|Here you will find a few movie reviews and a few very short stories. There's more writing in my web log if you click on ANTISOCIAL COMMENTARY||
The Untimely Death of
When my brother and I were younger, our toy budget was not very big. We were forced to make toys out of whatever was handy. One of the luxuries afforded to us was a small army of stuffed animals, which we collectively dubbed "huggies." Where this term originated from is lost on me at this point in my life, but the important thing is that they represented our personal reflection on life as we saw it in the real world and especially in entertainment. From our two armadas of huggies, Merrick and I each chose an elite task force comprised of the smaller, pocket-sized animals.
My selection was called Hogan's Heroes, a five-animal team consisting of a skunk (Hogan), a moose (Morgy), a blue bunny (Hippity-Hoppity), a crocheted pig (Truffles), and a toucan (Seafird). This team of commandos would invariably be pitted against diverse threats, from the common house cat to select rubber monsters from my airline carry-on bag of doom. Occasionally, Hogan's Heroes clashed swords with Happy Harry's Assault Team, a task force named after Merrick's favoured stuffed lion. These commandos were outfitted with the latest in technological warfare…tiny cap guns and rifle-shaped pens that were perfectly to scale with their miniature stature, including satellite-guided boomerangs and a tiny set of handcuffs (a human might consider it a key chain). Hogan's Heroes' base of operations was adapted from a small set of shelves, complete with supercomputer and elevator. I recall the best office chairs were made from old styrofoam Big Mac containers--the kind they no longer make.
When we played at an even smaller scale, there was a whole new set of heroes. The playthings were tiny pom-poms with googly eyes affixed to them, and sometimes balls of lint that we fished out after a good load of laundry. When they dried, they would fluff out to become the protagonists in epic adventures of danger and intrigue.
One such hero was Commander Fluffy. This was Merrick's most cherished tiny toy. Although Commander Fluffy was nothing more than a ball of animal fur, not exceeding an inch in diameter when dry, he himself had his own base of operations and even had his own space ship. The ship was a rather odd orange, bullet-shaped pill container that Merrick had painted up with some kind of star command logo…the cap did bear some resemblance to a thruster from a star destroyer. Commander Fluffy and his buddies went on many celebrated odysseys, and he was even the star of Merrick's only childhood comic strip, called Space Wars and co-starring a snowman-like race of creatures called the "boing-boings", who were united in defending the universe against the evil "blithens."
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Merrick would once in the while let me play with Commander Fluffy and company (or, more likely, I would take without asking). One of the many challenges of working with Commander Fluffy was his size and malleability. As nothing more than fur, Commander Fluffy could be compacted into a very small area. Indeed, this was how he fit into his pill-ship. Once C. Fluffy was stuffed inside the ship, it would take no small amount of dexterity to fish him out. Usually this involved jamming a pen, cotton swab, or some other long utensil into the ship, but if those weren't available, there was another method--sucking him out. This was a relatively simple process that involved putting your bared teeth up to the open pill-container and sucking till Commander Fluffy was forced against your teeth. Then you could simply grab the exposed fur and pull him out to fight crime and injustice in a cold, unforgiving universe. As I was to learn, this method was not foolproof.
One day, while Merrick was in fact nearby, I was using the sucking method to coax Commander Fluffy from his usual hiding place. (That sounds incredibly suggestive, but let's continue.) On this specific occasion, I had forgotten to keep my teeth together, and I sucked him not only out of his ship, but into my throat as well. The look on my face was no doubt priceless as I realized that Commander Fluffy was halfway into my trachea, and by anyone's standards, that was simply not right. Here I was, choking on one of our household's greatest heroes, but my only thought was for my own survival. In a split second the involuntary reaction had been made, and Commander Fluffy was coughed from my trachea to my esophagus, and down into the warm wet hell that is my stomach. It didn't take long for Merrick to realize what it was I was choking on, with Commander Fluffy's ship still in hand, and it soon became painfully apparent that the danger I faced choking on Commander Fluffy was negligible compared to the wrath of my older brother at the loss of his champion.
