Monday, August 21, 2017

Reno Tahoe International Film Festival, 2017

This is pretty cool, as I have many friends and family in the Reno Tahoe area.

But, it's not cool, because this film festival happens at the same time as the festival in Jerome, Arizona.

Alas... I cannot be in two places at once.

Good problem to have, I guess.



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Hollywood Pitching Bible

There are dozens and dozens and hundreds of books on screenwriting.  Whatever philosophical approach you can fathom on the topic, there's probably a book written on it, for it, or because of it.  Some are wonderful (The Art of Dramatic Writing), some are worth reading for some nugget of information or another (The Nutshell Technique), some are just fun to read (Your Screenplay Sucks!), some are part of the fabric of the trade (Screenplay)... and some are detrimental to the art form (Save the Cat!).

The point is, there's a shitload of books on screenwriting.

There is, however, a surprising lack of books on how to be a screenwriter.  Sure, there are biographical works (Adventures in the Screen Trade) and books on what screenwriters actually do (Writing Movies for Fun and Profit), but not so many about how to actually write to get that first job.

Basically... books on pitching and treatments.

Of the most recent two that I've read, one was banal and lacked useful depth (Pitching Hollywood), and the other was outright crap (Writing Treatments That Sell).

As far as book recommendations go, I had none.  There was no title I could tell an aspiring writer to pick up and read.

Until Paul Guay came along.

He recommended a book called The Hollywood Pitching Bible.  I approached it with caution, given that it's published by a small independent publisher and Mr. Guay's blurb is on the book (he is also referenced several times within its pages).

I must admit, however, to being pleasantly surprised.

It's a well-presented book (with a few typos), well-thought, and well-said.  It is, hands down, not only the best book on pitching and preparing a pitch that I've ever read, it is probably one of the best books on the screenwriting craft that I have in my library.

Taking it further: It is a must-have for anyone interested in becoming a screenwriter.

Rating: 12 (Style: 3 stars; Substance: 4 stars)

I'd have given "Style" 4 stars, but I can't forgive the typos and the college-essay aesthetic of the book.  That stated, I can't reiterate enough that aspiring screenwriters should pick up this book.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Way Down Film Festival, 2017

This one is nice for the film's director, Tyler Nisbet, whose first film with Short Pajamas ("Dog") played at the Way Down Film Festival in 2016.

Good stuff.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Stella Adler Academy Hollywood Short+Sweet Film Festival, 2017

Whew...

That one was a mouthful.

But, it's cool for a few reasons.
  1. It's the first multi-acceptance festival for Short Pajamas in the Hollywood area (other fests have shown multiple Short Pajamas projects, but this is the first time it's happened in the same year's festival).
  2. Short+Sweet is an international conglomerate of festivals that started in Australia (anyone who knows me knows that I adore Australia).
  3. Stella Adler is one of the premiere acting schools in Los Angeles, and it also means that Mark Ruffalo is judging our films.
Sadly, they were a bit disorganized, and only delivered their laurels to us this past Tuesday.  But, "Bella Donna" screened on July 31 to much aplomb, and "Gloriana" screened August 7 to more of the same.



Monday, August 7, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Science Matters

After having read Robert M. Hazen's The Story of Earth (review here), I wanted to check out more from Mr. Hazen.  I love science and I like his style, so I perused his catalogue and picked out one I thought would be appropriate as I delve deeper into physics and geoscience.

Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy

It is, as its name implies, a book for those whose experiences and grasps of science are limited.  It is not, however, a textbook.  There are no problems to solve, no review questions to prove that one is making progress, and no math to muddle up your basic understanding.

Covering the basics of physics, chemistry, Earth science, and biology, Science Matters is nothing more than a book that introduces basic concepts and discusses how they apply to your every day life and to science itself.

And it's a book that everyone should read.  Yes.  Everyone.

Now, that's not stating it's the best science book out there (indeed, Hazen's The Story of Earth is far superior, both in style and substance), but it's importance, combined with its egalitarian and modest presentation, cannot be denied.  In today's climate of science deniers and religious fundamentalists, something this effective in communicating basic principles and foundations of science would go a long way to eliminating stupidity.

Now, that's not stating that eliminating stupidity is even possible, but... well... yeah... never mind.

I found much of this book to be boring, but that's mostly because I am already familiar with many of the concepts found within.  Of the portions I found fascinating, I was not as familiar and many times learned something I simply hadn't known before (in all of my readings and science classes, the Miller-Urey experiments somehow completely slipped by me).  And, still, even the "boring parts" were effective refreshers.

I must admit that I found the style itself to be somewhat banal, even if friendly and easily-accessible.  This could be because it's more of an introduction book than The Story of Earth is.  It could also be due to the co-writing arrangement between Hazen and Trefil (I am debating grabbing another of their books to see if this is the case).

Anyway... if you have any interest in science, or feel that you should at least come to a discussion about science having some sort of clue, you should read this book.  EVERYONE should read this book.

Rating: 12 (Style: 3 stars; Substance: 4 stars)


New Words:
  • ex cathedra - by virtue of or in the exercise of one's office or position 
  • retrodiction - to utilize present information or ideas to infer or explain (a past event or state of affairs)
The Profound:
  • "If you can get used to the idea that the universe is what it is, regardless of what we think it should be, then you'll have no problem with relativity." - Hazen & Trefil

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: On Directing Film

This one's interesting.

I am not a film director, nor am I even an aspiring film director.  But, since I work with film directors often, I figured I'd finally sit down and read the entirety of this book, front to back.  You see, I read portions of this book years ago (probably in 2005), but didn't at the time sense it's applicability.

I sense it now.

I like the book.  I'm a long-time fan of many things David Mamet (although he is responsible for a handful of things I really dislike).  I enjoy what he says about storytelling.

But I have to say... the opening "dialogue" with his students... man...

I found that to be full of shit.

Yes, Mamet himself is likely to acknowledge the bullshit factor in that opening chapter (and he implies as much in his own foreword), but, man...

Anyway, there is much value for aspiring directors, producers, and writers in On Directing Film. It's a quick read, if a wee overpriced.  It has Mamet's usual quick, blunt style.  Most of it is on point, though Mamet's disdain for the Hollywood system is palpable.

While Mamet fans will undoubtedly be drawn to this one, there are definitely better books concerning filmmaking. 

And that's really all I have to say.

Rating: 9 (Style: 3 stars; Substance: 3 stars)

I'd have given "Substance" four stars, but I can't get over that opening dialogue.


New Words:
  • jejune - juvenile, puerile; devoid of significance or interest; lacking nutritive value
  • aver - to declare positively
  • picayune - a Spanish half real piece formerly current in the South; something trivial
  • assiduous - showing great care, attention, and effort
  • quiddities - whatever makes something the type that it is :  essence; a trifling point :  quibble
  • lacuna - a blank space or a missing part :  gap; a small cavity, pit, or discontinuity in an anatomical structure
The Profound:
  • "Any good drama takes us deeper and deeper to a resolution that is both surprising and inevitable.  It's like Turkish taffy; it always tastes good and it always sticks to your teeth." - David Mamet

Monday, July 31, 2017

Jerome Indie Film & Music Festival, 2017

One of MovieMaker Magazine's"The 25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, 2017" has accepted not one... not two... not three... but four Short Pajamas projects into this year's festival.

