Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why I Read So Damn Much

Why do I read so damn much? I think it's mostly because of the noise, that constant flood of stimulation in my day.

I have always taken in a lot of information. Each day's go-around just adds more to the pile, too. The podcasts I listen to as I putter around the house, most I can never miss as they're either anchored by adored friends or imaginary ones, and the constant presence of an audiobook I shift to in the car. The last six years and counting, have been an exponential explosion of noise. That's how long I've had both a smart phone and social media accounts, those insidious interaction simulators that reinforce their addictiveness with every exposure. "I have to check! I might have missed something!" That bumpy, constant flood of fragments in the feed that seem to be equal parts half-assed outrage and empty-headed banality, each one snagging your attention to create the faintest of reactions until it builds into a buffer-crashing crescendo of stuff. Every time I look at the phone, frequently while those podcasts also rattle away, it is to look for new email or the jagged flow of information, filling two tracks of attention in what I fear is a less than eight track mind.

That's all noise, and it adds up. Add in the occasional movie or, when time was made, a book and that's a lot of narrative threads to put together. This doesn't even touch on the hurricane of multi-tasking that is my day at work. It's no wonder I feel like my nerves are fried. They are.

Along with all that "noise," (a word that in ten minutes of writing I already form in my head like a nasty thing that must be dropped from revolted fingers that I'll then shake the slime from), came the "move." After ten years spent in a house and city I really didn't want to be in anymore but for a long time had felt powerless to leave, we moved to Columbus. It wasn't too far, but it freed me from some physical and mental structures that were a constant source of anxiety (which could paradoxically offer great and reassuring comfort). It spurred me to divest of a bunch of calm-shaking clutter and numbing routines.

In short, while good for me, it played havoc on my nerves. There's a reason why moves and job changes are cited as some of the most stressful events in life. It left my memory shot for about the two months of sale contract and relocation. One time, I walked away from a faucet I'd just turned on, already forgotten as it overflowed a cup in the sink. I don't think Chris ever got how much another occurrence frightened me, a misplaced sheet of stamps I knew I had bought but couldn't find. I wound up backtracking to the post office and getting rewarded with the stamps, returned by a kinder-than-they-realized stranger after I'd dropped them on the way to the car. I had to pursue that $7, you see, or accept that the Alzheimer's had shown up for a stunningly early onset. I was genuinely freaked out and mentally exhausted.

And during all that, I was using the "noise" to keep me distracted.

Now we get to the books, the question I asked myself that spurred the above observations. I have, since I first started this semi-tended blog, half-heartedly curated lists of what I was reading and watching. An inveterate reader from way back, I'm someone who also sees himself as a "self-styled writer" "if only I had more time," (in other words, an undisciplined one). I have felt like I've given the writing and the reading short shrift the last few years. As a youth, I read voraciously. My parents sensibly denied us many a bright and shiny toy, but never a book, for which I offer thanks every day. Smart enough to be under-stimulated in High School, and ahead enough to be saddled with two back-to-back study halls, I was blowing through about 200 pages of paperback a day for a while there. (Anything to avoid confronting adolescent realities, eh?)

In college you read as work and drink for sport. And after? The less probably said about my aimlessness, the better. But I always had a book going, even if the speed with which I read would ebb and flow. To not be reading a book, even if not actually reading it for a while, has always been unthinkable. As the interaction beasts grew to prominence over the last six years, "they who must always be fed" sliced off a huge fraction of the free time spent on things like reading and writing... and dishes and checkbook balancing, for that matter. It took a while for me to realize that Tweeting and commenting is a poor distraction from what I'd call real "word-craft," for lack of a better term, but they do satisfy in quick hits. They're the "smoking" of writing, and just as detrimental to your long term health.

Back to those lists. 2012 was a disappointing showing. 30 Audiobooks were good, but only 25 books? A pity. Along with the urge to keep lists, comes one to give weight to numbers. I wanted, at the start of the year, to top that. By December 4th of this year, I was finishing book #115, while on disc 4 of 6 of Audiobook #28. So how did I go from famine to gluttony?

Well, in keeping the lists I have a few mental rules. Books and Graphic novels count. Full Audio plays count, but when I'm listening to old radio shows, those don't. Loose comics and magazine articles don't count. I dropped TV shows from my counting a couple years ago, so really, only full movies (and TV documentaries) qualify for that list. (I might make an exception for the delicious first season of "Thriller," the ten episodes of which I've been peppering over the last month, each a treat.)

Looking back over those 115 (to date, who knows how far I'll get yet in 2013?), I'm a tad set back in my idea of "progress" as I note 45 of them are Graphic Novels. The deeply-entrenched and, frankly (to my logical mind, at least), baseless idea that comics are somehow "secondary" undercuts my sense of progress. Another book, the massive, challenging, constant comfort of Gore Vidal's 1200 plus pages of "United States," was first cracked with a sense of purpose in 2012 (finally started, actually, as I'd been lugging it around and taking only occasional dips in since 1999), so taking that out of the running puts me at...69. 69 books I'd call "text only" is a fine showing (and again, this doesn't count the audiobooks). A finer showing as I look and see that 8 of the 25 read and listed in 2012 were Graphic Novels.

