Friday, August 31, 2007

Dinky

One of the earliest fights I can recall having was when I was five. The fight itself was fairly insignificant-- the other boy and I missed more blows than we landed--and it was over such a silly little argument.

See, at five years old, I thought my pony Comet would grow up to be a thoroughbred. My neighbor (and I use that term loosely, considering this neighbor lived several hundred yards away from me) was a bit older, and his life experience gave him a huge cognitive and physical advantage.

"A pony is just a pony. It won't grow up," he said. And he said it smugly.

"It will too. It will grow up, and I'll ride it when I'm a cowboy." I believed it, too.

" Listen, your pony is already as big as it's gonna get."

"You're lying! I hate you!" I yelled. I swung first, but he hit hardest. And fastest. And hardest again.

Ka-POW!

My Mom broke it up, and delivered to me the bad news. The kid was right: Comet was a pony, and he was never going to be a stallion. I was devastated. Not only was I sad for Comet--I had such high expectations for him, after all--but my hopes were dashed as well. And I hated the neighbor kid who burst my bubble. He was a bully anyway, and easy to dislike. But I thought he took particular pleasure in winning this argument with me, so I hated him for being mean-spirited. And besides, his name was Dinky.

How'd you like to lose a fight to a kid named Dinky?

Dink--as he became known as he grew out of adolescence--was one of seven kids raised in a three room house. There was no running water in the home, so the family used an outhouse that was built 50 yards or so from the front porch. (I remember often imagining how much it would suck to have to use the john really, really badly at 3:00am in Winter.) Well water was drawn and used for drinking and daily sponge baths. Real baths were given during hot summer months, when a large tub was placed in the front lawn and filled with soapy water. Dink and his siblings made an afternoon of it; splashing and squirting, slipping and sliding.

Dink and I didn't hang out together much after I hit the junior high years. Our lives were just too different, I think, and we didn't really have much in common. As kids, we used to play the "What Will You Be When You Grow Up?" game. While I seemed to have lots of ideas and options--"A cowboy! Or a teacher. Maybe a doctor," I was always a bit put off by Dink's most consistent answer: "I dunno."

Because he didn't.

Dink had no reference for a career, or a future or how his soon-to-come adult life might turn out differently than the life his own father lived. Dink's life lacked the spark of inspiration that can change a life path, and a role model who can provide a map for success. I sometimes wonder how two kids who grew up so near each other could see the world so differently, and have such different perspectives on how we each fit into that world view.

Some of us, I suppose, dream our ponies will one day become stallions.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Zodiac

Several years ago, a good friend and co-worker was describing me to a newly hired employee. "He's a nice guy, and a lot of fun to work with," she said. "In fact, he's really charming, but in a serial killer sort of way."

You could've heard a very large, and very sharp kitchen knife drop.

My friend meant the description as a compliment, she explained. "He's just sort of eccentric, and has lots of social tics and behaviors that are kinda...funny. But he's really nice! Of course, I didn't mean 'serial killer' in that way."


The new employee didn't last very long. But while he was there, I noticed he didn't interact with me very much.

The comment stuck in my head because (besides the obvious reason of being a bit embarrassed) I've had a nearly life-long interest in serial killers. Including the Zodiac killer, who I consider the forerunner of modern day sociopaths. Sure, serial murderers killed before Zodiac, and some that came after him were more prolific and even more sinister. But the Zodiac case inspired a whole new generation of serial killers; killers who murdered in order to satisfy an obsessive, intrinsic need and to play cat-and-mouse with the cops and media.

Zodiac stars some of the best young actors in film today. Jake Gyllenhaal is Robert Graysmith, a newspaper cartoonist who develops an unhealthy obsession with identifying the Zodiac killer, and Mark Ruffalo as the detective who lead the investigation. (Ruffalo's character, David Toschi, was a role model for the Clint Eastwood film, Dirty Harry, and some of his personality style was used to create Steve McQueen's character in the flick Bulitt.) Working separately, both men begin to focus in on a specific suspect; by the time they combine efforts the case has gone cold and no arrests can be made.

