THE HOUSE THAT ROCKY BUILT

Halloween 1984 – 4 year me stood in front of the full length mirror in my parents room admiring my costume. This would be my first time trick-or-treating and I was ready for it. Before I was to grab my extra large pillow case and head out into the neighborhood, I made a few minor adjustments to my ensemble. I made sure to straighten the thick gold plated chain (fake of course) so that the multitude of medallions hanging from it were perfectly aligned. My large fake earrings looked to be on point, and as I made one last adjustment to my bald cap with Mohawk, I nodded at myself in the mirror and knew that I was ready to make a splash. There was a problem though, the dark bronzer on my face began to creep into my eyes, making them water. I blotted them with some toilet paper but realized that I had smeared some of the bronzer off. I quickly called for my father who ran into the room to apply more. Done and Done, I was ready to go. I grabbed my child sized silk robe with gold trim, put on my boxing gloves, grabbed my pillow case (the best I could with 3 oz boxing gloves on my hands) and headed out the door. I met my friends on the corner, excited for them to see my ensemble. Their reaction was as expected.

“WHOA! YOU LOOK JUST LIKE HIM!” yelled one of my neighborhood pals.

“What, are you a pirate or something?” asked another.

The grownups in the group were not as impressed, as they looked at me disapprovingly – shaking their heads and whispering to each other. Finally, the bravest of the parents asked me flat out.

“Who are you supposed to be Antonio?” the nervous mother asked.

“Well… I’m Clubber Lang… you know, Mr. T? From Rocky 3?” I replied nervously.

There was some discussion amongst the group of parents about what was to be done, and before I knew it one of the parents had grabbed me by the hand and was whisking me back to my house at the end of the street. We marched up the stairs where they proceeded to knock on the front door – loudly. My dad answered the door, beer in hand with a boxing match on the television at high volume.

“Is something wrong?” he asked in his thick Latin accent that everyone else seemed to notice but me – he was just my dad.

“I don’t know what you were thinking let your child go out in public like this. In BLACKFACE. It’s shameful. How dare you!” the woman said.

I didn’t understand half of these words that this woman was spouting at my dad. All I could read were the emotions and the vocal inflections. I could feel the quiver in my stomach as if I’d done something wrong, but didn’t know what. The uneasiness made me tear up, causing the bronzer to once again run into my eyes, making them burn. My tears didn’t didn’t seem to affect this woman’s tirade, but my dad noticed. He quickly grabbed me by the hand and pulled me inside.

“Fuck you lady!” he said and slammed the door in her face. He turned off the tv and lead me by the hand to the bathroom where he drew a bath. He helped be out of my costume and into the water. I was still crying and my eyes were still burning, but mostly my heart hurt. I had no idea what I had done, or what my dad had done to make this woman so mad. Did I ruin Halloween? What was happening?

“Daddy, what did I do wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing kiddo. I fucked up. I just wanted you to have fun.” he said. As he helped me wash off the bronzer, there was a knock on the door. My dad stood up and left the bathroom. I could hear the creak of the front door open and voices echo through the hallway. It was the woman again, this time with her husband. Through the murmurs I could make out some words:

… where’s his mother… she’s at night school if it’s any of your business….don’t you see how racist this is…. Lady, I’m Mexican. Don’t talk to me about racism…

A few minutes later I heard the front door shut and my dad came back into the room. In his hand was my pillowcase for candy, my black pajamas and one of my mom’s black wide brim hats.

“Fuck it. You’re gonna be Zorro.” he said. Within minutes he had painted an eyemask on my face and fashioned a make shift sword out of a TV antenna and we were back on the street. Halloween was saved! But why was it almost ruined?

Understand that my father was an immigrant from Mexico, who had spent his entire life traveling the world with the circus, and that’s not a joke. There wasn’t a racist bone in his body, in fact he had told me stories of traveling through the south with the circus and being denied gasoline, pulled over for no reason, and being asked to “move along” if he spent too long in one place. He was tough and just pushed through, so this momentary lapse of judgement with my Halloween costume hit him hard. He meant no offense, he was just learning more about racial sensitivity – so why the profanity towards my friend’s mom?

“Fuck Her.” he told me. “She didn’t have to do what she did. She could have just brought you home and talked to me in private. Nothing hurts worse than being humiliated in front of your son.”

As we walked through the streets alone, just the two of us going from door to door collecting candy, I thought about why the night took such a weird turn. It wasn’t my Dad that wanted to dress me like Mr.T, it was me. I did because the year before I was already Rocky, and I couldn’t be Rocky twice. He was just letting me what I wanted to be, and I wanted to be that because for me and my Dad – ROCKY was EVERYTHING.

If my dad hadn’t been brought up as a flying trapeze artist in the circus, his dream was to have been a boxer. He was short, 5’2″ maybe, but he was quick and strong and surprisingly intimidating. I used to watch him punch the heavy bag with such intensity that I actually felt bad for the bag! He hated the idea of me being bullied and teased, especially since I was a shorty as well, and although I didn’t know at the time, he knew that someday I would be picked on for either the color of my skin or my short stature, and both turned out to be true. He got me into boxing and we trained often. He would get the big fights on pay-per-view and invite his friends over. Every time the bell rang at the end of each round, my dad and I would throw on our gloves and “spar” in front of his friends until the next round started, impressing them with my skills and determination. Yes, we were a “boxing” house, and how could you be a boxing house in the 80’s and not be a huge fan of ROCKY.

It was actually Rocky 3 that introduced me to the fantastical series. I didn’t finally see the original film until I was about 12 or so, it was just a little too slow for my taste as a child. I was hooked on the Rocky of the 80’s – full of adrenaline, testosterone, pulsating arena rock anthems and Carl Weathers racing Stallone down the beach in slow motion in the worlds shortest shorts. It’s like a live action cartoon for the masses – and I was all in. We probably watched Rocky 3 at least fifty times in my early years, but as 1985 rolled around, something new was coming, something that would change my life…

For Christmas in 1985, we got this. Probably the most shameless exploitation of the COLD WAR between the USA and Russia ever committed to film for the sake of entertainment. Stallone’s metaphor for American Success (and the joys of capitalism to boot) was a MONSTER at the box office, bringing in more than 300 million dollars world wide, and my family added at least 50 bucks to that tally, having seen it in the theater three times. We owned the Soundtrack, first on vinyl, then on cassette so we could listen on the way to school. It’s pulsating rock anthems that are strewn about the film are designed to get your adrenaline rushing. I listened to it dozens of times, I even did a lip synch routing to “HEARTS ON FIRE” in my first grade talent show that was well received (at least to my parents..) Thinking back on my first viewing of the film in the theater, the slow motion shot of two boxing gloves, one with the American Flag, the other with flag of Russia – clashing together and bursting into flames is forever cemented in my brain.

The story picks up immediately after part 3 (Stallone gives a shit about time-lines, as part 5 takes place immediately after part 4 but came out 5 years later, where Rocky’s son is suddenly turns into a pre-teen overnight). Rocky, now a multi-millioniare after his retirement, is enjoying his sweet sweet life in his ridiculous mansion full of swimming pools, Roman columns, and of course, his very own Robot which he gifts to Paulie for his birthday (and face it, who didn’t want that robot?). News breaks about a Russian boxer that is storming the scene, looking for a worthy opponent to take him on. With Rocky and Apollo Creed now retired, the Russian monster known as Ivan Drago is thirsty for blood, but Apollo, not content with retirement and aging out, decides to fight Drago in a highly publicized exhibition fight. However, the Russian proves to be too much for Creed, and the fight ends in tragedy. Feeling that it’s all his fault, Rocky comes out of retirement to fight Drago, but this time on Russian soil. Sparks fly as the two superpowers go to war, albeit in a boxing ring where the two premier athletes destroy each other. Of course, Rocky didn’t go there to lose.

Along with Ghostbusters, Gremlins and The Goonies- the Rocky series shaped my childhood, especially the relationship with my father. We both loved movies, and the Rocky films were the ones we enjoyed together the most (maybe Rambo as well.) Every year a Rocky film came out, we were there to see it opening day. Rocky 5 was seen at a rinkydink little theater in Heber City, Utah, the small town we moved to after spending my childhood in Reno, Nevada. We had to wait 16 years for Rocky Balboa, which we saw over Christmas where I, now an adult, flew out out to Seattle to se my folks, and of course see the new Rocky Film. Anytime we would have a get together, as well as the last few years of my father’s life where he lived with us, we would marathon the films, starting early in the morning and finish well into the evening, drinking beers all throughout, so by the time the last chapter played, we were oblivious to what was going on.

We didn’t get to see Creed in the theater together, which was just as well as it wasn’t really Rocky’s story anyway. We did marathon a few times more before his passing in 2017, and honestly, I haven’t been able to watch a Rocky film since… it just wasn’t the same.

