If we’re going to have gun debate, and if we’re going to be adults, we need to get a few facts straight. Like I’ve said before, we’re entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts. If we do this and remember to respect each other, we should be fine.
With that in mind, we need to clear up a few “facts” about gun control.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen many on the pro-gun side posting pictures of Israeli teachers armed with rifles. You can see one such picture above. These individuals point to it and say it’s a beautiful thing to see a country determined and willing to protect its youth, that it shows our cowardice when we don’t arm our own teachers.
Now shown? The dismembered corpses hidden under the house.
October 24, 2011
It’s the best week of the year, and with Halloween coming up, I thought a whole week of horror-themed articles are in order.
Let’s talk about the must have’s for any Halloween movie viewing marathon.
The thing to remember when trying to pick horror movies for mass viewing is that everyone is going to have vastly different tastes. Some people want gore. Others want something scary but funny. Maybe others love the suspense. With that in mind, this list is going to include a little bit of everything. It’s not a “The Best Horror Movies EVAH!” list. It’s what I think works when you have to satisfy a lot of tastes.
Genius inventor Jigsaw traps people in elaborate traps designed to metaphorically make them face something about themselves. This is usually a dark secret or a vice that makes them inadequate in the killer’s eyes.
Okay, so the sequels could have done without basically turning into a series of more and more elaborate scenarios that missed the whole thematic point of the original. So what if pretty much the point of the movies after the third one was to show how sadistic the writers could be?
The original movie is AWESOME. It barely shows any blood (unlike the sequels), and it’s more concerned with the characters actually finding a way out, unlike the rest of the series where we just get a sickening countdown until someone dies because, let’s face it. If you’re in a Jigsaw trap, you’re dead. Most the gore is implied, making this, surprisingly, a good intro to novice horror watchers. Trust me. They don’t show anything you wouldn’t see on a graphic episode of CSI.
This is it. The gore-fest. The standard. Every movie with exploding bodies or dismembered body parts wishes it has the kind of humor, shock, and lasting power this movie has enjoyed.
Herbert West is a medical student with a secret. He’s working on a serum, his “reagent,” that can bring dead flesh back to life. His goal is to wipe out death, to make humans immortal, but the tests aren’t promising. Anyone brought back suffers from violent personality and animal-like hunger. That’s not going to stop the good doctor from trying, though.
This has to be not only one of my favorite horror movies, but also one of my favorite horror films. Not only do we get Jeffrey Combs at his hammy best, but the film is very much aware of what it is: a horror comedy. And it does it well. The gore is over the top. The humor is dark. The whole movie’s like finishing an onion blossom by yourself. It’s fried and you know it can’t be this good, but damn if it’s not tasty.
I showed this to a friend who is very squeamish about gore, and while she shrieked and yelped, she admitted she had a great time with it. It’s just so over-the-top that it works.
“Halloween” and “Halloween H20”
Okay, so this one’s two films instead of one.
Halloween is the classic story of horny teens getting offed by a masked killer on a meaningful holiday. Michael Meyers is one of the templates for every slasher after 1977. The films that came out afterwards? It gets crappier and crappier until the last few movies where the writers decide to throw in something about a Celtic curse and some psychic powers. Needless to say, those last few movies are… not good.
If you watch only the first movie, the 1977 film that made Jamie Lee Curtis one of the undisputed scream queens, then jump twenty years to the unfortunately named Halloween H20, you get a decent storyline that actually has plot.
H20 still has the trappings of the slasher genre, but it’s smart enough to bring back Curtis as a more mature, grown up version of her original character. Think about it. She survived one of the most traumatic nights of her life and evaded a serial killer that is the stuff of legend. What would something like that do to a person? That’s pretty much what H20 is about, and it leads up to a climactic battle that caps off a 20-year old rivalry.
Just ignore the movie that came after this one, too. Trust me. It’s better if you don’t know.
Monsters attack diner. Diner Patrons fight back. Monsters start killing off patrons one by one. No one has a name.