Because we're getting good at this. :)

I happened to have visited Jerome a couple of years ago and stayed in the supposedly haunted Grand Hotel.  Not sure I'm going to get to attend the festival, but I hope I can.  That's gonna be a fun time.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction

I have, as it stands, two Bachelors degrees in English.  One with two additional English-related minors.  I had not, as it stood, ever read anything by Joseph Conrad.

Blasphemy, I know.

I had actually purchased a Conrad collected edition several years ago, but never read it.  Funnily enough, it was only after I bought Barnes & Noble paperback editions of Nostromo and Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction that I even remembered I had that previous book (also a Barnes & Noble edition, though hardcover).

Anyway, I'm meandering (I do that, if you haven't noticed).

Given my current reading streak and the fact that several filmmakers whose work I admire have seemingly unhealthy infatuations with Conrad (Francis Ford Coppola, Ridley Scott, and James Cameron among them), I figured it was high time to give Mr. Conrad a read.

So I did.

And in Heart of Darkness and Selection Short Fiction, I read the Heart of Darkness along with the following short stories: "Youth", "Amy Foster", and "The Secret Sharer".  (Yes, I've adopted the Commonwealth system of placing punctuation outside of quotations.  Deal with it).

I can tell you, I wholly appreciate Joseph Conrad's ability to psychologically profile his characters, but I can't tell you that I'm entirely a fan of Mr. Conrad's writing.

The first two stories in the collection ("Youth" and Heart of Darkness) were told from the perspective of Marlow, a seasoned sailor with a particular disdain for human nature.  In "Youth", Marlow recounts a tale of a ship destined to sink on its way to the Far East from England, and while based heavily in truth, it's basically just a tale of a ship destined to sink on its way to the Far East from England.  Comical, in some sense.  Harrowing, in another.  But mostly just... meh.

And "meh" is pretty much what I thought of Heart of Darkness.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am both well aware and observant of the influence Heart of Darkness has had on both English and American Literature.  Indeed, particularly with Hemingway, the influence is palpable.  But... I found Heart of Darkness itself to be relatively boring.  In fact, I find Apocalypse Now to be the far superior version of the tale.  Yes, I get that Apocalypse Now would not exist without Conrad, but that's beside my point.  I'm at a loss to explain why Heart of Darkness is so influential.  Sure, there were some fascinating bits, bit it mostly bored me to tears.

Ugh.

Before you blurt that maybe I just hate Conrad, let me offer a couple of caveats: Yes, I don't particularly like Conrad's "narrator within a narrator" style.  It irks me.  It feels both lazy and sloppy, though I suppose it does suggest the "unreliable narrator" concept better than any other style could or can.  But... I adore "Amy Foster" and I quite like "The Secret Sharer."

So... I dunno.  If anyone in my circles should love Heart of Darkness, I suppose it should be me.  But it isn't.

The second two stories in the collection ("Amy Foster" and "The Secret Sharer") are told from perspectives of other characters (the author, in the latter case) and share the same stylistic complaints I have against the first two stories.

But, I find "Amy Foster" to be a fascinating study of character.  I don't know exactly what sets it apart from the Marlow tales, but it's wonderful.  Boiled down, it's two lost souls finding each other almost randomly, falling in some sort of magical love, and then falling out of it equally randomly.  There's more to it, of course, but I would be remiss if I stole any of the experience of reading it away from you.  Seriously, I like it that much.  Probably as much as I found Heart of Darkness to be underwhelming.

Maybe, though, it's the sailing aspect of it all... not that I don't find the age of sail and the lives of sailors fascinating (on the contrary, several reference books of Lord Admiral Nelson reside on my shelves)... but "Amy Foster" only touches upon the sailing life, using it as the backdrop for the tragedy that unites the two lovers.  "Youth" and Heart of Darkness are wholly reliant upon Conrad's experiences as a sailor.

But (again), that doesn't account for why I like "The Secret Sharer", which is also wholly reliant upon Conrad's experiences as a sailor.  To me, "The Secret Sharer" is far more effective than Heart of Darkness at showing the slow descent into madness (and at less than one-third of the page count!).

So... I dunno.  Maybe I just hate the Marlow narratives.  I know I am loathe to read the remainders.  And I am hoping with great hope that Nostromo is a stylistic improvement.

We shall see.

Rating: 8 (Style: 2 stars; Story: 4 stars)

I feel I should expound on my story rating by specific story...
  • "Youth" - 3 stars
  • Heart of Darkness - 3 stars
  • "Amy Foster" - 5 stars
  • "The Secret Sharer" - 4 stars
That's an average of 3.75 stars, so I just rounded up to 4.


Things I Learned:
  • "apple pie order" - basically, something organized in a neat and tidy way.
  • Sclavonian - an old world that can mean Slavonia (Croatian) or Scalovian (Prussian).

New Words:

If there's one thing I can count on by reading late19th and early 20th century literature, it's the abundance of words I'm going to have to look up.  Edgar Allan Poe is the author who usually does it to me (along with the slightly more recent Lovecraft), but it appears I have to add Conrad to the "oh, shit, better grab my dictionary" list.

There were quite a few words I've never seen before, but could easily figure out (like bepatched and discomposed), and I've left those off this list.  The two words marked with an * are words I knew, but found myself looking up anyway (no doubt a result of my meekness in front of Conrad's vocabulary).  And, as there were so friggin' many in this anthology, I've listed the words in alphabetical order, rather than my usual practice of in order of appearance in the text.
  • adjured - to command solemnly under or as if under oath or penalty of a curse; to urge or advise earnestly
  • *alacrity - promptness in response :  cheerful readiness
  • apoplectic - of a kind to cause or apparently cause stroke; extremely enraged
  • ascetic - practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline; austere in appearance, manner, or attitude
  • declivity - downward inclination; a descending slope
  • diaphanous - characterized by such fineness of texture as to permit seeing through; characterized by extreme delicacy of form; insubstantial, vague
  • festoons - a decorative chain or strip hanging between two points; a carved, molded, or painted ornament representing a decorative chain
  • hardihood - resolute courage and fortitude; resolute and self-assured audacity often carried to the point of impudent insolence
  • jocose - given to joking; characterized by joking
  • languor - weakness or weariness of body or mind; listless indolence or inertia
  • offing - the part of the deep sea seen from the shore; the near or foreseeable future
  • particoloured - showing different colors or tints; especially :  having a predominant color broken by patches of one or more other colors
  • pellucid - admitting maximum passage of light without diffusion or distortion; reflecting light evenly from all surfaces; easy to understand
  • perambulator - one that perambulates; chiefly British :  a baby carriage
  • peroration - the concluding part of a discourse and especially an oration; a highly rhetorical speech
  • pestiferous - dangerous to society; carrying or propagating infection :  pestilential :  infected with a pestilential disease; troublesome, annoying
  • piebald - composed of incongruous parts; of different colors; especially :  spotted or blotched with black and white
  • plashing - splash
  • precipitately - to throw violently :  hurl; to throw down; to bring about especially abruptly; to cause to separate from solution or suspension; to cause (vapor) to condense and fall or deposit; to move or act with violent or unwise speed
  • prevaricator - to deviate from the truth
  • privation - an act or instance of depriving; the state of being deprived; especially :  lack of what is needed for existence
  • promptitude - the quality or habit of being prompt
  • propitiatory - intended to propitiate; of or relating to propitiation
  • punctilious - marked by or concerned about precise accordance with the details of codes or conventions
  • *rapacious - excessively grasping or covetous; living on prey; ravenous
  • recondite - difficult or impossible for one of ordinary understanding or knowledge to comprehend :  deep; of, relating to, or dealing with something little known or obscure; hidden from sight
  • recrudescence - a new outbreak after a period of abatement or inactivity :  renewal
  • sententiously - given to or abounding in aphoristic expression; given to or abounding in excessive moralizing; terse, aphoristic, or moralistic in expression :  pithy, epigrammatic
  • serried - crowded or pressed together :  compact; marked by ridges :  serrate
  • soughing - to make a moaning or sighing sound
  • tenebrous - shut off from the light :  dark, murky; hard to understand :  obscure; causing gloom
  • worsted - a smooth compact yarn from long wool fibers used especially for firm napless fabrics, carpeting, or knitting; also :  a fabric made from worsted yarns

