Sunday, November 29, 2009


My father was born in August, 1950. He would have been the prime age to appreciate the British music invasion of the 60’s. He would have helped usher in the era of long hair, short pants, and hip-cat glasses. That fleeting moment of cultural time right after the swell 50’s and just before the cynical 70’s when Vietnam was real, but had not yet come home. When hem lines shrunk, kids started to rebel, and music began to cross racial and coastal lines to blend together and become real music. He would have, had he not been perpetually stuck in the 30’s and 40’s.

For some people, music was, is and always will be their life. It is the therapy to which they turn when they need to connect with someone else on a deeper level. There is a song to go along with every moment of their life. And most likely they got this from their parents. I was not one of these people. Music was played in my house to make you happy. It kept up the beat of the everyday. Never did I lock myself up in my room and wail along with a sad song because, well, let’s face it, the music of the early nineties kinda sucked. I’m sure many appreciated the harmony of Boys 2 Men, but I didn’t.

It’s all about what you’re exposed to. The music my dad had playing out in the garage while he worked on this or that was usually swing or big band. I sang along to “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and “Bei Mir Bistu Shein”…please let me explain. Seriously. There’d be a little Ricky Nelson, he was a fan of Sam Cooke, and of course, he did order me a cassette tape of “The Best of The Monkees.” As far as the music he should have passed on from his generation—The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who—well those were a bunch of long-haired hippies.

My husband comes from a family where his father was a roadie for The Doobie Brothers and his mother worked for Rolling Stone. He had bands betting on whether he would come out a boy or a girl. Music has always been a part of his life so there is a source from where his appreciation comes that I simply don’t have.

I say all of this because PIRATE RADIO could be a movie about music. Indeed, you could say that the music plays a supporting part, should be credited after Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy. And if anyone else was writing this review, it would be about the music. But you are stuck with me. And I can only write about the characters, the story, and mention that the movie has a kick-ass soundtrack.

Tonight was the second time I bought my over-priced ticket and saw PIRATE RADIO—this time with my mother. That speaks volumes. The last time I saw a movie twice was the first time Christian Bale donned the Batman costume.

The advertisements for PIRATE RADIO are misleading. You are lead to believe that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the star of the movie and don’t get me wrong, he is a beacon in the role he plays so well of the laid-back, indifferent, too-cool-for-school music maven. But the storyline actually follows Young Carl, played by the much lesser known Tom Sturridge. He actually may only be known to many as the best friend of one ridiculously famous teen vampire, but it is Mr. Sturridge who really sparkles. And not in the lame way that word suggests. The story of Young Carl is that of an eighteen-year old man sent by his mother to live on a boat anchored in the North Sea where rock and roll is broadcasted to the 25 million British citizens who are deprived of the music by their own government. Carl has since grown up without ever knowing his father and now that he has reached the pivotal point of his life, standing on the dock of adulthood, he finds himself on a ship where any one of the crazy cast of degenerate characters could be his father. It is here where he finds acceptance, loses his virginity (the occasion being announced over the airwaves to the million listeners,) and discovers a family.

Brought to the screen by the same folks who made FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and LOVE, ACTUALLY, this movie is wonderful, actually, because of its subtleties. In one endearing scene, Carl has been given an opportunity by Dr. “Love” Dave (Frost), albeit a slightly immoral opportunity, to finally embrace manhood and lose his cherry with one unsuspecting young lady. Under Dr. Love’s insistence of urgency, Carl assures him in a very meek, high-pitched voice, “I think we can both be pretty certain I’m going to be quick.” They hug—both stark naked at the time—and Carl is sent to his doom.

This movie is character driven and the characters are cast spectacularly. Hoffman is the man, the Count of Cool. Nick Frost is charming despite his chunky physique. Rhys Iffan is gaspingly funny. Kenneth Branagh does evil like only the British could. And how could you not love Bill Nighy, who could make a phone book reading sound interesting? Each actor plays off the other with such ease, that you easily get lost in the movie.

Like I said before, I don’t really know music, but I know a little about acting and I’ve always had a love affair with movies. Unfortunately, I know a movie has lost me when I can picture the actors reading from a script and working to hit their mark. Once that happens, it will never pull me back in. PIRATE RADIO sinks you in the story, throws you in a life boat with the characters, and sails off into the sunset.

I give PIRATE RADIO 5 “F” words over the airwaves out of 5. You’ll smile when you’re not laughing, you’ll giggle every time Kenneth Branagh says that guy’s name, and you’ll want to see it again. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty kickass, too.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The End of the World as We Knew It

I’ve seen two end of the world movies this year. One was KNOWING – you can see what I thought of it here. 2012 is the other one, and dang it if this wasn’t an awesome flick. The crazies are right, the government lies to everybody, rich white folks are evil, and the puppy makes it out alive.

There’s not a whole lot to say about 2012, except that it’s the best disaster movie ever (except for GIGLI, that was a huge disaster! Zing!). The special effects are incredible – possibly the best I’ve ever seen. The first of the disaster scenes includes Cusack drives a limo through the disintegrating city of Los Angeles. After that scene, it never stops. There is never a lull in the action. The movie is 158 minutes long, and 152 of them are action-packed. There is always a huge wave, or a crack in the earth, or a crashing airplane, or something else heading toward out heroes. They run a lot.

