Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Plague of Doves

The gun jammed on the last shot and the baby stood holding the crib rail, eyes wild, bawling.
This is the first line in Louise Erdrich's book, "The Plague of Doves". I don't think that I've ever read a more terrifying opening sentence in my life. I read the book in a mad rush, staying up until the wee hours to finish. The house was so silent, save for the snores of a beagle. Night and gravity were everywhere, which seemed fitting, given the words spread out on acid-free pages before my eyes.
If history was an animal it'd be a coyote, the trickster. It would howl, announce itself, but retreat if you approached too closely. Linger on the periphery, gauge what to reveal and when. Still, it's eyes would burn and prickle at the small hairs on your neck, letting you know that it was there, if hidden.
So it is that Pluto, ND emerges, skulks from a treeline to show itself under the deft voice of Erdrich. Halfway through the book I sat at a table on the front porch with MK. I set the book down, sighed, lit a cigarette, took a drink of my after dinner wine, and said that this is the best work of fiction that I'd read in a long time, possibly ever. Yes, I'm an unabashed fan of Erdrich's, but mark my words, despite well deserved praise for previous works, this book is different. This book is utterly brilliant. It shimmers like pavement on a hot summer's day that is endless. Yes, I take to heart to either love completely or not at all, and in this instance, I held it all right in my hands. Oh, I don't want to fawn, yet there it all is. It. Me. The 7pm fire whistle marking time. The, our, cat lying on a neighbor's porch to avoid the beagle. MK looked up from her book, smiled, and went back to the page when I didn't say anything more. Then the cat came near, thought better of it, and disappeared around a privacy hedge.
Crime and punishment are as old as the hills. And like I argued with a friend years ago, vigilante justice is ugly, but at least it's honest, never tries to be anything other than what it is. At least to an objective observer. Things change, of course, if you're the one meting it out. Then you have to have holy wrath, or some sort of justification behind your madness. It's not enough to have method to your madness, you must have method to your method, which is almost impossible, or just plain impossible.
Erdrich revisits an actual crime, a mass murder followed by a mass lynching, placing it in the fictional hamlet of Pluto, ND. Her reimagining is thoughtful, almost tender, in that awful way in how a mob mentality can supersede reason, particularly when an overt anti-Native American racism exists. No one draws characters fully dimensional the way Erdrich does, so we get to meet the innocent and guilty, and get to learn a bit about their legacy decades later as well. It's a richly told story, at times not for the faint of heart, but rewarding all the same.
For those on gay/lesbian character watch, the main female voice we get to hear grows up to be a lesbian. We get to experience her shock at this revelation, and also her sensible acceptance of it without too much quibbling on her part. It's very matter of fact, and refreshing in that sense.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An Open Letter to Carmike Cinemas

Dear to Whom It May Concern:

Yesterday I had the misfortune of seeing "Batman: The Dark Knight" at one of your Carmike megaplexes, specifically the one in Cranberry Township, north of beautiful downtown Pittsburgh. I have no beef with the movie, but I take exception to the amount of time we were forced before the movie started to endure commercials and movie previews. Twenty-six, count 'em, 26!, minutes of ads for stuff that I will now forever boycott, followed by an endless string of movie trailers that I will not even netflix because I am that pissed off.
What ghoul in marketing thinks that it's a good idea to subject a movie-goer to this amount of tripe? I despise these advertising fiends. I'm willing to sit through a reasonable amount of crap before the main feature rolls, but edging close to half an hour of forced viewing is ridiculous. Why not list the start time of the movie as 1pm instead of 12:30pm?
I realize that I am not the first person to gripe on this subject, and I doubt I'll be the last, but I do want to make Carmike aware that this is effecting my willingness to go to one of their theaters to see a movie. In fact, when I go to see "The X-Files" movie this weekend I am actively avoiding going to Carmike. I'm just not that thrilled by Coke and JC Penney commercials, especially the latter's idiotic rip-off of "The Breakfast Club", to throw a half an hour of my life down a blackhole of suckiness.
Anyway, have a great day, and if I believed in hell I'd tell you all to go there.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dr. Horrible Review

