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:

#3.  HOCUS POCUS


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...

#2.  TRICK 'R TREAT



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...?


1.  HALLOWEEN


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:

#7.  CARRIE



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.

6.  THE FOG


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.

5.  THE SHINING


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.

4.  THE EXORCIST


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.  

How?  

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?  
Absolutely.

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

xo,
~Nate

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."

or 

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...."

or 

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?

or

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."

or

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.

Why?

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.

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: Rosemary's Baby

There's an old saying that can be applied to many things:
If you look around you and you can't figure out who the crazy one is, it's you.

That's a frightening prospect.

But what terrifies me more is the idea that maybe you're NOT the crazy one, after all.  Because what that means is that you are, indeed, surrounded by crazy people.

This is exactly the dilemma faced by young Rosemary Woodhouse in the classic Polanski thriller Rosemary's Baby.  Young, sweet, innocent, Rosemary moves with her new husband- Guy- into a beautiful old building in Manhattan.  They soon become bosom buddies with the old couple who lives next door...

and strange events follow.

Nightmares of being impregnated by demons, strange sounds, death and discoveries of former tenants who may have learned a little too much about Minnie and Roman Castevet from down the hall begin to plague Rosie and turn what should be the joyous news of her first pregnancy into a paranoid torment.  As Rosemary's baby grows, so does her suspicion and she begins to believe Minnie, Roman and their cadre of strange elderly friends have plans for her unborn baby.

And what's worse... everyone seems to be in on it.  Her husband, her doctor, anyone and everyone!  Except her friend Hutch of course... oh wait, yeah he's dead.

What to do? What to do?

Well, you'll just have to watch.  Polanski creates a world that is oppressive and claustrophobic in a surreal, occult-ish sort of way.  The beautiful apartment they inhabit becomes increasingly dark and gruesome as Rosemary's suspicion increases.  But the suspense is drawn mostly from not knowing what the hell is actually going on!  We are naturally inclined to side with our sweet protagonist Rosemary, and yet we don't know what to believe.  After all, when you look around the room...

This is a moody, suspenseful classic and is perfect to get you in the mood for the Halloween season.  And that final scene is quite possibly the most quietly terrifying scene in history.

"He has his father's eyes."

Watch... if you dare!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: SCREAM

"What's your name?"
"Why do you want to know my name?"
"Because I wanna know who I'm looking at."


And with that, a 13 year old Nate Frizzell wet his pants in a crowded theater.

If you were born in the 80s, chances are the original Scream scared the bejesus out of you in the theaters.

Still one of the finest opening scenes in any movie ever, the original Scream did for answering phones what Psycho did for taking showers.  Before the series became all about "meta humor" and self-referential quips with predictable slasher-film conventions, the original Scream had one goal:

to scare you.

Watching Drew Barrymore, home alone out in the middle of nowhere, as she is terrorized by some psycho on a telephone was a great way to start off.

SPOILER ALERT (though if you haven't seen the original Scream 16 years later, I have no pity for you):

I mean, who would have thought they would kill off Drew Barrymore???  I certainly didn't... which was why it was genius!  The entire opening sequence had me thinking to myself "It's going to be alright, it's going to be alright, it's going to be..." SLASH.  Nope.

The movie continues on without its biggest star to become a who-dunit meets slasher classic.  Bunch of hip teens not taking a series of grisly murders seriously enough and paying the price, while the sensitive heroine with a past lives the nightmare of being the obviously next target while no one around her either cares or believes her for some inexplicable reason until the very end when it's pretty much already too late.

Scream could have continued on in a very cliche way, except it didn't.  The ending and revelation of who the Bad Guy(s) was/were took everyone by surprise.  Stu and Billy Loomis?  The goofy friend and the boyfriend?  And why?  Because one of them was mad that the lead's mom caused his parents divorce?  Meh.  Yet it was the inspiration for the motive that set Scream's ending apart.  That, of course, being that the boys intended on blaming horror films and action films and thrillers for their mental state.  Too much intake from violent influences. It was laughable in one sense, but then when you really got right down to it: was it?

Take, for example, the recent tragedy involving the theater shootings in Colorado: the shooter was dressed like "The Joker."  Apparently, writer Kevin Williamson had a glimpse into the future and saw that some people can be perhaps a bit too heavily influenced by the movies.

Aside from being a cool scary movie, Scream re-defined a genre.  Its influence can still be seen today in pretty much any horror movie that comes out, especially in any type of slasher film.

So if you're looking for a film to make you feel a little less safe the next time your phone rings while you're home alone, seek no further than Wes Craven's original Scream.




What's your favorite scary movie?
~The Hootenanny

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: Joy Ride

"You know, Black Sheep, you really ought to get that fixed."
"Get what fixed?"
"Your taillight."




