Thursday, August 29, 2013

Welcome to Indiana

Spent something like 12 hours on the road today, barreling down the highway in a box-truck with Rudy Law at the wheel.  He drives kind of like Peter Fonda did in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.  My nerves are shot.  Plus, the place we're crashing in is straight out of Haddonfield, Illinois. 

It's time to call it a night.  I'll post another blog sometime tomorrow if I make it out alive.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Seahawk Fever

I don't know if it has ever been more exciting to be a fan of the Seattle Seahawks.  Surely there has never been so much hype surrounding Seattle heading into the season.  The Legion of Boom is poised to lay the smack down for one of the best defenses in football.  The coach is cool.  The running back could plow through a brick wall if he so desired, and the quarterback looks totally legit.  Yes, the future is bright.  This isn't a team that is built to win now, either--this is a time that is built to win for a while.

The NFL frequently defies expectations, and as with anything, there are no guarantees.  Regardless, I can't wait for Week 1.  Did I mention that my wife and are I going to be in Charlotte to watch the Panthers get smacked around in 11 days? 

My prediction: Seattle has all the tools.  I think they'll win their division, and they should definitely make the playoffs.  The division crown could go to San Fran, another stellar unit, and I'm not sleeping on any of the teams in the NFC West (remember when they used to call it the NFC Worst?), but this 12th man is stoked.

Go Hawks!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Top 5 Sequels

Top 5 Sequels

In this summer of sequels, a title most summers could sport in this day and age, I thought it would be nice to take a look back at the finest sequels of all time.  One of the things I noticed when composing this list was that sequels that utilized elements of the first feature to tell an entirely new story faired better than those which basically recycled the movies that preceded them.  Audiences like to revisit characters and environments more than they like to revisit plots, so finding a way to tell a new story is critical to a sequel’s success.  With that in mind, there are several films on this list that rise above the films that inspired them, movies that somehow bucked the odds and surpassed their predecessors.
Also, in a bit of a curious note, the 80s have it, at least so far as sequels are concerned.  The only entry on my list that didn’t come didn’t come from that glorious decade of obnoxious decadence arrived mere months ahead of schedule in 1979.  

Another key attribute of the films that made my Top 5 here: grand finales.  Sequels are routinely touted for higher body counts and bigger explosions, but a number of my favorites made sure to end with a massive setpiece, many of which remain among the most invigorating finishes in motion picture history.

1)    Aliens (1986)
I imagine there are many people (myself included) who don’t appreciate Alien like they should simply because Aliens was so much better.  Now don’t get me wrong, Alien is a very good horror film, and perhaps even a great one, but Aliens is clearly a masterpiece.  This is the finest film in Cameron’s library, and it came at a time when he had scored big with The Terminator and offered up a fairly mundane horror film in Piranha II, so he was still a bit on the fence so far as Hollywood was concerned.  In all honesty, calling Piranha II “fairly mundane” is an act of kindness of considerable magnitude.  Regardless, after Aliens there could be no doubt that one of the most exciting filmmakers of all time had arrived.  Whereas Alien is a claustrophobic exercise in horror, Aliens is a massive thriller on a grand scale, a major spectacle populated with a host of memorable characters and packed with innovative setpieces that still pack a wicked punch.  Only Cameron (the youthful Cameron, the badass Jim Cameron who had yet to drop T2 or The Abyss on us, not that guy who wound up making Titanic 11 years later) would pit a hardened squad of Space Marines against his particularly gruesome breed of aliens in a firefight adjacent to a nuclear reactor, forcing his troops to shoulder their weapons as they are massacred by those nightmarish beasts that squirm and snarl across the screen.  This is followed by a terrific scene with two so-called face-huggers trying to impregnate Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in her signature role) and young Newt (Carrie Henn) in a sealed room where the only sound is the faint scraping sounds the unsightly creatures make as they scuttle across the floor.  That scene is followed by a standoff to end all standoffs, a valiant effort that gives way in the face of alien terror.  Finally, Ripley makes a daring plunge into the Alien Queen’s nest, and their epic showdown is a great example of how to end a film.  Combine all this with wonderful performances from Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and even Paul Reiser sprinkled throughout a plot that never relents, and the end result is spectacular to say the least.  Aliens is a sequel to judge all sequels by, a total triumph that may stand as the greatest film of its genre.

2)    The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max was a nifty little thrill ride that put star Mel Gibson and director George Miller on the map, but The Road Warrior was a true juggernaut that boasts a climax that will probably never be topped.  In yet another example of the sequel eclipsing its predecessor, The Road Warrior proved far superior to Mad Max, and the narrative is so much bigger and the action so much livelier that it’s hard to compare the two.  Whereas the first entry was a revenge flick, The Road Warrior is a sadistic vision of a true anti-hero coming to the rescue of a community in peril.  When Max comes upon an encampment of peaceful survivors who are trying valiantly to protect a stash of fuel, he also crosses paths with the menacing band of rogues who have surrounded the weary survivors.  While audiences might expect Max to quickly take a side in this conflict, our rugged hero has no interest in anyone else’s fight.  Despite the brutal methods of the marauding rogues, Max is intent on avoiding this conflict altogether until circumstances force him to play the part of the hero.  Once he climbs behind the wheel of a massive rig equipped for war with the minions of the awful Humungus in hot pursuit, however, it’s time for one of the biggest finales of all time.  As the rig dismantles a horde of motorcycles, jeeps, trucks, and various other vehicles, we’re treated to the type of innovation and daring that movies no longer feature.  As men leap from one vehicle to another and bodies hurtle through the air as metal meets metal in an epic race to destruction, it is important to note that there was no such thing as CGI in 1981.  Those are real people in real machines putting their lives on the line to make a picture.  With this sequel, George Miller and Mel Gibson delivered an action film without parallel and a bleak vision of an apocalyptic future that still resonates.  The Road Warrior is a landmark in motion picture history, a powerful collision of art and adrenaline that remains potent thirty years after its inception.

