Thursday, February 25, 2010

Update from the bottom of a pit

I have been sick for six days. I have left the apartment only two times since Saturday afternoon, and both times were horrible mistakes. After much haranguing from Ashley and friends, I have finally agreed to go to the health center (my way is to wait it out and see if I get better on my own, but that doesn't seem to be happening). The worst part about being this sick is that I'm sick enough to stay home and have oodles of time on my hands, but too sick to have the mental wherewithal to use it. If my brain were functioning right I could have written so much! I could have done so much work, as well as non-required writing, but instead I just tool around in OpenOffice for an hour, write a decent paragraph, then lie on the couch. Blerg. Anyway, I'll stop whining--just wanted to give an update. I look forward to health, energy, and proper brain function.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

If Scorsese can do it, why can't I?

Last night Ashley and I went to see the new Martin Scorsese movie Shutter Island. It was pretty good, but not great—wait for it to hit the cheap theaters, or maybe DVD if you've got a nice big TV. I found that the last third of the movie dragged pretty badly, and MAN did I see that twist ending coming from a looooooooong way off. Still, the first parts of the movie were quite unsettling—both Ashley and I had really messed up dreams.

Anyway, it got me thinking about genre. Scorsese is clearly playing a lot with genre, mixing 40s and 50s hardboiled noir-style narratives, camera angles, and performances with surreal and psychological horror. Leonardo DiCaprio's and Mark Ruffalo's dialogue from early on in the film sounds like something straight out of a fifties detective movies (plus a few F-bombs). I think a lot of the audience was a bit put off by the genre anachronisms early on in the movie. The acting style took a little while to get used to and the (intentionally, I think) overdramatic score drew giggles from the undergrads next to me, but I had a great time, especially as the straightforward detective narrative descended into weirder, hallucinatory spaces.

Whenever I see genre done right, in writing, film, or TV, I always miss Western. New Hampshire's MFA program coasts by on this “Yeah, genre writing is cool, we can talk about genre,” attitude, but when it actually comes up in conversation, none of the students or professors actually have the vocabulary to talk about it. WWU made sure its students could talk about genre fiction, in its popular and experimental forms. Matt, a friend and fiction classmate—and a sci fi nerd who takes his work to some pretty damn experimental places—gave me Dan Simmons's Hyperion for my birthday. “Wow,” I thought. “I knew Matt was a nerd, but this is some hard-core sci-fi nerdery.” I was surprised, but I shouldn't have been. Deep genre stuff, and our predilection for it, never comes up in class.

In a little over a month I'll be at the AWP conference in Denver. Michael Chabon, a supporter of ghettoized genres in all mediums, is the keynote speaker, and I'm curious to see if he'll bring up sci-fi or comic books in his speech to the—very academy-centric—AWP crowd. Chabon is interesting because he manages to be a best-selling author who genre-hops—Kavalier and Clay was a period piece, his next novel was sci-fi, and he's jumped through children's fantasy, serialized mystery novellas, and steampunk short stories since then—but also maintains pretty good cred with academic creative writers (he went to Iowa for his MFA and teaches in Berkeley, I think). I hope he takes stodgy academic writers to task—short stories and novels don't have to be boring. It's possible to have both nuanced characters and aliens, lyrical prose and exploding helicopters. I'll keep you posted on what Chabon says. I'm going to go write a story where something interesting happens.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Heat" has the greatest action scene in cinematic history

Yes it does. At about the halfway mark in Heat is an action scene so astounding that I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole time. In it, a group of four bank thieves are confronted by the police as they attempt to flee the scene, and a bloody, prolonged gunfight drastically changes the course of the rest of the movie (I don’t want to say too much in an effort to keep this relatively spoiler-free).

It’s violent, it’s fast, it’s amazingly edited and very tense, an it feels real (apparently it’s so real that the US Marines use it as an example of the proper way to retreat while under fire). But that’s not why I was on the edge of my seat. I was on the edge of my seat because of the writing! The movie makes painfully clear what’s at stake for every character who has a part in the scene.

