Monday, August 21, 2017

Hollywood Needs Books

Photo Credit: HBO

If you follow my Twitter feed, you know I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan. For my money, it’s one of the 10 best TV shows ever made.* That said, the past two seasons, as fun as they are, illustrate a common problem with the very best long running dramas television has to offer. Shows of this type are almost always improved when they’re based on source material. TV provides a visual medium that modern audiences demand, but books remain the best way to tell detailed stories.

GoT is based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series by author George R.R. Martin. Martin has written five of a planned seven books. Two seasons ago, the show surpassed his novels and had to strike out on its own, finishing Martin’s story with nothing more than his notes. The lack of Martin’s guiding prose is obvious. Episodes are more action packed but character development has suffered and plots are much less intricate or logical.

Screen Rant recently published an excellent article that details some of these gaps. This phenomenon isn’t unique. Another of my favorite shows, Dexter provides an equally obvious example. The crime series ran from 2006 to 2013 on Showtime and is based on a book by Jeff Lindsay. The first two seasons are excellent and completely hooked me but as the seasons wore on and moved further away from the source material, they got more and more far-fetched. By the final season, I basically watched out of spite. I hated what they’d done to the main characters and just wanted to know how they would end it. For the record, the ending was lousy.

Source material forms the basis of many other great TV shows. American Gods and Black Sails from Starz, and Walking Dead from AMC are a few more examples. Movies are no exception either. Blade Runner, The Godfather, Fight Club, L.A. Confidential, and The Shawshank Redemption are just a few of many great movies based on novels or short stories.

So what does all of this mean to long-suffering authors like me (and some of you) that are just trying to find an audience? It means even if there are less readers out there than we’d like, TV and film have tremendous reach and often look to prose for inspiration. Hollywood needs books so keep on writing. 

* Hmm, I smell a new blog topic!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Daniel Craig’s Best Non-Bond Roles

Photo Credit:

It was announced yesterday that despite his very public complaints about continuing on as James Bond after 2015’s Spectre, Daniel Craig will do exactly that in the 25th Bond film slated to open in 2019. I have mixed emotions about the decision. Craig has been fantastic in the role, but an actor that doesn’t want to do a movie rarely turns in his best performance. Add to the mix that Christopher Nolen has voiced an interest in directing a Bond film if he could cast Tom Hardy as the lead and I’m kind of leaning toward that new direction. We’ll see how this one goes.

In the meantime, I thought I’d write a bit about Craig’s best non-Bond film roles. Like his predecessors, Craig has been typecast but like the best of those earlier Bonds, Sean Connery, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a few other juicy roles anyway. Here are his best.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
Okay, the premise of the film, an alien invasion of the old West, turned out to better than the film itself, but it was still entertaining. Outlaw Craig plays opposite Harrison Ford’s grumpy Civil War veteran who team up to defeat the aliens and protect the good townsfolk of Absolution.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
While not as good as the original Swedish version of this book adaptation, Craig does a nice job of putting his own stamp on reporter Mikael Blomkvist as he works a cold case with the coolest and most vicious of computer hackers, Lisbeth Salander.

Munich (2005)
Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. Munich is a Stephen Spielberg film based on the Black September aftermath and the Mossad assassins who were assigned to avenge those terrible murders. What could have been a straight-forward action movie is much more and Craig is one of the best in a stellar cast.

Road to Perdition (2002)
True, Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Jude Law are the real stars of this film, but Daniel Craig’s portrayal of spoiled, treacherous Mafia son Connor Rooney helped establish him as a star-in-the-making. He held his own against those cinematic heavyweights and showed audiences how murderous and evil he can be when asked to play a well-written bad guy.

