October Horror Roundup

Some years it seems October passes me by before I realize it, and I find myself staring November 1st in the face with the startling realization that I neglected to watch any horror to get myself into the Halloween spirit. Granted, horror can (and should) be enjoyed all year long, but taking in some spooky stuff while the decorations are out is extra special.

This year I made it a point to not let one of my favorite holidays (shout out to Christmas) pass me by. I’ve been able to check out a handful of horror I hadn’t seen before, and it’s been wonderful. I tried to cover as much of the horror spectrum as I could, from over-the-top-bonkers gore spectaculars to more traditional creepfests. I lucked out in that none of it was especially bad, and some of it was incredibly good. So if you need a kick in the pants to rev up your Halloween spirit or want something scary to watch in the dark on All Hallow’s Eve, here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve seen so far this month. (All available on Netflix)

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Terrifier (2017) 

Terrifier is all about expectations. If you’re looking for subtle, nuanced fright, look elsewhere—subtlety is not to be found in this throwback to 80’s slasher flicks. Some have criticized the film for its derivative, paper-thin plot, but honestly, this film lets you know what you’re in for within the first five minutes. When you see a character’s eyeballs popped in their sockets, you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

Featuring a sadistic killer clown out on the town for a maniacal killing spree, the kills in Terrifier are straight up gnarly: decapitations, dismemberments, and one scene so shocking (featuring the world’s sharpest hacksaw) that it even got raised eyebrows from this gourmet of gore. There’s a degree of detachment to most of the violence thanks to its less-than-realistic effects work, which only serves to add to the campiness and pitch black comedy.

Bottom Line: If you’re into crazy, over the top gore and not looking to set the bar too high, this will be right up your alley.

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The Ritual (2017)

Based on the novel by Adam Nevill, The Ritual is very Blair Witch-esque, featuring some lost hikers in the hills of Scandinavia and a (seemingly) supernatural entity haunting them at their every turn. The film does a great job of mixing physical scares with psychological terror, and there’s a nice element of surrealism to keep you wondering exactly what the hell you’re watching.

Without getting into spoilers, once the men see the thing in the forest they have been running from, it’s one of the best reveals I can remember in a long time. A truly WTF climax, with about as satisfying an ending as a movie of this type can deliver. This one definitely surpassed my expectations.

Bottom Line: A nice take on a familiar story, well written and well executed.

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The Haunting of Hill House (2018) 

There’s not a lot about this 10-part series that hasn’t already been said. It’s probably the most buzzed-about thing Netflix has had since diving into original programming, and if you haven’t already seen it you might be wondering how something so critically lauded can possibly live up to the hype. All I can tell you is that it does, in spades.

Nearly every frame of Hill House’s ten hours is filled with a palpable sense of dread. You never know what’s going to happen at any given moment, and just when you think you’re safe something will catch you off guard. All of this done with very few jump scares (and excellent timing of the ones they do use), and practically no blood or gore.

The ending has been roundly criticized, but that is truly a nit being picked by people who should appreciate being given a piece of work this exceptional. When the worst thing people can say about a ten-part saga is that it’s not absolutely perfect, you know you’ve got something special.

Bottom Line: Believe the hype. A definite must watch.

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Oculus (2014)

In what turned out to be a double shot from director Mike Flanagan, Oculus has a few things in common with The Haunting of Hill House—namely how ghosts haunt and ultimately screw up an otherwise happy family, and some reverse storytelling to gradually reveal what really unfolded. Initially revealing a young boy killing his father after a dastardly bout of domestic violence, the film makes use of flashbacks to fill in the missing details, and show us how the adults were manipulated by a haunted mirror that had come into the family’s possession. (That sounds corny as I type it out, but it actually works in the movie, trust me.)

Now grown, the children are determined to document exactly what powers the mirror possesses before ultimately destroying it—but of course the mirror won’t go down that easily. The ending is quite satisfying, although a major part of the climax will be obvious to anyone who’s got even a basic knack for spotting foreshadowing.

Bottom Line: Not great but by no means bad, Oculus proves Hill House was no fluke for Flanagan.

