Archive for the ‘ Essays ’ Category

At Least The Pooch Had Fun: My Interview With Patton Oswalt

At Least the Pooch Had Fun: My Interview with Patton Oswalt

Poor, poor neglected blog.

I have been meaning to put something worthwhile in here, and I am still forever writing down ideas and even whole paragraphs in my head, but exhaustion, monetary commitments, the usual, tedious depression, other writing projects and love all conspired against the blog. That’s an excuse I’m sure I’ve used before. It just has the added benefit of being true.

Part of the problem is that at least a few of my better essay ideas, which is something I really wanted to see a lot of on this blog, have been finding a place over at Drunk Monkeys. I’m not complaining about that. I’m always grateful to sell work. It’s just that inevitably the blog suffers as a result.

I still have ideas. I just haven’t gotten around to them. I’m going to do my best to work on that. This blog can’t just be short stories and poetry. It’s still supposed to be a testing ground for new ideas, new venues that will hopefully have some kind of positive implications.

I guess I just don’t kick my ass hard enough about getting on those ideas.

The first person I ever interviewed was Harvey Pekar. This was around 2004. I had seen the wonderful, hilarious and moving biopic based on his life and work, American Splendor, and I had read several collections of his brilliant, insightful comics. Getting his number from 411, calling him up and getting an interview were just a lot of messing around, wanting to do an interview and not knowing where to begin.

Harvey was definitely the man who had written those comics and inspired that film. He was funny, cranky, intelligent and gracious. I couldn’t have asked for a better first interview.

I was saddened when he passed away a couple of years ago. A view of the world like his is one we can never have enough of.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to interview a long list of writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers, performers and others. I won’t run down the entire list, but even a partial list would include George A. Romero, Henry Rollins, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Vernon Frazer, Jill Sobule, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Sid Haig, Ray Succre, Lloyd Kaufman, Utah Phillips (one of my all-time favorites, and another treasure who is unfortunately no longer living) and several others. I don’t really care if someone is or was famous. I interview people that I think will be interesting to anyone who might read it. I also interview people because I’ll always be a junkie for good conversation and for any opportunity to learn something.

The interviews unfortunately don’t come along as frequently as they used to. I don’t think there’s any special reason behind that. I just don’t get the same opportunities as I used to. Working for a horror movie site in 2006 gave me a slew of people (many of which I sadly didn’t get to interview), I tried to have an interview every month when I ran my own literary magazine and working for Unlikely Stories kept me busy with writers and other creative types. It’s not that I suddenly can’t interview people anymore. It just doesn’t come up in the usual line of work these days.

I still have a dream list though. People I think would make for a brilliant conversation. I won’t run down that list here, but it’s always there, and I’m always hopeful that the universe will throw some fantastic flash of good fortune my way.

Patton Oswalt was on that dream list. I still remember catching the hilarious, sincere documentary, The Comedians of Comedy at random one night on TV. The film was a record of Oswalt touring the country with fellow comedians Brian Posehn, Maria Bamford and Zach Galifianakis, performing shows in small, intimate venues, busting each other’s balls and discussing their careers and concepts of comedy. Besides being funny The Comedians of Comedy is a great piece on at least a part of what it is to be a working comedian. Its intelligence on the subject is a big part of what makes it so good. I can watch it at least once a year, and even imagine getting my own stand-up aspirations back on track someday soon.

A year or two later I picked up Patton’s album, Feelin’ Kinda Patton in a closing Tower Records (remember those?). I’m still amazed that my girlfriend at the time didn’t crash the car from laughing so hard (I guess it’s a bad idea to put on a comedy album while driving). I’ve enjoyed every single one of his albums, but that particular set might well be my favorite. I can get a laugh just from thinking about his bits on the apocalypse, gay retards, Tivo, Robert Evans, horrible liquor billboard ads, Black Angus and probably everything else on the album. I go through my comedy albums once or twice a month while working. Feelin’ Kinda Patton is always an essential.

Oswalt’s career has only gotten bigger since I saw Comedians of Comedy on TV so long ago. He’s been in several big movies, turned in strong, scene-stealing performances on shows like The United States of Tara, has put out a book, continues to tour and continues to be one of the best I know for summing up exactly how I feel about something.

Anyone who knows me even a little knows how much I could get out of an interview with him.

So, when a woman I was seeing at the time told me her mother was his French teacher, I put forth the idea that maybe she could help me set something up. I didn’t actually think anything would come of it. I’ve requested interviews with all kinds of people, and I’ve gotten just as many rejections with that as I have with short stories or poetry. It’s not a big deal. Like the rest of the rejection process, you get used to it.

It was a surprise then to actually get the interview. I guess it shouldn’t have been all that big of a surprise. Oswalt has always struck me as a nice guy, and it wasn’t completely unreasonable to imagine he would be willing to do something. It was just a question as always of his schedule.

Getting a response was a phenomenal opportunity. That was the only real way to look at it. I’ve tried not to be hero struck by some of the names I’ve interviewed. In my mind it’s probably a better idea to focus on that phenomenal opportunity aspect. Namely the chance to talk to someone who is a brilliant veteran of their field, and the occasion to ask good questions and continue to work at being a reasonably competent journalist.

It had been ages since my last interview, and I looked at being able to speak to one of my favorite comedians (and a pretty damn good actor, too) as a challenge. Oswalt can deliver a great interview. I’ve seen this for myself in The Comedians of Comedy and elsewhere. All I had to do was come up with the kind of questions he would be interested in answering. That’s the part I’ll probably never stop worrying about. Coming up with worthwhile questions is either easy enough to knock down in an hour, or difficult in such a way that it takes days to come up with even half of what I would ideally like to ask.

Oswalt’s questions took almost a week to put together. Blame it on the fact that I was nervous over not having done an interview in over a couple of years. You can also blame it on just being intimidated at interviewing someone I admire. It was probably a combination of the two. It wasn’t like I had never spoken to someone I had a great deal of respect for. It had simply been a while, and I wanted the interview to come off well. It was my hope that a really great conversation with a really great comedian like Patton Oswalt could serve to benefit me in the short and long runs.

Setting it up was easy. Patton was extremely gracious and accommodating, and the interview was going to run on Unlikely Stories. All I had to do was come up with the questions.

And I did. I don’t think I’ve sweated the prospect of coming up with good questions that much since I interviewed Bret Hart in 2008. Oswalt has done more than a couple of interviews in his twenty-year career. I couldn’t imagine there was a question he had never been asked, but I wanted to think I could try to come up with something.

That turned out to be more of a problem than a means of motivation. I did come up with what I thought were pretty good questions. Doubt worked itself into my thoughts as soon as I finished typing them out, but I thought I had the makings of a pretty good interview. A lot of work had gone into the questions, and I used knowing that to send them to Oswalt, sigh with relief and move on to the next thing.

I expected to wait several days, maybe even a week or two, to get the questions answered and sent back. They wound up appearing in my Unlikely Stories email just a couple of days later. Initially I was thrilled. The sooner I got the questions back, the sooner I could write up the rest of the feature, and the sooner all of it could appear on Unlikely.

Reading the answers for the first time is almost always fun. I either format the interview to match the rest of the feature, or I think of and then send out some follow-up questions. What I did with the Oswalt interview was stare in what started out as mute disbelief, and then quickly became bitter-but-still-mute disappointment. Four or five times I read over it, and the one thought I kept coming back to was simple: This had to be the worst interview I had ever done.

It demands repeating that Oswalt was extremely gracious in every way. At no point have I ever held him responsible for his short, almost annoyed answers to my long-winded, occasionally pretentious questions. The fact that he answered them and did that so quickly at least suggests to me that he was still being a nice guy. It just happened to be that the questions were lousy. He answered them as best he could. I thought about this as I looked over the complete interview. The cringing at the questions I had thought of started early on, and by the time I finally stopped reading them, I didn’t want to look at the damn thing ever again. What I wanted was a do-over. What I didn’t want was to have to send it to Unlikely Stories. Nothing could make this thing worth reading, or make me look like anything less than a complete ass. My ambition had completely screwed me over. I looked pretentious and arrogant. Oswalt simply did the best he could with the questions he was given.

