Saturday, September 14, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 37

And now, a word from our sponsor.

No, not really, but after you read today's post, you might wonder.

A Two-fer from Draft2Digital

Tuesday was a fun for me. First there was a new blog post from Draft2Digital. It was nothing new to me, but it was about the definition of the word 'prolific.' The post was penned by Kevin Tumlinson, arguably the face of Draft2Digital. The piece is a nice reminder that being prolific doesn't always mean churning out a book a month or publishing sixteen books a year. It can mean whatever you can sustain.

And that's the key: sustainability. You have to be able to sustain whatever schedule you develop. Here's how Kevin ended his piece:

"If your goal is to be a prolific writer, the secret isn't a secret by any stretch. It simply comes down to "write a lot."

Spend your time and energy now on developing a daily writing habit. Treat every bit of writing you do (emails, blog posts, social media posts, even text messages) as practice. Engage your writer brain early and often and always. Put it to work daily, and it will build up some callouses so it can keep working when it really counts.

Commit to a daily target and start meeting it, then push yourself to exceed it. You'll thank me when you have a shelf full of books to point to."

Meeting with Kevin Tumlinson

The other cool thing on Tuesday was that I got to meet Kevin live (and not in person). I attended one of Draft2Digital's "Ask Me Anything" Facebook live event a couple of weeks ago. That session itself was good enough, but as a treat/thank-you gift for attending, we had the opportunity to meet with Kevin and discuss the author business.

Kevin and I linked up on laptops and we had a great 30-minute conversation. One of the biggest things was clearing up a misconception re: Draft2Digital's printing service. Not sure how this idea got ingrained in my head, but there you go.

When you upload your files to Draft2Digital for their print-on-demand service, you do not incur any fees. In addition, if you have to make any changes, you still do not incur any fees. Do you know what that means? It means the POD service via Draft2Digital is free at the outset. They'll get their cut on the backend, but too often, we authors tinker or find things only after we upload the files. It is reassuring to realize you can make mistakes and you don't face any charges.

Plus, Draft2Digital can be the middle man for getting ISBNs. That's a big help.

So I'll be moving all my POD books to Draft2Digital. Because why not?

If you want to join the next Ask Us Anything Facebook live event, head on over to Draft2Digital's Facebook page and sign up.

One Last KISS

This week, I went to my last KISS concert in Houston. As a fan of the band for 41 years, it was fantastic and bittersweet. I never, ever tire of watching the opening of a KISS show, but to know this was the last time to hear "Rock and Roll All Nite" live was bittersweet. Here's my full review.

TV Shows With Unanswered Cliffhangers

My wife and I watched two unique BBC shows in recent weeks: The Ketering Incident and The Living and the Dead. Each are unique in their own ways. Each end with a cliffhanger that doesn't diminish the series you just watched, but leaves unanswered other questions.

Both were not renewed for a second season, so those unanswered questions are not answered. Irritating, I know.

It makes you wonder why the creators and writers didn't make an official "This is what Season 2 would have done" post or ebook or novel. Is it the idea that they might make the second season one day, or might the TV studio own the rights and they just don't care?

Are there shows you enjoyed with unanswered questions?

Friday, September 13, 2019

One Last KISS in Houston

Forty-one years and nine months. The first is the number of years I've been a KISS fan. The latter is the difference between the day I bought my tickets for the last KISS show in Houston and the day they actually arrived in town. And in that span, time marched on.

Gene Simmons turned seventy. Paul Stanley turned sixty-seven. And then some of the tour dates got postponed. Crap! Was there some health issues? Was there something the band, which also  includes Tommy Thayer on lead guitar and Eric Singer on drums, wasn't letting fans know about? Would we Houstonians get our last KISS?

I needn't have worried. The End of the Road Tour landed in Houston on Monday, 9 September, and it was about as perfect a show as I've ever seen by the band. It brought bittersweet emotions at the end, but it started with something that never, ever gets old.

You Wanted the Best...

After performance artist David Garibaldi painted three large canvases (ZZ Top; Mick Jagger; KISS), the crew altered the stage and raised the familiar KISS curtain. Various rock songs played during, and I was ecstatic to hear "Dirty Sexy Money" by The Struts boomed through the speakers.

But when Led Zepplin's "Rock and Roll" started, everyone knew it was time. The lights were doused, the synth notes vibrated the walls of the Toyota Center, and the two screens on each side of the stage--shaped in the familiar KISS Army logo--showed the band walking backstage. The the forty-year pronouncement of "Alright, Houston! You wanted the best, you got the best. The hottest band in the world! KISS!"

The eighth-note riff of "Detroit Rock City" greeted us, the stage lights blared on, the curtain fell, and the pyro exploded. There they were: Paul, Gene, and Tommy coming down on large saucer-shaped pads, smoke and sparks flying. Hexagonal video panels hovered over the stage. A monster screen dominated the backstage area, just behind a large metallic artifice that served as the pyro's portals.

As I told my son who attended with me: "This never, ever gets old." I can think of no other rock act--ever--who opens a show in a manner like KISS. Will there ever be another band like this? Never say never, but KISS showed the world how to open a show.

...We Got the Best (Setlist We Could Hope For)

Now, in preparation for this show, I looked at no setlist ahead of time, but you don't really have to. For the most part, the setlists have remained static with the occasional album cut gem thrown in. Sure, I'd love to hear "Yes I Know (Nobody's Perfect)", "Modern Day Delilah," "Danger Us," "Ladies Room," "Hell or Hallelujah," or "Naked City," but that simply is never going to happen. There is no reason to hope for something like that and walk away disappointed. Chicago's my other favorite band and they, too, have had basically the same setlist for a generation. If that pisses you off, don't buy a ticket.

Having said all that, this was about as good a KISS concert as I’ve ever seen. Five songs from the 1980s. Out of twenty total songs, that's 25%. Perfectly fine with that. Plus, we got a Sonic Boom cut ("Say Yeah") and the perennial favorite new song, "Psycho Circus." That left thirteen tunes from the band's 1970s heyday.

Let me go ahead and say this as well: When Eric Singer sang "Beth," he knocked it out of the park. Taking nothing away from Peter Criss, I have long since skipped that song when it comes up on shuffle on my phone. I had to sit through it that night, but I didn't mind. It was different. It was powerful. I want this version on audio.

And we even got a kick-ass version of "I Was Made For Lovin' You", 100,000 Years," and a personal favorite, "Let Me Go, Rock and Roll."

The Hottest Band in the World (Who Knows How to Entertain)

Knowing this was the final tour, KISS pulled out all the stops and lit all the fuses. The fire was felt by those of us on the far side and in the upper deck. The explosions were wonderfully loud. Ironically, this is the first time I've seen the band in a basketball arena. The Woodlands Pavilion is outdoors and has a sound ordinance. The new Sugar Land Smart Pavilion Center is great, but when I saw KISS there in 2017, they volume could have been turned up.

Not this time. The music was pleasantly loud. The vocals propulsive. The drums booming. Tommy's lead guitar tastefully screeching.

As the show kept going, there was plenty of time for Paul Stanley to chitchat with the audience. Because this is the last time he'll have all us Houstonians in the same room as the same time. It was all smiles all the time.

But the end was inevitable.

The Last KISS

I know myself. The older I get, the more emotional (sappy, as my wife says) I get. I had an internal debate on how emotional I'd get during the opening song and during the finale. For the opener, I was all smiles and fist pumping.

But as the opening chords of "Rock and Roll All Nite" started, I knew this was it. This was the last time I'd hear KISS play this song. This is their mission statement, their life outlook for the most part. It was a chorus everyone the world over can sing. This is their Hall of Fame song.

