Posts Tagged ‘C’

Clear Skies – A Breaking Bad Story

April 3, 2020

Jane Margolis looked out at the sunset and took a drag from her cigarette and then blew it into the wind. She watched the smoke disappear and just let the moment be. She stretched and put out the butt in the ashtray on the railing. She was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and the breeze momentarily made her clutch her arms. She looked down and saw once again that her track marks had healed now too. That made her smile a bit. She looked over at Detective Knight.

“I’m sorry,” Jane said. “What was the question again?”

“We’re still looking for your ex-tenant,” the Detective said. “The one who was a drug dealer. Do you remember his name yet?”

“You know what,” Jane said. “I really don’t.”

“Look, Ms. Margolis,” the Detective said. “I know that you went through a lot. You OD’d. You almost died. This guy put that shit in your hands, he nearly killed you. He’s nothing but a drug dealer.” He was obviously losing patience and Jane did not really blame him. Of course, she did not really blame anyone anymore. She was at peace.

“Detective, I chose to do heroin,” Jane said. “It was not his fault. Sure he supplied it but I made the choice. I would have made the same choice no matter who was offering. I was sick.”

“Look,” the Detective said. “This guy is out there. He’s putting drugs in the hands of people. He’s a scumbag.”

“I was going to move to New Zealand with that ‘scumbag’,” Jane said. “He was a good guy. He was better than all of that. I think he’s going to be alright eventually. I think he’s going to break free.”

“That’s really sweet and all but I’m concerned with closing off drug sources,” the Detective said.

“And I’m interested in not ratting out somebody I used to fuck,” Jane said. “I’m interested in the beauty of the universe and the spirit of creativity. I’m not interested in what you’re interested in.”

“We didn’t arrest you, Ms. Margolis,” the Detective said. “We did you a favor.”

“You didn’t arrest me because I went to the hospital,” Jane said. “You didn’t arrest me because you didn’t have anything on me. There’s no possession when it’s in my veins.”

“That’s not necessarily true, Ms. Margolis,” the Detective said. “We did you a favor.”

Jane laughed. “New Mexico has a Good Samaritan law,” she said. “It protects the person who overdosed from prosecution if somebody seeks medical assistance. I don’t know who called the ambulance but they saved me.”

“Do you think it was the guy who called?” the Detective asked. “Is that why you’re protecting him?”

“I don’t think it was him,” Jane said. “We were both lying in bed totally gone on some good, good shit. I don’t think he was even conscious. I’m surprised he didn’t overdose too.”

“What do you think happened?” the Detective asked.

“I think the universe aligned so I could finally get my shit back together,” Jane said. “I think whoever took him away, did us both a favor. He and I were toxic together. We loved each other but we did not mix. I never want to see him again and yet I do but I can’t.”

“Ms. Margolis, were you threatened?” the Detective asked. “Is that what’s happening? We can protect you.”

Walt’s face flashed before Jane’s eyes but she shook the image away. An image of Jesse slipped into her mind and she pushed that away too as if the Detective could possibly see them too. “I’m fine,” Jane said. “I’ve moved all the way out here and away from all of the bullshit. I just want to focus on my art. I want to move on.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” the Detective asked.

“I’m more than sure,” Jane said. “I’ve answered your questions. Please leave.”

“Once again, Ms. Margolis, if you think of anything, don’t hesitate to call,” the Detective said.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Jane said and then she turned to look back over the railing and lit another cigarette. She really needed to quit this too but one day at a time.

(Breaking Bad was suggested by my friend Steve on Twitter. This is the first thing that came to mind.)

Carousel (1956)

April 3, 2019

Rodgers and Hammerstein are obviously legends in the genre of musicals. Even people who know very little about musicals would probably recognize that combination of names. I actually had a long history in working in theater but not as much experience with musicals. I worked on musicals during high school, designing the lights for several of them. When I went to college, it was a Meisner-based conservatory which did not focus on musicals, it focused only on acting. In fact, the first musicals I actually worked on professionally were a handful of musicals done for a Girls Jewish Summer Camp as a summer job during college. Then there were two original shows done with a group called Wombworks (my first professional writing credit). Finally, I worked on five different children’s musicals up in New Jersey and one horrible show called Always Patsy Cline. And yet, I did love musicals. I was taken to musicals from a young age, either at the Mechanic Theater in my hometown of Baltimore or going on trips to Broadway. I even saw Oliver! in London’s West End when I was thirteen.

