Dec 12

2012 in Retrospect: What I Watched

Another year, another 365 days of television. Let the idiot box recap begin!

Most Disappointing

Copper looked so promising. BBC America plus New York City in 1865 – how could it not be awesome? But it wasn’t. It wasn’t terrible but it was just blah. I felt nothing for most of the characters, and aside from a storyline involving a child prostitute, couldn’t get into any of the conflicts.

The If-I-Hear-That-Song-One-More-Time-I’m-Going-to-Break-the-TV Award

The show was Awake and the song was Bohemian Rhapsody, or rather one refrain of Bohemian Rhapsody sung over and over. WE GET IT. THAT’S THE TURNING POINT. OKAY. Thank goodness the show was canceled so I don’t have to hear it again.

Awake also gets the Most Unbelievable Mom of a Dead Teenaged Son Award. First of all, the actress Laura Allen, who is 38, looks about 33, and was way too smiley and chipper for someone whose son just died in a car accident.

Best Soap Opera

Let’s face it: Downton Abbey is basically a soap opera, albeit a classy one, with British accents. But that’s why people love it so. Plus the clothes! and Dame Maggie “What is a week-end?” Smith! and the British idioms! How can you go wrong?

Best Show That Only My College Roommate and I Watched

Unlike Downton Abbey, people didn’t seem to give a tweet about Call the Midwife. But I didn’t care. It was my private Sunday night, old-fashioned girly indulgence.

Set in 1950s East London, the show focuses on a group of young women trained as midwives. Every episode we meet different mothers-to-be and their ordeals. When I saw my college roommate, SB, in November, we discovered that we both loved the show. “I don’t know anyone who watches it!” she said. Call the Midwife would have totally been that show we watched religiously in college on her tiny portable TV.

Also, the Actress Best Suited to Play a Young Julia Child Award goes to Miranda Hart, who plays the delightful Chummy.

Best Show to Re-watch from the Beginning with Your Boyfriend Who Has Never Seen It Before

Unbelievably, MB had never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it had been a few years since I last saw the show, so we thought we’d watch it from the start. It was a lot fun to relive the show and to bite my tongue when MB would ask questions, as well as to see how bad the special effects and makeup were in the beginning (“He’s more like a were-monkey,” MB said of Oz).

To avoid Buffy withdrawal, we’ve started watching Angel. I couldn’t get into it when it was on the air, but now I’m really enjoying it.

Best Show to Watch Before Going to Bed

I realized this year, also unbelievably, that I had never seen an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. I’ve seen almost every episode of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but not TOS. I’m not going to critique it here except to say it’s totally fun and hokey, especially the overly dramatic, drawn out reaction shots. First this guy reacts! then this guy! then this guy! then this guy! And the men wear so much eyeliner and eyeshadow, and the women’s wigs are hilariously ridiculous.

But the reason I like to watch it before bed is because it’s very soothing. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the calm, leisurely pace, or the way everyone talks.

Another Show I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Watched Until Now

Last year I became a fan of Torchwood, but had somehow never watched Doctor Who. I tried watching an episode when I was in high school, mostly because my good friend SG was so into it, but I didn’t see the appeal. Now I’m a total fan. What I like best is how excited the Doctor and his various companions get whenever they travel. I would totally be the Doctor’s companion.

Most Reliable

I’ve been a fan of Fringe from the beginning. The show has been consistently good the whole time, never tying itself into gordian X-Files knots. And while I’m sad that this is its last season, I’m glad it’s going out on a high note.

Best Closing Scene

SPOILER ALERT! If I had to pick one word to describe this latest season of Breaking Bad, it would be inevitable. Everything that happened was bound to sooner or later. But inevitable isn’t the same as predictable. We didn’t want that bad shit to happen, but it did and in unexpected ways.

Which brings us to the last scene of the mid-season finale: Hank on the toilet, looking for something to read, finding the Walt Whitman book and the inscription from Gale, and all the pieces coming together in his head. Tingles! Reminds of that scene in Godfather 2 when Michael realizes (ANOTHER SPOILER for the two of you who haven’t seen the film) that Fredo was the one betrayed him.

Breaking Bad had some great words too.

Best Comeback

MORE SPOILERS. The first season of The Walking Dead gave me nightmares (a good thing). The second season nearly bored me to walking death. I was wary about this season. Would they spend the whole time talking? What they be safe (read: boring)? They are fairly safe from the zombies, but not from those who aren’t supposed to be a danger: other people.

Plus, the Governor is one fucked up motherfucker, and I love Michonne.

Want more TV stuff? I wrote about the best in TV words too.

