It’s been hard, but I’ve been doing pretty good about staying on-topic since limiting the blog’s subject matter. Frankenstein’s a trump card though, so interesting Monster news will sneak in from time to time. Like Warren Ellis’ posting the cover to a graphic novella called Frankenstein’s Womb coming this winter.
Simmons’ novel is a fictionalized account of Charles Dickens’ final years. I suspect and hope it offers an intriguing theory about the inspiration behind Dickens’ unfinished, last novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
I know a lot of people were bugged by the scifi element in Crystal Skull, but they’re forgetting that there’s a precedence for it. As far back as Raiders there’s evidence that our ancient civilizations had contact with life – droid life, anyway – from the stars.
“Indy! No hitting!”
I still have a lot of Indy links to post. Like this one about how the Indiana Jones stunt show at Disneyland will no longer feature Dr. Jones’ directly hitting anyone. One of the senior show directors said that even though there haven’t been a lot of complaints, there “will be more pushes and shoves than direct hits.” Crowds don’t seem to like it when he punches Irina Spalko. Stupid crowds.
Re-reading the article, I notice that it says three punches are being removed, but it doesn’t say how many punches Indy used to throw. So I suppose he could’ve thrown about 20, leaving 17 of them intact. I wouldn’t bet money on it though.
Incidentally, I got to be in the Indy stunt show at Disney World last time I was there. I’ll have to scan some pictures from that.
Waiting for Dr. Jones
And speaking Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure, this guy’s taken tons of pictures of the queue. Disney sure knows how to make waiting in line fun.
Want to throw an Indiana Jones-themed shindig? Here’s how.
For years we’d really been trying to write a movie that was kind of about a hero and his sidekick. When we heard the Green Hornet movie was up for grabs, we thought that could be the perfect way to do this story, because he is the only hero whose sidekick is more known than he is.
Hancock: My history with Will Smith movies is that I enjoy them for the two hours I’m there and then pretty much forget about them afterwards. I don’t expect this one will be any different.
I might’ve had higher hopes if they hadn’t already spoiled his character development in the trailer. I think it would’ve been a bolder choice to have him stay a butthole the entire movie, but maybe they pull off the change really well.
Kabluey: (Limited release) I expect I’ll like this costumed hero a lot more than Hancock. Plus: Teri Garr.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: C’mon, it’s Hellboy. I’d see it even if it didn’t look the most awesomely imaginative fantasy film since Return of the King. Which it totally does. Journey to the Center of the Earth: Despite my liking both Jules Verne’s imagination and Brendan Fraser’s screen presence, I’m having a hard time getting excited about this one at all. They’ve changed two of the main characters into kids (”…making [the Icelandic guide] Hans into Hannah was just an obvious choice,” says director Eric Brevig) and seem more focused on playing with the 3D technology than on telling a great story (”…The rest of it [aside from adapting a couple of iconic moments from the book] was me coming up with pieces of business that I thought would just play wonderfully in 3-D as well as 2-D”). This is probably a DVD rental for me.
July 18 The Dark Knight: As much as my brain tells me that this is going to be awesome because the first one was and Christopher Nolan can Do No Wrong, my heart’s just not in it. I’m getting a little more excited the more we see of Two-Face, but I’m so tired of the Joker being played as just another psychotic killer. This is absolutely NOT a criticism of Heath Ledger whom I love as an actor and I expect is brilliant with the part he was given, but just once I’d like to see the Joker in the movies hatch a scheme involving an oversized mallet and a giant jack-in-the-box.
Transsiberian:(NY and LA only) The trailer looks uninspired, but I love trains and snow enough that I’m hoping those elements will carry me through even if the plot is lousy. But maybe it won’t be. Maybe it’s just a lousy trailer.
Space Chimps: Talking apes in a space adventure. What could be nicer?
Step Brothers: This is such a toss up as to whether or not I’m going to like it. John C. Reilly is great, but I can’t usually take much of Will Ferrell. All the ads I’ve seen for it have made me laugh though, so on the list it goes. The X-Files: I Want to Believe: This has the potential to be my favorite movie of the summer. I love and miss Mulder and Scully like you wouldn’t believe. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to be the biggest disappointment. My hopes for it are way too high.
