Tarantino’s 9th FEETure: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Review

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Tarantino’s 9th FEETure:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

It makes sense that QT is planning to retire after a 10th film (although it won’t last in the long run). He has been slowly evolving over the last 15 years to a point where he is beyond making films and now he is simply working in the wrong format. The change really started with Kill Bill (a flawless masterpiece on every level) and seems to have reached a breaking point with Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood.

Each new “film” he makes feels more like a tapestry of wonderful scenes with phenomenal dialogue that suffer from overindulgence. This due in part to the possibility that QT is surrounded by too many “Yes Men” who are not going to help him shape and sculpt his work into something that cohesively feels like a singular cinematic movie instead of the sprawling collage of tangled (yet entertaining) structureless narrative.

Initially, OUTIH started out as a novel and it really shows as it feels like a completely different beast from everything else he has done. The dialogue is vastly different, not for the worse - but more of a departure from the signature stylized voice that he is synonymous with. I also found the minimal plot to be far too bare for Tarantino’s usual self-indulgence. Brad and Leo’s “arcs” feel much more like POV chapters in a book. And without a more structured plot to drive us forward, I felt the running time much more than I normally do when seeing a QT film, even The Hateful Eight. Of all his films, Kill Bill truly encapsulates the perfect ratio of plot/running time in a QT movie (after the beginning of this evolution to long form TV). Not sure if that makes any sense… It does in my head.

Also, that is not to say that the subject matter, individual scenes, characters, setting/production design, scenes (on an individual level) were not enjoyable - but it was not as smooth and easy to digest as the others. I think it will probably take a second or third viewing to further cement these feelings.

Tarantino has said this is his most personal film. My friend “Tony” floated me the idea that Rick Dalton is simply an extension of Tarantino and his anxieties of trying to stay relevant as he obsesses over what his legacy will be. Perhaps this all plays into his planned retirement after one more film?

Partners

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as the almost-washed-up-drunk Rick Dalton and his lethal stunt double sidekick Cliff Booth have wonderful chemistry together. Their partnership and underlying characterization plugs right into QT’s obsession with cowboys, cops, and the like from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. And much like Kato from The Green Hornet, it’s the sidekick (and his wonderful dog) who mostly ends up doing the heavy lifting.

Sharon Tate

I personally detest most true crime stuff and was very nervous about what he would do with the tragedy of Sharon Tate. Whatever happened would definitely affect the way I would feel about the overall film. It didn’t help that there was a bunch of controversy surrounding how much screen time Margot Robbie had - which began to fuel my suspicion of the worst: Sharon Tate would be nothing more than an exploited sacrificial “prop” meant to be gutted in the background while QT’s characters (probably Leo and Brad) would be bumbling around in their own storyline, right under history’s nose. 

To my great relief, the resulting film couldn’t be farther from that truth and I thought it was a touching gesture considering all of the disgusting reenactments/retellings of this poor (pregnant) woman’s final terrifying moments. Instead, we are given a (pseudo-clumsy) sleight-of-hand magic trick where we think we know where it is going despite knowledge gleaned from the past.

I didn’t specifically read anything into her lack of dialogue. While she doesn’t speak much, she exudes a graceful presence. Margot channeled a living candlelight vigil to the real Sharon Tate and all of her hopes and dreams, the pride she showed in her work, and most importantly allows us to imagine what could have been for her (more on that below). 

The sad reality is that many of us, (myself included) casually know Sharon Tate as the pregnant actress who was brutally slaughtered by Charles Manson’s followers or simply as Roman Polanski’s actress wife and nothing more. QT changes that with OUTIH by showing us (the real) Sharon Tate acting opposite Dean Martin in The Wrecking Crew. It was a touching, respectful tribute and a true testament to his intentions of having Sharon Tate in the film. Furthermore, we only see Charles Manson in a brief moment in what could have been (and usually is) all about the twisted life/mind/events of Manson and his “family.”

Bruce Lee

While QT goes to thoughtful lengths to delicately handle Sharon Tate’s subject matter, Bruce Lee (in one of the best scenes in the movie) is kind of treated with clumsy abandon. Here, we see one of martial art’s greatest icons reduced to some what of an aggressive, cocky, cartoonish fool in Cliff Booth’s fantasy to help himself feel better about not being selected to work on set with Rick Dalton. Within it’s full context, I don’t think Mike Moh is actually meant to be playing Bruce Lee. Instead, he is playing Bruce Lee as how Cliff Booth imagines Bruce Lee to be. The idea and the scene are brilliant and add to Cliff’s characterization…

Oops

And as I think back to the scene itself, and the recalls to Cliff killing his wife, I am now realizing that perhaps I am wrong and it wasn’t a projection of what would happen but rather a flashback to what had happened before. If that is the case, then it is I who is misunderstanding the scene. Uhhhhh...

Feet

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QT LOVES feet. I mean, he really, really, really, loves them. There are marvelous stories about how much he loves women’s feet. OUTIH goes out of the way on a few occasions to remind us of that in a big way. It makes me wonder a whole bunch about the casting process on a QT film. I would not be surprised if they were shoeless auditions.


Slapstick Violence

Tarantino has gotten to a place where he loves to communicate brutality through comedic means. Continuing a trend that also sort of started with Kill Bill, OUTIH crescendos with goofy, over-the-top slapstick violence. So much so that it leads me to believe that Quentin Tarantino would be the perfect candidate to make an Evil Dead (or 3 Stooges) film. If Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert, and Bruce Campbell reigned in Tarantino on a short enough leash, we would wind up with a great fourth entry.

