Help Keep the Drive-In Open
Monday, March 23. 2015
I was in Junior High the first time I read Kurt Vonnegut. I guess they call it Middle School now. I had been reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, and while I loved that stuff, I was hungry for something different.
One of my older brothers graced me with a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five. I started reading it, and was instantly shocked. This novel was unlike anything I had encountered before. I would later come to call it a meta-novel.
Slaughterhouse-Five is a shrewd blend of memoir, an anti-war polemic, and science fiction.
In the book, Vonnegut came across as bitter, but not uncaring. Cynical, but not without kindness. It's a tour of his harrowing past experiences in the fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, in WW2, and a trip through the author's own imagination.
I was hooked. And his next novel, Breakfast of Champions, was richer, more outrageous, and also hilarious.
Kurt Vonnegut (then known as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.) rose to meteoric fame and fortune with this two books. His earlier work had been extremely well received, but now he was a literary superstar.
I read all the back works, and I liked them all. Much of it was published as straight science fiction. My favorite was The Sirens of Titan, but I also really loved Cat's Cradle and Mother Night. Kurt Vonnegut, in fact, became one of my favorite writers.
I had a fairly turbulent late youth, and I ended up missing out on the two books that followed Breakfast of Champions. But I made up for it by buying the next one. In hardcover, no less, which was foolhardy of me in those days. But then I have always been a fool for books.
Palm Sunday was the name of the book that I financially overextended myself with, but I was only too happy to have done so. I could not wait to start it. Then I could not wait for it to be over.
I suffered through the whole thing. I found Palm Sunday to be massively egotistical, and worse, uninteresting. It included the short story, The Big Space Fuck, but I had already read that in Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions. Mostly I felt that I had been rooked when I bought Palm Sunday.
I went back and read the previous two books: Slapstick and Jailbird are not what you might call bad books, but they did not possess the vitality and passion of the earlier books. Had success spoiled Kurt Vonnegut?
I also read one called Deadeye Dick, but I was largely unimpressed.
I did enjoy his novel, Galapagos, but again, not to the extent of the earlier books, and I passed on later publications like Hocus Pocus and Timequake. Other books of unpublished short fiction and essays came out in book form, but I had the impression that they were filled with trunk pieces.
So, yeah, I had given up on Kurt Vonnegut. I was not happy about that, but it happens.
I didn't think a lot about Vonnegut. It was very cool to see him show up for a minute or so in one of my favorite comedies, Back To School. Other than that, he rarely crossed my mind. The inferior later material sort of soured me on him.
I grieved, like most did, when I heard that Kurt Vonnegut had passed away. He died of complications after a fall down some stairs.
Regardless of how I felt about some of the stuff that came after Breakfast of Champions, it was a major loss to American letters.
Here and there I heard good things about his final novel, Timequake. I picked up a copy at a thrift store, and tucked it away for a rainy day.
That day came last week. Weary of horror and suspense, I was looking through the ridiculous number of books in my house, and I focused on Timequake. Now was the time to see if the old magic had arisen.
How I wished it would be so, but unfortunately I did not make it very far in Timequake. What I did read was excruciating. The old cynicism was there, but it seemed silly and put-upon. The 50-75 pages I read meandered and seemed to be going nowhere. I was not enjoying it, and I reasoned that moving forward would only serve to further sully my admiration of Vonnegut.
Yet others seem to like it. I don't know what it is. The old saw about the emperor and his nonexistent clothes comes to mind. Do fans see something there that I didn't through some form of loyalty?
Or maybe I am the one who has grown too cynical. I really have no idea.
Maybe it's time to go back and re-experience and re-evaluate the past work of Mr. Vonnegut.
I recently obtained a copy of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle in audiobook form. The narration is done by Tony Roberts, who was so good in the early Woody Allen movies. From there I plan to eventually reread more of Kurt's older catalog, and hopefully I will regain love and understanding of his work. And then maybe I will approach Timequake in a more suitable frame of mind to appreciate it.
ADDENDUM: I began listening to the Cat's Cradle audiobook today, but I had to shut it down. I loved it when I was around fourteen years old, but now it comes across trivial and condescending. Cat's Cradle is ostensibly a science fiction story, but Vonnegut seemed to have utter contempt for that audience. Times change, people change, and I guess I have changed, because I no longer think Kurt Vonnegut is a writer I care to read.
Sunday, March 1. 2015
Remember back to your youth. When you were the most passionate horror fan around. It cost you a few relationships, I bet, because the truth is, you loved horror more than your partner.