I had my phone in position, snapping photos, but I was not watching through the screen. I was watching with my eyes, my youth, my adulthood, my fandom, and everything else. As Paul started to break his guitar, the emotions welled up. I didn't exactly roll a tear, but they were there. The last few moments of me seeing KISS in person, it was through a mixture of confetti in the air and tears in my eyes.

KISS was my first favorite rock band. And now I've seen them for the last time. Sure, there will be more videos, maybe even a DVD of this tour, and maybe even a one-off show in the future. But I likely will never see them again. I will never see the band that captured my imagination as a boy and still resonates with me in middle age.

I walked out of that building thoroughly satisfied with the show.

Man! Has it been a great time.

Thanks, KISS, for being a part of my life (and the lives of millions more).

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I Finally Watched Jersey Girl

Introduction to the series
Clerks review
Mallrats review
Chasing Amy review
Dogma review
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back review

In what world is this movie a bomb?

Those were the words I wrote on my steno pad after watching this film. Five pages of notes, the most during this Kevin Smith journey. There was so much to love with this movie provided a viewer knows one thing: this is not part of the then five-film View Askew Universe. This is a standalone story about a single dad coming to grips with how much his life changed after the simultaneous birth of his daughter and the death of his wife.

Preconceived Ideas

Like I mentioned during my write-up for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, I stopped checking the Wikipedia article partway through that film so I wouldn't spoil the surprise of the various cameos. I didn't even open the Wikipedia page for this film other than to look up the name of the young actress who plays Ben Affleck's daughter in this movie. It's Raquel Castro by the way. And I didn't watch the trailer until after the movie, so I wasn't prepared for what happens in this film.

To see Affleck and Jennifer Lopez in this movie was natural to me. I mean, I remember they dated for a time, but couldn't even recall if they'd gotten married or not. (Just dated, I've since re-remembered.) Of course writer/director Kevin Smith would hire Affleck's girlfriend for the role of his wife...and what the hell just happened! Are you kidding me? Jennifer Lopez's character dies in this movie?

Yup. A fact I would have known had I watched the trailer. See how much fun it is to go into a movie blind and just let the story wash over you? We should all try it sometime.

But back to my preconceived ideas about this film. I remember it bombing and, as I write this without looking it up, I seem to recall Jersey Girl and Gigli both bombing. (Just checked: yup) In my recent re-listening to Smith's old Fat Man on Batman podcast episodes, I was listening to him and Marc Bernardin doing commentary for the 1989 Batman movie. But the introduction to that episode was Smith talking about the then casting of Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (still a bad title, especially when you have to type it). Smith retold a moment when Affleck emailed Smith to give the director the heads up that magazines would be wanting comments.

"Don't mention Jersey Girl," Affleck implored.

After Smith summarized his glowing thoughts about the actor, Affleck simply repeated what he had said.

Let me return to my initial statement: In what world did this film bomb?

The Prelude

Every story must begin with a "Here's where the main character is now" sequence of scenes. It's December 1994. Affleck plays Ollie Trinke, a famous New York publicist. His wife is Lopez's Gertie, a book editor. At a party early on, a pregnant Gertie complains she's so fat when compared to all the young, thin ladies who'll be at the party. "They're all just coked-out whores," Ollie assures her. "I want to be a coked-out whore," is her comeback.

Naturally, with Ollie being all involved with work, he misses things like lamaze classes, but he's there for the birth of their daughter. But he's roughly shoved out of the surgical room when Gertie faints, and then dies.

This was the first of many moments in which my waterworks started. I am a husband and a dad. I was in the delivery room the entire time when my boy was born. With allowances by the doctor, I delivered my child, cut the cord, and held him first. I know how precious life is, and how many things can go wrong during a delivery, including the health of the mother. That we three got through that day safe and healthy is a blessing from God. I cannot imagine the anguish real people endure when something goes wrong, so it is no surprise Ollie doesn't deal with it very well either.

But let's be honest: at first, Ollie as a dad is a dick. Him passing his crying daughter to his Pop (the great George Carlin) was probably understandable. Ollie was still in his Old World. Right up until the press event in which Will Smith who, in 1994, is still more famous for being the Fresh Prince on TV and is breaking out into music and movies. Ollie's harried assistant, Arthur Brickman (Jason Biggs), and Ollie try to get the young Gertie to stop crying. Eventually, Ollie has to take his baby up on stage, only to be faced with a chanting, hungry press corps who only want Will Smith. Ollie tells the hoard exactly what he thinks of them and Will Smith.

You know what happens next. Ollie is fired. He moves out of his fancy apartment in New York and back to New Jersey, moving in with his dad. Pop is happy to have his granddaughter so close, but he grows increasingly pissed at his damaged son who is trying to get another job in New York as a publicist. We all know where this goes.

But not before a fantastic monologue by Ollie to his infant daughter. His world has crashed. He's lost his wife, and his daughter is the only thing in the world that is a living, breathing part of his wife. As Ollie's tears flowed, this dad's tears also flowed. "Your mom would have really liked to have met you," he says. Again, as a dad, meeting my child was a profound experience. It seems Ollie finally realizes it, too.

Enter Raquel Castro

The movie's middle act is a joy because Gertie, now aged seven, is played not by a stunt baby but a young Raquel Castro. I can imagine most every movie in which actors, both young and old, who play parents and children develop a certain amount of chemistry. Affleck and Castro (who was eight or nine during filming) definitely have it.

Ollie is now a New Jersey city sanitation worker with his dad and his dad's pals, Greenie and Block. He picks up Gertie in the street cleaner, dubbed the Batmobile. Their life is grand. Sure, he may not have his old job, but he seems happy and his daughter is happy and well adjusted. Castro delivers Smith's dialogue like it's her own, and she's a wonderful foil to both Affleck and Carlin.

Enter the Romantic Sub-Plot

Being a single dad, naturally there was going to be the other woman in Ollie's life. It turns out to be Maya (Liv Tyler), a female version of Randal from Clerks. That is, she works in a video store. Surprisingly, there are not long asides discussing movies, which is another indication writer/director Smith is branching out to do something different. I can imagine the writing process being something akin to writing said diatribes only to excise them later, realizing they don't fit this film.

The pair meet when Ollie tries to quickly purchase a porn tape ahead of his daughter's kiddie picture. Maya starts quizzing Ollie until he reveals he's a widower. That kills the mood instantly, but she tries to make up for it by going to his house and asking him out for lunch. "For her research," she tells him, but the way she's tripping all over herself drives home the point she's smitten. She carries this through all the way to their lunch when they discuss Ollie's sexual habits. He's not been with a woman since his wife died.

An incredulous Maya blurts out, "You're rather hang out with your kid than get laid?" "Yeah," Ollie replies. The shock on Maya's face is priceless. It's one of my favorite moments in the movie. You see, for me, when I became a dad, a switch was flipped in my brain. No longer was my life purely my own. Now, there was another human being who would rely on me for the rest of his life. Just like I do with my own dad. I appreciate how Smith, then a father for something like five years, slipped in this truth to his movie. This is a more mature Smith who is speaking from the heart, and putting the joy and love and craziness of being a parent in his story. The younger Smith wouldn't have done this because the younger Smith didn't know. Heck, Maya didn't know, either.

The Non-Consummation

I honestly was shocked when Ollie and Maya are next seen in his dad's house, excitedly going at it. We all knew the scene would be interrupted by either Pop or Gertie, and it was his daughter who prevented the consummation. In a brilliant bit of reversal, layered into the film in small moments earlier on, it is Gertie forgetting then remembering to flush the toilet that outs her dad. Then we have the reversal of the "What are your intentions?" moment that Ollie gave Gertie when he caught her with a young boy, each showing their privates parts. Now, it's Gertie sitting her dad and Maya down to have the same talk.

