Part of your Hoard

Although The Little Mermaid is one of my most favorite Disney films ever, I think it’s time we acknowledge it as the possible source of the hoarding movement. Certainly, we had hoarders before Princess Ariel started stashing useless shit in her grotto, but who knows how many countless children were brainwashed into thinking that amassing stuff would lead to dream fulfillment?

How many wonders can one cavern hold? Apparently as many as your obsessive-compulsive ass can fit into it.

No wonder King Triton blew it up. And that’s what I call an intervention.

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To All the Dragons I’ve Loved Before

Having always loved the fantasy genre of film and television, my heart has always belonged to dragons. Evil ones, good ones, and rogue agents with no such allegiances. I caught the film Dragonslayer (1981) the other day on Amazon Prime Instant Video and it really brought up a bucket from the well of memory. I mean, how awesome are these creatures? Total and complete bad asses. No one wants to mess with them.

This led me to host a contest for Best Dragons from my childhood experience:

Maleficent from from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959)

maleficentWhile technically not a dragon (at least most of the time), this was probably one of the scariest cartoon draconians I remember. Mostly, I was afraid of her because I had never heard such foul language uttered in a Disney movie until I saw Sleeping Beauty. Case in point: “Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of Hell!” Who cast such a potty mouth? Anyway, Maleficent was actually an evil fairy godmother with the ability to change into a dragon, and ultimately, the world’s most famous anti-cupid with her desperate attempts to keep Princess Aurora and Prince Philip apart. And all because she never got an Evite to Aurora’s baptism. Jeez, petty much? I think a more effective punishment on the kingdom would’ve been a curse on all the chamber pots.

Vermithrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer (1981)

vermithraxShe was 400 years old, slept in a lake of fire, and her kids were slaughtered by a bumbling magician’s apprentice – so the chip on her shoulder may be justified. Apparently, she accepted two virgins per year from the local kingdom to leave crops and villages alone, so she doesn’t seem to be completely unreasonable at the negotiation table. She has the added benefit of a weird but pretty cool name: Vermithrax Pejorative which in Latin translates to “The Wyrm of Thrace that makes things Worse.” She was also nominated for an Academy Award (ok, well the special effects were), and she has some wicked bat-like wings. Who needs aerial drone strikes when you got Miss Pejorative on your side?

Granamyr from the He-Man & The Masters of the Universe television series (1983)

GranamyrNot as famous as some other dragons, but pretty damn powerful and the oldest of the Dragons of Darksmoke on the planet of Eternia. Granamyr had a bigger ego than Kanye West, but perhaps rightfully so, as even the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull admitted being afraid of his wrath. When He-Man asked where to find him, the Sorceress was like, “Bitch, I ain’t telling you! I don’t need those dragons puttin’ my castle on blast. Go look it up in the library.” (paraphrased but true – just go watch the He-Man episode, “The Dragon’s Gift”). Granamyr was a double threat: not just a fearsome dragon but a sorcerer as well. Unlike most dragons, however, he had a hint of compassion for human beings. He places a high value on loyalty, keeping your word, and courage. In short, the Big G was a very honorable reptile.

Tiamat from the Dungeons & Dragons television series (1983)

tiamatOk, this hardcore Dragon Queen wasn’t scared of anybody. She also had five heads and each one shot some nasty-ass projectile vomit – fire, lightning, poisonous gas, freezing ice, and acid. A tad bit of talent overkill, to say the least. Like Granamyr, Tiamat had magical abilities and was able to teleport at will. She lived in an outer space graveyard, and conspired to help some teenage kids commit murder (see D&D episode 20, “The Dragon’s Graveyard”). She had a scary ass voice too – somewhere between a hiss and a vocodered Cher singing “Do you believe in life after love?” Good thing she was a dragon, for a career in telemarketing was not to be.

Falkor from The Neverending Story (1984)
falkorThis dragon is an honorable mention. I found him to lack a certain edge that I like my dragons to possess. Plus, he looks as if he belongs on dog food packaging. Still, the term luck dragon became part of my vernacular after seeing this film, and he does bring a certain sense of optimism and cheer to a fantasy role usually reserved for terrifying monsters. In this case, Falkor broke some new ground and delivered something unexpected to my childhood view of what a dragon should be. Still, you have to wonder if he had to get any rabies shots or if his contract required payment in Milk Bones.

