Friday, April 27, 2012

Only the Good Die Jung

I was going to plug myself good and write about my own kickass ghost-with-a-twist ideas, especially Only the Good Die Jung, but you know what? I think it's about time to pull the plug on this experiment. So. Crewd Philosophy. Shutting down. Again. And much less eloquently this time. Yeehaw. My e-mail adress will always be there if you'd like me to take a look at your manuscripts or you're overwhelmed by a compulsion to tell me how wonderful I am. Until then, my friends.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spirits With a Twist on the Rocks

Back in my day, there really wasn't such a thing as YA books yet. So those of us inclined toward reading, at least those of us with a sense of humor often found ourselves reading light SF and Fantasy. That's probably why I still have a bit of a soft spot for those genres despite how dull many books within them are.If you thought I was reaching far back with Colin Coterrill who has like seven books under his beltat this point (and I was reading middle of the first series. He has a second now) you'll be delighted to know I'm reaching back even farther today to one of the guys who helped transition me from Bruce Coville to Neil Gaiman. Errr, transition me from Bruce Coville to.... Tim O'Brien. Yeah. That's the ticket. By the way, if you're wondering why master meta-fiction literary novelist Tim O'Brien's site is not linked, it's because the damn thing is hideous and largely useless anyway. Tech wise, he's kind of old school. And if you seek out his page on your own, you'll note it was created in 1996. Despite supposed updates, it still looks like it was made then. Visually hateful. I wonder if he cares. I also wonder when his next book'll be out.  And whether it'll be more Things They Carried or more Tomcat in Love. 'Cuz unlike most of his fans, I can go either way in a heartbeat.

In any event, later elementary school was riddled with Narnia and Redwall, and middle school was full of Craig Shaw Gardner, Robert Asprin, and of course the very poster boy for guilty-pleasure I-can't-believe-something-this-dumb-is-enjoyable-aren't-his-fans-basically-at-the-very-bottom-of-the-geek-hierarchy himself, Piers Anthony. To put this in perspective, his big Xanth series started back in the 70s. And it's still going. I read about half of it, which meant like sixteen books because that's what existed when I was fourteen. I once tried to re-read it, sped through like ten of 'em and OD'd on airy puns. Not to mention ballooning casts. Plus the characters tended to skew young, as if after th first few books he and his publishers noticed that the readers were all fourteen, and immediately dumped Bink, the hero of the first two books for his son Dor and never featured main characters over 18 ever again. Not gonna lie. That makes the romance parts a liiiittle awkward. When I started reading him 15 years ago and those characters were older than me, no. Today? Yes.

On the other hand, the Incarnations of Immortality, while by no means great literature, is a hell of a lot of fun and holds up slightly better for the non-teen audience. In a nutshell, the premise of the series is simple. Mother Nature, Time, War, Death and even God and the Devil are just jobs. They require unique individuals and each job has a unique method of selection, but none were born into it and none would do the job forever. So each book is effectively about a new comer learning their job in a crisis situation. The first book in the series, On a Pale Horse, stars death. It was always my favorite, but that may not be fair since it's the only one I read more than twice. Other favorites, though it's been years so it may have changed, were Bearing an Hourglass (Time) For Love of Evil (The Devil) and And Eternity (God). Because of the nature of the books, there were lots of ghost type things floating around. Obviously, Death dealt with them constantly, but others showed up periodically, and with fairly interesting usage. The Devil for instance was, if memory serves, a sorceror's apprentice (...) and when his "twoo wuv" died, he bound her soul to...something and she stayed with him as a ghost basically forever. Touching and creepy. I approve. The best way to touch people is to be creepy.

Wait. That came out wrong.

Anyway, it's a significant sized series. I encourage you to read one. If you like it, you'll like the rest. If you don't like it, the others won't be any better. But I've always been a fan of having SF and Fantasy elements portrayed in a relatively realisitc way, in a world that seems logically coherent, and with a cast who can't just shrug and say "Oh, oh, oh, it's magic. You know?" So I love the setting and concept and thus want other people to see how it's possible to make these books without having a weird, nebulous world or spending thirty years inventing the elvish language and writing the obscenely complex history of your fantasy world.

That said, no matter if you're an actual die-hard fan of Piers Anthony, I'd caution away from Total Recall. There's another one of those book-is-always-better-than-the-movie arguments. If that's true, then the movies are always better than the novel adaptations. And Totall Recall was already based on a Philip K. Dick story. So it went from paper to screen and back. Anthony did the novelization and...well, in the copy I got (quadruple hand from someone's elderly aunt) there were entire sections that were duplicated, but slightly different. It was obvious that two versions of the scene were written and somehow both made it into the final draft. What amateur bullshit. How many people, editor, copy editors, proof readers, production managers, did that slip past? Licensed novels, man. What a joke.