The Dick Version of Ollie Returns

Look, I know this is a drama so  there has to be drama. And the story is all the better for it. But I honestly thought Ollie had changed in seven years. Nope. The old Ollie returns after he meets with his old assistant, Brickman, and the younger man agrees to talk up Ollie to his bosses. In Ollie's mind, he's back in. He'll be able to move back to the city, get Gertie in a great private school, they can see Broadway shows all the time. It'll be just like it used to be.

For Ollie.

Not for Gertie.

A giant fight ensues, in front of Maya, Pop, Greenie, and Block. They're practicing for the talent show. Of course the interview is on the same day as the performance. Of course Ollie pulls the dad card. Of course he inadvertently (?) insults his dad's profession. I knew that stuff was going to happen. But I never expected Ollie to yell, "You and mommy took my life away and I just want it back!"

A f-bomb left my mouth in a whisper at that moment. I wrote it out on my notepad. And as charming as Castro is in every other part of the film, she looked truly crushed at those words. Affleck realizes the shattering words he's just said, but his daughter slams her bedroom door in his face.

Again, as a dad, I've said  and done some crappy things--not to this extent--that I wished I could go and take back, but I can't. Neither can Ollie. His pain in this short montage, accompanied by Bruce Springsteen's "My City of Ruins," is heartbreaking, especially when he sits at his dead wife's grave and cries.

I was genuinely touched by these scenes, but lost it when Ollie and Gertie finally talk. Ollie implores Gertie to believe that he didn't mean the things he said. "Neither did I," Gertie replies. There's something profound when your child forgives you for a crappy thing you said or did. It humbles you like few things in this world. It humbles Ollie, especially when she gives him her permission to miss the show for his interview.

The Big Decision

There's a trope in just about all these kinds of films, and it works most every time. A character is at a crossroads between two decisions. The character knows what he wants to do and should do, but so often, numbly goes through the motions of the wrong road before being turned around by something external. That trope is on full display here, and I had zero problem with it.

Sitting in the waiting room for his interview, none other than Will Smith shows up. Natch. Will Smith and Ollie chat, but the conversation zeroes in on being a dad. Loved Will's line about Gertie's name: "Why you do that to that kid?" But it's Will's description of his daily life that finally cracks open Ollie's thick head. Will always tells his kid he loves them all the way to the moon and back to the dirt. When Ollie gets up to do the other main trope--run to his real self--Will asks him why. "I'm just a guy who'd rather play in the dirt with his kid."

Smiles and all the feels.

The Big Ending

I knew where this was going from the moment Ollie started driving. You did, too. And dang if it isn't as heartwarming as you'd expect it to be. The street construction Ollie convinced the town it needed naturally slowed his progress by car, so he has to run to the school. Will he make it in time to watch the performance? Of course. In fact, he's so on time that he's even able to slip into costume and perform--like they rehearsed all along--with his daughter. If the anguish on Castro's face earlier in the film is one side of the emotional coin, then the bright-eyed ebullient sense of joy on her face upon seeing her dad performing with her is the other side. More feels, man. All of them.

One trope not taken was Maya and Ollie instantly kissing in the bar as they all celebrated after the show. In just about every movie, you'd have Maya's character kiss Ollie and lock in their relationship. Not this time. She says "I'll think about it," the 'it'  being a date with Ollie.

But this movie belonged to Ollie and Gertie, Affleck and Castro. In a movie full of sentiment, one small act really got me. When Ollie picks up Gertie to dance, she runs her hand over his face. It's an intimate gesture and conveys so much. I'm not sure if director Smith suggested it or Affleck or if Castro herself did it, but it is so good.

The Verdict

Loved this movie. I think this is the longest review I've written. I took five pages of notes, so it's already the most number of notes taken.

Let me circle back around to my opening statement: In what world is this movie a bomb? Was it Smith's fans who didn't cotton to a non-View Askew Universe film? Did they want another Jay and Silent Bob movie only? If you factor in my own preconceived notions about Smith films, then the answer has to be partially yes.

My wife offered a different take. It was the public's exhaustion with Affleck and Lopez and/or Affleck and Jennifer Garner. I just scanned Affleck's Wikipedia entry and this movie is under the sub-head 2003–2005: Career downturn and tabloid notoriety". According to the entry, Jersey Girl is part of the problem, especially coming on the heels of Gigli.

So, if I understand correctly, Jersey Girl suffered not from in-movie acting and writing but from external pressures, be they tabloid, critics, public perception, and fan reaction. Really? Is the movie going public that shallow?

Sometimes. Now that I'm doing all this Kevin Smith research, I've learned Mallrats didn't hit big upon release, but gained a following in the years since. I'm proof positive because I loved that film.

When is it Jersey Girl's turn?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 36

This week has largely been consumed with reading, revising, editing, and posting the three-part interview with Don Price. He's the local Houston man responsible for creating and hosting the Son of Houston-Con IV. This is the direct descendant to the original Houstoncon, the first main genre convention series in Houston.

You may ask yourself why would I need to revise and edit and interview. Well, my initial set of 15 questions exploded into follow-up questions, but those were after Mr. Price returned a Word file nearly eight pages long. In fact, Part 3 of the interview (posted yesterday) was a single answer to a single question. This interview is chock full of great material. Even fans of comic conventions in other parts of the country might enjoy reading what it was like to be a kid who loved comics in the late 1960s. Very different than now.

I really enjoyed the process, and learning about fandom's early days in Houston. It reminds me of my time in grad school and writing my thesis. Weird, I know, but, then again, I'm weird. By the time this post goes live, I'll be heading out to the con with a pair of friends from my SF book club. It'll be a fun day.

Well, this is kinda strange. I didn't finish anything of note this week for a review. I'm in the middle of a BBC series, The Living and the Dead, but I'm not finished. It Chapter Two starts today but I haven't seen it. No new movies of note. Books, neither, although I'm ready for this coming Tuesday when the next Isaac Bell Adventure by Clive Cussler is published.

So this is going to be a really short entry. Hopefully, I'll have more to say this time next week. Come back and find out.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Interview with Don Price of Son of Houston-Con: Part 3

Son of Houston-Con IV (2019) starts tomorrow and I've been running a lengthy interview with Don Price.

In Part 1, Mr. Price discussed his origins as a comic book reader and him attending the early conventions. In Part 2, we discussed what he's had to do in order to host the four Son of Houston-Cons and the featured guests this year.

Today is something special. It is only one question, but as you will read in Mr. Price's opening statement, "Hold on to your hat."

Be sure to read to the end, because Mr. Price sums up his outlook on life that I appreciate and to which I subscribe.

Note: Son of Houston-Con IV (2019) will be held this Saturday and Sunday, 7-8 September, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Wyndham West located at 14703 Park Row. Tickets are only $5.00. Here is a Facebook link with more information.

You seem to be a part of several very uniquely Houston communities.  Would you care to share a bit about what this city means to you and how you've seen it change over the last 60 years?

Hold on to your hat. So I was an Air Force brat who moved around a lot, and then it became a “broken family” when my mom and dad divorced (before that was common.) So it took me eight different schools to get through 12th grade. They were: Jim Bowie in Baytown for 1st and 2nd grade, Shearn and Red elementary schools. Jonston Jr. High, then Lanier Jr. High for what is now called “middle school.” Then I had one year at HSPVA [High School for the Performing and Visual Arts], and then finished high school at Lamar.

