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|Wednesday, March 6th, 2013|
|A bright future in mall security
Taxes are almost done and ready to submit. I got my last 1099-R this week, even though I'd already entered it into TurboTax as if I'd already received it. One more step in getting things cleared off my desk and the floor around it. I still have to write an essay and finish a couple of short stories, but then I think I'm going to try to carve out a chunk of time to work on a novel. I've been promising myself I'd tackle it again, but I can finally see the clearing. Assuming something else unexpected doesn't drop into my lap—or that I don't accidentally volunteer for something again.
Looks like an injury episode on Survivor
tonight. No clues about who's at risk of being pulled from the game but I'd nominate Shamar if they're taking suggestions.
At last the elusive Drew Thompson has been identified on Justified
, and it was the guy we've been suspecting for a few episodes now, which is fun because apparently the writers weren't sure who it was going to be until they broke out the story for episode 5. There was one, brief moment last night when I thought, "Wouldn't it be funny if it's Constable Bob?" but then I realized that would make no sense whatsoever. He's nowhere near the right age. Raylan must be a tad embarrassed that he asked Drew Thompson for help in finding Drew Thompson. Great scene with Hunter in Wynn Duffy's trailer. Such a checkered past Raylan and Duffy have.
It's always fun watching Art go ballistic over Raylan's antics. Tim wasn't cowed by his tirade though. After Art told Tim to call Raylan, Tim responded, "Do you want me to write that down or paraphrase?" Deputy Dunlop is on Art's shit list. "Get used to purging case files until I figure out how to like you again." Raylan knew the Deputy would catch heat for turning Hunter over to him. Tim tells Raylan that Dunlop has a bright future in mall security, thanks to him. Art throws a few more things around and storms off to his office. "If anybody wants to screw anything else up, just wait until tomorrow."
It was an episode of secrets coming to light. Hunter was bound and determined not to reveal Drew's identity—so much so that he was willing to throw himself in front of a truck rather than go to prison and get murdered by the Dixie Mafia (dying in much the same way as Raylan predicted Arlo would). It was Constable Bob (of the midget police—"do you have cuffs small enough to fit him?") who knew enough about the past to clue Raylan in as to Drew's identity, though by then the mysterious Mr. Thompson had already made good his getaway. At least Constable Bob got to pull out his "go bag," which is as full of tricks as Felix the Cat's. Then Boyd finds out about Colton and Ellen May, thanks to Johnny, who still doesn't seem to know what sort of game he's playing.
Hunter got all the best speeches—the one in the car that was meant to let Drew know that he'd never talk and the one with Raylan at the end that started out complimentary and then took a hook south. "You listen to what your mamma taught you and not that old son of a bitch and you may turn out all right, but I wouldn't count on it because I think we both know whose voice it is that makes you do what you do." Raylan is struggling with the concept of Arlo who, he learns, may have attacked a neighbor to protect Raylan's mother's honor. He even made up a story about what Arlo said the last time he saw him that, perhaps, betrays what he hoped would have happened.
Only four episodes left!
|Monday, March 4th, 2013|
|The Tao of Cho
This was one of those productive weekends when I cleared several things off my desk. And off the floor around my desk, where pressing but oft-ignored things sometimes end up. The two major items were a 1200-word essay for FEARNet, which should appear in a day or three, and a 1500-word essay that I can't talk about yet, which should be published in June. The two articles were vastly different in tone and intent, but I really enjoyed working on them and was quite pleased with the final result. One conclusion I arrived at, though, is that first drafts of essays can be relatively easy. It's the polishing process that takes most of the time. I probably created 20 different drafts of each, and I was changing around words and sentences right up until the time I decided it was time to let them go.
I had fun on Twitter last night. I was watching The Amazing Race
and following Phil Keoghan's live commentary when Owen King tweeted a contest where the prize was a chapbook of material related to his debut novel, Double Feature
. I got the right answer a few seconds behind the winner, but he decided to declare me a winner, too. Contests are cool. Then, on The Amazing Race
, contestants struggled with left-hand stick-shift driving and I tweeted that I had never ever driven a stick. Doing it with my left hand would be a challenge, to which Phil Keoghan responded: I challenge you. So there. I've been challenged. After that, it was The Walking Dead
and Brian Keene's commentary on this deeply flawed series, so that was fun, too.
I was surprised that the father-and-son team did as well as they did on The Amazing Race
. Despite the fact that the father has a torn muscle and tendon, they managed to finish first, thanks to the Express Pass. Wise decision on the part of the team that gave it to them. This was the least amount of harm it could do to their chances of winning. Then we got a cliffhanger ending: will they continue or not? I wonder if they'd already planned to do that or if it was a decision based on the situation that arose. I'd love to visit New Zealand some day. I've been to Australia, but never to NZ, although my parents were there once. Reminds me a bit of Ireland. And the guy running the fishing challenge was a dead ringer for Prince Charles.The Walking Dead
was interesting if not all that eventful. Rick returned to his home town with Carl and Michonne to discover that it has turned into The Omega Man's
sanctuary, with traps everywhere. Some good dialog featuring the always solid Lennie James (Jericho
). It's nice to see Michonne stepping out of the background and doing more than stabbing zombies in the head (though she did her fair share of that here, too). Good talk between her and Rick at the end, where she reveals that she knows he's seeing things and admits that she has talked to her dead boyfriend. I especially liked the way Rick then asked her if she wanted to drive. "Good," he said. "Because I see things." The hitchhiker gag had a pessimistic payoff. When he first appeared, Brian Keene said he should run in the opposite direction instead of trying to join up with this woebegone group, but they weren't having any part of him, perhaps because he wasn't smart enough to have figured out after more than a year that yelling at the top of your lungs in zombie country isn't recommended.
I think this week's The Mentalist
was one of the best plotted mysteries in a long time. I should have been suspicious of the body burnt to a crisp (an old Ross Macdonald lesson—never accept the unrecognizable body). Still, they painted the victim as such a wonderful woman, a philanthropist, and her nephew was a money-grubber who was trying to have her declared incompetent so he could take over her fortune. When Lisbon arrested him, I doubted his guilt, but I was sure he was being set up by the other woman (his sister? his wife?) who rushed to create an alibi for him. I thought she was, instead, alibiing herself. Then comes the Agatha Christie twist, and I was caught flatfooted. Well done.
I've come to believe that Kimble Cho is the most interesting character on the show. He seems so grim, focused and and smart. He's the kind of cop that I'd want on the case if I were the victim of a crime. He doesn't get distracted by a lot of the folderol that consumes the others. When he gets addicted to pain killers, he figures it out and gets himself straight. Sure, he falls for the hooker with the heart of gold, but he survives that, too. I especially liked the near-final scene of him with the girl who stood to inherit the boat. Both actors were on top of their games. Cho tells the girl, played by Vanessa Ray, that she probably wouldn't have survived the boat trip and she responds with disbelief that manifests itself in the word "what." But she doesn't say the word (or scream it, like some might). Instead, she mouths the word without making a sound. It was one of those delicate, underplayed reactions that strike me as particularly inspired.
We watched Beasts of the Southern Wild
on Saturday. It's a fascinating film about a community of people who live on an isolated and barely above sea-level patch of ground in the Gulf of Mexico. They seem to have little contact with the outside world and live in abject poverty. It's told from the point of view of a six-year-old girl who lives in a trailer next to her father. Her mother is long gone, though where she went and whether she is alive is never explained. There's a big storm coming (Katrina? It doesn't matter.) that threatens to destroy this place (called "the bathtub") and force the residents to evacuate. Though it seems like it might be a metaphorical film, it really works as simply a tale about these people at this place and time. The director's parents are folklorists, which seems to have influenced his work. The little girl is played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who was nominated for an Oscar. She's intense. She carries on a continual dialog via voice-over but she conveys her emotions through every fiber of her being. She's very much a little girl and sees things in little girl ways. The worst thing that she can think of to say to her father is that she wants to sit on his grave and eat birthday cake. It's a fantastic viewing experience, and the film doesn't have to be about anything. Was that her mother in the floating brothel? It doesn't matter. What matters is that someone held her.
I thought I'd check out Red Widow
last night, especially since Zero Hour
, as predicted, was canceled. The new series is Breaking Bad
. A mother of three whose husband was involved in the drug business has to figure out how to placate a Russian mobster after she is widowed. Her debt to the man—via her late husband—is to be paid off by facilitating a one-time drug importation scheme. Of course, there won't be much of a story if she does this and the debt is absolved, so there will probably be more to it than that. The first hour was pretty good, but I got a little creeped out when she tried to seduce a dock worker to get him to take part in their scheme. The show had a "soft debut," which doesn't bode well for its longevity.
|Friday, March 1st, 2013|
|Never trust an assistant with sharp objects
At 30°F, it was two degrees colder in north Houston this morning than in Montreal or Halifax. And it's supposed to get cold again tonight.
