For a little while after I was hired I thought I could get away with revealing my employers to friends and family by means of adopting a thick French accent and describing the establishment as a "local coffee and bakery shop named Sévahn Eelévahn." The fact of the matter is that I work at a 7 Eleven literally located in the middle of a street on Swan Island. If you ever drive towards it you might think you would crash directly into it.
It's not that I'm ashamed to say I work at a 7 Eleven, on the contrary, I have long desired to share the same occupation as Apu from the Simpsons.
It was just a little hard to face up to the notion that my college degree has only so far qualified me to rotate quarter pound wieners and microwave corn dogs. That said, if the job involves wieners it's the role I was born to play. In fact, I have that written in bold on my resume.
As far as jobs go, and I have certainly had a lot of them, a career at 7 Eleven is very enjoyable. It has the same casual tone of working in a movie theater, (except without all the butter stains), the fun and quirky characters to be found from working at Disneyland, (without the commuting hassles involved with running into parades), and the benefit of not being managed by a mean old lady who relentlessly demands you feather dust copies of Brokeback Mountain and then two weeks later fires you.
If you can't tell, I'm still harboring some resentment towards my previous brief stint at the local video store.
Swan Island is mostly an industrial area, and as such I am mostly interacting with gentlemen who make their living by lifting heavy objects or driving heavy objects from one location to another. The weekends are surprisingly low pace.
Among the characters I have met so far I was especially engaged by the visitation of one over-weight man who stumbled into the store with his shirt completely open. He devoured three corn dogs while wandering the isles before he finally settled upon his purchase of several malt liquors, two liters of coke, and warming lubrication. I prefer to leave the purpose behind the last purchase a mystery.
Overall, I like the job. I made acquaintances with a duck who liked to sit outside of the store until I thought I would feed him a banana. He didn't like it. Still, it's nice to meet new friends.
My Wedding Day
On my wedding day I woke up on top of my sheets with my clothes still on. After I took a moment to understand where I was, I imagined my situation was a celebratory welcome banner from the real world letting me know what I just got myself into. A Motel 8, I realized, especially one located behind a liquor store, is probably the most certain place to learn such lessons.
I had checked in to the motel at two o’clock the previous morning after I had tucked my fiance Beth into her own bed at the hotel she was staying at across the street. Two O'clock, even for a bachelor, was too late to impose on my friends who were either already married or living in some distant part of Los Angeles. So I wandered between the three other motels on Whittier Blvd. until I eventually stumbled onto this one.
I was surprised to find that the room had all the bare essentials that a motel usually offers, possibly more if you count the used ash tray sitting on the chair in the corner. Thankfully the imagined sound of gunshots from outside was drowned out by the heavy rain drumming at the air conditioner jammed through the window.
I turned on the television and was surprised to find that the 1987 film The Predator was still being aired on TBS. I suddenly remembered the early days before Beth and I were dating and The Predator somehow materialized on television three different nights we were hanging out.
Still slightly fearing death however, I turned it off.
The bed was a solid rectangular slab only a few notches in quality above a piece of granite and only a few notches below a pile of moldy leaves. For the most part I was okay with it, except for the fact that it lacked any kind of sheets under the blanket. I briefly cursed 60 Minutes for ever letting me know of the prominent presence of blood and semen stains left over on hotel beds, before I curled up on top of it and decided I would sleep exactly as I was.
Later that morning I opened the bathroom medicine cabinet in search of a razor and instead only found the uncensored message of “F*&% YOU,” written against the wall in red ink, followed by “No, F%$# YOU!” written underneath it in black. I decided to stay out of the argument and closed the cabinet.
I changed my clothes and walked back across the street to Beth’s hotel. I had the key to her parents room and entered to find it empty. It was strange to think that my wedding day was so completely absent of other people. Briefly I questioned whether I missed the rapture or if at some point during the night I had been killed at the scary motel and was now stuck in some sort of strange purgatory.
If any of those are the case, I thought, Beth will be so annoyed with me. Luckily, they weren't.
I used the shower in that hotel room since I was afraid the other motel would give me AIDS, and then attempted to iron my clothes without burning holes through them. Luckily I succeeded.
A knock on my door turned out to be the photographer, and she took a variety of pictures that depicted me exactly as I was, a guy who, in a haze of equal parts happiness and nervousness, tried to get ready for his own wedding but still had a collar sticking out and several pock marks still on his face.
