That Time I Got Farted On At Blockbuster: In Memoriam

Welcome to Different Perspectives, an essay series designed to offer a new, more positive perspective on an entertainer, company or piece of entertainment that fans and viewers may not have considered.

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It was announced on November 6, 2013 that DISH Network Corp., had decided to pull the plug on Blockbuster’s retail outlets and DVD mailing service.

The mailing service will finish out in late December. All remaining stores will close by January 2014. This means that more than 300 locations across the United States will cease operations and roughly 2800 employees, who are barely making above minimum wage, will lose their jobs.

Merry Christmas?

Naturally, to some degree, I can understand the reasoning for closing Blockbuster. The place has slowly declined in value over the years and has struggled to come back out on top. But it still stings knowing that many good people will probably lose their jobs right after the holidays. Even worse, they may potentially be forced to close their own store down, an emotional  and physically tasking duty that is not very easy when your inventory consists of heavy wooden shelves and thousands of relatively small discs, not to mention a lot of red tape.

Even though the company hasn’t been active in my neck of the woods for several years, I am going to miss Blockbuster.

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I grew up renting movies from my corner store. If it weren’t for Blockbuster, I might very well be someone completely different. I wouldn’t have rented EVERY single horror film they had after I saw Scream and suddenly craved more thrills and chills. I might not have fallen in love with James Bond movies, or seen Alien, The Godfather or even Gremlins … at least not during my formative years. I might not have become a writer.

And don’t even get me started on games. My love for Nintendo basically lives and dies by the almighty hand of Blockbuster. Without them, I wouldn’t have played Super Mario 2, Metroid or The Legend of Zelda (among others). When I was young, I opted for video games based on movies, so my parents would purchase titles that weren’t always of the best quality (damn you, LJN!). You can only play the shitty Back to the Future Nintendo games so long before you desire to play something else, something good. And that’s where Blockbuster came in.

In truth, I am going to miss Blockbuster so much, I wish I didn’t have the painful memory of working there.

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For five months, I worked at Blockbuster Video. It was the sort of job any teenager who loves movies would want. You get to talk about all kinds of films with customers. You get to point them in the right direction, to a genre or specific title they might not have seen. And you get to rent all the films and games you want … for FREE!

The only problem was, I was a 27-year-old adult, and it was the only job available in my neck of the woods. And worse, the company was already on the decline.

My experiences at Blockbuster were, for lack of better words, fucking terrible. I hated working there. It was a dysfunctional environment right from the start, with corporate constantly changing their strategies in order to find financial footing, and putting needless pressure on simple video store clerks just trying to get by. In the time I worked there, the corporate strategy changed at least four times.

At first, they offered a rather clever $10-a-month, monthly service that gave you half-price rentals, one free new release a week, and unlimited free catalog rentals. Then the service they pushed was some outrageous gimmick (I can’t even recall what it was anymore) that cost close to $30-a-month. I flat-out refused to sell this one to customers as I saw absolutely no value in the service. I was written up for my defiance, despite being the top seller of the $10-a-month service in my store.

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Then Blockbuster had the great idea to turn their stores into a tech hub (like Best Buy), complete with TVs, Blu-ray players, satellite dishes and cheap iPod knockoffs for sale. It would have been a great platform … in 1997, when people had money and cared about big box tech. But in 2008, in the midst of a hard-hitting economic recession, no one cared. And worse, Blockbuster just expected employees to be able to sell these products.

Soon, it was no longer about the movies. It was about keeping Blockbuster afloat. They even juggled their rental prices during this time, but those prices rarely went down. In one store I worked at (a rich neighborhood), a rental cost over $8! This was during an era when Redbox was starting to show up, charging only a buck for DVDs.

As Blockbuster’s sales dwindled, employee morale dropped. Hours were cut, people were laid off. There were whispers of store closings in the air. But management received constant pressures to keep things going, and going strong, even though things were getting worse by the day.

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I suffer from a debilitating form of tissue gout, which attacks surface skin tissue, rendering it impossible to do even the simplest of tasks when I am suffering from an attack. For anyone unaware, tissue gout troubles about 1 in 20 gout patients. Also, about 1 in 100 gout patients are lucky enough to have both kinds of gout. I have both kinds and sometimes they strike at once. Yay me! It’s an excruciating ordeal and thankfully, through pain management and several years of trail and error with various medications, it is well under control. But it was bad the year I worked at Blockbuster. Really bad.

In October 2008, I suffered the single worst gout attack of my life. Both wrists and both feet were hit hard and I could not walk, write or barely even move. I recall sitting on my couch, crying for hours because it hurt to even sit. I had to crawl myself into bed, a feat that took nearly a half-hour. I laid there and sobbed, in a pain I would not wish upon my worst enemy. It was blinding and constant, never ceasing to remind me it was there. It felt like dying. Looking back, I have no idea how I survived the ordeal without losing my mind.

In October 2008, I also worked at Blockbuster. I had to work the night I was suffering most, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to go in. I could barely sit, let alone drive a car and stand for eight hours, and the pain had kept up all night. I called my Blockbuster in the morning to tell them I wouldn’t be coming in.

“Well, I don’t know. We don’t have anybody here with you. You’re gonna have to come in.”

“But I literally can’t move,” I said, tears running down my cheeks.

“I’m not working a double shift. And there’s no one to cover you, so you have to come in.” This was my manager speaking, by the way. My superior.

Eventually, I made a few calls to other employees myself. One of them came in and worked for me, though they made me feel like the devil for asking them. Usually, Blockbuster had a “floater” system for just such an occasion. This system allowed for an on-call employee in the event someone got sick. But that system was no longer in place, not all the time anyway.

That’s not a good place to work. Every human being, as a basic right, should be allowed to take a day off if they are sick. It’s not always for that employee. It’s for the safety of everyone else.

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Just one week later and it was announced my store would close, the first of many closures for the rental giant that year. I figured I would be laid off, but Blockbuster still wanted me. I was, after all, a great salesman. I also knew both movies and tech. They kept trying to make me a supervisor, even though I begged them just to let me be their “on-site movie guy.” I didn’t want a career at Blockbuster, not now. I just wanted a mindless job to supplement my career as a writer and film critic.

Closing that store was one of the single-worst experiences I have ever had at a job. The corporate offices teased employment with many of the employees, basically saying “if you help us close the store, we’ll keep you on.” It was an awful way to work, and people were going mad with each passing week and no definitive answers about their jobs. Looking back, I should have left then.

During this time, I became close friends with one of the supervisors. She was a kind, thoughtful older lady who had struggled throughout her life. Someone had even tried to kill her once, as part of a gang initiation. They shot at her, point blank range. By some miracle, the bullet missed her completely … not unlike that scene from Pulp Fiction.

Her and I enjoyed talking. We discussed TV and movies. I turned her on to Firefly and Serenity. She turned me on to John Wayne movies. We also talked politics and even dove into controversial issues. She gave me some interesting perspectives to consider about the South. Her family owned a slave-free plantation that was burned to the ground by the North during the Civil War. Her family never recovered. She’s still bitter and untrusting because of it. In some ways, all these years later, that scar has become part of her character.

