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|Monday, January 4th, 2016|
I received my first copy of the Cemetery Dance limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion
the other day, and it's a beauty. I see that it is out of print from the publisher, which is a nice surprise.
Over the past several days, I read a book my daughter gave me for Christmas . It's called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
, and it is a delight. It's about a guy who lost his job to the economic downturn who takes a job at the strangest bookstore in San Francisco. It is three stories high, but all one floor, with tall ladders required to access the books on the upper levels. Very few customers, except a group of people who are "members" who come in at odd hours to exchange one volume from the upper levels for another. They're trying to solve a puzzle related to a book from hundreds of years ago. The main character has a lot of spare time on his hands, so he uses his computer to solve the first part of the puzzle, which sets him on the way to the bigger goal. It's a nerdy literary book, with a character who works for Google bringing in all the modern tech tools, an ancient order out of Umberto Eco, a love of literature and puzzles: it has it all. Great fun. The first book I've ever read where the climax is in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.
Didn't stray very far from home over the past week since my last post. We didn't even go out to see any other movies, since none appealed to us. We don't generally watch live TV very often, but we found all sorts of things to entertain us while we visited. We watched the Adele concert and a couple of Christmas specials, plus an Austrian version of The Nutcracker.
A lot of older TV shows don't stand the test of time all that well, but we stumbled upon The Andy Griffith Show
and watched several of them. They're obviously dated, but the show was pretty good, with only a minimum of bumbling and pratfalls and some decent storylines. The best of them have Opie reflecting something bone-headed Andy did.
On New Years Eve, rather than watching the increasingly insufferable countdown shows, we stumbled upon something called Drunk History
on Comedy Central. Drunk comedians and actors recount interesting incidents from American history while other actors and comedians recreate the incidents and lip-sync the drunk person's narrative. It's as hilarious as it sounds, especially when the narrator loses the thread or stumbles over words and the re-enactors have to deal with it. I didn't know most of the narrators, but one was the guy who played Badger on Breaking Bad
and another was Jane Curtain's daughter. Familiar faces popped up in the re-enactments, though, some of them surprising. It was the best way to ring in the new year, I swear.
We watched the twisty-curvy Christmas episode of Sherlock
: The Abominable Bride. Once it was finished, I described it as a Möbius strip. Sherlock2100 goes into his mind palace to try to solve a 19th century crime. Sherlock1880 extrapolates forward to the 21st century, envisioning himself in that era as someone who might create a mind palace to come back to the 19th century to solve a crime. It's enough to put your brain into a knot. There were a ton of touch-points to both the Conan Doyle works and to Sherlock
itself, many of them tongue-in-cheek. It was all highly enjoyable while at the same time highly improbable. It seems to be the setup for what we'll get in the next series in 2017. Did Moriarty kill himself to complete an impossible scheme? Will he be back as "the virus in the data"?
Last night, we watched the first episode of the final run of Downton Abbey
. The course of true love never did run smooth, especially on this show. The best parts were the scenes where Mrs. Padmore is delegated to find out from Mr. Carson what he expects from Mrs. Hughes in their impending marriage. Mrs. Padmore is so embarrassed, she can't even look in Carson's direction. And, finally, the Bates/Anna plot is laid to rest, although Anna (a character I used to like more) can't help but gainsay every good thing Bates claims about their future. It will be interesting to see how they wrap things up. Will the dowager survive the series? Will their be another wedding (or two or three) at the Abbey? Will the show end with everything being auctioned off?
|Tuesday, December 29th, 2015|
|Cinderella builds a better mop
What an unusual Christmas week we had. It was so warm, we had to turn on the air conditioner for a couple of days. There were high temperatures in the eighties and overnight lows in the seventies.
We celebrated a day early, because of family travel reasons. Christmas Day evening we walked through the neighborhood to see all the lights. I think I like these new laser gun star projectors. Plug it in, point it at the house and shazam--lights everywhere. The first time I saw one, I thought it was a net of lights. Then I realized that there were even lights in the surrounding trees. It's a cool effect.
The weather broke on Sunday, dropping thirty degrees during the daytime amid a heavy round of storms. Nothing near as bad as the tornadoes 200 miles to the north in Dallas, or the foot of snow at the panhandle, though. Now it's back to "normal" winter weather, and the heat is on again. We were even able to run the fireplace last night.
We've seen a few movies over the past week or so. We all went to The Force Awakens
last Wednesday, and had managed to avoid all spoilers so it was a thrilling experience. My first observation to my son-in-law and daughter was one that seems to have bothered a lot of people: the number of parallels between it and A New Hope
. I didn't mind them that much; it was just an observation. I really liked Rey. Two of her early scenes stood out. First was the one where she was being mugged for her droid. Finn starts moving toward her to help but sees she has things under control and just shrugs and leaves her to it. Then her insistence that he stop taking her hand. Fiercely independent. Even crusty old Han Solo liked her. I think I know who she's supposed to be, or who we're supposed to believe she is. Looking forward to the next installment.
Yesterday we saw Joy
, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Deniro and a host of others, including Bradley Cooper. It's about a high school valedictorian whose life is derailed by her family and she spends years toiling in obscurity. She was always creative but stifled. It's built on the base of the Cinderella fairy tale, with camera angles and characters drawn from Roald Dahl, including a mother who almost never gets out of bed. The mother watches soap operas all the time, and a fictional soap opera created for the movie stars all sorts of old soap opera stars, including Donna Mills and Susan Lucci. Joy's home situation is dysfunctional to the max. Her ex-husband lives in the basement and, later, so does her father (DeNiro) after his latest break-up. She has two kids, a "wicked" half-sister (Elizabeth Rohm) and a live-in grandmother, who's the only one who supports her. She gets an idea for a revolutionary invention and meets up with Bradley Cooper, president of the new QVC shopping channel.
It's a difficult movie at times, because the hits just keep on coming and every piece of news comes with an even worse follow-up. Finally, the audience's patience is rewarded with some terrific scenes at the end. This is entirely Lawrence's movie and I can only watch her in awe of her ability to internalize and externalize all this stuff, realizing that she's four years younger than my daughter. I sincerely hope she manages to maintain an even keel in her personal life because she has greatness in her future. Heck, in her present.
Last night we watched the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was fun and entertaining. Lots of great gags with the head in a bag, and the Doctor getting to pretend to see the inside of the TARDIS for the first time. Then we watched Windtalkers
from 2002, the Nicholas Cage movie about the Navajos who learned to communicate over open frequencies to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific. It was a mediocre film, but has some good supporting performances from Mark Ruffalo, Christian Slater and Noah Emerich (The Americans
). Probably would have been better with someone with more acting chops than Cage in the lead role. Even Adam Beach looked good by comparison, and he's a stiff actor at the best of times. Some good battle sequences, though.
|Wednesday, December 16th, 2015|
|Without the Galaxy Trio
It's the gift that keeps on giving. Eleven years after it was first published, The Road to the Dark Tower
continues to sell, and twice a year I get an earnings statement from my agent. These now come with royalty checks, including the one I received yesterday, since the book earned out its advance a while back. I'm always interested in the ratio of physical copies to ebooks, which is about 25:1 over the lifespan of the book.
I hear that the first physical copies of the CD limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion
have been seen in the wild. I haven't received my copies yet, but I expect I will before long.
I sold another short story today. The anthology in which it will appear hasn't been announced yet, so I can only "vague-book" about it, but it's a story I first wrote for another themed anthology that didn't make the cut. I only sent it out once or twice after that, but I like the tale a lot and I'm glad it's going to make it into print in 2016.