***NOTE: Oculus is only available on Netflix until Nov. 1st, hurry if you want to see it.

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Tales of Halloween (2015)

In the mood for a string of campy mini B movies with gore galore and enough cheese to make fondue? Friend, meet Tales of Halloween. Made up of ten horror comedy shorts from various writers and directors, Adrienne Barbeau of Creepshow fame plays a local DJ who serves to string the tales together in a style reminiscent of old HBO favorite Tales From the Crypt.

The shorts run the gamut from amusing to decent to bad; a couple of them border on good, and some stink outright. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter—the stories are so short that the next one is on before you can complain about the last one. Gallows humor and corny comedic violence abound, making the fact that the content is not exactly top notch easier to swallow. Another reason to sit through it is the plethora of cameos, including horror directors John Landis and Mick Garris, The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Barry Bostwick, Greg Grunberg of TV’s Alias and Heroes fame, and one of my all-time favorite comedians (and former writer on The Simpsons), Dana Gould.

Bottom Line: Worth watching if you are in the mood for total silliness but still want gore and violence. Willing to bet it would be 100% better with alcohol.

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Apostle (2018)

Quite different than the other ones I’ve mentioned, Apostle is a period piece set on a remote Welsh island in 1905. Our protagonist Thomas Richardson’s sister has been kidnapped by a religious cult, and is demanding ransom for her release. Traveling to the island amid followers and infiltrating the cult, Thomas sets out to find his sister and rescue her from the clutches of the madman ‘prophet’ and his disciples. Of course, there is much more to the story which it’s better not to know going in. Suffice to say, belonging to the cult involves bloodletting, and there’s a wicked bit of medieval torture involving a device called The Heathen’s Stand.

Apostle is a slow burn compared to much of the contemporary horror put out nowadays—it’s almost like a mashup of The Wicker Man and The VVitch. The dialogue and many of the finer points of the script are a bit slow, but the chills and violence more than make up for it.

Bottom Line: Could be better, could’ve been a lot worse. It’s easily good enough to stick with it until the very cool ending.

Well, there you have it! Let me know f you end up watching something I mentioned above, and don’t hesitate to let me know of any good horror you’ve seen recently that you’d recommend to close out October!

Happy Halloween, people!

 

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Movie Review: Harry Benson—Shoot First [2016]

There’s a chance you may have never heard of photographer Harry Benson, and if it were up to him, he probably wouldn’t have it any other way. But if you do a quick Google search of the man, you’d probably recognize many of his photos.

Harry Benson is responsible for some of the most iconic images of the last half of the twentieth century, perhaps most notably for a photo of The Beatles in a rambunctious pillow fight the night they found out I Want to Hold Your Hand hit number one in the US. That assignment to shoot the young band in Paris (which he hadn’t originally wanted) led to not only a decades-long friendship with The Fab Four, but to a prominent career—as a portrait photographer of celebrities, photographing every living president from Eisenhower to Obama (as well as a pre-presidential run Donald Trump), and award-winning photojournalist. The 2016 documentary Harry Benson—Shoot First takes a look back at the legendary Scot’s career and the stories behind some of his most famous images.

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Beatles, Paris 1964

To say Benson’s career has been remarkable is an understatement. At times it seems the man has had an almost Forrest Gump-like knack for being in the right place at the right time, capturing one historic moment after another (a photo of Robert Kennedy’s wife in the moments after his assassination is another of his most iconic photos; famous photos of the reclusive Greta Garbo and a couple passionately kissing at a bar relied almost entirely on luck). But what a family member states, and what becomes more clear as the film goes on, is that Harry Benson worked harder than most of his peers, and many of his iconic shots exist only because he made them happen. He had to do whatever it took to get the confidence of whoever it was he wanted to shoot, and once he got in the room with them he had to make them comfortable enough to let their guard down so he could capture them as they really were, not the posed, stiff photos many studio photographers got (Benson famously hates studio photography).

