The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Friday, December 13, 2013

My Desolation Of Smaug Review: Oh Smaug The Garrulous And Incompetent

Went to see a midnight show of the new Hobbit flick, Desolation of Smaug. Having read lots of reviews, I was really hoping the thing would be like the movie that so many reviewers claim to have seen; I'd much rather have a good Tolkien adaptation than another atrocious one. No such luck, however. Even though I was kinda going with the program for a while, I think I wound up hating this even more than I hated the first flick. The fact is, Jackson reserves almost all of the really stupid stuff for his final act, and when it arrives, it's mind-numbing, worse than anything in the first installment or his remake of Kong.

Right off the bat, I should establish that I'm inclined toward Tolkien purism, although if you follow this blog, you'd already know that. I think it's possible to improve on T's handling of some stuff, but...for the most part, you're better off sticking with his original approach. That was true of Jackson's LOTR movies, and it's triply true of his Hobbit films. He seems to have decided that he was the real driving force behind the first trilogy's success...he wasn't. Mostly, when he's adding his own material---and Smaug is practically all Jackson, with the original story as the merest outline---he injects very little but bathos, lousy characterization, and bombast. Have you ever seen Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen? Consider that bit where the dimwit actor begins that windbaggy speech about opening the gate, and then the Baron comes up and says, "No, no, all wrong...Open the GATE!" Well, Jackson is just like that actor, a doctrinaire hack, and if it turns out he's been hitting the nose-candy too, I won't be the least bit surprised.

Smaug opens well enough, cribbing some material from Unfinished Tales, Gandalf meeting Thorin in Bree and setting up the whole plot...I don't like Jackson's grubby version of Bree, but the scene worked well enough on its own terms. Then we skip to a year later, Thorin and company with Bilbo running from the CG orcs that were chasing them at the end of the first flick; as effects, the orcs are rather better than they were in the first outing...although Jackson still should've stuck to actual actors in makeup, as in the LOTR movies.

We get our first glimpse of Beorn, in bear-shape, although he looks about as much like a bear as Jackson's wargs looks like wolves, which is how they should look. The scene where Gandalf wheedles the dwarves into Beorn's protection simply gets chucked. Beorn in human form is a dodgy conception...he looks rather like a hirsute dirty Kevin's just strange. But we don't spend too much time with him. In fact,  unless there's some sort of big payoff with him at the battle of the Five Armies, it's hard to see why he's in the movie at all.

On to's all gnarly roots and scary forest cliche, whereas, in actuality, it should be a great big nasty black evergreen climax forest with virtually no undergrowth.  We don't get the  stream that puts Bombur to sleep and the other dwarves carrying him around, maybe mercifully so, given the quality of Jackson's dwarf humor...we do have the scene where Bilbo climbs up to take bearing and sees all the butterflies, and that's cool.

When he comes down, we jump right into the spider attack without sufficient buildup. That being said, the spider-fight itself  is my favorite action in the movie...I liked it better than the Shelob sequence in Return of the King, and the spider scene in Kong, which was my favorite part of that. Even so, Jackson's insistence on blurry monochromatic ring-o-vision whenever Bilbo puts on the ring partially hamstrings the beginning of the fight, because you just can't see anything very well. Then Jackson seems to reconsider, and he has Bilbo take off the ring for no reason. Just stupid. The same situation wrecks much of  his conversation with Smaug later on...but I digress.

Wood-elves Elves bail our protagonists out, but imprison them. Legolas is back, rather meaner than in the first trilogy...his father is Thranduil, (Lee Pace) who's rather a prick , but...I buy it. The big new addition is Tauriel, a buttkicking female elf played by Evangeline Liley, who all the reviewers are just wild about, even though she's just a ho-hum stereotype. A female warrior! Golly, we sure haven't been getting a ton of those lately, no sir. Compounding my disgust with my fellow critics is this crap they keep spouting about the lack of commanding female characters in Tolkien, as if he didn't come up with Galadriel or Luthien, or Eowyn. Tauriel is a lousy piece of work, and the people who thinks she's great should be forced to watch some Brigitte Lin movies like Swordsman 2 or Peking Opera Blues. It's possible to do this female warrior stuff well, but Jackson ain't the man for the job.

Making things vastly worse is the fact that Tauriel gets romantic over one of the dwarves, Kili. The scenes with them mooning over each other are the most chilling pieces of cinematic idiocy I've been subjected to recently, ill-written and amazingly mawkish. Every time that particular subplot raised its hideous head, I felt like I'd been prematurely consigned to a sodden adult diaper. Whew.

The underground elvish kingdom looks like a  theme park. There are many bridges and catwalks. As a matter of fact, you begin to notice after a while that it resembles the subterranean lair of the Goblin King in Part One. Later on, Dol Guldur is full of bridges and catwalks, and so's Laketown, and so is the cavernous interior of the Lonely Mountain. Frightfully monotonous. One of the things I loved about the first trilogy was the way they did a knockout job on Tolkien's settings; there's very little of that here. Even when they do follow his lead somewhat, they smother it in preposterous excess.

Speaking of excess, the sequence where the dwarves escape downstream  from the elves in barrels---with orcs shooting arrows at everyone---is one of the things that works relatively well in my opinion, and I wouldn't have thunk it. The whole thing is nonsensical; somehow the elves haven't even noticed that their woods have been infiltrated by the orcs, and the dwarves are floating in open barrels in rapids, and the barrels would've filled up in notime and sunk---but the special effects are surprisingly convincing, with really great water (where were these water-FX-honchos when Jackson did that ship-going-through-the-barrier wall garbage in Kong?), and there's loads of good violence.

But then we get to Bard, and Laketown, and the movie starts to sink and there aren't any lifeboats. I didn't quite realize it at the time, because I'd been informed that Smaug was tremendous, but no...the movie turns into a shit sandwich after the barrel chase. There's mucho wheel-spinning regarding the characterization of Bard, who will kill Smaug in Part Three, but really doesn't have much of a role in the book; punching up his part made sense. But Jackson serves up a whole uninteresting family for him, and has him being a quasi-rebel subverting the evil Master, and everything's way in excess of function, and grimy and greasy and fishy, and the dwarves sneak into Bard 's house through his toilet and...

I breathed a sigh of relief when we left Laketown.

But even when we get up to Erebor, we keep wandering back to Laketown, because Kili's been shot in the leg with an orc-arrow, and Thorin won't let him come to Erebor, and other dwarves stay behind because they're drunk, and orcs infiltrate Laketown, but Legolas and Tauriel are pursuing them, and there's a big stupid irelevant fight, and Tauriel and Kili moon at each other some more while she heals his leg...

Oh, and the Erebor stuff is also intercut with Gandalf sneaking into Dol Guldur and having an encounter with Sauron that doesn't work bigtime and won't have any real dramatic payoff in the third film...

At least there's isn't much with Radagast.

But on to the titular dragon.

You've been informed he's the greatest dragon in the history of film. Personally, I prefer the dragon in Dragonslayer. But Smaug is niftily voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, and he's a good special effect, although I thought the facial design verged on cartoony. All in all, if Jackson had simply stuck to the source material, the sequence would've been at least as good as the Gollum biz in Part One.

But Jackson lays waste to the conversation between Bilbo and Smaug. Wrecks it, destroys it. Deprives it of any sort of internal logic. After some impressive buildup involving lots of cascading treasure as Smaug wakes up, you have Bilbo putting on the ring, and ringo-vision ensues, and the whole opening of the conversation is in that, and it just isn't visually satisfactory. Then, a la the spider scene, Bilbo, for no reason at all, takes off the ring, the only thing keeping him invisible and alive. From that point it's a ton of talking-villain horsecrap, with Smaug going on and on, inventing reasons for why he shouldn't kill Bilbo at any given time. It's just effing, effing dumb.

But it's not as dumb as what follows.

Jackson, as I said, is a completely doctrinaire film-maker, and when he opted to turn Tolkien's one-volume kid's book into a three-part extravaganza, he felt compelled to inject a vast quantity of climactic loud and stupid into parts one and two, well, just got to. The end of the first Hobbit movie, with the tilting pine trees, was maybe the single worst part, and the climax of Smaug is the worst part of either movie so far. For some reason, after Bilbo's had his brush with the dragon, the dwarves decide they've got to rush off to "the dwarf forges" and do...something. Really, you can't tell at all what they've got in mind. There's an endless amount of running here and there, swinging on chains, sliding down slides, riding in mining-cars and on rivers of molten gold, screaming, and apparently fulfilling some sort of complicated plan (which couldn't have been agreed upon beforehand) to...

Run here and there, swing on chains, slide down slides, ride in mining-cars and on rivers of molten gold, and...pour an instantly liquid giant golden dwarf-statue onto Smaug, whom it has no effect upon, and there wouldn't be any reason why anyone would think it would anyway. He starts to fly off to Erebor, acting like he's dangerous, but he's not. He can't catch anybody, mostly because he talks too much. He's the most incompetent dragon ever. He's about on a par with the zombies in Shaun of the Dead, who at least were just zombies. Yeah, Mr. Cumberbatch has a good dubbing voice, but the characterization is horrendous.

And then the movie just stops.

Martin Freeman is good as Bilbo, and Mckellan is excellent as Gandalf, as usual. I also rather like the fellow who plays Balin, who ever he is. I was happy to see Orlando Bloom again. The music was nondescript. By the time I got out of the theater, I was really glad to. This thing is like Temple of Doom Part 2 or Van Helsing Part 3.

Jackson really seems to have lost it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

I wasn't a very big fan of the first Thor. I wouldn't have picked Kenneth Branagh to direct a comic-book movie, any more than I would've picked Ang Lee. I thought Branagh was rather a lousy special-effects director, and didn't know how to handle the action scenes (bad action scenes are rather typical of American superhero stuff, in my opinion) and while Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, and Tim Hiddleson, as Thor, Odin, and Loki respectively, were all pretty good, the story was bogged down, as origin stories usually are, by a lot of exposition you didn't care about. Also, having grown up on the original Thor comics, where the Norse gods were really the Norse gods, and not aliens, I didn't like the whole SF aspect of the thing...making them aliens might've made them fit more (kinda) with the other Marvel superheroes, who are all basically SF, but why bother...none of it makes sense anyway.