The future doesn't look promising for Zero Hour
, the series about...what? What is it really about? I have no idea. It has Rosicrucians and dopplegangers and Einstein and clocks, lots and lots of clocks. Parents with sinister secrets and a bad guy named Vincent White. An FBI agent who's pissed at Vincent because her husband was collateral damage in a plane crash Vincent caused, except maybe everyone else was the collateral damage and hubby was the target. A kidnapped spouse who fixes clocks and doesn't attempt to attract attention when the kidnapper takes her to a library, but does find time to leave coded messages for her husband. A global conspiracy that dates back to WW II at least. Oh, and a secret that might destroy God. It's a train wreck, but it's fun. Alas, fewer people are watching it each week, so I doubt it'll last long.
Our OnDemand service gave us a sneak peek at the first hour of the new show Red Widow
, which looks to be a cross between Breaking Bad
. A woman's husband is killed. Turns out he was involved in drugs and crossed some very bad people (Russians). She decides to make it right with them, but since the drugs he stole are still missing, she has to get involved in the drug business to keep her family safe. It wasn't a bad episode. I'll stick with it for a while to see how it plays out.
David Cassidy of the Partridge Family was the "guest star" on this week's CSI
in much the same way that William Shatner and Lorne Greene were "special guest stars" on Police Squad
, by which I mean they were killed before the end of the opening credits. This episode took advantage of the natural suspicion of the audience toward a recognizable actor (Henry Ian Cusick from Lost
playing a magician) to play a bit of sleight-of-hand with the real killer. The episode was chock full of poker and playing card puns because the killer was knocking off people who had been involved in a rigged poker game decades earlier.
After seeing Skyfall
recently, I decided to back up to the first Daniel Craig Bond film, Casino Royale
. Hmmm. Poker seems to be a theme this week. It was a strong film, but not quite as poignant as the newest one. The chase scene through the construction site was a little over the top but I really liked the crumbling building scene—imagine bearing witness to that. I've heard some fairly dire opinions about Quantum of Solace
, but I'll probably check it out some time.
|Thursday, February 28th, 2013|
|You still look like Ava Gardner
I received a couple of finished copies of The Dark Tower Companion
this week. It's the first time I've seen the cover with King's blurb laid in. It feels great to see this project finally coming to fruition. It will be released into the wild on April 2 in both trade paperback and Kindle editions.
This morning I finished proofing a 3000-word story that was due today. This is the first time I've read it since I finished the first draft last week. I thought it would require more editing than it did. I only trimmed about a hundred words from it. I did tighten up the writing in a lot of sentences and fixed some minor logic inconsistencies, but it's not all that much different from the first draft. We'll see if the editors like it or not.
Next up, I have to write a 1000-word non-fiction piece this weekend, and I've also written an essay for FEARNet that I need to type up and edit.
This is daughters-in-peril month on ABC. There was an excellent two-part series on Castle
that ended this week in which it seemed like Alexis was kidnapped because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that the other victim was the main target. However, that proved not to be the case for reasons that were surprising to Rick. A nice appearance by James Brolin as the deep undercover agent who delivers the big news. Then on Body of Proof
, another daughter kidnapped, this time because Megan uncovered proof of a domestic terrorist plot. That one was a little less touching in the long run. They've retooled the show a bit since it last aired (a long time ago, it seems). So long that I'd forgotten that Peter wasn't around any more. Then there was the excellent NCIS
episode where Ducky and Palmer are taken hostage and have to rely on their wits to come out of it alive. Palmer's gym key for the win.Survivor
was barely tolerable this week what with Shamar's non-stop rage and threats to quit. Please do. And yet he survives another vote. I guess the secret to making it to the end is to be belligerent, like Phillip. Okay, that gets you to the end, maybe, but with no chance of winning. Has there ever been a three-way tie before? That was a surprise. I think Hope knew what was going to happen given that two of the three votes for Eddy came from her and Shamar. Do they even bother to hide clues for the immunity idols any more or do they just assume people are going to root around and find them? Once upon a time, it was like solving a pirate's treasure map. Now it's just a matter of looking in the obvious places. At least the challenge was exciting, with lots of back and forth between the two teams.
After an episode where very little happened with regards to the Drew Thompson case on Justified
, a lot happened this week. A bunch of people got shot and stabbed and otherwise pummeled, Boyd went into full battle mode, and one of the original cast members went home in a body bag. Johnny is playing an interesting game. He stands up beside Boyd whenever they're confronted by an outside danger, like the Clover Hills Gang (which always makes me think of The Apple Dumpling Gang
), but he's also getting the dirt on Colt and continuing to meet with Duffy in his Wynnebago office. I had a pretty good idea it was him behind the extortion text messages. I was wrong about Boyd's motives, though, when he went to visit the guy he was hired to kill. I thought that in telling the guy about the contract he was hoping to start an internal battle between the old guys, but instead "I feel like the seat cushion for two fat people at a football game," he told Ava afterward. But with the help of the Dixie Mafia, maybe he and Ava will get that Dairy Queen franchise after all. (Yeah, right.)
I knew there was no way Colt was going to leave Tim's buddy alive after all that went down in the drug dealer's den. It was like he needed someone to talk to for a few minutes and then: blam! Doesn't he watch CSI
? That cigarette butt is going to come back to haunt him. There was a very nice moment between Raylan and Drew's "widow." After riding her and making fun of her, he says, "You still look like Ava Gardner," which made her day. The guy who has killed more people than malaria was no match in a draw with Raylan, even if he was distracted by the glint from Ava's engagement ring. (Even after our recent history, Ava and I decided that you are still going to be on the guest list, Boyd assured him.) The best reaction of the night, though was Raylan's after he gunned the fake cop down. "Jesus, I hope I got that right." Art was equally reassuring when I said, "I was almost certain you weren't a cop killer."
So, is it Shelby? It seems like that. At first, I thought his story about the woman who left him some 25 years ago took him out of the running, but maybe that's just the story he tells people these days. He seemed very interested in Drew's widow, for example. And then there was his statement to Ellen May: "I think if you pretend to be something long enough, it's not pretending." He was supposedly talking to her, but maybe not. The previews suggest that maybe we'll get to see Drew next week, or at least be in his presence for the first time. Plus Deputy Bob pulls his machine gun from this bag of tricks and lets loose.
And let us end with a moment of silence for the guy who didn't make it out of the episode alive, and not for a lack of trying. Who knew the old guy had so much life left in him, but he sure put up a good fight. And bitter to the very end. His final words: Kiss my ass. But that didn't stop Raylan from shedding a tear for him. His prediction from last week came true, and the reality was stronger than his casual words suggested it would be.
|Monday, February 25th, 2013|
|I'll have no tra-la-las at my gala
Tons of work done this weekend. I finished off a 6000-word piece for a project that is still pending. The publisher is waiting for the green light but once it's given we have to hit the ground running so I went to work "on spec." Hope everything comes through or else it will all be for naught. I still have a short story to edit by the end of the week and a 1000-word piece that's due in less than two weeks, so busy, busy, busy.
We saw Argo
on Friday night. I have a vivid memory of the incident from when it happened, and also have been strongly influenced by Canada's part in it, which has long been a point of national pride. The former ambassador, Ken Taylor, was sufficiently miffed after the film debuted at a festival in Toronto that he requested a change to the end card. It's not the sort of film one might expect to win a best picture award, which it did, but it's a good caper film. It's a good trick, making something suspenseful when you know in advance the outcome. John Goodman is always good in his little comic-relief roles, and Alan Arkin was great, too, and ended up with an Oscar nomination for his troubles. Good to see Bryan Cranston with a full head of hair again, and Kyle Chandler, who was also in Zero Dark Thirty
On Saturday, we went out to the cinema to see Quartet
, which was a cute film about getting old. It takes place in a retirement home for aging musicians, and is Dustin Hoffman's first gig as a movie director. The story problem is the fact that they need to raise enough money at their annual gala to keep the place open for another year, so they need a big name draw to replace the one they lost recently. The big name comes in the form of Maggie Smith's character, a former opera singer, but her arrival also spells trouble for her ex-husband, who is still in love with her but can't get over his anger at her. Michael Gambon is funny as the self-proclaimed gala director, dressed in long flowing gowns, getting manicures and lounging about as if he's the King of Siam. It's Billy Connolly, though, who really fires up this film. He's also a former opera singer but he had a stroke recently that has robbed him of his inhibitions, so he's non-stop lewd and raunchy. In lesser hands, his character might have been creepy, but Connolly is so disarming and charming that it works. Many of the secondary characters are played by real-life former musicians. Next to the closing credits we get to see them now and as they were in their heydays. The film bears obvious comparisons to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
, though the setting is less exotic. Nevertheless, it's a feel-good film and the major crises are not drawn out beyond their respective shelf lives.
One of the dramatic aspects of The Amazing Race
is how you can go from first to last quickly, but also regain hours of lost time without a great deal of effort. The two teams that were four hours behind going into the leg were instantly only 90 minutes behind because of boat schedules and they both managed to finish ahead of two non-penalized teams. You can forget your gear at the top of the hill and have to take the boat all the way back to the island and still catch up to other teams. Or you can take a wrong turn with your jet ski and get lost enough that you almost lose. Or an innate fear of water can spell the end. It's a shame that the twins didn't pick the other challenge, because they aced that one after waffling about for hours about the oyster dive. Bora Bora is now high on my list of dream vacations.
