New French Blog



Hey everyone! It’s time for me to move to Paris!

I’m actually becoming the crazy expat I previously wrote about, and will be arriving in Paris later this week. That means its time to start up a second blog all about my French life living in a kitchen in Paris.

The blog is aptly titled Living In a Kitchen In Paris.

Check it out and follow it to be kept in the loop about culture shock, expat life, stupid Americans, French food, cooking, and cocktails.

And of course, subscribe to this blog for all my thoughts on movies, TV, and my fiction and poetry.

4 Things That Should Be Obvious About Raising Small Dogs (That People Still Get Wrong)


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Dogs are amazing, aren’t they? The largest dog breeds can weigh up to 290 pounds, and the smallest can be anywhere from 1 to 5 (although there are LOTS of reasons not to breed ‘teacup’ anything). They have such a vast diversity that it’s often difficult to lose track of the fact that they are all the same animal, and need to all be treated with the same set of rules.


Unfortunately, a lot of small dog owners treat their buddies by a whole different rulebook—and the dogs pay the price. Dogs that are scared and insecure are dogs that “misbehave”—and this is precisely why the shelters of America are filled with tiny dog breeds like Chihuahuas, most of which will be put down, because their previous owners didn’t know how to treat small dogs.

If you want your small dog to be both well behaved and happy, you have to follow these four guidelines:

Rule #1: Buy them an Iron Man t-shirt

Rule #1: Buy them an Iron Man t-shirt

4. Don’t reward them for something you don’t want them to do
This goes for any dog, of course, as does all of this advice, but it’s still something people seem to particularly forget when raising small dogs. If your dog jumps onto the couch with you and begs for a potato chip, don’t give it to them. No, not even once. If your dog barks, and you think it’s adorable in one context, and try to punish him in another, the message is being entirely lost. When you reward a dog, you are always sending the message, “What you did was good; keep doing it.”

There is one area in my house where my dog gets treats. If he begs in any other part of the house, he is punished and denied what he wants. As a result, he’s respectful of my food—so much so that I can leave him near a plate of food and walk out of the room knowing that most of the time (maybe 95% of the time), he won’t touch it.

You don’t have to ‘spoil’ your small dog by giving him whatever he begs for. Spoil your dog with love and care, not treats.

3. Picking them up and holding them IS rewarding them
Building on the last point—when your small dog is doing something that you don’t want it to, and you pick it up, you are rewarding him. When you hold and cuddle your dog, you are showing affection and care (hopefully), which are positive emotions.

If your dog starts barking at another dog, and you pick him up, guess what? It temporarily solves the problem—maybe—but it reinforces your dog’s behavior. Not only that, but when you hold your dog, you’re perceived as protecting him, and reinforcing his fear about “others”.

2. Take their aggression seriously
Here’s the mistake a lot of small dog owners make: they think their small dog exhibiting bad behavior is cute. Yeah, your Chihuahua probably won’t kill that postman, but you have to act like he could. Constantly ask yourself one question: would you tolerate this behavior from a big dog? If your small dog is showing signs of aggression that would be unacceptable for, say, a Mastiff, then you MUST treat it like the serious issue it is.

It’s not about whether your dog could literally do damage to someone. An aggressive dog is far more likely to be abandoned and put down. And your little buddy could get himself hurt or even killed by picking fights he can’t possible win.

1. You have to dominate them
So what do you do instead when your dog is doing something you disapprove of? You dominate them. Dogs are pack animals, and as much as you may be tired of this Ceasar Milan Dog Whisper “be the pack leader” stuff, it’s true. You have to be the alpha dog. Dogs need an alpha dog. If there isn’t an alpha dog, your small dog will struggle to become the alpha dog. That means your small pup will suddenly have to worry about leading the pack because you don’t make them feel safe.

Here’s the thing: your dog doesn’t WANT to be the alpha dog. Your dog wants to follow a leader. If they’re scared and insecure, they will give you trouble. But you need to be the leader that will make them feel secure.

Here’s a quick gauge of your dog’s respect for your leadership: when you walk with your dog, does he look to you? If he does, it means he’s trying to gauge your reaction and attitude. Your dog should get his attitude from you. When your dog trusts you as their pack leader, they will be able to relax, knowing that they have a top dog looking out for them. That means fewer problems for you, and less stress for your dog.

