Archive for November, 2007

Friday Night Date Place – A Thief Always Gets Caught

The other day, I ran across this site which read in part:

Do you believe that someone (even online) has used your love and trust in order to steal your money? Did they claim they loved you, would marry you, take care of you, start a business with you – and all you had to do was provide the financing for everything? Did they disappear overnight or just walk out on you after you ran out of money? Did they refuse to pay back any of the money they received, claiming that you gave it to them willingly as a gift? Did you learn after they left that they were involved with another person at the same time they were promising you the world and taking your money? Then you are the victim of a sweetheart scam.

Naturally, the first question I had to ask myself was how do things get to this point? How many times have you started dating someone who later turns out, or reveal themselves, to be someone else? How do you know if your relationship is built with the long term stability of a house of cards? Is there any way to know, to find out, before it’s too late?

In some ways, it’s pointless to ask what kind of warning signs to look for. We’re talking about being in love, and being in love can be a special kind of crazy. Put another way, we aren’t always as logical as we ought to be. When you’re in love, you will defend your lover against outside attack or anything you perceive as an attack. When you’re in love, you hear with “ears of love” so it can be easy for folks to explain things away and you give them the benefit of the doubt. It kind of reminds me of the lyrics to the song “When a Man Loves a Woman”:

When a man loves a woman
Down deep in his soul
She can bring him such misery
If she plays him for a fool
He’s the last one to know
Lovin’ eyes can’t ever see

Still, there ought to be some red flags you ought to pay attention to. How did their previous relationships end? Granted, ex-girlfriends or ex-spouses can make for biased (to say the least) witnesses (I know that I’ve never had an ex with an ax to grind, preferably in my skull), but it’s a question to consider. How does they treat their friends and other relationships? Do they compartmentalize their life? By that I mean are you kept in one part of their life like some secret shame? Are you hidden from their parents, their family, or groups of their friends? For that matter, does too much of their life seem shrouded in secrecy, as if you are being cut out from portions of their life?

Or, one of the biggies, do they always seem to have or be in a state of crisis? Constant drama, coincidently around your pay days, can be a red flag. Money can be a critical issue in relationships, so if you find yourself constantly paying out a lot of money, or otherwise supporting them, it’s a red flag. If you find yourself always doing the heavy lifting of the relationship, be it emotionally, financially, or even spiritually, consider it a red flag. People eventually reveal who they really are, but you need to remember that a thief always gets caught.

You have a right to be picky when you are dating; you deserve the best and too often we settle for less out of fear of being alone. Make sure that the person you think you are dating really exists and isn’t just a figment of your romance filled imagination. Don’t let fear keep you from making the tough decisions. Investigate as you date, or at least keep your eyes open. Meet their friends; see what they think of your significant other and how your significant other presents you to them. But you have to draw your own line for when things rise to the level of being a deal breaker issue.

Not that any of this will make the pain any less should things go bad and you find yourself betrayed, hurt, and robbed. Few things will prevent you from falling into a dark place, curled up in a ball, under your bed sheets, shaking, like an addict in withdrawal because you not only hurt, but you still find yourself missing that person. Heartbreak is heartbreak. You need to allow yourself to purge, to mourn the relationship. Yes, you will find yourself asking if the person you thought you were dating ever existed. Maybe it becomes easier if you look at things through the eyes of a fiction writer: you can see this as another chapter of a story you contributed to, which you can and ought to put on a shelf and move on from. In the mean time, you hopefully have people, friends and family, who love you who can walk along side you through the dark times.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Growing Through Disillusionment*

The other night a group of us were out together: Maurice Broaddus Rob Rolfingsmeyer, Rich Vincent, and Lauren David. We hate to shatter any illusions, but during the course of our discussion we came to the startling conclusion that we can be asses (except for Lauren). It’s not like any of us set out to be the Dr. House of the theological set, it’s more of a resignation to the facts. We’re not going out of our way to be an ass, we simply know we can be asses. And yet the question comes up “do we have any business attempting to model what the church should be about, much less the love of Christ?”

