Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hollywood Days and Night(mare)s: A Leading Question

“Hey, New Guy,” HUSTLER’s then-music editor, Tom Farrell, called from his office down the hall.  “Do you want to go do a band interview for me on Monday night?”

It was my first assignment for Larry Flynt’s flagship smut rag.  I’d been on staff in the Beverly Hills oval-shaped (some say vaginal-shaped) building at Wilshire and San Vicente for only a few months.  Tom had been the first officemate to invite me out for lunch, and had done so not less than twice.  We chatted about music and his run-ins with KISS over the years.  He’d lived in Japan as a kid, picking up the language as the son of a U.S. serviceman.  While he wasn’t one to let someone else get in a word edgewise, he was perceptive enough to realize that I was interested in getting my feet wet beyond my “official” duties as the HUSTLER copy editor.  I was a writer, after all, and this would be my first chance at a national—rather than regional—byline. 

(Tom called me New Guy for my first three months on the magazine.  Then he was fired.)

The assignment was simple enough: Go to the Avalon Theater on Vine St. in Hollywood to interview the band Sparta and then watch their performance. 

A band I’d never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about.  In those mid-aughts I hopped onto MySpace (remember MySpace?????) to listen to some of their cuts and did as much digging as my research-hungry and curiosity-prone mind could on the upcoming release of their new album, Threes.  I spun Threes many times leading up to the interview, read the lyrics, read the liner notes, sought out nuance and thematic arcs in the album. 

Satisfied that I was prepped, I made my way to the Avalon one late November Monday in 2006, tape recorder and notepad in hand.  I’d mostly only ever done phoners with architects and general contractors for a construction mag and then some occasional set visits for movie-related articles gratis.  This felt new and exciting.  And also, scarily like I was out of my depth. 

I phoned my contact, who met me at the backstage gate and led me upstairs to a private area in back of the house.  Lead singer/guitarist Jim Ward was ushered into the room.  A slim, genial fellow from El Paso, Ward greeted me warmly.  If I was, to quote Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, “the enemy, a rock writer,” Mr. Ward certainly didn’t show it. 

Setting my tape recorder on a table between us, I settled into what I could only guess was my best reporter’s pose and mode.  Pressing record, I began by date- and time-stamping the interview…ya know, for posterity. 

I’d taken standup comedy class a few years prior.  My teacher, Bobbie Oliver, always said put your best joke as your opener and your second-best joke as your closer.  While I wasn’t trying to make Ward laugh, I was desperate to show him that I hadn’t spun the CD once an hour prior, that I had actually put some time and effort and thought into this assignment.  And so I led with the most ostentatious—one might say pretentious—question on my printout list, one I’d carefully crafted and rewritten for days leading up to this.

“I really like this album.  There’s a duality to it, like there’s a relationship that’s ending but simultaneously there’s a hopefulness about it.”

To my immediate delight, Ward’s eyes beamed and his voice quickened.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” he enthused.  Then, the most amazing words a cub reporter could hope for: “That’s interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody quite put it that way before.”

Rock stars and other celebrities endure the same tired questions over and over and over again.  (Have you ever noticed that when a star is promoting his latest film, he’ll pretty much follow the exact same script and reiterate the same answers verbatim from talk show to talk show to talk show in the week leading up to release?)  What I learned that day was the ultimate value of coming into an interview with something as close to original as possible.  Find a fresh angle.  That and do your homework ahead of time.  The more prepared, the more informed you are about your subject, the more interested you will seem to be in the interviewee, who will then almost certainly open up with better, more revealing, answers. 

I knew ZERO about Ward, his band, their album.  In the days leading up, I made myself a self-professed expert, such that I could discuss individual tracks in detail as well as the album’s overarching themes and connections to the band’s work at large. 

And, sure, a little ass-sucking goes a long way.  But in this case, I wasn’t blowing smoke up his.  I genuinely did—and do still—like the album.  It was crafted in the lead-up to the 2006 midterm elections, when much of the country was at odds with the Bush Doctrine.  My interview with Ward was conducted not long after said midterms, when the Democrats took over the Senate (one of the cuts on Threes is even called “Taking Back Control”). 

One of the most amazing things he said was that he actually felt sorry for Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of his resignation as Defense Secretary following the midterms.  “I naturally cheer for the underdog.  It just felt like the tide had turned so much that I felt bad for him.” 

(Note: I am writing this eight days following the 2014 midterms.  Flip the script and the players, and the same could now be said for Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid.  The script never changes, only the cast.) 

From that lengthy interview I got 450 words in HUSTLER’s April 2007 music section…published in December (it’s best not to ask), which you can read below (apologies for pasting in the text below the image, which is difficult to read). 

Eight years later, on my way to interview Foxcatcher director Bennett Miller in D.C. yesterday, I tried to apply the same principal of leading with a killer question.  That story will follow after my article is published in The Washington Times in the days ahead. 

Or, to quote the close of The NeverEnding Story, “But that’s…another story…”


Tom Farrell, who gave me the Sparta assignment, died a few years back.  I never saw him again after his firing, but I’ll always be thankful for that little push he gave 28-year-old me.  

Listening to Threes, Sparta’s sophomore
release for the Hollywood
Records label, you’re not sure
whether you’re being gently lulled to
sleep or jolted awake for battle. The El
Paso quartet finished out 2006 with a
headlining tour to promote the album,
which vacillates thematically between
expectation and anxiety.
“It’s about my life in a weird way,
both fiction and nonfiction,” says singer/
lead guitarist Jim Ward. “I sort of live on
the edge of hope and desperation, and
that’s the cocktail that makes me an
artist. I do my best to destroy everything
around me, and then I work so hard to
keep things together.”
The songs “Atlas,” “The Most Vicious
Crime” and “Without a Sound” convey a
palpable sadness—a sense that a bond
is ending.
“I was in kind of a dark place,” Ward
continues, “and I wrote songs [thematically]
in the form of a woman or a relationship.
I felt that that way people could
relate to what I was [going through].
‘Atlas’ is about my hometown—if I made
my city a woman. Sometimes I feel that
the city deserts me.”
The affable Ward, who pens a column
for an El Paso alternative newspaper,
cautiously praised the Democrats’
midterm victory. “Now we better do
something with it. We better! You have
to realize that the way the rest of the
world sees our country right now is diabolical,
fucking diabolical.”
Although a harsh critic of the Bush
Administration,Ward expressed sympathy
for the President when former Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned.
“I’ve said a lot of mean things about that
guy [Bush], but I naturally cheer for the
underdog, the one that everyone else is
mad at. It just felt like the tide had
turned so much that I actually felt bad
for him. It was a weird feeling.”
—Eric Althoff

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

36 and Counting

 Every year—or as much as I try—on my birthday I sit down and write unimpeded and without pause or editing for one hour.  It is now 1:03 a.m. EST as I sit down with my faithful beirstein next to me to begin typing away in my apartment in Washington, D.C., a city I have never quite loved but that is now my current home.  My exercise every year on my birthday is to just simply sit, expound upon my thoughts, see where my pen…er, keyboard…takes me, reflect, meditate and otherwise turn inward upon myself in an attempt to see where I am, whereupon I have been, where I may yet be going.

To say that year 35 was one of great transition, change and uncertainty would be putting it mildly.  In the past 12 months I have moved twice, once to Illinois and now here to the nation’s capital.  My time in the Midwest was both excruciatingly testing but also far more fulfilling than I might dared have imagined.  After a quarter of unemployment, my career took me to the college town of Champaign-Urbana, certainly no place I had ever dreamed I’d be, nor one that I expected could hold me for long—which proved to be the case.  But perhaps it was fitting that my life took me to the middle of the country.  As a Jersey boy and creature of the east, I am thoroughly a Northeasterner, no matter that 15 years saw me as a California resident.  But half of my family is from the Land of Lincoln.  My mother grew up on the west side of Chicago, and many of her relatives remain there still. 

Living in Champana was unlike anything I’d ever known, and before moving, my mother said to me, “Eric, you’re going to meet the ‘real’ people.”  I freely admit to being an East Coaster and an urban snob.  From the land of Chris Christie I went directly to Los Angeles at age 17, and had lived in a major city or greater metropolitan area ever since.  To move not just to the Midwest, but the middle of the Midwest…well, that was a premise heretofore uncountenanced. 

Quite honestly, if I’d had any other possibilities, I would have gone elsewhere.

But as fate and necessity dictated, to central Illinois I went.  I’d made many, many trips to Chicago over the years, especially as a kid when my grandparents were living and still in reasonably decent health.  But Chicago, for all its promise and urbanity and populace, comprises just one small sliver of the overall area of the realm of the all-but-vanished Illini.  Below and away from Chicagoland are millions of areas of corn.  And wind. 

Oh, the wind.  In my memories of Champana, it is always there—howling in background, swaying the slats of my Urbana apartment windows to and fro, awakening me from naps and demanding attention as the gusts scream across and down the Great Plains.  It is, as its name implies, the “middle” of the country, if not the geographic center.  Many times during my five months as an Urbanian did the words of a Neil Diamond strike me:

“Nowadays I’m lost between two shores.  L.A.’s fine but it ain’t home.  New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.” 

Fifteen years was I an Angeleno.  One summer, in 2011, I was a New Yorker.  Neither do I reside in now—or then.  My snobbishness needed some humility.  My sense of urbanity as the true nature and epicenter of American existence was in dire request of modesty.

My mother was right: My experience in Illinois indeed taught me that there—as in, hell, most of America—is where the “real” people live.  The salt-of-the-earth, down-home, conservative (although not necessarily politically so), traditional folks who are the backbone of this experiment in democracy.  Not only that, but the most welcoming, wonderful people a wayfaring stranger from the east by way of the west could ever hope to encounter. 

From week 1, I was welcomed.  I went to a Meetup for bar trivia at the Blind Pig in Champaign on a typically blustery, shivering December Sunday night.  Joe was there, the “grand poobah” of the CU Social Club (operating then under another name).  The categories of trivia that night fell into my wheelhouse, not the least of which was a round of Rolling Stones questions—all of which I aced.  Our team won the evening…the first time the CU Social Club had ever done so. 

