Book Club: Wolf In White Van

I think it’s human nature to want to identify with a story teller. They’re sharing an experience with you and you want to see it from their point of view. That’s part of the fun, to step outside yourself and see things a different way.

But as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t identify with Sean, the protagonist of Wolf in White Van.

Hell, Sean can’t even identify with himself.

“Whoever Sean is, it’s not who I think he is; all the details I think I know about things are lies,” he says at one point.

At another: “I sift and rake and dig around in my vivid recollections of young Sean… I try to see what makes him tick, but I know a secret about young Sean…  nothing makes him tick. It just happens all by itself…”

Indeed, Sean’s inner-workings – his motives, his goals, his dreams, his fears… – are virtually impossible to reach. It’s as if they’re locked deep within a fortress, in a distant wasteland, guarded by warlords and radioactive fallout.

Just trying to access that fortress is a hazard in and of itself – hazard, upon hazard, upon hazard.

Just like Trace Italian.

Trace Italian is a game Sean invented. It’s a fictional fortress located in Kansas, the last remaining refuge in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The objective is to simply get there, to penetrate the citadel and find safety in its inner-sanctum.

Sean is something like the Dungeon Master in D&D. He sets players on a path and sends them four options by mail. The players respond with their move, and Sean sends back the consequences of that move, along with four more options. And so the game goes… on until the player gives up.

No one ever reaches the Trace Italian, and rarely do they die. They simply wander through its labrynthian coil, a spiral that never reaches its center.

You can spend hours, days, or even years trying to get there it, but it’s virtually guaranteed that you won’t. It’s an indecipherable code, like the book’s name.

That is, the book title is a reference to a song by Larry Norman called “666”. When you play the song backwards, it sounds like “Wolf in White Van.”

A guest on the 700 club might say this is a Satanic message, but really, it’s a phrase that raises more questions than answers.

What exactly does it mean?  Why no article, ‘the’ or ‘a’? Is the wolf locked in the back of the van or riding shotgun? Is it driving?

Like Sean’s narrative, it’s ultimately enigmatic.

Sean doesn’t know why he does the things that he does, and you won’t either.

That’s not really the point, though.

Like fighting your way to the Trace, it’s more about the journey than the destination. It’s a walking tour of a tortured wasteland, a dark and dangerous land patrolled by mutants.

At one point, a long time ago, there was a fortune teller that might have been able to help you navigate the terrain.  But he’s dead now. So the best you can do is rummage through his remnants – a few vague artifacts and the key to a door you’ll never find.

Or as Sean puts it…

“There’s power in thinking you’re about to meet somebody who knows what’s next for you, and there’s another level of power in seeing that person’s body on the floor, having to get the information from him somehow now that he’s no longer in any condition to give it.”

Netflix Instant Classic: Let the Right One In

Genre: Foreign, Independent

What’s it about? An old man and young girl (a vampire) move into a small Swedish community and immediately start offing people.

Who’s in it? Buncha Swedes.

You’ll like it if… You are interested in vampires that aren’t brooding teenagers. You can handle subtitles (more on that below). You can appreciate cinematography and direction (They’re fantastic in this movie). You have crush on Sweden.

Let the Right One In isn’t just one of my favorite horror movies, it’s one of my favorite movies, period.

The story, acting, and visuals are absolutely captivating.

Set in Stockholm, circa 1982, the environment is dominated by darkness. Days are gray and nights are black. Just looking at the sparse, snow-covered landscape, its dense forests and empty streets stretching out into frigid oblivion, is enough to give you chills.

But then there’s the shroud of death.

An old man moves into an apartment complex with a young girl, presumably a relation. It soon becomes apparent that the little girl is a vampire and they must harvest blood to sustain her.

In the meantime, she befriends a local boy, who’s besieged by strife at home and bullies at school.

The story builds from there, and it’s as original as it is tragic.

Its characters test the boundaries of love, devotion, and even sexuality. They’re forced to weigh their own lives against the lives of other innocent people. They are marginalized as outcasts, and yet, they’re inexcorably chained together.

The sense of desolation – both physical and spiritual – is palpable as these characters are driven to extremes. The climate is unforgiving, and so are they.

I really would recommend this movie to anyone. It is technically a horror, and violence is obviously a part of that, but it’s really not that bad. There’s nothing in here that couldn’t be shown on cable. (i.e. Game of Thrones-level)

Of course, you might also be turned off by the subtitles. Again, they’re really not that bad – mostly because there isn’t very much talking in the film.

I’ve watched foreign movies before, and it’s aggravating when you spend so much time speed-reading dialogue that you miss the action onscreen. This movie doesn’t have that problem.

It’s very easy to follow.

Still, if you can’t handle it, then you might consider the American remake: Let Me In, which features Chloe Grace Moretz.

Obviously, it’s not as good, but the story is pretty much the same. (They’re both based on the same novel.)

You really should watch the original, though. It’s packed with the dark chill of a cold winter’s night and the burning sting of frostbite.

J-Money Mix Tape: This Is Halloween

As many of you know, I’ve been actively seeking creepy sounds for the Halloween season.

Some of you were even kind enough to offer up your suggestions. And they were, in fact, absolutely terrifying.

So I’ve decided to include some of them (as many as I could!) in this mix tape offering.

It’s broken into two categories…

The first are songs that scare me, J-Money.

The second section includes songs I solicited from friends.

I know you guys didn’t know I was going to use your suggestions for this, and honestly I didn’t, either. It just happened.

In any case, thanks for your feedback!

Let’s get to it…

Songs That Scare Me 

Teddy Bear’s Picnic – Henry Hall and His Orchestra

 

Of all the songs on this list, this one scares the most shit out of me.

Just what is this?

Is this supposed to be a kids’ song? Because it sounds like something Jack the Ripper would sing while gleefully tormenting a prostitute.

For a song about teddy bears, this is the least wholesome sound I’ve ever heard.

The creepy voice… The shifts from high to low… The ominous, yet gleeful tone…

And above all else, lyrics that are terrifyingly vague:

“If you go down in the woods today you’re in for a big surprise… You better go in disguise…”

Okaaaay.

Well first, aren’t the woods a public space? Shouldn’t I just be able to go whenever I damn-well please?

