Tag Archives: Muncie

Hungry like the ‘Wolf’

It’s hard not love an album that hits the popular consciousness with a big, old haymaker that the mainstream never saw coming.

I feel like Wolf‘s going to be one of those albums, by the time all is said and done. Yes, lyrically, this stays true to all of Tyler, The Creator’s work to this point: A chuckling, stoned, dead-eyed agent of chaos in a world that doesn’t understand that it truly loves the resulting madness. Too many drugs, too many “faggot” callouts, too much intelligence gone out of control. Tyler is that nasty, uncontrolled Id lurking under the surface that no one wants to admit is there.

It isn’t that this is approach new. Eminem managed the balancing act on both The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP, and Old Dirty Bastard took the madness to a previously unheard of level on Return to the 36 Chambers. But unlike Eminem or ODB, Tyler has created an album with limited single potential. There’s no Real Slim Shady or Shimmy Shimmy Ya on Wolf. Yes, true hip-hop heads will be down, but it’ll be interesting to see if Tyler can mimic the sales, chart success or awards of the previously mentioned predecessors.

What really helps elevate Wolf is not Tyler, The Rapper but Tyler, the Producer. He’s the man behind the knobs for the most part, and he manages to create a full, dark, off-kilter background for his hip-hop diorama. Whether it’s the minimal, bass-heavy, slurred feel of Jamba, the otherworldy “da da da da DA da” melody on Domo23, the manic Latin energy that backs the juvenile Tamale or the slow jam synth of IFHY, Tyler finds the right sounds to back whatever approach he’s trying to take lyrically. More importantly, nothing has an assembly line, jam-of-the-moment feel. Wolf isn’t about ring tones; it’s about legacy.

The final product is an album … a full album, not three or four front-loaded singles with what Sean Combs once called “album tracks” aka half-assed filler. I can imagine a time a decade or so from now Wolf being mentioned in the same breath as We Can’t Be Stopped, Ready to Die or Midnight Marauders. History is being made, so, as a wise man once said, ya betta recognize.

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Top tunes from early 2013

Wow. What a first quarter. And with the new Tyler, The Creator album, Wolf, dropping today (more on that another time) and the Flaming Lips’ latest dropping in a couple of weeks, it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down in the second quarter. The gems so far …

SONGS

Je Me Perds, Blood Red Shoes – Straightforward, aggressive, grimy punk rock.

The John Wayne, Little Green Cars – I’m reasonably certain this crew owns some CSNY albums. That’s not a bad thing. Not bad at all.

Know ‘Til Now, Jim James – My only real beef with My Morning Jacket is that on albums, their music tends to end up sounding a bit too … stoned. Know ‘Til Now keeps that low-key, ethereal, wake-and-bake vibe, but rides a sweet, loping groove that gives the track a solid base from which to work until beautiful disintegration is achieved.

Loubs, Pissed Jeans – I feel like going all Beavis on this one. “Yes … Yes … YES! YES! YES! FIRE! FIRE!” This track lands somewhere between off-kilter blues rock of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Monster Magnet’s sludgier tunes. Play loudly. As loudly as possible.

Quill, The Last Bison – Newgrass, emograss, whatever. When it’s done well, it’s just plain ol’, damn fine bluegrass, like The Last Bison have done here.

Sail to the Sun, Wavves – I thought of Weezer when I heard this track. Blue album/Pinkerton Weezer, not “Now we’re hanging with the Muppets and trying way too hard” Weezer.

Whoa, Earl Sweatshirt – I love it when I hear a hip-hop single that just doesn’t sound like anything else out in the popular consciousness. Earl creates a track that’s part Wu-Tang, part Dr. Octagon and totally dazed and confused.

ALBUMS

Honeys, Pissed Jeans – I frequently think of the Melvins and Nirvana when I listen to this band. King of Jeans from 2008 was good, and PJ stepped it up on Honeys.

Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit – I’ve been following these guys since 2008’s Midnight Organ Fight. If you’re into Mumford & Sons, you should test drive these Scots.

Sound City, Reel To Reel, Dave Grohl & company – Loved Nirvana from the start, but since Kurt Cobain’s death, I’ve always cared more for Grohl on other’s projects (Queens of the Stone Age, to name one) than I’ve cared for his own (Foo Fighters). But Grohl’s on to something here, just a bunch of guys (and one woman, Stevie Nicks) rocking, pure and simple.

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Nets wreck writing

I’m not a fan of the CSI series of shows. There’s a lot of reasons: Most of the cops don’t look like cops, the over-stylized visuals that make me wonder if I’m watching a drama or the new Kelly Clarkson video, bad guys that I have figured out before the opening credits are done, etc.

But I do love my guilty pleasures and am willing to put up with some of that … if the people who run the show don’t assume I’m a moron. And the folks who run CSI? They clearly think I’m stupid. Like “I’ve just spent three days on a bus sitting between Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent and now I can barely spell my own name” stupid.

Way back in one of the early seasons of the original CSI when I had a brief flirtation with the show, George and Warrick are in a lab together. The one is trying to lift prints off of an unusual surface or that in some way have been degraded, so he has to use a slightly altered technique. Interesting, right? Here’s the problem: The one lifting the prints explains what he’s doing to the other forensic expert like he’s giving a junior high biology lesson. It was that bad. I’m actually supposed to believe that two professional forensic experts, both of whom have at least bachelor’s (and maybe master’s) degrees and a few years of experience each, need a basic explanation of how to lift a fingerprint with a technique I, a guy with only an English degree and one semester of college bio under my belt, can easily understand even before said explanation is complete?

I suppose I can’t completely blame the writers and producers of CSI. They understand that a good portion of America, unlike me, didn’t pay attention in high school. Plus, CSI is looking for a global market, so not only are you trying to break it down for less-educated Americans, as a writer you are forced to break it down so simply that someone who didn’t get the greatest education in Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg or Saint Petersburg is going to be able to understand the translation.

I can live with bad shows being bad shows. When shows I like get stoopid, it bums me out. Take Fringe. A lot of complex, theoretical science is effectively broken down and modeled by Walter for the non-geniuses around him. It’s done in an entertaining, interesting way each time. It’s a writing coup: Simplification, not dumbing down, of some pretty complex theories and scientific laws. However, every once in a while, even in a show that trusts its viewers to the extent Fringe must, the program does get a little simple. But in odd ways. For example, say Broyles walks up to an unnamed FBI agent and asks, “Have we begun the testing for the sub-thermal radioactive quantum bugaboo?” The unnamed FBI agent will shake his/her head, because he/she can’t say anything because then he/she would collect a bigger check. Then Broyles responds, “Well, when you get the results from the sub-thermal radioactive quantum bugaboo, tell me immediately.” What was the point of that? It doesn’t really enlighten the viewer in any way, it doesn’t further the story. Any normal human being would have just said, “Let me know when you get the results.” And Broyles should’ve, too, in a perfect TV world.

What’s great is that it’s no longer 1982. Since the networks aren’t getting it right, there are plenty of other options for good screen drama. Once again, I reference The Walking Dead, specifically the latest episode “This Sorrowful Life.” Glenn decides to propose to Maggie. On a network show, this would’ve involved some great conceit, an over-the-top display of affection, or endless speechifying by one or both parties involved in the engagement. But The Walking Dead gets it right. Glenn takes the ring out of his pocket, never showing it to Maggie, just pressing it in the palm of her hand. She says yes, and they kiss. Simple, elegant, beautiful. Glenn and Maggie know they love each other. Neither has the time or energy for speeches or showiness. They nearly died for each other just weeks before, so they do not doubt each other’s commitment to this relationship. The moment is about relief and re-connection, true love, nothing to cheapen the moment. The brief encounter stays true to the characters and the show.

