Sunday, August 24, 2014


I'm dreaming, and I know I'm dreaming, so it's easy to sit back and enjoy the ride.  Specifically, this ride--an endless loop around the parking ramp on the north side of Merle Hay Mall.  It's dark, and the headlights barely keep up with my speed.  But again, it's a dream.  I'm safe.

Then, immediately, the outside of a hotel, an old dilapidated affair.  There are lights around it, and machinery and scaffolding--it's being excavated.  I'm not an active participant at this point.  This is like watching a movie.

Cut to the inside of the hotel.  A small team of rugged, anti-social types have gathered to learn whatever secrets this place might tell them.  Oh, I get it.  This is like Alien or The Thing, and this band of disparate near-strangers will have difficulty working together once...whatever happens.  Will it be aliens or ghosts or...well, I guess I'll find out.

The plot moves right along, as the guy in charge--who vaguely resembles Kurt Russell, but not from The Thing but from Stargate, and since this is my dream that's weird, because I hated Stargate--is offering running exposition, even though nobody is listening to him.  He passes the desk in the lobby, and lodged between an old-timey ledger and a ceramic cherub is an envelope from Rexall pharmacy.  He opens it and pulls out a thick stack of old Polaroids.  "This is the key," he says, and hands them to me.

And it's not like a movie anymore.  I'm standing alone in the dark, with only enough light to see the photos.

The first picture is of my beloved and much-missed cat Monika.  It was taken at my apartment in Des Moines, after Monika had moved in with me when Mom passed away.  Of course, the only reason Mom had her in the first place was because I'd abandoned her when I moved away to get married.  Wait.'s not quite as heartless as it sounds.  When I moved, Mom moved back into the house where I'd been living.  Monika stayed put.  She just had a different master, is all.  I didn't "abandon" her.  Why did I use that word?

Next photo: The outside of the apartment building where I lived in Iowa City.  There seems to be no significance to this picture--there are no people in it, not even my car is visible.  The sky is gray and there are no shadows.  I don't remember taking this picture.

Next photo: A black-and-white image of the clothesline from the farm where I spent my childhood.  The grass is tall, and unshelled walnuts cover the ground.  The orchard is in the background.  Everyone called it the orchard, but nothing really grew there, unless you count the rhubarb patch.  To the right of the photo is the old broken-down swing set that took up a surprising amount of space in the yard, considering it was unusable.  Even further to the right is the very tip of a dog's tail.  That would be Penny--I know it's her even though I can't see her.

Next photo: Inside the farmhouse, in color this time.  Mom's wingback chair.  Beside it is the little wooden stand she used to hold all manner of junk, and on top of that is her jade green ashtray--complete with a lit cigarette--and coffee cup.  In front of the chair is a ratty foot rest with the remains of the day's newspaper piled on top of it.  Behind the chair is the drawing my sister scribbled when she was little, of what she said was "Mighty Mouse all tied up."  But it's a more recent photo, after the living room was painted, so the drawing had been touched up with magic marker.  And again, there are no people in this photo.  It's like a recreation in a museum.

Next photo: Dad's recliner, with the floor model ashtray beside it, and a few empty bottles of Grain Belt on top of that.  On the other side is...a stand and behind nothing, literally nothing.  It's like my mind can't supply the details, but come on, I spent the best part of my life there, I can remember this, but no, this picture doesn't lie, it's right there plain as day, a document of my faded memory. 

Next photo: But no, before I can see it, I feel something, a presence, and I immediately know it's Mom trying to tell me something...

...and suddenly, violently, I'm awake, aware only of what is missing, still waiting for Mom's voice to comfort me, knowing it will never be heard.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Let's get this out of the way first: Robin Williams made a lot of bad movies.  Stunningly bad, reference standard bad: Jack, Jakob The Liar, Bicentennial Man, Old Dogs and especially Patch Adams had reduced Williams' name, turning him into a punchline in someone else's joke. 

True and unfortunate.  Still, there's the astonishing comic inventiveness of his work in Popeye and The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, the lived-in decency displayed in The World According To Garp and Moscow On The Hudson, the terrifying darkness found in The Fisher King and World's Greatest Dad.

