I’ll start this review by saying that Richard Matheson’s story providing the source material for this movie is the best piece of post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve read.  The perfect blend of psychological and physical horror, the book excites and pleases right to the surprise ending.

The movie, however, is a different matter.  It is still far better than some other movies of the genre I could name, but it seemed to me more like two movies than one, both of which falling short of their potential.  It’s as if the filmmakers were trying to decide whether they should make a film that they wanted to compete for an Oscar or one with the blockbuster appeal to generate a lot of revenue and decided to make both.  The first hour is fraught with tension, allowing a wonderful stage for Will Smith to again display his versatility and talent as an actor.  Smith plays everyman Robert Neville, but plays the everyman we would all like to be.  Instead of the regular Joe found in Matheson’s book, the film turns Neville into both a soldier and an immunologist, two skill sets that make him an ideal (and remarkable coincidental) person to remain immune to a virus that kills 90% of the world’s population and turns all the survivors but a few million into vampires.  Smith seems to have cornered the market on this type of character–the guy pissing at the next urinal who could still kick your ass in midstream while not letting a single drop fall to the floor.  In one scene, Neville’s beloved dog, Sam, rushes into a dark building chasing a deer and when Neville goes in after her, he is more panicked than one would expect from a well-built man holding an assault rifle.  A few moments later, you find that his fears are justified as he and his dog nearly become Purina-brand Vampire Chow.

Simply stated, the first half of the movie was fantastic.  In the second half, however, the movies goes far astray from the book and, in doing so, enters the realm of the cliched action film.  Neville, upon losing Sam, tries to commit suicide by attacking a pack of vampires at night and ends up being saved by two survivors, the first two living people he has seen in three years.  Oddness ensues as the woman and her son try to convince Neville to flee with them to an alleged colony of survivors in Vermont.  Neville, convinced he can reverse the effects of the virus, refuses to leave, a fact made moot by a bold attack by the vampires on his home.

Matheson’s book ends with Neville finding a young woman out on his daily trek to destroy the vampires, a woman who turns out to be an enhanced vampire herself, immune to sunlight, that leads Neville into a trap.  The novel concludes with Neville awaiting his execution by this new society, one that considers him, the murderer of so many of their number, the monster.  As he looks out upon the multitude of anxious, fearful faces, he realizes that he has become a legend to rival the vampire in the previous society.

In the movie, Neville realizes that he has found the cure to the virus, but only after the vampires have entered his home and are moments away from killing him.  Securing the young woman and her son with a sample of the cure, he sacrifices himself via hand grenade, allowing they woman and child to make their way to the colony with the cure.  Movie over.

What makes the ending disappointing to me is that it completely whiffs on the point of the novel.  Matheson wrote about how our legends form within society.  The theme of the movie version, instead, seems to be that persistence pays off.  A noble thought, but far less reaching than Matheson’s.  Had the movie stayed along the line set by the novel, it might have held less action, but would resonate more upon its completion.  Matheson’s story was thrilling and poignant, while the movie proved less so on both counts.

Overall, I Am Legend is a worthwhile film to see.  It could have been better, but Smith’s incredible charisma makes up for much that is lost in the translation to the screen.  Perhaps someday, another version will be made, one truer to the story Matheson created.

 

Since I made the fateful decision to start my less-than-regular LJ, I have worried over what I should call it.  I’ve seen other blogs out there with highly creative names and I have to admit some jealousy on my part.  Titles, whether for blogs or for my writing, have never been my strong suit and I confess limited creativity in my previous “Life of Smiley” effort.  Since the beginning, I have searched for some other name to call it and I believe I have finally found it.

I tend to use some of my pre-writing down time traversing the blogosphere for entries that will either inspire my fiction or provide me with more information on how to do it better.  This evening, I came across a piece by Elmore Leonard, an author I particularly enjoy reading and who often fills me with a great sense of hopelessness that I will never write as well as he.  This piece in question–Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing–is much like Leonard’s fiction, concise and brilliant, and can be found here.  While I would guess that any aspiring writer would have found this gem waaay before this blog, I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.  For those that have, I recommend having it tattooed on your stomach, upside down, so you can refer to it as you write.  This would require writing topless and may not be suitable for particularly lean writers, neither of which are problems for me.

