Sunday, January 29, 2017

Please someone release "Guardians" in America

This new Russian superhero movie, "Guardians", appears to be the perfect mix of flattery (imitation) and cray-zy (a half-man/half-bear with giant guns).

I have no interest in the new "Wonder Woman", "Thor", "Justice League" or etc movies. This, on the other hand, makes me feel something vaguely like excitement.

Of course, for those who were sent into a rage spiral by Black Widow's sadness over her inability to bear children, the female supercharacter's claim that she makes "a hell of a borscht" is likely to be problematic.

Looking forward to the powerful thinkpieces.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This post reveals major plot points including the ending of the book and the movie Gone Girl. It’s impossible to spoil something that’s already rotten but you’ve been warned.

Depending on what source you believe, women make anywhere from 58% to 64% of all book purchases. Women dominate publishing editorial meetings. This is why books are mostly marketed to women, and why so many bestsellers are about strong, successful women who manage to achieve all their dreams— the ideal job, a fulfilling romantic life, the perfect family— despite serious obstacles.

Gone Girl is about a determined, driven, physically beautiful young woman who finds a physically attractive man and molds him into the perfect partner to start a family with—and scores a major book deal besides. But it’s been engineered to allow self-aware readers to feel they’re above reading formulaic bestsellers, while still indulging their desire for popular fiction.

 Amy Dunne is the chick lit equivalent of Jack Reacher. Pure wish-fulfillment fantasy with a hard edge.

Nick Dunne and Amy Elliott meet in New York when both are living a dream of privileged affluence. He has a job as a movie reviewer for a men’s magazine, and she puts her psychology PhD to use by creating quizzes for women’s magazines—although she doesn’t really have to work at all, as she’s the inspiration for her parents’ Amazing Amy series of popular children’s books. They hook up, then he loses her number, then they meet cute a few months later, then they get married. Then the recession hits, Amy loses her job, Nick loses his, the Amazing Amy books are no longer selling and Amy’s parents need to take Amy’s trust fund back. Then Nick’s mother gets cancer, so they pack up and move to Missouri to be with her. Amy finances the purchase of a bar that Nick and his twin sister Go run together.

Their marriage stagnates, then they drift apart. And one day Nick comes home to find tables and chairs overturned, the iron left on, the front door open and Amy is missing. The police find evidence of massive amounts of blood having been spilled and cleaned up in the kitchen. They’re suspicious that Nick killed Amy, but they don’t have enough evidence to actually arrest him.

Part One alternates between entries from Amy’s Diary and Nick’s narration of the events in the few days following Amy’s disappearance. The diary gives us a picture of a relationship that begins giddily, narrated in a cloying tone, that eventually turns dark and abusive. Amy recounts abuse at Nick’s hands, including being punched and poisoned with antifreeze. Nick’s story includes his following her yearly anniversary treasure hunt, where she embeds clues in doggerel, sending him all over town to spots that were important to them during the previous year. Nick’s narration, meanwhile, is sufficiently vague enough that the reader is supposed to think that he might actually be guilty of all the things he’s accused of in the diary. He is a bit of a boner who has been cheating on Amy with one of the students in his creative writing class, after all.

But then in part two the book goes disastrously off the rails, as Amy comes clean to the reader. “I can tell you more about how I did everything, but I’d like you to know me first,” she says. To us. For some reason. And of course this is a big flaw in the book, since at no point can we ever trust anything Amy says— not after the diary setup, which was left behind for the police to find in order to completely and totally solidify Nick’s guilt in killing her. He didn’t kill her, obviously, she just wants to punish him for bringing her out to Missouri and cheating on her. So she put her brilliant mind (everyone from Amy to Nick to her parents to her previous victims claims that Amy is brilliant so she must be, I guess) to work staging her murder and then running off to a rented cabin the middle of the nowhere. But not before stopping and chopping off and dying her hair in a scuzzy bathroom in an abandoned gas station. That’s just one cliche—or is it a trope?—of many that permeates the book.

Unless Amy were going to kill herself immediately, this plan never had any chance of working. As it is, she plans on watching Nick twist in the wind, get arrested, get convicted, and then kill herself. She imagines this will take a few months, and she has about ten thousand dollars in cash that she keeps mostly in her money belt, and stashed throughout the cabin. Which is one of several occupied rentals. And while she’s there she befriends two people, Jeff and Greta, even going so far as to watch TV news accounts of her disappearance with them.

She’s supposedly a brilliant person who researched how to stage the perfect frammis, but she never even bothered to read any Elmore Leonard for crying out loud? Frank Ryan’s rules would have saved her a lot of grief.

Then there’s the matter of her changing the security code at Nick’s father’s house. One of the clues for the treasure hunt leads Nick to his father’s house, and when he enters he sets off the alarm. The security company calls him— so there’s a record of Nick having been there and set off the alarm. This is important because it’s here that Amy plants her diary, carefully burned just enough to make it appear that Nick burned it there. When Nick tries to enter the code to shut off the alarm, it doesn’t work. Amy changed it and made her own “disposable cell phone” the default number for the alarm company to call if the alarm goes off.

Which means that the alarm company has a record of Amy changing the alarm code and setting the default phone number to her secret cell number. And this is never mentioned again after Amy notes in her own narration that they’ve called her, so she knows when Nick has found that particular treasure hunt clue.