3)    The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
This is probably first on a great many lists, and I do understand that, yet I’m not even positive that it’s the best Star Wars sequel.  Kevin Smith’s opinion aside, I’m tempted to say that I enjoy Return of the Jedi a tad more.  In fact, if not for Anakin’s clumsy about-face into darkness, Revenge of the Sith might present its own challenge, but Empire has quite a legacy and in the end I deferred to this second film in that line’s storied history.  In truth, Empire certainly has a lot going for it.  The opening on icy planet Hoth is energetic and captivating, and the mystery and wonder of Dagobah combined with Yoda, Yoda’s endearing speech impediment, and his strange tutelage, are equally remarkable.  Harrison Ford steals the show as Han Solo (as usual) while Billy Dee Williams makes Lando Calrissian one of the series’ most complex characters.  Mark Hamill is much better as Luke, though his badass turn* in Jedi remains far superior.  The climax features one of Hollywood’s biggest twists and a grim closing that left many young fans (be sure to include yours truly in their ranks) quivering in fear as they eagerly awaited resolution that wouldn’t arrive for another three years.  Empire is a stellar science-fiction outing, a robust space opera that is bristling with excitement and adventure, a film for all ages, though it is easily one of the darkest family pictures to be so revered. 

4)     Evil Dead 2 (1987)
In essence, Sam Raimi reshaped The Evil Dead here, retelling that story in a far more whimsical manner in this cult classic that elevated Bruce Campbell to iconic status and ushered Sam into mainstream filmmaking of the highest order.  This is a delightful piece, a gory delight that is as funny as it is sinister, a horror film with comedic overtones that is utterly unique and gleefully absurd.  The biggest inspiration for this outrageous romp seems to be vintage Three Stooges routines and the comical and extremely violent Looney Tunes cartoon library.  Our main character grows more and more delirious as he contends with horrors both real and imagined in a haunted cabin deep in the forest.  A vicious monstrosity roams this isolated nightmare and anyone who shows up is apt to start levitating and spewing horrific gibberish before savagely attacking anyone in sight.  Of course these fiends must be dispatched via bodily dismemberment, but as it turns out Bruce Campbell’s Ash is a natural when it comes to battling the undead.  He must also contend with his own body as his hand turns on him, leading to one of the film’s best scenes, a physical comedy routine rooted in horror that never fails to amuse and disgust.  Suffice it to say that our hero finds himself down one hand when that particular onslaught draws to a close.  Things really spiral out of control during the big finish, which kicks off with our hero fashioning a chainsaw onto his freshly-minted stump and squaring off with a dead witch who rises up from the root cellar.  This quirky spookshow is a real treasure, and despite his big-time success with Spider-Man and other mainstream films like The Gift and Drag Me to Hell, Evil Dead 2 surely represents Sam Raimi at his ridiculous best.  It doesn’t hurt matters that Bruce Campbell became one of the most recognizable figures in the horror industry as a result of his performance here and his subsequent efforts with the character. 

5)    Rocky II (1979)
I may be alone in thinking this is a better film than Rocky, but I’m not alone in treasuring it, and the closing reel is decidedly epic.  Rocky’s second fight with champion Apollo Creed is a magnificent combination of stirring choreography and visionary direction, providing us with a surreal cinematic experience that is both lurid and overwhelming.  The tension is unbearable as Rocky struggles to his feet, and the elation is supreme when he is declared the victor and the music swells as the new champ leaps up in triumph.  Rocky II is an example of storytelling at its best, and Sylvester Stallone was at his apex in this charming gem.  This is a playful piece and a serious character study, giving us an entertaining and introspective look at a strong-willed simpleton.  This lovable chump who marches to the beat of a different drum and sacrifices his body in the dogged pursuit of something meaningful in the beatings he suffers in the ring is one of the industry’s most popular creations.  Stallone benefits from Talia Shire’s steady presence and Burgess Meredith’s scenery-chewing embodiment of the grizzled sports vet as the grumpy old trainer who guides Rocky along the way.  Meredith’s Mickey is almost as likable as the title character, and his untimely death in Rocky III remains the biggest mistake the makers of this series made, though it certainly isn’t the only one.  Carl Weavers is ideal in the role of Rocky’s rival Apollo Creed, a magnificent champion whose pride is both his greatest attribute and his ultimate undoing.  The story is actually rather moving though it is a bit melodramatic, with Rocky fearing that another fight will blind him while Adrian falls into a coma after exerting herself too much during pregnancy.  Another plot thread finds Mickey growing frustrated with Rocky’s lack of heart, which itself stems from Adrian’s refusal to endorse his efforts because of her fear for his sight and anything he else he might sacrifice in the ring.  Of course Adrian will wake up from the coma, deliver the child, and wish Rocky luck on his way to the ring, inspiring him to give his all in one of the finest fights ever captured on film.  As I mentioned before, the bout*** that closes this picture out is a glorious presentation ripe with some of the finest slow motion bits ever and enough suspense to make anyone watching anxious. This gives way to a fantastic payoff that closes out one of the cinema’s finest sequels in style, making Rocky II my favorite film in the series as well as a worthy addition to this list.

*“I'm taking Captain Solo and his friends. You can either profit by this or be destroyed. It's your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power.”

