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5.27.2010

Dolan's Cadillac


I think Jeff Beesley's Dolans Cadillac is servicable. It's decent. It's not nearly the adaptation that I would have liked for one of my very favorite novellas (who will do The Sun Dog? who the hell has the rights?), but it's also not that bad.

The major problem with this movie is Wes Bentley. He has one emotional gear and, unfortunately, it is first gear in this film. He plays each scene the same. I think he has promise (honestly, I think he can emote here and then), but in this movie he just moves through each scene with a grim, horizontal line for a mouth. His anguish seems forced; his interactions with the other construction workers (a serious strength in the story) seem forced; his climactic scenes with Dolan, when we're rooting for him, feel forced.

It's really not optimal.

What is optimal is the under-utilized Christian Slater. He is smarmy and slimy and ultimately sicko in this one. Slater can act, and this is not Bed of Roses.

Beesley does a nice job of making us hate Dolan. The semi-comical, mostly-sad shots of the women he takes advantage of deliver a sense of righteous anger about the man. Then, when we see a principled woman lose her life for taking a stand, we're right there in Robinson's corner.

The special effects are strong. Where the story fails is in the exposition of Robinson's change. This is the strength of the novella. In the hands of, say, Frank Darabont, this would have been compelling footage.

But in this movie, which merits a C+, it falls short. It's a decent movie, and well worth your ninety minutes, but it just could have been so very much more...

Kudos to Slater. A slap on the back to Beesley. A handshake to Wes Bentley, and a sincere appeal to take more chances with his emotional range (make some faces, man!)....

5.24.2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane...

Some of my fondest memories of television and my childhood revolve around tales of the uncanny. I remember watching Monsters on WGN on Sunday nights back when I was in middle school. My little sister and I never missed an episode.

I remember watching The Twilight Zone with my folks back when I was in grade school, and Tales from the Darkside when I was in high school. When I was a kid, pro wrestling and Nintendo games (and maybe a hot cheese pizza from Klondike's) ruled most Friday nights. But one night, when wrestling was finished, my buddies and I stumbled across a show called Circle of Fear on TBS. We laughed at the cheesy introduction, but then the story got rolling and we weren't laughing anymore.

That show scared us witless.

The '80s were golden years for speculative storytelling on television. George Romero and Richard Rubinstein were producing. Richard Matheson was writing teleplays--really good ones--like crazy. The production quality was strong, and the shows were played by name actors.

And now, through the beauty of YouTube, I can link to a couple of my favorites here on the blog.








I just finished up watching "Anniversary Dinner." Whooo, that one stayed with me for all these years. It single-handedly spared me the indignity of being cooked in a stew on a few occasions...

5.21.2010

C'mon Lebron, Come to Portland!

Cool song.

Lebron needs to go to Portland in a sign-and-trade. We'll give up Oden and LMA straight up for the king...

5.20.2010

Violence in Fiction

If we take that journey to the center of conflict, that great narrative crux upon which effective storytelling is based, then we very frequently find ourselves at the doorstep of violence. There's overt violence, of the kind we see in Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." There's psychological violence, of the sort we see in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper." There's passive violence, as in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily."

It takes all forms, and its almost always present (at least in the types of stories I read)...

On her story (and violence in general), O'Connor says:

I suppose the reasons for the use of so much violence in modern fiction will differ with each writer who uses it, but in my own stories I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.

I love that quote, and I see her point very clearly. The truth of our existence is there in that moment of epiphany, found at the center of conflict. There's a sadness in that reality, but also an urgency. I think the best fiction reveals those moments.

I'm writing something brand new for me. Most of my garden is neat--very organized and regular, with all my little darlings lined up in a row. This thing, though...it's growing on the outskirts of the tended earth. It's a big, burly weed, a thing with stinging nettles.

I hope it turns out well...

5.19.2010

Will Mark Souder Make the History Books?

Oh, Texas...oh, how you delightful weirdos amaze and astound the rest of us living in the United State of America.

As if having a succession clause in the state constitution wasn't enough in the way of stones, the board of education is seriously mulling the idea of adding a dash of patriotism to their K-12 textbooks.

Our current history texts are laden with politics. I'm certainly not disputing that. But the scope of the proposed partisan revisions in the article above are simply too extreme to stomach. The revisions include "adding language saying the country's Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles and including positive references to the Moral Majority, the NRA and the GOP's Contract With America."

Really? In a textbook? You're going to include the likes of these scoundrels and miscreants in the Texas history books? Honestly, these "scholars" (I'm assuming that's part of the job description for an individual who sits on a state-wide education committee) have the benefit of seeing the horrific moral and legislative track record of this batch of burnouts. Why would you include these paramours in your texts?