The police find the life insurance that Amy had Nick bump up, they find receipts for all the credit cards that Amy took out in Nick’s name—but nobody thinks to get in touch with the alarm company to find who changed the alarm code or why?

The book is full of these problems. It would take me hours to go through them all them but suffice it to say Amy’s plan had no chance of working, ever, and there’s absolutely no “suspense” surrounding that story because it’s all fantasy. There is nothing about Amy’s character, either in the diary or Nick’s narration or in her own, that makes you believe that she’d ever consider killing herself. It’s just a way for Gillian Flynn to rationalize the most glaring flaw in Amy’s stupid plan. If she’s going to kill herself anyway, then fine, maybe she wouldn’t be caught. But otherwise, she’d never be able to just disappear. She’s the inspiration for the Amazing Amy books, for one thing. For another thing, everyone’s life is a series of numbers now. Even if she changed her name and appearance, she’s still going to need new identification (the book never tells us if she has a new license), social security, and so on.

Then again, given the world as created within Gone Girl’s pages, maybe it’s not so absurd. If you lived in a world where Nick’s interview with Whodunnit Rebecca would “humanize” him, or where the mainstream media would wait FIVE DAYS before going “national” with the disappearance of an attractive, blond, white woman who’d served as the inspiration for a series of bestselling children’s books, then maybe it’s possible Amy could have disappeared after staging her own murder.

Once Jeff and Greta rob Amy, she’s left with no money and obviously no prospects. She had planned on killing herself (allegedly) but then once she’d decided against that she was apparently going to manipulate people as she’s done in the past, but she’s lived such a privileged life that she has no real understanding of the flyover country rubes for whom she has such contempt (this is a nice touch by Flynn, by the way—amazing Amy getting rolled in this way). So she calls her ex boyfriend Desi.

Desi Collings is a dandy who supposedly became obsessed with Amy after they broke up. Amy claims that he stripped naked on her bed and tried to kill himself while they were in college, which is apparently another lie. Amy meets Desi at a casino (apparently the only casino in the world with absolutely NO SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS whatsoever?) and tells Desi that Nick was trying to kill her and she had to get away and Desi makes a halfhearted attempt to get her to go to the police but eventually he relents and agrees to take her to his beach house, which he’s set up as a freakish shrine to her, complete with an atrium in which her favorite flowers (her favorite flowers when she was in college anyway) are in bloom year-round.

Basically she’s trapped by Desi. He will not let her out, although he does let her watch TV, including an interview that Nick gives in which he grovels to her.

Now Nick knows that he’s being framed by her, and she’s still alive, and watching. He’s found the final clue of the treasure hunt, which was in the woodshed along with all the video game systems, big screen TVs, golf clubs (he doesn’t golf), and pornographic DVDs (that should have ended the story right there—who buys porn on DVD anymore?) that she’s purchased using the credit cards she’s opened in his name. The final clue which is a giant and totally revealing “eff you” to him, featuring Punch and Judy dolls and doggerel suggesting she’s going to send him “up the river.” So Nick, having retained the services of a lawyer famous for representing men accused of horrible crimes against women, is giving interviews in which he tells Amy how amazing she is, how much better she made him, how he’s learned his lesson, and so on. Because he knows that this will bring her back, for some reason.

Maybe. I don’t know. On the one hand, Amy is supposedly brilliant and I think we’re supposed to believe that her plan is brilliant and if only she hadn’t gotten rolled by those hicks she would have continued on with it indefinitely. On the other hand, there’s some evidence within the text (I’m not sure how much of it is intentional) that Amy is completely deluded—maybe she’s lying to herself?

Anyway, Amy does decide to go back to Nick. Just as he and Go are being arrested. But she has to get away from Desi, who is essentially holding her hostage. So she simulates being tied up by wrapping wire around her wrists, and uses a wine bottle to simulate a rape (she's falsely accused a previous paramour of rape before). Then she seduces Desi, with whom she copulates. Later, as he’s sleeping, she uses one of the knives from the kitchen to kill him, and make her way back home.

It makes for a dramatic scene, as the TV crews lined on the street outside get a shot of Nick meeting Amy outside the house, looking dazed and bloody. Then they go to the hospital, she’s questioned a little by the police, and she and Nick go home.

By now you’re probably thinking WAT??? Her story is that Nick had been physically and emotionally abusive to her—POISONING HER FOOD WITH ANTIFREEZE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD—and she’s been kidnapped by a former boyfriend who repeatedly raped her and she kills him, escapes, and returns home and then that very night she just returns home with the Nick who has allegedly smacked her around and threatened her? WAT??? I realize that history is moving faster than ever, but this book was published in 2012— even back then, the think pieces alone would break the internet. And I have a hard time imagining that Amy would be able to stand up to a carefully worded Jezebel post on her situation.

Remember when Rihanna was beaten by Chris Brown— the outrage that permeated the culture after the horrifying photos of Rihanna’s face surfaced? Then remember the outrage that occurred when Rihanna got back together with Brown just a little while later? That was in 2009: three years before Gone Girl was published. Why shouldn’t the case of Amy and Nick Dunne provoke similar outrage? In fact, given that Amy is an attractive white woman who served as the basis of a children’s book character beloved by white people all over the country, isn’t it reasonable to expect the outrage would be even more pervasive, especially among white liberal media outlets that presumably would feel less self-conscious for calling out a white person for returning to her abuser than they’d feel in calling out a person of color?