Layer Cake (2004)
Finally, this is the role that probably did the most to get Craig the part of James Bond. Starring alongside a great cast including the aforementioned Bond-in-waiting Tom Hardy, Craig plays a young drug dealer that realizes he’s in over his head with a back-stabbing boss, an intimidating potential new mentor, an assassin on his trail, and a sexy new girlfriend who might be the most trouble of them all. This film is smart, stylish, and proved to be a perfect showcase for what Craig can do as a man of action surrounded by others that would do him harm.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Books as Testicle Salve

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Admit it. You clicked the link to read this post because of the word “testicle”. It’s okay. It’s a funny word. It’s a funny-looking part of the anatomy. However I didn’t just use it in the title to get your attention. It really does relate to the topic I want to write about.

Life has a way of kicking you in the balls (figuratively if not literally) on a fairly routine basis. You receive an unexpected bill you don’t know how you’re going to pay. You make plans to do something special and they fall through at the last minute. You get in a fight with your significant other over something dumb. You get passed over for a promotion at work… It happens to everyone.

They say time heals all wounds and I suppose that’s at least mostly true, but time takes time doesn’t it? Patience is a virtue in short supply. I find what helps at least soothe those wounds in the short term is distraction. If you aren’t thinking about the fact you’re going to be eating Ramen noodles for the next two weeks in order to pay for that radiator leak or that your boss has the communication skills of a stutterer with Tourette’s and the honesty of Donald Trump, then you’re less likely to suffer from those unpleasant realities.

Some people choose bad distractions. Tequila is one of my favorite vices, but drinking it to forget… not a good idea. What I’ve found to be a great distraction is a good book. TV shows are too short and typically too stupid to keep me entertained. Movies are much better, but also not cheap if you’re going to the theater and they’re only two hours a pop. Video games are fun but I’ve found they hold less of my attention than they did when I was younger. A good book… we’re talking days of distraction for less than 10 bucks. A good book sucks you in. It expands your imagination. It takes you away from whatever you have to deal with in the real world and lets you explore an entirely different reality.

I recently took a hard figurative shot to the nuts in my own life. Keeping my nose in a book has helped distract my mind from the ache. For any of you that don’t read regularly, I encourage you to pick up a book that piques your interest and try again. For all of those of you that do read regularly, you know what I’m talking about. Life sometimes lets you down. I’ve found that good books never do.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Do’s and Don’ts of Visiting Costa Rica

The blog is getting a little dusty so I thought I’d write some Do’s and Don’ts based on our recent 10-day family trip to Costa Rica. If you’ve never visited, I recommend it. If you have been there, feel free to add your own Do's and Don’ts in the Comment section below.

Do: Hire a driver
Costa Rican jungle roads have more S-turns than King George VI trying to say Mississippi. Add to it that they’re loaded with water-filled pot-holes, rarely have any signage, lines, or guardrails, and you’re looking at a Toonces the Driving Cat scenario if you’re not careful.

San Jose rush hour. Good times.

Don’t: Expect the bajillion motorbike drivers to follow a single traffic law
Half the population of San Jose rides some form of motorcycle and the sole reason seems to be that they’re immune to all laws. They weave in and out of standstill traffic, they run red lights; they steal kids’ lunch money… I didn’t actually see that last one, but I wouldn’t put it past them.

Do: Bring plenty of lightweight clothing
It’s hot. Like, REALLY hot.

Don’t: Forget an umbrella during rainy season
The rainy season lasts from early May to late November and it rains every afternoon/evening during these months. Lightning took out the electricity multiple times while we were there and it apparently killed seven cows.

Extra Don’t: Bring cows.

The Arenal Volcano 

Do: Visit the Arenal Volcano and hot springs
The volcano and its surrounding landscapes are beautiful. The Springs resort in particular is a great place to stay nearby, but keep your eyes open for deals. The standard run-rate for a room there isn’t cheap.

Don’t: Order margaritas - anywhere
Costa Ricans apparently don’t drink tequila. You won’t find a decent bottle at any restaurant, hotel, or bar. It’s Don Julio, Jose Cuervo, or worse.