Am I being too hard on myself? The couple of people I’ve shown this to have told me so, but two things I’ve never been good at taking are praise and reassurance. I’ll be working on that for what I suspect will be the rest of my life. It’s on the eternal (well, until I die) to-do list.

All the reassurance in the world isn’t going to convince me that I couldn’t have done a much better job with this. I’d like to think that can potentially be a positive thing, and that I’ll do a better job with whoever I interview next.

I’m running the interview here for a couple of reasons. I parted ways with Unlikely Stories after a working relationship of nearly ten years. This was fine, except that it happened before the Patton Oswalt feature could run. Even if I’m not happy with it I still think it would be a shame if it never saw the light of day. That’s probably my little bit of ego talking. I worked hard on this, and it would be too bad if nothing came about as a result of that work.

The other reason is that I want to keep running things at this blog that aren’t just reviews, homeless short stories and derelict poems. An interview would certainly qualify. An interview gone badly is probably even better. I still want this blog to be home to all kinds of things, and that may as well include projects that went to hell in a hurry.

I don’t dislike those particular projects. I just hope that I leave them with some kind of knowledge. Screwing the pooch is only a drag if I didn’t learn anything from it.

And I love learning. Almost as much as I love silly hats.

If you didn’t know that expression, well, go look it up. It’s not literal. I swear to God.

And I’m fully aware of the weirdly perverse pleasure I’m going to get from sharing a project in which I look like a legendary idiot. We’ll just say it’s all part of the learning experience.

And we’ll also keep in mind that this interview was conducted back in January of this year. Some of the questions might be a little bit dated. I’m not editing or changing a thing. Doing so would kind of defeat the purpose of sharing it.

This blog is neglected, but it’s not finished. I get busy, and I get depressed at running into what I feel like is the same brick ad-nausea. Those shouldn’t be excuses. I don’t want them to be, so we’ll hopefully see a little more life in this town over the coming months.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve opened up shop. Why not think of something that might celebrate that a little?

Gabriel Ricard: There will always be people who say that there’s no room for humor amidst whatever might be going on in the world at that given time, socially, economically and the like. I’ve never believed that to be true, but even I had moments in 2011 where my ability to find humor in things took a hit. There were times when I just couldn’t laugh, and I have to admit that scared me. Did you experience any thoughts like that over the past year? Was there ever a point where you thought, “Jesus, I just don’t think I can find humor right now. There’s just too much awful shit going on.”?

Patton Oswalt: No, never.  Sorry, but there’s always something funny about something.  Just depends on the approach and context.  Anything.

GR: Strictly in terms of comedy, more specifically your material, what would you say was the most compelling news story of 2011? Or has something gone down in the early months of this year that blows last year out of the water?

PO: I don’t think in terms of a specific news story.  I try to filter what I see (or fail to see) as larger trends through my own limited, personal view of the planet.  That’s where my comedy comes from.

GR: Artists of all kinds speaking out against George W. Bush during his presidency wasn’t a particularly radical concept. However, I always thought that you were one of his most persistent and vicious critics. At least, in terms of the mainstream. I remember reading something rather moving you wrote in the wake of Obama’s election in 2008. We’re nearing the end of his first term, and even some of his staunchest supporters have begun to wonder if they backed the right horse. A common sentiment in your stand-up during the Bush years was anyone or anything would be better than Bush. I would imagine you still feel that way, but I would be curious to know what your thoughts are on Obama’s first term, and if you see yourself voting for him in 2012.

PO: I will vote for him again.  He’s failed at a few things (his health care bill could have been stronger) and succeeded at some others (the auto bailout, killing bin Laden).  But Bush failed at everything.  Everything he tried he failed at.  

GR: You’ve been doing stand-up now for twenty or so years now. That would certainly qualify you as a veteran of your profession. Does it feel like it’s been that long? Do you see yourself slowing down, spending less time on the road?

PO: I’ll spend less time on the road, but probably the same amount of time going up onstage, in little rooms around Los Angeles, working on new material.

GR: Does it help the stand-up that you’ve worked in so many other fields? Writing books, writing for television, writing comic books, voice-acting in television, films and video games, appearing in live-action films and television. You’ve certainly covered a pretty wide spectrum so far. Does it help to work at these other things, and then come back to stand-up?

PO: Yes.  Anything else I do is to increase my visibility and fan base so I can do more stand-up.

GR: What’s the strangest or most surprising job you’ve ever had as a writer, actor or comedian?

PO: None of them have been particularly surprising.  It’s not like they sneak up on me.  And they’ve all been a little strange.  I mean, they’re all creative pursuits.  They’re supposed to be strange.

GR: Is Ratatouille still the thing you’re most recognized for?

PO: No.  I only did a voice in that.  Why would people “recognize” me?  My face wasn’t in it.

GR: I think what I love about people who only know you from Ratatouille is showing them some of your stand-up. This has come up a couple of times, and the reactions tend to be something along the lines of “Really? That’s the same guy?” I would say that’s a testament to your talent as a performer, that you can do an all-ages film like Ratatouille, and then do a stand-up bit about a guy looking bored to tears while shaving his balls. Did you encounter a lot of surprise from people that you can go from one of the spectrum to the other like that? I always imagined you must have met parents who know your stand-up, who are then accompanied by their children, who know you from Ratatouille.

PO: No.  I didn’t write Ratatouille. I was a performer for hire.  I was doing my stand-up for 19 years before Ratatouille.  Everyone understands that.  Why would they be at all surprised?  Unless maybe they don’t know how movies work.

GR: You’re getting a great deal of good press for your performance in the new Jason Reitman film, Young Adult, with Charlize Theron and Patrick Wilson. You play a character named Matt Freehauf, a guy who lives with his sister, walks with a permanent brace and cane, has a whiskey distillery in his garage and much like Theron’s character, is haunted by the past. It’s still a comedic role, but I would say there’s a lot more depth going on with this character than some of the others you’ve played over the years. The only other film appearance of yours I can think of that comes close to mixing humor with darkness so well is the 2009 film Big Fan. Was this a difficult role for you to play? What did you utilize to play what looked like an extremely challenging character? Other films? Your own life? I read somewhere that you consulted both an acting coach and a physical therapist to prepare for this.

PO: Yes.  Every role is difficult because it’s new and it’s a different voice and you want to serve the script and the overall project.  But doing a new stand-up bit is difficult.  Writing a book is difficult.  It’s all difficult in different ways.  And yes, I consulted an acting coach and physical therapist.

GR: Is it your hope that perhaps the critical success you’ve received with Young Adult will lead to other varied roles?

PO: Isn’t that why anyone does any project?

GR: Are there other roles lined up? Anything we can look forward to?

PO: Quite a few things.  Can’t say right now, though.  Too nebulous.

GR: Were you allowed to improvise a lot in Young Adult? Is that something you typically do in acting? I guess I thought this because you seem pretty capable of going with the flow in your stand-up, commenting on your surroundings or even on a particularly annoying audience member.

PO: I was allowed to but I didn’t.  I thought the script was really good, and I was excited to deliver it.  A few lines here and there.

GR: Speaking of audience members, I did happen to read about the woman who attempted to record a bit of yours, your response to that, a different comedienne’s response to the entire incident, and then your rebuttal, available on your website. Can you tell us a bit about that? The entire incident brings to mind other incidents of you dealing with hecklers or just people being obnoxious. You have a great talent for handling them, keeping the show on track and even creating some new material right there on the spot. I guess there would have to be quite a trial-and-error approach to learning that kind of thing.


GR: Do these people ever damage your enthusiasm for performing live?

PO: No.  They’re few and far between.

GR: Do things like YouTube, Facebook and other sites make your job as a comedian even more difficult? In that you have to be aware that even defending yourself in the midst of a performance may entail having to later defend the defense, if that makes sense.


GR: As I said, you’ve been in comedy for a long time. I’m guessing there were a fair number of lean years, and I was wondering at what point you realized that you were finally starting to make some headway? What kind of discouragement did you put up with?

