Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Short Fiction - Mine

by James Wayland

“What?  You’re not scared, are you?’
“No.”  This was a question that no twelve-year old could answer honestly.
“Then come on, it’ll be fun.  We might even get some shit.”
Tyree chewed his lip, struggling with a difficult decision.  For a few years now he had yearned for a chance to hang out with his idols, Wayne and Timmy, the neighborhood hooligans, but he didn’t find breaking and entering exciting.  He was scared shitless.  If his dad knew where he was and what he was considering, he wouldn’t be able to sit without discomfort for a couple of days just for mulling it over.
Wayne had let Timmy do the talking up to this point, but now he took over.  “I don’t think he’s got it in him.” 
“No,” Tyree said at last, unwilling to back down.  “I’m cool.  Let’s do it.”
            They were farther out Blackberry Lane than the newcomer to the trio had ever ventured on his own.  The shrubbery and the moss-draped trees that curled overhead overwhelmed the old dirt road, casting twisted shadows on the three restless kids.  The boys were definitely out in the sticks--all of their phones and gadgets had stopped receiving a worthwhile signal some time ago.  They had passed two abandoned homes in various states of decay already, but the older boys had already “picked those ninnies clean,” as Wayne put it.
            He went on to brag about the ten bucks he had gotten for an old television at a pawn shop and an ancient stack of porno mags he had found in a closet on one of these outings.  Timmy had settled for an album collection he found in the attic, a heaping stack of records with offerings from Black Sabbath and The Doors.
            “Who knows what we’ll find this time?”  Timmy was anxious to get inside the old place and start scavenging. 
            “Calm down,” Wayne said coolly, a confident smirk shaping his ruby red lips.  “We’re getting there.  This is the kid’s first time on the job and we’ve still got a little walking to do before we get to our next score.  I say we light up and let go.”
            Timmy laughed and proffered a pack of Marlboros.  He had gotten a wino to buy them for him at the local Z-Mart. 
            Tyree’s heart began to beat faster.  He had never smoked a cigarette before.  This was so cool.  What if they found something really neat in there?  Maybe there would be some old comic books or baseball cards somewhere.  He suddenly found himself looking forward to this curious endeavor.
            Wayne lit his cigarette and Timmy did likewise, passing the pack and a black lighter to their new accomplice.  Tyree clumsily lit his cigarette and took a deep drag, immediately gagging and falling prey to a wicked coughing fit.  The other boys were laughing and he felt like his lungs were on fire. 
            “Easy now, little man,” Wayne chuckled.  “Just get a little at a time, all right?  Patience is a virtue.”
            “Yeah,” Timmy concurred.  “Try it again.”
            When he felt he was able, Tyree inhaled a small portion of the pungent smoke; tasting it on his tongue and feeling it grate his throat as he sucked it into his lungs.  It was awful, there was nothing good about it.  Somehow he struggled through the rest of the wretched smoke, smiling and pretending to enjoy it as his peers seemed genuinely impressed.  After what seemed like an eternity, Tyree dropped his cigarette butt to the ground and used his heel to grind it into the dirt.  That was the only part of smoking that he enjoyed.
            Shortly thereafter, they finally reached a place the boys hadn’t explored.   Tyree stopped, a sudden sense of unease gripping them.  This house looked like bad news.
“Come on,” Wayne said, nudging him ahead.
They slowly marched toward the decaying home that sagged before them, slumping beneath a loathsome burden of vine and mold.  There was a bad smell surrounding the place, a bitter aroma that was damp and earthy.
            Wayne took the lead, trying the door just to see if it was unlocked.  It wasn’t, but that wasn’t a problem.  He used his driver’s license to open it and the door swung open, the hinges creaking from lack of use.  The odor was worse inside and the interior was hot and humid.  All three were struck by how uncomfortable the old house was as soon as they were inside and the feeling grew tenfold when the door hissed shut behind them.