There are much more in-depth guides than mine to teach you how to dominate your dog, but a huge part of it is believing in it. Embody the pack leader, express your dominance, and keep your dog happy and healthy.

My little dog still thinks he's a big dog

Your little dog definitely thinks he’s a big dog.

Good Suffering: My Frustrated Love for Hellraiser


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Sometimes I feel cursed by my love of horror.

Raised on a strict no-horror diet due to a very tightly wound anxiety disorder and an over-active, only-child’s imagination, I didn’t start watching or reading horror until adulthood. That’s an essay for another day (the three movies that started it all? Alien, The Thing, and An American Werewolf in London, of course), but it led to a voracious appetite for a particular brand of good horror that’s hard to come by.

What this is leading up to is voracious me watching, and loving. Hellraiser, by Clive Barker. I’d seen a handful of the “serial” horror flicks before—Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween (which is, at its core, really the perfect slasher movie), Friday the 13th—but none made me a fraction as excited as Hellraiser.

A part of it—a big part of it—was the fact that the only thing I’m more fascinated by than disturbing movies are disturbing movies skirting the edges of erotica. Antichrist, Videodrome, Alien, and the like, are all rooted in the knife’s edge between horror and sexuality, and the fallibility of the human body. Although all arguably better movies than Hellraiser, none of them came close to the disturbing frankness with which Hellraiser portrayed its topic.

Clive Barker - Cenobite, 1986

Clive Barker – Cenobite, 1986

This blog post isn’t a discussion of Hellraiser or its multitude of themes—enough imagery and perversity to fill textbooks of study—but instead to explore the strange and acute disappointment that the first three Hellraiser movies evoked in me.

See, the cover of Hellraiser kind of lies. The movie isn’t about Pinhead (not even yet called ‘Pinhead’, a fan’s nickname, yet, but instead ‘Lead Cenobite’), or the other Cenobites around him. The movie is about Julia and Frank—forbidden lovers, skirting the edges of death and rebirth. Frank is haunted by the Cenobites, for sure, who appear now and again and drive the plot, but the primary glut of the film is focused on the reconstruction of the desiccated Frank, who needs to feed on blood to be reborn.

It’s a great film, a five-star horror film, worthy of its immense praise. And it works, and the reason that it works is because the Cenobites, these demons of pleasure and pain slipping into our dimension at the behest of the puzzle box, are entirely unexplained and almost noble. They’re akin to Michael Myers of Halloween, or, more literarily, the Old Ones of the H.P. Lovecraft mythos—inexplicable and beyond comprehension. There was a regality about them, and a strange poise in their violence. Like the truly great, incomprehensible horrors, they were so far beyond us that they had no reason to justify themselves. They had no back story, no revenge to reap, they just were.

Hellraiser fem

But there wasn’t much of them. Which was okay—they were the icing on the cake of horrors, the gilded pins stuck in the pin cushion of the plot. I wanted more—God, I wanted so much more of them. I wanted an entire movie about these beings. Clearly, other people did too, because what we got was Hellbound, the second film in the series.

Another good film, but simultaneously a big disappointment. In the film, the Cenobites are nearly impotent, taking their other-worldly charm and replacing it with a pitiable (and not entirely explained, until the sequel) backstory. Now, they were people. And do you know what’s exciting about that? Absolutely nothing. Instead of expanding on the mythos in a way that deepened and widened their allure, the film seemed to go the opposite direction, cutting the Cenobites off at the knees (not that they wouldn’t enjoy that) and extinguishing their very real flame.

The third Hellraiser wasn’t much better. The law of diminishing returns applies doubly so to horror movies, and this film felt like a flaccid whisper of the original story. It wasn’t that it was entirely awful—there are moments of redemption—but Pinhead in particular, though taking a starring role, is split into two sides of an awful coin. His boring human side comes back to urge Female Protagonist to reign in his crazy evil side.

Crazy Evil Side, by the way, is much worse than Bald Boring Side—suddenly this regal, stoic, inexplicable being is transformed into a sort of cackling generic villain, like an S&M Freddy Krueger.