 

The Star Wars Holiday Special

If you’ve ever done anything in your life that you aren’t proud of or that you simply regret, I have something for you that might help: It’s called the Star Wars Holiday Special.

It’s a horrible bastard-of-a-TV-program that aired only once (in 1978 on CBS) to capitalize on the wave of pop culture mania that followed 1977’s Star Wars. As with all cash cow Hollywood projects, it’s thoroughly terrible and pointless. It’s also unintentionally funny, but perhaps in that way when something is so poorly constructed you might think it was done on purpose. No, this comedy comes with pain. The kind of pain you feel when you know someone actually wrote it down on a piece of paper. That the project was approved by someone. That millions of dollars probably produced it.

If the "Carol Burnett Show" and "Star Wars" had a baby and then aborted it, it would be the Star Wars Holiday Special.

If the “Carol Burnett Show” and “Star Wars” had a baby and then aborted it and mixed it with Hamburger Helper, it would be the Star Wars Holiday Special.

I won’t go into the details too much, but if you watch it you can expect…

  • about 15 minutes of Wookie famly dialogue with no subtitles (or any other language to explain what’s going on)
  • Art Carney, Harvey Korman, and Bea Arthur trying to parlay variety show comedy like a bridal party serving wedding punch from an old toilet bowl
  • Chewbacca’s father basically having a sex dream about a 70’s disco diva while sitting in a “fantasy simulation chair”
  • a musical performance from Jefferson Starship
  • Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) singing a holiday carol about “Life Day” (the Wookies’ version of Christmas).

Trust me, by this point you’ll wish YOU had a cocaine habit.

Anyway, when all is said and done, think back over your life and your mistakes. Watch this televised horror and remember that no matter your guilt about dropping out of school, cheating on your taxes, or raising a kid that turned out to be a deadbeat…at least you had nothing to do with creating the Star Wars Holiday Special.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

When I was in high school, I saw a film recommended by my older sister. It was called Point of No Return and it starred Bridget Fonda as a street junkie who commits a random murder and is sentenced to death by lethal injection. The authorities fake her execution and the U.S. government secretly rehabilitates her. She is then trained to be a deadly assassin taking out diplomats and other pre-selected targets. It was based on a French film called, La Femme Nikita.

MSDPOOF EC049What I remember most about this movie is not the constant killing or disposal of bodies in bath tubs of acid, but a single line quoted in the first act: An elegant but sinister Anne Bancroft is tasked with teaching students at the assassin school how to function with manners and grace, especially since they will need to attend embassy dinners with upper crust politicians and arms dealers before they blow their heads off. In her first scene with Bridget Fonda’s character, she says:

“Do you know what ‘nature’s first green is gold’ means?”

She goes on to explain that the line means “that the first is best, that youth is better than old age.”

I don’t know why that line found residence in my high school brain. I am sure most of us feel like fragments of movie dialogue and song lyrics become stuck in our psyches like flies to fly paper. It must have had a lot of resonance for me to remember it this long though.

Being struck by the sentence, I eventually found the source – which was a poem by Robert Frost called “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. It’s actually quite famous in poetry circles, and when I read it, I recalled a conversation I once had with a friend somewhat older than me. I was telling him that as I aged, it was getting harder to find things that felt like “brand new” experiences. He basically gave me the less flowery version of Frost’s eight lines of rhyme: “Well duh, you only fall in love for the first time ONCE, you only attend high school ONCE, you only travel to Europe for the first time ONCE. That’s life, buddy. You can always try to repeat things, but nothing will ever feel like the first time again.”

It was a depressing (but refreshing) reality check. It made me think, “Hmmm…I wonder if there is life beyond death or other lives we’ve had, and we simply chose to forget them as to experience the new all over again?”

I miss the new.

The Gravity of the Truth Ninja

I saw the film Gravity last weekend and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. Even though I have seen more profound (and far better) films in my life, I do get the hype with this one. We live in disconnecting times and despite our level of technological advancement, we are still plagued by the specters of death, adversity and loneliness. I know, I am probably not telling you anything you do not know already, but I think a good metaphor can often reflect an emotion better than just describing it verbatim. Without spoiling the film for anyone, I will just say that there is a scene where a character breaks down the basic choice you have when faced with death. It was so simple and unpretentiously that it snuck up on me like quiet brilliance.