San Jose graffiti

Do: Take lots of pictures
You’ll see plenty of amazing jungle landscapes, gorgeous sunsets, and if you explore San Jose, cool graffiti. You’ll want to capture those memories.

Don’t: Post tons of those pictures on your blog
As much as you love all those pics you snapped, a little goes a long way when sharing those photos with others. Show some restraint. I only shared three!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Brief Introduction to the Gods of American Gods Season 1

Photo Credit: Starz

Season 1 of the Starz hit show American Gods ended Sunday night. While I didn’t love it the same way I love HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld, it was entertaining enough that it convinced me to add the Neil Gaiman book it’s based on to my Amazon wishlist. The basic plot of the show is that the Old Gods, largely forgotten by man at this point, are going to battle it out with the New Gods for supremacy. Season 1 was mostly a road picture with goofily named and in-over-his-head mortal sidekick Shadow Moon joining the mysterious Mr. Wednesday on a trip across America as they recruit Old Gods to join the upcoming fight. 

The season introduced us to a slew of characters that range from a little disconcerting to completely bonkers. While not all of them are “gods” the majority are. Here’s a guide to those Gods with at least one minor spoiler: 

Featured in Episode 6, a grizzled Corbin Bernsen plays the Old God of Weapons and Fire. A long-time ally of Mr. Wednesday, he’s asked to forge a sword for the old man and join the cause, but is he willing to leave his new gun-fanatic followers behind?

Played by Demore Barnes and also known as Mr. Ibis, Thoth’s origins trace back to Ancient Egypt. He works in partnership with Anubis and acts as a scribe responsible for documenting the history of the Old Gods.

Jesus Prime
It turns out there are multiple Jesuses (Jesi?), all based on the various versions of Christianity over the centuries, but Jeremy Davies plays Jesus Prime. He’s wise, he’s kind, he walks on water, and he’s good pals with Easter. 

Technical Boy
Young actor Bruce Langley plays the petulant New God of Technology. Are you an Old God in need of a new image in the digital age? Want to build up your worshippers via a multi-platform social media presence? He’s your man.

The Goddess of Spring and Dawn only appears in the final episode but she makes quite an impression. Played by Kristin Chenoweth, she has the power both to give and take life on a grand scale and she uses the latter of these strengths to impressive effect in the final minutes of the season.

The Slavic God of Darkness is played by veteran character actor Peter Stormare. Czernobog isn’t a fan of Odin, but he longs for the days when he got to brain people with his hammer and he reluctantly joins the cause after losing a bet with Shadow.

The God of Death is played by Chris Obi. Stoic and unforgiving, his job is to weigh the hearts of the newly dead then send them to their proper afterlife. Shadow’s late wife Laura is the one soul that got away and his interest in how she managed the trick leads him to follow her journey back to Earth.

Head of PR for the New Gods, Media is played by X-Files star, Gillian Anderson. She’s beautiful, she’s convincing, and she can mimic a host of dead stars including Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe. Rub her the wrong way and she’s got a kiss that’ll literally knock your teeth out. 

Yetide Badaki plays the seductive Old Goddess of Love. She’s been tantalizing both men and women into her deadly embrace for thousands of years. She’ll give you the kind of pleasure you can only dream of, but in return, she’ll swallow you whole in the most unusual of ways. 

Orlando Jones plays the trickster African God, Anansi. Also known as Mr. Nancy, he’s followed Africans’ migration to America since the first time they were brought over as slaves. He and Odin seem to go way back and it will be interesting to learn whether he ultimately helps or hinders Shadow Moon’s pursuit of faith and fulfillment.

Mr. World
Played by infamous weirdo Crispin Glover, Mr. World is the boss of the New Gods. He’s dapper, well-mannered, and extremely creepy. He has eyes on everything and everyone and he can morph his appearance at will. 

Mr. Wednesday (Spoiler Alert!)
Ian McShane of Deadwood fame plays aging con-man Mr. Wednesday, the Old God that convinces human protagonist Shadow Moon to help him recruit other forgotten deities to his cause. He lies, he cheats, he manipulates, and he thoroughly entertains. It isn’t until the final episode that we learn he’s actually Odin, the ancient Norse God of Battle.