I had to decide whether I wanted to stay an introvert or forge ahead and make new friends everywhere I went. It used to drive one of my bosses crazy when “important” video clients when come in and I would treat them as if we knew each other all our lives. My philosophy became, “I never met a stranger.” I met have met plenty of stuck-up people with more reserve than was called for, but no real strangers, other than maybe the creepy Serial Killer I met when I was hitch-hiking in the 70s. For real!!!

But I always attributed it to the social skills I developed as a survival technique from moving so much and maybe the Officers’ gene I inherited from my dad that I have variously been the President of the Jaguar Club of Houston (I have a 1952 XK-120 and a 1962 XK-E) and a Wing Leader in the Commemorative Air Force.

I am putting on my fourth Son of Houston-Con now. This is in addition to the fact that I still play original music live, and have played coast to coast. I played the opening night of infamous “The Island” on Main Street. Later on our beautiful lead singer was accepted to Columbia University and we wound up following her up for visits and have played New York City multiple times. And when she got busy we booked into clubs with what I call “The Houston Band” and were well received. When my nephew Matt moved to Seattle we wound up using his place as a base to play there. And Austin is just down the road by comparison. Let’s save the stories about when I used to choreograph, teach and perform dance for another article.

But Legacy? I have been in Houston through the days when it mushroomed in size. The 610 Loop was not built yet when we moved here in 1964. It was started, but nowhere near complete. The city has always had an inferiority complex, even when we had one of the largest conventions in the country. There was no Comic Con in San Diego, or at least it was not the mammoth it was to become. And because of its growth, everyone seemed to be from someplace else, so it was easy to sit back and let the rest of the country bash us!

But things changed in Houston’s self-confidence. I think NASA’s achievements started that, but that was shared across the nation and the world. The Houston Rocket’s winning back-to-back championships did TWO things. It showed that Houston sports teams COULD win championships, especially after the Oilers had been screwed over. But it also showed how much the power centers of the East and West Coasts hated us when they ignored the Rockets on such venues as Sports Illustrated and then ignored the rules to avoid a three-peat.

Stick with me. Pop Culture matters! And sports is part of it for a city’s group gestalt. So my opinion is that things are getting a LOT better in Houston. Now the Astros won a championship and you could see people perked up. Of course the “I hate sports” curmudgeons are snorting, but you could see it when the basketball and baseball teams won.

What has that to do with comic book conventions? Well Houston already proved it could put on some of the best conventions in the country. And as far as Airshows go, Wings Over Houston rightfully claims to be one of the top air shows in the nation. But comic books and airplanes are on the fringe: Geeky fringe in the case of comics and hardcore aviation in the case of Wings Over Houston.

My little show is a start and I am getting some help. Will it grow to the scope of the original Houstoncons? Not without some more help and support. The OLD Houstoncons stopped when people started moving away and having life distractions. But the potential is there. Of course the elephant in the article is Comicpalooza. It is proof that the fan base is there and willing to pay $35.00 a day to walk miles through a convention center that is filled more and more with things that have less and less to do with comic books. But SOMETHING is there in the comic book industry. The fresh creativity to generate projects that start on cheap paper and wind up multi-million dollar movies and spawn whole franchises.

And then there was “The Big Bang Theory.” Suddenly Geek became chic. Who knew? Amazingly enough Bedrock City provides all the proper comic books for “Young Sheldon.” So the same Richard Evans who owns Bedrock City was in Roy’s Memory Shop rifling through bins and stacks of comics when I was riding my 10-speed over and he was at the same Houstoncons when I was getting lost on the way home on that same bike. Until some bastard stole it from my back porch at La Fonda Apartments, long since torn down but proudly decaying over by the Summit, where the Rockets won back-to-back championships.

But most of all, REMEMBER THIS: “These are THE Good old Days!”

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Interview with Don Price of Son of Houston-Con: Part 2

Yesterday, Don Price talked about his early life as a comic book reader and collector and those first conventions here in Houston. Can you believe the story about Batman #1?

Today, we're focused on the four Son of Houston-Cons Mr. Price has sponsored, the challenges faced and overcome, and the guests of this year's convention. If the weather forecast is accurate, at least it won't rain this year.

Note: Son of Houston-Con IV (2019) will be held this Saturday and Sunday, 7-8 September, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Wyndham West located at 14703 Park Row. Tickets are only $5.00.

In the beginning, did you have a plan to turn Son of Houston-con into an annual event? 

I had no idea whether I would ever do another one. This year is my fourth show, and believe me, a fifth is still up in the air.

The first show in 2012 was basically a ten-table swap meet at a La Quinta and I didn’t even charge admission, but I charged the dealers just enough to cover the rent. And it rained! The room was so small that if ten “civilians” were inside the room, it seemed packed.

So in 2013 I got ambitious and moved it to the Hilton on the Southwest freeway, which was near where the long since torn down Royal Coach Inn was. And it rained! I almost made money on that show until the Hilton came up with certain post-show room fees that made it basically me throwing a comic book party.

Then I became Wing Leader of a Commemorative Air Force unit that was restoring a B-17 bomber to flight and “funny books” had to be put away for some real life adventures. Then I had back problems that resulted in two surgeries, but all the while friends and cohorts were asking me, “When are you going to do another one?” Finally in 2017 I did the Return of Son of Houston-con III and, lo and behold, Hurricane Harvey came to town the week before.

When I attended the Son of Houstoncon show in 2017, one of the things I noticed was your program from the 1971 Houstoncon with original big screen Superman Kirk Alyn the featured guest. How did that booking come about? 

You’ll have to see Clayton Thorp’s article [in the program for Son of Houston-Con IV for the cost of $5.00 for both days]. I was too young to know ANY of the backstory on that.

This year's convention is officially Son of Houstoncon IV. What made you resurrect and create Son of Houstoncon? What were some of the challenges?

Why resurrect the name is easy. The Houstoncon association has so many great memories for those of us that are still around. And the vacuum that there is in Houston for what would be a “medium”-sized show that concentrates on older books, for the most part, was waiting to be filled.

The psychological hurdle of calling something starting so small Houston-Con (hyphenated) when Houstoncon (un-hyphenated) was so large is one thing. Another thing is the old-timers lurking in the weeds. I know somebody else owns the un-hyphenated name, but no one is doing anything with it.

Now that we're gearing up for Son of Houstoncon 2019, was the process easier? Did you have more response based on the success of the 2017 con? 

Son of Houston-Con 2017 was a bear! It was one week after Hurricane Harvey and I had at least three dealers bow out because they had lost their homes. I asked some for the larger dealers like Bedrock City and Richard Evans was of the opinion that whoever COULD make it needed the distraction. By that point, everybody knew someone who had gone through the worst experience of his or her lives. I lost a little money as the producer of that Con, but it was more than worth it to see people jazzed.

As for 2019 getting easier? No!!! That was why there wasn’t a 2018 conventino. All the hotels seemed to have raised their rates and it was touch and go for putting on the 2019 Number IV. I did have a steady stream of vendors after me to put on another show. If the stars had not aligned and the rent been right for the space at the Wyndham, it might have slipped another year. I cannot say enough about the help I have had this year from Clayton Thorp and Angelo Juarez. It makes a real difference to have people in your camp actually doing leg work and providing encouragement.

How do you feel about fandom in Houston today?  It's certainly larger, but does it feel closer than it did in the 60 and 70s?  Is there anything you would like to see change about it in the future?

What Son of Houston-Con is ALL about is connecting the younger fans with the classic material that was before MY time. I love Golden Age books, and am glad I got them when they were “affordable.” I say that in quotes on purpose. But the thing is—I got into those books because of the reprints that Marvel and DC did of their own books AND shops like Roy’s Memory Shop and Roy Bonario extolling the coolness of certain books and movies and serials. I even put out an email to my dealers in 2017 asking them to ask the younger fans what they thought was cool and to show them what us older geeks thought was the best. If that doesn’t happen it is going to be BAD for comic collecting in general.

