Warhorse (2011)

Directv and tropical storms don't mix, so we threw on a DVD last night and really enjoyed Warhorse (2011). It's a charming blend of sentimentality and craft, and it certainly tugs at the heart strings. Steven Spielberg applies an even hand to the pacing, and it moves fluidly through Joey's birth and the four long years of war that comprise the bulk of the narrative.

There are some beautiful shots in this picture. I particularly enjoyed the perspective shot of Joey through the corral gate, and also the reflection of Emily in the horse's eye when she discovers these beautiful animals in her grandfather's windmill.

The battle scenes aren't altogether effective, although the visual of the equine casualties after that first fatal charge is arresting. That's a small quibble, though. I really enjoyed the writing, overall. That scene of cooperation between the English and the German was brilliant, and I loved Emily's precocious banter with her grandfather. The economic dynamics of Albert's family were important to the story, but Hall and Curtis don't dwell on those problems in their screenplay. As it should be, the story is all about the love an animal can inspire among his human counterparts, and the ability for strong emotional bonds to carry living creatures through impossible hardships.

Spielberg uses filters to create emotion, juxtaposing gritty, washed-out grays with pretty sepia tones in the final act, which is a fine homecoming. It's a striking film visually.

The film didn't win any of its six Oscar nominations, but the AFI gave it 2011's Movie of the Year award, and it's much deserved. This is an 'A' film, and well worth your time and attention...



I finished Stephen King's "Beachworld" last night. The story chronicles a crash landing on a distant planet comprised wholly of a sentient, hypnotic beach. It's a fun story, kind of a large-scale variation on the pitcher plant, complete with a salvage captain with tank treads for a lower body.

While I was reading it, I got a little bit parched. King does a nice job of developing the barren imagery, and the heat and shifting sands made me a little uncomfortable.

But here, a day later, that landscape actually doesn't sound half bad.

We've had more then twenty inches of rain (I live near an airport that keeps track of such things) since the first day of June. Beryl was bad, but Debby is now just sitting over upper Florida. We've had almost six inches of rain in twenty-four hours here in Jacksonville. 

Every retention pond is bursting. They run together, and many of the ditches and canals are spilling over into the road. People, and this isn't hyperbole, are piloting boats and kayaks in some of the streets that haven't collapsed because of soil erosion.

I played golf on Saturday at Mill Cove. The third and fifth holes were so saturated that we were hitting our shots to little islands of grass. I backed up for my second shot on three and noticed, about six feet away, that I was being studied by a pair of golden eyes. The gator was submerged in duckweed, just his eyes, nostrils and the crown of his skull showing. What usually was fairway was now part of his pond, and he was stretching his boundaries. 

They're on the move, heading to higher ground. So are the snakes and all of the other creepy crawlies. Kind of adds a new dimension to the idea of a hazard on the course.

At night, the streets ripple with fat toads and frogs. The next morning, the roads resemble filthy windshields--flattened and exploded amphibians all over the place.

As I types this, my neighbor is mowing his lawn. Seriously. It's been raining all morning, and I can hear him starting the mower and cutting a strip of grass before the thing clogs and stalls. I think he's switching back and forth from the mower to a string trimmer. I actually understand why he's trying, because the grass is knee-high in spots. It's still hot (middle to upper 80s), but with the rain the flora is just blasting off. Our broccoli and tomato plants, as well as the lime tree, look like bizarre science projects. They're huge, bushy behemoths that will need a proper pruning when this system clears the area.

In our seven years in Florida, we haven't quite seen a tropical rain season like this one, and it's only just begun. When the storm clears out, there will be some serious cleaning up to do. The upshot of all of this is that the Floridan Aquifer, which has been severely stressed this year, is getting a much-needed super-shot of water.

Such is the water cycle on the peninsula...

The dearth of posting around here is due to the convergence of a couple of factors. I'm learning UCF's systems and culture, which requires a lot of travel between Jacksonville and Orlando. I'm on a pair of summer hiring committees, I'm participating in a new LMS pilot (which has taken me at least thirty hours to perfect my contributions), I have a huge number of students at the college and I'm still trying to do a little creative writing when I can and spend time with my family. It's a juggling act, but things will clear up some after August 20.

Be well where you are, and please say "hello" on behalf of those of us in Florida if you see that great burning ball of gas that used to come around here so often... 


Beware the Cults of Old Leech!

It's been said before in almost every review that I've encountered on Laird Barron's The Croning, but I'll have to just repeat it here to have it on the record: this is one of the best debut novels I've ever read.

It's not just a terrific debut, it's a frightening masterpiece of a novel. Barron's longish short fiction set the bar exceedingly high, but he didn't waste any time vaulting those expectations with this piece.

Barron's prose style is complex and filled with haunting imagery. His locales, from the Olympic Mountains to the Mexican slums, are exotic and vivid; his characterization is nuanced, particularly his depiction of Don Miller, our protagonist that always seems a step behind the story that is chasing him from the shadows.

It's a tale of madness, dementia, love, generational obsessions, cosmic evil and power. It features rifts in time and space, and it shakes the reader's foundation on the possibilities of things that lurk in shadow, those limbless, hungry children whose chief pastime is infanticide.

I finished the novel some time ago, and yet it still bounces around in my head. I marked some passages in my Kindle (the embedded narrative Kurt tells on The Witch is brilliant, as is the retelling of the opening fairy tale), and I've returned to them a time or two over the last month. 