PO: The same discouragement anyone puts up with who pursues anything creative. No money, bad jobs – but it was always fun, and I didn’t have to do anyone else’s work, so I never really minded.

GR: Tell us a bit about your book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland, a collection of essays that was released last January. Now, this is going solely on your stand-up, but putting together a book like this struck me as something that might have been in the works for a really long time.

PO: I’d always been writing – online, stuff for magazines, TV shows and screenplays.  I just had enough stuff out there that eventually a publisher came calling  That’s how it usually works.

GR: Can we ever expect for another essay collection, or perhaps a novel?

PO: Another essay collection, yes.

GR: Are there any comedians under-the-radar that you’d like to mention?

PO: Kyle Kinane.  Rory Scovel.  Natasha Legerro.  Karen Kilgariff.  Hannibal Burress.

GR: As I said before, your career has run for roughly twenty years now. What are the biggest things that’s changed in comedy over that period of time? What has remained the same? Most importantly what is it that keeps you coming back?

PO: There were no “big changes” — they were all small and gradual and to be honest, I was concerned with just getting onstage and writing new stuff.  Same with what remained the same.  The changes are for the industry and audiences to deal with.  I keep coming back because it’s fun, and I don’t want to do anything else.

Kony 2012: Charity, Self-Absorption and Slacktivism

The problem with writing about something topical is that there’s a fair chance that everyone else has already gotten to the story and probably done a better job with it. That shouldn’t deter me, but it does make me question whether or not it’s worth throwing in my two cents. I never imagined that my blog would be a hot spot for the news of the minute, but I’ve had several ideas squashed by not being able to develop them quickly enough for the piece to be relevant. That’s the nice thing about fiction. I can generally get away with knocking around an idea for as long as I want.

I do want to branch out though. This blog has been running for several months now. Breaking out of my creative comfort zone has always been a part of the plan. I didn’t start this just to expand a bunch of movie reviews from a Facebook game. I didn’t even start this solely for the purpose of putting up a creative orphanage for the poems and short stories that have never been able to find a place to go. Both of those things are fine, but this blog was also supposed to be a chronicle of my efforts to try and expand my range. I’m not going to be able to do that by second-guessing every idea. Or worrying myself to death ahead of time as to how it might turn out.

I’m not going to accomplish anything if I’m not willing to potentially make myself look foolish. That’s a lesson I’ve learned a few times over the course of my life, and it’s one I’m trying to put into practice now.

There’s certainly no lack of news stories or social trends that I’d like to try and better understand through writing about them. I’ve chosen this one because, well, it’s been on my mind a little more than the other candidates. The aim isn’t to just write opinions about something that’s going around the news lately. I’d also like to get a stronger sense of why I feel the way I do about this story, a clearer image of my personal outlooks and reactions to things, and the best way I can do that has always been through my writing.

We’ll just see how it goes. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience that doubles as something worth reading.

I won’t know if that will be the case, until I try.

Don’t worry. There’s still going to be plenty of movie reviews and other creative nonsense. I’ve just been ready to try something else for entirely too long. It’s time to find some new ventures, and it’s time to start trying to find a better balance of being creatively fulfilled and actually making some money once in a while. I know it can be done, but I’m also aware of the odds behind succeeding at such a thing. I don’t have a lot of choice but to play those odds, and yet I’m excited nonetheless. That has to be a good sign.

If I could just find some acting work I might cheer up for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

That’s a thought, and I’m sure I’ve never, ever expressed it here before.

Kony 2012: Charity, Self-Absorption and Slacktivism

By Gabriel Ricard

I don’t know when I first heard of Joseph Kony, but I know it was well before a thirty-minute video went viral, shook Facebook and Twitter into a near-stupor with the attention it received and has since gone on to stir one of the more compelling debates to come along in recent weeks. I don’t derive any satisfaction from the fact that I didn’t need a charity, Invisible Children, to tell me about the monster behind the Lord’s Resistance Army. There’s the concept of being smug because you were one the first to get on board for a particular band, movie, writer, restaurant or something like that, which I find relentlessly irritating, and then there are those who truly believe it really matters in the end when you learned about something as significant and terrible as the ongoing situation in Uganda. It’s good that you knew, but it would be even better if you’ve actually been doing something with that knowledge.

My problem is that I rarely do anything with my knowledge. I am constantly exposed to images, videos, conversations and occasionally experiences of how profoundly and coolly horrendous this world can be. I can’t recall who told me about Joseph Kony (it may well have been my mother), and I don’t remember when it was, but I know what I did with the information. I filed it away with all the other things that give one a sense of complete despair and hopelessness. That’s selfish and a clear act of self-absorption, but I guess doing so is also a matter of self-preservation. It’s not the same as ignoring the problem, but it does come close. My own problem is one of feeling extremely limited in what I can do. I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m rarely in a position of being able to donate to any one of the seemingly countless worthy causes that I’m aware of. I live in the middle of nowhere, and I can’t drive, so giving my physical time and energy are also problematic.

Those come off as excuses. Maybe, they are. I try to see them as limitations I currently have an extremely limited amount of control over, but it’s not like I’ve risen to the cause of self-sacrifice for the greater good, every time I’ve had a chance to do so. Being one of those people who give themselves purely and unselfishly to some horror that cannot be defeated without the support of humanity would be wonderful. It’s not that I’m gunning for empowerment or personal fulfillment. Those things are nice, but they don’t call out to me. I’d just like to give more than what I have been.

In the end though, I’m a writer, and that may well be the first and best way I can contribute to the things I believe in. The bulk of my output deals in my enthusiasm and belief in the arts (which includes the occasional dick joke), but I’ve always been the product of the things I absorb, and that thankfully covers a pretty wide range of people, movements, ideas, places and more. I write about the things that interest me, but that doesn’t completely quell the fact that I’m interested in certain things that I want to share them with other people. That’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. The trick is to just not be obnoxious about it.

Facebook is great for that sort of compulsion, but there’s also Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Pinterest, Tumblr and a host of other social networking sites. All of them have potential. All of them can in fact be used to create awareness and debate. There’s a lot of cynicism about the idea of “Slacktivism.” I can’t say where I first saw the word, but I think it accurately describes a growing contingency of people who truly believe that liking, commenting on or sharing a deathly somber social or political event entitles them to feel like honest-to-God activists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing any of those things. The cynicism people express seemingly has more to do with those take their capacity to do more than just share a video on the internet for granted. At least, that’s how it appears to me, and I think that’s a justifiable frustration. It’s great that you suddenly care about something that has nothing to do with you. What gets in the way is a person’s ability to separate that something from you. To take a reaction and use it towards charitable, unselfish means is almost never beyond one’s reach. Self-absorption, a thousand distractions both understandable and not and even being overwhelmed by discouragement tends to get in the way.

I feel as though I struggle with all of those things. All I can do is try to learn from that struggle, and to let go of selfish thoughts in relation to causes, and what I can do to aid them. Sometimes, writing about it, or just trying to generate awareness and dialog are the best tools at my disposal. I don’t say this to justify my lack of doing more. It just might make me a better contributor to the world at large if I accept this fact. I’m not in danger of breaking an arm from patting myself on the back. That’s never been my problem. What I have to do is get over the guilt of wanting to do more, and that can be just as arrogant and useless as the people who are so busy giving themselves high-fives to the victory music from Rocky that they forget what it was they shared on Facebook to begin with.

Maybe, not as bad, but it’s awfully damn useless in the end if it doesn’t lead to something that helps more than my bruised and battered sense of self.

What impresses the most about the Kony 2012 video is that I still people posting opinions and fostering dialog. I’ve remarked at least a few million times now on my misanthropy towards people and what motivates them to say and do things, but it’s hard to be complete bastard about the aftermath of Invisible Children’s lengthy video that detail Joseph Kony’s monstrous deeds, and rally for others to join the cause. What I do understand is the extreme skepticism of Invisible Children’s qualifications as a charitable organization. Even the disgust some have felt towards the video’s smarmy, arrogant posturing makes sense. Sitting through the video is a task and a half. Not just because of its details, but because of how it comes across. I had a lot of difficult discouraging the thought that the filmmakers were just as concerned with crafting an image for themselves and Invisible Children as they were with their finding an audience for the video’s content. I never really did discourage it. The video is so smug that its heart is almost lost in an ocean of pretention.

