Movie Review: THE GUEST (tl;dr: See It)

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I don’t usually review movies because most of what I see at this point is Corporate Hollywood Entertainment [1] (case in point: My kid is dragging me to THE MAZE RUNNER next week) and I’m not part of anyone’s marketing team. If there’s something worth saying, sure, but I only write “SEE IN THE THEATER/RENT IT AT HOME, MAYBE/ONLY IF YOU WANT TO PUNISH YOURSELF” for smaller movies folks might miss.

THE GUEST is in limited release in the U.S. as of today, and I’m going to tell you why you should see it.

First, here’s the trailer.

For those who didn’t watch, it’s a Deadly Friend story, in which average people find themselves the “beneficiary” of a powerful, dangerous new pal. Stephen Black’s Deadly Friend subplot was one of my favorite parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it’s a subgenre I have wanted to dabble in for a long time.

The Peterson’s are a typical family, but they’re struggling. Mom is still stricken over the death of her eldest son in the military. Dad is drinking too much and stalled in his career. Their eldest daughter secretly seeing her drug-dealer boyfriend on the sly, and their remaining son is friendless and bullied at school. In walks David, who knew their son in the military and was with him when he died. He’s come to deliver a message of love, and to fulfill his promise to help his dead comrade’s family, if he can.

Unfortunately, David is a vicious psychopath and maybe somewhat more than human, too. What starts off with small kindnesses quickly escalates into terror and violence, but despite all that, there’s still an underlying attraction for all the characters. He’s a bit like a vampire; attractive and compelling, but once you’ve invited him in, you’re in the shit.

One thing the movie gets right is just how seductive David’s penchant for violence can be. He starts off by responding to attacks with counter-attacks, and there’s an undeniable appeal to that sort of strength, especially for the youngest boy. It feels like power, like agency, like something to be admired and emulated. As David gets closer to the family, and the things he does to “help” them become more awful and outrageous, the connection he’s established with them is still powerful. There’s a scene late in the movie–just a conversation between two characters–that would be the epitome of “What the fuck are you doing? Are you nuts?” in any other movie. It’s a metaphorical go-into-the-basement-along scene. And yet, because of the characters’ history, it’s the most believable, heart-breaking, and terrifying scene I’ve watched in months.

The movie’s being partly billed as part comedy[2] but it’s not, really. It has some subversive moments, and there’s a dark comic playfulness to it, especially at the end, but nothing to make you[3] laugh aloud. For me, the weird absurdity of it lent the violence extra weight and realism.

The trailer features a lot of action shots, but this is more psychological thriller than action movie. Dan Stevens, (who does a pretty good American accent) brings real charm and unpredictability to the part.

Anyway, it’s in limited release right now, but if you can see it, you should. If you can’t, see it when it goes into wide release in October. Everyone claims to want original, interesting movies, don’t they? Well, this is it.

[1] Hey, I wonder if I could make a useful acrony–oh, never mind.

[2] Or an comic thriller

[3] meaning “me”

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?

My Wonder Woman Pitch

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[I started this post way back when Gal Godot was first cast and I'm blowing the dust off it because what the hell.]

So we’re getting Wonder Woman in a movie, but not a Wonder Woman movie.

Christopher Bird has an interesting post about the difficulties the character faces. I’m not sure I agree that Wonder Woman has never had a “definitive” run: while I’m not a WW expert by any means, William Marston created the basics of the character, and Greg Rucka’s stint where she was the ambassador from Themyscira is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure the U.N. is a place to start a franchise, though. It might work for a TV series, but movies would need more setup and a greater willingness to break status quo.

(BTW, supposedly WB seems to have a pretty good version of The Flash coming up. Hopefully it’ll be a step above the ’90′s version.)

Unfortunately, it seems WW is going to be a supporting role in the new Man of Steel movie. Gal Gadot has been cast. People are already complaining about her: she’s too this, she’s too that, but I’ll reserve judgement. Yes, she is a former Miss Israel and a Miss Universe contestant (her “National Costume” is disappointingly non-bonkers) and yes, she served two years in the Israeli military (as a “sports trainer”?). Yes, it’s fun to speculate.

