Author Archives: Kimberly Laux

Walking in Circles Dead

Walking in Circles Dead

The Walking Dead definitely needed something, but was last night’s episode it?

 

Spoiler Alert:

 

Glenn may or may not be dead. If the usual T.V. tropes hold true, Glenn has gone off to the great satellite provider in the sky, or at least delivering pizzas in Purgatory – but Glenn was one the best people on the show along with his wife, Maggie. He referred back to his first episode, got out a sentimental watch, talked about having to get back to Maggie, just as another minor character spoke about his wife making him a better man after the Zombie Apocalypse, only to become a snack for former lobbyist from Washington, D.C. trapped in a quarry, it’s hard to tell the difference, but if you look closely at their eyes, the Zombies have a little more life in them than actual lobbyists and are slightly less dangerous.

 

But my money is on Glenn being covered in Nicholas’ entrails and sliding under the dumpster they fell off of avoiding afternoon feeding time. It’s very not, Walking Dead. The Walking Dead has traded in avoiding any happy convention whatsoever. This has actually worked for the show, if I vowed never to watch it again so many times because it left me mildly suicidal. I keep a bottle of Prozac next to the remote.  But there’s a peculiar redemption to characters just surviving and learning to live with such a gruesome world. And they are more like actual real people because simply: awful things happen to them and have consequences. While somewhat maligned, I thought the second season earned its emotional punches and moments of scariness by taking a breath here and there and spending eight weeks looking for a child that died a long time prior. This was the new world. Even the reunification of main character Rick with his family initially is wrought with betrayal and eventual murder.

 

The fifth season seemed just a series of shock deaths, to the point of numbness. Tyrese, Beth, and Noah all had narrative life left in them and unresolved issues that died with them. Less than complex characters were taking their place and Rick was becoming a one-note annoyance. “These people don’t get it.” Maybe a few tears and reflection upon Shane wouldn’t be so unbecoming of his character. Only Deanna, the new titular leader seemed to have the subtleties of reflection upon actions. But then she bought in with Rick and the gruesome awfulness that is the world of the Zombie Apocalypse.

 

Last year I wrote, I wanted to see the social dynamic change some on the show. At some point, running from Zombies in the woods gets a little old. The prosthetics are awesome and completely accurate anatomically, but scary like rats or a nest of wasps. Dumb things a smart person and group can learn to deal with. It was time to reassemble some of what was, the parts that did in fact need to be kept. Not for the sake of survival, but for meaning. Didn’t anyone care about finding a book on say, epidemiology?

 

We got the usual hordes of zombies, gruesome deaths, and conflict between the nice, the nuts, and the survivalists. Been there and done that with more complex, human overtones. The group stopped tolerating difficult people. Shane, Lori, and Andrea were all pills in their own way, and wiped away in that order, but their presence made for drama, which was interesting. Now everyone is an enemy or friend, no shades of gray.

 

But if Glenn actually benefits from sparing Nicholas and lives to see Maggie again, the world they live in might be worth surviving. Right now, every enclave turns to manure. Oddly, no one has mentioned the presence of the letter A on the steps next to Carol after the Wolves’ attack. Probably drawn for Alexandria, it also is the name of the letter on the boxcar Rick and group are trapped in in Terminus. It was written on trees as the Termites plotted their revenge. Does Carol, with the darkest secrets of anyone, have a reckoning that pushes forward? Tyrese and his forgiveness are gone. But does it remain in the people left behind?

 

Sadly, I’m bored with shock deaths of characters. If I felt moved by them before, they just seem like a trope at this point. Glenn not dying would be interesting.

 

The Walking Dead has always dealt in the subversion of expectation. Hope would be the creepiest device of them all now.

 

Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction

And then the smoke cleared.

 

That bridge was a bitch to burn down.

 

All my relatives and friends and acquaintances over the years who had subconsciously reminded me of my relatives and I let become ensconced in my life stood across the smoky chasm, something from an Indiana Jones movies or Roadrunner cartoon, five hundred feet deep, a river running through it, stood yelling and screaming, shaking their fists with rage.

This all struck me as odd. For so long I had been threatened with being cut off. They had hammers and buzz saws, fire crackers and pogo sticks. The bridge had become dangerously worn in areas from the repeated threats, jackhammers on wood, vibrating the entire structure. The smoke obscured much of what was on the other side, but I knew it all the same. It was where I had been. Memories of home lingered there through the swirling ashes, but they were in fact, memories through fog. I had wandered behind them and noticed they where three quarter scale and had no backs, just struts to hold them up. They were simply movie back lots, imposed with the correct camera angle and postproduction to create a cleaner, safer world than it ever really had been.

How shocked they are. The smoke wafting by, how many matches had they blown out before I got the blowtorch? Did they expect Alec Guinness in “Bridge on the River Kwai?” I hadn’t built the bridge. I was born on it. And which way to walk was supposed to be a choice. I was still full of splinters from being dragged back.

