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The Visit (2015)

The Visit (2015) Poster The Visit is a fine return to form for M. Night Shyamalan. As writer and director, Shyamalan had free reign to return to some of the hallmarks that made his early work so spectacular: keen writing and coaching up some fine performances. 

On the latter, this cast simply nailed it. Olivia DeJonge is a revelation as a wiser-than-her years filmmaker bent on producing a documentary that will give her tormented mother a measure of peace. DeJonge plays the role with panache and confidence, and one late interview she conducts with her brother will stir any hardened soul. 

Ed Oxenbould plays her little brother, Tyler. A germophobic hip-hop artist, Tyler operates as an important plot catalyst and, in typical Shyamalan fashion, drops some important narrative hints along the way that figure heavily in the film's final act. Oxenbould and DeJonge feel authentic; they share a chemistry on the screen that compels the audience toward belief in their genuine caring for each other.

Deanna Dunagan (Nana) and Peter McRobbie (Pop Pop) are pitch-perfect as a pair of aging, borderline senile antagonists. This is their first meeting with their grandchildren, and things aren't going so well--especially when the sun goes down.

The film is bizarre. That game of hide-and-seek in the crawlspace is harrowing, right up until you see Nana's exposed rear end as she unknowingly heads upstairs after scaring the wits out of the kids. Her oblivious nonchalance in the face of something that is so clearly wrong is disquieting, and the audience that I watched it with blurted laughter--not out of humor, but out of discomfort.

And that's just it. It's a very uncomfortable film. The vomiting, the incontinence, and the strange speech patterns all point to dementia. But something else is happening here and, in true Shyamalan form, the director has a secret in store for us in those final terrifying scenes.

This is the best horror film that I've seen since The Conjuring. I give it an 'A' mark and I highly recommend that you see it in the theater. Go look at it during one of those early matinees when all of the folks that like to talk to the film are doing other things. It's a smart film that requires careful attention, and I'm glad to see one of my favorite artists back on top of his gift!


A Little Writing Music...

It's a gray and rainy day here in Florida. Funny how the weather and the work combine sometimes to dictate the kind of music one should write to. I often listen to country music or rock when I'm writing, but today feels like some more subdued tunes are in order. Paul Cardall's "Redeemer" is one of my favorites...


Stephen King's "1922"

1922 is one of the better examples of the novella that I can point to in terms of form and content. Stephen King seems naturally at home in his ability to create stories at that length. The Mist, The Library Police, Apt Pupil, The Sundog--of course, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. These are fantastic yarns that come alive in about 120-140 pages. King is able to fill his characters out with lively backgrounds while keeping the tension and the action finely tuned. 

If there is a consistent criticism of King's novels, it's that he focuses too closely in some passages. I would never call the man verbose, but there is an awful lot of detail in some of his books.

But a lot of that excess is stripped away in his novellas. 1922 is a lean, mean, terrifying read. It tells the story of Wilfred James in a King staple--the epistolary confession. Wilf has a great voice and a beautiful relationship with his son, Hank. In fact, the story is as much Hank's as it is Wilf's. King's introduction of the Sweetheart Bandits is its own narrative, and I give the author a ton of credit for capturing the history of the dust bowl and the Great Depression in living color here.

You can find the story in Full Dark No Stars. It's a return to the dark, dark stuff of King's early '90s production. Highly recommended for an afternoon read...


Getting Back to Square One...

We had a pretty bad water leak recently. For the first time in nine years of home ownership, we had to file a claim. I received the itemized list of repairs yesterday, and I was amazed by how the contractors are parceling out the various expenses/depreciation.

We reported the claim on August 8. Today is September 9, and they are finally here working on the carpets in my daughter's room. The water crept under the drywall and soaked her carpet and padding. They are supposed to replace the baseboards and drywall, paint the walls, and lay the carpet down.

Needless to say, we really would like this to happen. All of her furniture is in the dining room. She's been sleeping on an inflatable mattress on the floor in our bedroom for a month. She's wearing the same half-dozen outfits because her clothing is in garbage bags.

And we won't get any relief on this point until after Friday, when they paint and replace the baseboards. 

Then, it's onto the living room (new laminate floors and baseboards, plus painting) and the garage and A/C cabinet.

Criminy, I'm happy that the insurance company was so responsive in coming out to assess the damage. They did an amazing job of dehumidifying the house and drying things out. I only wish that the contracted company doing the repairs was a bit more expedient. We're talking a full month here, and they just took our paint orders this afternoon. 

Home ownership has its rewards, but dang it sucks royally sometimes as well. 


A Few Thoughts on the NFL...

I'm the poor sucker that drafted Jordy Nelson mere hours prior to his ACL injury. I've had Jordy on my teams multiple times, and he's taken me to a few fantasy league championships. His injury hurts, not just because he was in great shape and primed to have another fine season, but because it happened in such a useless game. 