But I remember when people were complaining about Daniel Craig being cast as James Bond (“A blond Bond? What are they thinking?”). I remember when they griped about Tom Cruise playing Lestat. Both actors were terrific in those roles. The truth is, if the script is good, we will love Gadot in the part. If the script sucks, we’ll blame her for screwing it all up.

Anyway, this is how I would pitch a Wonder Woman movie if they were going to make one, which they should:

It opens during the climax of MAN OF STEEL (to tie the films together). Continue reading

Randomness for 9/11

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1) X-men mashed up with The Smiths.

2)
Five Classic Authors Who Hated Their Book Covers (and One Who Got His Ass Kicked as a Result)

3) Scrublands: photographs of people who live off the grid.

4) Rupert Giles plans coursework for an MLS.

5) Everything you need to know about 5th ed D&D.

6) Beautiful animated gifs. h/t @keithcalder

7) “Every year, Americans spend nearly three times as much on candy as they do on public libraries.”

Novelist given psych exam, locked away by police for work of fiction he published at 20

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[UPDATE: According to the L.A.Times, McLaw was not removed from his job and taken for treatment because of the novels. Apparently, he wrote a four-page letter that alarmed authorities, and they've known about the novels for a couple of years.

It's frustrating, because I heard about this story a week ago when it first broke, and I was waiting to see what would shake out before writing a post. If I'd waited until this afternoon instead of this morning, I wouldn't have relied on the ridiculous early news report, which was disseminated widely and which explicitly linked his books to administrative action.

I'll leave the original post below, for the obvious reasons.]


You may have heard about Patrick McLaw, a twenty-three year old teacher in Maryland who has been kicked out of his job, is being investigated by the county sheriff, has had his home searched, had the school where he taught searched, has been forbidden to go onto county property at all, is being given a psychological exam in a location that the police will not name, and is not free to leave, according to the cops. Has he been arrested? Authorities will not say. Try not to be surprised when I say he’s black.

His crime? Three years ago he self-published a science fiction novel, set 900 years in the future, about the race to stop a school shooter.

You can read about his story at The Atlantic. I encourage everyone to read it; it’s short and it matters. If you’re curious about the book, not only is it still on Amazon, but the publicity has bumped it quite high in the sales rankings.

I guess it’s possible that there’s something else going on here beyond administrative freak out, but I would be surprised. This sort of over reaction from a school administration is all about the fear and power of petty bureaucrats who are terrified of being seen to have done too little. Any possibility, however slim, that they might be dissected in the media, post-catastrophy, about what they knew and why they didn’t act, drives them like fanatics.

It doesn’t help that so many school officials seem ready to accommodate the most paranoid parents in their district. It all feeds the little voice inside them that says thinking up the plot of a book is the same thing as fantasizing about it.

Based on the news reports we’ve had so far, Patrick McLaw has broken no law. It’s possible he’s being told that he has to do everything he’s told to keep his job, but I can’t understand how a sensible member of the judiciary thought publishing a novel three years earlier was probably cause for a search of the guy’s house.

It’s disgusting.

How not to respond to a mildly negative review, part 3,000,807

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Guy writes interactive novel about mystery-solving teddy bears in Venice, which is apparently not for children(?)

Reviewer gives it a mildly negative review.

Author loses his mind in comments.

This is from last May, and I’m not sure how I missed it. It’s the perfect example of the ABM, Author’s Big Mistake, in which an author takes great pains to try to school the reviewer in all their numerous errors but ends up looking like a complete tool. As it so often is, Dunning-Kruger Effect is in full swing here. The writer thinks his book about teddy bears is on the level of Keats or Fitzgerald, and nothing can convince him otherwise.

This train wreck comes to you courtesy of @Hello_Tailor, @Stacia_jones_, and @jamesdnicoll.

Randomness for 8/11

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1) Gambit’s costume is completely ridiculous, so this guy made one. h/t James Nicoll.

