Archive | Writing Samples RSS feed for this section

Simon Says: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

1 Feb

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a Disney movie that’s based on a novel written by Victor Hugo way back in 18-something.  I haven’t read it (although I have read Les Miserables, so check this blog later for more on that) but I have watched the movie more than a few times.  Though it came out after the “Disney Renaissance” on the heels of Pocahontas, a mediocre Disney film, I found Hunchback to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  Though it has a few missteps (i.e. gargoyles), its positives more than make up for it, and Hunchback is one of my favorite Disney films to date.

So imagine my joy to find out that there was a stage show based on the Disney movie, based on the book.  I had always thought the music was one of the highlights of the film (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung “Hellfire” in the shower) and I was super excited that the show was finally releasing the studio album.  The album dropped on January 21st of this year, and of course I was first in line to check it out.  What did I think?

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

 

The Good:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Studio Cast Recording) is a faithful adaptaion of the source material, and mixes a lot of the old songs from the film that I love with new songs that feel right in place, both thematically and stylistically.  If you liked the music from the movie, then you will love this.  It sounds like the old songs have been dusted off and polished up like the bells of the french cathedral itself.  My favorite songs from the movie are my favorite songs from the musical.  The vocals are nothing short of amazing.  Esmeralda’s caring heart and Frollo’s inner darkness can be heard in their vocals.  “The Bells of Notre Dame” deserves some special mention; if you have watched the movie, you may notice some changes in the backstory here.  But I actually like the changes.  We get much needed backstory on (now Archdeacon) Frollo, the musical’s main antagonist.

The new songs are great too.  About half of this soundtrack is new material, written by Alan Menken, the guy who did the original music for the movie.  As a result, a lot of this new stuff fits.  I really liked the track called “Made of Stone” that appears near the end of the soundtrack.  It’s a song about Quasimodo’s darkest moment, and you can just hear the defeat in his voice.  It also does a good job of using the gargoyles the right way.  They’re more like a chorus from the Greek plays of old, existing in Quasi’s mind to help him develop his thoughts.

The Bad:

The ending.  Oh my gosh, the ending.  I don’t think I’ve cringed harder listening to a soundtrack (and I’ve seen Avenue Q twice).  If you want to avoid major spoilers about the ending, just skip this next part.

Okay, in the climax of the movie,  Quasimodo and Esmeralda are trying to escape a crazed Frollo, who’s chasing them with sword in hand.  The three are on the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, Frollo hellbent on murdering them.  Hundreds of feet below, a great fire is burning, surrounding Notre Dame in hellish flames.  A scuffle sends the three over the side, and Quasimodo and Frollo end up hanging on for dear life.  However, Frollo is able to regain his footing and pulls himself up to a gargoyle outcropping.  As Esmeralda desperately tries to drag Quasi up, Frollo raises his sword over the two, ready to deliver the final blow.

“And he shall smite the wicked,” Frollo bellows, “and plunge them into the fiery pit.”

At that moment, the gargoyle below Frollo gives way, causing the mad man to slip.  He grabs onto the rocky outcropping in a last ditch effort to save himself, before the stone structure breaks from its hold completely sending Frollo into the fires below.

That is an epic, amazing ending.  Couldn’t have written a better ending myself.

Here’s what the musical does:  Frollo begs and enraged Quasimodo not to kill him.  Quasimodo hesitates for a moment, but his gargoyle friends tell him to go ahead and waste the old man, and Quasi pushes Frollo off the side of Notre Dame.

So why do I have a problem with this?  They’re basically the same ending, right?  Both end with Frollo falling off of Notre Dame.

Well, in the movie, Frollo meets his end because of his own madness and obsession.  His quest to conquer the gypsies and what he sees as “sinful” sends him into a hell of his own making.

The musical, however, decides to kill Frollo by killing Quasimodo’s character.  Quasi goes from a misunderstood misfit to a homicidal psychopath in a few moments.  This isn’t the Quasimodo we see in the rest of the musical.  As in the movie, Quasimodo shows himself to be the real man, and Frollo the real monster, because of his sense of right, his kindness, and his willingness to let his obsession (Esmeralda) go.  But I can’t buy it when Quasimodo shows that he’s just as willing to murder as Frollo is.  It’s ironic, because the whole point of Hunchback of Notre Dame is that Frollo is the real monster,nut in this show, Quasimodo becomes one when he kills Frollo.