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Bobby Fischer, Iceland 1972

He has a knack for making people feel at ease, evidenced by the fact he has photographed some of the most private people in the world at some of their most private moments: Quarterback Joe Namath at home in his legendary bachelor pad; Chess champion Bobby Fischer nude in the shower; Elizabeth Taylor in her hospital bed before and after surgery to remove a brain tumor; Michael Jackson in his Neverland Ranch bedroom; and possibly my favorite of all his photos, a backstage shot of country legend Dolly Parton in silhouette, “putting on her face.”

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Dolly Parton, Nashville 1977

Shoot First is not a hard-hitting, warts-and-all documentary—rather, it’s pretty adoring of its subject. But it’s not hard to realize he’s earned the admiration he’s received over the years. The film takes us back to Harry’s roots as a tabloid photographer on Fleet Street in London (where Benson says he got the ability to snap photos quickly and find perspectives other photogs might miss), as well as a look at the gut-wrenching work he did in Somali refugee camps—he has always maintained that he is, first and foremost, a photojournalist—reminding us that hard work paid off for him, and, when looking at his portfolio, he truly has an eye for outstanding photos.

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Dr. Milton Avery with refugee family, Somalia 1981

The film doesn’t touch on any technical aspects of his work—the type of camera Harry uses or any settings he used for a given photo are barely mentioned, if at all—and he would probably tell you that’s because that stuff largely doesn’t matter. What matters most is being ready and anticipating the shot before it presents itself. And to that end, Harry Benson is a master. He’s also extremely affable and self-deprecating to boot, which makes listening to him tell the stories behind his photos a joy.

If you have even a passing interest in photography, pop culture, or landmark moments of the 20th century, there’s a good chance you’ll like this film. You can stream Shoot First on Netflix, or check out some of his iconic images here and here.

 

Movie Review: Brawl in Cell Block 99 [2017]

I’ve long contended that many comedians (or at least comic actors, if not stand ups) have the potential to be outstanding dramatic actors. Once seen as an unusual casting choice, comic actors have repeatedly proven their chops in dramatic roles, from Robin Williams and Will Smith to Will Ferrell and even Adam Sandler. I still stand by my theory that Dave Chappelle has at least one (possibly mutltiple) award-winning dramatic performance in him—that is, if he wants to do it, or if the right director can convince him to step up to the plate.

The latest actor stepping out of his comedic comfort zone is Vince Vaughn. Since his breakout role in 1996’s Swingers, Vaughan has found success almost exclusively with parts in comedies like Old School, Starsky and Hutch, Wedding Crashers, and Dodgeball. He’s shown a yearning to “go legit” in dramas for years, most notably starring as Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s 1999 remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho, but has now gone on a run of dramatic performances that has gotten him some attention: a lukewarm turn as Frank Semyon, the heavy in the critically-panned second season of HBO’s True Detective; hardass (but still slightly funny) Sgt. Howell in Mel Gibson’s acclaimed World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge; and what may be, depending on your tastes, either his best or worst dramatic performance to date—as an ex-boxer stuck between a rock and a hard place in S. Craig Zahler’s homage to 70’s revenge exploitation flicks, Brawl in Cell Block 99.

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Brawl features Vaughn as Bradley Thomas, a man in the unique position of being a good man with a strong moral compass, while also being the ultimate badass. Working at a service station at the start of the film, Bradley is promptly laid off—only to drive home early and discover that his wife is seeing someone else. After a tantrum in which he destroys/disassembles his wife’s vehicle by hand (a glimpse of the violence he’s capable of), Bradley and his wife Lauren (played by Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter) admit their relationship hasn’t been the same since the miscarriage that rocked them to their core. They decide to recommit to each other and try for another baby, and Bradley decides to go back to running drugs for his dealer friend Gil, to which Lauren reluctantly agrees.

Fast forward 18 months and Bradley is driving a much nicer car to a much larger home after a day of making deliveries for Gil. We learn that Lauren is expecting again, and the loving couple couldn’t be happier—although we all know that can’t last.

Bradley accepts an offer he can’t refuse from Gil, who has partnered with a Mexican drug lord. The job goes south, and Bradley’s partners in the job end up in a shootout with police. Rather than escape scot-free, Bradley kills one partner and injures another, ending the shootout and saving police lives, before being arrested without further incident.

