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This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

10

Chapter IV

“You looked larger on TV,” Ms Green said as she shook Marshall Ellis’ hand, maintaining the sort of unbroken eye contact that causes killers to confess to heinous crimes.

“Yeah,” Marshall said. “I haven’t exactly kept up with my regimen.”

“We’ll have to change that,” Ms. Green said. “The audience expects to see ‘Marshall the Mechanic’ in all his glory. Such as it may be.”

Michael Hill sat sipping from a mug of herbal tea on a black leather couch near the open window of Ms. Green’s office in Boston. The decor was modern and industrial and cold, the ambiance matching the aura of Green herself. She was young but had presence, an aura not dissimilar to a jungle predator or a bird of prey. Her hair was darker than obsidian and her eyes were a vibrant shade of her namesake. Michael Hill admired the steel of her resolve. Marshall found himself slightly unnerved by it.

“Marshall will be back to his prime by the time we host our first televised event,” Michael said. “His body is a machine and ‘the mechanic’ knows how to fine tune a machine.”

Marshall stifled a chuckle. Mike was always in promoter mode. He didn’t fault him for it because that was what made him so successful. If Michael Hill weren’t a consummate showman, Marshall ‘The Mechanic’ Ellis would never have been a household name. It was also that showmanship and charisma that kept Ellis out of prison when everything went to hell. Marshall knew that. He wasn’t sure if Ms. Green did.

“Some of our investors are concerned,” Ms. Green said. “That your recruitment for this new endeavor seems to skew in a particular direction.”

“What direction might that be?” Michael asked.

“Male,” Ms. Green said. “Analysis shows that the popularity of females in combat sports is at an all time high and yet there is nothing in your treatment that mentions a female contingent to your roster.”

“My focus is on telling a very particular story,” Michael said. “And so my focus has been on touching base with my guys from IWPA.”

“Are you looking for longevity here, Mr. Hill?”

“Of course,” Michael replied.

“Then let me paint a picture for you,” Ms. Green said. “Imagine the headlines the day after your first show reading ‘Michael Hill Tries To Regain Former Glory With Same Old Bag Of Tricks Semi-Colon Fails Spectacularly And Embarrasses Own Self Yet Again’ because you think that controversy will be enough to keep you on the air.”

Michael set his tea down and tented his fingers, his eyes displaying the tenacity of a cornered animal. “What I am building here,” he said. “Cannot be subject to the whim of fads, trends, focus-group second-guessing or the personal agendas of suits sitting back and collecting checks.”

“And what about the whims of a man too stubborn to let the past stay buried or too afraid to try something new?”

Hill and Green stared at each other in silence, the tension between them lingering in the air like the dying echoes of a sustained power chord. Marshall watched them the way an anthropologist might watch an unfamiliar tribe; with caution and just a modicum of suppressed excitement.

“This show will be unlike anything that has come before,” Michael said. “I know we’re talking about a damned professional wrestling program, but there are always expectations. Some people try to shake things up by using a hexagonal ring. Some people go for celebrity cameos. We are here to tell a story. The story of men, and women mind you, affected by the death of IWPA. Ultimately, this is a show about grief. About reconciling the process of mourning with personal growth. And I will not compromise that by using my time to fill a quota because the network doesn’t think I have enough female athletes.”

Ms. Green took a seat behind her desk and pulled a folder from the drawer to her left.

“Nicki O’Neil,” she said. “Why isn’t she part of your plan.”

Marshall and Michael exchanged hesitant looks.

“Nicki is a complicated matter,” Michael said.

“No she’s not,” Marshall said. “She’s just a headache.”

“A complicated headache,” Michael said.

“She was one of your top stars,” Ms. Green interjected. “Why are you so hesitant to bring her on board?”

“Because he wanted to fuck her and she shot him down,” Marshall said.

“That’s enough Marshall,” Michael snapped back.

“Would she be uncomfortable coming back?” Ms. Green asked.

“No,” Marshall said. “Because Nicki is a professional.”

“I’m a professional,” Michael protested.

“Yes,” Marshall said. “But you’re also emotionally vulnerable, no matter what sort of ‘all-business’ personal you want to adopt. Nicki isn’t like that.”

“Yeah, she’s a heartless bitch.”

“You see what I mean?”

Ms. Green threw her hands up. “Gentlemen,” she said. “I think it would be worth exploring the possibility of contacting her. I can’t help but feel that there is a hole in your narrative without her.”

“Yeah Mike,” Marshall said. “We need to fill Nicki’s hole.”

Ms. Green actually smiled. Michael didn’t see it.

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.

