Macbeth: 100%

So, Macbeth had been on my TBR list for awhile. After plowing through Serial Reader’s 235 issues of War and Peace, I thought 10 issues of Macbeth would be a walk in the park. It was, mostly, thanks to a generous helping of internet assistance with the Elizabethan English. (The “litcharts” website was particularly helpful!)

I always enjoy discovering the context of famous quotes. For example, there’s the line that begins “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” and ends “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (I can easily picture and hear my Mom reciting this, especially the first part, even though she’s been gone over 5 years.) Well, this is Macbeth’s speech when he finds out his wife is dead. He pretty much says, “she was going to die sooner or later,” and then launches into that speech.

Kinda harsh. But this also comes in the last act of the play, when both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were pretty far down the road to hell, anyway.

But one of the most interesting connections I made from reading Macbeth was one I wasn’t expecting. Very early on, in Scene 2 of Act 1, I encountered this quote:

“The multiplying villanies of nature / Do swarm upon him”

I immediately recognized it as something V says when he saves Evey in the beginning of V for Vendetta.

For the uninitiated, V for Vendetta (one of my favorite movies) is about a vigilante named “V” in a not-too-distant-future England, who dons a Guy Fawkes mask. Guy Fawkes is the best-remembered member of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic separatists attempted to assassinate King James and blow up Parliament. V in the movie, like a post-modern Guy Fawkes, attempts to overthrow the seriously oppressive government of this not-too-distant-future England.

So here’s what I wasn’t expecting: there’s possibly a much stronger connection between Macbeth and V for Vendetta than just the use of some quotes.

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606, and some believe he wrote it to remove any suspicion of connection between himself and the people behind the Gunpowder Plot. Shakespeare’s mother was Catholic, and his father might have been a covert Catholic. His father was also friends with the father of one of the main conspirators, Robert Catesby. And, Shakespeare frequented the Mermaid Tavern, where the plotters met (to plot, apparently).

There’s a lot of stuff in Macbeth that would have appealed to King James. Take the noble character Banquo, whom the witches say will never be king, but will beget kings. Banquo is supposed to represent King James’s ancestor Banquho, Thane of Lochquhaber. And then the witches themselves — King James wrote a book about witchcraft, so he was obviously pretty interested in the subject.

Now, just how much “c.y.a.” was involved in Shakespeare’s motivation for writing Macbeth, we’ll never know. But it’s got me examining my own motives for writing a little more closely.

Checking in: Sci Fi

Sister Julie, a cosplayer as Cara Dune, and me. Do you see The Child?

I’ve had a wealth of sci fi experiences — both viewing experiences, and “live” ones — in the past month or so, and yet I haven’t posted about a one of them. So herewith, in no particular order, is a brief assessment of the standouts:

  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order — Don’t think I’ve ever written about video games, because I don’t play them. But I will watch when my husband gets into a new game, because I like the narrative / storytelling aspect. Thus, I’m familiar with the storylines of Assassin’s Creed, and Red Dead Redemption. Jedi: Fallen Order is my hands-down favorite, most likely because I’m already very well-versed in the story milieu. But who can argue details when the m.c.’s droid is as cute as BD-1!
  • Speaking of cute — yes, I’ve watched The Mandalorian, and I’ve seen “the child” (aka Baby Yoda). It took me a little while to warm up to the show, but I feel like I was pretty into it by episode 6. (It didn’t hurt that Clancy Brown, one of my favorite actors, had a role in that one). And I was satisfied with how season 1 wrapped up.
  • Speaking of satisfactory conclusions — I thought Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker stuck the landing. (One of the first reviews I heard, before I’d even seen the movie, used that phrase to describe the movie — “it sticks the landing.” Upon seeing it, I found it apt.) I didn’t love it, but I thought it was enjoyable, and I thought it made better use of its wonderful actors than the previous two movies. But the story wasn’t awe-inspiring. I’ve heard some awe-inspiring theories, one being that “Skywalker” isn’t just a family name. It’s a new brand of force-wielder, the yin-yang duality of Jedi and Sith together, embodied in the character of Rey. It would have been a great movie if I’d walked away with that conclusion proven by the story itself, rather than having a fan explain it to me the next day.
  • Someone who didn’t need to explain himself: Cary Elwes at Wizard World New Orleans, our annual comic con. I saw him in an on-stage interview, and he was a delightful story-teller. Most of his stories were from the set of The Princess Bride, but he’s had a long career, and he had some other gems to tell — from the first time he met Mel Brooks, to a prank the Duffer Brothers played on him on the set of Stranger Things. He was warm, authentic, and able to playfully engage with fans of all stripes. My admiration for this actor has definitely gone up a notch.