But back to Rodgers and Hammerstein, specifically. The first show that I became aware of was Oklahoma! because I was just about to enter high school and I ended up attending a performance, standing room only. I was standing against the wall, enjoying the lively music when suddenly a character drew a gun and fired it. Because of where I was standing, he was pointing it directly at me and I think the actor and I scared the crap out of each other. I once performed in a church variety show, and the show was bookended by The King and I songs “Shall We Dance?” and “Getting to Know You”, the last being a song that I first heard when I saw Addams Family Values. I also reviewed State Fair here on this blog in the summer of 2016 and I remember enjoying it even though there’s not much meat to it. Sadly, I have not seen a lot of their other musicals as my high school focused more on Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter instead (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Obviously, the centerpiece of a movie like this is the music. As mentioned, all of the music is by Rodgers and Hammerstein and is therefore solid all the way through. It starts with a great waltz composed by Rodgers and just keeps going from there. Part of that good music is Shirley Jones who is basically the lead of the movie (or at least she sings the most songs). She has such a down to Earth beauty inside and out and also an inner strength. She also has a great singing voice, of course. Gordon McRae is the other star of the show. He is the smooth-talking, rough around the edges love interest. He has that sort of “hep cat” performance that reminds me of the Jets in West Side Story. The music and acting are all really good and it is hard to believe that this was not a hit and remembered as a classic. Even Richard Rodgers admitted that the musical did not really produce the number of hits their other musicals did. I mean, as I have already said, there is no opening song which is a big staple of musicals. The biggest hit is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which is the only song that I have heard elsewhere mostly from Jerry Lewis.

The story might also be a reason that the movie was not as big of a hit. Most Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals are pretty straightforward character pieces with catchy hit songs. This musical has supernatural and fantasy elements that definitely set it apart from a lot of their catalog. People probably like The King and I and Oklahoma because they want to see themselves in those situations. Mostly comical situations where life is fine and nothing is too threatening. In this movie, there is a strain of sadness throughout the whole thing and there are wistful fantasy elements. In fact, now that I think of it, this movie kind of reminds me of It’s a Wonderful Life. There is some messing around with time and life and most of the movie is just a story about life. While it is not a happy story, it is a hopeful story and I liked that. The story is mostly told in flashbacks which are an interesting way to go about it.

Overall, I liked this movie well enough. The music is mostly slow songs which are beautiful but not exactly my cup of tea. Slow songs mostly bore me and make me feel sad regardless of whether the subject matter is happy or not. There are some upbeat tunes but they feel like they are few and far between. Still, the movie is colorful and there are plenty of smiles. I can obviously see the appeal of the movie and I am glad I watched it. I wonder if it had been more famous if they cast Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland as they originally wanted to. In fact, the rumor was that Sinatra quit the production because Ava Gardner told him that if he did not fly to her in Africa, she would sleep with Clark Gable.

(Written on 3/31/19)

Country

April 3, 2018

Both Kinds

I first saw the movie The Blues Brothers on a family trip to Woodstock, Vermont and I was captivated by it. It remains one of my all-time favorite movies for its comedy, simple yet fun plot, and especially its music. I definitely put my copy of the soundtrack to use as I walked everywhere with my Discman (ask your parents, kids). I remember when I first watched the movie and the characters arrived at Bob’s Country Bunker. They are told that music acts only play country and/or western music at that particular establishment. I rolled my eyes. I was not really a fan of either genre and, in fact, I could not tell the difference. As I got older and more open-minded about music, I realized how stupid I had been. Country is a perfectly acceptable genre of music. In the movie, the Blues Brothers even respect it enough that they are able to complete an entire set of country/western music despite not usually playing in that style. (We only see two songs but they later state they were there a long time).

