Moonlight and Mayhem

Book tours seem like tough slogs—not that I’d ever object to having the kind of writing career where I could conceivably be sent on one. It’s been fun lately to watch Ian Rankin and Sarah Pinborough ping-pong off each other as they toured the US, with Rankin often appearing at venues where Pinborough would be signing books a few days later. Rankin sang Pinborough’s praises at his events—a number of the people who came out to see her at Murder By the Book were there because Rankin had recommended her when he was at the store last week.

Alas, I couldn’t get to Rankin’s event, but I did make the trip into the city yesterday for Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes signing. We’ve crossed paths briefly in the past (at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, which is now seven years ago, if you can believe that), and have exchanged messages on social media. So it was fun to hear her talk about her life in publishing and how she got the opportunity to write a thriller, and the problems of trying to market a book where the twist is so crucial to describing the story.

She was nearly an hour late arriving in Houston because her driver from Austin didn’t show up and new arrangements had to be made at the last moment. But I think everyone who came to the store for her appearance waited around, which says a lot. Murder By the Book is a great store, with terrific patrons. If I lived closer, I’d be there all the time. This was the last event in Pinborough’s tour, so Houston sent her off today with torrential rain, although the storms were less dreadful than initially predicted.

We saw Moonlight this weekend, which is now available on iTunes. I knew very little about the story going into it. It consists of three sections detailing the life of a young black man from Miami. The first part is when he’s eleven. Then it jumps ahead to when he’s seventeen, and finally to when he’s twenty-five. His single mother is a crack addict who ignores him and often sends him away so she can have the apartment to herself. He comes to the attention of a local drug dealer, but rather than take advantage of young Chiron, he takes him under his wing, together with his girlfriend. He becomes a surrogate father, teaching him to swim and explaining to him what some of the insults that are cast at him mean. He and his girlfriend provide a safe place for him to go, which is something he’s been lacking up to now. His life is no less difficult at seventeen, and at twenty-five he reconnects with a classmate with whom he had a meaningful encounter during that period that didn’t end well.

It’s an unusual film that toys with audience expectations. Some of it is based on stories from the writer’s youth and also the director’s. It was filmed in Miami, which creates an unusual juxtaposition of bad neighborhoods that are within walking distance of beautiful beaches. One of the most poignant scenes is the one where young Chiron’s interrogation of Juan, the drug dealer, forces the older man to confront the ugly nature of his business.

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Lunch at the Vinyl Cafe

I wasn’t living in Canada when Stuart McLean came onto the national scene with his Vinyl Cafe programme on CBC radio. As with the Tragically Hip, it was a bit of Canadiana that passed me by until many years later.

I was visiting northern New Brunswick one December about fifteen years ago. I had gone to Campbellton (the city where I was born) on an errand for my parents and I distinctly remember stumbling across the CBC radio station during my return trip. I was on the highway, that beautiful elevated section of road that lets you look out across the Restigouche river toward Quebec, when this mellifluous voice started recounting a Christmastime story that involved newcomers to a neighborhood. The Chudary family wasn’t familiar with Canadian gift-giving traditions, and their misunderstanding sets off a massive neighborhood gift exchange as everyone struggles to make sure they don’t offend anyone else. It’s light and funny and endearing, full of warmth and heart, and it was a wonderful introduction to a terrific storyteller.

On my way back to Texas, I found a Vinyl Cafe book in the airport bookstore in Toronto, and I subsequently regaled my wife with the stories therein. Eventually we collected all of his books, and the story about Dave’s efforts to cook the turkey one Christmas never fail to crack me up. At the same time, we were impressed by McLean’s deep dive into the story after receiving complaints from animal rights supporters that the turkey in question had been abused. He reported, in all due seriousness, on their deliberations about whether the story should be dropped from rotation or perhaps edited to remove the passages that caused offense. Ultimately, they decided to air the piece unaltered, arguing that it was only Dave’s opinion that the B-grade turkey he acquired at the last moment looked like it had been abused.

