Six movies to help you prepare for the atomic Armageddon: It’s the end of the world, and I feel like popcorn


International news is heavy these days, right?

Sheesh. And here I thought “duck and cover” drills went out with poodle skirts and pompadours. Maybe they did fora while, but it seems everything old is truly new again  including the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

Still, it doesn’t have to be all bad. Hollywood has shown us that even in humanity’s direst of self-made messes thereis the opportunity for a good story, at least.

Nuke up some popcorn, grab a handful of Atomic Fireballs and a bubbly cup of Mountain Dew (it’s the same color, Iimagine, as radioactive waste) and check out these, my choice for the top six movies to tackle the tricky subject ofwhat exactly it will look like when we humans finally do push the big red button for the final time.

*Note: I’m omitting “Godzilla” here because, although it is an awesome allegory for nuclear war, these movies all dealdirectly with the subject of da bomb  or missile, satellite or something like that.

1. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)

Duh, right? This one’s gotta top the list of movies depicting our mutually assured destruction. Very loosely based onthe novel “Red Alert,” this film, directed, produced and co-written by Stanley “One More Take, Please” Kubrick,satirizes the Cold War fears of nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States in a way that’sbecoming more apropos with each new White House tweet.

From the immortal: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room,” to Slim Pickens’ riding the big bombdown, this is a truly immortal American classic, and not at all a bad way to spend your final 94 minutes on Earth.

2. “Miracle Mile” (1988)

Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt, and starring Anthony Edwards (the only guy who could possibly be in “TopGun” and “Revenge of the Nerds”) and Mare Winningham, this underappreciated cult classic takes place in a singleday and night  mostly in real time.

Edwards and Winningham meet at the La Brea Tar Pits and immediately falling in love; it’s that awesome, deep, only-in-the-movies kind of love at first sight situation that you just know leads to trouble. They make plans to meet atmidnight after she gets off of work at a nearby coffee shop, but a power failure means Edwards’ alarm doesn’t wakehim up and Winningham leaves.

Waking up and frantically realizing what happened, Edwards rushes to the shop at 4 a.m. He tries to call on a payphone (it is 1988, remember?), but only reaches her answering machine. Then, when the phone suddenly rings, hepicks it up, flooded with relief  only to hear some frantic guy telling his dad that nuclear war is about to break outin about 70 minutes.

What happens next is strange and cool and makes for a totally unique film, which spent three years in productionlimbo until De Jarnatt optioned it himself, bought back his script and set forth solo-style to make it happen (despitea $400,000 offer from the studio to buy it back after they caught a glimpse of his rewrites  which he turned down).

It’s the kind of singular vision that doesn’t come around often anymore, and absolutely worth your time.

3. “The Day After” (1983)

This movie had almost as big an impact as an actual nuclear war.

It first aired on Nov. 20, 1983, on the ABC television network. Reportedly more than 100 million people, in nearly 39million households, watched during the initial broadcast  that’s, supposedly, a 62 percent share of the viewingaudience of the day.

It was the seventh-highest rated “non-sports” show at the time, and also set a record as the highest-rated televisionfilm in history  a record it still held as recently as 2009 (though it’s currently in 16th place).

The film, which stars Steve Guttenberg, John Lithgow and JoBeth Williams, among others, depicts the devastatingeffects of a nuclear holocaust on small-town residents of eastern Kansas.

Not exactly an escapist way to take your mind off the horrors of radioactive destruction, but a solid and importantentry in the sub-genre.

4. “The Atomic Cafe” (1982)

An anomaly on this list, perhaps, but nonetheless an essential bit of nuclear-themed viewing, this documentary filmconsists of actual archival footage about nuclear war, mostly government propaganda and training films forAmerican soldiers.

The movie, arranged in collage form, features clips from early in the Cold War era that are filled with delightfullyloony misinformation. Some segments address the alleged safety of nuclear radiation itself, those “duck and cover”drills I already mentioned (what are those desks supposedly made of anyway?), and wonderfully vintage instructionsfor living in a fallout shelter.

5. “True Lies” (1994)

Easily, the most fun film on the list, this is the flick to pick if you’re looking to go laughing into that good night comezero hour.

Written, produced and directed by James “Yes, that James Cameron” Cameron, the film stars Arnold “Insert TerribleImpersonation Here” Schwarzenegger, who plays a secret operative for a covert counter-terrorism task force. Troubleis, though, his wife  Jamie Lee “Eats a lot of Yogurt” Curtis  thinks he’s just a traveling salesman.

Through a series of ridiculous misunderstandings, Curtis gets involved in her husband’s ongoing investigation of aPalestinian terrorist group known as the Crimson Jihad, whose leader (played by the truly villainous looking ArtMalik) has smuggled stolen nuclear warheads into the country via a shipment of antique statues (like ya do).

