I’ve been streaming a lot of documentaries on Netflix lately

Here are 3 that I really enjoyed.

cropseyJoshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio start with the urban legend of Cropsey, Staten Island’s version of the hook-handed madman who chops up kids; segue into the story of Andre Rand, convicted of kidnapping (but not murdering) a local child who turned up in a shallow grave on the grounds of an abandoned mental institution; and balloon into the investigation of a rash of child disappearances in the 1980s. Along the way they encounter rumors of Satanism, necrophilia, and a cult of homeless people living in the service tunnels under the Willowbrook State School.

I have no idea if Rand is guilty or not. He’s clearly mentally ill, but that doesn’t make him a murderer. I’m disturbed that there was absolutely no physical evidence against him, just vague eyewitness accounts, sometimes decades after the fact–including a woman who says that when she was 6 she saw a masked Rand offer candy to one of the victims–and that Jennifer Schweiger’s body was found in an area that had been searched dozens of times, in a grave so shallow that her arm and leg were sticking out of it. And my hackles always raise whenever anyone starts blabbering about “Satanic black masses”.

But ultimately that’s the point: not whether or not Rand is guilty, but society’s need to invent demonic scapegoats, rather than confront the failings that created human monsters.

resurrect dead

I remember hearing about the Toynbee Tiles a long time ago, I think probably on Snopes.com–the message board was my first real interaction with the internet; creating content and communicating with other people, as opposed to just reading things. This is exactly the kind of weird, random thing that I get obsessed with all the time; but Justin Duerr and his Scooby Gang take it off the internet and into the streets, interviewing short wave radio enthusiasts and the residents of a colorful south Philly neighborhood, sifting through clues as diverse as a one-act play by David Mamet and a Philadelphia rowhouse address found on a tile in Santiago de Chile. One thing I thought was interesting about the tiles that wasn’t really covered was that what they were made of and how they were affixed was part of the mystery (apparently linoleum, asphalt crack-filling compound, and tar paper, then allowing cars to drive over it).

Ultimately they come to a plausible, if unverifiable conclusion about who is making the tiles and why. Copycats have since started placing tiles all over the world, which was the Toynbee Tiler’s end goal: many of the tiles contained little sidebars that read “You must make + glue tiles! YOU!!!” (Supposedly there’s one in New Orleans somewhere, although it may have been paved over by now.) The Tiler thought if he could just publicize his idea–that of a “scientific heaven” on Jupiter where dead people are brought back to life*–enough, it would happen.

*Presumably he only meant cool dead people. I mean I don’t know how you can have heaven with, say, Albert Fish running around.

4587534971_8712a9e068_zThe Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death were apparently the inspiration behind the “Miniature Killer” storyline on CSI:, and I wonder if they’re also the reason why Lester Freamon carved dollhouse furniture. They’re on permanent loan to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office and still used as training aids by the Baltimore PD; David Simon followed the BPD for a year for his book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which was the inspiration for the HBO series The Wire. (The Baltimore connection also explains why this movie is narrated by John Waters.)

Frances Glessner Lee constructed painstakingly accurate 1:12 dioramas of crime scenes. She attended autopsies, read case files, and even wore used clothing (even though she was heiress to the International Harvester fortune) to obtain realistically worn fabric with which to make the doll’s clothing.

The film makers also make a trip to the Body Farm in Tennessee, which initially seemed like an effort to pad out the running time. But there are parallels to be drawn between the two: what at first seems like morbid frivolity are actually extremely valuable, if unconventional, crime-solving tools.

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the best part of ‘the last exorcism’ was the preview for the guillermo del toro remake of ‘don’t be afraid of the dark’

SPOILER ALERTS, although I doubt anyone gives a shit: The Last Exorcism was lamesauce, obviously. Actually, it was a semi-decent, if by-the-book and unamazing, possession horror movie; until the last 10 minutes, when it turned into a circa 1986 Dokken video. The “twist” was some Reagan-era claptrap about Satanic cults, right down to demonic fetuses and some dude wearing a hooded red robe. All it was missing was someone playing a Judas Priest record backwards. People in the theater were actually laughing and throwing popcorn at the screen.

The thing that annoyed me the most was that it was one of those “found footage” movies, like The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield, so it was all motion sickness-inducing handheld shakycam… yet it had a soundtrack. Umm, what?