Though he told stories about other people, McLean is best known for his tales of Dave and Morley, their two children, Dave’s record store, their colorful neighbors and the disagreements that often ensued from Dave’s misguided efforts at something he attempted with the best of intentions. The tales are set mostly in Ontario, but there are frequent trips back to the Maritimes to visit Dave’s home. The stories tug on my nostalgia strings, because so much of Dave’s upbringing resonates with my own.

I read his stories aloud, because that was how they were received by most of McLean’s audience. At heart, he was a storyteller, and he had a wonderful voice and dramatic aspect that brought it all to life. When we learned over a year ago that he had cancer, everyone hoped that before too long he would once again sit on the stool in front of the microphone and a studio audience and tell us another tale about Dave and Morley, their two kids and the dog.

Alas, the Vinyl Cafe has closed.

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E-book roundup

A rare promotional post! My Cemetery Dance Select eBook is available at Amazon (US, Canada, UK), at Barnes & Noble (Nook), from iBooks and for Kobo. For a few bucks you can get four of my previously published short stories on the reading device of your choice: “Overtoun Bridge,” “A Murder of Vampires,” “Centralia Is Still Burning” and “What David Was Doing When the Lights Went Out.”

Not enough stories, you say? But wait, there’s more. In When the Night Comes Down you can read four stories by me, plus a batch of stories from three other authors. My stories are “Silvery Moon,” “Knock ‘Em Dead,” “Something In Store” and “Purgatory Noir.” It’s available in print but also as for Kindle and Nook.

Enjoy my reviews of Stephen King’s novels? If so, you can get a bunch of them in a nifty little signed, limited-edition chapbook from Cemetery Dance. I called it Twenty-First Century King. And if King trivia is your thing, Brian Freeman and I have this thing called The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book, illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne, that can be had in print or as an eBook. The questions are hard and the clues flagrantly unhelpful! (I wrote the clues, so I get to say that.)

And if you’re getting geared up for the Dark Tower movie coming out later this year, what better way to brush up than reading The Dark Tower Companion (Kindle, Nook) or The Road to the Dark Tower (Kindle, Nook).

Check out my Amazon store for more! And happy reading.

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Stormy weather

While parts of Atlantic Canada (and the eastern U.S.) are getting walloped with snow, we here in southeast Texas had a rough day with heavy winds, hail in some parts, the odd tornado or two, and a bunch of rain. It was a cold front that saw the temperatures drop from the eighties on Sunday (sit in the driveway with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down) to the upper forties overnight (I don’t think we’ll be dining on the restaurant’s patio tonight, alas).

I’ve been reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe to my wife, so we decided to revisit the movie this weekend. It doesn’t hold up quite as well as I might have liked, but it still has some fine moments. It’s funny, though—in my memory of the film I had Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker’s characters inverted, and I think that if I was casting the movie today, that’s they way I would have gone.

During dinner on Saturday, we listened to an Alison Krauss and Union Station live album, and “Man of Constant Sorrow” inspired us to watch O Brother, Where Art Thou? again (Dan Tyminski of Union Station is the vocalist to whom George Clooney lip-syncs). It holds up a little better than Fried Green Tomatoes. There’s plenty of mugging and over-acting, but it’s still watchable.

Then we were tempted by a trailer for an Australian film called The Dressmaker about a young woman (Kate Winslet) who returns to her tiny hometown after a couple of decades abroad. When she was ten, she was suspected of breaking the neck of a boy and she was effectively banished from the community. She has no recollection of the events of that day, so she’s come back to find out if she is, in fact, a murderer. Her mother has declined in the intervening years (the locals call her Mad Molly), but she perks up again after her daughter’s return. Liam Hemsworth is the love interest and Hugo Weaving is the cross-dressing local constabulary who bowed to pressure and spearheaded her banishment all those years ago. It’s a bit of a revenge tale, and once it starts going down that track it derails a bit. Characters behave uncharacteristically, merely so we feel like they deserve what happens to them. It has the out-of-kilter feel of a Wes Anderson movie, but it’s not quite quirky enough to be that and doesn’t play it straight enough to be taken seriously. Plus there’s an unearned death at the 2/3 point that just felt arbitrary and unnecessary to me.

