Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Put that Needle on the Record!

The Bouncing Souls
How I Spent my Summer Vacation
2001, Epitaph
produced by John Seymore

Greg Attonito - vocals
Pete Steinkopf - guitar
Bryan Keinlen - bass
Michael McDermott - drums

singles -
  • Gone
This is one of my favorite post punk/pop punk/new punk/whatever albums ever. The Bouncing Souls certainly picked a good name for their band, as it describes their melodic rhythm. Each song makes you want to sing along, fist pump, and possibly stage dive into your friends. Antonito's vocals are equal parts Bad Religion's Greg Graffin, and Agnostic Front's Roger Miret. The sound is hopeful, playful, and so good for rocking out while driving. Jo-Ann Green does a good review of the album over at All Music.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stop Excusing Bad Behavior!

I read an article today from the Huffinton Post. It was meant, I'm sure, to be a fun little fan list meant to be a diversion from the rest of the heavy, crazy headlines, like Crimean invasion, Mayors abstaining from St Patrick's Day parades, a missing airliner, and downed helicopters. The article is titled The 10 Most Misunderstood Villains in Literature, which sounds pretty interesting to an English major. However, after the first number in the list, I realized that it was less about character study, and more about apologizing for villainy.

Let me sum up the article:

The ten villains chosen as the most misunderstood were (in order)
  1. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale's character in American Psycho)
  2. Regan and 
  3. Goneril (King Lear's daughters)
  4. Freddy Montgomery (Book of Evidence)
  5. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins's character in Silence of the Lambs)
  6. Grenouille (Perfume)
  7. Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates's character in Misery)
  8. Kurtz (Heart of Darkness)
  9. Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)
  10. Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein)
So, right off the bat, the good looking, successful Wall Street businessman monster is pegged as the number one misunderstood villain. I think we need to set down some ground rules for what a villain is exactly. The word villain describes a character who is the opposite of the character of the hero. If the story has no hero, is the monster character technically a villain to start with?  

Regardless of the answer to that rhetorical question, the title of the article is about misunderstood bad guys. Whether the character is a villain foil, or the subject monster doesn't matter, so much as they are, in fact, awful people who commit atrocities, but maybe not, because they are misunderstood. I do not believe you can misunderstand Patrick Bateman, or anyone else on the list. The man hides behind a facade of successful boredom, and lures unsuspecting people into his apartment where he murders them in crazy methodical ways, sometimes with chainsaws.  
if he tramples you, its not his fault, he's the victim
To quote the article, and also most other criminal apologists, "But his amorality mirrors in miniature the heartlessly vampiric, ethically vacuous culture of Wall Street". In conclusion, the article states that we ought to blame the institution, not the monster it created.  

I call bullshit. True, Wall Street culture creates cold, calculating businessmen who prey on common people and each other to bolster their own portfolios. Gordon Gekko famously stated greed is good, and would sell out his own daughter. However, Gekko doesn't murder strangers on a whim to alleviate sexual frustration. If Bateman is the only example of a Wall Street broker becoming a psychopathic killer, then no one is responsible for his actions but Batmen.  

My point to all this is pretty simple. We can basically go down the list and arrive at the same conclusions. The theme here is making excuses for bad behavior. Stop that. There has been a trend in the justice system for a while now that finds someone or something else responsible for creating criminals, and finding these scapegoats to be legally liable for terrible behavior.

Dr Menninger, author of Whatever Became of Sin? in 1973, wrote, "Wrong things are being done, we know [...]  but is no one responsible, no one answerable for these acts"?

We are quick to acknowledge anxiety, depression, bullying, and neglect, as well as mental illness (the DSM V is 947 pages of diagnoses). And it is easy to give people a pass for a faux pas or bad manners after being aware of these things. But a social faux pas is very different from a psychotic murder rampage, or a shrewd calculated plan to keep your favorite author hostage. There can be no excuse for murder, kidnapping, and war crimes.  

This idea of misplacing blame is highlighted in works by journalist Charles J Sykes, and Stanton Peele (Diseasing America). Bert Thompson writes in an article for the Apologetic Press that "practically every human action can be accounted for by the plea "I'm not guilty, I'm just sick"".

I remember watching, when I was a kid, the trial of the infamous Menendez brothers. The two brothers were accused of murdering their parents with a shotgun in their home. The reason this trial was memorable, was because it was nationally televised, and because the defense relied solely on portraying the brothers as victims without any other recourse but violence to free themselves from oppression. Later in the trial, it was decided that the motive was more likely a desire to gain a large inheritance, instead of stopping abuse.

As a kid, however, I was amazed that this particular defense was given any credibility. It shouldn't matter, I reasoned, what happened before the murders, the trial is about whether or not there was a murder, and what the consequence for that murder would be. Clearly, someone shot somebody with a shotgun. You have victims (dead people), suspects, murder weapon... let's put this stuff together and come up with a conclusion, and then fit the crime with a reasonable consequence (usually murder is a life sentence). Apparently justice isn't so simple.

So, in conclusion, this list of misunderstood villains isn't a very good list, and falls prey to this idea that everyone is a victim of something, and that makes it okay to act in awful, illegal, and monstrous ways. This idea that these villains aren't really villains, just misunderstood sick people, is ridiculous. Yes, they are monsters, and yes they are correctly understood as monsters, and yes they are completely responsible for their actions, every one. Just the fact that everyone who is treated poorly, or is in compromising situations doesn't end up psychopaths is enough, one would think, to negate the victim card.

