Friday, January 30, 2015

My Take on "The Funeral," a short story by Richard Matheson



A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill in pursuit of an MFA in writing Popular Fiction. I am enrolled in a course that focuses on monsters, and as a part of that course I am to write a blog post on each book/story/movie that we cover. This is the second installment in a series of such posts.
Since there are a bevy of reviews out there that you can find that will give you a “1-5 star” type review I’m going to attempt to go a different route. I’m going to break each review down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**

A brief summary
: Morton Silkline is hired to host a funeral for an undead man, Ludwig Asper. During the funeral, a disagreement breaks out amongst the sordid company and Morton faints. After the event, Morton is counting his money when he is faced with another patron who’s been recommended to him by Ludwig. Morton decides his avarice outweighs his terror and accepts.

Strength of Character: B-
In a short piece such as this, you don’t have a whole lot of time for characterization. What time Matheson spends on building up his characters, he spends efficiently. Morton Silkline is our protagonist here, and we get a nice feel for him as a character by the way he interacts with his customer, delights over chances for fiduciary gain, and is prone to fainting. The story is a tongue-in-cheek sort that relies on the characters as being types for maximum effect, so I dock him a few points for sticking pretty well to the formula. Ludwig Asper is a vampire in the classical sense, as Jenny the Crone is a witch, and the Count is as a Dracula stand-in etc. The most memorable of the bunch is Jenny, and she jumps off the page in her limited action. Overall, I can’t award Matheson with a higher grade because these characters won’t stick with me for their well-rounded personalities, but that’s just fine for this story.

Genre Strength: B
This story is more humorous than frightening by design, and only could be labelled as horror by its use of monsters and not by any sort of fear that it seeks to elicit. It is a nice twist on the genre, genuinely funny, if not quite brilliant. You get the same sort of kick out of this as you might get out of The Adams Family. This is a good example of a story that pushes on the “boundaries” that we might set up in our minds for genres like horror.

Thematic Poignancy: C-
As opposed to his work in I Am Legend, this piece doesn’t do much heavy lifting when it comes to the potency of its themes. I can detect a wry sense of mocking for the frailty of human’s ability to accept things outside the status quo, and some satire leveled at people for being able to overlook distasteful things when money is concerned. Not particularly powerful, but interesting themes nonetheless.

Entertainment Value: B
This was an entertaining story. I got a kick out of all the monsters gathering together to celebrate the funeral of Ludwig, who keeps popping up out of his casket to scold the guests. It was an easy read, and one I would recommend. Part of why it works this well is because of its brevity, and I think it may have worn out its charm if extended.

Random Notes and Final Grade: B-
*I found Matheson’s prose charmingly pedantic here, serving to juxtapose itself against the silliness that was being described.
*More witches need to disappear into spume, orange or otherwise.
*Mrrrrrow

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Take: I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson



A moment’s preamble:  In June of 2014 I began graduate school at Seton Hill in pursuit of an MFA in writing Popular Fiction. I am enrolled in a course that focuses on monsters, and as a part of that course I am to write a blog post on each book/story/movie that we cover. So this will be the first installment of a series of such posts.
Since there are a bevy of reviews out there that you can find that will give you a “1-5 star” type review I’m going to attempt to go a different route. I’m going to break each review down into 4 parts: Strength of Character, Genre potency, Poignancy of themes, and Entertainment Value. For each of these I will assign a letter grade. My reviews will contain **SPOILERS**