The Final Verdict:

With all that, you may be surprised to read that I still really enjoyed listening to this soundtrack.  I suppose that like the movie it’s based on, it has its own share of problems that are kind of hard to overlook, but once again the good outweighs the bad.  If you loved the movie, or if you’re looking for a good album to sing along to, give this a shot.

Just ignore the last two minutes.

 

I Should Write More Stuff…And Civ

30 Oct

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog (or any blog, for that matter).  But to keep my writing skills in check, I’ve decided I’m gong to make it a point to write something every week.  At least five-hundred words long.  The current word count I have is fifty-one, so I’m a tenth of the way there already.  If you’re looking for something insightful or inspiring, you may want to look somewhere else.  Otherwise, strap in and enjoy.

The first post I’m making today is super experimental, and I’m not even sure what I want to write about.  Over the course of this blog, I guess I’ll have to come up with something engaging that I can talk on and on about, and Heaven knows there are things that I love to discuss.  Since this blog also serves as a kind of journal, I guess it might get pretty personal.  But today is not that day.

So with all that said, what am I going to talk about today?  The pressure of picking a really good topic for my first post is palpable; I can feel the failure creeping up my spine like an icy gust already.  But I digress.  Let’s talk about something I know well and like a lot.  That being Sid Meyer’s Civilization.

First, a little background.  Way back when, in the golden age of my childhood, my mom, my younger brother Andrew (who deserves his own post someday), were at a TJ Maxx somewhere in Staten Island.  My mom, true to her spending habits, was looking for deals on clothes.  Now for those of you not in the know, TJ Maxx is a department store that deals mostly with clothes, but often contains furniture, kitchenware, and the like.  It’s kind of like Macys, but without the brand name recognition, or size, or customer base, or quality (Ha ha kidding TJ Maxx please don’t sue).

Anyways, in a corner near the back, TJ Maxx had a small, wooden bin that for some reason contained discount computer games.  THis was around 2000, so they were mostly CDs in jewel cases in cardboard boxes.  My brother Andrew rummaged through the mismatched and disorganized pile of games and came across one that must’ve caught his fancy.  It was called Civilization III.  As a side note, it was actually a multiplayer expansion, and we would wind up getting the real game some time later, but that’s not really the point.

And so Civilization came to our home, and the first domino falls.  But despite my obvious love for history and the series today, I had no interest in the game.  Civilization, as far as I could tell, was just another game that my brother Andrew (and at this point my older brother) would use as an excuse to tie up our laptop.

The fact that we played it on a laptop was important.  Because one day, while we were on vacation, we had nothing to do in our hotel room.  I forget the circumstances, but we must’ve been waiting for something or have just done something.  All we had was a television with the same channels, an old Nintendo 64 system that cost 6.99 an hour to play, and the laptop that my family brought with us.  But it was in that hotel room, in a nameless city, on a vacation I probably can’t remember for any other reason (sorry mom and dad) that I tried Civilization for the first time.  And, to borrow the colloquialism, I was hooked.

I realized that by now I’ve talked a lot about Civilization, but never really talked…about Civilization.  Civilization (and the subsequent games in the series) is a game about building and maintaining, what else, a civilization.  Each game has a selection of real civilizations from history, like America, Russia, China, and the like.  You are put in command of one of these civilizations, and it’s up to you to build your empire, from it’s humble beginnings in the stone age, to glory and fame in the information age and beyond.

Each game, of course, contains more than one civilization, and you are competing against each of them to ensure victory.  Most Civilization games have several ways you can win.  You may wish to focus on developing your nation’s science, and be the first Civilization to reach the edge of the galaxy.  Or perhaps you wish to become the most culturally dominant civilization in the world, to the point where your civ’s name is recognized anywhere.  Or, my personal favorite, your civilization establishes it’s supremacy through sheer military might, using your mighty armies to silence all opposition.