I watched the first couple of hours of the Oscars last night (what was that, about a third of the show?). I had no idea who Seth MacFarlane was going into it. I've never seen Ted
or any of the animated series he's known for, and I'm less inclined to check them out now than I was before. I know a lot of people found him funny, and I confess that I did laugh a few times, but for the most part I found him lame. I was playing along on Twitter and observed that most of the women I follow were generally outraged by his jokes and sketches, with the exception of female actors, who all seemed to think they were funny. I guess Hollywood can be a bubble environment. Though "Goldfinger" has never been my favorite Bond song, I thought Bassey knocked it out of the park. I was lukewarm on Adele's song when I first heard it and her performance did little to change that opinion. I think it has good lyrics, especially once you know the whole story of the film, but it just doesn't grab me. This is the first time I've seen more than one or two of the nominated films in advance (Argo
made 4 out of 10), and it's the first time I've ever seen the winner of the animated short film in advance.
|Thursday, February 21st, 2013|
|A name out of a Steve McQueen movie
I've got to learn to say "no" more. Heck, it's not even that. I've got to stop offering to do things! I'm well booked up for the next month with four or five mini-projects. Two of them are due at the end of the month (yes, a week from today), another is due a week after that and the other shortly thereafter. And they're all really cool. One of these days, though, I'm going to stick my neck out a tad too far.
I love the Public Lending Rights Commission. Every year I get a check from them in the mail. Just because I'm a Canadian and copies of my books appear in libraries across Canada. Hopefully these libraries will all pick up copies of The Dark Tower Companion
, because then it will be even better next year.
Is anyone else watching the new series Banshee
? My buddy Jay Clarke (aka Michael Slade) has been going on and on about it, so I checked out the first episode. Within the first five minutes, the main character gets out of prison, has stockroom sex with a female bartender, becomes involved in a Manhattan car chase and a subsequent shootout in which one of those red double-decker tour buses falls over and skids across the streets like the milk truck in The Dead Zone
. It only slows down a tad after that. By the end of the hour, this guy who served fifteen years for his part in a $10 million jewel heist is the sheriff of Banshee, PA. There are at least two other shootouts and at least that many fistfights. And more sex. And some Amish people. Alan Ball (Six Feet Under
) is an executive producer on the series. There are some fascinating characters, but I don't recognize most of the actors except for Frankie Faison who played Commissioner Ervin H. Burrell on The Wire
I finished the second season of Borgen
, the Danish series about political intrigue. The show has a few through-line plot elements, but each episode is also a capsule look at some interesting social or political notion. Can women with families be effective politicians? The tenuous relationship between Denmark and Greenland. The war in Iraq. Juvenile crime and punishment. Dealing with controversial foreign dignitaries and making deals that sometimes contain mildly poisonous pills. All of the personalities involved make these stories compelling, because there's often an element that reaches out and touches their lives. The female prime minister has had to sacrifice a lot personally over the course of three years in power, and one has to wonder if she would have set off down this path if she'd known the cost. Her mentor told her at the outset that she could not afford to have any friends in the parliament building. She had to be prepared to sacrifice anyone.
Her spin doctor also has some heavy baggage from his past that cause him to be somewhat self destructive, especially in his relationships. We see the media side of things, from the inflammatory former politician who is making it his mission in life to criticize the prime minister about everything to the more moderate TV1, where sometimes good television has to triumph over good reportage. It's a very strong series that has become a hit in the UK. Now the long wait for the third series, which is only now airing in Denmark. (One thing I found fascinating was the way some of the characters would speak English in certain situations...and it was perfect, usually with an upper class British accent. The prime minister also speaks flawless French.)
Apparently this was the week when the networks decided to have main characters in crime shows suspected of committing crimes. Last night it was Sara Sidle on CSI
and Detective Rollins on SVU
. The storylines were quite different and both of them were effective. In the latter, the audience knew that she had acted properly but it wasn't a sure thing that she wouldn't be prosecuted. In the former, the evidence was stacked up against Sara to the extent that a viewer would be forgiven for thinking that maybe she had snapped.
You know things are interesting on Survivor
when Philip isn't the most annoying player at the moment. Probably not even the second-most annoying. (I got a kick out of his "middle-management" line.) We have Brandon, who keeps threatening to get crazy and break stuff but never manages to summon the gumption to do so, and then there's Shamar, one of those guys who likes to intimidate people by talking loudly over them. I was glad the fans lost the immunity challenge because it gave us a chance to see more of them in the aftermath, though I thought for a minute that Reynold, the guy with the amazing superpower, was going to catch up with the fans at the ring-toss the way he did with the beanbag throw last week. Dude needs to find a better way to carry his (not so well) hidden immunity idol around, though. I don't think it would have been any more conspicuous if he'd worn it around his neck.
I was a little disappointed with the trip to the swinger's party on Justified
this week. Sure, there was a little tawdry stuff going on in the background but it turns out the focus was on the old cigar-smoking bourbon-drinking gentry who are in charge of everything in Harlan County, at least in their minds. I don't know how that gibes with the Dixie Mafia and the way Quarles stuck his nose in things last season, but they certainly put down a gauntlet that Boyd is going to have to consider. His daddy may have gotten the message from the Clover Hills Mafia, but Boyd's different. We're still no closer to finding out who Drew Thompson is, but by now we must certainly have seen him at least once.
The brunt of the episode was derived from a section of the Elmore Leonard novel Raylan
. This includes all the material featuring the fetching and beguiling (or charming, as Raylan put it) sorority sister/poker player Jackie Nevada (daughter of Reno, apparently) and another Dumb and Dumber duo. I thought for a while that Jody was going to loot Raylan's stash again after he overheard where he lived, but instead all Jody did was reset Raylan's clock on the last time he shot a man. Poor Raylan's not sure what to make of Jackie. He knows he should be wary of her, but he's not trusting his judgment much these days.
|Monday, February 18th, 2013|
My February contribution to Storytellers Unplugged went live yesterday. It's called Social Media
. I also (finally) finished my review of Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth
and got it up. A book I wanted to like more, but didn't.
I finished the first draft of my new work-in-progress yesterday afternoon. The short story came in at about 3100 words. It will be shorter after revision, I have no doubt. It's not due to the market until the end of the month, so I have a few days to pretty it up.
The first review of The Dark Tower Companion
(NAL, April 2, 2013) appeared in my news feed this morning. It's from Rocky Wood and can be read at This Is Horror
. It concludes, "Vincent has a strong commitment to opening Mid-World and its secrets to all readers, and this book proves he knows how to deliver."
A new season of The Amazing Race
last night, with a different twist on the Express Pass. The team that came in first got two of them, but they have to give the second one to another team before the end of the fourth leg. An interesting conundrum. Do you keep your vow to an alliance to give it to the team from that group who came in second? I don't know that there's a correct answer, but I think I'd be looking for the weakest team. The pass might give them a leg up, but ultimately they'll get eliminated. However, I don't know that there is a clear candidate for a weakest team. Who would have predicted that the firemen would go first? I'm not rooting for anyone yet, but I wouldn't mind if the YouTube team got sent home early.
I'm sticking with The Walking Dead
for the time being. This week's episode was livelier than many, with much of the action crammed into the last fifteen minutes. Rick's dotage is getting a little old, so with luck the Governor's assault will spur him back to sanity. It's hard to believe, though, that these guys, who have gotten so good at shooting people in the head from a distance, had a hard time picking off the sniper in the tower (or the Governor himself, for that matter). The headshot in the prison yard came as a huge surprise, though. They might as well have dressed that guy in a red shirt when he was introduced. My thought after the attack ended gives rise to the above image: Of course you know, this means war.
The Darryl/Merle stuff was fun and they even managed to cram in a bit of character revelation. I knew Darryl was going to show up at the last minute to help set things right, though. The van-full-of-zombies was a neat attack plan from a conceptual point of view, but in practice, how good was it? Sure, the front gate is smashed wide open, but I'll bet they have that under control by next week.
We watched the new James Bond movie, Skyfall
, this weekend. This is the first of the Daniel Craig entries in that series that I've seen, but I've seen him in other movies. I now see, though, why some people suggest him as a candidate for Roland the Gunslinger in a Dark Tower movie. I think he'd be excellent. Anyhow, Skyfall
was terrific. It opened with the usual set piece, this one in Istanbul, that involved driving motor scooters over red tile rooftops and ends with a fight atop a train. No high tech gadgetry or whiz-bang edits. This is classic Bond rediscovered. There are more exotic locations (Shanghai and Macau), but the film really does feel like a retro re-envisioning of a classic series. There's a subtext about age and youth. The new Q is a hip young dude (played by the guy who was Freddy Lyons on The Hour
) who expresses disdain for such things as exploding pens and, presumably, tricked-out Astin Martins. All Bond gets for his mission is a plane ticket and a gun that's coded to respond only to his hand. Oh, and a radio transceiver. On the other end of the spectrum there's M (Judi Densch), who is at risk of being put out to pasture because her last year or so hasn't exactly been a stellar one for MI6.