Zodiac is a terrific old-school sleuth flick that takes it's time allowing the story to unfold. The acting is good. So good, in fact, that it seems secondary to the story itself. And here's how real the movie felt: midway through, I walked upstairs and double bolted the front door and checked the locks on the windows.

Just in case.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ghost Rider

I think my excitement yesterday over super hero cartoons influenced my movie choice later in the evening. For a couple hours just before dinner I found myself alone in the house, remote control in hand. Although I had lots on my To-Do List--and when I say "lots," I mean it--I couldn't resist sneaking a quick peek through the Video On Demand choices to see if a new release might fit a time frame that would let me enjoy a movie and still accomplish some things.

Without Mrs. Film Geek knowing...


I paused on Ghost Rider, and marveled at how perfect the choice seemed. With a running time of under two hours, I could watch the flick while The Film Geek family was out, and still have time to work up a fresh sweat by the time they arrived home. The Marvel Super Hero genre is not really to Mrs. Film Geek's liking, so there was no need to worry about the "I wish you had waited to watch that with me!" factor. The film's star, Nic Cage, is a favorite actor of mine. I'll watch the guy in anything, despite recent movie choices that I think have not been good for his career.




Add another one to the list.





The movie pays some poorly designed homage to several characters that have appeared in Marvel Comics since the 1960s. The screenwriters did a decent job developing a Ghost Rider character that is a composite of several of the anti-heroes that have been featured in the comic. And Peter Fonda does a nice turn as Mephistopheles. Other than that, though, the film is a complete bust.

Cage, who plays Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, seems to be using Depressed And Stoned Elvis as the inspiration for the character, as some of his physical movements are so awkwardly choreographed. The movie's special effects are poorly done, too. Near the end of the flick, when Ghost Rider uses his Penance Stare on his arch-nemesis in what should have been a moment of high drama, I put on my Lawn-Duty boots so I could begin cutting the grass.

And I was looking forward to it.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Building A Better Super Hero

Once a comic book geek always a comic book geek, I suppose.

Just today, I caught the newest episode of the Legion Of Super Heroes (on the new CW network) with my four-year-old son, Jaden. Although I'd seen some snippets of the show before, this was the first time I'd watched an entire show.

While this Legion's history and continuity is different than I recall and the heroes personalities have been ramped up to be cooler and hipper, I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the show. I loved it!

Even more than he did...

This is the kind of show I wished for back in the day.

Growing up in the 70s and early 80s, I longed for an animated TV show or movie that could come close to representing the action being illustrated in DC comics. A cartoon that could capture the darkness of Gotham, the evil of Sinestro and the sheer power of Superman without looking cheesy, or relying on comedy to conclude the plot.

Instead, I got Bat-Mite.

Each Saturday, I'd tune the electronic TV-antenna-turning-rotor to CBS and watch The New Adventures Of Batman. Mostly, though, the show was about Bat-Mite, an imp from another dimension who worshipped Batman.

Bat-Mite wanted to help Batman fight crime, but he always ended up causing problems that the Dynamic Duo had to clean up each week.

I hated it. But I settled for it each week. It was the only option I had.

Jaden doesn't realize how lucky he is!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Overheard

The twenty-something guys walked only a few paces in front of me, and chatted quietly enough to let me know they didn't want people to hear the conversation. As they pushed the elevator button and paused for the lift, I walked past them toward the water fountain.

And heard this:

"It's amazing, really. This time last year I'm sittin' in prison, lookin' at a life sentence. Suddenly, the doors swing open and I'm a free man. It was a freakin' miracle."

I took a long, long drink...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Charlie And Candy Mountain

Not long ago, parents tossed baseballs and the pigskin in the backyard with their kids as they talked about life, hopes and dreams. These days, parents surf the net with their children and search YouTube for videos that make them laugh.

The embedded video is a favorite in The Film Geek's household. The girls have walked around for months chanting "Charlie...Let's go to Candy Mountain, Charlie," while my son laughs out loud as the video plays. None of them really understand the ending, but that's not important; we've all laughed for hours at this silliness.

Together.

Wait for it...wait for it...


Monday, August 20, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I should mention a couple of things.