We've all done dumb shit.  Let's be honest.  And many of us have gotten away with it.  Some of us haven't.  But no matter whether you got away scott-free or had to sit in a corner, chances are you never had to deal with a creepy trucker named Rusty Nail voiced by the guy who played Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking... Paul Walker?  Leelee Sobieski?  Why on Earth...?!  But, Steve Zahn certainly makes up for both of his co-stars' lack of charisma with a multi-layered performance that skirts the edge of over-the-top without going over.

Aaaaand, Joy Ride is co-written and produced by JJ Abrams (pre-LOST and even pre-Alias) as well as directed by John Dahl (veteran director of Rounders and multiple episodes of True Blood, Dexter, Justified, Californication).  This movie has some heat behind it.

To me, this is further proof that good suspense and horror films are the ones in which the director is allowed to shine.  If you've ever taken a road trip that lasted a few days, you'd know that there are stretches of time during which you feel like you've left civilization.  And if you're anything like me, your imagination begins to run wild with thoughts like

What if I get lost out here?
What if I get stranded?
What if I encounter some crazy person/ crazy family?

Well, Joy Ride is a combination of those things.  The 3 leads find themselves the target of a crazy-ass trucker who was the butt of an innocent CB radio prank (God I used to love those things back in the day).  There are some genuinely tense moments here... as Rusty Nail seems to be somehow omnipotent- which is believable not because of anything extraordinary or supernatural, but because if you've ever been on a highway you know that trucks rule the road.  Piss a trucker off who spends the majority of his life staring at the road ahead with no one to talk to and there's hell to pay...

The pacing of the film, the lighting, Ted Levine's creepy voice... all these things add up and steamroll towards a really tense cliffhanger ending- with some humor thrown in along the way courtesy of Zahn.

You can't get away.
You can't drive fast enough.
No off-ramp is safe.

Joy Ride.

Dreadfully Yours,
~The Hootenanny




Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: The Lost Boys

I readily admit it: Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys is not really a Halloween movie.  Sure it deals with vampires... but to me it feels like more like a summer movie version of a Halloween flick.



That being said, there is some really fun stuff in this movie.  And by fun, I mean scary.  Take the opening for example: from our very first glimpse at Kiefer Sutherland we realize the dude's not right.  Granted, that's the impression we always got when we saw him in the 80s and 90s... and, well, ever since but he is particularly vicious-looking here.  He intentionally picks a fight with another nasty looking guy on the town's boardwalk and is stopped by a portly security guard who seems to have Sutherland's number.  

Wrong.

At that point we are introduced to post-Lucas Corey Haim, a debuting Jason Patric and a post-first Oscar Dianne Wiest: a single-parent family in search of a better life so they turn to sunny beachside community Santa Carla where they bunk with Wiest's eccentric father (Barnard Hughes).  

Beach during the day and party on the boardwalk at night... Jason Patric may have found his paradise.  Hell, his first rock concert on the beach includes a ridiculously buff guy with a slicked-back ponytail playing the saxophone!  It's every 80s-era rebel's dream, right?

Wrong again.

Soon Patric and Haim discover that all is not as it seems in the city of Santa Carla.  For Kiefer Sutherland and his band of merry blood-suckers (which includes "Bill S. Preston, Esquire" of Bill and Ted fame) draw a bead on Patric and are determined to initiate him.

The scariest stuff to me is the dilemma these young brothers are faced with: they've been forced to move to a town where there are some really bad things going down and none of the adults in town believe them (despite the insane amount of missing people in their small town).  What do you do?  Well, you have to take it upon yourself to fight back of course!  And who you gonna call?

The Frogg Brothers (Corey Feldman and some other dude).

In true 80s fashion, the final battle is epic... and full of booby traps.  A highly entertaining ending to a fun vampire romp.  

One of the final lines in TLB comes from grandpa- a man who just didn't seem to have all his marbles in place.  After he lends an unexpected hand, he momentarily leaves us wondering who the hell he really is... until he blankly says this:

"One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach... all the damn vampires."

It makes you want to simultaneously laugh and beat your head against the wall.  But it's all good fun... so put yourself in a blood sucking mood and enjoy some vampires- 80s style.

xxxx,
~The Hootenanny


Monday, October 8, 2012

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: Dawn Of The Dead

Ok, so neither incarnation of "Dawn of the Dead" is very scary.  Let's be honest.


However, when you talk about this post-apocalyptic zombie thriller there's one word that comes to mind: cool.

Whether you prefer George Romero's original treatise on American consumerism set against the backdrop of zombies attacking survivors in a mall or Zack Snyder's more action-packed remake, you're going to get a really unique film.

Romero expands the world of zombies that he originated in the classic Night of the Living Dead.  In that film, Romero used zombies to comment on racial attitudes in the US and in his follow-up, Dawn finds ol' George making a statement on out-of-control American consumerism.  Don't be fooled though... this 1978 film does not get bogged down in preachy sentiment.  Instead it's a thrilling and comedic ride that features monsters, blood and gore in what is most certainly a precursor to the hilarious Shawn of the Dead (but with more real tension).