Nope.

Because the Teddy Bears are lying there in ambush “beneath the trees where nobody sees” to “hide and seek as long as they please.”

Okay, well, why this particular day then? This sounds like a ritual. Is today the day the Teddy Bears harvest organs?

Is that why I need I need a disguise? Lest I be discovered to be an intruder? Then what?

Who knows?

There’s only this ominous warning at the end:

“If you go down in the woods today you better not go alone!
It’s lovely down in the woods today but safer to stay at home.
For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because
today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.”

Good God. What the hell is going on in these woods?

Who are these “Teddy Bears”?

Who the hell is Henry Hill, for that matter? And how many kids did he molest and leave in the forest before hanging himself from the nearest branch?

These are questions for which we will never have answers.

Gooble Gobble, One of Us – Freaks

 

It would be easy to look at this clip and say it’s not so much the song as it is the circus freaks singing it.

And that’s probably true… to a point.

Still, the song itself is creepy.

I can’t imagine being at a party and having my hosts break into this weird chant of acceptance. You could just go with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” you know?

And if you’re truly accepting someone into your ranks, freakish or not, you need not say so explicitly in the song’s lyrics. That just makes it sound sarcastic.

I like to think I’d be polite in such a situation, but I definitely understand Cleopatra’s reaction. Depending on how things had gone to that point, and how intoxicated I’d gotten, I might freak out, too.

Tom Waits… Just Tom Waits in General

 

Everywhere I looked, and everyone I asked offered up one Tom Waits song as another.

And rightfully so. He’s an awesome, brilliant musician, whom we all love. And yet, his music can be both bizarre and creepy.

Oily Night, Murder In the Red Barn, What’s He Building In There?

Take your pick.

Stay weird Tom Waits, stay weird.

Skulls – The Misfits

 

I talked about the Misfits in my last Mix Tape review.

I’m a big fan, and this is one of my favorite Misfits songs. I just feel strange singing along to lyrics involving misogyny, serial murder, and decapitation.

Mr. Danzig:

“The corpses all hang headless and limp.
Bodies with no surprises.
And the blood drains down like devil’s rain.
We’ll bathe tonight.
I want your skulls, I need your skulls…”

Give’em this: When they write a song called “Skulls,” they make it about skulls.

The Devil’s Workday – Modest Mouse

 

The horns… the banjo… Isaac Brock’s unhinged vocals… It’s a spooky sound.

Some lyrics:

“Gonna take this sack of puppies,
Gonna set it out to freeze.
Gonna climb around on all fours,
‘Til the blood falls out my knees.”

Kinda reminds me of “Country Death Song” by the Violent Femmes

Goodnight, Irene – Leadbelly

 

A lot of these old recordings creep me out, and that’s especially true of Leadbelly.

After all, this is someone who went to prison for shooting and killing a man (a relative no less) over a woman. He got out of jail on good behavior, only to go back five years later for stabbing another guy in a fight. And while serving that second term, he got in a fight with another inmate, who stabbed him in the neck.

Finally, after leaving prison for a second time, Leadbelly records this, his signature song, about pursuing a sexual relationship with a minor.

The whole thing sounds terribly menacing. It’s got that whole “If I can’t have you no one can!” vibe that makes me picture him slowly strangling this poor Irene girl with guitar string whilst shushing her to sleep.

He also intimates a desire to commit suicide, either by drowning himself in a river or overdosing with morphine.

“I wish I’d never seen your face,
I’m sorry you ever was born.
Goodnight, Irene…”

And if that’s enough, then there’s this song.

Songs That Scare You

Hamburger Lady – Throbbing Gristle

 

This scares me.

The fuck is this?

From an online commenter:

“Throbbing Gristle tried to create a disorienting aura to illustrate the pain, despair, and confusion of a woman who was burnt so badly that her flesh looked like hamburger meat. They also tried to create an ominous, evil sound to display the cruelty of keeping someone like that alive. It’s a very disturbing song.”

Alright. Well thanks for that! See you in my nightmares!

Kidz Bop

 

Yeah, totally. I get it.

Sure these kids are annoying but they’re scary, too. They’re really everything that’s wrong with the upcoming generation.

They dress like hipsters… They hide lackluster vocals behind outlandish choreography… They’re way happier than they have any right to be…

They’re really just a bunch of entitled fucks.

And worse, in this particular video, they’re giving their phone numbers to strangers (unsolicited), which is the exact opposite of what they should be doing.

Especially with sickos like Henry Hall running loose.

You dumb kids deserve what’s coming to you: Underemployment, crippling debt, shattered illusions, and a Teddy Bear picnic.

Kids in General

 

This one comes standard. Everyone knows kids are creepy.

What is it about this kind of broken playground music that’s so chilling, though?

Logically, I don’t understand it, because I never met a kid who scared me.

Kids, they’re not so big. You can push them right down or whatever. They’re so weak.

But if you were to happen across one perched listlessly on an overgrown fountain, singing a song like this on an overcast day?

It’d be fucking terrifying.

Kids are weird.

Carnival Music

 

Obviously. This is another no-brainer.

You got a carnival; you got freaks, carnies, and clowns.

Japanese Weirdos

 

What can I say? It’s a weird culture.

But whatever. If they want chocolate give them the damn chocolate. They look like they bite.

DIMMU BORGIR – Progenies of The Great Apocalypse 

 

No. Just no.

These guys are trying wayyyy to hard.

I keep picturing them at their day jobs. Guys like this wear facepaint so you won’t recognize them when they’re toasting your sandwich at Quiznos.

Look guys – Kenny, Bill, Kevin – we all love Halloween but it can’t be year-round. I know full-well you’re not going home to sacrifice anybody. Your mom would never let you get away with that on her new carpet.

There’s not even enough room in the trailer, anyway.

If you wanted us to believe you were spawned from Hell you really shouldn’t of blown 3/4 of your budget on that stripper flopping around on a leash.

You’re damned alright, but not to a fiery inferno. More like an Arby’s in Des Moines with perpetually sticky floors.

Netflix Instant Classic: Ghost Cat

(Note: I’ve found multiple titles for this film, including “Mrs. Ashboro’s Cat,” and “The Cat That Came Back.”)

