T’was the witch of November come stealin’

Some people might question our choice of reading material before we went on a seven-day cruise. Not long before we departed, we finished reading Simple Courage by Frank Delaney, an account of the Flying Enterprise, which was hit by two rogue waves in the North Atlantic in late 1951. The first one “broke” the ship and the second one knocked her into a 60° list. Little wonder my wife was humming “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” while we drove to the Port of Houston for our cruise to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

Little did we know: on the first full day at sea, the program listed a book club. The title on offer was Dead Wake, which sounded like a murder mystery, so we checked it out. Turns out it’s a non-fiction book by Erik Larson about the last voyage (and, ultimately, the sinking) of the Lusitania. Inspired choice to pass out on a cruise ship. However, we really enjoyed it: it presented the historical context (and you know, I’m all about the historical context!), the personalities aboard the ship, the political situation at the time—as well as Woodrow Wilson’s personal anguish—and it also presented the point of view of the captain of the U-20 whose torpedo brought down the mighty ship, thanks to his log book. Being on a cruise ship allowed us to compare and contrast the experience in 2015 to that in 1915. I’ve never read Larson before, but I plan to tackle some of his other books. Maybe we’ll read Isaac’s Storm (about the 1900 Galveston hurricane) during our next hurricane. I emailed him when we got back to find out if he knew that his book was being featured on a cruise ship, but he said that neither he nor his publicist were responsible, and he seemed greatly amused.

We splurged and got a suite at the back of the ship, with a balcony. The room was comparable to what you’d get at an extended-stay motel, with a bedroom, living room (divided by a pull-curtain), bathroom with separate spa tub and shower area, and a sink, mini-fridge area. Also a DVD player and two TVs, one facing in each direction, which were surplus to requirements. We received a lot of special perqs throughout the cruise as suite residents, which made us feel pampered.

The main feature for us was the balcony. It was about ⅓ the width of the ship, big enough for two deck chairs side by side and a small round table that could seat four. We spent a lot of time on the balcony, watching the Gulf and the Caribbean roll out behind us. There was an overhang, so we were only rarely in direct sun, which meant we didn’t have to ration our time for fear of sun burn. Except when we were in port, it was never too hot to sit out there, nor too cool. We even took a couple of our meals out there. Did I mention we loved the balcony? So much so that we decided not to go on any shore excursions (Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel). We preferred to stay on board, taking advantage of the lower census of passengers.

It was also a good perspective from which to watch the docking and departing process. Seeing these great ships almost parallel parking, backing up, going sideways, it’s quite impressive. In Costa Maya, we left at 7:30 PM, when it was dark and drizzling. A couple of workers on the wharf were waiting for the ropes to slacken so they could pull them off the bollards. They were in yellow rain slickers and one guy was dancing to pass the time. We could just barely hear him whistling “La Cucaracha.” My wife is a world-class whistler, so she whistled the song back at him. We were four or five decks above the waterline, so maybe fifty feet up, but he heard us all the same, and we had a little back and forth with them. They were all alone on the wharf. It was a fun little moment.

We partook of some of the entertainment options, but we didn’t darken the doorways of the casino (not our thing) nor any of the shops. A lot of the on-board activities are thinly disguised infomercials, so we tended to steer clear of those, too. Lots of music, which was nice. Great dining options. I’m amazed I didn’t put on any weight, because we ate multi-course meals and had desserts galore, which we don’t often do. We ended up sharing tables with total strangers on a few occasions, but we always enjoyed the encounters. A lot of our fellow travelers were multiple-repeat cruisers, having logged tens of trips. One couple goes on a cruise every other week. The record-holder on this cruise was a man who’d spent something like 1400 days on cruises, or four solid years at sea.

Given that this wasn’t a holiday week, there weren’t so many younger people and we were at the younger edge of the median range, I’d say. For some reason, I also noticed a lot of the older men had pony tails. We met up with one interesting “couple” (I won’t say why they were interesting or why I put “couple” in quotes, because that would spoil things) at the bar one afternoon and I came away from the encounter with a great idea for a short story.

