Tuesday, March 4, 2014

If You Need Me I'll Be Crying On My Spike Mark...

Dear Casting,

My job is to give you, the casting director, the best audition possible.

I work hard and am never underprepared. Maybe I'm not always perfect, but I strive to be so and I always give you something worth your time. And I enjoy this as part of my job as an actor. Even though it's often unrewarding, seemingly pointless and occasionally embarrassing, I try to approach every audition as an opportunity not just to gain employment but to improve. To get better. To get stronger.

However, I recently encountered a situation in which a casting director made it impossible for me to deliver my best performance. Here's why:

- I was given less than 24 hours notice.  No big deal, right?
- I was given 7 pages of dialogue. Do-able.
- As this was a taped audition, I was given the following requirements:

1) Have "perfect" lighting. Ok...
2) Have "perfect" sound. Wait...
3) Use a "real" camera. Whatever that means in this day in age...
4) Use a boom mic if possible. What...?
5) Have a competent reader.  Ok, but, um... I have to use whoever I can get in such a short---
6) For the slate: start in close up, say your name and height, zoom out for full body shot, do not linger too long but do not rush full shot, zoom back in, don't smile.  I'm sorry, I don't...know... what...
7) Keep your auditions simple. Don't go big. But don't underplay the action.  ???
8) We are not providing a script, so don't bother casting with requests.  Play the context of the scene- it gives enough detail and background (it gave neither of those).  So...can I just improvise...?

And the final caveat... "if tape does not follow directions to the letter, you risk not having your tape submitted to producers."

So basically what you're saying is I need to:
a) cast my audition tape by calling in favors to fellow actors who:
    - just happen to not have anything else to do in the middle of pilot season
    - don't suck


    - go to one of the few "professional" places that charge an arm and a leg and who also happen to
      have availability to last minute for said taping,
b) act as my own Director of Photography for my audition,
c) be my own lighting and sound crew,
d) find my own professional-grade equipment,
e) deliver a performance that outshines not only all the actors from whom you will be accepting tape but those whom you will also be seeing in person...

And if I don't meet your high level standards, then you'll just simply click delete- erasing all my efforts while I'm in a bar downing numerous but necessary glasses of whiskey and/or vodka to ease the stresses of pulling off such a monumental task until I have to stop relieving the tension because I just got another audition for tomorrow to play "Pizza Dude On Skates" for the new ABC Family pilot at 9 am on the other side of town during morning rush hour traffic.

I see.

Pardon me while I perform CPR on myself.
I'll get right on that, Rose.

Your Bitch.

PS. I chose this industry because I love it and I believe in it. I love it and I believe in it. I love it and I believe in it. Keep it together, keep it together, keep it together...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Doctor Sleep

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.
John 8:7

Far be it from me to criticize the work of one of the best American authors of the last hundred years... but I'm going to anyway.

(Warning: spoilers, spoilers everywhere...)

When I heard that Stephen King was, after over 30 years, finally publishing a sequel to his classic The Shining, I was excited. Unhealthily excited. As a matter of fact, that phrase might be an understatement. I reacted with the inappropriate level of enthusiasm that some of my adult friends displayed upon the release of every new Harry Potter book. Despite my euphoria, I had to wait patiently for over a year from the time the announcement was made to its actual release date and then had to stay composed for another torturous period of time as I was too busy to give it the attention it deserved... until the holidays.

So, like a child at Christmas, I ran into Barnes and Noble at my first commit-able moment and bought it!

My patience was rewarded through the first hundred pages or so... as Doctor Sleep begins a few years after Danny "Doc" Torrance, his mother Wendy and his Shining friend/mentor Dick Hallorann escape the clutches of The Overlook Hotel and the troubled/haunted Jack Torrance. THIS was why I bought the book! What happened to Danny and co.?  How do you possibly go on after such a profound and terrifying experience? Give me more!

Flash forward to a few chapters and decades in... Danny is now Dan. And much like his father, Dan has become a raging alcoholic- picking fights in bars and waking up next to unnameable, strung-out women before reaching his "rock bottom." Dan begins to try to change his life. He enters AA and begins to win over his old demons, when an old "friend" inexplicably shows itself... The Shining.

My excitement grew... THIS was what I wanted from a sequel to the original!

Enter Abra Stone. A few hours away from the New Hampshire town where Dan now resides, a little girl is born. A girl with powers that not only match Dan's but far exceed them.

Enter The True Knot. A group of geriatrics with supernatural powers that travel the country and feed off children who have either The Shining or something close to it.

What follows in the rest of Doctor Sleep is a truly unworthy follow-up to his masterpiece The Shining. The True Knot makes for quite possibly the least frightening villains of all time, while Abra- an annoying character who bounces back from being an innocent little girl to a girl with a mouth that would make Reagan McNeill blush- not only usurps Dan in the importance of the story but also reduces him in the story's climax to an Also-Ran.

