Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: The Edge of Seventeen (Obscured by Moonlight)

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

dear-melvin

“Dear Melvin, No matter how hard I try, I will never grow up to be a black man. Love Nadine.”

Wow, talk about not knowing where a review is going when you start writing it.

This one is quite the journey.

"Quite the journey? Doesn't he know I will punch him in the dick?"

“Quite the journey? What the fuck? Doesn’t he know I will punch him in the dick?”

The Edge of Seventeen (STX Entertainment)

the-edge-of-seventeen-poster

Written & Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig

Starring Hailee SteinfeldWoody HarrelsonKyra SedgwickHaley Lu Richardson & Blake Jenner

This is a hard one to review. The movie is good. The Edge of Seventeen is the story of a socially awkward but whip-smart seventeen year old girl. I really liked it. It is cute and funny and smart and all that good stuff. But the reason I find it so hard to review is that I couldn’t identify with it. Not even a little. Which isn’t usually a problem but the last film I watched was so fucking personal and identifiable. Moonlight was also a coming of age tale like Edge but from a totally different cultural, sexual, financial and social POV. I hate it when I’m watching a movie so soon after another and it affects the way I look at the second. That’s what happened here. The Edge of Seventeen was an excellent movie that didn’t deserve to be compared to Moonlight. It is, however. So this is less of a review and more of the tale of how Moonlight screwed up the way I saw The Edge of Seventeen. Film Comparison Alert!!! Don’t watch these movies back to back.

Verdict: SPARED

the-edge-of-seventeen

“So let me get this straight. He’s going to compare a comedy about a white girl living in the suburbs to a drama about a black boy living in the hood?” “Yes. And I’m going to punch him in the dick.” “Oh no. I got that part.”

Moonlight tells the story of a gay black boy who is secretly in love with his bisexual best friend. The Edge of Seventeen tells the story of a straight white girl whose only friend is secretly in love with her over-achieving twin brother. So I’m reading sexual tension between the friends that wasn’t there, in Edge. While seeing her pain at her brother and best friend’s relationship as more about jealousy than it was meant to be. And that’s not the story. God damn it, Moonlight. You ruin everything.

"Napoleon Dynamite. That's what you compare this teen comedy to. Not some Oscar winning drama. See the comparison? It's not fair."

“Napoleon Dynamite. That’s what you compare this teen comedy to. Not some Oscar-winning drama. See the comparison? See it? Look at it. It’s not fair.”

In The Edge of Seventeen the main character is a socially awkward fast-talking wordsmith. And I think I’m getting a little tired of that. And I get it. Writers write what they know. And these talented women screenwriters are writing these socially awkward but creatively and linguistically skilled little girls because that’s more than likely what they were growing up. It’s the Diablo Cody effect. It’s fun and makes for a likable main character. But I don’t know. I identify with her more when the character’s inner monologue is brilliant but what comes out of her mouth isn’t. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Or maybe it’s because Moonlight featured a main character who said like five words the entire movie. God damn it, Moonlight. You ruin everything.

"Oooh. He's gonna get such a punch."

“Oooh. He’s gonna get such a dick punch.”

Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic. So is Woody Harrelson as her teacher. The Edge of Seventeen is very funny when these two are on-screen together. He handles her tough exterior and brutal honesty with an almost reckless honesty of his own. This mentor relationship is a stark contrast from the one in Moonlight but with tons of similarities as she uses him to hide from bullies and awkwardness at school and goes to his house to escape un-comfortableness at her home with her mom. Similar to Little’s relationship with the drug dealer Juan in Moonlight. A beautiful parallel between the two amazing movies.

"Well then let me ask you this one, smart guy. Where's MY Oscar? Huh? The other guy got an Oscar."

“Well then let me ask you this one, smart guy. Where the fuck’s my Oscar? Huh? The other guy got an Oscar. What’s up with that? A beautiful parallel my ass.”

In The Edge of Seventeen, Kyra Sedgwick plays the mom who is spiraling out of control because of personal tragedy and again I couldn’t help but compare her to the mom in Moonlight. Of course there, the tragedy affects the mother and son’s over-all quality of life a lot more. In The Edge of Seventeen they continue to live in the same nice house and great neighborhood despite her mom’s psychological turmoil. Maybe this is cultural. Maybe it’s the crack cocaine. I can’t say.

"Are you mad because I don't sell crack in the movie? I can do it. Give me the crack. I'll sell it. Give me the crack."

“Are you mad because I don’t sell crack in the movie? I can do it you know. I will sell the hell outta some crack. Give me some crack. I’ll sell it. Give me the crack, you fucking racist.”

Both films, (both wonderful films I might add) feature a sexual awakening but just from drastically different points of view. One male. One female. One straight. One gay. Culturally, racially different. Awkward teenage sexual awakening on film. Hard to watch at times but both films handle it brilliantly. The Edge of Seventeen making us laugh and Moonlight making us cry. (God damn it, Moonlight) But both films making us smile.

the-edge-of-seventeen-happy-dance

Happy Dance.

Because in the end, they are both love stories. Excellent love stories. Gorgeous cinematic young love stories. Exquisitely similar and painfully different. Beautiful and ugly at the same time. Dynamically and diametrically opposed reflections of each other. And it doesn’t matter if it’s funny or dramatic or something in-between. If they’re gay or straight or somewhat in-between. Male and female or someone in-between. Black and white and everything in-between. Love is love and LOVE is love and love is loooove and LoVe is LOVE!!! and… Love?

"Well that sure took him long enough." "I know, right?"

“Well that sure took him long enough.” “I know, right? And now you won’t have to punch him in the dick.” “Eh. I still might. I haven’t decided.”

I take it back. I take it all back. These two movies compliment each other beautifully. Watch them one after the other. I dare you. I implore you. I’m begging you. The Edge of Seventeen is a fantastically funny film to experience right after watching the emotional and amazing Moonlight. It just took me seven paragraphs to fucking realize it.

My bad.

