Menu Close

All Things Thriller

A Celebration of Thrillers, Noire and Black Comedy by Pamela Lowe Saldana

How’d He Get This Way? (A Profile in Narcissism) The Serial: Part III

 

The truth is he was good at sports.

He was. Look it up. You’ll see.

He was great at baseball.

It’s true. He could have gone pro.

The problem is, was–whatever–he doesn’t like to exercise. He thinks its boring.

He’s smart too. Made good grades. In the upper tier of his class.

High School. College.

You can look that up too. It’s right there. In black and white.

The media. They never print that stuff. The good stuff.

Sports. Grades. It came easy for him. He barely had to work at it. And he was right there…

In the B+ to A- range.

Which means he’s smart.

But he’s no genius. And that bothers him. It bothered his dad too.

He’s a tough guy too. He really is. He fought a lot. 

Nothing to be concerned about. It was military school. Everybody gets into fights in military school. It’s a right of passage.

He hated it. He didn’t want to go.

In hindsight it was good for him. It made him a man.

So what if he didn’t go to Vietnam. He’s rich. What father wouldn’t pull strings to keep their kid out of that war if he could?

His sons could have used some military school. Especially Jr. But their mother coddled them.

If his mother had treated him that way he wouldn’t be where he is now.

That’s what’s wrong with America today. Too soft. Especially the men.

Come on fellas get off mama’s tit. Go knock some heads.

To be cont…

 

 

La Femme Nikita (1990); She’s so French

Back in the early 80s there was a marginally popular song by rock singer Benny Mardones, a very dramatic song (as all songs sung by Benny Mardones are) called “She’s so French.” Great song.

The 1990 action film, “La Femme Nikita” directed by Luc Besson is a lot like the song. It’s French. It’s dramatic. And it’s great.

But it is not without warts. In other words it’s got some really silly–bordering on stupid–stuff in it. Need I reiterate?

Now before anybody gets bent out of shape, it’s just an opinion, a matter of taste and–dare I say–a clash in culture in the way that pink goes with red. Some people like the combination. Others do not.

Anne Parillaud plays Nikita. According to the script, Nikita is a nineteen year old junkie with cyberpunk sensibilities. According to our eyes, the script is lying.

That’s not Parillaud’s fault, necessarily: She was thirty when she played Nikita and she’s too much woman to play it that small. We don’t, for instance, believe that she would wear that top, with those shorts, with those boots.

Neither do we believe that she would wear her hair that way, or that she wouldn’t brush her teeth, or that she would break out in a vaudevillian folk dance in the middle of kicking ass, anarchist heroin junkie or not.

Nonetheless, there she is being drug along–literally–to what turns out to be a botched robbery. Her compatriots are ambushed by the police and shot to pieces.

Nikita survives because she’s in a jones induced world of her own. That, and she’s crouched in a cubbyhole wearing headphones.

When a rather handsome cop finds her and sympathetically removes her earphones, she rewards him by putting her 38 automatic under his chin and blowing his brains out. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go over too well with the rest of the cops.

In fact, the whole law enforcement community brings the hammer down on Nikita. Hard. She gets life with no chance of parole until she serves thirty years.

(Here, in the southern portion of the United States, she would have got the death penalty.)

Nikita is incorrigible. The girl is cur mean; she bites off fingers and stabs through her handler’s hand with an especially sharp pencil.

What’s more, she screams a lot. Her scream is annoying.

Accordingly, things go from bad to horrible, to considerably worse than that, when Nikita finds herself in some kind of prison/dungeon/hospital room with the most affectless team of health care professionals ever assembled.

A doctor seemingly prepares a syringe of poison and plunges the needle into Nikita. She cries for her mother.

We believe her. It is sad.

But a shadowy government subset has other plans for Nikita. Unbeknownst to her, she has been tagged as a prospect for a clandestine, extremely exclusive, squadron of assassins. As such she serves at the pleasure of an elderly, law and order type who hates her guts. We are immediately aware that Nikita has a very short expiration date.

Of course we know this before she does, but she finds out soon enough. Nikita is nothing less than survivor. Therefore, she must learn to make nice.

(She has the killing stuff down pat, but she still practices.)

Now as we become voyeurs to her “new” life, we also become investors into director Besson’s vision. We are amused as his muse learns to mind her manners. We approve as she bends her will to fashion. We worry when she goes on suicide mission with a gun that is bigger than she is and when she finds the window she is supposed to escape through inexplicably bricked in.

Nikita achieves her transformation with the help of a matriarchal tutor, the great femme fatale Jeanne Moreau, as Amanda, who has survived a very long time in the squadron to which Nikita belongs.

