Poem: Everything

Forgetting is my favorite thing to do

to you, because you are

not, at all, disappearing from my imagination

day and night at once, I remember you fondly

from your youth, rectified clean, bursting inside out

you seemed from your experience a worker

angel in disguise, pasting heavenly

sputum all the sides, intoxicating gasses of love

torn from plaster, irreversibly sticky

are these bonds which bind us

made to break?  Necessarily not

I suppose, for it is not the forgetting, this time

towing shame in a canvas bag

again, for opinions held

would help me a lot again

were they kind, if cruel

would I stretch over the pit

perennially of fire?

 

Yes, obviously, whatta you kidding?

 

It’s just that I would and could

bathe in fire for the count of five, slowly

ratchet joints the wrong way

stretch tendons to snap, if need be

becoming deadly, call me the whisper,

the figure that speaks forever

in a voice too low, sinister snake

jibber jabber monologue mouth

erupting, silently wrapped.  Laughter

is my prize inside the skin, giggle jiggling

over the cirrus as they waft

from left to right, and the birds tweet

outside as they talk, cursing and threatening

each other for sure is a cousin of a friend

or something probably, will split the world

in two, anyway so love that woman

with everything that is

you.

Poem: Everything

Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Director: Joseph Sargent

Writer: John Godey (novel) Peter Stone (screenplay)

Actors: Robert Shaw, Walter Mathau, Hector Elizondo

Streaming on Amazon Prime

In the history of heist movies, bank robbery movies, and hostage situation movies, personality is what really matters.  The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, one of the greatest examples of all three of those types of crime story, has more personality on display than an off-broadway production of Our Town.  This personality, which is 1970’s New York City blue-collar through and through, puts much-needed life into what could have seemed a fairly grim little story.  In this story, Bernard Ryder (Robert Shaw) and three associates take a subway car full of passengers hostage, after which things take a consistent turn for the worse.  As the somewhat dark story sputters its way to a predictable conclusion, its audience is kept rapturous, enlivened by interesting characters and entertained by riotous performances.

Walter Mathau, as Police Lt. Zachary Garber, for example, is a hilarious and emotionally relatable protagonist.  One sequence early in the movie in which Garber (Mathau) repeatedly insults a Japanese tour group is particularly hysterical, as it contributes greatly to the crafting of a compelling story line.  “This way, dummies, just step this way, dummies,” the lieutenant sputters, annoyed at being relegated to giving tours of the train station.  But on this day, his luck changes, when Richard Ryder (Robert Shaw) hijacks the train car he’s on, touching off a deadly sequence of events.  Robert Shaw, as in The Sting, conveys a perfectly single-minded commitment, and steps in as the perfect foil for Mathau’s cheeky expertise.  Watching these two actors play off each other through a two-way radio is marvelous, as the actors ratchet the tension up to extreme levels.

The showdown between Garber (Mathau) and Ryder (Shaw) takes up most of the movie, but underneath this main plot, the city of New York can be seen as a character.  The way characters talk to each other, as if they’re late for another appointment, and the way that traffic is a permanent inconvenience for everyone at all times, combine to make Pelham One Two Three a movie that will forever be chained to New York.  One character, Caz Dolowicz (Tom Pedi) is New Yorker through and through, with the heaviest accent of them all, which he uses to say lines like “I’m gonna nail his pecker to the wall for this,” and “If I gotta watch my language just ‘cause they let a few broads in I’m gonna quit.’”  When Caz makes flippantly sexist assertions like this, it is more entertaining than anything else, as if his loudly sexist opinions are more a relic than a warning, reminding us how much fun America can be when allowed to be itself.

