Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Review of "The Holy Terror" by Wayne Allen Sallee, 1992

     What I like -- what I've always liked -- about Wayne Allen Sallee's writing is that he is a quintessentially Chicago writer, in the way I have always seen Nelson Algren. He writes stories like "In the Shank of the Night", from the collection "Fiends by Torchlight", with Chicago policeman Frank St. Cyr, that, to me at least, capture the sound and feel of the city, along with being just a great and brutal story. And the peak of this arc of story-telling is "The Holy Terror", Wayne Allen Sallee's debut novel. How can I describe the impact "The Holy Terror" had on me when I first read it? How's this: Many years ago, Wayne was hit by a car and got knocked half a football field through the air before hitting the earth again. He's described it, and its aftermath, in a book called "Proactive Contrition". You want to see a little of what's it's like to get hit by a book and get knocked half a football field by it? Read "The Holy Terror". I can't speak for your aftermath, but I still think about Francis Haid and The American Dream and Wayne Allen Sallee's dark Chicago alleyways almost 20 years after I first read this book. I think that's a literary aftermath and a half.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review of "The Pickup Artist"

Warning!  I spoil plot points in this review.  So if you don't want to be spoiled, please don't read any further.

     "The Pickup Artist" by Terry Bisson is a novel filled with neat ideas.  That's number one.  The main idea of the story revolves around the elimination of the accumulated artworks of the world, in order to open up space for new artists to flourish.

     The main character -- Hank Shapiro -- is a pickup artist, whose job it is to collect the contraband art, and not sample it; except he decides one day that he wants to listen to a Hank Williams album, and so his life spins out of control in a sort of combination quest and road trip.

     I enjoyed the book, but I have to admit I enjoyed the succession of neat ideas that kept popping up as Hank traveled through future America on his quest to retrieve his lost Hank Williams album.  Multiple chapters also dealt with the history of how the system of destroying the artworks came into being; and by the end of the book, the parallel stories met.  Enough detail about this philosophical system was presented that one might be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Bisson could be sympathetic to the idea -- at least for some artworks.  But I don't want to read too much into that point.

     Most of the reviews I saw about this book referenced "Fahrenheit 451", which I can understand; but in all honesty, as I was reading, I thought the story seemed more classical than Bradbury.  It just seemed to remind me more of the Odyssey, the Aeniad, or the Argonautica more than "Fahrenheit 451".  I'm not going to even attempt any kind of in-depth analysis, because I'm 30+ years beyond graduate school, and I'm way past any hope of doing anything but a hash of that.  Just a few thoughts:
     A) Hank kind of meets the gods of his world in Las Vegas when he meets Damaris and Mr. Bill, although Mr. Bill is dead.  Damaris does give him the straight dope on the inner workings of the world though.
     B) Vegas reminded me of Calypso's island, in the sense of the time-dilation effect that seems to happen there because of how attractive the place is. 
     C) Hank talks to the dead.
     D) The whole book is a road trip.  Yeah, I suppose this could be true of "The Hobbit", or "On the Road", or "The Pilgrim's Progress" too, but it reminded me of The Odyssey.
     E) Hank has a tragic flaw -- curiosity.

     And yeah, so maybe this is all a demented idea, but it made me happy.  Oh, and I've read the Odyssey, the Aenaid, and the Argonautica maybe three or four times each in my life, so it's not like I'm an expert.  And I read "The Pickup Artist" once.

     So, at any rate, I'm perfectly okay with being batshit crazy and way out in left field with this classical notion about the book.  I was just explaining how I organized it in my head as I read it, for what it's worth.  I've been wrong before, and I'll be wrong again.  Count on it.

     So if anyone else has read "The Pickup Artist", I'd be glad to hear from you, especially if you know more than I do, and can provide some interesting thoughts on either the Bradbury angle, my goofy classical angle, or your own angle.

     And anyway, I still liked the book quite a lot.  It still proliferated with those aforementioned neat ideas.  Did I mention the talking dog?  How about the mountain of garbage that people mined for junk?  And Mr. Bisson writes very clean, smooth prose with some really nice sentences scattered along the way.  Check these out:

     "Twenty years ago a rocket filled with robots was sent up to smooth an area on the moon for a print ad.  By the time it was finished the company had failed and the robots had (supposedly) died.  Now all that is left is the streak, like a bright Band-Aid across the face of the stony little planet."

     "Then we laid Bob as straight as possible in the grave.
     "It was a little short, but he was a little bent."

     "The sun was so bright, the whole sky seemed to give off light, like unpainted metal."

     I recommend it.


Friday, July 27, 2012


     Those of you who know the kinds of stories I write know that I like my horror and dark fantasy mixed with comedy and weirdness.  In this, I will claim Darren Callahan as a kindred spirit.  (Whether he wishes to be so claimed by me is really up to him.)

     That being said, I'd like to recommend Darren's short film Under the Table, which combines horror with comedy and the weird.  In other words, my kind of entertainment.  It's available on a short DVD, only a little over 11 minutes, and I can't say too much about it without giving away the enjoyment of seeing it for the first time.

     So what can I say?

     Think of it as a story about a trendy restaurant with unusually generous portions.

     Or maybe as a variation of Gallagher's act in a trendy restaurant, only with something weirder and funnier than watermelons and a sledgehammer.

     Or maybe it's just a hyper-awkward situation played out in a trendy restaurant, but weirdened up for our gleeful pleasure. 

     In fact, it reminded me of a Night Gallery episode at its most fun.  I half-expected Victor Buono to crash through the proceedings. 