I was told I was never allowed to miss trivia again.  By week 2, I was one of them. 

A professor friend of mine, briefly an instructor at the University of Illinois, told me that life in Champaign-Urbana revolved less around “going out” than it did involve hanging out at people’s houses.  This I found largely to be the case.  If the gang wasn’t out at a bar, we were chilling at someone’s home.  More often than not, mine.  I had the largest apartment, the biggest TV, perfect for hosting. 

I liked hosting.  As Walter White said, I was good at it.  I did it for me.  As much of a recluse as I can be, I get off on throwing a good party, on having the place that people come to for a good time.  That was my stead in Champana: I hosted the Super Bowl, the opening of the Winter Olympics, the Oscars, movie viewings, general getogethers. 

Sometimes, I’d just say to my peeps, “Come over and get drunk and high and watch movies until we pass out.”  Sometimes that’s the best.  It’s fun just having folks over to get stupid and watch TV until the sun comes up.  It reminds me of the good times I had as a teen with my buddies where we’d do all of that minus the substances. 

I didn’t need to be popular, but it was nice to be wanted and included.  The circle peeps would call me several times a week.  They found out about things in my life before I’d told a soul!  For a large campus town, it was remarkably closed and close.  Everyone seemed to know everyone else’s business.  There were no such things as strangers. 

The town’s most famous son, Roger Ebert, founded a film festival there, which screened “overlooked” films at the amazingly antiquated Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.  Ebert left right after college for the Sun-Times in Chicago, but he never forgot where he was from.  No, not Chicago, but Champaign-Urbana was the natural choice for his festival: his hometown, his alma mater, the place that gave him rise.

“Remember where you came from.”  That’s something my sensei, Ray Salapka, always used to say and imparted to his students in Jersey Bushido Kai.  It’s something I’ve kept with me always…a mantra that is applicable in nearly all situations.  Sensei meant it mostly in terms of how higher ranks in the dojo should treat inferior and less experienced karatakas.  “You were once a white belt too.”  “I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I can’t do myself.”

In January Sensei Salapka passed on after a lengthy illness.  It was my first trip back to New Jersey since moving west.  When my father picked me up from Newark, I remember being so awestruck by the hills of my home state in gross contradiction to the flatness of my then-current living situation.  The funeral was difficult.  Sensei had been a giant in my mind.  Not only was he a formidable man physically, but his spirit seemed indomitable.  When I first saw him cry amidst a painful divorce in 1991, part of my young world shattered.  But he recuperated and moved on.  He fought on and put off the cancer as best he could until there was simply nothing left to give.  I spoke to him one final time just before Christmas last year, his voice weak and broken.  I wanted to thank him, to say anything other wishing him a merry Christmas, but my words froze.  We spoke for less than a minute.  It was goodbye and I knew it. 

He taught us to adapt to any situation.  I could whine and push back against the flatlands of the Midwest with what I saw as an “uncultured” backwater vibeology, or I could go along with it and just be with them rather than trying to be above them. 

I am from the East Coast and I lived in California.  This is all beneath me…

Never once was I made to feel an outsider, yet doubtless I projected that upon everyone else, if inadvertently.  Joe, the grand poobah, offered to loan me money within my first two weeks in town when I feared I might not make bills.  My relatives three hours north in Chicago, whom I had heretofore seen once a year if lucky, were now accessible several times a month.  My visits to Chicago were finally unrushed.  I could see as much as I wanted to on an easy time scale stretched out over however many weekends it might take to enjoy. 

Furthermore, with map in hand I was able to visit Springfield, the state capital, working home of Senator Abraham Lincoln and final resting place of later President Lincoln.  There was a trip to St. Louis to see a Cards game; Milwaukee for same. 

Above all, the friends.  They were my circle and my world and my source of joy, of arguments, of sorrows and reconciliations.  Never before in my life had I experienced such a close-knit social circle.

And yet I left.  Yes, I left.  Partly, my pride and my provincial attitude had been seeking a way out from day 1.  I hungered desperately for a city and a coast.  I pined for the ocean—Atlantic or Pacific.  I missed topography: mountains and hills and valleys. 

That fucking wind.  Ever-present and hounding me at every turn, indoors or out.  Even as the worst winter in decades faded and gave way to a tenuous spring, the gusts blustered on.  Lake Michigan howled and furied its way south across the Plains.  All was ice and snow and subzero chill for months on end.  Then the wind would blow me sideways as I biked from Urbana to nearby Champaign in spring. 

I missed good sushi and “culture.”  Rather, sophistication…or as such as I defined it.  As welcomed and at-home as I was made to feel, still I knew I did not belong. 

The Washington Times came crawling back.  I’d interviewed for a job at the Universal Desk back in October.  There was a hiring freeze.  Then a budget cut.  Then layoffs.  Finally they were ready.  Would I still be interested?  Yes, I said, but the payoff would need to be well worth my while to uproot again within the same six-month period. 

They made it worth my while.  Very quickly it came together.  I had an offer in hand to come back to the eastern seaboard.  To come to the nation’s capital.  To be a newspaperman.  To engage in work I would actually enjoy.  To be closer to New Jersey.  Within striking distance of three major airports. 

It was an easy decision professionally.  It was the right move.  It was the logical next chapter.  No matter that my increased salary would be swallowed whole by the District’s inflated rents and taxes.  No matter that I’d still have to work a second night job just to get by (forget getting ahead). 

I’m a Libra, and all life is a tradeoff.  I left behind my friends of the Midwest for the relative anonymity of the Beltway.  It’s a larger city, yes, and has far more going on…but I work swing.  My nights are occupied by my job.  I have made few friends.  Most of my non-work hours are spent in solitude. 

My friends from Illinois call and text regularly to check on me.  I get home to New Jersey once or twice a month.  Airports are proximate for trips elsewhere.  But the lion’s share of my day is spent alone.  I am beginning not only to feel more at home in solitude, but protective of it. 

People bore me more nowadays.  I get impatient quicker with pointless anecdotes and self-interested narrative.  At work I listen to my headphones and only take them out at the end of the day when we need to make final corrections to page 1 of tomorrow’s paper.  I have an absolutely amazing boss who fought hard for me to get the gig, who treats me like a fellow professional and not as a subordinate, who is a colleague first and foremost and a friend outside the office.  I’m lucky.  I found a great situation professionally and an atmosphere that not only do I not hate, but where the hours melt briskly away. 

And I get to write for them sometimes too.

All life is balance and tradeoff (again, I’m a Libra).  My move here was great for my career but a kick in the teeth of my social life.  To date I have had less than 10 visitors to my apartment whereas my Urbana apartment was patronized by dozens.  I enjoy my work here in the District of Columbia of a magnitude beyond my work in Illinois that is difficult to express. 

But I miss my friends—both those in Illinois as well as those in New Jersey and California.  I haven’t yet “found my way” here.  When I’m not working, which is seldom, I’d just as rather have several drinks and watch TV.  Or read.  Or just be alone.  Even dating has gotten tedious.  Most of the time I long for silence and solitude. 

Last year at this time I thought a lot about my own death.  Not in terms of wishing it or hurrying it, but rather in the scheme of I felt like I had done most everything I’d ever wanted to do, so might this not be a good time to check out?  Alas—or nay alas—I remain.  I regret not that I’ve “survived” yet another turn round this mortal coil.  I’ve learned much and experienced so much more.  Moving to the Midwest got me out of my comfort zone.  “Adapt,” Sensei would have said.  And I did.  Now I’m in yet another unfamiliar place with few friends.  I am adapting…mostly by working.  Because I’ve been broke for well over a year.  Because every dollar I make belongs righteously to a bank or a creditor.  Tomorrow I will pay off my 2010 Scion tC, which I bought in July 2010—my first new car.  That money can now be spent elsewhere, toward paying down my burdens.

Or, more likely, toward fixing the fucker.  An estimate handed down from a local mechanic calculates $440 for a busted water bump.  At least now, if I can’t pay it, they’ll come after me and not the bank for the lien.

The depression remains, albeit in moderation.  This past summer I am positive I received a bad batch of my antidepressant.  I was not myself.  I thought of suicide frequently.  I knew my brain chemicals were off.  A later batch evened me out, and I have been better.  The anxiety is far less than it used to be.  More often I get down in the dumps than anxious.  I spend more time alone.  My Achilles’ heel was hoping too much—setting my sights too high, setting myself up for disappointment.  I’m working on it.  I’m better at it, but that leaves, as the inverse, the notion that I don’t hope or care as much.  It’s a shitty place to be sometimes: in betwixt the death of hope and the futility of aspiration. 

I know nobody cares about things that I do.  I know my friends don’t yearn for the company the way I do.

So I remain silent, more isolated, more alone.  Doing things for myself and making plans for one.  It’s sometimes better that way.  I don’t care about disappointing anyone else, only myself.

I don’t believe in regrets per se, but I have a few.  Je Ne Regrette Rien.  Personally, I believe that every negative experiences teaches us something.  So while there might be a few things I’d do differently given the chance to do over again, I don’t “wish” to be back there in those younger years.  You couldn’t pay me enough money to be 18 or 24 again.  I like where I’m at…life really does get better after 30.  You know yourself better, you appreciate yourself more and have less patience for the moronicity of others. 

But…although I don’t believe in regrets, as I say, there are some things I’d do differently.  Or rather, that I still carry around as the yoke of guilt.

In 5th grade, back in 1988-1989, I remember once yelling at a girl named Michelle in gym class for some foolish reason.  She had hitherto been nothing but kind to me in school.  I lost my temper and screamed at her.  She said, “Well, soooooory,” and, to the best of my recollection, we never spoke again.  I wish I could apologize to her, although I’m sure she’d have no recollection whatsoever.  But I carry that with me.  It was uncalled for and unneeded.  And cruel.