Now, over a decade later, I’m still playing Civ.  Heck, I probably play more than my brother now (side note: he’s still better though).  During the process of writing this post, I’ve been wondering why I like that game series so much, and what is it about Civilization that I find so alluring.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to three main factors:

  1.  The History:  This one’s probably the easiest to see.  Though when I was a kid, I couldn’t care less about all the facts behind the scenes of the game, I think Civilization has worked on me the other way around.  The game is what actually jump-started my love of history.  Civilization allows me to experience some of these cultures and times through new eyes.
  2. The Problem Solving:  Civilization is a turn-based strategy game, meaning that it works like a board game.  You take your turn, and then each of your opponents takes theirs, one by one.  This has important implications in terms of game play.  You don’t need fast reaction time in order to effectively play Civilization.  This in turn means the way you tackle problems in Civilization are vastly different than say, the Total War series, another historical strategy game.  Each turn allows me to think out the problems my Civilization is facing, and what my best options are to counter them.  I like that I can sit in front of my computer, not touching anything for ten minutes, as I ponder what new social policy or science would be best to adopt.  There’s still pressure, but the pressure doesn’t come from the fact that I need to act in 3 seconds.
  3. The Power Trip:  Alright, this is probably the biggest one, and the reason I play a lot of games (coughSkyrimcough), but I think Civilization is what started it.  I like being in complete control of my own nation.  I like the total domination that comes with it, being able to use my resources to influence the sway of an entire (virtual) world.  I like seeing my armies rolling into enemy land, ready to conquer those that dare oppose me, or to liberate those that have been wronged.  Playing Civilization puts me on an imaginary throne, and allows me to dictate the future of a nation according to my whims.

I’m still playing Civilization, and in all likelihood I’ll probably be playing it today,  It’s a great game that allows you to shape the course of history however you want, and if it sounds like anything at all you would like to check out, I highly recommend that you do.  The game is for sale on Steam, and it’s a must-buy from me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go conquer the Greeks.  They’re domination of the United Nations ends today,

Trend Story- Internet Memes at College

2 Jul

A trend story I’ve written for my Critic Review in Spring 2012.

Trend Story

 

          Jack Li, 21, studies finance at Baruch College.  He describes many of his classes as “insufferable” but one class in particular that he had recently driven him crazy.  In this class, the professor talked with a very thick accent, making understanding impossible. This was one of the most important classes Li needed to take.

One day, when he had had enough, he snapped the professor’s picture, and quickly whipped up a “meme”, with the professor’s face juxtaposed with a funny caption.  Li covertly showed off the meme to the rest of the class, resulting in stifled giggles and guffaws from his peers.

“A lot of my classmates laughed when I showed them it,” Li said.  “It was great.”

Li is not the only one who has done this.  Many other students at Baruch College have started making memes that have to do with Baruch College.

A meme is an image combined with text in an attempt to humor others, usually through catharsis.

          Memes are a new artistic form of expression, and many college students across the country are starting to create memes distinct to their particular college experience.  Baruch students are not alone in this trend: other colleges like Hunter and NYU have also started making and collecting memes as well.Memes have become popular because they are funny,short, and easy to make.

At Baruch, several memes have popped up that range from complaints about the escalators not working to jokes about the eSims application, a web service that does a bad job helping Baruch students register for classes.

Creating college themed memes and hosting them online for everyone to see is quickly becoming the go-to form of artistic expression for many college students.  College memes are becoming more and more popular thanks to the perfect storm of several things.

Websites like 9Gag and Meme Generator give everyone the tools they need to make memes.  Websites like Facebook make it easy to put all of these memes somewhere and show them off.  A healthy dose of student apathy also contributes.

Art has always been about expression and communication, and pop art continually challenges the old notions of the art world, using often-abstract images or wording to convey ideas.  But more often than not, the limit on this expression was artistic talent.  Creating images to express ideas rested only on the shoulders of artists.

But thanks to Internet culture, where one can give out as much as he can take in, making memes has become the de facto way of expressing both emotion and ideas.  The magic of memes is that nowadays, everyone has a shot at it.  College students are now just picking up on this idea, using Internet memes to both inform and to entertain.

These Internet memes were born on the message board 4chan, a website established in 2003.  4chan is an imageboard, meaning that there is an emphasis on depicting things through images.  The website allows users to browse and upload images anonymously, and makes sharing images incredibly easy.

