Gone Girl

10:00 AM and I have my ticket. I wait in line at the concession stand and two women stand behind me: they also bought tickets for the show. While they talk about it, I ask, “Have you read the book?”

Both of them shake their heads. “No,” they say.

They look older. Maybe fifty. Inside my head, I smile. You have no idea what you’re getting into, I think to myself.

I get my popcorn and enter the theater. People fill about half the seats: something I did not expect for an early showing. I look around and notice the audience is mostly older women. I saw a few men who looked like husbands dragged along for the affair, but mostly older women. I think, They probably read the book and are here to see the movie. Then, I remember the two women standing behind me at the concession stand. I wonder just how many of them know what they’re getting into.

Their reactions showed me.

The audience jolted about like a sea in a storm. Watching the audience only added to the experience for me. Watching their surprise, anguish, fear, disgust and betrayal. All there.

And I wondered to myself, What were they expecting? Did they even know?

One scene in particular made them flinch. If you see the movie, you’ll know which one I mean.

I heard at least two screams. From deep in the throat screams. The kind of scream that proceeds a swoon. I wish I paid better attention to the audience then, but everything about the sequence glued my eyes to the screen. The choreography, the cinematography, the special effects, the acting, the music… the scene kept my eyes center-forward. I could not look away. And the music. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor’s soundtrack loomed in the background of this film for more than two hours, and then, without warning, picked up a razor and cut my throat.

My hands shook. My mouth dried up. For a moment, I forgot I was in a theater. Just a moment. And that’s all I’m looking for in a film.

This movie gave me that moment. It also gave that moment to a small group of middle-aged women who got ambushed by something they never saw coming.

(I wrote this “review” using e-prime, a linguistic tool that excludes all forms of the verb, “to be.”)

Greatest Movies Ever Made (#1)

On the weekend of its opening, two individuals approached me–one on Saturday and the other on Sunday–and said the exact same thing.

"It was like watching someone playing in one of your games."

I beat the hell out of my players. I really do put them through the ringer. I make them fight for every last inch. That’s because I don’t like wish-fulfillment fantasy. I don’t like finding out that my parents aren’t really my parents and that I’m really someone special and that a secret world is just waiting for me to return and be the Redeemer-King.

No. I don’t dig that at all.

Because sooner or later, we have to come to terms with the fact that we aren’t secret orphans. No faerie queen is coming to take us away. We aren’t special. We aren’t unique. We are flesh and blood and bone and memory and love and pain.

We have to come to terms with the fact that we really are momma’s boys and daddy’s girls.

Because who we really are is how we act when it matters.

It’s a movie about all of that. And about how far a man will go to save his brother’s life.

Greatest Movies Ever Made (#2)

L5R fans pay heed. This is important to you.

When first coming up with the plotline for the Clan War, we all sat down and started thinking. We needed an outline. I’d fill out the details of that outline, but we needed a structure for the basic set and the five expansions. We knew one Clan would fall and another would be redeemed. We knew the Scorpion would return in Shadowlands. We knew Hoturi would be important, but we didn’t know how important. At the time, we kind of had him as a wildcard. It was my suggestion to keep all our cards close to the chest and make everything seem important, then allow the tournaments and player feedback to help guide our ship to port. We had a map, but we knew the seas would have just as much influence as the wind… if that makes any sense.

We also knew Fu Leng would return at the end, but we didn’t know anything about the Thunders. Not until Matt Wilson and I (as I recall) had lunch together and together we came up with the idea. A small band of heroes gathering together to face off against the final evil. Matt had something very Western in mind and I had something very Eastern in mind. That was the beginning of a long disagreement between us. Something I think both of us could have handled better.

What I didn’t tell anyone was that my own inspiration for the Seven Thunders came from one of my favorite movies. A movie that makes me laugh every time I see it, no matter how many times I see it. On the DVD commentary, the star notes, "I’ve met two kinds of people. People who love it and people who haven’t seen it." He’s absolutely right.