Well, join me Friday for our Spirt Twist conclusion in "Chainsaw Boogie" or "Only the Good Die Jung."

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Low Down in Laos

So to preface this tale, I'd like to point out two things. First, it's cold, gray and drizzly today, as it was yesterday and as it is expected to be all week. So I picked a good time for ghost-with-a-twist week. Secondly, I am very popular with other people's mothers. And ocassionally wives. But mostly it's that "boyish" charm of mine. It'd be nice if women my own age appreciated it, but instead mostly what happens is that countless "not what yo mama said last night" jokes look very different when I'm involved. My best friend from highscool, for instance. His mother is a librarian. I'm (trying) to make a living in publishing. Long story short, his mother likes me and we tend to talk about books. Between presents, books I've obtained from positions in the industry, stuff I borrowed from friends, and copyright free e-books, I basically haven't had to physically go to my local library in over a year. Not something that goes over well when talking to a Librarian. So she told me about the BIG THING, at least in the WLS recently. Colin Coterill. Sounded neat, so I went to the library (!) and took a few out. Aaaaand I'm only like the second to do so despite the books being four years old. Clearly what's big amongst the librarians and what people read doesn't always line up. That said, I am enjoying them quite a bit. I don't want to spoil any of the stories, and the plot is a comparitively small element, especially by mystery novel standards, so forgive me for talking in generalities.

The first of which is: Not only are the books not plot driven like most mysteries, they're not really even character driven. Don't get me wrong, many of the characters are fun and seem realistic enough. But I'd have to say that the books are setting driven more than anything else. They take place in 1970s Laos after the communist revolution succeeds in overthrowing the old royal family, and fails miserably to establish a credible government in its place. So for those of you who, like me, like realistic Asian settings with political commentary, these books already have quite a bit to offer. But while many such books are autobiographies or autobiographical fiction, and almost always written by women (see for instance Wild Swans for China, Still Life with Rice for Korea or The Day Heaven and Earth Changed Places for Vietnam. That one was actually made into a not-atrocious-but-not-as-good-as-the-book movie years ago by Oliver Stone)Coterill is pure fiction, and the tone is a little more a combination of skepticism and wistfulness that makes a much lighter read than how these actual women had to run for their lives from one army or another or things like that. So it already had a point in my book for the setting, then another for the humor.

Second: It's a bizarre mix of genres. They're fun mystery books, but if you, like some people I know cannot stand ANYTHING that isn't a legal thriller or police procedural aiming for hyper realism that only makes absurdities (like being shot in the head point blank and surviving- and yes, I've had many arguments about such things with mystery fans in the past) stand out like a sort thumb then you won't like this. On the other hand, you tell me that the main character of a series is a seventy something retired field surgeon, one time communist and current skeptic who gets roped into being the one and only coroner in all of Laos at the same time he realizes he's possessed by the thousand year old spirit of a shaman named Yeh Ming, and I'm all over that. While I wouldn't say the books are laugh out loud funny as they were presented to me, they're full of bizzare images. I'm reading them horribly out of order right now, so I started with what I believe is the third- Disco for the Departed. In quick sucession you have an Elvis-type "suit" made of thousands of tiny, living white spiders, and a midnight Disco-Rave with nothing but one old doctor and a whole lot of wandering spirits. I want you to picture that. In an underground cavern. In Laos. In 1977. Now imagine you can't see the ghosts and you're the security guard who happens upon a frail old man wildly leaping about in a restricted area.

Third: I'm sick to goddamn death of police procedurals and legal thrillers. So, Coterril for the win. Read them. Tell corporate America (through SoHo Press (who I swear isn't paying me to say nice things, as unusual as it is to hear them coming from me)) that mysteries don't all have to be CSI. Join me next time for "Smote Ghost" or "Spirits With a Twist on the Rocks."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mungo the Merciless

At this point, you guys are probably wondering why I haven't said anything about that whole anti-price-fixing lawsuit being brought against Apple and and the big publishers, several of whom have already settled. Short answer? Because it's complicated and unpleasant. The short version is Apple opened the way for the agency model which is definitely a good thing. It also contains a clause which does essentially fix prices, so it's hard to really counter the thrust of the lawsuit, hence half the big publishers settling as quick as they could. At the same time, giving in here puts the digital agency model at risk, which would take power and better profit margins away from the publisher. Not even sure at all that I'd say the old model would be good for retailers even since it requires more work and more risk on their part. Before Apple's appearance on the scene (and it was more just that they existed than any sort of credible threat to Amazon's e-book dominance) Amazon bought e-books at full price, often for more than the physical books and ate the cost difference when they sold them for 9.99. They did that to push their hardware and to establish an actually viable market for e-books. These days, the hardware costs a lot less and e-books are a much bigger part of the market, so I don't know why you'd want to use them as a "loss leader."