To underscore the idea that the old ways are passing, the villain sees 007 as a kindred spirit, the last two old rats who have to decide whether to duel to the death or join sides against an agency that has little more use for them. More explosions (a crashing London tube train is especially effective), but the movie becomes much more intimate toward the end, with a return to a place from Bond's past (and a fantastic appearance by Albert Finney). Putting M in the Astin Martin was a nice touch, as was the preparations for the final battle. Ralph Fiennes had a nice role as the whippersnapper who seems intent on pushing M (and 007) out, but who proves his mettle when the going gets tough. This was an exciting and introspective movie, perhaps one of the best Bond films ever. It took itself dead seriously (only a couple of quips, including a throw-away line from a couple in the tube after Bond chases down a subway train) and, in the end, was touching and poignant. In a sense, we seem to be back at the beginning. Highly recommended.
|Thursday, February 14th, 2013|
|I'm actually feeling a whole lot better now
I keep adding things to my writing to-do list. Some of them are on me—anthologies to which I want to submit, but it's not the end of the world if I don't. Others, though, are firm commitments. One of them is still awaiting confirmation, but it will require me to get the lead out and knuckle down for a couple of weeks if it comes through.
I'm working on a new short story this week, even though I have another one that's only halfway done. The deadline for the new one is at the end of the month, so it gets top priority. Unless something else comes along with higher priority. This one is a speculative tale that arose from a suppertime conversation my wife and I had last week. One of those "what if" things where we marveled over the possibilities of something but then turned toward all of the nasty potential repercussions of the same thing. It's a fun little tale that will have a rather grim ending, I'm afraid.Justified
always provides a bunch of quotable moments, and I usually steal one of the lines for my title. This week, the line was spoken by Josiah Cairn (Gerald McRaney), who has just had his foot amputated with an ax. One of the miscreants who believes Josiah is the near-mythical Drew Peterson realizes that he's no good to them dead, so he decides to stop the bleeding with a blow torch. Once Josiah realizes the guy is serious, he utters the above line, which made me think of Monty Python, of course.
So, after last week's episode, I came up with two hypotheses. One was that Josiah was Drew Peterson. I had a bunch of reasons for thinking so, and a couple of reasons for believing I was wrong. Turns out I wasn't the only one who had that idea. Arlo put his lawyer on the wrong trail, for whatever perverse reason, and Cairn ended up footless because of it. I also wondered if the guy who liked to dress up in animal costumes, the one Ellen May shot, could be Drew. Then this week the "previously on" segment firmed up that connection. The guy was the judge executive and Raylan's cousin said that the last time she saw Drew was nearly a decade ago with the judge executive. So I was on the right track, sort of. We'll see what happens next week when Ava and Boyd crash the wife-swapping party, where there's a high probability that Drew Peterson will be present. Look for a guy with bad legs.
A lot happened on this "very special" episode, which ended on an appropriate-for-Valentine's Day note with a proposal. Who knew Boyd was a romantic? Colton is starting to unravel because of his addiction, compounding his mistake in beating up a prostitute by accusing another man of the assault, which quickly spun out of control. Johnny is toying with Boyd by telling him what he'd do to him if he were Duffy. A bold move but one that's bound to backfire. And it's nice to see that someone has a conscience over the killing of another person, even if said person isn't actually dead. Colton is sort of on Tim's radar, and I just knew that his brother's favor ("it'll only take fifteen minutes") would go south. Will there be anything more to that story, though?
My favorite part of the episode, though, was Shelby and Raylan teaming up. They don't trust each other on account of their past associations (Shelby with Boyd and Raylan with his father), but they put all that aside to get the job done. Shelby proves himself to be a good detective, figuring out why Roz's boyfriend was shooting at targets behind his trailer and coming to Raylan's rescue when "Rapes With a Smile" threatened him. He even pulled off a crackerjack piece of gunplay with Dumb and Dumber, Arlo's lawyer's two flunkies. "I wasn't always a greeter in a big box store," Shelby tells Raylan and goes on to regale him with the story of the last person he shot, twenty years ago. I think that's the most dialog Jim Beaver's had in a TV program ever.
is back, and they call it Fans vs. Favorites, but that's a bit of a misnomer. Are the fans really fans? So far we haven't seen much to qualify them as such, except for the guy who figured out how to start a fire without flint, which is a pro thing to do, rarely seen on Survivor
. And are the favorites really favorites? A few of them might be, but several of them are in the "who?" category and some are decidedly unfavorites. Maybe favorites of the producers because of their volatility. The video clips that accompanied their arrival on the beach was like a worst-of collection. None of them have ever won. Only one (I believe) even made it to the finals. The advantage returning players have (well, those who've spent more than one day on the island, that is) is that they know what needs to be done straight away and how to accomplish it. While the fans argued, the favorites went to work and built a shelter. The disadvantage returning players have is that they think they know too much and they start to second guess themselves. Paranoia sets in. The vote at tribal might have gone differently if Francesca's group had stuck to the original plan. But what if someone has an idol? To the best of my recollection, that was the first moment anyone mentioned idols. There was no sign that anyone was seriously looking for one.
The challenges were good. What better way to stoke the competitive nature than make everyone wrestle right off the bat? And the immunity challenge looked like a runaway for the favorites until the guy whose superpower is an uncanny ability to throw sandbags into holes stepped up. I think he got all six in about seven tries, while Malcolm piled his bags up around one slot. The marine looks like he could be a wild card, ranging from stubbornly aggressive to impressively capable, but Brendon appears to be the focus of next week's tantrums. I thought that Philip would be someone who would go early, but he might just hang around for a while as the others implode.
|Monday, February 11th, 2013|
|You know things are bad when the heroin addict thinks you're a bad influence
I had four things I wanted to get done this weekend, and I managed to complete them all, though it was later on Sunday than I'd planned when I put the finishing touches on #3. First off, I wrote two book reviews: The Dinner
by Herman Koch and The Redeemer
by Jo Nesbø. Then I wrote a 600-word entry for NPR's three-minute fiction contest. This is the one that gave me the most trouble. When I read the prompt, I had a story immediately, but it took me a while to execute it. I also find that, with flash fiction, I spend a lot longer in the revision phase. I probably went over that thing 20 times until it was ready to send in. The deadline was late last night, so I got it in under the wire.
I also had to do some "homework" for my publicist, which I handled this morning. I didn't watch any of the Grammy Awards, but I did get done in time to watch The Walking Dead
. I'm not terribly engaged by the show. Any one of the characters could die and I don't think I'd mind. And Rick is going off the rails. Dude, chill out. Give people a chance. It sounded like Andrea was running for Governor, with her little pep talk. I gave up on the show once already and had a change of heart, but if it doesn't improve I think I'm going to drop it again.
Here's my prediction: Flight
is now out on video and video on demand, but I doubt you'll ever find it listed on in-flight entertainment. I could be wrong. After all, they did run Cast Away
in planes, and it has a harrowing plane crash sequence. As it turns out, the movie has very little to do with the crash, which all but six people survive. That's our introduction to Denzel Washington's character, but he's already well into his downward spiral by this point. He's divorced and his son won't talk to him, mainly because of his addictions. He's the kind of guy who can party all night long and take a snort of coke the next morning to trim out the stabilizers. He's a better pilot high than many are stone cold sober, presumably because he used to fly a crop duster when he was a kid. He's not in denial, though. He aggressively chooses to drink. He tries to go straight for about two days, but falls off the wagon when he finds out he might be prosecuted for manslaughter. He takes in a recovering heroin addict (cuter than most drug addicts you see in crime shows) who he meets in the hospital after the crash, and the best indicator of how bad Washington's character is doing is that she considers him a bad influence. His lawyer and a friend lock him up in a hotel room the night before he's set to testify at the NTSB hearing (I would never have left him alone—a guard outside the door wasn't enough of a precaution), but still he finds a way to make a bad situation worse. It's the kind of harrowing scene where you almost don't want to watch. You hope he'll find some personal strength but are dead sure he won't. John Goodman has a funny cameo as the drug dealer. He looks like he just got off a flight from Haight-Ashbury by way of Margaritaville. It's a somber movie that has an "as good as possible given the circumstances" ending and a bravura performance by Washington.
|Wednesday, February 6th, 2013|
|I guess it all evens out
I now have a publicist for The Dark Tower Companion
. He introduced himself to me via e-mail last night. He has a few extra galleys to send my way, so if anyone (USA only, alas) out there is a blogger/reviewer with a platform and would be interested in requesting a copy for review, let me know. I'll need your name, mailing address, e-mail address and your proposed venue (blog, review site, magazine). The publicist is exploring the possibility of having an eGalley for international reviewers, but that's not finalized yet.
Interesting developments on Justified
this week. We were treated to a brief scene with Winona, a great scene between Boyd and Raylan (locked in a box together), the return of Constable Bob and an appearance by another Deadwood
alum. There were some great surprises: the scene where Wynn Duffy didn't flinch, and finding Boyd in the box after Raylan was tossed in. Another corrupt federal agent (that's getting to be a little tired), but at least they don't have long lifespans after they're exposed as such. Raylan's first encounter with Josiah Cairn was funny (Cairn: You can't do this! Raylan: Sure I can. As long as I've got gas.) but it turns out Cairn was a step ahead of him and Boyd, at least for now. For a while I entertained the theory that Cairn was really the elusive Drew Thompson (mostly on account of it being Gerald McRaney). I'm not convinced that's the case, but it would be a neat development.
