Key West Literary Seminar: The Dark Side, Chapter One download

Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn. Lifetime should hire these three for a regular show analyzing their movies. Photo by Nick Doll, courtesy of the Key West Literary Seminar

Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn. Lifetime should hire these three for a regular show analyzing their movies. Photo by Nick Doll, courtesy of the Key West Literary Seminar

I was confident the Literary Seminar was going to be great. First of all, it always is and second, with this line-up, how could it not be? Carl Hiaasen brought down the house Friday night, just as you’d expect. Joyce Carol Oates was eerily mesmerizing, like she always is. Still, it’s the unexpected that brings me the most pleasure. And though I hoped (see previous post, below) that the women were going to be my favorite parts of the event, they managed to eclipse my expectations.

The highlight was a Sunday morning panel titled “Fatal Vision: The Imprint of True-Crime Movies.” The panel consisted of Megan Abbott, Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn. They set out by telling us that the panel’s title had been classed up and what they were going to talk about was their unironic love for Lifetime movies. And then they did. It’s already on the Seminar’s Audio Archives page and it’s worth the listen even if you’ve never seen or wanted to see a Lifetime movie in your life. Laura Lippman has already written a great essay expanding on the panel’s central theme — the lack of meaty roles for middle-aged women in Hollywood and how the true crime genre, frequently derided as trashy, allows women to express their full dark sides. Clearly it speaks to great numbers of people — mostly but not all women — and it goes beyond the camp value of seeing Meredith Baxter or Farrah Fawcett enter a homicidal fugue state. Several female friends and I agreed immediately after this panel that we need to have a Netflix movie viewing binge weekend. I also think Lifetime should consider hiring these three to host a show about the genre.

Gender was on my mind a lot through the weekend — and not in a preachy, academic kind of way. Perhaps because we started off with a keynote from Sara Paretsky, a pioneer of kickass female P.I. fiction. Cara Canella wrote a nice piece about it for Littoral and the address itself is on the Audio Archives page. And BTW, keep an eye on Littoral in general for great Seminar coverage, words and pictures, throughout. Many people were kind enough to say nice things about my program intro Friday morning and it’s also excerpted on Littoral.

The other great revelation to me during this Seminar was not a younger woman at all, but an older gentleman — Alexander McCall Smith. He’s easily dismissed as a writer of gentle cozies. He is, in person, hysterically funny and one of the Seminar highlights was when he would crack himself up reading his own work. Hopefully the audio will appear soon; when it does I’ll post it here.

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Into the dark …

KWLS2014_Web1_122812The 2014 Key West Literary Seminar is sold out, both sessions — no surprise, given the star power of many of the writers who will be appearing, many of them for the first time in Key West. There are, however, two free sessions that are open to the public on Sunday afternoons — Jan. 12 and 19 — so if you don’t have a ticket you’re not completely out of luck.

If you’re one of those people who just likes to read a few books by Seminar authors or is overwhelmed by the sheer number of writers on the roster here, here is my recommendation: Forget all those rock star guys and look to the women. Especially the younger women. For me, the Seminar’s chief appeal — beyond getting to hear from really smart and often hilarious writers — is the discovery of emerging writers, the non-rock stars. Who, more than likely, will be the rock stars of tomorrow. This year, for whatever reason, most of those newer voices seem to be women.

While the hard-core thriller world is male-dominated, it’s not like women writing crime is a new thing. The Golden Age’s primary stars were women: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham. Since then, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell have been writing great books. More recent and successful female crime writers include Sara Paretsky (who will deliver the keynote at the Seminar’s first session, Chapter One), Elizabeth George (Final Chapter keynote), Laura Lippman (Chapter One panelist), Lisa Unger (Chapter One), Tess Gerritson (Final Chapter) and Kate Atkinson, who will not be at the Seminar, but whose Jackson Brodie books are among my all-time favorites. The hottest rock star at this Seminar, despite the presence of such crime writing celebrities as Carl Hiaasen, Lee Child and Michael Connelly, might just be Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame. She’ll be at Chapter One, including a talk at the free Sunday afternoon session.

The writers I’m most looking forward to hearing from, though, are the women you may not have heard of … yet. I’m guessing they’re the rock stars of the future: Megan Abbott, Sara Gran, Attica Locke, Malla Nunn … and my personal favorite, because I’m especially fond of historical crime, Lyndsay Faye. I already loved her books set in 1840s New York and her Sherlock Holmes solves Jack the Ripper book, Dust & Shadow. And she couldn’t have been smarter or more generous when I interviewed her via email for Littoral, the Seminar’s online journal. The books by these younger women are on the radar screens of librarians and smart readers of non-formulaic crime fiction. I hope the Seminar introduces them to many more.

If you are interested in following the Seminar in close to real time, the best way to do that is via Twitter. I’ll be posting @keywestnan, the Seminar itself is @keywestliterary and many folks will probably use the hashtag #kwls. If you’re enough of a Twitter person to subscribe to lists, both the Seminar and I have lists called the Dark Side, of the writers attending this year’s Seminar so you can follow them even if they don’t use the hashtag.

