Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Diary

The Diary by Robert Barbere | A Constantly Racing Mind
Let me explain.  This book was to be my journal... a diary of sorts.  I was planning to keep notes and messages to myself of items that I need to purchase, and errands I needed to run.  I had wished to keep a daily account of this generation.  So that our decedents will have a rather truthful idea, as to how we lived our lives.  The history books today the schools force our young to study are inaccurate, and motivated chiefly by politics.  For this reason I was was going to keep a diary.  Instead, I shall write a story...  A rather weird story, if you don't mind.  One problem with this story still remains it is that the tale that I am telling is not yet finished.  No...  One more act to complete, the final act if you will.  But this act is an act of desperation.  Let me begin my story...

Today is August 20, 1937.  I awoke at my customary time and had my customary breakfast of two eggs, scrambled, two slices of toast smeared with orange marmalade, and a tall glass of milk.  Outside the weather was beautiful, not a cloud in the azure sky.  I could see the tall majestic trees from my bedroom window.  The birds were calling to each other, and I could feel my humanity on the morning of that day.  From my kitchen window, I could smell the freshness of the crisp morning air.  That is something you won't see in a few years with these abominable contraptions springing up from the assembly lines like rabbits.  Instead of purifying the system, these foul monsters bellow there awful stench of corruption that we call exhaust into the air.  I, of course, don't own such a beast; I must do all of my travelling on foot.

T oday is the day I go browsing at my favorite bookseller, Howard Block's New and Used Books.’  Mr. Block, the proprietor of this establishment sheltering ancient volumes of new and forgotten lore, is a curious fellow with a somewhat morbid sense of humor.  He seems more like the kind of gentlemen who should be writing horror, rather than selling it.

M y walk was peaceful and rather uneventful.  My journey took no longer than half an hour.  I arrived at a quarter past ten, thankful that not too many automobiles were about.  Block had just opened for business a few minutes before my arrival and he was still unpacking some books he had recently acquired from an estate auction.

I opened the door and entered.  The four lamps inside the store gave off a dim yellowish glow.  The store itself was jammed packed with books.  Books to the right, books to the left and books in front of me.  Most of these books were old but in very good condition.  There were some new books, mostly fiction.

"Why hello, Mr. Thornton!  I see we're early today.”  Block said, then quickly added, "How are you today?"

"Splendid, just splendid.”  I replied.

H e lifted one of his boxes onto the counter while I looked at some of his newer stuff; pulp magazines like "Weird Tales" and other assorted trash.  He then called me over to his counter.  He had that mischievous gleam in his eyes that I had come to know so well. 

"Richard," he said in a semi-whisper as he leaned over the counter.  The store was empty save the two of us, so I don't know why he was whispering.

"I do believe that I have something that may be of great interest to you."

Knowing that I am a historian at heart, he said those words in exactly that particular way, just so he could whet my appetite.  No doubt, my friend has come across a set of old diaries.
His eyes gazed toward the storeroom, and then glanced out the store window.  Feigning suspicion, he turned back to me and said, "I have just purchased some books at auction from the Moriarity Estate – the big one just outside of town."  His body straightened and his ever-present smile became twisted in morbid humor.  I stood there shortly with my slack jaw gaping at him.  Block had acquired the personal possessions of the most decadent family of this era!

The Moriaritys moved here from the East Coast just after the turn of the century.  Wallace Moriarity was a businessman and was deeply involved with the stock market.  As a matter of fact, he spent a good deal of time on Wall Street; Wallace was seldom seen here on the West Coast.  When the stock market crashed back in '29, well... so did Wallace.  Right out the window he went and thirty floors down.  His wife and child took it rather hard... but not as hard as Wallace!  In the years since Wallace's untimely demise, his wife Elizabeth had went slowly, and totally insane until about a week ago she was found floating in her bathtub, drowned.  As for their only child Charles, he went screaming out into the woods one rainy night and was never seen again alive.  About a week later, a badly decomposed and beheaded corpse was found hanging by the legs from the limb of a tree near the old crypt.

As for the "old crypt," no one is sure for whom it was built nor are they sure by whom.  The people of my town shun the place as if the Lucifer himself lived there.  Charles's former head was found impaled upon the iron-spiked fence that surrounded the crypt.  Of Charles, nothing decent can be said, for he was mixed up with the things of the occult and of the devil.  Charles is not unlike most of our misguided youth of today.  Like as not, Charles was out in the woods with some of his creepy friends conjuring up spirits.  Mayhaps the spirit awoke from his "dirt nap" and turned on poor Charles...  serves him right.

Howard was about to lead me into storage room in the back of the store, when another customer entered.  I turned to see a young lady dressed entirely in black, as if she just came from a funeral.  Her face was veiled, but I am sure it was just as attractive as the rest of her figure.  Her black dress contrasted weirdly with the out of doors, but seemed quite at home in this refuge for second had books.  She was wearing a perfume that reminded me of lilacs.  The scent was barely noticeable, although it did seem to give the musty old bookstore new life.

"Go ahead.”  Block said to me, "There's a trunk in the corner full of old books."

He was off, turning on his charm to the mysterious young lady in black, always in the hopes of making a sale.  I opened the door of the storeroom and entered into darkness.  I fumbled for the light-switch, and then found it.  All around me were more books, stacks upon stacks of books.  All were in various stages of decay.  Some had wormholes, while others were just rotting with age... and all were very, very, dusty.  In the corner of the cramped room, just as my antique friend of mine, had said, was in the old trunk.  The trunk looked as if it was made in the seventeenth century it had all the sights of fine craftsmanship about it.  The trunk stood about three feet in height, three and a half feet in length, and another two in width.  The trunk had one of those rounded tops and painted entirely black.  