Oh, and did I mention romance? There is some.

So it is here, about halfway through, where Besson’s film really takes off, where it flatteringly grows into its Irma la Douce form even as it keeps its riot girrrl figure.

And fittingly, this is where La Femme Nikita earns its stature as the prototype. It has never been done better, though–predictably–Hollywood continues to try.

 

 

The Irishman, a Movie directed by Martin Scorsese; Crime Drama, 2019; Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

A lot of crime historians and criminals dispute Frank Sheeran’s version of the events surrounding the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. They say he’s full of it…That he’s a wanna be gangster at best.

Be that as it may, I think he tells the truth about a lot of it.

Not that I’m an expert on the subject–thank the Lord–but I had a friend whose uncle was mixed up with the “Dixie Mafia.” That was her story, anyway.

And from what she told me, Frank Sheeran very much resembles the kind of guy who commits murders for the mafia, a guy who drives into town, pays for everything with cash, does the deed and then vanishes like a puff a smoke in his Toyota Camry, or whatever.

(Back then, when Jimmy Hoffa was alive, it would have probably been a Ford LTD…Ugly car.)

Anyway, along the way, this guy–the killer, hitman–whatever–would stop at the same kind of coffee shop…would buy only one brand of gasoline…He would stay in only one type of motel, if he decided to stop.

Or he might drive straight through.

After he killed “Hoffa”–or whoever–he–the killer–would be killed by someone lying in wait in the coffee shop parking lot…Or at the gas station…Or by someone hiding in the closet, waiting for him to enter his motel room.

All very bleak and bleary. All apparently standard stuff in a sordid world, but stuff with the ring of truth.

That’s why I think Frank Sheeran is being truthful about murder, but not about the murder of Jimmy Hoffa. Once again, a matter of nuance rather than contradiction.

Sheeran killed people, yes, but they were people like himself. Small fish.

If he’d killed Hoffa, he would have been higher up in the food chain. And he would have never lived long enough to write a book about it.

In fact, he’d probably be dead within a few hours of his victim, if you want to call Hoffa that. According to my friend’s uncle (and Tony Soprano) mob guys never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve to be hurt.

Of course mob guys lie a lot. We all know that.

Even so, from our perspective, it doesn’t really matter if Frank Sheeran (1920-2003 ) told the truth to Charles Brandt, the author of his memoir, I Hear You Paint Houses or not. Either way it provides excellent fodder for Martin Scorsese’s latest motion picture venture.

With the exception of Casino, Scorsese always mines the lower echelon of mob life for his crime dramas. With The Irishman, he scrapes the bottom of the well once again.

Robert De Niro plays the title character. His Frank Sheeran is an adept, lumbering thug–a combination of traits that suits his vocation and is prized by his three bosses, Russell Bufalino, (Joe Pesci) the boss of the Scranton mob, Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) the boss of the Philadelphia crime family and Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino) president of the Teamsters Union.

In other words Sheeran is no great intellect, but he’s a lot smarter than he looks.

Predictably, his bosses underestimate him to varying degrees. Pacino gives his best performance in decades as Hoffa, who underestimates the pug mobster most of all of all. Hoffa also happens to be the closest thing to a friend that Sheeran has and he is the only man that he truly respects. Therein lies the tragedy.

And that’s really what The Irishman is. It’s a dour, tragic character study. And that’s why it isn’t as palatable as Goodfellas, which is essentially as an action film, or as melodramatic as Taxi Driver or as thematically confident as Mean Streets.

There is no glamour here. No mania. But there is desperation and subtly.

Consequently, much of Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is underwhelming by design which, in the age of elaborate costly studio gimmicks, makes a bolder cinematic statement than does the groundbreaking but slightly distracting, de-aging special effects.

Likewise, the soundtrack, another Scorsese hallmark, is not souped up with strutting late sixties rockers by The Rolling Stones, or lilting wall of sound masterpieces like The Ronettes Be My Baby and The Crystals Then He Kissed Me. Instead it is infused the quaint doo-wop of The Five Satins In the Still of the Night and the austere Western warbling of Marty Robbins’ A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.

And the violence?

It’s as realistically humdrum as two close range shots to the back of the head can be, except near the end when we know what is coming, but we don’t know exactly when. Then it is as disconcerting and on the edge of your seat as any thriller could ever hope to be.

In other words, it is filmmaking at its very best.

Oh…And it’s heartbreaking too, in it’s own quiet, austere, bleak and bleary way.

