Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Lamentable Oscar Oversight, Political Vids Designed to Amuse and Enlighten, and a Urine-Gargling Deer Video

Oscar nominations are in as of yesterday morning. Overall, the choices were predictable and honored those studios who no doubt mounted rigorous campaigns for their favored films. "Departed", probably the best film of 2006, was appropriately honored, I thought. Picture, Director, Screenplay. I really liked seeing Wahlberg get a Supporting Actor nomination. The lines written for him were genius, and he delivered them perfectly. (Isn't it weird that Marky Mark and the lead in "Fear" is now an Oscar nominee?) My one major problem with the nominations this year was this: "Borat" got a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay while "Prestige" (and countless other deserving scripts, I'm sure) was ignored in that category. If the Academy doesn't think Christopher Nolan and his brother wrote one of the best adapted scripts of the year, fine -- no one would ever accuse them of having exceptional taste -- but to honor "Borat" with a nomination? A movie that was a collection of clever bits Cohen improved his way through, all of which is hung on a weak Borat-Has-To-Marry-Pam-Anderson plotline? Not to defame a movie I thought was pretty funny, but Best Adapted Screenplay? I'm guessing Academy members (or is it just Writers' Guild members who do the screenplay noms? Shawn?) just wanted to see what funny things Cohen will say if he goes up and gets the award. And for that reason, I bet there's a good chance he'll get it.

Also, some fantastic political video clips this week. Here's one of Wolf Blitzer interviewing Darth Cheney. This thing is guaranteed to make you squirm. Okay, maybe not Heath. What's especially good about the clip comes at the end when Wolf starts asking Darth about the fact his lesbian daughter's having a child with another woman. in response, Cheney levels Wolf with his Lidless Eye of Sauron and Wolf withers beneath its unclean glare. He stammers and stutters and retreats. If I didn't hate Cheney with a purple passion, I'd almost have to hand it to him for so completely discombobulating a member of the press, especially the usually unflappable Blitzer. I think Wolf's problem was trying to join two completely different sentiments, one being a phony journo congratulations on Cheney's new granddaughter, and the other being a tough (and legitimate) question regarding the Vice President's hypocrisy on the subject of gay rights. It was too difficult a transition to make for ole Wolf, though I commend him for making the attempt. It must have something to do with the Cheneys. Uberbitch Lynne Cheney also gave Wolf hell, though she had even less reason to be so than her husband. Anyway, this is what happens when you deal with a politician who's cranky by nature and is entirely unconcerned with their political future. Disdain for the press times a hundred.

And here's Chuck Hagel making an impassioned speech about the war. Nary a thing he says in this clip is untrue, and he says it well. You should check it out -- it's just good.

Also, Obama calls out FoxNews for its completely lame-ass smear job it did on him last week. Some right-wing website publishes a completely uncorroborated report that Obama had attended a madrassah when he was a small child. FoxNews, because they are in no way a legitimate news organization, aired the story on the air without any independent sourcing of their own, and now a lot of regular folks believe that at some point in Obama's life, he was Muslim. Truth is neither his white Kansan mother or his secular Kenyan father (who he saw once his whole life) was a Muslim and he is and has been for some time, a Christian. Also, a madrassah is essentially Muslim grad school, so Obama being in one at the age of 8 or so, is ludicrous on its face, But the damage is done and Obama called them out in this letter, by name. And the thing is FoxNews's position is indefensible, so if they're smart they'll just take it. Which means they probably won't.

And just to round off all this political stuff with some uplifting news, here's a link to a Rolling Stone article that talks about the still-possible Gore run. James Carville thinks he'd be damn formidable and would be absolutely shocked if he didn't run. I hope I hope I hope. The wife hopes, too. Even more than me, if that's possible.

Well, the wife's back from India and she saw a whole lot of it. I don't want to attempt a rough transcript of what she told me, but I'll say that based on her first-person account, my opinion of India, already low, has hit absolute bottom-of-the-Marianas-Trench levels. Talk about a country fatally hamstrung by a religion-inspired c'est la vie outlook on its dire national problems. 60% of Indians live in filthy slums. 20% are homeless. When asked about the trenchant poverty, the other 20% of middle-class and outright rich Indians tell you the desperately poor are "content" in their slums or begging on the streets. No problems here! What's to fix? Anyway, I'm going on and on and I didn't even go. She took lots of excellent and well-framed digital photographs during her travels, and also, incidentally, a video clip. I'll just put the link here. Who knew Indian stags were such horny freaks? Anyway, good times -- take a look.

