Monthly Archive: March 2012

My Favorite Poem

Call Me

The eager note on my door said “Call me,”
call when you get in!” so I quickly threw
a few tangerines into my overnight bag,
straightened my eyelids and shoulders, and

headed straight for the door. It was autumn
by the time I got around the corner, oh all
unwilling to be either pertinent or bemused, but
the leaves were brighter than grass on the sidewalk!

Funny, I thought, that the lights are on this late
and the hall door open; still up at this hour, a
champion jai-alai player like himself? Oh fie!
for shame! What a host, so zealous! And he was

there in the hall, flat on a sheet of blood that
ran down the stairs. I did appreciate it. There are few
hosts who so thoroughly prepare to greet a guest
only casually invited, and that several months ago.

— Frank O’Hara

Jesus. If I could write one thing like that, I’d die pretty happy.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch THISAll right, let’s discuss Sucker Punch. First, some stipulations:

1. Sucker Punch is not a good movie.

2. However, something this banal and shallow almost certainly has to be this banal and shallow on purpose or life has no meaning and I might as well shoot myself in the head right now.

In fact, the banality, shallowness, and ridiculousness of this film is very likely the whole fucking point. I’m going to assume you’ve watched it, and thus know the story, as I will not offer a summary and will offer generous spoilers.

Here’s the thing: Zack Snyder thinks he’s smarter than he actually is, and to give credit where it is due, he tried to do something remarkable here. I think. The whole thing is so incoherent this all might be some sort of Dying Dream where my brain, murdered by awfulness, attempts to create a new reality that makes more sense. I think Zack Snyder made most of his movie ridiculous and meaningless on fucking purpose.

Consider: The title of the movie, when considered after having watched it, pretty obviously signifies a trick.

Consider: The set-up to the plot is perfunctory, barely sketched. I get the feeling Snyder would have preferred to just cold-open in the asylum and not bothered explaining how Baby Doll got there. In fact, that might have been the wiser choice, for all the good the wordless set-up actually does.

And then, just as Don Draper is about to shove a pick up Baby Doll’s nose and lobotomize her, bam! We are dropped into two levels of bullshit in which nothing matters. The use of the word levels is intentional, because while the first part of this portion of the movie is just a bad, boring Caged Heat riff, the second part is best described as Extended Video Game CutScenes. In the first level of bullshit, Baby Doll filters actual events in the asylum through her imagination as she sketches a plan to break out. In the second level of bullshit, she and her fellow inmates murder hundreds of mooks in order to prosecute their plan. But don’t worry; it is specifically stated that the mooks are not human, so we shouldn’t feel at all conflicted about their wholesale murder.

That’s important.

So here, then, is the trick, the sucker punch. We’re told explicitly not to worry about the slaughter, because it doesn’t matter. And the artificiality of the bordello level appears to imply that none of the main characters will be killed. It’s falseness, stylized design, and clear implication that it’s all a dream coupled with the ludicrous nature of their bloodless adventures makes your mind wander, secure that none of the pretty girls will get killed. Maybe they’ll be in danger, as Rockett is once or twice early on. Maybe a mission will go wrong somehow. But nothing’s going to happen in these two layers, because these two layers are bullshit, and Snyder works hard to make sure you’re aware they are bullshit. And we, the audience, are familiar with the tropes that apply to these kinds of bullshit and so we think we know what’s going to happen.

And then, boom! The girls die.

That, of course, is the sucker punch of the movie. After working hard to convince you that none of the main characters is going to die, he kills off three main characters in ten minutes. Their deaths are not really heroic or beautiful. They don’t really die for anything. After spending an hour or more convincing you that the story is just cutscene nonsense, he shoots them in the head, smears blood on his fingers, and paints a question mark on your forehead with it.

I’m not sure I would have liked a successful Sucker Punch, to be honest. This kind of haughty See? You’re the Monster! kind of storytelling is dull. Yes, yes, I am desensitized because of media violence. Fuck you, Zack Snyder. However, at least Snyder tried something. It didn’t work, and maybe it sucked, but he tried. I give him that.

Let’s also consider, as a parting gift, the clear implication that Blue the Orderly has been forging lobotomy documents for years in order to rape lobotomized girls. That, my friends, is what scientists call Entertainment.

How Not to Tell a Story

The Walkin' DeadIs there anything less engaging on television than The Walking Dead right now? I mean, Jebus. This show is becoming a seminar in how to take apocalyptic zombie fiction and make it boring. Here’s the recipe, in case you’re interested in creating your own boring apocalyptic zombie story as a sleep aid for the restless:

1. Have very, very few zombies. Zombies do show up from time to time on this show, and when they do it’s usually effective. But for a world overrun by the walking fucking dead, the characters spend a lot of time sitting around, sunning themselves, with no zombies, like, anywhere near them.

2. Put your characters in stasis for long periods of time. By my reckoning, the survivors have been at the farm for sixty or seventy years at this point. The farm is magically resistant to zombie invasion, so the characters are just sitting around talking endlessly about … being on the farm. When they originally arrived at the farm I thought this was a decent idea: On the one hand, the implied security of the farm, it’s resemblance to a normal life would tempt our merry band of survivors to steal it, or force their way into it. And of course I fully expected – and still expect – the survivors to destroy the place, to lead the Walkers there and see it burned to the ground. The fact that neither of these things – or something else I didn’t predict – has happened means the characters have just been sitting around, with occasional bouts of action clearly thrown in just to jolt the audience from its nap.