All that being said, I just saw Thor: The Dark World, and enjoyed it quite a bit. For one thing, the thing looked way better than the first one did. The photography was better, it looked to me as though they had a way bigger budget this time around, the production design was niftier, the imagery was cooler (I particularly liked the Norse/Byzantine Icon picture book that depicted the bad guys, the big geary things in Heimdall's hangout, and the giant evil black vehicles), and we got right into the story pretty damn quick. Aside from the evil elves, who were introduced pretty efficiently right off, we knew who everybody was, and we didn't spend a lot of time spinning our wheels. The special effects were way better, and almost all the humor was funny---the audience I was with was laughing quite a bit, and me and the wife were too. There was a surprising amount of violence, too, and that goes a long way with sadistic old me.

The story, which bears more than a passing resemblence to the Titans-returning plots that have figured in our Greek Mythological fantasies lately (Wrath of the Titans, Immortals), Dark World serves up the Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who ruled the universe back when all was in tenebrae, got beaten by Odin's father Bor, and has been waiting for a chance to come back and reassert the primacy of Basic Black. If I have a problem with the movie, it's him; they don't really provide him with a philosophy, and they should've. That being said, he's very creepy looking (kinda like the Makers from Prometheus) and he's got a horde of henchmen who are visually satisfactory too, including his beefy bristling-with-spikes chief enforcer.


We're coming up on a once-in-five thousand-years realignment of "The Nine Worlds," whatever they are, and Malekith's got a shot are getting his hands back on  the Aether, a substance which will grant him ultimate power, etc. etc. But the Aether has gotten into Thor's mortal girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who's been whisked up to Asgard by her hammer-wielding boyfriend; Malekith and company storm the place in a pretty damn spectacular assault, grab her, and head back to the Dark World, which is Iceland with the lights off. Needless to say, Thor decides to go get her, and, disobeying Odin, recruits Loki---who's in prison after his Avengers hijinks---in an attempt to breach Malekith's domain, free the babe, and destroy the Aether.

The movie's been fairly amusing up till this point, but it picks up considerably once we get a bunch more Loki. he was definitely one of the strongest things about The Avengers, and he's got a much bigger part here, with a certain amount of emotional depth. Moreover, he makes up, somewhat, for the lack of a proper main heavy...he's engaging, he's funny, he's not all bad, but he's a snake too. He's definitely the best character  in the film (he certainly puts poor old steadfast Thor in the shade), and he's almost enough to sell the movie all by himself.

Let's see...the screenplay, by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely features some good writing. As I said, the movie is consistently funny when it means to be, and it manages to be affecting in ways that are kinda surprising. There are spots where I couldn't figure out what the eff was going on, particularly towards the end, but even when I was confused, something would make me laugh, so I never quite got cranky. Director Alan Taylor does good job with the people, the special effects and the action, and I hope he gets to direct the next installment. In short, I had more fun than I've had with any Marvel  movie since the first Iron Man. I'm just sort've pissed that Marvel got bought by Disney...I had some Marvel stock and made quite a bit of money with it, but I couldn't care less about the Mouse, and bought something else...

Ah well.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Krrish3 Review

I’m a big Hindi-movie fan, and I just got back from a showing of a Bollywood superhero flick called Krissh 3, which I really enjoyed. It was made by a production company called FilmKraft, which is the brainchild of the Roshan brothers, Rakesh and Rojesh, and they make the kind of films that Aintitcool folks like. Back in the nineties, they did this blood-soaked action-supernatural movie called Karan/Argun, which featured Sharukh Khan and Salman Khan as brothers reincarnated to avenge their own murders on Temple of Doom villain Amrish Puri...Mr. Puri also handled the bad guy duties in another FilmKraft actioner called Koyla, which had Sharukh in it too, and was an brightly-colored mashup of Forrest Gump, Rambo, and Braveheart. In the 2000's the Roshans branched out into science-fiction with Koi Mil Gaya, which was part Charlie and part ET, with cuddly alien Jadoo bestowing smarts upon super-handsome Hrithik Roshan (Rakesh’s son), who does a mean turn as a simpleton who sure can dance and gets the girl.


In Krrish, which is a sequel to Koi Mil Gaya, we skip to the simpleton’s titular son, (also played by Hritihik,) who, because of Jadoo’s intervention, has a bunch of super-powers, his exploits choreographed for us by HK action genius Ching Siu Tung. To make a long story short, dad gets kidnapped by evil genius Naseruddin Shah, who’s plotting to supplant himself God Almighty by means of time travel...much mayhem ensues, and the son gets the girl (Priyanka Chopra) this time.

Okay, so, even though there was no Krissh 2 because you had Koi Mil Gaya and then Krissh, we get Krissh 3, and it’s an improvement in many respects on the second installment. A lot of Indian movies go on so long they seem like double features, and sometimes the halves are radically different, say, the first half being a lot of horrible comedy, and the second being a fairly good, vicious revenge yarn, with no attempt whatsoever to paper over the change in tone.

But while Krrish took forever to get past the comedy/romance stuff, and there were a number of distracting musical numbers, 3 holds the singing, dancing and mush rather to a minimum; the villain’s introduced right off, and that’s followed by a bunch of pretty competent special effects/ superhero whatnot involving a jetliner with stuck landing gear. You can tell that about eighty percent of the special effects are going to be up to western standard, and you can kind of relax. A grisly plot unfolds...our heavy is a crippled telekinesis-using bad guy named Kaal (Vivek Oberoi) who has a pharmaceutical order to get his quadriplegic body up and going, he inflicts horrible plagues on places like India, then rakes up tremendous profits by dispensing the cure. Kaal also has a small army of mutants that do all all sorts of freaky things (one has a really long froggy tongue and Krrish swings him hard into into things with it), my favorite being a shape-changing siren played by the luscious Kangana Renaut, whose ability to morph results in a slew of story twists...she falls in love (of course) with Hrithik. The final dustup in downtown Mumbai is a far cry from your usual Indian FX fare, blending good-to-excellent CG with great wirework and action directed by the aforementioned Mr. Ching. Hrithik is a pretty damned awesome athlete, and looks great in his impeccably-choreographed fight scenes...he and Vivek Oberoi destroy quite a bit of Mumbai skyline line, smashing each other straight through skyscrapers like planes on 9/11.

The story doesn’t serve up anything as clever as the time-travel element in Krrish, but it’s still  serviceable, the subplot with Kangana Renaut is surprisingly effective, and Vivek’s malefactor is well-drawn and has a fiendish secret. Rakesh Roshan is a good director, and knows when to step back and let Ching Siu-Tung do his thing...the music by Rajesh Roshan goes down easily enough. All in all, I had a better time with this epic than with many western superhero movies, and you should catch it...given the fact that Hollywood isn’t turning out so much product anymore, Hindi films are appearing in our multiplexes more and more. They also show up on Netflix. I particularly recommend the straight-out gangster slaughterfests.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity Review

Just got back from a showing of Gravity. I'd say the theatre was only about one-half full...hope that isn't indicative of the business the film is doing nationwide, because the movie sure is something. The reviews were almost uniformly ecstatic, and they were on target. For once, you've got  a flick that lives up to the hype. It's pretty astonishing in a whole lot of ways, and while I have some quibbles, they're really just that.

Movie's directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuaron, who's a Mexican dude who grew up wanting to be an astronaut...I gather there just isn't much chance for a Mexican to be an astronaut if he doesn't get involved in the Mexican military, and maybe not even then...Mr. Cuaron wound up making movies instead, and well, he does it fantastically.  I've only seen three of his films, but I thought Prisoner of Azkaban was a big step up from the Chris Columbus Potter movies, and that Children of Men was one of the best science-fiction films I'd ever seen, featuring these long set-piece action sequences which appeared to be single takes, even though they couldn't possibly have been anything of the sort.

Gravity begins with just such a sequence...I'ver heard it's twelve minutes full of extremely complicated  business, all in one seamlessly blended ostensible shot. But whereas the stuff in Childsren of Men had been terrestrial action,  in Gravity, we're outin space, with the camera (or whatever seems to be the camera in these digital days) sliding in and out among loads of completely convincing VFX. It's all extremely audacious, and will certainly be the envy of special effect long-take masters such as Spielberg and Zemeckis; this sequence simply kicks their asses.

But it's just for starters.

The film gets blasting really quickly. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts on a US space shuttle out trying to repair the Hubble Telescope. A series of long shots meld into close-ups then swing back out and in again...we get a pretty good idea of what the shuttle and the telescope are like, Bullock and Clooney are doing something outside, we don't really care what it is. Within a very short time, it's established that a bunch of space junk is headed their way, although no one is quite sure if there's a problem...the music gets effectively foreboding, and we learn there's a problem for sure, and all this terrible crap starts blowing through the Hubble and the Shuttle like cannon-balls and bullets. Bullock goes flying off into space with her tether snapped; this is sheer white knuckle suspense, totally nightmarish. Clooney, who's got a jet-pack, goes out to save her...the first twenty minutes of this flick are more exciting than every movie I've seen this year put together, and it just keeps rolling from there. A one-damn-thing-after another quality does begin to set in, but no sooner has that thought crossed your mind when you're plunged into a new totally convincing horrific situation with a top-notch director making expert use of very engaging actors and some of the best special effects that have ever been committed to film, or digital.

What's more, the screenplay is very solid. As I said, everything gets going extremely quickly, and the breathers are just long enough to prepare you for the next tornado of bad. We get some backstory at a couple of junctions, but it's actually interesting, and you get well into it before you even realize that what's you're listening to. There are a few scenes, especially towards the end, that are surprising and genuinely moving. Clooney is extremely likeable (as almost always), and Bullock is endearing in a way that the last few Bullock vehicles might've made you forget about.