Who are the guests for Son of Houstoncon 2019?

Doug Hazlewood—Longtime artist for Marvel and DC comics at various times.

Anthony Tollin—Colorist for DC (on some Major books) and publisher of several books on The Shadow and other Pulp heroes.

Jim Newsome—artist who provided a lot of fan art for HCCA and went on to have work published in the seminal Rocket’s Blast/Comic Collector as well as Marvel.

J. David Spurlock—Author and publisher of several books on comic book greats and representative of the Wallace (Wally) Wood estate.

Paul Pearson—Fanzine and blog writer

Writers—Greg Kelso and Shane Lassetter

Upcoming Artists—Shawn Machie and Perry Edwards.

Remember: Don Newton was showing up as barely established when he took Houstoncon by storm. Doug Hazlewood won a tryout for amateur artists with Marvel. Everyone starts SOMEWHERE and for some of them Houstoncon played a big part!

There wouldn't be a Son of Houston-Con without people like Richard Evans of Bedrock City Comics and Roy Bonario of Roy's Memory Shop supporting and encouraging me.

Continue on to Part 3.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Interview with Don Price of Son of Houston-Con: Part 1

When I saw there was going to be a Son of Houston-Con IV for 2019, I knew I'd be going. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2017 edition and wrote about it. Not only did I get a chance to chat with the organizer, Don Price, but I got to meet Roy Bonario. He was the owner of Roy's Memory Shop, a fixture in the Houston fan community for decades.

But I didn't really have a chance to capture my conversation with Mr. Price. I know we talked about the early days of the original Houstoncon and the fan community here in Houston, but I didn't write down anything. Historian though I am, I can't memorize everything.

Cut to 2019 and the news of the upcoming con. One of my SF book club members emailed me last week asking if I'd be up for attending Son of Houston-Con IV. I said I already was and I sent him the link to my 2017 review. I mentioned I was interested in interviewing Price. I had a list of questions. I shared the list with him, and he made some tasteful additions. Then, literally throwing the Hail Mary pass, I emailed Mr. Price asking if he'd be willing to conduct a written interview ahead of the convention.

Bingo! He said yes. But I didn't expect the treasure trove of knowledge I got in return. Seven pages worth of content.

So much wonderful content that I am breaking it down over three days, starting today. Tomorrow we discuss the Son of Houston-Con conventions he has put on (this is the fourth), the challenges involved and the 2019 guests. Friday is a special treat as Mr. Price writes about fandom in Houston over the past sixty years.

But we start today with Don Price's origin story, what it was like attending that first Houstoncon back in 1967, and the other thing that takes up his time. Hint: it isn't comics, but it's so much cooler!

Note: Son of Houston-Con IV (2019) will be held this Saturday and Sunday, 7-8 September, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Wyndham West located at 14703 Park Row. Tickets are only $5.00. Here is a Facebook link with more information.

My Motto is: “These ARE the good old days!

What is your personal origin story?

I am an Air Force brat. My dad was a B-17 combat pilot in World War II and he stayed in after the war as a career. By the time I came along—the last of four sons—he was flying the hydrogen bomb for Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command. I got to crawl around “His” B-47 and sit in his pilot’s seat and see the safe where the launch codes were stored.

When did you get into comics? What attracted you to them? What were the titles that you grew up on? 

My brother, Mark, gave me a stack of comics when I was around 7 or 8. There were some I really liked: Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Then I got shuffled off to Baytown during summers, where my grandmother lived. There was Will’s Pawn Shop with tremendous piles of comic books for half the cover price. I really started to fill in some gaps in the collection then. I also got my first electric guitar there, but that’s another story.

What was fandom in Houston like in the 1960s? 

I was introduced to the Houston Comic Collector’s Association by an elementary school friend. It was already established by the time I got there, but the early meetings were at a Methodist Church (which is still there) on Gessner at Memorial. Then they moved to the downtown YWCA and my mom drove me to a few meetings there. When I heard about conventions I was beside myself with excitement.

How did the original Houstoncon begin?

In 1965, the first meeting of the Houston Comic Collectors Association was held. With only word of mouth, a small but dedicated group of people showed up, including Larry McMurtry. Fandom in Houston was born.

The first official Houstoncon occurred in June 1967 at the Ramada Inn on I-45 and Allen Parkway. Like a justice league of comic enthusiasts, a group of store owners and collectors, including Roy Bonario, Mark Schooley, Jerry Poscovske, Early Blair, Jr., and Glenn Kessler, hosted the convention. Numerous collectors arrived, including some from Dallas, Oklahoma, and California. There was a screening room where western and science fiction movies were shown all night long. For only a dollar, 124 fans attended the first Houstoncon and fandom in Space City had a name.

Do you remember any of the movies? 

All of the movies shown were classics and you have to remember this was BEFORE videotape or any other kind of video on demand. So they ran movies like “Sherlock Holmes-The Hound of the Baskervilles” and serials. I remember “Mighty Joe Young,” the sequel to King Kong. The first time I saw “Island of Lost Souls” was at a Houstoncon.

There were usually two screening rooms and it was a toss-up to decide WHAT to go see. Usually they were different genres. One might be screening 40s and 50s cowboy movies and the other monster or Sci-Fi movies. And they would screen a cartoon or a Three Stooges short just to break things up. And the screening would continue until way past the dealer’s room(s) closed. The movies were shown with the projector clattering away in the back of the same room with just rows of folding chairs.

I remember getting out of a movie around midnight at Dunfey’s Royal Coach Inn (on 59 near Bellaire Blvd. Picture here.) and getting on my bicycle to ride home and heading the wrong way out Westpark. I had the books I had bought in some sort of shopping bag and when I realized I hit at end of Westpark at Fondren and had to turn around retrace my trek I just laughed.

How did someone go about getting an actual reel of film? Was it Channel 39 or something else?

There were dealers in old 16-mm films the same way there were comic book or record dealers. I remember seeing stacks of them at Roy’s Memory Shop.

Channel 39! One of the big three channels BEFORE there was more than just 2, 8, 11, and 13 would run great movies Saturday during the day and then again later Saturday night BEFORE the midnight sign-off. That was my introduction to Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

Did you have access to the 1940s-era serials of Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, etc.?

This is your BEST question yet! Another EVENT that a lot of early fans fondly recall was Earl Blair arranging to screen the entire Captain Marvel serial in one sitting at University of Houston’s Loft Theater in the E. Cullen Building. It went on until after midnight and it was amazing how many of us were there.

Do you remember some of the other properties involved? Star Trek had just finished its first year. Was there an immediate love Star Trek? 

Yes! But there was no video tape or cable or re-runs. So it was a treat when an episode could be shown at a convention. Harlan Ellison wrote one of the best episodes ever and he came to an early Houstoncon. Ellison, unfortunately, thought that Star Trek had butchered his story so he was not the most gracious guest. But I was too bashful to even approach him to discover how obtuse he was.

What process did people use to keep, store, and protect comics in 1967? Were the comics bagged at this time? 

Stacks of loose books in cardboard boxes was the order of the day. Comic books were not bagged at these early shows. It had not been invented yet. The great unwashed public would go fingering through piles of books with no more concern than you would with your grandmother’s stack of Readers Digests.

When you organized the first cons, was there a sense of a fan community or did you feel like you were putting something on for your friends and just hoped other would enjoy as well?

