TOYS.

Posted: May 9, 2017 in Toys

 

Picked up a couple Marvel Legends over the weekend, so just feeling like sharing this rhapsody about toys, from last year’s Daily Grindhouse group article on the subject

 

Guess I should start by noting I have always loved superhero comic books, so I would grab the Marvel characters — and Batman — in action figure form at any chance I could get. I also loved G.I. Joes, because what else were those guys but superhero versions of Army men? DC’s Super Powers line in the 1980s, and then the BATMAN toys based on the movie in 1989, those were huge for me, but I especially loved Marvel’s Secret Wars figures. This two-pack containing Captain America and Doctor Doom is one of my favorite things I ever bought. Still remember the day I saw that thing in the store.

 

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But if you’d asked me back then, I’d have told you my cousins Andrew (two years younger than me) and Charlie (four years younger) had all the very best toys. I grew up just outside New York City and they grew up just outside Boston, so we were only separated by a couple hours’ drive and my family would head up to their place almost once a month for most of my childhood. I would take my action figures along with me, and then almost as soon as we got through the door, Andrew and Charlie and I would go off to stage epic action-figure battles across their bedrooms, down the stairways, and all the way down to the basement. Since I knew the comics best, I’d supply the characterization, while my cousins supplied a devil-may-care attitude, the two best senses of humor I’ve ever encountered, and a happy commitment to whichever stories I’d invent with them that day. (My little sister — Andrew’s age — really had to endure a lot of activities against her personal interests back then. If only I’d been born a Brony. And that’s the first and last time I’ll ever use that sentence.)

 

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There were always leading characters in any of the widescreen adventures we imagined up, but really, the cast was massive — Transformers, Visionaries, Thundercats, Real Ghostbusters,  STAR WARS (Andrew and Charlie had a Millenium Falcon, and Aquaman got to ride in it!), POLICE ACADEMY, He-Man & The Masters Of The Universe, the Ninja Turtles, Army Ants, Food Fighters, Barnyard Commandos, C.O.P.S., M.U.S.C.L.E., M.A.S.K., Spiral Zone, Captain Power, Bionic Six, Sky Commanders, Silverhawks, Centurions, Care Bears, Battle Beasts, Supernaturals, Starriors, Wheeled Warriors, and sure, even the Monchhichis and the Madballs and the Boglins and the Get Along Gang — anybody and everybody was conscripted into service. It was wartime, and everyone earned their seat in Valhalla.  They were all plastic and metal, meaning no one was ever down for the count for long, even at the loss of weapon or limb. Our armies transcended conventional notions of mortality. Our enjoyment transcended quantifiable measurement.

 

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I haven’t played with toys since before my early teens kicked in, but I think the aura of that joy remains as a part of me. Beyond the cloudier moments, there’s something sufficiently childlike and enthusiastic about my personality that has prompted friends and family to bring me toys over the years, even though I wouldn’t do much with them besides put them on a shelf. This trend skyrocketed when I started becoming known as “the movie guy” in any group I was in, beyond already being “the comic book guy.” A college friend brought me a Mister Stay-Puft he found at a yard sale in Scotland. Another brought me one of those Kenner Yoda puppets back from Jersey after winter break. A friend who has worked for years in the toy industry still generously brings me various collectibles, perks of his job. I literally cannot tell you how many people have given me Spider-Man paraphernalia. (I think that one’s on Sam Raimi for casting Tobey Maguire.) People see action figures and they think of me, for whatever reason.

 

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Charlie knew how I loved the Secret Wars guys best of all. He was eight or nine when he gave me three Secret Wars figures I didn’t have — The Falcon, Baron Zemo, and Spider-Man in his black costume (who we always pretended was Venom, since we already had a Spider-Man on our side). This was some time after the Secret Wars toys left the shelves. There was no eBay back then, no way to get replacement figures for himself. I was struck by his generosity then, and the gesture continues to remain impressive to me, particularly coming from an eight-year-old kid. He gave me toys he loved because he figured I might love them a little more. Turns out that sort of generosity would be characteristic of Charlie for the rest of his life. Over the years he gave me all sorts of nifty gag gifts and tchotchkes and funny-looking figurines, maybe just as a kind of tangible signature he was thinking about me when he saw them. I didn’t always know what to do with a pen shaped like a poo, but I always knew how much the gesture meant.