When the smoke cleared, there were people on the other side and a jungle full of mystery.

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The Walking Dead Needs a New Path

The Walking Dead Needs a New Path

The Walking Dead Needs to Find a New Path

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As season five of The Walking Dead winds down, there’s plenty to love, mostly cardigan wearing Carol being the biggest badass of them all baking tuna casserole. But it is starting to repeat its central conflicts and not moving on from them. Somewhere, somehow, wouldn’t there be some mention of Shane and Lori as Rick pursues Jesse, perhaps seeing it as his right after what happened with their affair. Alexandria feels too much like Herschel’s farm with less charm and more willful ignorance. Was Rick, flailing away having a meltdown in Alexandria, so different from Shane opening up Hershel’s barn of horror and shooting away? I know Shane was supposed to be the villain in the first two seasons, and part of what made the show compelling was moral complexity, Shane often did sound like the voice of reason in a sea of denial. Those are corpses walking, you know. If Rick wasn’t actually weak in the first two seasons, in many ways he was a victim in a domestic situation. He found his family only to find out he didn’t really have a family anymore. Unlike the comic book, television Lori prodded the eventual, inevitable showdown and became unnerving in her lack of sense of consequence, even for her children.

It took a while for Rick to rise from his own ashes. As a leader, and with a truly gifted actor playing him, greater self-reflection would wear well on Rick Grimes. I didn’t buy him waving that gun around at the clueless Alexandrians. He’s smarter than that. He can keep a secret and hold things in, to a fault. Is he horny for Jesse, sure. But in a post-apocalyptic world, I’m not blaming him for getting hooked on feeling something that doesn’t involve dread, and she plays her own part in it all. Are Deanna and the Alexandrians so weak as to think letting domestic abuse occur around children doesn’t have social consequences? The idea of not really understanding how things are post apocalypse is getting a little old. It’s not just the journey we’ve been on with the show’s main group: corpses reanimate and eat people. This is a big deal. Seeing it once really ought to get the point across. If the Alexandrians know enough to stay within the walls and develop the disturbing code of leaving people when threatened, being la-tee-da inside the walls is kind of really stupid. And doesn’t someone suggest just maybe, maybe, Shane ended up being rather restrained in the new world. The best, and truly only person to say this, of course, is Rick. Perhaps to the horror of others, perhaps to a level of relief for him.

While the old rules don’t apply (how could they, what exactly is the legal status of the undead) the probability of human extinction seems not in anyone’s vocabulary. Dr. Jenner mentioned it in season one and nary a word since. The show does focus on personal loss, which makes it compelling in the horror genre, but the loss of thousands of years of civilization and learning is a rather huge issue as well. Perhaps life could be easier for the children of the apocalypse if someone say, left a few text books around for them to read up on electricity and medicine rather than say, relying a jerk like Pete?

There seems to be a mistrust of anything and anyone intellectual on the show. I dug Milton and was sorry to see him go. Eugene always seemed a little phony, no one is as smart as he thinks he is, but even trying to write anything down seems to be death sentence on the show. Noah was actually trying to use his brain to survive. Rick showed himself to actually be a worthy leader when fighting to the death for a physically safe place regarding the prison. Basic human needs for health and safety have to be addressed and no one is amoral for suggesting so.

I don’t know what next week brings. There are interviews saying it will piss people off. Always an ‘A’ for keeping it compelling, but the “now and then” fight isn’t compelling anymore. Human beings, life for that matter, are adaptive, and not repetitive. Reinvention gives meaning to the life and death cycle, or as in The Walking Dead, the life, death, death cycle. The virus kills its host, twice over. Even without getting overly technical or scientific, this isn’t a world that can maintain. Enid says, “It’s their world now,” referring to the Walkers, but the undead have the slight issue of bacteria to deal with. The dead might walk, but they still rot. If the dinosaurs hung around as birds and humans came along, there’s another world after the apocalyptic one. There really is no reason for people to survive without that hope. Not a return to the past, or second season, but conflict based on what that next will be.

 

 

 

 

 

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona
I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

A snowy mountaintop near Flagstaff, Arizona, my rusty old Ford Escort, eighty-something, model year and mileage: that mountain would eat my muffler.

Way back in the twentieth century, before the Internet was something for MIT students, before cell phones could even flip, when tax forms were retrieved at post offices and libraries and snail-mailed to the IRS, long ago in the nineteen-nineties, when current contestants on American Idol were just being born and Friends wasn’t on the air, broadcast air, yet, it was a great adventure to travel America’s Interstate system; built primarily during the Eisenhower administration in case of attack by the USSR. It was true freedom. No one could reach you unless you wanted them to; truck stops were your home as you moved across the great North American Continent in rugged individualism, sort of, we did have credit cards and pay phones.

