My January To-Do List

I planned to do a lot of writing this year. Despite my current circumstance, I made my list of writing goals for the year (because, well, writers love lists) and was totally prepared to scratch in-limbo writing projects off month after month. Sadly, that was not the case. Hell, I didn’t even manage to keep up with the blog.

But instead of raking myself over the coals, I decide to cut myself an unprecedented break and issue a one-time only pardon. Some of the crap circumstances that pulled me from writing were beyond my control, some were the result of poor decision making on my part (but I journaled about them, so that’s some writing, at least), and the rest I seriously need to address truthfully and sort them out pretty damn quickly (as time is not on my side).

So, instead of doing something insanely ambitious, or just plain insane, as mapping out a course of writing for the year, I’ve decided to chop them up into bite-sized monthly morsels and use the blog as my whiteboard to keep me honest and keep my eyes on the prize as I track my progress. Plus, I get the added satisfaction of doing a victory dance after I’ve crossed one of those pesky writing chores off my never-ending project list.

And should I fall short of a goal or two, I can always vent about it here instead of wallowing and feeling absolutely worthless. Hopefully that will exorcise some of the demons and give me the swift kick in the pants to press the old nose to the grindstone.

Here’s hoping, anyway.

Bone Tomahawk Review

Originally posted on Man on the Street Reviews:

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Set in the Old West, Bone Tomahawk opens with two bandits (Sid Haig and David Arquette) murdering a camp of sleeping men, who decide to take cover in the high ground upon hearing the approach of horses. In the process, they desecrate a bizarre burial ground and are beset by troglodytes. Arquette manages to escape and inadvertently leads the cave-dwelling cannibals to the small town of Bright Hope, where they abduct several townsfolk. The town sheriff (Kurt Russell), his elderly back-up deputy (Richard Jenkins), an educated gunslinger (Matthew Fox), and the crippled husband of one of the kidnap victims (Patrick Wilson), ride out on a hopeless rescue mission.

Marketed as a western/horror this plays out more as a straightforward western that happens to contain a few scenes of graphic violence, which is in no way gratuitous given the nature of the story. But you can’t really go by my insensitivity towards screen gore as I cut my teeth on horror films as a wee lad.

The casting is near perfect. Kurt Russell proved he’s still the man as he struts his stuff, which really should come as no surprise since he demonstrated his cowboy chops in Tombstone. Patrick Wilson once again held his own. A reliable actor, he took on the role of the average man who suffers injury and setbacks, yet stepped up to the plate when the situation called for it (in fact, his nickname should be Clutch, because he always comes through). Richard Jenkins? What can I say about the man besides he tossed himself into the role of the well-intentioned back-up deputy with his usual aplomb. Never a disappointing performance from this man. Even the smaller roles were well cast. Sid Haig and David Arquette as the bandits, Sean Young as the mayor’s domineering wife, Lili Simmons as Wilson’s doctor wife. Yup, not a bad performance in the lot… except for Matthew Fox.

I make no secret of my dislike for Mr. Fox, who has never really impressed me from his Party of Five days, through his six-season stint on Lost, up to his roles in Vantage Point and Alex Cross. He’s a wooden actor with limited range who took the role of the town badass (more educated that the rest of his posse-mates and the killer of more indians) and turned it into something rather dull.

If I’m honest, I approached this film with some hesitation. I read an early version of the screenplay while the project was caught in preproduction hell and my greatest movie viewing downfall is knowing the story beforehand. It’s the same with books. I can read a book or screenplay after I’ve seen the film with no problem, it’s the reverse that spoils the experience for me. I have friends that will read the screenplay for a film they’re about to see, only up to the third act so the movie still holds a surprise for them. I’ve tried this trick and it still doesn’t work.

I mentioned the above because I wanted to like this film better than I did. While I definitely do not hate it, I can’t really rave about it, either. For me, there was something missing from the screenplay I read, a touch of character development that I hoped would have been addressed in a subsequent draft. The story opens with a graphic and bold introduction to this world, which sets the bar high, but then it’s followed by a slowly drawn out series of events. And make no mistake, I have no problem with a film setting its own pace, and I’m not calling this film boring by any means (it is peppered with its fair share of violent scenes) but usually with slower paced projects the script takes advantage by establishing its characters a bit better to create empathy should some unfortunate event befall them later on. But because we’re dealing with stoic cowboys, old-fashioned manly men, that doesn’t quite happen, which may be rightly so, but I think it’s a shame. It affects the film’s rewatchability factor for me. And I know the screenwriter is more than capable of handling this because there are other dialogue interactions between townsfolk, quick, sharp exchanges that lets you know just how characters feel about each other and relate to one another. It’s a minor quibble, but one that nags at me.