It is a good thing that our mother was on hand to restrain Merrick, or I might not be typing this story today. How ironic that what the blithens had failed to do over the course of decades (in comic book time), I had managed to do quite by accident in a moment of carelessness. My own titanic breath had led to Commander Fluffy's untimely demise, but even to this day I will never forget his poignant eulogy, as my brother put it so eloquently at the time of Fluffy's passing: "Tory, you're searching through your poo with a q-tip until you find Commander Fluffy!"
Movie Review: Forbidden Planet
The space pulp/monster movie genre really came to a head in the 1950s. With the A-Bomb and the Reds a new and very real threat to post-WWII America, the sci-fi movies of the time had a tendency to exploit the fears of the public. The best of these films served as cautionary tales. A great many of them (Angry Red Planet, and Rocketship X-M for example) were little more than xenophobic jaunts of drive-in escapism suitable for MST3K-ing. With all their dated, stereotypical camp - bug-eyed monsters, posturing military men with atomic ray guns, fainting heroines and alcoholic cooks - poking fun at the genre is duck soup.
Despite all of their idiosyncrasies, a few of these sci-fi flicks still stand up 50 years later. The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds spring to mind, as does Forbidden Planet. In MGM's first real stab at the genre, Commander J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielson) commands the crew of the United Planets Cruiser C57D on their mission to investigate the mysterious loss of contact with a colony of scientists on the planet Altair. Once they approach the planet they receive a transmission from the last surviving scientist, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who warns Adams "if you set down on this planet I cannot be held accountable for the safety of your ship or your crew." Naturally, the Commander ignores the warning and lands to further survey the situation. Dr Morbius, less sinister than his name seems to imply, reluctantly welcomes the crew and introduces them to the now familiar Robot (who was known as "Robbie the Robot" only outside of the film), his lovely daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), and an ancient underground world created by the long-extinct inhabitants of the planet, the Krell.
The various science-fiction elements in Forbidden Planet are stylistically fascinating, powerful and memorable, and perfectly executed for the time. Though dated by today's standards, the special effects were very sophisticated at the time and are still a joy to behold.
The characters, though somewhat stereotypical, are pretty solid, and with talent like Nielson, Pidgeon and Francis the acting is nothing to sneeze at. Tensions between Adams and Morbius, the interplay between the crew and the free-spirited Altaira, and the subtle camaraderie between the commander and his doctor (Warren Stevens) are well-played.
The theremin soundtrack is something else - you have to hear it to believe it - and it really gives the film an otherworldly quality and very much adds to the suspense of the story. Oddly enough, the score for the film wasn't what the studio had planned - due to the Hollywood Musician's Union strike a husband & wife team was hired for the task.
Texturally, the whole story works on several different levels. There are Shakespearean (the film is based on The Tempest) and Freudian aspects mixed in with the comic relief of Robot and 'Cookie', the ship's cook. If you've not seen Forbidden Planet for a decade or two, I strongly suggest refamiliarizing yourself with this entertaining sci-fi classic, the rich antecedent to a diluted Star Trek franchise. If you have never seen Forbidden Planet - well you're in for a memorable voyage of discovery.
Movie Review: Dogma
I'm not going to say that Kevin Smith doesn't have talent. I'm sure he's a very good dancer.
Movie Review: The Cruise
Set in a small town in Maine during the height of the cold war, this film is
based on Ted Hughes' children's book "The Iron Man" and brought to you
by The Simpsons' Brad Bird. It tells the story of a giant, amnesiac robot who
falls to Earth, and is eventually befriended by a local boy, Hogarth Hughes.
Hogarth must hide the robot from a paranoid government agent who suspects it a
Soviet weapon of war. The truth is that the robot is indeed essentially a giant
gun, but hails from a distant planet and bears unbelievable firepower!
Ultimately, it is the friendship with the boy that brings out the robot's
compassion and humanity, and saves the town from annihilation.
Movie Review: Madre
I don’t use the words "brilliant" and "captivating" very often, in fact, this may be the first time they’ve both appeared in the same sentence, or indeed thought, that I have produced. I have no reservation about attributing both of these adjectives to La Madre Muerta, however.
