Archive for August, 2012

Hometown Prophet – A Review

“Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” –Matthew 13:57

That’s always been one of those verses I get a little uneasy of whenever I hear it.  There’s usually an air of presumption by those who tend to quote it, as if the “prophets” in question couldn’t just be kooks.  But that might just be me projecting.

Hometown Prophet is a self-published piece of Christian fiction.  I rarely review books, especially Christian fiction books, much less a self-published one.  But for some reason this one grabbed my attention.  Its premise is simple enough:  thirty-something Peter Quill moves back to his mother’s home in Nashville, TN.  God then sends him prophetic dreams which he is tasked to not only interpret, but act upon.  His visions and actions—challenging people’s worship of money, their lack of environmental protection, their inability to love their neighbors (particularly their Muslim ones)—quickly put him in the crosshairs of the local church community, the media, and the community at large.

Author Jeff Fulmer mentions that he grew up in a conservative, charismatic household but became increasingly frustrated with how people used Christianity for their own agenda.  It was probably that his story so closely resonated with mine that piqued my curiosity.  But as a book borne of reaction, it stumbles into a lot of pitfalls.

The idea of God sending someone prophetic dreams and the trouble it gets them into is and ever-intriguing one.  Hometown Prophet has a narrative voice that’s lightly cynical, just this side of a blogger ready to break into a full-on rant.  But it’s restrained by being a little too “inside”, using a lot of jargon from (and aimed at) a Christian audience (yet another potential pitfall of Christian fiction).  The writing gets a little stilted, especially when it has a point to make, losing the voice of its main character (a thinly disguised authorial voice).

Hometown Prophet doesn’t plumb the depths of the character or the implications of having a prophetic gift, squandering a lot of energy on church politics, Christian pop culture critique, and other easy targets.  For a 30 year old, our hero reads like a young post-teen who hasn’t found himself.  His endless sarcasm in lieu of development, made for an easy read, but painted him as a light weight character.

On the problematic end of things, we were barely 100 pages in before we encountered a Magical Negro in the form of a homeless man who helps our hero on his way.  This is compounded by a Native American our hero encounters at the scene of an environmental disaster (at least the Native American didn’t cry at the sight of all of the pollution).

Then there are the dangers of self-publishing.  This book could have used a line editor in the worst way.  Fulmer ends up unintentionally switching POVs, it was sometimes unclear whether he wanted to tell the story through his protagonist’s eyes or through the eyes of those around him.  The ending forgot about an entire plot thread (the FBI storyline) and collapsed in a mess of a literal Deus ex machina:  a flood scene.  I’d warn about spoilers, but floods have been the saving grace of all would-be prophets from Noah to Evan Almighty to Eli Stone.

I’ve on occasion heard from a frustrated reader because the story they’re reading isn’t the story they want it to be.  Hometown Prophet isn’t as deep as I wanted or expected it to be.  It avoided opportunities of significant explorations doubt and struggle.  But that’s not the story in front of me.  This story strikes me as the first time novel of an author with a deeply personal story they wanted to tell who didn’t have the complete skill set to do it justice.  Sort of like a premature birth, everything’s there, just not fully developed.  The story’s there, the characters are there, the themes are there, but all of it needed at least one more polish.

Hometown Prophet is a breezy examination of the idea of the impact of a modern day prophet, with all the danger and pathos of a Christian after school program.

Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection – A Commentary

“Magical Madea”

Let me preface this by saying I ain’t mad at Tyler Perry.*

Seriously.  He does his thing.  Writer.  Director.  Actor.  He recognized an underserved market, delivered a product aimed squarely at them and has leveraged that success into a multi-million dollar empire.  Go ‘head Brother Perry, do your thing.

That said, I’ve never gotten Tyler Perry movies.  Every family Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day dinner, my aunt’s house usually has a Madea movie playing in the background, soothing pleasant enough riffs which keeps family drama to a minimum.  The movies have always struck me as a little too earnest for their own good, but they work on their terms.  Depending on how much attention is being paid to the screen, church may break out as the family segue ways into Madea’s personal Amen corner to whatever topic she may be preaching on.  Good for a few laughs, no harm no foul.