Even The Shining... the powers that Dan and now Abra possess go from being believable and seemingly grounded in some reality, to being some fantastic all-encompassing wizard-like ability that does not ring true for one solitary moment.

Additionally, all reference to the original work after the first few chapters feels tacked on and disjointed. In what I can only consider a MORTAL sin in King Lore, one of Dan's tormenters from his days at The Overlook Hotel actually SAVES him at the end... a move that is as unmotivated and ridiculous as it could possibly be.

In his author's note, Stephen King warns against comparing this book to Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining (and simultaneously gets a proper little dig in at the late director). Well worry not Stephen, for I am as well-versed in your novel as I am the movie... and I still did not like your sequel.

He also references the movie Psycho and its "only brilliant sequel"- Mick Garris's Psycho IV. I find it interesting that he does this... what made Psycho IV a somewhat worthy (I would never call it brilliant because of its low production value) sequel is because- unlike the other sequels- it was not an attempt at capitalizing on the original's shock value but an attempt to show Norman Bates's struggle with himself and his humanity.

THAT is what the sequel to The Shining should have been!!! The original book focused on Jack Torrance- a good but extremely flawed man who was tempted by and ultimately succumbed to demons- his and The Overlook's.  What I wanted to see from Doctor Sleep was Danny Torrance- now grown and wrestling with his own demons.

Would he suffer the same fate as Jack Torrance?
Would his alcoholism and inability to control his own life overtake him in such spectacular fashion?
And if so, would Danny be able to use The Shining to his aid... or would it only increase the wattage of the terror he could cause?

If you advertise that you've written a sequel to The Shining, this is what we expect.

BUT Doctor Sleep was about The Shining... and it wasn't at all.

It was about Danny Torrance- now grown into a broken, shell of a man... and it wasn't at all.

It was about The Shining- the special powers that were both terrific and horrific at once... and it wasn't at all.

It was about Danny, having outrun his demons before, now facing them once and for all... and it wasn't at all.

I'm going to assign to Doctor Sleep the same fate I dealt to the Halloween movie franchise. The original was a classic in a league of its own, while Halloween 2 was decent enough yet contained new information that actually made the original a little more frightening. And finally H20, released in the 90s, rounded out the story of the first two films to make it a nice, well-done trilogy. All of the other movies in between and after do not, in my mind nor in my wallet as a consumer, exist.

The Shining and the story of the Torrances will, in my my mind, just have to remain complete once The Overlook Hotel burned to the ground; and Doctor Sleep, I'm afraid, will just have to be shut and locked away in some shiny metal box in the deepest corners of my mind.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Verbal Hootenanny Returns

Sometimes life happens.

I love writing.

All types of writing. I get a kick out of short stories, novels (yes I've actually written one when I was younger and never pushed to have it published), screenplays, blogs- heck, I even enjoy writing tweets and facebook status updates.

There is just something about the act of creating coupled with the diligent sound of fingers flying rapidly and purposefully across a MacBook keyboard... A sound of progress, of successfully expressing myself and saying what needs to be said.

So when I look back through NVH and discover my last post was almost a year ago, I feel I've let myself and others down.

Don't get me wrong... I haven't stopped writing. Or acting. I've been keeping myself very busy with projects (webseries, tv shows, short films, feature ideas) and so on. As a matter of fact, 2013 was a breakthrough year for me on the writing front: I was both an actor and writer in a very successful live sketch comedy show. After years of trying to understand the sketch comedy beast, I finally conquered a personal white whale and had a number of my sketches included- both of which were as well-received as I could have hoped them to be.

There's nothing like the sound of people intentionally laughing at something you've written.

2013 also saw me take on a few projects that did not go over as well as planned.

In the early part of the year I was invited by a good friend of mine to join him as a writer on a developing online news site. While this style of writing was never really on my radar, I was offered the opportunity to cover the world of Entertainment (read: film reviews and Hollywood news).  Since this fit so comfortably in my wheelhouse, I said "what the heck" and went with the flow.  For a while, this "job" offered both creative release and the promise of professional advancement.  After 4 months, however, doubt began to creep in about the site's ability to actually advance me in any way, shape or form. Over the next 2 months, most of the staff was gone- fed up by the board's failure to follow through on their word.  I followed soon after.  While you may be thinking "sounds to me like it was all about the money for you, Nate" you would be wrong. The issue became about trust. When a group shows little interest in keeping up their end of a bargain, I no longer feel comfortable in sharing my work with them. It is as simple as that.