Robert De Niro’s character Neil and Tom Sizemore’s Michael are there because they are thieves and it’s the only thing they know how to do, the only work they can really take pleasure in. (One interesting aspect of this movie is the links it makes between cops and robbers, two classes of professionals who work on opposite sides in the same field, often using the same methods.) Neil agreed to do the job for Val Kilmer’s character Chris, who is there because he’s a gambling addict and thinks that the money will help him out of his debts. He also wants the money because he sees it as key in saving his disintegrating marriage (it’s not, the viewer is aware). Donald, played by Dennis Haysbert, is a getaway driver called in at the last minute. He’s an ex-con, trapped in a miserable job assigned by his parole officer, who gets back into the game because he’s sick of being treated like shit by the real world he tried desperately to join. Finally there’s Vincent, played by Al Pacino, the cop who has become obsessed with the head thief, Neil. In Neil, Vincent sees a reflection of himself, a professional torn by the complications of the career he chose.

For the first eighty minutes of the movie we’ve seen these characters fight with their wives, love their children, go out for drinks with their families and friends, and argue whether or not hitting the bank is worth the risk. We’ve seen Neil meet a woman named Eady who asks him if he’s lonely. “I’m alone, I’m not lonely,” he replies, but his relationship with her and his friends reveals that he’s desperately alone, trapped in his work, and unable to make a real connection with anybody. More so than in any crime movie—maybe with the exception of The Godfather—you feel like you know these characters. They’re not just cops and robbers, they’re people, they’re practically your friends, which is why, when Chris sees Vincent across the street and raises his gun to fire, I panicked. I don’t want any of them to die! I thought.

You have to see this movie. It’s awesome, and it’s surprisingly well-written for a Hollywood crime thriller—there are a few clunkers, but for the most part the characters express themselves with cliché-free eloquence—and the gunfight is only one of several amazing scenes. Here's a link to a YouTube video version, but you really need to see the whole movie to get the full context.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I am a Bad Blogger

It would be nice to start this post with something like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe it's been two and a half months since I've blogged!" But of course, I'm well aware that it has been a very, very long time since I've clicked on "New Post," and every time I see a new post pop up on gauchedroitegauche (daily! Daily!) I feel a tug of guilt.

So I'm going to try to be a better blogger. The problem is, that's not as easy as it sounds. I have reasons for never posting on this damn thing. Here are some of them.

  1. Nothing to write about. If I blogged daily, every entry would consist of "I woke up and went to work and school. Then I wrote." Grad school is a grind, and after six weeks of glorious vacation in the Pacific Northwest, I am right back in it.
  2. Other outlets. I am writing a novel for my thesis. I'm about sixty-five pages in. I'm also writing a bunch of nonfiction for my nonfiction class. I don't need to write any more, and if I have an idea I really want to explore and write about, I'm going to do it in an essay or a piece of fiction, probably not in a blog post.
  3. I will shortly be in possession of Beatles Rock Band. Yes, yes, I know that this doesn't excuse the last two and a half months of bad blogging, it's just a warning that this is probably going to continue, because soon this game will suck up all my free time. Oh, also in the box o' stuff with Beatles Rock Band is Contra, A Boy and his Blob, Vice: Project Doom, and a bunch of PS2 games, including the first two Katamari titles. I'm going to be doing some gaming.
  4. Laziness. Meh.
So there you have it. Apologies, apologies. I will try harder, I promise. I think the quantity of my blog posts might be a direct corollary to how much downtime I have at work (I am blogging from a lull in excitement at the Office of Conduct and Mediation). I'll definitely keep you posted if anything exciting happens.

Oh! This is old news, but something kind of exciting happened. I got my copy of 5x5, the litzine that published my short piece "Ten Inch Guns." Here is their website. You should totally buy a copy of the winter 2009 issue, which has my story in it. Also some sweet poems and a really weird/creepy/awesome comic-drawing thingy. Check it out. I'll be in touch.