Advertisements

Tag Archive: Welcome to Earth-4


10 Cloverfield

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

For most of 10 Cloverfield Lane, the story takes place in an underground bunker without a view into the outside world. I dig those types of movies, like Room, where the audience is left to imagine what really is outside the camera’s purview.  The movies hint at something horrible outside until it is confirmed through a kidnapper or a woman scarred by some unknown pathogen, microscopic or much larger.  But, for a short time, we all have different ideas of what is happening in the world outside the movie.  What rarely pokes its head into our thoughts is what is happening outside the theater as we watch the make believe on the screen.

As a former janitor of a movie theater (as I have talked about before in my explorations in the horror genre) I began to see the theater as a closed environment.  While in the theater, the movie audience has no clue what is happening in the real world (assuming they turn their phones to silent and keep them in their purses or pockets).  From the time the overhead lights dim until they brighten again, the only world the viewer knows is that dark room with a story that envelops them in projected light and sound.

10Cloverfield

A lot can happen in as little as 90 minutes.  The world we know when we walk through the theater door can change dramatically.  It can be a local event or a worldwide one. Only if it is big enough to stir the theater itself or to cause our phones to suddenly beep with emergency messages will it enter our awareness.  The real world might never cut through the sound of Space Marines exploring an abandoned space colony or the laughs that erupt when watching two idiots clad in neon tuxedos trying to one up each other.  It has to be something big for us to turn our attention away from The Terminator as the future hangs in the balance once again.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Witch screencap

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

I saw The Witch last week and I got a few true scares.  I also felt a little sleepy at a few points due to a big meal beforehand, poor sleep hygiene at the moment and possibly, possibly, due to the movie and its time period.  It has made me wonder, when in the history, present and future of the universe is the best setting for horror?

I’ve written before on horror in the future when I looked at A Walk in the Dark by Arthur C. Clarke.  (I won’t make myself shudder by mentioning spooky little girls again.)  As I wrote about in that essay, the compelling element of that story came from its application to any time period.  The dark scares us.  The dark scared us.  The dark will continue to scare us.

The future can be scary in its own period as any watching or re-watching of Alien can stir up the tension and fear of meeting with the unknown on the fringes of space.  If not a xenomorph, maybe it’s the weeping angels of “Blink” or the Vashta Nerada of “Silence in the Library” from Doctor Who that get you.  The future combines the unknown of our nightmares with the familiarity of the present (video stores, libraries, kitchens) set in just enough of a different place to make it believable.  When won’t we have libraries?  (In the presence of eBooks, after Netflix all but eliminated video stores, I maybe should have kept that question to myself.)  When won’t we gather with others to eat?  When won’t we watch video entertainment?

video store x

The present scares me because I can insert myself into the world of self-documentation like in The Blair Witch Project or the world of the omnipresence of cameras in the various Paranormal Activity movies.  As I type, someone could be scoping me as I scrutinize my screen, attired in a Kingdom Come Superman shirt.  Properly spooked, I may throw in the towel on this essay, go to my bed, open my Spanish language-learning app and get watched through the camera on my phone.  I could put the phone face down and still not solve the possibility of someone watching me through the rear-facing camera as I crack open one of those library books that pedants might argue as far-fetched.

Continue reading

Innocence–Locke & Key

Locke & key

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

I just finished reading all six trade paperbacks for the main story of Locke & Key. (I will get to the side stories as soon as I finish Brightest Day and catch up on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, if other comics on my wish list don’t distract me first.)  It is fabulous in its creativity and has a few chilling scares.  One thing stuck in my mind though, and as readers know, that’s what causes my keyboard to clack and click.  In this case, the question I pose to myself is, “At what age do we lose our innocence?”

Per Locke & Key and many forms of government all over the United States and abroad, the age that innocence ends is 18, or in other words, around the time a person graduates high school.  In Locke & Key, the junior members of the Locke family host a party at the end of high school for the people that know about the keys because the knowledge will fade as adulthood surges into the body and possesses it.  I don’t quibble with Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez on their selection of this age or time in our lives, I just wonder what makes 18 the magic age at which we become adults.  Not only is 18 generally when people graduate high school, it’s when they are given the right to vote, it’s the age when they can own a gun in California and the last thing that comes to my mind is that it’s when they can enlist in the armed forces to fight and possibly die for their country.  I suppose any of those things could convey a degree in adulthood or at least a grown-up GED certificate.

