Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reaping the Rewards

Crimespree Cinema's Jeremy Lynch has posted my review of Reaper: Season One. Readers of this blog know I've championed the show from its last-minute renewal to Lionsgate's DVD deal with ABC Studios.

Since receiving the set last week, I've watched all the episodes multiple times. If you're a fan of Ghostbusters, Mallrats, and/or Shaun of the Dead, this is for you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Envious Again

The Fall 2008 issue of Mannequin Envy went live recently, featuring my poem "Keeping Up Appearances". Thanks again to Patrick Carrington and Jennifer VanBuren.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No Kris Kringle?

In an apparent bow to the economy, yesterday my aunt declared there would be no gift exchange this year. (Zoinks!)

She went on to say, "If you want to give someone a present, that's fine," so I think she means no Kris Kringle/Secret Santa this year, which is never secret among family anyway. ("I got your Uncle George. What do you think he'd like?")

Black Friday

So the restaurant yesterday was not a buffet, but the food wasn't as oily or salty as I expected, either. All in all a pleasant time with family, and not having a food-and-drink hangover is swell.

I performed a system update this morning and missed my brother on his way out Black Friday shopping. It's not something either of us claims to enjoy, but some of the deals are amazing. I think it was two years ago we saw a 32-inch HD LCD TV for $799. We went home to compare prices on the Web, and when we got back to the store, the price had gone to $999.

I did my bargain shopping over the past two weeks:

Smallville Season 7 for $28.42

Reaper Season 1 for $20.98

Son of the Beach Vol. 2 for $19.48

The Complete Batman: The Animated Series for $56.60

UPDATE: My brother was not out shopping. He was sleeping—what a letdown.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Actual Thanksgiving

Roof repair to continue tomorrow. I'm about to attend Thanksgiving Mass and then it's off to a Shanghainese buffet in New Jersey for the extended family meal. According to Chinese Food DIY:

Shanghai does not have a definitive cuisine of its own, but refines those of the surrounding provinces. Its flavours are heavier and oilier than Cantonese cuisine, featuring preserved vegetables, pickles and salted meats.

Oil and salt traditionally don't sit well in my stomach, but readiness is all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Have myself a merry Thanksgiving

Repairs on my roof begin today, so I'm taking this chance to post a Thanksgiving entry. My ideal Thanksgiving is simple: a meal at home—some turkey any style, some sides—company optional, and at least one moment to reflect on how good life is. I look forward to Thanksgiving more than I realize, maybe more than any other holiday, yet tomorrow I'm joining extended family at a Chinese restaurant for a "low-maintenance" affair.

The disparity between my ideal and actual Thanksgivings (over which, traditionally, I've had no say) threatens to make me forget the spirit of the holiday. I hope to have a family of my own one day who shares my idea of Thanksgiving. Until then, appropriately, I'll have to accept how things unfold and hope for that moment of thankful reflection.

NCIS: "Dagger"

Gibbs shadows Agent Lee meeting with the contact to whom she's passing military secrets. Meanwhile, DiNozzo and David follow the trail of Lee's kidnapped daughter. So as not to spook Lee's controller, Gibbs and McGee convince Director Vance and SecNav the real U.S. military playbook, code name Domino, is in play. These plotlines connect to a larger scheme to unbalance the world's economy, and everything climaxes in a shootout between Gibbs and Lee's controller, with Lee as human shield.

Kudos again to the writing staff seamlessly adapting NCIS for a spy plot and crafting a rich final arc for Liza Lapira.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rain, Rain...

You may remember late summer storms staining the ceiling of my bedroom/home office. Last night, more rain dripped through a weak spot in the repair job onto my floor. Light sleeper that I am, I heard it in time to put a bucket and rags down. The drip stopped around 4:30 this morning, and now it's raining again but the repair job seems to have congealed so there's no drip at the moment.

I don't know when I can have the leak looked at with Thanksgiving coming up, but expect some blog downtime as new repairs are made.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Zygote Lives

Just saw that Zygote in my Coffee, which had previously folded, will continue with two online and two print issues a year.

The Mentalist: "Red Hair and Silver Tape"

I caught a rerun of The Mentalist's second episode Friday night. Simon Baker stars as a Kreskin-like performer-turned-P.I. who assists the California Bureau of Investigation. The premise sounds like Psych, but the show reminds me more of John Doe. It's not appointment TV, but I might look in now and then.

