Challenge #1: A Time for Action

Tonight’s the night, he was sure of it. After his dinner of canned meat and sliced cheese, Roy had fallen asleep during the nightly news, only to awaken again during the sports highlights. They were talking about that day’s hockey game, and the key words strung themselves together in Roy’s mind, telling him what he had to do.

He was thinking about these words as he got off the bus across the street from the arena. He was thinking about these words as he crossed the street into the parking lot. Roy had his head down, mumbling to himself, so he didn’t notice the security guard leaning on the gate. It was a dark night, that’s why the words had chosen it.

“Ho there! No one beyond this point until game time tomorrow.” The guard continued to lean, showing no concern for Roy. He popped a round piece of candy into his mouth; it crunched loudly between his teeth.

Roy stopped short, nearly lost his balance. He looked around anxiously until he found the guard. “I left something inside. I came back to get it.”

“You at the game tonight? That was something, huh? Marty’s got some slapshot.” He popped another candy, crunched slowly. He casually kept his gaze on Roy, who looked everywhere except at the guard.

Roy hesitated. “I just . . . I just need to get inside.” He fidgeted with his pack, adjusted the weight on his back.

“No can do.” The guard lifted his body so all his weight was on this feet. “Chocolate-covered coffee bean?” He pointed the open end of the bag toward Roy. “Gotta stay awake, but who wants a cup of coffee on a night like this, am I right?” He shook the bag and the cellophane rattled.

Roy was becoming irritable. He shifted on his feet, almost imperceptibly making his way away from the guard. He didn’t seem to notice, and Roy thought he was about to settle back onto the gate. Roy’s eyes darted around, sizing up the situation, judging distances. He just needed to build up enough momentum to allow himself to jump over the turnstiles. Once inside the arena it would be so dark, they’d never find him before he had a chance to place the bomb and set the timer. Once inside, he knew exactly where he was going.

Roy felt a safe distance and took off toward the entrance. He had only taken a few steps when the guard was on him, pushing him to the ground, rolling him onto his stomach. The guard sat on him, pressing Roy’s groin into the asphalt. He pulled his arms back and wrangled off the back pack. This he tossed to the side. Roy tried to reach his hand out to grab it, but the guard held firm. He cuffed Roy and stayed seated.

“What are we gonna find in your bag, Roy?”

Roy grunted a question then stammered, “I’m not . . . My name’s not Roy.”

“I know who you are, Roy. We all know who you are. You’re here everyday, skulking around. You probably feel invisible, but we see you. Didn’t think you’d come here at night . . . with plans, apparently. But here you are.”

Roy grunted, tried to wriggle out from under the guard, couldn’t, became still.

The guard reached for his radio, pressed the button. “Suspicious character apprehended at north entrance. Need assist. Over.” He looked at Roy, grinding his teeth, struggling to keep his face off the asphalt. They stayed like that for a few moments, Roy intermittently renewing his struggle.

Shortly, a white SUV with blue flashing lights approached. Another guard got out, swaggered over. “Hey Roy! So nice to see you again. So unexpected.”

“That’s his pack over there. You mind checking it out?” At this Roy tried harder to get out from under his captor. He grunted and whimpered. “What’s wrong, boy?”

The other guard had the pack in one hand, the other hand on the zipper. Roy struggled more; the guard lifted his wrists away from his back, and Roy moaned in pain. “It’s . . . I made a bomb! Be careful!”

“You made a bomb? Now, this, I gotta see.” The other guard unzipped the pack, reached in, pulled out a mess of metal bits and wires. “Looks like the guts of a toaster and a kitchen timer.” He tossed the mess onto the ground.

The guards pulled Roy up and walked him over to the SUV, sat him in the back seat. With a slight shake of the head, they drove off toward the office, Roy sobbing quietly.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

SIFF 2009: part three of three

The festival has drawn to a close. Here are highlights from the final weekend.

Wonderful World

I cannot say that this was an altogether bad film. There were some funny moments and important lessons were learned. It came across, however, as a bit too cliché. It was writer Joshua Goldin’s directing debut, and he’s no spring chicken. I had hoped he would have known better, but instead this seemed to be the product of years of Hollywood programming. My biggest gripe (and it’s becoming a gripe with more films as time goes by) is the reliance on sex to further the plot. Matthew Broderick’s lead character does indeed need a spiritual awakening, but is the only thing that will get his attention a buxom exotic beauty? As soon as she appeared on screen, I knew that they would end up in bed together. Movies are a fantasy world, right? Let’s imagine a place where men don’t always think with their crotch.