Recently, it was announced that Stallone was going to re-cut his classic Rocky 4, and earlier this month (November 2021), ROCKY VS DRAGO – THE DIRECTORS CUT was released. I made myself a martini (several actually) and watched this new cut with zero interruptions. I found myself… split. Gone was the 80’s story of excess (as well as the robot), and gone was most of the 80’s pulsating arena rock that I loved so much (the montages were still there though, thank god.) I didn’t hate what Stallone was trying to do, but I did feel that film wasn’t re-cut for people like me. It was made for the youth of today, or those that never experienced it when it was first released. It was made for the generations after, the ones that judged it for it’s praise of excess and dare I say, Nationalism. It was re-cut to appease a new generation of movie goers, those who are more critical of the political and social messages a film puts out. And while I agree that message of the original cut of Rocky 4 is dated and problematic in today’s society, It is the film I grew up with, a film that constructed my childhood and fortified my relationship with my parents. We were a Rocky house, until the very end.

See you next time!

A

EXTENDED PLAY – A RECOLLECTION OF “VHS MIX-TAPES”

If you were truly a child of the 80’s, several things are for certain. One, if you were an 80’s adolescent girl, you owned a pair of jelly shoes. If you were an 80’s adolescent boy, you had a crush on a girl who owned a pair of jelly shoes. Also, you definitely remember when Pizza Hut was a sit down restaurant with a pac-man table and red plastic drinking glasses, and to this day I will only drink Dr. Pepper out of such a glass. Furthermore, if you were an 80’s kid you knew how to roll a french cuff on your acid washed jeans if they didn’t come pre-tapered. And lastly, your family had a shelf (or shelves) of VHS cassette tapes that had no less than three movies dubbed onto them in EP mode (extended play, allowing for nearly 8 hours of grainy, fuzzy and warbled content). If you weren’t on top of your TV Guide, you could miss an upcoming movie or show and had no choice but grab the nearest VHS cassette that had an empty space at the end. It may have not been the most effective method, but it worked. What we didn’t realize at the time was that we were creating the foundations of a better world. With the collections of films on these grungy little cassette tapes, cinematic educations were being forged, as most of the time they were eclectic mixes of genres that had no business being together, but that’s what made them great. Where else could you find a double bill featuring Rambo 2 and Bambi? Who in their right mind would program a children’s matinee with The Never Ending Story and Terms of Endearment? I’ll tell you who. My Parents – actually, many people’s parents. Over the course of this recollection, I will guide you through the jungle of VHS “Mix Tapes” that I grew up with, and maybe you’ll recall some that were on the shelves of your childhood home.

In the restaurant industry, we had a system of four descriptors for various menu items. You had the STAR- the item you’re known for, the one that people will travel from miles away to get. The trick however is to not have too many STARS, as they are sometimes costly and can plug up the inner workings of the restaurant if ordered too frequently will nothing to fill the gaps. These VHS Mix-tapes were similar to that. You couldn’t have too many STARS on the cassette, as it would wear our the tape from watching the same film over and over again, you needed something to even things out. For that you would need the PLOW HORSE – the old reliable. The item that you could always turn to if nothing else could appease your appetite. THE PUZZLE… what is it doing there? Why are people ordering it? It doesn’t even fit with the theme, but for some strange reason it shows up on the profit log so you keep it. And finally – THE DOG. Everyone needs a dog on their menu. It’s cheap, its fast to make, and just enough people will order it to keep your margins balanced. In a way, a solid Extended Play Cassette functions the same way, as I highly doubt that anyone ever had a tape with all winners on it. What fun would that be? No, the best mixes were all a scattered mix of DOGS, STARS, PLOW HORSES and PUZZLES, and it’s my hope to highlight some of the tapes from my youth. Who knows, law of averages states that there is a possibility that someone out there had the exact same tape, albeit in different order. This tape was one of the favorites of my youth, and I wish I still had it.

VOLUME 1: YELLOW KODAK – CONTENTS AS FOLLOWS:

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL: You wouldn’t expect a six year old child to have seen this movie, but I did – many times. It was the first film on the tape and I had to fast-forward through it to get to my favorite film on the tape (which I will get to later). Norman Jewison skillfully directs this courtroom comedy/drama from a script by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin. It follows the story of Arthur Kirkland- played by Al Pacino in an Oscar nominated performance (my personal favorite of his), a veteran defense attorney who struggles with the hypocrisy of America’s Legal System. The idea of justice is broken, as it seems that the innocent and the disenfranchised end up paying for the crimes and disgressions of those with power and influence. Arthur sees this first hand whilst dealing with a judge name Henry Fleming, a cruel and bitter man who takes pleasure in crushing ‘the guilty”, including one of Arthur’s clients who was wrongly imprisoned and not set free due to a technicality. This pushes Arthur to the edge of sanity and his career after attempting to punch the unruly Judge. The tables turn however when Judge Fleming is arrested for the rape of a young woman, and Arthur is handpicked to defend him for political reasons. Arthur’s two partners, played by Jeffery Tambor and Larry Bryggman, find the whole situation hilarious, until the pressure of the case and how it affects them begins to take it’s toll on everyone’s sanity. As if Arthur isn’t dealing with enough, he finds himself in a romantic entanglement with a fellow lawyer who is on the board of legal affairs that is currently looking into Arthur’s past. With all this and an unbalanced and suicidal judge in charge of the trial (Jack Warden in a scene stealing performance), will Arthur stand true to the oath he took as a lawyer, or will he stand up against the system?

A lot had to be explained to me when I first saw this as a child. I didn’t understand what a cross-dresser was, and when it was honestly explained to me by my mother, it made my heart break for Ralph Aggy, a trans woman who made a bad decision and now had to deal with the corrupt and unempathetic legal system to decide their fate. I also didn’t understand that a lawyer is expected to defend his client, even if he knew the client was guilty, it made me never want to be a lawyer, let alone do something to get stuck in the legal system. As the film leads up to it’s electrifying climax, with the now classic “YOU’RE OUT OF ORDER!” rant that Pacino delivers so masterfully, you begin to see that this man has given up on the system of justice that he has spent his entire life defending, and you wonder… what’s next for him?

At some point in my childhood, I stopped fast-forwarding. If the tape was cued at the beginning, I’d watch it all the way through to get to the film I really wanted to watch….

I mean, what can I say about Ghostbusters that hasn’t already been said about Ghostbusters? If you were a kid in the 80’s, this was your manna. No, not the magical life force you earn in role playing fantasy games, I’m talking about that shit in the bible that fell from the sky and kept you alive in the desert. A kid with a VCR could watch this 20 times a week and feel like they were lagging behind. This was the MOVIE of the 80’s, and I had it – well… most of it. I had 100 minutes of it. The other 7 I didn’t see until I was probably 10 and someone bought me the real deal, slip cover and all. No, My version started right at the end of the library scene, just as the ghostly librarian turns into a sinister ghoul and scares the boys half to death. I never got to see the ESP test or ray getting slapped across the forehead. I didn’t to hear about the mass sponge migration or the whether or not Alice was menstruating. Most unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear Ray’s brilliant plant. No Matter, I watched that 100 minutes like it was the only thing keeping me alive.

We all know the story, where a humble group of paranormal investigators (and a psychologist with P.H.D. in psychology and parapsychology) decide to go into business for themselves, taking out a third mortgage on Ray’s (Dan Aykroyd) house to pay for the development of thermo-nuclear accelerators that can capture ghosts and contain them. Of course, THE MAN gets involved (in the form of William Atherton as a EPA investigator) shuts everything down and chaos ensues, and it’s up to the boys to save the day!

Like I said, we all know the movie backwards and forwards. But what it meant for me was something entirely different. It was more than a movie, it was a lifestyle. My mom made me a set of Ghostbusters coveralls, and with the release of The Real Ghostbusters animated TV show in 1986, there were actual Ghostbusters replicas that completed the package, no more pretending that my moms curling iron was the muzzle of positron collider, huh? With my outfit complete, it was pretty much all I ever wore outside of school for a solid two years. If we had to go to the grocery store – Ghostbuster. Thifty’s for an ice cream cone – Ghostbuster. The Library for storytime- Ghostbuster. I was a Ghostbuster through and through. Even at school all the kids played Ghostbusters instead of TAG or FOURSQUARE, and everyone fought over who was gonna be Venkman. Not me, I always was and always will be an Egon Spengler man (RIP Harold Ramis).

In 1988, a seven year old me was playing Ghostbusters with my friends during recess, Of course outside toys weren’t allowed on school grounds, so we had to improvise with what was available to us, mostly utilizing tree branches and rulers with black magic markers taped to the ends for our proton packs. My second grade crush was named Sandy. She was a tomboy through and through. If she was playing Ghostbusters with you, she was Venkman, and nobody argued with it, not unless they wanted a black eye. It was the perfect set up – Sandy was Venkman, I was Egon, my friend Cory was Ray, and our friend Ryan was Winston (granted…he wasn’t black – he was Iranian, but he was cool with being Winston so calm down). The setup was that were making GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (which didn’t exist yet) and I was in charge of the story. I wrote it during math class, so I wasn’t paying attention, hence my poor math grades for the rest of my life. Here is how it went:

The Ghostbusters are called out to a job at a haunted house in New Jersey and Egon and Venkman kiss behind the jungle gym. The End.