That interactive aspect of Tyler Perry’s work, that dose of “real talk”, the kind of conversations you have in the barbershop or at a prayer meeting once the Bibles have been put away, is what is at the heart of the Madea franchise.  Madea works best as a reflection of and sometimes critical commentary on us; like the court jester who serves as the truth teller to the king.

Which brings me to Madea’s Witness Protection.

“You got to get in before you fit in.” –Joe (Tyler Perry)

I remember when “crossover” was the big debate word when it came to black artists who weren’t content to bask in their popularity solely within the black community.  Like when Luther Vandross, with his huge black following, couldn’t score a number one pop hit, so he pulled out wedding ballads and power duets while chasing that mainstream success.  You know, chasing that Lionel Ritchie/Billy Ocean kind of money and fame.  Treading that fine line between crossover and selling out, which was how the crossover debate was usually framed in the hip hop community.  Well, Witness Protection is Perry’s crossover bid.

“I want a new life.” –Kate Needleman (Denise Richards)

Wall Street investment bank dude, George Needleman (Eugene Levy) has been set up as the fall guy for his company’s Ponzi scheme shenanigans.  He immediately makes a deal with the Feds, dealing with sympathetic ear, Joe.  Joe decides the best place for George and his family to hang out incognito would be to drop them at his aunt Madea’s in Atlanta.  Hilarity then ensues.

The focus of the film is on the white family, nebbish George; got nothing better than yoga to do trophy wife Kate; moody teenage daughter in need of having her ass beat, Cindy (Danielle Campbell); fade into the background, overweight son Howie (Devan Leos); and borderline-senile mom Barbara (Doris Roberts).  In his attempts to capture a larger white audience, I was left with an uneasy after taste about the movie.

“You couldn’t see it because you weren’t paying attention.” –Brian  (Tyler Perry)

While it attempted to mine its humor from its fish out of water premise, thus already going against what passed for the movie’s internal logic of keeping a low profile, Madea herself took on the aspect of a zoo exhibition.  To counterbalance the movies focus on the white family, Madea seemed more shrill and over-the-top.  Not to mention that she is now largely relegated to a cross-dressing Magical Negro in her own franchise.  What was worse was the aspect of the comedy deriving more from a “let’s look at the natives in their natural environment for our entertainment” angle that it just couldn’t shake.

“Everybody deserves a second chance.” –Jake

Look, Madea’s Witness Protection may be Tyler Perry’s worst reviewed movies, but it will be one of his most profitable.  Adjusted for inflation, it’s his 4th highest-grossing movie, with a near-$65 million box office take.  The typical Perry production usually comes in around the $50+ million area.  Which means there will be more Madea in our future.  Let’s just hope that he returns to her roots and core audience and let her do what she does best.

*Which is akin to a statement beginning “I ain’t racist, but …”

My Worldcon Schedule such as it is …

As was reinforced to me during Gen Con, it’s important to leave plenty of time to just “play” and relax with friends.  With that in mind, I admit my WorldCon plans are loose, even by my standards.  I’ll further admit that most of the time I’ll be in the bar.  There are a few events/gatherings I know I’ll be attending:

Thursday

Bowling with the Angry Robot Crew (finally I get to put faces to their e-mails!)

Friday

POC Dinner – Usually a staple of Wiscon, we’re trying it at Chicon.

Saturday

SF Signal Meet up

Other than that, if there’s a party, I’ll probably find my way there, because you know that the bar and the parties are where all the business gets done.  Sometimes I really wonder why I spent so much money to bother registering …

Why I’m Not a Christian Spec Fic Writer*

What am I?

It’s not as existential as it may sound.  It’s one of those fundamental questions we, as writers, have to answer (or have answered for us by a publisher or readership) whenever we craft a story.  The reason this comes up so often for me is that everyone loves a simple label and I get referred to quite often as a Christian writer or Christian horror writer when it comes to being interviewed.  This has always struck me as not only odd, but often leaves me a little uneasy.

Don’t get me wrong, the “what am I?” label is just a matter of marketing.  If I’m a horror writer I’m consigned to one area of the (virtual) bookstore; if I’m a fantasy writer, another.  It’s when you pile one label on top of another that things get complicated.  Being a Christian on top of being a speculative fiction author means both an artistic and professional choice to make:  do we go into “secular” or “Christian” publishing?

