January 26, 2013

New Disc Review: BULLY (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)

Directed by Lee Hirsch. Released by The Weinstein Company.
(2011, 99 min).

I remember being occasionally picked on in high school by a guy named Bob, a mammoth-sized douche bag from the football team. I never did anything to incur his wrath...I was simply smaller and weaker. I hated Bob, who, for no reason whatsoever, once rammed my chest with the bottom end of a crutch. I wanted to kill the guy, but felt helpless to do anything about it. At the same time, shit rolls downhill in school much like it does in the real word, and I did my share of picking on smaller and weaker kids as well.

While watching Lee Hirsch's somber documentary, Bully, I found myself thinking about one of those guys I picked on, named Dan. I'd call him names, occasionally throw things at him or hide his lunch. So did a lot of other kids. Me and a few friends even egged his house once, for no reason other than good sport. If shit does indeed roll downhill, there has to be someone at the bottom of that hill. Like the kids in this movie, Dan was one of those guys. To me it was just harmless fun, but it must have made his life a living hell. Watching Bully, it made me sick to think I was part of that, because even though I knew how I felt when bullied by Bob, not once did I consider how I made Dan feel.

A lot has been written about this film, mainly that it's something every kid should see. And I would agree with that, but what makes it different than the "bullying is bad" programs they are subjected to in school, Bully offers no statistics, no demographics and, most significantly, no cut-and-dry solutions.

Hirsch wisely provides no narration, forcing us to simply walk a mile in the shoes of several bullying victims, as well as their families (two of whose sons were driven to suicide). We don't witness a lot of bullying per se (other than some cruelty perpetrated onboard a school bus), nor do we always learn why these particular kids became targets. What we do experience is how it affects their lives, as well as their families. Much of it is heartbreaking to watch, especially the families who lost a child and demand to know why their schools were unable or unwilling to take action until it was too late. However, the film is also quick to point out that, although a school must share at-least some responsibility regarding student safety, it is obvious that bullying is a problem that schools alone cannot fix.

What Bully does best is make the viewer feel true empathy for these kids (there's probably one like each of them at every school in the nation). It doesn't preach, scold or place blame. The film simply puts us at the bottom of the hill to let us know what it feels like when the shit hits us...and it hurts. As such, Bully is not a very uplifting film, despite its half-hearted attempt to instill hope at the end by showing parents and victims coming together to create awareness. It's a film everyone should see, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to sit through it more than once. Still, Bully is highly recommended to anyone with middle/high school kids in the house.

BONUS FEATURES: Filmmaker Q&A; several featurettes; Celebrity PSAs; deleted scenes; edited version of Bully for younger audiences.

FKMG RATING: ***1/2 (out of 4)

January 23, 2013

OUTLAND and the Wrath of Mad Dog

Starring Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, James B. Sikking, Frances Sternhagen. Directed by Peter Hyams. (1981, 109 min).

I first saw this movie in a theater when I was 16 or 17, but after buying my ticket, I'm ashamed to say I had no memory of it the next day.

Not that it's a bad movie. On the contrary, Outland is an underrated gem released in the wake of Star Wars and Alien, sort-of a sci-fi High Noon. It ain’t the most original thing ever made, like most movies directed by Peter Hyams. But it's fun, fast-paced junk food with  decent special effects and boasting just enough nudity & gore to placate kids like me. It also features a terrifically understated performance by Sean Connery during a period just before The Untouchables made him respectable again.

Connery plays O'Niel, the newly-appointed marshall of a titanium mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter's moons. Things are going okay until several miners begin going apeshit and killing themselves. At first everyone writes it off as cabin fever, but upon further investigation, O'Niel discovers the victims were all addicted to a synthetic amphetamine which makes them a lot more productive, but eventually fries their brains. Worse yet, this shit is being brought in by Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle), the colony manager who wants to keep production high. Since O'Niel won't take a pay-off to look the other way, Sheppard hires assassins to come to Io and finish him off, leading to a pretty exciting showdown which comprises the final act.