This is where the Internet meme was born, and memes today often get popularized on 4chan.

CUNY Baruch College is just one of the many colleges that have a meme database.  Its operation is based on Facebook, and is run by Baruch student Villi Shteyn, the page opened in February 2012.  It currently has over 2000 likes and 200 Baruch-inspired memes.

“Memes are a medium for expressing similar thoughts in slightly different wording,” Shteyn said.

Each college or university has its own pocket universe, and college-based memes can be started by almost anything.  In New York City, the recent growth in college memes is often credited to the recent spate of protests popping up around the city.  Creating memes about

Shteyn believes that making memes has become a popular way for Baruch students to cope with and share the many stresses that a typical student will encounter at Baruch College.  “They’re definitely art,” Shteyn explained.  “Because just like any song, poem, or movie, they’re the same shit over and over again.”

Yet, memes are a complicated art form in that most of them require some sort of foreknowledge on the part of the audience in order to “get” the message.  Through association, certain images will indicate certain ways an audience is supposed to feel about a particular subject.

A picture of a baby thrusting a fist up in the air, over time, has become a symbol of the small victories in life.  Anyone who understands this picture can caption it using their college experiences, and share it with others.  One baby meme found on the Baruch Memes website was captioned “Don’t know the answer to a question on the test:  answer is in another question.”

The magic of college memes, however, is that they are made through another set of circumstances.  Many memes posted on these Facebook groups are college-specific, and require some inside information in order for the audience to get the joke.

For example, a meme submitted to Baruch Memes from Jessica Soler, a student, depicts a comic strip where a character wearing her iPod walks through the scanners at the library, and screams in pain as she passes through due to the feedback.  For anyone who doesn’t go to Baruch, this meme will go right over their head.  But Baruch Student’s share this experience with the artist, and they get in on the joke.

College meme’s are only growing in popularity, and more and more are being made every day.  Mike Rugnetta, a composer, programmer, and performer, was recently brought on by PBS to talk about memes.  “What’s exciting is that this is a body of work produced collaboratively by tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people across the globe.  Anyone can get involved.  That’s something we’ve never seen before.”

CUNY Baruch is not alone in the growing trend.  Other colleges are also beginning to host web pages for memes specific to their campus.  Colleges like Hunter College have been created later, but their popularity is growing quickly.

The meme’s from Hunter share some similarities with the memes of Baruch, and many of them don’t require knowledge of Hunter to get.  But similarly to Baruch, Hunter has its own share of insider memes, meant specifically for the enjoyment of the Hunter students.

Another popular picture for memes is one of a college student in a grey hoodie smiling at the camera while holding his phone.  This image also has a definition.  It’s commonly called “College Freshman” and any meme that comes up with this image will usually describe a situation a dumb college freshman might find himself in.  On the Hunter Meme’s page, a “College Freshman” picture is captioned “Time to Cross Hunter Skywalk…takes out phone.”

New York University also has its own meme page on Facebook.  It was founded on Feb. 6, 2012, and now has over 6,000 likes and hundreds and hundreds of memes.  Each one is submitted by a NYU student, and each one says something about their experiences and NYU.

“A lot of people have responded to it because it connects to what they experience on a daily basis and because people would rather mock the system they are in than get off their ass and actually do something about it.” Shteyn said, about college memes.  “I am one of those people.”

 

 

Work Release: Chapter One

31 Mar

The following is the first chapter of my Novel, Work Release, that I wrote for my Children’s Literature Class in 2011.  Work Release is a 140=page story about a young man who joins a team of mercenaries, and carries out the inscrutable orders of his bank.

You can by the book here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/simon-jones/work-release/paperback/product-18757697.html