And there’s no explanations or dumbing down. None necessary, none offered. Thankfully.

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The psycho you love to hate

He's so good at being bad ... well, at least in "Silence of the Lambs."

He’s so good at being bad … well, at least in “Silence of the Lambs.”

My two memories of seeing Silence of the Lambs way back in 1991:

First is the scene where Clarice Starling helps with an autopsy of one of “Buffalo Bill’s” victims. As the autopsy moves forward, the crew realizes that something has been jammed down the dead woman’s throat. Slowly, the pathologist reaches into the woman’s throat with tweezers … And at that point, the elderly woman sitting next to me in the packed theater whispered to her friend, “If that’s a penis, I’m going to throw up.” My pal and me – in the midst of a very quiet and tense moment – burst out laughing.

The second thing I recall is watching Clarice in the basement with James “Buffalo Bill” Gumm, trying to find the depraved killer in the dark. The entire time Clarice is in the basement, I kept waiting for Lecter to appear. I really expected him to be pulling the strings of Gumm, just like he was everyone else he came in contact with. I wasn’t disappointed by the ending, but I was a bit surprised that Gumm was Lecter’s diversion, not his compatriot.

That’s the hallmark of a good villain: Even when Lecter is not on screen, his presence hovers over the action, the viewer anticipating his return, waiting to see what he will try next. Really, Lecter is on screen for about 1/5th of the movie, maybe less. Yet everything that happens is because Lecter wants it to. Lecter wants to escape, so he takes advantage of the carelessness of a pre-eminent mental health practitioner as well as overconfident police. Lecter wants the FBI’s eyes elsewhere while he escapes, so he sets them on the hunt for media star Buffalo Bill. Lecter wants companionship, so he begins a series of tete-a-tetes with young Starling, almost positioning himself as a mentor.

What Lecter wants, he gets. It’s really that simple. Simple except the man spends most of the movie locked in a cage in a basement of a high-security mental health facility. Nothing is done by force. Everything Lecter gets is through manipulation and fear. Reading people, understanding what motivates them, feeding them what they desire until Lecter has them positioned where he wants them. For all of the fear and dread that permeates Silence of the Lambs, there’s very little on-screen violence. It’s all autopsy photos and conversations, mutterings and memories of grim times. No one seems to want to talk aloud about Lecter, for fear the boogeyman will make them his next meal.

It’s a testament to not giving people what they want. Lecter isn’t like his movie monster contemporaries of the late 1980s-early 1990s such as Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, Pinhead, etc. He is not about elaborate kills and an enormous body count. It’s the potential of Lecter’s destructive abilities that keep you riveted, knowing at some point that the cobra will quit hypnotically dancing back and forth and lung, fangs bared, ready to bite, pierce, destroy, feed.

Well, at least that’s what you get with the Hannibal Lecter of the Silence of the Lambs. The Hannibal Lecter of Hannibal, the sequel, is Jason, Michael, Pinhead and Freddy. Where Silence of the Lambs is a quiet night home with your wife, Hannibal is a night out with your wife … at the Super Bowl. Hannibal is about the elaborate kills, the blood, the body count. No restraint is shown. It’s steeped in stylization and indulgence, not realism and suspense. There is no tension. We know as soon as we meet pederast Mason Verger, crooked Italian cop Renaldo Pazzi and FBI douche Paul Krendler that they are expendable, sausage for Lecter’s grinder. The hogs, the brain eating, the Christian symbolism and family karma of the Pazzi kill … Lecter may as well have been wearing a hockey mask and a glove with knives attached. It’s not helped by the performance of Hopkins, either. He sleepwalks through Hannibal, emoting nothing but boredom. The eyes, the unmatched fierceness of his gaze is long gone.

Less, in this case, is clearly so much more. I can sum it up with a quick comparison. In Hannibal, for no apparent reason, Lecter seems to be in love (or his version of it, at any rate) with Clarice. He caresses her, kisses her, strokes her. But neither Lecter’s advances nor Starling’s attempts to stop them have any meat to them. It feels forced, unnatural, unbelievable.