Click Here for Chapter One

Click Here For Chapter Two

10

Chapter Three

“Welcome back to ‘Ace in the Hole,’ the pro wrestling podcast that takes you deep inside the world of wrestling in ways you never thought possible. I am your host Trenton ‘Ace’ Travers and I am here speaking with someone who I have known practically my entire career, you probably remember him from our time as tag-team champions in the IWPA, may it rest in peace. He is the one, the only, Jack Van Jones. It’s good to see you again Jack.”
Jack Van Jones smiled. There was something inherently funny about “Ace” Travers recording a podcast out of his home office in Austin, Texas. The man had been an A-list talent before everything went to shit and now he was running a glorified talk show with other washed up wrestlers from a middle-class neighborhood and living off of whatever profit he made selling merch in his webstore. Things certainly had changed.
“It’s good to see you too, Ace,” Jack said, lying through his teeth. Ace and Jack had indeed been good friends once but the fallout from the death of the IWPA had taken its toll on the personal and professional relationships of anyone who had previously worked for Michael Hill. Nobody wanted to talk about what had happened. Most of the roster had managed to stay afloat, grabbing bookings where they could but a choice few never really recovered. Nobody else had fallen quite as hard as Marshall, he thought, but that was to be expected.
“What have you been up to lately?” Ace asked, taking a sip of his coffee and checking the level on his mix-board. He had gotten pretty good at this podcast game in the last six months. He had sponsors and did live shows at conventions. It was enough to pay the bills and that was enough for him. He took the occasional indy booking to put a little extra scratch in the savings account but he knew there was more longevity for him outside the ring.
“Traveling,” Jack replied. “Did a tour of the UK last month.”
“Good fans in the UK,” Ace said. “Different type of people than here.”
“Yeah,” Jack agreed. “Vocal. Passionate.”
“But a different kind of passionate,” Ace said. “You and I both did work in Japan and those people are passionate, but it’s a different sort of vibe.”
“I think it comes down to the product they’re used to,” Jack said. “UK wrestling still feels very underground to me, you dig? Japan is this whole other thing. It’s culture there, where you look at England and Ireland and whatever and it’s just something else.”
“You’re right there,” Ace said. “In Japan I had people offering to buy me dinner every night. It was surreal. They just looked at me different.”
“Every scene is different,” Jack said. “In the IWPA days, that was something else.”
“You ever miss it?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied. “Don’t you?”
“Honestly,” Ace said. “Most days I don’t. It was too big for itself, you know?”
“You mean it was too big for Mike?”
“I didn’t say that,” Ace said.
“But you did, kinda, I mean, Mike was that company in a lot of ways, right?”
“No denying that,” Ace admitted. “But he handled the business fine. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, and it was no fault of Michael Hill’s by the way, I want to say that clearly, then we would probably be on a whole different level, but some things just happen the way they do and you’ve got to roll with it.”
“Then what do you mean by ‘too big for itself’?”
“Who is interviewing who here?” Ace joked.
“Hey,” Jack said. “I’m just intrigued. Because I don’t necessarily disagree with you, actually. I just want your perspective because, let’s be honest, you were the bigger draw and so you had a different experience than me.”
“Well,” Ace said. “I mean that the bubble was going to burst, right? That even if things hadn’t gone tits up the way they did, they would have gone tits up some other way.”
“But you said Mike handled the business well.”
“I did,” Ace said. “And I stand by that. This isn’t about Michael Hill. Mike was was Mike, and Mike would continue to have been Mike and kept things going as long as he could. I’m saying that culturally speaking, it was too big for itself. We were a part of a very particular zeitgeist and I just don’t think it was sustainable. And hey, it wasn’t perfect. There were tons of guys that got brought in who got zero screen time because the roster was so stuffed. A lot of people resented Mike for that. Because they could have gone somewhere else; Japan, Britain, one of the other feds, you know? But Mike built a damned leviathan of a company and they wanted their chance to grab the brass ring. I know some guys are still bitter about what happened because they feel their time at IWPA was wasted. They didn’t get over enough on that stage to justify the booking fees they would like now that they don’t have Mike signing their checks.”
“It doesn’t do anybody any good to be bitter though, does it?” Jack asked. “I wasn’t exactly at the top of the card when things went down but I turned out okay.”
“Yeah,” Ace said. “But you made your name. People remember us. We were tag champions, after all.”
“I get that,” Jack said. “But afterwards, I wasn’t exactly a hot commodity. I didn’t do well in mid-card. I had always been a tag guy, even before we hooked up.”
“I remember seeing you do tag stuff in a couple of indy promotions before you came on board,” Ace said. “There’s an art form there. It’s all chemistry and timing and really being able to tell a story. I was never really much of a tag guy, but then when you came to me and pitched the idea to tag together, something made sense because our styles work so well together.”
“I agree,” Jack said. “Which is why I’ve stayed mostly solo on the indies, because people tie my name so heavily to our time as a team that it is hard to really sell the storytelling element of it with any other partner. I’ve done appearances and tagged with some of the old timers, you know, to sell an event as truly unique or whatever but I haven’t returned to that style full time.”
“So you’ve found that direction you think you were lacking as a solo worker in IWPA?”
“I think so,” Jack said. “Yeah.”
“So what’s next for Jack Van Jones?”
“I really don’t know, man,” Jack said. “Always working. There’s still some places I haven’t been. I want to work in Mexico. That’s always been a dream.”
“I’ve done a stint down there,” Ace said.
“Really?”
“Yeah,” Ace replied. “It’s a whole different world. Different culture. Lucha libre is unlike anything else in the world, and working that style is intense.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. “I want that challenge.”
“I’m sure you’re up to it,” Ace said. “We’ve gotta take a break, plug some sponsors, and we’ll be right back.”

Later, after the tape stopped Ace and Jack sat on the well broken in couches in Ace’s living room, each with a beer in hand as they watched a tape of one of their old matches on the giant TV that took up most of the real estate in the modest living area.
“I heard a rumor,” Jack said, gingerly sipping his beer. “You heard it?”
“I hear lots of rumors,” Ace said. “You’re going to have to be more specific.”
“Don’t shit with me,” Jack said. “About Mike.”
“Again,” Ace said. “Specificity is key. Mike is a damn rumor magnet. Which one is this one? Jail time? That he’s running for the senate? What?”
“He’s getting back in,” Jack said. “Hooked himself up with a network contract and plans to get the gang back together.”
“No fucking way,” Ace said, putting his beer down on the coffee table. “Nobody would be stupid enough to hand that man the money he would need.”
“Someone did,” Jack said.
“Who is your source?”
“Pete.”
“Shit.”
“Yeah, shit,” Jack said. “It is going to put a lot of eyes back on us.”
“I know,” Ace said.
“Things have been hard Trent,” Jack said. “I’ve had to do some real shit to scrape by. That UK tour saved my ass, but before that…”
“I know,” Ace said. “We all fell pretty hard.”
“So what are you going to say if the phone rings?”
“I don’t know if I can go full time again,” Ace said. “I’ve gotten pretty complacent.”
“Here’s another question,” Jack said picking his beer back up. “What are you going to do if the phone doesn’t ring?”
Ace took a long drink.
It was a good question

 

beautyandthebeast

Remakes and reboots are an established phenomenon at this juncture. As much as film can be an artistic medium, so too is it largely beholden to the whims of capitalism and the quest for box office success. When patterns begin to form, sometimes they are easily recognizable; such as every studio’s desire to create a “shared universe” in the wake of 2012’s The Avengers. Other patterns develop with a degree of subtlety, creating a lens with which to view a certain era of time. Patterns may also develop within a sort of microcosm, in an isolated environment divorced from the whole. Disney has of late taken to adapting their animated classics into live-action films, an initiative that can be traced back to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton.

Since that time, we have seen adaptations of Sleeping Beauty in the revisionist Maleficent, Cinderella in 2015, with The Jungle book and Pete’s Dragon rounding out 2016. Spring of this year sees the release of Beauty and the Beast, whose original animated counterpart marked a turning point in the history of animation and of Disney as a company. The train is still rolling as casting has just begun for Aladdin, news recently broke that Mulan is moving forward but will not be a musical and it has been reported that James Earl Jones will reprise his role as the voice of Mufasa in a live action version of The Lion King.

While these adaptations have hitherto been moderate to extreme box office heavyweights, the lingering critical question upon the release of each subsequent film has been whether the studio is doing anything with the new versions of the film to justify their existence beyond the revenue they generate. Does translating these classic animated films into a live action film bring anything to the table that wasn’t there in the original version?

Focusing solely on the latest film in the lineup, it feels as if Disney has for the first time put an emphasis on injecting something new into the narrative for the sake of justifying its own existence. The script’s portrayal of Belle, here portrayed as the creative/inventive genius in her father’s workshop, seems hell-bent on making strides to correct the perception that the character is simply a bookworm suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. The script moves a few steps further by feeling the need to give Belle her own “tragic backstory,” perhaps to put her in the same company as Lily James’ Cinderella. This would not be obtrusive, had the script not felt the need to do the same for Beast, giving a kind of justification for his decision to turn away the enchantress that places the curse upon his home.