We have a certain idea of what a saint is and are too quick to label people saints without considering what we mean by the term. After all, even the best of people are but flawed vessels, yet flawed vessels are the only kind of person God works through. To quote Miroslav Volf, “I am not a Christian because of the church, but because of the gospel. However, it was only through the broken church that I received the gospel. Because of the gospel, I participate in the church.” Think of some of the greats. Mother Theresa of Calcutta was known for her temper and how mean she could be. Francis of Assisi hated lepers despite talking about how much we should love everyone. Yet God manages to continue His work through us.

It’s easy to fall into cynicism. A cynic is a frustrated idealist, with the emptiness they so often experience being a symptom of their inability to let go of their idealism. Most people are idealists at first but there must come a time in everyone’s lives when your ideals and your dreams must be measured against reality; where “what could be” and “what ought to be” is measured against “what is.” The false facades begin to crumble and those things which had been so solid and so true are not able to withstand the crush of practicality. What do we do when this happens? How do we handle our disappointment with the truth of life itself? It’s what we do with these questions that end up fundamentally shaping our mature selves. Do we hide in a corner and deny those things that seem to be crushing defeats? Do we toss up our hands in frustrated resignation and give up on whatever it is that we’d dreamed of for so long?

Such profound disillusion is often wrestled with the transition from childhood to adulthood (and thus probably a contributing factor to the condition of being a spiritual teenager). Starting with your parents and moving onto the institutions you want to hold dear (school, the government, etc.), it becomes a struggle to survive nothing, and no one, being as you thought they were.

There is an option that allows for growth and maturity in our lives. From its very foundation it is frightening and tends to take a lot of work (some of which may call for sacrifices which you’d never imagined). Fusing your ideals with the reality you have to work with. Hunting down those parts of your ideals that are able to be sacrificed without losing the whole and learning to integrate new ideas and new thoughts which previously seemed foreign and even counter to what you held so dear. Sometimes it calls for a delicate shifting of boundaries without sacrificing the core of your beliefs. Sometimes even the core must be discarded.

It’s not so easy to make the changes in our lives necessary to balance reality with ideals. It’s an uncertain time fraught with error and simply speaking, those mistakes must be made. If there is to be any room for growth you need to be unashamed of your own fallibility. Your mistakes are what mold and shape you if you learn from them. The lessons rarely come easy and at times can be quite frustrating.

We have faults and we make mistakes, so we’re going to need your grace as we journey together. We keep in mind the words of a friend of ours: “Instead of talking about what horrible people we are, why don’t you go out and try to be the people you wish we were? If we do such a horrific job at loving people, why don’t you go show us how it’s done? If we are incapable of meeting hard to like people where they are at, why don’t you go meet them where they are at?”

*A Maurice and Rob tag-team blog effort. With Lauren as the cheerleader.


Interview with Jason Sizemore

Every now and then, I think about what it would be like to start my own magazine venture. When that mild brain stroke hits me, I just ask friends of mine what it’s like and keep asking them questions until the fever passes. In this case, I cornered Jason Sizemore of Apex Digest of Science Fiction and Horror.

What made you decide to start your own magazine?
Friendly answer: I’d gotten the itch to start a small business around the birth of my first child. Call it a first-child crisis moment, whatever. Anyways, having created a little Sizemore minion meant I needed a business I could run from home. Being a science fiction and horror geek, who liked short fiction, who had some experience editing in the past, a genre magazine seemed like fun. Three years later, here I am with the tenth issue of Apex coming out.

Asshole answer: I’d grown tired of seeing so many magazines come and go. Failures. And assholes all over the web kept saying a print ‘zine can’t be done. I set out to prove them wrong because I’m weird that way. I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded yet, not until Apex is able to pay professional rates (as defined by the HWA), but three yeras later, here I am with the tenth issue of Apex coming out.

Horror and science fiction seem like a strange pairing.
Not so strange…but not so obvious…in terms of novels, some of the most memorable works in the genres are a combination of the pair: I Am Legend, Frankenstein, McCarthy’s The Road. Let’s not forget a few of the best movies to come out of Hollywood: Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Dark City and so on.