She worked hard at Blockbuster. She was one of the most organized employees I had ever seen. She was loyal. She cared about her fellow employees just as much as she cared about Blockbuster. But she didn’t know tech, and that’s what Blockbuster was looking for (that week). Management dangled a supervisor position over her head. She needed the money, so she stayed on and closed the store. And when she was finished, they cut her loose.

I ended up moving to a corner store just down the street from my home, though I didn’t like working for Blockbuster anymore, nor did I really want to work there now. I wasn’t a bad employee during that time, but I was certainly cynical and had very little desire to complete tasks with any efficiency. It killed me knowing I was kept on, and this diligent, great employee who truly wanted a career at Blockbuster was fired.

That’s when I got farted on.

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It was closing time and a young couple, no older than 25, were the only customers who remained in the store. They strolled through the aisles in search of a DVD. Annoyed by how slow they were moving, even after an announcement ten minutes earlier was made that we were closing, I approached them.

“Just to let you know, we are technically closed now,” I said.

“I don’t care,” the man said flatly. His girlfriend laughed and muttered “Kevin” as she chuckled.

This “Kevin”was pretending to be tough and it was making me nervous. “Well, was there anything in particular that you were looking for?” I asked.

“Nope,” he responded.

“Okay, well, I’ll give you a few more minutes to make a selection.”

I returned to the front counter and checked in returned discs. My fellow employee retreated to the back to finalize our daily numbers and call our district manager. Nearly fifteen minutes went by. It didn’t even seem like this couple was interested in renting a movie. They chatted and laughed as they circled the videos, never once stopping to look at a title. I started to worry that they were casing the place, or I was about to get robbed. I walked over to “Kevin” again.

“Look, I hate to do this, but I’m gonna have to ask you to make a selection, if you want. But we can’t have customers in the store after a certain time.”

That was true. Like many retail outlets, Blockbuster had a safety policy that would get me written up if someone was in the store past closing for too long. It wasn’t really to protect our customers, it was to protect me.

“Kevin” looked over at me and scoffed. He grabbed a random DVD from the shelf and made his way to the checkout counter.

I rung “Kevin” out and followed him to the exit, a standard procedure so we could lock the door behind the last customer. There was an issue with his membership (he owed late fees), but I wasn’t about to say anything and keep him there any longer, so I bypassed them. The whole process was tense, like he was ready to punch me simply for stepping on his time. I remained calm, even though I wanted to pummel this teenage jerk. I kept my hands at the ready in case he wanted to rob the place, or throw down.

As he left the building and sauntered into the glass foyer, he turned to me. “This is what I think of Blockbuster.” And then he farted, all over my blue polo.

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What came from that man’s ass was beyond foul. It’s what I imagine a rotting zombie’s gas might smell like. Its foulness was so intense, I gagged when I wrote this. The horribleness of that smell knows no time or space.

I stormed back into the store. I was coughing, sick and filled with rage. I had just been crop dusted by the unholiest of foul gasses, the devil’s brew. My fellow employee came out to see what the commotion was. He foolishly didn’t believe me about the fart. He innocently stepped into the foyer for just one moment. He returned mere seconds later and immediately rushed to the bathroom, his hands over his mouth. As I returned to my work, I could hear the echoes of my fellow employee as he vomited into the toilet.

That man’s fart was beyond awful. I wouldn’t even categorize it as a smell. No, it was … evil. It too, I would not wish upon even my worst enemy.

Needless to say, that was the last night I worked at Blockbuster. I turned in my keys and my yellow badge the very next day. And just three months later, that Blockbuster was closed, replaced by a cheeky bar and grill. I’m glad I didn’t have to close out that store.

Obviously, it wasn’t Blockbuster’s fault that I got farted on. There is no procedure for such a thing on their books. I don’t blame Blockbuster for that incident, and I want that to be clear. Honestly, I don’t hold a grudge at Blockbuster for any of the crap they put their employees through, either. It wasn’t perfect, but they just wanted to stay afloat, and they made some bad decisions along the way.

But that event, and my story, was indicative of where Blockbuster was going — down the shitter. You often hear the term, “I got shit on at work,” but never before was it so literal to me than that incident.

Now, I must say this. My blog is about the nature of positivity in entertainment, and I don’t want to trash Blockbuster while they’re down. I loved going to Blockbuster. I loved renting movies from them. They have shaped, in part, who I am today. At one point, Blockbuster was Hollywood to me. It was where movies, art and new stars found their customers, and we found them.

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That said, Blockbuster was a company that, in its twilight years, failed to evolve in the right ways. It was a sinking ship. And in their haste, they often tossed from the boat the very ideas and people who might have been able to keep them afloat.

The ship might not have sunk had they dramatically reduced their prices right at the cusp of the recession. People want their rentals cheap.

They might have survived longer had they stolen the streaming rental business models early on, and did it better. The current state of online rentals is overpriced and limited. They could have dominated that market and shown everyone the way.

They might have survived had they not gone experimental with their ideas and practices. People came to Blockbuster to rent movies, and that should have always taken precedence over any other need.

They might still be around had they kept their diligent, loyal employees.

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But I do take solace in knowing that some rental giants are still out there. After I finish writing this essay I’ll be trekking down to my local Family Video (now the largest brick and mortar rental chain) to rent a movie. And later on, in the wee hours of the morning, I will likely sit down, relax and watch a film on Netflix Instant Streaming, a service that only gets better and better each month. Blockbuster could have had both markets, but they stopped focusing on movies and started focusing solely on getting themselves out of debt, often at the customer’s expense.

I love Blockbuster. And it saddens me that they’re gone. It’s also upsetting to know that nearly 3000 people will be out of work by January. The job market has gained some traction, and I hope that everyone finds a new position, and soon.

While my memories of working at Blockbuster may only serve as a reminder to why they are no longer around, I choose to leave you with this … during their heyday, Blockbuster brought Hollywood home. And that was pretty damn great.

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Different Perspectives essay series:

Why Corey Feldman Deserves Your Respect

The Dark Knight Rises – A Deeply Personal Film Christopher Nolan Didn’t Want to Make

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II: The Sequel That Gets No Love

Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

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Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! Also, my latest short story, Does She Smile At Home?, releases Nov. 12, 2013. Mark your calendars!

And lastly, be sure to follow me on Twitter for rants, raves, promos, news, essays and everything in between.

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Why Corey Feldman Deserves Your Respect

Welcome to Different Perspectives, an essay series designed to offer a new, more positive perspective on an entertainer or piece of entertainment that fans and viewers may not have considered.

***

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It’s May 24, 2010, and I am standing in the basement of Annabell’s Cocktail Lounge in Akron, Ohio. If you haven’t been to Annabell’s, allow me to paint you a quick picture. The place is small, about the size of any corner watering hole. It’s usually filled with a colorful collection of young artists, hipsters and drunks. A Yelp user review describes the customers of Annabell’s as “Cheers meets the Star Wars cantina.” In other words, the place is a unique hangout for those who follow an alternative path.