Zack Snyder (of 300 and soon to be Man of Steel fame) put his name on the big-budget map by helming a remake of DotD that could have gone horribly wrong.  While the writing of the remake does not feature the deepest dialogue nor does it delve into the commentary that Romero did, Snyder showed a deft hand at both casting and tempo.  From the opening sequence featuring an exhausted Sarah Polley (who, to her credit, successfully avoids all blond horror leading lady stereotypes) returning home to her husband (Louis Ferreira, himself a veteran of the campy classic Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2) and getting a nasty surprise to the final thrilling escape attempt by the desperate survivors, Snyder crafts a witty, moody and tense film that begs the question:

What the hell do you do when you're one of the only ones left?

This has long been one of my favorite themes in storytelling.  Born during the 80s and therefore growing up during the Cold War and not long after in a post-911 world, the possibility of nuclear fallout has always been present during my lifetime.  Seeing some variation on that scenario played out in any media- cinema, tv or in novels- has always set my imagination going.  Would I survive? Would I be strong enough?  Would anyone who survived be able to piece together a civilization again?

And if not...  what do you go on living for?

Both Dawn of the Dead films provide a glimpse of this doomsday scenario but they leave the worrying to us... and it sticks with us long after we turn off the tv.

A clip from the original (which won't upload for some reason):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oykvs8ePij8&feature=endscreen

And from the remake:



(Kudos to Zack Snyder on bringing back Ken Foree to repeat an ultra-cool line that, in case you didn't realize the first time, means you're fucked.)

Rest in pieces,
The Hootenanny

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: Creepshow

The countdown resumes boys and ghouls...

Part of the fun of Halloween season is watching all the deliciously creepy flicks that seem to make their way into our dark, empty homes and keep us company whilst we sleep- alone, in the dark.

One of my favorites is the collection of short films, a collaboration of masters of terror Stephen King and George Romero called Creepshow.  This film is a chilling homage to horror comic books of the 1950s such as "Tales From The Crypt," "The Vault of Horror," "The Witching Hour," etc.

The Hootenanny Countdown Selection Committee has chosen the clip below to represent this fine film.  Starring Academy Award nominee Hal Holbrook and the legendary Adrienne Barbeau (who will no doubt have another entry in this year's Halloween countdown), it is the tale of an obnoxious, shrew of a wife who pushes her quite professor husband around and shrilly commands anyone she meets to "just call me Billie."  Ol' Hal just usually sits and daydreams of how to get rid of her but never actually believes he could...

that is, until, a colleague of his discovers an old crate hidden away in their university.

The following clip... may delight you.



That's what you get for messing with old mysterious crates that have chains on them.

Sleep tight kids!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hootenanny Halloween Countdown: Something Wicked This Way Comes...

Greetings my tasty ones...

Today marks the beginning of my favorite season of the year... Halloween!  That's right kiddies... I do not solely celebrate All Hallow's Eve but rather an entire season of macabre mayhem and spiritsssssssss.....

This year I have chosen to mark the Verbal Hootenanny's Countdown with some of my favorite quotes from some of the scariest tales told on the Silver Screen.

I hope you'll join me as I begin my journey into the depths of madness, courtesy of the Month of October.

Our first selection is from one of the earliest tales of magic and evil.  Of witches and madness.  Of ghosts and curses.   A story of a man who learns what COULD BE and, with the help of his serpentine wife, begins to make it so... however, as these stories often go, all is not what it seems:  Fair is foul and foul is fair.

Our first quote of the season comes from Act IV, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's Macbeth.  Hovering above a boiling cauldron, the 3 Witches who have helped shape Macbeth's fate chant a spell to summon the future...

First Witch
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

Second Witch
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Third Witch
Harpier cries 'Tis time, 'tis time.

First Witch
Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison'd entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.
ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Third Witch
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Silver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
ALL
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Second Witch
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Enter HECATE to the other three Witches
HECATE
O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i' the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.

HECATE retires
Second Witch

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!

Enter MACBETH.

Shakespeare kicked ass, didn't he?

Such spooky writing and yet so pretty at the same time...  hope it helps get you in the mood.

Stay tuned Hootenanny-ers... Halloween doth come!






Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Actor Chronicles

Today I drove 35 minutes both ways to go to a commercial audition where I was paired up with an actor who just wanted to talk to other actors in the waiting room and then the only direction in the room was:

"Do a bro-handshake that goes wrong."

Yup.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tough. Mudder.

The first thing I saw was the video.  A friend announced on Facebook that he was competing in a thing called "Tough Mudder."

I come from athletic stock.  I come from competitive stock.  My father played college football under a legendary coach, Charles McClendon, and my mom was a college cheerleader and is a state-champion tennis player.  I've played sports since I was 6.