If you haven’t watched the show yet, I encourage you to catch the reruns before Season 2 starts next year. And if you’ve already read the book, don’t tell me how it ends!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Top 10 Sci-Fi Films of All Time

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

It seems like sci-fi has been riding high at the cinema lately. In the past year we’ve seen such major releases as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Trek Beyond, Arrival, and Passengers. With the highly anticipated Ghost in the Shell opening this weekend and movies like Blade Runner 2049 and Alien: Covenant scheduled to be released later this year I thought it was as good a time as any to list my favorite sci-fi films of all time. Here they are from number 10 to number 1.

10. Jurassic Park (1993)
Written by Michael Crichton, directed by Steven Spielberg, and featuring some of the coolest-looking dinosaurs you’ve ever seen, this one was bound to please and it didn’t disappoint. It’s spawned three sequels so far with more on the way, but this one starring Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, and Laura Dern is still the best of the bunch.

9. Interstellar (2014)
Matthew McConaughey stars as a single father and space traveler charged with leading a mission to save the Earth but torn by the fact his journey will likely result in never seeing his daughter grow up. Emotional, thought-provoking, and well written, this film is the best sci-fi Hollywood has produced in the last few years.

8. Moon (2009)
Sam Rockwell puts on a one-man show under the excellent direction of Duncan Jones and an assist from Kevin Spacey who voices his robot sidekick. There are no big action scenes or expensive CGI. This film is simply a magnificent study on what it is to be human and how easy it is for corporations to dehumanize us all.

7. Aliens (1986)
Sigourney Weaver proved guys weren’t the only badass sci-fi heroes in Ridley Scott’s Alien. In James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, she was even bigger and badder. This time she’s up against a whole slew of the space monsters and when she finally comes face to face with their queen, it’s a battle you won’t soon forget.

6. Gattaca (1997)
Ethan Hawke and Jude Law try to find their place in a future where your DNA determines your lot in life. Hawke plays a flawed young man willing to do anything to fulfill his dream of space travel while Law plays a genetically superior man that’s destroyed his potential but might just be able to help Hawke achieve his own.

5. Star Wars (1977)
The film that proved sci-fi could appeal to the cinematic masses and that hooked a certain seven-year-old boy in Ohio on the genre for life. As I sat in my parents’ car watching Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, and Darth Vader on the big screen at the drive-in I knew I was watching something special. Forty years later, it’s spawned a host of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs that show no sign of losing steam.

4. Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolen, director of the best superhero movie ever, also directed two of my favorite sci-fi films. Interstellar is great, this one is even better. Leonardo DiCaprio leads a fantastic cast deep into the mind of an industrial scion to complete a complex mission with one very simple goal: to plant an idea.

3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Sequels rarely do the original justice, but this one did that and more. As great as Star Wars is, this follow-up is even better. Creator George Lucas handed over the director and screenplay reins to Irvin Kershner and Lawrence Kasden and those two men took Lucas’s vision to the next level. Boba Fett, the carbonite freeze scene, the lightsaber duel, the big reveal concerning the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader… simply awesome.

2. The Matrix (1999)
The Wachowski’s mind-bending film blew away audiences at the turn of the century with its excellent script, bullet-time cinematography, and iconic performances by Keanu Reeves, Lawrence Fishburne, and Hugo Weaving. The concept, the pacing, and the action in this film make it one you can enjoy again and again. The movie’s two sequels didn’t measure up, but this one is an all-time great.

1. Blade Runner (1982)
Simply the best sci-fi film ever made. It wasn’t a big hit when it was released, but over time it’s grown into a classic. Based on a novel by Phillip K. Dick, this futuristic noir features stand-out performances by Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. It also includes a great cast of secondary characters played by Edward James Olmos, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, and William Sanderson. In my opinion, it’s the masterpiece of director Ridley Scott’s long and stellar career.