Yes, it might be silly but the first song of the two genres I remember really listening to is the theme from Rawhide which I suppose would qualify as Western. The Western genre is born of the American Southwest and it speaks to adventure and rugged individualism. It idolizes the cowboy. This song is definitely all of that. Of course, it is sung here by a pair of comedians looking to make people laugh but they are backed by a supergroup of actual professional blues and jazz musicians. As far as I know, none of them ever played much country music professionally before or since but a great musician can play just about anything.

The next brush I had with country music that I remember is encountering Garth Brooks. Brooks is a big crossover star because he embraced the music that inspired him with a modern flair. Previously, when I thought about country music, I thought of it as slow wailing over a guitar. I imagined the stereotypical songs about a man whining about his wife leaving him or his dog dying. A white man’s blues. I had no idea that country songs could be both upbeat and uptempo. That kind of opened up new doors for me. I already liked other genres of the region (blues, southern rock) but now I had reasons to search out more country music.

It was around this time that my parents went out to the movies (a rare thing without us kids) and saw Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. They immediately allowed us to see the movie too because there was nothing bad in there that we had not already seen in other movies. The movie has a lot of southern blues but it also has a more old school, bluegrass style of country music. Every song was catchy and fun and even the slow songs had enough rhythm to not make me run for the hills. Finding out that there were more genres of Country music than “Old” and “New” (basically Hank Williams or Shania Twain) was a revelation. This would become another soundtrack that I would listen to endlessly and I briefly became a big Allison Krauss fan.

When I entered college, I immediately took a shine to the resident sound designer (a former roadie/sound mixer for various rock and roll outfits). I officially met him when I ran sound on a show called Bus Stop. During the show, the director wanted one of the actors to play guitar and sing Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking”. Because of that, and because the play takes place in a suddenly snowed-in Kansas town, they decided to go with a lot of simple country music for the soundtrack of the play. This was my first introduction to Hank Williams and I was hooked. While I still hated the slow, caterwauling style of his slower songs (and I still do), I love his playful uptempo songs like “Hey Good Looking” and “Jambalaya”. At that point, like a country hipster, I decided that I liked “Old Country Music” and not the new stuff that I had barely heard.

In the next year or so, we reached a time period during the golden age of file sharing when music was free and obtaining music was consequence free. This was before licensed services like YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify allowed people to legally listen to music without having to buy it first. File sharing expanded my musical tastes, allowing me to find more tracks from Garth Brooks and, because of a collaboration, I discovered the awesome George Jones. His deep voice combined with some really fast and playful songs made me a fan pretty quickly. From there, I found even more fun artists who were not making my heart hurt with slow songs. I found a lot of artists that I would later use in my own sound design of shows like Always… Patsy Cline and Greater Tuna.

So, that is more or less where I stand with Country and Western music. I have a bunch of artists I like and on a blue moon I listen to a Pandora station inspired by Hank Williams and Buck Owens. While I have heard a few songs here and there from modern country artists that I like, I remain hesitant to really get into it. Part of that is that country music was never part of my cultural heritage despite my family being from the South. Another part of it is that I tend to disagree with the political opinions of country music stars and country music fans. It makes it a little difficult to navigate a genre that I am somewhat unfamiliar with when I imagine the distaste I have with that particular world. There are exceptions, of course. Still, I do not immediately discount Country/Western music as I once did as a kid.

How do you feel about Country and Western music?
Can you give me some good recommendations?

Clarinet

April 4, 2017


Ah Clarinet, you’re not safe in my hands.

When I was in grade school, there were a couple requirements each year. Starting in the fourth grade, we had to join the band. Now, my only experience with playing an instrument before then was struggling to play a recorder along with all of my classmates. The recorder might be one of the most annoying instruments in the hands of a child. I do not remember why but in the summer before fourth grade, I chose the clarinet as my instrument. The thing came in four pieces with a replaceable reed. I was not overjoyed with having to stick a piece of wood in my mouth several times a week. I am also not a performer. I was not thrilled about having to play music in front of people.