Again, these questions aren’t meant to be asked. This is a fantasy novel, intended to make AN IMPORTANT POINT about marriage. Amy becomes pregnant with the sperm that Nick had donated the year before in their previous efforts to have a child (Nick thought she’d had the sperm destroyed), and she uses the child as leverage against Nick, forcing him to stay with her and to back up her story of being kidnapped and repeatedly raped by her nutty ex-boyfriend Desi. (By the way, does Desi have an alibi for the morning Amy was allegedly kidnapped? Did the police bother to check anything about her story? Is there a record of Desi’s trip to the casino? Does his car have GPS? Do the police investigate the lake house where Desi allegedly kept her and starved her and raped her repeatedly? Is there any of Desi's DNA or any indication at all that Desi was ever at the Dunne's home? Did any of the neighbors see Desi's car at the Dunne home? He had to have been there for a long time and Nick is alerted to the fact that his front door is open by a nosy neighbor. I know I know I know these questions don’t matter, not even a little bit, at this point NOTHING about this book makes any sense.) Nick becomes the perfect husband, worried as he is that Amy might kill him at any time, sort of like the point Flannery O’Connor made with the truly powerful “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” There are also echoes of Kurt Vonnegut’s assertion, from Mother Night, that “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

Flynn is a talented writer. But the storyline that she's come up with, with its twists and turns, makes no logical sense, and it would never unfold as it does here. I don't think any writer could have overcome all the issues with this story.

The author of the novel Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, wrote for Entertainment Weekly, which made them even more slavish in their promotion of big budget corporate art than they usually are.

The movie version exacerbates all the book’s problems because it remains entirely faithful to the book, hitting all the plot points, but without the book’s context or subtlety, such as they are. The subplot with Jeff and Greta is quickly dropped and the two are never mentioned again, despite the fact that they are ticking time bombs waiting to go off at any moment, whether in a 4chan or reddit thread or a YouTube video ("I gotta a friend whose cousin stole, like, a couple hunnert bucks from Amazin' Amy when she was s'posed'a been kidnapped!"). There’s nothing about Amy’s process for changing the code for the security system at Nick’s father’s house. And there’s a strange scene where Amy is interviewed in a hospital room by Detective Boney, a few other cops, and the FBI. One of the FBI dudes seems unusually attentive and eager to just sweep everything aside, despite the rather reasonable questions that Boney raises.

The FBI dude asks her if she feels safe going back home with Nick, given the fact that she’s written in her diary that she’s afraid he’ll kill her (the antifreeze stuff was left out of the movie). And she says sure and she returns home with Nick THE SAME DAY. The interview goes on with Amy in hospital scrubs, with Desi’s blood clearly still on her body. Wouldn’t they clean her off? Wouldn’t they have a psychologist check her out before such an interview? Wouldn’t her parents at least insist on that? Also, Amy slashes Desi’s throat with a boxcutter while they’re engaged in the act of sex, him humping away on top of her. It makes for a dramatic scene (Eros and Thanatos!), with his blood gushing out, covering Amy and the bed, but it makes no sense. Did he cum that quickly—because she didn’t wait very long to slash him. Also, why is Nick’s question about where she got the box cutter if she was supposedly tied up so quickly dismissed? Yes, one or two people might dismiss it—but Amy talked to a lot of people in that interrogation. If the audience can see the KNOWING GLANCES that Amy gives to Boney, why can’t anyone else—trained law enforcement personnel—see the ABSOLUTELY *S*I*N*I*S*T*E*R* way she looks and her obvious deflections. Oddly, the film removes all references to Nick’s alleged porn habit, and the credit card receipts don’t show any of his quaint interest in pornographic DVDs—but in voice over Amy does allude to her distaste for oral sex. Maybe porn is so mainstream that they thought that Amy’s oblique moralizing on the subject would put people off this big budget film.

At one point in voice over, Amy complains about having to watch Adam Sandler movies. Apparently Movie Nick likes them, although Book Nick’s cinematic taste is more refined. Anyway, this line is intended, like the cutaway shots of Walmart and KFC signs, to establish Amy’s and the audience’s knowing above-it-all-distance from people like Amy’s “best friend” Noelle Hawhtorne (another thing about the movie is the accents—I’ve only spent a few weeks in Missouri but I never encountered anyone who talked like they’d watched fifteen minutes of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and tried to parody it), but the fact is that Gone Girl the book is chick lit, and "Gone Girl" the movie is a chick flick. As I stated before, it ends with a beautiful, intelligent woman HAVING * IT * ALL: The perfect husband who lavishes attention on her, a pregnancy which will theoretically lead to the perfect family, and a great job (in this case, Amy gets a book deal out of it). The movie also makes explicit that Nick is franchising his The Bar—something that book Nick alleges would be distasteful. (Movie Nick at least gets something.)

So the book and the movie try to have it both ways, giving us the popular resolution while at the same time flattering the audience that they’re actually better than this. They know what’s going on. They’re in on the joke. But given that one of the messages of the book and the movie is that you are what you pretend to be, what does that make the writer and filmmakers?

