Nightmare City [1980]

Aggro-zombies with machine guns... Finally. Stelvio Cipriani's theme song is pretty good and doesn't feel utterly ridiculous despite being used on repeat for damn near the entire run-time of the film. Granted, the effects used to enhance the zombies' overall zombie-ness was as about lackluster as they were in Burial Ground, but I enjoyed the the direction and acting well enough, given what we're talking about here. I mean, the story wasn't godawful, which is kind of a rarity for zombie movies of this vintage. I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing that "not terrible" is being graded as a grand-slam here, but that's how I'm looking at it.

Spaceballs [1987]

I can't stand the music in Spaceballs, but an hour and a half of Mel Brooks' meta jokes more than make up for it. And Michael Winslow is a national treasure. Never forget it.

North by Northwest [1959]

I might not be "tragically disappointed," but I am feeling let down. Cary Grant is charm repellant in this role, and while North by Northwest is (rightfully) in the Classics conversation, I don't think I'll feel like I've missed out if I never return to it. There were some beautiful shots (the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray was on point... duh), but why did Hitchcock need 2+ hours to tell this story?

Aftermath [1994]

As far as flavors of shock go, Aftermath is notorious for its hyper-vulgar imagery. It might not be the content here that really separates it, but that it preceded so many other movies that have used similar storytelling tools to create affect. Either way, it hit the mark if the aim was to be disgusting.

Chasing Amy [1997]

"If this is a crush, I don't think I could take it if the real thing ever happened." Then she kisses him. Even after that stupid ass speech, even with that stupid ass goatee. Then he pins her into a corner over the details her sexual history and rejects her. Probably because he's the sorta guy who would say something like "If this is a crush, I don't think I could take it if the real thing ever happened." "Look that this morose mother fucker right here," Jay says. And I don't care but I keep watching. I've kept watching for almost twenty years. "It'll be cathartic," he says, as if he has any idea what that word means. It's fitting that Public Enemy's "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man" plays during the fingercuffs story. It should play through the entire damn movie. I hate it, but I don't, too. I'm so conflicted.

The Great Outdoors [1988]

The idea here is to push John Candy's character to a point where he breaks by having Aykroyd's character grind his gears. And it's a testament to Dan Aykroyd's ability to play the part of an egotistical schmuck so well that by the end of the movie I hate him, personally. I do. But until that point where Candy finds his backbone, he's cast as a sad boring pushover. Then for a brief moment he stands up for himself. Then Aykroyd nearly swindles him out of his savings, and he becomes the compassionate pushover. Then Aykroyd comes clean about being an ass for the sake of his own family, and Candy becomes the soft-hearted pushover. It's supposed to be fun and heartwarming, but it's just so damn frustrating.

Three Years

The other day I was sitting at the library, studying, when I got a call from a manager at work. There was miscommunication about who was covering which responsibilities and something important had fallen through the cracks. Several days prior I’d moved on from the job where I had been reporting to him, the ownership of this task was never mine in the first place, I took his hostile tone as a challenge of my motives, it was my day off, blah blah blah. The point is: I did my best to listen, I didn’t try to throw someone else under the bus, and I didn’t react defensively and lash out at him or pay that bullshit forward onto some other underserving soul. How much of a miracle all of that is is probably a testament to the blessings of sobriety. It’s not perfect, but a lot has changed for the better.

I was studying at the library because I’m in school. I’m going to school because I’m working toward a master’s degree in counseling therapy. I’m working toward a master’s degree with the goal being to become a therapist. I’m becoming a therapist because… woof.

