Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Minor Rant on Violence

I've got what ended up being a minor rant about violence in our stories over at Do Some Damage today. It's not what I intended to write about when I started the essay, but that's how it ended.

Take a read and let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Forgotten Music: January 2011 - The Summary

Well, it seems the gang got along just fine without me. But I'll be back with an entry next month.

Bill Crider - Calypso
Iren - Pushing Daisies Soundtrack
Jerry House - Two Jimmies
Randy Johnson - Rawlins Cross
George Kelley - Tammi Terrel
Evan Lewis - Lightnin' Hopkins
Todd Mason - Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
Charlie Ricci - Fanny
Perplexio - John Barry (Themependium)
Paul D. Brazill - Manu Dibango

Well, I don't think I made any errors. Thanks to all who participated today. And let's try to wrangle some more folks into our little project.

Until the last Thursday of February (24th)...

Forgotten Music: January 2011

I'm writing this in a haze of the flu crud and the over-the-counter meds I'm taking to make the crud go away. Thus, I don't have an entry today.

But our stalwart regulars do. Here's the usual. As always, if I missed someone (or if someone joins in for the first time), I'll add you to the summary.


Bill Crider
Eric (Iren)
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Charlie Ricci
Paul D. Brazill

(Think I got this all correct. Apologies in advance if I screwed up on a link. I'll fix it later.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Forgotten Music: January 2011 - Call for Entries

Just to remind everyone, we've got our first Forgotten Music Thursday for 2011. Post on your blog and let me know if you're playing.

And, more importantly, I'd like to call out an initiative for 2011: Bring in more participants. If anyone you know wants to do one, just give them my blog address and email address. I'll put them on the list. We will expand our offerings in 2011 and make it a global phenomenon!

Overlooked Movies: They Were Expendable (1945)

"They Were Expendable" (1945) is a terrific film by John Ford and starring Robert Montgomery and John Wayne. It tells the story of a PT boat squad in the Philippines starting December 1941 and moving through the next year. Montgomery is the captain and Wayne the executive officer. The squad starts the picture with five boats (IIRC) and is trying to convince US Navy brass that the PT boat is a good fit for wartime activities, not merely ferrying messages back and forth.

As any student of history knows, the same day Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Japanese also attacked the Philippines. You get a sense of dread during the opening minutes of the film because you know (as well as the audiences in 1945 knew) what was about to happen. As the attack happened, Montgomery ordered his boats out of the docks in Manila Bay, away from Japanese dive bombers. His instincts proved true as his squad was the only boats still operating after the attack. I'm not sure if there were any conspiracy theories about FDR and Pearl Harbor by 1945 (that is, he intentionally kept our ships in port to provoke an attack and, thus, get the US into the war) but you could certainly see Montgomery's actions as such.

A good historical point made in the film was with Donna Reed. Not here, per se, but in the scenes, later in the film, with the officers of Montgomery's crew. When she came to dine with them--she a nurse still dressed in a one-piece khaki suit--the men stared at her googly eyed. You see, once our boys shipped over seas, most of them rarely saw an American woman. As one of the veterans said in Ken Burns' excellent "The War" series, the men sometimes had to be reminded what they were fighting for. When a woman, especially an American, found her way into camp for whatever reason, the men remembered all that they needed to know.

That the movie takes place in the Philippines during 1941-42, I kept thinking "How can this picture end on a good note?" Most of the war pictures made during the war served the dual role of propaganda and moral booster. I was hard pressed to see how they were going to pull this one off, especially as the film wore on and the PT boat squad was ground down, boat by boat and man by man. Montgomery's crew got to see some action, none more perilous than taking none other than General Douglas MacArthur to an island with an air strip and, then onto Australia.

The closing shot of the film with the words flashed on screen and the stirring music are worth the price of the film. According to IMDB, the film was released in December 1945, less than four months after the war ended.

Another historical aspect I appreciated with the film is how the characters operated under the giant machinery of war. Each man knew he was but a mere cog. Some cogs are more important than others and all the characters seemed resigned to their fate. There's a great, yet somber, scene with Montgomery and a superior officer. The officer explains what's what and the meaning of sacrifice (in the baseball sense). The true meaning of his words is not lost on Montgomery, the superior officer, or the viewing audience. Indeed, as the film ends, you don't know the fates of all the characters, something I found perfect for a film like this.