Bode Locke

However, you can’t drink alcohol legally until you’re 21.  You can drive a two-ton vehicle capable of killing people at the age of 16.  You graduate college sometime around the age of 22.  You graduate law school at around the age of 25 if you start right out of undergraduate school.  Medical school is even longer.  If you are still in school, can you be an adult?  What if you are paying every one of your bills?  What if you’re not?

Continue reading

Hail, Caesar! A day in the life…

Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

When I first walked out of the new Coen Brothers release Hail, Caesar! my initial thoughts were that I wanted more.  I wanted more scenes of the characters that just had brief moments.  I wanted more of Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle.  I wanted more of Tilda Swinton as the Thacker sisters.  I wanted more of Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney.  I wanted more of just about everything (and instead of listing each and every wonderful actor, I choose to stop and get to my point.)  A few seconds later, I realized that the movie isn’t about any of those supporting people.  It is barely about the star, Josh Brolin playing Eddie Mannix*, a fictionalized version of a real life MGM fixer and studio head.  It is about a day in the life of Eddie Mannix.  Think about that for a second and then join me in the next paragraph.

*(For more Mannix, march over to MGM Stories from “You Must Remember This.”)

What’s a day in the life for anyone?  Do you see all of your loved ones?  Do you talk to all of your family?  Do you get to pet your pets?  Do you work?  Do you make love?

Channing Tatum Hail Caesar

A day in the life doesn’t have to be miraculous, stupendous, monumental or anything.  A day in the life is.  If you asked me yesterday what my life was like, I’d tell you I walked along the Pacific Ocean, ate fresh seafood at a seafood “shack,” saw clear vistas devoid of pollution due to low humidity and high winds, played a trivia video game against my girlfriend and went 1-1, and I drove people around as a Lyft driver.  Today I duplicated my driving, walked for forty minutes, gave my kittens their morning treats, got a positive phone call from my doctor, got a book recommendation from one of my Lyft passengers and started to write this essay and the day is not even seven hours old.  Maybe I’ll apply for jobs later or read a book or watch a documentary or fix myself a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon.  My future is in a state of flux as one of my kitten’s tails wags back and forth in front of my laptop’s screen, obscuring words just like the sands of time obscure the future of today.

Continue reading

SMT X

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

Around this time last year, my good friend Steve suggested that we check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) at the Silent Movie Theater here in Los Angeles and I had no clue what it was.  I briefly checked the description, saw a positive Metacritic score and thought to myself, “Why the heck not?”  I ended up seeing a fantastic slow-burning film that made the vampire genre fresh.  I also saw one of the best images to portray a character in a long time.

Early in the film, the co-protagonist girl vampire decides to go home with a drug dealer who had previously threatened the other protagonist as well as a local streetwalker.  As he bursts into his lair, he walks by a large fish tank and gives it a smack.  Seconds later he’s doing lines of cocaine on a glass table, a mounted deer head and a mounted antelope head on the wall behind him, before turning on the annoying techno.  He sits on a couch draped with a blanket of what looks like tigers that would jump out under black light.  In the corner there is a hookah.  As the girl vampire explores the rest of the pad, she finds a set of drums just below a large marijuana leaf poster.  I laughed to myself as I immediately realized I had in those brief seconds already characterized this asshole in my mind with no redeeming qualities.  Sure, the actions earlier helped, but that apartment spoke to me clearly and it screamed into my brain “HE IS A DOUCHEBRO.”

douchebro

Those items and that music might not mean the same thing to every person.  Maybe to others they see a seedy drug-dealing criminal.  Some may see a guy that is definitely more current in his musical taste than I (as Clem Snide and The Replacements play as I write.)  Others may see an advocate for marijuana besides business reasons that has been stigmatized due to its frequent use by hippies and non-WASPs.  (I put myself in the advocate camp, by the way, as the criminalization and the imprisonment of many people in jail due to marijuana related offenses seems to be one of the many effects of the inherent racism in our justice system.  But, that’s for another discussion at another time by others much more qualified than I.  Check out Deray McKesson on Twitter to start your journey on that front or some of the great essays in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the soon-to-be author of the Marvel comic Black Panther).  I just know that for my viewpoint, the more the scene unfolded, the more it verified my judgment.

Such is the magic of great set design.  As a background actor, I get to see lots of set design up close.  Items might not show up distinctly on camera, but choices get made in the costume, prop and set departments that impact the feel of a scene.  The care that the professionals take in these aspects of filmed entertainment mesmerizes me more than most things.

