Friday, March 20, 2015

Floor 21: Descent - Recordings Nine and Ten

Recording Nine.
It’s my first time in the Deep Creep.
I’m scared as hell.
It’s not the ‘real’ Deep Creep. I mean, we’re above Floor 21. But they’ve taken us to a lonely part of the north wing. The more we walked, the more and more Creep there was. At first you could feel the humidity from all the moisture that the Creep produces, not to mention its, uh, ‘body heat.’ My pants literally melded with my legs as the moisture glued them together. Then the Creep started to get thicker, piling on top of itself as it grew along the hallway floor into those colonies that dad warned us about. I mean this was a legit serious situation and we had a full team of Security, all with those wicked flamethrowers strapped to their backs. That should tell you something about how worried they were about this part of the tower.
Still, I didn’t really get stressed until we got to the end of a hallway. It was just a dead end with a single door, but there was this pale red light that hugged both sides of its frame from overhead. Lowered over it was the metal shutter used to close rooms during a Lockdown. You know, to keep the Creep out. Abbot nodded to the door before talking. ‘”This is what we call The Red Room. In actuality it’s an apartment with a series of rooms, each of which is saturated in Creep. That’s partly the result of natural development and partly the result of the Science department stimulating growth here. There’s a singular purpose as to why we encourage that much growth in this room, and that is because it is to test you to see whether or not you can stand up to the paranoia and hallucinations that the Creep evokes.”
At the time I thought he was trying to scare us, but the look on his face made me think twice. “There is a legitimate danger to this room, which is why we’ve brought along a full Security compliment. Should you get into danger, we hope to be able to pull you out before you’ve suffocated to death.” Abbott tapped at a keypad on the wall and a slamming rattle echoed into the hall as the shutter lifted. My eyes went to the handle and suddenly I felt like time was just screeching to a halt. The commander gestured to the door. “You will each enter alone. You will each spend a half hour within the apartment. Finally, you will each activate a hidden sensor that has been secured within. It looks similar to the Pocket Space Generator, albeit a dark color. It is hidden somewhere in the room and must be activated. Afterward, only listen for the sound of the red door when it opens. That is your time to come out.”
He left the convo hanging like it was just that simple and after that we were called at random. A few people had to go in before me, but I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I had to wait for my turn. I mean, it was kinda’ weird just sitting around outside. At first I tried to joke around with Tommy but that red light just creeped me the hell out. I think the first half hour was the easiest, since we didn’t know what to expect. Actually, yeah, it was pretty chill. There we were, all camped out in the hall like we were on vacation or something. We talked and of course it was all about what could be inside. A lot of the new recruits were just like me, wondering if the commander was just trying to psych us out or something.
Thing was, the whole time, Abbott looked like he was on edge. The Security members he had with him weren’t playing around, either. These were big guys, like, Floor 1 sized giants, and none of them relaxed or even tried talking to each other. The commander kept walking down the hall and back to the door, eyeing us, then saying something real quick to some of the Security. Once in a while he’d check his tablet, but every time he’d go back to the red door and just stare at it, like he knew something was coming.
I don’t remember exactly what I was saying to Tommy when it happened. I was probably talking about something stupid, like what flavor of gum I like most. All I know is I was looking at him one second then flying onto my feet the next. A scream pierced the hallway and suddenly all of us were backing away while Security moved to the front. Abbot held out a hand, holding them back while he withdrew his sword. Somehow its orange light was comforting, probably because I knew it could cut through anything that would try to come through the door. The commander checked something on his tablet then gave the team a hand signal. We all tucked back down onto the ground while Security eased up but, nothing was the same after. I couldn’t joke about gum after hearing that scream, and it was a long ten minutes until I saw Abbott move to the  door. He’d barely opened it before a guy I don’t know well, I think his name’s Hershel, literally jumped out into the hall. He was breathing super heavy and his skin was about as white as the paper in a book. Immediately one of the guys from Security had a blanket around him while they took him down the hall.
So, not all of the team reacted like that. I’d probably even say that most didn’t, and nobody else ever came back out as bad as Hershel. But what stuck in my head was his look when he hit the ground. His fingernails were carving into the carpet and his eyes… just when he looked up he stared right at me and… it was like he was trying to scream but nothing would come out of his mouth. He just gasped and heaved while he was trying to pull himself forward, and the way he was looking at me… I felt like he was burning something into my soul.
