Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 Tournament of Books: The Odds

The winner gets a rooster!
Well it's that time of year again, when the good folks over at The Morning News go and make a mockery of book reviews, literary awards, book club picks, and anyone vain enough to think one book is objectively better than any other book. It's the Morning News Tournament of Books, where sixteen books of Proven Literary Merit are seeded into a single-elimination bracket, and chosen to advance by an illuminating, often infuriating, set of esteemed judges chosen from all walks of life: Book reviewers, novelists, musicians, bloggers, and the occasional escaped mental patient. Furious and often hilariously pointless debates ensue.

I had sort of an off-year for current fiction; of the field I have read only three books, marked with an asterisk. All odds are therefore set by a complex algorithm derived from GoodReads chatter, selected reviews, gut-feelings, and past lunacy. There are a few reliable guideposts: short story collections do horribly, award winners do better than you'd think, plucky underdogs almost always get their come-uppance, and the only winners are the commentariate, who enliven all festivities with their insights, which are often better than the judges but in no way affect the outcome of the tournament, I think.

Other things to note: There doesn't seem to be an oddball from a weird category this year. No box-of-poems, no graphic novel, no YA angst machine. Also, no play-in round!

The Booker Prize winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, got a curious pass this year. Not only would it have brought Oceania further into the mix (Evie Wyld is also Australian), but it could have been a nice matchup with David Klay's war-based collection of stories.

So, in order of alphabet (author's last name) here are my uninformed rundowns of the 16 entrants and my grebmaR-certified odds for the author to have barnyard fowl in their yard (or dinner plate) come April.

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
An oddball, Kafka-esque noir mystery set in Japan, I can see this novel having some appeal, but don't see it going deep into the tourney. The ideal reader will be a Zenn-diagram intersection of readers fascinated by: 1) Mysterious unknowable Japan 2) Kafka-esque dysphoria, and 3) Compulsive meditators on the nature of Truth. The odds of this book getting that reader four times in a row are approximately 100-1

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor -
Billed on Goodreads as a cross between The Art of Fielding and The Flamethrowers, ABMSST looks high-concept to death: A 7-foot, one-eyed former athlete travels to Berlin to be an Artist; his father tries to become a great intellectual. That's a lot of pretenses, and when this novel meets a reviewer more interested in meat-and-potatoes Normal Rockwell than foie-gras meets faux Warhol, potential is high for an undignified exit. 50-1.

* All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A beautifully written novel that plumbs the fathomless depths of World War II. It's about a blind girl struggling to survive in a beseiged French city, and a young radio enthusiast whose talents are exploited by everyone's favorite unforgivable inhuman bastards, German Nazis. I loved this book, and so did a lot of people - it's 4.24 GoodReads ranking puts it second on the ToB list. On the other hand, books I love never do well in the ToB. 10-1

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
The third part of an Italian cross-generational romance, TWLaTWS seems again to have limited appeal, though with its GoodReads score of 4.3 (with far fewer votes, which tends to skew books higher), it is well loved by those who did read it. I can't see that being the third part of a trilogy and having five pages of character biographies at the beginning, and an exposition-heavy first chapter (I read a kindle sample) can possibly be overcome, but stranger things have happened when the Rooster begins to crow. 100-1

* An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
(GR 4.16) A pre-tournament favorite if only for Roxane Gay's towering status in the blogosphere and literati zeitgeist. A chronicle of a kidnapped Haitian heiress who endures rape and torment for 13 days, and the just as traumatic aftermath, for many readers AUS was the book of the year.  An important book and a deep contender, definitely, though any judge coming at this from outside the hype machine may take it down for any number of reasons, which may include it being unrelentingly grim, rhetorically repetitive, and a heartbreakingly frustrating read. 8-1

Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer 
A melancholic, tormented philosopher, his ennui-ridden Oxford students, this novel of the life of the minds seems like a sleeper targeted, once again, to a very narrow demographic. Given that the average Goodreads score is 3.37, the lowest in the field, I don't see Iyer advancing far unless he meets a series of like-minded philosophy majors in the judges chambers. Or, as Linda summed up on her 1-star Goodreads review: "ugh. If you did not read Philosophy or go to Cambridge, do not read this book." 150-1

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
I feel like this is going to be the dark horse of the tourney, and not just because the author has ties to my home state, Minnesota (Go Gophers!). Anything combining murder and Bob Marley is okay by me. This one could also pair up nicely with Roxane Gay - two novels of the violent legacy of Caribbean nations. 15-1.