When you watch the video for the first time, your first thought is "What the hell IS this?"  Tough Mudder appears to be some cracked-out, Kubrick version of a military boot camp.  Training camp on 'roids. Or meth.  But, honestly, that is what makes it intriguing.  It is defined as a 10-12 mile obstacle course in the mud with a course designed by British special forces.  Even that definition does not do it justice.

For days after first witnessing the online presence of "Tough Mudder" , I asked myself "Is this something I can do?" "Is this something I want to subject myself to?"  I've never been much of a masochist (believe it or not), but there was something compelling me to challenge myself, to push myself further than I had up to that point.  I began searching for dates and locations of the next Tough Mudder competition... and then my eyes came upon it.

July 7th, 2012.

My birthday.  A milestone birthday in my life.  What?  Well, it's none of your damn business WHICH birthday it is, thank you very much.  Just know it was a big un.  And that sealed the deal... this is how I was going to turn ____.

I began training in April.  Cardio, weights, cycling.  I've always been athletic but my disdain for the gym has kept me from being ripped in any way, shape or form.  I varied my training... pushing myself to do Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles as hard and as many times as I could so I could get used to uphill and downhill running.  I hurt my both my knees and thought I tore something in my ankle during this training.  Not used to injury, this sort of thing threw me for a loop.  But I overcame it all, and on July 7th, 2012... my friends Todd Milliner, Will Hackner, Will Sherrod, Nick Peet and I arrived at the Snow Valley Resort in Big Bear, CA ready to take on this Tough Mudder beast.

You begin at a starting line with loud, blaring music and a host whose job is to pump you up and remind you of the monumental task ahead of you.  Then, you're off...

The first "obstacle" is called Death March.  It is an incline up a ski slope in the Southern California heat.  No matter how much you stretched or warmed-up beforehand, the Death March immediately slows you down.

You are then immediately herded to #2: The Arctic Enema.  This is an ice bath.  But not just any ice bath.  It is of such epic proportions that I would actually prefer to roll naked in the snow during a blizzard than do that again.  Apologies for the graphic description, but my testicles shrank so much that for a moment I remembered what it was like to be 10 again.


The next few miles consisted of obstacles that slogged you on your stomach through mud, brought you up increasingly steeper hills (which during the winter are Blue and Green-level ski slopes), shocked you with electricity as you crawled underneath barbed wire, squeezed you into cramped, dark tunnels, made you leap off high platforms into mountain lakes and more.

At Mile 4, we encountered "Hold Your Wood."  Before you go getting excited about that one, we were required to grab a solid chord of wood and carry it for a mile (mostly uphill).  This is the first point that the physicality of this course hit me.  My brisk pace of the first few miles began to slow a bit under the weight of the wood.


At the end of the mile, my team and I threw down our logs and sighed with relief. Turning the corner, we didn't expect what would come next:

"Cliffhanger."

Now, imagine having spent the last hour or two pushing yourself up hill, through physical obstacles, being shocked and carrying heavy wood... and then looking up to see ahead of you 1/2 mile of almost straight-up mountain.  Seriously... almost 90 degrees from top to bottom.  Imagine realizing that is your next obstacle.  Imagine your team letting out a simultaneous and collective "Aw shit".  Cliffhanger might have been the hardest physical thing I've ever done in my life.  1/4 of the way up my legs were burning with the heat of a thousand suns, my heart was pounding in my ears and my lungs worked overtime just to draw in breath not to mention trying to keep it in long enough for it to be of any use.


On the side of the path, people were hunched over, some threw up, one passed out (or at least had fallen asleep), and many were stopped, unable to do it all at once.  Each resting person seemed like they had it right.  I could stop for a second right? Compose myself, I thought.  But my team and I also knew if we did stop, Cliffhanger would not only get more difficult but would never feel as though it ended.  So on, we went... pushing ourselves.  Our clothes completely dry in the hot sun despite all the water obstacles, sweat now began to soak our shirts once again.  Todd made it to the top first. Todd, despite being the oldest man on our team by 10 years, was/is one beast of a competitor.  Nick made it after, and I was right behind.  The Wills followed shortly behind, completing Cliffhanger as a pair.  We all hunched over or placed our arms over head to suck in breath.  When we turned to look behind us, we saw a view that made us realize what we had just accomplished.



Cliffhanger ended right at about Mile 6, which meant 60% of this Tough Mudder course took us up Blue, Green and Black Diamond ski slopes.  Another 10% of the course would also somehow be spent going uphill, while the remainder brought us sharply downhill (a killer on the knees).

"Berlin Walls" made us test both our upper and lower body strength as we had to hurl ourselves over large walls.



