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Movie reviews: Flight, End of Watch

I go to the movies every damn weekend, and I see some occasional good movies, a lot of okay ones, and a fair number of bad ones.  I never write this shit down, and maybe I should.  I just don’t want to turn into a movie reviewer and have to remember how many stars I gave what; I just want to remember that I saw a movie in the theater so I don’t rent it six months later and then find out ten minutes and six dollars later that I already saw and hated the damn thing.

Here’s the last couple of weeks:

Flight

Denzel Washington is an alcoholic airline pilot who manages to land a crashing plane without killing every person on board, antics ensue.  This movie was a straight down the middle C for me, because it had some suspense, but it was so goddamn formulaic, it was ridiculous.  Also, it made me go home and fall into a deep k-hole reading NTSB incident reports, which probably wasted a week of my time.

Denzel is a good actor, but I wouldn’t call this performance mind-blowing.  The theater was crowded as hell though, the temperature was 96 degrees, and they must have shown 90 minutes of trailers.

I heard little about this movie going into it, and expected more involving the plane crash, but that part of the movie ends quickly, and you go into this long-form alcoholic denial trip, which was okay, but I’ve already seen that after-school special.  I’d give this a strong three and a half stars out of five, and it’s a good rental, but you probably won’t catch this one on the plane.

End of Watch

There was nothing to watch this weekend, so we went and saw this.  I hate to harp on a movie for being plotless, since I basically write plotless books, but this was a plotless movie.  It’s basically a character study about these two cops driving around south central LA, with a lot of detail about their respective wife/girlfriends, a small amount of detail on inter-office politics at a police station, and a largely wooden story about Mexican cartels.  The whole thing is shot to look like it was taped on video cameras as part of a school project, like a “found footage” thing.  But this combined with the generic suspense of the story made me feel like I was doing tape tracking of raw footage for COPS episodes.  Seriously, about an hour into it, I got this weird disassociated feeling, and thought “am I still watching a movie?”  It sort of felt like I was sitting through a TV show I had no interest in.

Takeaways to this: Jake Gyllenhaal could totally play Paul Ryan in a biopic if he got the right hairpiece.  Anna Kendrick looks suspiciously like Adam Scott (Ben on Parks and Rec) and that always bothers me.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s stupid.  2/5.

 

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It’s impossible to learn how to write plotless books by operating a plow

I watched an hour-long documentary with Richard Linklater a week or two ago, an interview that was done on some Austin cable TV show, which looked like one of those public access deals that they always had in Seattle in the mid-90s when I first got a TV, with a guest and a host or two sitting in front of a curtain, a grainy VHS-quality video feed with one of those title generators that did the blocky Amiga 500 looking graphics in a stripe across the bottom. Production quality non-withstanding, this was a pretty incredible interview, probably done in around 1994, mostly about his work ethic and the movie Slacker.

It talked a lot about his first film, It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which was the Stanley Kubrick film school experiment: he bought a camera and a couple of thousand dollars of film stock and started shooting, collecting footage for a year and then spending another year editing it down. And it wasn’t done as a calling card movie, which is what everyone does now: make a film like Clerks, and then shop it to studios and either get it distributed on the Sundance/indie circuit, and/or get a deal to make a real-budget picture. He did neither, except he got the experience to get ready to do Slacker. And that wasn’t a calling card movie either, although the fact that he made money on it made him instant fodder for the suits, and he parlayed it into Dazed and Confused.

Side note: I was obsessed with public access and the idea of making a film back when I was in Seattle in the mid-90s. I would tape almost anything interesting on the public access channel, and make these “cable hell” tapes which I then sent to Larry in Chicago and he would watch them in the background while studying for law school. My apartment also had a thing where you could go to a certain channel on your TV and you would see the security camera feed for the front door, so I would tape that, and then run downstairs with a sign and flash the devil horns and make a face or whatever, then run back up seven floors and stop the tape. That got old fast, but we used to love this strange chick that was on, a chubby nude model who was obsessed with Tori Amos and thought she was a painter, poet, ARTIST, whatever, and would paint her face or body with tempra paint and mime these bizarro dance numbers to obscure Kate Bush b-sides and then go on these babbling monologues about some personal drama. I did buy a video camera, but I never made a film, because I realized that filmmaking involves the herding of people and the scouting of places and the work of direction, which is probably one of my weakest abilities. That’s what I love about writing, especially now with self-publishing, because I can create entire universes on my own, and even as an extreme introvert, I don’t need to interact with other people to get shit done. (Selling books, that’s another story…)

One of the things that resonated with me about Linklater was his discussion about Slacker as a “kitchen sink” movie, how he was able to throw in absolutely anything that was in his head during that summer, any old stories or lost memes or friends of friends he found interesting. He’d read a short story by a friend and then ask to borrow one of the characters, and drop them in some other situation on the college campus town of Austin. He had this form he had to stick with, this idea of an entire day, moving from reality to reality, jumping into these individual movies of different peoples’ lives, but he could get almost anything to work within that. I like that a lot.

I think when I wrote Rumored, it became my “kitchen sink” book, because when I look back at it, there are so many little thoughts and notions that came out of email conversations and episodes in real life and stories that knocked around in my head since childhood. I had this framework, a specific form or scaffolding that I hung all of these things off of, and I struggled a lot with whether or not to stick to this format or try to remix everything into a conventional narrative. And I didn’t, although there’s a very subtle plot to the book if you read all 201 things in order, but I wanted to break that construct, and I did. But when I go back and re-read bits of it, ten years later, I notice where the pieces originated. I see a road trip I took in 1999 or a conference I attended for work or an episode where I got stuck in an airport or a recurring nightmare I had as a kid.