After being sentenced to 7 years in a medium-security prison, Bradley is visited by a henchman of the Mexican drug lord, who tells Bradley he is now indebted to the man to the tune of 3.2 million dollars to make up for drugs lost in the failed job. He can erase that debt, however, if he takes out a prisoner the drug lord wants dead. And if he doesn’t…terrible things will be done to his wife and unborn baby. The catch? The prisoner Bradley is to take out is in a different, maximum-security prison. Bradley must figure out a way to get himself transferred there, and his plan to do so is ultra violent.

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S. Craig Zahler’s first film, 2015’s Bone Tomahawk, was a fantastic debut—an original concept (a mashup of western and horror) made even better with stunning cinematography, vivid characters, and exceptional dialogue. While these elements are also present in Brawl in Cell Block 99, they are there in smaller doses, and don’t quite match the brilliance that made Bone Tomahawk so great. That’s not to say Brawl isn’t good—it just has different ambitions, calling to mind the films of Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson.

The biggest quality this film shares with Zahler’s previous effort is the deliberate pacing and slow build to a savage, intense climax. The director spends quite a while detailing how Bradley has everything of value taken from him until, despite the fact he was not the most likable character at the start of the film, you end up rooting for him to get some sort of justice against those who have put his back against the wall. Time passes quickly despite the film’s 2 hour and 12 minute running time, a testament to Zahler’s ability to grab the viewer’s attention and not let go. His next film is Dragged Across Concrete, re-teaming him with Vaughn and co-starring Mel Gibson, a film about police brutality and cops caught up in a violent underworld. I, for one, can hardly wait.

What will make or break this film for you is the incredibly graphic displays of violence Bradley uses to get transferred to Red Leaf, the maximum-security hellhole that houses the man he is to kill, and the subsequent acts he performs once he gets there. To call it unflinching is an understatement—a couple of scenes are absolutely jaw-dropping in terms of what they show you, on the level with some of the most over the top horror movies out there. And Brawl in Cell Block 99 is nothing if not over the top.

As a matter of fact, it requires a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief to make this movie fly (why did he shoot his partners rather than escape? How is it this “ex-boxer” has a fighting style closer to Krav Maga? How in the hell does he have the stomping power of a hydraulic press?), but if you’re able to do so (and have the stomach for it)…you’re in for a wild ride.

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Halloween Horror Edition

October seemed to creep up on me somehow this year. Before I turned around the month was already almost half over and Halloween was in danger of passing me by. I rarely squander the chance to celebrate the season, so I decided to binge on some horror movies and thrillers on Netflix over the past few days to get myself in the spirit. I watched a pretty decent psychological thriller (The Guest), a fresh take on vampires (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which I didn’t finish yet, but looks promising), and a really creative spin on zombies (Pontypool). While none of those were bad by any stretch, it was a different one altogether that compelled me to write up a piece about it.

The Taking of Deborah Logan

I’d never heard of The Taking of Deborah Logan before I tapped the thumbnail of the image above on Netflix. It had higher than average ratings for a horror movie, and I liked the general premise so I decided to give it a shot.

Deborah Logan is a found footage film (wait, come back…really) put together–in its first third especially–to come across as a legitimate documentary. A college student and her two person crew have gotten the titular Deborah to agree to be the subject of a film the students are making about Alzheimer’s disease. The students capture Deborah’s demise from forgetful to bizarre to self-harming to harming others and begin to wonder if something more sinister than the disease is at the root of it all.

At its core The Taking of Deborah Logan is fairly standard horror movie fare not far removed from the king of all found footage films, The Blair Witch Project, but it stands out for a few reasons, chief among them is the acting–the two main characters, Deborah and her daughter Sara,  are especially believable right off the bat, so as the trajectory of the film veers from realistic and creepy to out and out batshit crazy you find yourself too invested in the characters and story to turn back.

