Saturday, January 31, 2004

DVD Vault: The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001)

I first caught this Woody Allen movie on HBO--just before our plan shifted and I'd need an additional cable box to get HBO. Set in 1940, it follows insurance investigator C.W. Briggs (Allen) clashing with efficiency expert Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) while trying to solve a baffling series of jewelry heists (committed mostly by himself under hypnosis).

I've heard this movie described as "not quite top-notch Allen," but for me--a mystery fan who hasn't seen much of Allen's work--it was great fun, with some of the sharpest banter I've heard. I especially like C.W.'s attempts to explain away the evidence against him and his suspicion of Betty Ann, as he's often caught red-handed:

Fitzgerald: You're searching my desk!

Briggs: I wasn't searching. I was rummaging.

Friday, January 30, 2004

If a Tree Falls in the Forest...

Shortly after blogging this morning, I get it into my head to submit one more batch o' poems before month's end. The target mag's guidelines in POET'S MARKET suggest sending 4-7 poems. I only have three in mind. So, I get quiet, listen for the first line in my head. Write, revise, prepare envelopes, fuss over folding cover letter and poems, miss mail pickup.

Later in the day, after sealing my submission, by some stroke of luck I see the envelope is misaddressed to Burley, Idaho. The mag has moved from Burley to Boise. So I print a corrected cover letter and envelope, take a final look at my new poem, sharpen some images, rearrange some syntax, and get it ready for tomorrow's mail.

The submission process itself holds manic excitement for me, like charging phaser banks or arming photon torpedoes. It's true a writer's life is solitary. Once upon a time, writing for my eyes only was enough for me. Today, I don't feel writing has achieved its full purpose until it connects with someone else.

Thursday, January 29, 2004


When your PC
freezes or bluescreens,
who ya gonna call...?

The man behind the CTRL-ALT-DEL bail-out command for PCs is retiring from IBM. Godspeed, Mr. Bradley, and thank you.

"I Know What You're Thinking..."

Today is Tom Selleck's 59th birthday, and "Magnum, P.I." remains a favorite of mine if only for its knockout Mike Post/Pete Carpenter theme song. Of course, if you've seen the series from the beginning, you know the pilot episode had a looser jazz track. This is similar to knowing the first episodes of "Happy Days" used "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Hailey and His Comets.

"Magnum," which I remember watching on Tuesdays at 10pm, was the first time I heard first-person voice-over narration. Watching reruns, I think Magnum's asides are a bit intrusive. That was one of the show's goals, to go against stereotype. Make Magnum a P.I. but have him drive an ultra-conspicuous car. Make him a Vietnam vet, but also give him a Peter Pan, don't-wanna-grow-up attitude (borrowed by author Robert Crais for Elvis Cole?)

Magnum also might have been the first show to feature a Navy SEAL. SEALs were probably more classified at the time. Note Magnum's camouflage cap with the blacked-out SEAL insignia. I became interested in the SEALs at age fourteen, when I wrote my first hero: a lone SEAL who assumed a new identity to work as a secret agent. I didn't yet know that being a SEAL first and foremost meant being part of a team, or that Tom Clancy was already writing about John Kelly/Mr. Clark.

Today the SEALs remain an example of what we can accomplish if we push through conceived breaking points, physical and mental, to our true best effort.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Anything But a Boone

Yankees 3B Aaron Boone, acquired from Cincinnati and later signed to a contract, injured his knee playing basketball and could be out for the season. Since his heroic homer against the Boston Red Sox capped an improbable series victory, Boone has had nothing but bad play and bad luck. Now he's become the latest player to be injured during a pickup game of another sport.

Every move that doesn't pan out for the Yankees now makes me value the 1996-2000 run all the more. The Yanks were a starless team that routinely played out of their heads. I could see the work that went into each win. Now I can tell when it's missing.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Byron Scott Out

The Nets have fired head coach Byron Scott, one of the main reasons I followed the team for the past four seasons. I remember Scott as a vital three-point threat in three of the Lakers' five championships in the 1980s. With Jason Kidd at point, Scott played a run-and-gun offense leading to two straight Finals appearances.

In those appearances, Scott did make some dubious late-game decisions, and former assistant Eddie Jordan (now Washington Wizards coach) was said to be architect of the offense. It's no secret Scott and Kidd didn't see eye-to-eye, and like Magic and Michael before him, Kidd carried enough weight to get his coach fired. Here's hoping we see "Iron Byron" again.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

I've Finally Seen: A FEW GOOD MEN

TBS Superstation has repeated A FEW GOOD MEN a bunch of times. I was hooked every time I saw it, but never caught it from the beginning. So, upon receiving a DVD player this Christmas, it was the first movie I shopped for. Watching the movie eleven years after it was made, I get a time capsule feeling. Here is a movie with Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, Kiefer Sutherland, written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Rob Reiner, all bringing their best, and it shows onscreen.