Below the main bar is a concert venue. The walls are painted jet black, and between the noise and thumping footsteps of the patrons above, it feels as if you are in a bomb shelter during an apocalypse. The ceiling leaks, it’s hot and muggy, and it smells of booze and sweat.

This is where dreams and ideas are born. Where bar patrons become fans of performers. This is a place where people, like you or me, put their heart out on the line and share their vision of the world with others. It is a place that, in the warm summer months, feels almost like hell. But to any artist hoping to rise the ranks, this place is everything. It’s where you begin, where you celebrate, and where you return to. It’s home.

This is where I met Corey Feldman.

I’ve been a fan of Feldman, and his frequent costar Corey Haim, since I was about 6 years old. It started with movies like Gremlins, The Lost Boys and The ‘Burbs, and continued on with other hits like License to Drive, Stand By Me, Dream a Little Dream, Friday the 13th Part 4 (and 5) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Feldman voiced Donatello for two of the three live-action films).

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It’s an odd experience being a fan of two actors who are often lumped into the “Teen Beat” category and idolized by preteen girls. It put me in a strange place that made me an easy target for ridicule and bullying.

But I saw something in both actors, something that spoke to me. They were likable and relatable on many levels. They were geeks, like me. When Haim died, I was deeply crushed. It was like losing a long lost brother whom I had cared about, but never met. As a writer and filmmaker, I had hoped to one day work with “The Two Coreys.” It was a silly dream, perhaps, but they were a part of my youth, and I owed it to them.

The week Haim died, I found myself in a nasty argument on Facebook with an old friend over whether Haim had been the victim of a drug overdose. “Haim’s a drug user. That means he’s a loser,” my friend contended. His compassion was flattened by his own brute arrogance.

“We don’t know how he died,” I argued. “But if Feldman thinks he was clean, he was clean.” I pointed to the video above and went on to talk about how drug abuse was a sickness that haunted Haim. I spoke of Haim’s sexual abuse, and how that had damaged his soul. My friend simply couldn’t see that.

“Once a loser, always a loser. I’m glad he’s gone,” he told me.

My friend didn’t even apologize after the autopsy came back and revealed that Haim did not die of an overdose, but of pneumonia. Regardless, my friend and I no longer talk. There’s no reason dealing with someone that mean, that close-minded.

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I’ve long been compelled to write about Corey Feldman, but it’s a touchy, personal subject. Feldman is a polarizing figure, he even admits as much. He is a trusting man, not unlike his old idol, Michael Jackson. As such, he tends to find himself on the defensive in interviews. He adores his many fans just as much as he seemingly despises aspects of the media and the public eye. You would too, if you were attacked every time you so much as breathed on TV.

So, I am here to tell you that Corey Feldman deserves your respect.

Back to 2010.

Feldman’s band, Truth Movement, had booked Annabell’s as part of a tour to promote their newest album, Technology Analogy. Unlike so many glossy, over-produced stage productions, Feldman rocked out old school. The band was tucked into a tiny nook, but they made the space work, and the show was actually quite brilliant, complete with gonzo set pieces and some great tracks that really rocked the house. Feldman pushed himself to his limits, and probably beyond. Sweat poured from his body and you could almost see him lose weight on stage as he reached the end of his set.

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Unsurprisingly, the venue proved to be far too tiny to sustain the legions of Corey fans who flooded the small basement to watch him perform. I frowned every time someone made fun of him, though. Most did not come to mock him, to be sure, but there were some who took pleasure in destroying his art. They threw out tired movie references and pretended Feldman was some kind of trained monkey, doing tricks for our entertainment. One drunk patron kept yelling “Do Mouth from Goonies!”

But as the evening went on, the mood changed. Some might have come to make fun of Corey Feldman and his band, but by the end of the night, they were all having fun. Through hard work, tough skin, care and showmanship, Corey had won them over.

As the concert came to a close, he returned to the stage for an encore. He asked the audience what they would like to hear. Dozens of fans threw out suggestions for Michael Jackson songs and tracks like Dream a Little Dream or Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car. The drunk patron yelled “Do Mouth from Goonies!” another dozen times.

That’s where I came in. At well over six feet, I towered over most of the audience. And in that moment I met eyes with Corey. I yelled, “Cry Little Sister!” His eyes twinkled, he pointed at me and nodded. It was probably the cue he was waiting for, though he scrambled to find the lyrics and sheet music for the band.

What followed was one of the single coolest encores I have ever witnessed (you can watch him perform the song at another concert shown below). The audience exploded with cheers. They loved it. Corey had left them clapping, howling and screaming for more. It was a perfect concert. And it was also symbolic of who Corey Feldman was, and where he was going.

Annabell’s felt like a beginning, a new chapter for the actor. In the years leading up to that May 2010 concert, Corey Feldman had been hit with some tough emotional waves. In June 2009, Feldman’s friend, Michael Jackson, had passed away. A few months later, in late 2009, he got divorced, an event that has seemingly shaken his foundation of trust. And in March 2010, just months before the concert, his friend and longtime screen star, Corey Haim, had suddenly died.

Making matters worse, over the years, Feldman’s image had been painfully dragged through the mud by exploitation artists and journalists hoping to get clicks for mocking him. He had been scrutinized, ridiculed and bullied by the media. But it was time for Corey to move on to bigger and better endeavors. It was time to put it all out there once more. It was time to revive his old fans, turn some naysayers, and find a new audience all at the same time. And it worked.

It’s now 2013 and Feldman is working around the clock. He has a new solo album, Ascension Millennium. He’s got several films – both mainstream and indie – rolling out in the near future, not to mention a half-dozen other film projects in the pipe. In addition to his film appearances, he is voicing the role of Slash on the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, and recently he narrated (and appeared) in the absolutely terrific 4-hour Friday the 13th documentary, Crystal Lake Memories. He also has a new book, the cleverly titled Coreyography – a memoir about his roller-coaster private life, his tarnished public persona, and the work that made him a star.

But there is a shadow that looms over Corey’s career. There are those who still enjoy picking and prodding at him in public.

His critics point to his latest venture, Corey’s Angels, as something of a sticking point. Corey’s Angels is a modeling and talent agency of sorts, similar to how Playboy operates. And like Playboy, Corey’s Angels also happens to occasionally hold lavish lingerie parties.

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Ostensibly, Corey’s Angels may seem, to some, like a dream crafted by a man struggling to overcome a bitter divorce or a failing career. It may also look like prostitution, perversion or deviancy to others. If nothing else, a cash grab (the parties run upwards of $250). But I do not know what Corey’s Angels is, not completely anyway.

Like so many journalists, writers and critics who have made their own judgments, I have not seen one of his parties, that is, outside a few articles that seemed destined to turn the venture into a punchline.

I have not yet experienced Feldman’s new brand of entertainment. But I have written about sex and alternative lifestyles. In 2013, I completed a nonfiction narrative on the subject. In that book, I detailed strip clubs, sex dens, adult theaters and swing clubs. I saw it all and I can say this … Corey’s Angels does not appear to fall into the sexual spectrum so many critics have categorized it.

