Friday, June 16, 2017

What has Liam Neeson wrought?

Over the past holidays, my wife and I were traveling to Oklahoma and got bored. On her IPad, I sought out the most critically acclaimed films of the year that we needed to see. Boring. So we ventured into the worst reviewed films of the year.

Much more fun. And very eye-opening.

Several actors popped up, 3 to 4 times each, none of these films ever in theaters. I got excited, on the track of excitement.
Nicolas Cage! Bruce Willis! John Travolta! Pierce Brosnan (I always confuse him with the Perfect Strangers "Belki" guy. Anyone else?)! These actors...several academy award nominated...apparently have sunk into direct to DVD territory. The winds of change in Horrorwood.

Oddly enough, all of them appear in a crappy movie with hype like this: "Rock Hardguy is an ex Navy Seal. Bad guys have kidnapped his son. Rock won't stop 'til he gets his son back. And cause all kinds of mayhem and destruction while doing so."

Extremely jingoistic. Making movies great again!
Thank you, Liam Neeson! This guy cornered the market, made revenge a genre unto itself, just won't quit. I just saw there's a TV series based on this movie series. Good Gawd, how many times can a man's kids be kidnapped? 

The above-mentioned actors are all honing into Liam's turf. For God's sake, Keanu of all people, got into the act, violently enacting revenge for his dead dog ("Whoa.").

First of all: kids, if your dad's Liam Neeson, seek emancipation. Second, Liam, you're probably the worst father in the world. Finally, are people really watching all of these ridiculous revenge films?

And when did Liam Neeson become a bad-ass? Wasn't he kinda' a Shakespearean, hoity-toity dandy, all up in art and what-all? What's next, the brothers from "Fraser" as tough guy hit-men? "Death Wish" with affectation and a slight kick in the step?
Anyway...back to the awful film-fest. Wine helped, but didn't quite diffuse the stink. We watched Kevin Spacey turn into a cat. We groaned as John Travolta portrayed a redneck power and company man whose brother is electrocuted in a tragic line accident (and do I have to tell you when his brother dies, he raises his arms in the rain and yells, "Nooooooo!"? Sublime.). Nic Cage flew a plane while the world was whisked away to the Rapture. And we watched it all in shock and awe.

Thank you, Liam. Thanks a lot.



Friday, June 9, 2017

Expiration Dates on Parents

Every parent has an expiration date. (Well, I mean beyond the obvious). Of course I'm talking about the proper time to stop taking a parent to the cinema.
But it's true. Ask around. I imagine you'll find a bountiful bevy of bad behavior tales at the local multi-plex. When I tell my friends of my experiences, they have stories of likewise woes.

I dunno how it happens. I mean, when my parents took me to movies, they didn't display the same bad behavior that they later did.

Hang on. I suppose that's not entirely true. I kinda think my mom's expiration date happened long ago. In her defense, my dad's pick of "good wholesome, family viewing" probably didn't help matters.

Ye gads. 

I got my first glimpse of female nudity while watching "Billy Jack." I learned how to curse from Burt Reynolds and Sheriff Joe Don Baker, the man who walked tall and sweat oceans. Gratuitous violence became entertaining (and likewise, forbidden) during "The Getaway." I grew incredibly bored with "Doctor Zhivago," trekking through those endless snowy roads, back and forth. (But we'll disregard this last movie 'cause it doesn't really fit in anywhere with my Mission Statement. Fair disclosure: I never said I was a journalist).

Anyway, Mom at the movies... As a strict, uptight, proper Baptist, she'd sit through these films--tight and white lipped--and exclaim  "Huh's!" and "Mercy's!" during the running time. So embarrassed (we went to the cheap, neighborhood theater where many school mates hung out), I'd slink down into my seat and wanted to skate away on a floor of sticky, spilled soda.

Besides the fact I never understood why Mom kept going to (or Dad kept picking) these movies, I found Mom's behavior mortifying and unlike her at-home viewing demeanor. When I was even younger, I spent many late weekend nights watching (pseudo) spooky classics like "The Birds" and "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" with Mom. She didn't utter disgust once during the films, not that I can remember. I imagine because the TV viewings were censored.

Anyway, Mom's expiration date at the movies passed many years ago.

("Doctor Zhivago" side note: For what seemed like months, Mom would walk around the house, directing an imaginary chorus with an invisible baton, bird warbling that damn Doctor Zhivago theme song. I suspect she chose to overlook the entire adultery angle of the flick.) 

Dad was another story. Again, he fostered an early love for the movies in me and was always glad to take me. After a while, it whittled down to just the two of us (as my brothers had no real interest in cinema). In those days, Dad always remained on his best behavior, respecting the proper protocol of cinema viewing.

Until the fateful day of "Dick Tracy," a day that lived on in infamy. (To anyone who was in the audience those many years ago, I apologize, I apologize, I apologize...)