I am not sure if it is QT’s intention, but he always seems to justify his punishment-through-violent-wrath with the lowest common denominator of common sense morality of good and evil. Which is not to say that it is invalid or weak, but merely common sense. There is no Walter White nuance here.

I found this antagonistic device satisfying as I watched the hilarious depictions of Chekov’s dog and flamethrower destroy two evil women and one evil man. Is it exploitation? Misogyny? I am not sure, probably on some Freudian level.

Playing with history

Watching the conclusion of OUTIH feels like therapy in a certain sense, by confronting the demons of a real life traumatic event in our pop culture’s history. 

I cannot speak to this experience (and wish to remain sensitive), but I have heard survivors of rape discuss how they have worked through/confronted/dealt with personal trauma by watching movies like Last House on the Left and I Spit on your Grave. If QT is a purveyor of pop culture mash up or as I read recently on Facebook, “A Cultural DJ” of sorts, is this his way of dealing with this tragic, traumatic, public historical event as a whole? It might be a bit tasteless/inappropriate to try and compare the two in this analogy, but perhaps the ideas behind both are similar in nature. I’ll leave it at that.

Bottom line, seeing Sharon live and the Mason Family killed in this alternate history left me with a cathartic feeling as the credits rolled. Yes, she died IRL, but this one time, she didn’t and it was beautiful.

Insider Baseball

Regarding the “Cultural DJ” observation gleaned on Facebook, there are oodles of noodles of tasty cinematic easter eggs/nods like all other Taratino affairs. But QT takes the insider baseball to a (somewhat agonizing) whole new level with OUTIH. The level of care and detail is astounding. I’ve heard various people online essentially exclaim that this is Tarantino letting his geek flag fly loud and proud. But isn’t every Tarantino affair a similar flag waving? Is it too distracting? I think cinemaniacs (like myself) are so blindly frothing at the mouth over stuff like the fictional filmography/history of obscure spaghetti westerns that they are overlooking a lot of problems with the movie as a whole. 

On an individual level, the detailed TV production/Hollywood business scenes featuring Rick Dalton are wonderful to watch, but don’t work as well when Cliff Booth’s storyline is far more interesting. Every time we cut back to a long Rick Dalton scene, I found myself pulled out of the movie, wondering where this was all going. 

The Big Screen has gotten too Small.

Tarantino ultimately needs to go from the big screen to the small in order for him to continue telling larger and larger stories. With a few heavy hitter producers keeping him in his lane and a solid TV network that will give him the keys to the kingdom, he’ll be able to make some of the best long form episodic, serialized television we have ever seen.

Nana watches Game of Thrones Chapter 3

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Nana watches Game of Thrones

Chapter 3

Now that our collective watch has ended, my 90 1/2 year old Nana has decided it is time to see what Game of Thrones is all about. Here she talks about episodes 5 and 6 of season 1.

Nana watches Game of Thrones Chapter 2

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Nana watches Game of Thrones

Chapter 2

Now that our collective watch has ended, my 90 1/2 year old Nana has decided it is time to see what Game of Thrones is all about. Here she talks about episodes 5 and 6 of season 1.

Nana watches Game of Thrones Chapter 1

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Nana watches Game of Thrones

Chapter 1

Now that our collective watch has ended, my 90 1/2 year old Nana has decided it is time to see what Game of Thrones is all about. Here she talks about the first 4 episodes of season 1.

Game of Thrones Season 9 : What if?

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GOT Season 9…

What if?

From week to week for the last six episodes of Season 8, I have been listening to various Game of Thrones podcast commentary in order to help me digest it all. It has been a wonderful post episode ritual and I am sad that it has concluded (for now).

On episode 42 of the Game of Thrones: On the Throne podcast, as Gene and Big D break down season 8 episode 6 series finale, Gene presents his brilliant breakdown for what could have been a season 9 of the show.

As I mentioned in my personal thoughts on the finale, the single biggest issue with seasons 7 & 8 is time. And though I do have issues with the story beats and character arcs themselves, I have truly come to realize that if I had been the boiling frog, I would have been much more accepting of it all.

Even in moments of heightened action and suspense, Game of Thrones is still a nuanced show that needs time to let things breathe. To an extent, this has always contributed to its continued success and high praise for storytelling. Shocking moments never come in the episode 10 finale of a season. It is always episode 9, followed by a whole episode just to process what has happened. It is crucial.

Previously, I thought it made most sense to think of season 7+8 as one mega 13 episode final season. But after hearing Gene’s idea of a season 9, I am convinced that the bittersweet conclusion of Game of Thrones is not one of story, but almost purely one of timing.

Gene tells Big D to think of episodes 1-5 as season 8, and season 9 as episode 6 of season 8. Yes, that is right. EPISODE 6 = SEASON 9.  He then proceeds to exquisitely break down and elaborate on the story beats contained in this one 80 minute episode and spins each one into an intriguing and thoughtful episode until there are 10 of them! It is a god(s)damn Game of Thrones chanukah miracle!!

I am truly convinced you could have told the EXACT same story, but stretched it out to 30 episodes and the audience of the realm would have enjoyed it more, accepted it more, and forgiven its shortcomings more. The only thing I would change is moving season 8 episode 5 over to season 9 with episode 6. It could work, a shame that we will never know.

Season 7 - Take 10 episodes to tell the 7 episodes’ worth of story.

Season 8 - Take 10 episodes to tell episodes 1-4.