Redeployment by Phil Klay
I read one of the stories in this collection, and it was wonderful. Klay comes from the tough-guy sentimental school, the storied, battle-scarred genre of war-and-its aftermath where men silently go about the miserable, violent job of being a Man. Paired with Roxane Gay's novel, and at the hands of the right judge, we could see an epic evaluation of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome viewed through geopolitics and gender issues. I would love to see that. Downsides include short story collections natural tendency to sag against the taut narratives of a single volume novel, so I'm putting the odds at 15-1 on winning the tournament, and 10,000-1 on seeing that insightful conversation of violence, gender, and geopolitics.

* Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 
Another critical darling. Station Eleven takes literary chops at a shopworn genre cliche, in this case a postapocalyptic America in which a caravan of Shakespearean actors are on the run from a Mad Prophet. The climax may be a little weak and the themes - Art and the Assholes who make it - a bit twee, and some may say the intricate plotting relies a bit too much on coincidence, but overall this is a fine, inspired piece of imagination, and will match up well against any contender in this strong field. 8-1

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Perennial literati darling David Mitchell returns with another dense clockwork novel; I won't even attempt a plot synopsis. I have not read any Mitchell and intend to start one day; he strikes me as a Pynchonesque madman. Mitchell could become the ToB's second winner (He won for Cloud Atlas several years back). Drawbacks: Mitchell fatigue. 10-1

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Another book with a great hook: a mixed-race family in the 1970's experiences turmoil when their beloved daughter dies. There's no better set-up for exploring what America is or does or can be. If Ng executed even half of this premise, there's no reason for this not to be the upset special of the tournament. 15-1

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
A tender, moving portrait of a middle-class marriage. It's themes seem if not slighter when compared to the war-and-trauma heavy contenders elsewhere in the feed, then there seems to be a subtle lack of gravitas. It's always a strange matchup when a family potboiler goes up against a so-called Book for the Ages. Due to a perceived gravitas gap, I'm putting this book at 75-1

Adam by Ariel Schrag
A young boy goes off to college and masquerades as a trans to win the heart of the girl he loves. A brilliant combination of queer studies, 00's nostalgia, and the coming-of-age novel. This one feels wonderful, I love the idea of this farce from a former graphic novelist. Again, there's a gravitas gap at play, but there are enough intangibles to make this novel the little horse that could. Then again, in the Rooster, the big boys and girls tend to crush delicate quirky flowers of a book like Adam. 30-1

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
A period piece with a fairly conventional premise, The Paying Guests is probably the darkest horse in this race. It's 1920's London, and a down-on-their luck family takes in borders who according to the weirdly vague synopsis will shake up their lives in unexpected ways. It's probably better than the weak synopsis makes it out to be - are the boarders ghosts? anarchists? theater people? - but with the heavy hitters in this year's field I'm afraid The Paying Guests will be evicted early. 100-1

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Gravitas, Gravitas, Gravitas. An eco-thriller set in some anarchic eco-disaster future, Annihilation probes the dark regions of Area X, where teams of scientists enter and, if they return at all, come back scarred and transformed. Look for a matchup with the field's other post-apocalyptic potboiler Station Eleven for a discussion on how different two visions of a nasty future can be. I'm giving Annihilation long odds based on it being the first of a trilogy and the always elusive but fairly predictable 'this-is-just-not-for-me' factor. 25-1