Truth is such a ninja sometimes.

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Mother/Son Bonding Over Deadly Aliens and Burning People Alive

I have a very unique relationship with my mother when it comes to film. We have nearly identical taste in science fiction and horror movies.

I can remember when I was but a wee child, maybe 8 or 9, and the the film Alien was being shown on network television for the first time. Granted, most of the scariest stuff was cut from the film for obvious reasons, but I remember my father being mortified that I planned to watch it. My mother actually defied my dad and said, “My son and I are watching this movie whether you like it or not.” I think he just walked away saying, “You deal with his nightmares then.” So we gleefully made popcorn and wrapped up in blankets on the couch to watch Lt. Ellen Ripley run for her life on a claustrophobic space freighter.

ALIEN

“Alien” (1979)

Of course I was completely terrified, even by an edited version. However, in my later years I came to appreciate what a fantastic film Alien was and how it has stood the test of time. It feels so visceral and real. It’s gritty and unpolished, and the obsidian alien itself is truly a cinematic virus of nightmares.

Tonight, I called my mom and in our discussion I mentioned I would probably be seeing the film Riddick this weekend. We saw the first film of that character’s anthology, Pitch Black, before I moved to Seattle years ago, and we both loved it. And from that mnemonic lily pad she made the leap back to the Alien film where our mutual love of dark, twisted sci-fi was first born. “Wasn’t that a great movie?” she asked, and then added, “Did you ever see the special edition with all the scenes that were cut…like when Ripley finds that captain cocooned and he asks her to kill him so she burns him up with that flamethrower? That was so creepy.”

“Yes, mom, it was creepy.”

But in that moment of reflection with her, the memory didn’t feel creepy at all. It felt like being wrapped up in blankets with your mother experiencing terror together but knowing it’s not real. Just a moment that you got to share together, and one I will no doubt continue to cherish after she’s gone. And as strange or twisted as it sounds, it is curated in my brain like a valuable artifact.

Recipe for Terror: Just Add Some Space For the Imagination

So, I saw The Conjuring on Friday night.

Billed as a throwback in the mold of The Amityville Horror (1979), the film follows the exploits of a married, paranormal research duo (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who are asked to investigate the home of a family living in rural Rhode Island. The movie was directed by James Wan who is known best for 2010’s Insidious and 2004’s Saw.

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The story opens with a somewhat clichéd vignette of a maniacal doll (Annabelle) brought to life by a demonic spirit. The purpose of these scenes is mostly exposition – explaining how demons manifest inside objects in order to (ultimately) possess people. However, the doll is so over-the-top creepy looking that one really has to wonder who in their right mind would ever keep it in their home. However, this section of the movie is purely to set up later events, so we just have to go with it. Once the plot moves its focus to the Perron family and their plight of a haunted home, the locomotive starts building up a nice head of steam. The first time Lili Taylor’s character ventures into the basement at night, I was completely mortified even though the scene was mostly composed of silence and a well-timed bouncing ball.

The Perrons’ newly purchased residence in Rhode Island’s countryside is a perfect setting for the disturbing events that follow. Having grown up in a farm house myself, I can tell you that they make wonderful places to spin threads of soul-crushing fear. The absence of city life and the void of night give you the feeling that you are completely isolated. The tree branches scraping the roof and the periodic sounds of insects give you the unwanted knowledge that there are many arms and legs out there moving in the dark, even if you can’t see them. And don’t get me started on ponds and lakes hiding their depth and contents when the sun has abandoned the sky. I hate dark water. It’s like an ink well emptied into a hole in the earth offering no hints as to what lies beneath.

And therein is the secret to a good horror film: leaving space for the imagination. I think humans can conjure the most frightening imagery if left to their own devices. Some of my most favorite scary movies are ones where the psychology opened a pocket of mystery and allowed my mind to fill it with terrible inventions. Alien (1979) and The Ring (2002) made good use of this strategy. Unfortunately, The Conjuring starts to fray about two-thirds in when the demons are revealed and the film becomes a dime store collection of every exorcism flick I had seen.

They just don’t make ‘um like they used to.

I Honestly Hope I Am Never Murdered While I’m On The Toilet

Netflix really is a treasure trove of questionable film. Tonight, I happened upon a 2009 horror flick, House of the Devil.