Here are a few more pictures from Wizard World, to wrap this up. Bye-bye, have fun storming the castle!

Niece Cece was Kayley from Quest for Camelot, and Niece Nicole was an absolutely brilliant Twister.

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Having been ensconced with Dickens for the past month or so, I’ve had a renewed yen to see the 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas. I wanted to see it when it released two years ago, but never did. As luck would have it, there were a bunch of limited-time, free movie channels available on my TV this past weekend. It was playing on one of them, and, while I didn’t catch it cover-to-cover, I saw about two-thirds of it (including the ending).

The Man Who Invented Christmas stars British actor Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens, fairly early in his writing career. He races against time, and his own personal demons, to write and publish A Christmas Carol in time for the Christmas holiday in 1843.

I found the movie charming and clever. Here are the probable reasons why:

  • Dan Stevens’ portrayal of Charles Dickens reminded me an awful lot of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. The manic energy, the hair, the frightening turn when you disturb him. Since I’ve loved Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka for pretty much my whole life, it was hard for me to not be charmed by the similarity I saw in Dan Stevens.
  • As Dickens creates the characters, they appear “in real life.” In his study, and about London as they follow him as he goes wandering in search of inspiration. He bickers with them, and they bicker with each other. Christopher Plummer as Ebenezer Scrooge was especially fun.
  • The struggle Dickens has with how to end the story felt very relatable. He wants Scrooge to remain irredeemable. It isn’t until he comes to some reconciliation in his personal life that he’s able to write the ending we all know. I have to think the story would not have achieved the popularity it did, if it ended with the visions of the ghost of Christmas future realized.

Who doesn’t love a redemption story? God bless us, everyone.

Little Murders

Little Murders is a movie starring Elliott Gould, directed by Alan Arkin, released in 1971. It was first a Broadway play, written by cartoonist Jules Feiffer.

I’ve never seen the movie. But I have a vivid memory of seeing a local (New Orleans) production of the play when I was very young. Too young to fully grasp the dark satire underpinning the story.

About the story, here’s a brief synopsis, from Playbill.com: “Carol Newquist sees the world going to hell and taking his children with it, until the family is forced to shoot back at bullets coming through their home, in Jules Feiffer’s absurdist comedy.”

I remember it being set in a world (New York City) rife with random violence. And I specifically remember the ending, when the protagonist’s husband and brother take turns with a rifle, becoming snipers from an apartment window. I was probably younger than ten years old when I saw the play, and the depiction of senseless violence made an indelible impression on me.

According to Wikipedia, Jules Feiffer says the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the subsequent assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, were the initial inspiration for Little Murders. Both of those events pre-date me, and I was blessed to have a childhood full of love and adventure and absolutely no gun violence. So, personally, Little Murders was not a commentary on the 1970s, which were rather idyllic for me as a child. Rather, it was a terrifying prophecy of some future I did not want to witness. Or that I prayed would only exist in fiction.

Enter the very real era of mass shootings. Another vivid memory: waiting in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport in April of 1999, for an Air France flight back to the U.S., and seeing news reports (tout en francais) about something happening at a school in Colorado. I would return to a country reeling from the aftermath of Columbine.

Twenty years on, it terrifies me to write that this is indeed an era. There is no question of “if” a mass shooting will happen again. Two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Just thirteen hours lapsed between the two. Just 1,500 miles separating these two cities.

And forty-plus years since a play planted a vision of a horrible future in a child’s mind. I hate that the future is now.

 

The Writing on the Wall

A Knight’s Tale is one of those movies that I missed out on, for the first ten or so years of its existence. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to know and recognize some of its many charms.

Of course, I love the character of Geoff Chaucer (Paul Bettany). He’s a down-on-his-luck writer, who falls in with the rag-tag traveling crew of faux knight Sir Ulrich von Liechtenstein (Heath Ledger). Geoff is able to concoct the papers Sir Ulrich needs to “prove” his lineage, and he also uses his mad word skills to hype up the crowds in favor of Sir Ulrich.

This imaginative portrayal of the author of the famed Canterbury Tales strikes me as a true depiction of #writerslife. Centuries before hash tags were a thing.