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Reading

July isn't even over yet, and I've already purchased 25 books.

I've got a lot of reading to do.

But that's cool, because I love to read.

History.  A little about England and a lot about languages.  Sagremor-approved.

Classics.  Joseph Conrad, Sir Walter Scott, and three volumes of The Arabian Nights.  Contemporary.  The "Frank Nitti Trilogy."  More language.  And a book about getting rid of the US Air Force, for good measure.

Geopolitics & anthropology.  More English history.  A Gaiman novel.  Science.

The American Revolution from the British perspective.  And three books to help me hone my foreign language skills.

Friday, July 14, 2017

1000

According to my post count, this is number 1000.

Granted, there have been some posts I've taken down (at least one), and a couple that originally appeared on other blogs as chapters of co-writes that I've posted back-ups for here (probably four or five of those), but according to the post count, well...

This is #1000.

The first blog post I ever wrote was on a MySpace blog.  A friend of mine had written her own bio on her IMDb entry and it had irked me to no end, so I complained about it.  It was just over eleven years ago, and I was a helluva lot more curmudgeonly than I am now, despite my now being of a more appropriate curmudgeonly age.

And then it kind of went from there.  I was still young enough to be in my "I know everything" phase, and still arrogant enough to think that other people would want to read my opinions.  I am, admittedly, still pretty arrogant, but not so much that I delude myself into thinking other people care what I think.  Indeed, with most things, it's quite the opposite.  I actually try very hard to keep my mouth shut until someone asks me something directly.  Not that that always works.  I am human, after all.

In those early days of my blogging, I wrote wantonly of my opinions and wistfully of romantic notions of finding happiness.  I was in the death throes of a bad relationship (one that would wriggle with a weak, debilitating pulse for another three years or so) and in-between relationships that would provide with me with what I thought was motivation, but was really just misdirection.  But, slowly and surely, I started delving into my creative writing and - also slowly and surely - began sharing more and more of it on my blog.

By early 2009, one of my best online friends (we'll call him Joe) had discovered Blogger (then called Blogspot) and started a new blog there.  After following him for a few months, on June 21, 2009, I decided to give Blogger a try.  There had been a creative posting group called "Theme Thursday" (of which Joe was a part of), so I hesitantly gave it a go.  I didn't know it at the time, but I met one of my best in-person friends - Helen - during that Theme Thursday run, as well as several other Bloggers whom I have since met in person and keep in touch with to this day.

As all things tend to, however, the creative blogging community faded, and I lost touch with many of them.  Of the ones I kept in touch with, quite a few helped fund my first short film and a handful have become quite rabid supporters of my short film projects.  One, Megan, lives near me, and I've gotten to know her and her family (her son even house-sat for me during one of my overseas trips).  Another, Tom, I linked up with in Chicago and accompanied him to his home in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Mortality, however, does not spare the virtual world, and another friend of mine - Tina - passed away a few years ago.  I hadn't learned about it for almost a year after her death, and my last messages to her with but a week or so before it.  Still, she was supportive of my creative endeavors, and her name is in the credits of my first film.  Others have died, of course, and still others have simply drifted away.  Happily, though, several are now Facebook friends, and while I may have not met all of them in person as of yet, the odds are strong that it will happen, particularly as I find myself traveling the world more and more frequently.

The absolute pinnacle of my blogging was in 2010.  I had hundreds of followers, posted on a schedule several times per week, even as I moved three times from late 2009 to late 2010 (including one rather large cross-country transition).

And then, in early 2011, I just lost it.  I can't remember exactly what happened, but it no doubt involved romantic notions of women who wanted nothing to do with those notions, and my world turned temporarily to shit.  I actually gave my blog to someone else (literally, gave it away) and faded to posted only a few times per month (mostly out of habit).

After wallowing in self-pity for few weeks, I got drunk one day, bought a plane ticket to Australia and - in April of 2011 - visited the country I would quickly fall in love with.  At the end of that month, I returned to the United States changed a bit, but still generally without direction.  I lost my gall bladder at the end of that year, and that's when everything changed.

Actually, now that I think about it... three things happened between 2009 and 2011 that changed everything.  In late 2009, before I left the sleepy North Carolina town I had been calling home, I ran into a woman I had a crush on back in 1995, and she inspired to get off my ass, ditch what had been making me angry, and go chase my fucking dreams.  In late 2010, I returned to Southern California - the region where I had grown up - and began to try to work out my career aspirations (to little avail, at least initially), which inadvertently resulted in my trip to Australia early the following year.  Then, in late 2011, my gall bladder got infected, blocked with stones, and pretty much ruptured, skyrocketing my productivity because, shit, I almost could've maybe possibly died.  And almost could've maybe possibly dying can motivate a motherfucker.

Long story short, 2012 to now has mostly been writing and producing short films and writing and editing feature screenplays.  And while things have generally been successful in that regard (an almost detour to Afghanistan in late 2012, notwithstanding), something had disappeared from who I was.  I no longer felt the wistful romantic urges that were once so very much a part of me.  On the flip side, I was also no longer easily angered.  Certainly, I don't miss the angry me, but I definitely miss the romantic me.  Indeed, during a short but intense relationship with a beautiful French actress in early 2012, there was almost no spark.  No... love?  Lust?  Anything?  I felt detached for almost the entire relationship, and I didn't know why.

(an ex-girlfriend would often say that you can only love as much as you can hate, and while I question her inspiration for such a statement, maybe she was onto something)

Anyway, I'm rambling now, but fast-forwarding to 2017, and I'm reading again.  I'm writing in significant amounts again.  I'm putting myself out there, both with the career and with new people.  The romantic in me is still very much absent, but I know he's in there somewhere.  I've lost thirty or so pounds since the end of 2016.  I eat better.  I exercise more.  I study more.  I'm strongly considering returning to school in 2018 or 2019 and earning my Masters and Doctorate.

I want to keep traveling.  I want to live in Australia.  I want to pay off all of my debts and take care of my parents.  I want to meet my beautiful, wonderful traveling companion.  I want the overbearing pragmatic me to give just a little leeway to the romantic me that just needs some room to breathe.