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Super weekend

When I bought tickets to the Yo Yo Ma concert, I didn’t realize at the time that it was going to be on Super Bowl weekend. Not the night of the big game, but the night before. We kept reading about all the activities that would be taking place in the theatre district all weekend long, and how bad traffic was going to be, how difficult the parking, etc.

So we allowed plenty of time and found out it was much ado about nothing. We got to the theatre district in the same amount of time it would have taken under normal circumstances, and we paid our $10 to park in the garage near Jones Hall, same as always. (On Sunday afternoon, some of the surface lots were charging $100 and $200 for a parking spot!) We had early dinner reservations (which somehow got lost), but there was no trouble getting seated, either.

There were major events going on all around us, though, and there was a large police presence. We saw several Department of Homeland Security vehicles go by, and there was no shortage of black SUVs and marked police cars lining the streets.

The concert was quite something. The Houston Symphony Orchestra opened with Gershwin’s American in Paris and then the cello master joined them for Dvorák’s cello concerto. After all the obligatory applause and handshaking and bowing and encore calls, Yo Yo Ma came back by himself and played something that I didn’t recognize. His playing is so dexterous that at times it seemed like there were more notes being played than was humanly possible. It was a night to remember, for sure.

I’m not a huge football fan, but I usually watch some playoff games and the Super Bowl. This year’s game was one for the books, no doubt about it. We heard that a bunch of people, presumably hoping to beat the crowds and traffic, opted to leave NRG Stadium in the fourth quarter, when it looked like Atlanta had the game wrapped up, only to end up watching on TV screens in the parking lot when everything went south for the southern team and north for the Patriots.

We had to take a 45-minute break in the second quarter to talk to our daughter, so I pushed “pause” and we picked up where we left off at the end of our conversation. That meant I had to stay off social media for the rest of the game to avoid “spoilers”! Think what you will about Brady and the Patriots, it was an impressive performance and a comeback for the ages. Made for an exciting game, no doubt about it.

We were equally impressed by the halftime show. Lady Gaga put on a memorable performance. The drones that made the animated star patterns at the beginning were pretty impressive. Something we’ll no doubt see more often in the future.

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January…March

Well that was interesting.

About a week ago, I did a quick search and found out that Houston was hosting a Women’s March to run in parallel with the one in Washington. My wife and I decided to attend. She has a history of participating in protests in the past, but this was my first.

When I registered us, there were only about 2500 RSVPs. The number of attendees grew quickly in the week or so that followed.

We had elaborate plans. There was a restaurant in Houston that my wife wanted to have breakfast at, although it was a fair distance from where we needed to be for the march and rally. We decided to park centrally and figure out the public transit. As that grew more complicated, we decided to go to a place in the theater district we were familiar with. Forgetting that downtown Houston is a dead zone on Saturday mornings. Nothing was open, except for a McDonalds, so we settled for that. (A few blocks away, as we later discovered, there was an Einstein Bros. Bagels that we would have preferred. Alas.)

Everyone gathered at Jamail Skatepark at 10:45. There were a lot of people. A lot. Of all ages, genders, nationalities, etc. Kids in strollers. Gay Muslims. People even more senior than us. Even though it was a Women’s March, men were definitely welcomed and embraced. There were some very creative and funny signs, all of them correctly spelled with proper grammar and punctuation. Texas Congressman Al Green gave us our call to action and then we set out on the 15-minute march to Houston City Hall.

