Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Can You Guess Which New Year's Resolutions Are Fake?

1) Begin studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

2) Write a sci-fi novel.

3) Lose 30 pounds.

4) Learn to cook.

5) Become a volunteer firefighter.

6) Learn Chinese, preferably Mandarin.

7) Become a Jedi Knight.

8) Stop Drink...okay, I can't stop laughing long enough to finish writing that one.

9) Go back to practicing litigation.

10) Finally watch The Godfather.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Did You Get For Christmas (Assuming You Celebrate)?

I scored some great gifts this year from the wife for Christmas. Awwwww yeah. I won't list everything, but here are a few things. By the way, ladies, don't fret. I took care of her too, I swear.

-The Dark Knight. Love this movie, as evidenced by my defense of it.

-Step Brothers. This is my favorite Will Ferrell comedy. John C. Reilly is a scream in this one too, every bit as good as Ferrell with the laughs. Believe it or not, I first saw this at the theater with my mother-in-law. It was quite an interesting experience to see her laughing hysterically when Ferrell put his _____ on Reilly's drum set.

-All the President's Men. A great, great movie. I always thought Redford was a little overrated as an actor, until I saw this one.

-There Will Be Blood. Sorry all you lovers of No Country for Old Men, but this one should have been awarded Best Pic for 2007. DDL gives the most ferocious performance of his career.

-The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. Calling all you children of the 80s. Who remembers this one? With Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Clancy Brown. Weller stars as Banzai, a surgeon, astrophysicist, rock star who gets embroiled in an interdimensional struggle when...oh, the plot doesn't matter. And sadly, the rumors that Big Trouble in Little China was originally intended as a sequel to this aren't true.

-Mad Men Season One. I only caught a few episodes on AMC during its run, but I really enjoyed them. Can't wait to watch it from start to finish.

-The Great Train Robbery (novel). During my Crichton phase when I was thirteen or fourteen, I stayed away from this book. I shouldn't have. Crichton's attention to detail and solid research make this a lot of fun and a quick read. Now I can't wait to see the film, which he also directed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bear and Gracie Offer You Season's Greetings

That's Bear on the right, Gracie on the left. To those who know her, Gracie's costume is a bit ironic. I'm still shocked we got them to sit still long enough for this picture.

Happy Holidays!

Redbelt: My Guilty Pleasure of 2008

Written and directed by David Mamet, Redbelt is a wickedly awesome and surprisingly moving film. I call it my guilty pleasure of 2008 because the convoluted plot barely passes a cursory examination on first viewing and tends to completely self-destruct after repeated viewings. The ending, in terms of verisimilitude, really pushes the envelope of willing suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, I find this an entertaining-as-all-hell movie, held together by a perfect performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor, by logic-defying plot twists that don't give you time to consider their logic-defyingness, and most importantly, by heart.

Taken within the context of Mamet's oeuvre, Redbelt is both standard fare and somewhat of an oddity. All the Mamet trademarks are present: insanely twisted storyline; dramatic reversals of fortune; shady characters; shadier characters; even shadier characters; double-crosses; an almost amoral universe; distinct, undeniably Mametean dialogue that calls attention to itself all the way; and, of course, the con. There's always a con in Mamet's world, something going on underneath what you think is going on, and oftentimes something going on underneath that too. Layer upon layer of fiction gets stripped away as the story unfolds, until you are left with a stark revelation at the end: man is a conniving, nasty beast. Only this time out, Mamet issues an addendum: but some men are not.

What separates RB from Mamet's other films like The Spanish Prisoner, Spartan, Heist, and House of Games, and even more so Glengarry Glen Ross, is the story has soul. There is a message of perseverance, of finding peace, of adhering to one's moral code, in an otherwise malevolent world. It is--dare I say it--an inspiring film.

Unlike his other films, Mamet has given us a lead we can truly sympathize with this time around. His other films, as intelligent and fun as they are, often come off as emotionally void. Or rather, the only emotions in the Mamet universe outside of Redbelt are anger, frustration, estrangement, alienation, and lust. I cheered for the main character in The Spanish Prisoner not because I identified with him, but because he was just a decent, hard-working fellow that was getting screwed by con men. I rooted for Gene Hackman in Heist because he was Gene Hackman, and really for no reason other than that.