We played the old standards.

We obtained our instruments and assembled to practice. I was terrible. I was completely confused as to how the thing worked. Confusion led to frustration and a lot of stress. I really did not want to play a musical instrument but it was a requirement that we had to fulfill. It helped that all my friends had to do it too. To my parents’ credit, they tried their best to help me. They got me lessons at one point and for a time, I think they helped. I at least knew how to make sound with the thing. The fingering is where I was having trouble.


My training equipment.

I have excellent hand-eye coordination. I have been playing video games since I was a tiny boy. Through the power of Nintendo and Sega, my fingers were pretty nimble. In addition, I had taken typing lessons from a very early age. Everything I had said that my fingers should be able to move quite dexterously up and down a clarinet. And yet, I could not seem to get it right. This was also about the time that I started to slowly succumb to a respiratory problem I was born with. Of course, at the time we still thought it was asthma. Now that I think about it, the physical effort of playing increasing might have made me not want to play.


I was falling apart, musically.

As it was, I moved into the fifth grade with no interest in the clarinet. I had no ambitions of being a great musician. As far as I can remember, the lessons had stopped. It was for the best, they would have mostly been a waste of money. I am not sure when I started doing it but I began to play random notes rather than read the music. Time signatures and rhythm are easy for me but I was not into reading actual notes. I would just blow into the clarinet and unleash sound no matter if it was correct or not. It was a mistake. Our band leader was really smart. Eventually, he heard something wrong much the way I learned to do through my training in sound design.


These were a godsend until I eventually quit band altogether.

One by one he made each clarinet player play. When he got to me, it was now obvious what I had been doing. He called me out in front of everyone and I was mortified. All my friends knew that I was just dicking around and I was so embarrassed. I tried my best after that but thankfully, they finally sent me in for surgery. For the rest of the year, there was no way I could play because my lungs were still recovering. It was not a fun time but the silver lining was that I did not have to play clarinet anymore. When I returned to band, they let me into the percussion section. I loved percussion. It is where I should have been in the first place (except I lacked the necessary piano training). The capper on the story is that I learned this year that my mother did the exact same thing with the clarinet when she was growing up. I just had to laugh so hard.

Oh Canada

April 18, 2016

It is time for another awkward tale from my college years where weird things happened because I was still extremely introverted and I was also very sleep deprived. I went to class all day, rehearsed at night and then stayed up into the early morning so that I had recreation time. I got along pretty well with everybody even though I was strange and I was also one of the few guys in my major. I really liked the people I worked with but since I was guarded and private, most of them knew very little about me. This led to one of my favorite moments in college history.

Now, as I mentioned on Saturday, I went to college with every intention of becoming a stage manager. I had been an assistant stage manager and a production assistant and I liked the responsibility. Very quickly, though, I heard the siren call of design. I felt at home in design classes and I was friendly with a lot of designers who were a little rougher and tougher than my put together, female compatriots. I got along with them too, don’t get me wrong but more and more I remember feeling better in the shops than in the office.

I started to minor in sound design. At first, it was just for fun. The studio was a fun place to hang out during the day between classes as it was both pretty chill and very interesting. We worked under a teacher who used to be a rock and roll roadie for bands like Steely Dan and AC/DC. He was by far the coolest teacher I ever had which was saying something because I actually had a lot of cool teachers. Before I started to actually sound design my own shows, I assisted quite a few people. We were the black sheep and the red-headed stepchildren of the design family all put together. We were practically unofficial but appreciated and we tried to do a lot more than we were authorized some of the time.

So I remember doing a little assisting on a show called Betty’s Summer Vacation, a show that warped my little brain and has stuck with me all these years. Anyway, the designer was a good friend of mine at the time and he had the idea of doing a vocal effect using wireless microphones. We were a Meisner school and we were not allowed to use microphones unless it was for a specific effect since actors were supposed to be able to project. So I get handed three wireless mics and I am told to go out on the catwalk and help test them out. Sure, hand the shy guy microphones and make him the center of attention as the crew worked around us.

