TFPO column: smashingly good music within reach

A break from politics with a brief detour into music - this week's column at TFPO s exactly what the title says it is:

Smashingly Good Music Within Reach

I should probably add that by "within reach" I mean within the LA area.


film review: fat stupid rabbit

This Russian film distributed by Echelon Studios - actually their distribution sibling Singa Entertainment - is a rare thing: a surprise. Going by the movie poster, it won Best Foreign Film at the Schweitzer Lakedance Film Festival and Best Screenplay at the International Festival of VGIK Moscow Russia. In trying to title my review, and failing dismally at coming up with a suitable pun, I went with "a Little-Known Russian Gem." What it lacks in panache it makes up for in accuracy. This is a wonderful little film, and the surprise is not simply how good it is but how persistently it lingers.

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)
Gold star recommendation!

'Fat Stupid Rabbit' - A Little-Known Russian Gem


theatre review: sole mate/death and giggles

No episode of The Ladder this week, I'm afraid, on account of being overloaded. But here's a review of Sole Mate / Death and Giggles on stage at the Ivy Substation in Culver City. High recommendations.

‘Sole Mate and Death and Giggles.’ Some Death. Mostly Giggles. All Magic.


TFPO column: A Transit Romance – can we say goodbye to bus advertising?

This week's The Recreational Nihilist topic: that damnable advertising on buses.

A Transit Romance – Can We Say Goodbye to Bus Advertising?


Morbid Outlook september book review and in rotation music

It's the Frederik issue at Morbid Outlook, with...

...a review of Melissa Marr's Ink Exchange

...a new In Rotation with reviews of Risqué, The Awakening, Shugo Tokumaru, and the Long Dead Sevens.

film review: 9

Although the marketing for 9 ranked only marginally above well-kept secret, trailers and the odd radar blips on various websites sparked the imagination. 9 looked absolutely stunning. It’s not unreasonable, then, for expectations to creep up just a little…stunning visuals, stunning story, right?

Of course not. For all of 9’s muscular visuals and intriguing premise, the film joins the ranks of other works that fit under the heading “pretty faces mask empty masks.” A bit harsh, though, since the film is enjoyable beyond the drop-dead gorgeousness of the animation. All this and more at TFPO.

Entertainment: * (out of two)
Craft: * (out of two)

9: Apocalypse Doll


the ladder - synapse city (part 2)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

They call it the Slicer. A Studebaker Phaeton. Black with white wheels, bug-eyed headlamps, heavily modified with an armored chassis and bullet proof glass. It’s more like a sleek cruising tank. The Engine, set to drive, disables the security system and the Trio get in. The Effect rides shotgun – manning the Slicer’s defenses - while the Equation sits in the back at a computer console. A roar, power coiled within the Slicer’s deep rumble. The Engine takes the Slicer to the streets like a pro racer, enjoying the quiet streets.

“Disc, please,” says the Equation.

The Effect reaches into her bra – the Engine chuckles – and pulls out a small square piece of plastic. “Can Delphi work with it?”

“Undoubtedly. I’m uploading now. The question is whether it will lead us to Dr. Lumen.”

Eyes in the rearview mirror, a telling side-glance from the Engine. The Effect opens viewscreens on the dashboard in front of her. She clicks her tongue. “We’ve got a party.”

Behind them, gaining, a forest green speeder, slim and low, with guntoting men hanging out the backseat windows. Assumption: Boss Marcone’s alleyway snipers, after recovering the eyesight overwhelmed by the flashbang, set out to hunt.

Gunshots. Wild starbursts. The Engine grins at the futility. Then he doesn’t. “Uh-oh.”

