Movie Review: Victor Frankenstein

1-Victor_Frankenstein_2015I have always been a fan of  Frankenstein, through the Universal series, the Hammer series, the novel, and various interpretations and derivatives this is a story I have enjoyed. Naturally a big budget version comes along my sweetie-wife and I made it a Thanksgiving event.

This time, the story has been transported to victorian England and we witness the event from the point of view of Igor. (There are occasional violations of the POV, but aside from the odd side trips everything is about what Igor sees and hears and his reactions.)

If you are going to see a film about the monster rampaging about you will be sorely disappointed. Like many recent versions, the script focuses on the characters and what drives them to such lengths of mad action. There are plenty of hat-tips to earlier productions and the novel. For example, you’ll find both the names Victor Frankenstein and Henry Frankenstein used as characters in the film. Also, Victor refers to himself as a modern Prometheus, which is not a reference to Ridley Scott’s terrible movie but the subtitle for Shelly’s original work. There is even a throwback to the Gene Wilder’s Young Frankenstein.

Andrew Scott plays a brilliant detective trying to piece together the events from the outside, and in in his performance I found he played a better ‘Sherlock Holms’ styled character than a Moriarty, which of course he plays in the BBC production Sherlock.

Sadly while the film has many fine performances and is well shot and produced the script is a bit of a muddle. The author didn’t seem to have a final version in his head for what story he wanted to tell. Elements come and go without much impact on each other and there is a love interest that seems to exist solely so the film can have a female character.

In the end I enjoyed watching it and I enjoyed the references for sharp fans of the material, but I can’t say it will become part of my collection. The plot is too unformed and there are too many elements that feel forced into the story.


First Draft Done

So last weekend I completed the first draft on my latest novel-length project.  It has been an interesting journey, though not a terribly long one. Actual writing started on August 10 and finished Nov 15. Not too shabby for 80,800 words and primarily working just 5 days a week.

What are my thoughts here as the end of the first draft?

One, I’m happy I was able to pull of 80,000 in first person. While I have written several novel all of them have been in various flavors of 3rd person. This was my first attempt tp do a novel in the tight confines of first person. When I started I was far from confident I’d reach the goal.

Second, this book is an SF/Noir and to me one of the essential elements of noir is cynicism. At their hearts in my opinion noirs area bout flawed characters making poor decisions. They are about the desires that turn people bad. the vast majority of my fiction is not cynical and it was a challenge maintaining the outlook a noir required, but I believe that I did it.

Third, I am pleasantly surprised my the accuracy of my predictions. I outlined the novel, because I am a plotter, and estimated a word count of 80,000 words. The first draft landed at 80,850, so I was nearly 99% accurate in my length prediction.

Fourth, I like the book. I had fun writing it, it hit me on an emotional level, it even, lightly, touches on a few deeper themes such as how much do you owe your culture and how much does it owe you? I have no idea if another person on the planet will like it, but I am happy with the result.

My nerves continue to run high as this will be the first book my agent has seen from me after I signed with the agency. My short story agent has seen a number of pieces and I think it starting to get a sense for how I like all sorts of different kinds of stories and setting. For my book agent this will be a very different experience from the Hornblower in space that he read and enjoyed. That makes me very nervous.



Of Pyramids, Granaries, and Creationism

Of late quite a bit of political talk has been about the beliefs of Dr. Ben Carson, a political neophyte and a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for POTUS. He’s stated unconventional and factually wrong positions such as that the Egyptian pyramids were built by the biblical Joseph to store grain. This is demonstrably wrong. He is also a creationist, disallowing evolution.

Now the current contest is for President of the United States of American and not the president of the Archeological Society or curator of the Darwin estate and trust, so does it matter that he holds these opinions. After all, I have said in the past that all religion look silly when viewed from the outside and shouldn’t we be respectful and tolerate of differing religious views?

Ben Carson the private citizen is one matter, Ben Carson the President is a different one. The critical issue here, to me at least, is that these are facts and his opinions demonstrably wrong. He is entitled to hold an opinion that are wrong on the facts, but it calls into question his ability to judge a situation.

When faced with facts that challenge a previously held opinion, if this opinion id important enough to him, it appears that he rejects reality for his already conceived stance. Puttering about on his ordinary life, this matters nothing to me, but as President he must be able to abandon a previously held opinion when the facts dictate. The world is a place that moves quickly and preconceived notions are rapidly destroyed by reality. Someone unable to make that critical adjustment simply does not have the temperament for the office.

