Two sentence horror stories…

Yet another bit from

I loved the one about the kid and the “monster” under the bed.

Some of the comment writers to that article have referenced Fredric Brown’s classic short story Knock, with its short-short story opening, as a classic example of a very short horror story.  Knock opens with this:

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…

Interesting to note, at least according to Wikipedia that this famous opening line was itself apparently cribbed from the following, originally written by Thomas Bailey Aldrich:

Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, New York or London. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell! (Ponkapog Papers, 1904)

Chilling stuff.

Random bit of information….

I can spend hours at, especially for bits of information like this:

Granted, a very small bit of information, but to realize that at the time of launch the Saturn V’s fuel economy was a whopping 7 inches per gallon…is rather mind boggling.

And yet it makes perfect sense, given the incredible energy expended at the moment of liftoff.

Now you know.

Favorite “guitar” songs

Was driving around yesterday and this song came on the radio…

While listening to it for perhaps the five hundred thousandth time, my personal opinion that this is the all time best “guitar” heavy song ever was strengthened by hearing each individual lick.  I absolutely love the work of Mr. Hendrix here, the way his playing seems to go on digressions/different melodic tangents only to come back over and over to the main thrust of the song again.  The end result is absolutely terrific.

So it got me to thinking.  What are my favorite “guitar” songs?  Songs where the guitar work is so exquisite, so memorable, that it just sticks out in my head?

Apart from Voodoo Child (Slight Return), only one other song instantly popped up in my mind, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb.

Again, terrific guitar work.  Unlike Voodoo Child (Slight Return), however, Comfortably Numb, like the album it came from, is at heart a sad song about alienation.  The guitar work by David Gilmour seems to pierce your very soul.

I keep driving and I think: Come on!  There are hundreds of other songs with strong guitar work you love.

There are, of course, but those two above stand out more than most, at least for me.  Well then, if Voodoo Child (Slight Return) and Comfortably Numb are my two favorite “guitar” songs, what are some of my others?

How about a Beatles classic…

Many note the terrific drumming by Ringo Starr (and it is), but I’ve always loved the guitar work by George Harrison, the way the guitar seems to “answer” each lyric by John Lennon.

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know what a big fan of David Bowie I am.  There are plenty of David Bowie songs featuring terrific guitar riffs.  My two favorites happen to feature the guitar work of late Mick Ronson…


My juices are flowing and I’m starting to think of so many others…How about Heart?

Radar Love by Golden Earring could well be the absolutely best “driving” song out there.  Wonder how many people got speeding tickets while driving to this?

Ok, before I get too far afield and start listing just about all the songs I like that feature pretty good guitar work, how about Rolling Stone’s 100 Best?

Agree or disagree (I disagree with more than a few of their choices) it is food for thought.  Another list, this one by Spinner Magazine, features their “Top 50 Guitar Riffs”.  Some great stuff here:

Of note, their David Bowie pick is the also excellent Rebel Rebel, features guitars by Mr. Bowie himself!

Interesting stuff.  I might just have to go through some of my favorite music for the rest of the day! 😉

Which city has the worst drivers?

Fascinating article by Brian Palmer for Slate magazine regarding which U.S. city has the worst drivers.  Now, I know most people out there feel the worst drivers have to be the ones they’re around, but Mr. Palmer uses actual research, in this article, so be warned!

So, which city has the worst drivers?  Behold:

Spoilers: Miami is #1.  Not at all shocking for someone (me) who lives here.  Whenever I travel away from home, I’m always surprised by how much better the drivers are in other places.  True, there are glitches to be found almost everywhere.  As much as I like traveling to Canada, for example, the roadside signs and sudden changes to names of highways can be confusing and irritating to newbies.  However, the drivers themselves in the places I’ve gone to thus far always seem to be more…mellow.  More polite.  More in control.

In Miami, driving is a form of warfare, and you have to always need to keep your guard up.  Lately, my greatest frustration involves people who drive on a crowded/large street and then suddenly come to a stop to either let a passenger within the vehicle out or to pick someone up.

Yes, in the middle of a crowded street.

The “driver” (I use that term lightly) of said vehicle could simply drive into a parking lot or take a turn onto a smaller street and park in an embankment to deliver their passengers but no.  The brainiac inside said vehicle figures it is best to simply stop in the middle of the busy street (often not even using their hazards) and risk getting rear ended to let their passenger off.

Another example:  In the past few years I’ve driven I-95 during early morning rush hour to take my daughter to school.  During the first month of doing so I saw on two different occasions vehicles flipped over onto their roofs and blocking a lane in the highway.  The image was surreal, almost like witnessing a Michael Bay film in progress.

What had caused the drivers to lurch their cars in such a way as to flip them over?  I can’t imagine.  If it hadn’t occurred on the highway, I might have considered the poor drivers flipped their vehicles when they swerved to avoid someone that stopped to drop a passenger off.