            “Man, this place is the pits,” Timmy muttered, wincing as he gazed around at the rampant rot and mildew that covered the walls and the uncertain flooring beneath them.
            “I don’t know about this,” Tyree said, carefully thinking things over.  This was stupid.  “Anything we find here is gonna be ruined.”
            “No,” Wayne corrected him.  “Anything we find here is gonna be really old and maybe really valuable.”
            “I don’t like this shithole one bit,” Timmy chimed in.  “I’d rather kiss a fat girl on the ass than start rummaging through this place.  Shit, we might get lice just from being close to this dump.”
            Wayne sighed.  “Quit stoking your puss and let’s see if there’s anything here or not, okay?  We’re already inside, and that’s the hard part.”
            “All right, but let’s do it quick.  It’s not like we’re gonna get anything good.”  Timmy conceded, but he did so with a smoldering glare.
            Now Wayne was more determined than ever to find something.  There had to be something.
            He set off, leading them through room after room, canvassing the first floor of the old house and finding nothing.  The other boys were right; anything that might have been of interest—like that old stereo in the den—was gone to shit.  The whole place stank and there was water dripping from the ceiling and pooling up in the floor in various places.  It was like something out of a horror movie.
            “I don’t think we’re gonna find anything,” Tyree declared.  It was a sentiment he would have liked to express five minutes ago, but he was worried about looking scared in front of his new chums.
            “The kid’s right,” Timmy readily agreed.
            “We haven’t seen what’s upstairs yet,” Wayne countered.  “Anything up there would be in better shape.”
            “Something up there is leaking,” Tyree interjected.
            “No shit.  Aren’t you curious about that?”
            “I’m not curious about anything here.  This place stinks and there’s nothing worth taking, so we’re just spinning our wheels.”
            “I wanna know what’s upstairs, kiddo, and you’re coming with me.  You’re both coming with me.  Right, Timmy?”
            Timmy swallowed hard.  He didn’t like this place any more than their new running mate, but he didn’t have the nerve to stand up to his bullish friend.  “Yeah, but come on, let’s do it already.  I wanna get outta here too.”
            Wayne led them to the crooked staircase that disappeared into the darkness above.  The windows on either side of the landing looming before them were covered with something—newspaper perhaps, but it was impossible to tell.  It was too dark to make out anything.
            “No way,” Tyree said after a single glance upward. 
            “Don’t be such a geek,” Wayne said, trying to sound tough even though a little tremor had crept into his voice.  “We’re going upstairs and then we’re gonna get out of here.”
            Tyree shook his head.  “Nope.  There’s no we about it.  You guys have fun.  I’m out.” 
            “If you’re out of this one, you’ll never be in on another one,” Wayne threatened.
            “Well, it was real swell rolling with you fellas.”  Tyree started walking and never looked back.  Seconds later, the door slammed closed behind him.
            “Stupid little prick,” Wayne spat.  “What does he know?”
            Timmy didn’t say anything.
            “Let’s do it, then.  Let’s grab some shit and get out of here.”  Wayne dug a lighter out of his pocket and started up the stairs.
            Timmy reluctantly followed, unearthing a lighter of his own and putting it to use, feeling like a complete jackass the whole time.  They crept into the gloom, their lighters good for no more than a three-foot circle of flickering light.  There were only three rooms, one on either side of the rise and one centered at the rear. 
Wayne tried the door to the right and it swung open, revealing a putrid bathroom coated in mold and grime, host to a foul stench that was impossible to ignore.  There was an inch or so of water in the floor and a steady drip from beneath the sink.  Thick black slime was leaking from the base of the toilet, and large brown cockroaches were running all over the mildewed walls.