There already a host of issues where people can have honest disagreements about what is best. There are tons of things where there is simply no clear unequivocal right and wrongs answers, but the most important element of wisdom is the understanding that you may be wrong in the beliefs that you hold and courage is being able to change to fit the new reality.

Dr Carson, and many others, fail that critical test.


Halloween Horror Movies Final post

So I end my Halloween Horror Movies not with an obscure Italian production but an American classic that spawned an entire sub-genre of its own, Them!

1-them-poster-2One thing people know about monster movies of the 1950s is that there were plenty of giant bug movies. Nearly every variant of bug got enlarged and sent to wreak destruction on humanity, but they all follow the footsteps of the big budget production from Warner Brothers. Last week Them! debuted on blu-ray disc, sadly lacking in any real bonus material, just in time for Halloween.

Them! has always been one of my favorite 50’s monster movies, right up there with Creature From the Black Lagoon. The script and the director take their time building up to the reveal fo the giant bugs, and a serious attempt is made the ground the film in a realistic portrayal of events. The plot is not a straight-forward narrative, and there are plenty if surprises for the first time viewer, including right at the end a switch on just who the protagonists of the piece really is. There is not a last second scientific development that saves the day, but rather the dedicated work of lots of people racing against time. The adversary is far from unkillable, but possess advantages that with time will win the day for them.

Originally designed as a 3-D production the practical effects are some fo the best done during that decade and for the most part are still credible today. (It would be interesting if anyone had the money and interest to perform a retro-conversion to 3-D on this movie. I think most of the film would look fantastic in 3-D.)

If you are a fan of 50s monster movies and some how have not seent his, you need to correct that mistake.



Halloween Horror Movies part II

1_planet-of-the-vampires-half-sheet-1965I continued my horror film watching this week with 1965’s Planet of The Vampires. This film is based on an Italian SF short story ‘A Night of 21 Hours,’ but sadly I have never found a translation of that piece. This movie was an international production with American, Italian, and Portuguese actors. I have read that each actor delivered their lines in their native tongue. The dubbing is so-so and the script suffered from heavy exposition and discordant elements, particularly in the final ending scenes of the film.

That said what make this film something I have watched several times if the lovely look created by Italian master Mario Bava. Even hampered by a tiny budget, Bava pulls off a film that that is colorful, stylish, and with impressive in-camera effects.

It is also a subject of vast speculation that this movie heavily influenced Ridley Scott when he directed Alien. From the massive alien skeletons, the landing sequence, the shape of the ships, and the atmospheric tone of the alien world, a great number of stylistic similarities exist between the two movies. (both this movie and It! The Terror From Beyond Space seem like the direct parents to Alien.)

The plot of Planet of The Vampires is rather straight forward. Two starships have arrived at an alien world investigating mysterious signals that may mean intelligent life. Landing on the planet goes badly and the crews find themselves facing threat not to just to their own lives but their homes as well.

Not a great movie but for an genre cinema a must see.



Halloween Horror Movies part I

Here’s a quick post about movies I have been watching this week as part of a celebration of the season.

Up first City of the Living Dead (1980)

1-city_living_dead_posterAn Italian Zombie film made after George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead City of the Living Dead occupies a strange place in the zombie landscape. So many films copied Romero’s zombie take over of the world that it quickly became cliche. (Though still popular as seen in the hit tv show The Walking Dead.) City doesn’t go for the traditional Romero zombies not the traditional arc of action. Here there is a clear cause to the undead, a priest committing suicide in a cemetery, and a third act objective to resolve into a ‘happy ending.’ The film was made in Italy but is set in America. The dubbing is adequate and naming the doomed city Dunwich was a nice hat tip to Lovecraft, though nothing that occurs is inspired by his mythos.

Often discussed among fans of zombie movies is the subject which zombies are the worst to deal with. Romero’s original shamblers, Snyder fast runners, O’Bannon’s intelligent and nearly indestructible dead, but this movie presented one that is truly beyond them all. While they feed on the living, and even have a penchant for taking brains out directly through a skull, (the Italian films tend to be more graphic), these living dead unlike any other can teleport and kill you with a look. No crap, people end up very messily dead from zombie staring contests. They are easier to kill. (Impaling seems to be the required technique.) Plus the whole world ending plague can be averted if the right things are done to put king zombie — our transgressive priest – back in his place. Overall, I enjoyed the film but it is not on my buy list. You can stream it on Hulu.