Well, apparently the Devil lives in an old Victorian home with an ill-placed harpsichord at the bottom of the creaky stairs and a rotary telephone with enlarged numbers on the dialing apparatus. This leads me to believe the Devil has bad eye sight and horrible feng shuihousedevil

The film goes to great lengths to revive that nostalgic 80’s era of Farrah Fawcett hair and ill-fitting mom jeans. And much like that time long gone, our lone heroine makes stupid mistakes time and time again in order to advance the overly drawn-out plot. The ultimate cherry on top of the “sundae of idiocy” happens when she goes to take a dump in the small, cramped bathroom and hears a noise elsewhere in the house.

What would a normal person do? Probably finish their business and investigate later, but not our uncouth leading lady: while sitting right there on the pot, she opens the door and looks around like a true cinematic boob, perhaps hoping her ass pollution will scare off the intruder. Even giraffes – with their awkward watering hole stances – would know better than to leave yourself so vulnerable to attack at the moment you can least defend yourself.

Pacific Rim

I caught a film last night called Pacific Rim. The director, Guillermo del Toro, is probably one of my most favorite filmmakers of the past 10 years – bringing such imaginative stories to the screen as Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy comic books. I don’t know if its his eye for good set and costume design or the fact that even his big productions typically have emotional resonance and characters with dimension. Last night though, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the results.

Guillermo del Toro's ode to Japanese monster movies.

Guillermo del Toro’s ode to Japanese monster movies.

I knew what I was getting myself into: del Toro’s cinematic love letter to Daikaiju (大怪獣 ). Daikaiju is the genre of Japanese cinema that celebrated all forms of giant, city-destroying monsters. Godzilla and Rodan (beastly relics of the 1950’s) were the progenitors of of this campy style and del Toro (I think) was hoping to capture that specter of metropolitan menace from post-atomic bomb Japan. Only here, in the now, the monsters are not the result of radiation or human interference with nature, but rather a trans-dimensional gateway which strangely enough opens on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

I have fewer issues with the lack of scientific merit (this is a summer blockbuster so such rules do not apply), however I never quite get why Hollywood tries to make a bloated action adventure have drawn out scenes about father-son relationship dynamics or letting go of dead loved ones. Rarely do they work, and quite frankly, it feels like going to test drive a red hot Ferrari but all the car salesman wants to discuss is your childhood fears. I’m not here for a catharsis, I am here to see giant robots, monsters rising from the ocean, and shit blowing up (in no particular order).

I know someone somewhere probably thought, “We need to have some character development of some sort,” but really, if you’re going to do it this badly, why bother? It’s a hot rod, not a psychiatrist’s couch.

In any case, I suppose for a popcorn flick it was mildly entertaining. It did have moments of silliness that gave you a wink of “I am not taking myself too seriously” and in those glimpses of honesty I realized del Toro was just doing what every filmmaker is allow to do once in awhile – and that’s just have some stupid fun.

When the Antidote is Gandalf

Sometimes I think Gandalf is the best psychiatrist the world has ever seen.

J.R.R. Tolkien (and to some degree director Peter Jackson and actor Ian McKellan) crafted a wise character worthy of graduating from a Ph. D program. He may look elderly and gray, but this old bird is tough as nails, and he would beat you into a good psychological state.

Dealing with an abusive spouse that’s not unlike the Balrog of Moria? Gandalf’s got your back:

To the spouse: “You shall not pass!”

To you: “Run, you fools!”

Substance abuse issues from a drug pusher named Saruman?

Gandalf: “I will draw you Saruman as poison is drawn from a wound!”

Hopelessness and suicidal thoughts got you down?

Denethor: “Abandon your posts, flee this city! Flee for your lives!”

Gandalf wacks him in the face with his staff and turns to you, “Prepare for battle!”

Feeling lost and cursed in life?

Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of Evil.”

On a serious note, I truly believe that people who suffer from psychological problems are often whipped from many directions by negative thoughts: Incessant like slave drivers, these terrible energies push and pull like tidal forces until the soul feels completely exhausted and unable to mount a proper defense. Eventually, the mind harmonizes with the darker voices and accepts defeat…unless a small amount of hope can escape like a moth from the clutches from the dark tower and summon the great eagles for a quick retreat.

So the next time you feel down or have a problem that appears unsolvable, just think:

What would Gandalf do?

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