Jennifer Santellano reads “The Writer”

I am honored tonight to share with you Jennifer Santellano’s skilled rendition of my 2013 poem, “The Writer.”  She has a lovely speaking voice, and I’m truly grateful for the life she breathed into the piece with her interpretation.

Ms. Santellano is a published poet herself.  She also finds time to help her colleagues in the independent literature community, by performing recordings of their poems.  It’s a particularly nice way of being generous with her time and talent.  You can find more of her interpretations at her Youtube channel right here.

 

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Jenny Santellano will read one of my poems!

Hey, gang — I received some nice news today.  Poet Jenny Santellano has kindly agreed to feature a poem of mine in her ongoing video series.

Jenny is a particularly gracious creative person who allows other poets to benefit from her voice; she reads selected poems at her Youtube channel, which you can find right here.  (Seriously, guys, she has a beautiful voice.)

The poem selected is “The Writer.” It was part of a trilogy of poems entitled “Three Dreamers,” which was first published in 2013 by Dagda Publishing in its online format, and then in its print anthology, “Threads.”  (“Three Dreamers” was also subsequently published by Illumen Magazine, Dead Snakes and UFO Gigolo.)

I’ll be sure to post a link when the video appears.

Thanks Jenny!

 

 

 

A short review of “The Dead 2: India” (2013)

At times, “The Dead 2: India” (2013), seems like a carbon copy of its predecessor three years earlier.  Both “The Dead” and “The Dead 2” portray American male protagonists on a lengthy overland trek to reach a wife or girlfriend.  Both were shot on location in an overseas setting.  (The original took place in Africa.)  And both portray a second protagonist who is a native of the country.  (In this case it’s a little boy portrayed by Anand Krishna Goyal.  Even a curmudgeon like me has got to admit — that kid is adorable.)

I liked the first movie a bit better.  This one feels a little hastily put together, in terms of its script and directing.

It does manage to succeed somewhat with the things that made the first film decent viewing.  Its desert locations are beautifully shot, and the filmmakers bring back some of the original’s slow-burn horror elements.  The zombies here are usually as slow as snails — slower even than the zombies of George A. Romero’s genre-defining early films.  But they’re also quiet, and they converge en masse when our hero lets his guard down.  And the occasional appearance of a rare feisty specimen leads to some genuine jump scares.  The movie also effectively employs what appears to be a low-budget special effect — the monsters’ eyes are of an opal-white, otherworldly color.  (I’m guessing those are colored contact lenses?)  The trick works, the zombies are scary, and “The Dead 2” successfully provides a kind of “creeping horror” that is rare for today’s horror films.

That wasn’t enough, however, to rescue this movie entirely from feeling like a retread of the original.  I’d describe this as an average viewing experience for a horror fan, and I’d rate it a 6 out of 10.

 

 

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A short review of “Mr. Jones” (2013)

Right up until its final act, “Mr. Jones” (2013) amazed me by how good it was.  Here was a creative, thoughtful and extremely frightening found-footage horror movie.  It was so damned good that I was surprised that I hadn’t heard about it before.

The story idea was fresh and interesting — a young couple moves to an isolated forest cabin, only to discover that a mysterious neighbor is “Mr. Jones,” a legendary anonymous folk artist.  This hermit produces grotesque artworks — “scarecrows,” totems and dreamcatchers that he then mails to apparently random recipients around the world.  Not all of them are pleased with their macabre gifts, and their benefactor’s identity and motivations become the stuff of urban legends.  (Try to imagine H.R. Giger with a modus operandi like Banksy.)  There is a lot more going on here than a cliche yarn about a supernatural bogeyman.

The script is smart, the story is well developed, and the tension builds slowly and effectively as the tale unfolds for our two protagonists.  My only quibble is that the couple does incredibly stupid things, and are cheerfully curious about discoveries that should scare the hell out of them.  But that is a failing of so many horror films that I decided not to let it bother me.