I also had the privilege of being a part of an online podcast in 2013. Radio has always been a love of mine. When I was 12, I used to use a karaoke machine someone had bought me for Christmas to record my own radio shows. In college, I worked for the LSU radio station (91.1 fm KLSU)- starting as but a lowly news reporter and eventually earning my own on-air talk show.  While this podcast had the makings of something big... it taught me a valuable lesson: people, no matter how close you may be to them, will never change. And those who don't recognize their character flaws are, like history, doomed to continue to repeat their patterns.  Sadly, after 10 good months, this podcast that I had grown to love and care about was brought to a mutually agreed-upon close.

As you can see, life does indeed happen- and that, dear listeners, explains my absence from Nate's Verbal Hootenanny.

But fear not, much like the fabled Stella, I too will get my groove back.

NVH has returned for 2014 and promises to bring resurrect this fiery ol' ho-down of ramblings to your screen.

So sit back and let the Hootenanny begin!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Corner Store

I'm going to try to not complicate this story too much.

It's actually a pretty simple one- one that I don't even really know why I feel the need to share.  But here I am nonetheless.

There is a small convenience store on Melrose Avenue, around the corner from my place.  Melrose Avenue has no shortage of convenience stores, especially in the one-mile stretch between Fairfax Ave and La Brea (Blvd/St/Ave/whatever) where I live.  It sits directly across from Fairfax High School and is somewhat cleverly named "Detention Cafe."

The design is borderline eye-catching and unsettlingly tacky, especially considering it is stuck between a more mildly designed coffee shop and a graffiti-spackled hipster shoe store.  It appears to me to be aimed at catching the attention of the hyperactive, hormone-riddled teenagers from across the street before school, after school, on their lunch breaks and any other possible free moment.  Wise, I always think.  After all, when I was in high school we used to demand my mom or one of the other carpool moms stop at the convenience store on the way home from school so we could grab some chips and a coke (in the South, we don't say "soda" or the obnoxious "pop"... we just call everything coke).  So I get why a business owner would want to target a school-full of endlessly hungry students.

However, during the summer and on holidays and after 6 pm any day of the week, Detention Cafe always seemed to be a ghost town.  I would often drive by on my way to or from home and notice the proprietor standing outside, hands on hips, looking down Melrose from side-to-side... as if to see where all the people went.  One night on a late-night snack run with a friend, I passed Detention Cafe on the way to the gas station a few blocks west.  There, in front of the store, was the owner.  He eagerly made eye-contact with us in the hopes we would be his final customers before closing up shop.  Not realizing that, I continued on to the gas station where I purchased my chips and a soda.  On my way back home, I passed Detention again as this nice man was closing up his shop.  In one moment I watched him glance at my snacks and then ever-so-briefly back up to me where I swear I noticed disappointment creep across his face.  Disappointment that, despite making the most genuine of eye contact with me, I had passed his store over for the corporate giant down the road.

It was then and there, in that very moment, that I decided I would change.  Always being one to root for the underdog, I resolved to direct my snack runs to Detention Cafe and Detention Cafe only.  Why not?  I would be contributing to one man's American dream, acquiring my snacks and actually saving some money all at the same time... so everyone wins!

And so I did.  I made numerous runs whenever my snack cravings got the better of me.  There were even a few times when I did not even really want anything, but I was bored and I decided "Ah what the hell...go to Detention."

I felt like a saint.  Every time I walked into the store, the man's eyes lit up and he welcomed me with a very sincere "Hello, how are you today sir?"  Upon check-out, I was always met with a "Will there be anything else for you?" followed by a kindly "Have a wonderful day!" It almost made me want to dance home.  Here I was, doing good for my fellow man, one bag of Doritos at a time.  We had ourselves a nice little rapport going on.


One day.  Picture it: summer, 2012.   A long hot stretch of weather had borne down upon us for the better part of a month and some writing assignments had occupied most of my day.  Having consumed a small lunch and finding myself with mid-afternoon hunger pangs, I made a quick run to Detention Cafe.  My mind was elsewhere...  most likely on the myriad of projects waiting for me back home.

I walked in and was immediately bombarded.  The man, who was of some Asian descent (is it racist to guess it was Pakistani even though I have no reason to point to that particular ethnicity?), raced from behind his counter at the back of the store.

"Oh hello sir!  How are you today?"
"Fine thank you.  How are you?"
"Oh I'm great! Thank you.  What can I do for you today?"
"I'm just grabbing a bag of chips."
"Great!  You know we have sodas on sale for $1.00 today."
"Oh no thanks, just chips today."
"But they're so cheap!"
"That's a great deal, but I'm not really looking to buy one."
"Oh but you should take advantage of it.  It won't be like this everyday."
"Well thank you, but no thanks."
"How about some ice cream? We have 5 different flavors today, 2 scoops for $1.50!"
"No thank you, just grabbing some chips."
(hastily grabbing the nearest bag now to avoid any further pitches from this nice but perhaps overly-eager man)
"It's so hot out there though!"
"Yes it is, but I'm just looking for some chips."
(tossing the bag of chips on to the counter and reaching for my wallet)
"Did you see our candy case?  The candy bars are all just 75 cents today.  Would you be interested in a couple?"
"No thank you."
(He takes a deep breath and sulks behind the counter to ring my chips up.  The transaction takes place in an awkward silence. I turn to leave, then...)
"I tell you what, I give you 2 sodas for $1.00!  You can't beat that anywhere these days!"
(Turning around, maybe too quickly to be perceived as not annoyed, I said:)
"I'm sorry, but no.  I'm happy with these chips.  Thank you but there won't be anything else."

