Sunday, November 17, 2013

Poem published - about, of all things, Danny Kaye!

I am very pleased to announce that I have once again published a poem in a professional market. Bywords Quarterly Journal bought "Danny Kaye Winks at the Viewer Through Time". To see the poem, click on "Archives" on the left hand column. Then go to November 2013. You will find my name and the name of the poem listed third from the top.

And why write about Danny Kaye? Besides his obvious genius for comedy, dance, and acting, I believe that he had a whole other life going on that the movie-going pubic didn't know about. He's a fascinating figure.

P.S.: I should also add that "Danny Kaye Winks at the Viewer Through Time" earned an honourable mention for the John Newlove Award for Poetry. Thank you for the honours, Bywords!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloweenish Viewing for Five-year-olds:

Here are some viewing options for a five-year-old girl or boy that are fun, not too scary but good with monster or Halloween themes. There is cartoonish violence, but good laughs, particularly with Tweety Bird turning into a Tweety-Bird-Mr.-Hyde-sort-of-character.

Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, an animated Warner Bros. compilation from 1988. It's a loosely strung-together series of stories featuring Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat and other popular characters.

Warner Bros. Halloween Spook-tacular, which lives up to its title, with over two hours of Halloween-themed stories as in Quackbusters, only longer.

The beauty of the two above titles is that you can watch either in twenty-or-30-minute stretches instead of going for the full time.

Monsters Inc. and Monsters University. Both have plenty of screen time featuring various monsters that admittedly are clever creations.

A good tip for parents -  fast-forward (do we even say that about DVDs/Blu-Rays anymore?) through the scary bits if need be.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize

This is a great day for Canadian literature, and a great day to be a Canuck writer. Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Quick - someone call David Gilmour! I suspect the resulting and resounding thud heard throughout Canadian literati will be David Gilmour falling out of his chair. Or, perhaps, there will be a faint whimpering sound as Mr. Gilmour hides under his desk. The CBC broke the story this morning (Oct. 10, 2013).

The villagers are coming for you, Mr. Gilmour. But please, forget the horror tropes of pitchforks and torches. Instead, they come bearing accolades.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Big News Regarding my First Novel

I have some big news about my book. I have signed, scanned and sent the publisher the contract for my novel.
 
It's official now. My literary horror novel, tentatively titled "The Town and the Train", will be coming out from Lethe Press on September 1, 2014.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Review: Walter Salles' film of Jack Kerouac's On The Road

Right from the start, I'll admit a certain weaknessone might even go as far as to say fondnessfor Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel, On The Road. As a young man enamored with the idea of writing books and traveling, I found the story of a young writer trying to get his start and hitchhiking across the United States a visceral, immediate experience. I also read On The Road at an influential time—in the summer of 1992—that last glorious stretch of time between my last year of high school and my first year of university. Love is an unconditional state. So too was my love for On The Road and its run-on sentences and thinly fictionalized characters. 
The real-life Neal Cassady on the left (aka Dean Moriarty) and
Jack Kerouac on the right (aka Sal Paradise) on the
Penguin Books edition of On The Road.
For the uninitiated, here are the main characters: Sal Paradise (aka a fictionalized version of Jack Kerouac), Dean Moriarty (aka Neal Cassady), and Carlo Marx (aka Allen Ginsberg). The rest you can find in a Character Key on Wikipedia. For me, the novel was a rallying cry for youth, and all its perils - drugging, partying, having sex, discovering one's self. Later on, I realized that, as literary history has shown, On The Road  was a manifesto for the Beat Generation writers who rebelled against the mainstream culture of the 1950's and responded in their own way to a newly industrialized, post-World-War-II America.

So, when I heard that Walter Salles, director of The Motorcycle Diaries, which depicted Che Guevara in his formative years, had made a film version of On The Road, I was cynical at the outset. Although, admittedly, when I watched Diaries years ago, I was guilty of thinking, Jesus, this guy should direct On The Road. Look how he pulls together a panoramic travel narrative about a young man finding his identity. The novel, On The Road, though, is about language, the jazzy, lyrical cadences Kerouac made of words. After many years of false starts, he penned Road in a three-week stretch using a taped-together roll of teletype paper . How could Salles capture this lightning in a bottle?

Yet, somehow, Salles has captured this lightning.

A 2012 poster for the film, On The Road.
Teaming up again with screenwriter José Rivera, who penned Diaries, and with the financial backing of Francis Ford Coppola (who, several years back, was a name rumoured to be among potential directors for the project), Salles takes a very unique approach to the subject material. In order to more familiarize himself with Kerouac and the Beat Writers, Salles has been making a documentary about the Beats. Ironically, the director hasn't finished the documentary yet.

(Editor's Note: Mr. Walter Salles, if you are reading this, please provide an estimated release date for this doc.)

Salles focusses on the inspirational impetus for On The Road, the events that pushed Kerouac to forge ahead with the book despite several failed attempts. So, yes, yes, yesto borrow Dean Moriarty's idiomin this respect, the movie is almost better than the novel in certain ways. Yes, Salles focuses on quieter, introspective moments. Yes, he zeroes in on Sal Paradise as observer, the memory babe. Paradise takes in the antics of Dean Moriarty and Carlo Marx, sometimes more than he himself actually acts. In a way, Paradise lives through them. And, yes, the narrator sounds eerily like Jack Kerouac. Actor Sam Riley is so convincing as Paradise, in fact, that I mistakenly thought that the opening lines of the films were delivered by Kerouac himself via archival recordings.

Sal Paradise (Sam Riley)  and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund)  in
Walter Salles' film adaptation of On The Road.
While the main actors are unknowns, Kristen Stewart does a sensual, emotional, rending version of Marylou (aka LuAnne Henderson). Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx is effusive, tormented, and very much as I imagined young Allen Ginsberg, fictional or not. Sam Riley as Paradise is, in my mind, a slimmer young man that I imagined Kerouac. I qualify this by adding that Kerouac attended college on a football scholarship and retained an athletic build even years later. Riley is skilled at showing a range of emotions, particularly Paradise's longing for life and his fascination and observations of those around him.
Now, allow me to analyze the other players.
 
Marylou (Kirsten Stewart) in a promotional
photo with Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). Stewart's
portrayal of Marylou is agonized yet passionate.
 Viggo Mortensen also shines as Old Bull Lee (aka William S. Burroughs), even as Salles shows how Old Bull and his wife Jane (aka Joan Vollmer)  live in squalor, neglecting their filthy children. Again, the dangerous undercurrent in the film mercilessly portrays how Moriarty abandons spouses, families and children in order to be drug-consuming, "kick", and inspiration-seeking rogues. Old Bull Lee and Jane are shown in an equally unflinching light.

