Dead Air

This will be brief because I still have a lot of prep to do for tonight.

I’m back on Cinema Smackdown for a special three-hour Oscar episode this evening at 6:00 pm EST. Yes, three bloody hours. A few more hours and the show will be as long as an actual Oscar Awards ceremony.

Spoiler alert: There may be filler.

Tune in to CJLO to listen live as I struggle to help fill hour upon hour of dead air with inane movie-related babble. Apparently this is seen as preferable to clogging the airwaves with more electro-funk Muzak, which seems to be the station’s usual broadcasting mandate.

Admittedly, I may be judging them based on what often airs after or instead of the show.

The Plagueis Dogs

“Damn you, 2016!” shouted the mountain range of cocaine and the ocean of alcohol ingested in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Snickering between themselves, they slunk away to the back of the gathered mournful crowd, who were again lamenting how the cursed year had robbed them of another celebrated celebrity.

Remember when Groucho Marx died within a few days of Elvis Presley? Everybody was so upset about the bloated icon, destroyed at a young age by an overindulgence in drugs and fatty foods, they paid no attention to the passing of a true master of the language and a writer of extraordinary wit and intelligence. Thankfully the internet allows us to act as our own media filter now and we can focus on the stories that matter most to us, if nobody else.

Richard Adams, it was announced today, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 96. Hardly unexpected so late in the game, it’s still a blow to fans of his classic novels such as Watership Down and The Plague Dogs. I was thinking of him only a couple of days ago, noting his advanced age on his Wikipedia entry, not realizing he was already dead. Like a lot of celebrities who are less in the public eye—writers in particular—word of their passing often comes days after the fact, once the family or representation issue a statement.

Watership Down remains one of my all-time favourite novels. I haven’t actually read The Plague Dogs because I saw the movie (adapted by the same animation studio that made the brutal film version of Watership) and it kicked the shit out of me. In my 40s. I recommend exposing your children to Adams’s animal-centric stories as early as you can. They’ll be traumatized in all the important ways children should be traumatized while preparing themselves for a vicious, merciless world.

But, of course, stealing all the headlines is a competing celebrity death that eclipses all others. Because she was in Star Wars.

I like Carrie Fisher. I’ve read a couple of her books. She was a reliable Hollywood script doctor and occasional actor, who showed up for mostly small roles in a variety of non-Star Wars related films. But let’s be honest. We’re mostly surprised she lasted this long.

Back when it was popular to do so, Carrie Fisher snorted ALL the coke. Drank ALL the booze. Did ALL the rehab. It’s astonishing she survived the 20th century at all. And even though she was the picture of health in Rogue One (it’s like she hadn’t aged at all), the fact that her body finally gave out in the wake of all her old bad habits should shock absolutely no one.

Callously, my greatest concern is how much rewriting this is going to inflict on the current trilogy. Not that there was much story to The Force Awakens, but if the writers have been doing their job and stepping up their game for episodes VIII and IX, Leia may have actually been part of a real character arc, now cut short. It’s a bad blow to the franchise in general and, I expect, Fisher in particular.

Here’s my fix:

Because Star Wars is all about fan service (and Richard Adams and The Plague Dogs is fresh in my mind), cast Fisher’s pet Gary the Dog as Darth Plagueis. Seriously. Gary is beloved, he’s creepy looking, and we haven’t seen Darth Plagueis on screen in a Star Wars movie yet, so they can cast ANYBODY. Disney, I’m talking to you. You want to protect your four billion dollar investment, you need to do shit like this. Or at least cast Gary in a Yoda prequel. He’s a natural. He’s a STAR. Much more so than whatshisface and whatshername or whosthatguy you’ve got filling in the slots of the next generation. Run with him.

People will love you for it, you’ll be doing Carrie a solid, and Gary will have the cash he needs to feed his Milkbone habit. I’m nothing if not a problem solver. You’re welcome.