– Mel

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Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Moonlight

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Moonlight (A24)

moonlight-poster

Written & Directed by Barry Jenkins

Starring Trevante RhodesAndré HollandJanelle MonáeAshton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris & Mahershala Ali

Wow. I did not see that coming. That was not even close to what I expected it to be. I was thinking this movie, Moonlight. This academy award-winning motion picture was about some hood type shit. Thug life update. Boyz n tha Hood meets Dope. But Moonlight is a straight up love story. Surprised the hell out of me. It’s very good though. The direction is amazing. The cinematography is unbelievably gorgeous. And the performances are fantastic. But the story. The story is this surprising epic love story. That just took me by surprise. Amazing. Fucking amazing.

Verdict: SPARED

moonlight

Moonlight wins best picture over the marginally over-rated La La Land because it is a better love story than La La Land. Much more believable and real. With pain and pathos and grit and gravitas. It is truly an amazing film. But it’s one of those dramas that you know is going to win all the awards because it’s painful to watch. And that’s because of all the emotional power and this movie packs some emotional power. Moonlight is a powerful film.

moonlight-mom

Moonlight is about a fragile little boy from the hood who doesn’t want to go home because his mother is spiraling out of control with drugs. Doesn’t want to go to school because his peers already know what he hasn’t admitted to himself. A boy who, frankly, doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin.

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The movie is in three parts (that’s why the poster has that three-part face on it). 1.Little. when he is little. Called Little by his friends (faggot and gay boy by his enemies) 2.Chiron. When he’s in High School. Called Chiron (his real name) by his friends now “Little” by his tormentors and lastly 3.Black. When he has grown into a black man. This division allows us to see the kid’s growth as a human being and his mother’s descent into addiction. Again, it’s powerful and painful to watch while at the same time an absolute joy to watch. It’s fucking gorgeous.

moonlight

His friendship with a local drug kingpin and his relationship with his drug addicted mother are pivotal plot point (with some beautiful and poetic irony and two insanely good performances), but they take a back seat to his sexual identity. Which the movie doesn’t hit us over the head with. Instead it bubbles underneath. Becoming a subtle but powerful (there’s that word again) underlying theme through all three parts.

moonlight-3

Moonlight hits very close to home for me as the boy tries to come to grips with his confusing sexuality and his (even more confusing) relationship with his mother. And at times it was almost too uncomfortable to watch (I had to cover my eyes more than once). A little too familiar, too triggering, too disturbing, for reasons that are too personal to get into on the blog (that’s right there’s shit I don’t talk about).

moonlight-4

Moonlight is refreshingly original, well-written and expertly directed with some of the best performances of last year. This is one of those movies that you carry with you for a while. Genuine and lovely and powerful. I know I keep saying how powerful it is but that’s probably the best word to describe it. Moonlight is a powerful film. Perfect in every way. Not average in any way. Unexpected. Genuine. Gorgeous. Powerful.

moonlight-maserhala-ali

When I pressed play on the DVD, Moonlight had already won best picture but I had no idea what I was getting into. What seemed like it was going to be a gangster’s coming of age tale of addiction and family and Black American neighborhood drama, turns out to be an epic LGBT love story.

And I did not see that one coming.

– Mel

Impressions on Miles Ahead (a film by Don Cheadle)

Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” – Miles

What follows are my first impressions of the movie Miles Ahead. I watched it and immediately wrote this down. I usually write a review and post it here on my blog when I get a chance. But I didn’t do that this time. I wrote this.

Miles Ahead (Sony Pictures Classics)

Miles Ahead Poster

Directed by Don Cheadle

Written by Steven Baigleman, Don Cheadle, Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson

Starring Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregorEmayatzy CorinealdiLaKeith Lee Stanfield & Michael Stuhlbarg

Impressions.

From Jazz. To Fizz. To Junk. To Funk.

Don Cheadle in Miles Ahead

Like the man’s music it flowed through variations on a theme. Chopin. Chopin. Different eras in the life of a man. Interconnected. Interspersed. The work of a god. Pretty. Ugly. Inconsistent. Drugs and violence and mental illness. Cool and cruel and beauty’s bitch. Love’s fool. Forever love’s fool.

Miles Ahead Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor

Music’s master and her slave and her master again. But what difference does it make? Really. Nasty. Like just all kinds of nasty. But GORGEOUS. Gorgeous and engorged. Like the throbbing musicianship on some of the best music ever made. By master craftsmen. With craftsmanship. And artistry.

Miles Ahead Miles

Early Spike Lee without the bullshit. Melvin Van Peebles without the n-word. Nigger Poetry mixed with prose and professionals like Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor and film-making like Godard. Jean Luc fucking Godard. Like music on film. Sketches of Spain. Kind of Blue but also kind of red and black and pink and pink and flesh. And gorgeous.

Miles Ahead

You made a portrait of the man where all the ugly still shows. And it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful. But it’s hard to look at times. And he’s hard to hear. The hidden notes within the charts. And I could barely understand it all. Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” All the elements that make up the dream and the life and the work of art. Dripping paint on the canvas like blood on the ropes.

Don Cheadle from Miles Ahead

A fighter who isn’t down for the count. He’s far from out. A punch in the face. A standing eight count. A cold splash. A warm breeze. A single note. A wake up call to those of us stuck in a rut. Reliving the past failures. And fearing the future. The parts that gradually make up the hole. From the whole.

Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor in Miles Ahead

First a scratch. Then a screech. Now a scream. An impossible scream. A scream in A flat minor. A scream from the bottom of a deep dark. A scream from a place where beauty falls and fails and never screams again. A scream from a hole a thousand Miles wider than the horizon. A beautiful musical dancing scream from the movie screen.

Miles and Trane from Miles Ahead

“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.” – Miles

– Mel

Spared or Spoiled Reviews: Amy

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Amy (Altitude Film Distribution)

Amy-poster

Directed by Asif Kapadia

Starring Amy Winehouse

Amy is the heartbreaking and tragic tale of a jazz singer. I was never a fan of her music. Although I, like everyone else, owned Back to Black. The album is amazing. I just wasn’t a fan of her style. I always thought it was contrived and derivative and a horribly pedestrian example of cultural appropriation. But after watching the movie. No scratch that. After watching the FIRST HALF of the movie, I’ve changed my mind on the subject completely. And I have a new appreciation for her genius. She was an exceptional songwriter. Amy is a gripping documentary on the musician… on the extremely talented musician and songwriter. And I was never a fan. But now I am.