When a horror movie came to town, you bet your ass you got out there and saw it. How could you not? Sitting around in front of a TV in the living room was for your lame-ass parents.
And you liked just about everything you saw. To varying degrees, obviously. Even the bad ones were fun, and you made a point of getting out there and seeing for yourself. As bad as some of them were, you still had a good time. And as the years race by, you look back upon each and every one of those theatrical outings with fondness.
I've been guilty of it. It's easier to sit home, drink beer, and watch a movie on home video. It's even easier now. Watch on demand, instant download, streaming. Not to mention the repulsive act of illegally downloading a movie.
I look back on the days of my horror-watching youth with infinite fondness. I've grown cynical, and somewhat embittered, but I try to fight it. I am trying to keep that burning flame of horror fandom alive and burning.
If a horror movie comes to the theater, I try to get out and see it. One thing has not changed: Most of them are not very good. Not if you gaze upon them with a critical eye. But many of them are fun, and the real joy is getting out and seeing them in a theater.
Something pretty cool is happening in the midst of big changes in Hollywood. The mid-priced movies seem to be disappearing. Big budget slop is everywhere, and low budget movies are flourishing. Ones that cost between, say, ten and sixty million dollars, are going the way of the drive-in theater.
Low budget horror movies are coming out at a fairly steady clip, and most of them are extremely profitable. We're not talking a gazillion dollar revenues like the latest regurgitated superhero feature, but a tidy return that has to be undeniable to the studios.
Which brings me to The Lazarus Effect. This humble effort was reportedly produced for a little over three million dollars, and in just a few days has tripled its money.
But is The Lazarus Effect any good?
Not particularly. I didn't mind watching it, and to be painfully blunt, it is not a whole lot worse than many movies I went to see and sort of liked in my misspent late youth. Things like One Dark Night, The Pit, Bloody Birthday, Slaughterhouse, and on and on.
The Lazarus Effect breaks no new ground. Its theme of "Man should not meddle in God's work" has been done by superior talents like Mary Shelley, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King. The Lazarus Effect has a lot of pseudo-science, melodrama, and the final quarter is nothing short of an embarrassment.
I had a good time with it. The acting was above par, the movie was professionally shot, and there is a modicum of suspense. For a six dollar matinee, I do not regret seeing it at all.
The really good thing about it is, young people are going out and seeing these movies. Most will grow up sooner or later, but thankfully there will be the few who never do. People like you and I. Horror fans who refuse to be relegated to old fogeydom. Some of these will be the horror fans, and the writers and directors, of tomorrow. They will look back upon movies like The Lazarus Effect, Insidious, Paranormal Activity, and so on, and the building blocks of their obsession for horror and the macabre.
Thursday, February 26. 2015
Most readers of this website will be familiar with the David Lynch movie, Wild at Heart. It's one of his best, and most coherent, motion pictures. Not as many may be aware that Wild at Heart was adapted from a novel of the same name by Barry Gifford. Fewer still might know that Gifford has written several sequels to Wild at Heart.
The Wild at Heart adaptation is pretty faithful to the source novel, although David couldn't resist throwing in some Lynchian elements of his own. It's really too bad that he didn't continue on with the series.
The story deals with two lovers, Sailor and Lula, whose wild and violent life is second only to the passion and dedication they have for each other. They are kind of a white trash Romeo and Juliet, but their burning love is so genuine that it lends grace to the bizarre circumstances of their exploits.
The Sailor and Lula stories are collected in an omnibus edition entitled, appropriately enough, The Sailor and Lula Novels. This collection contains seven complete short novels that chronicle the lives of the two lovers. It concludes with the emotionally devastating The Imagination of the Heart, which chronicles the end of the wild lives of Sailor and Lula.
This appeared to be the end of the epic saga, but Barry Gifford had one more trick up his sleeve. It's another novel called The Up-Down, and it concerns the son of Sailor and Lula, who is named Pace.
Pace's destiny has been shaped by the astonishing lives of his parents, but now he is aging and nearing the end of his own existence. His life is no less violent and profane as that of his parents, but he lacks the passionate dedication that brought them so much contentment and happiness.
Feeling spiritually vacant, Pace embarks on a journey of self discovery. He seeks a state of enlightenment that he thinks of as the up-down. Along the way he finds more violence, extraordinary individuals, and is reaffirmed that everyone's life is wild at heart and weird on top.
The Up-Down concludes the story of Sailor and Lula once and for all, and it makes me a little bit sad. But I am richer for having known these characters, and having had the privilege of Barry Gifford conducting me on a tour of their flaming lives.