Clive Barker - Untitled AA298, 2005

Clive Barker – Untitled AA298, 2005

I’m left with an itching emptiness, a void that I want filled by terrifying awesome Cenobites. The Hellbound Heart, the (utterly brilliant) novella that started it all, is equally light on the Cenobite-goodness. What’s a fan to do?

So, here I am, finishing up Hellbound Heart and staring longingly at Hellraiser IV: Bloodlines on Netflix. Will it quench my thirst, or only dry up my throat? Only time, and good suffering, will tell.


Becoming an Expat: Update (Still Crazy)


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So, the last time I wrote of this process was almost a year ago now in a blog post entitled ‘Crazy’. I wrote, “I might be going crazy. I must be– it’s a crazy notion, to try to move to Paris. I’m 24, I’m just starting out in my profession, I have family here, I have a nice apartment and friends. And now I want to just give all that up to move to France? Well, yes.”

A year later, I’m still just as crazy, and, in fact, growing more crazy by the day. The process of becoming an expat isn’t simple, and there’s no clear road-map to follow. I spent an entire month just trying to get someone, anyone, to answer one question. I saved up a third of my paycheck (on good months) for something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see a return on. I said good bye to Minnesota institutions and traditions, like Minnesota State Fair, in preparation for departure. And, most of all, I battled my own inexperience and anxiety to get through.

Photo by Brittany Battles

Photo by Brittany Battles

What I accomplished in a year:
Saved just over $4,000: This sounds like a lot, but it’s actually just under half of what it recommended you bring with you when moving overseas. I’m going to have to seriously crack down and try to hit my $6,000 minimum before leaving.

Improved my French: A little. Un petit-peu. I worked with a phenomenal French tutor for close to six months, just working myself up to a liveable standard. As I will be applying to a French language school, this does not concern me nearly as much as the money situation.

Found an affordable French language program: This was the most important and, thus far, most difficult step. The online resources are haphazard at best and scammy at worst. Applying to an American institution (such as the American University of Paris) would be the easiest route but, being American, these institutions are off-the-charts expensive. I finally settled on the Cours de Civilisation Française program of the Sorbonne, which offers French language and culture studies at reasonable prices to beginners. Getting the Sorbonne to talk to me, however, was a monumental challenge– particularly with my A2 level French.

Found a vet who specializes in exporting dogs: Because I own the cutest Chihuahua in existence, I naturally need to bring him with me (and because he weighs 6 lbs, he’ll be relatively easy to keep in a Parisian 10 meter squared studio). I have a feeling that this will become more stressful as I get closer to the date, and am still trying to figure out a safe way to export him.

Set up a Campus France account: Campus France is the first step for an American looking to acquire a study visa in France, and it’s best thought of as a gauntlet you must conquer to test your dedication. Unhelpful, confusing, and sometimes downright inscrutable, if you can successfully guess what Campus France is requesting of you, you can move on to the second stage. Think of it as a pre-visa application.

Started reducing what I take in: I’ll be moving from a relatively spacious two bedroom apartment to the aforementioned 10 meter squared studio, so I can’t really be too big on ‘possessions’. I’ve already promised myself that I’ll be taking no more than five to ten books (and ten is really pushing it) and about 1/5th of my current wardrobe. I’m still trying to figure out if my beloved DVD collection is coming with me– that is the one front I’m still acquiring on. Everything else is sell, sell, sell!

Renewed my passport, got certificate of graduation, school records: All of those paperwork things that can trip you up at the last minute.



Whew. It doesn’t look like a whole lot, now that I think about it, but I have a plan and I’m following my timeline. With four months to go before I plan to leave (with January being the ideal arrival month in Paris) I’m in crunch time.

So, if I seem a little crazier than usual for the next four months, just remember– I don’t hate you. I just hate Campus France. [Je plaisante! S'il vous plaît approuver ma demande de visa.]

10 Images: Obayashi’s House (1977)


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A cult phenomenon in Japan that spread abroad with re-releases on Janus and Criterion, Obayashi’s 1977 fever-dream House (“Hausu”) is a delirious and delicious haunted house flick worth seeking out. Shot with every hallucinatory, purposefully unrealistic editing and special effects technique in the book, House is playful, laugh-out-loud funny, and cringe-inducingly cheesy.