But, I thought, "Why not? It's no western, but Dick Tracy's got old cars, old music, old stars...Dad should have a blast." So I took him to a sold-out, jammed pack screening.

BIG mistake.

Again, I don't know what happened. Why Dad changed. Or when "The Change" took place. But it happened that very night. Throwing away every manner he'd ever learned through sixty or so years of cinema-going, Dad apparently thought he was ringside at a rasslin' match.

He hooted and hollered. He kept up a running dialogue at the top of his lungs, one full of really weird and annoying statements:

"Looks like ol' Dickie-Boy's in a tight spot now!"

"Dickie-Boy won't stand still for that!"

And my personal favorite: "Dickie-Boy's sure got a way with the ladies, huh, Stu?"

I don't know where "Dickie Boy" came from, but during Dad's constant narrative, he came off like a crazed Disney nature narrator ("Here comes a frisky little fellow.")

I just turtled into my shirt, sunk lower, couldn't wait to bolt out of there. Felt like I should take the stage and make a public apology.

I loved my dad. But it was the last time I took him to see a film. 

What happened? Why the change? Is it something that's mandated, along with failing health, once you get older?

It simply makes no sense.

On that day, I vowed to not repeat the mistakes of the past while going to the movies with my daughter. But...if this is just part of the Circle of Life, who am I to ignore nature? 

I better start practicing now...

"Hey! Hey! Is that a Wookie or a walking carpet?"

Friday, June 2, 2017

Mike Mendez: Horror Comedy Independent Filmmaker Hoot-and-a-Half!

I’ve been a fan of filmmaker Mike Mendez’ horror films for some time. Every film he churns out is a mini-masterpiece of B-movie fun and mayhem (um, maybe excluding one, of course. But we’ll get to that soon enough), very funny and stylishly made. Graciously, Mike has volunteered to be tossed on the Tornado Alley grill. I did my homework and watched a Mendez-ival. Hold on folks…
SRW: Hey, Mike! Thanks much for visiting. Let’s start by talking about your awesome 1996 debut, Killers. This little flick’s a sleeper, has a way of sneaking up on the viewer. Usually film debuts are a learning ground. But I sense you were very much in control, knowing where it was going and, as always, the editing’s very impressive. Am I right? Or was it a lucky accident?

MM: I think every movie is a bit of experiment and the end result will differ from what you had in mind, some for the better, sometimes for the worse. With Killers the experimental side of it was that you had two creative voices, you had the writer/lead actor Dave Larsen & you had me. So any lucky accident would be the melding of these two voices & the lack of a budget. Everything else though was very controlled. I'd been making films since I was 10 years old. So by the time I got to my first feature I'd had a fair amount of experience, and I had story boarded that film (as I do all my films), but on that one I may have over storyboarded. The edits were very planned out because there was a lot of transitions from one scene to the other. I haven't done that since. Not sure why. 

SRW: The movie’s got a lot going on. There’s a strange “cult of killer” theme, a very strong female cop and references to Once Upon a Time in the West AND Free Willy. Toss in the spaghetti western styled stand-off, I’m detecting a strong Sergio Leone influence.

MM: Well, sure, I've always loved Sergio Leone, he was always the best at stylized gun fights, but as far as the cult of killer thing, that was a reflection of the times. We made it in the late 90's which was the hey day of the OJ Simpson & Menendez cases. So the idea of the celebrity killer was really prevalent back then. "Natural Born Killers" touched on the same idea. It was just in the zeitgeist back then.

SRW: I mentioned your editing which I think is stellar through-out all of your films. Are you your own editor or do you share the chores?

MM: Lately I've been my own editor. It's usually a way for producers to save money, but over time I've grown to enjoy the control. I don't enjoy the amount of work it takes, but I do enjoy having total autonomy over the edit. In fact that's the best way to know if my film has been tampered with. In the last 10 years if I have sole editing credit, it's my film & I'm happy with it. If you see another editor listed with me, then something funny went in behind the scenes. We'll see if the pattern of me editing continues. I have equally strong arguments for both sides of it . 

SRW: Mike, you know how to build good dread (maybe not such a good thing in real life, but in movies, it’s a bonus!). The opening sequence is cut to The Doors’ “The End” and, I think, is a much more effective use of the song than in Apocalypse Now. Okay, level with me, Mike…did you actually get the rights to use the song? (If not, we’ll just mosey along, pretend like I didn’t ask the question).

MM: We did not get the rights to it, but in the official release,  the song was replaced with Iron Butterfly's "in a gadda Davida". My directors cut has the song that we used in festivals & in a release in Germany on DVD I believe.

SRW: I consider myself a jaded, seen-it-all genre movie buff. But by cracky if you didn’t pull the rug out from under me 2/3 through the film! Never saw that twist coming! (Stupid! I’m so stupid!). 

