Friday, December 28, 2012


10 gems worth seeking out from the 2012 movie year

After the bounty of 2011, 2012 was a relatively disappointing movie year; I didn't give one single film a 4-star rating. Still, here are a few (in some cases, undiscovered) gems from the year worth putting in your Netflix queue:

THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD The best film of 2012 that never actually opened (at least not in Santa Cruz), this is a moving coming-of-age drama, a cogent look at Old World values in a changing new world, and an elegant and scathing allegory about warfare and justice, directed by American filmmaker Joshua Marston and set in modern-day Albania. As complacent old men convene to dictate the archaic "rules" of a neighborhood blood feud, the frustration of modern young people watching their futures die is devastating.

PINA (Okay, this was technically released in 2011, but we didn't see it in Santa Cruz until this year.) 


Brave, Looper, Argo, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi


(Read the whole story in this week's Good Times, or watch this space for a link.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


It's Boxing Day, and the first wave of holiday madness is behind us—the shopping, wrapping, prepping, cooking, eating (and, hopefully, cleaning up) part. Whew! Thank heavens that's over! Take a deep breath, and congratulate yourself for making it this far.

Now: who's ready to jump back into the fray and hit the post-Christmas sales? Not me!

Seriously? Fighting traffic and crowds to elbow strangers out of the way over faux bargains (60% off our normally exorbitant prices!) is NOT the way I want to spend the rest of my holiday. My plan is to avoid the crowds, unplug from the Electronic Overlord (fill in your social media of choice), and do something to replenish the soul and renew the spirit as the old years winds down.

There are 12 Days of Christmas left. Here are 12 alternative ways to enjoy them that don't involve a trip to  the mall.

Play with your Pets It's been a fraught few weeks for the fur-bearing members of your household, what with you running around like a lunatic trying to "do" the holidays. Take some time to cuddle the kitties and romp with the dog.

Read a Book You've earned some down time. What better way to spend it than attacking that TBR pile? Heather McDougal's "Songs for a Machine Age" is  next up for me!

Make Art Indulge in the luxury of time between now and the New Year and make that painting, drawing, assemblage, carving, or collage idea that's been haunting your inner artiste. It doesn't have to be perfect; it doesn't even have to be good. No one will judge it. No one else even has to see it. This is something to do just for yourself.

(Art Boy usually takes the week "off" between Christmas and New Year's Day to do an art experiment that's not for public consumption. One year, he made this nifty chess board, which he and his chess buddy now use for their weekly games.)

Play a Game Grab a chess (or scrabble) buddy for some serious face time. Or rally the troops for a spirited game of Charades, Mad Libs, or Trivia. (Hint: it's even more fun if you don't keep score.)

Get Out of the House Not recommended if the weather outside is frightful. But if you're getting partly sunny skies, scattered showers, and rainbows (like we've had all day here in Santa Cruz), consider slipping out for a pilgrimage to your favorite neighborhood park, hiking trail, or beach. Nature is putting on a show; don't miss it!
Build an Altar Every religion, culture, nationality and/or tribe has some sort of rites and celebration for the midwinter festival and the end of the old year. I've been know to make a Nativity scene of Troll dolls in years past, or recruit one of my vintage Barbies to stand in for Mother Christmas, in long robes with a Yule wreath crown on her head and a cornucopia full of goodies.

This year I built a mini Solstice altar to celebrate the return on the Sun/Son. Forest greenery (clipped from our Christmas tree), dried rose petals, and animal figures  are there to honor the natural world that depends on the cycles of the sun.

Share your Pics Whether you keep your picture archive the old-fashioned way, stashed in photo albums, or store them on your iPhone, now is the time to share them with family and friends. You may not even remember, let alone believe all the stuff you and yours have done in the prelude to Now.

Visit a Friend Now that the rush of holiday deadlines is over, and family obligations have been met, pick a buddy or two you haven't had time for lately and hang out.

Write a Letter If your best friends and/or family members are far-flung, sit yourself down with pen and paper to compose a letter to someone you love. The extra time it takes to organize your thoughts before committing them to ink (no "delete" button here!) will not only help cleanse your own mind, Grasshopper, but bring you closer in spirit to your absent friend, as well.

Try a New Recipe The big holiday feast is over. Now that no one's looking (and they're too stuffed to care, anyway), break out that recipe you clipped out of a newspaper three years ago and give it a whirl!

Last year about this time, Art Boy uncorked his first batch of Limoncello, made from our own Sorrento lemons—which has proven to be not only a smooth after-dinner liqueur and a handy gift for friends, but (as we've just discovered in this season of rampant germs) a delightful cough remedy!

Make a Joyful Noise Play music. Sing songs. The most spirited Yuletide carols don't come out of a speaker.

Pause and Reflect Give thanks for the bounties of the Old Year, forgive the mistakes of others (and yourself), keep your loved ones close, and think about the best way to live the life you want in the world you want in the New Year.

(Top: Boxing Day, 2000. Me and the Cats of Christmas Past, Zoe and Sheena.)

Friday, December 21, 2012


Look at the cool Yule card we received from my sister-in-law in the Virgin Islands! It was handcrafted in Haiti; the applied material spelling out NOEL is banana bark (which is shed naturally from the trees, according to the back of the card).

Gathering and prepping  the bark provides a source of income for impoverished families in one of the oldest and least wealthy of Caribbean Island republics.

I don't know where the image of the Wise Men comes from, but I love it! Notice how all the faces and beards are slightly different. And look at their wizard robes! This reminds us that "Magi" is the plural of "mage," as in magician, or a wise person.

(Although it's a bit surprising that they're all white. Traditional representations generally show at least one of the magi as a man of color, as befits a story set in the Middle East.)

