Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Tuesday, March 4. 2014
I've been having a Harold Ramis retrospective since hearing the hard news that he passed away. I saved the best picture to watch last. I'm talking about Groundhog Day.
After seeing Groundhog Day, and being both entertained and moved once again, I turned to the net to do some research on the movie. I was saddened to learn that Bill Murray and Harold Ramis fought bitterly during the production, and that they never really mended the problem between them.
The reason for it is supposedly because Murray wanted to focus on the serious aspects of Groundhog day, and Ramis wanted to keep it in a more comedic direction.
I'm sure there was more to it than merely that. Longtime collaborators often develop animosity toward one another. It's a sad element of human nature.
I can see both sides of the argument. Despite its breezy tone, there is a definite morality story inside Groundhog Day. I think more people realize it with repeat viewings. For instance, Roger Ebert initially gave Groundhog Day three out of four stars in his review
upon its original release. Not such a bad rating, but he later revised his opinion
in 2005 and listed Groundhog Day as part of his list of Great Movies.
Still, it's not hard to imagine Bill Murray's frustration. He often strove to be taken more seriously as an actor. Unfortunately few wanted to see him in his dream project: an adaptation/remake of Somerset Mougham's The Razors Edge. I, on the other hand, cite it as a favorite.
But it's also very easy to see Harold Ramis's side. He always was a comedy guy, and he probably felt that it was his job to deliver a successful comedy picture to his producers. He achieved that. Groundhog day was not a hit of the caliber of Ghostbusters or Animal House, but it did respectable box office.
Perhaps if Bill Murray had his say, Groundhog Day may well have been a better motion picture. Maybe. We'll never know the answer to that question.
However, Groundhog Day remains one of the most beloved movies of all time. It gradually sank its way into public consciousness. I have found that the faces of people light up when the title is mentioned. Buddhists have embraced Groundhog Day. In 2006 Groundhog Day was entered into the United States National Film Registry for its cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance.
The real tragedy of the story of a man condemned to relive a frustrating day over and over again is this: Bill Murray and Harold Ramis never worked together again. Rumor has it that Ramis wanted Murray to be in his comic crime feature, The Ice Harvest, but the actor declined. We are all poorer for this.
Murray and Ramis made comic gold together, and never more so than in Groundhog Day. This is a movie that will not only entertain, but it will also uplift you, and if you allow your heart and soul to accept its sweet message, it will make you a better, richer person.
Sunday, March 2. 2014
One of the worst things about growing older is how you have to watch the people pass away. Friends, family, and also writers, directors, actors, musicians. We've had more than our share of losses in the past few years. Beloved, legendary writers, filmmakers, actors, whose work we revered all our lives.
They all hurt, but the shocking news that Harold Ramis died last week cut me especially deep. Even though his work did not really start until I was nearly an adult, I feel like I grew up with Ramis.
It all started for me, and for a lot of other people, with Animal House. Harold Ramis was one of the main writers of that classic comedy. Animal House is one of the most beloved comedies of all time. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who dislikes it. Oh, I've heard a few sad reports that people found some of the humor to be offensive. Un-PC. Most thinking individuals took it all in good fun. I think there are an alarming number of people out there today who actually hope to be offended.
I went to the movies and saw Animal House two nights in a row. Everyone was seeing it. Classic barely even begins to describe the impact his movie has had on popular culture.
Of course Ramis was a head writer for SCTV prior to the making of Animal House, but to this day I have not seen a single minute of the show.
Producers were quick to copy the success of Animal House, but Harold Ramis, Ivan Reitman, and SNL alumni Bill Murray turned the idea on its head and made a family-friendly, warm movie called Meatballs. Some pressings referred to Meatballs as "Animal House at a Summer Camp", but this movie eschewed the raunchy elements of Animal House and instead focused on good-natured juvenile pranks and mild titillation.
Meatballs was a huge success, and it was the first motion picture collaboration between Harold Ramis and Bill Murray. The two went on to make several other memorable comedies. I consider their working relationship to rival Scorcese and DeNiro's epic work.
They were off and running, and Caddyshack came next. My feelings toward this film are mixed. While I like the Rodney Dangerfield parts, and there are some very funny moments in the movie, I felt that Murray was too over the top. I have trouble watching Caddyshack again, but it certainly has its enthusiastic fans.
The following year, 1981, saw the release of Stripes. This one is a big favorite of mine. Me and some friends saw it repeatedly at the drive-in. This time Ramis had a major role in the movie, and his infectious charm was an effective counterpart to Murray's lovable wiseguy shtick. Yes, Stripes falls apart in the European scenes, but the first two thirds of the movie are so funny and endearing.
Jump three years and the team of Reitman-Murray-Ramis really hit pay dirt. Ghostbusters is one of the most beloved movies in cinema history. I hate to say it, but I find the movie a little tiresome. I do like it, and I have a great deal of affection for Ghostbusters, but it doesn't hold up for me in repeated viewings.
