S.G. Browne

Movie Review Monday: CQ

Set in 1969 Paris, CQ (written and directed by Roman Coppola) is an offbeat and campy film-within-a-film starring a pre-LOST Jeremy Davies as a young film editor making a documentary about his own life while working on a science fiction adventure movie directed by the renowned French director Gerard Depardieu.

The sci-fi film stars Angela Lindvall as Dragonfly, a sexy super-agent who lives in a spaceship on top of the Eiffel Tower and charges ridiculous amounts of money to the World Council to help solve their problems. Her most recent assignment? To stop a revolutionary (Billy Zane) who lives on the far-out side of the moon.

When Depardieu is fired from the film and his replacement, Jason Schwartzman, backs out, Davies is thrust into the director’s role he has always coveted. But his obsession with the sexy Lindvall/Dragonfly causes unexpected results, not the least of which is the blending together of the sci-fi film and his documentary, with both eventually merging with his real life.

The humor is subtle, the cinematography top notch, and the dialogue smart and funny. This is another example of what I thought was an excellent film that made no money at the box office. Granted, it’s not for everyone, but if you enjoy campy films about film-making and you appreciate homages to 1960’s European sci-fi spoofs, then you’ll love CQ.

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — S.G. Browne @ 8:31 am

Fiction Friday: Homer’s Reprise Part II

Due to popular demand (okay, due to one person asking me to post the rest of the story), here’s the rest of “Homer’s Reprise” for your reading pleasure. It’s a bit of a blend of Greek mythology with modern day bounty hunters and stars a displaced and disconsolate Odysseus.

If you missed the first part, you can read it by clicking HERE. And now, on with the story…

HOMER’S REPRISE (continued)

“What fate has befallen those that I would protect should fall as well upon me,” Odysseus cried out, waiting for a bolt of lightening to strike him down or a tidal wave to engulf his ship and end his misery, but the gods were not there to hear his plea.

Shoulders slumped, Odysseus returned his attention to the ocean as the merciless sun beat down upon him. Save for the forsaken cliffs that grew smaller off the stern of his ship, the ocean stretched endlessly to the horizon in every direction. For Odysseus, his ship might as well have been his own headstone, for what was the ocean to him now but a graveyard of failure?

Failure. The word pierced his heart as a spear thrown by Achilles. Odysseus ran a hand across the armor of his old friend, the memory of Achilles’s death at the hand of the coward Paris still burning fresh and painful within him. He did not deserve to bear the arms, to stand on this ship with the memories of his friends and crew who had fought so valiantly and died with such honor. They had not known failure. Even in death they had shown the courage of kings. But he, Odysseus, the great Greek warrior and hero, he had disgraced himself, the gods who had put him here, and the men with whom he’d fought in battle. A more fitting judgment would have been to spend eternity pushing a stone up a hill.

Odysseus stared out across the water and let forth a humorless laugh. What was his fate if not like that of the tormented Sisyphus? Was his quest across the globe not as futile? Perhaps the gods had not bestowed an honor upon him after all. Perhaps, instead, they had done nothing more than condemn him to the same eternal damnation as his alleged father.

Odysseus withdrew his sword and studied the blade, its sharp edge gleaming. A single blow across the throat would end his burden, for although his flesh was ageless, it was not immortal, but the dishonor and cowardice of striking himself down would plague his soul for eternity. He could no more take his own life than he could destroy those he had sworn to protect.

In anguish, Odysseus once more looked to the heavens, his arms outstretched.

“Is this my lot, then?” he cried. “Am I bound to an existence no more significant than that of those banished to Tartarus?”

Odysseus waited for a reply, some sign or indication that would let him know he’d been heard, that someone believed in his purpose. As before, he received no answer.

He turned his attention from the godless sky and stared, disheartened, across the ocean’s waves. Once more he ran his fingers across the armor of Achilles, the armor of a hero, and felt the shame of the House of Atreus for the beasts he had allowed to be hunted down and killed.

In a sudden rage he removed the arms and swung them about as he prepared to hurl them into the ocean, a frustrated roar rising from his lungs. Just then, off the port bow, an object reflected in the sunlight, distracting him. The object was at too great a distance for him to determine its nature, though it appeared to be in two pieces, drifting across the water.

His rage momentarily displaced, Odysseus lowered his armor and studied the object, but even with the aid of his telescope he was still too far away to discern any details. As he changed his heading and drew closer, he thought he recognized the enormous sail of a ship. Before he could identify the object further, it suddenly vanished beneath the ocean’s surface.