Feast is both a parody and homage to horror movies. Every character is designated by a convenient subtitle like “Hero,” or “Harley Mom,” or “Beer Guy.” We even get a little leaning-on-the-fourth-wall subtitle telling us everyone’s chance of survival. Some of these estimates are clearly sarcastic.
The result is a movie that is actually a lot smarter than it looks. The patrons are very much aware of how screwed they are and they aren’t all dumb. In fact, they’re quite mortal and when I say anyone can die, I mean ANYONE. No, really. Just try and guess who makes it out and who actually bites the dust and when.
“In the Mouth of Madness”
Let’s say you got that one guy in the crowd that wants something a little meatier, something more psychological. Bust out some Sam Neil.
A prominent author (lovingly modeled after Stephen King) has vanished as his new book is due to hit the shelves. A series of strange murders tied to his books has the publisher worried, so they send a private investigator to find the elusive writer. The journey takes our investigator on a trip into a town that should be fictional, a town filled with beings and situations that cannot possibly be real. All the while, our hero and the audience have to wonder… Is it all real, or are we seeing things through the eyes of a madman?
The movie never really concerns itself with fully explains where the eldritch abominations from beyond time and space came from or why they chose to come through books and other media. It doesn’t explain why the author is seemingly the avatar of alien monstrosities. It doesn’t even bother showing you if things are real or just a dream.
It’s just going to throw weirdness after weirdness and you and you’re going to accept it. Why? Because it’s cool…
It just is. Trust me.
There are MANY more movies out there you could use. Of course there are: The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, The Shining, etc. These are just a few of the ones I think would be good for a party. If you just want to do some drinking games with dum kids getting killed, any old slasher film will work. I recommend something from the 80’s or somewhere between 1999 and 2009. Most of the schlock came from these years. The more obscure, the better.
Just remember. There are no bad movies. Just movies you can make REALLY funny with the right crowd.
To show you how to properly riff, here are Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy doing what they do best.
Don't get teary-eyed until you read this... Then you'll hate me.
October 6, 2011
Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. A lot of my friends have already expressed their gratitude for Apple products, and while I know that Jobs did indeed change the market and helped usher the computer revolution, I’m still a PC man.
This is not a slam on Jobs, people. I’ve used Apple products before. I had to while I was working with He Who Shall Not Be Named. I even own an iPod I like a lot. I can appreciate the simplicity of selling a product that anyone could use right out of the box, and I think Apple does a lot of things very well. However, I have one huge gripe with Apple products.
Guys, Steve Jobs was a businessman and a nerd. He made and sold computers. Owning said computers does not make you part of the Apple community, some Borg-like collective of innovation. Using a Mac does not make you a genius. A Mac is not akin to the monolith in 2001. It is not a mysterious source of power that will grant you God-like abilities. Sure, an iPhone is handy, and there are many things it lets you do.
But it’s a phone.
I understand that a Mac is quite powerful and a handy tool if you want to work in film or graphic design. But it’s not THE tool. Back when I worked with HWSNBN, he had the latest, top-of-the-line Apple products. He could make gorgeous graphic designs and covers. He had the latest version of Photoshop and iMovie.
I could do the same kind of design on a four-year-old computer with a cheap Photoshop knock-off that was eight versions out of date. It took a few seconds for the filters and effects to render, but it was the same thing. I wish I could show the images, but Texas deer ranchers are VERY protective of people using images of their deer.
I walked the streets of this little town with my fiancée and sampled various German beers and food. We checked out arts and crafts made by the residents of this small town and I felt a new invigoration for my own art.
We got to walk the streets of Fredericksburg with beers in hand. It’s legal there, like Las Vegas, and it wasn’t until later in the day that we noticed something. There was almost no security anywhere. No one was falling-down drunk. There were no incidents. I’m guessing people were, like us, too stuffed with bratwurst to really move too fast. Or people were just nice.
Seriously, though, if I had to stay in Texas, I’d choose Hill Country. The number of artisan crafts, the weather, the country, and the food are awesome. Plus, San Antonio’s less than an hour away if you really need a bigger city’s resources.