Last night we watched Birdman
, the Michael Keaton film. I'd seen it before, but only as an in-flight feature and with subtitles since I didn't have earphones, so it was a little like seeing and hearing it for the first time. It's equally impressive on second viewing. It's a very strange film, with its long tracking shots that essentially make the movie one continuous timestream. Even the nights are shown, though in fast-forward/time-lapse. It makes me wonder what kind of drama goes on backstage (or behind the scenes) on any given theatrical production or movie set. As the actors are interacting, what else is going on in their heads.
|Tuesday, December 15th, 2015|
|Green Shadows, White Whale
It was a soggy weekend. Mild, but it rained more or less non-stop. Since we aren't caught up in the pre-holidays rush, we took it easy. Thought we'd stay in, but ended up going to our favorite pizza place for supper on Saturday. My wife asked me if there were any movies I wanted to see. There was one, and it started in fifteen minutes. Fortunately, we were only a block from the theater.
I was surprised to learn later that In the Heart of the Sea
"flopped" during its opening weekend. It may not be Citizen Kane
, but we enjoyed the heck out of it. I thought that some of the matte paintings that formed the background of Nantucket looked stage-y, but once the adventure got out onto the open ocean, everything worked. The whale, when it puts in its appearance, is convincing and terrifying, but there's also the various survivor stories. We came away feeling like we got our money's worth.
The movie is based on the real events that inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick
. It has as a framing device Melville calling upon one of the survivors of the Essex, an older man who was but fourteen at the time of the incident. The man is reluctant to speak about his experiences but his wife, some cash and some liquor all conspire to loosen his tongue and he reveals the darkest secrets of that long-ago misadventure. For some strange reason we've been watching and/or reading a lot of nautical adventures lately, so this one played into an ongoing theme.
This was the first time we experienced DBox, those theater chairs that rock you around to enhance the viewing experience. I wondered if we'd be tossed about like ships on the ocean, but the usage was mild and didn't really contribute much. I don't think I'd pay extra for it in the future.
We also watched a Netflix documentary called Chaos on the Bridge
. It's a 60-minute documentary written and directed by William Shatner that explores the problems Star Trek: The Next Generation
had during the first couple of years of its run. Brian Keene mentioned it as a cautionary tale about the perils of writing for TV, and when you hear how many writers left the show or were fired in the first couple of years, you'll see why. It was a power struggle among massive egos with vastly different visions of what the series should be about, and the show only got on its true course with new blood (including Michael Piller, father of Haven's
Shawn Piller) and a better vision in its third season. Nautical connection: Captain Horatio Hornblower—those were the books given to Patrick Stewart when he wanted to know more about his character.Fargo
ended on a solid note. The ties to season 1 crystallized, and the fates of the various characters resolved, though I still wonder if Peggy got her room with a view of San Francisco Bay's pelicans. Some wag offered the opinion that Ted Danson's character invented emojis, which is pretty funny. Was it better than Season 1? I never know how to resolve issues like that, but I think so. It felt more invested in humanity.
Lots of other shows coming to a close soon. The Affair
—they're sure trying hard to make us think that Noah was the hit-and-run driver. Why else all those visions on the road? Homeland
—it's up to Carrie to save Berlin next week. Haven
—the two-hour series finale this week. The Returned
—I wonder how much of this convoluted story they can clarify in one more episode. I want to at least know more about Victor/Louis. Where he comes from, what he is, really. Creepy, creepy kid. Survivor
—I'll have to work hard to avoid spoilers because I rarely see the show live. And we get a one-off Luther
this week, too.
I read a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates (The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror
) and am in the midst of another by Joe R. Lansdale (Hap and Leonard
). I also read Ernest Hemingway: The Last Interview
, which actually consists of two real interviews and a couple of interview attempts, all of which took place while Hemingway still lived in Cuba. It was interesting to compare some of the things Hemingway said between the two formal interviews. He definitely had pat answers that he delivered in certain contexts, and he was irascible and testy at times, impatient with stupid questions and totally unwilling to discuss writing in any detail. This is the second book in this series that I've read recently (the other was about Ray Bradbury, thus the call-out in this post's title), and they're well worth exploring. This one was only 90 pages and I was able to read it in an evening.
Here are some recent reviews, books that I read during our cruise: Even Dogs in the Wild
by Ian Rankin, Career of Evil
by Robert Galbraith, The Crossing
by Michael Connelly, and Dead Wake
by Erik Larson.
|Monday, December 7th, 2015|
|It's all denouement
(HBO) begins where most speculative fiction ends. Once the characters in a horror novel defeat the Big Bad, the story wraps up quickly. You don't often get to spend time with them to see the lasting impact of the experience.
The events of October 14 that are so integral to the story are long over before the show starts. What was behind the sudden departure of 2% of the planet's population at that remarkable instant in time? The show will never
answer that question, because that's not what it's about. The characters might seek the answer, but they won't find it.
The big picture question of The Leftovers
is: how do individuals and society respond in the face of something inexplicable. The departure isn't apocalyptic. Society isn't decimated and, for the most part, can continue to function as before. Most people know someone who departed, or know someone who knows someone. If you worked in a company with a hundred employees, a couple might have vanished, but business can continue, with a few adjustments. If you worked in a company with ten employees, maybe no one vanished that day.
Owing to the vagaries of randomness, though, there can be clusters. Nora Durst lost her husband and both of her children that day. She was in the kitchen making breakfast and they were at the table in the adjoining room. One minute they were there; the next, they weren't. It's easy to take the event personally when something like that happens.
Then there's a place like Jardine, TX, the only town where absolutely no one vanished. Again, random chance can explain this apparent aberration, but the residents choose to see it as a sign that they're special. People flock to the town to drink the water or see if there's something about the town that can help protect them if the departure happens again. Residents keep doing the same thing they were doing on October 14, like superstitious athletes warding off bad luck.
A lot of people are concerned with identifying the commonality among the departed. The government sets up a questionnaire to look for trends. Did everyone who vanished have blood type B-, for example? The questionnaire is far-ranging, because no one has a clue. It probably wasn't a Biblical rapture, because some of the people who vanished weren't very nice, and some of those who remained behind are. One minister makes it his mission to demonstrate that fact. A lot of people are invested in lending some meaning to the incident. Others are equally determined to show that it had no meaning, and neither does life in general. People go crazy. They commit suicide. They abandon their families and join cults. Some of them realize the inefficacy of the cults and attempt to rejoin their families.
For most people, though, life goes on. Society continues to function. But everyone is a little bit less confident. The ground feels less solid, as if it might disappear from underfoot without warning. There's no denying the departures. It's not like vampires in a small town that are ultimately defeated. As the Season 2 opening credits demonstrate so well, there are a lot of gaps that can't be filled or explained. It happened. Now people have to deal with it, each in his or her own way. It's one of those moments everyone has a story about. Where were you when everyone vanished?
The show doesn't exactly have a through-line. There's no goal. No problem to be solved each season. It's all about the characters. Many of the episodes are more-or-less stand-alones, although dependent upon our understanding of the featured characters. It's a rich world peopled by characters of every type imaginable. The show allows viewers to come to conclusions and doesn't spoon-feed every detail. What exactly was the first fifteen minutes of the first episode of Season 2 about? How did it relate to the rest of the show? You're free to draw your own conclusions. There is no answer.
There are no answers.
|Monday, November 30th, 2015|
I made the best hambone-bean soup yesterday. Normally, I follow recipes to the letter, but in this case I took two different recipes and picked and chose from them. I'm also very strict about using the exact quantities specified (I don't do "dashes" or "pinches"), but I varied some of the quantities, too. I figured it was either going to be a disaster or palatable. Turned out it was really, really good. Probably my best ham soup to date.
It was good soup weather. The long weekend was mostly rainy. The first couple of days were warmer, the last two days less warm. We didn't venture out very much. We're not shoppers, we're hunters, and if it can be purchased online so much the better. But we didn't even do that. We made meals, did some work and watched movies and TV shows.