The last 2 miles were the toughest for me.  "Hanging Tough" were gymnastic rings suspended over a pit of cold water.  I would estimate 70% of competitors did not make it across and found themselves in the pit.  The Wills both fell in, but Todd and Nick made it across using their momentum to glide from ring-to-ring.  Following their lead, I did the same.  Upon grabbing the last ring, one accessory I thought would be a complete advantage caused my downfall: my gloves.  I lost my right hand grip and not having totally secured my left hand on the final ring, I fell.  Being so close to the edge of the pit, I fell straight into the wood siding.



You know those moments in life when everything slows down- and it's not really a good thing? Well, it felt like it took about 3 minutes for me to come crashing down on the side of that pit yet my arms were moving through some sort of molasses.  I managed to get them up just in time to prevent my face ("the moneymaker") from smashing into the ground at high speed.  The cost?  A chest, forearm and shin that hit in the most inopportune of spots, sending me crashing down into the cold water. As soon as I submerge, a large Tough Mudder candidate followed suit and landed right on top of me.  I came up to find my entire team and a TM official with hands extended, worried like good brothers would be.

It hurt like a bitch.  My chest pounded and I struggled to catch my breath.  A medical guy rushed to me.  I took a quick survey and there was no internal red alert, so I waved him off.  I was fine. I was, after all, trying to prove that I am a Tough Mudder.  So, on we went.

"Everest" was a slippery mess of a steep ramp that we had to scurry up in order to begin the final mile.  We watched as some people cleared the top and then tumbled all the way down.  Understandable considering how tired our bodies were at this point.  My knee throbbing with pain from almost 4 miles of downhill jogging, I scurried up- our team made it up easily.

"Funky Monkey" was the second-to-last obstacle.  Much like the rings, these bars were suspended over a cold pit of water.  I was NOT going to be robbed of this one like I was with Hanging Tough.  The gloves came off... literally.  I watched as Todd, Nick and Will Sherrod made it to the other side, and up I went.  What I did not expect was the bars to roll as you grabbed them.  By the 4th bar, pain was shooting like crazy up the forearm that had been smacked in Hanging Tough.  Gritting my teeth, I reached for the next bar- all the weight impossibly bearing down on my right arm- and in I went.

SONOFABITCHMOTHERFUCKER.

C'est la vie... and on to the final test.

"ElectroShock Therapy".  Now this was the only thing about Tough Mudder that I could say I was scared of.  The threat of fire, ice, dark tight places and tests of endurance did not scare me.  But TM likes to advertise that in order to complete the course and be an actual Tough Mudder you must race through live wires of electricity- some containing up to 10,000 volts running through them.  This was not something I looked forward to.



But it was the end.  The Finish Line lay a mere 20 yards ahead of us.  "The Lucky Sevens" (our team name though we only had 5 instead of the originally intended 7) locked hands and went through as a team.

I was happy to find out later that Todd, Nick and The Wills all made it through relatively unscathed.  Hackner said he didn't feel any shocks at all, give or take a few minor ones.  Todd got hit by a few.  Sherrod took one to the jugular but plowed forward.

I, on the other hand, was not so fortunate.  At some point along the way, I hit something.  For all I know Tough Mudder could have had a Mac truck hidden on the side of the course and run me over with it.  I don't remember being hit.  And I don't remember hitting the ground.  What I do remember is coming to in the water (yes, they make you run through water while hitting these wires) and trying to stand back up... and getting hit again.  When I say "get hit" you should understand that this is only partially accurate.  I now know what it feels like to be punched on your insides with an iron fist.  My teeth rattled, and down I went again.  Hard.

Screw this shit.  I decided to Rambo this shit the rest of the way.  On my stomach, I crawled my ass toward the end of this Therapy crap.  I got hit a few more times by some gnarly shocks but I made it out and quickly got to my feet.  5 yards and there was the end.  The sweet, sweet end.  The Lucky Sevens high-fived, hugged, whooped and hollered.  We had done it.  We were Tough Mudders.

Tough Mudder's host was there... high-fiving everyone that made it through.  When you crossed the line, Dos Equis had a beer waiting for you.  Tough Mudder issued t-shirts and orange headbands to everyone who completed TM.  For me, that orange headband was my trophy, my championship belt.  You cannot receive those headbands unless you finish.  I would estimate from the injuries and people being driven down the start line that maybe 30% of competitors did not finish TM.  But we did.  We had our orange headbands and they did not.



There is merit in pushing yourself.  In testing your limits.  When you know you can go further than you thought, it opens up new doors.  Suddenly, more seems possible.  Training for something like that- and then participating in and completing in- is a reminder that if you want to do something, if you want to do it right and finish the task... you have to just put your head down and say "Fuck it. Here we go."