Surrounding the trunk was two tarnished bands of brass.  These bands clasped and hinged the old trunk.  Only one lock was upon the trunk, and a skeleton key was inserted within, as if holding in some dark secret of the past.  The single light in the storeroom began a maddening flicker.  Long ominous shadows came and went as the light went on and off.  I crossed over to the trunk on a well-used dustless path.  I stooped over the trunk and turned a well-used dustless path.  I stooped over the trunk and turned the single key in the lock.  The lock uttered a loud click as the tumblers released it secrets of the centuries.  I stood back, away from the trunk; my mouth felt dry and a sense of uneasiness came over me.  I did not want to open the trunk.  I hesitated, staring at the patch of undisturbed dust in the center of the lid.  In the flickering light, I moved to brush the dust away.  I was thinking to myself of the horror of twisted fate!  In the alternate moments of light and darkness, I could clearly see the initials C. M. painted in red on the lid.

All was in deathly silence in this mausoleum for tomes forgotten.  I stared at the trunk, contemplating the blasphemes stored within.  I thought to myself, this... this is why I am here, to see out how other people’s lives were lived.  I am a voyeur into the past.  Curiosity replaced fear; at least now, someone would know the truth about the late House Moriarity.
I opened the trunk...

No long dead spirit leaped out to take my soul.  Nor did any sort of unimaginable evil be let loose into the world, as in the classical Greek tale of Pandora and her box...  It was just a box.  A musty box at that, filled with more dusty books.  I knelt at the box as if it were an alter and began to rummage through it.  The contents of the trunk were even more horrible than my first fears led me to believe.  The first item was leather bound book written entirely in Latin.  The title was, however, unmistakable, it was "The Necronomican" written in the 8th century A.D. by some crazy Arab.  Before me was a 15th century translation into Latin from the Arab language.  I slid that abhorred book into the corner farthest from myself.  The trunk included some recent pieces of correspondence from young Charles to an Englishman by the name of Crowley.  Under the letters was a crumbling copy of the "The King In Yellow.”  The remains of that foul book went into the same defiled corner.  All sorts of dreaded volumes filled that corrupted trunk, a well-used copy of "De Vermis Mysteriis," “Cultes des Goules," "The Book of Eibon," and a fourth edition of reprint of "The Egyptian Book of the Dead," and strangest of all' a monkey's paw.  These books of the blameless and the dead went into that now filled, dark corner.  What kind of monster was Charles Moriarity?  While searching among the past, I have come across the more wicked side of the human race.  I know something of the summonings, of the banishments, and the ways of the Dark Rites are not completely lost to me.

Death | A Constantly Racing Mind

The light stopped flickering.  My eyes fell upon the single book lying within the trunk.  I became short of breath, my head became extremely light, and I started to swoon.  I sat myself down on a stool that was in the shadow-darkened corner.  As I looked at the final consistent of the trunk, I had a flash of de-ja-vu.  I saw a seaside village on the New England coast.  Behind the village was the savage filled forest of our Pilgrim ancestors.  I continued to stare into the trunk not fully believing my own eyes.  At the very bottom of the trunk was a diary.  However, this "diary" bore the name of none other than mine own.  It read.  in a hand written flourish of a much older time than my own, "The Diary of the Hounorable Richard B. Thornton, Esq." Underneath my name, also written in the same lavish script was the legend; "Written in the year of our lord sixteen hundred and ninety three.”  This was too much for my already failing heart.  How in heaven's name did my name get into that evil trunk?  My hands were trembling uncontrollably as I picked up that centuries old volume bearing my name.  Aye.  Yes, that be my name Richard B. Thornton.  As far as I knew, none other had existed in my ancestral past.  I did not open the book right away.  I couldn't... not here, where others were about.  I would have to wait until I was once again in the solitude of my own abode.  I took the diary with me as I walked out of the storeroom, turning off the once again flickering light.

Back in the storefront Howard. was reading one of those "Weird Tales" magazines I had mentioned earlier.  The woman in black was gone and the store was empty save Block and myself.

"How much for this old thing?”  I inquired, holding up the diary so he could only see the back.

"Well... lemme see if that 'old thing' in the relic in good condition I may just want to hold onto it.”  He said with a wolfish grin, the one he gets when he knows there is something I want terribly. I did not want him to see my name on the cover of the diary so I said, "How about letting me take this book home, and give it a good going over.  Then I’ll make you an offer?”  A deal, he often agreed to

"Geeee....  I don't know.”  He stalled, making me wait in suspense at his verdict, a game he often liked to play.

"Being that you are a good friend and customer, I don't see why not.”  I thanked him for his courtesy and then took my leave with my diary.

I walked out of the store and into what had started out to be a fine day and turned miserably overcast.  The wind was picking up and I had not brought even so much as a sweater.  I huddled the book closer to my cold body and began to scurry home.

I must not have been thinking on where I was going – my mind was on the diary that I held close to my bosom.  I stepped off the sidewalk and into the street, to almost be run down by one of those infernal automobiles.  I looked up to see it barreling down upon me.  I know not why I did this, but I held the diary in front of me as I scrambled back to the sidewalk.

I continued my trek homeward ever watchful for those damned machines on the loose.  All right, I must admit it; from that moment on, I became somewhat paranoid.  It wasn't til the fog rolled in that I felt the icy knife of fear cut through my already quivering soul. I felt safe walking next to the church in the older section of town, going that way in the hopes of saving time.  My shadow twisted up, long and gargoyle like on the brown stone wall.  My pace quickened, and once I thought I heard noises behind me, like the swishing of a dress.  The air hung heavy with the scent of perfume.  I turned the corner and entered into the more run-down section of town.  Here the houses were in ill repair and on the verge of collapsing.  The houses are to be torn down in about a week or so.  The former residents would have already vacated the premises.  Yet I am sure there were a few "hangers on" in these dilapidated structures.  I know this for a fact, due to the feeling that those from within were watching me.  Twice I swore that had indeed seen someone but I could not be sure.  It began to drizzle as I hurried past this section of town and made my way across the open field leading to my house.