As for those quibbles, well...I don't think the Hubble telescope is in anything like the same orbit as the Russian Space Station or the Chinese would've been a very long haul. Also, I didn't get a very clear take on what Sandra Bullock, who seems to be a just plain doctor, would be doing on the space station at all, let alone participating in extravehicular repairs. Maybe this sort of thing actually happens, I'm no expert, and I don't know. Also, I don't think we get a reason for why the Chinese space station suddenly begins dropping out of is depicted as abandoned, and maybe there was a line that wound up on the cutting-room floor, about the Chinese just letting it falling out of the sky. But mostly, the science in the film seems to be a considerable cut above what you have in most space movies. It can't quite compare with Apollo Thirteen, which is the gold standard space flick in my opinion, but...A13 had the advantage of being a true story where everything really hung together because, happened.

You may be amused by Gravity's ground control...yep, it's A13's Gene Kranz, Ed Harris.

All in all, whenever I had a problem, the stuff onscreen was just so stupendous that I told my little niggling back-of-mind voice to just shut the eff up. Go see this thing. I hope it's a huge hit.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Godawful Prose in The Great Gatsby, or: Meyer Wolfsheim's Eyelike Nasal Hair

Just saw the Baz Luhrmann Great Gatsby, and enjoyed it quite a bit.That was rather a surprise, since I had a distinct antipathy to the source material, like so many others who’d had Scott Fitzgerald’s little book thrust upon them in their younger and more vulnerable years. The novel had bored me silly, and I found the writing a horrible combination of precious and strangely pulpy. Even though the film used some of Fitzgerald’s better prose in voiceovers, it was sufficiently devoid of his style to ennable me to concentrate on the basic strengths of the story; in fact, I was inspired to give the novel another chance. But even though I did indeed encounter some good prose in the book, and thought Fitzgerald handled dialogue fairly well, I was constantly breaking my teeth on big silly nuggets of terrible stuff.

The novel gets ridiculous instantly. We’re asked to swallow a bunch of self-congratulation by Nick Carraway, the narrator, who informs us that “he’s inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up to me many curious natures, and made me to he victim of not a few veteran bores.”

Good thing he doesn’t judge them.

He goes on to tell us that “the abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person.” Because of his willingness to listen to twaddle, the poor lad was, in college, “accused of being a politician,” because he was “privy to the secrets of wild, unknown men.” He hangs about with men both “wild” and “unknown”—one thinks immediately of Tarzan—and people decide he’s a smoothie, although they wouldn’t. Nonetheless, even though he’s oh so tolerant of these loons, he’s “feigned sleep, preoccupation, or hostile levity”---whatever “hostile levity” is---whenever it looks they’re going to say something indiscreet. There’s just so much that even broad-minded him can endure. Fact is, all this is just incoherent. I think we’re supposed to take Carraway’s self-representation at face value...except that you can tell that his essential stance is one of absolute, deep, dripping disdain for just about everything. Eventually he decides he likes Gatsby, but that’s about it. Everybody else in the book is shallow at best or monstrous at worst.

But that isn’t what bothered me the most. It was hunkering down waiting for the next megaton of literary ineptness to go off. Fitzgerald has this reputation for being this fabulous prose stylist; he shouldn’t.  Consider this horrible piece of geographical exposition:

 “It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of new York—and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city, a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals—like the egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact end—but their physical resemblence must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.”

Okay then.

One of the strangest communities in North America. That truly would be something, but Fitzgerald doesn’t deliver, after making the as-yet unidentified West Egg sound like something from H. P. Lovecraft. So, it’s full of nouveaux riche folks.They’re not like crackers from Deliverance or Fish People from Innsmouth. Fitzgerald indulges constantly in gross overstatement.

It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York--- Riotous? The whole island? Gatsby throws parties there, although everything else on Long Island seems kind of stuffy and old money.

There are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land...When Fitzgerald describes these formations, it turns out they’re pretty tepid, as natural curiosities go. You wouldn’t even be aware of their ostensible curiousness unless you were in an airplane looking down...and even then, they wouldn’t rate. They’re  egg-shaped. If that’s what passes for a natural curiosity on Long Island, I’ll go somewhere else.

A pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western Hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. The basic concept here is rather difficult, and Fitzgerald isn’t up to dealing with it. He should’ve said something like, “two nearly identical formations, egglike in outline, jut out into Long Island Sound.” Outline is better than contour, because it’s flat; simply calling these things eggs instead of formations with egglike outlines evokes Alice Rock or those Easter cakes made in molds. Contour is one of the chief culprits sounds three dimensional when you apply it to an egglike thing. As for courtesy, it’s oh-so-precious. As for most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, it can’t possibly be true---it’s another dose of overstatement, and I really don’t know what he means by it either. If indeed he means it’s like a barnyard, what are we to make of that? Is it full of pigs and cows and chickens, wet ones? Yeesh.

They are not perfect ovals---Neither are eggs.

Like the egg in the Columbus story—they are both crushed flat at the contact end--- This is just tortured. Difficult in a worthless way. They’re not crushed—they’re connected to the rest of the island at their big ends. But putting it that way wouldn’t be fussy and pedantic enough for Mr. F.

Their physical resemblence must be the source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. Their physical resemblance? To each other? To eggs? I suppose it must be eggs (even though the sentence is very badly structured) because the gulls are perpetually confused by them. What is meant by perpetual? Do the gulls circle perpetually, or are they confused even after they leave?  In what does their confuse consist? Do they want to come down and incubate the peninsulas with their maternal butts? This is all a joke, apparently, but it’s witless.

To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except size and shape. What? Every particular? Absurd.For one thing, we’ve already been told that the whole island is “riotous.” Perhaps we should suppose that one egg is inhabited by people, and the other by penguins. And the people drive cars, while the penguins drive bicycles, and the former drink Coca-cola while the latter drink Pepsi...

Although that would just be silly.

But so far, we haven’t gotten to the really weird stuff. Sometimes F’s howlers are simply unfathomable. Take the scene where we encounter Daisy and Jordan Baker for the first time:

“The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were bouyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.”

Man is this a wacky piece of business.

It sounds like something from a Miyazaki cartoon. The women are on a balloonlike couch that—in addition to the wind in their clothing---makes it look as though their clothes have just been off on a balloon flight around the house—inside or outside, I dunno. Some might object that taking F. to task about their clothes   flying by themselves is a cheap shot, but hell, even  literary titans should watch their pronouns. The breeze—which actually sounds like more of a tornado—makes the curtains whip and snap and the pictures groan; are we in the Haunted Mansion here? When the “caught” wind dies down—caught adds nothing—the curtains and the rugs and the two young women balloon to the floor. Have the curtains become detached in that “breeze?” Were the rugs picked up off the floor and whirled about like pizzas in a pizzeria, only to balloon down like the ladies, who go right to the floor, having fallen off the couch, I guess? Is the damn thing still hanging in midair?

Or, consider this description of Daisy: “For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward as I listened—then the glow faded, each light deserting her with a lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.” Astounding. Each light deserts with a lingering regret? How many suns do we have here? Is he talking about the highlights, as in, the one on the point of her nose went, then the one on her cheek, then the one on her chin? And how about these children? God help me, I envisioned a bunch of them on her face, about the size of ladybugs, creeping back out of sight behind her jaw.

Daisy’s face has other peculiarities too, besides swarms of tiny kiddies. Her eyes can do things that ours can't: “Daisy took her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape, and her eyes moved out gradually into the velvet dusk.” This is the kind of writing you’d have gotten from Robert E. Howard when he was twenty-two years old. When I said that Fitzgerald gets pulpy, I meant it. Where the hell was Fitzgerald’s editor?

But eyes are consistently problematical in Gatsby. Take the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg on the big billboard in the Valley of Ashes. We’re told the retinas are three feet high. Fitzgerald seems to mean their pupils are three feet high, but whatever. Then we have this, when “three modish negroes” pass by in a limousine: “I laughed aloud when the yolks of their eyeballs rolled towards us in haughty rivalry.” Yikes. Profoundly messed up on every conceivable level. Eyes aren’t like yolks, unless Fitzgerald thinks they’re yellow and gooey. I guess he actually meant whites, as in egg-whites, but...those are transparent and not like the whites of eyes, and not very much like negro eye-whites neither. And no matter what, nobody’s eyes roll out into the gap between two cars in “haughty rivalry”. And even if they did, it would not evoke a laugh from me....

Then again, maybe it might, after I finished screaming.

And speaking of extraordinary ocular matters, we have the bit where Meyer Wolfsheim is introduced: “A small, flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril.” You say to yourself, surely F. doesn’t mean that Wolfsheim observes you with his nasal tufts, but...on the next page, we get, “His nostrils turned to me in an interested way.” I know what you’re thinking...he views you with his nostrils, not the hair therein...but even then, F. would be contradicting himself..

It just goes on and on. Every time you start to warm up to the story, one of these things comes down like a mortar-shell. Carraway’s underwear coils “like a damp snake” around his legs—perhaps he should pull his underwear up, so it’d ride up his buttcrack like it does on the rest of us. Beads of sweat race cool across his back—peculiar gravity we’re having. Here’s one of my very favorites:  “Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees—he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.” Pap of life? A giant boob in the sky loaded with incomparable wonder that Jay Gatsby can only suck if he climbs alone—alone, mind you----up the “blocks of the sidewalks” to the top?

All this out of the corner of his eye, by the way.

Ah well, maybe I’m mistaken, and it’s all really fabulous. But in my humble opinion, some of this prose is right up there with the worst of J. Fenimore Cooper, and it’s a pity Mark Twain didn’t live long enough to dig his claws into Mr. F.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Single Most Rightwing Movie of Recent Years

Coen Brothers don’t seem to have a rep for conservatism among conservatives, but there’s a lot for a reactionary like myself to like about some of their films. While Judaism seems to make them extremely uncomfortable—don’t know what the story is there--- they portray Christianity, generally, in a positive light, and they seem to be deeply suspicious of progressives. Barton Fink features a solipsistic Clifford Odets-like social-realist playwright who imagines he’s a great friend of the common man, even though he has no knowledge of common men at all, and couldn’t care less what they actually think. Fink is a giant bash on liberal intellectuals, and it’s kinda amazing that it garnered such great reviews...if the movie is any indication, the brothers simply loathe everything that your typical critic reveres.