In addition to Dead Wake, which I read to my wife, I finished two novels (Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin and The Crossing by Michael Connelly), one novella (The Grownup by Gillian Flynn) and most of a third novel (Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling). I did no writing at all, even though I’d planned to proof a novella. We were completely off the grid for the seven days we were away. We didn’t even bring our cell phones on board. No phone, texts or emails, no internet, no TV. I turned on our set a couple of times to get to the channel that showed our location and flew past any of the news channels along the way.

Someone insisted on telling us about the terror attacks in Paris on Friday evening, but if we hadn’t happened to sit next to them while waiting for dinner, we wouldn’t have heard about it at all. (My association with the Bataclan comes from the Supertramp album Paris. During a break between songs, John Anthony Helliwell marvels at the size of the crowd at this concert and he remembers back to the group’s first show in the city, which had about eight people in the audience—at the Bataclan concert hall.)

While we were away, my historical context essay about Different Seasons went live: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, as well as Rich’s essay about his recollections of the book then and now.

I was also delighted to learn that my story “Opposite Sides” was one of the finalists in the IV Edition of the Flash Fiction Competition César Egido Serrano, Museum of Words. There were 35,609 stories from 149 countries, so to be one of 18 Americans to make it to the final 250 or so out of that mass of submissions, as selected by 20 creative writing professors, is an honor indeed.

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Revisiting the Man in Black

This has been a busy week at Stephen King Revisited. A couple of days ago, my Historical Context essay about The Gunslinger went up: Five Easy Pieces. Then Rich Chizmar posted his reminiscences about the book. Finally, today, my Guest Essay about the first Dark Tower book went live: Stephen King crossed the desert and I followed.

I also posted a review of Christopher Golden’s excellent new horror novel, Dead Ringers, at Onyx Reviews yesterday.

I completed a long interview for a magazine appearance early next year in which I was asked some fascinating questions. It ran long (I guess I ran long!) so it might not all get published in that venue and the interviewer is exploring alternate venues for any parts that might get edited out. There’s a chance that a new short story might run with the interview, too, but that remains to be seen.

With season 2 of The Returned under way, I introduced my wife to the first season of the French series last night and we’ll stack up the second season for later. It’s a genuinely creepy show, especially the little boy Victor, beautifully filmed in idyllic surroundings. I also like the fact that the French speakers enunciate very clearly, so I can pick up a lot of the dialog, which can be at times subtly different from the subtitles. I’m pretty sure that character didn’t just say, “Get lost.”

We’re keeping up with The Blacklist and Doctor Who, and we’re eagerly awaiting the return of The Americans, which I hope will be back in January or February. Last weekend, we watched Back In Time, the Back to the Future documentary, which was interesting for a while but then it got tedious when it focused so much on some of the obsessed fans. It had its moments, but it wasn’t nearly as good as some of the other documentaries we’ve seen lately. Possibly because I wasn’t all that into Back to the Future. I saw each of the movies once, and that’s it.

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Patricia and the bulls

My wife was away for the weekend, so I decided to catch up on a few movies that I knew wouldn’t interest her while doing my best to stay dry. The remnants of the Pacific hurricane known as Patricia crossed into the Gulf of Mexico, bringing with it an impressive amount of rain. The most recent total I saw for our community was something like 5.7″ between Saturday morning and yesterday afternoon. Parts of downtown Houston got as much as 10″. There was some localized flooding, but it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Everything was pretty dry before this batch of rain came.

On Friday night, I saw Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak. This film has a few genuine scares, but it is mostly a Gothic movie that revels in atmosphere and setting. It’s about a young woman who marries a mysterious man and moves to England to live with him at his isolated and crumbling estate. The ceiling in the main entrance hall has collapsed, and a constant stream of stuff falls through it: leaves, petals, snow. It’s a magical and captivating concept. The young woman has prior experience with ghosts, and her new home has more than its fair share of them. They are depicted in an innovative manner: crawling specters that look like they are composed of the humans’ circulatory systems, with things (blood?) streaming off them at the edges in wisps and swirls. The whole thing is visually impressive, worth seeing on the big screen. Stick around for at least the first section of the credits for more of these fantastic visuals. Oh, it’s also a very stabby movie.