What makes a good story for Apex?
There’s the obvious stuff: quality writing, unique ideas, strong characters. Then there’s the “type” of stories we publish. We tend to shy away from monster fiction (think Alien). Even though we like to print progressive fiction, we don’t like anything that’s trying to make a political statement. We do like to see stories dealing with the implications of science. The struggle between religion and technology. Speculation of what terrors might be waiting for us as humanity progresses.

How do you approach the dreaded slush pile. Do you read every story?
I’ve got four skilled editors (two of them dedicated to reading submissions): Mari Adkins, Jodi Lee, Deb Taber, and Gill Ainsworth. Between the five of us, we’ll read each and every submission that comes to us. Will we read every page of every story? No way. That would be torture.

It seems to me that a lot of folks seem to wake up, full of “love for the genre”, and decide to start a magazine, either print or e-zine. Judging from how many start up without seeing a second issue, it seems like the reality of running a magazine quickly catches up to them. With that in mind, what kind of research did you do before you started up?
Not enough, but more than most. I built a business plan. I covered my bases pretty well at the beginning. I knew how much printing would cost, how much my shipping costs would be, how much to pay people, etc. But I did not do enough research concerning the distribution system and it came back to haunt me.

Most magazine distributors ask for Net-90 from the time they receive an issue. This means if I release issue ten tomorrow, I probably won’t see payment for six months. Then there’s the multitudes of fees: you’re charged for returns, for their shipping costs, for everyone they sell, on and on. At the volume I’m moving to distributors, I make about $1.00 for each copy they receive.

This left me in a lurch. Suddenly my backup funds had to go to the printer. Then last summer I lost my job, and things started looking scary. Fortunately, the genre community came together and literally saved the publication. Everyday I strive to create a product worthy of such charity and kindness.

What are some of the costs to put together an issue?
Printing is about 60% of my costs. Shipping is 20%.

How much time do you end up putting into the magazine per month?
About 25 hours a week. It’s a labor of love, and even after three years I still enjoy publishing the magazine.

How did you go about getting distribution?
I called several large bookstores (local Barnes and Noble, Joseph-Beth Booksellers) and a couple of indy shops in Louisville and asked them who they used for magazine distribution. I researched these distributors, called them, then submitted an application package. It’s similar to submitting a story to a market. You put together your product, write a friendly cover letter, and you wait for that acceptance/rejection letter.

When Ingram Periodicals accepted me, I knew then that Apex had a real shot at being a major player.

It almost seems like some markets appear and expect people to just sign on as subscribers (for the love start-up with for the love sign ons). How do you get the word out? Review copies? Message board spamming? Other marketing?
At the end of issue 2, I had 40 subscribers. The distributors helped. With distribution comes visibility. You pressure your genre friends to subscribe. You ask a few family members. Review copies don’t do a whole lot. Not even in the beginning. I will admit to copious message board spamming. But I was always careful to ask the board mods if it was cool to spam.

I tried all sorts of marketing. Some failed, some succeeded. Our spokesmodel Amanda D. was a hit. Anytime she goes to a con and wears the Apex tanktops, we always receive a bump in business.

Did you just go out of your own pocket or did you raise capital?
At first, straight out of my pocket. These days, I have some private investors that help give the publication flexibility and to prevent another “ohmygodsaveapex” scenario that occurred last summer.

What sort of plan did you have for generating revenue/defraying costs?
Well…to generate interest in the magazine, I was able to hook a couple of “name” friends to contribute work to Apex in the first couple of issues. I called over 200 businesses soliciting for advertising and was able to sell all the ad space in issues 1 and 2. The first four covers a comic artist friend of mine did the work for free, saving me hundreds of dollars. And we were lucky to “discover” two talented new writers, Bryn Sparks and Jennifer Pelland, that quickly became fan favorites and moved many copies for us.

What are some common mistakes that writers make?
Not realizing we require a science fiction element to every story. Inconsistent verb tense. Weak openings.