A few weeks ago my therapist asked me that same question, the “why?” After piecing together something resembling the story I’d written on my admissions letter, he said that was nice, but what are the real reasons I want to go in this direction? The perfect answer is that I want to do it for thoroughly virtuous reasons, to become the best helper I can in providing the most help I can to those who need that sort of help. Perfection and truth aren’t really aligned here though…

A few days ago I revisited something I’d written after watching Mike Rugnetta’s 2013 XOXO presentation. I think it’s relevant. Here’s a blurb:
“It's difficult to confidently construct oneself without placing it alongside others. […] You want to be true to yourself but you might not know what options are available for inclusion in that truth unless you go ‘shopping’, I guess, is one way to put it. But are they true if they came from somewhere outside of your own brain? And this is actually a big important question: is there a truly and totally internal self? Or, put another way, would everyone who currently self-identifies as goth, or pro-life, or Democrat, or an Evanescence fan, or who identifies as a furry have come to that conclusion independent of the actions or preferences of others? I don't have an answer… because one doesn't exist.”
I’ve done a lot of window shopping when it comes to aligning identity with a profession. I’ve tried being a retail worker person, an office worker person, a freelance writer person, a marketing person, a personal trainer person, and plenty of other persons in between. The term “tried” takes on a range of meaning in looking back though, and for the most part it aligns with results consistent with someone who is unwilling to commit themselves beyond a point of resistance.

I’ve been remarkably lucky. And with that luck comes the privilege of ease. And with ease comes an expectation of continued ease. When it comes to transitioning from an old identity to who I’d like to try being next, I haven’t dealt with considerable barriers along the way. Generally speaking, I’m a fine-looking, cisgender, white North American guy, and with the way our society’s structured, I don’t have to overcome an infinite torrent of bullshit every time I’ve decided it’s time to “start over” in life. Which is just to say that most of the time, despite acknowledging how ridiculously good I have it, I’ve stopped caring to try once I have to really try. I’ve walked away from plenty, but am embarrassingly inexperienced when it comes to actual sacrifice. The point of this, I think, is to recognize that in the past I’ve approached identities with an eagerness to own them so long as I don’t have to give up anything to buy in. (Again, privilege.) That’s the dream, right? And that’s where I’m at now, again.

The last few weeks I’ve started to see this in real time. My priorities haven’t been particularly aligned with that of the type of person I’ve told people I’m becoming. I got here by verbally committing to a new direction, but am not really sure what being “all-in” actually looks like. Last night I took a midterm exam and achieved results consistent with the minimal effort I’ve put into that class. Something happened before I took the test, though, which feels more important than any grade I’m going to receive from it. I had a spell of energy, renewed by some sense of ownership over how little I’d prepared for it, and an acceptance and desire to work through this without giving up. I screwed this one up, for sure, but I can make it up before the semester’s over.

There are a lot of angles to the real reason for why I want to get into counseling. Genuinely, I like this stuff. In the moments where I read for fun, I usually read pop psychology books. It’s interesting to me. I like talking with people, I like helping people, and by way of about fifteen years of personal experience, I’ve got something of a background in “addiction studies,” which stands to help me when it comes to empathizing with the struggles others are facing. And I’m working my way toward forty without anything resembling focus, purpose, or meaning in my life — so this seemed like as good a horse as any to saddle up with as that milestone approaches.

I’m scared as hell to commit myself to these words, especially here, because it’s not the perfect answer. There’s resistance to put any of this here because it feels like committing to more than tidy identity sculpting, which is shamefully my default when writing online. I sold myself on the idea that I was writing [on] as a way to stay connected to my own continued pursuit of recovery, but haven’t been particularly thrilled with the sterilized sense of authenticity that’s made it onto these pages. Moving beyond lusting after the perception of identity and toward actually becoming someone is going to take work. There’s a lot of fear in committing to change. And of all the sacrifices I’ve been unwilling to make to this point, letting go of misguided perceptions surrounding what it actually takes to do so is hovering somewhere around the top of my list.

The Great Escape [1963]

This might have been a VHS of my dad's, otherwise I'm not really sure how I'd have been exposed to The Great Escape as a child. There's a certain warmth to it: The good natured Americans share a sense of humor and the Nazi soldiers are civil (though proper villains are no less evil). The pacing is even and the acting enjoyable, but I'm straining to conjure the significance of it that I once felt.