During the early years fans tended to gravitate around shops or book stores that sold back issues. Northside Book Emporium was sort of a full range bookstore, but it was too far away for me. The place to be was Roy’s Memory Shop when he opened up on Bissonnet. It was a triple threat because he sold comics, movie posters as well as 16mm prints, and rare records. On Saturdays they would screen movies in the backroom and it was a big deal when I was invited back to watch movies.

In the early Houstoncons and comic collecting, before the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was published, how did vendors and sellers go about determining what something was worth? 

Setting a price on comics was by gosh and by golly—what the market would pay and what the seller would let it go for. I remember paying WAY too much for a Fantastic Four #2 from a neighborhood kid BEFORE I knew about the HCCA. I paid $12 for it and it had tape on the spine. But not having access to fandom at that point, it seemed like the only way I would ever see it again. It turned out all right because I traded it for more a few years later, but who could know, at that point?

One of the legends was the night Ken Donnell paid Glenn Kessler $100 for a copy of Batman #1. We were all shocked that a comic book could cost $100 and thought that Ken must be mad!

In an email to me, you mentioned you fly a World War II trainer in Wings Over Houston (and other events). How did that come about?

My Dad was a B-17 pilot in World War II. I am writing a book about him because he had a really rough, and therefore interesting, time. He was on two of the most famous BAD raids to Schweinfurt, Germany, [on 14 October 1943] where the 8th Air Force lost 20 percent of its forces and the survivors were so shot up they had to slow down and rebuild the 8th Air Force. So I inherited my Mom’s eyes and didn’t go military. But I learned to fly locally and the next thing I knew I was a member of Lone Star Flight Museum.

Then I learned the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) had a B-17 project that was in trouble. Somehow I became the Wing Leader and we got it flying again, with the help of MANY great volunteers! That kept the plane in the Houston area, because it was in real danger of being “re-assigned” to any other unit that could get the job done.

Then I bought a 1944 Fairchild PT-26 military two-seat trainer. It was Royal Canadian Air Force, but the US Air Corps used them too. I proudly fly my plane in the “Trainer Parade” at Wings Over Houston every year I can keep it and myself flying.

Continue to Part 2.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I Finally Watched Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

Introduction to the series
Clerks review
Mallrats review
Chasing Amy review
Dogma review

About a quarter of the way through Kevin Smith's fifth movie, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," a comparison movie jumped to mind: The Muppet Movie. Yes, I just compared a raunchy, expletive-laden film with the big screen adaptation of a TV show featuring puppets, one of whom got his start from the children's classic Sesame Street.

The comparison is accurate.

One film features a pair of characters who decide to make their way across the country in order to stop a movie from being made. Along the way, they experience a series of misadventures filled with cameos before they reach Hollywood. The other film features a pair of characters who travel across the country in order to make a film in Hollywood. Along the way, they experience a series of misadventures filled with cameos before they reach Hollywood.

See? I'm not off base.

Every Hero Needs an Origin

For the two titular characters of this film, they've come a long way from the first appearance in Clerks. In that movie, they were side characters, but with each subsequent movie, they're roles have grown. The fourth film, Dogma, they were co-stars with the protagonist. Now, they are the protagonists. And they get their origins.

Granted, it's nowhere near as tragic as Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, but, just as you'd expect, it begins outside the very same video story and Quick-Stop from Clerks. It was interesting to see the Quick-Stop in full color, yet the hand-painted sign was still there. It led me to wonder if Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back [Strike Back from here on] didn't take place on or around the same day as Clerks, but I dismissed it. Chasing Amy took place over days and weeks, so the sheet on the Quick-Stop was likely just an in joke.

Self-Referential to the Extreme

Here in 2019 when I am finally watching Smith's films, lots of folks talked about Avengers: Endgame as a unique movie-going experiences. Nowhere in that film was there a recap of the previous twenty or so films. You either knew the characters and the story or you didn't. The folks at Marvel knew this and didn't bother catching up some audience member who might've never seen a Marvel movie before.

The same dynamic holds true for Strike Back. On its surface, the movie is straightforward enough to be enjoyed by anyone. The basic description I wrote above serves that purpose. But if a viewer had already seen Smith's previous four films, then you got all the jokes and references.

Which is precisely the point.

Of the first five films of Smith's career, this is a fan-service film. Having not been aware of the movie back in 2001, I can't be sure of the following statement, but I can't help but wonder if Strike Back was the apology for Dogma. If you've read my review of that movie, you'll remember I didn't particularly enjoy it. Since then, I've read about it and learned it holds a decent score at Rotten Tomatoes and other places, but it is definitely the outlier of Smith's films so far in my watching marathon.

I suspect Smith wanted to make Strike Back on his own, but I also wonder if some studio executive didn't sit him down and lay everything on the table. "Look, Kevin, we know you're a darling indie filmmaker, but can you just go back to making stoner comedies instead of ruffling the feathers of organized religion?"

However Smith came to write Strike Back--and I've only recently learned of the documentary, "Oh, What a Lovely Tea Party" but I haven't seen it yet--he must have had a grin on his face every day he typed up the screenplay.

The Spirit of Mallrats

In Mallrats, you had a really fun film chock full of little asides about various pieces of pop culture or geekdom. The same is true for Strike Back as well, starting with the logo. Sure, I'd never seen this movie until July 2019, but when I saw the DVD in stores, I instantly realized the logo was akin to that of The Empire Strikes Back. And this movie also has Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. As Smith has said in his Fat Man on Batman podcast episode with Hamill, he got to play with the live-action Luke Skywalker action figure.

As an aside, I'm re-listening to some of the first episodes of Smith's original Fat Man on Batman podcasts. I just finished the pair of Hamill episodes. What I loved about the timing was when Hamill talked about his inspiration for his villain, Cocknocker, in Strike Back. He said it was Frank Gorshin's cadence as The Riddler in the Batman '66 TV show. He nailed it. His scenes were terrific fun, especially the "Not again" and "Jedi Master" lines. I bet he was an easy get.

The Cameos

Speaking of getting the band back together, I quickly realized I should not peruse the Wikipedia entry for Strike Back before I finished watching the movie. It was so much fun seeing the old characters pop in and out of the movie, deliver a line, or just be there. 

Dante and Randal! Brodie! Matt Damon. Wes Craven?

And Ben Affleck as Holden McNeil. Look, all the cast that showed up for this party on film did great, but I really dug Affleck's scenes. Him describing the internet early on pretty much nailed what the internet was in 2001...and remains today. That he was the one who uttered these lines, years ahead of his own public breakup with Jennifer Garner, is, well, unique timing.

It was with Affleck's internet scene that the fourth wall was broken for the first time. I have always enjoyed when movies and cartoons do this--Wile E. Coyote and  Road Runner; Jerry the Mouse; Ferris Bueller--and for the characters in Strike Back to do it just adds to the in-joke nature of this film.

Having these characters walk in and out of this movie and all the others does create that shared universe vibe. It's part of comic book history. Heck, I do it in my own series of interconnected mysteries. At least with this movie--once I stopped looking at the Wikipedia entry--lent a freshness to the watching experience. "Oh, I wonder who'll pop up next?"

To that end, I loved seeing Joey Lauren Adams as Alyssa from Chasing Amy walking out of the theater. I can't remember: was the lady she was walking with the same one in the last scene of Chasing Amy? Wouldn't doubt it.

Watching for the Trademark Kevin Smith Things

Everywhere you look, there are Smithisms in this movie. More than any other to date, this is a fan service film, and that's perfectly fine. Earlier this year, as he and Marc Bernardin discussed Avengers: Endgame, Smith makes no apologies for the fan service nature of that film. He speaks from experience. And, knowing Clerks II is on the horizon, I suspect he returns to that well at least one more time, two when you throw in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot.