I don’t feel like books have to have plot, and I don’t feel like plotless books have to be unreadable. I know when people talk about plotless movies or books, first of all, that’s seen as an insult, a problem. I think people either relate it to a book that has a weak or bad plot, that plods along with no development. Or they think of the art film where a group of children with Down’s Syndrome throw ape feces at a wall covered with blank 1040 tax returns for six hours, and think, “what the fuck does this mean?” and it has to be some kind of artistic statement that you have to hypothesize that it’s a representation of the latent developmental problems of our capitalist society inflicting oppression on African countries crippled by IMF debt. Or whatever.

I think life itself is plotless, and when we transpose a segment of life (or fictional life) from the meatspace non-linear world to a linear, flat book, we use plot as a set of expectations, a contract with the reader to guarantee that we the author will provide certain events that unravel in a specific way that will make the reader continue the journey. When we write an act 1, we foreshadow what will happen in the act 2 and 3 to tell the reader that they should stick with it. There are only 29 plots or 17 plots or 3 plots or one plot, and by telling the reader that your book is going to follow a plot that they already know, you are giving them expectations on how things will unfold. There will be twists and turns, and that’s what makes things (slightly) different, but plot is what pulls a reader through the story.

I guess my problem with this is that eventually, every book will become the same book, and instead of becoming an experiment to challenge the form, you ultimately fall down this hole where your contract with the reader becomes so rigid, any deviation from it is blasphemy. And if you fall into the realm of genre writing (more on that some other time) you MUST adhere to these standards, and the more you do, the more the reader feels “rewarded”, which is asinine.

The hard part is coming up with the framework or system to write the plotless book, because you need to figure out some way to glue together all of those pieces in your kitchen sink to get to your few hundred pages of book.  And that part’s hard to explain.

Man, I need to go re-watch Slacker.

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Pulp Fiction

I watched Pulp Fiction for the millionth time last night. We’re trying to get through that AFI 100 films thing, starting with all of the ones I have on DVD at the house. I haven’t seen Pulp Fiction in maybe ten years though, so it was interesting to see it with some distance. I think the big thing I realized is how much of a big chunk of my past has to do with that movie, and how much it influenced my writing.

When Pulp Fiction came out in the fall of 1994, I was living with Simms, and that movie wrapped around his brain in a big way.  I don’t remember if I was with him the first time I saw it, but it absolutely obsessed him.  I think a big part of it was the soundtrack, which was all of this old surf music, a big thing with Simms at that point.  He had this band, a rotating cast of characters, called The Surfing Richards, and they were essentially this ever-changing group of music theory PhDs obsessed with Frank Zappa.  Their music was a mashup of Dick Dale, Devo, and Zappa.  So the Tarantino soundtrack really clicked with him, and our house was filled with it for months.

Simms became this prophet of Tarantino.  We’d be record shopping or walking around Bloomington, and he’d run into someone at the store he hadn’t seen in a semester or two, and ask them if they’d seen the movie.  If not, he’d immediately drag all of us out to the mall to see the next showing.  I think I saw the movie at least a dozen times because of this, and he really got off on seeing people’s reaction to the film.  We pretty much memorized the film, and it got worse when I got a tape of it.  Back then, there was usually a year between a theatrical release and the home video release.  But I found some guy on usenet that made a pirated copy; he worked in a theater, and set up a camcorder in the booth to record the whole thing, with the audio jacked into the booth sound.  I think I traded him something for it, and got a VHS copy months before it was available in stores.  This meant we watched the movie constantly, even running it in the background while doing other stuff. So in the back of my head, I’ve still got the film memorized.

This was the first time I’d seen the film since I lived in LA.  I remember when I first visited Los Angeles in 1997, the Tarantino-verse very much molded my preconceptions of the city, and the feel that I had for the city reminded me of what he caught in his films.  When I lived in LA in 2008, I worked from home and spent most of my time in Playa Del Rey, which is not really LA, but I’d have to wander around Hollywood or Culver City or El Segundo on various errands and doctor’s appointments.  And I also remember the week or so I spent driving all over the city trying to find us an apartment, going to all of these little places during the day to meet with realtors that never showed up for their appointments.

There’s one scene that really captured a specific feeling for me, and that was when Butch went back to his apartment to get his watch.  The scene is very quiet, nothing but ambient noise of the North Hollywood neighborhood, as he cuts through an apartment complex and then a vacant lot on the way to his apartment building.  That eerie silence, aside from the Mexican families cooking or babysitting kids in the background, and the sight of those old Bukowski-looking walled compound apartments captures a certain LA that I always felt when I was driving through side streets or walking from my car to various doctor’s appointments or whatever else I was doing back then.  The film itself is not an LA film in many ways; he captures bits and pieces in the background, but a crime film could be filmed almost anywhere.  What he does is use those background pieces to fill out the film and give it a vibrancy that transcends what a typical TV crime drama usually is.

I also found that there was a lot of dialogue that I picked up on that bled into some of my early writing.  When I was hacking out Summer Rain, there were so many exchanges and bumpers and pieces of wording that came out of Pulp Fiction without even thinking about it.  Tarantino’s dialogue can be corny, and tries too hard to be hip, and I think that rubbed off on me a bit.  One of the advantages of spending so many years rewriting that book is that I had many opportunities to kill my darlings, and beat the hell out of the dialogue until it shook any of those references.  But while I was watching the movie, little lines would jump out at me, things that I know got morphed into my character’s words at some point, and then cut.

