Monday, August 30, 2010

Thinking About the Future

All writers dream of a point in their careers when they can quit their day jobs and work full-time as a writer, of course this is a rare occurrence. Your odds of this happening to you is most likely worse than hitting the lottery. It makes you wonder why the hell you keep at it. All the work, rejection and self-flaggration for little monetary reward. And, let's admit it, the printed word is not flourishing and the business models of all of the publishing companies suck. Very few people are going to get rich.

But the purpose of this post is not why I continue to write and dream of publishing - the answer to that probably involves questioning my mental well-being and overall intelligence, and let's not go there. No, the reason I'm tap-tap-taping away at the keyboard is to discuss the financial stability of the deranged dreamer - in this case a hopeless writer with delusions of publishing success (hint: that's me). Right now I make shit for money despite the fact that I do have a college degree, actually two, one of those being a Master's. All the newspapers and magazine taut the importance of a college education in expanding your earning ability. That's horseshit, by the way, if you live in a relatively economically depressed area with little job potential, unless you're a social worker.

But, I continue to delude myself, and have decided to do something to make much more money than I do now. In order to spread joy and contentment wherever I go, I've decided to become... a waiter. Oh, wait, that's a Monty Python sketch. No, I've decided to get an MBA. I know, that means more education, which hasn't really done much in terms of filling my bank account, but the earning potential does increase with those three letters after my name - more so than the current MFA does.

What this means is that I will have even less time to write. That dream becomes a bit dimmer, though not completely gone. At this point, it is probably more important that I consider my family's financial well-being rather than fulfilling some notion of publishing notoriety. I guess the good news is that the writing bug will never die, and I do intend on writing - and who knows, having less time may force me to utilize what free time I do have and force me to actually write more. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

Oh, well.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I'm Tired, But Sleep Just Won't Come

I've always had trouble sleeping at night. Right now it's close to 12:30 and I've already spent a good 45 minutes just staring into darkness, listening to the fan in the air conditioner. I hear the cat move about, but even he is asleep somewhere now. Probably on my side of the bed.

They say that geniuses sleep only a few hours a night. I guess my MENSA certificate should be here any moment. On the other hand, if the sun were out, I would probably be very drowsy and able to fall asleep sitting at this desk for a number of hours. Daylight makes me tired.

And as I sit here surrounded by a number of six-foot tall bookshelves, each one straining against the weight of hundreds of books; I know that I would not be as well read (or at least as well read as I am, which is better than average, but certainly not as much as some), familiar with as many films or listen to as much music if I weren't the insomniac I am.

Today, some 3,300 hours from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was released on the internet. Since I am such a night person, and considering that we didn't have cable growing up, I watched him almost every night, along with Letterman. I miss that show.

Anyway, typing away hasn't done anything to make me think I'm ready for bed. Back to the Accounting textbook for another 20 pages before I try again.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Research. Ugh!

I like doing research as much as I like shaving. Maybe because I usually do it after the fact. I make up shit and hope like hell the research will back me up - if it doesn't, then, hell, it's called fiction for a reason, right? Recently I have scattered e-mails out to a number of people with some questions, with only one reply. (Thank you, Peregrine.) I feel like a beggar asking for a dollar.

I think one of the things I hate about asking people questions is that I can't point to a novel as proof that I'm actual writer. Sure, you can find the anthologies I'm in, but my name on the cover is usually spelled, "And Others." There are e-zines, but who wants to take the time to explain what that is and where one can find them? I can also say I have an MFA (and I have), but big fucking deal, right?

Oh, well.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Maybe I Should Write Something

Testing? Is this thing still on? OK, so other things have taken precedent over blogging. To my readers, I have to say, "sorry, you two." If they are both still paying attention.

Obligations. It's hard to sit down and write. Really hard. I sometime go weeks between writing something, but it doesn't mean it is out of mind. Stories still occupy my time. I think about characters all the time, go over plots, wonder about the best prose my limited mind can muster. One thing that comforts me (haunts me) is that I will never stop thinking about writing. And just because I haven't posted here in some time doesn't mean I've stopped writing all together. I just sent out a few short stories and working on the final research for the book, which is close to done. I'm confident that it will be finished before George R.R. Martin finish his latest work - oh, why has he abandoned us?