I’m not a Stephen King fan per se. I used to think I was back in high school when I first read Night Shift. Up until then I only knew King through his movies, but that short story collection convinced me he was a genius. I followed that up with Pet Sematary and though it wasn’t as awe-inspiring as the short stories, it was still creepy as hell and my opinion of King went unchanged.
For whatever reason, I didn’t immediately go back to check out King’s early stuff. The next novel of his I remember reading was The Tommyknockers. It still had it’s moments, but it felt overly long. I also remember being disappointed in it for reasons similar to my disappointment about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I went back and checked out Carrieand ‘Salem’s Lot and was much more satisfied, but the disappointment of Tommyknockers stuck with me and King had become one of those hit-or-miss authors in my head. Weird how one book will do that for you.
I kept watching the movies though and it always seemed like the best ones weren’t horror films. I mean Carrie and The Shining are classics, but the truly great movies were Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and Misery. Okay Misery is a horror film, but not in the same way that King’s supernatural stuff is. I got the uninformed notion that King had literary aspirations (and good for him if he did), but I wasn’t that interested in following him there. I’d gladly stick with the movies.
If you remember my mentioning Disney’s Marketing Rules, I said that Duma Key fails to follow one of them. That one is, “You don’t sell products, you sell an experience.” Figure out what the experience is that you want readers to have and then figure out how to give them a taste of it before they buy. The marketing for Duma Key doesn’t do that. It relies on your familiarity with (and supposed attraction to) King, but otherwise doesn’t try to prepare you for how freaking scary and cool the book is.
The front cover flap calls the book “terrifying,” but only after spending much more time discussing “a terrible construction site accident,” an ending marriage, “two lovely daughters,” “rehabilitation,” “a rented house on Duma Key,” “movement out of solitude,” “a kindred spirit,” and finally hints at “a sick old woman” and “the ghosts of her childhood.” It wraps up by telling us that the book’s about “the tenacity of love, the perils of creativity, the mysteries of memory and the nature of the supernatural.” It sounds a lot more like The Green Mile or Hearts in Atlantis than ‘Salem’s Lot, but it’s not. Because King definitely hits those other two Disney rules. Hard.
“It’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see.” “Learn to turn work into play.” In other words, good writing isn’t something where you have to stop and think about the choices the writer made, but it is something where every page has something on it that not only makes it worth reading, but makes you excited about moving on to the next one as well.
The writing on Duma Key is very, very good, but King makes it look easy. His style isn’t distracting. I found myself admiring it, but I was never pulled out of the story by it.
More importantly though, Duma Key is really, really long, but every page is a joy to read. Rather than construct an entire community of people you have to get to know – most of whom die as soon as their four-page introduction is done – King sticks to a small cast of really likable characters. Every page is spent either showing you why you hope everything turns out okay for them, or deepens the mystery that makes you think it probably won’t.
Edgar Freemantle is the main guy. He’s the wealthy contractor from Minnesota’s Twin Cities who nearly loses his life in an on-site accident and does lose his marriage thanks to the rage he struggles with afterwards. His therapist suggests a change of scenery, so Edgar finds a rental house off the west coast of Florida. Edgar used to get some enjoyment from drawing a little, so his therapist recommends he spend some time doing that. It was this Minnesota-Florida connection that made me buy the book when I was needing something to read in Florida back in April.
The book’s told from Edgar’s perspective and King builds instant empathy for him, not only with the tragic accident, but with a sense of humor that – though occasionally, and understandably, perverse – gives Edgar a noble resiliency that you can’t help but root for.
In Florida, Edgar hires a good-natured college student named Jack to run errands for him. Jack doesn’t know the pre-accident Edgar, so he accepts him exactly as he is now without comparing him to – as Edgar calls it – his “previous life.” Jack’s easy-going affection for Edgar shows him that there’s still a lot to like about him. In spite of the rejection of his wife and one of his daughters, he still has value and realizing this encourages Edgar and brings out his better qualities even more. Jack’s a heroic character.