The plot doesn’t matter. The characters don’t matter. The dialogue doesn’t matter. Not even the repetitive music really matters.

Just shake up a cocktail, sit back on the sofa, switch off your analytical mind, and watch the madness unfold as Obayashi plays with every cinematic trick you can think of– and then invents some more.

House10 House7 House9 House3 House2 House House8House6 House4 House5

Screenshot Saturday: Antiviral (2012)


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For the horror aficionado, the name Cronenberg is venerated (or despised—if you’re Robin Wood) and held in its own unique realm as the nearly sole master of the venereal body horror. That exclusivity is what drew me first to Antiviral, which caused waves in the body horror community when the trailer was revealed to be the work of Brandon Cronenberg—the king’s son.

“Venereal” is a good word for Antiviral, which begins with a disease dealer selling the herpes simplex virus, previously carried by a movie starlet, to a devoted fan. “It continues to live on in the cells of it’s host,” he promises, as a pseudo-romantic sales pitch, “For the rest of their life.”


The premise/promise is simple—celebrity culture and consumption, taken to the extreme. In a future where diseases and viruses caught by celebrities are sold for a premium to devoted fans and bug collecting connoisseurs, competing virus companies patent their products and vie for A-list clientele. Celebrity steaks—the cultured muscle cells from celebrity tissue samples– are sold at deli counters, and a celebrity death or scandal causes a rush on the product for barbecues. Celebrity skin cells are cultured and sold, to be grafted onto the fan’s body, which even hyper-rational psychiatrist (legendary Malcolm MacDowell) describes as a religious experience.

Our anti-hero, Syd March, works one of the largest celebrity virus clinics, which owns the exclusive copyrights to viruses carried by blonde bombshell Hannah Geist. The words “unhealthy obsession” would probably sound contrived here, but it’s what begins to develop, as Syd pirates stolen diseases to resell on the black market and, finally, steals a mutated disease exclusive to his idol and injects himself with it.


What follows is a twisted story of sick, hallucinatory imagery, capitalist extremes, and disease sexual politics, as the line between celebrity and product is explored, crossed, and, finally, erased. “The afterlife is getting extremely perverse,” a celebrity butcher intones, invoking the immortal Henrietta Lacks, whose real-life cancer cells are still multiplying all over the world.

Antiviral combines the best of David Cronenberg—think the hallucinations of Videodrome, the body politic of The Fly, and the sterility of Dead Ringers—with an antiseptic visual style akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey. All of this is combined lovingly and twisted with a flair and faint humor all Brandon Cronenberg’s own. The ethereal, sickly Caleb Landry Jones is perfectly cast in the film, his androgynous beauty set off the classic Monroe-esque Sarah Gadon, as Geist.


The message may not exactly be subtle, but neither was papa Cronenberg’s oeuvre, and there are a number of satisfying threads woven throughout the film, which never becomes stale or predictable. The film is visceral and, while lacking the dirty grit of the elder Cronenberg’s early work, it still feels pleasantly authentic in a time of sanitized thrillers.

Unique, aesthetically stunning, and thought-provoking, Antiviral proves a welcome introduction to, hopefully, a new Venereal Horror Master.


Antiviral is currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

T.E. Lawrence: In Tribute of His 125th Birthday


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TE Lawrence pose

T.E. Lawrence was a 5’5″ scholar who looms large over military history. A desert chimera, and a British Sphinx, Lawrence by his very being changed the course of history.

On the 125th anniversary of his birth, my only tribute is a small selection of Lawrence’s gorgeous and quite powerful writings. These are all from Seven Pillars of Wisdom, with two selections from The Mint, where noted.

He is one of my great heroes, inspirations, and a sort of white elephant for the biographer in me– riding away into the desert, leaving only his words and images behind for me– for us– to piece together.

Happy 125th, T.E. Thank you for it all.


In the night my colour was unseen. I could walk as I pleased, an unconsidered Arab: and this finding myself among, but cut off from, my own kin made me strangely alone.”

“The essence of the desert was the lonely moving individual, the son of the road, apart from the world as in a grave.”

“The abstraction of the desert landscape cleansed me, and rendered my mind vacant with its superfluous greatness: a greatness achieved not by the addition of thought to its emptiness, but by its subtractions. In the weakness of earth’s life was mirrored the strength of heaven, so vast, so beautiful, so strong.”