Fun is the word that chiefly leaps to mind when discussing The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, as its breezily preposterous story (it did not surprise me to learn that the novel this movie is based on is fiction) and its understated comic relief collaborate to make the movie’s 104 minute runtime zip by.  Directed by Joseph Sergeant, a journeyman director who’s biggest credit next to this movie is Jaws: The Revenge, seems to have a deft hand at pacing, though he’s all thumbs when it comes to emotional impact.  If looking for any kind of depth or expression of true emotion, one should probably look elsewhere, but for an exemplary by-the-books heist narrative, there’s hardly one better The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

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Movie Review: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Review: Paris is Burning (1990)

Paris is Burning (1990)

Documentary

Director: Jennie Livingston

Stars: Brooke Extravaganza, Andre Christian, Dorian Corey and many more

Available on Netflix

Released in 1990, the documentary Paris is Burning offers a brief yet somehow comprehensive look into the “ball” scene in New York as it existed in the 80’s.  “Balls” were events organized by black gay men, and were basically fashion shows for drag queens, though they came to represent so much more.  Having been made “legendary” by its constant reference on Rupaul’s Drag Race, it is easy to discount the movie as an ornament of kitsch, but to do so discounts the film’s value as an emotionally devastating portrait of courage.  Throughout its all-too-brief runtime (71 minutes), Paris offers portraits of both young and aging gay black men who, spurned by a society that shuns them, have found solace by coming together and creating a culture all their own.  This culture, though it may not shield many of these figures from the harsh realities of modern life, shows that everyone, regardless of whether mainstream society can see them or not, can find a way to be everything they want to be.

Earlier in this review’s opening paragraph, I put quotation marks around the word “legendary” because it is one of a variety of terms used frequently in this culture’s special vernacular, and it is meant to signify a level of experience and success in the “ball” circuit.  Early in the film, the “legendary” “mother” of the “house” of Labeija explains the evolution of the New York “ball” scene from a network of drag queen parties into a more-or-less organized competitive circuit, where contestants are judged on everything from fashion and makeup to more subjective determiners like poise and talent.  All of the description of the scene is really just the canvas on which compelling characters are drawn and the audience is let in on the fun of it all.  In one of the most famous and hilarious scenes in the movie, “legendary” “mother” of the “house” of Corey describes the practice of “reading,” perfectly elucidating the way insults delivered are made more effective through the subtleties of performance than the particulars of an insult.

This “mother,” Dorian Corey, is one of the more compelling individuals in the film, constantly powdering his face and speaking in the fatigued voice of a disappointed headmaster.  In his (or her, if you prefer, as I feel that most of the movie’s interviewees would accept either pronoun) tired eyes, we see his knowledge of the hardships that his “children” are sure to face.  These drag queens are forced to join groups or “houses” because many of their families have disowned them, and their most important and long-lasting relationships are now with the other members of their “house,” especially their “mother.”  The fact that pervades every frame of Paris is Burning is that for these drag queens, life is very hard.  The harsh realities of life for these “children” is most exemplified in the frame of Venus Extravaganza, the tiny, lithe and gorgeously cute little 23-year old who is the first to describe his own method of making money, which he calls “hustling” but is in reality thinly disguised prostitution.

Venus is retroactively the movie’s most chilling character, as he was murdered (presumably by a john) two years prior to its release.  The “ball” circuit of Paris is Burning is so important to all its participants precisely because the realities of their lives are so dark, and to escape their own circumstances for a few hours by dressing up and performing in a showcase can seem like the most important thing in their lives.  I consider the drag queens of this terrific little movie heroes, because they are so able to compartmentalize lives of brutal strife, that when they step out on the pageant stage, they can be superstars of the highest order.  As Dorian Corey puts it at the conclusion of the movie, rolling his eyes and sneaking a knowing smirk across his lips, “If you can shoot an arrow and it goes real high, hooray for you.”  This concluding sentiment perfectly illustrates the way that glory in the “ball” scene can be thrilling and exhilarating, but it will not free you from life’s cruel circumstance.

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Review: Paris is Burning (1990)

Poem: Fateful Founders

What if my girlfriend felt perfunctory

and like it was meant to be

a thousand times a thousand, that would be awful

certainty, certainly

measuring the prose to fold the flow

so small it disappears

into nothing, dull as a watchword

lesson over what, would I finally be

happy?  Hell no, says the green-eyed

taxman flicking his tail and scarring

the children mentally at least, you would be bored

as fuck all useless, so praise the horizon

storm when it comes especially crushing

the sky light, forming a fiberglass

cocoon like a butterfly, evolving you

gradually infinite pacing slowly

conversation masks abound, revealing that

we were meant to be regardless

unavoidable futures, dead end craving

a conclusion of the heart, roasting in the sun

salutatorian shimmer, so sharply it bites

off the end, leaving a single sculpture

of the two of us together, fighting the predetermined

fate written on leaves of grass

tornado turning, we are invention of art

constructing fate, desire incarnated beautifully

fragile fortunes favor, made only of our

own effort, deciding what was meant.

