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.

 

An Elegant Monster

If you voraciously devoured the second season of Netflix’s web series House of Cards this past weekend, you were not alone. This writer also binged on the newly delivered loot.

I almost watched the entire 13 episodes without stopping – but my stomach requested nutrition and I figured I should probably shower. I actually felt a little like a crackhead, or at least what I imagine one feels like – bypassing normal behaviors to submit my will to this unfolding, fictitious character study. I won’t give anything away, but the season was definitely worth the wait. It delivered high voltage shocks in its political backstabbing, sexual side turns, and naked power grabs.

Of all this show’s twisted personalities, my favorite character is the devious Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). She plays the wife of Kevin Spacey (as VP Frank Underwood). A methodical machine, she carefully manipulates (often better than her own husband) her preferred outcomes in challenging situations. When her enemies fall, she doesn’t even give a smile of satisfaction; she coldly moves on to the next target with eyes like steel knives. No unethical tactic is beneath her, yet her subtle grace and calm voice give you the impression she is the most trust-worthy and caring individual you’d ever meet. A vintage sociopath. Now that I know what levels of power she has attained, I can not wait to see what she does to her opponents in the next season.

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Although this is just a TV show, it could be considered strange to cheer on a psychotic. However, villains are usually the more fascinating individuals in a story. I feel like you always want to know, “What broke them?” Or “What made their emotions turn to stone?” How did their obsession with an audacious goal become their fundamental purpose in life? And how will it ultimately be their undoing (as it usually is)?

Claire, your magnificent malice brought you to the top. I can’t wait to see how it brings you down.

This is going to be one for the Ages.

Situational Symphonies

On occasion, I take the bus to work. As the Seattle Metro system is not entirely a pleasant experience, I prefer to block out the human static with my iPod ear buds. I’ve discovered that sometimes life matches the playlist all too well – and a situation will arise that fits the tune on deck like a perfectly tailored Armani suit. Other times, the results are just plain hilarious.

The Song: The Smashing Pumpkins “Cupid de Locke”
The Situation: A beautiful, young red-headed woman was applying her mascara to some dreaming Pumpkins strings. It was like a music video directed by Revlon. But even her pedestrian actions coupled with a melancholy track were enough to change the common place moment into magic. It added a living poem to what normally is a 30 minute ride in a trash can with wheels.

The Song: Sophie B. Hawkins “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover”
The Situation: A husky man in his 30’s with facial hair boarded the bus and I was sitting in the very back with a direct line of sight. Sophie sang to me, “That old dog has chained you up, alright…” and boy did he. Figuratively, of course. He walked down the aisle straight toward me like a handsome cannon ball launched right into my face – but my pupils and irises were willing targets. Forever and ever and ever and evah……..

The Song: The Yin Yang Twins “Salt Shaker”
The Situation: Two elderly ladies were fighting over an empty seat. I was standing already, otherwise I’d given up mine just to keep the peace. But when the Twins and Lil’ Jon hollered “Shake it like a salt shaker!” The woman standing was hurling her fists in the air and I was substituting her curses for the chorus, and I don’t think anyone knew why I was laughing so hard.

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Send In the Clowns, Eh?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Candidates from the St. Paul, Minnesota mayoral race:

I am not sure which quote is my favorite. So much lunacy to choose from:

“Let the school teachers have a gun…or let ’em have a camera which is a gun stronger than…whatever.”

“And bubble wrap…this is therapy for kids. For me too.”

“I’m good on the computer with PDF files.”

“I’m not Cylie Myrus, but I’m the wrecking ball.”

Sometimes you just have to laugh at how ludicrous our political system has become. And then, of course, you can cry.

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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How Television Became My Psychological Window

I grew up like many in my generation: worshipping the TV set. My Saturday morning communion with the almighty 14-channel Zenith consisted of a bowl of Fruit Loops and 4 solid hours of cartoons. It is almost embarrassing to admit that now, but those publicly-broadcasted waves shaped my youthful spirit and fed my childhood imagination. Then, I grew up and went to college where I became “too good” for TV and decided that cinema was where real ideas were happening. Sure, I still indulged in weekly episodes of Seinfeld, and I would catch the occasional cultural moment – like Ellen DeGeneres coming out in 1997 on her eponymous show – but I was pretty much wandering in the Sahara of no TV until the latter part of the previous decade.

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Through a wonderful ex-boyfriend, I became hooked on Breaking Bad, a twisted AMC series following the transformation of a man from high school science teacher to drug overlord. It is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. Multi-layered storytelling with complex characters that I would hate one minute and then fall in love with in subsequent episodes. However, the most interesting thing to me about the show was the subtle education I was receiving on human nature. Prior to the show, I had always had a hard time understanding why anyone would use or sell drugs, but the more I watched it, the more I understood. Now, I am not saying it instilled a desire to do either of those things, but it did make me understand the human intent behind self-destructive actions, probably more so than my college psychology classes. More importantly, as my feelings about the characters changed periodically, I realized that even when certain people do terrible things, you can sometimes see that they are not inherently evil people but rather very desperate people.

hocnetflixThis education continued when I got hooked on two recent Netflix series: House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. The former is a superb example of how people manipulate each other for the purposes of satisfying their own selfish desires. I watched the entire series in 2 days (however, I am also a political junkie). I think it’s probably an overly dramatic view of how Washington D.C. functions, but it’s definitely a mesmerizing pool of darkness.

oisnbOrange Is the New Black is a bit more light-hearted, but has a serious subtext as it approaches the various points of view in a women’s prison. My favorite thing about this one is similar to my reasons for loving Breaking Bad…when you learn the stories of the prisoners and how they came to be there, you may understand the motivations of why people perform certain crimes and whether or not they truly receive appropriate justice for their deeds. Aside from the heavier themes, the show pulls of a great balancing act of humor and humanity. I’m definitely waiting impatiently for the next season.

My hat is off to you TV, you have come back from the wasteland of reality programming.

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.

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.