The retroactively best moment of the night, the one that really washed away the last ten days, was at the restaurant where we had our forty-fifth or forty-sixth bratwurst. Not sure. I was in the restroom when I heard two gentlemen talking.
“What? Restaurant this big and only one pisser?”
“I know. I don’t think they planned this out. Don’t they know you don’t ‘buy’ beer? You rent it.”
That’s when the world crystallized. Everything turned razor sharp and I ignored the rolling blend of spices and double bock beer in my stomach. Beer is rented? I’m sure I’d heard something similar, but the combination of sunlight, beer out in the open parks, and the love and company of my family created a perfect point in my brain for me to hear that phrase and think, “This is all temporary.”
At once, I knew I had to go home at the end of the day. I knew come Monday, I had to try and cram 60 hours of work into a 19-hour week. I knew I had to find a way to fit my writing and editing schedule in with a new job that, while it will provide much-needed income, will make things more hectic.
I knew all that, and at the same time, I knew those things would also pass.
Like beer at Oktoberfest.
Also, I found and bought the collected works of H. P. Lovecraft in a beautiful hardbound edition, so things are good.
Here’s the week. May it bring drink in the end and aspirin in the middle.
In the meantime, here’s Susan Boyle doing a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” It’s odd, but I find this song strangely inspiring considering this week.
Okay, first person to make an REM joke gets it in the ear.
September 13, 2011
As we all know, the world will end in about twenty-five months. It’s going to be awesome. Fire, earthquakes, and possibly God himself coming down and smiting everything and everyone. Of course, given that doomsday predictions have a horrible tract record, I think I’ll stay home and just watch some movies instead.
Of course, nothing is more appropriate for a fake end of the world than some cinematic or even literary end of the world. Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.
There’s epic science fiction, and then there’s EPIC science fiction.
You think Star Wars thinks big with its galaxy-wide empire? Think Andromeda was uber-powerful with its depiction of bombs that could make stars explode?
Baxter not only has an alien species that has HAND-HELD guns that can make stars explode, but the species that created them uses galaxy CLUSTERS as little more than bricks in their projects that span quite literately from the beginning of time, and perhaps even longer than that.
In this world, humanity is mostly confined to the Solar system, but a few thousand years from now, we discover that the Xeelee, who are so powerful they probably keep Cthulhus like we keep sea monkeys, are at war with an equality powerful alien species made of dark matter. This dark matter life form, the photino birds, need stable, star-sized gravity wells to live, so they are accelerating the lifetime of stars and forcing them to explode or fizzle out.
In the known universe.
Suffice to say, the impending death of all physical life cycles in the universe is not going to end well for humanity.
The series is set within several dozen short stories and a few novels, my favorite being Ring, which ends the saga, yet could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. The short story collection Vacuum Diagrams fills in a lot of gaps and shows a smaller parallel storyline of the end of time. Like the rest of Baxter’s work, expect paragraphs of scientific explanation, but also some impressive loop-hole jumping through the laws of physics.
Joe Dante has gone across the film spectrum as far as I’m concerned. Yes, he directed Gremlins and Homecoming, but he also directed Looney Tunes: Back in Action. I don’t take kindly to new Looney Tunes.
However, his entry into the Masters of Horror collection, based on the short story by Alice Sheldon, is creepy on a level I had not through possible.
We begin with what appears to be a murder committed by some lone psycho. He killed every female member of his family. As time passes, religious fundamentalists are on the rise throughout much of the world and women are viewed more and more as agents of sin. Soon, though, a group of scientists makes the shocking discovery: there is a disease that is causing the sexual and aggressive centers of the male brain to short-circuit, turning any sexual desire into a homicidal urge.
Despite the ending being one huge WTF moment, the rest of the episode manages to be utterly scary. You don’t know how the disease travels. You don’t know who’s infected. Any sign of anger could be a symptom, or just stress and nerves as the lead scientist, a devoted family, tries to find a cure. He’s quite, and painfully aware, that he is a potential killer.
Any man is a potential killer.