Season 9 - Take 10 episodes to tell episode 5-6 of season 8.


"Game of Thrones" is over, and we're having a hard time letting go. Our final On The Throne Deep Dive examines whether "The Iron Throne" helped or hurt this monumental series' legacy and why things ended the way they did. Gene and Big D discuss whether Bran was the right choice for King, whether justice was served, and what the heck the Dothraki do now that they're stranded in Westeros and don't get speaking roles. We couldn't bring you a "Game of Thrones" Season 9, but Gene argues the final episode of Season 8 had all the makings of its own season ... so he wrote it. And we reflect on each major characters farewell and how it fit his or her tale. Also, if you were confused about who the heck also those randos were at the Kingsmoot, we've got you covered. Help Support the Podcast

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Theme Song - "Seven Nation Army (Epic Orchestral Cover)" - Ciaran Burch

Our Watch has Ended: Game of Thrones

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Our Watch has Ended:

Game (of Thrones) Over

Warning! Major Spoilers.

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There is a lot to say isn’t there? I am not sure if I have the bandwidth to even attempt the sort of appraisal that it all really deserves. After the (now) series highlight of Season 6 E 9 & 10, we started to see (much to our collective disbelief) a steady yet gradual decline in story. This decline ranges from mild annoyance due to personal preference, all the way to sheer internet hive mind bafflement.

Instead of pouring over the many negatives, I would rather focus on the good things and the character pathos that left me overall satisfied with both the series as a whole and its conclusion.

13 vs. 20

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Before I dive in, I think the single biggest piece of criticism to note is the extreme condensation of seasons 7 and 8, particularly 8. A friend on Facebook made this egregious error slightly more digestible by suggesting that I think of seasons 7+8 as one 13 episode final season. It is not a bad way to look at things, but it doesn’t help when considering that these 13 episodes are packing in 20 episodes worth of story?

67 vs. 6

Another friend on Facebook noted this: Those final 6 episodes abruptly derail/subvert the overarching story being told in the previous 67 episodes. It happens in a way that almost makes watching HUGE chunks of that 67 hour story completely unnecessary. It is hard to ignore the blatant truth of 13 vs. 20 and 67 vs. 6.

Lannister aftermath.

One of my biggest gripes (despite the scene/symbolism itself being good) was the choice of ending for Jaime and Cersei. Seeing their corpses gave that symbolism far more impact and for the sake of positive closure with the series, I’ll take it.

Tyrion uses Jon to kill Dany.

This five minute scene really makes the whole episode. It solidifies the choices and arc that the show runners were aiming for. It feels like there was a lot of G.R.R.M in this thinking/plotting and it was enough (for me) to process the quickness of Dany’s swing and what ultimately comes of it in the next scene. I also really appreciated Tyrion finally admitting his love for Dany, as well as their discussion on love being the duty of death and duty being the death of love. It applied to both of them in their actions. It was profound, and spoke to great truth - both within the show and in real life.

Jon still is the Prince who was promised. Duty is the death of love.

Building on the previous scene, Jon ultimately does what the Lord of Light brought him back for: He vanquishes the death that had come to Westros and saved the realm from more by plunging a dagger into the one he loved. It’s not perfect, but it works in the same way the Jaimie Lannister/Tyrion ultimately complete the Valonqar prophecy. Not on the money, but close enough. I am satisfied.

Death came from the other side of things.

Despite the 67 vs. 6 idea criticism, there is some noteworthy sleight of hand here, even if it wasn’t intended. Death was indeed coming for the realm, but it wasn’t just from the White Walkers! It was also from the “Fire & Blood” side of things: “A Song of Ice and Fire.” She was planning similar campaigns across Westros, from Dorne to Winterfell. Dany also completed her father’s last wishes, truly making her the “Mad Queen.” All of it a prophecy untold, that no one could see until it was too late -  except for one… More on that in second.

Dany does smash the wheel.

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Nothing happens the way we expect it, especially in Game of Thrones. Even though Dany kills just as many (if not more) as the all the other big bads, she still does smash the wheel in causing her own death. The best antagonists don’t think what they are doing is evil or they can at least justify it in some way. She destroys King’s Landing and what it represents, which in turn leads Tyrion to persuade Jon Snow to kill her. Drogon then melts down the Iron Throne, ending the 300 year legacy created by her family’s house. I’d like to think that Drogon knew what he was doing and understood that nothing good comes from the Iron Throne and that it is for the best to burn the thing that lead to his mother downfall and death.

Did Dany really die?

Ok, she probably died, but put on your tinfoil hat for a second. Does Drogon spare Jon Snow because Dany is BARELY alive?! Targaryens have been killed by dragons in the past. Why didn’t Drogon roast Jon? I like the way things ended for Jon, but I would have been equally satisfied if Drogon’s flames also roasted Jon with the throne. A satisfying death/end for the “hero” of the story. But maybe Drogon resists because Dany is not dead, and he will carry her off back to Essos and away from all this mad conquest. It is fun to think about.

A wooden throne, not an iron one.

The best part about the Iron Throne melting down is its replacement with Bran’s wooden one, along with a pseudo “Parliamentary Monarchy.” It would have been silly and far fetched if they switched to true democracy. I loved how they all laughed at the thought, but it really spoke to the truth of the phony democracy of antiquated electoral college in the United States. Iron bloodlines no longer determine the next link in the chain and the throne of power is made of materials that need to be replaced over time.

Bran is lazy evil.

