Friday, July 25, 2014

Top 10 Most

I've never really cared about Luc Besson as a director. Not that I hate his work exactly, I just can't summon enough energy to care about it one way or another.  "Fifth Element" is the movie I remember the most distinctly, but as a friend reminded me last night as we waited for his latest film "Lucy" to start he's cranked an unbelievable number of movies in recent years - either as a director, writer, or producer. And I liked Fifth Element, even though the plot didn't always (or really, usually) make sense. Besson is just that kind of film-maker, knowing how to film a screen with enough mayhem, special effects, and sheer gonzo style that you might be able to forgive him.

So, I wasn't exactly eager to watch this movie. The trailers looked interesting in a sort of second-tier action film sort of way, but that tag-line intoned by Morgan Freeman bugged the hell out of me. "Most humans only use 10% of their brains..." Really? How many times does this zombie myth have to be decapitated before it's finally death-paneled?

But the movie's studio had the forethought to release it on a basically nothing week, and even better a local theater had a midnight showing so I could watch it with my night owl friends.

I'd like to take a parenthetical detour to address the AMC Assembly Row Theater. First off, when did this theater appear? I remember being around that part of Somerville a year ago and had no sense of there being a movie theater in the offing or, moreover, and entire new neighborhood surrounding it. Boston has been on one hell of a building binge the past few years.

Okay back to the film and the obligatory SPOILERS AHEAD warning.

The thing is, I enjoyed some parts of this movie quite a bit. The special effects were pretty good for a non-tent pole summer movie, and no one in the film phoned it in. Scarlett, in particular, did a great job playing Lucy rapidly transcend the limitations of human beings.  Choi Min Sik, who was insanely great in Old Boy (the original, obviously) found an impressive reservoir of menace for the early scenes. The action set-pieces were - if not exactly innovative - at least purposeful.  Finally, I admire any movie that puts Hong Kong action films, Tree of Life, Inconvenient Truth, and Akira into a blender and presses the button with some naive faith it will all work out.

I can't recommend this movie to anyone. The tag-line in the trailer was annoying but didn't give the sense that Besson, you know, actually believed any of this. Which is why the monologues from Morgan Freeman explaining the possibilities of human unlocking our supposed untapped brains were so depressing.  The lecture explains that the only creature able to unlock more than 10% of their brain currently are dolphins and look what they can do with sonar.  Well, just look at them! Imagine what YOU could DO with 30% of your brain UNLOCKED! Well, actually, you don't have to imagine because the movie would pause helpfully after Scarlet did something improbable and flash her current CPU usage percentage on the screen.




"I don't know, are we sure she's at 40? To me that seems like a hard 43%."

But ultimately this isn't a movie that you really want to question. This is what happens when a movie is strung together from a random assortment of those Ten Best listicles on or whatever. Top Ten Action Car Chases in movies? I take one of Matrix Reloaded, and one of the Bourne Identity. Top Ten Weirdest Facts about Your Body? Well, there's that whole 10% thing and something spurious about hormones in the womb of pregnant women which I haven't bothered fact-checking.

If you get the sense that this was all an excuse for ass-kicking and power fantasies, you wouldn't be far wrong. It is at least refreshing that Luc Besson (like Fifth Element) focuses our attention on an ass-kicking, power-tripping superwoman but nothing in the movie suggests the need for any profound head-scratching. Towards the end, Lucy promises humanity to download all she's discovered to a computer. In true Besson fashion, she fulfills this promise in the most crashingly obvious way possible. She creates this enormous computational cathedral out of squirming biomechanical tentacles, her brain zooming across the planet, racing across the eons and through the known universe to see the Big Bang and then downloads all of this information into a slender plastic stick with a convenient USB drive at one end.


Then one of the character's cellphone flashes the message I AM EVERYWHERE. Let me get this straight: this transcendent being is able to totally integrate herself with the universe and everything within it, gaining insights into the history of the cosmos and the meaning of life (presumably) and she doesn't even bother setting up a Wiki?


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thomas Ligotti and First Impressions

Finishing a collection from Thomas Ligotti is a strange experience. Firstly, one isn't entirely certain what you have just read. Ligotti is known as a horror writer and an influence of Nic Pizzolatto, creator of True Detective. From those two facts you might imagine that Ligotti takes a bleak look at humanity and its role within the universe. In that respect you would be correct. You might also imagine that Ligotti's stories revolve around monsters, serial killers, and other standard motifs of pulp fiction. Here, you might be surprised.

Ligotti's "Noctuary" begins with a very astute essay on the nature of 'weird fiction,' tracing its power to the observation that the victims of horror fiction tend to meet a 'tailored fate,' a coffin specifically measured and prepared for them. The succeeding stories each sketch a situation where a protagonist meets some 'weird fate.' At times this fate might be horrific, in that it inspires within the reader a sense of futility, revulsion, and terror. At other times, that fate seems merely depressing and obscure. 

Ligotti inspired a current weird fiction writer Laird Barron, whose collection I also read recently, also because I heard it was an influence on 'True Detective.' Both writers focus in on this question of fate, of predestination. But where Barron's tales typically conclude with something visceral and terminal, Ligotti stories tend to trail off. To be sure, in Noctuary, there are stories with a clear resolution, such as 'The Medusa,' or 'Conversations in a Dead Language,' but the bulk of the stories in Noctuary end on a more existential note. The protagonist delivers some essential grim fact about reality and then wanders off into the gloom.

Considering Ligotti's nihilism and anti-natalism, these stories do strike me as reflecting his pessimism without either explaining or expounding upon it. Ligotti is often described as a disciple of Lovecraft, but where HP used his sense of a vast and impersonal universe to fuel an increasingly baroque and intricate mythos, Ligotti would rather sit with that essential and bleak epiphany in Noctuary. Describing no external monsters, the focus then of Ligotti's horror lies within. We are the monsters, it whispers, we are the nightmares.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Yesterday You Said Tomorrow - My most recently published story

My story "Drop-ins" was published this week in the "Yesterday You Said Tomorrow" anthology released by Burnt Offerings Press. I'll include links to buying a copy if you are interested below but let me just say a quick word about this story.

"Drop-ins" was originally conceived as the third chapter in a much larger work on time-travel. I got into my head the idea of non-paradoxical time-travel, the question of how could you have time-travel that didn't cause some kind of logic busting paradox. With Drop-ins that idea coalesced around the notion of time displacement. Basically, we are already time-travelers. Every day we travel exactly one day into the future. What if you could put the conscious mind to sleep for a period of time, say a year, or ten, or thirty and then wake it up inside your own body. While your primary self was asleep, your life would be carried by a "stand-in" personality, basically a dimmer, slightly less-than-version of yourself. The only catch would be that once your trip into the future was done, you would not remember any of it, your mind would return to the exact moment you activated the time displacement machine. The story revolves around an intrepid band of chrononauts attempting to see how far they can press into the future while coping with the consequences of living a life in fast-forward.

The other stories are very clever and well worth a read! I hope you enjoy the anthology. If you do have some thoughts specific to my story, feel free to record them in the comments.

You can find the anthology for purchase through the following links:
CreateSpace Direct:

Amazon Print-On-Demand

Amazon Kindle/E-book Version