So, I guess that wasn't a short explanation at all, but it gets much more complicated than that. Suffice to say, I'm not happy with any of it, but it is the proverbial rock and the hard place. Between this whole thing and my obviously bizarre taste in children's flms, I've been in the mood for blues, lately. Up tempo blues. Do you know what that means? It means Mungo Motherfuckin' Jerry, people. That's what it means.

All this very serious silliness is getting to me. And I like it. So next week, I'ma talk about ghosts with twists. How are those things connected? Well, you'll just have to join me Monday for "The Low Down in Laos" OR "Comrade Ghost" in order to find out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I Shouldn't be Allowed to Watch Children's Movies

1) I like 'em dark. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my all time favorites. Not that Corpse Bride, Caroline, or whatever that thing that's coming out this summer are as good, but I likes 'em twisted. Faster we corrupt our youth, the sooner we get over our disappointment about how they turn out, right?
2) I like 'em weird, too. Second favorite children's movie after TNBC? Wall-E. Half of it seems artsy. The other half is just slapstick.
3) I think more villains need to be violently torn to shreds a la Oogie Boogie from TNBC. All this falling-off-a-cliff-especially-after-the-hero-tries-to-save-them is just lame. Kids also need to learn what hero means. It means, depending on the circumstance "glorified sacrifice" or "the murderer with popular support."
4)I can't be the only one who noticed that The Lion King is basically Hamlet with animals and Elton John. The biggest difference, apart from the lack of everybody dying at the end was the transformation of Rosencratz and Gildenstern (not dead!) from bungling backstabbers to bungling saviors. Eh. It's always made me wonder about the relation between Scar and Simba's mother.
5) Speaking of Disney, anyone else remember that in "Friend Like Me" Genie has a line about how "Ali Baba had them forty thieves"? And yet, in the straight to video third Aladdin movie Ali Baba turns out to be Al's father. So how, if Genie spent 10,000 years in the cave of wonder could he have known who Ali Baba was? And if he has some magical ability to pull information out of the ether, why didn't he known that Ali Baba was Al's father? Continuity, people. It is your friend. And though making our children sad and cynical is perfectly legit, a lack of continuity breaks the connection between cause and effect. If we teach them that cause is not connected to effect, then what? They'll be robbing liquor stores before you know it.
6) I spent the entire time I was watching Tangled, that movie version of Rapunzel thinking about the pros and cons of using a bag of infinite holding as a hair net. For those who aren't familiar, bags of infinite holding are a D&D item that open into another dimension and allow the user to carry more stuff. So, on the plus side, it could hold all her hair and more. On the down side, what if it slips over her head and she gets lost forever in an alternate world? Can you say "sequal"?
7) From the old Disney Robin Hood - "A minute before he knows we're there, ol' Rob'll snatch his underwear." Really? His underwear? What do you want that for? Does Marion know about this? You're making me embarassed to be named after you.
8) I'm sure everyone in the world has commented on it, but isn't it odd how the leading ladies in children's movies seem to wear so little clothing (see: Jasmine, Ariel etc.)? And when they are well clothed, it's very tight (See: Rapunzel in Tangled, or Princess Fiona in Shrek)? Well, not that I'm complaining, mind you. Just seems out of place. I guess that's more for the parents, eh?
9) And yet the Muppets have been around for forty years with bizarro puppets. No breasts in sight. Clearly, puppets are made of magic.
10) Oh man. A new Snow White? Live action and silly and ADHD? Didn't they just make one of those? Oh, wait. No. That was German. Well whatever. I met my Snow White quota for the decade.
11) Why top 11? Because I like to go one step beyond. Oh wait, sorry. Thought I was the Nostalgia Critic there for a second what with this bullshitting about movies and whatnot. Speaking of which though, when the hell is he going to do top 11 moments from One Step Beyond? Well, whatever. Okay. An 11th thing. I know you're eager to hear more of my aimless rambling. But. Hmmm. Can't think of one.

