Monthly Archives: December 2013

The best Christmas ever: 4 holiday movies to warm your heart


(Photo from creepysantaphotos.com)

I happen to be one of those folks whom the holiday season kicks in the nuts every year. Every November through January is a dark, dreary ride through winter hell. Traffic, incessant holiday music, suffocating crowds, pressure to give that perfect gift, pressure to pretend to be happy…it’s enough to drive one batty. Winter Pacific Northwest weather doesn’t help either. I find myself more depressed than usual. Maybe George Bailey had the right idea.

Fortunately, there are some great Christmas movies out there that you may not have heard of to spread the holiday cheer. I got a few of them and last night got my egg nog on to watch a couple:

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

This lovely, heart-warming film is about a kid named Billy who witnessed the murders of his parents by the hands of a ruthless robber dressed as Santa Claus. Now parentless, little Billy Caldwell and his baby brother are taken in at an orphanage run by nuns, the mother superior of which is a sadistic hag who deals with Billy’s fear of Santa with harsh methods. Billy grows up to be a strong, handsome young man and with the help of the friendly Sister Margaret, Billy gets his first job working at a toy store. Despite an asshole supervisor, Billy is well-liked by the boss, a hard worker and even has his eye on a pretty co-worker named Pamela. However, when Christmas time rolls around and the normal store Santa is out for the whole season due to a broken ankle, Billy’s boss asks him to fill in as Santa Claus. Billy, still traumatized by Santa Claus, snaps when he puts on the suit, intent on punishing the naughty. “Ho-ho-ho” becomes “ho-ho-homicide” as Billy bellows “NAUGHTY!” while cutting down people with an axe or, in one case, interrupting a heavy teenage petting session by impaling a girl on some antlers and throwing her boyfriend out the window.

This film caused quite a stir in the ’80s when angry moms protested against the portrayal of a Santa-clad killer, but really, as far as gore and violence is concerned, Silent Night, Deadly Night is not that extreme. There is the requisite amount of gore and gratuitous nudity, but what really makes the movie classic is the over-the-top presentation. You’d almost think this was a parody or something and not a slasher-horror flick. The whole thing is very funny and I have to imagine that despite the fact it’s not intended as a parody the director must have had tongue placed firmly in cheek when making this movie. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a lot of “NAUGHTY!” fun.

Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 (1987)

This time around, Billy’s little brother Ricky has a go as a psychotic Santa. The movie begins with Ricky in a mental hospital, interviewed by the psychiatrist, where, for the next forty minutes, Ricky recalls events occurring in the first movie utilizing a ridiculous amount of footage from that film. In fact, the first forty minutes of Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 is basically the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the first film.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good set up for things to come since Ricky, played by Eric Freeman, narrates the flashbacks with an over-the-top, exaggerated evilness. It’s not convincing but it’s sure as hell funny. In fact, you may be familiar with the “Garbage Day” internet meme? I wasn’t until I researched this film a bit. Anyway, it comes from this movie, where Ricky blows away a guy taking out his garbage with a revolver, taunting “Garbage day!”

Interestingly, Eric Freeman, after a few minor TV roles, never made another appearance and was “off the grid” for many years, leading internet film buffs to speculate on his whereabouts. That mystery may be solved now since he showed up at a film screening of Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 just a few days ago, as the website Finding Freeman informs us.

He looks like he’s aged well and appears to be happy and healthy. This is good because when I hear “missing” all sorts of sordid things run through my head.

Anyway, Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2 is some great, campy fun and if you just bear through the first forty minutes the last half more than makes up for it.

I have a couple of other films lined up that I haven’t got to yet: Silent Night (2012), the remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night

and

Black Christmas (1974), also known as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger In The House.

They seem like they will be full of cheer and merriment!

So if you’ve got the holiday blues and you’re sick of the standard Christmas movie fare, give these a try! Actually, It’s A Wonderful Life is probably one of my top ten favorite all time films, along with The Sound of Music and Apocalypse Now, but, quite frankly, I’m getting kind of sick of watching it every Christmas. Besides, hasn’t Santa ever seemed kind of creepy to you? “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake…” *shiver*

Lock the doors, turn out the lights, get some milk, cookies and egg nog and hope (pray) that you’ve been good all year while you enjoy these heartwarming holiday films on Christmas Eve.

