Thursday, April 28, 2005

Apprentice: Crunch Time

Now that "The Apprentice" is down to the final four and my chances of guessing right have gone way up, I am going to go way out on a limb and offer a prediction on who will win. Last week, Bren, the guy who I had pegged from the beginning as my pick for the winner, finally bowed out. I also came to the realization that neither Bren, while I liked him, nor Alex, for whom I don't particularly care, has any spark or imagination. (Being a lawyer like them but also a writer, I'm hoping that their profession is not the reason for that particular flaw)

Of the four remaining, who is the most likely to walk away with the job that no one in their right mind would want? Assuming that the Donald watches the tape from each task before the next one, I would say that Craig and Tana have about as much chance of winning as I do. That going home and going to sleep thing while Kendra spent the whole night working on their project was just unacceptable -- something a high school slacker would do. Alex, as I mentioned, lacks creativity. Trump does seem to like him, mysteriously, but I am confident that he will be exposed in the next couple of weeks.

That leaves Kendra, my new pick for the Apprentice, despite the fact that she looks like she's in pain when she smiles. Even if I didn't think the others were incompetent, though, I would pick Kendra. I've never really liked her, but she is a pretty dynamic candidate. First, she nailed that exclusive marketing deal with the surrounding businesses for their putt putt course. Then she singled-handedly created a brochure for the Solstice that the Pontiac folks liked so much they are going to use it. Finally, last week she played a large part in coming up with the winning office supply project. She's had quite a run, and I have a hard time imagining her getting fired at this point. Basically, I think she has to screw up big time to lose, because I don't believe the others can beat her.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

American Idol

Constantine is out. A big surprise at first, but not as much after you think about it. Why? Two words: Nickelback. Unlike Ann Althouse, I had heard the song that Constantine performed this week, and it was among the most godawful things on the radio in the last couple of years. I actually didn't think Constantine's performance was that bad: he sounded pretty much like the Nickelback guy. The problem was that the Nickelback guy is not someone you want to sound like, especially when he's singing that song. I think that's what turned off a lot of people who usually voted for Constantine. He selected a repetitive song that was overplayed when it was popular. Not a good combination. So, even though I'm sad to see Constantine go after he gave us "Bohemian Rhapsody," he kind of deserved it. At this stage of the competition, you just can't pick a bad song.

UPDATE: Welcome, Ann Althouse readers! The wind's blowing cold and dark out there, why don't you stay for a while in here where it's warm and safe? Nose around: you might find something you like.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Please, No More Re-Makes

Universal looks to be doing a re-make of The Birds, one of Hithcock's finest. "Why?" he shrieked plaintively. The article mentions both the shot-for-shot idiot reproduction of Psycho and the travesty A Perfect Murder that took the sleek Dial M for Murder and turned it into a muddled Hollywood mess. Don't movie people read? I do realize there is an economic element involved in capitalizing on the prior success of famous movies, but there are plenty of books out there to base new movies on. At least those movies, even if they weren't landmarks of art, would be somewhat original. And what if one of them became a blockbuster? Then the director would be able to live off of his own success for any number of movies, much like M. Night Shyamalan has done.* Instead, studios create awful re-makes that send their reputations lower than they already are.

*That's mostly tongue-in-cheek. The Village was a fine horror movie, and Signs wasn't as bad as some would say. Unbreakable, on the other hand, was worse.

Stupid TV Moves

Why would ABC want to air a special about "explosive" allegations concerning Fox's "American Idol"? Isn't that the kind of publicity that network's pay to get for their shows?

Electing Twins?

This is an amusing story. Apparently a mayoral candidate in San Antonio had his identical twin appear in a parade for him, without telling anyone, while he gave a speech at another event. Is this a problem? I say no: elect both of them. And maybe some look-alikes too.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Pete Prisco - Putz?

Well, I won't go quite that far, mainly because I doubt Mr. Prisco had the same misfortune of watching as many Lions games as NFL fans in Detroit did last year. Still, his "Lions Lay an Egg" column about the Lions alleged mistake in drafting Mike Williams reeks of sports-radio shock journalism, complete with the expected one-sided analysis. Pete's claims are basically 1) the Lions didn't need another receiver because they drafted two the last two years with their high first round picks and 2) the Lions needed help for their 22nd-ranked defense.

As to the first point, while I obviously agree that the Lions did draft receivers in those spots, I totally disagree with the conclusions Pete draws from that. When he says "Let's assume Rogers stays healthy" and "all three players can take the field at the same time," I shudder. On what evidence is there to base an assumption that Rogers will stay healthy? And did Mr. Prisco watch the Lions the second half of last season, when Rogers was out and Roy Williams was playing on one leg? I watched pretty much every second of it: Az Hakim's attempt to handle the duties of a number one receiver, David "Circus" Kircus' ill-fated promotion from the practice squad, and a parade of drops the likes of which the NFL hadn't seen since the 2003 version of the Lions. Anyone who sat through that display (Matt Millen? Steve Mariucci?) knew that the Lions were not exactly over-burdened with receiving talent, whatever rounds their receivers had been picked in.