And finally, one space or two? Up until this past week I didn't know ANYONE was using a single space between sentences, but I now realize I, in fact, am the only one still using two spaces. Is it really just me? How widespread is this one-space epidemic?

Aaaaand I'm out.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"Godfather" Makes Demands on My Time, "Rome", and Some Deeply Inane Ramblings on the Field of Democratic Contenders

Hey dudes and dudettes. I know -- I've been sucking it as a blogger lately what with my rambling and infrequent postings. Here's what I've got working against me. I'm going to be 30 in less than a month, and my current plan to stave off the crushing depression that may or may not accompany that landmark birthday is to have my goddamn novel done and done. I'm on page 293 of a polishing line-edit on my 497-page tome you're all no doubt tired of hearing about, and I want to get that done before the 11th. Now here's the other thing I've had working both against this admirable goal and bloggin' this week. I've been sick.

The illness goes by the name of "The Godfather" for the XBox 360, and man have I been suffering. Stumble out of bed at noon because I stayed up till 3 the night before playing "Godfather", fix a shitty lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich with a tasteless stack of pretzels to go with it, all washed down with some DC (Diet Coke for the uninitiated), and I set all that bizness on the coffee table and pick up the beautiful white 360 controller and get things rolling. "The Godfather" game, which is not a new title and was just modded out for the 360, is damn playable. Addictive even. When I was playing it, I didn't even want to be playing it, but I felt compelled. If I extort just one more business, I thought, the whole game will be different. One more hit for Don Corleone and I'll get a promotion to Underboss. I played it a lot. There's a helpful/depressing play-counter that comes up each time you save the game that lets you know EXACTLY how long you've been playing. I think by the time I beat the game by becoming Don of New York, I'd put in a full day's worth. The big 24. One of the fun things (more fun when you first start playing) is that you can design a character that looks like you. Well, pretty close. My guy looked more like Ben Affleck than me, (they didn't have a setting for my particular hairline, which would have really sold it), but it was close enough to be funny. When my brother came by to play (he bought the game for the PS2 a few days later such is its addictive quality), we designed a character that looked like him, down to what he was wearing, which was a total white guy-looking yellow button-up shirt. Watching a bearded, yellow shirt-wearing Patrick run around Little Italy extorting small business owners was hilarious. Anyway, I packed it back up in its GameFly mailing sleeve and mailed that mutha off. My fever has broken. I am free.

In other news, the wife gets back tomorrow from India. She's on her way to France right now if she's not already there. From gay Paree straight to the equally sophisticated environs of Hotlanta. It'll be good to have her back.

I've been watching the first season of "Rome" on DVD. I forgot how many of those first epsiodes I'd already seen. As a result, the first disk was just a rehash so I was kinda sorta looking forward to the second disk but, wouldn't you know it, the disk is scratched and wouldn't play any of the three episodes in their entirety. I think I'm done with "Rome" now. Not just because I can't actually watch the 3rd 4th and 5th episodes, but also because I don't really care what happens to these characters. When wifey first told me they were doing the show a bunch of years ago (I think at the time Warner Bros. had something to do with it), I was excited about it. It sounded like an exploration of the politics of ancient Rome, which sounded to me like a great idea. In actuality, however, the show they finally came up with feels like a fairly disinterested summarizing of great swaths of Roman history populated with generally unlikable characters. What fun. Also, the show depicts Rome at its height to be not as grandiose as it seemed in movies like "Gladiator", but more rundown and sparsely populated. Weeds spring up from the cobblestones, and the like. It's an expensive show from all accounts, but the sets look like sets and the extras look and act like extras. It isn't a convincing or terribly compelling portrait of that time. So I wash my hands of it. Thought you'd all like to know about that.