My house, built in the early seventies by my father, Hezekiah Thornton, it has been my home for over fifty years now.  I inherited it from my father upon his death, which unfortunately came upon his fiftieth birthday.  A word about my father, he was the kind of no nonsense type of person.  He was the kind of man who believed only in what he saw.  He was a brave man and he fought in the war with the south.  Born in Massachusetts, he lived his first twenty years there until he went to serve in the Union army back in '62.  After the blood and destruction that ravaged the country, my father moved here to the west coast.  He built his house, and then settled down to raise a family.  I have lived my last twenty years here in comfort and solitude doing my research into the past.

I made it home alive, in spite of being followed by some unseen foe.  I locked my door and checked it, as was already a custom of mine.  The excitement of my journey home made it impossible for me to examine the diary right away.  My nerves were almost spent!  First, I must have a cup of soothing coffee.  I sat the diary upon the bookcase and proceeded to the kitchen to brew a cup of relief.  In about ten minutes, I paced back and forth, for what seemed like hours, I was sitting at the table enjoying my coffee.

I almost choked.  Sitting there on the table in front of me was the diary.  How it got there, I am not sure.  I said I put the diary on the bookcase, didn't I?  Yes I did, I put it on the ... bookcase.  Yet before me as I sat at my table then feet from the bookcase was the ... diary.  I started to reach for it then halted.  No, not yet, I was not ready for any revelation the diary may unfold.  The drizzle outside turned to rain and I could already hear thunder.  I got up away from the kitchen table -- with only my coffee.  My intention was to light a fire in the fireplace.  Lightning flashed and the electricity went out, and with it the lights.  I stood in momentary darkness as I contemplated my next move.  I sat my cup down on the mantelpiece and reached for a box of matches.  I found them and then after one, two...  three strokes I was once again in the light.  Using the match as a guide, I went into my bedroom and returned with an old kerosene lamp I saved.  I walked back to the fireplace to get my coffee and to resume lighting my fire.  To my utter horror -- on the mantelpiece was my coffee... resting on the diary?  I almost dropped the lamp as I staggered backwards in surprise.  I almost dropped the lamp as I staggered backwards in surprise.  I almost dropped the lamp -- scratch that.  I started to repeat myself.  Mustn't do that, people will think me mad.  Some sorcery surely is about.  I left the diary on the table in the kitchen.

Resigning myself to fate, I sat down at my desk; I opened the worn diary, not unlike the one I am writing in now.  There was no title page but an introduction of sorts, written entirely in English.  It was not uncommon for one to keep his or her diary in a language other than their native tongue.  The introduction was dated at eleven fifty-nine on August 19th.  The script was archaic and the English seemed awkward but not entirely too difficult.  The Diary was written in the same language as The King James edition of the Bible.  The single light of my lamp caused the book to glow.  The introduction read:

"Good Sirs, pray let me explain.”  I sat there breathing heavily as the lightning flashed horribly outside.  Those words, where have I have I heard them before?  I sat there staring out the window as those first words continued to haunt me.  I glanced back at the book, then back to the window.  I think I saw someone standing just outside my house.  I dismissed the thought of a prowler from my mind and began to read some more.  "I was planning to keep a journal of this year.”  Somewhere I thought... somewhere!  "Instead, I shall keep an account of the dealings I undertook with Hazeroth, captain of His most unholy legions, and my mentor.”  This Richard Thornton was a sorcerer and knew magick.  I turned to about the middle of the diary and my eyes fell on this paragraph:

"I stood out in the virgin forest with not a stitch of clothes on my person.  I held in me hand a chalice filled with blood, human blood.  I gazed up past the trees into the star filled nite.  Me black slave Adjubah, was screaming her chants before a boiling cauldron.  A greenish smoke rose up into the nite.  Some of the town girls were dancing around the giant pot.  Adjubah called to me and said to concentrate on the moon!  I focused my attention on that blood red sphere.  But me thoughts wandered back to the cup in me hand.  In it the blood of Goody Williams, a leader in the recent witch trials in Salem.  Suddenly Adjubah's eyes bulged like those of a frog, and she started to speak.  Yet she spake as if she be a man.  The voice was deep and guttural, filled with hate.

"You shall be called Balthazar, my eternal servant.”  I shook with fear and astonishment as it continued.  "I Harzeroth, captain of these most unholy legions will school you the lessons concerning life, death, and immorality.”  Balthazar my dear friend shall accompany me in the final days as a sorcerer, a lieutenant of HIS army."

"Yes, I was a great conjurer, the most learned in Magick.  But alas, in the fiftieth year of life in this physical plane I saw reason to fear the cursed Reaper.  In the course of my conjuring, I took what was hers, and she was angered.  She set watch on me for almost two years.  She haunted me until alas my body became weary and was consumed by her."

Here the book seemed to be directing its words at me!  The diary took on the tone of a lecturer and gave this warning.  "Behold Richard Balthazar Thornton, listen, and be forewarned, Death came unto me as a woman in the guise of one recently widowed.  She took my body, but she DID NOT TAKE MY SOUL.  Nay, my soul shall be hidden for centuries until YOU Richard Balthazar Thornton shall give me my total release.  Then we shall be -- ONE."

On the following page was an engraving, a woodcut -- it was of me!  The garments I was wearing were that of the sixteen hundreds.  The picture seemed to glow and pulsate.  I sat away from my desk.  Suddenly insight came and I saw the awful truth!  The trunk was the hiding place of the demon of my past.  I closed the book, my body was bathed in sweat, and I was trembling.  The suddenly, just as swiftly as the first thought came, I had another: Each and every event of today was as if a prophecy was trying to be fulfilled -- The Diary I found, the woman in black, the car trying to kill me, and being followed and watched on my way home.