As strange as it may sound, Tough Mudder has given me renewed strength in my career.  I gain confidence from working.  As my tennis coach once diagnosed, "You are a rhythm guy."  Once I get a rhythm going, I am hard to stop.  But I am an actor.  And sometimes, gaining even the smallest bit of momentum is impossible.  What Tough Mudder has helped me remember is that the most frustrating and difficult times requires me to put my head down and say "Fuck it. Here we go" and conquer that Cliffhanger.  Maybe I'll fall into a pit along the way or get knocked on my ass right at the Finish Line, but I'll reach it anyway.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Save The Clock Tower, or in this case, The Still-Great, Culturally-Significant Local Newspaper

Comedian Eddie Izzard once joked at the beginning of his stand-up routine in America: "I grew up in Europe... you know, where the history comes from."

He then went on to poke fun at how Americans consider anything over 50 years old to be "historic": "No, surely not, no. No one was alive then."

It was quite the effective comedy bit.  Very British.

But when one thinks about that, that is not quite so funny.

Recently, Advance Publications made the announcement that the 175-year old New Orleans daily newspaper The Times-Picayune would move to a mostly digital format that would decrease printed publication to 3-days a week.  And all hell broke loose...

The reason given to the up-in-arms city is that the Publisher looked down the road and saw an "economic doomsday" on the horizon.

The Facts:
- The Times-Picayune, by the admission of the publisher, remains a profitable newspaper.
- The TP has the "highest rate of readership by population of any major US city", according to McClatchydc.com.
- It is estimated that newspapers "still typically get 70% of revenue from print advertising" as opposed to online ad revenue.  (McClatchy)
- In what Esquire magazine called "one of the greatest sustained performances in the history of American newspapers", the TP's post-Hurricane Katrina coverage kept the city informed and alert, while also breaking a story on the corruption and devastating violence perpetrated by the New Orleans Police Department that eventually earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.

The above facts alone should indicate what Advance Publications already knows: The Times-Picayune is just fine.

What they may not be aware of, is this:

New Orleanians are unlike any other citizens anywhere in this country.  Sure, very often New Orleans (NOLA) makes the news for all the wrong reasons.  Having grown up there, though, I can tell you that by-and-large the people of NOLA are some of the most unique, thoughtful and generous people that walk the earth today.  By nature, the cajun attitude is about family and friendship- not to mention the comfort that its famous cuisine instills.  It took me a long time (and moving to Los Angeles for work) to realize it, but NOLA was an amazing place to grow up... and it's a place to which I would readily return.  And that is a sentiment shared by many.  Even here in Los Angeles, people crowd a bar in Hollywood called "504" (the NOLA area code) to get even a small taste of what they had back home.  New Orleans is a place you can be "proud to call home." 

These qualities, however, have a side effect.  We New Orleanians have our traditions.  We love our Saints... we've always loved our Saints.  As a matter of fact, I believe the Saints organization means more to NOLA residents than any other football team does to its own.  Challenge a Saints fan on that claim.  Go ahead, I dare you.

We love our food.  We love our Mardi Gras. And Jazz Fest.  Our music.  Our culture.  Our crawfish boils.  Our language (this is a tame version).

We love our pirogues and our muffulettas.  Oh, don't know what those are?  Well, you just gonna have to hurry up and tell somebody (more NOLA slang).

We also love our Times-Picayune.  Now pay attention... the Times-Picayune is more than a newspaper.  Does it have the same grand style of the New York Times? No.  Does it have the same hard-hitting insight that made The Washington Post famous?  Not really.  But The Times-Picayune successfully represents the New Orleans people.  It informs us from the perspective of being one of us.  In addition to being a light for a city in dark times like post-Katrina, it also has become a record of a culture that does not exist anywhere else in the world.  Cotillions, debutante balls, Mardi Gras balls... not many other places still practice such things.  And NO ONE does it like New Orleans.

Does any city have a music scene as unique and varied as New Orleans?  Even the theatre scene is alive and well, and in true New Orleanian fashion- diverse. NOLA is part cultural mecca, part good ol' red blooded Southeastern American city and part capital of industry.  If ever a city could be said to have character, it is NOLA.  And as such, we like to sit down in the mornings with our chickory coffee and keep up with this treasure of a city by reading The Times-Picayune.  In print.  At our tables. So the kids can read the comics, dad and son can read about the Saints together and mom and daughter can keep up with the Boudreauxs- all at the same time.

As for me, the first thing I do when I land in NOLA (and the last thing before I leave), is pick up a hard copy of The Times-Picayune.

So, in short... the followers of The Times-Picayune like it just the way it is.

The Ramifications:
The publisher asserts that moving to a digital format will do nothing to hurt the readership or the people of NOLA:


- Recently, The Times-Picayune- or more accurately Advance Publications- fired 48% of The TP staff. Loyal staff. Beloved staff.  One member of the staff had been working for The TP for 4 decades and wasn't even invited to be an occasional contributing columnist.
- 53.8% of the African-American work force of The TP was fired... in a city that is a majority African-American.  (By the way... Advance Publications fired almost 100% of the African-American staff of another newspaper under its control, The Birmingham News.  Notice a trend?)
- According to a 2010 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 36% of people in NOLA have no internet in their homes.  And of these 36%, I would bet a hefty majority of them belong to the same group of the population that is most at-risk of being affected by scandals involving police corruption and post-Katrina violence, not to mention who also live in flood-prone areas of the city (namely The Lower Ninth Ward).