And I want to share with you what I'm doing.  Not because I think you should know what I think or feel.  Not because I think my life is anything to be envious of.  But because I want to share.  Read me if you like, ignore me if you prefer, but I'm going to put my life, my world, on these pages.  Not on a schedule, mind you.  Nor even with any guarantee of frequency.

But I enjoyed blogging when I did it, even at the end of 2010 when it had started feeling like a chore.  I don't keep secrets anymore.  The things I've done that were wicked, evil, or malicious are public to all who ask.  I have nothing to hide and no reason (nor will) to hide anything at all.

I am irreverent.  I am irrelevant.  But I am here, and I've been here for a helluva lot longer than 1000 blog posts.

Here's to another thousand.  And another thousand beyond that.

If you stick around, I hope you enjoy.  I hope you comment and ask me crazy, silly, and hard questions.  Call me out on my bullshit, please.  Let's discuss the things we disagree on.  Let's revel in our agreements.

On that note, pardon me while I revel in some homemade whiskey sours.

Tullamore D.E.W., bitches.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Balkan Ghosts

Whew.  It's not often that I read a book and am nearly floored.  I suppose it's happened with a few novels (Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and Dan Simmons' Ilium and Olympos), but I'm hard-pressed to recall one non-fiction book that's done that to me.

Well, I was hard-pressed.  No longer.

Robert D. Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts is ostensibly a travel book about, well, traveling through the former Yugoslavia (while it was still Yugoslavia), Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.  And I suppose it is that, but, oh... it is so, so much more.  Kaplan writes of the region's history, its anthropology, and its geopolitics in such a natural and seamless manner, it reads very closely to a good novel.  Both a storyteller and a journalist, Kaplan also seamlessly transitions between the subjective and the objective, while remaining crystal clear about which is which so as not to deceive the reader.

I had been familiar with the series of wars that broke up Yugoslavia.  I have striking memories of pictures from the overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania (I believe I still may have the Time or Newsweek magazine that showed the man dead on its cover).  And I have vague recollections of the dark and violent period of 80s and early 90s Greece.

But, really... I had no fucking idea.

Let's back up a moment.

A few years ago, I had written a screenplay called Theorem, which largely takes place in the Balkans (Croatia, specifically).  A friend of mine came to a table read of my script and remarked that nothing in it felt "Balkan."  We had a long discussion about what that meant, and he recommended Kaplan's book to me.  So, I bought it.  And when it arrived, I flipped through it.  I flipped through the small section about Croatia the most, but I didn't give the book any due diligence and basically left it to gather dust on a bookshelf for two or three years.

Fast-forward to a week or so ago.  I'm in the middle of my renaissance of reading, and I have to work on another screenplay (The Hand That Feeds You) that was presenting character problems.  After having read Tim O'Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story" and Graham Greene's The Quiet American, I felt that I should read something more contemporary to see if I can fit anything into a specific character.  And that caused me to choose to read Balkan Ghosts (there is a similar motivation to rewatch the William Friedkin movie, The Hunted).

Wow.  I wish I would've read Balkan Ghosts when my friend told me to.

It is... profound, to say the least.  The hows, whens, and whys of what the Balkans have gone through and will go through are presented with depth, all the under the auspices of Mr. Kaplan "traveling" through the region.  Cultural hatreds are not only well-explained, but made obvious, both in their motivations and their executions.  And Kaplan's predictions for what lie in wait for the various ethnic groups and nations... prescient, indeed.

While I am not much closer to being an expert on the Balkans than I was before I read this, the narratives ring and read true.  I've no doubt someone of one of these Balkan civilizations would read the book and claim something along the lines of, "Oh, this guy got (my) culture wrong, but he's nailed these others."

It is that uncomfortable a subject matter.  And, yet, presented so matter-of-factly, with just the right amount of narrative paint, that you can't help but feel comfortable with even the most heinous accounts depicted (or theorized) in Balkan Ghosts.

That stated, it is a relatively dense book.  It's not dense writing, per se, but I found myself slogging through it at times, or having to reread entire pages.  Strangely, none of that took away from the enjoyment of this book for me.  Indeed, going over pages more than once probably even helped my grasp of it.

Needless to say, I love it.  So much so, I've purchased two more of Mr. Kaplan's books (including a "sequel" to Balkan Ghosts).

If you've any interest in the Balkans, or history, anthropology, or geopolitics in general, do yourself a massive favor and get this book.

Rating: 20 (Style: 4 stars; Substance: 5 stars)


Things I Learned:
  • What I've been calling "editorial journalism" (and some others might refer to as "fake news") has a formal name: Gonzo journalism.  I'm sure I've heard the term before.  I've just never put two and two together.
  • "Ruritania" is a fictional Central European country from a trilogy of books written in the late 19th century, and since used in the writings of others.  In the academic world, scholars use "Ruritania" to discuss concepts and theories regarding the real world, so as to avoid insulting any one nation or people.
  • Hungarian peoples are also known as Magyar, and that is, in fact, the Hungarian language.
  • Chaika - a Russian car company, apparently known for their distinctive limousines.

New Words:
  • lignitea usually brownish black coal intermediate between peat and bituminous coal; especially :  one in which the texture of the original wood is distinct —called also brown coal
  • apsea projecting part of a building (such as a church) that is usually semicircular in plan and vaulted - (I actually knew this one already, but I hadn't realized it until after I looked it up, so I've included it.)
  • cognomenthe third of usually three names borne by a male citizen of ancient Rome; a distinguishing nickname or epithet
  • hagiographer (hagiography) - biography of saints or venerated persons
  • irredentisma political principle or policy directed toward the incorporation of irredentas within the boundaries of their historically or ethnically related political unit
  • charwomana cleaning woman especially in a large building
  • palimpsestwriting material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased
  • pogroman organized massacre of helpless people; specifically :  such a massacre of Jews
  • desultorily (desultory) - marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose
  • Niloticof or relating to the Nile or the peoples of the Nile basin
  • gimcracka showy object of little use or value
  • hourione of the beautiful maidens that in Muslim belief live with the blessed in paradise
  • dunhaving a slightly brownish dark gray color :  having the color dun; marked by dullness and drabness

The Profound:

This is a new section that is basically just tidbits of information or slices of philosophy or clever quotes that sit well with me.
  • "Mythology is what never was, but always is." - Stephen of Byzantium
  • "Istanbul" is a corruption of a Greek phrase, "is tin poli" (to the city) - which is hilarious, given the reasons the Turks renamed Constantinople.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Noosa International Film Festival, 2017

After selecting five of six submitted Short Pajamas short films in 2016, the Noosa International Film Festival has selected one of one submitted Short Pajamas short films in 2017!


Sadly, I don't think I'm going to be in Noosa this year.  Last year's festival was an absolute joy, however, and if you're anywhere nearby, I highly recommend popping in for a screening or two.

Try for whatever block "Ananas Comosus" is in. ;)


Monday, July 10, 2017

Headshot

I had to get a headshot.

Dozens of photos were taken.  Maybe hundreds.  The photographer let me pick from eleven.

I think this is the winner.  I dunno.

I hate having my photo taken.  But I'm trying to get over that.  Which is why I'm sharing.

I'm gonna go get drunk now.

Bleh.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Oceanside International Film Festival, 2017

For the second year in a row, the Oceanside International Film Festival has accepted two of my films.