As for the central rogue, Garrett Hedlund, as Moriarty, is beefier than I imagined the actual Cassady to be. Alas, On  The Road is still meant to be fictional, so perhaps my close comparisons about Kerouac and Cassady's fictional counterparts are misplaced. But I digress. However, Hedlund is adept at depicting the character's wild mood swings, from beatific to suicidally introspective. The film also shows a more balanced picture of Cassidy than the novel. No spoilers to follow; however, viewers of the film will be far less sympathetic toward this womanizing, Benzedrine, sex-and-marijuana-addicted madman. A lot of other characters yell at him, and rightfully so, while Paradise stands there helplessly and ashamed.

The film also stands apart from the novel because it shows how Moriarty's antics affect the women around him, and  how he leaves devastation in his manic wake, from single mothers to jilted lovers to manipulated and abused friends. Moriarty, often frantic, as well as stimulation, drug-and-sex-addicted, brings everyone along for the ride - but also drops them off when he is done with them. Now, with hindsight, we can probably accurately posit that Cassady was obviously bipolar.

As lovers both miserable and euphoric, and an enamored Paradise, follow Moriarty around, Salles creeps in background imagery about the ideal 1950's suburban lifestyle. A Christmas dinner scene where Moriarty and company appear uninvited and unannounced at Sal's sister's house is particularly delicious. Sal's dishevelled friends tuck into a feast while Paradise's family, stunned, watches in disapproving silence. It's a wonderful moment, a contrast between a Martha-Stewart-style dinner of excess and three frantic friends who have driven across the country for three days, arriving sleep-deprived and half-starved.

Sal Paradise talks to Carlo Marx  (played by Tom Sturridge).
Salles also shows how Carlo and Dean were sleeping together. The publisher excised such explicit scenes of gay sex from the original manuscript because the publisher feared that readers of the 1950's would not be ready for the depiction of actual gay men having actual sex with one another. As someone who has read three and a half biographies on Kerouac*, I am more aware than a casual viewer would be regarding Kerouac's bisexual nature and his attitude and embrace of Ginsberg's sexuality. Cassady too was bisexual. The film hints at Sal Paradise being attracted to men, yet does not capitalize on this attraction.

In actuality, Jack slept with all manner of men, including Gore Vidal, a conquest that Jack bragged about to his pals. At the time, in 1949, Vidal as a young, successful writer. Kerouac, by contrast, was still trying to break into publishing and was months away from publishing his first epic family novel, The Town and the City. It was during the late 1940's that Kerouac was hitchhiking around the countries in fits and starts, and carousing with Cassady. All this to say that such similar material regarding the fictional Sal Paradise could have figured into On The Road, but did not. Salles, by displaying other edited material throughout the film, particularly regarding Moriarty sleeping with men, makes an added delight for anyone who read the book and knows the story behind many of the scenes.

Another aspect of the book that Salles encapsulates in On The Road is that of the hitchhiker, Sal Paradise, wandering the American countrysidein the winter, at sunset, past remote Western fields. This America of the late 1940's is gone, of course, but still retains a power and beauty. These scenes make me homesick, ironically enough, for my own days of hitchhiking and exploring.

Sal Paradise hitting the typewriter.
Paradise scribbles his notes down, desperate to capture something, anything, to feel alive inside again. And that, to me, is the heart of the writer, as well as the appeal of the beats - that they dared to shuck the 1950's lifestyle, post World War II values of the suburbs and respectable workaday folks, and break free somehow. To me, this is their most appealing trait. At their worst, though, they did indeed "burn burn burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars". That said, the Beats often left destruction in their wake, a result of boys trying to be men and not treating women as people but simply objects who would satiate them, scold them, or tend to the kids. Salles shows this sexism along with how unbridled hedonism can lead to self-destruction and the debasement of those around you, regardless of gender.

I had a conversation with a close friend with whom I watched the film. They were equally moved by On The Road  in our youth. He raised a valid and troublesome question. Would a viewer like the film without reading the book? After passing this topic back and forth, I more or less concluded that, perhaps, the viewer would like the film. Dean Moriarty, they would certainly not like, and definitely not deify, as Paradise does. But, unfortunately, I consider myself too close to the sun to see it clearly. That is, I adore the film because of what Salles says about an inspired young writer, about art, and about the price others pay when artists throw them aside to pursue the craft at all costs.

More to the point, then. Does On The Road succeed as a standalone film? I'm too subjective to say, caught up in my admiration for the director's accomplishment. The only fair qualifier is the following. If you liked Jack Kerouac at one time, you'll like, perhaps even love, this film. If you didn't like Kerouac, you may not like it much. Salles' genius lies with counterbalancing this plain reality of sexism and hedonism with that of the aspiring young Sal Paradise. Paradise is eager for the experience of the road, typifying the hunger for life that drives any respectable artist.

* For the record, the Jack Kerouac biographies that I have read are: Ann Charters' Kerouac, Tom Clarke's Kerouac: A Biography, Carolyn Cassady's Off the Road: Twenty Years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg, and Ellis Amburn's Subterranean Kerouac: The Hidden Life of Jack Kerouac. I received Charters' bio as a birthday gift when I was in university. I leave it to you, faithful reader, to guess which bios I didn't finish.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

David Gilmour Slams Women Authors, Chinese and Gay Male Students

What was Canadian author David Gilmour thinking?

In a recent with interview Hazlitt (which The National Post referred to in a Sept 25 article) Gilmour dismisses women authors, particularly Chinese ones, and makes the bold proclamation that the real writers are men, "mens' men".

Gilmour says that "I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them," that his forte is only   "very serious heterosexual guys. Elmore Leonard. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy guys." Gilmour also said that he "would teach only the people that I truly, truly love. And, unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Um. Except for Virginia Woolf."

I find it truly astonishing that a prominent writer would say any of the above things in a public forum or, even worse, believe such statements. Apology or not, someone please keep Mr. Gilmour away from microphones!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Walter Salles finds IT with film version of Jack Keraouc's On The Road

Walter Salles really did "IT". Along with screenwriter  José Rivera, he made cinematic history by directing a film version of Jack Keraouc's famous 1957 beat novel, On The Road. And Salles not only made the notoriously difficult to conceptualize prose into celluloid - but he made  the picture a success. Once very close to my writerly heart, this book still has a pervasive influence on my writing career. More on On The Road later. Suffice to say that it's inspirational, even-handed and far more balanced than the novel in many ways.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Reading for Teens: Part Eight of Eight!