Thursday was our big movie day. We started with Man Up
, a rom-com starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell (who I was astonished to learn after the fact is an American). Bell plays a 30-something who's having a rough go of it with relationships. She's trying to "put herself out there." However, she ends up in an awkward situation when she accidentally steals someone else's blind date (Pegg) and then doesn't fess up for a while. It's a cute story with some agonizingly painful moments (mostly due to Rory Kinnear's character). If we're keeping score, I'd give it a lowish B. Pegg is very watchable, ever so charming and natural.
Then we went out to see Brooklyn
, starring Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones
) and based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. Ronan plays a girl who emigrates from Ireland to New York, sponsored by the local priest (Jim Broadbent) because she has no prospects for work back in County Wexford. The story takes her across on a ship and gets her installed in a boarding house for similar young girls (run by the delightful Julie Walters). She grows from a diffident and homesick lass into a self-assured, confident young woman after she falls in love with an Italian boy. But then the pull of Ireland rears its head and she's forced to make some difficult choices. For a long time it seemed like the story had no antagonist. She has no nemesis to battle, and most of her relationships are thoroughly benign. It's her against herself for the most part (although there is one evil shrew who pops up from time to time). Ronan is the reason to see this movie. It's a powerful performance. I found myself fascinated by her eyes, which were conspicuously in different forms of dilation in different contexts. A to A-minus.
Then we watched Ashby
, starring Nat Wolff (The Fault in our Stars
), Mickey Rourke (!!) and Emma Roberts, who looks totally different every time I see her in something. Sarah Silverman has a supporting role that gives her a couple of good zingers but doesn't really challenge her much. Wolff is the new kid in town, and when he's assigned to write a paper by interviewing somebody old, he chooses his next door neighbor, Rourke, who just happens to be a retired CIA hitman. Wolff also tries out for the football team and Roberts' character is conducting a study on the brains of student players, using the CAT scan machine she has in the basement. It's all as ludicrous as it sounds, but it has its moments and I'd put it again in the lowish B category. Check your expectations at the door. Rourke is actually pretty hilarious.
On Friday night we watched Unbroken
, Angelina Jolie's movie about the Olympic athlete who is lost at sea for 45 days with two of his fellow soldiers during WWII, only to be "rescued" by the Japanese navy and spend the final two years in a prisoner of war camp. His celebrity and self confidence cause him to be singled out for the worst possible treatment by the particularly nasty leader of the camp. There are no surprises in the movie. It's just one damned thing after another and he endures them all, but it is a triumph of spirit/feel-good (even while you're cringing from all the terrible things happening) movie. A couple of my father's older brothers spent nearly four years in Japanese POW camps, so that part of the movie had particular resonance for me. How much has changed in the world in the past 80 or so years.
On Saturday we watched Doctor Who
(we're caught up, finally) and Les Revenants
). The episode of Doctor Who
was particularly mind blowing. We figure he could have knocked a few hundred million years off if he'd only taken that shovel with him. And we're still trying to figure out exactly what the heck is going on in The Returned
. There are a lot of stories, characters and mysteries to try to keep straight. How much will they wrap up this season?
Last night, we had a blast from the past and watched Flashdance
, which I saw in theaters when it first came out and which my wife had never seen. It's amazing now to think about how popular that movie was in its day. People were talking about it a lot and it did big box office. I think someone would have a hard time getting it green-lit for a Lifetime movie of the week today. It has very little substance, and almost no character development. And where the hell did an 18-year-old get a mentor? And what steel mill would hire a welder that age? It does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Fun music, though. Interesting to read that Alex's audition scene uses three different body-double dancers, one of them a guy!
|Monday, November 16th, 2015|
|T'was the witch of November come stealin'
Some people might question our choice of reading material before we went on a seven-day cruise. Not long before we departed, we finished reading Simple Courage
by Frank Delaney, an account of the Flying Enterprise, which was hit by two rogue waves in the North Atlantic in late 1951. The first one "broke" the ship and the second one knocked her into a 60° list. Little wonder my wife was humming "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" while we drove to the Port of Houston for our cruise to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
Little did we know: on the first full day at sea, the program listed a book club. The title on offer was Dead Wake
, which sounded like a murder mystery, so we checked it out. Turns out it's a non-fiction book by Erik Larson about the last voyage (and, ultimately, the sinking) of the Lusitania. Inspired choice to pass out on a cruise ship. However, we really enjoyed it: it presented the historical context (and you know, I'm all about the historical context
!), the personalities aboard the ship, the political situation at the time—as well as Woodrow Wilson's personal anguish—and it also presented the point of view of the captain of the U-20 whose torpedo brought down the mighty ship, thanks to his log book. Being on a cruise ship allowed us to compare and contrast the experience in 2015 to that in 1915. I've never read Larson before, but I plan to tackle some of his other books. Maybe we'll read Isaac's Storm
(about the 1900 Galveston hurricane) during our next hurricane. I emailed him when we got back to find out if he knew that his book was being featured on a cruise ship, but he said that neither he nor his publicist were responsible, and he seemed greatly amused
We splurged and got a suite at the back of the ship, with a balcony. The room was comparable to what you'd get at an extended-stay motel, with a bedroom, living room (divided by a pull-curtain), bathroom with separate spa tub and shower area, and a sink, mini-fridge area. Also a DVD player and two TVs, one facing in each direction, which were surplus to requirements. We received a lot of special perqs throughout the cruise as suite residents, which made us feel pampered.
The main feature for us was the balcony. It was about ⅓ the width of the ship, big enough for two deck chairs side by side and a small round table that could seat four. We spent a lot of time on the balcony, watching the Gulf and the Caribbean roll out behind us. There was an overhang, so we were only rarely in direct sun, which meant we didn't have to ration our time for fear of sun burn. Except when we were in port, it was never too hot to sit out there, nor too cool. We even took a couple of our meals out there. Did I mention we loved
the balcony? So much so that we decided not to go on any shore excursions (Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel). We preferred to stay on board, taking advantage of the lower census of passengers.
It was also a good perspective from which to watch the docking and departing process. Seeing these great ships almost parallel parking, backing up, going sideways, it's quite impressive. In Costa Maya, we left at 7:30 PM, when it was dark and drizzling. A couple of workers on the wharf were waiting for the ropes to slacken so they could pull them off the bollards. They were in yellow rain slickers and one guy was dancing to pass the time. We could just barely hear him whistling "La Cucaracha." My wife is a world-class whistler, so she whistled the song back at him. We were four or five decks above the waterline, so maybe fifty feet up, but he heard us all the same, and we had a little back and forth with them. They were all alone on the wharf. It was a fun little moment.
We partook of some of the entertainment options, but we didn't darken the doorways of the casino (not our thing) nor any of the shops. A lot of the on-board activities are thinly disguised infomercials, so we tended to steer clear of those, too. Lots of music, which was nice. Great dining options. I'm amazed I didn't put on any weight, because we ate multi-course meals and had desserts galore, which we don't often do. We ended up sharing tables with total strangers on a few occasions, but we always enjoyed the encounters. A lot of our fellow travelers were multiple-repeat cruisers, having logged tens of trips. One couple goes on a cruise every other week. The record-holder on this cruise was a man who'd spent something like 1400 days on cruises, or four solid years at sea.
Given that this wasn't a holiday week, there weren't so many younger people and we were at the younger edge of the median range, I'd say. For some reason, I also noticed a lot of the older men had pony tails. We met up with one interesting "couple" (I won't say why they were interesting or why I put "couple" in quotes, because that would spoil things) at the bar one afternoon and I came away from the encounter with a great
idea for a short story.