Sunday, February 22. 2015
Me and a buddy watched this last night, and we had a blast.
I know that some will disagree, but as far as we are concerned, anyone, ANYone, but James Garner in an action movie. The guy is such a goofball. Might as well have Paul Lynde in one.
Tank is pretty corny, to say the least. It could have been a decent little exploitation flick. Tighten up the dialogue, tone down the schmaltz, and get Clint Eastwood. Chuck Connors. Ed Lauter. Joe Don Baker. Bo Svenson. Warren Oates. Lee Marvin. Charles Bronson. Even Burt freaking Reynolds. ANYONE BUT JAMES GARNER.
We had a sort of an impromptu MST3K-inspired roast of Tank last night. It isn't too hard with fertile material for ridicule such as Tank. We laughed our asses off the whole time.
I picked the DVD up from a thrift store, and my buddy resisted, but I insisted. Afterward he said that I had been right. Tank is a great choice for a Saturday night movie lambaste session.
Tuesday, February 10. 2015
Recent troubles in the Horror Drive-In forums have caused me to wistfully think back to a long time ago. The turn of the twenty-first century, in fact. Back to the very best days I've had as a moderator of message boards.
People think it's easy. They'll stand there and go on and on about how someone should run his or her own website. It's no better than someone arguing about how a homeowner should run a party at their own house.
The bad part it, when things go awry, as they will do, there is usually no action whatsoever that will appease everyone. No action at all has generally been the wisest course for me, and things generally wind down on their own. The government that governs the least, and all that jazz.
What it boils down to is, at any given time there are individuals who think you are an asshole.
It wasn't always like that.
Back in 1999, I was given the job of moderating a forum dedicated to fiction and books at a site called Horror.net. I had been involved in internet bulletin boards before, but this was my first full-fledged moderator gig.
I was mostly alone at first, so I just started threads about writers like Richard Matheson, Chet Williamson, Harlan Ellison, Thomas F. Monteleone, Edward Lee, and on and on.
It was a different time. There were still plenty of sites dedicated to horror, but nothing like today. So readers were likely to find their way there by searching for horror fiction or particular writers.
A core group began to call the Horror.net Book Forum their home. At the risk of eliminating treasured names of members, due to my faulty memory, here are some of the best people there.
Mark "Hoke" Tyree
James "wolfchild" Newman
Donn "Diablo" Gash
Deena (Holland) Warner
There were more, I know. If anyone is reading this and was left out, please send me an email.
We all loved horror, and--dare I say it? We loved one another.
People were ridiculously generous to each other. We got along all the time. It was perfect.
Did we agree on everything? What do you think? No, but no one attacked other members, and no one took offense at the opinions of others. It seemed to be instinctual.
There was a collaborative round robin chapbook called Fallen Angel Blues. That might have been the very high point of the Horror.net days.
It was a great period of my life. I got married in the earliest days of the community, and everything was so bright. I was on top of the world.
The genre was in a great place, too. The small press was smaller, and there were not thousands of new "writers" self publishing. Limited editions were almost always deserving books. A lot of amazingly talented veterans of the field were still alive.
I guess it was too good to last. A nifty domain like Horror.net had to be a money-making endeavor. The site was taken from us with no warning whatsoever.
We found another home at Gorezone, and things were amazing for a while. It got ridiculously popular and things eventually got ugly. That's what people do: They fuck things up. And the worst part is, every single one of the culprits is too clueless to even realize that they are doing something wrong.
I came very close to closing the doors at the Horror Drive-In forums in the last month or two. There was dissent, never-ending arguments, and endless complaints. I had to resort to an unpleasant action that pissed off a few people, but made many more heave a sigh of relief.
I'm not shutting things down. Not yet, anyway. I think there still might be life in the old message board world. Despite the words of Facebook devotees these days.
I want to thank everyone who ever came along and participated in the various forums I've been involved with: Horror.net, Gorezone, Shocklines, and Horror Drive-In. No offense to those who came later, many of whom have become beloved friends, but most of my thanks and affection today go to the ragtag bunch at the old Horror.net Book Forum. You guys and girls are all jewels.
Saturday, January 31. 2015
I'm sure you've heard about the Ghostbusters remake or reboot controversy. People getting mad that the 'busters are all female. People getting mad that people are getting mad that the 'busters are all female.
People sure love to be offended, don't they?
I don't care much either way about the case. I love Wiig, and will watch her in anything. Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, plays her roles way too broadly for my tastes. She showed some depth and restraint in St. Vincent. A little at least. Any step up is a big one for her.