Abbot acted like it was nothing and while Hershel was getting help, the commander was already calling up the next member of the team. I kinda’ just sat in a daze and time kept rolling even if I couldn’t notice it. I was just… I dunno’. I kept staring back at Hershel as he took drinks from his bottle of water, but he avoided looking at any of us for the rest of the time we were there. Anyway, I was so out of it I didn’t realize my name‘d been called until Tommy elbowed me in my ribs. I snapped him a look until before I realized everyone was staring at me. It was my turn. Abbot already had the door open.
 “Cadet Coleman,” he said as he gestured toward the door. I couldn’t see anything inside. It was like the open jaw of a monster and I was about to step inside. Tommy gave me a pat on the shoulder and wished me luck which, I mean, of course I appreciated it. Still. It was my time to go.
Did I mention Hershel never came back to the program?
Recording Ten.
I stare into the darkness as the door clicks behind me. The sound is kept company by the endless darkness that fills my vision when the light from the hall vanishes. It’s got me freaking out already and my hands are already shaking by the time I grab my flashlight. The click when it comes alive explodes in the quiet as a halo of light burns away parts of the darkness. I flip the light back and forth, spying out the room as quick as I can, but the first thing I notice is that this place is huge. Like, I’ve talked before about how big my apartment is compared to people that lived on the lower floors. This is something else though, something bigger.
I’m staring at what had to have been be the living room, once.  There’s a couch facing a television and two big, comfy looking chairs on either side. At least, once upon a time they were comfy. Now they’re slick with Creep juice and the light reflects off their surfaces. The tv’s been hit by something and there’s a big crack across the top right, which probably happened because of some panicking rookie. It really only has my attention for a second as I try to keep cool, but I can feel my breath struggling to get out of my lungs as I take a few steps into the black. The next thing I notice is a desk and some drawers against the wall. I have to find that sensor before my half hour is up, so I slide along over there. Literally, the floors are slick and I can already see drips of moisture falling in long strings from the ceiling.
When I get to the desk I feel pretty psyched that they gave us gloves, because the amount of juice on the drawer handle is thick. I slide open the drawer and take a look Inside. There’s some papers scattered around with a bunch of numbers scribbled on them, but nothing I think looks too important. I slide it closed and move to the next drawer, but struggle with it for a second. It fights me as I try to get it open so I grab the handle with both hands and yank it. I nearly strip it out of the desk as I tear at it, then feel my heels sliding on the ground. I’m about a half second away from screaming as I feel my body tumbling backward, my back slamming into the slick goo that saturates the carpet. My breath accelerates as I quickly sit up, the back of my clothes wet with Creep gunk. Worst is that I can feel it on my skin along with short jolts of electricity that dart through my neck. It’s something I’ve felt before, whenever I’ve actually touched Creep. It has an effect on you, but I don’t know how strong the effect is if you haven’t had direct contact. This is just the moisture so I hope it can’t be too bad. Shaking my head, I step back to the desk, while the whole time my hands are prying the wet sweatshirt from my back.
I have to shake it off as I inspect the drawer, though I’m already kinda’ keying into the fact that Abbott probably didn’t hide the sensor someplace this easy. Of course I can’t be sure so I’m forced into searching every last inch of the thing. Again, it’s just more paper. They’re moist and on the verge of falling apart but for some reason I decide to be gentle with them. I mean, I’m sure the next cadet will want to read these, right? I’m joking to myself to keep calm while I replace everything and close the drawer. My light glides around the room but doesn’t show much. Well, besides the fact that for the first time, I’m getting a really good look at the walls. They’re just caked in Creep. It’s sliding down from the ceiling and piling together along the edges, clumping together into colonies that I know I have to stay away from. At least, if I want to stay alive. I make a promise to myself to stay away from the edges if I can possibly do it because, I mean, I just don’t want to be the cadet that gets themself killed because they stepped into a pile of Creep.
The light keeps traveling until it freezes on the far wall, where my eyes find a door. It’s like I can’t take a step without sucking wind and force my legs to move, ‘cause even crossing short distances in here is terrifying. The problem isn’t the Creep so much, since I’ve had plenty of experience being around it. At least, I don’t think so. Combined with the darkness though, with not knowing where I’m going, it’s all really just… okay, I’ll say it. It’s scary as hell.
I can hear the soft sound of squelching beneath my feet as I step over the moist carpet, with each step feeling like it’s sinking into the ground. My eyelids are pinned apart as I get closer to the door and I feel my palm shaking as it flattens against the wood. At the same time that I start to push forward on the door, all the breath leaves my body. With one big gasp I shove my way through and practically burst into the next room.