Strength of Character: C
"This film is not a faithful adaptation of the book."
Robert Neville is an intriguing man with some real flaws. He has many hang ups about women, he’s temperamental, prone to alcoholism, and mercurial. I recognized his struggle from the first chapter and found myself both pitying the man and imagining myself in his shoes. He’s lost his wife and daughter, and is so lonely that it is threatening to drive him mad. But he is thrifty and resilient, and wins us over with his desire to understand the virus. Neville is rounded and fairly interesting, but the only other character, Ruth, falls a bit short. She seems like a sketch of a person, an idealized woman representative of the sort of tenderness that Robert sorely misses. She operates in the book mostly as a symbol, and less as a character.
Genre Strength (Fright Factor): D+
Since this is a book of horror I feel obliged to rate it as such. The vampires described are not particularly frightening. They don’t make especially capable adversaries as they are easily knocked around by Neville with a punch or a kick. The horror of the vampire comes from the pandemic of their existence, the wiping out of the human race, the gross perversion of humanity that is Ben Cortman, Neville’s neighbor-turned-vampire-turned-antagonist. The world is dark and post-apocalyptic, but not particularly memorable.
Thematic Poignancy: B+
This is where I Am Legend shines. The plot unfolds in a way to highlight the themes that I believe Matheson was attempting to explore. He seeks to blur the lines between man and monster. Neville is the way he is so that we can see the animalistic side of him, the violent side, the depraved side. Matheson first highlights these characteristics to show Neville as far from heroic. Then he humanizes the vampire with Ruth, showing her to be capable of compassion, of love. At last he turns turns the mythos of the vampire on its head, when Neville realizes with terror that he has become the outsider, the Dracula-like monster, the other. “I Am Legend.”
Entertainment Value: C+
Entertainment Value is a fickle thing to try and pin down, but I will share my personal experience with it. I found the book dark and poignant, the character a little bland, and the plot at times sluggish though intriguing. Some of the best moments were when Neville discovered his watch was dead and that he’d no idea how long he’d been out, the whole of the interaction with the dog including its brutal final moments, and the moment where Ruth makes her move, striking him with the Mallet. These moments were interspersed with some long passages of navel-gazing and hand-wringing that I didn’t find particularly interesting.
Random Notes and Final Grade: C+

* Matheson hooks us nicely with this opening: “On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.” I wanted to know more, to get answers.
* Some people may want to condemn Richard Matheson for his character’s views on women, and to that I say, pump thine brakes. Too often readers fall into the trap of seeing characters as the author thinly veiled, which may sometimes be true, but often is a mistake. Neville’s strange views on women serve the story by amping up the tension when he first meets Ruth. What is this crazy guy who’s been thinking about having sex with vampires going to do when he gets this woman all alone? We only are worried about this because we’ve seen how conflicted Neville is, how adolescent his desires seem. This isn’t to say that I know anything about Matheson’s real life views on women, he may be a huge misogynist for all I know, I’m just not going to base my judgment of the author on the prejudices of a character in his book.
* For some reason Richard Matheson was obsessed with telling us every time a character’s throat moved, which was a lot. “Too many times,” I say, my throat constricting and un-constricting as I finish this review.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Should More Shows End After One Season?



After hearing about Fargo's one-season model and the success of True Detective's mini-series like episodes, I started thinking about shows that would have been better served following a similar approach. I know there is another season planned for True Detective, but like American Horror Story, it is being reported that each season will follow different characters with whole new story lines. So, which other shows do I think would have benefited from stopping sooner?

We miss you, Andy Whitfield.
Spartacus comes immediately to mind, a show that, if stopped after season 1, would have had a quality run. While not without issues, like requiring a healthy suspension of disbelief for the fanservice gore and nudity. (I did like Gods of the Arena however) The drama was smart, the action exhilarating, and the suspense built with every episode to a dynamic finish.

Scofield was magnetic in season 1,
a mastermind we delighted to see at work.
Another that comes to mind is Prison Break. Excellent first season, followed by quickly deteriorating success. These two shows share the same problem, the premise changes dramatically at the conclusion of the first season. And the magic leaves with it.

More shows should content themselves with having a shorter run, especially when it serves the story. It also allows for a better chance of drawing A-list actors, as proven by Mcconaughey and, to a lesser extent, Billy Bob, Harrelson, and Martin Freeman. I know it's a lot to ask for in a money- first world, but there is something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more.

What other shows would have been better served by stopping after their first season? Comment below:
Rust Cohle: Philosopher, Degenerate, Hero

Friday, June 3, 2011

I'm Still Here


My life is changing, getting more confusing, weightier. I made some big changes recently and I am still trying to figure it all out and adjust. I want to keep this blog more focused in its purpose, so I am not going to spill my guts on here. There have been some rough patches, but my friends have helped to keep me feeling positive and moving forward.

The Fringe has done its part in helping me along as well. I have been listening to a lot of music lately, spanning the angry and raucous to the kind of soul-crushing music that you would expect to make a sad man miserable, but somehow it has the opposite effect, reminding me that this kind of drama is universal, that I am not the only one feeling confused and alone out there, that there is beauty and truth to be found in every experience. 

Video games can help distract, my reread of Game of Thrones is doing the same, but overall, I am still moving around in a bit of a daze. You may have noticed that my blogging is less frequent; I hope it will only be for a little while, until I figure this all out. Here are some random photos from my Memorial Day weekend. I had a good time with a friend at their family’s lake house.