On a personal artistic level, I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian subculture.  I’ve never been big on the “Christian” as an adjective for something nor with the entertainment ghetto Christians often create for themselves.  That subculture produces its own “art” and it’s own “artists” which is a long way from the way things used to be, before the church walked away from the arts.  I think it is one reason artists struggle to find their place in church today.

It might not be so bad except what is typically defined as “Christian,” for the market “Christian whatever” serves, usually means “safe.”  It’s short hand for no sex, no profanity, violence optional.  Combine that with “nice”, “edifying”, or any word that amounts to “message first, story second” and you have the recipe for stifled stories, at least, for me.  Those are the kind of stories that start from a sermon point and exactly what people who aren’t in the Christian camp expect to read whenever they see the word “Christian” in front of whatever story they read.

Here’s were some people get stuck.  They wrestle with whether the stories they create are not Christian enough or too Christian (after all, they have a family and church community to answer to).  But others worry about where their books might end up, or rather, where they won’t.

Again, to play in the Christian markets, you have to take into consideration the CBA, the Christian Booksellers Association.  Not so much them, but whether they are “CBA writers” or their books are “CBA books” because that’s the kind of product that makes it into Christian book stores.

I’m not going to sit here and talk about how I’m “too edgy for the CBA.”  I’m not, not even close.  But that’s because I don’t aim to be a “CBA writer” nor write “CBA books”, regardless of genre.  Me saying I’m too edgy for the CBA is like saying I’m too edgy for the romance genre.  I’m not because I don’t write it (and, frankly, the romance genre is WAY too edgy for me).

A lot of it boils down to simple marketing choices.  I’m a Christian who writes speculative fiction.  I’m not a Christian speculative fiction writer.  I write what I write, with my voice, telling the stories I wish to tell.  Those stories are influenced by my faith because my faith is part of who I am.  My faith does not determine the stories I wish to tell.

Nor do I have anything against CBA bookstores or authors.  They have a market they serve and deliver to it exactly what it expects and demands.  There’s no begrudging that.  There’s room for your Veggie Tales (which I’ve actually come to enjoy on occasion), Thomas Kinkade paintings (which I never have appreciated), or TestaMints (if you are honestly buying those as your candy alternative of choice, you have a whole host of issues with your level of “not of the world” insulation).  I do believe that both the art and the subculture are so sanitized for safety that they are largely irrelevant to anyone outside of that culture.

I’m a speculative fiction author.  I publish in “secular” markets because writing is a conversation and that market is the one I have more of a natural affinity “talking” to.  That’s “what” I am.  The way I see it, people aren’t safe, neither are our stories, nor are we called to live lives of safety.

*This is a different conversation from answering the question “as a Christian, how can you writer horror?”

Rachel Evans – “Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry” (a cool blog post on the hurdles of Christian publishing and the undercurrent of fear that runs rampant in it among its writers and editors)

Phil Cooke – “Why so much Christian media sucks” (on the problem of being safe and why stories aren’t meant to be safe)

Upcoming Workshops

I’ll be leading a few workshops coming up:

ConTEXT Convention

Characterization Through Dialogue

Saturday, September 29th, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Characters are at the heart of stories; dialogue helps define characters and drives plot tension. In this workshop you’ll learn to develop characters, consider word choice, and define their voice through dialogue.  The workshop will present essential tips to improve dialogue and explore how to write dialogue that rings true, deepens character, creates conflict, and more.

Cost:  $20

(Btw, also at ConTEXT, is the Friday Night Flash Fiction contest that will be sponsored by Raw Dog Screaming Press.)