 

 

 

In Defense of Lynyrd Skynyrd and, to some extent, Unkempt Hair and Bell Bottom Jeans

Back in the day I did my fare share of partying. I graduated high school in the early 80s and we, as a generation, were notorious partiers. I’m not saying that’s a good thing (thinking Brett Kavanaugh here) that’s just the way it was.

At that time, there were two classes of partiers. There were kids like us–the stoners– who partied all the time–before school, after school, during lunch–and the kids who partied on special occasions.

We had no respect for the occasional partiers. They felt the same about us.

There were all kinds of occasional partiers: Preppies. Jocks. Christians.

There was just one kind of habitual partiers: Us. The heads.

I know what your thinking: Just like The Breakfast Club. No. Not really. More like Dazed and Confused and That 70s Show, but with an 80s, New Wave, Heavy Metal vibe. This was the era that you would hear The Human League and Ozzy Osborne on the same radio station.

My friends had 8-track tape players in their cars. They aspired to get  cassette players with custom stereos, but they didn’t. Their parents weren’t about to pay for such nonsense and they–my friends– didn’t have jobs. Neither did I.

As for me, I only had an AM radio in my car. Other than that, I had a nice ride–a ’77 Cutlass. It was in immaculate shape when I got it. A muted yellow with a white interior and a white vinyl top. But because of the stereo situation we never cruised in my Cutlass. My Cutlass didn’t provide sufficient jams. No FM rock radio.

Plus, even though my car was a nice car, it wasn’t a hot car. It was too respectable. Too middle aged.

Anyway, we had our “albums” that we partied to. Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes was a big one. Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna (oh my gosh, the intro to Edge of Seventeen, we went crazy to that.)

There was The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You. (I think it belongs in their canon of iconic albums, I don’t care what anyone else says.) Ozzy Osborne’s Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz (Randy Rhodes was a phenomenal guitarist. It’s not his fault that a lot of his acolytes were soulless speed freaks.)

There was Van Halen’s Van Halen and Van Halen II. Pat Benatar’s whole catalog, but especially Crimes of Passion. And everything and anything by The Cars.

And then, there was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gold and Platinum double album.

True, Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t really fit our vibe. There were no flourishes of heavy metal or brush strokes of new wave. Skynyrd didn’t dabble in pumped up studio antics that were the rage in those days; in fact, the band had disbanded after the tragic plane crashed that killed three of their members, including their alpha dog lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant in 1977.

That was before our time. There had been a cultural shift in the time between the plane crash and our coming of age.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, was THEN and we were NOW. The members had really long, unkempt hair; we desired men with short, edgy haircuts like Sting, of The Police, had.

(There were exceptions to this rule. For example, we thought David Lee Roth was very sexy. I’m sufficiently ashamed of that–have been for a long time.)

But back to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they wore bell bottom jeans. Bell bottoms were anathema to us. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse.

Plus Skynyrd, as we affectionately called them, had a sexist vibe. The women of the band–back up singers–were regulated to the sideline of the stage, where they were barley seen and only sometimes heard. We really hated that.

But above all of that, they were rednecks. Unquestionably. Unapologetically. That alone was enough to incite our disdain, though we were rednecks too–oilfield rednecks–we just didn’t know it.

Nonetheless, in spite of it all, we loved them. We loved them because Skynyrd had soul. They embraced the nitty gritty, dirty South–the muscular R&B roots of rock.

Consequently there’s a lot of Otis Redding influence in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Redding was a very physical singer. He didn’t have to be that way; his vocal ability was off the charts, he could have been smooth as silk but he liked to rough it up.

Skynyrd was like that too. They worked hard on stage and in the studio. There was blood sweat and tears in their musicianship and they were masterful musicians.

There was tenderness too.

Believe it or not, that tenderness came, primarily, from lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. He wrote some gorgeous songs. Tuesday’s Gone is one of them.

Train roll on, on down the line,
Won’t you please take me far away?
Now I feel the wind blow outside my door,
Means I’m leaving my woman behind
Tuesday’s gone with the wind
My baby’s gone with the wind

Ronnie Van Zant sings, but he is not a great singer in terms of range, or tone. He is a baritone, not exactly the sexiest voice for a lead singer of rock.

There have been–there still are–many great baritone singers, but Van Zant doesn’t work his voice like Otis Redding did, nor does he take you on a sensual journey like Teddy Pendergrass would. Of course they were R&B singers and Van Zant doesn’t have an instrument like either of them.

Van Zant sings simply, with the twang of his southern ancestry. He sings sincerely. Here, with Tuesday’s Gone, he is singing of sorrow and of pain. There is a hole in his heart where is woman was and now the wind blows through that hole and it hurts.