Happily, many feel otherwise. Ghostbusters was nearly an industry in itself. A hit song, spinoffs, merchandise, you name it. The inevitable sequel followed, but to date I have never seen it. I heard it was weaker than the first, and I never bothered. I need to do something about that.
In 1993 Bill Murray and Harold Ramis worked on their final collaboration, and it is arguably their best movie. Groundhog Day is a wonderful motion picture experience. It's funny, but the movie also has things to say about human nature. In it, a narcissistic weatherman must repeat a miserable day over and over again until he loses his ego and learns that the richest people are those to give to others with no thought of reward. Only then can he achieve happiness and win the heart of the woman he loves.
Ramis was a writer on the Rodney Dangerfield comedy, Back To School. I heard that they producers had the script all ready to go, but they felt something was missing. They decided to bring in the best: Harold Ramis. He looked over the screenplay and suggested that they make the Dangerfield character rich. It was originally intended that Dangerfield be a janitor who goes to college with his son. The norm for these sort of comedies is that the rich be the stuffy antagonists, and the poor slobs be the heroes. Ramis said to make Rodney the rich man everyone wished they were. It worked.
I can't underestimate the profound effect these movies had upon me. Even the ones I didn't care so much for helped mold me to who I am today.
I also shared all of these movies with my children, and I am happy to report that they loved them as much as I did. Meatballs was my stepdaughter's favorite movie. In fact, for a few years it was a tradition to watch Meatballs on the night of the last day of school for her ("Are you ready for the Summer?!?), and we watched Back To School on the night before the first day of the new school year.
Harold Ramis was a class act. His movies were never hateful or ugly. He understood wit
, and he did not have to resort to sleaze. He was too good for that.
Goodbye, Harold. Those of us who treasure great comedy will love your work forever.
Thursday, February 6. 2014
The McCain series may well be the crowning achievement of Ed Gorman's illustrious career. If I had to pick a particular favorite novel, I might have to go with either Black River Falls or Cage of Night. But if I had to point my finger to the area where Gorman's writing shines the brightest, it would almost certainly be the McCain books.
Each book in this nostalgic series has name of a classic rock and roll song as its title. the first one, The Day The Music Died, was published in 1998. It introduced readers to young Sam McCain, a poor but up-and-rising lawyer living in 1950's Iowa. McCain adores Buddy Holly and takes a trip to see his idol perform, but Holly never makes the show. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper are killed in a plane crash on February 3rd, 1959. This tragedy sets a melancholic tone for the story. McCain, who also dabbles in odd private eye jobs, takes on a murder-suicide case in it.
The subsequent books in the series are (in chronological order): Wake Up Little Suzie, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Save The Last Dance For Me, Everybody's Somebody's Fool, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Fools Rush In, Ticket To Ride, and Bad Moon Rising.
The novels follow McCain as his life progresses through the 1960's, and each one reflects the social and political climate of its day. There is great nostalgia in these books, and Gorman obviously feels a lot of fondness for the period. However, he also never lets us forget that all was not as nice back then as some would lead us to believe. There was racism, sexism, spousal abuse, and other not-so-pleasant things going on in American society.
Still, it's hard not to be moved by McCain's adoration of his ragtop car. His refusal to grow up and act respectable. His love of rock and roll. The burger stands and dances. Ed Gorman brings to life the styles, the attitudes, and the fun that people had in the mid-20th Century. Always against a backdrop of some sort of mystery that McCain finds himself trying to figure out.
There are nine novels preceding the next McCain book. That might seem daunting to some of you, but there is plenty of time to read them before Riders on the Storm
is published this October. Just try the first one and I think you will be hooked.
As for me, Riders of the Storm is my most anticipated publication of 2014.
Monday, January 27. 2014
News travels fast on the Information Superhighway, and I'm sure that everyone knows that Cemetery Dance Publications has announced that they will be putting out the bulk of Bentley Little's back catalog. Having seen success with their edition of Little's latest novel, The Influence, CD is pulling out the stops with this, which appears to be the biggest and boldest move in their history.
I am a big Bentley Little fan, and I rejoice at the news. However, a tiny part of me is slightly sad about it.
This feels like the end of an era to me. For the most part Bentley Little was always a paperback original writer. More or less every year his fans could go into a bookstore and buy a copy of his latest book. I damned sure did. I never, ever, missed a Bentley Little title.
I've seen some people look down upon paperback originals in the past. That's certainly their prerogative, but I always liked them. They are easy on the wallet, and the smaller sized paperback is comfortable to read. Most genre books came out in the format. The bigger names got mass market releases, and sometimes small press editions accompanied the paperbacks. Usually, though, readers like me bought and cherished our paperbacks.
I'd buy wonderful books by Robert McCammon, Skipp and Spector, Joe R. Lansdale, and many others in paperback, and I presume that the writers did well at it. Some obviously did better than others, but the getting seemed to be good in those days.
Bentley Little rode in on that crest, and from all appearances had a lucrative career. But as we all know, the publishing industry is rapidly changing. Some think for the better, others for the worse. I suppose I am somewhere in the middle. Or maybe just a little left of the side of worse.
