Movies +1


Probably should have added The Wolf of Wall Street on there too under “movies I didn’t get to see”.

 

Dangit.

Watched in 2013: 100 Reviews of 100 Movies in 100 Characters (or less)


While I fell short on my goals for reading this year, my movie watching was out of the park! In the end, I watched exactly 100 films this year; some were good, some were bad; a lot were middling, mixed, and mediocre. Most of them weren’t released this year, but this year marks the first time I’ve ever seen them. I thought I’d take a moment to give my two bucks on the whole collection and point out some of the best offerings of the year as well as warn people away from the worst of the bad.

Note that I’m not taking some “grand perspective” of film history or anything like that when I index certain movies as the best on this list: these are just the movies that struck me as being the most memorable, fun, and moving and that I think others should check out and enjoy. Similarly, the “worst” movies are so classified not because they are objectively awful, but because I received the least enjoyment out of watching them; several of their number have redeeming qualities which I know there’s an audience for which didn’t include me.

So here’s what I thought about the movies I watched, no bullshit.

 

® movies indicate any movies which I’d seen before this year, but just re-watched in 2013.

Yellow highlighted titles with links to trailers were my favorites among the movies I saw for the first time in 2013. (Re-watched movies were not eligible for these considerations.)

Struck-through titles were my worst movies of the year.

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE

300 (2006) ® – Unique saturated visuals and painting-like cinematography, but its lovesong to warmongering is lame.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Eastwood’s Italian Western of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo translates the character well; seeing both is neat.

Abyss, The (1989) – The heavy-handed message and bloated runtime pale before the legitimate chemistry between two leads.

Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938) – Possesses a pure, magical whimsy, so far-removed from today’s gritty realism obsessions: no deaths.

Beastmaster, The (1982) – A mess of a fantasy epic, like it was written by a child. Still fun if looking for a good bad movie.

Conan the Barbarian (1982) ® – Still a fun, uncomplicated action romp of strong men battling evil. Ahnold in one of his best roles.

Dark Knight Returns, The: Parts 1 & 2 (2012,2013) – Utterly faithful adaptation of Miller’s bat leaves no room for creativity, like all his adaptations.

Death Race 2000 (1975) – Great, typical 70’s, political sci-fi action flick ahead of its time: Hunger Games and reality TV.

Demolition Man (1993) ® – Kooky, mid-90’s, self-aware comedy still plays well today. Did he just mind-screw with his daughter?

Die Another Day (2002) – James Bond visits a pun factory and falls into a vat of toxic pun chemicals. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.

Die Hard: With A Vengeance (1995) ® – Final scene underscores the unconcerned “action-movie logic” of the whole movie. What a fun movie!

Django Unchained (2012) ® – Everything Tarantino did with Kill Bill crystalized and repackaged in 2013’s feel-good splatterfest.

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (2013) – Fan-service: The Movie: References! Oddly small stakes! Plot holes! Wait, what happened after Name?

Goldeneye (1995) ® – Probably the height of Brosnan’s stint as 007; ironically, spin-off game’s legacy is greater by far.

Grandmaster, The (2013) – Neo-wuxia, I feel, is too SFX-reliant, while the storylines are increasingly cliche & melodramatic.

Hobbit, The – The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – Jackson’s dialog’s on autopilot, with chaotic action setpieces to fluff up a thin plot. Nice dragon.

Iron Man 3 (2013) – Depowered Potts puzzling, as is Mopey Stark not bothering to save the day. Cliche fire effects too.

Kick-Ass 2 (2013) – Semi-inconsistent pace and story. Ending trades comic end for a tidy message about everyday heroes.

Kon Tiki (2012) – A fairly by-the-books “based on a true story, overcoming impossible odds” film, but a well-made one.

Life of Pi (2012) – Accurately translates an excellent book with the too-tidy digital FX of a big budget American film.

Man of Steel (2013) – Neither the smart Superman movie it pretended to be, nor the fun, freewheeling ride the others were.

Mummy, The (1999) ® – Though the CGI ages poorly, The Mummy still remains a fun action flick with a great sense of timing.

Pacific Rim (2013) – Big, busty, brawly kaijuu with selfsame performances; nothing too complicated, yet artistry clear.

Rurouni Kenshin (2012) – A mass of creatively-bankrupt anime cliches slavishly converted to live action like a Miller flick.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) – Fascinating piece of animation history. Titular character an object, not a character? Felt cheated.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) – Confused, recycled plot used as vehicle for action set piece; emotional ending hamstrung by tribble.

Takedown (2000) – A semi-accurate account of one of the many non-publicized digital security abuses of the post-80’s.

Wolverine, The (2013) – Far better than Origins, but still only telegraphs an overly-convoluted plot, goofy comic-booky arc.

Zulu (1964) – Leaves race at the door in “us v. them” African war flick; British still framed as “heroes” however.

 

COMEDY

Being There (1979) – A zen mistaken identity tale that makes you feel good inside after watching. Best comedy sex scene?

Christmas Vacation (1989) ® – Well-timed skit comedy about Xmas jumps between scenes sans transitions. Xmaslight scene’s the best.

Four Lions (2012) – In wake of Boston Marathon bombing, hit a bit close to home. In wake of NSA revelations, hilarious.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (2013) – Stephen Chow comedies seem hit-or-miss; this one was a miss, self-derivative and too effects-driven.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) ® – On 3rd rewatch, character “quirk” and patter starting to wear thin; some good stuff here and there.

My Boyfriend’s Back (1993) – Toon sound effects in witty comedy with raunchy teen sex and horror; who the hell was this MADE for?

Shock Treatment (1981) – Songs not as memorable & plot too art-house-incomprehensible to outreach Rocky Horror’s long shadow.

Sound of Noise, The (2010) – So fun! Terrorist musicians attack pop with found sound. Still can’t escape its inherent Frenchness.

This is the End (2013) – No Sandler-vehicle, but the premise is similarly thin. Moralizing in a film with rape jokes? What?

World’s End, The (2013) – Ending’s purpose confused me, but maybe illustrating humanity’s species-wide deathgrip on nostalgia?

 

DRAMA

Bonsai (2011) – Insufferable “writer” main character–a hipster and a fraud–handled with undue gravitas: get a job!

Butler, The (2013) – To appeal to mass audiences, in many ways it becomes what his son rails against: whitewashed, clean.

Compliance (2012) – Not suspenseful so much as cringeful. Is to drama what Hostel is to horror. Also, a 100% true story.

East, The (2013) – Seductive eco-revenge flick starts as shallow catharsis, then shows the pitfalls of blind ideology.

Electrick Children (2013) – Quirky indie pic about family you’re born with vs. family you find; Julia Garner’s career promising.

Fargo (1996) – Hapless criminals and awkward politeness. Loved the accents. Completely deserves its classic status.

Hurt Locker, The (2008) – Tightly-wound thriller, with palpable threats from without and within. Glad I finally got to see it.

Killing Them Softly (2012) – While I remember enjoying this while watching it, I now find the experience wholly unmemorable. Meh?

Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The (1962) – Wayne and Stewart are dynamite, questions of “legends vs. reality” and the high cost of lawlessness.

Melancholia (2011) – Intriguing, beautiful, sad, and strange, this movie put me on Lars von Trier’s scent. What’s next?

Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki) (2013) – A heart-warming and -rending tale about love, motherhood, youth, becoming an adult, and letting go.

Paranorman (2012) – Eschews Hollywood kids’ film cliches for all-too-rare message about compassion and being different.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) – Butler-itis: biopic conforms to three-act structure while remaining wholly inoffensive. Very moving.

Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Treatise on storytelling shares the same charm as The Stanley Parable, but with more action & plot.

Shortbus (2006) ® – Started watching for sexy bits/to identify with characters’ stasis. Wish I could visit their world.

Sightseers (2013) – Curious, weird passive-aggressive serial killer road trip comedy. Got bored of the trip by the end.

Untouchables, The (1987) – “Let’s go get ’em!” perky musical score cues become almost annoying given their regularity. Tense.

Win Win (2011) – Moving story about trust, family, and the nature of happiness. Great drama, characters, and cast!