Wanting to provide depth to a character is not usually a tick mark in the negative column. However, this adaptation does not provide enough attention to this subplot for it to carry enough weight. In the end, it feels like padding; largely unnecessary in most regards. Some minor additions to the script actually do work, such as the addition of Beast’s third-act solo following Belle’s departure or LeFou’s eventual about-face in his relationship with Gaston.

The 2017 Beauty and the Beast is a good film, though it is not a great one. Part of the reason for this is simply that the original on which it is based succeeds in just about every regard where the remake falters. It is somewhat disappointing, but if you look at the patterns, it is not all that unsurprising.

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One


10

Chapter II.

Marshall Ellis leaned his forehead against the tile of the shower and let the hot water cascade down his back. He hurt. Bad. He knew how to take a hit. He had trained. He knew how to “bump.” That was the problem with all of it; the world wanted to prove that he didn’t really know shit.

After the incident Marshall Ellis had to find a new line of work. Promoters figured it wasn’t worth the headache that employing him would bring. He wasn’t famous anymore; he was notorious. The distinction was a small one but one that resulted in a large difference in insurance premiums and media coverage. Most found it difficult to justify the cost of having Marshall Ellis around. It irked him; that something so unfathomably out of his own control now seemed to control every facet of his living situation.

He had recently taken up a job working the door at a hole in the wall tavern in Dallas, Texas. It seemed like every night someone wanted to make a run at him. They wanted to know if “The Mechanic” was as big a tough guy as he claimed to be. Everyone had the same old lines; “it’s all fake,” or  “he can’t really fight.” Nevermind the fact that Marshall Ellis had been a champion collegiate wrestler and was a black-belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, they simply had to learn things the hard way.

That morning as he stood in the shower letting the hot water sooth the emerging bruises and blemishes that marred his body. The previous evening had seen a cadre of rednecks rush him as a group and try to deliver him a swift and severe beating. Things had not worked out well in those men’s favor however, as Marshall ended up breaking the arm of one of his attackers and shattering the orbital socket of another. The end result of the brawl had been his dismissal from duty and the discolored flesh that throbbed under the stream of hot water.

After willing himself out of the shower and into a fresh set of clothes Marshall took a seat at the cheap Swedish made table in the dining area of his ramshackle one-bedroom apartment and tepidly began to eat his breakfast, a bowl of stale cheerios and skim milk which he choked down with an absent minded sense of purpose. He tried to tune out the headache that pounded on his skull like a timpani drum and had mostly succeeded when there came a rapping at the door.

“What now?” Marshall asked himself, amazed at life’s ability to pile on in such frustrating ways.

He made his way to the door and peered through the peephole. He couldn’t make out the face of whoever was standing on the other side. The maintenance men on staff at his apartment complex had haphazardly repainted his door and rendered the tiny window entirely useless.

“What do you want?” he shouted through the door.

“To talk,” a familiar voice answered back.

Marshall had to fight the urge to vomit. He hadn’t spoken to Michael Hill in close to a year and yet here he stood, plain as day on the bird shit stained patio of his apartment.

“I don’t think there’s much for us to discuss Mike,” Marshall yelled. “I think it best you be on your way.”

“Don’t be like that Marsh,” Michael replied. “I’m sorry things have gone the way they have for you but I’m here to make things right.

Marshall opened the door,

“You don’t have the power to make things right,” Marshall said. “God his own damn self would have trouble putting the pieces of this shitshow back together.”

“Then start singing glory hallelujah because your divine providence is here,” Michael said with a grin. “In all seriousness, invite me inside so we can talk like a couple of civilized adults.”

“You haven’t ever been much in the way of civilized,” Marshall said returning to the kitchen table, leaving the door open for Michael behind him. “Not much of an adult by my reckoning either. You’ve always just been a little boy, playing in his toybox.”

He sat and took another bite of cereal. “Only difference is most little boys care when their favorite toys get broken.”

Michael closed the door behind him as he entered the room. He glanced around the dimly lit apartment at the meager decor adorning the walls. A few framed photographs of Marshall in his prime hung sloppily here and there. Beyond that, little if anything to indicate the apartment had a permanent resident.

“That’s not fair at all,” Michael said. “I did everything I could to help us. To help you.”

“For all the good it did.”

“Yes,” Michael said, rolling his eyes. “I wasn’t successful. Not then, at least. What did you expect? We needed a damned miracle to save us. The footage was everywhere. It was national news. It was everything anybody ever wanted to shut us down with handed to them on a silver platter and you were the suckling pig with an apple shoved in its mouth. It wasn’t fair to you. I’m sorry. But things happened the way they happened.”

“I was a star, Mike,” Marshall said. “A goddamn shooting star and it all went away overnight. You see how I live?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” Marshall asked, his voice tinged with a barely contained rage. “Because you show up here out of the blue wearing a suit that costs more than my rent and I wonder how sorry you really are. Or how hard you really tried to make things right.”

“You unbelievable bastard,” Michael said, shaking his head. “Do you understand the gravity of what happened that night? Do you?”

“Are you seriously asking me that question right now, Michael?”

“Yes,” Michael said. “Because you act like it was something that could be brushed under the rug, which, surprise Marsh, it can’t. I’ve tried. I have spent immeasurable stacks of cash to try to erase the memory of that night from the general consciousness of the world at large, and yet I cannot. Do you know why?”

“Why, Michael?”

“Because had it been planned it would have been the most memorable night in the history of live broadcast entertainment! Don’t act like it wouldn’t have been. If we had scripted it, if it had been part of the show, we would never be able to top it.”

“But it wasn’t scripted,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t fake. It wasn’t trickery. It wasn’t a show. It was–”

“It was a tragedy,” Michael interrupted. “A wholly unavoidable one. That’s what the court said. We are not, were not culpable. Not for any of it.”

“That is so easy for you to say,” Marshall said. “You weren’t in the ring.”

“I know,” Michael said. “It is so different for you than it is for the rest of us.”

“People still book Johnny,” Marshall said. “Ace and Peter. All the guys. They still get booked. You know who doesn’t?”

Michael stood silently, looking at Marshall with a knowing sense of empathy.

“I don’t,” Marshall continued. “I don’t get booked. Because I am the world’s biggest liability. And I don’t know how to do anything else Michael, I really don’t. This is all I’ve ever done and all I will ever be good at. Until the day they throw me in the dirt, I will only ever be good at that one thing, and I can’t do it anymore.”

“What if you could?”

“And who would sign me?”

“I would,” Michael said.

Marshall Ellis looked at Michael Hill the way that most people look at a scratch-off lottery ticket that’s one match away from a jackpot. Michael looked at Marshall with the pleading look that one might give a child struggling to reach the edge of a pool in their first swim class. It was a depressing tableau enough to make an existential nihilist rigid in the pants.

“What the hell are you talking about Michael?” Marshall finally asked.