Not one.

But two!

>


Oceanside, for other reasons, has a very special place in my heart, so I'm glad to be going back.

Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Quiet American

Ever since I read The Third Man and "The Fallen Idol" (also known as "The Basement Room"), I've had a strong if unearned admiration for Graham Greene.  Those two stories were so amazing to me, I immediately placed Greene into my subjective pantheon of great authors.  Of course, I had told myself that I was going to continue to read his work, but short of seeing a handful of movies based on his novels and short stories, I never furthered my education into the man's literary prowess.

Fast forward a few years, and I finally purchase The Quiet American.

And then it proceeds to sit on my bookshelf for another year or so.

And then I watch The Quiet American (the Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser version).  The book sits.  And then I watch The Third Man (inferior to the book, in my opinion, and certainly doesn't hold up well, though I do quite enjoy it).  The book sits.

Until my recent reading spurt.  Motivated in part by this spurt, but also by a story I'm writing that involves a character that I was considering making a veteran of Vietnam, I decided to pull The Quiet American from the shelf and give it a read.

Initially, I didn't like what I was reading, and became somewhat embarrassed for my very public, very gushing praise for Graham Greene.  But, then, as many stories do (including my all-time favorite, Lonesome Dove),  The Quiet American hits its stride and evolved into as wonderful a read as both The Third Man and "The Fallen Idol."

Its concerns a British reporter and an American missionary (of sorts), caught up in the First Indochina War, fought mainly between Communist Vietnamese and French colonial powers.  At face value, The Quiet American is about a love triangle involving the reporter, the missionary, and the reporter's Vietnamese mistress.  At that face value, it works quite well.

Beneath the facade, however, is a deeply personal story regarding Greene's attitudes toward European imperialism and influence (particularly that of England and, obviously, France) and America's rising level of interference in world affairs.  As metaphors go, Greene nails it.  The intrigue is superbly interesting (once the plot gets going) and hiding it behind and in front of the love story is superbly effective.  Greene's wanton romanticism always seems so grounded and so real, that even his playing with historical facts and assumption of Western conspiracy hits you where it counts.

This is a wonderful book.  And that's pretty much all there is to say.

Rating: 16 (Style: 4 stars; Story: 4 stars)

Things I Learned:

Whoa, boy... as far as an educational experience, this one was a whopper.  On a general note, I learned a lot about the First Indochina War that I had not known.  On a more specific note, I learned quite a few words.  I wouldn't say anywhere near as many as when I read Poe, for instance, but enough that Greene will definitely be an author I turn to when I want to increase my knowledge of the English language.
  1. Caodaism - an Indo-Chinese religion originating in Cochin China in 1926, consisting of an amalgamation of elements from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, and spiritualism, and having its clergy headed by a pope who as the direct representative of its supreme deity exercises both spiritual and temporal power - (ah,the artifice of modern religion)
  2. Hoa-Hao - another Indo-Chinese religion, mostly based on Buddhism.  Hoa-Haos were enemies of the Caodists in the First Indochina War.
  3. Berkeleian - philosophically, it's the notion that all things are"immaterial" or "subjectively ideal" - Really, I don't know much about it, but from what I've (very quickly) gathered, it seems like an offshoot of solipsism.
The rest are new words:
  1. breviary - a book of the prayers, hymns, psalms, and readings for the canonical hours
  2. soutane - a type of cassock
  3. chinoiserie - a style in art (as in decoration) reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs; also :  an object or decoration in this style - (you have no idea how happy it makes me that this word exists)
  4. planchette - a small triangular or heart-shaped board supported on casters at two points and a vertical pencil at a third and believed to produce automatic writing when lightly touched by the fingers; also :  a similar board without a pencil - (think Ouija board, and you've got the idea)
  5. godown - a warehouse in a country of southern or eastern Asia - (how crazy-specific is that???)
  6. zareba - an improvised stockade constructed in parts of Africa especially of thorny bushes
  7. piastre - a monetary subunit of the pound (Egypt, Lebanon, Syria) - (also apparently the unit of money in French Indochina, which I only learned by looking up)
  8. sampan - a flat-bottomed skiff used in eastern Asia and usually propelled by two short oars - (did NOT know that's what they were called)
  9. pastis - a French liqueur flavored with aniseed
  10. garret - a room or unfinished part of a house just under the roof

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day Resolution

I used to be an avid reader.  Like, voracious.  That all changed sometime in the late 90s/early 00s, though I still managed to knock out quite a few books.  And then they got fewer and further in-between.  There were always spurts, of course, but it never stuck.  My brain just never again settled into absorbing words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters like it once had.

Anyway, I managed to read seven books last month.  I had a blast doing it, too.  I hope to read another six or seven this month.

Here's hoping it's not just another spurt.


Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Road to Paradise

Hmm...

The novel Road to Paradise is a sequel to novel Road to Purgatory and ostensibly ends the tale of Michael O'Sullivan, Jr., that began in the graphic novel, Road to Perdition.

Road to Paradise starts with Michael Satariano (O'Sullivan's alter ego) running the Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe, having "retired" from his violent mob ways while remaining in the mob world.  He's generally happy in life with his wife and daughter, but has recently learned his son has probably been killed in Vietnam.

And then an exiled mob boss shows up in his office and asks him to do a job, which Michael refuses.

Without giving up too much detail and the plot, Road to Paradise wraps up the story of Michael O'Sullivan, Jr., in a way that that brings the whole trilogy full circle, while still pushing the narrative forward into new territory.

Like the first two books in this trilogy, I like Road to Paradise.  I don't love it, but I do like it and I'd love to see a graphic novel version of this one, as well.  Author Max Allan Collins continues to seamlessly blend the fictional with the non-fictional and as a peek into the world of the American Mafia, it's as educational as it is entertaining.  Collins also improves upon Satariano's character greatly, something that I felt was a bit flat in Road to Purgatory.  Sadly, the character of Satariano's daughter didn't quite do it for me, and she came across as mostly as a foil for Satariano, as well as a plot convenience (she is, effectively, the novel's major plot point).

That stated, the ending is pretty impressive.  Not necessarily for the plot and story, but for how well Collins wraps up the trilogy.  There is an aspect of the graphic novel that was missing from the entire novel trilogy (and is missing from the film), and its absence had me curious as to whether or not Collins was going to retcon it out of the story, or just ignore it altogether.  I am happy to state that he did neither.

Rating: 9 - (Style: 3 stars; Story: 3 stars)

Side note: This book didn't seem to have the typo problems the first two had.

Things I Learned:
  1. The Papago people - a Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, formally known as the Tohono O'odham
  2. New word: Banlon - a synthetic yarn used in clothing... technically, Ban-Lon (I actually think this is something I had known, just forgotten)
  3. New word: jute - a natural fiber that is used for making rope and cloth
If anything, this book trilogy has taught me more about textiles in the past month than I think I've ever learned before.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Kay is a Dick

I was looking through my Instagram feed to share something here, and came across a video of a dog I was dogsitting in early June while her owners were vacationing in Hawaii.  It's a cute video and I'll post it soon, but I wound up (as one often does) walking down various lanes of memory and found a bunch of other photos and videos that my vanity deems I should share, as well.

So, here you go.