The Whole Truth
Kit Pearson
HarperCollins
Aug 8 2011
256 pages
Hardcover, $19.99

On May 31, Kit Pearson won the Canadian Library Association Book-of-the-Year-for-Children Award for the Whole Truth.
The Whole Truth also won the 2012 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children's Book Award.

Mystery and family loyalty are front and centre in this novel set in 1932 story. Ten-year-old Polly and her older sister Maud are harboring a secret they have sworn never to tell a soul. When Maud goes to boarding school and Polly stays on Victoria Island, a visitor arrives, and threatens to unravel the whole works.

While Kit Pearson writes for predominantly girls, ages nine to 13, she thinks Polly’s transformation over four years and the underlying mystery will appeal to boys as well.

“I think a lot of kids choose the book by the first sentence,” Pearson said from Victoria. “And the first sentence is ‘After it happened, they were sent away.’ And you don’t find out for quite a while what happened so, hopefully, they’ll keep reading.”

Pearson also penned a sequel, And Nothing but the Truth, released in August  2012.

Summer Reading for Teens Part Seven of Eight: Ivan E. Coyote's One in Every Crowd

One in Every Crowd
Ivan E. Coyote
Arsenal Pulp Press
March 1, 2012
238 pages
Paperback, $17.95

In One in Every Crowd, Ivan E. Coyote, Vancouver resident and former columnist for Xtra West: Vancouver’s gay & lesbian news for 11 years, drew on strong material—her own. Coyote included about half previously published articles and  half new content about going to into schools and talking about growing up as a gay kid. Crowd also includes the interactions Coyote has had with students and teachers, as well as letters from students.

“For years, librarians and radical English teachers and Drama teachers have been saying 'Can you please put out a book that we can keep in the library?',” Coyote said, referring to her more adult-oriented editorials.

“Then I started working more in high schools and realizing there’s not a lot of stuff out there, especially in that YA market—not just for queer kids, for marginalized kids. “

“It’s about bringing everything out into the sunshine so people can look at what it’s like to be queer in high school still, or different.” Coyote said. 

Summer Reading for Teens, Part Six of Eight: Kelley Armstrong's The Calling

The Calling
Kelley Armstrong
HarperCollins
April 10, 2012
336 pages
Hardcover, $17.99

Maya and her friends, after escaping a fire, are kidnapped and then stranded in the Vancouver Island wilderness. The 16-year-old also has a paw-pint birthmark, which means she can perform extraordinary physical feats and, someday, may transform into something more beastly than a teenaged girl. This second installment of the Darkness Rising trilogy boasts a lot of action. The first novel in the series, The Gathering, appeared in April 2011. The third, Rising, came out in April 2013.

Bestselling author, Kelley Armstrong, also known for her Otherworld novels aimed an adult female audience, wrote Calling for kids. “Here was a chance to really do that kind of survival story,” Armstrong said from Toronto. “If you are plunked out there not knowing where you are, you’ve got a little ways to go to find help and if you’ve got people chasing you, that’s even worse.”

“My ideal reader is usually pretty close to my protagonist, so girls 16 or so. If they say ‘I like paranormal, I like action and adventure’, this book has that. The romance is fairly light. I tend to be someone who prefers the action/adventure part.”

 

Summer Reading for Teens, Part Five of Eight: Leah Bobet's Above

Above
Leah Bobet
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic
March 1, 2012
368 pages
Hardcover, $19.99

In Above, Toronto YA novelist Leah Bobet's first urban fantasy novel,  kids develop physical mutations. Becoming outsiders forces them to leave Above and head underground—literally—to the city of Safe. Matthew and Ariel, residents of Safe, must escape to Above when an old enemy attacks Safe with an army of shadows. Along the way, the two kids realize they must also change Safe in order to survive. And Matthew might want to be more than just friends with Ariel.

“I didn’t write it as a Young Adult,” Bobet said. “There was no sense of an ideal reader. It was really more I had a story in my head and it was chasing around the corners, and so out you go. My agent was 'Like, look, it would work as a YA novel – it’s got a coming-of age arc, it’s got a young protagonist and also . . . it’s quite a dark book.'”

Bobet seems to have had Marvel Comics' Uncanny X-Men in mind when she penned the tale.

“It’s the whole trope of secret societies and mutants or outcasts living underground—that ‘s not how it would really happen,” Bobet said. “This is not the kind of thing where you’d have these marble floors. If you wanted to go up into the ‘regular world’ and pass as a straight, you’d need more than a cool, floppy cape."

 

Back to School with the Latest Teen Fiction Part Four of Eight: Jeff Ross' Dawn Patrol

The following is the fourth part of a series about books for teenagers to read. However, I am admittedly remiss in posting this series regularly (The series was originally meant run in a daily Canadian paper in summer 2012.) In that respect, I really ought to rename the series. A more appropriate name would be Summer Reading for Teens Part 4. In this part, I go local and talk to Ottawa 's Jeff Ross about his latest YA novel from Orca Books.

Dawn Patrol
Jeff Ross
Orca Book Publishers
May 1, 2012
160 pages
Paperback, $9.95

Jeff Ross launched Dawn Patrol on May 28, 2012 at Collected Works Bookstore in Ottawa.

Best friends Esme and Luca hunt for their friend Kevin, who has left only a cryptic note behind -“I’ll come back, but if I don’t, know that I love you both.”  The friends face not only monster waves in Panama, but the mystery surrounding Kevin’s disappearance and a surfer who has in it for them.

Ottawa author Jeff Ross knows his audience. “Kids that are looking for books that speak to something they’re interested in—snowboarding, skating, surfing—doing those kinds of activities —anyone who wants to stand on a board sideways," Ross said. A lot of those kids that are skateboarders and snowboarders are intelligent and do read already, but there’s not books that are about what they love.”

Ross' family Christmas vacation in in Panama inspired the setting for Dawn Patrol. “The house had two of the best breaks in Panama,” Ross recalls. “While I was waiting for another wave, I thought ‘What could I write about this?’”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Did I say "Don't Kiss Me, Batman?" I Meant "Don't Kill Me!" A Postmodern Review of The Dark Knight Returns (Comic Book and Animated Film)

Image from the original 1986 graphic novel
Disclaimer: My postmodern take on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is chock-full of spoilers.