For a second I’m left confused as my light shoots back and forth while I spin, desperately scanning everything around me. Still, it’s not too bad here, even if there are no windows anywhere to give you some comfort. Even seeing the black skies from the rooftop is preferable to being in this darkness, where the Creep feels like it’s crushing down on you from every side. The worst part is the way it feels like it’s breathing, with its splotchy skin trembling and exhaling as the muscles underneath shiver. The walls are alive and moving with veins that pump beneath the skin, something I notice as I light them up. I’ve… never seen that, ever, even when I had to fight Creepy Sally. It’s like I’m walking inside of some giant’s lung, and I can actually hear as wind breathes out of the walls.
I’m in some sort of dining room, though. The tablet’s set with dishes and placemats, like people were getting ready to eat before the Creep struck. Now the chairs have tendrils of muscle wrapping up their legs and the dishes have shallow pools of saliva building in them. That’s not really the depressing part though. When I lift my light I catch a portrait with it. It’s a big painting hanging above the opposite wall with what you’d call a standard family unit. I mean, there’s a dad, a mom, a boy and a girl. There’s even a dog in the painting to make you feel that much worse, and it’s one of those things that reminds you this isn’t a game. People lived here a long time ago. They might have even died here. The worst part of the painting is the Creep, though. It’s formed a thick layer over the paint that’s damaged the material, so their faces looked twisted and black from rot.
As I turn to my right I find a staircase. I’m assuming Abbott wanted to hide the sensor in the most annoying place possible, so it has to be upstairs. My legs hesitate but end up forcing me along, carrying me to the first step. It creaks under my weight and the noise echoes forever into the darkness. Then I take another step, moving upwards again. The wood beneath my feet bends and complains as it aches under my legs, and all I can do is keep my light focused on the top of the stairs. 
Knocking raps my ears and I flip around and gaze into the room below me. I’m trapped halfway between floors, unsure if I should continue, as I listen for any more noises. The flashlight searches around, lighting up different spots in the dining room but finding nothing. So, with the pace in my chest starting to pick up, I turn around to continue my climb.
My gasp is almost a scream when I see the wall at the top burst to life with a red hue. My eyes are pinned to the sight until, after what feels like forever, the light dies away. “Maybe… maybe it’s a light from the sensor,” I whisper as I try to take another step up. My shoes are practically filled with concrete and every new step I take feels like I’m about to break through the stair boards. The wall above waits for me and gets closer with each step, until finally I can see onto the second floor.
As I settle onto the next level I’m confronted by a hallway. The door at the end is cracked slightly open, like it’s calling for me to enter, and even if it’s not far it feels like it’ll take eternity to cross in the dark. There are two more doors on my left but they’re both closed, so I decide to take my chances with the open room first. Might as well get it out of the way, right?
It feels like I’m walking through an ocean as I force myself forward and struggle just to take steps. My legs drag while my breath comes in shallow explosions, while my ears fill with the sound of my heart as I start to reach toward the handle. My fingers are inches from the door when they seize up at a noise, and I feel my body clutch up as my breath comes to a stop. There’s a rumbling inside and the door shakes as a deep moan passes out into the hall.  Instantly I yank my hand away while I try to make sense of it, realizing it sounds like wood heaving beneath a heavy weight. My feet pull me a step backward and my eyes become saucers as the door start to groan and swing open, revealing a dark bathroom infested with gigantic Creep growths spilling down the walls.
My light covers every inch of the room before I step foot inside. As I rest my hand on the doorframe I feel the material give beneath my fingertips, the wood kinda’ disintegrating under the pressure. I pull my hand back and stare at the frame, wondering if the whole room could collapse if I’m not careful. It’s narrow inside, and I’m sandwiched between a bathtub, sink and toilet. No matter where I turn something’s right in front of me and I start to feel my breath racing as the darkness crushes down around me. I’m trying to keep cool while I spy the inside of the tub, which is just… ugh. It’s a mucus infested mess overflowing with saliva and Creep growths that bubble right over the edges. Small tendrils probe through the air and I twist to keep away. When I do, my hip bumps the sink and I spin around, my eyes finding the mirror and, inside, my reflection. Alongside the shadow of someone else’s. I stifle a scream as I spin again, my light doing cartwheels as I try to find the dark intruder.
I can hear my breath and my heart in sync inside of my ears, both of them racing as I try to force myself to calm down. “You’ve been in this before Jackie,” I say, bending over and holding my knees while the light stares off at the floor.  “It’s just the Creep playing games with you. Nobody’s really here.”