The main reason we went to see it was that it took place and was filmed in Louisiana. (Although not a single character had even the ghost of any kind of an accent.) People cheered when “Baton Rouge, LA” appeared on the screen at the beginning. But early on the film makers let it be known how much they think of the state: there’s this scene where they’re driving out to the isolated dirt farm where the allegedly possessed girl lives, and there’s an alligator by the side of the road. And the con man/exorcist pauses the car, looks right into the camera, and smirks.

Clearly the film makers intend the presence of alligators to be visual shorthand for what an ass-backwards state full of ignorant crackers Louisiana is. You know what, FUCK YOU. Yes, we have alligators here. They were here first. That doesn’t mean we’re all a bunch of cousin-fucking toothless banjo players.

I make cracks about this state all the time; but the difference is that I chose to make it my home, my family’s history goes back here for literally hundreds of years, and I actually love it. Seeing a bunch of plastic Hollywood snobs treat it like a punchline in and of itself makes me wish they’d all get devoured by hungry alligators.

Besides, them’s good eatin’.

i have been neglecting my online journals lately

The ironic thing is that I have been doing some paper journaling that I’m really proud of lately. I just don’t have time at work to fool around online anymore; besides which it’s a law firm and they probably keep track of shit like that and I really like my job. I ain’t losing it because I just HAD to rebut the latest dumb thing the conservitard teabaggers have come up with. (Side note: One thing I like about Louisiana is that people still use the word “retarded” as a derogative without any guilt here. Call me ableist, but the word just has a certain juvenile ring to it that I enjoy.) And by the time I get off work, spend an hour at the gym, eat supper, clean the kitchen, make tomorrow’s lunch, do some writing and/or photo editing, watch whatever Netlfix arrived that day, and read a chapter of whatever I’m reading, it’s time for bed.

Life is pretty good. Work, as previously mentioned, is both interesting and rewarding — I actually seem to be good at it. Mom is tearing up the downstairs in some sort of end-of-summer/pre-holiday nesting frenzy, and we continue to have small-scale spats — mostly over my weight, because like most Americans, she equates fat with both moral failing and personal unhappiness. I can’t really hold it against her, she’s just been brainwashed with the same media machine that deems it acceptable to pick at and haggle over women’s bodies as if they were horses at auction as the rest of western civilization. But yet, she also does that Jewish mother thing where she tries to guilt trip you for not eating what she deems a proper amount of food. Me, last night:

Here’s the thing: you get to try to make me feel guilty for being fat, OR you get to try to make me feel guilty for declining to eat an entire pig’s ribcage for supper. You don’t get to do both. [I say “try”, because she will definitely fail at either one.]

At any rate, if I may paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, mothers need your permission to get under your skin, and she doesn’t have it; so life is largely peaceful and I figure early next year is a good time to start thinking about either moving out or going back to school (which would be largely the same thing, as I’d never be here). I’m comfortable enough here for now.

I’m going to see some dumb piece of shit horror movie with some co-workers today. It was filmed in Louisiana. SUPPORT YOUR LOCALLY FILMED AWFUL ELI ROTH-PRODUCED MOVIES. Well, I’m trying to be normal; normal people go to the movies with their co-workers, right? This is one of those situations in which I relate to Dexter. Or Invader Zim. (I got the 4th season of the former from Amazon a couple days ago but I haven’t watched any of it yet.) Imagine a normal person and act like HER!

I do have plans to eventually make some friends outside of work, but when it’s cooler. I mean, what would be the point of it now? It’s like a zillion degrees out there, what would we do?? However, it’s almost September; and although there’s still probably another 4 weeks of this weather, when the months that end in “-ember” start, it’s got to be fall EVENTUALLY.

In other news, even though I don’t yet have a place of my own to put it, I bought one of My Milk Toof‘s limited edition giclée prints (the “Summer: Thursday” one). I frequently stash about $50 in my PayPal account, then sort of forget about it, so that when I come across something that makes me go OMG SQUEE, I can splurge on it.

I’ve given up hope of ever scoring a working Land Camera on eBay, so instead I think I’m going to finally get a Holgaroid back for my Holga. I have a bunch of Fuji pack film (color and B&W) that I scored for super cheap on eBay, and a trio of Impossible Project film that I bought because it was limited edition and I was afraid it would sell out before I had a camera to use it in, that’s just gathering dust. But that might as well wait for cooler weather, because pack film is really sensitive to heat and humidity and there’s more than a little of both of those things around here lately.