In a way, I'm glad I discovered this movie after the TV series "JAG." The show in its first season would have been a letdown, and I might not have hung in there. With the show's move to CBS, and Harmon Rabb meeting his match in Sarah MacKenzie, the show has flourished. It's also interesting to note the movie features NIS agents. The same year the movie was made, NIS (Naval Investigative Service) was redesignated "NCIS."

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Denis Leary Back on the Job

IMO, Denis Leary is one of the best comedians to cross over into acting. In his new series for F/X, "Rescue Me," he'll play the central role of a firefighter struggling with divorce and fear of the job post-9/11. Here's hoping F/X treats this show better than it did the excellent "Lucky," starring John Corbett and Ever (daughter of Robert) Carradine.

Murdoc Right Behind You

Yesterday Richard Dean Anderson, today Michael Des Barres. Des Barres, of course, played MacGyver's international assassin nemesis Murdoc. In a semi-autobiographical turn, Des Barres guest-starred on "Lois and Clark" as Lenny Stoke, a former rock star who used a hi-tech sonic glove to bring Metropolis to its knees. DesBarres turns 56 today.

Friday, January 23, 2004

"If I Had Some Duct Tape, I Could Fix That."

Title of today's first blog is in honor of Richard Dean "MacGyver" Anderson, who turns 54 today. Very early on, MacGyver was a freelance secret agent. By the show's second season he was working for Pete Thorton at the Phoenix Foundation for Reseach. Over the years, MacGyver went from a homespun James Bond to a grownup Boy Scout. His MacGyverisms--death-defying solutions using whatever was at hand--went from escaping a bazooka blast with a paper clip, shoelaces, a gas pedal, and a steering wheel; to disarming a guillotine by kicking his shoes off.

The real-life lesson I take from "MacGyver" to this day is to keep brainstorming. Something in the background of every dilemma can solve or simplify it.

MacGyver: I'm going to need a nail.

Lisa Woodman: What for?

MacGyver: Well, if I can weld a good spark plug it'll replace the electrode.

Lisa Woodman: How are you going to weld it?

MacGyver: With wire, a battery, and jumper cables.

Lisa Woodman: How do you come up with this stuff?

MacGyver: Well, the stuff's already here. I just find a different way to use it.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Day Bennifer Died

According to ETonline, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez have split. And as a fan of both (don't laugh), may I be the first to say, "Phew!" I watched J-Lo in OUT OF SIGHT not long ago and found myself thinking she might never get a role like Karen Sisco again. I watched THE SUM OF ALL FEARS and MALLRATS on DVD thinking the same for Ben.

I hope the breakup is real, and they move on with their lives as did another improbable pairing, Andre Agassi and Brooke Shields.

That's My "Smallville"

Last week I blogged about "Smallville" lacking plausibility, so it's only fair I report when the show gets it right. This week, a Kryptonite ring comes flying at Clark during a botched robbery at a jewelry store. He blasts the ring with heat vision, but the resulting flash blinds him.

To compensate, his body develops super-hearing. This enables him to hear a phone call between Lionel Luthor and girl reporter Chloe Sullivan and warn Lex of Lionel's machinations. Later, Jonathan and Martha help Clark focus his hearing so he can save Pete, a judge's son kidnapped to fix the verdict in the thief's trial. Clark Kent as Matt Murdock. Awesome.

Near the end Clark regains some sight, but until it returns completely, he has to wear glasses. Kudos to writer Ken Horton for excellent use of the lore, and to producer Jeph Loeb, whose Daredevil Year One-style book, YELLOW, may have been some inspiration.

The Brooklyn Nets?

The NBA's Nets have accepted a bid from developer Bruce Ratner, who plans to move the team to a new arena in Brooklyn. I'm usually against moving teams, but since the Nets franchise started in New York, this is a homecoming. (Bet Marbury wishes he could play for Brooklyn now. Is Jason Kidd down with Brooklyn?)