     The actors -- Danielle Doetsch, Sasha Grishkov-Dance, Cole Simon, Paul E. Martinez, and Brian Amidei -- were all good, certainly better than many actors I've seen in Hollywood blockbusters.  (You know, the ones with the emotional range of flame-retardant foam.)

     And, well, that's about it.  Darren wrote and directed a very entertaining film.  Go and see it if you can.  Please and thank you.

     Dinner is served at

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Words Raised By Wolves

The Time I Didn’t Meet Christopher Walken
By Martin Mundt

I’d just gone into the 7-11, the one right down the street from where I live, on the corner maybe half-a-block away. I go there pretty regularly, so I had no reason to expect that this trip would be any different from any other trip, but on that particular day – and I don’t even remember any more exactly what I’d gone there for – but on that particular day, in that particular place, I found the metaphysical intersection of All days and All places.
I found Truth.
And by the end of the story, you’ll see what I mean.
So, anyway, I walked in, and I don’t think I’d even stepped off the floor mat onto the tile before these two guys charged through the door behind me. The first one practically pulled my shoes off by stepping on the heels, he was so close and in such a rush. I don’t know how I could’ve missed seeing them outside, but I did somehow. I often think now how my life would have been changed had I seen them, had I not gone into the 7-11. But I didn’t, and I did, and I don’t know if any change would have been for the better, or the worse.
So, anyway, the first guy through the door wore these big, baggy jeans just long enough to cover his knees, and so wide they made his calves look like chicken bones. He wore a huge t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of some video game or rip-rap music band; I think there was an eye, and a woman, and definitely a knife. Maybe a motorcycle. Or a Stairmaster with tires. A word floated in and around the images, but the letters were tangled and intertwined with each other like the branches of bare trees, so I couldn’t read it. I don’t know what the young people listen to or watch these days, so I can’t identify it any more exactly than that.
The guy was in his mid-twenties, and he had shaved his head, leaving his scalp glossy, almost waxed. And he wasn’t the kind of guy who should’ve shaved his head, either, at least not in my opinion, since he had a profusion of angles in his skull, like he’d spent his years as an infant standing on his head on a waffle iron. He wore a boomerang-shaped kukri knife stuffed into his belt, a heavy, foot-long blade at least, a style of weapon native to the Indian subcontinent. His personality seemed neatly encompassed by the blade – crooked, dangerous, and as intelligent as brightly-honed steel; it stuck out of his belt as if he himself came equipped with a handle, the better to be easily gripped and wielded by others.
The second guy through also wore the short, baggy jeans – I guess it must be the style these days – but instead of a t-shirt, he wore a black wife-beater, the better to display the many tattoos covering his shoulders and arms. Most of the tattoos, like Wafflehead’s logo, flowed into unrecognizable shapes as far as I could tell, but one I remember with perfect clarity. He had a photo-realistic reproduction of his driver’s license tattooed across his sternum, in a Gothic script that looked as if each letter had been cut out of a Gutenberg Bible and then pasted together like a ransom note. He had a goatee and sideburns below his chin in both the license photo and in real life. According to the license, his name was Dexter Robey.
“This is a robbery!” he yelled.
Did I mention they carried guns? Automatic pistols so big they looked more like clubs than firearms. Well, the guy behind the counter and I had already figured out the robbery part, from the drawn guns, before Dexter had even said a word. Oh, and I think you will have noticed from my description so far that neither of them wore a mask, or any sort of disguise. I began to sense a grave and probably dangerous lack of planning in this robbery, which might lead to their downfall.
Unless, of course, they planned on leaving no witnesses.
At that moment, I began to regret my trip to the 7-11.
“This is a robbery!” Dexter yelled. Again. You should understand, I only repeat this because he repeated it. I don’t know why he repeated it. Perhaps he wanted to make sure we didn’t think he and Wafflehead were there to sell their pistols to us. And now, of course, I will never know.
So, anyway, Wafflehead shoved his gun in my face, holding it tipped over on its side like in the movies, and said, “Don’t move.”
I hadn’t moved up to that point, and I saw no reason to start, so I did what he said.
He smiled; I remember one gold and many yellow teeth. And then we all stood there for a few seconds, not moving. They didn’t pursue their advantage. I don’t know why. Maybe they had expected resistance, or heroics, or guard dogs, or a 16-ton weight falling on their heads when they entered. I can’t say for certain, but once again, I detected the whiff of poor planning. Or maybe they were just the kind of people who didn’t know how to handle success. In which case, I could sympathize with them.
Anyway, that’s when Christopher Walken walked in.
You know Christopher Walken: the star of Pennies from Heaven, Prophecy, and Annie Hall. Raise your hands if you know him. Don’t be self-conscious. Good. Well, I want you to picture him in your minds; I want you to summon up all your memories of him right now, everything, the way he looks, the way he smiles, the cadence of his speech, his particular personal scent if you are familiar with it. I want you to feel the beat of his heart under the skin of his wrist, and then I want you to put all of that … that life right into your cerebral cortex, right between your eyes, front and center and in the now; I want you to do all that while I’m telling you this story; I want you to filter the Christopher Walken of my story through the living, breathing, glowing aura of pure personality that you’ve just conjured up in your minds and let the colors and textures of your own personal Christopher Walkens suffuse your experience of my story. Can you do that? Good. Then back to the story.
He walked in, and he stepped between Dexter and Wafflehead, so close that he brushed the matte-black muzzle of Dexter’s pistol as he passed, and which he seemed not to notice at all. He wore a gray suit and a white, French-cuffed shirt unbuttoned at the neck. A neon blue tie dangled from his jacket pocket, as bright as an arc of electricity sparking across the gray fabric.