Obviously no crime fiction will be perfect. You’re never going to be able to cover every base or make allowances for every single audience objection. But the flaws in Gone Girl are so numerous and profound and fundamental to the book that it becomes almost cruel to label the work “suspense” (the dust jacket copy of the first hardcover edition claims that Gillian Flynn is “one of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time”) It’s chick lit, all the way. It's on the same continuum as Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, and 50 Shades of Grey. And as chick lit, it’s a success. Obviously, it was a massive bestseller, which is what counts.

At the end of the movie Nick asks Amy why she wants to stay with him. A perfectly reasonable question. He says that they manipulate and abuse each other: "Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain." Amy replies, "That’s marriage." Uhm, well, maybe. But not really. That’s OTHER PEOPLE’S marriage. Not those in Gone Girl’s intended audience. They’re better than that; or at least they’re pretending to be.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

New Philip K. Dick novel too absurd to be believed - A blast from the past!

Now that the administration of the venal, incompetent, and morally reprehensible Barack Obama is finally coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to revisit my review of a brand-new Philip K. Dick novel, first published over at When Falls the Coliseum on Sept 17, 2012.

Philip K. Dick was one of the most important science fiction authors of the 20th century. His novels explored issues of identity, religion, metaphysics, and politics in a way that few authors, including so-called “literary” authors, ever did. During his lifetime, he published more than 40 novels, and 100 short stories. He won the prestigious Hugo Award for his classic novel The Man in the High Castle in 1962, and the John W Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said in 1974. His novels and stories have inspired at least ten movies, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, Total Recall, and Minority Report. In the years since his untimely death from a stroke in 1982, his reputation has only increased, and his works have gained a respectable following among academics and mainstream literary critics. The Library of America has published three volumes of his work.

When it was announced last year that an unpublished manuscript had been discovered among his papers, it sent shockwaves through the literary community. Now that the novel has been published, however, one can’t help but feel a sting of disappointment.

The Whole World is Totally Cracked the Fuck Up, Hamid Masrur tells the story of the titular hero, who lives in an unnamed country somewhere in a section of the world that roughly corresponds to the Middle East. Every day, Hamid and his friends and family are attacked by robot airplanes (“Drozzers”) operated by remote control by soldiers working in a far-off country called UniStat. The leader of UniStat, Orback Bam, uses Drozzers to kill people who have been labeled “enemies” of the UniStat. No one in these countries – Hamid, his friends, his family – know what qualifies the citizens of MidStan to be labeled “enemies,” and so live in constant fear that one day they will be so labeled.

One day, while attending a funeral, Hamid and the other mourners are attacked by a pack of Drozzers, seemingly killing his wife, Inaya. When Hamid awakens, he finds himself in the UniStat, in the body of an 18 year-old called Munqad Wasem. Munqad’s life is typical of UniStat teenagers – he goes out to movies, listens to popular music, watches supposedly “unscripted” TV progs about outlandish people doing insane things. But he has a friend called Nafi Tahan, who encourages Munqad to build a bomb that he wants to use to blow up a bridge in Detroit-Prime.

All Munqad (who is actually Hamid) wants to do is return to MidStan, but Munqad has been placed on a Trav-Not list, meaning that he cannot leave the UniStat for any reason. When he attempts to find out why he’s been placed on the list, the gov sends him a form letter explaining that evidence against him might or might not exist, but that they cannot tell him because revealing that information could threaten UniStat security. Included with the letter is a package of StickIt, which is apparently some kind of gum, or something.

The problem with this novel is its sheer unbelievability. The events depicted are simply absurd. For instance, we’re supposed to believe that the war-mongering, venal leader of the UniStat was for some reason given a World Peaceful Prize at the start of his term of office, yet Dick never sufficiently explains why any reputable organization would give him such an honor. Also, why would the people of the UniStat put up with a leader who sent robots into other countries to kill people based on secret information? It doesn’t make any sense.

There’s also a genuinely strange subplot in which Bam is running for re-election of UniStat against his own slightly imperfect clone, who constantly accuses Bam of being “soft” on MidStaners, and “apologizing” to them. Yet Bam sends robot airplanes to drop bombs on MidStaners every day. Questions abound, but are left unanswered: Why would a country have an election between one person, and a clone of that person? And why would a supposedly reputable candidate for office make such blatant misstatements? It’s almost as if no one who lives in this world that Dick has created is living in anything resembling reality.

Then there is the big twist, in which Munqad’s friend, Nafi, turns out to be a UniStat gov agent. Ostensibly, Nafi, whose real name turns out to be Porter Alias, was attempting to find “sleeper terrorists” working the UniStat. But if that’s the case, and there really are sleeper terrorists working in the UniStat, why would a gov agent be encouraging someone to commit terrorist acts, rather than searching for actual terrorists? I assume that Dick was trying to make a point about how some people “create their own reality,” but when the stakes are this high, I’m not sure that’s a valid interpretation.

Perhaps the most absurd aspect of the novel occurs when the UniStat regime’s spokesbots claim that MidStaners are rioting because of a cheesy film no one has seen and might not even exist called It is Based on Lies. Just as it’s never made entirely clear why the people of UniStat would allow their leader to use robots to bomb people in other countries based on “secret information,” so too is it not entirely made clear why anyone would not understand that Bam’s “bomb everything with Drozzers” policy might be at least partly to blame for the riots.

It’s not surprising that Avon considered buying the novel but ultimately passed (they were going to publish it under the title The World in Their Hands in 1963). At their best, PKD’s works hold a fanciful mirror to reality. But this novel is simply too unbelievable to be taken seriously, even as an absurdist fantasy.