In 1987 my mother took my neighbors and I to see the (horrible) Spielberg film Empire of the Sun.  For some immature reason I was furious that she brought alone the next-door neighbor girls, so much so that I refused to sit next to any of them, moving myself up five rows ahead of the pack.  When the film ended I excoriated my mother for wasting several hours of my time.  It was childish and stupid.  And she rightfully said, “You couldn’t even sit next to me.”  Mom and I have seen countless films in the intervening years, and yet still that experience haunts me.  I’m almost too embarrassed to bring it up with her.

The only other regret I can countenance is not going to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on The Last DJ tour.  Jim Ladd, he of the eponymous title and nightime jock at KLOS, had been playing the songs for weeks in the fall of 2002.  I loved it and wanted to go…but simply couldn’t spare the expense.  I was broke (duh) and had already purchased Stones tickets.  A few weeks later, while out jogging, Mr. Ladd broadcast live from the Wiltern as Petty and the boys played the album front to back followed by the classics.  Never so much in my life had I wanted so badly to be in a place I could only hear. 

I own the album, given for Christmas two months after the fact, and played it so often that I feared the laser would no longer read.  It became my favorite album of all time, and one that seemingly few else cared for or knew about.  I’ve seen Petty not less than four times now, and he has never once played a track from that album.  I wish I could have been there.  I wish I could have heard The Last DJ live. 

Regrets are nothing more than anger turned inward.  I harbor too much anger.  I wish for too much instead of accepting what is. 

We all have work to do.

I’ve done OK.  I’m getting better.  Women like me, yet more often than not I prefer to be alone.  Like now.

It’s 2:04 a.m. on September 25, 2014.  Today I am 36 years old. 

Today is another day.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

5 Things I Wish They’d Told Me Growing Up

Childhood is the infusion of lies into a gullible mind yet lacking in the capacity to discern reality.  No matter where you grew up or from what culture you hail, the bromides are typically the same:

Boogeyman and/or men reside under the bed.

Tooth fairies and bearded fat guys bring gifts like reverse-thieves in the night.

Fluffy went to “live on a farm.”

Everybody can be friends with everybody else.

You can do and be anything you want.

Those illusions get swept away early, much to no one’s real chagrin.  Of what I speak today are some of the larger lessons that I’ve culled over the past 14 years of my post-college life.  Hindsight being 20/20, it’s always easy to look back and say “what if?” but it’s ever more illuminating to look back and say “Why didn’t anyone tell me this?  Surely they knew it all along.” 

They probably never told me so that I could learn it for myself. 

Here are just a few, from the mundane to the sublime. 

1) Acne doesn’t magically go away when you turn 21 

And here I thought pimples and breakouts were nothing but adolescent scourges that would disperse the instant I could legally buy my first beer.  Little wonder considering that all sufferers on those commercials were teens seeking to “Oxycute” their zits into blackhead heaven.  

Nope, here I am in my mid-thirties, still battling the red and white blotches that creep up on my face, my back, my limbs with frustrating regularity.  Like irritating neighbor dogs or dates who never stop talking, the little mounds of irritated pussiness refuse to relent their campaign against the perfect skin I was promised awaited on the far end of voting age. 

I could have gone through two adolescences by now, but the result would be the same.

Plus, since I’m a dude, it’s not like I can just cover em up with makeup (I mean, unless I’m going to an ‘80s party dressed as Nikki Sixx). 

2) You will fall madly, stupidly, hopelessly, impossibly in love with someone who does not feel the same way about you 

If you’re one of the lucky few, you will experience this soul-crushing, humiliating, devastating death of hope only once.

If you’re unlucky like me, it happens not less than thrice. 

And if you’re Taylor Swift, you’ll make millions of dollars. 

3) 90 to 95 percent of everything you ever learn in school in useless 

Remember how your parents and teachers and church leaders and Bill Cosby drilled you constantly to stay in school, get good grades, blah blah blah?  While those goals are, in and of themselves, both valid and viable (especially for poorer communities, which I was fortunate not to grow up in), what nobody tells you is that you’ll spend the first 13 academic years of your life stuffing your head with facts, figures, dates and texts, most of which are, in the adult world, forgettable or unprofitable. 

To date, the two most valuable classes—as far as ROI goes—I have ever taken were Spanish and typing, both in 9th grade or earlier.  I got decent enough to type 80WPM and my Spanish is such that that were I to be airdropped into Central or South America, I’d probably do well enough to find my way to the embassy before being kidnapped.  I’ve worked in several restaurants and menial jobs over the years, where Spanish is as often the language behind the scenes as English.  I worked in a Pasadena restaurant where the pastry chef and I would talk not only to the support staff in Spanish but also as a windtalkers language to one another within earshot of management, who, though they spoke English and French and Armenian, could not speak Spanish.

I remember hating hating hating solving polynomial equations in Mrs. Patterson’s 8th grade math class.  I mastered the skill well enough to pass the tests and get a B (or, more likely, a C) but in my nearly 36 years of living on this planet, not once has Grand Master Nefarious come down from Planet Zutroid and thrown me into a maze of death that could only be escaped by successfully uncracking a polynomial phrase. 

I’m still waiting.  And if such ever comes to pass, I’m pretty much fucked, but I’ll surely die laughing.

Point being, the aim of young education is basically twofold—pass the tests, and get grades good enough to get into college.  Where yet more tests and more grades need to be passed to get into either another college or get onto the job market with a piece of paper. 

When I look back on my secondary and high school educations, I know that I had it damn good, and I truly appreciate it.  My aim here is not to discount the importance of education per se, but simply to point out that what is fed to us as “important” as children really isn’t.  What is important is that kids be given encouragement and options to increase their acumen outside of the “typical” realms of math, science and reading.  Many people just aren’t made for school or structures environment.  Many of us just need to find out our ways to chess club, drama, debate, our fellow nerds, etc. 

It’s a great thing to be educated and to increase your knowledge about the natural world.  But people who want to learn are going to learn.  Those who don’t won’t, no matter how many Scantron sheets you put in front of them.  Furthermore, “education” is a lifelong process that neither begins nor ends in the classroom.  I try to learn something new daily.

But there is a vast difference between being educated and being informed.  I personally define being “smart” as the total summation of your entire lexicon of knowledge—your so-called book smarts; I define “intelligence” as a person’s ability to use his or her accumulated wisdom to successfully navigate real-world problems and situations. 

Smart people can actually be amazingly unintelligent.

For instance, I dated a girl a decade ago whom I will call “Chary” (long, heartrending story).  Double major in computer science and pre-law.  Spoke several languages.  Could fix your computer like nobody’s business and was an expert on case law. 

But dumb as a fucking rock.  D-U-M-M (misspelling intentional).  The girl had absolutely no capacity to solve her way out of any problem that she couldn’t just throw money at (her family had some serious coinage).  Nor could she carry on any kind of intellectual conversation or engage in abstract concept construction or analysis in any way.  I remember she and I went to see Troy with Brad Pitt and afterwards we sat in the Jacuzzi at her apartment complex in Irvine, California, where I tried desperately to engage her in intercourse (no, not that kind—at least not at that moment) about the history and theory of warfare in the ancient world and how it had basically remained unchanged for millennia up until the 20th century, the film’s interpretation of such an ancient text as The Iliad, even the filmmaking process inherent onscreen. 

I got nothing.  Not even when I uttered that phrase men everywhere are loathe to ask their women: “What do you think?” 

It always bothered me in that relationship that we could never really discuss anything beyond surface level.  For shits and giggles (more shits than giggles), I Googled her a few years back to see that she’s doing well and is married.  She never had to work a day in her life, and no doubt is living well now.  “I’ve always had everything I’ve ever wanted,” the princess would say whenever I discussed the price of gas or the price of anything, for that matter.  I was then unemployed and struggling.  (Chary started a rather troubling pattern of mine to seemingly be drawn to spoiled rich women with little empathy for others.) 

In all of my dozens of job interviews over the years, no one has ever asked what my GPA was.  Nor even mentioned my degree, period.  Despite my attending a rather prestigious (to be read: expensive) private institution of higher learning, I cannot say that my degree ever got me anywhere in the job market.  In fact, I got hired for my first job in 2000 at a McGraw-Hill magazine because I tore apart some press releases my future boss had me edit with a red pen.  He was impressed that I’d been so “aggressive” in editing for readability.

I probably hadn’t diagrammed a sentence since grade school, nor edited anyone’s work but my own.  I’ve never taken a journalism class in my life, yet the lion’s share of my career has been in editing and writing.  I “trained” in fiction and poetry and filmmaking, so I basically entered a job for which I woefully unqualified and untrained.  Now my workdays are spent writing headlines—a skill for which I never trained but for the school of hard knocks and experience. 

Ask anyone if their degree comes to use in their professions.  Except for the rare specialists (scientists, engineers, medical professionals, lawyers), pretty much anyone with a liberal arts degree of any stripe brings home a paycheck in a business as far afield from their training as could be envisioned.  (See also: theater, philosophy.) 

The aphorism goes that you don’t go to college to learn, you go to college to learn how to drink.  I did no more or less than the next guy—though I’ve certainly made up for in adulthood.  But if I’d known…seriously known…that the job market was going to be so unsparing, I likely would have done things differently.

I don’t really believe in regrets.  I believe that any and all experience is instructive and to be learned from: Mistakes are more far more instructive than triumphs.  But if I seriously “had it to do all over again,” would I have allowed my 17-year-old self to go to college to train in film and TV and English? 

I came from a family where you went to college, you got a job and you bought a house within ten years.  To this day, my parents continue to marvel about how “your generation got screwed.”  I still do side work as a courier that my teen self could have done, and it pays about the same…and remains about as fulfilling.  Yet I’m thankful my parents believed in me and my artistic desires to be a writer and a filmmaker.  In fact, as I type this, a buddy and I are putting together a documentary film, and since I’m posting this blog…well, I’m writing, aren’t I?  :) 

But did I need a fancy degree and thousands of dollars of debt for such a privilege? 

About a year ago my younger brother and I had a late-night conversation over booze “and such.”  He’s a musician, a guitar teacher, and he has his own band.  He, my sister and myself were all privileged to attend expensive private universities to prepare us for careers.  Both he and I studied the arts.  So over stiff drinks, in the what-if-we-could-do-it-all-again arena, we more or less both came to the same conclusion:

We should have joined the Navy.  Put in our four years of service, gotten paid by Uncle Sam to travel the world and been trained in viable job skills.  Then gotten out, had the government pay for our educations, and then made “real” money by day while pursuing the dreams at night. 