“I have a contract,” Michael said. “A new program. Cable. Never been done before. First out of the gate. But I can’t do it without you.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Marshall asked.

“Does it matter?”

“Not really.”

“Then shut up and listen,” Michael said. “The International Professional Wrestling Alliance was one of the crowning achievements of televised sports-centric entertainment. We cornered the market because we did things differently. We cared about fidelity to the stories we told in that ring and people gave a damn about those characters. They cared about you.”

“And it’s never coming back,” Marshall said. “Not the way it was before. Not after how it ended.”

“Which is why we don’t even try,” Michael said. “Have you been to the movies lately?”

Marshall shook his head. “I don’t have a lot of disposable income these days,” he said.

“Continuity is meaningless,” Michael said. “Reboots and sequels and nobody pays attention to whether any of it makes any sense. It’s all about hooking an audience with something they recognize and squeezing every last dollar out of them that is physically possible. I don’t want to bring back the IPWA, I just want to use it to open a new door for something else. What I’ve got lined up isn’t a sequel, it’s a goddamn spinoff. Like when the cop from Family Matters showed up in Die Hard.”

“That’s not actually the same character–”

“I don’t care,” Michael said. “And the world doesn’t care either. We’re going to sell the world on a lie Marshall, and I cannot do it without you. You are the goddamn key to the whole goddamn assing thing.”

“What are you talking about?”

“We’re going to call it the Outlaw Wrestling Coalition,” Michael said. “We’re going to sell the narrative that this whole thing is an underground enterprise. We’re going to sell it on danger. We’re going to sell it on taboo. We’re going to sell it on being the most exciting thing ever to hit cable programming and it is going to be centered around your return to the ring and your search for redemption.”

“I don’t need redemption, Michael.”

“Maybe not personally,” Michael said. “But your character does.”

“I am my character, Michael,” Marshall said. “Always have been.”

“I am offering you a chance to get back to doing what you have always been great at,” Michael said. “Or you can continue to let shitkickers take a run at you for two hundred bucks a night. But those guys you mentioned? Johnny, Ace, Pete? They’re all in. And I’ll build my show around one of them if I have to, but that’s not what I want. That isn’t what the viewing public wants. They want Marshall the goddamn shitassing Mechanic Ellis taking the spot that was unjustly taken from him. That is what they want to see! That is what I want to see!”

“The last time I was in a ring someone died, Michael.”

Michael Hill took two steps back and sighed deeply.

“And it wasn’t your fault,” Michael said. “You probably saved some lives that night. Is that what you want to be remembered for, though? Or would you rather be remembered as part of the greatest comeback story in the history of televised entertainment?”

Marshall looked at his stale cereal and then back to the promoter who for years had pushed him to the top of the professional wrestling world; the man who had made him a star. He closed his eyes and said a little prayer. Then he looked back at Michael.

“When do we start?”

LauraMangold

I happened upon a series of tweets from someone whom I do not recall earlier this week that argued Logan was a poor film because Laura’s existence only served to provide Wolverine with an arc. I do not dispute the argument regarding Laura’s purpose. I do however refute the idea that it nullifies the effectiveness of the film as a whole. I have noticed as of late that there is a growing contingent of critics who believe that if a film does not tick every box in their personal criteria it cannot be labeled a success. This zero-sum approach to media criticism is ultimately detrimental because it creates an environment in which media of value is set up to fail and perpetuates a system in which creator purpose is devalued.

I do not argue against the idea of critiquing a particular piece of media’s shortcomings. That is the bedrock of critique. When a critic says that they feel a piece of writing or a particular film lacks development of certain characters or that the story would be better serviced by an uptick in diversity, those are constructive bits of criticism that can be defended and argued in meaningful ways. What is not helpful are critics who make a declarative statement that a piece of media loses the total of its value because it doesn’t hit a benchmark set by that critic when they sit down to examine that same piece of media.

This is closely tied to my feeling that creator intent is being largely devalued in the modern age. Media must be examined on the terms set by the piece itself, not those which critics draft of their own accord. Whatever rubric that critics utilize to gauge the effectiveness of media should always include the creator’s purpose. If we take the example of Logan then; that Laura exists as a means to engender an arc in Wolverine is perhaps a worthy critique. Perhaps infusing her with a greater sense of internal motivation would enhance the overall narrative. That is indeed a possibility. However, to argue that a secondary character being utilized as a means to push forward the narrative is cause to dismiss the whole of the work is utterly absurd. In this case, the film is titled Logan. All things in the film are generally constructed to give value to his journey. While the film is filled with a cadre of characters, Logan is not necessarily what I would consider an ensemble piece. Not in the same manner that the X-Men films or the Avengers franchise are, anyway. This is not the same as arguing that Black Widow is used largely to further the arc of Bruce Banner in Avengers: Age of Ultron, as part of a team they ostensibly have equal value to the narrative. The difference between the two comes with the intent of narrative delivery. This is something critics need to be mindful of when they approach any given piece of media, lest they risk devaluing their own analysis.

I certainly understand the desire to see problematic elements of media addressed. What I simply cannot understand is casual dismissal of the whole due to a single flaw in its construction. We as consumers of media need to be mindful that authorial intent and creator purpose are still worth examining when engaging with the analysis of media.

literature

The education world is rife with conflict and disagreement; one need only look at the furor generated by the ideas of our new secretary of education if they need an affirmation of that idea. A debate that seems to rage within the halls of the institutions that I find myself frequenting is whether high school students on their way to a higher education should be required to read classic literature. Some advocates for moving away from literature argue that the relevance of such works is long gone and that it does little to prepare them for whatever challenges university life will bring them. Such arguments find no purchase with one such as I. To the contrary, I believe that lessening the focus on literature does a terrible disservice to young students.Studying literature at the high school level engenders growth in students by pushing the limits of comprehension that otherwise lie idle in complacency and providing cultural context that cannot be gleaned through other means.

The most practical virtue of the study of literature comes from the principle that resistance builds character. High school students will struggle with literature, if well taught. A high school senior will find some difficulty in unpacking the themes and deciphering the meaning of Shakespeare and Chaucer. College students studying in the English discipline struggle with such material. By introducing students to the concept of studying long-form literature at the high school level, educators build skills in much the manner that weight-lifters make gains; by pushing limits.

The central argument that seems to be presented against the teaching of literature is that a majority of students will not continue to study literature at the university level. The belief is that most will not take many English courses beyond the initial requirement of Composition and Rhetoric and therefore there is no impetus to focus on the established canon of literature that has been the backbone of English classrooms since what seems like time immemorial. District experts, at least where I have been an educator, are moving away from literature and focusing on attempting to teach the skill of analysis through excerpts, usually under a page in length. While it is possible to analyze an excerpt, and while there is nothing wrong with this practice on the whole, it also does not address skills that are lost be removing the study of established literature over a prolonged period of time. The time spent poring over the text is, in and of itself, a skill. Remembering the chronology of events, being able to map character relation, comprehension of the progression of the narrative, etc.; these are all skills that are left underdeveloped if replaced by short-form analysis.