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Moody atmospherics on a haunted island, you say? A woman sheepherder with mysterious scars? Foxes, sheep, and wind-battered vistas? Interesting... Again, the synopsis is light on details - apparently sheep-herder Jake Whyte has a Haunted Past - but there's a likeable elegance to the prose I sampled. And this book was selected for the field by a small, independent bookstore in Glen Elyn, Illinois as their most-hand-sold book of the year, so there has to be something brilliant lurking in the rain-swept highlands, right?  Right? 30-1

* Books I've read as of 1-18-2015

Well, that's it. Please remember to keep all wagering on a gentlemanly level. I will post updates when the final pairings are posted in March. Till then, happy reading!

Let the Rooster Crow!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mistletoe Drone.. of DEATH!!!!!: (a one-act Christmas melodrama)

They ordered Love...
....they got MURDER!!!!!
Here is my Christmas gift to you all:

Mistletoe Drone ... of DEATH!!!
Inspired by a true story

*** Mistletoe Drone Operator at TGI Friday’s was the best job this "kind-of-a-loner, kept to himself" could get.***

SCENE: TGI Fridays, interior. BARRY, pimpled and bitter, is dressed in TGI Friday's shirt and suspenders with lots of flair. His hair is lank and greasy, a sneer on his face. He holds the MISTLETOE DRONE controller and scans the restaurant. It’s filled with young couples in love, feeding each other french fries and sesame jack™ chicken strips.

BARRY (Voice-over): (Bitterly) Look at all you happy couples. Sitting there with your thai pork tacos, staring into each other’s eyes, longing to kiss. Here, I'll make you kiss!

He controls the MISTLETOE DRONE toward a SEXY COUPLE. It stops, its mistletoe payload directly over the WOMAN's head. The SEXY COUPLE looks up. WOMAN laughs, and MAN kisses her.

MISTLETOE DRONE dips closer, closer, while the SEXY COUPLE’s kiss becomes more passionate.

Ominous music swells.


MANAGER: Hey, Barry, that drone’s a little close, don’t you think?

BARRY (falsely cheerful): Hey, yeah, oops! Guess they looked a little too happy!

The MISTLETOE DRONE rises, ominous music fades. The SEXY COUPLE's kissing becomes more passionate.

MANAGER: Want me to take over for a while?

BARRY: Nah, I’m good.

MANAGER (Looking at SEXY COUPLE, who knock dishes off the table and climb on to continue making out and groping each other): Well, you’re doing a great job.

BARRY: Thanks, boss!


BARRY scans the room again. His eyes squint.

BARRY (Voice-over): Oh, you blissfully ignorant fools. All of you, believing love is anything but a bittersweet prelude to a lifetime of solitary misery.

His attention becomes focused on a YOUNG INNOCENT COUPLE making lovey-eyes at each other; it’s apparent they are on an early date, infatuated but shy.

BOY: Hey, they have that mistletoe drone thing. (exaggeratedly casual) That's cool, I guess.

GIRL: Oh, I hope it doesn't come here. It would be a *shame* if I had to kiss you. (She smiles and blushes.)

BARRY (Voice-over): Is that... Tiffany? Tiffany who once spurned my advances? I spent the night of Spring Fling alone because of you, Tiffany! Oh, and now, you flounce and rut with this unworthy cur?

BOY stabs a shrimp, puts it on GIRL'S plate

BARRY: (voice-over) Ah! You split with him a Jack Daniel's Shrimp and Ribs that should by rights be mine? Oh, yes, kiss him, by all means ... I’ll make you kiss. I’ll make you kiss... in hell!

BOY: Hey, that operator is looking at you funny. Do you know him, Kelly?

GIRL: Never seen him before.

MISTLETOE DRONE-view camera, closing in on the YOUNG INNOCENT COUPLE who smile and set down their cutlery as it approaches, and give each other a bashful glance.

BARRY (voice-over): Oh, sweet revenge best served cold, with Tennessee Whisky Cake for desert, on special this week!