The route took us along the Interstate and overpassing some major thoroughfares. We got lots of honks of encouragement along the way and no animosity whatsoever. Spirits were high and there were lots of chants as we marched. At least one guy had a drum.

When we reached the Hermann Square in front of City Hall, the scope of the group became more apparent. The police estimate at least 20-22,000 people in attendance, likely the largest public gathering in the history of the city. The organizers spoke, as did members of city council and state representatives. The chief of police talked, as did Phyllis Frye, the first openly transgendered judge in the country. News choppers showed up and we received word that Mayor Turner was on his way to speak as well. Everyone issued a call to action, with most of the attention focused on 2018’s mid-term elections, although there are bills coming up in the Texas legislature that require public response as well. I’ve never been terribly politically active, beyond voting when I could, but the current environment has fired up a lot of people who’ve never been to a rally before. Hopefully this lasts…as long as necessary.

It was a fascinating experience. Fortunately, the weather cooperated, after a terribly rainy few days. It was overcast, so it was neither hot nor cold, and there was an occasional breeze, which made it all very tolerable. As with the other marches and rallies around the country (and the world—even in Antarctica!), it was orderly and peaceful. The police were congenial and many in the crowd thanked them for their service along the way.

As things started to wind down, we decided to grab lunch rather than deal with the congestion. By then the downtown had awakened and we had more options.

My first two book reviews of 2017 are up at Onyx Reviews:

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Colored computers

You know you’re in Texas when the ice cream truck, with its annoying, endless chiming melody, goes down your street in the middle of January. And you think that if you’d been outside you might have bought something! It’s nearly 80° today, and there were tornado alerts earlier this morning. Looking like a soggy week here.

Hopefully it won’t be too rainy come the weekend. I’m about to do something I’ve never done before; take part in a protest march. We’ve signed up to participate in the Women’s March in Houston on Saturday. Nearly 6000 people have signed up to attend. Should be interesting. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’ve become more politically active and vocal since the outset of the recent election campaign. Before I became a citizen, I didn’t really feel like I had a voice in this country. But I do now, and I’m going to use it—at least during the tenure of the forthcoming administration.

We saw Hidden Figures on the weekend. An excellent film about a little-known aspect of the NASA program: how many African American women worked on the mathematics that put John Glenn into orbit, and subsequent aspects of the program, too. Three women are the focus: one aspires to be the first black woman engineer with NASA (despite the fact that the only school providing the extension courses she needs is segregated), one who runs the Colored Computing division, although her request to be acknowledged as a supervisor, with the attendant respect and salary are regularly turned down, and one who proves her computational and mathematics skills under pressure. It’s a good ensemble, also featuring Kirsten Dunst, who doesn’t think she’s prejudiced but is; Jim Parsons, who has to swallow his pride when a black woman computer solves problems his team has thus far failed; and Kevin Costner as the leader of that group. Costner is surprisingly good as a man whose team is under a great deal of pressure to get a man into orbit. I love the scene where he solves an issue with bathrooms. I don’t always care for his performances, but I liked this one a lot. There’s also a nice romance subplot featuring Taraji P. Henson’s character and Mahershala Ali, who plays Remy Danton in House of Cards, and I appreciated the scene where Octavia Spencer’s character picks up a Fortran book, determined to teach herself the programming language to guarantee that the new IBM mainframe won’t make her and her fellow mathematicians obsolete. I taught myself Fortran some 30 years ago, and it was a valuable skill indeed!

I finished Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (review forthcoming, but #WTFThatEnding indeed!) and started Final Girls by Riley Sager, which I’m enjoying thus far.

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Hollyweed

We watched quite a few movies over the past week or so. First there was Manchester By the Sea, which deserves all of the praise it has been getting. There’s a scene late in the film between Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck that is simply devastating. Essentially the movie is about how there are some things people are unwilling to forgive—in others or in themselves. The big reveal is a major gut punch, when it comes, it makes everything clear. Plus the scenery is gorgeous: reminds me of Eastern Canada, where I grew up, or the drive from PVD to NECON, except in winter.