It boggles the mind, but leave it to cosmic irony to make sense of the whole thing. Souder and the married woman he cheated with made a video promoting abstinence.

And this follows an NBC news report that 75% of Americans distrust the government. I don't blame them.

Politicians: we put our trust in you. But what is it all for?

5.17.2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is a crowd-pleasing paradox, a summer blockbuster that strangely feels simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped. Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko, shown above, deserves way more development. As it stands, he preens and menaces with the best of the recent Hollywood supervillains, but Jon Favreau barely takes the time to sketch in a little backstory on why this genius wants a piece of Tony Stark. I know that the team behind this film had to begin laying the foundation for future installments, but I could have used less of the Natasha Romanoff subplot and more of the Ivan/Anton Vanko vs. Tony/Howard Stark backstory.

This thing bounces around, both in terms of locale and plot. There's a terminal illness subplot, some repressed romanticism that bubbles through in the third act, a little hackneyed sentimentalism and a discordant U.S. Senate tangent.

Still, the piece is stylish and easy on the eyes. Favreau shows a flair for filming the conflict scenes, and he manages to coax some solid turns out of Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and, of course, Robert Downey Jr.

Downey was more magnetic and more compelling in the first film, probably because there was still some question as to his engineering genius. Now he's the most powerful man on Earth, and he's not afraid to show it. I liked him a little better when there was at least a dash of humility. That said, I'm happy to see the career renaissance Downey is experiencing. He's wholly watchable, and I looked ahead to some films that are in early discussions with this fellow: Oz the Great and Powerful and a film called Poe. Yes, yes and more yes to that, particularly on the latter. He has charisma and good comedic timing; now let's see if he can do some melodrama.

This is a B- film that feels like a missed opportunity. It's not a by-the-numbers slot filler, but it's not a film that grows the series toward greater narrative relevance in the grand scheme of things. In fact, very few of these superhero series have elevated themselves much beyond novelty. I'd say the best of the bunch in those terms would be the Spiderman franchise...

5.13.2010

Cultural Decay and Fiction

More disturbing news out of China makes a person simply shake his or her head in wonder. CNN reported that seventeen children have died in a string of five attacks, while 100 have been injured. The attackers have used kitchen knives, gasoline and a hammer to carry out these heinous crimes.

Chinese news outlets are reporting the attacks stem from anti-government sentiment and, in the case of the latest atrocity, it's reported that the Wu Huanming was embroiled in a rent dispute. Conveniently, he returned to his home and committed suicide.

I have a story that will be published soon in Redstone Science Fiction. It's a work of quiet horror--a character study in co-dependence and the emotional effects of solitude. I briefly, in the first paragraph, touch on the H1N1 flu virus, a pandemic that was much in the news at the beginning of last fall.

The swine flu has not yet proven to be the global game changer that many epidemiologists predicted it might be back then. In fact, it's a fairly benign form of the flu. That said, hundreds of deaths in the United States (mostly in infants, children and adults with compromised immune systems) did occur. For the loved ones of those who were lost, the worst-case scenario did happen, and I sometimes shudder to think how they might react to reading my story.

Joyce Carol Oates is on record as saying that her fiction is closely informed by current news (she's prolific, and her stories echo the climate in which she's writing very well), but I wonder how a story like this one would play out in fiction?

I wonder if editors received scads of submissions featuring plots with roadway snipers after the D.C. shootings a decade ago?

I mean, you have to wonder why these middle-aged Chinese men are so viciously attacking children. After the second attack, it was considered a copycat deal. But they've just kept happening.

It's the type of thing that makes a fiction writer's head spin, particularly those with an inclination toward writing darker stuff. Is it some kind of germ? Is it that old saw about something in the water?

All I know is that I don't want to touch this one. As I've said before, this isn't a place I'm heading at this time...

5.12.2010

Scholarship and Long Hiatus

That creaking sound you're hearing isn't me reaching down to pick up the remote; it's me opening the digital pages of this old journal once again. Been awhile, my friends, but it's good to be back. We accomplished quite a bit in the last ten days, with the largest being the 95% completed painting of the exterior of the ol' homestead. That old girl vampired the first eight gallons without breaking a sweat, then she slowed down with a sigh and took another three for good measure. We need to do a couple of sets of window trim, then we'll be finished.

I'm back full-time at the college and it feels great. I'm happy to be back in a good routine (teaching is good for my writing), and Lyla seems to be adjusting well to the new schedule. She's learned a few new words in the last week: "apple," "up" and "thank you." The pronunciation isn't perfect, of course, but we get the gist of it.

I'll return to a regular pattern of discussing speculative stories soon, but in the meantime, if you're interested in a survey of American narratives of the apocalypse, I'm very proud to have an essay I wrote published with World Literature Today.

Hope things are well where you are...