If nothing else, it falls into that same gray area explored by the likes of Victoria’s Secret, Hugh Hefner, or any Average Joe who’s eaten at a Hooters. Corey’s Angels seems to be an idea where beauty is idolized, happiness is king, and careers begin to find their footing.

To be honest, I would relish in the opportunity to experience a Corey’s Angels party at his mansion. I would love to have the full perspective. But for now, I’d prefer to any judgments at the door. Not everything is what it seems. It never is.

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Enter Coreyography.

I picked up the book along with Nick Offerman’s Paddle Your Own Canoe. Both memoirs are also available on Audible, narrated by their respective authors. If you are a Kindle owner, I suggest picking up both the book and the audiobook for maximum enjoyment. Both narrations are outstanding and add quite a lot of texture to their tales.

I had actually read very little about either book and assumed both would be a funny jaunt through history as seen through the eyes of two of my all-time favorite entertainers. What I got instead was an eye-opening experience. I planned to swap back and forth between both books, but once I sunk my teeth into Coreyography, I couldn’t put it down. In less than two days, I had read the whole book.

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It was actually strange returning to Offerman’s memoir, which serves as a complete contrast to Coreyography, from Offerman’s lighthearted upbringing to his success as an entertainer and husband. Corey was famous, but he didn’t quite have Offerman’s luck.

I liked Corey Feldman before I read Coreyography. And I respected him. I have defended his character and his work over the years, even though I sometimes chuckle at his outlandish ways. He’s a sensitive entertainer and a wildly fascinating entrepreneur. But he’s also a frustrated, peaceful human being whose perspective is often glossed over and forgotten for no good reason.

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Coreyography is as much about Feldman’s life as it is about setting the record straight. The book is a demand for his respect, and he earns it. He not only starred in some of your favorite films from the 1980s, but he’s also suffered more than a lifetime (or two) of pain, all before he was in his 40s. He and his friend, Haim, were a victims of child abuse and molestation. Together, they bonded over their success, but also over their darkest secrets. They both fell to drugs. They both made terrible decisions. They were both haunted men. But Feldman endured. He broke free of drugs. He cleaned himself up. He returned to entertaining his fans with fresh ideas and fistfuls of love. He even helped inspire his friend to do the same.

That didn’t change how some have perceived Feldman. He is still, for whatever reason, a punching bag for some media outlets. Perhaps it was his gimmicky reality TV stints, or all the self-referential cameo appearances (he admits to loathing these decisions in his book). Either way, it is not fair. After years of bullying, abuse and sexual molestation, Feldman is still getting picked on.

A friend once described her life as being on “hard mode.” That sentiment has stayed with me over the years. I think it fits well with Feldman’s persona. He’s continued on, despite his critics. And he’s found his fans. He’s active on Twitter, retweeting and commenting on nearly every tweet that’s sent his way. He’s still trusting, too. It might be considered a fault, but it is who he is, and it’s what has made him the bright, shining enigma that he is today.

On some level, his book is actually about awareness of child abuse and molestation in Hollywood. It serves as a stunning warning to those who want to enter that world. Hollywood can be a place where dreams come true, but it’s also a place of extreme darkness, and not every corner is safe. Feldman saw it first-hand, and he tries, quite passionately, to convey that message.

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Feldman is not a perfect person. None of us are. I’m not asking for people to be fans of him. If you like his work, and I know there are a lot of you, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s also fine. But that doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to bully or publicly mock him. There’s a lot to respect about Feldman. He’s worked hard to change the face of Hollywood, to stop molestation and child abuse. His only desire, it would seem, is to keep pushing that message until something can be done. He even admits, as busy as he is, he isn’t in the public eye much anymore. So when he is, he’s a pistol, firing out passionate arguments and defending himself.

But Corey Feldman has also changed people. He’s made several genre and cult classics. Films that inspire young writers, actors and filmmakers. He’s made people laugh, cry, and howl with joy. His music speaks to his fans and helps him find peace. And his book reveals his tragic, brutal upbringing, and his ultimate redemption. He is a man who constantly puts himself out there, even with the odds stacked against him. He is always trying to achieve the dream of every man – to be remembered for one’s successes, not your faults.

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Like anyone who brushes past the negative aspects of our culture, the criticism and the destroyers of creativity, he deserves your respect for trying, and for sometimes succeeding. He deserves your respect for shaping nostalgia of the 1980s. But most of all, he deserves your respect for enduring the depths of hell and raising awareness about molestation and pedophilia.

And soon enough, like that night in Annabell’s, he will win the crowd.

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Different Perspectives essay series:

The Dark Knight Rises – A Deeply Personal Film Christopher Nolan Didn’t Want to Make

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II: The Sequel That Gets No Love

Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

Curse of Chucky Indeed

Fright Night II: New Blood- A Deserving Sequel

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Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! Also, my latest short story, Does She Smile At Home?, releases Nov. 12, 2013. Mark your calendars!

And lastly, be sure to follow me on Twitter for rants, raves, promos, news, essays and everything in between.

The Dark Knight Rises – A Deeply Personal Film Christopher Nolan Didn’t Want to Make

Welcome to Different Perspectives, an essay series designed to offer a new, more positive perspective on a piece of entertainment that viewers may not have considered.

Warning: Spoilers for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises ahead.

“I started out trying to make the greatest film in the world. I’m now halfway through and all I want to do is get the thing finished.”
-Francois Truffaut

I’m going to put this bluntly. Despite how much you might have wanted it, Christopher Nolan didn’t want to make The Dark Knight Rises.

Now, before you all light up your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, or take to the internet to fire off dozens of articles, quotes and interviews my way that may speak contrary to my words. Hear … me … out. That’s not to say Nolan and crew didn’t eventually get enthusiastic about the project. They did.

However, the death of Heath Ledger left a dark spot on the franchise, one that Nolan couldn’t quite overcome. Evidence of this is in the finished product. “Out of respect” for Ledger, Nolan doesn’t mention The Joker. Which is odd when you consider he was likely rotting away in Gotham prison when Bane lets everyone loose. You’d think someone would, at the very least, say something like “What about The Joker? Did he get loose?” and someone else would say “No, the inmates killed him.” or “No. Even Bane knew not to mess with a mad dog” or something to that effect.

Naturally, one could slough this off by saying The Joker was in federal prison. But without one single line of dialogue to indicate such a thing, it remains a mystery. One might also not consider this a plot hole. Technically, it’s not. It’s an omission, one that feels directly tied to Harvey Dent and the Dent Act. It seems only logical, within the film’s universe, that a character might bring up The Joker. I mean, we refer to our tragedies by name. It’s hard to talk about 9/11 without discussing Bin Laden.

Even more potent would have been a line toward the beginning of the film – something to punch home the idea that Gotham law enforcement had established its own form of vigilante justice. The exchange between Matthew Modine’s Foley and Brett Cullen’s congressman could have easily contained a line like this:

“Our first step toward the Dent Act happened the night Dent died, when we took justice into our own hands and did what The Batman failed to do. We killed The Joker.”