So what? It’s unimportant what I think of the video from a technical or narrative standpoint. It’s that aftermath that’s held the greatest fascination for me. God bless those detractors. Even the ones who are clearly just getting off on wanting to be right. They have worked harder than those filmmakers in pointing out a number of highly suspect points about this organization. Their points have reached almost as large an audience, as those who posted the video with little thought towards doing some genuine research on their own part. Major news outlets have covered some of the very critical questions these doubters have raised. Issues such as Invisible Children’s handling of their funds (which they have responded to on their website), their desire to see military action, their failure to include Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, in their condemnation of Kony and the LRA. Or how the video failed to mention that Kony is reportedly no longer actually in Uganda. Some might respond to all of this by wondering if raising these questions will make a difference. I’ve noticed that it has actually made a difference. A quick glance at my Facebook news feed reveals people who are actually responding to the dissent behind Invisible Children in a way that might actually be meaningful. They’re actually looking for and then sharing information on organizations that don’t have the benefit of a slick video, but don’t raise quite as many red flags.

Nagging thoughts still creep in. Will this momentum have long-term implications? Will this receive the time and attention it truly deserves? I really don’t know, but I want to hope it does. That hope might be foolish, but I’ll give it a shot all the same. One thing is certain, and that’s the inescapable fact that if Invisible Children sincerely wanted to make Kony famous, then they have succeeded wildly. That video has received seen over forty-million hits thus far, and that number is certain to continue climbing for at least a while.

And what am I going to do? Whatever I can. I don’t want to feel empowered by what I do. I just want to see what hope, compassion an open mind and strength can do. That might have to be limited to writing, talking to people and sharing information and ideas. While I’m not about to wait for a humanitarian award I will always ask myself if what I’m doing is all I can do, and I will only look at that in terms of what I want to assist. Anything else is just an obstacle that gets in the way of whatever the actual subject might be.

However, I will always be engrossed by the evolution of a story on the internet. It’s engaging to see what happens to the original idea, what people do or don’t do with it when the ball is in their hands. Call it a modern-day version of people-watching.

Call this article whatever you want. All of this has been very keenly on my mind lately, and is often the case the best way for me to process something on my mind is to write about it. I have no clue what the writing will mean to others, and I shouldn’t care. This is just an aside to things around us that matter a whole lot more than what goes through my head. Commentary is nothing without action. Talking and thinking are not sins to the best of my knowledge. What is a sin is letting it get in the way of exhausting those actions.

If something truly good happens from all this everything else will just become mere static. When that happens a person is able to see that the work at hand is never truly done, and that thought will hopefully encourage them to get up in the morning, and do it all over again.

The following links were invaluable in the writing of this piece.

Kony 2012: Invisible Children And 7 Other Charities Fighting For Child Soldiers
How the Kony Video Went Viral
Think Twice Before Donating to Kony 2012, the Charitable Meme du Jour
What The Hell Is All This ‘#Kony2012′ Crap About?

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Thirty

Well, I guess it’s nice to know I can finish a project once in a while.

When I decided to expand the Facebook 30 Day Movie Challenge to what would essentially become thirty essays on film, I didn’t think it was going to be a very big deal. I saw it as a nice way to get this blog rolling along with original material. Not just an orphanage for short stories and poems that couldn’t find a home. I guessed it would take a month, maybe two, to finish, give me the chance to write movie reviews again, keep the blog awash in material and perhaps set off a spark or two for other ideas.

The other ideas are indeed playing ping-pong in the arena of potential, and no one’s going to argue I didn’t get to write movie reviews again. What I completely underestimated was how much of a self-inflicted (the worst kind) chore this would be at times, or how long it was going to take to expand on thirty movie reviews, most of which are only three or four hundred words on my Facebook page, and turn them into something I could be relatively pleased with.

That’s okay. I love a good learning experience sometimes. I’m pleased I saw this through to the end.

It seems as though people dug these. I hope so. Writing for pleasure comes first, but that only carries a person but so far. Eventually, you want to hopefully find an audience of some kind. I’m doing okay with that, I think, but I can always do better.

That will probably never change, the fact that I should be doing better, working harder, and that’s as disheartening as it is enthralling. To have both of those things at once is at least guaranteed to keep me awake.

No idea if it’s actually going to lead me down some kind of positive road.

Well, nothing else to do at this point but say thanks to those who hung in there through all thirty reviews, and to ask anyone reading this to hang around for whatever’s coming next. Look for more poetry, more short fiction, some experiments, some, yes, reviews and more.

I can’t promise anything. Except that I’ll do my best to make it worth your time.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Thirty: The Last Movie You Saw

Sorcerer (1977)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Starring: Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal

A recent, rare interview with Gene Hackman left me wanting to watch The French Connection again. Hackman is one of my favorite actors in general, and William Friedkin, who directed the film, is one of my favorite directors. The French Connection might well be the best film either one of them has ever done. It’s a wonderful tour of vintage New York, and it’s a ferociously-paced, brilliantly shot and well-acted film (with my favorite car chase of all time). Watching it again was a pleasure, and it sent me over to Netflix to see which William Friedkin movies I still hadn’t gotten around to seeing. There’s a few. I’ve seen and loved The Exorcist, Blue Chips, To Live and Die in L.A. I thought Rules of Engagement was shockingly stupid for the talent involved. I still need to see Bug one of these days, and I’m eager to see Friedkin’s latest, Killer Joe whenever it makes its way over to a wider release.

I noticed Sorcerer as one of his films that I had never seen, and I was surprised. It looks like something I would have snatched up and seen ages ago. The cast looked great, it was Friedkin’s follow-up to monstrous back-to-back successes The French Connection and The Exorcist, and the story, a remake of the classic The Wages of Fear, all came together as something I just didn’t imagine was going to steer me wrong. The film was a notorious critical and commercial flop in its time (and that wouldn’t be the first time for Friedkin), grossing something like twelve-million against a then-substantial budget of twenty-million, but it’s in recent years come to be appreciated as a beautifully-suspenseful film, and something of a minor cult classic.

All the *really* good cult classics make sure to include fire.

It’s a mixed blessing that by now, Netflix is pretty good at predicting how I’m going to rate a movie. Their guess was that I would give Sorcerer a 4.1 out of five.

Between that, and people like Roger Ebert and Stephen King counting the film amongst their favorites (Ebert was one of the few major critics to give the film a good review during its original release), I imagined I was in pretty good shape for a pretty good movie.

I was right, too. Sort-of.

The problem isn’t in the story. It’s a good one, in which four men, (Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou) from four different parts of the world find themselves, for different reasons, living as exiles in a remote Nicaraguan village. The village almost functions as a character unto itself. It’s a filthy, desperate place. One doesn’t go there by choice. One goes there because they have no choice. The horrors of the circumstances that brought the four men there quickly becomes small, in comparison to what caused them to flee their original lives in the first place. Friedkin’s best films capture the chaos, danger and earthly Hell of where they occur. Sorcerer is no different. These four men might be running away from something, but they don’t want to die in that village.  That proves to be their collective motivation for taking on the assignment of driving two trucks full of volatile nitroglycerin to an oil well that has caught fire, and can only be repaired with explosives. The money might be good, it might make their doomed dreams come true, but only the truly hopeless would take on such a job. Hopeless is a good word for not only the tone of the movie, but for the four protagonists themselves. We may or may not want them to succeed, but we’re in constant doubt from beginning to end, if they can make it through the job and find the redemption that drives them, like a very specific, intoxicating kind of madness.

That madness and drive is realized through great performances by all four leads. Scheider stands out in particular. It’s a shame his career slowed somewhat. He always brought a tired-and-yet-somewhat-manic humor to his characters. They were either good-naturedly enduring their circumstances, or they were doggedly pursuing an obsession that almost never resulted in a happy ending. Cremer, Rabal and Amidou all turn in wonderful performances that dually stand on their own and contribute countless miles of humanity to the story, but the star here is definitely Scheider. His transformation over the course of the film is nothing short of haunting. This isn’t a horror film, but the depths Scheider sinks to, in order to get what he wants, are truly frightening at times. All of them achieve this startling, tragic change, but Scheider is the one we barely recognize by the conclusion of their unforgiving journey.