Attendance was also a factor in the move. As happened to the Charlotte Hornets three years ago, fans weren't filling the arena. The Nets had gone to the Finals two years straight, and the fans hadn't come out. By all reports, the Meadowlands is a trek to get to, with bad parking facilities, so a move had to be made.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The "Eww" Files: Japan's Bone Phone

Just saw this on Yahoo!: a phone that transmits sound through bone, allowing people to take calls in the privacy of their own heads. Talk about invasion of privacy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Origin of the Blog II: The Naming

My blog title, "If You Want to Know About My Life..." is part of a catchphrase I used when updating my friends on the exploits of ABC's "Lois and Clark." Its first two seasons uncannily mirrored my life at the time--a never-ending battle that went largely unnoticed. The full phrase is, "If you want to know about my life, watch that show."

Of course, once Lois discovered Clark was Superman, and Clark started battling villainous guest stars-of-the-week, I put the phrase in storage.

"I'm With Her"

When "NCIS" is a rerun, I flip over to ABC to watch "I'm With Her," based on writer Chris Henchy's real-life relationship with Brooke Shields. High school English teacher Patrick Owen meets movie star Alex Young (Teri Polo) after her dog bites him. Offering to pay any medical expenses, she leaves him her number, and the rest is sitcom history.

Given the setup above, there's some wish-fulfillment in this for me. It could happen. Margaret Colin of INDEPENDENCE DAY attended Hofstra (for which David Letterman teased her, saying, "I'll speak really slowly then."). I also enjoy the irony that David Sutcliffe, who plays the teacher, once played a plagiarizing college student on the short-lived Olsen twins show, "Two of a Kind."

Tuesday is "NCIS" Night

My favorite new show of the season is Don Bellisario's "NCIS" (CBS Tuesdays, 8pm ET). Mark Harmon plays leader of a team of special agents tasked with investigating crimes involving or committed by military personnel. JAG's Harmon Rabb often sees NCIS agents as adversaries, similar to the rift portrayed between fictional police and FBI. In fact, the NCIS characters were introduced last season in an episode of "JAG" that saw Commander Rabb suspected of murder.

I've been a Harmon fan since SUMMER SCHOOL, in which he played substitute teacher Freddy Shoop opposite Kirstie Alley and a young Courtney Thorne-Smith. He went on to play CID Officer Jay Austin in THE PRESIDIO, and Chicago Det. Dicky Cobb, assigned to the D.A.'s office and specifically to attorney Tess Kaufman (Marlee Matlin) in NBC's "Reasonable Doubts."

Now a "veteran actor," Harmon brings a saltiness and complexity to Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs's team consists of former Secret Service Agent Kate Todd, former Baltimore Homicide cop Tony DiNozzo, forensic chemist Abby Sciutto, and M.E. Donald "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum). Not beholden to military courtesy, the teammates treat each other with refreshing irreverence, all the while wondering just what Gibbs's deal is.

Monday, January 19, 2004

The Incredible Shrinking Story

Required word counts were a struggle for me in high school and college because I wrote lean. No roundabout ways of saying something simple, no ruminations into the stratosphere. (I save those for blogs.) In wanting this fine focus for my writing, it's sometimes hard to go wide, see all the avenues open to me as writer. Luckily, in my conscious effort to submit at least one piece of poetry or fiction a month, my ability to brainstorm has improved.

I think it was Churchill who said, "Never, never, never give up." Never shortchange emotion in writing; never buy into too smooth a ride over rocky subjects. Too late to mail a story Saturday, forced to wait until tomorrow, I used this principle to get at the best emotion and simplest flow, cutting sixty-seven words from a seven-page ms. My commitment means I'm all over the place today: mentally taxed, too wired for sleep, bumping things left and right. Portrait of the writer getting back to reality.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I'm a Little Bit Country...

One of the shows I grew up on was "The Dukes of Hazzard." What could be better than sliding into the General, jumping gorges, shootin' arrows, and eatin' ribs at the Boar's Nest? My uncle loved karate, Elvis, and country music. Riding to and from school, we sang along with WYNY, "New York's Country Station."

Now, for better or worse, I enjoy Jeff Foxworthy and JOE DIRT (Another movie I'm glad I caught on cable). This summer I ordered a Skynyrd album featuring "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird," but by some quirk of the Internet, the order didn't take. Two weeks ago, I tried again. The CD arrived yesterday, and I've been rockin' out:

"Free Bird!"

Friday, January 16, 2004

To Boldly Go to Priceline

Leonard Nimoy will soon join William Shatner as a pitch man for Priceline. This is a kick for nostalgia nuts like me. I have to say, though, the one time I booked tickets with Priceline, takeoff switched from LaGuardia to JFK, where we sat in the last row of a plane that waited on the tarmac three hours due to rain. Ah, memories.

