book recommendations: Sudden Mischief, Dark Rivers of the Heart, and The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick
Released in 1998, Sudden Mischief is among the easy readable and equally easily forgettable dozens of Robert B. Parker's Spencer detective series. I read Parker—almost solely—to learn how to utilize dialogue in my own writing more cleanly and effectively. As a master dialogian (dialogist?), Parker is capable of quickly moving his plot utilizing hundreds of pages of succinct dialogue, as if he were writing a screenplay. This chapter in the lives of Spencer, Susan, and Hawk differs slightly in that Parker attempts to utilize more description and Spencer doesn't kill anyone.
This paperback, available at used bookstores the world over for less than a cup of American Starbucks coffee, will keep you awake for about the same amount of time and—tomorrow—will be as memorable.
Dark Rivers of the Heart, published in 2000, is an abnormally unusual Dean Koontz novel because it contains nothing abnormal or unusual: no genetic mutations, no aliens, no other-worldly monsters, no alternate dimensions and no psych-powers. I read Koontz to watch and learn from his ability to smoothly switch character viewpoint as well as tense (whether returning from a flashback or from a story-line running parallel: never a hitch, always an invisible seam), to revel in his milieu descriptions, and to understand his use of suspense-heightening tone.
This 'evil-government' story: tech-spy thriller meets routine serial-killer, is more grounded in reality than what one expects from the twisted imagination of Koontz. It is available to borrow from your public library.
I've always adored Philip K. Dick's short stories more than his novels (which were never long). Although his voice is dark, pessimistic, and—at times—overly heavy, he has a keenly inquisitive eye on the questions: what is reality and what is life. His ability to imagine what-if and extrapolate a believable answer worked into an environment tickling with details, has always made me envious. This collection of his essays, speeches, and brief excerpts from his mammoth-8,000 page philosophical journal Exegesis (together with a helpful introduction by Lawrence Sutin) provides a perspective on Dick's sometimes whacky, sometimes ordinary, sometimes addled thoughts. (As if one were able to read his blog!) For speculative fiction fans, this book is worth the price of a new CD. Own it today. When in need of a reality check: read PKD.
I enjoyed Frank Miller's Sin City: The Hard Goodbye more than I thought I would. I was sucked into reading (is 'view' more appropriate when there are more images to look at than words to read?) this graphic novel--the first of it's series--after watching a trailer for the soon to be released film and getting snagged by the unique, dark, computerized backgrounds with the characters in shadow.
Graphic novel fans will adore the characters and gritty milieu of this book (which I am certain will cause them to read the series). I, however, am not addicted to the viewing of images--needing words to slake my imagination's craving for fuel. So, I will not be viewing more of this series.
I will see the film, however, and include a review of it in my next film review article.
digital rendering by veach st. glines, creative commons license 2005
To accurately critique films one needs to be able to identify errors and mistakes made by filmmakers. Errors are the intentionally chosen—but visually jarring—visuals or sounds, which can be blamed on: producers, directors, cinematographers, and editors. Mistakes are unintended visuals that ‘slipped through’ the editing process.
In the multi-billion-dollar Hollywood-studio industry, mistakes and errors are unforgivable. When a big-budget movie contains obvious flaws, the dozens or even hundreds of people responsible (who were very well paid) should be punished. The only punishment available in our—the audience’s—toolbox is to ban the director’s movies from our pocketbook. Just don’t pay that director anymore.
I disagree with the stand that independent filmmakers, painted with the brush "artist," should be held to a lower standard, concerning their mistakes, but to a higher standard, concerning their errors, than studio filmmakers. Ban independent directors who make mistakes and errors equally with their higher paid Hollywood-craftsmen brethren.
Mistakes can be covered in one broad stroke. The most common mistake is film equipment in frame. Pinned or taped microphones (or batteries) visible under actors clothing; contact lenses in Cleopatra’s eyes; shadows of equipment or crew in scene; these filmmaker mistakes are the equivalent of a writer not proof-reading his work and sending it to his editor who doesn’t proof-read the work and sends it to a publisher, who doesn’t proof-read it before printing. To create a flawed movie—and not correct it’s mistakes—is sufficient reason to never pay to watch a film made by this director in the future.
I don't give a rat fuck that it was too expensive to re-shoot or too late because of the schedule. The director should have hired a better assistant director who should have been a better scheduler. This is not negotiable: Create bad work, don't get paid.
The movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance is rife with boom microphones at the top of the screen, which can only be attributed to: Robert Redford, the director. He may be a successful actor (I enjoyed his performance in Three Days of the Condor, for which I credit that director, Sydney Pollack). Some people admire Redford’s Sundance persona. But, face it. He's a poor director. I say: don’t pay him. Don’t rent The Horse Whisperer, if you haven’t wasted two hours with it yet and don’t pay to go see Aloft, which is due to be released the summer of 2005.
Errors are less general and, accordingly, can be listed.
SNAPRULE #1: Never do something different only once.
In The Upside of Anger, directed by Mike Binder, there is only one scene utilizing special effects. This strong, five-second scene jolts the remainder of the two-hour movie with its lone uniqueness. Although the main character sees things in ‘her minds eye’ three times—the head of a man she despises ‘explodes’, her dancing daughter ‘becomes’ the lead in a ballet, and her four children ‘instantly grow’ from children to adults—only one scene utilizes any special effects (blood spatter from the explosion and falling body parts). It becomes, like a gorilla in the bathroom, a focal point detrimental to the whole by it’s presence.
SNAPRULE #2: Plot continuity should never be lost.
This is not to imply that everything needs to be explained; some of the best stories ‘leave the audience hanging’. In The Upside of Anger, however, the main character is adamant with one of her daughters about where she is permitted to attend college. Fast-forward a few seasons. The daughter is in a hospital in another state and the main character must drive a long way to visit. Why? Did the daughter win a battle that ended on the cutting room floor? Was she attending the college she wanted? The audience should not have to wonder; one line of dialogue would have snipped this hanging plot thread.
Mike Binder has also directed poorly in the past: Blankman. After his errors in Upside of Anger, he should not get any of your future hard-earned money when he releases his next film Man About Town (and not just because it stars Ben Affleck, but because he’s an extremely unskilled director).
SNAPRULE #3: Never show the same scene twice.
In Swordfish, badly directed by Dominic Sena, the ‘money shot’ is re-shown in a flashback. Many thousands of bullet-shots and explosions in the street, the bank, and the surrounding vehicles are impressive. The second time around it’s, “Hey, did you guys see what it looks like to spend nine million dollars for seventy-two seconds worth of film? Let me show you again how great I am, just in case you missed how great I am.”
Dominic Sena repeats his ‘money shot’ in other movies: Gone in Sixty Seconds, and his film Kalifornia may only be good because of Brad Pitt’s abilities and not because of anything Sena accomplished as a director. Ban your families attendance at his upcoming films: A Normal Life, later this year, and Dreadnaught, next year.
In Ong Back: The Thai Warrior, one’s first instinct may be to forgive the director, Prachya Pinkaew, for repeatedly showing three different camera angles of every fantastic stunt, because he’s ‘working from a different palate’. That instinct would be fucking wrong. This mish-mash of camera angles roughly throws the viewer out of the story. Avoid paying to see next years release of Tom Yum Goong because that is the only way to tell Prachya Pinkaew and directors following him to cease this heavy-handed childish shit.
SNAPRULE #4: Never have your cake and eat it, too.
A cliché, which is misunderstood and consequently misused by almost everyone (probably, you included). It’s only correct interpretation: don’t be redundant. Either of the sentences: ‘I’ll have some cake’ or ‘I’ll eat some cake’ will suffice; never, ‘I’ll have some cake to eat.’
Directors should treat their audience as extremely intelligent. Capable of interpreting and understanding vague hints and subtle expressions, audiences don’t need pieces of film exposition blatantly thrown in their face and they never need anything shown to them more than once.
Not to besmirch the acting of Liam Neeson and Laura Linney, but Bill Condon directed Kinsey with no regard for his audience’s intelligence. Repetitiously telling the audience the same, shallow, information about the main character—he’s a nerdy, once sexually repressed, stereotypical man of the 1940’s—with no real substance exposed and almost nothing revealed of his groundbreaking sexual research. This terrible director treated Alfred Kinsey in much the same way, as the prudish, puritanical, snobs of the 40’s and 50’s. Bill Condon is releasing Dreamgirls next year. Avoid it: Spread the word.
Napoleon Dynamite (2004) directed by Jared Hess (Peluca, 2003); starring Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez: Snaprating=WFD, CHARACTER-theme. Fans of Bad Santa will be less ashamed of laughing but may not understand why this deadpan movie makes them giggle so much.