Now, the critical reception for The Lady Killers was a lot less positive...maybe it had to do with the ideology, but if so, the reviewers weren’t telling us what was actually bothering them, bitching instead about the broad humor and asserting the film’s inferiority to the Alec Guinness original. Now, you can certainly argue that the 1955 version is better, for a number of reasons. But I don’t recall reading a single review which reacted to the remake’s screamingly conservative agenda. I dunno..maybe the fact that the old church lady is black blinded the critics to the propagandistic thrust. But the fact remains that the Coens were discharging one starboard broadside after another, and it’s incredible that nobody noticed.

Now, in the Guinness movie, there’s very little in the way of ideology, at least in my have this little old lady who rents a room to a gang of criminals, recruited by Guinness, who are preparing for a robbery. It’s vintage Ealing Studios stuff, with very sharp writing and wonderful performances, Guinness being very near the top of his form as a demented criminal genius. But aside from a certain amount of nostalgia about Victorian values (which Mrs. Wilberforce embodies), it’s primarily concerned with plot, character and laughs, not that they’re anything to sneeze at. Even though it retains the bare bones of the story, the remake is a very different the original, Mrs. Wilberforce, unable to give the money back, donates some of it to a starving artist. In the remake, the old lady gives the whole caboodle to Bob Jones University.

The Coens blare their anti-secular theme right at the gitgo. The opening song is “Let’s Return to God,” and that turns out to be the message, unambiguously and without irony. The location is moved from London to Mississippi, and the little old lady this time is an elderly black widow, Mrs. Munson (Irma P. Hall), a devout Christian whose religion is front and center. Whereas the lady in the older film is rather sweet, Mrs. Munson is pretty stern and has no use whatsoever for hiphop culture. Into her house comes G.H. Dorr (Tom Hanks), a professor of classics; he rents a room and talks her into letting him use her basement, ostensibly so that  his rococo quartet can practice. In actuality, they’re planning to tunnel into the office of a nearby casino strongroom, and they are, with the exception of a likable muscular lunkhead named Lump (Ryan Hudson), a venemous clutch of guys that any conservative would hate, hate hate.

First off, there’s Hank’s character, a Marx-quoting secularist who believes the formless masses need to be endowed with purpose by higher intellects like himself. There’s a telling scene in which he and Mrs. Munson are reading in the living room, and she asks him about his attitude towards the Bible. He replies condescendingly that he’s “Found sustenance there,” then goes on to assert that there are “Many Good Books.” Confronted later with the prospect of “indulging in divine worship,” he practically has an attack of asthma.

A different strain of leftwing horrible is represented by Mr. Pancake (J.K. Simmons); a blowhard ex-Freedom Rider who fought against Bull Connor, he’s matured into an awful old hippy who vents self-righteous liberal bromides, reads Mother Jones, and is always trying to weasel favorable treatment for himself. That doesn’t sit well with Gawain MacSam (Marlon Wayans) a shiftless foul-mouthed black dude who works at the office they intend to rob, cries prejudice when he’s fired for sexual harrassment, and couldn’t care less about the efforts of the Freedom Riders, because he’s a terminal idiot who doesn’t vote.

Finally, most startling of all, there’s the General, a menacing Asian who’s evidently an ex-North Vietnamese tunneling honcho!

Masking the sounds of their labors with recordings of rococo quintets, the gang sets the Professor’s plan into motion, with Dorr allaying Mrs. Munson’s suspicions whenever they’re aroused; various obstacles are overcome, and the vault’s robbed, but things go terribly awry after that. Mrs. Munson discovers what  the Professor et. al have been up to, demands that they give the money back, and go to church. Dorr decides that the old lady must be dealt with somehow, although he’s a bit queasy at the prospect of killing her; when he asks the General, who’s a Buddhist, to suggest some “middle way”, the General responds, “Must float like a leaf in the river of life...and kill old lady.”

They draw straws, and one by one, end up dead themselves, apparently because God has got Mrs. Munson’s back. Gawain shoots himself accidentally after a spasm of guilt. Pancake is killed by the General while attempting to abscond with the cash, having left a cello-case full of Mother Jones magazines in place of the money. When the General climbs the stairs to garrotte Mrs. Munson in her bed, a Jesus cuckoo-clock goes off, startling him and causing him to swallow his cigarette; he tries to wash it down with Mrs. Munson’s denture water, then falls backwards down the steps and breaks his neck. Dorr then tries to convince Lump to do the dirty work; Lump, who can’t stand the thought of killing the “nice old lady,” gets the drop on Dorr with a  revolver, which misfires. Lump takes a look down the barrel, pulls the trigger...bang. Hanks is ultimately killed by a gothic statue which cracks loose from an obelisk and hits him on the head, whereupon he falls onto a garbage barge that has taken all the other malefactors to an offshore landfill. Mrs. Munson tries to give the money back, but everybody thinks she’s senile, and she donates it instead to the aforementioned  university. As the end credits roll, spiritual singers belt out a rousing rendition of “Let the Light From The Lighthouse Shine on Me.”

The movie’s quite funny, but Mrs. Munson isn’t subjected to the slightest scorn. It’s possible to fool her, and you can see why everyone would react to her bizarre stories by thinking she’s lost her marbles. But her Christianity is taken at completely face value, and depicted as being vastly superior to any of the alternatives the film presents—the counterculture, Marxism, secular humanism, etc. The movie is, purely and simply, a total conservative fix, and if you haven’t seen it, you should go and bask in the rightwing waves emanating from your TV...that’s if you’re not the sort of person it’s making fun of. I don’t think it’s first-rate Coen Brothers, but it sure seems to show that they’re anything but PC.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Belated Elysium Review

Didn't go see Elysium when it first came out for a couple of reasons. First off, it sounded like a huge load of left-wing propaganda. Now, there are a lot of SF ,movies that are left-wing propaganda...Bladerunner comes immediately to mind. But when I heard that the climax of the Elysium was all shaky-cam and lousy and not very exciting, I decided to skip it, at least for the time being. Being leftwing is one thing. But having a dull climax is vastly worse.

Okay, me and the wife just wanted to go out to a movie tonight, so I noticed Elysium was still playing, and we went. I thought, well, it's going to be  great effects flick, and I'll just enjoy all that stuff. Director Neil Blomquist sure served up a load of excellent EFX in District 9, and I had a pretty good time with that movie, even though it was pretty dumb, almost too dumb for me to have a pretty good time with...boy was that flick stupid. I continue to be amazed by filmmakers---who must be rather tech-savvy---being so alarmingly ignorant of science; but they never seem to improve on that score.

Take that last Star Trek flick. The Enterprise guys want to make a volcano stop erupting (in order to save the lives of Spock and some aliens), so they send down a cold fusion device to freeze the insides of the volcano---as if cold fusion has anything to do with freezing things. In that last Batman movie, you've got a cold fusion reactor whose fissionable material is decaying into something that will produce a nuclear explosion. The whole point of cold fusion is that you don't use fissionable material...and fissionable material gets less explosive as it decays, etc. Well, in District 9, you've got this alien goo which is necessary to run the alien technnology. It just happens to have the property of turning human beings into aliens if it gets squirted on them. Huh? Why? WTF? Moreover, when someone gets squirted on and starts turning into an alien, they keep on working physiologically anyway, even though their bodily systems are being supplanted by alien crustacean physiology, and one presumes, DNA. Moreover, the big alien ship operates on the goo. It seems to be parked over the shantytown in South Africa because it's out of goo and can't go home. The aliens have gone down to live in the shantytown, even though they've apparently brought enough goo with them to run the spaceship. All it takes to to run the spaceship is sufficient goo to fill a milkshake container, although a big mess of that goo gets squirted on Sharlto Copley, and starts to transform him...sheerly idiotic.

However, there were enough blowings-up and blood and gore and cool technology and creature designs to distract me.

Well, Elysium is maybe even dumber and rather boring to boot. Also most leftwing, in a really stupid way that distorts the storytelling. Given what the people up in Elysium can do, you just can't figure out why they wouldn't make things a bit better on earth....but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Now get this. The evil Republicans on the orbitting space-station have a process called re-atomization(!) which will fix everything that's wrong with you in a matter of seconds. Yep, re-atomization. They flip a switch, run some electricity through their machine, and redo every cell in your body. They're hellbent on denying this to the rest of us, even though it's just that easy. The evil security chief (played with a bizarre accent by Jodie Foster, who looks like she's been repeatedly microwaved) has an evil assassin (played by Sharlto Copley, who seems to have wandered in from the Road Warrior)...the whole front of his head gets blown off at one point. They put him on the re-atomizer table, hit the switch, and, bing! the whole front of his head regrows in a matter of seconds. He looks all young and much better across the board. Seeing as how he does all this dirty work for the security chief, you'd think he would've been rewarded with a facelift a long time a matter of fact, you'd think that Jodie Foster would never have let herself grow old, and need to have her face microwaved, but nothing about this movie makes any sense.

The various premises are that earth is polluted and overpopulated, and all the evil rich people live in the space-station, which looks like circular California. All the assholes that made this flick probably live in the present day equivalent, and can afford much better healthcare than you and I, including the cosmetic surgery that created Matt Damon's ridiculous Peter Pan nose. Never mind that after completing their preachy shoots every day, Matt and Jodie and whoever undoubtedly retreated to someplace like Elysium...left the shitty Mexican favelas they were filming in, to go to some swank hotel in Mexico City or whatever.