You would have thought I'd punched him in the stomach.  He swallowed, his usually bright smile completely vanished from his visage, and he weakly managed:

"Have a nice day."

I walked out as quickly as I could.  As you can imagine, the thought of returning to Detention Cafe was a very awkward one.  How could I?  I didn't want to be harassed every time I went into his store.  Why would someone pester a customer who was already IN the store so much about buying goods he had no desire to purchase?  This is a convenience store, not a car lot.

On the one hand, I felt bad.  This damn economy is bad enough, I can only imagine running a small convenience store on Melrose Avenue surrounded by corporate and other more advantageously-located competition.  And in the summer, when all but a few of your main customer base are gone...  However, I felt strange enough to not go back.  Months went by, school came back into session, and I got to the point where I no longer felt the need to walk on the other side of the avenue when heading past Detention Cafe to the gas station a few blocks west.

Fast forward: today, Februrary 13, 2012.  Another busy day.  Fueled by coffee since 9 am, I had spent all day in front of my computer doing a number of tasks, then spent 5 hours preparing my taxes.  Bleary eyed and knowing that, despite my immense hunger, I would need to head to the gym at some point soon, I made the decision to go on a snack run.  Not having the motivation to walk the extra 3 blocks to the gas station, I took a chance: to hell with the past, let's give Detention Cafe another chance.

As I walked up to the neon pink and orange storefront, I saw a number of people inside.  Not just high schoolers (though there were a few) but a couple of adults too.  Additionally, I saw that there had been some changes inside.  I would not venture so far as to call them "renovations" but the term "upgrade" certainly felt appropriate.  It seemed Detention Cafe was doing well!  In that moment, my apprehension alleviated and I confidently chose my soda and chips.

Walking up to the counter, I noticed it was not the pleasant yet somewhat desperate owner that I was accustomed to seeing behind the counter.  Instead, it was a middle-aged woman, also of some Middle-Eastern descent.  She smiled pleasantly, asked me about my day, if I was staying warm in the February chill and politely gave me my soda, chips and change.

My smile faded when it hit me.  The man no longer owns Detention Cafe.

He had to sell, or some such similar sad event.  My mind's eye recalled memories of the man with his honest, only-trying-to-run-a-simple-store look and genuine happiness when you chose his humble store over all the others.  I remembered the sight of him out front, alone, hands on his hips, waiting for a customer.  I remember the look of disappointment when I walked past him with snacks from somewhere else.  And I felt responsible.  Not guilty, but that perhaps I could have helped.  Perhaps my purchasing a soda (or even 2 for $1.00) that day might have given him an extra bit of confidence to continue on in his pursuit of his dream.  Boy, did I feel like a shit.  It was all my fault.  All I had to do was buy one coke and I could have saved this man from...

"Honey, have you seen that crate of Dr. Pepper?"

Suddenly, The Man poked his head from the store room in the back and called to the woman behind the counter.  It was him!  He was still here!!!  He hadn't sold! He hadn't quit!  He was here!  He WAS doing well!

"Oh hello!"  He smiled and waved at me, once again the genuine happiness flushed right back into his face.  "Long time, no see!"

"Hi there!"  I practically sang back at him.  "Yes, I'm sorry.  It's been a while."

He smiled.  I smiled.  His wife smiled.

"No problem.  Good to see you!"

"You too.  Have a nice night!"

I turned and practically skipped out the door.  I reached the door frame just in time to hear:

"We're going to start making sandwiches next month!  Come have lunch with us!"

I stopped, laughed to myself, smiled at them both and said:

"You got it."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Hootenanny Best Halloween Movies, Part 2

Greetings ghoulies

The 2012 Nate's Verbal Hootenanny Countdown comes to its frightening end with Part 2 of the Best Halloween Movies!

A Quick Review of #'s 7-4 posted yesterday 10/30:

#7.  Carrie
#6.  The Fog
#5.  The Shining
#4.  The Exorcist

Before we move on to the Best 3 Halloween Films of all time, here are some Hootenanny Honorable Mentions:

DRACULA: "Children of the night, what music they make..."  A classic film.  The ultimate vampire tale.  Still yet to be matched.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: "They're coming to get you, Barbara" Yes they are.  Oops... and there goes my bladder.