I don’t think I’m giving much away here when I tell you Arnie suddenly finds himself, wife in tow, in the thick ofthings rather quickly. And, assisted as he is by Curtis and her classic blend of Femme fatale/cool mom style, it’s aride well worth taking as Schwarzenegger saves the day  and his marriage.

This one tickles the funny bone, tugs the heartstrings, and sees enough stuff blown up to keep everyone in thefamily happy for their final movie-watching moments in this life.

6. “Until the End of the World” (1991)

This French-German sci-fi drama is directed by Wim “You Either Love Wim or Hate Wim” Wenders, the man who oncesaid: “Films can heal! Not the world, of course, but our vision of it, and that’s already enough.”

Well, he put his money where his cinematic mouth is with this 158-minute-long masterpiece of weirdwonderfulness, originally written by Michael Almereyda before Wenders decided to recraft it into “the ultimate roadmovie.”

Here’s the plot, as summarized by Wikipedia  except the super clever nicknames  because, believe me, it is achore):

“In late 1999, an orbiting Indian nuclear satellite is out of control and predicted to re-enter the atmosphere,threatening unknown populated areas of the Earth. Mass populations trying to flee the likely impact sites cause aworldwide panic.

“Caught in a traffic jam and suffering from boredom, Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) escapes the highwaycongestion by taking a side road. When she gets into a car crash with a pair of bank robbers, they enlist her to carrytheir stolen cash to Paris.

“Along the way, she meets a man being pursued by an armed party who introduces himself as Trevor McPhee(William “He’s So Good You Might Get” Hurt), and allows him to travel to Paris with her. After reaching the house ofher estranged lover, Eugene (Sam “Of Course He’s In This Movie” Neill, Claire discovers that Trevor has stolen someof the money.

“Claire then travels to Berlin and hires missing persons detective Phillip Winter to help her find Trevor throughtracking his passport and credit card  he agrees to help when he finds out Trevor has a substantial bounty on hishead.”

From there things get more complicated and more weird, but always worth the time investment this very literary filmdemands. As Alasdair Stuart, owner of Escape Artists, Inc. and cohost of the weekly sci-fi podcast Escape Pod said:“Nothing looks or movies like it, before or since its production.”


Not kidding around: A chat with Wendelin Van Draanen, famed YA author


These aren’t your parents’ children’s books.

The works of famed young adult author Wendelin Van Draanen might be geared toward shorter readers, but the serious subjects they tackle are a tall order regardless.

And Draanen has never sugar-coated her prose, a philosophy which has obviously come to pretty sweet ends. She’s the author of more than 30 novels for young adults, many of which have been translated into multiple languages, two of which have been made into movies; one a Rob Reiner-helmed feature and the other a Nickelodeon TV movie.

I recently got to chat with Draanen for the BI Review in preparation for her upcoming visit to the island to celebrate the release of her new book “Wild Bird.”

This will be Draanen’s second trip to Bainbridge, but her first for business. She recently chatted with the Review about her new book, relating to readers and the state of YA literature in today’s culture.

*This transcript originally appeared in the Bainbridge Island Review, and has been edited for length and clarity.


ME: Is this new book very different from your previous work? What do you hope readers take away from it?

WVD: It’s within the realistic young adult thing that I do. I guess what’s different about it is the setting’s completely different. It takes place in a wilderness therapy camp in the desert. And the teen that I’m writing about is very troubled. Usually I write about a character that’s going through something, but this character starts off in a really bad, belligerent, kind of antagonistic place. I guess that’s different.

I do like an uplifting ending. If you’re starting from a bad place you have room to move in that direction.

ME: What are some of your special considerations when you begin a project knowing you are writing for a certain age demographic?

WVD: Primarily I want it to be a subject that moves me and that I think is relevant to my audience. It also has to be something that I can live with for a couple of years. So if you have an idea for a book, it needs not to wear thin after a while. It needs to have some depth to it for you.

Also, I like a book that explores new territory — at least new territory for me — so I feel like in the process I’m also learning something. To keep my interest and to keep my emotion in the work, it needs to be something that resonates with me.

Read the whole interview here. 

In Defense of The Creeper – Despite The Creep: To watch or not to watch, that is the ‘Jeepers Creepers 3’ question …


Victor Salva being a certifiably reprehensible human being will not make “Jeepers Creepers 3” a bad movie any more than M. Night Shyamalan being an ostensibly decent person made “Lady in the Water” a good movie. 