On Saturday morning, I saw Sicario, which is a good follow-up to the Netflix series Narcos, where I first heard that word, which is defined as “hit man” in the context of this movie. Emily Blunt is an FBI agent who volunteers to attach herself to a task force led by Josh Brolin whose intent is to do some major damage to Mexican drug lords operating near the US border. Also on the team is a mysterious figure played by Benecio del Toro (unrelated to Guillermo), a man with some odd quirks and a way of speaking in philosophical metaphors. Blunt’s character is highly motivated because her team was damaged by a booby trap, and she’s coming to understand that the normal ways of doing things simply aren’t effective. She’s the audience’s avatar, the person to whom the film is explained, and there’s a lot more going on than she at first realizes, which places her in some difficult situations. It’s all very impressive and disturbing because it seems real and realistic. Possibly one of Blunt’s best-ever performances, and del Toro is terrific.

By the time I left that matinee showing, the rain had started, so I hunkered down at home for the rest of the weekend. Yesterday I finally got around to seeing Chappie, which was not at all what I was expecting. William Gibson has been talking about the movie a lot on Twitter (very favorably). I thought it was going to be something like Short Circuit, and the trailers I saw in the distant past didn’t give me any sense of its South African setting or its “hip hop” sensibility. It stars Dev Patel (from the Marigold Hotel movies) as the inventor of robotic police, one of which he implants with consciousness. However, this robot is stolen by a bunch of criminals played by members of a rap/rave group called Die Antwoord. They give surprisingly effective performances as they “pervert” this sentient robot, implanting their particular South African accents and jargon onto it and convincing it to do things that are against its fundamental programming. Lurking in the wings is Hugh Jackman, who has built a prototype of a much more expensive robot that the company won’t give him the green light to test. The movie got a critical drubbing, and only middling audience response, but it’s really quite good. Funny and sad. A little maudlin toward the end, and a tad tidy, but it’s well worth the journey, especially since I got a coupon to see it free OnDemand.

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I don’t really speak Portuguese

I love it when I think I’ve run out of time to start writing in the morning because I’m busy doing other things and I still manage to get 1000 words done. My goal for this novel is a conservative 5000 words per week. More if I can get ’em, but that pace would be satisfactory.

My essay The Halloween Tree is now up at the blog formerly know as Not Now…Mommy’s Reading, rebranded for October (to acknowledge its takeover by a motley crew of horror writers) as Not Now…Mommy’s Screaming. There’s also a contest where you can win a trade paperback copy of The Dark Tower Companion, so check it out, and also the other entries from my compatriots in horror.

My most recent essay for Stephen King Revisited is online this week, too. It’s called Can You See Me Running? and it details the historical context behind the publication of The Running Man, the last of the paperback original books published as Richard Bachman.

I was also interviewed recently for Ficção Terror, a Brazilian blog about horror movies and books. The interview is now available in both Portuguese and in English, so you can read it in the language of your choosing.

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Not the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids

I finished the first season of Fortitude this weekend. An impressive original series set in a remote Arctic island, population 700-something. Mostly miners and people who support the mining town (inn keepers, shopkeepers, cops). It’s in the permafrost, a place where it is illegal to die because there’s no place to bury anyone. It starts with a killing and a discovery, and things go very, very badly from there. A lot of people break the law by dying. The local governor (played by Sofie Gråbøl from the Danish original of The Killing) wants to build a hotel in the glacier, but she comes to realize that perhaps a bigger morgue is what’s called for. The story flirts with science fiction and it is definitely horrific at times, but all somewhat credible. A good cast, including Stanley Tucci as a DI in from London to supervise some investigations and Michael Gambon as an aging photographer battling cancer. Filming of Season 2 is underway in Iceland and I can’t wait to see where they take the story.

We saw The Martian yesterday. A very good science-driven space opera about a guy struggling to survive under the worst imaginable conditions: lots of potatoes but no ketchup. A strong ensemble cast, and an intriguing and captivating plot. No aliens or star wars, just the kinds of things a space program has to deal with: the unforgiving nature of space. Damon is the Jimmy Stewart of our time. Always pretty much the same character, but a calm, reassuring force within a film. The audience avatar. The guy we trust to get us home. If I have an issue with the movie at all, it’s that it downplayed the passage of time and the psychological stresses that must cause. The people on Earth were under enormous pressure to produce solutions in an insanely short period of time, but the people in space had to deal with a ton of tedium, and it would have been nice to see that acknowledged a bit more. Tedium and disco. What a combination. Actually, the choice of disco songs was so on the nose at times it was hilarious. Hot Stuff when he’s carting around the radioactive material, the obligatory David Bowie space song, Waterloo by Abba when defeat seems at hand and Donna Summer’s triumphant anthem over the closing parts. All in a all, a well conceived and executed adventure tale. But I expect Damon’s character never wants fries with that again.