2) If David Lynch directed Dirty Dancing. Video.

3) Black leather dragon backpack. I’d get this, but it would make the toddlers in the Starbucks cry.

4) What your favorite 80s band says about you. This is better than it has a right to be.

5) More dice shaming!

6) Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie: the same movie.

7) Was HP Lovecraft a good writer? Nick Mamatas makes the argument that he was.

Amazon launches assault on Hachette’s interns

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Okay. I’m going to deal with this quickly and I’ll be out of here.

Background: Last night Amazon sent an email to everyone who had published books through their Kindle Direct Program (KDP) and since I’m one of those authors (Buy My Books) it came to me, too. You can read the whole thing here.

It’s kind of weird. I mean, I do business with Amazon. I don’t do business with Hachette. However, Hachette isn’t releasing oddball press releases via email, nor are they sending out rallying cries to garner support. Some of their authors? Yeah. And it’s weird. The company themselves? Nope.

So, let’s linkfarm this shit:

Amazon says that George Orwell was against cheap books. Accurate or selective quoting? The answer will won’t surprise you. Unsurprisingly, this is what people are talking about, not whether Amazon is totally on your side, readers.

Should KDP authors be on Amazon’s side? Actually, higher ebook prices from big publishers helps indie authors. Why would I want to help Amazon bring their prices down to my level?

Like Chuck Wendig, I’m not terribly moved by the Authors United push.

Also like Chuck Wendig, I think Amazon’s latest press release is fucking ridiculous.

Why? Because they published the Hachette CEO’s email address and gave people a bunch of talking points to send him in an effort to make him cave on their negotiations.

Seriously. Let me state for the record that I am not going to spam anyone’s inbox for the sake of a big corporation. I wouldn’t spam someone’s inbox for a real life friend, so I’m definitely not doing it for Amazon.

Let me also state that anyone who thinks Hachette’s CEO is going to be skimming through those emails thinking “Hmm. SilverDragonLady211883 At Yahoo dot com makes a good point about her mother’s reading habits” is kidding themselves. The only people who’ll see these emails are the bored interns tasked with deleting them all.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this PR fail (after “human shields”) but I am. It’s incredibly unprofessional.

Amazon, get new PR people. Stop trying to be loved. You can’t be beloved by consumers and be Walmart at the same time. Choose between those options and live with the consequences.

UPDATE: I forgot to include this!

UPDATE 2: I’d seen the Authors United NYTimes profile, but not the big ad they purchased. Apparently, that ad includes Jeff Bezos’s email with a request that readers spam him. Uncool, AU.

Need a GISHWES story?

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I’d never heard of GISHWES before this year, and only then because writers were complaining about an unexpected flood of emails asking for free stories.

So far, I’ve only received one request, which I fulfilled (the person who asked was very polite about it). Still, as I understand it, the stories don’t have to be unique, do they? They just have to be a story by a published author, right?

Here’s a short story for any GISHWESers having trouble finding authors to write something. It’s 139 words long.


Trumpets blared a fanfare, retainers lifted their pennants, and every eye turned toward the throne.

Misha Collins, wearing a brand-new trench coat, knelt on the gleaming marble and bowed his head.

The Queen tapped the flat of her sword on his shoulders. “Rise, Sir Misha.” Misha looked up, eyes shining with joyful tears.

The cheers of the crowd were cut off by the sound of a door slamming open. A second Misha, this one naked but for a strategically-placed bearskin hat, burst from a closet. “That’s an imposter!”

The kneeling Misha grinned and began to inflate like a balloon, tearing through his clothes. Tentacles and tusks sprouted from its body…. It was the Elopus, assuming its true form.

The creature pranced before the throne. “I’m Sir Misha! I’m Sir Misha!”

The Queen rolled her eyes and raised her sword high.


Hey, if you’re new here, why not take a look at my books. Twenty Palaces is the first book in my urban fantasy series and Bad Little Girls… is my newly-released short fiction collection (which means it’s cheap).

The series listed at the top of that page, The Great Way, has not been released yet.

Good luck with your scavenger hunt.