Cut to Silence of the Lambs, the scene where Hannibal and Starling meet for the last time. The conversation is intense, and as Starling is being led out of the building by police, Hannibal yells for her. Clarice breaks away, running to Lecter’s cage. He hands her some of his drawings, and – oh so gently – Lecter runs his finger along the side of Clarice’s hand. That soft touch has more intimacy, more desire for connection, more realness than can be found in the entirety of Hannibal.

Less is more. Repeat.

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Ellis and Hemingway, tellers of manly tales

Sometimes, you don’t want to put a book down, while on the other hand dreading the eventual conclusion because the story just has you so damn hooked. Yes, Warren Ellis’ Gun Machine, I’m looking at you.

The short review is this: Imagine CSI (and CSI Miami, CSI New York, CSI Denver, CSI Terre Haute, CSI NCIS THEGOODWIFE, etc.) didn’t suck.

I know, it’s hard to get past the way-too-stylish-for-cops clothes and hair, the over-lit outdoor shots and moody indoor lighting, the fact that the dialogue seems to have been written by a junior-high dropout nursing a 700-mg-a-day Thorazine habit, and realize that police procedurals work because the science of crime, evidence and death is fascinating and many times odd. Part of the brilliance of Gun Machine is that Ellis captures the interesting points of fact-finding without being bogged down by the heavier aspects of the science or resorting to talking down to the reader as if they are a two-year-old, a lobotomized howler monkey or a U.S. congressman.

The other part of the brilliance is the heavy, numbing noir world in which Gun Machine is set. While N.Y. Detective John Tallow drives, he eschews music or talk radio for the police band. Over the course of the novel, the reader begins to roll with him to the beat of  reported rapes, murders and mindless violence that the city’s residents wreak upon each other. The image that has stuck with me since I finished Gun Machine is that of Tallow sitting in the basement of One Police Plaza, in a room covered floor-to-ceiling with photographs of patterns made of guns – big guns, small guns, new guns, damn-near ancient guns – the smell of tobacco faint in the air and the omnipresent pressure to fail or disappear (or at the very least go fuck off for the rest of his life ) pushing down on his shoulders. The final chapters of this book even got my heart racing a bit. I’m a huge fan of Transmetropolitan (comic series) and Freakangels (online comic series), and I liked Ellis’ first novel, Crooked Little Vein. (Most people probably know him from Red, his graphic novel about retired CIA agents that was turned in to a 2010 film starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Hellen Mirren.) But he hit it out of the park on this one. Gun Machine is a novel I’m looking forward to reading again.

Sometimes, you can’t help but put a book down, hoping it will end just so you can return it to the library. That’s what happened to me during my time with Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Hemingway does a terrific job – too well in fact – of mimicking the “hurry up and wait” military life. It was mind numbing. To be fair, it was also a busy time for me, so it made it harder to sit down and get into it, but Hemingway certainly didn’t make it easy. I had no such problem with the last 270 pages, when the isolation recedes and the war starts to close in on Robert Jordan and his band of Spanish rebels. It took me more than a month to finish the first half of the book, less than a week to finish the rest.

The set-up is just too slow. Many of the rebels kind of run together when it comes to personalities and roles, and the romance with Jordan and “Rabbit” seems forced and childish, especially when compared to the affair of Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms. It’s B action flick bad, like a studio exec said to Hemingway, “We need romance so we can get a hot piece of ass in the picture, sell it to teenage boys.” I think the set-up and romance might have worked better spliced into flashbacks. In media res would have been a better way to handle this story, throwing readers into the action and then looking back to see how Jordan, Rabbit, Pablo and the rest ended up where they did.

What I thought may have been Hemingway’s greatest accomplishment, to give some credit to the set-up, was the character Pablo. When Robert Jordan arrives at the rebel camp, Pablo is the undisputed – if often drunken – leader. His fall from that position and subsequent reveal of him as a pure opportunist was easily the most interesting subplot that surrounded the attack of a key bridge.