What makes this card extra special to us is that came with a donation to the Heifer International organization in our name. This is an outfit that supplies vital livestock, like milk cows or goats, to rural village families worldwide. Helping to spread peace on earth, one cow and/or one card at a time!

Speaking of which, here is another of my favorite 2012 holiday images. Our friend, Liz Lyons Friedman made this card from her recent linocut print, simply called "Peace." Simple, elegant, and to-the-point!

Noel (from the French word for Christmas carol, or song) and Peace. May you enjoy plenty of both this holiday season!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


If a person had never seen a Marx Brother movie before, it's hard to imagine what she might think of A Night At The Nutcracker, Cabrillo Stage's merrily Marxist new holiday musical. But for the initiated, those of us who revel in the gleeful anarchy perpetrated by Groucho, Chico, and Harpo in a series of classic movie comedies in the 1930s and '40s, this new Nutcracker is a welcome holiday treat.

Scripted by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, with original music by Ed Alton, the play (this production is its West Coast premiere) is an entertaining pastiche of one-liners, sight-gags and silliness that follows the plotline of a typical Marx Bros movie: three goofballs are turned loose in some sector of normal society—in this case, a staging of the holiday ballet, The Nutcracker. Mayhem ensues.

Company stalwart Max Bennett-Parker makes with the Italianate jokes and even plays piano as Chico surrogate, Pepponi; Matt Dunn is sweetly nutty as the scene-stealing Harpo character, Pinchie, the silent clown with his arsenal of horns. Both are somehow installed in the household of the Margaret Dumont character, frosty society dame Mrs. Stuffington (a formidable Lizz Hodgin), who is funding a holiday production of The Nutcracker ballet starring egotistical Russian dancer Rasputin (a funny Kevin Johnston).

There are young lovers (David Jackson and the ever-winsome Ariel Buck) singing schmaltzy love ballads, a con-man called Ratchette (well-played by Adam J. Saucedo) angling for Mrs. S's fortune, and his blonde, sexpot accomplice (a spirited Eleanor Hunter).

Best of all, there's Nicholas Ceglio as Groucho surrogate Felix T. Filibuster, private eye. Ceglio has Groucho's eyebrow-wiggling, cigar-flicking, hip-swiveling mannerisms down to the proverbial T, and he's great fun wisecracking his way through a Groucho-like repertoire of one-liners. ("These steps were given to me by Nijinsky—and, boy, was he glad to get rid of 'em!")

If the production lacks a little of the zing and snap of the original Marxes, it's not surprising; after all, they had decades together on the vaudeville circuit and Broadway perfecting their routines before they ever even made their first film.  The cool thing is how well Andrew Ceglio's production (he directed and choreographed) stays true to the irreverent spirit of the Marx Brothers.

Inspired too are the snippets of the ballet itself we see at the end of the second act, when all the elements come together. Performed by the characters in the story (after the professional dancers have walked out), Ceglio and company offer some very funny takes on the familiar music we all know—from the hilarious dancing of Dunn's Pinchie (on his knees, arms in pant legs) in the overture, to the staging of the Russian Dance as a duel between Groucho and Ratchette, each crescendo of the music accompanying a punch or kick.

The only drawback to the ballet finale is we don't get to hear any more of Groucho's jokes Otherwise, it's an upbeat finish to a refreshingly non-traditional holiday show.

(A Night At The Nutcaracker plays through Dec. 30. Click here for tickets and info.)

Btw, here are the real Marx Bros in action in Duck Soup (1933), possibly the funniest movie ever made, and probably in my Top 5 films of all time!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Hopkins' entertaining performance fuels larky 'Hitchcock'

It takes a certain amount of gutsiness for an actor to try to transform himself onscreen into one of the most famous and recognizable icons in the history of film. But Anthony Hopkins has guts to spare—as it were—in Hitchcock, stepping into the familiar persona and famed portly silhouette of the movies' grand master of the macabre, Alfred Hitchcock.

Well, it's not exactly a transformation; from the lugubrious voice and eccentric diction to the baleful bloodhound gaze, there's not a second when we're not watching Hopkins play Hitch.

But the entertaining spectacle of Hopkins' performance is its own reward in a film that never takes itself too seriously. Although the film is inspired by Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," don't expect a doc-like piece of investigative research, or even a typical showbiz bio.

The real Hitch on the "Psycho" set
Instead, director Sacha Gervasi adopts a larky approach in this pastiche of backstage Hollywood maneuvering built around the peculiar personal dynamic between the mercurial Hitch and his long-suffering, but briskly loyal wife and longtime creative partner, Alma Reville, played with sense and sensibility by the ever-wonderful Helen Mirren.

Scripted by John J. McLaughlin, Hitchcock begins and ends like an episode of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, with the maestro appearing onscreen to deliver a wry introduction and epilogue directly to the audience. (A reference that might be lost on viewers unfamiliar with the show.)

Then the story kicks in. In 1960, searching for a new property to fulfill his contract with Paramount, Hitch discovers the novel, "Psycho," by Robert Bloch. Inspired by the crime spree of notorious real-life Wisconsin serial killer, Ed Gein, the book has everything Hitch's prurient soul delights in—deviant and/or illicit sexuality, voyeurism, unhealthy obsessions, a blonde in jeopardy, and, of course, murder. (Read more)

Friday, December 7, 2012


Theatrical setting, cardboard star, drain life out of luscious 'Anna Karenina'

All the world may be a stage, but filmmaker Joe Wright takes this notion a bit too literally in his luscious, epic misfire of a movie, Anna Karenina. Leo Tolstoy's classic novel about an illicit love affair and its consequences in glittering Imperial Russian society has been filmed innumerable times, but Wright and scriptwriter Tom Stoppard have a truly audacious and imaginative idea for putting the old warhorse through its paces one more time: staging almost the entire drama within the confines of an enormous theater set.