Down the beach from Edgar’s rental place is a sprawling mansion owned by the elderly Elizabeth Eastlake. Elizabeth suffers from Alzheimer’s and is cared for by a man named Wireman who’s recovering from injuries of his own. Elizabeth is a sweet woman who takes an instant liking to Edgar whenever she can remember who he is. Wireman likes Edgar too and the two men form a fast friendship built on the similarity of their experiences.
Wireman is an annoying character with the habits of referring to himself in the third person, spouting Spanish phrases for no reason, and following up quotes of movies and songs with the source of the quotation. But he’s a kind-hearted man and he’s exactly who Edgar needs in his life. As great and genuine as Jack is, he’s still Edgar’s employee. Wireman is Edgar’s friend just because.
The last character I want to mention is Ilse, Edgar’s younger daughter. She’s really a supporting character, but because she’s the only person in his family who still seems to care about him, she’s a joy. I should clarify that King doesn’t make villains out of Edgar’s wife and older daughter. He paints them as real people who simply can’t cope with how Edgar has – not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally – changed. And in the older daughter’s defense, Edgar freely admits that he was always partial to Ilse and did a lousy job of hiding it.
As we get to know these people, we also discover that there’s something of a mystery to Edgar’s new home on Duma Key. He begins to paint and is much, much better than he remembered being. But sometimes his right arm – lost in the construction accident – begins to twitch and he feels the urge to get out the art supplies. When he does, strange things end up on his canvasses. It’s like he’s channeling images from somewhere else. Eventually he starts to wonder if he can control the process and use it to see the future or keep tabs on his wife back in Minnesota. And if he can do that, maybe he can control it even more and use his painting to shape events too.
It’s a frightening power and Edgar is careful with it, but he’s also curious and he begins trying to figure out where it comes from. And the more he uncovers, the more horrifying the mystery becomes until you’re looking up from the book every once in a while because you thought you heard a noise. Or you’re not sure you want to go to bed because you know that when you close your eyes you’re going to replay the scene you just read and you don’t want to do that in bed with the lights out.
Except of course that you sort of do, because it’s really fun being this creeped out.
I haven’t followed King’s career closely enough to announce that He’s Back, but Duma Key certainly deserves to be on the shelf next to Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot and that’s not at all what I expected out of it.
What do you know? I can finish a novel when I put my mind to it. I’d just about given up hope. And with a week to spare in the month too. Now the question is: do I tempt Luck and try to squeeze something else in before starting Jane and the Man of the Cloth for April? Or do I play it safe and get an early start on Man of the Cloth?
Best to play it safe, knowing me. Besides, after finishing Scargrave I’m excited to get cracking on the next one. I’ve read it a couple of times before too and know what to expect. There are pirates.
Scargrave also has a cool, un-Austen-like element to it, but I can’t tell you what it is without ruining the whole thing. It’s unfortunate though, because it’s my favorite part of the book and I want to go on and on about it. Still, there are other things to recommend this first novel in Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen Mysteries.
The action picks up right after Jane’s accepted Harris Bigg-Wither’s marriage proposal and then turned him down less than 24 hours later. Still reeling from the event and wanting to get away from the local scandal it’s caused, she gladly accepts an invitation to join a newly-married acquaintance of hers named Isobel Payne at her husband’s country estate, Scargrave Manor. On the very night of Jane’s arrival though, Lord Scargrave becomes violently ill and passes away during the night. The following day, Isobel’s maid has gone missing and a note from her is delivered implicating Isobel and her step-son in Scargrave’s death.
That’s as far as I’ll go in the plot description, except to say another death occurs and the law becomes involved to the point that Jane feels obligated to find the murderer or murderers in order to clear Isobel’s name. Barron asserts in her introduction that “a woman of (Jane’s) intellectual powers and perception of human nature would enjoy grappling with the puzzle presented by a criminal mind whenever it appeared in her way. Her genius for understanding the motives of others, her eye for detail, and her ear for self-expression – most of all her imaginative ability to see what might have been as well as what was – were her essential tools in exposing crime.” I can’t argue with that. Don’t want to either, since that proposition is the basis for Barron’s whole series that I enjoy so much.