There’s something to be said for stability.  Perhaps it makes you lazy, but there’s not much nobility in going hungry (he wrote over a sumptuous lunch of Ramen noodles). 

Selling out just means you can trade in for sushi.

As I say, I don’t believe in regrets, but it’s interesting using what I know now and applying it to what I might have done in another life.  Fact is, I didn’t have the confidence or the physicality at 17 to be in the service—even though they would have certainly provided both.  It’s ultimately existentially pointless to second-guess life, but my brother and I were only acknowledging, if but for ourselves, that if we’d known how it would be out there…maybe we would have chosen otherwise. 

But you can’t take what you know at 35 and cram it into a 17-year-old’s head.  He has to figure it out for himself. 

I tell my friends’ kids who are in high school that they should go to trade school, or do two years at a junior college.  Figure out what you want to do then, or at least start working on acquiring a viable job skill.  That’s not to say to forget the dream; nay, don’t ever forget the dream!  Just give yourself permission to develop a little bit of cynicism in conjunction with a bank account. 

You’ll thank yourself for it later. 

4) Your parents are just people

About two years ago I was hanging out with some buddies of mine in L.A.—a night of beer, LPs, smoking and conversation about all manner of topic.  One of my buds, Steve, and I grew up together in New Jersey, so we’ve each known the other’s family for decades.  Naturally the subject of blood relations and our aging parentals came up.  Steve was going into some anecdote relating to his mother when he said the following…in what I can only describe as one of those life-stopping instances:

“It’s a crazy moment when you come to the realization that your parents aren’t superhuman; they’re just people.” 

Little wonder that as kids our parents seem gigantic.  In addition to the plain fact that they, naturally, tower over us physically, they are also worldly.  In charge.  They know things we don’t and seem to be the gatekeepers of knowledge and the “secrets” that lie on the far side of that plateau to be breached only when you “grow up.” 

But then you get bigger and find out that the wisdom promised isn’t really like the opening of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders.  There’s no formal ceremony welcoming you to adulthood, no pamphlet handed out on your 18th birthday entitled “Here’s the Stuff Your Parents Knew But Kept From, and So You Can Now Hold Back From Others.” 

Becoming an adult basically comes with the crushing existential discovery that there is no secret font of knowledge nor book of shadows into which one’s name is written upon maturity that our parents were privy to.  Rather, it’s get a job, pay bills, try to be a good and decent citizen, maybe marry and raise a family of your own and live as well and as long as you can. 

You essentially become what they once are or were.


We all take issue with the ways were raised.  The Ex, for all of her flaws, said something similarly profound about parenting: “They did they best they knew how to do.” 

That’s really all anyone can ask.  Try hard to get the little buggers from infancy to self-sustainability.  That’s not to say the “job” ever ends, because you’ll never stop being your parents’ child. 

Roger Ebert once wrote that a time comes in your life when your parents must relate to you as an adult—as an equal—or not at all.  I don’t even pretend to know what that would even look like as my folks still relate to me like I don’t know any better.  They mean well, of course.  No matter how old you get, you’re still treated like you’re about 10.  It’s what parents do.  Even into your adulthood. 

It’s a disinclination to relinquish a control and power they’ve had over you since infancy, when all life and all destiny rested within their hands.  Admitting to one’s child’s adulthood is the same as admitting that time is having its inevitable way.  A last-ditch pitched battle against the fading of the light. 

“Make sure you call if you’re going to be out late.”

When I lived at home a few years back, I fought the inquiries the best way I knew how: with ludicrous answers.

“Who are going to meet?  Do these people have names?”
“Oddly enough, they don’t.  It’s really weird.  I can them One, Z and Hey You.”

“Where are you going?”
“Pick up the hookers and drop off the drugs.”

“When do you think you’ll be back?”
“Sometime in 2018.  Don’t wait up.” 

Most parents are good people.  I believe in my heart that nearly all of them mean well.  But they possess no superpowers.  They’re flawed and frail, just like the rest of us.  Raising the next generations of uncertain and precious continuants of the species.

We do the best that we can.

5) Dating is often a better way to make friends than to find a mate

Dating fucking sucks.

In your teens and twenties, sex is almost everything—the end all and be all. 

In your thirties, it’s just another way of saying “hi.” 

When you’re younger, the “typical” courting pattern is you’ll meet someone, go out on a few dates, get it on, and then either start becoming more serious or not.  In your thirties, it’s the exact opposite: Sex comes first, and then maybe you’ll figure out if you actually like one another enough to tolerate the person’s non-drunk daytime conversation.  (As I get older, I find that most of the time, I prefer the silence and the solitude.) 

No one told me that’s what dating was going to be like.  Nor how awful it is “out there.”  How much sadness and brokenness exists amongst those who have crossed my path.  How that nearly four decades of singlehood—and one extremely tumultuous long-term relationship—might actually make me more disinclined towards an eventual partnership.

Nor was I AT ALL prepared for the fact that dating scenarios might actually be the road to making some of the best friends I’ve ever had. 

Here’s something else they never told us: A true friendship between a man and a woman cannot be equitable and trusting until any sexual tension has first been acknowledged, discussed and addressed.  Then—and only then—can undeniable confidence in the relationship (small “r”) blossom.  If it’s really there—and ESPECIALLY if it’s felt by one party and not the other—mature adults will find a way to either deal with it in a healthy way or move on to other platonic relationships unencumbered by such tension. 

(Or you can like I did and hold it in, lie about it, and then have it come out in a destructive way.  But thankfully, I learned from that one, but I was as naked and broken in that moment as is possible for someone to be.)

I hate those movies where the two long-suffering “best friends” eventually realize they are perfect for one another 90 minutes from now (although When Harry Met Sally... is an absolute gem).  While I’ll acknowledge that this can and does happen, what’s far more common is the path from romantic to platonic than the other way around (alcohol notwithstanding). 

One of my best friends I met through a dating website a few years ago.  Neither of us were at a place in our lives where we wanted anything serious.  So she gave me only one caveat: “Whatever you do, please don’t ever lie to me.”  In the early months, I was unfortunately not able to be as truthful with her as she asked (often about my other dating activities), and she rightfully called me on it.  But, as time went on, though we realized we were not meant to be a couple, we found that we seriously, seriously enjoyed the other’s company.  There germinated an understood, implicit trust.  She’s someone I now call a friend—a best friend.

Not only that, but she’s someone I can go to for advice about other women since she knows my habits (good and bad) and what it’s like to date me.  Because I did A with her, maybe I should try B this time.  She won’t sugarcoat, and often says, “Oh, honey, you can do better.” 

I’ve made other friends in the dating realm as well.  Alcohol and chemistry made the initial days what they were, but things then either fizzle or die or change. 

Or you become friends.  Which is actually often better sometimes than having a partner.  I’ve been “single” now for nearly six years (though anyone who knows me even passingly is aware of how I use that particular loaded term), and I find it more fun to collect friends than to find a mate.  Frankly, I’m tired.  And at this juncture, I’m enjoying my time alone too much.  I still date, I have adventures, but there’s nothing like the hours I spend punching away at my keyboard while downing some bourbon. 

No music.  No TV. 

No talking.

Silence and my thoughts.  And the unencumbered race of the cursor across my laptop screen. 

And one final thing they never told me:

Silence is more than golden; it’s precious.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Sea of C-Level Steven Seagal (part 2 of 2)

Welcome back to our second part of the Steven Seagal email takedown. In case you weren’t here for part 1 this whole business started over an email my buddy Chris sent to myself, Craig and Steve about a Seagal “retrospective.” That initial message led to a rather lengthy and hilarious back and forth between the four of us on what precisely constituted “legit” Seagal cinema. The exchange went on for quite some time—so long, in fact, that I had to break up the publication of same into two posts to avoid audience fatigue.

So after Steve, Chris and I basically schooled Craig on the best Seagal flicks, the conversation continued herein as Chris went out and bought some old-school Seagal Blu-rays and proceeded to introduce his girlfriend to those gems of early-90s cinema. (Poor Craig was a good sport about being jibed.)

Here, now, is the continuation of that chain:

From: Chris
To: Eric, Steve, Craig
Fri, Jun 20, 2014 10:08 AM

While Craig was forcing his fiancee to watch "Loves of a Blonde" my girlfriend and I were watching "Above the Law."

My quick review... unbiased from all previous email threads... and also I don't remember this one that well... since if I saw it it was 20 years ago at 1am at Eric's house on VHS on a 15inch TV with bad picture.

First of all, the BluRay looks great. The picture quality is outstanding. It looks like a new movie. The set up is great... there's a background about aikido with some great real pictures of Seagal training in Japan. Then the opening that sets him up as an ex-CIA guy before becoming a Chicago cop is legit. Then it falls into a pretty conventional, but well crafted cop movie. What makes it stand out from your average cop movie is.... you guessed it... Steven FUCKING Seagal. He beats the shit out of a lot of dudes in a way (bone-breaking aikido) that you've never seen before. His moves are legit and you buy it when this lanky dude beats the shit out of giant dudes. It's obvious why this movie launched his career and eventually led to the big budget Seagal movies... he just has a screen presences and a unique brand of action.

The Andrew Davis direction (Under Siege, The Fugitive) gives the movie a grounded reality and holds it from straying into over-the-top or ridiculous. And since it's the first Seagal movie it doesn't have to top a previous one.

All-in-all a solid movie. [Girlfriend] and I both enjoyed it. Also... last words... the Chicago setting works great as a backdrop. All the random bit part actors talk like the Superfans from SNL... and that really helps give it the movie some color and make it work on the legit filmmaking (not so bad it's good) level.

From Steve:
Sat, Jun 21, 2014 03:26 PM

They only get better.

And then they get worse. Way worse.