It turned out to be a great recess, even though we got caught and had to clean the chalkboard erasers after school.

The next film on the tape was not my favorite, but I watched it often because I was too lazy as a child to get up and stop the cassette and rewind it… 1985’s STONE PILLOW

But on the cassette label, it was spelled PELLOW, with and “e’.

Obviously this was something my Mom dubbed off of TV, but the sickly sweet story of a homeless old woman played by Lucille Ball really spoke to me and changed the way I looked at homeless people (at least when I was seven). This 1985 TV movie directed by Georege Schaefer (who also directed the 1983 version of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, which I was subjected to Alex Delarge style during my youth in a private Christian school).

It follows the story of an elderly homeless woman in New York City named Florabelle (played by Lucy) whose entire life fits in her precious shopping cart. She spends her days rummaging through the dumpsters and bins of the city, adding to her cart of treasures all the while being accosted by street punks and business owners that want her off their stoops. Pretty much everyone calls her “bag lady”, which in my opinion is unfair. She has a cart asshole, show some respect. Anyway, one day Florabelle has her cart stolen by another homeless person, but it is rescued by a young social worker named Carrie (played by Daphne Zuniga – Princess Vespa from Spaceballs.) Carrie pretends to be a runaway in order to get closer to Florabelle, and learns the rules of the streets (such as pretending you’re crazy and eating lots of fresh vegetables….okay.) The two become fast friends until Flora goes to a shelter and sees Carrie working there. Feeling betrayed, Flora runs off into the streets and gets put into a shelter in which her precious cart is taken away and where she is abused by the staff. Will Carrie find her before it’s too late? Should she really try to get her off the street, or is the street the only place she can truly be happy?

As a young boy, this film made me feel compassion for the homeless, but also made me realize that we are all either one mistake or one paycheck away from being on the street. Interesting that over thirty years later I still think of that, and therefore think of this film – the third one on this magical mix tape.

Now…. the last thing on the tape was not exactly a movie. In the days before the convenience of YouTube, if you wanted to watch a music video, you had to watch it on MTV, or god forbid… VH1. If you were lucky enough, you could have a tape at the ready to record your favorite music video. And that is exactly how I got Michael Jackson’s Thriller on the end of this tape.

Riding off the massive success of his album of the same name, the first two videos off the album were Billy Jean and Beat it, both of which received massive airplay on MTV and network television. But after a year on the charts, the album slipped from number one. Looking to gain some ground back in the charts, it was decided that they would make a “short film” off of the title track, which really wasn’t getting as much radio play at the time as it was considered too gimicky for mainstream audiences, and that’s exactly what Michael and his production team were going to focus on. They hired John Landis, hot off the success of American Werewolf in London (and recently off the hook for involuntary manslaughter for the deaths that occurred on the set of the Twilight Zone Movie) to help conceive and direct the musical short film. The idea was to take the nostalgic joy of 50’s creature features to lure in the audience with something familiar and comfortable, then SHOCK them with a disturbing transformation. They would get a chance to simmer down with a brief musical interlude from Michael as he walks his date home from the theater, that is until….FUCKING ZOMBIES emerge from the ground spewing blood and puss. They begin to lurk Michael and his date (played by Ola Ray, a former playboy playmate who had been featured in classics like 10 TO MIDNIGHT, 48 HOURS and BEVERLY HILLS COP 2) until they have them cornered in an alley way. She turns to Michael for comfort when… it is revealed that he is a ghoul himself!

And then…. THEY DANCE! And if you can’t picture the zombie dance from Thriller in your mind then you need to reevaluate your life.

So I loved Thriller, mostly because it scared the hell out of me. I had never been afraid of vampires or monsters, but as a young child there was a part of me that believed that ZOMBIES could actually be real. I literally have spent my life with a ZOMBIE SURVIVAL PLAN in the back of my mind. Now what was best about this copy of Thriller that was on this magical mix tape was that it also included a 20 minute “making of” documentary, which I actually watched more than the video itself. It was one of my early peeks into the business of filmmaking and it left me fascinated with the process. At age seven, it seemed unbelievable to me that a man could spend four hours in a make-up chair to be turned into a were-cat, or whatever the hell he is. Or that when the director yelled CUT, all the terrifying zombie creatures would just pop out of character and smoke a cigarette and joke around. Seeing Michael in his natural element, not performing, was also intriguing to me as I had only ever really seen him in music videos or on TV moonwalking. This featurette was the seedling for my love of featured content, behind the scenes footage and directors commentary, making me more fascinated int he process that the final product.

I kept that mix tape well into my 30’s. I don’t know what it is about getting older and recognizing the accumulation of “stuff”, but there seems to come a point where you stop looking at the emotional value of things and focus more on their monetary value or the economy of “space” in your home. One day not long after buying a new house and figuring out where the hell I was gonna put all this “stuff”, I had a minor tantrum and tossed all my old VHS bootlegs and tapes that I hadn’t already given away into the dumpster. Good riddance, right? That is until you sit down one night and start thinking about the childhood memories a small black cassette tape in a yellow Kodak slip cover brought you, and you start digging through your boxes of junk to find it, only to realize that in a fit of anger over having too much stuff, you through your childhood away. What happens next? You try to replace it. Now that you have a little money to spend, you fall victim to the boutique BLU-RAY LABELS like Arrow, Severin, Kino Lorber, Scream Factory, Vinegar Syndrome and the like. You spend ridiculous amounts of cash on special edition slip covers and steel books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, If I had the foresight years ago, I’d have gone into that business for sure. But no matter how full your Physical Media shelf is, or how many likes on Instagram your collection photos get… nothing will ever replace the joy found on those VHS Mix Tapes.

Until Next Time!

Antonio

FREE PERIOD – A STUDY IN CINEMATIC TRUANCY PART 2 – 1998

When we last left our heroes, they had just finished their first year of cinematic truancy with Quentin Tarantino’s 3rd film- Jackie Brown! Christmas break ended and they came back to school with a fresh new year and a fresh new look at life. Free period was no longer a stunt – it was a lifestyle. The risk of being caught was almost as addictive as the lure of the cinema, but with the heightened thrill also came the heightened consequence. Truancy laws were being enforced more thoroughly in our little suburb, so we had to be clever. There was no wiggle room for carelessness. If you wanted to play, you had to commit. There was no backing out or calling it quits. With the roster of films in 1998 you had to be all in. The first film that we saw in the year of our lord- 1998, was a game changer for us, although it took a little more work to see.

Oh Jim Breuer…what happened bro?

In 1998, we only knew Dave Chappelle from ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS. I had seen his set on a Young Comedians special where he talked about Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, which was hysterical to a 17 year old, so I was sold on this film. The big draw for us was that it was a stoner movie, and we were all fans of Cheech and Chong, even though we had never partaken of the reefer ourselves at that point. We met in the school parking lot for free period and made our way to the box office. However, our normal connection wasn’t there. Instead we had to deal with a middle aged woman who carded us immediately. Funny she didn’t ask us about school, but busted our 16 year old compatriot for being underaged to see an R Rated film. With no ride back and taking a risk of getting caught by truant officers, we divided and conquered. Two of our group bought tickets to Half Baked, while my underaged friend and I got..

“Two tickets to SPICE WORLD please.”- In one door, out the other, and into Half Baked.

The film starts off like a John Singleton movie, with a group of young boys who are about to embark on an experience that will push them into manhood. But instead of seeing a dead body in Compton, they smoke a joint and have a euphoric experience in a New York City Bodega, where candy bars are the size of surf boards and Jerry Garcia plays inside your skull. They grow up to be a group of slackers in a state of arrested development whose nightly ritual consists of smoking weed and spending more on junk food than they do on rent. They consist of Thurgood Jenkins (Chappelle), Kenny (Harland Williams), Brian (Jim Breur) and Scarface (Guillermo Diaz, who has the most quotable lines in my opinion.) After Kenny accidentally kills a police horse by feeding it candy (It’s a DIABETIC!!), he gets sent down the river and risks spending his life in jail if the boys can’t raise $100,000 to get him out. Being slackers, the only thing they can think of is to sell the weed that Thurgood can get from his work, as he is a janitor in a medical research building. Can they pull it off, or is Kenny doomed to a life in jail where inmates by the name of Nasty Nate and the Squirrel Master fight over his “sweet virgin ass”?

Even with some jokes going over our heads, I can tell you that Chappelle made a fan for life out of me that day. The fact that it bombed at the box office made it even better, as it remained a cult favorite for years, and was just the drive Chappelle needed to create what’s potentially the greatest sketch comedy show ever made.

