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Sunday, December 25, 2005

PETER JACKSON'S KONG: OTHER VIEWPOINTS

I finally read Harry "Ain't It Cool News" Knowles' review of the new KONG and was shocked by his opinion of the piece. The guy is an annoying, stereotypical geek (yeah, yeah, I know that I fall into that category, too)whose writing is usually on par with that of a sixth-grader, but despite a devotion to the original that I heartily agree with Harry was able to evaluate the current remake intelligently, as opposed to his usual heaping of praise upon films that are completely unworthy of such attention. Go to http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=22032 and read it for yourself.

And also go to imdb.com and check out the user comments section for Jackson's KING KONG; I was pleasantly surprized to see the large number of moviegoers who were on the same page about it as me, rather than the usual legion of thralls who fall down in supplication before the latest Hollywood blockbuster/product. For once the public has not been mesmerized by the eye candy on display.

RAMBLINGS OF A CHRISTMAS INSOMNIAC

It's very early on Christmas morning; I'm in the family room of my mother's house in Connecticut, the sun has not risen, and there is nothing on TV except for infomercials, religious programming, DADDY DAYCARE, and that old standby, channel 11's "The Yule Log" (for those who have no idea what "The Yule Log" is, it's a four-hour, static, commercial-free shot of a burning log in a fireplace accompanied by an endless selection of Christmas songs. Yes, it's four solid hours of a burning piece of lumber. No, really!). In short, it's hell for a person whose work schedule has programmed him for a mostly nocturnal existence (I usually turn in for bed around 3:30 AM, and since I napped yesterday afternoon to compensate for my very early waking and train journey from the hinterlands of Brooklyn my sleep programming is kaput).

My old buddy, Chris - who's more of a brother really - was over last night, and as we do every Christmas Eve we found ourselves on a last minute quest for beer with which to fuel a holiday DVD viewing. This year's odyssey took us into Bridgeport's Black Rock area where we found a corner bodega that filled our libational needs, and our quest fruitfully culminated at Fairfield's 7-11 all-night convenience store (where to my horror I spied the glossy "Westport Magazine" on the rack right next to a poorly-drawn issue of Superman). In retrospect, we should have simply gone there in the first place since they not only stock an adequate selection of mighty brewskis, they also had edible snacks such as Corn Nuts (or, as I call them, "colon clearing wonders") and big, fat hot dogs for less than two bucks, with which you have the option of slathering the potential gastro-intestinal Chernobyl with free chili or cheese (I opted for both). I wasn't really even hungry, what with having indulged in my mom's excellent Yuletide cooking from the moment I set foot off the train, the Harrington ham being a particular favorite, but I was caught up in the familiar delights of being home even for a brief moment, and indulging in the kind of town-to-town jaunting engaged in during my misspent car-propelled youth (c. 1980-1983).

Chris and I eventually returned to the homestead and watched a truly pitiful collection of vintage 42nd Street movie trailers, mostly come-ons for truly terrible-looking Euro-horror obscurties and Italian/Spanish/French sex comedies that at least had the simple decency of keeping us awake with a delightful array of lovely Euro-titties and the now rarely seen splendor of "seventies bush." That treat was followed with Rudy Ray Moore's anti-epic PETEY WHEATSTRAW: THE DEVIL'S SON-IN-LAW, in which Moore plays a character who is exactly like Dolemite (google that name if you don't know what I'm talking about), except that he isn't, and the usual profane bargain basement blaxploitation/kung fu/sex/comedy shenanigans ensued before Chris and I called it a night at nearly 1:30 AM.

I settled into the foldout bed that now dominates what used to be my room and popped in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY to lull me to sleep (it's a good flick with great visuals, but let's face it, it is one ponderous motherfucker) and was presently in dreamland. For the first time since my early childhood I dreamt about things Christmas-related and came up with the following realization: In Dr. Seuss' classic children's book/annual animated inevitablity "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," we are regaled with the tale of the Grinch's attempt at fucking over Whoville and it's residents - conveniently named "Whos" - and I recalled the other story involving Whoville, namely "Horton Hears A Who." In that one we are told that Whoville is a microscopic community existing as a dust mote upon a dandelion, a delicate metropolis that could be decimated as easily as saying "boo!" Since the Grinch lives on a mountain top near Whoville, that means that he's really itty-bitty too, so he suddenly doesn't seem like such a badass to me anymore. And given the relativity regarding scale, the lifespan of your average Who, and probably the Grinch, would be pretty damned short, and both of those stories would have occurred in barely the blink of an eye to you or me, seeing as our proportions are downright Brobdingnagian in comparison to Old Doc Whovy, the Grinch, the kid who shouts "Yop!," and of course little Cindy-Lou Who, who was no more than two.