Anyone know why all the episode titles have the word "red" in them?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SAG to seek strike authorization

AP reports the Screen Actors Guild will vote on strike authorization, its latest round of talks with the AMPTP having broken down early this morning.

According to the AP article:

SAG's national board has already authorized its negotiating committee to call for a strike authorization vote if mediation failed. The vote would take more than a month and require more than 75 percent approval to pass.

SAG is seeking union coverage for all Internet-only productions regardless of budget and residual payments for Internet productions replayed online, as well as continued actor protections during work stoppages

But the AMPTP said it was untenable for SAG to demand a better deal than what writers, directors and another actors union accepted earlier in the year, especially now that the economy has worsened.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Why So Critical?

Exploring negativity in reviews, Dave White blogs:

...I'm curious about the people who like to tear things apart and don't look for enjoyment. What's the point of being so critical?

And are there people out there who still just want entertainment?

I commented:

I think it's safe to say uncritical readers vastly outnumber the critical ones, so there will always be work for artists, etc.

I'm critical by nature because I'm curious about how and why writing (and other stuff) affects me the way it does, and I'm always looking for ways to articulate that. People just looking for enjoyment probably wouldn't think that far into it.

We all have stuff we're absolutely fannish about, but I try to read or watch with an open mind. I want to be entertained, but at the same time I can't set aside my basic idea of what's good. In writing, does the author show command of the language or does he consistently use more words than he needs? Is the story moving at the right pace? When a writer does a really good job, I think about the nuts and bolts after, not while I'm reading, but I still think about them.

This much said, I read reviews to tell whether I'd be interested. If I am interested, I don't put much stock in the reviewer's opinion, preferring to make up my own mind.

Earlier in the same post, Dave writes:

For instance, Robert B. Parker gets a lot of flack for his later novels. I, however, do my best to enjoy them for what they are. A visit with an old friend, some good one liners and an overall entertaining, light story. I expect differently from say... a Lehane. But I still just try adjust my brain and my standards for each story to get the maximum enjoyment out of it.

I commented:

Parker was one of the first mystery writers I really enjoyed. The Spenser series set much of the standard for what I've read since. To me, the early novels weren't light stories. They managed to enlighten while they entertained, and every word seemed necessary.

Now, sure, Parker has aged, but his faculties haven't fallen off to the point where I expect less. When he pads dialogue, when he takes shortcuts in description, I think he's being lazy. I'd been disappointed in his work roughly the past five years. I read Now and Then recently and didn't find it rambling or repetitive at all. Parker hit all the marks to make Spenser present to me, which just proves he still can, and that many recent efforts were less than his best.

Why settle for less from a writer who can deliver more? Why expect more from a lesser-known writer?

Online and Offline Fiction

Yesterday Patti Abbott blogged:

I write long short stories. Probably a holdover from my days of writing literary fiction. Four to five thousand words often feels right to me.

But as [a] zine editor pointed out to me Monday, that's long for online reading. So I cut a 4500 word story to 3000 words in 30 minutes. Not hard at all.

Why didn't I see all those unnecessary words before I sent it out? Does this happen to you? Or, alternately, do you read stories that feel longer than they need to be?

Or are we all getting to be too impatient in wanting such bite-sized stories. Are those extra words the ones that give it depth, grit or meaning? Have we sacrificed something else in the name of brevity? If you can read a novel on a Kindle, why is a 5000 word story long for online?

My comment with additional thoughts:

Part of this is the editor's taste, but I think it's also practically tied to reading habits. When I go online, I want to get information as quickly as possible and move on to the next thing. With the rate technology improves, we all expect greater convenience.

Consider that an e-zine owner wants readers to stay on his site longer, scrolling and clicking on ads, etc. Longer stories mean readers might print them out, close their browsers, and walk away. If readers see shorter stories, they might stay and read them to save paper and toner (and possibly click on more ads).