But I didn't know any of this at the time. In fact, it wasn't until a few days later that my best friend, Clay, had to remind me what movie we even saw.

The night-in-question started out fine. Me, Clay and Mark (I was friends with Mark because we played soccer together) began our Friday night cruising 82nd Avenue, a few years before the city of Portland declared it illegal. Mark drove because he was the only one who had his own car, a souped-up, fat-tired Bug, which was infinitely cooler than borrowing my mom's Pontiac.

I know the act of cruising was mainly a 50's and 60's thing, but kids were still doing it in the early 80's. It was a great way to blow off steam, show off your car, blast your stereo and, most hopefully, meet girls (which actually didn't happen all that much, despite what George Lucas had us believing). And Mark just loved cruising, convinced he was gonna get laid every single time he hit the road. Then again, he always acted like a horndog...the kind of guy who made sucking sounds whenever he spotted a girl he found attractive, and would wiggle his tongue between his fingers to show his friends what he'd like to do with these girls if he got them alone.

But that was Mark's image, which he was proud to cultivate among friends. The truth was actually quite the opposite, which I learned when he showed up at my front door, not to see me, but to take my sister out on a date. This was at a time when I still refused to admit my younger sister was physically attractive to others, especially my friends. All kinds of alarm bells went off in my head as I briefly went into protective brother mode.

Hey, motherfucker, this is my sister! You do that tongue-wiggle thing around her and I'll rip it outta your mouth!

Mom! Dad! What are you thinking??? You can't let her go out with him! You don't know him like I do!

But Mark turned out to be a perfect gentleman on their date. Maybe because he was afraid of my dad's wrath (who was our soccer coach), or perhaps he respected women more than he always led on.

Anyway, back to that Friday night, when Mark actually behaved a lot better than I did...

Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!
The night took an early turn for the worse when we talked some old guy into buying us bottles of Mogen David 20/20, a cheap red wine which tastes like cough syrup and is commonly referred to as Mad Dog. It tasted like shit, but was a cheap way to get fucked up. Another plus was the fact its rectangular bottle allowed us to easily hide it in our jackets.

Mark was a lot of things, but never much of a drinker, especially swill like this. Me & Clay, however, started pounding the stuff. One thing I eventually discovered about myself that night was me and Mad Dog absolutely do not mix.

While still sort-of sober, we bumped into two girls we knew from school. Well, we knew them in the sense we'd seen them in the halls. I couldn't have actually told you their names, even without having finished off a third of my bottle, but that familiarity was enough of an ice breaker for me to roll down the window and slur, "Whattaya girls doin?"

Things get a little blurry at this point because I was still guzzling Mad Dog, but I vaguely remember me & Clay ending up at the Clackamas Town Center theater with these girls. For the sake of her dignity, lets just call one of these girls Jane, shall we? I was bowled over that Jane was into Iron Maiden. They were still pretty unknown at the time and I thought I was the only one who’d ever heard of them. As a die-hard headbanger in my drunken state, I must have thought I found my soul mate.

I don’t recall anything after that, but since Clay was there, too, he was later able to relay all the shit that went down.

I woke up the next day to the sound of my mother throwing my bedroom door open and staring coldly at me. “Get up,” she hissed. That’s when the jackhammers in my head went to work, even though I had no idea why I was in such pain and why Mom was so pissed. In fact, I couldn't remember how I even got home the night before.

More pressing issues immediately arose, such as the fiery gorge roaring up my throat. I barely made it to the bathroom before unloading what must-have been a gallon of puke. I lurched until all that spewed out was a string of yellow drool. After an eternity hovering over the toilet, I staggered from the bathroom, down the hall and into the kitchen, where my parents stood. Dad actually looked amused, but Mom had the condemning scowl of an assistant D.A. from a Law & Order murder trial.

