Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Halloween: 13 Scary Movies You Might Have Missed

A box of assorted treats, with something for everyone. There's quiet suspense and over-the-top splatter, old-fashioned ghosts, cowboy vampires, tiny demons, werewolves, giant slimy monsters, malevolent aliens, a sinister manservant, and zombies. Lots of zombies. Seven countries are represented, with a timeline stretching from the '40s to the present. (And, yes, there's actually 15 films represented, but I'm a rebel, you can't tame me. Conformity is evil. Fight the power.)

Put out the lights.

#14 - Dead of Winter (US 1987)

A gothic suspense gem directed by the late Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man), featuring Mary Steenburgen as an actress who auditions for a role that's not at all what it seems. Roddy McDowell is delightfully sinister, and the snowbound old house is appropriately atmospheric. Enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, plus some genuine scares.

#13 - Near Dark (US 1987)

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break), this cult classic is Romeo and Juliet meets the Wild Bunch, but with vampires. Mae (Jenny Wright) bites innocent cowboy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and drags him off to meet her makeshift badass bloodsucking "family" (Lance Henriksen, Jennette Goldstein, Bill "Game Over, Man" Paxton and Joshua John Miller). Great direction, compelling characters, poetic violence, it combines the sensibilities of a western with the subversiveness of a horror movie.

#12 - Black Sheep (New Zealand 2007)
         Undead (Australia 2003)

A double-feature from Down Under, two giddily gory romps in the vein of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. Black Sheep is falling-down funny in spots, as zombie sheep overrun a town in New Zealand, while human zombies invade a small town in Australia in Undead. Both films are tremendous fun and suitably blood-spattery.

#11 - Session 9 (US 2001)

Directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Fringe, Treme, The Wire), Session 9 takes place in the notorious Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts, as an asbestos removal crew goes slowly crazy after finding tapes detailing the sessions of a former patient. Understated and oppressively claustrophobic, this is one of those films that gets under your skin and leaves you sleeping with the lights on.

#10 - Dead of Night (UK 1946)

Dead of Night is maybe most notable as the original British portmanteau film, combining a number of stand-alone stories tied together by a central device, spawning such classics as Tales from the Crypt, Torture Garden, and Dr. Terror's House of Horror.

Let me just advise that if you ever find yourself with a group of strangers, oh, say, on a train, or at a party you don't remember arriving at, and they start telling you about the disturbing dreams they've had, just leave. IT WON'T END WELL.

Here, guests at an architect's country home relate stories of the macabre to a mysterious stranger. Most people remember the chilling final story featureing Michael Redgrave as a man in thrall of a truly creepy ventriloquist's dummy, but my favorite is the tale of the children's Christmas party, which still gives me the shivers.

#9 - Dead Snow (Norway 2009)

When I was a kid, my brother and I were enamored of a 1977 film called Shock Waves, starring Peter Cushing, John Carradine, and Brooke Adams. You see, it had zombies. Nazi zombies. Underwater Nazi Zombies. I mean, that's like having a pie made of cake.

Dead Snow is like Shock Waves but with, well, snow. Seven Norwegian medical students are off to spend their break at a remote cabin. Of course, there's your problem right there. If there's one thing I've learned, never go to a remote cabin, EVER. It's just not worth it.

Never mind the plot. It doesn't really matter. Although you do have the creepy old guy passing by and stopping just long enough for helpful exposition before being summarily dispatched, so we're not completely lost. What you have is Nazi zombies, lots of them. LOTS. They never seem to stop coming.

The zombie snow fight set pieces are fantastic. It's pulse-poundingly fun. And let me just say that I now feel that I can handle any medical emergency with a sewing kit and some duct tape. And a snowmobile.

#8 - Dog Soldiers (UK 2002)

Fun and gory, Dog Soldiers pits a group of British commandos trapped in a lonely Scottish farmhouse against a clan of werewolves. Apparently lonely farmhouses are only slightly less dangerous than remote cabins.  Full of in jokes and sly homages (one character is named Harry G. Wells and another Bruce Campbell), it's a non-stop thrill-ride which manages to be both funny and edge-of-your-seat-don't-look suspenseful.

#7-Five Million Years to Earth (UK 1967) aka Quatermass and the Pit

This is one of those films that scared the hell out of me as a kid, and also introduced me to Professor Bernard Quatermass. Here Quatermass is called on when a mysterious object is found buried under Hobb's End during an expansion of the London Underground system. Literate and complex, it starts slowly, but builds up brick by brick to a truly disturbing conclusion.