The Jacket (2005) directed by John Maybury (Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, 1998); starring Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley: Snaprating=Cheaper, PROBLEM-theme. Fans of Vanilla Sky will enjoy this cryptic-pic and walk away with a theory about what happened when.
Constantine (2005) directed by Francis Lawrence (directorial debut); starring Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz: Snaprating=WFD, RE-ORDER-theme (secondary MILIEU theme). Fans of good vs. evil battles will like this movie more than Van Helsing because the supporting characters are outstanding.
The Forgotten (2004) directed by Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy, 1991); starring Julianne Moore and Gary Sinise: Snaprating=WFT, PROBLEM-theme. Fans who really loved the two WFT movies: Signs and The Village, will jump off their seat a couple times as long as they overlook the extremely bad editing.
Garden State (2004) directed by Zach Braff (directorial debut); starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman: Snaprating=WFD, RE-ORDER-theme (minor secondary Character-theme). Fans of quirky ironic depictions of everyday-people acting out an interesting script will like this 'Clerks meets Napoleon Dynamite' film.
Alien Vs. Predator (2004) directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, 1997); starring Sanaa Lathan and Raoul Bova: Snaprating=WFD, PROBLEM-theme. Fans of all the Alien and Predator films will discover nothing new or unsuspected as this story successfully pokes fun at itself and it's predecessors.
The Grudge (2004) directed by Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on: The Grudge, 2003); starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jason Behr: Snaprating=WFC, PROBLEM-theme. Fans of the original shouldn't sully their memories with this Americanized re-make which won't scare a 5-year-old (too much).
Saw (2004) directed by James Wan (Stygian, 2000); starring Leigh Whannell and Danny Glover: Snaprating=Cheaper, PROBLEM-theme. Fans of The Cube will notice strong situation and dialogue similarities, but even with flawed acting and directing the plot will keep you in suspense.
The Yes Men (2003) directed by Dan Ollman (directorial debut); starring Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno: Snaprating=WFC, RE-ORDER-theme. Documentary fans may not enjoy this unless watching extremely detailed, embarrassing pranks is entertaining.
September Tapes (2004) directed by Christian Johnston (directorial debut); starring George Calil and Wali Razaqi: Snaprating=WFT, MILIEU-theme (weak PROBLEM secondary theme). 'The Blair Witch Project meets The Killing Fields' in Afghanistan with poor directing, no plot, bad special effects and terrible actors.
A 'SNAPPERHEAD' search revealed my site name is also the name of bands in New Jersey as well as Southern California, software which allows you to receive 'snapshot views' of IP addresses, and--among other less interesting things--a sentence in a now-defunct blog where the author used my title as a noun, '...all I could say at the time was only a snapperhead could stoop...' (last entry in 2003). That blog included this fantasmagoric pic-poster, which I poached.
HISTORY: I bought a black cap from a restaraunt in the early years of the last decade. It had a large red lobster on it. Years later, trying out a managerial tool on my office; playfully with an undertone of but-no-really, I began referring to specific actions as: Snapperhead, Dingleberry, or BMFSA (badmotherfuckin.. 'indoors' and bestmostfinest.. 'outdoors'). The office jumped on the band wagon with both feet. There was a tally board. If you did something snapperheaded you got 'awarded the hat' and displayed it in your office. BMFSA got awarded a very comfortable leather office chair.
- Shot three under par (a double-eagle) on a par 5.
- Traveled through 36 countries on six of the eight continents. (I aspire to visit Antarctica and South America).
- Performed euthanasia on an unfortunate dog using a kennel, a vacuum cleaner hose, a plastic drop cloth and car exhaust. It took less than two minutes.
- Hand fed stingrays while scuba diving in the Caribbean.
- Attended a show where--among other things--a woman painted with a labially clenched brush. I have it framed.
- Viewed movies in 9 countries. In Australia, a ring around a ceiling light fell and cut the head of the person sitting next to me. We had exchanged seats just before the movie started so she could see.
- Obtained a lithograph of an obscure Slovakian artist, which a Croatian Prime Minister previously gifted to the SACEUR, my boss at the time. His wife hated it and threw it away. Their cook recovered it from the trash and took it home. His wife also hated it and gave it to me.