I also like the end. Jordan completes his mission, blowing the bridge, but is fatally wounded in the escape. He orders his compatriots to leave him behind, armed, so that he can hopefully slow any pursuit. For Whom the Bell Tolls ends with the image of the dying Jordan, his gun trained on a Fascist officer, preparing to drop the unknowing soldier. An American’s final gasp against the tide of authoritarianism.

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The perfect moment

Carl's trip with Pa and Michonne illustrates how much things have changed with our plucky little gang of survivors.

Carl’s trip with Pa and Michonne illustrates how much things have changed with our plucky little gang of survivors.

Kudos to the minds behind The Walking Dead. After a meandering second season (particularly the first half), Season 3 has really upped the stakes and forced the gang to deal with some truly unpleasant realities: the death of Lori, the threat of the Governor and his followers, the reality that survival gets harder with each passing day, the fact that they will all rise when they die, etc.

But I thought Sunday’s episode – “Clear” – perfectly illustrated how the group has changed, particularly Rick. At the open of the episode, Rick, Michonne and Carl are driving, scavenging. They pass a lone human on the highway, who yells and pleads for them to take him along. Michonne, without blinking, drives straight pass. She is soon forced off the road because of accident debris blocking it, and the car is stuck. Rick and Carl get out to find some items to help give the vehicle traction. Michonne gets the vehicle out of the mud, and just before Rick gets back in the car, he sees the loner running up the road toward them, yelling for help. But Rick doesn’t acknowledge him, getting in the car and resuming the trip.

At the end of the episode, after Rick has met up with his old friend Morgan and learned of he and his son Duane’s fate, the trio head back the way they came from. As they pull out of town, Rick notice’s the body of the loner and his pack lying beside the road. Another one bites the dust in post-Apocalyptic America. Then, the camera focused on the pack, Michonne reverses the car and steers back to the pack. Someone scoops it up, throws it in the car, and they are once again on their way.

A brilliant piece of writing by Scott Gimple. That simple act of putting the car in reverse to retrieve the bag summed up the way our gang of heroes has changed. In the first and even possibly second season, Rick likely would have picked up the loner, tried to make him one of the gang. If the loner had died even before coming close, Rick might have buried the man and posted a simple wooden cross, maybe said a few words. But here, there is no emotion, sadness, regret, feeling of any sort. There is only survival. The loner is dead and gone. What he has left may help the gang. The gang takes what he has left. Hope, fear, anger, none of it matters. Emotion has been sublimated by cold pragmatism, the hard, true vision of what needs to happen for survival. That, in the end, is all there is.

Man, I can’t wait for next week.

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Getting a grip on ‘Django’

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This is Django when he’s happy.

I tend to see movies or read something, and I don’t want to write about it immediately. I like to let it settle a bit, mull it over, slow cook it. Django Unchained is the latest to get that treatment. And I’m glad I was patient.

Because I don’t love Django. That’s a pretty big deal for me. Right now there are only two directors who – no matter what the title, genre, stars, reviews, etc. – automatically move me to pay theater prices. One is Christopher Nolan. The other is Quentin Tarantino.

Prior to this, the only Tarantino I’d say I didn’t really get into was the second Kill Bill. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Kill Bill the first, Inglorious Basterds (as well as the episodes of ER and CSI that he was behind). Even movies he’s written but not directed: From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, True Romance, Natural Born Killers. I love what Quentin does with language and his ability to re-imagine B-movie trash as arthouse fare. He’s earned my loyalty.

And Django does have a lot to love. The scene where Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who I’d love to see as a Bond villain some day) and Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave, go out to meet the marshal and his deputized townspeople after Schultz has killed the town sheriff is masterful. Schultz’s running monologue is humorous and telling of what to expect from the dentist-turned-bounty hunter. Django’s reaction to a white man chasing away another white man so he can have a drink with a black man is hilarious. And the Tom Wopat cameo, classic Tarantino. The building of tension as Schultz states his case and turns the situation around on the townsfolk is the sort of thing Tarantino does best, and is why he received such acclaim for Inglorious Basterds.