The reasoning behind this seems clever enough. It recalls medieval Morality Plays, where traveling troupes would enact edifying moral stories from their wagon stages. For another, it highlights the idea that St. Petersburg high society is itself a kind of grand, public stage, its players on display before an audience of unforgiving viewers ready to pounce on anyone who doesn't act his or her assigned role to perfection.

But the constant artifice of everything—movement, stage settings, the weird, fussy little hand gestures they all use in the waltz—only serves to leech the essential emotion, out of the story. It's all about the presentation of the material, not the material itself, so the drama feels as counterfeit, unreal, as everything else. The figures trapped in Wright's grand design are like cardboard cut-outs in a Victorian toy theatre; they might as well be run in and out of the action on sticks.

This is certainly true of Keira Knightley in the title role. Anna is a woman of immense social standing married to successful government bureaucrat, Karenin (Jude Law), who chooses to risk—and lose—everything for a carnal affair with the proverbial dashing young cavalry officer, Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). But Knightley feels too young, shallow, and modern in the role; her entire arsenal of pouts and nervous grins never suggest the depth of feeling Anna must experience. (Read more)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Feeling lucky?

If Dame Fortune is with you, amble on down to the Santa Cruz Art League this weekend and enter their annual Luck of the Draw art event for a chance to purchase an original work by the local artist of your choice for a mere—get this—$65.

Here's how it works:

First, buy a ticket to the event for $65. Then hie thee down to the Art League any time between now and Sunday, December 9, to peruse the dozens of pieces of original artwork donated by area artists for the show. Make a shortlist of your favorites.

On the day of the event, Sunday, December 9, at 2:45 pm, the drawing begins! (This is where the luck come in.) All ticket stubs are put in a hat; in the order that each stub is drawn, that person gets to pick out the piece of art he or she wants to take home.

Obviously, those whose ticket stubs are selected earliest get the biggest selection of artwork to choose from. But with some 80 participating artists, there is plenty of great work to go around! 

2D and 3D art, textiles, glass, and jewelry are included in the show, by such renowned local artists as Barbara Downs, Ron Cook, Cher Roberts, T. Mike Walker, Sandra Cherk, Jane Gregorius, and James Aschbacher (right), to name just a few. (That's Jody Bare's gorgeous black and gold "Mist Dragons" scarf, up top.)

Check out the Luck of the Draw Facebook page to get an idea what awaits you at the show. (Make sure you open all three Luck of the Draw albums.)

Gallery hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 12 noon-5 pm, Sunday 12 noon-4 pm, and First Friday, 12 noon to 9 pm. All proceeds go to the Art League for the support of art and artists in Santa Cruz County, so Bonne Chance, Buona Fortuna, Suerte, and may the Force be with you!

Sunday, December 2, 2012


This is just about the best story ever! It's art, books, and guerrilla theater all rolled into one!

Feast your eyes on the handiwork of Scotland's "secret book sculptor."  This anonymous female artisan crafts intricate art pieces out of books and their pages and leaves them hidden away in public places to be discovered.

Last year, she caused a mini media sensation leaving her book sculptures in neglected corners of literary places like the Scottish Poetry Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Each piece was found with a hand-written tag reading in part: "A gift for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas..." (Here's a great article on the story so far, with pics.)

This past week, in honor of Scotland Book Week, the mystery artist created five new pieces inspired by the masterworks of famous Scots authors, and clandestinely placed them in appropriate venues around the country. Then she tweeted hints about their whereabouts on the Twitter account of each venue. This wonderful tribute to Peter Pan, with Peter and Wendy rising up out of the book and racing toward the moon, was found in the J. M. Barrie Birthplace in Kirriemuir. (Photo by Chris Scott.)

Here's Long John Silver and a montage of piratical iconography celebrating Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. This one was discovered at  the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick. (Photo by Sasha DeBuyl/Scottish Book Trust.)

Other tribute pieces are devoted to Robert Burns' narrative poem, Tam o' Shanter (found at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway), Compton MacKenzie's beloved  shipwrecked spirits story, Whiskey Galore (which turned up at a pub on the island of Eriskay, in the Western Isles, where the story takes place), and Alisdair Gray's modern semi-dystopian classic Lanark (placed in the Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Library). (Here's a slideshow of the new pieces.)

With each sculpture, the artist also leaves a note, referencing a quote from the book in question, each note ending with the same mantra: "...Because reading matters..."

What I love about this project, besides the glorious artwork, is the recycling and repurposing of old books (while retaining the emphasis on reading), and the clandestine nature of the operation, creating what now amounts to a national treasure hunt in Scotland as new pieces are announced.

If the artist had just started making these pieces, as marvelous as they are, and then tried to promote them through normal channels, I bet she would have had a hard slog of it. She'd have to find a gallery who thought the work might interest their particular clientele, then wait through the process of shows, reviews, and (hopefully) sales to establish her name. Or she might have opened an Etsy shop or tried to sell the work on eBay, but I bet they wouldn't have nearly the same cachet.

What's great about this story is the artist's anti-celebrity stance, her insistence on anonymity. She doesn't care about making her name; she's too busy making art! Of course, it's also a brilliant marketing tool—even if her name is unknown, everybody in Scotland now knows her work.  But the fact remains that all her pieces so far have been given away, in support of books, literacy, and culture in general. And how cool is that!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Strap on your goggles and lace for the Steampunk exhibit at the new Santa Cruz Institute for Contemporary Arts  Gallery at the Tannery.

