Some Danger Involved

by Will Thomas

Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas This is the second book I’ve read in the series, though the first chronologically.  Thomas does an excellent job crafting a Victorian detective story.  His “Watson” is a crafty young man named Thomas Llewellyn, a Welshman with a mixed-up past.  He gets hired by Cyrus Barker, a rough-and-tumble man of many talents and exuberant personality.  Barker, according to some website, is an homage based on a rival of Sherlock Holmes from one of Doyle’s stories.

  • Thomas crafts a well-developed and interesting London.
  • Barker’s eccentricities are amusing but not overdone.
  • This mystery worked alright, but the end didn’t have the satisfying zing of solution that Holmes stories usually have.  The murderer made himself known and then later we learn that Barker knew all along.

Definitely worth reading for fans of Holmes or Victorian-era detective stories.  Ooop, sorry.  Barker is an “enquiry agent.”

Punk Rock Girl

Thanks, The Current! I love hearing Punk Rock Girl.

We asked for Mojo Nixon
And they said, “He don’t work here.”
We said, “If you don’t know Mojo Nixon
Then your store could use some fixin.’ “

PRG always makes me think of cruisin’ through downtown Albuquerque on a Friday evening.

And that’s the end of Hamish

Hamish MacBeth
Jenny and I finished Hamish MacBeth, series 3 tonight, and thus have run through the entire BBC series. A few final notes about it.

  • Robert Carlyle puts a lot of emotion into subtle moves. He drinks the hell out of a glass of scotch.
  • It’s nice to see a little romance there at the end, even if it’s a bit contrived.
  • The most gratifying character is Lachie Jr, who went from being a doofus handyman sidekick in series 1 to being an “upstanding citizen” and undertaker by the end of series 3.
  • The last episode also seemed to be a “let’s show off Northern Scotland’s beauty” episode. All lochs and highlands and hillsides.

You should also, of course, check out my other posts on the subject.

Queuing up

I’ve posted a couple times before about my Netflix queue obsession. Here’s a quick word about my queue:

  1. I use it as a “movies I’d like to see” list. I have virtually no taste with regard to what I add. In short, I add everything.
  2. I try not to put movies into the top ten slots. Somehow I imagine this will make the queue move up.
  3. Regarding number 2: it really won’t.

I’ve done a few shuffles recently, both involving zombies. First, I went through and front loaded all the zombie movies on my queue starting mid November. Just to get as many as I could watched before and during the class. More recently, I went through and spread those back out. I want to keep my zombie hat on, though, so I’ve distributed them in threes throughout the queue. Thus every third or fourth movie I get will be a zombie movie. For the next 120 movies or so.

For those of you out there who Netflix, how do you manage your queue?

The Blind Assassin

by Margaret Atwood; narrated by Margot Dionne

Blind AssassinI enjoyed this tale.  It was well written, with twists that emerge in slow motion, that you figure out well before the narrator does, but you’re intended to.  It also had a Russian-doll narrative style.  Here are a few of the stories told in it:

  • A day-by-day journal kept by an old woman (1997)
  • The story of that woman’s early life (1900 – 1950ish)
  • A novel written in the same period of that woman’s early life
  • A story told by one of the characters in that novel

As always, Atwood delights in wild language and tells heartbreaking stories of women in the direst of circumstances.  As the book ended, it made me think I should try to record my elderly Aunt Betty’s story for posterity.  Atwood does an excellent job giving life to the sense of being old.  At one point, the narrator says “I ate a third of an orange cruller today. A heavy thing of butter and flour spreading out like silt in my arteries.”  Heh.

Monster Mash

myPod just shuffled the Outkast song “Dracula’s Wedding.”  The song has a greasy feel, with squeaky sounds and a funky beat.  It’s weird and fun and strange, but also made me think of the moment on “30 Rock” where they reveal that Tracy Jordan made a monster-mash-like song called “Werewolf Bah Mitzvah

Why aren’t there more songs about monsters and their special days?

Once again into the breach, dear friends

Spring semester starts with a bang.  Enjoy it.

Anteros

for Deb and Travis

The joy of marriage stems from love requited.

Popular wisdom about love focuses on Eros—lonely love, the pursuit of love: love unrequited.

Aristotle posits love as a search for the other half of our soul, our soul mate. Medieval poets imagine love as a kind of pain, a longing we feel for someone that sends us quivering to the window to drop tokens and pine achingly.

The Romantics imagine love welling up from inside, part of our nature. For them, love warms like the sun and rages like thunderstorms. Modern storytellers usually imagine love as destiny. It crackles when couples meet and grows despite contrived mix-ups or cultural boundaries.

These stories don’t tell us much about marriage. Star-crossed lovers rarely wed, or live long when they do. ‘Happily Ever After’ comes just before ‘The End.’ But weddings move beyond Eros to Anteros – requited love. Not just love pursued, but love found.

Anteros unifies twin souls, each warming the other against the cold. It enriches longing with the weight of familiarity and the strength of time; it hones our appreciation for love’s climates, sunny and stormy alike; it feels like destiny.