Bran is kind of a bad dude. He seems to keep his mouth shut about A LOT of things that could help/save A LOT of people. In the end he admits that he knew where this was going. Why else would he travel all the way down to King’s Landing? Bran was playing the Game of Thrones all along. He only opened his mouth when it would benefit him. In this way, the 67 vs. 6 idea ends up being an incredibly long con that ends with him being on the “Wooden Throne of the Six Kingdoms.” I hate this, but I also love it.

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Arya sails away.

It was so wonderful to see Arya’s story end in this perfect way. It made The Hound’s words mean so much more. Arya realizes that revenge is empty and meaningless and will destroy you in the process. So she rises above it all and chooses to follow life instead of death by journeying into the unknown. She had no place in Westros, and now with no one to kill, it was time to go. Godspeed Arya, wishing you well.

Jaime on the books.

I loved seeing Brianne updating the Kings-guard record, it was the perfect call back from the end of their first journey together. But the moment is made less pure by the gross, unnecessary need to spoil the glorious platonic love they had for each other. Let’s just pretend that never happened, K?

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There and back again: A Song of Ice and Fire.

This was very on the nose and even a bit groan worthy, but I like it the Lord-of-the-Rings of it all.

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A small council of good.

Bran’s new small council of good felt like an extension of season 8 episode 2 with everyone bonding around the fire. Sans Bronn of the Blackwater, I can’t think of a better small council to leave in the hands of the Realm. Bran being wheeled out as discussions begin makes me think that he will have a hands off approach in his rule, which might be for the best.

Jon ends up in the North.

Jon’s arrest was frustrating after all the good he has done - he did not deserve this. And although I didn’t like that he was on the hook, I loved that he is sentenced to take the black. It just makes sense for the character. It felt like something that would have happened in the early seasons of the show. Jon was never going to sit on the throne, even if he was pushed to do so (even if it was the obvious solution to being with Dany). He didn’t care about his lineage, and he didn’t even want the honor of Sam name his child after him. All of his hopes and dreams died when he killed his Queen. All in all, it is very tragic and sad, especially when Jon is not sure if it was the right thing to do. One thing is for sure, it was the Bran thing to do...

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A dream of spring?

How can Jon take the black when there’s no more wall and no more Night’s Watch!? It is all a trick, instead he meets up with Tormund and the free-folk to go north of the wall and live in peace.  As they walk into the trees (that look similar to where the series began), we can see a lone green plant sprouted out of the snow. With the White Walkers gone, perhaps the permanent winter is at an end and the North will go back to what it was when the Children of the Forest lived there.

It is the perfect end for Jon Snow and the Targaryen bloodline.

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Follow up in 10 years?

It is a miracle that Deadwood is getting a film 10 years after it unceremoniously ended. Is it out of the possibility to consider that we will get some sort of follow up mini series or film in a decade or so? With the endless TV show revival renaissance and GOT being one of the most popular TV series of all time, I would bet my last gold dragon on it.

The Pixies: On Graveyard Hill

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The Pixies

…“On Graveyard Hill.”

The Pixies have been trying out their newest songs live as they make their rounds touring - in anticipation of their forthcoming studio album in September, 2019. It is called “Beneath the Eyrie” and available for preorder HERE.

Songs played live include: Death Horizon, Saint Nazaire, Catfish Kate, Bird of Prey, This is my Fate, and The Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain.

All in all, the new material is fantastic, but there is one song in particular that really feels like it could have been written sometime between 1987 - 1988. It’s called “ On Graveyard Hill.”

There is something inherently magical about music and lyrics of Pixies songs. They invoke surreal, visual imagery. “On Graveyard Hill” is a profound addition to their catalogue.

Thanks to Lukretiah 101 and AKF Live on YouTube, I was able to listen to it over and over - until inspiration struck for a music video using the live footage/audio.

This song felt like it needed juxtaposition with silent cinema like the Swedish documentary film - Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922). Additionally, I incorporated some shots from the Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis (1927).

With other cinematic influences like this or that, I’d like to imagine that the Pixies would approve of my choices and until we get the studio version, this tweaked live mix will do.

Lyrics

From the user “yarbles” - rank “Cult of Ray” at the Frank Black Forum:
”GRAVEYARD HILL (aka The Witching Hour, members of the band's crew have confirmed to a couple people that the song is actually named Graveyard Hill)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9DREvvlM3M

LYRICS (as best as I can make out)

And when the moon grows smaller
Donna picks out a flower
Gives her a witchy power
In the witching hour
In the witching hour

Donna taking a potion
Eating all my devotion
Fucking up my emotion
In the witching hour
Donna picks out a flower
In the witching hour

On the graveyard hill she's calling out her curse
I'm taking my last breath with each chapter and each verse
and soon I will be killed

In a poisonous forest
Donna lighting her torches
Her eyes are flying saucers
Her hair is black and gorgeous
I see her down at the crossroad
She could lead me to madness
She taking me into darkness
In the witching hour
In the witching hour
In the witching hour

On the graveyard hill she's calling out her curse
I'm taking my last breath with each chapter and each verse and soon I will be killed

On the graveyard hill she's calling out her curse
I'm taking my last breath with each chapter and each verse
and soon I will be killed

Yes soon I will be killed

Other Cinematic Influences

Junk Food Journey - Sour Patch Kids Cereal

This one really caused my jaw to drop. What an idea? Who is the animal that came up with this? Probably the same guy who brought us green and purple ketchup.