For a short while, admittedly, the missing girl storyline justified this. I could get behind that. But then the girl was missing for what seemed like years, and I’d lost interest in her story long before the Reveal. The Reveal was decent enough, yes, but would have worked better if they’d snipped a lot of the intervening story out, like a tumor.

3. Revert to SitCom character stability. I think we get it by now: Rick is moral, indecisive, and prone to lengthy sermons on This Is How We Live Now. Shane is angry and unstable, prone to violence. All of the characters now have a schtick, and by gum they are steady. Any time the show flirts with the possibility that Rick might grow a little less conflicted, or Shane might restore some of his humanity, or Dale might stop being the nagging, ineffective Voice of Timid Reason, they find a way to write their way out of it. God forbid a character actually evolve, because that would mean they’d have to find something else to write instead of another scene where Shane rants and raves about how he’s the only one capable of keeping everyone safe.

This is, of course, can be easily corrected, and likely will be by the end of the season as they ramp up a spectacular finale. In the mean time, I’ve stopped watching. If I read some reviews that urge me to reconsider, I’ll be happy to. until then, I’m sick of the Hand Wringing Zombieless Zombie Apocalypse Gang.


You’re Eating Yourself, You Don’t Believe It

(Originally published in Angry Thoreauan #28, Easter, 2001)

Back in College, my room-mates Jeof and Ken and I once decided to make a movie. Back then we had lots of ideas, most of which ended in dispiriting failure and occasional emergency room visits, unlike today when the last ten ideas I had were variations on the lets get a drink theme. Back then it didn’t seem so crazy that we would make a movie with a single video camera, no money, actors, or experience. Why not? We were, after all, brilliant, or so we thought. I still don’t know what went wrong — all the signs of unrecognized genius were there: General messiness, absent-mindedness, bad grades, ennui, depression. I suppose it’s easy to make a mistake, since those are also, apparently, the signs of dumbness.


The End of Storage

Friends, my brother Yan is going to be moving soon, and I of course have been drafted to aid him in this endeavor. Yan is not my brother’s real name. I call him Yan to protect his dignity, of which he has little. A few seconds of Googling likely will reveal his true identity, though why you would want it is beyond me. Yan is not very interesting. He is, in fact, a terrible, awful person who is going to make me haul about 300,000 metric tons of books from his old home to his new one. WE HATES HIM.

No, not really. We love Yan! His antics are quite amusing. But I thought I was done hauling freight in exchange for a few beers and some hearty thanks a loooong time ago. Like back in the 20th fucking century. It’s 2012, people. The world is going to assplode in a few months and I am spending my precious final hours hauling books.

Here at Somers Castle, I’ve been trying to rid myself of Things That Must Be Stored.

I used to be the King of All That Must Be Stored. It’s a genetic thing; my family has always kept everything. Bent, rusted screws? You never know, throw them in a jar. Winter jackets from when I was eight years old? You never know, hang them in a closet. I took this training with me and when I first lived on my own I was hauling a lot of stuff around with me.

About a decade ago I had a moment of clarity and have been trying to clean out my life, and I’ve had a lot of success. I realized that a lot of stuff I was hauling for nostalgic purposes had pretty much lost its meaning – if you haven’t spoken to someone in 20 years, do you really need to keep meaningless trinkets? And I used a bit of tough love on myself when it came to old computer equipment and CD-Roms filled with ancient software packages I don’t need any more. I mean, my god, I had shit I couldn’t even identify, pushed into envelopes marked MAYBE IMPORTANT WHO THE FUCK KNOWS. That’s how bad it is.

Currently, I’m largely divested. My CDs: In the trash, everything ripped to MP3s and stored on redundant DVDs. Paperwork, scanned. Trinkets thrown away if i can’t place their significance within five seconds. If I don’t burst into tears upon seeing the fucking things, I do not give a fuck about them anymore.

This is the End of Storage. I used to wonder where to jam everything. I used to sit and study the closets in the small, cramped old apartments I rented, pondering creative ways to get more shit into them. The digital world is freeing up so much damn space I can’t believe how much stuff I was hauling around with me. At a certain point in the future, I could actually imagine living someplace without much storage at all. Just enough to hold a few hundred DVDs — or, ultimately, a single humming RAID array, holding everything. Photos. Music. Manuscripts. Correspondence. All the paperwork of being an adult in the modern world.

The only problem: Books.

Ah, you say, you’re a moron, because books have been solved. I am a moron, this is true. But I’m also still kind of suspicious of eBooks in general, because corporations keep offending me with their blatant disrespect for consumer rights. As I’ve wheezed on before, when I purchase a physical book, I own that sucker. I can lend it, sell it, turn it into origami elephants. Whatever I like, because I own that sumbitch. When I buy an eBook, I am merely purchasing permission to read it and hang onto to it for as long as the seller lets me. Maybe I can loan it or resell it, but that’s determined by the rights holder, and the rights I have can be changed at any time, which means, of course they are not rights at all, are they? Jebus, the content of the book can be changed. On my device. Without my permission.

This is what scientists term bullshit.

So, books remain problematic. I would go get a Kindle or a Nook or whatever in a flash if I could actually own the digital files I purchased, if I could lend them and resell them to used eBook stores and all that jazz. Universally, across the board, without jumping through hoops. And then I could get rid of all these bookshelves and live in some sort of THX-1138 white world, unencumbered by all this stuff.

At which point, no doubt, we will all have holograms of bookshelves and piles of boxes beaming on our white walls, as it will become cool to have a mess everywhere. At least then I’ll be ahead of the game.