Stories concerned with chasing love end when they get to the altar. The linear nature of Eros precludes a story beyond marriage. In life, however, we celebrate marriage as a union in Anteros, because for requited love, a wedding is just the beginning.

On Agreeing to Write Something for Someone’s Wedding

In September, when my good friend Deb called and asked if I’d like to be a reader in her wedding, I was very excited.  Then she asked if, what with my creativity and being a writing teacher and all, I’d like to write my reading.  Oh, the hubris involved in responding, “Absolutely I would.”

Problem 1: The genre of the “wedding reading” is a narrow niche.  Here’s what I figured it was not:

  • It’s not a sermon.  It shares qualities with one, but it should be more general and more focused on the abstract than on the specifics.
  • It’s not a wedding toast.  It shouldn’t be about the folks involved and can’t really go for laughs, or shouldn’t much.

Problem 2: What’s left to say?

  • Because it’s not those top two things, my own experiences need to be tempered somewhat, but obviously would inform whatever I wrote.
  • There are lots of things already commonly used: in this case I was competing with a “Gift from the Sea” and “Instructions for marriage.”

These two things covered most of my first instincts about what to say.  So I ended up concentrating on the shift in the nature of courting love to the nature of married love.  It turned out okay, I think.  The couple were very happy with it, though, and nobody came up and spat on me later, so that’s good.  I’ll post the actual reading in my next post.

Dario Argento’s DEMONS

This film was a delight!  Filled with a variety of hilarious 80s images, gruesome yucky monsters, and a bizarre movie-theatre monster plague, you can’t go wrong when you watch DEMONS.  A few quick comments:

  • The usher of the theater, garbed in a giant-lapel outfit, carrying a flashlight like a weapon, walks around in a very creepy way.  She seems to be in on the mysterious creepiness, but it turns out she isn’t.  She gets killed too.
  • You feel pretty bad for the blind guy.  Man, it would suck to have your assistant killed by a demon and then get killed yourself.  Yikes.
  • This isn’t really a zombie movie, but the tropes at work are pretty zombie-like.  The vileness spreads with scratches and bites just like a zombie movie. 
  • I’m not sure what the Italian black culture is like, but it’s pretty distressing that the only three people of color in the film are a black man with every appearance (clothing, attitude, slang) of being a pimp, and two women who appear to be hookers.  In case we were in doubt, one of the other people in the theater mutters to his wife: “Whores!  I can spot ’em a mile away.”  On the up side, it’s nice to think that the hookers and their pimp go to the movies for fun instead of just working all the time.
  • There’s a strange addition about halfway through the film of some random toughs who break into the theater and accidentally let the demons out.  Aside from some gratuitous nudity, this sequence involves a strange depiction of a Coke can.  At first, it appears that the gang is snorting Coke-a-cola, and then we realize that they are, in fact, using the Coke can as a storage device for their cocaine.  I thought the prominent featuring of the can was a product placement, but I suspect the Coke-a-cola company would not pay for that feature.
  • The most silly part of the film occurs near the end.  The survivors (a group of about 20) have barricaded themselves inside the balcony of the theater.  They hear some noise coming from the other side of the barricades and decide that people are coming to rescue them, despite the fact that they know there are demons on the other side (hence the barricades).  So what do they do?  Tear down the barricades.
  • I wish the end of the film had stopped when the surviving couple reached the roof and saw the city in flames.  The run through the city and jump onto the NRA-family jeep is both out of place and a bit jarring.  As is the dad’s assertion that “Maybe somewhere we’ll find somewhere safe” as if the apocalypse had been in swing for days or weeks rather than a few hours.

Worth watching, I think.

Night of the Living Dead 1990

A student loaned this Romero-approved remake to me and I watched it last night.  A few quick thoughts:

Barbara kicks butt

  • Barbara was a much more satisfying character (an active participant, rather than a useless catatonic).  In fact, all the women were more put together than in the original, and the men were a bit less so.
  • I liked the explosion at the gas pump quite a bit, though the zombie feast was more interesting in the first film.
  • I liked the numerous and plenty homages to the original film, including the sheriff’s use of the line “they’re all messed up.”
  • We never saw Johnny!
  • Romero is much harder on the hicks this time around.  These gunmen felt like the hillbillies from The Hills Have Eyes.
  • It was a nice touch to have Ben find the Gas Pump key at the end.
  • Spoiler: I’m not sure what I think of the ending.  On one hand, having Ben die as a zombie was less hopeless; on the other hand, Barbara’s murder of Harry is pretty damn cold-blooded (though justified, as he’d killed Ben).

