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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Very Coen Brothers' February....

So the wonderful folks at Deadshirt asked me to write about one of my favorite Coen Brothers films (so far), MILLER'S CROSSING. You can find that here.

I'd like to thank Max Robinson, who has been an amazing, sympatico editor for the two articles I've written for them so far, as well as my lovely wife Terra, for watching the movie again with me and discussing it as I tried to articulate my thoughts.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

My thoughts on STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Hey blog fans, sorry for the radio silence. I've been busy with moving to Seattle, starting a new job, having a baby and getting another dog.

However, I do have a new post on awesome pop culture website Deadshirt about THE FORCE AWAKENS. You can find it here. And it should be a different take than most of the stuff the blogosphere has been talking about.  So check it out and there might be more coming soon!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Flash Fiction: FIRST CONTACT

FIRST CONTACT

They came in peace. They wanted to share their advanced knowledge with us and help us travel to the stars.

But they were made of felt and poly-fill. And they met dogs first.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Characters who will be popping up in GAME OF THRONES next season

As yet another season of Game of Thrones draws to a close, pop culture sites have already started seeding the soil of fandom with news items on the next season. 

Despite the fact that this series is based on books that you can read, people like to read press releases and gossip about what is coming next season and what will actually make it from page to screen.

Luckily, Mr. K. happens to have a source willing to slip him some click-bait-y tidbits about...


New Characters You Can Expect in Game of Thrones' Next Season!

1. Profane assassin/street-thug
2. A bureaucrat at some non-governmental organization in Westeros/Braavos/Mereen who is going to make it difficult for a character to get what they want
3. Dragon Food
4. Attendant who points out to Daenerys that conquering is easy, but ruling is hard
5. A member of a conspiracy to kill the king/queen/lord/religious cult leader
6. The leader of a crazy new religious cult
7. That guy who we spend 5 minutes with so we can understand that this new mystical threat is pretty threatening once it kills him
8. Ramsay Snow's dog trainer
9. Someone whose existence threatens Cersei
10. Someone who Cersei is going to f*** over
11. Someone whose death will make Jon Snow sad
12. Someone whose death will show us that Arya/Sansa/Tyrion/Hot Pie has crossed a line
13. A seasoned British character actor whose gravitas is supposed to make up for the fact he doesn't have much to do or say
14. Yet another guy playing the Mountain
15. Darth Maul
16. An attractive prostitute who is going to make out with someone else attractive as a lead character monologues about how power corrupts or their childhood was awful or how power is hard to maintain
17. Dragon Poochie
18. Someone you start to like in spite of yourself, until you remember that they die halfway through DANCE OF DRAGONS
19. A hard-drinking old man who has a secret past
20. Victimized peasant
21. Victimized peasant woman
22. Victimized peasant child
23. Dead peasant family
24. Indie band dressed as troubadors who play the third song that ever was written in Westeros
25. Rex Hamilton as Abe Lincoln

Monday, November 18, 2013

Fear of monsters...

I wrote this piece for a Halloween-themed story-telling event about fear.

It's very different from my normal snark. It's about the murder of a close friend and it was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Italian buffonery at the outset of World War II

I'm reading The Second World War by Antony Beevor, which is yet another general account of World War II, distinguished by two things: 1) With the exception of Weinberg's World At War, this is probably the most global depiction of the entire war that I have read; and 2) Antony Beevor wrote it.

As always, reading a history of World War II can be dehumanizing or brutalizing: endless statistics and battle formations on one hand, a parade of endless atrocities on the other. Luckily, Beevor is an expert at the telling details and little anecdotes to help ground it.

And, at the moment, having reached the point where the Italians got involved in the war at earnest, there is lots of comic opera buffoonery from the Italian military. Here are some of the disasters that the Italians had inflicted upon them (or inflicted upon themselves) between June and October of 1940:


  • The British took 70 Italian soldiers prisoner in Libya on June 11. The Italian soldiers were confused because no one had told them their countries were at war.
  • During another raid a few days later, the British took captive about a hundred soldiers, as well as "a fat Italian general in a Lancia staff car accompanied by a 'lady friend', who was heavily pregnant and not his wife" (p 147).
  • Marshal Balbo, the Italian military commander in Libya, died on June 28 because his plane was accidentally shot down by "over-enthusiastic Italian anti-aircraft batteries in Tobruk" (still 147).
  • In September 1940, when the Italians finally started their invasion of Egypt, they "managed to get lost even before reaching the Egyptian frontier" (seriously, still on the same page, 147).
  • Finally, in October 1940, Mussolini decided to invade Greece because he thought the Germans had sent troops into Romania without mentioning it to him first. Unfortunately, Ribbentrop, the German foreign secretary, had mentioned it to Count Ciano, Mussolini's foreign secretary. Ciano had just forgotten to tell Mussolini.
This is the kind of behavior you expect from Republic serial villains, not from a member of the Axis powers. I'm not trying to downplay the atrocities the Italians committed in Libya and Ethiopia. But, you got to take your levity where you can find it in this period.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Christianity is stupid! Communism is good!": IF FOOTMEN TIRE YOU, WHAT WILL HORSES DO?