All in all it’s a pretty rough weekend for the guy.

The last hour of the film reflects that frightening aspect in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There’s no question that Friedkin knows how to pile on the severity of each moment in his best films. Sorcerer suffers greatly from a painfully slow first half. It’s not that a slow build to something as violent as the second half was a bad idea. It just doesn’t work as well as it should have, given the people involved, and it can make getting to that pitch-perfect second half a bit of a chore. The sin is not in taking time and care in establishing four back-stories, bringing their dire situations to a boiling point until the task of driving those trucks becomes a silver-lining. The problem is that it just didn’t need to take that long. Sometimes, moving this slow works, and sometimes, it doesn’t. Some may disagree, but Sorcerer probably could have benefited from a slightly shorter running time. It wouldn’t have hurt the white-hot intensity of the second-half or damaged the range and force of the acting. These things would have come through regardless. Of those four back-stories none of them made much of an impact on my ability to be invested in that second half.

It’s worth noting that the European cut of the film was along these lines. Twenty-eight minutes in all were removed. This includes everything that shows us what brought the four men to Nicaragua to begin with. It would be interesting to compare that version (which would knock the movie down to something like ninety minutes), cut and released without Friedkin’s consent, to the one I saw. I’m not sure eliminating all four background stories entirely would have been the way to go. I still wonder if even a few minutes left on the cutting room floor would have made the difference for me.

Some say you have to watch a movie twice to really get what the movie is trying to show you, and that might be the case here. For now I can only say that Sorcerer didn’t truly get my attention, until Scheider and company begin their trek. That’s when God, the universe, bad luck or whatever you want to call it holds up both fists and begins swinging with a vicious attention to the details of pain. It’s expected that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, but that doesn’t make it any less riveting. The weather turns ugly at one point and assaults the two trucks with a hurricane season’s worth of rain and wind. It gets worse from there very quickly, becoming an element of a possible suicide when one of the trucks attempts to cross what might be the most rickety, perilous bridge in film history. That the truck fell of the bridge several times during filming shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Being relatively certain of the truck barely making it across doesn’t mean a thing when the scene unfolds before us. The tension becomes something thick, almost tangible. Our attention on the disasters that appear legion, descending upon the truck as struggles along, is absolute.

It’s not as bad when you later learn that the local post office goes through this every single day.

I hate to keep dividing the film in terms of the first and second halves, but it’s difficult not to when one is so distinctly more enjoyable than the other. As a whole Sorcerer is pretty good, somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3 ½ out of 5, if we’re going to use Netflix’s rating system (may as well). Most of that rating comes from the second hour, but Scheider, Cremer, Rabal and Amidou are collectively what make the difference between the first hour being sluggish, and the kind of thing that’s so dismal, you have no interest in sticking around for the rest. If you feel like Sorcerer is taking a little while to really get out of the gate, stick around. The best of Sorcerer is able to stand alongside the best of William Friedkin’s career. That’s not too shabby, considering his filmography.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Nine

Being miserable but still wanting to work is frustrating sometimes. I’m not at a loss for things I’d like to write and rant about. Fifteen minutes on any reputable news site or blog yields just as many ideas. SOPA is a good example, but in general there’s more than enough horror in the world to fill this blog with social and political commentary.

It’s about time I took a serious swing at that stuff, and not just allude to it in everything else I write, so you may see a process of experimentation with that type of writing in the near future.

Hopefully, there will be a long vacation from movie reviews for a while. I’m pretty burnt out on them, but I’m halfway tempted to try a short-ish column of some kind.

Then there’s just banging out some free-wheeling observation pieces that I hope will have a decent humorous slant going for them. I still dream of writing for, and this blog is as good a place as any to work out the best voice for trying to do that.

My mind is more erratic with conflicting, warring thoughts than I can ever remember it being. Writing is still a beautiful way of sorting them out. With a little luck this blog should become an awfully interesting scene over the next few months.

So, stick around, put up with the tail-end of this challenge and wish me luck.

Being unhappy for no reason is no excuse for a lack of productivity, or for not trying at all times to find the next thing that keeps you at the table you worked so hard to get to in the first place.

I’ll be twenty-seven the next time I blink for more than a few seconds. I complain constantly to myself of not being where I thought I would be when I was seventeen, eighteen. Moments of the universe’s giddy idea of bad fortune aside I have no one to blame for that but myself.

And, really, weird ladies, disgruntled gentlemen, wouldn’t you like to see me talk about something else besides movies and self-loathing?

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Nine: First Movie You Remember Seeing

Ghostbusters II (1989)
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver

One of the recurring themes of these reviews is that many of the movies mentioned here are ones that have been favorites for a long time. A lot of things act as markers over the course of my life so far. People, places, certain books, certain albums, TV shows to a very minor extent, and, of course, movies. Some of the long-time personal classics mentioned in past reviews, I can remember the exact time, place, surroundings and even feelings that happened to be around at the same moment. Others are vaguer, and seem as though they have been part of my landscape for as long as I’ve been alive. I’m not going to remember the first time I saw them. That’s fine. It’s usually not important. I would call it a mildly engrossing, self-absorbed trivia of a kind.

Sometimes, I just like to look at the first time I saw a movie, and see how it’s held up over the years in the face of everything else in my life evolving, changing, disappearing or moving past me. I’m interested in seeing how the consistent (my love of movies) moves, alters or endures within the inconsistent (damn near everything else).

I’m going to cheat slightly. I’ve already listed the first movie I ever remember seeing (Ghostbusters). So, instead I’m going with the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Going to the theater can still be a wonderful experience. I don’t go as often as I would like, but some of my favorite memories are that of going to a theater, sitting in the dark, blinking and then being at a complete loss to explain how a couple of hours could have gone by so quickly.

Bad movies can have the opposite effect. You’ll check the time a dozen times, stagger out of the theater as quickly as possible when it’s over and wonder if it’s possible to get the time and money back.

That’s happened to me, but not so often as to sour me on going forever. I’m twenty-six, have been going to movie theaters for twenty-two years, and I still get a nerd rush from going to see a movie at night, completely loving it and then coming out of the theater to the strange blur of the real world. The blur goes away, the evening goes on, but the movie, if it was any kind of impact on you at all, stays with you for a while.

It was a much larger experience for me as a child, but then again, most things were. I’m just happy that I still like going at all.

It makes sense that the first film I would see in a theater would be Ghostbusters II. At that point in my life I was pretty damn obsessed with the whole thing. My parents saw no alternative but to take me. I still remember not being able to sleep the night before. My optimism in those days was pretty solid. There was no way this could end badly. The thought that the movie might be intensely terrifying on the largest screen I had ever watched a movie on, or the possibility of the movie not being very good didn’t even occur to me. I had countless toys, an already-worn-out copy of the first movie on VHS, a proton pack, a trap, the firehouse and watched the cartoon every time it came on.

There was no way this could end badly.

No way at all.

In retrospect I blame my parents. My four-year-old perspective was not ready for Vigo or the part where Ray, Winston and Egon go into the sewer to find the river of slime. I had seen horror films up to that point, but this was different. This was at a movie theater with a screen the size of a small island. Speakers roared and shook the darkness with music and sound effects from every corner of the room.

I wasn’t especially crazy about the dark back then.

My parents realized they had made a mistake pretty early on, but I’ll always remember that sewer scene. I wasn’t handling it very well, and my parents used the moment when the gang decides to go back and get their proton packs as a last-ditch effort to calm me the hell down. I would imagine the other patrons in the theater were pretty sick of me at this point. I’ve dealt with freaked out kids at movie theaters, and I’ve wanted to hit whoever brought them with a sock full of quarters.

My parents managed to calm me down, and then Ray had to go and finally track down the river of slime.

That didn’t please me a whole lot. I turned to my mother and echoed one of Ray’s lines from the film. “Why aren’t they going back?! Why aren’t they getting their proton packs?! They NEED their proton packs!”