This was either going to be a disaster or a stroke of genius and I simply had to know how they managed to synthesize Sour Patch Kids into a nutritious breakfast cereal.

The results were both shocking and conclusive. Watch now.

Junk Food Journey - Orange Vanilla Coca Cola

Typically, flavored seltzer is my beverage of choice. It tastes refreshing without wasting precious calories that can instead be spent on delicious food. If I do drink coke, I prefer non-domestic because they use real sugar instead of the extra poisonous High Fructose Cornsyrup.

In particular, fruit flavored Coke can be really weird, although I do like Cherry. Does Orange Vanilla Coke TASTE like a CREAMSICLE? Let’s find out. I need to know this.

Junk Food Journey - Banana Cream Forsted Flakes

Am I BANANAS for Frosted Flakes?! I couldn’t resist checking out Banana Cream Frosted Flakes because I am a flavor freak.

I was additionally worried because of the sog factor that is associated with a flimsy cereal with a cornflake foundation. They don’t stand up well when you add milk.

Game of Thrones: The perfect way to catch up.

THE END IS COMING. Are you caught up yet? I’m working on it now. There is a list of episodes floating around the internet that shows you exactly which threads are important for season 8. And while I appreciate the thoughtful gesture, in the end I don’t think it is the way to go.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching serialize television is the element of surprise. Is there any lower form of scum than a nasty spoiler posted for all to see on social media? They are scroll-able land mines just waiting to ruin my viewing experience.

Now, to be fair, It is WAY TOO extreme to categorize a list of episodes in the same league as cold hard spoilers, because it’s not. But I just don’t like how even reading the list of episodes forces my brain to make certain connections that it otherwise would not.

The Solution.

Screen Junkies has put together the perfect recap that boils 67 episodes (68ish hours) of story into 52 minutes and 27 seconds of catch up. This way, I can chug the whole story like a can of beer at a frat party without feeling like I might be able to predict where things are heading.

Although I did pass by this (click at your own risk) the other day. I didn’t read the article, but I can’t lie, the headline does have me more excited than annoyed. There is also the chance that it could be hype. But your brain does automatically start trying to figure out what kind of moment it could possibly be based on where things are left at the end of Season 7. Oy.

Ok, stop reading THIS, and instead WATCH THAT below!

Misfits Reunion? Sometimes April Fools jokes can come true.

All the way up to 3 years ago, if you had said on April 1st, 2016 that Glenn Danzig, Jerry Only, and Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein would reunite as The Misfits and play Riot Fest you would clearly be joking. If someone didn’t look at the calendar, their heart would skip a beat as they read the news. Today, not so much because we now live in a world where Green Hell has frozen over.

It is truly a surreal notion. The next time you think something is truly impossible, just remember that Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only shared a stage as The Misfits after 10/29/83. Anything is possible.

Art by  Taylor Love

This is Us: Peeling Back the Layers

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This is Us:

Peeling Back the Layers

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS.

Please do not read or read with caution IF you have not seen the film yet.

There is one thing that is truly undeniable when it comes to Jordan Peele and his filmmaking: His originality. It is so refreshing in a time plagued with endless reboots, remakes, sequels, and homogenized tent pole concepts meant for the masses. It is that originality that gives Peele an endless well of credibility for me as moviegoer. I will go see ANY genre film this man makes, all you have to do is tell me it is a Jordan Peele film, and I am there - trailer unseen. His brand is that strong, and it continues to outshine any flaws that I have seen in his work.

Peele also possesses an immense pop culture intelligence that has afforded him the ability to subversively weave his influences as well as meaningful symbolism throughout the narratives of his films. Like Get Out, a lot that has been baked into the Us cake.

Things that stood out as I watched:

Shiny objects. The dead twin Tyler girls in the upstairs hallway lie in the same positions as the Shining twins! Considering that Jordan Peele was doing press dressed as Jack Torrance, this didn’t feel like a coincidence.

Froot Brutes. While the Wilson family sits around at the home of Kitty & Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker & Elisabeth Moss), Jason can be seen eating from a bowl of Froot Loops sans milk. Is this meant to be a nod to the psychotically tranquil scene where Rose Armitage enjoys her segregated “white” milk from “colored” Foot Loops? Does this add further evidence to the crazy reddit theory about Jason? What kind of psycho eats dry cereal as they drink milk? Scary stuff.

C.H.U.D is MY bud. I LOVED seeing the C.H.U.D tape among the other VHS on the shelf at the beginning. Not only is it a nod to the subterranean on goings mentioned just before in the opening preamble, but it feels like a little wink from Peele to reassure Horror fans and Genre nuts that they are getting something good. Additionally, I really appreciated seeing the random tape with a written on label - nostalgia city.

All those damn Vampires. Much like the C.H.U.D tape, another one of those winks was using Santa Cruz and its pier as the setting for the story. It too ties into the whole subterranean theme with the cave that David and his coven of Lost Boys hang out in. It is such a magical yet ominous place that laid on a nice layer of dread, especially in the opening flashback. There is even a very brief mention of the filming of some scary movie that Adelaide’s mother tells her father.

Tuned in. The comedic use of NWA’s song Fuck the Police is the perfect button of satire on the eerie juxtaposition of the Beach Boy’s Good Vibrations playing as the Tylers are savagely murdered by the doppelgangers.  As I’ve read elsewhere online, it ties into the idea of the police being worthless much like we also saw in Get Out. Peele’s cinematic use of music rivals Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, and Danny Boyle.

