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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Time: Rewind: Charade

Hey all,

As promised here is this month's installment of the Rewind, where we look at great films of yesteryear, particularly ones made before the year of my birth, 1976. The last two months I have spotlighted two of my very favorite actresses, Eleanor Powell and Ginger Rogers. For this month I'm continuing the trend and adding another of Hollywood's greatest leading ladies (and another personal favorite), Audrey Hepburn. I highlighted Audrey in a film some time back and honestly I am a bit surprised I haven't picked more of her films to look at. Audrey was for my money, the last of the great actresses from the studio system.

By the 1950's, Hollywood's Golden Age was in its twilight, though the early and mid 1950's still held some measure of the Hollywood muscle of old. While most of the studio's major stars were aging, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, James Stewart, there was an entirely new crop of leading ladies, like Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelley, and the indemmable Audrey Hepburn. She burst on the scene in the early 1950's with her Oscar winning turn in Roman Holiday, and was a bona fide box office smash with pictures like Breakfast at Tiffanys when she teamed up with another of Hollywood's greatest stars, Cary Grant, to make Charade, this month's feature.

the film starts of as Regina (Audrey Hepburn) meets a charming stranger while on a skiing vacation. The stranger, Peter Joshua (played by Cary Grant) is dashing and handsome and re-firms Regina's belief to ask her husband for a divorce. When she returns home to Paris to ask him for one, she finds her apartment empty and the police inform her that her husband had been murdered. At his funeral she noticed several peculiar people inspecting her husbands corpse for signs of life. She quickly learns why though, as a CIA official (played by Walter Matthau) informs her that her husband was part of a secret mission in World War 2 to deliver $250,000 to the French Resistance, but he and his team hid the money instead. His team was made up by the same people who were inspecting her husbands corpse. The CIA believes that Regina has the money, even if she doesn't know where it is.

Regina runs into Peter Joshua again though in Paris and he agrees to help her, unabashedly admitting that he too is looking for the money, but wants to keep Regina safe as her husbands former team is also tracking her. Unbeknown to Regina though, Joshua is also working for them under an assumed name though none of the men trust each other. The plot really begins to twist as Grant's character changed identities again and members of her husbands former team end up dead. Regina is attracted to Grant's character, even though she doesn't know what side he is playing, though her role as damsel in distress is twisted as she becomes the one perusing Peter romantically. In the end it's a race to find the truth, of the characters identity, of the characters intentions, and for the money before it's to late.

Charade was directed by Stanley Donen in 1963 and marked a passing for both Donen and Cary Grant in a lot of ways. Donen was considered a bit of a Wonderkind in the 1950's teaming up with Gene Kelley and later on his own, to direct some of the biggest musicals of the decade. Films like An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain with Kelly, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Funny Face with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. As the musical faded in popularity at the dawn of the 1960's, Donen turned to light hearted drama and suspense and nothing epitomized that better than Charade. Cary Grant meanwhile was nearing 60 and was beginning to doubt his ability to be convincing as a romantic leading men in films. He had first turned down this film as he didn't want to be the romantic aggressor to a woman nearly 25 years his junior. He only came on board after screenwriter Peter Stone (who along with Donen was desperate to get Grant for the part) re-wrote sections of the film overnight to turn Audrey to the sexual aggressor.

Both Donen and Grant would go onto to make additional films finding moderate success. Donen would team with Audrey again in Two for the Road and find success with Gregory Peck and Sofia Loren in Arabesque, a film designed as an un-official sequel to Charade originally. Grant would make just two more films before retiring from film completely, the film Father Goose, a light comedy, and Walk, Don't Run. truth be told, Charade was Grant's last great film and despite the moderate success Donen had, it was his last true classic. It was also in a sense, one of the last really great studio films, as by the mid to late 1960's, the studio system was all but dismantled and given way to freelance work. (I know that Grant and Hepburn were freelance during this film too, but the whole style and scope of the film is still very much in that method).

Let's also not forget Audrey. At this point in the film, Audrey is the number one female box office draw in the country as many of her contemporaries had retired or moved on. Grace Kelly had become Princess of Monaco, Marilyn Monroe had died. Audrey was at her peak. She had just finished filing Breakfast at Tiffanys the year before and was just a year away from her biggest hit in My Fair Lady. I think one of the things that was so great about Audrey is that she played so well with so many of Hollywood's greatest actors. William Holden, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper and here with Cary Grant, she made the age differences between her and these actors a non factor. She could play innocent, dark and mysterious, comedic, whatever the role and her leading man needed. Her biggest assets I think was her ability to bridge the gap between the generations in film. The 1950's and 1960's were two vastly different decades in terms of movie-making and audience expectations. So much of the 50's were about that "Leave it to Beaver" attitude, about women wanting a family and marriage and being proper. Audrey could walk that line and help bring woman's roles to a forefront, playing characters of looser moral backgrounds but still maintain her feminine edge. It's especially evident as she progresses films in the 60's, with her afternoon dalliances with Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, or her party girl mentality in Breakfast at Tiffanys, or as the sexual predator right here in Charade. She manages to play these roles very dignified, doing what many would call un-dignified actions for the time and place.

