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Showing posts by: Steven John click to see Steven John's profile
Apr 19 2013 11:00am

A Few Things We Should Not Worry About

Our world today seems fraught with peril: everywhere you look are threats to your safety and well-being. If it’s not the U.S. housing market’s collapse affecting economics worldwide, it’s the failure of Cypriot banking affecting the global economy. If it’s not Iran threatening an attack on Israel, it’s North Korea threatening South Korea (and Japan and the United States and likely the moon and the Kuiper Belt, too, for some damn reason). Hydraulic fracturing is leading to both a new oil and gas boom and to earthquakes and flammable tap water...

The list of potential causes for doom and gloom goes on and on, and it can indeed cast a pall over even the sunniest of days if you dwell on it. So today, we thought we’d take a turn for the positive, and give you fewer things to worry about by crossing some issues off your “Things I Worry About” list. (Also, for the record, if you have a list like that, you may want to talk to someone about the larger, underlying issues.)

[Making a list and checking it twice...]

Feb 7 2013 12:00pm

Proof that PG-Rated Films Can Be Horrifying

I’m not here to take a stand for or against the MPAA or anything like that—there is chatter enough about that subject on the Internet already. No, what this missive today will discuss is the phenomenon that often occurs in movies ostensibly made for children, or at least families, wherein one or more of the plot points seem to roll right off the backs of children but, when considered from an adult perspective, are goddamn terrifying.

Leave aside the fact that there are even examples of animated movies (Disney’s The Black Cauldron for one) that will leave you pulling the bedsheets over your head at any age, and let’s look at just a few mainstream films that are considered charming classics. If it has been a long time—especially if it has been since you yourself were a child—since you saw these movies, give them another shot and see if anything jumps out at you. Namely, of course, the things I am about to point out in lurid detail.

[I feel like a (scared) kid again...]

Jan 15 2013 12:00pm

Plot “Twists” That Turn the Stomach

It is a painful experience to watch a story come apart. From that moment during the telling of a pointless anecdote when the speaker realizes no laughter is forthcoming, to the most sweeping epic tales that end up cracking apart at their close, a bad ending always leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and there are few bad endings worse than poor plot twists. (At least Scorsese films just kind of… end, you know?)

By common perception, the term plot twist seems pejorative. Often people hear the term and think of an artist copping out, cashing in, hitting the bricks, dancing the five-hat… or… not that. That’s not a real thing. Anyway, one may almost be forgiven for asking: “If a story was good enough, why did it need a twist?” Of course we don’t actually forgive them because that view is myopic and obtuse. Hey, it was still fun to put the question in someone’s mouth. Let’s call him… “Chaz.” Bad question, Chaz—a twist to the plot can be just what the doctor ordered! Where would Sherlock Holmes be without some boggling twists, hmm? Or daytime TV, for that matter. Would you really care about that telenovela as much if it turned out it was Ramon all along, and not the detective hired to find Contessa’s lost brother? Too obvious! It’s never Ramon!

[There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact...]

Dec 26 2012 12:00pm

The Strangest Weapons Real “Mad Scientists” Tried to Make

You know the look well: crazy white hair sticking out in all directions, coke-bottle thick goggles held fast across wildly staring eyes, while thickly gloved hands (black rubber gloves, no doubt) hold aloft a bubbling beaker as the “scientist” shouts:

I’ve done it! I’ve created the world’s first [INSERT WACKY CREATION HERE]!”

Or maybe:

“Fools! Now they’ll pay! Now they’ll all pay! Seven dollars and ninety-six cents!”

Yes, our literature and cinema are filled with Mad Scientists. This character has long been a mainstay of the darker corners of prose and film (often leaping from the former to the latter). From Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyll to Dr. Caligari (avoid his cabinet, people!) to more modern takes on the Mad Scientists, like Doc Brown (just kidding, he’s above any reproach) or whoever was the crazy doctor in The Human Centipede—a movie I have not nor will I ever see, because what the HELL, man?—we all know this fictional character.

Here’s the thing, though… some of the things that people of science have created, or at least tried to create, would put most literary or cinematic mad science types to absolute shame. Just take a ride on this crazy train and you’ll agree that when it comes to Mad Scientists, the history books are as crazy as any Abstract German Expressionist Drama could hope to be. You see, people really tried to invent these weapons of questionable destruction:

[People! What will they think of next?]