Aw, shit. This was bad. I’d done dumb things before, but this was the first time my parents were more aware of my drunken state than I was. They didn’t say a word at the time, so I slowly turned around to crawl back into bed and die, but instead they forced me to stay up and spend the entire day shopping with them as punishment for my debauchery. Although my hangover was obvious to my folks, thank God they never knew the extent of my debauchery the night before. Hell, the only reason I knew was when Clay - laughing his ass off - told me during a phone call a few days later...

During the movie, me and Jane apparently got reeeeally friendly in the front row. When I say friendly, we were doing a hell of a lot more than kissing. Clay said when the movie was over I staggered out of the theater with my pants unbuckled. As he cheerfully relayed the lurid details, I felt sick all over again, wondering how many people watched Jane and I go at it in the front row. Worse yet, outside the theater, where a line of other patrons waited to get in, my nearly-empty Mad Dog bottle fell out and shattered, so Clay had to help me high-tail it out of there. But we were stranded. Jane and her friend had already taken off and Mark had long-since ditched us. Or was it the other way around? He was nowhere to be seen, and since our evening began in Mark’s car, I guess it was we who ditched him. By the way...sorry, Mark.

Clay quickly decided we should go to Pietro’s, a pizza place several blocks away, to get some food in me. It would have been a short walk for a sober fellow, but considering Clay was pretty drunk himself and dragging my shitfaced ass, Pietro’s might as well have been on the moon. And the whole way there, I kept drunkenly insisting the two of us should start a band together (even though I didn’t know how to play an instrument). Somehow, we managed to get there and crawl into a booth.

There was this girl named Lisa, a classmate I’d always carried a little torch for ever since middle school, but never had the nerve to ask out. It turned out she was working at Pietro’s at the time and saw me at my worst. No sooner did we get there and order food before I puked all over the table, the seats and myself. Clay dragged me to the men’s room, where I hurled again, leaving Lisa to clean the chunky puddle I left in her section. Shortly afterwards, the manager told us to leave.

It’s at this point where I learned just how good of a friend Clay really was, because Pietro’s was at least three miles from Alderhill, the neighborhood where we lived. I could barely walk, yet he managed to half-drag, half-carry me the whole way back, occasionally stopping to let me purge more stomach chowder. It must have looked like scene from a war movie where the hero drags his bullet-ridden buddy to safety by sheer will, screaming “Don’t you die on me!” the whole way. Only Clay was probably begging, “Don’t you puke on me!”

In my humble opinion, that made him a fucking superhero. If I were him, I’d have probably left my sorry ass at Pietro’s to wallow in my own filth. But as a true superhero with a keen sense of self-preservation, Clay did what any right-thinking 16-year-old guy would do when helping a friend in need: He carefully propped me up against my front door, hit the bell and ran like hell.

What else could the guy do?

That night was the most knock-down-drunk I’d ever been at the time, and probably the main reason even the smell of wine makes my stomach churn today.

At any rate, Clay held nothing against me (he didn't let me live it down, either). However, after this debacle, I was never able to look Lisa in the eye again, much less get the courage to ask her out. As for Jane, whenever I saw her in the hall at school afterwards, I totally avoided her, which was probably a bad idea. I'm pretty sure that pissed her off, considering how 'close' we got with each other at the movie. But I was so embarrassed by my behavior, especially hearing all of this shit second-hand, that I just couldn’t face her, not to mention the fact I had a girlfriend at the time.

So Jane, if for some reason you ever read this...sorry about that, but that wasn't really me you frolicked with in the front row of the Clackamas Theater. It was some other asshole named Mogen David.

January 16, 2013

X-MEN Lose on Family Feud

"We surveyed a hundred people. The top five answers are on the board. Name something that happens to a frog when it is struck by lightning..."

"The same thing that happens to everything else."

"Lady, that is without-a-doubt the dumbest fucking answer I've ever heard."

January 12, 2013

6 Classics Featuring Lines from ROADHOUSE

"A man puts a gun in yer face, you got two choices...stand there 'n die or kill the motherf**ker."
"I'm gonna make you my regular Saturday night thing."
"This place has a sign hangin' over the urinal that says, don't eat the big white mint."
"I heard you had balls big enough to come in a dump truck, but you don't look like much to me."
"That gal's got entirely too many brains to have an ass like that."
"I used to f**k guys like you in prison."

