Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Remember to review!

Read DMQZ? Post a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads to help spread the word!

Like many independently published authors, I've got a marketing budget of zero - so I'm counting on word of mouth from readers like you to help spread the word. If you read indie authors, especially Kindle Direct folks like me, help support the community by posting reviews online of what you've read.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Red Dawn (2012) Spoiler-free review

Is it good?
No, watch the original instead.

Is it technically good?
They hired workmanlike crew, and they got a serviceable result; it's a vehicle for youthful faces, ridiculous product placement, and explosions.
The acting is fairly terrible except for Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who does his best to salvage things but can't overcome the rest of the movie.
They clearly paid for a lot of pop music rights, but the score itself is underwhelming.
The editing is confusing at best, and 90% of the movie plays like an extended montage.

What does it promise - and does it deliver?
An update of the pulp classic '80s commie paranoia flick Red Dawn with today's hottest young stars; some of 2009's young stars in a brainless, disorganized extended trailer that makes the original look like high art.

If you liked these, you'll like this: Abduction starring Taylor Lautner.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Solaris (1972) Spoiler-free review

Is it good?
Yes, it's good weird.

Is it technically good?
Visually, it's striking and different - even if some of the special effects don't stand up.
The acting is quite good (though it's sometimes hard to tell in a different language).
They're going for a counterpoint to sci-fi blockbusters, but it's too quiet.
Be ready for a slow movie. If you can make it through Part I, Part II is a good payoff, though it's still slow.
In short: it's Criterion for a reason.

What does it promise - and does it deliver?
A contemplative, psychological, art-house counterpoint to sci-fi's action and technology blockbusters - and it delivers.

If you liked these, you'll like this: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek the Motion Picture.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

1996 and 2/3: TV show pitch

Twenty years ago, FBI agent Cameron Archer (Nic Cage) underwent experimental surgery to trade faces with terrorist Vic Troy (John Travolta) in order to shut down Troy's criminal organization. Things went sideways when Archer, wearing Troy's face, was caught by his FBI partner Riley Hale (Christian Slater) and sentenced to life in prison. Troy has infiltrated Archer's life - his family, the FBI - and has been living as Archer for two decades.

Now, Archer is forced to make a daring escape during a prison transfer by plane to get his old life back. Teaming up with notorious criminals (including John Malkovich and Dave Chappelle), and hunted by US Marshall Vince Larkin (John Cusack), Archer is taking over Troy's organization to bring it down.

Troy is pulled into the hunt for Archer, as Hale starts to have doubts about his partner. It's a game of cat and mouse and confused identities as the villainous Troy plays both sides - he likes the life he stole and it's slipping away. But Troy has an ace up his sleeve: a stolen nuke, somewhere in the desert...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Toss the bathwater, Frankenstein the baby: lessons from Hemlock Grove series 1

Netflix's Hemlock Grove is such a mixed bag it's hard to even say it's "good" or "bad." Let's break it down, +/- style.

Spoilers for Hemlock Grove ahead.

+ The story. There's a compelling supernatural drama/soap going on in Hemlock Grove. There are characters that diverge from cookiecutter tropes that horror gravitates towards. The story goes to some interesting places. Particularly enjoyable is Dr. Price's journey from arch villain to sympathetic counter-programmer.

- The production. Writing and editing muddle the good parts of the story. Twists and revelations that should have made you say "I can't believe that happened" instead prompt "what just happened?" too often.

A tragic example of this: in the church confrontation, I had to rewind and deduce why Sheriff Sworn shot Shelley. I've come to the conclusion that Sworn must have only seen the end, Shelley holding the dead vargulf in human form, and fired thinking her the killer. This shouldn't be a conclusion the viewers have to reach alone, though; we should have been shown. It would have been just a few quick cuts of Sworn arriving.

Also at the very end I think we're supposed to infer that Roman either can't help raping people, hypnotized himself to forget, or was hypnotized by his mother to do it. Without clarification, it's impossible for the viewer to forgive the character, so that's a pretty important missing piece.

+ The whole gypsy clan. The Rumanceks and the actors that played them were the best part of the series. More of them, please.

- The dialect coaches for the Godfreys. It was hard to take anyone but Shelley seriously in dramatic moments when their accents were so bad.

+ The humor. Who knew a horror show could be so funny without camp? Even though the Wire-style "shiiiiiiiit" was overused, it offered much needed relief more often than not.

Favorite moment: "Do you want to have sex with me?" "Well, here we are."

- The horror. Expectations always should be tempered when it comes to effects, because we all know that budgets exist. But 1.2 transformations over an entire season of a show that's billed about being a werewolf show... underwhelming. There were fewer effects than any supernatural BBC show, and those shows are Hemlock Grove's main competition.

Overall, there was more potential than product in Hemlock Grove. Here's hoping it gets a second series and a bit of course-correct so that it can deliver on its promise.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Supervillain plot = Real life public policy

The nefarious plot of the supervillain on CW's Arrow was revealed in full last episode. As evil as it is, I was struck by the feeling that I'd heard of the idea before. And not in Batman Begins.

Spoilers below for Arrow and Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. But really, if you haven't seen Nolan's Batmans, you should really be catching up right now.

So yes, villain Malcolm Merlyn (Doctor Who/Torchwood's John Barrowman, @team_barrowman on twitter) is the progenitor of a plot to destroy "the Glades," the poverty-stricken district of Arrow's Starling City. And yes, it's pretty much the same plot that Ra's Al Ghul had in Batman Begins. Merlyn even has a mysterious device being shipped in to perform the task that has a striking visual similarity to the water-vaporizing weapon from the Batman movie.

