Archive for December, 2015

freshFresh Horses (1988) is a hauntingly good movie that could have been great. That said, it’s still one of my favorite teen movies of the 1980s.

Cincinnati college student Matt Larkin (Andrew McCarthy) seems bored but content with his perfect college life and wealthy fiancée. Larkin’s lifelong friend Tipton (Ben Stiller) convinces Larkin to go to a “non-stop house party” over the bridge in rural Kentucky. There, Larkin meets Jewel (Molly Ringwald), a backwoods country girl in need of saving. Things get complicated after Larkin breaks off his engagement to pursue Jewel… sort of. His friends try to convince him to break it off, but Jewel’s young age and her dangerous husband aren’t enough to change Matt’s mind.

“Fresh Horses” Must Have Looked Like a Winner

The film was based off Larry Ketron’s stage play, which was burning up Broadway in 1986. The film gave Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald a chance to reprise their rich-boy-falls-for-poor-girl routine, a la “Pretty in Pink.” The rest of the cast was made of people whose names and greatest performances were yet to come, particularly Viggo Mortensen and Ben Stiller. When it hit theaters in 1988, however, “Fresh Horses” failed to impress. Fortunately, it seems to have a very small cult following these days, and I’m proud to consider myself a member of said cult.

The Best Thing About “Fresh Horses” Went Largely Unnoticed

“Fresh Horses” is a good study of two people who set out to use one another yet try to convince themselves that they’re in love. It was a departure from other 80s teen flicks, which centered upon the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” zeitgeist that defined the decade. “Fresh Horses” represents a turn from the quest to score to lives rooted in morning-after regrets. This puts it in a similar category as “Less Than Zero” – also starring Andrew McCarthy – and other somber 80s teen gems.

“Fresh Horses” a Study in Narcissism

Let’s take a look at how “Fresh Horses” illustrates the heartache and pain of entering into a relationship only to deceive from each protagonist’s point of view, staring with Matt Larkin:

From the very beginning, we see that Matt Larkin is a smug, commitment-phobic jerk. The film starts with Matt and Tip (Ben Stiller) riding Matt’s boat up and down the Ohio River. After this 10-minute montage, we discover that Matt deliberately showed late to his own engagement party. Throughout the movie, he continues to show his passive-aggressive propensity for abandoning women at the precise point in which they seem to need/want him the most. Most notably:

  • He strikes up a relationship with Jewel so he can break off his engagement with his fiancée.
  • He fails to go with Jewel to confront Green about signing the divorce papers, even though her facial expressions and tone make it obvious that this is what she wants him to do. He lets her go alone, instead.
  • Even though Ellen (Molly Hagan) makes it clear that she’s up for a one-night stand, Matt basically ignores her offer and insists they go to the abandoned railroad house. (Likely because he knows Jewel will see him there.)

Here is another of Matt Larkin’s other, obvious flaws:

  • He becomes physically abusive with his friends whenever they suggest that he just break it off with Jewel. He doesn’t do this because he loves her, he does this because his friends’ suggestion that he’s just using the girl cuts a little too close to the truth for him.

Matt repeatedly shows contempt for Jewel throughout the film.

  • When they meet and he asks for a drink of her soda. (Narcissistic boundary issues.)
  • When Matt and Tip are talking to a lawyer about Jewel’s marriage to Green, Matt does all the talking while Jewel is left to wait outside the room. (Jewel doesn’t matter even when it comes to her own life.)
  • Throughout the film, Matt talks down to Jewel in an annoying, condescending manner. (Correcting her English, chiding her about her name, etc.)
  • Matt tries to keep Jewel from meeting his parents. (He’s embarrassed to be with her.)

While Matt is a jerk, Jewel isn’t much better. Her greatest flaw is that she’s a near-pathological liar who’s also not honest with herself. She claims to resent Matt for treating her as though she’s stupid and helpless, yet she purposefully presents herself as dumb and helpless in order to convince people to help her. Then, she resents Matt for behaving in a way she more or less manipulated him into behaving. (My guess is that she does this as a justification for using people the way that she does.)