So, as I come out of my novel writing trance - it has occupied most of my time and should be blamed for the lack of published short stories and blogging, etc. - I have decided to post here more regularly, if only to get my writing juices going. What an expression. Anyone else have writing juice out there? Is that the juice we squeeze from writers?

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Own Top Ten Greatest Working Directors

So, after picking apart EW's rankings, I suppose I should make my own list. Here it is:

#10. Paul Thomas Anderson

#9. Steven Soderberg

#8. Quentin Tarantino

#7 Michael Mann

#6. Zhang Yimou

#5. David Cronenberg

#4. Wes Anderson

#3. Joel and Ethan Coen

#2. Clint Eastwood

#1. Martin Scorsese

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 Working Directors, part 2

Yeah, I'm really bad at posting to this thing. But since the last post was a commentary on the first half of EW's list of top directors, which at the time stopped at #26, I thought I would at least finish what I started. Plus, I need some distance away from the current completed (at least the first draft) short story, so what better way to technically write and waste time? So, here is the top 25, according to Entertainment Weekly.

#25 Lee Daniels

Really? Sure, Precious was well done, but it wasn't so great that it would push Daniels onto this list, let alone positioning him so high. Terrible choice.

#24 Michael Mann

Now this is more like it. Hidden at the center of every one of his films is the question of what it is to be a man. Most of his characters are men of action who struggle with that central question, and Mann communicates that with some of the most complex (and contradictory, considering how explosive his films are) subtleties on film. You can see these characters thinking. Plus, Mann is a master of mixing images and music.

#23 Ang Lee

Is it possible to be an underrated Oscar winner? If so, then that's what Lee is. Even though he won a well deserved statue for Brokeback Mountain (a tragic Oscar loser, considering how beautiful, haunting and simply fantastic it was), I don't think he receives enough praise. The Ice Storm is one of the best movies out of the 1990s and his version of a comic book movie, Hulk, was a marvelous art house experiment targeted at the wrong audience.

#22 Wes Anderson

A true auteur in an age of Brett Ratner and McG, Anderson should not exist as a filmmaker, but thank Christ he does. His movies are like the best idea of a New Yorker story come to life - but more entertaining. His slyly humorous movies rewards the intelligent moviegoer rather than bashing him or her over the head with a lot of bullshit. Even his mildly disappointing The Darjeeling Limited was still pretty good.

#21 Brad Bird

I have no argument against Bird being this far up on the list. All three of his films are terrific. His ranking is probably the biggest "Oh, yeah" here.

#20 Ridley Scott

Scott's work can be hit or miss, but at least it is always worth seeing. When he's good, he is very very good, but when he misses the mark, he can be so disappointingly ordinary. Alien and Blade Runner = amazing; G.I. Jane and White Squall= meh. Too bad his brother Tony doesn't get the same accolades.

#19 Danny Boyle

He's here because of Slumdog Millionaire. Don't get me wrong, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave are evidence enough of Boyle's talents to justify his ranking, but writers of such lists have such short memory spans that you wonder about their sincerity. Look at Lee Daniels above.

#18 Spike Jonze

Jonze's movies require a certain amount of juvenile attitude and intelligence from its audiences in order to work. If you are too uptight, don't bother; if your level of sophistication stops at fart jokes and Ernest films, same thing, don't bother. Where the Wilds Things Are is probably the most genuine and truthful film about being an eleven-year-old boy ever seen. That movie could have been a disaster with someone who doesn't have Jonze's sensibilities.

#17 Jason Reitman

Three pretty good movies is not three great movies. Reitman is entertaining, and touches on human emotions seldom seen in movies today, but he can slide toward the cliched too often. He's Alexander Payne lite. Payne, now there's someone who belongs here.