It was nice seeing Michael K. Williams on the big screen. His character Omar is one of my favorites on TV’s “The Wire”. It would have been better to see the relationship between him and Broderick fleshed out a little more. As it was, most of their connection – apparently deep since Broderick escorts him halfway around the world – has to be assumed by the viewer.

Inju, the Beast in the Shadow (Inju, La Bête Dans L’ombre)

I must admit the main reason I saw this film was Benoît Magimel (delicious in La Pianiste). I was encouraged by the reference to Edgar Allan Poe in the film’s description. It is a fun French film noir set in Kyoto, Japan in the present day. There is murder, sex, intrigue, and an ostensibly smart man who really should have known better. What is obvious to the audience, is not so to the protagonist, Magimel, who is lead, of course, by his crotch with a bit of inflated ego mixed in. More entertaining than I had expected, the film hearkens back to the golden era of noir, which is pleasing in these times of excessive CGI violence and record-breaking profanity.

A Pain in the Ass (L’emmerdeur)

Hilarious French slapstick! See it!

North (Nord)

Another road movie of sorts, this one takes place on a snowmobile and a pair of cross country skis. A depressed Norwegian man must travel north to see his son one more time before his estranged wife moves south with her new husband. He makes a couple friends along the way, and I discover a new band!

Il Divo

Toni Servillo stars as Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, a particularly infamous man. (If you want to know if those ears are for real, watch him in Gomorra) A story with many players, spanning over a couple decades, a summary of events was given at the beginning of the film in several minutes of text only on the screen. This was a good thing, because then you can forget about trying to keep up with who’s who, who did what, etc. and just be taken in by the sights and sounds that make up this film. Excellent sound editing and use of the soundtrack and stunning visuals make it worth watching. I’m glad I got to see it at Cinerama on that huge screen. It has the makings of a blockbuster, if it weren’t for that Italian language thing. Movies with subtitles don’t generally go over well with the American masses. Too bad.


A heartwarming and heartbreaking portrait of a family. We are introduced to them as they live their pastoral, idyllic lives beside a vacant highway amid vast fields. They are offbeat yet harmonic with each other. But then the highway opens, and their lives are completely changed. We watch as they first try to accept, then reject the chaos just beyond their front yard. It infects them, both individually and collectively. Home is a fascinating study of how progress can undermine humanity. Isabelle Huppert is delightful as always (see again La Pianiste, and another favorite, Hal Hartley’s Amateur).

OSS117: Lost in Rio (Rio ne répond plus)

Closing night selection of the festival. Director Michel Hazanavicius was on hand to introduce the film. More silliness from OSS117, the spy you love to hate. Some people complained the film was “more of the same”, but really, were they expecting the racist, misogynist, clueless character to have some sort of evolution? Enjoy it for what it is, and you will be much happier for it. Playing at SIFF Cinema 19 June, 7 pm. for tickets

SIFF 2009: part two of three

My summation continues . . .

Small Crime (Μικρό Έγκλημα)

A comedic whodunnit set in Cyprus, I found this quite enjoyable. The leading man (Άρης Σερβετάλης-Aris Servetalis), though somewhat hapless, was quite charming, and I was rooting for him from the start. Someone dies in the tiny village, and the 2nd in command of a police force of two sets out to solve the mystery. Well put together with plenty enjoyable characters.

Against the Current

Super-small budget film about a widower (Joseph Fiennes) who decides to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the death of his wife and child by swimming down the Hudson River into the Atlantic Ocean. His best friend, played by Justin Kirk (“Weeds”, Puccini for Beginners), has promised to accompany him on this journey, and a casual acquaintence, Elizabeth Reaser, has joined as well (what’s a movie without sexual tension?). There are some road movie elements as they make their way down river—encounters with the locals, Reaser’s crazy mom played by Mary Tyler Moore . . . While Fiennes’ character really gives no compelling reason why he should die, he never really gives one why he should live. I think this film is a good conversation piece, but I’m not really sure if I liked it.

Final Arrangements (Bouquet Final)

A fun French film about a child of bohemians who resorts to getting a “real job” at a funeral home when his artistic dreams fail to pay the rent. Funny and slapsticky with a good amount sappiness mixed in. I’m not sure how close to reality the funereal scenes are, but several were definitely cringe-worthy. (Having family in the biz, I probably am a little more critical, maybe.)