This one is from July 6 of 2016 or thereabouts.  It's called, "Kay is a Dick."




Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Story of English in 100 Words

Along with geoscience, another academic interest that has taken hold in me as of late is anthropology and, more specifically, linguistics.  There's something about the macro of people that I find fascinating.  A friend of mine would call it "wisdom of crowds," but I think I'll just stick to something a little more vague.  Like... things humans do in groups.  Of which language is one of the most obvious of those things.

David Crystal's The Story of English in 100 Words, published in 2011, is a fascinating and often humorous journey through the history of the English language, starting with the first recorded English word ("roe") and ending with "twittersphere."  Using the eponymous 100 words, Crystal identifies sources, trends, and uses of words both common and rare, and even provides quite a bit of information concerning words that are now, for all intents and purposes, extinct.

While avoiding too much depth in any one aspect of language, Crystal delves deep enough into the anthropology and history of English to paint a fairly comprehensive picture of our strange and magical tongue.  That stated, I would've like more... more words and more depth.  Were this book called The Story of English in 200 Words, I imagine I'd have found it near perfect.

Still, if there is a more entertaining and better written introduction to the nuances of English, I would like to read it.  There probably is one.  And I wouldn't be surprised if David Crystal wrote that one, too.

Rating: 20 (Style: 5 stars; Substance: 4 stars).

As with my review for The Nutshell Technique, this review does not warrant a "Things I Learned" section.  Unlike my review for The Nutshell Technique, however, this review doesn't have a "Things I Learned" section because that was basically the entire book.  Go read the book and then you'll know what I learned.  Nyer.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all - contain at least one or two nuggets worth adding to an aspiring screenwriter's toolkit, most - if not all - seem to drop the ball and wind up wantonly misinterpreted messes that can be (at least partially) blamed for the perceived precipitous drop in the quality of studio films.

Now, that's if one believes there's been a precipitous drop in the quality of studio films.  On that topic, I am dubious.

However, there are absolutely screenwriting books (and their corresponding systems) that have left their indelible mark on the art of screenplay, and not necessarily for the better.  Syd Field, the godfather of screenwriting gurus, is of course the author of what has been the most prominent screenplay guide for most of the past four decades.  First published in 1979, his Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, was the first book that formally identified script structure for the masses.  It is arguable that most university screenwriting curricula stems from this book, though many classes and professors prefer other authors.  Regardless, Syd Field opened the door for the plethora of screenwriting gurus who followed, the most prominent of which would be Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler, Linda Seger, and Blake Snyder.

Indeed, it is Blake Snyder who further revolutionized the guru field in 2005, with his ubiquitous Save the Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need.  In the book, Snyder identifies a template - replete with page ranges - of when certain things need to happen in a script.  The entire script is divided into a handful of obviously-named sections (such as "Dark Night of the Soul") that are designed to inform the writer of what he or she should be writing on what page.

Needless to say, things didn't end there, and in 2011, guru Todd Klick published a book which basically provides a page-by-page format of what a good script should look like.  I have, so far, resisted acquiring this book, but my curiosity has been piquing as of late, so I don't know how much longer I can hold out. 

At any rate, should you head to Amazon.com and search for "screenwriting" in their book section, you'll get a whopping 3,152 hits.

Three thousand, one hundred, fifty-two.

And one of those books, published in 2016, is Jill Chamberlain's The Nutshell Technique: Crack the Secret of Successful Screenwriting.  It is short, sweet, and... well... I dunno.

(In a weird twist of fate, I'm going to be attending a panel of Ms. Chamberlain's the day this blog post is published - Saturday, June 24 - but that's neither here nor there.)

The Nutshell Technique, in a nutshell, is essentially a checklist of eight points that Chamberlain claims are essential to a story's DNA.  And she explains those eight points over and over and over and over for over 150 pages when, really, 15 would have sufficed.  But, she is trying to sell books, so I can't really blame her for the attempt.

To be fair, quite a few of those pages are used to apply her eight points to familiar movies, although she repeats her examples over and over again, as well.

And while I am most certainly not praising the book, he theory seems to hold up well.  I have to admit that this is the first screenwriting book that I have not incessantly rolled my eyes in a very long time.  The nuggets in this one are sound, though I feel as though I should repeat (just once!) that those nuggets could have been as effectively explained in 10% of the page count.

Part of me greatly dislikes that her system deconstructs "good writing" into so simple a technique (perhaps the simplest I'm familiar with), but most of me recognizes that her system isn't as much a system as it is a checklist to be used on top of other systems (such as Syd Field's, whose system Chamberlain most often refers to).  Indeed, her nutshell contains no information regarding actual character development, implementations of antagonists or even obstacles, and is so beholden to Aristotle's basic concept that it seems to try to obviate many notions and theories of effective storytelling.

That stated, a great many aspiring writers will find Chamberlain's book and system useful, and I will certainly be taking a few notes from her.  What can I say?  Though she doesn't cover anywhere near enough of the storytelling process, of the areas she does cover, she's not wrong.

Rating: 9 (Style: 3 stars; Substance: 3 stars)

Sadly, I didn't learn anything from the book that would qualify this review to have a "Things I Learned" section.  Maybe that's saying something.  Maybe it isn't.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: The Story of Earth

I've been a science nerd for a long, long time.  Physics was probably my favorite science subject in high school (perhaps other than oceanography), and I am far more interested in the forces of the universe at large than I am in chemistry or biology.

All that aside, there is one branch of science that I have long avoided in my life (other than its relation to the aforementioned study of oceans), and that branch is Earth science (or, as I will refer to it, geoscience).

(I promise I'll slow down with the parentheses.)

I don't know why I've so far avoided geoscience, but I think it has something to do with the observation that in the school system I grew up in, the Earth science class seemed to be for the idiots who were too stupid to take the other sciences.  Whether or not that observation has any merit is irrelevant, but that's probably the reason I never gave the geosciences much thought.  At least, not actively.

Anyway, fast-forward to... a few years ago... and I'm working on a science fiction story in which one of the lead characters is a geoscientist.  Her discipline changed based on whichever draft I was writing, but she was always in geoscience.  Maybe as an oceanographer, maybe as a meteorologist (might be making that one up, and maybe as even a geophysicist.  Long-story short, the amount of cursory research I was doing of geoscience began to pique my interest.  Piqued it enough that I am now seriously considering going to a local community college and picking up an Associate degree in Geoscience.

This, combined with the fact that I have recently met a geoscientist that I enjoy friendly banter with, led me on search for "science communicator" books regarding geoscience.

Now, this is easier said than done.  While there are many, many science communicators who write about physics (Tyson and Davies are favorites of mine, and Kaku populates my library), finding one who writes about geoscience felt like a wild goose chase, albeit a brief one.

Finding a book called The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, From Stardust to Living Planet on Amazon, I decided to take a chance on it, despite several spurious reviews and some mentions of controversy.

And, oh, am I glad I did.

This book is fantastic.  Written very simply, author Robert M. Hazen informs and elucidates on the origins of our planet in a very clear and subtly repetitive manner.  Yes, there is not insignificant reliance on math and science that I didn't fully grasp, but never did I feel completely lost, either.  And even those passages in question were usually bookended by anecdotal explanation to keep the reader on track.