Sep 12

Anachronism Watch: ‘Copper’

When I watch TV, I like to keep my ears peeled for interesting words. What do I listen for? Idioms, lingo, slang, technical words and jargon. Hell on Wheels does an excellent job, as far as I can tell, of having accurate language for its time. For instance, last night Bohannon called Reverand Cole “mad as a hatter,” and I wondered if the term would have been used at that time. The answer is yes: the show takes place in 1865 and the term originated around 1829. (I had always assumed mad as a hatter came from Alice in Wonderland, which by the way came out the same year that Hell on Wheels takes place, but there’s not even a character called the Mad Hatter. He’s just the Hatter and it’s a “mad tea party.”)

Copper is another period drama I thought might be good source for period idiom and slang. But five episodes into the series, I haven’t heard anything interesting yet. True, I’ve been watching sort of lazily (ie, playing Words with Friends at the same time) so last night I watched and listened actively. Still nothing – except for two anachronisms.


Eva: “You’re looking steamy, Corky.”

“La Tempete,” September 16, 2012

I think this is what she says. I’ll have to watch it again. But if Eva did say steamy meaning “erotic,” she has apparently traveled back in time from 1952.


Corcoran: “My leg’s been bugging me.”

“La Tempete,” September 16, 2012

Another time travel moment! Bug as a verb meaning “to annoy, irritate” didn’t come about until about 1949.

Of course I’ve got nothing on Ben Schmidt, anachronism king, but I’ll keep watching Copper, and if I happen to notice words that are out of place, I’ll be posting them here.

Aug 12

My Weekend with Marilyn (and Katie and Michelle and Vivian and Marlon)

Today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, and I had no idea until this morning.

Why is this significant? Yesterday I happened to read a story about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes which questions whether or not Holmes is a real victim, or if she’s the real fame-monger in this situation:

[Holmes’s NYC] building has a privacy-friendly underground garage, but. . .Holmes hasn’t even been taking advantage of it. If she wanted, she could exit the garage in a car with dark windows, and paparazzi would never catch a glimpse of her or Suri. Instead, every day, when she’s left the building for errands or meetings, she has promenaded out to a waiting car, in full view of photographers. Nor, when on foot, has she used the side entrance on 25th Street: She’s been stepping out right into the paparazzi maw for the sake of trivial grocery shopping. How about FreshDirect?

My interest piqued, I started down a garden path of links and lookups. The article says, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that Holmes was apparently “enraged” by Dawson’s Creek costar Michelle Williams’s success:

While Holmes was playing Jackie O. in a mini-series that ended up airing on Reelz—that’s Channel 238 in the Time Warner NY cable system, if you’re wondering—Williams was playing JFK’s sometime-mistress Marilyn Monroe, in a feature film, en route to a third Oscar nomination.

That led me to this GQ story about Williams, which led me to the movie, My Week with Marilyn (which I had no interest in before but now want to see). I was curious about the dancing scene in The Prince and the Showgirl, which led me to this fantastic clip.

Her little dance is so simple yet utterly captivating. That led me to Williams’s re-creation:

While Williams is charming and captures Monroe’s spirit, Monroe has something more. She has a lot more dancing experience so it isn’t really fair to compare the two, but there does appear to be something intangible about Monroe, that something that made her not just a star but an icon.

That led me even further away. The Wikipedia piece on My Week With Marilyn describes the scene: “Vivien [Leigh] comes to the set and watches some of Marilyn’s scenes. She breaks down, saying Marilyn lights up the screen and if only Olivier could see himself when he watches her. Olivier tries unsuccessfully to reassure his wife.” That led me to an article about Leigh, and this line: “Her irreverent and often bawdy sense of humour allowed her to establish a rapport with her co-star Marlon Brando.” I loved that for some reason: the fragile Leigh joking about sex with the brutish Brando.

That led me to look up Marlon Brando, which led me to this: “Singer-actress Courtney Love has claimed to be Brando’s granddaughter, making Frances Bean Cobain (1992) his great-granddaughter.” What the what? Apparently, Love’s mother, Linda Carroll, was adopted and discovered that her birth mother was Paula Fox, a well-known writer. Crazy enough right? Well, Carroll claims that Fox had an affair with Brando in the 1940s, and that she “she had DNA tests done to prove” that she is Brando’s daughter. But this seems not to be true at all, according to this People article: “Carroll, however, emphatically denies the reports. ‘First of all, it’s crazy, it’s not true,’ she told the Gazette-Times in Corvallis, Ore. ‘Second of all, my book doesn’t say that.'” How do these rumors start?

Anyway, the Brando piece led me to stuff about his first wife, including this famous picture; the tragedy around his poor kids, Cheyenne and Christian; and Cheyenne’s son and Brando’s (real) grandson, Tuki Brando, who is apparently a successful model and, not surprisingly, easy on the eyes.