I shoot straight up at the sound of my name and my light explodes into the hallway. “Who the hell is out there?” I squeak to no answer. “Is this part of the test? Is someone in here with me?” That’s the thing. I don’t know if the Creep is supposed to know your name or not. I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be able to talk. That spill I took downstairs must have gotten more of the juice into my system than I thought because this is almost as bad as the first time I ever decided to just grab a handful of the Creep to see what would happen. That voice might even make it worse.
“You’re hallucinating,” I tell myself as I inch into the hallway and light up the nearest door. “Nothing can happen to you if you stay calm. The Creep only reacts when you get too scared. It can’t do anything to you if you stay cool.” I stand in the darkness for a long minute as I regain my breath, then move to the door nearest the bathroom. For a second I shut my eyes and think about anything else than where I am. Home, with mom and dad, with all their weirdness, would be preferable. Better yet, a dance party with Allison. I’d even take a conversation with Tommy right now.
If nothing else, thinking about them helps me keep my head straight. While my pulse is relaxing I turn the door handle and watch it slow arc inward, like it’s giving me permission to step inside the room. It’s almost completely abandoned, with just a desk in the corner and an old bookshelf nearby. I explore the shelf first, scanning the covers but finding no books I recognize. Plus they all look like they’re about to crumble into dust, so I leave them alone. After a few more minutes I’m able to convince myself to head over to the desk, a soft thud breaking the silence as my feet move across the floor. It’s not until I’m standing right over the desk that I realize all the drawers have been removed. I came over here for nothing.
My scream comes uninterrupted when I hear the door shut behind me, my eyes running to the entrance while the rest of my body locks up. This has to be a setup. One of Abbott’s men has to be in here, or at least my hallucinations have to be super out of control. What I know is that I’m frozen in the middle of the room, but that doesn’t look like it’s keeping the walls from moving. They’re trembling and coming closer and it’s not because of the Creep. There’s something darker than the darkness there, and somehow I force myself to switch off my flashlight so I can get a better look. Everything goes dark but I can make out these figures standing in a row against the walls, and they all watch as my breath stops and my muscles completely stop. The beat of my heart is so intense my ears feel the drumming and pressure as my pulse starts to hammer out of control. It feels like my chest is going to burst open as I see the Demons raising their hands, their faces lighting up in pairs of red eyes, like lasers cutting through the black. In one motion they all stretch out toward me, then begin to push against the wall, like they’re ready to pry themselves free. Finally my heart feels like it’s about to seize up and I dash for the exit, grabbing its handle and throwing the door open. My feet give out and I fall into the hallway, spinning around and flashing my light into the empty room behind me. Nothing is moving. Nothing is there.
The halo of sad light explores the hall but everything  looks normal or at least, you know, as normal as a Creep infested hallway full of paranoia induced hallucinations should look like. I’m trying to be funny, but I’m not laughing. My forehead ismarinating as sweat comes down in waves and I can feel drops anchoring on the tip of my nose. The only noise in the hall is my breath as it pounds its way out of my lips, but I’m still frozen. There’s a long minute before I flash my light at the one door still closed and realize I still need the sensor and that there’s one place left to look.
It takes a second before I’m able to control my body again and another minute before I can get myself worked up enough to approach the final door. It’s not like there’s anything different about it, but it feels like there’s something behind it, like something dark is seeping out from the cracks. It creates a tingling in my skin that explodes as the noise of each step I take explodes in my ears. All of this is making my breath race but I snap to reality when I find myself in front of the door. My hands are drenched with sweat and can barely turn the handle, but the door cracks open with a groan before it curves away.
I’m staring at a bedroom. The bed is just soaked with saliva and all the sheets are a wet mess. The nightstand is practically a small pillar of Creep, and the walls are just piles of colonies growing on top of each other. I can hear the room wheezing as orifices in the Creep wall breath outward and with gusts of humid air that glues to my skin. My feet stick to the floor as juices linger on my shoes and stick to me with every step, a sick squelch coming with every move I make inside the room. There’s something else, too. My light was a pale yellow until five seconds ago but now looks like it’s filtered through a red haze. It’s one of the most common signs that you’re in a deep part of the Creep and it happens on the lower floors. Still, it feels ten times as terrible while I’m there in the bedroom, surrounded by the thickest Creep buildup I’ve ever seen. Even the ceiling looks like it’s about to give from all of the buildup and tumors I can see sagging from above.
As I step inside I check the door behind me because, I mean, of course. I don’t need it closing on me again. Well, if it ever really did close on me in the other room. I’m slowly walking the edge of the room, my hands going over the dresser. Nothing’s there except more pictures. Each one of them has at least the husband and wife, and some of them have the kids. All the pictures are decaying, like I’m staring at the corpses of this family. Their smiles are staring at me from behind black rotted masks. It’s grim but it just gets worse when my search of the drawers comes up empty. I’m not sure how long I’ve been in here, but I know I want to get out. I just… I have to get this done. When I look toward the bed I realize if the sensor’s anywhere in this room, it’s either somewhere in the nightstand, or buried in the mattress. Not wanting to risk the nightstand first, I shuffle the pillows and covers around. It’s obvious they’ve already been searched since the covers are a mess, so I’m not the first Scavenger with this idea. Of course I find nothing.
Giving up on the bed I look at the nightstand. More than half of it is buried in Creep and tendrils are wrapping their way up the edges. I mean, I can still see the drawer at the top, but as I reach my hand out I pause when my fingers start shaking. I can remember seeing people grabbed like this when they were close to the Creep and I don’t have any weapons on me. I know the Security team’s outside but… that’s a long run up the stairs. At least, it feels like it.
The force I use to swallow is enough to make me gag for a second and I turn away, heaving as I struggle to breathe in the thick, humid air. I take as big a gulp of it as I can, turn, and force myself to yank open the drawer. My heart’s drumming in my chest as I look over the edge and stare into the dresser.
And there it is.
My wrist jerks downward and I scream as a pulpy tendril wraps its way up my arm, dragging me to a knee. With my free hand I grab at the top of the dresser, squeezing the edges as I try to keep myself from collapsing onto the ground. I can feel splinters digging into my skin and my fingernails cut into the wood while the Creep pulls at me so hard that I can feel my arm bone about to jerk out of the socket.
“Help!” I’m about to scream when my mouth is suddenly covered shut. My eyes shoot open as what feels like fingers stretch across my lips and along my chin. Suddenly the humid, hot air of the Creep is passing over my ear as another hand walks its way down my arm. I struggle but I’m captured in the grip of the tendrils and this person’s arms, and no matter how hard I try to pull free, every struggle just makes it seem like my arm is going to sever itself from my body.
“You interest me, Jackie,” the creature says, holding my head back to him, his chest rising and falling with his thick breath. “I have word you would like to know what Angels are. I hope we might find out together.”
A kick of air blasts across my face and suddenly I’m free, my body flying backward as I pull myself from the Creep. I collapse onto my side with my body drenched in the moist juices of the room. At the same time I feel something in my hand, metallic and round. Like a Pocket Space Generator. It forces a scream from me that’s both terrified and relieved, and I slam the top of the device. A red light bursts from it as I yank myself off the disgusting floor, my fingers shoving into pulpy muscle and soft mucus as I force myself out of the room. As I explode out of the door it seems like the hallway’s stretching out to my right, growing longer and longer so that no matter how many steps I run I can never reach the end. But suddenly I’m flying down the stairs and there’s a door of light that’s burning so bright that I feel like I’m running into the sun. I hit the exit with so much speed that I rocket out and into the main corridor again, sliding along the ground as I come to a halt, the entire team jumping around me to see if I ‘m okay.
Abbott’s voice calls them off as he tears his way to the front of the crowd.  “Everyone back!” he screams, his gloved hand grabbing me by the arm and hauling me to my feet. “She’s covered in Creep! Security!”
Two of the guards are all over me in an instant, their blankets swiping down along my body and squeezing the excess juices off my face and neck. I can feel as they rip the sweatshirt and pants off of me but I’m not exactly in the right mind to care about modesty. The next thing I know I’m being led away in my delicates with double blankets draped around me.
That was when the blackout hit.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Essay: The Slippery Slope That Leads To Rape