Chiller. The Thriller shirt is another tasty visual treat that really make us feel the time period, much like the VHS, and the location of Santa Cruz. Just seeing it made me feel the same feeling I felt watching the Thriller video as a lad and added to that same ominous tone. It felt like it was the template for Peele in the same way that Halloween was the template for the opening of Get Out.

Everything went black. I’ve read online that the golden scissors are clearly a symbolic way of revolt by cutting the “Tether".” In hindsight, this is quite obvious. But at the time while I was watching I could only think of the reversal of the silver spoon - a popular expression for those fortunate to be born into wealth. The golden (or perhaps it is brass) scissor (as well as the red jumpsuits) represent a life of endlessly toiling in a garment or sweatshop.

Nobunny loves you. The Tethered are some sort of failed experiment who (exclusively) eat  rabbits - kindred spirits who have always been test subjects in one way or another. Did the cloning start off with experimenting on rabbits? This might explain the rabbit surplus. As I talk about below, it just feels too surreal to be explained in any sort of rational way.

Psycho Killer. There is a really fun theory that Jason is a deadite, there is also a theory that Michael Myers is one of the Tethered. It makes sense. Wow! Such a great idea. It’s as if we have retroactively found mythologies for these slashers! I’m digging it, and with those red jumpsuits they wear, I once again wonder if it is meant to be a tip of the hat in some way.

Revenge. It was really great to see all the Black Flag t shirts! There were 3 in all that in hindsight are pretty self explanatory, it doesn’t get more subversive than that! First we see the My War  shirt at the beginning, followed by the classic bars, and lastly, Jealous Again. So perfect. I love this sort of thing - a great lesson for any filmmaker looking to add rich, symbolic detail to their film. Before the band, the Black Flag was a symbol of Anarchy. I am surprised that Peele didn’t use the Damaged album cover as well, it would have fit perfectly with the rest.

Parental Advisory. Peele takes the gilded idealism (like “Just Say No”) of  Hands Across America from the 80s and just shreds it in the best way ever by turning this empty benevolent gesture from a bygone era into a malevolent focal point of chaos,  anarchy, and carnage. It is deeply linked to whatever trauma was felt by (the real) Adelaide Wilson and really says something about how random things can imprint people during horrific situations and become a symbolistic focal point for them.

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I feel confused, but I am not sure if it is in that good way.

There are a few tiny gripes. I have too many questions about story semantics. They just could not be ignored no matter how much I enjoyed the terrifying performances, masterful filmmaking, dark comedic flourishes, and spine tingling suspense.

Normally I want to revel in the mystery. But with Us, I just needed more answers. I don’t know why. When I got out of the screening, it was a bit frustrating and my initial emotions left me feeling unfulfilled, but I realize that it is probably for my own good. Sometimes when it is all on the table, I begin to nitpick and complain about spoon-fed exposition along with the nagging question of “why everything needs to be explained?”

If I had to guess, it could have been this shift in tone from realism, to what seemed supernatural or surrealism, and then followed by another reversal to realism. When we first meet the doppelgangers, I was sure they had to be supernatural in origin. I was a bit shocked (also a tad let down when they weren’t) and that led to too many questions (not always a bad thing). I hate to say it, but the tonal shift feels (to me) a bit too post Sixth SenseShyamalanistic” like The Village: A misunderstood film, that should be better seen as a Twilight Zone episode.

I got questions.

Ok, I wasn’t going to dive in, but once I started I could not stop. I am still grappling with the “They” who created the Tethered. Who are they? The Government? Do “They” end up keeping tabs on everyone they have cloned and then pair them up? i.e. The Tyler’s and the Wilson’s Doppelgangers are married to the same people - or is that taken care of through the mental tethering aspect? What about their children? Are they clones? Or did the Tethered conceive those children? Is it possible that they are sterile and the only way they reproduce is to mirror the combinations made above by cloning the children as well? What about the scissors, red jumpsuits, and rabbits? If “They” who created the Tethered happen to be the Government, then these are weird items to include. They feel very surreal and lynchian - elements that do not reflect the scientific/realism of the cloning. I could not reconcile their union.

As the film lingers in my thoughts, I continue to glean what is being said online and my brain mellows a bit on the questions. I also realize that because of the brilliant twist ending, I will need another viewing in order to give the appraisal it deserves. Like any good film with a Sixth Sense level twist, the entire meaning is forever changed when you finish that first viewing. It will never be the same film again.

A sophomoric success.

Overall, Us is a well-rounded sophomoric (sometimes they can be sophoMORONic) home run with some frayed edges. I am stoked for his critical and box official success. We need A THOUSAND more directors like him. Peele must have felt the pressure as he crafted his second film. How do you follow up a movie like Get Out? It can’t be easy. Especially when the hype machine is constantly shouting hyperbole that “we” as an audience hope is true. Is Us a masterpiece out of the gate like Get Out? I don’t think so (although time will tell). Peele is forging a respectable body of work. He is on a path to solidifying a cinematic legacy like Hitchcock and Spielberg, however, if he is not careful he could go full Shyamalan. And as we’ve already learned, you never go full Shyamalan. Can’t wait to see what you do next Mr. Peele!!!

Post Note: I DO NOT hate M. Night Shyamalan or his films.

I think he is immensely talented and has the capacity to tell great stories (when he does). Left unchecked, we get things like The Happening and... so on.

Junk Food Journey - Peeps!

HOW MANY MARSHMALLOWS CAN I FIT IN MY MOUTH WHILE I SAY THE WORDS, “CHUBBY BUNNY?!” TAKE THE JOURNEY.