Long a gleam in arts entrepreneur Kirby Scudder's eye, the SCICA has been a floating world of artistic ideas, a cyclone of creative energy that finally has a permanent place to touch down, a brand new gallery in the Tannery studio complex. Kirby has partnered with Co-Director, artist and arts administrator Ann Hazels in the new SCICA venture, which also includes office space and a gift shop adjoining the spacious gallery.

The inaugural exhibit, Steampunk, launched earlier this month and runs through the end of December. It's a back-to-the-future, retro fantasy exhibition of sculpture, prints, painting, photography, and wearable art celebrating the merger of Victorian/Edwardian sensibilities (Machine Age clockwork, gears and cogs; top hats and corsets) with futuristic fantasy. (The shorthand definition of "steampunk" is Victorian sci-fi.)

The alcove at the gallery entrance gets you in the mood with these two displays of fantasy headgear from an artist calling himself killbuck. What I found especially cool about the piece on the left is that it contains no real metal (except, possibly, those eyepiece dials); it's constructed entirely out of found and recycled objects like plastic and foam.

The diverse pieces inside include fanciful photography and found-object sculpture from Robbie Schoen, and woodwork gear box wall pieces by Michael Zelver.

I loved metal sculptor Thomas Ramey's "Piston Bat," a wall piece made of recycled metal. In Ramey's elegant  3D sculpture, "Drilling," a globe of the world is suspended in a man-made cage; the piece is made out of recycled auto parts.

(Recycled materials is also a running theme throughout the show, from Jack Howe's found object-studded bedspring piece, "At the Gates of Redemption," to Geoffrey Nelson's life-sized "Steampunk Starfighter" outfit.)

Some pieces have only a tenuous connection to the theme. Diego Rios' graphic angel prints in muted colors are beautiful, but don't necessarily convey a steampunk ethic. Outside of a few corsets, neither do Nelson's "Storyville Series" of contemporary photos of women posed in the style of the notorious turn-of-the-century New Orleans red-light district.

Jenny Markowitz's painting on a recycled door, "The Visionary,"doesn't really mesh with the theme either.

But her companion painted door, "The Lovers," is spot-on with its image on an embracing couple in full regalia; it could easily be the Tarot card of that name in a steampunk deck!

The SCICA Gallery is located at #127 in The Tannery, the front corner space in the commercial studio building across from the live-work artists lofts.  The Steampunk show runs through December 30. Gallery hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 11 am to 6 pm.

And if you like what you see, consider signing up for an inaugural membership in the SCICA.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Boy and tiger share fantastic voyage in gorgeous 'Life of Pi'

It's a story too incredible to believe. But choosing what to believe—along with the sheer power of storytelling—is exactly the point of Life of Pi, Yann Martel's bestselling novel of faith, destiny, courage and survival, now made into a magnificent-looking film by director Ang Lee. Martel's 2002 novel of a teenage boy and a Bengal tiger shipwrecked together in a small lifeboat in the middle of the vast Pacific was long considered unfilmable (at least, as a live-action movie)—until Lee came on board.

A craftsman who never makes the same film twice, Lee is renowned for his sensitive handling of diverse, often daunting material, from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, to Brokeback Mountain. With careful attention to Martel's core theme—the search for God (in whatever guise) through astounding adversity—Lee turns the material into a visually rapturous and ecstatic spiritual journey that's also a breathtaking adventure saga. Kudos to cinematographer Claudio Miranda (TRON: Legacy; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) for providing such stunning visuals to go with Lee's delicate narrative of loss and redemption.

Life of Pi is rated PG, which basically means no sex or naughty words, but that doesn't mean it's a kids' movie. Besides brief scenes of animals attacking and/or eating other animals, a bigger problem for very young children is all the talking, which will bore them silly. The verbosity of the bracketing story gets a bit wearisome for adults, too. Pondering the quest for (or death of) spirituality may have resonated more on the printed page, but onscreen, all we care about is getting back out on the water and the delirious fever dream at the heart of Lee's hypnotic film. (Read more)

Friday, November 23, 2012


Wow, this is exciting!

My publisher, Emma Barnes, at Snowbooks, in the UK, just put up a blog about my upcoming novel, Alias Hook.

"Now, I don't like to brag. But. Next year we have a book coming out which is going to knock your socks off," she writes. "Alias Hook is really special."

Aw, shucks!

Then she  posts the opening chapter, or "Prelude," in its entirety, just to whet your whistle, inviting you to "have a read and tell me it's not the most compelling thing ever."

But wait. There's more! She's also launching a contest to give away a bound proof copy of the book—something so new, even I don't have one yet!

Initial publication, now slated for May, 2013, will be UK only (unless a deal is brokered with a US publisher between now an then, she says, hopefully). But this contest is open to anyone with an email account, anywhere in the world.

Surf on over to Snowbooks and see what you think!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Day-Lewis' extraordinary performance powers Spielberg's Lincoln

It's probably counter-productive to try to shoehorn Steven Spielberg's massive historical epic, Lincoln, into the realm of allegory. Yes, this tale of political maneuvering at the close of the American Civil War portrays a House literally divided against itself, one party trying to reconcile the conservative and "radical" elements within itself, two parties so ideologically diverse they can't engage in debate on the floor without hurling invective at each other, and a recently re-elected president struggling to balance his personal principles with his need to heal the nation.

But the beauty, and genius, of Spielberg's film is the way it defies analogy to any specific statesman, party, or era. Instead, it provides a cogent glimpse into the American political process itself, the very democracy that Americans of all persuasions believe they support, although few of us understand exactly how it works. In this respect, Spielberg's view of the contentious state of American politics, then as now, is as timeless as it is fascinating.

