Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My latest short story, "For Want of a Better Word," is featured in the new issue of The Cincinnati Review as the winner of their ninth annual Robert and Adele Schiff Award in Prose. Fiction Editor Michael Griffith writes, "Sean Gill’s excellent 'For Want of a Better Word' begins with a clever premise—a lab assistant inventing words for an experiment in artificial intelligence—and then does ingenious things with tone and timespan to make that premise far more than merely clever. The result is a surprising, touching, funny, and bittersweet story about the ways being smart can help us, and the ways it can’t." The entire issue (which includes fiction by Steve Almond, Jameelah Lang, and George Singleton, among others) is available for purchase in print here.

Friday, May 25, 2018

"Little Green Men" in The Saturday Evening Post

I have a new short story about boys who play at war called "Little Green Men" that has been published in The Saturday Evening Post.

Founded in 1821, The Saturday Evening Post has published authors such as Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert A. Heinlein, Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allan Poe, J.D. Salinger, Carl Sandburg, John Steinbeck, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Monday, May 21, 2018

"You Can't Superglue Your Way Out of This One" in The Carolina Quarterly

My latest short story "You Can't Superglue Your Way Out of This One" (about two couples, an excruciating dinner, and a pet tortoise) has been published in the Summer 2018 (Vol. 67, No. 2) issue of The Carolina Quarterly. The issue is available for purchase in print here.

One of America's oldest literary journals, The Carolina Quarterly is published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has featured work by writers such as Raymond Carver, Anthony Burgess, Don DeLillo, and Caitlin Horrocks.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE GOLDEN CHILD

Only now does it occur to me... that John Carpenter and THE GOLDEN CHILD share a curious history. Apparently, the script to THE GOLDEN CHILD––a fantasy/action/comedy rooted in surreal distortions of Chinese/Tibetan mythology/mysticism––was first offered to John Carpenter to direct as a film starring Mel Gibson. Carpenter declined, because he much preferred the script to a different fantasy/action/comedy rooted in surreal distortions of Chinese mythology/mysticism called BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. He even expedited the production schedule of his own film so that it wouldn't compete with the much larger production, which by then had transformed into an Eddie Murphy vehicle directed by Michael Ritchie (PRIME CUT, THE BAD NEWS BEARS). When the dust settled, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA had grossed $11 million and THE GOLDEN CHILD, $80 million, which apparently was demoralizing to Carpenter. However, I must note that while the cult appeal of Carpenter's film has endured, THE GOLDEN CHILD exists mainly as a footnote in Eddie Murphy's filmography (and for fairly good reason).

While I freely admit my own pro-Carpenter bias, I think it's fairly clear that Carpenter's film approaches its subject material with a greater (albeit absurd) sense of sincerity. It's a nearly timeless, well-choreographed, crackerjack throwback to the cinema of Howard Hawks, whereas THE GOLDEN CHILD feels more like a generic '80s flavor of the week. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA outshines it in action, pacing, and comedy; Ritchie's film is neither particularly funny nor exciting. However, that's not to say that there's nothing of value here for genre fans––there are a few interesting elements at play.

#1. Practically half the cast of BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is in THE GOLDEN CHILD. We have Victor Wong ("Egg Shen" in BTILC):

Peter Kwong ("Rain" in BTILC)

and perennial "that guy" actor James Hong ("David Lo Pan" in BTILC)

in roles that are amusing, but substantially more bland than their work with Carpenter.

#2. Ray Harryhausen-style creatures, like a snake woman who recalls Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS:

and this little Pepsi can man, who dances to "Puttin' on the Ritz" to the amusement of Randall "Tex" Cobb:



Alright, maybe that alone is worth the price of admission.

#3. There's a bizarre, semi-music video sequence (not pictured) whereupon Eddie Murphy beats up a bunch of bikers listening to "Body Talk" by Ratt, while (contractually-obligated?) images of Ratt's music video intercut the scene. Okay, sure.

#4. Charles Dance. Best known to modern audiences as Tywin Lannister on GAME OF THRONES (and to '90s kids as Benedict in LAST ACTION HERO), Dance is one of the best, most subtle "villain" character actors working today.