Good or bad, what all of his movies have in common is he was fully invested in all of them, giving absolutely everything he had.  Williams was much the same as a comedian: His material could be uneven, but that hardly mattered when skittered across the stage like a live wire, free associating random bits, observations and dialects, his whole body contorting or expanding, an entire vaudeville review in the form of one man.

More than anything, he could make people instantly connect with him.  Gen Xers first knew him as Mork from Ork, Millenials loved him first as the Genie from Aladdin, then loved him all over again in Mrs. Doubtfire, a wacky, sight-gag laden comedy that nonetheless delivers some hard truths about divorce and its effects on families.  Plus, you know, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets' Society, Jumanji...the list is yours to make.

The last few weeks have been brutal.  Increased tension with Russia and Iraq, the ongoing madness in Gaza, the racial and social fissures erupting in Missouri, the growing feeling that not only our government but our very nation is somehow broken.  Earlier this week we lost Lauren Bacall, one of the last living links to the glamour of Old Hollywood, to another, seemingly better time.

But the pain of losing Robin Williams is because he was so very much of our time.  We grew up with him and he was supposed to always be around.  To entertain us, sure, but dammit dammit dammit, even more to inspire us, to fill us with that passing joy that is as essential to human life as breathing.

Sunday, August 03, 2014


It's strange to even consider now, but back in 1998 I actually eagerly anticipated Roland Emmerich's Godzilla.  True, I'd hated his previous movie, Independence Day, but come on--this was a Godzilla movie.  How bad could it be?

Astonishingly bad, as it turns out, but its release at least briefly generated some interest in the character, and when Sony subsequently released the first in Toho's Millennium series, Godzilla 2000, to theaters in an English dub, I paid money to see it twice.  I also bought the DVD, as I did with all the further Millennium titles, as well as the Showa titles as they were released in definitive forms, and when Criterion released the 1954 original on Blu-ray, I bought it again, even though I already owned it in many, many different formats.

The point is, man, I love me some giant critters.  It would follow, then, that the recent spate of monster movies--Pacific Rim and its announced sequel, the newly-rebooted Godzilla and its announced sequel, as well as Skull Island, yet another King Kong adventure--should make squeal with delight.

Or maybe just sigh with regret.

Sure, the 1973 epic Godzilla vs Megalon is an objectively bad movie, but the wrestling matches between towering robot Jet Jaguar and an explosive-spitting whatsit from beneath the earth are a lot of fun, and even the (many) non-monster scenes have a certain goofy elan.  But when Guillermo del Toro--a fine director, to be sure--stages similar robot/monster fights in Pacific Rim, they somehow underwhelm, and the movie itself is ponderous and overlong.

A similar problem mars Gareth Edwards' otherwise admirable Godzilla, which keeps its title monster off screen for much of its runtime--a valid dramatic choice, but it forces us to spend too much time with flat dramatic scenes featuring charisma vacuum Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Worse, both of these movies feel incomplete, as if they're setting up not just sequels but series, inspired by the success of  the Marvel Studios superhero franchise, where every movie is connected to another and you can't tell the players without a scorecard.  This suspicion is furthered by the fact that Godzilla and Skull Island both come from Legendary Pictures, which is presumably setting up an inevitable Godzilla/King Kong showdown at some future date.

So every movie will just be a setup for the next movie, and if they're all taking place in a shared universe, they'll all be tonally similar.  Yeah, sure, Toho cranked out a lot of monster movies back in the day, but they weren't much on continuity--you could drop in to the Showa series at any point and have a great time.

Or not, if giant monsters aren't your thing--after all, Toho in the fifties and sixties not only made giant monster movies, they also produced and released many of the great films of Akira Kurosawa.  But these days, Hollywood seems to produce nothing but movies aimed at twelve-year-old boys.  Guardians Of The Galaxy is a ton of fun, but it's still just an exemplary version of the same formula we've seen a million times before, and as a former twelve-year-old, I enjoy that sort of thing, but come on.  There are still many great movies being made, but they don't have nine-digit budgets and open in 3000 theaters at once.  And to make something like, I dunno, The Godfather, you'd need that kind of money.  But studios don't want to make that kind of movie anymore.  Bring on the digitally-rendered monsters!