But Mike Terry, hero of this story, is different from every other previous Mamet protagonist.

Early in the film, Terry, played by Ejiofor, states, "There is an always escape." No matter how bad things get, you can always find a way out, you can always triumph. He's a man that believes in something. He's not challenged by evil forces "just because," as is the case in most of Mamet's other films. Rather, he's challenged because of who he is. His system of values and that fundamental belief are tested throughout the movie, with the stakes getting inevitably higher with each challenge. As Terry explains to a new student in the middle of the film, just before EVERYTHING falls apart, "There is no situation you cannot escape from. There is no situation you cannot turn to your advantage."

Is it possible to live an honorable life in 2008? Yes, Mike Terry says. No, says everybody else. And Redbelt pits these two philosophies against one another. Many people were thrown by the ads into thinking this is a martial arts movie. It is not. It is a cleverly-disguised, neo-noirish spin on the samurai film. It's a refreshing dose of optimism, found in the least likely of places: a David Mamet movie.

Ejiofor almost completely carries this film. Mamet's dialogue either makes or breaks an actor (and makes or breaks a story for an audience), and when delivered poorly, the language calls attention to itself and its artificiality. Ejiofor, however, handles it marvelously, alternatively spouting off Yoda-like aphorisms while managing the gritty "hyper-realism" of Mamet's syntax, with its non-sequiturs and repetitions on repetitions. I can't picture anyone else playing Mike Terry, meaning Ejiofor inhabited the role and made it truly his own.

All that being said, I will issue this caveat: this film is polarizing, as nearly every Mamet movie tends to be. People either love it or hate it, and I'm starting to wonder whether Mamet likes his stories to be that way. I fall into the love it camp, but even I'm willing to admit the film is not perfect, nowhere near it, in fact. The ending is, in the most literal sense of the word, unbelievable. The con itself, perhaps the centerpiece of every Mamet story, is logically baffling. It is impossible to tell when the con men decided to start conning their mark, in this case, Mike Terry, or why they chose to go about it the way they did. Surely, there was an easier way.

But for me, Redbelt works as a Mamet story, a samurai film, and as a fight movie. It's my guilty pleasure of 2008, unless I see something else that tops it in the next eight days.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yes, I Want to See Valkyrie

Valkyrie has a lot going against it. Internet hateboys have lined up (or rather, sat in front of their computers) to bash this movie for many reasons. Here are some of the more popular ones:

1) Tom Cruise can't act.
2) Bryan Singer has seen better days.
3) It's a suspense thriller, but we all know how the plot ends, so what's the point, right?
4) The release date has been changed at least three times, for various reasons.
5) None of the characters speak with German accents, and that's like, so dumb, man.

I haven't seen it yet, but I think people should give this movie a chance.

1) Tom Cruise is a good actor. It's in vogue nowadays to hate on the guy. Understandably so. Whether you're still laughing at his couch-jumping on Oprah, or whether you're still waiting for him to say "I was just kidding about psychiatry. I think it's a wonderful field," his behavior and outspoken views on anything and everything were a bit off-putting. He appears to be in the midst of a public-relations extreme makeover. I totally understand if you don't want to support a movie he's in because you disagree with him on a personal level. That's one thing. But don't ignore the fact that he can act. He was perfect in Born on the Fourth of July, nobody else could have played Jerry Maguire the way he did, and he was spot-on as Vincent in Collateral. If I chose not to watch movies starring actors who had political views I disagreed with, I'd almost never go the movies.

2) Bryan Singer is a good director
. Yes, it's been five years since X2. Yes, the last outing, Superman Returns, was an abomination. Yes, he directed Apt Pupil, one of the few movies I've ever rented and turned off twenty minutes in. But anyone capable of directing as good a film as The Usual Suspects has got talent and brains. Also, Christopher McQuarrie, the screenwriter of TUS wrote the screenplay for this movie. McQuarrie is an excellent writer, and he and Singer worked wonders together before. And let's not forget that Singer's treatment of X-Men and X2 was awesome. With both films, I was never once pulled out of the story because I realized I was watching a comic book movie (cough, cough, Spider Man 1-3). Singer brought the focus of the X-Men movies to bear on the themes of alienation and individualism.