The Reaction:
- Mayor Mitch Landrieu: The scale-back of a successful newspaper like The Times-Picayune and firing of its staff makes New Orleans look like "a minor league city."
- The president of the NOLA city council has called it "totally unacceptable."
- "To think of not having a daily print edition saddens me, " U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement.  "It's journalists' dedication and professionalism that have made our civic, business and education institutions stronger, more transparent and honest."
- Rallies have been held to show the publishers how much support daily publication has.   How many other cities would do such a thing?
- An Open Letter from various upstanding members of the business and philanthropic communities has been published urging a stop to this decision.

As you can see, the only people who seem to want (or will benefit from) the change in publication of The Times-Picayune is the New Jersey-based Advance Publications.

Which makes me wonder:  why can't we just leave well-enough alone?  At what point was it decided that America had to be a place where everything has to be changed and updated?  Why did movie theaters, for example, have to go from being beautiful monuments of past architectural style  (like the Regency Fairfax in Los Angeles) to structures doomed for condominium development?   Why does "old" seem to constantly necessitate desecration?

As one can is most certainly aware if he or she has ever logged onto any of the various online news sources, stories are changed, updated and edited many many times before they are considered finished... but not before they are published.  One of the strongest arguments in support of printed news is that it requires a level of scrutiny that online news does not.  In an industry made great by such figures as Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, is journalistic integrity no longer of value to us?

And finally, I don't know about you but I do not want to spend my entire life looking at a screen.  But that seems to be where we are headed... movies, computers, television. Even BOOKS are on a screen. And now, it appears, we are going to have to turn to a screen of some form in order to get our news.  Suddenly, all those Ray Bradbury stories seem a bit more realistic, don't they?  In my humble opinion, if there was a ever a trend to stop it is the current mandate that new technology eradicate all former methods.  In the majority of cases, it is for the best that what is new overtakes what is old... but not always.

The most brilliant quote in all the "Save The Times-Picayune" editorials I've read came from Charles P. Pierce of Esquire:   "Gutting a profitable newspaper in a city like New Orleans is the functional equivalent in an information sense of lining up to piss into a reservoir. The main reason that newspapers are failing in this country is that they are being set up to fail by publishers who think like hedge fund cowboys, and by editors who think like corporate officers."

The current creed of the industry is that The News is supposed to make people insanely rich. I suppose we have William Randolph Hearst, Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch to thank for that.  A harsh truth about humanity is that we have become a species that values money, and this value wins out more often than not when matched against even the noblest of opponents such as truth. But, at the end of the day, we live in a world where news is a necessity.  We HAVE to know what is going on in this interconnected, fast-moving world around us.  And when companies like Advance Publications have no interest in what the people want or need- when they have no interest in the greater good... to whom will we turn?

If there is one city whose residents deserve to be heard, it is New Orleans.  If there is one city that does not like (and should not be forced) to have its traditions changed, it is New Orleans.  Why should it?  Residents are proud of their city despite its struggles.  It is a place unlike anywhere else in the United States and that's just the way the citizens of NOLA want it.

Save The Times-Picayune.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Blind Leading the Young and Blind

Close on the heels of North Carolina pastor Charles Worley suggesting gay people should be locked up in an electrified fence so that they will die off, another sad video emerges.

A young boy, barely old enough to correctly enunciate words of his song, led up to a mic in front of a congregation (also in North Carolina) to proclaim "Ain't No Homos Gonna Make It to Heaven."  As if he had hit a game 7-winning home run in the World Series, the congregation applauds and hollers like crazy.  The boy beams from ear-to-ear.  The "minister" behind him chortles like a jolly ol' fat man at a buffet line.

Watch if you dare. 

Has something recently flown up the collective ass of North Carolinians that I was not aware of?

All joking aside, this saddens me deeply.  As it should sadden everyone.  Especially Christians.

I think it is important, first off, for me to note that I am a Christian.  I was raised Catholic on both sides of my family, attended Catholic elementary and a strict but progressive Catholic high school run by the Jesuits.  During my early teens, my mother and stepfather began taking me to a non-demoninational Christian church.  Believe it or not, I fell in love.

Contrary to the heady, dreary, unemotional routine that defined Catholicism, this new church- called Trinity- connected with me emotionally.  Through the teachings of the pastors and youth pastors and the example of many of the parishioners, I began to see for the first time that being a Christian worked best when one made it about a relationship with God, as opposed to obligations and routines.  I began to feel- even in the turbulent time of my adolescence- that all things eventually worked out because God was watching over me and my family and my friends... and, well, everyone really.