The BOY moves close to the GIRL, puts an arm around her shoulder. She touches his hand as they wait for the MISTLETOE DRONE...

MISTLETOE DRONE-view camera as their smiles turn to confusion, then fear as the MISTLETOE DRONE buzzes ominously closer, closer.

BOY: It's coming in kind of... fast...

GIRL: Hold me!

BARRY begins to chuckle, rising to laughter, rising to maniacal laughter.

Cut to SEXY COUPLE, now half-naked, making out on their table. BLOOD SPATTER hits them. They look up. WOMAN screams.

MANAGER: Oh, for Pete's sake, Barry.

Fade to credits as BARRY’s laughter grows ever louder and the screams of patrons drown him out.

-- END --

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Review: Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes

Me Before YouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Me Before You, to be honest, has a certain charm, the same kind had by those fairy-tales or regency novels where the plucky lower-class heroine is sent up to the castle to tend to a grouchy, cursed prince. They have some initial conflict but eventually settle into a hesitant romance, and all goes well until the Big Twist you probably got from the book jacket: Lou, the heroine of this novel, tries to teach her quadripeligic love interest to take joy in life again, but instead he teaches Louisa the True Meaning of Life.

On the other hand, what works in fairy tales doesn't work for me with 'real' characters. Me Before You is predictable and trite, with stock issues being debated between stock characters who do boring things, many of which are implausible if not outright stupid. There's an escape-to-paradise section, and an emotionaly traumatic bit of backstory, and the ending is a tidy little bow-wrap of feel-good pablum.

Short take: If you're into the sort of novels where you know you'll be emotionally manipulated into a life-affirming binge-cry, dig in. Otherwise, take your ice-cold heart elsewhere.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wattpad, NaNoWriMo, and the rise of Folk Writing

Go ahead and click, you know you want to.
You may have heard about Imaginator1D, whose novel about a college freshman's wild (and fictional) affair with Harry Styles of One Direction has gathered over 270 million reads on Wattpad and a big book deak with Gallery books. She's also been the subject of more than one profile on the New York Times. You may be wondering what it means. You may have opened a Wattpad account and started on your Garth Brooks fanfic, who knows?

You may also know it's National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, wherein across the world, thousands of would-be writers attempt to bang out a novel, or a draft of a novel, or 50,000 words, over the course of a 30 day month (that includes Thanksgiving). It's a social event, a popular uprising, and a lifestyle rolled into one.

It's also another clue that writing fiction has entered a golden age of folk art popularity.

Really? How can writing be folk art, though? It's not that hard. According to most definitions, folk art is produced by indigenous or peasant population, and contrasts with fine art as being uninfluenced by trends or movements in academic circles. Folk art is characterized by a naive style, without any of the trappings of 'cultured' or 'high-brow' artisanship. It's often passed down hand-to-hand, like sewing circles, or the hootnannies of bluegrass music.

Is Imaginator1D's work Folk Art? I think it meets most definitions. I'm not sure about indigenous or peasant, but certainly Imaginator1D is untrained as a writer, and works outside the walls of academia, free of its 'rules' and aesthetics. And by literary standards her prose is amateurish and sloppy (the paperback edition promises to clean up the punctuation). This is no doubt a side effect of her writing most of the book on her cell phone. No one seems to mind the poor punctuation or misspellings, and, I'd wager, the clumsy vernacular phrasing seems to make her more relatable to her audience.

I think it's undeniable that her work is a genuine piece of folk art. I don't mean that as a disparaging comment, either - folk art is one of the treasures of the world.

The NaNoWriMo coat of arms.
On a larger scale, NaNoWriMo exists outside the cultured hothouse of academic Fine Arts. Indeed, as a 'cultured' writer, I am by turns fascinated and repelled by this phenomenon. It just seems weird to force yourself this way, to churning out prose day after day, just because it's November. Couldn't the power of countless shut-ins banging out 50,000 words be put to better use, somehow, than in locking up tens of terabytes with never-to-be read prose?

But that's an academic mindset. In the freewheeling anarchy of folk art, everything is celebrated, as long as the effort is pure.

Anyway, it's their dream, their commitment, not yours. If they're that close to the tip of Maslowe's hierarchy of needs that this is how they're able to spend their free time, more power to them. We all need our communities after all, and there's no more tight community than the NaNWriMo forums, where questions are posted like, "What's my monster's weakness" and "What would you be doing the day before killing yourself."

Partly it's sad to see people posting questions asking for help with the very essense of what writers do - thinking up plots and characters. It's something they'd do well to learn in a workshop or class. On the other hand it's nice they're out there helping each other. You could say they've found their own workshop on the forums. And no doubt, some of them will get it. Some of them will produce decent books, I'm sure. Some will write daily, year round, with discipline and skill. Eventually.

And that's what Folk movements are all about - people training each other to produce what the community needs. How can I, a crotchety old pseudo-socialist, object to that?

Other random thoughts:
1. I don't think traditional publishing has as much to fear from new modes of distribution as they think. Most of the breakaway hits of the Internet age have been genre, and some of them have been pure examples of folk writing - 50 Shades of Grey and After being prime examples. The internet has yet to produce a GRR Martin, a Margaret Atwood, or a 'literary' star - these still seem to be coming from literary academia, writing programs, and the occasional odd genius groomed by a mentoring publisher.

2. The thematic similarities between After and 50 Shades of Grey are curious. In both, a virginal young woman finds her sexual awakening at the hands of a brutish, dominating figure of authority. I suspect this may be an example of the Cupid/Psyche myth still having a brutal resonance within our society, but I don't know. But their fundamental parallels with Beauty and the Beast would only support my argument that these are at heart Folk Tales updated for a modern audience by naive savants suited to tapping into the zeitgeist.

2.5 They're also both kind of porny. Let's not kid ourselves here: People like porny stuff.

3. Writing talent isn't what you think it is. In the digital world, everything is about attracting eyeballs, and being a writer now means generating buzz by being approachable and social. Imaginator1D reportedly spent up to 3 hours a day interacting with her readers, getting suggestions and gathering praise. That's a rare talent in itself.

4. There are huge audiences that don't want, in fact don't trust, 'literary' interventions on their reading. They don't need marketing campains, Barnes and Noble, and book tours. They don't even need proper punctuation. Sometimes what they want is their own pre-existing ideas fed back to them, or the thrill of interacting with the art as it is created. The echo chamber effect is, maybe, an artistic process in itself.

4.5 I think there are ways to monetize this phenomenon which have nothing to do with packing up the script as a book and selling it in traditional markets. Wattpad has experimented with inserting ads into the experience; but I'd wager something more unconventional will emerge. Stay tuend.

5. And, finally, and this one hurts but it's true: literary standards can inhibit mainstream success. There is such a thing as trying too hard.

Friday, October 31, 2014

eMail to a Demon ex-Lover

To: Soul_D-vour_666@yahoo.com
From: The_Trishinator@gmail.com

Subject: Hey, stranger!
I was on the 11C the other day, and smelled brimstone, and thought of you. Then I looked up and there you were, in the back, talking to some trashy blonde in a cheap Victoria’s Secret houndstooth. It was so weird! I wanted to say hi, but you were busy and I was too embarrassed, and then it was my stop.

I know, Gurlax, we had a wonderful night together in the woods of Lake Nokomis, and that I danced a pagan dance and promised my soul to you for all eternity and all, but I don’t know. Please don’t think me a tease. I was drunk and vulnerable, and going through a phase where I liked bad boys and naked worship of hell-mouth portal entities conjured from books best left unread. At first I was flattered: Gurlax the Defiler, known to all as Satan’s Consigliore! And Me! What are the odds? And you were sweet, really, with your tickly forked tongue and that trick you do with your tail. You were not at all the vicious creature of legend, and I defend you as much as I can whenever your name comes up.

