Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Very Special Apocalypse - Donald Shimoda

Now obviously you may not know who exactly Donald Shimoda is. And therefore the revelation that he's become some kind of shambling undead thing working for the Antichrist isn't going to strike you as particularly noteworthy. For those people a word of explanation is in order.

If you grew up in the late 1970's or early 1980's and took theater classes in your high school or found yourself at some kind of spiritual retreat with your church youth group -- or perhaps you had the kind of teacher who distributed crystals as a motivational tool -- you would have encountered Donald Shimoda. A man named Richard Bach wrote a book called Illusions about a reluctant messiah who moonlighted as a barnstormer in the Midwest, and taught everyone that they could do absolutely anything if they believed in themselves.

He would focus his attention at a cloud in the sky and make it just vanish, and he said that ordinary, non-messianic people could do this too, and that the only thing holding them back was that they were sure they couldn't. You could read this as a wonderful metaphor for the power that ordinary people had over their lives or you could think that maybe the author meant this literally and was batshit insane -- that part was never spelled out. Possibly the book inspired an entire generation of young people to stare at the sky for way too long. And it also inspired Klaus Clavicle to follow his dream and pursue the one career he really loved. And that career was blackmail.

Clavicle was a mediocre private investigator, but he was really very good at telling people he knew some terrible secret and then taking their money. He had been an avid reader of Richard Bach's motivational fiction during a low point in his life -- his first firing and his second divorce -- and it drove him to follow his passion for extortion. Within a few weeks of reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull he was sending his first letter composed of words cut out from a magazine.

Klaus scored his first big payday in 1988 after learning that there had been seven Shane MacGowans in the Irish band The Pogues. MacGowan and his successors died every few months on tour. And each time the manager would replace them like a toddler's goldfish in the middle of the night. He would fly to the MacGowan's home town and pick up a sibling, a cousin, a second cousin... and eventually people who barely knew the MacGowans, but seemed to suffer from the same kind of vitamin deficiencies. (The hometown was Detroit, Michigan; the MacGowan name was originally Jaworski, which was part of the reason the manager was so eager to pay money to keep the whole thing secret). Klaus Clavicle made $500,000, and he soon became wildly successful in discovering the most unbelievable and damaging secrets of the music industry: Elton John's heterosexuality, Prince's love of the game Dungeons and Dragons... the fact that Kurt Cobain faked his own death so that he could go to law school. Clavicle became a very rich man. And like all wealthy and successful people who want to live the exciting life he moved to Virginia Beach so that he could rent a small office in a rundown office complex. It is of course possible that he misspent some of that money along the way.

But Klaus Clavicle is walking back to his office and he is very happy, because he has a stack of papers with the names and addresses of some kind of group he's been researching. He has a real feeling of excitement and satisfaction, because although he doesn't have all the details yet, he is sure these people are hiding something. He has only to find it, and another big paycheck is his. Several paychecks actually -- he intends to squeeze each and every person on his list as hard as he can. He is also happy, because he has a two liter bottle of Tahitian Treat tucked under his arm. Tahitian Treat is a fruit-flavored soft drink from the 7-Up company made for people who don't like the way they can taste a hint of discernable fruit in something like Hawaiian Punch.

Clavicle climbs the dank, unlit stairs -- the elevator is always out in this place, along with the air conditioning. In the dark he fumbles with his keys, unbolts the door, and walks into his workplace ready to get down to the business of secrets and payoffs and clipping out phrases like "shameful past" and "indicted for a felony" from the Reader's Digest. And sitting there near his desk, like a dream come true, is the source of all Clavicle's optimism and passion: Donald Shimoda himself. Clavicle has never seen him before -- he's a character in a novel. But Shimoda is exactly like Clavicle has always pictured him. Same kindly eyes and mischievous smile. Same gaping chest wound. Same 9 mm semi-automatic with a homemade silencer made from a gas pipe and some cotton wadding.

Two shots go pop in the dim office. Half of the red stain on the wall is Tahitian Treat. Half of it is Clavicle.


(Note: The picture is a can of Tahitian Treat, which is almost certainly copyrighted. I'll keep it up on the website until it is replaced by a jpeg of a letter from someone's lawyer.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dream House -- The Trailer Review

A moment by moment review of the trailer for the movie Dream House. Now you know everything.

:05 sec.
This is about two little girls who lived in a house. You know this, because the trailer opens with a voiceover by Daniel Craig saying: "Once upon a time, there were two little girls who lived in a house." Which is a solid premise. I mean, if the house is haunted and the girls have that too-perfect creepy look about them, this could start feeling like a ripoff of The Shining. But what're the odds?

:14 sec.
And this is also about Rachel Weisz, which is just fine. Because Rachel Weisz is just pure cuteness spread on a Ritz cracker with pimento. She is the closest thing a human being comes to being a Disney character. Even that completely unnecessary consonant at the end of her name is somehow perfect.

:42 sec.
So the house is being stalked by some teenage squatters who hang out with plastic baby dolls and spray paint stuff. Creeptastic. And the kids are hiding some terrible secret about the place...

:49 sec.
...which is not really a secret anymore, because the trailer just comes right out and tells you that in the house a father killed his entire family. Okay. So, that kind of blew through some plot twists. And we're getting a little closer to the Shining death-spiral we worried about earlier. But it's not as if...

:52 sec.
...they're going to show some scary backwards message in a mirror. Until they do. At this point if you have ninja training you might want to go ahead and swallow your own tongue.

1:07 sec.
I guess the only mystery left is who this homicidal dad is. His name is Peter Ward, which has a nice 19th century murder ballad feel to it. Peter Ward. Yeah. Man, I bet the story of this guy is just twisty and turny and we spend the rest...

1:12 sec.
Actually, we find out that Peter Ward is really the lead character, and he's got some kind of repressed memory thingie, where he killed his family, spent years in an institution, and now he's back in the same house without knowing it. And if you didn't suffer from oxygen deprivation as a child you have already figured that his family is probably some kind of psycho-ghostly hallucination.

1:43 sec.
But if you did suffer oxygen deprivation as a child, don't worry! Because the trailer spells all that shit out for you as well. At this point the only possible twist left is to suggest...

1:50 sec.
...that Peter Ward didn't really kill his family after all...

1:53 sec.
...and show us a menacing shot of the guy who probably did.

2:00 sec.
Here is where you look at the video's toolbar and realize you still have 30 seconds left. Ominous voices. Jarring sound effects. Enough CGI to help George Lucas masturbate to completion.

2:31 sec.
What does it all mean? Possibility Number One is this movie is packed with so many more plot twists that you will leave the theater feeling like that first time you smoked pot and saw The Wall. Possibility Number Two involves you sitting there in the dark with your Jujubes and really trying to enjoy the hell out of the sound effects. But not the CGI. Let's try to keep it clean, people.
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