Add to that the clever angle of Alzheimer’s blurring the line between naturally occurring mental issues and more devious forces at work, and the movie manages to suck you in. This is found footage at its best, in my opinion. If you didn’t know going in it was a work of fiction, it would take a good 20-30 minutes to figure it out.

The majority of the jump scares are relatively well placed, but what I really appreciate is that the director resists the temptation to lace them all throughout the movie. There are a good number of scenes where you begin to anticipate a jump scare that never happens. That’s one of my favorite things, that building of tension without a payoff. Then once it finally does pay off, it does so in a major way.

Finally, there is one shot from across the room of Deborah mindlessly playing a tune on the piano with one hand while staring vacantly into the camera that is without a doubt one of the creepiest 15 seconds of film I’ve seen in a long time.

I was going to include a link to the trailer, but I think the trailer gives too much away. Look it up if you want, but I’d recommend just watching it knowing as little as possible.

While I’m at it I’ll throw in a couple other good scary movies I’ve seen in the past couple months. You’re Next is an insanely fun, twisted movie about a group of people trapped in a house surrounded by bloodthirsty killers, and Creep is an unsettling film about a filmmaker hired to document a few days in the life of a terminally ill man expecting his first child. While it doesn’t pull off the found footage angle quite as well as The Taking of Deborah Logan it’s still quite believable, thanks in part to the strong performance by Mark Duplass as a truly twisted man.

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If you’re looking for something off the beaten path of typical horror, give one of these three a shot and I bet you’re not disappointed. And if I don’t get my lazy ass to the computer to post anything else before the end of the month, Happy Halloween!

A Night of Subverted Expectations

This is a sort of pop culture wrap-up for my Saturday (and again, my Saturday=your Sunday). I finished the book I was reading and my wife and I squeezed in three—count ’em, three—movies, and it turned out to be a mini James Gandolfini marathon. Aside from the movie Thirteen, starring Holly Hunter and a teenage Evan Rachel Wood (which was a good fly-on-the-wall look at a good girl’s turn toward the dark side, and is BOJ certified as recommended, but didn’t knock my socks off), the book and both Gandolfini movies subverted my expectations, for better or for worse. I’ll start with the ‘for worse.’

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Killing Them Softly had been on our DVR for quite awhile—if you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a sucker for gritty crime drama, noir, hitmen, etc. When you have a cast as strong as this one—Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, and Ray Liotta—I’m in.

It wasn’t a bad movie by any means, it just seemed to miss the mark a little bit. The plot is as follows: three men are responsible for knocking off an illegal gambling ring, knowing the head of said gambling ring (Liotta) will take the fall. Pitt’s character is brought in by an attorney to the mafia (Jenkins) to figure out what happened, who’s to blame, and who’s going to die. Gandolfini’s character is brought in to help carry out one of the hits.

What seemed like it should’ve been a pretty straightforward plot was unnecessarily messy and hard to follow, ending rather abruptly and leaving my wife and I with questions like, “What happened to ____?” and “Who the hell was _____, anyway?”

It was also a bit heavy-handed with political tie-ins—the movie takes place during the McCain-Obama campaign run, and ends on election night. At the very end it becomes more clear why the tie-ins are there, but it still could’ve been handled with a little more subtlety.

It felt at times like a Tarantino/Scorcese-light kind of movie: aiming high but falling short. If you’re into these kinds of movies like I am I would still give it a go. It’s well-shot (with some stomach-turning graphic violence handled nicely, in my opinion), and well-acted. James Gandolfini is awesome (if ultimately irrelevant to the plot) as the unhinged, unstable hit man brought in to help Pitt’s character. If you don’t typically like these kinds of movies, you probably won’t care much for it.

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Chuck Palahniuk seems to be what I’d call an “avocado” author: people tend to either love him or hate him. I can’t fully fall on the love side, but I like a lot of his work. I’d heard Rant was really good without really knowing much about the plot at all, so when I got the chance to check out the e-book from my library, I took it.