Genre: TV Movie, Family Friendly

What’s it about? An old lady and her cat kick the bucket, but the latter returns from the after-life to foil a land grab.

Who’s in it? Ellen Page, Margaret the Cat

You’ll like it if… You like ghosts, cats, or ghost cats.

So, a widower shows up in small town New Jersey with his daughter, pulls his car over and immediately tries to buy a house he’s never seen before from a lady who doesn’t want to sell it.

And he’s the most normal guy in the movie.

Of course, that’s plenty fair when you consider the premise here is that a cat comes back from the dead to settle an inheritance claim.

Truth is, I love a good ghost story. And too often, animals are omitted from them.

If people can die and come back to life, why not animals? I like to picture the ghost world as populated with all kinds of crazy, extinct creatures with unfinished business.

I’m not the only one who thinks that way, either.

That is, this isn’t the first story about a ghost cat.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story called “The Black Cat.” It’s a chilling, and even disturbing, tale that really sets the bar for feline-based paranormal fiction.

Another master of the craft, Steven King, took his shot, too, with Pet Semetary (one of my all-time favorite movies).

This movie, Ghost Cat, doesn’t stack up to either of them, but it’s a fair enough effort for a made-for-TV movie that aired on Animal Planet 10 years ago.

It stars Ellen Page (*Wistful Sigh*), who is hands down the best – and really, only capable – human actor in the whole thing.

In fact, she won an award for her performance, the prestigious Gemini Award for the Best Performance in a Children’s or Youth Program or Series.

Me-ow.

Still, Page’s performance notwithstanding, the real breakthrough star here is, without question, Margaret the Cat.

Margaret the Cat delivers a tour de force performance.

Being a cat, and therefore unable to speak, Margaret relies on her gazes, body language, and subtle vocal cues to express her character’s inner-workings – those of a cat returned from the dead.

It’s no small feat.

Ghost Cat’s convoluted plot and blurry characters are so cumbersome as to nearly capsize the entire film. You can actually feel the movie teeter, driven to imbalance by the director’s inarticulate approach and the stale performance of its cast (sans Page, of course).

But when Margaret takes the helm, the ship is instantly righted. The waters calm and sails billow as the story cruises atop the uneven waves.

Margaret rescues this film just as she rescues livestock from a barn fire in Ghost Cat’s climactic scene.

So while this movie starts off in a free fall, seemingly destined to splatter on the cold, unforgiving ground of banality, it manages to land on its feet thanks to the performance of one precocious feline.

Just have a look for yourself…

A Song For Mickey

“There’s a monster in my closet,” Amanda said when she was five.  Her dad chased it out with a flashlight.

At age six, the puppy he bought her seemed to distract Amanda from the fact that her mother was gone.

“We’ll name him Mickey,” she said.

Then Amanda was seven and wanted the red lunch box with the rabbits, not the pink one with the ponies. Her dad had to take the first one back, but one hour and three stores later he got it right.

When she was 10 Amanda’s dad helped her color in the poster she made for her school’s bake sale, and when she was 12 he helped her catch a bumble bee in the backyard and preserve it in formaldehyde for science class.

Then Amanda turned 15 and  her father had to answer all of the tough questions about why her mother had left them all those years ago.

The answers did little to compensate for the fact that it was her father giving her advice about boys before her first date, and helping her to choose a dress to wear to her first prom when she was 16.

When Amanda was 17 she bought her first car but it was still her dad’s name on the insurance.

When Amanda graduated at age 18, they both shared the pride but she alone went to college.

When she was 19, Amanda called home every week. Her dad always picked up on the first ring.

By the time she was 21 she called less frequently, and by age 23 Amanda was living on her own and spending a lot of time with a serious boyfriend.

On Amanda’s 25th birthday that boyfriend became a husband.

It was tough on her father, he had just lost poor Mickey that same year.

Good news was on the way, though. Soon, he’d be a grandfather.

Netflix Instant Classic: Dirty Wars

Genre: Documentary, Political

Who’s in it? Jeremy Scahill

You’ll like it if… You have reservations about the War on Terror, you just want to see some real reporting for a change.

I woke up this morning and started watching “Meet the Press.” The topics were tabloid, the panelists were petty, and the discussion was shallow.

And this is the high end of mainstream political discourse in the United States.

So, it’s refreshing to watch a movie like Dirty Wars, written and produced by a journalist who went where he wasn’t supposed to go, and asked questions he wasn’t supposed to ask.

Jeremy Scahill is a legitimate journalist – a rare thing to find in the “information” age.

In 1998 he want to  Nigeria, where he investigated Chevron’s role in killing two environmental activists. A year later, he traveled to Belgrade to report firsthand on the war in Kosovo.   And throughout the 2000s, he ventured to Iraq and Afghanistan, where he covered the U.S. war effort.

His first book,  Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, was an international best-seller that detailed the private military contractor’s role in the Iraq war .

However, it’s his second book, Dirty Wars: The Word Is a Battlefield, that forms the basis of this movie.

Dirty Wars starts in Afghanistan where a nighttime raid conducted by U.S. special forces goes terribly wrong.

Believing some 50 Taliban members are present, U.S. troops crash a wedding of Afghani civilians, shooting one innocent man (a high-ranking member of the U.S.-trained security force at that) and two pregnant women.

After attempting to cover up the crime the soldiers flee, leaving a broken family in their wake.

Alone, this incident would be tragic enough. But, as Scahill finds, similar incidents are occurring all around the globe, many in countries where the United States isn’t officially conducting military operations.

In Yemen, a U.S. cruise missile, ostensibly targeting supposed terrorists, kills more civilians. And in Somalia, warlords discreetly acknowledge taking money and arms from U.S. suppliers to fight as proxies.

As the movie unfolds it becomes clear that the U.S. government has given its special ops unit, JSOC, carte blanche to kill whomever it deems a threat to national security.

Ultimately, this raises two important concerns:

1) A secretive branch of the military has become the judge, jury and executioner for an ever-expanding list of suspected terrorists.

2) The the number of civilian deaths (essentially murders committed by the U.S. government)  is rising along with the scope of the raids.