How hands on are you with working with writers?
I’m extremely hands on, so to speak. Approximately one-third of the stories we accept are accepted “as is” with minor edits. The rest usually involve at least one minor rewrite. I tell the writer what I want from a scene or character, or what plot point is missing/needs to h
appen. It’s an enjoyable process with the writers that have a professional attitude.

I have zero patience or tolerance for unprofessionalism. The moment I sense a writer/artist is being an asshole, I drop the sale. I have no time for such nonsense.

Come on, dish, what is some of the most unprofessional behavior you’ve seen?
We once had to deal with a writer being a “diva” about their story, who refused any and all changes we requested to their manuscript. I’m glad they’re so confident about their work, but if you’re convinced you know better than me about what goes in Apex, then why are you bothering submitting to Apex?

Now Apex is expanding into books. Can you tell me how you choose your projects and what we have to look forward to?
Due to time constraints, we don’t open to submissions or pitches for book projects. This means you have to catch my eye with your work. For the anthologies, I target people who I think will bring an interesting story to the collection. Gratia Placenti (Latin for “for the sake of pleasing”) is our next antho. I grow giddy thinking about what writers like JA Konrath, David Niall Wilson, Adrienne Jones will bring to the book.

The collections…three story and one poetry…are all from writers I admire and believe to be stars in the making. So I approached them. Brandy Schwan, Lavie Tidhar, Steven Savile, and Fran Friel. I can’t think of a better roster to kick-start our book publishing efforts.

How much does this cut into your writing career/other business interests?
It cuts deeply into my writing career. But being an editor and seeing the types of errors I see day after day allows me to stay away from such pitfalls. So when I do write, the quality is higher than it used to be.

I’m careful to make sure Apex does not cut into my day job. It’s all fun and games until you’re standing in the soup line!

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

I’m Not Ready for This

Today I was informed that if the phone rang, I was to answer it (I rarely answer my home line. Anyone I really want to talk to calls me on my cell). Apparently my son’s girlfriend might be calling.

He’s six.

So it begins.

Of course, I’m not the only one having issues with my children as my wife blogs about our latest bit of … joy.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

My Blog Birthday

Today is my third year birthday for this blog. It’s finally coming out of the terrible two’s: it is learning to talk back, throw tantrums, and still often drool on itself.

Though a lot of my friends had blogs/Live Journals at the time and some spoke of the marketing advantages such things had to aspiring writers, my first comment to the blogosphere involved nothing related to writing, spirituality, race, or pop culture. No, it was an encounter with a crazy @$$ squirrel.

That, ghetto weddings, and white trash weddings are my legacy to teh interwebz.

Now, instead of checking to see how much my blog is worth, let’s check its readability:

Difficult to Read

[Results: Difficult to Read]

P.S. – My friend, Richard Dansky has a new story up over on Pseudopod. Go forth and check it out.

Friday Night Date Place – Moving in Together

A.K.A. the practice divorce

When I first moved out on my own, I moved in with my two best friends: Jon (who has guest blogged on occasion) and Michele (who inspired my “random ‘I love you’ days”). We considered ourselves the “reverse Three’s Company” (now there’s a reference that dates us). We had basically grown up together, Michele and I in the same church, so moving in together was little more than like moving in with my brother and sister. Now, the church we attended was quite conservative and we were eventually called into pastor’s office. Apparently some folks had some issues with two people of the opposite sex living together. His argument boiled down to: fears of temptation, the appearance of wrong-doing, and the fact that “weaker” brothers had problems with it. What he couldn’t point to was a verse saying that two people of the opposite sex moving together was a sin.

However, we were two friends moving in together, platonically. I’m skipping over the whole premarital sex thing, since that is going to be the crux of many folks argument about couples moving in together. That is a whole separate issue that I’ve obviously covered before.* For me, it’s more of a common sense issue.