Frank Miller messed with the Batman mythos in The Dark Knight Returns, particularly with queer characters and iconography. I fully realized this while recently viewing parts one and two of the animated film based on the seminal 1986 comic book. The graphic novel extended an olive branch to adult readers and was part of a wider trend at the time that legitimatized the medium for mature readers, opened the floodgates to them, and permanently altered the comic-book industry.

As for the animated film, I am not concerned with the more obvious elements of storytelling. This is mainly because the movie is gritty, well-characterized, well-acted (Peter Weller voices Batman!), entertaining storytelling that is extremely faithful to the book. What I am concerned with, though, is going deeper than a teen perception of the work. I was a teenager when I last read The Dark Knight Returns. Miller's choice of characters, both re-invented and invented, are of particular interest to me this time around.

Frank Miller's Joker in the animated film.
As for gay characters in TDKR, Miller wanted to mix things up, and did so with glee. He clearly depicts the Joker as a gay villain. He is enamored with wearing lipstick, talks with a lisp and flirts openly with other male characters, including the hero, albeit with a psychotically violent sort of tenderness. 

The incumbent commissioner, Ellen Yindel, is a tough-talking, butch broad whose resemblance to Commissioner Gordon includes her stylish spectacles and a trench coat that highlights her incredibly broad shoulders. Not only is she a right winger; worse, she’s also an uncompromising woman. Instead of working with Batman, she wants to arrest him.

Miller's predilection for villains on the psychotic side sometimes included the wearing of provocative icons. In this case,  there's the gang leader, Bruno. She cuts  a steroid-enhanced physique, totes guns, and is a bare-breasted figure who sports swastika tattoos on her breasts. Batman, of course, the symbol for faded male virility, defies all odds, gets his 55-year-old behind in gear, and either kills, evades, outwits or beats all of the above characters in one way or another.

This brings me to my post-modern take on The Dark Knight Returns. The story is ostensibly about a gritty reminting of a flagship character emerging from retirement to fight in a very corrupt and messed up modern setting. From a more broad perspective, The Dark Knight Returns is actually about an old man rediscovering his virility and talent for violence, thus defying any blocks or authority figures that hamper his rediscovered maleness. 

Commissioner Ellen Yindel, also in the animated film.
Batman confronts the Joker's overtures with the resigned gruffness of someone in a long-suffering relationship, defies the lesbian commissioner, takes down the Nazi lesbian villain, and other threats such as a steroid-enhanced Mutant gang leader who threatens to "un-man" him.  The hero succeeds through the prism of classic-turned darker Batman action codes, which can be read as male assertions in a more Jungian landscape with Gotham City being an entire playground laden with subconscious symbols. Most threats transform into threats of emasculation. Some examples include the Joker stabbing him, the new commissioner threatening to rob him of his status of returning hero or the Mutant leader humiliating him, man-to-man, in front of the Mutant gang, and Bruno, a powerful woman, posing a clear threat to a powerful man. In the last case, defeat at the hands of a woman, even a confident, capable one, might overshadow the threat of physical damage or even, perhaps, death.
Laugh if you will, Joker-style, but let's consider how the antagonists fare.

No matter what they do, no other character can keep Batman “down” for long, even the lisping Joker, who stabs him not once but four times in the stomach. His murderous act is perhaps a symbolic sexual action of violence and penetration. Leading up to this altercation, Batman progressively loses his demeanor. The Joker derides the hero for his loss of control. Of course, the Joker also dispatches innocent bystanders at random in a blood spree, while keeping a coquettish running commentary. 

The commissioner simply won't let Batman play anymore and her SWAT team readily wounds him to the point of near-death. In the end, the new lesbian commissioner realizes, to her resigned astonishment, that Batman, whom she attempts to kill multiple times, “is just too big” (Size matter, anyone?). In short, a powerful lesbian character comes to terms with the fact that the hyper-masculine man is right.

Bruno, one of the villains depicted in the film.
Bruno, however, seems to only represent a mere physical threat, but this is deceiving. There is great shock value in revealing that the mysterious "Bruno" is, in fact, a woman. Both readers and viewers assume, before her appearance, that Bruno is a man. Miller attempts to elicit humor with this shock and surprise. Batman subdues her with Superman's help (unwillingly). Interestingly enough, Batman is, in fact, disguised as a on old bag lady living on the street. In this respect, Batman can  take down a butch female villain even if he is in the guise of an overweight, elderly woman, beating her on his own cross-dressing terms. That is, he can pretend to be an elderly, homeless (read: inferior) woman and still manage to prevail against a powerful woman.

The Mutant gang leader's assault on Batman is a mono-e-mono match used to rob Batman of his newly-rediscovered power in front of the legion of his new enemies. It's pure brains-versus-brawn confrontation with a far larger and (presumably) physically superior male specimen. Simply put, Batman must prove that his is the bigger (i.e.: smarter, better) man. In the first half of this intense confrontation, the Dark Knight also uses a heavy arsenal that involves much shooting and blasting. Once could make a case for the depiction of phallus and male virility, but this would be too easy a target, as there is much of this fare in the story. This reviewer will take a different road and declare that the police, despite all their training and marksmanship, either can't shoot accurately, or even use their rifles because the hero disables said weaponry, and leave it at that (adolescent fixation, perhaps).
With the character of Robin, Miller again messes with Batman fans and iconography. Miller’s new version of Robin, thirteen-year-old Carrie Kelley, a rather miraculously agile teenage girl lacking in any formal training, becomes the new protégé. Frederic Wertham, author of The Seduction of the Innocent, once implied that Robin was Bruce Wayne’s young gay lover. Ever since, everyone and their dog with even a mild disdain or distance from the Batman character has suggested Batman and Robin are an item. Look at Robin’s colourful costume, they say. Look at the singular wealthy bachelor who is Bruce Wayne.
Miller alters the Batman mythos by having the first and notably only female Robin. He adds complexity to Bruce Wayne’s characterization by having Wayne trying to compensate for the death of one of the previous Robins. His attempt at redemption thus defuses any pedophiliac sexual tension between he, a man in his fifties, and an undeniably attractive young woman.
In one scene, Batman grabs Robin’s hand, preventing her from plummeting to her death from an airborne helicopter. She then wraps her legs around him. He repeats “Good soldier, good soldier” as a mantra as he hugs her in return. It’s an odd portrait of intimacy with an implicit sexual connotation. She is wrapping her legs around his waist, after all. I did not conjure up this last theory about their embrace. A colleague did, who is not at all a huge Batman fan.  We shall dub him the Menace of Barbosa.