What’s wrong with the Republican Party?

First off let me set a couple of ground rules if you’re going to comment. 1) If you’re liberal/left/progressive, I am not interested in snarky insulting comments. Insults are not discourse. 2) If you are right/Republican/conservative I’m not interested in ‘Squirrel’ posts where you start pointing a finger at liberals/Democrats and such. This post is about Republicans, not Democrats.

I watching the current primary season and I just can’t fully fathom what if going on with the Republican Party. As I type this the top two leading candidates (Trump and Carson) for president of the united states are polling a combined 48.8 percent and neither is a person who would normally be considered a serious contender for the position.

Setting aside philosophical and policy issues, it perfectly fine to have deep and serious disagreement with many of the stands presented by the Republican Party, heaven knows I do, what going on right now is bonkers.

Look at what has happened already in the race. Two governors, both with re-elections under their belt, were tossed aside, never seriously considered by the general population of the party while a carnival barker and surgeon without any government executive experience rocket to the top. Right now the distance from Carson to the next leading contender (Rubio) is a whopping 13 points. People with real standing and real experience as trailing what should be fringe candidates.

This is not normal. Last presidential cycle we have a parade of not-Romney candidates because the base really did not trust or like Romney. However the establishment backed him, and those not-Romney tended to flame out fairly quickly. That’s not the dynamic this time around.

There is no single candidate that fully has the establishment’s backing, and the summer has evolved into fall with winter coming and Carson and Trump show no signs of crashing. Why?

Has the population of the Republican electorate changed that much? Did younger voters go elsewhere while too many members, like me, left in disgust? Is the field so weak that bombast fills in for seriousness? Have eight years of ‘no compromise’ conditioned an electorate to view anything except rigid purity as unacceptable?

I hold as an article of faith that someone other than Trump or Carson will win the nomination, but I don;t know who or how. In the meantime, I watch as one of America’s two parties thrashes in the throes of madness.


Bad Movie Review: The Colossus of New York (1958)

I will leave it as an exercise to my few readers to parse if I mean the a review of bad movies or that these reviews are in themselves bad.

1-colossus_of_new_york_xlgA couple of weeks ago Paramount Studios launched a youtube channel the Paramount Vault. On this channel, they present clips from some of their most popular films and for older library titles with sparse home video value the have posted the entire movie. I certainly hope more studios follow suit. By way of this new channel, I watched The Colossus of New York a B SF movie from 1958 than until youtube I was only aware of thanks to Bill Warren’s Book Keep Watching the Skies.

Lots of spoilers ahead, but you really don’t care do you?


And here is the film you are brave and true:

The plot is this predictable film is simple. First there is the brilliant scientist, Jeremy ‘Jerry’ Spensser. He’s really really smart. The movie starts with him winning the Nobel prize and this is just a stepping stone. He’s expected to be the salvation of mankind because of his good nature and utter utter brilliance. In fact, his family are geniuses, his father a surgeon unparalleled, and his brother Henry a master of automated machinery. But neither we are told hold a flicker of a candle to Jerry’s intellect.

Well, coming home from the Sweden, Jerry’s son loses his toy airplane to the wind and Jerry, that man with an unmatched mind, chases it into traffic and is hit by a truck.

Father Spensser can’t bear the world losing his saint-like genius son and removed Jerry’s brain, keeping it alive and functioning in a tank. He convinces Henry to build an android body for Jerry. Though henry has reservations about a man without a soul and all that he of course complies. (He also starts an affair with Jerry’s cutie-pie wife, He’s not really a sleaze. He cares about the kid and all that, but you can see where this will end.)

Jerry at first rejects his machine life but finally agrees to continue his work on making the Artic into Earth’s newest farmland. Sadly, Henry was right about that soul thing. Without one, just like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jerry goes evil.

Now, you would think making Jerry a super strong machine man would be enough but apparently henry had to overcompensate in the robot’s design. Jerry can no hypnotize people with his flashing peepers. (Nope this ability is not established at all) Also when he does catch up with his brother on the whole cutie-pie front it turns out those flashing peepers are also a death ray. (Really Henry, what did you think you were designing?)

