THE MEDICI IRIS by Max Medford: Book Review

In my early 20s I went through a period of boredom. I was dying for something out of the ordinary to happen. Typically, college and dating would be enough to keep things exciting, but I’d been living in a nice little suburban bubble for my entire life. I was craving some intrigue…something unknown. Comic books, movies, and episodes of The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories strove to stimulate what I convinced myself was a stagnant existence. Eventually, here and there, things started to happen. Nothing earth shattering, but occasionally, some random amusing shit went down and inspired me to write about it, although it was nothing quite as cool and bizarre as what happened to fellow Jersey guy Wes Barino in Max Medford’s first novel, The Medici Iris.

During the the time I spent with this book, I got a few “what are you reading?” inquiries. Thinking of how to sum this book up and provide an answer to that was a bit of a challenge, but all I had to do was look right there at the bottom of page one: “A tale of murder, sex, drugs…and horticulture.” If that’s not enough of a description, here’s a few key words for you:

Beer, bar trivia games, organized crime, drugs, mysterious monks, strippers, corrupt cops, and crimson colored flowers. More than enough to elicit your attention I gather.

The characters Medford embroils into these exploits feel familiar. From the get go, we become acquainted with Wes Barino, our chain smokin’, sub makin’ main character. Right away I put myself in his shoes and even though he’s supposed to be twenty-something, I pretended he was thirty-something. Wes drives an old Chrysler LeBaron, a detail that I got a kick out of since that was my first car. He’s also a master at the bar trivia game, Quiztouch, a diversion that he’s perfected at a nearby Houlihan’s while drinking with his best friend, Scott, who trolls the establishment for women.

To me, Scott wasn’t as likable as some classic best friends like Stiles from Teen Wolf for instance. I always use that comparison, even though Stiles was occasionally kind of a douche as well. I pictured Scott to be played by Kevin Connolly a.k.a “E” from HBO’s Entourage, sort of annoying, tries too hard, but a fiercely loyal friend. Scott, who drives an IROC, usually goes a little overboard and he’s clearly a bad influence on Wes, who usually keeps his nose clean, well, not always.

You’ll be able to relate to Medford’s real dialogue, especially between Wes and Scott. Their banter sounds like it might have been transcribed from a conversation you had while hanging out with your friend the other night.

It comes to Wes and Scott’s attention that the Quiztouch game is holding a grand competition to determine the national champion of the game in Texas. Before the big championship, they’ll hold a regional tournament to see who advances. Wes enters. It’s a chance for him to do something that he’s really good at while possibly winning a small jackpot. And as Clark Griswold once said “Getting there is half the fun, you know that!” Since I think of everything in film terms, the quest to get to the big game tournament reminded me of “Video Armageddon” in 1989’s The Wizard.

Before Wes and Scott embark on their quest, there’s a whole load of other drama going on. Wes has to deal with his on-again off-again girlfriend who’s made up of Italian stereotypes, Sam, but he can’t keep his mind off her. She thinks Wes needs to quit the sub shop and do something more worthwhile with his life. Then there’s also his sister who’s having issues of her own with her husband who’s a cop keeping tabs on Wes. As if that’s not enough, there’s mysterious messages forming on her fridge. Oh and one more, Wes has an enigmatic flower growing in his yard that is devouring his attention.

Wes can barely focus on all this stuff, but the Quiztouch competition requires ultimate mental sharpness. Piling on even more tension, Wes has been having weird blackouts which have him visiting the doctor. It can’t seem to get much crazier until Wes and Scott get appointed delivery boys. They are bestowed with the precarious task of making a drop-off of a mysterious, locked duffel bag on their journey.

Geographical details of The Medici Iris obviously provide a nice frame of reference if you’re from Jersey or even have a loose knowledge of it from seeing it on TV. Naturally, for a Jersey freak like me, the Garden State backdrop made me feel even more like I was right there with Wes and his buddy Scott in the book. The duo traverses New Jersey from Montclair and Newark all the way down to the Pine Barrens. The NJ newspaper, The Star Ledger, is also makes a few prominent appearances.