The next few outings were quite enjoyable, what with DEEP RISING, THE WEDDING SINGER (which I later got to see with my first serious High School Girlfriend and had my first movie make-out session..), and two Neo Noir favorites of mine, PALMETTO with Woody Harrelson and ZERO EFFECT, an underseen and underappreciated black comedy with Ben Stiller and featuring Bill Pullman’s best ever performance. But nothing could prepare us for what was coming…

DARK CITY was a mystery to us. With very little marketing and a trailer that made less sense than the movie itself, all we knew about it was that it was a sci-fi/noir film directed by THE CROW’S Alex Proyas and starring the girl from Labyrinth. We took a bigger risk with this one, having to drive to the artsy theater 30 miles away. This would mean missing the whole last half of school, not just free period. Trips like these were rare and risky, so this film had better been worth it. The lights dimmed, and after the forgettable art house trailers played (what does a 17 year care about a movie called A PRICE ABOVE RUBIES, and who the fuck is Renee Zellweger?), the opening credits rolled on the first serious MIND-FUCK of my young life. A whole year before THE MATRIX, this film made me question existence, humanity, love, and why Kiefer Sutherland used a Peter Lorre accent?

The story begins with a man named John (Rufus Sewell) waking up in a bathtub. He has no memory of who he is or why he’s there, but he’s immediately on the run as he is suspected of being a serial murderer. He is also being pursued by a group of men in long black coats and wide brimmed hats called “Strangers”, who seem to be other worldly beings that can “tune”, a term for using telekinesis to alter their surroundings and change the structure of the environment. Once they realize that John has the ability to tune as well, he becomes public enemy number one, putting everyone in his life, including his wife Emma (played by a childhood crush of mine, Jennifer Connelly) in danger. His only source of help seems to be a crazed and neurotic scientist named Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland in a truly bonkers performance) who may or not be looking out for John’s best interest. What will be come of him, and what world are we really living in?

Over 20 years later, this film still packs a punch. Even having been altered by the studio before it’s release (a director’s cut has since been released and is superior) the film still packs a wallop, both visually and mentally. Similar to films like POSSESSION (1980) and 2001 (1968), you could spend hours discussing it and never even scratch the surface of what it truly means. Never the less, we tried and failed to make sense of it, resulting in multiple viewings. All I can say is have a good time at SHELL BEACH.

The hits kept coming over the next few months. BIG LEBOWSKI made and impression on the world (a decade after it’s release), THE PLAYERS CLUB showed us that Ice Cube was more than just a rapper who got lucky with FRIDAY, and SUICIDE KINGS became one of our most quoted and re-watched films of the year.

As the school year came to an end, the film that we were all most excited to see was nearing its release. The last week of school would be an easy one to miss, what with all the teachers and truancy guards wrapping up for the summer. But…. we had a problem. Two of the kids in our group were Latter Day Saints, you know, the Mormons. One of them had gotten a sudden change in conscience and told his dad. Oddly, his parents were not as upset about free period as they were that we had been going to see R rated films, and grounded him from any activities other than school. How crazy is that? It didn’t change my plans, I was going hell or high water, but the group was sympathetic to our fellow soldier’s plight. If we couldn’t get him out of school to see the last film of the year, how were we going to do it?

So, in the LDS faith, men (boys) of the age of 19 are expected to spend two years of their life serving a religious “mission” where they spread the word of their gospels to those who haven’t heard of it (must be harder these days with the internet and such..). Now at this time most of us were 17 and 18, so many people that we knew were getting prepared to go on their spiritual journeys.

“How many of you own a suit and tie?” I asked my buddies.

One did, as he went to church with his family, but the other three of us secular assholes did not. We spent that afternoon at the thrift store trying on suits, ties, and fancy shoes. If it helps, you can play a cheesy song from a “buying clothes” montage from a romantic comedy if it helps set the tone. Once we secured the clothes, it was back to school to use their computer lab. With a scanned picture of some dude in the yearbook, we created a masterpiece. A perfectly constructed invitation, which we presented to our friends dad bright and early that Sunday morning.

“You are cordially invited to the Mission Farewell of Brother Preston Smith” our friends dad read aloud. “Service will be held from 12 p.m. til 4 p.m. with refreshments served after at the Smith home.”

He looked at us, already in our “church” clothes suspiciously.

“You just got this today?” he asked.

“Friday!” I chirped quickly to avoid further suspicion. “We didn’t think you’d let him go because of him being grounded, but we’re not gonna see Preston for two years, so we thought we’d take a shot.”

To this day I don’t know if our friend’s dad knew I was full of shit, or if he just decided to be cool for once in his life. Either way, it worked. 20 minutes later we were on our hour drive to the only theater in the state of Utah playing the film we had been waiting to see. If we had missed this chance, I probably would have joined the Mormon church and left the world for two years. That’s how important it was.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a beast with with many heads. Goddamn if I was a clerk at Blockbuster trying to figure out what category to put this in (they put it in comedy by the way…). Terry Gilliam’s nightmarish and psychedelic masterpiece was totally trashed by critics and ignored by theatergoers upon it’s release. When we saw it, we were the only ones in the theater… on a Sunday. Starring Johnny Depp, cast against type as the balding, unsexy Rauol Duke (alter ego of the story’s writer Hunter S. Thompson), and an up and coming actor named Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, a metaphor for his real life attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta. Taking us through their demented and drug addled journey through Las Vegas, Gilliam and crew’s mission is to hurt us, make us sick and get us begging for more. From the tour de force performances from Depp and Del Toro to the kinetic camera work, there is nothing out there like it. Originally to be directed by Repo Man’s Alex Cox, many said this book, like Confederacy of Dunces, was unfilmable, so it was a perfect project for certified madman Gilliam to tackle. Did he succeed? Fans of the film say yes, as it has gained a massive cult following over the years, and has turned Hunter S. Thompson into a pop culture icon, even for those that had never read any of his works.

We knew nothing of Thompson in high school, but this film changed that. It changed a lot of things. We finished the school year off with a bang, and the Summer brought some great films too. 1999 would bring our Senior Year, and in my opinion, the greatest year for cinema in my lifetime.

But that’s another story.

FREE PERIOD – A STUDY IN CINEMATIC TRUANCY

Not to say I was a bad student, I just was not convinced that I needed advanced mathematics in my adult life. At age 40… I’m still not.

Picture it: Utah – 1997 (And yes, I’m wearing a floral patterned nightgown as Sophia Petrillo would.) – 16 year old me had a drivers license, a used 1991 Nissan Pathfinder, and Algebra 1 at 10 in the morning. I confused the fuck out of my high school guidance counselor. How does a kid that is in three AP English/Literature classes, AP History and the T.A. for the A/V club be stuck in the lowest math class offered? Easy – even at 16 I knew that I wouldn’t need algebraic equations or geometric patterns to get ahead in life. 22 years later I still haven’t used one of those goddamned number salads.

It was decided early Junior year that once I had a car, my buddies and I would coordinate our class schedules to be able to ditch the class before lunch. With our school’s “long periods” of 90 minute classes and it’s laxed attendance policy, it would be the perfect time of day to skip and go see a movie at the early bird price… ( we were poor teenagers after all). 1997 was a pretty great year to do just that.

The first official FREE PERIOD project was GROSSE POINTE BLANK – a film about a hitman played by John Cusack (which was also co-written by him) who after a botched assassination, is forced to perform a hit job in his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. After a suggestion by his shrink (Alan Arkin- always a treat), he plans to attend his 10 year high school reunion and reconnect with his ex girlfriend that he left waiting in her prom dress after he had a mental breakdown and decided join the army. I LOVED this movie and even took my dad to see it again the same week. It seemed that the daytime staff at The Carillon Square 4-plex (who were mostly burnouts fresh out of high school) didn’t seem to care about a group of truants (or our ID’s for R Rated films for that matter…), so the theater became our “study hall” if you will, two to three times per week.

Next week it was 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG, a comedy/ crime film with Joe Pesci in one of his best roles (maybe not the best film though). This “screwball” comedy about a hitman (the 90’s loved their hitmen) whose bag of heads that were collected for a mob boss is mistakenly taken by a college student on his way to meet his fiance’s parents in Mexico. While not the best film, it still holds up on a night when you can’t decide what to watch and are three martinis deep. Besides, who doesn’t want to watch Joe Pesci torture David Spade for 30 minutes? We knew we were onto something. We had cracked the code. If we submitted “The Change of Contact” form to direct attendance calls to my friend’s cell phone, who would ever know?

Awww, Austin Power’s International Man of Mystery. I’m not even sure if I can tell you how many times I saw that in the theater. I know that I saw it at the end of the school year during FREE PERIOD, and then again in NYC during summer break. One thing I can tell you is that this film kicked off one of the best summers of my life and cemented the notion that for my upcoming Junior and Senior years, FREE PERIOD was a non negotiable requirement.