Mmm, politics. Both Hillary and Obama jumped into the presidential race this week. I feel like we just finished with the Bush/Kerry election, now we're doing it again? Hillary's not a completely unappealing candidate, but she's positioning herself too strenuously for the general election. If she gets the nomination it will be with the same feeling of weary resignation with which the Dems nominated John Kerry for President. No one was terribly excited about Kerry (my un-excitement culminated with his speech at the Democratic National Convention when he saluted the audience and said, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty", at which point he snapped off the salute. How could anyone not be unexcited after that?), and no one seems excited about Hillary. (Though the idea of getting Bill back in the White House has its charm). People are enthusiastic about Obama because he's an appealing candidate, nevermind what he thinks. Unlike Hillary he can speak well and doesn't always come off like he's making political calculations everytime he opens his mouth. His candor on "Meet the Press" last year when Russert pressed him on a possible run was refreshing, and immediately set him apart. But what does he think? Yes, he was against the war back when it counted, but he wasn't in the Senate then to actually cast a vote like all those other poor saps. So far as I know, that's the only positions he has. When asked about the other issues that generally divide the electorate, his stock answer is to speak extemporaneously about coming together and unity. I like unity as much as the next guy, but the fact is as an electorate we're divided right down the middle. Sooner or later, he's going to piss off somebody when he takes a position on an issue. Whether it's the liberals (whom Hillary's pissed off with her so-far unregretted vote for the war), or the conservatives remains to be seen, but right now all of this early excitement seems way premature. Besides, I'm still holding out for Gore. I know. Fat chance, and getting fatter all the time. Still I hope.

Anyway, if you got all the way through that congrats. Enjoy your Sunday.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Rambling MLK Day Post

I'm watching the Golden Globes. Warren Beatty just got off the stage after a rambling, un-written speech for his Lifetime Achievement Award. Now Speilberg's up to give the best director award. Two noms for Clint. Yawn. C'mon, Marty. Marty... yeah. He got it. I hope this presages his getting it next month.

Anyway. So Matt Drudge. Son of a bitch. I don't know if any of you happened to catch the top headline on his page yesterday, but he gave away the end to tonight's ending of "24", which was, and I'm going to give it away here [SPOILER!]: the detonation of a nuclear weapon in Los Angeles. I don't know how surprised I would have been to have watched that ending because Drudge told me all about it last night. But I bet it might have been an effective and shocking TV moment. Anyway, like I said, what a son of a bitch. I even wrote him an email. I was completely polite within, no profanity or threats, but I'm sure it'll go right into the hate mail trash file. Bastard.

Also. My Crown Vic. The wheel the car thieves smashed has been acting up of late. Whenever I engage the brake actually. I took it to Brake-O and they wouldn't touch it because they didn't have the hubcap key. The tire guys who put new tires on my car last year didn't need it. The people who fixed my car after the theft asked for it, but then figured it out without my help. These guys: no dice. So now, before I can have my brakes fixed, I'll either have to order a hubcap key or take it to a Ford dealership where they'll happily charge me 200% over what anyone else would charge. Anyway, that's what I was dealing with today -- thought I'd whine in print.

Finally. I saw "Children of Men" on Friday night, but before I get to that, what is going on with admission prices? What is it in Los Angeles these days? $13? Is the ArcLight at $20 yet? My shitty AMC is charging $9.25 for an evening show. Matinees end at 4PM. It used to be 5. Anywho. "Children of Men". Frickin' great and damn harrowing. Cuaron did an amazing job and everyone should see this one, even if it is $9.25.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Brian Says "Read 'The Road'"

I finished Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" this afternoon. Nevermind the terrible cover, the book's amazing. There are no chapter breaks, only double spaces between sections. The prose is stark -- in most cases McCarthy's sentences make Hemingway's writing look wordy and overcooked. My intention was to pick up the book from time to time but it didn't work out like that. I got 70 pages in yesterday and then sped through the rest today. Yes, the story's setting is unceasingly bleak, but it feels important; elemental. McCarthy assigns no character names to his two main characters, referring to them only as "the man" and "the boy". This minimalism, combined with a litany of stripped down sentences appearing to give little more than the basic facts of the story, gives the impression that "The Road" isn't just a story, but one of The Stories.