As a GAME OF THRONES fan, I must say that it is bizarre to see Tywin Lannister, in the dead of winter, striding into a throne room like he owns the place.


He's later revealed to be a shapeshifting madman who ultimately transforms into a hell-demon like something out of ARMY OF DARKNESS.


Which is fine! It's not quite enough to make this a particularly memorable movie, but it's fine, and certainly plays to my interests on the character actor/hell-demon continuum.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... CLEOPATRA JONES

Only now does it occur to me.... that Shelley Winters' name––writ in the 'CLEOPATRA JONES font' and projected against a Tatooine-esque Turkish landscape––might have inspired the iconic STAR WARS main title.

This was 1973, a full two years before STAR WARS went into production, and while font designer Suzy Rice has explained her influences, isn't it possible that some subliminal memory of seeing Shelley Winters' name so stylishly depicted could have played a small role in one of the most recognizable movie fonts ever made? I'm gonna go ahead and say yes, because it makes me happy.

A few quick thoughts on CLEOPATRA JONES and why it's worth your time: Tamara Dobson (CHAINED HEAT, NORMAN... IS THAT YOU?) is Cleopatra Jones, a fabulous, kung fu-savvy, dirtbike enthusiast, stunt-driver, crack shot DEA Agent who is introduced to us while overseeing an air strike on poppy fields in Turkey.


 It's a special breed of film that begins with exploding flowers.

Later, we learn she has a ridiculous customized Corvette Stingray (see also: Mark Hamill's in CORVETTE SUMMER) with low-key U.S. Government vanity plates

and a specially-built hydraulic roof that automatically lifts up when she opens her door so that her afro remains unmussed.


Her boyfriend is the sensitive community organizer Bernie Casey (THE RUNNING MAN, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH),
pictured here, as he should be, in an amazing glamour headshot that happens to be decorating Cleo's wicked bachelorette pad/lounge.

Her nemesis is Shelley Winters as the drug kingpin, "Mommy" (to whom the aforementioned Turkish poppy fields belonged), a raging, racist, lesbian who wears a different wig in every scene and delivers a high-hag horror-worthy performance, chewing not merely the scenery, but entire tableaux, co-stars and all.

And yes, on the far right, that is perennial 1970s/Charles Bronson-baddie, Paul Koslo,
whose own, humble, scenery-chewing skills cannot compete with the mistress.

Elsewhere, we have Cleopatra Jones laying down some JCVD-style, high-kicking smack 

on Bruce Glover-lookalike and DELIVERANCE rapist Bill McKinney...

...we have one of the finest comebacks in film history from character actor legend Antonio Fargas (FOXY BROWN, SHAFT) who, when asked if he is willing to cross Shelley Winters' "Mommy" responds:




...and finally, I must tip my hat to a film that not only has the balls to make Shelley Winters its lead villain in a performance that might prompt even Divine to advise "maybe you should tone it down a notch," but also is bold enough to end with a show-stopping kung fu battle/fistfight between Shelley and Tamara Dobson.

Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... THE INDIAN RUNNER

Only now does it occur to me... that the probability of the THE INDIAN RUNNER existing is so unlikely that I'm not, in fact, sure that it does exist.

Picture, if you will, a movie directed by Hollywood activist Sean Penn, based on a song ("Highway Patrolman") by blue-collar hero Bruce Springsteen, and produced by infamous former White House Chief Strategist and crypto-fascist Steve Bannon. A motley crew, indeed! (Though I kinda doubt Springsteen ever sat down in a room with the other two, perhaps exhausted enough by Penn's middle-of-the-night phone calls.)

So, THE INDIAN RUNNER stars David Morse as a highway patrolman (okay, that is incredibly likely, I'll give you that)

and young Viggo Mortensen as his wild, lawbreaking brother.

I would posit, as many have, that they represent the dueling aspects of Sean Penn's interior struggle/personal contradictions, with David Morse as the Sean Penn who does volunteer work and saves people from hurricanes, and Viggo as the Sean Penn who (allegedly!) tortured Madonna and dangled paparazzi over balconies.

But now for something truly unlikely: Charles Bronson plays their father, in his only theatrical role post-1984 that didn't involve Cannon Films' Menahem Golan.