Ah Miami.

Summer of the mega-flop…?

Like many of you out there, movies have been ever present in my life and I’m a huge fan.  When I was younger I used to be one of the first people in line for new films and eagerly read up on what my favorite actors were up to.  Lately, however, I’m almost always in some kind of time crunch and don’t have the opportunity to get out to the theaters like I used to.

So now, watching the fleet of summer films come and go from afar is a curious experience.  Especially this summer’s crop.  As I mentioned in my previous blog review of The Heat, I’ve seen exactly two “summer” films this season, that and Star Trek Into Darkness.  It’s been hard not to notice all the films coming and going, like cars whose drivers are leaning hard on their horns as they whiz by you on the highway.  These movies try to get your attention and do so for a fleeting moment before they’re gone and the next one inevitably drives by.

Given all the stimulation out there, be it music to movies to TV shows to books to video games to facebook/instagram/etc, our culture appears to be succumbing to a new kind of attention deficit.  We’re constantly being stimulated and now seek out the “new” thing, because whatever we just saw/experienced is done and often all but forgotten.

With the movie industry, this can be a very frightening thing.  If you’re investing several hundred million dollars on a film, you obviously hope your film will succeed.  To succeed, it needs to have some kind of staying power.  If it doesn’t, the enormous budget is a mighty huge chunk of change to lose out on.  This summer, more than others perhaps, seems to have spawned an inordinate number of “mega” flops, motion pictures with a huge budget that met with near complete indifference.

There have been other flops in other summers, to be sure, but Ben Kingsberg at Slate magazine offers an interesting article about this particular group of summer movie duds:

I don’t think there’s much to argue with his essay, though I believe part of the mega-flop problem lies in films that needed far better scripts/stories.  With the exception of Pacific Rim, which audiences seem to like but which is nonetheless underperforming in the USA, most of the other mega-flops listed appear to have left audiences and critics alternately bored or turned off, usually because of weak stories.

A $200 million film, in the end, is only as good as the script/story being presented.  Extreme action and CG effects can temporarily dazzle the eye, but if the film itself never really gels, then its no wonder people are eventually turned off.

Franchise Fails

Interesting article by Daniel D’Addario for concerning several recent films which were meant to be part of a franchise…but whose weak box-office receipts pretty much ended that possibility:

I enjoyed the list but found it was, as mentioned above, rather too “recent” in its sampling of failed movie franchises.

Regardless, I’ve always felt it takes a dangerous amount of hubris to make a film that you’re already thinking will make for a good “series” of films.  The danger lies in thinking about what’s to come rather than focusing on making the one good film you have in front of you first.

The Green Lantern film, I believe, is a great example of this.  What could –should– have been a good first film was ultimately buried in far too many irrelevant plot/character elements.  For example, why include Sinestro, who probably should have been the movie’s villain, unless you intend to use him that way?  The movie featured a far weaker set of villains as it was, leaving us at the tail end of the film with a little snippet showing us Sinestro was going to be the villain next time around.  Big waste.  But not the only one.  The film also featured the character of Amanda Waller.  She has considerable back story in the comic books but, in the context of the film, wasn’t all that relevant.  Why did the filmmakers not only include her but also waste our time giving her an “origin” story?

However, planning for sequels when making your first movie doesn’t always result in failure.

Way, waaaaay back when I saw the original Star Wars in 1977, the far younger me was bothered by the way that Darth Vader was clearly shown to have survived the events of the film.  While the young fans around me were instantly clued in to (and absolutely delighted by) the idea there were going to be sequels to the smash hit, I felt showing Darth Vader survive so clearly and broadly hinting at a sequel was arrogant film making.  Bear in mind, in 1977 the idea of movie sequels or franchises was limited to only one: James Bond.  Most movies released were “stand alone” features and while some might have had the possibility of sequels (would have loved to see more of the adventures of Bullitt!), their stories often started and ended with the first movie.

Luckily for Mr. Lucas and company, my opinion was a lone voice in a world filled with adulation, and the sequels came and did incredible business.

One film not included on the above list is Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.  If only by the title we get a great example of the movie-maker’s hubris in action.  I mean, The Adventure *BEGINS*?!?  How much more do you need to say to imply you think there will be more adventures to follow?

In the case of poor Remo, his adventure began and, with the exception of a failed and long forgotten TV pilot that came afterwards, ended right there.  Still, arrogant as the tile was, I have to admit the film wasn’t all that bad.  It just wasn’t all that “great”, either.

Ah well…

The Heat (2013) a (almost right on time!) review

The 2013 edition of the Big Summer Movie Extravaganza! is slowly, inevitably, winding down.  Audiences have been “treated” to all manner of big spectacle, though it felt like every other film being released every other week was either a) a superhero adaptation and/or b) a big sci-fi effect extravaganza.  To be sure, there were others genres in the mix, but given the spate of films released, many of whom wound up eliciting yawns from the movie going audience, one almost feels a sense of…relief…that the summer movie season is just about done.