All the world's a flutter with the insistence that we pay more attention to women's rights and voices. It's an era when the gentleman of yesterday can no longer be a man and the virtuous women that embodied society's honor can no longer be found. Of course, under such circumstances it becomes necessary for our society to look deeply into a mirror. Within it will not find the abyss, but the answers to the great malaise that possesses its when any conversation of sexual assault rears its ugly head. Quite obviously, in a world where the gentleman has become a relic of antiquity, it has become ever more incumbent upon women to guard themselves from the brute that is the 21st century man. I propose that women of all races and cultures look most closely to themselves to discover the secrets to guarding against the wiles of the sexually improprietous male.
Before we cast our sharpened eyes across the world, it falls to us to observe those most liberated of women, those of western society, are those who most obviously present the most prime of targets for the wandering invader. Or are we not to believe the word of that most upstanding symbols of civic virtue, the highly trained constables who daily risk their lives on our streets? Are we to doubt them when they say
'You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
It should be quite obvious to even the least educated among us that a woman's mean of dressing is the most obvious of invitations to lude gentlemen callers. After all, though she be not a prostitute, she certainly seems to wear the uniform. Though perhaps, given the raucous uproars that have so greatly exaggerated the aggressive actions of police officers, you stand among those that cast a suspicious light upon those brave fellows that guard our safety. Then may we not at least agree that those who inhabit the ivory towers of our greatest intellectual institutions may be trusted when they argue that women are most likely fabricating these encounters?
"We have, we had, on this campus last semester three cases of young women who after having done whatever they did with the young men, and then it didn't turn out the way they wanted it to turn out -- guess what they did?" he said. "They went to [the university's Department of] Public Safety and said, 'He raped me.'
And even if one chooses, in the face of all secular statements, to question the authority of both our official constabulary as well as our guardians of intellectual progression, perhaps it may be agreed that at least the leaders of our great Western religions know best when they argue
"Well, there’s always a sin under other sin. There’s a root sin... ‘We have to find the sin in your life that caused your rape."
Should it not be obvious to all by now that the women of our Western nations, freed from previous shackles, have perhaps overstepped bounds not set by man but by nature? It seems an analysis of the situation clearly outlines that those assaulted have by some manner invited the assault. Why, even a young girl can quite clearly be held personally accountable for the invitations she sends out. For what young man can restrain the bodily insistence of nature? Certainly the police of the great nation of Australia were not avoiding the duties of their office when they told this young, thirteen year old girl that
"I didn't have enough evidence to show, because I went out in clothes that was pretty much asking for it. "
Quite obviously our Western women have badly influenced the younger sort. However, turn not your gaze only to the naive youngsters being so viciously set upon by the negative examples being set in our culture. Even the women in the neighboring Middle East have taken to such lascivious behavior that they have quite rightly been set upon by their less inhibited male compatriots. Even the Imams of the Muslim religion have seen the influence it has had on their clothing.
“Women are not entitled to respect when they walk around without a Hijab. They are to blame for it when they are attacked,” Imam Shahid Mehdi said.
And before one assumes that the nefarious influences of Western inconsideration have affected only those of the Near East, watch closely its effects on our long treasured relationship with the good people of India, who argue
"A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," Mukesh Singh, one of the six rapists convicted in the 2012 attack, says in the documentary, because "a decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night."
It must be set clear from all such evidence as we have before us that the problem lies clearly with women who have not taken the necessary precautions to safeguarding themselves from the less savory of our male societal members. Think not only of the most blatant examples of sexual extravagance women have demonstrated. Instead we must look to the loose morals of the 13 year old and the creeping degradation infecting the other great cultures of the world. For if a woman cannot, at a minimum, restrict her clothing to a hijab and restricting herself to staying indoors after nine in the evening, can she truly lay claim that she was raped?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review: The Hobbit - The Battle of Five Armies