As I end with that inconsequential musing, I look up and see that the sun is rising to greet the gray Westport morning (it's supposed to rain, so no white Christmas) and I anticipate the soon-to-come opening of presents, but what is really getting me going is the excellence of soft-scrambled eggs with bits of diced Harrington ham mixed in... Hey, since I'm not getting any pussy for Christmas I can put aside my urges as a voluptuary and engage in full-bore gluttony!

Merry Chrismahanukwaanzakka, kiddies, and may 2006 be a better year for all of us!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A KING RENDERED A COMMONER: PETER JACKSON’S KING KONG

I finally saw Peter Jackson’s remake of KING KONG yesterday and while it is in no way a bad movie per se — and is infinitely better than Dino de Laurentiis’ 1976 cinematic atrocity — I have to say that is not for me.

Despite the fact that the 1933 original is my favorite movie, I divorced myself from the classic KONG for a few hours and trudged to the local multiplex, a strategy that helped me kill time until a cozy dinner party with some dear friends whom I hadn’t seen in months (barbecue joint schedule, dontcha know). Girded with a big sack of “buttered” popcorn and a fruit punch large enough to last through a three-hour-plus flick, I scoped out a seat that gave me a perfect centered vantage point in the virtually empty cinema. The lights dimmed, the commercials and trailers — all of which were pretty feeble — cranked by and then the film started.

We all know the basic tale: an ambitious filmmaker/showman leads an expedition to an uncharted island to film a fantastic monster. Said monster gets a major hard-on for the blonde starlet of the piece when she is sacrificed to him by the local crazy Negroes (in the South Seas???), hauls her up to his mountaintop crib through an island full of every horrifying creature imaginable while the film crew and sailors follow and meet hideous deaths, and is eventually captured and put on display on Broadway. The monster then escapes, snags the blonde again, climbs to the top of the then new Empire State Building, battles some biplanes, gets shot off of the building, plummets to a messy end and inspires the filmmaker/showman to state that “It wasn’t the planes that got him…It was beauty killed the beast.” THE END. The Jackson remake follows the same basic plot, but with a few tweaks and I will discuss in detail, so if you haven’t already seen the new one stop reading now for HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

As you know the basic plot, I’ll just break certain elements of the film down, plain and simple.
  • IT’S TOO DAMNED LONG. The story of Kong is already epic enough and it in no way needed to be expanded to over three hours of running time. The length also causes the film to seriously drag at times, so much so that I almost walked out during the last third due to its glacial pace and the fact that I already knew how the story ends. But I was good, and I stuck it out.
  • THE DEMYSTIFICATION OF KONG. In the sixty-two years since the original we have learned a lot about apes — specifically gorillas — and how they behave, and Jackson has approached Kong as pretty much an ordinary gorilla, only one who happens to be twenty-five feet tall. He’s no longer an ageless deity/monster, but a sensitive anthropoidal puppy dog when in the presence of Ann Darrow. In other words, Kong is now mediocre.
  • THE REIMAGINING OF THE ANN/KONG DYNAMIC. Ann Darrow is now a multitalented vaudevillian who, once she figures out that Kong isn’t as bad as he seems to be, entertains the big ape with somersaults, soft shoe schtick and juggling antics. There is no danger to Kong’s interest in Ann, other than the fact that she is in constant threat of being devoured by every critter on Skull Island as long as she sticks around. I really hated this development, especially when after rescuing Ann the crew hauls ass to avoid Kong, and Ann is ready to stay behind on the island so Kong will leave the rest of the cast alone. Now I don’t know about you, but no one in their right mind would volunteer to remain with Kong; sure, he’s a bad motherfucker and all that, but he can’t be there to protect your ass every waking second, and it is abundantly clear that Skull Island is a Lovecraftian hellhole full to bursting with carnivorous nasties. Ann may be blonde, but she didn’t strike me as stupid until she was ready to stay with Kong. And once Ann and the big guy become pals the saccharine factor goes through the roof, especially during the "Kong on ice" sequence that's meant to be charming but made me want to hurl, and Kong’s weepy demise. This is Kong, for fuck’s sake, not Old Yeller. I do NOT want to see Kong as a pussy.
  • UNINVOLVING CGI. Special effects grandmaster Ray Harryhausen (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, CLASH OF THE TIITANS) has stated that he felt that making special effects monsters too realistic rendered them mundane; there should be a certain unreality about them to give the fantasy a certain magic. The effects geniuses at New Zealand’s Weta studios have created some technically incredible creatures for the film, a virtuoso display of just what is capable of being unveiled before our wondering eyes, but the magic that Harryhausen sought and achieved is glaringly missing and the monster battles felt to me like I was watching someone else play a video game, an experience that I am sadly finding to be quite common in big effects-laden pictures. I did not care for Kong as a character and was utterly uninvolved in his exploits, but I was able to appreciate the artistry that brought him to life. And at least the plant-eating dinosaurs stick to their leafy ways and do not attempt to chow down on the sailors.
  • AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RAVINE. What happens to some of the cast after they are shaken off of the log bridge by Kong into a deep ravine is the one truly horrifying moment of the film and I wish that the rest of the movie had one iota of the intensity found during this sequence.
  • DISAPPEARING NATIVES. Once the heroes return to the native village after their pursuit of Kong, the multitude of natives has disappeared with no explanation. Where did they go?
  • THE FINALE. I honestly did not give a damn during Kong’s Manhattan rampage — although I have to give Jackson thanks for using Max Steiner’s 1933 score during Kong’s Broadway debut — and when Kong did the slo-mo plummet from the zeppelin mooring, all I could think of was how much it reminded me of one of Wile E. Coyote’s falls in any of Chuck Jones’ Road Runner cartoons. The only thing missing was Kong fading from view only to be replaced by a muted “smack” sound effect and a tiny cloud of impact-disturbed dust.
  • JACK BLACK SUCKED OUT LOUD. Sorry, folks, but Jack Black’s Carl Denham was a study in arch overacting. If it weren’t for SCHOOL OF ROCK I would never forgive the guy for this performance.
And that’s pretty much all I have to say about the new KING KONG. It’s an acceptable time-waster and really isn’t a bad movie, but as previously stated, it just wasn’t for me and as such disappointed me greatly. I seriously doubt that I could endure a second viewing thanks to its pacing, and I also doubt whether I’ll ever shell out the cash for the DVD. There's just no trace of "movie magic" to be found here. But don’t let my somewhat negative review keep you away from the box office; the giant monster genre needs a serious shot in the arm, and if KONG is a success it may pave the way for superior successors.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