I am ecstatic to see Cemetery Dance doing all of these Bentley Little books. CD is my favorite publisher, and Little has always been one of my favorite horror writers. He has one of the most distinctive voices in the history of the genre. Bentley Little was never The next Stephen King. His work is startlingly original. he can be shocking and he knows when to be subtle. He creates vivid, easily identifiable characters, and then throws them into surreal chaos. Whatever else you might say about Bentley Little, no one can accuse him of having a lack of ambition with his plots.
I said above that I was sad to see the slow death of the paperback original. Some will undoubtedly say that horror paperbacks are coming out all the time. Yeah, they are, but it isn't the same to me as mass market, digest-sized paperbacks coming to local stores. Most of them now are the larger trade size, and a lot of them have the telltale barcode inside the back cover which reveals their POD origins. Nothing wrong in that.
It might even be better in some ways. With POD and small press publishing, there will be a lot fewer stripped books, and wasted money and resources. But I miss taking my weekend trips to the bookstore to buy my reading material.
Who knows? Maybe these Bentley Little books will make their way into bookstores. The trade paperback editions that Cemetery Dance are doing, at least. That would be awesome. I'll still probably buy mine at the source. I like to give as much direct support to small press publishers as I can.
I intend to buy and read all of the Bentley Little books that CD are doing. I hope others will as well. His stories are complex and often deserve to be reread. I also hope that he wins a legion of new readers with this venture.
Thursday, January 16. 2014
seems to be getting on track. It's a mixed blessing. They are my favorite exploitation DVD company, but it is sad that co-founder Sage Stallone is not a part of it. Stallone died, tragically too young, in 2012.
Grindhouse has a reputation for delivering the most outrageous and horrifying movies from the exploitation era: Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, The Beyond, Pieces, A Cat in the Brain, I Drink Your Blood. Great, amazing stuff. But they are branching out into other areas.
Recently Grindhouse brought us the delirious An American Hippie in Israel. Even more recently they put out a classic Spaghetti Western, The Big Gundown. Next up is one of the finest movies of the 1960's. I'm talking about The Swimmer.
I first heard about The Swimmer sometime in the 90's. Gary Braunbeck wrote an article in, I think, The Scream Factory Magazine. It dealt with horror movies that were not considered horror movies by most people. The Swimmer was part of his piece.
Intrigued, I bought The Swimmer on VHS. And I loved it. I later bought it on DVD. That disc went out of print, and I put my copy on ebay. I made a handsome profit off of it, too.
The Swimmer stars Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster. He plays a healthy, virile suburbanite who has a rather bizarre idea one afternoon. He decides to swim across his neighborhood. From yard to yard, swimming pool to swimming pool. All the way home.
We see the area as a model suburbia. Clean houses and yards, happy, affluent people sipping martinis. But all is not as it seems. As the swimmer progresses on his journey, the facade of happy normality starts to fracture. Lancaster's facade of vibrancy fades. All is not bliss in suburbia after all.
The Swimmer is not a story in which a shock surprise hits the viewer over the head at the climax. The darkness gradually, subtly unfolds, and by the time the swimmer reaches his destination, we have a pretty good idea about what he will find. That doesn't lessen the effect at all, but rather enhances it. The dread mounts until the inevitable horror is revealed.
The Swimmer is based on a short story by John Cheever, and was adapted by Frank and Eleanor Perry. Though critically respected, The Swimmer never quite became a famous movie. This is doubtless due to the unconventional nature of the story, as its downbeat tone.
The Grindhouse DVD is coming in March, and as always they will deliver a hell of a package. A restored print, the original short story, a 12 page booklet with notes by Stuart Gordon, stills, galleries, trailers, and, best of all, a 2 1/2 hour documentary about the making of The Swimmer. Like it or not, this will be the now-standard Blu-Ray/DVD Combo.
If you have never seen The Swimmer, you need to do so when this DVD is released. And if you have, you know damned well that this is one to own.
Tuesday, January 7. 2014
I no longer read comics. My reasons for this are varied, but mainly it's because the joy and magic of reading comes from me picturing the events of the story in my own mind. It's my preference.
In my youth, however, I was an enormous fan of comics. I read some DC, but I was a Marvel reader for the most part. At the time at least, Marvel was more sophisticated and the stories had more depth than the stuff DC was doing. That was my opinion, anyway.
I was beyond excited when Marvel announced a fan club in the works. This was in the mid-1970's. I had read in back issues that Marvel had a club in the '60's called The Merry Marvel Marching Society. I was green with envy that I was unable to be a part of it.
The new club was called F.O.O.M., or, Friends of Ol' Marvel. I had to join. The price was steep, my friends. They wanted $2.50 to become a member. It was tough, because I never had much dough when I was a kid. I could buy a stack of comics for two-and-a-half bucks. And I always sweated about whether I would be able to afford the new issues of my favorite comics every month.
I scraped up the money to join F.O.O.M., sent it in, and waited.