 

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It’s nearing on six months since Charlie died. He was my cousin, but really, he was a brother to me. For a guy who identifies himself a writer, I haven’t been able to put down more than a sentence or two at a time regarding my feelings about losing a person whose soul is such a part of my own. This is as close as I’ve come so far. One of the more arcane ways I’ve been coping with the grief, an unusual behavior pattern I’ve only recently begun to understand as such, is that I’ve been actively picking up action figures. The selection is better than ever nowadays. I’ve got a Creature From The Black Lagoon now (it came with a Julie Adams!), and a Jason Voorhees, and a Winston Zeddemore. Due to CIVIL WAR, I’ve finally got a Black Panther, one of my all-time favorite comic book characters and something I could have only dreamed about as a kid. I’ve got a Deadpool, since he’s Charlie’s very favorite character. (The movie came out a few days before he died, and it breaks my damn heart daily that he didn’t get to see it.)  I’ve got a Wolfman and a Hawkeye and a Ray Stantz and I’ve got all kinds of skeletons, just because my cousins and I always thought skeletons were hilarious.

 

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I don’t play with these toys. I’ve just been amassing them. Barring the appearance of children of my own, I doubt I’ll ever play with them. I’m racing towards forty, and Andrew is already a husband and father, and both of us are constantly busy, and most of all, we don’t have Charlie anymore and so it wouldn’t be the same.

 

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Nevertheless, I keep buying random figures when I see them — either when it’s something of interest to me, or something that would have been of interest to Charlie, or else something he might have thought would have been of interest to me. I put them with my Secret Wars Spidey, and my Baron Zemo and my The Falcon. I guess in a way I’m trying to keep Charlie’s characteristic thoughtfulness alive, to provide myself with tangible proof that, in the midst of all the darkness of a very scary world, he could continue to be that playful and spirited and that considerate, and that maybe one day, sooner or later, so can I.

 

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It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you, without three dopes and a podcast to listen to…

 

The Daily Grindhouse Podcast officially returns today. Click here to listen to our new episode! It will feature a rotating cavalcade of stars, but for now you’re stuck with these three:

 

New York’s own Jon Abrams,

 

 

Chicago’s own Mike Vanderbilt,

 

 

and pride-of-Texas Freeman Williams.

 

 

This week we’re talking about all kinds of good stuff, from THE WAILING to JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO to GET OUT and then, all of the sudden without warning, the Muppet Babies.

 

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John Wick 2 Movie Poster

Get Out Movie Poster

 

 

 

 

In addition we’ll try to have some sort of theme for discussion each week. This time around we came up with movies involving snakes — either starring snakes, or featuring them in cameos.

 

 

 

Watch this space for up-to-the-minute updates about when you can listen on iTunes and other places.

Stand Up.

Posted: December 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Aleppo, Syria in 2009.

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Aleppo, Syria in 2016.

The Syrian Army, directed by Bashar Al-Assad and supported by Vladimir Putin and the armed forces of Russia along with Iran and Hezbollah, has been shelling the rebellion in Aleppo, one of the country’s most prominent cities. The horrific number of civilian casualties includes humanitarian aid workers, doctors, and children. Kids. They’re killing kids. This is after the Syrian government has already been starving out the citizens of Aleppo. From the Al-Assad point of view, the targets would be labeled “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathizers.” Even if that were the case, and it definitely isn’t, to murder children is to surrender all moral authority forever. But now is not the time for philosophy. People are dying. Today.

I woke up this morning, scrolled through my social media feed, read about this situation, and found myself nearly unable — physically — to get out of bed. This is genocide, happening in real time. How the hell could I go to my meaningless day job with the knowledge this was happening? Why would I? And then those questions spiraled.

This short post isn’t an attempt to make these events about me: I’m using myself as an illustration, in case anyone who reads this is anything like me, feeling powerless at the awful scope of history as it develops quickly and viciously.

I did the only thing within my power. I got out of bed. Later I found out about the protest vigil this evening outside the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation here in New York, and I went there after work. I just wanted to add the weight of my body to the crowd, to show up and support the people who are motivated in this essential cause. Really, I just stood there.

Alone, I know I’m nothing. I’m writing this with the hopes that even one of my friends or readers will be spurred on to become more aware, and to do something. An estimated 100,000 people are still in harm’s way, unable to escape due to all the bombing. They’re being shot if they try to escape. At the very least we Americans can acknowledge that it’s fucking happening.