From Chris:
Wed, Jun 25, 2014 09:56 AM

Hey Guys,

"Hard to Kill" is not on Netflix, so I had to skip to "Marked for Death." It's a super entertaining tight action pic at 90 minutes. One of the best villains you can imagine. A really smart story direction that I don't want to reveal... since Craigy hasn't seen it.

It's got some solid bone-breaking action... a cool chase sequence... and a high action-to-plot ratio. Plus the longer ponytail looks better on Steven than the short one he wore in "Above the Law."

All that being said... "Above the Law" works better as a "real" movie." The character actors coloring in the Chicago setting and the Andrew Davis direction makes that one a grounded cop movie. This one... yeah... over-the-fucking-top. But super fun! So I guess it depends on your preference or what type of movie you're in the mood for. And it's really easy to see how his movies progress... getting move violent and over-the-top as they go on... then he reaches his personal best (like a long distance runner) with "Under Siege" that hits on all levels... action... one liners... hot chick... solid supporting cast with Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones. Then it's all shite from there.


P.S. Craig - have you even seen Under Siege? Tommy Lee Jones should've got an Oscar for that one!!

From EFA:
Wed, Jun 25, 2014 01:45 PM

Tommy Lee Jones' supremely awesome line in Under Siege:
"My, my, my, how hell doth quicken the spirit!"

I thought it was Shakespeare or something, but all of my research points to it being nothing but a quote from that flick. I can't help but wonder if it was in the script or if TLJ spontaneously came up with it on his own.

Either way, it's a bitchin' line!

Mon, Jun 30, 2014 09:49 AM
RE: Out for Justice

Awesome. The most violent of the three I've watched. (Hard to Kill is hard to find on DVD... may require an Amazon purchase.) Although light on plot... it may actually be the best of the three I've watched. Once I find a copy of Hard to Kill I'll send my Seagal Top 5...

William Forsythe is great villain. The Brooklyn setting adds a lot of character... like Chicago did for Above the Law. But this one has something special... it was made by the masterful hands of John Flynn (Rolling Thunder.) There are moments of violence in this movie that just make you smile...

From Eric:
Mon, Jun 30, 2014 02:59 PM

I still prefer Hard to Kill as the "quintessential" Seagal flick. It's been years since I last saw OFJ but I'll give it a spin again.

From Steve:
Mon, Jun 30, 2014 03:06 PM

i'm most familiar with Hard To Kill since it's ramdomly on TV more often and would be hard pressed to name an actual fave between that, Marked for Death and Justice. They all have their strong suits.

EFA here: While I was raised a Catholic, my buddy Craig takes Catholicism and moviewatching to a whole other level. Unsurprisingly, he is a huge fan of Bergman and basically any film that dares to broach the theological question of man’s relationship to the divine. Through that prism he often colors his view on a film’s individual value—it’s what he uniquely brings to his own viewing experience, which makes it that much richer for him and for us as his friends. Hence why Chris and I started pointing out the overly overt Catholic symbolism of Seagal’s early work, wherein he is at once a Charlie Churchgoer and a badass motherfucker who breaks mofos’ limbs six ways from Sunday mass.

Mon, Jun 30, 2014 03:11 PM

I strongly suggest everyone revisit "Out for Justice." There are a few moments... one in particular that are so brutally violent... yet so enjoyable...The dad story is amazing!!!

By the way... Craig would really like all these films. He's super catholic in Above the Law & Out for Justice. [He] takes confession... does the sign of the cross a few times. Above the Law has that bomb in the church bit. Don't think On Deadly Ground has any Catholic iconography... just some weird Inuit vision quest stuff...

From Eric:
Mon, Jun 30, 2014 03:33 PM

Marked for Death also has the confession scene within the first 15 minutes!!! [LINK] Seagal is undercover and wastes a bunch of mofos, but then a prostitute shoots his partner and Stevie, not realizing the assassin was in fact a woman, shoots her several times through a wall. The revelation that he iced someone with a vagina sends him into guilt and despair...and straight into the confessional booth.

Craig, seriously, get on this!

Mon, Jun 30, 2014 03:44 PM

Seagal don't do drugs. Seagal don't like dudes that beat up on woman. And Seagal... don't believe in the American justice system. If you're guilty... you're not going to get arrested... you're going to get dead!

Mon, Jun 30, 2014 03:45 PM


Wed, Jul 02, 2014 12:01 AM

Almost spent $12 for Hard to Kill on BluRay. Got this instead.  $4 for 4 Seagal flicks. Best 4 bucks you can spend. That's only $2 per-watchable one.

Sent from my iPhone

From EFA:
Wed, Jul 02, 2014 03:43 PM

You can give Craig your copy of On Deadly Ground.

From Chris:
Wed, Jul 02, 2014 04:02 PM

Or snap it in half!

EFA again: In my daytime capacity as an editor with The Washington Times, I recently came upon a story about our pal Seagal getting uninvited from a folk festival in Estonia (????) due to his outspoken support for one Vladimir Pou-tine.

You just can’t make this shit up. (Well, some have accused my employers of making shit up, but that’s another story.)

Also, I included our buddy Sam in this exchange. He also grew up with me and Steve and Chris and spent many a weekend night watching action movies and playing classic 8-bit Nintendo all night long.

My last word: Steve chimes in and once again and provides the gold. I’m lucky to have such funny and intelligent friends about!

From Eric:
To: Craig, Chris, Steve & Sam
RE: Steven Seagal was kicked out of...Estonia????

Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 3:48 PM

From: Sam
To: Eric, Steve, Chris, Craig
Mon, Jul 21, 2014 01:28 PM

a dickhead to the last.

still loved him in "Attack Force" tho

From Steve
Mon, Jul 21, 2014 02:09 PM

I don't know where to start with this.

Ok, maybe I do. Let's just pretend that you're an Estonian blues musician, and you're excited to go play at an Estonian Blues Festival. Pretty cool, huh?

Now imagine that they've booked bloated, has-been Hollywood performer Steven Seagal to be the headliner and that you're essentially opening up for this asshole. Politics aside, I'd be pretty pissed.

Now imagine that he's saying Putin, Estonia's biggest threat to national sovereignty and strong contender for world's biggest piece-of-shit, is one pretty cool dude.

I guess I'd call for some sort of boycott too.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Sea of C-Level Steven Seagal (part 1 of 2)

Oh, Steven Seagal. Actor. Martial artist. Self-described national hero and self-styled lawman.

Also asshole. Respondent in sexual harassment lawsuits. Terrible actor. And entertainer of a great many moments in the young lives of my buddies and me.

By no means is he either a cinematic gem nor a national treasure. But dude made some pretty awesome late-80s/early-90s entries into the action/martial arts genre. Not only that, but prior to his appearance on the scene, no other martial arts movie actor (to my knowledge) was a real-life practitioner of aikido, the Japanese martial artform that depends upon redirecting and diverting an opponent’s energy away from the assaulted so as to put the attacker both off-balance and, eventually, defeated. Not only is it incredibly effective in the hands of the right user, it looks GREAT on-camera, especially when performed by a seventh-degree black belt in his physical prime jousting with trained stuntmen to create some of the most realistic, joint-busting and limb-crunching fight scenes this side of the Pacific. Like this one.

Not only does staged aikido look cool, it’s also incredibly graceful as a combat style. Unlike karate and artforms practiced by the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, aikido is fluid and relies upon using an enemy’s own energy against him rather than meeting it with superior force. I’ve studied martial arts for over 25 years, but I would NEVER want to get in a fight with Seagal.

Seagal, a rather unlikely movie star, happened to come on the scene at a rather propitious time for both martial arts in popular culture and action movies—and the marriage of the two. He was helped along not only by his undoubted ass-whomping skills and unconventional looks, but by a certain charm and a definite I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, which included his fashioning his own narrative about being a former CIA agent —an assertion that was both debunked and borrowed from his first film, Above the Law.

As mentioned, I’ve been a karateka for the better part of my life, inspired initially by—and I’m totally serious here—The Karate Kid movies. My late Isshinryu Karate sensei turned us on to Seagal and Van Damme not because they were “good” films but because they demonstrated badass martial arts styles that were both foreign to my studies and superior to my own abilities. It gave me something to shoot for: One day I’ll be a martial arts actor/director too!

Alas, life has gone another way. As it has for the martial arts/action genre, which was largely a phenomenon of its time, as were “serious” action movies in general (Lethal Weapon, Predator, etc.). It holds a special place in my moviegoing psyche and history, as it does for my buddies, who were there with me in those crucial preteen and teen years.

It’s sometimes fun to go back and revisit the “classics,” not necessarily because they’re examples of quality cinema but because they represent a time in our lives that was simpler, freer, younger and uncomplicated.

Before jobs.

Before girls.

Before women.

Before life!

As strange as this may sound, there actually is a certain hierarchy of “good” Seagal movies versus the shit that came later. To explain, as far as entertaining examples of the genre, Seagal had four early films (Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death and Out for Justice) that were both fun and “quality” examples of martial arts/action cinema. Not too ridiculous and not too self-knowing, and flirting (barely) with legitimacy. Seagal’s career as a “legit” actor peaked with Under Siege in 1992, which was basically Die Hard on a battleship—and arguably the best of the Die Hard clone mini-genre.

Thereafter, it was pretty much over. His career descended into lame-o retreads of past formula, complicated by the fact that Seagal was putting on more and more weight and getting sloppier in his choreographed fights, which relied ever more heavily on stuntmen and fast editing versus the slick fight dance of the early films. As with Van Damme, Seagal stalemated not only with age and declining, increasingly self-aware product, but also with an audience that had grown more sophisticated and sought out protagonists who were morally ambiguous operating in a grayer world than that inherent in the traditional good-versus-bad paradigm that goes all the way back to John Wayne.

Enter the conversation that I am about to elucidate. A few weeks back one of my buddies from those glory days, Chris, sent to his brother Steve, myself and our friend Craig an invitation to attend a Seagal retrospective being held at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Ave. in L.A. Alas, despite returning to the Left Coast several times per annum, I haven’t lived in L.A. full-time in almost three years; Chris was busy that day; Steve had other plans; and Craig, well…see below.