Now, I could see if there had been a dominating defensive player waiting there at the 10th spot that the Lions passed up they would be open for criticism. Derrick Johnson was the closest thing to that playmaker, but there were a lot of questions about him too. If one of the top 3 corners had fallen, the Lions would have likely taken him, but when they're gone and the player rated by some as the top talent in the draft falls to you, I think that pulling the trigger is the right thing to do. And color me jaded, but I'm having a hard time imagining the day when the Lions are so dominating offensively that they aren't enough balls to go around for their plentiful playmakers.

Mr. Prisco's second point annoys me more. Yes, the Lions were ranked 22nd in defense last year. Guess what they ranked in offense? 24th in scoring and 24th in yards per game. I would suggest to Mr. Prisco that perhaps, just perhaps, the Lions also had a need on offense.

But that wouldn't have made for as exciting a column, would it?

Friday Evening with the Movie "Saw"

Whoa! Where did this movie come from? And why did it take me so long to see it? Saw is one of the most frightening movies I've seen in a while and an example of how scary (and disturbing) the exploration of human depravity can be. There was nothing supernatural about this movie, just a memorable madman in the vein of Kevin Spacey in Se7en (To me, though, too much of a comparison with Se7en would be overblown -- like saying The Exorcist and The Shining were the same movie because they both had a small child in them). Saw has everything: a great plot with a twist; a good cast, led by a Cary Elwes in a sewer-like world a long way from that of Wesley in The Princess Bride; and a director with a knack for keeping the audience guessing. I would recommend this movie to all horror fans, but some of the rest of you might find the movie a little disturbing. The violence gets relatively graphic (only relatively because given the subject matter there could have been some pretty gruesome scenes), but it's more the horrible situations that the movie seems to delight in putting people in that some viewers, such as my wife, will find disturbing. This is a dark, dark movie that strangles all hope. You've been warned.

Now go and check it out!

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Times Again

Since I'm on kind of an Amityville kick, here's the New York Times review of the new The Amityville Horror. Unlike with that terrible review from the Lemony Snicket guy, I don't have that many quibbles with this particular review.

Okay, I do have two complaints. First, it really annoys me when people (especially reviewers) say that it took the characters in the movie far too long to realize that the house was haunted, something was in the shed, etc. This is flawed logic. The characters are not supposed to know that they are in a movie! The events in Amityville take place after the family stretched themselves to the very last dime to move into their dream house, and they're supposed to run screaming for the front door the first time something strange happens? I think that's a flawed view of human nature and our ability to rationalize away things that don't fit with our view of what should be. Now, I will admit that sometimes movies do push this to unrealistic levels, but most of the time this kind of complaint does get on my nerves.

Second, the re-make of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was "serviceable"? I think that even this tepid endorsement is vastly overstated. As I've mentioned before, that movie excelled only in its awfulness.

Amityville Horror -- The Book Review

Since I already did one rather long post on the book The Amityville Horror, I am going to try to limit this review post. I'm not sure that I have that much more to say about it (UPDATE: turns out I had more to say than I thought). I finished the book last night. Was it good? Yes and no. As I suspected, the fact that I knew it was a hoax did take a lot away from the experience, which I think would have been close to terrifying if I thought it was a true story. And frankly, the book could have been better written. There were too many breathless, exclamation-pointed sentences at the ends of paragraphs and chapters. That punctuation made melodramatic situations that might have otherwise had some punch. One other thing. If you're going to make up an invisible, evil, ghostly companion for a little girl, why do you pick a pig? That's right, a pig. Named Jodie. In a weird way, it was kind of scary, but whenever I got a visual of a pig talking to a little girl, it made me chuckle. I think they (the hoaxers) could have done better than "Jodie."

But. Despite those criticisms, the book did have some very strong, frightening parts. One thing I liked was how relentless it was. The book was about 260 pages, and I would say 220 of them were devoted to various hauntings and frights. This is the kind of thing you can only sustain over the course of a short novel, but the pace of the book did a good job of mimicking the intensity of the effect the haunting had on the family. There were also some very spooky elements to the hauntings, especially the parts with the secret room and hidden well and the part where George Lutz can see through the floor upstairs to where a white, cowled figure is menacing his son.

Overall, if you're looking for a quick read with some hits and some misses (e.g., the marching band), but quite a few genuiunely uneasy images and situations, I think this one is worth a read.

Man Survives Second Bear Attack

A record I would not care to share.

