Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Judge: Out of the Fire and into the Witness Box

There is a house about three doors down from us that looks very similar to ours.

It is semi-detached.

It has a small a small side deck.

It has the same, brown brick.

It is two stories.

It has the same cement steps and landing at the front door.

In fact, if you didn't really know any better, you might even mistake that house for mine.  There are some differences though.  The most notable difference is that a drug dealer used to live at this house until a couple of months ago.  The other difference is that on December 29 / 2010 somebody broke into my house at about 7:00 pm and assaulted me and as far as I know nobody forced their way into the house down the street to engage in (potentially) Mortal Combat with its residents.  This is a small, yet significant difference.

About three years ago my wife and I did what a lot of young people do; we decided to take the plunge into parenthood.  This was ill-advised, reckless behaviour, and believe me we have begun to pay the price for our folly.  Shortly after we had our daughter we realized two things: 1) Sleep had, for some reason, become a luxury not a necessity and 2) We were going to need a bigger boat.  One of the main problems with having kids is all of the shit that you need to raise them.  Within the space of a couple months we had amassed enough merchandise to open a Wal-Mart in our living room.  In fact there was so much spillover from my daughter's room that our living/dining room was completely filled with toys with stupid names like Exersaucers, and Intellitainers and illegal immigrant workers Jolly Jumpers.  It looked like the show floor in the baby section at Wal-Mart.  My daughter -at less than two months old- already had more stuff than my wife and I combined.  Not only had I lost my man-den, I'd lost the ability to walk through my living room without tripping over some stray goddamn toy.  It was eminently clear that our apartment was too small we needed to move.

So began our search.  As our budget was pretty constrained due to the fact that we didn't have a lot of money the opportunities were not as ripe as they could have been.  Translation: we looked at a lot of shit holes.  It's amazing how much filth a human being can endure for no apparent reason.  I mean, we can't afford a house cleaner (I mean, besides my wife who thankfully hasn't realized she could actually get paid for cleaning and still does it for free), but there's a certain bare minimum standard of sanitation.  (Unless, of course, you ask my wife.  But what does she know?  She married a fucking slob.)  We actually found one house early on, but were beaten out by $3000 by some other asshole.  Unfortunately we went in at the top of our budget and so were unable to counter, except by egging their house every Halloween and periodically spray-painting graffiti like giant cocks on the side of the house.  And while that is fun it left us looking for another house.

Eventually we found a great house that we loved with hardwood floors, huge bedrooms, a great yard, a huge finished basement which would allow me to reestablish the boundaries of my man-den and my wife to open a day care which was her plan at the time.  Even the price came in under budget to give us some wiggle room.  It was great.  I loved it.  My wife loved it... but hated the neighbourhood.  To this day whenever I ask her about why she hated that neighbourhood she can't explain it to me fully or rationally.  "I heard it was bad," is her only explanation.  A short while after that we settled for our silver medal, where we still live to this very day two and a half years later.  For a long time I cursed our decision as I thought about all the pros the other house had that ours lacked.  Then last fall we happened to be driving around town trying to get my daughter to sleep because for a little while the only way she would nap would be in a moving vehicle.  We somehow ended up driving past the rejected house, the One That Got Away.

Except now it looked very different.

Now it had been burned to the ground.

Well, "burned to the ground" is a little inaccurate (read: technically incorrect), but "gutted by fire" just doesn't have the same ring to it.  As we drove by I slowed the car and we both stared in awe.  The house we had both liked so much -the one I had been ready to settle down in- had been ravaged by man's oldest nemesis. 

"So that's the house," I heard my wife say.  "I read about this in the paper.  It was caused by some faulty wiring.  I didn't realize it was this house."

Right away the implications hit me like a ton of tits.  (Most people like being hit with bricks: me, I prefer tits.)  Jesus, I thought.  If we had bought that house like I had so adamantly insisted then right now my wife, daughter and I might be nothing more than charred corpses lying in a pile of rubble.  Somehow, some great force -Fate, Destiny, Random Chance, Luck, God, whatever you choose to call it- had interceded on our behalf.  It had deemed that we were not to be burned to death in a terrible house fire (at least not yet).  For reasons I still do not completely understand my family and I had been spared this terrible horror.  It wasn't until December 29, 2010 that I began to realize that there was a reason that we had not bought the Fire House, that we ended up where we are, and that I ended up alone on that fateful night.  I was meant to undergo another Trial by Fire: the metaphorical fire of desperate hand to hand combat.  Out of the fire and into the frying pan.

Fast forward three months.  On the morning of March 13, 2011 I woke up in a state of high alertness.  This was unusual for me, because I usually barely wake up in a state of sleep-drunken grogginess.  I don't know if I have some kind of medically diagnosable problem, but no matter how much sleep I get I almost always wake up feeling tired and weary like I barely slept at all.  But on the morning of March 13 I had no problem getting up.  I was showered and shaved before my wife and children were even awake, which is rare.  Normally my daughter is up and out of her room between 6:00 and 6:30 and either downstairs making a mess or jumping on my head in a futile attempt to wake me up and my wife is usually poking me to take our son who has been up since four or five in the morning.  But that day was different.  That was the day of my very first appearance in a court of law (not related to public nudity charges). 

I had received a subpoena a little over three weeks before "commanding" me to appear in courtroom 305 at 9 o'clock in the morning to testify against the person that was accused of and who -due to a wide array of evidence I was not privy to- was widely believed by the cops to be the selfsame asshole who broke into my house that fateful night in December.   When I first read the subpoena the first thing I thought was that they didn't have to "command" me to appear.  I was glad to finally get my say in a court of law on this subject.  They could have just "politely asked" me to appear.  Well, I suppose "glad" wouldn't be the correct term either.  The feeling I was experiencing was anxiousness: excitement tempered by anticipation of the unknown.  It was the same as the anxiousness I get sometimes before a big presentation.  I wasn't worried so much about the story I would tell.  I had no reason to lie.  I was worried more about the practicality of the process: where I would sit, how loud I would have to talk, what to wear, what the actual courtroom would be like, procedural stuff and the like.

I contacted the detective working my case in a fit of panic and set up a meeting the week before what I later learned was a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence to proceed with a full on trial.  I talked to the crown attorney (that's the same as district attorney for any Americans or foreigners who only get American channels on their TV units) and then went to watch my video testimony which I had given way back on December 31.  Now, I've been involved in theatre before, and even had a brief television project which aired on the local cable channel (more on that later).  I'd also "starred" in a series of embarrassing home movies filmed by my mother during every waking moment of my childhood, so I was no stranger to seeing my recorded self on a television screen.  But this time was different.  As I sat there watching my battered and bruised past self describe the events that transpired on Dec 29, it seemed more visceral this time.  It hit me then: this shit was real.  I was watching a police recording of my own account of a break-in at my house and an assault on my physical being.  I was watching the victim of a violent crime and myself simultaneously, and so I was unable to remain emotionally detached.  I wasn't feeling sympathy for a victim: I was reliving the most terrifying moment of my life (to date).  It wasn't hard to watch in the way that I had to turn away because I was overcome with emotion.  It was hard to watch because as the (sightly heavier) on-screen version of me humourlessly related the events of that night, I began to relive that sensation of complete and utter powerlessness I felt when I first realized what was happening some three months previous.

After I reviewed my testimony -which it turned out I didn't need to do because all of the details I mentioned then are still as vivid today as they were back then- I was led out of the office my the smiling crown attorney.  Due to a miscommunication I went back home, not realizing that the detective was still waiting for me at the courthouse to show me the courtroom I was going to be testifying in.  (The crown attorney told me the detective was at the "police office" and I heard "police station" not realizing that there was an actual "police office" at the courthouse.  I felt kind of silly later, but how the fuck was I supposed to know?)

Jump forward to the day of the trial and I'm waiting outside the courthouse reading an old issue of Cosmo, the only publication I could find in a hundred foot radius that wasn't about refereeing sporting events or random lookout locations in the Rocky mountains.  Cosmo was a good choice, though, because it had lots of useful tips on "how to please my man," and because despite being a publication supposedly designed for young women it typically has a large percentage of pictures of scantily-clad women, and half-naked (attractive) women tend to have a calming effect on my heterosexual DNA.  I was just about the take this issue's quiz to determine my favourite part of m own body when a strangely familiar face showed up.  I saw my next door neighbour walking down the hall towards me and the first thing I thought is How the hell do I know this person? because I'm not a very good neighbour.  After she came up and started apologizing it suddenly dawned on me who she was.

It turns out that my strategy on December 29 had partially worked.  During the fight that took place in my driveway I had tried to be as conspicuous as possible -mostly in the form of manly cries for help- in order to draw attention from neighbours or passers-by who would then in turn either A) Come out to see what the problem was and maybe give me a hand, B) Call the police, or C) Capture the whole event on video and post in on YouTube.  Unfortunately for me my plan was flawed from the start because all the cries of help in the world (no matter how manly they might be) could not trump the sociological urge to "mind your own business."  Some people -my neighbour included- might have thought that I would have been a lot angrier upon learning that someone had witnessed most of the fight yet neglected to call the police.  But I wasn't mad.  In fact, I found myself sympathizing with her predicament.  Before this incident I, too, would probably have hesitated if faced with the same dilemma: the urge to help someone who could possibly need it weighed against the mandate not to be seen as overreacting or interfering in somebody else's business.  This is a line that has been socially programmed in all of us, and it is a valid boundary, and it something that has to constantly be reevaluated and readjusted.  My neighbour explained to me that she hesitated to act because she thought I was having a fight with a friend that simply got out of control.  In all fairness that is a fairly likely scenario and it offered a plausible explanation for what she saw.  Before this incident I probably would never have considered calling the police for fear of being wrong and wasting their time.  Now a lot of hesitation has been burned out of me and I wouldn't stop for a second before calling the police if I witnessed something similar now.  The possibility of being wrong and potentially sticking my nose where it doesn't belong is now heavily outweighed in my mind by the more horrible possibility that somebody else might be calling out blindly into the darkness only to have their cries fall on deaf, scared ears.  Just like my work philosophy I would rather get into trouble for doing something than for doing nothing.  I can no longer live with the regret of inaction.

