Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

No music lyrics this time, just a note that I'm going to be on the road.

The posting will probably be less frequent over the next 3 weeks. Max and I are headed to Wonderfest, having a long overdue visit with his family, (all of whom I really like, got very lucky in laws this time) and then on to some of the Vincentennial events. All of this should provide some good writing fodder, which is great, because participating in the "Not Bad For a Human" blogathon lit a fire under me.

I've got some good ideas for some upcoming pieces, something on "The Human Centipede" for sure. Probably "Flash Gordon" and "Times Square". Even though the blogathon has past, I'll tackle the Stuart Gordon/Lance Henriksen version of "Pit and the Pendulum".

Thanks for the comments and support so far. I've really appreciated it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"I wanna do bad things with you" - Jace Everett

I'm going to write about one of my all time favorite film characters. I watch a lot of movies. At home, we have a floor to ceiling bookcase that is overflowing with DVD's, and another of VHS. Yeah. VHS. George Carlin could have written his "stuff" schtick by just taking a gander at my film collection.

Nope, it's not Indy, or Bond, or any of the usual suspects. It's Jesse Hooker, leader of the vampire clan in Katherine Bigelow's excellent and underrated film "Near Dark". Jesse cuts a swath through this film and in my horror loving heart like the former soldier he is. Jesse is bad, bad news. He is no longer human, and yet he shows an incredible devotion to his family of "Nocturnal Nomads" as I have heard the actors refer to them. They are are like a feral version of the Joads.

I had a great talk with a friend today about this film. In an incredible coincidence, one of my best and oldest friends happened to be in my hometown the same time I am. The reasons we are both here aren't good actually, but the parallel existence he and I seem to share has thrown us together again. Life does that sometimes.

Greg and I have always shared a love of horror. Horror literature for sure, but especially horror films. We had lunch today at one of my favorite places, an Irish bar that I've been going to since I was kid. You read that right. It used to be that the Dad of the dear friend that I mentioned in the last post would take us there, install us at the PONG table, and we'd have burgers while he had a couple of beers. It was a total dive back then. Seriously. Charles Bukowski kind of place. It's more of a fern bar now, but the burgers still rock. And they cook them rare, as it should be.

Of course our conversation turned to things dark almost immediately. The thing with my buddy Greg is that he and I share a very twisted sense of humor. Not just a little of kilter, seriously twisted. And he is one of a few friends I have that if we get to laughing about something, it's like we click, and we can't stop. We can't look at each other, because we already have tears rolling and have gone limp and can't breath. And we mess with each others heads in a big way, and it always ends up in laughter.

He has this thing he does, where he voices a random creepy and generally goofy thought. Like "What if you and I were stranded in the wilderness together, and we were like reduced to eating our own feet, Considine, would you? Or would you just eat me and get yourself out? *he kicks me under the table* "because I would definitely drag your footless ass back to civilization. Yeah. Considine. I'd be there for you". *again with the kick*. This kind of thing usually forces me to publicly flip him off, and that's why I love him.

Then we get to talking about the films that have recently creeped us out, or stayed with us in a very visceral way. We talk about "The Shining" for a while, and then I mention "Near Dark". He hasn't seen it.

There is a special kind of glee when you share a film you love with someone who is fresh to it. I got real excited and focused and conspiratorial, and I immediately launch into why I love this film so very much. It hits the mark on so many levels, but for me, it's all about Jesse Hooker.

I tell him all about it. "There's this scene. Two drifters, petty thiefs, thugs...approach the car where Jesse and his lady, Diamondback are stopped by the side of the road. They threaten different kinds of mayhem. At first, they especially focus on Diamondback. They taunt her something awful, and she just takes it and smiles". She's the perfect partner to Lance Henriksen's Jesse, and in this scene they both do that stillness thing that I was talking about in my previous post. They just slowly grin, a truly evil grin, have a sideways glance that speaks volumes, and after much harassment from these idiots, Jesse speaks.

"I'm wondering how you'll look with your face ripped off". The grin that turns into probably the scariest display of mirth I've ever seen on film. And I actually think it was a good choice that we never see these asshats demise. It would take away from the bar scene. Oh, the bar scene.

The tribe enters a roadhouse to the stains of John Parr's "Naughty Naughty". The minute this happens, you have a sharp intake of breath, because you just know bad things are going to happen, and they do. In a big way. Greg will read this, and I already gave him a few highlights, so I'm going to leave it at that in the interest of those you who may not have seen this film. And if you haven't Get thee to netflix, or your local big box store, and CHECK IT OUT.