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Growing Your Brand
Saturday, September 29th, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
You’re not selling books — you’re selling you and your platform. Learn how to share your platform by gaining online followers without selling your soul to the devil. [instructor] gives real data for what has helped him sell books.
Cost:  $10

Writers Center of Indiana

Introduction to Speculative Fiction

Saturday, October 13, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Here’s the thing:  you know speculative fiction when you see it, even if you’re unfamiliar with all of the insider jargon used to describe its many subgenres.  The big three are Horror (splatterpunk, atmospheric, psychological, etc), Fantasy (high, urban, historical, etc.), and Science Fiction (hard, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc.).  So if the story takes place in a far off land or an alternate version of an existing one; whether it is extrapolating science into futuristic technologies with its impact on society or conjuring new forms of magic, speculative fiction is the genre of possibility.  In this workshop you will learn about the special needs of these genres.  All this is done with an eye toward submission and publication, so we will explore the marketplace, discussing where and how to submit your work.

Cost:  Members $39, Nonmembers $57, Student, Teacher, Senior Members $33

Surviving the Day – by Reese Broaddus

This is the story my son wrote during his four days in my creative writing camp.  It will appear in the upcoming LYN House Creative Writing Camp anthology, Swag Surfing.

About the author:

Reese Broaddus is officially a middle grade student now.  He claims to hate writing, yet is continually called upon to do it anyway.  He dreams of being a famous quarterback or wide receiver but is content to grow up to be the man who signs the checks of famous quarterbacks or wide receivers.  He is no stranger to publication as his story Police as well as a love letter he once wrote have appeared on this blog before.

SURVIVING THE DAY

James Jackson was at the park looking for new friends.  His older brother, Mike, began picking on him.  Mike just liked picking on people, always the younger ones.

Mike threw a punch and hit James in the face.  James tried to fight back.  As soon as he stood back up, he got knocked down again.  He stood back up again, but started crying.  So he ran to the car.  Chris was there.

Chris was like the mom.  No one was taking care of the younger kids and she was the second oldest.  Since Mike kept beating them up, she looked out for them.  She got out of the car and went over to Mike.

“Why did you hit James?” Chris asked.

“Duh, because I felt like it,” Mike said.

“You know he has an issue, so you shouldn’t pick on him.”

James was hiding behind Chris.  Mike acted like he was going to hit him then Chris pushed Mike.

“You’re lucky your big sister is here.”  Then Mike walked away.

“He’s just mad because he’s not special like you.” Chris put her arm around him and walked him back to the car.

James was two and a half feet tall.  He still looked like a toddler even though he was fifteen years old.  His body stopped aging when he was four.  He was frustrated that he was always being picked on and he was tired of being scared all the time.  The day ended the way all his days ended, with him in his room, crying.

#

The next day began the way all his days began, with him in the bathroom, crying.  His mom used to sing him a song about brushing his teeth.  He missed his parents.  It had been one year, three months, two weeks, four days, and five hours since they were killed.

Chris had breakfast ready.  She had made him a bowl of cereal.  He ate most of it when Mike trudged down the stairs.  He looked at James, got mad when he saw no breakfast for him, then picked up the bowl and dumped it on James’ head.

“Eat up,” Mike said.

James got fed up and threw his cup of milk at Mike.

“Will you both stop it!” Chris said, frustrated. “James get cleaned up and go to the bus stop.  Mike, try acting mature for once.”

James missed his parents some more.  They left the house to Mike, but put Chris in charge of looking after the kids.  The twins, a four year old boy and girl, came down the stairs arguing, but stopped when they saw them.

“You are too late for breakfast.  Go ahead and go to the bus stop with James.”

“But I have to take a shower,” James said.

“The bus is going to be here any minute, so you have no choice but to leave now.”

“But can’t you take me to school?”

“No, because I have to go to work,” Chris said.

Mike snickered.  “You look ridiculous.”

“You look like you peed your pants.”

Mike was about to come over to him when the bus honked its horn.  James took off running.  His shirt was really wet and stuck to his skin.  A Lucky Charms marshmallow was stuck in his hair.  His hair was sticky.  When he got on the bus, everyone began making fun of him.  James tried to hide in his seat, covering his face with his back pack and sliding down into his seat.

#

James hid in the boys’ bathroom, trying to wash some of the milk out of his hair.  He heard the second bell ring and he knew he was late for his homeroom.  He ran to his class, the janitor yelled at him for running in the halls.  James ignored him, then almost slid into the lockers on the wet floor.