In addition to Dead Wake
, which I read to my wife, I finished two novels (Even Dogs in the Wild
by Ian Rankin and The Crossing
by Michael Connelly), one novella (The Grownup
by Gillian Flynn) and most of a third novel (Career of Evil
by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling). I did no writing at all, even though I'd planned to proof a novella. We were completely off the grid for the seven days we were away. We didn't even bring our cell phones on board. No phone, texts or emails, no internet, no TV. I turned on our set a couple of times to get to the channel that showed our location and flew past any of the news channels along the way.
Someone insisted on telling us about the terror attacks in Paris on Friday evening, but if we hadn't happened to sit next to them while waiting for dinner, we wouldn't have heard about it at all. (My association with the Bataclan comes from the Supertramp album Paris
. During a break between songs, John Anthony Helliwell marvels at the size of the crowd at this concert and he remembers back to the group's first show in the city, which had about eight people in the audience—at the Bataclan concert hall.)
While we were away, my historical context essay about Different Seasons went live: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall
, as well as Rich's essay about his recollections
of the book then and now.
I was also delighted to learn that my story "Opposite Sides" was one of the finalists in the IV Edition of the Flash Fiction Competition César Egido Serrano, Museum of Words
. There were 35,609 stories from 149 countries, so to be one of 18 Americans to make it to the final 250 or so out of that mass of submissions, as selected by 20 creative writing professors, is an honor indeed.
|Friday, November 6th, 2015|
|Revisiting the Man in Black
This has been a busy week at Stephen King Revisited. A couple of days ago, my Historical Context essay about The Gunslinger
went up: Five Easy Pieces
. Then Rich Chizmar posted his reminiscences about the book
. Finally, today, my Guest Essay about the first Dark Tower book went live: Stephen King crossed the desert and I followed
I also posted a review of Christopher Golden's excellent new horror novel, Dead Ringers
, at Onyx Reviews yesterday.
I completed a long interview for a magazine appearance early next year in which I was asked some fascinating questions. It ran long (I guess I
ran long!) so it might not all get published in that venue and the interviewer is exploring alternate venues for any parts that might get edited out. There's a chance that a new short story might run with the interview, too, but that remains to be seen.
With season 2 of The Returned
under way, I introduced my wife to the first season of the French series last night and we'll stack up the second season for later. It's a genuinely creepy show, especially the little boy Victor, beautifully filmed in idyllic surroundings. I also like the fact that the French speakers enunciate very clearly, so I can pick up a lot of the dialog, which can be at times subtly different from the subtitles. I'm pretty sure that character didn't just say, "Get lost."
We're keeping up with The Blacklist
and Doctor Who
, and we're eagerly awaiting the return of The Americans, which I hope will be back in January or February. Last weekend, we watched Back In Time
, the Back to the Future documentary, which was interesting for a while but then it got tedious when it focused so much on some of the obsessed fans. It had its moments, but it wasn't nearly as good as some of the other documentaries we've seen lately. Possibly because I wasn't all that into Back to the Future
. I saw each of the movies once, and that's it.
|Monday, October 26th, 2015|
|Patricia and the bulls
My wife was away for the weekend, so I decided to catch up on a few movies that I knew wouldn't interest her while doing my best to stay dry. The remnants of the Pacific hurricane known as Patricia crossed into the Gulf of Mexico, bringing with it an impressive amount of rain. The most recent total I saw for our community was something like 5.7" between Saturday morning and yesterday afternoon. Parts of downtown Houston got as much as 10". There was some localized flooding, but it wasn't as bad as it might have been. Everything was pretty dry before this batch of rain came.
On Friday night, I saw Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak
. This film has a few genuine scares, but it is mostly a Gothic movie that revels in atmosphere and setting. It's about a young woman who marries a mysterious man and moves to England to live with him at his isolated and crumbling estate. The ceiling in the main entrance hall has collapsed, and a constant stream of stuff
falls through it: leaves, petals, snow. It's a magical and captivating concept. The young woman has prior experience with ghosts, and her new home has more than its fair share of them. They are depicted in an innovative manner: crawling specters that look like they are composed of the humans' circulatory systems, with things (blood?) streaming off them at the edges in wisps and swirls. The whole thing is visually impressive, worth seeing on the big screen. Stick around for at least the first section of the credits for more of these fantastic visuals. Oh, it's also a very stabby movie.
On Saturday morning, I saw Sicario
, which is a good follow-up to the Netflix series Narcos
, where I first heard that word, which is defined as "hit man" in the context of this movie. Emily Blunt is an FBI agent who volunteers to attach herself to a task force led by Josh Brolin whose intent is to do some major damage to Mexican drug lords operating near the US border. Also on the team is a mysterious figure played by Benecio del Toro (unrelated to Guillermo), a man with some odd quirks and a way of speaking in philosophical metaphors. Blunt's character is highly motivated because her team was damaged by a booby trap, and she's coming to understand that the normal ways of doing things simply aren't effective. She's the audience's avatar, the person to whom the film is explained, and there's a lot more going on than she at first realizes, which places her in some difficult situations. It's all very impressive and disturbing because it seems real and realistic. Possibly one of Blunt's best-ever performances, and del Toro is terrific.
By the time I left that matinee showing, the rain had started, so I hunkered down at home for the rest of the weekend. Yesterday I finally got around to seeing Chappie
, which was not at all what I was expecting. William Gibson has been talking about the movie a lot on Twitter (very favorably). I thought it was going to be something like Short Circuit
, and the trailers I saw in the distant past didn't give me any sense of its South African setting or its "hip hop" sensibility. It stars Dev Patel (from the Marigold Hotel movies) as the inventor of robotic police, one of which he implants with consciousness. However, this robot is stolen by a bunch of criminals played by members of a rap/rave group called Die Antwoord. They give surprisingly effective performances as they "pervert" this sentient robot, implanting their particular South African accents and jargon onto it and convincing it to do things that are against its fundamental programming. Lurking in the wings is Hugh Jackman, who has built a prototype of a much more expensive robot that the company won't give him the green light to test. The movie got a critical drubbing, and only middling audience response, but it's really quite good. Funny and sad. A little maudlin toward the end, and a tad tidy, but it's well worth the journey, especially since I got a coupon to see it free OnDemand.
|Friday, October 16th, 2015|
|I don't really speak Portuguese
I love it when I think I've run out of time to start writing in the morning because I'm busy doing other things and I still manage to get 1000 words done. My goal for this novel is a conservative 5000 words per week. More if I can get 'em, but that pace would be satisfactory.My essay The Halloween Tree
is now up at the blog formerly know as Not Now...Mommy's Reading, rebranded for October (to acknowledge its takeover by a motley crew of horror writers) as Not Now...Mommy's Screaming. There's also a contest where you can win a trade paperback copy of The Dark Tower Companion
, so check it out, and also the other entries from my compatriots in horror.
My most recent essay for Stephen King Revisited is online this week, too. It's called Can You See Me Running?
and it details the historical context behind the publication of The Running Man
, the last of the paperback original books published as Richard Bachman.
I was also interviewed recently for Ficção Terror
, a Brazilian blog about horror movies and books. The interview is now available in both Portuguese and in English, so you can read it in the language of your choosing.
|Monday, October 5th, 2015|
|Not the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids
I finished the first season of Fortitude
this weekend. An impressive original series set in a remote Arctic island, population 700-something. Mostly miners and people who support the mining town (inn keepers, shopkeepers, cops). It's in the permafrost, a place where it is illegal to die because there's no place to bury anyone. It starts with a killing and a discovery, and things go very, very badly from there. A lot of people break the law by dying. The local governor (played by Sofie Gråbøl from the Danish original of The Killin
g) wants to build a hotel in the glacier, but she comes to realize that perhaps a bigger morgue is what's called for. The story flirts with science fiction and it is definitely horrific at times, but all somewhat credible. A good cast, including Stanley Tucci as a DI in from London to supervise some investigations and Michael Gambon as an aging photographer battling cancer. Filming of Season 2 is underway in Iceland and I can't wait to see where they take the story.