Also, John Cusack, Oliver Platt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Danny Glover are all at the tops of their games. And let me take a minute to say something about Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ever since I saw that dude in SERENITY, I knew I liked him. Then I saw him in CHILDREN OF MEN and I liked him even more. He’s fantastic in this. And I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce his name.

I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on 2012, but it’s a great popcorn movie. I’m gonna dock it a star just because it’s a little long, but, for what it is, it’s pretty much a perfect movie. 2012 gets 4 Yellowstone volcanoes out of 5. Go see it. It was really expensive to make, and they need the cash.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


It was a beautiful, chilly July afternoon in South Dakota when my two year old staged the temper tantrum of the century. Our youth group was posing for a group picture in front of Mt. Rushmore and Miles, furious at attempts to prevent him from climbing the wall and hurling himself to his death in the amphitheatre below, protested so shrilly that he managed to clear all tourists from the viewing porch. He “expressed his disappointment” continuously as my husband dragged him all the way back to the parking garage, with my daughters and I following at a distance of about fifty feet.

“Someone should teach that kid a lesson,” a fellow tourist said to me, disgusted. “Yeah, someone should. I wonder where the mother is.” I replied.

Go ahead and judge me. It’s okay. Really.

I adore my son. Privately, I find many of his faults endearing. But sometimes I’m embarrassed to be associated with him in public.

That’s kind of the way I feel about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.


I only picked up a copy of Twilight because the girls in our youth group could speak of nothing else for weeks, and I wanted to know firsthand what had inspired this frenzy. I finished the book in two days. I ordered the rest of the books in the series from Amazon the next day. I told no one.

The Twilight Saga is not great literature. I cringed reading these books. I rolled my eyes. I laughed out loud at parts that weren’t supposed to be funny. And then I turned the page and kept reading.

Twilight bashing is a favored pastime of men, critics, the literary set, and particularly of male literary critics. How dare Stephenie Meyer girl-ify the sacred (er, profane) genre of vampire and werewolf lore? Vegetarian Vampires?! Sunshine Sparkly Vampires?! FOUL! Werewolves that transform at will?! FOUL! (Nerd alert: Actually, in book 4 we discover that the Quileutes are really shape shifters, not werewolves, so that makes it feasible)

Note to these guys: the whole vampire/ werewolf dynamic is just a plot device, the means through which Meyer builds characters with superhuman abilities, places Bella Swan in constant danger, and juxtaposes desire and restraint. This is not a vampire story. It’s a love story, a fantasy that appeals to a fanbase of teenage girls and former teenage girls. And since, to my knowledge, vampires don’t exist anyway…who cares?

For better or worse, these books make me feel half my age. And it’s not about the gorgeous guy characters or the fact that Bella is the center of the universe, the target of every villain, constantly being rescued by above mentioned gorgeous guys (pssst…this is like crack to a teenage girl). It’s because my teenage experience was so Bella-esque (except for the part where all the guys wanted to date me…yeah, that never happened). I wasn’t comfortable at dances. I was clumsy. The more hedonistic teenagerish pursuits held no appeal for me. I read Shakespeare and Austen because I wanted to. And I was thoroughly convinced of my own ordinariness. That’s the feeling Stephenie Meyer exploited to make me love her characters. Bella is the one person in the world whose thoughts Edward Cullen cannot hear. She is the lone mysterious female on the planet, so she captivates him. She doesn’t change a thing about herself, yet he loves her sacrificially. Why? Because he discovers what she does not see—that she is, in fact, extraordinary. She is pure, selfless, noble, and lovely. She is nothing like the rest.


Fellas, this is what most of us ladies long for. To be chosen above all others by a worthy man, just for who we are.

For this, I willingly overlook all the melodrama, the co-dependence, the poorly written prose, and Bella’s total lack of upper level thinking skills. I.e., Jake, the Quileute werewolf: “Remember that story I told you about “the cold ones” and the wolves? Well, I can’t tell you why I’ve transformed into a giant, half-naked, super-heated man-boy because it’s against the rules. Think, Bella…you know this…”

Spare me. Please.

I will also concede the fact that Meyer’s heroes, with their male model looks, superhuman strength, and complete devotion to Bella’s happiness, set a standard with which no man, and certainly no hormonal seventeen year old boy, could compete. In a sense, this is porn for girls, particularly in the case of Edward Cullen, who has frittered away the past century by racking up multiple graduate degrees, memorizing the complete works of Shakespeare, becoming fluent in several languages, and formulating the perfect product to maintain his signature hairdo. Oh, and he’s also a master composer and pianist, though when the lullaby he composed for Bella is brought to the screen in Twilight, it sounds exactly like an excerpt from a John Tesh CD. FOUL! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Here’s the straight dope: My husband is a youth guy. I hang with teenage girls. And I have watched helplessly as young ladies I love have cheapened themselves, have given themselves away and been used and tossed aside…for NOTHING. They don’t know what chivalry looks like. They don’t believe they’ll be receiving any better offers. I want the bar set higher.