Tarantino also relies heavily on cross-references through his work, little things like Fruit Brute cereal or Jackrabbit Slim’s (which also appears in an almost inaudible radio commercial in the background during the aforementioned scene with Butch.)  Simms, being a Zappa nut, was really big on conceptual continuity, which I assumed, being a literary idiot with about six credits of literary theory that I barely passed at that point, was some kind of common term, although now I find out that it’s something only used in the context of Zappa.  But Tarantino has all of these little recurring things that appear in all of his films, like Red Apple cigarettes.  And I never thought about it in the context of his influence, but I constantly do the same thing.

I think the biggest influence of Pulp Fiction to me was the idea of a non-linear narrative.  I spent a lot of time in my first couple of years of writing trying to figure out plot, trying to think of how to twist together a huge, linear story, and Tarantino’s films were one of the first things that really sent me sideways on that, and challenged me to think in other terms.  Rumored to Exist started at the end of 1995 because of a perfect storm of a few things swimming in my mind, all of which were consumed over a long and boring holiday break: the book Catch-22, and the movies Naked Lunch, Pulp Fiction, and Slacker. Put those in a blender, give me too much free time without an internet connection, and that’s what happens.

I’m almost done with my next book, and I’ve got a todo list a million things long.  But now I really want to watch Jackie Brown.  Let’s see which one wins.

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Film Orgy

I have watched so many damn movies in the last few days, it’s uncanny.  I watch TV every night, but for whatever reason, our lowest common denominator has been all of these cooking shows, like Chopped and Restaurant Impossible.  We haven’t been able to lock into any good dramas in a while, probably since Lost ended.  And it seems like reality shows are the only thing available now, but that’s another rant for another day.

We tend to see every movie in the theater that’s within our wheelhouse, but that’s limiting because I hate superhero/comic book movies, and don’t get into the animated stuff, and that’s about 90% of what came out this summer.  But I will sometimes catch up on this stuff when I can do it for $2 on amazon, as opposed to $20 in a theater.

So, here’s a bunch of stuff I saw in the last week:

Captain America

The reason I don’t like comic book movies, especially Marvel ones, is that they’re all basically “hey, Spiderman made a shit-ton of money, so let’s use the same exact script except do a search and replace and pour in another superhero.”  So it’s always the same exact origin story, with a bunch of references to other Marvel properties to appease the comic book geeks.

I wanted to see this movie because it takes place during World War 2, and has all of this Nazi secret labs stuff like giant flying wing bombers.  The movie did okay with the vintage setting, showing New York during the war, but it had a certain glossiness to it, and I’m not sure if that was intentionally some directorial decision, or if it was because they used so much CGI, that’s the best you can do.

The origin story was okay, but like I said, they use the same damn one for all of these ones, and you can practically set your watch to when the twelve points of the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey happens.  Once the origin was over and you got into the fighting, it all became a hokey blur of CGI.  Maybe if I was in an IMAX theater, this would have been more engaging, but it was a bit too video gamey for me.

I would give this one a slight bump up in points because the hero is a bit grittier here – Captain America is a touch more Indiana Jones than Iron Man, if that makes any sense.  And the ending, which is of course a blatant hook for them to make more movies, was interesting.  But it was mostly a “meh” for me.

Monsters, Inc and Wall-E

I never, ever watch Pixar stuff, which is ironic because I think I could walk to the main gates of their studio in less time than it will take me to write this post, and to the fanatic Pixar fan, that’s like Jerry Sandusky living next to a Justin Bieber-themed boy’s grade school.  But I never got into Pixar movies, and never got into animation, and I don’t know why.  So I don’t know why the hell I watched both of these movies back-to-back on Thanksgiving night, but it may have been from a diabetic coma and an inability to change channels.

I’m mentioning both of these at once because every Pixar movie is essentially the same movie.  They follow the same plot curve religiously; Sulley meets Boo at probably the same exact frame of film as where Wall-E meets Eve.  What I found both interesting and disturbing is how emotionally manipulative Pixar movies can be.  I mean, it’s like just short of “here’s a cute purry kitty.  I’ve never loved anything as much as this kitty, and it completes me.  Now, here’s a bad man that will take the kitty and put it in a bag and hit it with a hammer and throw it in the river.  But if I try hard and fail two times, on the third try, I will get back the kitty unharmed and it will love me forever.”  And every person in the theater is crying like a little bitch.  And this WORKS but it disturbs me.

Also, there’s something strange about Wall-E (or WALL-E or WaLl-EEE or whatever the fuck it is) in that the writer, Andrew Stanton, is a bit of a Jesus freak, and the whole movie is filled with religious symbolism.  But it has a heavily environmental message, which means the Right automatically has to hate it.  But it doesn’t absolutely say either, so both sides fight over who the film supports.  It’s like when the film Juno came out, and everyone argued over whether or not it was a pro-life or pro-choice movie.  I guess that ultimately works, in that you get two different teams fighting to support the same movie.  You can’t make a film like Brokeback Mountain in such a way that everyone on the Right will rush to see it because it’s a good dude-on-dude movie BUT it’s a good cowboy movie.

These were both middle-of-road for me.  You’re basically paying for a commercial for all of the Pixar toys you’ll be forced to buy if you have kids (or all of the Pixar collectibles you will be forced to buy if you don’t.)  It was an okay way to pass the time, but I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Super 8

I don’t know why I didn’t see this in the theater; either I thought it was some kind of kid’s movie from the trailer, or I kept getting it confused with that horrible Nick Cage movie 8mm.  But we rented this, and I’m glad, because it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, except for the end, which was somewhat stupid.  So it’s basically like Lost.  J.J. Abrams creates a magic box, and you spend 90 minutes thinking “what the hell is in that box?” and then he opens it and you feel totally ripped off.