Anyway, they've got re-atomizers up in space assholeland. As we learn at the end of the movie, they've got enough re-atomizers stored away somewhere to fix everything on everybody on earth...never mind that Elysium just doesn't seem to have many people on it, and you can't figure out where they're keeping all these extra re-atomizers, or why they need them. Now...seeing as how the space assholes seem to be ruling earth, you would think that their henchmen below would live in enclaves that would have re-atomizers...certainly, the space assholes would want to have some in case there was an accident when they visited, whatever. Undoubtedly, there would be all sorts of great places down here still, seeing as how they can make a big space station, right? Nah. If you want to get re-atomized, you gotta go up to Elysium. I bet they keep all the toilets up there too.

So you have Matt Damon, an ex car-thief who was raised by an inspiring nun (at least the movie isn't an exercise in Catholic-bashing!). Evil Republican robots roust him and break his limbs for no reason, and he works making something for an evil capitalist. The factory's got a chamber where you'll get irradiated if you're stuck inside. His evil boss makes him go inside to clear a jammed...thing. The chamber closes. Matt Damon gets irradiated. The chamber has a sensor that can tell if there's someone trapped inside, but it doesn't have an automatic cutoff. Guys have to come to pry the door open or whatever. Why don't they have a cutoff? Because Neil Blomkamp doesn't know anything about anything except doing good special effects. And oh, yes, because the company is evil.

They give Matt pills and send him on his way. He's been irradiated so badly that he might irradiate someone else, like you'd x-ray someone else if you'd been given a big dose of x-rays (Mr. Blomkamp seems to have been learning about radiation from the guys who made the Batman flick). Matt's going to die in five days, although the pills will keep him going, in some sense. He's been irradiated so badly that he's going to have complete organ shutdown, but he can take pills, which are apparently made by elves. Now, the reason you die and get complete organ failure when you've been irradiated is because you've had something like a zillion little bullets which have just gone through every cell in your body.

But Matt can take a pill!

He doesn't want to die, though, and thinks he can get re-atomized if only he can get up into Elysium. There's a criminal mastermind/revolutionary guy who can make this happen, if only Matt will do him a favor, namely, get some information out of  some capitalist's head and onto a chip or whatever. Of course, Matt wouldn't have to go to Elysium if he wasn't fucked up...but he's pretty helpless as is. He'd need what would have to be a pretty expensive high-tech exo-skeleton to fulfill his mission. But why would anyone give him one of those, when they could just slap it on someone who wasn't dying of "total organ failure"? It's like that stuff in Robocop, where they want to use the brain of a guy who's just taken one through the head in order to make their cybernetic organism. Why not get someone whose brains haven't been reamed out?

But I digress.

Matt and some other guys go after the guy who owns the factory where Matt was irradiated. Just so happens this guy is involved in a plan to overthrow the government...evidently this involves "rebooting" Elysium...why Jodie Foster just doesn't send guys with guns to take down her superiors, I don't know, but this is The Future here. After downloading the contents of  the capitalist noggin, Matt runs afoul of  the aforementioned Sharlto Copley. The film degenerates into a lot of stupid chases and explosions...among other things, barbaric Sharlto dispatches victims with a samurai sword, and while I'm all for that, just about everything about The Future  just seems like shittified stuff right here on earth now, including the cars and the clothes and the teapots and the guns and whatever, even though we're supposedly a hundred and fifty years hence.

Although they do have re-atomizers, naturally.

Okay, the plan for rebooting Elysium (or the coup or whatever that the capitalist has devised) winds up in Matt's head...Sharlto (who's generally unintelligible) gets hold of him and decides he wants the info, and takes him and Sonia Braga's dishy neice Ana and her daughter (who has leukemia) up to Elysium. It's taken us forever to get to the titular place...mostly we've been slithering around in sweaty stinky third-world stuff. But even though Elysium is an awesome special effect, well...we don't see much of it. We really don't. You'd think the people who made this thing would've said...let's contrive a big climax utilizing this fantastic backdrop like a big circular California.

But no, we don't get that. We have to settle for a lot of stupid chase and gunfight stuff in not particularly interesting interiors,  involving Sharlto deciding to take the info from Matt Damon and become the ruler of Elysium, which he intends to reboot and rule with his two or three lackeys, after icing Jodie Foster. As for security guys on Elysium, there are four or five of them, and the President of the Republic or whatever accompanies them to gunbattles. The big finish is a really boring shaky-cam fistfight between Matt Damon and Sharlto on a catwalk.I guess that this hohummery is supposed to be interesting because they've both got exo-suits on...but it just seems exactly like a fistfight on a catwalk. Sharlto gets blown up, but Matt downloads reboot orders that turn everyone on earth into a citizen of Elysium and make it possible for everyone to be re-atomized all the time, all fifty billion of us, or however many of us there are in the terrible overpopulated future...the end.

Oh yeah, and the little girl gets her leukemia cured, not that we care.

This thing didn't do too alienated me before it even opened, and I gather it did the same to a lot of other folks who'd have been its natural audience. Deciding to rise above my prejudices, I went and got spanked. Please, please you cinematic artistes, I beg you. If you're going to serve up your lefty agitprop SF, try to learn something about science, or just plain life, for that matter. And don't give us a largely Elysium-free climactic fistfight on a catwalk in a movie called Elysium.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hoo Boy Is Desolation of Smaug Gonna Bite

If you follow this blog, you know that I had grave reservations about the first Hobbit installment, and I feel I was completely vindicated by the film that we got. An Unexpected Journey turned into something very, very awful long about the forty-minute mark, and the only really good sequence, the Riddles in the Dark bit, came way too late and didn't last long. The following February, John Corradin, who runs Days of Knights, the local gaming emporium here in Newark, DE., held a Hobbit post mortem and gabfest, and I was happy to attend with my friend Sam Tomaino (who would've played Bilbo in my never-to-be realized teenage movie of The Hobbit, scuttled by Tolkien himself). I'd actually ducked out at the end of a Days of Knights screening of  Journey, because I couldn't bear to speak to anyone who actually liked the thing. But I shouldn't have worried; I should've had vastly more faith in John and Co; at the gabfest John made it pretty clear early on that he didn't like Journey one bit, and when he asked all the assembled Tolkien fans if any of them were looking forward to Desolation of Smaug, nobody raised their hand.

Yep, that's right. You heard me. Not a single person was looking forward to it.


Frankly, even though I'd hated Journey, I was totally knocked out by this. Mr. Jackson had built up quite a reservoir of goodwill with the LOTR movies; even though they weren't perfect, they delivered some genuine satisfaction to some genuine Tolkien fans, such as myself. But none of the people I talked to at the post mortem had anything nice to say about Journey, aside from the Gollum stuff; all of us were pretty much in agreement, except that a few folks had perfectly valid criticisms I hadn't thought of. We all thought it was horribly padded, and tried to get by mostly on huge gobs of blitheringly idiotic action, all the while doing astonishing violence to the story. The birdshit drooling down the side of Radagast's face would've said it all...if the trollsnot glistening all over Bilbo's face hadn't already said it.

Okay, so, time's been flying, and we're coming up on Part 2, and man, everything I've seen makes it look like it's going to be an even bigger shit sandwich, although maybe I shouldn't use that term...perhaps Mr. Jackson in his wisdom (which is so superior to Tolkien's) will actually depict one for us, in 3D and 48fps!

First off, you can tell from the trailers that everything is horribly wrong.The movie's going to be lousy the same way the first one was, except...I suspect it's going to bear even less relation to the source material, if that's possible. You get scene after scene in which you can't recognize what scene it corresponds to in the book...there are all sorts of wacky settings  (which I guess represent Thranduil's kingdom and the inside of Erebor), and big goofy-looking action set-pieces and really fake-looking special effects. The effects in the first film were crummy, and the ones in this film look terrible too. Everything is overlit, garish, badly designed, hopelessly unreal. We get a bit of a glimpse of Smaug---he's not a good idea. The trailers alone are going to make it very hard for me to drag myself to this thing.

But there's more. There's a website called where the purveyors apparently have an in with Peter Jackson....maybe they're simply shills, I don' t know. They refer to Gandalf and Radagast and Thranduil as "Gandy, Raddy and Thrandy", and for that reason alone they should be gassed. But these folks are also revealing tidbits about the new movie, and they're truly cringerworthy, all the more so because they seem to be grounded in reality. And if this information is reliable, even more of the story is being trampled on than you'd gather from the trailers, and that's saying something.

First off, the dwarves break into Beorn's house, and he attacks them---chuck that whole business about Gandalf fooling him. Then there's apparently a scene where Beorn captures an orc and tortures him. The orcs follow the dwarves into Mirkwood. The thing with Bilbo and the butterflies (one of my favorite bits from the book) might wind up on the cutting-room floor, but we are going to have Bombur falling into the sleepyhead stream and then being carried around, which will certainly be sidesplitting, given what Jackson dwarf-humor is like. There's going to be loads and loads of spider-action, which is then going to end with a bunch of elf-vs-spider action. There's going to be a PC elf-warrior chick (how groundbreaking) who figures in the whole rest of this ridiculous mess, and either Fili or Kili is going to be romantically involved with her, although she might be in love with Thranduil...when we get to Rivendell, Bard is going to introduced at the gitgo and might be something of a it goes.

Then there's the whole Gandalf-Radagast-Necromancer thread. Gandalf's perambulations in southern Mirkwood  in and around Dol Guldur will be right onstage in this thing (yep, more luscious Radagast, with the birdshit still on), complete with investigations into the "King's tomb," the king here apparently being the Witch King, a conception which diverges pretty radically from Tolkien, seeing as how the Lord of Nazgul just became a wraith and never died...some of this might be cool, except that we've seen what's happened with Mr. Jackson since LOTR, and it hasn't been pretty, and probably all this cobbled together and improvised stuff won't be too pretty neither...

I wonder how many Rhosgobel Rabbits will be on view.