Odysseus stared out across the empty sea, wondering if he had witnessed the death throes of another ship, though he knew of no beast that inhabited this region of the planet capable of such destruction. He sailed on, drawing closer to where the phantom ship had vanished, looking for some proof that his eyes had not deceived him. He saw no sign that a ship had ever existed.

Had he seen nothing more than an illusion? A reflection not of the sun but of a madness that had grown within him after centuries of solitude? Odysseus thought of Ajax, struck down with madness by Athena, and wondered if he now suffered the same affliction.

As if in answer, something breached the water less than a dozen ships’ lengths away — like an island emerging from the ocean’s floor. Moments later, what he had mistaken for the ship’s sail rose out of the ocean and slapped back down with such force that a spray of salt water rose two mast lengths above the ocean. When the entire object surfaced, Odysseus beheld not a ship but a beast unlike any he had ever known.

Although he had long ago grown familiar with every species of whale that roamed the oceans, Odysseus had never before seen a whale of equal size or magnificence. Nor had he encountered a whale with alabaster flesh to rival the temples of Olympus.

Odysseus watched the white whale, keeping a respectful distance, though like many of the earth’s other great beasts, it seemed to sense that he posed no threat. Encouraged by its acceptance of him, Odysseus kept pace as he marveled at the creature’s magnificence.

Easily twice as long as his ship, the whale appeared large enough to swallow the entire Greek army, with a tail so wide and strong it undoubtedly rivaled Charybdis in its ability to wreak destruction. Odysseus could tell the beast had seen its share of action, for it wore many scars upon its flesh, and he had no doubts that this creature had sent many ships and men to their watery graves, men who would have otherwise cheered in triumph at the dead and bleeding carcass of the prize they had landed — a prize that would sit stuffed and lifeless in a museum instead of roaming the ocean, defending its right to live.

How long had the beast traveled the oceans? Surely not as long as he. But as Odysseus watched the whale submerge beneath the surface and breach again in an explosion of mist, he couldn’t help but empathize with the enormous creature’s loneliness.

Odysseus followed several ship lengths behind, keeping the whale to his port side, watching with wonder its grace and dignity. When the whale changed directions and crossed in front of him, Odysseus discovered that the beast was not alone. Swimming along beside it, staying close for protection, was another white whale, half as big as the first.

Odysseus watched the mother and calf as they submerged then surfaced again, playfully slapping their tails against the water or breaching completely — their enormous bodies landing in the water with the thunder of the gods. He laughed out loud at their antics, invigorated by their appearance, by the realization of their existence, but his elation was tempered by thoughts that collected around the memories of his own son, long since burned upon the funeral pyre.

He could have stayed that way for an eternity, his emotions alternating between joy and grief as he watched the two whales frolic across their own watery stage, but it took only a matter of minutes before their performance drew unwanted attention.

Off the starboard side of his ship, more than a league distant but approaching fast, Odysseus spotted another vessel cutting across the water, drawn by the display, angling directly toward the whales. Through his telescope he could see more than half a dozen men on the deck, as well as several harpoons mounted to the ship’s bow. Below one of the harpoons, a collection of characters spelled out the name of the vessel: Pequod IV.

Odysseus glanced at the whales, then looked heavenward with the trace of a smile before he put on his armor and readied his weapons as he steered a course toward the other ship.

This would be his greatest battle.

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Filed under: Fiction Fridays,Random Fiction — S.G. Browne @ 8:31 am

The Writing Life: More Tales of Rejection

So last week I mentioned that from 1992-2002 I’d sent out more than 500 queries for stories and novels, with the number of those stories actually accepted for publication being around 3%.  As you can imagine, that makes for a lot of rejection letters.

Most of the time, the rejections weren’t particularly helpful and were nothing more than basic form letters:

Thank you for submitting to Whatever Magazine.  We have read your story but don’t feel it fits our needs at this time.  Yadda yadda yadda.

Occasionally, I received rejection letters with constructive criticism and encouraging comments like:

Close but no cigar. Try again.
Not quite right for our audience. Good job!
Would love to see more of your work.

And once in a while, I received a hand written rejection that challenged my ego, like the following one from Deathrealm back in 1994 for my short story “What You Can’t See,” which was about a little boy who has a monster in his closet and the monsters turn out to be his parents.

Mr. Browne:

We all know about the thing under the bed and in our closet.  It’s as much a part of our childhood as doing chores.  Basic and fundamental.  You wouldn’t write a story about brushing your teeth, would you?

Two months later, the story was accepted by another publication. But that publication went out of business before the story could see print.

While I’ve thrown away the majority of my rejection letters, I kept this one because it’s my all time favorite. After all, it’s not often your writing gets compared to good dental hygiene.