Dec 13 2012 9:30am

A Picture is Worth a Thousand...Or More

Since time immemorial, human beings have been artists. As soon as anything approaching an established society was, well, established, our artistic endeavors began. From the caves of Lascaux to the carvings of the Inuit to the pictographs gracing canyons in the American west, humans have long been creating works of art.

And we’ve been stealing the hell out of artwork for about that long, too. Yes, sadly it’s true: just as we have always bred loftily inspired artists, we have always had our share of dirty thieves. For reasons that are really not good reasons at all, in the modern era art theft has gained something of a sheen of glamour. We think of art thieves as well-dressed, coiffured men with rakish smiles, or striking women wearing long gowns wrapped around long bodies talking up the curator of the latest installation, perhaps asking a few pointed questions about the value of that one gorgeous canvas. And so on.

The art heists we see in books and movies are sexy affairs, indeed. In real life, they are usually low-tech, quick and dirty affairs. Sometimes not, mostly so. Sorry, but art doesn’t imitate life all the time, y’know?

[I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like...]

Sep 6 2012 9:30am

The Darkness Within

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Darkness made fleshIt is with at least a permissible dash of hubris that the literary and artistic population of any (that is to say, every) generation considers itself on the forefront of something. We are always looking for the pulse, the zeitgeist, the movement; be it an “ism” (say, modernism or futurism, both of which are, ironically, long past their sell-by dates) or a “school of,” or an identification based on location (Denver for the Beats, Paris for the ex-pats). As creative folks strive to create art and literature, they of course aspire to break new trails and inspire, shock, and/or perplex (Dada . . .) The People. That or they seek to resolve some conflict within. This is not to say that attempting to affect externally while grappling internally are in any way mutually exclusive.

[Are you afraid of the darkness within?]

Aug 12 2012 10:00am

Smooth Criminal: Why Does Crime Seem So Cool?

George Clooney rocks a orange jumpsuit just as well as a tuxedo. And he rocks that tuxedo pretty hard...First off, let me be clear: we’re talking about crime in literature, on television, in games, etc. That kind of crime. Not like actually getting your car stolen or reading a blotter note about a CPA defrauding a charming little mom-n-pop bakery, for example. Those things don’t seem sexy at all, right? Now, an insanely well-planned bank heist, replete with an inside man, multiple drop vehicles, awesome shorthand bank robber lingo, and some serious assault rifles . . . that’s awesome, right? Pretty much. That’s why people watch and re-watch movies like The Town and Heat, to name two out of a thousand.

But you have to wonder, if you had just stopped into your bank to deposit some checks and maybe get rid of all those rolled nickels filling up the third drawer in the lowboy by the side door, and a bunch of guys walked in wearing ski masks and toting automatic weapons and shouting commands and profanity at you and your fellow patrons, would you think “This is awesome!” or would you think “Good thing it’s laundry day!”? My guess is the latter.

[“Better out than in, I always say!”]

Jul 23 2012 9:30am

Dark, Avenging Spiders: Perhaps Americans Are Happy Again?

Fear me,  for I am the Dark, Avenging SpiderFew historians or art critics will argue with the notion that art culture reflects the culture from which it arises. (Some may claim, often accurately, that art forecasts cultural shifts or upheavals as well, of course.) Take the ever more chilling paintings of Goya as Napoleon’s jackboots ran roughshod over much of Europe in the early 19th century. Take ever lighter and brighter works of Monet, Manet, and their ilk as the world—or at least the Western World—grew ever more peaceful and profitable toward the end of that same century (never mind about that whole thing that started a bit later in 1914).

[We’ll get to the bit about the Dark, Avenging Spider . . .]

Jun 8 2012 9:30am

The Appeal of the Antihero

In a galaxy far far away, there was an antihero...First, let me clarify what I mean when I use the term “antihero” in this piece. (Or should I say qualify? You decide.) I mean not a traditional hero. I mean someone with flaws or with blood on their hands. Or at least dirt. And their motives may be focused rather inward, at least much of the time. Or at least initially. So I don’t mean, say, Superman. Or Elliot Ness. (Fighting for the enforcement of prohibition laws? That man was not looking out for  No. 1.)

I mean anyone from Achilles to Han Solo to Michael Collins. There, we have legend, film, and history—a nice, all-inclusive start, no? And in the broadest strokes we have a working definition: an antihero is blemished, an antihero is, at least initially or by degrees, looking out for himself. Well, hey, aren’t we all? So, there you have it: we are drawn to antiheroes because in them we see reflections of ourselves, tip your bartenders and . . . good night.

[Wait, that’s it . . .?!]