So now August came and the start of Junior year was upon us. We knew the drill. We would find the least important class to ditch and get it scheduled before lunch. Most of my friends picked some easily passable elective classes… I chose my mathematics class again. Fuck it. This year I was heavily involved in the A/V club, which was weird because I was a skater punk teenager in a group of your typical A/V crowd, but we all got along and made some killer assembly videos. I would tell them about my “Free Period” adventures and the films we saw, and it wasn’t long until they started asking to come a long. I agreed to bring them one at a time, as to not raise any suspicion. I took my main camera guy the first time out. He wasn’t really like us; he was super religious and afraid of getting in trouble. He was however jealous of our lifestyle and wanted a taste…. maybe he got too much of a taste with the film we took him too…

BOOGIE NIGHTS was a big deal for us in 1997. I mean, it was a bout porn, and most of the porn we had seen was this kind of porn- 1970’s from one of our uncle’s basements. I dug Marky Mark in FEAR, and although we hadn’t seen PTA’s previous film HARD EIGHT (or SYDNEY depending on what version your saw), we had heard that this guy was the next SCORSESE. We gathered in the parking lot, avoiding the truancy guard, who was most often found sitting in a folding chair by the gym playing POKEMON GOLD. My A/V peer approached us nervously.

“I’m not so sure about this guys. Maybe I’ll go next time when you guys go see Fifth Element or something.” he said.

“Get in the fucking car Kevin.” I said, and he did.

We approached the theater (the only ones there) and paid for our early bird tickets. Alone in the theater , the lights dimmed and the trailers began. A new Danny Boyle movie? (A LIFE LESS ORDINARY) – Count me in! GATTACA? Sure, I love genetic Sci Fi! And then the low pitched organ grinder music began to play in the darkness, and one of the most impressive tracking shots in cinema history hit the screen. As we begin to meet all the players in this film within the first few minutes, I was completely entranced. I looked over at Kevin, he seemed okay- but then Burt Reynolds walks into the back kitchen of the night club and Mark Wahlberg asks “Do you want a ten or a twenty?”

Kevin was not okay. He braved it all the way through, but was completely silent the entire drive back to school as the rest of us discussed how that was the most badass film we had seen all year. Kevin never asked to come with us again.

So many great films followed that year. THE DEVILS ADVOCATE, STARSHIP TROOPERS, ALIEN RESURRECTION, GOOD WILL HUNTING, LA CONFIDENTIAL… But one film finished off the year with perfection. School was out of Christmas Break, but we decided on one last FREE PERIOD of the year; not a free period from school mind you, but a free period from our families. We were going to skip CHRISTMAS and two words can explain why…… JACKIE BROWN.

After Tarantino broke the world with PULP FICTION, every wanna be writer/director took their shot at recreating that magic, but mostly failed. After three long years, we needed the real Tarantino back, and we got him for Christmas. My family gave two shits about the Holiday, hell I even brought my dad with me. Some of the other kids needing to convince their parents, but it was just easier to lie.

“I gotta go to my friend’s church function,”

“I gotta go see my girlfriend’s grandmother in the hospital.”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

We met at 11 a.m.- the first show of the day. We had no idea what this film was about other than what was in the trailer. As the trailers ended and the opening titles ran over Pam Grier on a people mover through L.A.X, I swear to God a tear came to my eye. I was a 16 year old kid who was ready for this. Ready for Pam Grier, Sam Jackson, Robert Forster and Michael Keaton to kick my ass for two hours. It was hands down the best Christmas Day of my life, and the best way to wind up 1997. Once school was back on session, we continued our tradition…but that’s 1998, and a whole different story all together. I guess you’re gonna have to come back to hear the rest of it.

See you then.

A.

DITCH DAYS WITH DAD – AN ORIGIN STORY

It was August 1986 and five year old me had been in school for two weeks. First Grade was a big transition from kindergarten as we said goodbye to nap time and snack breaks. It was the expectation that we now spent our time reading, writing and ‘rithmatic…ing.

I guess I was a good student? I was most certainly a good reader, as I spent reading time with the 3rd graders. Writing seemed to be a strength with me as my cute little stories were getting pinned to the wall on a regular basis. Math… that’s a different story. Numbers were boring to me, they didn’t tell a story, at least one that I was interested in anyway. Being an only child of parents that both worked – a lot- I was often left to my own devices, which mostly consisted of reading and watching movies. LOTS of movies. Being a latch key kid and all my parents splurged and got “the good cable”. We had Nickelodeon (Pinwheel, Today’s Special and You Can’t Do That On Television), USA (Cartoon Express, Silk Stockings, but most importantly “UP ALL NIGHT” with Rhonda Sheer and Gilbert Gottfried- where at the age of SIX I saw CHOPPING MALL for the first time). HBO, Cinemax, AMC, etc…. I was watching A LOT – EARLY.

But nothing beat the experience at the cinema with my dad. Growing up in Reno, Nevada- the CINEPLEX at MEADOWWOOD MALL was a family favorite, and the GRENADA 4 downtown was my first cinema experience of note, having seen RETURN OF THE JEDI at the ripe old age of three. While I have memories of AMADEUS (and it’s notorious intermission) and STAR TREK III – THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK at the drive-in, nothing compares to the first “DADDY DOUBLE FEATURE” that I experienced the second week of my first grade year…. the day that my Dad checked me out of school to see FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR……and ALIENS.

Dad was very strict about schooling. Being an immigrant from Mexico City, where he had an “ok” education from all reports, it was very important that I do well in school and take it seriously. That’s why it was a huge surprise when the school secretary called me to the office one sunny day a mere two weeks after school began. Being a meek little only child, the idea of being called to principal’s office for no apparent reason sent chills down my spine and tears to my ducts. I grabbed my backpack and did the walk of shame through the classroom. I pretty much tiptoed to the office, step after step imagining what kind of trouble was in store for me. Did someone hear me swear under my breath? Did someone tell on me for trading my juice box for a Twinkie?? When I got to the office, my Dad was standing there by the door with a sullen look on his face.

“What did I do?” I asked.

“We will talk about it later.” he said, grabbing my hand and leading me out of the door.

We got into the car, a beat up 1979 Datsun that was the DeLorean from BACK TO THE FUTURE in my mind – mostly because of how fast my dad drove. I didn’t know what I did, but for Dad to be taking me out of school early, it must have been something bad. So imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the Meadowood Mall and made our way into the cineplex.

“What are we doing Daddy?” I’m sure I asked.

“We’re taking a day off. Everyone deserves a day off now and then. Just remember, do good in school and don’t tell your mother. Now, what do you want to see?” he asked.

GODDAMN! Not only did my dad check me out for a ditch day, but I got to choose my own movie too? I looked at the screen behind the ticket counter. At age five I had no problem reading the films on the list.

“Flight of the Navigator starts in ten minutes!” I screamed.

I had seen previews for it on the Disney Channel, and because we lived near an old Air Force base that tested the Stealth Fighter, I was wayyyy into flying saucers and aliens. My Dad paid for two tickets and led us to the snack stand. One popcorn, Cherry Coke and a pack Red Vines later, we were ready for the film to begin. It was exactly what I had hoped it would be. A story told through the eyes of a kid, and although he was a bit older than me in the film, I was BOUGHT in. The story of a boy taken from his place in time, awakening in some unknown future with only the company of a robot that sounds like Pee Wee Herman Sarah Jessica Parker with pink hair just really worked for me. I never asked my Dad if he liked it or not. In my slightly foggy memory he laughed in places, but mostly it seemed he was enjoying watching me enjoy myself. As the credits rolled I picked up my trash and began to leave the theater with my Dad. But something struck me funny as I led him to the front door. He grabbed my hand and led me back towards the theaters. I looked up at him and with an ever so gentle motion he put his finger to his lips… “Shhhhh”

My little hand in his, we casually walked into a dark theater. Having not paid for a second ticket and paranoid as fuck…. we sat down.

“Daddy, what are we doing?” I asked.

“You picked your movie, now I get to pick mine.” he said with a smile on his face.

The screen lit up and a fanfare of horns blurted. In the darkness…. letters appeared.

Five Years Old Mind You…

The next two hours changed my life completely. I had been afraid of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the transformation scene in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but this was different. Not only did I experience the sheer terror of the ALIEN xenomorphs, but the body horror of the incubation of the species. The most afraid I had ever been in my young life was was when they find the survivor in the cooling tower, the alien nest, who begs the colonial marines to “Kill Me” as the chestburster…bursts from her torso and shrieks – a memory that has stuck with me for 35 years. I remember the terror that NEWT must have felt when she was alone in the flooded air ducts, when the XENOMORPH rises out of the water behind her, or when the queen is revealed to be on the SULACO afte the daring escape from the doomed planetoid. I absorbed all of it – and LOVED IT.

This became a monthly ritual for my Dad and I. At some point during the month, I’d get that unexpected call to the office. It was always a challenge to hide my excitement, instead having to display a faux terror on my face as to not give up the game. Over the next couple years, I remember the following “Daddy Ditch Day” Double Features:

  1. The Great Mouse Detective and The Fly
  2. Labrynth and TOP GUN
  3. Spaceballs and RoboCop
  4. Harry and the Hendersons and Beverly Hills Cop 2
  5. Superman 4 and JAWS: The Revenge ( 2 of the worst films of all time, can you believe it??)

Not many more Ditch Days after 1987. My Dad worked a lot more and I switched schools, so there weren’t as many opportunities, but those couple years molded me into the cinema enthusiast that I am today.

