Thursday, October 23, 2014

American Horror Story--Freakshow--Edward Mordrake, Part 1--Episode 3



Photo:  It's all over the net, but I got it from http://verumfabula.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/the-curious-case-of-edward-mondrake/

Some quick thoughts about this good episode:

--Michael Chiklis's Strongman (aka--Dell Toledo) never got around to telling his wife he was sorry to hear she was dying.

--Very nice opening with Ethel and her doctor.  I would imagine that alcohol would've killed a lot of carnival workers / "freaks" back in the day.

--Speaking of alcohol, the commercials pushing it during this episode: Coors, Yuengling, Jack Daniels, Sam Adams.  I think there were more.  That's just off the top of my head.

--Emma Roberts' fortune teller will end up actually being able to tell the future.  That's my prophecy, if you will.

--Sarah Paulson's Bette and Dot wouldn't have shared the same dream.  They have two heads and therefore two brains.  Of course, that's where the dreams are.  But it's nice symmetry to make it that way, anyway, especially if it's a nice dream for one and a nightmare for the other.  If the operation does happen, the one to survive will be the one who thought it was a nightmare, naturally.  And she'll act like she's the other one.

--Why is everyone talking about salaries and jobs?  And raises?  No customers = no money.

--Jessica Lange's (second) song montage was like a bad 80s video: people walking around aimlessly in a thick mist for no reason at all.

--How did Elsa Mars summon Edward Mordrake?  The story, as told by Kathy Bates, was that a performance on Halloween will produce him.  But Elsa Mars didn't perform--she practiced.  (Again, no customers.)  A rehearsal is not a performance.  At least, not from what I recall from my Philosophy of Art class, anyway.  Doesn't a performance mandate an audience?

--Why couldn't Kathy Bates's Ethel Darling just shave very, very often?  I'm just sayin'.

###  The remaining portion of this entry can be found on my American Horror Story Freak Show blog.  Thanks for reading.  Incidentally, which character on the show do you find the creepiest?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Know You're A Homeowner When...


Photo: A window in my house.  Notice the wooden shims holding up the second pane of glass so there's no open space between the plastic molding of the storm window and the top of the windowframe.

You know you're a homeowner (of an older house) when...


--you think wooden shims are the bomb.


--and you have hundreds of them throughout the house, in use (like in the pic above) and in storage.


--you've just spent $45 on steel wool, window insulation and caulking.


--you spent an hour walking through the house, studying the perimeters of your windows and doors to see where you need to use that stuff.


--and you've spent an hour or so stuffing steel wool into the gaps between the just-now-rotting wood of your shed and the cement of the shed floor. 


--and you've recently spent an hour or so stuffing steel wool into the gaps between your garage doors and the cement floor of your garage.


--and you've done that more to keep out the damn mice than to keep in the winter heat.


--you start saving money in the beginning of the fall to pay for the winter heating bills.


--you actually pay attention when someone prophecies how warm or cold the upcoming winter will be.


--you feel damn proud of yourself for cleaning out just enough garage space to get your car in there.


--you're happy to hear that two dead mice were found in your shed because last winter they ate your backyard work gloves to shreds and pooped all over the second and third shelves.


--you sing the praises of house spiders because they kill smaller bugs--but they also let you know where the unseen drafts are in your house.  (They'll build their webs there, and you'll see the webs shimmer slightly in the draft.)


--you have a handyman on speed-dial.


--and your landscaper, too.


--and the guy in charge of the water heater and pipes, too.


--and the guy in charge of the heating oil, too.


--you make sure you can pay the mortgage before you think about the next food shopping bill.  (Because you know the old ladies across the street will give you enough bagels, crackers and cheese to hold you over.)


--you realize you're a wood hoarder.  (I have more wood than you'll find in many small forests.)


--you can write a long-ish blog entry about the idiosyncratic things you do when you own a house.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Walking Dead




Photos: from The Walking Dead's website via AMC.

My blog for The Walking Dead, Season Five, is now up.  Below is an excerpt of the latest blog entry.  To read the whole thing, click here or click the Walking Dead tab above.

_______________________________

The obliteration of peoples in the future might go something like this.

Actually, no.  Let me re-phrase.  This institutional evil has already happened in real history.

When Gareth strolls in with his clipboard and demands an account of bullets fired at Rick's group, he immediately stops the action--which, in this case, was some guy about to slaughter Glen with a hefty-looking aluminum bat, and then cut his throat over a trough.

He asks for the number of bullets fired at Rick's group.  He's got a clipboard and a checklist.  With more time and fewer commercial breaks, might he have asked about the weapons taken from them, or other valuable items?  I think so.  Three swords?  Check.  Six guns?  Check.  No where's that bag?