There isn’t a single line in this movie that isn’t quotable at the game table. Forget Monty Python and the Grail. Forget the Princess Bride. This movie’s got it down. Down.

(By the way, one of the reasons the movie works so well is the director got sick during pre-production and the assistant director did most of the work.)

I love this movie. I mean, I really love it. And, L5R fans, if you watch very closely, you’ll see Hoturi and Fu Leng and Shinsei… and Toku.

Yeah, this movie’s got a whole friggin’ ton of Toku.

Greatest Movies Ever Made (#3)

In Alice Hoffman’s novel, Practical Magic, she spends a lot of time talking about love. In Hoffman’s world, love is not an entirely beneficent force. In fact, it can be a destructive force. Something that wrecks you. Ruins you. Destroys you.

Love is something that must be approached with humility. Patience. Reverence.

The beauty of magic is that most of this can be communicated without words. The exoteric meaning of angels and demons–extradimensional creatures who tempt us for good or evil–is far less beautiful than the esoteric truth.

Angels represent the bliss of love. The joy. The giving.

Demons are none of that. Desire. Want. Burning need.

Angels and demons are not supernatural creatures who dance on pin heads. We are angels. We are demons. We are love. Selfless and beautiful. Selfish and destructive.

When I mention this director’s name, a lot of people make the pot gesture. You know, the hint that you need to be high to understand or appreciate his work. They’re wrong. You don’t need to be high. You just need to pay attention. And understand the secret language he’s speaking.

So much of magic is unspoken. So much of magic is piercing what you see to get to how you feel. The language of magic is also the language of dreams. The horse is not a horse. The cigar is not a cigar. The woman in the blue dress and veil is… well, I don’t know what she is. But she’s in my dreams. Haunting me. And every time I try to lift that veil, I wake just before I do. And I’m sweating and almost screaming and grateful I woke before I could see the face that hides there.

Love transforms us. Makes us greater than what we are. Makes us less than what we are. So much of us are afraid of love. Rightly so. Some of us are not strong enough to survive its alchemy.

Some of us are destroyed by it.

Some of us are transformed.

This is a story about love. Transformation and destruction.


The secret language of magic.

Greatest Movies Ever Made (#4)

The first movie I remember seeing. Two years after it’s released, still running in the movie house, my dad finally schleps out with me to go see it. I’m seven years old.

My dad and I stop for cheeseburgers before we head into the theater. He hates the concession prices, but we get popcorn anyway. We talk like fathers and sons talk. The typical dialogue. What I want to be when I grow up.

“I want to draw comic books!” I tell him.

He smiles. “We’ll see,” he says.

I’m already reading Spider-Man and Batman. My mom won’t let me read Ghost Rider, so I have to sneak those under my bed. And Vampirella.

Ah… Vampi.

Sitting in the dark theater, we talk. About what I’m reading. About school. About hockey. He’s coaching a hockey team and I’m one of the players. We can say it now, but we couldn’t then. I sucked. I sucked at everything physical. I know this and my dad knows this. I want to impress him, want to make him proud of me, but the only thing I’m good at is being smart. I get great grades. The teachers move me up in the class so I can sit with the older kids. My reading level is through the roof.

“You’re smart,” my dad assures me. “I’d rather that you be smart than strong.”

The lights go dim and the movie begins. The first movie I remember seeing. Sitting with my dad, the dark theater. I’m seven years old.

I still remember hearing the music for the first time. I’m enchanted. I had never heard anything like it before. The credits open like a storybook, and there, on the screen before me, are characters larger than life.

For the two hours I sit there, I’m enraptured. I barely understand the language, but I watch the action and I’m completely enthralled. I can’t stop watching. I see what’s happening and I want to be a part of it. Want to be them.

The first five minutes of the movie were the most important five minutes of my life. Shaped everything I’d want to be forever. Taught me something important. Something I’d never forget.