Then the movie loses its way.  I’m disappointed to share here that this otherwise great film suffers because of its disjointed, meandering and consequently frustrating climax.  It’s too long, it’s too confusing, and it spends far too much time repeating redundant shots and scare-moments.

We see one character, for example, pursued by multiple adversaries … repeatedly.  Well, these adversaries stop being scary when the viewer eventually arrives at the conclusion that either A.)  they can’t catch this person or B.)  they can’t hurt this person.

At another point, a character must do something urgent, but receives contradictory instructions from different sources.  This plot development could have been damned unnerving in the context of our story, but it’s nearly lost in a confusing barrage of repetitive images and sounds.  Writer-director Karl Mueller strives to immerse the viewer in a kind of surreal “nightmare.”  But he makes a mistake that is common for surreal horror films — portraying confused and disoriented characters does not always require the viewer to be confused and disoriented.  A shorter, sparser, cleaner script would have saved what might have been a classic.

Oh, well.  This movie was still fun enough.  Again … much of it is quite excellent.  And another viewer might not be as turned off by its conclusion as I was.  I still recommend “Mr. Jones,” if a little reluctantly.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

 

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A short review of “The Human Race” (2013)

“The Human Race” (2013) isn’t really the under-recognized gem that I was led to believe it was — it’s actually mediocre in some ways.  The dialogue is downright bad, the acting is mostly below average, and the limited special effects budget definitely shows.

It … still held my attention, though, thanks to a devilish story concept and some brutal plot turns.  (Eighty diverse strangers are mysteriously transported to an isolated location, where powerful unseen entities force them to eliminate one another in a “race” to the death.)  I do realize that there have been a spate of low-budget, “Saw”-inspired movies like this, and that this kind of story device should be familiar to horror movie fans by now.

But there is some pathologically wicked story development here — consider, for example, that contenders include an elderly man, a pregnant woman and a veteran who has had a leg amputated.  And while several contenders make heroic choices, several others take a sociopathic glee in eliminating their opponents.  Writer-director Paul Hough might be terrible at writing dialogue, but he does know how to craft a surreal horror story with some horrific and unexpected turns.  (Yeesh.)

There is also a standout performance by Trista Robinson as a secondary character.  (She is the more tenacious half of a deaf couple who are teleported and forced to compete.)  In a film with little admirable acting, she still plays her role with skill and intensity.  This is a talented actress.

All in all, this is a flawed low-budget film that is still decent fare for a horror fan.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

 

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (2)

Pictured are Monroe Hall, Virginia Hall, Campus Walk, Lee Hall, and Trinkle Hall.

*****

The Mary Washington College Campus looked as beautiful as ever last week — it was only marred by the occasional sign bearing an embarrassing misprint.  (They perplexingly refer to the misnomer “University of Mary Washington.”)

At first I hesitated to visit the campus during my stop in Fredericksburg, Virginia on my way to Washington, D.C.  I asked my Alumbud if two men in their 40’s would look suspicious there, given the increased security on today’s college campuses.  He told me to relax — people would assume we were two fathers scouting the school for their respective offspring.  That made me feel really, really old.

 

Monroe Hall and The Fountain.  When I went to school at MWC, that fountain was occasionally doused with either detergent or dye as a prank.

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Virginia Hall.  In the early 1990’s, this was a dorm exclusively for freshmen girls; I don’t know if that’s still the case today.

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You can’t see it here, but beyond that hedge and beside Monroe is Campus Drive, curving down past the amphitheater to Sunken Road.  The long hill is still entirely wooded, and is still arguably the prettiest part of campus.

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Campus Walk and Lee Hall.

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This is cute.  I’m guessing it was a product of the recent remodeling?  But which way to Winterfell?  Metropolis?  Which way is Caprica City?  I have tickets for a Buccaneers game next week.

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Here is where the College Bookstore used to be (beside the Campus Police Station in the lower part of Lee); I’m told now that it’s in a vastly larger space upstairs.