I liked the scenes with Tim. Raylan chides him for his reading material, saying he's a little old for fantasy novels. "I guess I was a little bit young to be blowing the heads off Taliban," Tim replies. "I guess it all evens out." Then he has a few good moments with Colton, who is interested primarily in finding out how the Marshals go about finding someone who doesn't want to be found.
A developing subplot this season is the growing number of people who want to bring Boyd down. Right now he has Johnny, supported by Wynn, and Shelby, who might use Ellen May's knowledge. When Boyd was grilling Colton about her last words, I thought he already knew that Colton had messed up, but I guess he didn't.
Boyd is a rascal, no doubt, but the show wouldn't be half as good without him. Putting him and Raylan in a box was great, and though the two claim they don't like each other, you have to wonder. However, I did think the scene where Raylan cuffs Boyd to a tree was poorly executed. Boyd didn't even struggle and he has demonstrated in the past no hesitation about fighting with Raylan. Favorite line of that situation came from Boyd, after they were shot at and as he was being pulled out of the box by his feet: "I don't like your plan, Raylan!"
I wonder if that's all we'll see of the hill people. (Boyd: I'd whistle the theme song to Deliverance
if I though you had a better sense of humor.) A prediction: at some point this season, cats are going to factor into a confrontation with Theo Tonin's man.
|Tuesday, February 5th, 2013|
|The bread shall rise again
Better luck with the bread machine last night. The yeast in the old packet I'd used the night before had apparently moved on to wherever yeast goes when it dies. Bread and molasses for breakfast this morning. Yum! (My wife thinks it's gross.)
I started a new short story this morning and wrote a thousand words. I expect it will be less than 2500 when I'm finished. I've been thinking about this story for a while. It features characters I've used a few times before, so there's a certain comfort in returning to them. I think I'm overwriting it at this point, but I'll trim the excess on revision. I have to wait until I get to the end to decide how much of what I've put down is essential to the story and how much of it is just stuff rolling around inside my head.
I'm almost finished reading The Dinner
by Herman Koch, which will be out next week. The author is Dutch and apparently this, his sixth, is his breakout novel, selling over a million copies in Europe. The whole thing takes place during a five-course dinner at an upscale restaurant, the kind where the servers won't leave you alone and the manager explains every course in detail. Four people are at the table. Two are brothers, the other two are their respective spouses. One of the brothers is a politician and a likely candidate for Prime Minister. The other brother is the narrator. The four have gathered to discuss some serious matters related to their sons, but it takes a while for them to get around to that. The book tackles some delicate subject matter, and doesn't always espouse the PC viewpoint. The narrator starts out sympathetic (his disdain for his brother makes him seem like the better person) but flashbacks reveal much about him that might shift the reader's attitude toward him. It's being billed as a mystery in some quarters, but it really isn't.
It's nearly a year since I became a dual citizen but my Canadian pride shines through. Last night's How I Met Your Mother
was Canadian to the core. It was another Robin Sparkles episode, but it dealt with Robin's darker days, when she decided to get out from under the "Sparkles" cloak and become...Alanis Morissette. In addition to the requisite video (which ran with a disclaimer on MuchMusic—yes, that's a real channel), there was a "Behind the Music" piece that featured Geddy Lee, Dave Coulier (who had a close encounter with Alanis Morissette and starred on Full House
with Bob Saget, who is the future voice of Ted Mosby), Paul Schaffer, Jason Priestley, Gino Vannelli, Dave Thomas (Bob and Doug McKenzie), hockey player Luc Robitaille, Alex Trebek, one of the Barenaked Ladies, k.d. lang, and Alan Thicke, along with a healthy dose of Tim Hortons.
I went to the Montgomery County Book Festival on Saturday. I only heard about it a few days earlier thanks to a tweet from Murder By the Book, who ran the book concession. In the past, MCBF has been focused exclusively on YA, but they're branching out to include adult readers and hope to expand the festival to an entire weekend. Jonathan Maberry was the opening speaker and Sherrilyn Kenyon was the closer. There were several author panels and signing sessions. I had a chance to say hi to Jonathan (I blurbed one of his books many years ago) and sit in on his speech and a panel, but had to leave before I managed to find Sherrilyn Kenyon. It was great, though, to see a lot of teens really excited about books and reading. They were buying books by the armload and talking about them over lunch among themselves. That's encouraging.
|Monday, February 4th, 2013|
I made a loaf of bread during the football game yesterday afternoon. I found an old packet of yeast in the deli drawer, so I decided to use that up. Bad move. Might as well have left the yeast out altogether. It's amazing how heavy a loaf of bread feels when it's unleavened. It felt like a boulder when I lifted it out of the breadmaker.
Yes, I watched the game. It proved to be vastly entertaining. The game itself started off looking like a blowout, then turned into a nail biter that went right down to the wire. Some people complained that the Ravens' final play (the deliberate safety that chewed up the clock) was a low-down thing to do, but I'm of the opinion that if you can avail yourself of the rules, why not? It's no worse than standing around and letting the clock wind down instead of making a play where you might inadvertently lose the ball to the other team.
There was only one controversial call (or, rather, a non-call), but there's not much complaining about that one. The commentators felt that it could have gone either way, since pushing and holding offenses were committed by members of both teams. All in all, an exciting game. I didn't have a stake in either team, so either outcome would have been fine with me.
I'm not a Beyonce fan. Don't know any of her songs. Neither like nor despise her. I thought the halftime show was okay for what it was. I've seen worse. I was amused by the schism between opinions expressed via Twitter and those on Facebook, though. People on Twitter thought it was the most amazing thing ever and the general consensus on Facebook was that it sucked. I don't know how to explain the split decision. Something generational?
The power outage was interesting, notably because of the jokes that it quickly spawned. My favorite was the one pictured here—the still from Airplane!
Oreo managed to tweet an impromptu ad
thanks to the fact that their marketing team and executive approvers were all in the same room during the game. It was free advertising, and it went viral. Good job. My favorite tweet was the one that said, "Ravens expected to resume playing in 7 to 10 minutes. No estimate on when 49ers might start playing." At that point, the 49ers were way behind and had just been humiliated by an opening half 108 yard return for yet another touchdown. The tide shifted after the power came back on, though.
I remember the terrible commercials more than I do the good ones. None stood out like the little-boy Darth Vader ad from last year. The Bar Rafaeli ad for GoDaddy made me cringe. I liked the Big Bang Theory
football promo. I thought they missed an opportunity in the Samsung Galaxy spot. As soon as I saw "Saul Goodman" from Breaking Bad
, I remembered the scene where a cell phone went off in his desk and he opened the drawer to reveal dozens of burner phones. Well, maybe that's not the message Samsung wants to send...
The "Jamaican" Volkswagen ad probably sounded better in the pitch room than what ended up on the screen. There was also the usual rash of ads where you don't know who the sponsor is until the 29th or 59th second. Paul Harvey waxing philosophical about farmers. Nice, but what was it for? Some sort of truck, I gather. I think Gangnam Style has run its course, too. Other times, I just didn't get the concept. The Black Sapphire beer ad: was that meant to appeal to people who drink like fish? The Tide commercial made me chuckle, as did a few others. The Willem Defoe car commercial was good. The one with Penny from Big Bang had its moments, too. The talking squirrels were funny.
Good teaser trailer for Iron Man 3
, and for Star Trek: Into Darkness
. The Fast and Furious
one was boring. There was also a teaser for the Under the Dome
series, but since they haven't filmed a second of it yet, all they could do was animate the dust jacket.
|Thursday, January 31st, 2013|
|It's always dark when you reach the cabin in the woods
I can't remember the last time I went to the movie theater three times in a week. Three times in a month, even. My friend Danel Olson, editor of the Exotic Gothic series, asked me if I wanted to see Mama
, about which I'd heard little other than generally favorable reviews, so I thought I'd give it a shot.
It might surprise you to learn that I'm not a particularly big fan of horror movies. I went through a phase in university where we watched every horror movie we could get our hands on (VHS was brand new, so suddenly you could see things when you wanted to), but over the past decade or two, my horror intake has been limited. I'm no big fan of the gross-out. The Walking Dead
is about as far as I go in that direction these days.
I have to say that I was impressed by Mama
. There wasn't much grossness, and very few gratuitous scares. The tone was chilling and disturbing, and they did allow the monster to leap at the screen a few times, but mostly it was about a building sense of dread. Jessica Chastain (The Help
) was in Joan Jett mode, with short black hair, tattooed arms and a rock-and-roll attitude. She plays a young musician who has no intention of having kids who finds herself in charge of two disturbed children. Her boyfriend's brother went off the deep end and killed a few people. He also intended to kill his kids after he ran off the road and ended up in a cabin in the woods, but that didn't work out so well for him. His daughters (1 and 3 at the time) spend the next five years in that cabin before their uncle's search team finds them. They are feral, but resilient, especially the older girl. A psychologist puts this "family" in a nice house so he can observe the girls' recovery.