 

DOCUMENTARY

Detropia (2012) – Sobering look at community-crippling effect of corporate greed on America today: a spreading plague.

Forks Over Knives (2012) – Its heart may be in the right place, but irresponsible health claims abandon education for ideology.

Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008) – Overview of Lovecraft’s life came to my attention at just the right time, while reading his catalog.

Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, The (2013) – Slavoj Žižek, the troll of philosophy, comes back with another interesting perspective on pop media.

Queen of Versailles (2012) – Unscrupulous property-pusher’s comeuppance and familial fall fuels middle-class schadenfreude flick.

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers (2013) – A DEEP inside look at the largely unreported “golden age” of a gang of professional diamond thieves.

Sound City (2013) – I love artists expressing love for their art; Sound City an unlikely institution in the music world.

West of Memphis (2012) – Corruption, greed, and ego: incarcerated victims were the sacrifice in enraging betrayal of justice.

 

HORROR

13 – Game of Death (2013) – Dark comedy becomes pitch black becomes plain horror: Jokes work in Saw-meets-Falling-Down flick.

A Little Bit Zombie (2012) – Frat boy jokes mixed with D-grade special effects, porno-grade props, and awful acting: unwatchable.

Berberian Sound Studio (2013) – Wanted to enjoy this psychological horror about a foley artist going mad, but it’s too dry for me.

Cat People (1982) – Malcolm McDowell’s performance here is fun as hell; also, worst zoo in the world. Weird dumb horror.

Come Out And Play (2012) – Intriguing premise; third act is one long “fuck you” to audience by ego-tripping director: MAKINOV!

Conjuring, The (2013) – Ethically icky, since main characters were scumbags IRL. Pacing’s wonky; set and cast are very good!

Curse of Chucky, The (2013) – Best Chucky in years: returns to form in structure and pacing, but the end’s a steaming pile of wut.

Dark Water (2002) ® – Still one of my favorite J-horror ghost stories; a mother at her limits struggles to save the day.

Deep Blue Sea (1999) ® –  Heavy-handed Christian morality fable about man’s ambition & playing God; never noticed this before?

Dream Home (2010) – Slasher film turned morality tale in final act. Concept merges well in a post-Dexter pop-media era.

Evil Dead (2013) – Recreates the original’s trappings while losing inventive spirit somewhat. Undeniably savage horror.

Lords of Salem (2013) – Glad Rob Zombie is still directing, experimenting, fun! Rosemary’s Baby meets 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Mama (2012) – …just haunts some girls…”Del Toro’s” on the screen; what does “presented by” even mean?…Mama?

Phantasm (1979) – The best bad movie I’ve seen in years: a too-fun farrago of characters, events, and goofy horror FX.

Phantasm II (1988) – Takes a little while to get going, but eventually, it’s campy fun; with final line, hilarity ensues.

Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) – It’s clear, now, that they’ll never follow Raimii’s path to excellence; they just LOVE making these!

Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) – Never rising or aspiring to be more than it was, 4th act nonetheless feels too self-absorbed/inbred.

Resolution (2012) – A road trip movie chained to a house; a horror film about storytelling; a thriller; a comedy…Cool.

Thing, The (1982) ® – Body horror and Cold War paranoia at its best. Great acting & practical effects, and what an ending!

V.H.S. 2 (2013) – Already suspect short-film found-footage compilation premise is weighed down by diminishing returns.

We Are What We Are (2013) – Picks a very brown tone and carries it through, offering a humble look at the insanity of devotion.

You’re Next (2013) – Not a lot of substance for its runtime–still fun and smart twisty-turney home-invasion meta-horror.

 

SUSPENSE/THRILLER

Go (1999) – Divided narrative takes on the high rise and hard sobering of one wild party with comedy and verve.

Headhunters (2011) – Tense, brutal thriller becomes surprisingly heartfelt by the third act; interesting lesson on worth.

Hunger Games, The: Catching Fire (2013) – Cast and crew all shine; the actual Games felt rushed after the opening’s lavish dramatic milieu.

Insomnia (2002) – Which side is the cat and which the mouse? The moral predicament in this thriller is the real ride.

Lives of Others, The (2006) – Taut East Berlin political thriller boils down to one man–a living machine–who discovers his soul.

Mother (Madeo) (2009) – Bong Joon-ho takes riffs from Oldboy in exploring the darkest depths of a mother’s love/compassion.

Mud (2012) – Polar opposite to “Prisoners”, Mud contrasts childish obsession with reality of love’s tribulations.

North by Northwest (1959) – For some reason, Hitchcock’s works always seem to wear on a bit long for me… 1950’s Peter Jackson?

Prisoners (2013) – Hopeless thriller seems determined to lambaste audience with crosses. Message? Be afraid of people.

Stray Dog (1949) – Exciting deviation from Kursoawa’s other works’ locales: a tight crime thriller examining humanity.

Three Kings (1999) – A “what else can go wrong” story that starts with greed and proceeds to fall down a foxhole of shit.

White Heat (1949) – Maniacal Cagney rages wildly in this drama about the final days of an insane small-time crime boss.

 

And now, here’s, a short list of movies which came out in 2013 which I particularly wanted to see, but just didn’t have the time or the opportunity to. Watching through their trailers really got me excited for 2014!

MOVIES OF 2013 I WANTED TO WATCH (BUT DIDN’T)

Act of Killing, The – Documentary about a genocidal war criminal who is invited to make a film about his actions, through which he begins to realize the magnitude of the atrocities he’s committed.

Blackfish – Documentary about the treatment of whales in American aquariums and our growing awareness of the damage and suffering we’ve incurred in the process.

Cutie and the Boxer – Documentary about an aging experimental artist and his live-in girlfriend; their relationship, difficulties, and unwavering dedication.

Ernest & Celestine (2012 orig, 2013 Eng release) – Charming French cartoon about a mouse artist from a community taught to fear bears who befriends a bear from a community which fears mice.

Europa Report – Sci-fi horror about a team of researchers searching for life on one of Jupiter’s moons goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Frozen – CGI family film about a princess with an uncontrollable power over ice who must be rescued from herself by her sister.

Her – An introverted man who recently broke up finds an unexpected love in his artificial intelligence assistant.

Inside Llewyn Davis – An examination of the life of a singer/songwriter living in New York in 1961.

Kings of Summer, The – A pack of boys decide to abandon their homes and live a wild life in the woods for one summer.

Nymphomaniac – A woman recounts her life of sexual adventures to the man who saved her.

Paradise: Hope – A girl at a “fat camp” falls in love with one of her instructors.

Silver Linings Playbook – A romantic comedy about a manchild with anger control issues who meets a woman just as crazy as he is.

Snowpiercer – Based on a comic book about a gang of lower-class rebels who incite a revolution aboard a globe-circling train which carries the last survivors of humanity in a destroyed world.

Upstream Color – An examination of the life of a woman whose existence has been inextricably bound to that of an ageless alien entity in the body of a man.

The Wall – Alone in her cabin in the woods, a woman finds herself trapped by an invisible, impenetrable force-field which isolates her from the rest of the world.

White Reindeer – A woman in mourning after the death of her fiancee learns of and befriends his mistress, burying her grief in a shared reckless abandon.

Wrong – Another strange offering from the creators of “Rubber”, a man has his dog stolen and goes on an insane adventure to retrieve it.

2013 Retrospective


I’ve said it before that I don’t generally make formal “resolutions”, but generally do have goals for each year. No idea what I was going on about; Hey, if it looks, smells, and tastes like a potato… I guess I just didn’t like the “I make resolutions for the year and then promptly forget them and get depressed at the end of the year about it” middle-American cliche. Anyway, let’s see how I did this year, as far as my goals from the beginning of 2013 went.