These are very real concerns.

It’s now estimated that three civilians are killed for every one person of interest targeted in a special forces strike. That fact is not only brutal, it’s dangerous. It’s damaging to the reputation and credibility of the United States, and it’s creating more terrorists, as the family members of the fallen seek retribution.

This is highlighted by Scahill’s visit to the family in Afghanistan, whose surviving members weep over pictures of their dead family members and swear revenge against the “American Taliban.”

Equally disturbing is that these operations are all the work of a single specialized unit. There’s no transparency or accountability,  just an ever expanding list of targets.

Indeed, since the start of the Iraq war the list of  JSOC’s “terrorist” targets has grown from 55, to 200, to more than 2,000.

That includes one American citizen whose only crime is speaking out against and inciting violence toward the United States.

Given that, it’s easy to see why Scahill is nervous. Civilian deaths aside, he worries that these targeted assassinations – which are rapidly expanding in both number and reach – contradict America’s founding principles and corrode to our moral core.

Yet, as Scahill notes, it’s JSOC that hunts down and kills Osama bin Laden. And that’s where the debate comes in.

No doubt, Scahill’s critique is valid. His criticisms of JSOC can’t be dismissed, but neither can the threat of legitimate terrorists like Osama bin Laden.

So the questions linger…

What degree of injustice abroad will the American public tolerate for the sake of domestic security?

Should the unit behind these operations continue to operate with no oversight or accountability?

Will these missions ever end or will they go on in perpetuity?

Are we creating more terrorists than we’re killing?

Is there a chance, however small, that the practice of preemptively killing American “terrorists” overseas one day comes home?

These are difficult questions and they may not have any answers at all – much less clean-cut ones.

But at least Jeremy Scahill is asking them. That’s more than I can say for David Gregory, Meet the Press, and the rest of mainstream American media.

So if you have the stomach for it, give it a watch and make up your own mind.

Note: The trailer for this movie sucks, so here’s Jeremy Scahill talking about it on Real Time.

The Journal of Noah

While the fabled Ark of Noah itself has yet to be found, pilgrims venturing to its alleged crash site have returned with the tattered remains of what appear to be the feverish rantings of a 600-year old man dating back to roughly 2500 B.C.

What follows is a rough translation of the original Aramaic script…

Day #1

I have done the Lord’s bidding. I have spent the past 120 years of my life building the divine vessel. I have herded all of His earthly creatures onto this ark, two-by-two. (And that was no small chore with the lions eating so many of the lamb.)

Now, the rain pours down in torrents. Let it wash away the sin of this wayward world, and let this vessel sail forth as a seaworthy shrine to God’s might and wrath.

May He have mercy on those that perish in this great flood.

Day #7

Seven days now, and still the rain comes and the water rises.

I must admit, I thought the mighty Lord would rest on the seventh day.

After all, it took him only six days to create the earth. And it’s been at least two days since I saw the last heathen clinging to a treetop before being washed away.

Hearing their wails and screams as they drowned was… disturbing. More than a few tried desperately to cling to our boat before sinking into the abyss or being taken away by sharks.

It was a gruesome display, indeed. But it is God’s will, and who am I to question it?

I am but a humble servant in His divine plan. And so I say, let the rain pour, mighty God, as I continue to pray for your mercy, and call upon your Heavenly blessings.

Day #12

The rocking… I definitely underestimated the rocking that would accompany the Lord’s mighty wrath.

Perhaps, as God’s anointed messenger and prophet, I half-expected to be spared the sea sickness, but alas…

Then again, the rocking probably wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the smell. The animals have gotten sick, as well, of course – many of them not accustom to the ocean. (One died, I regret to say. It appears the world has lost the Orangtapus.)

Given that, and the animals’ natural impulse to defecate, it didn’t take long for the hull of the ship to fill with the most Hellish stench.

I dare not venture above deck as God continues to pour rain down from the Heavens. The ark, crude as it is, tumbles violently though the sea of the damned. And I fear being washed overboard – or at the very least, drenched with rain.

This is my only pair of clothes…

And yet, below deck, the hull reeks with the stench of vomit and droppings – both of the animals, and I’m embarrassed to say, my own person.

Still, I thank God that he’s spared me… And that I’ve run out of food to purge from my stomach.

Day #14

Two full weeks, now.

The earth has been properly flooded, yet the rain pours still – God’s fury assailing us from the sky.

I’m quite sure most of the sinners have drowned by this point, even those that scaled the mountains.

Again, I make this point not to question, but merely to observe.

Surely, God is the greatest of all possible planners. This must have been the most efficient and humane way – if not the only way – to purge the earth of its blasphemous human scum.

Day #20

I do not know how long this journey will last, but I trust His infallible presence watches over me… from His throne… conveniently located in the sky… in the Kingdom of Heaven… where it doesn’t rain… ever…

Day #25

Lacking vitamins C and D, I’ve acquired scurvy…

Day #26

Cholera…

Day #27

Dysentery…

Day #30

This trial has been so long and so great.

My only solace is knowing that it will never happen again.

Never again will animals – much less humans – be crowded onto a ship, separated from their homeland on a vast ocean voyage, and made to lie, get sick and even die in their own waste.

No just and merciful God would EVER allow such a thing.

Day #35

[Editor’s Note: Here, what appear to be stick figures are drawn: One in which a man has hung himself from the bow of a poorly constructed rectangular ship… Another in which a hand protrudes down from a cloud giving the finger… Still another shows a large bearded man urinating onto a globe… The remainder, I’m afraid, are too crude to describe…]

Day #41

It’s over! It’s over! Jubilee! I cannot wait to return home, to dry land, farming and a flock.

Praise the Lord! Praise Him!

I knew the Lord Almighty would see me through this tribulation.

Blessed are you Lord! Blessed am I Noah! Blessed are His creatures (except for the Orangtapus)!

Day #42

…. The water appears to be receding rather slowly…

Netflix Instant Classic: Out of the Furnace

Genre: Gritty Thriller

What’s it about? Hill people literally duking it out for money and their lives.