“Your late, Mr. Jackson,” Mr. Arnold, his math homeroom teacher, said.

“I’m sorry.  I promise I won’t be late again.”

“Just get to your seat.  Save your stupid promises.”

Rumor had it that Mr. Arnold hated smart students because he was never a bright student when he was younger.  That didn’t make James feel any better.  He held back another bit of tears.  He knew he couldn’t cry here because it would only bring another round of being made fun of and he wasn’t ready for that yet.  He hated his spot in the classroom because Wyatt Nowak, the big-headed bully of the school, sat behind him.

“What does fist + fist equal, math midget?”  Wyatt asked.

“I don’t know,” James said.

“You’ll find out after school.”

“Is there a problem Mr. Jackson?”

“Mr. Arnold, Wyatt is threatening me.”

“No I’m not.  That’s just a big,” Wyatt looked at James, “I mean, really small lie.”

Everybody laughed.

“That’s enough,” Mr. Arnold said.  “If you have a problem, you can go to the principal.”

James sat back down and tried to be quiet for the rest of the class.  He didn’t hear a word Mr. Arnold said for the entire class.

When class was over, James ran out of the classroom to avoid Wyatt.  He weaved in and out of people’s legs.  He was so worried about Wyatt following him, that he wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and he ran into a student at his locker.  James fell down.  The student dropped her books on him.

“My bad,” James said.

“No, it’s my fault,” she said.

James looked up to see Ella Richardson.  She has long black hair and a couple freckles on each cheek.  She had straight white teeth, because she just had her braces removed.  She was skinny, but not in a bad way.  She smelled like lemons and soap.  She was new to the school.  Mr. Arnold picked on her, too, when she was in his class.  They kept staring at one another.  James had liked her from the first time he saw her.  In his head, a bad love song from the 60s popped into his head.  But he didn’t know what to say to her.

“Hubbity hub hub,” James said.  When you see a girl you like, you forget things.  He was supposed to say “hi, how are you doing?”

“Hubbity hub hub?” Ella asked.  “Hubbity hub hub to you, too.”

“Sorry, I meant to say are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m just fine.  You’re the one who fell on the floor.”

“Yeah, I’m used to that.”

They both laughed.  It was a good moment and he didn’t want to spoil it by saying something stupid.  So he tried to end it quickly.

“I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah…my locker’s next to yours.”

“I knew that.  I just forget things.”

The rest of the day he didn’t hear a word any of his teachers said.  Nor did he hear anyone making fun of him.  He only thought about Ella.

#

When school was over, James walked to his bus.  As soon as he stepped outside, it started raining.  He saw Wyatt running to his bus with a backpack covering his head.  James didn’t even feel relieved, he no longer cared.  When James got to his bus seat, he looked over and saw Ella in the bus next to him.  He started to wave at her and she waved back.  He turned away so she couldn’t see the stupid grin on his face.

The buses drove away.  James stared out the window, watching the rain puddle on the roads.  The bus dropped him off a block from his house.  When the bus pulled off, it hit a puddle and sprayed James.  He goes into the house, soaking wet.

“What happened to you?” Chris asked.

“The stupid bus sprayed me with water.”

Chris wraps a towel around him.  “You survived another day.”

“It wasn’t all bad.”  James smiled.

The End

LYN House Creative Writing Camp

This summer has been speeding by with a variety of projects.  A few weeks ago I was invited down to the LYN (Love Your Neighbor) House to conduct a creative writing camp (July 24-27).  I love the folks down at the LYN House, as they love on the kids in their neighborhood (I especially appreciate a ministry with hospitality and relationships at the heart of its mission).

Over the course of the week I wanted to take the kids through the creative process, getting their imaginations going, figuring out how to create a character, what makes a good plot, crafting good scenes and putting together a successful story.  I was worried about how the kids might respond, after all, the camp was 3-4 hours a day spent writing.  Basically, just like school except more intense.

The kids were amazing!

We began each day with an activity to get our imaginations going, usually a variation of exquisite corpse:  either folded up a piece of paper with each student having that section to draw a part of a body (head, body, or legs) or each person got to write one sentence of a story and then pass it on.  Then we unveiled the (silly) masterpieces.