The Year of Walden/The Thoreau Experiment

I’d give this one about a B. Did I change my eating habits? Yes. Am I eating healthier now than I was a year ago? Fairly. Have I gone as far as I’d like to? Not really. I still don’t feel particularly empowered by my dietary choices: the main problem is a lack of habituation and needing a better sense of my dietary needs while living on a purely vegetarian diet. It feels a lot like taking a leap of faith, just deciding to eat nothing but veg. Farming went fairly well, for a first-timer. I ended up with bell peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes and pickles and everything. Unfortunately, diseases claimed the last batches of my crops, which will be something I need to look out for next year. Probably my biggest shortcoming in this whole experiment was my failing to keep up with any blog posts I might have originally envisioned in the bright halcyon days of January. Even so, I’ve got content I could be writing up, but I’ve got so many other projects on my plate that I’d rather be focusing on, I really haven’t got the time for it. (Sorry!) I still haven’t tried my pickles yet…maybe I’ll do that this week?

The Fifty Book Challenge

FAIL. Not quite as severe of a failure as I might have imagined, though: I actually did pretty alright for not prioritizing it properly. As far as Goodreads is concerned, I read about 17 books; in reality, there’s quite a bit more than that: I also read about a quarter of H.P. Lovecraft’s lifelong portfolio, re-read Bone and nearly all of Locke & Key, in addition to at least two books’ worth of short stories while doing market research, so I’d put my count a little closer to 24 or so. Still, it’s less than half of what I’d have liked. By comparison, my movie watching was out of the park: approximately 100 films screened between January and now. I’d love to do a retrospective on them, but you know, that would take forever to compile. Maybe a series of 100-character reviews?

Podcasting?

Ended up being a big “no,” though I DID just finish a large writing project that might fall under this category. This one was always dependent on other folks; we’ll call this one a wash.

Writing, Writing, Writing

Did it, done it, doed it. This year, I edited and submitted no less than eight short stories (yay me!), three of which were among twelve entirely new short stories for this year. I didn’t feel too strongly about the majority of them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, if the only true measure of failure is a lack of change, then I have failed utterly: I still feel like my writing is too self-conscious, too cautious, and too intentional. Speaking of intent, I feel like I’m still taking a heavy hand to the brakes instead of coasting for the hill and actually letting go. It’s something I need to get better at (letting go) or my writing will never improve. This is reflected, also, in my social life. I also wrote a handful of poems, some of which I enjoyed, but damn do I need practice (yeesh).

Corvette and Shadow

The former? 0% The latter? Eh, about 86%. I got a lot of the maintenance items checked and finished on the bike: replaced air filter, cleaned out radiator grating, etc. There’s still a handful of things that I really need to take it into a shop to have the required maintenance done on them. Still, that might be a project for next year. As to the Corvette, I DID put in an effort to work on it, only it turns out the parts I bought to replace the seatbelts don’t fit this model. With only a few weeks of autumnal bliss left to me, I said “to hell with this thing” and spent some time biking and running instead of fuming and moping about it. Maybe next year?

The Ginsberg Livestream

Now we’re starting to get to the bottom of the priorities list. At the beginning of the year, I’d envisioned streaming live poetry jams online, doing chronological readings of Allen Ginsberg’s entire collected poetry, while also including relevant biographical and historical information, recordings, and other information about the author as a sort of in-depth free web classroom experience. This didn’t happen. Partially, I just got overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information that I’d need to compile and sift through to produce informative experiences each week. Partially, I felt like an obnoxious, pretentious twit for presuming to do live poetry readings. Partially, I just hate the sound of my own voice.

Experimental Novel/Game

Ohhhh, wouldn’t YOU like to know?

Robbie Redux

No deuxing on this one. In March, there’s a comic convention in StL; if I decide to go to that, it might spur me to take Robbie down off the shelf and do all the corrections and alterations it needs. Still, that’s a lot of work, plus the tickets to the convention are pricey, so I dunno. I’m already bad about being a wallflower in crowds of people I don’t already know; why spend a ton of extra money to avoid socializing in a more formal venue?

Job Hunt!

Pheh. Well, I shouldn’t scoff. I did have a couple of promising interviews. Nothing panned out, though. (Nothing ever does (*sob*).) As of the last month, I’ve been looking into freelance editing work. It’d be a lot of effort, but if I can swing it, the work-at-home be-your-own-boss lifestyle certainly wouldn’t bother me.

Bang Bang

Never took a gun class; maybe next year?

House Work

Some things got done. I’m sure. I think. Maybe. I mean, I can’t really remember them all right now, in the moment. Jeeze, will you give me a second to think here? You know what? Fine. I’m not telling you. I did things. LOTS of things. But now, you don’t get to know about them. How’s that, Mr. Fancypants?

Dating

Have I ever mentioned how Christmas through Valentine’s Day basically feels like one long screwdriver shaft to the heart? The great thing about depression is you get to catch up on your sleep.

Exercise

While I didn’t list this formally, I did keep on-track all year with exercising. I added swimming in summer and about halfway through the year switched out arm days for emphasis on core exercises. Over 2013, I managed to lose over two inches off my waist. I’ve been slacking these last few weeks, but it’s the holidays; whatcha gonna do?

Teen Films 2014: Rebels Without A Cause (a.k.a. Future Nazis of the Western World)


I started this wanting to experiment with writing in a philosopher-style voice; as a result, here’s ~1,250 words of self-important navel-gazing. Sorry.

-Management

I recently tweeted a commonality I had noticed between several of the teen-focused films releasing next year, and I wanted to elaborate on my thoughts a little. First, a quick look at the movies in question:

In The Giver, Jonas, a young boy transitioning to adulthood in a carefully-controlled society of blissfully ignorant workers, is given the role of Receiver of memories of the world from before society moved towards homogenization, and he comes to conclude that the cost of human experience in exchange for security is too great. In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, Katniss Everdeen, having publicly shattered the 75th Hunger Game in the preceding film, now becomes a political puppet for the resistance, a role which she rebels against, desiring to take a more proactive role in the ongoing conflict against the ruling autocracy. In Divergent, Beatrice Prior is a girl in a strictly regimented society of class roles is unable to be given a class role and, under threat of being discovered, joins an underground resistance movement.

All of these stories are, essentially, the same. We have the main character: a the young adult who, in the face of a strict, ordered dystopic world of predefined labor roles, rebels against the role which has been laid out for her or him and, subsequently, becomes an outsider to the system endeavoring to bring about its ultimate destruction. Always, the characters move through the same story beats of disenfranchisement, followed by an intimate experience of the injustice of the world, a rebellion against the system, and, finally, the defeat of the system. Always, there is a disparity between those in power and the lower, laboring class, a theme which likely resonates with most teenagers, who often feel a sudden burden of responsibility in the transition into adulthood, yet lack the power that should accompany it (and so, over the course of these stories, they come to take the power for themselves).

But what happens after the rebellion has begun? This, I feel, is a shortcoming in most of these works, and where we start to see a worrying trend of celebrated ignorance. If one looks closely, one will find that each character’s rebellion is not, as it might seem, a liberal rebellion, but rather a neo-conservativism in the guise of liberation. The protagonist in each story seeks, not to construct or champion an altogether new way of life, but rather, to impose a return to the often mythicized “old ways” (always resembling a traditional Western familial and political structure) which we are told existed before the current, static, dystopic society was installed. In a way, it is a false rebellion, one which only wishes to cast down the current status quo in order to return to a more traditional power structure: typically, a more organic structure, but one which, nevertheless, relies on an unspoken conformity to be a true improvement.

Each story presupposes a universal unhappiness which, we are expected to feel, legitimizes the violence which follows (often epitomized in the symbol of a needlessly cruel, aloof authority figure). Consider, though, that any dystopic society can only be called a dystopia on a personal basis: any societal structure, regardless of its freedom or strictness, will have outliers who will not be able to find a comfortable place in it. There are many individuals today who find the endless beauty and variety of human cultures to be dissonant, and freedom itself, to some, is a sinful, unpleasant world of uncertainty. The freedom to escape this society is the solution proposed by Aldous Huxley in his masterful work, “Brave New World,” at the end of which two of our rebels are allowed to abandon the society which they find so dystopic in order to seek a self-created happiness elsewhere. Conversely, Alan Moore offers anarchy without the false promise of a return to stability in his “V For Vendetta” as the real promise (and responsibility) of freedom. In these 2014 films, however, there is no exile, no “elsewhere” to escape to, and so the only remaining solution is destruction without direction other than a vague sense that “things were better before.” While the central message appears to be one of nonconformity, it also courts an immature desire to be, in turn, re-subjugated within comfortable trappings. This shortcoming is exemplified in the failures of the punk and hippie counter-cultural movements and their subsequent collapses into comfortable consumerist life.

