Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

To all my readers, Happy New Year.  Be good, and better than you were last year.  I'll see you again on the second, with a blog about the novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  You can read the blog about the movie in the previous entry.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--Movie

Photo: Rooney Mara, from her Wikipedia page.  She and Lisbeth Salander look nothing alike.  I mean that in a positive way, for both.

The blog for the book will come soon.  Just finished it.

But first the movie.

The movie was a must-see on many levels: the genre of the movie and book (as you should know by now, I dig the murder/mystery thing); the positive hype of both; and, perhaps most importantly, David Fincher, the director.

First, a word about him.  Impressive credits, especially Zodiac.  I know he directed Se7en, a good movie but very overrated.  The Social Network was a great film, about technology that has undoubtedly changed many lives (except mine; still don't have a Facebook account)--but, still, a movie about a nerdy, ingenious, socially inept guy, who may or may not have stolen the idea, the rights, and who knows what else.  Not my cup of tea for a subject, but an admittedly great film.  I believe Zodiac and now this movie will push him into the upper-echelon of movie buffs (Fincher's been there for the pros for some time now).  I like Fincher's directing style and the intensity of his films: The Social Network was intense for its genre.  The others are just...intense.  Fight Club, for instance.  (Good, not great.)  Haven't seen Benjamin Button or Panic Room.  They're on my list of things to do.

I also wanted to see this because Steven Zaillian wrote it.  He penned the 'plays for Schindler's List (one of the all-time great screenplays) and for Gangs of New York, also a great screenplay (Daniel Day-Lewis should've won the Oscar for that one).  Of course, he also wrote American Gangster, which was okay, but I'll pass, and Hannibal, which was just bad.  But I'm a return customer for Schindler and Gangs.

Daniel Craig is always good, and it's good to see him do something well besides James Bond.  (Speaking of which, it's about time for another, yes?)  He's a good actor who has not, and will not, get the credit he deserves.  Women swoon over him.  While he's essentially a non-violent Bond in this film, he still played it well.  He's got the Bond charm and charisma going, but he still had other facets going on that went over well.  (Those shots where he's learning something, and the camera stays on his thoughtful and learning face--well, rumor has it that he was simply counting to ten all that time.  He says he counts to ten when he's told he needs to show understanding and learning on film.)

But the cream of the crop here was Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander.  According to Wikipedia, she beat out Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson for the role.  I like the first and am lukewarm by the latter, and they're both too hyped these days.  Mara came out of nowhere.  She played bit parts in several TV shows, a major part in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake (all good actors have to start with a bad horror film, apparently.  See Johnny Depp, Renee Zellweger and too many others to mention), and a small role in Fincher's Social Network.  (Both say that her part in his most recent film did not help her to get The Girl.)

Her character on film is even more realistic than the one on paper I have just finished reading.  That never happens, at least for me.  Without going into much detail, she absolutely nailed this role.  One of the things she did in the film (and possibly this is Fincher's and Zaillian's doing as well) that Salander didn't do in the book was to stay consistent with her mono-syllabic answers and otherwise clipped speech patterns--even to those she liked or cared for.  Frankly, she spoke too often (in spurts) in the book; I have known people (exactly) like Lisbeth Salander, and you'll have to take my word that such folks do not normally converse.  They staccato you, or they rant at you, but they don't converse.  Mara didn't in the movie, either.

In my life, I have seen a Lisbeth Salander many times.  I've seen the anorexia, the internal fury, the speech patterns, the behavior, the anger in the eyes, the massive insecurity, the abuse, the addictions--In short, I've seen it all.  She owned it.  This movie should be seen for her performance alone.  (I dare you to recognize the woman in the film as the one pictured above, but they are the same.)

Sweden itself gives a good performance, too, if you know what I mean.  (I know about 40% of the internal shots were filmed in L.A.)  It's obviously beautiful and cold there.  The free education intrigues me, but the violence and rape stats in this trilogy--and in the many books by Henning Mankell--do not paint a pretty picture.  Both authors (I know Larsson has died) try to say that the stats are horrific, possibly even worse than the U.S.'s.  For now, I'd like to visit there, but not live there.  Of course, I can say that about almost anywhere.

And the movie has a lot of nice touches not in the book, which I'll leave alone for now.  Suffice it to say that they involve the whereabouts of a missing woman and a car crash.  The movie also breaks a few rules; the big one is that the movie, like the book, continues on for quite awhile after the main mystery has been solved.  I approve, especially because it is done largely for the sake of characterization.  Rare, these days.