Back to the film itself. the film is very Hitchcockian in nature, built around suspense with a plot full of twists and turns. Duplicity is the nature of every character and you never know who you can quite trust. The film even uses the Hitchcock staple MaGuffin, a word used to describe one small point about witch the whole plot is hinged, a device that Hitch used in almost all of his films, in this case, the missing $250,000. It's been called the greatest Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made. A large part of that is due to director Donen, whose camera work and shooting style were taken to new heights in this film. Even Hitch's panache for scenic locations is used, with the filming of this picture occurring in Paris. Audrey was also filming (nearly back to back) Paris, When it Sizzles with William Holden at the time. Donen really captures Paris beautifully. Also writer Peter Stone's fantastic script keeps the film turning at every angle, right up until the incredible twist ending, of which even Hitch could be proud.

I should also point out the quality of the supporting cast involved. Walter Matthau as a CIA agent, James Coburn and George Kennedy (most notably of the Naked Gun films) as members of Audrey's husbands WW2 team. Coburn is great in his role as the films heavy, and Kennedy shows a range as well that is often not associated with the films he makes in later years. All the actors have a really fun rapport with each other, from the flirtatious banter between Grant and Hepburn, to the trickery between the group of thieves, each actor really finds some substance in his role.

Charade is a film that captures so much of what made Hollywood great for so long. It's fun, light, and exciting, and bridges the generational gap for Hollywood. It features two of Hollywood's biggest stars of all time in a terrific performance. I've certainly shown Cary Grant films my fair share of love over the course of these posts, with North by Northwest and His Girl Friday, and Charade is certainly a welcome addition to those films. Audrey is a star in her own right and while Charade may not be her most famous role, it's easily the role that made me realize just how powerful her on screen presence could be. In a world today where stars are teamed together in films based on name alone, its so refreshing to see a film made with the biggest stars of their day that doesn't sell you on anything but the quality of the film. Another bit of trivia about this film is that it is actually in the public domain thanks to an error in copy writing, so it should be even easier to watch. be sure to check out Universal Pictures classic Charade, a fun mystery starring two of the most charismatic actors of all time. It's classic cinema at it's finest.

End of Line.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 20

Ally Marshall was sore all over. The blackened sun had risen high in the sky, nearing mid-day and she still laid slumped against the boathouse. The fire had consumed the stable, but the muddy earth so near the river's shore line had confined it there. The embers of the building still smoldered slightly as Ally slowly regained consciousness. She must have blacked out after stumbling from the stable, but it seemed as if a few hours had passed since then.

Shakily, she used the boathouse wall to pull herself to her feet, fighting off another vicious wave of vertigo and she woozily regained her footing. Her head still throbbed from the lump the outlaw had given her, and she stumbled down to the rivers edge to look at herself. Her reflection in the water was a fright. Her face was bruised on one side from the slap and her split lip had swollen. Dried blood ran down her chin and across her puffy jaw. Her dress was tattered, burnt and torn from the scuffle and caked in mud. She lifted it slightly, seeing her ribs and stomach having turned a deep bruising purple. She winced as she gingerly touched them. Even her knees, elbows, and backside were scraped and cut from crawling acorss the packed earth in teh stable. Worse yet was the throbbing in her fingers, a few of her nails had been pulled off in the scuffle and they were thick with blood.

She slowly sank to the muddy river bank and splashed the cold water on her face, allowing the bracing water to soothe her aching fingers. She thought she wanted to cry, but her whole body just felt numb. Ally washed her face softly, tracing her swollen cheek and split lip gently with one of her fingers. Her hair was smokey and frazzled and she tried to pull it back into a semblance of a pony tale again. She looked at her ruined dress and didn't even try to clean it, she just sunk back down along the shore line, pulling her knees up to her chest and felt that lump in her throat grow, but no tears came.

Ally rocked like that slowly, feeling the cold sink into her skin as she rested on the muddy banks. Her mind whirling at the devastation of the last few hours. Her brother, father, and fiancee dead. Then to have them rise to life and try to attack her. The dead sun overhead. Her whole life, dead, just like that. She was scared and lost, and worst of all, alone. She looked bleakly on, her eyes heavy and red.

The sun started to slowly drift higher in the sky, approaching noon when she first heard noise. Slow shuffling footsteps along the dusty trail far from the river bank. She saw them first, a small mob of the creatures, the same things her father had turned into. She wanted to move, to scream, to run away, but her body wouldn't move. The monsters continued down the trail, and as the rounded the wall of the boathouse, they saw her. They moved quicker then, an urgent kind of shuffling, grossly distended jaws working in anticipation. As they grew closer instinct finally kicked in, and Ally did the only thing she could do, thrusting herself off of the muddy embankment and into the cold rushing waters of the river. The last thing she remembered seeing was the cold black eyes of the creature as it lashed out at her.

End of Line.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Word Balloon: Stray Bullets

Hey all!

I ALMOST forgot about this month's edition of the Word Balloon. I thought we would take a look at one of my favorite writer/artist's David Lapham. I previewed his Vertigo book Young Liars last year as being one of my favorite books at the time. Sadly that book was canceled at the end of last year and he has been moving onto numerous other freelance projects for several publishers, including Avatar, Marvel, DC/Wildstorm and Marvel. For this edition though I thought we would look back to the book he is most known for, Stray Bullets, his self published comic series that he first launched in the 1995.

Lapham broke out as a penciler working for the now defunct Valiant Comics in 1990. He worked on several of their books and helped make the publisher a real threat in the industry in comics hey day during the speculator boom in the early 90's. At the time people believed that buying comics and saving them for years would equal a huge windfall in years to come as the books grew in value. This led to gross over publishing of books and piles of low quality work being produced. It also led to numerous smaller publishers and independent creators having more opportunities to make comics. As the market fell out of comics in 1995 and 1996, Lapham decided to publish his own comics to tell the kinds of stories that he wanted to tell. Heavily influenced by crime and pulp novels, he forsook super heroes of all kinds and drove into a crime noir series call Stray Bullets under his own publishing label, El Capitan.