JOURNEY TO SKULL ISLAND: DENIED!!!

Yesterday I was all set to see the 10 AM showing of Peter jackson's KING KONG remake; I had bought the ticket and was rarin' to go...then I got struck down by the wrath of some bad chicken curry and had the Mount Vesuvius effect coming out of both ends all night long, so I was not only unable to see the flick, but I was too worn out and debilitated to go to work after two days off.

What I'm wondering is this: did the spirit of my beloved 1933 KONG curse me into not seeing its glossier desendent? Hmmm, spooky...

PASSIONS 101

Folks-

finally — FINALLY!!! — I have found an article that explains exactly why PASSIONS is a bright glimmer of ridiculous genius on TV; it's one of my all-time favorite shows and is the only soap opera that I watch, so please go to http://www.rotten.com/library/culture/passions/ for a far more eloquent explanation of its madness than I am capable of conveying. And for those of you who have no idea what the hell I'm going on about, please read the article; I know it doesn't air in the Uk, but hope springs eternal.

Monday, December 12, 2005

TENDER-ASSED, FALL-OFF-THE-BONE OVEN SPARE RIBS

As you know, I work at a barbecue joint and totally kick ass in the kitchen (I also excel at humility); I am often asked to pass on the recipes that were handed down to me from my very southern — and very, VERY fat — ancestors who taught me to cook, and for the holidays here is the first of a couple of classics.

Yeah, yeah, I know that ribs are usually better as a summer thing, but deal with it.

INGREDIENTS

Pork spare ribs (or beef if you don’t eat swine)
Budweiser beer
Liquid smoke
Salt & pepper
Hot sauce
Cheap barbecue sauce
Garlic powder (or as many smashed garlic cloves as you can stand)
Honey
Brown mustard (NEVER use yellow!!!)
Worcestershire sauce

Marinade however many spare ribs you need over night in Budweiser, sealed in a large plastic freezer bag; Bud is important as the beer of choice because it does lend a particular flavor to the meat, and it’s available in most countries so you have no excuse for not using it.

When you are ready to cook, preheat your oven — Ooh! Sounds so naughty! — to three hundred and twenty-five degrees. Shake about two tablespoons of liquid smoke (found in the barbecue sauce aisle of your supermarket) over the meat; don’t use more than that because a little of the stuff goes a long way and can give the meat an artificial flavor if misused. Season ribs with salt and pepper to taste, put them in a deep baking pan (the cheap tin ones you can get at the market are just fine for this, and you can save yourself the messy cleanup afterwards by simply throwing the bastard out) and cover tightly with foil. The pan must be tightly sealed because as the ribs begin to cook they will steam in their own juices, thereby becoming very tender. Cook for two hours.