**(side note: did you all know you could recommend e-books to your local library for them to purchase using the Overdrive app? I don’t know about other cities, but the lovely folks at the Wichita Public Library have bought two books on my recommendation, and I think that’s downright awesome)

It starts as a character study of Buster “Rant” Casey, a backwoods country bumpkin who as a kid has an affinity for getting bitten by insects and vermin, picking his nose and sticking the boogers on his wall, and finding valuable coins.

We follow Rant to an early diploma from high school, where he moves to the city and the story takes a turn into sci-fi territory, as we learn society has been divided between the respected “Daytimers” and the lowly “Nighttimers”, with a strict curfew to keep the two groups from intermingling. Rant falls in with the Nighttimers and into a social circle known as Party Crashers—an organized sort of after-hours demolition derby that takes place on the city streets. To give much more away would ruin the book.

About 2/3 of the way through the book I was interested in the story, but starting to get a little bored. After reading the last third in one long stretch, I felt dizzy. The book goes from taking a turn here or there to spinning like a top until you don’t know up from down, left from right, or father from son.

The “hook” of Rant is in the way the story is told. The official title is Rant: An Oral History of Buster Casey, the key words being ‘an oral history.’ The book constantly changes perspective as different characters give their accounts of the events that unfolded in Rant’s life, sometimes outright contradicting each other. Kind of like a documentary or a special on TV, the way they jump from one talking head to the next. It’s used to great effect, but also made me wonder—

Where’s the line between originality and gimmickry? One of the complaints I hear about Palahniuk is that he’s a gimmick writer, with nearly every novel using some kind of cheesy narrative device to tell the story. There’s no denying he uses different techniques to tell his stories, and I can see the ‘gimmick label’ being applied. The thing is, is it only a gimmick if it doesn’t work?

Pygmy, Palahniuk’s widely hated 2009 novel told via the journal entries of a 13 year-old foreign exchange student/terrorist in badly broken English, is downright tough to read (I think I liked it more than most), and dismissed as a gimmick. Rant, on the other hand, is held in much higher regard, and the ‘oral history’ gimmick isn’t mentioned as much. I don’t necessarily think every book by an author has to have some kind of gimmick to tell its story (I sure hope not, because my storytelling thus far is pretty straight ahead), but wouldn’t the literary world be a boring place if there weren’t people like Palahniuk taking chances with their stories?

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The last subverted expectation was also the most pleasant surprise. I suppose it would come as no shock that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “chick flicks,” but I try not to discount them altogether, because I know there are some good ones out there. I’ve confessed before my liking for my wife’s favorite chick flick, Return to Me, and last night found one I liked just as well, if not better, with Enough Said.

The film takes what on paper sounds like a fairly standard chick flick or rom com plot—masseuse meets a man and woman separately, begins dating the man and takes on the woman as a client/friend, only to find out they’re ex-husband and wife—and handles it fairly realistically, playing it straight for the most part, but with plenty of chuckles thrown in (and one moment involving a baseball in a drawer that had me laughing so hard I nearly fell out of my chair, thanks to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s impeccable comedic timing and delivery).

All the characters in the movie felt like real people, not one dimensional and flat or caricatures like in a lot of movies (and books, for that matter), and the dialogue felt realistic and smart. There was also a subplot I liked with Dreyfus’s character subconsciously replacing her daughter, who was preparing to move off to college, with her daughter’s friend. None of the characters were perfect, none of them were total a-holes (although I must admit I didn’t care for Catherine Keener’s ex-wife famous poet character—I’m beginning to wonder if I just don’t like Catherine Keener), they were just fairly normal people with flaws like anybody else. It was well-written and wonderfully acted, and I was glad I watched it. I had expected to look up from Rant every so often to make sure I was following along with the movie, but found myself with my book (phone) in my lap, all my attention devoted to the movie.

 All in all a great night with my favorite person, and a good way to recharge the batteries for writing and some very likely overtime in the coming week.

Yep.

Ever been talking with someone and the conversation seems to just sort of grind to a halt? Not necessarily an uncomfortable one, but it just seems like there’s nothing more to say for the time being? I think this is the blog equivalent of that.

Yep.

Yep.