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971)
Directed by Ron Ormond
Based on the writings of Estus W. Pirkle
Starring Judy Creech, Cecil Scaife, and Gene McFall

While Ron Ormond might not be as famous as Ed Wood or Herschell Gordon Lewis, he occupies a very curious place among schlock auteurs. A hacky B-movie director in the 50s, Mr. Ormond found religion and decided to devote his "talents", such as they were to spreading the word of Jesus Christ, specifically as preached by Reverend Estus W. Pirkle. Of course, Ormond's talents did not improve despite his conversion, and, in conjunction with the very "fire and brimstone" preachings of Reverend Pirkle, produced some very odd movies aimed at the religious "market", to be shown on 16mm projectors at churches. The best way to describe If Footmen Tire You, is to imagine if Red Dawn were being done as a Christmas pageant by your local Baptist church, and the whole thing were directed by Ed Wood.

The first thing that might strike the viewer as odd is the year given as the release date: 1971. But with the exception of brief mentions of inner-city riots and campus protests (and one hilariously out-of-touch "sex education" scene), this might as well be a colorized version of INVASION USA (the 1952 propaganda film, not the 1985 Chuck Norris action film). Most of Pirkle's broadsides against youth culture are so vague, and Ormond's dramatizations so clueless, that they could be criticizing beatniks or rockers in the 1950s. And the gore effects (and yes, there are gore effects) could have come out of BLOOD FEAST... caro syrup drenched over "dead" people who are clearly still breathing.

The story, as much as there is one, is that Reverend Pirkle is giving a sermon to his flock one Sunday. Judy (played by Judy Creech), a rebellious teenager, comes to mass and realizes that her dead mother was right about believing in Jesus. And every so often, Ormond cuts away to dramatize Pirkle's vision of Communist-controlled America.

If this film has any cultural currency outside of a select film buff community, it is as the source of the sample for experimental rock group Negativland's track "Christianity is Stupid" (which is also the source of the post title). There is something absurdly thrilling about hearing a Southern Baptist preacher, in stentorian tones, yelling, "Christianity is stupid! Communism is good!" over and over again. And, if this movie has any value beyond historical footnote to Christian pop culture & exploitation cinema, it is the absurdity of a evangelical sermon that tries to scare the congregation with misunderstood facts and half-remembered anecdotes about the counter-culture and Communist countries.

On the most basic level, the movie fails because its image of a Communist take-over and its consequences are so absurd. While Pirkle, at several points, buttresses his arguments with claims that these events are inspired by true events that happened in Russia, China, and Vietnam, but without understanding the context or widespread nature of these events. Pirkle only talks about Christian persecution, but he doesn't say anything about the state-sanctioned persecution of other religious minorities, ethnic minorities, intellectuals, artists or business owners, or the starvation of millions of peasants in the name of industrialization.

Furthermore, Pirkle's vision of a Communist take-over, while barely believable in 1952, is absurd in 1971. He shies away from specifics, but the few hints he drops are big enough whoppers. He anticipates a 5th Column-esque takeover, claiming that within 15 minutes of a signal, a legion of shadowy Communists will murder the President, Congress and most state governors. Even Joseph McCarthy would have blanched at that claim!

Remember, this movie was released seven (!) years after DOCTOR STRANGELOVE,  but there is no discussion of a nuclear war of any extent. Pirkle envisions a Fifth Column takeover, which results in total subjugation of the U.S. by Communist Cuba!

That's right, not China, not Russia.

Cuba.

If Ormond was a good director, this movie would be offensive. But since he's a schlock auteur, it's hilarious.

Except for the occasional Pirkle whopper, the sermonizing is pretty static and dull. Even the extras playing congregation, which one would assume might include members of Pirkle's own congregation, look bored and on the verge of yawning throughout the film.

Where the film comes alive is in the flashbacks to Judy's (inoffensively) rebellious life and the flash-forwards (or visualizations) of the aftermath of the Communist takeover. Judy's scenes with her mother and un-named boyfriend are hilarious: watching Judy & her mother woodenly over-emote in each other's general direction as they deliver awkward dialogue is a delight, as is Ormond's depiction of Judy's whitebread rebellion, as she and Mr. Boyfriend drink beer and smoke cigarettes!'

But even better than that are the torments the Communists devise. They sound pretty gruesome:

- Soldiers sticking nails through the ears of children;
- Soldiers forcing children to lower their father onto a series of rakes stuck into the ground;
- A boy getting his head chopped off with a machete after refusing to step on a picture of Jesus.

But when all the depictions are as inept as the one below...


Next they made him wear a headband with an arrow on other side.

Well, you can't help but laugh.

Adding to the hilarious incompetence is the fact that all the Communists wear costumes that were made by a high school theatre department that can't do a hammer-and-sickle, while the actors playing the Commisar (Cecil Scaife) and the Deputy Commisar (Gene McFall) seesaw between a broad Russian accent and a Deep Southern accent, sometimes within the same word!


Oh, and the Commisar looks like he should be coaching the Sweathogs.


If you're someone who actually suffered under Soviet totalitarianism, this movie would make you want to pound nails into the makers' eardrums. But if you think evangelical Christianity and fear-mongering are absurd, well, this movie might prove rewarding.