I tell Greg about the blogathon, and why I've been enjoying the hell out of it. And why Mr. Henriksen is one of the best artists out there. We've talked previously at this lunch about scaring each other, Greg is a man who has actually hid in the bushes outside my house to jump out and scare the crap out of me. I tell him all about the preparation that was done by Mr. Henriksen for Jesse. The story of that is on an extra of the disc I have, and it's a good one. And I know Greg will appreciate the tale.

Mr. Henriksen basically starved himself prior to filming, and it shows. Jesse is positively skeletal, which is appropriate. He looks like Death that has come for you, and indeed he is. Lance/Jesse took some roadtrips, and he deliberately made himself look like a drifter, hungry, very hungry and gritty looking. He picked up a hitchhiker on this roadtrip, and he messed with him. He told him to roll a cigarette, and then mercilessly berated him about what a bad job he had done with it. In the clip about this, Mr. Henriksen says that he was sure this guy thought he was going to die. And he laughs. We get that.

Greg looks me in the eye, and he says "I LOVE that". Love it. Why do I love that?" And I reply, "It's commitment".

He will be watching "Near Dark" at the next opportunity, and I can't wait to talk to him about it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You can have my isolation; you can have the hate that it brings - Trent Reznor

Sometimes, we all have to walk the dark path. You have to walk alongside and in the dark to understand and make peace with it. The third episode of "Millennium" that really struck me during my revisitng of the series is "The Thin White Line". Frank Black walks a very dark path in this one, a path that has to do with his regrets and personal convictions, his whole belief system. And as dark as it is, it's ultimately uplifting.

There is a copycat killer loose. He is mimicing a the pattern of a current inmate that Frank put inside years ago. A true psychopath that almost killed him. He wasn't successful, but he left him with a scar, a thin white line across the palm of his hand. Frank bears more than just a physical scar from this confrontation. The events send him into serious contemplation about what he could have or should have done.

I'm going to digress a bit here, but there is a point to this.

One of the people that I still just respect to an insane degree, to this day, was a cop. One of my best friend's Mom actually. Mrs. Neff. She was the first woman to work at our city PD. She then became a county sheriff, and eventuall FDLE. She was tough as nails. That, and she made a mean Key Lime Pie. The dichotomy is what is key here. She could decorate her house like a photospread in Vanity Fair, and that night smack a drunk felon upside the head with her Kel-Lite to subdue him. Frank Black has said over and over that he is not a cop. Technically, no. But he works in that world that is there to uphold all of our principles. He doesn't bake or decorate, but when he is at home there is a shift - he keeps the dark path far from the yellow house, by doing all of the things a husband and Father do, which is wisely emphasized often in this series.

It takes a special kind of person to do what Mrs. Neff and Frank Black do. I've heard that law enforcement officers have different ways of dealing with the special kind of daily stress they face. Some engage in gallows humor at a crime scene. While sitting at the table and eating that Key Lime pie Mrs. Neff would tell us about her day. She she didn't spare us for the most part, because she wanted us to know. She chose which experiences she shared carefully, but they all had a point. She wanted us to know about the dark that was out there, to be prepared. She could be funny, like telling us about how the recorder in her purse at an undercover sting wasn't working, and the John she was about to arrest was getting way to close and personal. She would tell us this while my friend and I would help her dress really trashy for the evening's work. We clipped roach clips in her hair, Picked out the tightest jeans in her closest, told her NO! Not the leather purse, you need a Crown Royal bag for your cash...

Sometimes she would scare the crap out of us, telling us about the time she was first on the scene of an accident that killed a girl our age, and had to go tell the parents that their daughter was dead. She didn't mess around, Mrs. Neff. And she loved her work. She loved it, and like Frank Black, eventually had to step back from it for a bit, transfering to a dept. in charge of transporting fugitives, after the undercover work. She told us she was spending way too much time every night with addicts, prostitutes, pimps, and petty criminals, and it was making her question her commitment to the job.

In "The Thin White Line". Frank has to confront a similar set of circumstances. This case, the one that he had such a close call with himself, is causing him a lot of angst. He isn't sleeping. He's reliving the trauma in his dreams. In my last post, I talked a bit about how sometimes in life you don't have good choices, just a few that are bad and less bad. When he and Richard Alan Hance last met, even though Hance had killed some of colleagues, and terrorized Frank himself, Frank made the choice to wound but not kill, and put this man into the justice system.

