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6.24.2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The Doof Warrior

What's not to like about Mad Max: Fury Road? From scene one--a tight closeup on a two-headed lizard--to the show's redemptive final act (ascension of the victorious women juxtaposed with the cascading streams of precious, liberated water) there is a visual consistency and narrative urgency that never lets up. I literally squirmed in my seat in spots while watching this well-received masterwork (it's been hovering between 8.5 and 9.2 on IMDB since its release). 

Tom Hardy barely speaks in his turn as Max, but that's okay. His actions and expressions say as much as we need to know about him. He's tough, singularly driven, compassionate (in spots), creative, and pure. This guy makes a hell of a blood bag, folks. He's also nigh impossible to kill.

Charlize Theron gives a spell-binding performance as Imperator Furiosa. I forgot she could be this good, and that's a shame, because when given a good vehicle she is the best there is. She plays a feminist with one arm--a rebel with the combination of skill and morality that this war-torn hell needs to lift itself up out of the debris of the apocalypse.

Oh, and then there's that. George Miller killed it here. This landscape, from those creepy crows on stilts to the dunes outside the former green place to Immortan Joe's skull castle, is amazing. I don't know where they get the extras, but these poor folks look so emaciated and ravaged by the end times that it makes the audience uncomfortable. Give Miller credit. He wanted to make a two-hour car chase, and he did that. But he gave it a true heart and soul. It's so much more than a mere "Mad Max" film. There's beauty in the staging as well; take a look at that night scene if you need evidence. I like the authentic '80s corn (that clinking "Fury Road" in the opening credits) in comparison with the modern use of filters and effects. 

Immortan Joe is creepy. That doof warrior is creepy. The fall-out boys are creepy. Rictus Erectus is creepy. Anybody who goes to war with his own rock band is awesome. Hell, the whole damned thing is creepy, and awesome, and delightfully so. 

I'd like to see it again real soon...

This is a solid 'A' film and the best thing I've seen since last year's Interstellar.



6.17.2015

The Visit (2015)



So looking forward to this one. Seems like a great example of the uncanny in film...

6.04.2015

It Takes A Village...

No matter how many times you go through a manuscript, there is likely a number of errors that will escape your critical eye. Man, I've worked with some great editors over the years, and I'm always stunned when they return a story and there are mistakes that stick out like a vestigial tail when you get a second set of eyes on the work.
Building a book is not a solitary venture, that's for sure. Thank your local copy editor...

6.03.2015

Making Progress in a Post-9/11 Surveillance State

Politicians of all persuasions--including Ron Wyden, Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul--compromised on the American Freedom Act, a bill that President Obama signed that is designed to limit the widespread, suspicionless surveillance of American citizens. The legislation leaves in place some NSA provisions for spying (lets hope that the abuse of stipulative labeling is minimal here) on suspected "lone-wolf" terrorists and those that frequently dispose of cheap cellular phones.

But all in all, the legislation draws some pretty clear lines between what the government can collect and warehouse in terms of the telephone conversations of average American citizens. It would now take a court order to access the private telephone conversations that are no longer be curated by the NSA. Instead, these conversations are held by private vendors, creating another barrier that acts as a protection of privacy.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation applauded the legislation, they do lament that it could have gone further to protect the civil liberties of American citizens. ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer called this a milestone victory, and noted that this legislation does, in some ways, exonerate Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and patriot.

I've been waiting for this for years, and I think that it signals a significant healing in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and an important restoration of privacy protections to the U.S. people. I don't think that we can allow President Obama to take the credit on this one. It took democrats, republicans, and libertarians alike--along with the sustained and meticulous pressure of groups like the ACLU and EFF--to make this happen. And in what is surely one of the largest personal sacrifices in matters of recent public controversy, we can't overlook the actions of Edward Snowden in exposing these data-collection practices. I hope the American Freedom Act signals the beginning of the creation of a pathway home for him.


5.12.2015

A Pair of Interesting Texts...


Matt Kaplan's Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite is a fascinating amalgamation of history, myth, media theory, and popular culture. Kaplan is a science writer with a keen ability to turn a phrase and a nice eye for detail. These chapters tread the line between the academic and the popular effortlessly, and it's one of the more interesting non-fiction pieces I've read in recent years. 