“Yet life and honour seemed in different categories, not able to be sold for another: and for honour, had I not lost that a year ago when I assured the Arabs that England kept her plighted word? Or was honor like the Sybil’s leaves, the more that was lost the more precious the little left? Its part equal to the whole?”

“To man-rational, wars of nationality were as much a cheat as religious wars, and nothing was worth fighting for: nor could fighting, the act of fighting, hold any need of intrinsic virtue. Life was so deliberately private that no circumstances could justify one man in laying violent hands upon another’s: though a man’s own death was his last free will, a saving grace and measure of intolerable pain.”

“The mounting together of the devoted hopes of years from near-sighted multitudes, might endow even an unwilling idol with Godhead, and strengthen It whenever men prayed silently to Him … [Yet] It might have been heroic to have offered up my own life for a cause in which I could not believe; but it was a theft of souls to make others die in sincerity for my graven image.”


“Any protestation of the truth from me was called modesty, self-depreciation; and charming– for men were always fond to believe a romantic tale. It irritated me, this silly confusion of shyness, which was conduct, with modesty, which was a point of view. I was not modest, but ashamed of my awkwardness, of my physical envelope, and of my solitary unlikeness which made me no companion, but an acquaintance, complete, angular, uncomfortable, as a crystal.”

“You dreamed I came one night with this book
crying, ‘Here’s a masterpiece. Burn it.’
Well – as you please.”
Dedication of The Mint

“Such exaltation of thought, while it let adrift the spirit, and gave it license in strange airs, lost it the old patient rule over the body. The body was too coarse to feel the utmost of our sorrows and of our joys. Therefore, we abandoned it as rubbish: we left it below us to march forward, a breathing simulacrum, on its own unaided level, subject to influences from which in normal times our instincts would have shrunk.”

TE Lawrence .tanksuit

Easily was a man made an infidel, but hardly might he be converted to another faith. I had dropped one form and not taken on the other.”

Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances. For years we lived anyhow with one another in the naked desert, under the indifferent heaven. By day the hot sun fermented us; and we were dizzied by the beating wind. At night we were stained by dew, and shamed into pettiness by the innumerable silences of stars. We were a self-centered army without parade or gesture, devoted to freedom, the second of man’s creeds, a purpose so ravenous that it devoured all our strength, a hope so transcendent that our earlier ambitions faded in its glare.”

“‘Hullo, what the hell’s those marks? Punishment?’ ‘No, sir, more like persuasion, Sir, I think.’ Face, neck, chest, getting hot.
‘H . . . m . . . m . . . that would account for the nerves.’ His voice sounds softer. ‘Don’t put them down, Mac. Say ‘two parallel scars on ribs’. What were they, boy?’
Superficial wounds, Sir.
‘Answer my question.’
‘A barbed-wire tear, over a fence.’
The worst of telling lies naked is that the red shows all the way down.”
– R.A.F. medical inspection, The Mint

Press Any Key (poem)




I wanted a deep root,
I summoned a high key.
I decided on a red lacquer,
And cleared just a cluster of bodies.

I hadn’t seen anything bound for glory
From my neighborhood’s fertile field,
So in fifteen months time
I discreetly checked out.

Until now, I had never said, ‘Let me see,
Now, seriously, I am a little disappointed.
You know I am.

But I’m a dead genius,
And a mutilated Columbian,
And a true descendent of the Big Chief,
And a viper’s nest (cleared).

A strange minute of freedom
And Security.
An ache of four-thousand fevered princes
And Mercy.

I wanted those glass windows,
I don’t think I’m the average collector.
I have not heard from the Reserve,
But I know I’m on the program.

His Head + Its Dust Sheet Taste Good (Dada poem)


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Of course,
during the afternoon,
Gary spoke in
instinctive, frantic
finding himself playing
next to the door as
we came in.

I like the sweetness
he previously imagined.
(They knew crudity then.)
Just one more–
At a price.

At the table,
He brought out
a juicing orange.
A cold fury
separated us all.
“I was coming over for
dinner,” Gary
sighed mirthlessly.