**My father swears that when he saw this picture at the local drive-in theater everyone got out of their cars and jumped around, pumping their fists and cheering during the big fight.  I can believe it.  Pop said he didn’t want to get out of his car, but he had to so that he could see, and then when Rocky won a barrage of jubilant strangers hugged dad and high-fived him in celebration.  He says he rarely felt so foolish, but I imagine that I would have been cheering too.

Oddly enough, no comic book adaptations made the cut here, though I strongly pondered including The Dark Knight, X2, Spider-Man 2, and even Superman 2. 
Other titles considered included:

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom – While researching this piece, I found a lot of commentary and critiques online, and apparently a lot of people hate this film.  I really had no idea.  I have always preferred it to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and while I know that isn’t typical, I honestly didn’t know that people hated this one.  I think it’s absolutely terrific.
Jackass 2
The Mummy Returns
Phantasm IV: Oblivion
28 Weeks Later
Lethal Weapon 2
Magnum Force
Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie
Young Guns II
Dawn of the Dead

-Originally published by RVA Magazine.  They'll be dropping my Top 5 Elmore Leonard list later this week--stay tuned!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Really Cool Thing About Washing the Dishes

Fact: there is nothing really cool about washing the dishes.  Seriously.

I'm looking at the pile of dishes that I'm about to wash right now, and I have done this before.  Many times.  Therefore, I think my expectations for this task are realistic, and I don't believe that I'm overlooking any hidden perks.  Washing the dishes is not a cool thing to do.  Writing a blog about washing dishes is probably even less cool than actually washing them, but it does allow me with a few precious seconds to spend doing something better than actually washing the dishes.

Is it sensible to delay this chore any longer?  Is there anything else to say on the matter?

I surrender.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I really dig instagram.  I like taking pictures and I love the assortment of filters instagram provides users with to jazz their pics up.  I love dishing out my photos and I love seeing what everyone else has to share.  With that in mind, feel free to visit my profile

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Weird Dreams - 8/24/2012 Edition

I'm a deranged horror author, so it should come as no surprise that I have lots of nightmares and weird dreams.  There's some strange stuff happening inside my cranium, and sometimes my nocturnal escapades are so bizarre that I feel the need to share them.

So, last night I dreamed that my good friend Dave Scearce (a swell guy and one of the best bassists around) took me to see a comedian perform at a stone amphitheater.  The comedian was a figment of my imagination and not an actual comedian, and I can't remember if he was any good or not.  Besides, it wasn't important to the dream.  Anyway, we were watching this guy perform and I got up to go to the bathroom.  Suddenly, I became weightless, and I began to float upward.  I reached a height of maybe forty or fifty feet, and then this zero gravity phase of my dream came to an abrupt halt.  I plummeted downward, terrified, and slammed into the cruel rock surface that the amphitheater was composed of.

This left me with a mangled arm that was bleeding freely and a deep gash in my head that was bleeding even worse than the mangled arm.  Making matters worse, I began vomiting up blood.  Lots of blood.  Dave was quick to lend a hand, and he rushed me to the hospital.  I told him not to call Kristen (my wife) until we saw a doctor because I was hoping that it wasn't that bad and I didn't want to scare her.  This while I continued to gush blood from my wounds and puke up lots and lots of blood repeatedly.

Once we got to the hospital, we had to wait a while, but finally the doctor hit the scene.  He looked like a normal enough guy, but I knew things had taken a turn for the worse when he introduced himself as Dr. Frankenstein.  My misgivings were confirmed when he pulled a gun on me and said, "My prescription: one round to the base of your skull to put you out of your misery."

At that point, I looked to Dave and acknowledged that it was time to call my wife. 

. . . . .

Anyone who wants to offer me some meaningful insight into that absurdity is welcome to do so.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben as Bats?

For those of you who don't know, Ben Affleck has been cast to play Batman in Zack Snyder's next Superman film, which will apparently pit DC's most iconic heroes against one another.  This is drawing a lot of fire from the internet crowd, though some are backing the decision.  My initial reaction was to groan, but that's largely due to the fact that the move brought back memories of Daredevil, a film I'm still struggling to forget.

Having said that, many of the problems I have with Daredevil weren't Ben's fault, and even at that point he probably would have been a better choice for Bats than Marvel's horned hero.  I think it's fair to say that he has evolved, and currently, he probably has just the look WB was looking for.  They've been saying they want an older, wiser Batman, and Affleck is at a stage in his career where I think he fits that bill.

The notion of Batman and Superman throwing down in a major motion picture is pretty epic, though I do worry that this project is being rushed.  As long as they have a quality script, I think this movie might just deliver the goods.  Daredevil suffered from a lousy script and terrible direction, as well as a pair of awful revisionist takes on Bullseye and the Kingpin.  The fight scenes were terrible and there just wasn't a lot to like about the picture aside from a gripping opening and David Keith as Daredevil's pop.  I don't think the upcoming Batman vs. Superman throwdown will have those problems; Snyder is a visionary directory who always scores big when it comes to action scenes.

At first, I wasn't sure about Ben as Bats, but as long as there's a good script in the mix, I think this could wind up surprising a lot of people.

Note: The Town is one of the best thrillers to come down the pipe in the last several years, and the more I thought about this, the more Affleck's role in that feature shaped my opinion.  I was a big fan of Good Will Hunting once upon a when, and everything Affleck did for Kevin Smith was golden, but it's really The Town that has me thinking he could excel in this part.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Top 5 John Carpenter Films

 Top 5 John Carpenter Films

Some might scoff at my admiration for a director who has never received the appreciation he is due from the film community at large, though horror fans have always celebrated him as a true visionary.  This is a guy who has provided numerous signature films in the genre, and in doing so he has provided us with several iconic characters who stand out in cinematic lore.  Carpenter has also engineered some truly memorable scores, and should we give him extra credit for helping Kurt Russell make the leap from Disney to Snake Plissken?  I think so.

