Ten years ago I stood in line with a lot of people on opening day to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Afterward I thought, and I still do, that it is a powerful piece of filmmaking and a shock to the system of the faithful whose understanding of the Good Friday narrative had become bloodless and rote. To this day I wear a crucifixion nail on a leather thong around my neck. I’ll probably keep wearing it until I die.
You might think from me telling you this that I am a man of deep faith myself. That is and is not true. To me Good Friday is important, but not in the way it’s important to devout Christians. They see Good Friday as sort of setting the stage for the real event, which is the Resurrection, but I see the day as a commemoration of an execution performed on a man of great belief and timeless conviction. It’s more important to me that a man was tortured and died for the sin of wanting a better world than it is that he was ostensibly raised from the dead. It’s even less important to me that many believe he wasn’t a man at all, but an incarnation of the one, true God.
There was a time when I believed in all that stuff. I was baptized Catholic, but spent my formative years in the Episcopal Church. When I was in college I grew very involved with Judaism because of my academic interests and I even practiced Reform Judaism for a time. I continue to find both the Episcopal and Jewish faiths a comfort when I am feeling lost or hurt. But as to whether I truly believe the miracle of the Resurrection and the existence of divine reward… that’s another story.
Today when I was driving my son to his grandmother’s for the day, I saw a crowd of people walking on the sidewalk. They had a banner, and when I got closer I was able to read that it was the “Annual Good Friday Crosswalk.” Crosswalk? I thought. It turns out they had a giant cross on wheels and were literally walking it in a group. I found it pretty amusing, because all I could think about was how banal a setting our little town is for the Passion. Jesus was not a suburbs-and-SUVs kind of guy.
I can be slow to catch up with trends. I’ll hear such and such thing is totally awesome, promise to check it out, and then only get to it months or years later. There’s nothing conscious about this decision. It’s just that I have a lot of stuff clamoring for my attention and I tend to seek out the stuff that’s been sitting on my mental hard drive the longest. Convenience is a factor, too. If I can stream a movie on Netflix or Amazon, for example, I’m far more likely to watch it than I am if it’s only on disc. And if it shows up on cable, it’s a lot easier for me to press RECORD on my TiVo than it is to move off my couch. There’s a character on Chicago Fire called Mouch, meaning “half man, half couch.” That’s me.
So this is why it took me two years to catch up with The Raid: Redemption. I heard it was amazing from all and sundry, and I even saw when it was playing locally, but when it came right down to it, I was more inclined to watch something at home than to go to the theater. The DVD likewise sat on my Netflix queue forever. In fact, if I hadn’t seen The Raid showing on cable, I might not have seen it even now. Maybe in a year or two more? Who knows.
Of course the sequel is showing in the theaters as I write this. I think you can gather from the above paragraphs that I won’t be headed out to see it. Not because I disliked The Raid, or because I think the sequel is going to be no good, but simply because I am Mouch. I’ll see it when its streaming somewhere, or bury it in my giant DVD queue. Either way works for me.
What I heard about The Raid was that it was, without exception, the Greatest Action Film Ever Made. Folks online rhapsodized about it. I couldn’t turn around without bumping into a tweet or a Facebook update about the movie. It was everywhere. Interestingly enough, it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, but online hysteria doesn’t always translate into cash.
By rights I should be absolutely beside myself with envious hatred for author Brian Garfield. He sold his first novel at eighteen and has gone on to have a lengthy publishing career with a few movies adapted from his books. One of these movies might sound a teensy bit familiar: Death Wish. I may have written a little bit about it here on the blog. I’m not sure, though. Best that you double-check.
Interestingly enough, the transition of Death Wish the book to Death Wish the movie did not follow the usual trajectory of such things. Hollywood, in the Seventies as much as now, likes investing in sure things, or as close to a sure thing as possible. So it’s kind of a no-brainer for Hollywood execs to go after hit novels for translation to the big screen. But here’s the thing: Death Wish was a bomb. It was a total bomb from a tiny publisher. No one was interested in buying it, no one was interested in reading it and it’s a complete mystery to me how anyone in the movie business even heard about the book in the first place, let alone thought it would make a solid basis for a film. If Paul Talbot, in his excellent history of the Death Wish films, Bronson’s Loose!, knows the answer to that question, he didn’t share it in his book.
But the fact is that someone read Death Wish, someone saw dollar signs emanating from it and eventually Dino de Laurentiis made what would go on to be a watershed thriller. Even people who’ve never seen Death Wish know what it is and what it’s about. And despite the fact that Brian Garfield has had a couple of other adaptations made from his work, I would say Death Wish remains his most recognizable novel. For better or worse, as I’ll discuss presently.
My wife and I have been loyal Comcast customers for a long, long time. We’ve stuck with them through thick and thin, through richer or poorer, for better or worse. When new features became available, we generally added them onto our service because we had the extra cash and those features were cool. We even added phone service, though I can safely say we’ve never, ever used it and never, ever will.
But here’s the thing: Comcast is expensive, and it’s only gotten more so as the years have gone by. Over the past three years or so, our bill has jumped about $70. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but that’s a significant amount to someone like me, who needs value from everything.
Now I like having all the premium channels. It’s cool to browse the movies when they come on and I have recorded more than I like to admit. And I watch Game of Thrones like everyone else on the planet, as well as Strike Back, which is considerably less popular. Having a vast expanse of channels from which to choose has been a great experience and one I wouldn’t trade away for much. But, Comcast, you have to cut me a break. You cost too much! And I was flat-out told by a customer service rep that it would get more expensive still in 2014. I can’t abide that.
My wife and I have thought seriously about “cutting the cord,” like so many have done. We rely far more on our internet service than we do on anything else, so it’s really only one simple step to eliminate the cable part of the equation entirely and just stream everything that interests us. Certainly Netflix has more television available on its streaming service than we’d ever be able to watch in ten years, and then there are all the movies to consider. I have 500 DVDs in my Netflix queue. We are not hard up for things to watch.
You know from your devoted reading of everything I write in this blog that I’ve chosen to completely rework my Camaro Espinoza novel, Meaner Than Hell, from the ground up. Some of the original work can be rescued, but essentially this is a totally new book that happens to share characters and a basic plot with something else I wrote.
My wife reads all the stuff I produce, and though you might think she’d softball me — because we’re married, and all — she’s actually pretty brutal in her assessments. If I’ve done something she doesn’t care for, even a little thing, I’ll get dinged on it. The bigger the error, the sharper the criticism. We don’t always see eye to eye on certain issues (like internal monologue) but if I can make it past her, then I know I’m doing all right.
Anyway, she read the original Meaner Than Hell and had some incisive commentary to make, much of which I swore I’d clean up in a subsequent pass. I didn’t know then that I’d pretty much throw all my hard work away in favor of entirely new material, so I thought at the time it would be fairly easy to address. One of these issues was the badness of the central villain of the piece, one Lucas Collier, and how I’d undermined it here and there with some choices I’d made. Lucas is supposed to be the titular meaner-than-hell figure so he should be, you know, meaner than hell.
As I put together the outline for the new Meaner Than Hell, I made a conscious effort to make Lucas the baddest person I could come up with. I gave him a series of unpleasant scenes and focused on centralizing him as an antagonist, whereas he had sort of shared that status with his brother, Jake. All seemed well and I felt I’d done what I needed to do in order to have a stronger narrative through-line for the whole thing.
Then the writing started. Now here’s the issue with that: you have to actually write what you outlined. That meant that when I got into the actual writing part of writing, I had to narrate all the terrible stuff Lucas did and said in the outline. I discovered fairly quickly, however, that I didn’t enjoy this process at all.