Verdict: SPARED

Amy Winehouse Healthy and Talented

The Talent

Amy Winehouse becomes enormously famous. We all know that. Just obnoxiously overexposed and talked about. And her drug use. I make no secret that I had a decade or so of drug use myself. And like Amy, crack was my drug of choice. But I only had my “self” to blame. In Amy, we see a little girl crying out for help from the first frame to the last. From before she becomes mega famous. Even before she’d taken toke one or drink one. But the talent just pours out of her like a waterfall spewing from the side of a majestic mountainside. Wow. The sheer raw talent coming off this little girl. Just wow!!!

Amy Winehouse Healthy and Happy

The Muse

Amy is such a beautiful movie in the beginning. I mean, make no mistake, Amy Winehouse is a mess from the start. But she’s an artistic mess. She’s one of those personalities that you excuse being cruel or weird or abrasive because she is beautiful in every other way and you just want to be near her, near her even when she’s treating you like dirt. Amy is beautiful in the beginning. And the first thing I noticed was her weight. She was healthy when she made that first album. She was a drinker and partyer, yes. But she was a musician first. Music was her drug and you could see how it made her happy.

Amy in the studio during healthier times

The Artist

The second half of the movie, Amy, is just plain painful to watch. She gets every thing she wants. She gets fame and she gets love and she gets to meet her heroes and she gets awards and adoration. And she gets an eating disorder, a dysfunctional relationship with the love of her life, an entourage of enablers that include her family and closest friends, and she gets the love of music, her first love, ripped away from her. It’s fucking painful to watch and I’m crying even writing about it. The movie made me weep uncontrollably.

Amy and Blake

The Lover

But during this time, her writing talent takes center stage and she writes song after song about her relationships with drugs and her addict boyfriend and her tortured soul and her fucked up mind. And these songs are outstanding. Even more so when you see where they come from. Every word has meaning, a reference, a truth. She hides nothing. And you watch her create this magic. The entire movie is found footage, SO YOU GET TO WATCH. (this is the true found footage genre) A collection of personal videos from her manager and friends and family make-up the entire film. There is nothing added. Just a collage of moments in her life captured amateur-ly and sloppily on home video.

Amy and Blake on a boat

The Wife

In Amy, you watch her create this musical magic and at the same time you watch her waste away. And we know the ending. We already know what happens. It’s the beginnings that we didn’t know. And well, the beginning is beautiful. The beginnings of an amazing artist. All I knew was the spectacle at the end. So I had little respect for an artist that threw away that much talent. She didn’t. It’s right there on the tape. She cries out for help in every frame. With every note. With every powerful poem she writes. And they all love her but don’t know how to tell her no. And her manager and promoter don’t want the checks to stop and they can’t say no. And her friends can’t tell her no. And no one comes to her aid.

Amy Winehouse Famous

The Icon

Spoiler Alert but it’s well-known that at one pivotal point in her life she asks her father if she should go to rehab. She needs an adult. She needs guidance. She’s been crying out for it her whole life. So she asks her father if she should get that help, if she should go to rehab. But we already know what he says. Everyone in the world knows what he says.

Beautiful Amy Winehouse

The Tragedy

Amy is a wonderful film about a talented and strong woman looking for someone stronger. Someone strong enough to help her to tame her destructive nature. But she never finds it and eventually destroys herself. It is heartbreaking and hauntingly beautiful and I recommend it even if you’re not a fan… and by that I mean, not a fan yet.

– Mel

Songs That Defines Me: Drug Life (An 11 Song Bio-Playlist)

What follows is about 45 minutes of music that serves as an audio autobiography. Up until now, my Songs That Define Me series has been very general but these represent certain times in my life. So it takes all eleven to make a complete picture. Not that they were recorded at those times but that they represent them. It is in essence the soundtrack to the musical of my life as it relates to drugs. I only post the audio versions with lyrics when I can find them. But if I can’t then I post the lyrics underneath.

So without any further ado. I give you…

DRUG LIFE (An 11 Song Bio-Playlist)

Three Seeds by Silversun Pickups
The movie opens on a boy with a chip on his shoulder. He’s angry at the world but doesn’t really know why. He’s brilliant, if I do say so myself, but he’s in constant pain and in constant fear and still he doesn’t know why. He never learned how to make friends or trust people after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse. And the only advice his mother gives him when sending him off to school is to pretend to be normal. (Yeah that didn’t work). He turns to alcohol. And it makes it possible for him to talk to other people and to make friends. This is the story of his three inner selves: His fearful self, His angry self, and his better self. This is Drug Life.

Remove the bullet from my head
Extracting over confidence
Hidden so easy to pretend
Too bad the rush was found again

I can see the pictures on the floor
Sketches of what was there before
Three came from one little seed
The last one is all I need

I can see the bottle on the ground
We turned the corner safe and sound
No thought of him as it was done
A clean execution
A clean execution

Cool like the ocean
Burned like a summer home
Fooled by the notion
That the sums don’t add up at all

There’s the line that is leading clearly feeding
All the things I don’t believe in
But I’ll step in once again
Cut in line to get closer to the
Source of all the things I’ll never belong to
Step it up and sign right in again

Cool like the ocean
Burned like a summer home
Fooled by the notion
That the sums don’t add up at all

Cool like the ocean
Burned like a summer home
Fooled by the notion
That the sums don’t add up at all
That the sums never add up at all
That the sums don’t add up at all…

Swimming Pools (Drank) by Kendrick Lamar

Our hero begins drinking in High School. He carries a little bottle of Jack Daniels around in his jacket pocket from the age of 15. In those days liquor stores didn’t card. They just looked you up and down. All you needed was strength of purpose. By that time he had been through some abuse and it showed on his face. They weren’t gonna deny him anything. Most people looked in his eyes, full of pain, worry and grief, and simply came to the obvious conclusion, “This man needs a drink.”

Washing of the Water by Peter Gabriel
But when High School ends he withdraws from the world. Riding around on the subway all night. Going to night-school in the afternoons. Working in the day as a messenger. Always drinking. drinking. drinking. Riding a river of fear to a sea of pain. His life becomes a river of darkness flowing into a sea of loneliness. A river of alcohol to a sea of… alcohol.