That brings me to the pivotal scene in this episode, Frank has to confront the monster, the man that is responsible for mentoring the current killer out there.  He has to confront the dark path he walked with this man in the past. And seriously, Mr. Henriksen hits it out of the park. Out. Of. The. Park. It's crazy good, this scene. I usually don't use this expression, as I don't have them. Just a basic rule, take that as you will. Frank has cojones of steel, and a job to do, and he will not be manipulated by this evil, empty man.
There is a lot of subtley in this scene. Stillness. Mr. Henricksen steps into the dangerous territory of the cell and is focused and still. Zen like. It's a dance between he and this murderer, played by Jeremy Roberts, who I gotta say, is intense and great. Frank needs information, and he plays on Hance's ego to coax it out...He makes him tell his story, Hance's walk down the dark path after he was bullied. The dance then escalates as Hance starts to relive his crimes, among them the fact that he groomed his former cellmate into the killer Frank Black now hunts. Frank has a job to do, but his hate for this man wants to compromise that. You can feel the taughtness of his emotions. It's as taught as the tension Hance fells due to the constant hum of the flourescent lights in his cell. Frank's moral code is keeping him on track, but his gut is telling him that he should have taken this guy out. And he is tempted, by his doubts and colleagues. And the moment where Frank tells Hance basically, give me a reason to be crazier than you, because I'll go there with no regrets and TAKE YOU OUT is stunning. Mr. Henriksen has this look in his arsenal, it's like a laser death ray, you don't want to be on the other end of it. Hance loses.

Frank now knows exactly how this end game with the copycat killer is going to go down. He is prepared. He steps in to the dark path of the sacrificial victim, and turns it back in the killer's face. And in a final confrontation a very important thing happens, Frank tries to get the killer to step off of the dark path. He is just about to be possibly successful, and Lt. Bletcher takes that option from him.

I won't say I was sorry to see the bad guy go. That's the dilemmna we all face. Step onto or out of the dark.

In a brilliant coda to the story, there is a panning shot of Hance sleeping. The lights go out.

Frank Black made an oath, and he will stand by it. That's the great thing about him, he walks the dark path when necessary, and steps off it at precisely the right time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anyone can see that the road that they walk on is paved in gold - Tony Scalzo

I mentioned in my last post that the first two standout episodes of Millenium I had chosen to review, I had a personal connection with. "The Wild and the Innocent" is another very well written and acted episode of this greatly underrated series.

The connection - I'll start with Charlie Starkweather. Caril Ann Fugate was a 14 year old girl in 1958, who's 19 year old boyfriend, Charlie Starkweather, murdered her family and then took her and set off on a midwest killing spree. To this day, there are many unanswered questions about both of these kids. That's what they were, kids. My Mother's cousin lived the next farm over from Caril Ann Fugate. I've always been fascinated with the story, and have seen "Badlands" and "Murder in the Heartland" several times. I've never seen any of the Starkweather related films with my film loving Mother however, as it was just too close to home for her. She talked to me about how much the story bothered her, and how she followed the story when it happen so closely because she knew some of the people involved. I kept thinking about all of this as I watched "The Wild and the Innocent".

The truly great thing about this episode of Millennium is the choice to lay out the narrative in an epistolary style. Maddie Haskell is a troubled young girl living in an abusive household. Maddie's letters to the innocent in this episode, her "Angel", are the framework for an analysis of what makes disenfranchised kids do the bad things they do. Maddie's Mother has been murdered by her abusive Stepfather, and Maddie and her very wild boyfriend Bobby are forced to deal with him.

"Hell Maddie, what did you think he was coming up here to do, read you Winnie the Pooh?..." No, Maddie's Stepdad was not going to read her Winnie the Pooh, and in fact gets knocked out and placed in a car trunk by Bobby. Bobby is the catalyst for Maddie's reluctant search for answers to why bad things happen to good people. The sad part is that, when your choices dwindle, you often have to make hard choice from bad ones. The least bad. Once Maddie chooses her path, her options dwindle even further. She decides to find her Angel, the one good thing she has in life, and this where she and Frank Black will cross paths.

As soon as Frank sets his hands on the pages of Maddie's inner dialogue, well...There aren't many actors that can convey deep emotion with just a look, no dialogue. Mr. Henrikson is one of them. Frank finds Maddies personal missives, and the sequence where he reads them is handled perfectly. It's impressive acting, and I was completely knocked out.