And wait––what's this?––it's almost like there's something missing... something that belongs between his nose and upper lip...

Indeed, Bronson is missing his signature mustache. Back when Don Siegel tried to get him to shave it for 1977's TELEFON, Bronson's sole reply on the subject was "No mustache, no Bronson." Apparently it was somehow a different matter when Sean Penn called (!?). Perhaps old age had softened his stance, though he certainly grew it back quickly enough for YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS and THE SEA WOLF. It's also worth noting that this is a role of considerable pathos: a sweet old man from Nebraska who is not and has never been a pocket bazooka-wielding vigilante. (This is also one of the rare post-DEATH WISH roles in which he does not handle a firearm onscreen.)

Furthermore, legendary Oscar-winning character actress Sandy Dennis (WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, THE THREE SISTERS, GOD TOLD ME TO, 976-EVIL) plays Bronson's wife. Frankly, it's bizarre to see the man who so beautifully uttered "Chicken's good... I like chicken" playing scene partner to one of the masters of the American stage.


Bronson: not a master of the American stage, but only because they never made KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS––THE MUSICAL!

Also, I must note that this image of Bronson praying before a pile of Wonder Bread and a gravy boat while sandwiched between a cornfed David Morse and a Gerber Baby might just be the whitest tableau ever committed to film:

I'm beginning to comprehend Steve Bannon's interest in the project. Also of note: Viggo's character has Nazi tattoos and hangs a confederate flag in his bedroom...

Next, we have Patricia Arquette as Viggo's pregnant girlfriend, and apparently she is meant to be the doppelgänger of Mia Farrow in ROSEMARY'S BABY.


"Nothing but a mild sedative to calm you down, Rosemary..."


Finally, we have Dennis Hopper as a terrifyingly intense bartender

Okay, so this is extremely likely, too

who leans in real close and whispers things like, "Did you ever wanna kill someone... just out of rage?"


Wow. I mean, look at that. I can't help but feel this must be the (slightly?) fictionalized version of an actual conversation that went down between Sean Penn and Steve Bannon. 

[In any event, you're probably wondering: is it any good? It is––but with a few caveats. It's very much an early '90s attempt to capture the spirit of '70s indie dramas by guys like Bob Rafelson, John Cassavetes, Peter Bogdanovich, and Hal Ashby. It's amped up by post-BLUE VELVET, expressionistic/Lynchian touches, some of which are visually interesting, and some of which are a little too pretentious for their own good. The first half of the movie outweighs the second (for reasons I can't get into without spoiling it), and it's really at its best when Bronson, Dennis, or Hopper are on screen, though Morse and Viggo are certainly in top form as well.]

Monday, March 12, 2018

Only now does it occur to me... PERVERSION STORY

Only now does it occur to me... that Lucio Fulci staged one of the most outré striptease numbers to ever appear in a third-rate VERTIGO remake.

The film in question is PERVERSION STORY (a.k.a., ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER), a clumsy, proto-giallo, trashtastic reimagining of Hitchcock's classic. It's even set in San Francisco (though, it must be said that when Fulci films in America, i.e., THE NEW YORK RIPPER, MANHATTAN BABY, he can make even the most iconic American locales feel extraordinarily Italian in flavor). The scene in question is meant to be the equivalent of "Jimmy Stewart spotting Kim Novak again as 'Judy the Shopgirl,' post-fall." It's set at a strip club on Montgomery Street, and depicts the poor man's Bardot (Marisa Mell, of DANGER: DIABOLIK) in a snow leopard-print tracksuit lounging on a motorcycle:

then stripping down to reveal a preponderance of stickers advertising European car races (such as Le Mans):

 and ultimately providing the punchline (?) of a bizarro, googly-eyed codpiece:

all while the poor man's Alain Delon (Jean Sorel, of BELLE DU JOUR) looks on, completely horrified and entranced.

It's a particular avant-garde highlight in a film which includes such beautifully wacky Italo-dialogue as "You just dropped in for a few BUMPS and GRINDS? Or maybe a few... KICKS?!" and "Bye, girls, I'm gonna go see a Mickey Mouse flick!" God bless you, Lucio Fulci.