January 9, 2013

DEAD ALIVE (a.k.a. BRAINDEAD): A Strike to the Balls

Starring Timothy Balme, Diana Penalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, Stuart Devenie. Directed by Peter Jackson. (1992, 103 min).

This may come as a shock to some of you, but there was once a time when Peter Jackson was content to tell a story with a single movie. In fact, he was able to do it in less than two hours, back before he developed the anal retentive need to document every instant Frodo's expression changed.

Jackson also used to make nasty-ass gore movies aimed right at your gag reflex, but were so over-the-top and funny that it was impossible to not to laugh at the total absurdity of it all. This is why I had no problem sitting down with my youngest daughter, Lucy, for our usual Friday night horror-fest to watch Dead Alive (known as Braindead to the rest of the world), even though the movie is widely considered to be one of the goriest movies ever made.

First of all, Lucy is my seasoned little horror buddy with a good head on her shoulders, meaning she knows when something onscreen is real or not. As such, movie gore doesn’t really phase her (unless it involves the eyeballs). Second, Dead Alive is not-so-much a horror movie as it is a Pythonesque comedy, like a long version of the duel between King Arthur and the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. While the blood-free Insidious totally freaked Lucy out, Dead Alive made her giggle.

Still, I got into a bit of hot water with my wife, Francie, the next day. Not because of the extreme violence, but because of the language Lucy used to describe her enthusiasm for it: “It was gross and funny and one guy kept getting kicked in the balls!”

Francie has the gift of the Spock Eye, where she calmly looks my way and raises a single inquisitive brow, which usually means I just fucked up. Totally not approving of Lucy’s mention of male genetalia, I got the big time Spock Eye. I applied my usual tactic in these situations...I threw my hands up and replied, “What?”

Francie ignored my defense and regarded Lucy. “Balls? Where did you hear that word?”

Lucy innocently shrugged. “I dunno. Daddy, maybe?”

Thanks Lucy.

Francie shot yet-another Spock Eye my way, at which time I became a bit curious myself about where Lucy learned what balls are. Even though folks do indeed get kicked in the nuts in Dead Alive, I’m pretty certain the term ‘balls’ was never mentioned. I'm also pretty sure I never defined it for her, because even though I have no problem spending Friday nights watching all kinds of bloody mayhem with my youngest kid, the idea of anything related to genitals was way beyond my comfort zone. She must have heard the term at school from someone.

But later, when she and a friend were roughhousing in her room and Lucy barked out, “Hey, you got me right in the balls!”, it was instantly obvious she still didn’t actually know what they were. To her, it obviously referred to anyone, regardless of gender, being kicked in the nether-regions. But was I going to correct her at that time? I may be fairly liberal on what I choose to expose my children to, but Lucy does not yet need to know the gruesome specifics of the male anatomy.

January 7, 2013

FLASH GORDON and the Rude Awakening

Starring Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Topol, Max von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Ornella Muti (mee-ow!), Brian Blessed. Directed by Mike Hodges. (1980, 111 min).

There was once a time (as a kid) when I couldn't stand my little sister. She was annoying, a constant bane to my existence and impossible to get along with. Why? Because she was my sister, of course, so all she had to do to incur my contempt was breathe. Since the difference in our ages was only two years, I know the feeling was mutual. In other words, we had a normal sibling relationship.

I always did my part - required from all older brothers - by making sure my friends couldn't stand her either...a little sister...eeew. Keep it away or it will infect us all! My parents were often ignorant to the dangers of inter-sibling fraternization, as demonstrated when they'd sometimes force me to include this wretched spawn in my playtime activities, even when me and my friends had no room for her. I've since developed a similar parental ignorance to such danger, having forced my oldest daughter to play Barbies with her kid sister numerous times, even though her face told me she'd rather shit glass.

Of course, times change and people grow up, as did my sister and I. But because of our relative closeness in age, the transition to young-adulthood proved to be somewhat sobering in how we viewed our friends, as well as each other.