My package eventually arrived. Inside were decals, a membership card, the first issues of F.O.O.M. Magazine, and it was inside a large Hulk-a-riffic envelope. I was ecstatic.
I've always been the type to join fan clubs and things like that. When I joined the Ben Folds Fan Club, my ex called me a dork. She wasn't laughing when I got an invitation to attend a closed TV taping Ben and his band were doing in my home town. Membership does, of course, have its privileges.
My favorite horror publisher is Cemetery Dance Publications
. I love the books they choose to publish, the people who work there, the quality of their publications. CD has an annual book club. I've been a member for a while. I think I missed one year, and I deeply regretted it.
Today I received a package from CD, which contained some of the 2014 book club exclusives. Unfortunately there was no eye-popping mail packaging, like Marvel did with F.O.O.M., but the stuff inside was awesome.
There is a Glenn Chadbourne poster, a blood-red tee shirt with a short story by Kealan Patrick Burke on it, a nifty Stephen King mousepad, and a keychain with the Cemetery Dance emblem emblazoned upon it. I expected a cheap plastic keychain, but this one is solid metal and sturdy. I'm glad, because I am hard on things in my pockets.
It's getting harder all the time to feel like a kid again, but today I did. Thanks, CD.
Sunday, January 5. 2014
Bentley Little's previous novel, The Haunted, was about as traditional a novel as he has ever written. Sure, it had some weird, creepy elements, but I didn't not find The Haunted it to be as outrageous as most of his other books. That isn't intended as a slight. No, The Haunted easily made my top ten horror novels of 2012.
Now Little is back with The Influence, and this time he pulls out all the stops and gives his readers one of the most bizarre, hallucinatory novels of his career.
Ross Lowry is an unemployed engineer who is low on his luck. Running out of options, he takes his cousin up on her offer to move to the small desert town of Magdalena and live the farm she shares with her husband. Everything starts off placidly enough, but soon things turn decidedly weird.
There is a raucous New Year's Eve party at the house of a corrupt rich man. At the stroke of midnight the revelers shoot guns into the sky. And hit something, which falls to the earth. Is it an angel, as some believe, or more like a demon? Whatever it may be, its influence exerts itself upon the town, and the luck of its citizens begins to change. Well-to-do people start to have foul luck, while poorer folk begin to prosper.
Not only that, the people of Magdalena are having unnatural thoughts and impulses. Formerly normal individuals behave in irrational behavior. Peaceful citizens turn violent.
And other very strange things are happening. I'm tempted to reveal some of them to you, but I would not want to spoil any of the delirious surprises within the pages of The Influence. Suffice to say that the town is subjected to surreal, frightening, shocking, and sometimes stomach-churning situations.
The Influence doesn't quite knock The Ignored from the top of my favorite Bentley Little list, but I do put it in the upper percentile of his novels.
Bentley Little has had a great career publishing mostly paperback originals from Signet. His fans have come to expect a new novel every year or so, and like clockwork he has delivered them. Other than some reprints and a story collection or two, Little has mostly avoided the small press. Until now. The Influence is a Cemetery Dance publication, and I rejoice to see it. His work deserves to be in hardcover, and I can think of no better place for it than at CD. I hope that their relationship is a long and fruitful one.
Monday, December 23. 2013
It's been a horrible year in many ways. We lost of a lot of bright lights in the horror lit genre lately. My personal life has been far from great. The world has gone crazy and people are pointing at each other with hate, fear, and distrust. Anxiety is everywhere. Things seem hopeless to a lot of people.
But there is hope, isn't there? I always tell people that despair is the enemy, but I have trouble heeding my own advise a lot of the time.
Christmas is here. It's not a merry one for me. I am missing my stepdaughter in the worst way, and I will almost certainly spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone. Some people have invited me to have dinner with them, but it's awkward for me to be with a group of individuals when I don't know some of them. I feel badly out of place.
If you know anyone who might be lonely this year--I'm talking about an old friend, or possibly a co-worker. An ex co-worker. A neighbor. Maybe even a family member. Think about it. Perhaps you can take a little time and reach out. Take a piece of pie to them, or perhaps go have a beer or a shot. Even a phone call saying that you are thinking of him or her, and make plans to do something soon. And keep those plans. A small act like that can make all the difference to someone who is down.
No one has it easy, despite how it might look on the surface, so everyone should make merry. Squander money on gifts, eat too much, and bury old hatchets. It's not worth holding on to grudges.
Mostly, be happy, and try to spread happiness to others. There is precious little of it in this world.
Monday, December 16. 2013
Everyone is agog about the death of Peter O'Toole right now, and that's cool. He was a fine actor. But the world of drive-in cinema lost one of its own around the same time. I'm talking about Tom Laughlin. Or, as he was known as to a generation, Billy Jack.
If Billy Jack is remembered at all today, he is probably looked upon as a joke. An affection one perhaps, but a joke nonetheless.