My dad passed away a few years ago. The night of his passing just happened to be the premiere of ALIEN: COVENANT. Needless to say, I was disappointed in the film. I came home that night wondering if my Dad would feel the same way. We both were rather let down by PROMETHEUS. The Alien/Predator series was dear to us, so we both had high expectations. I came home from the premiere late, probably midnight. At six a.m. there was a knock on the front door. When I opened it, there were two police men standing in front of me. I invited them in and they sat on the couch. Over the next ten minutes they explained to me how my dad had taken his life in his car, parked in the lot of the local police station. Of all the thoughts that ran through my mind that morning, the one that stood out was the fact that he probably would have hated ALIEN: COVENANT.

Thoughts went back to the good days; the days of my youth. The early days that molded me into the cinema enthusiast that I am today… and the person that got me there.

I miss you Dad.

The End.

CINEMA CONSPIRACY: CHARLOTTE’S WEB IS FIGHT CLUB (*SPOILERS*)

Before I had a child, I only had recollections of films from my childhood and what they meant to me. As children our little developing minds consume data and interpret it in the most literal of terms . We don’t understand nuance or metaphor, we take it as we see it. When I was a child, I liked to be challenged with my entertainment. I didn’t care as much for innocent and childish cartoons, movies, songs, stories, ETC. I liked my shit a little dangerous, a little scary, a little challenging. I cared not for Snow Whites or Bambies or Robin Hoods. I was more on the wavelength of Never Ending Stories and Dark Crystals and Watcher in the Woods…es…

I did dig some of the trippier Disney fair of the 60’s. BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS had some pretty deep shit in it, what with Angela Lansbury and her orphan brood casting spells and playing soccer (I’m sorry, ‘Football’) with some rather aggressive animated animals who as per the film, killed a wizard, stole his magic medallion, and now live under some weird authoritarian state with a Lion in charge (always the fucking lions). Oh and let’s not forget the spell that reanimates old medieval armory that scares the shit out some Nazi’s and sends them packing back to the Fatherland.

RETURN TO OZ was my jam! Dorothy getting shock treatment?!? Little girls getting swept down flooded rivers?!? A woman who collects heads?!? A creepy as hell living moose sofa and pumpkin head with an Oedipus Complex? The WHEELERS??? Yeah that did it for me. Still does for that matter.

These were all films that I maybe revisited once or twice in my twenties, sentimentally, but never really delved into them as when I had a child who by the age of four was watching these films REPEATEDLY. Once the film ended, well we would just rewind that shit and start it all over again. You get to learn all the dialogue, you know the music cues and you even catch the occasional wiggle of a set piece or where the film skipped a frame. It was during this time that my son (who is autistic and prone to obsess over certain films and songs) watched the 1973 animated version of E.B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB. The first few hundred times to watch it, or hear it in the background, you just pass it off as another syrupy kid’s film (although the Sherman Brothers did write some banger songs for it). But after, let’s say, the 300th viewing, your cinematic conditioning starts kicking in. You start to read between the lines and you get what the filmmakers were really trying to do, and the story they wanted to tell, albeit through a singing pig (voiced by Henry Gibson btw).

What am I getting at? Simple. CHARLOTTE’S WEB is FIGHT CLUB for kids.

As a child, you buy into the fantasy that Fern rescues a runt of a pig who eventually learns to talk and with the other animals on the farm, does the bidding of an all knowing spider that can weave intricate webs with messages for the humans that explain just how damn special this pig is. It’s cute. It’s whimsical. It’s… bullshit.

What this film really is about is mental illness in children and how it is ignored by adults and passed off as “Childhood Fantasy”, probably leading to severe anxiety and intense psychotherapy when these kids grow up… or they grow up to be Edward Norton in FIGHT CLUB. And we all know how that ended (or at least we should.)

Let’s dissect this. I’ll help you.

Charlotte’s Web begins with a cute little summary of life on the farm in springtime. A warm, folksy old timer explains to you that the flowers bloom, baby animals are born and life is exciting! That is… unless you’re the runt of the litter, in that case you get the CHOP! Fern rescues little Wilbur from the axe of her father, and because he’s a decent man (or trying to teach her some kind of sick lesson by being a withholding prick later on..) he lets her keep the pig to raise as her own (in this adaptation, you get the feeling that the pig will die in a week, and is legitimately startled that not only does it survive, but thrives. He really wanted to kill that piggy.)

Wilbur is sent to live at Fern’s Uncle’s farm. He is dumb dumb dumb, as he can’t speak. However the resident gander sings him a little song and within minutes he’s speaking, singing, dancing and realizing his purpose on the farm…ham. That’s a hell of a lot for one afternoon.

This is where we get into FIGHT CLUB land. You see, if the film played out with just the animals doing their little songs and dances – everything would be fine. But one scene fucks it all up. This scene:

FERN IS CRAZY

HOW THE FUCK DID SHE KNOW what the animals said?? How does she know the spider’s name is Charlotte?!? How did she know the goose said that Templeton could keep the bad egg!?! Simple folks! She didn’t. She’s insane. She’s lost touch with reality and her disassociated state has created this alternate reality where she, physically weak and emotionally timid, has projected her “id” onto Wilbur.

Wilbur. Is. Tyler. Durden.

Or at least her Tyler Durden. This scene proves that it’s all in her head and that all of your little animal friends are merely figments of her imagination. And it goes deeper! You see, it’s my conspiracy theory that through telepathy caused by extreme childhood anxiety, Fern has been able to manipulate the spider in the doorway to create these messages in the web in order to save Wilbur’s life. The “play” of the animals being able to speak, sing and carry on is created in order for her to better deal with what actually is going on in her head. She buys Wilbur more time, she gets him to the fair, but what happens when her hormones kick in and she starts wanting to hook up with Henry Fussy on the Ferris Wheel?? I’ll tell you what! The spider FUCKING DIES!!! It lays eggs and dies.

But these are not eggs my friends, no no no. This is her subconscious not ready to accept she’s insane, so it projects mini versions of her subconscious fears and desires into Charlotte’s tiny egg sack, which Wilbur rescues and takes back to the farm with him.

Months later the eggs hatch and rather than stay with Wilbur (Fern’s id), they all fly away. That is, for three of them. Wilbur allows them to name themselves, an interesting task for creatures that are mere seconds old. Their names??

  1. Nellie – meaning a silly person. Fern knows what she is in fact a silly person. Completely Bonkers. This name helps her accept that fact, and live with it. (Wilbur that is)
  2. Aranea – Meaning Spider, but also “Seeking Deep Truths” – the proof is in the pudding my dear readers.
  3. Joy- She finally finds Joy in accepting that she is unbalanced. She can live with her disassociation. With these three remaining traits, all the others that flew away are meaningless.

In conclusion: These two are the same.

SEE YOU NEXT TIME!

CONFESSIONS OF A VIDEO BOOTLEGGER

This story may or may not be true, depending on the statutes of limitation for copyright infringement.

This is the story of KID A and KID B. The kids loved movies. The kids wanted to make movies. The kids were not above breaking the law for the sake of their cinematic education. Mommies and Daddies weren’t paying for film school, and being kids of the 90’s, their heads will filmed with sugarplums… cocaine fueled sugarplums who used to work in video stores and were now making the most influential films of the 90’s. Films that KID A and KID B would skip school to see. These sugarplums didn’t go to no goddamned film school. They didn’t kiss the asses of film execs and go through the rungs of being a personal assistant for some dickhead producer or overrated movie star. These sugarplums broke the rules and wrote some killer scripts, or made their own action films in Mexico for $7,000 raised by subjecting themselves to medical experiments. KID A and KID B had fancy plans, but needed an education. An education built on late fees from Blockbuster.

It started in 1996. KID A was lucky enough to be a teacher’s assistant for his school’s AV class during his freshman year, a rarity for a kid that young. Having access to the equipment in the AV club- cameras, tape decks, editing suites… KID A started putting things together. At first KID A used his access of this primo equipment to make skate videos for his friends. He couldn’t skate for shit, but he had a fisheye lens and a VHS-C, so that was good enough to get in with the cool kids. He learned how to use the analog editing suite to make demo tapes for the skater punks, some of his stuff even made it into compilation tapes you could buy at Zoomies and Skate-Shops. But this was kid stuff. KID A wanted to do more.

Over the next year, KID A would make short films, music videos, and “fake trailers” for imaginary movies with the equipment from his AV class. These were a big hit with the kids in school. Some of the projects even got played during school assemblies. The attention he was getting was like a drug, but he wanted more than making silly assembly videos of football highlights. He wanted to make a movie, but how?

KID A met KID B in the summer of 96. Both of them had been lucky enough to grow up with premium cable and a VCR, so they already had an extensive knowledge of movies. KID A had access to premium editing and recording equipment and many times had used the multitude of VCR decks to make copies of skate videos for all skater punks in the area code. KID B had stolen a “VIDEO CLARITY ENHANCER” from his brother. It’s selling point was to enhance the clarity of one video cassette to another during the recording process. It’s real purpose though was to remove the “scrambling” copyright protection on studio released VHS tapes of movies and TV shows that prevented bootleggers from selling high quality copies of them on the street.