But what gives this film its touch of greatness is very specific, indeed. Abraham Lincoln, was no ordinary statesman, but a moral visionary who risked everything to end the institution of slavery. Extraordinary, too, is the performance of  Daniel Day-Lewis in the role. From his unruly, tufted hair and scruffy beard, to the hint of windswept prairie in his light-pitched voice, from his gentle, self-deprecating laughter, to the careworn curve of his shoulders, to the deliberate way he folds or unfolds his long limbs in sitting or standing, Day-Lewis inhabits the role with every fiber of his being.

This is a Lincoln savvy enough to wield great power, but who never loses the common touch, and Spielberg and company impress us with what a rare and laudable gift that is. When Day-Lewis collects his third Best Actor Oscar next February, he will SO have earned it. (Read more)

Monday, November 19, 2012


Today, it's my very great pleasure to join a Blog Chain called My Next Big Thing, in which we writers answer interview questions about a current or future project.

 But first, many thanks to Vinnie Hansen for inviting me to join this thread. Vinnie is the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, in which an intrepid pastry chef-turned-sleuth heroine solves murders—with recipes!—in and around Santa Cruz County. Her latest, Art, Wine & Bullets, is in stores now. Thanks, Vinnie!

Okay, here goes:

What is the working title of your book?

Alias Hook

Where did the idea come from for this book?

We don't like to say it in mixed company, but most writers hear voices in their heads. I was writing a review of a live-action Peter Pan movie in January, 2004; of the actor playing Captain Hook, I wrote that he captured "the tragedy of a grown-up Hook trapped forever in Peter's eternal childhood." Instantly, a caustic voice popped into my head observing the Neverland from Hook's point of view. I hit 'Save,' clicked open a new doc and hastily typed in what is now the opening paragraph of the book. I was off and running!

What genre does your book fall under?

I call it historical fantasy. Yes, it takes place in the Neverland (that's the fantasy part), but in the flashbacks, I've tried to give James Hook a solid historical grounding as an early 18th Century English privateer/pirate.

Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, contemporary of James Hook

How long did it take to write the first draft?

About one year.

What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?

Well, Hugh Jackman has the height advantage, and the musicality. (My Hook is an accomplished musician, so losing his hand is extra horrific). But Gerard Butler has the blue eyes!  I like Rachel Weisz for Stella Parrish, the grown woman who dreams herself to the Neverland in defiance of all the boy's rules, who may be the key to Hook's redemption.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

The flip-side of Peter Pan, Alias Hook is a time-traveling love story about male and female, love and war, and the delicate art of growing up.

Will it be self published or represented by an agency?

I didn't have an agent for this one; I sold it to Snowbooks, a small, but intrepid independent publisher in the UK, who will bring it out in May, 2013.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I've always liked Captain Hook better than Peter Pan; for one thing, he has much funnier lines! (See my History of Hook on stage, page, and screen.) Here's a guy stuck playing villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends.

Also, Peter and Wendy, James M. Barrie's 1911 novelization of his famous play, is much darker and more subversive than the play. But it seemed to me that Barrie hardly even scratched the surface of the Neverland he created, with all its complex enchantments, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The reimagined Oz books, especially Wicked, by Gregory Maguire.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Alias Hook goes where Barrie feared to tread—delving deep into the Sisterhood of the guardian fairies and their erotic Revels, the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, and the society of the merfolk in their mysterious temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon.
The secret entrance to the Mermaid Lagoon
Here are some other writers with cool new projects you might be interested in:

Broos Campbell, author of the Matty Graves series, writes ripping nautical fiction that's funny, irreverent, heartfelt and action-packed. 

Heather McDougal, longtime proprietess of the popular Cabinet of Wonders blog, has just launched her first steampunk/clockpunk fantasy novel, Songs for a Machine Age.

Lynna Banning is a veteran author of historical romance who's been writing Western and Medieval fiction since 1996.

Visit their sites, and check their blog posts next week to see what they're working on!

(Above, right, Capture of the Pirate, Blackbeard, 1718, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1920.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Craig's 007 shaken, yet stirring, in Skyfall

What does Skyfall, the title of the new 007 movie, actually mean? Suffice it to say that "Skyfall" is James Bond's "Rosebud," an element from his deeply shrouded past revealed here for the first time—one of many "firsts" that make this 23rd outing for the legendary uber-op so interesting.

For once, we see a more vulnerable Bond, a man who has himself been shaken and stirred a few too many times and is no longer in peak condition, a man who's begun to question if its all worthwhile. This Bond even spends several scenes in rumpled clothes and a beard. Most heretical of all, this is a Bond on the verge of becoming "irrelevant."

All these factors, a dynamic performance from Daniel Craig, and sterling work from incoming director Sam Mendes (a filmmaker not generally known for action movies) conspire to make Skyfall one of the best Bond films ever. In this 50th year of the franchise that has itself often been deemed irrelevant (remember the punning innuendo and bloated fx of the Roger Moore era?), Craig's and Mendes' reinvented, revitalized Bond puts the series right back in the game.

It's great to see Dame Judi Dench's formidable spymaster, M, as the principle "Bond girl," in the thick of the action from the very start. The ever-watchable Ben Whishaw (last seen in Cloud Atlas) is terrific as the new Q, a ridiculously young techno-geek whose droll manner and skill earn Bond's grudging respect.

Factor in a mesmerizing performance of grinning dementia from the great Javier Bardem as the chief villain, and you've got a ripping E-Ticket of a movie that pretty much never lets up. (Read more)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Here's a cool thing!

My editor at Snowbooks just sent me the typeset ms of my upcoming novel, Alias Hook, for the final proofreading. It's starting to look like a real book!

Meanwhile, it looks like the map of the Neverland that I sketched once upon a time will now be included in the published book! Well, not exactly my map, but my talented book designer's interpretation of it.