After chatting with my neighbour and hearing her apologize several more times, the courtroom was finally opened and the detective working my case invited me in to show me the courtroom (for real this time) and so I could watch a few of the cases being heard before mine to get a "feel" for the ebb and flow of the legal process.  I sat through two such cases and two things occurred to me.  The first thing I noticed was how the accused (who all pleaded guilty in this case) didn't look like criminals.  I wasn't expecting disfiguring scars or eye patches or goatee stroking or sinister eyebrow raising or anything blatant like that (although the eye patch thing would be cool).  I'm not sure, but I was almost expecting some kind of aura or something like they had been mystically marked by some supernatural force that would make them immediately identifiable to "normal people."  But the simple fact was that these people (technically criminals who plead guilty to their respective charges) looked like dozens of people you might encounter on a daily basis who had broken no laws at all. I thought that perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough, or that my Spider-sense wasn't working right.  I was shocked that I couldn't just sense a criminal nearby, that the smell of their crimes didn't somehow emanate from the core of their being and waft into our metaphysical noses.

The second thought that struck me was how sad most of this shit was.  These weren't criminal masterminds robbing banks or holding the city for ransom or trying to assassinate the mayor or shooting men in Reno just to watch them die.  These were people with serious problems and addictions who seemed to lack money and any kind of social support system.  And while these things should by no means be used to excuse their actions, their stories seemed more tragic than diabolical.  One particular case stuck with me.  It involved a young Native woman brought up on charges related to racking up over four grand on her on-again off-again boyfriend's credit card (who, it turns out, was in jail at the time) and spent the money on drugs instead of on retaining legal council for some other charge, threatening another young woman, and being caught with seven grams of weed on her when the cops searched her purse at the station (although she kept insisting that she only had half a gram of Mary Jane and the rest of the substance they found was tobacco).  Through the course of the case it was also clear that this woman had several children each from different fathers and that she had tried to raise money to pay back her boyfriend by stripping at a local club, though -all due respect- she wasn't exactly stripper material.  Or at least nothing that I would imagine anybody paying for.  I'm not saying this out of spite, as I probably wouldn't make it as a male stripper for much longer than about two minutes, only to emphasize how sad the whole thing seemed.  The other reason this case in particular stuck with me was that the woman -Angel- also happened to have the most ironic name imaginable considering the circumstances which seemed to add to the absurdity of the situation.

After forty-five minutes of illicit drugs, stolen property, and sexual assault it was going to be my turn.  Now shit got real.  The phone call was sent down to holding (I guess) to bring up the man accused of breaking into my house and trying (however unsuccessfully) to kick my ass.  Now a Canadian courtroom is a little different than the ones you see in (mostly American) television and movies.  If the defendant is already in police custody he or she apparently doesn't get to sit with his or her lawyer, but instead has to sit in a glassed-in pen which looked exactly like an NHL penalty box.  This seemed especially fitting seeing as one of the few facts I knew about the man accused of my attack was a hockey player who apparently at one point had himself been drafted into the NHL.  The irony factor was admittedly off the charts that day.  As it turns out this would-be MVP had already been convicted of some other crime for which he was serving two years. 

As soon as I knew that I might be meeting my attacker face to face for the first time in broad daylight since the incident I once again became very anxious.  I couldn't sit still and my hands grew restless.  Finally two cops escorted him in and sat him down in the penalty box.  I took a deep breath and looked over at him.  After a while I realized I was staring at him, but I couldn't not.  I was desperately searching his face, trying to force myself to recognize him even though on the night in question my attacker had worn a hat and a scarf covering his face.  I thought I saw something in his eyes -the way they were spaced so closely together over his nose that sparked something in my memory, but I couldn't be sure.  I wasn't sure whether the vague familiarity I sensed was my brain actually piecing things together from the three or four seconds I saw my attacker's face without the scarf or whether it was a result of the unconscious suggestion that this was "the guy" or some combination of the two.  There was a short recess so I had ample time to examine this specimen though I don't think we ever locked eyes in a dramatic showdown of wills.  The only other thing I was really able to discern was that this guy was fucking huge, a fact that impressed several cops who my wife (who was waiting outside the courthouse with my son at this point) overheard talking in impressed tones about how I took down this hulking tower of beef.  (Like I said, the cops are fairly certain this is the guy.) 

Finally after what seemed like an unnecessarily long wait my time came.  I was called to the stand to tell My Story.  I made my way to the front of the courtroom and sat down in the witness stand next to the judge.  I was promptly directed to stand back up to take an oath to tell the truth.  When given the choice I opted out of swearing on the bible even though I was tempted to look like the witnesses you see in the movies, but thankfully reason won out with the realization that religion has no place in a court of law, or anywhere for that matter.  I sat down -for the second time- and the process began.  The crown attorney started off asking me how to spell and pronounce my name, where I lived, and if the good-looking kid outside was mine.  The defence attorney chimed in with a playful "No contest here, your Honour," to the cute kid comment prompting a laugh from the courtroom.  I was taken aback once again.  Not only were the prosecutor and the defence attorney's not mortal enemies, they were even congenial to one another.  I had expected some kind of animosity, but to them it seemed like just another day on the job.  Which I suppose it was for them.  Just like doctors they were able to emotionally detach themselves from the horrible shit they dealt with every day and ended up drawing the line not between each other but between themselves and the rest of the world.

The rest, as they say, is history.  The crown attorney began by asking me questions about the night in question and I started weaving my tale.  After a while I began stopping periodically because the crown stopped asking me questions and simply prompted me to "Please continue," or "Go on," and I so I obliged.  I made sure to try and speak loud and clear both for the benefit of the court reporter and the high school class that was there on a field trip for the day.  The other cases were short, and I felt lacked drama, so I tried to tell my story as compellingly as possible in the vain belief that I could engage the Facebook/texting generation for any length of time without some kind of testimony app that they could purchase for $1.99 on their iPod (or Blackberry if they were sold out of iPods).  I didn't realize until my wife told me afterwards but it turns out I had used up the better part of an hour and I hadn't even been cross examined, which was the part I was most curious about.  I wasn't worried about my testimony because I knew what had happened to me, but I wasn't sure what angle the defence might take, and as of this point in time I still don't.  The defence attorney warned me that his questions might seem "nitpicky" and he was right.  I couldn't divine for the life of me what relevance most of his questions had to the pertinent facts of the case, but I tried to answer them to the best of my knowledge.

After over an hour of testimony my time in the spotlight was finally over.  I got ready to leave the witness box when I was stopped by the judge.  This scared the shit out of me because in watching the other cases he seemed like a hard-assed, no-nonsense guy.  I don't know if it was the setting or the judge himself, but I immediately felt like a little kid about to get in trouble from the teacher.  I remember reading somewhere that the way to deal with a rampaging judge was to establish dominance by making yourself as big as possible, maintaining direct eye contact, and making noise like a rabid baboon, the only known natural enemy of the judge.  I tensed my body, ready for action.  Before I could react, though, the judge started into me.  He said he had two things to tell me.  Oh no, I thought, here it comesWhat did I do wrong?  The first thing he told me was that if there was some kind of medal for bravery that he could give I would definitely be entitled to it.  The second thing he told me as that out of the thousands of witnesses he had heard over the years I was one of the best.  The Fear subsided and I left the stand without having to imitate any monkeys whatsoever.  Now, the article in the local newspaper The Nugget covered the hearing and the official quotes from the judge are slightly different from my recollection (which you can read if you want by following the link at the bottom of the page, or by clicking here), and far be it for me to dispute the reported facts all I'm saying is: who's the fucking great witness here?

After my testimony I waited outside the courtroom with my wife and son (my daughter was at her grandmother's house) for my neighbour to give her testimony.  I wasn't allowed to listen in, I suppose in order to avoid cross contamination of our respective testimonies lest this whole mess actually go to trial and we had to testify again.  Once again I heard from several cops and lawyers how awesome my testimony had been, although I personally didn't think that it had been that compelling.  I also learned that was why the crown attorney stopped asking me quesions after a while and just kept telling me to "Go on."  Apparently I was so good for a while that I bent the space time continuum altering the fabric of reality and I negated the need for questioning all together.  Or at least, that seemed like the mot logical conclusion to draw.  After the whole thing was over my wife and I decided to have a three way... of irony by using a gift card that had been given to us by a friend shortly after the incident as a way of saying "Hey, here's some food to make you feel better" to have lunch at Kelsey's.  While revenge is a dish best served cold, irony is best served warm with a plate of nachos and a greasy pulled pork sandwich.

As we ate lunch I couldn't help but think about real estate.  Three properties in particular: my house, the burned down dream house, and the house down the street that looked so much like ours.  This triumvirate seemed -at best- loosely related, but to me they bore a significance that bordered on religious.  The pieces fell into place in my mind.  First my family and I had been spared a firey death in the burned down dream house by whatever supernatural force had been watching our backs.  Next, we ended up living in our current house, down the street from a drug dealer.  Finally, on the night of December 29, 2010 my house was broken into having been mistaken for the drug house down the street.  "But wait," you might be saying to yourself.  "How do you know that this break-in was the result of mistaken identity?"