Wait. What are you doing with that ax? Put it down, man. Let's talk this over. Nooooo! No dissasemble Robin #5! Life is not a malfunction! Except when it is! Which would be the case here, but even so!

Well, if I survive the brutal onslaught of imaginary hate-mailers (so clearly, I'm one to talk about cause and effect) feel free to come back on Friday when I'll be doing...something.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Taste of Hunger

Today, gentle readers, I shall review the Hunger Games Movie, and to some extent compare it to the book. My review shall, as promised contain my characteristic extreme hyperbole and wildly innapropriate language. There may be spoilers. One big one I will mark off if you want to skip it, but just remember I warned you.

Synopsis: After a devastating civil war, the winners horded technology for themselves and enslaved the losers. Every year, each of twelve districts must send two teenagers, a boy and a girl to fight to the death on television as a symbol of their servitude to the capital and to discourage rebellion. Katniss Everdeen, a hunter, finds herself in the games and neck deep in everything from danger to love.

And now, a small sampling of my observation.

1) The acting is absolutely atrocious. Peeta was only believable when he was being funny. Dude just couldn't do drama. Gale looked like a big dumbass, Primrose was only there to shriek, although she did that fairly well, the mother is the mother from Caprica so I know she plays a fine ultra-depressed histrionic woman in mourning. Taking away the histrionics and giving her only two lines made her as dull as everyone else. Cinna wasn't charming or comforting enough, his staff was nowehere to be seen, nor was the tragic, tongueless would be-escapee. But the worst by far was Katniss herself, which is a pretty unforgivable crime since she's 90% of the story. In the book, she was stony faced, but you got to see her thought process a bit more. Anger and confusion over Peeta's actions, for instance. Her strong desire to protect her sister back home and how that transferred itself in game to the youngest contestant of the year. When you get down to it, the best acting came from three comparitively minor characters- Haymitch, Katniss' "mentor", Ceasar, the TV host, and President Snow who made an excellent "I'm so much better than you I don't have to make threats or be cruel or crude in any way" sort of menacing villain. But not only are they minor, if Woody Harrelson, who played Haymitch is some of the best acting you've got, I think you're generally in trouble.

2) In order to fit the entire book into a movie, they had to speed through a lot of things. Early on, they did it to get to the games faster, but even once you're into the exciting bits with young children murdering each other, the movie still moves like lightning. When I edit manuscripts, cutting the fat is one of my biggest concerns. This movie didn' just cut the fat, it cut the muscle too and leaves us with only the bones of the book. It might have been saved, except that, as in the book, the viewer must turn to Katniss for context. Without being able to devote lengthy sections to her history or thought process, it came down to the visuals. And...yeah, no. She just had that stony face.

3) As a result, certain things were lost. Other things had to be crammed into the script in a different and somewhat awkward way. The Tracker Jackers for instance. In the book, the explanation is there to be somewhat revealing about the war that had ultimately resulted in the subservience of the twelve districts. In the movie, it randomly cuts from the action to the TV announcer explaining that they're poison bees. Because, you know. When Katniss starts hallucinating and collapses amidst strange visions that were painfully overdone, we wouldn't have figured it out. So it was kind of a waste. Why even bother? Another example that stands out was the need to actually explain what the Hunger Games ARE. Which they do *TWICE* in th first few minutes. Once in writing, and then again in a movie-within-the-movie. When you're pressed for time, why would you repeat information?

4) Speaking of which, that movie opened with a one word sentence. "War." Being a veteran many times over of the wastes, I immediately whispered "War never changes." to myself. I was very disapointed that this movie-within being used to set the stage couldn't make itself half as memorable as the opening sequence to a bug-riddled 15 year old PC game.

5) In addition to the editing of the writing, the camera work and visual editing were terrible. Very clearly they were trying to make the whole experience as disorienting as possible. The thing is, they went overboard when it actually made sense, and tended to wreck the audio in those occassions (as with Katniss appearing on stage and getting vertigo, or the ringing of her ears after a bomb explosion). The near constant shaky camera work and awkward cuts were needlessly disorienting, especially at the beggining when we needed to get ourselves settled in. They also don't make sense thematically since that was daily life for Katniss. Makes me feel really bad for the folks who did the sets, lighting, props, and to a lesser extent, the costumes. Theirs was the best work in the movie, and piss poor editing stole the spotlight.