In the case you mention, cutting words increases the likelihood a story will be published. If you were targeting a different market, your idea of what works best would change with the market. This is not a bad thing. It's simply a creative challenge. Writers who can't adapt their ideas for many markets have fewer markets open to them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smallville: "Bride"

So this episode was the first appearance of Doomsday, but I focused more on the interaction between Lana and Clark and Lois and Clark. It was good to see Lana finally in the role of Clark's oldest confidant, but I thought Lois would make more of an effort to express herself while she had the chance. What was up with her fading into the background when Lana showed up? Why does she open up to Ollie, a third party, like a typical romantic comedy character would?

Her heart's been broken before. Why remain passive and let it happen again? I would've liked to see her blurt out her feelings to Clark, thereby making an even more awkward and interesting moment when Lana showed up. Instead of fading, maybe Lois steps in front of Clark, marking her territory...

Anyway, now we wait almost two months to pick up the story. If it is the last season, and I hope it is, I say Clark dies at some point and comes back powerful enough to defeat Doomsday.

Key disappointment of the night: Not even a mention of Ma Kent.

End of an Era

Today George Steinbrenner officially passed control of the New York Yankees to his son, Hal (not Hank). Many times I wished George would shut up, let the coaches coach and the players play. But then he wouldn't be George, and no fan can question his willingness to spend money on the team.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NCIS: "Cloak"

This episode had the team involved in various aspects of a secret exercise to smoke out the mole among them. Playing to NCIS's reputation for unpredictability, McGee, Tony, and Ziva had no idea of Ducky or Abby's roles in the plot. With each twist, you had to wonder what the truth was. Meanwhile there was some great humor in how each character handled the tension. I particularly enjoyed its effect on Tony and Ziva's as-yet unspoken feelings for each other.

I sure hope Agent Lee is being compelled to spy and isn't simply playing everyone with her confession. Her body language when no one is looking, cute nervous as always, suggests the former.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock Revelation

I've always thought Rock, Paper, Scissors were too few choices. Here's a solution as seen on The Big Bang Theory:

Scissors cuts Paper
Paper covers Rock
Rock crushes Lizard
Lizard poisons Spock
Spock smashes Scissors
Scissors decapitates Lizard
Lizard eats Paper
Paper disproves Spock
Spock vaporizes Rock
Rock crushes Scissors

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Waiting for Solace

Quantum of Solace has been out here in the U.S. three days, and I'm ashamed to admit I haven't seen it. I'm waiting to see it with the same group of college friends with whom I saw GoldenEye. It may be a few days, or it may be a month. In the meantime, this post looks back at the fun I had waiting to see Casino Royale:

Favorite Bond Title Songs
Make Your Own Bond Movie
Girls, Bond Girls
Try Another Day
Favorite Bond Books
I've Finally Seen: CASINO ROYALE

Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale) became my third favorite Bond Girl, behind Fiona Volpe (Thunderball) and Tracy Di Vicenzo (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), ahead of Pam Bouvier (Licence to Kill), knocking Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye) down to fifth place.

I'd like to play Make Your Own Bond Movie again. Comment with your own Bond movie title using any word(s) from the 23 existing movie titles:

Dr. No
From Russia with Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diamonds are Forever
Live and Let Die
The Man with the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
Never Say Never Again
A View to a Kill
The Living Daylights
Licence to Kill
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace

Some of mine:

A Quantum is Never Enough
Live and Let Spy
Diamonds Are No Solace
Licence to Service Her
The Man with No Eyes

Smallville: "Abyss"

Previously infected by Brainiac, computer-in-tennis-shoes Chloe Sullivan begins to crash. Days before her wedding to Jimmy Olsen, all she can remember is the Kryptonian symbol for "doom", leading her seek out Davis Bloome (a.k.a. Doomsday).

This was the episode-right-before-a-climax that is usually forgettable. The only thing worth remembering was Jor-El and Clark's first remotely warm conversation in the reformed Fortress of Solitude, the last two minutes of which my VCR didn't catch!

Next, Lana returns for Chloe's wedding, which is interrupted by Doomsday. I wonder if Clark gets killed.

I never liked the Death of Superman sales gimmick, er, storyline.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The TV Season So Far

See my quick comments on this season of Bones, Chuck, and the already-canceled My Own Worst Enemy.