Silent Bob Speaks

Smith's alter ego Silent Bob speaks twice in Strike Back. The first shows what Bob likely thinks about Jay half the time when he screams in his friend's face about the destination of their monkey. The other is late in the film when Bob discusses the legal nature of copyright with Banky. The first was memorable, although his original line of dialogue in Clerks is my favorite, with the Chasing Amy story second.

An interesting thing about Smith's voice. Remember, I was first introduced to him via podcasting in 2012, so I'm familiar with the tenor of his voice in his forties. He sounds different in these earlier films, but he sounds most like what I know him as here in Strike Back.

The Verdict

As goofy and over-the-top as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie. I'll admit that about a third of the f-bombs could have been cut out, but it's a Kevin Smith film so that's par for the course. I'm not against swearing by any stretch, but f-bombs lose their impact if uttered too often.

I loved the party nature of this film. I've since found out that the was intended to be the last View Askew movie so Smith and company pulled out all the stops. It shows. And the film is better for it.

I started this entire discovery of Smith's films with the intention of being in-the-know when the new film, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, debuts this fall. Based on interviews in 2019, Smith has an emotional connection to the new film largely a result of his heart attack in 2018. He's said that Reboot would likely have been a different film had no heart attack occurred. Knowing Smith is an emotional guy who cries at many of the same things I cry at, I'm really looking forward to seeing Reboot...because I enjoyed Strike Back so much.

The last thing I wrote on my notepad regarding Strike Back was "And we're back!" I intended that statement to be a summation as to how I perceived Smith's movies before I started watching them. I thought of them as only movies like Mallrats and Strike Back. I didn't anticipate how good Chasing Amy was or the kind of out-of-left-field nature of Dogma. As a writer, I'm more than one type of story, just like Smith. I want folks to know that my imagination can and does go in different directions. I appreciate that aspect about Smith's five films to date. Which is good, because I know Tusk and Yoga Hosers is coming.

But up next is Jersey Girl.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 35

Well, summer's at an end. The weather won't agree with that statement, but the calendar says otherwise. It also means we're at the end of Summer Writing, the 97-day bookended time block I touted on Memorial Day.

I didn't do nearly as well as I wanted with fiction writing. Sure I made progress on multiple projects, but I only completed one thing: the short story I submitted for an anthology later this fall. There's a reason Dean Wesley Smith calls this the Time of the Great Forgetting.

But even though the fiction writing faltered, the non-fiction maintained a steady momentum with the blog writing. And there there was the out-of-the-blue moment this past week that has me wondering if I might not also have a non-fiction book in me.

Ask the Question Because You Never Know the Answer

Next weekend, the Son of Houstoncon IV is happening. Long-time readers might remember my write-up for it from 2017. During that review, I commented about seeing one of the giants of fandom and collecting here in Houston. But I didn't spend too much time talking about the guy who resurrected the Houstoncon itself, Don Price.

Earlier this week, a fellow SF book club member emailed me asking if I'd be up for attending Son of Houstoncon IV. I said yes and I sent him the link to my 2017 review. I mentioned I was interested in interviewing Price, but my friend made another point: it would be great to interview all the other long-time collectors who call Houston home.


So, literally throwing the proverbial hail mary, I sent Price an email: would he consider doing an interview? I also bent his ear about something else: what about a book detailing the history of fandom in Houston? I'm a degree historian, a native Houstonian, and a comic book and SF geek. Why not?

Why not indeed.

Price returned with a yes he's up for an interview. He was also interested with the possibility of a book. He's already shared some interesting tidbits on past Houstoncons and a photo. Hopefully, we'll get the interview completed and posted later this coming week leading up to Son of Houstoncon IV on Saturday. Even if things don't work out this week, I think the interview will certainly be on the way.

And I'm already planning on how to approach the other long-time fans and collectors here in Houston. The scope of the project will likely be larger than a novel, but no less doable. I mean, I've written a thesis, so I can do history. This time, it's just closer to home.

Lesson learned: never be afraid to ask. The worst thing could be a 'no,' but just imagine the possibilities of a 'yes.'

Movie Recommendations

Last Saturday, I watched two films. Both are pitch perfect in their chosen genres.

Hobbs and Shaw is a perfect popcorn summer action film.

Olympus Has Fallen is a different kind of thrill ride that left me without any fingernails.

Album of the Week: Midland - Let It Roll

I can’t remember the last time—if ever—I went to the store to buy a brand-new country music CD on the day it came out. But Midland is no typical country band. They are a wonderful throwback to the classic sound of country music from the late 80s/early 90s. This album is fantastic, and I've been listening daily since last weekend.

If you're interested, their website has lots of videos featuring the songs of the new album as well as their 2017 debut.

By the way, it was "Drinkin' Problem" that was the tune that made me sit up and take notice. Have a listen.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Olympus Has Fallen: Not Just Die Hard in the White House

Not sure why I never saw this movie, but hat tip to Ralph Garman for bringing it up. Now, I have zero fingernails.

Last week on the Friday episode of his wonderful podcast The Ralph Report (my review), Garman commented on the third film in the series, Angel Has Fallen, debuting. He and co-host Eddie Pence, chuckled at the name of the main character in this franchise--Mike Banning--as being a typical action film movie name. The little bit made me chuckle, and Garman mentioned he liked the first film. The new movie looked interesting as I have a fondness for the Movies of August so I checked Netflix to see if Olympus Has Fallen. It did. So, I settled in to see "Mike Banning, Secret Service Agent."

The Premise

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a secret service agent to President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart), First Lady Margaret (Ashley Judd), and their son, Connor (Finley Jacobson). They're in a snowstorm at Camp David, but they have to drive somewhere. Never a good idea. There's an accident, and Banning makes the only choice he can: save the president, lose the First Lady.

Eighteen months later, Banning mans a desk. He wants back in but Lynne Jacobs (Angela Bassett) reminds Mike the president doesn't want to be reminded of that night even though Banning made the right choice. All of this is prelude for the terrorist attack on the White House where Banning finds himself on the outside and rushes to the scene.

The Attack

Look, I know it's a movie, but there's something visceral when you see the seat of our government attacked not by aliens but by flesh-and-blood terrorist. Director Antoine Fuqua shows all the Secret Service agents, military personnel, and policemen and women trying in vain to stop the attack. All of them fall, and its sobering. Especially when the bad guys--led by Kang Yeonsak, as played with wily cunning by Bond villain veteran Rick Yune--have an answer to every counterattack. It was during this series of visuals where my fingernails started being assaulted.

As with Air Force One, I was really, really hoping one of the good guys wasn't a traitor. Well, that must be in another movie, because one doesn't cast Dylan McDermott as a Secret Service agent only to get shot. No, he's with the president's detail as he and the South Korean delegation take shelter in the bunker. McDermott's Forbes makes himself known as he and the South Korean  "security detail" reveal themselves and take out the remaining resistance surrounding the president.

Then things get really nasty.

The Ticking Clock

If it wasn't bad enough as a viewer to see the White House attacked and defeated, when the bad guys start torturing the administration officials for the nuclear codes, it gets worse. One always hopes good people can stand up to bad ones, but we're human, and good people always care about one another. It is brutal, and the acting is fantastically believable.

What's also scary are the reactions to all the folks outside the bunker when they realize that the particular nuclear codes are being entered. There's absolutely no way to stop it from the outside. They can only watch.

But they have a man inside: Banning has entered the White House, and into a certain type of film.

Die Hard in the White House

Look, if we're being honest, that is what this film is about. One man against a team of bad guys and he has to do what he can. It starts with finding the president's son and getting him out. Because if the terrorist capture his son, the president will give in. Any parent would, no matter if he or she is the president or not.