Blog Readability

Via Professor Bainbridge comes this link to a site that tests the readability of the website that you enter. Of course, I had to try it out for my blog. Here are the results:

Summary Value
Total sentences 704
Total words 9,463
Average words per Sentence 13.44
Words with 1 Syllable 6,469
Words with 2 Syllables 2,007
Words with 3 Syllables 711
Words with 4 or more Syllables 276
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 10.43%
Average Syllables per Word 1.45
Gunning Fog Index 9.55
Flesch Reading Ease 70.53
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 6.76

The two most important numbers are the Gunning Fog Index and the Flesch Reading Ease. The Gunning Fogg Index reflects the number of years of school you need to understand the site. Although I am lower than the good Professor by a couple of years, I'm pretty happy with my Gunning Fogg, because the range for most popular novels is 8-10. Popular novels are the kind of novels I write, so I can't argue with being in that range. The Flesch Reading Ease grade is also good because according to the site "authors are encouraged to aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70."

In other words, in addition to insanity, my blog has readability.


Is Jaws a horror movie? It's clearly one of the all time greats, so why doesn't it make the list? The back of my copy of the dvd calls it "action-suspense." I think that's right, which is why I don't consider it horror. Horror most often contains suspense (how much usually depends on the quality of the work), but not all suspense is horror. Silence of the Lambs comes to mind. This is not a horror movie, despite its presence on some lists of top horror movies. Even though Hannibal Lecter can be pretty frigthening, this is a suspense story, with some action mixed in. Granted, the line between suspense and horror is sometimes hard to define -- for instance, I'm working on a novel right now that nestles in right between them -- but it does exist. I think it's actually more difficult to categorize Jaws than Silence. In the end, though, I do have to go with the "no" for Jaws, which is why it's not on my top ten list even though it's one of my favorite movies.

The Problem with Environmental Groups

I'm a pretty outdoorsy person. I like to hike, hunt, fish, and camp, and I just generally enjoy being in the woods or the mountains. So you would think that I would belong to, or at least support, the usual suspects, such as Sierra Club or the WWF. But I don't, because I find environmental groups very frustrating. Their view of the problems with the environment, mainly that there will be an environmental armageddon if we don't do something NOW, and the solutions, massive federal spending and regulations, are etched in stone as if Moses himself had carried them down off the mountain. Because of this, anyone who dissents from this dogma is abused and reviled well beyond any civil limits -- as in the case of Bjorn Lomborg. To me, it seems that these groups have no real interest in actually solving environmental problems -- of which there are some, even if they are not always what WWF says they are. I would rather see a focus on specifically identified problems and creative solutions. In other words, not an assertion of impending general doom and a demand for a massive increase in taxpayer dollars to be thrown at it.

Here is one example of the kind of resistance to critical thinking that environmentalists employ. A new study recently came out about some shrinkage (not in the Seinfeldian sense) of the glaciers on an Antarctic peninsula, reported on here and here. Of course, this is supposedly data in support of "climate change." Who knows? It may be. But what the first article makes clear is that these glaciers, while large in number, occupy a peninsula that is actually only a very small part of the whole of the continent. The scientists in the article specifically state that the data from the rest of the continent show that some of the ice is shrinking, while some is growing. So the data are mixed at best (after all, what if the majority of the ice on the rest of the continent was growing? Would we be in danger of a new ice age, and not global warming at all?). But what does the WWF spokesman have to say? How about: "This is another piece of evidence showing that climate change is real and happening and all governments should prioritise emissions reduction." Sigh. That statement is not even logical. "Climate change" is so amorphous -- it could mean the climate's getting warmer, it's getting colder, or even that our atmosphere is being sucked into space like in Spaceballs. And what's the deal with the jump to the prioritizing of emissions reduction? If we're in danger of a global ice age, maybe we should be trying to warm the air! All joking aside, the statement just shows that groups like WWF are pushing an agenda using whatever ambiguous data they can. And that's what frustrates me.

Do I have any useful suggestions, or just more whining? Personally, I'm interested in a lot of the free market ideas such as the ones you can find on this blog. At the very least, I'd like to see environmental groups get to the point where they can openly discuss alternative solutions without the hostility.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Top Ten Horror Movies

I have finally completed my list of the top ten horror movies. I will explore some of the selections in later posts, but I do have reasons for each pick on the list. If you think that I have missed a movie, leave a comment or send me an email, but give me a reason why you think it belongs on the list. I don't think I've missed any, but it's possible that I could be convinced to change my mind. Without further ado:

1. The Exorcist
2. The Shining
3. Psycho
4. The Omen
5. Rosemary's Baby
6. The Blair Witch Project
7. Night of the Living Dead
8. Halloween
9. Hellraiser
10. In the Mouth of Madness

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Amityville Horror

In honor of (or perhaps more accurately, despite) the recently released re-make of The Amityville Horror, I have decided to read the original book, by Jay Anson. Of course, what made the book and movie so scary in the first place was that it was supposedly a true story. I had heard over the years various claims about how the owners of the house had merely put on a hoax and that the supernatural events in the book were fabricated. Not really ever having looked into it, I thought that while it was possible that the whole thing was a hoax, some people are going to say that about pretty much any supernatural story. So, I never had a set opinion on whether the story was in fact true. However, I recently read this story on, which is a valuable resource tool for debunking urban legends, that reveals that one of the central individuals involved with the events has admitted that it was a hoax. Apparently, he was a lawyer for the man who had killed his family in that house, and he conspired with the new owners of the house to make it appear haunted and thereby provide justification for a new trial for his client. So that puts a damper on some of the excitement of the story.