And his hair! How do I do justice to his hair? His hair perched on his head like a small, prize-winning dog waiting for a treat, all the time radiating the thrill of anticipation, attuned to the vibrations of the universe, perfect in its tonsorial imperfections. Envy was not even possible when confronted with such lush and luxuriant and unique hair, only admiration. I thought Wafflehead might start crying for what could have been.
Anyway, he passed between Dexter and Wafflehead and went straight to the counter, passing close by me, and I can tell you that I am now privileged to know, from first-hand experience, Christopher Walken’s personal scent. He smelled of rainbows, and of love, and of the sea. I can describe it no better. I felt lightheaded upon inhaling his subtle but intoxicating scent, but I forced myself to remain focused. He stopped at the counter, but didn’t speak. Instead, he glanced at all the impulse buys spread around the register.
You will have noticed by now that the logic of our situation, by which I mean the robbery – you remember the robbery, don’t you? – had begun to unravel. Dexter and Wafflehead had begun with a frayed and tattered rag, to be sure, but now it began to fall to pieces right in their very hands.
Because we couldn’t take our eyes off Christopher Walken. The robbery now became a secondary or tertiary consideration at best, its importance quickly fading to complete insignificance. Decisions and actions that had seemed vital, even life-defining, only moments before, now seemed only the shadows of life, lines written by others, parts played and then left scattered upon a stage. Christopher Walken was the actor, and yet we were the ones stumbling over our lines and missing our marks. He seized life, the now, the moment. We had stared what we thought were the ultimate questions of life and death in the face, until he ripped our attention away from petty bullets and blood and death – to himself.
“How much … is gum?” he said to the clerk.
The question sounded like a test, filled with hidden meanings and secret possibilities. The clerk hesitated, suspicious, not wanting to give an incorrect answer, and then whispered, “Depends on which gum.”
Christopher Walken thought about that. We could all see him working the information around and around inside his head. He is an actor; he displayed his internal life on his face, like tattoos from one to another, for all of us to see. None of us could take our eyes off of him as he mulled over the clerk’s answer. His lips moved, and we trembled on the verge of revelation. An eyebrow arched, and we held our breath. The eyebrow relaxed, and we sighed in relief. A cheek ticked, and we cringed in sudden fear. One eye squinted, and we spun dizzily, cast adrift from lifelong certainties. He ran his right hand over his hair and down the back of his neck, replacing one type of perfect tonsorial imperfection with another. And then he seized a package of gum with one hand, so fast it was as if he had had the package in his hand from the moment he had entered. I gasped. Dexter flinched. Wafflehead merely blinked, his mouth hanging open.
“How about … this one?” he said, holding the gum up for the clerk to see.
“Sixty-nine cents,” said the clerk. He said it half as a question, almost as if he thought that a thing he knew to be a fact could somehow be wrong. And then a look of panic exploded in his eyes as he realized that he was wrong. “And tax,” he hurried to add.
Christopher Walken put the gum back. “Thank you,” he said, and he turned around.
We watched. No TV or movie screen diluted the power of his presence. Rainbows and love and the sea walked past me a second time. He turned into the snacks aisle, and suddenly, I too became interested in snacks. And so did Dexter. I saw it in his eyes, in the tensing of his muscles, as if he could hardly keep himself from following. Wafflehead merely salivated down his chin.
He mesmerized us. All I can say is that he is a celebrity for damn good reason.
He stopped, picked up a 99 cent bag of potato chips, held it up to his ear, and shook it. His expression soured; he didn’t like what he heard, and our mood soured as well. We didn’t like what he didn’t like, regardless of why – we didn’t know why, and we didn’t care. He replaced the bag on the shelf and picked up the next, shook it, and listened to the chips rattle inside as if he were listening to the tumblers of the combination lock to the Gates of Heaven. But the sounds of this bag too failed to woo his interest, failed to yield up to him whatever a bag of chips was supposed to yield up to him. He put it back. I mentally cursed the chip manufacturer for his clearly defective product. We began to get nervous. What would happen if he didn’t find what he was looking for? Would our lives never be the same again? He shook a third, then a fourth, then a fifth bag. He shook every single bag of potato chips on that shelf, regardless of brand or flavor, but only the 99 cent bags, and not the corn chips, or the Cheetos, or the Doritos.
Does all of this strike you as odd? I can understand that. But you weren’t there, under his spell. And think about this: we watched him shake every single bag of 99 cent potato chips on the shelf. We held our collective breath while we waited for each successive decision he made about the mysterious, elusive sounds of shaken potato chips. As if those decisions might somehow fill a yawning void in us, in our own souls, when and if he found what he was looking for. My god, how I yearned to know exactly what he was listening for! My soul groaned, empty with a hunger that I felt only the right potato chips could fill. Dexter and Wafflehead stopped pointing their pistols, their arms hanging limp at their sides. Mystification glazed their eyes.
What the hell was he doing?
He is a celebrity. I cannot stress that enough. What he did mattered, no matter what it was. His actions were important because he was a celebrity. We all felt it. He compelled our fascination. He placed meaning inside every one of those bags by his actions and reactions. Hope blossomed inside each of our hearts as he picked up each bag, and disappointment crushed our hearts when he rejected it. Our lives disappeared into his life. Our concerns faded. He reached inside our souls and replaced our aspirations with his.