More on this, and the book, later.  Go see it, even if you've already read it.  And I'll be proactive and say that you should read it, too, even if you've already seen the movie.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays 2011

This time of year finds me working hard on The Gravediggers and Cursing the Darkness, anticipating the arrival of "Hide the Weird" in the upcoming Winter 2012 issue of Space and Time Magazine, and waiting to sign a contract for a very short nonfiction piece I just sold a few days ago.  A few other stories are out pounding the internet pavement.  Reading, writing, taking care of the new house and hangin' with my better half.  What's better than that?

I hope this time of year finds you well.  Happy holidays, all, and happy New Year!!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bag of Bones--Epilogue

A few quick notes, having finished it a few nights ago, with not much more to add to the previous post:

--The writing itself--not the creepiness, or the scary things that happened, or any of the plot, just the writing itself--was inspired and inspiring, making the book as a whole worthy of its many awards that year.  More than usual, he just chose the right words.

--Interesting about the leukemia that Devore's daughter had.  No reason for it, really, except that I think King very much wanted Devore himself to be the one at the end, in her body, and the best way for her to look like him, and to be him, would be to lose her hair.  Which she would do, with leukemia.  I'm reminded of the really creepy Roland DeBay, long dead, who was seen to be driving Christine at the end, rather than Arnie.

--Character names and how they fit:

Max Devore: What does he do to everyone and everything thought to be in his way?  He devours them.  Chews them up and spits them out.  He can do so with money, power, or setting fires.  For more obvious character names and how they fit, see Leland Gaunt (Needful Things), Jack Sawyer (The Talisman), Jack and Danny Torrance (How do they feel the shining?  In waves, or torrents.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stephen King's Bag of Bones--Book and Film

photo: Cover of Bag of Bones, from its Wikipedia page

Some quick thoughts after having seen Stephen King's Bag of Bones (or, Stephen King's Bag of Bones) on A&E last night, while I'm presently reading it (and had read it when it first came out):

--First, let's start off by saying that the movie was really bad, okay?  Especially as compared to the book, which, in some spots, is among his best.  I just finished the part now where he had the fever and the triple dream of being with Jo, Mattie and Sara Tidwell at the same time.  The feelings, the descriptions, the skeletons and corpses described, especially those in NYC with his agent...good, perhaps great, stuff, that nothing in the movie matched.  I know that books are better than movies for just this reason--because of the details, the images you can produce on paper that you can't produce on film (especially on a commercial channel like A&E)--but the huge difference in quality and image go beyond the normal book to movie difference here.

--Pierce Brosnan looked just plain creepy when he smiled, didn't he?  Didn't his smile look more like a carnival clown's grimace?  He didn't do it for me in this role.

--The movie didn't, or couldn't, go into the vagaries of small-town life or the internal thoughts and fears of Mike Noonan--both things that make up 90% of the book.

--When I first finished the book, I remember thinking, "That's Stephen King doing Peter Straub."  High praise.

--Stephen King's internal dialogue is perhaps the best in the business.  His vocal dialogue is, of course, excellent as well.  The movie took large helpings of dialogue straight from the book.  I'm talking verbatim.  Stanley Kubrick famously did the same with The Shining.

--Despite the violence and gore (excessive by my prudish standards for a commercial channel like A&E), the movie was not scary at all.  The book is.  The movie did do a good job, though, of the gory creepy.  (I'm still seeing the ugly woman's jaw-dropping dying silent scream after getting stabbed in the neck.)  But a pruny and green and grimy dead thing looks like a pruny and green and grimy dead thing, and there's only so many times you can see that before it's not scary anymore.  Stanley Kubrick didn't understand this for The Shining, either; nor did the makers of The Shining miniseries.

--The ending of the movie, I'll say again, was effective, but way too violent for A&E.  He even told the little girl to look away before he stabbed the woman in the neck with the thin scissors, before the gouts of dark blood sputtered out.  But the little girl had not looked away, as the viewer wouldn't, either.

--The beginning of the movie--not in the book--has Mike at a book signing.  A fan comes up and says "I'm your number one fan."  Before I could say, "Annie Wilkes," or "Misery," to someone I was watching it with, Mike's wife leans over and says "Have fun with Annie Wilkes."  This overt nod to Stephen King didn't work for me, and, loathe as I am to say it, newer (and younger) Stephen King fans won't know who Annie Wilkes is.

