Category: Reels, Records, & Reads

Kevin Smith’s Relationship Advice

Chasing Amy as Romance for Realists

This post isn’t about Clerks. Someday there will be a post about Kevin Smith’s Clerks but today is not that day, but if I didn’t watch Clerks then I probably wouldn’t have sought out Chasing Amy. February is drawing to a close this week so now is the time to have a brief discussion about Chasing Amy, the first ‘relationship’ movie I saw that I could really identify with (although there is some interesting relationship advice in Clerks worth discussing at a later date). Some elements of Smith’s 1997 movie may be a bit dated but the core message of the movie holds true today and is worth a viewing.

Chasing Amy 2
Chasing Amy

Much like Clerks which has the ability to speak to those of us who have worked in retail Chasing Amy speaks to those of us who have been in complicated relationships (complicated is a cliché word but using a word like problematic is putting a dime word in a penny sentence). You don’t need to be in the same romantic relationship as Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil to empathize with his situation. If you have ever allowed friends, or those who call themselves friends, to guide your relationship decisions then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you have ever allowed preconceived notions and feelings of inadequacy whisper in your ear then you can relate to Chasing Amy. If you never allowed these things to sway your relationship decisions then this movie can give you an idea of how the rest of us muddle through life love.

Chasing Amy is a realistic portrayal of two people trying to work through their issues and develop a meaningful relationship. It is a movie that speaks to any of us who have struggled with similar issues. The movie may have some 90s vibes in it but Smith’s story is still relevant and worth a view.

-K-

Chasing Amy (1997) with Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, and Jason Lee. Written and directed by Kevin Smith.

Desire, Jealousy, Love

and The End of Things

What is your relationship success rate? If you’ve experienced the end of a relationship (one that wasn’t ended by you), then Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair may cover some familiar ground. If you’ve never been in a relationship that ended poorly, then these books can give you insight into the lives of the rest of us. The narrators of these books offer views of the end of their relationships (don’t consider that a spoiler if you haven’t paid attention to the titles of the books).

The End of the Affair
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

These books, written 40 years apart, address desire, jealousy, love, and how all three overlap in a relationship. From the first to the last sentences (the first and last sentences of both books are quite memorable) we are privy to the relationship woes of Jesse from Suicide Blonde and Bendrix from The End of the Affair. Darcy Steinke and Graham Greene draw us in with believable characters we may not like at times but can definitely empathize with.

Suicide Blonde
Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

Not every relationship has a happy ending. Suicide Blonde and The End of the Affair are stories of two not so happy endings. Steinke and Greene show us some relationships are tragic, but tragedy is part of life, as are relationships.

-K-

The End of the Affair (1951) by Graham Greene

Suicide Blonde (1992) by Darcey Steinke

The Importance of Place

In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”

What’s your favorite place to hang out? Is it a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar? Regardless of your libation of choice it is important to have a place that you feel comfortable spending time at. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” stresses the importance of having a place to spend your personal time.

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is a study of the three stages of life through an existential lens. You’ll get no argument or questions from me regarding that analysis of the story. But Hemingway also presents the reader with an explicit message regarding the importance of having a place one can feel comfortable spending time at that is not his home. One of the characters, an older waiter says, “…there may be someone who needs the café.” This comment follows an exchange between two waiters who agree that drinking a bottle of alcohol at home is not the same as drinking at a café. There is some special quality the cafe can offer that home cannot. The story ends with the older waiter heading home after failing to find a place that that meets his requirements of clean and pleasant.

The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s story shows us the importance of these special places in our lives (mine is a local bar). The implication is that sometimes a home away from home, a special place or hang out, is necessary for any number of personal reasons. We may outgrow security blankets but we still look for comfort, and that comfort can come in finding a special place to hang out, to call our own (even if we share it with others).

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is an existential study of growing old if you use Hemingway’s iceberg theory. Sometimes you just need forget about what’s under the water and look at the iceberg itself and see what is explicitly conveyed in a story. Whether it is a café, a coffee shop, or a corner bar there is something comforting about having your own place to hang out. When you are drinking that next cup of coffee or pint of stout think about Hemingway’s idea of the importance of a clean and pleasant place.

-K-

“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway

The Point of “Pointless Drinking”

Is the Point

Any sort of serious drinking requires some serious thought about drinking. Amy LaVere’s “Pointless Drinking” shows us that drinking without a point is to end up in a world of hurt when you get to the bottom of the bottle. Whether you have a glass in hand or hip flask in pocket be deliberate in both choice of drink and point for drinking.

The narrator of Ms. LaVere’s song stumbles from bar to bar and drink to drink without any point or purpose. Without any point for drinking the narrator has nothing but the thing she doesn’t need (or want) and that is another drink.

Anchors and Anvils Album Cover
Anchors and Anvils by Amy LaVere

So what is LaVere’s eternal barfly, that aged drinker at the end of the bar willing to dispense a bit of 80 proof wisdom, telling us? Is “Pointless Drinking” meant to be some sort of cautionary tale, a prohibitionist’s treatise against the evils of alcohol? No, but there is some sound advice in our narrator’s tale, some choice wisdom that can be gleaned from the bottoms of those empty glasses. It is not alcohol that should be avoided. What should be avoided is poor choices, and alcohol and poor choices (like cheap and Walmart) tend to go together. Have a point to your drinking before the bartender pours that first shot. Make the choice to know what you want from your alcohol and know what you are in for when the bartender makes last call.