I have a lot of fondness for the old movie, even though I don't think it's a particularly good movie. It brings a great time of my life back, and I recently found a nice 45 of the theme song at thrift shop.
The truth is, I'm still bummed about the death of Harold Ramis. The man was a genius of comedy. I might not think Ghostbusters is a great film, but it was a smart one. It resonated with a hell of a lot of people and is an icon in motion picture history.
I have a funny feeling this reboot will be closer to Ghostbusters 2.
Wednesday, January 21. 2015
The surest sign of a great work of art is its ability to get into one's head and stay there for a long time. Sure, we all like idiot entertainment now and then. It's fine to enjoy a dumb comedy, or a mindless action movie. But when a movie stays and haunts the viewer long after it is watched, that is a real achievement.
Linklater's Boyhood didn't just stay in my head. It is as if a I swallowed a marlin hook and had it rip my guts out.
I run hot and cold on the film work of Richard Linklater. Take Slacker...please! While it gave film student types spontaneous orgasms, the movie bored me to tears. Watching people I would cross the street to avoid isn't my idea of a great time.
Then came Dazed and Confused, which blew me away. Linklater captured high school (emphasis on the word, high
) perfectly. I've seen this one numerous times and I treasure it.
I didn't care so much for some of the others. Before Sunrise was beautiful to look at, but I found it to be uninvolving and dull. I probably need to give these movies a second chance.
I despised The School of Rock, but my distaste for Jack Black has a lot to do with that.
I actually enjoyed his Bad News Bears remake.
So I considered Linklater to be a director to watch, but not necessarily one to get excited about. Which is probably why I didn't see Boyhood for a while.
I corrected that this past weekend, and I am still winded by the experience.
Boyhood, plain and simple, is a masterpiece. I have literally never been so affected by a motion picture as this one. It is more, much more, than a gimmick. Boyhood is sweet and sad, funny and tragic, joyous and heartbreaking.
One scene got to me above all others. It really isn't much on the surface and I doubt if many others were as moved by it as I was. Kids were in line at a midnight Harry Potter release party. Many of them were dressed up as characters from the books, and all of them were excited about getting their copies of the new novel.
It brought back so much to me. I raised children in the '00 decade, and the Harry Potter phenomenon was so strong. My kids loved the books. The scenes of the party made me feel anguish and deep sadness. They made me long for those wonderful days and they made me miss my children desperately.
But it was more than that. Those humble scenes made me feel such love for the joy, the enthusiasm, the passion, the imagination, and the unbridled wonder that children have.
Boyhood is filled with moments like that. It's story is both extraordinary and mundane. An average life of a bright boy in love with life. His experiences are true and real and they burn with humanity.
Not everyone is as enamoured of Boyhood as I am. Some criticize its pacing and felt that it should have been more exciting. More explosions, or more sex and violence, probably.
Some also complain about the "naturalistic" film style. To them I recommend more viewings of Guardians of the Galaxy. Or hold their breath until the Avengers sequel is released.
Boyhood broke my heart and made me weep with joy and sadness. I cannot say that I ever enjoyed a movie more than I did this one.
Richard Linklater nailed my generation with Dazed and Confused, and now he has nailed the Millennials with Boyhood. I am in awe of him.
Monday, January 19. 2015
I happen to be listening to the Hell House audiobook at the moment, and last night I saw that Gauntlet Publications
is doing a special publication of one of Richard Matheson's most underlooked novel, The Beardless Warriors.
I have always been an enormous fan of Mathson's work. I can't remember when I first began seeing his name in anthologies and in TV/movie credits, but the name always carried great weight to me.
Matheson is primarily known as a fantasist, but The Beardless Warriors takes place in the coldest reality. It is a fictional chronicle of the author's own experiences in World War 2. It is also as gripping and terrifying as anything he ever published. Some of the themes of Matheson's greater work are present in The Beardless Warriors. Such as the plight of one man against an unimaginably large and unimaginable adversary.
This ordinarily might not be such a big announcement. Another expensive reprint of a book that most serious fans have already read. But there is more to it.
This is, as my heading suggests, a combination deal. There will be the deluxe reprint of The Beardless Warriors, but there will be an accompanying anthology of short stories inspired by the novel.
Brothers in Arms is edited by Gauntlet publisher, Barry Hoffman and Richard Christian Matheson. There will be stories in it by Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, David Schow, Ed Gorman, Richard Chizmar, William F. Nolan, Mick Garris, Joe Lansdale, R.C. Matheson, Tom Monteleone, Mort Castle, Preston Sturges, Barry Hoffman, Clive Barker, Gary Braunbeck, Kevin J. Anderson, Whitley Strieber, and Chelsey Quinn Yarbro.