While the ribs are slow cooking, prepare the sauce in a large mixing bowl or pot with plenty of room for stirring/whisking. Using the hot sauce of your choice (I recommend Trappey’s Indi-Pep West Indian pepper sauce), blend liberally with at least one bottle of cheap barbecue sauce (I’d go with two as a general yardstick), as much honey, Worcestershire sauce and mustard as suits your taste, and a shitload of garlic powder, or smashed garlic cloves if you prefer. I recommend the powder since it’s easier to mix, but the smashed cloves add the unmistakable kick of real garlic. When all of this is blended it should have a consistency just a tad thinner than cake batter.

After the meat has cooked for two hours, pour off 95% of the juices and add the sauce. Cover tightly again and return to the oven for another hour. After that hour the meat should be rather tender, and you can take the foil off if you’d like the ribs to be a little bit on the browned side.

I highly recommend preparing this the day before you serve it since it will really find its flavor overnight, and they heat up great in the microwave!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

THAT NIGGER’S DEAD: RICHARD PRYOR 1940-2005

Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor the Third, better known to the public at large as Richard Pryor.

Born and raised in an Illinois whorehouse. The self-admitted bard of self-destruction whose notoriety as a drug and wife abuser threatened to overshadow his importance as perhaps the most preeminent comedic voice of the latter 20th century. Movie star and co-scribe of Mel Brooks’ classic western lampoon, BLAZING SADDLES (1974). Survivor of a freebase-induced self-immolation that he later claimed to be a suicide attempt. Poet of the scatological and vulgar. Shatterer of societal and racial taboos simply by virtue of opening his mouth on stage and being the first black comedian to honestly state what was on his mind in the, shall we say, “colorful” terms used by us highly rhythmic individuals within our own homes or other places where we could freely express ourselves without fear of hempen reprisal from Mister Charlie. Richard Pryor was all of these things, but above all the guy was simply one of the funniest motherfuckers who ever lived, wrenching laughs out of the most bitterly painful and embarrassing human experiences — mostly his own — and now after a nearly twenty-year battle with multiple sclerosis the man is dead of a heart attack, just a few days after his sixty-fifth birthday. And the amazing thing is that it took this long for him to go; I mean, the guy did drugs like a motherfucker, had at least one heart attack and did his infamous Johnny Storm impersonation, for fuck’s sake!

It’s kind of difficult to explain Pryor’s importance and impact to those who weren’t there to witness his meteoric rise and equally spectacular crashes-and-burns, but I’ll give it a shot.

My parents were both products of cripplingly dysfunctional upbringings in the deep south during the pre-Civil Rights era and both were exposed to the earthy black culture of the time; as a result, both of them developed senses of humor that acted as a form of self defense, only my father’s veered deep into the territory of the sophomoric and ribald, which is clearly where I get it from. During my formative years my dad attempted to bond with me in the same way that his father tried to with him, namely by telling me jokes and stories that were completely inappropriate for my age and level of understanding, but his ham-handed attempts did prepare me for vulgarities that would come.

At about the same time Richard Pryor’s comedy albums were really beginning to take off, specifically THAT NIGGER'S CRAZY (1974).

I had not yet heard any of his work, but whenever he was mentioned in the popular media his name was virtually synonymous with foul language and much of the white media didn’t quite know what to make of him. Black folks, however, did, and his honesty and vitriol were the next logical step up for an audience already used to the profane antics of such “chitlin circuit” comics as Moms Mabley, Skillet & Leroy, Pigmeat Markham and Rudy Ray “Dolemite” Moore. The difference being that Pryor somehow managed to be a lowbrow for a higher-brow audience than those who preceded him.

Having cut his teeth doing what pretty much amounted to family-friendly comedy in the Bill Cosby vein during the mid-1960’s, Pryor quickly realized that he needed to find his own voice and in the midst of getting his shit somewhat together — and coincidentally discovering the toxic muse of hard drugs — he did just that. Honing his talents in some of the aforementioned chitlin circuit dives, Pryor reemerged as a bitter, twisted firebrand who addressed issues of race, sex, drugs and general human stupidity in no uncertain terms, dragging the raw sensibility of American black humor out of the confines of the community and vomiting it up into the lap of mainstream America. And not surprisingly, white America soon embraced him and his humor in the same way that it embraced all the other shit that it would later co-opt, such as corn rows, rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop and tanning (come on, white folks, admit it! You like us so much that you even want to look like us!).