(I'm willing to give Arrow a lot of leeway to borrow from Batman because it does it so well. If you haven't been watching Arrow and you like superheroes, you should start. I'm the first to admit that I have a bias against DC superheroes that aren't Batman. I grew up with the more underdog approach to heroes of the Stan Lee stable. But like pretty much every person on the planet, I've got a lot of love for THE BATMAN, and the Green Arrow that Arrow gives us is pretty darn close. The things that Arrow adds and subtracts from the Batman story are thoughtful: Oliver Queen has a much longer road to having a heroic mission, and he's more limited in his mental and technological prowess, making him more sympathetic and more vulnerable.)

But the mission and method of the villains in both the Nolan Batman trilogy and Arrow are to fix the problem of crime by leveling the city and starting over. On the face of it, the destruction of struggling areas to fix their problems is the idea only a supervillain could have. In reality, though, it's a fairly common approach to the problem of urban "blight" and crime.

If you watched the Wire, you know why and how it happens. There's a crime- and poverty-ridden area, politicians look for an easy and symbolic way to fix it when policing fails - knock the buildings down.

The euphemism for the practice of demolishing poor areas is urban renewal. There was a rash of urban renewal in the middle of the twentieth century following World War II, pioneered by people like Robert Moses and Richard King Mellon. The government used the American Housing Act of 1949 and eminent domain (that thing where the government can pay you what it wants for your property if it "needs" it) to take over, flatten, and rebuild large sections of major US cities. While less explode-y than the DC supervillain approach, the goal and approach was very similar.

So does the parallel between real policy and supervillainy make urban renewal crazy/evil, or Malcolm Merlyn's plan more logical? The answer is mixed; urban renewal projects have had both good and bad results. Sometimes there is improvement, sometimes further social slide. Like most public policy initiatives, urban renewal wasn't the "magic bullet" to fix cities' problems.

Of course the major difference between real life and fiction is that urban renewal doesn't - as a goal, anyway - flatten buildings with people in them.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Free Book Promotion

It's the month anniversary of the release of my novel, DMQZ, so it's free today through Sunday on Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle-app device.

Why is it free? I've released DMQZ independent of a publisher (commonly referred to as "indie"), which means that my best advertising is you good word of mouth. So download for free, read & enjoy, and then write a review on Amazon and tell your friends!

What is it about? DMQZ is a mystery/thriller set in New York City after a global pandemic. Most of the world was wiped out by disease, but New York is on the border of a safe zone that extends south down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. The main character, Jacob Hale, is a cop trying to clear his name after making a hard call. DMQZ is the first in a trilogy (I'm writing the sequel now).

Will there be another free promotion? Probably not. So get it 'em while they're hot!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hannibal is the Dexter we really want

The Hannibal Lecter we all know and love on the big screen in Michael Mann's Miami Vice-ish Manhunter, the iconic Silence of the Lambs, the less-iconic Hannibal, the where-is-Anthony-Hopkins Hannibal Rising, and the we-swear-it's-not-Manhunter Red Dragon has come to the living room on NBC's Hannibal.

(Some #spoilers for Dexter below, but all very general.)

That might make it seem like the Lecterverse is getting a little overwrought. At this point the serial killer genre starting to feel a little crowded, too, with Hannibal, AMC's bizarro-awesome Bates Motel, the wasn't-this-an-Ashley-Judd-movie-in-the-1990s-styled the Following and of course Showtime's Dexter. Dexter is the eldest of the lot and has the most in common with Hannibal.

In many ways Will Graham (the familiar hero of Manhunter/Red Dragon) and Hannibal are two sides of Dexter's character: Will is the socially maladjusted and forensically gifted half, while Hannibal is Dexter's dark passenger with Harry's controls. If anything, they're even more exaggerated. Will is more socially awkward than Dexter ever was, so much so that he can only befriend animals; Hannibal's control of his urge to kill is absolute but his willingness to repress it nonexistent.

Where the two shows diverge is their approach to who has the upper hand. Dexter made a narratively interesting choice by making the serial killer a sympathetic underdog. Hannibal lets Hannibal run the show - there's cat and mouse, but Hannibal is certainly the cat.

In many ways Dexter's evolution seems to have been a de-evoltution, the gradual decline of a serial killer from the peak of his abilities to his downfall. Every season finds Dexter discarding more and more of Harry's rules, making more and stupider mistakes, and getting ever closer to being caught. Maybe that's the end of the series - and that would give the show an interesting angle on the genre. In the meantime, though, there's much less of a sense of danger to Dexter himself. In the first season, we could believe that Dexter could kill any one of the characters if it weren't for his rules, and his dark passenger monologues were sometimes frightening. These days we wonder if he can pull off a kill without getting hurt or caught.

Hannibal on the other hand is at the beginning of the peak of his power. The events of Hannibal take place before and in between stories we're familiar with, so it's uncharted territory. We're used to Hannibal in a cage or on the run. The iconic image is Hannibal behind glass or behind a protective mask (see title image). Now, he's free, walking around, analyzing some people and dining on others.

The best trick Hannibal plays is convincing you of how smart Hannibal feels. Mads Mikkelsen is a far better actor than I would have guessed from his villainy in Casino Royale, and he's given excellent material to work with. He's smart in a way that the viewer can see without the visual aids that Benedict Cumerbatch gets on Sherlock. He's smart in a way that lets you watch him think and manipulate, rather than a "gotcha" at the end. Watching Hannibal, we believe he's a genius.

Mads Mikkelsen may not have Anthony Hopkins' stare, but he's a worthy successor. He certainly outdoes Gaspard Ulliel and Brian Cox in the role. And he brings the scary back to the killer TV show.