ERNEST SCARED STUPID: Dumb, campy, yet somehow fun.  Actually- this is only on the countdown because Adam D. Wilson said it had to be.  ;-)

GARFIELD'S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE: Garfield, Odie and Lou Rawls music.  Wait, what?  Yep- you read that right.  Good clean 80s Garfield Halloween hijinx with a Lou Rawls soundtrack... what more could you possibly want?

INSIDIOUS: This is the last movie in the theaters to make me scream.  Despite some cheesy effects toward the end, this movie is one damn good scare.  Kudos to Lynn Shaye- an actress I normally associated with comedy (The Farrelly Brothers movies specifically) proving she's got some serious chops.  

Now without further delay... 
The Top 3 films to really get you in the Halloween mood:


Ok, some of you may hate me for this.

But open your minds...  this is the very definition of Halloween films.  Witches, magic, danger, zombies, curses, spells, and virgins lighting magical Black Flame candles!  Just doing my part to remind you that the Halloween mood doesn't always have to be scary and creepy... it can be funny and campy.

As far as quality of film goes, this is NOWHERE close to the other films on my countdown but I defy you to watch this movie and not be ready to go out trick-or-treating.  It's impossible.  And come on... Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy casting a spell on a ballroom full of people by singing "I Put A Spell On You" is classic!

Anyone else wonder how the Sanderson Sisters, having been dead for 300 years right down to the day, knew the lyrics and melody to "I Put A Spell On You" without even a single rehearsal? I mean, I know they're witches, but come on...!

Sit back, watch and have fun with Hocus Pocus... it'll give you a break from the terror that's about to ensue...


While Hocus Pocus may excited you about going out for tricks-or-treats, this next flick may give you pause...

Many of you have probably never seen this film.  And that's a shame.

If there ever was a love letter to everything that is Halloween, it is Trick 'r Treat. Starring Anna Paquin, Bryan Cox and Dylan Baker, TrT is a film that weaves 4 different stories together over the course of one Halloween night in a small nameless town.  Part dark comedy, part thriller, part true horror film writer/director Michael Dougherty touches all the truly Halloween elements: serial killers, ghosts, monsters, werewolves- and even manages to create a few new ones.

I discovered Trick 'r Treat 3 years ago and have made it a point to watch in preparation for every Halloween.  Truly a hidden gem of cinema, I was saddened to hear that politics and typical industry BS kept this film from being the massive Warner Bros. release it was originally intended to be... however, its anonymity makes this film feel even more special.  

So do yourself a favor... before this day is over, go to Netflix and discover this movie.  It will undoubtedly make you just a little bit more afraid of going trick-or-treating.  And what fun is going out in costumes looking for candy without some small hint of danger...?


You all knew this was coming, right?

Well you were right.  But honestly... can anyone think of a movie that defined this holiday more than John Carpenter's 1978 masterwork?  Here's a little SAT work for ya: Halloween is to Halloween as It's a Wonderful Life is to Christmas.

The above image is exactly what pops into my head when I think of Halloween the season.  Carpenter created a very simple tale: disturbed young man escapes from mental hospital and murders young kids.  It's an urban legend we've heard since we were kids.  What Carpenter did was make it both real and more complex:  instead of it being just some mental patient, Michael Myers is a purely evil lunatic who murdered before he was old enough to even stay home by himself.  Myers is so evil that the doctor who was supposed to treat him instead spent 8 out of 15 years trying to KEEP him locked up and when he escaped, ol' Dr. Loomis went out, bought a gun and decided to personally hunt him down.  Oh and by the way... no matter how many times you stab or shoot him, he doesn't stay down.

"I met him fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding of even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six year old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes, the Devil's eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply... evil."

What makes Halloween so successful is that, despite how superhumanly evil and strong Myers is, it all seems plausible. We see that "The Shape" as he is mostly referred to, is a stalker.  He drives by the unsuspecting female leads, parks outside their classroom windows, follows them on their walk home and hides behind bushes.  What really gets me is when poor Laurie Strode looks down from her room, she sees the ghostly figure standing in her hanging laundry outside, staring right up at her.  

Because there is really no scenario presented to us that couldn't actually happen (until late in the film), we immediately put ourselves in Laurie's place.  We suddenly begin to relate to her predicament:  ok, so there's a guy following me, my friends suddenly aren't anywhere to be found, even though they're supposed to be right across the street, maybe I should go check things out just to be safe, hm this house is empty and dark and much more quiet than it's supposed to be, and oh wait... what's that on the bed in there...?

Shit, meet fan.  