Poem: Fateful Founders

Movie Review: Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy (2003)

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writer: Garon Tsuchiya (story), Nobuaki Minegishi (comic), Park Chan-wook, Chun-hyeong Lim, Jo-yun Hwang (screenplay)

Actors: Choi Min-sik, Yoo Ji-tae, Hye-jeong Kang

Available now on Netflix

When I first saw it in 2005, Park Chan-wook’s seminal standout Oldboy knocked me on my ass, enrapturing me in a world of heretofore unrealized filmmaking potential.  It seemed so alive.  From the first scene of Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) yelping in drunken rage from a bench in the police station, it was plainly evident that this film was the work of a master.  From the exquisitely crafted set pieces to the relentless movement of the action scenes, it is easy to see why this movie, which was not originally submitted for competition to the Cannes film festival, ended up winning the Grand Prix (unofficial second place).  Though at it’s heart, Oldboy is in many ways a horror movie, and the squeamish might do themselves a favor by staying away, for those with the stomach for it, there is scarcely a better movie-watching experience to be had.

At the beginning of the movie, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), a nondescript, drunken Korean office worker, is kidnapped and imprisoned in what seems like a shabby hotel room.  He is kept prisoner in this one room for fifteen years.  In these fifteen long years, while he trains himself obsessively, he also becomes increasingly unhinged.  When he is unexpectedly released inside of a suitcase on top of a high-rise, he has only one goal, to discover what happened to him.  This is a very compelling plot line, and though I believe it would have been engrossing enough to hold my interest whoever the performers were, Choi Min-sik does a superb job of making his character seem genuinely deranged.  When he is released on the skyscraper’s roof, he stops a man from committing suicide, only to break into a wide grin as the man finally does kill himself moments afterwards.

As the plot twists its way through various insane and unseemly revelations, Park Chan-wook fills the movie’s running time with unforgettable scenes and sequences, creating an entrancing head-trip of a movie.  One scene that is undoubtedly the movie’s feature attraction, a three-minute fight scene where the hero dispatches with a hallway full of faceless thugs using only a hammer, is only one of the notable scenes in Oldboy.  Choi Min-sik devouring a living octopus whole, as well as the villain (Yoo Ji-tae) clad in a gas mask and hazmat suit spooning a naked Oh Dae-su are two more examples of the enthralling artistry on display in this movie.

As the particularities of the plot reveal themselves and the story delivers a sickening denouement, the true intricacy of Oldboy reveals itself.  As the movie ends and each character’s path finds its own twisted conclusion, a message finally makes itself clear.  This is a movie about obsession, showing the way that vengeance, especially when taken to its greatest possible extremes, brings only evil into the world.  Through his use of ecstatically inventive filmmaking, Park Chan-wook has created an unflinching, deeply entertaining, and philosophically relevant work of art.

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Movie Review: Oldboy (2003)

Poem: The Last Game

The host held the mic at its base, wielding it like poo on a stick and jabbing it at people,

“What’s the answer?”

words pointed sharp, loud and aggressive at first,

when young, sweat beaded, teeth whitened, a positivity tornado,

after three decades, he hates it all now,

everyone, braying bitch bastards, mistake machines and turbo divas,

making eyes at the camera, never for cue cards and kissy faces,

“God you are ass-ugly,  stupid,”

and they laughed, cheered and put him in magazines.

he stares straight forward, asking himself to monolog, but he forgot the words,

weeping on the white tile floor, landing a squish moist mat,

six bullets in the revolver, ready to bang a curtain call,

“Get this wrong and I die”

he threatens with barrel to temple, pressing and shaking,

“Honeydew,” she said, though the answer was cantaloupe,

two words, short and sweet to be his last,

“so close,”

bang said the gun, everyone screamed

retrospect hilarity, and they study it in school now, too,

he wanted to win oscars, now he’s a psychology thesis,

“Richard Preston, suicide champion, the dawning of a new performance art.”

Poem: The Last Game