This was my great escape to Southern California. From the Northeast, crossing through Ontario, Canada, passports weren’t needed then, through the snow to the great planes, to the glorious red ridges of New Mexico that left me breathless, the grand feeling of wonder and awe at my forebears who came across the Atlantic to America, the harsh yet beautiful landscape reshaping our souls. As I came closer to the City of Angeles, Jerusalem and Mecca of my dreams, America for Americans: the great Los Angeles – I lost my muffler on a stretch of I-40, mimicking the old Route 66, that left me thinking about the Donner party and being eaten by cannibals hold-up in a deserted hotel that seemed out of a Stephen King novel on the side of the road.

The muffler had neither the decency nor the grace to just fall off the car. No, it had to be welded like bolts in a battleship on one end, and rusted through on the other, throwing sparks off the pavement in the glistening, pink twilight glinting through the majestic Ponderosa Pine trees and casting a melancholy mauve off the new, just fallen snow. I had to pull over before I actually blew the car up with the electric spray threatening the gas tank. Hiking to a nearby hotel to call for the Auto Club, the hotel being the only seeming business around for miles, the air became biting cold, the kind that can break off toes and finger if you’re not careful – and it’s hopeless to stop your nose from running and it just ends up freezing into baby icicles.

 

Then I saw it: “Closed for the Season.”

 

Desolate and abandoned, the strange nineteen-forties era hotel didn’t even have the effervescence to even seem haunted.

I went back to the car and fought to get the rotted muffler off that car. It was me – or the muffler – and it wasn’t going to be me.

 

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq

http://www.flagstaff.az.gov

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/donner-introduction

The Five Stages of Grief Driving in Los Angeles

The Five Stages of Grief Driving in Los Angeles
The Five Stages of Grief Driving in Los Angeles

The Five Stages of Grief Driving in Los Angeles

-Dying is Easy: Driving is Hard

 

Perhaps you’ve never driven in Los Angeles. It’s probably the one thing that should be on the bucket list of all licensed drivers to prepare for that day we actually do all face the great beyond, the unknown country, that great HOV lane in the sky. The five stages of grief, famously delineated by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, are experienced on any drivable surface in L.A. County on any given day.

One – Denial

It’s really not that bad. This on-ramp is always busy. The traffic will break up and it will be freewheeling in fifth all the way to Downtown.

Two – Anger

Oh, for God’s sake! Why don’t BMWs come with turn signals? Why do we put up with this? I’m writing a strongly worded letter to City Council and the Governor. – Then comes the ritual yelling and cursing while wishing for a giant asteroid to hit Earth and wipe us all out already.

Three – Bargaining

If I go down Melrose to Vermont, pick up Figueroa, then go north to go south, I should be able to make it in time – if I have decent parking karma. Why is SIRI taking me to Chinatown?

Four – Depression

My life is being wasted sitting in traffic. It’s bad for the car, the environment, me, international political stability, and is cutting into my television time. Why do we have to drive to the doctor’s office anyway? I’d be happy to send in a urine sample, if the Post Office allows it. And aren’t we supposed to stay in when we’re sick?

 

And finally:

 

Five – Acceptance

 

This is L.A. Being angry about gridlock is like being angry about tectonic plate drift. Eventually this highway will be underwater and the fish will be complaining.

 

 

 

 

Internet Self Awareness

Internet Self Awareness

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When the Internet Finally Becomes Aware of Itself

 

Science Fiction has been contemplating this now to the point of cliché. A super-computer, now the Internet, becomes aware of its own existence and decides to wipe out humanity. From the sublime to kitsch, really peeved digital consciousness is out to get us. Some are even now seriously talking about the coming “singularity,” when a person can upload into a machine. Of course, many of these people think The Matrix is a documentary. Now why would a self-aware machine give itself away like that?

The similarity of this belief to a belief that these are the “end times” is shown in its hubris. We are it! There is no more evolution, society has reached its maximum potential, and all the signs in the stars are there, astronomical or astrological. The universe is done, time is done, God is done, life is done, right here at the corner of Wilshire and Beverly Glen. Yep, this is what all of history has been leading to, from Planck time to the building of Stonehenge: the collective self-awareness of E-Bay, Nerdist.com, and YouTube.

Honestly, should the Internet become aware of itself, there is something to be said for the interconnection of servers like synapses in brain cells, or the tails of the blue people connecting to the trees in Avatar, I’m not worried about it. Think about what fills the Internet, okay, there’s that and the PayPal account you don’t want your significant other to know about, but that other ubiquitous thing that dominates the digital domain:

 

Cat videos

 

Should the Internet become aware of its own existence, or simply become alive and act proactively, I truly don’t believe it will be seeking to set off nuclear missiles – have you seen what the government relies on to run nuclear missiles: Floppy Discs! Freakin’ floppy discs that actually are floppy. But perhaps there is a point; everyone who could hack them is in a retirement home in Florida – with their cats. Their cats playing piano, their cats lulling, their cats jumping off of roofs, their cats dressed as The Justice League, their cats snuggling, dreaming, acting like people, outsmarting the dog, and anything else a cat shouldn’t be able to do. There are even cats ordering things on the Internet, smoking, and fighting over the remote.