I was born after the release of Halloween and since 1978 many movies have tried to copy or put their own spin on the tale John Carpenter told here.  Some have succeeded, most have failed.  What makes Halloween such an awesome seasonal film besides bearing its name is that it reminds us that there is sometimes, quite simply real evil out there.  That sounds depressing.  But maybe the best way to deal with that is by giving ourselves an outlet to release all the anxiety and fear that comes with such a truth. We watch scary movies and dress in scary costumes and walk down dark streets knocking on strangers homes so that we don't REALLY have to worry about bad people and things they do.  

So, let loose, get frightened, pee your pants a little... after all:
"It's Halloween.  Everyone's entitled to one good scare."  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Hootenanny Best Halloween Movies, Part 1

In case you couldn't tell over the last 30 days, I'm a horror movie fan.  

A movie doesn't even need to scare me (as that is actually pretty hard to do after having been introduced to horror movies as a young kid)- if the mood and atmosphere is just right, you will hook me.

If the tension is real and well-earned, you'll make me sweat.

If I feel that the filmmaker is willing to break away from typical horror conventions and- say- kill off a major character or tell us a story in a new and inventive way, chances are I'll become a huge fan.

Now, Halloween is also one of my favorite times of year.  It's a chance to get lost in my imagination a little.  As the weather changes and a new time of year arrives, Halloween season allows me to feel like something spooky awaits my future.  And to celebrate, I spend my time listening to spooky music/classic horror film soundtracks, and watching scary flicks.

To share with you some of the joy I get from this tenth month of the year, I have created a short list of what I consider to be the Best Halloween Films of All Time.  I have based this list off of movies that really put me in the mood to get dressed up, to get spooked, to feel like I'm being watched and that I may be in imminent danger.  Now- bear in mind- this is NOT a "Best Horror Film" of all time list but rather a list of movies that you can turn off all the lights, watch and really get excited about (or dread) the Halloween season.

So, here we go:


Ok, so that's NOT Sissy Spacek.
But I am happy to say that the only time I have voluntarily dressed like a woman in public is for this enormously successful Halloween costume of 2011.

Carrie is one of those masterpieces of cinema that was adapted from a literary masterpiece that they managed not to mess up.  Not only did DePalma manage to perfectly transfer a Stephen King story to the screen (which, as we've seen many times unfortunately, is not easy), his technique and masterful creation of atmosphere made him a pioneer of a new way of scaring us on-screen.  

What also makes Carrie a gem is that it not only functions as a horror movie but also a tragedy.  From the very opening shot, our heart goes out to Carrie White.  We feel for her.  We love her.  And yet, we know what's coming and we root for her to win.  The moment Carrie's and Tommy Ross's names are called at The Prom and DePalma slows everything down backed by that beautiful Pino Dinaggio score, we are happy for Carrie!  She finally got what she always wanted...

and yet, we know it's not going to last.  And when that bucket of pig's blood comes down, our heart sinks for 2 reasons:  1) we know that that is it for Carrie's happiness.  That one sad, brief moment... but then 2) we know that now they've gone too far.  We know what she's capable of and that everyone surrounding Carrie in that instant is truly, unavoidably fucked.

And that's when shit gets real.


Do yourself a favor:  turn out the lights, cover yourself with a blanket, cuddle up with someone and let John Carpenter, the master of creating the spookiest atmospheres in cinema history, take you on a journey to Antonio Bay- a seaside town in Northern California that has no idea what's about to hit them.

The Fog is a revenge tale.  And it's not the scariest film of all time.  Not even close I don't think.  What it IS is a classic ghost story with a Carpenter twist.  If you loved listening to ghost stories growing up, you will love this movie.


If this picture ALONE isn't enough to make you shit your pants, then you obviously haven't seen the movie.

While Stanley Kubrick may not have had Stephen King's blessing to use King's story but not really... what Kubrick did create was a legendary film that is every bit as good as King's novel but for completely different reasons.

Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and gifted son Danny get a bit more than they bargained for when Jack accepts the job as the off-season caretaker of the secluded Overlook Hotel.  It's the perfect setup for a horror story:  an isolated family with a past, danger lurking in every cranny of the hotel, a son with a gift that he doesn't know how to control and a father who just has way too many skeletons in his closet to withstand the forces that run the Overlook during the winter months.  

One of the scariest scenes of all-time lies within this film- a bathroom encounter between Jack Torrance and Delbert Grady, the last doomed caretaker of the Overlook.  There's really nothing to be scared of because it's just a conversation that's only really happening in Jack's head, right? RIGHT?

Well, not really.


To be honest with you, the first time I saw this film and they flashed the face of Pazuzu on the screen- I literally jumped up and ran around the block.  Quite possibly the scariest moment I can ever remember enduring in cinema, seeing the demon that inhabits little Reagan McNeill was very truthfully a blood-chilling moment.