And to avoid short-changing some other favorites, here are a dozen Honorable Mentions: Alien (1979), The Road Warrior (1981), Predator (1987), Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Stargate (1994), The Fifth Element (1997), Cube (1997), Contact (1997), Dark City (1998), Pitch Black (2000), Minority Report (2002)

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Best and Worst of Batman

Photo Credit: DC Comics

I’m not much of comic-book movie guy. I still haven’t seen any of the Avengers movies. Or Thor. Or Captain America. Or Suicide Squad. If I could take back the time I spent watching the two Hulk films or the last few Spiderman movies, I would. That said I’m a big fan of Batman. I always have been. A guy that constantly fights his darker impulses and wears a disguise while lashing out violently at the evil men that surround him and threaten those he cares about… yeah, I can relate. When I heard they were making a Lego version of my favorite super hero, I had my doubts but my wife and I took the kids to see The Lego Batman Movie this weekend. While it isn’t as funny as the film it spun off from, 2014’s The Lego Movie, it was definitely entertaining. In fact it was significantly better than several other Batman efforts including last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  So just how good is it? I’ve ranked all nine of the big budget Batman film entries below.

Batman & Robin (1997)
Director Joel Schumacher all but destroyed the franchise with this cheesy mess. George Clooney might have been a decent caped crusader in a different film, but pair him with the abysmal Chris O’Donnell as Robin, add a bunch of lame villains including Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, then fill it with vapid dialogue and you’ve got the worst Batman film ever made.

Batman Forever (1995)
Schumacher’s first outing is only slighter better than his second. Val Kilmer is horribly miscast as our hero, both Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones are way too over the top as the bad guys, and the plot is positively insipid even for a comic book movie.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The faults of this film seem as if they can be laid at the director’s feet as well. Ben Affleck is excellent as our new dark knight, but Zack Snyder gave us a long series of dreary, disturbing scenes without any real plot or continuity to pull them together into a coherent story. I was never sold on the concept in the first place, but this film feels more like a two-and-a-half hour trailer than an actual movie.

Batman Returns (1992)
This is where they get good. Michael Keaton was a great Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer was the perfect foil/love interest as Catwoman. I’m not as enamored with Danny DeVito’s Penguin as some and Christopher Walken was more silly than scary as the evil Max Shreck, but this film remains a solid entry in the series and a nice example of the dark humor director Tim Burton can bring to a good script.

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Largely a spoof of the live-action movies in the series, this animated entry hits its marks for being funny, kid-friendly, and yet still an action-packed adventure. Will Arnett gets the gravelly voice just right and Seth Grahame-Smith’s script provides plenty of in-jokes to keep the adult fans of the Batman as entertained as the children.

Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s Batman debut proved that comic book movies didn’t have to just be for kids. Despite initial fan protest, Keaton nails the dual-personality of Bruce Wayne/Batman and Jack Nicolson’s take on the Joker served as the modern-day benchmark for comic book villains until Heath Ledger came along almost 20 years later.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
A little too long and a little bit of a let-down after its classic predecessor, this film is still a great piece of entertainment. Christian Bale remains the best Batman of them all; Tom Hardy does a menacing Bane, and supporting players Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are great as always.

Batman Begins (2005)
Director Christopher Nolan resurrected Batman after Schumacher nearly destroyed him in the 90s. Gone were the cheesy jokes and nipple-suits. His caped crusader was dark and brooding. His violence wasn’t cartoonish; it was gritty and looked bruising. With a great script and excellent casting, Nolan set a new bar for comic book movies that’s only been surpassed by one film – his sequel.

The Dark Knight (2008)
This is perhaps the best comic book movie ever made. It’s my favorite of the genre by a long-shot. With the best director of the series, the best script of the series, the best Batman of the series, and far and away the best villain of the series, The Dark Knight stands alone. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is mesmerizing as his posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor will attest.