I would like to tell you a story.

In 2001, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings was released in theaters. I was a young college student in a semi-serious relationship, a best friend I saw on a near daily basis, and a core of friends I saw at least twice a week.

It is now 2014, and none of those things is true.
The Hobbit is about a journey and, in some larger sense, encapsulates a good part of my life. 13 years of my life, to be precise. Over the course of the last 3 years we've seen a Hobbit movie once per year. When they first started releasing I was, yet again, in another relationship. That relationship endured through the second film and then sputtered into nonexistence.

I don't mean to say the Hobbit sputters out. It doesn't, but it's distinctly changed from its film conceptions birthed over a decade ago. Of course, that should be the case. In many ways, the Lord of the Rings changed how fantasy films were done. The sort of battles we saw on the silver screen were unrivaled in scope and set standards that other films now had to aspire to. Even The Chronicles of Narnia felt compelled to stage every film's end with a mammoth battle. If you go back and look at The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you can even see filming similarities from its last battle and The Return of the King. Narnia was supposed to be a fairytale!

Which says a lot about how The Hobbit, as influenced by its predecessors and the evolution of the fantasy film market, also had to drastically change the story it set out to tell. Suddenly the film could not be a pair of films. No, now it had to be a trilogy, because of course all good film series come in trios.

Except that they don't and The Battle of Five Armies suffers not because of lack of talent, directing or writers, but because of artificial demands placed upon it by money figures and the ensuing demands of movie studios. Peter  Jackson mines almost every minute detail from the background lore of the Silmarillion that he can to fill in the storyline and stretch this final movie into a third, final installment.

Let's be clear about the obvious: The camera work is still superb, the special effects are still superb, and the acting is still superb. Legolas is still Legolas, although slightly younger and a bit more rigid in his approach to life. Gandalf is still spectacularly Gandalf, in all his intelligent wizardry, cunning and strength of will. Finally, I can't say enough about Bilbo and the performance given by Martin Freeman, who mines such emotional depth out of the role that I could have been swayed into a fourth film that focused more on Biblbo and Hobbits.

And that's the rub. There just isn't the material to cover that, and so Peter Jackson is caught between
impossible demands. First, he has to honor the source material. Second, he has to create a 'blockbuster' that will sell spectacularly. Finally, he has to have a story to tell.

I put that final notion last because story was the greatest victim in this demand to stretch the films out. Bilbo's relationship to Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the Dwarves, reaches touching depth. Unfortunately it has little basis in the books and so it never quite balances establishing it while still remaining true to the books. Likewise, stories of love between Tauriel and Kili are great stories to plunder, except for their lack of existence in the source.