Support The White Helmets.

Support The Syria Campaign.

Do something. Do something. Do something. I write those two words to remind myself. If it motivates anyone else, good. Aside from getting up out of bed; I can’t do much of anything on my own.

 

 

 

What’s In A Name.

Posted: November 16, 2016 in Death, Life, Uncategorized

 

My friend Jamie Righetti wrote a piece this past week called That Time The Movies Saved My Life. As I do so frequently with her stuff, I’ve re-read that piece several times since she posted it. I like the clarity and the economy of her writing, and of course the message. I can relate to that theme. Movies, and the friends I’ve made through a shared love of movies, have saved my spirits — if not my life — time and time again.

 

But this year, 2016, the hardest year of my life by any measure, has found me watching less movies than I have probably since I was an infant. I haven’t been able to sit through movies without my mind wandering, or shutting down entirely due to sleep from exhaustion. Writing, the other great savior for me normally, is another thing I’ve done less of in 2016 than I’d like to admit. I’ve been wondering why that is — no, that’s not accurate. I haven’t had much time to wonder about it. It’s just the way things have been. I move through the day with limited purpose. If I happen to see a movie or write a few sentences, good. Sometimes it’s all I can do to remember to eat.

 

Life gets in the way.

 

Death gets in the way.

 

Movies haven’t been enough to save me. Writing hasn’t been enough to save me. I can’t do movies because I can’t focus on any narrative for two hours at a time. I can’t write because to me, writing is opening up a vein, and I just haven’t been able to risk that this year because if I start the bleeding, the bleeding might not stop.

 

This hasn’t been the ideal year for me to check out mentally. On top of working a day job and having all the constraints and demands of a personal life, I’ve been editing the website Daily Grindhouse for a couple years now. Recently we’ve taken incredible strides forward and the site has grown exponentially, which is a wonderful development but not so convenient when you’re a husk of a former self. I’m near-constantly copy-editing submissions and answering emails, and even still I’m constantly behind. I call this the Year Of A Hundred Thousand Apologies. Lately I feel like all I do is make apologies. Everything’s late. Everything’s still pending. Everything’s coming soon. I’ll get to that, I promise. No really, you’re important. I’ve been telling so many truths they start to feel like lies.

 

The reality is that I don’t really want to be here. I don’t say that in a way that anybody needs to worry about me. I’ve had a hundred long dark nights of the soul, and I’ve made it through them all. But that lowness, that aloneness, the more dire feelings Jamie speaks to in her essay, I’ve been there. A lot. And recently.

 

Mainly it’s about my cousin. Charlie died just about eight months ago. Some of the people closest to him had a sense it was coming, but I didn’t. Being four years older than him, I always figured I’d be gone first. I literally could not conceive of a world without Charlie. I still can’t. It’s wrong. He’s like my little brother. He’s not like my little brother. He is my little brother. We were supremely close. We talked by phone or texted every single day. We saw each other regularly, even during the darkest times of either of our lives. If you’re any one of the scores of people let down by me personally or professionally in some way during my Year Of A Hundred Thousand Apologies, you know I’m not generally that great at staying in touch with anybody. But Charlie, I was always there for. Because he was always there for me. And now he isn’t. And I have to reckon with that, somehow.

 

Though I make awkward stabs at it here and there, I’ve never been fully comfortable with airing out my feelings, and Charlie in particular is a subject I’ve always kept close to the vest. He didn’t like to be talked about, so I didn’t talk much about him. He was my secret identity. Charlie and I shared the silliest in-jokes, the most humiliating stories, the sources of our deepest pain, our anxieties, our crushes, our resentments, our prejudices, and our greatest causes of fury, and together, we came up with solutions. How do you get through the day with all the pain of being a sensitive human being in this vicious world? Charlie and I, we did it together. We talked it out. And what we couldn’t solve, we put a cap on with the most absurd humor. When all else fails, get silly. He understood that, like few others. I love many people profoundly, but him I needed.

 

Charlie and I talked about movies, we talked about comic books, we talked about toys. As similar as we were temperamentally, we weren’t the same guy; he got more enjoyment out of nostalgia than I did. I’m always looking for the next thing to obsess over, but he found the most comfort in happy memories. Still, I was fine with going there with him. It’s just that now, going there without him is painful. So maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to find as much pleasure in the activities I used to enjoy so much. Because I can’t tell Charlie about ’em. And there’s a part of me that relishes denying myself joy. That’s always been there, but it’s back with a vengeance, because now there’s a part of me that’s very angry at myself for not saving him. I couldn’t have, I don’t think, but try telling that to my subconscious mind.