Looking further, I see many to most of them are mysteries. I've made lots of time with M.C. Beaton this year, along with taking up new authors, Erle Stanley Gardner, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Simon Brett (previously only experienced in audio format), and seriously revisiting Richard Stevenson. I also really started dipping into a collection of Hard Case Crime novels that fell into my lap. I've also caught up with two perennial authors in my life, Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton, each of whom I first started reading back in those double-study-hall days (sorry, ladies, for I fear that "dates" your careers. I assure you your works are both timeless and vibrantly "present.") and have kept up and caught up with ever since. I filled a few pockets of free time with James Patterson, the "writer" (I feel "producer" or "manager" is now a better term) whose production line moves so fast Lucy Ricardo is at the other end sticking Alex Cross product down her blouse to try and keep up. I mention him only to share my favorite observations about him:
1) that I read "Cradle and All," cover to cover, during a two hour flight.
2) if you shrink the type to a normal font and take out the dead white space between the bite-sized chapters, his books clock in under half the page count. This is why they're "page turners." You're not breathlessly racing through an adventure, you're just physically moving faster that with most authors to keep up with the flow of words... because they're spaced too far apart.
3) after seeing an author photo of him and one of his "co-writers," I picture it to be like a photo-op at the Con I go to. A line of people who're shuffled in to stand with the star, exchange a quick pleasantry, smile, and scooted out when the picture's taken. They sure didn't look like two people who'd met before. 
I have a bit of the same prejudice towards the mysteries as I do to the Graphic Novels. A "genre ghetto" guilt. Perhaps in 2014 I'll resolve to tackle the other works by Vidal and all the Nabokov I've added to my shelves recently. Perhaps I'll tackle all the other big books and writers stuck in the pile. Plato, Freud, Oates, Clancy, Mailer, and Mitchell are all there. More likely, though, I'll continue to follow the winds of my whims and read whatever I'm finding pleasurable at the moment.

The point is that, along with wanting from the outset of the year to have a better showing--to "do better"--in reading achievement this year, I've also read for comfort. After the move, those two genuinely scary months, I've really been reading like it's both respite and rehab. Reading re-purposes time I used to while away fiddling with the phone (which I still do too much of), or spent zoned out in front of the television. I've raced from book to book, most a short-to-the-point-of-bite-sized 150-200 pages, and gotten cozy with each cozy mystery.

I have this worry that Chris is going to think I've been reading so constantly to avoid him. I think the truth is more that I feel comfortable enough--warm and safe enough--to spend so much time at it. I've needed to be quiet and regain a sense of calm in my head. To follow a long line of words as they build to the end and reacquaint myself with this attention span I used to have. I need a novel's continuous flow and piling of events to re-order a mind that feels permanently jumbled after years of flash-spiking with artificially-induced (via Facebook, mostly) amusement or irritation, shaken up at a mile a minute for years. This isn't just catching up on my reading, it's a damned zen exercise.

He gives me the space and time to do that. He's let me fill our new home with books. I've always taken comfort from being surrounded by them. A big pile achieved, another promising new adventure, now growing in about each room that lacks a faucet. I take comfort from his steady presence, which encourages me daily to come out of my shell and be a better person, even when I don't feel I'm yet achieving all I can. I improve myself with him, and I improve myself as I sit next to him, enjoying the next book and the comfort of our home.

So that's why I read so damn much. Because it's good for me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pine Trees Like Wooly Mammoths

Just yesterday, I went and opened my big yap about the coming snows. Just as if I were a crystal ball, last night snow came. It reminds me one very important thing I'd forgotten that I really do love about winter, and when the snow first falls. The way it builds up and highlights each one of those gnarly gray branches that so bum me out the rest of the winter. That and the quiet when it's coming down. For me, those beautiful qualities make the rest of it tolerable.

I looked across the street at the large Pine in a neighbor's yard this morning. I can't wait now for a big blizzard of a snowfall now. I can see it in my mind's eye, looking like a big Wooly Mammoth trudging through flying, blinding flakes.

(I also think, perhaps, I've found my next big rant: How long it takes to crop a couple photos on my poor, wheezing, life-should be measured-in-dog's-years laptop.) 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Every Day is Quiet and Gray...

Every year, I forget what Fall and Winter looks like in Ohio. The colors are beautiful, even during this dry year. The reds, golds, bronzes, oranges, yellows all show themselves in the leaves. A great, crisp flare-up, but then they drop, and you're left with branches. Black, brown, and gray branches against gray and white skies. Gray. For all those starting colors, there's too much gray. It goes on too long. Interminably blah, wet and cold or parched dry and cold, occasionally dotted by one beautiful moment of snow that quickly gives way to gray and black slush.

I really think both Chris and I suffer from what they call "Seasonal Affective" issues. He still shudders remembering the January a couple years ago, mostly spent home alone and awake primarily during dark evening hours. He hated it. In Cincinnati, it was always too bleak for me, every year. By end of January, after the passage of things to look forward to-Christmas and my birthday- I would generally despair. I remember the job I held for five years there that I allowed to so grind me down. Two months where one generally goes to work and returns home in the dark. Spending those days boxed in from sunlight by plain, high, blank walls never helped.