Chapter One

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” a young man said to himself, walking down a busy sidewalk. It was about four in the afternoon, and the man knew that meant business hours would be over soon. It was vital for him to get his business done today.
The young man ran his hand through his spiky brown hair, and let out a deep sigh. The young man was about twenty-five, and was rather short for his age. In fact, all of his life he had always been shorter than his peers. By college, he barely noticed the distinct difference anymore, but after getting fired from his job, he felt especially short. This feeling was only augmented by the tall buildings around him.
The young man lived out of his mom’s house. But after he was let go, there was no longer any income. They were in danger of losing their house. That’s why he was walking down this busy street in the afternoon.
In one hand, he held a manila folder, filled with tax information, legal documents, and other material he was told to bring. It weighed on his conscience like a brick, and he resented carrying it. On the other hand, this was his only ticket out of poverty, and probably homelessness. He resented his lack of choice, and felt trapped With only one course of action to take, he was determined to make this work.
The young man finally got to the building’s entrance. Above him was an electronic marquee, and stock related news was flying by. Above the marquee was the bright gold insignia of the corporation, United Bank and Trust. The man didn’t really care much. He opened the gilded doors and walked inside the building.
In front of him was a receptionist, wearing a suit with gold lapels. She sat behind a black desk, and typed away on a computer. A fountain in the middle of the lobby ran water into a koi pond. The young man walked up to the receptionist.
“Welcome to United Bank and Trust,” she said, not looking up from her work.
The man approached. “Hi,” he said to her. She didn’t look up. “I’m looking for the…bankruptcy office…” he finished, unsure of what to say.
“Down the hall, to the left, take a number,” she said, almost rehearsed. The young man guessed that this woman had had this talk many times before.
The young man nodded his head nervously, and followed her directions. He made his way down the hall, his grip tightening on his folder. The hallway was extravagant, but not overbearing, and shared the gold theme of the building. The young man was not sure whether this was an office building or a palace.
Eventually, he made it to the office. He opened the door and was surprised at what he saw. Instead of a single office, as he expected, he was met with an office floor, with what looked like hundreds of cubicles set up in neat rows. In front of him was a ticket dispenser. He took one, and read the number off. Oddly, it wasn’t a ticket to wait in line, but a ticket that described what cubicle he was to go to. After looking over a map display on the wall, the young man started down the bankruptcy floor.
Along his walk, he peered into some of the other cubicles. This young man was always an eavesdropper, a bad habit, but his natural curiosity often got the better of him. Some cubicles were empty; the employees were probably out for lunch. Others contained people like him. People that were out of money and out of options. In one cubicle was an old couple, who the young man guessed had used up their retirement fund. Another cubicle contained a fifty-something year old woman. The young man guessed that she got the raw end of a messy divorce.
The young man shook his head, and refocused on his goal. “Okay, I can do this,” he reassured himself, though he was not very reassured. “I need to do this.”
He found the office, and stood in front of it for a moment. A moment of hesitation. For a moment, he considered just turning around and going home. But the thought of he and his mother losing the house finally convinced him to move forward.
Inside the office, behind a mahogany desk sat a slim, balding man. He twiddled a pen with the golden letters UBT branded on it.
“Hello,” he said, in a sleazy voice, though the young man couldn’t decide of it was actually sleazy or if it was just the situation. “Please take a seat,” he continued.
The young man sat down on the only available seat, which was about a foot lower than the seat the other man was sitting on. Combined with his short height, the young man suddenly felt very vulnerable.
“My name is Greg Everett. You can call me Greg, though,” the employee said through a smile.
“Good Afternoon,” the young man replied as cordially as he could. “My name is Shawn.”
Shawn nervously smiled back, and gave him his folder. Greg flipped through it, taking out a few documents, but otherwise skipping most of the material. The silence as he went through his file almost drove the Shawn insane.
Finally, Greg spoke up. “So, Shawn…” he began. “I’m guessing you’re here because you want to declare bankruptcy?”
“Yes,” Shawn said, his face growing pale in embarrassment.