On the back of the DVD case, Leonard Maltin comments that this movie is one of the best all-time war movies ever made. I'm inclined to agree with him.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: "Pi" (1998)

(Todd Mason is jumpstarting the Tuesday's Overlooked Movies (and other A/V) Project started a few years back. I decided to join in on the fun. Check his blog for the complete rundown of today's participants.)

Let's get one thing straight: Pi (1998) is one weird-ass mind trip of a film and it's not for everyone. However, it's one of my favorite indie movie and a dang good SF film.

And Chevy Chase's Gerald Ford can rest easy: there's really not a lot of math in this movie.

Max Cohen is a reclusive, paranoid math genius cursed with headaches who knows--just friggin' knows!--that there are patterns in nature that follow certain mathematical precepts. Here are his assumptions: 1. Mathematics is the language of nature. 2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. 3. If you graph these numbers, patterns emerge. Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature.

The thing he's trying to solve is the stock market. He's doing this for the joy of discovery, not for monetary rewards, as he yells at another character later in the film. To help him analyze patterns, Max has built a gigantic supercomputer, named Euclid, in his New York apartment. After a particularly trying day, Euclid crashes but not before spitting out a 216-character number and a single stock pick. Pissed off because the stock pick just can't be correct, Max throws away the printout of the number. Later, he meets with his former teacher and mentions the 216-digit number. The teacher, Sol, gets immediately interested. Max then learns that the stock pick Euclid predicted was accurate...but he can't find the printout.

Soon, he meets Lenny, a Hasidic Jew, who also is into number theory as it pertains to the Torah. Remember the Bible Code from a decade ago? Same thing. Basically, every letter in Hebrew corresponds to a number. Thus, the Torah is both a written document and a large series of numbers from which patterns can emerge. Lenny wants Max's help and he agrees. Add into the mix some shady types (who may or may not be criminal or governmental) and Max is seeing spies everywhere he looks. In order to rebuild Euclid, Max takes from the shady types a new super microprocessor. He turns on the computer and starts analyzing the Torah. Again, Euclid crashes and again it produces a 216-digit number. Since the computer won't let him print, Max starts writing down the number...and finds a pattern.

Here's the key: according to tradition, the true name of God is a 216-letter word. Max's teacher, Sol, thinks that Euclid became sentient and, in that moment, the computer saw the Almighty. Lenny's Hasidic group wants the number because they want to reverse the code and find the true name of God. The shady types want Max to help them do evil things. Max just wants to be left alone.

Filmed in black and white, this is Darren Aronofsky's first film. Most of the tropes and film techniques he uses in subsequent films (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler) are evident here. To be honest, the black and white noir touches make this film. The paranoia Max experiences is heightened by the shadows and the fear of what truly lies in the darkness. It's brilliant. And there are some genuinely weird moments in this film (a brain in a subway that seems to be connected to Max’s psychosis) that would make Salvador Dali proud. Another noir trait is Max's self destruction as he spirals downward into madness. I make it sound light--it really isn't--but in this film, I love it.

The electronica score by Clint Mansell (in addition to songs by Orbital, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack, and others) adds to the weirdness. Coming out a year before the Matrix soundtrack, this was a major entry point for me to electronica and I've followed some of the artists in the decade since. Mansell later scored the music for the Duncan Jones movie, Moon (2009), and he vividly captured the loneliness and isolation of the lunar surface using only a piano.

I originally saw this film when I was dating my future wife. She hated the film at the time and has successfully resisted every invitation to re-watch the DVD (yeah, I bought it and have watched the DVD at least five times). I think what really strikes home with me is the nature of God as portrayed in the movie and how we humans can get but a glimpse of the beauty and order of the universe (and God?) via mathematics. It's an awe-inspiring concept and is the touchstone for this great film.

Here's the trailer.
Here's the official site (oddly still active 13 years after the movie's release)

P.S. bonus points to you, the reader, if you noticed the time stamp on this post.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Joelle Charbonneau Answers *That* Question

You know the one: How did you come to write this book?

Patti Abbott has started a series over at her blog that asks this question of various authors. If I wasn't already a regular reader of Patti's blog, I'd have started just to read this series. Today, she has lassoed my fellow Do Some Damage scribe, Joelle Charbonneau, into answering this question about "Skating Around the Law," her debut novel. Head on over to Patti's blog to find out Joelle's answer.