And so forth.

It was a long time before my parents took me to see a movie.

Not even Bill Murray’s pscyhic powers could save me.

I loved the movie though. I thought it was just as good as the original. Over the course of my childhood I watched it just as many times. Things like Vigo became a good deal less frightening as I got older.

Almost twenty-two years later, and I still watch it every once in a while. It hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s holding steady. I’ve come to realize through the years that it’s not nearly as good as the original. There’s a lot of great things in it (like Peter MacNicol stealing every scene he’s in as Vigo’s lackey, and the whole completely left-field romantic subplot between Rick Moranis and Annie Potts), but it just doesn’t have that lightning-in-a-bottle sense of fun that the first one had. The writing and cast can barely hide the fact that they’re pretty much just trying to repeat the magic. There isn’t a lot of originality to be found.

Does that really matter though? I don’t think so. It’s a good formula, and it would have been foolish to mess around with it too much. Ghostbusters II is still an incredibly entertaining movie. Murray asking Akroyd if he’s been sleeping with the slime, followed by Akroyd looking entirely too uncomfortable, is still one of my favorite bits from either movie. The same goes for Murray, and his horrible TV show, Ernie Hudson’s encounter with the ghost train and Ramis’ great deadpan line, “We had part of a slinky, but I straightened it.”

Another endearing quality of Ghostbusters II are the small, distinctive roles filled out by actors like Kurt Fuller (whose interactions with Murray are fun), Kevin Dunn as a psychic, Ben Stein, Philip Baker Hall, Cheech Marin and Brian Doyle-Murray as the psychiatrist who wearily listens to the Ghostbusters’ pleas to be let out of the madhouse before Vigo ushers in his “season of evil.” (I would argue that’s every Christmas, but I’m not the ghost of a 17th century warlord).

I also didn’t know until recently that Max Von Sydow did the dubbing for Vigo. That’s worth a couple of brownie points for the movie right there. I’ve often wished my own life was narrated by a man whose voice probably makes God nervous.

This movie has plenty to enjoy. It just doesn’t stand on quite the same level as the first one. I can live with that, and I can therefore enjoy the movie on its own terms.

There’s a good story, too. I dig the idea of a long-dead European tyrant haunting a painting, drawing energy from a river of slime beneath the streets of New York City, and how this pulls the Ghostbusters out of litigation and obscurity, and back to work (the courtroom scene, with Moranis as their sublimely incompetent lawyer, is great). I’ve seen worse examples of a follow-up to a classic going through the paces. Could it have been better? Maybe. Should it have been made at all? That’s up to individual opinion. Probably not, but I’m glad they made it anyway. Ghostbusters is one of those things I unapologetically can’t get enough of. As long as the entire gang is on board they’ll have my complete attention.

Ghostbusters II at least deserves credit for one thing, even if you hated the entire thing. It got Bill Murray back after a four-year exile from acting, with the exception of 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors, after the failure of the underrated Razor’s Edge. I’m certainly not going to complain about that. I don’t even blame him for wanting nothing to do with Ghostbusters III (the last time I checked). Two movies just might be pushing it. This sequel will always have a place in my library and geekdom memories. I’m not going to weep if all we have to enjoy is a great movie, a good movie, a fantastic video game, a memorable animated series and an assortment of books and comics. Why do we need anything else?

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Eight

I often wish I had the means to do videos or even podcasts, if only so I could steal that haunting, soft opening Ellen Barkin rocked in every episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour.

Go find it. I’m not going to run an example of that intro. It just wouldn’t be the same as actually saying it.

Two more reviews for the series?

Oh boy. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m going to be finally finished with this by the end of this month. It’s best to just shoot straight through the last two days, so I’m not going to be running anything else until thirty reviews are committed to this blog. We’re on day twenty-eight, and the last two may as well be already written.

God knows what’s next for this blog. I have ideas, but none of them are setting the world on fire for me at this exact moment. That could be my mood, or it could be a hint from upstairs that I should wait for some inspiration. Being finished with this will probably clear away a lot of excess cobwebs, and make room for new ones. I hope so. I’m writing more than usual right now, but I’m still waiting for an idea that sets off that mild but wonderful obsessive steak. I want to fall in love with an idea the way I fall in love with an unbelievable woman. That wish has been lingering in every other project for a while now. It’s time I became deathly serious about finding a project that sets off that kind of love. I’m already thinking (an occasional hobby of mine), but I’m looking to finishing and then cutting these loose ends around my neck.

It’s time to move on, and trust for the best to meet somewhere along the way.

On an unrelated note, it was around this time that I was running lines for my role in Frost/Nixon, so subsequently acting has been on my mind even more than usual. I have no idea when the next gig will come along, and that’s pathetically distressing.

Nothing to do but hope and pay attention for anything that looks promising.

That’s often the case, it would seem. I’m not complaining. Simply observing.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Eight: Movie With Your Favorite Villain

Richard III (1995)
Directed by: Richard Loncraine
Starring: Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent

Choosing the movie with my favorite all-time hero was relatively easy. Yes, there were contenders for the spot, but it didn’t take long to sort through them and decide on a favorite. I didn’t doubt my pick for a moment. Close seconds aside, Indiana Jones did not get much of a real challenge from other possibilities, or any of those close seconds.

Those who know me know that while I can appreciate a great hero, I’m much more likely to enjoy the company of a truly memorable villain. A classic villain needs a hero of equal stature to achieve immortality, realized through their conflict, but I’ve always felt that the hero needs the villain more than the other way around. A villain without a good guy who measures up can still be supremely entertaining. A hero without a worthy opponent usually just bores me to the point of a mild, half-awake coma.

The only time I ever give a damn about Superman tends to be when he’s facing Lex Luthor. I’m a fantastic for anything-Batman, but my interest in the character is never any higher than when he’s up against The Joker. Peter Cushing needed Christopher Lee. Optimus Prime is even better with Megatron. Sherlock Holmes to Moriarty, and Liam Gallagher to Noel Gallagher (although I’m not quite sure who the good guy/bad guy is in that one).

This list can go on, but it shouldn’t. The point is that choosing my favorite film villain was a much more difficult task than picking the hero. I didn’t lose sleep over it (it’s not like I sleep very well to begin with), but I there was considerably more thought involved in this category than with most of the other days. Lots of second-guessing, lots of moments when I thought I had made a choice, only to then think of someone else.

Ian McKellen in Richard III has a couple of things going for it against other contenders. McKellen himself is one of the finest actors of our time. He is as captivating and convincing in heroic roles (a couple of people might have seen him in Lord of the Rings), as he is when it a film demands he play the exact opposite (the X-Men films, or even the underrated Apt Pupil). I like him either way, but he entertains me just a bit more as a bad guy, and he’s never entertained more than he did as Richard III.

Go ahead, call him a queer.

That’s one reason. The other is that it seems as though the character itself is something of a prototype for a lot of other villains I like. I look through a list of favorites, notice similarities between them and Shakespeare’s version of the real-life king and keep in mind that Richard has a couple of centuries on the rest of my list. He’s one of the earliest maniacal villain s I’m aware of, and after a lot of thought I decided he was my favorite.

I don’t think you get to truly consider yourself a badass, until you’ve screamed “My Horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse!” from behind of the wheel of a scout car that’s being attacked from all sides by the sights and sounds of your army getting the living crap kicked out of it.

That scene pops into my head quite often. McKellen’s Richard is a monster, but he’s a charming monster, and no one can say he’s not ready to go to bat. We know he’s headed for a fall, but we also know he’s not going to make that easy for anyone who’s coming after him.

My choice in such a strong field of contenders gets considerable help from Richard III being one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched a number of films based on Shakespeare’s works in the last ten years or so. Richard III is my favorite.

Tromeo and Juliet is pretty damn good, too though.

Like a lot of people, I had to get the hell away from high school in order to finally start appreciating Shakespeare. I’ve been slow to make my way through his work, but I’ve come to truly enjoy plays like The Merchant of Venice and King Lear. For the most part the tragedies are infinitely more interesting to me (someone told me once that The Merchant of Venice was originally intended as a comedy, but I really don’t know if that’s true).