The answer is far simpler than you might suspect, though I'm still not sure if the cops are down with my theory.  The first clue comes from the intruder himself who broke into my house demanding "the drugs and the money" (as detailed in my previous article Don't Try This at Home).  It was obvious to me even then that he was looking for a a specific stash at a specific house, of which neither belonged to me.  The second clue came mostly from my wife, but also from other neighbours who have since told us they have seen some odd behaviour in our neighbourhood.  Specifically in front of our house.  My wife has told me that she has seen people get dropped of in front of our house and walk down the street to the house that looks like ours.  The most memorable recollection I have is an incident last fall when my family and I came home only to find a young woman waiting on our doorstep.  We were understandably confused because we had absolutely no clue who she was, and she was understandably confused because she had just spent an unspecified amount of time waiting at the wrong house.  As she stood up a man from down the street started waving and calling her down towards -you guessed it- our friendly, neighbourhood drug house.  The third clue didn't come until just a few weeks before the hearing.  My wife was outside washing the car (because that's her job) with my daughter (on the job training) when a woman from down the street stopped by and filled in the missing piece of the puzzle, something we had suspected but now was confirmed.

This woman confirmed that the drug house was indeed a drug house and the woman who had been living there with her daughter was in the business of selling drugs.  She told us how she lived right next door to the drug house and had called the cops and CAS on her neighbour on numerous occasions.  She even gave us a name.  And it all fit.  There had been a confirmed drug dealer living at the house in question at the time of the break-in at my house.  Our house was also a drop-off point for people going to visit the drug house, which I know my the testimony of my wife and various people on my street who not only told me they saw people getting dropped off and walking down to that house, but that these people only ever seemed to stay at that house for a couple minutes at a time and that sometimes these people would even sneak through our backyards to get to this house.

And this all suddenly made me very angry.  Not because I had been victimized by somebody who was looking for a completely different house who had confused mine with that one, but because out of all the potential thieves and would-be criminals out there I had been stuck with one of the shittiest and most amateur you could ever hope to encounter.  Not only had he completely fucked up his intel and wound up at the wrong house, but he had blown his opportunity of catching me off guard by first intentionally alerting me to his presence instead of trying to take me completely by surprise, and then failed to control the situation and even failed to lay a proper beat down on me.  Where was the professionalism?  The passion for the work?  It was these kinds of rank, amateur mistakes that would ever keep him from going pro.  And frankly, it's a little bit insulting.  The best the universe could muster to throw at me was this third rate, drug addled fuck up who couldn't even complete a successful home invasion?

On the other hand I suppose I had to feel good about my double play.  Not only had I managed to assist (if only in some small way) with the capture of a semi-dangerous, quasi-intelligent criminal lowlife (with undoubtedly small genitals) but I had also helped kick a drug dealer's ass out of the neighbourhood.  Several months after the incident my wife and I noticed that there was a moving truck parked down the street in front of the (then suspected) drug house.  It was later confirmed by the Mystery Woman from down the block that it was our drug-dealing friend who had chosen to relocate, I can only presume because of the extra heat that had been brought down as a result of my encounter with my attacker because after the incident the cops started knocking on doors and stepping up patrols in the area, and I guess she figured she had best get while the getting was still good.  Incidentally, the original name for this article was going to be "How to Kick a Drug Dealer's Ass Out of Town," and then detail my story in the context of the steps necessary to do so, however the steps would have been too hard for the average citizen to follow (eg. Step#1: Almost Buy a House that Burns Down, Step #2: By Happenstance, Move into a House that is Similar in Appearance to that of a Local, Small Time Drug Dealer, Step #3: Have Your House Mistaken For the Drug Dealer's House By a Small Time Crook Who Was Once an NHL Draft Pick, Step#4: Kick the ex-NHLer-Turned-Incompetent-Criminal's Ass in Full View of Your Neighbour, etc.) and potentially not applicable in every situation.

And now with this chapter in this strange and terrible saga finally closed I look back on the great chain of events that led me to this point and I wonder.  I suppose that to some I might seem like a fatalist with all of my talk of Supernatural Forces, and Powers of Fate and the Universe that seemed to have a plan for me, though I still cannot see the purpose behind them.  However, I don't see life in those terms.  I can't believe that there is only one master plan and that our everything in our lives is preordained and couldn't have happened in any other way.  Other than the fact that that worldview would be extremely depressing, I just don't believe it to be the case.  If we are guided completely by Fate or God or a Giant Magical Octopus for that matter, then free will is completely irrelevant (because by definition it wouldn't exist) and we would be absolved of any and all crimes and stripped of any successes.  It also seems kind of fucked up.  When you think about what kind of universal force would orchestrate rape, murder, war, Two and a Half Men, and thousands of years of other atrocities, it leaves one to wonder the nature and intent of such a force.  I can't see that there's any sort of stable plan in any sense of the word, and if this is the plan then I want no part of it and thoroughly chastise and denounce the planner. 

Much like Mulder, I believe that there are forces at work that we can't comprehend.  I believe in fate in only its most basic sense, insofar as that eventually we will all meet the same, ultimate Fate.  Indeed the concept of death is easily recognized as the precursor to the idea of fate, and in that limited sense I suppose even I would have to acknowledge a certain belief in fate or destiny.  But neither would I say that I am a believer in the total power of free will either.  No matter how much we may try, there are simply some things that are beyond our control in this world.  What I believe in I suppose would best be described as Not-So-Random Chance.  We all end up at the same destination, but we get to choose our own path how to get there.  We are confronted with situations that are sometimes beyond our control, but we can always control one thing: how we face those situations.  It's like the Kobayashi Maru test in Star Trek.  In life (and death) we are faced with situations where even though we might make all the right decisions, we will still lose.  The important thing isn't winning or losing it's (as Rudyard Kipling the famous racist poet would say) how we greet those two impostors.

The only rational way that I can conceive of life is as a combination of fate and free will as best characterized by a giant pinball machine.  We're all balls (some of us steel, some of us made of softer, fleshier materials, and some -like my attacker- made of shit) being bounced around by giant, metaphysical flippers.  Now imagine all those balls able to change their own trajectories, even if just slightly, and you have the Ordered Chaos which is life.  We get bounced around by the flippers, off the rails and the bumpers, and some of us might stay up there for a long time, but eventually all balls meet the same fate (A-hem...).  As for me and my balls, we will forever be altered by what has happened to us.  We've made a pact with each other to eliminate doubt and hesitation from our lives as much as humanly possible.  We've decided to strive to be harder (fuck I'm good) and stronger than we've ever been before.  Though we've been dealt a hard blow (though not as hard as some others have been dealt) it has become our mandate to keep moving forward to try and post the highest score we possibly can before being knocked out of the game for good.

Related links:

Newspaper Article #1
Newspaper Article #2
Newspaper Article #3 (it took three times before I finally made front page)
Don't Try This At Home                         

Strange and Terrible Foreboding at the Movie Theatre

In an effort to totally pimp out their upcoming film THE AVENGERS, Marvel has been churning out full length feature trailers, the latest of which was THOR.  As a mild lover of comics with (increasingly apparent) superficial knowledge of these characters, and all the varied story lines, and with no real background knowledge about Thor the god from Norse mythology or Thor the god-turned-superhero from the Marvel universe I somehow still got excited about and felt it necessary to see this movie, mostly due to a slick advertising campaign and my boyish desire to see superheroes kick ass on the big screen.  Most of what I knew about the Marvel incarnation of Thor came from my limited knowledge of The Avengers, which wasn't that much to begin with.  Like most people most of my knowledge is focused around the big names of comics like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Hulk and The X-Men.  The Avengers never really interested me because they seem like a team of super hero sellouts who are essentially the bitches of the United States government.  Any team led by a guy named Captain America -the ultimate superhero corporate-culture-representing, overtly-nationalistic douche bag- seemed anathema to the whole idea of what made super heroes cool to begin with.  And then his back up is a drunk in a tin can,  a dude who can shrink to the size of an ant, a chick with wasp wings, a Norse god and the Hulk.  The only awesomeness there is the Hulk.  Even Iron Man is really just a poor man's Batman.  Think about it.  Neither Batman nor Iron Man have any super powers (theoretically since, I suppose, that neither one of them actually exist) but whereas Batman relies on his intense ninja training, impeccable deductive reasoning, and his massive 14 inch dick, Iron Man is useless without his suit which artificially enhances his strength and normal ability to fly (that is: none).  Without the suit Tony Stark is basically anybody's bitch, but Bruce Wayne without the suit can still kick ass with his aforementioned martial arts skills and disproportionally large genitals (which he could also use as a weapon to club his enemies halfway to death as a last resort). 

But I'm really getting off track here.  The point is that Thor has only ever been on the periphery of my consciousness, when he was ever there at all, so when going to see a movie about him I really had no expectations, despite having ample time to go and do some research or read a couple of comics.  I just really couldn't give a fuck.  Plus, why the hell should I have to do extra work to enjoy a movie?  It's up to the filmmaker to give me the pertinent background on this character, and if I didn't understand then it was the director's and the writers' fault, not mine.  I hate movies where you have to read the books to fully understand what was going on (read: HARRY POTTER and THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST).  No, academic study was not the answer here.  The answer to enjoying THOR would have to come from a corporate culture that manufactured a product and then used slick, shiny advertising and lots of big explosions and set piece battles to distract me from any major problems with the movie.  Like most problems the key to this one was money.  The more money they spent making THOR the better it would inherently be.  It's simple logic:  the more expensive the movie is to make, the better it will be.  Every movie executive knows that.