We saw The Martian
yesterday. A very good science-driven space opera about a guy struggling to survive under the worst imaginable conditions: lots of potatoes but no ketchup. A strong ensemble cast, and an intriguing and captivating plot. No aliens or star wars, just the kinds of things a space program has to deal with: the unforgiving nature of space. Damon is the Jimmy Stewart of our time. Always pretty much the same character, but a calm, reassuring force within a film. The audience avatar. The guy we trust to get us home. If I have an issue with the movie at all, it's that it downplayed the passage of time and the psychological stresses that must cause. The people on Earth were under enormous pressure to produce solutions in an insanely short period of time, but the people in space had to deal with a ton of tedium, and it would have been nice to see that acknowledged a bit more. Tedium and disco. What a combination. Actually, the choice of disco songs was so on the nose at times it was hilarious. Hot Stuff when he's carting around the radioactive material, the obligatory David Bowie space song, Waterloo by Abba when defeat seems at hand and Donna Summer's triumphant anthem over the closing parts. All in a all, a well conceived and executed adventure tale. But I expect Damon's character never wants fries with that again.
There are probably weirder TV shows in current production than The Leftovers
, but I'm hard pressed to think of one. For the first 10 minutes of last night's season 2 premiere, I kept wondering if maybe I'd stumbled into the wrong show by accident. And then another show started, and it wasn't until very late in the game that we see some familiar faces. Talk about a way to build suspense, though. Have a "psychic" character tell someone else that something bad is going to happen, then watch the second guy stick his hand in a garbage disposal. There's definitely some weird stuff going on in Miracle, TX. Reminds me a bit of "The End of the Whole Mess" and the waters that prolong life. I get the impression that miracles aren't all that welcome in Miracle. And what was the deal with the pie? And the cricket? So many questions.
My biggest question about The Affair
is the timeline. When does the jail stuff happen with respect to everything else. Much later than the brunt of the episode? So I gather. I'm always intrigued by the way the show recreates certain scenes from different characters' points of view. Even the clothing is different at times, but definitely the tone and specifics of, for example, the mediation meeting. Totally different. And that had to be one of the most awkward sex scenes I've ever seen. Lots of buzz on the 'net today about the full frontal shot, brief and blurry though it was, but nary a whisper about all the nudity on The Leftovers
|Monday, September 28th, 2015|
|Alas poor Walter Blunt, I knew him, Patrick Stewart
I found it odd that I hadn't heard there was a sitcom starring Patrick Stewart. Then, when I discovered it was on Starz, I began to have my doubts. But my wife's coworker thought it was a scream, so we gave Blunt Talk
a shot this weekend. We made it through three 30-minute episodes, but that's it for us. It is regrettably unfunny. Blunt is despicable from the opening moments of the show, and he gets no better. There were a few funny moments over the ninety-minute span, but on the whole it's a waste of talent.CSI
went out with a few bangs. Fifteen years is a pretty good run and they gave us the "riding off into the sunset" finale that put a nice ribbon on the series. I never cottoned to the spin-offs, not even the one remaining that will now benefit from Ted Danson's migration, but I always had a soft spot for Gris and the gang.
Even though I'm from Canada, and I remember well when 2112 was released (I was in grade 9), and they've been a constant background presence during my life, I can't say I'm a huge Rush fan. I like a handful of their songs, and I'm okay with a bunch more, but I've never had any desire to see them in concert, even though I had ample opportunity to do so over the years. I actually like Max Webster, their perennial opening band, better. However, Netflix is now streaming the 2010 documentary Behind the Lighted Stage
, so we checked it out yesterday. Major props to the dudes from Ontario—they seem to be one of the healthiest (mentally) rock groups in existence. Granted, a 100-minute synopsis of a 40-year career can't delve into everything, but if there was ever any acrimony or dissension within the group, you figure you'd see some hint of it. But they just did the job and continued to improve themselves and, despite a lack of respect from the critical establishment, kept on keeping on. There's is an interesting trajectory—how they were pulled from obscurity in Cleveland because "Working Man" tapped into the city's ethos at the time and how they stood up to the record company and pretty much everyone by refusing to kowtow to their demands and choosing to go out on their own terms, if 2112 had been a failure. How they tried out different things over the years and regrouped when some of the experimentation didn't quite work out. How they managed to preserve long-term family relationships and how the other two members of the band refused to consider replacing Peart when he went off the grid for a few years following some personal tragedies. Good, solid blokes, all round. Quirky as hell, but they have my respect. And they finally made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone
|Friday, September 25th, 2015|
So it goes like this: We see Yes. I start listening to old Yes albums. That leads me back to Buggles, who I loved in the 1980s. You know, "Video Killed the Radio Star." Good keyboards. So I wonder what else Geoff Downes has done. Yes, I know he was in Asia, but what else? That leads me to New Dance Orchestra, which is electronica with a strong disco/dance influence. The new album features vocals by Anne-Marie Helder. Reminds me of Sarah Brightman. Research her a bit and discover she does lead vocals for a Welsh group called Panic Room. Find a couple of tracks on YouTube. I like. And thus is a new group discovered by me. I read that the band was formed out of a previous endeavor called Karnataka, which I've also never heard. So maybe there's something else to check out. I like finding new music.
I haven't said much about this, but since it seems to be moving right along, I guess it's safe to say that I've finally started working on that novel I've been thinking about for lo these many months and years. I'm doing it longhand, as I did with the novella I wrote earlier this year, and since September 9 I've completed over fifty handwritten pages. I have no idea if all of it will make it into the book once it's finished, because some of it involves feeling around for the right direction and figuring out for myself what it's really all about, but I think I'm well on my way. I'm not going to make any promises, even to myself, as to when I hope to get the first draft finished, but it would be nice to think I could get a lot of it done before the leap year begins.
I finished the Netflix original Narcos
last night. Open for a second season, which I'd watch. The first season manages to turn the narrating character into a bit of a jerk by the end, but at least he's not Walter White. Just a guy tainted by the things he has to deal with and do to get his job done.
This morning, while exercising I decided to go back to House of Cards
, Season 3, which we'd abandoned after a few episodes. I didn't mind it, but my wife got bored with it. We're going to try out a comedy series called Blunt Talk
that stars Patrick Stewart this weekend. I'm also watching a series called Fortitude
that has Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston and Stanley Tucci. It's set on a remote northern island (filmed in Iceland) where it is unlawful for anyone to die or be buried.
|Monday, September 21st, 2015|
|Under the Influence
Skype is down all over the world. I guess we broke it during our hour-long videoconference with our daughter in Japan last night! It's the first time we called since she moved to Okinawa. It was a little like that episode of The Big Bang Theory
where Raj shows his family around. Technology is pretty cool, though, except when it breaks down.
I posted a couple of book reviews over the weekend: Dexter is Dead
by Jeff Lindsay and Zer0es
by Chuck Wendig.
We finished Season 4 of Longmire
on Friday night. The switch to Netflix was a positive change, with longer episodes, a more natural structure (no commercial breaks), and a good mix between episode-specific plot and multi-episode arcs. I was glad they resolved the situation that launched the season within a few episodes rather than drag it out, even though its tentacles reached all the way to the end of the season. Episode 3 was intense. I also like that the relationship between Walt and Mathias, the tribal police chief, has evolved from purely antagonistic to at least a working kinship. And it was also an interesting development that Henry should go from stopping Walt from acting like a vigilante in the first episode to embracing that persona later in the season. The relation between Vic and Walt is much more credible than in the novels, I think. Complicated, but not cliched. Ally Walker is a good addition to the show, and I suppose the outcome of the cliff-hanger will depend upon her availability, should the show be renewed. All in all: well done, Netflix.