My first reaction to the movie was that Abrams filmed this gigantic homage to ET and Close Encounters in so many ways that it was goddamn genius.  The way he set up the world of the involved kids and the oblivious adults was so much like something I could identify with as a child of the 80s.  I mean, it’s not that our parents were oblivious, it’s that they were far too involved with their grown-up world, but we had a certain distance from it, because we were so consumed with our own world of horror movies and model building and science fiction.  This was done so well in the movie, that I loved it.

And it wasn’t just the perfectly sculpted plot that showed this – it was something with the production values, the set dressing, the cinematography.  If you told me that Abrams hunted down the same DP or the same kind of film stock or cameras as Close Encounters, or he obsessively duplicated camera angles or shot tracking from Goonies, I would believe it.  If you don’t pay attention to the story at all and just LOOK at the movie, it reminds you so much of those iconic 80s movies.  The thing is, the story – the love interest, and that goddamn magic box he’s assembling before your eyes – you can’t escape it.

I can’t say why the ending is stupid without major spoilers, but it was stupid.  If Abrams had shot this as 26 episodes at an hour each, and pulled back the kimono a little more slowly, maybe.  But it was still an incredible film.

Limitless

This was a huge “meh”, an interesting premise with some seriously phoned-in acting, and an overall film that was trying to rip off Fight Club, Pi, and maybe Flowers for Algernon simultaneously in such a way that you couldn’t tell what was what.

Basically, Bradley Cooper is this blocked writer who discovers a wonder drug that unlocks 100% of your brain (the “we only use 20% of your brain” thing is a myth), antics ensue.  The plot has a lot of switcharoo action that makes it interesting, but it’s got so much poorly glossed-over technology, it takes some effort to get through it.  Like there’s a lot of stuff having to do with day-trading and financial markets that’s absolutely mumbo-jumboed in the same way as when you’re watching one of those CSI things and they show the pseudo-details of some technical thing involving web sites or phone phreaking.

Of course the real bitch of the movie is that it’s based on a pill you can take and then crank out a masterpiece novel in four days, and it’s not available at the local Rite-Aid.  All I can find there is this gingko stuff that does nothing but horribly affect my bowel output.

Okay, that’s it.  I now remember why I hate reviewing anything, and I’m horribly bored of this, and I already know the only comments I will get is unending shit about my inability to bow down and lick the asshole of Stan Lee.

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All That is Golden

Simms had a hard-on for Kubrick. I’m suddenly reminded of this because of an excellent documentary on the making of The Shining, as filmed by Stanley’s daughter Vivian. Go watch this immediately.  This is required.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4745727919325920852

Simms had these insane theories that Kubrick was obsessed with the Golden ratio.  I’d never heard of the concept, that one plus the square root of five divided by two appears all over the place in art and nature.  1.618 is everywhere, from Greek temples to da Vinci’s paintings to the endoskeletons of shellfish.  Simms argued that 2001 must have been recut before release, using a computer that counted frames and trimmed things according to this mathematical equation.

I remained skeptical of all of this, until he brought me to a midnight showing of The Shining at the student union.  We sat in the front row, and Simms kept whispering at me, “look – look!”, pointing out the framing of shots.  And I’ll be damned, every scene, the hallways of this haunted hotel scrolling by the little kid on a bike, the tracking shots of people running through frozen mazes, everything was blocked and composed with this magic ratio in mind.

This short documentary contains some amazing little things, like a few sneaking glances of a Steadicam in operation, in the making of the film that would become an integral part of the device’s history. And there’s shots in the maze, of the little Danny Lloyd being told to run away from Jack in the snow.  Plus you see all of this behind-the-scenes coverage, of amazing stuff like Kubrick banging away on a portable typewriter at a kitchen table, while Nicholson marks off his lines in a script, using some technique that he claims he learned from Boris Karloff.

But the amazing takeaway of this doc is the glimpse of Nicholson as a working actor, and not the caricature that he has become after decades of every single white male hack comedian on the continent Doing Jack.  You see this charming young man joking with the crew, looking debonair, brushing his teeth before a take.  And then he hops up and down a few times to get the adrenalin going, and BAM, he instantly transforms into the demon-possessed Jack Torrance, wielding an axe and going into the windup to kill his wife.  And then cut, and then he’s Jack N again.  It’s truly amazing to see him switch on and off this role.

Now I’ve gotta go see if the original film is on Netflix or Amazon for streaming…

(Other unrelated trivia: the original hotel Stephen King wrote about is in Estes Park, Colorado.  That’s about 90 minutes away from… Golden, CO.)

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10 things I learned from the Lemmy documentary

I’ve been a fan of the band Motörhead for over 25 years now.  When I was a freshman in high school, I used to watch the British comedy show The Young Ones on MTV, when they used to show it late Sunday nights, and one week, this weird metal band came on that sounded cool as hell.  I asked my friend Ray about it, and he told me their lead singer Lemmy was god, and then proceeded to make me a dub of the No Remorse double album collection, which I promptly burned into my brain with roughly 40,000 repeat listens over the next few months.  Over the years, I’ve collected their albums, and although I’m not as militant about it as Ray, they’ve been one of the bands in a constant rotation in the player.

I heard about this documentary, simply called Lemmy, also the stage name of one Ian Kilmister.  He’s been the one constant member of the band since 1975, singing, playing bass, and writing songs.  I didn’t rush to the theater to see it, but I filed away a mental note to look for it when it came through on NetFlix or whatever, and it popped up on cable recently, so I DVRed it and got a chance to watch it last night.

I had mixed feelings about the movie.  It was executed well, and wasn’t just a typical rehash of everything I already knew about the guy, which was a huge plus.  But it was also somewhat depressing, because it showed this human side of the legend, and it was a somewhat sad scene of this guy who’s instantly recognizable, but ultimately alone.  I could write more about that, but I’d rather summarize the movie by mentioning the new things I learned that were shown by Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski’s work.  Here goes.