And The Underground has returned!  It closed after my freshman year in 1990-91.  I met a lot of good friends there, and I heard my first live blues at The Underground, too, performed by Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women.  (I only just now learned that Saffire’s Ann Rabson sadly passed away in 2013.)

[Update: an alumna just told me that she can remember when The Underground was called “The Pub.”]

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Campus Walk and Trinkle Hall.  My Alumbud reminded of what seemed like a big issue back in the day — the students’ desire to have a 24-hour study hall.  They successfully petitioned the college administration for it, and at some point toward the end of my college career, Trinkle began staying open all night.  If that sounds incredibly nerdy, it was.  But it was also a pretty big quality-of-life issue for the dorms.  A lot of people needed a place to go to cram before finals, in order to keep the peace with a sleeping roommate.

The “computer pods” were also located here, downstairs, in a basementish-type space that was air-conditioned to the point where it felt freezing.  You always had to bring a jacket or sweater to do your work there.

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Looking south on Campus Walk, you can just barely make out the Bell Tower, a product of the campus remodeling.  You used to be able to see Bushnell Hall, my freshman-year dormitory.

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The bust of Dr. James L. Farmer, Jr. that the school erected opposite Trinkle Hall in 2001.  He was one of the nation’s foremost leaders in the Civil Rights movement, founding the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and organizing the “Freedom Rides” to desegregate interstate bus travel.  Dr. Farmer was my Civil Rights professor in 1992, and he was universally admired by his students.

Some weird old guy wandered into the photo here — sorry about that.

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A review of “The Conjuring” (2013)

I feel the same way about “The Conjuring” (2013) as I did about its prequel, “Annabelle” (2014) — it has all the earmarks of a bad movie, but it inexplicably succeeds anyway.

Seriously — this film has clunky exposition, cheesy dialogue and over-the-top plot developments (toward the end), not to mention a plot setup that’s in questionable taste.  (The movie suggests that the innocents condemned by the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials were indeed witches.  This feels a bit awkward to anyone who read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in high school.)  “The Conjuring” also plays out like a love letter to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the controversial paranormal investigators who are largely the subject of the film (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).  This last offense is forgivable, I suppose — the film was made with the Warrens’ blessing, and Lorraine Warren was even present as a “consultant” during its production.

Strangely, however, these flaws were barely noticeable to me when I watched it.  I had a good time.  “The Conjuring” just happens to be a decent fright flick that delivers on the scares.

I think James Wan’s skilled directing has a lot to do with that; the film works visually.  (I could name specific instances where it works especially well, but I want to avoid spoilers.)

The acting helped a lot too — Wilson and Farmiga are both damned good, as is Lili Taylor as the afflicted family’s mother.  (I’ve admired Taylor’s acting since her long ago 1998 guest appearance on “The X-Files,” and she was equally good as a bad guy in 1996’s “Ransom.”)  Ron Livingston was also quite good in the role of the father — if you have trouble placing his face, as I did, he also played Captain Nixon in HBO’s “Band of Brothers” (2001).  He seems to have a talent for playing the likable everyman — he’s great here as the somewhat feckless father, and functions well as a kind of viewer surrogate.  I should also mention the young Joey King as one of the family’s daughters — she played the role of a terrified child to perfection, and really raised the stakes emotionally.

Despite really enjoying most of the movie, some of my enthusiasm for “The Conjuring” flagged a bit toward the end.  The denouement here includes an exorcism, and those are almost always boring.  There are only so many ways that scenario can play out, and we’ve seen them all — and I shouldn’t even need to name that certain 1973 film that did it best.  Furthermore, we see our story’s demon do some pretty extraordinary things, even by demon standards.  It can apparently transport itself great distances (using an inanimate object as a kind of fax machine?), and can manipulate both the laws of physics and the area’s wildlife.  It was all a little too much for my willing suspension of disbelief.

Again, though — this was a good movie.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good scare.