“Well, we here at United Bank and Trust strive to ensure the well being of all our clients,” Greg said. It was obvious that the line was customary for someone like Shawn.
“Thank you,” Shawn said quietly.
“Don’t worry,” Greg replied. “We’ll have you back on the road of financial independence soon.” The words sat like rocks in Shawn’s stomach. Even in his elementary school days, Shawn hated being singled out or treated differently. All he wanted was to be ignored, to disappear. He continually wished in his mind that he wasn’t here right now.
“Can…can you somehow help me keep my house,” Shawn asked Greg.
Greg gave him a funny look, and preceded to flip through the folder again. After a minute, he found the necessary documents. After looking it over, he shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Shawn,” Greg said. “But with no income and no collateral, I’m afraid UBT will have to take it back.”
“But, you can’t,” Shawn argued. “My mom can’t work anymore, and we’ll be out on the street if you take it.”
“Sorry, Shawn,” Greg said coolly. Greg probably had done this before, many times, Shawn thought. “It’s just not good business. How are you going to keep up the lease?”
“I’m looking for work,” Shawn said. “I already have some leads, and callbacks.” Of course, Shawn was exaggerating. He was looking for a new job, but he only had one call returned, and even if he had gotten that job, he would not have made enough to pay the rent.
“I’m sure you are,” Greg said. “And feel free to come back and reapply for a loan should you do so. But as the situation is now, if you declare bankruptcy, the bank will take the house back.”
Shawn was desperate now. He couldn’t let his mother down. He wouldn’t. “Please,” he begged. “I swear I can pay the bank back, every month. I just need a bit of time to get some things settled.”
Greg seemed unmoved. “Shawn, I’m sorry. Truth is, the banks come across people who are broke everyday. And though United Bank and Trust deeply feels for you, and will help you in any way possible, we just cannot consider allowing you to stay free of charge in one of our homes.”
Shawn was out of ideas. He wasn’t a very well spoken individual, and even if he was, there was obviously no convincing this man.
Greg went over to a filing cabinet and pulled out several forms. “Please fill these out and bring it back tomorrow. You have two weeks to move out.”
Shawn thanked Greg, and stood up, ready to leave. How would he break this to his mom, he thought. As he left, he realized he had forgotten his folder in Greg’s cubicle.
He turned around to get it, but found himself staring at Greg. Greg had followed him out, and he was holding the folder in his hand. “Is this yours?” he asked.
“Yes,” Shawn said, trying to take the folder, but Greg held onto it. Greg opened it up, and flipped though the folder until he came across a sheet of paper.
“So this is your resumé?” Greg asked.
Shawn looked at the paper. It was. “Yes,” he said again, curious as to why Greg would care.
Greg stared at it for a moment. “Follow me,” he said. Shawn was surprised, but followed Greg nonetheless. He had no idea what to make of this strange turn of events.
Greg walked out of the office, out of his wing of the building, and led Shawn through a door labeled “employees only beyond this point”.
They both came to a glass elevator, that required a card key to open. Greg removed one from his pocket and slid it across the scanner. There was a small beeping noise, followed by the arrival of an elevator. The doors opened up, and Greg motioned Shawn in.
Shawn stepped inside, followed by Greg. The doors closed behind the two. Greg pushed a button on a keypad, and the elevator began to move. From the motion, Shawn guessed that the elevator was moving down, but he wasn’t quite sure. After what felt like ages to Shawn, the two made it to the bottom.
They got out into another hallway, but unlike upstairs, this hallway seemed run down and decrepit. There were UNB insignias along the wall, but no gold trimming. At the far end of the hall was a door, unlabeled. It was this door the two made their way to.
Greg knocked on the door, and there was a small clicking noise from the handle. Greg turned the doorknob, and it opened up. Inside the door was a small room. It was mostly white, but there was a golden UNB symbol on the far side of the room. There was a desk in the center of the room. Two chairs were on either side of the room. He was instructed to sit in one of the chairs (the lower on, Shawn noted) and wait until someone arrived. Greg left him sitting in the room.
Shawn finally had a few moments to himself. Before, he was considering what he was going to tell his mother, but now, that thought gave way to utter confusion. He had heard that the bureaucracy was full of red tape, but United Bank and Trust had advertised a new, streamlined business experience. Was this it? And what did his resumé have to do with this? Everyone knew that United Bank and Trust, in fact, all of the banks, usually hand picked prospective employees from their colleges. And those were just for low level positions. True, Shawn did attend college at United Bank and Trust Northeast, but he didn’t know anything about business.
