25 July 2013

“The Invasion Will Be Alphabetized” to Appear in Stupefying Stories

Now that I’ve signed the contract, I can announce that my humorous science-fiction short story “The Invasion Will Be Alphabetized” is set to appear in the popular e-magazine Stupefying Stories. No word yet on which issue it will appear in, but of course I’ll give an update when I know.

The story’s title was influenced by Gil Scott-Heron’s famous song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” although the actual story has nothing to do with the late Mr. Scott-Heron’s work. The inspiration for this odd piece of near-future comedy was twofold: 1) a visit I made to JPL in 2011; 2) a mix-up regarding overpriced Jack Daniels at a ritzy hotel. Story inspiration often arises come from odd combinations.

(By the way, I won the fight against the hotel’s attempt to rip me off for $500. How? I wrote a polite, professional, but firm letter to the CEO of the hotel company in New York explaining the situation. He told the hotel to get its act together. The power of clear, forceful writing!)

I personally believed the story was too weird to actually sell to any publication… so let that be yet another to all writers to not second-guess yourself. Go ahead and write the damn thing, no matter how strange it may seem.

14 July 2013

Pacific Rim Loves You. Love It Back.

Pacific Rim (2013)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

If you choose to see Grown Ups 2 this week instead of Pacific Rim, I will come after you. I know nothing about engineering, but I will find a way to build a titanic super robot and hunt you down. I know nothing about genetics, but I will find a way to grow a mutated giant monster and put it on your trail. And if you spent any money on any of the Transformers movies and you don’t go see Pacific Rim….

R-A-G-E!

Pacific Rim is here for you, summer movie fans and science-fiction worshippers: an original, thrilling, no-bloat SF geek explosion. Every summer has that film, the one that reminds us what fun the warm season movies are supposed to be, and makes us leave the theater walking tall as a 50-meter robot and loving life like a thirteen-year-old kind who hit the bank with a lemonade stand and can now afford that new video game.

10 July 2013

Flash Review: Mama (2013)

Mama (2013)
Directed by Andrés Muschietti. Starring Jessica Chastain, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Megan Charpentier, Isabelle Nélisse, Daniel Kash, Javier Botet.

I didn’t see Mama in theaters, although it seems everyone else did: when studio wisdom predicted the horror crowds would line up for Texas Chainsaw 3D, they instead packed into an original PG-13 fright flick. As Brian Collins from Horror Movie a Day pointed out, this is a win for the genre.

Now that I’ve seen Mama, I understand why audiences enjoyed it. It offers strong atmosphere and legitimate scares that build not from simple “shock ‘em” jumps, but thoughtful directorial construction. One sequence that stands out is a shot where we see a little girl playing tug-of-war with someone off-screen, who we assume is her older sister. But then the sister comes walking down the hall and we have a “Whose hand was I holding?” stunner straight from The Haunting. The best terror moment features a strobing flash on a camera burning the screen white so the afterimages on the viewers’ eyeballs enhance the approach of… something wicked!

The something wicked, the titular “Mama,” ends up one of the film’s disappointments. When the restless spirit that has appointed itself guardian over two feral children, Victoria (Charpentier) and Lily (INélisse), remains a shadow hiding in corners or slipping from closets, it’s a shivery ghoulie. When the finale forces Mama into full view, the CGI deflates the tension and she appears a touch silly. Javier Botet is credited as playing Mama; when his physical performance comes through, the spider contortions of Mama look grisly. But CGI overcomes in the almost-but-not-quite letdown climax.

Mama originates from a short film by Spanish brother and sister Andrés and Bárbara Muschietti. The story is mostly routine ghost business that shatters no expectations. Lucas Desange (Coster-Waldau) and his rocker chick girlfriend Annabel Moore (Chastain) take on the responsibility of caring for Lucas’s nieces, who disappeared five years ago after their father killed their mother and took the girls to an empty shack. Annabel ends up primary caretaker, a role she isn’t prepared for, especially when the girls’ supposedly imaginary friend starts to manifest. Meanwhile, a psychologist (Kash) investigates to find out the origins of “Mama.”

Considering how average much of the story is, and that I never developed an emotional connection to the adult characters, Mama carries itself well. Credit goes to Muschetti’s direction and the riveting work from the child actresses. Jessica Chastain has the largest arc (will Annabel embrace motherhood?), but Annabel never emerges as a strong character. The emotional heart of the story is the two girls and Mama, so even during the CGI-monster madness ending, the movie gets hold of a few heartstrings to tug.