In lifting Leonard’s brilliance to head my own lack thereof, I must say that the term “hooptedoodle” is itself lifted from John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday” and Leonard offers full acknowledgment of this fact.  Loosely defined, hooptedoodle is writing that, while perhaps pretty and eloquent, offers no true benefit to the story in which it is found.  Writing that, by its mere inclusion, takes away from the narrative.  Really, isn’t that what an author blog is?  Writing that takes away from writing that we should be doing?

So, with many thanks to Elmore Leonard and John Steinbeck, I hereby rename this thing “Perpetrating Hooptedoodle” and hope that multitudes may one day look upon these words and be inspired as I have by so many people on the internet sharing their secrets, their dreams, and, most importantly, their own hooptedoodle.

It’s that time of year again.  All across the country, kind-hearted citizens are taking to store fronts, malls, and sidewalks everywhere, bells in hand, ringing out the call for people to donate to the Salvation Army.  You see them everywhere.  Many of us, myself included, have actually volunteered for this miserable duty, braving the elements while people walk by pretending not to notice that you are ringing a damn bell in their faces.

As we move toward a cashless society, though, how much benefit does this really offer the Salvation Army?  I know when I go shopping, it is with debit card in hand to avoid the messy wad of bills and leaden weight of change that clutter my pockets.  Having worked retail my entire adult life, I am not susceptible to the tricks modern stores employ to keep the customer shopping.  I get what I want and get the hell out.  And, like so many other shoppers nowadays, I don’t carry any cash to offer the kind-hearted, bell-ringing popsicles by the front door.  So, in this age of credit and personal isolation, how can the Salvation Army keep with the times and raise enough money to fight its war on poverty?

Muggers.

Yep, once you think about it, the solution couldn’t be simpler.  Instead of an elderly lady standing outside freezing her blue-haired ass off, why not put a six-foot-six, 250-pound convicted felon by the front door?  Who knows how to ask for money and get results better than someone good enough at it to earn a prison sentence?  Sure, you might have to chain them to the concrete pylons to keep them from running off with the cash, but with a little supervision, convicts can help repay their debt to society by collecting money from that same society.  When faced by such a character, staring you down and ringing that bell in your face, are you going to tell him no?

As a matter of fact, I did recently encounter a bell-ringing chap of just this sort.  I have no idea if he had ever served time in an orange jumpsuit, but when I approached the door and he asked, “You wanna give some money?” I forked over every last bill in my wallet.  Furthermore, I got cash back when I checked out at the register and forked that over on my way out.  You never know when a guy is going to remember your license plate and you also never know when a guy is getting out on parole.

I think, as concerned citizens, we should all approach the Salvation Army with this win-win idea.  They will surely increase their operating revenue, the bell-ringing felons will be able to help their fellow man and have something to do besides trade cigarettes for chewing gum, and we will be able to satisfy our consciences while avoiding the fund-raising tasks ourselves.

If more people in Washington thought this way, imagine how great this world would be.

I’m scared of electrolarynxes.  There, I said it.  Ever since I was a child, I found those little gizmos frightening, producing a mockery of speech in that alien, electronic voice.  Even today, working in a pharmacy where I see more than my share of health care devices, I still find them a bit disconcerting.

So, when Joe Hill uses an electrolarynx to not only provide an elderly man with an means of communication, but also uses it to allow a homicidal ghost the means to threaten his two protagonists, I was pretty damned creeped out.

In Heart-Shaped Box, Hill’s debut novel, Judas “Jude” Coyne is an aging death metal star living in semi-retirement in New York state with his odd collection of macabre and grisly curiosities.  When his assistant finds an online auction offering a ghost for sale, he can’t pass up the opportunity.  What he gets–a dead man’s suit in the titular receptacle–turns out to be much more than he bargained for.

As a budding horror novelist myself, I found Hill’s work to be both a great study into what modern horror is and an entertaining read.  By playing on subtle, irrational fears (such as that of electrolarynxes) and expanding them into larger ones with far greater intensity, he manages to avoid many of the conventions of horrors that might have turned the story into a huge bore.  There are few respites for the reader as the story starts to unfold and even these are fraught with tension as Jude and his partner, Georgia, flee from a vengeful spirit, often pausing only long enough to bind their wounds and decide on their next move.

There was little I did not like about the book.  The character of Jude was well-executed, a sublime mixture of dark celebrity and everyman who wants nothing more than to live a normal life, but the remaining characters lacked the same depth.  I wish some of the players–Jude’s father, attorney, and dead band mates–could have found more room in this taut tale, but to add much more would have reduced the intensity of the work, making even the best characterization worthless.  Also, the book ends with a series of choppy chapters that tie up several of the loose ends, an act that could have been done in the same smooth style Hill employed through the rest of the book.