I really should stop now. I'm just making myself madder, and...well hey, maybe I'm going to be completely mistaken, and this thing will be swell. But even though I'm going to go see it, I don't know if anyone in my family will be willing to join me...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Night At Gatsby's

I’ve been a big Marx Brothers fan since I was in my early teens; I used to watch all their movies on New York TV, and I thought (still think) the best ones, like Duck Soup, are just about the funniest movies ever.You might well have noticed a lot of Marx Brotherish stuff in Samurai Cat, for example. Anyway, I was  very sorry that they didn’t make more films, and was rather surprised to learn that they really weren’t that popular during the thirties...their movies got great reviews, and everybody agreed they were sensational, but audiences just didn’t flock to their stuff—I believe that the Ritz Brothers, who nobody watches today, were much better box office. The aforementioned Duck Soup was the fifth Marx Brothers film for Paramount, and it didn’t do well...their contract ran out, and the studio dumped them. They got picked up by Metro-Goldwyn Mayer, who insisted on a rather different approach, involving more plot, romantic stuff, and big musical numbers (in addition to harp and piano solos by Harpo and Chico). The first two MGM movies, Night at the Opera and Day At the Races, set the mold, and they were still pretty good, but things declined after that.

Now, what I didn’t know is that Opera actually got its start as their last Paramount project, namely, an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Originally it was going to be called Scrambled Eggs, after East and West Egg in Long Island, where the novel is set; but then the title was changed to A Night at Gatsby’s. The script was by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, and S.J. Perelman, although by the time it hit the theatres, it would undoubtedly have been pretty well transformed by adlibs, as always happened with Marx Brothers movies. Certainly, the source material got a pretty drastic working over...Dr. T.J. Eckleburg was substituted for the Nick Carraway character, because Groucho felt that TJ Eckleburg was a great Groucho name. Chico was given Meyer Wolfsheim’s part, because it was felt that Italians and Jews were a similar species, as evidenced by the fact that Chico always played an Italian. Wolfsheim served as Gatsby’s interpreter, Gatsby being played by Harpo, who communicated entirely in horn this time, Zeppo was out of the picture.

The story had Eckleburg moving in next to Gatsby and observing some wild parties. Receiving an invitation to one of these shindigs, Eckleburg runs into Meyer Wolfsheim, Gatsby’s business partner. A filmed version of this scene, and several others, actually survives...the Brothers were in the habit of testing material on audiences to see what worked and what didn’t, and it’s possible to hunt this stuff down on the web. Filled with adlibs, these little slices of comedic gold diverge a damn sight from the script:

Wolfsheim: Heckleburg, Heckleburg...

Eckleburg: Yes, Dr. TJ Eckleburg.

Wolfsheim: Where do I knowa that name from...

Eckleburg: There’s a billboard...

Wolfsheim: Yeah right. With you eyes all big...looking out in the ash...Hey, you make an ash of yourself!

Eckleburg: I get that all the time.

Wolfsheim: Well, it’s a good one, hey boss?

Eckleburg: You don’t seem very much like a Wolfsheim.

Wolfsheim: I don’t think so too, but you gotta be what you are.

Eckleburg; Well, speaking of that, who is this Gatsby fellow anyway? I live right next to him, but---

Wolfsheim: We make alotta dough together, but there’s some things I don’t know.

Eckleburg: Like what?

Wolfsheim: I can’t say.

Eckleburg: He spends all day looking at a dock.

Wolfsheim: Why a dock? He wanna make soup?

Eckleburg: No, not a duck. A dock.

Wolfsheim: He look at you?

Eckleburg: Why would he?

Wolfsheim: You’re a Doc. Doc Heckleburg.

Eckleburg; No, no, not doc, dock. D-O-C-K. You know, where the boats come up.

Wolfsheim: Come up? Lika the U-boat?

Eckleburg: No, not like that. A regular boat.

Wolfsheim: But itsa  you boat, right? I’d like to take a ride in you boat.

Eckleburg: I don’t have a boat.

Wolfsheim: Atsa shame.

In another test, we have all three brothers plus Paramount starlet Grace Bradley as Daisy, and Margaret Dumont, who plays Daisy’s mother, Mrs. Madeleine Effingwell. Gatsby has learned that Eckleburg is Daisy’s optometrist, and has asked him to invite her over to his house, so he can rekindle their old romance. But  he doesn’t reckon on Mrs.Effingwell tagging along as a chaperone. The scene begins with Gatsby and Wolfsheim showing up at Eckleburg’s:

Gatsby: Honk.

Eckleburg: What did he say?

Wolfsheim: He say he very nervous, wonder if this was good idea.

Eckleburg: All that with one honk?

Wolfsheim: Great, huh?

Eckleburg: How did you learn to understand him?

Gatsby: Honk.

Wolfsheim: He don’t want you to know.

Eckleburg: Why not?

Wolfsheim: He’s a mystery man.

We hear car doors thumping. There’s a knock at the door, and Eckleburg jumps to answer it. In come Mrs. Madeline Effingwell, and her daughter, Daisy. Gatsby begins to honk furiously.

Wolfsheim: He say itsa no good, he no wanna the mother, just be alone with his girl.

Mrs. Effingwell: I have come to make absolutely certain that nothing untoward occurs...

Gatsby honks and goes to stand in the corner.

Mrs. Effingwell to Eckleburg: What is the meaning of this?

Eckleburg: It’s sort of like that, but---

Mrs. Effingwell:You misunderstand me...

Eckleburg: No, I misunderstand you.

Mrs. Effingwell: What are you doing, arranging assignations between that man...(She points at Gatsby, who honks) and my Daisy?

Eckleburg: Do I look like someone who would assignate? You cut me to the quick.

Mrs. Effingwell: I thought you were an optometrist....

Wolfsheim: No, he don’t think things ever work out...

Eckleburg (vehemently): I refuse to be characterized as a pessimist.

Wolfsheim (pouncing): Too late.

Mrs. Effingwell: My daughter is a married woman!

Gatsby: Honk.

Wolfsheim: He say, it’s okay, he no mind.

Mrs. Effingwell: Who is this, this foreigner?

Wolfsheim: I’m the guy who fixed the 1919 World Series.

Mrs. Effingwell, in high dudgeon: A mobster?

Wolfsheim: I no think so...I no hava the big red claws.

Mrs. Effingwell: A racketeer then?

Wolfsheim: I no play tennis.

Mrs. Effingwell: But...

Wolfsheim: And I no zoom up and go boom.

Mrs. Effingwell: Yes, yes...

Wolfsheim: And I no swordfight in France...

Eckleburg: This is getting us no place.

Wolfsheim: I think we been there a while.

Gatsby: Honk.

Daisy (desperately): I love you too!

Eckleburg: You understand him?

Daisy: I went with him for two years, before he joined the army...

Mrs. Effingwell: I never knew...

Eckleburg: And here you were, accusing me of assignating..(He sidles up to her) On the other hand, I can imagine an assignation with you. An assignation so big I don’t think I could see round it...Is that all you, or do you have a Siamese twin? Don’t answer that.

Mrs. Effingwell: I don’t know what to say.

Eckleburg: Then count to ten and take me to your bosom. That’s if your arms are long enough.

Ultimately, Gatsby and Daisy do get together, but her horrible busband Tom  manages to break it all up, in an ugly scene that erupts during the film’s climactic party. Having guessed that Gatsby is probably a phony and a bootlegger, Tom decides to peel away his disguise in front of everyone:

Tom: An Oxford man, eh?

Gatsby: Honk.

Wolfsheim: He say he hate to brag, but...

Tom: What did he study?

Gatsby: Honk.

Wolfsheim: He study all about Cambridge.

Tom: He studied Cambridge at Oxford? How pointless!

Gatsby: Honk.

Wolfsheim: He say it make him very mad. So he went to Cambridge to study Oxford.

Tom: I think he never went to Oxford.

Gatsby: Honk.

Wolfsheim: How you explain-a the accent?

Tom: He doesn’t have an English accent.

Wolfsheim: Yeah, but he meet a lotta nice geese.

Daisy (running in): Jay! There you are!

Gatsby simpers with his finger in his mouth. Then she notices her husband.

Daisy: Oh! Tom! .

Gatsby: Honk.

Daisy: I do love you, but I can’t say I never loved Tom!

Gatsby (heartbroken): Honk.

Daisy: I’m so confused.

Tom (sneering at Gatsby): Hah!

Despairing, Gatsby produces one of those bug-sprayers that has a handle-pump and a cylindrical can, and proceeds to spray Tom and Daisy. They drop dead. He gets Mrs. Effingwell too, and moves on to the other guests.

Eckleburg (turning to the camera): The very rich are not like you and me.

Gatsby sprays him, then Wolfsheim, then himself, and they all crumple, twitching.

Now, the brothers, who’d been known to hobnob with Scott Fitzgerald at parties on Long Island, had expected to procure the rights, but they presumed a bit too much on their friendship, it seems; Fitzgerald came away with the distinct impression that his work was being mocked, and the negotiations collapsed...since a certain amount of money had already been spent, this proved the last straw for Paramount, and the brothers were left with no contract, the unfinished script, and the test footage. Ultimately, when they wound up at MGM, the script was completely revamped, and turned into Night at the Opera....some of the test footage that didn’t survive involved an early version of Opera’s celebrated stateroom scene, in which Gatsby and Daisy, hiding from Tom, wind up at Eckleburg’s tiny bungalow, and everybody from the party next door comes over and squeezes in too. But, unfortunately, that piece of film was on nitrate stock, and went up in a fire along with the last known copy of Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

God Hates A Bastard

 Okay, I was out of commission for a while there; I was born with a heart valve problem that wasn't too dangerous for much of my life, but I was told that I would need surgery at some point, and well, the time came, open heart, the works. No need to go into detail, but I didn't feel like doing much of anything for about a month and a half; when I did start writing again, I got back to work on the final Zorachus book. I'm back to running and weight lifting, although the full benefits of the operation won't really show for another month or two, or so I've been told. This is my first post since that Vikings piece; what motivated me was seeing this jaw-dropping movie that I'd been waiting much of my adult life to be blown away by.