And now, a few thoughts about the Twilight movie franchise:

I think any time a book is adapted to the screen there are both gains and losses. I appreciate many of the changes that made Twilight and New Moon watchable (btw, I think New Moon far exceeds Twilight in terms of watchability). I flipped past whole chapters of New Moon, for example, because…yes, Bella, we get it. You’re miserable without Edward. You can’t breathe. There’s a hole in your chest…blah blah blah. Thank you, makers of New Moon, for sparing us some of this angst. The action and fight scenes were exciting under Chris Weitz’s direction. Sceenwriter Melissa Rosenberg made a good call by adding some violence to the Volterra sequences.

Some reviewers have suggested that this entire generation of fans will watch these movies again as adults and realize just how terrible they are. Of course they will. And they’ll keep watching them.

Consider Saved By the Bell. This show was horribly acted. They aired the episodes out of order. One week Zack loves Kelly Kapowski. The next week, it’s Stacy Carosi or that girl wrestler or (fill in the blank). They’re awful. But do I own every single episode, including the feature length specials? Yes, I do. Do I sniffle a little when Zack and Kelly exchange vows in Las Vegas? Yes, I do. My grandmother has a similar relationship with The Rockford Files. It’s pop culture, folks. Nobody ever said it would be anthologized and handed down to future generations.

The CGI wolves of New Moon were hilariously un-scary, which is just the way Matt (the youth guy husband) and I like it. The special effects in Twilight were equally bad. The scene where Edward runs up the hill to the meadow with Bella on his back is just plain silly. But then, the whole premise behind this saga is just plain silly. Once you make peace with that, the hokey moments (i.e. Jacob Black removing his shirt for the first time to reveal his anabolic steroid use) become your favorites.

On the other hand, the Edward and Bella of cinema are not the lovers who live in the pages of the books. These two are described in the book as old souls, and you can see why they would end up together. Bella does all the grocery shopping and cooking. She reads Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and Shakespeare for fun. She cleans the house. She’s separate from the other kids because she’s just not into teenagerish activities. Kristen Stewart’s Bella, on the other hand, is a sulky, dreary, tomboy with some kind of nervous tic who is too cool for everything. For his part, Rob Pattinson captures the tortured aspect of Edward Cullen’s existence, and that’s about it. Meyer’s Edward is charming and eloquent and witty. He speaks (and thinks) like a man from another time. And he smiles from time to time, too.

Because I write for a publicity firm, I feel like I can spot focused, intentional messaging when I see it. Frankly, Meyer’s Bella is a politically incorrect model for teenage girls—too needy, too dependent, and too traditional in her domesticity. The Bella we encounter on screen presents the other extreme. She’s almost emotionless. She’s too cool to be vulnerable. She’s a vegetarian (not that I’m hating on vegetarians) who delivers lines like, “Take control…you’re a strong, independent woman.” This line was inserted for a reason, and I understand why. But in making Edward the undead James Dean and Bella the empowered, stoic feminist, the filmmakers have made the silly premise of this saga even less plausible.

In short, the movies are too cool to really tell the story. The real Edward and Bella are a couple of squares who get to know each other the old-fashioned way. We don’t witness this courtship in the film. Consequently, there is little magic between these two. When compared to the much more convincing onscreen chemistry between Bella and Jake (who also bests Edward’s physique and is not shown getting his butt kicked in Italy), viewers unfamiliar with the books wonder why this is even a competition.

All that being said, I will be pre-ordering the DVD of New Moon on Amazon. I can’t help myself.

Friday, November 20, 2009


i made a joke today on facebook today about an interaction with one of my students:

Kevin Still

had a white male student write on his homework: "Everyone is free to do what they want and to become what they want in America! The sky is the limit in the USA!" To which Kevin replied in the margins, "Who's been feeding you Sugar Puffed Bullcrap O's for breakfast?"

the question this student was to answer asked: How would you describe American culture today? when i originally gave the assignment, i asked the students to write their answer as a letter to a non-american. previously, i had experienced this exact same awkward responsibility in china when groups of chinese students circled around me and asked, "what is america like?" they had only seen america in the movies. likewise, i had only seen america through the eyes of a caucasian male.

there's a good chance my sugar-puffed student sloughed off the homework. maybe he waited till the last minute and did not really want to engage the question. perhaps he thought i wouldn't really read his work, nor did he expect that i would challenge his response. whatever the situation, my student's response illustrates a pervasive caucasian and upper-class perspective about america. and, sadly, there's a good chance that this student - white, male, upper-middle class, christian - actually believes what he wrote.

* * * *

i grew up in smalltown south arkansas. not exactly a hotbed of gang warfare, but my hometown quivered like a pressure cooker of racial tension. i was taught not to trust black people. i was taught to appreciate them but not to closely befriend them. as you can see, from the places the blacks live, we should reach missions to them. and you can see from the way they dress and speak, we should fear them. and i did appreciate black people. and i did fear black people. and i did force my way into some distant intimacy with the few "close" black friends i made at el dorado high school.