The man and the boy, a father and son, walk down a road pushing a shopping cart filled with their belongings. A nuclear war years ago killed off most everyone else. Nuclear winter obscures the sun and food exists only as what the first wave of scroungers. Though they're mostly on their own, the biggest threat to their existence, aside from starvation, are other people, many of whom have been driven to cannibalism by the scarcity of food. Harrowing throughout, but damn riveting. Not a moment of this book seemed off-key to me, but many parts were illuminating and nightmarish at the same time. I thought at various times while reading the book, "Would people really do that to one another?, but then again, of course they would. When a Mahdi army soldier in Iraq boasts to a reporter a month ago about how he uses a drill on the skulls of his live victims, how can a sane person underestimate the depravity humans are capable of? This is how the end of the world could very well look and its sobering and moving. The ending of the book is brilliantly done and makes perfectly clear from a technical standpoint why the crushing despair that preceded it was necessary. Emotionally, the ending's a wrecking ball. Anyway, it's damn good stuff and I reccomend it.

In somewhat related news, tonight Bush gave his speech trying to justify sending an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq. Did anyone else watch this? Was it just me or did it seem like he was bringing his Texas ranch-hand accent down a few notches to make himself seem like less of an asshole? Anyone think it'll work?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Herein I Rehash Yet Another Lecter Movie. This Time It's "Red Dragon"

Watched "Red Dragon" tonight, just like I threatened I was going to do yesterday. I saw it in theaters years back and liked it, though with misgivings, mostly about Norton's age and Hopkin's spare tire that no amount of strenuous girdling can disguise. I don't feel much like writing coherently tonight, so I'll just write my thoughts up in list form.

What I Liked:
1) The conversation Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton have right before Graham puts two and two together and realizes Lecter's the killer. It's fascinating to see in that brief conversation how Hopkins' Lecter would have acted in polite company. In "Silence" Hannibal can say whatever he pleases. He can be rude without fear of consequence. In this brief scene we see him in his human clothes and Hopkins makes some great choices, or so they say in actorly parlance. Sure, Hopkins is too portly and too old to be entirely believable this go-round, but he's damn good so he makes some good stuff from what he has to work with. (Did you know that it was Hopkins' performance in "Elephant Man" that inspired Demme to consider him for the role of Lecter? Pretty interesting.)

2.) Ralph Fiennes performance. I thought he was brilliant when I first saw the movie and I was struck once more by how effortlessly he shifts from terrifying to vulnerable, all without ever appearing to overact or ham it up. Is Fiennes like the new Jeff Bridges? In that he's the guy who's one of the best actors working but always manages to so lose himself in each role that you forget about the actor on-screen? I don't know. Fiennes is always good. From "The Constant Gardener" to "Harry Potter", dude does it all.

3.) Some of Ratner's choices are actually good. I like that he used the same style of titles as they did in "Silence" to signal a locale change. Also there a few scenes in flourescently-lit police-building milieus that look so much like scenes in "Silence" that you might be fooled into thinking Tak himself had shot them. I also like that the actor who played Dr. Chilton in "Silence" is back, though I wish Scott Glenn had reprised his role as Crawford. Harris's Jack Crawford character has been portrayed in three movies by three different guys but only once did they get the casting right. Harvey Keitel? Really?

4.) Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. To me it's kind of lazy and you almost get the sense that Hoffman doesn't actually like the character he's playing (which is not to say he doesn't enjoy doing the role, only that he doesn't in any way sympathize with the character), but it works and it's funny. When Hoffman's leaving the office after conducting a fake interview with Edward Norton, he says, "Nice working with you," and then, softly, "...chumps." Hilarious. I'd forgotten that line.

5.) Ted Tally's script. Guy knows how to put a screenplay together. He handles the false ending beautifully.

Things I didn't Like:
1) The movie's set in the 80s, about the time that Harris's novel came out, but Ratner never really seems to go for it. Yeah you see the old 80s Crown Vics driving around, but what about the ridiculous 80s haircuts? Edward Norton's bleached-by-the-sun do looks pretty goofy, but not particularly 80s. Thinking back I am remembering certain aspects of it that were blatantly 80s (Frank Whaley's Member's Only jacket for instance), but no would ever mistake this movie for a period movie, which I think was a missed oppurtunity.