#6 - The Legend of Hell House (UK 1973)

Despite its lurid movie poster (and what movie poster from the '70s wasn't lurid? In fact, lurid is a perfect descriptor for most of the '70s) The Legend of Hell House is a dark, moody, deeply frightening ghost story. No gore, just unremitting dread.

With a screenplay by Richard Matheson from his book of the same name, the film centers around a researcher (Clive Revill) out to dispel the the rumors surrounding the Belasco House, the "Everest of haunted houses," by using a machine to disperse the electromagnetic energy he believes is responsible for the phenomena.  He's accompanied by his wife (Gayle Hunnicutt) and a pair of mediums (Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin).

The electronic score and odd camera angles serve to keep you unbalanced and slightly uneasy, like Lovecraft's non-Euclidean geometry. The acting is stellar, and while many of the most salacious elements of the book have been toned down, there's still an undercurrent of sadism and menace that permeates the unfolding action.  No matter how many times I've seen it, its still as brutally creepy as the first time I watched it.

#5 - Burn, Witch, Burn (UK 1962) aka Night of the Eagle

This is one of my favorite films, and I am constantly amazed by how few people are familiar with it. Of course I'm amazed by how few people are familiar with the works of Fritz Leiber. Anyway.

This is a brilliantly suspenseful little thriller written by Leiber, Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson, based on Leiber's novel Conjure Wife. Artfully directed by Sidney Hayers, the film centers on a university psychology professor (Peter Wyngarde) who discovers his wife (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch, who credits her ministrations with their successful life.  He tells her to knock that off forthwith and -- well, let's just say, boys, you should listen to your wife.

#4 - The Host (South Korea 2006)

You're minding your own business, running your little dock-side snack bar, when suddenly something monstrous and slimy emerges from the water and starts devouring everyone in its path. Hey, it happens. But The Host is much more than a monster movie --although the monster is quite grotesquely wonderful. It's layers of political and social commentary, an environmental cautionary tale, and a touching treatise on family.

Song Kang-ho is especially endearing as the somewhat dim hero, the special effects are great, and the action and story are top-notch.

#3- Stir of Echoes (US 1999)

Based on the novel by Richard Matheson (again), this is another brilliant little film that too few people saw. Kevin Bacon stars as a working-class dad who, after a post-hypnotic suggestion, begins to see visions of a girl who disappeared from his neighborhood, and becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to her  Both a taut thriller and a resonant ghost story, this is suspenseful and unpredictable right through to the end. And the final scene sticks for a long, long time.

#2 - The Devil's Backbone (Spain 2001)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy), the film is set at a orphanage in the Spanish countryside during the Spanish Civil War, where a little boy, Carlos, is sent while his father is away fighting. Carlos soon finds himself haunted by the ghost of a murdered orphan, who cryptically indicates that soon "many will die."

Evocative and mesmerizing, the film's great impact comes from capturing the helplessness of childhood, the terror of feeling on your own against forces far greater than yourself. The story is intelligent and direction and acting elegant. One of the best ghost stories of the last 20 years.

#1 - Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (US 1973)

I saw Don't Be Afraid of the Dark when it premiered on TV.  I was 9, and it scarred me for life. Really. Scarred. For. Life.  I don't think I slept for weeks. Hell, I still have to make sure the closet door is closed before I go to bed. I am always nervous in the shower. Good grief, I'm looking behind myself right now as I'm typing this.

Made for TV, the film stars Kim Darby and Jim Hutton as a distracted couple moving into the wife's grandmother's old house.  Note to self: along with avoiding lonely farmhouses and remote cabins, don't move into any creepy old house inherited from a creepy old relative. Sell it, sight unseen. And for dog's sake, if you find something bricked up, DON'T UNBRICK IT. Things get bricked up for a reason.

Sally Farnham (Darby) ignores my advice from the future and unbricks the old fireplace and finds a little door. Well, that can't be good. Things go rapidly downhill from there. Way, way downhill, the kind of downhill with creepy little whispery voices and creepy little hands under the table and dead interior decorators that you can't readily explain.

Veteran TV director John Newland maximizes the creep factor (and the lack of credible special effects in 1973) by judicious use of shadows and sound effects. It might have been only a 70-minute made-for-TV movie, but to this day, it remains the scariest thing I've ever seen.

P.S. You can't get Don't Be Afraid of the Dark on Netflix. It's too scary -- just kidding. Well, maybe not kidding.  But you can order it print-on-demand from Amazon.  I think that's the only place you can find it. However, in January Guillermo del Toro is bringing a remake to the big screen. You can see the trailer here. And now I'm going to get back to never sleeping again.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tales from the DVR - The Problem with Undercovers

Finally got around to starting in on Undercovers. The S/O's pronouncement? "I keep waiting for it to get, I don't know, better."