Two doors down Beth was being prepped by her friends and family. I meanwhile used her razor in the other room to shave my face, all the while singing “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, Your desire,” out loud.
I arrived at the church to find myself locked outside, and figuring that I might as well make some use of my time I decided to move some of the spare tables on the roof of the building to the ground floor.
After a while my friend Anthony appeared, and at a loss for something else to do before I was married, I decided we wander over to the Asian dollar store around the block.
For the past two years the dollar store had been the bachelor headquarters for Anthony and I. It served as our one source for nutrition and entertainment. As we grazed the shelves of poorly produced home oddities, there was a clear understanding between us. No bachelor party could succinctly summarize the feelings in that moment of analyzing cans of Tomato Energia, the worst drink we had both ever purchased from the 99 Cent Store, as moments like these are the unexpected ones in which we bond over. In a few short hours I wouldn’t be wandering by myself anymore, but in a few short hours I would also be wandering away from so many others.
We took photos of ourselves in a Japanese photobooth which was a complete mystery to us until it somehow spit out glittery prints of ourselves consumed by randomized Japanese characters.
Anthony put them away in his pocket until we wandered back to the church. There we met up with the rest of my family as we continued to wait for the doors to be opened.
My brother in law Chris was in the church basement beforehand mixing Sangria into buckets. “It’s actually pretty simple, and pretty cheap too.” He told me while pouring boxed wine together with a bottle of 7up. Taking a taste, we realized what kind of magic potion he had just concocted. Later he told us that “Jesus helped me make it. I'm not even joking.”
I returned upstairs to the courtyard where I was told by the photographer to wear a blindfold and wait. I stood for ten minutes outside until the gentle rain started to turn into a downpour. Just as I was beginning to wonder if this was a form of torture, I was handed an umbrella.
Ten minutes later my blindfold was pulled down and before me stood Beth in her white wedding gown. Her hair was pulled up and she had a beauty that seemed to glow from her very being. With an umbrella in her own hand she leaned towards me and kissed me, and with her kiss I felt the whole world gently wash away like gentle drips on a watercolor painting.
I smiled in awe of what I felt, and I felt a different kind of blindfold cover my eyes. It was a simple and honest joy. From then on the wedding seemed to be a dream recalled upon waking. I can only vaguely recall the experience of saying my own vows, or of the frantic reception, everything seems to skip ahead to our first dance in which I floated along with Beth with a haze of tears in my eyes. Everything is perfect, everything is right.
We kidnapped all of our friends and rushed them to the Japanese photobooth, jamming as many as we could inside until the printed pictures we received were composed of nothing but faces growing out of the same being.
My friend Jon decorated the car for us, and in his fashion made sure that it was as inconvenient to drive as possible. Using the keys to break off the strings he wrapped around the doors, we hopped inside and drove away, dragging the baskets, balloons and various food items he had tied to the back.
The next day I recall finding several lemons wedged into the rear window. Several weeks later we would still be finding string and post-it notes attached to various car parts. And even several months after that we would look at the photo we had taken in the magical Japanese photobooth and think of the parts we still had tied to our friends and family and feel the wash of joy knowing that a part of them was tied to us as well.
If you've been on the job hunt recently, like I have, you've probably come to the realization that there are some truly terrible occupations out there. The Messenger focuses on one in particular, the occupation of two US Military men who have to deliver news of grief on a daily basis. Sure, that career might not have the same level of extreme intensity that the soldier depicted in The Hurt Locker had, but as even that film pointed out, there are some people out there that at least want that kind of job. In fact, they're practically born to do it.
Although I don't necessarily want to make comparisons between The Hurt Locker and The Messenger, they do share other similarities apart from being released in the same year. Both films are at times fairly episodic. Whereas The Hurt Locker took the viewer from one bomb to the next, The Messenger often makes it's own episodic journey from door to door. The news may always be the same, but here's the spoiler, no one reacts the same way twice.
These two messengers are Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery (Ben Foster). Tony is older, colder, and altogether what you would expect out of a rugged ARMY man. He sticks to the rules on paper, which he must have highlighted in certain sections, especially the one about not touching civilians. Will is quiet and reserved, apart from the heavy metal music he blasts in his apartment at odd hours in the night, but guess which one of the two has seen more action on the battle field?
