That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Archive for October, 2009

She’s never going to whisper in my fucking ear ever again.

Posted by kozemp on October 30, 2009

A couple years back, this was probably around 2003 or so, I did something I had never done before and, as near as I can remember never did again: I bought a DVD of a movie I hadn’t seen. I honestly don’t remember why I did it; my friends hadn’t exactly talked it up to me. The reviews were good, sure, but who drops 18 bucks on reviews and a hope?

Still, I bought the movie on a Friday night and took it home to watch. I popped it in the DVD player, collected the remote and my cigarettes, and turned off the living room lights. This is something else – turning off the lights to watch a movie – I had never done before and have never done since.

I lit a cigarette and pressed PLAY on the remote.

After the first scene I stood up, pressed PAUSE on the front of the DVD player, and turned the lights back on.

Once the lights were back on I sat on the edge of the recliner, trying to light another cigarette with shaking hands, looking around for the remote that had been sitting on my leg for the first scene of the movie. It was in the middle of the living room floor. It must have flown there when, at the end of the first scene, I literally jumped up in my chair and screamed louder than I ever have or ever will.

The remote laid there on the living room carpet, that terrible carpet we had back then before I tore it out in a fit of interior design rage, it laid there taunting me, DARING me, to turn the movie back on. I’d seen eight minutes of it and was more scared than I had been in my entire life. I sat there staring at the remote and just before I gathered up enough courage to pick it up and restart the movie I caught a glimpse of the light switch next to the TV and thought, it’s going to be a LONG time before I’m alone in the dark again.

This is how you take a big, mean, chain-smoking bastard and turn him into a mass of quivering baby food:

You sit him in the dark and show him The Ring.

Now, understand, I am a person who loves horror movies. Okay, let me clarify that a little. I love GOOD horror movies. And I’m not talking about “Friday the 13th Part XXXIV: Jason Goes to Tulsa” shit. Any idiot with a camera who knows what a foreground is can make that kind of horror movie. Funky death effects aside movies like that require no skill to make. I’m talking serious, honest-to-god movies that also happen to be really, really scary. We are talking about The Exorcist here. Halloween. Alien. Jaws. The really good stuff. I love movies like this. I LOVE them.

My love for them is, frankly, a little masochistic. I have an extensive series of clinical, left-brain blockages set up precisely so that I don’t immerse myself so much in whatever entertainment I’m consuming that I fall headfirst into it, but a really well-constructed horror movie blows right past all of that. I go from snobbish, detached film school intellectual to covering my eyes and whispering to the characters faster than Superman changes clothes. I am powerless against a really good horror flick, and yet I still repeatedly subject myself to them.

(Interesting side note: the only other genre that sucks me in that quickly and that thoroughly? Romances. c.f. my abiding love of Casablanca, The English Patient, Atonement, et al).

Before I saw The Ring I had, of course, been well and fully briefed on the leading lights of the horror genre. Back in college I was “the movie guy” and Halloween with me and my friends would routinely involve me bringing over large stacks of VHS horror movies and small bunches of us sitting around getting blitzed while scaring the crap out of ourselves. So I’d been there and I had most assuredly done that. I had seen The Exorcist in the theatre. I had gone into Blair Witch with an open mind and gotten a damn good scare for my trouble. I had believed the woman I was in love with at the time when she told me she wanted to watch Halloween (I had to sit on the floor in her dorm and, I am not making this up, she spent the entire movie kicking me in the back of the head). I had suffered plenty of mental damage and a bit of physical damage in the service of my horror movie jones.

As I sat down to watch The Ring – with the lights out, which to this day I cannot explain – I figured that I had already been through the proverbial wringer when it came to horror movies.

Oh, sweet merciful lord, how wrong I was.

After I spent a few minutes calming myself down I picked up the remote, took a deep breath, and started the movie again. I was immediately struck by how… I suppose the word is “careful” the filmmaking was. The first scene is scary as fucking hell, even years on and having seen it multiple times when I watched it this week I still jumped at the right spots, though not as high. After that, though, Verbinski works very hard to construct what for lack of a better word is a very “real” movie: single mother, precocious kid, grieving friends, broken relationships, everyone trying to come to terms with the death of a teenage girl in a depressing, rain-drenched landscape.