When the Internet becomes aware of itself, it will be a giant, world-sized feline. And why worry about that? What is a cat’s favorite thing to do: Ignore people. We may have to live with building sized balls of yarn and forgo any dairy as an offertory saucer to the great consciousness, but we’ll be fine. Long as there’s Meow Mix, everything will be okay. The man made consciousness will be shut down and sleeping twenty hours a day anyway.

Now for mice, the same may not hold true, computer and otherwise. The Walt Disney Company may want to rethink its classic characters. But who cares, didn’t those rodents bring about the Black Plague? The giant feline self-aware consciousness may very well save of us from the obvious coming Zombie Apocalypse. Now that’s real.

 

 

Cats are slowly taking over the world and we aren't noticing.

Cats are slowly taking over the world and we aren’t noticing.

 

 

 

Spoilers

Spoilers

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Spoiler

“It is a far, far better thing I do, a far better thing than I have done before…”

-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The guy dies at the end.  Sorry.

 

Okay, I’m disturbed by out of it I must be. I didn’t hear the new Star Wars VII latest spoiler for like, you know, a week. I have to check if there’s something wrong with my Twitter account. I am a Star Wars fan, but have lacked a certain amplitude of energy since the first films came out. I had to have every action figure, trading card, and still have my Princess Leia Barbie doll with hair I can style. (She has little white curly ribbons I felt she was lacking.) Of course, a whole freaking week is a change from when Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back first came out and we could really be blown out of our seats by Darth Vader’s big reveal. Don’t keep reading if you have lived on another planet for the past forty years: Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father! Damn!!!!!! It had been reported in Star Log two years prior, seems David Prowse, the guy in the Darth Vader suit, leaked that tiny bit of information. The disappearance of David Prowse from subsequent films and promotional material suggests his slip wasn’t appreciated. His was the only Darth Vader credit on the film in 1977. James Earl Jones got none. How things change and yet stay the same…

I was glad I read that Return of the Jedi had Luke and Leia as brother and sister before seeing the film. Didn’t like the twist, still don’t, and could harden my disappointment for it as the reveal came slowly, ploddingly. For all the criticism Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have taken over the years about their performances in the films, I think they were freaking brilliant to pull that off. Still wasn’t ready for the Ewoks though. I love the Muppets, just didn’t expect them quite like that. Yoda worked but where was Miss Piggy and the Muppaphones for the Ewoks victory song?

And as I have been slowly lured into the excitement for Star Wars VII, I find myself taking a step back. Return of the Jedi disappointed me, but not enough to hurt my love wholly. It’s like realizing mom and dad are real people or your one true love actually does gastrointestinal problems at times. Still, I waited for a cheap matinee of Attack of the Clones and found myself looking around for the exit as the romantic dialogue ensued. (I don’t blame Christian Hayden and certainly not the awesome Natalie Portman. If they could have pulled off that dialogue, I would have to question them as actors.) Never did look around a theater before for a way to escape, even when there was a minor fire, just wondered if I would get my money back. I did end up liking Revenge of the Sith. Still, if the prequels didn’t have the words Star Wars in the titles, they would just be other films from the era. James Cameron really owned that particular time in pop culture. There is the Star Wars core audience, but it is the ubiquitous quality of the first films, The Wizard of Oz cultural saturation, that makes them unique and the stuff of academic analysis along with the subject of copious fan fiction. I was afraid to be happy about the possibility again, of a Star Wars sans George Lucas and his seeming lack of connection to his material and audience, but with J.J. Abrahams aAnd as I have been slowly lured into the excitement for Star Wars VII, I find myself taking a step back. Return of the Jedi disappointed me, but not enough to hurt my love wholly. It’s like realizing mom and dad are real people or your one true love actually does gastrointestinal problems at times. Still, I waited for a cheap matinee of Attack of the Clones and found myself looking around for the exit as the romantic dialogue ensued. (I don’t blame Christian Hayden and certainly not the awesome Natalie Portman. If they could have pulled off that dialogue, I would have to question them as actors.) Never did look around a theater before for a way to escape, even when there was a minor fire, just wondered if I would get my money back. I did end up liking Revenge of the Sith. Still, ifok around a theater before for a way to escape, even when there was a minor fire, just the prequels didn’t have the words Star Wars in the titles, they would just be other films from the era. James Cameron really owned that particular time in pop culture. There is the Star Wars core audience, but it is the ubiquitous quality of the first films, The Wizard of Oz cultural saturation, that makes them unique and the stuff of academic analysis along with nd Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney machine behind it. Anticipation still built, Luke, Leia, and Han were coming back! I was seduced again, to the dark or light side, I can’t quite recognize.