In other news, Harrison Ford is still alive. He was in a plane crash, the Millennium Falcon tried to eat him, he was trampled by elephants, shot by John Hinkley Jr., blown up in the Hindenburg, stripped to the bone by ravenous piranhas…and that was just today. The man is accident prone, but nothing can kill him. Except maybe his role choices since the ‘80s.

One final note. A word of warning in these closing days.

You have not yet survived 2016.

2016 is still out there. Prowling. Waiting. Hungry.

Watch yourself.

Hat Trick

I’m back on CJLO’s Cinema Smackdown at 7:00 pm EST again tonight. This will be my third appearance at the film-nerd Thunderdome, where I’ll attempt to crush all who oppose me once more and maintain my short but unbroken winning streak. Unlike the last show, I’ve had more than 30 minutes to prepare, so my answers will be carefully considered and cultivated. Two weeks ago, I won by throwing out the first things that came to mind. This week, find out if my over-prepared change of strategy will trip me up. Tune in online or at 1690AM in the Montreal area.

Silent Screams: An Anthology of Socially Conscious Dark Fiction is now available, not only as an eBook, but as a paperback as well. Twenty-six stories, each with an illustration by Emory Watts, awaits. And the dark fiction does indeed get dark. My own story, Raw, stands among the darkest things I’ve ever written. Grab a copy in your format of choice if you’re brave enough.

The Kickstarter for Holmes Away from Home: Adventures from the Great Hiatus marches on past the halfway mark. This terrific two-volume Sherlock Holmes anthology will be available in time for Christmas, with my story, The Adventure of the Melting Man, capping off the collection. Funding goals may have been met, but I urge you to support the Kickstarter, if only to get your copies sooner and cheaper than everybody else.

Post Mortem

The Halloweeny event is over and Hot Pennies (which did an extra free day tacked on the end) is back to the exorbitant price of $0.99. For those who are interested in numbers and data, I managed to hand out 1352 copies over a five-day stretch, with over half of those going out on the first official day of the group giveaway.

Reports from other authors who participated show numbers that dwarf mine—sometimes by multiples. But considering Hot Pennies was a brand new publication with no reviews to assure downloaders that it wasn’t a piece of crap, it did very well. It’s also an uncommercial short story. As such, I just can’t compete with the juggernaut that is shifter romance novels. There’s a huge market of readers who want to curl up with stories of hunky men who turn into hairy beasts and protect their chosen mates from any and all threats outside their cuddle-den. I’d try to write one to make a buck, but I know I’d fuck it up. I’d get a chapter or two in, and then my leading lady would come home to the manbearpig cave and discover her werewolf lover licking his balls in autoerotic fashion to a copy of Best in Show magazine. Then the rest of the book would descend into bitter arguments and accusations, and any hint of romance would shrivel up and die faster than if they’d been married for the last six books of the series.

Best to stick to morbid comedy, morbid horror, and morbid crime.

Speaking of which, Sex Tape has been released for Kindle. I’ll get around to designing the paperback sometime in the coming weeks, and arranging a proper launch for the eBook in the coming days. But for now, it’s yours for the low low (pathetically low) early-look price of $0.99. Reviews on Amazon.com are welcomed and encouraged.

In other news, I’m trying to participate in NaNoWriMo for no other reason than it’s November and I need to be working on the next book. It’s a sequel to one that isn’t even out yet—but apparently the market dictates that if you want to launch a series, you need to hit those readers with multiple installments early on.

Day One was mostly a bust. Already. I was about 600 words in when I got an emergency call, asking me to fill in as a guest on Cinema Smackdown. Since my first appearance went well, and this episode was all about horror movies, I agreed to get Shanghaied away in the back of an Uber. With only half an hour to consider what I was going to talk about before air time, I didn’t have time to tell anybody about it, mention it on social media, or otherwise tip off the world at large. Pity, as I crushed the opposition again.