People of my generation will remember how huge a hit Billy Jack was. This was the early 70's, and the hippie era was still in full swing. Hippies were still cool then, if you can believe it. Billy Jack was an ex Green Beret, half breed Native American-Causasion. Despite all that, he lived his life as a peaceful man. Until it was time to kick ass, which he accomplished efficiently.
The character was created in the movie, Born Losers. It is a biker picture, in which an outlaw gang terrorizes a community. Billy Jack comes along and takes matters into hand. Tom Laughlin himself directed it, as he did subsequent Billy Jack pictures.
However, the idea for a movie about a hero fighting for Amerian Indian rights had been brewing in Laughlin's head for some time. Born Losers was an exploitation quickie, and he followed it with the movie most remember the character by: BILLY JACK.
Billy Jack was Laughlin's dream picture, and this time he not only directed, but co-wrote it (with hs wife). It was more philosophical than Born Losers, and the action was minimized.
Tom Laughlin, wanting complete control of his movie, attempted to distribute Billy Jack himself, but it wasn't a hit then. Oh, the movie didn't exactly tank. It was produced in 1971 on an $800,000 budget, and under Laughlin's distribution it brought in over 3 1/2 million dollars in revenue. But later, in 1973 when he allowed a professional distributor to take over, Billy Jack hit pay dirt. Sources vary, but the movie earned somewhere between sixty and seventy million dollars domestically. And we are talking about an economy of forty years ago.
American International, who had handled Born Losers, financed the production on Billy Jack, but pulled out during the shooting of the movie. 20th Century Fox helped complete it, but refused to distribute Billy Jack. Warner is the company that did act as distributor, and the rest is history.
Every kid I knew was talking about Billy Jack. Some had even seen it. Me, I was dying to, but it was years later before I actually did. It was legendary, and you can't tell me that the hit show, Kung Fu, wasn't at least partially influenced by Billy Jack.
The song from Billy Jack, One Tin Soldier, was a hit, and it was the first record I ever bought. I listened to the 45 over and over again.
Inevitably there were more sequels, but they became sillier and preachier. By the time Billy jack Goes To Washington was released, the furor was over. I'm a little surprised that it never ended up on Mystery Science Theater.
Tom Laughlin did other movies in his career (including a role as "Lover Boy", in Gidget), but he was always tied to the Billy Jack character. I can think of a lot worse legacies for a man.
I always loved Joe Bob Briggs' mini-review of Billy Jack (forgive me, I am paraphrasing): "A bigoted small town gets some peace and love kicked into it in Billy Jack". I think that sums it up perfectly.
Actor, writer, director, producer, activist, presidential candidate (!), Tom Laughlin died on Thursday, December 19th. He was 82 years old.
Thursday, December 12. 2013
In the late 80's, when the whole new horror thing was happening in the genre, one of the biggest names was Richard Christian Matheson. He was lumped in with the Splatterpunks, and much of his fiction warranted it. But he was around before that. R.C. Matheson began publishing in what I consider to be the high water mark of horror fiction: In the late 70's, within the pages of Shadows and Whispers. He also appears in the best, most influential and important anthology that had ever been published. I'm talking about Dark Forces, which was edited by Kirby McCauley.
Of course everyone should know that Richard Christian Matheson is the son of the legendary RICHARD MATHESON. I don't think I have to list his
The thing about that is, R.C. Matheson is an outstanding writer, but in most cases his work bears little resemblance to that of his father's. Their styles are totally different from one another. I always thought that was pretty cool.
Richard Christian Matheson became known for writing very short stories. They always were sharp, potent, and haunting. He didn't always spell out the exact details of his stories. I thought that was pretty cool, too.
His collection, Scars and Other Disfiguring Marks, is one of the best I've read. You should definitely seek it out. Scars is available on Kindle
. His later collection, Dystopia, is excellent too, but Scars came first and is dearer to my heart.
Richard Christian Matheson's first-and-only novel, Created By, was published with considerable fanfare in 1993. It is a strong debut that benefits from the author's intimate knowledge of the world of television production. Everyone seemed to like Created By, but it was one of those unhappy incidents in publishing. It seemed like in no time at all copies were lying around in remainder tables everywhere.
A second novel, Leading Man, was talked about, but never happened. I was always disappointed about that.
R.C. Matheson never abandoned publishing fiction, but after that it seemed to take a back seat to his screenwriting work. He had been around the industry for a long time, since he was very young. His credits include work on shows like Hardcastle and McCormick, The A-Team, The Incredible Hulk, B.J. and the Bear, Knight Rider, and even Three's Company. These might not seem like great shows to many of you, but they were amazing accomplishments to a writer of his age.
Matheson Jr. hasn't had the career in publishing that I had hoped he would have, but who can blame him for pursuing the lucrative work in film and television? He didn't stop writing prose fiction, however, and his stories would appear now and then in anthologies. I was always grateful.
Now Richard Matheson has a new book on the horizon. PS Publishing is doing the book, and it is due any time now. It is called The Ritual of Illusion, and while not a full-length novel, it is a novella, which is just as good.