I grew up on Italian Westerns, but the vogue for them didn't last too long Stateside; their popularity  here dropped off after Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, and a lot of the best ones either never got imported, or only played in places I just couldn't get to. But the fact is, the Spaghetti Western industry kept on chugging along well into the seventies, when finally it was kinda supplanted by the Italian crime flick explosion, which employed a bunch of the same guys. I never lost interest in the Pasta Oaters, though, and I kept on the lookout. When DVDs appeared, finding stuff got a whole lot easier, and I managed to collect a number of Italian Westerns that I'd only heard about.  Leone's films had always been readily available, but  work by the other two great masters of the genre, namely Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima, was harder to track down. I only recently got my hands on .Sollima's Run, Man Run ( a sequel to The Big Gundown), and Face to Face, a very nifty, scary flick about moral transformation that's  The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly's only real rival for best Spaghetti Western.

Or so I thought until I managed to locate God Hates A Bastard.

I'd keep running across references to this thing, by people who were completely knocked out by it forty years ago, but hadn't seen it since. It came out in 1970 and was directed by Sergio Corbucci; rumor had it that it was even nastier than his The Great Silence, had attracted a ton of negative publicity, and had vanished very quickly. As far as anyone knew, it had never been distributed in the US, and it had been kept out of circulation because there was a dispute over the rights. I'd heard that it had been produced by Alberto Grimaldi, had music credited to Bruno Nicolai (his frequent collaborator Ennio Morricone apparently wrote most of it), and starred Klaus Kinski in one of his few heroic roles, as Hunchback Joe, El Penitente, a peon-loving religious zealot who walks around bowed under the huge hollow cross, filled with every sort of killing device you could access in 1913 Mexico.

Facing off against him is Gian Maria Volonte, the main bad guy from Fistful of Dollars and Face to Face, here playing Fulgencio Cicatrice, an especially demonic Huertista colonel...his men under constant attack by rebels, he responds with hideous reprisals, some of them quite imaginative, against the poor civilian population. He's also using peons as slave labor to construct a gigantic fortress....seems to be the same set that they built for El Condor. He's maybe Volonte's scariest villain ever, at least as frightening as the professor-turned-monster he played in Face to Face...his eyes simply blaze, and he's got this very memorable scar, an amazing bit of makeup, that runs from his brow right down his nose, and over his chin. Every time he appears, you simply cringe. He also growls some excellent villain dialogue that really comes through, even in translation, which is very has to go to screenwriter Guiseppe Vivaldini, who I know nothing whatsoever about.

Anyway, things are going from bad to vile south of the Rio Grande, and into this situation comes the aforementioned Hunchback Joe, Klaus Kinski in full flaming eccentric mode, surely the most grotesque good guy that ever kicked ass in a western, Italian or otherwise. Of course, if you've seen For A Few Dollars More, you already had a primo Kinski hunchback experience, but imagine that character hybridized with the rebel priest he played in Bullet For The General, and you'll get some idea of what I'm talking about. There's also a great deal of Christ symbolism, as one might expect with a protagonist who carries a huge cross around most of the time. He preaches against Cicatrice, gets tortured extensively by leering goons, and doesn't fight back until about halfway through the movie...then all Hell literally breaks loose. This thing must be the single most violent Italian Western ever made. When Joe gets into the goodies in his cross, he has a particular penchant for blowing noses off faces, and the gore effects are a whole lot more competent than you normally get in Italian flicks. As the peons rise up, roused by Joe's especially sadistic brand of Christianity, we get a number of preliminary slaughterfests leading to a final shootout which is about as bloody as the demise of the Wild Bunch. Cicatrice comes to a fantastically gruesome noseless end, and after receiving many thanks from the peasants, Joe drags his cross off into a gorgeously lensed Almeria sunset...

And oh, I forgot to mention John Ireland, "In the role of Robertson." Ireland made a few of these things (he's in Run Man Run), and here he's a gringo gunrunner who plays both sides of the fence, but winds up aligned with the bloodspattered angels.

Corbucci turns in his best directing job; for my money, God Hates A Bastard is better than The Great Silence, Companeros, El Mercenario, or Navajo Joe, all of which it easily surpasses in savagery and sheer wacked-outness. In between unbelievable bouts of butchery, it's also frequently extremely funny and subversive. If indeed Morricone was primarily responsible for  the score, it's one of his very coolest, making haunting use of Gregorian chant;  praise to Mr.Nicolai too, if I'm not giving him enough credit. There's even a song (in weirdly pronounced English) that goes:

God hates a bastard
You know that it's true
If God hates a bastard
You know He hates you. 

The movie is also uncommonly good looking for an Italian Western. You have the same overused Spanish locations, but they're photographed at more interesting times of day than they generally are, and the colors are extremely vivid, even in my copy, which I suspect is a bootleg, although I'm not sure.

In short, get this movie if you possibly can. That might not prove easy, though. I bought it from some enterprise called Video Tiger, up in Canada, and I haven't been able to locate them since...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Been Watching Vikings

I got into the Northern thing back in high school...quite a natural progression, given my intense interest in Tolkien, Norseness being one of his primary inspirations. Anyway, I started reading everything Viking that I could lay my hands on.When, long about the age of fifteen or so, I started writing my own horror and heroic fantasy (you might have caught a flick with Peter Reigert and Alexander Gudonov called the Runestone which was based on one of my teenage efforts), I incorporated all sorts of Viking biz. There was a whole lot of that in Zorachus and The Nightmare of God, for example. I made a point of watching Viking movies too, such as well, The Vikings, The Long Ships, Prince Valiant, Alfred the Great, and a whole slew of Italian flicks like Erik the Conquerer. I'd say The Vikings is the single coolest Viking movie out there, with its  fabulous Mario Nascimbene score, and wonderful Norwegian and French locations, lensed by the great Jack Cardiff; the final swordfight between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis  is absolutely classic. You might notice it gets rotoscoped into rat combat at the climax of The Secret of Nimh. But...

While the movie gets some things right, it gets a lot of other things very wrong...we have a great big stone castle in Viking age Northumbria, the clothes and trapping are your typical furry Hollywood barbarian fantasies,etc. Jack Cardiff actually helmed The Long Ships, which bears virtually no resemblance to the novel it's based's a lot of fun but it sure is nonsensical, and the historical details are almost all bosh. Prince Valiant is a handsome production based on the nifty Hal Foster comic strip, and there's plenty of Viking action, but it has its Norsemen all wearing horned helmets, etc, and living in big stone fortresses. I only saw Alfred the Great once; it involves Alfred's campaign against the Danish Great Army, led by Guthrum and Ivar the I recall, most of the historical details were plausible, although the movie struck me as rather inept and boring. I suppose I should also mention a Charlton Heston movie called The Warlord, which is about Normans having it out with Viking-like's one of these things where the guys who made it were going to give you gritty lowdown on the Middle ages, and virtually everything about it is historically inaccurate...still, I love the damn thing, and the action scenes, staged by mega-genius Yakima Canutt, are among the best sequences of their sort ever done. Why it was deemed necessary to have the Vikings turned into Frisians simply beats me, but oh well.

All right then, when I heard the History Channel was mounting a Viking series, I was really looking forward to it, and on the whole, I thought it was pretty good, although the series finale, which I just watched last night, was rather anticlimactic. The single coolest element is actually the opening credits, nifty music over shots of dead Vikings sinking to the bottom with longships visible up above, speeding under oar. And for what it's worth, the representation of the Viking Age is the single most accurate depiction that I've ever seen. Certainly, the guys who it made seem to have been unusually serious about their historical responsibilities. The writers have read Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas played him in The Thirteenth Warrior, a wacked-out we're-giving-you the-gritty-lowdown, wildly anachronistic version of Beowulf), and Saxo Grammaticus's account of pagan shenanigans at Uppsala. However...there's a lot of preposterousness too, some of which is is truly insisted upon. I can't imagine that most people would be as annoyed as I was, but they're not writing this blog, now are they?

First off. the show's about Ragnar Lothbrok (Hairy-Breeks), the same fellow played by Ernest Borgnine in The Vikings. He might've been a real guy...according to legend, he raised a lot of hell in Northumbria before the Northumbrian king Aella caught him and threw him into a pit full of vipers, whereupon Ragnar's sons, Guthrum and Ivar the Boneless, descended on England and went about making a big nuisance of themselves with the aforementioned Great Army (probably no more than five hundred men or so), before Alfred took them down. Now. Ragnar and his boys were Danes...but because Denmark is kind boring dairy country, the producers of the show have them operating out of Norway, with Canadian Pacific Northwest locations standing in nicely for that. Can't say I'm too upset...Ragnar et all were depicted as Norwegians in The Vikings as well. Makes for much better visuals.

But what are we to make of the notion that the vikings knew next to nothing about England, and were desperately afraid of sailing out of sight of land? This, of course, is pure twaddle...for one thing, Scandinavians could simply sail south along the coast and hang a right. Depending on where they hung this right, it sure wouldn't have taken them too long to get to Blighty. So there's that. But as I said, the show also has Norsemen skeptical that there even is an England to be plundered, even though so many folks from Denmark had wound up there during the Anglo-Saxon conquest. The invaders themselves are even referred to as wicings, Vikings, in Anglo-Saxon accounts. The Angles were from what is now Denmark, and the Jutes gave their name to the Peninsula, Jutland. The Anglo-Saxon national epic, Beowulf, takes place, of course, in Denmark and Sweden. In the show, Earl Haraldson is completely skeptical about Ragnar's plans, and a lot of conflict reality, none of this would've happened. In all likelihood, he would've put some money into the enterprise.

The show takes place at the dawn of the viking era proper, the late eighth has Ragnar attacking the great monastery at Lindisfarne. Now while the assault on Lindisfarne was the very first eruption of the Vikings into recorded history, Ragnar had nothing to do with it...if he existed, he was from a later period...that's if he ran afoul of Aella. I don't suppose anyone cares...we're talking maybe fifty years here. In Hollywood terms, it's not The Thirteenth Warrior, for example, you have Ibin Fadlan rubbing shoulders with Beowulf, which is kinda like Billy the Kid showing up in Braveheart.

But back to the show.

