Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

Media Update 11/23/17

November 23, 2017


The Punisher

This show has been getting some press lately but for a lot of negative reasons. We have reached a critical mass when it comes to spree and mass shootings in the United States. So, a show about an anti-hero who famously uses firearms really has no good release date. This iteration of the character was introduced in Season 2 of Daredevil. The character is way more nuanced and deep than my experience with the character in comic books. An ex-marine, he is not just a goon with a gun. He would probably be the first person to admit that he’s just not sane, though. During the first season, Frank Castle tries to uncover corruption in the military while avenging his slaughtered family. The character feels a lot more focused on this show. The show does a great job of bringing up how we deal with our veterans, which should be a non-partisan issue. Mental health, the difficulty of finding a vocation, and the soldier mentality are all addressed with a great deal of compassion. The show is dark but the good writing and great acting carry it through for me. I read a comment somewhere that the show does not really give a coherent thought on gun control. I agree but do you really want that answer to come from a television show? The show depicts several different facets of the issue and lets the viewer decide for themselves. I definitely recommend it but it might be a little too dark for some.


Batman and Harley Quinn

I was a huge fan of the old Bruce Timm Batman animated series that came out in the nineties. It was a very successful form of the character and the world because it was a great mix of the dark and the light. This movie is a step back into that world, a step away from the darker, grittier Batman seen in the live action DC movies and a few of the animated movies. In this, Batman is the ultimate funny straight man. He gets more laughs from a stoic expression or the squint of his eyes than any bit of dialogue. When he does let slip a joke, it is both surprising and funny. He is accompanied by Nightwing who is a little bit looser than his old mentor and more into cracking a joke. The two get Harley Quinn to act as their criminal informant and she is as zany and crazy as you would expect. I loved how self-aware she was. This is a Harley who has finally realized how bad Joker is for her and how important her friends (like Poison Ivy) are. She also loudly corrects anybody who can hear that she is not a psychopath but is instead a sociopath. Get it right. With so little, the cartoon showed that these characters are part of a bigger world with a history. I ended up smiling from ear to ear through most of it and it was good to take another spin around the block with some old, familiar friends in new situations. I wholeheartedly recommend this as DC Animated is killing it.


Justice League

Nobody is more surprised than I am that I went to the theaters and saw this movie. After skipping Batman v. Superman, I did not think I wanted to see Justice League either but my friends lured me in with promises of Joss Whedon. Wonder Woman was also a truly great movie. Well, the movie had a lot of problems but that is to be expected. The movie introduced Cyborg to the big screen and missed much of the point of him in previous iterations. He used to be a happy, friendly guy who covered up his sadness at becoming more machine than man by being the best person he could be. In this movie, he was a mostly quiet grump. The Flash was that annoying guy at a party who will not shut up and thinks his jokes are just hilarious. Apparently, The Flash is one of the most polarizing performances in the movie. Henry Cavill still does not feel like Superman and instead just comes off as awkward. The villain, Steppenwolf, was basically a video game character and his performance was forgotten by me every time he left the screen.

So was there anything good? Wonder Woman was great again, although they keep sabotaging her character. Batfleck is alright though he seems to mope and get his butt kicked a lot. Affleck’s sense of humor came out here and there and that was definitely welcome. Aquaman was fun, coming off as a loveable asshole. There were moments where the movie showed glimmers of hope that it might dig its way into the light. Overall, I feel like you can build the best house you know how but if the foundations are bad then you will still fail. Man of Steel and BvS are bad foundations. I could see where Joss made it better but Warner Brothers still has a long way to go and that starts by firing Zack Snyder and banning Frank Miller from the set. I definitely do not recommend this. There are tons of superhero movies out there actually worth your time and money.

Music of the Week:
Marmozets – Why Do You Hate Me?

Man With A Mission – Raise Your Flag

Ratatat – Loud Pipes

Wowaka – Rolling Girl

Set Your Goals – This Will Be The Death Of Us

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Comic Book Team-Ups”
– I finished Blacklist Season 4
– I watched more Blindspot Season 1
– I finished Santa Clarita Diet
– I watched more Sleep Hollow Season 2
– I watched more Van Helsing Season 1

– Happy Thanksgiving!

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Why I Love Pro-Wrestling: The Death of Kayfabe

November 18, 2017

WILPW


Al Snow gives his opinion.

In an earlier post, I described the magic of Kayfabe. For those who forgot and do not want to click back: Kayfabe is the old carny term which basically means the story or false reality that sports entertainment companies weave around their product. Of course, the term was created when everybody was using the term “wrestling” instead of “sports entertainment”. This is the agreed upon device which creates babyfaces and heels (good guys and bad guys) so that there is enough friction to continue fighting. It is also the thing that turns an American named Nelson Simpson into “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff. It is a necessary part of the business and it has been a big part of how most businesses do things.


They fought over a shampoo commercial.

I was driving around with my brother recently and I was saying something about the business of pro-wrestling. He turned to me and asked me why the performers compete against each other. He understood, as most people do, that there are a championship belt and a contender for that title. He was wondering why people lower on the card would fight each other. The short answer is that they are paid to do so both in real life and in kayfabe. However, that is not exactly what he meant because that simple motivation is something everybody can understand. There are a lot of reasons for these people to fight for. The main reason people compete so hard is that they feud. A feud can start as simply as one performer states that they are the best and another performer tries to prove them wrong. It can be as complicated as one man stalks another man’s girlfriend. It can be something obscure like two men fighting over who gets to be in a shampoo commercial or who has the right to use the letter T in their name. Whatever it is, as long as it is a compelling story or it is told in an entertaining way, the crowd will buy it.