“A rocket launcher?” says the Effect. She pulls out a control console from beneath the viewscreens. Buttons marked SPIKE, GRAPPLE, and others. A pristine manicured finger aims towards the SPIKE button, but the car suddenly veers right. A parked ice cream truck explodes to their left – fireball and smoky-black cloud. The speeder punches through. Sharp left turn, sharp right. Zig-zag. Whoever drives the speeder is good – better than good. The Engine is as impressed as he is annoyed. Studying her viewscreen, the Effect waits until the speeder is in the best position and pushes the SPIKE button. From below the Slicer, dozens of sharp jacks spill onto the road. The Speeder avoids most of them, but even the driver isn’t good enough to escape them all. A jack, glimmering from the streetlamp, cuts into rubber. The speeder’s left rear tire goes flat. But the driver doesn’t lose control, not enough to go swerving through a glass storefront or into one of the parked cars lining the gritty streets. He does slow down. The Engine savours the victory. Then another car, a boxy green sedan turning right from 31st street, takes up the chase from the speeder.

“Effect…” says the Engine.

“I know, I know,” she says. “But we can’t shoot up the neighbourhood!”

The Equation, meanwhile, looks up, interrupting his work coordinating the data upload with Delphi. Sighing, he reaches below the seat for a small, bulbous pistol. He winds down the window, waits for a break in the bullet hail, sticks his head and arm out. A brief moment to aim and he pulls the trigger. Ever-expanding concentric rings of electric blue energy swallow the pursuers. Electrical wires shorts. Batteries die. Nervous systems become disrupted. The sedan dies, slows to a stop. Thugs fall unconscious likes babies after milk.

“No time for trifles,” the Equation says. “We have bigger problems.”

Pouting, a dog deprived of its favourite chew-toy, the Engine drives sedately. Mumbles. “You could at least install one of those things on the car.”

The Effect smiles - regret or relief? And the Slicer cuts through the heavy summer night air on its way to headquarters.


TFPO column: what does a plane hijacking tell us about religion?

I haven't set myself the task of advocating atheism, either militantly like Christopher Hitchens or with velvet gloves. But some newsworthy events so obviously raise questions about religion that I have to ask them. Unfortunately, we don't live in a culture - nay, world - that really encourages serious critical thinking about religion. It's the Great Off-Topic. You can nit-pick the details, but you can't question the basic integrity of religious faith. The hijacking of an airplane in Mexico, however, suggests otherwise.

What Does a Plane Hijacking Tell Us About Religion?


film review: my one and only

No preamble this week, just a link to this week's review at TFPO:

Entertainment: ** (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)

'My One And Only' Deserves to be Yours


the ladder - synapse city (part 1)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Synapse City. Metropolis of mixed metaphors and literary allusions both respectable and dubious. New York density in an LA sprawl. A forest of skyscrapers, jagged skyline like broken teeth. The light is blinding, here, and shadows stick like tar. Fog rolls in like hard liquor and crawls out like a hangover. Everyone can hear you scream. Few people care.

63rd and Motter Avenue. Background noise: car honks and sputtering engines, two hobos arguing over a half-empty bottle of whiskey found in a trashcan, a chain reaction of barking dogs, a man and woman having loud sex like they’re reliving a ‘70s porno. The alley is dark and empty except for a large green dumpster that stinks up the dead-end with week-old food and other filth. Trash from a diner and the building of interest, a five-story brick Georgian that houses the Flowers nightclub. A door, gunmetal grey, in the wall under watch. A bald man standing still against the wall, in a shadowed corner, late thirties, thin, hallowed cheeks and pointed chin. He wears a fitted white leather smock-like jacket, asymmetrical black buttons. Black leather gloves like a second skin. Black pants and heavy-duty boots. Goggles with lenses that glimmer with the red of infrared sight. This is the EQUATION; scientist, inventor, cold-minded but warm-hearted, and de facto leader of the EQUILIBRIUM TRIO. Next to him a man built like construction equipment; tall, muscular, square-jawed and black-haired, dark-skinned, midnight commando garb with bandoliers of flash-bangs and grenades, holsters for various weapons and knives, goggles. This is the ENGINE; martial artist, special ops, expert tactician, and a penchant for playful pyromania.

They watch the door, the alleyway, the sky; everything and anything that might disturb their mission, even when they’re playing the waiting game. If there are stars above, they can’t see them. Synapse City spills light into the sky like a john spills himself into a cheap hooker.

“The metaphor is crass,” the Equation observes.

“But it’s true,” grins the Engine.

And they wait, nerves tense, muscles at the ready. Then a clank as the door handle turns, a mousy squeak as the door opens. The two men prepare for the worse, then relax slightly. It’s a woman. Buxom and curvy, a well-proportioned wet dream. Long wavy brown hair. Red dress. Strappy black stilettos with lace ribbons wrapping her calves. Face like a porcelain doll, soft, no edges, innocent, flashing green eyes, perfect makeup of rouge lips and kohl eyes. She looks around, sees the men, sighs relief.

“I have it,” she says. This is the EFFECT; spy, infiltrator, psychologist, seducer of men, women, and machines. The Equation pulls a pair of goggles from his pocket and quickly tosses it to her; she catches it smoothly and puts them on. Then, around the corner at the alleyway entrance: clicks on concrete sidewalk, footsteps. A tuxedoed figure cuts around the corner – suave, cool, but not flashy or arrogant. A stab of streetlight reveals his hook-nosed, masculine, movie star face. Thick eyebrows above serious brown eyes. Also: the cocking of guns from well-dressed goons at his sides, and more goons from the diner’s low-slung rooftop. This is Vitti “Boss” Marcone, an escapee from a Batman comic who set up his own Roman mob in Synapse City after taking out rival sharks with smaller, blunter teeth. He speaks at a measured tone, loud enough but not too loud. The Trio watch him, their goggles make them look like robots or insect. While the thugs are intimidated, brandishing their Tommy guns with a slight tremble in their hands, Boss Marcone is unfazed.

“I figured someone would make a play,” he says. “I even half-figured it would be you three.” A soft chuckle. “Did you think I wouldn’t plan ahead?”

A brief, subtle hand motion from the Equation; all three flick a button on their goggles while, a split-second later, the Engine presses a button on the remote concealed in his hand. A startling thunderclap and blinding lightning flash. Marcone and his goons put hands to eyes in a futile attempt to rub away the silver stars and blackness. The Engine then moves forward, a flash, and disarms the thugs. A few well-placed palm strikes to the chest, elbows to the jaw, and nerve attacks to pressure points on the neck sends Marcone and his muscle to the ground. The Equation smiles slightly - that alone is a magnificent display of emotion – and steps over the unconscious men out of the alley, the Engine following two steps behind. Hearing a groan emanate from Boss Marcone, the Effect lingers just long enough to crouch down, pat Marcone on the cheek in a gesture more sarcastic than sweet, and say with a smoky, caustic, sex-infused voice, “We plan ahead too, darling.” She pronounces it “dah-ling.” The Engine looks back as the Effect leaves Marcone to his appointment with a future headache, grins again, and repeatedly taps the side of his head with his index finger. “They’re crazy, these Romans.”


film review: (500) days of summer

It's a cliché by now that endings make or break a film. A mediocre film can be saved by a good ending, but a good film can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with a mediocre ending. And by good or bad ending I don't mean happy or tragic. I refer to endings that follow, if not logically than at least sensibly, from previous events and characterizations. Whether it's smug irony or a plain lack of conviction, weak endings that don't fit with the rest of the film are like cement galoshes on a stool pigeon. A drag. Such is the case with (500) Days of Summer, a film I want to "love" more than I actually do, and all because of a scene that lasts but a few minutes. Still worth seeing, though, for those things it does get right.

Entertainment: * (out of two)
Craft: ** (out of two)

Review at TFPO -
(500) Days of Summer: Missed It By That Much


the ladder - secret hospital (part 5)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Dr. James Di Nova – a heavyset man whose mass consisted mostly of muscle, attired with a white smock over his pressed olive Army uniform (rank: colonel), with the stern face of a senator from the days of the Roman Empire.

“I was denied access to the transcripts,” said the EPH director.