There are no bit parts in this movie. Every person is very much real, and they come from very real places. It's a credit to both the writing and the acting that everything is so authentic. Ben Foster treads a very controlled path in his performance that can deviate from a quiet reservation to a personal and public upheaval. He's the kind of actor who seems to steal the movie anywhere else, be it in 3:10 to Yuma, 30 Days Of Night, or even with a bit-part in the television series Freaks and Geeks. Here he's able to take a central character and give him true life. Woody Harrelson for that matter deserves the same praise for taking a character who in any other movie would be simply unlikable and giving him a sense of emotional frailty that is so tangible it hurts. The individuals they meet along the way, including a father played by Steve Buscemi, are equally as real and heart-wrenching as the central performers.
There are scenes here that require no fancy editing to achieve effect. All the viewer really does is listen to a story told by a man sitting in front of a muted television set, and as that story is told the images seem to appear all on their own. Other times the situational elements will carry a sense of intensity that plays out in an entirely unexpected fashion, be that a secondary confrontation with a heart-broken father, or even a drunken engagement toast.
This is the kind of film that is based upon quiet subtlety and honest observation. You won't be seeing any explosions or hear the familiar droning of Arabic music in the background, as seems the case with every film involving war or even just drama these days, but you will see the intensity of human bonds and emotions. It is excellently written, superbly directed, and features outstanding performances. For me, I would say it's the most affecting war film in the past several years. Yes, including the Hurt Locker. Not that it's a competition or anything. But hey, this is war we're talking about.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The first time I ever heard the music from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I was wandering the isles of a Portland vintage store and thought to myself, I don’t think I ever want to see that depicted on the big screen. For many, I think that might be a safe assumption. I first heard of the film from a former manager of mine, who I now realize in retrospect was certainly gay, and raised an eyebrow as he relayed to me the plot. You might now be able to glimpse what kind of a movie this is.
Eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I couldn’t help but take a viewing of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the glittery glam-rock cult-musical of the early 2000’s. Here we have a movie that so fully dedicates itself to it’s own concept and unique image that a certain amount of respect is immediately required from its viewer, no matter what their prior ideas regarding romanticism, sexual identity, or artistic freedom may be.
Here we are provided with the point of view of Hedwig, a transvestite who has made her way from over the Berlin wall to America as a rock star. Although, "star" might be a stretch. From the beginning, we know this isn’t any kind of rags to riches story. Hedwig makes her performances from behind salad bars or from the back of strip-mall Chinese restaurants. Nevertheless, even from these middle class venues Hedwig is a star in her own right. It’s only a shame that most of these venues are held directly behind shows featuring Hedwig’s protege. Or maybe it’s not such a coincidence, considering that he has made it to the big time by pirating all of Hedwig’s greatest hits.
Hedwig herself is a bit of a mystery, to say the least. As the title suggests, and I’ll leave you to your deductive reasoning, Hedwig is somewhere between male and female. What makes her story so fascinating however, is that this is a state that permeates her whole being in that emotionally, physically, and spiritually, she hovers somewhere in-between all humanity. Her story is told through her music, and with it she also reflects the story of all mankind, all while heavily drawing from ancient stories of Greek gods and mortals. Sometimes even with animated segments.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is revealed as a philosophical exploration. While it has certainly (with good reason) been viewed as an important work illustrating, and for some even humanizing, homosexuality, it is about so much more. It’s about people finding their place in life, the way life manages to put people into into their place, and what happens when that place is challenged.
Most of this works due to the central performances. The director here also serves as the central actor, and I believe he inhabits this role in a way few ever could. Hedwig is very much real, and she is all at once funny, endearing, and sad.
Can I recommend Hedwig and the Angry Inch? Certainly, but certainly not for everyone. There is a reason why it took me so long to watch it, and now that I have I’m really glad I did. It’s something truly original, and if you happen to be looking for something like that, well, I think you’ll be glad you watched it too.
May is a very different kind of horror movie. Mainly, it is entirely dependent upon it's cast of characters who range of delightfully quirky, to downright scary and quirky. Yes, while the film does share some unfortunate traits among other horror films (off the top of my head I have to note the terrible box art) for the most part May keeps itself above par with the rest. The film keeps its sense of humor about it, while still recognizing the sad and disturbing bits lurking underneath the surface. It’s a haunting drama that begins charming and ends tragic.