1) Lemmy lives in a shithole

This is the most popular takeaway from the movie.  Most people think rock stars live in giant mansions, and that is reinforced by all of the reality TV showing guys like Ozzy in giant 29-bedroom castles with indoor basketball courts and gold-plated crappers.  In reality, Lemmy’s lived in this completely shitty two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood for over twenty years, apparently never cleaning it during that time period.

Now, I’m not expecting him to rent some huge penthouse like P. Diddy would hang out in, with chrome-plated everything and an indoor swimming pool.  But seriously, when I lived in LA, my apartment was at least seven orders of magnitude nicer than this place.  It’s like a scene from a Bukowski book, with the two-burner range from 1947 and a metal sink that’s been painted white a thousand times since World War II.  The outside courtyard is not bad looking, but it’s that generic two-story apartment building you see all over Los Angeles, the kind that looks like a motel built in the 1950s and never renovated.

All of you who have lived in New York City are probably a step ahead of me on this one, by asking, “well, how much is he paying, though?”  LA is rent-controlled, meaning his rent can only go up 6% a year.  He mentioned he’s paying about $900 a month in rent for a two-bedroom, which isn’t bad for LA.  (A quick google shows that the average 2011 rent for an apartment that size is around $1700.  I paid more than that in 2008, but my old apartment compared to Lemmy’s is about like comparing the Bellagio to one of those downtown Vegas motels where you shoot a snuff film.)  Of course, if the stories are true that he drinks a fifth of Jack Daniel’s a day, he’s probably spending a grand a month on booze.

2) Lemmy is a hoarder

The shocking part of the footage of Lemmy’s apartment is that every square inch is filled with Stuff.  There’s the usual rock start stuff, like gold records, trophies, and plaques, but there are also tons of Motörhead items, like records, posters, license plates, stickers, action figures, and pretty much any other thing carrying his personal brand.  There’s also wall-to-wall randomness, video tapes and albums that are completely unrelated to him.  And this isn’t one of those OCD collections where everything is perfectly lined up on identical racks, in dust-proof, airtight mylar bags.  There’s stuff strewn around like a crime scene, things stacked on top of other things, shit everywhere.

One complication is that Lemmy’s not being whisked to gigs in hermetically sealed limousines with a team of bodyguards and handlers; he’ll talk to pretty much anyone who comes up to him, sign anything, and is infinitely approachable.  And he has legions of loyal fans.  That means he’s got people at every show giving him paintings and figurines and demo tapes and macrame Ace of Spades murals.  And he seems to hang onto all of this stuff, which is somewhat endearing, although at some point, I would have either rented a storage unit or opened a Motörhead-themed bar with all of the stuff in glass cases.  The man is in serious need of an archivist.

3) Lemmy is into a lot of non-metal music

The movie starts with Lemmy going to Amoeba Records (I used to go there!) in search of the mono version of the Beatles box set.  (And he’s correct: fuck the stereo mix; get the real deal.)  He talks about seeing the Beatles back when he was a teen in Liverpool, and also discusses his love of Little Richard during a couple of different conversations.  (Billy Bob Thornton and Dave Grohl, in two different bits, talk about meeting LR, and Lemmy enjoys those stories immensely.)

He also plays in a band called The Head Cat, which is a rockabilly supergroup with Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats.  It is seriously surreal to see Lemmy, the guy usually belting out songs like “Killed by Death” and “Deaf Forever” knocking out the Carl Perkins song “Matchbox” while a bunch of old people dance at some random casino in upstate Wisconsin.  (Go here to listen to some of this.)

Henry Rollins (seriously, there are so many god damn appearances by people in this movie!) sums up the whole thing by mentioning that Lemmy was around before there was rock and roll; he grew up listening to Rosemary Clooney records, and then one day, these four kids from Liverpool and this hip-swaying dude from Memphis blew the doors wide open.  And it’s true that the best music ever is the first music you hear, the stuff you lock into when you’re a teenager, and for him, that isn’t the Sex Pistols or Elvis Costello or Velvet Underground; it’s Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran and Johnny Cash.  I really dug the hell out of Lemmy being so into the classics like that; it shows that he loves music, and he’s not just into this to be another SKU number in a database.

4) Lemmy has diabetes

The movie shows Lemmy drinking, smoking, and eating fried foods.  It starts with a scene of him meticulously slicing potatoes into fries (he probably calls them chips) and deep frying them in a pan.  It doesn’t show him doing drugs, but implies that he does.  And then in a later scene, he’s taking some pills in a recording studio, and when the producer asks if they’re drugs or vitamins, he says they are medications for diabetes and blood pressure.

This shows the odd paradox that he’s like Keith Richards and Ozzy in the sense that he’s spent the last 50 years shoveling down all things bad for your body, with almost no tangible effect on his longevity or ability to churn out a new album every year and play in 200-some odd cities.  But it shows the twist to this, the human side, of a guy who’s well past the halfway mark and will someday soon be staring down the grim reaper.

This also conjures up strange images of Lemmy at a doctor’s office, paging through a years-old People magazine, waiting for an internist, who then asks him all of the typical questions about diet and exercise.  My health is not at Charles Atlas levels,  and I can’t go to a foot doctor about a hangnail without getting a prescription for Lipitor and a scathing 40-minute lecture about how I’m supposed to exercise 9 hours a day and eat less than 9 grams of fat a month.  I can’t imagine the dressing-down he must get every time he comes in to get his scripts refilled.