Stray Bullets was a huge sprawling story, set over the course of a 20 year period telling the story of a group of people, interconnected in ways they were unaware of. Each issue would spotlight a different character in a different time period, not always chronologically. Where Lapham excels though is in his ability to make characters so different. His people are flawed and not heroic, often victims of circumstance and bad choices. He may be one of the best writers of characterization working in the business right now.

The first volume of his series is called The Innocence of Nihilism. the first trade collects the first seven issues and while there is not a readily apparent pattern in the wide range of stories told, Lapham is introducing you to the cast of characters you will get to know more about as the series unfolds. The series is set from a period of time ranging from the mid to late 70's to the mid 90's, very much echoing the formative years of the creator. It sets up the series regulars, Virginia Applejack, a young girl who is brutally shown the horrors of real life. Orson, a young introvert who learns just how far to far is when he falls in love with a needy older woman. Frank and Joey, two small time hoods who realize the value of life just as the shouldn't. Beth and Maria, two young girls entering into a world far over their heads. Oh, and Amy Racecar, the worlds biggest and greatest gangster, and possibly the purveyor of the end of the world.

It also sets up other characters who will have bigger roles as the series unfolds, the brutal mobster Monster, the enigmatic Spanish Scott, the gangster boss Harry, among others. It's a hugely sprawling story that can't be neatly summed up in a few blurbs. It's a comic one part Pulp Fiction, one part film noir, with a dash of inter connectivity like Lost. Each issue is a stand alone tale, you don't need to read one to enjoy the next because read apart from each other, they act as a stand alone tale. When read together though they weave a pattern that sheds even bigger moments of characterization, highlighting what are perceived to be ancillary characters in the tale you're reading, and showing deeper moments of characterization from tales you have already read.

There are several beats in the series that I thought were just brilliantly tragic. Issue 2, Victomology, unfolds the story of young Virginia (Ginny) Applejack. The ending of that issues is like a punch to the gut, where a series of events beyond her control shapes her life tragically and brutally. The ending of issue two is the moment the series bought me hook, line, and sinker. This one event even leads to the series most popular character's creation, Amy Racecar. The epitome of childhood fantasy gone unchecked, the story is ultimately one of illusion and mis-direction when you realize just why and how Amy is the way she is, and how, and even more importantly why, she connects to young Ginny.

The regular series itself lasted 39 issues before Lapham put the series on hold to take on more freelance work. It was easier on his to produce work on the freelance level and more financially lucrative, though not as personally rewarding. This became a more increasing concern as he grew his family and took on bigger responsibilities as a provider. On the one hand I enjoy that he is writing more work regularly, but on the other I miss his hand behind the pencil. Especially after the cancellation of Young Liars, which was a far more fantastical take on the elements and themes he touched on in Stray Bullets, though grounded less in crime and more in conspiracy.

The art of Stray Bullets is fabulous as well. Lapham is great at expressions and his use of the 8 panel grid system really lets the story unfold as you are reading it. Breaking down each moment really sells the opening and closing pages where he expounds on the action in bigger panels. It's story telling structure at a very rigid level but it forces the story to move and unfold in such a way as to increase the tension each panel. Lapham is also a master of expression, from fury to sadness to joy, each character tells so much story through their body language and expression. I think he may be the best artist working today in conveying the grief on a persons face. You can seen the dynamic growth and maturation he develops over the course of the series, becoming a better storyteller as the book unfolds. Remember this was his first real writing gig. Still, even in these early issues you see the natural talent he has in breaking a story down elementally.

Stray Bullets isn't a comic that can be summed up with a neat little bow. It's complex and deeply wrought. It's the essence of independent comics. It's even more impressive knowing that when this book came out, storytelling wasn't what sold books, the art did. Most books from he late 1990's don't hold up well. This is one of the series I found during that time that helped me rediscover my joy in collecting comics. Books like Stray Bullets, Bone, Preacher, and Kabuki showed me how great and varied the medium could be. For a long time I didn't read too much mainstream Marvel or DC because they were not telling the stories that these creators were. Stray Bullets is one of my favorite comics series of all times and I hope that David Lapham gets around to returning to his creator owned roots at some point. Until then, I will always have the great run he left behind. Stray Bullets: The Innocence of Nihilism, Volume 1 by David Lapham. Just a really great graphic novel that challenges the role that comics can play. Read it.

End of Line.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poetry: I Killed the World

Hey all,

I know, three poems in one month, rivaling my Flash Fiction output for once. At an rate my goal over the next 2 days before the end of the month is at least two more posts, the next chapter on Flash Fiction and my Movie Time Rewind segment for the month. I haven't been really consistent the past few months and I am hoping that after Comic Con next month I can post a bit more regularly.

Anyway onto the poem. Certainly returning to familiar territory this time. I was feeling a little down on myself this weekend and I plucked this out over the course of a few hours, tweaking it until I liked it better. I can certainly see the darker influence of the types of music I have been listening too lately in the poem. I tend to not listen to music as I write, I find it distracting, but I will listen to music before and between writing to stir the juices creatively. I don't like to listen to a lot of music though, just a few songs to set the mood. More than that and I feel it takes me out of the moment. I'm very much a believer in capturing the particular moment in a poem. If something takes to long or you have to try to hard, then you really aren't capturing what you are feeling at the time.