I could probably go on about Chaucer, but I have another intention for this post. There’s a theme that comes up between Sir Ulrich (really, a peasant named William Thatcher), and his nemesis, Count Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). A “real” count with the bloodline to prove it, and a true villain. Adhemar suspects Sir Ulrich is a phony. When Adhemar takes top prize in their first tournament match-up, he serves Ulrich the very ungracious insult:

“You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting.”

This insult does eventually come around to bite Adhemar in the heinie. But again, I’m digressing.

The point I’m wanting to make: I hadn’t realized that “weighed and measured” was a biblical reference, until I encountered it both in Moby Dick, and The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s from the Book of Daniel, and the narrative account of Belshazzar’s feast. Apparently, everyone was enjoying themselves a little too much at this feast, when a mysterious hand appeared and wrote on the wall:

“Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”

Well, no one knew what it meant, not even Belshazzar’s wise men, and he was beyond freaked out. He sent for Daniel, who interpreted it as such:

  • mene — “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end”
  • tekel —  “you have been weighed. . .and found wanting”
  • upharsin — this one’s a little less clear to me, but, essentially, “your kingdom’s gonna be broken up, dude”

Melville uses “mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” to foreshadow the fate of the Pequod. Dumas uses it in reference to the letter that denounced Edmond Dantes. That he eventually gets his hands on and uses in service of his vengeance.

Two big lessons I take from all this:

  1. “The writing on the wall” is literally mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.
  2. In fiction, (as in real life), karma can be a bitch.

Lucky 13

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Portentous. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of this past Sunday, January 20. The Saints played the NFC Championship game in the Superdome, there was a lunar eclipse, or “blood moon,” later that evening, AND Husband Tim and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary.

First thing that comes to mind, honestly, is that I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for more than three years. I wrote about our tenth anniversary in this post: Notching a Decade. And, the second thing, is that thirteen has never been a big deal to me. Not to make light of it — I get that triskaidekaphobia is a very real thing. Every time I get on an airplane with no row 13, or in an elevator in a building with no apparent 13th floor, I understand that the number inspires a real enough fear in enough people that such decisions get made.

It’s just never been a big deal to me. My feelings are akin to Jim Lovell’s, in one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13. His wife, Marilyn, expresses concern over the number of his mission: “Naturally, it’s 13. Why 13?” she asks. Jim Lovell’s reply: “It comes after 12, hon.”

The same thing goes for eclipses. I’m fascinated by the synchronized timing and alignment of these giant celestial bodies, and the tricks they play on us earth dwellers (click here for my observations of fireflies during a solar eclipse). But I don’t think they herald any particular play of luck: good, bad, or otherwise.

So, I did not feel any particular foreboding ahead of that NFC Championship game. Tim and I were there together, as part of our anniversary celebration. Our spirits, and optimism, were high. Yet, the Saints lost, in a particularly painful fashion. (A missed call by game officials in the last minutes of regulation play turned the tide against us.) For those not in New Orleans, let’s just say, to qualify the loss as heartbreaking is a grand understatement.

In retrospect, do I think the number of years we’ve been married, or the red moon, had any impact on the unfortunate turn of events for the Saints? No. I didn’t pre-game, and I still don’t. But as a fiction writer, these are the types of noteworthy details that add compelling dimension to any conflict.

And for the record, if I was writing this story, the Saints would have won. 😦

Yojimbo

So, I watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo recently. Decades have passed since the last time I’d seen it. And really, I’ve only seen it one time through. It’s not like I spent a long-ago summer watching and re-watching it. Though I might correct that mistake this summer. Thanks to Amazon, I now own a digital Criterion Collection version.

Two things stayed with me, from that single viewing years ago. One–the theme. It’s this fascinating mix of sounds. Opens with amazing percussion, then horns, and strings. And the second thing is the way Toshiro Mifune fights. It’s cemented in my memory as this mind-boggling run-run-stab-stab dance. No, not so much a dance, as an obstacle course. Like American Ninja Warrior, but with a lone Samurai killing machine.

Actually, it was modern-day killing machine John Wick that inspired me to revisit Yojimbo. The first John Wick was playing on TV, and something about the scene in the night club, where John Wick is going after the bad guy who murdered his puppy, made me think of Toshiro Mifune. Except with Keanu Reeves, it was more of a run-run-shoot-shoot kind of movement.

There’s so much I could write about Yojimbo. There are so many more masterly details I picked up on. But I’ll try to be succinct, and I’ll start with the two items that have stayed with me through the years. They’re both pretty elemental, and they didn’t disappoint.