But let’s be honest, Sweetie. I think you have issues with commitment. I think you are needier than you let on, and have a deep lonely void in your life that no amount of soul-devouring can ever fill. This endless need for conquest, and the inevitably petty unsolvable drama that ensues. I want you to know it was nothing you did, but only the by-product of who we are, residue of an outdated moral filter instilled in us by generations of religious inbreeding. Perhaps in another time or place…

And the truth is, I’m just not ready to commit to you, or to anyone, and may not be for a long long time. The prospect of giving myself completely to any one manifestation of a culture's mores re: sin and redemption, now or ever, terrifies me.

So: I’m sorry if I caused you any pain when I tricked you, using the souls of my roommate’s virginal teenage sisters as bait, into returning my soul to me under the ancient rules of the Codex Gigas. I still fondly recall your pitiful cries as I held you in the spell of the omnivus ring and held the iron of Flinx to your hooved feet until you relented, releasing my souls and the souls of my roommate’s sisters (Amanda’s in Bethel now, can you believe it?) back into our own custody – and yes, I believe you felt remorse in that moment, but only for that moment.

Such is life. So no, Gurlax, we can never be together. But, no hard feelings? I really wanted to catch up, but you looked busy, and I had Pilates, then dinner with Greg, my new guy, who’s in investment banking. I know, I know, investment bankers, demonic hellspawn, I sure do know how to pick ‘em, don’t I? (Ha ha) Okay. Hey, who was that girl you were talking to? She seems nice.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Casting the Plastic Man Movie

When DC/Warner announced their "road to 2020" superhero movie guide a few days ago, I noticed a glaring omission: Plastic Man. Why no Plastic Man?! Ant-man is getting a movie. And Guardians of the Galaxy made a star of a mutant raccoon. What is it about Plastic Man that the studio thinks America won't like? I for one think it's time.

As everyone knows, Plastic Man first appeared in Police Comics in 1941. He started life as petty criminal Eel O'Brian, who fell into a vat of acid that changed his body into a malleable, rubber-like substance. He was nursed back to health by a mystic order of monks, and pledged himself to a life of fighting crime.

For the first few issues, Plastic Man investigated crime rings from the inside as his original identity, Eel O'Brian, then foiled them as Plastic Man. He soon abandoned that ruse, and the plotlines went very very strange. One memorable issue saw Plas battling an undead brain placed in the body of a wheelchair-bound giant, who learned to walk on his hands and destroy villages.

Plas had no choice but to be swallowed, where he swelled up in the Giant's esophagus, thus strangling the monster, whose brain is still alive awaiting its chance to wreck vengeance on humanity. We are not kidding.

But the comic potential of a man who could shape himself into virtually anything eventually succumbed to the ridiculousness of that concept, and Plastic Man became more comic than heroic, as the covers show. Plas was something different, not quite superhero meta-commentary, but not wholly of the genre; he never fit in with the DC universe, much as they tried. He was perhaps, like Peanuts or Li'l Abner, too attuned to the sensibilities of his creator, Jack Cole, to be coherently integrated into other people's worlds.

Which is what makes him a tough sell. Plas is a niche guy in a mass market world. He saved women from phony curses and tracked down kidnapped atomic scientists. He never took himself so seriously as to save the whole damn world week after week; he was a lunch-bucket street-pounding beat cop superhero who happened to also be kind of batshit crazy.

Todays auteur directors of high-angst cookie-cutter mayhem wouldn't know what to do with an essentially self-mocking hero. Let's face it: there is no real imagination in popular culture these days. Today's Hollywood comic industry marches to a single drum: a grim pounding of grit and despair, of self-important sci-fi soap operatics and dimension saving, city crushing melees. Only the costumes change.

But that doesn't mean Plastic Man shouldn't be done. On the contrary, that means Plastic Man MUST be done. There has to be room for a jokey, impossible man on the silver screen. I think Plastic Man is the hero we need right now.

Okay, let's cast this sucker.

Plastic Man
Anarchic force of nature. Free-thinking crazy man whose heart stays on the side of justice. But he was once also the hard-boiled criminal Eel O'Brian, scourge of the underworld. Dark haired, with a strong chin and baffling white sunglasses, Plastic Man could be played by many people (and will require extensive CGI, of course). But I believe he requires a comedian at heart, and one with a deft touch and a surprising depth of humanity. Traditional leading men - Will Smith, Tom Hardy, Bradley Cooper - need not apply. We're going for fringe element cult status folks here. Let's burn through some obvious but past-their-prime choices first:

Bruce Campbell
It's a measure of how old I am that Army of Darkness era Bruce Campbell was the first name that came to mind. He's got the chin, he's got the hair, he's got the rogue-chaos personality. But Bruce isn't exactly a spring chicken. If this were a reboot of a Justice League going through a collective mid-life crisis, Bruce C might be our bet, but for a franchise starter, we need someone young and fresh.

Jim Carey
Twenty years ago this would have been a lock. (I am indeed very old.) But now we're in the Twitter era, and Jim Carey is dead to Hollywood. He'd have to be pried like gum from his reclusive mansion and cattle-prodded back to his Mask-era prime. This would be a direct-to-video disaster, twenty years too late.

Keanu Reeves 
Dark hair, pointy chin, clueless persona, check check check. K-Rev was even considered for the role when the Wachowski Brothers developed a script. Wait, that happened? Yes, yes it did. Wearing the sunglasses wouldn't harm Reeves acting range at all, and Keanu's surfer/Bill and Ted vibe might give a cute twist to the character, but let's face it, Reeves might as well be as in-demand as Bela Legosi for today's millenials.

Which brings us to some contenders. I've used my mad photoshop skills to give you an idea of what they look like in the the Plas-shades.

David Tennant
About a year ago, Tennant was rumored to be in talks to play Plastic Man in the Justice League movie. And I can totally see it. Tenant's has range and talent. But as big a Tennant fan as I am (His Doctor Who incarnation is far superior to Matt Smith's dead-eyed quip machine. (And yeah. I went there.)), I don't see him being a low-life gangster.

Plus, he's British, and I'm kind of against Brits playing Americans. They wouldn't let any Americans into Harry Potter, why should they get to poach Superman, Spider-Man AND Plastic Man? This is our Bunker Hill, people.

Lastly, the best thing about Tennant is his incredibly expressive eyes, and being forced to wear white goggles the entire time would cripple his range. Still, it's an intriguing choice.

Steve Carrell
I'd love to do screen tests of all these actors, then do a YouTube supercut of them saying Plastic Man's iconic first line: "Great Guns! I'm stretching like a rubber band!" I think Carrell could nail that line. I think he could bring his Maxwell Smart sense of adventure to Plastic Man. He'd also lend some goofy nice-guy schmuck charm to the romantic subplot. And with the Oscar buzz generated by his recent turn as a sociopathic millionaire wrestling mentor in Foxcatcher, he can pick his own roles now. Why not a wiseacre stretchy superhero guy?

Andy Samberg
Here's a dark horse choice - funny, relatable, laid-back and confident. A Plastic Man for Generation Now. The kids like him, and he's on a TV show, which is exactly what Chris Pratt rode to StarLord fame. And with the glasses covering the eyes, you need a good smirk to do your acting for you, and Samberg definitely has the smirk.

Bonus: With his SNL digital shorts resume, Samberg could turn Plastic Man into a viral sensation.

Woozy Winks, sartorial genius.
Woozy Winks
Woozy Winks is a lovable schlub, the man whom nature cannot harm. Originally introduced as a bumbling criminal, he turned into a bumbling sidekick with horrible taste in shirts. He's mostly comic relief but also charmingly heroic.