Not a bad lineup, huh? Unfortunately it's a little rich for my blood these days. I hope that Gauntlet
, or some other publisher, will see fit to put it out in a more affordable edition sometime in the future.
Tuesday, January 13. 2015
I know this individual. He prides himself on keeping abreast of current affairs. That's cool, but he also has contemptuous attitude about reading fiction. I'm sure you've experienced the attitude before. When some of us in a group discuss books, this person has flatly stated, "If you want to read, read the paper".
I used to read and watch the news more than I do now. These days my heart can barely stand to do it. It's too disheartening, and besides, I have become convinced that the news is full of half truths. If not outright lies.
Ever see an article about a situation that you have intimate knowledge about? Did you notice that much of it is utter bullshit?
I suppose one could sift through all the news sources and attempt to diffuse some sort of informed opinion. If he or she had the time to do so. To me, so much of it is propaganda.
On one recent occasion, the person in question was saying that he preferred to know what was going on in the world instead of reading a bunch of lies.
I replied that all
writers are professional liars, but at least writers of fiction write honest lies.
Honest Lies. I like that. It would make a good title for a short story collection.
Did my argument work? What do you think? Does anyone ever win an argument? Maybe, but it's as rare as a good horror sequel.
Now, I know that people online are thick-skinned and slow to anger, but I want to emphasize that I am not putting down people who read/watch the news. To be honest I check out CNN.com nearly every day. You better believe that I take what I read with a grain of salt the size of the Dead Sea. My contempt is for those who snub the reading of fiction.
Wednesday, January 7. 2015
This has been a long time coming, and after the murderous week I've had, I have decided to take a desperately-needed break from the message board scene. How long a break? I have no idea. A day? A month? Forever? I cannot answer.
Folks, before you explain to me that I have
to continue to moderate a message board, consider this: I have been doing this stuff in one form or another since 1998. That's a long damned time. And time is a commodity that I have little of these days.
I have spent much more time talking about horror fiction than actually reading it. And, worst of all, I have neglected the other areas of this website.
I work a lot of hours. I am committed to a strict workout routine at the gym. I would like to acquire a social life.
I have decided to let Ron Clinton help with moderation duties. Ron is as fair a guy as I have ever known, and he organized the fundraiser to keep the site alive.
I expect you not to respect Ron as much as me, but to respect him more than you would me. His word is law. I have 100% confidence that he will be a splendid job.
I am looking forward to a break. To clear my head and to have some freedom. I have gotten enjoyment and made amazing friends with message boards, but they have also been a like a set of chains on me.
You guys be cool, and take care. Be nice to each other.
Sunday, January 4. 2015
2015 is here, and like so many others, I am hoping for a better year than the last one.
It started off with, not a bang, but a whimper. I got drunk by myself on New Year's Eve 2013, listening to Ween records. I woke up in 2014 to find my car had been ransacked.
From there things went downhill.
A pipe broke in my attic and flooded my house with freezing water. I live in the upper south, and whole my northern neighbors like to smirk when we talk about the cold down here, the truth is, our buildings were not made to withstand severe cold. Even cold that is far lesser than they are accustomed to.
Then, dreaded Spring arrived, and the allergies were worse than ever. If that was not enough, my Mom died in April, and my cat died around one week later. Judge me if you will, but losing my kitty was the hardest part. My family was not close. This does not make losing my birth mother an easy thing.
The allergic reaction turned into a full-blown sinus infection. But that was not the worst of it. Oh no.
The Scares That Care convention was in June. I flew my stepdaughter in for the occasion, and I planned it for over a year. The sinus infection turned into pneumonia. Right before the convention. We had a road trip planned, and I went ahead with it. I drove eight-hundred miles with the pneumonia, and then attended the convention.
Scares That Care was a fantastic show, especially when one considers that it was a maiden voyage. It was far more organized and well-run than many long-running cons I have attended over the years. I had a great time. I was also absolutely miserable every minute of it. It was extremely foolhardy for me to even have been there.
I came home, broke, but ready to buckle down and get caught up financially. Life had other plans for me in that area, too.
I was laid off from my job shortly after the con. A job I had put my heart and soul into for twenty-three years. No warning. No severance. Just a boot out there door without even a "Good luck" on the way.
I had taken out a loan to ensure a good time at the con. I had a car payment, a mortgage, other debt, as well as monthly expenses to contend with. I received the maximum amount of unemployment available. Which was not enough to even come close to covering my obligations.