The backlog of Cinema Smackdown episodes still hasn’t been updated on the CJLO website since April, so I don’t expect you’ll be able to listen to a rerun anytime soon. I’ll just mention that I successfully explained why being digested by The Blob is the worst horror-movie death, argued that the zombie virus counts as a character, and pitched a movie standoff between Dracula and Der Golem. I also chose to argue the indefensible position that Uwe Boll is the greatest horror director of all time—just to make things challenging for myself. I got zero points for that one, and demanded I receive no more than that. I would also have gladly accepted negative points. That’s how purposely wrongheaded my answer was.

Next time—and there may well be a next time—I’ll try to plug it in time.

Why Everybody Suddenly Hates The Walking Dead

There are really no spoilers at all ahead, except in the broadest general terms. I wouldn’t screw you like that. All you need to know, going forward, is that season seven began this week. And many long-time fans weren’t happy. It wasn’t just what went down this episode, though. It was more about tone.

The Walking Dead has been accused of jumping the shark several times now, but that’s not what happened on Sunday night. Nobody jumped the shark. Nobody nuked the fridge. What the show did was hop the track. No, it didn’t derail, it jumped onto a whole other track. Hard.

For six seasons, The Walking Dead coasted along as everybody’s favourite example of a particular sub-genre. It was a horror show and, specifically, it was a zombie-apocalypse horror show. And we got what was advertised, exceptionally well done – thus the popularity. In a zombie apocalypse, you expect to see some of your favourite characters get munched on, or die in battle against rival survivors who have turned into marauding maniacs since the collapse of civilization and all the rules and laws that go along with it. That’s been a staple since the genesis of the genre, under its originator and master, George Romero.

But this season premiere wasn’t zombie-apocalypse horror. Sure, there were zombies in a dangerous-scenery sense, but they were window dressing. This episode was a different sub-genre of horror entirely. It was torture porn.

Now, I like torture porn just fine when it’s done well. I like the Saw series, I think Martyrs is something of a horror masterpiece. But a lot of people are not cool with the oeuvre at all, thus the derisive name. “Torture Porn,” a moniker initially slapped onto this not-really-so-new wave of horror by displeased critics, has since been adopted as an official title of dubious honour. Like the term “Spaghetti Western” fifty years ago, similarly meant as an insult, it has now become its own thing, with its own fans.

There is not a lot of crossover between zombie-apocalypse fans and torture-porn fans, even if they’re both horror sub-genres.

What we saw last episode was a bunch of beloved characters being mercilessly terrorized and brutalized with no recourse. They were victims being victimized for a whole hour. They couldn’t fight back. They couldn’t help themselves. Rescue was not forthcoming. And it was hard to watch. By the end of it, even I felt a little ill, and I’m damn near unflappable when it comes to these sorts of things.

A lot of fans did not care for it. They didn’t necessarily know why. Surely we’ve seen awful things happen on the show before. Perfectly nice people have been torn to shreds right in front of us on many occasions. But this was different. Our heroes were helpless, and we were helplessly watching them suffer.

And that’s going to be an emotional deal-breaker for a lot of viewers. You can’t swap out genres like that. Sure, you can do a single fantasy episode of your sci-fi show, or a film-noir episode of your teen-comedy show. But you can’t drop torture porn on unsuspecting viewers and expect it to sit well with them. It’s too harsh – even for people who like their zombies with extra guts and arterial sprays.

“But it’s just following the comics,” is what I’ve heard in response to the shocking number of fans who have announced, “I’m never watching another episode.”

Yeah, fine. There have been developments to bring the TV show more in line with the comic-book story arc, but they have always been two entirely different entities with the same brand name. The comics are many many many times more brutal and horrific and uncompromising than the show. The comic books are like hell, the TV show is like the Disney-resort re-creation of hell. It’s just not the same. A lot of the people who love the show probably couldn’t stomach what goes on in the comics. And there are probably people who read the comics who think the show is for pussies.