Swimsuit Issue (Allt Flyter)

Two Swedish films in a row! One last year, and one this year! Who knew they had so many? (I kid. I’ve actually seen at least two more in the interim. ha ha)

This was a cute film about a dad who, in an attempt to be sporting with his buddies, also ends up bonding with his daughter. Through a series of events, the men find themselves members of an all-male synchronized swimming team with the goal of winning the World Cup. There are the typical conflicts that could be expected when one gender takes a role that has traditionally belonged to the other, and they are presented in a very funny way. An audience favorite, it is replaying at SIFF Cinema on 21 June at 6pm. for tickets

Beauties at War (La Guerre Des Miss)

Entertaining, but a bit too predictable.

SIFF 2009: part one of three

Welcome to my SIFF 2009 Post Mortem. Highlights from this year: the 35th anniversary of the festival, Cinerama, West Seattle, and SIFFter. The last item being a nifty application, for online or for iPhone, giving access to all the films available at SIFF. On the face of it, a handy tool, but really it only served to offer me too many choices and making it diffcult to narrow down my schedule. In prior years, I’ve had to struggle to add more films to use up my vouchers. This year, I had to delete films from My SIFF. Oh, woe is me!

Following are the films I did manage to see, and some commentary. Some are already scheduled for theatrical release, so you will have the opportunity soon to find out if you agree with me. Others you may have to wait a bit for the dvd.

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2009 NYC Midnight Short Story Submission

I entered a writing contest. This is my entry. I was given genre: action/adventure, and subject: hot air balloon.


In your mind’s eye, you see yourself flung into a corner of a room, a rag doll tossed aside by a resentful child. Your neck is cramping in this position and several toes are asleep. You become aware of a pain like a hot knife in your shoulder and realize you are sitting on your right arm. With your left arm, you push away from the wall enough to free it.

Taking mental stock, you venture to move each extremity one by one. Everything seems to be in working order, even if it is screaming in agony. The movement has shifted you into a more human alignment, and you take a moment to breathe, filling and emptying your lungs thoroughly several times.

You open your eyes slowly to see you are lying in the bottom of what seems like a giant picnic basket. You wonder if you are somebody’s lunch. As the fog lifts from your mind, it becomes clear that you are actually toast.

There are frantic voices in the far distance. At this moment you don’t remember how you came to be in this predicament. However, you know those voices are searching for you, and they are not friendly. As if in a thunderstorm, you time their outbursts to try to calculate how far away they must be.

There is an eerie, green glow caused by the nylon ripstop draped overhead. In this light, you make an assessment of your surroundings before shifting your weight to try standing. The whole room shifts with you, and you hear the rustle of leaves just beyond. Carefully, you aright yourself, your head and shoulders colliding with the ripstop above. Apparently, you managed to turn off the burners prior to your descent, as there is no evidence of fire damage to be seen.

You pause, listening again to the voices, closer now, but by how much? How fast are they moving toward you, and how much time will it take you to get to the ground? They know exactly where I landed.

Gingerly, you lift the envelope away and look over the edge of the basket. There is no clear path down, but it doesn’t look to be very far. You contemplate just taking a leap, and instead take a step back. There are various items strewn about you, and you look for weapons, or anything that could be used as such. You slide a fire axe under your belt and a large knife into a pocket. You deem the propane tanks too cumbersome since you can’t find a back pack anywhere.

Once again, you are looking over the edge, and you begin your exit. You attempt to channel an inner dolphin to calculate the approach of your foes. You believe you have a good idea how much time you have, and you are only slightly discouraged.

You make your way out of the gondola and into the surrounding tree branches with only one or two close calls. At times you can’t hear the voices over the thud of your heartbeat. When you do, you can hear how much closer they are. You pick your way down, pausing here and there to wipe the sweat out of your eyes with your shirt sleeve.

You make it to the lowest branch and suspend yourself by your arms. You close your eyes, whispering something, anything, to give yourself strength. Along with the voices, you can now hear the forest giving way to the interlopers. This knowledge spurs you to action, or inaction as it were, for you let go of your perch and drop to the ground.