Jim Cornette gives some excellent analysis on Cactus Jack.

The reason why I started writing this post is actually good ol’ Jim Cornette, a man who I respect a lot. You see, Cornette has been involved in the business for a long time. Most notably, he has been the booker (writer) or booking committee for several prominent companies including TNA, WCW, WWF, ROH, and various NWA territories. He has also been an onscreen manager mostly of tag teams in the NWA, WCW, and WWF. He founded Smoky Mountain Wrestling in the nineties and he was the main driving force behind the rise of Ohio Valley Wrestling as the first official talent development territory for the WWE. He has had huge success in the business. So, going forward, please remember that I have enormous respect for both Jim Cornette and the old school side of wrestling that he represents. I have only seen a little of pre-nineties wrestling because I was not exposed to it when I was younger and I only have so much time in the day now. Still, I respect the old-timers for what they contributed, most of which survives in some form in the present day.


He really, really hates Joey Ryan… who isn’t a dick from all other accounts.

Jim Cornette and the old school contingent have claimed that kayfabe is a device that is dying a horrible death. The most recent example of the supposed ‘death of kayfabe’ is the rise in popularity of Joey Ryan. This is really where I sat up and take notice as I am a pretty big fan of Joey Ryan both in and out of the ring. Joey Ryan was simply a great independent wrestler who got brief stays on television in both Wrestling Society X and TNA. His gimmick was as a sleazy wrestler who was sponsored by the YouPorn website and chose The Pina Colada Song (a song about cheating on your spouse) as his entrance music. The old school’s problem is that Joey Ryan is a comedy wrestler. In Cornette’s words, “Funny Don’t Earn Money” because people want to see something they believe is a real fight. He really lost his mind when Ryan adopted a move called the YouPorn Plex (also known as the Dick Flip). In this move (as shown below), Ryan literally uses only his penis to flip his opponent. Cornette screamed that this pushed the limits of suspension of disbelief and that it effectively killed kayfabe (yet again).


Now that’s sleazy.

Obviously, I disagree. Back in the day, promoters and performers somehow convinced audiences that professional wrestling was real. Babyfaces and heels never talked or hung out in public so that fans would believe that they really hated each other. Dusty Rhodes ‘broke’ his leg in a match against Ric Flair and then wore an actual cast in public. He even wore that cast around his house where only his two young sons could see him. The point is that they went to enormous lengths to keep up the illusion that it was all real as part of a grand tradition. Unfortunately, as technology improved and the Internet was born, us fans all started to talk to each other. We started to figure things out and we peeked behind the curtain and now the cat is out of the bag. We know it’s all a show. There is no way we can go back to where we were and I am not sure many people actually want to go back. I definitely do not want to go back there. I love the way things are now.


Joe Hendry proves that funny can equal money.

This is the new kayfabe. Back in the day, we got a bunch of tough guy characters to boo or look up to. Now, kayfabe is so much more varied. One of the things I love about pro-wrestling is the three-ring circus element of it. If you do not like the clowns (like Joey Ryan, Colt Cabana, Enzo Amore, Joe Hendry) in ring one, you can look over at ring two and see the strongman (Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Brian Cage). If you do not like that you can look over at ring three and see the acrobats (Ricochet, Ospreay, Neville). However, the business has really grown and we all now have access to hundreds of rings. If you do not like something, there is a good chance that if you turn your head, you will see something you love.


If I can believe the storylines in Lucha Underground, I can believe anything.

Besides, the new kayfabe is not all that different from the kayfabe we have gotten for decades. As long as the internal rules are mostly consistent, I think kayfabe remains intact. Every wrestler responds to Joey Ryan’s genitals in exactly the same way which makes their legendary powers a canon fact. We were told back in the day that Undertaker was dead and we believed it because we wanted to believe it and the announcers and other wrestlers never contradicted it. I choose to believe what they tell me to believe because it is way more fun to play make-believe than pick at it because it does not make sense. We all know that the Upside Down is not real but we choose to believe it when we see that dryer lint floating around. My rule is that if something is fun and nobody is getting hurt, then I support it. Joey Ryan and guys and gals like him is a lot of fun to watch and I am all about having fun. Of course, Cornette is very welcome to earn advertising dollars nitpicking the hell out of it.

Media Update 11/16/17

November 16, 2017


The Big Sick

On any given day, Kumail Nanjiani ranks as either my favorite or second favorite stand-up comedian. He tells both relatable and fantastic stories and operates on a similar nerdy wavelength as I do. I regularly listened to his podcast that he co-hosted with his wife Emily Gordon so I knew how well they clicked and how smart and funny they both are. When I found out that they had made a movie together I really had to see it. When I found out that it would be directed by Michael Showalter (of Wet Hot American Summer fame) I was over the moon. The movie is a slightly fictionalized account of Emily and Kumail’s courtship which also covers the health scare that hit Emily and how that affected their relationship. The movie is dotted with scenes of Kumail working on routines that would later show up in his specials. The movie is mostly about how people deal with each other and what we are willing to go through for and with the people we love. It also features the culture clash between the family of a man born in Pakistan and the family of a woman born in the United States. It is very funny but I was also basically crying by the end of it but smiling through my tears. I recommend it as it is a very touching movie that never gets too sappy.