I'm not the world's biggest Rolling Stones fan. I like some of their stuff and I loathe some of it (I'm looking at you, Emotional Rescue). I have a collection of their greatest hits, but I don't think I've ever bought an album. Still, the new documentary about Keith Richards, Under the Influence
, just out on Netflix, looked intriguing. There's always been something about the way he plays, that kind of shruggy, counter-tempo thing he does, that has intrigued me. The documentary started out as a promo video for his new solo album and expanded into a 90-minute film. Given its genesis, it doesn't delve into any of the conflicts or troubles from the past, other than a brief statement by Richards that he referred to his relationship with Jagger in the later 1980s as World War III. It's all about the music that has influenced him over the years, from Muddy Waters to reggae, and how he got to meet and play with some of the musicians who influenced the Stones. It has some nice historical footage and Richards is in good form, laughing giddily half the time, between puffs on his cigarette.
|Tuesday, September 15th, 2015|
|Death of a Salesman
It's early days—there isn't even a cover yet—but it's never too early to pimp forthcoming projects. Amazon is now taking pre-orders
for Volume 2 of The X-Files: The Truth is Out There
anthology, which contains my short story "Phase Shift." I don't know the entire list of contributors, but these folks are mentioned on the order page: Kelley Armstrong, Jon McGoran, Hank Schwaeble, Kami Garcia, Hank Phillippi Ryan, David Sakmyster, Sarah Stegall, Glenn Grenberg, Tim Waggoner, David Farland. The anthology, edited by Jonathan Maberry, will be out in February 2016.
Event-filled days chez Vincent lately. Our daughter, who got married this summer, moved to Okinawa over the weekend, which meant a lot of organizing and re-organizing in advance of the Sunday morning flight. The biggest issue was the cat, which required a lot of special preparations and planning for the flight. My daughter and her husband hired a company to handle most of it, but there were still a lot of last-minute issues. The cat departed on Wednesday and arrived at her destination on Friday evening (local time).
It takes a long time to get to Okinawa. In general, about 24 real hours of travel time, plus the fourteen-hour time change. Our daughter left on Sunday morning and got to her new home on Monday evening, after three flights and a harrowing taxi ride. As a result of the big move, we inherited a lot of stuff, either for storage for the 4-5 years they'll be overseas or to donate/sell.
One of the major items was her car. I decided that, since it was nearly a decade newer than the one I drive, I'd take it on and get rid of my 11-year-old Scion tC, which had less than 44,000 miles on it. I wasn't looking forward to the process of selling it, though. Can be a hassle. If we took it to CarMax, I figured we wouldn't get nearly what we could through a private sale, but I wasn't relishing the though of having to deal with all that folderol. My daughter had sold a bunch of stuff through a community website, which I figured had less of a crazy quotient than Craigslist, so I decided to give it a shot. I took a few pictures of the car in the driveway and posted a 250-word classified on the website. Within a few hours I had no less than seven or eight inquiries about it. Apparently there's a lot of interest in low-mileage cars, no matter the age. Made me think I should have asked for more!
Anyhow, I showed it to one family for their teenage son after work. They liked it but were going to look at another car. Then I heard from someone who really wanted it. They had cash in hand and wanted it right now! So I had them come over to look at it. I couldn't believe it—just as I was about to start it up to demonstrate something, the battery chose that moment to kick the bucket. Fortunately, they were highly motivated buyers and we were able to swap out the battery and seal the deal. So, in just under 12 hours, I managed to sell my car. End of ordeal. They should all be so easy. (Well, it could have been easier if not for the stupid battery.) But my days as a huckster are over, I hope. I'm no salesman.
Now we just have to unload all the extra stuff stacked up in the garage and our house will be more or less back to normal.
I've been watching Narcos
on Netflix during my morning exercise sessions. It's a fictionalized account of a couple of DEA agents in Colombia during the time when Pablo Escobar rose to prominence. Interesting stuff. They dub in a lot of period news footage (Nancy Reagan and the "just say no" campaign, shots of the real people being portrayed). It's quite good.
Then we started tearing through the fourth season of Longmire
on the weekend. The move to Netflix means that the episodes jump from 42 minutes to pretty much an hour each, without the need to stage mini-crises around commercial breaks, and the show benefits from this. The third episode is especially harrowing. The camera angles are experimental at times, and the production values are quite good, giving the show a richer look. For some reason, though, I seem to have gotten a pretty good knack for identifying when a character is telling a big fat lie, even though the cops on the show don't glom onto the fact until later. Still a decent show, worth a binge.
I also did a binge rewatch of Season 5A of Haven
so I can prepare a recap essay for News from the Dead Zone and to refresh my memory of the show for the launch of 5B in a few weeks. I'm supposed to get a screener of the first two episodes this week, too, so I can help promote the final season. I'm glad to see that Kris Lemche will be back in his role as the Darkside Seeker. He was on the set when we visited last year and I had a lot of fun joking around with him. Unfortunately the nice long interview I did in the morgue that Lemche "crashed" has yet to surface, and I'm beginning to think it never will.
|Tuesday, September 8th, 2015|
|Everywhere we looked...Sam Elliott
We saw a lot of movies this weekend. It seemed like Sam Elliott was in most of them, but it was only a couple.
First, we watched an oddball film called The Age of Adaline
. It stars Blake Lively as a woman who has an accident in her late twenties that mysteriously causes her to stop aging. She has a daughter who catches up to her and surpasses her in apparent age, and she comes to the attention of some government agencies who want to study her, so she has to go off the radar, switching identities every decade or so. When she's about 107, she meets and falls in love with a man (Treme's
Michael Huisman) but she knows that, like all the other times she's gotten involved, it must end because, as with Doctor Who, the other person will grow old and die while she remains the same. Then she meets the man's father (Harrison Ford) and all manner of mayhem breaks out. It's a cute movie. The stentorian narrator is a bit of a buzz kill, but Lively (who I've never seen in a movie before) is good and Harrison Ford is great.
We went retro on Saturday night and watched a couple of films from the early 1980s: Heavy Metal
and The Wall
. Here's the thing: I'd never seen either of them before. I couldn't have told you what Heavy Metal
was about to save my soul, and I was under the impression that The Wall
was mostly animated, that's how little I knew about them. Heavy Metal
hasn't aged well. It was clearly targeted at teenage boys, who probably don't care that the film doesn't make a lick of sense whatsoever. At least it was short. The Wall
, however, was worthwhile seeing, even thirty years after its release. It was a lot different than I expected. I think Geldof says about 15 words in total in the film, other than what he sings. The film does a fine job of amplifying on the album's story and themes, and it's clear that losing his father in WWII had a lasting impact on Roger Waters. The animation, when it happens, looks decent for its era. The marching hammers (about the only impression I had of what the film was like) still look cool.
Then we watched Mystic River
because we inherited a copy of the DVD. Still an impressive film, one that I saw on the big screen when it came out. It has Marcia Gay Harden in it—I got to spend some time with her on the set of The Mist
. That wouldn't be the last time we saw her this weekend, either.