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Audiences could read that the SWAT team who found The Joker dangling on a wire simply shot the maniac in the head, thus ending his legacy and beginning a new, tainted era for Gotham. Hell, they could have even pinned the murder on The Batman if they wanted to. Why not? He’s a wanted masked murderer after all. This probably would have made Gordon even more distraught over lying about Dent’s death.

Instead, The Dark Knight Rises contains not a single Joker reference, thus leaving an enormous plot hole for fans to munch on. Is The Joker free to roam the streets of Gotham? Will the new Batman have to face off against The Joker for his first assignment? Talk about a tall order! Wayne was emotionally destroyed by The Joker, and Batman nearly died trying to stop him … and he had almost a decade of hardened training and skills behind him. That won’t be the case for poor little John Blake.

At times it also feels like Ben Mendelsohn’s Daggett was meant to be The Joker, albeit heavily altered to fit the financial/economic subtext of the plot. I imagine a different version could exist where Daggett is the assistant (who’s on the board at Wayne) and the Joker is the real enemy behind the curtain – the man who brought (not hired) Bane to crush The Batman (and the city). As it stands, it’s Daggett and a useless assistant.

Daggett even slithers his tongue in a few scenes, just like Ledger’s Joker. It’s hard to imagine how much more intimidating Bane would have been if The Joker was the man responsible for bringing him to Gotham. The exchange shared before Daggett’s death would have been far more terrifying.

Daggett: “You’re pure evil!”

Bane: “I’m necessary evil.”

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What a potent end to The Joker’s reign. The mad dog brings in what he thinks is another mad dog, and he loses at his own game. It’s not a hero that defeats The Joker, but an enemy of pure, unadulterated “necessary” evil.

I could go on and on about other issues, plot holes and mistakes The Dark Knight Rises brings to the table, but you’ve read all the little reports. You’ve probably watched the tremendously funny “Everything that’s wrong with TDKR” video (seen below). It’s all been done. But of all the essays, interviews, videos, reviews and blogs about The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve never actually seen one that dissects the deeper commentary that the film might be metaphorically suggesting.

The Dark Knight Rises is about Christopher Nolan’s reluctance to return to Batman.

Some context. Shortly after The Dark Knight took audiences by storm, Nolan expressed interest in shooting an epic but intimate romance completely in the IMAX format. He also pressed forward with a Howard Hughes biopic. Not much has been spoken about the IMAX romance since the release of The Dark Knight, but the Howard Hughes biopic stalled.

So what is The Dark Knight Rises? It’s a couple of things. For one, it’s both the epic romance and the Howard Hughes story tucked into the Batman template. But it’s also a film about Nolan’s journey to making this third and final Batman film.

Evidence of the romance/Hughes plot should be obvious. The shoehorned romance between Miranda Tate and Bruce Wayne, followed by the brutal betrayal of that affair feels pretty damn epic, yet intimate, to me. And the Howard Hughes references in the film are even more obvious, with Wayne living in seclusion following his stint as Batman. Even Nolan himself confirmed the Hughes influences in TDKR to Empire magazine saying, “Luckily I managed to find another wealthy, quirky character who’s orphaned at a young age.”

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But these two elements of The Dark Knight Rises are not simply the whimsical dreams of an acclaimed artist. Rather, they represent Nolan’s own frustration with making a third Batman film. Allow me to break the plot of The Dark Knight Rises down, explaining each element and how it relates to Nolan’s career decisions.

The film starts with Wayne in seclusion, wrecked after losing Rachel Dawes (despite death being Wayne’s catalyst for becoming Batman, but I digress). He’s bagged Batman and cut off communication with Gordon. When Bane shows up, Wayne decides to dust off Batman once again. It seems like more of an obligation (or a death wish) than anything else. His best friend and mentor Alfred, a character formally quite fine (even encouraging) of Batman, now seems to have a deep contempt for Batman, claiming he never wanted this life for Bruce.

The opening of the film is where Nolan is, mentally. He’s lost a good friend in Heath Ledger. He no longer sees a happy ending for the world of Batman, or at least the ending he had always wanted. To him, there’s no reason to return. But, Nolan is constantly bombarded with questions about a third Batman and can’t seem to escape the shadow of the franchise. He’s tied to the series. So, he returns to Batman, even in the face of relaunching Superman, a project he seemed curiously more invested in right before working on The Dark Knight Rises (hence why Wayne is hard at work on a secret energy project at the beginning of the film). Alfred likely speaks to what Nolan’s closest friends were telling him. “If you don’t want to do it, why return? You’re an artist. This isn’t the life we wanted for you.”

With this metaphor in mind, Bane represents the fans, sorry to say. Bane is a tyrannical mercenary whose plan is simply to bring about the destruction of Gotham, and Batman. He claims he wants what’s best for Gotham but his real motives are to destroy the city. And deep down he’s doing it out of blind love and affection for a character tied to Batman Begins.

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Bane represents the force of nature that is fandom, which starts slow and mostly silent, but quickly the fire rises and the heat from clamoring fans is intense and occasionally brutal. Don’t believe me? Take a look at how fans are shaping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is Coulson still dead? Nope. The fire has certainly risen.

In the case of TDKR, fans fell in love with Batman Begins and have driven the franchise to great financial heights since then. This is woven into the narrative of TDKR, hence Bane’s secret love for Talia al Ghul, a character that’s tied directly to Batman Begins. In other words, without that picture, and the fandom born from it, Bane does not exist.

Also, fans don’t just want another Batman. They want the best damn Batman film that Nolan can give them … or else. The fight sequence between a worn out Batman and Bane is evidence of Nolan’s struggle to give audiences a good sequel. And Bane literally breaks Batman, mocking him for being old and worn out … or unoriginal and derivative.

Even stranger is Bane’s goal to steal Wayne’s fortune. This seems less like a metaphor for our current financial crisis and more Nolan commenting on the sometimes negative financial influence of moviegoers, who often steal a director’s artistic desires and dictate what films and franchises survive and what art eventually gets made with their money. Wanna make that Howard Hughes biopic? Hell no! The fans want Batman 3. And Batman 3 is what they get.

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The tools and tech of The Dark Knight Rises also play into this metaphor in clever ways. The Bat is an excessive and completely needless tool for most of the picture, only conveniently serving the plot in the final minutes of the climax. For the rest of the film it feels like an accessory ripped straight out of Transformers or GI Joe.

Nolan’s third Batman film arrived on the heels of yet another Transformers picture – a series that has elevated its action, tech and tools tenfold since the first chapter. And moviegoers have eaten this sloppy junk food right up, fat and all. Since Nolan already sees his audience as aggressive and hungry, like Bane, and he’s got a studio breathing down his neck (acting much like Daggett), asking for something bigger and better with this third film and trying to steal the series out right from under his nose, he ends up mocking audiences and studio heads with The Bat – an admittedly slick little tool that serves no other purpose for most of the picture other than to be cool. In fact, it’s easily the most traditionally “comic book” piece of tech in Nolan’s entire series, and feels better suited for a mindless popcorn yarn than a Nolan Batman film.