We've been in Philip K. Dick's world for awhile now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Will the upcoming DCEU Wonder Woman film suck, or just stink?

Seriously-- how hard is it to make a movie about this Intellectual Property??

According to an unsubstantiated rumor from a third-hand source, the upcoming Wonder Woman film, a major part of the DC Extended Universe film franchise, will be just as good as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice:

On a recent episode of the Schmoes Know show, it was revealed that Wonder Woman may be a big mess. According to host Sasha Perl-Raver, someone with insider info has seen the movie, or at least a decent chunk of the movie, and claims that it is "discombobulated" and not the great movie the trailers have led fans to believe it might be. Here is what was said by Sasha Perl-Raver on the Schmoes Know show.

"So, I don't want to throw anyone under the bus. We have somebody within our community who has gotten insider information that broke my effing heart this week, because I have tremendous belief that Wonder Woman is gonna be awesome and I heard it stinks from the same person who told me that they heard that BvS stinks...The person who I spoke to...their response was 'I'm very disappointed in what I saw, and it seems like all the problems are the same problems. It's discombobulated, it doesn't have narrative flow. It's just very disjointed."

I finally got around to seeing BvS yesterday and, well, it is an endurance test. It essentially feels like a series of prologues that never actually congeal into a cohesive or coherent whole. This despite the fact that there are some truly terrific concepts and performances here and there. I liked the idea of Lex Luthor manipulating the Wayne Industries employee who lost his legs, for instance. I liked the tension that having a “superman” would create for people. But these ideas are just brought up and glossed over in favor of some really middling action sequences.

Zack Snyder is a talented director with a good eye. Man of Steel is actually my favorite comics-based superhero film of all time. (I love the way they fused Siegel and Shuster’s petulant narcissistic id with superpowers and the modern “messianic” version of the Intellectual Property. The DNA stuff was great, and the Kryptonian technology was really mind boggling, bringing to mind Arthur C. Clarke’s assertion that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.") But, tragically, BvS seemed to be plagued by Warner Bros’s desire to use the film not to tell a story, but to serve as an extended trailer for a Justice League film.

If this image excites you then you probably haven't seen Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice yet.

A lot of people have noted that WB seems intent on building their own superhero franchise by basically reverse-engineering what Marvel Studios did. Rather than building up to their first “team book movie,” they’re forcing the issue. And along the way you have executives and lawyers and marketers and licensers and licensees offering their suggestions that must be incorporated.

This is a major mistake, not just because I don’t care for the Marvel Studios movies (I gave up watching them after that disastrously stupid first Avengers film, although I did try to watch Captain America: Civil War on Netflix streaming a couple of weeks back and made it about half an hour), but because fandom is far too engaged to be “fooled” by the strategy. Instead, WB should look to Universal’s incredible Fast and the Furious films, which constitutes the greatest franchise in movie history. These films feature engaging, authentic-feeling characters with genuine emotions and loyalty to one another—from a variety of backgrounds—saving the world by racing cars. It sounds unbelievable, but for crying out loud, in movies that might run two hours or so, with perhaps ninety of those minutes taken up with insane, absurd, over-the-top and totally unbelievable action, they still manage to give the characters real arcs.

The Fast and the Furious movies also represent a real rarity: An organically grown franchise not based on pre-existing material. Yes, the material is derivative (all great art is!), but it’s put together in an exciting and entertaining way. In the age of the Fast and the Furious, there’ s no excuse for what WB is doing with Superman et. al. For that matter, there’s no excuse for the nonsense that Marvel Studios is doing, either (The Incredible Hulk notwithstanding), but those films are at least successful. There’s no accounting for taste!

As for the fate of the upcoming Wonder Woman film, I’m of course reserving judgment. But given DC’s treatment of her since the death of her creator William Moulton Marston, I don’t have the highest hopes. And after finally making it through BvS, my hopes have sunk even lower. Will this upcoming film even surpass Tori Black's take on the character (which, let's be honest, sucked)?

...This image, on the other hand, is pretty exciting, amirite??

But you know what’s coming out this year that I am excited about? The eighth Fast and the Furious film, The Fate of the Furious. I hope someone arranges a screening for the braintrust in charge of the DC Intellectual Property at WB. They could definitely learn a thing or two, if they keep their minds open.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The brand new Whimsical Doctor Shoe print cover

Whimsical Doctor Shoe, the most brilliant novel ever written, is now available in a beautiful new print edition with a beautiful new "found manuscript" cover designed by me.

"They" say you can't judge a book by it's cover. But if you think this is a compelling cover, then "they" must be wrong, right?

Whimsical Doctor Shoe is available in print and kindle editions from Amazon right this minute!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Really, seriously, totally Hollywood is staying relevant in the age of Trump!

Hollywood is a bubble. The artisans in charge of caretaking the Intellectual Property that entertains the masses have very little interest in understanding those people. They believe that they are more enlightened than the average person. And they’re proud of it. As George Clooney famously speechified when accepting his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award,

And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in -- in Hollywood every once in a while, I think. It's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we -- we bring up subjects....This Academy, this group of people, gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy. Proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch.