But today it was all about Marilyn. What a hard life she had growing up. Reading about her mentally-ill mom, her getting passed from foster home to foster home, being sexually assaulted, all I kept thinking was that poor kid. As for her death, I couldn’t help but think, Look at all the people she had around her, but still it wasn’t enough. The timeline says she had a “casual meal” with a couple of “local playboys”; the son of Joe DiMaggio called her to talk; then actor Peter Lawford called to invite her to dinner. Afterward, worried about her, he called throughout the night but her phone was busy.

D.R. “Duke” Haney has a wonderful essay on Monroe over at The Nervous Breakdown. It’s interesting to learn that early in her career Monroe “cultivated” journalists into publishing stories about her “with Dickensian embellishments about her childhood, already so poignant that embellishments would seem unnecessary, supplied by Marilyn herself”; that “at especially desperate moments, she paid the rent by hooking”; and that she could be mean. For instance, she apparently once responded “to an assistant director’s knock on her dressing-room door: ‘Go fuck yourself,'” which cracks my shit up, imagining her dropping that breathy baby voice to say that.

Monroe, according to Haney, meticulously cultivated her look, her brand if you will (try not to barf). So much of what we see, what we think of the Marilyn, was orchestrated, like Katie Holmes’s encounters with paparazzi, Suri in tow, her divorce and current image as a free woman escaped from the clutches of a weird religion and possibly even weirder marriage. These are the stories that are fed to us, and we, or I at least, can’t help but eat them up.

Jul 12

Tiger Eyes: Through eyes older and young

Last weekend I had the chance to see the movie version of Judy Blume’s classic novel, Tiger Eyes.

When I was devouring Blume’s books as a kid, I didn’t know much about her. It was the early ’80s, before the internet and having access to all the information a person is willing, and sometimes not willing, to give. All I knew was that she had grown up in New Jersey and danced ballet like her titular character, Sally J. Freedman (there was black and white photo of 10-year old Blume in a tutu on the inside cover of the copy I borrowed from the library). I assumed she had a perfect life, imagining her as one of the easy-going, understanding moms in her novels, the mom I often wished I had.

But like Madeleine L’Engle (who I also assumed to have a life like those of her characters), Blume’s life wasn’t “cupcakes all the way” (my new favorite phrase, by the way). She and her first husband divorced, which perhaps is depicted in It’s Not the End of the World. Her second husband, a physicist, moved them to New Mexico, but the marriage lasted just a year. “It was a disaster, a total disaster,” Blume has said. I can’t help but wonder if Walter in Tiger Eyes is based on this man. He’s a scientist in New Mexico, and is very rigid. In the book he’s somewhat more sympathetic, but maybe there wasn’t room in the movie to explore him more fully. Also, Blume’s father died suddenly when she was just 21, the core theme of Tiger Eyes and also touched upon in Sally J. Freedman, in which 10-year old Sally is afraid that her father will die early, the way his brothers did.


In Tiger Eyes, fifteen-year old Davey Wexler’s father has just died suddenly. While in the book you know how from the beginning, the movie doesn’t reveal this until later, so I won’t reveal it now. Devastated by the sudden death, Davey and her family take up the offer of Bitsy, Davey’s aunt, to spend some time with her and their uncle Walter in New Mexico. There, Davey, her mother, and brother all try to deal with, or avoid, their grief.

The first time I read the book, I was 10 or 11. I hadn’t really deal with any tough issues by then. My grandmother died around that time, but I wasn’t close with her. The biggest troubles I had faced were a hardass mom and being embarrassed at school.

This may be why I never cried while reading Tiger Eyes. It made me feel sad, but it wasn’t like in Blubber when suddenly Jill, the protagonist, is the one being bullied. The movie was another story. I cried pretty much from minute one (and having no tissues, had to use the sleeves of my T-shirt to wipe my eyes and nose).

All of the actors were excellent. Willa Holland, best known perhaps for a recurring role on Gossip Girl, was terrific as Davey. She had the perfect blend of vulnerability and toughness, and her reaction to weird Danielle (of the fuzzy creature pinned to her shoulder) is priceless. Amy Jo Johnson (who I first thought was Hilary Swank) was also great as Davey’s mom, as well Lucien Dale, who played Jason, especially for one so young. Dale had me absolutely sobbing during one scene. I literally had to cover my mouth to keep quiet.

Overall, Tiger Eyes was a lovely movie. I was glad to see that it was so faithful to the book (not surprising since Blume co-wrote the screenplay with her son Lawrence, who also directed the movie). Of course some changes were made: a few parts have been cut or collapsed with other scenes, some elements have been updated (in the book Davey refuses to wear a bike helmet while in the movie it’s a matter of course that she does), and there’s one big change which I won’t give away, except to say it doesn’t really change the plot or feeling of the book, and it’s probably something that most readers wanted anyway.