Juanma and Eduardo Bajo Ulloa’s story begins with an amazing bang that holds you fast to your chair for the ensuing 103 minutes. The protagonist, Ismael, is a a psychotic, petty thug whose love for chocolate is stronger than that for his devoted lover, Maite, whose attention he repays with threats and abuse. On one of Ismael’s jobs burgling a house, he is surprised by the owner, the "Dead Mother" in question. Her statement "there is no money" is answered with a fatal shotgun blast that leaves her young daughter, who Ismael meets on the way out, orphaned.
Years later Ismael sees her on the street, now an enchantingly beautiful, but mute and seemingly autistic young woman in the care of a local sanitarium. Ismael, frightened that she has recognized him, kidnaps her and brings her back to Maite at their the house. Ismael wants to throw her in front of a train, but Maite insists a ransom, since they are currently squatting. In the meantime, little Leire grows on both of the criminals, albeit in different ways. This leads to an engaging storyline of conflict, beauty, and twisted redemption. Despite the detestable actions of the lead characters, it is impossible not to care for them. Apart from the fact that the subtitles are a bit hard to read at times, this movie is infallible, and must be watched immediately at all costs!
Toilet Humour Without the
Toilet (AKA Shits & Giggles)
WARNING: Overshare! Reader Discretion is Advised. This post is extremely graphic and gross and involves real human bodily function--MY real human bodily function--and you may die happy never having read it, especially if you live with me.
You've been warned.
For the record, I'm writing this on the day the event happened, but I am not going to post it for, oh at least 7 days. Just to, you know...distance myself from it. Not that it's going to help any.
So, you know those times when you're in bed and you have to go to the bathroom but you don't want to get up because...you're in bed! And presumably it's comfy, right? (Yeah, you think you know where this is going already but I don't think you do).
Well I'm feeling the pressure of having to take a dump. That's not unusual, I don't give it too much thought because Chris has just gone into the bathroom so it, quite simply, will just have to wait. In the meantime, I'll check my email, etc. While my computer is loading up, I eat a banana. The pressure starts to mount.
I hear Chris start the shower. I've been able to hold in shits pretty much indefinitely. It's starting to hurt but I am confident I can just endure the pain and wait. I go to check my email. When I sit down, it starts to get really uncomfortable, and I start to worry. Ok, Toren, get up and don't sit down again. That was a bad idea. That's the secret to weathering this - just don't sit down again. In fact, I was doing fine before I got up, so I'll just lie back down in bed. Chris' showers aren't usually that long, and when he's done, he's out of the bathroom really quickly - like five times as fast as I take.
Now I'm fidgeting about on the bed. Face down, face up, on my side - nope, none of those positions is making me not have to go to the bathroom really really bad. As the pangs become a single, steady pain, it's finally starting to dawn on me that I might be in legitimate trouble. But what do I do? I've never had "it" go this badly before!
If you had told me last night that I would be running around the apartment in my bathrobe trying to find something to shit in this morning I would said - never. No way. Impossible. Well friends, there I was. My first thought was a bowl (actually my first thought was - how much time do I have to consider this?) - one of the many party-type bowls we have in the kitchen shelves. No, that won't do - we'll never be able to use it again, I can find something better. I move on. What do dogs shit on? Newspaper - we gotta have some newspaper around here. We do, but it's covering the kitchen table and it would take way too long to get at it under all the paints etc. We have tons of plastic bags at our disposal - they're constantly floating around the apartment. I begin to consider this. When I clean the cat litter, I put the nasty business inside about 5-6 layers of the plastic grocery bags we get at Sunshine Market. If I do this, Kodos & I will be part of a very exclusive club. My worry is that the bag will be too thin; that there may be hidden breaches in the thin plastic membrane, but at this point it has come to my attention in a most profound way that the decision has to be made now.
Even as I lay the plastic bag open on the floor, two thoughts come to me: how's my aim; and what the hell do I wipe with? My mind flashes back to the time we ran out of toilet paper at the Welsh Hall for our gaming convention and I had to run out to a corner store to get some new rolls. We bought two packages - one of which came back home with me after the con. But, are they still in my bedroom with the rest of the gaming stuff, or did I put them in the bathroom? Wonder of wonders - there they are.
Let me tell you something: all the triumphs of poetry and philosophy, all the auspices of art and architectural wonders that elevate your spirit and let you transcend the mundane are fucking out the window when you're squatting naked in your bedroom, shitting in a plastic bag.