The problem is that Django is at least 20 minutes too long. The scenes where Django helps Schultz find and kill a trio of brothers for the bounty is unnecessary. We don’t learn anything about Schultz or Django, and when Schultz confronts the plantation owner and his crew about the bounties, it’s a watered-down version of what happened just minutes before in the scene I described in the last paragraph. Unlike the sneaky Wopat cameo, Don Johnson’s appearance as a slave-owning, Southern gentleman is so over the top I caught myself wondering if he was trying to channel Yosemite Sam. That incident could have been summed up in a couple of sentences, much like most of Django’s winter training was. It isn’t the only example of indulgence. Factor in the ripped-from-O-Brother-Where-Art-Thou? klan scene and Django’s escape from Australian slave traders, and you have a lot of fat. A leaner Django would have been a better Django.

I was also initially disappointed in what Tarantino had to say in Django. It has been said on several occasions that Bill Clinton was the first “black” president. Well, Tarantino is the first “black” arthouse director. From the not-so-good – his incessant use of the word “nigger” – to the good – the classic soul and hip-hop that dot the aural landscape of his films – Tarantino has always been fearless when it comes to adapting African-American culture to what he does.

So, naturally, in a film about slavery, I was ready for some real commentary from Tarantino about one of America’s darkest historical hours. He has deftly handled themes from the price of revenge (the Kill Bills) to just how important it is to choose the proper karmic path (Pulp Fiction). It was a big deal for me going in.

And then Tarantino … didn’t. I mean, I think it was an honest portrayal of just how disturbing slavery was, not just the enslavement but of the attitude actions of American caucasians toward blacks. But Quentin left it there. He presented it for the viewers to see and didn’t do anything to really put his stamp on it. It left me feeling a bit disappointed and empty.

But, well, that’s what the post-viewing cooling-off period is all about. The more I thought about Django, the more I realized Tarantino really did have something to say, it just wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. Django is a spaghetti western, set in the deep south during pre-Civil War America. But what it is about is the American attitude toward violence.

For example, the mandingo fighting scene where Django and the doc meet Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Yes, the fight between the two men is brutal, the desperation, fear and will to survive coming in waves off the two combatants. But it’s really no more brutal than, say, some of the rougher scenes from Fight Club. What is appalling is the attitude of everyone else in the room. Save Django and a couple of the slaves in the room, everyone else treats the bloody pummeling as if they were watching UFC on the big screen over the fireplace.

Extend that to the way being shot is portrayed through Django. Not much in the way of neat, clean holes except when tiny pistols are being used. Blood, tissue and bone explode, covering Django as he hides behind a dead body during a shootout. Every gunfight is brutal and incredibly destructive. Then you add in the beatings, the hot box, the near-neutering of Django, whipping and more. It’s all very naked and truthful.

For years, Quentin has been a target of the violence-in-media crowd. They say he’s made a living from glorifying violence. And I don’t know that he would argue against that. Few writers or directors understand exploitation better than he. However, in Django, Quentin chose the appropriate time and place in American history as a setting to get real. And for that, I think he should be applauded.

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Doers of dirty deeds

“A hero is a hero, but everybody loves a great villain.” – Ferb, Phineas & Ferb

I wrote previously about a conversation with a young film enthusiast and how it led to a discussion of heroes. We also talked about villains. “What makes a great villain?” At that point, we parted paths, so that just kind of hung out there, in the air and in the corner of my mind, nagging at me.