In this way, Miller messed with these DC Comics icons and mixes in gay characters whose roles are charged and somewhat questionable. Why must such antagonists, for all intents and purposes, be gay characters? And if you're messing around with icons anyway, why not include some protagonists who are queer? Whether Frank Miller meant for an old man to rediscover his gusto and become a symbol for the unstoppable male id, throwing itself up against the challenges to his hyper masculine identity is, of course, debatable.
 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Today is the solstice

Happy solstice.




Film Review: Jen Soska's and Sylvia Soska's American Mary

American Mary, the first big-budget film from Canadian co-directors and sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska’s Twisted Twin Productions, is itself a twisted, crooked amble down a rocky path of body horror and suspense. The 2012 film, Mary, not only successfully objectifies its heroine, Mary Mason, played by Katherine Isabelle; it also makes the viewer complicit in this objectification, a dipping of the toe in the sexual art of cutting, and illicit body modification surgery.

Medical student Mary can’t make the basic payment for her student loan. She attends her classes distracted, heckled by her unusually profane surgery professor, Dr. Grant, portrayed by David Lovgren. To make money, she turns to the world of adult dancing, which in turns opens up the doorway to helping the strip club boss, Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo) enforce local underworld rules by either torturing parties of interest, or ensuring they live through the night. Isabelle is curvaceous, reluctant, but smart, and transforms into something else entirely. Meanwhile, Barker, a male authority figure, inverts. He becomes a sad sack of lasciviousness and desperation, pining after Mary after he has had too many drinks.
The body horror inherent in this bent little number is a clear tribute to Eli Roth. Bar owner Billy actually bears a striking resemblance to Roth, albeit a progressively dishevelled Roth. In one instance, the mutilation directly salutes Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series, particularly the methods with which the demonic Cenobites exact pain and pleasure from their victims. But unlike other horror fare such as Hostel and Saw, nearly all of the bodily mutilation occurs off-screen. As a result, viewers squirm and twist in their own imaginings. In some places, ironically, this less-is-more technique disappoints. For insance, when two twin sisters (creepily portrayed by the Soska sisters, adopting German accents) request an operation to bring them closer together, the viewer is denied seeing the final result. Instead, they only get a brief glimpse of the design drawn on a piece of paper.


Mary, Mary, why you bugging? See the film - and the obvious reference to I Spit On Your Grave - and find out.
As an aside, Mary is whole different monster when compared with the first Soska sisters’ effort. The riotous, uneven, but amusing 2009 movie, Dead Hooker in a Trunk. Made for $2,500, Hooker proves the old axiom that you get what you pay for-ludicrous violence, exploitation, mediocre acting and all. Watch it (preferably as a three-beer viewing) and witness watch a woman protagonist kick some butt, while accepting the feature's lunatic sense of humour and lack of verisimilitude. There's latent talent in Hooker, as evidenced by the end credits, which reveal that just  most things in the film, including make-up, lighting, and design, were done by the same half-dozen people.

Katherine Isabelle as Mary, the driving force in this bigger, badder and arguably better feature, was also fabulous as the coming-of-age heroine in the Ginger Snaps series trilogy. Disclaimer: This reviewer, admittedly, only viewed the first Ginger, dismayed, as he was by descriptions of time-travel in one of the two sequels. Her Mary is smart, detached, and tough. She diminishes most of the male cast simply by merely being present and powerful, even as she appears often gloriously stylish and sensual and, alternately, coldly modified herself. Mary’s bad; the film Mary is very good
In the end, the film is about the transformation of a character into the Other, and how people want to look, no matter the cost, physically or financially. It’s also partially a study in body modification subculture, featuring what appear to be actual modified people with a variety of  body mods – forked tongues, altered limbs, and reconfigured faces. In this sense, Mary is a modernised version of Freaks, displaying genuine subjects matter-of-factly. A group of rogue surgeons is particularly quirky to the point of appearing obviously sociopathic. The Soskas' use of depth-of-field is a merging of Orson Welles’ directorial eye and Roman Polanski’s. The viewer has to discern the out-of-focus background details that are creeping into their consciousness. This a gratifying exercise for the audience, along with the remainder of unsettling film. The only caveat to Mary being so-bad-she’s-good and Mary being good is the finale. The abrupt ending leaves the viewer scratching their head over why the story wraps up within minutes.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jeffrey Round wins Lambda Literary Award

I now have proof positive that I bet on winning horses - that is, I tend to interview or write about authors whose work speaks to me, inspires me, entertains me, or provokes me.

In this case, I have interviewed one Mr. Jeffrey Round on more than one occasion. On June 3, 2013, Mr. Round accepted the Lambda Literary Award for his novel, Lake On the Mountain (Dundurn Press, 2012).

Photo of the award winner himself, author Jeffrey Round.
Round is a Toronto writer whose charm is exceeded only by his prolific output of novels, both mystery and literary, and his mix of humor, literary acumen, and memorable characters. Lake On the Mountain was no exception, and won me over, as many of his works have. Lake features Dan Sharpe, a detective struggling with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and relating to his very few loved ones. Simultaneously, he tries to solve a mystery about a missing person, set in and around Toronto, no less. I most recently wrote about Round in mthe April 26, 2012 issue of Xtra: Canada's gay & lesbian news.

Round has two other rather underrated literary novels. The first is The Honey Locust (Cormorant Books, 2009), which portrays a dysfunctional family and heroine who escapes her stifling family life by becoming a wartime photographer. A Cage of Bones is the other. Rounder Publications thankfully released a second edition in 2008. Bones concerns a young, gay male model leaving safe Toronto for the precarious world of professional modeling and self-realization. In both instances, Round hits his literary notes out of the ballpark, showing us where he lives, as they used to say in little league baseball. Both novels are worthy discoveries for any discerning reader.

Quill and Quire ran the award story on their website on June 5, 2013.





David W. McFadden wins Griffin Poetry Prize

I also want to add that poet and novelist David W. McFadden landed this year's Griffin Poetry Prize. Here's an example of a wordsmith who has been at his craft for five decades and running and more than deserves this recognition.

My congratulations go out to him. Congratulations, Uncle Dave, as one good friend fondly calls him - or simply, Dave, as I call him.

You can read more about his travel books and poetry at the Tree Reading Series site.

Photo of Mr. David W. McFadden, from the Tree Reading Series website.