If the only argument against the reading of literature were simply that a majority of students will not engage in in-depth study of English at the college level, that would be well and good. The skills necessary for the students who do in fact choose a liberal arts major could, in theory, be honed and perfected through practice at the college level. That flies in the face of the mission statement of high school educators to produce college ready graduates, but if we accept the idea that the study of long-form literature is the purview of upperclassmen in the back half of their undergraduate career, then allowances can be made.

However, that argument does nothing to address the fact that literature is a whetstone on which the sword of the mind can be sharpened. Did you understand that last sentence? It is a metaphor. You likely understood it because an English teacher drilled it into your head. Probably during high school. Page long excerpts can teach the concept of literary devices and, yes, one can analyze them. But it is unlikely, in my humble opinion, that any educator worth their salt would call a one-page excerpt challenging or rigorous to the degree that a developing mind requires. The prolonged study of literature is a study skill that builds academic endurance. Attempting to replicate that skill with truncated excerpts is the same as trying to attain the build of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson using one pound barbells. It just does not work.

Another element of studying established, classic literature over a substantial period of time that cannot be discounted is the concept of cultural relevance. Advocates for moving away from the study of literature say that the window of relevance for the established canon is passed and our focus going forward should largely be repetition of basic skills utilizing shorter, targeted texts. By doing this, we do a disservice to the students by robbing them of cultural touchstones. When you feed excerpts and short-form literature to high school students what you do is devalue the content of the writing. How can a student reasonably be expected to retain the information and the meaning behind the myriad excerpts they’ve been force-fed over thirty six instructional weeks? Contrast that to teaching four major works each year, wherein they are expected to make connections between them over the course of the instructional year; teaching in this way teaches that what we engage in has value beyond the idea of simply learning a simple skill. Show a student that literature is applicable and they will reap the rewards.

Perhaps I am just a bitter high school teacher, but the arguments for literature far outweigh the arguments against. Those seeking to replace it from the curriculum appear to be reactionary, recoiling in fear from the rising tide of low test scores and declining graduation rates. The solution is not to cut corners. The solution is to stand firm.

 

logan

**Major spoilers for Logan are contained within. Be forewarned**

As a teacher of literature, I often preach the importance of understanding genre conventions. In trying to teach the concept of analysis, I have always found it important to build a bedrock of understanding that lies in comprehending the expectations present when examining a particular type of writing. I talk about text features, patterns, structure, etc. There are some who do not agree with this approach; that it hamstrings the person trying to formulate effective analysis because if they can’t tick a box they can’t generate a thesis, and while I feel that in some ways this is a logical argument, it can also easily be countered by taking a look at a selection that so readily establishes itself as a deconstruction of a genre itself or a commentary on the tropes and expectations contained therein.

Case in point; James Mangold’s Logan. The film, directed by Mangold based off a story he generated with a script by Scott Frank, is a direct response to the superhero genre as it has been established over the past ten years.

The “superhero genre” is one that, for a good while at least, was ill-defined at best. Many of the tropes schemes associated with the genre by the middle of the 1990s have been discarded, phased out in response to what feels like a steady rise in “focus group” or “Four Quadrant” mainstream film-making. While superhero films have been around for decades, it was the wave of films in the immediate aftermath of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 that started to form the mold that would be firmly solidified by the success of the Marvel cinematic universe in the wake of Iron Man in 2008. As a result, the expectations of the genre have, by and large, been set by Marvel Studios and Disney over the last ten years. Audiences are conditioned to look for certain elements; films that break from that mold are viewed as outliers.

What Marvel has done over the last decade is decide what tropes from published comic books they wanted to translate over to the world of film and television. It was Marvel studios that reversed the idea brought upon the cinematic landscape by X-Men in 2000 that heroes could not or should not wear their traditional costumes. There is also much to be said about the formula that they apply to their character archetypes, the structure of their narratives (Marvel never met a macguffin it didn’t like) and the congruous “house style” of their framing and color palettes.

While this has happened for films produced by Marvel’s association with the “Mouse House,” films produced by other studios have largely eschewed those conventions, either seeking to establish their own, or simply seeking to subvert them and comment on them in such a way as to stand apart from the herd. Warner Brothers attempted to sell their DC cinematic universe as “filmmaker driven,” as a dig at Marvel Studio’s perceived desire to keep their universe homogeneous to the point that, some argue, it renders the overall product increasingly bland. It is hard to see any WB/DC films, especially those under the guided hand of Zack Snyder as anything other than a direct antithesis of genre conventions established by the cultural powerhouse of Marvel Studios.

Where films like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, et al. fail in that regard however is as a commentary on those conventions. The WB/DC films offer a counter-point in tone but do little to make an argument regarding that selfsame tone. What purpose does the implied darkness serve in the grander scheme of the narrative? In what way does reshaping the core fundamentals of firmly established characters shape the stories that they tell? It would appear that there is no such purpose.

Contrast that with other films that seek to deconstruct the genre; namely last year’s surprise (to some people, anyway) hit Deadpool and this year’s dark-horse candidate for comic adaptation of the year, Logan. Whereas the WB/DC films sought to provide a counter-balance to the Marvel cinematic universe in terms of tone, Deadpool and Logan seek to provide a rebuttal in terms, not only of tone, but of intent. Deadpool was a reverent, sophomoric exercise in showing that homogeneous, same-samey cinematic adaptions of popular characters could only get you so far. Trying to fit the character of Deadpool into the mold established by films like Iron Man and Thor simply would not work. Instead, they focused on subverting the genre expectations established by the films that preceded it, and utilized the character’s fourth-wall breaking tendencies to offer commentary directly to the audience. The subversion of genre tropes was both text and sub-text within the context of the film itself.

That commentary and subversion continues with Logan. It is no coincidence that Logan begins with a false-start that turns out to actually be a teaser trailer for Deadpool 2; both of these films, in their very DNA, a similarity in intent. Though the two films could not be any different if they tried, they share a connection that cannot be disputed; both films wear their R rating like badge of honor(though the reasoning and utilization of the freedom it allows are also quite disparate in nature), both scale back the drama in ways that make the narrative less about the external conflict with an ill-defined villain and more about the internal conflict with themselves, and both films seek to show that tone disparate from established genre norms requires that the intent of utilizing it also be addressed from a narrative standpoint.