So, should you spend your hard earned and see it? If westerns are your thing, sure, why not? This directorial debut of screenwriter S. Craig Zahler features solid performances, the violence is swift and brutal, the dialogue has an authentic ring to it (one interaction between Wilson and Fox: “If you make any flirtatious remarks in my wife’s presence… they’ll be a reckoning.” They just don’t make warnings like that anymore) and as mentioned before, it’s a simple story told simply. No complicated twists or story logic problems to cause you to scratch your puzzler as you leave the theater.

And hang around for the closing theme song, co-written by Zahler, “Four Doomed Men Ride Out.” It’s a hoot.

Bone Tomahawk gets 3.5 Homeless Shopping Carts for a solid, straightforward story and believable performances.

Three Half Carts

Oh, and should you see me panhandling outside your local multiplex, have a heart a drop a movie ticket in my cup.

See ya at the concession stand.

Project Greenlight Review

Originally posted on Man on the Street Reviews:

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I’ve never been much for reality programming, even before studios got busted for reenacting events and creating fake situations for content, forcing them to minimize their liability by coining the term assisted reality, but when HBO first announced a show focusing on first-time filmmakers being given a chance to write and direct a feature film… I was hooked. Aside from being an aspiring filmmaker, I’m also the type of guy who loves all those wonderful DVD featurettes showing the behind-the-scenes goings on from tv and movie sets, and in most cases, find them to be far more interesting than the actual movie itself. The added value to Project Greenlight is it ran an online script contest, which meant I could actually be a part of the show, if my screenplay survived the brutal peer review stage.

It didn’t.

But I was still very much interested in the show. I can’t describe my disappointment as I watched winner Pete Jones stumble his way through shooting Stolen Summer, a humdrum period piece snorefest about a Catholic boy who tries to help his Jewish friend get into heaven. Had I not watched the tv series, I wouldn’t have bothered seeing this film even if it played on the insides of my eyelids.

Season Two rolled around and this time the contest was split into two categories: writing and directing. I didn’t bother submitting for either category, but because I was still fascinated by the behind-the-scenes aspect, I watched Erica Beeney’s script, The Battle of Shaker Heights (a 17-year old WWII reenactor decides to put his battlefield knowledge to work in real life against his high school enemy), win with Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle landing the coveted directing prize. I figured the showrunners learned from the previous season’s debacle and made the effort to put together a superior show this time around.

Sadly, this was not the case.

The show was such a stinkpot, it got booted from HBO and found a new home on Bravo for Season Three. This time the genre was horror, and a script titled Feast by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, won with winner John Gulager as the director. Even though I thought this season was particularly horrible, Feast (folks trapped in a bar, fending off creatures trying to eat them) turned out to be the most lucrative product the show produced both in box office and DVD sales (hell, it even spawned two sequels).

But the writing was on the wall and the show disappeared into obscurity… or so it seemed.

Nearly ten years after the last season, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck resurrected the series, this time focusing on comedy with a ready-to-shoot Farrelly brothers script on hand. All the mix needed was a first-time director. Once again, my thinking was, come on, it’s been ten damned years since the last run surely the producers have gotten their act together and they wouldn’t bother exhuming a turd and try to pass it off as art, would they? So, out of curiosity (and a bit of hopefulness) I tuned in.

And was pleasantly surprised. The pilot opened with Matt and Ben confessing that the Project Greenlight series had nearly wrecked their careers and their friendship. Great! Now, maybe we would get to go behind the behind-the-scenes to get the scuttlebutt on what really transpired on the show. Maybe this time the Good Will boys would open up and speak candidly about what went wrong with the past seasons and address how the current season would travel more in the true direction of the show’s original vision.

But that never came.