I got up quickly and began to light up the fireplace.  A sense of urgency hung in the air, as I got a modes blaze going.  The air smelled of lilac once more, and I knew Death was approaching.  I must play out the final Act before it is too late.  I MUST BURN THE DIARY.  I wish not to share my remaining years with a God forsaken demon.

I am RICHARD BALTHE BARCLAY THORNTON ESQ. and I have destroyed the Diary.  After writing what could have been my last entry of my Story -- the door blew open and an icy wind appeared.  The lamp blew and then disappeared.  The curtain flew; then She appeared.  The scent of lilac turned slowly to the stench of rotting flesh.  I threw the book into the fire -- but merciful God, the Diary DID NOT BURN.  I threw more wood onto the fire until it became almost a bonfire.  Death entered and took slow, gloating steps toward me.  Think!  Think!  I grabbed a poker that was standing next to the fireplace.  I reached into the fire and retrieved the Diary from the pit.  There was not a burn mark on that book!  It was even cool to the touch.  I looked up to see Death getting ever closer.  Panic stricken, I began to tear the books into shreds.  Page by page, piece by miserable piece went into the fiery pit of my furnace.  I was left with only the cover in my hand.  The stench of decayed flesh became overpowering, I looked up to see Death stretching out a withered, bony hand.  My back was pressed up against the mantel and I could feel the heat of the fire behind me.  Quickly I flicked the cover into the fire as the cover burned.  Death ceased to call.

On the last page of the diary of Richard B. Thornton, written in archaic English Script was this final paragraph.

"Richard Balthazar Thornton sat there with a grim smile of relief.  As he closed his diary, he leaned back in the chair and looked up at the mantelpiece.  Only to discover that THE DIARY still existed and was sitting there.  His smile faded as he felt the soft hand of a woman’s on his shoulder.  He turned slowly, fearfully to see the owner of that warm, soft hand.  As he did so, the hand became the hand of Death."

Balthazar, 1937

The End

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How To Roast A Turkey

I know it is unusual for me to post an infographic on cooking a turkey. However, It being Thanksgiving, this is appropriate for the occasion
A Visual Guide to Roasting Your First Turkey
Source of Infographic: Column Five Media.

The Bay: Rain Man Director Barry Levinson Works The Found Footage Frontier

Iwant to start by confessing that in general, I am not a fan of found footage films. That being said, I have found a few that I find somewhat exceptional, and "The Bay" is one of them. Since "The Blair Witch Project," found footage has been a staple of the Horror genre. Director Barry Levinson ("Sphere," "Rain Man") assembles a film that gives the impression of a well-made documentary with no shock endings where the camera suddenly breaks, or just goes black. The camera work, while documentary-style, is not shaky nor does it make one nauseous, nor is too distracting. Levinson and co-writer Michael Wallach presents us with a story that, with just a little imagination, may not be too far off in the future. In many ways, I find "The Bay" superior to "The Europa Report," "Apollo 18," and more or less on the same level of "The Last Exorcism." In many ways, I like this movie over the all four "Paranormal Activity" films. The horror that infests "The Bay" is interesting enough to keep the viewer engaged for all of the film's 84 minutes. There is enough gore shown to give the film an R rating. 

What makes "The Bay" stand out has more to do with the advancements in technology and the fact that everybody now can be their own journalist. The fact is, in this day and age, we are constantly under surveillance, either by our friends with their cell phones, by the government tapping into security camera feeds, or by the need that many of us possess to share with the world our thoughts via the internet. Levinson does this by building a story, with a few main characters in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay. In some ways, one can compare "The Bay" with Steven Spielberg's “Jaws.” Like the 1975 film, bad things start happening in the fictional small town. In this case, it is the town of Claridge Maryland. The film is a retrospective of the events of July 4, 2009. Levinson frames the events as part of a documentary done a few years later and told by a local news intern by the name of Donna (Kether Donohue) and two marine biologists, Jaquline and Sam, played by Nansi Aluka and Christopher Denham. Also like the Mayor in “Jaws,” Mayor Stockman (Frank Deal), not wanting to start a panic, plays down the evidence of mounting doom as something not to get alarmed about. Unlike "Jaws," director Barry Levinson tells the story chronologically out of order using Skype, cell phones, digital video, and security feeds.

Amateur newscaster Donna tells us immediately that the U.S. government for the last few years has been working to keep this incident a secret. The Marine Biologist found fish in the bay with a parasite that is eating them from the inside out. We see scenes of police officers Jimson and Paul (played by Michael Beasley and Jody Thompson) responding to calls throughout the day as the epidemic spreads. Dr. Abrams() from the local hospital in Claridge gives the view as the mounting deaths in the hospital as the infestation spirals out of control.  Shots of the carnage at the hospital as he emerges from his hiding place, with the only hope of stopping a future event of this sort. We see footage of doctors at Atlanta's CDC pondering and ultimately just passing on the information obtained by Sam and Jaquline after their demise. What the two scientists found in the many fish that they were examining was an enormous amount of giant isopods. Although there are no definite conclusions, about what has caused this bio-terror is the runoff from the town's chicken farms into the water. As we are all probably aware, or not, that the chickens we eat are injected with hormones to help them mature faster so they can get to the market sooner. The hormones affect the isopods, causing them to grow larger than they normally would. Once they enter the human body by eating fish or drinking water with the isopods, humans too become infected.