It is also interesting to note that the title of the article is called 10 Most Misunderstood Villains in Literature, and after reading a title like that, I was so sure I would see characters like Iago (from Othello), Moriarty (Sherlocke Holmes), Mr. Hyde (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), Damian from the Omen, Joffrey (Song of Ice and Fire), The actual Monster from Frankenstein, or even the Grinch (although I suppose that would be too easy). Also, there are only really 9 villains, you can't combine two from the same work, talk about them together, and number them separately. That's cheating.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Even M Night Shaymalan Wouldn't see it Coming

I just had a really great idea while in the shower!

So... I blog about movies sometimes, often within the theme of Hollywood being a bunch of unoriginal hacks who keep redoing old films instead of putting money towards new and exciting scripts. Just think what these directors would be able to do with Hollywood money?

Anyway, I was thinking about how much the Star Wars franchise went from awesome (A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back) to kind of disappointing (Revenge Return of the Jedi), to downright atrocious (all the prequels make me angry). But then I remembered a comic I have from a while back called Star Wars Infinities, which poses the question "what if Luke failed to blow up the original Death Star? Basically, Leia becomes the new Sith apprentice, but is saved by Luke and Darth Vader in the end, and Yoda drops the Death Star onto Coruscant and ends the Empire. Way better than any battle with Ewoks.

Which brings me to my point... reboots are stupid. Let me explain using a well known classic picture.

Psycho by Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano, and Alfred Hitchcock --

Starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the psycho of the title, and Janet Leigh, the actress that made everyone afraid of the shower. This film broke boundaries and started a whole genre previously unexplored in film. A masterpiece, a classic worthy to be shown in every film studies class until the end of time.

Universal Pictures remade it in 1998, directed by Gus Van Sant. It is in color, and filmed and edited shot for shot, scene for scene just like the original. What a waste of money and film. Universal should have just done what Disney always does, and release the original in theaters. Might as well. Aside from being in black and white, it is also filmed scene for scene, shot for shot like the original... This is quite possibly the greatest example of how much Hollywood is barren of good ideas.

The best part about Psycho was the shock of watching a woman get murdered in the shower (we used to all feel safe there), thinking the mother did it out of jealousy (she must be the pyscho from the title), and then discovering that the mother is already long dead, and Norman Bates has become two people! Holy Moly!

So... a remake of the same film, shot the same way, with the same plot would never have the same shock value as the original. Everyone knows how it ends, just like if you  watch the Star Wars films (all of them) in order, Empire Strikes Back is no longer shocking. Episode 3 gives away the surprise. By Episode 5 everyone except Luke and Leia know that Vader is their father.

This brings me to my really great idea. What if the Psycho remake was expected to be a shot for shot remake of the original, but wasn't?  Picture this: Psycho begins as expected, Janet Leigh's character Marion gets to the Bates Motel, she and Norman have their conversation about his mother, the shower scene is about to happen. The audience sees Marion, they see the shower, and the water, and the drain, and blood washing down the drain... but there is no scream. Cut to Marion washing blood off her hands, and then jump cuts of a murdered Norman Bates? To make this work, the murder would have to happen off screen, but I'm sure Hollywood's love for flashbacks will help fill in the lost time, etc, etc.

Marion is the pyscho? Totally unexpected. Turns out, Marion travels around murdering people and assuming their identities. The rest of the film is all about Tommy Lee Jones following leads trying to track down a serial killer. Best idea ever?  I think so. Also, if this happened the internet would probably explode.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Church and Destroy!

Alkaline Trio
Good Mourning
2002, Vagrant
produced by Joe McGrath and Jerry Finn

Matt Skiba - vocals, guitar
Dan Andriano - vocals, bass
Derek Grant - drums

singles - 
  • We've Had Enough/One Hundred Stories/ Blue in the Face
  • All on Black/ This Could be Love
On this album, everything clicked for Alkaline Trio. They cleaned up their earlier dirty DIY sound, found a better drummer (this is Derek Grant's first full length LP), and were able to write good songs without dumbing things down for the pop charts (i.e. Stupid Kid). I wrote about their follow up to this album here, a while back. Everything I wrote about this band then still holds true, I think.

This is one of my favorite records from my favorite band from that weird pop punk/emo rock era. Alkaline Trio has a similar sound to Blink 182, Sum 41, Jimmy Eat World, and all those other almost surfer rock, almost hard rock, almost punk rock bands from the late 90's and early 00's (or whatever we call that decade). The difference for me was the song writing. Liz Phair once remarked about Elvis Costello that his songs about relationships were devastating to women. I like to think that Alkaline Trio's songs about relationships are devastating to love songs. Matt Skiba is far darker and more clever than his contemporaries. Evil makes for some good music, just ask Metallica and the Misfits.

Pitchfork writer, John Dark once wrote that:
"There's quite a bit that Alkaline Trio's music is not. It's not challenging, ambitious, or visionary. It's not clever or self-aware. It's not even terribly skillful. But what it is, is tasty. Pure musical junk food: fast, greasy, and crafted for a general palate."
I have never agreed with anything on Pitchfork until I read that bit of an underhanded compliment. I hesitate to call this band pop punk and bordeline emo, simply because the lyrics are so unique to the otherwise unremarkable genre, much like the Misfits own horror theme separates them from the rest of the American Hardcore scene. I admit to the guilty pleasure of listening to this band and liking them, but unlike New Found Glory fans, I can hold my head up high.