The inability to separate the crimes and moral shortcomings of a creator with the objective enjoyability of their creation is, to me, a hallmark of a simplistic, naive mindset. 

As a lifelong horror fan, and also (I like to think) a decent, progressive person, I’ve been wrestling with this subject, and my own mixed feelings regarding the imminent release of the third chapter in the “Jeepers Creepers” franchise. In light of the director’s horrific past, there’s been much chatter amongst fear film fans as opening night draws near. Amidst talk of boycotts, protesting and also some defense of the film, I’ve been wondering what supporting – or boycotting – the film says (if, indeed, it says anything) about me as a consumer and a person. 

Let’s first agree, though, that the three-way relationship between art, audience and auteur is afloat in treacherous waters at the best of times. It’s a thorny issue that has surely bested better minds than mine.

I don’t object to the notion that by boycotting, or protesting, the work of a person whose actions you find abhorrent you are sending some kind of statement or message, potentially a very important one. You certainly are. Although, how effective or meaningful that statement ultimately proves is, obviously, a different matter, one worthy of its own discussion elsewhere. 

However, if you feel strongly enough to protest, or even just sit out, the film based on the past actions of the director, if that’s what you feel you need to do, I would not think of trying to dissuade you. That’s your right, after all. Follow your bliss and all that.

I’m more concerned with the fence-sitters, like myself, who want to do the right thing – but who also really want to see this movie!

I found the first two films in the franchise to be quality flicks all around. The first, especially, I recall as being one of the creepiest, most surprisingly enjoyable horror movies I’d seen in some time. I honestly, genuinely, unabashedly liked the film. 

Yes, the Creeper’s a weird mashup of beloved horror tropes. He walks like Jason, keeps roughly the same schedule as Pennywise, has a lair that would make Freddy envious, and he drives – and sort of dresses – like Mick Taylor in “Wolf Creek.” But the combo is cool and creepy, and the special effects and the acting of those around the Creeper have been skillful enough to pull it off.

Also, in defiance of all odds, the sequel was good, too! This, I remember thinking upon first seeing it, is how sequels should be. Somebody got it right, finally. 

Oh, but how I wish it could have been somebody else getting it right. 


To summarize, for those who may not know: Director Victor Salva (“Clownhouse,” “Powder,” “Rites of Passage,” Jeepers Creepers,” “Jeepers Creepers 2,” and “Rosewood Lane,” among others) was convicted of child molestation.

From “Salva was convicted in 1988 on charges related to the sexual molestation of 12-year-old actor Nathan Forrest Winters during the filming of his movie ‘Clownhouse.’ Salva served 15 months in prison and finished his parole in 1992.” 

The man is a registered sex offender, whose nefarious past first began to catch up to him before the release of his 1995 movie “Powder,” when Winters, along with friends and supporters, understandably protested the movie.

According to Snopes, Salva released a statement in response to the upset, saying: “I paid for my mistakes dearly. Now, nearly 10 years later, I am excited about my work as a film maker and look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to our society.”

Producers and studio execs apparently also felt Salva had paid his debt and earned the right to move on. Also from Snopes: “Caravan Pictures, the company that made ‘Powder’ for Disney, also released a statement: ‘He paid for his crime, he paid his debt to society, said Roger Birnbaum, whose Caravan Pictures made ‘Powder’ for Disney and reportedly didn’t know of Salva’s record until the film was midway through production. ‘What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie.” 

Doesn’t it, though?

It’s that last sentiment especially that I’ve found myself dwelling on as of late.

On the one hand: Here’s an obviously talented craftsman producing work, the style and subject of which I already know I enjoy, within an industry otherwise far too fond of reproducing rote, unexciting ideas, who is about to release a new film, which, judging by franchise history, will likely bring me a bit of happiness. Is that not the ultimate point of cinema?

But, on the other hand (the one wagging a disapproving finger), what we have here is a debatably remorseful (at best) predatory pervert, whose livelihood is dependent on public support via cinema ticket and/or home media sales – in essence economic approval – asking me to overlook his awful crimes in return for his having entertained me. Is my entertainment so very important? Are there not other things I could do with my time and money, other artists I could support? 

What’s a conscientious fright fan to do? 

First, obviously, one must concede, as I now have, that there’s no right answer. You have to be yourself when you lay down in bed at night, and you have to see yourself in the mirror in the morning. The real question is: Can you live with your actions? 

I can – and that’s why I’m going to see “Jeepers Creepers 3.”

I have four specific reasons for having reached that conclusion, though I’m still not advocating my choice for anyone else. I’m just offering some thought for those still waffling, because I do feel that choosing to see, or not see, this movie has larger implications for each of us who bothers to ask the question.