Do The Right Thing

This is one of those movies that I have been meaning to watch but I knew it would be a difficult, uncomfortable movie to get through. I was right and I was wrong. I knew some stuff from the movie, having a little of it spoiled but this was my first full viewing. Right away we are welcomed by the voice of Samuel L. Jackson who operates as the movie’s narrator. The movie takes place on one street in the famous Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York City. It is the depths of summer and temperatures are skyrocketing in an area too poor for air conditioning. The heat is driving everybody into being especially on edge. Spike Lee is the writer, director and also plays the lead role of Mookie, a young pizza delivery boy known in the neighborhood. He works for the local Italian family headed by Danny Aiello and a hothead John Turturro. There are all sorts of characters including the local rabble-rousers, the elders, the old drunk, the grandmother, the Korean grocery, the police, and Mookie’s family. There is comedy, there is conflict, there is drama. Basically, the movie goes through a single day in the summer and shows the mounting tensions as they build towards a conclusion. It was a lot of fun to watch but then it did get uncomfortable in places but in the best ways. It shows the bad decisions we make based on our prejudices and the inborn prejudice of the system we live in. I recommend it as it is a very important movie.


42

I do not remember my first baseball game but I have seen photos of me in an Orioles hat when I was still an infant. I have a handful of friends/distant family members who are super into baseball to an impressive level. This movie was powerful because it depicted how people were caught between their love of the game and their prejudices. Jackie Robinson was the first black man to be hired onto the roster of a previously all-white major league team when he made it to the Brooklyn Dodgers. We look back at that moment with joy and pride but this movie does a good job of detailing how hard it was to get to that point and beyond it. Chadwick Boseman does a great job at playing a reserved and defiant Robinson who is achieving something from his wildest dreams. They put in a good deal of effort to show that he landed a spot on the Dodgers because of merit and not as a publicity stunt. Harrison Ford is incredibly charming as the wily and scrappy owner of the Dodgers who championed Robinson. Robinson’s supportive and highly intelligent wife is expertly performed by Nicole Beharie. John C. McGinley played legendary sports announcer Red Barber, a man who at first did not accept Robinson but later became a huge fan. Alan Tudyk was scarily good at playing racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman. There are plenty of other great actors who play Robinson’s teammates as they struggle to accept the hand they were given and try to figure out which side of history they want to be on. I definitely recommend this for people who are baseball fans and people who are not.

Music of the Week:

Estelle – American Boy

X Ambassadors – Renegades

DJ Khaled ft Drake – For Free

Allegaeon – A Path Disclosed

Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

 

Weekly Update:
– I watched more Blacklist Season 4
– I finished Glitter Force Season 2
– I finished Little Witch Academia Season 1
– I watched more Van Helsing
– I watched more Sleepy Hollow Season 2
– I watched more Santa Clarita Diet

Magical Earth Defenders 11

November 11, 2017

Magical Earth Defenders

Lennon rolled her wheelchair through the crowd in front of the school. She could not really see through the sea of fellow students but she knew the general direction of the school so she headed that way. Her mom had dropped her off and helped her out of the car and into her chair. Lennon had practically had to beg her to go to work and let Lennon roll in on her own. As much as she loved her mother, she wanted to feel as independent as possible. That is why she was rolling the chair manually instead of engaging the motorized system. She had especially rigged it so she could turn off that system to conserve the battery. The doctors approved as it gave her more exercise.

She suddenly realized that her mind was wandering and stopped just short of colliding with somebody’s shins. She found herself blushing.

“Excuse me,” She said gently. “I need to get by.” Lennon was trying to be more patient. It was not everybody else’s fault that she was in this bulky wheelchair.

“Lennon, it’s me,” A voice said and Lennon looked up and saw a smiling Kelsey. Kelsey was dressed in a casual button up shirt and corduroy pants. Lennon could not help but smile back. The day before had felt like such a dream and Lennon almost could not believe it had happened. The thought of being upright as the Red Defender was as bright in her mind as the flames she had wielded.

“Oh!” Lennon said and adjusted her glasses. “Sorry, Kelsey!”

Kelsey shook her head. “You don’t need to apologize. Just say good morning already.” She smiled and stuck her fist out toward Lennon.

Lennon smiled and banged her fist gently against Kelsey’s. “Good morning.”

Natia seemingly came from nowhere and bumped her hip into Kelsey’s to get her to move over. She had the hood of her sweatshirt up and it covered up the bulky headphones tucked in. She was wearing jeans which was a borderline violation of the dress code. “Move over, girl scout!” She said with a sleepy smile. “Mornin’ Glasses.”

“Good Morning, Natia,” Lennon said. The lively girl was amusing to Lennon, especially since Lennon herself had almost always been in her shell. Shy and smart often went hand in hand.

“There’s nothing good about morning, Lennon,” Natia said with a yawn. “But she dragged me here and I’m here and we’re a team and junk.”

“It’s nice to see you both,” Lennon said. “I don’t have a lot of…” She trailed off, not sure if she wanted to or even could talk about drifting away from her old friends.

“You do now,” Kelsey said. “We’re in this together.” Kelsey’s smile was kind and not a bit condescending. Natia treated everybody pretty much the same no matter what. Lennon had not realized how much she really needed that. She felt so much like a freak adjusting to her relatively new condition. It was nice to see two people who genuinely seemed to see her for what she was instead of who she had been.