Also a regional thing, the usage of Sub/Hoagie in vernacular gets brought up. Personally, I’ve never actually heard anyone refer to a sub sandwich as a hoagie, but one of our convenience store chains, WaWa, which happens to be represented in the book, sells these sandwiches under the guise of Hoagies, NOT subs. I give them a pass because they make decent subs, even though they’re clearly weirdos. What’s weirder, one customer at the sub-shop in the book refers to a sub as a “grinder,” and is appropriately scolded for it.

I had no idea what to expect The Medici Iris, especially since the plot synopsis sounded all over the place. I found myself tearing through the book just to see how the hell it was going to come together. I wasn’t frustrated by all the twists, turns, and red herrings in the least, in fact, they enticed me even more.  Medford methodically builds a mondo amount of suspense as the story ascends to it’s rousing finale. All the while ancillary thrills and mini cliffhangers provide a lot fun along the way. Even after the first 50 pages I wasn’t entirely sure where the book was taking me, but all I knew was that it was amusing and I thoroughly enjoyed the story that’s constructed like a wild mouse roller coaster.

The Medici Iris satisfied my desire for “something cool to happen,” while allowing me to stay out of trouble altogether. If you read this book you might wind up asking yourself “why can’t this stuff happen to me?” Wes and Scott ran into a few of those surreal experiences – the kind of times where you feel like they may not really be happening, so you have to pinch yourself. Competently, Medford’s intertwining plot unfolds in a similar way to an Elmore Leonard crime novel or in films like 1994’s Pulp Fiction and 1999’s Go, and even the slacker masterpiece Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.

The style of the adventure incorporated stream of consciousness and it felt very cinematic. If you’re a fan of films like 1985’s After Hours and Into the Night, you’ll dig this. While I definitely recommend this book to my fellow New Jerseyans, I also say that if you have an insatiable desire for never-ending stories, fantastic voyages, and excellent adventures, I suggest you read The Medici Iris. It may change the way you look at stuff.

Back From Hiatus!

As a long time blogger, I’ve always tried to take short breaks so I don’t get burned out. I’ve seen so many blogs come and go through the years because their real life responsibilities take priority, and for me that’s definitely the most important thing to keep in mind. It’s hard to fathom that there’s a bunch of people who actually like to come here and read this stuff. I’m programmed to do this for my own creative outlet and I often forget I have readers.

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, I haven’t gone anywhere, although I was distracted from blogging temporarily. I am back now though. During the short hiatus I did some writing for New Jersey’s most famous news outlet The Star Ledger/NJ.com. I covered one of my favorite things, WWE’s Wrestlemania – right here in New Jersey, and it was quite an awesome moment in my life. To top it off, the live broadcast of WWE Monday Night Raw from Izod Center (which was said to have the greatest crowd in recent history) the day after ‘Mania, showed a screen shot of one of my live reports during a montage. Being a small part of that show felt phenomenal.
A few other major events have been going on in personal life as well. Two of my close friends are getting married within the same week this month and I’m in both wedding parties. One of the guys is Mike @idiotatplay who co-stars in The Sexy Armpit show on our YouTube channel. Mind you, getting all dressed up is not something that I truly enjoy, but for these guys I don’t mind at all, and Mike’s letting us wear Chuck Taylor’s with the tuxedo’s, so it’s all good!

Yes, blogging is a hobby, but it’s still a lot of work. I have an actual job like most of you reading this, and I write that because many people arrive at blogs and websites thinking that the owners live in some fantasy world where blogging is a solid $100,000/a year full-time job, and obviously that’s not true.

Sometimes what life hands us down is a lot to process and blogging winds up falling down the priorities list. When that happens my online activity dwindles, but I always know that I will be back as soon as possible. Just like when a TV station is having technical difficulties, I always return shortly. 

Gotham City, NJ: More Evidence!

After my post GOTHAM CITY, NJ? last year became one of the most popular here at The Sexy Armpit (excluding this one of course), I found yet another piece of evidence to back up my theory that Gotham City is actually in New Jersey. If you haven’t seen the Star Ledger Live/NJ.com video where they interview me about my theory, check it out right here: http://videos.nj.com/star-ledger/2011/11/could_batmans_gotham_city_real.html and here http://www.nj.com/ledgerlive/index.ssf/2011/11/gotham_city_new_jersey_yes_bat.html

If you aren’t familiar with this, there is quite a lot of evidence to prove that Batman actually operates out of New Jersey rather than New York. The trend seemed to start in the mid to late ’80s and early ’90s. As I detailed in the original post there were several occasions that dropped clues and even blatant facts that Gotham was indeed meant to be in NJ. Now, with the release of The Dark Knight Rises upon us, there’s even more of a reason to finally let go of the past and embrace change.