Then we watched Barry on Netflix, which makes a good companion piece to Southside With You. This movie covers the year when Obama transferred to Columbia University. It’s a time when he’s not sure where he’s from (it’s a complicated story, and you get to see him fine-tune his answer to the question) or where he belongs. He doesn’t feel comfortable with the black community but he faces all the expected bias from the white community. He also has a serious girlfriend, but he wonders why she’s with him—his perception is somewhat skewed by his mother’s (Ashley Judd) relationship with his father.

Then we saw La La Land. Our decision to go came at the last minute, and we ended up in a tiny auditorium that was mostly full, having to sit in the third of those rows at the front where no one ever sits. If there was ever going to be a movie to see from that perspective, this would be the one. It’s larger than life and slightly skewed from reality. I thought it was beautiful—I was swept away by it completely, and I would happily have sat there and watched it all over again straightaway. The story is fairly simple: man and woman meet, eventually connect, but are thwarted by their careers—at first because of a lack of a success and then, later, the opposite. It doesn’t have the expected outcome, except you get that, too, kind of. The fact that people break into song-and-dance routines bothered me not the slightest, and the show-stopper by Emma Stone during her big audition was incredible. I’m also impressed by the fact that Ryan Gosling did all of the keyboard work for real. He’s very good.

We also enjoyed the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was a riff on superheroes. And I watched a British series called Paranoid that opens with a shocking murder and then gets a bit bogged down with some of the most screwed-up coppers to grace a miniseries. Their personal problems got in the way of the investigation time and time again. It stars Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones) and features a rather manic Kevin Doyle (Molsely from Downton Abbey). I liked Danny Huston in this—he was also in American Horror Story (as the Axeman), but on the whole I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the series compared to some of the others that have come out of the UK recently. We haven’t seen the new Sherlock yet, but soon.

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Maybe a record! 2016 Books

I read a lot of books last year.

In large part, the increase over previous years is thanks to my tenure on the jury for the Shirley Jackson Awards. I read a lot of anthologies and collections, plus a whole stack of standalone short stories that don’t appear on this list (I estimate that I read at least a thousand short stories in 2016). Plus a number of novels, novellas, novelettes, novelishes, and other variations on the theme.

I also read the five existing Game of Thrones novels, which was an accomplishment in its own right. Plus I finished my reread of the Travis McGee books.

Without further ado, here is my 2016 reading list. Hyperlinks lead to reviews. I didn’t do as many of those this year. Not enough time. Can’t do everything!