* * * *

chemotherapy kills all the cells in the cancer patient's body. with no intelligence to distinguish good from bad cells, chemotherapy kills skin cells that regulates UV rays, as well as hair follicles. teenagers respond to baldness with decorative headpieces. i chose bandanas.

i was 14 years old, rail thin, and filled to the brim with strict racial mistrust. one day at a shopping mall near the children's hospital in little rock, at a mall that had recently made primetime news for gang violence, a young black man saddled up beside me in a music store and asked me what the navy blue bandana was about.

"nothing. i'm sick."

"well, sick boy," he said, pulling in close to my ear, "there's two niggas out in that hallway right now that will shoot your ass dead for wearing that rag, and they won't give a shit that you sick."

then he walked away. laughing. and he called over his shoulder as he left the store, "good luck, sick boy! hope you make it to the car!"

* * * *

you might think that i got the last laugh on my hometown, my own race-heavy stories, and my instructed mistrust by marrying a black woman, by spending major holidays with my black family, by simply growing up and leaving those tired old thought patterns behind me.

but i have not.

i still fear black people at times. i still expect the worst of other races - asian, latino, indian - in social situations. i find myself narrow-mindedly wondering when those people are going to get it together. when will they speak english? when will they assimilate? and my wife and i still have long, long, long conversations in the car about our families when we drive away from saint louis and austin.

as a white american man, i publicly confess that my heart is not fully healed or completely right, and i confess that on my best days my understanding of other races is as narrow as my student's sloughed off homework answer.

* * * *

latonya and i watched CRIPS AND BLOODS: MADE IN AMERICA this past wednesday. and while i'm not much for documentaries, this was definitely one of the best documentaries i've ever seen.

the title is misleading. this is not a film about gangs as much as an exploration of south central los angeles' effect on young black men. chronicling the urban structures set in place by governing white forces. as far back as the 1950s, the film suggests that california has clamped down more vicious racial segregation for the past six decades than the deep south ever did.

the film discusses the roots and causes for the 1965 watts riot, and then reveals the white government response. interviewed riot participants declare, "you stuck us in these brick streets. you imprisoned us in these old broken buildings. you guarded the streets and wouldn't let us leave. so now, we're throwing these bricks and buildings back at you."

gangs rose up in LA as a response to the ignored dilapidation of neighborhoods and businesses in urban areas. after the primary black speakers of the civil rights movement were either imprisoned or assassinated, during an age when white america was content to skyrocket forward in suburbs and skyrises, young black men and women were forced to form their own social movement systems, usually in the form of gangs. there was still a need to survive. to eat. to make money and fill the hours of the day. but the response of governing forces in los angeles was to rid the streets of the appearance of evil: a.k.a. black men.

like the 1965 watts riot, the 1992 LA riots ignited in response to white america once again stealing the upper-hand in the black community. with the same bottled rage built from generations of concrete imprisonment as their predecessors in watts, young black people used their own homes and neighborhoods as weapons against the white abiding forces. in the aftermath, government officials promised millions of dollars in renovation efforts, as well as urban rebuilding programs that offered jobs to men and women in the community. such optimism even brought rival gangs together in peace. however, as is the pattern with white-collar spin-doctors, the government pulled their money and resources into other areas of interests, once again leaving the community unemployed and disheartened. they even turned the young liberal media to something far more pressing than the plight of urban life:

tipper gore's supreme court battle against explicit song lyrics.

* * * *

consider the following scenarios:

- a recent study discovered that school aged children in south central los angeles display more symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome than children of the same age bracket in afghanistan.

- because rival gangs hold such a grip-lock on their neighborhoods and streets, it is possible for young urban men and women never to exit a five block radius of their homes for years. children growing up ten minutes from the ocean have never set foot on the beach due to the heavy hands surrounding them.

- women in these neighborhoods are feeling the full brunt of the violence as they realize, no matter how much they love their sons and grandsons, boys need men in their lives. with a vast chasm of men in the home, these young boys gravitate to the only men in the neighborhood they can find. and the women lose all voice and all authority in that child's life.

* * * *

beneath the quippy little one-liner i tossed at my student on his paper, i wrote:

"Seriously, you need to know that guys like me and you - middle-class white dudes in good health and with no criminal background history - have more privilege in this country than we will ever realize. Now, I am asking you, look at the question again, think about what you are being asked, and write a new answer."

there is a conversation worth having here. one that is difficult and, at times, awkward. i can't blame my student for his perspective. he's lived his whole life seeing one reality and not realizing that another very different reality exists even in his own hometown. but i want my students to see the dividing lines between people. i want them to see that what's happening in south central los angeles is an honest hyperbole for something that's happening in bryan, texas. and i think the best place to begin seeing these lines, to begin accepting these realities, is to admit that our own vantage point is skewed, and it's the reluctance to challenge our viewpoints that perpetuates the dividing lines between people in our own communities. what's happening in LA is happening everywhere in smaller degrees, and my response to this film needs to work itself outloud in larger degrees.

i give CRIPS AND BLOODS: MADE IN AMERICA 5 skiddish little cancer kids in the record store out of 5. this film is available on netflix as a "watch instantly" offering.