I applied for Food Stamps. Guess what? I was denied the benefit. All the taxes I have paid in my life, and I hit a bad patch through no fault of my own, and I was refused. While people live off of that kind of assistance their entire lives. You'll be unsurprised to hear that my faith in the system is nonexistent.
I sold nearly all my DVDs and records. The ones that held any value, anyway. I scraped by, falling behind on my bills very quickly.
Thus I entered one of the worst periods of my life. I felt alone, dejected, abandoned, and nearly suicidal.
My fortune changed with a phone call one morning. A company was interested in employing me. After a near-disastrous interview and processing period, where my anxiety almost wrecked my chances, I was hired. I am now currently employed at a government facility.
Money is substantially less than I was making at my former job, but I was, and am, working again. I am on a plan to get my house payments caught up. (Remind me to tell you about the asshole at the mortgage company who assured me that no late fees or penalties would accrue while I was unemployed. They did anyway.)
The dreaded holidays have come and gone. It is a difficult time for those of us with no family and precious few friends.
So now I am at the cusp of a new year, I am cautiously hopeful. I look forward to better times and hopefully more money at my job. As always, I hope for good reading, viewing, and listening experiences.
It is also a time for looking back at the highs and lows of the past year.
I'm afraid that I was not much of an adventurous year for me as a reader. My favorites are pretty predictable. F. Paul Wilson's Dark City, Bill Pronzini's Strangers, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Blue Labyrinth, Ed Gorman's Riders on the Storm.
My favorite novel of the year was Stephen King's Revival. I know that not everyone agrees on this one, but I thought it was an absolutely brilliant character study. The theme of loss is strong in the book. Loss of loved ones, faith, youth, and ultimately, life. And if the actual outcome was a tad disappointing, the buildup to it was so dark and frightening that I don't hold it against the novel. For me, one of King's best.
A big runner-up was Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss's The Halloween Children. A beautifully-written, scary novel that is as much about the dark side of marriage as it is a savagely disturbing Halloween yarn. These guys are both favorites, and I hope that they collaborate again.
As for movies, my favorite was a feature that was reviled by people who, for the most part, did not see it. Men, Women and Children was accused, tried, convicted, and executed by almost everyone. No one seemed to believe me when I said that it is not as preachy as the trailers make it seem to be, and that it is a pretty fair-minded portrayal of today's society. On the other hand, you might as well criticize people's tattoos. Few want to hear about the pratfalls of their infernal gadgets and cherished social media outlets. For me, however, Men, Women and Children is a smart, profound, moving movie by one of the most consistently entertaining and provocative directors working today: Jason Reitman.
The vinyl revolution continues to grow in popularity in the world of music. True music lovers have turned back to the vastly superior sound of the record album. Of course the industry still bites the hand that feeds it by charging obscene prices for records. It's especially galling in the cases of classic rock releases that have made the studios money time and time and time again over the years.
Resolutions? Yeah, I guess I have a few. I want to do more reading, and try to check out more newer writers. Unfortunately I have paid good money in the past, and been disappointed in so many of them. Books and authors that are praised to the heavens by people in the community.
I also intend to continue my sober lifestyle, see more movies at the theater, and attempt to have a better social life.
Monday, December 29. 2014
It was both shocking and sobering to see how old Bill Murray is in St. Vincent. My God, where have the years gone?
Bill was always my favorite of the SNL alumni. There isn't really a lot of competition, but he struck me with his charm and wit right from the start. Then his movie debut, Meatballs, sealed Bill Murray as an all-time favorite actor.
The years have come and gone, but when Murray smiles in St. Vincent, infrequent as it may be, you can still see the impish, childlike ghost of Tripper Harrison, from Meatballs.
Bill Murray has become a titan of comedy since Meatballs. In some ways he is without peer. Sure, he has done some turkeys, but look at some of the crap that other SNL refugees have been in.
Meatballs will always be special to me. I loved the movie when I first saw it, and that love has only grown as I have watched it countless times since then. Meatballs is a favorite movie of my daughters, and I was gratified that they enjoyed it as much--or even more--than I did.
Despite the mischievous hyjinx in Meatballs, I think it is actually a good movie to show kids. It entertainingly demonstrates the importance of individualism and perseverance. Not to mention how critical it is to have fun in all aspects of life.
Murray's second film was the Hunter S. Thompson vehicle, Where the Buffalo Roam. It's not a terribly good movie, but Murray's portrayal of Thompson was spot-on.
I am not the biggest Caddyshack fan. I like Murray much more as a kindly big brother or BBF type as he was in Meatballs and Stripes. I couldn't relate to his character in this one at all. Still, there are some side-splitting moments in Caddyshack.