1. Salva was already punished. 

This is not a Roman Polanski situation here (though, I suspect there’s some residual cultural anger at that guy – and Bill Cosby too – sneaking into this discussion, as if we should hold Salva accountable for all sex criminals in the arts, even the ones we didn’t get to prosecute). 

Also, creepy as the whole Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn situation may be, prevalent and persistent though the sex abuse allegations might remain, Woody Allen has been thus far officially innocent, making Hollywood’s second favorite go-to living example of the “It’s complicated” excuse also technically not applicable here. 

Salva was found guilty and did his time. He has – so far as we know – never broken the conditions of his probation, and has obviously moved forward in life to be a productive, contributing person in the only line of work he knows. If the guy had been a tax attorney, or a welder or a civil engineer, this discussion wouldn’t even be happening.

It is because we, the audience, feels some sort of ownership over the movies we love, and because we feel the movies we love say something about us personally, that this particular case seems more important, that perhaps there is something greater at stake than there otherwise might be.

And, not that I’m in any way trying to downplay the contempt I have for the man as a person, but that’s really not fair to Salva, right?

If you believe – as I do – that the criminal justice system is, as it purports to be, at least as much about rehabilitation as it is about punishment, then (as uncomfortable a thought as this may be) the guy’s actually kind of a success story.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I do think there’s something to the idea that it all means more, or seems to, because Salva works in movies. There are a whole lot of sex offenders out there in the world working for a living like anybody else, and nobody pickets. But Salva has the gall to be (semi) successful in a very visible and competitive field, and there is something undeniably upsetting about that.

But, then I think: Would we all be more comfortable if the guy was rotting away in some HUD trailer living on the dole, using his criminal record as an excuse to live on handouts forever?

2. The movies have (so far) been good. 

I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe there’s any sort of nobility in denial. I liked the first two films and I want to see the third. The world is an ugly place. If what brings you joy isn’t actually bringing physical harm to another person, I say get your joy in while you can.

Life sucks, then you die – and the road between those two points is shorter than you think.

I work hard and I deserve a fun night at the movies. Thinking about all the rest of this is, realistically, optional. There’s plenty of (almost certainly) more pressing things to worry about, if one’s looking for things to get worked up about.

3. You vote with your dollars. 

That thing I said before, about your seeing the movie being a kind of economic approval, I absolutely do approve – of this movie, that is.

At least I think I do, it’s not even out yet. But what I mean by that is that I approve of it being made.

The first film was great, and the sequel was very effective, it proved there was more story to be told and that it could be done well. A third installment was warranted. That’s the key, by the way, Hollywood (are you listening?). That sequel was earned, deserved and desired, not automatic and scheduled and budgeted for before the first film was even out. 

What would be a better horse for me and my (admittedly scarce) expendable dollars to back? A 73rd “Transformers” movie? How about the 19th “Saw” installment? It’s been 10 minutes, aren’t we do for a new “Spiderman” reboot? Maybe I should just shut up, get in line and enjoy the next mindless mess of rehashed ’80s/’90s fare the Tinseltown execs want to somehow force Dwayne Johnson into this month?

Nay, says I. Hell, nay. 

If we’re going to live in a world of sequels and remakes, let us at least insist on interesting ones, right? And “Jeepers Creepers 3” has, judging from the trailers and despite its complications, at least the potential to be interesting.

I approve of that kind of movie, even as I desperately wish somebody else was behind it. 

4. Decency is not an indicator of ability.  

Returning to my opening statement: Good people don’t necessarily make good movies – or write good books, create good art or tell good jokes. It doesn’t mean the work is without merit. 

William Burroughs murdered his wife, and indeed wrote in the introduction to “Queer” that it was the event which moved him to become a writer. He’s downright venerated.

James Brown was arrested repeatedly for instances of domestic violence. 

Joan Crawford was not exactly “Mother of the Year” material, to say the least.

Jackson Pollack’s no one’s role model, I should hope, and you better watch what you say to Tonya Harding on the subject of personal conduct. She still knows people… 

Also, a genuinely disturbing number of famous figures have killed people in car wrecks, and were then held to widely varying degrees of culpability before being almost uniformly allowed to return to their privileged lives and freedom scot-free.

Sid Vicious murdered Nancy Spungen, but the Sex Pistols haven’t so much as lost their spot on the Hot Topic t-shirt rack. 

Mike Tyson is a convicted sex offender, but wasn’t he funny in “The Hangover?” That makes it OK, right? 

Tupac, too, did some time for first-degree sexual abuse.

All that is to say nothing of the numerous pro athletes arrested for battering a spouse and/or paramour so often one might think it’s just an addition to their workout routine.