Levinson presents a series of images that gives an unlyrical, realistic, and complete picture of an epidemic's rise, the battle for survival, and the government's crackdown on the survivors. The downside of presenting material this way, is the lack of character development, and therefore no real protagonist to cheer for. The enemy is also handled in a somewhat sanitized way, making the horror not the enlarged sea creature, but the actual suppression in the media of the event itself. Along with Levinson, producer Jason Blum ("Insidious" "Paranormal Activity") and Oren Pelli ("Chernobyl Diaries") work together to bring out the subtleties of this type of horror. Remember, this is a Science Fiction film, and what Levinson offers up is a possibility of a future of an ecologically unbalanced world. Whether or not you are into ecological terror films, found footage films, or documentaries, Levinson's "The Bay" is worth 84 minutes of your time.

Movie Data

Genre: Horror,Sci-Fi,Thriller
Year:  2012
Staring: Nansi Aluka, Christopher Denham, Kether Donohue, Stephen Kunken, Frank Deal
Director: Barry Levinson
Producer(s): Jason Blum, Barry Levinson, Oren Peli,Steven Schneider
Writer: Michael Wallach, Barry Levinson
Rating: R
Release Date: 11/21/2012
Running Time: 84 minutes

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Counselor: Cinematically Correct -- Ridley Scott's Fatefully Flawed Filmed

The Counselor ~ The Cast | A Constantly Racing MindD irector Ridley Scott, novelist, and now screenwriter Cormac McCarthy have joined to bring to the screen one shocking tale of sex and drugs that I have seen in a long time.  The Counselor treads into areas of humanity that most people would rather not tread.  Cormac McCarthy's original screenplay looks at the dark and twisted side of human nature.  "The Counselor" has an all-star cast of the likes of Michael Fassbender ("Prometheus," "Shame"), Penélope Cruz ("Vanilla Sky," "Blow"), Javier Bardem ("No Country for Old Men," "Skyfall"), Brad Pitt ("Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), and Cameron Diaz ("Vanilla Sky," "The Box").  While the cast turns in strong performances, Ridley Scott works hard to make McCarthy's bumpy script work in delivering a story about the consequences of the decisions that we make.  There are no do-overs in this one.  Some strange scenes and hilarious dialog go on in "The Counselor" that makes this film worth watching.  "The Counselor" is rated R for the violence, the language, the sexual content and runs just under two hours.

“A diamond announces a woman's frailty while enhancing her beauty.”

Living in El Paso, the man who only goes by his title of Counselor (Fassbender) finds himself in debt, and decides to invest in a drug trafficking venture with Reiner (Bardem), his flamboyant and shady business partner.  Needless to say, the deal goes bad pretty quickly and things get pretty bad for most of the cast.  I must say, that the opening scene came off as unexpectedly crude in-spite of the excellent cinematography invoking a dreamy, sensual atmosphere.  The Counselor and his girlfriend, Laura (Cruz), are literally under the white, flowing sheets having a bit of raunchy pillow talk, which turns quickly to the Counselor having oral sex with Laura.  Since Fassbender's role as Brandon in 2011's "Shame," I found him in this role expected.  Cruz on the other hand was unnerving.  Opening the film with this scene lets the audience know that the boundaries in this film are about to stretch, perhaps a bit too far.  The Counselor enjoys a very stylish life and dresses to show it.  He also likes expensive things.  In fact, the Counselor takes a trip to Europe to purchase an expensive 3.5 caret diamond from Bruno Ganz ("Unknown," "The Reader") with a color rating around a "g" or an "h.”  The closer to the letter "a" in the alphabet, the letter is the more clear it is.  Ganz's performance as the diamond dealer serves as our first warning that life is precarious, and decisions matter.  Although he is just selling diamonds, his tone is cautionary and foreboding, and with a certain matter of fact attitude.  Upon returning to Texas, he proposes to Laura over dinner at an upscale local restaurant.

The Counselor ~ Cameron Diaz - Penelope Cruz | A Constantly Racing Mind

"Smart women are an expensive hobby."

As a lawyer, he has many sketchy clients that he can call upon to help with his money problems.  He turns to Bardem's character, Reiner who lives an extravagant lifestyle with his girlfriend Malkina (Diaz).  As the first part of her name "Mal" implies, there is something wrong with her.  Laura represents the idea of today's perfect woman, beautiful, but modest, she is cautious about her sexuality, but willing to go let with the one she loves.  While Malkina is the seductress whose purpose in life is to corrupt men's souls, destroy their lives, and eat them for breakfast.  Her moral values cause even Reiner to question his involvement with her.  In the scene where, after contemplating his money problems, the Counselor meets with Reiner, he asks if Reiner's office is safe to talk.  Reiner replies that he doesn't know, that it might be bugged, and then finally that it probably wasn't.  Giving the audience the impression, that something is going to go wrong.  Reiner, with his spiked hair, flamboyant clothes, and general odd demeanor makes his "Skyfall" character a little saner.  He warns the Counselor that once he is in with this deal, there is no turning back and that there will be consequences if it fails.

"Men are drawn to flawed women.  Men think they can fix them.  Women don't want to fix anything; they just want to be entertained."

Reiner is a conflicted character.  He isn't conflicted about his lifestyle, his business with drugs, or the vibe he gives off.  He is very comfortable with those aspects of his life.  No, Reined is conflicted about the woman he loves; and that would be Malkina.  When we see the two together in an early scene, Malkina is in the desert, on a horse, racing a cheetah (Reiner and Malkina are eccentrics).  Like the cat, Malkina, too is like an animal, feline, she likes the chase, she likes the hunt, there is no good or evil in it, it is what the elegant, and graceful cheetahs do.  Thus, the dilemma, Reiner is so deeply infatuated with Malkina -- it hurts.  However, more significantly, his love for this woman will take him (willfully?) to his end.  When relating the incident of Malkina having sex with his Ferrari, he is not only shocked and disturbed he is violated by it.  Yes, that is what I said; she had sex with the windshield of Reiner's car, while Reiner sits in the car, aghast watches disturbed as he views the spectacle from the passenger's side. The role of Malkina is one of a psychopath, a very beautiful one.  She is clever, smart, and disturbing.  She reeks of sex, and her charms work on both men and women.  However, like a demonic succubus, Diaz does this role justice.