I never got the move-in together mentality. A woman asking me to move in with her has always sounded to my ear like “you must not want me commit to you and you’re willing to get as close as possible to feeling like a marriage without actually being one in order to hopefully change my mind later.” What are the goals of it? Playing house without commitment? For life convenience as you merge expenses? I remember once reading about

a little-noted peril of cohabitation: the potentially negative financial consequences of breaking up. When unmarried couples who have been living together part company, women are substantially worse off economically than men, according to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family. Men’s household income drops by 10%, while women lose 33%. The percentage of women living in poverty increases from 20% to 30%, while men’s poverty level remains relatively unchanged at about 20% … “A lot of us go into a (live-in) relationship with a positive outlook. We think, ‘Oh, nothing bad will happen.’ The girl typically thinks, ‘This is going to be great, we’re (eventually) going to get married.'”

Some people consider moving in together a practice marriage. However, I have a friend who says: “separate finances, separate stuff, and they can move out and take their stuff with them? Nope, it’s more like a practice marriage, it’s a practice divorce.” It’s like a play marriage with a built in getaway box (okay, I’ve been watching Women’s Murder Club and one of the ladies was thinking about moving in with her boyfriend but she kept a getaway box at her friend’s house. It was filled with clothes and essentials in case she had to make an emergency exit from the arrangement).

There’s no such thing as a practice marriage. Little prepares you for the real deal and by many accounts, the divorce stats are higher for couples who move in together before getting married. So should you move in together? Premarital sex issues aside, there are a lot of questions you will want to answer for yourself about why you want to do it and where you want the relationship to head.

[Cue the line of comments telling me how wrong I am.]

*We’ve covered some of that ground before: chastity as discipline, “the talk,” the church and sex, biblical loopholes part I and part II, drawing a line, “you burning” part I and part II, abusing intimacy, and even a guest blog of further musings on the topic.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Boston Legal (Season 3) – A Review

Now out on DVD, I have to say so far so good. David E. Kelly has managed to sustain the delicate balancing act that is Boston Legal. Re-visiting the show after a few seasons, it has been interesting to observe its evolution. Candice Bergen, playing Shirley Schmidt, continues to prove herself to be a genius hire, holding her own in the boys club of Crane, Poole & Schmidt. And she is the third person—the Holy Spirit, if you will—in the trinity that forms the heart of the show: Alan Shore (James Spader), the Son; and Denny Crane (William Shatner), the Father.

“If there were new guys, they’d have shown up in the season premiere. Cue the music.” –Denny Crane

The rest of the cast constantly revolves. In this season: Jeffrey Coho (Craig Bierko) , Claire Simms (Constance Zimmer), and Clarence (Gary Anthony Williams). An assortment of romantic entanglements also come and go, but the pretty people have a disposable quality to them, existing to give the illusion of appealing to a younger demographic as well as illustrating the transitory nature of most of the show’s relationships. (Although, there has been a bit of a Star Trek reunion: with Shatner from the original series; Rene Auberjonois (as series regular, Paul Lewiston) and Armin Shimerman (as Judge Brian Hooper) from Deep Space Nine; and Ethan Phillips (Michael Schiller) from Voyager).

“Why do I get all the issues cases?” –Alan

We live in an increasingly litigious society and the show satirizes this very fact as people turn to lawsuits as the answer to their problems: from being insulted, showing up on youtube, loneliness, issues with God, to how they choose to raise their children.

“That’s your niche. Making the most unacceptable of taboos sound … (exotic).” –Shirley

The sheer ridiculousness of cases serves as a platform for preaching tolerance, stridently intolerant of views that might judge. Lifestyle choices some might consider disturbing, disgusting, or even vulgar (anorexia, cannibalism, transvestitism, racism) are defended. Those that are shocked by the antics are portrayed as close-minded, hypocritical buffoons. Religion, obviously, is a frequent target. However, as Denny points out, “Alan Shore believes man has a soul.” He seeks that essential bit of humanity, that eikon, reflection of God’s image in us all. And he also believes in leading a reflecting life as he asks himself will our lives have counted for something?