  1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
  2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin
  3. The Dreadful Lemon Sky – John D. MacDonald
  4. The Fireman – Joe Hill
  5. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine – Alexander McCall Smith
  6. The Empty Copper Sea – John D. MacDonald
  7. What We Become – Arturo Perez-Reverte
  8. Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
  9. The Green Ripper – John D. MacDonald
  10. The City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin
  11. Isaac’s Storm – Erik Larson
  12. Free Fall in Crimson – John D. MacDonald
  13. Cinnamon Skin – John D. MacDonald
  14. End of Watch – Stephen King
  15. The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson
  16. The Lonely Silver Rain – John D. MacDonald
  17. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
  18. The Glittering World – Robert Levy
  19. Song of Kali – Dan Simmons
  20. When We Were Animals – Joshua Gaylord
  21. Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh
  22. Lord Byron’s Prophecy – Sean Eads
  23. Dollar Deal: The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers –  Shawn S.Lealos
  24. Experimental Film – Gemma Files
  25. In the Lovecraft Museum – Steve Tem
  26. Wylding Hall – Elizabeth Hand
  27. The End of the End of Everything – Dale Bailey
  28. Get in Trouble – Kelly Link
  29. Gutshot – Amelia Gray
  30. The Nameless Dark – T.E. Grau
  31. You Have Never Been Here – Mary Rickert
  32. Nightscript I: An Anthology of Strange & Darksome Tales – C.M Muller, ed
  33. She Walks in Shadows – Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, eds
  34. Ain’t Superstitious – Juliana Rew, ed
  35. Blurring the Line – Marty Young, ed
  36. Midian Unmade – Del Howison & Joe Nassise, eds
  37. Insert Title Here – Tehani Wessely, ed
  38. Licence Expired – Madeline Ashby & David Nickle, eds
  39. Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond – Scott A. Jones, eds
  40. Whispers from the Abyss – Kat Rocha, ed
  41. The Doll Collection – Ellen Datlow, ed
  42. Exigencies – Richard Thomas, ed
  43. Cassilda’s Song – Joe Pulver, ed
  44. Dreams from the Witch House – Lynne Jameck, ed
  45. Ghost in the Cogs – Scott Gable, Scott & C. Dombrowski, eds
  46. Hanzai Japan – Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington, eds
  47. Seize the Night – Christopher Golden, ed
  48. Aickman’s Heirs – Simon Strantzas, ed
  49. 18 Wheels of Horror – Eric Miller, ed
  50. Penumbrae – Richard Gavin, Patricia Cram, and Daniel A. Schulke, eds
  51. The Bestiary – Ann VanderMeer, ed
  52. Black Wings IV – S.T. Joshi, ed
  53. Innsmouth Nightmares – Lois H. Gresh, ed
  54. That is Not Dead – Darrell Schweitzer, ed
  55. Kill for a Copy – Rob McEwan, ed
  56. Giallo Fantastique – Ross E. Lockhart, ed
  57. Cthulhu Fhtagn! – Ross E. Lockhart, ed
  58. nEvermore! – Nancy Kilpatrick & Caro Soles, eds
  59. Hides the Dark Tower – Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, eds
  60. The Burning Maiden – Greg Kishbaugh, ed
  61. Breakout – Nick Gevers, ed
  62. The Box Jumper – Lisa Mannetti
  63. Unusual Concentrations – S.J. Spurrier
  64. Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli
  65. In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson
  66. Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page – Stuart McLean
  67. Shadow Season – Tom Piccirilli
  68. Arson Plus and Other Stories – Dashiell Hammett
  69. Modern Lovers – Emma Straub
  70. Stop the Presses – Robert Goldsborough
  71. A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
  72. A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin
  73. A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin
  74. A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin
  75. A Dance with Dragons – George R.R. Martin
  76. The Highwayman – Craig Johnson
  77. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – Paul Tremblay
  78. Rise the Dark – Michael Koryta
  79. You Will Know Me – Megan Abbott
  80. Revolver – Duane Swierczynski
  81. I Am Providence – Nick Mamatas
  82. Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre
  83. The End of Everything – Megan Abbott
  84. Six Scary Stories selected and introduced by Stephen King
  85. Burial – Neil Cross
  86. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre
  87. Irene – Pierre Lemaitre
  88. The Girl from Venice – Martin Cruz Smith
  89. The Wrong Side of Goodbye – Michael Connelly
  90. Camille – Pierre Lemaitre
  91. An Obvious Fact – Craig Johnson
  92. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – George R.R. Martin
  93. In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper – Lawrence Block, ed.
  94. Witness to a Trial – John Grisham
  95. The Trespasser – Tana French
  96. The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens – George R.R. Martin
  97. Last Wish and The Gulf – Poppy Z. Brite
  98. The Whistler – John Grisham
  99. The Godsend – Bernard Taylor
  100. Hearts in Suspension – Jim Bishop, ed.
  101. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
  102. Ararat – Christopher Golden
  103. Precious and Grace – Alexander McCall Smith
  104. The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carré
  105. Rather Be The Devil – Ian Rankin
  106. Blood and Lemonade – Joe R. Lansdale
  107. Quicksand: What it Means to Be a Human Being – Henning Mankell
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The third day of Christmas