I have honestly enjoyed all of John’s films going all the way back to Dark Star, a college film featuring the late, great Dan O’Bannon, another gifted filmmaker who never really found the reception his work merited.  Let’s hope America finds a way to embrace Carpenter for who he is and what he has done within the motion picture industry before he leaves us as well.  And while I’m wishing, I sure wouldn’t mind seeing Kurt and John work together once again before either of them calls it a career.

Every time I set out to compose one of these lists it proves difficult, but this was easily the toughest one yet.  After some intense debate that took entirely too long (just ask Tony) I wound up with 9 films that I had a very hard time whittling down to 5, and ranking those 5 proved even more difficult.  In the end, this is what I came up with, though I’m sure I got it wrong at some point.  It was too hard not to.

 1)    The Thing (1982)

It still baffles me that this wasn’t received better when it hit theaters in 1982.  I know it was the summer of E.T. and the gore factor in The Thing is off the charts, but this is a landmark film that is ripe with atmosphere and intensity.  Whether critics panned it or not, fans have always lauded it as one of the finest horror films ever, an argument I back with enthusiasm.  It is utterly unique in a number of ways that extend far beyond Rob Bottin’s magical effects work, chiefly the claustrophobic introspection centered on an all-male ensemble cast stranded in Antarctica.  It isn’t long before these unfortunate residents of a remote outpost discover that their ranks have been infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien monstrosity that can replace any of them.  Before long, no one knows whether or not the man next to him is still human, and everyone is staring down a frigid doom that cannot be defeated.  The setting is as much a part of the film as the throbbing score, and Kurt Russell sports cinema’s finest beard* as R.J. MacReady, a hero so believable and vulnerable that he seems as real as you or I.  MacReady is a quick thinker with guts, and that’s really about it.  At no point does he morph into some sort of action hero, he’s just a fairly smart guy in a hell of a pickle who isn’t welling to give up without a fight.  The realistic way the characters behave is remarkable, and the way anxiety gives way to suspicion, anger, and fear keeps the film grounded while building unbelievable amounts of tension within the audience.  Then the effects extravaganza begins, and these terrific actors make the most of the clever script as the inescapable horror stalks them through a bleak landscape of gusting wind and snowbound terror.  The grim ending is a perfect epitaph to this somber piece that somehow becomes a rollicking good time fueled by fear and masterful direction.  This is a movie that can stand proudly alongside genre masterpieces like The Exorcist or The Shining, and perhaps it should be noted that each of those films are revered for wonderful performances and stirring plots as well as gruesome setpieces and ghastly things that go bump in the night. 

 2)    Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

1n 1976, John shot Assault on Precinct 13 in 20 days.  This was 2 years before he directed Halloween, and yet this might be his true masterpiece.  It boasts his first fantastic score and clearly paves the way for the tense stories the director would share with us over the years.  Though the budget may provide limitations and there are a few miscues along the way, it is impossible to ignore the ferocity of this loving ode to the westerns Carpenter treasured as a boy.  One can see pieces of Snake Plissken in anti-hero Napoleon Wilson, expertly played by John’s one-time neighbor Darwin Joston, who is a perfect fit for a suave killer who is equal parts Doc Holliday and John Wayne.  Some of Wilson’s dialogue is lifted directly from Once Upon a Time in the West**, a loving nod to my favorite western.  Austin Stoker plays Bishop, a black cop who is given the assignment of presiding over a precinct that is being closed down, a precinct that for all intents and purposes has already closed.  The assignment is clearly an insult, and Bishop’s superiors enjoy rubbing it in.  Bishop doesn’t have long to stew, however, because things get out of hand shortly after he arrives.  First, infamous killer Napoleon Wilson is transferred to the precinct by mistake shortly after the phone service is switched over to the new precinct.  Then, a man who has unwittingly started a war with the local gang arrives in search of refuge and all hell breaks loose.  The precinct is surrounded by the gang, who lay siege to the skeleton crew of cops and the desperate convicts inside, a divided band of rugged survivors cut off from any hope of rescue.  Soon Bishop and Wilson are fighting side by side, and the raw action comes fast and furious as the body count grows.  Assault tells a simple story, but it does so with vigor, and the end result is a riveting action film that clearly signified the arrival of a powerful director.  Though this is one of his earliest and smaller efforts, Assault on Precinct 13 stands as one of Carpenter’s most significant contributions to the cinema.  Truly gripping.

 3)    Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

This film was regarded as a flop upon its initial release, though it has since gained a cult following due to its tremendous humor and flair.  Big Trouble is easily Carpenter’s most entertaining film, and Kurt Russell has never been more likable.  Jack Burton is a hilarious character, a fast-talking trucker who shows just how creative Carpenter and Russell were at their apex.  Here is a film where the roles are essentially reversed.  Jack Burton may be the main character, and he’s certainly a lovable loudmouth, but he clearly plays second fiddle to Dennis Dun in the sidekick role as Wang Chi.  Confused?  You shouldn’t be.  Jack does all the talking and Wang does all the heavy lifting while Jack tries to get his bootknife out of its sheath.  The story pits them against a powerful necromancer (Jack’s take on Lo Pan: “Tall guy, weird clothes. First you see him, then you don't.”) and three supernatural warriors, as well as legions of kung-fu cultists.  Or something like that.  The laughs are plentiful, the action is thrilling, and the movie never slows down.  Throughout this goofy odyssey, Russell lights up the screen as Jack Burton, an egomaniac who constantly offers up gems like “When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ Yessir, the check is in the mail."  Kim Catrall, James Hong, and Victor Wong are also on hand for a whimsical adventure with an absolute buffoon on center stage, which makes for a hell of a show.  Big Trouble in Little China is an absolute blast, and Kurt Russell gives another unforgettable performance as one of the most unlikely heroes ever.