There are occasions where I will write something and work at it and realize it's not coming along. I may hang onto the general concept of the poem to re-attack it later, but rarely will I use, or re-use anything that I wrote during my first attempt. I know some writers do this during brainstorming sessions, where an idea may be good, just the timing for it isn't. I approach my poetry very much the same way. Oh well, enjoy the poem and feel free to leave any feedback, positive or negative. Thanks for reading!

I Killed the World

I never went back home,

Lost on the trails of life I roam.

So many years I spent alone,

Walked a million miles unknown,

Forlorn these many years,

I left a trail of tears.

And though you were not there,

It's like I felt your stare,

Gazing down upon my broken heart,

As I tore the damned piece apart.

God you died so long ago,

I just didn't know where to go.

Even when I close my eyes,

I remember all your cries.

If I could wipe the tears away,

Or even have just one more day,

To hold deep within my arms,

And buffet you from all that harms.

But in the end I lost control,

And there's nothing left to console.

Your smile was my only friend,

But here near the end,

The joy it brought has died,

No matter how hard I tried,

I can't pretend to care,

Just cast a gazeless stare.

And all I see is an endless night,

Forgotten and lost my will to fight.

For what we had has spoiled and curled,

Without your love I killed the world.

End of Line.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 19

Cody Jarrett woke silently, his hand coiling to the nearby Colt revolver. It was dark, almost overcast, but not as cold as it should have been if it was still pre-dawn. Still, the hairs on the back of Cody's neck were standing on end and he had a feeling, a feeling that something wasn't quite right. Cody slowly rolled to his feet, holding the Colt in front of him, finger dancing over the triggers. the starlight had all but faded as last nights fire crackled with its last, lonely dying embers.

Cody knew someone was out there. He heard the subtle movements, the small stirrings of motion. Even along a well known trail, you never could tell who may be out, especially in the early parts of pre-dawn. Plus with as much money as Jarrett was holding, he certainly didn't want to take any chances. Cody walked gingerly to the edge of his small campsite. The horses were nickering nervously, putting Jarrett even more alert. He walked the perimeter of the camp, his eyes detecting nothing in the fading twilight. Jarrett eased his way back towards the campsite, slowly bringing the barrel of his Colt up and easing the trigger down.

Cody came up to the horses first, approaching at the backside of his camp, and ran a hand over the animals, trying to soothe each of the mounts. The horses were pulling at their tethers and getting more and more agitated by the moment. Cody could read the growing fear in their eyes as they danced about skittishly, his calming motions bringing no comfort to the frightened animals. Finally one of the horses reared back, whinnying loudly and pulled loose its tethered stake from the ground. The other two horses bucked and did the same, pulling at the branches and other bits of shrubbery by which they had been tethered.

Cody made a desperate grab for his horse, diving at the animal, trying to snake his free hand into his man. the horse was to fast though, as it bolted through the broken hillside, away from the trail. Cody's dive landed him in a small clearing by his camp and he tucked himself into a roll as he hit the Earth. Cody followed through on the roll and came up quickly, smoothly drawing his second pistol from his belt and cocking the hammers on both. He brought them up, loaded for bear, fingers hovering over each rigger, and finally saw his attackers.

Beau and Buford Johnson were moving towards him. Though the Johnson Brothers he had known just hours ago, were far unlike what he had seen before. Their skin was yellow and sour, and their fingers ended in sharp blackened points. Their mouths were distended parodies, wider and lined with razored yellow and black teeth. The front of Beau's chest was still riddled with the four bullets that Cody himself had filled him with before, the red blood that stained the front of his shirt was now etched in blackened pus and ichor. His brother was worse, the two bullets that Cody had fired had similar effects but the belly wound had festered, the spoiled skin cracking. He shambled towards Cody, a stream of his own entrails spilling from the oozing sore and dragging behind him, leaving a trail of dark blood and bile through the dusty trail.

"Mother fucker...."

Cody half whispered the curse, the guns still poised in each of his hands. How do you kill something you already shot dead? He looked at each brother, slowly backing up. It was then that he noticed the breaking dawn behind the two monsters. The cresting sun turned dark and black. Long Stygian tendrils stretched from the inky orb, casting a pale overcast on the sky. Cody Jarrett looked at the dead sun, then back to the two creatures bearing down on him, and realized how truly fucked he was.

End of Line.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Poetry: Seasons of Age

Hey all,

Look at this. Three posts, three days! I actually got inspired to write some poetry this weekend after watching Toy Story 3. There very "coming of age" aspects of that film really resonated with me and I thought would make a good topic for a poem. I haven't written a large amount of poetry this year, mostly because I'm trying to do some different kinds of material and not the same forlorn love stuff over and over. I mean I'm fine doing that if I have a fresh take on it, but I don't want to write it simply for the sake of writing it.

This poem is a pretty straight forward affair. Each stanza acts as one of the four stages of life. A child, a young adult, middle age, and growing old. Each age has its own perceptions and take on things, and this is my version. i hope you like the poem, and I will try to be back soon with more updates. Thanks again fro reading.

Seasons of Age

In the first it seems so slow.

Moments come and moments go.

All your days break in the morning sun.

As you play and shout and have such fun.

Worries, cares, are burdens not,

As seething troubles have yet to rot.

Colors flair and flowers bloom,

But Spring and Summer will fall to soon.

In the middle it feels just right.

When days and years are not yet slight.

Romance and love have come to crest,

As life and times are but an easy test.