New York City is the greatest city in the world, there’s no doubt about it. It’s sickening amount of notoriety and fame will last eons. Let us, The Garden State, be proud of our connection with Batman – whether it’s a theory of an underground blogger or not. We in Jersey didn’t ask for MTV’s Jersey Shore. How much do you like guidos? That’s exactly how much New Jersey likes them. No silly MTV show being filmed here can ever compare to the fact that The Dark Knight Rises was filmed literally right down the highway in Newark, NJ.

Sandy Hook - Gotham City 

Onto the further evidence that has been collected. I initially discovered this information back in December 2011, but I kept this one under wraps until we arrived at July 2012, in time for the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. The excellent horror blogger and movie reviewer Chuck Conry over at Zombies Don’t Run posted several pictures he found of a package containing promotional materials from The Dark Knight Rises marketing campaign. The package included a Bane T-Shirt as well as a map of Gotham. Posted above is a shot of this map that depicts a very familiar HOOK.

I’m not referring to Captain Hook or the memorable part of a song…I’m talking about my favorite barrier island: Sandy Hook. Sandy Hook is clearly labeled on the promo Gotham map. While this is simply Batman’s movie continuity, there’s still lots of clues in the comics as well. Take for instance Nightwing’s ‘hood, Bludhaven. The crime infested city has been pinpointed by DC Comics as southern New Jersey, possibly Little Egg Harbor, Brigantine, or Atlantic City. There we have hints in the movies and the comics, but what about the ’60s Batman TV show? Yep, we have that covered as well!
In New Jersey’s Great Pop Culture Moments 27 you can read how BATMAN AND NEW GUERNSEY are PURRRFECT TOGETHER!!! 

I was in Newark while the filming of the movie was taking place and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had (Thanks to @BrianDonohue). Walking the streets and seeing Gotham City street signs and passing police cars with Gotham City license plates was incredible, especially since I’m a life long Batmaniac. Needless to say I’ve got my tickets for The Dark Knight Rises and this film is going to be memorable for me for a couple of reasons. Not only is it the last film starring Bale as Batman, but it features plenty of scenes in the subways of Newark and a big fight scene on the steps of Newark’s City Hall! 
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I don’t think you can argue with the piece of evidence posted above. If I convinced my man Eric and his young daughter from all the way across the country in Cali into believers, then that means it’s the real deal! Follow him on Twitter Twitter.com/BubbaShelby ! And if all of my research has proven true, then The Dark Knight Rises is truly a homecoming for Batman. Please feel free to weigh in with your opinion on the actual location of Gotham City!

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Batman, A Jersey Boy?: The Sexy Armpit on Star Ledger Live!

Check out this awesome article from Brian Donohue that gives us a phenomenal shout out!

Although I don’t wear a cape (well…not on a daily basis, but probably bi-monthly), I AM on a crusade so I guess that would make me a sort of occasional caped crusader. If you are a frequent visitor to The Sexy Armpit you already know that my goal is not to rid the Jersey streets of crime and supervillains, but to bring to light New Jersey pop culture.

Previously on the site, I’ve written about my stance that Batman’s Gotham City is actually in New Jersey. After seeing my article and realizing that The Dark Knight rises would be filming in Newark, Brian Donohue, the host and reporter of Star Ledger/NJ.com’s Ledger Live online show, asked me if I’d be interested in being a guest on the show to defend my case.

Brian and his Ledger Live show along with other members of The Star Ledger and NJ.com have put together an incredible barrage of coverage on this awesome pop culture moment in NJ history. I never thought we’d be lucky enough to have the Batman franchise film mere miles away from Sexy Armpit Headquarters! And to think that my best friend Frank and I used to pretend our basements were our batcaves and we fought imaginary villains all over the neighborhood! 20 some odd years later, it’s official! After the Dark Knight Rises in summer 2012, Newark will forever be connected with Batman and Gotham City.

