Friday, August 18, 2006

Snakes On A Plane

Kim Newman has to see it on the day of release because there are no press shows; how could I resist the invitation to tag along? Along with the usual ads and trailers the presage the main feature, there’s one of those short films for Orange mobiles in which a star makes a pitch that’s derided by a committee of movie execs interested only in product placement. This time the star is Steven Seagal, and the piece is snappily directed and packed with sharp one-liners and neat parodies on action movie tropes. In short, it’s everything that the main feature aspires to be. The set-up is famously simple. Brutal Hawaiian gangster Eddie Kim wants to get rid of a witness (Wolf Creek’s Nathan Phillips) to his slaying of a public defender, and arranges for a big crate full of venomous snakes and equipped with a timer release to be placed on the 747 in which the witness, under the protection of Samuel L. Jackson’s FBI agent, is flying to Los Angeles. The snakes are released and people start dying as the 747 lumbers into a tropical storm. The mayhem on the plane is fine, there are some good jokes and shocks, air stewardess Julianna Margulies is a nice foil to Samuel L. Jackson’s cool, and of course there’s the famous line added after the webstorm of publicity. But the movie can’t make up its mind whether it’s a spam-in-a-cabin slasher or an Airplane!, the snakes, mostly very obviously CGI’d, are a pretty monotonous multi-headed enemy that doesn’t do much but snap and lunge, a promising sub-plot with a rogue snake farmer is dismissed too quickly, and the action sags for about twenty minutes before picking up for a slum-dunk ending. Snakes On A Plane doesn’t live up to its hype (what movie could?), but it could have been a lot worse than it is, and at ninety minutes it definitely doesn't outstay its welcome.

Here's Kim's pithier review.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Players - 5

It was a straight shot down the I-5, through the Willamette Valley to the beginning of Oregon’s banana belt. It started to rain soon after they set out, but forty miles south of Portland the sun broke through, lighting up a ragged chasm in the clouds, probing farmland on either side of the freeway with slanting fingers of light. Randy Farrell spent the first part of the trip zoned out in the back seat of the Police Bureau Taurus, waking only when Summer turned off the I-5 at Springfield for a pit stop at a Wendy’s. After picking over his plain burger and fries, he disappeared into the men’s room. Ten minutes later, Summer went to look for him and found him out back by a Dumpster, sucking on the last half-inch of a tightly rolled joint.

‘I’m licensed to use it,’ he said, giving her a defiant look. ‘It helps control the nausea I get after I eat. You don’t believe me, I have a registration card my doctor gave me.’

‘I don’t need to see your card, Mr Farrell. I’ll wait by the car until you’ve finished, but don’t be too long.’

After they had set off again, Randy Farrell explained that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer three years ago, the doctors had cut a tumour as big as a goose egg out of him. He’d gotten better, but four months ago the cancer had come back worse than ever, had spread to his bones and his pancreas. He didn’t have long to live, which was why he wanted to do right by Edie. Also, he said, he loved the girl as if she was one of his own. He’d been a son of a bitch when he was younger, beating up on his girlfriends, even beating his mother once, but marriage and helping to raise his stepdaughter had grounded him. He’d even quit drinking after his last stretch in the joint, but not before the damage had been done.

His confession was well rehearsed and laced with jargon he’d probably learned at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and cancer support groups. But he seemed sincere, telling Summer that Edie had loved to read, English had been her best subject at school and she would have studied it in college if she hadn’t grown wild and gotten into trouble with the police. Telling her that Edie had loved a little black cat she called Edgar Allan Poe, that Edie had sewn her own clothes from patterns, and she had been a pretty good artist, too. Edie and her mother had never gotten along, Randy Farrell said, but he hoped he had been some help to her. When he’d seen her that one time after she ran off, she had been full of plans; he’d given her money to buy something smart so she could try to get back to school, train for an office job. Meanwhile, she’d been waitressing in a short-order place. The manager took a kickback straight from her basic pay because she’d been on probation and he could violate her back to jail any time he wanted, but she had been making that up on tips.

‘Everything was going right for her, except for that no-good boyfriend.’

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Hearts of Conspiracy Theorists Everywhere Quicken

According to Sky News, NASA has lost the original footage of man's first steps on the moon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


After seeing the picture of my office that I posted here, Fred Kiesche asked me about the CDs lined up above my computer - what are they, and do I listen to them while I work? Mostly, like the fat wedge of Steely Dan, they’re the overspill from the groaning shelves downstairs in the living room, leavened with a bunch of recent arrivals - stuff by The Handsome Family, Richmond Fontaine, Drive-By Truckers, Ali Farka Toure, Roy Harper, Lokua Kanza, reggae compilations... Pretty mainstream stuff, really (the racks of 1920s and 1930s American music are all downstairs).

I don’t listen to much music when I’m doing the first draft, but having familiar stuff on random play on the computer helps rhythm and flow of the endless redrafting (it has to be familiar stuff, so it works mostly on my back brain). The older I get, the less distraction I can tolerate.

Some of my novels have a soundtrack; some don’t. Players doesn’t, because I think that using musical preferences as a short-hand for characterization in thrillers is a bit of a tired cliche - and too often it’s a form of showing-off by the author too.* I suspect that if Summer Ziegler listens to anything, it would be jazz-lite solo singer stuff; she certainly doesn’t slump down in an easy chair at the end of the day and sip bonded bourbon while listening to Dock Boggs.

*I know, I know: I'm guilty of it in Whole Wide World, but the punk thing is supposed to be part of John's voice rather than a quirky character tic. Honest.

On the other hand, Cowboy Angels, which was partly inspired by the idea of the lost, weird America Greil Marcus wrote about in Lost Republic does have a soundtrack. Here it is (the songs on it are either name-checked or hinted at in the text, and appear in narrative order):

Man Gave Names To All The Animals - Bob Dylan
Hook And Line - Hatton Brothers
Acony Bell - Gillian Welch
Kentucky Avenue - Tom Waits
Who Knows Where the Time Goes - Fairport Convention
Wolf Among Wolves - Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy
America - Simon & Garfunkel
Romance in Durango - Bob Dylan
Cold Cold Cold - The Handsome Family
Lost in the Flood - Bruce Springsteen
I See A Darkness - Johnny Cash
Slow Train Coming - Bob Dylan
I Dream A Highway - Gillian Welch
Train Song - Tom Waits
Newer Posts Older Posts