In college, Shawn studied computer science, yet another thing that made him feel left out and different. Most, if not all his classmates had studied some sort of business. Back then, Shawn felt that the world had a few too many accountants and marketing experts, and wanted to do something different. But now, Shawn wished he had just studied business.
Shawn hated his college years. He was often mocked and ridiculed for not pursuing a business degree, and his advisors constantly reminded him that his career prospects were grim, at best. Most of the time he stayed in his dorm, studying. He had very few friends, and most of them had dropped out by the time he was a senior. Romance wasn’t even an option.
Shawn rested his head on his hands. He knew that whatever was happening to him, it was bad. Why didn’t I just give in and become an accountant, he thought to himself. His skill with a computer was one of the things that right up until this moment, he had been proud of. But now, he resented his degree, his life, and the world.
Shawn didn’t have time to dwell on this, though, for at that moment, the door swung open. In walked a tall, slender man. He had jet black hair that was tied into a ponytail. He wore a very dark suit, with a tie that bared the letters UBT. He sat in the chair opposite Shawn.
Shawn sat upright, taken aback by the new arrival. In the man’s hand was a copy of Shawn’s resumé.
The man spoke first, clearly and concisely. “It says here that you attended United Bank and Trust Northeastern University. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” Shawn stammered. This other man was an enigma. Shawn couldn’t tell what he was thinking at all.
“And you’ve studied computer science there, correct?” Shawn confirmed.
The man continued asking questions regarding Shawn’s computer skills, his degree, and the job he had lost.
“I was working at a small business firm,” Shawn said. “But it was bought out by Federal Trade and Loan,” Shawn said. “When they acquired the firm, I was let go.” Shawn remembered his last day. A coworker just cam up to him, and told him that he was finished. Shawn packed up his things, and left. Nobody seemed to notice or care.
“Did you have any contact with the enemy?” the mysterious man asked.
“What?” Shawn said. Had he just heard the word “enemy”? What was that about? The United States hadn’t been to war in well over two decades. Was the other bank an enemy? “What enemy?” Shawn asked.
“Enemy?” the man asked. “What are you talking about?”
“You just asked me if I had contact with the enemy,” Shawn said.
“I did not,” The man said. “I asked if you had any contact with FTL.” Shawn wasn’t sure if the man was trying to backtrack his mistake, or if he had legitimately asked about FTL.
“No,” Shawn said, deciding to drop the subject. He was getting frustrated as the day wore on, and was not in the mood for arguing.
“What about any other banks?” the man asked. “Have you or have you ever conducted business with any other banks?”
“No,” Shawn said. “I’ve been with United Bank and Trust all my life.” This was true. Shawn had always used United Bank and Trust for all of his needs. There were seven or eight big banks in the world, and United Bank and Trust was one of the biggest.
The man suddenly changed topics. “Do you live with anyone? Friends or relatives?”
“Only my mom,” Shawn said. “I don’t have many friends,” he forced out a chuckle.
The man was silent for a while, then spoke up. “How would you like to apply for our work release program?” the man asked.
“Work release?” Shawn asked.
“The United Bank and Trust Work Release Program enables those with very little business experience to use their unique abilities for the bank. A two year contract will dissolve all debts due to United Bank and Trust, as well as provide full time employment,” the man said, hands clasped together on the table.
Shawn didn’t know what to say. He was still confused, but the words “dissolve all debts” lingered in his ears. In the first time since he left his house this morning, he felt a twinge of hope.
“We here at United Bank and Trust are well aware of your situation, and we would like to do everything we can to help,” the man said. The words still sounded stale and stilted, but right now Shawn didn’t care.
“Does that mean…” he asked. “We can keep our house?”
The man produced a simple sheet of paper. “If you just sign here, UBT will love to have you as an employee. We could certainly use a man with your skills.”
Shawn couldn’t believe it. Was the answer to his problems really so simple? This morning, he felt that he had lost it all, but right now, it felt like the world was opening itself up to limitless possibilities.
Shawn took the contract in his hands. Everything would be alright, he thought to himself. Taking apen offered to him by the man, he signed the contract.