First, I hate the fantasy film genre. Hate it with an effin' passion. I can't suspend logic and embrace disbelief long enough to enjoy most fantasy films, for some reason. (Unless the star of the flick wears a cape or spins webs on which he can swing, that is...) Secondly, I hate movies with subtitles. To really enjoy a movie, I need to invest in the characters, to form what amounts to a relationship with them.

I dunno why, it's just my way. But subtitles make investing in the characters hard for me.

But people kept emailing me with the "Have you seen Pan's Labyrinth yet?" And, "I so excited for you to see Pan's Labyrinth! It rocks." And one person went so far as to email: "You know, you're one sexy bastard!"

(OK, that last one wasn't really true. See, I can fantasize, even if I don't like the fantasy flicks.)


So, on the recommendation of several people who accidentally found The Film Geek, I settled into my faux Lazy-Boy and clicked "play".

I loved Pan's Labyrinth! In fact, I can't say it loudly or boldly enough in type, so I have to add emphasis: I effin' loved this movie! The characters, the plot, the pacing, the dialogue all were simply brilliant, and put together made this flick one of the best I've seen in a long, long time.

Set in 1940's pre-Civil War Spain, a young girl named Ofelia struggles to make sense of her oppression and her lifestyle. She escapes from and deals with the challenges of her day-to-day life (political and familial changes, and a constant sense of danger) through a fantasy, in which she is a mythical princess on an important mission. For me, the fantasy itself--with the strange creatures of mythology and it's metaphorical parallels to the peripheral plot--are less important than the reason the fantasy existed, and how it affected Ofelia's life.

Through the fantasy Ofelia found strength and an identity; she gained control of an existence that was otherwise out of her control, and became the architect of her own life.

I made such a mistake avoiding this movie. First, the fantasy aspect was integral to the central plot, and an excellent vehicle in which to explore overcoming powerlessness. Secondly, the subtitles were done in a manner that seemed more narrative than true representations of what was being spoken. I realized half-way through that I was watching the movie mostly without even reading the subtitles, even though I don't hablo espanol.

So, those of you who mentioned Pan's to me: you were right: In addition to me being one sexy bastard, Pan's Labyrinth was incredible. Thanks for the recommendations.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sky Didn't Fall

During my recent interview with The Chinchilla, I was asked: "Would you ever wear a giant chinchilla mascot costume? Under what circumstance(s) would you ever do it?"

The question first made me chuckle. Then, it reminded me of this story. It happened a generation ago, and I hadn't thought of it in years. The story still makes me laugh, but mostly it's a terrific illustration into how I think.

In the mid-to-late '80s I worked part-time at the local public library. I worked in the Audio-Visual Department during a time that audio-visual equipment was still as large as a suitcase and sometimes took a dolly to transport. So, I enjoyed getting out of the department, and hanging out with some of the
other library geeks who were there at the time. I learned a lot about the world, and a lot about me.

Two important lessons I learned: (a) I have very little ego, and (b) if I was an actor, I'd be a method actor.

Librarians from the Children's Library walked onto my floor one day, and politely asked me for a favor. Seems they were having a story hour the next day for about 40 kids, and the theme involved chickens. One of the librarians had a chicken costume, but wasn't big enough to wear it correctly.

I was.

They asked if I'd wear it during the story hour, and I agreed. I'm pretty shy, but it seemed fun. It was for the kids, after all, and they promised I'd have to do nothing but walk around and cluck from time to time as the story was read.

I agreed.

The story hour was fun, and the kids seemed to have a good time. As the librarian finished, she closed the book and said:



Librarian: "That's why it's important to read. Tell the kids more about that, Mr. Chicken."

Me: [wings flapping dramatically] "Bock, bock!" [Said with excitement]

Librarian: "Tell the kids about why it's important to read, Mr. Chicken."

Me: [confused, although it's hidden behind the mask] "... ... Bock"


Librarian: "In English. Tell the kids in English."

I freaked out! All that I could think of was this singular thought:

Chickens don't talk!

I refused to speak, but continued to cluck. I clucked with the excitement and rhythm that meant clearly: "Read children! Enjoy the knowledge and information that comes from books, it will help you become better educated and informed people. Read, kids. Read like the wind!"

But what came out? "Bock, bock bock..."