#16 Steven Soderbergh

Here is someone who understands film. Not so pretentious as to take himself too seriously, but also able to make some gut wrenching pictures. Soderbergh is a man born three decades too late (you want 1970s filmmaking today, here you go), but there is a modern sensibility to everything he does. Capable of high concept movies (Oceans 11, and so on and so on...), but also some interesting experimental films (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience), Soderbergh is probably the most versatile filmmaker here.

#15 Guillermo del Toro

Ah, some geek love. Sure, Pan's Labyrinth was a critic's darling, as it should have been, but del Toro has done some absolutely great work with genre films as to force some people to realize that these movies can offer fantastic work. Concerned that the upcoming film of The Hobbit won't be any good without Peter Jackson? Don't worry, if there was one person who possess the same capacity for filming epic fantasy, it is del Toro.

#14 Paul Thomas Anderson

Yes! Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia,Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood. Yes!

#13 David Fincher

After Alien 3, most people would think you were mental if you said Fincher would become one of the best directors of the last 15 years. But once people saw Seven, they forgot all about his past transgression. Fincher's career is just solid, plus he made one of the greatest films ever: Fight Club.

#12 Tim Burton

Overrated alert! Yes, Burton makes interesting films, but memorable? Not really. Everything he does is just a derivative of Beetlejuice. Tim Burton is to great filmmaking as the mall store Hot Topic is to edgy.

#11 Clint Eastwood

He doesn't even crack the top ten? Who's the fucking moron who wrote this? The man just delivers time and time again. Sure he has had some lesser films, but consider the last twenty years: 17 films, at least ten of them could be considered masterpieces; not just good or great, fucking masterpieces. This man has a legitimate claim to be at the top of this list and unlike some of his fellow contenders, he just gets better and better.

#10 Hayao Miyazaki

If you have never seen a Miyazaki movie, and chances are you haven't, then go out and see Spirited Away, which captures everything this animator does well. He is called the Japanese Walt Disney? Please, don't insult the man. His work is much more complicated than anything Disney would have conceived.

#9 Pedro Almodovar

To tell you the truth, I'm not so familiar with Almodovar's work as to have a legitimate opinion here. What I've seen has been terrific, but out of the director's over 20 films, I've only seen three. Bad, cinephile, bad! OK, a visit to Netflix after this.

#8 Joel and Ethan Coen

A Coen brother's movie is always something to celebrate, even their sort of Coen Brother-Lite A Serious Man. If you love film, but can't appreciate Joel and Ethan Coen, then there is something wrong with you. You never know what movie to expect from the brothers, but you can always count on it being mischievous and darkly humorous.

#7 Peter Jackson

Yes, he pulled off a miracle in bringing The Lord of the Rings trilogy to the screen, well, not just bringing it to the screen, but actually making the series awesome and obtaining some serious Oscar gold. But people tend to forget that his Heavenly Creatures was sublime and that his fun movies like Dead Alive and Meet the Feebles were such campy pleasures. And he didn't get enough respect for his remake of King King.

#6 Quentin Tarantino

You have to think that Tarantino is 1950's Cahier du Cinema writing staff's wet dream. An American filmmaker with a European sensibility, but also mix in a healthy appreciation of exploitation and pulp. Inglourious Basterds is arguably Tarantino's masterpiece.

#5 Steven Spielberg

Is Spielberg a great director? Yes. Is his career losing steam? Unfortunately. Watching the last Indiana Jones movie was like watching one of the last movies of the studio era. The storytelling was stiff, the action was never exciting and, worst of all, the directing was stale. It was a movie made by someone who was bored with the entire process. Is Spielberg past his prime? I hope not.

#4 Kathryn Bigelow

Another case of list writers' short term memory. The last one to win an Oscar must be in the top five, right? Whatever. Yes, Bigelow is great, but she has gone from depressingly underrated to instantly the fourth greatest director alive today? I'm not so sure about that. I'd put her in the top 20, and not just for The Hurt Locker. See Strange Days if you haven't already.

#3 James Cameron

He makes great movies. He makes a shitload of money, but is that enough for the number 3 spot? I'll grant you the top 15, maybe even top 10, but not 3.

#2 Martin Scorsese

Probably Eastwood's only competition for the legitimate title of greatest living director. A true master of the art.

#1 Christopher Nolan

Huh? OK, he has made some terrific movies, including the near perfect The Dark Knight, but number 1? I think Nolan is talented and may very well be on his way to the top of his profession, but he has a lot more to prove before some idiot writers crown him the best of the best.

Uh, excuse me, EW, but where the fuck is Gus Van Sant or Zhang Yimou? Who the fuck put this thing together anyway?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Entertainment Weekly's Top 50 Working Directors

Obviously I don't want to spend my lunch hour doing rewrites, so I've found a distraction: picking apart EW's List of the 50 Greatest Working Directors, of which they have only released their first 25. So here goes:

#50 Nancy Meyers

One of the most successful female directors? Check. One of the most innovative directors? I don't think so. It's Complicated and The Holiday were entertaining, but ultimately forgettable movies with a James L. Brooks fetish.

#49 Michael Moore

As a muckraking showman with a message, there's no one better. Unapologetic regarding his politics and wickedly ruthless against his enemies. Great documentarian, but as a fictional film director? Canadian Bacon. Do I need to say anything more?

#48 David Lynch

Highly originally and often hauntingly creepy, Lynch's films are like nothing else you're apt to see at the theater. Mulholland Dr., his trippy journey through the dream world, is his best, but check out the under appreciated Lost Highway and, of course, Blue Velvet, but you should have seen that by now. If you haven't, then shame on you.

#47 Andrew Stanton

Even though I've seen Finding Nemo so many times (easily 300 times;easily!), that it's burned into my brain for all of eternity, it's still a great movie. And WALL-E is just as terrific. Yes, better than Up.

#46 Wong Kar-Wai

He belongs so much closer to number one. Chungking Express? In the Mood for Love? Argument over.

#45 Mira Nair

Yes, Monsoon Wedding was wonderful and Mississippi Masala is a nice gem of a movie, but Nair can be very hit or miss.

#44 Mel Gibson

Drunken, anti-semitic asshole? Probably. One of the best directors of the past fifteen years? Absolutely.

#43 Spike Lee

Why doesn't Spike have a fucking Oscar already? It's because the man is keeping him down. Hey, makes about as much sense as anything else. Do the Right Thing is as great of a piece of American culture as Norman Rockwell or Aaron Copeland - only don't expect Spike to sweep the truth under the rug when he depicts American life.

#42 Richard Linklater

I'm on the fence about Linklater. He can be amazing (Dazed and Confused) or just plain pretentious (Walking Life).

#41 Roman Polanski

Rapist? You betcha! An amazing artist who continually proves what cinema is capable of? Unfortunately... because he's a rapist.

#40 Oliver Stone

Platoon, JFK, The Doors, Natural Born Killers. But what has he done for us lately? World Trade Center? W? Here's hoping Wall Street 2 is half as good as the original.

#39 Judd Apatow

Reviewing the best of the decade lists in the recent issues of Film Comment, Apatow is the Hitchcock of comedy - a popular America who's finding respect as a true auteur in European circles. With the exception of Funny People, which was an hour too long (an hour!), Apatow is possibly the greatest comedic director out there.

#38 Jon Favreau

Iron Man was awesome, but does Favreau deserve to be here? No.

#37 Mike Leigh

Ah, some indie love. Leigh's films require a certain attention from their audiences, but once you are sucked into them, you can't help but fall under their spell. Definitely deserves a spot here.

#36 Bryan SInger

The man did usher in the modern, realistic comic book movie with X-Men and X-Men 2, but he isn't always consistent.

#35 David Cronenberg

Christ, this guy belongs in the top 5, what the fuck is he doing at 35?

#34 J.J. Abrams

Huh? He's directed two movies: the entertaining Star Trek and the abysmal Mission Impossible III. Sorry, does not belong in the top 100, let alone ranked higher than Cronenberg and Spike Lee.