“Your disability with intimacy is profound here. You need to get help.” –Alan

All of this said, the central theme of the show is about social isolation and the inability, or at least extreme difficulty, many people have in forming relationships. When Alan asks Denny “Do you ever get lonely?” they both know just how lonely they really are, despite (or because of) their constant womanizing. People are suspect of revealing their “true, unadulterated self” for fear of rejection which leads to them being starved for a little tenderness and distorts how they view relationships. They may find it easier to have a relationship with blow up dolls (or in the current season, appliances) rather than with real people. And yet, each episodes ends with Denny and Alan enjoying cigars and drinks, an old boys club sacrament, realizing that they enjoy what few people have: true acceptance, true friendship, true love.

“These past few years I’ve felt this inexplicable compulsion to be redeeming as if I were some series regular on a television show.” –Alan

The show enjoys its running commentary on a meta level, deconstructing itself as it goes along. It pokes fun at its own rhythms, such as its politically biased but compelling closings. Characters question their motivations or sometimes read their lines from cue cards. The script revels in talking about the characters as well as the actors, such as pointing out how some may be has beens, but at least they’re rich and famous (though they desperately strive to remain relevant). When Alan attacks religion, he admits he’ll get letters. The level of Intra-office romances should be a series of sexual harassment lawsuits. But the show, buoyed by fine performances and finding the humanity within even the most eccentric of characters, continues to delight.

Hitman – A Review

Based on the eponymous video game, I had high hopes for Hitman. This is the season of the ponderous Oscar bait, but just because it’s fall doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a good popcorn movie. However, it’s a bad omen for a movie when the opening scenes seem to feature stock footage from the long-canceled television show, Dark Angel.

The back story, such as it is, revolves around a group known as “The Organization”, so secret that no one knows it exists (except just about everyone in this movie). They train killers and have contacts with every government. Why? Okay, essentially this is a “just cause” movie: stuff happens … just cause. Anyway, our hero, professional assassin (of course he’s the best there is) Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) kills his target except that his target gives a press conference later that same day. He’s pursued by an earnest Inspector of Interpol, Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) and rescues a prostitute who he needs for some reason, Nika Boronina (Olga Kurylenko). Then there’s a whole lot of other stuff thrown in to make us think we’re watching a coherent production.

I guess I should have just boiled down the plot summary like this: Lots of largely unnecessary exposition to give the illusion of an actual story line punctuated by a brief action sequence to make sure you’re still paying attention. Repeat for an hour and a half.

Not enough intrigue in the movie. A sprawling cast of players does not equal intrigue. It actually only means there is a confusing storyline (confusing, as opposed to complex). No one has anything approaching a motivation other than the inspector. There’s not even an exploration of the mythology of the Organization. “Just cause” carries the day. Thanks to the murky photography and pedestrian direction (featuring a lot of back-of-the-head shots to evoke the video game experience), the lulls between action scenes lacked suspense and bogged the movie down further. A guy taking a bullet does not equal action. And just because the filmmakers know their demographic is mostly young men, one can’t simply throw in a young woman—whose outfits are so short they make Ally McBeal blush—who has no chemistry with the lead. Even for the sake of gratuitous nudity, because random nakedness does not equal sexy.

My biggest gripe with Hitman was the ho-hum factor . That’s not a sly reference to Nika, but rather just how boring this action movie was. Keep in mind, earlier this summer featured The Bourne Ultimatum, so we’ve seen this schtick done before and better. Action movies need to have a certain over-the-top quality to them. A sheer ridiculous, defy-the-laws-of-physics factor that causes guys to shout out loud or high five each other from their seats or otherwise be so intense guys are rooted to the screen. The movie gives us one, ONE!, such moment with the squaring off of four hitmen in a sword duel.

“Are you a good man? … How does a good man decide when to kill?” –Agent 47

Like all of us, since we’re all heroes in our own story, Agent 47 sees himself as essentially a good man. What makes him good? We’re not really sure. He shows compassion to an innocent woman caught up in a situation she had little to do with. He never has sex with said victim. He was moved to show mercy on the inspector who had been trailing him. It’s not like he actually killed anybody, well, anybody who didn’t deserve it, well, anyone for whom the check didn’t clear. Agent 47 is trapped in the circumstances of his own choices and doesn’t even realize the prison he’s in. The most he strives for is escape from the immediate threat to his freedom, deciding to focus on the tree rather than the forest.