            “The hell with that,” Wayne hissed, slamming the door and marching across to the one on the opposite side of the rise.
            “This is stupid, man, there ain’t nothing here,” Timmy protested.  He was sick and tired of this shit, Tyree had been right to get the hell out of this rotten place.  Timmy wanted to be outside with him.
            “You never know until you try,” Wayne said as he thrust the door before him open.  His eyes immediately lit up.  “See what I mean.”
The room before them wasn’t nearly as dirty as the others, but it was a far cry from clean. The window was uncovered, so they didn’t need their lighters to see in the enclosure, but the glass had not been cleaned and the dust that had gathered on the panes dampened the light.  It was a child’s room, or at least it had been once.  There were tattered stuffed animals and ragged clothes all over the floor and a pile of something neither teen could discern lying on the bed.  The closet door was open, revealing a few weathered cardboard boxes filled with battered toys. 
            The pile on the bed moved.  “What the hell was that?”  Timmy wondered.  He sounded terrified.
“I don’t know,” Wayne said matter-of-factly.  “Maybe there are rats in that pile of shit.” 
“Come on.”  Wayne led Timmy closer for a better look despite Timmy’s labored pleas that they leave.  There was something large shrouded in cloth on the bed, a misshapen sack or something, and before it was some kind of an antique doll that looked like a superhero.  The figure was the size of a Barbie Doll and its costume and cape were actually made of cloth.  It was in pretty good shape and it was obviously something collectible, so Wayne grabbed it.  The mysterious object shifted again and the two boys jumped back.
            “Shit,” Timmy whispered through clenched teeth, his sphincter tightening and his heart pounding like a jackhammer.  “What the hell is that?  The whole thing moved, man, the whole thing.  Rats my ass!”
            And it was still moving.
            “Let’s get out of here,” Wayne said, backpedaling with the doll in his grasp.
            Then the misshapen object turned into the light and they could see what it was, a horribly deformed figure, massive and monstrous, its skin a mottled shade of pink so alien that the thing appeared anything but human.  The cover slid free as the behemoth rose, its bulging eyes falling on the intruders who had violated its sanctuary. 
            “Holy Christ!”  Timmy turned and fled, running for the door with a wail.
            Wayne was so terrified that he couldn’t move.  Things like this weren’t supposed to happen, this wasn’t how it was supposed to go.  This was all wrong.
            The monstrosity saw the toy in his hand and roared, spittle flying from its horrid maw, showing him its fleshy gums and the spindly green teeth that lined its crooked jaw.
            “Mine,” it bellowed, rushing toward Wayne and bringing him down with a single vicious swat.
            There was a moist crunch as Timmy rushed through the door and into the hallway beyond.  He was turning toward the stairs when the only door in the house that he and his friend had not invaded banged open directly behind him.  Something was coming his way, but here it was too dim to make anything out, so the horrified teen spun, thumbed his lighter and brought forth a flame.  Timmy’s efforts illuminated another monstrosity running straight at him, this one three times the size of the creature squatting over Wayne. 
The giant knocked Timmy to his stomach and his head rolled to the side.  He found himself staring at what remained of his best friend in the bedroom they had defiled.  The monster that sat atop Wayne in that wretched space gave Timmy a warm smile and began scooping dripping handfuls of Wayne’s brains out of his shattered cranium and cramming them into its twisted mouth.
“Mine,” the thing bellowed a second time, taking hold of the doll and running back to the bed where they had found it.  As the larger monstrosity went to work and Timmy’s suffering began, the other abomination curled into a ball and began singing to its favorite toy.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Blade (1998)