“Don’t think of it as a
Sweet thing, sweet thing.”
Like brioche,
Or other possibilities.
The possibilities are
endless and disappointing.
(The ingredients notwithstanding.)

An extension of this
is the Elderflower Jazz.

Netflix Instant: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)


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I’ve been wrestling with this film since watching it nearly two weeks ago. Although it is historically significant (the film, its controversy, and its several court cases eventually resulted in the very first NC-17 verdict, as opposed to the former X rating), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is critically considered one of Almovodar’s weaker films. Still, I found it had plenty of meat to wrestle with.

Complex, bright, and unusual, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is intentionally difficult to parse. What initially seems like a disgustingly sexist romantic comedy (yet another controversy at the time of its release), comes apart under even the smallest amount of dissection as a problematic and labyrinthine discussion of human weakness. More than anything else, it is a maddeningly unsolved mystery.

Antonio Banderas stars as a mental patient named Ricky, who uses his charisma and sexual prowess to receive an early release from an institution. Immediately upon his release, Ricky goes out in search of a young porn star and ex-drug addict trying to transition in to serious acting—a woman named Marina (Victoria Abril). Marina is shooting a sexploitation film titled The Midnight Phantom, and is in the middle of a lush scene foreshadowing the rest of the film: a buff and masked man bursts into her home and attempts to seduce her out, promising her that they will live together someplace quiet. Marina’s character plays along until she has a moment to escape; leaping from her window while declaring that the Phantom’s way only leads to death.

Tie me up tie me down2

After shooting has wrapped, Ricky makes his move, kidnapping Marina, tying her up, and holding her against her will in her own apartment. Marina makes a number of thwarted attempts to escape, which end in violence and threats. Ricky, through it all, claims that he is in love with Marina, and that he only wants her to love him, too, and to have his children. “I had to kidnap you so you’d get to know me,” Ricky claims. “I’m sure you’ll get to love me as I love you.”

What follows is a strange narrative stew of Stockholm syndrome, wacky romantic comedy, sadomasochism, abuse, melodrama, and dependency. It’s difficult to parse out what is play acting and what is deadly serious. As Marina tries everything to escape—from guile to desperation—the only tactic that seems to work is cooperation. And as she cooperates, it appears that she falls more and more in love with Ricky, who, like the Phantom, promises her a quiet and happy life, if only she will love him. It’s hazy and unclear, however, whether Marina is suffering from Stockholm syndrome out of a survival instinct, or if she has met the man of her dreams in the most unlikely way.

Tie me up tie me down4
Complicating matters even further is Marina’s drug addiction. From the moment he kidnaps her, Ricky is running out into the streets to score Marina increasingly heavy drugs, ostensibly for her toothache. Her need to win his approval is thus secured, as he becomes both her lifeline and her dealer.

The film seems to play out as a simple romantic comedy with a dark twist—but this façade does not hold up. In the film’s final scene, Marina, her beloved sister Lola, and Ricky drive to Marina’s mother’s home. Marina has told Lola that she is in love with Ricky, and, believing her sister, Lola accepts this and bonds with Ricky, singing along to a pop song with him in the car, and promising she will find him a job. Everything is going wonderfully. Then, something startling happens—Marina begins to cry.

“What is it, silly?” Lola asks of her. “We’re getting along just fine.”

Tie me up tie me down6
Marina’s tears—whether they are tears of happiness, tears of fear, or tears of regret—end the film with more questions than answers. Did Marina love Ricky, or was she merely trying to survive? Was she dependent on him, as her new drug dealer, and did she mistake this dependence as love? Did Ricky manipulate Marina using his sexual ability, the way we saw him earlier manipulate the female warden?

The answers are not easy to come by, and the questions are unsettling for such a seemingly light film. Perhaps, like the Midnight Phantom, Ricky’s promises of a quiet, happy life lead only to death and sorrow. Or perhaps, as innocently as Ricky claims it, there will be nothing but tranquility and ecstasy in their home. It’s impossible to know—but intriguing, and maddening, to attempt to unravel.

Tie me up tie me down5

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is currently streaming on Netflix.

I’m interested to hear what you thought—if you’ve seen Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, did you think it was a straight-forward S&M romantic comedy—something in the vein of Secretary—or did you see it as a darker story?


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