This attitude permeates the entertainment industry, and it’s only gotten worse. With the “surprise!” election of Donald Trump as president, we’ve witnessed meltdown after meltdown, embarrassing videos by celebrities grasping at crackpot ideas to prevent Trump’s ascension to the presidency. They don’t believe that these meltdowns are embarrassing. They don’t think that these ideas are crackpot. Because the vast majority of those in the entertainment industry are leftists, or at least liberals, and they have no friends who might disagree with their most cherished knee-jerk political espousals. Those who disagree with them aren’t worth understanding.

When you have artisans creating entertainment who have no interest in learning how their fellow humans think and feel, you enter a dangerous situation where people ignore their artists. Nevertheless, these artists will struggle to remain “relevant,” if only to ensure they make just enough profit for their particular entertainment conglomerate to get hired on the next show or film or video game. And they’re willing to show-not-tell you just how relevant they really are.

At the Television Critic’s Association winter press tour, the streaming service Hulu had two panels, one for their returning program “The Path,” and another for their upcoming miniseries adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, at which the creators insisted that their projects were ESPECIALLY relevant in “Trump’s America.” But is that true, or is that the opinion of people who are out of touch with the real-life ideals of people in “flyover country?”

Regarding "The Handmaid’s Tale":

Samira Wiley, who plays Offred’s best friend Moira in the series, called it particularly relevant to “the social climate now,” especially for women in the United States. “Specifically women and their bodies, and who has control of that. Do we, or does someone else have control over that?”

Well, yes, I suppose that it’s relevant to wonder who has control over women’s bodies. But then, wasn’t that question especially relevant when the government started taking over the nation’s healthcare system through the Affordable Care Act? When the government runs healthcare, your body belongs to the government. Which means that the government has total control over you. That’s kind of scary, no? (Even if you don't think that's scary, can you at least understand why some people might find that scary?) But the ACA was passed in March 2010—why did this question become relevant now?

Remember back in December of 2010, the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, stated that the “obesity epidemic” was a “national security issue”:

“Military leaders tell us that when more than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight, childhood obesity isn’t just a public health threat, it’s not just an economic threat, it’s a national security threat as well.”

No less than the First Lady herself was saying that the government has a claim on your body because too many of our citizens are too fat to participate in her husband’s wars of convenience and military adventurism. That sounds awfully scary, doesn’t it?

There was no Handmaid’s Tale adaptation in the offing back then. There is one now.

And there’s this about “The Path”:

“I have no idea what’s going to happen” [show creator Jessica] Goldberg said of a Trump presidency. But, she noted, cults and religious fanaticism are “what people do when they’re not feeling included in their country…Our show deals with a lot of those questions.  I think we’re also living in a country where faith  is much more important than we all know about,” she said.

Goldberg and at least one member of the TCA, seem to imply that Trump, his fans, and his presidency, have certain aspects of a cult. Maybe Trump inspires cult-like devotion in his followers (as Kek wills it!). Of course, there were a lot of people sounding an alarm about the behavior of certain intensely devoted fans of “The One” back in 2007 and 2008.

Those concerns were met with derision from liberals and leftists.

And I find it interesting that so many of the behaviors of leftists—smearing anyone who disagrees with them, making excuses for the corruption of their own party members, cutting off friends and family members who stray from the accepted narrative—resemble those of cult members.

No, really, there was nothing to satirize or criticize in the eight years of Obama's tenure. People in the mainstream media behaved totally rationally where he was concerned.

For crying out loud, Obama claimed that his election would change the climate. Can you understand why some might find that a little bit cult-leader-ish, even if you don't?

Our artists need to hold a mirror up to our culture, and critique those who claim the power of life and death over us. It’s crucial that President Donald Trump be held accountable for the way in which he wields his power.

When Barack Obama was re-elected, concerns among Republicans and conservatives that the country they loved was changing for the worse were dismissed, often as “racist.” Now that Donald Trump is the President-elect, concerns among liberals and leftists that the country they love is changing for the worse are met with concern and, well, *RELEVANT* entertainment. Funny how that works— it’s almost like the people creating our entertainment couldn’t care less about half the country.

What it boils down to is, Hollywood plans to remain relevant in the "AGE OF TRUMP" by creating entertainment that flatters its own sensibilities and indulges its own prejudices. Strap in; the next eight years will be full of hectoring and hatred.

Speaking of which, I’ve written two mystery novels that satirize Hollywood’s out-of-touch hypocrisy: First, The Misadventure of Dreama and the Rednecks, in which a redneck falls in love with a Hollywood train wreck and discovers that, for all their smug condescending judgment, people in the entertainment industry will put up with an awful lot of amorality. Then there’s The Misadventure of the Busted Reboot, about a gender-swapped reboot (a “she-boot”) of a beloved 1980s horror/science fiction comedy film and the attempts by the movie studio to co-opt feminism in order to promote it, and the horrible murders that ensure. I promise you they’re better than 90% of the out-of-touch stuff being produced in Hollywood right now.

Madonna Obama tramp stamp pic source.
Obama Rolling Stone New Hope pic source.
Obama Newsweek Second Coming pic source.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Babysitter by Andrew Coburn

You can't "spoil" something that's already rotten. That being said, this post contains some specific plot information about the novel discussed. 

For about twenty pages or so I thought I was really going to enjoy Andrew Coburn’s novel The Babysitter. It has the feel of a literary novel, something like Tom Perrotta or Jonathan Franzen or Bret Easton Ellis might write. Then it turns from artful to artsy—and I started to realize I'd been Coburned.