So what’s going on in YOUR life lately?

watchin’ donny beat nazis to death is the closest we ever get to goin’ to the movies

I put this movie in my Netflix queue last December, and I only got it yesterday. :O

You guys, I don’t know. On one hand, if there’s one group of people we can still unabashedly cheer getting their heads cracked open by a Louisville slugger-wielding Eli Roth, it’s Nazis. Obviously. (He’s an even worse actor than he is a director, though. Holy balls. How can a guy from Newton, MA do such a lousy Baaastaaan accent? He sounded like the unholy spawn of Chuckie Sullivan and like, Bugs Bunny. Wicked retahded!) I hope I never live to be old enough to hear some patchouli-reeking hippy be all “Nazis were people, too! Now join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’!”

On the other hand, I’m not sure we should be getting this cartoonish about WWII just yet. I mean, there are lots of people who lived through this hell that are still very much alive. It seems kind of disrespectful to the soldiers who fought their way across half of Europe to suggest it could have been solved with some funny accents and a lit cigarette.

Also: YOU FORGOT EICHMANN! “Architect of the Holocaust”! Hopefully this is because Tarantino is going to make a movie about how he was “extradited” by the Mossad. Basically they went to Buenos Aires, stuffed him into a bag, and kidnapped him. Israel: “International law is for everyone else!” since 1960.

On the other hand, fuck Eichmann.

Basically, I enjoyed this movie but feel kind of bad about it. CONVINCE ME I’M WRONG, INTERNET.

I also feel somehwat guilty for thinking that Christoph Waltz was by far the most awesome thing about this movie. He just totally stole every scene he was in. I like how he never shouted or lost his temper, because true evil is always cool to the touch.

Also, and I feel HIDEOUSLY CONFLICTED about even admitting this, but… SS uniforms were hot. WHAT DON’T HATE ME I’M NOT SAYING THE NAZIS WERE CORRECT ABOUT ANYTHNG OTHER THAN UNIFORM DESIGN OKAY. Fun fact: the SS uniforms used between 1932-1942 were designed by Hugo Boss.

He's bringin' Nazi back.

life without movies is not worth living

Related to this post, here are the DVDs I elected to keep with me in Louisiana, putting the others I own in storage:

  • The 4th and 5th seasons of Northern Exposure. I have the first 3, but these 2 are the peak of the show, IMO. Although I know people who claimed the character of Mike Monroe was the shark-jump moment, I don’t agree with that. He was only a single-season character; Joel going native was clearly the shark jump.
  • Both seasons of Pushing Daisies. Sigh.
  • All 3 seasons of Dexter; the 4th season will no doubt eventually join it.
  • Lawrence of Arabia, tied with
  • The Fall, for Favorite Movie Ever.
  • Firefly & Serenity. Gorram it.
  • Aeon Flux. The complete animated series (including the Liquid Television shorts), not the terrible movie that was sort of based on it.
  • The 1st season of Fringe; ditto for the 2nd when it comes out.
  • The 1st season of True Blood, ditto as above.
  • Twin Peaks, the Definitive Gold Box Edition. It came with extras and postcards and an ad for David Lynch’s coffee, which I am scared to drink.
  • All the Harry Potter movies to date, except the first 2, when Dan Rad was too young for even a pervert like me to leer at.
  • All the Hayao Miyazake films I own: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. I haven’t even seen Ponyo, Y/N?
  • The most recent Star Trek movie. GEEK.

what i’ve been reading & watching lately: unemployed edition

Rome: Season Two

I gather a lot of people were disappointed in the second season, but I loved it just as much as the first. And I thought Kevin McKidd was even more amazing than he was in the first season; when he rescues his children from slavery and like a thousand different emotions pass across his face within seconds, I was like WHY ISN’T THIS MAN A HUGE STAR.

I couldn’t decide what kind of end I wanted for Atia of the Julii, whether I wanted her to triumph or go out like Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons, getting hissed at by a crowd of aristocrats. But I was reasonably satisfied with the ending they gave her, mostly because I found Livia to be an even bigger creep than Atia. “I know you. You are swearing now that someday you will destroy me. Remember: far better women than you have sworn to do the same. Go look for them now.”