2.) Edward Norton's performance. He did an interview with The Onion's AV Club (which I think is still up -- here's a link), where he talked about giving restrained performances, probably speaking specifically about his work in "The Illusionist". I didn't have a problem with him hanging back in that film, but in "Red Dragon", I think he takes the restraint too far, particularly at the end. When he realizes that Dolarhyde has come to his Florida home and may or may not have his son, his eyes don't really change. They convey no emotion. He doesn't appear scared. I'm not sure I wanted to see wide, terrified eyes, but I would have liked some indication that he was really scared, or freaked out in some way. He's so emotionally withdrawn in that scene it's as if Ratner shot a run through of the sequence and just kept it in the movie. Part of what was so brilliant about Jodie Foster's performance in "Silence" was what she did in the green glow of Buffalo Bill's night-vision goggles. You could see how terrified she was in that scene, and, at least for me, her stark terror heightened my involvement in the film. By contrast, when Norton opens the door and finds Dollarhyde with a mirror shard to his son's throat, his choice is to look disappointed rather than panic-y or even hyper-intense. There was an air of unreality about it that I think was half Norton's fault and half Ratner's fault for not caring enough to get the best performance.

Overall, though, I have to say "Red Dragon"'s a pretty good movie. Still miles away from "Silence" and, to me, not quite as good as "Hannibal", but nothing to sneeze at. I can't reasonably say that Ratner had nothing to do with it being a good movie, but I do think having a good Harris novel and a good Tally adaptation of that novel helped steer Ratner away from his usual tendency which is to ... I don't know. Soldier through the boring directing part and look forward to the wrap party and skeezing on chicks or angling for his next gig?

Anyway. Also, Shawn asked if I was going to have any comment on the new Harris novel, "Hannibal Rising". Actually, I was avoiding this one because the reviews confirmed that it was exactly what it appeared to be: a cheap quickie book published to coincide with the quickie De Laurentiis film of the same name coming out in a month or so. The Times said he was obviously "bored" with Lecter and I didn't want to read a half-hearted Harris novel, much less a half-hearted Lecter novel. But then some horror writer/readers did some reviews, and though they didn't rave about the book, they said it was worthwhile for fans of his previous books. So, being one of those, I picked it up just a couple days ago. I'm planning to read it when I get through with McCarthy's "The Road", which I just started today.

Hey, you know what's a bad idea? Reading McCarthy and then reading one's own work. Whoo. That's a work stopper.

Anyway. I's is outs.

Monday, January 08, 2007

"Hannibal" and "M.A.S.H.": Dissected

While I'm printing my book out (which is taking forever -- who knew printing 497 pages could require such close supervision?), I thought I'd jump on here and offer some of my world-class opinions on some movies I saw recently on DVD.

1.) M.A.S.H. When my folks exclaimed in disbelief at dinner a couple weeks ago, "You haven't seen the original M.A.S.H.?", I decided to fill in that objectionable gap in my filmgoing career and put it in the queueueue on our Blockbuster NetFlix-ripoff. It came and, in the spirit of two dutiful film-studies freshman doing homework, my wife and I watched it. I give "M.A.S.H." props for realism and a feeling of showing how things were without trying to make the characters seem more likable or the tone-skewing gore less gory, and it has an episodic, I-Hate-Plot sort of feel which isn't always a bad thing. Overall, though, the film's wildly uneven and some of the comic set pieces have more in common with one of those straight-to-video National Lampoon movies than with movies currently recognized as comic masterpieces, like, say, "Dr. Strangelove". The football game that serves as the film's titular climax just seemed very weird to me. It was as though someone had cut and pasted an earlier draft of the big game from "The Longest Yard" (the remake, not the original) into the "M.A.S.H." script and everyone was too high to notice.

2.) "Hannibal". Of course I've seen this movie (3 times in theaters) but I had a hankering to watch it again because I'd been listening to Hans Zimmer's excellent and gloriously overblown score of late. I loved loved this movie when it first came out, and I really like Thomas Harris's novel of the same name (and I didn't even hate the book's end, the one that killed any chance Jodie Foster or Jonathan Demme might return to the franchise). Watching it again I found myself more unhappy this time than last that Anthony Hopkins couldn't be bothered to drop a few pounds before filming. Hannibal Lecter is the character he'll be remembered for; I find it a real letdown that Hopkins wasn't more committed to bringing Lecter back to life. It wasn't as if he'd have had to forego eclairs and barbecue chicken wings forever, just until "Hannibal" wrapped. I understand that in the 10 or more years that elapsed between Lecter's fedora-wearing island walk at the end of "Silence" and the moment when Pazzi shakes hands with Dr. Fell in "Hannibal", and people change in 10 years, even monsters. But still, it's hard to imagine the larger-than-life killing-and-eating-machine Lecter letting himself go to fat no matter how much he likes food. Might slow him down when he'd most need to be agile.