If you’re a Judy Blume fan, you’ll love this movie. If you’re a fan of Judy herself, you’ll love it even more.

Apr 12

Being Elmo: Unexpected Inspiration

I totally expected to enjoy Being Elmo (which I did). I expected it to be cute but not cloying, like Elmo himself. I even expected to cry a little, which I did when Elmo played with a Make-a-Wish child. But what I didn’t expect was to be so inspired.

What may be construed as spoilers follow.

Kevin Clash has always loved puppets. When he was a kid, he ripped out the lining from his father’s overcoat and made one. Only after the fact did it occur to him that he might be in trouble, but all his dad said was, “Next time just ask.”

From then on, Clash was all about puppets. He performed for the kids in his mother’s daycare, at the local hospital for the sick kids, and eventually ended up on local TV and then the Captain Kangaroo show.

Kevin Clash performing for local children in Baltimore in 1975.

Of course he worshipped Jim Henson. He saw a TV show about one of Henson’s puppet creators, Kermit Love (Kermit the Frog was apparently not named for him, by the way). He was so interested in what Love was doing, his mother got in touch with Love, and eventually he became Clash’s mentor. This led to a fateful meeting with Jim Henson, working on the puppets for Labyrinth, and the creation of Elmo.

What I found so inspiring was that Clash didn’t seem set out to succeed. He just loved puppetry, and was obsessed with learning all there was about it. From the time he was a kid, he put himself out there constantly. He performed in the backyard, at hospitals, on local TV. He reached out to people he admired, not to make connections, but because he wanted to learn from them. Plus of course he’s immensely talented, but talent means nothing if you sit at home and do nothing about it.

I started thinking about my writing. For the past few years, I’ve been so focused on getting published. Instead of primarily writing something I’m interested in, I tailor my writing for contests and magazines. I’m writing my novel as something people would want to read. Not that I don’t try my best with my writing, and try to create something artful, but writing simply from inspiration or a random idea is rare for me these days.

When I was a kid, I wrote for the pure joy of writing. Sure, it was also usually for a school assignment, but I enjoyed every one. I wrote crazy science-fiction stories, magical tales set in medieval times, and Sweet Valley High ripoffs. My junior year in college, I took a poetry class, and I remember staying up late at night, one meager desk lamp burning, scratching out poem after poem, and feeling both enthralled and peaceful. (I think part of what helped was taking a Chinese class, which made my brain think in a different way.)

Now it’s mostly a struggle. Of course I know that not every minute of writing can be joy. Sometimes it will be drudgery. But I miss that feeling of “I want to write because I love it, because I have to get down this story,” and I want to get that feeling back. I want to, yes, be Elmo.

The question is how? Usually when I think of an idea for a story or essay, I jot it down in my idea “parking lot” with the intention of tackling it later. “Later” inevitably becomes later and later as I write for work, work on my novel, and blog. Before this job and the novel, I think I did write a lot more short pieces. But now it’s harder.

I need to somehow find time to work on my parked ideas, to just start writing stories and essays when the ideas occur to me. I always worry that once I start on a short piece, my novel will suffer. But I always get back into it eventually, and now that I have a deal with MB that for every day I don’t work on my novel, I give him $10, I should feel even more encouraged to keep noveling.

To keep trying to be Elmo.

 [Photos: from Being Elmo]

Dec 11

2011 in Retrospect: TV I’ve Loved

It’s time again for my year-end retrospects! Last year I wrote about all the TV that I loved. This year I still love TV, even more so, if that’s possible.

There are the old standbys that I still enjoy, like Dexter (which isn’t as good as it used to be but I still like it), Breaking Bad, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and all the shows on my 2010 list. There are shows I used to like but can’t stomach anymore, like Sanctuary, which while incredibly silly was at least entertaining. Now it’s unwatchable. (Unless you’re Buffy, Community, or even Scrubs, please don’t attempt a singing episode.)

There are shows I want to like but am on the fence about. I was into Hell on Wheels at first, but now I find it boring, and I can’t decide if Allan Gregory is really funny or just cruel. And there are shows I had just about given up on but seem to be reviving, like The Simpsons and The Office, resuscitated by the king of smarm, James “Robert California” (best name ever) Spader.

Then there are the shows I just plain loved. Last year I limited myself to 10, but this year I’m listing them all. Enjoy!

Bob’s Burgers. Bob’s Burgers made an appearance in my mid-year update, and I can’t wait for it to come back, which it looks like won’t be till March. GAAAAH!!! Till then I guess I’ll have to made do with clips like this:

Game of Thrones. Another mid-year mention. Since the first season ended, I’ve read the first book of the series and am more than halfway through the second, A Clash of Kings. The show did a really good show translating the books to the small screen, and in some cases, filled in character development a bit more, especially with Daenerys. We’ll have to wait till April for the second season. Here’s the trailer to tease the shit out of us:

Winter is coming.