There was a murmuring from the crowd and the whole feel of the area changed. The three girls looked confused and started to look around for the source of the crowd’s new excitement. Moving through the usual crowd of students were two familiar faces. Margaret walked as if she owned the place which was impossible since it was a public school. Maya was a bit more wary, her eyes trying to decide whether she should be looking all around or looking at the ground. She seemed grateful to lay her eyes on Lennon, Kelsey, and Natia.

Maya was dressed in a long black dress with little white accents, a little formal for school but pretty. Her rune tattoos were seemingly gone. Margaret was dressed in pricier clothes than anyone in the vicinity, possibly anybody in a two-mile radius. Her leather half-jacket was particularly expensive looking but all of her clothing was in a fairly conservative style.

“Whoa,” Natia said. “I wasn’t expecting you two. Looking sharp.”

“It is nothing special,” Maya said. “I like dresses but they’re not as easy to maintain on the run.” She reached down and smoothed her unwrinkled dress a little nervously.

“Where’d you get such a pretty one on short notice?” Kelsey asked.

“I pulled something from my own wardrobe last night and delivered it to the castle this morning,” Margaret said. “We’ll go shopping after school.” Maya made an embarrassed face as if they had already argued about that, an argument she had lost. “You deserve it, Maya, you lost so much.”

“Thank you, Margaret,” Maya said and smiled, shaking off the bad feeling.

“Can any of us come on this shopping trip, Mar?” Natia asked.

“Sure,” Margaret said. “We leave directly after school.”

“Cool,” Natia said and then noticed that Kelsey was giving her a curious look. “What? It’s not like I want something. I’m allowed to like clothes. I’m not that much of a tomboy!”

Kelsey smirked. “I didn’t say a thing.”

“So, Margaret,” Lennon said. “Were you just dropping off Maya?” It was a little odd to see Maya the magical refugee at school but somehow it was even stranger to see a private school student within spitting distance of Charrot High School.

“I’m here to attend school,” Margaret said. Her words were deliberate and accompanied by a gentle, proud smile.

“You’re what?!” Natia asked loudly, nearly yelling the question. Kelsey instinctively covered her mouth with her hand, used to dealing with her younger sister. A series of muffled sounds issued from Natia’s mouth and Kelsey withdrew her hand and wiped it off with a tissue.

“What about the Academy?” Lennon asked. She knew the Academy’s reputation for rigorous education. In fact, her mother had applied for a scholarship there when it became clear that their daughter was exceptionally brilliant. In the end, she had been happy to stay at Charrot where the teachers had allowed her to design her own curriculum to challenge herself.

“Yesterday was such a life-changing experience,” Margaret said. “I assume it was for you ladies as well.” They all nodded and agreed. “We fit together so quickly yesterday, there is no way that I could hold you all at arm’s length. I would rather explore it. As it so happens, I have a good use for the tuition my parents were paying the Academy. It can do more good elsewhere and I am sure this school will do right by me.”

“Wow,” Kelsey and Lennon both said, almost in unison.

“School never did right by anyone but I guess it has its uses,” Natia said. “Welcome to Charrot, Mar.”

“Yeah,” Kelsey said with a smile. “Well, team, it looks like we have two new students to introduce to the office and our truant Natia has to throw herself on the mercy of the court. Follow me.” She started to walk and then turned to look at Lennon. “Are you coming too, Lennon?”

“Yeah,” Lennon said. “But I can push myself.”

“Of course you can,” Kelsey said with a smile before leading the way.

Media Update 11/9/17

November 9, 2017


Thor: Ragnarok

I never read too many Thor comics when I was growing up but I read enough to know his basic set up. I actually more fondly remember reading the shortlived Thunderstrike comics instead. I read so many Hulk comics (once Hulk was smart). I look forward to each and every Marvel movie because each has so much potential and they have such a good track record as a whole. When I found out that this one would be directed by Taika Waititi (from What We Do In the Shadows and Moana), I was even more excited. I liked the first Thor movie because it mixed a lot of the Shakespeare I grew up reading with the comedy I saw in Iron Man. The second movie was great because we saw Thor and Loki actually team up. The third movie is the best one yet as it gave everyone a lot more room to grow and expand their roles. Thor had an opportunity to be even funnier. Loki became a more rounded character. Both Hulk and Banner got opportunities to talk. We were introduced to Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and she was so cool and imposing. Cate Blanchett was deadly and formidable as Hela, the first female Marvel villain and one of the best villains so far. Idris Elba’s role was expanded as well and he was allowed to slip out of his armor. Apparently, a high percentage of the dialogue was allowed to be improvised which gave it a lighter feel. Add in some great cameos and excellent special effects and I cannot recommend this one enough.


The Dark Tower

I am a pretty big fan of Stephen King. He is a writer I looked up to as a kid and the worlds he created inspired me to create my own worlds. He also was one of the main writers who scared me as a kid. Most of the books I read as a kid were horror and fantasy books so when I found out that King had a fantasy series, I was onboard immediately. I really do need to read more of it but I loved the first four books of The Dark Tower series which is also connected to such varied books as Hearts in Atlantis, The Stand, It, and Eyes of the Dragon. When it comes down to it, most of his books are connected with each other. I went into this movie with low expectations based on its reputation and I actually thought it was pretty good. We only got a small percentage of the mountains of lore from the books but I think that worked in its favor. If they chose to proceed through more movies or the more likely television show, there is so much more source material to draw from. As usual, Idris Elba really sold this movie to me as I love Elba when he plays a cool customer who is full of simmering rage beneath the surface. Matthew McConaughey continues his McConaughsaince and basically plays a demon, clearly not the Devil but ranking in that region. I recommend the movie but I knew most of the easter eggs and references as they happened so I might be biased.