Here’s just a little bit about the participants:

Chris and Steve: Long-standing buddies of mine from my hometown in New Jersey, with whom I grew up. We used to hang out at their mother’s house in Flemington more or less every weekend between 9th and 12th grades and watch action movies and make our own sketch comedy “show” with various family camcorders. Their tastes tend to be similar to mine as far as the action/martial arts genre goes and legit cinema both. They too once studied karate.

Craig: A native Southern California whom Steve met in film classes at USC. Fiercely loyal to whatever cause he chooses and to his friends. This can sometimes be to his own detriment as Craig can be a bit like a pit bull: Once he bites down, he refuses to give ground, even when his defensive propositions have been soundly debunked—as we shall see. His movie tastes tend to veer more toward arty European fare, i.e., he’d rather take in a Fellini or Bergman film on a Friday night versus a Bruce Willis low-budg actioner. Which is fine, but the latter is far more fun with company; there’s a time and place for “serious” film fare, but not with your buddies (usually).

What follows now is Chris’s initial email informing us of the event, followed thereafter by my reaction to the event—excitement tempered with regret—and the snowball that began from there.

I’ll be back with editorializing as we go along (seen in bold and prefaced by my initials).

From: Chris
To: Eric, Steve, Craig
Tue, Jun 10, 2014 04:36 PM

Heavy Midnites Presents:
SEAGALOGY: A Steven Seagal Marathon
(co-hosted by Vern!)
Saturday, June 14th | 5pm

Co-presented by AIN'T IT COOL NEWS

ORDER OF FILMS (start times VERY approximate):
1) Hard To Kill - approx. 5:15pm
2) Under Siege 2: Dark Territory - approx. 7:30pm
3) Out For Justice - approx. 10:00pm
4) On Deadly Ground - approx. midnight

Steven Seagal: aikido instructor, environmental activist and movie star. He writes, directs, plays blues guitar, creates energy drinks and is a reserve deputy sheriff. He might be an authority on antique samurai swords, and may have even killed for the CIA. For three decades he's left an indelible and deeply personal mark on action cinema, igniting screens with his unique blend of machismo and mysticism. And now, those fist-pumping hits are coming to Cinefamily for a take-no-prisoners, one-day-only 35mm blowout!

But that's not all: we're flying in cinematic outlaw/bestselling author/legendary film scholar Vern (the man who literally wrote the book on Seagalogy) for his FIRST-EVER public appearance to help better explain the man, the myth and the magic behind your favorite dealer of swift, lethal moves. Plus we'll have special guests, vintage trailers and more fun 'n games than should legally be allowed, all to celebrate Heavy Midnites' 2nd anniversary!

Tickets - $20/$10 for members

From: Eric
To: Chris, Steve, Craig
On Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 4:40 PM,<> wrote:

Dudes, I so wish we could go to this together, if only for irony's sake.

That said, I think the actual lineup is a bit weak and seems to have been programmed solely based on who from the industry they could get to show up.

I mean, c'mon, the EDITOR of Out for Justice?????

They should have just done the "best" of Seagal marathon and called it a day:

Above the Law
Hard to Kill
Marked for Death
Out for Justice
Under Siege

Nothing post-1992.

Tue, Jun 10, 2014 07:05 PM

Hard to Kill and Out For Justice are both solid B-pluses, maybe even A-minuses.

Out For Justice has the fight in the pool hall, maybe the quintessential Seagal set action piece. Plus there's the subplot with the abandoned dog and the awesome scene where he tells the story about the old man who used to walk around the neighborhood sharpening knives and scissors for five, ten cents a piece and how at some point times change and people don't need the knife sharpener man anymore and his ex-wife realizes that he's talking about his father.

In Hard to Kill he trains on that wooden plank and woos Kelly LeBrock. Plus he tells that Senator he's gonna take him to the bank. THE BLOOD BANK!!!!

But On Deadly Ground and Under Siege 2 both suck.

And how they can have a Seagal Film Festival without Marked For Death is incomprehensible.

On Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 4:48 PM, Chris wrote:

True that! To use an 90's expression. On Deadly Ground sucks... and not in a good way.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 12:08 AM

I'm bummed I'm going to miss this night. It sounds like a lot of fun. And I need to see these movies. My Dad is probably frustrated in the great beyond that his son still hasn't seen HARD TO KILL and MARKED FOR DEATH. I have to rectify that pronto. Maybe we'll show those movies at the wedding.
. .

But you guys kill me. ON DEADLY GROUND is jaw droppingly bad. But it is also jaw droppingly brilliant. I laughed my ass off.

I know I'm not going to convince you fellas with your strange New Jersey laws about what constitutes legit and not legit.

But ON DEADLY GROUND is legit "so bad it's good".

Go back and read the Cinefamily write up. Cinefamily calls it the best
one. Even the dude who wrote the autobiography on Seagal calls it the
most defining Seagal moment.

SOUTH PARK referenced it in a classic episode. Why? Because at least a
certain number of people would get the reference. Why? Because people who know brilliant so bad they're good movies know ON DEADLY GROUND.

Barry and I watched that thing, jaws on the floor, after midnight. Oh. . .I'm feeling happy just remembering it now. . .the vision quest. . . Michael Caine making some crazy reference to Vietnamese hookers as an oil rig blows up. . .the FULL METAL JACKET guy appearing in the middle of the movie. . .

Let me just leave it at this. . .in being so rigid about ON DEADLY GROUND you guys are denying yourselves a really good time. Don't take my word for it. Ask Kenney. Ask someone you trust who loves movies of all stripes.

ON DEADLY GROUND is classic gold. And you can take that all the way to the Blood Bank.

EFA HERE: Gauntlet officially thrown. It’s important to note that Craig has only ever seen On Deadly Ground, Seagal’s solitary directorial effort, and not the early classics. This does not sit well with the three of us, but to each their own opinion.


Wed, Jun 11, 2014 07:03 AM

Says the man who had never seen a Seagal movie before...

I like early low-budget ones. The later bad are just bad. Next you're be recommending The Glimmer Man.

Sent from my iPhone

EFA again: OK, here’s where it starts to get crazy. Steve tends to take movie discussions VERY personally. When he doesn’t like something, he is like a rhino in a china shop and refuses to back down until all know he has traipsed upon and destroyed—quite often to the enjoyment of all around. (To wit, when we commiserated following the opening of the execrable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steve carried on as follows: “In Raiders, you like that monkey, but they had the courage to kill that monkey! Whereas in this piece of shit Shia LaBouf is swinging around on vines with CGI monkeys?!”)

I don’t want to oversell it. Just read on.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 10:24 AM

Craig. Please don't reference Hard To Kill. Quite frankly, you haven't earned the right.

And Craig, you know I love you, but with all due respect, you, Barry, the Cinephile Family, and the douche who wrote that book need to pull your collective heads out of your asses.

Anyone who knows Seagal movies will tell you that Marked For Death is where it's at, followed by Out For Justice and Hard To Kill. On Deadly Ground may be the last watchable one, before he got too fat to do his own moves, but it's so far down the list that it shouldn't really be mentioned.

Now I know you and Barry's jaws dropped when you saw it, and it was a fun and successful Movie Club Night, but that's kind of like someone telling you they just saw Rumble In the Bronx and it blew their mind because they had never seen fights and stunts like that and it's also funny and then there's this gag reel at the end, and you're thinking, "yeah, I get it, if you've never seen a Jackie Chan movie before I guess you would be blown away, but I've seen Drunken Master 2 and Project A so forgive me if I wasn't blown away by Rumble in the Bronx." It's like someone telling you Donnie Brasco is the best gangster movie ever made and then finding out they've never seen Goodfellas or The Godfather. It's like the other day when [Girlfriend] and I watched Moonrise Kingdom and she was impressed by the look/costumes/music/editing/etc. and I was like, yeah, I've seen it all before, but I can see why you were so taken by it.

It's like if one of your friends was having a Charles Bronson movie night and they were showing Murphy's Law and Mr. Majestik, but not Death Wish 3 or even 10 to Midnight or Chato's Land.

You're right about one thing: On Deadly Ground is jaw-droppingly bad. But it is not jaw-droppingly brilliant. I get it, there's the scene in the beginning where he beats up the oil worker who's making fun of the Eskimo (or is it Alaskan Inuit, I'm not sure about the correct nomenclature), who then says he needs time to change, and then there's the weird vision quest scenes, but there's nothing in that movie that compares to the pool hall scene in Out For Justice, or anything in Marked For Death.

It's not a weird New Jersey thing. You say ask Kenny? I don't need to. I showed him the line up when I found out about it last. He's not interested. Not with that line-up, and that's specifically because of On Deadly Ground. He can't stand it. Recently he went on an internet date with a girl who was obsessed with Steven Seagal movies. He asked her which was her favorite and she said, "That's easy. It's gotta be Marked For Death." (I'm not making that up.)

I could ask my uncle, who loves old Seagal movies, but I know what he's gonna say. He probably can't remember which movies are which and what scenes are in which movies, since they can run together, but I know he'd talk about scenes from Out For Justice, and maybe the deli fight scene in Above the Law, but I know if I asked him about On Deadly Ground, he would say, "which one's that? the one on the oil rig, yeah that one sucked."

But what about the Cinefamily? Surely their tastes in the so-bad-it's-good world are unparalleled, right? Well by calling it the most Seagal-movie of them all, it shows that they haven't done their due diligence either. Maybe while we were spending our teenage summers watching Seagal movies and other bad 80's and 90's martial arts taped off HBO, they were watching 70's underground, avant-garde cult classics (not that there's anything wrong with that, it just doesn't make them experts). I'm not going to tell them which is the best Jodorowsky movie, since I've only seen one, but I'll thank them kindly not to try to tell me which is the best Steven Seagal movie, because I've seen them all (or at least every one until about 1999/2000, after which they don't count as he's barely in them).

I mean, they're right about one thing. It is the most stupefying Seagal movie (you might even go so far as to say the most Jodorowsky-esque Seagal movie) so maybe it fits better in their wheelhouse and in their audience's wheelhouse. But taking stupefying Seagal over legit badass Seagal is like someone telling you that Hudson Hawk is a better Bruce Willis movie than Die Hard because Hudson Hawk is do mind-numbingly bad. Your response would be, "that's just stupid."