In World War II Germany, "valuable items" would've been defined as paintings, gold (including gold teeth, or haven't you seen the same documentaries I have?), silver, china, art.  Any metal to be melted down to use as bullets, tanks, etc. for the German war effort.  In a Zombie Apocalypse, "valuable items" would be defined as weapons and bullets.

Did a Jew at Auschwitz live a few seconds longer as a soldier answered a superior's similar question?  Did this soldier keep the gun pressed against a prisoner's head as he said, "Five gold teeth and two works of art taken from this prisoner, sir," in German, to his superior officer, who was standing over him at the time with clipboard and pencil in hand?

Yes.  Yes, I believe that could have happened.

But real life isn't TV.  So then the gun would've fired.

Systematically.  Impersonally.  Just taking inventory.

Institutional evil.  I wish I could take credit for that phrase, but I heard it on Talking Dead later.  Probably it's been a phrase widely used, at least since World War II.

I write this because some have already remarked that the people in Sanctuary got more than they deserved.  That Sanctuary Mary (Denise Crosby, from Pet Sematary and other 80s movies, if you're as old as I am) didn't deserve what she got.  This was, in fact, a poll question during Talking Dead.

So this blog entry is written to those 25% to 30% of the viewers who texted in with a "Yes, the Sanctuary People got more than they deserved.  After all, they were a group like Rick's, and they got raped and beaten and killed.  They were just trying to stay alive.  You're either the butcher or you're the cattle, right?"

Because this is exactly what the Germans thought at the end of World War I.  They'd been bombed and obliterated.  Berliners were starving.  Diseased.  Dying.  And a few of them were really pissed off.  They were just trying to stay alive.  They were tired of being the cattle.  Better to be butchers.

___________________

To read the rest of this blog entry, or to read a few entries from The Walking Dead's previous season, please click here.  Or click on the Walking Dead Season 5 tab above.  Thanks.

As always, please feel free to comment.

Police



Photo: An uncopyedited proof, the type given to early readers, or beta-readers.  And, considering the editing job done on this book (see comment below), it apparently remained uncopyedited.  From crimefictionlover.com.

Very, very, very disappointing follow-up to Nesbo's Phantom, a far superior book, even with the ridiculous passages from the rat's POV.  In equal parts boring and frustrating--but mostly frustrating--Police is a book that could've been, and should've been, much better. 

It fails because it's all over the place with its plot and story, and because it doesn't focus enough on its characters.  Nesbo said in an interview that he essentially wrote Phantom and Police as one book, and it shows.  At over 1,000 pages combined, it seems like Nesbo couldn't wait to finish with the ending, that even he became bored and frustrated with it.

How else to explain the inexplicable demise of a major recurring character?  How else to explain how the killer could've had the time to draw and quarter this well-liked character while on the run from everyone?  Could the killer really have chopped off her arms and legs and head in (seemingly) minutes?  Then stash them all in different bags and deposit them in the trash just in time for the trucks?

What?!?  And, by the way, didn't this character deserve so much better?  She's rarely considered for the rest of the book--though everyone was sure not to sit in her chair--and it's never explained why she was done away with when other characters were not, even when we were tricked into thinking they would be.

And that was another thing.  Way too many cheap tricks, like making us think a character's young daughter was in danger when her father calls her friend Emilie's house to inquire about her sleepover.  Turns out, she was at the sleepover after all--just at a different girl's house...another girl in the same class, also named Emilie!!!  Ugh...

Another time a character looks like she's about to get it, but it was just another character sneaking up on her.  She even says that, hey, you're not John Doe--but it turns out he was.  She just meant that he wasn't acting like himself.  Please...

Another time a very distraught father was acting strange at the scene of his daughter's death, just after a character in the previous section said that murders were committed by someone distraught about love, and at the death scene of those he loved.  Turns out, though, that this guy was actually just in grief about his daughter dying, one year to the day...Argh!

The real bad guy is a case of who cares.  The ones you wanted to be guilty--two REALLY bad guys--lose an eye and gets his face burnt off, apparently without too many aftereffects or problems.  They go out in public and live their lives as if nothing happened.  Must've been a great surgery for the guy who lost his eye, though the guy who did it was never a doctor or surgeon, or in any health-related field at all.

And who was that body in the hospital all that time?  Not who you think, but considering how Phantom ended, you couldn't be blamed for not knowing.  Turns out, a character from that book hadn't died after all!  How could the reader have known?  Well, you couldn't, but that's the way it is, anyway.