Oddly, even the narrative template of The Dark Knight Rises is borrowed from Transformers 2 and 3, with Bane controlling a city and threatening its citizens with doom. I can only hope Nolan is mocking this plot device. If not, he’s stealing from Transformers: Rise of the Fallen. And no one wants that … or do they? After all, the Transformers series has made a few billion since it was launched in 2007. The fans have spoken, sadly, and they love their junk food!

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Which brings us to the middle of the picture. Wayne if left crippled by Bane and forced to live in a tomb, watching Gotham crumble at the hands of Bane (and to a lesser extent, Daggett). This is Nolan in his own mental pit of sorts, watching fans and studio heads hijack TDKR, a film he never wanted to make. The studio wanted it big. The fans wanted it bigger. And now it’s about to consume itself.

And it’s in this place that Nolan finds peace.

He finally accepts his fate. Christopher Nolan was always meant to direct The Dark Knight Rises. It was, after all, his own damn story. And he can do with it as he pleases. But he can also provide the slam-bang action bravado this generation of Transformers-loving fans crave while placating studio desires for a bigger, better picture that can sell more toys and other merch while also wowing the audience.

But he’s gonna do it his way, dammit!

Nolan opts to shoot the film almost entirely in IMAX, a slap in the face against current digital filmmaking trends. He even becomes vocal in the press about his disinterest in digital cinema, favoring classic film over the digital age. He writes in the epic romance and the Howard Hughes subplots to serve his artistic interests.

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And Nolan crawls out of the tomb, free of constraints. He’s not answering Bane’s call anymore. He’s taking control of his actions while using the film to slyly mock his critics, studio heads and his fans.

When Batman returns to the city, he’s able to defeat Bane quite easily. But he’s nearly undone, though, by Miranda Tate, who’s actually the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul – the man who influenced Batman in the first place. This serves as a reminder that the franchise circle is now complete. Ra’s al Ghul begets The Joker begets Bane begets Talia al Ghul.

Reclaiming the narrative, Nolan now has control over Batman’s fate. But he has a mess of a film on his hands. The picture opens with a disjointed Hughes hybrid story that makes little sense if you break it down, a wonky love story that switches love interests halfway through the film with little coherence, and a Michael Bay-inspired narrative arch that also makes little sense in spots. It’s time for Nolan to do the right thing. It’s time to kill The Batman and end things on his own terms.

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So Nolan’s film quite literally apes a scene from Batman: The Movie, with Batman carrying a bomb away from the city, saving the day. “Some Days, You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb!”

The only real difference is that, on the surface, it looks like Batman died saving the city. The fans get what they want, yet the vocal minority is defeated at the same time. Batman is no more. Nolan is free. Everyone is happy, disappointed, sad and curiously satisfied.

Then there’s the Ocean’s 11 twist.

Things were not what they seemed. Batman didn’t really die. And stranger yet, Robin has been in the picture this whole time, we just didn’t know it! Joseph Gordon Levitt plays John Blake, a cop who figures out who Bruce Wayne really is by, umm, looking at him once. This leads to some quick mentoring, a few lazy lessons about hiding your identity and then Blake receives the mantle of The Dark Knight.

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Glorious ending, right? Nope!

The ending feels energetic, exciting and emotionally stirring. But Wayne has just damned Blake to a world he hated so much he had to fake his own death to escape it. He’s just damned him to a life with no ending, with no love – a world of regret. And worse, Blake doesn’t have the money or resources to take on the mantle of Batman. Hopefully Bruce gave Blake some contacts at Wayne R&D and a few bucks to hold him over.

Rather, Blake represents the next Batman director. In this case, it represents Zack Synder, who will take on Batman in his own still untitled Superman sequel, currently being billed as Batman Vs. Superman, a cheeky title I hope does not stick. When Blake rises from the water and the film fades to black, Nolan is quite literally handing the franchise off to the next director, damning them to a difficult but potentially rewarding journey.

Now, I’m not saying this was Nolan’s literal intention. I don’t know Christopher Nolan. I have no idea what his struggle was really like. There’s an old saying I like to remind myself of nearly every day: “There’s the way people think Hollywood works, and then there’s the way it really works.”

The Dark Knight Rises might actually be Nolan’s commentary on how kittens are cuter than puppies for all I know.

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But I love Nolan’s films and I find him to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. And you can’t deny some odd correlations about the narrative and Nolan’s career. Some of the decisions feel more subconscious than anything – something that was swimming in the back of Nolan’s head when he jotted down the story and screenplay of The Dark Knight Rises with David S. Goyer and Nolan’s own brother, Jonathan Nolan. But maybe not.

I’ve long contended that TDKR is a messy movie that could have used one really good rewrite before they started shooting in order to tie up all the loose ends and terrifically wide plot holes that exist within the narrative. However, I find the film mysteriously entertaining. I like it … a lot. I have this desire to watch The Dark Knight Rises over and over again. To consume the movie bit by bit. I loathe the picture for delivering a somewhat disappointing final chapter in Nolan’s Batman saga, but I love watching the film regardless. And I think it’s because The Dark Knight Rises gives me an inside peek into who Christopher Nolan really is, and as a huge fan of his, that’s a real treat. Nolan is an artist, pure and simple, who was tossed into the Hollywood machine and has faced incredible odds to maintain his dazzling artistry.

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The Dark Knight Rises is possibly messy on purpose. It’s what happens when too many people offer their hand. When fans influence a director negatively. When you don’t want to make a film that everyone wants you to make. And the ultimate conclusion is Nolan’s own. He takes back the picture, restores his artistic integrity and hands Batman off to someone else.

It’s no shock that the final image of The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most memorable. Nolan has reclaimed his art form. And he’s moving past Batman into the next, exciting stage of his career. And like Bruce Wayne, who found love in the end, perhaps Nolan will finally get to make that epic IMAX romance, or whatever film he wants … and make his friends (and hopefully fans) smile once more.

But the truth of that final image is also indicative of the contradictory message of The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan has continued to slap his name on both Man of Steel and the untitled Batman Vs. Superman project. He’s still around, lurking in the darkness like Bruce Wayne. It makes one question … could the real Batman really stay away?

Perhaps Batman isn’t just a name, but the man who embodies him.

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Different Perspectives series:

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II: The Sequel That Gets No Love

Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

Curse of Chucky Indeed

Fright Night II: New Blood- A Deserving Sequel

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Check out more of my work at Permanently Geek. And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Different Perspectives: Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

In early 2013, Movie 43 was unleashed upon audiences. Don’t remember it? Really? It starred pretty much ALL of Hollywood, even the likes of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, Seth MacFarlane, and Oscar darling Kate Winslet … among dozens of other accomplished, likable stars and up-and-comers. In fact, there are so many stars in the film, I could spend an entire blog post just listing their names.

No, you don’t remember Movie 43.

Well, maybe you do, but most people don’t. The film came and went in a matter of weeks. It was trashed by pretty much every living, breathing critic, and forgotten by most audiences. Even some of the cast wanted little to do with the film.