Being on The Ledger Live show was a lot of fun and I was able to take a little tour of The Star Ledger which is a New Jersey media institution. A big thanks to Brian and Bumper from Ledger Live for having me on! I am very appreciative that after 8 years of working on this site that The Sexy Armpit has been recognized as the best NJ Pop Culture blog!

Photos from the filming in Newark courtesy of NJ.com:
http://photos.nj.com/4504/gallery/the_dark_knight_rises_in_newark/index.html

Gotham City Subway map:
http://www.nj.com/ledgerlive/index.ssf/2011/11/gotham_city_subway_map.html

Further video from The Dark Knight film shoot:
http://videos.nj.com/star-ledger/2011/11/newark_becomes_gotham_city_dur.html

The Perfect Holiday (2007) – A Jersey Christmas Movie

The Perfect Holiday
The grand interior of The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater in Jersey City
decked out for J-Jizzy’s Christmas Wonderland Party

So many people claim they are originally from Jersey, ergo that must mean when someone sings “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” they really mean they’re going back to Jersey…to Jersey. Queen Latifah is one of those people. She’s a tough chick who was born in Newark, NJ and raised in East Orange, who went ahead and crowned herself the Queen of Hip-Hop. There’s never been any other female hip-hop artist that has been formidable enough to threaten her crown, but what’s funny is that I can only recall one of her songs, which is “U.N.I.T.Y” from 1994. Most of what I know about the former power forward of the Irvington High School girls basketball team, aka Dana Owens, is that she’s become more of a movie star, and unfortunately 2007’s The Perfect Holiday is not one of her better ones.

The Perfect Holiday
The kids go to see Santa at Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall in Elizabeth, NJ

The plot of The Perfect Holiday is trite Christmas fare, something you might see on ABC Family Channel or better yet…Hallmark Channel rather than in theaters. Gabrielle Union (the hot rival cheerleader in Bring It On), shows that she needs several more acting classes to become Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock who she was attempting to channel in this movie. In her role as Nancy, she plays a mother of 3 who has just separated from her rapper husband. Benjamin (Morris Chestnut) is the guy that swoops in to steal her heart as he’s playing Santa Claus at Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, NJ. Nancy’s cuter-than-Olivia-Kendall daughter Emily (Khail Bryant) tips Benjamin off that her mom is in need of a compliment. Chestnut’s performance was only forgivable because it was so predictable and cheesy. Charlie Murphy is J-Jizzy, a way less likable P.Diddy sort of hip-hop artist who has left his 3 kids with the hurdle of adjusting to their mother’s new boyfriend (Chestnut). Forget all that, the heavy guy from Couples Retreat, Faizon Love, is the best and funniest part of this movie.

The Perfect Holiday
Faizon Love makes the front page of The Star Ledger!

The pace is fast, the editing is terrible, and they crammed pretty much every Christmas song you can think of into every second of the film. Even having the majestic Queen Latifah as one of the producers did not give this film the boost it needed. Latifah’s screen time as “Mrs. Christmas” is minimal, and the dude who wishes he was Don Cheadle, Terrence Howard, also appears as her extremely annoying cohort, Bah Humbug. The film was directed and co-written by Lance “Un” Rivera, the Unentertainment Records CEO and fomer Biggie Smalls collaborator. He also directed another film I’ll be writing about in the future, 2004’s The Cookout.

I can only recommend The Perfect Holiday to those of you who love the actors in the film, as well as to hardcore New Jersey buffs like myself. Our newspaper, The Star-Ledger makes an appearance, and so does tons of crappy looking computer generated snow. In case you decide to go out on a limb and Netflix this steaming lump of coal, you’ve been warned.

The Perfect Holiday
Garden Palace Lanes in Clifton, NJ – if you look closely you’ll see CGI snow

Filming Locations: Hoboken, Jersey City, Bergenfield, Rutherford, Westfield, Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth and Garden Palace Lanes in Clifton.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=thesexarm-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=B001DJLCQS&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

NJ Band Rapid Fire

This video profile of New Jersey band Rapid Fire comes to you courtesy of Star Ledger videos. Listen to this metal/prog rock band tear it up, but be more in awe that the band members range in age from 14 to 16 years old. Rapid Fire won a contest where they snagged an opening spot at last week’s Bamboozle Festival at The Meadowlands.