There is that, and there is the scene where Frank Black confront's Maddie's abusive Stepdad. The abuser is complaining of his treatment at the hands of the kids, and says "I want to help you, I really do, they beat  me and left me in the truck. If it wasn't for that air pocket, I'd be dead. You ever think of that?" Frank levels that steely gaze at him and says "Yeah, but not the way you do". The look speaks volumes with that one line. Frank has to do his job for this girl, and no one will ultimately get in his way.

There is an incredible script here. Maddie's words, how she talks about her mother and her child, that's the true innocence that makes this episode so very poignant. She talks about Faith, using the words of her pastor. "Though none of us saw the miracle in the Lord's Tomb that day, All's you have to do is believe in it hard enough and it would come true. That's what faith was. We can't be weak, we can't dismiss the miracle, You have to be strong enough to make mysteries real." Frank Black knows about Faith. It's obvious that Frank feels for her, and this is brought home when Maddie and Bobby's story comes to it's inevitable violent end. I was pleased that she made the right choice, the best choice from her very limited options and that Frank appreciates that about her as well.

"You saved me that day, only man in my life that ever did anything nice for me." This is what Maddie tells Frank in the final scene. Frank visits Maddie, and again, Mr. Henriksen doesn't have a lot of dialog. Frank is there supporting Maddie in the only way he can, and that is all over his face, in every shot, as well as the connection he feels for this girl, so different from his own. Heather McComb is terrific as Maddie and I was once again very moved by the entire episode.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"You can't save everyone, but you can try" - Bruce Springsteen.

The past few days I've been re-watching the great Chris Carter series Millennium, starring Lance Henriksen. Mr. Henriksen has an autobiography coming out on May 5th, and since I have this fledging blog, I've decide to participate in the blogathon to coincide with the release.

It's been since the original airing of the show that I've seen all of the episodes (At 47, my memory ain't what it used to be, especially considering my past exploits...) and good a friend has been bugging me to re-visit it. I got the first season, and dug in. The standouts so far - The Well Worn Lock - Wild and the Innocent - The Thin White Line. The first two resonated deeply with me personally. The third, well, it gets everything right.  I'll review the first, the others to follow in the coming days.

These episodes are the reason that I'm mesmerized by Frank Black. The series is intense, and he and his family are the beacon in the dark. The first episode I've mentioned is really more of a vehicle for Catherine Black (Megan Gallagher) though props to Frank, for being the supportive husband all of us in the estrogen brigade would love to be married to.

"The Well Worn Lock" is a horrific story of abuse. For anyone that doesn't understand why a victim can't walk away, they need to see this.

A dear friend, a woman who I miss deeply as she passed away in 2007, at age 48, experienced this very kind of abuse. I was talking to her on the phone one evening, and she mentioned that she was watching a documentary on Iwo Jima. Her Stepdad was there. She said "Oh, there's some guys with flamethrowers, burning up the Japanese, probably my Stepdad, he would have enjoyed that".

It hit me then. I asked her if she was abused. Her answer - "In every way you can imagine. Sometime, we'll sit and have a drink, and I'll tell you about it." We never got to.

A few things you should know about her. She was an incredible artist. She did illustrations of B&W film stills. She did them with acrylic and those tiny aught size brushes that have like two sable hairs. They're stunning. Friends think they are photographs. She also was one of the kindest people I ever knew. Giving, sharing. Amazing, given her circumstance. You can see her art here.

She accomplished this body of work despite near blindness in one eye, due to the beatings she endured. After her death my husband and I visited her Mother and we all commiserated on our feelings. Her Mother gave us some of her monster figures from her room. There was no bed in it. She slept on the floor her whole adult life, because of what happened to her in the bed she grew up in. She wore her hair short, because he liked it long. He threatened her beloved dog. He ended up hanging himself.

As I watched this episode, I was both uncomfortable, and relieved. Uncomfortable to see a realistic portrayal of what so many refuse to pay attention to, and relieved that there are people out there that GET IT. The threats - for our friend, it was the death of her pet. She didn't dare. And if she did, no one would believe her, and that's key. The authorities will probably listen to you, but if they have any doubt and send you back, well, that situation is the ultimate loss of control, and victims have too much of that already.

The Blacks get it. They get what it takes to bring these family skeletons into the light. They get why we all need both retribution and redemption.

By the end of it, I was so moved, I sat for a long time....just thinking how much Linda would have liked it.