Continue reading

Crying at the Movies–Spotlight

Field of Dreams catch scene

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

I have cried in many movies.  It took me a while to allow the tears to silently flow instead of fighting them back to maintain a sense of dignity that I imagined more that I possessed.  I can keep crying at the same scene after many viewings, but I’m not sure I can elucidate why.  Recently I watched Spotlight–the Oscar nominated movie–and I cried for a very different reason than I have before.  Before I get to that one though, I figure I will run down a list of some of the movies that made me cry and try to rationalize why on all of them.

Scrooged – Ever since I saw this film in the theater, there is one moment at the end that gets me every time.  It’s the moment that Calvin Cooley walks up to Frank Cross and tugs on his coat.  Bill Murray, as Cross, looks down after his big rambling speech, tears streaking his face and says, “Did I forget something big man?”  Cooley whispers his first words since his father dies and says, “You forgot to say ‘God bless us everyone,’” at least how I remember it.  Why does it still get me?  Maybe it is Calvin’s story that we as the audience see as a companion to Cross’s story and the tragedy therein of his assistant.  Maybe it’s stellar writing that makes a single character wait to speak until he has something magical to say.  Maybe it’s just the sentiments that accompany Christmastime.  I’ll bet it is the part of me that empathizes with Cross and all of the stress and responsibility of being an adult and remembering that sometimes being a child allows innocence to have the perspective to get to the point with just a few words.

SCROOGED, Nicholas Phillips, Bill Murray, Alfre Woodard, 1988, (c)Paramount

Field of Dreams – Many a man has had his stoic expression cracked by this movie when Ray Kinsella and his father are reunited.  It’s the moment where just before his father leaves again, Ray gets up the courage to stop him in his tracks and asks, “You wanna have a catch?” As the Ghost of Christmas Past says in “Scrooged,” it’s Niagara Falls for me. I remember kneeling before my TV during this scene as tears streamed down my face like never before or since.  I sobbed out loud.  I’m sure that’s why the Ghost of Christmas Past knows how to get Frank Cross to sob.  It’s the memories of the times past, those fleeting moments with family that as an adult I want to have had more of those times.  Even if they were plentiful, the past seems far away and the times few as life keeps pushing forward and spreadsheets replace baseball mitts.

Continue reading

Robert Pittman Wikipedia Commons Killer Whales

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

I do not currently host a pet of any kind in my home.  I grew up with a cat and dogs and I love to visit friends and family with cats and dogs, but it has been a long time since I have enjoyed the company of a pet 24/7.  I add that preface because I want to say that I don’t have stories of a pet’s behavior that reveal “emotions,” “feelings” and “empathy.”  I use quotes because I do not want to personify any animal mostly from a place of ignorance but also from a place of logic.  How I interpret and see the world HAS to be different than a pet.  But, I will not claim they don’t “feel,” I will not claim they don’t “learn,” I will not claim they aren’t “intelligent;” I just don’t know if human language has a word for how animals see the world.

As far as how humans treat animals, I understood about obvious cruelty like I’d see in reports of dog fighting, circus cages and pet abuse.  I remember even in high school, thinking that the idea of anyone “owning” an animal seemed fishy to me and I began to think that zoos might not be the best idea, except in cases of endangered animals, injured animals, education or scientific study, but only in limited scale.  I didn’t think much beyond this for a long time.

In my consumption of books due to my own curiosity and recommendations from friends, I read about nutrition.  I read about healthy diets.  I read about fast food ingredients and practices.  I read about modern factory farm practices.  I read about the idea of sustainable farming.  All of this got stored in my noggin.  Then, I watched the documentary Blackfish.  I started to consider removing meat from my diet as all my experiences combined to form this idea.  It had been simmering in my mind, but the impetus of the call to action came from Blackfish.

Continue reading

Edward Hopper original sketch night scene

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

We’ve talked about horror movies before on borg.com, and in my discussion, a common theme of creepy girls and the supernatural emerged.  The thing is, these things aren’t scary on their own.  “Thor” isn’t scary. “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” isn’t scary.  What gives them the ability to scare me comes not as much from their intrinsic natures, but from the images that come from the masters of horror combined with my imagination.

My imagination is the key.  The supernatural have no rules and no limits.  They can do whatever you dream them to do.  Once you start down that road, then anything can trigger those pieces of the mind that start the skin crawling and the sweat to run cold.  The rustling of leaves outside my tent?  Probably the wind.  But, then maybe it’s a mouse.  Maybe it’s a snake.  Maybe it’s a softly moving wolf.  Maybe someone is in my camp.  Before I know it, an army of undead, animals, and adderall-crazed ankle biters have amassed on the other side of the thin sheets of nylon.