Some additional examples of Jewel’s duplicity include:

  • She sees in Matt the chance of escaping from her low-class, white trash rural existence.
  • She casually concocts stories of being abused by older men – typically older men/father figures – in order to elicit sympathy from other men.
  • She married Green for the same reason she hooked up with Matt – to hopefully improve her position in life.
  • She hints at what she wants from Matt but never comes out and says it. (Sorry! Pet peeve of mine.)
  • The lies she tells are dangerous in that they could cause men to fight and kill each other to protect her “honor.” (I think she secretly yearns for this as a means of proving her “worth.”)

Other Things That Worked in “Fresh Horses”

The film features some beautiful cinematography. The scenes shot in rural Kentucky – Jean’s house, Jewel’s house, the abandoned railroad building – have a misty and mysterious back-country beauty complete with cold metal fences, frosted grass, and dead trees that seem to reach through the fog to guide the star-crossed lovers upon their fated path.

The film also touches upon differences that separate people yet ironically make them appealing to each other in a grass-is-always-greener way: man/woman, city/country, college/high school dropout, rich/poor, etc.

What Didn’t Work in “Fresh Horses”

It’s not that Fresh Horses was filled with all things bad. It’s more of the case of wasted potential, which is even worse. It robs this amazing of film of the chance to have made a deeper impact upon pop culture.

Some of the film’s shortcomings include:

  • Molly Ringwald’s wardrobe. With her characteristic prairie skirt and high boots, she looked like she walked onto the set straight from “The Breakfast Club.” I know this was her trademark look but the character of Jewel is a backwoods country girl of meager means. She likely wouldn’t have dressed in the latest 80s teen fashions.
  • Viggo Mortensen was underused. Throughout the film, Matt Larkin is warned about Jewel’s husband, a supposedly dangerous character named “Green.” Unfortunately, he only appears in two scenes. The first is a brief appearance in a diner where Larkin sees him but doesn’t know who he is. The second is near the end, where Green delivers a highly philosophical and much-needed reality check to Larkin.
  • Note: If I had written this film, the character of Green would have appeared in at least three significant scenes. For example, I would have had Green beat up Larkin at Jean’s house rather than some random hillbilly played by playwright Larry Ketron. This would have been a better use of an interesting character AND a very talented actor! (No one knew Viggo’s potential back then, though.)
  • Ketron needed to explore Larkin’s relationship with his parents. The character of Matt Larkin was not the best of people: he cheats on his fiancée, knowingly sleeps with a married woman, and pushes his friends around, among other things. Something had to make him this way. My guess is a dysfunctional family upbringing. It would have been nice to see more than a passing hint of this.

“Fresh Horses” Haunted me for 30+ Years

I felt compelled to see “Fresh Horses” again. I last saw it in 1989 with my then-girlfriend. At that time, I thought that Matt Larkin was the unwitting and innocent victim of Jewel’s manipulative games. I remember calling her a “scheming bitch” during the final scene where Matt Larkin tearfully walked away from the ice skating rink.

After I saw it again, 27 years later, I see this movie – and the message it subtly implies – much differently.

My 40s have been a time of brutal self-examination. Some painfully honest personal inventories of all my negative qualities have taught me a lot. I now see that I was able to bury, ignore, or project these traits onto others in my 20s and 30s. Long story short, I was Matt Larkin, I just didn’t see it in 1989. My subconscious recognized the similarities and used its tricks to keep me from realizing it.

Your Favorite 80s Teen Movie…

A lot of great movies came out in the 80s. I won’t be able to revisit them all, but that won’t stop me from trying. In the meantime, feel free to shared your memories of great 80s movies such as “Fresh Horses” or any of the rest. I’d like to hear about the films that kept you awake in the dark during that amazing decade.

About J.P. Ribner

J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

Anyone who thinks they’re a domestic violence expert needs to spend two years with my ex.

The point I’m driving at is that the dynamics of domestic violence aren’t always as cut and dry as bad man in sleeveless T-shirt beats poor, defenseless woman. Yes, that happens; but so do instances where the woman is the initial aggressor.Before we delve into this, take a few minutes to watch this video:

Here’s what usually happens when the physical abuse/domestic violence is female-on-male: An argument ensues and the man gets attacked when he tries to walk away. (“Don’t you turn your back on me!”) Or the beating goes on and on until the man, often at wit’s end, grabs, pushes, or shoves the woman in order to prevent further beating.