3) It doesn't matter that we know the ending. It really doesn't. Trust me on this one. If the film's done well, the plot will work. There was another movie that we all knew the ending to that did pretty well at the box office: Titanic. Sure, there are some differences, but the idea is the same--we all know the ship's going down, but we want to see how it happens and how things turn out for the characters involved. Still not convinced? Then go watch (or read) The Day of the Jackal, one of the best suspense thrillers ever created. The outcome of the story is never in doubt, and yet, you're on the edge of your seat the entire time. Still not convinced? How many of you knew the ending to Romeo and Juliet before you first read or saw a production of it? Huh? Come on, how many of you? Yeah, that's what I thought.

4) The changing of the release date could mean a lot of things. This is the strongest argument against seeing this film, if you ask me. But I would state that this could mean a lot of things. I read somewhere that the producers or the studio pushed it back initially because they wanted Cruise to work on his German accent. I don't know if that's true or not, but that really doesn't matter (see below). I also heard that the studio wasn't sure how to market this film when they saw it, which isn't necessarily a sign that it's bad. Perhaps they were expecting a big-time action box office smash, let's release it during the summer, kind of movie. And they panicked when they didn't get that. But if you believe Singer, all along he wanted to create a solid suspense thriller. He wasn't going for Michael-Bay type action, and he wasn't looking for Oscar nominations.

5) German accents wouldn't make any sense. Seriously, they wouldn't. Think about it. The story takes place in Germany. We know the characters are speaking German. Therefore, there's no need to have them speak English with a German accent. It's unnecessary. If you think about it, the characters in Star Wars probably aren't speaking English. Though, who knows with George Lucas. Aside from that, though, I've heard that Singer uses an interesting technique to remind us throughout the movie that the characters are speaking German.

So, I say that Valkyrie is worth a watch, either at the theater or as a rental at home. Judge the movie all you want after you see it, but at least have a good reason for doing so. People love to hate, don't they?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas or Saturnalia?

Repost from a few years ago. Can't believe I've been on blogger this long.

Don't you love hypothetical questions?

If you could choose, which holiday would you celebrate this year--Christmas or Saturnalia? And no, Festivus isn't an option.

I've done a little bit of research on both, so I could make an informed decision. As in, I spent five minutes on Wikipedia. Not surprisingly, Christmas and Saturnalia have more than a few commonalities. (Gee, wonder why.)

After much thought, Saturnalia gets my vote.

What's that? Are you laughing? Well, sir, just hear me out. Before you scoff at the idea, at least pause to consider what Saturnalia has to offer:

-A week-long holiday
-Conventional sacrifices
-School holiday
-Small presents (But I'm not sure if Guitar Hero counts as a small present)
-Special market
-Gambling for everybody!
-Reversal of social roles (You can tell your boss what you really think of him/her)

Doesn't sound half bad. And, you're not required to wear a toga for Saturnalia. That's right. Instead, you'd wear the synthesis, which I hear is much more comfortable AND flattering.

With Saturnalia, you still get all the benefits of Christmas (gifts, school holiday) with some added bonuses, like tomfoolery and sacrifices. Seriously, can one ever get enough tomfoolery? And I think this world could do with more sacrifices. Perhaps regularly-scheduled sacrifices would satiate the blood-lust inherent in man so there would be no more war.

Then there's the fact that you're not required to risk your life hanging lights on the roof all of which, may I remind you, have to come down in less than a month.

Saturnalia doesn't require the creation of scores of Christmas cards to send out to family members you see, if you're lucky (take that how you want), once a year.

Given the choice between a one-day, or at best, a one-and-a-half day if you count Christmas Eve, celebration and a week-long celebration, well, I think you know where I'm headed with this...


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Select Lyrical Press Titles On Sale for 20% Discount

My publisher, Lyrical Press, is now offering 20% discounts on select titles for the holiday season. I urge you all to check out what's on sale. Most of it falls into the romance, erotica, and paranormal genres, so if that's your thing, this is the perfect opportunity to purchase some quality fiction at a reduced price.

