My wife and I share a Netflix account. We each have our own profile, and in addition to all the various streaming options we have, we also have the DVD plan. We do two discs a month. She gets to pick one and I get to the pick the other. It works out fairly well in practice.
Variety in Netflix’s DVD library is exponentially better than it is in their streaming options, which is one of the reasons why I have no intention of leaving their DVD plan behind, but it has an oddball effect sometimes. My wife and I will find movies that no one’s ever heard of and rent them, oftentimes to the dismay of the other spouse. Such was the case with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen?” I asked. “What the hell is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen?”
We sat on the disc for a while and my wife even suggested we send it back, but I decided to give the film a try. I’m glad I did, because Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is an absolute delight on every level and I would feel somewhat robbed if I’d been deprived of the opportunity to see it. So if someone in your household suggests Salmon Fishing in the Yemen might be something worth watching, listen to that person because they’re onto something.
The movie is taken from a novel of the same name. I have not read the book, nor I am I likely to now that I’ve discovered it’s an epistolatory novel. I don’t care for epistolatory storytelling on the best of days, and I certainly don’t want to read a whole book of it. No, I’ll stick with the far more standard method of telling a story movie-style, even though there’s a surprising amount of epistolatory content in the film itself.
Let me make one thing clear before we get too far into this review: I like Clint Eastwood. I like Clint Eastwood despite the fact that he’s a red-meat Republican, and I like him even though he’s clearly lost it when it comes to certain episodes like the empty chair at the Republican National Convention. The man is 84 years old and he’s been places and done things that I never will. He’s the last of the great stars of the ’60s and ’70s and, goddamn it, I’m going to give the man the respect he’s due.
But Space Cowboys is not good.
Released back in 2001 before the fall of the Twin Towers — which is when I expect Eastwood’s screws started to come loose — when the man was a mere 70 years of age, Space Cowboys is a perplexing and fairly stupid piece of filmmaking that I can’t for the life of me understand why it was made. Maybe it was because of those movies where Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau played grumpy old men? Maybe people were really into seeing old guys doing light comedy? I haven’t the slightest idea. But Space Cowboys is wildly dated piece of moviemaking history so specific to its time and place that it’s kind of hard to review it now.
The story of Space Cowboys, such as it is, revolves around a Russian satellite that’s falling out of orbit. It’s too big to pull onto the Space Shuttle for repairs and the only chance anyone has at keeping it from plummeting to earth is to get onto the damned thing and repair its guidance system. A guidance system that was somehow stolen from NASA’s Spacelab back during the Cold War.
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. For the longest time there was basically only one reason for people to visit San Antonio: the Alamo. I don’t know how many times I visited the Alamo on field trips as a kid, but it was a lot and I’ve come to know the site inside and out pretty darned well. It’s part of the landscape. So one of the more irritating things I had to put up with when people would learn I came from San Antonio was this gem (or some variation thereof): “I visited the San Antonio and went to the Alamo. I thought it would be out in the country, but it’s right in the middle of the city!”
Yes, they built the city around practically the only standing structure in the area. How unusual of them.
Anyway, San Antonio has tried just about everything to get people to come to the city. They had a USFL team that failed. They built a giant stadium trying to attract an honest-to-God NFL team and failed. A developer put in a lousy theme park that failed. Even the one bright spot on the San Antonio landscape, the Spurs, sucked out loud for decades before becoming the powerhouse they are today.
But then San Antonio got a SeaWorld. Now we’re talking the big boys. There were only other two SeaWorlds in existence, and one was in that tourist mecca of Orlando. Surely the unwashed masses would come to San Antonio now. We had Shamu, for Christ’s sake! And SeaWorld is still there all these years later, though it’s the worst-attended SeaWorld in the country. Some things never change.