Richard III is also my favorite of his plays, period, and Richard Loncraine’s 1995 film adaptation is a brilliant reinterpretation. There are distinct differences between the film and the original material, but the center of the story, Richard himself, is unchanged. The character leaves a lot of room for an actor skilled at playing bad guys. Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Al Pacino have all good turns as Richard in other film versions (I’ve never seen the Olivier version, and that’s something I need to change one of these days). All those guys were good, but they can’t even come close to the lofty heights reached by the vicious, deranged menace McKellen punches into every single line and gesture. McKellen uses both his talents as an actor and fan of the play to deliver a performance that is as sinister as it is enthralling. It makes sense that he had a hand in adapting Richard III for the screen alongside Loncraine. His belief in the story and character is prevalent. Every line is delivered with intensity and passion to spare.

“Let me just finish this smoke, and then I’ll go back to murdering everyone.”

Other great actors are in the movie, but sometimes, it’s hard to pay attention to them. Robert Downey Jr (who looks pretty sedate throughout), Annette Benning, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith make the most of their time. Nigel Hawthorne is wonderful, fatally tragic from the onset as Richard’s brother. Everyone is great, but the name on the marquee is still the one that we’re hopefully going to pay the most attention to. This is the kind of role that could lend itself to drowning in camp under an actor with no concept of balance. McKellen has balance to the point of making it look easy. He’s proven that in just about everything he appears in. He plays Richard full-tilt and straight down the highway to hell, but he never reaches comical heights. It’s entertaining, but it’s also dark, intense stuff. What’s chilling is in how he plays Richard so smoothly that we sometimes forget the horrors of his political ambitions. If someone wanted to, regardless of their particular politics, they could probably draw parallels between Sir Ian’s performance, and the notion of people in real life being so taken by a public figure that they are able to practice intentional amnesia in response to what they’re really up to. That is one of the most gripping facets of Richard III.  We are able to at times lose ourself in the performance itself. More than once, McKellen makes anyone decent look pretty dull by comparison.

The 1930’s London backdrop does a lot for this movie, too. It’s a perfectly-realized atmosphere of chaos, fear, greed and insanity. It’s a natural fit for the drama that unfolds. This is the perfect stage for a madman to swoop in, tear the house down and go out via the same sword he used for his bloody rise to power. All the way to the end Richard III is a perfect example of what film can do to enhance something like a Shakespearean play. It adds something worthwhile to an often-told tale. While never forgetting that beneath all of that is a story and central character as rich and compelling as when they were first created. Shakespeare’s plays live on because of people like Ian McKellen.

Looking again at the more recent films, books, TV shows, comics and the like it’s hard to imagine some of those other villains matching Richard for ambition and ferocity. Most of them wouldn’t stand a chance in a confrontation. Barring my opinion of Laurence Olivier’s film, whenever I finally see it, I see Ian McKellen as the greatest actor to ever take on the best villain I’ve ever seen in a film. Richard III is unblemished filmmaking from top to bottom, but McKellen is what puts the movie on my list of classics.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Seven

So much for that great dream of being finished with this series by the end of 2011.

I blame Republicans, a hard-drinking stripper from Memphis, the lure of making an easy thousand dollars in Tijuana, a gunfight at a rundown Laundromat and old reruns of The Larry Sanders Show.

None of those things actually qualify, but they at least sound better than “My glasses were obliterated and haven’t been replaced yet, I missed a get-together with some of my favorite people, my wallet went missing, my girlfriend left me, my back decided to take a vacation from being useful and my depression is more potent now than it’s been in quite some time.”

All in 2012, kids.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for 2013.

Let’s see if we can kill this whole challenge by the end of January. We’re nearly done. I’m also pretty damn close to being finished with that third, hopefully final draft of that second go-round at writing a novel worth selling.

My hope is that my mood will improve with these things behind me.

Some travel would also likely cheer me up. I’m just astonished that such a thing happens to cost money. I had no idea until recently.

Where do I want to go?

What have you got?

I’m eager for something big in 2012. My ability to look and fight for that is not where it should be, but I try to keep optimism close to the ability to get out of bed every morning.

Some snow would be nice. It doesn’t have to be a winter apocalypse. I would be perfectly content with an inch or two sticking to the ground, and disappearing from the otherwise-dull scene by the next morning.

I’m not fussy. I’m often willing to settle for less. That’s one of my many problems.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Seven: Movie With Your Favorite Hero

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman

In theory, this should be one of the shortest entries in the bunch. Because there is literally nothing I can say about this movie or Harrison Ford that hasn’t been said by several million other fans/nerds/etc over the past thirty years. This is one of those movies where my only real option for achieving originality would be to start making up outlandish theories. I could argue that Denholm Elliot was the true hero of the film, or that Marion was just a figment of Indy’s imagination.

Which would have been a shame, really.

This is the internet though. I’m sure someone somewhere has already put forth those theories.

However, there are actually people who have never seen this movie. I try not to be the kind of person who responds to that kind of thing with huge eyes, a backwards stagger of disbelief and a cry of “What do you mean you’ve never seen that?!” Sometimes, it’s hard. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those films I just inherently assume everyone has seen before. That’s silly, but it’s built into my mind all the same. I have a friend who counts the three Mummy films amongst her favorites, but she’s never seen any of the Indy films. I don’t think less of her for it (I’m a nerd, but I’m not a complete asshole). I can’t help but be surprised by that. Because the thing with Raiders is that even if you’ve never seen it, chances are good that you’ve probably seen a reference to it. You don’t have to see the legendary boulder scene at the beginning to know that someone else is alluding to or parodying it when they do their own bit of someone trying to outrun a giant, rolling rock.

I can personally only see so many references to something, before I feel compelled to go and figure out what in the hell people are going on about.

So, if you’ve never seen the movie, I guess I can only hope this review encourages you to do so, or reminds you of a resolve you made a while ago.

What I love is that Raiders of the Lost Ark is yet another movie that doesn’t seem like it came out when it did. For a movie that was designed as a throwback to the old serials of the 1930’s/40’s, that’s an interesting feat. It might be a throwback to those movies, I certainly think so, but it’s not stubbornly rooted in a style of film that’s no longer common knowledge. It’s a 1980 feature-length film with 1930, 40 movie serial leanings, and yet it plays the same for me now as it did when I first saw it.

I’m really at a loss to try and provide any insight that might be in any way considered original. The best I can do is to provide yet another testimonial for why this movie hasn’t gone on to pale in comparison to bigger movies with bigger budgets and better special effects. Charm and personality go a long way in a movie. Harrison Ford has been one of my favorite actors since I saw Raiders about twenty-three years ago. I watched every movie of his I could find and enjoyed just about all of them. He’s a great actor, or he’s at least great at playing the characters that he plays, but it’s that presence he casts in every scene of every movie. You can find that same presence in the Star Wars: Episode IVV. Ford defined his own particular style of hero here, but the general concept of a hero like Indiana Jones can be found across nearly the entire history of film. George Lucas and Phillip Kaufman set out to create their own imprint on that concept. What they came up with came together with Ford’s weary, stubborn portrayal, and it created what is easily my favorite cinematic hero of all time. It’s a hero character that stands to last long after he’s gone. Because like all the great movie heroes, it’s a unique presence that only he can bring to that character. It’s not just as Indiana Jones either. Ford is one of my favorite actors for the simple reason that I can see rarely someone else as the character he’s playing exactly as he’s playing it. Very few actors/actresses have that quality, and maintain it in even the least of their films. There are Harrison Ford movies I don’t care for in a general sense, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought Ford himself has given a particularly bad performance.

Weird Al had the right idea of how to go about this, even if the result was the same.