This last episode left me feeling depressed and gut-punched, even though I had predicted much of what would happen months in advance and was prepared for a deeply uncomfortable hour. I thought it was well done, and it certainly established Negan as the new, improved, worst-threat-they’ve-ever-faced villain. But the show’s producers were playing with fire, and they may have been burned. In an effort to demonstrate how hardcore they’re willing to go (on a show where you’re still not permitted to say “fuck” mind you), they may well have cut down their viewership by numbers they won’t ever be able to recover.

Season seven, still in its infancy, hasn’t jumped the shark. Not yet. But did I just spot Fonzie strapping on a pair of water skis?

On a side (and more spoilery) note: I’m still spot-on with my call from nearly three years ago, marking The Five Most Unkillable Characters on The Walking Dead. I always know something bad has happened on the show whenever that post gets a spike in clicks. Don’t read it unless you want to know some of the names of who survived this season’s opener.

Last Chance to See?

Last month I was asked to write a letter of support for the restoration of The Empress. The ongoing destruction of venerable movie theatres has long been a sore spot with me. Montreal has had a particularly shabby history of letting these heritage sites—even after they’ve been declared culturally significant—fall apart and eventually die by the wrecking ball. For the record, here’s what I wrote.

Montreal’s cinema heritage is dying.

In my lifetime, I’ve watched most of the grand old theatres on the island shutter their doors and get torn down, chopped up, or reduced to a facade for retail stores. It breaks my heart every time.

These were the screening halls I grew up in. This was where I spent so much of my youth, in the dark, absorbing cinema from around the world and a dozen past generations. These were the places where I learned what I wanted to do with my life.

I’ve worked in the film industry for my entire career. Recently, I published my first novel. It’s about movies and my love of film. So is the second one coming out later this year. Such is the impact cinema has had on my life—impossible without places like The Seville, The Rex, The Loew’s, The Kent, The Palace and The Paris to bring me in. All of them are now lamentably gone, obliterated beyond restoration.

But The Empress still stands.

Perhaps the single most important movie theatre of my youth, during its stint as the Cinema V repertory house, The Empress introduced me to James Bond, Alfred Hitchcock, John Waters, the Universal Studios monsters, Jerry Lewis comedies, Vincent Price thrillers, red and cyan 3D, Odorama, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Canadian genre pictures, cartoons for adults, and friends I’ve kept for decades.

It’s one of the very last of its kind, and one of the finest examples—not only in this city, but in the whole country.

Spare it the axe. Save it for those who remember its glory days, and those who will experience all it has yet to offer.

The Empress is also dear to me because it’s just a short walk away from where I live now. The idea of one day being able to pass through its doors and watch a movie again fills me with joy. The prospect of watching it being turned into condos, or worse, an empty lot, fills me with dread.

empress19281-1000x699

The Empress in 1928, the year it opened.

Check out this recent article about the ongoing effort to save it, or visit the project home page for more information and pics of the beautiful old lady.

My Sex Tape

If you’ve followed the blog long enough, you know about my sex tape—that shameful, humiliating experience I was subjected to about seven years ago now, that left me raw, exposed, and kind of sticky.

It was a gangbang, if I’m being perfectly honest. One of those screenwriter gangbangs I’d heard about in the film industry, where a single hapless hack is subjected to the wishes of a plethora of producers, each determined to have their way with an innocent, virginal script in whatever sick, perverted way they want.

There is, ironically, no filmed evidence of my sex tape. To my knowledge, there’s not so much as a single photograph of my participation in the gangbang. And yet it happened. I remember every excruciating moment well. And there was no happy ending—not for anyone, me least of all. A long week of living in various Delta Hotel conference rooms, fuelled by bad hotel food and thin, dishwater coffee, with a lanyard around my neck that ended in a laminated card reading, “Shane Simmons: Sex Tape” ultimately came to nothing.