I've Finally Seen: MALLRATS

I watched MALLRATS on DVD today, behind millions in my age group as usual. In addition to comic book and STAR WARS philosophy, I admit fascinations with post-"90210" Shannen Doherty and British actress Claire Forlani. To top it off, I'm a sucker for quests to kindle (or rekindle) romance.

So I enjoyed the movie, though I would have related better in college, as I was going through the same emotions. Stylistically, I thought too many characters made drawn-out life observations--a Kevin Smith trademark, I gather--and plot twists wound into a bit too much closure. The smooth adversary (Ben Affleck) is really a phony while the slacker protagonists aren't so bad, really. It all works out in the end, unlike the other Smith flick I've seen, CHASING AMY.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Haunted by the Numbers

Growing up watching sports, I knew players as well by their numbers as their names. Reading Jeffrey Gold's article on the Jayson Williams trial, I had to think how haunted Williams must be by the number 55. Shooting victim Costas Christofi was 55 years old. If convicted, Williams faces a maximum sentence of 55 years. Williams wore "55" during his career with the New Jersey Nets.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

More Implausible Than a Loco Motive

Going through most of my school years with glasses, I identified with Clark Kent. Only I never liked to think of Clark as a bumbling goody-goody. Instead, I always wondered which of his identities was the secret. If a person spent most of his time in one identity, and only the odd heroic moment in the other, wouldn't the latter be the *secret* identity? So I'm partial to the recent conception of Superman as Clark Kent at heart, having formed his values as Clark. This is what appeals to me about the WB's "Smallville," the true-to-life moments of Clark and friends trying for normalcy.

From time to time, though, the need to advance a super-plot gets in the way. Case in point, the mid-season cliffhanger going into holiday reruns. In the first part, we learn that Lionel Luthor has been drugging Lex, trying to wipe his short term memory of some event. Lex appears to be losing touch with reality, and Clark, of course, wants to help. We also learn that Clark has made a promise never to put Lana in harm's way again. So who's the person he confides in taking his chance to help Lex? Lana. And after reiterating his "never again" promise, in whose care does Clark leave an obviously unstable Lex? Lana's.

At this point in my viewing, time seems to slow down, and I have a clear moment to think Absolutely implausible. But the story goes on. Lex turns on Lana, throwing her into a horse's stall to be trampled. Lana breaks her leg in three places and spends a month in rehab, where she meets a new guy.

Too bad for our hero, but none of this would've happened had Clark's promise not slipped his mind so quickly. Holy plothole, Batman. But I digress...

Randy VanWarmer, 48, Dies of Leukemia

I saw this headline on Yahoo! and didn't recognize the name. It turned out VanWarmer wrote some of my favorite songs, including "Just When I Needed You Most" (Everbody: You--left me...) and Alabama's "I'm in a Hurry (and Don't Know Why)"

I'm in a hurry to get things done,
I rush and rush until life's no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die,
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.

I've Got Mail, But...

I'm something of a mail junkie (which is not to say I like junk mail). I get a kick out of corresponding with people; getting books, CDs, etc. by mail; and, thank goodness, submitting my work. This enthusiasm helps as moderator of three mailing lists and member of a handful more.

What do you suppose would be a mail junkie's Kryptonite? Answer: a frozen mailbox door. This has happened a few times since we replaced our last mailbox, shaped like a barn, with one of the staid aluminum tube variety. Probably the box's metallic inner surface doesn't stay warm enough to keep the catch from freezing. Result: I've got mail that can't be mailed.

A little heat vision would be great about now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

"You Can't Take the Sky From Me."

For the past week or so, I've been watching Joss Whedon's "Firefly" on DVD. This show promised a lot for me to enjoy, and delivered a home run each week. Misunderstood and poorly scheduled by FOX TV, it was a show whose characters I knew like longtime friends or those rare ones I've instantly bonded with. Every choice the actors and creative staff made seemed well motivated, authentic.

The character I related to best was Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion. A resistance fighter against an all-assimilating Alliance, Reynolds' outward cause was lost from the first episode. Though his side lost the war, and he was hence thrust into all manner of predicament just to get by, he had the will to keep on, to live with as much dignity as he could scrabble together. In that way, I like to think he represents the best of the human spirit and potential.

In writing my first two stories with pilot-for-hire C.J. Stone, I tried to bring out a similar love for freedom and the corresponding desire to see others live as free as they wanted to be--even if that meant leaving him.