Who’s in it? Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Defoe, Casey Affleck, and Forest Whitaker

You’ll like it if… You like movies like Winter’s Bone and A History of Violence. (If those two movies had a baby it would be Out of the Furnace.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Big Brother flies straight. He’s a wise, hard worker who follows in his father’s footsteps.

Little Brother is a wild child. Determined to break the mold – and a tradition of perceived failure – he desperately tries to punch is way out of poverty and into a better life.

But instead of finding fortune, Little Brother is confronted with the moral destitution that comes with his own poor life choices. He gets in over his head and Big Brother has to come bail him out… If it’s not too late, that is.

Either way, things are bound to get messy.

It’s one of Hollywood’s favorite formulas and it is very much at work in “Out of the Furnace.”

Of course, I wouldn’t be reviewing this movie if it didn’t do a damn good job. (It’s worth noting Out of the Furnace was produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio, which accounts for the star power and strong direction.)

Just look at the cast. It’s fucking loaded.

And in addition to being well-acted, it’s well shot.

Set in primarily in Pennsyltucky, we also get a look at New Jersey’s Ramapo Mountains. Both locations are desolate.  The two regions are portrayed as being more than just poor areas – they’re lawless lands governed by the insular silence of their close-knit  and clannish townsfolk.

In fact, some of the locals took exception to being portrayed as drug-addled “inbreds,” even going so far as to file suit against the filmmakers.

It’s actually fitting that the movie should prove so contentious, because there’s a lot of fighting onscreen, as well.

Russell Baze (Big Brother) is fighting to walk the line. He’s a diligent worker fighting to keep his head up in a dying steel town.  He fights his emotions.  He fights the impulse to drink. And most of all, he fights for his family, especially his little brother, Rodney.

Sometimes he wins sometimes he loses.  But the struggle, as the kids say, is real.

Rodney fights, too. He’s an Army man that gets deployed overseas to fight Iraqis. When he gets back home he fights the memories. He also fights people.

That is, Rodney participates in a bare-knuckle boxing ring on behalf of the local sleaze merchant.

And, as I said, things get messy.

I’m not going to go into anymore detail regarding the plot, because one of this movie’s strengths is that it keeps things interesting, even while clinging to a tired form.

The one twist I do feel comfortable revealing, however, is that it’s Forest Whitaker who usurps the infamous “Batman voice” from Christian Bale.

That, and maybe one other thing…

I didn’t understand the final shot of the film – the very, very end. So I looked it up and found an explanation here [SPOILER ALERT, obviously]. So if you do watch it, and you’re confused like I was, there’s your answer.

Here’s the trailer…

Party Animals

It’s no secret that all across the country there is farmland. It stretches from the fertile river plains of the East, through the towering cornfields of the Midwest, all the way to the great plains of Montana and Wyoming and the potato fields of Idaho.

On many of these farms, of course not all, there are animals. And some of these animals, unbeknownst to their masters, can talk. Now, it’s true that most of the time, they stay quiet. Many are too busy working, some are shy around humans, and others are just plain antisocial. But the animals do speak, often to each other and rarely to a small child by and by.

So, it should come as no surprise (as a farm animal’s life can often be dull, even boring,) that they commonly exchange stories to pass the time. And there’s one story, in particular, the animals enjoy telling more than any other…

It has lots of variations, as it’s been passed on for many years, but it always ends the same. It’s the story of a pig named Pilkington and his dealings with a particularly harsh master. Some piglets have questioned the story’s veracity, suggesting it was made up to scare them into obedience. But then there are some animals who will swear to its truth and even claim to have known Pilkington themselves.

The story takes place on a small country farm, no one’s certain exactly where.

It, like many farms, had a large red barn with a tarnished copper weather vane sitting atop the roof. There were clumps of fresh, golden hay scattered about the floor and dangling from the open shutters. A large grass field wrapped around the structure like the rolling sea around a ship. A rickety wooden fence encircled the land, but it was very worn and served little practical purpose. There wasn’t another soul or farm like it for miles.

Yet, on this farm, there lived a most exceptional group of farm animals. There was Anne May the heifer, the Farmer’s strong-backed oxen Lenny and Bruce, and the farm’s senior resident, outside of the Farmer himself of course, Murphy, who was a dog.

Being the longest lived animal on the farm, Murphy had developed the most thorough understanding of its workings. He also had what many would describe as a sturdy bond with the Farmer. Yes, Murphy wore his age outwardly. His eyes were crusty and cloudy with on-setting glaucoma.  His long, scraggly whiskers and his brownish-grey patchwork coat reminded all of the other animals just how much old Murphy had seen.

There were other animals of course, hens and roosters, stray cats and dogs, ducklings from a nearby pond, jack rabbits, groundhogs, and crows which would happen by and so on. Also among them was Pilkington the pig, who like most pigs was stout, portly, and all-too-often covered in mud from the day’s wallowing.

Pilkington spent more time wallowing in the mud than any other pig.  This was due not only to his enormous girth and stumpy legs, which made getting up a Herculean task, but his laziness, as well.  He was so large and sturdy, small piglets would often crawl about him in games of cat and mouse or king of the hill. While Pilkington was obviously agitated by all the small hooves clattering about his head and shoulders, he did little more than snarl angrily before resigning himself to failure and returning to sleep.  The only concentrated energy one ever saw Pilkington exert was to get to the trough and consume three or four portions of food before most other pigs could stomach one.  Feeding time was when Pilkington’s large, cavernous snout could be heard across the farm, snorting breathlessly.

Pilkington was quite content with his station on the farm, being required only to eat and sleep throughout the day while the other animals worked in the fields.  At times, it even seemed that he derived a sense of self-satisfaction and enjoyment from watching the other animals toil in the hot sun.

Of course, despite his frighteningly morbid obesity and total lack of constructiveness, Pilkington was quite astute and manipulative. His reputation as wily was well-founded and enhanced by a profound ability to articulate. Pilkington once convinced a young piglet that he was not a piglet at all, but an adopted duckling and for that reason had no right to the feeding trough.  Indeed, Pilkington had tricked nearly every animal on the farm into doing or saying something they didn’t want to, at some point or another.