Escape from Alcatraz [1979]

I'm not really sure what element of this movie triggered some lingering feeling of appreciation for me, but something in me cared for it in the past. Maybe it was some vague, general fondness for Clint Eastwood or the sliver of heart behind the inmates who were trying to free themselves of the prison's confines. It's probably been a decade-plus since I've last watched Escape from Alcatraz, but those emotions—whatever they were—are gone now. Now there's nothing that makes me want to see Clint Eastwood "win" in escaping Alcatraz. Even when Home Alone's "Old Man Marley" is deprived of his art and makes his horrific stand against the injustice, the heartstrings fail to quiver. If they escaped, fine. And fine if they merely died trying.

The 400 Blows [1959]

I'm thinking back now to one scene when Antoine is hiding out for the night, sleeping in a factory to avoid his family, and he steals a bottle of milk. He runs into an alley and guzzles it down, before continuing his night-time walkabout. Then, passing a sewer, he slips the glass bottle down the mouth of the drain, destroying the evidence and distancing his act from his conscience. I know that feeling.

Wedding Crashers [2005]

Insane sex fiends deceive wealthy, socially detached lunatics, only to fall in what they consider love. No one seems to get what they deserve, while probably getting exactly what they deserve. Will Ferrell shows up. Everyone gets laid.

Sudden Death [1995]

Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour is in net for the Chicago Blackhawks going into game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, where the team faces Pittsburgh on home ice. A little fun fact here, as my family's first and only pet was named Eddie; the result of drawing names from a hat, with one of those names being submitted by a young hockey fan in his early teens. An appreciation of Eddie Van Halen might have also impacted the decision, but the influence on me was primarily from that of "The Eagle." He was my one and only "favorite" hockey player, winning both the Stanley Cup in 1999 with the Dallas Stars and Olympic Gold Medal in 2002. Well, he gets scored on by Luc Robitaille with no time remaining to force sudden death overtime...

But not before JCVD murders a woman by sending her head first through an industrial dishwasher, kills a man by stabbing him in the neck with a turkey bone, and almost burns another to death with a makeshift flamethrower. Five stars.

Ocean’s Twelve [2004]

Ocean's Twelve starts off with a similarly cheeky tone as Ocean's Eleven before diverting from the blueprint that made that movie so much fun. It then goes full-on heist, rather than a casino-games fantasy set to the theme of heist as the original did. It's beautifully shot, with fine performances, but there are a few scenes such as Julia Roberts (who's pretending to be Julia Roberts) and Bruce Willis' together, which feel like a snake eating its own tail.

"A Spiritual Axiom"

“[W]hen a person experiences nearly identical events and reacts two different ways, then it is not the event which is of prime importance, but the person's spiritual condition. Feelings come from inside, not from outward circumstances.” —Daily Reflections, October 9
There’s this guy at work who leaves his cell-phone ringer on whenever he’s visiting the office, upwards of three or four times a week. The phone receives a text message and a surge of vibration rattles his desk. He picks the phone up, replies, puts it back down. Another text message, another earth-rumbling vibration, another reply.

Elsewhere someone has left a notification on. I can’t tell if it’s a computer or a phone, but it’s without consistency, all throughout the day. There’s a chirp. There it is again! Did anyone else hear it? Am I going crazy? Don’t they recognize that if everyone left all their notifications on, we’d all be drowned out by the ensuing cacophony?! When will these inconsiderate monsters make the madness stop?!

“It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90) Some days the noise pollution doesn’t bother me at all. Some days it does. (A lot.) These are just a small things, and I know we’re not supposed to sweat the small things, but in the past it’s been the small things that have led me to making some really poor decisions.

What it comes down to is usually the bottom line of where my level of self-care is that day: Have I done the things I know I need to do for myself? If I have, experiences are less likely to conjure the worst of me in response. If I haven’t, someone’s cellphone vibrating can leave me anxious and feeling resentful of their even being born. It’s pretty simple.

Any Which Way You Can [1980]

Lynn finally comes to her senses and falls in love with the bare-knuckle street fighter who stalked her across the country with his orangutan and ne'er-do-well sidekick in Every Which Way but Loose. Clyde gets laid. Philo makes a friend. Then he almost beats him to death.