Now I knew none of this in 1977 when I “liberated” my dad’s LP’s of Pryor’s THAT NIGGER'S CRAZY and ...IS IT SOMETHING I SAID? (1975) and I was in no way prepared for what I heard. Yes, the rampant cussing was there, along with some seriously raunchy and blasphemous anecdotes — my first eye-opening exposure to the concept of “pussy farts” and the fact that Dracula can’t handle a crucifix because he’s allergic to bullshit — but what really got me was the way in which this material was conveyed to the audience; it wasn’t the fact that the stories and gags were incredibly foul, nasty and even tasteless, but it was the way in which Pryor spoke to me. He told a story exactly like the men in my family did, with a relaxed flow that takes you along for the ride, and peppered with profanity that you eventually no longer notice because it isn’t used for shock effect; it’s just the way the storyteller talks. And take it from me, black people have cornered the market on outrageous storytelling since day one, what with tales of Anansi and the like, and among other things, if it weren’t for our gift of finding humor in the worst situations possible we, would never have made it through the centuries of slavery.

One of our comedic fortes is the fine art of “lying,” or the spinning of ludicrous yarns for entertainment that succeed or fail depending on the teller’s delivery. The story can contain nuances that will make a listener laugh, but the overall tale must be presented as if you were recounting an actual event. The first such “lie” I ever heard came from one of my grandfather — a self-described “Injun” who was raised steeped in southern black culture — and it went like this:

Boy, I once knowed a man who had a dog whose ass he’d kick if he had a bad day at work. He’d come home, cuss out the dog and throw the motherfucker out the window. Now I used to hang out with the man every day, so I saw all this shit happen. First day, he came home, kicked the dog’s ass and chucked the leg-lifter out the window. Second day, he came home, kicked the dog’s ass, threw the bastard out the window. On the third day, the man came home, kicked the dog’s ass and then the dog looked at him and said “Fuck this!” and threw his own self out the window. Swear to God!

While that story is basically clean, you get the idea of how the form works. Perhaps the most famous example of Pryor’s handling of the lie is this one:

Ever hear the one about the niggers with the big dicks? Well, these two niggers went to see who had the biggest dicks but they wanted to do it in private ‘cause they wasn’t no freaks. So one says to the other “I gots to take a leak.” So they stop on a bridge, take out their dicks, and start pissing. One then says to the other “Man! This water’s cold!” and the other one says “Yeah, and it’s deep too!”

Silly, but funny.

So once I got past Pryor’s lies — the best of which were relayed by his alter-ego, Mudbone — he opened my eyes to issues of race and sexuality that perhaps I shouldn’t have heard at such a tender age, but when I ran into the exact same situations in real life I was armed with a perspective that allowed me to laugh while I felt the skewering of life’s serrated-edged blade. Case in point, regarding interracial romance:

Black women look at you like you killed your mama if they see you with a white woman. (mimics female voice) “Well, you shouldn’t be with a white woman anyway! (Cheers from black women in the audience)
Yeah, why should you be happy?” (Vociferous protests from black women in the audience)

No subject was off limits: his sexual abuse at the hands of a neighborhood child molester (who in later years had the nerve to show up on the set of JO JO DANCER, YOUR LIFE IS CALLING with his nine-year-old son in tow and demand an autograph!), a reenactment of his first heart attack, lusting after his teenage daughter’s school friends, his own love hate/hate relationship with the black community (“I just don’t give a fuck anymore! If someone came up to me and said ‘Fuck black people!’…”I AGREE!!!”), his mistreatment of his many wives and lovers, and his infamous and near-fatal love affair with cocaine were all grist for his tragic jester’s mill.

Those of you who are familiar with Richard’s work understand that he was a cripplingly flawed human being whose own self-hatred was matched only by his utter disgust at the world around him and such a worldview made for a pretty major league asshole, but Pryor’s humor appeals to me not merely for it’s hilarity, but for the fact that it sees the world as an escalating series of horrors that one can only face by laughing at one’s own personal idiocy and moving outward from there. Plain and simple, I understand where his humor is coming from.

For those of you who have never heard any of his albums, I recommend the following:

CRAPS (a very early recording of stuff that would later be polished into classic Pryor bits)
RICHARD PRYOR (the one with him dressed like a stereotypical bone-through-the-nose native)
THAT NIGGER’S CRAZY
...IS IT SOMETHING I SAID? (my personal favorite)
WANTED
RICHARD PRYOR LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP

And as for the movies he made and starred in, I say avoid them all; some have their moments — SILVER STREAK’s bit with Gene Wilder in the worst blackface makeup on record is hilarious — but most suck. When it came out, Pryor himself even publicly admitted that STIR CRAZY was a piece of shit, so what does that tell you?

And for the whole story straight from the horse’s mouth, I urge you to read PRYOR CONVICTIONS, Richard’s autobiography with an assist from Todd Gold; no punches are pulled, and when it comes time for me to chronicle my own fucked-up life story I hope that I am capable of doing so with the unflinching candor found in the pages of that book.