Still, I want to evaluate the book as it stands on its own as a work of horror. Stories presented as being true, such as Blair Witch (which really seems to come up a lot on this blog) or the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, can still be very effective even if it is well known that they were fictional. The directors of those movies maintained the illusion of reality well by the techniques they used in filming, a point to which the director of the new Massacre movie seemed totally oblivious. Like these two movies, the Amityville Horror book is presented as being true, in the fashion of a report or documentary (or of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood). We'll see what kind of chills it can produce when robbed of its original hook.

"Man Shoots Car to Put It Out of Its Misery"

This story is awesome.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Monkey Detectives

A police department in Arizona wants to add a monkey to its force. Being a big fan of monkeys of all forms, especially orangutans, I think this is magnificent idea. However, I think that instead of the capuchin monkey they propose to employ, they should get this guy. A smoking chimpanzee-- now that would strike fear into the hearts of criminals.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Freak Waves

Back in my single, pre-blogging days I recall reading an article about the freak waves that occur sometimes in the ocean, are enormous, and are to this point unexplained by scientists. This was of particular interest to me because I was about to embark on my first cruise for my honeymoon. I'm not really one to worry about those kinds of things, and, sure enough, we had beautiful weather the whole time. These poor people were not so fortunate, as their cruise ship had an encounter with a seven-story wave, which caused one of the passengers to label the boat, rather hyperbolically, the "Titanic." The ship escaped mostly unscathed, but I was interested to read about the incident, because I distinctly recall the article I read saying that these supposed "freak" waves are actually a lot more common than you would think. It's food for thought, at least, the next time you board a cruise ship. Bon voyage.

Ghostly Movies

Here's a good post by Tom Smith of The Right Coast blog about ghost movies. I've heard that the original Haunting movie was excellent as well, although I haven't seen it. The book by Shirley Jackson was amazing, as Tom says. And the remake with Catherine Zeta Jones and Owen Wilson was hideously bad. When I find the time, I'll be taking his recommendations as to the other movies he mentions. As they say, read the whole thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lemony Snicket Doesn't Like Lovecraft

The august electronic pages of the Grey Lady features a review of the new Lovecraft anthology by the Lemony Snicket guy (hat tip Professor Bainbridge, who has a proper appreciation for Lovecraft). I'm not going to quote any of the review here, because frankly I find it annoying. I'm assuming that Snicket is not a regular contributor to the Times, but he sure has mastered its world-weary, snarky tone. This is especially so in an opening paragraph he must have written specifically to annoy Lovecraft fans.

Snicket's beef with Lovecraft seems to exclusively be the florid writing of his stories. After all, it would be kind of silly for Lemony to criticize Lovecraft on his subject matter, given the reviewer's chosen genre. But as to the point about Lovecraft's writing -- how about an original thought? The fact that Lovecraft used language almost to the point of excess is blindingly obvious. I've even mentioned it here as a caution to other horror writers in their writing. Whether Lovecraft over-writes is at least up for debate, but you would think that if you were going to write a book review for the Times you might at least try to think of something new or substantive to say.

Snicket does take a couple of half-hearted shots at the Cthulu mythos, but his criticism amounts to saying that he doesn't like it. That's fine, but then why are you reviewing an 800-plus page anthology by the guy? Quite a lot of the stories deal with the mythos, although I personally think his better work are the stories that touch on it only tangentially, if at all.

Two last points. First, I think it's interesting that Snicket suggests that Lovecraft isn't read much (which I would like to see some support on before believing) within a few sentences of mentioning Bram Stoker. I think Stoker much more falls into the known but not read category. Dracula is, of course, legendary, but reading the book made me want to rip my hair out. I swear that Stoker had a quota that each page had to contain the word "nice" at least five times, including, I think, even in reference to the Count himself. I would wager that Lovecraft is more read than Stoker.

Second, Snicket refers to a Lovecraft quote: "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.'' However, that is not the full quote. The rest of it reads: "and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” This is a pretty important addition to the quote, and it not only shows Lovecraft's full philosophy, but it also is an important statement for horror in general. I've made that point before with regard to The Blair Witch Project. Of course, a substantive discussion about horror might have detracted from the snarkiness of Snicket's review.