Though concentrating mostly on the lithosphere of Earth (its geology), Hazen takes us through the origins and developments of the hydrosphere, the atmosphere, and the biosphere.  From the Big Bang to the death of the planet (Earth itself, not us humans), Hazen explains the eras of Earth's history in a series of colors (black, blue, gray, red, white, green) with some interjecting phrases in between.

Personally, I didn't find his notion that the geosphere and biosphere co-evolved all that controversial, as it seems more logical.  Granted, that's the point of this book, but the most controversial thing I found was the chapter about the Theia hypothesis, regarding the formation of our moon.  Hazen writes as though Theia is indisputable fact, though I am personally unaware of whether or not Theia is the current widely accepted theory in academia.

Regardless, I am extremely glad I bought this book.  If you have even a passing interest in geoscience, or in the general natural history of Earth, this one is a must read.

Rating: 20 (Style: 4 stars; Substance: 5 stars)

Things I Learned:

Beyond the obvious, of course...
  1. New word: adsorbtion - the adhesion in an extremely thin layer of molecules (as of gases, solutes, or liquids) to the surfaces of solid bodies or liquids with which they are in contact
  2. New word: anoxic - of, relating to, or affected with anoxia; greatly deficient in oxygen
  3. New word: evince - to constitute outward evidence of; to display clearly

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I Have Returned... Maybe

So, it's obvious to the both of you reading this that I'm kinda back.  Don't know if I'll stay, but I'm enjoying sharing my thoughts again.  Maybe I won't rant and rave like I used, but that's okay.  That shit consumes too much energy, anyway.  And it just riles me up.  Plus, particularly in the contemporary climate, nobody really cares what anyone else has to complain about.  Most people just want to troll.  Too few actually want to engage in debate.

Of course, I'll still be posting opinions and reviews... that won't change.  But I think I'm going to turn this into more of a journal.

I dunno.  Maybe.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Road to Purgatory

This is an interesting one.

First published in 2004, Road to Purgatory is neither a sequel to the novel Road to Perdition, or the film Road to Perdition.  Rather, it's a sequel to the graphic novel which, as Road to Purgatory has ceremoniously reminded me, is quite a bit different than the movie.

In this book, Micheal O'Sullivan, Jr., has been adopted by Sicilian restaurateurs and goes by the name of Michael Satariano.  Returning from the early days of American involvement in World War II, Michael is given the chance (via Eliot Ness) for revenge against Capone for the murder of his father.  Long story short, Michael goes undercover in the mob and adventures ensue.

Let me just state that I like this book.  It would probably make an interesting movie (although much would need to be changed to be a proper sequel to Road to Perdition) and would make an excellent graphic novel.  Truth be told, I wish this would've been a graphic novel, as a lot of the feats of the characters seem pulled straight out of comic books.  Michael is just a little too much of a super soldier.  He's just a little too good a lover.  He's just a little too smart for his own good.  Indeed, most of the violence reads like video game cut-scenes.  For a novel, and one based on actual historical people and events as much as possible, the suspension of disbelief required was just too much.  Were this a graphic novel, it would've been fantastic (but I think I said that already).

Anyway, despite some of the more comic elements, I really do like how author Max Allan Collins fits the story in with real history (and even, I understand, other stories in his literary catalog).  The section dealing with the Army seems a little hokey, and there are a couple of errors in military accuracy, but it works as a setup for the most part.  All that out of the way, many of the plot twists and devices are very deux ex machina, convenient for their convenience and not altogether convincing.  Sure, many of them are - again - real events from history, but Collins seems to hide behind that fact, rather than embracing it for the narrative.

Oddly enough, the most insincere character in the novel is the one he created: Michael Satariano.

Rating: 9 - (Style: 3 stars; Story: 3 stars)

It just wasn't as engaging as its predecessor (in any form).  A few too many typos... although I noticed that in Road to Perdition, too.  I'm going to guess that there will be some noticeable editing mistakes in Road to Paradise, as well.

Things I Learned:
  1. New word: gabardine - a firm hard-finish durable fabric (as of wool or rayon) twilled with diagonal ribs on the right side; a garment of gabardine
  2. porkpie hat - I guess I just never knew those were called "porkpie hats."
  3. "Kidding on the square" - an old, rarely used phrase meaning "joking, but not joking."

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Good Morning, You Old Bastards

Just sharing another photo from my Instagram.

Morning, June 9.  I had been sleeping soundly, then Sagremor decided to knead my chest. I'm pretty sure Starbuck was farting and burping.  I guess they wanted to be let outside.

Well, good goddamned morning to you, too.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Silent Witnesses

I love forensic science.  It is another one of those sciences I'm obsessed with that I don't know shit about, but read about voraciously in the hopes that something sticks in my increasingly malleable brain.

Back up for a moment.

I'm on a script deadline for a film called The Hand That Feeds You.  Without giving anything away, its premise involves a rather grotesque crime scene.  My original deadline was May 14, 2017.  I missed it.  The extended deadline was May 21, 2017.  I missed that one, too.  Truth be told, I still haven't turned the damned thing in, and the only reason I haven't been removed as the writer is because the producer is busy on another film at the moment.

But... that situation ain't going to last forever, so I decided to try to inspire myself by reading a true crime book.  After sifting through some recommendations, I chose Nigel McCrery's Silent Witnesses: The Often Gruesome but Always Fascinating History of Forensic Science.

Now, I can't rightfully claim this book inspired me at all, but I can rightfully claim that I enjoyed reading it quite a bit.  It is a plainly written, easily digestible, and often entertaining journey through the history of forensics.  Rather than simply iterating methodology and who discovered what, McCrery takes you through the criminal cases and lets the narrative reveal the methods and the players.

As a former British cop and mystery novelist, McCrery's ability to educate while entertaining is very competent.

That stated, there's not as much detail as I would have liked regarding the actual "science" portion of these stories of forensic science.  The book is more of a philosophical outlook of the field, basically exploring more why the field is so important, how it's implemented in society, and what it can do.  Had there been more nitty-gritty (granted, the crimes themselves were very well explained), I'd have no hesitation in recommending this as a "go to" book for forensics aficionados.

Still, if you have any interest in forensics at all, give it a whirl.  It's a fun read, at the very least, and despite some typos (I can recall at least two, but it seems like there are more) is a professional presentation.  I may even wind up acquiring some of McCrery's fiction, as even this book made me laugh out loud a number of times.

Rating: 12 - (Style: 4 stars; Substance: 3 stars)

I'm also going to add a feature called "things I learned from" movies and books that I review.  These will be things I learned that aren't obvious in the subject matter of the book (for instance, I learned a lot about the history of forensics in this book, but... no shit, right?).

Things I Learned:
  1. New word: inveigle - to win over by wiles; to acquire by ingenuity or flattery
  2. Another term for "railroad tie" is "railway sleeper."
  3. A "curé" is a small rural town priest (one of my French tutors happily pointed this one out for me).

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Irreview, Book Review: Road to Perdition

So, first off, for those who don't know, Road to Perdition is my favorite movie of all time.  Near-perfect, in my opinion.  Its flaws are so minor, one must nitpick to expose them, and most won't even bother.  It is not a film designed to make you feel good, however, which (at least partially) explains why it's not a more popular film than it is.