You feel his pain. You hear his pain.

Yes, Van Zant is lyrically sexist, especially by today’s standards. It’s not okay to say “my woman” these days and I’m glad. But I’m OK with it here. I’m okay with it because he reveals his vulnerability by baring his soul.

Train roll on many miles from my home
See, I’m riding my blues away
Tuesday, you see, she had to be free
But somehow I’ve got to carry on

Then there’s the instrumentation of Tuesday’s Gone. It is perfect. It is serine. It is spatial, spiritual and comforting. There is a touch of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me in the arrangement. There is even orchestration in the guise of the Mellotron.

The Allman Brothers, another preeminent band of Southern Rock that leaned more on jazz than hard rock, had an album entitled Enlightened Rouges. I always loved that title, but I thought it was more befitting of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Let’s face it, Skynyrd looked like a bunch of Hell’s Angeles. And Leon Wilkeson–the bassist–looked really stupid in that cop helmet. In fact, the whole band looked pretty dangerous and, at the same time, even a little silly.

But they were none of those things.

They were enlightened rouges. Especially Ronnie Van Zant. And with the exception of Gary Rossington they’re all gone. Just like Tuesday.

God’s speed.

Taxi Driver, a Film directed by Martin Scorsese, 1976; Psychological Melodrama, Neo Noir

I’ve been to New York City once. It was a hit and run trip and I didn’t make it to Times Square. I regret that.

“I’ll hail you a taxi,” a waiter generously offered. “You’re less than five miles away.”

But it was getting late and I was alone. I wanted to get back to my hotel room before it got dark. I told the waiter that and he laughed. He was a handsome white haired gentleman who was chubbier and friendlier than most of New Yorkers I had encountered.

“You could walk there and be safe. It’s all corporate now. Tourist.” He smiled as he laid the waiter wallet on the table. “Giuliani,” he said.

Even then I knew that there were some New Yorkers who liked Time Square better pre Giuliani. I knew because I heard them–mostly artist types–say so on television the night before.

(NYC TV was great, by the way. Lot’s of independent channels with the weirdest people doing the weirdest things. FYI, this was pre Netflicks era.)

Here in Nashville, I’ve ran into some New Yorkers–transplants, they’re called–who have a love hate relationship with their home town. I have listened while they opined, extolled, how much better New York is even as they proceeded to tell me–in the same breath–how corrupt, dangerous and rat infested it is.

Twice this has happened to me at the deli. Once in a car dealership. And once in the sauna at the Y.

Grant it, some Nashvillians get upset by such remarks. Not me. I  admire audacity even as I call BS.

Don’t get me wrong, I like New York City. I do. As an American I’m proud of it, just like I used to be proud of downtown Nashville before it went tourist city bonkers.

Before so many out of towners moved here.

Be that as it may, I think Martin Scorsese is one of those artist types who prefer the corrupt, dangerous, rat infested Times Square to the conventionally gleaming, corporate Times Square. Why? Because he ignores the latter while the former is his muse.

In his landmark 1976 film, Taxi Driver, Scorsese shines a glaring light in a very dark place, answering the questions we have asked too many times–then and, especially, now:

Who acquires an assault weapon and tries it out on his mother before he unloads it on classrooms of kindergartners and first graders?

Who sneaks a cache of assault weapons into a luxury high rise hotel room, a strategically chosen snipers nest, and unleashes a barrage of gunfire on thousands of unsuspecting country music fans attending an outdoor concert?

Who holes up in a metal shed with a dirt floor and no bathroom, no electricity or plumbing, surviving with little more than a sleeping bag and, sadly, a little dog, gets fired one day and goes on a drive by shooting rampage–again with an assault weapon–through the streets of my home town, Odessa Texas, indiscriminately killing anyone who happened to be in his swath?

Enter: Travis Bickle.

He’s not a bad looking guy–not particularly good looking either, but there’s something appealing about him. It’s odd.

(That’s why it never bothered me that Cybill Shepherd (Betsy) is a little curious. What bothered me was that she went into the porno theater with him. That just doesn’t pass muster. But I digress.)

Travis is a young, hardworking, honorably discharged Vietnam vet. A cab driver.

Relentlessly driving, rarely sleeping, storing his money in a slipshod apartment, he is a sentinel of mid Manhattan when it was a magnet to pimps, prostitutes and peepshows. What he sees repulses and excites him. He is unable to mindfully mitigate his weaknesses.

But Travis Bickle isn’t wildly out of step with the world like Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell) is in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful The Master; he’s simply amiss. Nor is he devoid of humor or empathy, but his sense of them is inappropriate.