RockNRolla

I have seen most of Guy Ritchie’s movies at this point. I have made a point of going back and watching them movie by movie after watching his first Sherlock Holmes movie. Ritchie loves scrappy street criminals and each movie he makes is a love letter to those who love to bend and break the rules. The start of the movie moves at breakneck speed as we rapidly introduce the characters and set up the basic thrust of the movie. Like his earlier movie, Snatch, there is a large ensemble of solid, mostly British actors to introduce and mix up in a blender. The main heroes are played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy who have been a street gang for years. It really felt like they were best friends who have been through a lot together. They are opposed by Karel Roden, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Strong who are such charming ‘villains’. Thrown into the mix is Thandie Newton who is a lot of fun in her subdued and playful performance. As usual, the movie has Ritchie’s breakneck editing style which he has mastered and few can do it without being completely annoying. While this was not a home run, it was a fun little movie and I was totally engaged by the end of it. I recommend it.

Music of the Week:
the GazettE – Ibitsu

Har Mar Superstar – Lady, You Shot Me

The Posies – Unlikely Places

Tyler, The Creator – Who Dat Boy

Dead Kennedys -Nazi Punks Fuck Off

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Idris Elba Week”
– I started Blacklist Season 4
– I finished Stranger Things Season 2
– I watched more Glitter Force Season 2
– I am really digging the new Dragons in Places DnD podcast
– I started listening to Harmontown again
– I started watching Sleepy Hollow Season 2

Julius Caesar

November 4, 2017

I went and saw Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater’s production of Julius Caesar last week and it got me thinking. Most stories that Shakespeare wrote had heroes and villains. Even the histories painted certain characters as good and certain characters as bad. That is the way humans tend to divide things. We split up actions and people as Right or Wrong. Of course, we often overlook that people are more shades of gray but that is very complicated to think about. Anyway, here are some thoughts based on what I was thinking about. It is clumsy and mostly unresearched but here it is.


Julius Caesar

We know that Julius Caesar was a charismatic leader of the Roman Republic based on lines from the play. A big bit of evidence is that he is highly beloved by the people of the Roman Empire. Being beloved by the people does not necessarily mean that a politician is a good person. In fact, that is some of what Cassius warns against during Act 1. There is a danger in putting any human on a pedestal because you will almost always be eventually disappointed. People are not perfect and should not be treated as such. Praising people like Ronald Reagan or John F Kennedy tends to push their glaring faults and their transgressions into the shadows. We know that Caesar was starting to buy into his own hype and was highly susceptible to flattery. He could have ended a democratic system of government and named himself a King, not recognizing that people are less fallible than a person. It was only a matter of time before he let himself rise to take the crown.


Cassius

Cassius is a schemer and a sweet talker. Somebody who is well-spoken is somebody you really have to listen to closely to catch not only the words they are saying but all the words they are not saying. When you listen to Cassius, his cause does not seem so righteous. Yes, he agrees Brutus that Caesar must be stopped from ending the Republic. However, he spends a lot of time talking about how he and Brutus are just as good as Caesar. He seems more interested in tearing Caesar down than protecting the public from a monarchy. You have to watch for people who seek to tear people down rather than build things up. Caesar is right to fear him because he is a smart guy with a ruthless agenda. It is Cassius’ idea to kill Caesar and he would have absolutely supported murdering Mark Anthony too if Brutus had not put an end to that talk. Later, he is the first of the conspirators to take his own life when things start to turn against him. I can never trust somebody who is hungry for power but quick to run when the hard work or the punishment comes. He is a weasel and is all fair talk and very little substance.


Brutus

We are told that everybody regards Brutus as an honorable man. His love for Rome is so great that he is willing to sacrifice the life of his friend to keep the democracy running. While I view the sacrifice of Caesar as necessary, killing him was never the answer. When politicians are assassinated, they immediately become saints in the eyes of the public. Violence should absolutely be the last resort when it comes to solving a problem. And yet, the conspirators seem to jump right to it. Brutus goes from agonizing over the plan to taking control of it and leading it. He allows himself to be talked into something that never should have happened. There had to be some more political way to dismantle Caesar’s popularity. Brutus’ heart is in the right place. If you have a friend who is going to ruin everything, you do what it takes to stop that friend but there is such a thing as excessive force. The Romans saw that and they were able to use it as a weakness to use to drum up armies against the noble house of Brutus and the other conspirators.


Mark Antony

Mark Antony pretty much started the whole mess. If you look at Act I, it is Antony who publicly offers Caesar a crown. Antony sees the love that the public bears for Caesar and seizes on the opportunity to win points by offering Caesar a crown. He knew that Caesar would probably turn the crown down (which he did) but he probably already knew that it would put more bad ideas into Caesar’s head. This scene is an inciting incident that makes the conspirators desperate to get rid of Caesar, leading to them making the bad choice of murder. When the deed is done, Antony is distraught over the death of his meal ticket/friend but makes a deal with the conspirators to help them smooth things over. He immediately reneges on that deal and incites the crowds against the conspirators through expert emotional manipulation. We have seen lately what damage a populist movement can do. He latches onto Octavius (the future first emperor of the Roman Empire) and drives Octavius to fight to the finish, only accepting surrender when the conspirators were dead. His actions, waging a war against a criminal group to bring them to justice and to unite the country, may seem just at first. Just remember that this was all in support of installing a tyrant.