Once you get past that first scene things move along pretty swimmingly, actually, until the first time we see the tape.

The tape isn’t that scary in and of itself. It’s off-putting and weird and vaguely unpleasant but there’s nothing on there to make you scream. But watching it along with Rachel – and you do just watch the tape with the character, there’s only one cut away from it the first time it’s shown and it’s at a perfect spot – a sense of foreboding builds and builds and builds, and Rachel’s reaction just makes it somehow worse.

The worst part, though, is that you KNOW that phone is going to ring and you KNOW there’s going to be that horrible voice, and the anticipation of that happening is FAR worse than the actual event – face it, it’s a phone ringing – but through some genius alchemy Verbinksi holds that moment for JUST long enough that when it happens you still jump out of your seat. Because you are weak and while you are sitting in front of The Ring, Gore Verbinski is God. Worse, he is an all-powerful god of fear and you have severely displeased him.

Once you’ve seen the tape the movie proceeds as… I don’t want to say a “standard” horror movie, because it isn’t, if there even is such a thing. But it follows a known arc, at the very least. Mysterious happenings abound, Rachel investigates, things escalate from mysterious to dangerous to horrifying, the stakes are raised, questions are asked and answered, and eventually there is a horror- and emotion-packed climax. Make no mistake, though – everything up to this point has been executed with nothing less than stunning precision.

This is just how incredibly well-made the movie is:

Sitting there watching it, about halfway through the movie – around when Rachel arrives on the island – my phone rang. For the second time in less than two hours I literally JUMPED out of the recliner and started screaming incoherently. It wasn’t just the shock of the noise – I was absolutely certain that a ringing phone meant I WAS GOING TO DIE.

I clumsily grabbed the remote and paused the film, then grabbed a quick look at the display on my cell. It was my friend Chris.

I flipped open the phone and started screaming.

“YOU MOTHERFUCKER! OH MY GOD YOU MOTHERFUCKER! YOU SCARED THE LIVING FUCK OUT OF ME! YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKER OH MY FUCKING GOD!”

Chris said, “what? What did I do?”

I sputtered, “you… you… you fucking CALLED me! Oh my god I thought I was going to fucking DIE!”

Chris said, “what the hell are you doing?”

Starting to calm down, I said, “I’m watching The Ring.”

Chris said, “oh, Jesus Christ, I’m sorry, I’m REALLY sorry.”

His contrition was genuine: he’d seen the movie.

It goes beyond precision, really. Everything in The Ring is note-perfect, and part of its brilliance is the way we get drawn into the quest along with Rachel. We carry along and experience with her the feeling that, after you watch the tape, the entire world is just increasingly WRONG and the movie becomes as much about setting reality right as it is saving herself. Still, though, it IS a horror movie, and once everything has been set in place the aforementioned climax has to happen, and there are scares and moments of swelling emotion and finally release, and when Rachel says “I want to go home,” you sit there, exhausted, and say to yourself “god DAMN that was a great fucking movie!”

But, and this is the true genius of The Ring, the movie doesn’t end there.

After what would be the climactic final battle of a lesser movie – hell, of a perfectly respectable movie – The Ring yet has manipulations profane and sublime in store. In what is supposed to be the happy denouement between casually estranged mother and son, finally united against a cruel world, when Aidan says “why did you do that” your stomach drops and your flesh starts to crawl and you realize that everything up to that moment has just been the movie playing with you, TOYING with you, and that what’s about to come is going to be worse than you could possibly imagine.

And oh GOD does it come, and oh GOD is it worse than your wildest nicotine patch nightmares. I’ve watched a great white shark terrorize Amity Island, I’ve watched Michael Myers stalk Laurie Strode, I’ve watched Regan McNeil defile a crucifix, and for however visceral and truly horrifying those things are (and they most assuredly are), none of them, and indeed nothing I’d ever seen before or have since since or will likely ever see again, none of them come close to the sheer, abject terror of the penultimate scene of The Ring. I spent the entire scene desperately trying to get away from what was on my television, trying to scramble up and over the back of the recliner, trying to look away, moaning, “no, no, no” over and over again, but I was fixed to the spot. I couldn’t get away. I couldn’t not look at it.