What worries me in particular is that a rebellion such as this always results in the crushing down of those minorities whose individual goals might threaten the unstable autocracy which is now asserting itself over the ruins of what came before. To this end, it is the wheel turning once again: each story tells us, the masses, that our dissatisfaction is the result of subjugation by a minority which has risen invisibly into absolute power some time in the unspoken-of past and now must be stopped. (The German national socialist movement, for example, reinforced the preexisting tensions with the German-Jewish population to this purpose.) The minority perceived to be on top is crushed, and the minority on bottom becomes the new abusing power, typically engaging in excesses of abuse of power to hurt other minorities and consolidate power. The danger, which should be apparent here, is that a rebellion without any underlying purpose or ideology (and anarchy itself can be considered an ideology) will, in turn, be given a purpose by the same class of minds which previously held power. It is this same idea which brought all of history’s greatest totalitarian regimes into power, this hunger for a parent figure to clean up the mess left in the wake of the instinctive, angry outburst. The ideology underlying these stories is not much different than that of Nazi propaganda: “Any one of you, teens, who feel dissatisfied with the world could be an individual of special power–an ubermench–to rise up and bring about a new conformist golden age.”

The Hunger Games, to its credit, completes the cycle of comprehension (one which, arriving four films into the series, I fear comes too late): in the latter books, Katniss feels reticence at her role as the instigator of a dangerous rebellion, making efforts to quell the public dissatisfaction, and by the end of her story, her concerns are validated as she observes that the new power structure is just as cruel and abusive as that which came before. The other two works, as far as I am aware, do not have such a practical view of the post-rebellion, and end up, in turn, idealized forms of authoritarian control.

The point of all my rambling is that I do not think we should be exhibiting rebellion without forethought or consequence in our teen-focused media, or championing thoughtless action as a new idealism; we have enough of that already. In Zizek’s experience, if one asks asks a member of the current Occupy/99% movement what they would propose to correct the current power imbalance, they offer no real, formative plan. Conversely, I support Zizek’s suggestion that, if we are indeed at a crossroads leading to a new cultural transformation, then now is not a time for action, but for thought and for the generation of new paradigms for the world in which we live. I also think we could learn a lesson from this about how we distribute power to teenagers and adults, insofar as there are many adults today who have not emotionally progressed further than teenagers and might still support a pointless revolution, while there are likewise undoubtedly teenagers who have suffered into the wisdom required to see the problems they are tasked with as requiring a multifaceted solution.

Blake Writes a Story #9


Archival Access (fantasy, horror)

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So ends this year’s short story crop. Sadly, I have not a market to my name, save my own, of my own. I can’t say I’m not disappointed in my lack of progress, but the interest shown from several of those I’ve solicited is heartening in the face of my failures. I will keep moving on with new short stories, ideally starting around June of next year. There are quite a few stories (listed in My Work but as of yet unposted) that I haven’t edited yet–they’re either too fresh for me to look at them objectively, or I just don’t feel confident enough to work on them right now. I’ll also be coming up with new material between now and then, hopefully pushing my personal envelope and experimenting more as we move into 2014.

At present, I’m working on two larger writing projects that I can’t really discuss publicly, but which I’m really quite excited about. Both are quite experimental, and I think folks will enjoy them once they’re finished.

As for this, last, story, I allowed it to malinger in submissions for far more time than I typically allow. Each story, as you may recall, I have given only sixty days to wow someone before it was to be posted on here for free. (In retrospect, that was a short-sighted system which will have to be revised next year: those stories which seem to arouse the most interest also take the longest to be, ultimately, rejected.) Archival Access would disappear into my corkboard for two months at a time before getting a “no,” and from markets which are generally much more timely. It’s a shame I never found a happy home for this one.

Left on my own, I wonder if they are gone, the mythological days of chain-smoking editors taking awkward, neophytic authors under their wings, and through harsh tutelage (like Tarantino’s Pai Mei) imparting insights into virtuous editing techniques? Or, if those legends do still exist in passionate abundance, then perhaps those who have read Archival Access had decided that it was already, from its inception, too far gone, too crude a block to be worth the trouble of reshaping? How else might I parse the delay in rejection, which implies intrigue, but which, like a clumsy virgin lover, failed to germinate into creative collaboration? Perhaps they were simply delayed by an inopportune influx of manuscripts and I am reading too much into things? I often read too much into things.

In any case, I present, here, what will likely be my final short story of 2013, a strange sort of romance about a young woman who grew up unafraid of monsters who discovers the last terror of mankind in a library:


Archival Access
by Blake Vaughn

 

“What does ‘A-R-C’ mean?”

The girl pushed forward a scrap of paper with a title and an LCC number on it.

Marsha Witenfield turned toward the girl and winced as her weight fell on her hip. She read the page, looked up from under her glasses at the girl, and clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth.

“‘A-R-C’ means ‘archival’,” Marsha said, “I’m afraid the only copy of that text is in archival storage. I’m sorry.” She gave a sympathetic frown and turned back to her filing.

“Excuse me? Ma’am?” asked the girl, “Would it be possible to see the archival copy?”

Just Watched “Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki”–Decent Anime Coming-Of-Age-Life-Drama Flick


Feeling very wibbly-wobbly inside right now.

I just made the remarkable discovery, looking back at my diary entries for the past year, that they could be placed in virtually any order and still be interchangeable. I’m still the same sad mope that I was at the beginning of the year, navel-gazing and getting all foux-emotional about things. My days are still just as empty as they were, as devoid of event.

However much I might harp about television and movies all being the same, it’s just an extension of my own frustrations. Most people with full lives like to use television as a break from all the hubbub and chaos; the monotony is relaxing. I want them to fill the void of my day-to-day existence because I’m too scared of going out and actually doing anything at all.

My birthday was last week. It has been a year of days largely unremarkable. I have gotten older and, flipping back to January of this year, am still afraid of getting older. As of February, I was already frustrated at my rejection letters. As of May, I’m still chafing at my irresponsibility. That last bit is particularly frustrating: I talk myself up about improving my situation and acting more like an adult without actually doing anything about it. (Perhaps as a WAY of not doing anything about it–by making it seem like a big, round ideal rather than an achievable goal with concrete steps to completion.) I continue to be overly concerned with what others think about me and, as a result, I tend to be overly egotistical. (Yet I need to be egotistical; one thing I never learned was how to express my own needs or say “no” to the needs of others.)

Some things I have changed for the better–I’m healthier, for one. My diet is markedly different from what it was as of a year ago, and I’m down three inches off my waist. I DID put in an effort to get stories into submission (nine of them, to date); a much more concerted effort than I’ve ever put forth in the past, even if none of them sold. Overall, I’ve been working at my writing steadily all year in a professional manner, I should give myself a pat on the back for that. I did garden, and met with some middling (edible) success there. I made a few small forays into getting a life, but nothing really came of it–no sweeping personal changes, anyway. Any success, my therapist once told me, shouldn’t be discounted.

Even so, when I watch the romance play out in Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki, I feel like shit.

I am lazy, dumb, and lonely, and the only days where I get things done are those when I can delude myself into thinking otherwise.

Some Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen (But Should!)


Whether they simply don’t fit traditional formats, are old, are produced outside of the mainstream studios, or simply never get brought over to the U.S. of A., certain horror films just slip by unnoticed, and there are quite a few gems in among all the straight-to-bargain-bin stuff that goes the same way. I thought I’d give a handful of suggestions from among my recent and past favorites.

(Click on the titles to watch the movies’ trailers.)

 

  13: Game of Death a.k.a. 13 Beloved (2006) (Thailand, sadistic game, dark comedy)

Brought to the U.S. as part of an indie horror collection, 13 follows Phuchit Puengnathong, a salesman down on his luck: his girlfriend left him, his parents need money for his siblings’ education, and he’s just been asked to lay himself off. Everything is going wrong for Phuchit when he receives a mysterious phone call from a stranger who informs him that he is now part of a reality game show. All he has to do to win a 3.2 million dollar grand prize is follow the increasingly dangerous and disturbing orders he receives through his phone from a seemingly omniscient body.