It's probably some dire infringement of copyright to publish the official map before the book comes out. But here's the original that I drew for myself, as a means of keeping track of where everything is in the Neverland. Yes, it's an enchanted place, full of diverse micro-climates and eco-systems that would not coexist in so-called "real" life. But the island of Neverland is still on Planet Earth in my story, so I had to know in which direction the sun and moon rise and set, for instance, from one scene to the next.

Anyway, here's a sneak preview of my original map. The one that will appear in the book is much like this one, but with sexier fonts, and it's much easier to read!

And just for fun, I dug this photo out of the archive: here I am in August of 2004, under the shade of our beloved green fig tree, actually drawing my first version of this map. I'd been working on the story for almost a year, but on my birthday,  I decided to take the day off from writing and make the map I'd promised myself.

Interesting historical footnote: within about three years, the fig tree went kaput; termites got into the wood and it stopped producing fruit. We were devastated, but Art Boy and our friend, Isaiah, a woodworker, chopped it down to the ground and carted it away, leaving only an underground root too massive to dig out.

And guess what: the tree came back! First it was just a couple of leaves, than a nubby branch, but this summer we have three sturdy new limbs as tall as me; we've also had two tiny but delicious crops of figs!

All of which I consider a good omen, since Alias Hook is all about redemption, rebirth, and second chances!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Big fun was had yesterday at the opening reception for the new Wit & Whimsy art show at the Scotts Valley Library. It may seem like an odd venue for art, but there's a lot of wall space in the vast and bustling SV Library, and coordinator Valri Peyser is committed to filling it with the work of local artists in rotating 2-month shows.

The Wit & Whimsy show features 14 local artists in various media, including John McKinley, the beloved Aptos illustrator whose insouciant animal portraits have earned him legions of fans. (These are his arty cats.) Victoria Kerr crafts fanciful sci-fi critters out of recycled materials sculpted over with air-drying clay, and painted in rainbow colors. Brian Iles also uses found and repurposed objects to build his small, imaginative birdhouses.

Graphic artist Mott Jordan contributes witty print collages. Stephanie Schriver shows an assortment of her ceramic animal sculptures. In her "Forest of Fabled Creatures" series, Elspeth Inglett writes and illustrates original fables and mounts them on planks of recycled wood.
"I'd Rather Be Sailing," James Aschbacher

Myra Eastman presents a series of droll rat paintings, and Chris Miroyan offers fun paintings of imaginary cakes, as well as a series of masked heads that look like refugees from a Morgani costume. And James Aschbacher ("whimsical" is his middle name) shows a selection of new and vintage mixed-media paintings celebrating life in the Aschbacher universe.

The Wit & Whimsy show is up through January 19. Visit the SV Library website for directions, and a complete list of participating artists.

And don't forget, the SV Library is also the permanent home to a dozen life-sized endangered wild animals sculpted in papier maché by the gifted Beth Allison Gripenstraw. So don't forget to look up on top of the bookshelves at the cheetahs, tiger, lynx, crocodile, and other friendly fauna gazing down on the scene.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


It's been three years since Santa Cruz lost one of its literary treasures—poet, raconteur, and bon vivant, Morton Marcus. But his memory lives on, not only in the hearts of those of us who knew him, but more tangibly in the Morton Marcus Memorial Poetry Reading, the third installment of which is coming up this Saturday, November 10, at Cabrillo College.

In this annual event, a world-class poet from out of town (previous guests have been Robert Hass and the delightful Kay Ryan) shares the stage with local poets in a program presented free to the public.

This year's distinguished guest poet is Arthur Sze, chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and winner of the American Book Award.

This year's event also includes a reading by the winner of the Morton Marcus Poetry Contest, sponsored earlier this year by the Santa Cruz Writes collective and phren-Z, the group's online literary magazine. David Sullivan will read an excerpt from  his contest-winning poem, "Take Wing."

As in years past, Gary Young, Santa Cruz County Poet Laureate (2010-11), will serve as master of ceremonies. You can be sure Mort's spirit of bonhommie will be there as well!

Also, in keeping with the tradition of alternating venues between co-sponsors UCSC and Cabrillo, this year's event will be held at the Samper Recital Hall in the new Cabrillo Collage Arts Complex. Other event co-sponsors are Poetry Santa Cruz, Ow Family Properties, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Admission is free, but seating is limited, so be sure you get there early. The program begins at 7 pm. Visit Morton for more details.

Monday, November 5, 2012


JTC's Gunmetal Blues a sharp, funny musical homage to film noir

Say, pal, you got a yen for film noir? (And I mean everything from The Maltese Falcon to Detour, to Chinatown.) Then you should beat it over to Gunmetal Blues, the Jewel Theatre Company's fast, frisky, and funny musical homage to the genre, playing for two more weeks at the Center Stage in downtown Santa Cruz.

It's a simple story about a world-weary gumshoe, a mysterious dame, and, um, a guy in a tux playing piano throughout, a one-man Greek chorus commenting on the action. The private eye investigates a murder case involving a veritable sea of blondes, in a milieu bursting with deliciously crisp tough-guy dialogue and dynamic songs—jazzy, blues, anthems—that keep the story percolating along.

It's a three-person show, and the performers are terrific. Christopher Reber anchors the story as detective Sam Galahad, a rumpled knight in a trenchcoat with a pesky addiction to ferreting out the truth. Reber's Sam is a soulful Everyman who  can sell a song as persuasively as he bites off a line like, "Suddenly the room smelled of stale perfume and shattered dreams."