6)BIG HUGE HONKING SPOLERS IN THIS NOTE. SKIP PAST THE ASTERISKS IF YOU HAVE NEITHER READ THE BOOK NOR SEEN THE MOVIE. That said, I'll keep this brief. It shall, I imagine, provide me the perfect opportunity to provide the wildly innapropriate language I promised. Deep breath. Okay. So. Those brainless goddamn mother fucking douchebags took out the bread. What did I tell you movie? Huh? What did I say about the bread? Did I say "take it out" or "I'll never forgive you if you take it out? When I read the book, everyone was telling me it was the greatest thing ever. I said "No, it isn't." I started reading and said "It is good. Not the greatest thing ever. Am I the only one who has ever read a good book before?" But there was one scene that I felt I understood why everyone loved the book so much. REMINDER: SPOILERS. Katniss makes an alliance with a little girl her sister's age named Rue. They mount a sucessful sneak attack on (the supplies) of a larger coalition of "tributes" but during their retreat, Rue is captured and killed. Katniss, distraught because (in the book anyway) she felt a desire to protect this girl and wanted Rue to win if she did not, sings the girl a lullaby in her final moments and then buries her in flowers. At which point in the book, the citizens of District 11, a poor agriculturaldstrict, scraped together the enormous sums of money it took to send her something in the game. A mere bit of bread, but symbolizing not only their thanks and respect to Katniss for retaining her decency and humanity amidst the games, but a small act of defiance on their part. Doing something unexpected, forging closer relations between the districts. It was all they could do in the book. It was beautiful in its simplicity. The details were just right. In the movie, they decided nobody understood the bread thing and replaced it with a sudden cutaway to rioting in District 11. First of all, the bread's not hard to understand, so fuck you guys. Secondly, RIOTING IS NOT A SMALL ACT OF DEFIANCE. So the scene's focus and importance shift dramatically. Which, as the best scene in the book was the last thing the movie neded to wreck. Katniss and Rue's acting were terrible, making it hard to feel anything. The soundtrack etc. were just starting to get to me when the scene suddenly changed and all the emotion was lost forever. Just very poorly done. Apparently though, I'm the only one who cares. Everyday I have this conversation. Every day I say "Can you believe they cut the bread out?" Most people don't know what I mean. The rest think I'm talking about Peeta throwing bread to Katniss when they were children and proceed to say "nuh uh, it was in there." Clearly, I stand alone. In defense of bread.
I had a few other things to say, but this is running pretty long and most of them were along the same lines like "Why focus so much on the game maker? In the end, I liked the way they brought the poison berries back for him, but it wasn't enough of a payout to justify shoe horning new material into a story already pressed for time." Besides, the movie made eighty jillion dollars. So I'm sure my criticism matters.

Dear Sirs:

You may be rich and successful while I am starving in the streets, but you're all fools for taking out the bread. I hate you. I hate you! I HATE YOU!


Conclusion: It's a pretty faithful adaptation but dumb changes, poor acting and disorienting camera work suck the emotion right out of it. Worth watching, but I wouldn't call it an instant classic. Or even good.

Oh, and on a side note: If you want to see Woody Harrelson being a decent actor in a dystopian where people have actual emotions and the sets are crazy awesome, check out Bunraku, whose opening you'll note is strangely similar to those of the Fallout games (except with paper puppets because Bunraku is a term referring to a type of Japanese puppet theater). Interestingly, Ron Perlman (who appeared in a get your G.E.D. ad before the Hunger Games played at my local theater) who did the voice overs for the Fallout openings I linked above is the villain in Bunraku. Everything is so interconnected. Just bear in mind that Ron Perlman is not Ron Perelman, the man who nearly bankrupted Marvel in the mid 90s. Totally different people.

Giant, bizarre side not now safely stowed to the side, lemme just say: Join me Wednesday for "More Movie Observations" or "Why I Shouldn't be Allowed to Watch Children's Movies."

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's Only a Questionnaire

Well, gentle readers, it is Friday once more. And that is cause enough for celebration, is it not? Given this week's focus, I felt that this week's song should finish off the subject of surveys and blind, onfocused, innacurate research.


Those few of you readers who actually exist will be glad to know that I *finally* saw the Hunger Games movie this past week. If you haven' might be the only person. Although I'm sure everyone in the bloody universe who has both read the book and seen the movie has blogged about their thoughts, and though it pains me to be so mundane and predictable as to do the same, I feel confident that you, my gentle readers will derive at least some enjoyment from my style of review and comparison. Which is to say valid criticism interspersed with extreme hyperbole and wildly innapropriate language.

So join me on Monday for "The Taste of Hunger" OR "Slim Pickins."