After that, we had a long discussion about what goes into creating a character.  The details, the quirks, the history, all the things they love about their favorite characters, using super heroes as our example.  And we gave those characters a goal they had to reach.  The kids were free to come up with anyone they wanted and some even drew their creations.  I quickly realized that the secret to conducting a successful workshop is to shut up and get out of the way of kids’ imaginations.

The second day we took cameras into the neighborhood searching for inspiration.  The kids took pictures of anything that caught their attention, with an eye toward the image inspiring a scene or providing setting details for their story.  Did I mention the whole “get out of their way” thing?  When they returned, they wrote up a storm and we shared our creations before going back to work on our collaborative stories.

On the third day, we used story cubes to create zombie themed stories.  Then we had a discussion about what goes into a scene and the importance of details.  Then we just let them go some more.  The whole week the last half of the day was spent with the kids divided into groups to work on a collaborative story, with us sharing our progress each day.  The last day involved a discussion on editing and proofreading our work as we strove to improve each story.

The kids were great (which considering that I brought my two plus my nephew is no mean feat).  The volunteers at the LYN House refused to let them give into any “I can’t do that” sentiments and kept pushing them.  The kids surprised themselves with how much work they produced.  We’re in the process of collecting the stories and putting together a chapbook anthology of their stories (called Swag Surfing, because my nephew has a way of rallying folks).

[Though I might post my oldest son’s story here tomorrow, which he balked at as apparently I’m screwing him out of his “first time rights.”  For someone who supposedly hates writing as much as he does, he knows how to protect his rights.  I’ll have to bribe him accordingly to publish his story first.]

Here’s a few blogs from LYN House about the camp:

Creative Writing Camp – Day 1

Creative Writing Camp – Day 2

My Gen Con 2012 Schedule

In addition to hanging out at the Apex Book Company booth, here’s where you can find me at Gen Con next week (as a part of the Writer’s Symposium):

THURSDAY – 11 AM

Writing the “Other”: Maurice Broaddus, Kelly Swails, and Elizabeth Vaughan

Authors must often tell stories from the perspective of characters that aren’t anything like them. In this panel, learn techniques that let you dip into the psyches of characters whose background is completely different from your own and to do it in a way that is convincing to your reader.

Thursday – 12 PM

Well Said!—Getting Dialog and Language Right: Donald J. Bingle, Maurice Broaddus, Matt Forbeck, and George Strayton

Capturing a character’s voice can make the difference between a character the reader believes in and one that just doesn’t ring true. Learn to create distinctive voices for your characters that feel natural to the reader, and explore the art of writing convincing conversation.

Thursday – 6 PM

Quick Critique: Elizabeth Vaughan, Maurice Broaddus, Jason Sizemore, and Patrick Tomlinson

Got a few manuscript pages in your game bag that you want critiqued? Our authors will look at up to three pages and offer you an on-the-spot critique. Don’t pass up this opportunity for some free one-on-one advice. Seats are limited and pre-registration is required!

FRIDAY – 12 PM

Writing from Life: Gregory Wilson, Donald J. Bingle, and Maurice Broaddus

When writing genre fiction, it’s tempting to look to one’s favorite books and movies for inspiration. The danger in doing this is that your story may end up as little more than a retelling of someone else’s tale. Our panelists talk about looking to life for inspiration as way of creating richer stories while avoiding the tropes, conventions, and clichés of genre fiction.

Though I’m not officially on the schedule, I’ve been asked to crash this one:

Friday – 2 PM

Christianity and Gaming PanelDave Mattingly and the Christian Gamers Guild.  Panel discussion with Q&A time on balancing faith and gaming.

SATURDAY – 12 PM

Ghosts, Spirits, and the World Beyond: Paul Genesse, Maurice Broaddus, Kerrie Hughes, and Lucy Snyder

Who needs zombies and vampires? Ghosts are the original undead, and they’ve haunted our imaginations for thousands of years. Our panelists explore ways you can use the restless dead in your stories, discuss why ghosts still excite us, and seek to inspire you with a few real life ghost stories.

SUNDAY – 11 AM

I’ll be doing a signing for The New Hero volume one at the Stone Skin Press booth at Gen Con.