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Ctrl+Alt+Yawn: Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk


(Doubleday, 2013)

Yes, Madison Desert Flower Rosa Parks Coyote Trickster Spencer may be an overweight thirteen-year-old dead girl condemned to Hell, but she still likes to stick it to the Miss Sleazy O’Sleaznicks of the living world when she gets a chance. She’s dead, not a victim. When the three aforementioned Miss Sleazy O’Sleaznicks have a little fun with summoning Madison’s prodigiously proportioned spirit to Earth on All Hallow’s Eve, the only night the dead are allowed to troll the streets for Twixes, Almond Joys and Salty Nut Bars, Madison turns the table on the three Miss Coozey Coozenheimers and causes them to Ctrl+Alt+Puke their night’s high calorie spoils all over themselves. After this little bit of fun, Madison high-tails it back to her demonic Lincoln Town Car to head back to Hell before her midnight curfew, lest she be banished to tedious Earth.

However, despite the fact that she conscientiously made enough of an allowance for time, Satan has other plans for Madison and traps her on Earth, where she walks as a ghost, observing the antics of her vain and superficially liberal celebrity parents, uncovering secrets of her past, and putting together pieces of a puzzle that indicate that her fate is not happenstance but has been Ctrl+Alt+Doomed from the start.

Doomed is Chuck Palahniuk’s follow-up to Damned and if you have read that you may have recognized my attempt to imitate Madison Spencer’s style of speech above (I don’t really talk like that). In Damned Madison found herself in Hell after a “marijuana overdose.” Of course, she eventually realized that wasn’t the cause of her death, and adventures around in Hell with her new friends Archer, Babette, a couple of others. Stuff happened, I don’t really remember it all and it really wasn’t that memorable, but still Damned was entertaining enough. The conclusion of Damned indicated rather disingenuously that the story would be continued, perhaps in a trilogy. At the time I wasn’t sure if that was really the case or of Palahniuk was just messing with us.

Well, Doomed answers that question, but where Damned was a mildly amusing “Breakfast Club set in Hell” (Palahniuk’s words), Doomed is a mildly amusing romp through Purgatory, as Madison goes through the world as a ghost. She encounters a guy named Crescent City, a self-styled “psychic bounty hunter,” hired by Madison’s parents to find her. Through controlled overdoses of ketamine, Crescent City (or “Mr. K,” as Madison Calls him) is able to enter the spirit world for a little while each time. Madison’s parents are eager to communicate with her spirit because a lot has happened since she last talked to the pre-dead.

As a joke, Madison told her parents in the last book, communicating with them by phone from Hell, that the path to salvation lies in the profane. Swear, use racial slurs, fart loudly, insult everyone you see–these are the things that will save your soul. It was just a bit of a laugh for Madison, but now she finds that an entire religion, “Boorism,” has developed around this concept. “Boorites” walk around happily saying stuff like “Eat shit, asswipe!” along with their how-do-you-dos, but no one is offended because they think this is what’s going to get them into heaven. But as Madison floats around watching her parents from her ghostly POV, she eventually puts together clues that indicate that nothing that has happened was by accident. Her birth, death, everything before, in-between and after, has been engineered by Satan for the purpose of a final showdown with The Big Guy (ie, God).

Where Doomed falls short, though, is that it all comes off as seeming somewhat insincere. Like its predecessor, Doomed is humorous without being hilarious, satirical without being clever and ultimately lacks any big payoff for the reader. While it is a fun read, not at all bad, it’s pretty uninspired, which sort of makes me wonder what Palahniuk’s intent is by spreading this out into a trilogy. Maybe there is something really great and clever in there, but I’m not seeing it. But Palahniuk’s most egregious offense in Doomed is a lack of offense. When you read Palahniuk you sort of expect to be offended or grossed out. Maybe it’s just me being jaded, but most of the stuff in Doomed seemed to me rather juvenile attempts to offend or be transgressive, almost as if Palahniuk, after a career of grossing people out, is feeling trapped within that mold. Even the men’s restroom glory hole penectomy failed to elicit any squirms from me.

All that being said, I’ll probably read the final installment (if it is, indeed, a trilogy–the ending left that unclear). Despite its shortcomings, Doomed is a passingly entertaining read. It’s just not remarkable.