Parks and Recreation. Yet another mid-year mention. I first tried watching this show a couple of seasons ago, and I didn’t find it funny at all. Now I think it’s freakin’ hilarious. Ron Swanson cookies, anyone?

The Killing. Dreary and disturbing, the show follows a detective as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding a teenager’s death. People liken it to Twin Peaks, but it has none of Lynch’s surrealism and camp. Instead it’s gritty reality (or rather, damp and chilly, set in wintery Seattle) as people struggle to keep their lives together.

Being Human. Because it’s on SyFy, I thought Being Human would be dumb, but it’s not. Smart, funny, and sexy, it’s about three roommates – a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost – trying to have normal lives. I remember seeing an episode of the original British version a while back, and till the American version came on, for the life of me couldn’t remember what the show was, and actually thought I had dreamed the whole thing. Weird!

Misfits. Speaking of British shows, Misfits is an awesome one. Imagine Heroes but not sucky, and with sometimes hard to understand British slang and accents. And nudity.

Torchwood. Another British SF show! I watched one episode a few years ago and enjoyed it, but didn’t watch it again. This year we watched the whole series, and really liked it. What’s not to love about an immortal gay time traveler and Welsh accents?

New Girl. I didn’t want to like New Girl. Everyone kept talking about how overly cute Zooey Deschanel was, and I really hate the whole manic pixie dream girl thing. But the show is really funny. Sure Deschanel is super cute but she’s also hilarious. Her delivery, her timing, her expressions. The secondary characters are funny as well, especially Schmidt, king of the douchebags.

Boardwalk Empire. This is a show that pulls no punches. Set during Prohibition times in Atlantic City, it centers on bootlegging gangsters of every type. In every episode something important happens, and these last few of the season have been FUCKED UP (in a good way), reminding me, very bloodily, that Martin Scorcese is an executive producer. Plus it has Steve Buscemi, Michael Kenneth “Omar” Williams, and this guy, who plays a very weird and repressed character but whom I’m starting to think is hot.

The League. This show is fucked up in other ways. Let’s just say there’s a lot of talk about male genitalia and the ripping open of bodily orifices. And it’s a comedy!

American Horror Story. Fucked up yet again! What’s scarier than deformed baby zombies, dissonant scratchy intro music, and a guy in a rubber suit? Not much, let me tell ya.

Revenge. My friend YP turned me onto Revenge during my NYC visit in October. A young woman returns to the chi-chi Hamptons to enact revenge on all the people who had a hand in wrongly convicting her father of a crime he didn’t commit. Revenge is a quality version of one of those 10 PM soap operas from the ’80s. The only thing I hate is that it’s on at the same time as American Horror Story so I have to wait till it comes on Hulu to watch it (the FX shows, like AHS, seem to take much longer to come to Hulu).

Grimm. Grimm is one of my new favorite shows. Set in modern-day Portland, a police detective discovers that he’s a Grimm, someone who can see fairy tale-like creatures for what they are, even in human form. Traditionally, Grimms hunt down such creatures, but instead this detective enlists the help of creatures like Monroe, a Blutbad, the big bad wolf in human form, to solve mysteries. Grimm also has excellent word play. Blutbad is German for “blood bath.” A mellifer – with meli meaning “honey” in Greek – is a bee-like creature; the queen bee is Melissa, which means “sweet like honey.” Roddy Geiger is a talented violinist, and Geiger in German means, you guessed it, “fiddler, violinist.” The only downside, it’s up against Fringe. Nooooooo!

The Layover. A new show from Anthony Bourdain. Where No Reservations is like a travel essay, giving you the whole experience of traveling, The Layover is the quick and dirty – You have 24 hours in Miami, where do you eat? – as well as hilarious and hunger-inducing. A bowl of assam laksa, stat!

Homeland. MB mentioned this show several times, but I thought it sounded boring. Boy was I wrong. Claire Danes plays a brilliant CIA agent hiding a mental illness, and Damian Lewis (Life) is a returning American POW who may or may not be a terrorist. Throughout the series, you’re never really sure who the enemy is.

Special shout-outs. Because all of this TV isn’t enough, right?

Somehow I was slow on jumping on the bandwagon that is Mad Men. It doesn’t fall into my usual favorite categories. It’s not a sitcom, animated, science fiction, fantasy, or a crime drama. Then MB and I thought we’d try an episode, and we were hooked. For a while we were watching an episode or even two a night (even more when we were hanging out at my parents’ in September) but recently we fell out of the habit. For me, the show became, “Well-dressed people doing bad things.” Not that I’m a prude, but I like to have some contrast. Anyway, I still think it’s a good show and will probably start watching it again.