Sex Tape was the name of my feature-film pitch; a detective-fiction mystery about a hotshot Hollywood publicist pursuing a stolen celebrity sex tape to the porno-distribution underbelly of Montreal, determined to stop it from going public, and discovering some people were willing to kill for it.

Shortly after I cashed my cheque for a development deal and finished a first draft, I was informed that no one was likely to touch my funny-sleazy-mystery movie in the current political climate. The sitting government had recently lost their shit about tax dollars backing a feature film called Young People Fucking, even though the dirtiest thing about it was the title. Common wisdom suggested that no movie called Sex Tape, involving the porn-and-sex industry in Montreal, was ever ever EVER going to get produced under a Stephen Harper mandate. And that mandate lasted nearly a whole damn decade. Stuck in a film industry so beholden to government backing, the movie had hit a wall, and my Sex Tape had, indeed, left me thoroughly fucked.

Years passed.

But Sex Tape continued to weigh on my mind. I thought often of Alexandra Middleton, the plucky L.A. publicist given an impossible task to accomplish in a completely alien city during the madness of the Christmas holiday season. I retained much love and affection for Sid Volke, the burnt-out ex-paparazzo slob, bottom-feeding his way through life as a cheap private snoop. And I still wanted to tell their story of trying to stop a scandal that would do damage to the career of America’s bitch-queen sweetheart Helen St. Simone and, more importantly, put her used and abused staff on the unemployment line come the New Year. My tale, which specifically took place somewhere in the first decade of the new century, wasn’t getting any younger. And even with a new non-Harper government in place, my hopes of getting it made by the dysfunctional Canadian film industry (or any other dysfunctional film industry) seemed remote. There was only one solution—a novel solution.sextapeebookcover

Sex Tape is the new novel I’m coming out with later this month. Once again, I’m looking to recruit readers so I can get some reviews up early on Amazon.com. If you’d like me to send you an eBook version of the book for free in the next few days, visit the contact page and drop me a note. You’ll get it a couple of weeks before anyone else.

And remember, if you’d like to keep up to date on what I’m putting out next, or be the first to hear news and special offers from Eyestrain Productions, FOLLOW the blog by hitting that button on the right-hand side of this very page.

A Face for Radio, a Voice for Silent Film

Despite my better judgement, I’ll be a guest on CJLO’s chit-chat show, Cinema Smackdown, today (Tuesday) at 7:00 pm EST. Mostly I’ll be there because it’s an opportunity to plug my book, Filmography, to a receptive audience of movie geeks. Unfortunately, they’re not going to let me scream “Buy my book!” into the microphone for the whole hour, so I’m going to have to perform like a monkey and show off my vast, self-indulgent knowledge of film like the obnoxious smarty-pants I turn into whenever somebody lets me out of my cage.

If you’d like to listen to me make an utter fool of myself, you can tune in 1690 AM if you’re in Montreal (and within brick-throwing distance of the radio station itself). Or, if you have one of those new-fangled computer things with an interwebs connection, you can go to CJLO.com at showtime and hit the “listen online!” button.

That’s when the magic will happen. And by magic, I mean crushing humiliation and lifelong embarrassment. Maybe. I’ve done radio several times before, but only twice live. Once was an interview that went fine. The other was a news broadcast that was an unmitigated disaster.

So, I figure, 50/50.

Acceptance

Like pretty much every writer ever, I take a lot of notes. Ideas occur and they must be jotted down before they’re forgotten. I have proper notebooks I’m supposed to use for that sort of thing, but instead I end up writing everything down on scraps of paper. And those scraps of paper pile up.

It’s a delight for me to get rid of some of them – that delicious moment when I incorporate the last tidbit of data or a final fleeting notion into a larger story I’m working on. Then I can feed another one of those damn scraps to the paper shredder and be done with it. One more note off my desk, ten thousand more to go.