The Counselor ~ Brad Pitt - Micael Fassbender | A Constantly Racing Mind

Brad Pitt plays a Texan whose name is Westray.  His role in the drug deal is a little less clear.  His dialog with the Counselor tends to wax philosophical amidst of his on screen time.  Not that much of what he says makes much sense.  Although Westray is able to get across to the Counselor a warning about getting involved with the Mexican cartels; does the Counselor heed any of the warnings?  No, he doesn't.  Each of the warnings given to him by his partners is both grisly and unique.  Chekhov's gun rule applies here, as all of these aforementioned warnings of gruesome deaths will eventually come to pass.

Having an all-star cast is a definite draw for this film.  But, having all of these great actors in a film that follows none of the typical storytelling traditions, where the editing fails to serve the story, set the pace, but instead only confuses the audience with no apparent pay off in the end.  The drug deal is poorly explained and leaves the audience disorients them even more.  Fassbender's character of the Counselor would be considered tragic in most stories, whereas here, he is just a plain fool.  In spite of strong performances, the under developed characters Ridley Scott does his best to piece this thing together cinematically.  For example, one moment we are in a hotel in Boise Idaho, and the next, I am assuming we are in Mexico walking into an embassy.  It took me a moment to figure that out, if that is where he was.  Near the end of "The Counselor," the Jefe (Rubén Blades) of a drug cartel gives a long and convoluted dissertation on the philosophy of fate and the acceptance of ones consequences.  Quoting the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, Blades rambles on about accepting the death of a loved one, leading the audience deeper into bewilderment.

The Counselor ~ Javier Barder | A Constantly Racing Mind

Cinematically and musically, the film is excellent.  The performances are charismatic and solid, but the writing is weak which leads to choppy editing and scenes of confusion.  As much as I admire and respect Scott, I didn't care much for "The Counselor.”  I was left confused downer of a film and although the message was ultimately clear and simple: Sometimes you must face the consequences of your decisions and although you are willing to accept your fate, the ones you love the most are too affected in ways that may be too horrible to imagine

Movie Data

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt
Director: Ridley Scott
Producer(s): Paula Mae Schwartz, Steve Schwartz, Ridley Scott,Nick Wechsler, Cormac McCarthy
Writer: Cormac McCarthy
Rating: R
Release Date: 10/25/2013
Running Time: 117 minutes

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The East: Brings Us A Study In Consumerism and Authenticity | A Review

The East: Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page | A Constantly Racing Mind

"But if we hurt people, aren't we just as bad as they are?"

I ndependent filmmakers Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling make philosophical films that make you want to ask questions, and examine your own life.  In "Another Earth,” they made us think about our actions and the consequences, and the hope of redemption.  In "The Sound of My Voice," Batmanglij and Marling wanted us to consider the possibility of time travel.  Their stories are thought provoking and they sometimes don't care too much for the rules of storytelling.  In "The East," they have honed their narration skills to much finer point.  The story that "The East" gives us is a look at anarchy, anti-consumerism, and a modern day look at extreme corporate activism.  The film stars co-writer Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård ("Battleship," "Straw Dogs"), Ellen Page ("Juno," "Inception"), Toby Kebbell ("Wrath of the Titans," "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"), and Shiloh Fernandez ("Evil Dead," "Red Riding Hood").  "The East" runs about 2 hours long, is rated PG - 13, and has some interesting characters who we want to care about.

S tarting a movie with a threat, sets the mood immediately and strikingly. What it doesn't tell you is that "The East" builds up the espionage quickly, but evenly.  The film opens up with a scene of an oil-drenched beach and a seagull covered in the goo.  Ellen Page voices over a threat to the corporate eco-terrorist of the world.  The scene changes to hooded terrorist breaking into a nice home in a house in the Hamptons and pouring oil into the vents of the house as a message to the owner, a CEO of a big oil company.  Sarah (Marling) works for an exclusive private spy firm, Hiller-Brood, whose clients are the big corporations.  Sarah (her undercover name) gets a prime assignment from her boss Sharon (Patricia Clarkson), the head of the firm.  The assignment is to infiltrate an anarchist group called The East.  After Sarah has studied the anarchist cell, she prepares to leave for her undercover assignment.  She tells her husband that her assignment is in Dubai.  After her husband (Jason Ritter) drops her off at the airport, she ditches her clothes and luggage, hits the road, and takes off for parts unknown as a homeless drifter.  Her goal is to find those who will help her find the anarchist cell. After some bullying by some rail yard detectives (bullies), she is picked up by Luca (Fernandez) and is given a quick lesson on freeganism.  Yes, that is where you go dumpster diving for food that restaurants must legally dispose of, but is still good to eat.  Sarah is brought to the group seeking medical attention (she cut her arm as a ploy).  Once in the group, she continues her spying and gaining intel on the cell. 

The East: Brit Marling, Shiloh Fernandez | A Constantly Racing Mind

"Why is it self-righteousness goes hand in hand with resistance movements?"