I’ve been scribing a lot of reviews about writing books lately and this is the last for a while, I promise. We started with a really good one about how to use planning to construct a plot that’s easy to write, and I followed it up with a couple of others that reinforced techniques I’ve long talked about on this blog. We end our journey of creating with 2k to 10k: Writing, Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron. Fair warning: there’s going to be a lot here that you’ve heard before, so if you’re thinking that this, at last, will be the book that contradicts everything I say, you’re going to be disappointed.
I will freely admit that I have no familiarity with Aaron’s work. 2k to 10k kicked out of my Kindle while I was searching for interesting writing books to tackle. I’m glad I found it, because here at last was someone who tackles their daily words with the same methodical intensity that I do. In fact, Aaron actually goes one further than me because she uses spreadsheets and data analysis to maximize her writing day. Yes, folks, this is serious business and if you’re at all interested in making a living as a writer, you had best start taking it just as seriously.
The first thing you learn from Aaron is that she’s able to perform to the tune of 10,000 words a day based primarily on solid planning. This is a common note you see among all the books I’ve read recently and bears repeating again and again and again. You must plan if you want to write at anything approaching a healthy clip. All this talk you hear from the Stephen Kings of the world about how you can write a book with no planning are particular to those writers. And it’s worth noting that even Stephen King isn’t pushing out 10,000 words a day. One can argue it’s the quality more than the quantity that matters, but finished books means more books to sell which means more money for you. Pretty simple math.
Last week I talked about how The X-Files was fairly unique at the time for the fact that it was able to deliver mostly good to great episodes in its initial season. In a television market far less competitive than the one we are familiar with today, a show could take its time finding its footing, and that meant some shows that ended up being all right later on started off in rough waters, indeed.
Now it’s easy to say this from the comfort of a review that involves an episode like “Beyond the Sea,” because that’s a great episode and you can say its indicative of the larger qualities of the show. And it’s true that The X-Files would go on to have many, many episodes of that caliber later on its run. Even some in the first season itself. But then you hit two duds in a row, like we have this week, and things take a darker turn.
“Lazarus” and “Young at Heart” aren’t awful episodes, by any means, because they have their interesting moments, but they are far, far from the level of the show’s best work. They epitomize, at least for me, the weakness of the “monster of the week” episodes versus the “mythology” episodes. Which isn’t to say all the mythology episodes were amazing, but their average quality was a lot higher than that of the monster of the week installments. Take a look back through your memories of the show, however hazy, and consider which ones you remember the most clearly. Chances are pretty good they are mythology episodes, or at least most of them are.
So anyway, we have these two episodes and we need to talk about them. I’m not overjoyed with the prospect, but when you sign on for nine years of a show you take the good with the bad. And there would be episodes much worse than these. I can’t wait.
Poor Leatherface. The guy just can’t catch a break. While fellow slasher icons like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger were able to cruise along in film after film, creating complex but (mostly) coherent mythologies in the process, Leatherface has been thrust into an endless churn of reboots and remakes that started almost immediately.
It might be because Leatherface, the chainsaw-wielding maniac from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was never intended to be a series character. The original film was a one-and-done affair, with no thought paid to how the concept might be revisited in even one sequel, let alone the the nine Jason Voorhees got.
Chain Saw Massacre was a complete idea unto itself, a horror show so traumatic to its viewers that people still are afraid to watch it, or to think about it once the watching is over. My wife hates the film so much that she won’t even talk about the experience. Which isn’t to say the movie is poorly put together, but just the opposite. She doesn’t want to go back to that dark place again. I’ll admit I’m much the same, though I’ve watched the film multiple times.
But Leatherface’s travails began immediately upon the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, which was a comedy take on the idea that even fans of director Tobe Hooper, the originator of the series, still hated. It was so reviled that Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III was, despite the numeral at the end, a reboot of the whole shebang, featuring Leatherface surrounded by a completely different cast of characters. This didn’t take off, so we got Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, another reboot, only this time starring Matthew McConaughey and Renee Zellweger before Leatherface went to work on her face. It sucked. And people hated it. Now what?