This novel, complete with its wholly satisfying conclusion (so sad! so very, very sad!), instantly marks itself as a classic in the horror field. Atmospheric and damned scary, this book delves into the heart of madness to underline its central point:

There are frightful things.

Indeed there are! Beware the cults of Old Leech, and the servitors that furnish his sustenance!


How Many Times Will Johnny Miller Reference Himself?

No sportscaster enjoys talking about himself as much as Johnny Miller so, as much as I was excited to watch the U.S. Open this Father's Day weekend, I was also a little discouraged. I don't like Johnny talking about Johnny so much, nor do I like his arbitrary percentages (I think Tiger has about a 33% chance of making this one.), nor do I care for his unwarranted digs. He thinks he's edgy, but it's so tiresome.

So I thought I'd give myself an over/under on how many times Miller would (unsolicited) talk about himself today. NBC only has two hours of coverage, and there are commercials. I figured six times would be the bar. I figured nobody could talk about himself more than three times an hour, right? 

So I thought I'd see the under. Sure enough, coverage started and Johnny talked about how special it was to him to call it (3:03), and then he compared himself, Jack and Tom to the big threesome today (3:09). At 3:23, sycophant Dan Hicks asked him about himself, and then he referenced his junior golf. It's not even 3:30 yet!

Holy cow, Johnny, we know who you are! You're a golf announcer. Sure, you won a bunch of tournaments, but you were unimpressive in major championship golf. You talk about it, you don't play it. 

Cover the golf, don't talk about yourself. Sheesh...


I Come Bearing Gifts

This ol' hoss has a birthday around the corner! To celebrate the occasion, we're giving away a few digital copies of The Silver Coast and Other Stories that we had lying around the house (giveaway scheduled for June 14/15).

Eleven stories from the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. Take a look by clicking here and grabbing a copy, and thanks very much for reading!


Thoughts from the Sidelines...

A few observations on the world of sports:
  • It's June 10 and the Baltimore Orioles are still hovering near the top of the American League Eastern Division. I told myself that, if they were still competitive on June 01, I'd allow myself a glimmer of hope. I told myself that I'd stop being cynical, that I'd believe the this once-proud franchise that seems earnest but, frankly, awkward could pull it off. I honestly tried, but I can't seem to believe. Not with Mark Reynolds striking out all the time with guys on base. Not with Jake Arrieta's maddening inconsistency and the bullpen's obscene number of innings. I live what Buck has done with the team, but we're still a way's off, it seems, in that hyper-competitive division...
  • The Heat look good, and I'm excited once again about the NBA. While I doubt they guard each other straight up much in the finals, it'll be cool to see how Lebron and Durant match up in these games. I was so disgusted with pro hoops--first with the lock-out, and then with the moribund play of a bad Portland Trailblazers team--that I really haven't watched much this year. But I've tuned in for the playoffs, and they've been great--competitive, close games with fine performances. Lebron had the eye of the tiger in game six, and that was just a cool thing to see. He's finally fulfilling some of that late-game promise that we knew was in there, but he just never seemed to tap into...
  • I like Luke Donald, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson to play well next week in the U.S. Open. Tiger's Thursday round will be telling, as I think a good start is more important than usual for him. He's had a pattern of suffering let-downs after wins recently, so watch out if he finishes that first round under par...
  • I tried to watch hockey on the television, but I'm just not into it. Wish I could enjoy it more, but it's a sport I just don't enjoy unless I'm at the arena. Give me tennis or soccer any day...


Book Giveaway: The Silver Coast and Other Stories


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        The Silver Coast and Other Stories by Daniel Powell



          The Silver Coast and Other Stories


          by Daniel Powell



            Giveaway ends June 08, 2012.


            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win


Bullying Sucks

Over and over again, we read about children committing suicide after being bullied at school. We see fathers getting on their children's buses to confront the kids that have tormented their daughters. We see people being prosecuted for cruel, cruel invasions of privacy--the result of which leads to another person taking his life.

Here in Florida, you have a university where hazing is so ingrained in the culture that the marching band is on hiatus for a year and multiple fraternities have had to cease operations because of physical assault on pledges. 


This has all got to stop.

When twelve-year-old children hang themselves after being tormented for being intelligent, we see the terrible depths of bullying in this country. My heart aches for Joel Morales. My heart aches for his family. 

And the anonymous buttholes that hounded this kid go, seemingly so far, unpunished.

As a father, I sympathize with the man who boarded his daughter's bus. Kids these days face different pressures than when folks in my generation were young. Nowadays, it's not uncommon for little assholes to set up hate-pages on the Internet to rip into their classmates.

At Florida State College, we recently focused on the nature of civility for a full term. We had workshops and speakers at the school. We debated the topic at the Socrates Cafe, a philosophical forum. We wrote about the lack of civility in the public sphere. We debated the future of the term in a culture that is increasingly cynical and crude--a world in which people are more self interested and insulated from each other than ever before.

This is a fundamental flaw in our society. A large percentage of adults simply don't give a shit, and it trickles down to their children. They're raising miniature versions of their own asshole selves...

Look, I'm a nurture guy. I think our environment shapes our behaviors, and I think most kids are, fundamentally, good (so I'm also a nature person, I suppose). Kids are optimistic and kind, until they see so much negativity around them that they mimic those things, to the detriment of their peers.

Take the time to love, people. That's all. Be kind to each other, and take some damned time to love and treat others with respect.

Sheesh...so sorry, Joel...

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...