River, river, carry me on
Living river, carry me on
River, river, carry me on
To the place where I come from

So deep, so wide, will you take me on your back for a ride
If I should fall, would you swallow me deep inside
River, show me how to float, I feel like I’m sinking down
Thought that I could get along

But here in this water, my feet won’t touch the ground
I need something to turn myself around

Going away, away toward the sea
River deep, can you lift up and carry me
Oh roll on through the heartland
‘Til the sun has left the sky
River, river, carry me high

‘Til the washing of the water, make it all alright
Let your waters reach me, like she reached me tonight

Letting go, it’s so hard, the way it’s hurting now
To get this love untied
So tough to stay with this thing, because if I follow through
I face what I denied
I’ll get those hooks out of me
And I’ll take out the hooks that I sunk deep in your side
Kill that fear of emptiness, that loneliness I hide

River, oh river, river running deep
Bring me something that will let me get to sleep

In the washing of the water will you take it all away
Bring me something to take this pain away

Everything’s Just Wonderful by Lily Allen
Then he discovers cocaine. It solves so many of his problems. Depression, shyness, lack of energy. Cocaine. All of sudden he can talk to women. Walk into a job full of people. Cocaine. “He’s got so much energy. What a go-getter. Give that man a pay raise.” So our hero gets a job and a girlfriend and an apartment and he starts taking college courses. And it’s all thanks to cocaine. It was almost like Real Life.

Droogs by Anderson .Paak

The story takes a sexy turn here. Because for him, drugs and sex become closely related. The urge for sex is mixed with the desire for drugs. And so what follows is a string of destructive relationships and meaningless hook-ups and more drugs.

She don’t give a fuck
She don’t ever stress me
We don’t even talk
All we do is sex and leave
No there’s no love
She don’t even like me
But if we have drugs
She can be my wifey
When we have drugs

I got lost up in it, got lost up in it, got high for a minute
Said my lust for life and these lights are bright and I love these women
Said we bopping slow and we do the dance like we more than winning
Said she off the beat but she’s fine as fuck so I find the rhythm
No love is greater, in this whole world we made up
This love is made-up, it’s made-up
It’s made-up, it’s made-up, it’s made-up (say, aye)
I don’t know this bitch but I love this shit and we both are splendid
And she loud as fuck so I grab and touch and she don’t get offended
They goin call the law if we don’t get lost in Wynn parking lot
She don’t like me dog, she just like the drugs my nigga, don’t get it twisted

How many more can you give to me?
How many more can you give to me? I know you’re feelin me
Grinding and biting and kissing me
Who gives a fuck bout your history? nobody mentioned it
I coulda taken them all, I coulda taken them all, look at me dog
Look at me dead in the eyes, tell me you ain’t in love

She don’t give a fuck
She don’t ever stress me
We don’t even talk
All we do is sex and leave
No there’s no love
She don’t even like me
But if we have drugs
She can be my wifey
When we have drugs

You my one and only, my one and only, I’m on one homie
I don’t know your name I just love that ass, and I’ll pull that pony
Said I hate the club, but I make the club when I walk into it
Said you hate the drink, but you take the drink when I offer fluid
No love is greater, in this whole world we made up
This love is made-up, it’s made-up, it’s made-up, it’s made-up, it’s made-up

I can say right now that I’ll lay you down, I got lots of rubbers
I don’t give a fuck, you don’t give a fuck, we was made for each other
Your friend ain’t cute but my nigga’s a trooper, he’ll take the L
I’m high as fuck and you high as fuck so we parasailing

How many more can you give to me? How many more can you give to me?

I know you’re feelin me
Grinding and biting and kissing me, who gives a fuck bout your history,

Nobody mentioned it
I coulda taken them all, I coulda taken them all, look at me dog
Look at me dead in the eyes, tell me you ain’t in love

She don’t give a fuck
She don’t ever stress me
We don’t even talk
All we do is sex and leave
No there’s no love
She don’t even like me
But if we have drugs
She can be my wifey
When we have drugs

Hash Pipe by Weezer

Eventually this leads to a life of chaos. Moving to crystal meth and then crack. He does more and more. In and out of hospitals. In and out of rehab. Emotions flying off the hook. In and out of jail. Alienating everyone around him. Until finally he’s alone. Just him, his crack pipe and his self-destructive behavior. Paranoid, angry and alone, he’s pushed everyone else away. He settles in with crack as a substitute for human contact. His life is reduced to a constant struggle to get more crack. To do whatever to get more crack.

Please by U2

One night, while crawling around on his knees searching for something that wasn’t there, he breaks down. He realizes he’s hit the bottom. For him there was no lower he could go. Determined and alone, he begins the fight to try to get off drugs. In a montage of failed attempts. And valiant second and third attempts. We see him crying with every failure. Throwing out pipes only to buy new ones. Vowing to never use again then breaking his vow, sometimes in the very same day. At this point he only has himself to blame. And he only has himself for strength. Just he and the better self that he knows he can be. His life flashes before his eyes in a series of emotional motivational scenes. After months of trying, he finally gets clean.

Manhole by Ani DiFranco

He gets off the drugs and rebuilds his life. He remembers the hollow advice of his mother. So he pretends to be normal. He moves to a new city. He lies about his past. He lies to himself. He gets really good at lying. His past becomes something that happened to someone else. But not to him.