Heart-Shaped Box has received several nods from the literary and horror community, and rightfully so.  It is a splendid read worthy of Hill’s father (some writer fellow from Maine) and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a good, dark tale in this darkest month of the year.

It’s been over two months since my last post, but I assure you the delay is not a result of laziness.  Okay, not just laziness.  In truth, I have been working quite a bit on various projects and now that I have a few moments in the early morning, when all around me is quiet, I’ll scribble a little bit about them.

The Dead and the Dying–The manuscript for my recently completely horror novel is about ready to begin the long road of submissions.  After my previous attempt at writing a novel, I submitted a query to a total of one (1) agent, promptly earning myself a form rejection letter.  Two years out from that, I can see why it was rejected.  Before, during, and now after the process of writing TDATD, I came to realize how amateur I sounded in that letter and hope to avoid the same mistakes with my new book.  Also, I think I did a much better job of writing this time, which always helps the chances of a book catching the eye of an agent.

The publishing industry typically shuts down over the two weeks or so surrounding Christmas, but I am not one of those many, many authors who start watching the clock as soon as they hit send on their email or close the door to their mailbox as though they are waiting for some dish being heated in the microwave.  More than acceptance (although that certainly does help), I think authors want closure more than anything.  It’s the waiting that kills.  A yes is joy beyond the world, but a no is at least an end to the nail-biting.  As for my novel, I am perfectly willing to take things slowly to avoid looking like a neurotic writer.  I want to be someone an agent will enjoy working with, not the freaks and weirdos I have read so much about on various agent websites and blogs.

I have a spreadsheet made with all my target agents, and have been working on my query letter for a few weeks, looking for just the right mix of hook and professionalism that will get me a hearing that lasts at least to a partial manuscript submission.  I’m not expecting miracles, but I do think the book has merit and is as good as some of the published books I have read over the past few years.

New, As-Yet-Untitled Project–Last week, I began work on my third novel manuscript.  I will keep the details secret for now (on the off chance that I can actually sell the damn thing), but I’ve been looking forward to working on this piece since I first came up with it.  It sat on the back burner for a while, waiting for that one connection to really bring the whole thing into focus.  One day near the end of TDATD, the connection hit me–fully formed and so obvious that I rolled it over in my head for days looking for what was wrong with it.  After five days of writing, I am at 6000 words, which is a pretty good start.  I’m really hoping to get some momentum going on this one to keep my mind off my submissions.

Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher–My guilty pleasure.  I started this fan fiction on Mugglenet.com with the idea of using it as a change of scenery after working so hard on TDATD.  What has happened instead is that I’ve put together a story that I really like and hope to continue, but right now it’s dying on the vine.  With nine chapters posted, I’ve had a lackluster chapter 10 saved for some time, waiting for a second opinion before I decided to go back and rewrite it.  My few loyal readers on Mugglenet are clamoring for an update and I hope to provide it soon.  The only problem is that I’m losing that lovin’ feeling where this story is concerned, so I am combatting that by going back through Rowling’s books, hoping to be reinspired.  My tentative plan is to spend five days a week working on the new novel, one day on Harry, and one day completely off from writing.  If I have any spare time aside from my regular writing times, though, I hope to spend those on rebuilding chapter 10 into something both entertaining, but also something that leads the story in the direction I want it to go.

For anyone not familiar with any of this who would like to read the fanfic piece, you can find it here

Horror Novella–In between all the other things I’m working on, I’m hoping to pump out a horror novella that I’ve been itching to write for some time.  The story is actually inspired by an event in my life, twisted to meet my own macabre needs.  I still need to do a bit of research regarding 911 call centers, so if anyone knows a good resource online where I can pick up some information, feel free to drop me a note.

And, of course, all my writing must come after the “day job” which, being retail management, is insane this time of year.  By the time I get home, often after midnight, it’s sheer force of will that sits me down at the keyboard to peck out my 1000+ words a night.  Still, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t get something out of it and what I get is a chance to decompress, to leave behind my dark thoughts about customers, my employees, and inventory levels.  I don’t know what I would do without my escape hatch in writing, and I need it more this time of year than any other.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post a few more times over the coming week.  I have a couple of books to review on here, plus some general observations about starting a new novel, the scary submission process, and other things related and unrelated to writing.

Stay tuned.