On Sunday we saw A Walk in the Woods
, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, based on the memoir by Bill Bryson, which I read many years ago. We didn't even see the trailer. Redford and Nolte sold us on it, and we later discovered that it also has Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen. It's about a guy (Redford is quite a bit older than Bryson was in the memoir, I believe) who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail, which spans a distance of over 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine. His wife (Thompson) thinks he's crazy and forbids him to go unless he can find someone to go with him. His friends all think he's nuts, too, until his old friend (Nolte) hears about the adventure from another friend and volunteers to go with him. Nolte's character is a recovering alcoholic with two bad knees and incipient diabetes, but he's better than nothing. In fact, the two men are polar opposites and haven't spoken in years. The movie is a milder version of the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild
. The two men get up to some hijinx and have some funny encounters (one with an annoying no-it-all hiker, another with a couple of grizzly bears, and the funniest of all with the husband of a woman Nolte tries to charm at a laundromat). They have some minor crises but for the most part it's just fun to watch the two together, and Nolte hasn't been this laugh-out-loud funny in a long time. He enters the movie looking not too different from that famous mug shot from a number of years ago and you'd think two months on the trail would slim him down a little more than it did, but we enjoyed the heck out of the film.
Then we saw I'll See You In My Dreams
, which stars Blythe Danner (apparently in her first starring role in a feature), Rhea Perlman, Max Gail (from Barney Miller
) and Sam Elliott. Danner plays a woman who has been a widow for decades. She has a group of women friends her age that she spends time with. Her dog dies early in the film, which is sort of a catalyst for change. She meets Sam Elliott, a suave and debonair guy who has decided to spend all his money before he dies. She has an adult daughter who drops by for a visit. She goes karaoke singing with the pool guy. Dope is smoked. It's just a nice film about growing older and deciding to entertain the possibility of one's life having a second or third act.
Finally, last night we saw Grandma
, starring Lily Tomlin, and it was the best of the bunch. Ellie's (Tomlin) teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner from The Americans
) needs $650 by the end of the day for an abortion and Ellie has no money so she has to go around visiting people from her past to try to raise the dough. She's just broken up with her recent lover (Judy Greer, cute as always). She'd had a 38-year relationship with a woman called Violet, who is only referenced but never seen, but she'd also knocked boots with Sam Elliott (hey, there he is again) a long time ago. He's not nearly as nice a guy in this movie, but it's still fun to watch and listen to him. Sage's mother is Marcia Gay Harden (her again!) and eventually they have to go visit her and put up with her disapproval. Along the way we run into Elizabeth Pena (in her last role) and a hilarious John Cho and we piece together all the parts of Ellie's life. The morality of abortion isn't a big part of the film (the only person who actively tries to talk Sage out of it is a protester at a clinic) but Ellie knows the lasting impact the procedure will have on Sage, so it isn't dismissed out of hand, either. Lily Tomlin has rarely been more charming, saltier, tougher or funnier, and she's all these things and more. Garner keeps pace with her, too. This is a small movie, shot in 19 days for a $1 million budget, but it should be a big hit for Tomlin. Go see it: you won't be sorry.
|Monday, August 31st, 2015|
|...that keeps on giving
Looks like we're going to be getting new next door neighbors fairly soon. The SOLD tab has gone up on the realtor's sign. I can't say we'll miss the previous neighbors and their increasing pack of barky dogs. We never really got to know them. The neighbors, not the dogs, I mean. We got to know the dogs very well.
At least they didn't bring as much baggage with them as the family that moves into the new house in the excellent thriller The Gift
, which we saw yesterday morning. The husband and wife move from Chicago to L.A. for his job. She had to leave her job behind, though she's doing some stuff online. There are hints of possible instability in her past. It's a new start, perhaps time to add to their family, though that has been problematic in the past. Then he (Jason Bateman) runs into someone from high school while they're out shopping. Dude is a little creepy. A little stalkerish. The guy is played by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the film. Bateman's Simon (as in Simon Says) remembers him as Gordo, though in private he recalls him as Weirdo. He seems a little off kilter, and he keeps showing up, often bearing gifts. Is he obsessed with Simon's wife, Robyn? Did he do something to the family dog, Jangles? And what really happened back in high school?
There are a few jump-scares, but mostly this is a taut thriller with a very well developed story and characters. Edgerton's script leads you in all manner of directions and raises any number of suspicions, some of them legitimate, some of them red herrings. He also manages to shift the viewer's allegiances throughout, until he punches everyone in the stomach with a wholly substantiated but unforeseen revelation. My wife, who generally doesn't like scary movies, really enjoyed The Gift
, because it was all about the characters. No guts or gore. Highly recommended.
We also watched a documentary called Iris, about Iris Apfel, though I'm hard pressed to explain what it is she's famous for. She became renowned for her rather quirky fashion taste, I guess is the easiest way to say it. She likes gaudy bangles and intriguing textiles and somehow parlayed that into celebrity. She's in her early 90s and still does all these interviews and talk shows about fashion. Her husband, who turns 100 at the end of the movie, just died this month, I see. It was an oddball film—were she less famous, she could have been featured on an episode of Hoarders
, or perhaps even an entire season—but a look at something with which we have no direct exposure, so that's always interesting.Hannibal
went out with a bang and a few stabs and lots of blood. It was a very strange, entrancing series. In this incarnation, it's almost a love story between Hannibal and Will Graham, and the final moments were very Reichenbach Falls, although if you didn't wait for it there was a post-credits scene not to be missed in which Gillian Anderson looked quite ravishing and delectable. Even if there is never a Season 4, which looks like less of a possibility with each passing day, it was a good way to end things.
|Wednesday, August 26th, 2015|
|Not Kansas Any More
Last summer it was Styx and Foreigner. Last night it was Toto and Yes. Gradually I'm finally getting the chance to see in concert all the bands who I first discovered in high school or as a university undergrad, many of whom I still listen to this day or have recently rediscovered.
Styx fell off my radar for a long time until I stumbled upon their 2003 album Cyclorama, which is very good. That was when I learned that they'd brought on Lawrence Gowan as a singer-keyboardist, the guy I knew of as just Gowan, a well-known Canadian performer from the early 80s. I started filling in the gaps and then they came to the local concert pavilion last summer, along with Don Felder from the Eagles and Foreigner, who put on an impressive show, too. I'd seen Tommy Shaw before when he toured with the Damned Yankees back in the early 90s.
Similarly, I'd lost touch with Toto until something put them back on my radar again and I caught up. They have a new album out, Toto XIV, which is very good indeed. I've been looking forward to this concert for a few months, and I was surprised that they were the support act. Turns out it was almost a co-billing. Toto played from 7:30 until 9:00 and Yes played from 9:15 until 11:00 or so. Toto had the bigger stage presence, with two keyboard players (Paich and Porcaro), a percussionist in addition to a drummer, two backup singers, in addition to Steve Lukather, vocalist Joseph Williams and more. Lukather is amazing on the guitar, but I see he's still "old-school"—plugged in. A roadie had to lurk behind him to make sure his guitar chord didn't get tangled up. Yes was just five guys: drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals.
I was surprised that the pavilion was in its small configuration for the concert: no lawn seats were sold. The Pavilion has 6500 reserved seats and can put another 10,000 people on the hill, and it routinely sells out the full capacity. For this show, it was all reserved seating. A rainstorm passed through in the mid-afternoon, so I was glad we wouldn't be sitting on the hill, but as it turns out, no one was. They seemed to know in advance that this was a concert with somewhat limited appeal. It was certainly an enthusiastic audience, albeit a relatively small one.
I'm much less familiar with Yes's music. I knew a few of their songs, but not most of them. I appreciate their musical talents (Steve Howe still has his guitar chops, Geoff Downes can still play his wall of keyboards with the best of them), but their songs don't grab me the same way many other bands' songs do. I have a hard time latching onto them. They meander and seem to be without structure in some cases. I guess that just comes from not having listened to them for decades, as I have with the other groups. The lead singer can reproduce Jon Anderson's sound pretty well (I liked Anderson's project with Vangelis from the 1980s), though he looked a little like a cross between a religious cult leader and Kid Rock. It was fun watching them (the bass player was impressive, though Chris Squire's shadow hung over them literally and figuratively), but I just didn't connect to the music in the same way. I was on my feet for much of Toto, but I sat back for Yes, mostly. I remember feeling much the same when I saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer many years ago: the musicians seemed to be offering a master class in music performance rather than putting on a show. But that's just me. The English bloke sitting next to us was having the time of his life during Yes.