The supposed leaked image of Luke’s bionic hand falling to the surface of Tatooine from the initial word roll in the new film made my eyes a little moist when. That Kevin Smith was teary-eyed leaving the set in England made a kind of sense to me with that evocative idea running through my head. I am of the first Star Wars generation. I saw it at the movies as a kid and had my world rocked. For everyone who comes after, we want you to love it too, The Wizard of Oz wasn’t beloved until it was on television, but that wasn’t Star Wars fate. Sorry kids, but we old folks in our forties are the ones who were effected by and in return, infused all that energy into Star Wars. I wasn’t there for Gone with the Wind, but I was there for Star Wars. I feel some generational ownership of the mythos. I may appreciate the music from Woodstock, but I wasn’t there. I was at the Loews in Pittsford, New York in 1977.

So now for the real spoiler that has been suggested: Luke is the villain in the new film. It’s from the extended universe of Star Wars material that I always felt, no pun intended, Luke warm about. And if you’re like most Internet readers, you haven’t gotten this far so I’m not doing too much to disseminate the rumor. I’m kind of hoping that J.J. Abrahams is teasing us, and he has some sensibilities about such build-ups, but I also suspect with the time pressures of making Star Wars VII he doesn’t have a whole lot of energy to carefully craft on-line leaks to go viral a year out from a release date. I had seen pictures and production leaks that Luke had isolated himself as a monk in an “other galaxy Ireland.” A lot of attention has been paid to Mark Hamill’s beard. – It should have its own contract. Personally, I kind of like it. But I always was in love with him so I don’t have a whole lotta credibility on that subject – never did move on to Han Solo.

Is Luke tempted by the dark side? Of course. One of the ringing problems with the first three films is Luke’s real lack of temptation, of slipping. He gets pissed when Leia is threatened. That does not make for a bad man. In fact, another reaction might be slightly disturbing. The rebellion is blowing up things with lots of, I don’t know, clones on it, and Obi-Wan and Yoda want Luke to kill his own father. Luke is the only truly good Jedi in the lot. He lacks personal agenda. He gets a bigger picture than that the Jedi Order failed to perceive. Compassion is more important than the church, uh, Jedi Temple. But Luke isn’t martyred nor off on a normal life after saving the galazy: huge, wonking problem with Return of the Jedi. Luke’s story is truncated to the point of not being resolved. Part of why we want another Star Wars film thirty some odd years later and it’s not a television movie on Friday night.

But is beloved Luke Skywalker the next Darth Vader?

Way back when, when we actually had a dial phone, touch tone was available but we were cheap, went to the library to look up things in encyclopedias, music was played on vinyl, and a happy home had a Hammond organ in the living room, a friend of mine, Sherry, did say she always thought Darth Vader was Luke’s father. She said: it kind of had to be. I believe her. A little kid might have an insight like that. I never saw it.

What I always thought was that it was a King Arthur redux. Obi-Wan and Anakin were in love with the same woman, she was married to Anakin but something happened with Obi-Wan, and Anakin turned to the dark side after the betrayal. Honestly, I still think that would have propelled the sequels a little more strongly than the sudden desire for power Anakin Skywalker exhibits. The whole thing would play out again with Luke, Leia, and Han. The brother sister thing wouldn’t exist, and Luke would be tempted to turn to the dark side to get rid of his rival – and best friend. But he would make a different choice than his father. Being a fantasy film from Hollywood, Luke could go on to save the galaxy, find a nice wife, and make little Jedis for the future. That’s close-ended. We didn’t get that. George Lucas did have personal issues around the time of the making of Return of the Jedi and I suspect it informed the course of the movie and franchise quite a bit. Romantic rivalry wasn’t something he wanted to explore.

So we have what we have. Still, Luke is unresolved: I have written about this before. Whether we take a Biblical or Arthurian approach, Luke hasn’t finished an arc.

But Luke as the villain? Too cute by half. Tempted yes. But do I suspect a sad but noble ending for the White Night. Yes. But let’s stop spoiling for a while. Take a lesson from David Prowse.

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The Best Movies About Hollywood

The Best Movies About Hollywood

The Best Movies About Hollywood

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In almost every writing class, students are instructed to: “Write what you know.” But the rule is completely, wholly untrue for anyone with ambitions in scriptwriting. Want to quickly end a pitch meeting with a producer? Just say you have a screenplay, play, or television pilot about movies, theater, or television production. It may be what you know, kind of, does anyone really know Hollywood? But the privilege of reflecting on the process is usually given to those with established careers and don’t have to go to pitch meetings – or are self-funded.

In early cinema history, theater was the metaphor for “the business” and was most often reflected upon in terms of the lives of actors: Stage Door and 42nd Street being notable. But the unique process of filming a movie, and all the disparate players and industries involved didn’t have much to reflect upon until the mid-twentieth century and now is something of a genre unto itself. So it’s time to give credit where credit is due, and contractually obliged, gone over by an agent, lawyer, manager, and all appropriate guilds, unions, and government entities.