 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Globe and Mail article attacks the Griffin Prize

Jared Bland, of The Globe and Mail, has decided to attack the idea of the Griffin Prize in his June 13 article, The Griffin Prize: A Canadian category has no rhyme or reason. The Griffin Prize, for the unitiated, is a rather useful recompense for Canadian poets struggling to both write and maintain a living, as well as to celebrate our writers as they deserve to be celebrated. This is a risible editorial in a time when Canada should be proudly supporting its artists when it can at. At the very least, Canada should be recognizing them.
 
The Griffin Prize recognizes the best single volume of work published by a Canadian and the best single volume of work (in English) from around the world.
The annual award is $65,000, a figure that Bland implies is an outrageous amount. Bland employs fragmentary sentences. To describe. How poets get $65,000. Each. And, yes. He does come off. Sounding very much. Like William Shatner. In prose.
In his article, Bland suggests that the former competition should be expanded to include poets from around the world, the goal being to class up the competition and force Canadian scribes to compete on the worldwide stage. This argument is misguided and misses the idea of the Griffin. Bland does not seem to grasp the concept that the Griffin is designed not only to foster the reading and appreciation of poetry among the general public, but to support Canadian poets who have had a long history of being underpaid. Bland is also unkind to such poets in his article, not even deigning to name the finalists. As well, he derides the unnamed finalists' works for being “characterized by a kind of inoffensive geniality”.
As for workaday authors in Canada, being a writer has never been an easy row to hoe. These current times are no exception. Many of Canada's most notable authors, established and obscure, both poets and prose writers, have endured hellishly long draughts of poverty and trying to survive while living under the poverty line.

At a time when a Canadian professional hockey player can start at a rooky salary of $575,000 (before bonuses, at least in the 2011-2012 season), I consider it reprehensible that anyone would want to take away a prize that gives $65,000 - the equivalent of a starting-to-mid-level salary in the Canadian public service -  to a new Canadian poet each year.

 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Note - No, a Review, Really - about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a brilliant novel bursting with the wunderkind energy of being a quasi-fictionalized retelling of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creating Superman. But to limit the work to a simple retelling is misleading, as the Last Son of Krypton and other characters are often referenced in the story. Chabon channels Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin. These are some of the comic-book luminaries who, in a sense, are the clay with which Chabon molds his protagonists much like a Golem. A Golem, in fact, also features in the outlandish prologue and a character’s attempt to flee Nazi-occupied Prague.
 

Kavalier and Clay is a story of two young artists breaking into the burgeoning comic-book industry of the late 1930’s. Brooklyn writer Sam Clay and Czech artist Joe Kavalier enter the rough-and-ready world of these early comics, a time when everyone wanted to mint another Superman and, later in the story, Batman. Clay, a brilliant concept man à la Stan Lee and Kavalier, a gifted artist à la Jack Kirby, try to earn their patch in this zeitgeist. They go through adventures and life changes and swim the rocky waters of a turbulent time that propels both kids through their quests for love, and the hammer-to-iron creation of comics, in all-nighter-weekends of coffee, cigarettes and take-out food. Much of their passion arises from the mad scramble to create comics that  readers will find impossible not to snap off the newsstands. The influences of the big houses is omnipresent in Kavalier, both Marvel Comics and DC comics, or their early incarnations, Marvel Mystery Comics and National Allied Publications.
In short, Chabon’s prose sizzle, pop, and sing through this yarn as Clay and Joe throw themselves into their work and lives in the Big City. Rarely has a book so delighted this reader. It’s the kind of novel you finish, put down, and think about. Then, a few years pass and you're still thinking about it. Thinking about it so much, in fact, that you may reread it. If I have one qualm it is that the ending seems a little curt in comparison to the vast and engrossing remaining 95 per cent of the novel.
Now, because Kavalier and Clay was so brilliant, one can find it harder to read Telegraph Avenue, Chabon’s new 2012 novel. While Telegraph is a good read, Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, an immersing, dynamic, surprise-filled tale of two young rogues scribbling and pencilling their way through a quick adolescence and early adulthood, is utterly phenomenal. In many instances, Chabon’s descriptions, of Kavalier pulling off an escape feat, or of Clay imagining a new story or hero, are breathtaking.

I have admittedly not read Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which he published at 25, or Wonder Boys, whose cinematic version I have viewed many times. I suspect that each of these works also warrants a read.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Notes on Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue




American novelist Michael Chabon, begging, borrowing and mining his own material, has crafted an epic timepiece with Telegraph Avenue. The 465-page book, set in Oakland, California, is a stew of Chabon's recognizable themes, almost unbearably imperfect characters, shot through with comic-book and other pop-culture references. The plot centers on Archy Luther and Nat Jaffe, the proprietors of Brokeland Music, a community hub for customers who daily loiter at the counter. Archy, a black character, and Nat, a Caucasian one, are best friends. They are the centre of the wheel whose spokes include Gwen Shanks, Archy’s imminently pregnant wife, Aviva Roth-Jaffe, Nat’s wife, and midwife partner of Gwen, as well as Julius Jaffe, their 14-year-old son, emerging into his own teen identity.

What drives the plot forward, despite Chabon’s seemingly best efforts at delay, are baron-of-industry Gibson Goode’s plans to install a massive Dogpile megamall. Dogpile could foster black community spirit through jobs, but also grind the flagging Brokeland Music into bankruptcy.  


The locals view the larger-than-life personality of ex-pro football athlete, Gibson Goode and his plans to install his extremely successful business in Oakland, as untrustworthy at best and menacing at worst. His enterprising villainy acts as a foil, bringing out the worst and best in Archy and Nat. Goode also flies around in a zeppelin displaying the Dogpile logo. The name is both a crude reference to a white male inferiority complex regarding black male virility, and a metaphor for the menace Goode represents to Brokeland Records and, thus, its owners. The zeppelin, as absurd a visual device as it is (i.e.: Look what’s looming overhead! The uncertain future!), does add an Ahab-and-Moby-Dick allegory that shadows Archy and Nat.

Chabon mixes in rich references to not only music (characters’ reviews of jazz, funk, soul, blues), but also pop culture,  particularly Marvel Comics and DC Comics characters, and sci-fi film staples such as Star Wars and Star Trek. These topics are so hot and heavy that the reader often wonders if Chabon was on a Quentin Tarantino and comic book bender when he wrote the novel. Characters also repeatedly discuss the director, and his films.

Telegraph Avenue’s first half lurches more than moves forward, with character establishment aplenty. Gwen and Aviva endure professional trials as midwives. Archy and Nat grapple over whether to fight the Dogpile move, or to join Gibson Goode. Julius develops a friendship with an estranged black  boy named Titus Joyner.