 

When you lose a person, if you love them enough, they become a part of you. I believe that, but it takes work to get there. Long story short, that answers the question some have posed as to why I changed my social media handle across the board to Jon Zilla. It’s something Charlie would have enjoyed. It’s probably something he called me at some point. He had all kinds of fun nicknames for me. In fact, come to think of it in text messages he used “Jon-Ra” a lot, and it’s a lateral move from Mothra to Godzilla so there you go. In 2016 I needed a bit of a disconnect from “Jon Abrams.” Jon Abrams is a guy who’s been through the wringer; he’s endured a whole lot of pain both physical and emotional, and he’ll continue to do it because he has no other choice, but as an idea, maybe he needed some time off. I’ve had almost no time off in 2016, very literally, so in a weird way I had to give my very identity a little break. As if I hadn’t had enough stress and loss in my life for one year, there’s also been plenty of tension between me and the guy whose face and surname I carry, but I don’t really want to write about that publicly. Point is, for a while there it was a bit of a drag even for me to look in the mirror and to read my own signature.

 

I wouldn’t be writing this if I couldn’t bring it to a happy ending of sorts. You’re reading the words of a guy who has faced down his demons every minute of every day throughout this godforsaken year, and as of press time, I won. There are a lot of good reasons to appreciate the time we’re given on this planet, as difficult as that time can be. There are people who really do need me. There are things I really do believe I was meant to do while I’m here, things I haven’t done yet. I will not shirk my duty. I will not deprive myself any longer. As hard as 2016 has been, I’ve also taken control of my physical health, having lost twenty pounds and having been enjoying dating more than I have all decade. Every time the darkness has come for me in my head, I’ve beaten it back, with the power of my own better thoughts and with the strength I’ve gotten from my support system — some who are still with me, some who are no longer but will always be. Again, my cousin Charlie is a beacon. Whenever I voiced how I felt overweight and sloppy-looking, Charlie would say to me, “You look like a movie star.” When I called myself stupid, he called me “the smartest person I know” (and he knew a whole lot of genuinely brilliant people.) There was no deep dark pit of despair I threw myself into that Charlie could not get me out of, in just a few words. Charlie is still with me; that’s a fact. He said things that saved me. If he’s not here to say them to me anymore, I have to say them to myself now.

 

So I saved my own life, with help. I did it today, and I’ll do it again tomorrow. I am the king of monsters.

 

Love you brother.

 

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— JON ZILLA.

 

 

 

WORDS ABOUT MUSIC: BOB DYLAN.

Posted: October 13, 2016 in Music

 

Everybody’s talking about Bob Dylan today, so I figured I’d check to see if I’d ever written anything about his work, and hey look, here’s this thing from 2011:

 

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For Bob Dylan’s seventieth birthday this week, Rolling Stone put out a list of the 70 Greatest Dylan Songs.  I’m no authority, so I’m not about to quibble with the ordering. In fact, it says plenty about the uncanny depth of this essential artist’s discography that he has so many more than 70 great songs. (So many prominent musical artists stop with the greatness after just three or four.) But Bob Dylan means a lot of things to a lot of people, and I thought it would be fun to name the songs that mean the most to me (off the top of my head).

 

My mom loves Bob Dylan and he means maybe the most to her generation, who came up with Dylan in the 1960s. That’s how I first came to hear Bob Dylan, with his protest songs and folk tunes. “Blowin’ In The Wind” (Rolling Stone’s #20) and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (RS #28) were big around my house. When I was in college, I had a friend who listened to literally nothing besides Bob Dylan, which at the time I thought was pretty pretentious but also at the time I knew and in retrospect I still believe, there’s no faulting that dude’s taste. If you listen to nothing but Bob Dylan, you’re still getting as diverse a catalogue as could possibly be imagined from just one artist who writes and performs all of his own songs. The guy who sang “Like A Rolling Stone” (RS #1, predictably) and the guy who sang “Lay, Lady, Lay” (RS #24) hardly even sound like the same guy, let alone the guy who recorded Love And Theft. That’s why Dylan has stayed so relevant for so long, because of that creative restlessness and constant evolution.  (And why Todd Haynes had the inspired, understandable notion to cast six different actors in the role of Dylan in his recent sort-of biopic I’m Not There.)