My mind wanders to all this as I look out the window, watching the squirrels and birds romp across the yards directly across from mine in my new neighborhood. After ten years of one view, this is pleasantly different. I loved those beautiful old "German Craftsman" houses across from my little Crackerbox, framed by it's droopy porch awning and massive, incongruous Elm tree. Here I see one ranch house that's either "little" or "nondescript," depending on mood, and a lot currently empty except for fallen leaves. I look out and see the Fall lighting. It's at the start of what I guess I'll probably call "The Gray" for the rest of the Winter. I keep imagining the end-game of March, that last month that was such a terrible trudge in Cincy. I hope it'll be better here, knowing full well Columbus is so geographically close as to make no difference at all. It's been so long I don't remember what Winter was like here. If anything, I know to expect more snow. But I see it looming ahead, and prepare for it, hereby vowing to put my best foot forward and keep a positive mindset about it. Mostly, though, I think one thing...

"Chris, we're SO going to need to take a vacation come February."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Fragment: Villians Have a Brand To Think About, Too, You Know...

A fragment of something conjured while waking this morning:

Picture the lair of a Supervillain. It might be a Volcano hideout, with technology integrated into rock face, and big sweeping steel ramps, or perhaps a satellite, orbiting steel and white in space. There, an intrepid Do-Gooder confronts a droll and arch Villian, playing his stereotype up to a campy hilt, cape and all.

"So where did you get all of these," our Hero asked, stalling for time, while gesturing across the room's museum worthy collection of weapons of all shape, size, and era, no two alike. "Arms dealers?"

"No, they're actually all my own designs, thank you very much," our Villain purred, stroking the pliant white cat in his lap.

With an unbelieving smirk, our Hero scoffed. "I find that hard to believe."

"No, it's true," sighed the Evil-Doer, as he slouched and then looked up in resigned annoyance, breaking character to share something personal. "It's just that I had a nephew who wanted to be a Graphic Designer. He thought he could be an Industrial one, too, so everything had to look different. He had a phase with retro-Fifties, and fins on everything. Then a minimalist streak that made half my bombs all look like iPads. Then, he'd fritter a week away on logos and user's manuals and the most nonsensical info graphics you ever saw..." the villain trailed off, looking aside.

"It's a shame, really," he sighed. "We had a surveillance vehicle that he decided to make look like a caterer's van. He used Papyrus all over it and, well, you can imagine. Three different caterers tried suing us for infringing on their 'image'." Here there were fingerquotes and a loud "HA! As if you could tell them apart."

"Another drove off with the damn thing-by honest mistake-and wound up blowing herself up. Tsk. Literal and figurative Ladyfingers everywhere. I wanted a Zeppelin with lasers and a nice, Deco look, but he'd seen something online about disguising products... Anyhow, I had to take poor Jerry and banish him to the Arctic hideout. Poor thing lost his mind from guilt and shame, and now I have him re-doing all my files with a label maker that only prints in Comic Sans... My sister refuses to let it go. Every holiday, the same thing 'You could have had him just do some business cards, but noooo, Mister Big Shot wants to go fancy...'"

Our Hero looked down, shaking his head, genuinely moved by the aesthetic tragedy of it all. A Zeppelin with lasers would've been damned cool to fight it out on, even if it had been done before.

"Anyhow," the Villain said, hoisting up from behind his desk a ridiculously enormous death-ray, clearly embellished to impress after Jerry'd read too many 90's Liefeld comics, "Where were we?"

Sunday, November 3, 2013

So Many Books, Never Too Many

The downside-or upside depending on which side of the boxes you're on-of working in bookstores is the access to books. They're always crossing through your hands, triggering interest ("ooh, I need to read that") or aversion ("oh look, another six tubs to James Patterson and Danielle Steel") every day.  You wind up with a steady stream of new ones coming into the home, many being strays given a last minute reprieve from recycling.

An urge to not totally squander my day off had me moving the contents of the "What I'm Watching" and "What I'm Reading" lists I've maintained on here for years onto their own pages. (I did this because at least twice a year, Blogger "breaks" these list gadgets, and this time I got the impression it wasn't going to get fixed to my satisfaction.) Looking at all those lovely book titles spurred me to sort the contents of six boxes and a couple tubs of books in the basement. I also rearranged the contents of my office bookshelves, a pair of "spine" towers that look like six feet of towering, tottering stacks when full. Chris should be pleasantly surprised, not to mention shocked, to see I've actually weeded out a good two boxes worth of books judged to be in good enough shape to sell on. I won't be able to take them to my store, though. I think I'd have a weird attachment if I saw them on the shelves, not to mention guilt if clearance time came for them. I'd probably wind up re-buying them. No, better to take them to a different store, and set them free like goldfish in the local pond. I'll be wishing them well and hoping they have long lives and new homes, even though I know the future that actually awaits them is one of death by shock from a new environment, or they become a quick meal for a larger, more experienced denizen of the wild. No, house pets of any stripe tend not to do well in the wild, nor do well-loved paperbacks.

Our view of our books, like so many things, is skewed by virtue of being "mine." My own I've "experienced," so I expect them to be treated with due deference. Now that I've worked in buying books, it's easier to detach. I went through and weeded many out. "Too yellowed, too stained, too torn, too old, too common, too tattered." I feel defensive for the books while I judge.