MM:  That's Dave Larsen, the writer/ star who came up with that.  Sadly Dave isn't with us anymore. That movie is as much his baby as it is mine.
SRW: Okay! Mike, you came “roaring” back in 1997 with, um…Bimbo Movie Bash. (Yeah, I know, right?) It’s a patchwork job made up of clips from various ‘80’s z-movies (sadly, I was able to identify most of them). While you did your best to attempt to put a story around it, it’s kinda a mess. A mess Roger Corman would be proud of. Defend yourself, Mike.

MM: Sure. Well, first off I made this before Killers. I'd say it's my first film, but I don't consider it mine & I don't consider it much of a film. It was an editing job really, something I did with my friend Dave Parker. At the time he was working with Full Moon productions. They had a cd rom game called "Bimbo Movie Bash" and they wanted to make a movie of it using clips of their existing movies in their library. I've always been a fan of Woody Allen & I loved his first film "What's up Tiger Lilly?" Which was a Hong Kong film that was re-dubbed, changing the plot line & turning it into a comedy. So I thought this would be a fun approach to do with these movies, so we sold it as a parody of "Independence Day" with a cheesy plot line of a bunch of bimbos trying to take over the world.  Sadly, it did not go our way, and producer Charlie Band, decided against redubbing the movie, and wanted us to use the original audio. So really, my whole plan went up in smoke and ultimately it just became a bunch of clips of bad movies.  The movie is pretty unwatchable I feel, except for a few moments that turned out funny.  Not worth it to sort through the movie to find those tiny gems.  I really wish it didn't have my name on it as a director, cause we really didn't direct anything, really just edited.

SRW: Were the “Joe” clips with Joe Estevez your original creation? I couldn’t place those and they were probably the highlight of the movie, very amusing.

MM: Ha, yes there were certain clips we had fun with despite everything. One of those were the Joe Estevez clips from a gem called "Beach Babes From Beyond Infinity".  That was more the weird style of humor the movie was intended to have. As tough as I am on the film, there’re some funny bits and again, I almost felt it was a colossal exercise in creative editing. It could have been so much more.
SRW: Three years later, you came back swinging with The Convent. Here I really think you hit your stride. It’s a great horror comedy. As I write horror comedy myself, Mike, I’d like to pick your brain over the subject…I never really sit down and say, “Hey, I think I’ll write a horror comedy!” More often than not, I have a straight-up horror tale in mind, but it just sort of naturally evolves into the quirky side. Do you definitely plan to make comedies?

MM: Well, "Evil Dead 2" is my favorite movie, so I tend to always be trying to hit that tone, but it is where I feel my natural voice as a filmmaker lives.  I like funny characters in horrible situations.

SRW: The opening sequence is fantastic. Economic, stylish as all get out, very cool. Hard to go wrong with a bad-ass school-girl taking a bat and shotgun to nuns in a convent. The film never slows down from there, running from one great sequence to another. The movie’s gloriously over-the-top and hyper violent, but the comedy you instill makes it palatable. I think without the humor, it’d be a bit much. Did you ever consider making it a straight horror film?

MM: Honestly, no not really. I felt someone was giving me the opportunity to make a movie about demonic nuns. I had to have some fun with it.

SRW: I gotta ask, Mike…what with all the satanic nuns running around, did you have a bad Catholic upbringing?

MM: 12 years of Catholic School. I don't know if I'd say I had a bad run, but it will definitely leave an impression. We're talking about a religion whose main symbol is a bloody dead guy who's been crucified. There's a lot of dark shit in the bible.

SRW: All of the genre stereotyped characters are here: bitchy cheerleader, pompous idiotic frat boy, dweeby eager to please pledge. It was a pleasure to watch them die at your hands! (Although I sorta wish “Mo” woulda survived; very cool character). Mike, when I say this, it’s meant as a compliment: this is the best movie a 14 year old boy (and me!) could ever wish for.

MM: Yeah, I kind of wish Mo lived too, but these films are a collaboration with the writer, in this case the very talented Chaton Anderson.  I think she related more to the lead, Clarissa. I related more to the Goth kids.

SRW: Adrienne Barbeau puts in a late hour appearance as a take no mercy heroine. Are you a fan of her work with John Carpenter?

MM: Of course. Plus Creep Show & Swamp Thing. She's a legend!

SRW: The dialogue is very funny and natural. Do you strictly adhere to the script or is there improvisation going on?

MM: Good question, I think in those days I was a little more faithful to the script, so we stuck to our already zany script. But I would say that Saul the Prince of Evil character, definitely improv'd a lot.
SRW: It wasn’t until 2006 when you released your next flick, The Gravedancers. This time you opted for a straight horror flick. And it’s by far your scariest film with lots of creepy imagery. I’m thinking I saw some Mario Bava inspired goings-on. Am I off base?

MM: Nope you are correct. There were a lot of influences like The Haunted Mansion at Disney Land, but Bava's "Drop of Water" segment from "Black Sabbath" was definitely in there.

SRW: Black Sabbath's one of my all-time fave flicks. In The Gravedancers, there’s a very nice usage of ambient sound to ramp up the chills. How important is sound and music to your films?

MM: Extremely. Back then I was lucky enough to be working with composer Joseph Bishara, he's gone on to be the man behind the soundtracks for films like "Insidious" & "The Conjuring."

SRW: A recurring theme in your movies, Mike, is the past always plays a part of the present. Past sins are never forgotten. Am I giving this more thought than you do?

MM: I mean you're right, but I can't say I'm consciously trying to say this. But I agree, we're all responsible for our own actions, and sometimes those actions have repercussions.

SRW: You know, this movie came out in 2006 and you had paranormal investigators, the whole lot. One year later, Paranormal Activity hit and made it a “Thing.” You were ahead of the pack, Mike!

MM: Yes, a lot of good it did me ;) (sarcasm)

SRW: There was quite a layover until your next film in 2013! Is financing that tough? Or did you take some time off to take paying gigs?

MM: A combo of both.  "Gravedancers" left me absolutely nowhere in my career. Plus the world was changing. The economy crashed, the DVD market went away. It was a tough time. I really thought it was over for me. So I made a real attempt to make a living editing, which I still do from time to time.  It was a long while before someone would give me an opportunity, but sometimes opportunity comes in unexpected ways.

SRW: The next movie? Big-Ass SpiderPossibly my favorite of the bunch. What a great, evocative title! It tells you exactly what you’re gonna get. However, I’m worried…IMDB (not the most reliable of sources) now has it entitled “Mega Spider.” What happened? Red Box and Red States?

MM: Some of the foreign territories preferred to call it Mega-Spider, so the IMDB started to reflect this.  It's been corrected since ;) It was originally entitled "Dino-Spider" when I first got the script. From reading it, I felt the movie could be more than that, so began a 2 year argument to call the movie, "Big Ass Spider!" Thankfully I finally won.

SRW: My wife’s a huge arachnaphobe. So when she walked in on me watching the movie, I quickly scrambled for the remote, shutting it off. Like I’d been caught watching porn. Only far worse.

MM: Sorry?

SRW: Anyway, this movie’s tons of fun. Again, you hone your editing and directing skills into a stylish and effective narrative device. The opening is great; a tease of things to come and very compelling. As ylu mentioned earlier, I imagine you meticulously story-board your films before shooting?

MM: Yes, storyboarding was a habit I got into from a very young age.  When you have limited amount of film, I always thought it was best to plan it out as meticulously as possible. It helps in all sorts of ways. So it's a habit I've kept up

SRW: Greg Grunberg is so effortlessly charming as the everyman hero, the bug exterminator who just wants to score a date with the leading woman. Who can’t help but root for the schlubby guy? Great casting. Tell me Greg’s like his persona and not a diva.

MM: Greg is a wonderful, wonderful human being. He brought so much to the character. The movie wouldn't be what it is without him & Lombardo Boyar.

SRW: These days a lot of fan-boys hate on CGI effects. You use a lot of them in Big Ass Spider. If I’m not mistaken, the most you’ve used to date. But they work here, I think, adding to the rowdy b-movie fun. Do you enjoy working with CGI? Or would you rather kick it old school?

MM: I have always been an old school practical fx guy. I was very nervous about the leap to cgi. I previously had had only fairly negative experiences using it. But, I did feel that I was being close minded and should be more open to new technologies.  The big difference was that we had a very eager company out of Pakistan that was very eager to show off what they could do. They were very talented and blew us away with what they could do. They kept pushing us to go further, at first. Then we all got in the spirit and I'm sure, drove them close to insanity. But it really changed my approach to filmmaking. CGI was always a bad word for me, but then I realized how far it had come and what a great tool it was.  I still think over reliance on CGI is a bad thing, but there are some things you just can't do practically. A 50 foot tall spider is one of them.
SRW: Last year you directed a segment for the anthology, Tales of Halloween. Like all anthologies, some of the tales are better than others. But we’re here to talk about you, Mike, not these other guys! So…Friday the 31st. Short, super violent, gory. Very, very silly spoof about a Michael Meyers type serial killer running afoul of a cute lil’ alien. Limbs are chopped and dropped. How long did it take you to come up with this idea, Mike? 

MM: I'll explain how it came to be in the next question. As far as my segment. It was the opening scene of a screenplay I've always wanted to make.  But, I knew that the opening itself would be able to stand alone if I wanted to do it as a short.  So I felt this is a rare opportunity to do anything I wanted, and this is what I wanted to do. 
                                  
SRW: What—or who--is “The October Society?”

MM: The October Society is a group of filmmakers that currently live in Los Angeles, except for one. They are all friends and support each others work. They came together for a movie called "Tales of Halloween" in the spirit that we would all go further together than if we did it individually. Think of it as The Avengers of horror.  It all came about because we were all friends in real life and decided to make a movie together.

SRW: Another John Carpenter reference (several, actually)! Adrienne Barbeau again as the radio DJ/narrator, practically lifted from The Fog. Someone’s a big Carpenter fan (um, not “The Carpenters” but you know what I mean…).

MM: I'm a fan of The Carpenters too ;) But I think any self respecting genre fan considers himself a Carpenter fan. On "Tales of Halloween" you had some pretty massive ones.  I would say certainly Neil Marshall, Dave Parker and myself  really kind of pushed the theme through the movie.  We were really enamored with the idea of Adrienne Barbeau recreating her character from "The Fog" to narrate the piece.
SRW: Okay, moving on! Lavantula finds you still working out your giant spider phase. (Not sure I ever did understand the title; unless it’s a reference to L.A.). Am I correct in assuming this was a Sy-Fy TV movie?

MM: Yes this was a total, work for hire for Syfy channel. My first tv movie. The title came from the idea of Lava + avalanche + tarantula = "Lavalantula".

SRW: As much flack as the Sy-Fy flicks get, there’s no denying their popularity. Plus, it’s the best place for b-genre movie directors to show off their wares these days, I think. There’s a surprising cameo/in-joke to Sharknado! How’d that come about?

MM: Yeah, I figured if there was ever a time it was acceptable to do one of those movies, it would be during the height of the "Sharknado" craze.  Syfy wanted to link these movies so badly, they got Ian Zeiring to make a cameo. People think it's a shared universe and technically I guess it is, because Steve Guttenberg returns the favor and makes a cameo in "Sharknado: The Fourth Awakens". So the question comes up, when will there be a "Sharknado vs. Lavalantula"? The truth is probably never, because the movies are owned by two competing companies. So I don't ever see it happening. Hopefully the world will find the strength to go on without it. ;)

SRW: You had the unenviable task of repackaging Steve Guttenberg as an action hero! Not an easy job, I wouldn’t think. But he plays with the character and the script wisely laughs at him as a washed up action movie star. (“No bug movies!” Lol.).Was it your intent to create a cult of celebrity satire disguised as a giant spider movie?

MM: I always liked the idea of a story about an actor that was kind of a wuss in real life, but then had to rise to the occasion and adopt the persona that people perceive him to be.  That was what sort of hooked me about "Lavalantula." I felt there was an opportunity to make a movie about a character that had to be the hero he always pretended to be.  I don't think anyone really cares or picks up on that in a movie named "Lavalantula" but that's what I was going for at least.

SRW: Guttenberg’s final rallying speech is a riot, playing on the self-importance of Hollywood “insiders.” Do you like being on the outskirts of Hollywood, Mike? So you can continue your vision? Or would you rather sell out and cash in? (Loaded questions, I know.)

MM: I would love to sell out, lol. No one is offering. The truth is that's half true. I like making my strange little movies, but it would be great to be able to make them for someone else with a budget. Being an indie filmmaker sucks from a financial point of view. There's hardly any money to direct these things now that budgets are so low.

SRW: The most stunning thing about Lavantula (besides Nia Peeple’s distracting cleavage, of course) was when I discovered “Marty” was played by Michael Winslow! The sound effects guy from the Police Academy films, for God’s sake! Haven’t seen him since then. Did you seek him out, Mike?

MM: Absolutely! Steve Guttenberg thought it would be cool to get him in a cameo, but then I thought it would be funny to keep going with it and try to get as many members of the Police Academy cast as possible.  We got four of them, but that was enough to go into that out of the box area that I'm so fond of.  Now it was the cast of "Police Academy" vs. Lava Spiders, and that strikes me as funny.
SRW: Okay! You’ve just completed two very interesting sounding films with Dolph Lundgren and Henry Rollins (two, um, very warm and cuddly leading men). Can’t wait to see them! Tell the Tornado Alley readers what they’re about and when and where they can expect to see them.

MM: I did a terrible film with Henry Rollins, I won't even mention it's name. It was the smallest budgeted movie I had ever done and I was quite excited about it. For reasons that I don't fully understand the producers of the film decided to not involve me in the final stages of post production. They recut the movie, took out much of the gore and violence, and didn't involve me at all with the music, visual fx, sound and color correction.  The end result is a festering pile of shit I'm embarrassed to have my name on.

The other film I did is called "Don't Kill It" starring Dolph Lundgren. We had a blast on this movie. It was a bit of a return to my roots with movies like "The Convent". It's a bloody blast of a movie. It premiered at Fantastic Fest and will be hitting VOD and limited theaters on March 3rd. I'm really excited for people to see it!

SRW: There you have it, folks. Mike Mendez, one of my favorite low-budget filmmakers working. Do yourself a favor and check out his fun flicks.

Friday, May 26, 2017

President Rock

Or should that be President THE Rock?
Yep, Duane Johnson (aka "The Rock"), rassler, actor, and guy who likes to disturbingly dress in drag (a lot!) for comedic purposes, has expressed interest in running for president of the United States. (When he dresses in drag, he can be his own First Lady.)

Sure, why not? Let's do this. These days the idea of President Rock doesn't even sound all that crazy. Donald Trump threw the floodgates wide open, making it acceptable for any sorta celebrity to become POTUS. Qualifications and experience absolutely don't matter.

I'm looking forward to many interesting upcoming political campaigns. President Nicholas Cage? You betcha. He could emote his way through foreign policy. Wait, how about Liam Neeson? He's already recreated himself into an action hero, why can't he become president? He'll strong-arm his way through the Russians. God help anyone who takes hostages captive. Charlie Sheen's gonna want a piece of the action, of course. He'll run a campaign fueled by tiger blood and can solve political hot topics with the power of his brain. President Sheen is WINNING!

Kim Kardashian would make a stunning president. And to keep her in line, to keep an even keel over world events, I elect Kanye as vice-president. Based on the new TV show, Designated Survivor, I imagine Kiefer Sutherland will get quite a few write-in votes.

It's an exciting time for politics! A glorious new Camelot, filled with celebrities and stars!

When The Rock becomes president, I envision him roping off congress, taking the dissenters and annoying bill blockers to the mat! He'll piledrive the Tea Party into a corner, then chokeslam them into submission! Any pesky filibusters? Not an issue with President The Rock! He'll dropkick the stall tactic, launch into a flying moonsault, and brainbuster the filibuster into a nelson hold!

Hulk Hogan will make an excellent vice president! Why there was even (a little) talk of his running alongside Trump as his VP! 

Honestly, I can't think of any better qualifications for running for president of the US than professional wrestling!

Powerslam POTUS!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Thin Walls, Big Heart

I've mentioned the hard times my dog's had lately. (Even harder on me, as I've been relegated to sub-human status, having to sleep in the guest bedroom on the lower level. But I digress. Contrary to my blog, the world isn't all about me).
After two major leg surgeries, Zak's incision started to bleed. Furthermore, he pulled the leg up high and limped.

Uh-oh.

Once again we carted him off to the emergency vet hospital. Nerves frayed, my wife and I sat in a small room, waiting for a frazzling long time.

Around us, animal pandemonium rose. Cries, squeals, yips, barks, growls, the works.

But the worst--the absolutely, heart-rending worst--was the man facing the reality he had to put his dog to sleep.

I don't know what the man looked like. Couldn't really tell you what his actual voice sounded like. But his words, strangled with sobs, tore through the thin walls like an emotional torpedo.

"I guess I was lucky to've known him. I saved him twice before... He'd always been there. My pal. It'd be selfish of me...not to put him to rest.  Oh...God... Oh, my God... I'm sure gonna' miss him. Whatever you can do to make him more comfortable. This is the hardest day..."

He went on. The doctor stayed respectfully quiet, listening to the man working through his anguish.  By the time he was done, both my wife and I were soap-opera-sodden messes, eyes bleary with tears. And we gave Zak a little bit of extra loving.

The good news is Zak just had issues with fluid or something. I dunno. I was still too distraught over the man in the hallway's angst.

I've put down dogs before. Each time it takes while to get over it. It's sad, yet I know it's the best thing to do. But like Sad Hallway Man, you can't help but be torn up over it. It takes effort to work your way through the steps, internally argue and debate. Cry a bit.

After I put my twin cocker spaniels to sleep, I vowed not to get another dog. Time passed. So did my vow. But I still wonder if pet ownership's worth the awful sadness experienced at the end of a beloved dog's life.

Kinda like how I felt after my divorce some years ago. Should I even risk putting myself through such trauma again? Is the clearly never been in love and broken idiot who said "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all" right? 

Eat it, Lord Tennyson. 

But the answer, of course, is yes.

I love my wife.

I love my dog.

I don't so much love sleeping in a tiny bed in the guest room, but whatever. Tis better to sleep than not sleep at all.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The "Cool" Dad

Ain't that an oxymoron-and-a-half?
When my daughter was younger, when I hosted sleep-overs (and parents, I'm warning you, always, ALWAYS invite an equal number of girls...never, EVER host just three. You're asking for trouble.), I always stuck my stupid self in the mix of things.

I never let the girls drink or smoke, but I kinda' think they were doing that on their own anyway. Yet there I was, using buzzy words and phrases ("I'd be so way down with that, home-fry, if it wasn't so cray-cray!"), acting kinda' dumb but believing I was cool.

Hey, the girls wanted to watch horror movies? No prob! As long as the flicks weren't too chock full of gratuitous nudity or  violence (kinda narrowed down our viewing choices). Pizza, you bet! Music? Man, I was up on all the alternative rock, could chat with the girls for hours. 

Problem was alt rock sorta became passe. So did I. And no one bothered to tell me.

When I used the word "hip" on my daughter, I kinda think that was the turning point.

"Dad, no one says 'hip' any more. If they ever did."

Now, the only "hip" around here is the one I'll break when I fall.

I sat back in my hoodie, scratched my soul patch, moved aside my beanie, made sure my tats were prominent, massaged my arthritic knee...and wondered when I got old.

Sometimes, you have to admit defeat. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Wild West just got a little weirder with Jeff Chapman's The Black Blade!



SRW: Give a big ol’ Tornado Alley howdy-do to talented fantasy and horror writer Jeff Chapman. Today we’re yonderin’ back into the Wild West to discuss cowpoke Chapman’s chaps and new novel, The Black Blade. And it’s a hoot and a holler, folks. Traditionally a short story writer, Jeff has spread his wings and written some kind of novel that’ll have the folks at Gulch Holler cryin’ in their beers and spit-takin’ their sarsaparilla.

Welcome Jeff! Tell everyone about your new book, The Black Blade.

JC: Thanks for talking with me, Stuart. The Black Blade Is the first novel in The Huckster Tales series. Other works in the series include a short story and a novelette. In The Black Blade, Orville and Jimmy again find themselves over their heads in supernatural trouble. They have a habit of finding trouble. Marzby, an old man with evil intent and magical powers, imprisons Orville and a farmer’s wife and then sends Jimmy and the farmer on a quest to retrieve an enchanted knife from inside Skull Hill. But there’s an evil catch to this quest. The one who hands the blade over to Marzby selects which prisoner to release. One knife for one prisoner. It’s not long before the farmer aims his shotgun at Jimmy. But the trigger-happy farmer may be the least of Jimmy’s worries. The sun is on the move and there’s a host of strange creatures between Jimmy and the final showdown with Marzby.

SRW: Where’d the term “huckster” come from? What exactly does it mean? And where can readers find other tales of your huckster duo, Orville and Jimmy?

JC: A huckster is someone who travels around the country selling stuff. Usually the value of the “stuff” is questionable. Think snake-oil salesmen. Orville hasn’t sold snake-oil in any of the stories yet, but if he finds he can make money from it, he most likely will. Orville’s primary gig is operating as the turbaned soothsayer Orville the Oracular. Jimmy provides behind-the-curtain support and looks after Maggie, their horse. Jimmy also operates the moral compass which Orville ignores to their peril.

So far, there are three stories in The Huckster Tales series. “The Wand” is a short story you can have for free with a newsletter signup. “The Flaming Emerald” is a novelette available in the anthology Ghosts of Fire. And then there’s the novel, The Black Blade. I have more novels percolating, including an origin story explaining how Jimmy and Orville met and a sequel to The Black Blade.

SRW: I’ve been a fan of your colorful prose for some time, Jeff. No one can turn a purtier metaphor. But I always thought your writing sprang forth from the past, a "Weird Tales" vibe if not older. A writer out of time. I think you’ve hit your stride with the Huckster series set in the old West. The perfect synthesis of place and prose. Why did you choose the old West as your background?

JC: I didn’t intend to write a western when I wrote “The Wand.” I thought of it as fantasy, but the characters pulled me in the western direction. That’s where they wanted to be, so I went with it. The characters are always right.

SRW: We’ve gotta’ talk about research. Everything about the book, from the dialect, the dialogue, the setting, the props rings true. Jeff, did you base this off of years watching sage dramas on the TV? Or did you actually, you know, open a book and dig into true research (ew…what’s that?)? Come on, just between us, there’s nobody else around…spill.

JC: I grew up watching reruns of The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. My parents loved westerns, so I saw a lot of them: the classic films and the B-grade ones. We watched Gunsmoke. We watched F-Troop. The films and TV shows give you a sense of the myths and feel of the genre. For the details of daily life, I researched online and read some books. For example, I learned that the ubiquitous cowboy hat was not the primary headgear in the Old West. Many men wore bowlers (like Bat Masterson) or straw hats. Orville wears a bowler while Jimmy makes do with a well-worn straw hat. I also discovered that saloon owners sold or gave away cheap snack foods. The saltier the better. In The Black Blade, Isobel brings food for her uncle to sell at his saloon and claims her uncle spices it with extra salt.

SRW: Jimmy’s grandmother--although I assume long dead--is almost a Greek Chorus character throughout the book, constantly spouting wise adages, maxims, proverbs, down home remedies, you name it.  Where in the world did you come up with all of Grandma’s sayings? Did you just wing it? Watch a lot of Oprah? Or is Grandma based on a relative of yours?

JC: I made them up as I wrote. Grandma provides comic relief and an entertaining way to get at Jimmy’s thoughts. She’s not based on anyone in particular. Whenever I needed something from Grandma, I tried to imagine what an opinionated, old farm woman would say. I suppose my rural Kansas upbringing is paying off here. I hope readers get a good laugh out of her sayings. I had fun writing them.

SRW: I was a little disappointed Orville dropped out relatively early in the book as he and Jimmy make a cute comical team, right up there with Martin and Lewis, Starsky and Hutch, and Trump and Pence. A lot of the humor derives from their prickly relationship and Orville’s less than scrupulous moral code. I’m curious, did you set out to instill humor in the Huckster series? Or did it organically rise from Orville and Jimmy’s characters?

JC: I didn’t set out to write humorous stories, but when you have two characters trying to move events in opposite directions, humor is often the result. The Huckster Tales are all written in the first person, from Jimmy’s perspective. His voice has much to do with the humorous tone.

SRW: There are enough fantastical critters and varmints running through The Black Blade to give Ray Harryhausen nightmares. List a few. Then ‘fess up to inspirations…

JC: The first strange critter is Marzby’s pindigo. Marzby claims he forced the spirit of a wendigo into a pig. The result is a ferocious half-pig half-human monstrosity. A wendigo is a cannibalistic horror from Native American folklore. Jimmy also comes across a shape-shifting opossum and a shape-shifting coyote. Coyotes are common in Native American folklore, especially as tricksters. I don’t think many people give opossum’s much thought. I added the opossum as something unexpected.

In the final chapters, we meet Marzby’s servants, a pair of oafish but incredibly strong men, at least they appear to be men. Their skeletons are a mixture of human and cattle bones. 

SRW: The tone of The Black Blade is a little schizophrenic, but I mean that in a good way! On the one hand, it’s a weird western. On the other hand, it’s a fantasy adventure. On yet another hand (where are all these hands coming from?), there’s humor, yet some violent and gruesome incidents. How would you categorize the book?

JC: What you say in your question. I had no idea how hard it would be to categorize the book until I finished it. I followed the story where it led. How about a weird western fantasy adventure salted with humor?

SRW: Jeff, I’ve been after you for a long time to write a full-length novel. You’ve written many fine novellas and short stories, but haven’t taken the big plunge. Until now. Why? And how was your experience as opposed to writing shorter fiction?

JC: I’ve started many novels but always bogged down in the middle of them. With The Blake Blade, I determined to keep moving forward and not stop. The strategy worked. Eventually I reached the end. Now that I’ve written one novel, I’m anxious to finish another one. I see now that a novel is like any other story, only longer, and to finish, you have to focus on scenes, knocking off one after another.

SRW: Truth time. I’ve given this a lot of thought, Jeff… Seems to me it’s more than coincidence. Okay, your name’s Jeff Chapman. You write about horse-riding cowboys in the weird west. Do you wear chaps? The readers want the truth. And photos.

JC: Good one. No, I’ve never worn chaps, though I remember there was a cologne called Chaps that I may have used when I was in high school. I don’t even wear cowboy boots.

SRW: What’s up next for Jeff? (And I hope the Hucksters?)

JC: I’m writing a couple fantasy stories for anthologies. The stories are linked by their protagonist, a cat inhabited by a human spirit. I like cats. After I finish those stories, I’m going to finish another novel, a fantasy story about a mermaid and a fisherman’s daughter. The cat from the stories figures in the novel, too. After the mermaid novel, I’m hoping to be ready for another Huckster novel.

SRW: Alright, time to rustle up the cattle and toss some steaks on the open-fire and zip up for the night, padnuhs. Jeff, why don’t you sing us out—Roy Rogers style—by tellin’ the good folk on the prairie where they might find yore pistol-packin’ work.

JC: To find store links for The Huckster Tales, go to http://www.jeffchapmanbooks.com/huckster-tales. For my other titles, go to http://www.jeffchapmanbooks.com/books. To join my mailing list, go to http://www.jeffchapmanbooks.com. A paperback version of The Black Blade is in the final stages of development (waiting for the proof copy to do the final review). I will be offering some Goodreads giveaways for signed copies. Add The Black Blade to your to-read list (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33898829-the-black-blade ) to receive a notice for the giveaways.

SRW: Read Jeff Chapman’s The Black Blade, folks. Highly recommended and more fun than a pistol-packin’ bandolero.