This review bothered me not necessarily because Snicket had an opinion different from mine, but because it had no significant analysis or argument. Now, maybe Snicket didn't think that Lovecraft was worth a more substantive review. But if that was the case, then the Times should have found something who had something to say that was worth reading.

Exciting News about the Ancients

The new technology discussed in this article has some serious potential:

Thousands of previously illegible manuscripts containing work by some of the greats of classical literature are being read for the first time using technology which experts believe will unlock the secrets of the ancient world.
Mentioned in the article as possible discoveries are new works by Ovid, Sophocles, and Eurpides, among others. Who knew that classical studies was a field on the cutting edge?

Friday, April 15, 2005

LED Lighting?

This is an interesting article about LED lights replacing regular light bulbs. Even aside from the fact that such an old technology as the light bulb could be replaced, there are a couple of cool things in the article. First, LED makers are developing lights that could take the place of neon lights at stores and bars. One manufacturer has designed LED's set in plexiglass that can withstand a shotgun blast. That would make a good commercial.

Second, the article mentions that Qantas (the Australian airline) has installed LED's in its first class cabins that can change in color. The airline turns the lights blue when it's time to sleep, reminding one of when John Trent woke up screaming on the bus in In the Mouth of Madness -- in blue light.

Beisbol: Good and Bad

Well, the good is that my fantasy team is currently in first place. My strategy was to load up on offense and neglect pitching. So far, that strategy has worked well: I am either first or second in every offensive category, and my team ERA is an obese 5.036. Even though it's early, I'm still pretty encouraged. My pitching staff can't get much worse, and my offense is dominating without guys like Scott Rolen or Javy Lopez hitting yet. I'm pretty sure that I didn't finish above 7th or 8th in my couple seasons of fantasy baseball prior to this one, so I'm feeling pretty good about my chances of having my best fantasy baseball season yet.

What I'm not feeling good about, as I watch Ugueth Urbina blow an eighth inning lead to the Royals, is the Tigers totally blowing the series against the Twins, and Mr. Ordonez's upcoming 4 -6 week absence due to a hernia.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A Question

How and when, exactly, did stripping (not that there's anything wrong with it) became a "protected First Amendment activity?" Maybe I should know, since I went to law school, but it's hard to keep track of all the complex inanities of constitutional law. I don't really have an opinion about the taxing of stripping, but is it "free expression?" Well, for one, it's not free...

Very Funny

Here is a spoof of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" done by none other than H.P. Lovecraft (who is apparently today's theme) entitled "Waste Paper." Now, I actually like "The Waste Land," especially for the line "I will show you fear in a handful of dust," but the Lovecraft version is cool. I'm sure Mr. Eliot's big head was in need of this kind of lancing. My favorite line from Lovecraft's satire is "Sophistication! Sophistication!/You are the idol of our nation..." I think that this bit of mockery is pretty much a summary of what Lovecraft thought of "The Waste Land."

Hobbits Again

Some time back, I blogged about the discovery of a race of "hobbits" that lived on an island in the Pacific. As a follow up to that, John J. Miller (whom you may remember wrote an outstanding ode to H.P. Lovecraft) has an interesting article relating the discovery of the "hobbits" to a piece of American Indian legislation that the camera-devouring John McCain wants to revise.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Baseball Blogging

I did my first fantasy baseball draft in many years a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted to blog about how it went, even though I am a little late. My fantasy baseball exploits were not very successful the first time I played, primarily because I found it difficult to keep up the focus for such a long season. However, I watched a lot more baseball last season due to a combination of the Tigers' resurgence and a home gym that enabled me to watch many games while lifting weights. So this year I decided to take the plunge, even though my knowledge is not nearly where it should be. That's why I joined a cheap league. In the draft, I went heavily for hitting, and it turned out to be even more heavily so because of a couple of glitches in the Java applet I was using to draft. It's a ten team 5x5 mixed roto league. Here is my team (including a couple of post-draft changes; after a week of the season, I'm pretty happy: my boys are high in all the batting categories, and I can only improve because my pitching can't get worse):
Starting lineup:
Catchers: Javy Lopez, Baltimore; Joe Mauer, Twins
First Base: Derrek Lee, Cubs
Second Base: Brian Roberts, Orioles
Third Base: Scott Rolen, Cards
Short Stop: Miguel Tejada, Orioles
Outfielders: Johnny Damon, Boston; Juan Pierre, Marlins; Trot Nixon, Boston; Craig Monroe, Detroit Tigers; Shawn Green, Arizona
Utility: David Ortiz, Boston; Carlos Pena, Detroit Tigers
Starting Pitchers: Jeremy Bonderman, Detroit Tigers; A.J. Burnett, Marlins; Matt Clement, Boston; Jeff Weaver, Dodgers
Closers: Braden Looper, Mets; Francisco Cordero, Texas; Trevor Hoffman, Padres; Brandon Lyon, Arizona
Casey Blake, Indians
Orlando Hernandez, White Sox