And then he finished with the bags, and came back to us empty-handed, as if he had walked out onto the shimmering waves of a tumultuous lake, and now returned to us from where we had been unable to follow. He looked at each of us in turn, as if for the first time.
“What on earth … was I looking for?” he said, looking into each of our eyes, one after another.
“Potato chips?” tried Dexter.
“Yeah, yeah, potato chips,” said Wafflehead, his chin glossy with spittle, and then he squinted and sucked and shook his head. “No, no, not potato chips, not potato chips. Something else, yeah, something else inside the potato chips, like, like, a prize or something, yeah, that’s it, a prize, right?”
And then Christopher Walken looked into my eyes.
“I … don’t know,” I said.
He grinned. “That’s good,” he said, and I felt stupidly pleased that I had managed to be clever in front of Christopher Walken. “Because,” he said, “I don’t know what I was looking for either.” He winked at me, still grinning. “But I’ll know it when I find it.”
And then he looked past us, at the register.
The clerk had disappeared. The door behind the counter, into the back room, was ajar. Christopher Walken picked up the same pack of gum as before, then looked right and left behind the counter, holding the gum, waiting for the non-existent clerk to ring him up. After a moment, he turned to us again.
“How much … is tax, do you think?” he said.
“No!” Wafflehead screamed, shaking his head. I imagined cobwebs breaking apart and drifting across the vast, empty wastes of his brain. “No! It’s a prize!”
His existential howl seemed to shake Dexter out of his reverie. His eyes focused for the first time since Christopher Walken had entered.
“This is a robbery!” he yelled, raising his pistol.
“A priiiize!” wailed Wafflehead like a maimed howler monkey. “Like Crackerjack!”
His mind had tasted, and then spit out the concept of knowing what he didn’t know being the beginning of wisdom. He did not want abstractions; he could comprehend only little plastic toy whistles.
And guns.
He jerked his pistol up, pointing it at Christopher Walken.
Danger and dread flooded back into my brain; my medulla swelled as it prepared to take over my actions. But I didn’t care for my own self-preservation. The first thought that flashed across my mind, even as adrenaline was dumped into my bloodstream like a toxic mixture of hydrofluoric acid and amyl nitrate, was to throw my body between the gun and Christopher Walken. I almost welcomed the threat, and the honor of sacrificing myself for a celebrity.
But Christopher Walken proved faster than any of us.
He snatched the kukri knife out of Wafflehead’s belt, so fast and so unexpected that I don’t think any of us even realized exactly what he had done until the blade began to cut; and then two hands, each holding a pistol, thumped to the floor, and two tattooed stumps pumped out sprays of blood.
But he didn’t stop there; the knife kept flashing through the air, so fast it was as if the blade flew of its own accord, like a killer hummingbird, slashing and hacking through flesh and bone as easily as if Dexter and Wafflehead had been made of nothing more substantial than origami, so sharp and fast that blood didn’t even stick to its steel. He did things to them with that knife that I didn’t think were humanly possible. Let me be clear about what I mean here: I never for a moment imagined that a human being who had feelings which could even tangentially be called ‘human’, who had ever had even a stray feeling, however faint, however fleeting, which could be called in any way ‘compassionate’, could possibly do the things he did to another human being. In fact, I maintain that he went about his business like a super-intelligent, robot, insect god.
And then I blinked, and it was done. Dexter and Wafflehead lay in unintelligible, anti-jigsaw pieces on the floor. Christopher Walken gripped their decapitated heads, one in each hand, Dexter hanging by a fistful of hair, and Wafflehead upended as if he were a bowling ball, the kukri buried up to its hilt in his neck.
My adrenaline thudded to a stop.
“I don’t like guns,” he said. “But knives … “ He shrugged. “Knives are okay. Now go on, get out … of here. I’ll take care of … all … this.” And then he winked at me again and grinned. His eyes twinkled, as did the drops of bright-red blood splattered across his grin.
What could I do? I started to leave, but before I reached the door, he spoke to me one last time.
“Oh,” he said. “One more thing.”
I didn’t turn around.
“You don’t … know me,” he said. “I … wasn’t here.”
I couldn’t speak. I wondered why the kukri hadn’t finished me too. I was still a witness.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
I nodded and walked out the door.
I read every word in every newspaper for days. I watched every news show on TV that I could. I listened to the radio. I searched the internet, but – nothing.
I never found any mention of Dexter, or Wafflehead, or any problem of any kind at any 7-11, including the one down the street from where I live. Or about Christopher Walken and a kukri knife. Go and look for yourself. You’ll see. There’s nothing. Not a mention of the incident exists anywhere.
But I know that somewhere, out there in the city, somewhere in the quiet basement of an old, decrepit factory; or in an empty lot on a lonely street of condemned houses; or at the bottom of a sluggish sewage canal; or in the corner of an old, abandoned rail-yard, under a pile of forgotten railroad ties, lie two unmarked graves.
Graves filled by Christopher Walken.
Or maybe more than two, somewhere, for all I know. Who can say? Not me. All I can say is that he taught me a powerful truth – that celebrity possesses an energy, a vitality, a qi, if you will, that can be terrifying in its naked power to stupefy, or uplift, or kill. I was lucky. I was uplifted. But be careful if you are ever confronted with a celebrity outside of the public spotlight; touch that energy if you must, but touch it with reverence and awe and humility, or else … well, let me just leave it at ‘or else’.
Because celebrities are not like you and me.
They are much better, and much, much worse.
Oh, and by the way, Christopher Walken never cut two men to pieces with a kukri knife in the 7-11 down the street from where I live, saving my life in the process, because I don’t know him, and he wasn’t there. Treat this entire story as nothing but a metaphor, or a parable, or even a treatment for a film. As anything but reality. Because, in fact, I know nothing at all about Christopher Walken.
I’ve never even heard of him.
And that is the beginning of wisdom.