Curiously, Movie 43 actually did make some bank. According to Box Office Mojo, the film cost roughly $6 million to produce, and grossed close to $30 million worldwide, with a mere $8 million of that coming from the U.S. But it was still a moneymaker, kind of. And it’s more than likely made money on home video, the rental market, and through TV distribution deals.

Still, there isn’t a whole lot of love for Movie 43. For just a moment, let’s focus on the hate. The film ranks a dismal 4.4 out of 10 on IMDb, a 4% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 19 out of 100 on metacritic, and a 26% approval audience rating on Flixster.

In less words, people don’t like Movie 43.

But I have a confession … I kind of loved it.

No, it’s not a flawless film. And there are plenty of things to complain about. For example, the film is annoyingly flat. There are more misses than hits in this one. The sketches tend to end on weird notes, and most of the jokes aren’t much different from what you can get for free on sites like College Humor, Funny or Die, or even Youtube. In truth, you could probably collect ten or twelve of the best shorts from any of those sites and put together a better, funnier sketch anthology picture.

But I still dig Movie 43.

There is some rather potent, and oddly subversive, humor in the film. I get a sense that the picture was meant to spoof blander-than-bland anthology comedies like New York, I Love You, Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. It was sold to comedy lovers as a “Kentucky Fried Movie” for the modern age. While Movie 43 hardly ranks as high as that wonderful cult classic, it’s clear that a great many people involved cared deeply about this project and wanted it to succeed, even when actors like Richard Gere allegedly tried to vacate the film at all costs.

For a detailed, and rather sordid, look at the history of the making of the film, check out Movie 43’s Wikipedia page. It’s an interesting read.

I struggled to put a finger on what I loved about the film, but I do love it. I admire the writing. There’s a lot going on under the surface of this disturbing, crass little picture. A great many of the film’s more impressive metaphors seem to have gone over people’s heads. That’s probably because most focused on the obvious gross-out aspects of the humor. This was certainly not a film for everyone’s taste, in that regard.

A great many of my absolute favorite actors, writers and filmmakers worked on this project. And the project itself is so wacky, crass and gonzo, I relish in watching the actors involved go to the extremes to find a laugh. And while many of the jokes don’t always work, I love watching actors dare to be different. It’s refreshing and enticing.

For example, there’s a sketch in which Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry go on a date and end up competing in an EXTREME game of “truth or dare.” The sketch isn’t all that funny, but watching Halle Berry mock her picture perfect persona by doing something crass, and even a little vile, felt almost … human.

Allow me to explain. Our stars strive to create images for themselves. Brands of painted perfection. They are flawless. Their skin is perfect. Their hair is trend setting. Their clothing is staggeringly beautiful. And their personalities are ones that everyone strives for.

But that’s not who people are. That’s all an image. All spectacle. Actors are real people. That sounds absurd to even write, but so many fans honestly forget that. It’s especially noticeable when someone asks an actor to recite a line from a movie they did 25 years ago, like they’re some kind of trained puppy doing tricks.

When I watched Movie 43, I saw the people behind Hollywood. I saw human beings having a fun time exploring the comfort zones of their image, and taking audiences along for the ride. I saw a film where Hugh Jackman wasn’t afraid to put a prosthetic pair of balls on his neck just to get a rise from his fans. Or a sketch (writen and directed by Elizabeth Banks, mind you) in which Chloë Grace Moretz has her first period, and the men all around her act like … well, the fools who control women’s rights in congress. It was a gross sketch, but there was something deeply revealing about it, too.

And here is a look at one of my favorite sketches in the film:

There is a lot going on in this scene outside the beaten-into-the-ground joke. Did you catch the real point of the skit?

Movie 43 is not a win by any stretch, but it’s a fascinating look at the edges of comedy, where the crass, disturbing and subversive meet and do some rather dark, rather bad, and rather wonderful things. There is a lot more going on in Movie 43 than people give it credit for. There’s a hidden theme in nearly every sketch, a hidden message — a metaphor that went unnoticed. And that’s where the film’s strength derives. Movie 43  is not a masterpiece, but it is a work of controversial art. And like all works of that style, it has its haters and it has its fans. Count me as one of the latter.

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Different Perspectives: Chucky: The Complete Collection and Curse of Chucky

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Chucky: The Complete Collection. This awesome little box set arrives on Blu-ray on October 8, 2013. You can buy your copy here.

The set compiles all six films in the Child’s Play/Chucky series. The first disc is the same as the previous MGM release (review here), but Universal has also included first-ever Blu-ray releases for Child’s Play 2-3 and Bride of Chucky. Also included in the set is a brand-new direct-to-video sequel titled Curse of Chucky, which was written and directed by series creator Don Mancini.

The Chucky franchise is an interesting one. The movies aren’t necessarily very scary, but they’re almost always fun. I’ve rather enjoyed each entry in the series (even the lesser efforts, like CP3 and Seed of Chucky), and I genuinely love that writer Don Mancini has stuck with this series since it began way back in 1988. It’s rare to see a writer stay on board his own creation as the series progresses. He’s even taken to directing a few of the movies, too, which is equally awesome.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect from the new film, Curse of Chucky, especially after the wayward Seed of Chucky, which took the franchise in a very bizarre, meta-centric comedic direction that seemed largely inspired by John Waters (who also appeared in that film). Thankfully, the new film, also directed by Mancini, is actually quite great, especially when factoring it’s the fifth sequel and a direct-to-video production. Here’s a trailer to fill you in on the core story:

What I love about Curse of Chucky is that it’s a return to form for the series. Chucky’s token love it or hate it wit is still intact, but there’s a refreshing sense of style and menace that hasn’t been a part of the series for some time. It’s also probably the scariest entry in the franchise since the second film. I literally jumped twice, a feat I can’t recall doing with any other film in the series.

A great many of the thrills hinge on when Chucky is going to, well … become Chucky, and that actually worked for me more than I expected. Just waiting for him to do his thing became the most unnerving aspect of the entire experience. Even better, the film is stylishly shot in a way that evokes classic storytellers like Dario Argento, Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma. Yes, you read that right. It’s clear Mancini is (at least somewhat) aware of the negative stigma surrounding DTV films, and it was refreshing to see such style in a low-budget, usually phoned-in, effort. His work here is truly admirable.

There’s a quirky bit of melodrama, too, that adds to the themes of family this series has explored for the past few entries. The back-story aspect of the film was fascinating, though it’s a bit too confusing. The film also has a loose placement in the series canon. I honestly can’t tell you where it fit with the other chapters. Chucky mentions the events of the previous five films, though the new movie almost seems to take place at the same time, or roundabouts, of Bride of Chucky. I’ll leave that mystery to the Chucky diehards on the forums of IMDB to dissect and analyze. Have at it!

Obviously, if you weren’t a Chucky fan before, the new film won’t win you over, but for fans of the series, Curse of Chucky ranks as one of the best entries in the franchise. There are plenty of thrills, an interesting story, and a few AWESOME cameos that make the whole experience worth it. Seriously, stick through the credits for one of the single best cameo gags in any film seen this year!