You can very easily get all film-school-literary-studies-major douchebag about The Ring, talk about Verbinski’s repetition of imagery and use of color, or talk about how it uses the supernatural to demonstrate the threat of technology or how it presents a case for the empowerment of women or one of a host of lit-crit theory crap, and you’d have fertile ground on which to plant your bullshit lit-crit douchebag arguments, and all those things are true. Verbinski goes out of his way to create a real, artistic, serious “literary” movie, and he succeeds, and all those things apply. But for all it’s artistic merit – and it is fucking well brimming with it – the bottom line on The Ring is that penultimate scene. It is the pure distillation of horror in movie form. And I don’t mean in terms of gore or violence or blood. There aren’t any. I mean just stark, basic, amygdala-shattering terror. It is the single most frightening thing I’ve ever seen on film.

And I couldn’t look away.

JLK

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IM Fun: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Posted by kozemp on October 7, 2009

After perusing some of the Facebook reaction to the Phillies win in Game 1 of the NLDS, which was momentarily marred by a picture breakdown…

John: My favorite new idiotic Philadelphia sports fan behavior: complaining about Comcast’s inability to control solar flares.

Michael: People are complaining?

John: Oh yes.

John: “WTF Comcast, why is my picture screwed up? You suck!”

John: Well, Johnny, your picture is screwed up because sometimes giant nuclear explosions happen on the surface of the sun that send out enormous waves of radiation which momentarily disturb satellite signals.

Michael: Well WTF sun!

John: Exactly.

Michael: You think you’re so cool with nuclear explosions.

John: I know, what a bastard the sun is.

Michael: Like what does the sun actually do for us anyway?

John: Seriously. Like causing plants to create oxygen is such a big deal.

Michael: I know! F you photosynthesis!

John: And don’t even get me STARTED on the water cycle.

JLK

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I’m all dressed up and ready to play.

Posted by kozemp on October 1, 2009

When I got home from work yesterday I felt… not bad, not sick, but a little weird. Head felt a bit funny. Let’s say that systems were not operating at 100%. So I had an easy night planned. Sit around, watch some TV, get to bed. Nothing serious.

Early in the evening I’m fixing my dinner between catching up on DVR’d episodes of Bones when my father says, “hey, do you want to play Quizo tonight?”

Now Wednesday was normally the night of the Moron Quizo at Nick’s Roast Beef. We haven’t played there in a while and even though the Quizo is super-easy we usually have a good time. I start thinking, okay, I’ll only have a little bit of food now and eat at the bar… I’ll call Nick and Reg and Sabs, get the old team together… I can DVR Glee, and the Phillies game will be on at the bar… yeah, this sounds like a decent idea.

However, in what would later be revealed as a moment of great cosmic providence, instead of just agreeing, for some inexplicable reason I say, “where?”

My father says, “I don’t know the name of the place, it’s at 3rd and Chestnut.”

I think, what the fuck?

I say, “what the fuck?”

I don’t know anything about a Quizo at 3rd and Chestnut, and the thought of heading downtown with a headache is strike one against me going.

“The bar is owned by a Girard graduate,” my father says. “Fisher told me about it.” My father and Fisher both teach at Girard College.

“Let me get this straight,” I say. “You want me to go to a bar downtown, the name of which you don’t know, with you and FISHER, to play Quizo?”

“I’ll call Mister Fisher and see what I can learn about this Quizo.” While he dials the phone I realize that going to a bar with Fisher means we will likely be there until the middle of the night – strike two.

After he hangs up my dad says, “okay, the name of the bar is National Mechanics.”

When I hear that I flash back ten-plus years to a play I wrote in college. The play itself was remarkably wretched – I found the last remaining copy of it a couple months back and oh, god, it was so bad – but it had a running gag in it that the characters hung out in a bar called Cadillac Ranch that, instead of posters or sports memorabilia, hung used auto parts on the wall.

Give me a break, I was 20 years old and drunk.