The People

Finally, we have the people who are also not blameless. As a citizenry in a representative, democratic government they have a hand in their fate. They are the ones who cheered Caesar for a military victory and cheered even more when he was offered the crown. They are shooting themselves in the foot by giving away any power they had in the first place. They are complicit in the political tension which eventually gives birth to the death of Caesar (and indirectly the subjugation of the people under the Roman Empire). The people have few thoughts of their own. When Brutus speaks after the assassination, they almost instantly forgive him because of his eloquence, earnestness, and reputation. Yet, when Mark Antony speaks a minute later, they very quickly turn to cursing Brutus and the rest of the conspirators. Granted, this is directly after the murder of the head of state but it is troubling to watch them switch positions so fast. People today seem just as fickle, heavily influenced by social media, news outlets, propaganda, and politicians’ ‘heartfelt’ speeches.

Conclusion:

There are no heroes here. This is truly a story of gray areas and I cannot decide who to root for. The conspirators mostly had the best intentions but their methods were over the top. Caesar’s pride went before his fall but that fall should have been political and not fatal. Anthony through oil on the fire when a cooler head would have prevailed. At best, Brutus might be considered a tragic hero because his heart was in the right place but his missteps caused his downfall and death.

Media Update 11/2/17

November 2, 2017


Mindhunter

I have been fascinated with abnormal psychology and the way our minds work for a long time. As a kid, I bought a psychology textbook because I wanted to learn more and more. It was probably the nerdiest thing that I have ever done. Textbooks are really not meant to be read cover to cover but I did my best. This show brought me back to that. The characters of academia and the FBI struggle to find some way to catalog and explain the public emergence of serial killers in the seventies. People like Charles Manson and Sam Berkowitz left law enforcement staggered and startled because their motives were elusive. The foundation of the show is the partnership between two FBI agents (played by and ) as they interview these killers to see what makes them tick. It quickly becomes a team when a college professor (played by Anna Torv) lends her considerable expertise to the project. The project is also somewhat unofficially helped by ()’s character’s wonderfully sarcastic girlfriend (played by ) who is a psychology doctorate candidate. The really meaty scenes come when the agents interview the serial killers but as we go we learn more about how the whole team copes with the grueling work and how they deal with each other. I definitely recommend it.


IT (2017)

I distinctly remember renting the original 1990 It miniseries from Blockbuster and taking it home so my brother and I could watch it. I had read the book along with a lot of other Stephen King books even though the thing is almost thicker than a phonebook (ask your parents, kids). The original is not really scary. Some of the concepts are creepy but the execution is more unintentionally funny than scary. It still has a place in my heart. This version felt more faithful to the book. First, it is not a huge spoiler to say that the movie only covers the first half of the book. This is great because the original was four hours long and instead of doing that again, we are given just the first two hours. It allowed them time to focus on the first act of the story and really focus on quality. The cast of children is really amazing. All of them are on the ball and act like kids I grew up with but a special shout out to Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things and Sophia Lillis. Bill Skarsgård is amazing as Pennywise. He switches from creepily playful to deadly serious in a heartbeat. His eyes and body move in crazy directions. The makeup is so freaky looking and the special effects applied were pretty amazing. The movie follows a lot of the book but makes some changes which I think were mostly for the better. I definitely recommend this one.


The Belko Experiment

I had wanted to see this movie since I first saw a trailer for it and I finally got my chance. Based loosely on the legendary Milgram experiment, this movie is about a vicious human psychology experiment. How does a person’s morality fair when the stakes get higher and higher? When the law is not an issue, what duty do we owe our fellow humans? The trailer is above and it pretty much describes the premise. An office building full of workers are told that they must start killing each other or there will be consequences. The inevitable descent into madness is slow but that ends up being great. We know things will get bad. We know the destination, so the journey is the real story. There were a bunch of great character actors that I loved like Sean Gunn, John C. McGinley, Brent Sexton, James Earl, and Michael Rooker. There were also great main characters in John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz and Tony Goldwyn. Really, everybody was really great. It really felt like offices I have been in but in a pressure cooker that explodes. It definitely owes a lot of its visuals and feel to movies like Battle Royale but it still felt like its own thing. I also recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Sinister Purpose

Big Data – The Business of Emotion

OMI – Cheerleader

The Sequence – Funky Sound

Rise Against – The Violence

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Psychological Killers”
– I am halfway through Stranger Things Season 2
– I kept watching Blacklist Season 3
– I kept watching Blindspot Season 1
– I kept watching Little Witch Academia Season 1
– Halloween is well and truly over… for now

Stage Fright (2014)

October 31, 2017

82 minutes – Rated R for blood, violence, sexual situations, music, and Meat Loaf.