All of these animals and more lived under the supervision, and some might say despotic rule, of a wary old farmer. He was something of a cross old man whose wife had left him many years ago. Since then, few had seen him wearing anything other than his worn blue overalls, straw hat, and the same tight-lipped, unforgiving expression on his face. He seemed to have little else to do but work. In fact, the Farmer worked tirelessly, constantly driving the animals to maintain his pace, which was exhausting to say the least.

One day it was extraordinarily hot. The thermometer on the side of the barn stretched nearly to its limit of a hundred degrees. (Fahrenheit, of course, as neither the animals or farmer had mastered the subtle intricacies of the metric system.) Despite the harsh temperature, however, the Farmer continuously worked the tired, panting animals. He demanded a near deathly effort from his oxen, Lenny and Bruce. They were forced to drag the large plow, a crude wreckage of iron that easily weighed ton, through the dense and stiffly soiled fields.

“Faster,” the Farmer screamed, “This field needs to be plowed by midday if I am going to get all of the necessary crops planted on time!”

The Farmer drove Lenny and Bruce forward, giving them light strikes with a long wooden stick of about a finger’s width. As Lenny and Bruce struggled to finish plowing and dragged their stern instrument back into the barn, the Farmer tossed buckets of seed to the ground, and hurriedly moved on to Anne May who was waiting to be milked.

The Farmer wasted no time tearing his milking bucket from its place on a nearby shelf and slinging it right under Anne May’s bulbous utter. He tugged at her furiously nearly causing her to wince and kick. It seemed he had about milked her dry.

As the Farmer yanked the bucket from under her, Anne May caught a glimpse of its contents and was proud of the amount she had seen. It looked as if she had set a new personal record. Still, the farmer looked disappointingly at the bucket and then scornfully back at Anne May.

“I’d expected more from you Anne,” he said bitterly.

Then, he turned and walked away with no expression of remorse or gratitude whatsoever. (The hens received a far worse scolding moments later as it was brought to their attention that they had not fulfilled their egg laying potential.)

By the end of the day the animals were exhausted. As the sun began to set, and the Farmer retired for the day, many of the animals gathered around a modest watering hole and some nearby shade. Pilkington was the first animal to muster enough energy to speak.

“Why must we constantly tire ourselves for the old man in spite of how poorly he treats us?”

Sensing some righteous indignation on Pilkington’s part, and perhaps an ulterior motive, Lenny and Bruce spoke up.

“What do you care Pilkington?” Lenny asked. “You didn’t do anything but wallow in the mud all day.”

“Yeah we were the ones dragging those plows through the hot sun,” Bruce added. “And poor Frankie the mule has already passed out from exhaustion.”

The oxen’s large size and narrow, beady eyes lent credence to what they had to say.

“I’m just saying,” Pilkington responded, “maybe it’s time we did something for ourselves… like throw a party.”

The animals were taken back by Pilkington’s proposal and decided to listen to what he had to say.

“I know some Clydesdales that can have a whole bunch of that beer the humans drink over here by tonight. The only thing we have to do is wait until the old farmer falls asleep. Then we’ll be able to relax for a change.”

The animals seemed to be swayed by Pilkington’s argument. They had worked hard all day, which as previously stated, was extremely hot. Just then, Murphy sat up to speak.

“I don’t like this idea Pilkington,” he said. “The Farmer is not a man to be tampered with. I suggest we enjoy our nights rest and prepare for tomorrow’s work.”

Pilkington again assumed his tone of refute, as if he had been personally assaulted by Murphy’s suggestion.

“Murphy, you old farm dog, you’ve been under the Farmer’s thumb ever since you were a pup. Whose side are you on? Are you with the humans, who abuse and take us for granted, or are you at heart an animal, a young pup that wants desperately to feel alive for once in your life? This could be that opportunity, our one chance to do something for ourselves and truly live. I say that, in this case, the reward is well worth the risk, and I for one will not be a slave! Now who is with me?”

Stirred by the rousing speech given by Pilkington, the highly susceptible animals heartily agreed, all with the exception of Murphy who slipped into his makeshift dog house as the Clydesdales arrived later that night.

As the horses departed, leaving tall barrels of beer behind, the animals quietly began their party. It was the first the animals had ever thrown, and it started off small. Many animals were wary and unsure of how to act.  They sipped their beverages slowly, giggling and feeling naughty. Soon, however, the animals became increasingly intoxicated, and as word of the party spread, the night’s events grew increasingly boisterous.

Anne May had gotten into some moonshine and could be seen staggering about with a bottle marked with three poorly drawn X’s on the side. She stopped staggering for a moment to relieve herself behind some bushes unknowingly showering several small field mice. Fortunately, the mice, whose low tolerance levels had reduced them to a drunken stupor, thought it was merely raining.

Lenny and Bruce began confessing their undying affection for one another. They’re large arms squeezed tightly around each other in a brotherly embrace, tears rolling down their cheeks.

“I’ve never felt so close to you Lenny,” Bruce remarked.

“Yeah, it’s almost like we’re two eggs who came from the same hen,” Lenny moped back.

Then, the two gazed off into the light of the moon which never seemed quite so bright. As was the case with Anne May, the furthest thing from the minds of Lenny and Bruce was getting discovered by the Farmer.

Murphy, however, was stirred by the sounds of what started out as a dull roar, but had grown into a clamoring cacophony.  He found Pilkington amid the thick of animals.

“Pilkington,” he said, “You must do something about this party, it’s getting far too loud.  You’ll wake the Farmer and we’ll all be in serious trouble.”

Pilkington looked at Murphy incredulously, as if Murphy’s suggestion was so implausible it was beyond comprehension.

“If the Farmer was going to catch us, he would have done so by now.  Why don’t you go in and sleep with him in his bed?  If your loyalties lie with him, why don’t you?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Murphy responded objecting to the notion that he would take the side of humans over his own kind.

Pilkington wasted no time pressing Murphy further.

“Of course it’s ridiculous because the Farmer would never have you in the house.  He feels you are so beneath him that he considers your mere presence an insult. Yet, you stand here before me asking on his behalf that I adhere to laws he invents for us on whims.”

“I’m not asking you to do right by me or the Farmer, Pilkington, I’m asking that you do right by our entire farm, and all of these animals, by ending all of this before something bad happens,” Murphy said.