At first, KID A and KID B used their newly acquired equipment to make a library for themselves. They would go to the local Blockbuster or family owned video store, rent a new release, dub the tape, and began to build an impressive collection of films which they watched religiously. KID B discovered that a local video store had started a “rewards” program to try to compete with the big chain franchises. For every 5 rentals, you’d get a free rental, however this was a “punch card” program, so if one had a star shaped hole puncher, one could technically get a free rental every visit, therefore building one’s collection of films to duplicate.

Soon they were watching 10-15 movies a week, bootlegging the ones that they liked best and adding them to their collection. 50 tapes grew to 100, 100 grew to 200, soon there were more than 400. Through his connections from his AV class, KID A had an endless supply of blank video cassettes. One day KID A was thumbing through his book of CULT MOVIES, hunting for titles that they had not acquired yet. Some of the cassettes were rare and expensive, so he had little hope of ever finding them in his little town. He desperately wanted to see some of the films featured in FANGORIA and SCREAM magazines. Movies like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, and THE DRILLER KILLER. Sometimes he’d get lucky and find them at the artsy movie theater downtown that had a video store in the basement where he could find CRITERION COLLECTION films, Kung Fu flicks and Video Nasties. More films for the collection. Must keep collecting! Must keep watching!

He found a copy of Cannibal Holocaust available to order by mail in the back of Fangoria. Fifty Bucks, plus shipping. He had the money, but it would be a lot to lose if it turned out to be a scam. If there was only a way to see without getting ripped off. One day he mentioned to the kids in his AV class that he was getting a copy. They knew he had quite the collection and a few of them offered him 10 bucks for a copy. He brought this idea to KID B, who agreed that this could be a good way to make some money to add to their collection. Together they bought Cannibal Holocaust with money fronted by the kids from class. Three weeks later it arrived, a piss poor bootleg copy in a box that was printed off a personal computer. When the filmed played, the picture was so fuzzy that you could barely make anything out, but once your eyes adjusted you could get the idea. Despite the quality, they dubbed a bunch of copies and brought them to the kids at the AV club. To their surprise, the kids didn’t complain, and asked what other obscure titles they had.

That was it. Before you knew it they were making dub after dub of Evil Dead 2, Zombie, Last House on the Left… Kids were buying them left and right and at five dollars a pop it helped fund KID A and KID B’S expensive hobby. This went on for several years, and by the time VHS started going by way of the dinosaurs, their collection was nearly a thousand. DVD’s were the new thing. With them you could get all the features that the wealthy enjoyed on Laserdisc, but now affordably and without having to flip the disc halfway through. The kids’ taste for director commentary, behind the scenes features, WIDESCREEN grew, and those old bootleg tapes just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Ceremoniously, KID A and KID B packed them all up in boxes and took them to back of the local thrift store where dumpster diving teens rummaged for treasures. These were the future hipsters, the vintage clothing aficionados, the reason why vinyl lp’s are so goddamned expensive. They left the boxes out there in the open, hoping that one of these kiddos saw the true treasures within. Maybe one of them would go on to talk about the shower scene in DRESSED TO KILL, or the infamous decapitation in THE OMEN.

Once a collector, always a collector. Despite the fact that pretty much everything ever made has been digitized and streamed through the internet in one form or another, nothing beats the feeling of owning something. These days KID A and KID B feel they owe it to the film makers whose art they copied (albeit out of love and the desire to see more of their art), so they urge the cinema lovers out there to never give up on physical media. Buy that Blu-Ray that someone did the artwork for. Pay the thirty bucks for that album, it’s worth it. And while the questionable actions of KID A and KID B does weigh on their conscience from time to time, their mission to bring those forgotten gems and obscure works of art to the masses continues.

Keep Watching! Until Next Time!

UNNECESSARY SEQUEL: ROMEO + JULIET II

The following pitch was made to 20th Century Fox in summer of 1998 following the success of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the William Shakespeare’s classic love story. The name of the writer has been suppressed for legal reasons… mostly.

INT. MOVIE STUDIO OFFICE – DAY

FILM EXECUTIVE

Okay, we hear you have a pitch for us. Romeo + Juliet II? Okay… Let’s hear it.

SCREENWRITER

(Sniffling the last remaining bit of cocaine left in his nostrils from his bump in the hallway)

OKAY! Well… Picture this: The last thing we see in the first film is Juliet shooting herself in the head after Romeo drinks the poison, right? RIGHT!?! Well, turns out that Romeo wasn’t dead right? He was like, in a super coma and shit. So at the end of the movie, when they’re burying the bodies, the dude is still alive! But like he’s in a coffin! So we delve into the experience of Romeo’s fear of being buried alive, but even worse than that, he has no idea that Juliet shot herself. He like thinks she’s still alive ya know? So now we really dive into the fear of being buried alive and shit. So now, Romeo remembers something the old priest guy taught him. It called Trans dental…wait, no… Trans AM Fentanyl…yeah Trans Seminal meditation right? He can like project his soul into the ether, so like for the rest of the movie, we’re not on earth but in the realm of subconscious right? RIGHT?!?

Now, I know what you’re thinking , we’re taking this trip with Romeo but like where the hell is Juliet, right? So the Idea is that Juliet’s body is dead, but her soul is eternal bro, ya know? And it just so happens that Romeo’s projected consciousness is in the same metaphysical realm as Juliet’s soul!! Can you dig it?? Now, it’s not all fun and games in the realm though. You see, all the souls that were lost because of Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden love are in the realm with them. Tybalt, Mercutio, Paris…

FILM EXECUTIVE

Wait wait Wait… Paris doesn’t die in the film.

SCREENWRITER

Aw Shit Man! Haven’t you read the original text? Paris totally gets skewered by Romeo in the play, so I guess we show like a flashback and shit, where Paris tries to stop Romeo in the church and like, whatever man! Anyways, the souls are in the realm, and they’re mad as hell. Why? Because in the realm, you have no dick.

FILM EXECUTIVE

You have no dick?

SCREENWRITER

Of course not! It’s the realm man! Sex doesn’t exist in the realm. Only love exists, love and hate man! Anyways, Romeo is in the realm looking for Juliet. He can hear her voice, but he can’t see her! As he makes his way through the labyrinth of the realm, he finds himself in front of a large church, and man, this church is creepy and shit. He goes inside and you know who’s there?? The soul of Mercutio! He sees Romeo and is like, “A plague on your house! I want my dick back!” Then they Karate Fight!

FILM EXECUTIVE

Karate Fight? Listen, I’m not sure where this is going, but I don’t think there were karate fights in Shakespeare’s work.

SCREENWRITER

Look man. You guys made a Shakespeare flick with the guy from the Super Mario Brothers movie and and Paul Fucking Rudd. You don’t think that kids of today don’t want to see Leonardo DiCaprio karate fight a ghost in the realm??

(Silence…..)

FILM EXECUTIVE

Continue…

SCREENWRITER

So like, we see this insane karate fight. Romeo and Mercutio do these crazy karate moves while the camera zips around them in slow motion, then like speeds up, then like slows down, then like speeds up…they fly around and kick each other and … I don’t know man. Maybe you’re right. This is 1998, I don’t think people are ready for karate fights with crazy camera moves and super slow motion shit, especially dealing with metaphysical realms and false realities… anyways. Romeo defeats Mercutio, and as he lays dying…again… he whispers, “A plague on both your houses… I just wanted my dick back.” and….he dies.

Suddenly, the ground begins to shake! It cracks open, and from the opening in the ground, up rises the soul of Juliet! Like angel wings and everything man, it is some beautiful shit! The two embrace and kiss and like say “I love you” and all of that. Juliet is like, “Romeo, you found me! How doth did thou find me, and shit?”

Romeo is like all, “Your love is like a beacon in the night, and it doth guided me hence, and shit”.

Anyways, Juliet explains that because she is dead, she can never leave the realm, and because Romeo is alive, only his astral projection is there. You see man, unless he dies he can’t stay there with her. So he’s like, Julie baby I gotta go die and shit! They kiss, like they KISS and shit, and Romeo pulls himself back to the real world, but he’s gotta die now and shit. He can like wait until he runs out of air in the coffin, but he’s so in love with Juliet and wants to be with her so badly that he starts banging his head against the coffin lid, like trying to bash his brains in and shit, ya know? But, and man I tell you what, the priest hears the banging from the coffin! He opens the lid and pulls Romeo out! Romeo lives! The priest is like “Damn Romeo! You alive and shit?”

Romeo is like, “Man I need to die again. Juliet is waiting for me, but I gotta die! I need to be a ghost and shit!” The priest is all like, whatever. He does this karate move, like this karate move that hits pressure points and shit and Romeo just like BAM! HITS THE GROUND right?? RIGHT??

So now we’re back in the realm. It’s all snowy and shit. Juliet is waiting for Romeo, who is dead now, for real this time. He’s like ready to be with Juliet forever, he’s like “Juliet, alas we have found PEACE and shit.”

Then out of the darkness, we here a voice say…”PEACE? I hate the word. As I hate hell… all Montagues…and Thee…. I just want my dick back!”