Shortly after I got my driver's license, me and my two best friends, Rick and Clay, decided to go to the Foster Road Drive-In to catch Flash Gordon, an intentionally campy update of the film serials from the 1930s, and a movie that never would have seen the light of day if it weren't for Star Wars. The main reason I wanted to see it was because the music score was by Queen, a band I loved who were huge at the time. Anyway, just before we were about to pile into my VW Bug, Mom insisted I take my sister along while she and Dad went out to the greyhound races. This sudden change in plans deflated me like a balloon.

Arguing with my mom was pointless (since technically, my parents owned the car), so off we went...me, Clay, Rick and my fucking 14 year old sister. Granted, she wasn't quite the pariah she was when I was ten; we were now attending the same high school and knew a lot of the same people, but that didn’t mean I suddenly viewed her as an equal. Like so many times before, she was a fifth wheel.

To me, at least.

Anyway, we got to the drive-in and found a decent spot, Me & Clay in front, Rick and my sister in the back. Once the movie finally started, I temporarily forgot that she was tagging along...

Flash Gordon versus men without pants.
Flash Gordon is a silly film with cheesy special effects, hammy acting and corny dialogue. But what makes it kinda fun is it’s silly, cheesy, hammy and corny on purpose. It goes out of its way to make you roll your eyes and laugh at it, and Queen’s equally-campy score is more-than-fitting.

I don’t think everyone got the joke, since it tanked at the box office. Maybe it tried too hard to emulate the unintentionally-campy stuff stoners used to make fun of at midnight movies. Maybe the fact it was trying to be bad turned a lot of people off. I do remember hearing kids at school scoffing at how stupid and fake it was compared to Star Wars. I also remember thinking the best special effect in the movie was Ornella Muti (who plays galactic femme fatale, Princess Aura). If she was tacked on my bedroom wall in high school instead of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, I’d have gone through a lot more hand lotion.

Anyway, I thought the movie was okay. I got the joke. So did Clay, but I don’t think Rick or my sister did. In fact, they may not have even noticed the joke, because about halfway through the movie, Clay nudged me in the ribs with a shit-eating grin and cocked his thumb toward the backseat. I looked back to see the two of them making out.

I couldn't believe it...Rick, one of my best friends, sucking-face with my sister, the same little urchin we used to kick out of my bedroom by calling her names and throwing shoes at her!

I wasn’t angry or anything, but I was a little grossed out. I knew my sister was 14 and hardly a Girl Scout, but as her well-adjusted older brother, her appeal to the opposite sex was totally lost on me. And until that night, I also assumed her appeal was lost on those in my inner circle...like Rick.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. What I did do was bark, “Hey, whattaya doin!”, which startled them apart. They scooted as far to the opposite sides of the backseat as my tiny VW would allow, looking embarrassed. Clay laughed his ass off.

We resumed watching the movie, but not even five minutes went by before I got another nudge from Clay. I turned around. They were at it again...macking on each other like leeches! If my car was equipped with a firehose, I’d have turned it on them.

Anyway, I was kinda weirded out. To me, my sister was still the same little brat with a Pebbles Flintstone hairdo who I always called ‘Becky the Boob’ when we were little. To see her and Rick necking in the backseat was almost surreal, especially since none of my friends ever gave any indication they thought of her as anything but a pill. And no, I wasn’t mad at Rick, but I did seriously question his taste in girls. Yeech!

I never brought it up afterwards, though I briefly considered mentioning it to Mom just to irk my sister. But at the time, she and I had enough dirt on each other to assure we’d both be grounded for about a thousand years if such scandalous incidents were made public (our sibling version of Mutually Assured Destruction), so I wisely chose to let it go.

Today, I don’t know if my sister remembers that night or not. Maybe I’ll ask her sometime. It was so long ago that she’d probably reply, “Rick who?”