Want to guess which one will face domestic violence charges if the police are called? Hint: If you have any doubts, consider the name of the current Federal law – The “Violence Against Women Act” or VAWA.

The social experiment conducted above is NOT the first of its kind. You can find a few other videos where this experiment has taken place and the results are nearly identical: Many men and women rush in to help the woman who’s being thrashed. When the man is being abused, few to no people bother to intervene.

In a previous experiment similar to this, passersby later were interviewed. The reporter asked why they did not do anything to help the man being beaten. The men and woman interviewed offered these generic responses:

1. She’s just a woman, she can’t really hurt him like a man could.
2. I didn’t want to get involved.
3. He should be able to handle it.
4. A woman wouldn’t hit a man unless he did something to deserve it.
5. He must have had it coming.

Ultimately, my point about this is rather direct: What you THINK you know about domestic violence is largely the creation of the feminist/women’s rights group. It is THEY who control the narrative on the topic. They’ve created the framework used to author VAWA, and they continue to push the narrative that “in the United States, 22%–35% of women who visit hospital emergency rooms do so because of domestic violence.” (Note: a TIME Magazine article boldly refutes this claim.)

This feminist domestic violence zeitgeist has found an unlikely ally in the police/prosecutors all across the country. These folks profit form the skyrocketing number of domestic violence arrests under the unquestionable holy of holies known as VAWA. The law practically demands men be arrested at the mere accusation of domestic violence. This keeps state and Federal tax dollars rolling in for women’s shelters, anger management programs and other various and sundry court-mandated shenanigans.

The truth is, women are nearly as likely to commit domestic violence against their partner as men. (Again, according to another TIME Magazine article on the subject.) Problem is, we as a society are largely unaware or unwilling to believe that the “fairer sex” is capable of such nastiness. Most of those willing to at least admit that women hit men take a rather blaze view towards the subject. (“He can’t take a little woman hitting him? What kind of man is he?) Meanwhile, the domestic violence arm of the criminal justice industry keeps pulling men into its clutches.

Which brings me back to women such as my ex…

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

white privilegeWhat is it with people who demand white people be “educated” about this white privilege myth?

Newsflash: I’m not in need of any agenda-based education.You never asked me if I want it. In fact, you never offer or suggest I receive education. Instead, you demand that I “learn” what you’re teaching based, I suppose, upon some high-minded principles and presumed moral superiority. Such is the case of thems doin’ the edge-u-ma-catin’.

Here are some reasons why you in the you-need-to-be-educated-in-the-interests-of-humanity crowd never ask anyone if they want the benefit of your vaunted knowledge:

1. You have already have determined that you are right.

2. You have already have determined that I am wrong.

3. You assume a position of moral superiority with your certainty that my being educated (according to your agenda) is in the “best interests of humanity.”

4. You are perfectly comfortable in your hypocrisy, because of reasons 1,2, and 3.

5. You don’t see it as hypocrisy because of reasons 1,2, and 3.

6. Your mentality has taken over pop culture, modern thought, and the educational system; thus, you use the don’t-be-on-the-wrong-side-of-history argument, which is tantamount to saying, “Everyone else is doing it.”

7. You vehemently avoids debate, critical thought, and any questioning of your perceived moral authority.

8. You have little to no idea as to the origin of your high-minded moral philosophies. Most of you simply repeat it because your friends said it, and they likely heard it from someone else.

9. You refuse to see your belief system for what it is – a divisive philosophy that operates upon belief. In other words, it’s a religion and your limited understanding of its precepts is that of a fanatic.

10. You label anyone who disagrees with you as one or more type of “ist” or “phobe” – racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobe, Islamophobe, etc.

The Reason I’ve Posted This…
It’s bad enough when people I know have this mentality. It’s worse when the person with these opinions is someone you once respected. Such was the case this week. Someone on my social media friends list shared a story that “all white people MUST read.” From the headline and lead sentences, I could already see that it was the usual check-your-privilege tripe that we’ve all heard a thousand times. Rather than waste my time trying to argue any point, I simply blocked it from my feed and moved forward.

Thanks but no Thanks
For the record, no, I don’t want to be re-educated according to your agenda of white privilege. I don’t care to read your white privilege statistics. I don’t want an example of white privilege. I don’t plan to read any books on white privilege. And I will not attend any white privilege conference. I don’t have a “white privilege knapsack,” so there’s no need to invite me to unpack the invisible knapsack.