I’m holding here a book, notable, but not the greatest
Stolen for me by the latest in a long line of thieves
And I’m just about to drop it down that manhole of memories
When I realize it doesn’t bother me like love’s mementos usually do
And I look up to see who’s different here, the latest me or the latest you

‘Course, you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t lie, he just doctors everything
Chooses some unassuming finger and quietly moves his wedding ring
Who rewrites his autobiography for any pretty girl who’ll sing
But you can’t fool the queen, baby ‘cuz I married the king

And maybe it was I who betrayed his majesty
With no opposite reality, like a puddle with no reflection
Of the sky or the trees, but after my dreaded beheading
I tied that sucker back on with a string
And I guess I’m pretty different now, considering

I kissed you on the street that night on the far side of fourth
But I didn’t like the taste in my mouth or yours
And ignoring the persona you wore for my benefit
For once I had the balls to call it, just call it
But a lesson must be lived in order to be learned
And the clarity to see and stop this now that is what I’ve earned

And maybe it was I who betrayed his majesty
With no opposite reality, like a puddle with no reflection
Of the sky or the trees but after my dreaded beheading
I tied that sucker back on with a string
And I guess I’m pretty different now, considering

I’m holding here a book, notable, but not the greatest
Stolen for me by the latest in a long line of thieves
And I’m just about to drop it down that manhole of memories
When I realize it doesn’t bother me and heartache not so dire
‘Cuz I looked up to see integrity finally won over desire

Climbing Up The Walls by Radiohead

Sadly once he kicks the drugs all of his psychiatric problems resurface. He had forgotten why he started drinking in the first place. And after several run-ins with the police they eventually throw him in a psychiatric hospital. There’s not a lot of words in this section. It’s mostly just images of horror and isolation. And the voice of a sadistic orderly taunting him in his pharmaceutical haze, “You didn’t think it would be that easy now did you?”

I am the key to the lock in your house
That keeps your toys in the basement
And if you get too far inside
You’ll only see your reflection

It’s always best when the choir is out
I am the pick in the ice
Do not cry out or hit the alarm
You know we’re friends till we die

Either way you turn, I’ll be there
Open up your skull, I’ll be there
Climbing up the walls

It’s always best when the light is off
It’s always better on the outside
Fifteen blows to the back of your head
Fifteen blows to your mind

So lock the kids up safe tonight
Shut the eyes in the cupboard
I got the smell of a local man
Who’s got the loneliest feeling

And either way you turn, I’ll be there
Open up your skull, I’ll be there
Climbing up the walls

Dig by Incubus

While in the hospital he sees such horrors in the way the mentally ill are treated. And once he gets out, he vows to use his experiences to help others. And so the angry young man from the beginning let’s go of his anger. He leaves the hospital a new man. With a new lease on life. But with an absolute disdain for how the homeless and mentally ill are treated in his country. The sun is shining for the first time in his life without drugs. Fade out.

Roll Credits

Let Go by Frou Frou

End Credits Song. As the song plays, the credits roll and we see pictures of the man on whose life this movie is based. People in the theater who didn’t know it was based on a true story gain a new respect for the film. Others are amazed by how much more handsome the real guy is compared to the actor who plays him. There’s not a dry eye in the house. And once the credits are done all that’s left on screen is a dash and a name. Some in the audience smile knowingly before the house lights come up.

Thank you for listening.

– Mel

Songs That Define Me: Tool’s Forty Six & 2 (Kid’s Cover)

Hey guys,

A few posts ago I talked about not being able to define myself in words and wanting to use music. So I was going to post Ten Songs That Define Me. But then I thought, why should I limit myself or force myself into picking ten? Plus I wanted to find live versions of the songs or clever videos for the songs to make it interesting. And that’s where I ran into my problem. I didn’t want to just post the songs. But post some cool videos of the songs.

So instead of posting all of my “Songs That Define Me” in one post I’ve decided to make it into a series. If I find a good video I’ll post it and if I can’t find it I’ll record it myself and post me doing the song on acoustic or something. The first song was Mayonaise by Smashing Pumpkins. I posted that in my What’s Good post for early Summer.

But here is a great acoustic version of that song to make it official. Even though the video is flopped (backwards) and Billy cracks up toward the end. This is the best audio-visual example of that song being performed that I can find.

 

But this post is about the second song from my “Songs That Define Me” series. And trust me they won’t all be rock songs. But this song most definitely is. It’s Forty Six & 2 by Tool. And I found this insanely good cover by a group of kids from the O’Keefe Music Foundation. Covering Forty Six & 2 is difficult to begin with (It goes from 4/4 to 7/8, 5/8 & 3/8 overlapping the drummers amazing 7/8) so THIS is outstanding.

Kala Scarpinski

They say the song’s title refers to the next evolution of human DNA (we’re at 44 & 2 chromosomes) but I like to think of it (at least recently and personally) as my age and my time. It is a call to arms. I love this song. Actually this entire album is fantastic. Tool’s album Ænima is in my top ten favorite albums of forever and always. Take it kids…

 

I’m going to put up Tool’s version of their song but honestly I prefer my girl Kala Rose (Kala Scarpinski)’s vocals to Maynard’s (seriously I do).

Kala Rose

I’m also going to add her doing Sober with her current group from this year. (Forty Six & 2 was from 2013). This little girl is gonna be huge if she keeps rocking.

 

Anyway, I can totally see her as a rock star one day. But here is the original version of Forty Six & 2 by Tool… for comparison or just because it kicks ass.

Forty Six & 2

My shadow’s shedding skin.
I’ve been picking scabs again.
I’m down.
Digging through.
My old muscles looking for a clue.
I’ve been crawling on my belly.
Clearing out what could’ve been.
I’ve been wallowing in my own confused and insecure delusions.
For a peace to cross me over.
Or a word to guide me in.
I wanna feel the changes coming down.
I wanna know what I’ve been hiding in my shadow.
Change is coming through my shadow.
My shadow’s shedding skin.
I’ve been picking my scabs again.
I’ve been crawling on my belly.
Clearing out what could’ve been.
I’ve been wallowing in my own CHAOTIC and insecure delusions.
I wanna feel the change consume me.
Feel the outside turning in.
I wanna feel the metamorphosis and cleansing I’ve endured within my shadow.
Change is coming.
Now is my time.
Listen to my muscle memory.
Contemplate what I’ve been clinging to.
Forty-six and two ahead of me.
I choose to live and to grow.
Take and give and to MOVE
Learn and love and to CRY
Kill and die and to be paranoid and to lie
Hate and fear and to Do what it takes to move through.
I choose to live and to lie
Kill and give and to die
Learn and love and to Do what it takes to step through.
See my shadow changing, stretching up and over me.
Softening this old armor.
Hoping I can clear the way by stepping through my shadow,
And coming out the other side.
Step into the shadow.
Forty six and two are just ahead of me.

(Now is my time)

Thanks for listening.

Until we meet again,

– Mel

7 Times A Movie Saved My Life

Under the heading of Things That Make Me Happy:

On this blog I like to talk about movies, list the things that I like, and talk about myself & my life in embarrassing detail. This is one of those posts.