Logan is an R rated film. It earns the R rating not only through a veritable overload of graphic violence but through a cavalcade of cursing that would feel right at home in a film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Both of these points seek to reinforce that Logan is, itself, a commentary on the genre itself. Hugh Jackman has played the character of Wolverine for seventeen years. To put that in perspective, if Wolverine is Jackman’s baby, that baby is now old enough to purchase a ticket to Logan without a parent or guardian present. Fans have clamored for an R rated Wolverine film for almost as long as there has been an X-Men franchise. Following the release of X2, fans lamented the bloodless nature of Wolverine’s berserker rage as it was presented on camera. In that film however, it simply would not have been appropriate with regard to the tone being established. The violence in Logan is a commentary; from the very first scene it is established that Wolverine as a character is trying to move past violence. Just as the world has moved on, so too has he. The men trying to steal Logan’s limo initiate the violence with a cursory shotgun blast to his chest. Even after taking the hit, Logan attempts to talk his way out of the situation. Once the situation reaches an apex, only then do the claws come out. Every bit of violence that follows is deliberate and meaningful. It echoes the world that surrounds it. The world has fallen into decay. Logan, too, has fallen into decay. The veil of humanity and civilization and structure and order is now simply a specter, thus allowing the levels of violence and bloodshed shown on screen to be congruous with the story being told. The reason we, as an audience, didn’t need to see people getting claws shoved through their skulls in previous X-Men films is because there was still hope in the world where the narrative was transpiring. There, Logan was making an attempt to live within the norms of society; here, that restraint is gone, and so too is any censorship of his actions.

This same lack of censorship can be applied to the linguistic aspect of the script as well, specifically the casual nature with which the central characters drop f-bomb after f-bomb. The X-Men franchise has been toying around with this for several films now, with each film utilizing their one MPAA approved, non-sexual utterance of the word to varying degrees of comedic effect. Here, however, the word is not played for laughs, aside from perhaps the first time we hear Patrick Stewart’s Xavier use it because we feel it to be so far out of the natural confines of his character. But as we move deeper into the film and we as an audience come to understand the depths of sorrow and despair that have plagued both Logan and Charles since things all went sideways, the blue nature of the dialog begins to make organic sense, as it is a distillation of their emotional turmoil and serves as a means of non-violent catharsis. Again, this is something that would have been out of place in other entries in the franchise but is tied heavily to the film’s own thematic statements that when the credits roll you would be hard pressed to find an audience member who found the dialog to be incongruous with the story being told.

The single biggest challenge to the established expectations of the superhero genre however come simply in the form of the climax and the focus of the narrative. A majority of major comic book superhero adaptations feel the need to have an exaggerated climax, usually involving an under-developed villain and their desire to control/regain/destroy some type of macguffin. This usually ends with some sort of sky-portal or something falling from the sky. The sky is almost always involved. (Avengers had a sky portal, Avengers: Age of Ultron had a country falling out of the sky, Guardians of the Galaxy had a ship falling out of the sky, Thor: The Dark World had something falling out of the sky, a pattern does seem to develop) Logan eschews this in favor of focusing the narrative around Wolverine’s internal conflict; to what degree does he owe anything to Xavier, to Laura, who comes into his life at a time that could only bring complications, to Caliban, and ultimately to himself. It is ultimately fitting that Logan does battle with himself in the literal sense when he ends up fighting X-24; a younger, more virile version of himself that represents the unsuppressed violence that he had so desperately tried to control his entire life.

Ultimately, Logan is not a film that simply has Hugh Jackman violently stabbing people and dropping f-bombs for the sake of novelty; there is purpose and intent in the film’s construction. Logan serves to show that when you work within a genre, there are boxes that the audience is expecting you to tick, and if you don’t there had better be a reason for it, otherwise why would you be working with that genre to begin with? James Mangold took superhero DNA and infused it into a western, then used it as a way to hold a mirror up to the entirety of the superhero genre and show them a reflection of their own conflict. Not every film needs to do this. In fact, Logan’s success is largely dependent on a mold being present to break free from. What remains to be seen is what, if any, lessons upcoming films will take away from Wolverine’s last ride.

This is a new experiment for me. I want to write a weekly serialized fiction project. Every Friday I plan on posting a chapter of the story. I do not know how long the story will run. As I said, this is an experiment. I hope some people find it interesting.

Here is a brief synopsis of the tale about to unfold.

“Michael Hill is a showman without a show. Once the promoter of one of the most popular live television programs on the air, he is now trying to reclaim his former glory in the aftermath of a terrible on-air tragedy. Marshall Ellis was his biggest star, and the one probably most affected by the downfall of Hill’s empire. Together the two have a plan to rebuild. They want to start something new. They want to change the business forever. They are not yet Counted Out.”


10

Chapter I.

“This is going to be different.”

The executives weren’t so sure. They had heard pitches like this before. They had seen trends rise and fall, come and go, like the ebb and flow of the tide. They had been burned many times in the past by trying to find competition for a fad rather than championing the next big thing. Nobody cares about the guy trying to do “the thing” better, they care about the guy who made “the thing” a thing in the first place.

“Mr. Hill,” one of the stoic-faced suits seated in the dimly lit conference room began, following an abrupt and not altogether polite clearing of his throat. “This network has taken chances before. God knows I have signed my name to a fair share of them. I don’t even personally have a problem when they fail. I count it as a learning experience. My accountants prefer to consider them as opportunities for creative writeoffs, but I don’t want to split hairs.

“The point is, when I see a venture like yours I don’t see a risk, I see a disaster. Especially in light of past events–”

“The past is the past,” Mr. Hill interrupted, standing and pushing the lavish, ergonomic office chair back in so doing. “We all know that the demise of my previous project was an unavoidable tragedy.”

“A debateable point.” This from the suit seated directly at two o’clock from Mr. Hill, a stone-faced, and stone-hearted woman with piercing emerald colored eyes whom he had only heard referred to as “Green.” Of the three suits in the room, she was the only one to put him on edge.

“Anything,” Hill replied, “ is a debateable point if one chooses to be bull-headed about it. And if we want to get into some sort of pontification on the plausibility of infinite universes, where any and all realities are possible, then yes, Ms. Green, perhaps there is some plane of existence where what happened that night is avoidable, but in this reality, in this here and now, what happened was nothing other than an unfortunate turn of events beyond the capability of anyone to prevent.”

“That sounds like the rhetoric of a man desperately trying to avoid responsibility for something,” Ms. Green said. “Because he knows that no company in their right mind would throw their money behind a venture spearheaded by a glorified carnival barker best known for one of the most nightmarish events ever captured on live broadcast.”

Hill rapped his knuckles on the desk; eyes darting from the woman to the man seated directly across from him. His previous objections had not been as vitriolic as those put forth by Ms. Green. If he could convince this man, it was highly likely that Green could be overruled.

“Do any of you spend much time on the internet?” Hill asked.

None of the executives offered anything in reply.

“You should,” Hill continued. “It’s like peeling back the pretense of America and staring directly into it’s slithering, unfiltered id. If you want to know how responsible I feel for what happened that night, perhaps you should look at how hard I have fought to have all video evidence of what happened scrubbed  from existence. Because I don’t want what happened glorified and I don’t want anyone, myself included, to profit from that tragedy. And yet there are corners of the internet where clips of what transpired that night, both digital copies of the broadcast or footage shot from the crowd get passed around behind encrypted firewalls. It honestly makes me sick.”