Aside from that though, some of the sequences that I thought worked like gangbusters back in '02 still work like gangbusters now. (Like every damn scene in Florence, particularly the hanging of Commendatore Pazzi). And the way Ridley Scott and the actors handled the Krendler brain-eating scene at the end perfectly captured how goddamn horrifying that scene was in the book. Seeing the film again made me want to not only reread the novel, but also to revisit the Ratner-directed "Red Dragon", which I thought was only so-so when I saw it in theaters, mostly on account of the miscasting of Edward Norton and the even more regrettable portliness of Anthony Hopkins in a film considering the fact it's set BEFORE "Silence of the Lambs". Maybe they can go back through "Red Dragon" and do to Hopkins's face (and gut) what Ratner did to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan's faces in "X-Men 3". That would be some Lucas-style meddling I'd be all for. Anyway I've got "Red Dragon" sitting here on my desk all ready to get its ass watched.

I feel like there were more movies I was going to talk about, but they've all gone out of my head. I sure haven't seen any in theaters lately. "For Your Consideration" was the last movie I saw, though I think "Children of Men" will be the next. Haven't read a non-rave for that movie.

Anyway, book's done printing. I'm out.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Frozen wastes. A spectral Lovecraftian sky. Bodies half-buried in the snow. All on the cover of a novel with the words "The Terror" written across its front. It was as if they'd designed this book with me in mind. With a Barnes & Noble's gift card in hand, I was helpless not to buy the damn thing. This is how you sell literary horror.

Anyway, just thought I'd share with you this melding of the perfect cover design with the perfect title. On to the enjoying of the weekend.

A Hook for a Book

On the 15th of last month, an anonymous literary agent by the name of Miss Snark began accepting 'hooks' from unpublished novels written by the readers of her blog. For the price of on the house, she would apply her agent-tastic market sensibilities to each and every hook (which could be no more than 250 words), and offer suggestions on how to punch it up and make it more hook-y. If she liked it, she'd ask for pages, which later on she'd also post up on her blog, and then critique those. Even if she loved the material, she wasn't offering representation -- the process was intended only as a service to her readers and to supply her book marketing seminars with teachable material. She's done this sort of thing before, previously with first pages and synopses, and she refers to the whole exercise as a "Crapometer", which kind of presupposes the entries will all be crap, though, as with most unpublished fiction, that's a pretty safe assumption.

After a bit of hemming and hawing (who me?), I decided to take part in Snark's Crapometer and, at about 3AM on the morning of the 16th, I submitted a hook for my novel, "Claudine". (The rules stated that she would only read entries submitted between 8PM on the 15th and 8AM on the 16th.) All in all she received 682 hooks, of which mine was #617. She got to mine on the 29th of last month. This is what I submitted and what she reviewed:
"Miller Sturtevant wants a new house. He’s a handsome and slightly geeky CEO on the verge of a record-breaking IPO and he wants to trade up. Problem is his wife’s fine where they are, and he’s developed an irrational fixation on a gated community called Canaan Cove that’s never once put a house on the market. When a pair of residents die in a suspicious explosion, the neighborhood quickly offers Miller the newly-vacant house.

The moving trucks aren’t gone a week before Miller realizes there’s something’s very strange about his new neighborhood. The weird guardhouse attendant who never takes a day (or night) off, the dog next door that hurls itself against its chain all night long without making a sound, and cryptic, half-whispered mentions of a “machine” all have Miller wondering what the hell his neighbors are really up to. When a violent encounter with Christopher Rounsaville, the crazed President of the Homeowner’s Association, ends in a broken nose and a not-so-veiled reference to Miller’s role in Rounsaville’s mysterious plan, Miller’s suddenly thinking of ways out of Canaan. He soon discovers, however, that his captors have thought of everything. They need him for something and they’re not taking their eyes off him for a second.

A handwritten note promising a chance for escape changes everything. Soon after, Miller is immersed into a world of cults, murderous zealots, ritualized violence, and alternate dimensions that will reveal the terrible path Miller must travel to finally escape from Canaan Cove."