That stated, it's the best movie ever.  I even wrote a term paper about it in film school.  Because I'm smart.

Anyway, after having seen the film multiple times, I acquired the original graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, a pulp/private eye writer of some note, whose work I had never read.  I was surprised by just how different the graphic novel is to the film (especially in regard to exactly how far the "road" actually was, and to the depiction and ultimate fate of Michael, Jr.).  In the end, though I quite like the source material, the movie remains the superior narrative.

This was all at least ten years ago.  Probably closer to fifteen, but who's counting?

Fast forward to 2017.  As I'm shopping Amazon for something (probably more books), the inevitable "Amazon recommendations" pop up, and I'm quite intrigued by one in particular: a book sequel to Road to Perdition called Road to Purgatory.

I was like, "Whaaaaat?"

I went down the rabbit hole of clicks and learned that there was a second novel adaptation of the movie, and two novel sequels to the graphic novel version of Road to Perdition (How does one annotate a graphic novel?  Underline?  Italics?  Remind me to look that up later.): the aforementioned Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise.

And as it just so happened, Brash Books had published the updated adaptation (Collins had wanted to properly adapt the story in novel format -  the original was simply a novelization of the film - and Dreamworks finally let him) and had reprinted the first sequel, with the second sequel scheduled for the end of May, 2017 (a fact I only discovered a couple of days ago, at which point I promptly ordered my copy).

So I read it.

It's good.  It's not great, and it certainly takes getting used to Collins' comma-happy, run-on runs-on run-ons, but it's good.  Stylistically, he chose a weird pairing of diary type entries at the beginning of each chapter (from the perspective of Michael, Jr.) and traditional prose (albeit with run-on sentences form Hell) for the remainder of the book.  This also took some getting used to, but once I was about halfway through the book, I didn't really mind it.

There are some added moments for the main characters from the film, as well as some new supporting characters (some of which appear in the film's deleted scenes) that help to add color to the narrative and ground the story in reality.

But, despite Road to Perdition topping my favorite films list, Road to Perdition doesn't come anywhere near my favorite books list.  I'm doubting it even sits in my top 100.  Granted, I used to read a lot, so maybe that's not such a big deal.

Anyway, if you like the movie and/or the graphic novel, and are interested in the further adventures of Michael, Jr., it's worth a read.  I am, I'll admit, anxious to read Road to Purgatory, but I have to read a history of forensics first (for work and all that boring shit).

For those interested, there are apparently several comic book sequels to the original graphic novel, as well.  I have not read any of them, however, though I hope to in the near future.

I'm going to give Road to Perdition 3 stars (out of 5) for style, and 4 stars for story.  That's an Irre(x2) Aggregate of 12 (I'll explain later).

I should really get graphics made.

Ooh!

Edit: Adjusted the star ratings to reflect my brand-spanking-new rating system.  I'll explain that shit in a later post. :)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Fearless Preduction: The Alien Franchise

Anybody who knows me by now knows how much I loathe Alien: Covenant.  Lazy-ass storytelling, that one.  I mentioned in a blog post a few days ago that I am enjoying the ass-whooping Alien: Covenant is taking at the box office.

Seriously.  Fuck that movie.

Anyway, from analyzing the box office numbers, one thing became clear to me: 20th Century Fox is going to remove Ridley Scott from the director's chair.  And the studio is going to do that in one of two ways.

Option #1: Assign a production executive who will tighten the reigns on Ridley Scott, who clearly has forgotten how to build tension, suspense, and appropriately scare anybody.

Option #2: Fire Ridley Scott.

But, as my director of "Dog," "Go Tell It on the Molehill," and "Ananas Comosus" pointed out, option #1 is effectively option #2, because option #1 will likely cause Ridley Scott to quit the franchise.

Fine.  Let it happen.

That is my prediction.

But...

For those who follow the Alien franchise, they will remember that Neill Blomkamp had developed an "Alien 5" that would have starred Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn (as "Ripley" and "Hicks," respectively).  Not only that, this "Alien 5" would have been a soft reboot, ignoring the events of Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection.

If my prediction comes true, then I will automatically predict that Blomkamp's movie gets the green light.

Whatever happens with Blomkamp's project, let's hope that Ridley Scott never directs another Alien franchise movie again.

Hell, I'd be happy letting him finish his Prometheus trilogy, as long as they re-distance it from the Alien franchise as much as possible.

But don't let him touch the xenomorph every again.  He's already completely ruined it.  It's no wonder they gave the sequel to Blade Runner to someone else.

Friday, June 2, 2017

What I'm Up To: A Random Walk Through JeffScape's Randomness

I'm bored, so I'm just gonna mention stuff.  I've probably mentioned some of this stuff before, but I don't care.  And if you've followed me for a while (all three of you), you probably know that I don't care.

So, hmm... what's subjectively interesting in my life...

Well, I had a script deadline on May 14th.  I missed it.  Luckily, there was an option to extend the deadline to May 21st.  I missed that one, too.  Truth be told, I still haven't turned it in.  There's a good chance I'm going to get fired.  But... I don't care.

I don't know why I don't care.  I just don't.  The script in question is for a project that has been an exercise in insanity for years now.  Literally.  Years.  I think we need to inject some new talent into the writing process (I am currently the third writer on it), although the film's investors are hesitant to pay another writer.

Truth be told... oh, wait... I used that phrase already.  Let me think of another...

Nope, got nothing.  Moving on!

I recently lost 30 pounds.  A full on fucking 30 pounds.  I weighed 208 just last October.  By the end of January, I was 178.

Fucking crazy.

Went to this the other night:

L to R: Marti Nixon, Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, J.J. Abrams, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jimmi Simpson

Was pretty cool.  First time to the Television Academy.  Two of my friends have minor roles on the show (one of whom might be returning for season 2), and I worked with Angela Sarafyan ("Charlotte Pennyfeather") on a couple of movies years ago, so there's some icing on the cake when I watch Westworld.

I'm co-writing a short film about two combat veteran Teddy bears.  It's for a competition.  Wish me luck.

One of my cats is sick, but his meds are working.  It's weird watching him play around, knowing that he's probably dying.  As I type this, he's in the backyard, asleep among the grass.  Such a wonderful cat.  Both of my cats are wonderful cats.

I found out a week or so ago that I've had my dog one less year than I thought I had him.  I got him in 2005, apparently.  So, unless I wrote the wrong information down (which is possible), he's likely only going to be 13 this year.  I thought he was 14.

I hated (HATED) Alien: Covenant.

I quite liked Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.

Speaking of Marvel, one of my friends is one of the leads in Marvel's The Inhumans that comes out this fall.  You should watch it.  Even if it sucks.  He needs the work.

That's him on the far left.  Eme.  We fight all the time, but I taught him how to shoot, so he loves me.

They got the costumes aaaaaaaalmost right.

I'm thinking about going to back to school.  Los Angeles Valley College has a two-year degree in Earth Science that I want.  California State University Northridge has the Master's I want, but I figured it would be better to do another Bachelor's first.  Besides, I have my eye on anywhere from three to six minors.

I love school.  What can I say?

And I'm still targeting a PhD by the time I'm 50.  Depends on how this ol' career of mine goes.

Anyway, you're probably bored of me by now.

I'll continue that Short Pajamas story soon.

Time for wine.