Category: movie review

Well, what do you THINK I’ve been doing?

I’ve been working, what else?

Plowing my way through Of the Night, polishing a bit here, snipping a word or two there, prepping the manuscript to send off to the printer by the first week of October.  Which means I’ll have achieved my goal and published two books this year.  I thought it was important to do something, well, special to mark my 25th anniversary as a pro writer and getting my two “Ilium” novels out to readers and fans in the same calendar year seemed like just the thing to do.  It’s been crazy hectic, frustrating and maddening…but it looks like we’re going to manage it.

Of the Night is a far shorter novel than So Dark the Night—I like to call So Dark my “A” movie and Of the Night my “B” picture.  One is a bigger, bolder project, the other smaller and more modest.  But I love ’em both and you will too.  We’ll be using Adrian Donoghue’s cover art for Of the Night and Chris Kent (as far as I know) will be designing the look of the book once again.  We’ll have it out in time for Christmas and the novel will likely retail in the $10-11 region.  There will be further progress reports so keep checking in periodically for more details.

Wild summer here in Saskatchewan, the weather verging on freaky.  Rain, rain, rain.  We have an old house and a basement with a stone foundation so I’ve had a fan running constantly downstairs because of the damp seeping in from outside, the surrounding soil saturated.  I have several hundred books down there, my boys have a TV and their XBox set up so they can have their own little space.  Must work to keep the area habitable, no killer mould growing in the walls, etc.  The lousy weather has made it abundantly clear the roof tiles and eaves need replacing, the trees trimming back (again); yikes, when I think about the pending expense, it makes me wanna cry.

Ah, well, we’ll get by.  Somehow.  We always do.  Just when I think we’re going under, some respite arrives in the nick of time.  But there are some periods, nerve-stretching intervals, when things look pretty bleak and occasionally I am brought face-to-face with the very real risks and terrors that accompany life as a full-time independent writer and publisher.  I’m 46…is life ever going to get easier, will there be some kind of reward waiting at the end of the rainbow?  Or just a tarnished piss pot?

“Theirs not to reason why…” and all that.  Thanks, Alfie, but all those guys died, as I recall.

Hasn’t been much time to kick back and indulge in my other passions:  films and reading.  Watched a few cool flicks like Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” and “Pickup on South Street”, two Herzog efforts (“Grizzly Man” and “Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans”) and Robert Bresson’s “Pickpocket” but not too many more.  And I haven’t yet gotten around to reviewing those few movies I have watched for my film blogSigh.

As for reading, I’ve just finished Michael Palin’s Diaries (1969-79) and I’ve completed almost all of Denton Welch’s books, marveling at what a magnificent writer he was (no wonder William Burroughs revered him).  Presently absorbed by Charles Simic’s The Monster Loves His Labyrinth, which is composed of entries from his writer’s notebook(s).  Wonderful, wonderful stuff.  If you haven’t read any Simic, rush out and find some.

Lots of music playing while I work—some ambient stations I found on ITunes, as well as albums like The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Who Killed Sergeant Pepper”, the definitive Joy Division compilation, “Heart & Soul”; old favorites like Interpol and Elbow and Black Rebel Motorcycle are always on hand to get me revved up.  Soundtracks (“The Thin Red Line” and “The Fountain”) to give me mood music to write to.

That’s enough for now.  I have to get back to, y’know, editing.  Of the Night awaits my full attention.

In the meantime, why not take a few minutes to browse through this site, check out some of the stories, essays, excerpts, spoken word and music I’ve posted here over the past 3+ years?  All of it FREE to read and download.  Honest.  No strings attached.

C’mon, whaddaya say?  You wanna hang out for awhile?

Great, make yourself at home.

If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, first door on the left…

Star Trek XI: The Search for Relevance

abramsBy handing the Star Trek franchise over to J.J. Abrams, lock, stock and pointed ears, the folks at Paramount Pictures made it manifestly clear: we want to see a new, fresh look at the Enterprise and its namebrand, trademarked crew, a re-invention, if need be.

Mr. Abrams, let’s be candid, is no auteur, more like a cross between Michael Bay and M. Night Shmayalan. His films and projects are slick, gimmicky and well-attuned to the tastes of the moment. How long his vision and body of work will survive is another matter: action movie directors are a dime a dozen these days, their films virtually indistinguishable. Mr. Abrams has shown us little so far (“Lost”, “Mission Impossible III; Exec. Producer, “Cloverfield”) except that, like any half decent utility man, he knows how to handle a good bounce…and how to make an easy play look spectacular.

Mr. Abrams has an undeniable gift for concocting middlebrow eye candy and so many within and without the Trek universe reacted favorably when it was announced he was producing and directing the next film. The first trailer was released and that really got the grapevine humming. Leonard Nimoy started popping up, speaking cryptically about the plot of “Star Trek XI” but professing himself thrilled with the script. Wow, cool, an endorsement from Mr. Spock himself! Trekkies everywhere held their breath, waiting for May, 2009 to roll around.