I am in awe of the two little (Canadian) girls in this film. They are very young and the film demands a lot of them. They are focused and unaffected. It was a brave endeavor to build a film around such juvenile characters, and it could have been a disaster if the kids had been self-conscious or simply bad at conveying what was asked of them. They seemed so genuine, even when what they were asked to do was unusual. The creepiest part of the film was the way the kids scuttered around like animals after they were found.
At times, the mood and tone of the film reminded me of The Shining
. Later it started to make me think of Bag of Bones
. One horror trope they adhered to was that, no matter what time of day someone set out to find the cabin in the woods, it was always dark when they got there. The monster (a ghost, in a sense, but a different interpretation of what ghosts are) stays in the shadows for a long time. When it finally appears, it's decently done, though it loses some of its impact. I thought I knew where they were headed in terms of an ending, and they did get there, but then they went further, with a rather surprising development beyond that. I'm not entirely happy with the staging of the finale, but on the whole I thought the film was very well done. There's a character who gets a comeuppance that no one in the audience minded, which only says to me that the character was drawn too one-dimensionally. We all were rooting for this character's violent demise. A tad too easy. The dream sequences were fascinating.
Danel teaches English at the college where there was a school shooting a couple of weeks ago. We talked about how tender emotions still were after the event. Though the campus is in what might be termed a "bad neighborhood," and people have been robbed at the bus stop near the campus, this is the first time a gun was fired on the campus and it stole the sense that it was a safe haven. He told me about one student who was in the bathroom when the shooting took place. The student exited the bathroom to find the halls empty, then returned to the classroom and it was empty, too, along with the adjacent ones. Very Twilight Zone.
|Wednesday, January 30th, 2013|
|Pixelated like Longfellow Deeds
With some feedback from a first reader, I finished and polished a new short story to submit to the Mystery Writers of America anthology. I've had success there once before, so I'm hoping lightning strikes again. This may be the first time, though, that I've managed to get my story in ahead of the deadline. It should arrive tomorrow (deadline is Friday).
I finished Ian Rankin's new Rebus novel, Standing in Another Man's Grave
, and posted my review this morning
. Rankin is going to be at Murder by the Book tonight, where I've seen him once before. Alas, a previous commitment prevents me from attending this time. I'd love to ask him about the way he portrayed his recent character, Matthew Fox, in this novel and if that means he's kicking the guy to the curb! Ah, well, there's always twitter. He's responded to me there before.
I started (and almost finished) a new novella from Bill Pronzini, Kinsmen
, from Cemetery Dance. I've long been a big fan of the "nameless detective" novels. I'm having a bit of a problem figuring out when this one is supposed to take place. In some ways, it feels like the 1950s. There's TV but no cell phones. However, there's a reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the character is pushing 60. I guess if you go to a remote small town, it can feel like half a century ago, especially in some social attitudes. Good to be reading Pronzini again. I also have his other CD novella, Femme
. Both have great cover art by Glen Orbik (The Colorado Kid
This week's Justified
was fun. It had some lighter moments and some very dark ones. The ending was a huge surprise. I expected a repeat of Andrea's fateful ride with Silvio in The Sopranos
, and it was meant to turn out that way, but we're dealing with people who aren't used to killing others. It cost a lot for Ava to make that call and even more for Colton to set about carrying it out. Kudos to Ellie May for picking up the signals. She hasn't exactly displayed rocket scientist intellect in the past. Maybe she had help, like from whoever pounded on the bathroom door while Colton was summoning his courage.
Most of the episode was taken up by Raylan and Rachel tracking down Lindsey and Randall after she took off with all his money. Randall revealed himself to be a true hot head, first when he was a firecracker with a short fuse while negotiating with Hoppus, and then by the way he couldn't let the poor convenience store clerk get away with flirting with Lindsey. It was really good to see Rachel get some decent screen time. She had Raylan's back, but she also couldn't cut him a break. "I'm thinking you should have seen this coming," she says at the beginning. She sticks with him until it's time for work and then she hands him a weapon that will play a major and unexpected part in the outcome. In the meantime she got to take a nightstick to a guy who was waving some sharp blades in her face. He should have seen that coming, too.
My favorite line of the night was when Raylan was taunting Randall. "You like her spinning up the boys, keep 'em pixelated like Longfellow Deeds." Not the way we'd use the word "pixelated," but a nice call-back to last week when Randall said he wanted to take the Gary Cooper hitch out of Raylan's gait. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
was a Gary Cooper film and a woman in that movie describes Longfellow Deeds as pixelated. Some people are confused by the term, so someone else explains: The word "pixilated" is an early American expression derived from the word "pixies," meaning elves. They would say the pixies had got him. As we nowadays would say, a man is "barmy."
The beanbag shotgun was a nice touch, because it gave Raylan a non-lethal way to handle the situation and provided several unexpected moments. The first was, of course, when Raylan hauled off and shot Randall early on. However, Randall is built like a fireplug, so it didn't take him down for as long as he expected. Raylan was truly hurt by Lindsey's deception, and he wanted to know more about her decision. I think he was hoping Randall had forced her, but he came to realize that she enjoyed the game, too. The next surprise came when she shot Raylan with the beanbag gun, but she handed out the same to Randall. When they come around, Randall says, "How many times did she shoot me?" Raylan is pleased to respond, "Couple more times than she shot me." Randall's crooked-legged gait was funny. And Raylan gets off the last crack with the beanbag gun. "You say more more word about chickens and I'm going to shoot you again." He does, and he does.
Raylan gets the upper hand, and the chickens. Still, I have to wonder how often he's showed up for work looking like he went ten rounds with, well, with a guy like Randall.
Very little mention of Drew Thompson this week, except for the message on Shelby's screen. I have to admit that I was impressed by the way Boyd figured out to determine how much the preacher's sister knew. It was more subtle than his usual tactics.
|Monday, January 28th, 2013|
|A 19th Century Weekend
I feel like we spent a good part of the weekend in the 19th century. No, the power didn't go out. We went to two long movies, one set in 1864-1865 and the other between 1815 and 1832.
We saw Lincoln
on Saturday evening. Only one of the roughly 25 screens in our community still has it running. We arrived before the theater was cleaned, so we joined a queue of about six people waiting to gain admission. Another couple came up behind us. I heard him say, "I thought we were the only people around here who hadn't seen it yet."
The theater filled up slowly over the next hour, but it did fill up, completely. By the time the lights went down, people were asking seated patrons to shift over so they could turn two free single seats into a pair of adjacent ones.
I had a rough idea of what the movie was going to be about. It started with Lincoln's re-election to his second term. He was riding high, having already signed the Emancipation Proclamation, though the Civil War was still being waged. His advisers told him he could probably accomplish anything he set his mind to. He felt that his best, and perhaps only, chance to get the 13th Amendment passed through the House of Representatives was before the war ended. It had already been passed by the Senate and it needed a 2/3 majority to be adopted by the representatives. The Republicans had won big in the election, but they still needed support from roughly 20 Democrats, many of whom strongly opposed the amendment because they thought it might lead to the vote for blacks and (gasp!) even women.
Though set against the backdrop of the war, which is demonstrated in a violent opening scene and then left in the background for most of the rest of the movie, Lincoln
is sort of a courtroom procedural. It shows how Lincoln and his supporters gained the votes they needed by just about any means necessary, while playing "hide the negotiators" to keep the war from ending prematurely.
Daniel Day Lewis is perfect as Lincoln. He's a big name actor, but he's not a "big face" actor. I wouldn't recognize him out of context., so you could be totally immersed in his character and not once think of the actor playing the president. There are a lot of other recognizable actors, including Sally Field as Lincoln's wife, David Strathairn as his minister of state, Hal Holbrook as a powerful (but recently deposed) member of the Republican party, Tommy Lee Jones as a very vocal abolitionist who sometimes let his passion carry him away. James Spader was excellent as one of a trio of rascals hired to negotiate behind-the-scenes deals with reluctant Democrats. Walton Goggins played against type as a wide-eyed and somewhat cowardly congressman from Kentucky. David Costabile played the bill's sponsor. For most of the actors, I found myself thinking: There's Tommy Lee Jones. It's Boyd Crowder from Justified
and Gale Boetticher from Breaking Bad
. But Daniel Day Lewis was Lincoln, a thoughtful, introspective man who reminded me of a cross between Mark Twain and my doctoral adviser, both of whom liked to tell entertaining stories.
It's a very good movie. I didn't find that it dragged at all and they did a difficult thing in making something where we already know the outcome suspenseful. I loved the dialog, especially Lincoln's story about Ethan Allen in England and the bickering in Congress.
Yesterday we saw Les Misérables
. I saw the stage musical when it came to Houston sometime in the early 1990s, and I've read Victor Hugo's novel, so this time I knew what to expect. I had forgotten, though, that absolutely everything is sung—that there is no spoken dialog. Somehow that seems more acceptable on the stage than on the big screen. A lot of people took Russel Crowe to task for his singing, but I found it okay. Anne Hatheway's showstopper was amazing, and much of it appears to have been from a single take. Either that or it was very carefully stitched together. I found Eponine's swan song to be particularly sad, but given the story's title, you can't go in expecting good times and happy endings. The little boy who played Gavroche was a cutie, but I wonder why everyone spoke with a British—even Cockney—accent (except Thénardier). Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provided comic relief in well orchestrated scenes of pick-pocketry. Hugh Jackman was virtually unrecognizable in the impressive opening scene where a bunch of soldiers drag an immense ship into dry dock. I've never toured des egouts
in Paris, but after seeing Jean Valjean dragging Marius through them, I'm not inclined to do so! Amanda Seyfried was fine in essentially a thankless part. She didn't really have a personality, but that's the way it was written. I did find this film to be long (seven minutes longer than Lincoln
), especially the "denouement" after the final barricade confrontation, but I enjoyed it for the most part. There was one sound effect that was particularly effective, I thought. (The theater, the only one still running the movie, was also packed.)