I suppose its a sign of the times (and my relative lack of it) that to date I’ve seen exactly two (2) of the many movies offered thus far.

The first, Star Trek Into Darkness, was a film that I enjoyed reasonably enough while watching it and immediately afterwards.  In the days/weeks since, the film’s stature has decidedly shrunk in my mind.  No, I haven’t changed my mind and now feel the film was bad…but…well…let’s just say that Star Trek Into Darkness is one of those films of the moment, and the moment has passed.

The second and so far last of the 2013 summer movie films I’ve seen is The Heat, the Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy action/comedy.  Truly, more comedy/comedy, as the action sequences aren’t really all that spectacular and are few and far between.

NOTE: This is not a knock against the film!

In fact, The Heat, while perhaps not a comedy “masterpiece”, is nonetheless exactly what it aims to be: A female version of the foul-mouthed “at-first-enemies-but-eventually-friends/allies” buddy cop films.

Sandra Bullock plays the “uptight” Ashburn while Melissa McCarthy plays the vulgar, streetwise Mullins.  They are drawn together in Mullins’ stomping grounds of Boston because of the emergence of a mysterious drug lord.

To get into the plot details is an exercise in describing pointless cliches.  Yes, the couple spar at first.  Yes, they have to deal with unsupportive higher ups.  Yes, they do things “their way” and, eventually, become a true crime-fighting team.  Finally, they take down the drug lord.  Duh.

The plot, let’s face it, is just an excuse to get at the meat of the movie, which lies in the way the two actresses play their respective roles and build a relationship.  This is where The Heat succeeds very well.  As a bonus, the film even manages to deliver a touching moment toward the very end concerning Ashburn’s old high school yearbook…before following that up with a brilliant joke involving a certain animal.  I love jokes that are set up early in a movie and followed up later on.  In this case, the set up and payoff are wonderful.

So if you’re in the mood for a good, old fashioned vulgar buddy cop “R” rated comedy (with no nudity!) that happens to feature two female leads, then The Heat is very much worth your time.

Save the Movie!

Fascinating piece by Peter Suderman for Slate magazine concerning the increased use of a writing formula, specifically the 2005 book Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder, has influenced the structure of recently released movies:

Being an author myself, I’m always curious to read things like this.  There is a certain curiosity to finding the works you create, to some degree or another, follow story structures that have been around for many, many, many years.  But it’s one thing to realize you use certain story structures in place for centuries and its quite another to slavishly follow a formula.  Any formula.

For me, the big payoff of Mr. Suderman article concerns the above and comes with this paragraph, which all too clearly spells out the dangers of following this particular story formula too closely:

Yet once you know the formula, the seams begin to show. Movies all start to seem the same, and many scenes start to feel forced and arbitrary, like screenplay Mad Libs. Why does Kirk get dressed down for irresponsibility by Admiral Pike early in Star Trek Into Darkness? Because someone had to deliver the theme to the main character. Why does (ACTUAL CHARACTER REDACTED BY ME TO AVOID SPOILERS) defect to the villain’s team for no reason whatsoever almost exactly three-quarters of the way through Fast & Furious 6? Because it’s the all-is-lost moment, so everything needs to be in shambles for the heroes. Why does Gerard Butler’s character in Olympus Has Fallen suddenly call his wife after a climactic failed White House assault three-quarters of the way through? Because the second act always ends with a quiet moment of reflection—the dark night of the soul.

As I said before, a very fascinating and enlightening piece.

I am curious to read Mr. Snyder’s book, but on the other hand perhaps he offers too easy a “cheat sheet” for authors to use, and abuse.

Corrosive Knights…a 7/19/13 update

I’m done with the third draft of the latest Corrosive Knights novel (I’m going to keep the actual title secret a little while longer).  The book, as it stands now, runs a little under 104,000 words, making it one of my longer novels.

It also features what I believe is my most complex plot, if only in terms of settings and characters.  There are a lot of characters running around this book and we bounce around many different (and hopefully very intriguing) settings.  The book features a “wrap up” of the first major Corrosive Knights story line which began in Mechanic and continued through The Last Flight of the Argus, Chameleon, and Nox.

Corrosive MACNThe big question:  How long before this novel is ready?

The draft I just finished ironed out many of the novel’s plot “kinks”, story threads that weren’t fully developed or were too clunky or just plain didn’t work as originally written.  There is at least one section of the book that still needs a little work in that respect, but otherwise I should be transitioning from fixing the novel’s story -usually a very thought and time intensive exercise- to focusing more exclusively on grammatical issues, which is more often than not a far easier thing to do and one which takes far less time to revise.