And as the story moves to its close, and all looks bleak and dark, I squeeze my father’s hand. I remember crying a little. But then, at the last moment, a wicked grin. The good guys win. And the audience nearly cheers.

I’ve heard people stood and cheered when seeing the ending before. I’ve never been in an audience where that was the case for me.

The movie is over. The music rolls again. And we get one last look at our friends as the screen goes dark. I squeeze my father’s hand again and my whole life is changed. My world is different now. And the conversation I had with my father is even more present in my mind.

In the bright light of the afternoon, I walk out of the theater and I look up at my dad. I say, “I want to be that when I grow up.”

My dad laughs. “We’ll see,” he says.

Five minutes. In the span of a seven year old, that isn’t much. Enough to make a mark. A mark that has lasted even to this very day. This very second.

I was seven years old. And I’d never seen anything like it. And since that moment on, I’ve been practicing. Rehearsing. Reading. Learning.

Because in the end, the good guys didn’t win because they were stronger or faster or had kung fu or even light sabers.

In the end, the good guys won because they were smarter.

And when all my friends who were ranting and raving about Star Wars, I laughed and nodded and said, “Hell yeah!”

But in my heart of hearts, the movie that changed me most was not that one. It was this one.

Just the first five minutes.

Greatest Movies Ever Made (#5)

In Minneapolis, there’s this great bookstore called Uncle Hugo’s and right across the street is the sister store, Uncle Edgar’s. Hugo’s sold new, used and rare science fiction and fantasy. Edgar’s sold mystery. In those stores, I stumbled on Micheal Moorcock, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake), and Robert Anton Wilson. It was RAW who got me in all the trouble.

Years after reading The Illuminatus Trilogy, I was raving about it to the desk-clerk and he suggested I pick up something he thought I might appreciate.

Now, this is the early ’80’s. I’m still in high school, still enamored with a particular young woman, my best friend had just joined the Army, and I was stunned by RAW’s revelation that “reality” was not a singular noun, but a plural verb.

(That one, I still haven’t recovered from.)

I was questioning everything, getting in all sorts of trouble in school (I was an A student), pulling pranks wherever I went, and danced on this side of getting arrested every weekend. Not for drugs or alcohol. No, siree. My kind of trouble was far more cerebral.

Inspired by the cosmic jester (that’s RAW again), I embraced everything Discordian. I wanted to smash the world in the face with all of its own preconceived notions. But not the kind of crap the Jackass morons pull. Chaos is nothing without meaning. A prank has to hit people in the gut, but it also has to make them think about the pain even after the pain is gone.

So, there I am, in Uncle Hugo’s, talking about Wilson like a fan boy, and the guy behind the counter tells me he’s got a book for me to read. He pulls it out, puts it on the desk, right there. I look at it.

“You’re kidding me, right?” I ask the guy.

He shakes his head. “No joke. This is right up your alley.”

I looked at the author’s name. Looked at the title. There was no way this was for me. I turned the book over, read the back jacket.

And every word I read brought me closer to understanding exactly why the guy on the other side of the desk knew exactly what he was talking about.

I dropped the cash and brought the book home, spending the entire weekend reading it. Front to back.

Of course, I loaned the book to a friend and never saw it again. Two years later, the book’s more rare than a Hannibal Lector steak. And I never got to read it again.

Jump ahead twenty years.

The movie rights get bought up. An adaption is made. The book is back in print. I go to the bookstore and snatch it up, reading it again before I go see the movie.

Of course, I should mention, this is also the first movie I saw alone in seven years. The first movie I saw without my wife. The first movie I saw after I moved out of the apartment.

It’s mean. It’s cold. And it’s about how alone each and every one of us are with our past. It’s about regret and pain and selfishness. How we are all so damn selfish. We’re so concerned with what we want, we never see what we have.

Of the five Greatest Movies Ever Made, this one is #5.