The Bourne Legacy – A Review

A slow start with characters we don’t care about is probably not the best way to kick off a sequel to a franchise that doesn’t have its title character.  The Bourne Legacy starts with two strikes against it:  Paul Greengrass, director of the last two Bourne movies, and Matt Damon, the signature Jason Bourne, had both walked away from the franchise.  So rather than re-cast the hero Robert Ludlum’s series of books, a la Ian Fleming’s 007, they opted to “expand the mythos”.  In other words, instead of the adventures of James Bond, we follow the adventures of Jimbob Whogivesacrap Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner).

“Is this a test?” –Kenneth

Cross, nee Kenneth J. Kitsom, is a part of Outcome, a companion program to Bourne’s Treadstone.  Outcome operatives are genetically modified via chems/program kit:  green pills to improve physical performance while blue pills provides mental enhancement.  Like Captain America’s Steve Rogers, Kitsom was scrawny when he joined the military, except his was a mental weakness as they had to lie and add 12 points to his IQ to make the bare minimum for service.  Without the pills, he would revert to their previous, unmodified state, which would be a “long fall down” after he’s had a taste of what he could be.  So he partners with Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who has just survived a horrendous workplace shootout (which is particularly harrowing in light of the events in Aurora, Colorado).

Said shootout was only part of the less-than-subtle cleanup operation of Treadstone and Outcome led by Ret. Col. Eric Byer (Edward Norton).  There’s a tonal shift from the first movies as this one spends a lot of time with the machinations of the cover up and taking too long to focus on Cross.  The plot comes across as unnecessarily convoluted when it boils down to “Bourne exposed us, kill all loose ends.”  More conspiracy, less action didn’t work out so well for Star Wars episodes 1-3 either.

Aaron Cross is a lone wolf cipher, dispatched to Alaska as if he’s the Unabomber of the assassin set, in full possession of his memories.  He knows exactly what he is and what he’s supposed to do.  His personality amounts to asking endless questions of everyone he encounters (and if you’ve ever encountered a seven year old who does this, you know how annoying this can be as conversation).  Without any exposition of who he is (because his questions go unanswered), we’re left with a character who lacks Damon’s charisma, who’s head we aren’t in, but are expected to care about.

Director Tony Gilroy opts to make up for the films lack of action by cramming as much as he can into the final act.  This includes dropping in an agent from yet another program, LARX-3, which has Louis Ozawa Changchien mean-mugging his way through scenery like a T-1000 from The Terminator series.

“Who tells you that this is okay?” –Aaron

Our military and espionage agents often find themselves in moral and ethical quandaries, called to do things and make decisions no one should have to.  They “take the moral excrement of others,” as Byer puts it, and do the dirty work no one else wants to do.  He describes them as sin-eaters.

During the Middle Ages, people used to place food and drink next to the recent dead.  Their sins were said to transfer to the food.  The sin-eater was someone who would come along, typically a beggar, then through prayer would eat the bread and drink the ale and through the ritual, remove the sins from the dying/dead person and take them onto himself.

Aaron Cross as a sin eater points to the true/final ‘sin eater’, Christ (get it?  Cross!), through whom forgiveness for all of the moral excrement we wallow in can be found and experienced.

“Do you ever not care?” –Aaron

The answer to Aaron’s question above is “no.”  In The Bourne Legacy, there is no sense of mystery, only information stingily withheld creating a narrative vacuum.  There is an endless series of lethal CYA measures, repercussions from much more interesting movies, that masquerades as a plot.  There is, as one character describes, a “bullshit scavenger hunt” which adds little to the mythos, so that in the end, the viewer still doesn’t care.

Locals Only Special Benefit

I love to promote the local art scene of Indianapolis when I can (read: whenever I’m not so swamped with work that I remember that I have a blog).  Locals Only (2449 E 56th Street) will be closing their doors on August 18th.  There will be a special benefit event starting August 11 at 4:30pm until 3:00am. This is a special, last time type event and all the proceeds go to the owners of Locals Only in support of their next music venture.

It’s a great mix of local music (yes, I have a buddy who’s in the line-up), so you’ll definitely want to check this show out.