PS is issuing it in an unsigned trade hardcover
, and a signed edition
. You can also preorder it from Camelot Books and Gifts
. Or, if you feel lucky, punk, you can take your chances ordering it from Amazon
Richard Christian Matheson's name was once one of the biggest and most important in the horror fiction genre. I don't hear his name dropped much from the younger readers these days. Perhaps The Ritual of Illusion will change all of that. I sure hope so. And I hope more books will follow.
Tuesday, November 26. 2013
My faith in humanity has faltered over the years. Most individuals are not bad, but when they become part of a corporation, decency seems to go out the window.
I was doing some rush grocery shopping on Friday morning. I have been going to Trader Joe's, because I love the quality of the products and the service there. My money was tight, so I went to everyone's favorite boogeyman retailer, Wal Mart. It was before work and I ended up running late. I had my cart filled, and I came to the front and only one lane was open. A long line was waiting in front of it.
I let out an "OH MAN!", and was about to leave the cart and go. A woman employee asked if everything was all right. I replied that I had to get to work. "C'MON!", she yelled.
She whisked me to the jewelry counter and said, "This man has to get to WORK! Help me!".
Another employee ran up and two of them were bagging while the other rang the stuff up. I literally could not get my items to the counter fast enough.
That was shocking. You don't see that kind of service often.
That evening I went to Jiffy Lube. I was traveling the next morning and the service was due. I asked the attendant to give me the synthetic blend deal. "Mr. Sieber, you have always gone with full synthetic", he said as he looked at my account on his screen. I replied that I was trying to save a buck. "You've been doing so well. I hate to see you change now". His voice lowered so others waiting did not hear. "I can apply these discount codes and give you the synthetic oil at the same price as the blend", he conspiratorially whispered. Astonished, I thanked him and he said that he just wanted me to continue to come there.
And now, due to an act of supreme stupidity on my part, I accidentally paid my car payment twice in one day. Double came out and then there was not enough funds in my account to cover my mortgage payment, which was due to come out this Friday.
Frantic, I called Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. The lady was ridiculously nice and asked how I would like it if they were to skip two payments and have them start back up on Dec. 27th. I pay twice-monthly. Again, I was astonished at this act of decency and, yes, humanity. The lady told me that she hoped this would help me have a merry Christmas.
I guess it all isn't so bad after all. I'm sure my patience and faith in our species will be challenged again, and soon, but for now I feel a little proud of being a human being.
Tuesday, November 12. 2013
A movie with a generic, RomCom-friendly title like Stuck in Love? A must-see for horror fans? Sure.
I'm not going to stand on this soapbox and proclaim Stuck in Love to be the best movie of 2013. Blue Jasmine holds that position, and I can't see anything replacing it in the next month-and-a-half. Nor is it my favorite of the year. I'd have to go with The Way, Way Back for that.
Stuck in Love is a good movie, though. It may be a little predictable, but its sincerity, smart dialogue, and all-around good performances make it well worth watching.
There are a few other reasons to watch this one.
For one thing, I'm pretty sure it's the only studio movie to date that has a Cemetery Dance book in it.
Stuck in Love is the story of a family of writers. Greg Kinnear is the divorced father of two young adults. He is a successful novelist, but he cannot get over his divorce. The oldest child is his daughter, who just sold her debut novel to Scribners. The youngest is a teenage boy trying to find his own literary voice.
The girl fancies herself a realist, and rejects the notion of love. Instead, she seeks experience and sensation without commitment. The boy is a hopeless romantic, and therefor is lonely and awkward. Changes are in store for both of them, as well as the father, who needs to take steps to move along with his stagnant life.
The beautiful Jennifer Connelly is the ex wife, and Kristen Bell has a fluffy role as Kinnear's NSA (No Strings Attached, in modern datespeak) gal pal. Logan Lerman, who was so good in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, plays a love interest of the daughter.
What really makes this cool for us is how the son is a big Stephen King fan. King is discussed in Stuck in Love, and the deluxe CD edition of It makes a cameo appearance. King himself sneaks into the movie in an odd way.
Stuck in Love was written and directed by Josh Boone, and it is his first movie. It's a strong debut and I expect to see great things from him in the future. These things tend to be false rumors, but he is supposedly on tap to direct an adaptation of King's Lisey's Story. I was not a big fan of that book, but if Stuck in Love is any indication of Boone's talent, he is a good choice for the movie.
Monday, November 4. 2013
Do you hate Audible.com as much as I do? I...
Wait, allow me to backpedal a bit.
I started getting into audio fiction in a big way a few months ago. I was listening to a lot of music in my car, but I'd been playing so many records at home that I needed a break.
It started with one of my all-time favorite books. I bought an MP3 CD of Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky for a road trip I was taking. I played it through twice and really loved it. Since then I have listened to quite a few books, including Lansdale's Vanilla Ride, Heinlein's The Menace from Earth, F. Paul Wilson's Cold City, Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts, Ed Gorman's Different Kinds of Dead, David Morrell's Nightscape, King's Night Shift and a few others.