--The pickup truck blowing-up scene was an almost-hilarious sendup of every car-hits-something, however slowly, and blows up scene ever made for a parody.  When your film is an unintentional parody, that is not a good thing.

--I have to assume that if a Stephen King film isn't released in the theatres, then it isn't going to be good.  If the producers thought it would be great, they would've released it theatrically, where the big bucks are.  And who doesn't think of big bucks when they think of Stephen King?

--Some of the movie's dialogue (not taken from the book) and scenes were simply not realistic.  Some of them laughably so.  For example, the man in the senior facility at the end hadn't told a soul his dirty little secret for over 50 years, but it takes just 50 seconds for Mike to get it out of him.  The book does not contain one scene, or one piece of dialogue, like that.  Not one.  Garris just doesn't understand the genre.  The scene in the book, where Mike stands on the stairs in the dark, and communicates with one or more ghosts as they knock on the boards below his feet (once for yes, two for no), was eerily effective and could've easily been done in the film.

--The book, simply enough, was in the hands of a master.  And the movie wasn't.  Surprising, I think, as Mick Garris co-wrote, produced and directed it.  Hasn't he done good things before?  I've heard the name.  Be right back...

--Of course!  He directed The Sleepwalkers; The Stand; and the aforementioned Shining miniseries.  He wrote *batteries not included, which was very good, but the aforementioned tv fare, which was not.  And his The Fly II was simply awful, but a guilty pleasure if you like gory flicks.  He directed Psycho IV, which I actually liked. I haven't seen Hocus Pocus, but it's very popular and well-received.

--Whoever sang the songs Sara Tidwell sang did a very good job.  The song repeated throughout was well-done, jazzy, memorable and creepy, all at the same time.  The woman who played Sara Tidwell did a great job in an odd role.  (If she also sang the music, I doubly applaud her.)  Melissa George did a very good job, too, in a brief and thankless role.

--I hate it when the name-selling appears as part of the title, like Stephen King's Bag of Bones, as the movie is actually called.  I assure you, that mess was more Mick Garris' Bag of Bones.  John Carpenter does this for his movies, too.  Woody Allen doesn't.  Hate that.  The piece either stands on its own merit, or it doesn't.  If it doesn't, don't make it.  If it does, you don't need the name to sell it.

--Someone mentioned earlier that the writer must okay all material made from his written works.  He can't, and he doesn't.  Once you sell the copyrights, you're all done with it.  The moviemakers could include you in on things, but they don't have to, no matter how big a deal you are.  I think it's telling that Stephen King didn't make a cameo appearance in this film, as is his trademark.  Then again, he didn't in Shawshank Redemption, or The Shining, either, so never mind.

--That cabin in the woods was more like a mansion in the woods.

--Read the book and save your DVR space for something else, like American Pickers.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekends at Bellevue--Julie Holland, M.D.

photo: Book cover, from Goodreads

Fascinating book about a woman who had been in charge of deciding who does, and does not, get admitted to a stay at Bellevue.  She did this for nine years.  Obviously the book is about many of the patients, but the coolest thing about the book is the sheer number of other things it's also very much about: admitting you're crisped at your job; branching out; moving on with life; the different forms of mental illness; how we're all mentally ill, in varying degrees.  Having the courage to switch gears in life.  Changing as a person.  Letting down your often necessary defenses--and then realizing that doing so makes you incapable of doing the job you needed the defenses for to begin with.  I saw a lot of myself in here, and a couple of family members and friends--and a few ex-friends.  It helped me to understand all of them better in small, but important, ways.

It's a quick read.  You may grit your teeth at the oddly sudden and thorough instances of her sexual interludes, as I did, though I understood they were meant to underscore her adrenaline addiction.  All of the psychopathy stories are quick snippets, from the unknown patients, to Spalding Gray and the aftereffects of 9/11 on NYC.  She doesn't linger too long on any one person or event, but mentions the big ones long enough to sustain the shock and horror they instilled in her and everyone else.  Many of her patients, for example, saw dozens of professionally attired men jump out of the WTC to their deaths.  She says that, more than any other facet of the attacks, it was this that mostly traumatized and PTSDed her patients--watching the bodies fall.  And land.  Her narrative voice skims and occasionally probes, while at the same time staying far enough away from the patients so the reader doesn't feel like a morbid voyeur, rubber-necking at the psychopathic miseries of others.