I’m going through something of an identity crisis, I suppose. Nothing seems a) important enough or b) timely enough to put on the site anymore. When I started, I was watching a ton more TV and movies and could easily fill my blog with reviews or news of upcoming shows. A change in my work schedule and more time spent actually writing has meant a serious decrease in TV viewing, so I really don’t have that to fall back on now.

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For example: I just watched Gone Girl. I thought maybe I could devote a post either to a full-fledged review of the film, or a comparison of the book vs the film. Then I thought, isn’t it a little late to be talking about it? I mean, I’ll tell you what I thought of it, but to spend a few hundred words on a movie that came out several months ago seems a little late.

Anyway, regarding the movie: I liked it a lot, and thought it was just as good as—if not better than—the book. The things that didn’t make the film were pretty minor, and Gillian Flynn did a pretty excellent job adapting her novel for the screen. As much as I like Trent Reznor’s work, I felt like in some scenes the music was a distraction from what was going on. When Nick and Amy were having a huge blow-out fight, hearing a film score under it (even a somewhat ominous one) took me out of the scene.

The real highlight of the film for me was Rosamund Pike. I literally can’t think of anyone who could’ve pulled off Amazing Amy so perfectly. Cold, calculating, psychotic…her performance was awesome. I don’t know whether or not she’ll win the Oscar, but I think she definitely deserved the nomination.

Want a Netflix recommendation? I’ve got one of those I can throw your way.

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If you’ve never heard of Better Off Ted, you’re not alone. It was only on for two very low-rated seasons on ABC back in the days of yore (2009-2010) when people still watched TV primarily on TV instead of their devices. Take it from me, though, this show is hilarious.

Part romantic workplace comedy, part biting satire of corporate America, and part screwball comedy, how this show never caught on is one of life’s biggest mysteries (because I don’t use my brain to think about things like science or the universe). Once I saw the show was on Netflix I went back to re-watch what I remembered to be my favorite episode and it totally held up, so a BOT marathon may be in the works.

If you’re going to give it a shot and want one episode to see if you like it, I point to “Racial Sensitivity” from season one. The show is set at the headquarters of megacorporation Veridian Dynamics, a sort of SC Johnson or Glad type industry giant, and in a cost-saving measure all the lights, elevators, water fountains, etc. in the building are replaced with motion-sensors that turn off automatically when not in use. The problem? The sensors are defective, and do not detect light reflected off darker skin tones—i.e., they don’t work for black people. The solution? Replacing all the sensors is initially deemed too expensive, so as a temporary fix the company hires a bunch of white people, paying them minimum wage to follow the black people everywhere.

Exchange between Ted and his boss (and company puppet) Veronica:

Ted: “The sensors don’t see black people? …That’s racist!”

Veronica: “The company’s position is that it’s actually the opposite of racist, because the system isn’t targeting black people, it’s just ignoring them. They insist the worst people can call it is indifferent.”

As I write I get more anxious to go back and re-watch the whole series—it really is that good. Give it a shot!

And now, I submit the BOJ suggestion box. Like I said at the top, topics for blog posts are getting a little thin. I have a few ideas, but I’m open to ideas. Soon I should have more writing-related things to talk about as I move from the actual writing of my first novel to trying to get it published, so there’ll be some material there, but what else?

One thing I’ve been bouncing around is a series of “In Defense of…” posts, where I defend something in pop culture that’s either (unjustly) unpopular or was overlooked by the population at large. I may start the first installment of that next week if I don’t think of anything else. So, if you have ideas, suggestions, feedback, whatever it may be, feel free to let me know. What kinds of things would you like to see discussed here?

On The Joy of Discovery

This post mainly serves as a way for me to knock the rust off, as it were. As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been gone for a little bit. I’ll go into what caused my temporary absence sometime, but for now I’m just trying to get back in the water, so to speak.

Here are words I wasn’t sure I’d ever say: I saw a really good Woody Allen Movie recently. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the man, and there are quite a few of his movies I might enjoy, but the ones I’ve seen, well, they just weren’t my thing (full disclosure—I haven’t seen any of the “classic” Allen movies like Annie Hall or Manhattan). Then I saw Match Point (2005).