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Well, it’s clear from the forums and fan message boards that the latest film has met with overwhelming approval–and why not? It’s filled with action and special effects and there is that much-touted return to the early days. And you get to see Uhuru in her underwear! Fan-dumb seems to like the three young leads and don’t appear unduly concerned by the liberties taken with the premise and backstory. Like the screenwriters, most film-goers grew up on comic books/graphic novels and are used to things like alternate universes, mirror realities, lapses in logic, plot discontinuities and (yawn) “red matter”.

spockkissI’m willing to put up with Jim Kirk’s troubled childhood, a different, sleeker Enterprise, a command bridge that looks like a cross between a high-end china boutique and a really cool video arcade, but what I find most objectionable, unforgivable, in fact, is the ridiculous romantic subplot involving Spock and Uhuru. Reinvention is one thing but this notion of a repressed, lonely Vulcan and a thoroughly professional Starfleet communications officer snogging like a couple of teenagers is nothing less than an abomination.

The plot is standard revenge stuff. The bad dude, a Romulan renegade named Nero (Eric Bana barely registering in the role), is an over-familiar Trek villain, a tattooed terrorist who hardly merits an individual episode, let alone a $150 million movie.

winonaStar Trek’s minor characters—Scotty, Chekov, Sulu, Uhuru—are easy to ape or emulate. Simon Pegg is, frankly, a distraction as Scottie and Anton Yelchin’s (Chekov) outrageous Russian accent makes Walter Koenig’s seem pitch perfect by comparison. To be fair, most of the youngsters acquit themselves ably, within the limits of the material…but can someone please explain to me the thinking that went into casting Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother, Amanda? A favour? Act of charity?

I liked Karl Urban as Leonard McCoy, though on a few occasions he tries too hard (“Damnit, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”). Playing up Bones’ tendency to catastrophise is a nice touch. A passing grade.

Zachary Quinto’s resemblance to a youthful Leonard Nimoy has been much discussed. He’s a ringer, all right, and at times his mimicry of Nimoy is uncanny…but is imitation, impersonating a guy impersonating an alien, really acting?

Chris Pine as James T. Kirk, future captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, gets better as the film progresses. By the latter third he has Shatner’s sidelong glance, swagger and half smile down to a “T”. The only thing missing is the keylight on his eyes. Pine is likely the one cast member who has the most opportunity to grow into his role (no swipe at Bill Shatner’s midsection intended). The other players can resort to tried and true catch phrases, retreat into caricature, but Jim Kirk must always be vital, three-dimensional, flawed, impulsive, heroic, endearingly and recognizably human, or the whole franchise founders.

live longAbrams and Co. have presented us with a new, unimproved Trek—glossy and diverting without being particularly likeable, engaging without involving us emotionally. “Star Trek XI” makes no stirring appeals to human destiny, mortality, cosmic evolution, democracy, tolerance or any of the other high-falutin’ ideals the show once espoused. That moral core is notably absent from “XI” and the film suffers as a result. This isn’t a “message” picture, it’s a thrill ride, an experience, with tons of explosions, rapid fire editing and starships going foosh!

Initial box office returns are promising so it looks like we’ll be subjected to a sequel or three. Perhaps the next film (an even number, gotta be a good one, right?) will feature a story worthy of being told, something that will contribute meaningfully to the mythos and grow the legend.

They’ve added some fresh faces, sunk a lot of money into a franchise some believed had run its course. They even coaxed poor old Leonard Nimoy out of retirement for a cameo appearance—he looks like a superannuated sea turtle but his last hurrah is supposed to lend authenticity to the venture, a tip of the hat from one of the Original Cast.

It isn’t enough. “Star Trek XI”, like all of Mr. Abrams’ projects, is overlong, clumsily structured, superficial, implausible, instantly forgettable. He has temporarily salvaged a series that was on the rocks, but is his “aesthetic” compatible with a concept that has remained remarkably consistent through 40+ years and various incarnations? How far are fans willing to let him go in terms of rewriting or tossing out great swathes of the accepted canon?

roddenStar Trek, whatever its faults, didn’t used to shy away from big ideas and cosmic themes and it was never intended to be a Saturday morning children’s show. Gene Roddenberry had higher aims than that.

But the Great Bird of the Galaxy is gone now and the whizkids are in charge. They’ve studied the demographics and done their test screenings. The gamers, geeks and mall rats are their target audience, aged between 14-23 and not overly concerned with such niceties as characterization and a coherent plot. The old fogies may complain about what’s been done in the name of progress but even Star Trek must move with the times and if that means getting bigger, dumber, louder, so be it.

Warp speed, Mr. Abrams, the helm is all yours.

For now…

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