“Knowing how this ends, was it worth it?” –Inspector Whittier

raises mediocrity to hopeful box office heights, so the answer to that question is no. I give it two naps up, however, because that was the amount of times I was nudged awake during it.

If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

The Mist – A Review

To be honest, I approach movie adaptations of Stephen King’s work with a certain amount of trepidation. For every Misery, Stand by Me, or even 1408 there is a Sleepwalkers, Maximum Overdrive, or The Mangler. However, Frank Darabont, who has specialized in Stephen King prison movies (Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile), has proven that he understands Stephen King. And The Mist, based on the eponymous novella, is vintage Stephen King.

The Mist is an apocalyptic tale of an experiment gone awry and mysterious door being opened. After an electrical storm, a small town in Maine sets about to repair itself when this mist engulfs them, bringing with it all sorts of unimagined horrors and trapping several residents in a supermarket. As fear, desperation, and dwindling hope set in, the denizens face threats from within (as they begin to turn on each other) and without (with increasingly nasty attacks from the creatures in the mist).

The movie comes back to two ideas: fear of the unknown and the depravity of man.

“You guys don’t understand. Or you’re trying real hard not to.” –David Drayton (Thomas Jane)

Pitting rationalists, led by Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) against religious fanatics, led by Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), artist/voice of reason David Drayton has to find his own way. The mist represents mystery and how humanity confronts things they don’t understand. There is a degeneration as we wrestle with the unknown and come to the limits of our ability to control things. Be it a man made or natural disaster, we’re used to solving our problems and managing our situations. We’ve been blessed and cursed with a need to know and often our need for proof goes to war with our need for faith. As I wrote before:

You can have all the facts you want, you can debate facts, and, frankly, you ought to. Faith doesn’t mean the turning off of one’s brain: things should make sense and continual questioning is a valid exercise unto itself … Sometimes faith means that we have to come to the conclusion that we don’t have many things figured out. That we have to learn to get comfortable with that and the idea of mystery (read: the great “I don’t know”). Some people need proof.

Although one character in the movie puts it more succinctly: “You can’t convince some people there’s a fire even when their hair is on fire.”

“Let me shine your light. Some can be saved, can’t they?” –Mother Carmody

We are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Ultimately, horror is about the fear of death and horror is excited by the reality of evil. We fear for our lives and the lives of those we love. We live in fear of good being consumed by evil (and frankly, evil should be feared as we live with the consequences of evil all around us).

We often sense, if not experience, and existential terror, a gnawing emptiness that claws at our souls. A darkness, the deep, that threatens to suck the joy for all aspects of our lives, that can lead to a spiraling sourness to life that makes us want to crawl into bed and never get out.

As we approach our “end of self,” we may begin to hear (or spout) the “it ain’t my fault” refrain as we frantically point the finger of blame everywhere but at ourselves. Times of trying and testing can reveal an ugly side to our nature. I echo the sentiments of the character who answered the question “You don’t have much faith in humanity, do you?” with “None whatsoever.” In fact, the movie is bitterly pessimistic in what it has to say about the nature of mankind.

“I believe in God, too. I just don’t think he’s the blood thirsty asshole you make him out to be.” –biker

However, make no mistake, as the movie points out and criticizes, depraved acts can be cloaked in the name of religion. Religion, much like politics, has been and can be perverted to people’s own agenda and ends. People can go mad with fear, so that ideas such as expiation get twisted, to put things charitably. They can get “too Old Testament” a perspective on things, because if “you scare people bad enough, you can get them to do anything.” Leading them to get caught up in the idea of trying to earn their salvation … by any means necessary.

There probably should be a sense of “terror” or awe of seeking a relationship with something larger than we can conceive of with our finite minds, something beyond our measure and control. Which is why the notion of working out our salvation in fear and trembling can be such a messy proposition.