I really can’t add any more except to say that I actually wept for the guy when I heard tell of his passing. I didn’t know him, but I feel like I lost a good friend. A very fucked-up friend, but a friend nonetheless.

I loved you very much, Mister Pryor, and I hope that now you can find the peace that eluded and mocked you during your life.

Friday, December 09, 2005

WHAT A SURPRISE: YET ANOTHER LUNATIC AT THE BARBECUE JOINT

While I was enjoying a day off on Tuesday, my boss says that yet another refugee from the rubber room dropped in at the barbecue joint, regaling an unwilling audience with his endless prattle for several hours.

The outpatient in question was described as an imposing black guy who went on at great length about having virtually every job one could imagine, such as being a ranger, a machinist, and — my favorite — an agent for a secret government branch that required his Navy Seal-acquired scuba skills for retrieval of fugitives in some Louisiana bayou, a bayou that purportedly boasts turtles the size of Volkswagons and catfish as long as station wagons.

He then offered to buy my boss a carpet to replace the rubber runner that we put down on the floor when it rains or snows, and busted out a familiar picture book of the Park Slope area to show the bar patrons what the neighborhood looked like back in the days, a book that he claimed he wanted to donate to the restaurant. He showed the tome around and fixed the patrons with an icy stare that sounds reminiscent of the time when Snoopy worked to perfect his darkly-browed vulture imitation. My boss used that as his cue to get up and escape for a smoke break.

At that point the creepy bastard asked our lovely guest bartender, Margaret, to return the book, and she cheerfully said ”Sure!” He then announced to her that he was going to go home and write his name in the book so no one would take it. Margaret again said “Sure,” at which he approached her with Snoopy/vulture effect in full tilt and threateningly snarled “DON’T FUCK WITH ME.” He sauntered out and ran into my boss as he exited, and by all accounts was very polite as he left. That image was shot down when Margaret filled my boss in on being thoroughly creeped out by the exchange.

As a result, should he return, the guy becomes our second patron in nearly a year to be eighty-sixed for outright hostility. The joint only has one rule, clearly posted on the wall, and that rule is “Be nice.” To bad that douchebag wasn’t.

WALKING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND

One nice thing about the bitter cold winters here in the Rotten Apple: you can walk down the street engrossed in reading a magazine, step in dog shit and not care because the turd in question is frozen solid as a rock. You WIN!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

ON BEING A SCARY BLACK MAN

This afternoon I was out picking up groceries and as I approached my block I noticed a petite blonde casting fearful glances at me from over her shoulder. We both neared my corner and she kept turning to look at me...

Now for those of you who have never met me, I am six feet tall, around 240 pounds and tend to dress in black, and today I was decked out in my black leather trench coat, sun-goggles and a hideous raccoon hat (complete with the unfortunate scavenger's face just above my eyebrows), all quite fitting for the bitter cold and generally cruddy weather. In other words, I resembled a mulatto Frankenstein's monster on a four-week LSD bender.

The paranoid young woman rounded the corner and I was right behind her as we approached my building — where I have resided for eight years — she started to loudly shriek "STOP FOLLOWING ME!!!" She stepped up onto the stoop of my building and frantically fumbled with her keys in a desperate to gain entrance and escape the dusky pursuer who no doubt intended her complete and utter MANDINGO-style violation. Presently she crossed the threshhold and closed the lobby door with a look of relieved smugness. Said smugness changed to abject horror as I walked up, calmy opened the door and walked in.

She backed up the stairway to the second floor, wide-eyed, and again yelled "STOP FOLLOWING ME!!!" I said nothing, and as she warily advanced to the stairway to the third floor I turned to my own doorway, opened the door and said, "LIsten, lady. I live here. Deal with it." She spluttered for a bit, and said, "Oh, my God! I'm so sorry!" as she darted up the stairs like her naughty bits were on fire and she needed to sit in a tub full of water posthaste.

The saddest part of all this is that this has happened to me on several occasions over the years, and I have simply resigned myself to the fact that I am a scary black man to those who don't know me.

My favorite exmple of this is from some nineteen years ago during my college days at SUNY Purchase when a stereotypical Jewish princess from Long Island came up to me one day after class — for the record the class was "Rebels, Freaks and Prophets," taught by the legendary and truly excellent Esther Newton — and said, "you know, Steve, when I first saw you and that huge afro and leather and sunglasses and biker boots, I was terrified of you. Then you opened your mouth to speak in class and all fear flew away from me..." To my credit, I did not curse her out, but I ignored her from that point on.

So the moral of this is: unless some black guy is holding you down on the asphalt with a Ginsu pressed to your throat, please don't assume that we are out to get you. In fact, for all you know the brotha with the Ginsu may be attempting to remove a dangerous parasite, thereby saving your melanin-challenged ass.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

WHILE WAITING FOR THE NEW KING KONG...