The snow is not as deep as it had seemed from the treetop and a just-covered rock causes your ankle to turn. You suck in some air to offset the pain. Reaching for the axe, you scan the foliage. A small branch looks like it could support you, and you hack at it with little progress. A stone rolls by and you are not sure if it was you or your pursuers who knocked it loose. They’re going to kill me, and I’m wasting time trying to make a walking stick. Tucking the axe away, you propel yourself in a downhill direction. Now you’re channeling your inner rabbit, pushing off from logs and small boulders in a determined burst of speed.

Despite your efforts, above the din of your ragged breathing, you can hear them closing in on you. You abandon the zig zag of the hare for a mono-directional cheetah sprint. You are blinded by necessity. The whips of branches on your face, arms, torso, don’t affect you, but one false step fells you.

You begin a series of somersaults; instinctively your arms move to cradle your head. At some point you feel the axe abandon you. There is wetness somewhere, everywhere? In the chaos it’s difficult to differentiate between snow melt, sweat, and—possibly—blood.

You feel yourself slow and reach out an arm to bring yourself to a stop. Your eyes won’t focus, partly from the spinning, partly from various impacts, but you try to stand nonetheless. You’re on your feet, and your heart pounds something fierce. Nausea floods your body, and your head feels as if it has doubled in size.

Your torso bobs left, then right, pitches forward, your feet all the while making vain attempts to stay under you. You catch yourself with your hands a couple times. You feel you’ve finally righted yourself fully, but your left foot steps rearward and finds only air. Your balance not fully regained, you have no choice but to follow.

The cliff is shear, so it is for the most part a free fall. You feel weightless, tossed again by that impetuous child. I suppose I must deserve this. It is probably your head that hits first, the back of your skull shattering instantly. Each limb acts independently, falling and refracting with the ragged river rocks. It seems whole moments pass before there is stillness, but then you are finally at rest. Now there is only the trickle of blood joining the larger cacophony of flowing water.

Alien 3 – The Real Story

Netflix has made available, for a limited time, the first three Alien movies on Instant Watching. So, this weekend I decided to have a little marathon. I’d seen the first two, and it was nice to see them again. The only difficult part was watching the chest-bursting scene in Alien – I could not stop seeing it with a little top hat and cane. It was also nice to see Veronica Cartwright. I didn’t realize she was in the first movie, and I know her best for her time on “The X-Files”. This was my first time watching the third film, and I didn’t much care for it. I did like the medic, and was sad to see him go without a fight, but the whole movie was just a bit…. off. Afterwards, I spent way too much time on IMDb finding out what other people thought. But now, I have come up with my own idea of what should have happened. I’m sure plenty of people have had the same or similar idea.

Instead of crash landing on the prison planet, Ripley, Hicks, and Newt find their way back to a Company outpost, where they get to be a family for a while. Ripley probably teaches at flight school, but otherwise their lives are quite normal. Meanwhile, a quiet rebellion is stirring against the Company. It is a general uprising, with their treatment of the Aliens only a small issue among many. Naturally, Ripley’s family is kept in the loop, but she and Hicks try their best to stay out of it. By themselves, however, they often ponder the origins of the Alien – was it their ship that crashlanded on LV-whatever, or were they stowaways? (My theory is that they were outgrowing their home planet and were sent out to colonize other worlds. If the humans had time to research, they would have found on the Hadley’s Hope computers record of a transmission sent by the Aliens to their home planet saying all was well.) Ten years pass and evidence is found of another infestation on another planetoid in the system. Up till now there was only speculation that the Aliens had made it anywhere else. This causes Ripley and Hicks to spring into action, as they are the only humans who’ve come face to face with the Aliens. They leave Newt behind to complete her higher education, but find and abduct Bishop to run off with the rebellion to eliminate the new crop. Fighting ensues. There is a victor. Humans? Aliens? We’ll never know.

Happy Freaking New Year

My initial thought when I recall 2008 is that it pretty much sucked. Personal and professional stagnation, two significant deaths, all overshadowed my year. If I let myself think a little more, there were some good points. Travel, both for business and pleasure, is always a good thing, and I made several trips in the last twelve months. The recent election surpassed my expectations. I’m kind of at a loss, though, for anything else. So, I won’t talk about the past, and I’m not really in the mood to speculate about the future. All I will say is, ‘good riddance 2008!’.

My writing group, however, continues to inspire me. To lighten the mood, I give to you now tonight’s product of impromptu scribbling, a poem about peanut butter (sort of).

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