New Short Stories

Author’s Note: Okay, this should have been published a week or so ago, but somehow, I managed to make it into a page instead of a post. Sorry about that.

Yesterday, I was thinking that I hadn’t actually written much of substance lately, so I thought I’d try an exercise I read about in some fiction writers’ book some years back. I looked around my office and tried to find inspiration in the random objects that were laying around. I tried to make a CD of the game “Risk” into something, but after a while, my eyes settled on a coffee cup sitting by my computer monitor.

And thus, The Unbreakable Cup was born. I really enjoy this kind of short-but-sweet story, mainly because my insomnia has shortened my attention span to just about that of a particularly hyperactive squirrel.

After I’d finished The Unbreakable Cup, I was struck by inspiration once more, this time in the form of a plastic cup I saw laying on my desk. The result was A Trillion Red Plastic Cups.


Movie Review: “Iron Man”

In a very rare turn of events, I actually managed to see Iron Man while it was still in theaters. I’d been hearing good things about it, and since my father is still intent on seeing a lot of movies, I thought I might as well give it a try.

Not too long before I saw Iron Man, I watched A Scanner Darkly for the first time. In addition to being a cinematic gem, I was fascinated by Robert Downey Jr.’s quirky style in that film. And, in Iron Man, I was treated to more of the same. Downey may very well have been the perfect actor to play the eccentric-billionaire-genius role, which he does with expertise and a kind of genuineness that’s hard to see in movie theaters these days. Watching the film, one gets the impression that his character really is a brilliant mechanical prodigy and weapons dealer.

The plot is full of interesting little details that make it better than the campy, somewhat clichéd thing it otherwise probably would have been. Like the electromagnet implanted in Downey’s character’s chest to keep the shrapnel out of his heart. The film is fairly rich with little personal touches like that which lend it an air of authenticity. In addition (spoilers ahead), Stark’s (Downey’s character) first rendition of the suit is a rough welded-together sheetmetal monster that looks (as much as is possible, I suppose) like a giant armored suit assembled out of spare parts in a cave somewhere.

This is the part where I usually say “Even though I liked the film, it had its problems.” Well, even though I liked Iron Man, it had its problems. There was a weird edge of unrealism to it, which may or may not have come from the adaptation from a comic book. And the actual plotline of the film itself, if you cut out all the little details which make it rich and believable, is really nothing but a series of meandering film clichés. Even so, Iron Man testifies to Downey’s acting ability, because the way he plays his role breathes life into a plot that we’ve all seen before. Even the stupid little jokes are funnier, just because Robert Downey Jr. has a weird sort of goofiness and hyperactive energy about him.

All in all, I liked Iron Man, even when it strayed into preachiness, even when it stumbled into cliché, and even when it meandered somewhat pointlessly. The special effects are pretty, the dialogue is fresh enough not to be boring, and even some of the more minor characters feel fairly real. A good film, and probably worth seeing, even if you aren’t a fan of the comic books.


My regular readers (if there are any still left) may have noticed that I’ve been quite inactive over the last few weeks. Well, I thought I ought to explain that. You see, last week and the weeks before that, I was laboring under a mound of late-in-the-semester homework and the preparation for final exams. And this week, I’ve spent most of my time decompressing and trying to deal with a strange case of insomnia that hit me out of the blue. I promise, though, that once I’ve got my head back together, I’ll be back with some more thoughts and speculations.

And many thanks to the readers who’ve stuck by me through my little random hiatuses (hiati?).

Whatever Happened to Revolution?

I’ve been noticing something lately, as I wander through various social groups and talk to people who seem to be the independent-minded type: nobody talks about revolution anymore.

I am not a child of the sixties. I’m a child of the nineties. But I’ve always admired the sixties- and seventies-era idea of getting tired of the way the current system works and trying to tear it down. Free love, free food, the careful and spiritual expansion of consciousness, all attempts to create a world that is better than the one the revolutionaries found themselves in.

What happened to that ethos? Although we are living in a time, it could be argued, that is just as unstable and unpleasant as the sixties, I have not heard a single young person even hinting at the idea of revolution. I haven’t heard anybody suggesting that this society needs to be changed. What I hear instead is talk of work. Of making money. I hear of drinking problems and parties and drug abuse. I don’t hear anybody trying to change the world, I only hear people trying to ignore it.

And I’m not saying that I’m immune from this. I spend a good deal of my day ignoring the world. I spend a lot of time trying not to think about $120 a barrel oil and genocide in Africa and cyclones in Burma and human-rights abuses here and abroad. Perhaps it’s a psychological defense mechanism. But it seems to me that a better way to solve the problem would be to return to the “hippie” ethic of trying to eradicate hate, to enjoy life, and to create a world that is more comfortable for everybody.