As I said above, the team has done pretty well so far. I am a little amazed at the number of blown saves so far from my closers, but as long as they keep their jobs I should be all right. At least my hitters are hitting, for the most part.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

An email discussion with my LA correspondent reminded me of 2003's unfortunate remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While not as asinine as the shot-by-shot remake of Psycho (why would you do this?), the new Massacre did reach some pretty high levels of unwatchability. I have to say, though, that it did have one of the best scenes in a recent horror movie: when Jessica Biel wanders into the trailer near the end of the movie with the baby-stealing lady and the old woman who looked disturbingly like Ernest P. Worrell. What a delightfully claustrophobic and unexpected scene. I found myself wondering if a good director had snuck into the cutting room and inserted his stuff while the "real" director wasn't paying attention. Alas, the movie reverted to its wasteful ways after that, but at least that one scene redeemed somewhat the time I invested watching it.


We watched Cujo this weekend at my cousin's house this weekend in the Heart of Darkness (to you non-Michigan people, that is Columbus, Ohio). Cujo isn't the greatest movie ever, but it gets pretty good once it's revved up. Stephen King adaptations are a pretty uneven lot. One thing I like about pre-CGI movies is that a director has to be a little more creative with his action sequences. This was what made Jaws so effective: the mechanical shark didn't work like it was supposed to, so Spielberg had to use the unseen menace of the shark instead of full shots to show how huge the shark actually was. The director of Cujo had to do the same thing. He could show Cujo attacking people, but he had to imply action sometimes instead of showing close-up graphic violence. I think more horror movies could benefit from this kind of understatement.

All these considerations aside, the main reason for this post is that watching Cujo reminded me of how influential King has been over his career. I can remember my high school English teachers scoffing at Stephen King as pop fiction that wouldn't last, but I wonder about that. I'm not going to get carried away and compare King's works to Dickens, or even Steinbeck to use an American, but I don't think that he will be forgotten like my teachers seemed to believe. After all, Poe is still read, as is Lovecraft. Dracula is considered a classic too, even though it verges on purple prose. I could imagine people hearing references to the rabid dog Cujo, the high school reject Carrie, or the slow maddening of Jack Torrance ("Here's Johnny!" in the movie), and picking up the books to see where it all came from. King's advantage, especially in his early books before his writing started to bloat, is that once you start reading his books they are very difficult to put down, unlike many other classics whose language has become dated and difficult for the less seasoned reader. I could be wrong about this theory (it is a theory, after all), but I do know that it has been 24 years since Cujo was originally published, and I would wager that more educated people could identify its author than that of The Wizard of Oz.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Deep in the Darkness

At last, the long-awaited review of Deep in the Darkness by Michael Laimo. As I mentioned when I first ordered the book, I purchased it because I am trying to expand the number of horror writers who I read and this one is a Bram Stoker award finalist. My take on the book is that it has a lot of strengths, and they are sufficient to overwhelm the primary negative.

Ordinarily, bad characters are a kiss of death for a book. Unfortunately, drawing realistic and compelling characters is also one of the most difficult parts of writing. To connect this with Darkness, I must say that I really did not care much for its characters. I think the only reason that this wasn't a more serious drawback for the book was the fact that they weren't really bad (in terms of being unrealistic or inconsistent) characters, just unlikable. I found the main character, a big-city doctor who buys a small-town medical practice from the widow of a doctor who had suffered a mysterious death, to be quite annoying and often rather unmanly. One glaring example of this is when he encounters the corpse of a deer and finds it so overwhelming that he vomits. Now, I understand where someone who encountered a dead, rotting deer for the first time would be disgusted and might turn away, but the way the whole scene was drawn robbed me of any sympathy I might have had for the man. I watched an uncle of mine field dress (as in, remove the insides from a deer in the middle of the woods) a deer he had shot when I was fifteen or sixteen (I then got to drag it the mile out of the woods, being the least senior of the group). The smell wasn't roses, but I would have been pretty embarrassed if I had lost control and threw up. That's what I didn't like about the main character of Darkness: he has a tendency to lose control right when it is most important to retain it.

The beauty of the book, though, was that even though I didn't really care whether the things in the woods got the guy, I had to find out more about them and what their plans were. The element of suspense is one of the most important in a horror novel, and this one had it in spades. I had several "one more chapter" moments, where I was just hoping for even one more revelation in the next couple of pages. The claustrophobic nature of the book is also one of its strengths. The story of a small town terrorized by evil has certainly been done before, and one of the questions that must be dealt with for the main characters is what is keeping them there. Laimo does an excellent job of providing a convincing answer, and even uses it to his advantage to squeeze more tension into the novel.