January 4, 2013

THE BIG BUS: A Forgotten First

Starring Joseph Bologna, Stockard Channing, John Beck, Larry Hagman, Ned Beatty, Jose Ferrer, Ruth Gordon, Sally Kellerman, Richard Mulligan, Rene Auberjonois, Harold Gould. Directed by James Frawley. (1976, 88 min).

1980's Airplane! was a watershed comedy. Sure, there had been plenty genre satires before, mostly notably Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but they were always presented with a knowing wink and a nudge to the ribs. Airplane!, however, played a like a straight-faced drama (right down to the film score), featuring a cast of actors not normally associated with comedy, which made everything even funnier. It was like an issue of MAD Magazine brought to life. Like that magazine in its prime, the gags came so fast and furious, subtle and not-so-subtle, that it was impossible to catch them all with a single viewing.

Airplane! was groundbreaking, and we've been feeling its influence in countless genre parodies ever since, some good (The Naked Gun, Hot Shots!), some not-so-good (Scary Movie) and most  downright shitty. What makes Airplane! the definitive movie satire is it was presented with the same pseudo-seriousness as the very films it parodied, something lost these days with hacks like Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer who simply assume showing Willy Wonka breakdancing qualifies as satire. Today, we go into these films knowing the formula, and almost challenge them to make us laugh. Back in 1980, we are caught off-guard.

But as influential as Airplane! wasit wasn’t the first disaster movie parody. It actually wasn't the second, either. The second was Drive-In, a piece of low-budget junk which aspired to be another American Graffiti, but also prominently featured a movie-within-a-movie "Disaster '76," a crude little parody which is the sole reason for anyone today to seek this film out.

The first true disaster satire was Paramount's The Big Bus, released the height of the craze in the mid-70s, whereas Airplane! came out after the genre itself had already degenerated into self-parody. The Big Bus isn't better or funnier, but it is presented with a similar straight face, and may actually be a more dead-on satire of a single genre.

Airplane! used the disaster storyline to skewer numerous classic films, cliches, TV shows, caricatures & pop-culture icons, meaning one didn’t need a working knowledge of genre conventions to appreciate it. Hell, the amount of goofy word-play and silly puns alone was enough that anyone watching Airplane! would still laugh their asses off, even if they’d never seen a single disaster film in their entire life.

While there are a few scenes which look like something lifted from a Mel Brooks movie, for the most part, The Big Bus is exclusively a parody of disaster film cliches...it even looks more like a classic disaster film than Airplane!, and this is probably why it tanked at the box office.

Is this really any dumber than the super-equipped
skyscraper in The Towering Inferno?
Aside from the fact it isn’t always laugh-out-loud hilarious, the success or failure of a movie like this depends on a majority of the audience coming in with a built-in knowledge of everything ridiculous about a genre  which, in 1976, hadn’t completely played itself out yet (this was still before Airport ‘77, The Cassandra Crossing, Airport ‘79, Hurricane, When Time Ran Out, Meteor, The Swarm, Avalanche and slews of TV knock-offs had yet to milk disaster for all it was worth). As such, The Big Bus might have been too clever for its own good at the time, a straight-faced satire of a genre which was still massively popular. Now that I think about it, considering its obviously big budget, The Big Bus was a pretty risky movie to make at the time.

The movie came and went in my hometown with no fanfare, playing for a couple of weeks at the Bagdad Theater before disappearing. As a card-carrying disaster movie fanatic, weaned on two Airport movies, The Poseidon Adventure, Skyjacked, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, I managed to talk my parents into dropping me off to see it, where I was one of three people in the entire theater.

I’d already seen Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, but The Big Bus was the first movie that satirized a genre I was very familiar with. As such, I found it quite amusing. The whole idea of a ridiculously-equipped nuclear-powered bus (the worst form of public transportation) being given a sci-fi upgrade is inherently funny, not to mention the utter seriousness of the characters involved in its creation. As for the main characters, they are truly priceless, mainly because it isn’t a stretch to imagine them popping up in a serious disaster movie. Yeah, there are some out-of-place moments of broad comedy that prevent the movie from reaching the satiric heights of Airplane!, but at the time, such a straight-faced film skewering a single genre must have been something Paramount did not know how to market, so they simply threw it out there and hoped for the best.