  • The theme: in the beginning, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is wandering, and encounters a couple at a home on the outskirts of the town. The woman is inside at a silk loom, and the sound of it is very pronounced: two beats, a lull in between, two beats, all in an even rhythm. The theme mimics the sound of the loom–those same two beats, done via horns, thread through the music of the film. Subtle yet phenomenal.
  • Toshiro Mifune: it’s not just the way he fights, it’s the way he inhabits the character of Sanjuro. He’s shot from behind quite a bit, so the viewer sees right over his shoulder. You see the way he adjusts his shoulders in his kimono right before he fights. And sometimes after. He’s pretty badass.
  • Yojimbo as inspiration: I think its pretty widely known that Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing are retellings of Yojimbo’s story. But maybe less well-known is that my favorite comic book of all time, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, was inspired by it. Usagi is this awesome bunny, a masterless samurai who wanders through feudal Japan, helping the helpless along the way. If memory serves, his long-gone lord whom he could no longer serve (because he was dead) was named Mifune. Usagi was the reason I first checked out the movie Yojimbo so long ago.
  • And one last bit of trivia: Yojimbo is distributed by Toho Co., Ltd., one of the big film studios in Japan. The main reason I know Toho? One word; one big, green, word: Godzilla. So I was pretty thrilled when I received the production schedule for the cover art and layout for my next novel, The Trouble on Highway One. The designer had abbreviated the title on the schedule. Wait for it, it ties together, I promise. My new novel’s abbreviated title? TOHO. (Yes!!)

Hall of Mirrors

The view when I look left from my writing desk

I saw Skyscraper this past weekend, the latest movie starring Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock). The movie ticked all the right boxes for me–wildly implausible but enjoyable. If there’s one thing I can say about the Rock, he sells the wildly implausible like no one else. He makes a bad movie better, and a good movie great.

Don’t think I’m spoiling anything by talking about the ending scene…it takes place in a hall of mirrors. A super-updated, high-tech hall of mirrors that viewers are introduced to in the first third of the movie. A not-so-subtle telegraphing of “you know the thrilling conclusion is going to take place here.”

Hall-of-mirrors fight scenes are pretty memorable, when done well. Watching Skyscraper’s version, I recalled the most recent one I’ve seen. It was in John Wick: Chapter 2, and it was Ruby Rose stealing the show there.

But given Skyscraper’s Hong Kong setting, and the visual element of the dragon used throughout the movie, I have to think that the mirrors were a nod to the ORIGINAL mirror fight scene in 1973’s Enter the Dragon.

It had been a while since I’d seen this seminal bit of cinema, and it’s been a pleasure watching it again and again on YouTube. If you’ve never seen Bruce Lee in action, don’t wait, and don’t finish reading this post. Skip straight to YouTube and check him out.

If the mirror scene in Enter the Dragon was an homage to some pre-cursor movie, I don’t know it. And given that it was Lee’s final film, it’s okay by me to let the movie claim “we did it first.”  Bruce Lee was another bright star that left too soon.

Personally, I encounter mirrors all the time, but I’ve never had a mirror fight scene. Don’t really want one. I’m not the most coordinated person around, and I don’t think I’d fare well in a fight. But I think there’s a way to take the elements of the scene and apply them to the skill I do possess–writing.

Bruce Lee’s character in Enter the Dragon (the character’s name is also Lee) hears the words of the Shaolin Abbott during the mirror scene:

“The enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.”

While that quote definitely works for the scene, it’s kind of tough to extrapolate meaning to apply specifically to my writing. But digging a little further, here are Lee’s words that precede that quote:

A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

Substitute story for fight and opponent, and writer for martial artist and I, and there are some seeds of wisdom I can get behind.

39 Hours in New York

Photo by Hugh Stevenson on Unsplash

I had the opportunity to go to New York City last weekend. I went to attend a celebration—my long-time friend Hud was marking a certain milestone birthday. Jet Blue offers a direct flight to JFK airport from New Orleans, that happened to be very reasonably priced at the time I booked it. I stayed in New Rochelle with my Sister Elizabeth, who was kind enough to offer room and board for two nights. So when you come right down to it, it would have been shameful for me not to make the trip to see old friends and get in a family visit, too.

The party was Friday evening, so I caught the 7:05 pm train from New Rochelle into Grand Central Station. I assumed it wasn’t as crowded as the train going in the opposite direction. I like riding trains, and I wish I could utilize them more often. I wonder how different my habits might be if I could commute via riding versus driving. Would I daydream as much if a train ride was an everyday thing? Because, man, do I daydream. I watch the buildings and train stops go by, and I wonder what type of stories I’d be inspired to write. “There are eight million stories in the naked city. . .”