After being reeled in by the aforementioned slick advertising campaign and promise of godly ass kicking the decision was made to go and witness Marvel's latest cinematic adaptation.  My old companion Ryebone and I agreed to meet on a Tuesday night, because in an effort to draw in more customers during the week the theatre had implemented a regular half-price Tuesday night deal.  It also so happened that due to a previous engagement I was unable to attend the earlier show and so we ended up going to see THOR in glorious 3D.  I had jut finished showering when Ryebone showed up in a car borrowed from his aunt.  His car was in the garage and so we were stuck driving around in a bright red Toyota Yaris or some such nonsense.  It was a dubious start to the evening, but I said goodbye to my wife, tucked my dick into the Yaris and off we went. 

The theatre was typically busy for a Tuesday night and we bought our overpriced tickets at half price which almost made the sting of paying extra for 3D bearable.  After a brief stop at the concession stand where I bought an ice tea to help replenish my valuable bodily fluids and after Rybone bought a large popcorn and pop after repeated testimonials to the contrary we made our way past the Ticket Guardian who solemnly ripped the bottom off of our tickets, handed us our 3D glasses and directed us to Theatre 5.  Ryebone and I were going through the usual pre-movie chatter, which in this case turned out to be a lot about the relative hotness of Natalie Portman (consensus: pretty fucking hot) and how he'd like to "get up in that ass."  It was at this point about halfway to the hallowed grounds of Theatre 5 that I heard a voice behind me.

"What movie are you going to see?"

At first I assumed that I was overhearing the typical inane chatter of other movie theatre patrons who never seemed quite concerned enough with the state of Natalie Portman's ass.  Ryebone and I continued on our way until I heard the voice again, closer this time, and I could feel it addressed to the back of my head.  I turned around and the realization slowly dawned on me that we were being engaged in conversation by a complete stranger.  I was immediately on my guard because A) I recently experienced a break-in and assault in my house and was still understandably jumpy and easily startled and B) In my world random well wishers don't just come up to me on the street and start actual conversations beyond "You got the time?"  "Got any spare change?" or "Holy shit, move your car, you just parked on my son!" and other stupid shit like that.  I was immediately on my guard and prepared to attack.

As I turned to face this creepily friendly stranger I became even more creeped out as we were obviously being accosted by some kind of militant, mutant super geek.  He was about the most conspicuous person you could meet in a small town theatre at that time of night.  He was tall -about 6'2" or 6'3"- and so white he was practically glowing.  On top of his greasy, blonde hair sat a cheap fedora that was obviously too small for him and nowhere near as cool as the ones I sometimes wore.  He had on a black t-shirt with some kind of logo or writing on it, and over top of that a black faux leather vest.  His black pants were accented by a hanging chain that ended up in his back pocket and I could only assume was attached to his wallet, a style that gained popularity with yuppie, wanna be teenagers about ten years ago in an effort for middle class white kids to look and feel more "badass."  Unfortunately for them and for my pasty friend that strategy was completely flawed and only served to accent their inherent lameness.  His beady eyes stared at us from behind his glasses with a fevered intensity I could only only attribute to hardcore drug use and prolonged staring at a computer screen teabagging n00bs in some incarnation of Call of Duty which he would later brag about in his blog. 

"THOR," I replied in the steadiest voice I could muster.  What I really meant to say was "What the fuck do you want?"

"That's awesome.  THOR is great.  You guys are in for a real treat."

"Thanks," was all I could think to say.  I could sense that Ryebone was anxious too, and we both consciously quickened our pace to outrun this motherfucker.  We walked into Theatre 5 and The Fedora continued on his way.

"Enjoy the movie, guys," he shot back at us as we went our separate ways. 

"Who was that guy?" Ryebone asked me as we went in to try and find a seat in the semi-crowded theatre.

"No fucking idea."

"Holy shit.  I thought you knew that guy."  Apparently Rybone had not been as concerned as I had at the time because he believed that perhaps through some of my other social connections -perhaps at an ultimate Frisbee tournament or a Dungeons and Dragons game or spoon collecting in Russia or taunting local homeless people to fight over scraps of food or some other activity that Ryebone has imagined as part of his fictitious biography of my life.  Now Ryebone was even more freaked out and I decided to contemplate it further as I went to he bathroom for the obligatory pre-movie piss.  After a particularly ordinary piss (barely a ten count) I went to wash my hands when who should I see but The Fedora who was leaving the bathroom at the same time I was, even though I got the impression he wasn't there for the standard business transaction, but merely to "hang out."  I made a grave error at this point: accidental eye contact.  This is a faux-pas in general, but especially in the men's bathroom where it is common etiquette to:

1) Never talk to anyone else.
2) Never linger too long at the urinal when there are other people beside you.
3)Never make eye contact in any capacity. 

Any and all of these actions could (and should) be interpreted to mean that the offending party wishes to have sex with you, which is fine if you're gay and you enjoy picking up strangers in bathrooms, but highly dangerous if you offend someone who looks like (and possibly is) a Hell's Angel or Charlie Sheen who are both liable to steal your blood and/or shank you.

"You're really going to enjoy THOR," The Fedora reiterated as we left the bathroom and again went our separate ways, breaking the first rule of bathroom etiquette.

"I hope so," I replied thinking about the 3D ticket price I had half paid for, hoping not to be as terribly disappointed as I was with CLASH OF THE TITANS.

"You will."

As I sat down beside Ryebone in Theatre 5 again I was now thoroughly freaked out.  What were the odds that I would encounter this blonde, vest-wearing freak once let alone twice in the same night?  And why the hell did he seem so zoned in on me?  I had little time to ponder this as I looked at the entrance to the theatre in horror.  The Fedora was now IN MY THEATRE!  And what was he holding?  Pizza!  I know that they sell pizza at the theatre, but everybody knows it's just for show.  I mean with the number of people who buy pizza at the movies they must go through maybe one pizza every three months.  Plus my bespectacled friend already seemed greasy enough.  The last thing he needed was another slice of pizza.  I hadn't been in close enough proximity to him for an extended period, but he just looked like the kind of guy who in his early twenties had not outgrown the human teenage male biological imperative to produce as much grease and sweat as possible so that when you put a bunch of them together in a confined space for any length of time you get that oppressive, air-thickening, moist cloud of dankness that you can almost feel on the back of your throat when you breath in like on a really humid day.

Now, of course, I was convinced that The Fedora was stalking us.  The first thing that popped into my mind -as I'm sure it would for any sane person- was that Ryebone and I were being targeted for abduction like the suave French guy did with those teenage chicks in TAKEN.  Unlike them, however, I couldn't count on Liam Neeson to save me because odds were he was off making kick-ass movies and performing great deeds to be spoken of for generations to come.  I figured a full on Neeson rescue was anywhere around 20% on an average day, which didn't bode well for me.  Luckily it was at about this time that the movie started and distracted me from my possibly very dark, Neeson-less future.

THOR itself is an easy one to encapsulate in five words or less (or, in this case, five words exactly): it was what it was.  It was a short and sweet summer blockbuster superhero action movie that was building up towards THE AVENGERS due out next year.  Knowing that Kenneth Branaugh was involved in any capacity (this time as director and general Shakespeare expert) you know to expect a certain level of awesomeness that the Bran-meister will not dip below, and so it was theoretically impossible for THOR to suck total goat balls.  While THOR never approached goat-junk-suctioning levels, neither did it achieve the heights of grandeur I have come to expect from Marvel (with the exception of THE PUNISHER, DAREDEVIL, SPIDER-MAN 3, X-3, FANTASTIC FOUR, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, and ELECTRA)  The acting was as good, with a lot of high calibre actors like Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Natalie Portman, and Ray Stevenson (fuck you, he was great in Rome).  Kat Dennings did a great job as the comic relief, who disappeared three quarters of the way into the film for some reason.  Chris Hemsworth did a great job as Thor himself, both as the arrogant lord of the manor and as the fallen god who learns a painful lesson in humility.  I didn't even realize that I had seen Hemsworth before as Kirk's father in J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK reboot.  It's not really relevant, I was just surprised.

The plot of THOR was sufficiently complex yet not as epic in scale as I was hoping it would be.  Thankfully Branaugh was allowed to go in a slightly different direction here and was not forced to use the IRON MAN blue print (eg. arrogant protagonist wishing to mend the error of his ways and make up for past transgressions).  I suppose the heart of the story is really a relationship triangle between three people: Thor (Hemsworth), Odin (Hopkins) and Loki (a sufficiently slimey Tom Hiddleson).  I suppose we have Branaugh's Shakspearean experience to thank for some of the themes that ran through THOR: the tension between father and son, betrayal by those seemingly closest to you, fighting for royal rights, and mistaken identity.  While Thor's arrogance and sense of entitlement in some ways mirror Tony Stark's there has been a concerted effort to distinguish all the Marvel characters, I assume in anticipation of their on-screen mash-up, THE AVENGERS.  Despite his arrogance, Thor is a lot more laid back and playful than Stark and is concerned with being a man of action rather than a man of thought then action.