Ernest Hemingway was an abusive parent, and an awesomely destructive drunk. Ask a high school English teacher if his work is important… 

H.P. Lovecraft was a vehement racist. Roald Dahl, too. And he cheated on his wife with her good friend for years.

Marlon Brando was certainly nobody’s poster boy for virtue either. 

Martha Stewart’s a felon, too. But, I still spent last Thanksgiving watching her be adorable in the kitchen with Snoop Dogg (also a felon, by the way). 


The list could go on and on, but the point, I think, is made. I’m a fan of the work done by almost all those people, and I don’t feel like I need to qualify or justify that appreciation. We all like what we like at the end of the day. 

And I like “Jeepers Creepers.” 

In the worlds of sports and entertainment — unlike in politics, say, or law enforcement — the person is not the product. Their values and behavior must be considered separately from their personal actions. They have a skill, and the product, or the performance, is what we must judge.

I will judge “Jeepers Creepers 3” on its own merit, regardless of who is behind the camera.

And, should the third film earn my loyalty, I’ll be in line for the fourth one too. 

San Francisco scenes

Recently, I checked an item off my travel bucket list and finally made my way to The City by the Bay. It was all that I hoped, to say the least. I was even treated to a night or two of that famed San Fran fog. It was great.

I did all the touristy things, and allowed myself the typical photo ops along the way. Nevertheless, I got a few shots I thought worth sharing.

“Anyone who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. You go there as a snarky New Yorker thinking it’s politically correct, it’s crunchy granola, it’s vegetarian, and it surprises you every time. It’s a two-fisted drinking town, a carnivorous meat-eating town, it’s dirty and nasty and wonderful.” — Anthony Bourdain

Some architectural abstracts from the the Golden Gate Bridge:

The view, in both directions, from Lombard Street:



Coit Tower, seen from Embarcadero:


Of course, my visit was just another day at work for the fine folks at the famed Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company:


And, finally, here’s yours truly at that most iconic literary landmark: City Lights Booksellers. I’ve wanted to visit since 16-year-old me went through a disturbingly obsessive Beat phase — one that I must confess I occasionally slip back into for a few days at a time even now.


“San Francisco has only one drawback: ’tis hard to leave.” — Rudyard Kipling

In search of Sasquatch: Noted ecologist returns to ‘Where Bigfoot Walks’


I recently had the chance to sit down with one of my favorite authors, noted ecologist and nature writer Robert Michael Pyle, to discuss one of my favorite things: Bigfoot.

His seminal study “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide” was recently republished  with new, updated material. 

I first had the chance to chat with Pyle several years ago about the special new edition of his landmark work “Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land.” This time he was again, as always, generous with his time and thoughts. His book is the thinking man’s Bigfoot bible, a serious study of something seriously beloved by many. I highly recommend it.

Sasquatch springs eternal.

While interest in aliens, ghosts and other, more Earthbound, ornery critters shifts in and out of vogue, America has a pretty constant big hunger for Bigfoot. The gargantuan galoot is the subject of beef jerky advertisements, popular works of fiction both on the page and screen, the namesake of several cannabis strains, and owner of possibly the most recognizable silhouette around (except the Bat Signal, of course).

The hairy hominid was also the subject of noted ecology author Robert Michael Pyle’s seminal work, “Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide.”

In the book, which was first published more than 20 years ago, Pyle chronicles his Guggenheim-funded investigation into the legends, science and subculture around Bigfoot.

He trekked into the unprotected wilds of the Dark Divide, near Mount Saint Helens, where he discovered both a giant fossil footprint and more recent tracks. He searched out Indians who told him of an outcast tribe who had not fully evolved into humans, attended Sasquatch Daze where he met scientists, hunters and others who have devoted their lives to the search, eventually realizing of the more ardent searchers: “These guys don’t want to find Bigfoot — they want to be Bigfoot!”

Now the surprisingly timely tome has been republished in a special, updated second edition, which includes the author’s own fresh experiences and findings in a new chapter that includes an evaluation of recent DNA evidence, the study of speech phonemes in the “Sierra Sounds” purported Bigfoot recordings, an examination of the impact of the popular Animal Planet series “Bigfoot Hunters,” the surprise reemergence of the famous Bob Gimlin (he of the infamous, yet-to-be debunked “Patterson-Gimlin film”) into the Bigfoot community, and more.

Pyle is the author of 20 books, including “Wintergreen,” which won the John Burroughs Medal. He’s also a Yale-trained ecologist and butterfly expert.

He recently chatted with me about Bigfoot, science, culture and writing — after having himself just come in from a lengthy walk in the woods (he’s trying to sight 70 species of butterfly in celebration of his 70th birthday).