And, as I wrote in the comments section on Patti's blog, I am less that 100 pages from the end of of this book. I'll review it in full once I'm done. As of now, however, I can say that this book is very entertaining and downright fun. And, since I still don't know whodunnit*, I can say that the mystery aspect of it is well crafted.

*Last night, I might have an idea of the culprit. We shall see...

Monday, January 10, 2011

"The Cape" - A Review

After a lengthy marketing campaign--could not watch Sunday Night Football without seeing at least four commercials for it--NBC’s “The Cape” premiered last night. In the little bit I read about the before the debut, I knew that it was going to wear its comic book self squarely on its sleeve, or, rather, its cape. (Yeah, I know. Couldn’t resist.) Taking the show for what it is--live-action comic book based on no existing comic book character--I enjoyed two hours of fun.

Right off the bat, we learn that the action takes place in Palm City. For all the neatness of the Marvel Comics universe existing in our world, “The Cape” took a page from DC Comics--Gotham City, Metropolis, Star City--with a fictional, west coast city. I liked the vagueness of the town’s name. It could be anywhere.

Now that it’s 2011, there is almost no new origin story for a super-hero and The Cape has your standard issue protagonist. Vince Faraday, good cop in a corrupt town, can’t save the new chief of police from being murdered by a villain named Chess. Played by James Frain (The Tudors; “24”), Chess is a masked criminal mastermind (is there any other kind?) out to wreck havoc on Palm City. His alter ego, Peter Fleming, runs a private police service. With the chief’s murder, Fleming’s company, Ark, moves in a takes over. And promptly captures Faraday, puts him in Chess’s mask, and sends him out to be captured and killed.

Except Faraday survives and is saved by, wait for it, a band of circus people who are also bank robbers. (This is the point where, if you haven’t figured it out by now, you need to check your brain at the door. It’ll only get in the way.) The ringleader is Max Malini, played by everyone’s favorite voice actor, Keith David. Faraday wants revenge on Fleming, to clear his name, and rejoin his family. Max just wants to kill Faraday. They strike a deal: Faraday hands over a passcard with the codes of all the banks in Palm City and Max teaches him the fine art of deception.

Whereas Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl to scare bad guys, Faraday dresses up as The Cape to send a message to his son, Trip. The boy loves to read a comic book that features, yes, The Cape. Faraday can’t out-and-out see his son, but he can do the next best thing. He even makes an appearance to the young man. Thankfully, the boy is only comic book smart otherwise he’d have figured out that The Cape is really his dad, especially after the hero tells the boy to mind his math homework. I’m predicting now that young Trip already knows.

The bad guys are here, too. Chess, mask wearing criminal leader, Scales, the Russian-type dude with bad skin, Cain, the poison-making former chef, and the previews of future episodes promise new opponents. Other than the circus crew, The Cape has an ally in Orwell, played by Summer Glau. Basically, she’s what Barbara Gordon (original Batgirl) is now: a computer whiz who can help The Cape get information. Or she’s Alfred. Just don’t call her a sidekick...yet.

“The Cape” breaks almost no new ground here but its devilishly fun. The special effects are kept to a minimum. Faraday makes numerous mistakes as he tries to become a super hero. And there’s some humor in there. More than one character who learns the name of the new vigilante pauses. A store owner who had The Cape prevent a robbery calls after the hero “You’re still working on it,” a not-too-subtle jab at the name. Later, when a capeless Cape (just go with it) tells a new ally his nom-de-plume, the ally points out the obvious fact: “But you’re not wearing a cape.” Made me chuckle.

And the entire show just made me grin. It’s pure comic book fun. Don’t think. Just enjoy.

The two-hour premiere is running again tonight and next week the show lands in its usual time slot of Mondays at 8pm CST. That’s right before “Castle” for those of y’all scoring at home. My Monday nights, already great with my favorite show of the week, just got a little more exciting.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

New year, new layout, new resolutions

I decided to shake things up here and give my blog a new coat of paint. I've written about my professional resolutions over at Do Some Damage today. But, so that my personal blog will have a record of it, I'll re-post them here:
  • Reading resolution for 2011: read more than seven new books.
  • Short story resolution for 2011: write more than two stories and submit them.
  • Novel resolution for 2011: finish my second novel by Bouchercon in September.
Simple, easy, measurable. Now, comes the hard part: doing them.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sherlock Holmes

Ring 157 candles on a huge cake, folks, because today's is Sherlock Holmes's birthday. Don't believe me? Here's the proof. And, as I did last year, James Reasoner has posted a review of the excellent graphic novel, "The Trial of Sherlock Holmes." He enjoyed it as much as I did.