4)    Halloween (1978)

I honestly wanted to put Prince of Darkness here because it is a far more frightening film, but it doesn’t have the cultural significance of Carpenter’s smash hit on a shoestring budget.  Halloween is a film that may have given birth to the so-called “slasher” films of the 70s and 80s, a craze that proved lucrative for the industry while inspiring pointed debate about motion picture violence.  Jamie Lee Curtis became a star here, and the term “Scream Queen” became a badge of honor for the heroines in such pictures.  Donald Pleasance excels in a role that both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing would come to regret turning down, as the character of Loomis has become a fan favorite over the years.  Simply put, this the story of the boogeyman, in this case a soulless psychopath named Michael Myers.  Michael is a heartless murderer who stalks the night in a bleached William Shatner mask, silently pursuing and slaughtering innocent teens without any palpable emotion.  His distance and his utter lack of humanity are what make Michael truly horrifying, and not once does he do anything that in any way complicates this frightening portrait of mindless evil.  Curtis rises to the challenge as a babysitter with guts, but can she and Loomis hope to conquer a madman with no conscience and an insatiable appetite for murder?  The score was an instant classic and the film put Carpenter on the map in a big way for good reason.  One need only watch any other so-called slasher film to recognize Carpenter’s subtlety and precision at work in this tense little gem where every shot matters and the small budget yields several big scares.

 5)    Escape From New York (1981)

Kurt Russell makes John Carpenter’s Top 5 for the third time in his signature role, the grizzled war vet who can’t be killed though everyone thinks he’s already dead.  Yes, I’m talking about the one and only Snake Plissken.  Snake is a joy to watch, and this film is so decidedly off-the-wall that one can’t help but enjoy the ride.  In the near future (which just so happens to be our recent past) New York has become a lawless prison.  Bridges are mined and rivers are patrolled by helicoptor.  There’s only one way in, and there’s no way out.  When the president crash lands in this savage wasteland, it’s up to one man to go in and get him out, but that one man doesn’t want any part of it.  Only by injecting him with a terminal virus and promising him the cure if and when he completes his mission are the authorities able to convince Snake to take on the job.  Nothing goes as planned, however, and in Carpenter’s hands this slick thrill ride becomes a grisly descent into a world gone mad.  A number of stars take part in the decadent fun, including Donald Pleasance as the president, Lee Van Cleef as Snake’s cold-as-ice commanding officer, Isaac Hayes as the sadistic Duke of New York, and Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, a brilliant criminal who just might know the way out.  As time runs out for Snake Plissken, audiences are treated to a delightfully dirty adventure that gave birth to a character like no other.  Escape from New York  benefits from another great performance from Russell and another great score, and few action films are as subversive and unpredictable.

Girl in "Chock Full O'Nuts": You're a cop!
Snake Plissken: I'm an asshole.

Other films considered:

Prince of Darkness
They Live
The Fog
In the Mouth of Madness

*I have written numerous pieces wherein I referenced either The Thing or Kurt Russell’s performance, and I always note that as MacReady he sports the cinema’s finest beard of all time.
I am truly envious.

**If you pick up the wonderful special edition dvd of Once Upon a Time in the West, Carpenter offers up several terrific observations in the documentaries located in the special features section.

This Top 5 was previously published by RVA Magazine.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dirty Southside Jam (Kickstarter details and an excerpt)

 As I work to publish my second novel, Dirty Southside Jam, I have started a fundraiser on Kickstarter.  Obviously, I would be grateful for your support, so I'm providing a link here:

 Dirty Southside Jam on Kickstarter

You can learn all about the book and my goals for the fundraiser, as well as contribute, just by clicking that link.  Just think: you would be helping a starving artist to take the next step toward putting food on the table for three hungry children and one pregnant wife.  For the record, the kids are well-fed, but as anyone who has children can attest, they're almost always hungry.  Anyway, I wanted to provide you with something more here, so I'm going to drop the basic hook for Dirty Southside Jam and an excerpt on you.  I'm giving you the first chapter, and even if you don't elect to chip in and support me, any and all feedback is welcome.

Thanks, peeps!  You know I'd do it for you.

So, what's Dirty Southside Jam about?  It goes something like this:

Billie Boyd, better known to the good people of Bogut as Blue, is the kind of guy whose luck only comes in one flavor. Sometimes it seems that his entire life has been punctuated by one bad break after another, but that's okay. He's a simple guy at heart, a man who has learned not to expect much. Everything changes when Blue finds a small fortune and decides to keep it, believing that his luck has finally turned.

He should have known better.

Now, good old Blue is at odds with a drug-peddling brute, a ruthless killer, and a corrupt lawman. His only ally is an aging drifter who likes to smoke pot and drive fast.  A man who never asked for much has bitten off way more than he can chew, and it's becoming painfully obvious that his next bad break will definitely be his last.

Now, here's a sneak peek at the first chapter.  Enjoy!