Those are two other keys to fear: removing senses and being alone.  If my tent was clear material and I could see the leaves drifting along the ground, my fear would be gone.  If I can hear the voices of friends still up around the campfire, I can feel safe.  If I have a friend telling me to go back to sleep after a late night trip behind a tree, I can rejoin his or her slumber.

Original sketch Edward Hopper Nighthawks

Arthur C. Clarke hits me perfectly again with the short story, “A Walk in the Dark” from the same collection as “The Wall of Darkness.”  The opening is innocuous.  The first paragraph introduces Robert Armstrong as a man who has walked two miles and his flashlight just went bad.  It give you those two pieces of information and depending on your imagination, it might be perfectly safe as you think of a two-mile round-trip hike.  Maybe you just finished trick-or-treating and you can use the streetlights on the rest of the way home.  Maybe your friend has a flashlight.

Continue reading

barriers - Great wall of China

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

I love when a story starts me guessing like “The Wall of Darkness” by Arthur C. Clarke.  I have so many notions of walls and barriers that once Clarke reveals there’s a mysterious black wall in the dark lands where the planet’s sun doesn’t reach, my mind immediately guesses likely conclusions.

Due to the surge in popularity of all things Game of Thrones, the Wall of Westeros first came to mind.  A structure built of ice and stone to separate the civil from the uncouth and things unimagined.  The dangers were so serious that an elevator is needed to get you to the top of the wall for it is so high. Would the wall of darkness be the same?  What monsters must inhabit the lands devoid of starlight where the wall only becomes accessible at the highest days of summer?  Would they be blind?  Would they be legion, held back by the material of the wall, waiting for a foreign object to infest so as to spread throughout the light?

Wall of Westeros

Then again, the other side of the wall could be something more akin to George R.R. Martin’s inspiration for the Wall – Hadrian’s Wall.  On the other side might be a separate version of the planet’s inhabitants, people that have learned to live without the warmth and light of a star.  They may have fashioned great cities lit by artificial light and have evolved in different ways while exploring cuisines that flourish in the night.  (Think lots and lots of catfish sautéed in mushrooms.)  Maybe this time it’s the Morlocks that are kind and just and they built the wall to keep out the Eloi.  It’s much more romantic than thinking of the Romans and Scotsmen of the very earliest part of the AD centuries separating with a wall due to differences in distance over now adjacent time zones on the same continent.  It’s more romantic to think of Starks and white walkers.  As an earthbound human, our walls are just another case of separating ourselves from those that are “different.”

Continue reading

2011-10-22_17-12-13_374

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

I just finished my third book written by Cormac McCarthy.  The first was Blood Meridian, the second was No Country for Old Men, and the third was The Road.  Reading McCarthy is unlike any other literary journey I’ve taken.  What will I remember from reading The Road?  Bleakness.  Emptiness.  How man can become a monster.  Not that different from the others I suppose, but it led me to a question – where does hope come from?

In all fantasy, science fiction and apocalyptic tales generally a hero emerges.  A man or a being similar to man steps to the fore and as a reader I can pin my hopes upon him (or rarely her as even coming up with female sidekicks was a chore in the series that popped off the top of my mind.  Amy Pond.  Leia.  Gamora.  Uhura.)  Superman.  Wonder Woman.  The Doctor.  Sheriff Rick Grimes.  Tasslehoff Burrfoot (or the more heroic but less fun Tanis Half-Elven.)  Frodo Baggins.  Luke Skywalker.  Rick Deckard.  Groot.  Mr. Spock.

Through these characters and many more like them we can find the possibility of averting crises.  We can see a proverbial light at the end of the darkening and constricting tunnel.  Survival, though bleak, has a chance.

Movie clip The Road

I think McCarthy likes to explore the world where there are no heroes.  There is only survival and to survive, horrendous choices must be made because after the apocalypse, scarcity rules.  A person cannot go back in time.  A person cannot till the earth by himself, trying to bring non-irradiated soil to the surface.  A ring, a starship, a building or an artifact cannot be destroyed through the hero’s quest.  There is only the earth.  There are only Homo sapiens.  If something happens, powerful heroes won’t emerge, instead it will just be the basest urges within us all that come forth.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: