Saturday, February 28, 2009

Andrew Reads: THREE SHIRT DEAL, by Stephen Cannell

Spoilers below.

I'm guessing this is not the first in a series of novels featuring the main character, LAPD Detective Shane Scully. In any event, it's not the last, as the next installment is previewed at the end of this book--but Cannell does a good job of filling the reader in on the relevant backstory with a minimum of fuss/overly clunky exposition.

The relevant backstory in this case is that Scully's wife Alexa, the LA Chief of Detectives, has suffered a brain injury that may have irrevocably changed her personality in such a way that Scully's unsure if their relationship can survive. Holding his marriage together becomes a whole lot harder when he finds himself embroiled in an investigation that has far-reaching implications that might cost his wife her job and him his life.

Truit Hickman is a meth-head tweaker serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison for the murder of his mother. The last thing Scully wants to do is care, but a beautiful internal affairs officer "Scout" Llevar pulls him in--mostly by proving the case against Tru was botched, though a long-standing grudge also serves as a motivation, and a mutual attraction between Scully and Llevar that has him fighting temptation almost as much as he's fighting for justice.

The seemingly simple bad cop explanation for Tru's incarceration turns out to be the first bend in a labyrinthine plot hatched by a criminal conspiracy whose members hold critical positions at pretty much all levels of LA society.

The item that sets the original criminal plot in motion's kind of neat, though the makeup of the criminal collective behind it stretches credibility a bit. All of that's really window-dressing for the main story, though, which is about Scully's relationship with his wife. This point is brought home when Tru--the person Scully risked everything to save--turns out to be unwilling to do anything to save himself.

Ultimately, things don't work out perfectly for the couple. Alexa's personality is still radically different from that of the woman Scully married--but it's as happy an ending as could reasonably be expected, certainly happier than the bleaker elements of the story preceding it led me to expect.

Overall, THREE SHIRT DEAL's an enjoyable if not spectacular cop story draped over a romance that may or may not end tragically--that aspect of the story seems likely to continue in the next volume. As a cop story, it's fine. As a romance it's the middle of a story rather than a story in itself. I'd happily read the next chapter, but don't feel driven to seek it out any more than I did this one (I picked it up more or less blind off the shelf at the library.)



NOTES ON A SCANDAL, by Zoe Heller: Picked this one up off the shelf at the library when I couldn't find any of the five Ben Elton books that were on said shelf a couple weeks before, primarily because the word "Scandal" in the title caught my attention. It's a creepy little book, actually. I keep thinking of it as a thematic complement to Let The Right One In (the movie, not the book, which more or less explicitly ascribes character motives open to interpretation in the film). As I interpret(ed) them, both stories are about a predatory figure who seduces another character into serving their needs. The major difference (genre conventions aside) is that while Let The Right One In is told primarily from the viewpoint of the character being seduced, Notes on a Scandal is presented entirely from the perspective of the seducer.

That seducer is a desperately lonely teacher named Barbara Covett. The role of Barbara was played by Judi Dench in the movie that was apparently made based on the novel a couple years back. Knowing who played the role in the film actually made the reading experience much more enjoyable--I don't know if Heller knew who'd be playing the character in advance, but the officious, self-serving words are a perfect match for the actress. I read pretty much the entire book in her voice (if that makes any sense) and suspect enjoyed the experience more because of it.

A spinster control freak who, well into if not past middle age is possibly/probably still a virgin, Barbara's dealt with her social ineptitude by reframing it as a strength: if nobody likes her, that's clearly because they're at fault and not because she's a cold, self-righteous bitch. Having recently lost her previous friend (she apparently develops/gets her claws into them one at a time), she's on the lookout for someone to fill that role. That someone turns out to be the new pottery teacher, Sheba Hart, a late 30/early 40-something who has all sorts of romantic notions about what she can realistically accomplish in terms of getting her public school students to appreciate the arts.

Barbara works, consciously and otherwise, to isolate Sheba from others, increasingly forcing her to rely on Barbara and Barbara alone for support.

That said, Sheba is largely a victim of her own ill-thought-out designs. Young and energetic, married with a kid, she engages in some arguably predatory social acts of her own when she embarks on an affair with a fifteen year old kid. Sheba's actions are not presented in as dark a light as they could be. It could be argued that she's a habitual victim, being taken advantage of first by Barbara and then by the "Connolly boy", who, having grown bored of her, shrugs her off, just when she needs all the support she can get. Of course, those actions are described entirely by her sympathetic "friend" (who, for all intents and purposes, provides the only support she gets, whatever the motives), so the reader is left to decide for him/herself whether Sheba's actions are sinister or simply as presented: naive and pathetic.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oh Flying Spaghetti Monster, please don't let me be misunderstood

So maybe, maybe I was right to worry that someone might miss my ever-so-subtle jabs at Matt Drudge's legion of Real Americans who won't ever watch another Hollywood movie because they just don't care anymore about Hollyweird and are willing to prove it by posting hate-filled rants on a website with Hollywood in its name. From someone going under the name "apple pie" on Feb. 21 at 10:43 pm:

"While reading the hateful, bigoted (if not murderous) comments from True America First, I laughed out loud at his statement, “Just because they’re well-made films with interesting topics doesn’t mean they’re any GOOD”! But it is important to listen to all opinions-even from the simpletons of the world."

I'm reading this response and I really can't tell if this person seriously thought I was being serious, if they thought I was making a joke but they didn't find it funny, or if they thought I was making a joke and are pretending to take it seriously as a way of taking part in it.

I really hope it's one of the last two.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dirty, dirty anonymity.

I have never, until this evening, posted anything online under an alias. I'm not even entirely sure why I used an alias when posting in the comments for this article by Nikki Finke on the Oscars--an article that was apparently linked to by Matt Drudge, which resulted in a long, long, looooong string of comments from the perspective of the extreme right (the vast majority of which were under alias--I have it in my head that was part of my rationale for not IDing myself, but my head's hardly in trustworthy condition right now, and if that was the case, in retrospect that strikes me as rationalizing cowardice).

My head's been throbbing for the better part of three days now--I don't know if I'm just having an extremely bad reaction to shifting air pressure or whether I'm coming down with another sinus infection, but in terms of discomfort level, it might as well be the latter. And the string of bile-filled rants in the thread just got to me, to the point that I wrote the following under the alias True America First (I strongly suggest reading twenty or so of the comments to get a sense of the flavour of the thread, bitter though it is):

Hollywood is full of traitorous pinko swine who ought to be strung up from the nearest tree for voicing the opinion that THE GREATEST AMERICAN PRESIDENT EVER, GEORGE W. BUSH, was anything other than the best thing to happen to the world since Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to his place at the right hand of his most holy father.

They continue to sing the praises of anti-American, left-wing, brain-dead, communist, homosexual, atheistic, anti-family, pro-abortion, anti-segregationist, union-supporting, democrat TRAITORS like Mickey Rourke, Sean Penn, and that dark-skinned kid from Slumdog Millionaire–while ignoring the films that REAL PEOPLE who actually WORK for a living and think apple pie is just fine, thank you, support, like AMERICAN Carol and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I can’t imagine how they can sleep at night. Oh wait, I can… with their DRUGS and HOMOSEXUAL ORGIES.

Whatever happened to family filmmakers like Walt Disney? At least you could take your kids to his films without worrying that they might end up having something to think about, unlike swill like Wall-E.

Where are the great film stars? Why do we have to suffer exposure to the slightly nuanced, wholly unsavory views of George CLooney or Matt Damon? Where are true PATRIOTS like Duke and Jimmy? I believe they’re out there, even in Hollywood, but they’ve been driven underground–they must suppress their righteous views, for fear of being blacklisted and sodomized by their peers.

WHy does no one make films like Frank Capra’s anymore, films with REAL AMERICAN values and no color? Why would anyone WANT to make a movie about a sexual deviant politician (and worse than that, a democrat) or a low-class wrestler willing to die for the opportunity to perform, let alone watch one? Just because they’re well-made films with interesting topics doesn’t mean they’re any GOOD. They’re awful. Nobody, NOT A SINGLE PERSON who doesn’t live in the moral cesspools of New York and Hollywood wants to see movies like that, and that’s a 100% true, no BS, no exaggeration fact! I don’t live in either of those cities, and everyone else who also doesn’t live in those cities believes exactly the same things I believe.

Seriously, if I wasn’t so busy ensuring people with a slightly darker complexion than mine weren’t trying to sneak into my country and steal my job, I’d get together with my friends Bubba, Joe, and Bubba-Joe and we’d get our shotguns and go show those anti-american homos in Hollywood how REAL people deal with the kind of crap they’re trying to FORCE our kids–our KIDS–to watch.

Just thinking about those so-called “people” in Hollywood is making me nauseous, even more nauseous than thinking usually makes me. Won’t someone do the right thing and detonate something there so good, God-fearing folk like myself no longer have to concern ourselves with the corrupting garbage they’re peddling to REAL Americans?


Ennyhoo. Coming clean here and now is not the same as taking responsibility for my words at the time I wrote them, and I remain a little bummed that I copped out that I didn't have the guts to attach my name to the post when I wrote it. I think it might have something to do with my worry that what I wrote might possibly be taken seriously by someone. After all, in a thread where a post like this:

"Homosexuals and teenagers hijacked Hollyweird years ago. Millions of people who are still God-fearing got sick and tired of their belief systems bashed on this show year after year by these narcissistic, incestuous idiots. This nation and world are in critical moral freefall and these ‘actors’ and OSCAR are a clear representation of this. So tragic."

is presented with no irony intended (at least none that I can detect), it strikes me as possible that someone doing a quick read of my post could mistake its intention. Especially as it comes in the middle of about 220 posts from people whose beliefs do seem in alignment with "K. Coleman" (if that is his/her real name.)

Oh well. I can't imagine anyone but me cares, but still. I feel I am going to be bugged by this lapse for some time--hopefully slightly less time than I would be if I didn't come clean in some public venue, no matter how insignificant.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ya Think?, or Great Moments in Understatement: February 18, 2009

"He must have felt that he needed comfort. And he chose the church for that comfort. Unfortunately, it didn't end well." Crystal Cathedral Spokesman Michael Nason, talking about an unfortunate but proactive individual who apparently didn't think being in church got him sufficiently close to God.

Dying is Easy.

I'm semi-convinced the major reason the vast majority of comic books consist of people hitting other people (or things) is that writing fights is one of the easiest things to do in comic form. Even assuming the writer goes to the effort of coordinating the combat and describing it in sufficient detail that the page and panel composition don't rest entirely or almost entirely on the shoulders of the artist (which isn't safe to assume), it's still a lot easier to come up with something like:


...than it is to make a page of talking heads (or even more active heads) say something interesting.

For whatever reason, the hardest material for me to write has always been comedy. When you're looking at a joke for the nineteenth time, it's difficult to remember why you thought it was funny to begin with. And the kind of comedy I tend to prefer, certainly as a reader--that of the Wodehouse/Adams/Pratchett variety--is all about the deft use of language for comedic effect. This kind of work isn't--or I can't imagine it being--off the cuff stuff. It's words that have been honed and refined, worked and reworked until they're perfect.

Frankly, it's not a lot of fun to write this sort of thing. But it's extremely rewarding when someone finds something I wrote to be funny. It's even better if I can find it funny myself, by viewing it through fresh eyes (usually eyes that haven't read the material for a couple years, run by a mind that doesn't remember writing it in the first place.)

When I'm writing something for which "being funny" is the primary goal, my approach is fairly simple: brainstorm as much stuff as possible, figure out if some of it's funny, try and figure out if some of it could possibly be funny with some work, toss the rest and then try and find a way to wedge the good stuff into a narrative framework (the looser the framework, the better.)

Which of course leads to a lot of material that never gets used.

As I was digging through the office a few minutes ago looking for something to write notes on, I came upon a few pages of stuff that appears to be the result of a comedy brainstorming session. And, as I've been exceedingly lax with the blogging lately but don't really have much I feel like talking about at the moment, I figured, hey, I wrote it, I might as well use it.

I can't be sure, but I'm guessing the following material was aimed at the script for a Platinum Studios project I created called JEST CAUSE (which remains one of my top five favourite scripts I've written to date). It might have been done for THE TOKEN GOBLIN, any event, it reads as though I was aiming for comedic fantasy with it. I offer it unedited, warts and all, in the hopes that one of my half dozen readers will get some meagre entertainment value out of it. If you don't...well, you get what you pay for.

Here we go:

-All the fashionable lairs these days are built by Maurice, a former evil wizard whose fashion empire was built on a foundation of impeccable taste and bloodshed.

-It is said that history is written by the victors: Victor Conroy, Vic Hedges, and Victor Vincenzo were the heads of the historians guild.

-Not since pork chop leapt from frying pan has

-If all the world's a stage, then the gods are the director, writer, and largely the audience. The lives of the merely mortal are there to amuse and entertain them, but nobody but the gods gets to take a bow when the curtain falls.
They're desperate for appreciation. "Didn't I do good?" they ask, and the person they ask damn well better give them the right answer, lest they be well-damned.

-All things are relative. Necessity is the mother of Inventtion, and Madness merely the weird uncle of Ambition.

-There's a place for people who defy the gods, a place specially designed to make them wish they hadn't.

-"No, seriously, three of them, and they could talk and build houses. Well, one of them could, the other two just kind of stacked wood and straw up and prayed for good weather."


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Newest spec screenplay is done and off to the manager.

Cue crushing post-script depression in 3... 2... 1...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Last night I dreamt I was watching a reality show called "Set!"

The entire show consisted of cameras panning across an empty living room set, with the occasional zoom onto or close-up of a detail of the room, like a lamp or a pillow. No characters, no dialogue, no music, just a generic living room.

In retrospect, I think the weirdest thing about the show was that it had regular commercial breaks.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Andrew Reads, February 11, 2009

Work on the latest spec and the mind-numbing effects of insomnia or the current medicinal detour around insomnia have combined to pretty much kill my blogging this week. I have much I want to say, but I don't want to say it as much as I want to get this bloody script done before the conference call next week when I'll be getting my managers' notes on the last script, which was a teethpuller and will require a lot of work (or a chainsaw) to get in order. In the meantime:

CHART THROB, by Ben Elton: You--or I anyway--might think a satire revolving around a television talent show in the vein of WhateverCountryYou'reIn Idol would write itself, but Elton manages to keep things interesting in this bleak comedy. Partly he manages this by fleshing out a fairly large supporting cast of would be Chart Throbs to be manipulated and destroyed for the entertainment of the viewing public. There are occasions when the reader can really feel sorry for the morons deluding themselves--or letting themselves be deluded into thinking--that they've got talent when they are inevitably crushed by the "celebrity" judges the book spends most of its time focusing on, esp. Chart Throb "creator" Calvin Simms, who finds himself not one, but two reasons for trying to elevate the least likely person in the world to pop superstardom. The audition sequences become a little strained occasionally, as the judges repeat their catchphrases ad nauseum, which I suppose is the point but makes it a bit of a slog sometimes. The great thing about this book (and most of Elton's stuff that I've read) is that there's nothing remotely Hollywood about it--the biggest bastards prosper because they are the biggest bastards, and nobody learns anything they didn't already know, or at least anything they shouldn't have known already. The only character who is consistently portrayed in anything resembling a positive light is, strangely enough, Prince Charles (never mentioned by name but the title and mannerisms are recognizable even to someone with minimal knowledge of british royalty.) Chart Throb is a deeply cynical book, one that might only be entertaining to someone who is himself a cynic--naturally, I enjoyed it.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Hubba hubba hubba, money money money, who do you trust?"

I'm trying to come up with something semi-witty to say in response to a comment by new comics-to-film company COG 1 Entertainment producer David Uslan, but it's not happening. Here's the comment (italics are mine):

'"Normally, when I get a hold of property, I normally do not let the creators write the screenplay.You normally want to go with somebody who has a good history in the business, somebody salable, someone I trust with the material,” Uslan explained.'

From a producer perspective, I absolutely understand the desire to create the strongest possible package for a potential movie or TV show--"strongest possible" in this case meaning "easiest to sell", not unique, compelling, entertaining or good. Not that any of those are necessarily ruled out (with the possible exception of unique), but from a producer perspective, a unique, compelling, entertaining idea isn't particularly useful if they can't find someone to put money into it. And the people with money in Hollywood understandably want to minimize their risk, which means attaching as many pre-sold "elements" (writers who've written blockbuster films, marquee actors who bring an audience no matter how bad the film they're in might be, directors whose films consistently make money, etc.) to the package as possible

So I don't have much of a problem with Uslan saying "normally you want to go with somebody who has a good history in the business, somebody salable". It's what he says afterward that's grinding my gears.

I've tried to crush my inner artist for a decade now--irritating, self-righteous, pompous twit that he is--but there's still some lingering piece of him kicking around. Usually he doesn't bug me. But then he sees a Hollywood producer suggesting that a concept's creator can't be trusted with the material they themselves created, and a wounded animal scream echos through my soul...

A few years back, a friend of mine sold a property to Platinum Studios to be developed (by him, an editor, and a creative team) as a comic
and to be developed as everything else by the company. As turned out to be the case with many (many many) projects acquired by Platinum, nothing came of the comic (actually, that's not true; my friend and the editor spent a lot of time and energy crafting a damn fine comic script that will likely only be read by a small handful of people until he gets the rights back, if he ever does). Nothing became of the property in any other medium, either (also hardly an irregular occurrence, at Platinum or anywhere else--no matter what that small press publisher/wannabe Hollywood mogul asking you to sign all rights to your work in all media that will ever be created in the entire universe over to them for all time in exchange for footing the cost of a printing bill says.)

At some point, my friend sent an e-mail out to Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Platinum's owner, stating his interest in writing a screenplay adaptation of the project. I don't think Rosenberg ever directly responded to my friend--but the editor in charge of the comic sure did, with a clear message that it would be best for everyone if my friend never did anything like that ever again. When you signed a contract with Platinum, you got a chance to write your comic, and that was it. Asking to be let in on other media put Rosenberg in an awkward spot, because he wanted to stay on good terms with Platinum's creators but there was no way he was going to let them adapt their own work to another medium.

And why would he? Why would he let me or Fred Van Lente anywhere near a screenplay when he could get Robert Orci or Damon Lindelof, and everything they add to a Hollywood package along with them? Hell, if it came down to it, I'd rather Lindelof write an adaptation of Done to Death than me, for exactly the same reason--nobody in Hollywood wants to read a screenplay some schmuck in Edmonton wrote (except for the Emmy-Award-winning producer and the ex-HBO VP producer and--well never mind, let's just say there are apparently exceptions to the rule and leave it at that). Risk-averse moneyfolk are less likely to buy into a screenplay by an unknown, no matter how good the screenplay might actually be. That's the way the game is played. I get it.

But if someone said they didn't trust me to adapt Done to Death...just thinking about someone saying that is making my teeth grind.



Speaking of Platinum, they recently announced an interesting project--a superhero anthology series written by Christopher Priest that, as far as I can tell, isn't actually comics but rather illustrated prose. The entire thing seems specifically geared to fail in the direct market--anthology, superheroes who aren't Wolverine, lots of words--but I'm always interested in seeing people fiddle with formats. It's also possible the project won't be solicited in the DM at all--I notice Platinum's just gone a second consecutive month without having anything in Diamond's Previews catalogue.



...I might as well link to an interesting back-and-forth between Sean Kleefeld and Platinum CFO Brian Altounian regarding the company's continuing difficulties on making good on's debts after Platinum purchased it.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

One Man's Treasure

Jay at Happy Harbor really didn't enjoy Final Crisis #7. I mean, really didn't, to the point that I'm actually a little worried about him.

He started a thread at Canadian Geek, in which he expresses his disappointment, ultimately declaring that either the series was lousy or he's dumb, while projecting a motivation for FC writer Grant Morrison that I don't believe is supported by the available evidence (though in fairness, I don't think Morrison's defensiveness during his Final Crisis Exit Interview at Newsarama didn't do him any favours when it comes to PR.)