As Peter (LORD OF THE RINGS) Jackson’s much-anticipated remake of the 1933 KING KONG approaches, Warner Brothers has been kind enough to release a boxed set featuring digitally remastered prints of KING KONG, SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG on DVD with an obscene amount of extras — including commentary on KONG and JOE by living treasure and absolute master of stop-motion animation, Ray (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) Harryhausen — and my copy of the set arrived today. So much for using my day off for cleaning my apartment…

The 1933 KING KONG is my all-time favorite movie since it contains pretty much everything I would like to see in a film; it’s got suspense, action, graphic violence, an epic scale, romance between a he-man tough guy and a beautiful leading lady, crisp black-and-white photography, and a shitload of dangerous stop-motion monsters. And of course, King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World! It’s the movie that got me hooked on giant monster flicks the way a hardcore junkie loves a freshly loaded needle, and I will stop whatever I’m doing if I find out that it’s on TV, sit my beige ass down and stare in unabashed wonder at the sheer perfection unfolding before my eyes. I only wish I could have seen it on opening night back in 1933; I saw STAR WARS on opening night by accident in 1977 and it completely rocked my world, so I can only imagine how an audience some thirty-four years earlier must have shat a collective cinder block when faced with such spectacle that they were in no way prepared for.

My usual Monday activities curtailed by the cruddy weather, I delighted at having the films at my disposal and was saddened only by the fact that all of my friends were at work and I couldn’t have anyone over to share my geekery with. Nonetheless I tore open the package and set to viewing.

As I’d seen KONG about eleventy-jillion times since childhood and it’s annual running at Thanksgiving on New York’s WWOR for years, I dove straight into the second disc, a treasure trove of geek spank material including an exhaustive 2 & ½ hour “making of” documentary that has to be seen to be believed. I sat there with my jaw in my lap as Peter Jackson discussed recreating the legendary “Lost Spider Pit Sequence,” a bit cut from the original in which the unfortunate sailors whom Kong cast off of the log into a deep ravine where they were promptly devoured by a bevy of Lovecraftian wigglies; Jackson also reveres KONG as his favorite film, and he had the power and greenbacks to recreate the sequence with actual stop-motion critters rather than CGI and degrade the color into B&W. Lovely…

I then sat through KONG with commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, and the magic of that film was only amplified by having Harryhausen describe what it was like seeing that film when it opened and he was thirteen years old. Movie buffs, we have KING KONG to thank for inspiring — dare I say obsessing? — Harryhausen and spurring him on to create what may arguably be the finest handmade visual effects in film history, so even if you aren’t a fan of the big gorilla you owe him one motherfucking SERIOUS debt.

Next up was the lamentable SON OF KONG, a quickie sequel that actually made it to the screen less than a year after KING KONG. Willis O’Brien’s animation notwithstanding, the less said the better. Robert Armstrong’s reprisal of his role as Carl Denham is still fun, though.

Next up was MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, coming some sixteen years after KONG and being everything that SON OF KONG could never have hoped to be. It’s not a sequel, but it fits neatly into an unofficial trilogy and is an utter delight; the tale of a giant gorilla and his human companion who are appallingly exploited by a lucre-hungry showman — sound familiar? — has charm to burn, and Jo’s personality is the polar opposite of Kong’s insomuch as while Kong is sympathetic Joe is actually sweet-natured until fucked with beyond all reason. Unlike Kong, Joe’s fate is not dire and you and your little one will not be reaching for the Kleenex at the end of the flick. When you watch this one on DVD, check out the commentary from Harryhausen — who cut his stop-motion teeth on that film — Ken Ralston, and Terry Moore; it’s a lot less “Golly, I love this movie” than the KONG commentary, and it’s fun to have Moore along for the ride since she played Joe’s companion. And in the sixteen years between KING KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, the stop motion technique was refined quite a bit and some of the sequences in the nightclub when a drunken Joe rampages are logistical nightmares that no sane animator would even go near these days, but Ray Harryhausen was the Bruce Lee of such techniques, and Joe’s demolition of the nightclub is truly incredible when one takes into account exactly how much concentration, patience and talent goes into the creation of top notch model animation.

So if you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for your kids or the film geeks in your life, or even for yourself like I did, pick this set up. And I recommend using deepdiscountdvd.com for this; the set cost me a total of $30.42, including postage and handling. Trust me, it isn’t even like spending money.