Stripes came next, and it is another big favorite. The final third of Stripes suffers, but the basic training scenes are so wonderful that I don't mind a bit.
Of course there was Ghostbusters. I was never a big fan of this movie, but I sure have a lot of fond memories of it. It was a more innocent time, and I get so nostalgic when I spin my Ghostbusters 45 on the turntable. This movie struck a chord with the public and was a huge hit.
The success of Ghostbusters seemingly took a toll on Murray, and he devoted time to a dream project. Bill co-wrote and starred in an excellent adaptation of the Somerset Maugham novel, The Razor's Edge. Audiences stayed away in droves, as they say, but I always loved this movie. You should seek it out.
By this time Bill Murray had become an icon of comedy. Obviously audiences did not care to see him in dramatic roles. It was around this time that he started playing curmudgeonly characters.
Sadly, Scrooged could have been a classic, if the studio had the balls to shoot Michael Donahue's screenplay and not watered it down. In the end it became a bland nothing. Not acerbic enough to be an edgy cult classic, and just a little too weird to be a feel-good family film.
Murray has worked steady for his entire career. He does small roles in movies sometimes, and other occasions he is the star of the picture. Some I like a lot: Wild Things, Ed Wood, Mad Dog and Glory, The Monuments Men. Bill has appeared in jim Jarmusch movies, which shows his indie cred. But then he is a regular in Wes Anderson movies, and I sadly cannot stand that filmmaker's style.
I neglected to mention one picture, but it is arguably the best movie of Bill Murray's career. I am talking about Groundhog Day. This is an entertaining and funny movie, but it works on numerous levels. Groundhog Day has been embraced by Buddhists. In some ways it is a spiritual movie of the highest order. Groundhog Day shows how we must repeat our mistakes time and again, whether in this or other lives, until we learn the proper way to live.
Now we finally have Bill Murray in a new starring role that is almost
worthy of his talents.
Bill Murray shines in St. Vincent. His performance is flawless and he put a lifetime of experience into it. His character is alternately hilarious, tragic, infuriating.
As for the movie itself, well, no one can accuse it of originality. It's your basic Little kid warms the heart of mean old bastard
plot. It certainly isn't a bad movie, and I do recommend that you see it. Preferably in a theater.
The multiplexes are jam-packed with big, dumb, loud movies that assault the senses. Many look as though they were made on a computer. If you, like me, enjoy smaller, more intimate motion picture experiences, I urge you to see movies like St. Vincent.
And while you are there you will see a bravura performance by an icon who well may be the greatest comic actor alive today.
Saturday, December 20. 2014
As you are, I once was. As I am you will be.
At least I hope so.
In his afterword to the audio version Bag of Bones, Stephen King talks about how when people catch the audiobook bug, it becomes an addiction. I know that it is true in my case. But unlike the other types of addictions, this is a beautiful one.
So many readers tell me that they simply can't do audiofiction. I understand. I really do, because I was exactly the same way. I might do a short audio story or maybe a novella, but I could not imagine indulging in a long audiobook.
What changed it for me was Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky. This has always been one of my favorite novels, and I bought an MP3 disc of it for a trip I was taking. I listened to it twice through, and then I began devouring more audobooks.
I'm a full-fledged audiofiction junkie now. I have found that it has helped me in so many ways. It makes the long commute I have much, much more bearable. It also helps me have the time to go back to books I have read an enjoyed in the past. Around 90% of the audiobooks I do are of books I have previously read.
I can't count how many I've listened to in the past year or two. Dozens. Some favorites of mine are Swan Song, Needful Things, the aforementioned Farmer in the Sky, the Hap and Leonard novels of Joe R. Lansdale, The Cabinet of Curiosities, the early NYC trilogy of Repairman Jack novels...I could go on and on.
Some have been acute disappointments. If a reader does not do the work justice, or if his inflections and delivery unsuit me, the book is a bust.
Audiobooks are big productions now, with sound effects and careful editing. No longer do narrators simply read the books aloud.
And they are getting bigger all the time. Many seem to think that the Audiobook sun rises and sets with Audible.com, but I do not use that service. I don't like their user-unfriendly file formats, and I don't care to contribute to Amazon's success.
I much prefer Downpour.com
. Their membership is cheaper and more flexible than Audible's, but you do not have to be a member to take advantage of unbeatable sales they have. In a Black Friday blowout this year I scored audiobooks by Richard Matheson, Frederic Brown, Charles Beaumont, Stephen King, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others.