- The End -

Friday, May 13, 2011

Words Raised By Wolves

Not A Regular Movie Review
“Dylan Dog: Dead of Night”

by Martin Mundt

Director: Kevin Munroe
Writers: Thomas Dean Donnelly &
Joshua Oppenheimer
and Tiziano Sclavi (comic book series)
107 minutes
Brandon Routh: Dylan Dog
Sam Huntington: Marcus
Peter Stormare: Gabriel
Taye Diggs: Vargas
Anita Briem: Elizabeth
Kurt Angle: Wolfgang

I hadn’t really planned on writing a review, but when I started thinking about this movie, I guess my thoughts turned into one, so here it is, for everybody who has been desperately waiting to hear what I thought about “Dylan Dog: Dead of Night”.

The movie lies somewhere between “Hellboy” and the actual, made-for-cable poop that the Syfy Channel pumps out as original programming, but way closer to “Hellboy”. And I really enjoyed “Hellboy”. And I’m referring to the first “Hellboy”, not the second one.

So, let’s start with a spectrum.
“Hellboy I” (a really good movie)
“Dylan Dog: Dead of Night” (not such a bad movie)
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (not such a good movie)
Syfy Channel Original Movies (almost actual physical poop movies)

Brandon Routh played Dylan Dog in a low-key and deadpan manner, with kind of a noirish sensibility, I thought. Or maybe he can’t act. I couldn’t tell, but I’m going to go with a noirish sensibility, since I’ve never seen him in anything else, and he looked like a nice enough guy, and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. I figure he picked a low-energy acting choice, rather than an affect-less, non-acting inability. (And aren’t I a real open-minded mensch?) Yay, Brandon Routh! I praise you for your successful acting choices!

Actually, he eerily reminded me of Chris Noth facially, except he doesn’t have that same just-beneath-the-surface psycho-menace that Chris Noth always projects so effortlessly for me. In other words, Chris Noth scares me; Brandon Routh doesn’t. I kept thinking through the whole movie that he looked like Chris Noth’s little brother, and so I kind of felt a little bad for him, like maybe he had to go through life making excuses for Chris’ bad behavior all the time to everybody, but, you know what? Enough about Brandon Routh already. Low-key. Deadpan. Noirish. He was funny. He was heroic. He was anti-heroic. I really had no problem with him. If I ever get to make a movie, I’d put him in it. Of course, if he ever reads this review, he probably wouldn’t want to be in one of my movies, but that’s a problem I guess I’ll deal with later.

Peter Stormare played Gabriel the werewolf. I like him; he scares me. But, as usual, he’s not in the movie enough. He needs to be used more up front in movies; and yes, I realize he’s not a lead actor. I don’t care. I’m just sayin’, is all. (Go see my story “How I Saved A Famous Movie Star’s Life …”, below, for a fuller idea of how I feel about character actors.) At any rate, Peter Stormare was good, if under-utilized. He does stuff with his face and voice that other parts of the movie have to do with CGI, except he does it better, and without CGI.

Anita Briem played Elizabeth, who was playing both ends against the middle. I can’t credit myself with any special psychic movie-powers; it just seemed pretty obvious to me that her character wasn’t what she said she was. Why everybody else in the movie didn’t realize this is beyond me. If I could see it, then I figure a lemur with both eyes carved out by a spoon should’ve been able to see it. Fair warning: I was surprised by the reveals at the ends of both “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”. So if I saw her con-game for what it was, then what does that tell you about Elizabeth the Character’s powers of conmanship?

But, to be fair, Elizabeth the Character seemed to be concerned mostly with the Plot, which had something to do with the End of the World, or Ultimate Power, or Surpassing Evil, or Some Such Thing. I find myself unable to remember which specific Surpassing Ultimate anymore, although there was this Cross—Thingy—Artifact—Stabby—Thingy involved. And Elizabeth the Character got killed by Kurt Angle’s character Wolfgang, who was a werewolf. (I think; I don’t remember exactly anymore, but that’s what I’m going with. If I’m wrong, you’ll be surprised when you see the movie. Surprise!) Oh, and the Plot gets resolved without the Surpassing Ultimate mucking everything up. So there. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

But the Plot wasn’t really the point of the movie, I don’t think. The characters were. And unfortunately, I think, for me at least, Anita Briem’s character got too entangled with the Plot and not entangled enough with the other characters for her to be particularly interesting, and now, a week after I saw the movie, I can’t remember much about Elizabeth the Character. And I feel bad about that.

(Just as a commercial aside for myself – the piss-ant, little-shit writer who can’t keep his nose out of other’s people’s business, where it doesn’t belong – I could have written a better part for Elizabeth the Character, but probably also anything I wrote would’ve cost too much money. You see, I’m thinking she’s really twins, and one of her is good, and the other is evil, but they’re both subject to unpredictable, random blackouts, and they’re also psychically connected to each other, and Dylan never knows if he’s with the evil one – who has evil plans – or if he’s with the good one – who has good plans – and … no, wait, wait … even better, they’re triplets, but even they don’t know they’re triplets, and that way Anita Briem gets to play three parts in one movie; and so it’s a win-win-win-win situation.)