I'm not sure that Blade gets enough love these days.  I hear people talking about the number of box office hits that are based on comic book properties, and many seem to think that either the X-Men or Spider-Man really got things rolling for Marvel.  I have to disagree.  It was Wesley Snipes at his charismatic and ass-kicking best, looking cool and killing lots and lots of vampires in Blade.  Having recently sat down to rewatch this 1998 smash hit, I can tell you that it still has a lot of bite.  Snipes is perfect as the titular hero, and I feel bad for whoever is picked to fill his shoes when the inevitable reboot of this potent franchise arrives.  Kris Kristofferson borrows a page from the "cranky Nick Nolte" playbook and nails the part of our hero's gruff mentor, while Stephen Dorff shines as the villain.  The direction courtesy of Stephen Norrington is damn impressive, and the script by David S. Goyer is surely one of his better offerings.  Blade is an exciting blend of horror and action with a nice helping of martial arts mayhem.  In the years since it was produced, we've seen a number of horror/action hybrids hit the big screen.  I don't think that any of them are as entertaining as Blade, though the first Underworld comes close to rivaling this stellar picture.  Blade is a badass movie that is aging well and I am happy to recommend it to those who enjoy my blog.

Final Grade: A
Wesley Snipes is at his very best in Blade.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Random Cool Shit - Lalo Schifrin's Riff on the Jaws Theme

The theme for Jaws is one of the baddest themes ever to emerge from the depths of the cinema.  Yet it is a bit simplistic and it has earned its reputation more for being brutally effective than by virtue of its technical prowess.  John Williams is a legend and his work with Jaws is badass, but it should be noted that fellow composer Lalo Schifrin (Enter the Dragon, Dirty Harry, Mission Impossible) offered up a dazzling jazz rendition of the theme that is both brutally effective and boldly realized.  Don't take my word for it, though, do yourself a favor and give it a listen here.  You can thank me later.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Short Attention Spane Review - Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)

While Marvel has kicked DC's ass all over the big screen for years now, DC has consistently produced better animated features.  That trend continues with Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, a surprisingly good movie that places Aquaman front and center.  If you just groaned, I feel you.  Aquaman jokes are old hat, and I too initially avoided this one because I just couldn't imagine a tale focused on him being all that good.  Well, I must admit, Throne of Atlantis actually wound up being one of the better animated movies from DC that I've had the pleasure of viewing.  I wouldn't put it up there with a true gem like Flashpoint, but it was highly entertaining.  To be fair, while Aquaman was the man of the hour, the rest of the Justice League were provided with a lot of screen time and therefore this was far from a solo affair.  Batman wound up being the biggest badass in the movie (yawn), but all of the big guns were allowed to shine.  Throne of Atlantis only runs 72 minutes, so it moves at a fast pace and boasts a lot of action and just enough character development to give the piece some weight.  At the end of the day, it felt like the primary thrust of the picture was to welcome Aquaman into the fold and present him as a major player (I reckon that the powers that be at DC aren't big fans of Aquaman jokes) and it certainly managed to do that.  Ideally, Jason Momoa will be able to make an even bigger splash as Arthur Curry when he tackles the role for Zack Snyder.  Regardless, I had a good time with Throne of Atlantis and I think that anyone who likes this type of fare will not be disappointed by it.

Final Grade: B

Color me surprised--Aquaman isn't a total nerd after all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh (from 1973)

I greatly enjoy Joseph Wambaugh's work, but his non-fiction books hit me a lot harder than his fiction.  Truthfully, my favorite fiction novels by this cop-turned-author are titles like The Choirboys and The New Centurions, books which seem to be a bit more authentic than some of his more robust offerings.  It's not that he doesn't write well, and I can see where his more entertaining yarns could represent a much-needed departure from the darker territory he tends to cover in his efforts to chronicle actual events.  Yet there's a potency to his non-fiction that cannot be equaled.  I'm being 100% sincere when I say that I can't imagine any author from any era writing a better account of a crime or the efforts of the police to combat the lesser elements of our society.  His impeccable research, his keen understanding of human nature, and his ability to present such tales from all angles are all downright inspiring.  Few writers can tell such stories with Wambaugh's amazing attention to detail without bogging the prose down.  Like Fire Lover, The Blooding, or my personal favorite, Lines and Shadows, The Onion Field is never anything less than riveting even as it digs deeper and deeper into a sadistic crime and the incredibly complicated trials that followed.  At once a deeply personal tale of loss and guilt, it also stands as a powerful rebuke of the legal process.  Those who feel that the courts are far more interested in the rights and the welfare of criminals will only be further embittered by this haunting tale of a fine system gone mad.  A noble cop is killed in cold blood and the guilt of the responsible parties is never in doubt, yet the efforts of the defense to prolong and even sabotage the ensuing trials transform a burning quest for justice into a genuine fiasco.  Sadly, there are moments when the courtroom proceedings become so absurd that the passages wherein the author details those shenanigans wind up being somewhat comical.  The Onion Field has it all: a wealth of drama, powerful characterizations, and a heartbreaking combination of destiny and tragedy.  It is a remarkable piece of writing that is ripe with emotion and will leave readers asking difficult questions and pondering monumental issues.