His office was a strange oasis in the wonderland maze; walls lined with file drawers and modernist shelves neatly, perhaps obsessively, stacked with psychiatry and medical textbooks as well as books on topics as varied as architecture and paleontology. A flat, uncluttered desk; a glass surface resting on an aluminum support structure. Dr. Poole was suspicious of pristinely organized offices, spaces devoid of personal mementoes, sterilized to be free of humanity. “Knick-knacks,” he was fond of telling students, “are the gateways to the mind.”

But while the Colonel could be commended for bringing a refined aesthetic to his office, especially in comparison to the drab utilitarianism of the Wonderland complex, Dr. Poole nevertheless preferred his own cave. Stacks of books, photographs, manuscripts in various stages of progress – nothing disorganized, but also nothing inhumanely classified and stored. He suspected the Colonel kept a file drawer full of nonsensical objects waiting to be fondled when in the comforting cradle of privacy. Perhaps he even kept a bottle of hard liquor.

“Yes. Classified,” Dr. Poole answered. “But you knew that.”

The Colonel nodded his square-jawed head, furrowing his brow into an expression of disapproval and suppressed irritation. Dr. Poole made a peace offering.

“No breakthroughs yet. Just small talk. It takes time to build trust.”

“I don’t like being shut out, Doctor Poole.” He slightly emphasized “doctor” as if it were an epithet.

Dr. Poole smiled with what he hoped was a reassuring expression. “I understand, and I am happy to keep you informed to the extent I am allowed to. But your facility’s record in treating Maram as an experimental subject has helped neither your military masters’ ambitions nor Maram’s mental health, which is in fact my sole concern at this moment. Surely you’re not surprised, are you?”

“I find it interesting you call her Maram.”

“You think of her as a code name?”

The two men stared at each other across the desolate battlefield of Colonel Di Nova’s desk, but Dr. Poole had no interest in a contest of machismo. Neither, apparently, did the Colonel, who cracked the silence to describe, with succinct detail, the extent of his security clearance. The Experimental Psychiatric Hospital was, after all, more secret than even the Air Force Flight Test Center. Dr. Poole was not unsympathetic, remembering his early days as a military psychiatrist butting heads with government officials over what was then a low security clearance. Sympathy could only go so far, however; Colonel Di Nova was an officer first and a healer second. Conflicting interests.

“The clearance is compartmentalized,” said Dr. Poole. “Surely you know that. I have the highest possible authority on this. The transcripts will remain sealed for everyone but authorized.”

“You answer to the highest authority. Sounds like a Hebrew National advertisement.”

Dr. Poole appreciated that the Colonel had a sense of humour, but he didn’t relent. Neither did the Colonel.

“And who is authorized, if not the goddamn director of this facility?”

“I’m afraid that’s also classified. But I’m sure you could make an educated guess.”

The Colonel turned a lovely shade of apple-red, but said nothing. Dr. Poole, seeing no further use to drag on the conversation, stood to leave. This shook the Colonel from his aggravation.

“What happened to Dr. Forrester? He seems to have vanished. Do you know anything about that?”

“I don’t know anything that would be of help to you, Colonel,” said Dr. Poole. “But while we’re asking questions, what is with this obsession with Alice in Wonderland around here?”

Eyes twinkling but filled with suspicion, Colonel Di Nova said, “You have a better name for this place?”

“How about Fortress of Solitude?”

Dr. Poole laughed softly as the Colonel looked at him, confused. The psychiatrist left the office, navigating the corridors, then the elevator, then the administrative offices on the surface. Once outside, he plucked a cell phone from his jacket pocket and, securing the call through an encrypted line, dialed.

“Delphi. I should have asked for this before, but eMail me a complete background on Colonel Di Nova. Full security, of course.”

On the computer monitor in his office, the Colonel watched as Dr. Poole made the call. Turning up the volume, however, didn’t make his words any clearer. It was if the psychiatrist were talking gibberish or in code. Annoyed, Colonel Di Nova ordered security to send a copy of the video footage for linguistic analysis only to be told, a few hours later, that they had insufficient information to determine what Dr. Poole had said.