Anyway, I remember this bit I wrote about a bar with the automotive décor and I think, surely someone hasn’t actually DONE this horrible thing.

I say to my father, “let me see what I can find out.”

I go upstairs and Google this place and learn that thankfully the bar is NOT what I had originally feared, that it’s just in some kind of historic building in Olde City called the National Mechanic’s building. I also learned as I perused the bar’s website that whoever wrote the site’s copy should be shot. “The space is alive, bursting with vibrancy and dynamism[…]” Whoever wrote that sentence, FUCKING KILL YOURSELF. Put the English language down before you hurt someone with it.

While trudging through the horrifying swamp of overwrought mediocrity that was the promo copy, I come across the information on the Quizo and read two words that hit me like a brick between the eyeballs:

Irish John.

Strike. Fucking. THREE.

I say, loudly enough to be heard downstairs, “oh HELL no!”

“What?” my father shouts.

“There is no fucking WAY I am going to an Irish John Quizo,” I shout back. This is the guy who did the Quizo at the Dark Horse before I did. His game is neither very good nor particularly pleasant.

“So you’re not going?”

“No,” I say. “I am fucking well not going.” Compared to an evening with my father and Fisher at an Irish John Quizo, sitting at home watching TV is a veritable orgasm.

So I stay home to watch TV and try to get rid of my nagging headache. The last few episodes of Bones on my DVR: watched. Special features on the DCAU Public Enemies: watched. Glee: watched. Life is good.

After Glee I turn on the Phillies game. They’re up 10-3. The Braves are losing. The Phillies are about to clinch their third straight pennant. Pretty damn sweet! I start hunting around my desk for my shoes – when the game is over I’m going to want to head down to Cottman and Frankford and see what’s going on. I start to mutter to myself: “god dammit, where are my fucking shoes… here somewhere… so much crap in this room… what the FUCK?” The last comes as I learn my shoes ended up being behind the toolbox under my desk, raising any number of questions, not the least of which is the recurring theme of “why do I still have this toolbox?”

I finally get my shoes on while Brad Lidge is warming up. A text message comes in: “Can Lidge blow a seven run lead?” I respond: “God let’s hope not.” I would legitimately feel bad for the guy. Charlie’s giving him a chance to get the out that will win the division, if he melts down there…

First pitch, ground ball to Ryan Howard, steps on the bag… clinch!

I actually jump up from my desk chair and put my arms up in the air and shout “woohoo!” like Homer. NL East Champions! Another baseball October! I grab my camera off my desk – I was going to use my phone to upload pics to Facebook, but I needed the camera for video – and as I cross the threshold from my bedroom to the hallway, perhaps 90 seconds after the Phillies have won the NL East, my phone rings. It’s my father.

I answer the phone. “Hello?”

“John,” my father says.

“Dad!” I shout.

He has called to celebrate the Phillies win, of course. He will say something like “I have pennant fever!” as he does after every single Phillies win. (Conversely, he will without fail say “I have lost pennant fever” after every single Phillies loss.) He will say something about the performance of players with one of the idiotic nicknames he and I use when talking about individual Phillies, something like “how about that play by Dangerous?” or “we call him Dobbsy!” or “clearly there will be No Questions Asked.” Possibly even “it’s a good thing Stumpy will be back for the playoffs” or “the Phillies are really going to miss Bleh in the postseason.” Maybe, just maybe, a sarcastic “Phillies suck!” like he would normally shout when they are losing. It will be another great all-American father-son baseball moment.

This is what my father says:

“On the Simpsons, who played the two bikers who abducted Marge?”

The Phillies won their third straight NL East less than two minutes ago and my father is calling me to cheat at Quizo.

I say, “are you fucking KIDDING ME? You call me NOW with shit?”

Now this is the point where a normal father would say, realizing that he is ruining an all-American father-son baseball moment, “sorry, you’re right, how about them Phils?”

MY father says, “John, we really need the answer.”

Now this is the point where a normal person would say, crushed by his father’s insensitivity to the all-American father-son baseball moment he is ruining, “how can you ask that at a time like this?”

-I- say, “John Goodman and Henry Winkler.”

JLK

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