The scariest part, though, is the slow realization that those feelings that are being exploited to wipe out humanity are not some superbug. All it took was one chemical switch, and the men who kill every woman in sight aren’t blind, raving lunatics ala 28 Days Later. They are calm and rational about it. God, Allah, or whatever they believe in justifies it.
This is true horror. The horror of everyday life. It’s the horror of not knowing if your neighbor is going to kill you.
It’s the horror of knowing he’ll do it with a smile.
So there you go. Two apocalypses for your viewing and reading pleasure. One is a multiverse-spanning swath of destruction that leaves reality a cold, bleak cinder, and the other is a psychological romp through the dark corners in all our minds.
“Three is three and three is holy,” he mumbled. Spittle and a drop of beer hit the bar. With all the sticky spots on the beaten wood, no one noticed. Most people were too drunk to notice Emil tearing a napkin with the precision of an expert surgeon. The waitress stopped to ask him if he wanted more beer until she finally called the manager over to talk with Emil. When he asked if Emil had enough, Emil grabbed the mug, smashed it on the counter, and swung the jagged glass remains at the manager’s throat.
Even with the music filling the bar with Top 40 country, people outside heard the screams from the waitresses. Emil didn’t blink while he took his broken mug and jammed the end into the manager’s chest and stomach until it finally broke off and all he had was a stubby piece of glass.
The bar was empty and Emil sat against the bar and the convulsing manager’s body. Police arrested him with no further incident.
Across town, Ethel walked into a 7-11 and called the attendant’s attention long enough to get past him and grab the shotgun he kept behind the counter. After she fired all three shells, she waited for the police to pick her up. She smiled and held the empty Mossberg as the three customers and the attendant filled with buckshot crawled towards the door.
“Three is three and three is holy,” she said.
Police saw the gun and she smiled when handing it to them, but she pointed it at the officers barrel-first. They fired their Berrettas. She was dead before she hit the ground.
Erik walked into church and locked the doors with bungee from his emergency car kit. After he carefully poured the gasoline around the windows and the doors, he lit a match and walked back to the parking lot. The twenty or so teens inside stopped rocking for Jesus and tried to escape. They trampled over each other and clawed at the doors. Erik listened to the screams and whispered, “Three is three and three is holy.”
The firefighters arrived in time to save three of the four walls. The police put him in holding with Emil. Newspapers wondered why they did what they did.
What was the point, the town asked?
“Three is three and three is holy,” they repeated.
No one knew what they meant. People gossiped after church. Children told stories in the dark. Every year, on the anniversary of the tragedy, men and women placed flowers on the sites of an old church, a closed-down dive bar, and a gas station. Priests prayed and children dozed off during the sermons.
The murders became a sort of local mystery. The national media soon moved on to more pressing stories like celebrity weddings and sex scandals. Erik and Emil spent their days in a pair of cells. The town moved on. The blood washed off. In the end, years after the fact, a few people asked “Why?”
Yes, the eyes are Photoshopped. No, the base image is not fake. Yes, she really does look insane ALL THE TIME.
August 24, 2011
As Mary and I watched The Silence of the Lambs (again), something happened that made me sit up and take note. No, it wasn’t that Buffalo Bill is now apparently Captain of the San Francisco Homicide Division. Apparently, Michelle Bachmann is a serial killer or agrees with their actions.
Now, hold on. I’m going to employ some Right-Wing thinking to connect the dots.
Bachmann also said she was proud to be from the same town as John Wayne… Gacy. She insists she meant John Wayne, but THAT Wayne was from a different town.
Finally, Bachmann mixed up Elvis’ birth and death dates, which could be a simple result of her staff being comprised of chimps and barely-sentient mayonnaise. However, this would seem to indicate a need to celebrate death.
What’s the result of all these incidents? Bachamann must either be a serial killer or sympathize with them. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.
It’s the logic of the conspiracy theorist. Take a series of events, however random, and link them to a preconceived notion. Beck, for example, believes he is right about everything, which for anyone else would be simple narcissism and delusion. He’s an addict, a former druggie and alcoholic, and his brain works by latching itself to things it likes. The idea of being persecuted, of being special, is at the heart of all conspiracies involving cover-ups. That’s like candy for Beck’s brain.