The central character of May is someone keenly relatable. She was born with a noticeable trait, one lazy eye, which set her apart from the rest of her friends. Her mother helps the best she can by giving her a doll encased in glass, noting that if you can’t find a friend, you could always make one. This tidbit of info is lodged in the back of both May’s mind, and the mind of the audience. I’m pretty sure we all know where this is headed. What makes the film work however isn’t seeing what will happen, but how it happens.
May makes new friends at the veterinarian clinic she works at, and forms a strange crush on the boy across the street who seems very good with his hands. She likes this, and it’s a wonder to focus in on May’s attention while she spends time with her new acquaintances. While rarely looking at them in the eyes, she pays very close attention to the parts she does admire, be it hands, neck, or legs. As someone who spent the early days of her life with the distraction of an imperfection, it is interesting to see her get distracted by the perfected parts of other people.
Like our old horror friend Carrie, May is subject to criticism for her oddness, but the movie reflects our current age and its appreciation for uniqueness. May’s new boy friend (emphasis on “friend”) notes, “I like weird,” but the guy is smart and knows when weird is getting a little, well, too weird. She likes his experimental horror films a bit too much, has some serious kissing issues, and frequently yells at someone he has never seen in her apartment. He takes a few steps back, and she starts to come forward.
The last act of the film turns into a bit of a slasher picture. I’m sure many of the people who probably pick this one up on a whim are probably hoping for something like that. Artistically, I was a little turned off by the sudden up-turn in violence. Something about the first three quarters of the film, where you know you’re watching a horror film, but there’s that feeling inside where you hope it doesn’t have to be, is simply fantastic. I wish we only just knew so much about what May was doing, rather than see so much of it. That’s just me.
May is something very different catered to the horror crowd. I’d say it’s probably one of the best overlooked horror films I’ve seen. Like some of the best, there are truly haunting moments hidden away in the picture, and when they come alive they aren’t soon forgotten.
The Thorn In the Heart
After having recently been able to attend a screening of The Thorn In the Heart with the director Michel Gondry in presence, I think I was fully able to grasp what exactly drew me to the film in the first place. It wasn’t so much the story or presentation as much as the man himself who pieces together his work in the same fashion that a magician pieces together a magic act. What you see on screen is only a slight fraction of what happens under the table.
The Thorn In the Heart is a different kind of film however. It is a documentary focused upon Michel Gondry’s aunt who grew up and taught in the rural areas of France while raising her son and daughter, a task which she eventually had to take on by herself after the death of her husband. Like anyone, there are some things that she probably could have handled better, but all things considered, she always did the best she could. This is something that we can certainly connect to, but does it justify an entire film in and of itself? It’s debatable.
There’s nothing objectionable about the Thorn In the Heart. Overall, it is a very pleasant film. A pleasant film, however, does run the risk of lacking chemistry and resonance. Despite Gondry’s taste in music, which heavily draws upon strong emotional themes, the film lacks any strong emotional ties of its own. Very little about the film makes the viewer feel particularly torn or enraptured.
The audience isn’t so much left with a story, as much as someone else’s personal home movie. The effect is similar to watching a video of a stranger’s wedding or birthday party. I once encountered the work of one artist who would buy old VHS tapes from anonymous garage sales and present them on screen as works of art themselves. The idea was that these tapes were documentation of another persons precious memories that were then discarded for one reason or another. Although they were often uninteresting, we were left wondering what happened to these people. I’m not sure what that has to do with this particular production myself, but I can say that there is a distinct possibility the viewer will be left interested, but not engaged with whatever happens on screen.
Gondry’s film is a wonderfully assembled home movie, shot on fabulous Super 8 cameras and occasionally featuring a tidbit of inventive stop-motion animation. Not to mention, he makes great use of a train set to string together each segment. It’s admirable to see a film that isn’t overwhelmed by its director and is fully dedicated to the cause of capturing very real people. It has to be respected. That said, don’t expect the same kind of magic Gondry has performed before. This is a personal work that has been chosen to be shared with the world. I love that kind of attitude, but it doesn’t mean I have to love the film. All this to say, the Thorn In the Heart is a good film, I don’t really expect to see it again.
As for being in the same room with Gondry, I think he smiled at my wife. Awesome.