Impossible demands changed what The Hobbit was envisioned as by J.R.R. Tolkien: A children's adventure story. It could no longer be such a thing in the face of what The Lord of the Rings became: a fantasy epic.

But does that make it bad? Is the version of you from ten years ago bad in comparison to what you are now? Is it vice versa? The Hobbit was changed because of the journey taken to tell it. It is different. For better or worse is hard to tell.

I can only end this review by saying what I did at the film's end. I sat and enjoyed the touching final song, The Last Goodbye, as the credits scrolled by. I remained, as I have done for every one of these films, until the screen went black. And then I left, having enjoyed a good story, that at times reached for emotions it sometimes hit, and at other times did not. I left satisfied, a changed person, because I felt the story was worth the telling.

4 / 5 Stars.  

Kind of in love with Tauriel.

How I felt after the movie.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Film Review: The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

09Children’s movies. For those of us in our 20s and 30s, children’s movies have been a part of our lives almost since we came to consciousness. Think about it. If you were born in the eighties you lived through Disney’s greatest era, the period of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. At the tail end of the 1990s we got Pixar and Toy Story, not to mention other quality works like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., and Wall-E. In the post Pixar period Dreamworks made a name for itself with the Shrek franchise, which made its bread and butter tearing apart Disney staples.

The rise of the ‘sophisticated’ children’s film has been a necessary creation of the 20th century. Adults need a reason to stay in the seats as much as children, and ‘kids’ movies work best on two levels. While children cry about Mufasa dying, they don’t necessarily grasp the drama at work in Halmet-like fashion, between a conniving brother that murders the king and potentially rapes his nice. Yes, Scar was that bad in that movie, within the subtext of the film.

The Lego Movie doesn’t play with such dark themes. Instead, it holds up a light to capitalism and creativity and asks what are we willing to sacrifice? On one hand, the movie highly values individualism. The heroes of the film are brilliant Master Builders that can create anything from a stack of Lego, whipping together submarines, rockets and a Batwing. On the other hand, this same film states that only by working together can we rise to success. While individually we’re all quite brilliant, together we achieve even more. In the words of Barack Obama, “You didn’t build that”, at least not all on your own. The great corporations are lead by titans of industry but they get tax breaks from the government, roads paid by taxes, contracts extended to them by politicians, etc. We all build on each other.

Its stand against homogeneity is apparent in two points. President Business wants to build an unchanging Lego world in which there is one amazing tv show, one amazing song, and an unmoving population that is permanently in a state of illusory happiness. Literally, he wants to krazy glue them into place so that they are unchanging. 

The theoretical opposite of this is Coo Coo Land, a land of permanent happiness but where everyone has to smile all the time and always be at their happiest. Neither is a Utopia, and only in allowing characters both from Coo Coo Land as well as the normal Lego World to indulge the full range of emotions do the characters receive satisfaction.

Capitalism in the U.S. has bred, to a degree, a homogeneity, so in this way the Lego movie can be seen as not anti-capitalistic but pro diversity. Diversity is an ongoing issue in the country and there are, undoubtedly, many people walking away from the film at least partially offended. Still, for all the topics it tries to address, the movie has a solid, emotional heart.

01The overarching conflict is, of course, President Business’ attempt to krazy glue everything into permanent stasis. A prophecy states a hero will prevent this, leading to the typical hero’s quest in which Emmet, an ordinary Lego construction builder with few innovative or redeeming features, somehow becomes the “One”. Think Neo of the Matrix, here. Of course his skills are far below par and his fellow heroes, including Lego Batman, are constantly disappointed in him. The course of the film sees his development not into a hero only due to his personal skills, but in how he inspires those around him to cooperate for a greater good.

Some have said it’s just a typical action film, but typical action films don’t normally so strongly push for heroes as a collective versus the Lone Ranger archetype. The film subverts action tropes, buying into them, presenting them, but making them so outrageously over the top as to border on hilarious. The strong performances by the cast are constantly engaging, their dialogue sharp and witty and always intriguing. Peripheral character Superman, for instance, is constantly annoyed at the side kick attempts of Green Lantern to hang around with him at all moments. Batman constantly talks up his independent heroic streak, shortly before departing with Lando Calrissian and Han Solo aboard the Millenium Falcon. Time and again the movie takes on action tropes in a way that can only be done using something so absurd as Lego.

Finally, the emotional core cannot be fully addressed without ruining the film’s twist ending, but Will Ferrell’s performance here, across the board, is applaudable. Both as a bombastic and egotistical villain as well as a sympathetic character, he constantly wins the screen against anyone else he’s playing against. If people ever do fully tire of his physical film work, his future as a voice actor is guaranteed.