I anxiously awaited the debut of Doc Horrible, the way I wait in line at the deli to order some smoked turkey on special. You know, is it the really good stuff luckily on sale, or the clearanced junk just this side of expiration poison.
Both, as it turns out. I admire the attempt to challenge the comic standard and turn the superhero into a super asshat (Captain Hammer deserves to die), while also turning the supervillian into a sympathetic, if neurotic and lame (not to mention too self referential ego maniacal would be misguided anarchist) misunderstood geek. But the thing is, ultimately it just doesn't work. All of the leads are great, well above adequate, yet I got this nagging feeling that Felicia Day was waaaaay under used in her role as Penny, the do-gooder activist, who connects with Dr. Horrible's everyday persona, Billy, but is dazzled and screwed (literally and figuratively) by 'the Hammer is my penis' Captain Hammer. If any of you have seen Felicia Day in the online show "The Guild", you'll know what I mean. Actually, I'm not quite sure why the makers of this vlog used a real woman. She's about as animated and real as an inflatable love-doll, so why not pull a 'Lars and the Real Girl' and just tote about a wig glued onto a balloon? Stencil on a face, dimple in a faux vagina, and hey, no residual payments.
Oh, and to completely burst your bubble, the girl dies. Yes, that's right. Dr. Horrible sets out to kill Hammer, Hammer tries to kill Horrible...and who dies? Penny. Long ago I wrote a short story called, 'Penny's Worth' about a young working girl driven insane while waiting for a bus in LA. That story sucked, which is why I have a soft spot, sort of, in my heart for this failed vlog. Penny deserves better from us. In the instance of this vlog she deserved the chance to reject both Hammer and Horrible, and in my story she deserved the chance to self medicate with cheap hooch and recreational glue sniffing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quick Review: The Night Watch

If I could sum up my disappointment in three words or less, trust me, I would. So, what's wrong with Sarah Waters' much praised and heralded book, "The Night Watch"? Simply the gimmick of telling the story in retrograde doesn't work. I know that the ploy is meant to show us why the characters end up becoming the people that they become, but honestly, I never felt like I knew the characters enough to have an 'aha' moment when a big, revelatory moment happens. And by 'happens' I mean in a painfully drawn out manner where words are used, but not to great effect. Why not go ahead and reveal some of the motivating factors behind some of the characters decisions? Why does Viv stay with Roger? Why does Helen become a quivering bowl of jealousy, or just cherry jell-o?
In the end, I just didn't connect with the characters, and I absolutely hated it when the book jumped from 1947 to 1944 in order to facilitate an exposition that never fully materialized. It was all just one big tease with no pay off.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

To those of you who give a rat's ass: Happy 4th of July! Don't Pittsburgh look loverly all lit up like that? It's like a magic faerie land covered with sprinkles and explosives, threatened not by an evil witch, but by a city government mired in a malaise of cronyism and graft.
Today MK and I are hosting the annual gathering of friends and family. I had been looking forward to this...that is, until yesterday when my brother freaked out because his 110lb flat coat retriever decided to bite our 17lb beagle puppy in the face and injure her eye. We rushed Bela to the vet and she's going to be ok, and really, that wasn't the major problem yesterday. No, the major event happened when Riechter Von Sanchez yelled at the big dog that he hated him, and my brother, Riechter's uncle, threw him through the screen door and then physically attacked him. See, this is why we don't carry guns around like they're lollipops or cigarette lighters because I would have committed fratricide yesterday. And, i dare say, felt no guilt whatsoever - not that answering violence with ever escalating violence is the answer, but that is how scared I was at the level of aggression and brutality which my brother was exhibiting. And soon he and others will be here for the big party, and I have no idea what's going to happen. Hee-freaking-haw.