"Firefly's" cameraderie, spoken to by DVD material, reminds me of the three semesters I worked on Hofstra's Literary Magazine, Font. Simply put, we were eight friends who built something from the ground up and were lucky enough to realize how special the experience was as we lived it.

To everyone on "Firefly," and to my friends on Font, a knowing salute.

Lord of the Ringtones

My brother is an avid reader of fantasy sci-fi and Japanese anime. In high school he bought and read a boxed copy of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (which I've tried to crack into throughout Peter Jackson's three-year, three-movie phenomenon). The book is handsomely bound in red leather, the pages edged in gold. I've gotten as far as the Introduction, which states THE LORD OF THE RINGS is not a trilogy, but actually one book in six parts...

Jackson's movies make it easy to feel the legend. I'd like Aragorn, Legolas, and Gandalf to spring off the page with as much spectacle as the movie heroes, but they haven't yet. I'd like to feel a book fan's buzz at watching imagination come to the screen: "Yeah, I've known about this all along."

For now, I'll content myself with wielding an imaginary sword or bow, humming as my personal background music "The Bridge" motif in all three movies. I think it's "The Bridge (of Something)." It's my favorite music, the kind I can put on REPEAT on the CD player and be happy. But there's my dilemma: If I like one song especially, why buy the soundtrack not even sure of said song's title, having only fully heard it as a ringtone? What's an honest, non-file sharing guy to do?

I bring this up because today is Orlando Bloom's 27th birthday. It's also Nicole Eggert's 32nd (she of short stature who played Jamie Powell on "Charles in Charge" and later experimented with silicone and Corey Haim--a lethal combo for sure), and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's 43th. Nothing like a triple shot of "Seinfeld," courtesy of cable and broadcast, after a hard day.

I'd blog on, but these pretzels are making me thirsty.

Monday, January 12, 2004

That's a Rapp

I just read BALANCE OF POWER, a military thriller by Vince Flynn involving a terrorist takeover of the White House. I'm pretty willing to escape into fiction, yet I know part of me--American and New Yorker--has had his fill of fictional terrorists for the time being.

That said, the book's start was promising, featuring instead of a superhero, a man whose work was driving him to decay. Somewhere along the line, as the main villain became a cutout and the hero played out Die Hard in the White House, I hyperextended suspension of disbelief.

Then again, I'm a fan of "JAG" and "NCIS," two shows repeatedly bashed for unrealism. Maybe that's the key. JAG's hero is named Harmon Rabb. Is Flynn's hero--Mitch Rapp--a Bizarro clone? Hmm...

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Origin of the Blog

I'd like to salute the gaggle of friends who encouraged me to blog: Christine Boylan, still stream-of-consciousness after all these years; Sarah Weinman, whose Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind is a must-read for padawan bloggers; Dave White, who may one day bring balance to the Force; and Jim Winter, who answered my final question about reader comments. I promise to use this power only for good.

Missing Links? Try These.

I think I've got the hang of this, so I'll begin with mentions of the links on the right of your screen. The first movies and books to spark my interest were of the private eye genre. In recent years I've gotten to pursue these passions through e-mail discussion lists:

DetecToday discusses up-and-coming private eye and crime fiction writers, while also reflecting on the tradition started by Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald. (If you're really gung-ho, we have a chat scheduled for today from 3:30-5:00pm ET. Hey, why not?)

Spenser's Sneakers offers critical discussion (in the academic sense) of the works of Robert B. Parker, one of the most noted private eye novelists for the past thirty years.

CrimeSeen is a place to talk about crime movies, TV, and radio as they relate to crime fiction.

I've also had the privilege of editing the fiction section of Kevin Burton Smith's Thrilling Detective Web Site since June 2001. Someday I might even publish P.I. fiction of my own.

To date, I've had the most success with poetry. I wrote the usual high-school sappy stuff, focused on fiction in college, and took one workshop in grad school. Even now, having contributed to What's Your Anthem (Hofstra English Faculty Poetry) and seen my work in print mags, I don't think of myself as a poet. I guess that's because I see poetry as an always-new process of discovery, and the word poet seems established, resting on its laurels.

Anyway, go ahead, sample those there links and leave me some comments.

"And Then There's Blog..."

Hello, all. As usual, I'm months behind the blog craze. As a writer, teacher, editor, and Yahoo! Groups moderator, I intend to fill this space with updates and remarks on said activities, plus my ongoing fascinations with particular TV shows, DVDs, CDs, comics, etc. Looking forward to getting to know you.