As a writer, I was already imagining where this was going. But...and spoilers if you've not seen it...Banning finds Connor and he escapes unharmed! He climbed up through an air shaft and had to watch the shadows of Banning killing a guy. Then, in pure tough-guy-as-likeable-'big brother' type, Banning just says it was a false alarm and for Connor to continue. Even though I was watching this show by myself, I literally uttered a "Yes!" and pumped my fist. The wave of calmness that swept over me was visceral. And it's just a movie.

But isn't that what is supposed to happen? It did when I watched the new movie Hobbs and Shaw this year (on the same day in fact). Or Avengers. Or Mission Impossible: Fallout. Or name any other movie for which I've written a review. The feels--whether happiness, sadness, sorrow, love, or excitement--is why we watch movies.

As much as I enjoyed the "Die Hard in the White House" aspect, there was still a doubt in my head and fingernails to be chewed. I knew the nuclear codes would be turned off. Why? Because we have sequels, and the previews for the new movie, Angel Has Fallen, doesn't take place in a post-nuclear America. But what it does show is Morgan Freeman as the president. In Olympus Has Fallen, Freeman is Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull. He's brought in when both the president and vice president are captured (and the VP is killed). Trumbull is the acting president in Olympus...and he's president in Angel Has Fallen...and I didn't want to look at the synopsis of the middle film, London Has Fallen, but something happens to where Trumbull is elevated to the top job.

Speaking of that, what's up with the poster? This is Butler's movie with Eckhart as the president. Why does Freeman get center billing?

Would Aaron Eckhart's President Asher make it out of Olympus alive? Well, thankfully for this movie and this viewer, he does. Because of bad ass Mike Banning. Just like Bruce Willis's character in Die Hard and Harrison Ford in Air Force One and others, Banning's not without injury and pain. But he does what he must to save the president and save the world.

Because he's [assume that deep, baritone movie trailer voice] Mike Banning, Secret Service Agent.

Man, I thoroughly enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen, despite the beating my nails took. It's an action film, sure, and its one using a template we've had for over thirty years. But this one is different. It's a sobering reminder that there are men and women out there who's sole job it is to protect the president, our governmental institutions, and our country. It's something each of us should never take for granted.

I'll seek out London Has Fallen soon so I can catch Angel Has Fallen in theaters. Olympus Has Falled is very much recommended.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

I Finally Watched Dogma

Introduction to the series
Clerks review
Mallrats review
Chasing Amy review

Well, a downturn was inevitable. How else does one explain Kevin Smith's often self-deprecating sense of humor about his own work?

Now, let me admit something: I wrote that opening line before I had finished the movie. Which is a way of saying I enjoyed the ending, but largely didn't enjoy the movie preceding it.


Based purely on Smith's on stage persona and the type of guy he is in the podcasts I listen to, going into the Kevin Smith filmography, I had a certain expectation about what his movies were like. As I've mentioned in my reviews of Mallrats and Chasing Amy, those expectations were torn asunder with what I got on screen.

With the wildly divergent kinds of movies the initial three films of Smith's are, I had nothing in the way of knowing what to expect with Dogma (1999), his fourth film. It didn't land on my radar in 1999. I don't even remember hearing about it. The only thing I knew about this film was the presence of Jay and Silent Bob and Alan Rickman.

The Cast

Over the years, and especially when Rickman died in 2016, Smith has talked reverently about the actor. I was very curious to hear and watch Rickman deliver some Smith-penned dialogue. In every scene in which he appeared, Rickman was stellar.

Well, truth be told, most of the cast was pretty good. Ben Affleck (Bartleby) and Matt Damon (Loki) are fallen angels looking to get back into heaven via a loophole in the holy law. Seeing and hearing them deliver Smith dialogue was mostly good, but only in the smaller moments. Like on the bus when the pair see a couple making out and Loki predicts--correctly--that they are not married. I enjoyed seeing them take their road trip from Wisconsin to New Jersey, but some of the banter was just off.

Linda Fiorentino as Bethany Sloane,  an abortion clinic counselor, is pretty good, especially when she comes across with the gruff, seen-it-all sensibility. She's a perfect foil to Jay and Silent Bob, especially while keeping her squeamishness about Jay at bay. It was interesting to see her transformation from skeptic to believer by the end of the film. 

Jason Lee is back as a demon, and he's brought along three hockey-stick welding demons (sub-demons? Lieutenant demons?) to help him. He doesn't have as much dialogue as he did in Mallrats or Chasing Amy, but it's always a joy to see him on screen speaking Smith's dialogue.

Jay and Silent Bob as Prophets?

Which brings me to Jay and Silent Bob. They make their on-screen appearance saving Bethany from the triplet demons in such a way that I initially thought they were going to be transformed into super heroes. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. They're still just their same old selves. But Bob, at the end, gets some emotional heft, a nice change to the character who uttered some fantastic bits of life advice in Clerks and Chasing Amy.

Speaking of Silent Bob, um, speaking, I knew exactly what he was going to say right before he said, "No ticket." When it comes to Bob's dialogue, I guess it's the inverse of the Star Trek films: great wisdom in the odd-numbered films; jokes in the even-numbered ones.

The Ending

So I kind of struggled to watch most of the movie leading up to the ending. I liked bits and pieces of the film along the way, but it didn't seem to add up to a whole.

The ending, however, worked wonders for me. Really, really enjoyed it. By ending, I'm talking about the part when God, as played by Alanis Morissette, shows up on screen. Loved that she didn't talk, leaving Metatron to translate for the mortals and immortals. It serves the point not to get inside God's head because we humans can never comprehend God's thoughts. We will only understand once we shed these mortal coils and enter into heaven.

Then, after seeing all the death and destruction brought on by Loki and Bartleby, the camera zooms in to her face and then back out again. All is well. All evidence of the carnage is gone. Everything is back to normal. Peace has been restored.

But Bethany, who martyred herself, is still dead. Her lifeless body carried by Bob, who is opening crying. God walks over and, with a smile, heals Bethany, bringing her back to life.

I really liked this interpretation of the Almighty, especially in a film so unabashedly irreverent.

Kevin Smithims

First mention, if I remember correctly, of Hetero Life Mate.

The Verdict

The ending, alas, was not enough for me to enjoy the film as a whole. Like with Clerks, maybe I'm too old to get this. Maybe my own faith leads me to see the world differently. Don't get me wrong: I wasn't offended by what happened in the film or what was said. I just see the faithful life more like what God does in the end of the film rather than all the legalistic dialogue spoken by various characters. Damon and Affleck do a great job at pointing out all the flaws of humanity in their trek from Wisconsin to New Jersey. I know these kinds of things happen all the time and it sure would be nice to live in a world where sin was vanquished.

But we're human. We are imperfect. Perfection exists on a different plane, in heaven. Hopefully, we'll get there. In the meantime, we'll have to deal with all the crap we have to deal with down here on earth, always striving to remain vigilant and do the best we can.

In his first three films, Kevin Smith took on pop culture, life, love, and relationships. I enjoyed them all, each in their own way. With Dogma, he turned his focus on religion. Frankly, it surprised me. I would like to know why. Was it his Catholic school upbringing? Did he have some lingering stuff to deal with and Dogma was the way to deal? I'm genuinely curious because in the credits for these four films, Smith thanks God in all of them. Clearly Smith is a believer and knows from whence his talent is derived.

No matter why he made Dogma, I appreciate that he did. Clearly it's not the film for me, but that's okay. An artist should be free to follow whatever muse he wants, and Smith wanted to make Dogma. He did. Some liked it, some didn't. Perhaps more people didn't, and that's why his next film was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Let's see what happens.