Time for a sequel, Dynamite Comics...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book Review Club: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

(This is the January 2011 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

I think that, for most of us readers, devouring books is a way of life. It’s why we writers do book reviews once a month here with Barrie. We talk about books, we live with books. For some of us, books are our best friends.

But we’re adults. We’ve had years to cultivate the love of reading. What prompts a young person to read? For some of us, we can remember exactly what book that opened our eyes to the power and rapture of reading. Others may have only a vague memory of some distant book in the past that was The One. Rarely, however, am I present at the creation as I was late last year when my boy picked up Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

I’ve been aware of these books from a distance. I saw them at bookstores and thought little of them. I wasn’t even tempted to thumb through one. But then my boy was loaned a copy of the first book and, soon, he was hounding me to find the second book. Read in four days. And then the third. Read in two days. By middle December, when my parents suggested that they could purchase books four and five for Christmas, I told them not to bother. He’ll be done before Christmas Eve. And he was.

When my boy was sick last month, I read part of Book 5 aloud to him and I found myself laughing out loud at many of the passages. Being the type of person I am, I told my boy that I’d read the books but I had to read them in order, starting with book one.

Most of y’all know the story of Greg Heffley, sixth grader. In an effort for him to get in touch with his feelings, his mom bought him a *journal*, not a diary, thank you very much. Yes, he knows that the word “diary” is printed on the cover, but that does not change the fact that he’s writing in a Journal. He hopes to use it in the future when he’s famous and all the reporters want to know what his childhood was like. Clearly, Greg is thinking ahead.

Through text entries and line art, author Kinney channels his inner middle-schooler. Greg has to put up with a tormenter of an older brother (Rodrick), a younger brother that can do no wrong in the eyes of his parents (Manny), and his parents who seem to want Greg to be, well, like them, the best that I can tell. Then there’s Rowley, his best friend. Mentally, he’s still a kid in elementary school, still wanting to “play” rather than “hang out,” and takes abuse at the hands of Greg throughout the book.

What comes through in the book (as well as the movie; yes, I’ve seen it, too) is a theme: being yourself is the only way to be. Greg tries and tries to be cool and get himself noticed--joins the wrestling team; submits cartoons for the school paper; becomes a member of the safety patrol. He usually fails miserably or, in a self-serving way, gets others in trouble. Rowley is comfortable just being himself, and he wins accolades. Greg can’t figure it out, the truth just skirting his consciousness even through the last sentence of the book.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is nothing without the illustrations. They make the book. There’s a sublimeness to the simple art in the same way as the illustrations in Ian Falconer’s Olivia books. Sure, the drawings are supposed to be made by a sixth grader, but there is so much more to them than pencil and paper. Even if you only looked at the pictures, you’ll get the story. But it’s the interplay of text and illustration that make this book special. And dang funny.

My boy likes to play library with his books. Like a good collector, he has all the Wimpy Kid books lined up on the shelf. Not coincidentally, there’s an empty space where book #2 should be. Um, gotta go now. I have another book to read...

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wild West eMonday

Gary Dobbs, over at the Tainted Archive, is again hosting Wild West Monday. It's an initiative to bring to the public's mind the idea that the western, that quintessential American genre, is alive and well. He's bringing the project into the 21st Century today by dubbing the event "eMonday." He talks up all the ways the western is making inroads into the ebook marketplace.

But if that wasn't enough, Edward Granger (nee David Cranmer) has a new Cash Laramie short story titled "Melanie." I think it's one of the best to date. It behooves you to head on over to the Tainted Archive, catch up on what's been going on with westerns, and read the latest Cash Laramie story. It'll make your Monday start off well.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 17 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

The season's over.
Week One was Cloud Nine. This week
Was euthanasia.

Barring a firing
"Wait 'til next year" sounds hollow.
So tired of "Next Year."

Appreciate the
Owner standing by his man.*
Only wins now, team.

T'was a weird season.
Foster's the man! Schaub's on fire.
Way too much heartache.

Wade's got a huge task.*
Only place to go is up.
Dare we try to hope...?

Jacksonville Jaguars - 17
Houston Texans - 34

*Based on the rumors that Gary Kubiak will remain as head coach and Wade Phillips will be hired as the defensive coordinator. As of this writing, it's not official.

Until next year...