After the kids left I took off the head and beak. "Why did you do that? I asked. All the librarian did was smile.

And it was a crooked, evil smile.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Whatever Happened To... Willie Aames

Sometimes "I wonder whatever happened to ..." thoughts roll around in my head for days, popping up in my cognition at the most inappropriate times: while participating in professional meetings, when in the shower, while pretending I'm listening to my wife, during sex...

The point is, the thoughts stick there until I can purge them.

The damn obsession manifested itself most recently after having lunch with my friend Hoyt a couple weeks ago. As we were exiting the restaurant, Hoyt made a casual mention of Willie Aames. My head tilted, my neck stiffened and I let out a barely audible--and very nasally--"hmmm?!?"

For me, "whatever happened to?" is like a drug. And I'm always chasin' the dragon.

Tommy Bradford was, to me at least, the coolest Bradford on the TV show Eight Is Enough. I couldn't identify with any of the girls, as each was either too pretty or too smart for me to invest the emotional effort. Brothers Nicholas and David were too young and too old, respectively, for me to think of as peers. But Tommy Bradford seemed my age, and was easy to identify with. At a time when TV characters were really just caricatures of real life--think The Fonz, for example--Tommy's character seemed more like real life.

More like my life.

Aames went on to star in some teen flicks, most notably Zapped, with Scott Baio. Aames also co-starred in Baio's 80's sitcom Charles In Charge. After he disbanded his rock band Willie Aames & Paradise, Aames divorced his first wife, found religion and married his second wife. He spent several years producing the Christian-themed TV superhero show Bibleman, from which he retired in 2005. Since then, he's survived Celebrity Fit Club, and has taken up hunting--yep, I said hunting--as a hobby.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Flashback! Bad Movies That Haunt Me: Trilogy Of Terror

There are more than a couple movies from the 1970s that, although the acting and the production was bad, still managed to scare the bejeezus out of this ten-year-old geek.

After all, I am rather a sissy. (As evidenced by my odd use of the word "rather" in that sentence.)

Satan's Triangle, a film starring Kim Novak, caused me nightmares into my 20s, long after I'd forgotten the flick's title. Salem's Lot--the original, not the Rob Lowe afterthought--was scary as hell. But one movie from the mid-70s was worse than them all. One flick was so frightful and terrible that, despite being poorly produced, it made me cry when I went to bed that night after watching it.

Trilogy Of Terror, sometimes titled Terror Of The Doll, starred Karen Black as the lead in three vignettes . The first two I can't recall at all; I'm sure they were fine tales, but for me they were secondary to the final story of a Zuni fetish doll that comes to life. The vignette, titled Amelia, was a one-actor play produced way before the time of Chucky and great special effects.


The effects were awful, the story was pretty lame and the plot was unbelievable.

But I nearly peed in my pants! Here's why:



I'm still haunted by it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The World's First Chinchilla-Themed Haiku

"The brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good. Uh, please be advised that there is a warning on that one ok?" ~Woodstock, a lifetime ago

Mr. Chinchilla
Talks, and conducts interviews.
The rabbit hole's here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Messengers

I counted the reasons I'd probably like The Messengers:

1. It starred Dylan McDermott, known most recently from the TV show The Practice, and West Virginia's own John Corbett;

2. The paranormal theme suggests ghosts talking to children, which I dig. In fact, as a kid, I regularly wished that ghosts would visit with and talk to me.

3. I watched the DVD in a completely dark hotel room, after midnight, and on a laptop computer. All of that simply adds to the creepy factor.

40 minutes in I was fightin' sleep.

McDermott is the father of a urban family who moves to rural America to escape the problems that comes with the rat race. He wants to raise sunflowers as a crop, and buys an old farmhouse that has a violent history--which, conveniently, the family learns about way too late!

The plot has holes that are too obvious to ignore, and is incredibly boring. Even the technology used to portray the ghosts was passe. If the film had been made before The Ring, the ghost shots might have been frightening; used after The Ring, it's boring, and looks like a rip-off.

I should have just gone on to sleep anyway. I may have had a nightmare that was more interesting.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tear It Down

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports today that the building once known as Weston State Hospital is being auctioned off, without an established minimum bid, in order to rid the state of the cost for it's limited upkeep.