Finally, when I heard that Community might be canceled, I was really bummed out and pissed. Sure, let’s keep dumb ass shows like Whitney and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, but throw out one of the funniest shows out there. Not just funny, some of its episodes are plain brilliant (the Dungeons & Dragons one especially, and the recent Christmas Glee send-up). Turns out it might not be canceled. I really hope not.

In case you think I haven’t written about TV enough, check out my bi-weekly series for Wordnik, Word Soup, which brings you strange, obscure, unbelievable (and sometimes NSFW) words from talk shows, sitcoms, dramas, and just about anything else on TV.

Next up in my 2011 retrospect series, What I Read.

Dec 11

Snowtown: Repeating the darkness

I’ve always been both fascinated and horrified by serial killers. When the Jeffrey Dahmer killings surfaced – I was about sixteen and in Florida on a trip with my family – I bought the People magazine with him on the cover, with my mom’s full approval. She wanted to read the gory details too.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t admire these people. I’m not writing them love letters or setting up shrines. But I know I’m not alone in my morbid fascination. Look at the popularity of Dexter and movies like Silence of the Lambs. And it was with this morbid fascination that MB and I started to watch Snowtown.

Snowtown is based on the serial murders that occurred in the mid to late 1990s in small towns in South Australia. The killings were led by John Bunting, charismatic yet cold-blooded, and a ragtag and ever-changing bunch of strange and troubled men. Bunting’s main targets were those he thought were pedophiles and homosexuals, but many of his accomplices were also pedophiles or gay. Some of Bunting’s accomplices eventually became his victims.

The film was even more dark and disturbing than we expected, even though they barely showed anything (SPOILERS FOLLOW). Smears of blood on the bed and in the bath tub, a dead body obscured, a mother screaming to her son, “Get out of here!” and Bunting behind her looking furious. There were just two graphic scenes, a rape and a killing, but these were so disturbing I couldn’t stop thinking about them long afterward. MB was completely wigged out (and he doesn’t really get disturbed by anything), while I was both horrified and curious: why did these things happen? Why did Bunting kill like this? Why did the town they were living in seem so full of pedophiles, rape, and sexual abuse?

I did some research on the internet, but didn’t find much. I found names and facts about the murders, but nothing about why. I ran across one of the books that inspired the movie, Killing for Pleasure by Debi Marshall, and I was all set to buy it for the Kindle, but then discovered it’s available only in Australia. What the – ?! Or else used from Amazon for $30 (!). I wanted to wait a while and see if it would eventually be available in the U.S. but MB went and ahead and got the book for me.

The book is well-written, though it could use some editing and perhaps overdoes it on the grisly details of each killing, to the point that I had to skim over those parts. However, it really helped to clarify who the heck was whom in Bunting’s weird little circle. In the movie, there was no explanation as to who Bunting’s hangers-on were. There was just some silent dude who was always there, always helping Bunting with the murders. There was another bearded guy who was always hanging around, silent and creepy. People would just appear at each other’s houses, in and out of each other’s lives. The mother of the kid Bunting “mentors” is named Elizabeth Hardy, but the kid, Jamie, has a different last name, as does his older half-brother, as does his step-brother. Leaving things unexplained in the movie lent an air of eerieness, but at the same time, I kept wondering, Who’s that? Why is he there? What’s their relation?

Marshall also offers some speculation as to the reasons behind people’s behaviors. Supposedly when Bunting was eight years old, he was gang-raped by his friend’s older brother and his friends. But people who knew Bunting don’t know if this story was true because he made up so many stories. His partner in crime, Robert Wagner, was also abused as a kid by an older neighbor boy, then at 13 took up with a transvestite named Barry “Vanessa” Lane. Lane seemed to be involved with some fucked up shit: pedophilia, bestiality, what have you.

Jamie, the young kid Bunting takes under his wing and who will later testify against Bunting and Wagner, was horribly, serially abused. His biological father, his older brother (who had also been abused by the father), one neighbor, then another neighbor, all before he was 17.

Jesus fucking Christ, how does this happen in just a few adjoining towns? And that’s not even everything.

Marshall gives some background on the towns as well. While the bodies (held in barrels in the vault of an abandoned bank) were found in Snowtown, only one of the murders occurred there. The others occurred in small towns around Adelaide. These small towns seemed to be comprised entirely of “trust housing,” which we’d call public housing or “projects.” From the way Marshall described it, many of these residents were “permanently unemployed,” learning disabled, and desperately poor.