So I started to say “Check” over and over and that quickly got old as we were adjusting the sound. So somehow I must have had some sort of breakthrough or maybe it was a psychotic break. I decided the best way to continue to test the microphones was to sing. Although, now that I think about it maybe somebody I was friends with shouted out the suggestion. So the first song that came to mind was our national anthem. I got a few lines into the Star-Spangled Banner until I couldn’t remember anymore. Instead, I started to sing Oh Canada which is the Canadian national anthem. Somehow, I remembered all the words and sang until I was told the microphones were well-tested.

Afterward, for over a week people thought I was Canadian. That was the rumor going around. I was both amused and very flabbergasted. I thought I had been clear how proud I was of my Baltimore heritage. The fact that I knew all the words to Oh Canada and not The Star-Spangled Banner was used as evidence that I was Canadian. Not that I would mind being Canadian. A lot of cool people are Canadian. I mean Chris Jericho and Ryan Reynolds alone is pretty awesome. However, the truth of it is that Oh Canada was just easier to sing for one simple reason. The South Park movie. For two years I had listened a lot to the South Park soundtrack which included the track where Geddy Lee, Terrance and Phillip sang the Canadian national anthem. It was probably stuck in my head that day. It illustrated how distant I still was from some of the people I was friends with.

Comet Girl Pt. 1

April 4, 2016

Traci took the weight of the plane on her shoulders as they hurtled through the air at a difficult but not impossible speed. She used her shoulders and then her back as her father had taught her because if she used her hands they might go right through the metal skin and she could easily lose control. Spreading out the weight on her shoulders and upper back was a little awkward but it was more effective. She hoped everybody was alright on the plane. She thought she had heard screaming while she chased the plane but it was hard to tell with the thick hull of the plane. At least they weren’t falling as fast anymore and the weather was nice for cruising.

What seemed like an eternity passed as she grew bored of holding up a 367-ton airplane. The airport could not be too far off now, could it?. She had felt the pilots definitely turn toward a specific direction which she guessed was Drake City and the airport was miles north of the city. She suddenly felt an immense vibration and heard the sheer power of the engines. It looked like three out of four engines had turned back on and the plane suddenly felt a lot lighter. She eased off the plane a little bit and it stayed in the air by itself. She smiled and descended to a few feet below the plane. She could probably just fly away now but it was smarter to stick around in case they needed her again.

Traci wished she had brought some of her homework along. She had so much Trigonometry to do and Catcher in the Rye was not going to read itself. Then she had a vision of trying to explain to her teachers how her homework had ended up scattered over half the county. She giggled to herself and figured that homework could wait. It was tough being a secret superhero and a middle school student at the same time. She had tried to keep grades, cheerleading and the friend situation together but when her powers had manifested, cheerleading had to go. It had been mostly replaced with stopping disasters.

Traci’s mom had forbidden her from acting where she would be seen. She was flying now in an all black spandex outfit that was pretty uninspiring. She had cut her blonde hair short so that she could shove it under a black hat. Her mom had even fashioned a pantyhose-like mask to slip over her face so she wouldn’t be recognized. It did help a little with the wind currently blowing in her face but the whole thing was more than a little annoying. Each day she was more done with flying around in stealth mode. She wanted to make a splash and inspire people and maybe get some of the gratitude for saving people.

Traci’s dad had been a hero and very much in the public eye as the Comet. He had all of the same powers as Traci. He could fly, he was super strong, super tough and his senses had been heightened. He worked alongside emergency services in Drake City for years during the eighties but he usually didn’t fight crime. His journals had said that introducing someone with such tremendous power into situations with guns usually didn’t work out right. Besides, cops could usually handle most things professionally. Her dad had been a shining example for everyone to help each other and was always there when things went to hell.

Traci had to rely on journals when it came to her dad because he was missing. He had disappeared over Banks Lake years ago after helping to put out a forest fire. One moment he had been there and the next he had completely vanished and he had stayed vanished. Traci had only vague theories on why he had disappeared. His journals said that he had gotten his powers from a meteor fragment and some live wires. Comet had sounded better than Meteor and the name stuck. Maybe the weird energies from the meteor fragment had caused some sort of science-y thing to make him disappear. It was the best idea she had and that was incredibly frustrating.