Taye Diggs played the most evil of the evil vampires. What can I say about him? He does a good evil vampire. I don’t think they gave him a particularly evil evil vampire to work with, but, given the sheer, leering, evil tonnage of evil vampires galumphing around the googleplexes these days, how many really interesting ones are there going to be? He looked good. He got screwed in the end, and then he got killed. Big surprise.

Actually, he could’ve been the biggest evil-douche vampire in the entire movie-world, and people would probably still have liked him, because, y’know, he’s really good-looking. In fact, I’d bet he could probably have been in charge of the vampires even if he weren’t a vampire himself, because, really, let’s face it, he’s just that good-looking. If you’re going to send somebody to do something really shitty for you, hey, why not send Taye Diggs?

But anyway, like I said, despite his really huge good looks, he gets killed in the end, because he’s the head evil-douche vampire, and he kind of has to.

And Sam Huntington played Marcus, Dylan’s zombie-sidekick, who was the best zombie-sidekick I’ve ever seen. Okay, that sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, when he really was a really good zombie-sidekick. I particularly liked him in the body-shop scene.

The whole movie took place in New Orleans, although for the most part it looked like Anyplace, USA, to me. According to what I’ve read about the comic books, the story is supposed to be set in London. If a setting is supposed to be like another character in a story, then I’d say that using this New Orleans instead of London is kind of like exchanging Kate Bush for Courtney Love on a heroin binge. Mostly warehouses and apartments, and part of a cemetery, that honestly, if I hadn’t known was supposed to be in New Orleans, wouldn’t have jumped out at me and screamed “New Orleans!”. Enough said.

I originally thought that the movie was a bit top-heavy with flashbacks, but that was before I saw “Thor”. Now, post-“Thor”, not so much. (More on “Thor” in a later post.) At any rate, the flashbacks kind of bothered me at the time, but not any more. What can I say? I’ve matured.

Now for my pet-peeve: fight scenes. Most of you can probably skip this section. It’s the equivalent of an old man screaming, “Get off my lawn!” Except I’m yelling, “Do the fight scenes better!”

Like most CGI fight scenes, the POV seems to shift constantly, and the whole fight focuses on movement, not coherence. At least to me. Where exactly do we see any CGI fight scene from? The floor? The ceiling? The tip of someone’s fist? All of the above in sequential one-sixteenth second bursts? Who the fuck knows? Maybe somebody clamped the camera to an oblate spheroid that rotates randomly around the fight as the whole circus floats through space on a non-continuous helix. Oh, and they’re poorly lit. I usually give up on fight scenes in movies these days and spend the time re-creating Mamie Van Doren’s scenes in “The Navy vs. the Night Monsters” in my head instead. Nobody is going to win until the end of the movie anyway, and the odds are not really then either, if there is even a whiff of a chance of a franchise to be sniffed. I went home and watched Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone swordfight in “The Mark of Zorro”. Go, watch it, and tell me if it doesn’t look like Basil Rathbone actually gets run through. Then I watched John Wayne and Victor McLaglen fistfight in “The Quiet Man”. That made me feel better.


Did I actually enjoy this movie?

Yes, I did. It was funny. It was entertaining. You could spend $7 on something worse, no problem, like a meal at McDonalds, or half a Justin Bieber CD, or anything by Stephenie Meyer.

Expectations played a role, because I’d never read the comics, so, frankly, I didn’t have any expectations. But if they make a sequel, I’d go see it. And if they let me write the sequel, even better – that I’d go see three or four times.