What about the guy who wrote the book? I don't know anything about him except that he goes by a one-word name and used to write for Ain't It Cool news, which to be honest doesn't hold any water in my book. My guess is he saw some sort of cache value in writing a wink-wink-nudge-nudge anthology of Seagal movies, but that he's not a bona-fide fan. My proof? Simply that he calls On Deadly Ground Seagal's defining moment. That gives away his true colors. Any real fan would disagree. He's simply in this for the hipster value.

Look, you guys can like what you like. And Cinefamily can put on a "Steven Seagal marathon" that chooses On Deadly Ground over Marked For Death. But it won't be aimed at true Seagal fans, fans who grew up watching him crush limbs and break faces. It will be a hipsters entree into the world of Steven Seagal. And I guess that's why I'm so peeved about the whole thing. They can have Chuck Norris. His movies mostly suck anyway, but now they're trying to claim Steven too.

And that just sucks.

From Steve:
Wed, Jun 11, 2014 10:33 AM

Also, I happen to have Kenny right here.

So, so, so he says:

"I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole phalacy is wrong. How you came to give opinions on Steven Seagal is perfectly amazing."

On Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 10:53 AM, Eric F Althoff <> wrote:

Craig you know we love you but On Deadly Ground just doesn't work despite the oil painting. I guess it helps if you go back in time to 1992 and watch those early seagal flicks with us in New Jersey, at which point you'd understand why ODG was such a letdown. It has a few good moments but it's past the era of classic Seagal.

And I might add he hasn't directed a film


Sent from EFA's mind

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 11:21 AM

I suggest we settle this debate with a movie marathon. The first four films... Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death and Out for Justice. I think we should all be able to agree that Under Siege (a lot because of Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey) is legit. And we already watched On Deadly Ground together.

I'd like to add one thing to what Steve and Eric said.

I just recall tremendous, tremendous disappointment when going to see On Deadly Ground as a teenager. Here's why... the first four movies we watched on VHS with Eric. Did they come out in theaters? Maybe... but not in a theater near us... or we were too young. Then he makes a legit movie that actually played in normal theaters with a decent director/budget/cast. And that movie is a hit! Puts his name on the map. He could do anything after Under Siege. Anything!! So what does he do? He decides to direct his next one himself and include a bullshit environmental message. And the way I recall it... he was already getting a little fat so it was also lacking the bad-ass action of the previous movies.

What little camp value that it had when we watched it at Movie Club did not make up for my teenage disappointment. It was like going to see the Crow 2. But worse.

Okay... maybe not worse than the Crow 2.


EFA here: For some background, On Deadly Ground opened in early 1994, during one of the absolute worst winters on record. We used up so many damn snow days that year that we finally got out for the year like the absolutely end of June! The roads had just cleared enough for us to drive to Somerville, New Jersey, to see On Deadly Ground, so my mom drove me to Chris and Steve’s place. Their driveway so still snowed under that they had to trudge through a foot of snow across their yard to my mother’s Toyota 4-Runner. We got to the theater—young, hopeful, high on previous Seagal movies—only to be crushed.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 11:22 AM

Please see these two best of Seagal lists randomly culled from the interwebs:

EFA here: Chris contacted me separately to suggest the following:

On Wed, June 11, 2014 1:43 pm, Chris wrote:
Also... regarding the original event... I figured they scheduled Under Siege 2 so you could have an excuse to duck out in the middle to grab beers and bone up.

And they scheduled On Deadly Ground so you won't feel guilty about leaving early to grab beers and bone up.

Back to the group email, wherein Craig attempts AGAIN to defend his defense of On Deadly Ground…and once again falls victim to Steve’s diatribes. (As you’ll notice, Craig almost certainly sticks to his guns strictly to raise Steve’s ire—which worked precisely as I suspect he intended.)

On Jun 11, 2014, at 6:27 PM, Craig wrote:

Okay Bros. I have read all the emails and I have learned one thing:

If ever I need to somehow help you find the fire you once had (or divert you for 30 minutes while I rob your homes), I will make a comment about Steven Seagal.

Steve, your response needs to go in the New Yorker. It's an instant classic.

Let Kenny know I'm sorry I asked him to back me up. I thought he
was cool. I won't make that mistake again.

Eric and Chris, your passion is inspiring.

But I feel like you three may be like Frenchie at the beginning of ON
DEADLY GROUND when Seagal asks him "What does it take to change the
essence of a man?" And Frenchie, bloodied from the hand slap game, says "I need time."

I feel you may need time.

My argument was and still is that ON DEADLY GROUND is a "so bad its
amazing" experience that taken on its own, it is a singular and
(supremely) enjoyable experience.

Here is my one link proof:

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 06:54 PM

Out of protest I will not be watching that clip. I agree with NewYorker (or LA Weekly) submission.

Someone should make cash off this writing.

Sent from my iPhone

EFA here: Chris’s response about “making cash” partly inspired this blog. Now, on to Steve’s response to Craig’s response to Steve’s response to Craig’s initial response, wherein he actually makes analogues between watching Seagal movies and gang turf wars. I shit ye not.

On Jun 12, 2014, at 12:28 AM, Steve wrote:

Time to change, Craig?? We've had twenty fucking years!! And guess what. It ain't no better now than when we went saw it in the theater in [1994].

And you can take that to the bank. THE BLOOD BANK!!

(See, I get to say that, having seen the movie probably a half dozen times.)

Craig, with all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about.

Now mind you, I said all due respect, but if you persist on going down this road, talking about which Seagal movie is the best after having only seen one film, then the next time no respect will be given because none will be due. It's like you're some 1970s New York gang member and you're lost and you need to get back to your home turf, but between here and there is our turf. Now we're a pretty heavy crew, but we're willing to let you take a shortcut through our turf, but only if you show us some respect. And right now you ain't showing any fucking respect.

>Let Kenny know I'm sorry I asked him to back me up. I thought he was cool. I won't make that mistake >again.

Are you fucking kidding me?? He's not Freddo and you ain't Michael Corleone here. He's the fucking Godfather of Seagal-ism and you're the mortician who went to him expecting a favor. Only you didn't do it with respect, you didn't offer friendship, or even call him Godfather. And it ain't the fucking day of his fucking daughter's wedding!! It was a foolish bet, Craig, like when Ellis does too many lines of coke and thinks he can negotiate with Hansey-baby. Hey, business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen, what's the difference? Well there's a big fucking difference, and you're damn right you won't make that mistake again. Cause Ellis is fucking dead!! 

Now I watched your link. I am unfazed. Six and a half minutes of shitty filmmaking culled from a roughly two hour movie? That's child's play. You want six and a half minutes of Seagal?? Well here it is. One scene. In its entirety. From one movie. Not four or five seconds at a time stitched together into some sort of Fool's Gold.

Anybody seen a real Seagal move, huh? I'm gonna keep coming back until somebody remembers.

On Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 7:58 AM, Chris wrote:

That clip was awesome! I'll be revisiting these films for sure.

I watched the On Deadly Ground clip. I'll say this... I could see why one could like it if you had never seen an Seagal movie before. It's got a couple good fights and stuff. But it's cheesy. The early Seagal movies are good in a non-cheesy way. And more percentage of fights.

Also. I think Craig is just arguing for the sake of arguing. He knows he's been beat. But he likes the responses.

Or if he doesn't know he's been beat... then he's an asshole. Because the answer to the argument takes under 2 hours. Just time to screen 1 flick.

Out for Justice anyone? Or Marked for Death? I can host the second half of this showdown...

Sent from my iPhone

EFA: At this point Steve leaves behind the gang turf metaphor in favor of taking up the mantle of food analogies to describe Craig’s lack of taste in Seagal-ism (no pun intended). The results are hilarious.

On Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM, Steve wrote:

Look, I get it. And I get why they're playing it at the Silent Movie Theater. If your normal diet consisted of Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, International Documentaries, Underground Cult Animation, and Lost Gems of the French New Wave, (not that there's anything wrong with that), then if you were to try to ease your way into the world of Steven Seagal movies, maybe On Deadly Ground would be a good choice. A little of the familiar with a little of the unfamiliar. I mean, you wouldn't want to push it, right?? Marked For Death just might be too much of a shock to the system. It'd be like a vegetarian contemplating eating meat again and going right out and wolfing down a double bacon chili cheeseburger. You gotta ease your way into that shit with some fish or chicken before tackling that kind of red meat overload with your carnivore friends. Otherwise you'll get sick.

Thu, Jun 12, 2014 11:48 AM

Just remember we're dealing with the same a-hole who will write down Braveheart in his notebook 15 times before sitting down to watch it... even though it won a ton of rewards and is gloriously violent. No time for Braveheart because he's gotta watch Loves of Blonde for the 18th time.

Hey... Craig... I'm gonna tell my kids to skip Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter and just watch the Hannibal TV show.

And skip Terminator and watch the Sarah Conor Chronicles.

And skip Predator and Alien and Aliens and just watch Alien vs. Predator. Or AVP2.

AND!! Skip Raiders and just watch Crystal Skull.

No I'm not... I'm gonna sit them down in their 15th birthday and do a marathon of Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Terminator 1 and 2, Predator, Alien, Aliens and Out for Justice.

EFA: Although soundly beaten by three Seagal experts, Craig simply won’t give up the ghost. The anger and nerd rage inherent in this discussion has already boiled over and seethed all over the kitchen floor in a horrid fury stew. Best thing to do: walk away.

Nope, not my buddy Craigie. He’s taking his sharpest fingernail and poking right into Steve’s wound and twisting it even further.

But notice how he softens the blow by first offering a compliment. You’ll see!

Fri, Jun 13, 2014 06:56 PM

Steve, Chris, Eric,

Chris is right. I do love these responses. And Steve, your writing has
been incandescent, on fire. There's no way I can touch it. It's been
amazing. So I have to go for a paltry second option: try to be to the
point and sincere.