W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America has a similar approach to prose style, but it looks much more deeply into how history and popular culture both inform and remediate each other and our narrative tradition. Poole has a deep knowledge of film and narrative, and his work represents an accessible, insightful tour of twentieth-century America.

5.06.2015

Buy It Now

E-bay got me into this. I know I shouldn’t blame an internet service for my compulsive behavior. I mean, personal responsibility and all of that shit, right? But damn, if that site hadn’t made it so easy to just spend the afternoon mining for treasures.
I’m not sure where she might be hiding. I heard her in the attic two hours ago, creeping over the eaves. I strained my ears, made a mental picture of her slinking quietly above my head and put a round of buckshot through the ceiling. There was a muted scream and then I heard her scampering away. Her footsteps didn’t make much more than a whooshing sound—I mean, she’s nothing more than plastic and air, after all—but I could hear her just the same.
Her name is Annette. That’s what it said on the little business card that came taped to the shrink-wrapped plastic she shipped out in.
Hello! My name is Annette. Will you take care of me? There was a set of red pouty lips stamped beneath the message. That was it—no invoice, no receipt. Just a plastic blow-up doll and that silly card.
It’s been two days since her arrival and I need to end this. If she gets two more days, well…better not to think about that just yet.
She came from a business up in Canada. Great Northern Novelties was the name of the company—some podunk town called Pilot Butte, just outside of Regina. I should have known better than to buy her after that fiasco with Ronny and the rubber nipple. But hell, part of me wanted to see what would happen. I can’t deny that and so I won’t. I was curious.
Poor Ronny.
It was Ronny who had passed out in the spare bedroom at our Halloween party. The place had been filled to bursting that night. The elections were in full swing and there must have been a half-dozen Sarah Palins drifting about.
Ronny was a good guy, by the way. I liked him a lot. I think we all did.
But he was that one guy in every crew, you know? Always drinking too much. Always needing a babysitter. Always passing out first. I mean, he hadn’t even made it to 11:00 on the night it happened.
Berg Jones (his parents had named him Bergstrom—weird, right?) had been running around the house all night with a video camera. I find that shit annoying, but it seems to be in vogue now after Cloverfield. Got to catch the weird stuff on tape.
Well, it turns out that Berg got his money’s worth.
Let me go back a second. As I said, I like e-bay. A lot. I’m on there a couple hours a day. I collect old speculative magazines, superhero figurines, antique photographs—I like weird stuff. Well, I’m zooming around there one day and I come across this listing:
So real it might scare you! This novelty nipple suctions to skin. Fool your friends! Freak out your neighbors! Perfect condition.
Great Northern was the seller and the last bid was a paltry $2.25. The auction closed in under an hour, so I impulsively punched in $2.50. I won the auction and the nipple arrived in the mail a week later. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, about this nipple. What came in the mail didn’t look a thing like what was shown on the website. The one on the website was clearly a fake. It was plastic or latex or whatever and dyed that phony flesh color that is just so obviously fake that everyone associates it with CPR dolls from high school health class.
But that wasn’t what came in the mail. This thing was light and pliable—way closer to the feel of actual flesh than plastic. It was stippled with pores, and there was an off-center indentation in the nipple itself. It looked waaaaay too real.
I mean, that little booger had a hair stuck in the outer band of the areola. An honest-to-goodness hair!
“Jesus. That thing is creepy,” Jane had remarked. She and I were maybe sort of starting something. It was hard to tell. She’d dressed up like the genie from I Dream of Jeannie and was attracting more than her fair share of stares that night. I was a little jealous, I admit. At any rate, Jane didn’t like the thing from the start.
And I agreed with her, straight up. When I took the thing out of the cellophane wrapper, it felt like it was…I don’t know, alive, I guess. I could feel it trying to stick to me. It felt like a centipede crawling over bare flesh, like it was trying to sink a hundred little anchors into my index finger.