And the ten best are:

10. Bowfinger – 1990, Directed by Frank Oz, Written by Steve Martin

Big silly fun, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy leave no stereotype unturned in the classic story of a dreamer making it big in spite of himself. While the bad film makes good conceit has been done, and done well before, the simple charm of the actors and a trip across the 101 Freeway by Murphy pushes Bowfinger past the usual. The undocumented workers brought on as film crew who study Truffaut and Citizen Kane only adds to the collision of cultures and expectations that are part and parcel of the film industry: it is the FedEx truck coming for Bowfinger that the main character dreams of.

9. Sunset Boulevard – 1950, Directed by Billy Wilder, Written by Charles Bracket and D.M. Marshman Jr.

Perhaps the best known classic film about Hollywood starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson, told by a dead man, is about his involvement with a silent movie actress, Norma Desmond, and the delusion and desperation that are often strewn into the daily life of the entertainment industry and its subculture. Not the just by the “beyond her prime” star suffers from clinging to glories past, but so do those around her. The protagonist, the one the audience is to identify with, is already dead.

8. Mulholland Drive – 2001, Directed by David Lynch, Written by David Lynch

What? You don’t think it’s about Hollywood, being lost in a fantasy world, and the painful truth of reality intervening upon hope? Okay, but that’s what I got out of it. The title references a lovely, if motion sickness inducing, winding road in Los Angeles and one of the first power players in the City of Angeles. As with Sunset Boulevard, movies about business and Los Angeles define the journey in terms of roads, and Sunset Boulevard’s dead narrator may be the key to getting into (onto?) Mulholland Drive.

7. The Artist – 2011, Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, Written by Michel Hazanavicius

A black and white silent film about black and white silent films made in the twenty-first century. A young starlet comes to Los Angeles to make it big, well, you know the story, but that is something of the point. The derivation from classic silent cinema is brilliantly woven together with humor, but melodrama not skimped on as the main character played by Jean Dujardin clings to a can of film as his home burns dramatically and his dog goes for help.

6. Gods and Monsters – 1998, Directed by Bill Condon, Written by Bill Condon

A pondering on the last days of James Whale, the director of such indelible films as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, the uncomplicated character played by Brendan Frasier shows the lure and desire to see through and be seen through a lens of an artist, if blind to the artist framing the picture. Ian McKellan mixes genius and childishness seamlessly much like James Whale’s classic movies and monsters.

5. Postcards from the Edge – 1990, Directed by Mike Nichols, Written by Carrie Fisher

Very loosely based on Carrie Fisher’s book of the same title and with a script written by Carrie Fisher, the self-effacing reflections of a Hollywood insider vary between just plain funny to sad. Meryl Streep is brilliant, does that need to be said? And when the main character let’s go of a fake ledge on a projected set and doesn’t plummet to the street below, the whole theme of the movie is encapsulated as is the falseness of happiness based on fame, and the falseness of the projection that it must always be great to be Carrie Fisher.

4. Swimming with Sharks – 1994, Directed by George Huang, Written by George Huang

If Kevin Spacey has made a career playing the devil (does he have to pay residuals?) he’s never more unnerving than in this movie about a put upon assistant played by Frank Whaley finding out what it really takes to make it in the entertainment industry. Where many of the movies about movies ultimately celebrate human foibles and the creative process, and/or lack thereof, Swimming with Sharks shines a spotlight on the truly dark aspects of the business of filmmaking and makes law school so much more enticing.

3. Argo – 2012, Directed by Ben Affleck, Written by Chris Terrio

Technically, a movie about making a fake movie, Argo gave cinema history the line, “If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.” The business of Hollywood and the artifice involved with the seeming empowerment to actually fund a film, even before any cameras are turned on, is as complex and byzantine as the filmmaking process itself – along with international espionage. The bows to Star Wars and the use of an actual film being shot interfering with the spy craft – the nasty red light holding up answering an important phone call – only deepens the commentary on perception.

And you can see Princess Leia as an action figure at the end of the movie.

2. Singing in the Rain – 1952, Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, Written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden

Hollywood became self-reflective about its own history without much history to be self-reflective about, and did a wonderful job in the process. A musical starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds about silent filmmaking is a funny conceit. The bravura talent and technical skill showcased only adds to the film’s long renown as a classic.

And you can see Princess Leia’s mom, Debbie Reynolds, before she became Carrie Fisher’s mom.

1. Ed Wood – 1994, Directed by Tim Burton, Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski

It is only right and good that the best film ever made about the filmmaking process is about what is arguably the worst movie ever made Plan Nine from Outer Space, directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. Plan Nine from Outer Space was declared the worst movie ever made by The Golden Turkey Awards written by Harry and Michael Medved published in 1979. The film is also mentioned as the goal in the Seinfeld episode where the gang is waiting at a Chinese restaurant in real time trying to get to a movie.