The plot involves some supernatural struggle between the Asgardians and some dudes called the Frost Giants because they're big and frosty.  There's no love lost between these two peoples and Thor decides to stir some shit up by going to visit the Frost Giants to keep them in line.  What follows is a kick-ass battle that shows how awesome the Asgardians are and how shitty the Frost Giants actually are.  The only thing the Frost Giants had going for them (despite being ten feet tall) was their superior numbers, like the Zerg.  After this shit-stirring Odin banishes his son Thor to Earth (surprise!) to learn humility before he's allowed back to Asgard and all the immortal pussy he can get his hands on.  In the meantime he has to settle (?) for Natalie Portman, an astrophysicist (or whatever) who is trying to prove the existence of wormholes, theoretically so she could go back in time and play both her and Mila Kunis's parts in BLACK SWAN thereby resulting in a paradoxically better lesbian scene and exploding the brains of the entire human male population on Earth.  What follows is the weakest part of the film, because there's a not-really-love story that drags on which is at least made better with some comic relief from Kat Dennings and Hemsworth's medieval-mannered Thor and balls to the wall fight scene where even without his powers Thor stomps a whole team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents with little trouble.  Meanwhile Loki (who turns out to be a Frost Giant - but normal size for some reason) is revealed to be a total asshole who set this whole thing in motion in order to A) Banish Thor, who could kick his ass royally, B) Kill -or maybe not- Odin who could also fuck up his shit royally, and C) Commit mas genocide by destroying an entire planet full of Vulcans Frost Giants.  Eventually Thor proves that he's a great guy, gets back his magic hammer Mjolnir which gives him super ass-kicking powers and proceeds to beat the shit out of Loki and cut off the only means of returning to Earth to finally bone Natalie Portman.

With the movie finally over and the typical Marvel after-the-credits-extra-scene carefully observed Ryebone and I left the theatre.  I kept a close eye on The Fedora as Ryebone went to the bathroom to drain the lizard.  I advised him to "watch his corn hole" and he assured me that my waning would be heeded.  That left me to wait in the hallway outside Theatre 5 as people crowded past me in.  But me, I was focused on one person and one person only: The Fedora who was standing in the middle of the hall with a group of about four other dudes.  Even from thirty feet away I could hear him going on about how great THOR was.  The fact that he was lingering after the movie only served to enhance my paranoia about being kidnapped and sold as a sex slave to a Middle Eastern oil baron and as Ryebone exited the bathroom I felt sure that our time was up.  It became my immediate mandate to make sure that grease-face and his goonies didn't get behind us so they couldn't get the drop on us.  Luckily my fears were assuaged as we approached the geek-gang and they disbanded and headed towards the exit well ahead of us. 

Upon reaching home I bid Ryebone farewell as he was off to Hawaii for two weeks with some friends the next day.  He tells people he went on vacation, but he's actually going because I told him the smoke monster from Lost didn't exist so he went to get photo evidence and maybe a stool sample.  As I entered the house I did one more visual sweep to make double sure I hadn't been followed and listened closely for the unmistakable jangle of a chain attached to somebody's wallet nestled safely next to his ass.  Deeming it safe I entered my own Asgardian realm of solitude (AKA my house), went to bed and fell into a fitful sleep where erotic dreams of myself and Natalie Portman in increasingly depraved situations were constantly interrupted by shadowy figures dressed in fedoras and reeking of pizza, Ryebone dressed only in a lei and grass skirt dancing wildly, and the laughing head of Chris Hemsworth.  Much like THOR, not the worst I've ever had.


(PS For anybody that gives a shit (ie. no one) I would rank THOR a solid 7/10 = One Head in a Winged Helmet Laughing Heartily as it Crushed It's Enemy's Head With a Swinging Hammer)   

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Power of Christ Compelled Me

When you talk about classic horror films, several tend to come to mind immediately.  When I hear horror my mind tends to focus in on a ten year period between 1974 to about 1984 that includes such films as POLTERGEIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  I know that there are some pretentious douchebags out there who might rail against my use of the term "classic" because I don't include older films like FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and the WOLFMAN, but there's a simple reason for that: FRAKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and THE WOLFMAN all suck balls and aren't scary at all.  I'm also not referring to all those art house douchebags with their esoteric horror movies that nobody's ever heard of and they only enjoy because they are esoteric and not because they genuinely enjoy them.  I have no time for people who would deprive themselves of pleasure simply to make a point.  It's just like when your wife says she doesn't want to have sex because she's "not in the mood" or "has a headache" or "just had a baby."  Obviously, you did something that was (or wasn't) on her List, and she is withholding sex as some kind of punishment in the errant hope that she can condition you live Pavlov's dogs and that you can't just peel your own banana.  It's not that she doesn't want sex.  How could she not want sex?  Everybody wants sex.  Your wife (assuming she's actually heterosexual and you didn't completely miss the mark) is constantly craving your dick, so when she denies you she's really denying herself and for no good reason.  And really, she's only hurting herself.  You still have your dick to comfort you; she now has nothing.  It was Sigmund Freud who first identified dick as a form of social currency.

But wait, you might be thinking to yourself.  What does your troubled sex life have to do with horror movies and why did you define a period of ten years when defining your list of modern-classic horror movies when of all the titles you mentioned were clearly made during an eight year period?  Well first of all my sex life is just fine, you smug bastard, and second of all you are far more observant that you probably are attractive.  The oldest movie I've mentioned so far is THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE which was released in 1974 and the most recent was POLTERGEIST in 1982.  This is because I've grouped movies ideologically. POLTERGEIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE I consider to be in one category.  However two more iconic horror movies made during this time -namely FRIDAY THE 13TH in 1980 and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in 1984- are in a category all by themselves and bring us to the ten year time frame that I had previously established.  I suppose one might also include THE SHINING to our list, however I would put that movie in a category all by itself, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Of course there are some people out there who might want me to extend my timeline to 1968 to include THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and even though I'm a huge zombie fan, it doesn't feel right in the context of the other horror movies I've mentioned. Plus, zombie movies are a category unto themselves. And there's probably some fuckhead out there who would be compelled to add PSYCHO to the list, but again it just doesn't have that same horror movie feel that the others do, plus it was released way back in 1960 and even though I do enjoy this key piece of Hitchcockian lore, PSYCHO has got to be one of the most overrated films of all time (but still dwarfed by Kubrick's piece of crap 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which to me remains one of the most bafflingly popular cinematic disasters of all time).  For some reason the time period between 1974 and 1984 just seems to have a higher per capita of evil than other decades. 

Let me start with THE SHINING.  It has to be included in this discussion because it is this iconic movie that is to this day still very alive in the collective consciousness, probably forever solidified by The Simpson's Treehouse of Horror V.  I wouldn't classify it with the other movies from the Decade of Evil for two reasons.  For one it isn't about some indescribable evil force or some kind of masked or disfigured maniac.  Some would argue that it's a supernatural thriller; I disagree.  Although there are ghosts in the movie, I think THE SHINING is actually about Jack's psychological breakdown rather than some kind of demon possession.  And even though Danny and the old black caretaker have some psychic abilities, that kind of supernatural element isn't really played up.  The second reason THE SHINING stands alone is because even though it fails in some very key aspects (namely the ending) THE SHINING is a lot more low key and it feels more cerebral, even though it's really not.  The third reason, (yeah, I reserve the right to arbitrarily change the number of reasons at will) which really pisses me off and truly ruins the movie for me every time I see it is the fucking ending where Jack is in that painting from years before.  What the fuck is that supposed to mean?  Nobody knows.  I don't even think Stanley Kubrick even knew what it meant when he tacked it on to what was an otherwise acceptable film.  I guess he was trying to throw some kind twist at the end to make the audience think... but think about what is the problem.  I don't know why I'm feeling the need to shit on Kubrick's work right now other than the fact that he deserves it.  What the fuck were you thinking?

"Fuck, I got to switch to Gilette."
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH are almost always mentioned in the same breath, and rightfully so.  Both are great horror films, both are the grandparents of the slasher flick, and both spawned a series of increasingly shitty, completely unnecessary sequels and both of these series as a whole eventually became laughable, pathetic parodies of themselves.  But the original movies themselves were great.  The fact that FRIDAY THE 13TH has become synonymous with everyone's favourite hockey-mask-wearing serial killer Jason Voorhees is really a shame, because it really takes away from the original which was the only one which had any semblance of intelligence.  Even though A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is decidedly different in that it's antagonist (or protagonist depending on how you look at it) is most definitely supernatural in nature the concept of some crazy fuck murdering people is essentally the same.  What these two movies had that their sequels didn't was relatively unique ideas and a lot more suspense.  Eventually these franchises became known simply for their bloodthirsty murderers.  Plus these two movies were both stepping stones for two famous actors, namely Kevin Bacon and Johnny Depp.  I wonder if it was because of FRIDAY THE 13TH that Kevin Bacon's career trajectory proceeded as it did and allowed us to see his schlong in WILD THINGS, like it was all part of some cosmic plan and if he hadn't have appeared in the former, his man meat might not have appeared in the latter, and we might have been deprived.  It really makes you stop and think.  And of course, the real evil of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was that the final scene wich was undoubtedly the main influence for HOME ALONE, the obvious heir apparent to the franchise.

I suppose if you wanted to include a third member of the unholy trilogy of original slasher flicks you'd also have to consider HALLOWEEN, which I almost completely forgot about but which is also so closely related to FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET that I feel almost foolish for having overlooked it.  Not only is it from he same evil time period, but it was also the stepping stone for a famous actress as it starred a young Jamie Lee Curtis.  And with the inclusion of HALLOWEEN in our discussion you might then find yourself wondering how I overlooked John Carpenter's other "horror" movie from that same era, namely THE THING.  Well wonder no longe because not only was THE THING not scary, but it also sucked total balls as a movie in general and challenges THE SHINING on the most overrated movies list. 