Having that distance helps me to actually part with them. I've always kind of wanted a house with a room where every wall was floor-to-ceiling shelves, and every book, CD, DVD, videotape, knick-knack, whatever could have a permanent home. Maybe I want to be surrounded with the reassurance that I am what I see myself as, well-rounded and educated. The books I display must be tangible proof of that, right? More likely, it's just that I have a very hard time letting go of things. Some fear that, even though I know full well I'll never revisit many of them, since I have them now and may want them in the future, I should just keep them. I don't need to be a hoarder, and on some logical level I know they're silly worries. It's just stuff.

After our move in June, I know that, more accurately, it's heavy, time-consuming, space-taking stuff. I think if I've read it, I can let it go now. I don't need our first home crammed and cluttered with so much of my stuff. I don't believe you can have too many books, but I'm slowly learning (mostly through a bad back and lack of shelf space) and accepting the lesson that one can have enough.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Nah, No WriMo Pour Moi

My dear friend, the brilliant Erin Shea Smith, grabbed something out of the ether for me today. Something I didn't even know I was trying to capture. She wrote about NaNoWriMo, a concept that always fills me with guilt, and brought it around to connecting with what's really important, using your words to express what's really important in your life.

I need to "do better" when it comes to that. I concur, also, that I need to re-grasp the discipline of dedicated writing, be it daily or weekly. I cowed myself into stopping, you know. A bit of self-imposed silence. I think the unintended pressure of attending a wonderful writer's conference nearly two years ago planted the seeds. At the time I was un-to-barely-employed, unfocused, and felt a fake and a failure when I entered that vibrant, electric atmosphere. Instead of taking the lessons to heart and running with them, I froze. It's easy to do. When our move became more and more likely, and then a sudden, rushing downhill movement, it was easy to just stop what little I was doing. Instead of limping along with one review a week, much less amusing myself, I've only done one review for someone, and haven't even put it up here yet. I turned the gas down on my creative pilot and just started letting things simmer, since "I can start again anytime I want." It's the reverse of what the smoker says, and just as easy to kick down the road for the giant commitment it represents.

Sometimes it's little bits of honesty. Frequently, it's something fun and silly. But to let the thoughts flit across the brainpan, free-range and then willfully forgotten, is a shameful thing. I realize I can "do better" at organizing myself, and expressing it. I've done it before. The intimidation of NaNoWriMo to someone who already feels guilt that they're not producing the words they want to say overwhelms like a brick wall. What I should be doing is taking it one brick at a time, and starting with the Lego-sized ones. I may not build a wall anytime soon, but it'd be nice to shake the rust off and figure out my voice again.

Can I do it every day, like Erin and all the valiant NaNolists promise? I'll try. I'll forgive myself if I fail, but I'll pick up and start again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Not Ready Yet

The last three months have been a heavy slog, with changing jobs and home, and they've shook me up more than I initially realized. For a while there my memory was spotty, probably from being driven to distraction. During the tense period of the house being under contract and moving sans movers (because I am profoundly shortsighted), I also worked my full 40+ hour work weeks. I'm still working, and starting to explore other possibilities to make ends meet. I've written one review, and it was the equivalent of scraping the rust off my fingers. I was happy with it in the end, but while one can remember how to ride a bicycle, one can faceplant a few times while getting back up to speed.

I guess what I'm wondering is, is it okay to post about the fact that you plan to start posting again, more frequently than before, but you're just not there yet? Because that's what this post is, me saying "yeah, I have plans, but right now I want to just relax a bit more." Chris, my rock, reminds me I shouldn't be so hard on myself. I'm giving myself permission to take a break.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Whatever Happened To...

So, it's a little surprising to realize you haven't posted anything in nearly two months. Once again, I'm having a case of the "I meant to's." Life changes are happening. Chris got a great job, so we're in the process of moving to Columbus. I got a transfer and an upgrade at work (they're too damn good to me there) and I'm currently in the torturous back-and-forth of real estate negotiations to sell my digs. Knock wood, we've even got a place lined up to rent.

Watch this space. I will be back soon.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dead Birds (2004): Jay's Movie of the Week #16

Provokes a visceral reaction in me...
When I first saw the box for Dead Birds at the video store, probably in 2005, I decided it wasn't for me. There was something about the image of the movies' monster, a child with big, hollowed-out eyes, an impossibly long jaw with gaping dark maw and needle-jagged teeth that made me think "nope, that's a bit beyond." Black eyes, chalky skin, exaggerated features all provoke a response in me different from big, giant slimy monsters. It looks sickly, wrong. The reaction is more visceral. Flashes of faces deforming always get a reaction from me, though I'm getting better at ratcheting it down to a slight wince from the full-bodied shudder I'm more inclined towards. I recently came across a copy I could borrow and, having replaced every cell in my body since 2005, thought I'd finally give it a try.