This one was a pleasant surprise from one of this year’s movie nights. It’s a little herky-jerky in places: there’s a definite comedic streak in the first half that seems to evaporate in the second, and the ending had some unnecessary expository flashback, but overall it was a very entertaining movie that I’m happy to suggest.

There was a sequel made, 14 Beyond, and an American remake is currently in the works via the Weinstein Corporation. If you want to see the original before the remake comes out, I’d recommend it.

 

 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006) (comedy, slasher, meta)

Freddy Kreuger. Jason Voorhees. Michael Meyers. Monsters of horror, all. But how did they get started? Documentarian Taylor Gentry brings us along on as she interviews Leslie Vernon, a would-be supernatural serial killer who’s just getting his start in the biz.

This movie is decidedly unconventional as far as horror goes. It’s similar to Cabin in the Woods in its self-awareness, and they have a lot of fun playing up the tropes that the slasher horror movies adhere to for laughs. One of the more unique twists is the tangible “fourth wall” changes in cinematography, which shift between the “in the horror movie” world his victims experience and the documentary that’s showing all the footwork and prep that’s going on behind the scenes.

Behind the Mask is one that I would never have found on my own, but thanks to a friend, it’s now one of the special gems in my horror collection.

 

 Carriers (2009) (infection, post-apocalypse)

When the plague came, America fell fast. It wasn’t just that it was easily spread–capable of surviving on surfaces for up to 24 hours–or that it was deadly, but that it took time to kill. Time to infect others. Carriers follows four unfortunate souls desperately fleeing the viral pandemic which has ravaged the U.S. Their survival hinges on a handful of important rules: rules which keep any of them from becoming infected and potential carriers of the disease. Rules which cannot, under any circumstances, ever be broken…

Carriers barely received a release at all. Rob Nelson, a top critic from Variety summed it up the movie’s production history as being, “put into extremely limited release by Paramount Vantage after spending years in studio lockdown, Carriers has moments of genuinely communicable horror and thus deserves better than a de facto theatrical quarantine”. He’s absolutely right–Carriers is a fine film that examines some particularly dark aspects of human nature in an emotionally arresting way. This is an emotionally intense film, which is all too rare in horror cinema today.

(Fair warning: this trip does not have a happy ending.)

 

 The Children (2008) (mass psychosis, zombie-like, infection)

It’s the New Year, and one family and their kids have come to a large, quiet house in the country to be together. One of the kids–Paulie–is feeling a little sick, but that’s what kids do, right? Only, aren’t they acting a little strangely? Even for kids?

The Children has a “the kids aren’t alright” premise shared by multiple other horror films (The Children of the Corn, The Shining, Come Out and Play, etc.) and it stays more or less true to those conventions, but what sets The Children apart are the editing and the cinematography, both of which are extremely sharp, pacing the film’s suspense out to a razor wire.

 

 

 

A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) (Chinese, comedy, fantasy, wuxia, romance)

Hapless debt collector Ning Choi-san is wandering through ancient, rural China trying to collect taxes despite his timid demeanor. One night, in desperation, he finds himself forced to sleep at a deserted temple, where he meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman who disappears the following morning. A chance meeting with a Taoist monk, Yin, informs him that the woman he met was a ghost, who he learns is trapped, bound in servitude to a demonic tree spirit. Yin and Ning decide to work together to try and battle the forces of the underworld and save the woman’s soul.

Wuxia films typically span a range from self-serious to comedic, with the latter tending to also be romance (Once Upon A Time In China) just like in Shakespeare’s works, and this is no exception. The tale of feckless Ning and beautiful Nip is often quite silly, with bits of slapstick mixed in with situational humor, yet the ending is surprisingly heartfelt and sweet.

It is difficult to classify this movie as “horror”, yet there are a number of horror elements to it, including Jason and the Argonauts-esque stop-motion skeletons and some truly wicked spirits. If anything, it’s a fantasy-action romp with horror elements, but I’m putting it on my list because it’s really quite a lot of fun and it deserves a wider viewership.

There was a 2011 adaptation of the film that largely critically panned. One reviewer suggested that it might have been an attempt to cash in on the Twilight franchise’s popularity. All I can say is check out the original.

 

 Funny Games (2007) (home-invasion, thriller, meta, bizarre)

It was supposed to be a pleasant evening at the lake for the Farber family–George, Ann, and their son, Georgie. Someplace nice and secluded in the woods with such a small community that their only neighbor, Fred, comes right up to say hello after they arrive. Fred also introduces two young men of his acquaintance, Peter and Paul, who, it so happens, need to borrow some eggs. Just some eggs, and a moment of their time. And might they say, what a lovely home the Farbers have? They might just stick around a little bit longer, just to visit and be, you know. Neighborly.

Released ten years after the Austrian original, the American remake of Funny Games is fairly faithful to writer/director Michael Haneke’s vision of the film. (Haneke has stated that he never intended the original Funny Games to be a horror film, but that it was classified as such after the fact.) This is likely to be the most divisive film on my list: it’s a horror movie that pointedly subverts all horror film conventions in order to make its point about violent media (and the glorifying of said violence). You might have preconceptions going into it that the film has certain rules it’s abiding by: these preconceptions are a mistake. Some people I know have said they genuinely felt bad after watching Funny Games, so I will be clear: this is not a film for everyone.

That being said, as a fan of horror films, I was very, very pleased with Funny Games. So long as you’re willing to go along with the ride–to bend your brain when the movie asks you to–I think you’ll find a unique experience in this one.

 

 Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) (comedy, science-fiction, aliens)

When a comet falls to the Earth out in the middle of the woods, farmer Gene Green goes to investigate and discovers, to his surprise, the carnival is in town! Only, despite their appearances, these clowns aren’t here to make jokes. They’re hungry, and it’s up to the teens of Crescent Cove to stop them before they devour everyone and destroy everything in their path!

What a fun, fun, FUN movie! I had delayed seeing this movie for years, thinking that it was one of those “it’s so bad it’s good” movies that had risen to cult status. I was dead. WrongKiller Klowns knows exactly what it’s doing every step of the way. Part of what made Killer Klowns so enjoyable to go back to were the practical effects done by the directors/writers, the Chiodo Brothers, who also did the special effects in Ernest Scared Stupid, Critters, and Team America: World Police. Their use of practical puppetry and matte paintings was a welcome reprieve from the modern over-reliance on CGI effects that never seem to have the volume or weight that their presence in a room should command.

This is a fun movie that was clearly made by people who had a love for the horror genre and wanted to play with it. (I got the same feeling of exuberant glee from this as I did watching Cabin in the Woods.)

 

 The Man Who Laughs (1928) (drama, romance, tragedy)

As an infant, Gwynplaine was abducted and disfigured by slavers, only to be rescued by a wandering thespian. Cursed with a face that would always bear a horrific grin, Gwynplaine’s entire life has been spent on the stage as a freakshow, his every day tainted with self-loathing. Then a beautiful, wealthy woman takes a romantic interest in Gwynplaine, who now finds himself torn between the love of his blind childhood sweetheart and the apparent affections of a woman who may offer him long-sought-after validation and acceptance despite his appearance.

The Man Who Laughs is an important film to American cultural history as the main character–with his painfully toothy grin–was the basis for Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. It’s also a very heartfelt piece. While the acting might be melodramatic (a necessity in the silent film era before “talkies”), the characters are surprisingly complex, and there’s a fascinating tale being told here of a person’s struggle to raise their personal character above their suffering.

This year saw a French remake of the film; curiously enough, just as the public image of the Joker’s grin altered with Christopher Nolan’s dynamic reimagining of the character, the French Gwynplaine now sports a Glasgow smile instead of his former teeth and black lips. Art imitates art, I guess.

 

 Noroi (The Curse) (2005) (J-horror, haunting, found footage)

Masafumi Kobayashi, paranormal expert and documentarian, is still missing. He vanished without a trace on the same night that his house burned down; his wife, Keiko, was found dead inside. The only clue in the mystery of what happened to Kobayashi is his last, unfinished documentary, “The Curse”, which has since been edited together from what footage he made before his disappearance. I should warn you: What you are about to see may shock you.