Final Grade: A+

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Firefox (1981)

Firefox is another curious entry in Eastwood's filmography.  While no one was better at portraying hardened gunslingers, be they cowboys or cops, he was never opposed to trying his hand at something new and different.  Firefox is a special effects treat from 1981 that stars Clint as a troubled pilot who is thrust into a daring bit of Cold War espionage despite suffering from some serious PTSD.  It seems that the Russians have assembled a visionary aircraft and the U.S. is determined to steal this plane in the name of all that is fair and good.  Surprisingly, while the early stages of the picture lead one to think that this movie won't really take off until Clint gains control of the titular aircraft, it's actually the cat-and-mouse game between Eastwood and the KGB that takes place prior to the big dogfight at the end that makes Firefox worthwhile.  Now, to be fair, once the movie takes to the air, we're treated to some thrilling aerial warfare and the special effects are solid.  It's just that the intense and grim second act of the film is far more riveting and dramatic.  Eastwood directed the film with flair and while there aren't any other major stars in the mix, Firefox is loaded with potent performances.  I thought Warren Clarke was nothing short of sensational as Pavel, a gruff ally who sacrifices everything for Clint's mission even though he doesn't seem all that impressed with Clint himself.  In the end, Firefox isn't typical Eastwood fare, but he does a fine job as the lead.  I like the fact that the character he plays is engaged in a fierce battle with his inner demons as that makes him far more intriguing than most of the dependable heroes featured in similar pictures.  This may not be one of Clint's best efforts, but it's still an exciting motion picture that benefits from his charisma and his passion for filmmaking.

Final Grade: C+

Firefox is a serviceable thriller despite the fact that the events leading up to
Eastwood climbing inside the titular aircraft are far more exciting
than the big finale that ensues once he's in the cockpit.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The Boogens (1981)

Short Attention Span Review: The Boogens (1981)

Warning: I'm giving to give The Boogens a much better grade than it truly deserves.  I'm going to do this because I was entirely too young when I first saw it and it had quite an impact on my impressionable young mind.  In my defense, Stephen King is apparently a big fan of the picture as well, so cheesy rubber monster effects aside, it can't be all that bad.  The Boogens is a creative and well-plotted horror film that generates a great many chills and thrills, particularly in the first two acts.  That's because early on the filmmakers go to great lengths to avoid showing the monsters, and the eerie scenes and jarring moments that they produce toward that end are far more riveting than the big finale that puts the creatures on clear display.  Now, to be fair, the effects in The Boogens aren't terrible.  This isn't Wes Craven's Swamp Thing, after all.  The blood and the various wounds that present themselves are handled well and the monsters benefit from a wild design even if their overall execution is a bit lackluster.  So, the special effects aren't all that special--it's okay, there are a few worthwhile horror films that suffer from that disease and The Boogens still has a lot going for it.  I think James L. Conway did a fantastic job with the direction and the score by Bob Summers is a real winner.  The opening titles sequence is a bit of a minor masterpiece so far as opening titles sequences for obscure horror films go, and I like the cast.  The pace is nice, the atmosphere is tight, and no one would accuse this one of being boring.  The Boogens is a fun picture from my youth that boasts a few good scares.  Honestly, I treasure this movie, and it has to be noted that encountering tales such as this at such an early age surely played a major role in my lifelong fascination with things that go bump in the dark.  If you're looking for a classic monster flick, opt for John Carpenter's The Thing, which sits atop that mountain.  However, if you're in the mood for something fun and kooky, something that will make you jump once or twice and chuckle a lot, heed my advice and hang out with The Boogens.