On a final note—and I’m going to make this as spoiler free as possible—the thing about horror movies and novels is not so much that you want a happy ending, but after investing in characters you care about (and few people can create characters like Stephen King) for any length of time, you want some semblance of hope. Though sometimes unrelentingly bleak endings are called for, but only when they are true to the story. So you will leave feeling it needlessly cruel, a big flipping off of the audience; or with the feeling of a slap to the face, but the good kind of pain.

The parting thought I had after seeing this nihilist movie is that there has to be more to this life than this, more than the depravity of man when left to our own plans and devices. Or else if I’m wrong, to quote Brent Norton, the joke really is on me.

Mutant insects, Lovecraft-inspired dinosaurs, unhinged religious fanatics, and people simply fearing for their lives, The Mist has plenty of villains to choose from. Buoyed by humor, despite its fatalistic explorations of humanity under siege, the movie’s roller coaster antics propel, if not always sustain, it. There are plenty of yell-at-the-screen moments, plenty of gross out moments, and plenty of genuine scares, even the though the movie veers into heavy-handed territory with some of its ponderous dialogue.

Beowulf – A Review

“Fallen Hero”
For many people, reading Beowulf marked when poetry, much less English class in general, became interesting. Adapted and reimagined by Neil Gaiman (comic book scribe of Sandman and The Eternals, much less fantasy novels such as American Gods) and Roger Avery (co-scripter of Pulp Fiction), Beowulf comes to us via “performance capture,” the Robert Zemeckis technique he developed for his 2004 movie, Polar Express. The lush animation serves this story well, for Beowulf is set in a time of night monsters and demons.

Until the demon known as Grendel (Crispin Glover) came to spoil their party, King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) ruled alongside his much younger wife, Wealthow (Robin Wright-Penn) over a community of fun loving Danes. In a nude fight scenes awkwardly reminiscent of Borat (or juvenile jokes out of Austin Powers), our hero, the heroic Geatsman, Beowolf (Ray Winstone) severs the arm of Grendel. In the name of greater glory, he—backed by his right-hand man, Wiglaf (Brendan Gleeson)—is sent on a mission to dispatch Grendel’s mother. Unfortunately, Grendel’s mother is a nude Angelina Jolie who emerges from the water of an underground cavern, with water pouring off her like golden milk chocolate (what we’re going to call “the money shot” – and yes, the movie managed to rate a PG-13).

“Nothing is as good as it should have been.” –Beowulf

In this tale of the hero who would be king, Beowulf—with his weakness for monster chicks—is tempted by lust and power; he succumbs to his desire to be the greatest king by “bowing” to Grendel’s mother. Beowulf knew what he was born to be, a hero, yet his pride got in the way. Time and time again he boasted of his conquests, told tales of his derring-do, all to make himself a hero through his own efforts before taking his rightful place as king.

“The demon is my husband’s shame.” –Queen Wealthow

Beowulf was a fallible and flawed man cursed because he believed the lies from her lips “full of fine promises”. Because she was never truly vanquished, The Temptress remained with them. He paid the price of eating the fruit of the dragon by having to deal with the consequences of his sin—the “something you left behind” or “the sins of the fathers”—which continued to have repercussions on him and those around him.

“What we need is a hero.” –King Hrothgar

After such a fall, there is the need for redemption and Beowolf attempts his self-salvation scheme. It takes him the course of the movie, and many years, to realize that it takes self-sacrifice to be a real hero. (Though the movie seems to hint that the old ways of the hero, the ways of Odin, were on the verge of making way for newer definitions of the hero, the ways of the Christ-god; going so far as to whisper the need for people to “accept him as the one and only God.”)

We have to wonder if this is a glimpse of film-making to come, this merger of film and video games (though far from the Final Fantasy days). Luckily, we’re still far away from computers capturing the subtleties of human expression, unless we’re more dead-eyed than I give us credit for being. Well, maybe not that far away, but it’s not here yet. We’re left with creepy looking animation, rather apropos here, that brought to mind the image of this being 300: the animated series. Beowulf has fewer battle scenes, than one might expect, but also reaches for deeper themes than the storyline allows for. For all of the technological mastery, the movie lacks a certain spark of vitality, although, maybe I should have watched the 3-D version.

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