Silence from the executives, a pensive glance of intrigue from Ms. Green.

“And do you know what these people say?” Hill asked. “They ask questions like ‘Did Michael Hill orchestrate this?’ or ‘Why didn’t Michael Hill prevent this? Did he care more about ratings than safety?’ and they say that no matter what I do, until the day I die, what happened that night will always be my legacy; that when my time comes, my obituary will focus on nothing more than the thirty seconds of footage that brought an end to one of the most popular programs on broadcast television and ended the life of one of the brightest young entertainers the world has ever seen. They say that when I die, nothing else I have ever done will matter and that I am equivalent only to my greatest failure.”

He noticed some uncomfortable shifting from Ms. Green. The passion in his voice perhaps shaking loose some heretofore undiscovered empathy from somewhere within the granite cave of her consciousness.

“What happened that night is not what I want to be remembered for,” Hill continued. “I will do whatever is necessary to build myself a new legacy. I did not come here to beg you for an outlet. I came to give you the first shot, because as a growing cable network, the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that is sure to grab headlines for the next six months straight should sound like an irresistible siren’s song to the bunch of you. Whether you shake my hand today and say ‘We have a deal, Mr. Hill’ when I walk out of here or not, the project will move forward. It might not be on this network, but it will go forward.”

“While your quest to redeem your name is admirable,” the center suit replied. “When I look at what you are proposing I simply do not see it being a good fit for this network. And what you say is true, for the first six months our subscriber numbers would likely blow through the roof. But the logistics of what you are proposing, coupled with the lost revenue from those who would oppose our broadcasting anything with your name tied to it; it simply does not sound, to me at least, like a viable long-term investment.”

The executive seated to the far left from Hill, who until this point has remained silent and only looked up from his tablet perhaps twice during the entire proceedings, offered his own thoughts of the matter simply by closing the case on his electronic device and casting a very deliberate gaze toward the clock above the door.

Ms. Green stood then. Commanding the room.

“What are you looking for?” she asked. “In terms of a commitment. Give me specifics.”

“Give me a year,” Hill said. “One episode per week. One pay per view special every four months. All exclusive to your network. No streaming. No syndication. People want to watch, they have to come to you.”

“How much?”

“You put up the money to lock in the contracts for my guys,” Hill said. “I stay on as executive producer. Financial burden for the events goes on me. I book the venues. I run the shows. You handle broadcast and advertising. You can decide what sort of budget you want to set aside for that. Based on how much, or little, faith you have in my ability to deliver.”

As the other suits looked on Ms. Green extended a hand across the table.

“We have a deal, Mr. Hill,” she said. “We’ll have the paperwork drawn up.”

“Send it to my office,” Mr. Hill said, shaking her hand. “I have some meetings to arrange.”

Occasionally I will try my hand at writing about my own life. I don’t ever plan on writing a memoir because a good chunk of my life is boring tripe, but there have been instances worth writing about. This is a story I wrote down as an example I utilized to show students how you can take a memory and, through authorial voice, carefully establish the whole mood of the situation being presented.

Enjoy.

-J.


893f324efad0709d9a55af3393e03d85-d2ann2v

“Punch” by Stefano Carnicelli

I don’t remember getting hit. I remember hitting the ground. I remember pushing myself onto my hands and knees and being rewarded with a swift kick to the chest. The wind blew out of me like a punctured tire and again I was face down on the grass.

The thing is I had done this to myself. I had agreed to this. It was a matter of pride and honor and other sixth grade bull crap that doesn’t mean anything once you move past puberty and realize you have more important things to worry about. But at twelve years old your brain is basically just a jumbo smoothie of hormones and stupidity and the idea of agreeing to an after-school showdown because he called your pants “gay” is just the sort of thing you’re apt to do with nobody around to tell you that you’re a damned idiot for doing so.

That’s how I ended up in the back yard of my good friend Brett, who was supposed to be the neutral arbitrator of the pugilistic contest between myself and mutual acquaintance Tony who everyone just referred to as “Rocky,” a nickname that he said was due to a striking resemblance to one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but I maintained was more likely related to the fact that he was about as smart as a wet brick.

Granted, when he hit me it was not all dissimilar to being hit by a brick, so the nickname was appropriate regardless of the context of its origin.

Rocky, Brett and I all shared second period P.E. and in the locker room where the three of us changed from our sweaty gym uniform back into our civilian clothes for the rest of the day, Rocky wanted to look like a smart guy in front of everybody else and decided the best way to do so was to say I looked cute in my “gay ass pants.” This being 1997 when the level of LGBT acceptance had not reached the point that it is today in our post-social justice Tumblr world, I did as most twelve year olds would do and immediately went on the defensive, insinuating that I could always change my pants but he would be stuck with a face that looked like a horse’s puckered anal cavity forever.

Perhaps the words weren’t so eloquent, that’s how my brain chooses to remember it at least. Whatever it was that I was able to mutter it was enough to set Rocky off in a way I had not seen in many people before, or since for that matter.

Things escalated as things do but neither of us were willing to get in a fight right then and there because as heated as we were we knew that a throw down on campus meant principals and police and more headaches than it was worth. Instead, we agreed to settle this after school. We would meet in Brett’s back yard and settle things. Or as Rocky put it, he would rip a part of my lower anatomy off of my person, shove it repeatedly up the area where my digested food exited my body, remove it and then shove it down my throat. He said this in much more vulgar terms, but I went on to be the published writer so I get to phrase things the way I like.

Little, chubby, twelve year old me didn’t stand a chance in this fight. I knew it. Rocky knew it. I think Brett knew it. I think he volunteered to referee the bout so that there was a recognizable face ready to alert my next of kin when I was brutally murdered at 3:30 that afternoon. But I couldn’t back down. I couldn’t let anyone get away with insulting the honor of my pants. My mother had bought those for me, damnit. In a way Rocky was insulting my family honor. The blood of Irish nobility flows through these veins, and that meant that after school there was going to be one hell of a showdown.

Sure enough we showed up at Brett’s house later that afternoon, after I had been dropped off at home and I informed my parents that I was headed to a friend’s house to play video games but would be back in time for dinner. They informed me that we were having meat loaf. Suddenly the idea of getting punched repeatedly sounded more appealing.

The fight, if you can call it that, started after Brett informed us of the rules for the ensuing brawl which essentially boiled down to don’t kick anyone in the beanbag and no biting. Everything else was just gravy.

Upon the last syllable of instruction falling from Brett’s mouth, Rocky’s fist crashed into mine. It was so fast and sudden that I don’t actually remember it happening. I remember hitting the ground and putting two and two together, that the sudden shocking and pulsating pain in my jaw and the fact that my face was pressed against the grass were interconnected.