Which brings us to the final category of films which in my mind seem to embody the "classic" in my modern classic label.  What really ties POLTERGEIST, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE OMEN, THE EXORCIST and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE together is a unifying them: evil.  The true antagonist in all of these movies (with the noted exception of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, although I suppose that might be debatable) is some unknown, or undefinable evil Force, most commonly associated with either the devil or some evil or vengeful spirits.  Now most people would probably categorize THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET as being an obvious contributor to the slasher genre as there is a chainsaw wielding maniac killing people in terrible ways.  But in my mind THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE differs from those other two movies because at its heart it isn't so much about the murders as is it about the horror surrounding the murders.  It's about the complete atrocity of the situation rather than the situation itself.  Complete devastation, as Bonegod would say.  Leatherface and the clan seem to be agents of some larger evil force too terrible to comprehend.  I mean, who could be that evil if not possessed by some evil force and not named George W. Bush?  The rest are easy to see.  THE OMEN is about the birth of the Anti-Christ, the symbolic Judeo-Christian embodiment of evil.  THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is about a haunted house that possesses its inhabitants forcing them to commit terrible crimes (Like making out with your cousin.  Shame on you George Michael.).  POLTERGEIST was about vengeful spirits who haunt a house and kidnap a little girl into the television set.  Plus, it has the acting talents of one Craig T. Nelson, with one of my favourite lines: "You son of a bitch!  You left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!"  I don't know why, I just loved Nelson freaking out on that dude.  It was great.  In fact out of all of the "horror" movies I've discussed so far I think POLTERGEIST would have to be my favourite.  Until now.  Now we have ourselves a tie.

It seemed a shame that the only one of these movies I had yet to see was THE EXORCIST.  But thankfully I remedied that situation recently and took time out of my busy schedule to watch this bastard.  And surprisingly I wasn't disappointed.  In fact, for me THE EXORCIST ranks up there with POLTERGEIST.  Two great, creepy films.  Even though I hadn't seen THE EXORCIST I already knew the basic plot because, well, everybody fucking knows the plot.  Little girl possessed by the devil has to be exorcised by a couple of priests.  When I finally sat down to watch it I was pleasantly surprised, like when your reach down a hooker's pants and don't find a dick.  The first thing that really struck me was the really slow, suspenseful buildup.  I think it's the first half hour or forty-five minutes, where nothing really super crazy happens, and I was sitting there thinking "What the fuck is this shit?  It's fucking boring as hell.  I'm going to go jerk off into the ice cube tray again."  But then when the demonic shit hit the fan the payoff was so much more gratifying than if the filmmakers had just jumped right in.  The second thing that struck me was how grounded the movie was.  From the title I expected exorcisms to be taken for granted, like everybody in the 70's got exorcisms.  I figured the mother would be some religious freak who called in an exocist right away.  It turns out that the 70's wasn't the supersticious, witch-burning era we all read about in textbooks, where high priests in ceremonial flared pants would gather around the mystical mirrored ball and worship their derranged disco gods with perverted orgies and virgin sacrifices.  As the doctors examine the young girl Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) they constantly come up with new diagnoses looking for a scientific explanation for her strange behaviour.  And when Regan's mother (Ellen Burstyn- the mom from REQUIUM FOR A DREAM) finally turns to the Catholic church for an exorcism as a last ditch effort even Father Karras (Jason Miller) the other priests tell her that nobody does exorcisms anymore and that it's probably just mental illness, which is an oddly logical thing to hear from a person who believes in an old bearded man in a toga who lives in the clouds.  Even after Father Karras interviews the girl who does crazy shit like MOVE THINGS WITH HER MIND!!!! he's still not completely convinced it's demon possession.  Not until crazy old Father Merrin comes in near the end of th movie does the exocism start happening.  Which brings me to another thing that surprised me about this film; it seems that somehow Max von Sydow has always been old.  I thought he looked old in MINORITY REPORT, but damn he somehow looked even older almost thirty years earlier.  I mean, in the EXORCIST he looks like he's on death's door.  I'm almost postive he's been replaced by a robot intent on world domination, but I can't say for sure.  Yet.

The best part about THE EXORCIST was that it was surprisingly scary for a horror movie.  Most movies inthe horror genre aren't particularly scary, per say.  I mean sometimes they're creepy or disturbing, and sometimes they give you cheap scares like some dude popping on screen suddenly, or somebody closing the mirrored door of her bathroom cabinet only to reveal that some psycho killer in a silly mask is standing behind her.  But usually nothing that doesn't wear off by the time you walk to your car or walk upstairs or jerk off to that scene of Jamie Lee Curtis dancing in her underwear in TRUE LIES (you know it's in your spank bank, don't even try to deny it).  Most horror movies aren't scary except in a truly superficial way.  But people watch horror movies simply to be scared rather than to stay scared.  That is, people want a quick, cheap thrill for the adrenaline rush which in turn releases endorphines in the brain which acts as  mild natural high which is good for the feeling in and of itself, and lubricating otherwise frictional social interactions like getting your girlfriend or wife primed for a good boning.  This is the same kind of effect that you might get from riding a roller coaster or -if you're a thirteen year old with low self esteem- stealing a chocolate bar.  Truly scary movies -movie that leave you with that long, slow burn, and haunt you for days afterwards-are few and far between and usually terrifying because they are more than just serial killers and angry ghosts.  The best example I can think of right now is SEVEN, which to me is scarier than any of the other movies I've mentioned in this article.  It functions on a far higher intellectual level and it's not the shock that scares: it's the idea.  What's scary about SEVEN isn't the gruesome nature of the murders, or Kevin Spacey's psychopathic serial killer (who is scary even without some stupid mask): it's the way SEVEN engages its audience intellectually.  It's the themes the movie explores and the seeds of darkness it plants that slowly take root in your mind.  It's the subtle use of ambiguity like never having John Doe's origins explained and never knowing exactly what was in the box.  SEVEN is chiling in a way that traditional horror movies simply aren't, and no matter how many times I watch it, even knowing what's coming, I still have to sleep with the lights on that night.

THE EXORCIST was not quite on the same level of psychological terror I experience with SEVEN, but out of all the horror movies mentioned so far, it came closest.  There were several elements that alway seem to fuck with me.  There was the subtle build up and surprisingly intelligent script.  There was enough fucked up shit to sufficiently blow my mind like the spider-girl stunt down the stairs, the classic head spinning around trick, a little girl screaming "Let Jesus fuck you, let Jesus fuck you..." while she masturbates violently with a crusifix the making her mother lick her bloody crotch screaming "Lick me, Lick me...", one of my favourite insults of all time "Your mother sucks cocks in hell!", and, of course, levitation.  For whatever reason I can't explain human levitation always scares the hell out of me.  I'm not talking about flight.  I don't shit my pants when I watch SUPERMAN (yes, I know, he's an alien, shut the fuck up).  But simple levitation, where a person's body rises a few feet off the floor is creepy in a way I can't explain, and scenes like the one from THE FOURTH KIND still mess me up.  Then there was the effective use of ambiguity.  There is just enough left unexplained to make sure the audience can engage on a higher intellectual level.  There's no stupid reason given as to why Regan was chosen to be "possessed".  She wasn't Hitler's granddughter, and she wasn't born on Friday the 13th, and she wasn't conceived in an ancient Indian burial ground.  She was just some random little girl; and the randomness of the whole thing makes it even scarier.  Maybe that's why THE EXORCIST and POLTERGEIST stuck with me out of all the other horror movies; in both movies small children are victimized.  There could be some shared, primal fear in the collective unconscious relating to any harm coming to small children and it plays upon that  fear.  Or maybe it's that children represent innocence and purity and when children are portrayed as being victims that the real victim is our own inner child.

Either way THE EXORCIST was a great surprise of a movie and a great addition to the Halloween movie collection.  Whether you want to be scared, or whether you just want to check out a well-made movie you need to check this shit out if you haven't aready.  I give THE EXORCIST an 8/10 = (this one is too easy) One Demon Possessed Child's Head Spinning Around And Spewing Glowing Green Vomit

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shoot at the Devil: RIP (?) Osama Bin Laden

"Sweet Caroline, Bah, Bah, Bah..."
By now I'm sure that anyone reading this will already have heard the news that Osama Bin Laden has been declared officially dead by some Death Technician Specialists AKA US Navy SEALs. Osama Bin Laden -for those of you who don't know- was the dude held primarily responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks way back in 2001 which resulted in the destruction of the Twin Towers AKA the New York World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon, and the deaths of about 3000 people.  On May 2 / 2011 the US media was abuzz with the news which showed countless clips of Americans celebrating in the streets, waving their American flags, and singing improvised variations of cheesy 60's songs sung slightly off-key (My favourite so far: "Na na na na, na na na na, Osama Goodbye!").  Right from the beginning the whole affair just didn't sit right with me, like a hamburger from Burger King.  And just like that disgusting excuse for a sandwich news of Bin Laden's death caused me some acute intestinal discomfort.