And no, my paranormal thriller The Unearthed is not available yet. Trust me, you'll know when it is, because I'll be doing shameless self-promotion left and right, front and center, hither and yon, ad nauseam, closer to the e-release date of March 2, 2009. I'll be here brainstorming creative promotionals/giveaways in the meantime.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Love Glenside

I live in a great town. Glenside, PA is an interesting little place that's full of character.

Glenside is the perfect hybrid of suburb and little town. You can walk nearly everywhere you need to go, but you never feel crowded like you would in a city. Less than five blocks from where I live, you can get a haircut, buy a doughnut and the paper, pick up a six pack, grab a pizza, sit down in a pub to watch a ball game, eat Chinese food.

If you're feeling really adventurous, you can walk about ten minutes and go to the Keswick Theatre, which has been open since 1928. It was designed by the same guy that created the Philadelphia Museum of Art! A lot of great acts came through here, like The Marx Brothers. And they're still coming through--BB King, The Allman Brothers Band, etc. It's considered to have nearly perfect acoustics.

Just across the street from the Keswick sits the smallest (or second smallest, there's some debate) brewery in the United States: GG Brewers. It's a great place to grab a bite to eat and throw back a few pints. Cozy as it is, there's still plenty of room for a game of darts (or "jarts," if you're a player). There's always an XBox or other gaming system hooked up to one of the TVs. Many a game of half-drunken Ms. Pac Man was played there between pints.

And speaking of pubs, there are no shortage in Glenside. We've also got the Glenside Pub, Cork, and the Keswick Tavern. If you're into Greek food, there's Athena.

Newgrounds also makes its home in Glenside. Newgrounds is the original Flash portal on the internet, and the owners/operators receive hundreds of submissions a day from anybody and everybody.

Glenside is also the home of the Won Insitute. I'm not quite sure what goes on there, but one of these days I'll work up the nerve to go inside. The building looks cool. Based on the website, tt appears to be a school offering courses on Eastern thought and its practical applications.

If you're ever in Glenside, shoot me an email and we'll grab a pint. It's a great little town.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More Stories 2 - Nate Green Interview

Nate Green was good enough to stop by and record a podcast with Nick and me (followed of course by a few brews). We've put the podcast up here.

Nate and I discuss the creative process, Nate's short story Prison Darkness which was published by Niteblade, and some literary theory.

Nate's a cool guy. We met (oh my god) eleven years ago at Drexel University. He competes in bagpipe competitions, writes short stories and novels, and knows more drinking games than anyone else I know. He's also currently enrolled in the MFA Program at Rosemont University. I don't know when he sleeps.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Overused Movie Lines

Yet another completely random post. I've taken a lot of time to come up with these overused movie lines for you. Okay, it only took fifteen minutes. But to a flatworm, that's an eternity.

In some instances, I've put what I'd write in a screenplay, had I been forced to use the overused line. Hope you enjoy.

1. "Is that a threat?" My Answer: Yeah, you dumb S--T.

2. "It's quiet in here." Normal response: "Yeah, too quiet." My Answer: Of course it is, we're in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night.

3. "Nothing can go wrong/I'm so happy/We're all going to make it." My Answer: No we're not. That would make for a reverse dramatic arch.

4. "Give me a beer." My Answer, if I were the bartender: Just so you know, there are thousands of beers in existence and at least five I could pour for you right now.

5. "I'm going to count to three." My Answer: Good. That will give me time to think of a snappy comeback, or a way out of this mess. (Check out how David Mamet handled this in Heist.)

6. "What is this, good cop/bad cop?"

7. "It's not you. It's me." (Maybe that one hits too close to home.)

8. "I'm getting too old for this." (And so are we.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Was The Dark Knight Really That Good?

The Dark Knight comes out tomorrow on DVD, and I figured now was a good time to look back and consider just how good the film actually is. It has been several months since we were in the throes of box-office madness of Titanic-like proportions, so perhaps we can approach this film with some distance before appraising it.

I was going to issue a SPOILER WARNING, but if you haven't seen the film by now, that can only mean you died before it was released and you're somehow able to read blogs from beyond the grave but not watch movies.

TDK is not without its share of problems. To name a few:

-A scene early on involving the Scarecrow that provides a quick, and really unnecessary, resolution to a plot thread from Batman Begins.