- Got a paper cut riding on the running board of a Suburban behind (then Secretary) Cheney in the ticker-tape parade up Wall Street's Canyon of Heroes, for returning Gulf War troops.
- Investigated an allegation of American WWII soldiers murdering POWs fifty-one years after the fact.
- Watched a Bald Eagle in the wild.
I rolled over as quietly as a Brunswick pin machine. There had to be an--as yet unfound--perfect position where my body would fit between the metal bar severing the nerves at the base of my spine and the one causing my scapula to chafe. Then I might feel like I was undergoing ordinary knife-torture-bliss and not at all like being impaled on a pike. This was our, well my, third night on the torture-rack that was my grandmother's foldout couch.
My wife didn't find sleeping here any problem, but Koreans sleep their whole lives on floors with pillows made from wood-shavings. This must be better. Maybe I should get down on the living room floor. My mind began to wander toward sleep.
Catching-up with relatives can be a whole different type of torture. And last night's dinner at Great-Aunt Myra and Great-Uncle Gerry's was proof that I can bite my own tongue for over four hours.
From the opening salvo:
"You sure gotcha one cute little china doll, there Veach. Only Korean. A Korean china Doll. Hah, that's a good one. Here, want a beer?"
"Hush up, you! And don't mind Gerry, honey. I'd say drinking brings out the asshole in him, but he acts the same way sober."
To the closing bell:
"I didn't make any rice. Is that OK?"
"Sure, I don't eat rice with every meal."
"Oh reeeaaly?" Aunt Myra's eybrows rose with her inflection in a that's-a-fucking-lie tone.
My back was no longer complaining when my wife shot up off the fold-a-bed with a gasp and flail. The sun was up. I must have slept. "What? What's wrong?" I said.
She relaxed and lay facing me. "I just had a terrible dream. We were in one of those large skyscraper buildings like we saw? But we were sitting in the center area where there was a kind of atrium with trees and plants and flowers and a large pond with a waterfall. We were kissing. Your sister, Nancy, came up to us and you turned towards her and she stuck a spear into your chest. There was so much blood and you died." Tears were in her eyes and her breathing was becoming shorter.
"It was a nightmare. I'm fine." I smiled. But I needed to get her mind off the memory, so I asked, "You've never met Nancy. Why do you think it was her?"
"Nana showed me pictures of her a couple nights ago. It was her." So we talked for a while longer about my sister and the dream and after a long few minutes we both went back to sleep.
The phone woke us. It was now mid-morning. Nana answered and after a hurried exchange came into the living room where I was returning the bed to it's less-painful form. Nana said, "Gerry's dead. It must have been a heart attack in his sleep. That was Myra, she found him on the floor about seven this morning after she heard a falling noise from his bedroom."
I recalled the dream. The spear through my chest. I commented on the coincidence that Uncle Gerry would have a massive coronary and my wife--who only met him for a few hours the night before--would have a nightmare involving a spear through my chest at about the same moment. We discussed it with Nana and then decided to notify relatives of the pending funeral.
"Hey, Nance. Haven't talked to you in a while."
"What's up bro? Are you visiting Nana still?"
"Yea. Hey, I can't talk too long, it's her bill and all, you know. But I was just..."
"It's weird that you would call today. I just had a dream about you this morning that woke me up. It was fucking strange."
"What?" I looked over at my wife sitting in the dining room talking with Nana.
"It was soo real. You know how those are? You and I were sitting on the grass in the park next to the duck pond. And--this is the strange shit--we were, like, kissing. I mean we were really going at it. Then your wife came up to us and you and her got in an argument about us makin out and she stuck a knife in your chest. It was fuckin waaay freaky. And I woke up all jumping out of my skin and shit."
"Nancy. You are...I need to tell you..." Again, I looked over at my wife. I was certain if this was a 'game on Veach' she would give it away with a look or a smile. No look. No smirk. "Nance. First off, the reason I called is Uncle Gerry died this morning. Of a heart attack."
"No fuckin way. Wow. Now you're gonna tell me it was around 5 a.m. and that my dream was connected to his death, right?"
"Why...was that when you had the dream?"
"Round then. This is a joke right?"
"You don't know the half of it yet."
Nancy lives two time zones West of Nana. You do the math. It gives me brain-hair-chills just to recount it. I certainly don't understand the invisible underpinnings. I do know they're there and that some people see a shadow of the edge in their dreams.
digital rendering by veach st. glines, creative commons license 2005