“I do right by me!” Pilkington snarled.

With that, the conversation was over, and Murphy returned to his ragged dog house, his head pointed directly at the ground.

Meanwhile, more and more animals flooded in. A band of stray cats had brought the necessary instruments to form a small string band and began to play. The cats screamed out the chorus and refrain in a series of well pitched meows, while crows and birds chirped along with the melody. Dancing broke out across the farm. Dogs and cats joined hands, and loving jack rabbits snuck off behind bushes.

Now, the festivities had reached a fever pitch. All of the animals, be they drunk residents or unconcerned strangers, let their voices grow louder and louder.  Animals barked, screeched, oinked, meowed, mooed, and trampled around noisily.

Suddenly, the rickety porch door swung open and a shotgun blast sounded, splitting the night in two as it echoed off into the distance.

“What is the meaning of all of this racket?” the Farmer exclaimed.

All of the animals scurried, fleeing to their respective living quarters and far off the farm. This left only Pilkington, who thoroughly inebriated, slipped in the patch of mud from which he had berated Murphy moments before. He struggled to get back to his feet, as the other animals – terrified of what ramifications may await them- remained quiet and still in their positions.

The animals waited for the Farmer to come scold them, but there was nothing.  Eventually, they fell asleep relieved that the Farmer had seemed unconcerned with what had transpired and left them to sleep off their afflictions.

Murphy was the first to wake the next morning, as the rest of the animals were in no condition to rise so early.  The farm was more quiet than he had ever known it to be. There wasn’t so much as weak chirp from a chick, or muffled snort from a sleeping piglet. Not even the morning rooster could open his sleet-filled, bloodshot eyes to make his daily morning call.

Murphy proceeded across the farm investigating what was left of the previous night’s carnage. As he strolled about the farm he noticed that all of the animals seemed to be accounted for, with one exception. Murphy thought hard for several moments about who was missing. Then, as he approached the farmhouse, he caught the distinct smell of bacon.

THE END

 

J-Money Mix Tape: Alien Invasion

I’ve been thinking about ways to review music here for a while now…

What I’ve decided is to assemble short playlists with each individual song sharing a broader theme.

It’s a new feature on Drunk and Humble: J-Money Mix Tape.

Today’s Theme: Alien Invasion

Earth People – Dr. Octagon

 

On the whole, Dr. Octagonecologyst is one of hip-hop’s most influential albums. It’s ground-breaking for its unique lyrical style (Kool Keith as Dr. Octagon) and inventive production (Dan the Automator).

Make no mistake about it, this is a modernist work.

I had a professor in college who used a famous quote from Ezra Pound to explain modernism: “Make it new,” he said.

And that’s exactly what Dr. Octagon did.

There’s a small niche genre called “Afrofuturism.”

Afrofuturism combines elements of reality with science fiction and fantasy. But whereas the larger science fiction genre is traditionally white (Captain Kirk, Luke Skywalker, etc…) this sub-genre focuses on Afrocentricity.

That is, it’s a genre through which black people (a people whose history has so long been oppressed, repressed, fractured and forgotten) can either re-imagine the past or conjure up a whole new future for themselves – a future outside the bounds of predominantly white culture.

The artist Sun Ra gets credit for pioneering Afrofuturism in music. And Parliament Funk expounded on it.

But it was Dr. Octagon who brought the genre literally into the future by melding it with hip-hop. And the result was a whole new type of music, Trip-Hop.

Kool Keith was so bored/dissatisfied rapping about this world that he invented one of his own, along with an extraterrestrial alter-ego – a gynecologist and surgeon who transcends both space and time.

So his rhyming goes beyond guns, gold chains and clubs, and even the more nuanced social commentary of hip-hop’s early pioneers. It’s a mash-up of medical terms and techno-speak.

In a recent article for Vulture, Questlove describes Kool Keith’s lyrics as “scatological, philosophical, philological, neurological, at times defiantly illogical. They thrum with the thrill of discovery, of what’s unknown and — despite the torrent of terminology — only half-articulated.”

They even almost make sense sometimes, but sense isn’t the point here. This is an elaborate sci-fi fantasy played out through stream-of conscious wordplay that is complex, visceral and imaginative.

This is a kaleidoscope of rhyme that, seemingly disparate, connects a sophisticated tapestry of words through assonance, consonance, and internal and slant rhyme. Ryhmes appear, disappear, and reappear at unexpected times and places.

At first glance, it looks like a mess, outerworldy even. But it’s really controlled chaos.

What’s more, is that for all the subtly, sophistication, and imagination Dr. Octagon brings lyrically, Dan the Automator matches him every step of the way. His driving beat, symphonic layers and sci-fi nuances turn the rantings of a linguistically gifted madman into a rich and varied soundscape.

It’s like we’re being taken for a ride on Doc Oc’s spaceship. And you better buckle the fuck up.

It’s achievement enough to create a metaphysical universe in which this lunacy can exist, but to bring that universe to life through sound is something else entirely.

Turbulence – Deltron 3030

 

Dr. Octagon comes from the year 3000. And just 30 years later comes another intergalactic anti-hero Deltron Zero (Del the Funkee Homosapien).

Like Dr. Octagon, Deltron is joined on his journey by Dan the Automator who takes his considerable skills with production to the next level.

The layers of instrumentation, sound effects, and texture are both multiplied and amplified, giving Del (maybe the most underrated emcee I know of) a huge playground for his linguistic talents.

His vision is also somewhat clearer and more consistent (not to say better) than Kool Keith’s. Deltron interacts directly with alien technology and creatures in a post-apocalyptic universe. Indeed, only the force of Deltron’s rhyming powers, fortified by the Automator’s beat, can save us from total subjugation.

That’s made perfectly clear in “Turbulence” where the planet earth is revealed to be nothing short of hellscape.

It’s so bad, in fact, that Deltron himself is ready to blast off to Mars just to get away. But before he does he makes sure to paint us a not-so-pretty picture.

A small group of elitists and an all powerful ruler govern society. Workers are forced to conform through brainwashing and propaganda. And resistance to the order means imprisonment, or even a lobotomy.