I read this because I thought such a character had a place in one of my novels--where else, perhaps, would a possibly real, re-visiting Jesus or Lazarus be sent, after all, but to a place like Bellevue?  I don't know that such a plan would work now, but I liked the experience of reading this to find out.  It took two days to read.  Highly recommended.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A History of Vampires in New England--Thomas D'Agostino

photo: Book cover from Goodreads.

I'm only the third person to rate this book on all of Goodreads...Just sayin'.  For more of my book reviews, my book list, and other nerdy book-related things, please visit my Goodreads site here.

The previous two reviewers gave this book an average of two stars.  I don't see how, as it never pertains to be something it isn't.  It's a book that reviews, summarizes and, frankly, rehashes information that's already out there, but puts it all in one place, and does so with a website's writing feel to it.  (If anything, the real complaint is the $17 tag Borders had put on it.)

Of particular interest to me were the stories of the vampires I'm incorporating into my novel--or trilogy, or whatever--tentatively titled THE GRAVEDIGGERS.  These, mostly, are the stories of Sarah Tillinghast, Nellie Vaughn and Mercy Brown, all woven into one.  (Nellie Vaughn being more or less a mistaken Mercy Brown, but with the now infamous epitaph on her gravestone; and I focus more on Stukeley Tillinghast, Sarah's father.)  And there's a lot to say about them, specifically because the author comes from my neck of the woods, and so is able to write about his visits to some of the places in his narratives.  I've been to some of these places myself, so it was interesting to see pictures of places I have already been to, and to compare our impressions and thoughts.  Essentially, this book was useful to me as a sort of place to gather all my notes--notes I didn't even have to write.  Not that I don't have a whole three-subject notebook of them anyway, as well as many journals and emails to myself.

A criticism would be that this book mostly cites just two others, one of which--Michael Bell's FOOD FOR THE DEAD--is vastly superior.  This one gives just the facts, ma'am, while Bell's gives that, and extensive first-person investigation, more thorough research, and even some slightly comical interviews.  Unless you're writing a novel--or trilogy, or whatever--about this sort of thing, and you only want one book, get Bell's.  But if you have the coin, spring for this one, too.  It's thinner and different and not as well-written or extensive as Bell's, but I think it useful, anyway.  Particularly good were the Introduction, the history of TB, and the description of "Life, Death and Superstition in Early New England," especially for my work.

Check out The Keep near Mercy Brown's grave, but do so at dusk, on a cold February day, like I did--and heed all due respect at this and other such places.  The crypt (or The Keep, as it's called) is really, really, creepy, even more so than the stories, or graves, or anything else.  D'Agostino's book has pics of inside of it, which are invaluable for my work because you can't get inside The Keep anymore--it's bolted shut.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ways to Travel through Parallel Universes or through Time

photo: The One Ring--an actual 10k gold ring, with box, at

Holes in the ground/Drugs (Alice in Wonderland)
Potion (The Talisman)
Government Program/Technology (Time and Again)
Scientist/Technology (The Time Machine; Back to the Future)
A Ring/Spells/Wizardry (The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter)
ESP (The Dead Zone)
Dreams/Sleeping (The Wizard of Oz; Rip Van Winkle, and too many others to mention)
Going Deep Underwater/Going Deep into the Earth/Going to another Planet (Too many to mention)
Circling the Sun in a Fast Spaceship (Star Trek IV)
Traveling with, or being in the Presence of, Ghosts (A Christmas Carol; Field of Dreams, and others)
Simple Doorways to another Place/Time (11/22/63; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; A Wrinkle in Time)
Mirrors (too many to mention)
Books/Reading (The NeverEnding Story)
Movies (Early Woody Allen flicks)
Utterings (too many to mention)
Insanity/Fanciful Desire (too many to mention)
Writing (Lisey's Story; The Dark Half)
Being Immortal/Memories of Someone Eternal (Highlander; Dracula; many others)
Death/Dying/Falling (The Dark Tower series; Twilight Zone: The Movie; many others)