There are probably weirder TV shows in current production than The Leftovers, but I’m hard pressed to think of one. For the first 10 minutes of last night’s season 2 premiere, I kept wondering if maybe I’d stumbled into the wrong show by accident. And then another show started, and it wasn’t until very late in the game that we see some familiar faces. Talk about a way to build suspense, though. Have a “psychic” character tell someone else that something bad is going to happen, then watch the second guy stick his hand in a garbage disposal. There’s definitely some weird stuff going on in Miracle, TX. Reminds me a bit of “The End of the Whole Mess” and the waters that prolong life. I get the impression that miracles aren’t all that welcome in Miracle. And what was the deal with the pie? And the cricket? So many questions.

My biggest question about The Affair is the timeline. When does the jail stuff happen with respect to everything else. Much later than the brunt of the episode? So I gather. I’m always intrigued by the way the show recreates certain scenes from different characters’ points of view. Even the clothing is different at times, but definitely the tone and specifics of, for example, the mediation meeting. Totally different. And that had to be one of the most awkward sex scenes I’ve ever seen. Lots of buzz on the ‘net today about the full frontal shot, brief and blurry though it was, but nary a whisper about all the nudity on The Leftovers.

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Alas poor Walter Blunt, I knew him, Patrick Stewart

I found it odd that I hadn’t heard there was a sitcom starring Patrick Stewart. Then, when I discovered it was on Starz, I began to have my doubts. But my wife’s coworker thought it was a scream, so we gave Blunt Talk a shot this weekend. We made it through three 30-minute episodes, but that’s it for us. It is regrettably unfunny. Blunt is despicable from the opening moments of the show, and he gets no better. There were a few funny moments over the ninety-minute span, but on the whole it’s a waste of talent.

CSI went out with a few bangs. Fifteen years is a pretty good run and they gave us the “riding off into the sunset” finale that put a nice ribbon on the series. I never cottoned to the spin-offs, not even the one remaining that will now benefit from Ted Danson’s migration, but I always had a soft spot for Gris and the gang.

Even though I’m from Canada, and I remember well when 2112 was released (I was in grade 9), and they’ve been a constant background presence during my life, I can’t say I’m a huge Rush fan. I like a handful of their songs, and I’m okay with a bunch more, but I’ve never had any desire to see them in concert, even though I had ample opportunity to do so over the years. I actually like Max Webster, their perennial opening band, better. However, Netflix is now streaming the 2010 documentary Behind the Lighted Stage, so we checked it out yesterday. Major props to the dudes from Ontario—they seem to be one of the healthiest (mentally) rock groups in existence. Granted, a 100-minute synopsis of a 40-year career can’t delve into everything, but if there was ever any acrimony or dissension within the group, you figure you’d see some hint of it. But they just did the job and continued to improve themselves and, despite a lack of respect from the critical establishment, kept on keeping on. There’s is an interesting trajectory—how they were pulled from obscurity in Cleveland because “Working Man” tapped into the city’s ethos at the time and how they stood up to the record company and pretty much everyone by refusing to kowtow to their demands and choosing to go out on their own terms, if 2112 had been a failure. How they tried out different things over the years and regrouped when some of the experimentation didn’t quite work out. How they managed to preserve long-term family relationships and how the other two members of the band refused to consider replacing Peart when he went off the grid for a few years following some personal tragedies. Good, solid blokes, all round. Quirky as hell, but they have my respect. And they finally made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone this year.

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So it goes like this: We see Yes. I start listening to old Yes albums. That leads me back to Buggles, who I loved in the 1980s. You know, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Good keyboards. So I wonder what else Geoff Downes has done. Yes, I know he was in Asia, but what else? That leads me to New Dance Orchestra, which is electronica with a strong disco/dance influence. The new album features vocals by Anne-Marie Helder. Reminds me of Sarah Brightman. Research her a bit and discover she does lead vocals for a Welsh group called Panic Room. Find a couple of tracks on YouTube. I like. And thus is a new group discovered by me. I read that the band was formed out of a previous endeavor called Karnataka, which I’ve also never heard. So maybe there’s something else to check out. I like finding new music.