Movie Review: “The Mist”

I saw a couple of trailers for The Mist, based on the Stephen King novel of the same title, and I was wandering through the bookstore a few months ago and thought that I’d give it a read. I found it gripping, interesting, and ultimately satisfying, as I find many of King’s novels.

Since I’m a firm believer in the ancient principle that a movie will always be worse than the book it is based on, I wasn’t expecting much when today I rented The Mist. But I wasn’t quite prepared for just how bad it is.

For the first three-quarters of this two-hour (two-hour!) movie, the plot sticks very close to the plot of the novel: a strange mist descends on a town, trapping a bunch of terrified people in a grocery store. Horrible things come out of the mist and do horrible things to the people. Classic Stephen King.

Given that the plot is interesting and psychological — two things you don’t see in movies these days — you might wonder how it would be possible to screw it up. Let me give you a list of good ways, although I might make director Frank Darabont angry, since he’s really the one that came up with these:

  • Atrocious dialogue. At times, it was so clumsy that I actually cringed. They took some directly from the novel, but not all of it, and the clash between the dialogue written by King and the dialogue added by the filmmakers is painfully obvious.
  • Flat characters. They should be moving. They should be sympathetic. They should be interesting. But they’re not. They feel like, to use an old phrase, cardboard cutouts, which makes it especially jarring when, in a rare moment of good acting, they express genuine-looking emotion.
  • They explain the mist. This is a mistake that most modern horror films make: either they explain who created the monster and how, or they tell you what’s making the zombies crazy, or something like that. The only two horror films I’ve seen where that’s been pulled off competently are 28 Days Later and I am Legend. One of the keys to the creepiness of King’s book was that they gave vague hints as to what happened, but they never actually told you. That’s always way creepier than actually coming out and saying it, which The Mist does with the same habitual clumsiness with which it does things.
  • The ending is incredibly depressing. I’ll try not to ruin it for you (anyway, Darabont already did that for me), but suffice to say that, even though it’s meant to seem bleak, gritty, real, and painful, it comes across as needlessly cruel, sadistic, and depressing. So, so depressing. Now, I’ll give Darabont credit where credit is due for creating an ending that is something we haven’t often seen before, but there is a point at which a depressing ending will puke all over the entertainment value of the rest of the movie. Darabont reaches that point, pays no heed, and keeps going, until he reaches the point known only as “Mass suicide in the movie theater.”

Now, I do have more than bilious hatred to spew about The Mist. I do enjoy tearing a bad movie to shreds, but I can’t do that with every aspect of the film. For one thing, the special effects are as incredible as anything you’ll see today. The mist feels real, and the filmmakers know when to use computer-generated mist and when to use an actual fog machine. The creatures are not only fairly faithful to King’s description, but they’re also suitably creepy. Even some of the scenes they made up and threw in there are fairly grotesque in a good way, the kind of good way that makes people want to watch horror films. As I said above, the ending, while depressing, is at least fairly daring. And Darabont, some of the time, keeps very close to King’s original idea.

But that last point actually becomes a problem at times. Nobody expects any film based on a book to stay close to the original storyline and dialogue. At least not as close as Darabont stays. I’ve been hoping for a long time to see a movie that was really just a visual version of a book, but now I see the error of my ways. If every book-direct-to-movie adaptation is as contrived and clumsy as this, then I’d rather see the director change what needs to be changed.

And even though he stays painfully close to the original story sometimes, at other times, he deviates shamelessly, wandering off into irrelevant or story-crippling (see bullet point #3 above) tangents, adding things that needn’t be added (gratuitous unnecessary gore, and in all the wrong places, too), and subtracting things that he probably should have kept (that hazy, panic-induced, shocked sex scene between the main character and the girl comes to mind). But probably the most painful loss is the feeling of panic, the feeling of dread, and that sense that everybody is slowly starting to break down and go mad. King does this very well. Darabont doesn’t do it at all until very near the end, when suddenly it was as though someone slapped him on the back of the head.

One final note. In the book, Mrs. Carmody, the religious lunatic, was more of a shriveled old bat, a hag with little more to do than play with her stuffed raccoons, read tabloids, and babble about the state of the world. But in the film, she’s about thirty years old, and delivers all of her lines with a kind of sickening melodrama not seen since the Wicked Witch of the West menaced Dorothy.

All in all, a bad movie. It has its good moments, but in the end, it’s far too clumsily-executed to be interesting, and long enough to make you feel like you’ve wasted a good chunk of your life. If you’ve read the book, don’t bother seeing the movie. And if you’ve seen the movie, I’m sorry, but Frank Darabont has already ruined the book for you.

Final Judgment:

* ` ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ (1.5/10 asterisks)