Can anyone think of any others?  I need the way and I need the source.  Your own ideas are welcome.  Right now, I'm thinking of a guy who, whatever he touches, he leaves a sort of trail, so that people throughout the years can follow that trail, or be drawn to it (or to him), by touching the things he did.  Just a thought.  That's kinda like The Dead Zone, but not quite, not the way I'm seein' it.  Discuss.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Musings--Heart of Darkness, Part 2

 photo: Famous scene from Apocalypse Now, on

(this is a continuation of another post, which you can find here)

2.  Look at the above list of works.  Most of them are about the monster within.  To borrow from Rousseau and Freud, civilization is the mask that keeps the super-ego in control over the ego.  (Whether Rousseau or Freud thought this was good or bad is up to you, and probably irrelevant anyway.)  I'm not interested in the good or bad of it, as much as the idea that it simply is.  I have a guess that many in Rousseau's time would think that he thought this was bad (and they may be misinterpreting, though he was no fan of social mores, per se, but, then, neither was Neitzsche) and that many in Freud's time would think he thought this was good (which may also be an interpretation; I see him as non-judgmental, preferring to theorize that it simply was, not that it was good or bad; these are value judgments that neither was a proponent of.).

Anyway, the interesting thing here is that the writers in the 1890s were saying that, take away the mask (for Joseph Conrad, for example, that would be civilization), and we become unrestrained evil savages.  A Freudian interpretation of Heart of Darkness would read Marlowe as the super-ego sent to suppress Kurtz, the ego.  But Imperial England was just as much the brute, but with the mask of "civilized society" hiding its actual brutish nature--which gave birth to Kurtz.  In Apocalypse Now, based on Heart of Darkness, the masked civilized society (America, or America's armed forces in Vietnam) sends the super-ego (Willard) to assassinate the ego-driven Kurtz.  In Conrad's book, Marlowe is just supposed to bring Kurtz back to civilization, but an astute reader would wonder what such a civilized state would do to Kurtz once it had him.  Kill him and hide its base nature, is my guess, which becomes a blatant part of Apocalypse Now's plot.

So take that mask away, and we become Kurtz, or Hyde (Stevenson's potion rips the mask off of Jekyll's true base desires), or Dorian Grey (who's true base nature is captured, hidden and held by the painting), or Dracula (who's aristocratic, but not at night).  You get the idea.  The fascinating thing is that today's Hyde wouldn't be Hyde, but Jekyll.

Take the vampire films and shows out there today (please).  The vampires aren't really the bad guys anymore--it's the people.  Zombie films and shows, too: the people are more dangerous than the zombies.  So now the Freudian aspect would be that our super-ego is the vampire!  The more natural aspect of society--since everyone is truly messed-up, anyway--who the base humans can't get along with.  The super-ego that has been sent, in a way, to suppress the savage nature of humans.  And zombies--whatever created the zombies is now the mask that, when taken off, has shown humankind what it really is--and it ain't pretty.  Sure, zombies eat human flesh and essentially cannibalize--but what's your excuse for doing the same, as a human?  The point now, maybe, is that both the ego and the super-ego are equally savage and base.

P.S.--Take a look at the gangster shows and movies, too.  Tony Soprano and Jekyll and Hyde are essentially the same.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Musings--Heart of Darkness

Photo: Man Who Laughs, Conrad Veidt

A few quick snippets that occurred to me today about this seminal work:

1.  I was wondering today why so many works circa 1890-1900 centered around the mask we wear to keep apart the good and bad parts of our nature--or, rather, that we all wear to separate the good and bad parts of human nature.  Take a look at all the works published between 1890-1900 about this theme:

Heart of Darkness (1899)--Joseph Conrad
Dracula (1897)--Bram Stoker
Phantom of the Opera (1909)--Gaston Leroux (vastly different plot than its films)
The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890)--Oscar Wilde
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)--Robert Louis Stevenson
Many works by Freud (1897 to The Ego and the Id in 1923)

The list could go on.  Was this always the case, that works about the mask of civilization upon our primitive nature have always been with us?  I don't know.  Rousseau certainly railed against much of this; his works and beliefs, still very strong with us, certainly had an effect on the French and American Revolutions, and still created heated debate in the 1890s, if not today.  He was very popular in 1890s Europe and America.

But I think it was Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859, and Freud's massive popularity starting in the 1880s, that re-ignited this debate.  And at the end of the Victorian Era, maybe many artists realized how supposedly suppressed they were, but yet weren't, and a lot of works and thoughts erupted from that.  It continues today, but in an interesting reversal--

(to be continued)