A while back, I found one from 2012 I’d like to get rid of. It’s not the sort of note I can plug into a short story or novel. This one is an unused acceptance speech. Unused because I lost.

At the time, I spoke about my latest nomination for a Writers Guild of Canada Award for my work on Kid vs. Kat. I also predicted the pending loss because I’d won the same award only a few years previously and therefore, as awards often go, it wasn’t my turn to get another one.

Nevertheless, as I stood at the ceremony, pounding pilsners before the open bar closed, I decided to cover my ass and jot down an acceptance speech, just in case. I’m not fond of public speaking, so it’s always a good idea to have something short and cute prepped.

For the record, and in the name of clearing my desk just that tiny bit more, here’s what I would have said in the face of victory.

“When it comes to my scripts for Kid vs. Kat, there’s a very select group I need to thank.

My cats.

I want to thank them for being such superb examples of pure feline evil.

This makes all the claw marks worth it.

I also want to thank my dear wife for driving all the way from Montreal to be my date for tonight.

Oh, and for being such a superb example of pure feline evil. This makes all the claw marks worth it.”

I thank you for indulging me as I file that away and remove it from my to-do list once and for all. The shredder slot yawns open in anticipation.

The Angel of Celebrity Death

Selections for what to watch at my curated Movie Night have always been informed by celebrity deaths. Whenever someone famous kicks off, I like to send them out with a film to show the ignorant masses who they were and what they were famous for. Lately, I’ve been a tad too on the ball when it comes to who’s about to push up a daisy or two.

Three months ago, I anticipated the long-delayed death of Abe Vigoda so close to the event, I went out of my way to grab a screenshot from abevigoda.com less than 24 hours before the site had to finally tick over as to his live vs. dead status.

Well, it’s happened again.

Last Movie Night, a mere 18 hours ago, I forced the class to watch the 1982 Agatha Christie whodunit, Evil Under the Sun. It was directed by the fairly legendary Guy Hamilton. In case you’re not familiar with the name, he’s mostly remembered for being one of the early James Bond directors who helped define the series and turn it into the endless formulaic juggernaut is it today. It endures because it’s a formula that works, but it didn’t come to fruition until the third Bond film (Hamilton’s first), Goldfinger. That was the one that introduced such James Bond staples as: an unrelated opening action sequence, spy cars, Q’s contentious relationship with Bond, the definitive henchman, the definitive non-SPECTRE villain, multi Bond girls who get killed off before he gets to the real leading lady, and, of course, the winning over of a lesbian for the forces of hetrosexuality.

Guy Hamilton, 1922 - The Moment I Thought Too Hard About Him

Guy Hamilton, 1922 – 2016 (The Moment I Thought Too Hard About Him)

Obviously, Hamilton directed a whole bunch of other films. And they include the Hercule Poirot mystery, Evil Under the Sun, which was shot on the island of Majorca. Well, guess who just died on Majorca right after we watched that movie – possibly WHILE we were watching it.

I’ll admit, this is starting to freak me out. It’s like I’ve been imbued with some horrible superpower. I feel I might need to be put down like Tetsuo in Akira before it grows out of control. Already, I’m thinking about which celebrity I should will dead with the eerie force of my brain next. The thought has crossed other sinister minds as well.

“Next week: a Michael Bay film starring Adam Sandler,” is the first official request I’ve received.

And it’s tempting. I’ll kid myself that I’m using my power for good at first, but eventually I’ll start wiping out perfectly innocent celebrities who appear in terrible franchise films to help pay for their latest divorce. And if it comes to that, Hollywood will be a smouldering ruin by the time I’m done.

Tremble before me.

In related news, my dead-celebrity novella, Filmography, is due out soon. Rest assured, I invented a celebrity to kill off in that one. Perhaps I needn’t have bothered. You can’t libel the dead, and anyone still alive won’t stay that way long if I put my mind to it.