#33 Ron Howard

Overrated, but dependable.

#32 Sam Raimi

Always entertaining, but I think few people realize how much of a talent he really can be. A Simple Plan was a dark masterpiece that few people saw.

#31 Sam Mendes

Most people will name American Beauty when they talk about Mendes, but for me, The Road to Perdition was so much better. Revolutionary Road was an interesting mess that probably shouldn't have been adapted.

#30 Sofia Coppola

The good: The Virgin Suicides. The great: Lost in Translation. The utterly god awful: Marie Antoinette. She might be in the top 75.

#29 Woody Allen

Well, duh.

#28 Paul Greengrass

It may be easy to dismiss Greengrass as the guy who did a great job with the Bourne sequels, but United 93 proved that he is a filmmaker of the highest quality.

#27 Alfonso Cuaron

He made the best Harry Potter movie, but his adaptation of Children of Men shows he belongs here. Also, see his very intimate y tu mama tambie

#26 Darren Aronofsky

Wonderfully weird at times, wonderfully intimate at times. Requiem for a Dream was both. He's probably here because of The Wrestler, but his work before that film should have still earned him a spot here. Now give me the long promised Aronofsky Robocop already!

That's all they've released so far. Some I hope show up in the final 25: Spike Jonze; Michael Mann; Lars von Trier; Zhang Yimou; Martin Scorsese; Brian De Palma (fat chance); Joel and Ethan Coen; Soderberg; Tarantino; Miyazaki; Clint Eastwood; Michael Winterbottom (double fat chance); Paul Thomas Anderson; Alex Payne; Wes Anderson; David Fincer; Gus Van Sant; Ridley Scott (Is it too much to hope for Tony Scott as well?); Kathryn Bigelow.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


This is a subject I've wanted to talk about for some time now. What purpose does violence have in the creation of art? I write crime fiction, so it is inevitable violence will show up at some point, whether it's a push, punch, insult, emotional abuse or gunshot. Do I write this because it's entertaining to read about or is there a seriousness to it? Well, really it's both. I've written some little doodads that aren't meant to be anything more than funny, weird and perhaps a little disturbing; but more than anything, they are meant to entertain. There is little seriousness in their violence, and what seriousness there is, it is meant more as irony.

One of the things I need to do is differentiate about the types of violence in art. One is meant, for the most part, to be entertainment (The Three Stooges, Shoot 'Em Up, King Suckerman, The Devil's Rejects) while the other is meant to disturb, to create a strong emotional response of disgust (Bastard Out of Carolina, The Lovely Bones, Precious, The Accused). [An interesting observation in those examples is that the "entertaining" violence is mostly committed on men, whereas as the disturbing violence is against women. I have no idea what that means, but I'm sure someone could establish a theory.]

Why is violence entertaining? I truly think that humans are fascinated by destruction, whether it is the thrill of a controlled explosion of an abandoned building, the scandalous ruin of a famous personality or the damage a major weather event leaves in its wake. It gets our attention. Remember back in school when the rumor of an after hours fight was going to take place at a certain place at a certain time - how many people showed up? And why do you know that number? Because you showed up, that's why. Are we a violent society? Duh.

I won't sit here an lie to you. I found Hostel shockingly amusing. I like the over-the-top action of Rambo where he'll pick up some heavy artillery weapon and proceed to obliviate some poor henchman who's probably making minimum wage. There is a part of me that romanticizes and understands the power of violence in Fight Club, as does most of the guys of my generation. Maybe these displays of extreme aggression appeal to some animal instinct of brutality that we no longer (or at least the majority of society) use.