I watched with anticipation as the semi-finalist directors were whittled down and the finalists faced the interview process with a judges panel that included Matt and Ben and a line producer the press would soon come to know, Effie Brown. Each one of the contestants were pleased as punch to be there, expressed an eagerness to work on a Farrelly brothers script, discussed what they could bring to the project… all except one, Jason Mann. From the moment he walked into the interview room, Jason acted like he’d rather be anywhere else in world. He showed no real interest in shooting a comedy, stating in no uncertain terms he’d much rather shoot his own screenplay (a feature length version of the short that landed him a finalist position in the contest). Way to talk yourself out of job there, buddy, I thought.

I will never learn.

By swimming against the supposed stream of the show, Jason made himself a controversial figure, and since this was a reality TV show and we all know these assisted reality shows thrive on conflict, guess who won the contest?

What followed next was a series of staged Hollywood fights (indirect confrontations) where new kid on the block Jason did end runs around all the seasoned professionals. The squabbling and inability to resolve any of the preproduction hurdles led to the quitting of the Farrellys and the fake deliberation over whether Jason got to shoot is own screenplay. Yeah, I called it. It was a setup. The intention was to shoot Jason’s screenplay from the get-go. It was also the worst job of creating drama I’ve ever witnessed. I mean, these guys shoot fantasy-as-reality everyday and are able to elicit rage, instill happiness, or bring audiences to tears, so why the blazes couldn’t they make this scripted nonsense look and feel more authentic? If you’re going to go carny, go full out. I’ll gladly be a rube as long as I can’t see the puppet master manipulating the strings.

And Jason Mann was such and uninteresting and one-dimensional character they had to beef up Effie Brown’s role, putting her at odds with everyone (especially Matt Damon) as she fought for gender and racial diversity. Noble causes, both. Too bad it was wasted on this nothing project. This will be the first time I won’t bother viewing the finished product, The Leisure Class. I’m done. I’m out. Project Greenlight and I are parting ways for good.

I give Project Greenlight, the entire series, Zero Homeless Shopping Carts, but trust me when I say it’s me, Greenlight, not you. I’m the one who hung all the extra tinsel on you, expecting you to live up to my expectations instead of accepting you as you truly are. You’re a second rate reality show that hasn’t been fully thought out and you deserve a viewer with indiscriminate tastes. Truly my bad.

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Oh, and should you see me panhandling outside your local multiplex, have a heart a drop a movie ticket in my cup.

See ya at the concession stand.

Story Nibblets From The Twitterverse

 

One Hell Of An Offer

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Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that was removed and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump cut fashion.

The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, as patient as the lamb she was in life.

She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that was mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.

Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure — she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture — getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in heaven.

While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little of the time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.

Finally, an angel arrived, tall and thin with black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he no longer needed. A remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.

The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the uns — undertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.

“Hi, I’m Modestine.” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.

Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head a again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.

Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you…” and she tried her best to match the noise he made… but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.

Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”

Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?” she asked.

“Heavens no,” Phil replied. “That’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class.”

“Oh, okay.” Modestine followed behind Phil, a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.

Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.

“Here you are.” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.

“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”

“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh look had a sting.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class, as if to answer.

“Oh, no… no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”

“It’ll come to you as you need. Heaven’s cool that way.”

“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”

“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in everyday.”

“From Hell?”

“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.

The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats, because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”

Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.

“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”

The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.

The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell and earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several icebreaking games before the class broke for recess.

As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.

“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.

“Just Modestine, and Yes… ?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.

The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not? Then who… ?”

“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”

Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch… what is it you want?”

Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”

“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”

“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

“And do my superiors know you’re here?”

“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”

Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.

“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”

“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may ask me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you.” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat and read the agreement more thoroughly. Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word “No”. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven…

Sally forth and be weighing out your options ’cause heaven ain’t for everybodyingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Seventh Transmission: Europan Day Of Pay

Greetings From Europa

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Greetings from Europa!

Today is isogoles, which is the monthly day of pay for everyone who lives on Europa, no matter what your profession, no matter how old you are. And we’re not talking about money because Europa has no currency, per se. People are paid off, each according to their need. Some are paid in food while others are paid in services or clothing, or one of nearly a hundred things that serve as some sort of commodity here.

Since my family has the ability to grow our own food and my children are adept at creating clothing, we accept water as payment, as our village is far removed from the sea and a trip there and back would take nearly three weeks to complete and that’s only when the weather permits.

Today also marked the arrival of Denpa to our village, which caused the usual amount of…

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