Loads of Posers - Chasing the Chaotic Image

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Long before there were Hipsters,

there existed Norwegian Black Metal.

Originally published at Ghastly Grinning, February 24, 2019

Lords of Chaos opens with some text that perfectly sums up what you are about to watch. “This film is based on Truth… Lies… and what really happened.”  Reading that really allowed me to divorce myself from trying to unravel truth and just enjoy the story.  I had a big problem with this in Bohemian Rhapsody. You can’t deviate from the truth with such an iconic, popular figure. I found it to work much easier with a film about an obscure subculture that no one really knows much about.

Lords introduces us to Øystein Aarseth aka Euronymous - the guitarist and mastermind behind one of the first Norwegian Black Metal bands, Mayhem. Euronymous omnipotently tells us the story of his struggles with his extreme music subculture, his troublesome friendships, and ultimately his own death. I haven’t read the book that Lords is based on (yet), but I was familiar with the story because of the Until the Light Takes Us documentary that it came out years before.

Writer/Director Jonas Åkerlund takes true crime material (that he knew at an intimate level, being the drummer of Bathory) and with painstaking detail, crafts it into an excellent heavy metal black comedy/horror thriller. Particularly, the comedic elements that permeate the whole film from beginning to end are brilliant, making for scathing, effective satire. He masterfully distills a tone that can instantaneously jump from being deadly serious to being deadly ridiculous. To invoke Mick Garris’ elegant terminology (by way of Elric Kane on Shockwaves Podcast), the comedy is SO black, that it ends up being as red as all the blood spilled in this film.

Just like the human body needs electrolytes for hydration, so does Lords need this comedy to balance the incredibly grim and graphic violence running through its veins. This is not cartoonish slasher decadence. It is the dark, matter-of-fact reality that occurs when you stab someone with a knife or blow your own head off. The film doesn’t sugarcoat the situation, the camera doesn’t cut away, and it is BRUTAL. BRU-TAL. It is the authenticity of this violence along with a lack of score that pays a sort of respect to these very serious things that really happened to actual people. Despite its content, nothing feels overly sensationalized or exploited. But that is not the case with most True Crime, more on that later.

The story itself is framed by this juxtaposition of wholesome Norway and the true Norwegian Black Metal scene within. It is the very vital foundation needed for this sort of satirical commentary. Several times throughout the screening, I am reminded of the Goth kids from South Park who mirror the perfect symbolic reflection of the goofy tongue-in-cheek celebration of all things dark and evil.

Subcultures tend to be the revolutionary counter-culture reactions to some sort of socio-political turmoil. But with the Norwegian Black Metal scene, you have this really nice place where nothing bad ever happens. There is no crime, no oppression, everyone has healthcare, but 75% of the population is Christian. And so the disenfranchised youth ends up taking on this extreme reverse ideology as a form of rebellion and expression of individuality. They despise the message of love that Christianity encompasses as a whole. At one point, Euronymous proselytizes his desire to spread things like hatred, sorrow, and evil.

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Within this music scene, there is an obsession over purity and authenticity. Universally, in the prison system, one of the worst things you can be is a snitch or a rapist. For any musical subculture, it is being a poser. It is a word that gets thrown around constantly in Lords. For these guys, the music and lifestyle are a “religious” means towards a path of the authentic nirvana that they so deeply crave. As actor Rory Culkin said, ‘They are the hipsters of the metal world.”

Encompassing this cultivated dark image requires full commitment. But it is not so easy when Mom and Dad subsidize your life style by investing in your epic Black Metal record shop, or give you potted plants to take back to your pad. There is a brief moment when Bård Guldvik "Faust" Eithun (who lives at home) is halfway out the door to murder a gay man before mom innocently calls out to him about his whereabouts. You have to try really hard to be evil, no matter how much Mom loves you.

The seemingly never ending elitist quest to be the most extreme also comes at the price of everyone trying to outdo one another or impress each other. Swirling in the epicenter is the adversarial friendship between Euronymous and Kristian aka Varg Vikernes. They both want the same thing: To be taken seriously. But they go about it in polarizing ways.

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Varg initially craves acceptance from this peer group. His initial awkward attempt to enter their black circle is rebuked by the Scorpions patch on his jacket when Euronymous dismisses him with a contemptible glance. Eventually he is given a Indiana Jones like test in Euronymous’ shop where he is told that the real Metal is hidden and if he wants it, he must find it. His childlike naïveté leads him to think these guys are the real deal, and so he too must prove himself by committing arson.

Rory Culkin is truly a chameleon, losing himself in the role of Aarseth/Euronymous. Jonas deliciously casts Emory Cohen, a Jewish actor to play the very anti-Semitic Varg. Much like the people that portray them, Euronymous and Varg are both are actors desperately trying to fit into their Black Metal personas. While Euronymous can turn it on and off (especially when things get illegal), Varg cannot. Underneath it all, Euronymous is a lazy, opportunistic braggart who is more than happy to take credit for these crimes in order to further bolster his carefully crafted image. Despite his superficial foul mood, he is patient and polite when it comes to the proper spelling of his forthcoming album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas to Kerrang magazine.

Varg seems bedeviled by a soft upbringing that is heavily implied, he is mocked for his “Kristian” name. One can’t help but think that this was a personal barb against the real life Varg who is an observer of Odinism/Paganism that despises anything Judeo-Christian. Varg’s arsonist motivations are fueled by his resentments towards the institutions of Christianity and how they erased the Pagan/Norse cultures that existed long before. His involvement in this movement is his twisted way of trying to connect with his Viking heritage. In hindsight, their entire scene feels like a backwards attempt to connect with this past as these modern day Vikings. Their strength, masculinity, and machismo are directly connected to their tolerance of generally unlistenable music.