You feel as if you cant be hurt,

The dangers of life are but flirts.

And as the boy becomes the man,

Only then can he see the plan.

Near the end it gets more fast,

As time grows short and doesn’t last.

Carefree ways have now found burden,

As responsibilities are far more certain.

Wistfully you recall past days.,

Of times when you weren't set in ways.

A wife, a child may come to bear,

Sooner yet, strike graying hairs.

But at the end it's over then.

Past by so quick you can't pretend.

Children have grown and left behind,

And the life you live is no longer defined.

The seasons of age have grown so cold,

As Winter's grip has turned more bold.

And as your last breath leaves your lung,

It's only then you end what you begun.

End of Line.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3

Hey all,

I had a great opportunity opening day to catch an early matinee of Pixar’s Toy Story 3 with my newest movie going companion, my niece Lexy. At 5 years old she is quickly becoming a movie buff and she really enjoys going to see movies on the “big screen” as she says. Needless to say this is a boon for me because it gives me a valid excuse to catch many of these animated films that I would normally not go to. Well, I’ll be honest, I would see the Pixar ones, but all the rest are iffy. Still Toy Story 3 may have been her favorite film yet that we have seen together and I will be the first one to admit, Pixar Films may be the best movie production company making films today.

Toy Story 3 is a sequel 11 years in the making, focusing on the continuing adventures of a group of toys led by Woody the Cowboy, voiced by Tom Hanks, and Buzz Lightyear, a Space Ranger voiced by Tim Allen. They are accompanied by a series of other toys like Jesse the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack) Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shaw) Hamm the Piggy bank (voiced by Pixar perennial John Ratzeberger) Mr. Potato Head 9Don Rickles) and several others. Just like in real life, 11 years have passed for the toys as well, and their owner Andy has grown up and is on the verge of entering college. The toys have not been played with for a long time and are now worried that they will be either relegated to the attic or thrown out when Andy moved out.

Woody stays true to Andy, believing that they will be sent to the attic and one day played with again but the rest belive that they will be thrown out. When Andy finally gets ready to leave, he bags them all except Woody (who he intends to take to college, presumably nostalgically) with the intention of storing them in the attic. They accidentally get mixed into the trash though and conspire to escape by sneaking into a donation box headed for the local daycare. Woody follows them, trying to convince them that Andy didn’t want to throw them away, but they believe that greener pastures lie at the day care.

When they get there they are greeted by a phalanx of new toys, led by Lotsa, a strawberry scented plush bear voiced by Ned Beatty and Ken (of Barbie fame) voiced by Michael Keaton. Lotsa has a southern twang and seems very approachable at first. Ken is vain and narcissistic, living in his own dream house with a huge wardrobe. The toys believe they have found paradise, a Mecca where they will never get old or thrown out as new kids always come to play. Woody tries to convince them otherwise, but when they decide to stay, he leaves, intending to return to Andy. He is waylaid during his escape however and rescued by Bonnie, a young girl who’s mother works at the Daycare. While with Bonnie, he learns from her toys what the rest of his friends come to find out. Sunnyside Daycare is no Mecca for toys, its more of a prison, where certain toys get preferential treatment and others are abused. Woody returns to help his friends escape and get back to Andy before he leaves for college, but they quickly learn that Lotsa has no intention of letting that happen.

Once again, Pixar has created a great movie and is already my choice for film of the year. The film is a wonderful blend of humor, action, and pathos. Honestly, the action sequences in this Toy Story are the greatest to date, with the film climaxing at a huge waste management plant. The action is frantic and wide screen. Even the beginning Wild West play scene is bigger than any Toy Story action sequence we’ve seen. It ingeniously blends all the toys in multiple settings in such a way that it becomes both thrilling and immediately charming. It also has the taunt thrills of a classic escape movie, fueling elements of great noir prison films the likes of James Cagney use to be involved with.

Toy Story 3 also continues the culmination of Pixar films really finding a deeply soulful resonance in its movie going audience. While I didn’t get quite as choked up as I did during Up (I cried twice) or Wall-E (I teared up once) I definitely got choked up in the last 20 minutes of the film. The film morphs so seamlessly from genre to genre, that by the time you get to this very pivotal coming of age moment for these toys, it really hits you with a deep impact. As each toy faces an unknown future, as Andy himself faces his past, you really feel empathy for these characters. It’s a story that has grown with its audience, and while younger viewers may not pick up on the significance of the moment, you sure do later.

Honestly, I have nothing negative whatsoever to say about this film. Even in Up, which I think is a more emotionally impactful film, I found slight flaws that didn’t work for me. In Toy Story 3 I can’t find any. Visually the film is flawless. Pixar is the gold standard for computer animation and this film is certainly no exceptions. The 2 actions scenes that I mentioned are shot with such scope and detail, that its hard to imagine them looking any better. Even down to the wear and tear on some of the toys, no detail escapes the animators vision. I was especially impressed with small details like Lotsa’s white fur spots being slightly soiled from years of use and the wear and tear on Tag Along Telephone (whose voice work alone made me realize how much I’d love this film, voiced as a quick talking 1930’s prison thug)

The story elements are perfect as well. For a film that straddles so many different genres,. it does so flawlessly. Each character is perfectly rendered and unique, from Woody’s faithful yet slightly acerbic cowboy to Buzz’s machismo laden heroics. Wallace Shaw’s voice work as Rex is always welcome, giving the dinosaur a “mouse that roars” quality. Even the new characters blend in flawlessly. You can actually here Michael Keaton having a blast with the role as the hilariously out-dated and vain Ken. Tom Hanks voice characterization as Woody really grounds the film in believability and gives the audience a great anchoring point in the film. I also thought the sequence where Buzz is reset to Spanish was highly amusing as well. From cocksure tough guy, he turns into a sort of Spanish lothario that adds some much needed humor during a particularly tense action section of the film. I also want to give Ned Beatty props, voicing Lotsa as a gentlemanly southerner, but with the twist of a few words and inflections, gives his huggable bear persona a level of intimidation.