In the long run, Airplane! is a far funnier film, but The Big Bus is arguably a more accurate satire of the genre, and today, probably only appreciated by those (like me) who grew up in the 70s with the movies it parodies.

January 1, 2013

THE MATRIX and the Tired Running Gag

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Andy & Larry Wachowski. (1999, 126 min).

Dave Anderson...that's my name. Well, technically, it's David Anderson, but only my mother and my dog call me David. To everyone else I'm just Dave. It's an incredibly boring moniker, so common that there were two Dave Andersons at my high school, and when I finally began getting novels published, I was forced to go by the title of D.M. Anderson because there were already several authors out there with my name.

I blame my parents. Anderson is a dull enough surname, so the least they could have done was give their boy a more exciting first one...something like Clint or Max or Batman. Anything but Dave; that's as generic as Bob.

Growing up, I suppose it could have been worse (such as actually being named Batman). Any kid with a truly unusual name was automatically knocked down a wrung or two on the social ladder, and if said-name sounded a lot like a bodily function, you were screwed. I went to school with a kid named David Snodgrass, so of course all us empathetic classmates rechristened him Snotgrass. And as we grew older and bolder in our use of expletives, he was sometimes referred to as David Snot-Ass (it made no sense, but we thought it was funny).

Then there are those parents, either because they are totally high or hate their child before it even squirts from the womb, who go out of their way to saddle the kid with the stupidest fucking name possible, like Dusty Storm, Rana Shore or Donald McDonald (all kids I knew in school). I even read somewhere recently of a couple (obvious metal fans) who named their daughter Metallica. Yeah, nice. Way to fuck-up your kid’s self-esteem in advance. People like this provide a strong argument for requiring would-be parents to undergo a competency test before being allowed to spawn.

Naming your child is a big responsibility, for they are the ones who have to live with your decision. When it came to my own daughters, my wife and I toiled endlessly before settling on names which were somewhat unique, but not so fucking weird that they’d be subjected to stupid jokes from their peers.

That’s easier said than done, because sometimes shit can happen in the real world which suddenly renders your once-common name into a joke. As a middle school teacher, I've seen all kinds of weird-ass titles parents have bestowed on their children...on purpose. But one year, I had a student named Austin Powers, who was born long before those movies came out, but by the time he was in my class, that name was the source of endless jokes and comments from his peers. I don’t think a single day went by that he didn’t hear some dumbass get in his face and roar, “Yeeaah, baby!”  Austin was always good-natured about it, but hearing the same shit every day had to be irritating after awhile. I know because I experienced it to a lesser extent when The Matrix became a pop culture phenomenon in 1999.

"My glasses? Dollar Tree, of course."
The movie was, of course, technically groundbreaking and monumentally influential on the action genre. Even today, you see a slew of onscreen tricks in countless action flicks which were first dreamed-up by the Wachowski Brothers for The Matrix, a film with an intriguing concept that, coupled with its visual dynamics, made it completely unique for its time. The look and style of this film has been endlessly imitated and satirized ever since. It also appealed to a lot of seventh graders at my middle school, as did a two-word line of dialogue, malevolently uttered by the film’s villain, Agent Smith....

...Missster Anderson.

Being that I’m known to students as, not Dave, but Mr. Anderson, that following fall I was endlessly subjected to kids coming to me with a shit-eating grin and hissing “Missster Anderson”. It was funny for awhile, but like all jokes, you can only hear it so many times before you want to start handing out detention slips. Still, that didn’t stop kids from doing it ad nauseum, all with that same self-congratulatory face as though they were the very first to drop that pop culture reference on me.

As The Matrix slowly receded from current relevance, so did most of the “Missster Anderson” jokes, though even today, they still pop up from time to time. It could be worse, though. The Matrix jokes related to my name will eventually die off completely, but I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be a normal guy trying to get through life with a name like Charles Manson.