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In the documentary Until the Light Takes Us, the real Varg goes into great detail to justify his “moralistic” retaliation (a firefighter perished as he tried to put out one of the church fires). His calm demeanor, well-read intellect, and soothing voice make him very compelling at times. But then you remember he is a piece of shit Neo-Nazi sitting in prison for stabbing his friend to death…

The film portrays Varg in a vastly different sort of way. He is a stocky, nerdy, socially awkward man child. It is Varg’s stupidity and adolescent naïveté that make him dangerous, fuel his crimes, and get him caught.

Euronymous’ tragedy is that he is always running from his truth: That he is a poser like all the rest. When the crimes of the Black Circle reach a point of no return, he relents, ready to sort of walk away from it all. After finding intimacy with the photographer he is always trying to impress, he begins to take the steps he needs to embrace who he truly is and does the most UNMETAL thing one could do... He lets his girlfriend cut off his hair. I would love to make an analogy to Samson and Delilah here, but I don’t think it fits because Aarseth never had the strength that he perceives in his Euronymous persona. It was always just a fragile, decorative shell that was capable of cracking at any moment. And now, here he is like a soft gooey lobster waiting for a new shell to harden when Varg comes knocking. Although no one will ever know exactly how it went down, Jonas shows us a very sad, ironic, tragic, brutal ending for our narrator as he begs for his life and for Varg’s friendship.

For me personally, I have never enjoyed the True Crime genre and generally find it tasteless - I say this as a horror film fanatic and gore hound. I think on an ethical, respectful level, 9/10 times it is better left to documentaries. Why do we need to see a reenactment of the horrible things that happened to real people? What about their very real families and their feelings? What purpose does it ultimately serve? Why is Lords of Chaos an exception? Because it creates a very important social awareness in the examination of depression, suicide, and the real violence involved when murdering another human being.

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We hear all the time about how people commit suicide, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere, especially with celebrities. Depression is this terrible, deadly affliction that the average person simply doesn’t understand. But the tragic portrayal of Per Yngve Ohlin’s (AKA Dead) suicide takes us behind the curtain. It sums up for us that sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why people do this to themselves. Their brains are not wired correctly and they put themselves in very permanent solutions for (what might be) a temporary state of mind.

Dead’s worship of death while alive, seemed to be the only way he was able to really to feel anything at all. For when he is not worshiping at the altar of death he is practically catatonic in a purgatory of boredom and dullness. This existence is so painful for him that he rather not be alive.

Even being aware of the infamous story beforehand, nothing could prepare me for the shock I felt as I watched Dead violently end his life. There was something so real and genuine to the horror of it, no documentary could convey it in the same way. When Aarseth finds his friend, he is confronted with the actual reality of the brutality he pretends to encompass as Euronymous and has no idea what to do. How should Euronymous act? Aarseth decides that his alter ego would take pictures of the corpse, eat Dead’s brains (he didn’t), and make pendants passed off as actual fragments of Dead’s skull (he admits later that they were chicken bones). In his pathetic quest for fame, he goes for the lowest hanging fruit.

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In some ways, Lords makes for a great spiritual companion to the punk rock indie classic SLC punk. Both stories circle around two friends in religious/wholesome places, where the main character (who is also the voice over narrator) finds out that he was a poser all along and falls in love.  While the real life Black Metal nerds and Varg groupies will lambast and skewer this film, I think Lords of Chaos is destined for immortal cult film status. It is a perfect document for its obscure subculture.

Junk Food Journey - Most Stuf Oreos

WHOA. MOST. STUF. EVER?! Not really. Atleast, not until I make a few modifcations myself… THEN it is truly thee… MOST. STUF. EVER. Sooooooooo much cream, my Gods. Let us take this journey.

Junk Food Journey - Dill Pickle Pringles

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Join me on a savory safari, as I navigate the junky side of the culinary spectrum in my quest to try the weird, the wild, and the wonderful.

What the Dill? Around Thanksgiving, I was on the hunt for the Target exclusive limited edition Thanksgiving Dinner Meal Pringles sampler. To my dismay, it could not be found. I was not going to let this ruin my pringly agenda. So instead I picked up Dill Pickle Pringles. Should this put the PICK in your pickle as you select your Pringle flavor for a snacking activity?? Time to find out. Let us take this journey.

Junk Food Journey - Carrot Cake Oreos

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Join me on a savory safari, as I navigate the junky side of the culinary spectrum in my quest to try the weird, the wild, and the wonderful.

Can carrot cake hold it it down in the Oreo universe? I am determined to find out for you dear viewer. Let us take this journey.

Death Muffins is Streaming on Amazon Prime, Yo!

Death Muffins is finally available in its final form! Marty gets more than he bargained for when he tries to eat 24 full sized bakery muffins.

This is the director's cut of the "M is for Muffins" entry for the ABCs of Death 2 letter M contest.

Death Muffins
Starring Zack Spicehandler, Michael Fiscella

Junk Food Journey - Cold Stone Creamery Cereal

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Join me on a savory safari, as I navigate the junky side of the culinary spectrum in my quest to try the weird, the wild, and the wonderful.

Watch as I try to get to the bottom of this Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Cereal. In short, it was pretty effortless.