T he different characters that we meet have some interesting backstories.  There is Doc (Kebbell); he’s the group’s medic and a victim of a pharmaceutical company that makes the antibiotic drug Denoxin.  The drug causes the victim to not recognize their own faces, have tendons snap, seizures, and brain damage.  Then there is Izzy (Page).  She is one of the most radical of the group, and the most cynical.  Her crusade against an industrial plant that dumps arsenic into the local water is both heartfelt yet cruel.  She wants to stand up for those who can't.  The leader of the group is Benji (Alexander Skarsgård).  He claims that the people with him are not his followers.  He is both a charismatic figure and a tortured one.  He first appears in the film after about the first 20 minutes looking like a Christ figure, as he is thin with long brown hair.  Despite of what Benji says, he is the cult's leader.  There are others in the group that adds to the dynamic of the film.  Also in the group are Thumbs (Aldis Hodge) as the moral compass of the group, and Tess (Danielle Macdonald) who is the group’s computer hacker.  The activist’s goal is to commit three "jams" or acts of eco-terrorism on three major companies.  Their methods are simple, an eye for an eye.  After each jam, the group loads a video to YouTube announcing what they have done.  Tess encrypts the video so that the FBI can’t track it back to the originating IP address.  Izzy makes the announcements.

"It's easy when it's not your home easy when it's not your life.  The place where you sleep. Your kids, your wife. But when it's your fault it shouldn't be so easy to sleep at night. Especially when we know where you live.  Barry Redmond, CEO of Lorex Oil, 2641 River Road, East Hampton. You dumped fifteen million barrels of crude into the Atlantic. We don't care how rich you are. We want all those who are guilty to experience the terror of their crimes. Because it shouldn't be so easy to get away with murder. Lie to us we'll lie to you. Spy on us we'll spy on you. Poison our habitat we'll poison yours. We are The East and this is just the beginning. We will counterattack three the next six months for their worldwide terrorism.”  ~ Izzy

M arling's character, Sarah, is complex.  She prays and listens to Christian music.  She lies to her husband about her work.  She has her own sense of morality and a certain sense of naivety wrapped within a hard shell of a ambition and confidence.  She is deft at spy craft, she keeps her wits, yet she later succumbs to her feelings about the group and their cause.  She doesn't necessarily agree with their methods and finds herself in the middle of this conflict between the hard right of the corporations and the far left of the anarchist cell.  Sarah sees the utilitarianism of Sharon and her spy firm, and the radical excess of The East.  About a little more than half way through the film, we find her deep in conflict.  She starts to see the inauthenticity of her own life, while she works for the morally corrupt corporations that destroy our world.  Most importantly, she sees how we as individuals support the inequality that consumerism, and therefore capitalism, which allows the rich to benefit at the expense of the labor and suffering of others.  She sees the humanity in the group, and the possibility that she can make a difference.  The group is portrayed as a bunch of fun loving hippy types who feel self-righteous in their cause.  Batmanglij and Marling spent some time in 2009 with an anarchist cell learning their mentality about corporations, consumerism, freeganism, and bathing in a river with a group, thus giving them insight that became the ideas behind this script.  Ellen Page's role is smaller, yet one of the most potent.  As in "Juno," she is a fireball.  She is forceful, smart, and determined.  She later becomes a driving force for Sarah.  There is a scene in the film that is symbolic and foreshadows a later event.  The scene is where Thumbs finds a dead deer in the woods.  A "thrill kill" (kill for sport) that the group doesn't want to go to waste.  The group elects Sarah to cut open the deer so that they can take the meat.  However, Sarah cuts too far and cuts the intestine, crap spills out.

The East: Eco-terrorism and spin the bottle | A Constantly Racing Mind

W hat is poignant about the film is that it brings to the foreground events that we know are going on in the world today.  The government is spying on us; major corporations protect themselves by printing the side effects in small print, and deny that they pollute our water.  In light of Wikileaks and the Edward Snowden incident, "The East" makes a statement.  Marling and Batmanglij's films tend to build the suspense and the drama, but they leave a lot to the imagination when they conclude their films.  I think they do a better job at bringing the "The East" to a conclusion.  As I said before, they tend to leave much to the imagination.  In "The Sound of My Voice," they give you the punch line in the last few moments of the film, and then before you can process what you just saw -- fade to black.  In "Another Earth," the ending is more of a quiet moment of reflection and for some, may have been a letdown.  "The East" is worth watching if you care about global warming, privacy issues, or just about any of humanity's problems.  For me, it was a revelation, which leads me down another level of awareness.

Just remember,
"Those side effects are listed on the side of the bottle.  That is how they rape you in broad daylight."


Movie Data

Genre: Action, Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Year:  2013
Staring: Alexander Skarsgård,Brit Marling,Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Producer(s): Michael Costigan, Jocelyn Hayes, Brit Marling, Ridley Scott,Tony Scott
Writer: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 6/23/2013
Running Time: 116 minutes

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Carrie: Accountability, the Force, Consequences, and the Devil Be Damned

"You know the devil never dies, keeps coming back. But you gotta keep killing him."
ere you one of the popular kids in High School?  Or, were you one of the awkward, shy, or even one of the not so well liked students?  Being the social outsider is the basis of this remake of the Brian De Palma's classic adaptation of the Stephen King's masterpiece, "Carrie. “  I'm not a fan of remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings, although there are some exceptions.  The film stars Chloë Grace Moretz ("Kick Ass," "Let Me In") in the title role of Carrie White.  Jullianne Moore ("Hannibal," "Children of Men") plays her mentally unbalanced, over the top ultra-religious, fundamentalist, and abusive mother.  From the strangely sickening squishy sounds of Carrie's birth at the beginning of the film, to the maelstrom of chaos that climaxes the final act, "Carrie" is a modern day version of King's novel tailored for a more modern and technological savvy generation.

"Is this a test?"

ome films don't need remakes, and this one didn't.  That being said, director Kimberly Pierce ("Boys Don't Cry," "Stop Loss") does a great job of updating an already timeless story, yet giving it a modern day look and feel.  Taking the bulk of Lawrence D. Cohen's original screenplay and having screenwriter Roberto Aguirre - Sacasa do an update on it, Pierce does her due diligence in recreating De Palma's cinematic blood fest, but with more blood and gore.

oretz turns in a strong performance while in extreme wallflower mode.  She plays a young, awkward teen who tries to fit into a world that her religiously fanatical mom hasn't prepared her for.  Kids are mean.  In the case of Carrie White, who, in this internet age of cellphones and YouTube, apparently didn't take health or biology class, thinks she is dying after finding herself having her first period while showering after gym class.  To be fair she was homeschooled for the first few years.  The perfectly fit, clear-skimmed, and self-centered girls in her class "help her out" by throwing tampons and feminine pads at her.  We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and what Aguirre - Sacasa's script does is incorporates these elements into Cohen's already solid script.