All in all, Toy Story 3 is a triumph of a film. Fun, funny, and poignant it continues to show why Pixar Studios is maybe the best group of film makers in motion pictures today. The film has something for all ages and will be just as good a film at age 6 or 60. In a season of slumping cinema and lackluster films, Toy Story 3 is the first film to live up to its much lauded hype. I personally think that the deal Walt Disney Studios made to incorporate Pixar was both bold and smart. Pixar President John Lassiter knows quality films and I can’t wait to see what they have got coming up next. In the meantime, check out Toy Story 3. It’s a powerful film that delivers on every level. I simply loved it.

End of Line.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 18

The screams of the living had fallen silent hours ago, now it was merely the occasional shriek of the undead or the sound of tearing flesh that permeated the mission walls. Father Santiago sat in one of the pews closest to the pulpit, one hand caressing his rosary beads, the other absently patting the gun hidden deep within his robes. He watched the few remaining people under his care either pace the floor uncontrollably or lose themselves in an endless retinue of prayer. Father Santiago himself prayed for some sort of answer, but he knew deep down inside that one wasn't coming. Hell on Earth had come, and there was no salvation for a sinner like him.

They were all in the main chamber of the church, the front doors locked tight. Enrico had over seen the barricading of the door and windows, having pushed rows of empty pews in the way to block the door. Still he looked at the few remaining people with him. Maria and Pedro, the washerwoman and the stable boy. They both had worked for the parish for many years, helping out the church. Maria did their laundry and often helped make meals in exchange for room and board in a small shack on the parish property. Pedro was her son and tended to the small flock of animals on the church grounds. His father had been killed running with a band of outlaws and had led to the duo's adoption by the church.

Lastly were the two junior members of the church staff. Father Ruiz was the elder of the two, though still nearly 15 years Enrico's junior. Earnest and heartfelt, Enrico could see the guilt of leaving the others out to die was weighing heavily on his shoulders. Brother Romero was the youngest of their order, fresh to the parish and on his first mission. He was the most rattled, huddled in front of the effigy of Christ, offering the Lord's prayer over and over.

At first Enrico had tried to bolster their spirits with words and prayers, but after a while, the screams were just to loud and they all fell silent. Enrico finally got up and went upstairs, determined to look out the window and gauge how bad the epidemic outside had gotten. When they first had barricaded the doors, Enrico had watched from the seond floor window. After the first few minutes, he had turned away and kept others from looking, the sights he had seen were even worse than what he had envisioned during the war. Now that the screams had long been silent, he had decided on another look. He told his small clan his intention, and went upstairs, nervously patting the only sign of reassurance he had, the pistol.

He slowly pushed open the window, peeking out. Blood and eviscerated remains lay strewn about the courtyard area. Enrico choked the taste of bile back down his throat. Still, he didn't see any of the creatures on this side of building. Enrico used the few moments he had alone and pulled the gun out from beneath his robes. He held it in his hands, trying to subdue the images of the last time he had held a gun. The images of men's faces staring blankly back at him, their eyes glossy and devoid of life, with him holding the smoking barrel. Still, knowing what lay outside, the even fresher memories of the horrors he had seen just hours earlier over wrought those old images. Pictures of men and women, changed and mutated into some sort of creature, eating the flesh and entrails of the living. Even now, he felt a cold shiver run down his spine.

"FATHER ENRICO! Where did you get that gun!"

Enrico turned around, his head flush with sweat, and saw Father Ruiz looking at him. He still held the gun in his hand, unable to answer. He looked at the gun and to Ruiz, whose dark complexion was a mask of worry and astonishment. Unfortunately for both Father Ruiz and Enrico, there was no time to answer, as the sounds of splintering wood downstairs were accentuated by the screams of Maria. The creatures were breaking through the barricade. Hell would wait no longer.

End of Line.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Movie Review: Shrek Forever After

Hey all,

It's been out a few weeks already, but I did catch Shrek Forever After a little while back with my niece, in which I got to take her to her first 3D movie. She loved the film and I found it to be a much better turn this time around than the third installment of the series. Shrek 4, for abbreviations sake, was much closer tonally with the second film, not quite managing to over top the magic of the first movie, but retaining enough humor for both adults and children to enjoy equally.

Shrek 4 sees the main cast of the film return. Mike Meyers as the vice of the ogre Shrek, Cameron Diaz as his wife, the once cursed Princess Fiona, Eddie Murphy as Shrek's best friend, the maniacally cheerful Donkey, and Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots. They all fit in very comfortably and have a great rapport as each character. I also think one of the great bits of Shrek has been the quality of the voice acting, from the main characters to the supporting cast, like the Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio, and the Three Little Pigs, each has a very unique voice and plays really well of each other.