And he's right, it's not very good. It's not horrible, but it's definitely a disappointment. In fact it's becoming one of those things that I'm now watching out of some absurd sense of duty. (Yes, I know there must be medication for that.)

 On the positive side, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is adorable. (Or as I think of her in my head, Martha Jones' sister, because if something can be related back to Doctor Who, my brain will do it.) Boris Kodjoe is pretty, pretty, pretty, although I prefer him with a hat, because sometimes I find the vast expanse of smooth cranium distracting. Carter McIntyre (who may have a future career as a Seann William Scott impersonator) gets most of the funny lines. And Gerald McRaney seems to be saying, "I'm a professional, I show up and do my job, why isn't this working?" 

It's not the actors that are the problem, they're doing a great job with the warmed-over hash they were handed,  and I wish them well after the coming inevitable cancellation. The problem is this show is neither fish nor fowl. It wants to be a lot of things to a lot of different people, and hence is just a ridiculous mishmash that connects on no level. It's like taking the premise of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, rounding off all the sharp edges, adding some heartwarming real drama, and putting it on ABC Family.

They're sexy spies! But they have small business troubles just like real Americans!The can speak 56 languages and are experts in free-climbing, parkour, interrogation, and making french toast! But they worry about staying grounded in their marriage and not taking each other for granted!

If you're going for over the top, you gotta go for it. And they are Not. Going. For. It. They are bogged down in all the sort of meandering, pointless, crap that everybody deals with. Who's going to feed the dog? You painted the bedroom without consulting me on the color! My sister ordered pork for the Levenson-Chang wedding! Waaaah!

What I want to know is, they say their business failing, yet they have a fancy-shmancy workplace, this ginormous house, and a fancy-shmancy car. Was their business at one time not failing? Did they inherit money from a wealthy relative? We're they also secret diamond smugglers? Does the CIA have a fabulous severance package that nobody knows about? It's like everything is an afterthought.  Recovering alcoholic sister? Afterthought. It's the old throw-the-dart-at-the-spinning-wheel-of-character-traits. Veiled reference in the first episode to the "real" reason the spies were reactivated? Who cares anymore?

Maybe with a defter hand one could blend what is basically a comic book with "thoughtful" drama, but that hand is nowhere in evidence here. The fun isn't fun enough, and the drama is saccharine. If you're going to make me invest in something totally implausible, you're going to have to sell it. Undercovers unfortunately isn't worth buying.

Tales from the DVR - Luther

I'm an unrepentant Anglophile, especially when it comes to TV, so I was predisposed to like the new detective drama that premiered this week on BBC America. The best TV series in the procedural/detective genre have come from the BBC -- Cracker and Touching Evil are probably my all-time favorites, but there are literally too many to mention. They just seem better-crafted, more compelling, more unpredictable than the flavor you get from American TV.

Luther, starring Idris Elba (The Wire), is no exception. The premier starts off in media res, with murder detective John Luther on the heels of a serial killer who buries little girls alive. Within a few minutes, a child is saved and the killer is in a coma, and you know as much as you need to know about Luther without any doddering backstory and wanky "character" development.  

Elba is brilliant. He's one of those rare actors who really inhabits a character, so much so that you can see his thoughts played out on his face, you can watch his mind like a clockwork animation stripped bare. The scene where his estranged wife admits that's she's found someone new is just beautifully acted, and Elba and Indira Varma seem like a genuine couple in the midst of a  messy, lost, heartbreaking relationship.

The plot is the first installment in what looks to be a large story arc that will cover the 6-episode first series. Luther knows whodunnit almost immediately, the problem is there's nothing he can do about it. We are left with a wonderfully cold adversary in Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), who promises to be both cat and mouse.  I don't know where it's going, which is a good thing, and for someone who reads as watches as much detective fiction as I do, relatively rare.  Definitely one of the best things on TV right now.  Watch it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TGFCR - Benjy Davis Project Edition

Benjy Davis Project is a local band -- Baton Rouge. They often play around here, but I haven't had a chance yet to see them live. Maybe someday when I have time....yeah, that's the ticket.

Anyway, they make me want to go back to college and start a band. I had piano lessons when I was a kid, I'm sure I could pick it right back up. Or the flute. I even played the piccolo for a year. Although I doubt many college bar bands are on the lookout for piccolo players.