I think I mentioned before that I have a hard time reading Austen. That’s because she – at least in Pride and Prejudice – takes such a leisurely approach to unfolding her story. There’s not much action to pull you forward and it’s hard for me to invest that much time in a story when the only motivation to keep reading is to see if Mr. So-and-So can ever fall in love with Miss Whatsername. I need some thrills to keep me interested.
The first time I read Scargrave, I read it as a straight mystery fan and I have to confess that read that way, it reads like an Austen book. Barron unfolds the story slowly and frequently interrupts it with details about English life in the early 1800s. There are all the balls and flirtations and silly girls and noble gentlemen and sincere friendships and backstabbing hypocrites and lovely walks through the countryside that you expect to find in an Austen story.
Barron also has an ear for Austen’s banter though. Jane throws around quips and insults that frequently had me smiling if not chuckling out loud to myself. It’s one of the reasons I’ve adopted Barron’s version of Jane as the official one in my mind. I’m not ashamed to say that if I had to make a choice between the real Jane Austen and Barron’s creation, I wouldn’t hesitate to stick with Barron’s. She’s too charming and delightful a character.
Barron also fills Scargrave Manor with all sorts of other Austenian characters. There’s Isobel, the true friend and damsel in distress. There’s her step-son Fitzroy, an obvious (because Barron comes right out and says it) counterpart to Mr. Darcy. There are the late Scargrave’s nephews George and Thomas Hearst: George being a serious man with ambitions to join the clergy; Thomas being a dashing military officer with a rascally side and the atmosphere of scandal hanging over him. There are Isobel’s aunt and cousin, Madame and Fanny Delahoussaye respectively. Madame is just the kind of controlling mother so often depicted in Austen’s novels and Fanny is a silly, flighty girl in love with the handsome, but equally flighty Tom Hearst.
Scargrave may not be a thrilling, fast-paced mystery, but it is a damn interesting Austen pastiche. What I love about itis that it gives me the flavor of an Austen book, but adds all these secrets and murders to keep things moving. Lord Harold Trowbridge, for instance, is another visitor to Scargrave Manor, but he’s not especially Austenian. He has nefarious designs on Isobel’s property in the West Indes and he’s one of the most deliciously sinister characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. If they were to make a movie out of Scargrave today, he’d be played by Jason Isaacs. I remember when I first read the book that it was Trowbridge who kept me reading when it seemed like Jane wasn’t uncovering clues quickly enough for me.
Five out of five dead bodies in the hay shed.
In related news, I had some time this afternoon, so I went by Once Upon a Crime and picked up the three Austen Mysteries that I don’t have yet. Its been a while since I was there and I didn’t realize that their annual Write of Spring event is going on. The place was packed with readers and local authors. Made me realize how much I miss shopping and going to readings and signings there. I’m not going to wait so long until my next visit.
I’m still catching up on the solicitations for upcoming comics. I was just going to stick this in the Awesome List below, but dang if there aren’t a lot of interesting comics coming from DC in May.
In no particular order:
House of Mystery #1
There aren’t many people I’d trust to make an ongoing horror anthology series interesting, but Bill Willingham is one of them. Especially since he and co-writer Matt Sturges aren’t doing a real anthology so much as they are a series of tales with a connected, mystery metastory running through them. Or something like that.
It’s still really risky business, but like I said, I trust Willingham enough to give it a serious look.
Justice League Unlimited #45
I don’t usually read this comic, but it’s got Mary Marvel on the cover with a gorilla who’s holding some kind of superscience device. Time to see if this compares well to Marvel’s Marvel Adventures comics that I love so very truly.
Detective Comics #844
All I need to know is that Zatanna’s on the cover.
Gotham Underground #8
I’m gonna have to flip through this one in the store, but Azrael’s sort of appearance on the cover is getting me to at least pick it up. I fully expect him to appear in flashback or something, which means I’ll be leaving it on the shelf.
Batman: Gotham After Midnight #1
Steve Niles and Kelley Jones on an ongoing about Batman’s “bizarre and frightening case files” featuring grave-robbers and man-made monsters. DC just made me a regular reader of a Batman comic again.