Typewriter

I was thinking about movies that represented important times in my life. That not just reminded me of those times, but that affected, informed, reflected and transformed those times into some of my life’s most important moments.

These are movies that (figuratively) saved my life.

To the list…

Raider of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Firstly, the movies were an escape:

To escape.

I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark EVERY DAY for several months. Two, sometimes three times a night. After school, instead of going home, I stayed at the movie theater and watched Indiana Jones take on the Nazis over and over again. Sometimes I paid, sometimes I didn’t pay at all. Those days you could hang out near the exit and walk in as people walked out. But I wasn’t about to go home.

Where doesn't it hurt?

“Dammit, Mel where doesn’t it hurt?”

I knew every word.

I hid at the theater, the way Indy hides on that cargo ship.

“There’s a place for you in the hold. Go my friend. Go.”

Indy

Fear is a horrible thing.

“WHAT ABOUT JONES?”

“Jones is dead. I killed him. Herr Colonel, that cargo you’ve taken, if it’s your gold, go in peace with it but leave us the girl. She will reduce our loss on this trip.”

“Savages! We will take what we want and then decide whether or not to blow your ship from the water.”

Top Men

We’re just gonna store this one away and forget about it.

Seriously though, I know every word, every sound, every note. Raiders of the Lost Ark is my happy place. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Top Secret (1984)

Top Secret

To get over a bad break-up.

Val Kilmer in an over-the-top Airplane style comedy. Several jokes per second. Pure silliness. Insanely funny. But more than that. My first break-up.

Sun Tan

This one’s simple. I was 17. I’d just broken up with my first real girlfriend. I’d never felt such pain in my life. No, wait. That’s not true. I had felt pain like that. But it was when I was a kid. I didn’t know what caused it. Non-physical pain hardly really registers with children. Because there’s nothing physical to blame. No fall. No sprain. I couldn’t blame anything for that heavy, empty feeling in my heart. That crushing feeling is a mystery pain to a child.

So, with the first girl, the first hand, the first time someone reached into my chest, pulled my heart out and broke it in front of me, it wasn’t just that very pain. And that very cause. It wasn’t just her. No. Getting my heart-broken finally helped me to realize that it had been feeling like that all along. It was the rejection. That’s what that was. The feeling you get when someone you love treats you like something they scraped off the bottom of their shoes. Finally I was able to identify the feeling I was feeling.

Hello

It was a lot to put on one girl. I should have thanked her for opening my mind to the realization of all the pain I’ve ever felt. I didn’t realize I’d been in pain the entire time. And it destroyed my image of the world like the crumpled photograph of the forgotten lover. I couldn’t breathe and a part of me didn’t want to anymore.

So, as I do, I went walking.

This is a recurring theme. I walk when I’m in pain. Like running away from my problems but slower. I’m a walker. This one time I walked to the multiplex – a theater with six or more tiny theaters contained within – and I bought a ticket for Top Secret. I loved Airplane and The Kentucky Fried Movie. I love that silly stuff. I sat there in the theater crying through the coming attractions… in the dark.

Boots

By the middle of the film I was crying on the floor with laughter. Laughing my ass off so hard my sides hurt more than my heart. It is one of the silliest movies ever made. So many visual jokes. So much zany. So much funny.

There’s a point during pain when you think it may never cease. No matter how many times pain has come and gone away. THIS time… This time it’s moving in for good. But then a movie (or a song) just blows that theory out of the water. You’re singing. You’re dancing. You’re still inside the pain but the laughter has shoved it over to the side and made room for pleasure. Room to smile again.

How Silly

I can’t say Top Secret is one of my favorite movies but it is a movie that saved my life.

“How silly can you get?”

Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink

To make the writey things BLAH

Speaking of things that feel like they will never end. Writer’s block is one of those “Oh my god. This isn’t going away” type things. One of my worst bouts was after getting notes from a severely demanding “producer” (I use that term loosely) and then getting to a point where I couldn’t see the words. They weren’t even words. They were just shapes on a page. Have you ever felt like that? Like words aren’t words just letters. And it’s all just shapes on a page that make no sense. That these so called words are in a language that you do not understand. Only to come to the realization that you also think in that stupid language. Your thoughts are also in that same alien gibberish that you don’t understand. And communication no good think fuck words… WALK.

The Fink Feel

So I walk. I find myself on the street. Walking it out. Walking it out. I lived down in the village at this time. I use the term lived loosely. I went through several homeless phases in my life. From homeless teen to homeless artist to homeless drug addict to chronic homeless to homeless mental patient. This was the artist phase. (I use that term loosely) They put me up in a hotel with a typewriter and nothing else. And I drank. And I wrote.

I made something I was proud of until… More producers. More notes. More changes. More stress. I walked. I walked past the Cinema Village Theater; an artsy multiplex on 11th or 12th street. I said to myself, “I will see the next movie starting.”

Barton

It was Barton Fink. I wouldn’t lie to you. I didn’t even know what that was. Didn’t know the Coen Brothers. I’d seen Raising Arizona but that’s it. At least with Top Secret I knew what I was getting into. I loved Airplane. I knew it was a comedy. I knew that it was just what I needed. But this one, I walked into blind. I didn’t know a damn thing about it. Nothing.

And it too was just what I needed. Barton Fink is a movie about writer’s block. The main character suffers from it. Everyone in his world has a debilitating frustration with communication… and it is marvelous. You have to love the universe’s sense of humor.

Barton Fink Hotel Room

Some turn to drink. Some turn to murder. Some put their names on other people’s work. Each character deals with it a different way. Not being able to find the right words is maddening. And not just for writers but salespeople, professionals, professors, executives, executors, etc., etc.

Fink

Barton Fink was the first time I saw the genius of the Coen Brothers. A film written by two of my favorite screenwriters when they were blocked while writing another of my favorite films; Miller’s Crossing. They used it as a way to work out of their… their own… what’s the word? (the word is BLAH).