Useless People

First as preface, I am not a religious person. That doesn't mean I don't have personal beliefs, and my own idea of a soul, the afterlife, etcetera, etcetera. But you know what, by definition all religious beliefs are fairy tales, whether they are mine, yours, the pope's. They can't be proven by empirical fact, and therefore they are not true. That's why we call it FAITH. We believe what we believe because it makes us feel better, safer, vindicated, superior, or any other number of emotions. I think of spiritual beliefs as nighlights, because they are the things that make us feel not quite so alone in that huge dark that surrounds us all.

Everyone deserves their own nightlight, and I don't begrudge them that. But I do begrudge them the right to try to make their nightlight into someone else's, or worse, to fashion their nightlight into a blunt object to bludgeon other people with. For goodness sake, have the common sense to keep your fairy tale in your head, as I keep mine in my own head. The world will be a better place. And if you absolutely feel the need to share your beliefs, get a pet. They're good listeners.

My younger children go to Catholic school. I would prefer they did not, but living where we do, this is not just the best option, but the only viable option. As they say, if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, even though you would rather take those lemons and peg them hard at someone's head.

The S/O is a devout Catholic, but we mostly get along fine. We respect each other's feelings and while occasionally one of us makes a thoughtless comment that wounds the other, it's not done maliciously. We have arguments, because if we didn't, we'd be freaks. But we also both believe that the most important things in life are kindness and generosity of spirit and responsibility for our fellow travelers, and this is true whether you follow the FSM, Jesus, a ceramic pig, or nothing at all. Which brings me to today's morality lesson.

Monday night, my son's hamster died. He was quite disconsolate. He's 10, but this is first big-time brush with the reality of death. We flew to visit my father shortly before he died, but my son was only two at the time, and it's more like an episode of a TV show he once watched.

We comforted him as best we could and assured him that Gazpacho had lived a full and happy life, and whatever was eternal in him had moved on to wherever those bits of us go. (He knows that mom and dad have varied ideas of what an afterlife entails, and is well-versed in various beliefs from reincarnation to the Summerland to Heaven to living on in the memories of those who loved us.) We reassured him, because that is what grown-ups do when a child is crushed and worried about the unknowable workings of the universe.

He's doing okay as we send him off to school. I pick the kids up at the end of the afternoon, and he's distraught again. It seems in his religion class, he asked his religion teacher if they could say a prayer for his departed hamster. She replied, "We're not going to say a prayer for your hamster. Animals don't have souls and they don't go to heaven."

To say that I was appalled would be quite an understatement. To say I wanted to slam on the brakes, stomp into that class and clock that horrible woman would have been a tad more accurate, but still lacking the real essence of the fury I felt.  Of all the....  At the very least, I wanted to find that petty little martinet and give her a dressing down that would have left her cowering under a too-small desk for days to come. I am trying, however, to control my....impulses. I used to be not a very nice person, and the desire for vengeance sometimes rears it's ugly head.

The S/O was likewise appalled. He's very mild-mannered (opposites attract and all that rot), so if something gets him sputtering, you know it's serious. It's not resolved yet, as he hasn't had a meeting with the principal who was away at a meeting, but he's talked to every teacher he can get his hands on, and I've supplied him with notecards full of talking points. At the very least, we expect a sincere apology to our child and a written apology stating why what she did was wrong in both intent and content. And none of this "I'm sorry if you were offended" bullshit. That will not stand. If the apologies are not forthcoming, well, let's say I hope it doesn't come to that. I'll be picketing outside that damn school every day with a placard that reads, "Why do you hate children and little animals?"

I don't care for people teaching morality to my children, because often I find their morality is not so much morality, per se, but some warped flow chart to either cow children into behaving for fear of  hellfire or to ever slightly nudge children to believe that they are superior by the sheer fact that their God is "righter" than anyone else's. For people like my son's teacher, religion is an excuse to be a bully. I hate bullies. I hate all people who are cruel to children and animals and anyone they perceive to be weaker or less able to fight back.

If a child comes to you asking for comfort, keep your crazy thoughts to yourself. Regardless of what constitutes your bitter outlook on life, you smile and say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'll keep your friend in my thoughts."  You do not break that child's heart, however briefly. Trust me, there's enough broken hearts coming that they don't need an extra one.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Carpool

So once a week, I get to drive the kiddies to school. Well, not so much "get to" as "have to." The S/O plays "volleyball" one night a week and stays in town at the apartment that night. I know, suspicious, huh? Well, I guess he's really playing volleyball, because the next day he's basically a sack of jello, whining about his "rotator cuff." Besides, if a girl ever got a gander at the "Star Wars Suite" the apartment has become, she would run screaming the other way.