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Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as a has-been-that-never-quite-was tennis pro who takes a job as an instructor at a posh country club in London. He strikes up a friendship with one of his clients, then becomes obsessed with his friend’s fiancé, played by Scarlett Johansson. Meanwhile, his friend’s sister falls head over heels for him, so he begins dating (and eventually marrying) the sister mostly just to keep himself around the fiancé (and his wife’s family’s money), until finally initiating an affair. From there things unravel in quite an interesting—and intense—way.

The movie was a bit unusual in it’s pacing to me. It was sort of a fast-paced slow burn of a thriller. At times it seems like not a whole lot is going on, and yet the story really never stops moving. It was interesting from a storytelling point of view how little wasted time there was. Some scenes would literally be thirty seconds long, giving you just a glimpse of a character’s facial expression to show what they’re thinking/feeling before moving on to the next scene. It was the increasingly rare movie that didn’t feel too long or drawn out; the two hour running time flew by.

Near the end the police enter the story, and their handling of affairs borders on implausible, but the movie was so good that I felt I could let that slide. If you’re in the mood for a dark, intense couple of hours, give it a shot. The tone reminded me a bit of The Talented Mr. Ripley, though not as high a body count.

Now then, on to the title of the post—discovery.

As I’ve mentioned before, in my early twenties I worked at a retail record store (the fact that we didn’t sell actual vinyl records not withstanding). I clearly remember when LeAnn Rimes came out with her debut album, lots of older/elderly people would come in asking for the CD, all of them remarking “She sounds just like Patsy Cline.” I would think, Why do you want to listen to somebody who sounds like someone else? Why don’t you just listen to Patsy Cline?

There was another artist, the name escapes me (maybe D’Angelo?), that people would buy because they thought he sounded like Al Green. Again, I thought, Just go listen to Al Green. Which really isn’t too bad of advice, people. Seriously, put some Al Green in your life. I digress. The point is, now I think I get it.

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I was reading about the goings on at SXSW and happened upon a sentence or two about a band called Radkey. I decided to look them up on YouTube, and well…holy crap. Three brothers from Missouri who play punk rock with just the right touch of melody and harmony (for my tastes, anyway—I’m not much for the really poppy sounds, if you haven’t been able to tell from previous posts), and hearing them felt like someone put jumper cables on my nipples and jumpstarted my head.

There’ve been the occasional bands I’ve come across in the last few years that I liked pretty good, but I seem to keep drifting back to my comfort zone: music from the 90’s and early aughts. Nothing I found recently really moved me except for a select few: Red Fang, which is really up my alley but still not totally freak out worthy; Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, whose funk stylings are awesome but sometimes veer too far to the R&B/soul for my tastes; and OFF!, whose brutal attack of songs are great but short—you can listen to their first four EP’s in less time than it takes to watch a sitcom (without the commercials).

All of which makes Radkey that much more special to me. For the first time in years I found a band that’s actually out right now that I like a lot. Part of what makes them so exciting is how young they are—both in the literal sense and also as a band. They managed to get attention early on and are getting breaks fast, having put out only two EP’s so far. To be able to track their progress in the industry and see how they grow as a band as it happens is something I haven’t done in a long, long time.

Are they perfect? Hell no, far from it. A couple of their songs are kind of generic, and all three brothers are far from virtuosos (the drummer is adequate at best). But that’s the beauty of punk rock—you don’t have to be a master of your instrument, you just need the passion, energy, and emotion, and as long as that comes across in your music, why, you’re just fine. And they’re only going to get better.

Now, I know a lot of you may not share my taste for this particular slice of musical pie, but if you’re so inclined, give ’em a whirl. They have a definite Ramones influence, and at times the singer/guitarist sounds an awful lot like Glenn Danzig, giving them a Misfits vibe. There’s more to them than that of course, so if you’re into that kind of thing check them out. You can visit their website and stream their EP’s here, or you can find performance clips on YouTube—I’ve included a link to my favorite song of theirs, Out Here In My Head, live on Later…with Jools Holland.

And with that, I think I’m officially rust free. 🙂