"What did Carrie White ever do to you?"

ierce's take on the interpretation of the script, and perhaps King's as well -- in that the mentality of the girls is meaner, and the image of a blood soaked Carrie is gorier, but not any scarier.  Peirce takes her cue from recent remakes where the gore factor is cranked up several notches, like this year’s "Evil Dead," 2010’s "Nightmare on Elm Street," and Rob Zombie's "Halloween.”  Carrie is more sympathetic, prettier, a tad bit smarter, and more sympathetic.  Our antagonist, Chris Hargenson (Portia Doubleday) is an entitled evil bitch of a character whose inability to take responsibility for her deeds.  After posting the cruel video of the tormented Carrie, she is unable to accept the consequences of her actions.  Facing suspension from school and prom, Chris calls upon her daddy to bail her out of trouble.  Her delinquent boyfriend, Billy Nolan (Alexander Russell) is more menacing than "Welcome Back Kotter's" John Travolta.  The somewhat sympathetic character Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) finds she is pregnant in this version.  Her boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort) does a nice job of trying to sooth Carrie’s fears and truly is a gentleman.  Judy Greer (Love & Other Drugs) plays gym coach Ms. Desjardin, and plays her just as caring and sympathetic as Betty Buckley did in the original.

erhaps it's just me, but I don't feel the same reaction to this film as I did to the original.  Part of that may come from the fact that I was only 13 when Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie starred in De Palma's vision of the horror that can manifest itself in mommy – daughter issues on steroids.  I wasn't able to watch it until the early 80's when I saw it on HBO or I rented it on VHS.  At the time, I was truly shocked.  Spacek wasn't quite a household name yet, and at the time of Carrie, she was only really known for playing Holly in "Badlands" starting opposite Martin Sheen as the young lovers based on the Starkweather – Fugate serial murders of the late 1950's.

hloë Moretz has made a name for herself in films like "Kick Ass," and "Hugo.”  Her horror film resume includes the 2005 remake of "The Amityville Horror," the paranormal revenge film "Wicked Little Things," the under par comedic horror Depp fest "Dark Shadows," and "Let Me In," the remake of the Swedish vampire horror film, and now "Carrie.”  Although Chloë's timid, mousy Carrie is believable, I had a hard time not thinking that Hit-Girl would make a less psychic, but more dramatically intense appearance. Or perhaps Abby the vampire would start feeding on her tormentors.

“Go to your closet!”

ulianne Moore's performance is convincing as she goes about mumbling prayers, whispering Bible verses, and reinterprets the Bible to fit her purposes.  With small wooden crosses on every wall of the White's household, Moore's fervent stares, her flagrant self-abuse, and her refusal to live in the 21st century, builds a believable character study of the extreme religious fundamentalist fanatic.  Who can blame her, with the youth of today pairing up and sexually cavorting while sucking each other's face in the school parking lot? 

arco Beltrami’s ("World War Z," "Warm Bodies," "The Woman in Black," "My Soul to Take") score is both emotional and effective.  Gone are the “Psycho” like violin scrapes that accompanied Carrie’s telekinetic outbursts in the original.  Most effectively is during the destruction at the prom.  The score heightens and enhances the emotional turmoil as Carrie flings people and objects around the gym like a Sith Lord in the throes of dark ecstasy as she wields her power as she turns to the dark side as she releases her rage and frustrations at the prom goers.  I think for remakes, or re-imaginings to work, there must be something new meshed harmoniously with the original to make it worthwhile and different, but enough of the original to keep the original fan base around.  A couple examples of this would be, the 2004 TV series “Battlestar Galactica,” and J.J. Abrams alternative time lined “Star Trek.”  Carrie, I think could be better served with a change in casting Moretz in the title role.  She is a good actress, but she is too pretty for the part.  Instead of the girls in the gym class picking on the ugly duckling that is also socially awkward, and introverted, we have the haves picking on the have-nots.  That is a product of Kimberly Peirce’s subtle shifting of the emphasis in mentality and the emotion in the script.

ullying is still an important issue for families everywhere.  Just about every week, I see an article on my Facebook feed about someone’s children who has killed themselves over being bullied at school.  While cinematically we revel at Carrie’s revenge upon her classmates, we know of the true tragedy of bullying and the victim’s desire for revenge can have first hand – in real life.  That is because we live in a post Columbine age.  Carrie is interesting in that the film shows us a divide in the United States of social class, religious thought, and even an underlying split in politics. The Whites lives in a modest house, and Margaret works at a dry-cleaners doing tailoring and repairs.  They are modest, they are religious, and they are different.  Peirce uses extremes to show these differences.  At school, there is a social divide, Carrie is cute, but the other girls are pretty and privileged, they go to hair salons and have cell phones.

ne of the best things that Peirce does is update the hairstyles and the clothing of the characters.  Besides Beltrami’s score, songs from Passion Pit, Cults, and A Place to Bury Strangers play in the background throughout the prom, and during the film.  Carrie is an okay movie that will keep you entertained and at least part of the movie, will give you a sense of horror.  I would wait for the Blu-ray or DVD on this one. 

Movie Data

Genre: Drama, Horror
Year:  2013
Staring: Julianne Moore, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Producer(s): Kevin Misher
Writer: Lawrence D. Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Stephen King
Rating: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date:  10/18/2013