- The End -

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Totally Bogus Ghost Stories

The Theory of the Ghostly Gumballs
by Martin Mundt

Some ghost-hunters have put forth a theory, which proposes that sometimes the afterlife, for some unknown reason, simply accumulates too many ghosts (or technically, according to the theory, ‘proto-ghosts’), and accumulates them too quickly in order to be able to accommodate them all in the afterlife all at the same time.
This theory, it will be noted by the astute reader, runs counter to any other theory of the afterlife which incorporates the concept of ‘infinity’. But only a very few ghost-hunters espouse this theory, notably the theory’s originator himself: Marcus Schrann-Kooms, dean of the Swiss ghost-hunting community, and his followers.
He calls his theory the Ghostly Confection Theory. More on the name later.
He theorizes that when the afterlife accumulates too many of his ‘proto-ghosts’, defined by Mr. Schrann-Kooms as ghosts who have not yet fully become ghosts because of their inability to properly ‘ghostify’, then a sort of ‘spillway’ opens up which deposits the not-quite ‘ghostified’ ‘proto-ghosts’ back onto Earth for a time to await a more propitious return to the afterlife for complete ‘ghostification.’.
(For technical definitions of the terms ‘ghostification’, ‘ghostify’, ‘proto-ghost’, and ‘spillway’, according to Mr. Schrann-Kooms’ theory, this author refers the interested reader to the complete writings of Mr. Schrann-Kooms himself, best read in the original Swiss. The warned reader, however, will understand that these terms are not defined to every ghost-hunter’s satisfaction even in the totality of Mr. Schrann-Kooms’ extensive writings, which number between 250 and 280 books, at last count, depending on which aliases and pseudonyms are accepted as canon.)
The theoretical method by which the ‘non-ghostified’ souls are temporarily re-located to Earth is called by Mr. Schrann-Kooms the ‘Ghost Spillway’, by way of analogy to water-overflow devices used at hydroelectric dams. Mr. Schrann-Kooms has, by way of scientific verification, proposed a test for his theory: specifically, that an immediate worldwide watch be mounted for any ‘proto-ghost’ cascades that he theorizes might pour into the world at random times and places. He suggests these cascades will appear as ectoplasmic waterfalls, larger or smaller, Niagaras or trickles, depending on the prevailing conditions in the afterlife.
He believes they will be blue, or, less likely, purple.
Mr. Schrann-Kooms claims to have experienced just such a supernatural cataract in the dark heart of the Black Forest one moonless, cloudless night in the summer of 1965. He also disavows any ability to predict times or locations for future events. One must, he writes, simply trust to luck.
This author has long held to an agnostic position on both the Ghostly Confection Theory, as well as the predictive abilities of luck. In other words, this author never expected to verify the existence of Mr. Schrann-Kooms’ Spillways; until just such an event occurred in the air over the old, abandoned Brach’s Candy Factory above this author’s very head on the moonless, cloudless night of May 22, 2006.
A pale, purplish-bluish flash in the sky preceded the event, a flash that seemed, for just a moment, to pull the smell out of everything within a hundred yard radius. This statement may perhaps seem unbelievable, perhaps even flat-out unverifiable, yet this author can state categorically that it is without a doubt, somehow, true. And even more unbelievable, unverifiable, categorical, and true is the fact that everything within a hundred yards also, for just a moment, also lost its taste.
But this all happened quickly, almost subliminally, and then the souls, the ‘proto-ghosts’, came rolling, tumbling, rushing, crashing out of the sky, hundreds, thousands of them, all mixed together with one another, one soul wound around another ‘proto-ghost’, the both of them interwoven with two other souls, all of these ‘proto-ghosts’ insinuated into the very fabric of five others, until all tens of thousands of them were joined in a single mass that flowed as one like a massive supernatural taffy pull.
This author stood at the bottom of that viscous flow as it struck, and felt all the emotions of the recently deceased passing through his own soul: confusion in profusion until the emotion set up a horrible contrast of vibrations that threatened to tear this author’s own soul to pieces; stupid confusion and terrified confusion and sinful confusion and angry confusion and ignorant confusion and simple, straightforward confused confusion; and my soul shivered with revenge as well, and joy, but specifically joy in gleeful anticipation at seeing revenge finally meted out upon non-believers in the afterlife, and then some more confusion, and some more anger, etc, etc, etc. In other words, the typical emotions to be expected from the recently unhappily deceased, and therefore from ‘proto-ghosts’, and therefore from ghosts, as traditionally understood.
All those emotions jumbled themselves together in an unpleasant hash in what this author recognized as a classic Spillover Event as described by Mr. Schrann-Kooms, as overwhelming in its raw power as its hydroelectric namesake. The rushing, crushing cataract of furious, astonished, uncomprehending ‘proto-ghosts’ hammered this author to his knees on the sidewalk; no resistance was possible.
And then, as suddenly as they had appeared from the sky, they disappeared through the concrete fabric of the sidewalk and were gone.
This author wobbled to his feet on weakened legs. The world seemed exactly as it had seemed before; except for an odd, uncanny feeling of stickiness in the air, like a cloud of atomized gumballs that coated my nostrils and mouth and throat for days afterwards with a cloying layer of all-encompassing sweetness.
This author emailed Mr. Schrann-Kooms, now nearing 90 years of age, after this Event, both for verification purposes and clarification of certain details. Here is the unedited text of the email Mr. Schrann-Kooms sent in return. This author thinks that it speaks for itself.


Dear Author,
So, you understand now the ghostification process is true, yes? AND THEY ALL SAID THAT I WAS MAD! BUT I AM NOT MAD! You have experienced the proto-ghosts and the Spillover Event and you have even tasted the newest portion of my Theory – the nature of the afterlife. You have tasted the soul just starting to become sweet in the afterlife, yes. It is the reason so many ghosts here in this world are so unpleasant, you understand. Because they are left behind and they do not sweeten completely in the afterlife. They do not ghostify. The afterlife is like one gigantic candy factory producing marzipan, caramel, chocolate, cherries, sugar, and all the good things the children in us love. Is that not a wonderful afterlife? And we all are made into candy there. AND THEY ALL SAY I AM MAD! I ASK YOU, IS A CANDY AFTERLIFE MAD? You, Author, smelled gumballs during your experience. Even tasted them. DO NOT DENY IT! What a fortunate man you are! This means without a doubt you will fully ghostify and become a gumball in the afterlife, though of course I cannot say what flavor! I am not omniscient. Some knowledge is hidden from men! But what a vision you have been given! I myself welcome DEATH, for I know that I will become CHOCOLATE -- deep, rich, creamy, milk CHOCOLATE!
Sincerely, Marcus Schrann-Kooms


Is Marcus Schrann-Kooms mad?
Is a candy afterlife mad?
On the face of it, yes, of course, a candy afterlife is nothing but the barking mad delusion of a strait-jacketed madman.
And perhaps the ‘Spillway Event’ this author experienced was nothing more than a simple hallucination or a waking dream brought on by too much work or too much obsessive focus on the theories of Marcus Schrann-Kooms. After all, this author had recently finished reading all 280 of his works in twenty-eight days in the original Swiss, and Swiss is a notoriously obscure and intractable language.
But …
Yes, but … this author reminds himself that the taste of ghostly gumballs still lingers in the memory.
And this author also reminds himself that he has heard madder beliefs than a candy afterlife.