-Nolan's direction of fight scenes leaves something to be desired. He repeatedly violates John McTiernan's principle of geography of scene, the concept that the audience should know where the actors are, what they are doing, and why, at all times. Some argue that Nolan's approach gets you to feel what it's like to be in a melee, but I don't buy that. I've never been in a huge brawl, but I've played my share of teams sports where there were always many things happening at once. No matter what, you still have an idea of what's going on around you.

-Harvey Dent's transformation into Two-Face occurs with comic-book speed. I'm willing to see him go vigilante on the mobsters and crooked cops after his fiancee dies and he loses half his face. But I didn't buy for a minute his ready willingness to turn a gun on Gordon, Gordon's family, and Batman.

-Related to the above point, the last 45 minutes of the film are rushed, as if Nolan and co. were trying to cram too much plot into a story that was already plot-heavy. I can't take credit for this idea, but others have said that TDK would have been better film if Nolan had ended it right after the Joker escapes from the police station, either with the image of him sticking his head out of the cruiser or Batman standing over the rubble of the recently-destroyed warehouse where Rachel met her Maker. It would have been a true Empire Strikes Back kick in the bread basket that would have set up a sequel perfectly. I'm inclined to agree.

-We lose sight of Batman. It was bound to happen when they decided to introduce two other main/supporting characters (Joker and Dent) and elevate Gordon's role from minor to major. Even Morgan Freeman's character gets his own arch. Nolan did what no one else had ever done with the caped crusader in Batman Begins: Batman was the most interesting character on screen at all times. In TDK, though, his psychological journey isn't as compelling, and Batman doesn't dominate the screen the way he did in the previous film. This story is as much everybody else's as it is his. I'm reminded of Eastwood's lament to Sergio Leone during their making of For A Few Dollars More and even more so during The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. Apparently, Clint kept saying that he was getting smaller and smaller each time out.

But with all that being said, TDK is a masterpiece. A flawed masterpiece, yes, but a masterpiece nonetheless. It is one of those rare instances where a piece of art, while not perfect, appears to be perfect. Or, it's perfect despite its faults.

The classical allusions are everywhere. Batman, Gordon, and Dent are Gotham's First Triumvirate. Dent's White Knight could have been pulled out of a Shakespearean tragedy, his only character flaw being that he was too good for this world.

At nearly three hours long, the film moves really well (until, arguably, the end when it moves too well). There are some great dramatic reversals, most notably Gordon's reappearance, Batman just a shadow standing over the Joker, Rachel's demise, Joker orchestrating and carrying out his escape from the police station.

Nolan hits all the right notes throughout. When he wants us to laugh, we laugh. When he wants us to cringe, we cringe. When he wants us to jump, we jump (the dummy banging against the Mayor's window).

While Batman may have been downplayed in this one, the performances are all top-notch. Ledger's Joker is a force of nature. IMHO, Eckhart's Dent is just as good as Ledger's Joker; unfortunately, his Two-Face is problematic. I don't think that's Eckhart's fault though. The script is the issue here.

Most importantly, TDK is damned entertaining. The film is big, the story is epic, the stakes are constantly enormous. It's heavy, but it's fun. TDK gives you your money's worth, and then some.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Now Why Didn't I Think of This When...

...I was nailed for speeding at the age of 18? Check this out. A driver explained to the nice officer that responded to the call that God told him to hit another vehicle. This argument presents a legal conundrum, because it's neither provable nor disprovable. If only I had been so smart when I was younger. And why are they ordering a psychiatric evaluation? They should be giving this guy an IQ test to see how much of a genius he actually is.

In related news, an atheist group has placed a message on the Washington state capitol next to a holiday tree and a nativity scene. Apparently, manners don't factor into their concept of rational discourse.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Was Tom Hanks A Sex Symbol in the 80s?

I happened to catch bits and pieces of Turner & Hooch on TV the other day. I know, I know. Give me a break. It was the tail end of my vacation, I was tired of reading and playing pool, and there was really nothing else to do.

Anyway, I didn't watch the whole movie. But I did see at least two or three scenes that showed Hanks either topless or wearing black briefs. I haven't seen the film in a long time, and probably the last time I was too young to notice something like that. But I did find it strange.

In case you want to brush up on your knowledge of T&H, go here.