Don’t Breathe [2016]

Don't Breathe's twists hold their shock value upon a second viewing, and a few other things stood out this time around: The staging shots were beautifully colored, and the lights out sequence in the basement traded in the cliched green night vision for spooky black and white visuals. I liked that. That said, that blind man just won't die... and at the end of it, he's relatively unscathed after how many bone-shattering blows to the head? I can suspend disbelief, but I find it hard to believe that being blind means that his sense for avoiding traumatic brain injuries is heightened.

Every Which Way But Loose [1978]

Makes a guy long for a time when society respected a man's rights to take his orangutan to a peep-show without being hassled by every Tom, Dick & Harry. You know, the good old days when you could just track a woman across the country, only to insult her when she questions the integrity of your one-sided pursuit. Gosh, back when Neo-Nazi biker gangs were just a fun, lovable bunch of losers who never got a fair shake... those were the days.

[REC] [2007]

Having recently watched Quarantine, the power of [Rec] holds up even that much more this time around. I'd forgotten how patiently the story builds, allowing tension to develop while the contagion spreads among the apartment's tenants. The graphics of the final "monster" don't really hold up with time, but all is forgiven as they didn't try to beat the point of the scene over the head of the viewer, as was done in the remake.

The Replacements [2000]

The Replacements opens with Lit’s “Zip-Lock,” and within the first few minutes we’ve seen Gene Hackman & John Madden, the cook from the Ernest movies, Roy from The Office, and Orlando Jones chasing down a Twinkie thief. With lines like, “I’ve seen monkey shit-fights at the zoo that were more organized than this,” this movie isn’t trying to be anything but the bucket of clich├ęd caricatures it is. It's stupid. Stupid and fun.

Feast [2005]

I enjoyed the cheekiness of Henry Rollins' motivational speech (though I still prefer his real motivational speeches) and Judah Friedlander had some good moments, as well. There's a self-aware silliness to it all which has its moments, but every time there's an action sequence it's like the camera person starts having a seizure. That's the style and I get that. But it doesn't make it any easier on the eyes.

Frailty [2001]

I remember feeling like I bonded with my mom over Frailty when watching it upon its VHS release. I think she appreciated the dark religiosity to it, given the fundamentalist leanings of her father (I'll have to ask her), and I remember enjoying it because: a) I felt vindicated as a teenage punk, using this as blanket evidence for why religion was clearly bullshit; and 2) the twist! Now, that same twist seems a disservice to the rest of the story, being used the way it was, and in collaboration with the soft lighting throughout, leaves Frailty feeling vaguely like a well done Lifetime movie. (Update: My mother has no recollection of this movie. My life is a lie.)

Troll 2 [1990]

I watched Best Worst Movie long ago, and any time spent with Troll 2 seems best served by learning about what the movie is, and what it's become, in advance of checking it out. The documentary does well in adding charm and character to the entire production, but that said, Troll 2 is still awful.

Shut Up and Dance

In a meeting yesterday, noting their history in theater, someone said, “As they say in my world, shut up and dance.” I’m paraphrasing, but it rattled me.

As people were sharing their thoughts, the Daily Reflections book was being passed around, with the October 6 reading titled “Facing Ourselves.”
“How often I avoided a task in my drinking days just because it appeared so large! Is it any wonder, even if I have been sober for some time, that I will act that same way when faced with what appears to be a monumental job, such as a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself? What I discover after I have arrived at the other side—when my inventory is completed—is that the illusion was greater than the reality. The fear of facing myself kept me at a standstill and, until I became willing to put pencil to paper, I was arresting my growth based on an intangible.”
That’s it: The fear of facing myself. This still happens all the time. When I face myself I see the potential for something greater. I should want that, but it’s still not what I’m used to. I’m so comfortable with viewing the world with fear that the prospect of seeing it with optimism and potential carries an absurd weight. Through that lens, I see capability and love and friendship and fullness… and it’s intimidating.