Let's look at the contenders:
Zach Galifianakis
Zach's a natural for this. He's a lovable doofus with a streak of evil. Cons: He'd have to shave the trademark beard. Also, he's recently lost weight, and it's hard to believe he'd either put it bock on or wear a fatsuit, so, unfortunately Zach is just a maybe.

Michael Cera
Is it just me, or is Hollywood in a golden age of cuddly bumblers? Galifinakis, Cera, Jonah Hill, and Seth Rogan could all be on this list. But Cera is an intriguing choice - he's been a bit quiet lately and a high-profile sidekick gig could be his ticket back to the big time. He could use his stuttery, shy-boy charm to great effect as a sweetheart bumbler who falls in love with the movie's femme fatale, and every other woman who gets screen time.

Paul Giamatti
Yup, Hollywood is definetly schlub-heavy these days. I also thought about throwing William H. Macy into the mix. Because the thing is, Woozy Winks is older, and absent-minded, maybe a heavy drinker. He needs a more mature presence, a guy who's played the schlub to great effect in the past. Someone who can bring the appropriate gravitas when things get crazy. So, maybe Paulie G is the right schlub for the job.

Love interest/femme fatale
The original Jack Cole Plastic Man never had much in the way of love interests - he was too busy fighting crime. But all that's going to change in my noir-ish reboot. Who can steal Plastic Man's heart? I've got a couple of ideas - Anna Paquin, who probably is sick of playing supernatural parts. Also, Sofia Vergara, who is a smart bombshell with a sexy accent, perfect for femme fatale-ing.

But this is a bold project that requires bold casting, and so my femme fatale is none other than...

Lena Dunham
We're going for outside-the-box on this whole thing. And why wouldn't Lena Dunham want to shake off her comico-serious voice-of-a-generation shackles and just have some fun as Gazelle van Gonder, the accursed heiress? I mean, look at that picture - she can totally do bombshell chic and turn it on its head at the same time.

I'm not sure if she's going to be a love interest or a diabolical femme fatale or both - I'm still working on my treatment - but Lena's going to smash all barriers in this, her breakaway, Oscar-bait performance.

I'll return with casting notes for the FBI chief (I'm thinking Angela Bassett) and the lead villain (maybe Morgan Freeman - totally going against type - as Marcel Mannequin? Just spitballing here, folks.) in my next post. Maybe. We also need a director, someone with vision and drive. If you have any ideas, jot them in the comments section below.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Colchis is famous for the Golden Fleece

Jason and Medea

Excerpts from a new international version

Chorus: various fifth and sixth grade Korean public school students whose vocab consists mostly of phrases from their textbooks.

Jason: A greek warrior, prince of Iolcus
Medea: Sorceress and princess of Colchis
Creon: King of Corinth

Part 1, Colchis:

Hello, how are you? I’m from Colchis.
Colchis is beautiful and special.
Colchis is famous for the Golden Fleece.

[Enter Medea]
This is Medea. She is very pretty.
She can do magic too.
But, she is very sad. Let’s listen!

Oh, but that the world could know of my laments,
of the darkness in my soul. For it has
been said that tragedy should bite my heels
until time’s bitter end, that I should be
the ruin of great men through magicks and treason
most foul. But in truth I know not whether
my mind’s contents are fair or foul, for a life
of shelter tells me that should the test come,
I may not know it. Hark? What silver flash
upon the sea’s wine-stained horizon do I spy?

Look! It’s a boat! Such a big boat!
Who is it? Who is in the boat?
Medea does not know.
But, he is handsome.


That is Jason. He’s from Greece.
He’s very strong and kind. He wants to be King.
Let’s listen again!

Long I have journeyed and hard, to this land
to seek and claim the fleece of gold foretold
as birthright destiny. But unseeming
of kindness is this land, and people here
shall surely prove awesome strange indeed.
But lo, what shape is that of woman shone
on distant parapet? Let us move close,
that providence may to me her hand reveal.

Medea likes Jason. She will help him.
She gives him many things.
She helps him get the golden fleece.


Let me know in the comments if you want the rest.