Guillermo del Toro’s name is on the film as Executive Producer, and his presence is felt in the moldy storybook pages appearance, focus on children, and nasty obsession with insects. Lots of icky moths in this one.

Mama is better horror than mainstream audiences usually get, so I hope its success provides us a few more original productions that run on creepiness rather than bland sequel/remake fumes.

06 July 2013

Clayton Moore’s The Lone Ranger (1956)

The Lone Ranger (1956)
Directed by Stuart Heisler. Starring Clayton Moore, Jay Silverheels, Lyle Bettger, Robert J. Wilke, Bonita Granville, Perry Lopez, Charles Meredith, Michael Ansara, Frank DeKova, Lane Chandler.

The horrible 2013 The Lone Ranger has come—and will soon be gone. Let us begin the healing process.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Western refers to the 1956 big screen extension of the Lone Ranger television show as “a masterpiece of children’s cinema.” Which indeed it is, but “children’s cinema” was a different creature in the 1950s. It wasn’t The Chipmunks or The Smurfs is what I’m getting at. The Lone Ranger ’56 is a straightforward adventure film devoid of kiddie pandering. It didn’t need to make obeisance to appeal to young viewers because the Ranger was always a hero marketed toward pre-teen boys, starting in 1933 with the radio program. What marks the film as for children is its simple moral structure and hero who goes above and beyond to be the best man he can.

Arriving after four seasons of the enormously popular show, which was ABC’s first hit program, The Lone Ranger Cinematic Experience must have been a raucous treat for the children who until then could only see their favorite masked hero on miniature blurry black and white TV sets. Here were the Lone Ranger and Tonto flying across a huge movie screen in glorious WarnerColor with the sound of the “The William Tell Overture” thundering from a giant speaker. It’s a thrill we can’t grasp today, but the film still holds up as a solid piece of Old West amusement.

03 July 2013

“Hi-yo, Silver! Awayzzzzzz…” The Lone Ranger Defeats Insomnia!

The Lone Ranger (2013)
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Silver, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

At the climax of the new cinematic exploit of the Lone Ranger, director Gore Verbinski finally busts out his skills at orchestrating thrilling and intricately choreographed action set pieces. He hits viewers with a top-notch closer aboard a train full of silver roaring around a Mousetrap structure of parallel tracks. The sudden eruption of “The William Tell Overture” on the theater sound system stirs listless audience members awake. For a few minutes, The Lone Ranger feels like The Lone Ranger: old-fashioned Western thrills starring one of the great Do-Gooder heroes. A few folks in the audience clap. Some notice they haven’t finished their popcorn.

Then everybody leaves the multiplex to go home and catch up on their nap times, which they never realized they needed.

That’s the most damning criticism I can lob at this new Lone Ranger: I nearly nodded off twice during my screening. I say this as a hardcore fan of the Western genre, a nostalgia monster, and a fellow who has never before fallen asleep during a theatrical showing of a movie. Not even Meet Joe Black. The only other time I came as close to the narcoleptic fit I experienced here was due to an unfortunate application of medicine that carried warnings regarding heavy machinery.

02 July 2013

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, Part 2: The Fritz Leiber Novelization

Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)
By Fritz Leiber, from a Screenplay by Clair Huffaker

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I have never watched a movie and then immediately felt an urge to “Read the Jove Paperback” (or whatever publisher released the tie-in). Movie novelizations are marketing after-thoughts, and I think most readers pick them up as after-thoughts as well. A wanderer in a bookstore might spot a paperback copy of Blockbuster Film You Kinda Enjoyed and think to herself, “Hey, this might be a fun airplane read.”

But there aren’t as many bookstores to wander in these blighted times, and with the gap narrowing between the time of a film’s release and its DVD/Blu-ray popping up in the impulse item rack of the supermarket, the niche genre of the novelization has entered a slow death cycle. Fewer big tent pole movies are getting the prose treatment.

I’ve read more than my sane share of novelizations, the majority from Alan Dean Foster because Alan Dean Foster rocks (he even responded to my review of his Clash of the Titans novelization). But with Tarzan and the Valley of Gold I found myself for the first time in the peculiar reverse position of wanting to see a movie because of the novelization.

The reason: Fritz Leiber.