I understand why the owners want to keep the preseason in its present state. It's a revenue cow for them. But I think it needs to be shortened, and here's why:

  • Modern NFL athletes stay in shape year round. With the amount of offseason preparation they do together, they don't need four games to round into form.
  • Injuries derail the hopes of some teams before there is even a meaningful snap. Ask the Packers and the Panthers how they feel about these games. 
  • Fans get hosed. I'd love to purchase season tickets to watch my beloved Jaguars, but two of these games are beyond useless for fans to watch. The first and fourth games are glorified auditions for those final few roster spots.
I'm okay with moving to eighteen regular-season games (if collectively bargained by the players union) and shortening the preseason a bit. That would preserve the owners' skin in the game while giving the fans another meaningful game in the season-ticket package.

I'm also okay with keeping the sixteen-game schedule and switching to two games (the better of the two options, though I doubt owners would leave money out there on the table). 

Here's the deal: with the NFL abolishing the blackout rule and the current owners fat on television revenue, it's already hard to get fans into these stadiums. The product is amazing on television, and paying for season tickets when two of the games mean less than nothing is losing its appeal more and more each year. Something has to change, and there has to be a productive meeting place somewhere in the middle...

If these Jaguars can stay healthy and protect The Bank (Everbank Field), this team can get out of the box really well. Blake Bortles has full command of an improved offense. The offensive line looks really good and I expect big things from Hurns and Robinson. The defense will continue to play well in 2015, I think, and we'll get a huge boost when Marks is off of rehab. The first two games (Panthers and Dolphins) are at home, and both seem winnable. 

Tyler Lockett is tearing things up in Seattle. Exciting player, with a lot of upside.

Lamar Miller looks good in Miami, and is catching the ball out of the backfield really well.

Expect big things from Delanie Walker. He and Marcus will develop a fine chemistry this year in Tennessee.

I wonder what Robert Griffin III could do in an offense that better suited him? His rookie year was amazing, until the knee injuries piled up. It seems that Mike Shanahan was the only coach that could really design a winning gameplan for him.

Jeremy Hill will lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage this year.

Davante Adams and Markus Wheaton can have break-out years in 2015.

Sam Bradford is going to put up video game stats in Philadelphia, until the inevitable injury strikes.

Jaguars go 9-7 and remain in the wildcard hunt through December!


The Beauty of Literary Diversity

I've spent the last few months in Westeros.

And Dorne.

And Mereen.

And Valyria, and, and, and...

The Song of Ice and Fire series has been great, and I'm thankful that I've read these books. Doing so has added a dimension of depth in characterization and setting that has only enhanced my appreciation for HBO's fine television series. George R.R. Martin's books provide such nuance into the politics, way of life, and social structure of these environments (I particularly love learning the backstories and legends surrounding these various noble houses), and it's a staggering literary achievement to breathe such vivid life into a fictional world.

That said, I can finally see the end of A Dance with Dragons and I'll be happy to check out for a while. Honestly, I know that Martin is hard at work on The Winds of Winter, and that fans are clamoring for its release, but I have a bit of fatigue. I miss my mainstays. I miss jumping around between King, Lansdale, Barron, Hiaasen, Dorsey, Kellerman, Hill and whatever horror anthologies catch my fancy. I miss my weekly forays into digital short stories and all of the good work being written by up-and-coming authors that can be found at places like Nightmare Magazine and Clarkesworld.

I won't deny that I've ducked out along the way. One has to in order to stay sane. I have two half-finished novels that I've been reading on my nightstand, and I've read a few dozen horror short stories in the last year (I knocked out four from Bentley Little's The Collection just yesterday). I re-read everything I'm teaching in my literature section at the college, and that always feels like getting together with close friends.

But the fact is, I'm a hedge knight pushing my exhausted garron down those last few frozen leagues toward Winterfell and, dang it, I'm determined to get there. I've never read a series (Dark Towar or LOTR included) in which I've felt so compelled to stay in the environment and adopt a linear reading approach. This is a compliment to Martin. His world-building is so thorough that full comprehension kind of demands immersion. 

These are great books and, like the rest of the SFF community, I'll be happy when the next one is released. But I'll be honest--I'm also stoked to have these books behind me so that I can get back out there and drink more fully from the stream of great storytelling! 


The Ultimate Anthology: "The Man in the Woods"

I read this amazing short story last night, and it's been bumping around in my head all morning. Jackson's writing is just so...urgent and compelling. Even when she's holding things back, the prose is luxuriant and evocative. It's a rare writer whose use of adjectives is just so calculated and precise that one stops mid-sentence to marvel at just how that apt term was employed.

This one drips with mythology and menace. It's a slow build to a haunting final scene. And that last line? My, what a way to pay off a story.

While I adore "The Lottery" and all of its wicked charm, I think this is actually a better story. It certainly becomes a highlight of the grand little collection I'm putting together here...

The Ultimate Anthology

"The Man in the Woods" ~ Shirley Jackson
"The Drowned Life" ~ Jeffrey Ford
"Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" ~ Stephen King
"Voluntary Committal" ~ Joe Hill
"The Pear Shaped Man" ~ George R.R. Martin
"The Small Assassin" ~ Ray Bradbury
"Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros" ~ Peter S. Beagle