Everybody Traci knew thought that her father had run out on his family. Even though Traci knew that wasn’t true, she also knew that the effect was the same either way. She missed her dad. In her spare time, she was working on a costume very much like his. When she thought about these day-saving adventures, she referred to herself as Comet Girl. She knew her mother meant well but she was aching to be free. All she could do was bide her time and keep doing what her father would have done.

The plane suddenly hit Traci in the back of the head as it started to descend toward the airport and Traci rubbed her head and hurried out of the way. She watched for a moment and flew fast in the opposite direction. She smiled to herself at how well she had done saving that plane. She would circle around and sneak back into the city and get to her homework now.

City Under Siege (2010)

April 3, 2015

To be fair, I went into this movie with the express purpose of reviewing it for the A to Z Blogging Challenge because it started with a C and I haven’t done as many movie or television reviews in a while. I like doing my little quasi-reviews and when I saw it on the Netflix menu, City Under Siege looked like it might be awful. It was either this or Chinese Zodiac which is a recent Jackie Chan movie. Anyway, I thought this would be awful and it’s really fun to tear apart a bad movie. However, it’s also really fun to be surprised and experience new things as well. To be fair, I watched the English dub version.

I don’t watch many foreign films. When I say this, I don’t really count British movies as we are in the middle of a second British Invasion. I guess I watch more than the average American but that’s not saying much. City Under Siege is the poorly titled effort of Hong Kong director Benny Chan who directed one of my favorite Jackie Chan movies. The movie is an odd mix of comedy and deep drama all rolled together in a superhero movie. Yes, this is basically a superhero movie in my eyes.

Now let me use my patented “Quotes from me as I watched the movie” to highlight parts of the movie.

This is slightly spoilery. Skip to the bottom if you don’t want any spoilers.

“Welp, there’s a clown. I’m out.”

The hero is a circus clown who becomes a superhero. Clowns creep me out but I’ve learned to embrace that. Still, it made the introduction of the movie’s main character a weird one. Warning: The first shot after the movie’s prologue is a clown closeup. However, clown is also the hero’s main personality style and although it can get annoying, he’s pretty fun.

“Whips? Daggers? What kind of circus is this?”

The circus depicted in the movie is some sort of martial arts circus that I’ve never heard of before. Maybe these sorts of circuses are popular in Malaysia or Hong Kong but they weren’t what I grew up with. If they were, I would have begged to go to the circus more often.

“Ok this was kind of an inspirational sports movie and now it’s a heist film. Now it’s a martial arts film. This is that timeless tale of the knife-throwing clown who becomes a mutant and…Ohh this is a superhero movie. I’m on board.”

The movie shifts back and forth between a lot of plots but at it’s heart it is a superhero movie. It starts like a sports movie about a knife-thrower and then it goes on from there. The tonal shifts actually help build exposition fairly naturally and give you a break between the high impact wire fighting scenes. It also gives the movie more heart.

“There are a lot of characters in this. They… wait Paparazzi Duty?!”

This is a small thing but a reporter gets moved from being a news anchor to ‘papparazi duty’ which absolutely baffled me. I couldn’t figure out if this was actually a thing but it sounds absolutely awful and it was pretty much meant to sound awful.

“Better depiction of a superhero than Man of Steel.”

Yes, I took yet another shot at Man of Steel. Two in one week. That’s a new record for me. The hero is able to act brave, heroic and also faces heroic dilemmas without being an asshole. He actually acts like he gives a crap about human life and the lives of his enemies. Go figure.

End Spoilers

The only complaint I have about this movie is that it feels just a little bit long in spots but it’s only about an hour and 50 minutes which isn’t too long. Mostly it was in spots where they released the tension to focus on character development. They probably could have done that less. Still, the movie is pretty epic and I definitely suggest you go watch it.


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