- The End -

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Totally Bogus Ghost Stories


The Vilest Pack of Degenerate Scum in the Afterlife
by Martin Mundt

This author heard the unmistakable sounds of typing from the front room of the cheap apartment.
The scene: 2 a.m. Damen Avenue on the North Side of the city of Chicago. This author had entered a brand-new, luxury condominium in search of an elusive ghost. The condominium was unoccupied, spacious and with wood flooring; the door had to be jimmied open.
Ghost-hunting often demands bold action and bolder skills.
Unfortunately, a search of the condo had turned up no sign of the expected ghost, and then the sounds of typing began, and the scene changed. The luxury condo faded, and a cheap, two-room apartment took its place. The typing emerged from the front room, in addition to another sound. This author heard a mumbling, a low rumbling of voices, a rustling and whispering that sounded something like gossip, but more like the noise of a crowd heard at a distance, but most like the rising anger of two opposing mobs meeting, but always in that gray area not quite beyond the edge of hearing, but still beyond the boundary of understanding.
In other words, this author heard not the sigh of a single, elusive, expected ghost to record and play backwards on a computer to see if it might be saying “Get out!” to unwary condominium occupants, but a whole mother-lode of ghosts, apparently having a heated discussion.
This author entered the front room of the ghost apartment, lowlight video-camera and voltmeter switched on.
The scene: still 2 a.m., but in some other realm where 2 a.m. never changes. Still Damen Avenue on the North Side of the city, but removed in time and space to some earlier time and space, some amalgam of the turn-of-the-century, hard-boiled Roaring Twenties, and counter-culture, clout-ridden 70s ghost-realm.
In other words, a room that contained a ghost Chicago inhabited by ten ghost writers, all huddled around a table, their pale white backs facing this author. One of their number sat in a hard-backed wooden chair at a typewriter.
They argued in their unintelligible voices, as if air escaping from tires were arguing with air escaping from balloons.
One pointed at whatever it was they were writing on the typewriter, then another stabbed a ghostly finger at it as well. They shouted. Accusations and recriminations flowed, all in the hissing, ghostly, unintelligible whispers like dry sand blowing across the Indiana Dunes. A third shook his pale, thin fist, trailing streamers of ghostly blue ectoplasm. Spielberg had done the effect better, more realistically; this looked like something out of a low-budget movie done in 1981, and yet this author had to remind himself that it was real and not a movie. A fourth waved translucent hands above his head, while the cigarette between his equally translucent fingers cast its ashes over their heads. More blue-screen ectoplasm trailed from their fingers and cigarettes.
They pushed and shoved one another, staggering under the blows as their ghost fists landed. Their blows and bodies bled into one another. They screamed, but the screams still rose no higher than secret, almost silent whispers.
One here, then one there would bellow more loudly, more forcefully than the rest, and the writer at the typewriter would type some new line, some phrase, some word, but that would only spur the others to scratch out the new addition with a pencil, and even sometimes two or three would race each other to eradicate the line first in their extreme distaste for what had been written, either in style or substance, or perhaps both.
This author recognized at once, of course, the writer’s basic impulse in their actions; recognized their writers’ egos, and even recognized the hidden editorial drive inherent in each writer, at least when it comes to editing all writing other than their own.
Each one knew he knew best.
Each one attempted to impose his own will on the piece.
And so, each reached in, with a stubby pencil, at the same moment that all the others reached in with their stubby pencils, their arms all intertwining with each other, and formed one huge, thick, pale, ectoplasmic mass, like a ten-car pile-up on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
This author knew the type from long, personal experience: short-tempered, argumentative, violent. They drank ghostly whiskey in vast quantities, most of them direct from the ghostly bottles. They smoked ghostly cigarettes in profusion, so that a supernatural haze of smoke overhung their heads. Several dangled hypodermic needles of ghostly morphine from their veins. And all of them, of course, tried to denigrate each other’s opinions.
A viler pack of degenerate scum this author had rarely seen outside of a literary convention.
From left to right, it was a motley collection of scribblers with connections to Chicago: Charles Beaumont and Mike Royko, Robert Bloch and Carl Sandburg and Frank Norris and James T. Farrell, John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser and Ernest Hemingway, and at the typewriter, Nelson Algren.
And then they noticed this author.
At which point, predictably, their disagreements ceased, and they wanted only one thing; the one thing, of course, that all writers want – to be read.
This author stepped forward and walked through the ghosts, a sensation akin to passing through a gauntlet of spit-takes. They had begun to fade, by which this author guessed that they had completed their manuscript. For when a writer has finished writing, of what further use is even his very existence?
The ghostly typewriter was visible on the ghostly table through their fading bodies, so transparent, so unnecessary, had they become.
The single piece of onion-skin typing paper on which they had been laboring had almost been wound completely out of the roller.
Every paragraph, line, sentence and phrase had been lined through on the page with thick, black, pencil slashes except for two words, a distillation of insight from some of the finest writers ever to have absorbed any of Chicago’s wisdom; or possibly it was the shortest story of disillusionment they could craft, or both.
Two words, but more than that. Two Chicago words.
They all looked at me. The anticipation in their eyes revved like twenty upturned lawn-mowers.
This author could not argue. They had done what all writers strive to do; they had written what they knew. This author nodded and gave the work a thumbs-up.
They smiled. Then they faded away entirely, and the typewriter, with its paper, faded with them.
But the words remained: DYING STINKS.
And this author knew: the ghosts were out there, just waiting to be found.

- The End -