Anyway, my one day of morning driving duty, the alarm goes off and I get up at 6 AM, walk the dogs, get the kidlets dressed, and leave the house by 6:50. I have it timed perfectly so that I arrive at school exactly at 7:04, which is the minute before you can drop your munchkins off for breakfast. This gives them plenty of time before the bell rings at 7:35.

For some unknown reason, this week the alarm was set for talk radio. Talk radio will not wake me up. I hear talking and I just incorporate it into whatever nonsensical dream I happen to be having. This particular morning, I did happen to hear the phrase "seven o'clock" and one of the more alert people who live inside my head said, "Put down that octopus, I think you're late."

I sprang up, knocking the dog into the cat (they try to occupy the same space on my feet). They crashed into the other dog, who is old and cranky and yelled at them to get off her lawn. I yanked my two sleeping offspring out of their beds -- well, out of one of their beds and out of my bed: the five-year-old still always ends up sleeping with me. He is a ninja of middle-of-the-night bed roulette.

Within 9 minutes I had them dressed, with hot little toaster waffles in their hands. I, of course, was not dressed. Now came the calculation. If I left at that second, I reasoned I had 25 minutes to make what is normally a 15 minute drive. I could stop and get dressed, wasting valuable time trying to disentangle something out of either the laundry basket of unfolded clothes or the bottom of my closet (not recommended for amateurs), or I could trust that I'd make it to the carpool line before they locked the gates. Piece of cake, I thought. Lesson one, don't make important decisions if you've been awake for less than 10 minutes and are stimulant-free.

You see, between my house and the school, there are four school zones and 5 stoplights. If it's before 7:00, speed zones are not yet enforced, and there's very little traffic. Once you hit 7:00, it's a bit like stepping on an anthill. My brain was not thinking that far ahead.

So I pulled my little darlings down the steps and shoved them into the spymobile, clad only in a nightgown. And it's not the kind of nightgown that can pass as a summer dress or something. It's clearly a nightgown. I am also not wearing a bra, because who wears a bra to sleep? I haven't been able to get away with going braless since I was 12. Yes, I was that girl in your sixth-grade class. The only other thing I'm wearing, by the sheer fact that they'd been in the kitchen doorway, is a pair of lavender moccasins. If I'd left the shoes elsewhere I would have been barefoot too.

4 minutes in when I'm stuck at the first light behind a school bus, kid #4 tells me he forgot his belt. That'll be a demerit if it gets noticed, but I tell him to blouse out his shirt like a pirate and hope for the best. I'm not going back.

6 minutes in, I am stuck behind another school bus, and kid #5 throws the remains of his waffle at my head. I asked him why, and with perfect sincerity, he explains, "I was finished with it."

9 minutes in, I've come to the high school zone. Regardless of the trust his superiors have in him, the cop "directing" traffic is not particularly competent at that particular task. He seems to tell two cars in opposing lanes to go at the same time, which confuses them, which seems to confuse him, so he gestures at them more vehemently to go. Neither is willing. It's a standstill game of chicken. I'm unsure  how this is resolved, as I'm looking in the rearview mirror attempting to extract the waffle bits from my hair.

15 minutes in, I'm finally leaving the high school zone, and into my buffer time.

17 minutes in, and I'm stuck at the light, because the chicken in front of me did not understand that yellow means to SPEED UP OR I'M GOING TO BE LATE.

20 minutes in, and I'm at the university, which houses the lab school. The rent-a-cops that man the crosswalk at the lab school are not nearly as competent as the cop at the high school intersection. Which is to say that they randomly wander into traffic and their idea of helping the girl trying to push her bicycle through the crosswalk  is to approach gingerly and somehow become entangled with the bike itself, falling to the ground in a mass of ill-fitting polyester pants and bent spokes, then laying there looking helpless.

23 minutes in and I have made the turn to the approach, there's one car in the carpool line, and I think I'm going make it. But as I draw closer and the seconds tick off, I realize that the car isn't moving. And the car isn't moving because it's 7:34 and they have already locked the gate.

At this point I actually consider telling the kids school has been cancelled for today and going home. But that would be irresponsible. And it would also mean the kids would have to come home with me. I pull to the front of the school and make the mistake of trying to run my fingers through the tangle of my hair. I have a lot of hair. A lot of hair filled with waffle bits.

I exit the car with as much dignity as I can muster and march the kids up to the steps. Seems that lots of parents are late, an extraordinary amount of parents. Most of them moms dressed for work in business sets and high heels or dads in Polos and dockers. Well, at least the lavender moccasins don't clash with the nightie, which is black with purple flowers. Thinking about it, a lot of my wardrobe is purple and black, and I must go around all day looking like a big bruise.