Does Deltron save us? I’m afraid not. There’s only so much one man can do. And despite all of Deltron’s juice he’s incapable of overturning the new world order.

He may battle the odd spacebeast here and there. Every now and then he jumps to the defense of a citizen. But he also spends a surprising amount of time smoking weed and reading Cosmo, resigned to the fact that change is a lost hope.

I guess Deltron is more like a Han Solo-type, who’s more content to make a living than try to save the world.

Still, his journey is a remarkable one. And in what is largely a sequel to Dr. Octagonecologist, Deltron matches and even surpasses his predecessor.

Clean Elvis – Dan Reeder

 

Departing from the realm of sci-fi trip-hop we come to a completely different genre, indie folk.

Here we find one of my favorite artists in Dan Reeder.

Reeder usually sings about really concrete, tangible things. Other songs of his include “Three Chords, “Food and Pussy” and “Work Song.” These are very straight-forward, almost hymnal songs.

That makes “Clean Elvis” something of a departure. It keeps the lulling melody but it replaces the folksy lyrics with abstract ruminations on bio-enhancement, technology, and of course, alien invasion.

As with all of these entries I have no idea what this guy was thinking when he wrote this.

It’s fucking insane.

Still, I’ve listened to it enough to formulate my own interpretation…

The lyric that always strikes me when I listen to this song is:

“When I say Vietnam it sounds just like Coca-Cola.
I believe most anything as long as it’s not real.”

Again, I can’t speak on Reeder’s behalf and say this is a commentary on the commercialization of warfare but that’s the association I make.

It makes me think of of the war-for-profit military industrial complex, as well as the more subtle corporate invasion.

Coca-Cola is the most iconic U.S.-based multinational – a company whose trademark is recognizable throughout the world. It, like many others, has planted its flag on foreign soil around the globe.

Now, I try to keep things light on this blog, and I’m not going to get too far into this…

But I think we can all agree that many wars have been fought on behalf of business. And it’s no stretch to say warfare itself has been the United States’ chief export over the past few decades.

Literally. We are the No. 1 arms exporter in the world. And through a policy of pre-emptive strike, we’ve ensured that our products reach our perceived enemies just as quickly as they reach our customers.

Just as bad, our soldiers themselves have been commodified and leveraged to extract financial gain for powerful people.

That dehumanization is what brings me to the second part of Reeder’s lyric, “I believe most anything as long as it’s not real.”

It seems to be a tacit acknowledgement of one’s own mental illness.

So whereas the first line of couplet is a nod to commercial warfare, the second line acknowledges the frequent result, mental illness.

It’s not just that lyric that makes me think of post-traumatic stress syndrome, either. It’s the mash-up of “I Will Always Love You,” and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love” that echo through the refrain.

The song is sung in the first person, as Reeder lists his super-human efforts to combat extraterrestrials, but his monologue is interrupted by the refrain of pop music. It’s almost as if the narrator’s imagination has conflated its fantasy with catchy music from the radio (maybe he’s got a plate in his head).

We’ve all had tunes get stuck in our head before, just imagine you’re an afflicted combat veteran who can’t distinguish between flashbacks from Vietnam and paranoid dreams of an alien invasion.

I think we’d all be pleading for help from Elvis.

And that’s how I think of this song…

In my interpretation it’s not just about about aliens, it’s about alienation.

Teenagers From Mars – Misfits

 

Before there was Eminem… Before there was the Insane Clown Posse… Even before there was Gwar…

There was the Misfits, a punk band founded in 1977.

Just as Dr. Octagon invented Trip-Hop, the Misfits’ aggressive, sexual and violent overtones established the framework for Horror-Punk Rock and Horror-Core Rap.

A lot of punk bands aired their grievances with society, attacking specific institutions, beliefs, and people. But Glenn Danzig of the Misfits sang about JFK’s shattered skull and Jackie Kennedy giving him fellatio.

Glenn Danzig eventually left the band, believing he was more talented and more dedicated than his bandmates. He was right, and his later work is darker and more personal. So much so that I wouldn’t attribute to it any amount of camp value.

He’s a serious and talented guy, and he was the force behind the Misfits. But as a band, the Misfits are decidedly campy and even self-deprecating.

This is even alluded to in the first few verses of Teenagers From Mars:

“We land in barren fields
On the Arizona plains
The insemination of little girls
In the middle of wet dreams

We are the angel mutants
The streets for us seduction
Our cause unjust and ancient
In this “B” film born invasion”

Obviously, there’s the explicit sexuality, but it comes in the form of a “B” movie.

That’s kind of what the Misfits are, a B-movie – even if they set out to be something more serious at the time.

But they also happen to be a really good B-movie. Think Evil Dead or Killer Klowns From Outer Space. Indeed, there are a lot of B-movies out there that have more artistic merit than today’s blockbusters.

That’s really the point: The mainstream is boring, monotonous, and governed by powerful (often shitty) people.

That’s where the whole punk rebellion stems from – a lame, out-of-touch mainstream.

And so, with the Misfits, there may be a lot of sex and violence on the surface, but the intended victims aren’t the ones who find their bodies bloodied or their skulls cracked. It’s the squares and parents that cringe at words and phrases like “insemination” and “wet dreams.”

The lyrics aren’t just there for shock value. They’re the barbed wire fence that keeps the establishment at bay, or better yet, puts it on the defensive.

The Misfits want to disrupt the system. They want to give their audience and their own teenage rebellion an avenue for expression.

Simply put, they don’t give a fuck. And they want you to know they don’t give a fuck. That’s what this song is about.

That’s why the refrain is:

“Teenagers from Mars
And we don’t care.”

As with Reeder’s song, the theme of personal alienation is personified with actual aliens. I mean, not to state the obvious, but they are called the Misfits…

So these aren’t earthbound teenagers, we’re dealing with. They’re teenagers from a whole other planet, here to blast your mindless structure and inferior connection. And they don’t care.

And as with many B-movies, I find myself rooting for the aliens in this case. In fact, I just might be a pod person – acting out my human duties like a functioning member of society, while secretly indulging in its disorder and hastening its destruction.

Maybe Danzig and I will hitch a ride with Deltron and Dr. Octagon. Reeder can stay. I think he needs to work through some issues.