Friday, November 13, 2009


when mary roach writes anything, i know i'll be donating or selling or christmas wrapping some part of myself for a future generation. she's honestly that persuasive. the first time around it was cadaver research, and i made latonya promise me - over dinner, no less - that she'd give my leafy little rodential body to a school or a lab or a film crew. that was the first time i read mary roach. this time, she's writing about sex and orgasms. i can't even begin to imagine the conversations around the still family dinner table over the next few days. 

"honey, mary roach finally helped me find a scientific use for my four inch nipple hairs!"

okay, maybe that was unnecessary, but if you can't joke about your own nipple hairs, whose nipple hairs can you joke about?

simply stated, mary roach is delightful. she speaks directly to my inner geek by digging into questions i would never admit to wanting answered. as i told a friend today, this woman has a super sick sense of humor and a relentlessly guilt-free curiosity, so much that i let the "perversely" twisted side of my nerdiness off the leash to romp about vicariously in her books. she's like that one super cool mom who takes the neighborhood kids to heavy metal shows and horror flicks because all the other parents are total prudes.

for instance, roach's first book - STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIFE OF HUMAN CADAVERS - explores the possible scientific destinies (and automotive fates) of corpses donated to science. sure, it sounds morbid (and it is), but mary roach has a way of turning the details of decomposition and disembowelment into one of the funniest books i've ever read. the bit about crash test subjects being outfitted in leotards and adult diapers was nearly too much. and i think of those poor seeping stiffs often while strapping on my seatbelt. because of mary roach, the hamster will never rot in a box or an urn - this temple will be studied and jabbed and prodded and unlayered and joked about for years to come. 

or, if i had it my way, they'll toss me in a ballerina's get-up and i'll crap my innards between a brick wall and a mercedes benz. one can only dream. 

*   *   *
just this past week in class, we read one of mary roach's article about the amount of insects the FDA allows in our common food products. the students squirmed and revolted, but i could tell they secretly loved every gratuitous detail roach provided. one student even came up to me, rubbing his stomach and making a nauseated face, and said, "mr. still, i wish we could read more stuff like this. i've never lost my appetite while reading before."

in the process of preparing the article for my classes, i found that mary roach recently published on the only topic more fascinating to me than death and defecated innards: sex. and not just regular old christianized marital sex, but sex research, sex science, sex in the laboratory, sex between the sheets of statistics and on the cold slab of hard concrete data.

 AND SEX  yesterday in our school library, and while i'm not certain it actually happened or if it was just paranoid placebo effects from a college teacher carrying around a SEX book, i'm pretty sure the librarian cut me a curt little glance. and i bet he likes cleavages, too.

yes, ma'am, as i matter of fact, i do like cleavages.

even though i'm at the last quarter of two really great books right now, i couldn't resist peeking beneath the covers of mary roach's sex book last night, and i have not put it down since.

because i have only just begun reading BONK, this post is not a review. rather, i'm bringing you a preview of mary roach's exploration of sexual science. as a taunting little peek, i'd like to share the first paragraph of the first chapter, titled "The Sausage, the Porcupine, and the Agreeable Mr. G: Highlights from the Pioneers of Human Sexual Response" - 

Albert R. Shadle was the world's foremost expert on the sexuality of small woodland creatures. If you visit the library at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, in Bloomington, Indiana, you will find six reels of audio recordings Shadle made of "skunk and raccoon copulation and post-coitus behavior reactions." (Nearby you will also find a 1959 recording of "Sounds during heterosexual coitus" and a tape of the "masturbatory sessions" of Subject 127253, which possibly explains why no one ever gets around to listening to the raccoons.)

with an opening paragraph such as this, you can only expect things to get better. and they do. trust me, they get much better.

*   *   *

by the way, since this is a film site, i would like to include a little film clip of mary roach chatting up rare facts about orgasms. personally, i love how much we can hear mary roach giggling at her own jokes and at the sheer absurdity of saying words like "imitation ejaculate" and "stimulation of the pig vulva" in an enormously packed mixed gender auditorium. this clip alone gets 4.5 orgasmic monkey faces out of 5.

(okay, you're right, there was no need to rate the video. i really just wanted to say "orgasmic monkey faces" in public, and i don't have a packed auditorium and a microphone to really give the phrase justice. one can only dream.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


sadly, horror film anthologies have gone the way of stinkin'-dirty horror synth tracks: total '80s obscurity, half-priced book store bins, library friend day sales, thrift stores, blockbuster nostalgia, tacky blog sites that scour the cinematic refuse pile for such filthy cheap no-namers.

and right there at the bottom of the barrel, this nearly forgotten little screenplay from stephen king (who just released his umpteenth new novel since announcing retirement) ranks at the tippy-top of the horror anthology film chart.

CAT'S EYE cinematically illustrates three separate stephen king short stories, each starring the same telepathetic pussycat. the first two stories were originally published in king's first story collection, NIGHT SHIFT. the final piece was an original screenplay written specifically for a freshly potty-trained drew barrymore. 