Making weird connections like this is usually glamorized for shows like House. Finding the patterns in the chaos is the whole point of this site, in fact. However, just seeing connections is not enough. You have to be able to prove each step. Don’t start with the conclusion and then find evidence for it or you’ll invite others to have to disprove your theory.
For example, anyone out there care to disprove my Bachmann serial killer theory? Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Toby wandered through the kitchen one more time. He’d looked through the pantry and cupboards twice, but he had to hope he might have missed something. He tried reaching the higher cabinets, but he could barely get his legs to stretch far enough or find anything to climb. The lizard he found and ate in the morning would have to do.
No one played with him and no one called his name. He still remembered his name, alien as it was. Toby tried chasing birds, but they flew too high. A few of his friends were trapped in their homes. He saw them die days ago when the food was gone. Toby had made it by catching the odd animal and going in and out of the house through a broken window.
But he could feel himself weakening. There was some water in the pond outside, but there was almost nothing to eat. On the tenth day, he saw a new master.
Wallace kept his hands on a long staff made from a fallen branch. His tattered clothes still smelled like sot after more than a week, and the few protein bars he found on the dead traveler some days ago wouldn’t feed him for too much longer.
In the distance, he heard a dog cry. It was a pathetic, weak cry. Tiny claws clicked on broken concrete. Wallace took his revolver and aimed in the general direction of the dog. He could barely see, and the dog wouldn’t know what a gun was, he thought, but it was the only defense he had. When the dog finally stopped, it was close enough for Wallace to make out.
It was a pathetic little thing, no more than fifteen pounds tops, and it whimpered when it was close enough.
Toby smelled the new master. It was thin and moved like it was hurt. It spoke, but Toby only understood a few sounds.
“Hello there,” Wallace said. “You’re a cute little guy, aren’t you? Looks like it’s me and you, buddy. What’s your name?”
The dog barked.
“I see. I’ll figure out what to call you. Where’s home, buddy?”
The dog barked once and started to run in one direction, then stopped to make sure the Wallace was following. Wallace kept his revolver close. He hadn’t seen anyone else in days, but he wasn’t about to trust a dog. That would be crazy.
“So,” he said, “looks like we’re the only ones left. Not a bad situation, you and me. You get us some food, I’ll cook it. Hell, I’ll play with you and take care of you if you take care of me, buddy. That sounds good. Buddy. I think I’ll call you ‘Buddy.’”
Toby hadn’t wagged his tail like that in days. The new master kept talking and saying things, but Toby didn’t understand most of the words. He understood things like ‘play’ and ‘good.’ After so many days, it would be fun to play with someone. The new master smelled good.
He smelled like treats.
“Yup. I was in the city when the first ones dropped. I don’t think I’ve talked to anyone since then. I think we’ll be fine. After all, not that you understand me, but if we don’t find food soon, you’re going to be supper.”
Toby couldn’t wait. The new master smelled really good. He couldn’t wait to play, then lick him. New Master really did smell like treats. Toby was hungry.
It’s a tragedy to be sure. We saw her self-destruct before our very eyes since, well… since she broke out. As of this writing, the cause of death is unknown, but my money is on her becoming another casualty of too successful and no way to deal with the pressure.
She’s not the first member of the infamous 27 Club, and I doubt she will be the last.
But the rest of us writers, singers, composers, and artists need to be careful to not fall into the trap of thinking this was inevitable. As artists, we already have a reputation as loners, weirdoes, and self-absorbed misanthropes. We don’t need the world thinking that we need the sweet release of cold death to make us go out in a blaze of glory.
There’s a misconception that real art is indefinable. That a tortured artist is the truest type of artist, a man or a woman who creates something no one truly understands because they lack the artist’ genius, is the stereotype many attribute to our community. That being said, most people really don’t understand art. I’ve written about this on MANYoccasions.