The film starts out with Shrek entering a serious mid life crisis. He's forgotten why his family and friends make him happy, succumbing to the endless repeating of teh same stress filled days. He longs for the days when he was fear as an ogre and just wants to have a bit of freedom, away from his crying infant children and the constant pressures of being a celebrity (for his heroic actions) Everything comes boiling to a head at his triplets first birthday party, where the stresses just get to him and he snaps at everyone. After storming out of the party, he gets into another fight with his wife Fiona and yells at her that he wishes things were the way they use to be before he met her. She leaves him, saddened, and Shrek storms away. Meanwhile, Rumpelstiltskin (voiced by writer Walter Dohrn) overhears Shrek's pleas and conspires to get revenge on Shrek> Years earlier Fiona's parents were willing to sign their kingdom over to Rumple in order to break the curse on their daughter, but seconds before they signed, news reached them of Shrek freeing the Princess. Falling on hard times, Rumple believes this to be his big break and tricks Shrek into signing a contract with him. In exchange or granting him a single day to be the ogre he use to be, Shrek agrees to give up a single day from his childhood. Little does Shrek know that the single day he gives up is the day of his birth.

At first Shrek enjoys his time, scaring villagers and living the carefree lifestyle, but when Shrek realizes the enormity of his problem, he sets about to confront Rumple and reclaim his wife and friends, who no longer know who he is. After confronting Rumple, he and Donkey escape slavery to join up with Fiona and her ogre resistance force, which is dedicated to stopping Rumple who has now taken over the kingdom thanks to Shrek's failure to save the Princess. With no Price Charming to save her, Fiona had to save herself and has become embittered about the thought of love. Shrek finds out the one loophole in Rumple's contract is that he has one day to make Fiona, his true love, fall in love with him again or he ceases to be. The question is, can he make someone believe in love who doesn't anymore.

Overall the film does find a nice balance of comedy and drama, really bridging a nice gap with the series and righting the ship a bit for the franchise as a whole. Myers brings his usual charm to the role while Murphy continues to churn out a better comedic performance in these films than in most of his live action ones. I wish we had a bit more of the supporting cast though, other than the introduction of Rumple, many of the characters that they have developed over the past 3 films kind of fall to the wayside here and they don't really bring in anyone new. I'm sure Puss in Boots, arguably the break out star of the previous installments, has a lot on tap for his own planned feature next year, but I'd have liked to seen the Gingerbread Man or one of the other characters accelerated.

One of the things you cannot question is the films look. The animation is spotless, you can really see the smoothness and the texturing in this film is on a whole new level in comparison to earlier installments. They also did a great job with the 3D. While not the best 3D film to date, I like that they used 3D to enhance the picture and didn't add a bunch of sequences to highlight the fact that it was in 3D. Nothing felt forced or wedged in like I have seen in other 3D adaptions. Dreamworks has really established itself as a potential threat in terms o animation quality with the likes of Disney, though everyone is still chasing the masters at Pixar.

it's certainly hard to match the quality of storytelling in a sequel, especially when one compares it to the source film. Very few films get better as they are sequeled and even more get worse after that. It was nice to see a film improve after having such a lackluster third installment. While Shrek Forever After may or may not be the swan song for every one's favorite ogre, it is a much more fitting chapter to end the series on if it does. Though i still believe there are more tales to tell in this world, Shrek 4 is one of the few films this year to not disappoint. I had a good time with the film, and while I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, in a struggling cinematic environment like the one at the box office today, it is a fitting use of your money and will deliver on the promise of a few laughs. If you liked Shrek 2, then you'll like Shrek 4. Thanks for reading!

End of Line.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Poetry: Begin the Begain

Hey all,

Another bit of a publishing break but hopefully I can keep up a better and more productive clip. I have been working on blog posts the past few days, trying to get a few good entries on. I re-wrote that last chapter of Dead Sun about 4 times before I posed the version you read. I wasn't fully happy with how i captured the scene, but in the end I got it to a point where I though that I could live with.

As for this poem, I've written it a few times over the course of the last few months, scrapping and starting over, mostly using the poems title, a play on words from an old Fred Astaire dance routine that I liked the sound of, though I have modified it to my purpose. Begain isn't really a word, the original word I based it on was Beguine, which is a type of ballroom dance. As I modified the word, begain means to go back to the beginning of where you once were, sort of like to begin again. Begain. I liked that I invented a word to tell a story, and for that alone the poem is a positive one. Enjoy the poem and I'll be back with more work as soon as I can. Thanks for sticking it out with me.

Begin the Begain

Softest sounds on the oldest road,

Sweetest tears tell a well worn code.

Blackest hearts bleed the brightest blood,

While gentle streams grow to bursting flood.

Unknown eyes follow familiar details,

As fickle fate tempts life's new trails.

Unwashed of filth, the darkest stain,

To be clean within, and begin the begain.

Bad decisions and choices once made,

Ring the dirt, and never quite fade.

Each moment much worse, till the bristols brown.

As darker times engulf the broken ground.

While hateful words give to bitter days,

This calloused soul wanders astray.

And each moment you fall further from me,

The more subtly stings the regretful agony.

As faceless dreams besiege my sleep,

This painful harvest that I reap.

Those simple words I should have said,

Lost again, stricken by a heart left dead.

End of Line.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 17

Eva shot out, jerking Emily back from the creature, which snapped its jaws wildly at her, blood and slaver spewing from its maw. The monster rolled off the couch and onto the floor, flailing inside the linens that it had been wrapped in. Eva looked up and watched Rex kick himself back from the creature. He was on the floor, clutching a bloody hand, as he worked his way from the trashing creature. Eva pushed out the hysterical maid and slapped her thigh, feeling for the comfort of her gun. Her hand came away empty though, her gunbelt still hanging from the hook in her room.