We had a brief cold spell last week where the temperatures dropped to below freezing. So, when it suddenly went back up to the eighties again, the flora and fauna in the area became understandably confused. The azalea bush in front of our house produced a single flower over the past couple of days. Presumably it thinks spring is here. Who knows—maybe it is? The unseasonably warm temperatures show no signs of abating any time soon. We sat on the patio of a nearby restaurant for a mid-afternoon dinner on Christmas Eve and again last night at our local pizzeria. I had to switch the climate control back from heating to cooling. I guess it’s better than snow.

We saw Passengers last week, the space odyssey starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, with Michael Sheen and Lawrence Fishburn. It was pretty good. I certainly understand the controversy surrounding the movie, but I’m having a hard time condemning it in as strong words as some have done. There’s an assumption in movies that if someone does something bad or wrong or ill-considered that he must pay for it at some point, but the real world doesn’t operate that way, so I don’t always expect that divine justice will be meted out for all cinematic transgressions. I know that the hand-waving explanations (“yes, but later in the movie he…”) won’t satisfy everyone, but they did me. And my wife, as well, who hadn’t read about the complaints about the film. On an unrelated note, every time I saw Michael Sheen, I thought of Lloyd the bartender from The Shining. We were standing at the food counter when I realized that the millennial working the ticket booth had given me the senior discount. It must have been the bad light outside the multiplex that led her to believe I looked over 62, right?

On Christmas Eve we went to the local church to watch the pageant and sing carols, something that always takes me back to my childhood, when I was involved in such productions. Then we watched Love, Actually, which was on a round-the-clock loop up against A Christmas Story. However, we soon discovered that the movie had been edited (most notably during Nighy’s early colorful rant), so I pulled it up on Amazon Prime and we watched it uncensored. We’d seen it on VHS, probably, when it first came out, so I remembered some but not all of it. I tend to agree that the movie doesn’t get falling in love right in most of the stories, where the prime ingredient seems to be physical attraction (other than the Martin Freeman storyline where the characters actually fall in love while talking to each other). The Liam Neeson storyline is just a ton of fun, especially in the way that this step-dad relates to the boy, very direct, honest and coarse. I didn’t care for the way the Laura Linney story petered out, either. It’s easy to watch, but the movie doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny.

On Christmas Day, I put an iPod loaded with every Christmas song we own (about 400 of them, with a total running time of nearly 24 hours) on random shuffle and we listened to the music while we read and relaxed. I don’t normally like shuffle—I’m an album kinda guy—but it was fun to hear Sarah McLaughlin one minute and Trans Siberian Orchestra the next and Twisted Sister the next. We also watched Southside With You, the movie about Barack Obama’s first date with Michelle Robinson, who was his supervisor at a Chicago law firm and very reluctant to get involved with him. Parker Sawyers looks a lot like Obama from certain angles, and he certainly mastered his rhythms and styles. I had a harder time seeing Michelle Obama in Tika Sumpter, but it’s a nice story, mostly based on fact, although the meeting they attend might not have happened on their first date.

Last night we saw Lion, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. It’s based on the true story of a little boy (4-5 years old), who lives in rural India in abject poverty. Through a series of misadventures, he ends up trapped on an out-of-service train that takes him over a thousand kilometers from home, to Calcutta. Not only can he not convey the name of the village where he comes from, he can’t speak Bengali, the local language, only Hindi. After some Oliver Twist-esque experiences, he ends up being adopted by a family in Tasmania, where he grows up to be Dev Patel. It’s about 2008 and he’s introduced to Google Earth, which sends him on a years-long quest to try to figure out where he came from based on only his geographic memories. It’s a feel-good movie, probably Patel’s best work. We liked it a lot. Interestingly, you don’t find out why the movie has that title until the text updates just before the closing credits. It’s a funny reveal.

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