I do this thing now that I’m pretty pleased with. When I can’t find the word I’m looking for in a reasonable amount of time, I put BLAH (all caps) in its place and move on. I don’t even think about it. When I go over what I’ve written an hour or two later, the word I wanted is immediately apparent. It hasn’t failed me yet. (Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to reopen a file and it’s going to read blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah. Serves me right for jinxing it)

Life of the mind

Barton Fink is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not just because it helped me out of a sticky situation and I left that theater and went back to my tiny hotel room and re-wrote the best thing I’d ever re-written in my life into something barely recognizable as my own. But I still pull that movie off the shelf when I’m having trouble with the letter thingies. The little letter thingies. Because it’s also a really good movie. Really really really really good.

“I’ll show you the life of the mind!”

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs

To work out my post-incarceration aggression

It was the first thing I did when I got out of jail. I went to the movies. It’s what I do. I couldn’t walk. I was too angry. I had to rest my sore leg on the back of the seat in front of me. The theater was crowded but nobody said shit to me. Reservoir Dogs was playing. And I laughed through the entire thing. Especially the torture scene (think De Niro in Cape Fear). It was exactly what I needed. Exactly. what. I. needed.

"You're welcome."

“You’re welcome.”

During one of my homeless stints, I carried my belongings in a backpack. This time out it was mostly books. But I had one of those packs that distributed the weight from your shoulders to your waist. It was still quite a workout. I read books on writing. Books on Buddhism. Books I loved. I would read them and I would sell them. During the day I would go to the illegal flea market and set up a store to sell my books while I played my guitar.

Mr Blonde

It was not illegal to sell books (something to do with the first amendment). So whenever the cops would come and close us down, I would calmly pack up my books and leave. But for some reason, this last time, an officer decided to walk over to my “store” and stand on top of my books so that I couldn’t pick them up. I tried to work around his boots until; finally I said politely, “Excuse me sir you’re standing on my books?”

Well that did it. How dare I be polite. He grabbed me and slammed me to the pavement. Yelling at me to stop struggling (I wasn’t). To stop fighting him ( I wasn’t) Soon there were five officers on my back. Twisting my arms. My neck. But the last one; A female officer who was standing and watching and being admonished for not joining into the abuse. She had to prove herself I suppose. She grabbed one of my legs and twisted it until my patella snapped and I screamed bloody murder. And they all laughed. They had destroyed my knee. Two surgeries later, it has never fully healed. And they laughed. And arrested me.

Tortore Scene

I was complying. I was leaving. Selling books isn’t illegal. And I asked the officer politely to not stand on my books so that I could remove them. Judge said that when I called them MY books it was an admission of guilt. Guilty of what you might ask? Guilty of placing books on the sidewalk. They beat me. Destroyed my knee. Arrested me. And stole my beautiful backpack… basically my home. They handed me back my books in a plastic bag after a weekend in jail. They treated me like I was subhuman and I could do nothing.

I got out of jail and went to a theater. What else? I went to see Reservoir Dogs.

Harvey Keitel

“You shoot anybody?”
“Just cops.”
“So, no REAL people?”

It was cathartic. Even the torture scene. I left the theater singing…

“Don’t know why I came here tonight.”

I know exactly why.

I had never been more in the mood for violence. It was dangerous. Reservoir Dogs helped me through that. Sometimes you just have to see cops being tortured and shot to feel like a human being again after being treated like an animal.

Cop

I don’t hate cops. I hate the way that when one of them is a menace, and shouldn’t be wearing a badge, the others have to join in with the abuse of authority because that’s their code. I don’t hate the woman who destroyed my knee. I wish she were stronger and more able to resist her peer’s pressure. Or at least I wish she would have stopped before… before the crunch. She was aiming for that crunch by the way. She had set out to do what she did. Destroy my knee. She was trying to impress her peers. “You think you can abuse this guy. I’m gonna make him limp for the rest of his life.” I don’t even hate the cop who walked on my books… not much anyway. He probably got shot in the head years ago… after having his ear cut off and doused in lighter fluid (a fella can dream, can’t he?).

Stuck in the middle with you

“Yes I’m… stuck in the middle with you.”

Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull

To confront my violent temper.

Don’t be alarmed. I’m still going in chronological order. When I saw Raging Bull for the first time it was in re-release. Sometime in the nineties. There was a girl that I worked with. Not really, but I worked with her boyfriend. He was a fucktard (in the traditional sense). He would verbally abuse her in public. And she was the sweetest little waif. Pretty. Smart. Completely out of his league. And he knew it. But he kept up this steady stream of abuse.

Raging Jake

Once I saw her flinch when he raised his hand. Something I had seen first hand… second-hand… third hand. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been bullied and I’ve seen people I care about be bullied. And this was an angel. I was secretly in love with her and this… fucktard was frightening and belittling her. But like I said, I am in no position to judge.

She once said in passing that she didn’t need anyone to fight her battles for her. That the thought that she needed saving was a sexist one. She wasn’t talking about herself when she said this. But I knew she was talking about herself. We both knew. But I had never thought about it that way. I had always believed that when a woman had a problem the right thing to do was to solve it. To play the hero. But if I’m the hero, what does that make her? Why can’t she be the hero of her own story? I can be the side kick, The wise teacher. Comic relief. As long as I’m in the fucking movie I’m good. Changed my whole way of thinking. I love it when people do that.

Raging Bull De Niro

I would chat with her while she waited for him. (we worked long nights at a book store uptown) and it was she that recommended I go see Raging Bull. I was a movie fan. I was a Marty fan. I had never seen Raging Bull. I think she saw the way I looked at her. Admiration, Lust, Pity. She knew about my anger issues and that me and her boyfriend had bumped heads a few times. (I could have easily pummeled him into the ground if I didn’t already know that wasn’t what she wanted). There was a little art house theater that I’d never been. And for the record, she wasn’t asking me out. She was just telling me to go see Raging Bull. And I am nothing if not good at following orders.

Robert De Niro

I went on my day off. And I saw, not a bio pic about an aging fighter, but a movie about a slave to violence. About an aging bully. I saw people I’ve known in Scorsese & De Niro’s Jake Lamotta. I saw my tormentors in him. Bullies and Stepmonsters. But worse, I saw myself in him and I was disgusted and ashamed. (I’ve broken my pinkie punching a wall so often that my other fingers have disowned it). But all I could really think about was her. As I cried at the end and as the credits rolled, I looked over to my right and there she was. Across the aisle a couple rows back. I didn’t even know she was there. I didn’t say anything to her. Her face was soaked. She must have been crying the entire time as well.