About halfway through this rich narrative, anyone who has read Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or has seen or watched Chabon’s Wonder Boys will note several familiar elements, here. The latter novel was also a 2000 feature film starring Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Tobey Maguire, and Katie Holmes (arguably Holmes' last good role). The film is stellar and odd at once, and worth repeated viewings.

Without revealing more of the plot, there are long-lost relatives, massive works-in-progress, gifted young artists, dope, and chronic indecision in Telegraph, all of which Chabon has used before.

There is a long-lost father and a long-lost son in Telegraph, as there were in Kavalier. There’s a character coming out of the closet, as in both previous books. Telegraph also features an unfinished opus, a common trait in Wonder and Kavalier. Archy’s deadbeat, drug addict dad, Luther, a washed-up kung-fu action hero, has for years been planning a third installment of his ubiquitous Strutter series, much like Professor Grady Tripp in Wonder has been writing a never-ending novel and much like a character in Kavalier chips away at a novel over the course of many years.

Chabon also adores a prodigy. Titus, Julius' chum in Telegraph, has written three screenplays, showing signs of a young ingénue. The James Leer character in Wonder is an English Lit major with a novel under his belt, a work that might be brilliant.

Marijuana features in Wonder and Telegraph; while Archy is alright with indulging, in moments of deep self pity, of smoking pot in Telegraph,Professor Tripp in Wonder is a pothead, hence his endless prose. 

Archy is also yet another chronically indecisive person, as Tripp was in Wonder. Tripp’s problem was that he smoked too much dope, wouldn’t finish his novel, and wouldn’t commit to his girlfriend and leave his wife. Thus, the currents of life washed Tripp about at their whimsy. Likewise, Telegraph’s Archy navigates the eddies and flows of a furious wife, a courting Gibson Goode, an irascibly cranky best friend, an absentee father who asks for a handout, and other challenges that he is simply ill-equipped to handle.

As a reader, the weight of these above comparisons detracted from my initial enjoyment of Telegraph.

Luckily for me, and, moreover, for Chabon, he rises above his rather familiar literary playground. He increases the pace of the prose after half-time. Chabon also displays characters enduring the human condition. He places readers in their shoes, miserable or no, and immerses the reader in their lives and mindsets.

What also won this reviewer over was not knowing exactly how Chabon would conclude his tale. At one moment, readers might expect a kung-fu rally from Luther Stallings, or perhaps a cheaper plot turn, a bad fate for the aforementioned zeppelin. But to speculate further would ruin many surprises. As it stands, I was uncertain what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised by the ending, where (A lesser reviewer would insert a spoiler here, assuming everyone would want to know everything before reading the book.).

With many of Chabon's names, one also sees a tongue-in-cheek humour coming through. After all, in a story drenched in comic-book tribute, it cannot be coincidence that the shifty  father figure who abandoned Archy is named Luther (as in Lex Luthor) Stallings (as in his career did not take off after his heyday of blaxploitation/kung-fu flicks). Gideon Goode is also a good handle. Gideon means “Warrior” or “Feller”, taken from Judges 6 to 8 in the Hebrew Bible. The surname Goode, admittedly, is a cleverly ironic surname for an antagonist.

And Goode does antagonize Brokeland’s proprietors, quickening both plot and interest for readers and making ordeals unbearably uncomfortable. Will Luther, a hapless former action star, make his movie, through blackmail and subterfuge? Will Archy join Goode or fight for Brokeland Records? Will Gwen continue being a midwife and tolerate indignities foisted upon her by medical professionals? What will become of Julius, struggling to realize who he is? Chabon’s characters are flawed—hotheaded or lazy or uneasy or simply trying to find their way. They stumble through a dense murk of pop culture fixations, as well as wild and dangerous circumstances far beyond their control, perhaps toward salvation, perhaps towards further indignities, accompanied by the soundtrack of their lives, and their continuing passion for music they love.

On that note (pun intended), Chabon takes the long way around, blowing notes and solos and getting into flights of fancy about the music obsessing his characters and, presumably, himself. He blows prose like musical notes through a trombone or trumpet or saxaphone, perhaps with a dash of Jack Kerouac melody in there. One rather amazing chapter features a parrot’s point-of-view of all of the major players dealing with their lives, as the bird coasts above Oakland, adrift on the whims of an unexpected fate. Likewise, Archy and Nat, for all their foibles, feel cast adrift together. They represent an era where vinyl records sold well, customers loitered in the store for hours, and listeners cared about unearthing amazing music.

 

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hulk Smash Character Development: Planet Hulk reviewed

When you're this big, they call you Mister Planet Hulk.
Disclaimer: This scene does not actually occur in Planet Hulk. This is the old comic-book trick of drawing readers in with an irresistibly compelling image involving their favourite hero. The sole caveat, of course, is that the compelling image, more often than not, does not appear inside the comic.
I should know better than to expect great things from relatively current depictions of classical comic book characters, such as The Incredible Hulk. Yet, due to my exposure to breathtaking depictions of popular characters, penned by prodigious writers, I still find myself disappointed at times. In this case, I was underwhelmed by writer Greg Pak's 2006 story arc of Planet Hulk and the follow-up 2010 animated film.

For the uninitiated, here's a plot summary worth the trip.

Heroes including Dr. Strange, Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic decide that the Hulk is simply too dangerous to stay on Earth. They take it upon themselves to launch the green guy into space, where he is destined to live out his days peacefully on a planet void of other sentient life. Inevitably, the Hulk awakens during the preprogrammed trip, throws a berserker tantrum, thus steering the spaceship off-course. He lands on the planet Sakarr where, weakened by his trip, the locals manage to enslave him and force him to fight in gladiator games for the Red King. Among the violence, encounters with alien beings, and an exposure to the wider universe, something inspirational occurs - the Hulk develops as a character. He slowly learns to look out for more than himself. Riffing on Ridley Scott's film, Gladiator, but also a tall stack of 1970's comics where the Hulk had interstellar tussles with the legendary behemoth Klaatu* and a long line of fantastic yet extraordinarily aggressive alien beings, Pak attempts to mine new material for the jade giant.

The thing is, there's a great, wider eye of a story gazing out from this scaffold of Hulk trashing monsters, robots, and tyrants.

If one notices, they can spot this greater idea winking out at them in a beautiful scene that appears in the print and film version of PH. The Hulk goes a wandering one evening on the surface of the confusing, desert-like planet. He gazes up at the utterly unfamiliar stars, planets and solar systems. Pak sculpted a stunning moment, here; the Hulk stares at fantastic constellations, awed by the beauty and wonder of the unknown universe.