I haven’t said much about this, but since it seems to be moving right along, I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve finally started working on that novel I’ve been thinking about for lo these many months and years. I’m doing it longhand, as I did with the novella I wrote earlier this year, and since September 9 I’ve completed over fifty handwritten pages. I have no idea if all of it will make it into the book once it’s finished, because some of it involves feeling around for the right direction and figuring out for myself what it’s really all about, but I think I’m well on my way. I’m not going to make any promises, even to myself, as to when I hope to get the first draft finished, but it would be nice to think I could get a lot of it done before the leap year begins.

I finished the Netflix original Narcos last night. Open for a second season, which I’d watch. The first season manages to turn the narrating character into a bit of a jerk by the end, but at least he’s not Walter White. Just a guy tainted by the things he has to deal with and do to get his job done.

This morning, while exercising I decided to go back to House of Cards, Season 3, which we’d abandoned after a few episodes. I didn’t mind it, but my wife got bored with it. We’re going to try out a comedy series called Blunt Talk that stars Patrick Stewart this weekend. I’m also watching a series called Fortitude that has Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston and Stanley Tucci. It’s set on a remote northern island (filmed in Iceland) where it is unlawful for anyone to die or be buried.

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Under the Influence

Skype is down all over the world. I guess we broke it during our hour-long videoconference with our daughter in Japan last night! It’s the first time we called since she moved to Okinawa. It was a little like that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Raj shows his family around. Technology is pretty cool, though, except when it breaks down.

I posted a couple of book reviews over the weekend: Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay and Zer0es by Chuck Wendig.

We finished Season 4 of Longmire on Friday night. The switch to Netflix was a positive change, with longer episodes, a more natural structure (no commercial breaks), and a good mix between episode-specific plot and multi-episode arcs. I was glad they resolved the situation that launched the season within a few episodes rather than drag it out, even though its tentacles reached all the way to the end of the season. Episode 3 was intense. I also like that the relationship between Walt and Mathias, the tribal police chief, has evolved from purely antagonistic to at least a working kinship. And it was also an interesting development that Henry should go from stopping Walt from acting like a vigilante in the first episode to embracing that persona later in the season. The relation between Vic and Walt is much more credible than in the novels, I think. Complicated, but not cliched. Ally Walker is a good addition to the show, and I suppose the outcome of the cliff-hanger will depend upon her availability, should the show be renewed. All in all: well done, Netflix.

I’m not the world’s biggest Rolling Stones fan. I like some of their stuff and I loathe some of it (I’m looking at you, Emotional Rescue). I have a collection of their greatest hits, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought an album. Still, the new documentary about Keith Richards, Under the Influence, just out on Netflix, looked intriguing. There’s always been something about the way he plays, that kind of shruggy, counter-tempo thing he does, that has intrigued me. The documentary started out as a promo video for his new solo album and expanded into a 90-minute film. Given its genesis, it doesn’t delve into any of the conflicts or troubles from the past, other than a brief statement by Richards that he referred to his relationship with Jagger in the later 1980s as World War III. It’s all about the music that has influenced him over the years, from Muddy Waters to reggae, and how he got to meet and play with some of the musicians who influenced the Stones. It has some nice historical footage and Richards is in good form, laughing giddily half the time, between puffs on his cigarette.

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Death of a Salesman

It’s early days—there isn’t even a cover yet—but it’s never too early to pimp forthcoming projects. Amazon is now taking pre-orders for Volume 2 of The X-Files: The Truth is Out There anthology, which contains my short story “Phase Shift.” I don’t know the entire list of contributors, but these folks are mentioned on the order page: Kelley Armstrong, Jon McGoran, Hank Schwaeble, Kami Garcia, Hank Phillippi Ryan, David Sakmyster, Sarah Stegall, Glenn Grenberg, Tim Waggoner, David Farland. The anthology, edited by Jonathan Maberry, will be out in February 2016.