John and Merle Wright come home one Friday night to discover their babysitter, Paula Aherne, horribly murdered and their sixteen month-old daughter, Marcie, missing. The Wrights are more dazed than panicked, and as the book progresses they become downright laid-back.

The investigation is headed by federal agents Cooger and Spence, who spend most of their time playing manipulative games for their own unscrupulous ends. They harass and annoy one of the professors at the college where Paula was auditing classes, Professor Oliver, who has had several affairs with students. Once he kills himself they move on to harass Feoli, the proprietor of a Boston restaurant where Paula used to hang out. Feoli is apparently a made man, or something.

They also work hard to manipulate Ballardville’s Chief Tull, who spends most of the book in a daze, seemingly suffering from heartburn. He’s so useless that at one point he mows most of the Wrights’ lawn. That is a significant symbol of his impotence and Coburn doesn’t let you forget it.

The Babysitter is a bloodless, pretentious, and dull book that thinks it’s making astute observations about human nature. In fact it seems stubbornly unaware of human nature, cynically treating its characters like characters in a novel. There is the raw material for a Kafkaesque nightmare, but Coburn clearly didn’t have the passion or the interest to explore that possibility. Coburn’s style is wholly inappropriate to the story; it's so laconic that you never get a sense that anyone is actually feeling anything, least of all the Wrights, who seem inappropriately calm throughout. They’re confused and angry at times, but they’re also so mild that it feels like they’re just going through the motions out of a sense of obligation, not in a desperate search for their only child. The Wrights don’t seem to feel anything at all. As a result there’s something really off-putting, even distasteful, about the book.

I kept wondering what would have happened if, say, Gil Brewer had written this story. You’d be able to smell the desperation and fear rising from every page, like a funk. Coburn obviously has skill and talent, but his style is too self-conscious to really go for it. He's simultaneously showing off and holding back; as a result you get the impression that Coburn doesn’t care if you are in any way affected.

Or is Coburn making a point about suburban malaise? In Chapter Two one of the characters suggests that the Wrights moved to Ballardville to escape the rat race. Maybe as a result of leaving all that excitement they’ve lost the ability to feel anything—even when their baby daughter is missing. If so, Coburn should have made it more obvious. All the characters act as if they're in an emotionless stupor, even those who live within the "rat race." And the “suburbia-sure-is-soul-deadening-ain’t-it?” observation had whiskers on it when The Babysitter was first published in 1979.

It’s even unclear what, if anything, law enforcement is doing in this case beyond harassing Oliver and surveilling Feoli. Have they sent out photos of the child? Gone on TV? This is a kid that was snatched from the home of a college professor and his attractive wife in a suburb of Boston and the reporters outside their home just sort of… disappear after the first night? What?

Then, in Chapter Fifteen, Merle is approached by a strange man in a grocery store parking lot. This man knows something about Paula— he clearly has some connection to her past. He reveals Paula’s real first name and Merle starts crying. Then this happens:

He jammed something into her hand, and she immediately began spilling things. “Oh, my God!” she said and dropped everything except what he had thrust upon her, a torn color snapshot held together by transparent tape, the face of a child of seven or so, with the eye and smile of Paula Aherne. She tripped over groceries. “Where’s my baby,” she said, trying to grab him and grabbing nothing. He was gone.

She heard the sound of a car taking its time starting and somehow knew it was his car, but she couldn’t determine where it was. Holding the snapshot in both hands, she wandered from one car to another and found hers but not his.

That is pure literary artifice that bears absolutely no relation whatsoever to reality. It’s a contrivance designed to show off authorial style, not to convey the reactions of a real human being whose child is missing and might be dead but might actually be alive and this person might have information that could lead her to her child and she goes into a dreamy literary fog and suddenly the man just disappears and his car struggles to start (this character pointedly has car trouble throughout the book) and she lets this man float off to his car and start it and she’s just lost in a daze, not even the presence of someone who might have information about her child can bring her out of her pretentious fog and focus her for a minute in which she could actually locate this man.

Then, at the end of Chapter Seventeen, the Wrights and Chief Tull learn that the man in the scene above has died in a car accident. They know who he is and where he lives, and they know he has a wife. With time of the essence, their baby daughter still missing, you might think that the Wrights would immediately travel to the town where the man had lived and the wife still lives. But, no. They don’t. They’re so casual, so callous, so lacking in any interest in actually finding their daughter that, well, this passage happens:

“When do we leave for Gardner?” she asked.

The chief sighed. “We ought to give the woman a chance to bury him first.”

“When will that be?” Wright asked.

The chief propped a hand on the table. “I’ll find out,” he said. “Then we’ll all go.”

Yeah, no rush. Our child is missing, there’s a chance she’s still alive but, hey, what the hell, let’s wait for this jerk’s funeral before we go try to find out what the wife knows.

Chief Tull’s cutting of the Wrights’ lawn was pointless. But then, so is this book.

It was here that I finally gave up. It takes a lot for me to stop reading a book three-quarters of the way through, but if the Wrights don’t care about finding their daughter, why should I care what happens? I did read the final chapter and the book ends mid-sentence, with ellipses.