The Thin Man, Red Harvest, and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

I finally finished Raymond Chandler — I’ve been spacing out his books for nearly a decade, because once they were all read: no more. Sniff! So anyway, I thought that I’d read some Hammett, who after all practically invented the hardboiled genre. The prose isn’t as polished and sharp as Chandler, and the dialogue seems a little clichéd now, but only because Hammett invented it. But I liked The Thin Man a lot and thought Red Harvest was brilliant. The only one I didn’t like was The Maltese Falcon, because frankly Book Sam Spade comes off like a scary sociopath. Bogart played him positively cuddly in the movie.

I want to read The Glass Key now, it’s supposed to be Hammett’s magnum opus.

Grey Gardens

I hear Drew Barrymore just won a Golden Globe for this, and believe me when I tell you that she totally deserved it. I’ve seen the actual Maysles’ documentary Grey Gardens, and she completely nailed it. Jessica Lange, too. If you’ve ever wondered what made Big and Little Edie Beale go completely off the deep end, this goes a long way to providing some answers.

Side note: If you are from an East Coast, old money family of bluebloods, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT NAME YOUR DAUGHTERS EDITH/EDIE. It never works out well. (See also: Sedgwick, Edie.)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

I’m probably not going to make any friends with this statement, but: I think Jane Austen is probably the most overrated writer in the entire canon of post-Renaissance Western literature. So it pleases me to see her work subverted; it is, as the kids say, relevant to my interests. This isn’t a particularly deep or meaningful work of art, just a fun, quirky way to pass some time. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I gotta say though, I do not get the enduring crush so many readers have had on Mr. Darcy through the centuries. That half-assed marriage proposal made me wish for a zombie to shamble in and suck his brains out. “Hey, your family is trash and you’re beneath me, but I love you anyway. Who are you to resist?” Ugh, give me Mr. Rochester any day.

The Cove

There was a lot about Japan’s dolphin capture/slaughter industry that I already knew: The dangerously high levels of mercury, the mislabeling of the meat, the fact that the market for it has been artificially created by the very industry profiting from it. But there was still a lot for me to learn here. And even if there wasn’t, it’s still worth watching because it’s a remarkably well-made documentary. In fact, it reminded me a little bit of the last great documentary I watched, Man on Wire. Where that was made to look like an Ocean’s 11-type caper, this was more like a very good spy thriller.

A warning: They do show the footage of dolphin slaughter that they secretly filmed, and it is very, very disturbing to watch. It’s less than 5 minutes altogether, but I was shaking all over and forcing myself to breathe slowly so I wouldn’t hyperventilate by the end of it. Still, it’s a very good documentary on an important subject, and I urge you to add it to your Netflix queue.

elephant with bird softie & the drinking of milkshakes

This one didn’t come out quite right, I’m pretty sure the ears should be higher. The directions were for machine-sewing, and had all this stuff about basting and seam allowances, and I just went “fuck it” and tried to figure it out myself. But except for the ears — which can be fixed — I think it looks pretty good for something with so many pieces that was sewn entirely by hand.

This is the last design in this particular book that I’m going to make. There’s a few more that I don’t want or have a need for: A Happy Birthday banner, one that just looks way too impossible to do by hand, and an iPod case. I don’t have an iPod, my mp3 player is a lot smaller (and I already made a case for it). …However, there are some members of my family who do have iPods, so it might do to keep it in mind for a Christmas present.

But me and felt aren’t finished yet! Yesterday I bought this book at Borders, and every single design in it looks insanely cute. I also want to get this book eventually; Borders did have it, but it had been opened and looked pretty beat up and I didn’t trust that all the patterns were still there, so I think I’ll buy an untouched copy from Amazon. There’s one duplicate (the little happy tree guy on the cover) from the book I just finished, but the rest are new to me.

In other news, yesterday I got There Will Be Blood from Netflix, and ho. ly. SHIT. it was amazing. When my brother David saw it he said it was like Daniel Day-Lewis was like “Oh, you thought I was a talented actor before? *mimes rolling up sleeves* STAND BACK, BITCHES.”

I am so going to shout BASTARD IN A BASKET at the next person who annoys me.

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