What about more realistic violence, the type that has lasting effects on characters? Let's look at The Lovely Bones, both the novel and the movie. The main character, Susie Salmon, is brutally raped and murdered at the beginning of the story. It's horrible and tough to read about - this is not meant to be sensational or "entertaining" (a term that needs further definition), there is no exploitative motive here. But is it important to the book? Absolutely. One of the major criticisms of the film adaptation is that Peter Jackson sort of skips that part. One minute she's alive and after a simple edit she's in her own private heaven. The most devastating moments of Salmon's mortal existence occur off stage, and the sexual assault isn't even mentioned. I can understand Jackson's reluctance to include such a horrific scene, this is nothing like his masterpiece of gore, Dead Alive, but it is an injustice to the seriousness of the crimes. Would The Accused have been as effective without the bar scene? No, and it would only diminish the important message of the film.

The above is an example of using violence to further the understanding of human behavior, even the most disturbing of behavior, because without it we are in danger of dismissing it as the actions of monsters, which is much easier to ignore than confronting it as a regularly reoccurring phenomenon perpetrated by regular (sort of) people.

Do the two types of violence ever collide? Not really. Can there be entertaining books with disturbing violence? Yes.[Can you have a serious book with entertaining violence? If it's satire (Dr. Strangelove, then yes.] OK, lets take this moment to further define entertainment. I'm not talking about simple, amusing entertainments that cause giggles; I'm talking more about art that engages its audience. The Lovely Bones is a type of entertainment, as is The Postman Always Rings Twice or They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. The last two examples are pretty depressing, while, ironically, Alice Sebold's novel is sort of hopeful at the end; but people continue to read these types of novels because they enjoy them on some level. Hell, look at just about any piece of noir fiction out there; there aren't a lot of happy-go-lucky stories. The work of Ken Bruen? No. Jim Thompson? No. David Goodis? Fuck no. But they all have plenty of fans.

Now on a personal level, I've been reluctant to write anything new with violence in it due to something that happened to a friend of mine. It has taken a long time to come to terms with what I write in contrast to what destruction really occurs with similar acts in the real world. I've mainly worked on revisions on writing I did previous to this, and while there are violent passages, it was nothing I have created in quite some time and I didn't tackle those scenes until late in the current revision period. I also had a conversation with another friend regarding the lasting effects of violence in domestic situations and she was reluctant to give up anything to use as research unless she knew the story would have some sort of justice at the end and not be exploitive. I think she believed me when I said it wasn't exploitive. But it did caused me to think about the use of violence in fiction again.

I will tell you the most exploitive, disgusting, sickening absolutely reprehensible use of violence to tantalize I've ever seen was an episode of the Sally Jesse Rapheal Show in which she had a 911 operator on who took a call from a woman who was killed. The host kept at this poor operator, bringing the case up again and again and again, finally playing the fucking audio of the 911 call in which you heard the woman's plea for help, the door or window being kicked open and her screams as she was attacked. This was a daytime television show, on in the afternoon, after most kids were home from school; it wasn't rated and was easily accessible. I will never forget that, and it aired about 15 years ago. So, I totally understand someone's reluctance to the depiction of violence when there are people out there who would use such horrors for nothing more than audience ratings. That, to me, is disgusting.

As an artist (I know, it is pretty pretentious to call one's self an artist), what responsibilities do I have? Do I ignore violence, which would pretty much finish my career as a crime writer; or do I make it as realistic as possible (without exploiting it) to shine further light on the dark side of the human condition, which is really the ultimate goal of the noir genre, is it not? Well, I haven't taken this blog down, even though I've ignored it for some time, and I'm still (STILL!!!!!!) in the middle of revisions, so I guess I know the answer to that question.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Best Movies of the Last Decade

OK, so I didn't keep up with this as much as I would have liked. Oh well. So, in order to finish this, I thought I would just list the top 20 without any commentary. Here goes.

20. Death to Smoochy
19. Amelie
18. Brick
17. King Kong
16. Casino Royale
15. Miami Vice
14. American Psycho
13. Grindhouse
12. Once
11. Sexy Beast
10. Gone Baby Gone
9. Finding Nemo
8. In Bruges
7. The Departed
6. The Royal Tenenbaums
5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
4. Lord of the Rings
3. There Will Be Blood
2. The Dark Knight
1. In the Bedroom