Lee Ann Payne is excellent as the story's four blondes—an ingenue, a classy femme fatale, a nightclub floozy in a spangled red dress, and a bag lady. With her powerhouse singing voice, Payne makes the most of each incarnation, from the chanteuse's wry and clever "The Blonde Song," to the bag lady's poignant ballad.

But Brent Schindele is the real scene-stealer. As piano-playing lounge act, Buddy Toupee, not only does he provide onstage accompaniment for the show's entire song cycle, along with various incidental music cues throughout, he also springs off the piano bench to double for whatever other male characters the story requires—a half-bright doorman, an Irish cop, a gangster, a chauffeur—all with appropriate accents.

Did I mention that he also sings? Schindele has a big, confident voice, whether jauntily hawking his "Buddy Toupee—Live!" CD between acts, or harmonizing with the others in various intricate duets. The two big numbers where all three players sing together, "Don't Know What I Expected," and especially  "Childhood Days," are show-stoppers.

Gunmetal Blues was written by Scott Wentworth (acclaimed for his recent work with Shakespeare Santa Cruz), with music by Craig Bohmler, and lyrics by Marion Adler; they put the project together back when all three were working with Stratford Shakespeare Company in Ontario, Canada, as a vehicle for themselves. It must be as much fun to perform as it is to watch. My favorite lines of hard-boiled dialogue (scribbled in the dark) are, "(She had) a mouth that would have sent Shakespeare thumbing through a Thesaurus," and the instant classic, "I checked into a hotel where the desk clerk is blind and you sign your name in invisible ink."

The JTC production, crisply paced by director Tom Gough, makes fluid use of Ron Gasparinetti's spare set—a grand piano in one corner, defining the Red Eye Lounge, and a table and a couple of chairs opposite, for Sam's office and every other interior space. And kudos to Mark Hopkins' lighting design, especially the kaleidoscope of pulsating colors when Sam gets sapped from behind, or someone slips him a mickey.

Gunmetal Blues only plays eight more performances, Thursdays—Sundays through November 18, so don't miss out! Click here for tickets and info.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Okay, I love Captain Hook so much I wrote a novel about him. (Alias Hook, coming soon to a bookstore near you.) But tossing the character into the chaotic mosh pit that the TV series Once Upon A Time has become hasn't done nearly enough to improve the gene pool in terms of story.

The Irish actor playing him, Colin O'Donoghue, is sexy enough. (Although if you've read your Barrie, you know that Mr. Smee, the bosun, is the Irishman; Hook is pure Etonian-bred English.) O'Donoghue would likely rise to the occasion if the writers gave him anything interesting to do.

But, no. After one brief episode that took place at least partially aboard ship, now Hook is landlocked on the Island of Lost Toys, or wherever it is where half the cast is segregated this season, wandering around with the rest of the superfluous characters—Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, Snow White, Lancelot (Lancelot? I thought these were fairy tale characters)—in search of a plot.

And—most egregiously of all—last week they introduced the Frankenstein monster, in the person (at least, the cadaver) of Regina's lost, reanimated stableboy lover. It must have been some kind of Halloween thing; the reanimation sequence was even in black-and-white, performed by a doctor called "Whale." (But if you want a truly clever homage to the classic James Whale movie, go see Frankenweenie).

The weirdest thing about the Hook subplot (and I use the term "plot" in the loosest possible sense) was the backstory establishing his enmity with Robert Carlyle's Mr. Gold. Each is responsible for depriving the other of the woman he loved, which suggests a tedious and prolonged grudge match of vengeance between the two of them if Hook ever gets out of Purgatory. And just so we get the point, Mr. Gold, in his sorcerous Dark Lord persona, is the one who cuts off Hook's hand, equating him in the storyline with—yes—the Crocodile.  (They even call him "Crocodile" in the episode.)

Carlyle remains the best (possibly only) reason to watch the show. But, seriously, give a guy a break! They've already got him playing Rumplestiltskin, the Dark Lord, Beast (in the Beauty and the Beast subplot), and now the Crocodile. How long can he be expected to carry the show all by himself? Talk about the hardest-working man in showbiz!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Who will win the Best Makeup award at next year's Oscar festivities? You can bet on the talented team from Cloud Atlas, the ambitious, visionary saga of love, loss, greed, slavery, and redemption through the ages, co-written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.

Not only does this intrepid crew remake recognizable actors into various characters in various timelines, it often radically alters an actors' age, ethnicity and gender into the bargain.

The ease with which Asian and Caucasian, male and female, black and white switch roles throughout the film puts Cloud Atlas at risk of becoming a stunt movie, an elaborate game of spot-the-actor. OMG, it's Tom Hanks as that foul-mouthed skinhead British author. There's Halle Berry as a futuristic (male) lab tech with a gearshift for an eye. And isn't that Hugh Grant in tribal war paint? But the movie is rich (some might say dense) enough in ideas, plot, characters, and themes to keep us engaged.

Adapted from the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, the film presents six interwoven stories in different styles and settings (Victorian-era seafaring adventure, neo-noir thriller, industrialized future, post-apocalyptic tribalism, etc). Some civil rights groups are blasting the film for putting non-Asian actors in "yellowface" in a segment set in futuristic Korea (although Asian actresses Doona Bae,  Xun Zhou, and Zhu Zhu also turn up in non-Asian roles in other segments).

But having the same actors play diverse roles across five centuries of civilization also enhances the central motif of humanity facing the same moral, romantic and political issues, over and over again, in every era, where, as one character says, "the smallest crime or kindness" can have unknowable repercussions throughout the ages.

Transitions back and forth between the stories are often ingenious, and overall, the filmmaking is dynamic, despite a few too many vehicle chases and shootouts. And I would have liked more genuine emotional resonance amid all the flash and dazzle.