That took a few hours and 6 or 7 drafts to get to and even now as I read it, I want to re-write it. Two-hundred and fifty words is plenty for a log-line, but to hook someone's interest, it doesn't feel like a lot to work with. You can click here to find out what Miss Snark had to say about my hook, and then, if you want, click the comments to see what some other Snark acolytes chimed in with. She wasn't too hooked as you can see, but I'd say her comment fell somewhere in the middle range out of the other 681 submissions. For some a simple "WTF!?" sufficed, while she told others to re-think their entire books. So I'm weirdly relieved not to have gotten that kind of reaction. Anyway, thought I'd post it up and give the uninitiated a taste of what I've been working on for way too long.

Have a good weekend, folks.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Alone and Drawing Boards in the New Year. Also: Saddam's Execution

Happy New Year!

Oh-seven has begun, and with its arrival has come the gift of paid labor, and the sorrow of spousal abandonment. Two days ago my wife left for India on her annual trip to places located outside this country. It's part of her business school curriculum, and because she's traveling with a bunch of other b-school students and teachers, I'm not too worried. She called last night for a minute or so from the airport in Mumbai to let me know all was well and that she was alive. In any event, she's left me to my own devices for three weeks. I'm sure it'll be fine for a while, but I figure by the end of the 3 weeks I'll be pretty well tired of life in Decatur with just me and the cat.

The paid labor I referred to is a new storyboard gig, this time for a commercial for a prescription canker sore medicine. The spot's pretty funny, or should be. If you see a burly guy in a pink body suit using a flamethrower on your TV screens some months from now, you'll know that's the spot I was talking about way back on January 4th. After it's aired, maybe I'll post up some of the boards.

In world news, the Iraqis -- or to be more specific the minions of Sunni cleric Moqtada al Sadr -- hanged Saddam Hussein just before the new year, and the cell phone-video taken of the scene has now been widely distributed on the internet. Yesterday posted it up with a prominently featured link, complete with "Warning: Graphic" tag, seemingly daring users to click and watch the final seconds of Saddam. I already blabbed in this space about how I thought it was wrong to execute Saddam (or anyone actually), but I'd say the snippets I've seen from these ghastlty videos says much better than I can that no matter how you gussy it up, murder's still pretty much just murder. (For the record, I've seen the first video that was released which cuts off as the noose is being fitted around Hussein's neck; of the full snuff-film version, I've seen just the first few seconds). Most of the people complaining about the execution don't seem to be put-off he was executed, only put-off in regards to HOW he was executed. It was less a hanging and more a lynching, they say. For instance, Saddam was taunted by the Shiites who were killing him. They told him to "go to hell" among other things. They wore masks and shouted "Moqtada", referring to the powerful and thuggish Shia cleric who's often described as the real power in Iraq these days. Conspicuously, the Saddam death videos bear a close resemblance to the other snuff movies that have come out of the Arab world since 9/11. The beheading of Daniel Pearl, the beheading of Nick Berg, and other videos featuring masked men murduring helpless Westerners are all done in badly-lit rooms, and feature armed masked thugs and the defenseless victim awaiting their fate. All of them stomach-turning.

I suppose if everyone in the room with Saddam had been solemn and quiet throughout the execution, if someone had hoisted a few 10Ks into the corners to push back some of the dinginess, maybe there wouldn't be this outcry over the execution from the paid chatterers. But I doubt it. I don't think it's the insults or the dinginess or the haste with which the execution was carried out that's got people curiously upset. I think it's the video. For the first time that I can remember, the American people are seeing what an official execution of one of the bad guys looks like, and the fact that it's not all that different from the disgusting Nick Berg video is what's got people feeling bad and then feeling bad about feeling bad because of who's getting killed in an quasi-official way.

So I ask this: if capital punishment looks basically the same no matter what milieu it's placed in, might that suggest that the death we deal in this country -- brightly-lit, solemn and unmasked as it is -- has the same stink of murder to it as what was done to Saddam? Maybe I'm being optimistic, or maybe I'm overstating the level of outcry, but perhaps the nausea some folks feel over what was done to a mass-murderer like Saddam doesn't bode too well for capital punishment in the U.S. Then again, maybe I am being overly optimistic.

Anyway, enough of the high horse.