Manipulating his father Jerry goes to the UN and starts a killing spree. (He takes the high ground and this nasty eye are effective, even if he himself lacks any motivation for such slaughter.) In the end when confronted by the innocence of his son he realized the horror he has become and, because he can’t reach the switch himself, has his son turn him off.

I’ve watched  a lot of bad movies in my bay and this one joins the list.


Movie Review:Crimson Peak

1-crimson-peak-posterLet say that I have been a fan of Guillermo Del Toro ever since I saw his film Chronos in the theater during its initial release. That is not to say I am a fan of all of Del Toro’s films, the first Hellboy didn’t work for me and the same can be said for Pacific Rim. It a happy circumstance that I can say I truly loved Crimson Peak.

Crimson Peak is under-performing at the box office and if you have a desire to see this on the big screen you should probably move quickly. before I give a non-spoiler review of the film let me tell you what this movie is not.

Crimson Peak is not a horror film and it is not a ghost story. Certainly looking at the trailers, posters, and images you could easily come away thinking it is both those things, but that would be a mistake Crimson Peak best fits the genre Gothic Romance. (That is a genre I am not overly familiar with and I am told that Peak inverts the tropes of that genre. this I have to take on faith.)

The movie is a story about a headstrong, capable woman, confident in herself and her arts suddenly courted and swept up in passion for a tall handsome European noble. (Yes, I did just call and Englishman a European, he can live with it.) She soon is off to be married to the dashing dreamer with a dark soul and a dark sister. The mood of the film is carried off perfectly, the imagery is haunting and like a masterpiece painting, the cast are wonderful and play their characters believably.  Now, I found I did predict the twists and turns of the plot, but I also consider plotting to be one of my strengths as a writer and it is the rare script that can justifiably surprise me in its plotting.

The film is violent, but not gratuitous or exploitive in is depiction or use. This is not a film that insists upon an on-screen death every ten minutes. There are ghosts, but it is not a ghost story. To quote the movie ‘It is not a ghost story; it is a story with ghosts.’ It is not for those easily upset by imagery or violence and it continues with Del toro’s persistent theme that the truly monstrous is the truly human.

If you are a fan of his work such as Pan’s Labyrinth this is worth seeing.


A Different Approach to School Shootings

So yesterday morning as my sweetie-wife and I were en route to my day I caught a very interesting piece on NPR’s Morning Edition. They were interviewing writer Malcolm Gladwell and he proposed a radical take on the growing phenomenon of mass school shootings. The interview was prompted by a piece Gladwell had written for the current issue of the New Yorker Magazine and can be found here. It’s worth the time to read.

What he says and the sociological theory of riots he applied to school shooters all make sense to me and maps fairly well with what I know about these events. To be clear, these are a very different from workplace shootings and also very different from politically motivated mass killings. Gladwell avoids the simplistic approach of mental illness and looks at a much more frightening mechanism. The mob effect and in my opinion the status seeking motivation.

Particularly upsetting it the idea that traditional mass media is no longer a relevant factor as a status conferring mechanism. The internet drives a lot more of this now. This matches with what I do know about these schools shooters. They often, if not always, obsessed on-line over previous events, often analyze the shooters methods and outcomes, and seek to — for lack of a more apt word — improve on the results.

I have confided privately to a friend that my personal belief is that this wave is going to continue to a generation, perhaps two while our culture deals with the shock waves induced by massive change. (It is not a coincidence that the shooters are nearly always young men. The only except I know is the Brenda Spencer case and that’s more than 40 years old.) My friend if a gun collector and I predicted that it was likely the US would see more and more restrictive gun laws passed and that these would likely have little to minimal effect on the wave. (The laws that are possible, assault weapon bans, background checks, magazine capacity limits, are unlikely to make any serious change to these sorts of killings and a total gun ban is simply unrealistic for this country.)

However, this article sparked an idea. The problem is identifying these gunmen and killers before they act. More and more they have no history of serious mental illness that could be used in a reliably predictive manner. A position I hear repeatedly from psychiatric professionals on this matter. there simply is now way to screen to the vast population of angry young men and sort out the shooters from the non-shooters.

But they may be sending up flags we can use. On-line. If they are obsessing on-line about previous events, sharing information in forums and chatrooms, and leaving a digital trail of their intentions then it should be possible too use that information to identify, isolate, and prevent them from acting on their murderous fixations.

In order words, treat them like the terrorists they are and utilize the full power of the intelligence agencies to deal with this problem.