I tried to get myself to my feet but Rocky pressed his advantage and kicked me in the ribs with the force of a SWAT officer attempting to break down a door. I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to win the fight. The pride of the fighting Irish spirit was going to die a pathetic death in a Houston suburb on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon.

I figured my best option was likely to put some distance between myself and Rocky so I began a slow, prone crawl in the direction of the back fence. Rocky moved in after me like one of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. Brett, respecting the honor of mortal combat, held him back telling him to let me get to my feet first. Rocky was having none of that, as he figured that if you’ve knocked someone down it might be a good idea to make sure they stay down.

I had reached the back fence by the time Rocky was able to advance upon my person. He said something about wanting to four-letter-word me up. He never got the opportunity however, as I had grabbed a broken fence board laying in the grass and swung it as hard as I could; the edge of the board cracking against his temple.

Rocky hit the ground and I scrambled to my feet. There was blood dripping over my swollen lip. Rocky rolled onto his side and vomited profusely.

I spit a mouthful of blood into the grass and looked at Brett. The look on his face was one of confused shock, the same look you might have on your face if you witnessed a gopher sprout wings and punch the president of the United States in the nipples.

“Guys,” I said, “Can we just go inside and play Goldeneye?”

 

The trailer for the latest entry into the saga of the xenomorph, Alien: Covenant, dropped this morning;

I have a strange personal history with the Alien franchise. I can remember being ten years old in the year of our lord 1996 and hearing the first rumblings of a fourth Alien film; this coming after the previews alone for Alien 3 kept me far and away from viewing any installment of the franchise thus far. I can vaguely recall a desire to prove my worth to my friends, all of whom had that prepubescent sense of superiority that came from watching the bloodiest, goriest, scariest films they could get their hands on. Strangely enough I decided to begin my journey with part two, James Cameron’s Aliens. As a glance at TV guide one afternoon yielded information that the local Fox affiliate would be airing a special presentation of the special edition version of the film that evening. My parents, lenient as they were with my viewing habits, would likely be perturbed by a request to rent any of the films from the local blockbuster so instead I stayed up just long enough to pop in a blank VHS tape and record the showing while I journeyed off to slumber, secure in my knowledge that the next day I would be able to sit down and watch through the whole thing, fast forwarding through any meddlesome commercial breaks.

I sat down to watch the film the next day and the sensation of anxiety in doing so was palpable. More than anything that was happening on screen, my nerves were gripped by the mystique that had been built up surrounding the mythos of the series by friends and movie magazines. (Yes, even at age ten I was a devout follower of certain periodicals that gave me all the latest movie news before the explosion of the online film community) I sat enraptured, awaiting the first appearance of the legendary creature. I knew enough about the movies from secondhand discussion or lengthy articles detailing the production of the films that the slow build of tension was practically torture.

Keep in mind, I was ten.

After the end credits rolled I had been hooked in. I needed to see the rest of the series. It was imperative. Luckily, I had a friend named Brett who lived a few blocks over whose parents were far more relaxed regarding their son’s consumption of violent media. His parents had an entire boxed set of the trilogy and that weekend I asked him if we could marathon watch them all. He seemed amicable to the idea and I wound up watching all three films over the course of a day with Brett and one other friend whose name I could not remember if you placed a loaded plasma rifle to my temple.

Even so young, I found myself intrigued by the differences between all three films. Where Aliens was dripping with a defiant, last-stand-at-the-Alamo sense of action, Ridley Scott’s original film was a quiet, creeping slow burn that honestly left me feeling underwhelmed at first. In the years since I have grown to love Alien as a true classic of dramatic and horrific tension, and I don’t view it as greater or lesser than its sequel; as they are so disparate in tone and composition that comparing the two is pointless. I even found myself enthralled by Alien 3, a position that seemed bold at the time but one that has seemingly been vindicated by the march of time.

The next year I managed to see Alien Resurrection in theaters and I believe that may be the first time I have ever been acutely aware of magic being broken. While there were certainly elements that I enjoyed in the film it felt a little too detached from the mood and tone established by the first three. I tried to convince myself that I actually liked the film, the same way I would with The Phantom Menace in ’99, but I think in my heart of hearts I knew I was lying to myself. In trying to figure out what it was that didn’t resonate with me I came to understand that there was a lack of severity to Resurrection that I did not wish to engage with. I don’t mean to say that the film didn’t have its moments of seriousness, but there was a degree of dismissive levity to the characters, which I now realize was largely the work of Joss Whedon’s writing, that seemed inappropriate for the series it was inhabiting. That same tone, so out of place in Resurrection, would work wonders for Firefly only five years down the line. But in 1997, aboard a ship crawling with one of the most iconic film monsters of all time, it felt inappropriate and jarring.

And so my love affair with the Alien franchise laid dormant. It was a major shift for me. In the time between discovering the first three films and seeing Resurrection in 1997, I tore through any and all available media I could regarding the franchise; novels, comic books, video games, the whole nine. Then it all fell by the wayside. For about seven years. Then in 2004, as a seventeen year old kid freshly graduated from high school, I found myself ready to be sucked back in by the release of Alien vs. Predator.

The Predator series never grabbed me the way that Alien did. Mostly because up until this point, there had only been two films and of those two I only held one in high regard. I can appreciate Predator 2 for what it is now, but when I was younger I found it to be lacking in most areas. My interest in AvP stemmed from the time I spent consuming all of that tertiary media in the buildup for Resurrection. The comics and novels built on the mythos of those series better than either of the films and I was hoping some of that would carry over into the film version.

I think most people know how that turned out.

For the second time, my hopes had been dashed upon the rocks and my desire to see a film that captured that same sense of excitement I’d had when I was ten and being brought into the warm embrace of the series for the first time was but a fleeting memory. I begrudgingly saw the follow-up film Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem in 2007 but went in with lowered expectations from the outset. I figured my relationship with the series was all but dead.

Then in 2012 Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with Prometheus, and for the first time since watching the first three on a grainy VHS tape I felt a spark in the series. I will be the first to admit that there were some parts of the film that didn’t work for me; Guy Pearce’s terrible old-man makeup, the perceived need to tip-toe around the ties to the original Alien, a general under-utilization of Idris Elba. Those minor gripes aside I found it to be a visually stunning film and one that did one thing right if it failed in any other category; it felt congruous with the universe that had been previously developed and it offered avenues for interesting storytelling opportunities.

It would appear that those avenues are being traveled with Alien: Covenant. I like the continuation of the established themes of crew as family, creeping dread, and claustrophobic terror. I appreciate that with the return to utilizing the franchise namesake in the title their fear in putting the monster on display seems to be gone.

Marketing can oftentimes be misleading, but from what is on display here, it would appear I have cause to be optimistic about the franchise again. Maybe I should pull some of those old novels out and give them a read through again. Just for old times’ sake.

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One Fate For Failure
Song Before Nightfall
March 2017
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