The more we watch him, the more unsettled we become. That is because we are bystanders at his decent.

When Betsy, a senator’s campaign aid, rejects him, his newly found hope is crushed. Ever present loneliness suddenly becomes unbearable. He begins to rigorously train himself as an assassin.

He does push-ups. He lifts homemade weights. He tests his resistance to pain by holding the inside of his arm to the flame. The faint softness in his face fades into lean, jutting angles.

He buys a brief case full of black-market handguns and modifies one with the mechanical parts of of his shoddy dresser of drawers . He sets his sights on the object of Betsy’s admiration, but his plans are thwarted.

He commits a vigilante murder.

There is another who catches Travis’ gaze, but she is less woman than she is child. She has the potential for beauty. She looks a lot like Betsy. Her name is Iris (Jodi Foster).

She is a prostitute and drug addict. A runaway–the  property of low rung mafiosos–who comes and goes as she pleases. Or so she thinks.

Iris has a pimp. He is her boyfriend. His name is Sport (Harvey Keitel.) He is probably in his early thirties.

Sport has a nice build. He wears a white, Marlon Brando, undershirt and dress slacks. His hair is long. It flows beneath a fedora. The nail of his right pinkie is long and sharp. It is painted blood red.

Sport knows how to talk to a woman. And though we see him only with Iris, we know that he talks to many women this way.  We know that he always tells his women same thing, no matter how young or how old they are.

He tells them what they want to hear.

Sport is dangerous. He will resort to physical violence but he’d rather not.

From his taxi Travis observes Sport interacting with Iris. He despises him and objectifies her.

His frustration. His incompetence. His abstinence. His guilt. He projects all of it onto Sport. He decides to save Iris and satisfy his death wish in one fell swoop.

Sport’s fortress is a whore house guarded by mobsters. It is where Iris lives. There Travis Bickle confronts his demons.

It’s epic.

 

 

 

Tangerine Jam: An Eclectic Ode In Jazz

My husband and I are DJs. Yes, at one time we were on the radio. In fact that’s where we met.

Radio was my husband’s dream and my hobby; that means he was better at it than I was. And for awhile he made our living working his dream. He made it all the way from a tiny Christian radio station in Odessa Texas to the airways of Nashville Tennessee where he worked at just about every radio station in town. All of this in the late 80s thru the mid 90s when radio was a big deal and a highly competitive field.

Country. Rock. Top 40. Adult Contemporary. He did it all. He loved it.

But then I got pregnant with our first child and we needed to make some serious money. So–with the contacts and the skills we accrued in radio–we started our DJ and Karaoke business. It has been good to us and I can honestly, humbly, say we’ve been good to our fledgling industry too.

We’ve trained and employed many DJs. We’ve worked the Bonnaroo music festival, the victory party for Vice President Al Gore, the CMTV Music Awards after parties and Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s engagement party to name a few of the high profile gigs.

But mostly we’ve DJ’d weddings. Literally hundreds of weddings.

My husband and I no longer gig. We manage our collective of DJ’s and cater to an increasingly demanding clientele. As such we are music directors, marketing campaigners and event planners.

I rarely miss “being in the field.” I don’t have time to, but occasionally I get nostalgic.

Here’s one of my old Dinner Music/Cocktail music mashups. It’s not stuffy and it’s not boring if you like jazz and dabble in hip hop, that is.

How’d He Get This Way? (A Profile in Narcissism) The Serial: Part II

Some said he ran roughshod over other people’s money. His dad said that. And it was true, to a certain extent. But, of course, he didn’t call it that. He called it being aggressive.

In fact, you could say, that he very carefully cultivated a reputation for “running roughshod.”

“It’s called making money, dad. It’s called making a deal,” he told his father many times when they discussed his philosophy, especially toward the end.

His reputation for making the deal was like chum to sharks…He liked being called a shark but you’d better not call him a whale. That’s what the house calls suckers with money….(Plus he’s a tad bit overweight and very sensitive about it.)

But back to his reputation– it alone earned him at least a billion dollars. That’s because the biggest sharks never lost money on his deals. (Well, almost never.) And that’s because so many smaller sharks were willing to take substantial risks just so they could be in on it. So they could brag about it. So they could feel the rush of the possibility of the deal.

He dangled it, flaunted it–so they could smell the money.

He and his select partners…And they are very exclusive, his partners; only the best…made several billions of dollars off the smaller sharks that way. And he made several millions of dollars for the smaller sharks that way too.

Most of the time everybody walked away richer and happier for it. But sometimes things  didn’t pan out. The big sharks would, now and then, get a case of the jitters–and that scared away the smaller sharks.