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Another Austen update. Really.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITYYou’ve had enough of the Austen continuations, updates, mashups (zombies! sea monsters!). You don’t want Jane to be a detective, or Elizabeth Bennett to take up solving mysteries. You don’t need Colin Firth diluting his Regency splendor by playing Mark Darcy to Bridget Jones. I get it. I even find myself wondering if the BBC might forgo another round of film adaptations every decade or so (though I always get sucked in when they do — see addendum below).

So when I read some good reviews of Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, I sighed. Do we really need yet another telling of an Austen story, set in contemporary times? But the book was just sitting there on the library’s new book shelf and I had a whole lunch hour. So I picked it up.

Damned if the thing didn’t charm me, through and through — both for the satisfying re-telling of the Dashwood sisters’ triumph over mean relations and caddish men, and for the added pleasure of seeing how Trollope worked modern social mores and silliness into the story. She had to do some minor contortions to account for the women’s sudden loss of fortune and social standing (in this version the girls’ mother is not a second wife but a woman who ran away with the elder Mr. Dashwood, who left his wife and son behind).

Evil sister-in-law Fanny and her nasty mother, Mrs. Ferrars, are quite as obnoxious, if in more modern ways. And the dashing Willoughby — or Wills, as he’s called here — tries to give Marianne a sports car, not a horse. But generally the characters go through their paces in approximately the same ways. The servant class is represented in minor but telling cameos by a series of Eastern European nannies.

It’s a quick read, but fun. Highly recommended. I even hope someone does a film adaptation of it — which would make a fine counterpart to the most recent BBC version from 2008 which is quickly rising in my personal ranks of Austen adaptations (this is the addendum mentioned above). I love Ang Lee and Emma Thompson and all that but let’s face it, she was way too old to play Elinor and Hugh Grant just too stammery to earn her love. Every single person in the more recent version is perfect in their parts. And it’s a perfect length, too, a three-parter so you don’t have to give up an entire day like the six-hour Pride and Prejudice, but it still has room for the plot to breathe.

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Project Enterprise: The mission begins

young kirkAnd so it begins. My mission: to watch all of the Star Trek movies, in order. Most I have not seen since I saw them in the movie theater. One of them I have seen so many times, I have lost track. You know which one that is. I already know it’s the best of the lot. But there’s no getting around it. I have to start with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A movie I have never heard anyone defend as underrated.

[Editorial update: I re-ordered these posts so you can scroll down to read them in order, rather than having to go backwards. Yes, that's right I messed with the space-time continuum. Also, if you're wondering what this little project is doing on a blog that is supposed to be about books, all I can say is that 1) while I watched a good bit of the original Star Trek in re-runs in the 1970s, I mostly remember specific plots from these paperbacks we had that had different episodes as short stories and 2) it's my goddamned blog and I'm going to do what I want with it.]

1. Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Well, now I know why I’ve never felt the need to go back and watch this one again. That was two hours and nine minutes that only felt like three and a half hours. I’m glad, for the whole Star Trek universe, that Star Wars gave everyone involved enough confidence to revive the franchise. But man what a dog. A slooooooooow dog. The lesson they seem to have absorbed from the success of Star Wars was that people really, really want long tracking shots of ships in space. This was not the right lesson.

Overall: C -

Plot: B  This had potential — the whole Voyager thing is actually kind of cool, when you think about it. They just took way too long to have us think about it, then wrapped it up in a nonsensical three minutes.

Costumes: D Honestly, most of the crew, and especially Kirk in the shortsleeved white jumpsuit, look like dental hygienests heading for a swingers convention, circa 1979. They can’t help the 1979 part, I know. But the rest of the aesthetic is just silly. What are those belt buckles in the front for anyway?

New cast members: B+ I had a big crush on Stephen Collins when he was in Tales of the Gold Monkey, which was an Indiana Jones-ripoff TV series that came on a couple years after this movie. I guess I’m glad he was able to recover from this and have a career. I liked Ilia OK — I remember when the movie came out that her shaving her head was a BIG DEAL. Because she was Indian? I can’t remember. And I just looked up on IMDB and saw that she died  in 1998, of a heart attack, which is a real shame. I don’t think she had much of a chance to act here but she was very expressive with her eyes, especially when she had to deal with that pulsing thing in her throat.

F/X: B- Technically they were OK though the rainbow strips when they went to warp were kind of odd and the wormhole effects were just silly. The grade would be higher if they hadn’t been so in love with the effects and just made the whole movie about 60 percent longer than it needed to be.

Series by rank: 1 for now, but that’s only until I watch more. I’m sure it will end up somewhere near the bottom.

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Project Enterprise: The second. The greatest. The Wrath of Khan.

khan 2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

I love this movie just as much as I did the first time I saw it at the Hampshire Mall. I must have seen it at least five times in the theater, and that wasn’t so easy for me, living out in the country. Why did I love it so? I was just the right age, I guess — it was during that period of Star Wars/Raiders movies that hit the early adolescent geek sweet spot. And it touched on all the great things about the Star Trek world while minimizing the cheesy/embarrassing aspects. So there. I don’t think they’ll ever top this one, though I hope J.J. Abrams will keep trying.