(ain't it strange how drew barrymore rocked way hard as a lisp-lipped child actor? it's like she's de-evolved over time. give me ALTERED STATES drew, E.T. drew, FIRESTARTER drew, IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES drew, seven year old youngest host of SNL ever drew over anything she's done in the past 15 years. the girl freaking topped out before age ten!)

i digress.

 *   *   *


james woods plays a schmoe that wants to stop smoking, so he signs up for an extreme quitters program. the bit starts with the crazed quitters inc. CEO busting up james woods' cigarettes, and then he shows james woods a cat bouncing and pouncing on an electrified metal cage floor. james gets pissed about the fried cat paws and demands the CEO guy to leave the cat alone. then james woods says, "so if i smoke again are you going to put more cats in the electric cage?" and the CEO guy laughs and says, "no. your wife."

the CEO warns james woods that someone will be watching him at every moment. he tells him that he might see some of the stalkers some of the time, but he won't see all of the stalkers all of the time. that night james woods finds a bloke in his office closet, hiding behind the golf clubs and the rain coats - and he finds him right as he's lighting a cigarette!

king obviously wrote "quitters inc" as a commentary on his fight for sobriety. and because the story (and screenplay) are so autobiographical, king takes liberties to poke fun at himself and his own work through james woods' character. in a scene after james woods gets home from the quitters inc office, all stressed and disturbed from watching the cat's feet sizzle, he sits in his recliner, sipping scotch and watching THE DEAD ZONE, a 1983 cronenberg adaptation of king's 1979 novel by the same name. woods' wife startles him, causing him to spill his drink on his shirt. when he jumps and leaves the tv, his wife says, "aren't you going to finish your show?" and woods says, "no, i don't even know what they're saying. who writes this crap anyway?" classic.

quitter's inc. gets 4 charred pussy-foots out of 5. great short. better than most of the CREEPSHOW bits.

*   *   *


so there's this high-rolling, big-betting, white-collar badass who finds robert hays (from AIRPLANE) running around with his wife. with the help of some hard-hitting cronies, the crime-lord kidnaps robert hays and says he wants to place a wager. the crime-lord says he knows about the skeezing around with robert hays. says that's fine, she's a good woman, a good looking woman. who wouldn't want her? then the crime-lord places the wager:

A) a big bag of heroine was just put into robert hays car. robert hays can walk out the door, get in the car, police will find him, and he'll spend his life in prison being some other crime-lord's wife. "When you get out, you'll be more worried about your arthritis than your libido."


B) robert hays can walk the entire perimeter of the crime-lord's high rise building on a five inch ledge. if robert hays succeeds the perimeter alive, the crime-lord will remove the heroin from robert's car, give him some ridiculous amount of money to leave town, and the crime-lord will throw in his wife, too. it's a good offer, if he can survive the walk around the building.

i won't give this one away, but it's got a super great ending. also heavy on the drug charges, drug avoidance, ultimate freedom equals freedom from drugs theme, which seems to be prevalent in king's writing at the time. THE LEDGE gets 3 ankle pecking pigeons out of 5. not as suspenseful as it wanted to be, but not totally dull either. a good yarn to stick plum in the middle of two great stories. 

*   *   *

(Final Story)

untitled and unpublished before hand, the last short in this anthology was a real treat. the most basic synopsis i can give is this: a cat catches wind of a troll stalking drew barrymore; cat moves in with drew barrymore's family; mom thinks cat is a bird killer; troll comes out of wall at night and kills family parakeet; mom kicks cat out; dad tells drew barrymore that it's okay the cat is gone cause cats steal children's breath; troll keeps coming out of wall to steal drew barrymore's breath; thus, the cat's been framed TWICE; still, the cat knows this is happening, escapes his termination fate, and takes on the troll in a bitter paw fight that involves ceiling fans, muppet babies helium balloons, a Police vinyl on high speed, and a box fan. i will not tell you the end. i'll only tell you that this little short was freaking awesome. this is the kind of story children tell their parents, "a troll lives in my wall and keeps knocking my shit over in the middle of the night! you gotta believe me!" one of the better stephen king shorts i've seen. 

the final short in CAT'S EYE gets 5 troll toothpick daggers out of 5. this is one of the best horror shorts i've seen on any anthology - CREEPSHOW 1 and 2 included.

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personally, i think we need more anthology films. let's cut the crap that fills most of these 90-plus minute films with gratuitous sex and partying and "tension building." let's cut all that crap and get straight to the story, straight to the precision perfect scares and disturbances.

overall, i give CAT'S EYE 4 pre-teen drew barrymores out of 5. i'm glad to own this one, even on vhs. seriously, if you love cats, if you love a pre-teen drew barrymore, if you hate cigarettes and electrified metal flooring and adultery and heroin crimelord cronies and pet euthanasia and wall-banging trolls as much as i do, then pounce on this film. we can only hope that stephen king's retirement produces a sequel. 