Brilliance Audio has been putting out audiobooks in inexpensive MP3 formats, often with prices under ten dollars. I've gotten ones from F. Paul Wilson, David Morrell, Robert A. Heinlein, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child in this way.
Most libraries have generous selections of audiobooks. Both in physical formats, as well as downloadable ones.
I have a friend who I trade audiobooks with from time to time. He never reads and only does the audio format. I will never do that. Or at least as long as I have eyes to see. Nothing will replace a real book in my hands.
I'm hoping that more readers will branch out and start listening to audiobooks. I've been having a grand time with them, and once the bug catches you, I bet that you will as well.
Tuesday, December 2. 2014
So, after all these years, it's goodbye to Repairman Jack. I'm a little choked up.
Jack and I go way back. In fact, the first F. Paul Wilson novel I read was The Tomb. This was back around 1985, when I was living in Seattle. I was a very enthusiastic horror reader at the time, and I had exhausted the existing works of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, James Herbert, etc. I was always looking for something new.
The Downtown Seattle library was, and presumably is, a wonderful place for readers. They had the Whispers Press edition of The Tomb on their shelf, and I greedily grabbed it and checked it out. Thus began a longterm relationship between Jack and I.
This isn't to say that I did not enjoy the other works by Wilson. Not at all. I consider Black Wind to be among his finest novels. I enjoyed all of his medical thrillers. Sibs is a top notch suspense story. Sims is the way science fiction should be written.
But Jack? There is something special about the character. It was evident right away when I started The Tomb.
Maybe it was Jack's enjoyment of James Whale movies. That certainly didn't hurt the character's likability. There is, however, much more to it than that.
Repairman Jack is the guy many of us would like to be. He's tough, but fair. He can be funny, but he isn't some wise-cracking dope of a hero.
Jack takes care of business. Most of us are limited to going about our daily business. Patting ourselves on the back for voting, maybe helping out a stray animal, or donating to a charity now and then.
Surely all of the fans of The Tomb hungered to see Repairman Jack return to the pages of F. Paul Wilson books. He showed up in short stories now and then, and we were grateful.
Then our hopes were fulfilled when a full-length Repairman Jack was published in 1998. The book is Legacies, and I consider it to be one of the best in the series. Not only that, I think Legacies is a perfect introduction to the character and to the work of F. Paul Wilson.
Jack's adventures really kicked into gear at that point, and Wilson ingeniously wove Repairman Jack into his Adversary Cycle of novels and stories.
Faithful readers followed Jack through give or take twenty novels as we watched the cataclysmic events in the stories unravel. Wilson took us back to Jack's childhood with a trio of YA stories. And, finally, he came full circle and chronicled Repairman Jack's early days in NYC.
The third of that series, and purportedly the final Jack story, has just been published. It is appropriately called Fear City.
F. Paul Wilson is not what you'd normally consider to be a hardcore writer of gore or violence. He's definitely no Edward Lee. However, there are scenes in Fear City that really disturbed this jaded old genre reader. Come to think of it, I just listened to the audio presentation of Reprisal, and that book has some pretty unnerving elements in it as well.
It's a good thing that Paul is putting Jack behind him. No writer should stay in one place for so long. Still, I'll miss Jack. Badly. Very badly.
But maybe F. Paul Wilson won't be able to resist returning to Repairman Jack in the future. Was Arthur Conan Doyle able to stay away from his most famous creation? Part of me hopes this isn't really the end. In the meantime, I anxiously await whatever thrills and chills F. Paul Wilson has in store for his many readers in the immediate future.
Tuesday, November 25. 2014
Most of us love Thanksgiving. Roast turkey on the table, Wild Turkey in the glass. Plenty of relatives to fight with, and a loud, obnoxious sports event on the TV.
Some of us, the true turkey lovers, held Thanksgiving dear to our hearts for the annual Turkey Day Celebration from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
I love Rifftrax, but nothing can take the place of Joel or Mike up in the Satellite of Love, cutting up while watching really bad movies. I watched the show whenever I could catch it, and Thanksgiving was the best day for it.
Those days are gone, and the Best Brains gang have dispersed, but we can relive them. The great folks at Shout! Factory are doing more than their parts to keep physical media alive, and they are releasing a Turkey Day MST3K box set. Unfortunately for those of us struggling to pay our bills and to keep health insurance, the sets put out by Shout! are pretty expensive.
But wait! There is good news here in 2014. Lord knows we all need it, right?
Various websites will be streaming a Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day extravaganza this year. It will be older episodes of the show, but Joel Hodgson will be providing new introductory material for them.
So have a Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy your turkey.