You may not think you drive enough to make it through a whole novel in any kind of decent time, but short drives really add up. I'm around ten minutes from my job, and between that and the odds and ends driving I do, I get through a book pretty quickly.
I tend to listen to books I have already read. Like many readers, I like to revisit beloved books, but can rarely find time between the new stuff I am working on.
I have found audiobooks to be highly relaxing. I used to build up a lot of impatience when behind the wheel, and often for no great reason. Now when I am enjoying a book when driving, I take my time. I don't rush at the yellow light so much. It's a good antidote for road rage.
Of course I do not enjoy all the books I try to listen to. Some audio readers have rubbed me wrong. Then again, I've discovered wonderful talents like Phil Gaganti and Stefan Rudnicki.
The damned audiobooks can be expensive. Multi-disc sets can set you back a bundle. I tend to enjoy MP3 discs. Not as much changing of discs, and the cost is much lower. Still at around twenty bucks or more a pop, it gets expensive.
I was buying a lot of used audiobooks. I want to give royalties to authors, but my own bottom line often prevents that from happening.
Then there is Audible.com. They are an Amazon company, and they control a big chunk of the audiobook market. I don't like them for a variety of reasons.
One, Amazon is rapidly getting a stranglehold over the entire e-commence world. Many do not mind that at all. I don't think it's healthy for the system.
Two, Audible wants to snare you into a contract where you get a monthly charge. An extra bill is the last thing I want or need. Especially when I have a tight month, which happens a lot.
Finally, Audible is a huge, convoluted mess as far as I am concerned. You have to download the 'free' Audible Manager program. I never saw a way to choose what file I wanted. I downloaded one book. It was Paul Theroux's amazing The Lower River. I still have not been able to listen to it. I loaded it on to a flash drive, but my car did not recognize the files. I'm sure there are ways to do it, but I do not feel like jumping through a lot of hoops to listen to a book.
Audible seems to cater to those who listen with a device of some kind. A phone, an e-reader, a tablet. God knows what all. Me, I like things simple. The easier these contraptions are supposed to make our lives, the harder they seem to me.
Some will think I am an idiot. That's fine with me. People think I practically perform magic in the machine shop. I say that stuff is easy. It depends upon one's experience and they way his or her brain functions.
I found an alternative to Audible.com. It is cheap, simple and easy to use. And as far as I know the company is on the up-and-up, and creators of the intellectual property get paid.
The company is, of course, The Audio Bookshop.
The Audio Bookshop is a fairly new enterprise, and at least for now, their library is fairly small. However, they have some books by writers who are much admired by readers of this website. You'll find audiobooks by Brian Keene (The Rising!), Jonathan Janz, Jack Ketchum, Rio Youers, Tim Lebbon, H.P. Lovecraft, Ronald Malfi, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others.
I downloaded Ketchum's Hide and Seek. This was the first book by him that I ever read, and it remains a favorite. Plus, the first person narrative of the novel lends itself nicely to the audio format. Best of all, the reader, Wayne June, does a great job with the story.
Oh, did I say that the best part is the reader? No, that is not accurate. The very best part of the deal is the price. A full-length, unabridged audiobook for the sum of $3.00. Yep, three bucks. It must have been a temporary sale, because most of the books are around ten dollars now. Which is still around 33% cheaper than Audible.
The download process was simple and the files were user friendly MP3s. I don't love MP3s for music, but they are more than adequate for audiobooks. It worked like a charm, I did not need to install some program, and I dragged and dropped the book onto a flash drive. No fuss, no muss.
And you don't have to sign up to be monthly gouged to shop at The Audio Bookshop.
I said that The Audio Bookshop has a small library at the moment. One thing can change that. Success. If they sell a lot of these ridiculously low-priced audiobooks, it is almost certain that more will become available.
The Audio Bookshop is owned by Audio Realms
. Audio Realms has audiobooks by Garton, Lee, Laymon, Bryan Smith, Mary Sangiovanni, Nate Kenyan, and Thomas Tessier, to name a few, as well as many other titles by Keene, Ketchum, and more favorites. Hopefully more will migrate over to The Audio Bookstore.
Most of us wish we had more time to read, and now you can make use of your driving time with audiofiction, and for an unbeatable price. So far I am extremely pleased with Ketchum's Hide and Seek, and the next one I download/purchase will be Brian Keene's The Rising.
Tuesday, October 29. 2013
One of the nice things about the Halloween season is the plethora of horror everywhere. It's the one time of years where we almost seem normal.
I was having a quiet meal by myself a week or two ago, and the restaurant had some TV screens playing. I was alone, with a book (of course), but my attention was diverted to what was playing on the TVs. It was A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.
For personal reasons that I don't care to go into here and now, I almost never watch movies at home any more. I miss it, but it frees my time up for other things.
I felt a pang in my heart as I watched Englund hamming it up as Freddy. The Dream Child is my least favorite in the series, even considering Freddy's Dead. As far as I am concerned, Freddy Vs. Jason doesn't count. And though I do consider it to be one of the original movies, Wes Craven's New Nightmare doesn't really fit into what I am talking about here.