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Damned by Chuck Palahniuk


(Doubleday 2011)

(I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s follow-up to this book, Doomed, right now and will review it shortly. Until then, here are my brief impressions of Damned, first posted on Goodreads Jan 16, 2013.)

Thirteen-year-old Madison finds herself in hell after dying from a “marijuana overdose.” But really, Chuck P’s version of hell isn’t so bad. Instead of eternal torture it’s more like eternal mild irritation, but this even can be overcome with the right attitude.

There’s nothing shocking in Damned. Those expecting something more subversive from Chuck Palahniuk might be disappointed. Certainly, certain locations in hell, like the Swamp of Partial Birth Abortions, Sea of Wasted Semen and the Desert of Toenail Clippings may raise eyebrows with the grossness of the ideas momentarily, but it’s all pretty glib and fails to affect the characters (and readers) in any significant way. In fact, the novel as a whole ended up seeming somewhat unfocused and ultimately lacking in impact. There was very little payoff for the reader upon completion of the story.

Although this is perhaps one of his weaker novels (hard for me to say– I’ve only read two now– will read more), this isn’t to say it wasn’t good. It was good, just not great. Funny, funny stuff and Madison’s first-person narration keeps you interested (although I find that Chuck P has a penchant for repeating phrases with some variations for comic effect throughout his stories. This can be somewhat irritating). Damned is never boring and is at times a great ride, but when you reach your destination you find that the fair is closed and everyone’s packing up to go home.

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The world through apocalypse eyes: Emergency by Neil Strauss


(Harper Collins, 2009)
Are you concerned about a massive, wide-scale catastrophe that brings the world to chaos? Do you lie awake at night fearing societal collapse and the emergence of a fascist police state? Are you overcome with dread at the possibility of becoming a refugee from your safe, comfortable lifestyle? Do you look at the world through “apocalypse eyes?”

Relax. Just follow these steps:
1) Take a deep breath.
2) Get a grip.
3) Read this book.

Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, follows author Neil Strauss’ own personal journey through a survivalist’s curriculum. Despite appearances, Emergency is not a how-to manual, but rather a narrative that follows Strauss’ first doomsdays fears during the Y2K scare and his subsequent plans to escape or survive any catastrophe that comes his way.

Strauss is a journalist and author who mainly covers entertainment topics, like rock stars and such. In 2005 he wrote The Game, an account of the secret life of pickup artists. So Strauss is not what you’d think of as a typical “survivalist.” He’s basically a regular, modern, urban-centered guy, used to the comforts of civilization, so I enjoyed reading about him learning to shoot a pistol at Gunsite, or learning how to live in the wild at Tom Brown’s tracker school. He even went so far as to become a certified paramedic and participated in a Community Emergency Response Team, assisting in the aftermath of one of California’s worst train accidents in history. All the while, his long-suffering girlfriend serves as a foil to his endeavors, sometimes bringing up pithy observations about Strauss’ new hobby. Between every few chapters or so are illustrated sequences by Bernard Chang showing a disaster/adventure scenario as a sort of make-believe parallel thread to Strauss’ narrative.

While, as I said, this is not a manual or guide, there are certain learning points to be had for the observant reader and aspiring survivalist. However, the value of Emergency is not so much “how to” but “what for” as Strauss comes to realize that while his initial quest for the ultimate survival plan stemmed from fear and a selfish desire for escape, his new attitude toward survival was more in the community vein, helping those that needed help and being part of the solution rather than running away from the problem. The final result was that Strauss, rather than succumbing to the fear that survivalist nuts hold precious, became a confident, capable and productive member of society.

Strauss’ writing is light and easy with a good dose of self-deprecating humor, making Emergency an entertaining read, although I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more practical advice in it. Nevertheless, for anyone with survival and preparedness in mind Emergency offers interesting insights and is worth a read.

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Faux-mashed potatoes? Faux sho’.