The Room: A Mediocre Movie, A Midnight Event

31 Mar

by Simon Jones

Published: May 16, 2011 

On the last Friday of every month, the Village East Cinema shows a very unique midnight movie.  People line up outside the theater as early as 10:30.  Once inside, the smell of alcohol flies through the air along with footballs tossed by the audience.  As the theater darkens, the entire audience erupts into applause.

Fans eagerly participate with the movie.  The shout out quotes ripped from the script, riff on the dialogue, and throw plastic spoons at the screen.  As the movie enters its sexual scenes, people wave their lighters and cell phones in the air.

The film being shown is The Room.  The Room is an independent film, directed by a previously unknown filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, which has the reputation of being one of the worst movies ever made.  Considered his magnum opus, the film is often called the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”.  A CNN article explains that The Room, originally released in 2003, bombed in the box office.

Despite all this, though, The Room has attracted a major cult following.  Movie theaters in major cities around the country, including the Village East Cinema, now do midnight screenings reminiscent of showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, except whereas The Rocky Horror Picture Show is often admired for its clever writing and music, The Room is usually celebrated for its mediocrity.

George Gross hosts the midnight screenings at the East Village Cinema.  ”It’s fun getting together with a bunch of strangers and enjoying an inside joke,” Gross said.

According to theroommovie.com, The Room is currently being shown in cities all over the world, including Portland, Chicago, Toronto, and even London.  And since the Village East Cinema has started screening the film, the showings have always sold out.

The Room screenings are unique because of the audience participation. During a screening of the film on March 28, 2011, the audience participates in almost every aspect of the film.  Fans flocked to the theater with bags full of plastic spoons to be thrown at the screen later on.  Footballs were thrown around the theater before show time, a homage to the football scenes of the film.  One fan even showed up to the theater dressed as the main character, complete with long black hair and accent.

Saul Zandi was the one of the first people online for the screening on March 28, 2011.  “The Room is kind of like a litmus test,” Zandi said.  “It’s something else to everybody.”  The showing along with seasoned veterans of the midnight screening, contained a lot of “room newbies” whose first time attending a screening.  Lauren O’Conner, new to the screening, giggled heartily as she announced ,“This is my first time seeing it.”

The back story to The Room is almost as strange as the film itself.  The director, Tommy Wiseau, has virtually no history.  In interviews, he refuses to answer questions about his origins or where he got the $7 million to make The Room.  With his heavy, yet indistinguishable, accent, and long black hair, at best, Tommy Wiseau is an enigma.

Tommy Wiseau wielded heavy control in making his film.  The first few minutes of The Room contain the opening credits, which points out that Wiseau was the director, producer, writer, and producer again of the movie.  Tommy Wiseau also plays the main character in the film.  Wiseau’s ineptitude in both directing and acting help create the popularity of the movie.

Douglas Walker is an Internet comedian who reviews movies every week under the guise of the Nostalgia Critic.  He reviewed The Room in July 2010.  “It’s really worth checking out,” Walker said, in his harsh review of the film.  “It’s one of those movies you have to see to believe.  No one could willingly make a movie this interestingly bad.”

Written as a drama, the story includes the main character, Johnny, and his fiancée, Lisa.  They are both excited about their upcoming marriage, but things get complicated when Johnny’s best friend, Mark, starts sleeping with Lisa.  While deceptively simply, several factors turn the film into a bizarre mess that makes it so popular among fans.

The Room is a film that is all over the place.  Denny is “like a son” to Johnny, and often pops in on him and Lisa.  At one point in the movie, he’s threatened by a drug dealer dubbed Chris R., and Johnny and Mark have to save him.  This incident is never alluded to again in the film.  Likewise, Lisa’s mother, Claudette, while sitting with her daughter, mentions out of nowhere that she “definitely [has] breast cancer”.   It is never addressed or mentioned afterwards. Lisa is seduces Mark three times in the film, but Mark is surprised each time it happens.  In one scene Johnny goes from being angry about rumors that he hit his fiancée to laughing at a story about a woman hospitalized from domestic abuse.  Characters are introduced with no exposition as to who they are, and one disappears halfway through the movie for no reason.  The main character, Johnny, has many lines that have become popular among fans.

A lot of the movie is taken up by scenes of characters playing football, once while in tuxedos, awkward sex, and pans across San Francisco.  A particular fan favorite is a scene at a flower shop that lasts no longer that 30 seconds.  Stock phrases such as “Oh Hi” and “Don’t worry about it” are used constantly throughout the film.

Tommy Wiseau himself may best explain the essence of the midnight screenings.  In his interview of the DVD of The Room, Wiseau gives a command to the midnight audiences.  “You can laugh, you can cry, you can express yourself, but please don’t hurt each other. Enjoy the movie!”