Lazy day off

Because Jenny and I both have Dr. King day off, and Avery’s daycare is still open, and we pay by the week regardless of whether she goes or not, we dropped her off at daycare and had a day at home alone. Wow. I did the crossword at the table, unmolested. We worked in the morning and then decided to go to a matinee movie. Alas, there was nothing we both wanted to see. I wanted to see Sweeny Todd and There Will Be Blood but not National Treasure 2 and we saw Juno a few days ago. So we rented a couple movies at Blockbuster:

  • Ocean’s Thirteen was better than Ocean’s Twelve, and ultimately pretty enjoyable. I love heist movies, and though this one was a bit over the top, it still worked for me. I particularly liked the use of outrageous mustaches and the blighting of David Paymer, everyone’s favorite nervous nellie. The double-triple cross at the end was a bit predictable, but still enjoyable. Skip the next passage to avoid a spolier/question: I was confused, though, by the appearance of Matt Damon’s dad (played by the surrogate from Arrested Development). Wasn’t he the guy at the gaming commission that Bank’s assistant called with questions about a couple folks at their casino? How did he get into position as the guy who’d get called at the gaming commission? Other than that, I didn’t see any problems with the movie.
  • The Simpson’s Movie was pretty darn good. The animation was a cut above the regular show, and the humor was on all the way through, from Ralph singing along with the Fox searchlights to the assistant manager / film school grad sweeping up the theater at the end. About halfway through, Jenny and I commented that the randomness and strange settings were much like a regular episode, only longer. I pondered what it would be like if the show suddenly switched to a comic-book style narrative, where they wrote stories that work okay when seen in 20 minute chunks, but really tell narratives over six episodes or so. Wouldn’t that be cool?

A nice way to while away a day off.

The Zen of Zombie

by Scott Kenemore

After one of my students did a presentation on Scott Kenemore’s The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead, Mr. Kenemore emailed me to say hello.  Upon learning that he lives in Chicago, I invited him to visit our class and have a chat.  The conversation was most enlightening.

After telling us how he came to write the satire self help book, Scott answered my other two speaking prompts:

  • why are zombies so popular right now?
  • What do you think is in the future for zombies?

He suggested that zombies are popular because they’re “the leveller.”   Whereas vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural beings each have their own advantages, zombies have relatively few.  They’re slow.  They’re stupid.  They stumble.  You can trick them easily.  Nonetheless, they keep on coming.  And it doesn’t matter how smart or fast you are, if you’re a human and there’s a bunch of zombies coming your way, they’re probably going to get you.  Before zombies, all men are equal.

He also suggested that zombies are at a tipping point, of sorts.  Kenemore said that his favorite reviewer wrote, of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, that it was either the best kung-fu movie ever made, or not even a kung-fu movie at all.  It transcended its genre and opened up new possibilities for all filmmakers and film viewers.  Zombie movies are due this same kind of epiphany.

A nice conversation all around and a very nice fella.  A couple other fun tidbits:

  • Some people take the book to be a serious self-help book.
  • Kenemore’s keynote zombie story is H.P. Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model.”
  • Making fast zombies is to give them one too many advantages.  They’re better off slow.
  • Having written the zombie book gives him lots of street cred with rock musicians.

Plus, he was nice enough to sign the copies students (and your humble narrator) brought to class.

Born Standing Up

by Steve Martin

Steve Martin I thoroughly enjoyed Martin’s description of his early days as a stand up comedian. He starts early and proceeds through the premiere of The Jerk. In part, he describes it as a project that returns to an era he’d left behind, but it also seems like an excellent way to write “part 1” of his memoirs.

  • I love the depth he articulates in his logic behind on-stage shenanigans like the bunny ears shown here.
  • I had no idea how long he spent before he was pretty famous (14 years doing stand up) and how famous he eventually got. He was the biggest concert comedian ever. It’s unclear whether he still holds that record. I’m reminded of when I read Bob Newhart’s charming autobiography, which featured a similar revelation.
  • Apparently his first concert album had lots of bumps and squeaks from the physical moments of his act. Rather than turning off his audience, it made his shows MORE sought after.
  • He met Elvis when he was opening for Ann Margaret.
  • He worked at Disneyland as a kid when it first opened.

An enjoyable and involving read. I sacrificed an hour past my usual cutoff for sleep to finish it last night. Well worth it.

A quick survey of zombie comics

I decided, at the last minute, to have my students look at some zombie comics as our last day’s reading, to talk a bit about how comics are contributing/ shaping the genre.  Rather than having them buy the comics, I’m just loaning them stuff from my collection.  Here are the comics I’m bringing to class tomorrow (in no particular order):

  • The Walking Dead volumes 1, 2+, 3+ by Kirkman
  • The Goon volumes 0, 1* by Powell
  • Criminal Macabre: a cal macdonald story* By Niles
  • Remains by Niles
  • Fragile + by Raffaele
  • Aleister Arcane* by Niles
  • The Dark Horse Book of the Dead by misc
  • The Living and the Dead (2 copies.  Whoops!) by Jason
  • Zombieworld: Winter’s Dregs and Other Stories, Champion of the Worms (2 copies), Dead End, Tree of Death by misc
  • Dead Eyes Open issues 1,3,4,6 +
  • Dead West + by Spears

* Not strictly about zombies, but featuring them
+ I haven’t read this yet

I’m planning to have the students sign the comics out and return them the next day.  Students who fail to return the comics will not get their grade until they do so.  (I’m sure that will work just fine.)  I’m also going to make an online zombie comic available as reading material, namely:

  • Flight of the Living Dead by Scott Ewan (not to be confused with the film by the same name)