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and this review of CAT'S EYE from brock at THE ROUGH CUTS on YouTube is worth the watching. i've got subscription to THE ROUGH CUTS. totally great reviews from a weird bunch of film addicts.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

THE BQE - A Sufjan Stevens Film

Unlike the MEGA SHARK VERSUS GIANT OCTOPUS review, this one is about the kind of movie that you will almost never find on this site. Here we usually revel in cheese and bad production values. Myles, the hamster, and I generally do not make forays into the world of artistic visionary kinda stuff. If it’s not playing at the local multiplex, we usually stay away. But when I found out that Sufjan Stevens had made a movie, I was all over it.

Sufjan is an all-time favorite of mine and Seven Swans (and Come On, Feel the Illinoise, of course) occupies a place in my personal hall of fame. The thought of him making a film (about an expressway, no less), was completely intriguing. Here’s little bit of backstory: Sufjan was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music to create a film about Brooklyn. Stevens, a Brooklyn native, was fascinated by the idea of making the film not about the borough, but about the street that runs though it. He quickly set about filming and scoring a movie about the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. The music was first performed in 2007, with 35 musicians and interpretive hula hooping.

The movie, just released last month, is a visual and auditory banquet. It opens with a panoramic shot of the BQE while a drone fills the audio space, almost as if the orchestra is tuning up for the performance. Then, as the scenes start to change, the scope of the project comes into view. The whole film is presented with three separate panes of film, sometimes joined, sometimes unique. The effect is a triptych, almost a trinity, of image. Three visuals, three words, three hula hoopers – yes, the Hooper Heroes join the film. These lovely ladies play the roles of Botanica, Quantas, and Electress (BQE, get it?) and provide the human element to counterbalance the grit and concrete of the Expressway.

Sufjan provides sweeping vistas of sound juxtaposed against grainy, dirty, and beautiful buildings and street life. The visuals present a melting pot of imagery - the modernity of McDonalds alongside shoes hanging from power lines next to the shells of tenement buildings. The three panels often show the same scene from three distinct vantage points, but even when they are joined to form a unified image, it’s never seamless, always fractured; it's never whole, but still complete.

About a third of the way into the film, Act II starts, and the hula hoopers take center stage. The music turns introspective, shots get tighter, and the actions slows. The hooper scenes serve as salve to eyes overindulged on urban sprawl. Seeing humans soothes and smooths away the harsh edges of concrete we’ve been watching. At the halfway point, the main musical theme returns to close ups of trucks and cars on the BQE, along with shots framed in such a way the birth canal imagery is impossible to miss. In an interview with Paste Magazine, Sufjan said, “If skyscrapers are the ultimate phallic symbols, then the urban expressway is the ultimate birth canal, the uterine wall, the anatomical passageway, the ultimate means of egress, and the process by which we are all born again. The BQE is the Motherhood of Civilization, the Breast of Being, the fallopian tube, the biological canal from which all of life emerges in resplendent beauty, newborn and newly fashioned with the immaculate countenance of a baby.” And he doesn’t beat around the bush with it – Sufjan proves to be the Georgia O’Keefe of New York Expressways.

The film continues and we get some visual trickery, a kaleidoscope effect, some night shooting, etc. In fact, my favorite scene is of fast motion of lights at night along with the hoopers in fast motion - the confluence of lights and speed creates an effect that looks dramatically like graffiti.

The film comes to a slide that says THE END. Don’t believe it. There’s still more. In fact, if THE BQE is a love letter to Brooklyn (and I believe it is, much like The Beastie Boys’ To the 5 Boroughs), then there is definitely a postscript. There is a very tender scene involving Sufjan and friends in the environment where we were just immersed. Still no voices, just visuals. But to the faithful who stick around for the PPS, there is a small coda on the end of the film featuring vocals over more beautiful imagery of The BQE.

I know this is long, and forgive me. But I could say much more about this film. Keep in mind, this is not a documentary – it is a museum piece. There are no vocals until the very end. No dialogue, only music. It runs a short 51 minutes and yes, it does get monotonous (and monotonal) at times, but that only serves to remind the viewer of the traffic on the BQE – monotonous. This is unlike anything we usually talk about here, and it’s a little difficult to put into words. It is a piece of art. It’s not something you invite your buddies over to watch with you (unless they’re big nerds like me who dig this sort of thing), but it’s really, really, really good. It’s the kind of film that people win awards for. Not Oscars or Golden Globes, but important awards.

THE BQE gets 5 Coney Islands out of 5 for the quality of the film. As for recommendation? Well, I highly recommend it, but you might not like it as much as I did. But it’s worth a shot. Seriously.

Monday, November 2, 2009


the wife is currently teaching a unit in her eleventh and twelfth grade resource english classes about the salem witch trials. so far, they've read THE SCARLET LETTER and they've watched THE CRUCIBLE. it's a good unit. it's a profitable study in america's literary, religious, and superstitious past.

sometimes the students say really dumb stuff to my wife - their teacher - like, "mrs., this stuff don't make no sense. this ain't got nuthin' to do with my life."

the my wife says something brilliant back like, "well, let's think about this. have you ever met someone who believed something different than you? or have you ever been wrongly accused of something? or have you ever felt like an outsider and like all the insiders were against you?"

then the kids bite their lips or roll their eyes. and then they say, "well, yeah, but, mrs. . . . . . "

and my wife says, "then this unit about the salem witch trials applies perfectly to you. let's move on."

i'm telling you: this woman can verbally burn those kids at the stake before they even realize their shoes are smoking!