Returned to the 21st century this morning, when I watched The Mentalist
. An odd episode. Too many suspects and the identity of the killer seemed rather arbitrary. It could really have been anyone and it wouldn't have mattered one way or the other. All this to introduce the idea that Red John was a member of the cult that has been part of the story for a while, and the suspicion that the former CBI guy could be Red John. I wonder how long they're going to string the RJ story out. Is there a story after Red John is brought to justice or otherwise identified? It's a tricky matter, I expect.
|Thursday, January 24th, 2013|
|Galleys in da house
Our new elliptical trainer wasn't the only thing that arrived at the house last night. I received a box from my editor containing a few galleys of my forthcoming book, The Dark Tower Companion: A Guide to Stephen King's Epic Fantasy
, which will be published by NAL on April 2.
It's always cool to finally see what has been until now either a bucket of bits on the computer or a messy stack of printer paper finally in book form, albeit incomplete. This version is based on the copy-edited manuscript, but it does not reflect the changes I requested after proofreading the manuscript, nor, presumably, the official proofreader's finds as well. So there are some mistakes. (Probably some others that none of us found, too. That's the reality of publishing. There are always mistakes that slip past everyone.)
To see a larger image, click on the cover over yonder. Click here
to see the back cover.
Tonight's delivery: our new kitchen table. Which will require some assembly on my part, but which hopefully isn't nearly as complicated as the exercise machine was.
|Some assembly required
As we get older and more comfortable, we are sometimes willing to pay people to do things. We don't have a maid and I still cut the lawn. However, when we ordered a new exercise machine recently and were given the option of free shipping "to the door" and paying extra to have it brought inside, carried upstairs and assembled, it was a no-brainer. These things aren't light, for one thing. For another, I have better things to do than spend "half an hour" assembling things like this.
Turns out it was a wise decision. It arrived last night near the end of the promised delivery window (isn't that always the case?). Two fellows brought it in a transport (two transports, for some reason). One guy looked like Chris Rock and the other like Gregory Itzin
(Henry Wilcox from Covert Affairs
and Minelli from The Mentalist
). "Itzin" warned me that it normally took them a couple of hours. It took three. No wonder—I looked at the assembly instructions and the picture you see here is Step 4. That's right, one single step that involves putting together several dozen pieces. The accompanying description is two sentences long. Leave it to the experts, I say.
When they left (at nearly 9 pm), I gave them each a tip. "Chris Rock" said that was very nice of me. The usual response they got was "now get the hell out" followed by the slamming and locking of the door. I hope he was exaggerating.
We've been without an exercise machine for most of 2013. I probably should have waited until I was over the cold that I've been battling for the past day or two before breaking it in. It kicked my ass this morning, and that was on the easiest settings. I'm very pleased with our purchase, though. It seems solid—much moreso than its predecessor—and has some great features.
* * *
I revised the first half of my work in progress this morning. As expected, I cut the 400 word backstory section, boiling it down to a single paragraph. Even that might not survive the first real editing pass. I still have a little more to write to get to a finished first draft, but given the topsy turvy way this story is being written, I decided it was time to start sanding it into shape.American Horror Story: Asylum
concluded last night. I tried out the show in its first season with some trepidation. I don't watch much horror in general, and most TV horror is hokey and derivative. AHS turned out to be derivative to the max (they threw in just about every horror trope in existence), but it all held together wonderfully. They shifted gears completely for season two, doing a Desperation
thing where most of the same cast played completely different and unrelated characters. Again, the show was a whirlwind tour-de-force effort that kept viewers completely off balance. You never knew what was going to happen next. Aliens! Exorcisms! Angels of Mercy! Mad Santa! And yet, for the most part, it was delightfully madcap. I don't think the alien subplot contributed much, though it led to some nice grace notes in the finale, but otherwise season 2 was fun.
Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson were the glue that pulled the whole thing together. Lange ran the gamut, from incensed to insane to content, and if she doesn't win awards then life isn't fair. In the first season she mostly channeled A Streetcar Named Desire
, and she did have her over-the-top moments in Asylum
, but all in all she was brilliant. Lana Winters was the through-line, connecting the past to the present. I like how they tied the opening scene of episode 1 into it all. It makes perfect sense in retrospect that Johnny was in the asylum in the present. That was where he was conceived, metaphorically,after all. I did not anticipate the outcome of the scene when he finally met his mother, but it had the kind of symmetry that makes sense. I wonder what insanity they'll come up with next season?
|Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013|
I’m really enjoying this new short story I’m working on. I’m coming at it from all angles and writing it in a non-linear fashion. I don’t feel like I’m spinning it out from beginning to end. Instead, it feels like I have a ball of modeling clay and I’m shaping it.
This morning, I rolled the tale back a little further in time and wrote about a thousand words that met up with where I originally started the story, borrowing pieces from later on and then smoothing into the transition. I thought I was done for the day. I had breakfast, watched Castle, took a shower and then had an extra half hour during which I thought I would read. However, my mind had been rolling the story around, squeezing here and pushing there, so I went back to my office (this is something I never do during the week) and jumped down to the end, tossed out everything I’d written there and wrote another four hundred words or so to set up a kind of parallel conclusion for the two main characters.
I have about 3500 words at present, and there’s still one small section that remains to be written, about 2/3 of the way through the tale. I also have a fairly large chunk, perhaps 400 words, that is backstory for one of the characters. I don’t think that will endure, but it was necessary for me to write it out to get it into the proper shape in my mind so I could use it to inform the character. I might steal bits and pieces of it, but I suspect most of it will go.
I figure it will end up being about 3500 words once I’ve finished the first draft and gone through one solid edit to smooth it over. And I still have 10 days to work on it before it’s due, so things are looking up. I know I’m not going to get stuck, since I know how it’s going to end already, so that’s encouraging.
I’ve never written a short story in this manner before, or have it take over my waking thoughts to the extent this one has. I really understand these two characters, and have a sense of the era, too. I hope that’s a good sign.
I watched The Ipcress File, based on the Len Deighton novel, starring Michael Caine. I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed overall as I hoped to be. The origin of the word “Ipcress” was in particular a rather rough stretch. A quasi-acronym that used random letters from a book’s title, with the book itself ending up something of a red herring since Harry never got to read it. Also, since Ross was in Funeral in Berlin, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t the double agent. It was all rather muddled, I thought. A nifty cold opening, but one that was more elaborate than necessary. Why brainwash instead of murder? Why the “substitute” for the kidnapping victim on the train? Why the rather low-key reaction when Harry accidentally kills a CIA agent? And the campy brainwashing didn’t wash with me, either. The best parts were Harry going about his business in his own particular way. And I liked the cynical ending: that’s what you’re paid for, Harry.
Are Castle and Beckett still dating? You’d never know it from this week’s episode. They were behaving like they used to, back in the old days. It felt like a filler episode while they wait for February sweeps, where they revisit the murder of Kate’s mother. It feels like an idle week in general for TV. Anyone check out the new Kevin Bacon show? American Horror Story finale tomorrow, so that’s good.
Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.
|Monday, January 21st, 2013|
Yesterday morning we were greeted by pea soup. The kind of thick fog that we never get around here. On occasion, we’ll see fog down along the interstate corridor, or maybe in the trees, but yesterday is was so dense I couldn’t see more than ten or twenty feet ahead.
I finished NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (review forthcoming) and started The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø. The English translations of his books are coming out in somewhat random order. First there was The Snowman, then Phantom, which are in somewhat chronological order (though there’s a significant gap between them because I missed one book, apparently). This new book is from before The Snowman, so it feels like a prequel.
I can’t remember ever being taken over by a short story quite like what’s happened to me in the past few days. I had all but given up on getting something written for the forthcoming MWA anthology. I played around with a number of ideas, but nothing went anywhere. Then an opening scene materialized in my head yesterday morning. I wrote it—it amounted to about 400 words. Then I went back and rewrote it to change the perspective from that of the protagonist to that of the antagonist. That gave me some more freedom with the story and I had a vague idea of where it was going. Then it was time for some period research, so I watched Funeral in Berlin, which is the second of the Harry Palmer movies based on Len Deighton’s novels (The Ipcress File was the first), starring the always rock solid Michael Caine. The film is set in Berlin in 1966, after the wall was constructed. Palmer is MI5 and he’s in Berlin to investigate the possible defection of the guy in charge of security for the relatively new Berlin Wall. There’s also a subplot involving some Zionist spies intent on getting to a Nazi’s warchest in Zurich before he does. Like many spy stories of the era, there are many shades of grey, and plenty of double-crossing. I see that many people consider it inferior to The Ipcress File, so I’ll have to check that one out. One of the fascinating elements of Funeral in Berlin to me was that I spent some time in Berlin twenty years later, when the wall was still there. I actually passed through Check Point Charlie into East Berlin. Harry, as a British citizen, had an easier crossing than I did.