And then, just as he is pondering a greater question about the meaning of everything, another character shows up and the plot grinds along. The giant must decide whether to sulk, as his infantile maturity level demands, or to help the endangered city below and save them from a hostile invasion.

You can guess what the Hulk decides, of course.

But the point of this précis is not to give away the story, nor that the film stops at a certain moment in the original narrative, leaving the journey incomplete. Marvel Studios understandably reduced the length of his 12 labours and jettisoned minor characters, as well as the Silver Surfer (due to licensing reasons), to fit into 81 minutes of animated film.

The point is that Pak put the Hulk somewhere where he can grow, no mean feat considering that Pak is more or less dealing with a surly loner of a protagonist. Keep in mind that this Hulk is very much like the Hulk of the late 1970's-to-mid-1980's comic books. During that era, he aimlessly wandered the earth under the sure artistry of Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema and Marvel Comics scribes Len Wein and Bill Mantlo, lumbering from one scrap and one continent to the next. Mentally, the Hulk didn't even possess a teenager's maturity; he threw tantrums, couldn't speak with proper grammar or diction, and just wanted to be left alone, a mantra he held for years.

In PH, Pak tries, unsuccessfully, to make the Hulk's transition from this child-like character to teenage-like character work, but in the end he doesn't have enough track to run with. And, when he does run, he runs to formula, and terrifically violent formula at that. The Hulk dispatches enemy alien after enemy alien, often in gory fashion, frightening those around him who would become his fellow gladiators. The other odd aspect of PH is that, Bruce Banner, the Hulk's alter-ego, never makes an appearance, a departure from form that is never explained.

But why protest about a classic, four-colour character? Because, in that simple stargazing scene of serenity mentioned above, I witnessed a beast gazing up at the stars, much like a Neanderthal gazing heavenward in the Stone Age. Pak had something there, but he discarded it, which is a shame. There's no reason the Hulk can't get smarter - instead of simply only stronger.

In all fairness, the Hulk is not the easiest character to rewrite and the fact that Peter David, a long-time scribe on the comic book (12 years), did an admirable, enviable job of developing the character makes a new writer's task even more unenviable. Mr. David transformed the Hulk from a mindless, childish,  albeit goodhearted brute, into a synthesis of Bruce Banner's character and the Hulk. David also actually pit the Hulk against not only mere villains, but the reality of friends contracting HIV/AIDs, and in touch with his own empathy. Along the way, David developed minor characters such as Rick Jones and Betty Ross and a whole backdrop of heroes in a group called the Pantheon.

My comments should not be misconstrued. It's not that the Hulk character should confront any and all modern ills. He's the green giant, not Green Arrow from the 1970's. And, admittedly, Hulk's a fun, marauding character. When he gets into a scrap, he breaks things - big things. It's just that PH only portrays three-quarters rampage and one quarter character development.

Greg Pak admitted that he reacted in amazement when Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada handed him carte blanche to give Hulk a space odyssey. Whether intentional or not, Pak employed villains entirely reminiscent of 1970's fare, when the Hulk fought across different galaxies. Hulk also managed to fall in love with another green-skinned creature, named Jarella. His love affair with Jarella, however, ultimately became a tragic love story during a time when Marvel Comics management was enthused about offing the romantic interests in their flagship titles (but that's another story). That romance too is tributed in PH, a gift for viewers well versed in Incredible Hulk history. That sense of space pirate adventure and romance is exuberant. Who will the Hulk befriend now? What strange being will attack him now? Why does this planet look so much like ancient Rome or like the Middle East? But in all seriousness, that rollicking tone, and the sense of awe that Hulk feels, albeit briefly, are the endearing qualities of PH. The problem is that there isn't enough of either.

Unfortunately, I felt that this story-that-could-have-been looks out at the viewer (or reader) from behind the set of a tale that shows the Hulk pounding his way across Sakarr. He has little to show for his journey except for an injured shoulder and a meagre chance at happiness. Perhaps if the animated film had gone for 30 minutes longer and played out the rest of the graphic novel's story, tragedy or no, there would have been more balance and more reason to believe that a big green goliath could go from being, mentally, four years old, to far older, and somewhat wiser.

It's also hard to fault Pak; he took a crack at writing a fun character and fell in love with the alien aspects of his creation. In the end, though, you can feel the momentum sliding toward Hulk-versus-the-next-thing. This rhythm, a staccato pace toward the next plot point, becomes tiresome. Without more reason to root for the protagonist, a belief in his ability to grow as a character, the adventure seems as lost on the viewer as a personal adventure would be lost on someone without the ability to grow from their own trials and experiences.

* = Incidentally, the Klaatu character is a nod to both the alien in the classic 1951 sci-fi flick, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and a Canadian prog-rock of the same name formed in 1973.

 




Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ray Harryhausen passes away at 92 years old

Monster special-effects master, Ray Harryhausen, has passed away at the age of 92. I  loved watching his films when I was a kid, such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. I first glimpsed them at B-movie matinees at the old Port Theatre in my hometown.

I also absolutely love this passage from the article about Harryhausen in today's TheTelegraph.

One of Harryhausen's lifelong friends was the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who remembered the two of them making a pact: “We said, ‘We’re going to grow old but never grow up. We’re going to stay 18 years old and we’re going to love dinosaurs forever.’”

Damn right, Ray.

And rest in peace, Mr. Harryhausen.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My latest short story publication

Some good publishing news! Postscripts to Darkness 3 is publishing my horror story, “Carl and Monty’s Prairie Wager.”

What’s Postscripts? It’s an Ottawa-based anthology of dark fiction and illustrations co-edited by Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad, copy edited by Ranylt Richildis, with layout and design by Danny Lalonde. Postscripts pushes and plays with(in) the boundaries of the fantastic, the marvelous, the uncanny, and the horrific. 

Postscripts to Darkness 3 also includes my e-interview with noteable Toronto horror scribe, Gemma Files.

PSTD 3 launches Friday, April 5 in Ottawa, Canada.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Profile of Gemma Files


My latest assignment, my profile of horror scribe, Gemma Files, is online, appearing in Jan. 31, 2013 issue of Xtra: Canada’s gay & lesbian news. I focus on her rollicking trilogy of books regarding gay cowboy warlocks and Aztec Gods.

The cover image for the third installment of Gemma Files' Hexslinger series.

Author photo of Gemma Files.
As well, I have a much longer piece about Files, an e-interview that was also rollicking fun, and which appears in Postscripts to Darkness 3, edited by Sean Moreland and Aalya Ahmad.