I did my share of pointless drinking in years past. I’m older and wiser (more old than wise) nowadays. I make certain there is a point to each pour and pint, but I can’t say it any better that Amy LaVere’s “Pointless Drinking.” Give Anchors and Anvils a listen and you tell me.

-K-

Anchors and Anvils (2007) Amy Lavere.

What’s Worse Than Shape Shifting Aliens?

Shape Shifting Aliens in the Snow.

Imagine fighting a shape shifting alien while not knowing whether the people around you were friends or foes. Now imagine experiencing this life or death struggle in the snow. This is what John Carpenter’s The Thing presents to the audience.

The Thing works well as a horror movie with its shape shifting alien that inhabits the bodies of its victims. The sense of fear that runs through the movie is due, in large part, to the paranoia caused by not knowing who the alien has infected. But Carpenter’s use of the snowy landscape of Antarctica adds a visceral element to the horror story. The hostile environment created by the snow and cold adds a level of conflict (man v. nature) that any viewer who has experienced a harsh winter can relate to. Viewers have never faced off against a shape shifting alien but many have experienced snowy days when temperatures dipped into negative digits.

The snow and the cold of The Thing intensify the harsh experiences the characters endure while fighting a shape shifting alien. Carpenter’s use of snow and cold also provide a visceral connection for viewers who have experienced harsh winters. We may have to imagine shape shifting aliens but harsh winters are all too real (especially for those of us in the Midwest).

-K-

The Thing (1982) starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. Directed by John Carpenter.

Zombies, Zombies, and Yep…More Zombies

Three Views of the Zombie Phenomenon

I’m about done with zombies. There are too damn many zombie movies, zombie TV shows, zombie video games, zombie bumper stickers, and zombie fuck all else these days. I have avoided zombie inspired movies and such this Halloween season for that very reason. When I saw the movie White Zombie on one of my channels last night I glossed over it. It wasn’t until I noticed that it was released in 1932 that I became moderately interested. I decided to give it a view simply because nothing else seemed more appealing (I know that’s not a sound reason to watch a movie but there it is).

I watched White Zombie with no specific expectations. All I did was try to put myself in the mindset to appreciate a movie from that time period. I must say that after one viewing (and it is a movie that I intend to view again) it is a solid movie. What I found most interesting about the movie is it got me thinking about my view of zombies. I grew up with George A. Romero zombies and to this day I will argue that his zombie movies are some of the best. But White Zombie is not in the style of a Romero movie. This movie is more in the style of a Wes Craven movie inspired by Wade Davis’ book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.

The Serpent and the Rainbow, both movie and book share the same name, focuses on the zombie phenomenon. I saw the movie first and it put a serious scare on me (Wes Craven usually does). It also left enough of an impact that I picked up a used copy of Davis’ book a few years later. Davis’ book is an engaging text that addresses the concept of zombies from both cultural and scientific viewpoints. Craven’s movie can best be described as an artistic interpretation that obviously lends itself more to horror than science, but Craven doesn’t exclude science in the attempt to scare the viewer. Victor Halperin’s White Zombie does the same. It has the elements of a classic horror movie (it is a must view if you are a fan of Bela Lugosi), and it also has a few scenes that attempt to provide a scientific reason, albeit thin, for the existence of zombies. This scientific element provides a perspective that makes both movies and the book worth your time.

Zombies are so commonplace in the horror genre today that they are bordering on cliché. In order to find some scary zombies it may be best to travel back to the 1980s for The Serpent and the Rainbow and the 1930s for White Zombie. What makes these selections scary is the sense of what could possibly happen no matter how improbable it seems, and this is what a good scare is.

-K-

White Zombie (1932) directed by Victor Halerpin starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) by Wade Davis

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) directed by Wes Craven starring Bill Pullman and Cathy Tyson

Vietnam and Reliving History

Reenactment and Catharsis

John Steinbeck explains why veterans often do not discuss their combat experiences in “Why Soldiers Won’t Talk.” Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara explore a similar topic in the film In Country. Attie and O’Hara follow a group of men over the course of a weekend as the reenact Vietnam War era patrols, ambushes, and fire fights. The documentary isn’t as much a look into the world of reenacting as it is a look into the mind of the combat veteran.

Several of the participants in the reenactment are veterans of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The audience is given some insights as to why these men who have experienced war first hand would want to reenact combat. One reenactor, a former soldier of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, states that he feels “whole” and “stronger” when he is with his fellow reenactors. Another reenactor, a veteran of the war in Iraq, discusses how the military philosophy of adapt and overcome desensitized him to feeling core emotions. The audience is left to infer that by reenacting with fellow veterans he is seeking to find part of what he left on the battlefield.  All of veterans who reenact give varied reasons why they participate but each man is searching for something.

One of more poignant moments of the film is a piece of archival footage from Vietnam. A reporter asks a soldier, “You think you will ever be able to forget it?” The soldier replies, “No, I won’t.” This may be at the heart of the reason why these men chose to reenact. Steinbeck states that some men experience a form of amnesia that causes them to forget combat and this is why they won’t talk about it. Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara show us many veterans remember combat all too well and that reenacting may be a way to address and cope with those memories.

-K-

In Country (2015) directed by Mike Attie and Meghan O’Hara.