Stay tuned for thoughts on more shows from the rest of the Crimespree Cinema crew.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold

Last night the latest animated Batman series premiered on Cartoon Network, a lighter take reminiscent of the Adam West/Burt Ward series, aimed at younger audiences. Batman: The Brave and the Bold has a broad-shouldered, wisecracking Batman teaming up each week with the likes of Blue Beetle, Green Arrow, and Plastic Man.

The premiere opened with Batman and Green Arrow tied up, being lowered into a vat of acid by the Clock King but mainly focused on the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle (voiced by once-and-future Batman Will Friedle) as a hero in training.

I'm not sold on Diedrich Bader voicing Batman, but I'll tune in next week.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Do we need to label it?

On Murderati today, JT Ellison writes:

...B&N came out with a dismal Christmas forecast. Borders can't pay their bills. Rumblings about the collapse of the book industry seem to come every couple of months. Shouldn't we be looking at ways to work in concert with all the organizations to promote BOOKS so we don't lose everything?

So what say you? Am I just being naive? Is genre, and subgenre, and a plethora of organizations vitally important to our daily lives? Is there a way to have a bit tent and get everyone under it, or do we like to segregate? Is it too hard to believe that in 2008, we could be treated as equals to the literary writers - just men and women who write damn good books; writers first and foremost? Would the bookstores collapse if they didn't have the genre designations? Could we create a group that didn't define itself through genre alone, but as a whole, like the Screenwriters Guild? Should I just shut up and get back to work?????

And readers, do the designations make any difference to you? I understand that not every readers wants to do serial killers, and not every reader can do knitting. Is that the sole goal of the sub-genres, to keep out unwanted stories?

I commented:

I respect authors equally, whatever they choose to write. I just happen to like plots with mystery and characters involved in or solving that mystery. That said, I tend not to believe characters who stumble upon mystery when nothing else in their lives suggests they would or that they'd be disposed to solve the mystery. So as a reader I find genre labels handy...I like to know what I'm getting because I am, in fact, making at least a time commitment.

As a writer, I think the many organizations are necessary because each sheds light on a type of writing that deserves as much respect as the others. Yes, these dedicated organizations might keep writers apart, but without them there'd be less respect for the nuances of all fiction.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bones: "The Con Man in the Meth Lab"

Booth and Brennan are called in when a state police training exercise uncovers the remains of a murder victim. A sketchbook found on the victim leads the team to identify him as Jim Stegman, a drifter father recently reunited with his inventor son, but later x-ray evidence disproves this, pointing to a con man pretending to be Stegman.

Meanwhile, a state police colonel (Joseph C. Phillips) would like Booth not to give the press the small detail of how the remains were found. Booth refuses, but later, when Booth's naval officer brother Jared (Brendan Fehr) is pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, Booth trades credit for his role in a far-ranging RICO case to get Jared off the hook.

The chemistry between Boreanaz and Fehr is good, and this week saw the return of Clark Edison (Eugene Byrd), the intern I would like hired permanently. I do think the series in general goes a bit overboard talking up Booth as the classic hero. In this episode, his sacrifice would have more impact without Brennan's glowing speech at the end.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

NCIS: "Collateral Damage"

Last night's episode featured a murder and bank robbery cleverly intertwined while picking up the season premiere's story of Special Agent Lee's (Liza Lapira) secret betrayal. As the team investigates the robbery, Director Vance wants Gibbs's gut feeling about borderline probie Dwayne Wilson (Rey Valentin). Problem: Gibbs is uncharacteristically doubting himself given his recommendation of Agent Langer (Jonathan LaPaglia), whom Lee framed and killed as the traitor.

Wilson has average test scores, no second language, and minimal computer skills, but his quick thinking and action under fire impress Gibbs. In the final scene, Gibbs posts Langer's ID on a wall of fallen LEOs including Special Agent Paula Cassidy (Jessica Steen). This suggests that Gibbs knows Lee was the traitor. We'll apparently find out next week.

Kudos to writer Alfonso H. Moreno.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day

I've met a handful of veterans and I'd like to salute them here, not by name but by their contributions to my life and character.

Just before high school, my parish split in two, putting my family in the newly-formed parish, pastored by an Army chaplain. The pastor's best friend, who convinced him to join the Army, also helped at our parish. Both exemplified how to serve God and country. Our pastor was called to serve in the first Gulf war and served in Saudi Arabia in the second conflict until diabetes forced him to retire as a colonel. I believe his best friend is still deployed.