I say tear it down.


Designed to treat 250 patients in the late 1850's, the hospital first named The Lunatic Asylum West of the Alleghenies was housed on beautiful grounds.

Lush grass, trees and pretty flowers decorated the landscape, but it was the beautiful masonry of the hand-cut stone that made the building special. One of the largest buildings in the United States made of hand-cut stone, it truly is a marvel.

And then you step inside.

The most unsettling sound I've heard in my life, I heard at Weston. I visited for the first time in the mid-1980s. After being led onto an adult male ward the guard, who was walking behind me, paused to lock the door behind us.

Click.

The echo up and down the cold, sterile hallways was deafening. The realization that during the past century each time that Click was heard, the lives of thousands of people were altered forever--and most for the worse--was overwhelming.

I walked forward on that adult male ward past children staring out windows. While the hospital was supposed to house less than 300 patients, in reality it housed several hundred (and in some decades, several thousands), causing patients of all ages and conditions to be intermixed. I passed patients walking around fully exposed because staff didn't care about or think about helping a person tie the sash on a bathrobe. And I walked by shower areas where dozens of people were being showered in herds.

I didn't go back to the institution often, but when I did I always left disturbed. Regardless of whether or not a patient here or a patient there was helped, the culture of the hospital was one of control and power, and of warehousing people. The building's history includes being a place where the most vulnerable among us died, were abused, exploited and experimented on. The building's pre-Civil War history and masterful craftsmanship aside, that sort of legacy doesn't deserve to be remembered.

It deserves to be destroyed.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Number 23

I dig numerology, and I've read just a bit about the concept that all events are connected somehow to the number 23.

So, when the red envelope containing The Number 23 arrived in my mailbox on 8/8/07 I was thrilled.

8+8+0+7= 23

Just for giggles, I slid the disc of the Jim Carrey thriller into the DVD player at exactly 9:23 pm.

It was so terrible, I watched only 2/3rds of it.

(Maybe there is someting to the theory after all.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The One Where I Say Mark Caserta's Wrong

Mark Caserta is a businessman and resident of Cabell County (WV) who regularly writes opinion pieces in the local Herald-Dispatch. His most recent was published today, and expresses strongly his belief that the removal of government sponsored prayer in public schools has lead to the downfall of our country.

"On June 25, 1962, America was changed forever when our judicial branch of government forbade school children from doing what they had been doing since the founding of our nation: giving thanks to our Lord God.

The needs of a godless few outweighed the needs of many as the future of our children was skewed by the highest court in the land, which ineptly chose to make law rather than to interpret it."


"The needs of a godless few..." That's too simple, Caserta. And it's wrong.

Just ask Ricky.

Ricky was an elementary school classmate of mine. In first and second grade Ricky and I played basketball together, chased girls and traded lunches when our mom's packed us a sandwich we hated. Ricky was a good kid; he was pretty quiet, but still funny. I remember him having a really wicked sense of humor. He was also a Jehovah's Witness.

In a class of thirty kids who weren't.

As a Witness, Ricky was forbidden to say the Pledge of Allegiance, participate in birthday parties or celebrate holidays. So every morning as the rest of us WASPish kids recited a pledge we didn't understand, Ricky sat in his seat with his head down. When parties were scheduled, Ricky sat on a chair in the hallway until the festivities ended. Afterwards--in fact, as quickly as the next recess--the boys in the class would corner Ricky on the playground and beat his ass. Hard.

Because he was different.

My friendship with Ricky shaped my life. I recognized early the power of the majority. I also realized how tough even subtle cultural difference can be on a kid who doesn't fit in with that majority. Ricky wasn't one of the "godless few" that Caserta is talking about. In fact, he and his family were seriously religious. It was members of the god-ful majority, after all, who were handing out the ass kickings on most days of the week.

There's a lot wrong with our society today. Caserta and I agree completely on that. But reciting some verses in the classroom each morning won't cure the complicated, multi-layered problems that has America struggling.

It's just not that simple.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Knocked Up

All my life, I've been pretty monogamous. Sure, I've had a handful of romantic relationships, but the shortest serious relationship I ever had lasted a couple of years. I'm a long-term sorta guy, I suppose. I never even had a one night stand.