*   *   *   *   *

this past week an uber-excited eleventh grade girl comes up to my wife and says, "ooo! mrs. still! i have this movie at home that is just like THE CRUCIBLE!"

my wife, ever compassionate and ready to encourage the youth, says enthusiastically, "well, bring it to me and i'll watch it."

so the student did bring it. and my wife did watch it. and i watched it with her. and we laughed through most of THE COVENANT at how totally just unlike it is from THE CRUCIBLE. 

bless the poor kid's heart for trying.

*   *   *   *   *

THE COVENANT is the perfect example of a good story ruined by a horrible film. good concept. great massachusetts' landscape and antique setting. potentially nice bridge between classic gothic fiction, a la hawthorne and poe, and modern dark masters of the macabre, ie. neil gaiman and stephanie meyers. (that latter name was a joke.) however, all the promise in the film was completely overshadowed by ridiculous exposition, contrived dialogue, bad acting, a constant eyeful of young male and fresh female abdomen and arse, and enough melodrama to scoop in a bowl and dip with ruffled tater chips.

i will give the producers this: they knew their niche market. aimed at a dramatic, tasteless high school audience, the people behind THE COVENANT banked on their viewers having recently studied the salem witch trials. even though the salem witch trials is merely nodded to two maybe three times in the bleak chatter of confession wafer-thin characters, their aim proved true as illustrated by latonya's student's enthusiasm. this is where the failing american education system meets a dull-minded hollywood, and they get totally sloshed out behind the prom on mad-dog 20-20.

there is one seemingly redemptive aspect of the film: laura ramsey from THE RUINS, which was one of my top films of 2008. ramsey offered a piercingly authentic performance in THE RUINS that rivaled jena malone's starring role in the same film. but even ramsey could not work a single fleck of magical pixiedust out of THE COVENANT'S script. give rembrandt a palate wheel of skittle spit watercolors, and he may only produce a skittle spit watercolor. give laura ramsey THE COVENANT, and she still cleared more after taxes than i will in the next five years combined.

i give THE COVENANT 1 spider in the nostril out of 5. ridiculous. trite. sinfully spell-less. i felt bad the young lady to receive her film back from latonya. for all my wife's fine qualities, she is not a good actress. and i'm not sure she could have thanked this child for the dvd loan with a straight face.

some secrets are better drowned in the river than displayed prominently across our faces. i praise my wife for her inability to lie, even to protect the self-respect of the youth.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


here's how the conversation went in the middle of the Halloween afternoon:

WIFE: I want to watch a movie.

HAMSTER: Great. I'm in the mood for something Halloweeny.

W: No. I want something sweet.

H: (grimace). Something sweet? It's freaking Halloween. I want to watch somebody cut somebody.

W: Well, I don't like scary. I'm in the mood for something sweet, even if it is Halloween.

H: (a few minutes later, after some scheming) Okay, here's my votes: THE UNINVITED, HALLOWEEN H2O with Jamie Lee freaking Curtis, or the Michael J. Fox classic THE FRIGHTENERS. Look Peter Jackson made that Michael J. Fox one, and you like Peter Jackson.

W: (scanning the options) How about SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE or BENNY AND JOON? I like both of those.

H: It's Hallo-freaking-ween, Latonya. We can't watch SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE on Halloween. Let's try to meet in the middle.

W: (crunching in eyebrows and perking lips to the side in serious thought) Okay, then we can either watch ALIENS or PREDATOR. That's in the middle. 

(the hamster grimaces some more. pouts. grimaces. super pouts. wife goes down to get lunch. she comes back upstairs and the hamster has secured a vhs tape in the player. the wife doesn't know what it is. he's still grimacing, slightly pouting. she saddles up next to him and ignores his mood. "ignore the behavior" they say in special education. the movie starts and the opening theme song comes up. the wife is surprised.)

W: You put on BENNY AND JOON? I thought you would have put on ALIENS.

H: I'm not in the mood for ALIENS. Besides, there's a scene in this where Sam gives Benny and Joon a jack-n-the-box. And those things scared the poop sticks out of me when I was a kid. Jack-n-the-boxes and ventriloquist dummies. So, on some level, this is a scary movie. 

(and then they watched happily together, sipping the last of the riesling and the final bottle of flying dog's gonzo imperial porter. this, dear friends, is the way the still family celebrated halloween this year.)

*   *   *   *   *

and, by the way, if you've never seen BENNY AND JOON, it's absolutely delightful. i remember this being the film that convinced me of johnny depp's supernatural acting powers. also, mary stuart masterson is cute enough to put on a shelf. i do love this film, and i recommend it uber-highly when given the chance. 

without hesitation, i give BENNY AND JOON 5 dangling window wash stands of 5. an instant classic. a heartwarming triumph. a story of love superseding sanity. there is nothing lacking in BENNY AND JOON.