But here's the, er, bottom line for me: at nearly three hours in length, does the movie pass the butt test? It did for me. No squirming, no checking my watch, I was interested in the stories throughout. And how often do you see a movie any more that you can talk about for hours later? (Read more)


New Music Works launched its 34th Season last week with another live music program built around vintage silent films. This is a great idea pioneered last year with the NMW presentation of the beautifully restored 1926 Art Deco classic, Metropolis, accompanied by a terrific new score written for the film and conducted by NMW Artistic Director Phil Collins

This year, the film of choice was the weirdly haunting 1919 German Expressionist masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It's a wildly inventive piece of filmmaking for its day, with its surreal, hand-painted sets, and cadaverous, yet sympathetic "somnambulist" forced to do the bidding of the evil "Herr Doktor," who belatedly discovers a will and conscience of his own. And it's always a treat to see it on a big screen.

It was also a treat to have composer Richard Marriott in the house, whose original 1987 score for Caligari was performed live by NMW at this screening. Maestro Collins introduced Marriott from the stage, who spoke about his work with The Club Foot Orchestra (a Bay Area ensemble highly esteemed for composing and performing live scores to accompany vintage silent films), and how he came to write the Caligari score, after channel-hopping upon the movie one night on Channel 9.

Also on the program was the surreal 1927 short film Ghosts Before Breakfast, by DaDaist Hans Richter, accompanied by the largely percussive and playful 1982 piece, "Revenge Before Breakfast," by Henry Bryant.

The experimental 1944 silent short, At Land, directed by and featuring Maya Deren, rounded out the bill, an evocative piece in which a female (nymph? spirit?) appears to crawl out of the sea and slither into a swanky dinner party. Despite the composer credit for John Cage in the program, the 15-minute film was accompanied by dead  silence. Lucky for me, Art Boy knows something about 20th Century music and explained it was an homage to a famous Cage composition, "4:33," which consists of four-and-a-half minutes of silence. But I wonder how many other audience members didn't get the joke, which was never alluded to from the stage.

In fact, there could be more acknowledgement of the audience in general from the stage. It would be nice if Collins or someone else from NMW came out to welcome the audience and thank them for their support at the start of the program. It could even be an amplified voice from offstage, just a little touch of showmanship to let people know the show is about to begin.

Pairing up avant garde film and music is a productive idea I hope NMW continues to explore in the future. With a little tightening up in the presentation department, consider the possibilities!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Funny script, extreme blood, in genre satire 'Seven Psychopaths'

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh made quite a splash—albeit a bloody one—with his first feature, the brilliant, brutal, scathingly funny, fiercely moral In Bruges.

The good news is he's back with more boys behaving badly in Seven Psychopths. The bad news is, it's no In Bruges.

Still, even almost-there McDonagh is better, smarter, and funnier than your average bear. This time, the story concerns an Irish filmmaker named Martin in Hollywood, trying to write a new screenplay. It's not exactly McDonagh's 8 1/2; it's more like his Alex In Wonderland, a well-intentioned and often entertaining sophomore effort that doesn't always hit all its marks.

As self-referential to its genre as a Scream movie, its film-within-a-film format allows McDonagh to deconstruct the crime/buddy/gangster thriller, and point out all its clichés and weaknesses, while trading on them shamelessly. The degree of bloodletting is utterly absurdist, but the character comedy is still funny, even if it lacks the cohesion and moral force of its predecessor.

Colin Farrell plays the blocked screenwriter as a wary, wide-eyed Everyman. (His eyebrows alone deserve their own Oscar.) His job is to play straight man to a looney-tunes cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, and Christopher Walken, who is extra terrific as the movie's weary, tattered soul. (Read more)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Silent movie fans, unite!

One of the most spellbinding, eeriest, and earliest proto-horror films ever, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, is coming to town this week. Here's your chance to see it on a big, big screen at the Rio, Friday night, at the kickoff event for New Music Works' 34th season, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: A Live Soundtrack Experience.

Robert Weine's 1919 German Expressionistic masterpiece concerns a demented carnival fortune-teller who keeps a sleepwalking somnambulist in a permanent trance-like state to do his evil bidding. Breathtakingly bizarre visuals include moody chiaroscuro lighting, and menacing forced-perspective interiors and exteriors, which add to the sense of haunting weirdness. 

Conrad Veidt (later to play suave Nazi villains in American films like Casablanca) is strangely poignant as the fragile, reed-thin, hollow-eyed somnambulist, Cesare. Not a monster himself, he's manipulated in monstrous ways by his keeper, sinister Dr. Caligari (the scenery-chewing Werner Krauss).

Still, the shots of Cesare, all in black, creeping like a shadowy spider along the walls of Walter Reimann's surreal dreamscape of a set are among the most indelible images in all of horror cinema. I get chills just thinking about it!

At Friday's event, the 51-minute film is accompanied by an original music score by contemporary Bay Area composer Richard Marriot, performed live by the NMW Ensemble under the baton of Artistic Director Phil Collins.

Also on the bill is Ghosts Before Breakfast, a surreal 1927 short by Dadaist filmmaker/artist Hans Richter, accompanied by the composition "Revenge Before Breakfast" (1982) by Henry Brant, and At Land (1944), an experimental short by Maya Deren, featuring Deren and John Cage, accompanied by the composition "John Cage, 4:33" (1952). The NMW ensemble will also perform Erik Satie's 1920 composition, "Furniture Music." Complete program begins at 8 pm.

If you remember last year's NMW presentation of another silent, classic, Metropolis, as fondly as I do, you know you're in for a treat! Yes, there will be a costume contest Friday night, so dress up as a character from Caligari, or your favorite piece of furniture, to compete for the Best Costume prizes. Click here for ticket info, or visit the NMW website.