My overall verdict on the book is that it is an above-average horror novel. It has an excellent plot, good pace and suspense, great mood, and decently rendered, if annoying, characters. I'm glad that it was nominated for a Bram Stoker award, and as of now, I'm rooting for it to win. Of course, I don't know when the awards are finally determined, so it is possible that I might try to squeeze in another book of the list before that date.

If you're looking for a fast-paced, spooky read, go get Deep in the Darkness. You won't be disappointed.

From the Coast...

...comes this spooky little tale from my anonymous LA correspondent:

So as I was driving home from work this morning at 2 am (yes it was a busy day), and I happened upon a radio station that I had never heard before. At first I thought my ears deceived me, could I really be hearing a heavy rock station in L.A.??? How many years had it been since KNAC had left us with a fit of Spice Girls? Listening blissfully I wondered why I had never heard of this wonderful station before. No commercials, only pure, sweet metal. Keeping my dial set to the melodious station, I parked my car, and slept peacefully.
Bounding into my car in the morning, my fingers trembled with anticipation as I started the engine, waiting to again hear the tempting tunes. Instead, only static. Dismayed, I desperately hoped that perhaps I was simply in a bad transmission area, so I drove on. Nothing, only static. Throughout my drive into work I would hopefully tune back to that spot on the radio, hoping to hear the station blasting through, sweetly into my ears. But nothing.
I was never able to find that station again. Perhaps it was merely a station from San Diego, that bounced across the night sky and found its way to my radio. Perhaps I happened upon a transmission from Heaven, and the Angels, upon realizing their mistake, took back their Ambrosia. Or perhaps, just perhaps, I stumbled not into a transmission from Heaven, but one emanating from the blackest depths of Hell...

Hollow Earth?

Scientists will soon drill through the Earth's crust and reach the mantle, according to this article. I find this pretty exciting, not really because I enjoyed Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth so much. I don't believe that they will find a subterranean lake dark to the light of the sun, which will disappoint any Hollow Earth theorists who read this site. Nor do I believe the drillers will punch through to Hell. No, I just find the exploration of the unknown fascinating, and this breakthrough could really answer a lot of questions about the Earth that have emerged with the dominance of the plate tectonics theory (a theory that not too long ago was ridiculed by respectable scientists). Plus, as the title of this post suggests, I think you could write a pretty freaky/cool story about this -- especially given the fact that they are drilling through the ocean floor.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Startling News of the Day

Drudge's headline for this story is: "VIPs get preferential treatment in ticket assignments for new D.C. baseball team." In other news, the sun rose again in the east today...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A sign

I haven't blogged on the passing of the Pope, because I haven't had anything to add that others haven't covered. However, I found this article on about a solar eclipse on Friday, the day of the Pope's funeral, to be inspiring. It's as if the heavens themselves are paying homage to the passing of a great man. If I were an atheist, I would definitely be feeling uncomfortable when thinking about this in reference to the life after this.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Tigers Win!

A belated but excited post about the Tigers' excellent Opening Day victory. Of course, slid into the article is the reference to Kansas City as a team expected to be one of the league's worst, with the implication that Tigers fans shouldn't get too excited. I agree to some extent: obviously steamrolling Kansas City doesn't make them a juggernaut. On the other hand, after the string of horrible beginnings to seasons that Tigers fans have had to endure lately (0-9 in 2003 and 0-11 in 2002, anyone?), a second good start in a row after 2004 would definitely be nice.

But will the Tigers be any good this year? My prediction is that they will be right around .500. They finished 72-90 last year (after the mind-melting 43-119 2003 season), so they would only need to win 9 more games to hit break-even. My reasoning is as follows. First, I keep hearing critiques of their starting pitching on local radio. After Bonderman, it is questionable, but no worse than last year when they began the year trotting out Gary Knotts and Nate Cornejo as their fourth and fifth starters. They've basically added Wil Ledezma and Nate Robertson since the beginning of last year (Added to this is the fact that Mike Ilitch has stated publicly that he will add salary in the form of a starting pitcher if the Tigs are contending around the trade deadline. In a fairly even Central division around .500 will most likely be "contending"). Next, their bullpen, which was the cause of many of their close losses, is far better with Percival closing, Urbina setting up, and Farnsworth as the seventh inning guy. They should hold leads in games that would have been losses last year. Finally, everyone focuses on the addition of Magglio Ordonez, which was big, but what gets forgotten sometimes is that Pena and Monroe really began to break out at the end of last year. Those two combined with the improving Inge could lead to exceptionally deep lineup.

With all these pluses, I'm still not predicting anything huge, mainly because there almost certainly will be some injuries, and the Tigers just aren't deep yet. But with the development of their young guys and the additions of Percival and Ordonez, they really are on their way from recovering from the wasteland that Randy Smith left Detroit. Dave Dombrowski really is a miracle-worker.