There's a passel of parents in front of me, so I take a seat on the bench and wait my turn, hoping that I look like someone who's making a bold fashion statement and not an escaped mental patient. I'm slouching slightly to hide that fact that I'm not wearing a bra, and glad that at least the nightie is mid-thigh length. I cross my legs in an attempt to look classy, and nonchalantly run my hand over the owls nest on my head. A piece of soggy waffle falls in my lap. No one sits down next me. Eventually it's my turn.

By way of defense, I explain to the secretary -- loudly -- that my husband didn't set the alarm correctly. The kids don't care, and the fact that they have long since lost the ability to be embarrassed by me should probably worry me more than it does. I chalk it all up as a valuable life lesson to them: do what you need to do withouth worrying too much about what other people think about you, and always set your own damn alarm.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Political Screed

I've been ignoring politics to the extent that I can, because I have too much to do to become completely unhinged.  Still, you don't have to be paying that much attention to realize that we've passed through batshit fucking insane and into whatever territory lies beyond that. Here there be tygers.

In a rational world, where there was hope of a thoughtful god and not some Lovecraftian monstrosity waiting for a seal to open, people like Sharron Angle, Christine O'Donnell, Jim DeMint, Haley Barbour, Carl Paladino, Newt Gingrich, Rand Paul and countless others still spilling from the bottomless clown car would be paraded in streets with dunce caps on, so that children could point and laugh and throw rotten fruit. They would not be discussed in polite company. They would be summarily dismissed for the lunatics they are, and left only to mutter their senseless diatribes on street corners, where sane people would give them a wide berth. If we were merciful, they would be left in peace to sit on the benches outside the public library and eat jello with their hands as they converse intently with their nightlight jesus.

But this is apparently not a rational world. Even if I had the worst case of Tourrettes the world had ever seen, I could not adequately express the total fucked-up fuckedupedness that is swirling around right now. There's a little voice in my head that wants to whisper, "Go ahead, motherfuckers. As Don Henley sang, we get the government we deserve. You get what you fucking vote for, cocksuckers, so I hope you fucking choke on it.  And in 200 years those of use who can still read will look back and realize Mike Judge was fucking Nostradamus."

But then I realize that we're fucking strapped in next them on their rocket-sled to Fuckedupistan. If you pull the lever for anything but a Dem, or if you don't pull the lever at all, you're a fucking idiot. All you whiny concern trolls and teabaggers and fucking little pity victims can sit around jacking off to your 9/11 torture porn or your little black book of slights,  with your high fructose corn syrup slushies in your grubby paws, and wait for fucking Armageddon, I've got no sympathy for you. You don't have to even like the Dems -- hey, Mary Landrieu is my fucking senator -- but if you side with the Republicans after what they've become, may your petty little imaginary god have mercy on your blackened, shriveled little souls.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Random Thoughts 10-14

Sean Patrick Flanery makes everything he's in a little bit better. Did you see Mongolian Death Worm? It was almost an actual movie, thanks to him  and "Mongolian Walker, Texas Ranger," played by marvelous Asian character actor George Cheung, who has been in literally every TV show ever made. (Don't believe me? Check his IMDB page. It's fucking amazing.) Still, I am not going see Saw 27, not even if it had BOTH Sean Patrick Flanery and George Cheung in it.

Katy Perry really doesn't sing all that well, but looking at her, I suppose that's not really the point.

When Far East Movement sings that they're "Fly like a G6" I don't know what that means, because I'm NO LONGER HIP.

When, oh, when will there be a law against Katherine Heigl making any more "movies." Bonus thought: since Gerard Butler has starred in "comedies" with both Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston, does that mean his career is officially over? And it's not because Gerard Butler can't be funny. Rocknrolla was one of the most fucking hi-larious movies I ever saw. I replayed the scene where they were trying to escape from the Russians like 7 times and it never got any less funny.

Maybe I was exposed to too much Yakov Smirnoff as a child, but Russians in commercials crack me up every time. The DirecTV commercial where Russian Viggo Mortenson kisses the tiny giraffe? And the NFL Direct commercial where the Russian New York cabbie drops off the obnoxious out-of-town couple at the abandoned lot they think is Central Park and resignedly says, "We are here." As Yakov would say "With Soviet Russian DVR, commercials skip you." And, no, I'm not making fun of Russians. I love Russians. And if I did make fun of Russians, Alexander Ovechkin's Floating Head of Doom would probably come kick my ass.