Sometimes there was too much red tape, too many laws and regulations…Sometimes it all ganged up on the deal and sucked the precious life out of it.

It happened.

It’s not his fault that some people don’t diversify...You’ve got to have a lot of irons in the fire if you’re going to run with the big boys. Don’t play if you can’t afford to loose, or at least have the sand to declare bankruptcy and move on…(Of course he didn’t tell the smaller sharks that.)

Why should he?

At heart, he was really just a glorified salesman. And he was okay with that…Salesmen are very entrepreneurial. A salesman’s desk is his brick and mortar on somebody else’s dime. But you better have balls. Confidence. The sky’s the limit as long as you’ve got your pitch down so that you can bend and shape it to fit the mark in front of you…He respected a good salesman. A good saleswoman too, though they were few and far between.

That said, his grandmother was a good saleswoman. A business woman. Her husband died in the flu pandemic at the end of WWI when she was a very young woman, much younger than her late husband. She could have predictably sat on the small fortune he left her. Instead she used it as collateral.

Likewise, she could have sold the land she inherited. But she didn’t. She built houses and apartment buildings on the sites, effectively starting the family real estate empire.

Even so, women like his grandmother were few and far between. At least that was his take on it. Women liked to play things close to the vest. They were too conservative, content to be merely rich instead of really rich.

Even his grandmother was like that…

And then there were the whores.

There was a time when a man could call it like it is. Whores are the ones that put out. Not like boyfriend/girlfriend put out, but like hook up in the parking lot put out. You can do whatever you want with those girls…(Not that he’s advocating violence.) Any guy that’s into that stuff  needs to be put down…Like a rabid dog needs to be put down.

Sometimes a whore can be really smart, though. They can spin everything around to their advantage. Play all the angles. Women, when they are ruthless, have lots of angles.

They’re curvy.

He loved women when they were like that…He hated women when they were like that.

 

 

Crawl, a Movie directed by Alexandre Aja, Horror; and an Homage to Junk Food and the Dash Diet

Not that I always do, but know how to eat right. I’ve been interested in nutrition since I was a teenager, but I owe most of my knowledge on this subject to one source. A long time ago I bought this little book at the grocery check out line in Walmart.

Speaking of Walmart… I’ve found that you either love it or hate it. I’m one of those that hate it.

It’s fine if you want to spend an afternoon there, but I don’t. I want to get into the grocery store and get out. It aggravates me to no end that the produce and eggs and bread are on one side of the store but you have to walk across Texas to get to the dog food.

I don’t want to buy electronics at the grocery store. I don’t want to buy clothes there either.

My husband–on the other hand–loves Walmart. He’s mesmerized by a good deal. Consequently, we go there maybe twice a year. He’s the kind of shopper that likes to go down every isle…

Anyway, that’s why I remember buying this little pocket book so vividly. It’s something I really like, from a source that I really hate. The book is called The First Food Evaluator and it’s written by Peter H. Dukan M.D. He’s French.

Well, The First Food Evaluator is in demand. But try buying one. You can’t. There’s one copy available on Amazon and you can have it for  a 150.00. Seriously. What happened to the other copies?

I don’t know. But one of them belongs to me.

So what’s the big deal?

The First Food Evaluator evaluates food healthy or unhealthy–on a spectrum from medicinal to poison– by how it heals, neutralizes or aides and abets disease. It’s fascinating. And when I’m using it, along with other healthy eating mainstays like the Dash Diet, I feel so much better. I really do.

The problem is…I get bored. Or I get bummed. Or I get in a celebratory mood and a salmon pinwheel with southwest corn relish just doesn’t get it. Sometimes I want to eat junk food.

Same thing with movies. Most of the time I’m a very irritating movie snob immersed in Truffant, Godard and Felleni but sometimes I have to break free and indulge in something that teeters on the edge of camp and bad. It’s an itch that feels so good when I scratch it.

Hence the movie Crawl.

Crawl is an old fashioned creature feature, but make no mistake–it’s a horror film in the same way Jaws is a horror film. People get eaten in Crawl. They get torn apart. It’s graphic. It’s gory.

And like in Jurassic Park there are–I don’t know exactly how many, at least two–multiple monsters. In this case the monsters are giant alligators who are terrorizing an estranged father and daughter in the enormous crawl space of their four bedroom two bath bungalow style home during a category 5 hurricane.

Yeah, the architecture of the bungalow is sketchy, the crawl space is somehow larger than the entire house. There are a lot of these inconsistencies in Crawl, stuff that just doesn’t pass the smell test and if that bothers you don’t go there.

