John Serba At Large: An Introduction
My first assignment as a professional journalist was to interview a guy whose picture I had hanging up in my high-school locker: Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, the singer for thrash metal band Overkill, and an underground icon of sorts. He was amiable and funny, with an infectious and raspy two-packs-a-day laugh. That was 1996; that was my first byline for The Grand Rapids Press, my hometown paper.
In 2001, a few years after The Press hired me as a part-time entertainment writer, I trekked to the now-defunct Studio 28 theater complex to see "Bubble Boy," a pointedly politically incorrect comedy starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a teenager whose severely compromised immune system left him isolated in a plastic bubble. "The script is pure sewage," I wrote. My first professional pan!
I always wanted to be a film critic, and idolized Roger Ebert. For 16 of my 20-plus-years at The Press and MLive.com, I reviewed movies. For about a dozen of those years, I was lead film critic. Eventually, I enjoyed national syndication via parent company Advance Publications. It was the part of my job I loved the most: The dark theater. Scribbling indecipherable notes. Writing, analyzing, stating opinions (some of which were even coherent). Participating in the larger pop-cultural and artistic conversations. And occasionally savaging a turkey that massacred two hours of my life, because I could, as an act of revenge.
My tenure at MLive/The Press included many beats, ideas and tones: movies, music, food, beer, art, "Michigan identity" features, satirical commentary. Please note, I didn't include thinkpieces or listicles - I like to boast that I was writing those before those terms existed. (I've been around long enough, we called thinkpieces "columns," and concocted our own term for listicles: "chunky text.") Even though my time at that institution is over, it doesn’t mean I'll stop trying to be a soldier of cinema, or pursuing other written avenues.
So, yes, I will still be at large. (Hopefully gainfully employed elsewhere as well, but I will do my best to remain at large as hell.) John Serba At Large will be my depository for a number of things, including but not limited to the following regular and/or irregular features:
Film reviews: My bread and butter. As many as my life will allow. Feel free to read my bittersweet final one for MLive, "Avengers: Infinity War," here. It rips and roars, and is a lot of fun.
Dad Thrash: Some young whippersnapper stepping on my ideological lawn coined this phrase as a semi-derogatory reference to the music we 40-ish headbangers were weaned on: Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Overkill, Testament and the like. So here, I'm snatching the idea out of their shitty little hands and owning it, because I've been living it. Dad Thrash will be my corner of the internet where I'll pontificate on the music I love the most - and how I'll force it upon my son until he loves it or resents me.
Serba's Sucky Sinema: A written iteration of my far-too-occasional gatherings in which friends and I consume adult beverages and play "Mystery Science Theater 3000." The worst movies also can be the best movies because they're the worst movies.
Don't Watch This Trailer!: The unstoppable force meets the immovable object: My undying battle for Purity of Experience against the interminable proliferation of movie trailers.
The Smallish Screen: I like TV a lot, too. Possibly because it's becoming more and more cinematic. (And the cinema is becoming more and more like TV.) I'm currently watching "The Terror" and "Trust," and soon will dive into the second season of the most terrifying and intently watchable series on the box right now, "The Handmaid's Tale." Perhaps I'll write about them.
Herzog Hugged Me: Ruminations on the work of my favorite filmmaker.
Chunky Text: Listicles.
Ye Olde Archive: Any (hopefully relevant) aggregations of past commentary or reportage from my time at MLive.
Garbage Burger: Miscellania. I reserve the right to write about random stuff on occasion if I so choose, because I am the deus in this here machina. Maybe I'll get around to revisiting "Bubble Boy," or finally typing out the fabled story about the time Werner Herzog hugged me (on my birthday).
There may be more, or less, because this is my place to exercise some newfound freedom. Terrifying, terrifying freedom. Soon, I may hit you up for donations to keep this endeavor on the road, so don't say I didn't warn you - I'm not too proud to beg ask for compensation for the type of work that likely deserves it. Thank you for reading this far, and thank you in advance for coming back for more.