We sat there in silence during the credits… separately. We left at the same time… separately. She never said a word to me so I never said a word to her. I just knew I didn’t want to be a slave to my anger anymore. I didn’t want to be that guy. And I wanted to thank her for the movie even while it hurt so much to see an angel cry.

Cathy Moriarty

I heard she broke up with that fucktard soon after. Or maybe it was even that night. Weeks later he told the bosses that I was stealing and that the address I had given them wasn’t a real one. (It was a church that let me pick up my mail there). So, only the second part of his complaint was true. But that was enough for them to fire me.

I never saw her again.

Henry V (1989)

Henry V

To finally declare war on my addiction

When I battled drug addiction (It was crack and cocaine) I would promise myself that I was quit the very moment the drugs and the money ran out… it was over. I was done. Then I would forget my promise as soon as I could afford to. I would regularly check into Detox. And the entire time, while most of the addicts were having sex (yes, Detox is a mad fuck fest), I would be plotting the course from the front door to the drug spot. And by the time my time was up, I knew the route by heart. I would head from the hospital to the dealer. I wouldn’t even bother to remove the tags.

"You disgusts me."

“You disgust me.”

Tell me about it.

But the very last time I went through detox, instead of heading to the drug spot, I took a walk down to my favorite theater. The good old Cinema Village Theater: Revivals, First-runs, Cult Classics. I swear to you, every single movie they play there is amazing. I said to myself, I said, “Mel, you’re going to see the next movie playing and it’s going to help you out of this cycle.” It was Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. Again I knew nothing about it. I had the Complete Works of William Shakespeare growing up. A book I could not read when I was 7 but by the time I was 12 I had read cover to cover. No that’s a lie. I had read the Comedies and the Tragedies. I hate to admit this, but I skipped the Histories altogether.

Kenneth Branagh

So I entered the theater knowing nothing about the play or the movie or the history for that matter. Needless to say, it was just what I needed. Cinema Village comes through again.

This fight was going to be an epic battle. I was completely outgunned, a superior force that had taken down better men than me, better men, was mocking me with little affordable vials of extremely addictive crap. But I would learn to outsmart it. I was determined to win.

War

They like to tell addicts to “take it one day at a time” but that was never working for me. I was always a few steps ahead myself. So what I was going to have to do was take on my addiction – the NEXT day at a time. I would do everything I could TODAY, anything and everything I could think to do THAT DAY, in order to make sure that I would not and could not do drugs TOMORROW.

For me it was money and access. (It’s different for everyone) For me I was always able to stop when the money ran out. For a lot of folks, that does not stop them. And the other thing is that I could never truly claim victory. Because as soon as I started feeling proud of myself, that was the moment when I let down my guard.

Henry V

“You’re doing it, boy. You did it. You beat it. Good job.” “You, sir, are the man. Now how about we go celebrate with some crack? You’ve earned it.”

I mean, the only way to claim true victory is to die never having done it again. Which is why certain folks can’t visit me on my deathbed. (I’m looking at you, crack dealer)

But when I feel like I’m going to let myself down I start humming the tune from the movie. “Dominay. Do-minay. Dom-in-ay. Oh, Dominay. Domi-i-naaaay.”

That’s my battle song, baby.

Better Men Than Me

And I can tell you this with complete honesty and confidence; I will not be smoking crack tomorrow. And after more than a decade & a half totally crack and cocaine free, that’s the most I will allow myself to say. Because for all you people who think addiction isn’t real, even after all this time, I still wake up some nights sucking air. Trying to get that hit. The one from my dream. It’s an awful feeling.

Better men than me…

Spider-man (2002)

Spider-Man Poster

To stop running away from my demons and move back to New York

“I am so high, I can hear heaven.”

You know, this one was not so much about the movie but the song from the movie. It’s a Nickleback song (I know) or more accurately a Chad Kroeger song (same thing I suppose). I was living on the road back then. Travelling from city to city. Either sleeping in my car or on a friend’s couch. It was the best way for me to stay ahead of my addiction. Never staying in one place long enough to know where the drug spot was. Plus I got to see a lot of the country that way. Never got all the way to Seattle but I wanted to.

Mary Jane and Spidey

From 98 to 02, I was just running. I’d stop in a city. Get a job. Stay there for about a year or until I found out where the drugs were and started thinking about them. And then I was back on the road. Then this song comes on the radio.

“…and they say that a hero will save us…”

You know, the one from Spider-man. The first one with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. From the first trilogy. The Sam Raimi one. The good one.

Peter Parker

It wasn’t really the song but the ad for the movie. And I’ve always loved Spider-man. Spider-man reminds me of when I was a kid. When I had dreams. When I had promise. When I had confidence coming out of my ass. I was gonna see the movie anyway. But listening to that song made me realize that the only place to see it was back home.

“I’m not gonna stand here and waaaaaaaa-it…”

The Hero

I sang that song the entire way. I didn’t own the single. I didn’t even know the words. I just sang the part from the commercial and from the trailer. I pulled into Manhattan after driving for hours and hours cross-country. I drove directly to the movie theater, parked my car with all of my belongings and walked in to see the movie.

Mary J and Spidey

Just wanting to see the movie at home was all the motivation I needed to stop running. I’ve been back in New York ever since.

Dorothy was right.

There’s no place like it.

“I’ll hold on to the wings of the eagles. And watch as we all fly away….”

… And that’s my list of 7 movies that saved my life.

There are other films that I throw on when I need them: Casablanca, Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, and New York Stories (particularly Scorsese’s Life Lessons) are my go to break up movies. Each with its own way of making me feel better about how bad I am at relationships.

And when I need inspiration there are a bunch of action films that get me pumped. I’ve mentioned most of them. They are all over my blog.

But as for when I need a laugh? There was a time when I would throw on some Monty Python or Mel Brooks, (Flying Circus, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) but these days I can just go to social media and in a few moments I’m laughing hysterically.

Social Media

You people make me happy.

These days, it’s almost too easy.

– Mel