As period research, it seems to have done the trick. I’m not usually prone to insomnia, but I woke up at about 2 or 3 a.m. unable to get back to sleep. The entire backstory of the focal character in my new tale kept growing in my head. I almost got up to write then, but I restrained myself. I eventually went back to sleep and, when I got up at the usual time (5 a.m.), I went straight to work. By the end of my writing session I had over 2200 words (that’s a lot for me in a single sitting). I’m not sure all of it belongs in the story, but I got it down on paper all the same so I can use it. I revamped the material I’d written the day before, developed the story from that point on, and then jumped ahead to write the ending. Then, after I finished, I realized that I needed to start the story sooner. But that’s for another day.
We watched Moonrise Kingdom on Friday evening. A strange little movie with a host of big-name actors: Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilde Swinton. It’s about two 12-year-old kids who meet one summer, strike up a pen-pal relationship, and promise to meet up the following summer when Sam is back on the island where Suzy lives. Their juvenile elopement causes consternation among the adults (especially his scout leader, Norton). There’s a great scene where they’re together in Sam’s pup tent and they open the zipper to find all these adults glaring at them. Sam closes the zipper again but Bill Murray, who plays Suzy’s father, marches over and simply lifts the tent off them. The movie has a quirky style, with a lot of straight-on camera shots and vaguely stilted speechifying, but it does a good job of replicating what childhood is like. How everything is bigger than big and hugely important. My wife commented that it was, in a way, much like Charlie Brown, except the adults didn’t squonk. I think the part of the morose policeman is one of the best things Willis has done lately (and I do look forward to the forthcoming Die Hard movie, but I’m not sure of the wisdom of calling yesterday’s Fox post-game show the “Yippee Kai Yay” show).
The final two episodes of the third season of Haven ran on Thursday. They were delayed because the second-last episode, scheduled to air the evening after the Sandy Hook school shooting, takes place in a school, and there’s a shooting. It’s a high school reunion, so it’s adults involved, not kids, but I respect their sensitivity. A lot happens at the end and we learn a lot about the Colorado Kid’s parents and who is in charge of the guard, but some mysteries remain and the season ends with a huge, huge cliff hanger.
It’s always a sad day when I have to delete a series from my DVR because there won’t be any more episodes. I watched the last two episodes of Fringe on the weekend and said farewell to an under-appreciated series. It was a relief, though, that the network gave the show a final season to wrap things up. We could have been left dangling without any closure. Where the series was going to ultimately end up seemed like a foregone conclusion starting a few episodes back, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but there was a lot of business to conduct to get there, and at times it seemed like there wasn’t enough time left on the clock. It was good to see Olivia on the other side again, many years younger than her red-headed counterpart because of her amber captivity. Good interplay between her, Lincoln and Faux-livia, though I’m not sure about the consequences of having the Observers show up “over there.” Of course there had to be all manner of tech-y stuff to get through, and yet one more machine to assemble that was missing a crucial part, but that’s Fringe. The best parts were the one-on-ones. Peter with Walter watching the videotape. Walter with Astrid revisiting the cow, when Walter finally gets Astrid’s name right. Walter coming up with levitating osmium bullets, just because they’re cool. Walter and September haggling over who would go to the future with Michael, the apparent resolution to that debate, and the switcheroo that followed. September’s fate was tragic, but I don’t think Walter’s was. I think he’ll find the future extremely cool, and he would have been bored with a past where he didn’t have all these fringe events to solve and battle. And then there was the little grace note of the actual ending. The picnic scene that resolved without an invasion and the domestic scene that followed. A thank-you letter from the producers on top of another letter for Peter, and the final tulip of the show. I’m tempted now to go back and watch the first season or two over again.
I had an interesting discussion with Charles Ardai about shows of this type, that start off as “monster of the week” series and eventually grow to embrace a mythology. Haven is another case in point. He said that networks tend to favor the monster-of-the-week format because it works so well in syndication. You can pick up any random episode at any time. You don’t need to know anything going in, and you don’t need to remember anything on the way out. However, that paradigm is changing with video on demand, Netflix and boxed sets. People can and do seek out entire series, so serialized storytelling is becoming more acceptable.
Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.
|Thursday, January 17th, 2013|
I didn’t get a lot of sympathy when I posted on FB that it was 28° when I was leaving for work this morning, but that’s the coldest it’s been here this winter. Sure, it gets up into the sixties in the daytime, but still.
It’ll be hot soon enough. Hot as an inferno. Which is a way of seguing into my latest column for Storytellers Unplugged. I had another article all ready to go when I heard about Dan Brown’s forthcoming novel. So I wrote “We’re All Doing Our Best” as a reaction to some of the reactions to that news. The good news is that I now have my February post written and queued up. I’ve never been a month ahead before.
I finished the first season of Prisoners of War (Hatufim), which is the Israeli program on which Homeland is based. It’s available on Hulu, if you don’t mind subtitles. There are similarities between the two shows, but there are more differences. Israeli officials release a number of prisoners in exchange for three soldiers who were captured 17 years ago. One of them comes home in a box. The other two have been tortured and beaten for years so, quite naturally, they have major adjustments. The world has moved on without them. Their families have a lot of adjusting, too. Nimrode has a son who was born after he was taken, and even his daughter doesn’t really know him. His wife has lobbied and led protests for the entire time he was gone. Essentially her life has been on hold, too, but now that he’s back, he’s a stranger in many ways. A man who lashes out in his sleep. The other, Uri, was engaged to be married. His fiance moved on after four years, marrying his brother, with whom she has a son. It’s a little like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone. Uri hasn’t been unconscious for years, but he still loves his fiance. It’s a messy situation.
Unlike Homeland, the focus of Hatufim is primarily on the readjustment. There is a glimmer of suspicion that the two men may not be telling everything, personified by one man who keeps tabs on them after debriefing them. The two men were essentially collapsed into the Damien Lewis character, but one of the important features of Hatufim is the way Nimrode and Uri grew to rely on each other during their imprisonment. They’re almost like halves of a single person now. The finger-tapping code is much more significant in the original than in the American version, for example. Another interesting difference is the fact that not everyone in Israel is pleased that Nimrode and Uri were released. They feel that the price was too high. Terrorists who were responsible for the deaths of other Israelis were released in exchange. Then there’s the third soldier. His sister refuses to accept that he’s dead and she hallucinates him. She has conversations with him, even while she’s attending his funeral.
It’s a grittier and darker version of the story. There’s no need to gussy it up with terrorist plots, although there is a mystery that isn’t resolved in the first season, which ends with a truly surprising revelation. The performances are solid. Nimrode’s teenage daughter is a brat beyond compare, but more credible that the American version’s analog. The political subplot isn’t present in this season, though it could in the future since Nimrode, trying to find a new avocation, might go into politics to capitalize on his fame. It’ll be a while before the second season is available, though, since it just started running in Israel.
There were two instances of Famous Actor Syndrome last night, although one was handled better than the other. As soon as I saw Michelle Trachtenberg on Criminal Minds last night, I knew she was going to be the stalker. An actress of her stature doesn’t just play the girlfriend of a minor character. The fact that she was recognizable immediately tipped me off. Granted, they didn’t try to keep her nature a secret very long, but it’s something that could be done more easily in print. There are no famous actors portraying characters in a book or story, so it’s easier to hide suspects in plain sight. The other instance was on CSI, where the guy who played Arzt on Lost played the station manager where the anchor was killed. However, his character’s role was big enough that it made sense to have a recognizable actor play it. He didn’t have to be the killer, and there were plenty of other red herrings. I liked the “pithing” jokes at the beginning, I have to admit. “Relief pither” was a good one. I would have contributed “pithing contest,” but they didn’t ask me.
I suppose you could say that NCIS had the same issue. Oded Fehr, who plays Eyal on Covert Affairs, showed up this week. As time ran out, the number of potential suspects behind the assassination plot was very limited, but the resolution of that particular mystery didn’t seem as important as the personal story of Ziva’s struggle with her grief and the director’s need for vengeance.
Down to one more episode of American Horror Story and there’s still quite a bit to wrap up. The cold open was deliciously misleading and the resolution to that scene was a major stunner. The debate about who the contemporary Bloody Face is was put to rest in the bookstore scene near the end. It’s hard to imagine the scene where he meets his mother, though. She must be nearly 80 in the contemporary story since he’s 48. Lana turned into a bit of a bitch after she got famous for her true crime novel, too. I loved Jessica Lange’s performance in this episode. Occasionally she can go a bit too Tennessee Williams, but her crazy scenes were terrific. Frances Conroy, in her new guise as the tough dame on the block, was fun, too. So, we have to get “Sister Judith” out of the nuthouse (maybe) and figure out what happens with Kit’s two space alien children and resolve the modern Bloody Face story. All in an hour. A tall order.
Originally published at Bev Vincent. You can comment here or there.