5) Lemmy practically lives at the Rainbow

One of the other reasons Lemmy’s got the shithole apartment is that it’s stumbling distance from the Rainbow Bar on the Sunset Strip.  And apparently, he’s always there, sitting at the bar playing one of those video trivia machines.  The Rainbow is a big rock hangout, and has been forever.  And you always hear about how back in the day, it was stylish for these non-music Hollywood types to make their token “I’m a bad boy” appearance there.  But you know how some dive bars always have that one creepy old guy that sits at the bar and stares at the wall for dozens of hours at a time, eating peanuts and nursing beer after beer?  Well, at the Rainbow, that guy is Lemmy.

6) Lemmy has a kid

He’s probably got more than one kid, but the movie features Paul Inder, who is his adult son.  He mentions that Paul’s mom Patricia was some kind of groupie who had dated John Lennon before she knew Lemmy, which is a pretty odd connection.

What’s strange is how close Lemmy appears to his son.  When he’s asked what his most valued thing in the apartment is, he says it’s Paul.  Although Lemmy apparently had never seen the kid for the first six years of his life, the two seem like the best of friends now.

7) Lemmy is obsessed with gambling

There’s a scene showing Lemmy parked at a slot machine, and someone talking about how he’d sit in front of the one-armed bandit all day, compulsively pulling the lever, over and over.  In fact, it’s rumored that he got the name Lemmy because he was always asking people “Lemme have a fiver” to pay off his gambling debts.

It’s a bit of a recurring theme; he’s either hunched over a gambling machine or a trivia game or a video game system at several points in the film.  It makes me think he’s got one of those OCD personalities where he gets locked into stuff like this and can’t put it down.  I sure hope he doesn’t get an iPhone with Angry Birds installed, or we may never see another new Motörhead album again.

8) Lemmy’s stepdad was a football player

I don’t think this was mentioned in the movie, but I was cruising wikipedia as I was watching and saw this.  His dad was an RAF chaplain and split when he was three months old, and he was largely raised by his mom and grandparents.  But when he was ten, his mom remarried to George Willis, who played soccer (football) for a decade or so in the 40s and 50s.

9) Lemmy roadied for Jimi Hendrix

He actually used to live with bassist Noel Redding, and roadied for the Experience back when they were London-based, in 1967-1968.  He tells a story about how he used to score drugs for Jimi, and he would take acid daily.

The story of him being a roadie also shows how much he loved music back as a teen.  When he couldn’t be the one making or playing the music, he was just has happy lugging gear for the people who did.

(Also not mentioned: Lemmy was also a roadie for The Nice, which was Keith Emerson’s band that was the forerunner to ELP.)

10) Lemmy is obsessed with Axe body spray

Maybe obsessed is a strong word, but there are multiple times that show him dousing himself with the stuff.  And it’s not just any cologne spray — the film is careful to display that it is specifically Axe body spray, the spray of the douches.  I’d expect the guys in Maroon 5 or Nickelback or something to be frequent users, but not Lemmy. He seems like the kind of guy who maybe uses some Old Spice (one of the original scents, not the new trendy crap), or just goes around reeking to high hell.  I’d expect him to smell like stale Marlboros, burned motor oil, and old leather, not Intense Phoenix or some shit.

Overall, this was an interesting movie.  I mean, the day-to-day stuff was a good look at the man’s life; the endless line of celebrities fawning over him got a little old, but emphasized the point of his importance in the metal world.  But like I said, it ultimately saddened me to some degree.  It made me hope he’s happy with what he does, because he’s not reaping huge financial or material rewards, and although he’s got a certain amount of respect and admiration, it’s not like he’s going to cross over and become known for anything other than being what he is.

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general

Julie, Julia, Queens, 2002

I’ve been back from Denver for a week now, sorry about that. We had a good time, and went to two baseball games – won one, lost one. We also took a trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens, which I drove by a million times in 2007 but never visited. And that’s partially a good thing, because if I had, I would’ve spent ten thousand dollars on pieces for a geodesic dome garden for my land in Colorado, or at least spent a month googling plants that survive well in a high mesa desert.

We’re back, and it has been busy, and my arm is almost better, but I got new glasses and they are bugging me. One window closes, another opens. I have also started a new writing project that promises to suck the life out of me, although there isn’t much of it after work and everything else. But it’s good to have something churning that has me awake before 9:00 on a Sunday morning, wanting to get the words into the screen.

I saw the movie Julie and Julia last night. Overall, it was a decent movie – yes, a chick flick, and no explosions or Real American Heroes (TM), but entertaining. The film had two stories going on in it, which means it hit on multiple levels for me. One was the Julia Child story, which has always fascinated me, or at least it has since a few years back when I saw a show on her, maybe an A&E Biography. I also later read a book about her that Sarah had lying around the house. She’s interesting to me because she was nearly 40 and couldn’t boil an egg, and she suddenly started this passion and empire from scratch. That’s appealing to someone who is almost 40 and has sold a grand total of about seven books in their lifetime.

The movie also made me wish I cooked more. Granted, I think we cooked dinner every night last week, and I think only one of those recipes was one of our standards, with everything else being something new. But it makes me wish I could try more new things, and it makes me want to reorganize this kitchen a bit more. Yes, it’s a brand new kitchen, and we just moved in. But we did a lot of “just throw this crap in this drawer, and we’ll figure it out later”, to the point where it took me 45 minutes to find some oatmeal the other morning, and it was exactly where I thought it would be when I started the hunt.

The bigger resonance for me was the fact that the story of the blogger Julie takes place in 2002 in Queens. And for those of you who are new here, I was blogging in Queens in 2002. (Hint: See the link on the left that says 2002 archives.) Of couse, this meant I spent half the movie looking at billboards and subway stops and Queens-style addresses, trying to determine continuity errors. (There were plenty.) But it also greatly reminded me of that era, and what things were like for a struggling writer-type in the general ecosystem of 2002.