This is another one I’m going to have to flip through. I absolutely love Joe Kubert’s art, but the blurb bothers me a little by focusing a lot on Tor’s struggle with existential questions. Not that I’m at all against having some deeper subject matter, but I want to see him struggle more with giant crocodiles than the meaning of life.
The War That Time Forgot #1
This sounds like a no-brainer. “A lone USAF pilot, about to warn his superiors of the attack on Pearl Harbor, finds his craft suddenly crash-landing on a mysterious island populated with prehistoric creatures and soldiers of wars of the past, present and future – including Tomahawk, Firehair, and Hans Von Hammer, the Enemy Ace! What bizarre force has compelled these military masters of every era to inhabit the same strange territory? Can they survive without killing each other or being devoured by dinosaurs?”
The only problem is that it’s written by Bruce Jones, a guy who’s sometimes taken awesome concepts and turned them into solemn, weighty stories. Again, I’m all for adding strong characterization and profound themes to all the historical soldiers vs. dinosaurs action. Let’s just make sure that it’s only Time and not the writer who forgets the War.
Bookgasm continues to turn me on to the good stuff. This time it’s a mystery with “secret symbols, medieval witchcraft, and modern murder.” And it’s set in Iceland.
“Fraulein Stein’s Monster”
Knowing how much I dig Frankenstein’s Monster, my buddy Joe sent me a link to a Christian manga series that sort of features the character. He writes, “From issue 7 on, the second half of each issue is a movie the kids are making, done in different styles – disaster film, biblical epic, Star Trek, and the Frankenstein one.” Gonna check it out.
As much as Bond gets around, it makes sense that he has some kids running around. The Double 0 Section blog has a rundown on them, focusing particularly on his daughter, Jill, from the Italian film Naked You Die. Oh, I’m so adding that to my Netflix queue.
My mom was a huge influence on my genre tastes as a kid. She was and still is a huge mystery fan, and Barnaby Jones was one of our favorite shows. We even named our dog Barnaby after the Great Detective.
Buddy Ebsen will always be Barnaby Jones, not Jed Clampett, to me. And Lee Meriwether will always be Betty; not Catwoman. Julie Newmar is Catwoman.
10,000 B.C.: By all rights, this should be Beyond Awesome with all the cavegirls and ancient civilizations and sabretooth tigers and domesticated mammoths. But I’d be lying if I said that “From the Director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow” didn’t make me nervous. Independence Day was a fun, but disposable movie and you couldn’t have dragged me into The Day After Tomorrow with all the domesticated mammoths in the world.
The Bank Job: Jason Statham. Bank heist. ’70s detectives and criminals. Government conspiracy. They got me.
Snow Angels(limited release): Kate Beckinsale is all I need to know about this movie, but the rest of it looks pretty good too. Olivia Thirlby is even cuter here than she was in Juno.
Okay. Yes. It’s all about the girls with me on this one.
Doomsday: Speaking of Kate Beckinsale, I really thought that was her in the trailer for this. Makes me much less nervous about Rhona Mitra’s taking over for Kate in the next Underworld film. And even though it’s not Kate here, the Road Warrior/Escape from New York vibe is strong enough to make it my most anticipated movie of the month.
Horton Hears a Who: I’d about had it with big screen adaptations of Dr. Suess books, but going animated is a step in the right direction. I’m not convinced that they can pad it out to feature length without making it feel like padding, but it’s one of my favorite Suess stories, so I’m willing to give it a try.
Drillbit Taylor: Owen Wilson was painfully unfunny at the Oscars, mostly because he wasn’t even trying to be funny and that made me sad. He’s one of my favorite comic actors and I’m worried about him. Not every movie of his is great, but this one written by Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown, based on a concept by John Hughes, and produced by Judd Apatow has all the ingredients it needs to be hilarious.
Superhero Movie: I’m expecting very little from this, but it has Leslie Nielsen in it, so I’m guaranteed a laugh or two.
Flawless: Michael Caine. Bank heist. ’60s detectives and criminals. No government conspiracy, but they still got me.