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The Blu-rays for Chucky: The Complete Collection are pretty decent. The first film is simply a port of the already released Blu-ray. There are a decent assortment of bonus features on that disc (super fans should also check out Tom Holland’s own Child’s Play commentary). There’s also a slew of goodies for Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, ported over from the DVDs. Child’s Play 2-3 are scant, with only trailers. It’s a shame Universal didn’t toss in the deleted scenes as well. You can find those below:

Curse of Chucky includes a commentary, deleted scenes, a gag reel, a featurette and three Blu-ray exclusive featurettes. Picture and audio quality on all five films is about average. The first film looks the worst of the bunch. The second films looks great. The third looks pretty mediocre. And the rest get better with each entry. Also, audio didn’t seem to work properly for Child’s Play 3 when played through my PS3. Not sure what that was all about. But it worked fine on my backup player.

So, that’s what I’ve been watching these past few days. What are your thoughts on the Child’s Play series? Which film is your favorite, and which is your least favorite? Sound off in the comments and let me know!

Also, be sure to check out my buddy’s thorough Child’s Play retrospective, where he discusses all six films in detail, and offers his own ranking of the series.

Different Perspectives: Fright Night 2: New Blood (Review)

Let’s get this out of the way … Fright Night 2 has no reason to exist. Yawn.

There’s probably gonna be a lot of narrow-minded fans and critics telling you the film is “shit” or “a typical direct-to-video waste” and so on. We’ve all heart that crap before. It’s the boring mantra lazy journalists like to spin when they’re phoning in a review they didn’t have much interest in working on. Sometimes it’s true. And sometimes it isn’t. Trust me, I’ve been that guy. I was handed dozens of films over my years as a professional film critic that I had ABSOLUTELY no interest in reviewing, and my reviews were not always very kind to those films. That’s the nature of the business and it’s one of the reasons why I vacated the career. I wanted to talk about things I loved, not things I hated. I wanted to create and respect, not destroy.

With that in mind, the criticism that Fright Night 2 is a retread is valid, on some level. Hell, anger was my first knee-jerk reaction to the film after I saw the trailer. It didn’t look good. When I watched the film with my wife I even said to her, “Now, keep in mind, this will probably be really terrible.” Just take a look at the trailer (below) and you will see exactly what I mean.

The film is practically a beat-for-beat riff on Fright Night, with elements and ideas borrowed from the original sequel, Fright Night Part II, and the remake. As far as the story template goes, Fright Night 2: New Blood is creatively empty.

Yup .. and so was Evil Dead 2, and a plethora of other horror classics.

Retreads are not that uncommon in the horror genre. Just look at the Friday the 13th series. Virtually every film sports the same narrative template. People go into the woods. People are warned of their doom. People are killed by Jason. Someone survives. Rinse and repeat for about ten sequels.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t gems within that series (there are) and that doesn’t mean Fright Night 2: New Blood should be passed by simply because the story borrows from it’s big brothers and sister. Because, in truth, there’s A LOT to like about the film. You just have to get past what it is, and focus on what it’s trying to be.

For one, Fright Night 2 is mostly done with practical effects. No crappy CG vampires. No silly monster faces that look like cartoons. Nothing. This film was shot on the cheap, and the filmmakers do their best with practical effects and lighting. And they even have enough money in the budget to scrape together a fully vamped-out vampire monster at the end of the film. This is a big win for those of us who complain about too much CG in monster movies. Fright Night 2 had the balls to stick with the practical stuff (or the lack of money, perhaps) and it pays off. There’s a sonar hunting sequence in the film that’s seriously unnerving, not because of CG, but because of old school trickery, like stylish lighting, editing and shot composure. It all works, and it works well.

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In fact, the film is actually pretty scary at times. There’s a scene in which Charlie Brewster and co. end up stuck in a subway train with a rather powerful vampire. What works is that they can’t leave. They’re totally and completely trapped there with this horrific beast, who wants nothing more than to tear them apart. Again, that scene works like gangbusters because it is seriously inventive.

The story itself tries to actually have some surprise to it. On the surface, the Peter Vincent character (played here by Sean Powers) felt a bit flat, mostly because it seemed as though someone on the production didn’t even want to include him. And, to be honest, the way it was handled actually gave the film some suspense, albeit probably accidental. I wasn’t sure how Peter Vincent would factor into the finale (if at all) since he wasn’t as integral a character to the film as previous chapters.

By altering Peter Vincent, the filmmakers actually created tension. Most criticisms you might hear about his character won’t be guided in the right direction. Most will complain about what his character isn’t (a copy of the first iteration of Peter Vincent) while complaining about how the rest of the film is copying the first one. Oh, the irony of that.

Now, obviously, the film isn’t flawless and I could nitpick. Here are a few gripes: the cast isn’t all that great (sorry). The heroes come off a bit bland. I’m guessing it’s a mixture of bad character development mixed with limited availability to a wide range of actors (the film was shot in Romania). Also, Fright Night 2 could have very easily been a sequel to the remake with literally less than one hour of re-writing. Change a few plot details (maybe the vampires lured Charlie to Romania to kill him), alter Evil Ed so he’s someone new, and make Peter Vincent a reality star now who actively hunts vampires on a TV show because of what happened in the first film, and you’ve basically got a sequel instead of a retread.

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But there are more positives, like Jaime Murray, who kinda owns her role of Gerri Dandrige. Groan all you want about her playing a character who was not only male, but died in the last film. Sure. But Ms. Murray knocks it out of the park, giving us the film’s best vampire lead since the original role, played by Chris Sarandon. Murray is terrifying, seductive, sexy and foreboding. Her Jessica Biel-like chiseled features make her a great choice for the role — a combination of alluring and powerful. She really is good in the film, and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Then there’s Eduardo Rodriguez‘s sharp direction and Yaron Levy‘s equally effective cinematography. Fright Night 2 was clearly a cheap production, but Rodriguez and Levy give life to nearly every scene, taking full advantage of the film’s gothic Romanian architecture, while injecting a nice Italian sense of color to the film, with vivid reds, blues, greens and neons splashed across the screen. Again, whenever the story or characters fail this sequel, there’s something else about it that seems to overcome the obstacles.

Frankly, I don’t care if you watch Fright Night 2: New Blood or not. If you like the series, it’s well worth a look. But I wanted to defend the film against its growing league of unfortunate haters. I wanted to defend the film for being a creatively clever, occasionally very refreshing little engine that could. Fright Night 2 is making the very best of a bad situation. It’s visually appealing, there’s a great villain, a few solid set pieces and a few clever bits of makeup effects and gore. Sure, the story could be more original. It could actually have tired to be a sequel. And the characters (or actors portraying them) could have been better. But Fright Night 2: New Blood is among the very best direct-to-videos efforts I’ve seen (and I’ve seen A LOT), not because of the story, but because the film is daring to be different. It’s daring to be real cinema.

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The Blu-ray: The disc sports an unrated version of the film, an above-average transfer with terrific 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio. Bonus features include a commentary with director Eduardo Rodriguez and producers Alison Rosenzweig and Michael Gaeta, webisodes and a featurette.