Chapter One: Good Old Blue

Billie Boyd was enjoying another leisurely night at Cinema City.  Lately, leisurely nights were all the place had to offer.  Billie was better known to the people of Bogut as “Blue” and he was a quiet fellow who seemed to give off a bit of warmth, an intriguing outsider who was very comfortable in his own skin.
The lean projectionist was in the lobby, wiping down the counters with a rag that was old and worn.  Blue had long hair that he sometimes pulled back in a ponytail, but tonight it was hanging in his face as he worked.  Blue had never been employed anywhere else and the theater was like a second home to him, but he didn’t think it would last much longer.
The failing cinema had once been regarded as a terrific place to catch a movie.  Twenty years ago it was undoubtedly the local hot spot, particularly when a true blockbuster was playing.  In those days, the parking lot was often so full that late arrivals had to park at the pizzeria down the hill and hoof it from there. 
Blue had made that journey on numerous occasions in his time, but nobody had a hard time finding a parking spot these days.  The old theater was barely turning a profit and the parking lot was mostly empty, even on weekends. 
Cinema City had fallen into a sad state of disarray and it was getting worse with every day that passed.  The carpet was old and dirty, fraying in some places and stained in others.  In one spot the red wallpaper had peeled back to expose a filthy yellow expanse of drywall.   The video games lining the lobby were a primitive array of battered shells housing unheralded titles.
Blue watched as an old man approached the front of the cinema to study the posters advertising the movies they were playing.  The old man lingered in front of each sheet, trying to muster up some enthusiasm, but nothing caught his fancy.   Grimacing, he turned and walked away. 
Blue sighed.  He loved this place, and it pained him to watch it wither away right before his very eyes.  They hadn’t added any new features to their bill for three weeks in a row, a drought that would hamper any cinema’s business.   In fact, this was the worst Saturday night Blue had ever been on hand for.
They had sold a whopping sum of fourteen tickets for the three seven o’clock shows.  To make matters worse, the concession stand hadn’t made so much as a dime after the movies started.  Unfortunately, this was typical of late, as Cinema City was mired in a lingering slump that had Barry contemplating doing away with the latest show on each day aside from Friday and Saturday.  If it came to that, things were definitely coming to a halt sooner rather than later. 
Blue had held his job since he was in high school and he had always displayed a loyalty to the place that was inexplicable and wholly undeserved.  Barry made it clear that he liked Blue and appreciated his efforts, but he wasn’t about to provide a raise that matched his praise.   He seldom gave his star employee enough hours and the old coot was always too busy ogling the young females who operated the concession stand to truly appreciate Blue’s efforts. 
When Barry finally got tired of scraping by and decided to close the doors for good, Blue would have to move on to something else.    Until then he was getting paid for doing almost nothing, which was nice, but maybe it would be wise for him to start looking at other options. 
The next job he took would certainly be more difficult.  He had it made at Cinema City.  Most nights he spent far more time reading whichever book he was currently devoted to than attending to the patrons or the projectors.  Currently, he was plowing through an old copy of North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent.  His copy of the novel came complete with yellow pages and a musty odor.  It was one of his all-time favorites and it frequently inspired him to laugh out loud.