First, 2002 was a standout year for me for whatever reason. I published my magnum opus; I travelled more than I ever had before (three trips to Vegas, one including a roadtrip to my land in Colorado; a trip to DC, a trip to Pittsburg, and a return to Indiana.) I struggled in the dating world. I tried to lose weight and I didn’t. I tried to grow a garden and I didn’t. I converted my bike into electric and never rode it. I bought 40 acres of land in Colorado. It was one of those years where a lot happened, and maybe it wasn’t as much as other years, and it was just a nice, round number. And at the time, I certainly didn’t think things were better or worse than other years, but it’s one of those dog-eared eras pf time that my brain easily flops back to without much trouble.

The Julie/Julia project blog brought me back instantly to 2002, because it was a huge meme in New York City for whatever reason, and I think every person I tried to date that year was interested in it. It had huge resonation with the crowd I was on the outside of looking in, the people who think Dave Eggers is ha-ha funny and thought blogs were invented in 2002 by Salon.com. It was the tipping point for blogs in some weird way. I’d been doing it for years at that point, but suddenly, an army of yuppie scum started blogging, and monetizing blogs, and turning blogs into books and movies and careers. I blogged almost 60,000 words in 2002, and looking back at it, it’s not that bad a collection of words. But I felt like a purist acoustic Bon Dylan in a sea of gone-electric, commercially commoditized Bob Dylans. Maybe that frustration turned me to do some good work, but at the time, I felt like I was treading water in an ocean of shit with no land in sight in any direction.

And it feels like 2002 is so god damned long ago, and it feels like yesterday, and I had to subtract 2 from 9 and think about it, and it baffles me for whatever reason. And what happened to all of those people from 2002, all of the wannabe writers and fuck-Bush revolutionaries and artists stuck in secretaries’ cubicles? I can answer my own question – they’re all on Facebook, posting pictures of their kid every god damned minute of the day.

I just got distracted by reading old journal entries from 2002, and I need to get my day started, and I need to make a grocery list for all of these giant cooking project disasters I won’t do this week, and I need to work on the aforementioned secret writing project, so I better get to it.

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general

Indiana Jones and the battery-powered mobility scooter

I saw the Indiana Jones movie last night. It was okay, but not incredible. I don’t know – I was never 100% into the movies as a whole (although I liked the last one.) I think part of it is that so many people have taken the genre of action movie and ran with it, so now when they try to do some “fakeout/the hero is so slick” moves, it doesn’t do much. Like, after the first few Jackie Chan movies where he’s doing all of this crazy kung-fu shit, seeing Harrison Ford get away from the bad guys wasn’t that impressive. I don’t have any great loyalty to the first three movies, so it wasn’t like the movie was raping my childhood or anything. It was a good popcorn flick, nothing more. And I saw it at the Arclight, so that can make a bad movie okay.

I’m still dicking around with the old entries in the journal, fixing things. I’ve been trying not to read old entries and get all nostalgic and then waste half my day reading them, but it’s hard to avoid. I updated a lot more back in the day, but the entries were much shorter. And over half of them had to do with me not being able to sleep, or trying to overanalyze what I was supposed to be writing. It’s a lot like repeating the same word over and over for five minutes, and then really thinking about it and saying “but what is ‘strawberry’?” Anyway, sometimes I think I should do another journal book, with entries from 2000-2008, but then I remember I will fuck around with it for weeks, and nobody will end up buying it. So I’m on another project.

Dentist just called – I am in at 3:30 for a crown. It should be fun. I should go get a steak for lunch, something that I won’t be able to eat.

I have lost almost 15 pounds. My pants are starting to not fit anymore. My wedding ring is a tiny bit looser, which freaks me out, because I don’t want to have to get it resized, and then if I do, I will surely gain all the weight back. But it was a touch tight, so it’s fine now.

I am going to Las Vegas in two weeks. Sarah has to go to a conference, so I am tagging along. I don’t know what I will be doing during the day, especially if it’s 120 degrees outside. I do want to go to a minor league baseball game. And Simms will be there, I think. But I have to avoid the food and avoid shopping and avoid gambling. So unless I buy some food coloring and glass jars and make sand sculptures in the middle of the desert, there’s not a lot of other options. Wait, are fireworks legal in Nevada?

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general reviews

Reign over me

We went to see the movie Reign Over Me on Saturday, mostly as an exercise to see if we could find a theater and get used to the idea of driving and parking, as opposed to taking a train and fighting the crowds. Anyway, the film was one of those “Adam Sandler, but serious” things, and he did an okay job, except that him either yelling or crying reminds you too much of Happy Gilmore, and his mumbly, disconnected role reminds you too much of Bob Dylan. The rest of the cast was good (except Jada Pinkett Smith; for some reason I would like to see her head on a stick) and Don Cheadle was excellent. The film had some inprobability, but it wasn’t bad.

The thing that was weird is this was the first film that intimately featured New York as its setting that I’ve seen since I’ve left, and that was weird. It was by no means the dose of Bloomington I get from Breaking Away or even the Seattle reverie of Singles (great setting, horrible movie, but you can see my old apartment in it.) But the film was really a mini-test of “do I miss New York at all?” and I guess it was a bullshit test, because even though this movie dealt with death and despair, it was a pretty glossy version of the city. His apartment, depicted as this total shithole, was probably twice as big as my old one and would have cost at least $3500 a month to rent. When you want to go eat Chinese, you don’t go to eat in my old neighborhood on Grand Street, as depicted, unless you’re a pathologist looking to sample some new unheard-of strain of a bird flu for a study. It was very much the Friends syndrome, and I guess that didn’t have me pining for my previous digs.