Event-filled days chez Vincent lately. Our daughter, who got married this summer, moved to Okinawa over the weekend, which meant a lot of organizing and re-organizing in advance of the Sunday morning flight. The biggest issue was the cat, which required a lot of special preparations and planning for the flight. My daughter and her husband hired a company to handle most of it, but there were still a lot of last-minute issues. The cat departed on Wednesday and arrived at her destination on Friday evening (local time).

It takes a long time to get to Okinawa. In general, about 24 real hours of travel time, plus the fourteen-hour time change. Our daughter left on Sunday morning and got to her new home on Monday evening, after three flights and a harrowing taxi ride. As a result of the big move, we inherited a lot of stuff, either for storage for the 4-5 years they’ll be overseas or to donate/sell.

One of the major items was her car. I decided that, since it was nearly a decade newer than the one I drive, I’d take it on and get rid of my 11-year-old Scion tC, which had less than 44,000 miles on it. I wasn’t looking forward to the process of selling it, though. Can be a hassle. If we took it to CarMax, I figured we wouldn’t get nearly what we could through a private sale, but I wasn’t relishing the though of having to deal with all that folderol. My daughter had sold a bunch of stuff through a community website, which I figured had less of a crazy quotient than Craigslist, so I decided to give it a shot. I took a few pictures of the car in the driveway and posted a 250-word classified on the website. Within a few hours I had no less than seven or eight inquiries about it. Apparently there’s a lot of interest in low-mileage cars, no matter the age. Made me think I should have asked for more!

Anyhow, I showed it to one family for their teenage son after work. They liked it but were going to look at another car. Then I heard from someone who really wanted it. They had cash in hand and wanted it right now! So I had them come over to look at it. I couldn’t believe it—just as I was about to start it up to demonstrate something, the battery chose that moment to kick the bucket. Fortunately, they were highly motivated buyers and we were able to swap out the battery and seal the deal. So, in just under 12 hours, I managed to sell my car. End of ordeal. They should all be so easy. (Well, it could have been easier if not for the stupid battery.) But my days as a huckster are over, I hope. I’m no salesman.

Now we just have to unload all the extra stuff stacked up in the garage and our house will be more or less back to normal.

I’ve been watching Narcos on Netflix during my morning exercise sessions. It’s a fictionalized account of a couple of DEA agents in Colombia during the time when Pablo Escobar rose to prominence. Interesting stuff. They dub in a lot of period news footage (Nancy Reagan and the “just say no” campaign, shots of the real people being portrayed). It’s quite good.

Then we started tearing through the fourth season of Longmire on the weekend. The move to Netflix means that the episodes jump from 42 minutes to pretty much an hour each, without the need to stage mini-crises around commercial breaks, and the show benefits from this. The third episode is especially harrowing. The camera angles are experimental at times, and the production values are quite good, giving the show a richer look. For some reason, though, I seem to have gotten a pretty good knack for identifying when a character is telling a big fat lie, even though the cops on the show don’t glom onto the fact until later. Still a decent show, worth a binge.

I also did a binge rewatch of Season 5A of Haven so I can prepare a recap essay for News from the Dead Zone and to refresh my memory of the show for the launch of 5B in a few weeks. I’m supposed to get a screener of the first two episodes this week, too, so I can help promote the final season. I’m glad to see that Kris Lemche will be back in his role as the Darkside Seeker. He was on the set when we visited last year and I had a lot of fun joking around with him. Unfortunately the nice long interview I did in the morgue that Lemche “crashed” has yet to surface, and I’m beginning to think it never will.

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Everywhere we looked…Sam Elliott

We saw a lot of movies this weekend. It seemed like Sam Elliott was in most of them, but it was only a couple.

First, we watched an oddball film called The Age of Adaline. It stars Blake Lively as a woman who has an accident in her late twenties that mysteriously causes her to stop aging. She has a daughter who catches up to her and surpasses her in apparent age, and she comes to the attention of some government agencies who want to study her, so she has to go off the radar, switching identities every decade or so. When she’s about 107, she meets and falls in love with a man (Treme’s Michael Huisman) but she knows that, like all the other times she’s gotten involved, it must end because, as with Doctor Who, the other person will grow old and die while she remains the same. Then she meets the man’s father (Harrison Ford) and all manner of mayhem breaks out. It’s a cute movie. The stentorian narrator is a bit of a buzz kill, but Lively (who I’ve never seen in a movie before) is good and Harrison Ford is great.