I won't spoil much of it. A Reconstruction-Era story told with a leisurely pace about a ragged group of bank robbers getting their just deserts in a derelict farmhouse that must be property of the Lovecraft family. There is no honor among thieves, and their greed would drive them to hunt one another but for the insidious influence (and sad legacy) of the house beating them to the punch. Our protagonists are all drawn in shades of gray, while our monsters are clear cut in both black and white. They're a motley crew, vivid and memorable, and strikingly evoke both more sympathy and revulsion than our leads.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Machete Proselytizer

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"The Jason Voorhees at a drive-in horror marathon I attended in October- the shirt and mask are sending mixed messages..."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dracula 3000: Infinite Darkness: Jay's Movie of the Week #15

In retrospect, this is the best special effect in the whole flick...
I'd like to say there was even something to joke about in regards to Dracula 3000. But there's not even enough to the movie for it to be a joke. It's a mish-mash of plot bits from Alien and Dracula in a lazy, half-assed, sub SyFy "warehouse as spaceship" scifi crapfest. There is nothing original, inspiring, or accomplished about it. The acting is awful, the plot is nonsense, the cheapness shows. Udo Kier is wasted. It's racist, sexist, stupid, and boring. It's beyond a waste of time. You've wasted too much time reading this. I've wasted more words than this "movie" is worth writing about it.

The only excitement in this piece of shit is watching Tiny Lister's lazy eye drift. Don't watch this. Don't rent it. Don't steal it. Don't buy it. Don't borrow it. Don't stream it.


Just... don't.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Tomb (1986): Jay's Movie of the Week #13

Fans of the "B Movie" can approach these genre pictures in many ways. Some like Women in Prison, or the Cinemax-coddled '90s Erotic Thrillers that follow. Others go for the Creature Feature. There are more sub-genres for Bs than can probably be counted. Another way to look at them is by decade. The Drive-in and Grindhouse features of the 60s and 70s are a different creature, but kissing cousins, to the shot on DV/straight to DVD quickies of today.

The 80s, however, had an unusual magic. You start the decade with Cheesecake and Slashers, red-headed stepchildren released to theaters by major studios to pay the bills. Then home video broke and the distribution model shifted to the home market with cable and VHS. It cut the small, regional films out of exhibition. Now cheesy Action Flicks did their heavy lifting in the living room. It's hard to imagine that USA "Up All Night" perennial Sorority Babes at the Slimebowl-O-Rama or Chopping Mall, with its legendary, alluring, lurid box cover illustration of a shopping bag of body parts, actually played theaters.

Coming up at this time were directors who ground out this product then and still do it today. Jim Wynorski, David DeCoteau, and the now deceased Andy Sidaris come to mind.You can argue, with their complicated legacies and declining budgets, if they're artists or craftsmen. You can't deny that they must certainly turn the films in on time and under budget. One must also admit, even if you turn your nose up at "class" or technical quality, they frequently succeed as entertainers.

Nothin' Like an Old Picture of Your Sweetie Playin' in a Band...

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"Chris and the Alumni Jazz Band"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Curtains: Jay's Movie of the Week #12

Curtains is mostly well-known for being hard to find, never released in the USA on DVD outside of a couple cheap collections. I'd read about it, and seen stills of the creppy, hag-masked killer, but beyond that I'd only ever seen it as a bootleg at conventions. When I came across one of these collections, I knew I had to check it out.

Samantha Eggar is Samantha Sherwood, muse of film director Jonathon Stryker (John Vernon). In order to research a part she gets herself committed to a mental hospital in order to research "Audra," the lead of Stryker's new film. The discouraging dormatory in this snake pit would drive anyone insane, so it's no surprise she escapes once she learns other actresses are being allowed to audition for the part. She's had her ego broken down by the experience, and that news is the final straw. Throughout the film there are several sparring matches, filled with threat and subtext, between the two. In once scene, she finds him after he's bedded another actress. Played only with looks, their whole long and complex dynamic is there. If making this as a slasher hadn't panned out, it could have been a crackling drama.

The film then introduces the six actresses who're off to the weekend in the country to all vie for the part, an idea that practically has murder built into it. Amanda, of the incredibly distasteful fantasy scenarios (a sleazy scene made worse by its payoff) and creepy, doll-infused nightmares, gets murdered before she even gets there by a killer in a hag mask. Rounding out the lucky contestants are Patti (Lynne Griffin), a stand-up comic; the glamorous, difficult Brooke (Linda Thorson), the insecure Christie (Lesleh Donaldson), and bland Laurian and Tara. Five brunettes in a dim, muddy video print of a film does not make it an easy time telling who is who, but the actresses all give distinct performances. Stryker and the rest are a bit surprised when Samantha crashes the party.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Piranha DD: Jay's Movie of the Week #11

A year or so ago I reviewed Piranha 3D, making this a lovely time to pick up where I left off with a viewing of the sequel. Will it have more fish, more gore, and more nudity? Hopefully...

As the first one opened with a witty Richard Dreyfus cameo, so we start here (after a quick recap of the previous proceedings) with an appearance by the now terrifying Gary Busey. There's little here that can possibly be as scary as his crazy, off-kilter stare. Here, backwoods Busey gets to bray loco while investigating a cow carcass filled with Piranha eggs. The fishies make short work of him before moving on to the plot proper. By this point we've also had several abuses of 3D, meaning they're living up to the DD claims.

Plot proper involves The Big Wet, a water park run by Chet and his step-daughter Maddie (Dainelle Panabaker) and some water-certified strippers. It's no stretch to say that the "Adult Pool" filled with naked Russian bimbos is an idea that would work in theory, though once you imagine the likely clientele you're very unlikely to want to hop in. Along with Maddie's summer spent managing her whore-filled Water Park, she's evidently on a quest to lose her maidenhead to either her absolute toodbox of an ex-boyfriend or "the other guy," a dweeb who can't swim.