Osama Bin Laden was perhaps the biggest celebrity in the Western world despite his espoused hatred of everything it stands for and despite incurring the officially stated wrath of all nations contained therein.  Ever since the 9/11 attacks our culture has had an obsession with Bin Laden.  For ten , long years Western media has mythologized Osama Bin Laden as the ultimate Boogie Man.  At least for this generation he is what parents -especially in the US- have told their children to check under their beds for before they turn off the lights.  Ever since September of 2001 any and every report of potential terrorism both domestic and foreign has had the underlying subtext that it was somehow -in some vague, undefinable way- connected to Osama.  Somehow all terrorism in the world somehow occurred at the ubiquitous will and whim of Bin Laden.  Osama Bin Laden was Terrorism, with a capital T.  In Western culture Osama Bin Laden will now occupy a realm occupied by the likes of Hitler.  His notoriety has now expanded past the point of legend.  Just mention his name in the West and it stirs up all kinds of emotions like fear and anger far past the point that one mortal could logically invoke in another mortal he had never met before.  But we love it.  As we construct a common Societal Narrative -largely through the media- we need antagonists to act as catalysts in the story.  It is very important in order to make the narrative as simple and accessible to the largest audience that the Good Guys and the Bad Guys are clearly defined and easily identifiable.  Without the Bad Guy our hero has nothing to fight against.  We loved Osama Bin Laden precisely because he gave us something to hate.  It's a strange sort of emotionally sado-masochistic relationship that we can't get enough of.

Some might argue that Osama Bin Laden was not a celebrity.  But the concept of celebrity has nothing to do with how well someone is liked.  Fame and infamy are different sides of the same coin. It makes no difference why someone is widely known, as far as the idiom of celebrity is concerned. It only matters that someone is widely known.  Whatever else he was, Osama Bin Laden was an important historical figure.  I mean, there can only be a handful of people in the world whose deaths actually effect world oil prices.  That's fucking crazy when you stop to think about it.  Bin Laden started out as just another terrorist, but eventually became The Terrorist.  Probably much to the chagrin of Bin Laden himself, he became ingrained in the very culture he sought to destroy.  Think about it.  Before Bin Laden, how many people could honestly say they were even aware of an organization called al-Qaeda?  How many of us -outside of foreign correspondants and fans of RAMBO III- knew anything about the Taliban?  Who gave a fuck about Afghanistan or anything going on in the Middle East?  Or for that matter, how many of us could even find Afghanistan on a map?  Until Obama and Bush and their escalating battle for ratings, most of our common knowledge about Saddam Hussein (who somehow got into this whole thing) came from HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX.  Now Osama Bin Laden is such a culturally loaded icon that mentioning his name brings with it a whole slew of concepts and terminology as richly layered as a chocolate cake.

This, we can only assume, was not his intent.  As a "terrorist" we must assume that his goal was to inspire terror, and perhaps even a step further, that he and his regime specifically be associated with that terror, especially in America.  What happened next neither Osama nor anybody else could predict.  President Bush actually got in on the fun and added to Bin Laden's mythology.  First with his conveniently ambiguous War on Terror, which would allow Bush and his administration to justify all kinds of extended military missions around the world with no clearly defined goals or "win conditions" for whatever reason (oil, money or both) El Presidente deemed right.  I suppose in theory the primary target after 9/11 was always assumed to be Osama Bin Laden, but then it gave Bush and company the excuse to go after Saddam Hussein who... had absolutely no proven link at all to the terrorist attacks on September 11.  I guess Bush just wanted some more friends to play with.  Some more names of great villains he had to slay in his own twisted Twelve Labours.  I suppose the bigger and more numerous the evil creatures to be slain, the bigger and more renowned the Hero.  And with something as ambiguous as the War on Terror, a self-proclaimed Hero could find villains to fight indefinitely.

But as it turned out Bush -and after him Barack Obama- wouldn't need to look for a new villain for quite some time because Osama Bin Laden (unfortunately) was living up to his legend.  And so the only reasonable response from the American and Western media was to inflate his legend to even more ridiculous proportions.  If not, then this crackpot terrorist and his band of misfits was singlehandedly defying the richest, most powerful country in the world and all of her friends in a way that would make Castro cream his pants.  So there are only two ways to go: either Osama and members of the al-Qaeda are represented as really fucking lucky, or else they are vilified even further to the point of being unhuman.  Creatures of epic proportions.  Evil Titans who were worthy opponents for our own pantheon.  Let's hope it's the luck thing, because the alternative is truly too terrible to consider.

But if you look at Osama Bin Laden's death, it doesn't bode well for us in the West.  Because al-Qaeda has had America and Friends by the balls for so long, and because Osama the Idea was so much a different entity than Osama the Man, at best all those Navy SEALs could have killed was the Man.  Bush, and after him Obama, were so concerned about killing Osama Bin Laden, that it seemed like his death would somehow fundamentally alter the entire course of world history.  But it hasn't really changed anything.  I mean, in WWII when we got Hitler (or he got himself, or aliens got him, or whatever the fuck it was) and we had those Nazi bastards on the run, it was all leading somewhere.  There was a sense of accomplishments, of victory.  But everything Osama stood for, everything he built, is still in place, and one of the only things we've managed to do is send a lot of our own soldiers halfway around the world to their deaths.  Now at worst Osama and his buddies look lucky in holding out so long against The World Superpower, and at best the Allied governments look incompetent and indecisive.      

Which brings us to Bush's other main addition to the Osama Legend, that mighty Excalibur known as The Patriot Act, which the Bush administration pulled right from its own asshole.  Possibly the greatest violation of civil rights in the Western world since white folks started bringing back black slaves from Africa hundreds of years ago to Europe and America.  The best part about The Patriot Act -besides the seemingly blind obedience of the American people as they had their civil rights raped right in front of them- was... no, wait.  That was it.  I'm still surprised that the American people didn't launch a large scale revolution against the Bush administration, rip apart their government officials limb from limb and display their heads on poles for all the world to see.  It boggles my mind.  But I suppose on a larger scale it made sense.  For the Americans it had to make sense.  They had to believe that with bad guys of epic proportions like Osama Bin Laden out there that there were good guys of equally legendary dimensions.  They had to believe that The Patriot Act would help defeat those terrorists, because what other choice did they have?  They were caught between a rock and a hard place.  If they railed against their own government and brought it down from the inside then by default all Terrorists everywhere would have theoretically -or at least in the framework of this particular myth- won.  Especially Osama Bin Laden.  Plus from a narrative standpoint, The Patriot Act was really meaty stuff.  An entire nation banding together, making sacrifices (in this case of their civil liberties) for the Greater Good.  The government enacts these Draconian measures, and the masses dutifully and stoically agree to stand strong together as a nation against any and all Agents of Terror.  Indeed, this mentality seemed to help a lot of Americans cope with the whole situation, the only real exception being anybody who wore a turban who all of the sudden became automatically associated with terrorism.  But if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to fear, right?  A-hem. 

The really strange thing about the American -and indeed the Western- approach to our New Mythology is that its entire goal seems to be not to build up but to tear down.  Unlike other narratives in other cultures, the one we've been intent on constructing seems to be for the sole purpose of making ourselves feel worse not better.  We've become a culture that seems to thrive on perpetuating fear.  The Patriot Act was fear mongering at its finest.  But the masses seem to love it.  I really can't figure out how being socially programmed to believe that there are terrorists hiding around every corner is somehow beneficial to the well-being of the citizens of the state.  Maybe it's that same adrenaline rush that we get from watching horror movies.  Or maybe it makes people feel like their lives are more exciting and more significant than they really are.  Or maybe it's just because they were given something or someone to hate that people felt more purpose in their lives.  We do love to hate.

And that's really where these uncomfortable feelings deep in the bowels of my soul came from.  As I watched the newscasts of Osama Death Parties, and President Obama grinning ear to ear as he delivered the news of Bin Laden's death, it all seemed so unhealthy some how.  Then it hit me: what I was seeing was a strange sort of blood lust usually reserved for soccer fans.  It was really fucking scary.  What I was witnessing was a bizarre sort of primeval ritual.  It was a celebration of death.  The media was broadcasting joy derived from death.  I know that Osama Bin Laden was not a nice person, and he did some terrible shit, but it just seemed like people were celebrating for all the wrong reasons.  Osama Bin Laden's death was largely metaphorical.  The practicalities of the fighting for the soldiers in Afghanistan didn't change.  Afghnistan as a nation wasn't any closer to becoming a democracy.  And as far as I know right now, America isn't anywhere near done sending it's young men and women off to die in some foreign land for no good goddamn reason.

The other thought I had after hearing the details of Osama Bin Laden's death was that it was all a bunch of bullshit.  It could be that I've spent too much time listening to my brother Christopher's conspiracy theories about how the American government faked the moon landing, but something just didn't sit right with me about Bin Laden's death.  It seemed so convenient and contrived.  All of the sudden a bunch of navy SEALs show up at Osama's secret hideout in Pakistan, where he's apparently been hiding in his compound in almost plain sight for the last ten years, shoot the fuck out of him, then have an impromptu burial at sea so there's no evidence of a body at all.  Is it possible that Osama is still alive and his "death" is simply a publicity stunt by the American government in order to garner positive public opinion.  Then my brain took it one step further:  what if there never was an Osama Bin Laden?  Or a Saddam Hussein for that matter?  A hired actor, a convincing story, some media coverage, and voila!  You've got yourself a genuine threat to democracy that the people can rally against.  But that's just the ramblings of an overactive imagination.  In all likelihood Bin Laden is dead.  Still, some nights I can't help but wonder...            