Unlike Ben Stone, who had himself a doozy.

It's not that I'm against a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am sorta evening. In fact, during some parts of my youth I envied friends who had the sort of luck which permitted that sort of thing to occur. Even if given the chance, though, I would have walked away from a one night stand. I was too scared of the consequences, too fearful of the life-changing possibilities.

Unlike Ben Stone, whose doozy caused his life to be flipped on it's ear.

Knocked Up, which tells the story of the pot-smoking, unemployed uber-slacker forced to grow up, is equal parts raunch and sweetness. And that's mainly due to Seth Rogen, who plays Stone.


The movie is well written, paced perfectly with subtle and not so subtle jokes and is well acted. It's a true breakout role for Rogen, who seems to have that Will Ferrell charm and wit. While watching the movie, I'd sometimes realize that, even though I wasn't laughing out loud, I still had a "ain't that cute" sorta smile on my face while watching this guy.

It's a testament to this guy's ability to make us like him, even while we are laughing at him. Rogen's got a huge future, if he picks the parts right.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Alpha Dog

I didn't expect much when I loaded up the DVD player with Alpha Dog. Sure, the trailers I'd seen during the past few months made the flick look pretty cool, but you know how trailers go: most times, the trailer is simply the best parts of a movie blended.

And besides, the last time I saw a Justin Timberlake movie I was less than impressed.

I hit "play," and fast-forwarded through the opening montage of home movies that showed young children in various activities of play. In fact, I hit the "double fast-forward" button; I had no time to waste on an over-extended opening sequence. Timberlake might have successfully brought sexy back, but that cut no ice with me.

Show me some chops, kid, and I'll show you some respect.

When the montage was over and the regular speed was resumed, the first shot was of Bruce Willis. Suddenly, things changed for me. While Willis isn't Anthony Hopkins, the guy is no slouch as an actor. But more importantly, Willis seems to have a sixth sense for picking small parts in small movies that score big.

I think it's my friend Hoyt who says: "Bruce Willis don't make no bad movies."

Of course, he says it with better grammar, and without the Arnold-from-Diff'rent Strokes-imitation.

And he's right, because Alpha Dog rocks!

The flick is based on a true story, and examines the massive emotional gap that seems to exist these days between adolescence and adulthood. Those years where kids believe themselves to be invulnerable, but have such limited life experience that the decisions they make could be dangerous. That age where they believe they are living a grown-up lifestyle, but buckle under the emotional constraints that comes with a full-time job.

The opening montage (that I too quickly dismissed) was vital to the story: the movie is about innocence lost too early.

The characters in Alpha Dog--and in the true life story that inspired the movie--seem to struggle as they live in that gap. Without sound role models in their lives, each find some power and identification within popular culture: movie posters of Scarface decorate their bedroom walls, hip-hop videos shape their language and dress, and porn videos establish their sexual practices.

It's the poor decision making that is the most tragic aspect of Alpha Dog. I came to really like most of these characters, as who they really were under the caricature was revealed. Most were simply kids searching for an identity, who had no real role models in their lives. Ultimately, each gave in to the pressures they faced, and carried out actions that dramatically effected the rest of their lives.

Ben Foster--who I had only seen briefly before in the last X-Men flick--was brilliant in the supporting role of Jake Mazursky. His performance will make me see any movie he's in in the future.

And Timberlake?

He brought the chops.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Chachi Loves Chachi

In between cutting the lawn, doing some laundry and cleaning out my garage--OK, you got me, "instead of doing some laundry and cleaning out my garage"-- I caught the first three episodes of the new celebreality show Scott Baio Is 45...And Single.

It seems the Happy Days and Charles In Charge star is considering marriage to a long-time girlfriend. In an effort to make the relationship work he's hired a life coach for guidance and inspiration, and to help him figure out why he's so far been unable to commit to a single woman.

This show is no Lost.

In fact, after watching the first three episodes, I'm certain I've figured out the mystery of Baio's mid-life, existential dilemma. I know the reason he's cheated on every girlfriend he's dated, and why he regularly treats the women in his life with contempt.






[Spoiler alert!]

















He's a prick.