The ending scene on Terriers last night between Katie (Laura Allen) and Hank (Donal Logue) broke my heart. You ever do anything just achingly stupid to fuck up your life, just because you thought somewhere back in your lizard brain you didn't deserve happiness? Sure, me neither.


Avs beat Red Wings in a shootout, which forced the ESPN and FOX power rankings to re-rank the Avs in the top 10 this week. Not that I care about the power rankings. Really. Which reminds me, why has not come out with their power rankings? Curse them for making me look at ESPN and FOX. (Americans do a piss-poor job of looking like they care about hockey, let alone understand hockey.)

Had a discussion with the S/O, who can't understand the concept of boarding. ("Why isn't that boarding? He knocked him into the boards.") Which led me to explain to him that boarding is like art or pornography: you know it when you see it. Being a Republican, he just likes to be a contrarian and argue from whichever position lacks actual facts. His idea of a debate is to throw out a non-sequiter and then -- while you're trying to figure out why what the hell he just said has anything to do with anything -- walk out of the room like he won. Good thing he's cute.

Huzzah to Brandon Yip for being the only shooter to successfully go up, dammit. Besides, how cool is the name Yip?

And may I reiterate, seeing the Red Wings lose makes me happier than seeing anything else, short of a front row ticket to Sarah Palin being fed into a woodchipper.

On Characters

Working on the new book, I've been thinking a lot about characters lately: what makes a good character, why you need a good a character, how you get that character to breathe without it dissolving into a mess of ticks and eccentricities that are a lazy or incompetent writer's shorthand.

Now there's good shorthand and bad shorthand. I hate reading a book that turns out to be the skeleton of a screenplay. A lot of very popular writers write lousy characters. They have clever, even ingenious plots, lots of great ideas that make a compelling jacket blurb or a query hook, but their characters lay there like poppets or manikins, waiting for someone to slip inside their lifeless skins and do the heavy lifting.

Then there are writers who use brevity to their advantage, who can introduce a character that you immediately see, and with a few words, a few deft phrases, make that character into a compelling, believable, real person.

The toughest thing, of course, is motivation. If you have a real person, the writer has to make you believe that everything that person does makes internal sense. The quickest way to get me to close a book or turn off a television is to present a character that does something I know they would never do. Often it's in service of the plot. I hate the deus ex machina, and I hate making a character do something they would never do just because you couldn't figure out a way around forcing them to do it. For me, that's the one unforgivable sin. Go back and rewrite the whole fucking thing, but for dog's sake, don't just throw up your hands and think to yourself, "I've drawn myself into a corner. Maybe nobody will notice."

Right now I'm reading Find Me, the latest of the Mallory series by Carol O'Connell. Besides being a brilliant plotter, O'Connell is an absolute master of character. Her triumvirate of main characters -- Riker, Charles Butler, and Mallory herself -- are always constant, but always surprising. Even when what those characters do makes no sense, it makes perfect sense. The other great thing about her writing is she can, in a paragraph, tell you everything you need to know about a character for it to spring into your mind, fully-formed. She has such an exquisite economy of words.

In addition to rereading some of my favorite authors, I've been taking a look at my favorite television characters and why they're good characters, why I find myself wanting to spend time with them, why I want to believe them. I'm interested in how you avoid making a character a caricature. Of course a great deal of that is predicated on the skill of the actor, but at least half of it is the skill of the writer. The poor, unsung TV writer. I've found it very helpful in helping me flesh out the bios and the sketches of the people I hope will populate the new novel. I write things in my head very visually, so the TV exercise has been quite illuminating in thinking about character development.

Since I lost my improv writing group when I left the bohemian West for the desultory South, I'm amusing myself with my own improv exercises, and in a post or two, I'm going to pick apart my favorite TV characters and see why I care about them.

Friday, October 8, 2010

TGFCR - Lauren Pritchard Edition

Thank god for college radio - this week I found Lauren Pritchard while sitting in the carpool line. Well, not found so much as couldn't escape. Our local college station plays this at least three times a day while I'm in the car.

Love the song, but the charm of the video is that it looks like something I could have made in college, complete with goofy choreography. My gay Mormon roommate Hank could have choreographed the hell out of a video. And, yes, I did actually have a gay Mormon roommate named Hank, accessorized by a girlfriend he never kissed. He did a fabulous routine to "Come On Eileen" that looked like a cross between an Aaron Copeland ballet and the scene between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story. Haunting.

Avs Win! Plus Alexander Ovechkin's Floating Head of Doom

Avalanche beat Blackhawks in overtime, so at least until Monday, we're undefeated!