I have worked in theaters that I thought at the time were haunted. For years, I worked for free at the Fells Point Corner Theater. The building is an old fire station that was converted to use as a community theater in an old part of Baltimore. As such, the brick building was quite old. In the rear of the building, there was a set of ancient stairs that were never lit but were the fastest way to get from the third floor to the second floor out of view of the audience. I would walk through almost perfect darkness and I imagined ghosts very near me every time. There was also the rehearsal space in college called The Little Theater which was rumored to have been haunted by a woman named Jane who used to manage the building. People claimed she was the reason behind the radiators always being set too high. They also said that mysteriously curtains would be drawn by ghostly hands. People in theater are superstitious anyway so these sorts of things easily caught on. I never met a ghost but I believed they were there.

The combination of the horror and the musical genres seems to be a bit strange at first glance. However, there is a long history of horror musicals. The very first stage musical I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That show scared the heck out of me as a little boy because it was so tense and there were some great scares including the infamous chandelier crash and an onstage hanging. In the Venn diagram of horror and musicals, the part of horror that often does not overlap is a little thing called subtlety. Musicals are big and presentational and do not often leave room for subtle, psychological horror. That is why most of the horror musicals I have seen have leaned hard into the more darkly comic elements of horror. Little Shop of Horrors is a great example, embracing the goofy B movie elements horror and science fiction used to have at the time. More recently, Evil Dead: The Musical captures the campy nature of a classic horror/comedy/action series of movies. The scares are not exactly scary but there is a gruesome creepiness pervading the whole thing.

The movie stars Allie McDonald, who is great as a young Broadway hopeful working at a performing arts summer camp who wants to get noticed. She is instantly likable and I wanted to see this young ingenue succeed. She is the daughter of a Broadway legend who is played by Minnie Driver. The head of the camp is played by Meat Loaf himself, a veteran of movie musical/horror mashups. McDonald’s twin brother is played by Douglas Smith, who is just trying to work for the camp in an effort to save and move on with his life. The three of them are backed up by a goofy gang of misfits and downtrodden kids who go to summer camp in order to have a place where they will not be picked on. The singing is absolutely great but what really sells are the clever and dark lyrics from the songs. Even songs that are supposed to be happy end up being touched by the horror. The musical within a musical is The Haunting of the Opera and they make that parody/tribute very clear. There are also a ton of references to other musicals and the culture that surrounds theater. Also, harkening back to my youth, there is definitely a clash between musicals and heavy metal.

Of course, this is still a horror film and while there is kind of a slow burn, it does get to the horror part along with the musical part. The movie sets up a good ratcheting tension until something has to give and then it gives. The movie has great tributes to movies like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and (maybe unintentionally) the 1987 version of Stage Fright. The special effects on the kills are great. While a lot of it is computer generated, it was very well done. The deaths are creative and they really went in directions that I was not suspecting. After watching so many horror movies (30 so far this October alone) it is really neat to still be surprised and entertained. What I loved the best about the horror aspects actually was that it was a mystery. I kept trying to figure out who the killer was and my list kept growing instead of shrinking. I love a good mystery especially when the movie does a good job of not giving the way ending. (An ending I won’t give away here either).

Overall, I loved this movie. It was way more clever and fun than I thought it was going to be and I came in with some decent expectations. Maybe it is my history with theater or maybe it is my love of dark humor and horror but this ended up being a really great movie for me. I laughed a lot during this movie which is a great way to officially end this yearly challenge to myself. The movie is goofy and silly but then it takes nosedives into the realm of horror only to come up for breath again.

(Alright, consider this a curtain call for Halloween 2017. I really enjoyed this year even more than last year. I think I am getting better at selecting movies that I think that I will enjoy versus movies that I feel I have to cover because they are iconic. While this post kind of wraps things up, I have a tiny encore on Thursday. Now, I am off to go watch Fright Night (1985) at my cousin’s house which will officially make 31 horror movies. Break a leg this Halloween and stay safe!)

Theater of Blood (1973)

October 31, 2017

104 minutes – Rated R for blood, gore, ironic murders, and violent creativity.

Working in theater is tough. I should know, I studied to be a Stage Manager for four years until I decided I did not really want to be in charge. Instead, I got a job for five years as an electrician, a carpenter, a lighting designer and a sound designer. I took pride in my work and everybody around me took pride in their work too. We lived and died by how good a show we could put on and how many people we could get to buy tickets. We wanted those people to leave at the end of the night and go tell their friends to go see the show too. Critics can be friends of that effort or they can be enemies. A lot of people, especially casual theatergoers, respect the opinions of critics and will abandon a show that is critically panned. That loses money for a theater and consequently makes an actor less likely to be hired. A bad review hurts everybody involved. So, there is palpable fear when the reviewer arrives at the theater and again when the review is published.

I seem to have settled into a pattern with some of my picks for Halloween. I tend to start to fill slots based on what I like and what I have done before. It does not always end up that way but so far there have been some constants. One of those constants is that the last two years I have reviewed a movie starring Vincent Price. This movie is this year’s offering. Vincent Price is a very unique actor. He comes from the age of film acting where a lot of the workhorses in the industry came from a theater or a live performance background. This trained most of those actors with excellent diction and high charisma. Theater also requires its actors to make everything they do larger than life so that the audience can see and hear their emotions. Therefore, theater actors making the transition to film must be coached to pull back and be more subtle. Therefore, directors rarely have to coax more out of them which feels like it would be much less work. All of this obviously helped give Price his trademark magnetically eerie voice which he could turn on and off like a simple light switch.