Later, after all the shows had let out, Blue finished his work upstairs in the booth, which was actually a large room.  He deftly threaded each film through the projector for the next shift, his fingers dancing through the process, his mind elsewhere.   Once he had assured himself that everything was in order with a cursory walk-through, he went to the box and shut down all of the appropriate breakers in rapid succession.  He went downstairs, set the alarm, and exited through the side door. 
Blue strolled over to his car, enjoying the crisp night air.  Some people seemed unable to shake their fear of the dark, but he had always enjoyed the night.
Blue drove a 1992 Toyota Tercel that had a heart of gold.  He had owned four cars and each vehicle aside from the Tercel had proven to be a total piece of shit.  He hadn’t called any of the others anything aside from random curse words, but the burgundy Tercel he had dubbed “Martha” and he treated this particular lady with tremendous affection. 
The old girl was rugged and dependable.  He had owned the vehicle for six years and she was steadily approaching three hundred thousand miles.  Blue was determined to take her to that plateau and beyond.  To date,  she had avoided major repairs. 
“That’s another one in the books, Martha,” Blue said as he climbed in.  He was smiling, but that wasn’t unusual.  Blue smiled a lot.  
Good old Blue.
Maybe his story is a triumph of sorts, but then again it could be a tragedy.  It’s a tale that begins and ends on a winding stretch of country road in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.   That ornery strip of asphalt is called McClusky Lane, except when referred to as plain old State Route 79 (often reduced to a raspy old 79) by those who have lived in Bogut long enough. 
They like to spin yarns about old 79 in these parts, and those yarns are frequently bloody nightmares that yield restless nights.  Many of them are true, or at least based in truth, for on McClusky Lane the straights are long and narrow and the twists come fast and hard.  The road begins winding about the foothills like a frightened serpent before skirting the lake, drawing perilously close to the water’s edge.  Later, long after most of the traffic has filtered onto other roads, it crosses Cold Rock Creek via a rickety covered bridge that has created concern amongst the populace for decades.  Thus far the decrepit wooden structure has held, but all the old-timers agree that it won’t be long before the whole thing takes a bath.
They’re probably right about that, and someone is bound to go with it.  Those old-timers know the lay of the land, and they also know the history of these parts.  McLusky Lane is a mean stretch of pavement indeed, a dangerous country corridor itching for blood.  In most places there’s a similar stretch of highway, a winding road in a lonely hollow with a few twists too many and just enough room for reckless youngsters to build speed and momentum.  Like those other passages in those other places, McLusky Lane has claimed far too many lives. 
It’s notorious not only for a number of horrific accidents, but also for a history rich with stories about moonshine, exciting tales of hotshot runners racing against the law and taking big chances on that devilish road.  There are a few major players whose names are familiar to all those who call Bogut home, and virtually everyone living in these parts still has some kin with access to a working still.  White Lightning has always been a welcome addition to any shindig in Bogut, and there’s seldom enough to suit everyone. 
Blue preferred pot, but he could never pass on a jar when it was offered. 
He hated the road, though, hated it with a passion.  He agreed with the old-timers on that score.  While some people scoffed at the road’s reputation and wondered how the locals could lend a strip of asphalt such personality, Blue was intimately familiar with the woeful history of McLusky Lane.  He had survived his ordeal, but he was a victim nonetheless.   
He was only eight years old when the accident happened, but he could remember it vividly.  It was never going to go away, he was certain of that.  No matter how hard he tried to force the episode into the darkest recesses of his mind, those memories were always crawling out to confront him at his weakest moments.
He was going for a ride with his older brother when a deer bolted across the road in front of them and Ronnie panicked.  Billie screamed as his brother yanked the wheel too hard, sending his rugged little Jeep into a dangerous slide that quickly became a violent roll.  The Jeep went off the shoulder and tumbled down into a ravine, flipping four times in the process.
When it ended, Billie was lying against the door with pieces of his brother in his lap.  He was drenched in Ronnie’s blood and the wreck had imprisoned him within the vehicle.  Physically he went virtually unharmed, but the mental anguish he suffered was almost too much for him to endure.
He was trapped in the wreckage for nearly four hours before they got him out, the stench of blood filling his nostrils as the wet warmth of Ronnie’s remains pressed against him.  Gradually the sticky lumps of meat that had once been his brother grew cold. 
It would be nice if he couldn’t recall that period of time, if it was lost in a fog, horrifying yet shapeless, a formless nightmare from the past.  Unfortunately that just wasn’t the case.  It was still all too real to him even after all this time.  His mind hadn’t drifted into shock or provided any distractions in the form of hallucinations.  His memories were vivid, a gruesome record of that terrible ordeal that had yet to fade and likely never would.
He had sat there, drenched in blood, pieces of Ronnie all over the place, the grim horror of reality refusing to release him into any sort of sanctuary.  Time had never passed so slowly, each moment stretching into an eternity, the hours crawling past like days.  His spirit broke and his hold on his sanity crumbled during that hellish passage. 
When they pulled him out of the mangled Jeep, he told the paramedics exactly what had happened, describing the accident in great detail.  Then he lapsed into silence and closed his eyes.  He couldn’t remember things so well for a while after that. 
It was better than six months before he spoke so much as a word and nearly a year before he spoke at any length about Ronnie or the accident.  He seldom talked at all and he began keeping to himself.  Some of the kids starting calling him “Little Blue Boy” and the nickname stuck.  Time whittled it down to “Blue” and he never resisted.  He didn’t particularly like the moniker, but he didn’t dislike it enough to object.  After a while, it become part of him. 
He found himself thinking about the wreck more and more these days, but he kept pushing it away.  It was far easier to find distractions than to contemplate that horrid experience.  It was over and he had suffered enough.  He had moved on a long time ago and he needed to forget it. 
Blue shook his head and grimaced.  Some things were easier said than done.