Adelaide was also home to the Family Murders, “the name given to an alleged high society conspiracy involving the kidnap, torture, and murder of teenagers, particularly young men and teenaged boys, in Adelaide, Australia and surrounding areas in the late 1970s to the mid 1980s.” There is some speculation that Lane was somehow involved in a high society pedophile ring, auctioning off young kids from foster homes to the highest bidders. I can’t help but think of Jerry Sandusky, the Second Mile, the charity he set up for kids, and all the higher-ups involved in keeping his horrific crimes hush-hush. Was Sandusky the only one involved? Why would people go to such lengths to protect him? Were they protecting more than him?

It’s all very disturbing. If you need me, I’ll be curled up in a fetal position and rocking back and forth.

Sep 11

Stand By Me: The movie that changed my life too

Twenty-five years ago this weekend, I saw Stand By Me for the first time. On his blog, Wil Wheaton wrote about how the movie changed his life. No doubt. He went from regular kid to movie star appearing on-Good-Morning-America, to Wesley Crusher, to nerd god. Albeit to a lesser degree, it changed my life too.

I was 14, and ninth grade was starting the following week. I was already nervous about it. I’ve written about it before: my friends were blossoming, and I wasn’t. My hair was either too short or went every which way, I still had braces, and till recently, glasses too. I had gained weight that year, and all of my pants were too tight. Conversely, none of my tops were baggy enough, at least not by ’80s’ standards. The night before the first day of school, I spent a lot of time stretching out a sweater vest, to its ruination.

I had a heavy fantasy life, in which I imagined myself a movie star – more specifically a triple threat: actor, singer, and dancer. I had different parents (neither of whom was Chinese), a slew of brothers and sisters, a movie star boyfriend.

I was talking less and less with my friends. Partly I was insecure, and partly it seemed their conversations seemed entirely taken up with wry comments. Once at a sleepover, I tried to talk to them about what it was like to be the only Chinese kid for miles around. Elaine, who had a grandmother who was half-Native American, tried to understand.

“Someone told me once that was awful,” she said. “But I don’t mind.”

“Don’t mind?!” I cried. I would have been proud to have Native American blood. Meanwhile, my other friend Elise rolled around bored on the floor.

But when Elaine and my other friend Susan invited me along to Stand By Me, I said sure. I wanted to see the movie, and what else did I have to do?

What unfolded on the screen wasn’t just a great story and great acting, but a friendship and friends I coveted. I didn’t want to sit around watching MTV, painting my nails, and analyzing clothes and boys. (Most likely, my friends did talk about deeper things, but I had so isolated myself, I didn’t know. I kept away from them, and in turn they kept away from me.) I wanted a life and death friendship, someone to share dark secrets with, and who’d share them with me. I wanted to traipse through the woods and have an adventure, not go to the mall again, where the boys’ heads turned, though never for me. I wanted to be a writer like Gordy. I wanted a best friend like Chris, even to lose him later, to lose him too soon.

On the car ride back home, my head churned. My friends talked about how hot Keifer Sutherland was.

That year began my obsession with all things Stand By Me. I read, and re-read, the novella the movie was based on, Stephen King’s The Body, which changed my life again. I wanted to write like that, full of voice, not just tell a story. And I tried that summer. I basically wrote about my life, and how unhappy I was, but it didn’t go much further than that.

I bought the soundtrack on cassette tape and listened to it, especially the title track, over and over.

That March when Stand By Me was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, I got so excited during the Oscars broadcast, I jumped up and down and squealed involuntarily.

I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation mostly because Wil Wheaton was in it. And then I decided it was a pretty good show too.

I developed a wicked crush on River Phoenix. I pored over the issue of Seventeen magazine with him on the cover, and the photo shoot of him and Meredith Salinger, both in the terrible A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon. I didn’t care that it was terrible. I watched it, when it came on cable, over and over.

I tried to watch every single thing River was in. The Explorers. Some dumb TV movie. That time he was on Family Ties (so was Wil Wheaton once). Little Nikita. The Mosquito Coast. Running On Empty. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (River playing a young Harrison Ford, who played his father in The Mosquito Coast?! squeee!!!). Dogfight. I Love You to Death.

By then we had moved to a new town, and life was somewhat better. I fit in better with the nerdy Asian crowd. I was better off with just a few friends and not a huge group. As the new kid, being solitary was okay. I continued to write.

My Own Private Idaho was the last movie I saw with him. I was a sophomore going to college in New York City. I was still writing.

Two years later, on Halloween day, River Phoenix died. I remember very clearly: I was home for the weekend, and watching TV. I perked up when I heard something about River Phoenix, and then was shocked to hear about his death.

I’m sure it’s already been written, probably by Wheaton himself, how strangely parallel the lives of River and Wheaton and their characters are. Wheaton became a writer, just like Gordy. River died young. It’s very strange to think that River Phoenix, if he were alive now, would be over 40.

All of this makes me want to watch Stand By Me again, which I haven’t seen in many years, and to reread The Body. Maybe they will remind me again why I became a writer. Maybe they’ll inspire me in the same way.