It’s the ghost of Tybalt man! He pulls out this big sword and shit and Romeo is all like HELL YEAH and pulls out a sword and shit and two of them are like WHACK WHACK WHACK and shit and Romeo does a spinny shit and is like SLASH SLASH and Tybalt’s arms fall off and there’s like blood and shit and…. it’s over. Tybalt’s ghostly remains lie in a bloody pile on the floor. Romeo drops his sword and shit and runs to Juliet. “Alas Julie Baby, we can doth live together and shit.” They kiss and kiss and kiss and Juliet is like, “Romeo, how I loveth thee! Maketh love to me and shit!”. He goes to unbuckle his pants and realizes… FADE TO BLACK. Well Man! That’s it! That’s the pitch! What do you think?

(silence)

FILM EXECUTIVE

Well… it’s interesting. I’ll have to run it past a few of my colleagues. In the meantime, good luck on your current project Mr. Tarantino, I’m looking forward to seeing this Jackie Black or whatever it’s called. Good Day Sir.

The End…. Until Next Time!

JESSICA HARPER – GENRE GODDESS

I’ve never had the kind of affection for A-List actresses like I have had for those of genre films. Not to say they aren’t extremely talented, it’s just that I have never found myself driven to go see the new JULIA ROBERTS or MERYL STREEP film just because they star in it (I do however love it when A-listers “slum it” and appear in low budget / genre projects). These days the line is blurry with A-List projects and so called genre pictures. 30 years ago, superhero movies and horror films didn’t have the grip of the box office as they do today, and today’s genre films are made for millions of dollars and draw A-List talent. Some actors and directors remained comfortable in their “b-movie” families, almost forming their own actor “repertories” where you were almost guaranteed to see the graces of actors like Dick Miller, Bruce Dern, Paul Bartel, David Carradine, Linnea Quigley in films that played in drive-ins and grindhouses theaters. But out of all the performers from those b-movies and genre films, one has always fascinated me more than all the others, as she’s starred in some of my favorite films of all time yet shamefully isn’t as recognized in the industry as she should be. I’m talking about Jessica Harper- Genre Goddess.

Born in Chicago in 1949, she started her career on the Broadway stage in the classic rock opera “HAIR”. Her theatrical talents would serve her well in classics like PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, SUSPIRIA, SHOCK TREATMENT, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and MY FAVORITE YEAR. Her cult icon was secured right from the start in one of her first starring roles, that being the role of “Phoenix” in Brian De Palma’s cult classic musical/horror film, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE.

This film is like nothing you’ve ever seen. A twisted adaptation of FAUST, where lonely song writer Winslow Leach (Willam Finley, a staple of early De Palma films) makes a deal with a devilish music producer named Swan (played by Paul Williams) that ends up with Williams stealing his music and framing him for drug trafficking. After a terrible accident leaves Leach disfigured, he takes refuge in the bowels of The Paradise, the music venue run by Williams. Donning a hideous mask and leather bondage suit, Leach becomes “The Phantom” and starts taking his revenge on Swan. However, the two strike a deal where Leach will continue to write songs for Swan as long as they are sung by the up and coming singer named Phoenix (Harper). She really shines in this early role, her delivery being naive and sarcastic with a touch of shyness, but when she’s on stage performing, she becomes an electrifying diva. In a film that’s truly bizarre and other worldly, her grounded performance brings credibility to the story and makes the tragedy of the story even more heart breaking. It’s no wonder that her performance in this would help land her next big role…

SUSPIRIA is considered one of the scariest films ever made. Dario Argento’s beautifully shot and relentlessly sinister film about a ballet school that is run by a coven of witches has been touted as masterpiece of cinematic violence and visual artistry. Argento was so impressed by Harper’s performance in PHANTOM, as well as the film she made afterwards called INSERTS (about a film director in the 30’s who starts making silent porn films in his mansion), that he cast her in the role of Suzy Bannion, an American who has come to the German Ballet Academy to study dance, only to be introduced to the horrors within. The grizzly violence of the film is what got the most attention, but Harper’s performance is that of someone truly terrified, her fear becomes your fear and is more effective than any other performances in a horror film.

Lastly, my favorite performance of hers is in a film that has been both maligned and forgotten. Not a lot of people even know that it even exists, let alone that is the sequel to the most recognized cult film ever made. I’m speaking of course of the enigma that is SHOCK TREATMENT.

The sequel that shouldn’t exist. Understand that the Rocky Horror Picture Show was a total bomb when it arrived in theaters in 1975. It wasn’t until a couple years after it’s release that it started gaining a cult following…but only at midnight…on the weekends. That’s not the way to earn your budget back. However enough noise was made that Richard O’brien began working on a sequel that was eventually greenlit and went into production in 1980 with Rocky Horror’s original director Jim Sharman. The story was to be that of Brad and Janet, now married and experiencing problems with their relationship. They live in the town of Denton, USA, where everyday the residents of the town enter a large television studio to watch a variety of shows being shot for a network owned by a media and fast food mogul named Farley Flavors. While there, Brad is volunteered to be “re-programmed” to be a better husband and less of a wuss. Janet however is beginning to peak with her confidence and sexuality. She becomes a big time celebrity on the network and lets the fame get to her head. Meanwhile Brad is undergoing shock treatment and extreme psychotherapy from Dr. Cosmo Mckinley (Richard O’brien) and his sister Nurse Nation (Patricia Quinn.) Will Brad and Janet survive this ordeal?

The big issue was that by the time the sequel was ready to film, the original Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) were big stars, so they passed on the project. Who would replace them? Well, they went with Harper as Janet and Cliff DeYoung as Brad, and I’m telling you, they are just perfect for this film. I can’t picture Sarandon and Bostwick working with this material. It’s just too weird. Harper and DeYoung however are just imperfect enough to seem totally believable in the roles, and Harper especially thanks to some truly great songs and set pieces. Her musical numbers LITTLE BLACK DRESS and IN MY OWN WAY are showstoppers, worthy of a standing ovation if it were a stage play.

Sadly, the film was even less of a hit than its predecessor and was doomed to video store oblivion. It still hasn’t gotten it’s just rewards. Hopefully soon, thanks to the internet and bloggers like me, it will get a resurrection and become the cult hit it was meant to be.

As for Harper, she still gets steady work and is currently on the television series SEE with Jason Momoa. Regardless of what she has made in the recent past, she will forever be a part of cinema history, thanks to her roles in Suspiria, Phantom of the Paradise and Shock Treatment.

Until next time!

DANNY PEARY’S CULT MOVIES (VOL 1)

Before the days of the internet, there was the library. For a young film enthusiast like me, my library card was filled with pretty much nothing but books on film and Stephen King novels. Books on special effects, monster movies, film director biographies (Scorsese and Scorsese was personal favorite), and this book. CULT MOVIES by Danny Peary was a staple for me. I honestly think that the copy at my local library was checked out for most of the mid 90’s…by me. If “Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide” was my bible, this book was my Dead Sea Scroll. An addendum to everything I found sacred in the holy texts so to speak. Where my precious movie guide was a never ending stream of descriptive paragraphs, this book brought life, critique, and most importantly…PICTURES!

It was one of my early missions in life to see all the movies in the Movie & Video Guide. However I knew that would be close to impossible do, being that we only had a couple of small video stores in my suburban town and cable then was not what it is now. I would have to downsize my goal, I would have to have someone guide me through the never ending, and ever growing list of films worth my time and effort. This was one of the books to help me do that.

Before opening up this book (and it’s follow up volumes), titles such as THE BROOD, CAGED HEAT, ERASERHEAD, FREAKS, PEEPING TOM… meant nothing to me. After seeing pictures of the films, reading their plots and the mostly spoiler free critiques, it made me prioritize my list and seek out the treasures that lay within.

*A caption from Peary’s CULT CRIME FILMS

Finding the films would prove to be a challenge. They really don’t stock films like BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR and TWO LANE BLACKTOP at the local Blockbuster in Provo, Utah. You do your best. You buy bootleg vhs tapes from video catalogues, tapes that have been dubbed over and over so you can barely make out what you’re seeing, but hey, at least you can say you’ve seen the movie.

Once the internet came to be a household item, access to websites like EBAY, AMAZON, and ALIBRIS finally gave people from small towns the opportunity to purchase (expensively) the rare films we had been looking for for years. Then came NETFLIX, the DVD by mail service that took the world by storm. Finally, you could “rent” films like THRILLER-A CRUEL PICTURE, PERFORMANCE and SHOCK CORRIDOR.

It seems that these days people scoff at the idea of “physical media”, trading in their tapes and discs for streaming services and VOD (which I confess, is pretty cool), but there are still films out there that are only available in either the original form they were released or on a new disc or blu-ray (painstakingly restored by fans who created their own publishing labels).

I’m looking forward to re-reading the guide. Now that I’ve seen most of the films in it, it should be fun to see how the years have changed my opinions on things. To see whether or not they lived up to the hype that I created in my mind from the words and pictures in the books.

I’ll keep you posted!