I love all the Indiana Jones movies (the fourth one was wonderful, so, keep quiet, because we’re not getting into it), but the first one is the one I’ve seen the most. The story is simply an archeologist trying to get to the legendary Ark of the Covenant, before those wacky Nazis do. It’s a simple plot, but it’s extremely well-told. Most of us should know by now that it’s possible to screw up telling even the most basic stories. Basic also doesn’t mean stupid, and enjoying something as to the point as Raiders doesn’t necessarily mean you’re simple. Movies can win points for style, but they still have to be captivating in some way. There is not a mood in my emotional playbook that can refuse Raiders of the Lost Ark. It works under any circumstances, and it’s that now-legendary hero of Ford’s that’s most responsible for making this possible.

Karen Allen remains my favorite of the girls Indy finds himself tied to, the villains, Ronald Lacey and Paul Freeman, were never better, that John Williams score is absolutely crucial and the action sequences are the best of all four movies (I love the story of how the fight between Jones and the swordsman came down to the fact that Ford had dysentery that day). It’s impossible to choose one favorite scene over another (the bar scene comes close). All of them make me smile like a complete idiot. One who has never seen a flawlessly entertaining movie before. That’s not the case, and Raiders isn’t even my favorite movie of all time, but I’ll never get tired of it.

Other cast notables include John Rhys-Davies in a role I like almost as much as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, and Alfred Molina (you know, Dr. Octopus) in his film debut. It was a shame Sean Connery and the late, endlessly wonderful Denholm Elliot couldn’t come back for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I kind of wish they had figured out a way to fit Rhys-Davies in the story.

I know, I know. It doesn’t even take place in the same part of the world as Raiders (or The Last Crusade for that matter). I’m just saying.

Raiders might be my favorite of the franchise, but I can still get similar pleasure from the three subsequent films. All of them make me glad that it’s possible to create a movie that’s pure entertainment, without making me feel like I just suffered a concussion from being dumbed down to death when the end credits roll.

A remake is just impossible to me. No one could play this character as well as Ford did, and still does. No one but Spielberg at that point in his career could have crafted this exact kind of adventure. This movie brought out the best in everyone involved. With other projects many of them would find other moments of brilliance, but it’s a particular kind of extraordinary fun when everyone comes together for an Indiana Jones movie. This one set a tone that’s been almost impossible (but just as much fun) to follow in the other three movies. I like each movie for different reasons, but the one steady fact in all four is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, and Indiana Jones was never as good as he was the first time we met him.

Thirty Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Six

I’m still determined to be finished with this by the end of 2011. Useless, completely unwarranted and unreasonable depression aside, I’m ready to move on, and I’m hoping to actually do that.

The fact that the year is almost over is just a coincidence. I’ve been ready for substantial change for a long time, and I’ll make a decent move of some kind as soon as I can. It’s just a question of when, and if it just happens to be in the opening moments of 2012, then that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Coincidences, I promise you. I still actively loathe and try to avoid New Year’s resolutions.

And Jesus, are these some weird, intense thoughts to play around with on a relatively quiet Christmas Eve. It’s probably best for everyone, if we just head into the first of the final five reviews for the Thirty-Day (well, a day or two more than thirty at this juncture) Challenge.

Let’s save the intense stuff for Valentine’s Day.

Or something.

I don’t know. Let’s just save it for some other time.

I’m actually in a passable mood at the moment.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Six: Movie You’re Embarrassed to Say You Like

End of Days (1999)
Directed by: Peter Hyams
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney

There’s something vaguely perverse about having a movie list that includes both Seven Samurai and one of the worst movies to ever star a Governor of California (“one of” being the key phrase there). It’s kind of funny to me. I can’t lie. It’s not something I set out to do on purpose. This movie didn’t make the cut, out of a need to create a list that looks an awful lot like an extremely pretentious mental patient ran through it. I just strive to be completely honest in my selections, and this movie, like it or not, must be included on a list that features films by people like Jonathan Demme, Lars Von Trier and Akira Kurosawa.

In case anyone’s curious, End of Days currently holds an eleven-percent approval rating out of ninety-eight reviews. I don’t anticipate it being one of those films that magically find an audience later on down the line. You could probably fit the number of people who remember it onto a single Greyhound bus. You could then cut that number considerably by just keeping those who are willing to admit they liked it.

I do like it. I like it the way I like certain aspects of the bondage community. I’ve got too much in my life that deserves my sense of shame. Life is too short to include movies in that. The idea of being embarrassed by a movie you like is as inane to me as the guilty pleasure category.

But man oh man, does End of Days come awfully close to proving me wrong.

It’s not like I can blame liking this movie on youthful stupidity (I was a fan of Insane Clown Posse when I was fourteen, so anything was possible). I vividly remember watching this the night it premiered on HBO, and then immediately confronting the reality of having just seen one of the worst movies of all time, and yet somehow still feeling as though it was not time wasted.

It also gave my youngest brother nightmares, so that was a nice, sadistic windfall.

Nothing about this movie represents a better time in my life. I’m pretty sure I was even more miserable at fourteen than I am now. There isn’t some memory of watching it with a long-gone friend or family member. I can’t remember a single detail from the day. Yet if it comes on TV (and it does, because it apparently qualifies as one of AMC’s “classics”) I will indeed sit down and watch it. Why? What the hell for? At best, it’s a B-movie idea that sounded like it could at least be ridiculous, dumb ass fun on paper. Instead, it couldn’t even accomplish that, and wound up being a career low-point for almost everyone involved. Almost everyone, because as much as I like Rod Steiger and Udo Kier, calling this a career low-point for them is saying an awful lot.

It’s not even very good by the standards of its leading man.

So, why watch it now?

I think this movie is hilarious. It’s the only explanation I can think of. A concept this absurd played so humorlessly is just funny to me. Rod Steiger and Udo Kier were both old hats at this kind of garbage by 1999, and Steiger is sadly no longer with us, but the rest of what’s mostly a pretty good cast (Robin Tunney and Gabriel Byrne) were clearly struggling to find something that could salvage this wreck of an idea. They fail, but watching them try is still entertaining. It’s like watching an eighty-million-dollar Ed Wood production.

He closes the hand, opens it again and delights a child with a shiny, red ball.

It’s a funny movie. That’s the only argument I can come up with, as to why I sat through this movie once and have actually sat through it a couple of times since. Gabriel Byrne as Satan is not a terrible casting decision, and I love how seriously he expresses some of the worst lines ever written for Satan. I love the deliriously stupid, over-the-top (even for one of Schwarzenegger’s movies) finale. I love the idea of Kevin Pollack being a minion of Hell, and also just the general concept that he could ever be a threat to anybody or anything. I even love the idea that we’re expected to be sympathetic towards Robin Tunney’s character in spite of the fact that she gives one of the most annoying performances of her career (and I like Robin Tunney). I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I was ready to turn her over to the forces of evil after about three minutes.

CCH Pounder pops up at some point. Pounder is a great actress who is capable of a lot more than the roles she usually gets. Then there’s Kier and Steiger. Both were often a sole saving grace of many an awful horror film. Unfortunately, with End of Days he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time.

Best (or worst) of all is Schwarzenegger. I actually like some of his films a great deal, and will defend them as good movies for what they are, but it’s hard to believe even he could be this hammy, this comical. It’s not that he’s even trying to do something as an actor he’s never done before. The best of his movies are the ones that have a lot of other good things going for them. He’s not a guy who can salvage a truly awful movie all on his own. It’s almost sad watching him try to do that here.

There is scarcely an original thought or filmmaking quality in End of Days that gives it a chance of finding redemption along the lines of what Schwarzenegger’s character finds at the end (Sorry to ruin it for you). It’s a wretched mishmash of religious insanity, bad filmmaking, unintentionally hilarious performances and action sequences that fail to provide any real excitement.

Arnold looks intense as always. Kevin just looks kind of sleepy.

But then it comes back to the whole thing about finding this movie funny. It’s one of those contradictory movies that are so bad that I can’t help but love the ugly bastard anyway. Everyone has those movies on their lists. This is one of mine. And like most people I can’t offer up much in the way of a logical reason for why that is. I can only shrug and laugh my ass off every time Arnold battles Byrne in a battle of spiritual wits. As far as I can tell I’m the only winner.

I’m also pretty sure this is the only Schwarzenegger movie in history to feature a threesome between a mother, a daughter and The Devil. I don’t know. I’ve never seen that secret director’s cut of Twins.