Really. Please don’t go there and ruin it for whoever is sitting on the couch next to you. Remember, you are watching a movie about gigantic, prehistoric-like alligators that are swimming in a goldfish bowl crawlspace because they want to. They can enter and exit the crawlspace anytime they want. So, it’s not supposed to be realistic. Pointing out all the “mistakes” and “disharmony” is besides the point.

Now I know I mentioned Jaws and Jurassic Park, but don’t think I’m equating them with Crawl. I’m not.

Jaws is a classic. It’s nearly a perfect movie, so perfect that there were people who had heart attacks in the theater watching it. Same thing happened with the Exorcist and Psycho.

Trust me, nobody’s going to have a heart attack watching Crawl.

And Jurassic Park was a feat in spectacle. The special effects were mesmerizing.

Crawl is not going to be nominated for best special effects at this year’s Oscars. It’s not happening. But that’s not to say that Crawl’s special effects aren’t good. They’re awesome, considering the 13.5 million dollar budget. That’s where seventy five cents of every dollar goes in this movie–and it shows.

Accordingly, the dialogue sucks. In fact it’s so bad that it almost sinks the whole movie, but the enormous, bone snapping alligators snatch it from the jaws of defeat and then rip it to shreds–in a good way.

That doesn’t happen everyday.

A Good Man Is Hard To Find; A Short Story by Flannery O’Conner, Introduction and Partial Analysis with a Quote from Kris Kristofferson

 

My friend, DW, asked me to write about a Flannery O’Conner short story and I agreed. He made this request some time ago.

Obviously I haven’t forgotten.

Anyway, DW didn’t make stipulations, i.e., he didn’t specify short story, but, since that’s what O’Connor is known for, that’s what I’m writing about.

And since I brought that up, I have a confession to make: I had never read Flannery O’Conner before though I recall seeing her short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, in one of my Literature books back in the day. We didn’t study it. And it didn’t jump out to me as something that I wanted to delve into independently.

Still, I remembered reading that she was a Catholic writer and that piqued my interest a bit. Intelligentsia rarely admires authors of faith, so she had to be good.

O’Conner is dead, of course. Most of the great ones are.

A Good Man is Hard to Find–featuring a clueless all American family, a circumspect serial killer and his demonic henchmen, with elements of the supernatural and lessons in original sin–is Flannery O’Conner’s best known work.

It is Southern Gothic at its best–scholarly prose with a pulse, written instinctively.

Truman Capote liked it a lot.

Analysis:

One can approach A Good Man is Hard to Find without some knowledge of  the Catholic faith, but I wouldn’t recommend it. In other words you don’t have to be a Catholic to understand it, but some familiarity with the parabolic teachings of Jesus Christ viewed through the lens of Catholicism, will go a long way.

The story, steeped in a mixture of doctrine and civil rights, tells of a smug, entitled, self righteous old biddy who, through the unrelenting imposition of her will, brings about the destruction of her family.  Throughout the story she is referred to simply as the grandmother.

The grandmother lives with her son, Bailey, his wife and their children, John Wesley and June Star. And the baby. The names of the cast of characters–or lack thereof–are symbolic.

Take “Bailey” for instance; a somewhat unusual name, circa 1953, when A Good Man is Hard to Find was published. Bailey is a surname used in place of a given name. Though such names are fashionable today, as they were in antebellum south, the practice was considered too stuffy by 50s Americana standards.

Although his surname signifies entitlement, Bailey is less than enthusiastic about the implications and expectations of his birthright; he accepts them nonetheless. He is WASP. Moreover, he is Old South WASP. It is his blessing and his curse.

The grandmother, on the other hand, indulges in privileges that she has done nothing to earn. She thinks of herself as a beacon and belle of the right, polite, patriarchal society when she is its stubborn residue instead.

The boy, John Weasly, represents the recklessness of the Methodist reformer of the same name who O’Conner views as catalyst of the splintering Protestant movement. The girl, June Star, represents the devolution of the fragmented church into spectacle.

And the mother?

She depicts the lack of distinction or–more precisely–the utter lack of feminine influence on the Old South patriarchal society. Consequently, O’Conner banishes the mother to the purgatory of incubator and robotic caretaker of the baby.

The baby is devoid of all human characteristics exempting the most base. He cries. He consumes. He eliminates.

Flannery O’Conner never had children. Obviously.

I used to think babies were like that.

The unsuspecting family embarks on a weekend getaway, ostensibly from their home in Georgia to sunny Florida, but the grandmother has other plans. Regaling John Weasley and June Star with tall tales of a secret passage in the ancestral mansion of an old boyfriend, the grandmother pressures her son to veer off course via Tennessee.