By the end, the film’s message to live fully, live with a streak of independence, but don’t shy away from others and cooperation from time to time, really struck a nerve. It’s a fine balance we have to strike in life, but one with a great payoff in the end.

4 / 5 Stars

Film Review: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

9captain-america-the-winter-soldier18Patriotism is a difficult thing. There is nothing wrong in taking pride with your country, after all, but there’s a line between patriotism and blind ‘rah rah’ for everything your country does. Over the past century the U.S. has lived in a relatively glorious era in which it emerged the worlds most dominant superpower, but not without its flaws. Its citizens can take pride in its glories, as well as acknowledge its faults. Racism, gentrification, discrimination against the poor, all are topics we discuss and debate into the modern day. That does not mean we are any less proud. Name me a perfect person, and you’ll find none. The same is true of nations, because they are not made of perfect people.

I write all that to drive home one of the fundamental points of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Laced throughout its script is a character in Steve Rogers, former World War II hero turned superhero, that takes pride in what he fought for. He acknowledges the compromises he made in his own era, takes no great pride in them, but feels that those compromises were brief and meant to create a population of free people. The fundamental question of the film, then, is what is freedom?

It’s interesting because Steve, in World War II, fought against a domineering, powerCaptain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-Chris-Evans-Scarlett-Johansson1 hungry organization in the Nazis and, more covertly, Hydra. In the modern era, Steve finds it hard to differentiate between good guys and bad guys, and how could he? Multiple parallels are drawn between Hydra and the military organization S.H.I.E.L.D., who he serves under the direction of Nick Fury, due to the organization’s own covert nature. It develops weapons and threatens military action before a threat can fully surface. As Steve wonderfully questions, how can it be freedom if its bought by placing a gun to every citizen’s head? The price of freedom is living in a world that will always be a little insecure. As Benjamin Franklin once stated, “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” The topics the film addresses are especially pertinent in an era in which we’ve just uncovered the depths of the N.S.A.’s dragnet and the threat preventive military action can pose on our own citizenry, should we allow the government such incredibly invasive power.

I’ve always said the Captain America films have the potential to be the greatest of Marvel’s franchises, and I believe I can safely say Winter Soldier validated my expectations. It is second only to Iron Man and, perhaps, the Avengers. Yet Winter Soldier is a much more timely film in the materials it tackles. Beyond that, Rogers is incredibly relatable as a figure, a man of good character and conscience. Not a booze hound like Tony Stark, the movie finds ways to portray a good, average man trying to make his way in this world. The plight of a war veteran distanced from the world around him is so like the world many of our real life vets come home to, and that point is hammered home in the meetings Rogers visits, witnessing testimonies from those suffering from P.T.S.D. Meanwhile, his relationships to everyday people are full of hesitation, in defiance to this physically dominant character.

It’s a tribute to the writing, which is top notch. It’s filled with witty dialogue that’s right there with the original Iron Man and combined with an intriguing plotline. At times you’re not sure if you’re watching a superhero movie or a script written by Tom Clancy. The intrigue runs deep, and holds your attention until the final moments of the film. It is among the most sophisticated plotlines of all the Marvel films, and ambitious. I cannot give the writing and plot more praise.

It does falter in some respects. Rogers’ traumatic relationship to his lost friend Buckey suffers slightly, the emotional core lost to some degree, and thus the payoff as well. Still, it’s strong enough that in the end, Captain’s actions are so poignant, so meaningful, that I was wrapped up in his courage. The direction is well paced and the actions scenes incredibly done, requiring a deft hand to handle multiple agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as they fight against overwhelming odds. Yet the direction and cinematography during normal scenes isn’t particularly inspired. 

On the other hand, it takes a completely different form of inspiration to properly handle all these incredible CGI set pieces alongside incredibly brutal hand to hand combat. Still, those lost elements add up, and even Captain’s flashbacks to old glory days aren’t handled with enough touch to sell the emotional element, and the film deserved better than that. It needed more time to develop its heart, and was so good I would have gladly sat through another half hour. Which is really the highest compliment, isn’t it?

In closing, I want to praise, again, the courage of the plot, which addresses real issues we’re dealing with in our country today. However I must also say that the dialogue between Captain, Black Widow and Falcon was just genius. The pacing between action and comedic bits, the banter on why Captain finds it hard to date (in between moments that he and Black Widow are beating the living daylights out of enemies), and Captain’s war veteran relationship to Falcon are truly nuggets of gold. Finally, and I don’t want to become a shipper, but Captain America and Black Widow need to be a couple. I wouldn’t have said such a thing before this film, but the chemistry and snappy dialogue between Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson was, quite simply, amazing. I want more of Captain America and Black Widow together. His stoic, clean guy image against her irreverent, slightly shady one brought marvelous results. I am already begging for a Captain America 3.