Much like Carrie, The Exorcist works so well as a horror film because it's not simply a horror film.  The first half of the film is so effective at making us sympathize with the McNeill family and with Reagan's inexplicable change of behavior that by the time it is explained as possession- we completely buy it.  The second half of the film then proceeds to just genuinely scare the bejesus out of us.  


Because director William Friedkin doesn't treat us like idiots.  Everything feels real, everything feels genuine.  There's no sudden swelling of music, no cheap scares, no main characters falling down while trying to escape or making bad decisions to go back in the house even though they've made it safely out.  All we're left with is a small group of people who have no choice but to try and save this poor girl- even though only one of them, the old and in poor health Fr. Merrin, has enough faith to try what needs to be done.  

One of the highlights of my life as an actor was the time I got to be directed by Friedkin on CSI.  He was completely off-his-rocker and wacky, but his philosophy seemed to be very simple:

just tell the story.

And, boy, is The Exorcist a scary story?  

Stay tuned tomorrow, kiddies, as the Hootenanny reveals its Top 3 Halloween Movies of all Time.  


Friday, October 26, 2012

Conversations With the Misinformed

Nate's Verbal Hootenanny is taking a moment to pause from its regularly scheduled Hootenanny Halloween Countdown to discuss a very important issue...

Election 2012.

For any of you who have followed my blog for a while, you know my political backstory.  In short, I was raised and educated Catholic, followed my mother into a non-denominational Christian faith, voted Republican and did all the things a good Southern boy is supposed to do.  Then I moved away.  And Hurricane Katrina happened.  And the combination of these events began to shape my world view in such a way that I began to swear allegiance to neither the Republican nor the Democratic party.  In 2008, I broke away from my family politically and voted for Barack Obama.  

Now the next Presidential Election is here and it is time once again to decide who is going to get my vote.

It all began with the Republican primary in 2012.  Though we'd gotten a glimpse of Mitt Romney in 2008, he always looked like an amateur next to John McCain.  This time around everyone agreed Mitt was the Man To Beat.  And he came out swinging.  Mitt was the frontrunner from the word "Go."  

But something funny happened on the way to Tampa...

Suddenly, Michelle Bachman started getting a lot of attention.  Then Rick Perry jumped ahead of Mitt in the polls.  Campaign Romney shook off the dust and re-gained ground... only to have Herman Cain (HERMAN CAIN everyone) overtake him.  It wasn't until people found out Herman Cain has had about 78 mistresses over the course of the last 3 years that Romney came back.  Then came Newt Gringrich- think about that.  And just when you thought Romney had finished off all his challengers, Rick Santorum- the most ridiculously close-minded and unpresidential candidate in my lifetime (can you imagine him trying to stand up to China???) began to give Mitt his toughest test.  Finally, when the dust settled, Mitt Romney got the nomination after all.  Whew...

Now came the tough part:  what the hell does Mitt Romney stand for?  The next few months were spent revealing that Mitt Romney:

1) is a constant flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected.  Let's not be naive- all politicians are.  Obama flip-flops.  He's had to eat plenty of crow.  But Mitt Romney has mastered the art of completely ignoring quotes he's actually made in the past and just saying "That's not true, I did not say that" even when it is being quoted directly to him. 

2) is medieval when it comes to social issues.  He's got "binders full of women" to appoint to his cabinet... because he wouldn't ever appoint any of the women he personally or professionally knows because, well, he doesn't know any.  And don't even start on issues of civil rights for gay people.

3) has no specific tax plan.  Oh wait... I stand corrected Mitt Romney spent the better part of July and August talking about a $5 Trillion Dollar Tax Cut, only to completely deny it in every single debate with Barack Obama.  He used the phrase "cut spending" (a Republican buzz word which is actually a good policy), only any idiot will tell you cutting spending does not increase revenue.  It only frees up the current revenue you have.  And when one finds himself in debt, the only way to climb out of debt is to cut spending AND increase revenue.  And tell us Mr. Romney, how do you plan to increase revenue?  By cutting taxes for the middle class AND the wealthy? Hm.... that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  #Arithmetic

4) believes that 47% of the country's population is lazy and doesn't want to work for a living.  Remember this factoid for later.

5) has no foreign policy. To have this confirmed, watch the 3rd Debate in which Mitt Romney agreed with everything Barack Obama has done in office and proposed no new ideas.  

And yet, here I was, back home in Louisiana not even a week ago and was completely surrounded by people who were voting for Mitt Romney.  Not only were they loud and proud about it, but they tried to challenge me on WHY ON EARTH would I vote for Obama?!?!?

It went a little bit like this:

Mom: "How could you vote for that lying ass Barack Obama?"  
Me: "How could you vote for that lying ass Mitt Romney?"
Mom: "Nate, just look at the economy!!!!"
Me: "Oh you mean the one that Republican policies helped to drive us into?  Ok.  What does Mitt Romney plan to do to get us out?"
Mom: "Um..."
Me: "Oh and by the way, did you know that unemployment in September was the lowest it's been in 3 1/2 years and consumer spending was almost double what economists thought it would be? Hm."


Nanna: "How could you vote for Barack Obama? He wasn't even born in this country!"
Me: "Oh Jesus."
Nanna: "Well he wouldn't show his birth certificate!"
Me: "I guess Fox News didn't ever show the birth certificate that Obama released did they?"
Nanna: "Well what took him so long?!?!"
Me: "Funny, I wonder the same thing about Mitt Romney and his tax returns...."


Stepfather:  "How could you vote for that man? He's not a Christian!"
Me: "Yes he is actually."
Stepfather: "Oh bullshit."
Me: "By the way, Mitt Romney is a Mormon."
Stepfather: "....."
Me: "And Paul Ryan is Catholic" (My stepfather believes Catholics are not Christian, btw)
Stepfather: "Well tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that proves he's a Christian."
Me: "I don't know the man personally, but eliminating pre-existing conditions so that everyone has a shot at healthcare seems like a good start."
Stepfather: "That's Socialism."
Me: "Nice retort, O'Reilly.  And by the way, did you know that certain sects of Mitt Romney's religion believe in polygamy and the entire church believes a man found golden tablets from God in Upstate New York in the late 1800s, that the church didn't allow black people to participate until 1978 when "God suddenly changed his mind" and that when you die you all get your own special planet?


Elderly Family Member: "Romney was right about the 47%.  There are that many lazy people in this country?"
Me: "Do I work?"
EFM: "Yes."
Me: "Did you work before you retired?"
EFM: "Yes."
Me: "How's that Social Security working out for you by the way?  Anyway, (off-screen to mom) Hey mom! Do you work?"
Mom (off-screen): "Yes. Why?"
Me: (to EFM) "So that's 3 people right there.  If Romney was right in his statement, then between the 3 of us, at least one of us would have to be completely living off of unearned government benefits believing that they are the victims of an unjust society in which they don't have a fair chance.  And since none of us believes that, I guess that wasn't so right.  Oh and by the way."


Friend of the family: "Being gay is wrong and our government shouldn't support it."
Me: "Old Testament?"
FoF: "Yep."
Me: "Tell me- has your son ever disobeyed your husband?"
FoF: "All the time."
Me: "So why hasn't your husband taken your son to the city limits and stoned him to death?  That's in Deuteronomy. Also the Old Testament in case you forgot."
FoF:  "Well it says it in the New Testament too!"
Me: "Did Jesus say that?"
FoF: "No."
Me: "What was Jesus's only real commandment?"
FoF: "Love each other."
Me: "Next."
FoF: "So you're saying as long as you don't hurt someone you can love whoever you want?  So if I go out and cheat on my husband, it's ok as long as I love that other person?"
Me: "Tell ya what, go cheat on your husband and we'll ask him which hurts worse: that there are gay people on this planet or that you banged someone else."

I've tried not to get too political this season.  After the Peanut Gallery of the Republican primary ended and the only viable candidate in my opinion (Ron Paul, and even he has some truly frightening ideas) was ousted, I knew I would be voting for Barack Obama.  I also know that arguing politics with people in any forum is dangerous.


Because emotions are involved.  And they should be.  Where it gets dangerous is when emotions rule the decision-making.  The 4 examples I provided above are ACTUAL conversations I had just last week.  And in all 4 cases, the subjects were not aware that voting should be an informed, intellectual exercise.  It should not be made from our hearts first.  Our heart should support the decision our brains make.  And furthermore, because we don't live under the Ayatollah, faith should not be the ONLY thing that informs our decision.  Neither should abortion.  Or sexual identity.  Or the economy.  Or foreign policy.  Or any one issue.  

In our two party system, one will be hard-pressed to find a candidate with whom one agrees about everything.  Lord knows, there are PLENTY of issues that President Obama and I do not agree upon.  And I think if some of my family and friends could get their heads out of Fox News's ass long enough, they would find they actually agree with the President on 1 or 2 things (foreign policy for example?) .  

I wish it was not like this.  I wish we had more than 2 choices.  I wish every election did not come down to the lesser of 2 evils.  I wish we'd been able to hear from the likes of Gary Johnson, and- hell- even Roseanne Barr for that matter.  This is why I'm registered Independent and why I think more of you should register as such.  However, until some radical advocate sparks change, the trick to making the wisest decision for any political office in this 2-party climate is finding the candidate with whom one has the most in common.  

For me, that never was nor never will be Mitt Romney.  I hope he has a long wonderful happy life.  I hope he reads this and knows I would never try to undermine his happiness because of my religious beliefs.  Because even though he has openly said he would do that to me, I can get even with him in a very non-violent and peaceful way:

he will never get my vote.