Monday, December 05, 2005

RETURN OF THE BIRTHDAY GIRL

A couple of months ago an attractive blonde sat down at the barbecue joint’s bar, ordered a stiff rum drink and announced that it was her birthday. I wished her a happy one, and almost immediately my “looney sense” began to tingle. That extra-sensory ability is one that has been honed in me by years of dating and/or dealing with women of varying degrees of sanity, and this chick was registering a solid 10 of warning vibes. Heeding my instincts I avoided her and observed from a distance, and sure enough she was as crazy as an outhouse rat, a condition that was only amplified by her copious liquor consumption. I swear that I could almost hear the out-of-tune toy piano soundtrack of her madness as she sloppily worked the room.

This woman has since showed up a few times, always reminding me that she’s “the birthday girl,” and last night she dropped in again. She appeared to be slightly drunk when she arrived, and quickly compounded her intoxication with a few rounds of rum and coke, loosening her tongue and making her irritatingly friendly.

I walked toward the front door to get some fresh air after tending to the contents of the billowing smoke shack, and as I neared the threshold she beckoned me over. I politely greeted her and asked what was up, and she stared blankly at me for a moment before asking me if I was one of the establishment’s managers. I explained that I’m just the cook, and she warned me that I had better watch it because I might get fired. She then reached out and took my hand while looking up into my eyes and stating that when she was last at the joint I was clearly upset and yelled at people so much that I drove away customers, including her, but my obvious anger caused her to come back…

Folks, let me tell you that the incident she was referring to NEVER happened, and as near as my co-worker, Tracey, and I can figure out she has me confused with some other psycho at another establishment.

Anyway, I withdrew my hand, a move that offended her, and she then demanded my hand back and requested that I sit down next to her. When I refused to sit, she told me that I shouldn’t yell at people because that’s not what God would want me to do. At that point the crazy carnival music began to play and she asked me if I believed in God. When I told her that, no, I do not believe in God, she got silent for a moment and then looked at me incredulously, and said “You don’t believe in God? Why not?” I offered that in my forty years I had seen enough evidence to convince me utterly of the non-existence of such a deity, and once I dropped that bombshell Birthday Girl attempted to sit me down and give me the God rap. I stopped her in mid-sermon and said, “Look. You have your opinion and that works great for you. I have my opinion, which you clearly are not willing to let me have, and once you try to drag me down the road to religious conversion, I’m OUT.” I then retreated to the safety of the kitchen, doing chores that I had reserved for the next day in a successful effort to avoid Birthday Girl’s rantings.

Presently Rob and Andrea — two of our favorite regulars — arrived and sat down next to Birthday Girl. Andrea came to the kitchen to chat with me, but I warned her not to leave her unsuspecting boyfriend with the drunken loon. She soon sat down with poor Rob, who had been kindly weathering BG’s lunacy, including her sad tale of how her family couldn’t deal with the fact that she was in love with a black man, a development that also killed her intentions of becoming a nun. At that point, BG noticed Andrea and said to her, “I am white. You are black.” Now Andrea has a slightly spooky way about her, and she looked at Birthday Girl with an expression that read to sane eyes “Bitch, I KNOW I’m black,” or “Come near me again and I’ll fucking deck you, right here and now!” Rob and Andrea soon left to go to a show, but they both stopped in to the kitchen to see me before they left and let me know in no uncertain terms that Birthday Girl was “twelve shades of fucking crazy.”

My boss was behind the bar and very wisely cut off BG’s liquor flow, but just as soon as Rob and Andrea left a group of three Polish contractors came in and took up residence at the end of the bar right next to our heroine. They tried to hit on her and buy her drinks — which my boss put the kibosh on — and that’s when Birthday Girl revealed her native-speaker proficiency with the Polish tongue, which we were treated to at Motorhead arena-concert-level decibels. Between loud pronouncements and brief crying jags, BG would excuse herself and head outside to smoke and communicate via cellphone with her ebony lover-man. Soon enough, the merry Poles realized that the Birthday Girl was pretty much partied out and made sure she got into a cab.

But where one birthday girl was a tiresome irritant, another was a welcome bit of Latina sunshine.

A few months back two cute Puerto Rican chicks just barely of legal drinking age dropped in late one night, and we instantly hit it off because we are all movie geeks. The girls in question are named Ericka — a luscious mami if ever I saw one; too bad she’s young enough to be my daughter — and Joyce, and last night was Joyce’s birthday.

Joyce is funny as hell (when she laughs she snorts just like Chrissy on “Three’s Company”), smart as a whip, and very easy on the eyes; she has a slight Rosario Dawson/Vanessa del Rio look that totally works. She and Ericka had been in the prior night and now Joyce was ready to go out dancing and partying to celebrate her twenty-second year of existence. She sat at the bar for a couple of hours, waiting for a friend to pick her up, and we kept each other amused. I hope she had a happy birthday and I also hope she comes back soon. With the yummy Ericka in tow…