Now the whole damn mess has more highly-specialized language than a reality TV show.  War on Terror.  Taliban.  Patriot Act.  Insurgents.  IEDs.  Al-Qaeda.  Roadside bombs.  Guantanamo Bay.  September 11.  Nation building.  The whole thing's almost sexy now.  Sleek.  It's been packaged and fed to the people and now they have their story.  Their mythology.  Their Legend.  They've been given a context in which to understand their own lives on the world stage, and now it's up to the citizens of the West to find their own place in the story.  Add to the narrative.  And the catalyst for the whole deal was Osama Bin Laden.  That's his legacy.  A rather grim legacy given the nature of his heinous crimes, but a legacy that has irrevocably changed the shape of our culture nonetheless.  (Well that, and he helped bring back the beard.)            

Friday, May 06, 2011

Cheap Shot

As soon as I heard that Zach Snyder was making another movie (that wasn't about epic battles between... owls (Owls!)) I was totally pumped.  When I heard about SUCKER PUNCH it didn't really stick in my head.  It just seemed like part of the general background noise of life, you know like when your wife is asking you to pick your underwear up off the floor or that cop is yelling at you through that bullhorn to put down the gun so nobody gets hurt.  Just kind of stuff that you notice only in passing.  But when I finally realized that SUCKER PUNCH was Zack Snyder's next film I became immediately obsessed.  Ever since 300, and then WATCHMEN, but mostly 300, I have been a legitimate Snyder fan.  I even own his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake which I seem to recall watching at some point.  (That was the one with Mr. T, right?)  As I kept reading more and more about SUCKER PUNCH, and seeing all the crazy trailers with balls to the wall action and the highly stylized world and the hot chicks, and when I heard that Jon Hamm was in it, I was more excited than a strung out cocaine addict at a Charlie Sheen Violent Torpedo of Truth (yeah, that's the real name of his tour) show.

I went to the movie theatre on a Sunday evening, because that was the time I negotiated with my wife about a week before in between her asking me to pick my dirty underwear up off the floor.  My usual posse of misfits was unavailable at the time so I went with one of my back-up friends.  I'm not sure how it is with other people but I tend to categorize friends into Circles of Socialization.  I imagine a diagram with myself in the middle surrounded by a series of concentric circles.  In the smallest circle closest to me are a few close friends that I'm pretty tight with and hang out with on a consistent, regular basis.  And Christian Bale. (Call me...) There's usually about two or three in there (not counting Bale).  These are the guys I would go the extra mile for, like post bail up to $10 thousand should the need arise.  Then there's the secondary ring.  These are more casual relationships, guys I wouldn't post bail for, but guys I'd call if I needed to fill a few extra seats at games night or if I needed to fill a seat beside me at the movie theatre so I don't look like a pathetic loser who has nobody to go with the movies with.  People in the tertiary circle are most likely friends of friends or distant cousins, people I would probably never hang out with even if they asked.  These are the people I usually only talk to if I ran into them on the street and they managed to see me even though I was avoiding eye contact. People in the tertiary circle are people I would hit up for job opportunities, ask to borrow money from and then never pay it back (although people in this circle are usually more broke than I am so this only pans out about 50% of the time) or take with me when I go to a dangerous part of town or a rough bar to use as a human shield or a distraction to help me escape should the need arise.  In this case my back-up friend was from the secondary circle.

So anyway, I'm at the movie theatre with my back-up friend and I'm waiting in line, and I can tell the evening is just not going to be as kick ass as some other movie-going experiences.  Even though I should have been pumped for SUCKER PUNCH I just couldn't get my spirits up.  Maybe it was because I was stuck with a back-up friend.  Maybe it was because I had forgotten my coupon for free nachos at the concession stand.  Or maybe it was because instead of buying a ticket to see SUCKER PUNCH I was going to see HANNA.

For some reason -perhaps because it's in a smaller town and there were a s slue of mixed reviews- our local theatre stopped showing SUCKER PUNCH after only two weeks.  Two fucking weeks.  For those two first weeks life got in the way my movie watching, but I figured a giant Hollywood blockbuster movie would be in a major theatre chain (go Galaxy Cinemas!) for more than two weeks.  How wrong I was.  But seeing as I had already negotiated the terms of my release weeks in advance I figured I might as well use up my day pass on another movie.  The only other movie playing at the time that I had any interest in seeing was this little known movie that had only just recently appeared on the periphery of my radar called HANNA.  So in a surprise twist that even M. Night Shyamalan would appreciate my movie review of SUCKER PUNCH is actually a review of HANNA.

In contrast to SUCKER PUNCH I had heard very little about HANNA.  I hadn't really paid attention and all I really knew was that the titular character was some kind of teenage assassin trained by Eric "The Hulk" Bana who would presumably go on to kick some major ass.  Instead of being directed by Zach Snyder who gave us 300 and WATCHMEN,  HANNA was directed by Joe Wright, the same guy who brought us ATONEMENT and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  Instead of highly stylized visuals and excessive yet oddly addicting use of slow motion all I had to look forward to was... well, I had no fucking idea because I've never watched shit like ATONEMENT (although it is odd that I keep referencing it my articles.  Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something...).  I wasn't stoked to see HANNA because I had not been primed by effective advertising.  Well, that and the fact that it was my back-up movie.  Going to see a back-up movie with a back-up friend.  Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something.

Despite all of my emotional baggage and rumblings about not being able to watch the movie I wanted to watch I was pleasantly surprised.  HANNA turned out to be a pretty solid action flick with a lot more heart that I thought there was going to be.   While there was a buttload of action the core of the movie was developing the character of the title character as she tried to form an identity for herself in the midst of being hunted down by the CIA and having to kill her pursuers in increasingly violent ways.  HANNA starts off with Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) and their life living in the frozen wilderness of Finland.  From almost the very first scene it is established that Erik is teaching Hanna to be a lean, mean killing machine, and more than a match for three out of four of the Ninja Turtles (Leonardo will kick your ass, bro, I don't care what anybody says).  But the scenes weren't the usual training montage.  All the hunting and chin ups and martial arts training are placed into a different subtext.  In the context of HANNA these scenes establish the emotional bond between father and daughter which lends them more significance.  Even though neither one of them knows how to express their emotions effectively (Hanna because she's been isolated from society and hasn't been taught how, and Erik because he's a highly trained operative who has had to purge himself of emotion in order to be a more effective killing machine.  Plus he's a dude.)  After the relationship between these two characters has been established they are thrown into the fire when the CIA under the direction of assistant director (or whatever the fuck her title was) Marissa (Cate Blanchett) shows up and captures Hanna, who promptly escapes from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground where she still survives as a soldier of fortune helping those who have problems that no one else can solve and who can find her.  Well, she escapes anyway.

Then the movie takes an odd turn as Hanna befriends a family on her way to rendezvous with her father in Germany.  This is a relatively action-free portion of the film, but it never seems to drag.  Well, much anyway.  It was actually very interesting watching this highly-trained killing machine naively navigate a labyrinth of social interactions.  In the midst of her road trip she tries to come to terms with this new, unknown world and define herself as a human being in relation to all the other human beings around her and in the void of battle she has to find other ways to relate.  This is what made HANNA such a unique take on the action genre.  The action wasn't gratuituous in the context of the movie: it was all part of the underlying theme of self-discovery and formation of identity.  It's essentially the story of a young girl discovering herself (read into that what you will (hint: mastubation (but then again I use masturbation as a metaphor for lots of things, so read into that what you will )))In the end, of course, there is a confrontation between Hanna and Miranda whereupon the filmmakers establish the narrative wiggle room needed for the inevitable (and this time paradoxically needless yet welcome) sequel(s).

Now while the concept for Hanna and the writing was good, but not great, I think what really sold this movie wasthe solid directing by Joe Wright, and just the all around great performances by the three main characters.  I don't know if Eric Bana is considered to be a high demand A-lister, but by god he should be.  I've never seen him phone in a performance, andthe guy can definitely handle action.  In HANNA I can really buy Bana as the hardcore, indestructible, retired spy / compassionate step-father to a genetically engineered supersoldier prototype (yeah, you read that right.  I couldn't make that shit up.)  because he didn't seem arrogantly indestructible. He's just a dude doing what he was trained to do, and the whole scene where Hanna confronts him about her real parents is just really well acted both on the part of Bana and Ronan.  I don't know why but I always look forward to seing Cate Blanchett on screen now.  Aside from the fact that she's a terrific actress, I have an ongoing internal debate about whether or not I find her incredibly hot.  I still can't decide if I find her physically attractive or if there's some mysterious asymmetry that my brain is just unable to process and so I need to keep staring at her to somehow unravel this metaphysical mystery.  But I digress.  The real star of the show here (and rightfully so) is Saoirse Ronan who just completely blew me away.  She is just a phenomenal young actress and played Hanna perfectly.  I don't know any other actress working today who could have pulled off that mix of vulnerability and naivite and ass kicking skills.  An the action never seems unbelievable for a 16 year old girl, unlike some other recent movies I know where teenage girls perform ridiculous feats (looking at you KICK-ASS) even more unbelievable than Charlie Sheen doing stand up comedy (?) while obviously tripping on acid (Tiger blood?  Really?).  I have no doubt that Ronan will continue to impress us in years to come.

So, despite the local theatre sucker punching me in the proverbial nutsack, it turns out I got to see a decent movie after all.  If you're looking for a solid action flick then check out HANNA which I will dub with a 7/10 = One Decoy's Head Being Twisted Around Backwards By A Teenage Ninja.  Special thanks goes out to Cineplex Odeon for this article; if it weren't for their shortsighted policies I might have missed out on this film.  Fuck you very much, Cineplex.