In short, I don’t adhere to any of this bullshit political theory.

White Privilege Pimps and Systemic White Racism Hustlers Unmasked
Most people who share these memes do so in some misguided notion of propping up their already-inflated egos. They become the banner men (and women) of imaginary causes to loudly trumpet upon their social media outlets to a resounding chorus of like-minded individuals all chiming in to validate the original poster as well as to provide themselves with some much-needed self-soothing.

Their political identities are rooted in some highly-distorted grievance filtered through the fractured lens of racial identity. Their entire shtick, as it were, is convincing groups of people that they are victims of some mythical conspiracy theory. This allows these hucksters to then ride in on their high horse as the great liberator of some poor, disadvantaged group that cannot help themselves.

It’s the height of narcissism, people. Don’t fall for it!

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.

With the recent death of Scott Weiland, Generation X has lost yet another spokesperson. This deserves a eulogy… for my generation and the decade we called our own.

Of course this is sad news for Gen Xers. Scott Weiland was one of the cool guys of the 1990s. He belonged to an elite group grunge vocalists who sang the soundtrack of our lives. Despite the impact he made upon my age group, Weiland’s death comes as no surprise. It is yet another bitter reminder that Generation X is getting older and more mortal by the day.

The 1990s Were a Decade of Darkness for Generation X
Stone Temple Pilots as being among “The Big Five” of 1990s rock music. (The other four are Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains.) These bands had a HUGE impact on the 90s sound as well as its overall musical direction. To fellow Gen Xers who came of age during that halcyon decade, the music was a journey into the causes and effects of childhood trauma.

Songs about rape, child abuse, and murder dominated the airwaves, CD players, and MTV rotations. At the time, I wondered how this morbidity could be so popular. Now I understand. As a generation, we were collectively working through the issues associated with being raised by our parents. Bands such as Stone Temple Pilots – and the rest of the Big Five – acted as the moderators for this decade-long group therapy session.

Most Me Generation parents weren’t the Brady Bunch. They were a bunch of pot-smoking, wife-swapping, cocaine-sniffing, child abusing assholes. And after their myriad fuckups, their greatest advice to us was “Just say ‘No.’” Needless to say, we saw through the bullshit, and our greatest act of rebellion was spending our disposable income on the pre-packaged subculture served up by people just like our dipshit parents.

I Fucked up and Missed Out on the 90s
Despite its trauma and false pretenses, the 90s were one hell of a party! Too bad I was too busy wallowing in resentment. I didn’t need Woodstock 94. I came of age in Flint, Michigan’s nascent punk rock scene of the 1990s.When my band wasn’t playing the stage at the Capital Theater, I was hanging out with my friends, seeing some great bands and slamming in the circle pit up front.

Then one day everything changed. Sometime in mid-September, 1991, I heard Kurt Cobain stroke the first chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I didn’t feel elated that the music that was so much part of my life was now recognized by the mainstream. Instead, I felt betrayed. To me, it was a blatant commercialization of the 80s punk that defined my teens and early 20s.

Of course I feel differently now. The concept of “selling out” is bullshit. No artist should be forced to toil away in obscurity just because some small group of fans want to selfishly lord over that artist’s popularity. More importantly, the 90s were just so fucking cool, creative, and free. I wish I would’ve done more to appreciate that unique time in history. But there are no decade do-overs.

Sorry to Hear of Your Passing, Scott
So this brings me back to Scott. I can’t wax poetic about how much you meant to me during my turbulent and tumultuous twenties. I don’t have any memories of seeing you live and in your prime with Stone Temple Pilots. The truth is, I never knew you.

But you still were the voice of my generation. One of them, anyway. You had everything a young, aspiring singer such as me wanted; but in the end, you died as you lived: a faded rock star past his prime. All I can say is that that wherever you are, I hope you’ve been able to heal your wounds and put down those demons that haunted you for so long.

Say hello to Kurt and Layne for me…

About J.P. Ribner
J.P. Ribner is the author of Viking fantasy adventure series “The Berserker’s Saga.” Currently, the saga features two novels – “Legacy of the Bear” and “Prophecy of the Bear.” For more about his written work, check out his website.