I guess that was an indication we shouldn’t have slapped it on Ronny. But we did anyway, of course. We were buzzed and riding that special euphoria that invariably tags along with the drunken mob, so Berg rolled tape and Jane and Sharon and Ryan and Josh and Erin and I went back to where Ronny was snoring in the center of the guest bed. He’d dressed up as Mario. I pulled his suspenders down and pulled his shirt up to reveal his pale chest.
“And now, ladies and gentleman,” I said theatrically into the camera, “watch as we change this man forever!”
Sheesh. I can’t believe I actually said that.
I pulled the nipple from the package, disgusted again by that grabbing sensation, and stuck it in the center of Ronnie’s chest, on the tip of his breast bone.
And the place broke up. I mean, people were just dying with laughter. We collected our footage and I dressed him back up and we left him there and didn’t see him until the next morning.
The party finally died around 3:00, and the place had mostly cleared out by the next morning. I was making breakfast in the kitchen for Jane and Berg when Ronny sauntered in, stretching and yawning.
“Nice party last night champ,” he said to me, taking a barstool at the counter. “Can I have one?”
I poured him a glass of O.J. and we razzed him about passing out early. After ten minutes or so, he started to scratch his chest. “What in the hell?” he muttered, and I suddenly remembered what we had done.
I started to snicker. Jane and Berg followed suit. Ronny just stared at his t-shirt, where there was a silver-dollar sized wet patch in the center.
“That’s funny,” he said, pulling his shirt up. But it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
The nipple had stuck. It had become a part of him. A thin dribble of yellowish milk seeped from the center of it. I almost lost my coffee.
“What the fuck?” he shrieked. “What the fuck is this?”
He streaked for the bathroom and the three of us just sat there in silence. I mean, what can you say?
So that’s the story of Ronny and the rubber nipple. But not quite, I guess. The thing continued to grow. It lactated all day. Ronny couldn’t go to school (we both attend the University of North Florida) because he had a 36C hanging there in the middle of his chest.
He saw doctors and specialists. You want to hear the strange thing? He never got too mad at us. He couldn’t believe what had happened to him, but he didn’t shut himself off from us. He knew we thought we were playing an honest goof on him, and he just wanted the damned thing gone.
But it was pretty much there, at least for the time being, and so Ronny dealt with it by boozing. He had a titty in the center of his chest—what would you do?
About five weeks ago he had an accident after getting his load on. We’re all still trying to deal with it—processing it, as the counselors at the university say.
Christmas came and went and the spring term started in the first week of January. They call it spring term in Florida, but it can still get pretty danged cold here in Jacksonville.
The college held a memorial for Ronny; it was well attended. I felt the most guilt about what had happened. Hell, I still feel guilt. But now, writing these words and knowing that she’s up there—well, I think the game has changed, my friends.
I’d cut back on the e-bay after Ronny died but, like most addictions, it crept back into my life in both trickles and torrents. I wouldn’t touch the thing for almost a week. Then I’d blow off class and stay on it all day.
It was on a sunny day in the middle of February when I came across the listing:
Get in the game, Tiger! So lifelike you’ll wonder why you’d ever gone without. Annette is waiting for you. Pull the trigger! Perfect condition.
The seller was Great Northern and the last bid was, again, a paltry figure. $4.75. The auction closed in a little over an hour. I bid $5.00 without thinking about it and continued on my merry way through the aisles of the world’s largest auction, barely registering it ninety minutes later when I learned that I had won and Annette would ship the very next day.
I don’t know why I did it. I guess part of me wanted to see if it could be true. I honestly don’t know, to tell the truth.
Well, she arrived about a week ago. I left her in the package, too scared to open the thing. From what I could see through the cellophane, she was pretty lifelike. She had black hair and dark eyes and a huge set of pouty lips like the stamp on the card. I left her on my dresser and put her out of my mind, that is until I returned from Environmental Science and found Berg sitting with the fully inflated doll on the couch.
“Pretty neat, Jimmy,” he said. I hated it when he called me that. I prefer James—always have. “Things must not be going well with Jane if you bought this ol’ gal here.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“What? You mean blow it up? It’s a blow-up doll, for chrissake!”