We went retro on Saturday night and watched a couple of films from the early 1980s: Heavy Metal and The Wall. Here’s the thing: I’d never seen either of them before. I couldn’t have told you what Heavy Metal was about to save my soul, and I was under the impression that The Wall was mostly animated, that’s how little I knew about them. Heavy Metal hasn’t aged well. It was clearly targeted at teenage boys, who probably don’t care that the film doesn’t make a lick of sense whatsoever. At least it was short. The Wall, however, was worthwhile seeing, even thirty years after its release. It was a lot different than I expected. I think Geldof says about 15 words in total in the film, other than what he sings. The film does a fine job of amplifying on the album’s story and themes, and it’s clear that losing his father in WWII had a lasting impact on Roger Waters. The animation, when it happens, looks decent for its era. The marching hammers (about the only impression I had of what the film was like) still look cool.

Then we watched Mystic River because we inherited a copy of the DVD. Still an impressive film, one that I saw on the big screen when it came out. It has Marcia Gay Harden in it—I got to spend some time with her on the set of The Mist. That wouldn’t be the last time we saw her this weekend, either.

On Sunday we saw A Walk in the Woods, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, based on the memoir by Bill Bryson, which I read many years ago. We didn’t even see the trailer. Redford and Nolte sold us on it, and we later discovered that it also has Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen. It’s about a guy (Redford is quite a bit older than Bryson was in the memoir, I believe) who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail, which spans a distance of over 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine. His wife (Thompson) thinks he’s crazy and forbids him to go unless he can find someone to go with him. His friends all think he’s nuts, too, until his old friend (Nolte) hears about the adventure from another friend and volunteers to go with him. Nolte’s character is a recovering alcoholic with two bad knees and incipient diabetes, but he’s better than nothing. In fact, the two men are polar opposites and haven’t spoken in years. The movie is a milder version of the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. The two men get up to some hijinx and have some funny encounters (one with an annoying no-it-all hiker, another with a couple of grizzly bears, and the funniest of all with the husband of a woman Nolte tries to charm at a laundromat). They have some minor crises but for the most part it’s just fun to watch the two together, and Nolte hasn’t been this laugh-out-loud funny in a long time. He enters the movie looking not too different from that famous mug shot from a number of years ago and you’d think two months on the trail would slim him down a little more than it did, but we enjoyed the heck out of the film.

Then we saw I’ll See You In My Dreams, which stars Blythe Danner (apparently in her first starring role in a feature), Rhea Perlman, Max Gail (from Barney Miller) and Sam Elliott. Danner plays a woman who has been a widow for decades. She has a group of women friends her age that she spends time with. Her dog dies early in the film, which is sort of a catalyst for change. She meets Sam Elliott, a suave and debonair guy who has decided to spend all his money before he dies. She has an adult daughter who drops by for a visit. She goes karaoke singing with the pool guy. Dope is smoked. It’s just a nice film about growing older and deciding to entertain the possibility of one’s life having a second or third act.

Finally, last night we saw Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, and it was the best of the bunch. Ellie’s (Tomlin) teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner from The Americans) needs $650 by the end of the day for an abortion and Ellie has no money so she has to go around visiting people from her past to try to raise the dough. She’s just broken up with her recent lover (Judy Greer, cute as always). She’d had a 38-year relationship with a woman called Violet, who is only referenced but never seen, but she’d also knocked boots with Sam Elliott (hey, there he is again) a long time ago. He’s not nearly as nice a guy in this movie, but it’s still fun to watch and listen to him. Sage’s mother is Marcia Gay Harden (her again!) and eventually they have to go visit her and put up with her disapproval. Along the way we run into Elizabeth Pena (in her last role) and a hilarious John Cho and we piece together all the parts of Ellie’s life. The morality of abortion isn’t a big part of the film (the only person who actively tries to talk Sage out of it is a protester at a clinic) but Ellie knows the lasting impact the procedure will have on Sage, so it isn’t dismissed out of hand, either. Lily Tomlin has rarely been more charming, saltier, tougher or funnier, and she’s all these things and more. Garner keeps pace with her, too. This is a small movie, shot in 19 days for a $1 million budget, but it should be a big hit for Tomlin. Go see it: you won’t be sorry.

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