Vincent Price was not just a national treasure, he was also a global treasure. He had a beautiful voice that was unmatched by anyone I have yet to hear. I could listen to him read the phonebook if doing so did not send chills up my spine. Like Bela Lugosi, he was a master at making the most innocuous thing sound spooky. In this, we get Price as what he was, a brilliant but underrated actor. His musical voice echoes through most of the movie, either through dialogue or narration. Never have I seen Shakespeare used to kill people but it makes so much sense. He is joined on his journey for revenge by a motley crew who do not talk much but are comically insane. They are opposed by a group of critics played by actors who are very good at acting very posh and academic. Caught in the middle is Price’s character’s daughter who is played with absolute conviction by Diana Rigg. Additionally, there are also the police who join with a newspaperman played by Ian Hendry to try to solve the crimes.

This movie was so brilliant with its kills. Really, you need to have studied Shakespeare to some extent to truly understand each kill. I would compare the kills in this movie to another set of Vincent Price movies, the Abominable Dr. Phibes. His kills are also meant to be ironic and each one is also a literary reference. In that case, it was the Judeo-Christian bible but in this case, it is Shakespeare that guides the themes of each murder. However, this movie felt far less dreamy and while it was full of fantasy, it remained grounded and on point. On top of that, there were gallons of blood used in this movie. The deaths and the blood looked really good, especially for a seventies horror film. There are few fancy prosthetics. The effects seem to use a lot of great old theater tricks which makes them all the creepier. What is more, they take great care to add some comedy in with some of the deaths which makes the more grisly deaths all the more horrible.

Overall, I really loved this one. It was such a beautiful way to approach the end of this year’s Halloween celebration. Every year, I try to find a good Vincent Price horror/supernatural film to review because he was a legend. This year, I was also looking for movies to fit my chosen theme for Halloween. What luck that I found one that was not only focused on Shakespeare but also starred the brilliant Vincent Price. A little bit of trivia, this is also Vincent Price’s favorite movie that he ever starred in.

Stage Fright (1987)

October 31, 2017

90 minutes – Unrated but definitely Rated R for violence, brief nudity, language, and attrocious theater acting.

Stage fright is actually probably my biggest reoccurring fear. Talking in front of people is intimidating for many reasons. The least of those reasons is actually a fear of judgment. I do fear what some others might think when my ideas and personality are coming out of me in real-time. Nobody wants to say the wrong thing to the wrong group of people and feel that negative energy in response. A bigger fear for me is that I might screw up an look foolish which is related to the first fear but a little bit different. Most people are actually forgiving when it comes to verbal flubs or forgotten memorization so it is a somewhat unreasonable fear but it is that fear that keeps our concentration on point. The real fear is of the spotlight. I really do not like it when too many people pay attention to me. As an introvert, that sort of things is draining like being the only one under the desert sun. In a way, I fear success. If I succeed, I will have to do it again. As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at speaking in public and shaking off the fear.

I remember being a theater kid as an isolating experience. Theater is a collaborative art form but you are only collaborative with the other people working on the show you are working on. You spend time together during rehearsals but each person is fulfilling their role so there is not much time for socializing. I started on the crew which feels even more isolating because I spent a lot of time watching the show from an enclosed booth alone or with another person. When I joined the stage management team, there was a lot of time spent alone before or after rehearsals getting the rest of the work done. Time spent sweeping or putting tape on the floor in a completely empty and eerie rehearsal space. More than anything, the theater experience separated me from the world around me. Even when I went out into the real world, it felt alien. Non-theater classes felt different and strange and it was nearly impossible to make friends outside of the make believe fantasy world of theater.

This movie is about a theater group that is trying to put on a production about a masked killer. Unfortunately, there is also a real masked killer walking around. The movie is very eighties with new wave beats and a sweet saxophone. The makeup and costumes are clearly very eighties as well. The show is also supposed to be ‘edgy’ and ‘avant-garde’ which is usually code for ‘too up its own butt’ or ‘just plain bad’ for me. That is fine, I get to sit through the movie and not the play they are making. The movie has great production values. Lighting stands out above everything as everything is lit so well. I’m not sure how intentional it is, but every shot looks very much like theater lighting. Everything is a little too crisp, a little too bright which actually works for this movie especially since most of it takes place in a theater anyway. A new wave/synth soundtrack is very much in line with a lot of horror movies of its day. I also really liked the special effects of the inevitable violence.  They are spot on and beautifully done. Each death is theatrical without being too over the top.

In this movie, we meet probably the world’s cattiest theater group. I have worked with several theater groups and most of them are fairly chill even during crunch time. These people are constantly sniping at each other. In my experience, you were unlucky to get one of these people on your cast but this show has pretty much an entire cast full of unreasonable people. None of them stand out but that is only because none of them are famous and they are equally good at setting up a playground for the killer to play in. The killer is largely silent but he is using the old faithful tool of the slasher film: a mask. Like most, the mask seems silly at first but the killer really makes it work for him. Once the action starts, the cast’s collective IQ drops and death is imminent. While I wish death on nobody, these Halloween months have taught me that they can really try to make it easier to watch people get killed. Watching people lose their minds with fear is really fascinating, at least in this movie.

Overall, I liked this movie. While some parts dragged a bit, there was never a shortage of action. The movie follows two Italian traditions that I am barely familiar with. It is a combination of the Giallo and Italian Horror subgenres. However, it did not feel so simple as that. The movie starts as a slasher movie but the last third of the film becomes more slowly paced and is much more of a tense thriller. While the acting may not be top notch, its melodramatic air definitely makes for a good change of pace for a horror movie.


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