But the point I’m trying to make in this little rant is that if you create something no one gets and you see this as proof of your genius, you’re not a genius. If your art doesn’t speak to SOMEONE, it didn’t do its job. Art does not exist in a vacuum. If you do happen to create something that touches millions, something that says or shows something we haven’t seen before, the pressure to perform and create something better can be overwhelming. I’ve been there. The urge to create clashing with the need to perform can turn anyone into a quivering pile of humanity.
That being said, I would appreciate it if people stopped drinking themselves to death or shooting their brains out because they feel they can’t even try.
You know what? Art is hard. If the next attempt isn’t as good, is it still good on its own? I recently heard one of my friends say that everything the Red Hot Chili Peppers made after their drug years was crap because it wasn’t as good as their early stuff. That’s a matter of taste between the funk and thrash of early RHCP and later, more melodic music, but it shows the kind of mentality that we adopt when we rate things based on a curve.
Did Winehouse kill herself over the need to be something larger than she was? As of now, I don’t know. If she did, it’s a tragedy, not only because a talented artist is gone, but because we have another example of an artist who, instead of stepping up to the plate and at least trying, went on a slow suicide binge.
And even if it was just an overdose and an accident, I’m still mad at her.
You know how we keep saying “the customer is always right?”
The customer is usually a moron. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever worked in the food or retail industry. I’m right there with you. I worked as a waiter at Flamencos and served food to very wealthy individuals who felt it would have been insulting to somehow pay more than five percent on a hundred dollar tab.
I can’t go into specifics for various reasons, but a lot of events lately have really made me think about that saying.
The customer is always right? Really?
Let’s say the customer walks into a mechanics’ shop and says he needs a new plasma conduit for the warp drive he installed in his Honda Civic. Is he right? Would you supply him with the dilithium crystals he needs to get back to Ceti Alpha-V?
The customer would like to THINK he or she is right. If voting patterns and general knowledge are any indication, the general population really has no idea what it’s talking about. That being said, I’d like to know why we think that people who work anywhere are our servants.
Some of us go through training, often for years in my current job, and must meet stringent criteria just to get hired. Typically, to work in a restaurant, you have to know the menu and at least try a few things. A barista has to know all the yuppie terms for coffee sizes and the right combinations of flavors. I, as a writer, have to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to language. I’m not perfect, but I guarantee I know a lot more than someone who’s last use of the word “verb” was in high school English sophomore year.
I’ll tell you this much. I was recently told it would be inappropriate to say that a piece of writing, a single sentence, was “bad.” It might make the writer feel bad, they said.
Well, guess what? Tough. I’m not going to sugar-coat it just for the writer’s benefit. Honestly, “bad” was about as nice as I could have put it. It wasn’t a lie, and I wasn’t going to stop there. I was going to include an explanation of what made the sentence harmful to the rest of the paragraph and what would be done to fix it. You, that thing called “constructive criticism”? Yeah, it’s also called “teaching.”
This is really the same reason why movies and television generally suck. We put everything in front of a group of the “average” viewer. To be fair, this is what gets you ratings. Give the people what they want. It’s why the boycott against Beck was so successful in getting him off the air. If writers and artists aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of good taste or do something shocking, we’ll keep getting the same boring crap we always get. It’s the one thing I love about Joss Whedon. I know he’s got his MANY flaws, but the man’s not afraid to kill off someone you like to get the story to a different place.
I won’t pretend there aren’t bad employees out there in every field. I’ve worked with and been served by them. But here’s my promise to the world.
I’ll assume you know what you’re doing if you promise to act like a professional.
Unless you’re the jackals at Triple-J that tried to charge me $1,400 to replace my engine when my future father-in-law fixed said car by replacing ONE $100 piece. On his own. During his lunch break.
If people wonder why there is no more company loyalty, it might be because companies, whether they’re governments or corporations, sell out employees for the sake of “customer loyalty.” Yeah, the employees are the ones that make the whole thing run. In fact, putting employees first actually gets you better customer service than throwing said employees to the wolves.
And now, I leave you with a bunch of people who should probably stay away from any job that does not require a paper hat.