Our Piranha invasion wastes no time in revving up. They first nibble on Katrina Bowden, who hides what all the extras are showing with discreetly suggested nudity while skinny-dipping with her boyfriend, and Travis - wittily devoured in his own sinking shaggin' wagon. She also gets to rock a pretty effective 3D arc of barf. Bowden really gets to shine here in a short set of scenes, especially a fun sequence involving her and Panabaker on a collapsing dock surrounded by voracious fishies, followed by her disastrous love scene, heavily freighted with vagina dentata anxiety. Fun cameos abound. Gary Busey and Christopher Lloyd deliver wacky, plot-expositioning hamminess, Ving Rhames rocks a pair of rifle legs, and a drunken, womanizing David Hasselhoff steals the show. He's in on the joke, he just doesn't care. Panabaker is a charming actress, though her character is a bit of a blank.

Chet the chump, of course, being a sleazeball must immediately start illegally pumping piranha filled aqua into their waterpark... and there the fun begins... The CGI Piranha are awfully cartoony, but that's unimportant. The gore is what's important, and pretty good. The breasts? Plentiful. All of these are shown to excess. This movie is all cheap thrills. When the big swimmer chow-down happens it's as fast and furious as in the first film, if a little... less? Bouncing breasts substitute for the original's pileup of bodies. There's just a little less gore here than in the first one, and it is missed. The humor and "gotcha" 3D shots almost make up for it. There's some good, tasteless shocks. This flick isn't afraid to kill off characters that would be sacred and untouchable in other films... and then show people taking video of one particular corpse with their smartphones. In the end, it's a disposable, fast-food thrill movie, and you feel kind of sorry for Maddie. While she owns 49% of the water park, she'll have 100% of the legal liability. Thank goodness for a fantasy world where you don't have to deal with the repercussions of actions that'll completely nullify your insurance coverage.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Excision: Jay's Movie of the Week #10

When the gore flashes in Excision, it's hot burgundy against ice white and neon blue; the high style to which a Lady Gaga video aspires. It's the stunning signature of an accomplished debut by Richard Bates, Jr. Excision is smart, funny, and unforgettable. Teen Pauline's unhappy in her oppressive home life with a controlling mother (Traci Lords), milquetoast father (Peter Bart), and favored, seriously ill sister (Ariel Winter). She's long since resigned herself to not fitting in, and her aspirations of being a surgeon are perhaps a tad unrealistic. In her dreams though, she's a high fashion, perfect empress of a blood-soaked realm of body parts. Pale and oily, pimply with limp hair, only her veneers give her away as the celebrity beauty queen we know. The first half of Excision is her quest to lose her virginity... during her period. Her single minded pursuit of the boy she targets, and her inner life of death and blood, hint at what's to come.

If you've dismissed Annalynne McCord as just another pretty face, she's here to school. I really only knew her from her bold, fun turn on Nip/Tuck. Terrific there, she's brilliant here. Her Pauline is too smart for her own good, and a budding psycho to boot. It's a good part and she runs with it, willing to sacrifice vanity for the opportunity. Her glamorous public image, echoed in the fantasy scenes here. makes for sharp contrast against Pauline's pimply, homely reality. She has no social skills and you almost forget amongst all the gore that she's dryly hilarious.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jay's (Belated) Movie of the Week #9

Thanks to having a lot going on in life, I completely missed last weekend's post. The few before it were also pretty tardy. What can I say? It's horrible of me in terms of keeping any kind of editorial calendar. But sometimes, other things win out. On the up side, I have been making more time to read, so here's my directive for my Movie of the Week #9:

Take a break.
Read a book. Read a graphic novel. Real a self-published novel. Read a classic and show up your sweetie.

That last one has nothing to do with Chris tackling "Ulysses," I swear...

See you in a few days for Week #10

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Disco Exorcist: Jay's Movie of the Week #8

What is the cut-off for historical costume drama? The Disco Exorcist wears all the trappings to reenact a Seventies drive-in movie, from the Grindhouse-style effects that “damage the print” to the clothes, pacing, and score. The hair (especially lead Michael Reed's wig) is never quite right, and the stage blood is of too recent a vintage, but a lot of love went into capturing the style. There are exceptions, but the naked girls snorting coke with our “dashing” stud of a protagonist, Rex Romanski, can be forgiven their blue and pink hair.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Valentine (2001): Jay's Movie of the Week #7

The slights of childhood tend to stick with a person. However, holding a grudge from a middle school dance and turning it into a murder spree is a tad much. Valentine was part of the post-Scream slasher revival and something of a flop. Most importantly, it's a hoot to recount for you now, complete with snark, especially on so timely an occasion (says the boy who meant to post this one day after Valentine's, not four).
Back in the sixth grade, Shelley, Lily, Paige, and Kate all shoot down super-dork Jeremy's invitation to dance, while barely tolerated social pariah (just guessing based on her later behavior) Dorothy finally accepts. When a gaggle of boys start mocking them, she smartly errs on the side of surviving the social jungle and turns on Jeremy, who winds up stripped and beaten in front of the whole school. Thirteen (and shouldn't it always be that many?) years later...

