Monday, February 28, 2011

My First Book!

It is done!  My very first book has been published and is available right now.  Caloo calay! Oh happy day!

The Annotated Carmilla hopes to be an authoritative guide to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire classic, the 1872 novella which was his last major work.  In its pages, you will find answers to virtually any question that might be asked about this work.  Where, for example, is Styria?  When does the story take place?  How much did the narrator's father have as an income?  (The answer to that one is a bit tricky, since rent in those days was much, much less--but food and clothing and other necessities cost much much more.)  What are all those books mentioned at the end?  Are they real?  (Yes.)  Exactly what is a hippogriff?  An entrucheon?  A gourvernante?  A myrmidon?  What does the name "Karnstein" mean?

Mind you, not all questions have an answer, but in that case I tried to point them out and offer a variety of possible answers.  Exactly what happened to Laura's mother?  We don't know exactly, although it seems pretty clear she was much younger than her husband.  How precisely does Laura feel about Carmilla?  Carmilla about Laura?  A less obvious question--who is Laura telling this story to?  There are hints to that one actually.

Next--finish the pilot for End Of The Line, then resume work on my novel Baneworth, an erotic re-telling of Varney The Vampyre!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (Review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Got to see a free screening of this movie, and let me say I was impressed.  By now you yourself have seen the trailers.  If you haven't, it is easy enough to find.  Just check out YouTube.

So what is The Adjustment Bureau all about?  Well, one can simply describe the plot.  David Norris (Matt Damon) is a New York Congressman who looked on the verge of winning a Senate seat when some silly shenanigans from his past (and they were just silly) derailed the campaign.  As he watched himself go down to defeat, he went to practice his concessions speech--and meets Elise (Emily Blunt) purely by accident.  They click.  Do they ever!  Not least because she sees through every little white lie that comes out of his mouth.  Going back to his campaign HQ, he doesn't give the prepared speech but an impromptu, humorous one from the heart.  It instantly revives his political career.

Forward a few months.  It seems some strange men in hats are quietly planning something important, but one of them fails.  He doesn't make Norris spill his coffee in time.  As a result, David doesn't miss his bus and again meets Elise, who gives him her phone number.  When he gets to work, eyes alight and a bounce in his stop, David sees something shocking.  And it rocks his world.

He sees agents of The Adjustment Bureau at work.  These are the men in hats.  Except they don't seem to be men, not really.  Some call them angels, among other things, and their boss The Chairman.  It seems there is a plan.  Later, a high ranking agent (Terrence Stamp) spells it out bluntly.  You do not have free will, he says.  You have the appearance of free will.  Sure, you get to choose your clothes and what you eat, but the big stuff is something you can't be trusted with.  Twice before the agents withdrew, thinking maybe mankind could handle things on their own.  Both were utter disasters, the last one ending after the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly wiped out everything on Earth.  Norris is part of the plan.  A good plan.  One that nudges humanity forward, away from their own worst impulses.  More, Norris is an important part of the plan, destined to have the chance to do great and good things.

But not with Elise.  With her, his part in the plan fails.  The plan fails.

Yet he loves her, with the kind of utter devotion that inspires songs and great deeds.  Not being at all selfish, yet also a bit reckless and daring, Norris faces a terrible dilemna.  A cheap way to explore that would be what the trailer kinda/sorta hints at--one long chase scene.  No.  What the filmmakers did here proved far more interesting.

Which is not to say there aren't chases.  There are, and very interesting ones too.

But instead of a long action sequence, we get a compelling struggle between the best aspects of everyone involved.  I cannot emphasize enough this movie has no villains.  Everyone is trying to do their level best to make this world a better place, willing to sacrifice much for that end.  Yet what they cannot sacrifice is the crux of the film.  Even if you do something for the genuine Higher Good, what kind of person doesn't feel guilt for pain and damage and unhappiness caused, no matter what the payoff?

The whole thing is like a really good, really high budget Twilight Zone episode.  Or maybe The Outer Limits.

What is the movie about?  Never mind the plot.  This movie explores fate, and taking control of one's fate.  It is about growth and free will and what we can sometimes be, what we only occasionally are.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cedar Rapids (Review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Got to see a free movie last night, titled Cedar Rapids.  Essentially a "fish out of water" story, it follows insurance agent Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) who frankly needs to get out.  He doesn't know it, but he does. Having lived his whole life in the little town of Brown Valley, circumstances  force him to represent his firm at a convention.  Never even having flown before or stayed in a hotel, Tim finds himself in the big city.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Had it been New Orleans, he'd've died.  What happens instead is culture shock, sin, exhiliration, friendship, trouble, desperate fear and--in the end--triumph.

Tim finds himself with two roommates at the convention:  Ronald, the first African American Tim has ever met, a straight arrow workaholic by circumstance rather than preference, not at all bitter about it and in a nice piece of stunt casting (he's played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.) a huge fan of HBO's series The Wire.  Then there's Dean (John C. Reilly)--very crass, very fun-loving, very loudmouthed and trying very hard to forget the end of his marriage.  Along the way they're joined by Joan (Anne Heche)--a mischievous housewife who sells insurance on the side and considers the convention a little vacation away from her life.

A good friend of mine came along to see the flick, and didn't care for it.  She saw the story as one of peer preassure, in which a man with morals and integrity gets pressured into doing all sorts of wrong things.  Nor is she wrong, but that ignores the third act.  Tim comes across as a genuinely nice guy.  More than anything this comes across early during a little celebration for a co-worker who's done extremely well.  An obvious choice as Tim gazes as the cake with this other guy's face on it would be annoyance, even anger.  What we see is envy--nothing mean, just a simple desire to be as good, as successful, to deserve what he regards as an honor.  Later, Joan calls Tim as a hero.  He sees working insurance as something glorious, a sacred duty to put people's lives back together in the wake of disaster.  She says he actually makes it sound cool to be an insurance agent.

Such a benign, simple way of looking the world just begs to be challenged.  Not least because the guy also radiates naivete and lack of experience.  Kinda helps make it easy for him.  If Tim didn't endure a front end collision with reality, there'd be no story!

He has his first drink.  And another.  Then another.  Cheats on his girlfriend with a married woman.  Uses the pool after hours!  A downward spiral.  He even does something much, much worse--something that makes him feel soiled and depressed enough to accept an invitation from a nice hooker to her uncle's (very rough) party.  That's where he gets beaten up.

From then on, the climax of the story proceeds to what my friend I fear ignored.  Tim, in meeting his new circle of friends, finally loosens up.  He oh-so-needed it, even if he stumbled and got hurt.  Yet in the end  he gave them something, too.  They weren't using him, but liked him.  When the chips are down, they help him turn the tables on some bad guys and do what they're supposed to do, what we all are supposed to do.

Stand up.  Tell the truth.  Do what you can for your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, your clients.  Grow a pair.  Learn from your mistakes.

I laughed and smiled.  The ending moved me a bit.  By the end I not only liked these characters, but respected them.  Some of it proved a little over the top for me.  And the ending felt like a retread of Its A Wonderful Life.  But no real complaints.  I liked it.  No a huge amount, because it wasn't quite as deep or complex as I'd like.   Wouldn't mind seeing it again.