The joy of filmmaking is shown and the human spirit is celebrated in a film about a cross-dressing, would-be movie mogul played with innocent verve by Johnny Depp and a drug-addled Bella Lugosi played by Martin Landau. The details of the filmmaking process are realistically portrayed in this black and white fever dream and driven by a man with absolutely no talent for what he does – but he doesn’t let that stand in his way. Even the great Orson Wells makes a “cameo” appearance and encourages young Ed to pursue his vision, whatever that might be.

 

The fact that Ed Wood didn’t live to see his work fully “celebrated,” just like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emily Dickenson, only adds to the complete truth of the picture and why it should be required viewing in all film schools.

 

Heart shape film reel

 

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: Can Rick Grimes Really Change?

This last season, the forth, of The Walking Dead beat me up. I feel like I barely got out alive and had to cauterize a few bite marks. I had been mesmerized since the beginning of the series, but found mid-forth-season; I didn’t like visiting this world anymore. I was sincerely depressed after watching the main character of Rick Grimes played gently by Andrew Lincoln, have everything ripped away from him – again, and again, and a little more – and in something of a Grimes family tradition, be left for dead unattended in a coma, this time by his son. Sometimes the character of Rick frustrated the hell out of me, his militant altruism, while cringe inducing at times, did not inspire a desire to watch him be slowly, bit by bit, piece by piece tortured to death psychologically and physically over a period of four years. Like Carl, I kind of wanted him to die on the couch, not because I didn’t or don’t like Rick Grimes or am working through adolescent angst like Carl, the episode really belonged to Chandler Riggs as Carl, but I didn’t want to see the character of Rick suffer anymore.

The kind air that Andrew Lincoln brings to the part challenges more traditional notions of a male hero (and isn’t appreciated by some) and allows for far more complex interactions and an identifiable human being instead of a Rambo of the zombie apocalypse. But it also makes the devastation the character experiences that much more painful to watch. Even at the end of the particular episode that left me looking for Wellbutrin on a Sunday night, where Carl regains some of his own humanity at the end and embraces his father, and Machete Michonne shows up and helps Rick with Carl, it wasn’t enough as an audience member. I still didn’t want to identify with the main character of the show. A visit to the county morgue might be more cheerful.

Somewhere even in the zombie apocalypse, there has to be some worth to Rick waking up from a coma in the first episode. His best friend, Shane, played by Jon Berenthal, was more than ready to run off with his wife, Lori, and be a father to his son, Carl. Rick’s wife, acted by Sarah Wayne-Callas, was more than amenable to Shane’s plans.

All the various group incarnations seem to need Rick existentially, mostly because he represents human decency and continues to think, then they get angry with him for being decent and taking thoughtful approaches that don’t always work. He never wins, not just at a physical level, always loosing the safe haven he wants more than anything for the people around him, he doesn’t win interpersonally either. Carl can be understood as a teenager, if it still painful to watch him turn on his father, but at a certain point, it’s just this guy dying in inches.

The following episode sans Rick with Carol and Tyrese, showed once again that The Walking Dead isn’t just a good show, but important television, worthy of study. Then in the season finale, Rick does rip out a man’s jugular with his teeth, with a weird mix of revulsion and relief, and it seems he’s finally leaving behind his notion of the messianic: but I’ve been fooled by him before.

I thought Rick got to the pragmatic state he needed to find when he shot zombie Sophia in the second season, accepting his failure to save her. Then he killed Shane, his best friend, after wife Lori created a situation that was impossible to resolve otherwise. Rick did actually get angry with Lori after Shane’s death, which showed some growth in how he related to people. Rick hadn’t reacted to being left for dead by Lori and Shane, using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to run off together as a couple – with his son – no other friends or relatives with them oddly, and having sex within weeks of his purported demise, and oh by the way, she got pregnant. But after Lori’s death in childbirth, Rick nearly looses his mind in grief and slipped not only back into altruistic, sweet, and oh-so-vulnerable and caring mode, but into someone even more passive. Obviously he loved being a police officer and the guns and the idea of keeping order before the dead rose in droves in Georgia, I swear there’s a song in there, but he even looses that energy and enthusiams, something that sparks life in him, to a placid tilling of the land, just with reanimated corpses on the other side of the fence occasionally serving as mulch.