In any event, at some point in the thread, Canadian Geek Man Swamp made a comment that I just had to respond to. Both the comment and the response are below.

[quote="Man Swamp"] if you need an essay to even [i]understand[/i] a comic, it's rubbish.[/quote]

I challenge this notion on the same grounds I'd challenge someone telling me Picasso's Guernica is a rubbish painting or David Lynch's Lost Highway is a rubbish film.

Taking the latter specifically: I watched Lost Highway a half dozen times; always enjoyed the experience; and couldn't make sense of it as a story. Same goes for Mulholland Drive, though I didn't like it as much or watch it as often.

One day I got it into my head to do a little reading on Mr. Lynch's films online. After reading a few articles and posts from people who are REALLY into Lynch, I discovered both LH and MD actually did have (mostly) linear plots. These were stories I might have been able to grasp independently, if I'd applied myself. But I didn't, not because I was lazy, but because I enjoyed the experience of watching them regardless. That said, I wouldn't hold someone not enjoying the experience against them--tastes vary, as do expectations.

Jay didn't enjoy the experience of reading Final Crisis, for much the same reason I didn't enjoy my experience reading Infinite Crisis--for whatever reason, the execution of the books didn't appeal to us and eventually we stopped caring. And expressing our disappointment at having something not appeal to our sensibilities--that's fine. In the same way that a lot of people look at Jackson Pollock's paintings and see nothing special, our frames of reference in regards to those particular series didn't align with the creators', at least not enough for us to enjoy them.

That doesn't mean that either of them is bad. In our post-modern culture, I don't know that there is such a thing as a comic being objectively bad anymore, anyway. Between sales and critical reception, there are tons of comics I think are awful on almost every front that are terribly popular (emphasis on the "terrible"). Meanwhile, some people don't think Jack Staff's the best superhero book going. There's no accounting for taste.

Or maybe there is. When reviewing a book, I always attempt to establish what it is the creators were attempting to achieve, and base any critique on my perception of whether or not they achieved it. Which means I could, in theory, end up giving a positive review to something I didn't enjoy (in theory because nobody puts a gun to my head and says I *must* review something--if I didn't enjoy something, I don't see myself expending resources giving it a positive review even if it did achieve its creators' goals.)

For whatever reason, every review I've read of Final Crisis #7 (mostly at Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, and The Savage Critics) has been generally positive. I don't believe all these people are pretending to enjoy something because they're afraid they'll look dumb if they don't. I'm also not convinced all of these people are entirely, 100% clear on exactly what actually happened, in plot terms. They enjoyed Morrison's fragmented spectacle style of storytelling, or the metacommentary on imagination and storytelling, or Batman killing the personification of evil, or whatever, to the point that they could forgive Morrison's deliberate deviation from the traditional North American superhero comic storytelling style.

At the end of the day, Morrison was trying to do some things wildly different from what's usually in the pages of a North American superhero comic. I admire him trying something new (as I usually do with Morrison), I don't know if it really worked, even judged by the writer's own criteria (I usually don't with Morrison), and I'm really not sure if this was a huge, universe wide crossover was an appropriate place to blast sequential narrative into pieces--from a business perspective, if nothing else.

I will say this: while not understanding Final Crisis doesn't make someone dumb and not enjoying it doesn't make someone dumb, at the same time having a significant number of people not understand or enjoying Final Crisis doesn't make it a bad comic. Too many people enjoyed the experience of reading it for me to believe that.

For myself, I'd take Final Crisis over Infinite Crisis, Civil War, or Secret Invasion (or Invisibles or The Filth, if it came to it). And that's even though I don't really understand what happened, something I'm going to blame on my trying to blast each issue in ten minutes before my shift started...hopefully, when I read it collected, it'll work like Seven Soldiers and the whole will prove greater than the sum of its parts. Even if it doesn't...well, I'd rather read something that reaches high and misses the mark than aims low and just fills the requisite number of pages.