Eva angrily turned back into the parlor, watching as the creature ripped free the last remnants of the sheets and hungrily approached Rex, who had pulled himself upright. Blood was freely flowing from his hand and he was grimacing in pain clutching at his ruined fingers. Eva looked for something she could use as a weapon, anything to slow the monster down. Finally seeing no alternative, she dove at the beasts legs, knocking it down in a pile. Rex dived sidelong and grunted in pain as he landed hard on his bad hand. The thing that had been Evan hit hard as ell, Eva laying across its knees.

Reacting quickly, she jumped up, driving a knee into the monsters back and grabbing a fist full of the creatures thin lanky hair. Rearing back, she pulled as hard as she could and drove its face into the wood paneled floor. She repeated the blow, driving the clamping jaw again so hard she hear the bone crack. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the creatures claws reaching back, thick black nails flexed towards her. One knee still in the monsters back, she kicked her free leg wide and drive the claw down. She stamped her boot repeatedly on his hand, making a thick, pussy pulp of the claw after a moment. Eva also arched away from the other claw that was reaching for her, but with her weight and position on its back, it couldn't get close.

Eva pounded the things face again, before it flexed mightily, arching its back. Eva, losing her position, kicked off, scrambling backwards. Turning halfway, she came up in a roll at the entrance to the parlor. Rex was leaning heavily against the doorway, face flushed and breathing hard. She turned her gaze back to the monster, who had rolled over itself and slowly standing up. One of its hands was uselessly hanging from its side, while the other supported itself against the couch. It's face though was a mess of broken bone and shattered black teeth. Thick congealed rivulets of black and green blood and pus streamed from it's face, as it tried to work its broken jaw open. It's eyes settled in on Rex though, black and gaze-less, and shuffled forward towards him, it's broken jaw giving him a crooked smile. Eva shot a glance at Rex, who just grimaced.

Then she heard the sounds of her fathers wheelchair, and looked at Thomas pushed her father don the hall. Her eyes fixed on the gun at his hip.She reacted quickly, bounding down the hall quickly and pushing Thomas' arm up, drawing the gun in a smooth motion. She thumbed open the barrel, ensuring that Moore at least kept the fucking thing loaded, and spun the chamber shut once she was assured. She heard Moore and her father say something, but she ignored their pleas and went back to Rex, who was creeping father back, his ruined hand leaving a trail of blood down the corridor walls.

Eva rounded up, leveling the revolver between her and the creature at it turned around the corner and fired twice, working the hammer in quick succession. Both shots hit the creature square in the chest, the close range knocking the monster off its feet. Eva sighed deeply, wiping the sweat from her brow, when she sa the creature move again, slowly rolling over and pulling itself upright once more.

'Mother fucker."

Eva thumbed the hammer back again and used the heel of her boot to kick the creature hard in the mouth, knocking the shuffling thing onto its back. Then she squeezed the trigger again, point blank, between the monster eyes. There was an explosion of black liquid as the creatures brains splayed against the floorboards. Finally though, it fell silent and motionless, its dead eyes staring up at her. Eva kept the gun trained on the monster, the adrenalin coursing through her as crashing into her nerves as her brain began to comprehend hat exactly was happening. Her hand began to shake uncontrollably as she stood over the monster, the gun still pointed at the thing, until she felt the calloused hand of her father run up her arm and ease the gun down. She fell to her knees, body wracking with sobs as she cried into her father's crippled lap. Her cries were muffled and she buried her face deep into her fathers chest, and were not broken until Rex, pale and sweaty, fell to the floor. He was clutching the hand where he had been bitten by the monster. His eyes unfocused and dreamy as he grunted in pain. Yet all Eva could see through her tear strained eyes was Rex's hand. Bitten by the creature. Bitten like Evan had been.

End of Line.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Assorted Nuts!

Happy June Everyone!

Another month has passed as we reach the mid point of the year. I took a few moments to reflect on what I have been working on over the past 6 months, and while I feel that volume 2 of Under a Dead Sun might be one of the better things I have written, as well as being one of the few things that when I re-read doesn't fill me with self loathing, I can't help but feel discouraged a bit. My productivity is down. Way down. Last year I posted nearly a 190 times, the year before, nearly 230. Yet now I am merely on track to post about 140 times. I thought that last years output offered a nice range of material, better writing and more thoughtful production. While I AM happy with the quality of the things I amdoing, I guess I feel I should be more productive.

Still lets focus on some bright spots. Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins has been a real treat to write. i honestly look forward to writing these installments each week and I have been anxiously waiting to craft the last story centering around Morgan. Facing his on daughter like that was a moment I had thought up early on in the series, in my attempt to give each character a different kind of troubled past, forcing a man to kill his own beloved family was one of the first things I had thought up. Really each character has come into their own for me and I am looking forward to the coming tales, where barring a story change, should see some of the cast begin to come together in the wider tale of things.

I also hope to get back to some more poetry after really struggling with inspiration for topics this month. It took far to long to hammer that last oeice out into something resembling a decent attempt. Hopefully I can find a bit or illumination and not have so much struggle with them. Plus you can look forward to my next installment of the Movie Rewind where I will continue to highlight great actresses of Hollyood's Golden Age taking a peak at Audrey Hepburn.

Still, I'd love to hear your thoughts on Dead Sun and any feedback you have about my work. Good and bad, anything to help me get better. Thanks for reading and I'll try to do better this month.

End of Line.