And then, Grand Central! Talk about stories. GCT is pretty impressive. For some reason, Frankfurt’s train station (the hauptbahnhof) sticks in my memory as bigger and more impressive. But for U.S. train stations, Grand Central gets the prize. I think of all those stories intersecting.

My own story was close to intersecting, or rather, reconnecting to threads from the past. Hud’s party was a quick walk from Grand Central. Hud was one of the friends I wrote about just a few weeks ago, friends from my Los Angeles days. (He moved to New York from California several years ago). I was not the only one to make the trip to New York; I was thrilled that friends Craig and Bart also traveled to attend the party. And I met friends of Hud from his Texas A&M days that I had only ever heard about.

Several days on, I still have one overriding feeling: gratitude. A profound sense of gratitude. My Los Angeles days were a remarkable time, and I’m grateful that I still feel so connected to the friends I made while there.

I’m going to conclude with a quote from Thor: Ragnarok, which may seem like a big game of mental leap-frog, but hear me out. Central to that movie’s storyline is this quote: “Asgard’s not a place, it’s a people.” I feel that way about Los Angeles. It’s not the place, but the people, the people who populated my life who helped me understand the difference. The difference between making a living and making a life.

 

Three things I learned about Pacific Rim

I saw Pacific Rim: Uprising this past weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The events in this sequel take place ten years after 2013’s Pacific Rim. So, only five years passed in real life, while ten years went by in movie time.

Still, that five years in real time is notable. By Hollywood standards, it’s a little lengthy for a sequel release. It seems to me, the hit movie makers don’t want to give audiences time to forget what they love about a movie. It seems even the most persnickety of filmmakers get their sequels out in no longer than a three-year time span.

But maybe I’m thinking way too much about this. Before the movie, I saw a trailer for Incredibles 2. That’s a fourteen-year lapse since the first Incredibles. Who knows?

Anyway, regarding Pacific Rim: I did not forget what I loved about the first one. That’s why I saw it opening weekend. I accompanied Niece Nicole and her friend Rachel to an early Saturday IMAX showing.

So what do I love about the world of Pacific Rim? Lots of stuff, but underlying it all is probably that it’s a story about kaiju. Who, in the Pacific Rim universe, are giant, engineered sea monsters. I have a very special place in my heart for Godzilla, so Pacific Rim pretty much had me at “giant monsters.”

When you mix in giant robots (Jaegers), who require a neural link (a drift) between two humans to operate, a plotline that incorporates the imminent destruction of Earth, and a compelling love story (at least, the first one had this). . .well then, count me in.

Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro produced Pacific Rim: Uprising, but he didn’t direct it. He was producer and director on the first. So there is definitely some differences in style between the two movies, but I didn’t mind that. I appreciated that the second film begins with a voiceover, a recap of the events in the first film. The voiceover also sets up the main character, Jake Pentecost (wonderfully portrayed by John Boyega), without any unnecessary exposition.

The movie opens with Jake squatting in the abandoned, palatial homes of Southern California, an area that was never rebuilt after the events of Pacific Rim. I knew right then and there the movie would be a hit with me. I’ve always figured that would be something I would do, should the current paradigm of our world shift. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way I ever see myself living in a huge, palatial estate. I don’t see the point of it, even if I won the lottery.

Anyway, here are the three things that came as news to me:

  1. Guillermo del Toro didn’t write the original story. I had just sort of assumed he did, or at least had come up with the concept, and had someone else write the screenplay. But no, the credits at the end of Pacific Rim: Uprising said something about “Based on characters created by. . .
  2. . . .Travis Beacham.” So I guess the story concept, and the screenplay for the first, were written by this guy, Travis Beacham. Kinda made me think of how Roderick Thorp has a “Based on the novel by” credit on Die Hard. That novel is Nothing Lasts Forever. I’ve never read it, but Husband Tim has. From what he’s told me, it’s pretty different. But I digress, because the third thing I learned about Pacific Rim was:
  3. It was scheduling conflicts that kept Guillermo del Toro from directing, and Charlie Hunnam from returning to reprise his role as Raleigh Becket from the first movie. That’s what Niece Nicole told me. I knew Charlie Hunnam wasn’t supposed to be in the sequel, but in our post-movie discussion, Nicole and I marked all the opportunities there were for a nice little cameo.

And how there’s a wide open possibility for Raleigh Becket to return in Pacific Rim 3. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another five years for that.