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Filed under: The Writing Life — S.G. Browne @ 2:58 pm

Movie Review Monday: Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass starts out with a young, costumed figure standing atop a skyscraper as the hero narrates about why no one ever thought to be a superhero before him.  With all of the comic books, movies, and TV shows out there, he figures someone, one eccentric loner, would have made himself a costume.  He continues to wonder if everyday life is so exciting, if schools and offices are so thrilling, then how is it he’s the only one who fantasized about this?

He finishes the opening monologue by saying that, at some point in our lives, we all wanted to be a superhero.

And Kick-Ass does just that.  It makes you want to be a superhero. To go out and buy a costume and take some martial arts classes and learn how to use some nunchucks.  It makes you want to go out and kick some ass.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake) and starring Nicolas Cage, Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from Superbad), Kick-Ass is one of the best superhero films I’ve ever seen. Why?  Because it’s not overacted or overproduced or overdone with special effects.  It’s not about mutants with unusual abilities or millionaires who feel the need to save the world.  Instead, it’s about real people trying to do extraordinary things, with some of them realizing they’ve gotten in over their heads.  And that’s what gives the film its heart.

The script is fun and filled with action, the acting solid, the characters engaging, and the story inspiring.  What more do you want in a superhero movie?

Oh, and Kick-Ass 2: Balls to the Wall is scheduled for release in 2012.  I’m going to make sure to catch that one at the theaters.

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Filed under: Movie Review Mondays,Movies and Books — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 6:56 am

Fiction Friday: Homer’s Reprise

This week on Fiction Friday, rather than a review of a book I’ve read (since I haven’t read anything new this week that I can blog about) I thought I’d share the first part of a short story I wrote a number of years ago that imagines what Odysseus would be doing if he were alive today.

If you like the first part, I’ll share the rest in future posts…

HOMER’S REPRISE

Odysseus Sucks!

The red, spray-painted graffiti screamed from the sheer cliff that jutted out of the ocean off the ship’s starboard bow. There was a time when anyone who sailed near the cliff would have met with the vengeful wrath of Scylla, a monstrous creature who would reach down from her cave and snatch a crew member from the passing ship with each of her six horrible heads. But that was eons ago. Now the mythical beast sat in a museum in Oslo, stuffed and preserved for display among the likes of Cerberus, Big Foot, a family of Cyclops, and the Loch Ness Monster – all hunted down and killed by the same bounty hunters who had left the taunting message in graffiti on the face of the cliff.

As he sailed past, Odysseus sighed – half in dismay at the loss of Scylla, half in longing for the simpler times, before the gods had ‘blessed’ him with eternal charge of the earth’s great beasts. Battling the Trojans and facing the terrors of the Sirens and Scylla gave him more joy than this endless excursion across the globe, always one step behind those who sought to make him irrelevant. He often wondered if they had already succeeded.

Odysseus turned from the defaced and empty lair of Scylla, from the taunting words and the memory of what had once been – though he found no solace on the opposite side of the strait. On a smaller cliff that rose out of the ocean less than an arrow’s flight away stood the barren corpse of a giant fig tree. Beneath the fig tree had once existed the great and terrible Charybdis, a whirlpool who sucked in the ocean thrice a day and spewed it back out. Pity those ships that sailed too close in an attempt to avoid the reach of Scylla, for they would be reduced to splinters by Charybdis and their entire crew either drowned or battered against the rocks.

Unlike Scylla, Charybdis had not been hunted down, for she was more ethereal than substance and could not be mounted in a trophy case. Yet that did not prevent man from hastening her demise. Years of pollution and oil spills had taken their toll on Charybdis, depositing toxins and wastes in the water until she eventually succumbed. Now she sat silent and impotent, the waves lapping listlessly beneath the barren fig tree.

Odysseus stared up into the heavens, where Zeus had once ruled the planet with the rest of the Olympic gods and offered guidance. But in the countless centuries since the fall of Troy, the Greek gods had been forsaken, turned into myth by men who created and venerated a single God. If that wasn’t preposterous enough, those same men worshiped another man, a mortal, who had once claimed to be the Son of God. Odysseus had no doubts that the man could have been the progeny of a god, as Perseus and Hercules had been fathered by Zeus. Yet they were not worshiped and entire religions had not been built around them.

Odysseus found modern beliefs to be strange indeed. And without Zeus and Poseidon and Athena to guide him, the Greek warrior felt adrift in a world that had passed him by. As he sailed from the cliffs that now served as nothing more than headstones for the creatures that had once dwelled within their shadows, Odysseus gave in to the melancholy that inhabited his soul.

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Filed under: Fiction Fridays,Random Fiction — S.G. Browne @ 9:49 am