I estimate it will take at least two if not three more drafts before I begin to feel comfortable enough with the idea of releasing it, which means at least two if not three more months before everything’s ready.

As it is, I’m very excited with the work.  For those who wondered how exactly the first three novels in this series form a larger whole, you’ll get your answers with this novel.

I can’t wait to get ‘er done.

Evil Dead (2013) a (mildly) belated review

Expectations and hopes are a tough thing to overcome.

When I first heard that they were remaking the original 1981 The Evil Dead, and more importantly that the original director Sam Raimi and the original star of the feature (and cult hero) Bruce Campbell were involved, I was really, really hoping this remake would be good.

When it was released, I was dying to see it in the theaters but, as has happened all too often, I simply didn’t have the free time available to make the trip to my local cinema.  I did read some reviews and became…concerned.  On Rotten Tomatoes the film scored a decent 62% positive among critics and a similar 68% positive among audiences.  While these scores were enough to label the film “fresh”, the rating was hardly a strong endorsement.  Nonetheless, I had to see it for myself.  When it finally reached the home video market, I gave it a twirl.

So…what did I think?

In a nutshell: Not all that much, alas.  On a four star scale, with four being a “classic”, I’d give the film at best two stars.  I can only recommend it to fans of the original series who absolutely, positively have to see the remake.  Others may want to avoid it and stick to the originals.

Longer review follows…


Unlike the original film, 2013’s Evil Dead is first and foremost a gore fest.  Its main goal and purpose appears to be to try to gross you out as much as possible while, here and there, giving small and larger shout outs to the previous Evil Dead films.  Yes, we have friends going to a cabin in the woods for a weekend.  Their purpose to go there is because one of their group, Mia (Jane Levy), is a drug user and the group of friends along with her somewhat estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez) want to force Mia to go through a “cold turkey” weekend and hopefully kick her habit.

On its surface the drug element is interesting but, as the movie plays out, it ultimately is just an excuse to justify why the soon to be un-happy campers stay at the cabin a little longer than they should have.  For you see, it is Mia who first notes the strange things going on in this cabin and is the first to see the ghostly images…and when she tells her friends what she sees, they excuse it as her attempts to get out of the cold turkey treatment and back to more friendly environs.

Anyway, the proverbial shit hits the fan and our group of friends are knocked off one by one in very brutal ways.  Unfortunately, between the start of the film and that point we get so little characterization and therefore develop so little empathy toward most of the group.  Most woefully underwritten is Elizabeth Blackmore’s Natalie.  I wasn’t sure exactly what her relationship to the others was, other than that she just happened to be present.  Despite this, she is given the “honor” of replicating one of the more (in)famous sequences in the original Evil Dead 2.

Speaking of which, of the other characters the one that is perhaps the better developed is Olivia (Jessica Lucas).  She is the nurse and friend who watches over Mia and, unfortunately, is also the one who tells the others they need to be strong and remain through the cold turkey session.  However, she’s also the very first to pass on.  A real shame as she, more than the others, elicited sympathy…at least from me.  If only the director had made her the secondary lead!

And that brings us to perhaps the film’s greatest problem:  Just who is the lead?  Reading up on the film before its release, it was noted many times that this film would give us a “female” Ash (Ash, of course, is the Bruce Campbell character from the original Evil Dead films).  From the beginning it was clear Mia was intended to be the protagonist.

As mentioned, however, she is the first to see and feel the “evil dead”, whereupon she’s completely taken over by them.  What winds up happening is that she spends most of the film “possessed” and then locked away in the basement while the others are being picked off one by one.  During that section of the film, the longest part of the film, Mia’s brother appears to be the protagonist.  But since I already knew Mia was the central character, as the minutes pass I grew more and more impatient to see her do something -anything!- other than be locked up in a basement.

She is supposed to be the female Ash after all.  Let’s see her do something!

Alas, it isn’t until all but her brother are dead that she “comes back”.  Even then, however, her fight against the resurrected demon is (natch) gory but not all that exhilarating.  We even get a repeat -of sorts- of the Evil Dead 2 gag mentioned above (twice in one movie?!), but it plays out rather ridiculously.  The movie ends and we get the credits.  You stick around until they’re over and you get perhaps the movie’s best scene, a very tiny cameo by Bruce Campbell himself.

All right, so the characters are weak and the movie’s focus appears to be more on the gore than anything else.  On the positive side, the direction is quite good and the effects are damn good.  As with many films that have left me wanting in the past, the main problem appears to once again be a script that could use a little more work.

Evil Dead isn’t a terrible film, just not a terribly good one either.  As a fan of the original Evil Dead series, perhaps there’s a little bias in my views.  Regardless, I came in hoping for the best and felt, when all was said and done, that this film could have been a lot better than it ultimately was.