Shelly (the always-alienating Katherine Heigl) is going on the sort of ridiculously overdressed "Fancy" dates that the teen audience aimed for here would imagine for such sophisticated Med School ladies. Along with shooting down douchy guys, she also likes to expose herself to blood-borne pathogens when doing late night, darkly lit autopsy homework (which doesn't even make sense in the movie, much less in the explanation). After getting a threatening Valentine (a charming custom made card that would probably have a nice life outside of this film) from a red-herring jump-scare dude, she finds herself being stalked. After a little of the old cat and mouse, she's quickly dispatched by our cherub-masked hero, who's post-kill signature is, of all things, a nosebleed. Keep it in mind, it'll come up later.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bong of the Dead: Jay's Movie of the Week #6


Zombie movies are pervasive enough to factor audience assumptions into their storytelling. Shots to the head, brain-eating, slow shuffling; we hold these truths to be self-evident. Similarly, we accept that the foolish might not only survive, but be rewarded with truly bad-ass chicks for their efforts. (That some of the zombies are downright chatty might not, however, be as palatable to genre purists.)

In Bong of the Dead,Tommy (Jy Harris) and Edwin (Mark Wynn) have ridden out the zombie apocalypse baked, perhaps a perfectly sensible response to the circumstances. (The line between empathizing and mockery is thin for the sober viewer.) So inebriated, they make a logic leap which leads to a Monsanto-worthy moment of marijuana magic. As suspension of disbelief rules in the land of the dead, why can't reanimated brains be the secret ingredient for fertilizing some truly fine bud? There's also a lot of horsing around during the end of the world; this movie could be twenty minutes tighter, but it's a drug comedy. Hijinks had during their meandering road trip to obtain more zombie gray matter for whipping up their green goo are perfectly permissible. Along the way, they acquire Leah (Simone Bailly). She's an aggressive, shotgun-toting, Sarah Connor-inspired beauty straight out of a teenage boy's Sci-Fi dreams.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Headspace (Director's Cut): Jay's Movie of the Week #5

A little belated, coming after the weekend and all, but that's the way the Editorial Calendar crumbles sometimes...

Andrew van den Houten has certainly earned horror fandom's indulgence as a producer on The Woman, Home Movie, and Jack Ketcham's The Girl Next Door and the director of Offspring. As president of Moderncine, he gets to indulge himself with this director's cut of his 2005 film, Headspace (with about an hour of extras packed on the disc) which itself must withstand big expectations from that same fan base he's earned with his later work (providing you haven't seen the prior DVD release).

The story here involves aimless young house sitter Alex Borden (Christopher Denham), whose childhood was ruined when doting parents played by Larry Fessenden and Sean Young (briefly seen but hugely memorable) have a “shotgun divorce” on his 11th birthday. Nearly 15 years later, he starts exhibiting what most would assume to be the symptoms of incipient schizophrenia and recalling childhood visions of demons. His intellect explodes, seemingly sparked by a simple game of chess in the park, and heightened senses and psychic gifts also seem part and parcel of his brainy new gifts.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dead Cert (2010): Jay's Move of the Week #4

First off, this is not the posh 1974 DEAD CERT, a Tony Richardson adaptation of a Dick Francis mystery staring Dame Judi Dench. Nope. This is a more a chav,“Guy Ritchie's FROM DUSK TILL DAWN,” a shot-on-video mash-up of Boxers, British Gangsters, and a competing gang who happen to be Vampires. They just happen to be Cockney instead of sparkly.

Freddy Frankham is a nice, wholesome London Gangster trying to start a family with his girlfriend while managing her boxer brother. Opening a small Gentlemen's Club in an old warehouse, he's a bad man making good and no one understands him like his woman. During the rather sad opening night, Dante Livienko shows up with his sociopathic crew. They aren't messing around (except for with the dancers), as they want to take over the bar, the local drug trade, and are vampires, to boot. Settling things over boxing doesn't do it, so will a fully-fanged defense of the club do it when the good guys come to take it back?

There really is nothing more to this than half a London Gangster movie mated with the FROM DUSK movies. Smushed together, they actually cancel out each-others crackle. Know the old adage “when you show a gun in the first act, it has to go off in the third?” Well, they do that here early on in a manner that should become thuddingly obvious to, if not the attentive viewer, at least me. It makes the build to the climax more of a “oh, hurry up already” than a “well, isn't that clever” when you know from the git-go what'll stop the Vamps.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Decoys (2004): Jay's Movie of the Week #3

I always feel that the sublime pleasures of a good "bad" movie should not be discounted. The creativity and energy that comes from those making the film enjoying their work will always supersede a silly concept or low budget. That feeling comes through in the college-set horror flick Decoys, which makes no bones about being a silly goof aimed at a discerning audience of the undiscerning. I mean, it's a movie about hot sorority chicks who're actually space aliens with tentacles who really, really want to have sex with college guys. The fact that they freeze them to death while doing it is almost immaterial. Conveniently, these girls also really like the cold, so for winter in Canada there's an awful lot of exposed navels.