I think that leaves only Kansas as the one major band from my college years that I haven't seen in concert.
|Monday, August 24th, 2015|
|Working Class Dog
My review of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film
just went live at Cemetery Dance Online
We watched a couple of documentaries and a couple of films this weekend. First, we saw An Honest Liar
, a documentary about James ("The Amazing") Randi, the magician and escape artist who has been one of the leading crusaders against fraud, especially from people who claim to have magical or mystical powers. Uri Geller has been one of his lifelong nemeses.
I'd forgotten that Randi was born in Canada. He became a magician and illusionist at an early age, joining the circus instead of graduating from high school. However, he reached a decision point when he realized that he could use his skills for ill or for good. He's taken on faith healers and psychics, and has posted $1 million of his own money to anyone who can prove psychic abilities. He executed elaborate cons to show that PSI research at reputable institutions was fundamentally flawed, and he coached the producers at the Tonight Show on how to set up Uri Geller's demonstrations so they were guaranteed to fail. He then started following Geller on the talk show circuit to reproduce everything Geller had done the previous day to show that there was nothing magical about it. His credo is that magicians are the most honest people around: they'll tell you they're going to lie to you and fool you, and then they lie to you and fool you.
On a more personal level, the documentary revealed some surprises about his long-term relationship and a deception that was either perpetrated upon him or with his full cooperation for a quarter of a century. We've always liked Randi and his JREF organization's goals. We came away from the documentary liking him even more. But, man, those eyebrows. They're a ZIP code all their own.
Then we watched A Year in Champagne
, which is a companion film to A Year in Burgandy
, which we watched a few months ago. It examines the production of champagne wine in northeastern France by showing what goes on during a typical year at a variety of vineyards and companies. The year chosen happened to be a particularly gloomy one and it looked like the crop would be a complete failure, but season-end conditions improved enough so that, although the crop was small, it was very good. A fascinating look at the way champagne emerged as something associated with celebrations, and the people who've made it for centuries.
Yesterday we saw Ricki and the Flash
, starring Meryl Streep as a woman who abandoned her family to pursue her dream of being a musician. A crisis emerges when her daughter's husband divorces her and her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) is ill-equipped to manage her volatile emotions. So he puts in a call to Ricki (who the family knew as Linda) and asks her to come back to Indiana. This opens up all sorts of old wounds and issues. Ricki's partner, in the band and off, is played by the most excellent Rick Springfield, who still has his guitar chops (and looks much better than he did in True Detective
, see above) and delivered a surprisingly emotional performance as a sensitive guy trying to break down the borders of a somewhat closed-off woman. The script was by Diablo Cody, and it makes some very interesting (and, from my perspective, good) choices about what threads to follow and how to wrap them up. There's no tidy bow at the end, but there is the possibility of further healing of broken bonds. It gave us a lot to talk about at the pub after the matinee. Good music, too, all performed by the actors and musicians.
Then, in the afternoon we watched an Australian film called Strangerland
starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving. It's set in a small, remote Australian town prone to dust storms. Kidman and Fiennes have moved there to get away from some family problem that occurred in their previous domicile. They have a 12- or 13-year old son who likes to go walkabout at night and a 15-year-old hypersexual daughter. There's unexplained tension in the marriage that is exacerbated when the two kids go missing one night. Everything from everyone's past comes out in the subsequent investigation, led by Weaving's town sheriff. Strong performances, but things sort of meander without much explanation and the film has one of those dreaded "French movie" endings where the credits start rolling and you slap your forehead and say, "Oh, no!" An intriguing movie, but ultimately less than satisfying, although it's got Nicole Kidman, and that's always good.
|Wednesday, August 19th, 2015|
|Johnny B. Goode
I went to a book signing last night and came home smelling of smoke.
No, it didn't turn into a book burning.
I first met Michael Koryta at Necon in 2014. We hit it off quickly and I found myself thinking that if he lived closer, he'd be the sort of guy I'd like to hang around with. A seriously smart guy, and very nice. He also happens to be a helluva writer.
I'd been introduced to his work by accident. I was using my computer-fu for my pals at Cemetery Dance, helping them extract the text from an obstinate pdf. All the running headers and footers and page numbers were giving them fits. So I took a crack at it and managed to come up with a solution to the problem. As it happened, the pdf was Koryta's The Prophet
. I figured, since I had the file, I'd load it onto my iPad and read it. I was majorly impressed.Those Who Wish Me Dead
was his 2014 novel, a full-out thriller set in Big Sky Country. Impressive. I managed to get an eGalley of his latest, Last Words
, the beginning of a series, and was also impressed. I think I'd known he was coming to Houston on his book tour, but all of a sudden, on Monday, I realized it was going to be the following day, publication day for the new book. I sent him a DM on Twitter and said to give me a shout if he was bored yesterday afternoon. He had an interview to take care of, but in between that and his appearance at Murder By the Book, he had an hour or so, so I met up with him at the bar at his hotel, and then drove him over to the bookstore.
Following his own tradition with MBTB, he read from his next
book instead of the current one. They're parts of a series, and he originally decided to shift the second book from third person to first to indicate the growth and evolution of his character, Mark Novak. He was some 300 pages into the book when he realized it wasn't working, so he went back to the beginning (oh, what a brave decision that was) and started over again in third person. However, before he made the choice, the decision had been made to include the first chapter as a teaser in the hardcover of Last Words
, a fairly rare occurrence. Even rarer, now that the chapter is a lot different than it will be in Echoes
, when it appears next year.
He asked me to stick around after the signing, so we went out to dinner. As a nod to being in Texas, I suggest barbecue. The original Goode Company Barbeque is only a few blocks from MBTB, and it was a good choice. By then it was nice enough that we could sit outdoors while we had our dinner and Texas beer (Lone Star for him, Shiner Bock for me). That's where the smell of smoke came from—we were downwind from the kitchen, I guess. I could still smell it on my clothes this morning. A nice smell.
Anyhow, it was a pleasant evening. Had a great time chatting with Michael about everything under the sun. Took him back to his hotel, as he had to catch an early flight this morning for the next leg of his book tour.
We watched American Sniper
on the weekend. It had been on my radar for a long time, just never got around to it before. I'm glad we saw it. I had a different impression about what happened to him after he came back after his last tour of duty. As good as the film was, I have to wonder how Eastwood and the producers and the studio executives and everyone else who sticks their collective noses into a movie allowed it to go out with that scene of the baby played by a plastic doll. Surely the scene could have been shot differently so it wasn't so blatant. As long as it was breast feeding, it was hardly noticeable, but once Cooper's character started waving it in front of the camera, it left no doubt that this was not a real baby, crying noises in the soundtrack notwithstanding.
We also watched a documentary on Netflix called The Search for General Tso
. While nominally devoted to determining the origins of the ubiquitous dish, it also explored Chinese immigration into the US and the reasons why they scattered across the country after originally concentrating in San Francisco. It's not a long film, a little over an hour, but it presented some interesting information about how American Chinese food evolved because the Chinese understood that they had to adapt the cuisine to the local palate, which gives rise to such weirdnesses as General Tso's Alligator in Louisiana. They tracked down the originator of the dish, an aging Chinese man from Hunan Province who lived in Taiwan, who was flabbergasted and dismayed by the variations of his invention presented to him. A fun, light, entertaining program that will likely leave you with a sudden urge to head off to the local Chinese takeaway.