Guys, I'm the one who started off this debate in a confrontational tone.
So I have nobody to blame but myself.

And I do get all your points. But the irony is that my point really never challenged you on any of those points.

My only point has, from the beginning, just been that "On Deadly Ground" is so bad it's amazing.

Really quickly, let's just focus on that point. You might come back and
say no it's not. It just sucks. Which I think is basically your point.

So where's my proof, other than I loved it, Barry loved it, a lot of folks in our movie club loved it?

Here are just a few of many legit sites, people who also love ON DEADLY
GROUND because they think it's "so bad its amazing":


The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book
The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad
Movies Ever Made.

Seagalogy author Vern considers On Deadly Ground to be one of Seagal's
defining works, writing, "It's the corniest, most unintentionally
hilarious movie of his career... But it's also Seagal's most sincere and his most ballsy," going on to claim, "You can't understand Seagal if you haven't seen On Deadly Ground."


Now, further logic, goes on to say that "On Deadly Ground" must be "so bad it's amazing" to a lot of people for the following reasons:

It made such an impression on South Park co-creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone, they referenced it in their episode "Over Logging" (and a lot of people got the reference. This couldn't have worked if nobody was watching ON DEADLY GROUND. Enough people must be watching ON DEADLY GROUND out of camp enjoyment for SOUTH PARK to feel it merited the reference it got).

Finally, let's take the most important point: ON DEADLY GROUND was a huge let down for you guys. It sucked. It basically killed Seagal's career. And you guys know he had a lot to give and he squandered it here.

But that doesn't mean that it isn't "so bad it's amazing". Take for
instance CRYSTAL SKULL. Nobody is watching that. It just sucked. And
that was also a huge let down. Or PROMETHEUS. That too sucked. But
nobody's really having huge PROMETHEUS movie clubs or Cinefamily nights.

But ON DEADLY GROUND is slowly becoming one of those movies that rep
theaters and programmers with a sense of humor program. Hence why it's
going on at CINEFAMILY.

Guys, it's my fault that I started this whole exchange confrontationally. But I do really think ON DEADLY GROUND is a lot of fun. And a lot of other people do too.

I just want to extend a real olive branch here: if you can let go of the anger you felt at what a let down it was for you and just watch it again, I think you'll have a blast. How could you not? The movie has everything: a vision quest, Michael Caine, Billy Bob Thornton, Lee Ermey spouting non-sensical lines, Seagal asking "what does it take to change the essence of a man?".

I never argued that ON DEADLY GROUND was better than the movies you
reference. I never argued that the only Seagal movie anyone should ever
see is ON DEADLY GROUND. You guys keep setting up fake arguments I never made and then knocking them down like you scored points.

Now, I'm going to go out and immediately watch MARKED FOR DEATH, OUT FOR JUSTICE, and HARD TO KILL.


Me <>
To: Craig, Chris, Steve
Subject: Re: One link response to this ON DEADLY GROUND debate
Sun, Jun 15, 2014 05:40 PM

Craig, I would love to hear your opining once you have seen "Hard to Kill" and the other early Seagal vehicles as a basis not only for comparison but also education and elucidation on the early 90s phenomenon that he spawned.

As far as ODG goes, I'm afraid we shall have to agree to disagree. But I still love ya, of course!

"Fire Down Below," the one from 97 where Seagal plays with his bluegrass band *onscreen*, is even more laughable (but not in a good way). It has Kristofferson as the villain, which is about all that can be said for it.

Happy Father's Day, gents, to guiding men in life both biological and otherwise (mostly otherwise).


EFA here: Steve once again takes the bait, and once again resorts to such far-reaching metaphors as comparing Seagal-ogy not only to beers but now to white zinfandels. Couldn’t make it up if I tried.

Fri, Jun 20, 2014 12:49 AM


Craig and I watched the USA/Ghana world cup game this week and did briefly discuss this conversation.

Here's the thing. I know four legit Steven Seagal fans including myself. Four out of four were excited when they found out about the Seagal marathon. Four out of four were then disappointed when they found out the lineup. They were all disappointed on account of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory and more specifically On Deadly Ground, so disappointed that they lost all interest in attending the marathon. Now I know that's a matter of opinion, but there's something to be said when four out of four people who were familiar with the movies in the lineup had the exact same reaction.

I don't think I'm setting up false arguments and knocking them down. Like I said, the lineup for the Seagal marathon sucks in my opinion. They have two good movies and two shitty ones. And I feel strongly about that, and I consider that to be an expert opinion considering I saw both of the shitty movies int he theater, and then again years later.

Now what about the Cinefamily brain trust and this Vern character? Like I said before, there's nothing wrong with him recommending On Deadly Ground for preferred viewing, but if he claims that it's the pinnacle of Seagalogy then he's not a true fan and is approaching it from a hipster viewpoint. It's not something you can prove, but it doesn't pass the eye-test. Anyone who actually enjoys Seagal movies would tell you that.

But what about it being "so bad it's good?" Here's the thing. Sure, if it works for you, it works for you. And if it works for others, then great, it works for them. But for those of us well versed in the Seagal canon (and the whole 1980's/early 90's American martial arts B-movie genre) someone telling you that On Deadly Ground is the pinnacle, or even preferred viewing, is like a wine drinker deciding to live on the edge one night, trying an over-the-top San Diego style Double IPA and then telling you it's the best beer they've ever had. Sure, a fellow wine maker might try it and agree, but a serious beer drinker would be justified in saying, "Look, I get it, it's full of hops, so much so it slaps you in the face with hops, and you think that's good, but I know this other beer that's got just as much hops, but it has the malt character and complexity to balance those hops. It's so well balance in fact, that you probably won't notice that it's 10% alcohol, so you won't even realize that you're getting drunk off one beer."

Let's face it, we obviously have different ideas about what makes a movie "so bad it's good." For me, On Deadly Ground doesn't qualify. Maybe that's because I'm too familiar with his other movies of the era and what kind of potential it had to enjoy it. Maybe it's also because for me, "so bad it's good" really means "it straddles the line between legit dope and illegit bad so amazingly that as a whole it is awesome." It has to have things that work, or that should have worked, mixed with things that are so head-slappingly ill-conceived that together it's magic. Death Wish 3 has that. There are good scenes, or good concepts, mixed with the laughable. The Apple has that. As bad as it it, there's fun production values, plus the fact that it very accurately predicted our media-obsessed, celebrity-worshipping society. Same with Cobra or Roadhouse. There was something in there that could have worked. There's got to be something in there that works to hold it all together. For me, just being shockingly bad isn't good enough. That weird martial arts movie we all watched (Eric wasn't there), Chinese Boxer maybe it was called, to me, as shocking and head-slapping as it may have been, it was just bad. There's was nothing in it that worked. Nothing. It was so bad it was awful. Excruciating even. But not so bad it was good.

That's what On Deadly Ground is for me. Look, Steven had no business directing, it's aspirations are all wrong, the acting/writing/execution are all just awful, but not in any way that to me actually makes it stick out in any way. To me, it's just bad. Is it especially bad? Yes. Is it shockingly bad? Indeed. But to me the best thing you could say about it is that sometimes it's "so bad it's actually entertaining." But "so bad it's good" is a level it never reaches.

Craig, your point seems to be that lots of people like On Deadly Ground so there must be something to it. Sure, look, if it works for all of you that's great, but you know what, a lot of people like white zinfandel, but that doesn't mean it's good. Not to be a dick, but it's like I'm a Seagal sommelier and you guys are wine tasting for the first time so of course you're drawn to the white zinfandel. That's fine. I get it. It's sweet. It's easy. It's a good entry. But when a fellow wine expert walks in, I know that he won't have time for the white zin, and we will open up a big bold Cabernet.

And that's what On Deadly Ground is. It's a white zin. It's easy to read. It's like a fast running, shallow stream. It looks challenging to cross, because the surface is moving so fast, but it's so shallow anyone can cross it. Marked For Death is like a deep river. It may not look powerful, because the surface doesn't look like it's moving that fast, but if you try crossing it and you'll be swept away downstream.

Craig, I'm sorry. No amount of second chances, or watching it with an "open mind" are going to change that. It just doesn't work on any level for me. And it won't for the other guys in this argument either. We prefer Marked For Death. Plain and simple. And it's not even close. And this is not a false dichotomy. It is one or the other. You can't like both. Marked For Death is simultaneously legit awesome and ridiculous, often in the same scene, sometimes in the same instant. On Deadly Ground isn't awesome in any way. You're just laughing at bad filmmaking, only it's heightened because it's bad filmmaking by a martial arts star who decided to get all environmental and forgot to kick ass.

I don't have time for bad filmmaking.

Or, to put it simply, you either like Seagal movies or you don't.

(And I get it if you don't. They're not for everyone.)

If you don't like Seagal movies, you might like On Deadly Ground.

But if you like Seagal movies, you won't (and could never) like On Deadly Ground.

There's no real middle ground. It's not a false dichotomy. Recommending On Deadly Ground is the same as poo-pooing on Marked For Death, Out For Justice, or Hard To Kill.

So I guess I think it's weird that Cinefamily put on a Seagal marathon with two movies for Seagal fans (Hard to Kill and Out For Justice), one movie for non-Seagal fans (On Deadly Ground) and then, oddly, one movie for nobody (Under Siege 2). It was a poorly conceived line-up.

But like I said earlier, part of me is glad they didn't show Marked For Death. Part of me doesn't want it to be shared. Part of me likes being able to tell who my friends are. Marked For Death is too good to be shown to a bunch of hipsters who've never seen any of his movies.


Sun, Jun 22, 2014 11:45 PM

Amazing replies here. Steve, your writing is so persuasive and
passionate, we should just stop right here. There's no way I can top it.

I will watch all these movies, including ABOVE THE LAW as Chris mentions below, and look forward to the next round of Segal Semantics.

In the meantime I move that we focus our mojo on a Thursday tie or win for the USA.

Yes, today's game was a heartbreaker. A win would have been infinitely
better than a tie. But now is the moment that true teams are made.

This is a moment early Steven Seagal would appreciate.