Fear brings illusion, and the illusion bears weight. But once I step out from under that weight and take action, that unknown takes a form, and it’s in seeing things for how they really are where fear disappears. It’s in that space I’m free. It’s all a matter of taking that first step… Shut up and dance.

Insidious: Chapter 2 [2013]

To its credit, the movie does well to pick up where the original left off and blends nicely into the back-story. It contributes little to the ongoing narrative, however, and beyond that, it's almost two hours of shrieking strings and crashing piano used for effect in place of anything particularly interesting or scary.

Troll [1986]

Torok the Troll sort of reminded me of the Gwildor character from the Dolph Lundgren "Masters of the Universe" movie, which I loved as a kid. Maybe that's why I feel surprisingly warm to "Troll." There's some charm to the dialog ("Doctors talking about recessive genes — I thought they were talking about pants") throughout this thing, and I can't help but appreciate parts of it. (And WTF - a half naked Julia Louis-Dreyfus wood nymph?!?!) I mean, it's still terrible, but it's the kind of terrible I can appreciate.

The Purge [2013]

For The Purge to work, there had to be a reason to give a shred of a damn about any of the characters, considering how it wholly depends on the viewer caring about the survival of one set of wealthy murderers more than another. It's a good concept, but one I expected to be stronger in execution considering how many follow-ups it's spawned.

As Above, So Below [2014]

Catholic-creep is one of my favorite sub-genres in horror, and "As Above, So Below" delivers a great story steeped in just enough history to keep things interesting beyond the scares. Save for a few weak shocks (CG stone monsters, etc.) the drama is high and the thrills are satisfying throughout.

Scream 2 [1997]

With a great cast, "Scream 2" works as a solid slasher movie that should never be lumped in with the campy teen horror sub-genre. Also: Luke Wilson can't possibly not be Luke Wilson, can he?

Mama [2013]

Not to discount everything else about it, but revealing the face and form of "Mama" cheapened the movie considerably - plucking the amorphous presence from the abstract and slapping a silly CGI mug on it didn't quite register with the intended effect. The rest of "Mama" holds up fine, save for cramming the entire backstory into the tail-end of the movie. Much like not seeing specifics, not knowing them wouldn't have hurt the movie at all. Then again, if you took all my criticisms into account, the movie would be about 30 minutes long and focus only on the young girls' story. Actually, that does sound better.

Burial Ground [1981]

With such wonderfully strange characters, great wardrobe choices, and curiously designed sets, it's a bit puzzling how absolutely trash the zombies in "Burial Ground" are. The more clumsily crafted masks look hastily shaped out of clay, while others couldn't pass for grade school art-class projects. Sure, zombies move slow. I get it. But their biggest threat shouldn't be that they'll bore you to death.

It Follows [2014]

The creep-factor to It Follows is... refreshing. By that, I mean it's refreshing in its capability of driving tension without forcing tension, allowing time and patient pacing to produce anxiety (at least as much as anything else) in the movie.

Martyrs [2015]

I remember little from the first time I watched this "Martyrs" remake other than a feeling of lukewarm appreciation. It was mistakenly downloaded when I invited a friend over to watch the original, and clumsy me - I didn't even know there *was* a remake at the time, so I wasn't paying close attention when picking it up.

This time around, it feels completely different. (Maybe I just appreciated the company during the first screening?) Looking a little into the creation of the remake, one of the directors was quoted saying that their goal was "to focus on the script that was given to us," which sounds both like an excuse for why it strays (emotionally, if not cinematically) from the original, and a cop-out for why their version translates as flat (it's because of a script which they had no control over). Either way, flat it is.

Beyond its emotion, the remake lacks the true terror of the original. Though even if approached as its own film, there isn't much worth appreciating.

Demons 2 [1986]

As much as I wanted to write off this sequel, it incorporated similarly great practical effects as the first, along with another solid soundtrack, and plenty of witty charm (without getting too gag-heavy). Though not the biggest zombie fan, "Demons 2" feels less cliched than most zombie films on that front, presented in a way that's grotesque yet palatable.