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Observations on Horror...

I enjoyed Tusk (2014) quite a bit. First off, it's bizarro stuff. The lunacy at the center of the film, coupled with the sharp writing and silly exchanges between the film's American and Canadian counterparts, makes this a guilty pleasure for me. 

Throw in the frequent Kevin Smith collaborator Michael Parks, who is pitch perfect as Howard Howe, and Justin Long, whose turn in Jeepers Creepers is still one of my favorite recent horror performances, and you have a positively lovely way to spend ninety minutes. 

It's strange to see Haley Joel Osment in this role. Watch the film and you'll see what I mean. He's great--don't get me wrong. It's just...well, just watch it. 

I thought this weekend's bleak episode of The Walking Dead ("Them") was really well done. I have read a lot of negativity about it, but I think it was just what the show needed, and at the right time. With the back-to-back deaths of Beth and Tyreese, the show needed to step back and show the minutia of the survivors' plight. Look, I love character development. Like Stephen King says, character is king (he, he). I like longish films (I really enjoy that 120-minute slot) because we get to see more of the moment-to-moment experiences that color our attachment to these people. 

This show has done a really fine job of filling these characters with life while still keeping the action at full throttle. It's tricky, to be sure, and they are to be commended that, from time to time, they can step back and let us live a little in this universe as opposed to moving on to the next abandoned building...


Cold on the Mountain

Grab an advance reader copy of my new novel Cold on the Mountain!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cold on the Mountain by Daniel Powell

Cold on the Mountain

by Daniel Powell

Giveaway ends February 15, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win


Dark Mountain

I was really interested in Dark Mountain (2013), right up until the third act lost its rhythm a little bit. There's some interesting film-making here, in addition to a small (but capable) cast that has believable chemistry on camera.

The real star here is the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. The repetition of dirt and rocks (Paul has a memorable freak-out moment about those same rocks and dirt late in the film) is dizzying, and there's a delicious aura of menace as the trio moves deeper into the mystic unknown.

The search for the Lost Dutchman Mine is a nice piece of Western lore, and one that made me look deeper into the film's central plot carrot. There is definitely a lot of documented unhappiness up in those hills, and some of that sorrow and madness comes across nicely in this found-footage piece.

Sure, it doesn't quite pay off the investment in those final scenes, but I really think it's much better than the unforgiving appraisals I've noticed online. I'll definitely look for more by Tara Anaise, and Howard, Simpson, and Stehlin delivered fine performances in this low-budget thriller.


A Few Thoughts on American Sniper

I'd like to go see American Sniper (2015). I love Clint Eastwood's films, and I'm interested to see Bradley Cooper's acting chops. The Oscar buzz is, of course, another aspect that piques my interest.

It's a curious film, one that is smashing box office records while igniting what has been described in The Washington Times as a new round of culture wars. 

Biopics are, by definition, designed to portray true events. AFI has an interesting piece on the genre (though dealing with James Brown and not Chris Kyle). I went to AS's official Web site, looking for the studio's own phrasing on how they're labeling the film. Is it a true biopic, or did the writers and producers cherry pick the events for Hollywood? Did they dramatize some details while leaving others out? If so, then calling it a biopic might be a stretch. 

Perhaps as a testament to the film's interest, the site wouldn't load. 

War films are tricky. Perhaps more than any other genre, these films inspire discussion and shape our collective understanding of the pivotal moments of our era. In that way, they bear the greatest informative scrutiny for their care in how they depict conflict--in how they mediate death and destruction in the light of winning and losing. 

It's a tough task, to be sure.

Kyle lived an extraordinary life in a very volatile period in human history. He wrote about his experiences in his memoir, and we can contrast that book with the findings advanced in such studies as the 9/11 Commission Report in order to get a fuller picture of what happened in Iraq and how our soldiers were forced to deal with combat. 

As is the case with most of these contentious political debates, there's probably multiple truth values embedded in this discussion, and it's on each of us to make sense of the material for ourselves. I hope to see the film soon, and I'm looking at it for both entertainment and contextual purposes. A film can be entertaining, by the way, without traipsing into the realm of propaganda.


Quick Thoughts on Peer Review...

Motherboard has posted an interesting piece on an "article" that was published in Science Bulletin. This Monckton character has a well-documented history of espousing junk science, so how on Earth did this pass the editorial process?

It looks like it was rushed through review, and doesn't look as though it was thoroughly vetted by actual scientists.