The sky above was speckled with twinkling stars and the breeze was gentle.  It was a nice night for September.  Blue drove with his window down, listening to a cassette tape he had purchased at the flea market for a dollar a few weeks ago.  It was the timeless Outlandos D’Amour from The Police, a bargain at any price, and Blue was quickly wearing it out. 
He was only a few miles down the road when he spotted David Blanchard walking along the side of the road with his olive bag slung across his shoulder.  David was an old salt who had pulled three tours in Nam after earning quite a reputation for running moonshine in these hills when he was but a pup.  Most folks around here knew who he was, and aside from those wearing badges, most felt he was a good enough guy. 
The current sheriff was a chubby prick named Arthur Leopold III.  He had been sheriff for nearly a decade and his daddy had owned the post before his beefy son took his place.  Some time before that, his grandfather had been sheriff, but his time in office was cut short in a gruesome accident on McLusky Lane. 
He was chasing a young David Blanchard at the time. 
The first Arthur Leopold was pitched through his windshield and slammed headfirst into a tree at something like seventy miles per hour when he came into a sharp turn running hot and didn’t have the mustard to bring his good old Ford around.  His hat was found some sixty feet from his body.   
And so it was no secret that the current sheriff despised the old vagrant, and surely there were those who didn’t blame him, though in a place like Bogut most of the populace preferred a man who ran moonshine to a man sporting a tin star.     
Blue didn’t think much of Leopold, but then he didn’t think much of any of the authority figures he had dealt with.  In his opinion, most people who were given any small measure of power ceased with deliberation and began acting on impulse.  David, on the other hand, was all right as far as Blue was concerned.  Leopold wasn’t going to mess with the old drifter if Blue could help it.  He had given the old vet a ride on several occasions for the same reason, and the dude sometimes smoked him out in return for the trip.
They shook hands and Blue asked the old drifter where he was going.
“Nowhere in particular,” David said.
“That’s one of my favorite destinations.”  Blue put his foot on the gas and Martha rumbled ahead, slicing through the night. 
David settled back in his seat, stretching his legs, making himself comfortable. 
Blue found his mind slipping toward the past again, taking him to another episode from his youth that involved that wretched road.  The man sitting beside him was also a player in this memory.
When he was a kid, long before anyone ever called him anything but Billie, he had invited a friend over to spend the night.  This was when he and his family lived on a dirt road just off of McLusky Lane. 
Billie and his friend had decided to go for a walk and shortly thereafter the two of them were a few miles from home, heading toward the lake.  They were walking along McLusky Lane, approaching the boat ramp and enjoying the nice day as they went.  They were talking about comic books when a weaving truck sped by, nearly careening into them. 
            Suddenly the truck slid to a stop, pelting them with gravel.  As they looked on in mute terror, a stocky old man with a silver crewcut and a scraggly white beard lurched out, barreling toward them with a club in his hand.
            “Did you give me the finger, boy?”  He bellowed as he advanced, his eyeballs swelling in their sockets until it appeared they would burst.
            It occurred to Billie later that they should have run.  Though imposing, the madman was old and built for power, not speed.  They could have eluded him with ease, but foolish children that they were, they had stood there, frozen in the grip of terror.  Blue and his friend were practically rooted to the ground as the stranger approached with his barbaric weapon, his pupils so big they looked like black checkers to the frightened boys.
            “Huh?  Did you?  Did you flip me off, son?”
            Billie didn’t know if the man was addressing him or his friend, but neither had made any gesture whatsoever, so he said just that.
            “Bullshit, brat!  I’ll teach you to give me the damn finger.”
            He was poised to strike when David Blanchard came out of nowhere, calmly approaching this roaring menace with his arms before him, his palms facing outward.  Billie would never forget the way the drifter looked on that day, his black hair pulled back into a ponytail, his beard thick and unruly, his worn combat jacket providing a stark contrast to his red flannel shirt.
            “It’s okay,” David said in a soothing voice, almost as though he were dealing with an animal.  “We have a misunderstanding here, man, that’s all.  Let’s make sure no one gets hurt.”
            The man with the club sneered, but he lowered the club.  “Who are you?”
            “I’m no one,” David said flatly, “No one at all.”
            “The fuck did you come from?”
            “Nowhere,” David said in a soft tone.  “It doesn’t matter, anyway.  Everything’s cool.”
            As young Billie watched the two men talk, he was sure that if the surly man with the club made the wrong move, David was going to tear him to peaces.  There was nothing in the vet’s manner or stance to suggest this ferocity, but young Billie sensed it lurking just beneath the surface.
            In the end, nothing grave happened.  David talked things out with the man and that old nutjob actually apologized before leaving.  Billie and his friend were quick to depart as well, curtly thanking David and setting off with quite the tale for their chums. 
It had been a long time since Blue thought about that incident, but it passed through his thoughts as his trusty car raced through the darkness tonight, David Blanchard riding shotgun.   The strip of pavement framed in the glare of his headlights was as a grey blur churning beneath them. 
            He suddenly felt the need to discuss the episode.  “When I was a child,” he began, “I was attacked by a man with a club-“
            “I remember,” David interrupted, a tired voice emitting from somewhere within his tangled mess of a beard.  His thick unruly hair hung about his shoulders, his grey locks frayed and dirty from a lack of grooming.  “I remember just fine. Never could figure why the two of you didn’t just run, but I remember the whole thing well enough.”
            “You knew that was me?”
            David smiled and took a joint from his pocket, lighting it with a devilish grin.  The aroma of marijuana, tantalizingly sweet and unmistakably pungent, filled the Tercel.  “Of course I knew it was you, boy.  Of course I did.  The real question is what did that crazy old bugger have a club for?  Really now, who carries a club?”  The old drifter shook his head and laughed.
            Blue was surprised.  They had never discussed anything of great importance before, but this acknowledgement seemed to suggest a far deeper bond than Blue had imagined.  What was his value to this strange old bird?
            After several deep drags on the joint and few rattling coughs, David passed the joint to Blue.  He provided a sound imitation of his predecessor in this regard.  Almost at once, the warmth began to spread through him and his body began to relax.  The Police were still tearing it up in Martha’s cassette player, and the old stoner took note.
            “This is back when The Police were the shit,” David said, smiling as he lost himself in the music.  “They had their own sound.  I suppose it was only a matter of time before one of the guys got uppity.  I just never imagined it would have been Sting.”  The old drifter laughed.  He took the joint from Blue and took two big hits in rapid succession before continuing.  “I mean, who would have thought?  What are the chances of a guy named Sting having an ego?  Especially if he’s a revelation on bass and he’s got a pair of pipes fit for an angel.”
            Blue felt the need to say something, but he didn’t know what he could possibly offer. “I’m really enjoying this album,” he said.  He was clearly out of his depth.
            David pressed on.  “Truly gifted.  But he never did anything to rival this one.  Or maybe Reggatta De Blanc.  That’s the one with Message in a Bottle.  Nothing in his solo career could touch The Police.  They had their own sound, man.”
            “You already said that,” Blue said, wishing he hadn’t.
            “Well, maybe I said it twice because I wanted to make sure you got the point.  I mean, a man driving around with Outlandos D’Amour in his tape player should understand these things.  The Police weren’t some addition to some scene, man.  They were a scene.  They had their own thing going.  You dig?”
            “I get it.  I got it.  I’m the one who bought the cassette tape.  I’m listening to it, aren’t I?”
            “No, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.  You may be listening to The Police, but you aren’t hearing The Police.  Not yet, anyway.”
            An uneasy silence followed, broken only by Martha’s steady hum and The Police’s efforts on Next To You.  Before long, Blue’s mind drifted to the past again, taking him back to that strange episode on the side of the road.  “Why-“ he began, but it was a question that would go unanswered. 
Later, Blue would be unable to recall what he was going to ask.  He would remember little of what had transpired leading up to the accident.  Had they shared something?  That gentle moment before the storm would be lost forever in the glare of headlights and the scream of burning rubber. 
            For the second time in his life, Blue was part of the dance as steel met steel and flesh collided with machinery in a pulverizing display of power.  Once again, he screamed as he was thrown forward, his wail drowned out by a metallic squeal that filled the night.