 

Anyway, like I said, I’m hardly an authority on Bob Dylan and his music, though the older I get the more I have learned to appreciate him. Quite honestly, he’s come to mean more to me through the legion of artists that he has influenced. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in some of my all-time favorite musical acts, from Bruce Springsteen to Jimi Hendrix to U2 to Cat Power to The Roots to motherfuckin’ Johnny Cash – they’ve all spent a significant amount of time not only talking about Bob Dylan, but performing his songs. At a certain point, your influences’ influences become important to you almost as much as your influences have, and so it has been with Bob Dylan.

 

So here are my top five songs, ranked in order of preference which is sure to change by tomorrow. These would be my top five if someone asked me TODAY.

 

 

  1. Series Of Dreams (not on Rolling Stone’s list)

 

This one came to me through seeing it in a Bruce Springsteen interview. Generally, when Springsteen says something, I listen, and when he recommends a song, ten to one I’m gonna check it out. I like the imagery of this song’s title, and I especially like the momentum of this song. Without getting too precious about it, this song sounds to me like the passage of time, and it sounds more optimistic than not (although as it happens, Dylan’s lyrics are a little more cautious here than the upbeat tune suggests).

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (RS #25)

 

 

 

You can tell a person’s age from how they came to certain Bob Dylan songs. I got into this one through Guns N’ Roses, so that’s the generation we’re dealing with. Dylan wrote this song as part of his soundtrack to Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (which he also appeared in), a forever-underrated Sam Peckinpah movie that has come to mean almost as much to me as the song does. This song has such an immediate and potent mythic quality that it’s easy to see why it’s such a strong entry-way for younger romance-minded dudes like me into the Dylan discography.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Not Dark Yet (RS #50)

 

A lot of Dylan songs can be inscrutable. It’s clear from most of the journalism I have ever read about the man that a lot of critics have a lot of fun trying to decipher his lyrics and deciphering how they may apply to his life story. I’m not that kind of a listener. Sometimes I like it best when I can tell what the song’s about, and when the melody fits the words so perfectly. The music here is a pretty simple and steady (but lovely) drone, almost a dirge, and if I had to guess, this song is about getting older, seeing the end coming and taking the moment to recollect before it gets here. Hopefully I’m not near that point in my life yet, but there’s something about that idea that has always been very profound to me. This is why people that know me best still struggle to decide whether I’m an old soul or an immature one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Shelter From The Storm (RS #66)

 

I put this song on a mixtape I made for my baby niece when she was first born. I know that there are several more valid interpretations of this song in many other contexts, but the great thing about music is its malleability of meaning to each listener, and to me, this song sounds like solace and safe harbor. And that’s what spending time with my niece means to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Boots Of Spanish Leather (not on Rolling Stone’s list)

 

One of Dylan’s earliest songs, this is just plain one of the better love songs ever written, to my ears anyway. Is there more I ought to say about it? Take a listen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not that he will ever read this, but Happy Birthday Bob Dylan. You have affected a lot of lives in a deeply meaningful way with your art, which is art’s highest possible purpose in my dumb opinion.

 

 

 

Also…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tonight at 9:30pm at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, the monthly Kevin Geeks Out show returns with KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT DEADLY WOMEN!

 

Kevin Maher, a writer and comedian who just plain always puts on a good show (and who has recently become a Daily Grindhouse contributor!), will host the event, which involves a screening of various film clips related to the “Deadly Women” theme, with color commentary from a variety of speakers. I myself will be there to talk about — what else? — Pam Grier movies.

 

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Here’s the trailer for the show:

 

trailer – KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT DEADLY WOMEN at Nitehawk Cinema from Kevin Maher on Vimeo.

 

 

There are still a couple tickets left, but literally only a couple. Hope to see some of our New York people there!

 

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For some idea of what goes on at these things, here are a couple expanded editions of my talks at a couple past KGO events:

 

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Lip Sync Battle Champs.

Posted: August 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

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Proud of my niece. She helped with the choreography here, and won a first-place trophy for her trouble.

Also this is me doing a test to see if I know what I’m doing, technology-wise. (I don’t.)