That’s perfect for this vague, pretentious, artificial, half-hearted, and infuriating novel…

Monday, January 2, 2017

Actors who embody Intellectual Property have no right to protect their likeness

Because of the reliance on existing Intellectual Property to prop up the ailing movie industry, writers are mostly superfluous. Movie scripts today are engineered like Mad-Libs; in fact, story beats are broken down by page number. With a franchise you take Intellectual Property A and put them up against Intellectual Property B, introduce Intellectual Property C in a supporting role with the possibility of getting their own film down the line, and so forth. It takes some skill to write, but it’s not necessarily a creative skill so much as an engineering skill. It takes practice to put a round peg through a round hole, but once you’ve figured it out you can make tons of money and get your name on some successful stuff.

The writer Bret Easton Ellis actually said that (he heard!) there were problems with the new “The Batman” movie script by the actor Ben Affleck and the comic book writer Geoff Johns:

“I was having dinner with a couple of executives who know other executives who are working on the [forthcoming] Batman movie, The Batman,” Ellis tells me. “And they were just telling me that there are serious problems with the script. And that the executives I was having dinner with were complaining about people who work on the Batman movie. And they just said they went to the studio and they said, ‘Look, the script is … Here’s 30 things that are wrong with it that we can fix.’ And [the executives] said, ‘We don’t care. We don’t really care. The amount of money we’re going to make globally, I mean 70 percent of our audience is not going to be seeing this in English. And it doesn’t really matter, these things that you’re bringing up about the flaws of the script.’ So I do think global concerns play a big part in how movies, and what movies, are being made, obviously.”

He later “walked back” these comments. On the episode of his podcast in which he interviewed Owen Gleiberman, the film “critic” who bragged about crying at the end of the terrible corporatist propaganda film “Toy Story 3,” Ellis said that Affleck sent him an email about the incident, to clear up any misgivings about the state of the project. Ellis said that he took this as a good sign that people in Hollywood still care about movies, but he was being overly optimistic. In fact the brouhaha over Ellis’s comments shows that people in Hollywood care about Intellectual Property, not movies themselves. At least not movies as art— but movies as commercials.

Ben Affleck as a piece of Intellectual Property. Corporate-owned Intellectual Property.

The reliance on Intellectual Property to carry the film industry is only intensifying, with studios announcing franchise films years in advance to build buzz, and co-opting supposed independent film criticism or news sites as promotional and marketing arms (the shameful Justice League whoring across multiple sites is a good example). And CNBC is happily anticipating that “2017 may be the year of comic book nirvana for superhero movies.”

With writers being necessary primarily to construct works out of pre-existing materials, they’ve become largely irrelevant. But surely the same can’t happen to the actors, too?

For an actor, embodying I.P. in a film is a great way to raise their exposure and generate more income. There’s also very little in the way of challenge. The actors in I.P. films rarely have to stretch themselves emotionally. Naturally some baseline of charisma and talent are necessary. But beyond that they’re simply saying their engineered lines in front of green screens, collecting their paycheck, and moving on.

As CGI technology has become move advanced and less expensive, works based on existing I.P., in particular fantasy and SF works, have become easier to create. This technology also makes it possible to digitally resurrect dead actors who could, conceivably, continue to portray I.P. long after their death. Now they’re worried about how their images will be used after their death, and they’re trying to do something about it.

Filmmakers are tapping advances in digital technology to resurrect characters after a performer dies, most notably in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." The film, in theaters now, features the return of Grand Moff Tarkin, originally played by a long-dead actor. 
The trend has sent Hollywood actors in the here-and-now scrambling to exert control over how their characters and images are portrayed in the hereafter. 
”Celebrities are increasingly involved in making plans to protect their intellectual property rights," said Mark Roesler, an attorney and chairman of CMG Worldwide, an agency representing celebrity estates. "They understand that their legacy will continue beyond their lifetime."

What are celebrities’ “intellectual property rights”? The rights to their own image or likeness? But if their meat is being used to embody a piece of existing I.P., then doesn’t their likeness—in that context, at least—belong to the corporation that they’re working for at the time they create the two-and-a-half hour commercial they’re working on?

If not, then why are the corporations that create movie products and own the I.P. in question, not locking down the “rights” to these actors’ likenesses? For millions upon millions of people, Tony Stark looks like Robert Downey, Jr. He doesn’t look like Don Heck’s drawing of Tony Stark. Or even Bob Layton’s. Robert Downey, Jr.’s look has become integral to that piece of I.P.

The same is true of Carrie Fisher, the first to embody Princess Leia. Before the first “Star Wars” movie, that piece of I.P. didn’t exist. Then it did, and it looked like the actress Carrie Fisher. Princess Leia’s image has appeared on thousands of licensed properties, and it’s recognizable as Princess Leia, even by those who don’t know Carrie Fisher’s name.

This isn't a picture of Anjelica Huston. It's Morticia Addams.

In an interview way back when “The Addams Family” movie had just come out, the actress Anjelica Huston talked about seeing Morticia Addams on an Addams Family cereal box and at first feeling like a sell-out. Then she said she felt okay about it, because in her mind it wasn’t HER on that cereal box, it was Morticia Addams as embodied by her on that cereal box (I’m paraphrasing and I can’t find the interview online so you’ll have to rely on my memory!). Once an actor embodies a piece of I.P. onscreen, their likeness is tied to that I.P., which is owned by the corporation that financed the film in which the actor appears.

In this context, actors have no individual “intellectual property rights” to “protect.”

Addams Family cereal box pic source.