Sexually aggressive blondes (of the kind that only exist in movies), Lily and Constance-of-the-oral-fixation come on to virgins Luke and Roger like a house afire. We waste no time in getting Luke stuck in the closet of the girls' dorm room where he can find out they hose each other's nude nubiles down with Liquid Nitrogen to keep their inner man-eating space-octopussies cool. Will he be trying to convince the world of an alien invasion a la Invaders From Mars or, being both uneducated and distracted by the implied lesbianism, will he get a little distracted. If you guessed the latter, you'd be spot-on. Luke also does a lovely Matthew Lillard impression the entire movie and also has an eight-pack and what looks like 1% body fat. Buying him as a virgin is, frankly, a bit of a stretch.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Jay's Movie of the Week #2: The Tell-Tale Heart (1960) and The Oval Portrait (1972)

Second week of 2013 means it's time for a double-feature that's only a half-stinker...

This double-feature of The Tell-Tale Heart (1960) and The Oval Portrait (1972, aka One Minute Before Death) is a no-frills DVD with two truly awful prints, constantly damaged with holes and scratches, and some liner notes by Tim Lucas that actually elevate this package to "worth considering." One of these movies is worth a watch, the other you shouldn't press play on without being in an altered state. It should be easy to guess which is which...

The Tell-Tale Heart

First off, a racy-for-1960 British adaptation of the far-too-often-filmed old chestnut, The Tell-Tale Heart, which turns the story about guilt into a turgid little love triangle with the coke-snorting Edgar in love with Betty, who prefers his buddy Carl. These are some of the most blandly-named characters in history. No offense to you, dear reader, if your name is one of those... or you're in a love triangle with two of those. If you are, I definitely hope for your sake that it's spicier than the one in this movie.)

What is spicy here is Edgar's collection of naughty prints that he comes home and looks at after striking out at the local pub. He's also a peeper, hanging out and watching Betty (Adrienne Corri) in the window across the way, brushing her hair in her underthings. Boy's got some issues. He's a bit of a perv, though, in his defense, she's got some ridiculously complicated foundation garments for a flower shop gal. They take a crack at dating but he's just too awkward. He also makes the mistake of introducing her to his cock-blocking buddy, Carl. He's much suaver than Edgar, so you really can't blame her... though Edgar's so obviously so off-kilter you figure she'd be a little more wary of setting him off. Also, the fact that he all but shoves her into Carl's arms doesn't help, either, and Edgar's very presence becomes torturous. However, Carl does steal his buddy's girl, so for that he has to die.

Of course, this racy first half is followed by a bit of a turgid slog through the second as guilt overtakes Edgar and he hears "the beating of his hideous heart," which we even get to see at one point. All in all, it's all tame and tortured, but this isn't bad for a night in if you want to watch something explicitly old-fashioned. Just do it more for the simple pleasure than the hipster irony of that act.

The Oval Portrait (One Minute Before Death) is a seriously overripe, pot-boiling pile of piffle and nonsense. It feels like an Andy Milligan movie filled with bad period costumes and degraded, damaged film stock. Two ornately dressed, dubbed actresses are dropped off at a country manse in the middle of a storm and then it's 20 minutes before anything happen that even remotely resembles making sense. This is followed by a portrait, oddly enough oval, that we get to see fade into a decayed body, and then be the subject of some of the worst rack zooms in the history of making films, so we know this painting must be important... and this movie must be crap.

Lisa, the middle-aged daughter and her elderly mother rattle around a Civil War era mansion belonging to Lisa's brother. He's evidently died, but relationships and reasons make little sense in this flick. Lisa immediately runs into an odd man trying to work out relationship issues with a wig in a chair that's standing in for the ghost we saw earlier. He was obsessed with Rebecca, the former lady of the house. (Evidently, this must be Manderlay.) Lisa winds up possessed by the good lady ghost while characters who make no sense come and go, including her!

Silly effects, a sillier story, performances that are not so much overcooked as parboiled and poached, and some truly annoying editing make The Oval Portrait a downright pain in the ass to watch.

Originally reviewed for Exploitation Retrospect.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Jay's Movie of the Week #1: Thunderbirds are GO

So I wrote this last week but somehow dragged my feet on my own Editorial Calendar. This lead to a tardy 1st review for 2013. However, as you shouldn't necessarily be climbing over one another to press play on this one (you'll want to get loaded first), I think we can forgive a day or two of delay...

Reading about the death of Gerry Anderson, the king of his own mini-genre of British Sci-Fi Marionette movies, I realized I actually knew little of his work. While generations have grown up on his adventures, my American childhood was only vaguely aware of them. I'd seen a little Space: 1999 (I still have one of the storybook albums) and had only seen the puppets in passing. So, fire up the Netflix, because it's time for Thunderbirds are GO.

From the opening credits' pop-art slashes of color to the announcement of Supermarionation, Technicolor, and Techniscope, you know you're in for a Sixties treat. Everything here is a model custom-constructed and then shot to fill a vast cinema screen. The Thunderbird future is future-retro, all super-vehicles and tecnho-gadgetry.

Opening with the launch of the Zero-X , a space vehicle so massive its hangar retracts from it rather than have it roll out to the tarmac/ The behemoth's wings are then added by a giant robot arm. While dazed by the oddly ponderous energy and creativity shown here, you're not too surprised when this aerodynamic impossibility has a failed first mission. Surprisingly, instead of basic mechanics, it takes inadvertent sabotage to take it down. After investigating, the Space Exploration Center call in International Rescue, who seem to be colloquially known as The Thunderbirds.