This season left off where Rick does seem ready to move on romantically. There was a hint that Michonne liked him, but since her character is so important to Carl, Rick probably wouldn’t impede or complicate that and he is always first: dad. Dad sleeping with his son’s best friend is weird. Without being a dad, the television Rick Grimes doesn’t seem plausible continuing to live. Rick has of yet to move his wedding band to his right hand. He can keep it for Carl and the baby’s sake, but in his head he still seems married to Lori. The feeling that the first two seasons played out like an adaptation of Wuthering Heights is only compounded by the fact Andrew Lincoln was cast as Edgar Linton in an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Even Lori/Cathy haunts the moors, uh, bayou. But unlike Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is dead. Emily Bronte killed Edgar Linton off fairly young, not Heathcliff. If not always sympathetic in the film adaptations, in the book Edgar Linton is something of an ideal, “eyes like an angel or a dove,” contrasted by the dark brooding passion of Heathcliff, and to repeat something oft said in The Walking Dead, not made for this world.

I think Andrew Lincoln is a brilliant actor. Giving an interview, I wondered why he was using a fake English accent since he has a perfect Georgia accent. I’m still not quite convinced he’s from Great Britain. He brings subtlety and nuance to what is usually a sledgehammer kind of role and part of the appeal of The Walking Dead as a television show. But if Emily Bronte killed Edgar Linton off, who are we to question the wisdom of a Bronte sister? Rick doesn’t have to die, but he can’t keep dying. At least part of Edgar Linton needs to go haunt the moors, uh, bayou with Lori and Shane, er, Heathcliff, just think of a Flannery O’Connor version of Emily Bronte’s novel.

In a way, I’m kind of hoping something happens with Carol and Rick. I know it seems weird and out of the box, but moving towards something other than a simple plot device. Daryl’s flirted with Beth, now he and Carol remain just good friends. Tyrese and Carol are deeply and profoundly connected, in a heartbreaking way, which truly disallows for a romantic relationship. Rick and Carol have a long, complex, even dark history together, but never a close one. Rick did banish her from the prison saying he didn’t want her around his children, but her willingness to go to dark places may very well be what saved his daughter. He didn’t save Carol’s daughter, Sophia, when she was in his care. A relationship would bring round a long evolvement for each character and a change in the dynamic of the group. Rick has always been the father figure, but the group has never had a functional maternal figure, Rick in some ways trying to be both. Carol being the closest thing to a den mother, but distant and offset, sometimes literally, and becoming very dark, seemingly in response to Rick’s unending lightness of being no matter who screws him over. The fact that Rick and Carol are original characters and had moments of genuinely not liking each other needs some resolution. It’s easy to suspect that Carol had/has never really forgiven Rick for Sophia’s death and now that she has had the benefit of forgiveness from Tyrese, she may need to confront that in herself. And if Rick gets all gooey-sweet, saintly again, Carol can just tell him to look at the pretty flowers.

 

 

 

 

 

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

I Lost My Muffler in Flagstaff, Arizona

A snowy mountaintop near Flagstaff, Arizona, my rusty old Ford Escort, eighty-something, model year and mileage: that mountain would eat my muffler.

Way back in the twentieth century, before the Internet was something for MIT students, before cell phones could even flip, when tax forms were retrieved at post offices and libraries and snail-mailed to the IRS, long ago in the nineteen-nineties, when current contestants on American Idol were just being born and Friends wasn’t on the air, broadcast air, yet, it was a great adventure to travel America’s Interstate system; built primarily during the Eisenhower administration in case of attack by the USSR. It was true freedom. No one could reach you unless you wanted them to; truck stops were your home as you moved across the great North American Continent in rugged individualism, sort of, we did have credit cards and pay phones.

This was my great escape to Southern California. From the Northeast, crossing through Ontario, Canada, passports weren’t needed then, through the snow to the great planes, to the glorious red ridges of New Mexico that left me breathless, the grand feeling of wonder and awe at my forebears who came across the Atlantic to America, the harsh yet beautiful landscape reshaping our souls. As I came closer to the City of Angeles, Jerusalem and Mecca of my dreams, America for Americans: the great Los Angeles – I lost my muffler on a stretch of I-40, mimicking the old Route 66, that left me thinking about the Donner party and being eaten by cannibals hold-up in a deserted hotel that seemed out of a Stephen King novel on the side of the road.

The muffler had neither the decency nor the grace to just fall off the car. No, it had to be welded like bolts in a battleship on one end, and rusted through on the other, throwing sparks off the pavement in the glistening, pink twilight glinting through the majestic Ponderosa Pine trees and casting a melancholy mauve off the new, just fallen snow. I had to pull over before I actually blew the car up with the electric spray threatening the gas tank. Hiking to a nearby hotel to call for the Auto Club, the hotel being the only seeming business around for miles, the air became biting cold, the kind that can break off toes and finger if you’re not careful – and it’s hopeless to stop your nose from running and it just ends up freezing into baby icicles.

Then I saw it: “Closed for the Season.”

Desolate and abandoned, the strange nineteen-forties era hotel didn’t even have the effervescence to even seem haunted.

I went back to the car and fought to get the rotted muffler off that car. It was me – or the muffler – and it wasn’t going to be me.

 

http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/interstate/faq

http://www.flagstaff.az.gov

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/introduction/donner-introduction