Heroes tend to be a bit easier because, no matter how messy they are, at the core they just want what’s right, what’s fair, what’s just. A villain is more of a balancing act: they have to be menacing to the point you think they might prevail (and in some cases, evil does prevail), but they also can’t turn into a gasbag who can’t cash the check his ass is writing. For example, Bond villains. They tend to lack any true menace, and I’ve always been pretty sure that – given a baseball bat and a couple of minutes to go to work with it – that I could have absolutely wrecked Goldfinger, Le Chiffre, Sir Hugo Drax, etc., weeks before their ludicrous plans every came to fruition.

One of my favorite examples of how this menace-follow through balancing act can work is a character from both literature and film: Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men. Chigurh is a contract killer for pay, although destiny has selected him to be an agent of chaos, a coin flip determining who will live and who will die as the poor unknowing wander into his path.

What interests me is the difference in Chigurh’s impact when you compare Cormack McCarthy’s gritty novel to the faithful screen adaptation by the Coen brothers. In the novel, I feel like the impact comes from the reaction by Chirgurh’s victims, particularly the effect on Sheriff Bell. Make no mistake, Tommy Lee Jones does a terrific job in the movie, slowly weakening at the knees as he realizes the evil he is facing. That said, I’m more shaken by just how much Bell is shaken in McCarthy’s novel. The depth to which Chigurh’s killing spree shakes Bell’s faith and perception of the world as it is and was comes across clearer, harder in print.

In the movie, Chigurh is brought to life by Javier Bardem’s performance. Bardem’s Chigurh is magnetic. The viewer is sucked in by Chigurh’s dark-eyed intensity in all manners, his obedience to the randomness of fate. Whenever Chigurh is on screen, there is a pit in the viewer’s stomach, that queasy feeling that something is going to happen and it will not be good, it will not end well. The scene where Chigurh flips a coin for the life of a gas station attendant is chilling and sickening. When Carla Jean Moss (in a brief but awesome piece of acting by Kelly Macdonald) refuses to play Chigurh’s game near the end of the movie, the fear and anticipation mount further. Plus the effect Moss’s refusal to play Chigurh’s game really throws a curve to the killer. Well played, well written and well directed.

The same character, the same story, the same menace … but done in a slightly different way to slightly different effect. It’s a perfect mesh of long-form written fiction and the screen portrayal of the same story.

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Great, or not so much?

Everybody should have friends.

Everybody should have friends.

I’m of two minds after watching the first two episodes of the new Fox show, The Following.

On the one hand, it’s beautifully shot, the casting is great and getting the opportunity to see Kevin Bacon exercise his dramatic chops on a weekly basis is sublime. Plus, Kevin Williamson – the creator of Dawson’s Creek and the Scream horror movie franchise, among others – has created a wonderful villain, the serial-killing high priest of an Edgar Allan Poe cult who lures his followers by becoming their friend. There’s a lot of potential here, a terrific set-up.

On the other hand, the writing is … not always awesome. When we meet Hardy (Bacon), it is years after he has captured the killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). Carroll escapes, and Bacon – once the FBI’s darling, now an outcast from the agency – is brought in as a consultant. When Bacon originally catches Carroll, it is after Carroll has stabbed him in the heart with an ice pick. We find out through the course of events that Hardy also falls in love with Carroll’s ex, but doesn’t stay with her as Hardy fears for her safety should Carroll seek retribution. So as we watch Hardy work in the now, it is literally with a broken heart (powered by a pacemaker). That’s the labored, hammer-you-over-the-head metaphor from Episode 1. Another such metaphor pops up in Episode 2. Toss in some very by-the-numbers, on-the-nose, been-there-done-that exposition (see Hardy addressing the FBI agents upon first meeting in Episode 1), and it’s a little troubling. A lack of respect for the intelligence of viewers frustrates me in any show, and Williamson is a better writer than that.

That said, there’s enough here to keep my attention. I look forward to seeing where The Following goes.

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Dear Catholic Church

In case you’re wondering, this is what hypocrisy looks like. I’d tell you to look it up in the dictionary, but you probably had to sell all of those to settle the child rape lawsuits.

Hugs and kisses,

Someone not blinded by the light

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