Bailey doesn’t want to, but he can’t bare his whining children. He steers them into a dark and forbearing forest just to shut them up. The mother barely utters a word.

Along the way they pass a black child standing in abject poverty with no pants. The grandmother is delighted by the child’s cuteness, even as every billboard warns of an escaped serial killer called The Misfit; even as a shady entrepreneur–a bar owner, actually and a Jimmy Swagart like preacher symbolically– warns them about him too.

The grandmother just can’t help talking about The Misfit. She’s terrified of him. He fascinates her too.

Okay…

The Misfit is obviously the Devil a.k.a., Satan. No need to stretch it out and turn it into a big mystery. And the Devil and the grandmother are on a collision course.

Here’s where some first hand experience in religious fundamentalism is preferred but not mandatory.

Analysis cont…

Yet, even with fanfare and warning, the grandmother is distracted by truckloads of pettiness. Nitpicking. Technospeak. Call it what you may. She steers her family into a forest so dense–yes, let’s all say it together–she can’t see it for all the trees. This is the realm of The Misfit.

Moreover, the road that they are navigating is much too narrow for their family sized car. Bailey runs them off into a ditch.

Now the family are at the mercy of the merciless. But he is interesting. The Misfit, that is.

And he’s been watching them. Stalking them, really. The automobile accident is his opportunity to swoop in.

Whereas Bailey had trouble maneuvering his less than agile family automobile, The Misfit knows these roads like the back of his hand. He rolls right up to them in an enormous black hearse with his hillbilly henchmen.

Here’s the thing about The Misfit though–even though he’s despicable, there’s  something about him. He’s mysterious. How did Kris Kristofferson put it?

He’s a walking contradiction

Partly truth and partly fiction

The Misfit is very sensual. He’s a rough around the edges professor with an accent straight out of Appalachia. His hair is startlingly white and on the longish side. He wears suspenders and tight pants with no shirt. He’s not necessarily handsome and he’s not necessarily not handsome.

Trust me, women like that kind of thing.

He carries a sawed off shotgun. The grandmother is mesmerized.

See. Even Flannery O’Conner thinks so. And she’s practically a nun.

One by one, The Misfit instructs his henchmen to lead the grandmother’s family into the woods. Shots ring out. Again. And again…

Yes, even the baby. That’s the whole original sin thing…And  the purgatory thing, too.

Finally it’s just the grandmother and The Misfit.

Now I could go on and dissect the ending….Since this is an analysis, that’s exactly what I should do…But, if I did that, I’d ruin the ending and I suspect there’s a lot of you who–like me–haven’t read Flannery O’Connor before. I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Plus, A Good Man is Hard to Find is sooo symbolic, it would take me forever to explain it.

But, here’s the main thing–I don’t think I have the right to dictate a particular interpretation of her text. I mean who really can know with absolute certainty the meaning of it except for the Lord and Flannery O’Connor?

Right?

So you’re just going to have to read it for yourself.

That’s the Protestant side of A Good Man is Hard to Find. In a nutshell, of course.

 

*The Pilgrim

 

 

The Face of a Stranger

Historians, anthropologists and theologians, whether secular or believer, tell us that the flesh and blood Jesus Christ, looked nothing like the image most of us have of him. Unlike the familiar European depictions, Jesus’ hair was not long (Galilean Jewish men wore short hair; it was mandated) and he was not blonde.

So it is logical to  presume that Jesus was dark skinned and dark eyed if he looked anything liked the men of his culture and time–and, according to the Bible, he did. The Bible tells us that he blended in so much that his betrayer, Judas, had to point him out to the soldiers that came to arrest him because he was with his disciples. In other words he looked like they did.

And who were they? Predominately fishermen and laborers.

Jesus Christ was not handsome. The Bible tells us “…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” Isaiah 53

He was a carpenter and a wanderer. He walked many, many miles in a harsh, barren environment.

Jesus was poor. The Bible tells us that he was often homeless.

He was a rugged man. A strong man. He carried his own cross after being beaten so savagely that the flesh of his back–what was left of it–hung in grotesque, bloody shreds. It was called scourging, and it was so brutal that many people died during it. Jesus carried his cross until he collapsed. Then an African man was forced to carry it the to the top of the hill Golgotha where Jesus was executed.

Jesus said this regarding the stranger, the immigrant, the alien; those who, like he was, are poor and hungry, who are often sick and imprisoned, who are mistreated and discarded; those who, ironically, look like he did:

 

Mirgant.jpg

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.” Matthew 25

Older Posts