Overall: A

 Plot: A Whoever came up with the idea of a follow-up on the original series episode “Space Seed” was a genius. A GENIUS. Everyone rose to the occasion, most especially Ricardo Montalban. An incredible recovery from the bore-fest of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Costumes: B+ Another good recovery, though there is no getting around the cheesiness of uniform jumpsuits (like that worn by young David Marcus) and McCoy’s jumpsuit-with-chaps-for-pants in an early scene is still haunting me. The grade really should be higher, though, to reflect the awesomeness of the garb put together by Khan and his klan in very challenging conditions. I especially like what they do with the appropriated Starfleet-wear. The sets are also greatly improved.

New cast members: B Saavik is awesome. Perhaps Kirstie Alley’s greatest role, though it didn’t allow for her comic chops. Carol Marcus is fine, and David Marcus is OK. (My husband noted that he was “that kid from Square Pegs” but since I was a deprived adolescent who didn’t have cable and had a lot of homework and chores that seriously limited my TV viewing time in the ’80s, I never saw that show. I never saw 21 Jump Street, either. OK????) Khan’s son I find alternately fascinating and totally miscast — like he really belongs in a video for a middling metal band.

F/X: A- Another stellar recovery — they backed off on the overly long tracking shots of spaceships and concentrated on stuff that moves the story along. Not quite the right category but the score is great, too — evidently the work of a young James Horner, which I had never noticed before.

Series rank: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. The Motion Picture

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Project Enterprise: It’s all about Spock

lloyd klingon3. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

It’s funny how different your memory of a movie is when you see it once, almost 30 years ago. My memory of this movie is that it’s a lot about Spock’s re-education, with an extended adolescence. That’s not in the movie at all. Where did I come up with that? All I can say is, at least this one was short. I was even awake all the way through.

Overall: C They had to do it after the end of Wrath of Khan. Star Trek needs Spock. But other than that, there is no reason for this movie.

Plot: C The actual execution was surprisingly uncompelling, given the events (Kirk’s son is killed! They destroy the Enterprise!)

Costumes: C+ And … it’s back to cheesy town. First Kirk wears a tracksuit. Then he’s got this ruffled shirt that, when he takes off his tunic, makes him look like a pirate. A cheesy pirate. And the Vulcan costumes are so insanely ridiculous that it’s tempting to give them some points since it’s so diametrically opposed to the dignified Vulcan character. But I can’t do it.

New Cast Members: C- The new Saavik — she’s no Kirstie Alley. I feel like Kirstie Alley would have found a way to save David Marcus. And Christopher Lloyd is a brilliant actor in many ways, but he just doesn’t have the gravitas to be a Klingon, much less a Klingon commander.

F/X: B- Like so much else in this movie they were just OK or as they say in the NYT Magazine, meh.

Series ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. Search for Spock 3. Motion Picture

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Project Enterprise: You can go home again

voyage home4. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

This was another recovery movie, though not on the level of Wrath of Khan. Because nothing is. It ventured into humor, which was kind of nice though Star Trek has to be very careful about veering into camp territory. Very careful. In some ways, it resembles a good old-fashioned Star Trek TV episode adventure, which is comforting and fun. Some people, like my mom who has a fondness for both time travel and whales, consider this their favorite Star Trek movie. I don’t, but it will probably stack up as my second favorite from the original crew.

Overall: B+

Plot: B Giant probe looking for whales that have unfortunately gone extinct is just not that serious a villain. Especially when the probe resembles a giant log with a phallic protrusion. Time travel is fun, though, and they definitely went to town on that, with the swearing and the cultural mores and all. Like when Spock does the nerve pinch thing to the loud punk guy! Ha ha ha ha!

Costumes: B Kirk is still wearing his pleated shirt from the last movie. Spock is still wearing the white bathrobe that you get when you’re re-born on Vulcan. The rest of the cast are either in Starfleet uniforms or, in the case of Sulu and Chekhov, have acquired conveniently 20th century-looking clothes from … Vulcan? The Klingon ship? Who knows? Though Sulu is apparently wearing a pool robe at the beginning and has this kind of cool leather cape later on. McCoy continues his fondness for suede-and-fabric patch outfits. He can get these anywhere.

New cast members: A- The only real addition of note is Gillian, the whale biologist. She’s not bad and at least she gives old Kirk a chance to recapture some of his Lothario vibe, which I hadn’t even noticed had been missing from the first three movies. Another plus: they ditched the new Saavik early on.

F/X: B A decent amount of cloaking and de-cloaking since they’re flying around in a Klingon ship. The space probe was not very imaginative but the whale song sound effects were good. I was going to give this a B+ … but then I remembered the giant-heads-emerging-from-milky-clay that they used to illustrate time travel when they went back (but not when they went forward). What the hell was that about????

Series ranking: 1. Wrath of Khan 2. The Voyage Home 3. The Search for Spock 4. The Motion Picture

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