Final Grade: B

True Story: I'm not sure how old I was when I first watched The Boogens,
but I certainly wasn't old enough for this type of material.   This particular
scene gave me a profound fear of being yanked beneath a vehicle
and devoured by a rubber monster. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: The 13th Warrior (1999)

I've always felt that this was one of those cases where a film with a troubled production was judged as much for the woes the filmmakers encountered during filming as for the picture itself.  While there can be no doubt that the shooting of the movie was anything but routine, the end result is a stirring affair that I greatly enjoy.  I should note a few things just so that we're clear, however, for I may be a bit biased:

1) Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors. 
2) Antonio Banderas is one of my favorite actors.
3) I'm a sucker for movies like this. 

Having said all that, I still think that The 13th Warrior is a nifty film with a number of worthy performances and several exciting setpieces to go along with a gripping plot.  I've been down with Banderas since Desperado and this is one of his most entertaining roles.  He is surrounded by other talented actors who also nail their roles, most notably Vladimir Kulich as Buliwyf and Dennis Storhoi as Herger.  As far as adapting Crichton's neat little take on Beowulf is concerned, this is one of the more faithful efforts to bring this legendary author's work to the big screen that I have seen.  Bonus points: Eaters of the Dead was one of his coolest books.  The 13th Warrior is the story of an exiled Arab who must join forces with a band of rugged northmen as they embark on a journey to lend a besieged kingdom aid from a fearsome menace.  As such, it is packed with action, suspense, and intrigue.  The characters are likable, the enemies are gruesome, and The 13th Warrior races along at a brisk pace.  There's some quality gore in the mix and the realistic yet entertaining approach to the various battles presented throughout is highly effective.  I have read a great many reviews where critics ruthlessly trashed this picture, and I can't help but note that most of those reviews were more interested in the reshoots with Michael Crichton at the helm as opposed to director John McTiernan and the amount of time the film spent on the shelf prior to being released in 1999.  Don't be dissuaded by these critiques, as the movie's complicated making won't impact your ability to enjoy it.  Those who sit down to watch The 13th Warrior are rewarded with a riveting action flick featuring a hardened crew of robust heroes banding together against a most diabolical foe.  What's not to love?

Final Grade: B+
I'm a big fan of Antonio Banderas and I think it's very possible that
The 13th Warrior is the best film that he has starred in.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Marvel's Secret Wars (2015) - Issue #3

Well, things are starting to come together in Marvel's 2015 edition of the Secret Wars.  There are some revelations and developments in this issue that make the arc a bit more intriguing.  It also feels clever, though only time will tell if that's the case.  Yet it's still hard to make a favorable comparison between this crossover and the legendary event bearing the same name that hit the scene in 1984.  We're still drowning in plot and scraping by so far as action is concerned, with this issue containing less excitement than either of the issues that preceded it.  It is also starting to feel like this Secret Wars is more about setting the table for things to come than delivering the goods.  I hope to be proven wrong on that point, as fans deserve more from such an event (particularly if you're going to call it the Secret Wars, for crying out loud) than an introduction to a new landscape.  Nobody following this storyline simply wants to drown in exposition so we'll know what's happening once it's over; we'd like to get a little bang for our buck.  Hopefully there's some major shit about to go down, and I'm still praying that Marvel will blow my mind with this major event they've been promising us for quite some time before all is said and done.  So far, they're doing a pretty good job of boring me.  Putting something clever and intriguing together is fine and dandy, but this is Marvel we're talking about, and as far as I'm concerned, it's clobbering time. 

Final Grade: C

Read my review of Issue #1 of Marvel's 2015 version of the Secret Wars here.