This film is unusually long and complicated for J-horror, clocking in at a hair under two hours (though still a fair sight shorter than the monstrously large Noriko’s Dinner Table (159 min.)), but I think the longer journey is worth the rewards at the end for all the built-up tension. The journey that Kobayashi’s cameraman, Miyajima, documents is strewn with twists and turns, uncoincidences, unfathomable forces, and pitch black implications. One of the things I love about this film is its Lovecraftian nature, in that neither the characters nor the audience are ever clued in to any reassuring rules governing the supernatural forces attacking them. The best that Kobayashi has to work on is rumor and conjecture in his desperate, life-or-death race to find some means of saving the day, and his gradual transformation from objective researcher to compassionate hero makes his struggle all the more compelling to watch (and his final disappearance all the more disturbing).

I think I’ve touted this film on just about every blog and other mass communication medium I’ve ever touched, at one point or another. (I think I’m unconsciously trying to build up a grassroots movement to get the DVD brought to Region 1…) That said, since it ISN’T in region 1 yet, I feel little ethical quandary in posting this link to a YouTube page where you can watch the whole thing with subtitles for free on YouTube: http://youtu.be/ilHmpETJgZ0

Make sure you stick around after the first credits roll: this is a film within a film. Even after seeing it four times, just thinking about that ending still makes my spine crawl...

 

 Onibaba (1964) (J-horror, historical drama, black and white)

Two women living in a hut have made a cruel living for themselves: they murder soldiers fleeing Japan’s civil war and pawn their armor and weapons. When the love of a man comes between the two women, it leads to infighting which is brought to a head with the arrival (and subsequent slaying) of a mysterious samurai donning a demon’s mask.

Onibaba is an odd duck. Its themes and content were unusually worldly and crude compared to my experience of Japanese cinema from this time. The story it tells is compelling in a Breaking Bad sort of way, watching as characters gather speed and ping off of one-another, threatening to bring the whole thing down around them. It’s obvious that the two women are on a road to ruin, but it’s impossible to see how things are going to shake out until the dark ending.

Like A Chinese Ghost Story, this film seems really to be a drama with horror elements to it, but it’s a very unique piece, in my opinion, and an interesting movie to watch.

 

 Pontypool (2008) (trapped inside, infection, zambambos)

Radio personality Grant Mazzy is heading up the late-night broadcast in Pontypool, Ontario, with coffee in hand, while a blizzard batters the building on all sides. He soon finds himself thrust into the role of a news reporter, however, after an uncomfirmed report of mass homicides at a doctor’s office by a field reporter is unexpectedly cut off, followed by a bizarre broadcast in French warning the people of Pontypool to stop talking to one another. As a mysterious infection breaks through into the radio station, Grant and his co-producers are suddenly locked into a life-or-death struggle with the infected.

I’m still not sure if I really like this one or not–it had some pacing problems, particularly in the third act, but the story it told and the way it told it was surprisingly unique and entertaining, and the concept underlying the infection is interesting as well.

A unique horror movie with a good cast and a strange ending. Also, the principal actor reminds me of Jim Varney mixed with Kevin Bacon.

 

 Resolution (2013) (altered reality, buddy film, meta?, weird)

Michael Danube is Chris Daniels’ best friend, only Chris has a problem: meth. Chris has managed to ostracize everyone who ever cared about him in his fall through addiction: everyone except for Michael. Michael goes to Chris’ house in the woods to help him make one last attempt to save him by chaining him to a radiator and nursing him through his withdrawals. Only, Michael starts to notice things–odd things–around the house: strange people and even stranger phenomena closing in on them, demanding something from them, leading the both of them to their death (or perhaps something worse).

One of the most original horror movies I’ve seen in a long time, Resolution actually shares a lot in common with the buddy road trip genre, all the way into and through its dark, supernatural turn. I thought the ending of the movie was scary, but it also left a large ball of mystery unanswered. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I think, is up to the viewer. What I do know, is that Chris and Michael had good on-screen chemistry, and that the movie as a whole left a very positive impression in my mind.

Like most of the indie films on my list, Resolution is a very “different” kind of horror, offering a unique, well-crafted experience that you just don’t get from conventional horror cinema.

 

 The Return of the Living Dead (1985) (comedy, zamboozles)

Combine spilled military chemicals, a local graveyard, and a gang of punks. What do you get? Hell on earth.

When Romero decided to make sequels to his first classic, Night of the Living Dead, he and co-creator John A. Russo disagreed with the direction the franchise should go in, and the result was a split in direction. The Return of the Living Dead is a particularly fun offshoot of Romero and Russo’s legacy, and (as far as I’m aware) it’s the movie where the whole “zombies eat brains” trope originates from.

With its super goofy characters, Return features over the top cheese effects, and one of the most iconic zombies of all time (next to Day of the Dead‘s “pet” zombie). There are a ton of memorable scenes and great dark-comedic moments as the idiots stuck at the epicenter of a zombie plague realize with mounting horror just how deep in the proverbial shit they are.

This is a way less self-serious movie than Romero’s sequels, and it’s a great nostalgic time capsule too.

 

 A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) (Korean, ghost, mystery)

Soo-mi and Soo-yeon are two sisters who have just moved in with their father and stepmother into their new house, but tensions between the family members gradually give way to suffering and torment.

Mostly, what I remember of this film was its tension, and not just of the “person walking slowly towards a door” kind, but of a constantly ratcheting discontent between the family members, whose relationships are already strained.

This was a curious film because it really remained a mystery throughout the whole movie. There were a number of twists and turns as the story progressed, and the audience gradually realizes that some of the narrative perspectives at play may not be as reliable as we once thought At the same time, these alterations re-cast different characters’ relationships in new light, giving us an almost Kagemusha-esque look at a fractured mystery.

 

 Teeth (2007) (underdog, comedy, horror movie hero)

A young girl reaching womanhood in a male-run world that seems to prey on women discovers she possesses an unusual gift which gives her an edge (or ten) on those that would hurt her.

Teeth is an odd film to categorize. It reminds me a bit of May with its single, disenfranchised, female protagonist (Dawn) and the portrayal of the rest of the world as bizarre, aggressive, and often mean. It’s a film where the protagonist is the “monster”, but the rest of the world is the villain.

While some of the comedy in Teeth is grotesque and all of it is dark. As far as the horror goes, I’m torn between whether the scenes of dismemberment or the awkward teenager-ness were more cringe-inducing, and that’s really high praise for a horror film. Teeth featured a protagonist who I really cared about by the end and who I was rooting for the whole way through. Her journey to empowerment over the course of the film is profound, and it doesn’t come easy.

Teeth is one movie that is worth checking out. (If you’re a guy, prepare to find your legs crossed by the end.)

 

 Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) (rom-com, meta, slasher)

Tucker and Dale are two “good ‘ol boys” heading out to the country to fix up a recently-bought ramshackle shed for a quiet fishing retreat. At the same time, a group of teens on a road trip find themselves in the same woods, partying. That’s when things go horribly, horribly wrong.

No trailer on this one: the only trailer online ruins the movie, which is a curious mix of horror send-up and romantic comedy. This is one of those media experiences where you’re better off going in without knowing what it is you’re in for exactly. (See also: Cabin in the Woods, which you should also go see. Now. Go see it now. GO. GOOOOO.)

Really, there’s not much more to say about this movie. I found it strangely heartwarming, with plenty of situational comedy playing off the horror genre to boot, and if I talk about much more, I’ll ruin some of the surprises. This might be a good movie for folks who don’t typically like horror movies.

 

 The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) (H.P. Lovecraft, retro)

It all started with the floods, remarks Albert Wilmarth, Arkham Massachussets researcher in mythology. A series of floods washed up the bodies of strange creatures from up on the mountain, creatures which seem to match the old folk-tales of the region which Albert has staked his reputation on debunking. Given the opportunity, Albert feels he must track down the source of these rumors to their home town, and embarks on a quest that will lead him from the light…into the darkness.