Some of the names are just plain wrong. Ragnar's brother is named Rollo...he should be named Hrolf, Rollo being the Frankish form of the name, as in Rollo, the fellow who founded Normandy. Earl Haraldson is peculiar too...Earl Harald would've been a better idea. Later on, we run into a  nobleman called Jarl so-and-so. Well, are these guys Earls or Jarls? Jarl is, of course, the Norse form of Earl. The writers should've stuck with the real title, or the translation.

There are scads of innaccuracies in the costuming, sets, etc. It's not like watching Xena,  but a lot of the gear is hopelessly unreal. For one thing, Viking-period folks (the vast majority of Norse people weren't Vikings, by the way, the term being pretty much synonymous with pirate) didn't dress too sumptuously or flashily. Their garments were pretty basic, not at all exotic...most of their bling would've been jewelry, things like brooch pins, armlets, stuff like that. Also, the Norse didn't quaff their grog from horns or goblets...they drank from funnel-shaped glass beakers, which were set in separate bases. The Norse had all sorts of imported glassware, by the way...they did a lot of trading with the Franks. Most of their swords were made by Franks, for example.

The show's geography is  frequently ridiculous...among other things, our protagonists go on foot on a pilgrimage to the pagan center at Uppsala, which is depicted as being right across the mountains from Norway or pseudo-Denmark, or wherever they're supposed to be...but Uppsala was located all the way in the east part of Sweden, near the Baltic...that would've been some hike. The show's goings-on at the temple have some basis in fact...the priests used to kill nine of each kind of animal, including human beings, during this one festival every nine years. But I believe the humans were slaves and criminals...the show has one of our guys just deciding he wants to be a sacrificed for no particular reason. It's very odd. Many of the details of the priesthood are purely invented, by the way...the priests are freaky pale wierdos with shaved heads, facial tattoos, and black lipstick.

Actually, the entire characterization of the Norsemen themselves is kinda off. They're all very solemn and grim. In actuality, if one can judge by the sagas, they were always cracking jokes and engaging in admittedly very violent hijinks. To give you an example...when the Jomsvikings all got drunk, decided on a whim to attack the Norwegians, and got trounced at the battle of Hjorungafjord, the Norwegians were going down the line beheading the prisoners...but one of the Jomsvikings had a last request. He was very vain about his hair, you see, and didn't want to get it all hacked and messy, so he requested that someone hold his hair out over his head as the axe fell. Well, this was considered reasonable, and someone poor schmuck held the guy's hair out...whereupon the Jomsviking jerked his head back at the last moment, and the axe cut off the Norwegian's hands.

The Norwegians thought this was so funny that they let the Jomsviking go...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Strange Takes On The Dead

I surf the web from time to time to see what people are saying about my books, and the one that gets the most attention is The Dead...even before Permuted Press brought their edition out, a lot of folks had expressed themselves, and after PP did their thing, there was a big increase in chatter...the book got more reviews (most of them really positive) than all of my other books combined, and there was a bunch of discussion on zombie sites. But even though, by and large, it's been good egoboo, it frequently makes for peculiar reading.

First off, some people are perplexed by the very idea of a Christian horror novel. The Dead has been called been called "A wierd mix of Christian and Horror themes" as though the two things are kinda antithetical. Apparently there are folks who've never heard of  devils, damnation, fire and brimstone, satanism. They couldn't have any familiarity with the Book of Revelation, and they sure as hell must never have read Dante's Inferno, which is horror stuff from beginning to end, really sadistic, rivers of blood, people head down in blazing tombs, dismemberments by demons, all sorts of good stuff like that. Medieval Catholicism was awash in horror imagery...take a look at some of the tomb-effigies from the period...the old memento mori was never far from anybody's minds. As a matter of fact, The Dead was directly inspired by Brueghel's painting The Triumph of Death, (post-medieval, admittedly, although you wouldn't know to look at it) which features armies of mummies out to the horizon, hunting everybody down and killing us all quite horribly, peasants, merchants, kings, popes...absolutely batshit terrifying. And of course, when it comes to modern horror, you've got Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Exorcist, The Stand...even in H.P.Lovecraft, Christianity is sometimes efficacious, particularly in the more theological Cthulhu Mythos stuff, before he decided to try and recast that in a science-fictional mode. As for movies, well...the Hammer vampire films were straight out Roman Catholic propaganda...the film adaptation of The Exorcist is one of the most famous horror movies get the picture.

On to zombies.

There's this melody that keeps cropping up in one horror movie after was used as the theme in The Shining, for's the tune for Thomas of Celano's Dies Irae, the Mass For the's about the scariest piece of music ever, and it's all about the dead rising from their tombs on the last day. I bring this up because there's this notion that Christianity and zombie horror are particularly and peculiarly antithetical. A number of people respond to the very premise of The Dead, and ask, how can this possibly be? You don't have any zombies in the Bible, etc.Well, I might reference Ezekiel and the Dry Bones (I utilize that biblical bit in my book, actually) and also point out that dead people rise from their graves when Jesus dies...then, of course, there's the fact that the primary archetype for a zombie apocalypse is the Resurrection of the Dead, which is one of the tenets of the Nicene Creed. Well, in my book, the Resurrection is the reason the zombies are up and around. The good people have been Raptured off to Heaven; some mediocre folks are stuck here on earth (wrote this way before Left Behind, by the way), and they're coping with the bad resurrected dead has become Hell.  Now, all sorts of zombie movies have brought up the Resurrection and the actual Apocalypse, but then they don't really go anywhere with it. It evinces a lack of ambition, to say the least.

But even when some of The Dead's admirers have no problem with the mix of theology and horror, they're frequently rather ill-informed. I keep hearing that my zombies are byproducts of the Last Judgement or the Rapture. Nope, they're the direct products of...the Resurrection. Also, it's peculiar how many people zero in on the whole Rapture aspect of the's a doctrine that doesn't even make it into the Nicene Creed, and while it has some scriptural basis, it was never a big part of the tradition---Roman Catholicism---that I was raised in. Oh, there are Catholic Pentecostals who are quite taken with the idea, and I thought it had some horror potential---it's really pretty creepy, and it's a handy prop. But first and foremost, this is a Resurrection book here. The Rapture is disposed of right at the beginning, and's one damn brush with zombies after another. As a matter of fact, the whole end times schema that a lot of people are so attached to gets pretty short shrift...not so much because I'm making fun of it, but because the Antichrist and Second Coming etc., are not the focus of the book, which is living dead horror. The Antichrist is mentioned in turns out he's an Undersecretary of the Department of Education...I'm not making fun of Evangelicals...I'm making fun of the D of E. 

The matter of my Catholicism comes up with some regularity too. Some people seem sure that I'm Protestant, then pronounce themselves puzzled, because all of my lead characters are Catholics. Well, I'm a Catholic of a rather traditional sort, and by and large, the book reflects that. Admittedly, the clergy in the book are presented in a pretty negative light, and I've been accused of outright Catholic bashing...but the worldview that the book depicts is Catholic. Catholicism turns out to be true, even if certain priests suck...they've erred horribly in wandering away from it. There's a positive review out there that assures people that the book isn't a justification of Catholicism. I don't know what book that person read. I mean, I'm glad they like it, but...The Dead is about as in-your-face theologically as anything you're likely to pick up. It's primary purpose is to terrify, but that fits in perfectly well with the theological agenda. I'm a Roman Catholic fear monger. Jonathan Edwards, the guy who wrote Sinners in The Hands of An Angry God, might've been a Puritan, but I regard him as a kindred spirit. The fact is, if you really want to disturb someone, you have to get to them on some level where they think there's something authentic about the horror. Most people are religious; a lot of them believe in damnation, and while they might not believe in zombies, they believe in Devils.

Nobody but nobody believes in Cthulhu.

On the other hand, there are those who are so bewildered by the juxtaposition of God and zombies that they don't even classify the book as a zombie book at all. Some of them like it, but they call it an "apocalyptic thriller" or a "thought experiment." Now, some of this has to do with the characterization of the zombies...even though I use the term, my zombies are not much like the original variety, which were semi-sentient agricultural slaves. But Romero's zombies are also very different from the originals...Haitian zombies didn't eat you, for example...Romero's zombies seem to have somewhat more in common with Richard Matheson's vampires in I Am Legend. Well, my zombies differed from Haitian  zombies too, in different ways. Mine are smart, fast, and vicious, embodiments  of furious damnation, jealous of the living, and not interested at all in eating you...they want to kill you so you'll come back as one of them and share their misery. Moreover, they simply can't be killed, only crippled temporarily. Some people don't like this conception...oh well. My zombies are scarier than Romero's. I might also point out that John Russo, the co-author or the Night of the Living Dead screenplay, opted for fast mean zombies in Return of the Living Dead when he decided to take another hack at the subject matter...we arrived at the idea independently. In short, when you get folks that insist that The Dead isn't even a zombie book at all, it's rather laughable, in my opinion.

Finally, there are all the people who hate the book, hate it, hate it, hate it. I'd say about one in five readers get really mad. Generally it seems to be purely philosophical, because their analysis is so rabid and ill-observed. Now frankly, I can see how the book might piss some people off...but when they start claiming that the book is slow, well, that's nuts. They really tend to go overboard on the number of typos, even in the Permuted Press version, which was actually properly copyedited. They complain that the characters, some of whom are clergymen, have conversations about theology and the end of the world in a story in which the Last Judgement, the Resurrection, and the End of the World actually happen. They unload on the dialogue, because everyone sounds so literate, and "no one talks that way," even though three of the major characters are academics, and two of them are priests. Fact is, a lot of my closest friends are academics, my wife is a Doctor of Philosophy, and a lot of the lines in the book are drawn from things I've heard actual people say...some of the liberal theology is taken practically verbatim from utterances by priests from the Theology Department at Notre Dame. I've been in a number of exchanges that were pure set-pieces, almost exactly like Max's controversies with Uncle Buddy, and all of them unfolded exactly the same way.

Buddy's disquisition on Big Head Louis Armstrong figures, by the way, is based on a real conversation too, which took place a long while ago in a bar called The Flagship, in Seaford DE.

Just goes to show you.