For those preparing work for publication, here are a few thoughts:

  • Scrutinize the journal's board of directors. Do you recognize names on that list? Are there theorists on the board actively publishing in your field?
  • There is no professional distinction anymore between digital and print publication. In fact, if you actually want folks to read your work, you might simply target digital publications from the start.
  • If you are publishing in the digital humanities or humanities computing, Penn's CFP Web site is a great resource.
  • Any reputable publication will take your essay through anonymous peer review.
  • Be respectful of the guidelines, and contact the editor if you have any questions on special features of your piece. I've found editors to be quick and helpful when fielding such inquiries.
  • Be careful about the rights you are assigning. If you want to republish your article, you might have some issues if your journal takes your rights.
  • This is just me, but I'd never pay even a single dollar to a journal to read my essay. I get a solicitation or four every day in my Outlook inbox for these publications, and I just shoot them into the trash. That's not only an expensive route to publication, but it's actually not a boon to your C.V. either. 
In order to maintain a vibrant marketplace for theory and analysis, publications have to shoot for quality, consistency, and accuracy. Try to find places that will publish you quickly in digital formats, are read (and governed) by people in your field, and who take your piece through at least some moderate level of peer review.


On the Chile Trail

Coyote Joe did a great job with this one. I love these recipes, and I enjoy the challenge of finding and cooking with some of these obscure chiles. Well worth your time and effort to give this cookbook a look...


State of the Union...

Tonight (9:00 p.m. EST) marks another opportunity for President Obama to discuss the present condition of the United States of America. On the surface, things seem to be improving. Simply on an anecdotal level, I see more development and reinvestment in real assets than I've seen since the Great Recession. I was struck, just yesterday, by the number of signs I noticed on I-10 advertising open positions, including master mechanics and qualified truck drivers. Those are jobs that provide a decent wage, and which usually signify an increase in demand for luxury items (in this case, recreation vehicles).

Our enrollments at FSCJ are down a substantial percentage, which usually signifies that individuals are confident in the job market and are willing to put aside re-training in an effort to earn more money. Like any service-related industry, we boom and bust in a cyclical pattern.

Still, there's an eerie lag in wage growth. When adjusted for inflation, Americans are actually about $2000 worse off than when the recession started in 2008. This is keeping inflation in check (relatively, but don't look at groceries for confirmation there), but for how long? Once we see even minimal wage growth, I'll begin to believe more wholly in the notion of a recovery.

President Obama is tasked with the tricky proposition of selling a recovery to an America that is still reeling from the real estate crash (Florida is now #1 in the country in foreclosures, thanks very much, according to First Coast News) and high unemployment. He will, once again, be looking to change the tax structure in ways that benefit the middle class. 

I applaud his efforts. This exhaustive piece in The Atlantic illustrates the nature of our present economy. It's a great piece, and I highly recommend that you read all of it. Will we be able to bolster our middle class through economic policies like the one the President is proposing tonight?

Almost certainly not.

Never before have we seen such partisan gridlock in Washington. It's both reassuring (checks and balances and all of that) and soul-crushing at the same time. Do something, for heaven's sake!

The dominant paradigm of the last three decades (Reagonomics, and the supposed "trickle-down" theory of wealth distribution) has failed the American middle class. Sure, automation and globalization are a large part of it as well, but the truth is that corporations don't reinvest, they sequester dollars in foreign accounts. Wealthy individuals don't allow their funds to trickle down--they improve their estates through untouched capital gains. 

America seems to be responding to the President's latest proposals, which include a stronger national cyber security shield and free community college. But I don't see how these tax measures will ever clear Congress.

We live in a world in which eighty (80!) individuals own more than over three billion people. 

Chew on that for a moment.

And while we still have the world's greatest standard of living here in America, we're seeing economic disparities that we couldn't have imagined in the 1950s and '60s, when many of our parents were coming of age and embarking on a journey that would make them the most economically prosperous generation the world has ever seen.

We in the Generation X and Millenial demographics better strap on our hardhats. Between student loans, a cratered real estate market, and the white elephant of healthcare for an aging population, we'll be pushing that rock up the hill for a damned long time.

It would be nice if, along the way, we got a little economic relief and a chance to improve our present conditions (a personal state of the union, so to speak).

Tonight will be all about rhetoric. It always is, of course, but tonight will be especially telling in how the President frames his speech.