This was the second film produced by the Lovecraft Historical Society, and since Gulliermo Del Toro’s proposed R-rated In the Mountains of Madness got the kibosh, this may be your best means of getting a Lovecraft fix for a while. (Though there are plenty of Lovecraft-adapted films, possibly deserving a blog post in their own right.)

The Whisperer has a very different feel than most typical horror films, even compared to most Lovecraft adaptations (Reanimator, In the Mouth of Madness, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead) which feature sharp-honed spectacle and grotesquerie. The Whisperer develops its milieu like a spooky campfire story with a warm, roomy feel to it; I think this is in part a result of the style in which it was shot, emulating the 1930’s cinema from when the short story was written. It shows great attention to detail, which also happens to dovetail nicely with a super-indie studio’s limited budget. This one didn’t scare me so much, but rather, it felt like curling up in a blanket and waiting with fevered anticipation for monsters to show up.

 

Notable mentions: Baghead (2008), The Bay (2012)Cube Zero (2004), Diary of the Dead (2008)Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)Lords of Salem (2013), El Orphanato (The Orphanage) (2007)Shadow of the Vampire (2000)The Shrine (2010)The Signal (2007)Society (1989), Videodrome (1983)Wild Zero (2000)

Blake Writes A Story #8


A Crack Runs Through Me (horror)

Free download for your eBook reader (right-click and Save As):   PDF   TXT

If you want to talk about the dangers of falling in love with your own work, here’s a fine example.

I’ve given “A Crack Runs Through Me” more chances at being published than any other short story I’ve written heretofore. This was in large part due to the interest it seemed to pique in every periodical I submitted it to, but it just never found a good fit with any of them. By comparison, another story (Archival Access, now, once again, on my chopping block) is only two strikes down and already a full month and a half past its “expiration date”. I still don’t know what to do with that one.

I liked “A Crack” for a lot of reasons–I won’t explain them all here–but it was enjoyable writing from my narrator’s perspective because it was one of the more unusual perspectives I’ve written in so far. (You’ll see why.) Much of the experience writing the character informed it, in this case. The rules governing who my narrator was and how they functioned were found to be internally consistent as the story went on, which was a godsend.

Still, I’m sure if I went back now and looked at it, I could see the places where technique and objectivity were lacking, where I could have elaborated in some parts and trimmed away at others. Nevertheless, at the time of “A Crack”‘s first submission–about three months ago–it felt concise, thrilling, and dark.

(For the curious, the location the story is set–the place I imagined while writing it–is based on a real location, not far from where I grew up, and as far as I’m aware, the basis for the narrator is still there as well. Waiting.)


A Crack Runs Through Me
by Blake Vaughn


I wait.

A crack runs through me and all that I have is time.

There are always chances to do it, opportunities, but if I take too many–act too brashly–they might notice me and then I would be erased. I know, because I’ve seen them do it.

Just last week, the man living across the street was repairing his lawn mower. “He might come over here,” I thought, so I was watching him and waiting, naturally, when his wrench slipped out of his hand and he sliced his arm wet and red. He started kicking his machine, smashing it, cursing at it. By the time he grew winded, it was pieces that he ended up dragging to the curb and leaving there, until others came and hauled them away.

They destroy instinctively, mindlessly; I cannot afford to be reckless…

My Bloody eBook Reader (or America, The Third World Country)


eBook Readers

This week, I was thinking of getting an eBook reader.

A long while back, I heard/read that the only way it becomes cost effective to buy one is if you read a ton (a book a week plus newspapers, etc.). In my case, I want it for keeping well-read in various digital short story publications because, at the moment, my reading experience of them is tethered to my desktop PC. (My screen’s not great for lengthy reading, and the formatting isn’t so hot either.)

So I set about learning about the market, and once I felt confident that I knew enough to make a wise decision, I started trying to do the research into the ramifications of my purchase, specifically regarding the use of coltan.

Coltan

Coltan is a shorthand term for columbite–tantalite. It’s a naturally-occuring ore that contains tantalum and niobium, both of which are useful in manufacturing electronics. Unfortunately, coltan has a history similar to conflict diamonds: various electronics manufacturers all over the world have bought from the Congo region and, insodoing, have funded various military groups from surrounding nations that exploit the Congolese people and their resources, using the profits to fund their wars. It is common practice within the Congo to use child labor (12 years and up) in their mines. (The U.S. no longer mines for coltan domestically, and attempts to curtail the use of conflict coltan have been largely unenforced.)

If you own a smart phone or a laptop computer, it was built using coltan.

Its mining in developing countries has also resulted in extreme environmental damage from the slurry of panned metals washing downstream: the countries doing the mining know HOW to mine it, but have little interest or inclination in doing so safely.

I had a profound experience with a history teacher in high school that made me always want to be responsible for my habits as a consumer, and with this in mind, I wanted to avoid funding this conflict any way I can.

So I started digging.

Foxconn

The two major eBook reader brands on the market–the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook–are both manufactured, as it turns out, by the same company, the Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. also known as Foxconn. This same company also manufactures the iPad, iPhone, iPod, Playstation 3, and the Wii U. They are located in China.

I tried looking for information about Foxconn’s coltan use, but a cursory search came up empty. There have been a few articles about Apple publicly demanding transparency from their supply chain, but these have always come with the “I don’t give a fuck” caveat that it would be too hard to regulate their entire supply chain. (Which apparently is a legitimate complaint, as records of what ore came from which mining operation have been notoriously inaccurate.) A quick Google search came up with vague, tangential results, none of which specified Foxconn’s coltan sourcing.

Historically, China has been a go-to symbol of workshop exploitation, which American manufacturers are often willing to turn a blind eye towards in the name of union-prohibited profit. Foxconn is no different in this regard. There have been noted examples, though I imagine the problems are much more prevalent: it has been my observation that, in oppressive regimes, the rare few dissenting voices that rise to public awareness are just the few that escape (briefly) a government that beats the rest into silence.

Just last year there was a brief kerfuffle over the employment of free workers between the ages of 14 and 16 under the guise of internships, violating China’s child labor laws in the process. There apparently have also been a number of suicides linked to the company and reports that the factories are “labor camps” with “widespread worker abuse and illegal overtime”.

(Foxconn’s response was to put up anti-suicide netting around some of their factories: the tall ones, I imagine.)

Once again, Apple has risen to the fore as the one company to publicly swing their weight onto Foxconn, demanding a look into their working conditions, though no making no public statements about what they would do if they didn’t like what they saw. (That was a year ago.) Critics have pointed out that the Fair Labor Association program Apple paid to look into it is used by many companies in similar PR straits to create the appearance of active concern for their manufacturing’s human rights violations while avoiding actual action on their part. If there has been any result of their inquiries, I haven’t found it.

Basically, in most regards, Apple has striven to maintain a public image of in-vogue liberal human rights concern while adhering to that philosophy as little as possible.

As near as I can tell, other companies which utilize Foxconn’s manufacturing have chosen not to engage the controversy at all.

1%

And this paints my picture of the American corporate body as a whole. If you think of a company as an intermediary between a product and its end user, then the companies are the ones with the most intimate familiarity with the ramifications of their business practices, yet their only response has been to sweep the discourse under the rug as best they can.

I don’t know why people say my generation is characterized as spoiled, lazy, and despairing, when the most powerful corporations in the world behave far more reprehensibly. The wealthiest companies say it’s “too hard” to reform their business practices. Unfettered wealth has produced a world of zero personal responsibility among the largest companies, and lax consumer habits have, likewise, created a world of zero accountability.

Empathy has been replaced with plausible deniability. There is no crime that, with sufficient degrees of separation, cannot be rationalized to the point of willful ignorance. Every problem (worker rights abuses, war profiteering) is gauged and treated only by how it affects bottom line profits.

Responsibility has been supplanted by profit margins. Victory, at any price, is the clarion call, more important than self-improvement. Consumers and producers have both grown lazy together. People demand less of their companies, less of their entertainment, less of themselves.

Perhaps it began as a result of business analysts’ foresight stretching further than the lawmakers’. Maybe neither side really cared, in the end.