“You should put that thing back,” I said. “That came from Great Northern. Same place the nipple came from.”
“Fuck!” he shouted, pulling his arm from the doll’s shoulders. “Wow! That explains it. It’s…it’s warm. Feel it.”
I did, and he was right. It didn’t feel like flesh, but it was close. There was a solidity to it that I hadn’t expected either. I pulled the plastic nozzle out of the doll’s thigh and let the air out. When it was nothing more than a wrinkled plastic sheath, I balled it up and stuck it in the corner of my closet.
We smoked a joint and drank some beers and played a couple rounds of Madden on the X-Box, and I put the thing out of mind until two days ago.
Jane. Well, Jane is dead. Her body is in the laundry room. I think the doll was jealous, and if I felt a little guilty about Ronny, well, I feel terrible about Jane. I will call the authorities. I have to. But not until I end the thing with the doll first.
Wait a second—just heard something. Yeah, she’s in the attic. I can hear her up there, calling my name. She knows my damned name!
The thing with Jane happened yesterday. She’d slept over for the first time (kind of a big step) and she was the one that found the doll in the closet.
“Oh, very nice James! Is there something I should know about you?” she said when she opened the door to collect one of my shirts. She stood there in panties, looking down at a fully inflated blow-up doll named Annette.
“Aw shit,” I muttered. “Berg.”
But Berg hadn’t inflated the doll. The doll had done what the doll wanted to do, and that was come back on her own. Jane grabbed a shirt and I slammed the closet door, late for my morning business class. I kissed her forehead, grabbed a bagel and hauled ass to school.
When I got home I found Jane in the laundry room, a kitchen knife stuck up under her ribcage. She wore one of my dress shirts and a pair of panties and there was an amused look on her face. A set of bloody tracks, the feet maybe four inches long, extended from the body and over to the attic access. The panel in the ceiling was slightly askew, so that’s how I figured out where she was.
If the thing with the nipple has run its course here, she’s more flesh than theory now, my friends.
And there it is. I’ve put it all down on paper. Maybe I’ll get to explain it all. Maybe I won’t, but at least it’s here.
Oh. Oh, ok! Laughter. Peels of it, from the corner of the attic. I’m going up. I have the gun (only been hunting twice, and never killed a single bird—go figure) and I’ll try to fix what I started.
Oh, wait. One more thing. I tried to contact Great Northern Novelties yesterday afternoon. The number was disconnected—no great surprise there. So I tracked down the local rag up there, a weekly paper called The Pilot Butte Record. The editor/reporter/photographer/publisher informed me that Great Northern had gone belly up almost three years ago. Simply wasn’t much of a market for novelties in this day and age the reporter, an amiable fellow named Perkins, had said. He’d attached two pictures of an old storefront, the window covered in gray dust and strewn with cobwebs.
And then there’s this: my PayPal account was never dinged for either purchase. I didn’t pay a thing (at least in terms of money—ha, ha, I think I’ll pay a lot when this is all said and done).
So is there a lesson in all of this? Maybe. My stepdad, asshole that he is, once told me that you couldn’t learn anything in college that would be useful in the real world. He was awfully big on that “real world” stuff, like life was some infinite puzzle or something.
But I did learn something, on the very first day of business class, when the professor had scrawled these two words up on the dry-erase board before he even wrote his name there: caveat emptor.
Buyer beware.
No shit, right?
Ok, she’s laughing again. Cackling, really. That’s enough. I’m going into the attic for awhile…

3.25.2015

Florida's Grapefruit League

Western Florida is hopping this time of year, when hundreds of thousands of baseball fans make the annual pilgrimage to sunnier climes. Every other SUV last week in the parking lot outside of Joker Marchant stadium had Michigan plates. 

We've seen the Orioles in Jupiter, the Astros in Kissimmee, and we've been to Tigertown these past two springs. Marchant Stadium, the country's oldest minor league park (1966), is a fantastic venue. Great sight lines, intimate feel, a sunny berm, and some good cold beer and great food. 





Lakeland is a great city. It's got a fantastic downtown, some great gardens and picturesque buildings, and a nice vibe around the stadium. Spring Training and the Grapefruit League is just one more reason why we have it really good here in Florida.