Read the interview here. 


“‘Till the Road Runs Out” sees Pseudopod debut

I could not be more excited to have my latest published work of fiction, “‘Till the Road Runs Out,” featured on Pseudopod (Episode 557). I’m a longtime fan of the show, and it has been an inspiring and gratifying occasion for me.

Added to that, it was narrated by Dave Robison, who did an (of course) fantastic job. It sounds even better than it has a right to.

Check it out here. 

I want to thank the whole Pseudopod crew for giving me the chance to chip in a tale. It’s a wonderful production all around, and if you’re not a regular listener you are missing out.

Thanks to Austin for your initial interest and encouragement.

Special thanks to Dagny for your awesome editorial assistance (and much improved title suggestion), it really meant a lot.

Thanks to Shawn and Alex for allowing me the chance to be a part of the show.

Thanks to Alasdair for your kind words and thoughtful response to the story. It was a very surreal moment for me to hear you say my name this week, and your compliments and feedback are invaluable.

Also, thanks again to Dave Robison. He’s one of my favorite narrators and really did an amazing job.

Mysterious masterpiece finally finds a home: Internment painting to reside at Topaz Museum

The mysterious painting that showed up in a donation pile at the Bainbridge Island Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale has finally found a home – even if some answers as to how it got there remain a mystery.

I first wrote about the mysterious masterpiece back in March, and now the story finally has an ending and the painting an appropriate home.

While exactly where it came from might forever remain shrouded in mystery, Chiura Obata’s untitled painting of the Topaz Japanese American Internment Camp in Utah — which somehow found its way to the Bainbridge Island Rotary Auction & Rummage Sale donation pile last year — will at last hang in a worthy home.

The Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island presented the painting, a monochrome mixed nihonga (new-style Japanese painting) and sumi-e style (traditional Japanese black ink painting) picture depicting the World War II-era Topaz internment camp, to Jane Beckwith at a luncheon Monday, bringing to an end this, the latest chapter in the painting’s illustrious and mysterious history. Beckwith is the director of the Topaz Museum.

“What we agreed on pretty early on was that this was not ours, not ours to sell,” Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island president Todd Tinker said at Monday’s gathering. “It was not ours to keep, that it belonged to the country and to the Japanese American community. So selling it was off the table.”

Working with the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, Tinker said, it was also agreed equally quickly that the painting did not belong to them, either.

Read the full story here. 

Stories seeking screens: Six books begging for film adaptations Part II

4. “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris

This, the award magnet debut novel of Joshua Ferris, is actually supposedly “in development.” So, maybe I’m wasting a good nomination. It has, however, been so categorized for a while, so I’m still putting here, near the top of my list.
No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Ferris depicts is a family at its worst and best, as the cast of colorful copywriters try to cope with a business downturn in the time-honored way – gossip, pranks, depression, desperation and increasingly frequent coffee breaks – while also trying to wrap their heads around a super strange, seemingly impossible job from an anonymous client.
The book is noteworthy for the author’s unique perspective choice: Ferris writes in the first-person plural — the collective “we” — making the snarky, gossipy, terrified employees into a kind of Greek Chorus and collective narrator.
As such, I think it would be a good idea to present the film as a series of short vignettes (think “Clerks” or “Coffee and Cigarettes”) with recurring characters but no main protagonist.
I’d like to see it cast with mostly unknowns and/or familiar character actors to heighten the reality of it all, and maybe shoot the work scenes in black and white and the exterior scenes in color, as such a large topic of the story is the separation of work and life.
Ideal director: Werner Herzog. Hear me out, okay? It’s been a while since the mad genius German picked up a camera for a non-documentary project, but I think this is the perfect candidate. Think about it: he loves quirky characters and he loves examining professionals in their element. Nothing makes Werner happier than surrounding himself with people weirder than himself. This book is chock-full of strange and poignant moments among characters everybody things they know so well, but actually turn out to only know “work well.” And it’s a wonderful look at an oft-misunderstood industry at a time of terrifying transition.