Read my review of Issue #2 of Marvel's 2015 version of the Secret Wars here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dark Gold by David Angsten (from 2010)

"Like Benchley's Jaws, David Angsten's debut will once again chase swimmers out of the water."  That's the quote from James Rollins featured on the cover of this book.  I don't necessarily want James Rollins to be burnt to a crisp, but in a perfect world, anyone who compared something like Dark Gold to Jaws would immediately burst into flames.  Dark Gold is more likely to scare readers out of the bookstore.  My work hasn't reached a large enough audience to hold much sway as of yet, but I'm offering up a better quote for future editions of Dark Gold: "If Peter Benchley had suffered some sort of massive head trauma and written a book while dealing with severe headaches and chronic confusion, he might have produced something like Dark Gold--with a better ending."  I don't have to be compensated.  Take the quote and do the right thing: prepare future readers for the mind-numbing descent into stupidity they are about to endure.  Look, black magic, buried treasure, and sea creatures are right up my alley.  I am the target audience for this kind of material.  I'm also willing to admit that the premise was engaging and I initially liked many of the characters, though they grow more and more tiresome as the tale grew more and more insipid.  Yet the wealth of stupidity that punctuated the dull last act would have made even the finest novel seem like an insult to one's intelligence.  Even prior to the idiotic finish, the main character's absurd ability to survive even the most severe injuries was growing rather tiresome.  Every other chapter ended with this dolt's apparent death, and before the foolish climax mercifully drew to a close, I was hoping and praying that this buffoon would finally perish.  Alas, he survived, and the book hinted at the possibility of a sequel--and that's easily the scariest thing about Dark Gold

SPOILER ALERT: Don't read this last tidbit if you're still thinking about setting sail on this voyage into idiocy.  I don't want to spoil the book for anyone because I don't dig on spoilers, but I really don't want you to have to read this turd either.  If you think I'm being too hard on Dark Gold (and the conclusion in particular), all I'm saying is this: there's a sequence where our main character is swallowed by the sea creature at the heart of the tale, hangs out with an old chum in its gullet, and then escapes from the creature's mouth to prolong the miserable climax.  That's Dark Gold in a nutshell for you. 

Final Grade: DO NOT read this shit. 

How's that for a Final Grade?  Seriously, I gave it one star on Goodreads because the site wouldn't allow me to give it no stars. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Milius (2013)

As documentaries about filmmakers go, it is hard to imagine any subject being more prolific or intriguing than writer and director John Milius.  It should come as no surprise then that Milius is such a spectacle.  Even as a fan of this gifted filmmaker and his larger-than-life personality, I was surprised to see just how broad his impact on the film industry has been.  Those who aren't as familiar with John's body of work will likely be flabbergasted to learn that one man played such a pivotal role in so many iconic pictures and performances over the years.  His contributions to movies like Jaws and Dirty Harry are discussed along with movies he scripted (Apocalypse Now and Jeremiah Johnson, among others) and directed (films like Dillinger, The Wind and the Lion, and Conan the Barbarian).  Professional accomplishments aside, the stories about his larger-than-life antics and his brazen disregard for going with the flow are wildly compelling.  This documentary also benefits from more than just a wealth of intriguing material; the number of famed participants who share their thoughts on John's work and persona throughout the picture is positively mind-boggling.  It is entirely possible that it would be easier to list the major actors, directors, and producers who weren't in this documentary than it would be to name everyone who appeared in the picture.  Milius offers far more than reflection on the cinema and funny stories about a brazen individual, touching on politics and delving into some truly emotional territory in the closing reel.  As a fan, I was totally captivated, but I imagine that those who aren't as familiar with the subject--and perhaps even those who don't like John's filmography--will be entertained by this documentary.  It is bold, colorful, and surprisingly nuanced, much like John Milius himself.

Final Grade: A

Monday, June 1, 2015

My Sleeping Brain Writes Good Lines for Sam Elliott

There are three things that stand out about a recent dream that I had:

1) The dream was pretty damn weird.

2) While dreaming, my mind is apparently capable of writing killer lines for Sam Elliott.