Thoughts: Duchene, O'Reilly, Galiardi and Stewart are FAST. Marty Turco looked slow. I'm amazed at how young this team is. Literally, there are only three guys on the team over 30: Foote, Hejduk, and Hannan. That's probably really good in terms of stamina and speed, maybe not so good in terms of the experience needed in the long haul, witness the slow unraveling at the end of last season. Chicago seemed disorganized; I don't think their off-season roster changes did them any favors.  The fact that this is the 15th anniversary of our first Stanley Cup made me feel old. Ow, my sciatica.

I can think of few things more unsettling than opening your school locker and finding the disembodied head of Alexander Ovechkin laughing manically, but apparently CCM thinks it will sell gear. WTF? Actually it is strangely compelling, as you can see here. If you dare. Muhahahahahahaha.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It's October, and this month we get not one, but two -- TWO -- zombie series coming to a TV screen near you.

Most prominently, The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman's comic book is premiering on AMC Halloween night. Directed by Frank Darabont and starring Andrew Lincoln (late of Brit series Afterlife) and Sarah Wayne Callies (hello, Prison Break), the show has already generated positive buzz, and hopefully will be as well-recieved as AMC mainstays Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Really, zombies, on TV weekly. Santa must have finally gotten around to reading my letter.

In addition, Brit series Dead Set is finally coming to America, premiering on IFC, October 25th. Plot: the contestants of Big Brother are trapped on set while, unbeknownst to them, a zombie outbreak takes place in the streets. Hilarity ensues. Well, not so much hilarity, as lots of running and screaming and eating of brains. You can view the trailer here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fright Night Returns!

Dreamworks is in the midst of remaking 1985's cult classic Fright Night, which starred Roddy McDowell, Chris Sarandon, and William Ragsdale. Normally I'm against remakes on principle, but the new Fright Night will be written by Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mad Men) and star David Tennant and Colin Farrell. Let me repeat that: David Tennant and Colin Farrell. That's brilliant.

David Tennant will be filling the shoes of Roddy McDowell, playing Peter Vincent. First look here.

Colin Farrel will play the vampire-next-door, Jerry Dandridge, Anton Yelchin at Charlie Brewster, Toni Colette at Charlie's mom and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed. Chris Sarandon will also make an appearance.

Film is set for release October of 2011.

Here's the original trailer:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hockey's Almost Here

Puck drops on Thursday, October 7 to open the 2010-11 NHL season. Start stocking up on beer now.

Here's the Dropkick Murphys from the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vintage TV Themes - Tony Curtis Edition

My favorite Tony Curtis performances were in The Boston Strangler and Some Like It Hot. The kid in me fondly remembers The Great Race.

Hawaii Five-0 got me dredging through old TV theme songs on YouTube, and I found this one in honor of Tony Curtis. It was back when real men weren't afraid to wear V-neck sweaters and ascots. Also, sideburns were cool, and you could drink champagne and smoke unfiltered cigarettes while driving your spiffy race car.  The thing that really clinches it for me is the exclamation point. It's not just The Persuaders, it's The Persuaders!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Journey of a Thousand Miles, blah, blah, blah.

My new goal beginning today, the first day of October, is to simply write a page a day on the new novel. I figure I'll just get up an hour earlier each day, after all how much different is three hours of sleep a night from four?  A single, solitary page. Even if I just did that and no more, I'd be finished by next October. So here it is, page 1.

Chapter One

     The pond was frozen, a stretch of ice that took on the black-grey color of faded asphalt in the faltering light of an overcast mid-January afternoon. In a few months, when the curtain of the season lifted, the pond would thaw in increments, and by April the park would be overrun with ruddy-faced children, mothers and nannies reading paperbacks on benches while their charges set sail little wax-sealed paper boats on a miniature sea. Allie could hear the ghosts of their laughter in puffs of wind that rattled skeletal trees.

     She didn’t glance at her watch as she rounded the park and took the turn up Church Street toward St. Michael’s; she’d finally let go of the need to time her run. Instead, she focused on the metronome thud of her heart. She kept her eyes on the sidewalk ahead, wary of a patch of ice or a loose scatter of gravel. It was new, this impulse to call up pictures of disaster: a sprained knee as she stumbled and lost her footing, a broken wrist as her hand clutched at the low stone retaining wall. Allison Brennan had never been cautious.

    The first flakes of the promised snow began to fall as St. Michael’s came into view, the leaden sky pressing down as if it were a canopy the spires might tear apart. A quarter of the way now -- two miles to St. Michael’s, two miles to the crest of Hangman’s Hill, and then back home again along the far side of the park, a circuit that she’d run almost daily for 10 years now, begun the first day after she’d turned in her shield and started life over.