5. “Assault on Tony’s” by John O’Brien

If I could vote in some kind of pop culture election to determine the American author whose work most deserves a revival — the most overlooked American author, you might say — I’d cast my ballot for O’Brien immediately.
You may know his name from the award-winning film version of his first novel “Leaving Las Vegas,” starring Nicolas Cage (in a performance that earned him a Golden Globe and an Academy Award) and Elisabeth Shue. What you might not know is that the story of a suicidal alcoholic who travels to Las Vegas to “drink himself to death” was, sadly semi-autobiographical.
That book was published in 1990, the film made in 1995, and O’Brien ended a suicidal bender of his own with a self-inflicted gunshot in 1994, just two weeks after learning the movie was to be made.
His other works were published posthumously, including a short story in the Las Vegas edition of the popular Akashic Books noir series and three other novels, including “Assault on Tony’s.”
Barricaded in a bar called Tony’s while a race riot rages outside, the characters that people the story are united by their desire to drink to the end — no matter what the consequences. Social alliances are forged and challenged as each member of this macabre party ignores his fears and better judgment in favor maintaining a buzz and keeping their glass full. As time goes by and the liquor supply starts to dwindle, hard choices have to be made and nobody is safe.
A tense, claustrophobic tale of addiction and delusion, this book is at least as good as “Leaving Las Vegas,” and because of the themes of racial and economic tension, gender roles (the sole woman in the place, the waitress, is also the only sober one), addiction, and the philosophy of gun ownership (all the patrons are packing), more timely than ever.
Ideal director: Kathryn “Boom” Bigelow.

6. “Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill

This is another one that’s supposedly “in development,” but has been stuck so long in “development hell” that I figured a little public show of support can only help.
This was the first novel from Hill (now a two-time Bram Stoker award winner), and his work lives up to the hype. This is horror for people who think they don’t like horror. It’s smart, it’s heartfelt, it’s scary without being overly gruesome and it’s fresh. I loved this book and it needs to be a movie.
The publication of this “beautifully textured, deliciously scary debut novel … was greeted with the sort of overwhelming critical acclaim that is rare for a work of skin-crawling supernatural terror. It was cited as a Best Book of the Year by Atlanta magazine, the Tampa Tribune, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Village Voice, to name but a few. Award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling Neil Gaiman of ‘The Sandman,’ ‘The Graveyard Book,’ and ‘Anansi Boys’ fame calls Joe Hill’s story of a jaded rock star haunted by a ghost he purchased on the internet, ‘relentless, gripping, powerful.” (
Middle-aged rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios for fun, so doesn’t think twice about buying a suit advertised at an online auction site as haunted by its dead owner’s ghost. Only after it arrives does Judas discover that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne’s discarded groupies, and that the old man’s ghost is a malignant spirit determined to kill Judas in revenge for his stepdaughter’s suicide.
That’s not a totally fair description, as Coyne isn’t quite the sociopathic playboy nor McDermott the avenging dark angel they at first appear. Things are more complicated than that, but you won’t mind uncovering the truth because the story is so well paced and the characters vivid.
I read that Hill himself wanted Russell Crowe to be the has-been rocker, and I think that’s a great idea. As the demonic McDermott, I’d cast Lance Reddick or Eamonn Roderique Walker.
Ideal director: Mary Lambert, because she’s no stranger to heartfelt — but effective — horror (see “Pet Semetary”). 

Praise the Zombie King and pass the ammunition – thanks for everything, Mr. Romero


The recent passing of renowned filmmaker George A. Romero has been a strangely poignant event for me. I’m usually pretty indifferent to celebrity deaths, even those who I’m a fan of (Robin Williams aside, I was mess after that news broke). But this one’s nagging at me. I can’t help but feel we really did lose something important here.

I’ve been a fan of Romero’s work since I was a kid — and probably too young a kid, at that. I saw “Night of the Living Dead” at an inappropriately tender age and it terrified me in exactly the right way. I couldn’t get enough.

In elementary school, my friend Robbie and I used to organize the other kids into camps of “survivors” and “zombies” and play “Night of the Living Dead” at recess. He and I always ended up vying for the honor of being the Last Man Standing, trapped up in the little playhouse at the top of the slide, pointing invisible rifles down at the giggling swarm of pint-sized ghouls below and making shooting noises with our mouths as they strained to get at us.

They just wouldn’t stay dead.

That seems like a totally different world now — and I’m not even 30-years-old. Can you imagine a teacher’s reaction to that game today? But it was a different time, and you couldn’t find a more receptive location.

 I’m from Western Pennsylvania, you see. And I’ve walked the among the movie sets. I realized way back then, at the perfect time in my life: Oh, he did that here. They made that movie right here. Movies aren’t some crazy alien thing that come from faraway places. It happened right here in my boring little home town. Maybe I can do something like that too…


I’ve been to the “Dawn of the Dead” mall. I’ve been to the “Night” cemetery, twice. I actually met some of the cast at the Pittsburgh Comicon years ago. Mrs. Cooper is really nice, and so was little Karen, all grown up. I met the stars of “Dawn,” too. I’ve been to Fright Night at Station Square. I’ve met Tom Savini, and he’s as cool a guy as you think he’d be.