I’m not really a “paleo” guy, but I do agree with the general idea of it. Lots of animal protein, lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. In my opinion a little bit of rice, potatoes and oatmeal is okay occasionally, especially if you are trying to build muscle. But, as I said before, I’m trying out this “slow carb” diet Tim Ferriss writes about in The 4-Hour Body and stuff like potatoes are only for your once-a-week cheat day. Enter “faux mashed potatoes”:

The above image is not mine. It belongs to Nomnompaleo.com and you should go there for the recipe for garlic cauliflower mashed “potatoes” because it is freaking awesome and so easy. I mean really. And if you’re the type (like me) that has the general opinion that anything with the word “faux” before it sucks, this is the exception. Only next time I’ll ease back on the nutmeg, just my personal taste.

If you are so inclined, give it a try. It’s an easy and tasty way to stuff some cruciferous vegetables down your gullet.

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Bionic eyes don’t cry: Killer Steele (Steele #3) by J.D. Masters


(Charter Books, 1990)

Lt. Donovan Steele was a good cop until he was killed. Then, he got even better. Advanced technology resurrected him in a robot body–computer brained, atom-powered, and supremely strong. Now this one-man SWAT team brings his own brand of justice to the savage world of tomorrow.

This, from the back cover copy, is a good summation of the early-’90s Steele series. In the aftermath of a devastating biological war, Steele is a cop in the Strike Force, an elite police outfit that operates out of New York City. After a deadly ambush, Steele is killed, but is revived through advanced technology and reborn into the form of a crime-busting cyborg. It’s a bit like Robocop, but Steele, even though his brain is computer, still retains engrams that model emotion, so for all practical purposes his mind is still human.

All that stuff happened in the earlier volumes. Killer Steele, the third installment in the series, brings us up to date with a few quick info-dumps and then gets into the matter at hand. Another cyborg cop has been created, code-named “Stalker.” But this one went nuts, killed all of the scientists and technicians and busted out of the place with one goal in mind: getting revenge on Steele. Turns out that Stalker is actually Steele’s former partner and best friend Mick Taylor, who also “died” on the same day Steele did. However, something went wrong with Mick’s programming and his memory is twisted, thinking that Steele left him to die. Equipped with a built-in laser and plasma gun and driven by rage, Stalker raids street gangs for their weapons and recruits the deviant underground dwellers that live in NYC’s sewers for his own personal army.

Meanwhile, Steele is having some issues of his own as his son Jason turns up at his apartment with a busted up face and a story to tell. Jason and Steele’s daughter Cory live with his ex-wife Janice, who never told them that Steele was still alive. But after running away from home, Cory got mixed up with a pimp and got “turned out,” Jason went to rescue her and got his ass beat and now has made his way to his dad’s place where he lives with his new main squeeze, an ex-hooker named Raven whom he rescued in a previous episode.

Steele’s heartbroken when he sees his son horribly beaten by Cory’s pimp (“If he could have wept, he would have. But bionic eyes don’t cry.”) and he’s filled with regret at missing out on raising his kids, but vows to get Cory back. He’s in a bind, though, because stopping Stalker is a top priority. Well, no one said being a cyborg super-cop was easy. But with the help of Raven, and an ex-gang leader and now friend named Ice, Steele scrambles to scour the city for Stalker while at the same time tracks leads to Cory.

If that wasn’t enough, a cyber-psychiatrist working on the Steele Project named Dev Cooper feels enormous anxiety about the moral and ethical of storing human psyches as computer data. There are practically two “Steeles” now: one as a cyborg super-cop and one on disk and they are both sentient. Dev handles his guilt and stress with drink and drugs and “Steele 2” hacks the Strike Force computer network, an ominous portent for future episodes.

That’s a lot of stuff for 185 pages, but J.D. Masters (a pseudonym for Simon Hawke, I think) does a good job of keeping up the pace, lending a real “cinematic” feel to Killer Steele. It reminded me a lot of those Filmation cartoons I’d watch after school as a kid, only with a lot more sex and violence.

Killer Steele is third in the “electrifying” series. I haven’t read the first two, but I kind of wish that I had the whole series to read back to back because I get the impression that it’s somewhat continuity-heavy, unlike many other “men’s adventure” type books. Not that it’s hard to simply jump into, but I think one might get more out of it if read back to back because, if Killer Steele is any indication, there are going to be some interesting, life-changing developments for Steele. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that Cory’s rescue didn’t go as planned and the book ends with Steele’s status uncertain.

Overall, Killer Steele is good, cheesy fun with exciting plot developments and even some good characterization. I hope to come across more of these someday.

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