3) The way my brain works, when my mind writes a killer line for Sam Elliott while I'm dreaming, this experience is potent enough to wake me up.  Whereas some people might wake in the midst of a nightmare, scared out of their minds, dreaming up good material for Sam has the same effect on me.  I was literally jolted awake.  I sat there in the darkness thinking, "Wow, that was a really good line."

So, the dream involved a woman I do not know and Sam Elliott.  These two had partnered in an attempt to operate a video rental business.  Given that my dreams tend to be rather absurd, this venture was located in a canyon and their inventory consisted of VHS tapes from the 80s.  The fact that this operation utilized VHS tapes from the 80s makes a bit more sense when you take into account that the Sam Elliot present in my dreams was also from the 80s--think The Quick and the Dead.  The canyon location is a bit more puzzling, particularly since I should probably specify that there was no structure situated within the canyon.  The VHS tapes were displayed on natural formations of rock that were roughly akin to shelves. 

Anyway, some marauding band of raiders vandalized this burgeoning enterprise one night, shooting up all the tapes.  Naturally, upon discovering this carnage the following morning, the woman and Sam Elliott were both greatly upset.  The woman was crying, lamenting the fact that they had not built a structure to house and protect their merchandise as well as her inability to find those responsible and make them pay for the damage.  Sam was equally distraught, but he was too pissed off to show it.  As he climbed atop a horse and prepared to go out looking for revenge, he said the line that I'm still stuck on.

"You're wishing you had done one thing and you're wishing you would do something else," Sam growled, yanking his six-shooter from its holster and proudly displaying it with a grin.  "Well, I'm fixing to do something--and it ain't wishing."  Then he promptly holstered his weapon and rode off, blazing a path toward a violent revenge, all while I sat up with a start, pondering my brain's ability to generate quality Sam Elliott material while I'm snoring.

If you somehow wind up in one of my dreams,
I strongly advise you NOT to fuck with Sam Elliott's VHS tapes.

Short Attention Span Review: White Hunter, Black Heart (1990)

When people talk about Clint Eastwood's astounding filmography, one title that is often overlooked is a project that was very near and dear to him, White Hunter, Black Heart.  This unique effort is a thinly veiled take on legendary director John Huston and the making of The African Queen.  Eastwood plays John Wilson, a maverick filmmaker and a larger-than-life figure who plays by his own rules.  The fact that he does so in a profession that requires a considerable amount of teamwork presents numerous clashes and complications, and things only grow more difficult when this cranky director becomes obsessed with killing an elephant while on location in Africa.  The early stages of White Hunter, Black Heart make it clear that the picture Wilson is set to direct is critical to his financial well-being, yet this stubborn and thoroughly entertaining rebel never prioritizes it over anything else that catches his fancy, to include women, fisticuffs, incessant verbal sparring with his producer, and hunting.  It's the hunting that presents the most problems for the making of the movie within the movie, as Wilson's obsession is maddening to even those who understand him the most.  In one of the film's most revealing moments, it becomes clear that Wilson himself is a bit disturbed and confused by his intense desire to kill an elephant.  While Eastwood is front and center throughout, looking and sounding completely different than we've come to expect, Jeff Fahey is also on hand to balance things out as the only person involved in the production who seems to genuinely like or understand the crazed director.  Yet even he is pushed to the brink as Wilson becomes more and more desperate to bag his trophy and the production of the film becomes more and more volatile as a result.  Fahey's character, Pete Verrill, is based on Peter Viertel, who wrote the first-hand account of the making of The African Queen that this picture is based on.  An able performer who I'm exceptionally fond of, Fahey's performance here will surely lead audiences to wonder why he was seldom offered roles of this stature in major studio efforts.  In the end, this unruly and quixotic movie belongs to Eastwood, who also served as director, and I think it stands as one of his most engaging and challenging offerings.  It is a meditation on passion, madness, individuality, and filmmaking, and it raises many potent questions on its way to a fascinating conclusion.

Final Grade: B+
Clint Eastwood is a man obsessed in White Hunter, Black Heart.