Relief...of a sort.
I don't think it was any bigger than a regular dump, but when it's sitting in a bag on your bedroom floor everything seems magnified by the abject horror of it all, and that includes the smell. That dogs can and do eat their own shit is, I decide, a miracle. A horrible, horrible miracle. I am so used to being able to handily forget about my waste, complacent with the idea that I will never have to confront my non-metaphorical demons, that I am legitimately shocked. Take our precious plumbing away, and the world goes topsy turvy.
It seems to take aeons (in reality it's a split second) for the colossal turd to burn its image in its wrongful place in my memory.... Ah yes, here's a spot - right between the memory of chipping a tooth on my microphone at a Thickets gig and the memory of Char's father's dogs pestering a massive, belligerent june bug caught in a tumbleweed of their own fur. It's a tight fit.
Once that's done, I am able to turn to the unpleasant business of disposal. I go back to the kitchen for a platoon of plastic bags. I take it one step at a time. The first step is the hardest: Close the grocery bag and lift it off the floor. Worst fears allayed, I move to step two: lower it into another bag and close. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Each time I allow my fingers to close more tightly around the lip of the bag, ultimately providing the semblance of an airtight seal.
By this time, Chris has finished his shower and has left the bathroom. The garbage in the kitchen is due to be taken out, so I capitalize on that. The poobag's warmth - the hot hot heat of my former insides now trapped in plastic - seeps through the layers of bag as I plunge the abomination deep into the garbage mothership. I pull the mother out of the can and find other garbage to shove in with - and more importantly on top of - the other refuse, providing layers of garbage strata to forever cloak my secret shame. Then all that was left was to secure the whole thing with some damn-tight knots.
While I was bagging the food baby, I hoped: once I've removed the shit from the room, will the smell have gone with it? Of course not. It's like a fart to the power of ten. No, twenty. There was nothing for it but to open wide the window, strike a match, and wait it out.
The ordeal was over. The ruthless absurdity of it all could settle, and I laughed at it because...well what choice did I have? Time to get on with my day. I was confident enough that my little package was nestled deep in less blatantly offensive waste, insulated from the possibility of exposure, to allow Chris to take the garbage out when he so kindly offered. After all, what possible unsuspicious reason could I give to refuse his request?
And Now, A Short Story
Every day she winked at him.
Far off, almost indistinct, she shimmered in her radiant beauty. He could not remember the day he first saw her, it had been so very long ago. Now he could only wait out the hours for her next glorious glimmer--for you see, every day, without fail, she shot a look across the heavens for all to see; a beacon of desire and loneliness that you could set your watch to. He was enamoured. He and his brothers.
They circled the sun ever so slowly, a stone’s throw from arrogant Saturn. Venus remained an elusive dot some distance away. He and his friends had seen quite a bit in the past fifteen billion years. They watched Saturn reign in her sparkling rings, they watch tiny ice balls pepper the landscape of a prepubescent Earth before she shrouded herself in her cloak of carbon dioxide. And they remember that fateful day when they were whole, before that unspeakable calamity had ripped them apart, robbed them of their chance to shine with the other breathtaking worlds that calmly danced around their benevolent, yellow, main-sequence mother.
Life was simple back then. But he wouldn’t trade what he had now for all the precious silver specks in the cosmos, not while she remained to flirt across the thin aether. What was she like, they wondered? Was she like their own star, proud and intense, a beautiful yellow gem marking the heavens, or was she different? Maybe she was a great red giant, glowing quietly, patient and giving. It was their dream, all of them, to one day reach into the empty gulfs and somehow answer her call; to take her up on her summons, and bathe in her gentle radiation. But what were the chances of that? What were the odds that some cosmic happenstance would hurl them across the galaxy to her side? Perhaps some of those feisty parasites from their ever-fecund sister, Earth, would be sympathetic to their plight. Perhaps not. Still, they had waited that long, and they had all of the time in the universe to hope, and in the meantime, they subsisted on the daily kisses blown across countless leagues of nebulae and dark gasses by their secret lover.