But then... life happened.  And I began to see the reality of this world.  I still believe in a benevolent God, but I also believe that the story of the Fall of Man- whether literal or not- is important.  It is important because it teaches us the most basic truth about mankind: while we are capable of so much good, we are also capable of so much evil.  In this same church where I experienced the euphoria of being in a community of people aiming to live good, wholesome, righteous lives, I began to see another side.

I began to notice that these same people who I admired so much at church were adulterers, bigots, alcoholics, gossips, drug users, perverts, deserters, liars, thieves, and just general wolves-in-sheeps-clothing.  Not all of them, mind you, but enough.  The day when my stepfather told me our pastor- who I adored- was leaving the church because he had been caught cheating on his wife and he needed to find his way again was the day it all hit me.  The next year, when our beloved Youth Pastor announced to the entire church he was moving away because he felt "the call" to do so left me and all my friends devastated.  If he had bothered to pull us aside before church started that Sunday, I might have understood.  Instead, we got the memo when everyone else did... and that hurt.  Any pastor who could just pull out the rug from a bunch of over-emotional, high-strung teens who held the moon for him and not offer any other explanation except he got a mystical "call" from On High to leave us behind was obviously not the person we thought he was.

As it turned out, no matter how much you trusted someone or looked up to them, they were only who you wanted them to be on Sundays at church.  And then some...

Eventually, I stopped going to church.  I still long for that community, but for me church was ruined by the people that attended it.  And that's the way I feel about Christianity.  Especially when I watch the above videos.  Whether you believe the entire Bible is just a made-up story or not, Jesus was good.  His teachings were quite possibly the truest teachings of anyone anywhere at any point in history.  But even the most compassionate and wisest lessons cannot stand up against thousands of years of bigotry that have resulted from people using his name to justify their own human weaknesses.

During this entire gay civil rights debate (let's call it what it is), many Christians have forgotten two very important lessons from the New Testament:

Matthew 7:1-2:  "Do not judge or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Now, you see, what these verses command (this is not a suggestion, this is a commandment) is that people learn tolerance.  It's nobody's business to tell others how to live or what to do/not do!  Let God handle that.  And you know why I think this passage exists?  I think it exists because Jesus knew that judgement leads to intolerance and intolerance leads to hate and... well, we all know what hate leads to.   So, when one sees signs saying "Fags Burn in Hell" or, for that matter, "God Hates Muslims", just know that not only does that person/group have NO way of knowing whether that is accurate or not, but they are also committing an offense against the God they proclaim to serve.

Double whammy.

1 John 4:20: "If anyone says 'I love God' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who hates his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."

When Charles Worley or Pat Robertson or Fred Phelps and his cronies testify- or even just indicate it by their ideals- they hate people of any race, religion, creed or orientation, they are telling us a lot about themselves.  Matthew 7:15 reminds us all to "Beware the false prophet"... and how else can you define someone who makes a living off of preaching God's word when, by their actions, they tell us that they actually do not love God at all?

Now, I know just as everyone else knows that the young boy that sang the above song did not truly know what he was doing...

but

I can think of another religion that also teaches their children to hate.  I'm sure there are other churches that laugh when children proclaim others are going to rot in hell... but replace the word "homos" with the word "infidels"...

Funny how alike "enemies" can be sometimes?

All I wish is that we could live in a world where religion is used not as a tool to advance hate and bigotry and intolerance but rather all the other good, positive, loving and affirming qualities it was meant to.

But, then I remind myself that at the end of the day, we are all human.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Gloomy Though The Sun Shines

I have trouble on days like today.

Days when
the lord has blessed us with uninterrupted sunshine
a brain that works
a heart that beats
a family that's there for us
friends that surround us
a roof that shields us
and food that sustains us

When there's no reason
none whatsoever
to be down
and glum

and yet
somehow
my insecurities
my doubts
my worries
my concerns
my fears
 they all take the lead.

When I can't escape my own head
then I see someone in trouble
and the garbage trucks wake me too early
and the protest down the street rattles my quiet
and a driver gives me the finger while cutting me off on the highway
and I have to have a talk I don't want to have
and I miss my home and I miss my Nanna's home
and I'm sad because it didn't have to go
and I get news that is bad
then go to places I don't want to
and do things I don't want to
with people I don't need around me
because someone says I have bills to pay

And these things...
they all sting more than usual today.
I'm not sure quite why.
It's as if the night tide has changed
though the moon remains the same.
I only know that I have no adequate response today
and that confuses me more.

Then I look for comfort in places that have run out of it
and realize how dumb that move was

So on I trudge, reminding myself that if I make it through the day
I start over again tomorrow

That helps for a moment
but then it resumes being just another odd day.