And where's the REALLY, REALLY bad guy everyone spends most of the book looking for?  Nobody ever says.  Wait for the sequel, I guess.  The only intriguing character is a very beautiful, and very unbalanced (Isn't that always the way?) young woman who does something very touching--and out of character--at the end.  You won't believe it, just like I didn't.

Very cheap.  Very lazy.

And really disappointing, because I like the series and I like the writer.  In fact, I was just thinking of incorporating a technique of his that he uses at the end of every book--what some writers have called his "set pieces," which they essentially are, in a play kind of way.  I now realize that these have to be exquisitely staged and described because a) they end every book; b) they're the resolution of the action / mystery / who-dun-it? / police procedural; and c) they're actually the climax, if you combine them with the next book, which I realize is how Nesbo actually writes these.  So they serve a ton of functions.

But, because of this, they have to be perfect.  Great when they are, as most of them have been.  Really bad when they're not.  And when you combine that with everything I've described above, and throw in a lousy editing job (this could've easily been a few hundred pages shorter), you have a real clunker.

And what he did to that recurring female character--chopped her up into many pieces, without mentioning how important she'd been to the series, or her now-orphaned young son--and throw in the fact that she was apparently alive during most of the chopping up...Indefensibly awful.

So bad I'm driven by it to work on my own book, and to treat my characters much better.  Bad things will still happen to them, but they won't be (or remain) unexplained.  And I'll treat them, as I hope I always have, with much more respect.

So frustrating because, again, Nesbo is a good writer, and though the tricks in this book are cheap, they work because you turn the pages.  You want to figure everything out.  You want to see what happens.  You want to see it all unravel.  And in that sense this book isn't awful, exactly, because I read its 550 hardcover pages in about 24 hours or so.

And I'll read the next one, too.

But...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show

My new blog for American Horror Story: Freak Show is up and running.  The review of Episode One, "Monsters Among Us," is there now.

The address is above, and here: http://stevestvahsfreakshow.blogspot.com/2014/10/episode-1-monsters-among-us.html

Let me know what you think!  Thanks!

Part of the first entry--


Well, here we are!  A new season of AHS, this time called Freak Show.  I'm really looking forward to this season, especially after the truly terrible AHS--Coven, and Episode One did not disappoint.  A few thoughts, then, on the episode:

--Nice theme, Monsters Among Us.  Who does that refer to?  The folks under the tents?  The bored housewives of the 50s Elsa Mars referred to?  Just the clown?  The people who use the unlucky for entertainment?  All of these?

--Funny how the monsters never see themselves that way.  But they do think others are monsters.  So perhaps a better question I could have asked was: Who does the "us" refer to?  A good Twilight Zone-esque short story can be written about this.  Hmmm...

--Kill Count: Twins: 1.  Lobster Boy: 1.  Clown: 3? 4?

--Homages this episode:

1.  Tod Browning's (the director of 1931's Dracula) landmark early movie Freaks.  Of course.  The whole episode, if not the whole season, is an homage to this.  If you haven't seen it, do so.  Very memorable.  Unbelievable that Hollywood and the censors would allow this to be made in the '30s.

2.  Orson Welles and Touch of Evil.  The cop who came to the tents, sliced by Lobster Boy.  Made to look exactly like Welles in that movie.  Talked and moved the same way, too.  To a T.

3.  Maybe inadvertent, but I saw a lot of Edward Scissorhands in this episode.  Mostly in the dissatisfied female suburbanites and the bubbled camera shots.  And in Lobster Boy.

4.  Sunset Boulevard.  Jessica Lange's character is the same, and looks the same, as Norma Desmond.  A washed-up performer in need of the eternal audience.

5.  Jason Robards' Something Wicked This Way Comes, from Ray Bradbury's good book.  Evil in the guise of a traveling circus.

6.  The clown's smile is right from The Man Who LaughsRead this Wikipedia article to see how it also gave creation to The Joker's smile.  Even had a graphic novel about the Joker with that title.  The article is linked below.  The movie's on YouTube.  Give it a look.

--A real shame that it's Jessica Lange's last AHS.  She was easily the best thing about the second and third seasons, and this episode.

--Besides the clown, of course.  That is truly one scary, messed-up looking clown.  Incidentally, this clown reminds me more of the hypnosis-with-the-golden-coin clown from a Scooby-Doo episode than anything about The Joker.  And I see a lot of Conrad Veidt's The Man Who Laughs in the smile.  See the pic above and tell me if you agree.  And look at this Wikipedia article about the movie.  I'm tellin' ya.

What did you think of the episode?  Did you like it?  Did I miss any homages?

[For more, please go to the blog via this link.]