Though the fifth in the outrageously popular Elm Street series is my least favorite, I still like it. A lot.
It's easy to criticize the later Elm Street movies. I can dig it. I mean, they are pretty silly. Especially when one considers the first one and how tense it was.
Are they good movies? Bad movies? I don't think it's quite fair to call movies from, oh, 3-6, good or bad. Certainly they are not what many would consider to be quality motion pictures. On the other hand, I think they are successful because they achieved what the filmmakers intended to do.
These movies are showcases of special makeup and visual effects. Some of the best shops working then were heavily involved in the elaborate set pieces the screenwriters concocted. Computers were used, certainly, but most of the effects were done conventionally. And I love them for that.
Oh yes, these are silly movies, but that is what audiences wanted from Freddy. The attempts at humor grew with each successive entry. Whether they succeeded is up to the individual. I always got a kick out of them.
In retrospect it was a great time. For the genre and in my own life. I was much younger and my love of horror was boundless. I saw all the movies, and I liked them all.
Freddy Krueger was big, big box office money for a while there. The audience for these movies transcended the relatively small cadre of horror fans. Freddy struck a chord in society with the first Elm Street movie, and a lot of people hung on for the ride as the series went on.
It was always good to see Freddy's grinning mug on the cover of Fangoria. It usually meant that either a new Nightmare was playing, or was on the way.
Some people say that these movies are not horror, but I do not agree. Horror is a broad umbrella and many approaches fall under the darkness it creates. I consider these movies to be Funhouse Horror, and those type of horror movies have been coming out since James Whale delighted audiences with The Bride of Frankenstein and The Old Dark House.
I'm not the kind of old guy who decries all modern horror movies. Though I do strongly dislike things like Saw and Rob Zombie movies, I have greatly enjoyed a lot of genre movies that have been released in the last decade.
But I seriously doubt that any of them will give me the nostalgia of the Freddy Krueger movies. Of all the horror franchises I think this series is the most watchable throughout the entire run of movies. Jason grew turgid, Michael got boring, Pinhead became trite, and Leatherface lost his edge. Despite how trivial and silly the later Elm Street movies are, they are at least entertaining.
You've got to hand it to New Line, too. They at least tried to get some real talent with the writing. William Kotzwinkle worked on Part 4, and Splatterpunk posterboys John Skipp and Craig Spector were recruited to write The Dream Child. Too bad almost nothing of Skipp and Spector's was up on the screen in the finished product. At least that is what I have heard.
The inevitable Nightmare on Elm Street remake came along a few years ago. Reactions from fans was mixed, but I felt it was a game effort. Competent, watchable, entertaining enough, but unfortunately forgettable. The Freddy remake bombed at the box office. Times have changed and moviegoers want something else.
Come to think of it, The Dream Child was not much of a moneymaker either. The 90's were nearly upon us when it came out, and the good old days of FX-heavy horror comedy sequels were numbered. It saddened me then as it saddens me now.
Thursday, October 17. 2013
I know that it is considered hip to disdain remakes, but I have always looked forward to them. And, really, the trend has died down a bit in the last few years. Most of the successful horror movies in recent memory have been low budget, original productions.
The original Carrie is not only a horror milestone, but an important motion picture regardless of genre. It broke several taboos, and it touched on elements that had rarely been dealt with in the movies before. The movie is sad, warm, infuriating, and scary in varying degrees. Even the final Gotcha! moment, which was admittedly a bit of a cheap shot, was innovative. The producers of Friday the 13th and countless others stole it.
Brian DePalma was at the height of his skills as a filmmaker when he made Carrie. It is arguably his finest motion picture.
And perhaps most importantly, Carrie introduced the name of Stephen King to millions of moviegoers.
So, why remake it?
That's easy. The primary audience for this sort of movie is from age 15-25. And, the sad fact of it is, these kids are not going to watch an old movie. Sure, a few of them will, but it is a rare young bird who is interested in older movies.
As wonderful as DePalma's Carrie is, it is a bit dated. The picture was compromised as well. Carrie's demonic rage was much more devastating in King's novel. I assume that budgetary restrains prevented the old movie to do the finale the way King wrote it.
King describes Carrie as overweight and pimply, and obviously ChloŽ Grace Moretz is a breathtakingly beautiful young woman. That's Hollywood for you, and you might as well bitch about the high concessions prices and the abundance of ads before the feature presentation at the movie house. I complain about that stuff, too, but it does not prevent me from going to the movies.
Then there is Julienne Moore as Carrie's religious fanatic mother. Piper Laurie was excellent in the original, but Moore just might top that performance. She is one of my favorite actresses.
, folks. Time to stop being cynical and start being enthusiastic. Carrie has all the makings of a fun, scary, ghoulish time at the movies. And besides, when was the last time you saw a good King story on the big screen? The Mist?
If Carrie is as good as I hope (pray!) it will be, we can look forward to yet another remake by the same screenwriter, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. He has written the script for The Town That Dreaded Sundown. I live for this shit.