Jul 11

Transformers 3: Why?

Last night MB and I saw Transformers 3. I knew I was in for something really stupid, but the movie exceeded my stupid-expectations.

A couple of plot holes would have been acceptable, but there were so fucking many. SPOILER ALERT.

  1. Why did the Autobots agree to be blasted off into space?
  2. Why were humans trying to destroy that column thingie? Why didn’t an Autobot just destroy it?
  3. Why were humans involved at all?
  4. Why was it in 3D? So I could see Frances McDormand’s shoulder pad up and close and personal?
  5. Why did bringing another planet into the earth’s atmosphere not cause cataclysmic seismic changes to the earth’s crust?
  6. How did Shia Labeouf’s character end up with that girl?
  7. Are we really supposed to believe she’s smart now because she’s wearing glasses?
  8. Wait, I thought she supported him being a “hero,” but now suddenly she doesn’t because suddenly she has a brother who died in some war?
  9. The scene with their parents in the trailer, lecturing Shia Laboef about love – seriously: WHY?
  10. Wait, how did the girl get to Megatron? Where was Megatron? Where was she? Where is anybody?
  11. Why does this movie exist?
  12. Why did I go see it?

Okay, okay, there were some enjoyable aspects, like Ken Jeong, and John Malkovich, and Leonard Nimony, and Frances McDormand could read the phone book and I’d still love her, and some of the robot fighting scenes, although most of the time I couldn’t tell the difference between the Autobots and the Decepticons and wished for more of the slo-mo action scenes so that I could tell what was happening.

What I do for love.

May 11

What I’ve Been Watching: TV

Since I last posted about my television shows I love, I’ve found several more.  Yay, TV!

River Monsters. I’m not sure when or how I started to watch this show.  It must have been a night when there was nothing on, and MB and I were just flipping through the channels.  We both love most animal shows, though I’m not usually a fan of the “hyper guy who communes with wild animals” variety because, well, the guy is all hyper and annoying.

But Jeremy Wade isn’t hyper.  He’s very calm – as a fisherman, he has to be – and knowledgeable.  A biologist, he’s an expert angler who actually speaks some of the languages of the places he visits.  Plus most of the river “monsters” are the craziest ass fish I’ve ever seen.  They seem to either have deadly teeth, deadly scales, deadly random body parts that stick up every which way, and sometimes are GINORMOUS.

Parks and Recreation. Last year, I tried watching a couple of episodes but couldn’t get into it.  It was okay, but I didn’t think it was that funny, and simply didn’t understand the appeal.

Then I saw the episode about Li’l Sebastian.  I saw the episode about Li’l Sebastian’s funeral.  I saw Ron Swanson sitting in the donut hole of a ridiculous round desk, slowly turning away from people talking to him.  I was hooked.

Raising Hope. This was another show I thought was dumb at first, despite that fact that it has Martha Plimptom, who I’ve loved since The Goonies, Garrett Dillahunt, who I also love despite the fact that he totally confused me by playing two different characters on Deadwood, Cloris Leachman (who doesn’t love Cloris Leachman?), and not to mention that adorable baby.

I think at first I watched it just because it was after Glee, but then I saw the promo for the germ episode, and found myself waiting in anticipation to watch it again and again.  Just the promo, you understand.  I don’t think I even saw the actual episode.

What I love about this show is that the actors totally own it.  Not just the Martha, Garrett, and Cloris, but the main guy (whatever his name is), the girl who used to be on The Riches, the brown-tooth girl, and the other weirdos from the supermarket.  And Martha Plimpton’s and Garrett Dillahunt’s characters have been together since they were teenagers and still love each other.  Aww!  I’m a sucker.

Bob’s Burgers. I literally cheer whenever there’s a new Bob’s Burgers on. From the same guy who does Archer, it is so frigging hilarious, I don’t even care what the plots are.  All I want to hear is what’s gonna come out of the kids’ mouths next.  And the mom too.  Just imagining her (or his) voice makes me giggle.

And the show’s kinda wholesome!  If saving your daughter’s birthday party with tranny hookers is wholesome that is.

Game of Thrones. Oh. My. God.  I had to check this out after seeing some of my Twitter buddies tweeting about it so enthusiastically.  It has more than delivered.  It’s like a very fucked up Camelot (or Merlin, or Legend of the Seeker, or Lord of the Rings, or what have you).  How fucked up?  Like heads being only almost beheaded (think blood spurting, lots of it), and incest sex.  Correction: twin incest sex.

And it’s really fucking cool too.  Strong female characters.  Subtle touches of magic.  Great acting.

And if I’m not mistaken, there seems to be a new Bob’s Burgers AND Game of Thrones this weekend.  Sounds like a perfect Memorial Day to me.