As a high school freshman, I accidentally locked my combination lock backwards on my locker, and my phys ed teacher, whom I still sort of feared at the time, lay on his back to help me unlock it. When he invited me to manage the varsity volleyball team he coached later that year, I gladly accepted. On one of our road trips, he told me he served in the Army between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

In college, I attended an Intro to Film class with someone who served in the USMC for four years between high school and college. We didn't graduate together as he dropped out and back and out again (for no other reason than wanderlust), but we kept in touch and occasionally fortuitously saw some classically bad movies of the 90s. I've since lost touch with him, but he was the inspiration for Tom Gregory of "Home".

To these and all veterans, my gratitude and respect.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I've been waiting for you, Nerve Cowboy...

We meet again at last...

I've prepared my entry for The 2009 Nerve Cowboy Chapbook Contest: twenty-two poems and one short story.

This is a testament to the power of deadlines. I sent my entry to the 2008 contest on November 9, 2007. Last Friday I had the faint notion of sending my 2009 entry today. The possibility looked remote, but I was spurred by tomorrow being a postal holiday.

Incidentally, I used a Star Wars quote to describe my result in the 2008 contest.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Smallville: "Bloodlines"

I've poked much fun at this week's storyline of Zod's wife Faora escaping from the Phantom Zone and possessing Lois, but I must say the episode did an excellent job establishing heretofore darkly mysterious paramedic Davis Bloome as the genetically-engineered son of Zod, naturally pitting him against Kal-El (a.k.a. the "son of our jailer").

Next week: Brainiac wipes Chloe's memory, and she confides in Davis.

Overused Smallville Phrase #112: "I highly doubt that."

NOW AND THEN by Robert B. Parker

With few exceptions, I've bought the bulk of Robert B. Parker's books in paperback to keep my costs down. In recent years, I've stopped buying his Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall books (roughly since Jesse and Sunny began dating). Perhaps as a result of reading less Parker, I found his latest Spenser paperback, Now and Then, refreshing.

For many years, Parker seemed to ignore the passage of time, keeping Spenser and friends in an ageless state that didn't let him comment on current events as he had so sharply in earlier books. From time to time in the series, other aspects of Spenser's persona seemed to blur away: the cooking, the workouts, the literary quips. I'm happy to report these aspects, along with a key part of Spenser's personal history, are back in focus in Now and Then, and the plot touches on issues as current as the Bush administration, the war on terror, and the Red Sox 2004 championship.

Dennis Doherty hires Spenser simply to find out what his wife, Jordan Richmond, is up to. Soon after Spenser brings Doherty evidence of Jordan's affair, both Dennis and Jordan are found dead. With no reason to stay on the case beyond empathy, Spenser is nonetheless determined to get some brand of justice for Dennis and Jordan.

In light of Parker's spotty record keeping Spenser's history, I found the following line particularly pointed as Spenser remarked on Jordan's lover's dubious past:

"Isn't that dumb?" I said. "To make up a story that doesn't make sense in terms of simple chronology?"

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Michael Crichton Dies at 66

Michael Crichton has died after a private battle with cancer. I've only read Rising Sun by Crichton, but it's one of my best-remembered reads. The Wesley Snipes-Sean Connery movie made from it was something of a letdown but has sentimental value to me.

I was also a fan of Dr. Ian Malcolm as played by Jeff Goldblum in the Jurassic Park movies.


After voting, the highlight of my day yesterday was reading the Dark Horse trade paperback of Serenity: Better Days. Though it's been six years since Firefly was cancelled and three years since the Serenity movie, Mal Reynolds, Jayne Cobb and friends are crystal clear in my mind, and this second comics adventure after Those Left Behind is true to the characters, from mannerisms to speech patterns. Shiny.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Rock Me Slowly

I vote in a high school gymnasium with a mechanical (tab-lever-curtain) voting booth. I try to be reasonably well informed. I read propositions carefully. I double-check to be sure I'm pulling the correct tabs for the correct parties. And the booth operator always asks, "How're you doing?" ("What's taking you so long?")

Ah, if only I didn't prize language, if only I were more conservative or liberal, I could click-click-click zip right through.