It was still weird, though, watching the film not as much for the story, but to see if any places I used to go or eat or shop would flash by in the background. Aside from the Chinese place, I think the dentist’s office was close to my old shrink’s office. And oddly enough, the Liv Tyler character vaguely reminded me of a psychiatrist I had once. Other than that, it was a bizarro New York, the Law and Order of the city that’s selectively gritty, and otherwise could be shot in Newark or Vancouver.

I switched email clients, which is sort of a big deal. I’ve been using the emacs editor to read my mail since 1991, for a year with rmail, and the rest of the time with VM. It’s a complicated way to do things, and nobody ever understood what the fuck I was talking about, except every once in a while, I would find one person per company I worked at that also used it or at least knew what it was. It was powerful in that I could read my mail with the same interface at home or anywhere remotely, as long as I could connect to my machine with ssh. All of my mail was in flat mbox format, as opposed to some proprietary bullshit formula. If I wanted to search, a simple grep could do it. And all of the keystrokes I used to move around a file were the same in email.

VM had huge problems as time went on. Attachments were a bitch. There was nothing to control, mark, or train for spam. (My ISP does server-side spamassassin, but that doesn’t work great.) I used bbdb for years, but that became yet another address book to mismanage in my life. And I found I could almost never get an ssh connection from a toyified internet kiosk while on vacation, and ended up reading new mail on my ISP’s webmail page (and not reading anything at home).

Last week I finally gave up, and started using OS X’s Mail.app. I thought at first this would be a horrible toy, like Outlook Express, but I’m actually liking it a lot. Like most Mac stuff, it Just Works, and doesn’t involve a lot of screwing around. Attachments work. Links work. Integration with the Mac address book – perfect. Spam control – I’m still training the filter, but the controls are nice and easy to use. It imported all of my old mail, no problems. If and when I need to bug out and export everything to flat mbox format, there’s a Save As that works. So it’s been good sofar. But still, after using a program for 16 years, it’s hard to not feel nostalgic or whatever.

Last week I also took a field trip to Wings Over the Rockies museum. It’s built on the last little bit of Lowry AFB, which is mostly condos and strip malls since the base got cut in the late 90s. (John Sheppard went to art school there 20 years ago, when he was “a PFC in Uncle Sugar’s Campin’ and Shootin’ Club.”) Anyway, many photos are here. They don’t have a ton of planes, but they had three I was really interested in: an old B-52, a B-1A, and an F-111. There were also lots of static Hydrogen bombs and Eisenhower memorabilia for the whole family. My favorite part was seeing that huge B-52 out front; from one direction, you saw these 1930’s hangers with a monster bomber in front, and from the other direction, you saw the 1950s strategic nuclear bomber with a backdrop of brand new loft apartment style condo townhouses next to a strip mall with an Albertson’s and QDoba, everything shotcreted and painted pink and yellow to look like fake southwest adobe.

I enrolled in a cooking school yesterday, but a few hours later, I got an email saying they were full, and the waitlist was full. I am not sure why I want to go to cooking school. Part of it is reading too much Anthony Bourdain; part of it is wanting to go back to school and meet new people, but not wanting to try and get an MFA and have my writing ripped to shreds by housewifes. And part of it is I like to eat.

Nothing else. I’m working on a short story for AITPL #12. I need to get my story done before I can really gear up the zine, otherwise I will be too busy beating people up to send in writing, and won’t be motivated to write. So, there. I have two short stories owed out, then I can start working on the book again. You would think not working would make me have tons of time, but it seems like now I am way more conscious of every minute I spend during the day, and it feels like I never get anything done. I think that’s the cue for me to stop working on this and start writing writing.

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general reviews

King of Scotland

I can never justify writing in here anymore, because if I had the time to write an update, I would have the time to work on the zine, or finish the story I’m trying to write for it. There are five stories now locked in for the next issue, two from old regulars, and three from new people. I am hoping for more stuff this issue, maybe to press out the length a bit. Last time I think it was 168 pages. I could go up to about 200 pages and keep the cost under $9.99. I think I could push 300 pages and keep the price around $11.99. I’m still making absolutely nothing on that, but I’d rather make nothing and have a great read versus make money and have a piece of shit. Anyway, I’m still taking submissions for another month, so if you had something in mind, get cracking.

We went to see The Last King of Scotland last night. Very fucked up movie. It was well done, and I’m almost certain the story was fictitious in the sense that it was maybe biopic and the doctor character may have been largely invented to carry the narrative. But the Idi Amin stuff was real, and it’s one of those things that was largely ignored by the press here in the US while people made fun of Jimmy Carter or wringed hands over the hostage situation. Meanwhile, he kills 300,000 people, and it’s mostly brushed over in the history books. It makes me wonder what is happening now in some of these shithole dictatorship countries that is largely ignored by the media while they quibble over what the president ate for lunch. The other thing that surprised me about the movie (other than the gore) was that they shot in the capitol of Kampala, and it looked surprisingly urban. The film starts out in the sticks, where there’s nothing but dirt farmers and lean-tos, but the city of Kampala was bigger than pretty much every city in Indiana. (Shit, I just looked it up, and Kampala is almost twice as big as Indianapolis!) Anyway, I thought the whole movie would be in mud huts and straw roofs, but it’s a real shock to see such a big city with modern buildings and cosmopolitan looks. Sure, you’ll see the occasional Range Rover with a dead elk strapped to the hood, but it’s still a strange contrast to what you’d expect. It’s also a good example of how the wealth is concentrated, and the people that farm and live out in the rural areas are truly fucked over by those in power.

Not much else. It’s pouring rain outside, so maybe I will sit here and get some work done later. Most of my work lately has been focused on cleaning off my damn desk, going through bills and papers and filing them away, and throwing out or recycling what I don’t need. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Maybe I should take a picture some time. Anyway, time for lunch soon.