Naturally, he supposed that he had some special, privileged bond with that sweet, incandescent angel from afar. This feeling was exemplified when, one miraculous day, the solar winds caused an unexpected collision. One of his rocky brethren, through a series of complicated ricochets, smashed into him, jarring him loose from the pack. It happened, these things—not so much anymore (things have settled down since the big bang)—and accidents are inevitable, and when one is presented with the immortal expanse of time that is due all of the heavenly bodies, anything is possible.
And so it was that he was sent forth into empty space, with no time to bid farewell to the rest of the asteroid belt, just spiralling uncontrollably through the frictionless void. Could it be this was the answer to his prayers? Was he, through some mad twist of circumstance, destined now to take the long journey towards the resplendent gleam that shoots out through the dark to warm his stony heart? He tried to collect himself, to get his bearings, to calm down enough to ensure that he wasn’t just fooling himself into false expectations. But no. Gloriously, it did indeed seem that he was heading straight for the object of his affection.
Drunk with anticipation, he almost wanted to shut off his senses, to live off of hope. For he knew that throughout the long trip, countless things could go wrong. A stray comet could slingshot his trajectory and befoul his destiny. He could find himself in the path of a wandering planet, or a hungry white dwarf that would tear him apart particle by particle, oblivious to his perfectly focused desire. He just wanted to sleep, oblivious to the worrisome forces that he could not control, and wake up in her embrace, enraptured until the end of time. Luck had got him this far, but this seemed too important to rely on it any longer. Yet he had no choice, he was as much a pawn of the spatial tides as was the rest of the universe.
Millennia passed, and things were looking good. Every day, as in times past, she winked her lucent wink, voicelessly sang out her brilliant song, each one more full, more potent than the last. Soon, he saw not only her measured beam of hope, but managed to make out, through the gassy maelstroms, her demure, luminous form. It was not long before she danced before him, spilling her radiant light to saturate his welcoming pores. It was all too much.
He was here, at last, by her side. Everything he had hoped, everything he had dreamed, had been handed to him, finally and inexorably. He found that all of the thousands of years he had spent on his journey, planning things to say to win her over, might as well have been only a few seconds, for words were all lost on his tongue. He was, simply, overwhelmed with the moment.
Finally, still tumbling in the heady rapture of her vibrant ambience, he struggled out his destiny.
"O my bright and shimmering beloved…I have finally come. I…I have shot through the light-years at last, to be here, now. For so long have you sparked your signal out to me, and, as I always knew one day it would, the celestial host has seen to it that I made my way to this final point." Her light cut long shadows into his pocked surface as he tumbled slowly by her side. "Every day your brilliance shone out the question, and I would not deny you my answer, which, though I am small and brittle, I hope will justify the immense warmth in which you have bathed me for so many sublime eons. I have never been so content as I am at this tiny moment—no thought, no circumstance, no hope has brought me such exquisite peace as I know now. I am, finally, yours."
She edged slowly on her axis, as she had since the dawn of creation. Whorls of superhot gas played across her blinding skin. Sunspots, continent-sized beauty marks, shimmered like drops of oil in an autumn puddle. He sensed that just beyond her horizon, a solar prominence spilled forth like a quick breath, and licked the empty blackness. She seemed to swell, in what he assumed to be a moment of silent passion.
"Asteroid," she began, "know this: I am but a pulsar. Once I was a star, but eventually I exhausted my supply of hydrogen, and collapsed into a neutron star. In the change, this one spot upon my surface merely became the focus for the constant ejection of accelerated charged particles. As I rotate, these waves of energy sweep uncontrolled across the blanket of space. Vanity of vanities, you have ascribed meaning where there is none."
Appropriately, at the same time that his molten heart abruptly and painfully cooled into a flaky cinder, he realized that his long course through space had not brought him within reach of her gravitational field—that he was not able to maintain orbit. Had the irony been able to pierce through the all-absorbing sense of loss, he would have laughed. The pull of her immense gravitational mass was not matched by the pull of her siren’s call.
It was no sadder, then, that he was left alone with his broken thoughts to soundlessly drift beyond, into the cold, unforgiving blackness of illimitable space, forced to endure the ceaseless, mocking winks—the systematic, indifferent clock that counted down, with such perfect precision, the rest of time.
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