham-fisted attempts at being cool (the ones that everyone falls victim to, ages 15- 30).
This is a genuine and sincere relationship, made even more-so by the ambiguous ending, that leaves open the fate of it all. Of course, ultimately, whether or not Scott and Ramona are soul-mates that will stay together forever is beside the point. The idea is that they've both grown a little and are ready to give their crush a shot at something meaningful. This simple point, that two immature people can become a little more mature, learn something about themselves, and give it a go together; this is about as honest as it gets when it comes to movie romances.
- It is the first film to use the visual shorthand language of comic books organically, integrating it into the editing rhythms of moving pictures and creating a thematic texture that not only works well, but becomes inherent to the storytelling. This is not the novelty "BAM! POW!" title cards of the BATMAN television show, this is taking the dynamic nature of what sound effects and motion lines in comics actually represent, and using them to enhance what is already an incredibly vibrant cinematography.
- Typical comic book adaptations, take a property, or a storyline, and hammer them flat with the blunt end of the Hollywood hammer until all subtlety and originality are lost. SPVTW not only stays true to the spirit of the comic, it condenses the last several volumes into something that actually makes more sense, and loses none of the characterization. It's a herculean feat, pulled off with the grace of a Russian trapeze artist.
- The performances were great, all-around. Some of them were exceptional. This is an amazing ensemble cast, and there are no weak links. Some people complained about the casting of Michael Cera as Scott, but at this point I can't imagine anyone else in the role. He brought to the role a perfect mix of cockiness and vulnerability, wit and stupidity, and horny confusion. For a scrawny kid, he was convincing in the physicality of the fight scenes, and he was effortlessly comfortable with a guitar or bass slung over his shoulder. Ellen Wong (as Knives Chau) was heart-breakingly real, and Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Simmons... hell, the entire cast were all scene-stealers. Chris Evans and Brandon Routh absolutely kill as ridiculous villains, oozing with a charisma and humor that totally outshines their larger roles in bigger pictures.
Every character was brought to life in a memorable and funny way, and they all reminded me exactly of people I have met, either specifically or generally. This is because they were honest portrayals and completely relatable, but still tweaked just enough to fit into the film's heightened reality. This is no easy task, yet everyone in this cast pulls it off.
- Um, excuse me? Did I just see a fight with magic, flaming swords and kung-fu? Another 1,000 points awarded.
In the end, this is a movie that took a great comic, and stayed true to the visual style, the characters, the charm, the wit, the pacing, the themes and the heart. It stuck close to the source material, and then tried to make it even better, adding the depth of great acting and amazing music. It added layers to something already terrific, without losing anything (except a few plot tangents and peripheral characters, but I think we can forgive that). SPVTW is a great movie, and I have no hesitation stamping it AWESOME.
* To be fair, there were plenty of things on that list that enraged people, such as placing ANNIE in the top ten, and leaving off a few execrable (but apparently well-loved) choices like WATCHMEN and KICK-ASS. The amount of rage leveled at the list, as it is, was kind of astonishing, often for no more a reason than that I placed RED SONJA higher than PUNISHER: WAR ZONE. I learned a lot about the world making that list.
** Let's just go ahead and abbreviate. Seriously, now.
*** The big difference between the two is that CITIZEN KANE is a ponderous morality tale about tragic hubris and the death of the American Dream, and SPVTW is about an immature Canadian guy, immersed in video games and indie rock, maturing just enough to keep a real girlfriend around a little bit longer. Look, I understand the difference. I'm pretentious enough to genuflect at the former and scoff at the latter. I get it.
**** Did I just make that term up? I don't know if I love it or hate it.