Deep in the Darkness

I have recently begun this book, by Michael Laimo. As I mentioned before, I am interested in expanding my reading of recent horror, and Mr. Laimo's book is a Bram Stoker award finalist. That seems like a good place to start. Plus, it deals with scary things in the woods, which is a favorite of mine. In fact, I am currently working on a short story that is basically a ghost story set in the woods. No Blair Witches, though; my story is more like a story from the Tales from the Crypt comics.

I will post a review of Deep in the Darkness after I finish it. It's off to a good start, so I don't think it will take that long to read.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Sin City

It was number one at the box office this weekend. This movie intrigues me. It sounds promising: it was based on pretty grim comic books, and the director was so intent on transforming the stories from the comics into movies that he hired the writer of the comics to co-direct it with him. The movie is actually three separate stories and was filmed in a very stylized way. This is the only thing that worries me. The director filmed all the actors in front of a screen and filled the rest in with CGI later. The last movie I saw like that was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which looked kind of neat until you actually watch it and absorb its full awfullness. Thinking about it makes me shiver. Anyway, Sin City is one I'm hoping to catch in the theater.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Review of Ring 2

Well, it was a mess. Even with my lowered expectations, I still didn't like it very much. They really lived off the girl Samara from the first movie. There wasn't anything frightening in this one other than her, and they showed her so much that by the end she wasn't as scary. The acting wasn't that bad, but the plot was pretty stupid. I knew we were in trouble when Naomi Watts' car was attacked by a herd of fake-looking CGI deer for no apparent reason, and my sister looked at me and rolled her eyes. There was a lot of eye-rolling and sighs of disbelief throughout the movie. It's too bad: some of the back story for Samara they made up was kind of cool (The part with Sissy Spacek was really good. It almost felt like it belonged in a different movie.) I actually think that if they were going to make a second one they should have done a prequel about Samara's life before her mother threw her down the well. Now that would have been a dark, evil movie. As far as the movie they made, I wouldn't even bother renting it unless you really liked the first one. Even then, I would seriously consider just watching the original again.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Best Horror Movie Ever?

I'm curious what other people, especially horror fans, think are the best horror movies of all time. There's some obvious classics that people think of right away, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the Thirteenth. Those were scary movies, but I don't rank them at the top. The first movie in each series was pretty original, but even they still relied too much on making the viewer jump.

One of my personal favorites is Blair Witch Project. I would rank that one probably top five all time (I'm estimating: I don't have an official list). I really like the descent into fear the movie shows. At the beginning, the characters are having fun and above the silly story, but by the end they are reduced to little more than the children in the legend. But what I really like is how successful the movie was at letting you know exactly what killed them without ever showing it (the witch). One of the scariest things is the unknown, and a lot of horror movies suffer from the struggle with this concept. They roll along, pretty good and pretty scary, and then they reveal the monster, it's a man in a hair-suit, and the fear is gone. This problem is one reason why I never watch the end of the TV mini-series It. The spider-thingy at the end does not scare me at all (the one in The Return of the King was pretty intense, though). Blair Witch gets around having to show the monster without leaving the viewer too unsatisfied. A lot of people criticize this movie (some for good reason, some because the shaky camera work confused them), but I think it is one a true great among horror movies.

What do I think is the best horror movie? After all that talk about Blair Witch, I would vote for The Exorcist.

Ring 2

I will finally be seeing it tonight. I'm keeping my expectations low on purpose. The first one was great, so it will be difficult to match it. I will update with my thoughts later.

Michigan Inhospitality

Was it really necessary to throw salad dressing on Pat Buchanan? So what if you don't agree with him. He's not really my type of conservative, but I don't feel the need to seek him out wherever he's speaking just to throw stuff at him, let alone all the obnoxious "thinkers" the salad dressing-thrower is likely enthralled by. Even protesting is at least somewhat respectful. It's not like the guy is the Illinois Nazis or something.

I'd like to apologize for the thrower's poor Michigan hospitality, and also to note that the thrower was not even a Western Michigan student.

American Idol

I have been watching this show for the most part this season, for the first time. I don't know if I could watch it if I didn't have DVR. Not being able to fast forward through Ryan Seacrest would be pretty painful. I think I've enjoyed it primarily because of the "rockers": Bo and Constantine. They sing songs I've actually listened to and liked, unlike their antithesis, Nikko, the son of Ozzie Smith who specializes in bland, Brian McKnightian R &B. I used to not watch the show because it always seemed like they were singing Nikko-type music, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the variety of the show. One contestant who I like, mainly because he's kind of a Dumpy Average American champion (from our old buddy Ticak's hometown of Cleveland) is Scott Savol. However, now it turns out that Scott is even more like the average wrong side of the tracks guy than I thought: he has a bit of a rap sheet due to a domestic dispute. Assuming they don't kick him off, will this hurt his votes? I'm not convinced. I think it might help.