L.D.C. America

America is still a nation being built on slave labor; we just invented ways of separating the unattractive elements of it from the public eye.

The petroleum burned by our shipping industry is the lubricant by which this monumental feat of cognitive dissonance is achieved. It is no overstatement to say that the machine is being pushed well beyond its operational parameters. To take this analogy a step further, we could look at the global economic system as one vast mechanism which has linked up otherwise disparate nations despite political and geographic borders. It seems to me that the actions of this machine could be arrested by those with the money and the power to do so to effect the changes needed to bring those nations that cause their people suffering into step with the rest of the (tentatively) free world.

Yet they do not.

They permit these cruelties: nay, solicit them. The companies in charge learned that, so long as the people don’t hear the meat scream, they will eat it.

Yes, my suggestion is blunt. Am I being reductive? Probably.

The common rebuttal I hear when I bring this topic up is that the workers in these factories and mines, despite their oppressive and dangerous conditions, are making more money there than in any other line of work in their country, as if this were a humanitarian cause. Lest we forget our own history, the same offences of overworking, lack of employee safety, and promises of good pay occurred in America too: this led to revolt, violence, and eventually reform. Should the fact that these foreigners have no better work opportunities mean they are any less entitled to the same worker regulations that Americans fought for? (These hard-won unions are now shrinking in the U.S. as well.)

Corporate footholds in China are particularly unethical given its active oppression of its people and its prohibition of unionization: in China, the government is the Pinkerton Agency, and they are far more capable of quelling their dissidents.

Perhaps the internet would be a good location for a groundswell of unionization, not on a national, but on a global scale? In a world of decentralized, global manufacturing, halted production in one plant can be ignored so long as the others remain functional. Must our unions become global as well?

I recognize, openly, that there is, of course, no way that the various manufacturing powerhouses of the U.S. could offer their wares at the reasonable prices they do without buying into this engine of suffering. Perhaps that would be for the best. I may sound like an old man when I say this, but people seem to have lost track of what is valuable and what is not. Things are cheap not because our technology has become more efficient, but because we are sacrificing human life–human quality of life–to make it so.

Hypothetically, if the problem isn’t that companies will not change their practices, but rather can not, where does that leave us? If our hunger, not for natural resources, but for comfort items has outstripped our nation’s capacity for production, where does that leave us? Have we grown so weak as a people that we cannot survive without our luxuries?

If America must stand on on the backs of developing nations, then is not America, itself, a developing country?

I don’t want to think this is so, but it is a troubling thought nonetheless.

 Where Do I Go From Here?

It would be easy to excuse all this as a problem of biology, that our economic system (and our social environment) exists on such a grand scale that it’s impossible to empathize with those stuck out on the fringes. I don’t think this is the case. I think it’s laziness. I do feel responsible for and complicit in what our country and its companies have done and are doing. I feel that our parasitism of other countries has made our nation into something less than what it once was.

Worse, it feels as though there is no consumer-focused advocate for those suffering or for the damage being done to the environment.

It took me about three hours to find and read all of this information; in thirty minutes, I could have driven down to Best Buy, bought an eBook reader off the shelf, and had it loaded up with all my digital subscriptions, ready to go.

For all the need for news media content that supposedly explicates the rampant entertainment journalism in this country, I do not feel properly empowered to make intelligent consumer choices. Do you remember the Fair Labor Association that Apple hired to help with their public relations in response to the coltan outcry? The FLA was created in response to Nike’s sweatshop controversy to take the heat off of them and assuage consumer guilt. That’s simple economics: demand and supply. Nike needed a cheap way of getting the human rights assholes off their backs; the FLA provided it for them (and, subsequently, for much of the clothing industry).

So where is my supply of information? Why is there no demand for a simple, efficient means of making morally conscientious choices as a consumer?

What can I do to fix this problem?

What can any of us do?

To turn a phrase from Searching For Bobby Fischer, to put a consumer in a position to care about the state of the world and not empower them to fix it is wrong. But I have no answers.

My kneejerk thought is that, “it is too hard for me to find a way to fight meaningfully.” Maybe that makes me as evil as the companies that stand unmoved in their complicity. It is a learned helplessness that I feel. I am not a politician, and politics has become a game played not for the benefit of the people they represent, but for those wealthy who are the source of the problems I’ve just outlined.

One thing that I can do–that all of us can do–is to vote with my dollars. I can’t buy an eBook reader in good conscience, knowing what I know.

I wonder how many of the handful who will find this blog entry will have stopped further up, so that they do not have to know what I know? So that they can remain complicit and sinless ensconced within the walls of their own doubt.

Only, the problem isn’t just a matter of perspective, as the companies who use public relations as a cure-all seem to believe. There is a real danger to what is happening, regardless of whether you are willing to look at it or not, and it is growing; surely, it is getting worse:

Blake Writes A Story #7


We, Trumpeted (fantasy, historical fantasy, experimental)

Free download for your ebook reader (right-click and Save As):   PDF   TXT

 

Remember when I used to post bi-weekly short stories?

Yeah, so do I.

Here’s what’s been going on with me lately:

1) I started working on a new novel-sized project that demands a lot of research and self-education. That took up a sizable portion of my time.

2) While doing said research, I started to feel the writing itch again, so I’ll also be working on some new short stories in the interim.

3) I decided to host a big barbecue for friends new and old, for which I’ve been doing a lot of planning and scheduling and brainwork.

4) Finally, I’ve gotten down to my last two stories in the queue, notwithstanding the two (“Post Terminus” and “The Magic Men of Dunsdale County”) that I still need to finish editing some day. (For those curious, each finished story in my hopper has approximately 60 days to find a potential buyer before they end up on here; one story’s on its second strike, while the other’s on its fourth or fifth, which means there might be a somewhat longer delay before I post them online.)

Once my last two finished stories are on here (or get bought–whichever happens), that’ll probably be the end of short story posts while I work on my new big project and some new short stories.

In the interim, I might do some flash fiction shorts, but probably not. I will be trying out some new methods of writing, new approaches to the work to improve my storytelling.

I’ve got a TON of content regarding my Year of Walden that I’ve been sitting on (uncomfortably, guiltily) for months. I might do well to just post it all as a series write up over the course of winter, looking back at the year’s progress and setbacks. I’d hoped, originally, to have updates every Monday, but the time spent doing research for some of the posts as well as the effort required to DO the things I’m researching kinda killed that for me. My biggest problem is going into the Year of Walden was having preconceptions about what the posts needed to be–pre-filtering is a fine way of killing the art in a person.

Until that inevitable end comes, however, I’ve got this new short story to entertain. “We, Trumpeted” started off as an experiment in narration, similar to “A Man of Questionable Character” (which may never see the light of day). I wanted to tell a story entirely using pronouns, establishing some nameless characters solely through dialog (one of my weakest skills) and action.  As I wrote more, the cloaked the identities of the characters allowed for a self-indulgent (in retrospect) twist ending, and the experiment ended up being, in the end, just a gimmick.

That’s not to say there weren’t some gems here and there. My favorite part of the story (the part that surprised me while I was writing it) was the introduction of “you” into the narrative, which I hadn’t planned on and, at which point, I realized just who these characters were and just how very, very bad things were going for them. “He” and “she” were pretty weak characters from the start, bickering and arguing as they did without much ambition driving them. I enjoyed being in the narrator’s head. I even felt melancholic at “my” loss of “you” which, in later revisions, was more fully explored as I came to realize just how much losing “you” had wounded each of the characters in some very personal ways.

In the end, “We, Trumpeted” didn’t sell, but like the three characters (and “you”, wherever “you” are), one must keep soldiering on, and so I’m off to new stories, new worlds, and new narratives. I hope that this imperfect work entertains someone out there or at least offers them an example of what not to do while writing.

 

We, Trumpeted

While she sits on the couch, looking down at her hands, he stands opposite her, smug and superior.

“I gave Peoli the cocaine; all of it! I don’t know what went wrong,” she says.

“You said he could make it all go away, but he didn’t, did he?” He taunts.

“Shut up! Just shut up and let me think.”

In my head, I can already hear D.S.E. boots pounding up the stairwell. Every car that passes outside is another military vehicle added to a growing motor pool…