What Romero and company taught me is that I could write and create and do whatever I wanted wherever I was. Years before the so-called indie flick conquered Hollywood, and auteurs like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino were crowned champions of the new, hip cinema, Romero and some plaid shirt-wearing, working class folks from Steel City picked up a camera and said, “Why not us?”

It’s a lesson I know that many took from the man. It may be a legacy greater than his having created the modern zombie. In fact, I think it’s probably the one he would prefer. Because Romero was a man ahead of his time. Watch “Martin.” Watch “The Crazies.” He saw today coming nearly half a century ago. But, of course, that’s not enough.

It’s like Merlin tells King Billy in Romero’s tragically under appreciated 1981 flick “Knightriders”:

“Some things is just sure to happen. Seeing ‘em comin’ ain’t nothing to get excited about.”

And the Zombie King knew that. He knew you have to write it down, point a camera at, let people know — let them know before it’s too late.

Romero knew the importance of having a fighting chance, and he understood, like King Billy himself said: “You taught me too good, magician. You taught me to believe. That black bird’s gonna get me.”

And, of course it is. It’s going to get us all in the end.

Romero knew that too. No thing is forever. He knew he wasn’t special; just another one for the fire, as it were.

But the work lives on. And so do the lessons.

Romero’s influence in the horror genre, filmmaking in general and American culture is only just now really getting the attention and respect it deserves. Across the internet, memorials have been written and shared. More are being written, I’m certain. I especially enjoyed Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s piece for the AV Club’s “What Are You Watching?” – “The Rust Belt horror of George Romero.” Right on, man.

Tweets, posts and texts are being posted, sent and shared. New moviemakers are picking up cameras or sitting down to knock out a screenplay with images of Romero’s design in mind. That too will continue, and the great director’s legacy will rise again and again, down through the years, to shamble and stumble and lurch on into this strange new century and beyond, where we will surely need him, and those of his ilk, more than ever, ready and psyched for the chance to tear the guts out of everything you thought you knew.

This is just one more such tribute, just one man’s two cents on the subject.

Just another one for the fire.

Long may it burn.


Stories seeking screens: Six books begging for film adaptations Part I

Nearly all of the most iconic American films came from great source material, popular long before they were ever forged into script form, let alone crafted in the minds of directors and cinematographers.
Plays, news accounts and, of course, books — fiction and non — are well-mined territory from which have sprung a bounty of bonafide Hollywood hits.
In today’s mixed bag world of big screen stock: prequels, sequels, shared universes and reboots/remakes/reimaginings, some say that Hollywood is simply out of ideas. Still others, however, say that the derivative dream machine simply gives us what we want. After all, even the most unnecessary “Transformers” sequel raked in big bucks, right?
So, it seems to me that what we need now is the best of both: an innovative story with proven appeal.
Hence we must turn, as ever, back to the books.
The following titles are my personal picks for movies best suited to cinematic adaptations. They offer cohesive narratives that would translate well to the screen, as well as interesting and weighty roles that would attract a big name cast, writer and director.
Also, by virtue of the original author’s other well known works, or just the book’s own success, we can be assured that the story already resonates with enough people to make adapting it a less risky venture — if done well, of course.
So dim the lights (not too much, think of your eyes), pop the popcorn and get ready to discover the best film you’ve never seen … yet.

1. “Swan Song” by Robert R. McCammon

A sprawling, epic post apocalyptic novel featuring a diverse cast of wonderfully realistic characters and awesomely engrossing action scenes? How is this not a movie — or series — yet?
The book (which shared the 1987 Bram Stoker award for best novel with Stephen King’s “Misery,” but is more often compared to his own hefty end-of-the-world tome “The Stand”) follows several characters as they struggle to survive the awful wake of a nuclear war which leaves nearly everything in America — and, presumably, the world — devastated.
Eventually those tales converge around Sue Wanda Prescott, aka Swan, a young woman who has an empathic ability with plants and can accelerate the growth of seemingly dead plant life, even in contaminated soil, through contact.
Her very presence, and the hope it inspires in the survivors, threatens to undermine the diabolical fun of The Man of Many Faces, a Satan-like agent of chaos set on killing off the last of the humans remaining (a role that’s crying out for Willem Dafoe), who allies himself with a makeshift army of killers led by a war hero-turned-would-be dictator (I’m thinking Woody Harrelson) to ensure her annihilation.
This one hits all the notes currently in vogue: a post apocalyptic setting, a diverse cast of characters, an intricate, complicated array of relationships that would translate well to a series of films — or episodes. Cast a buzz-worthy unknown as Swan, and this one can’t fail.
Ideal director: Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson. The man knows a thing or two about epic.

2. “Biggest Elvis” by  P. F. Kluge

This is an (to my mind) even better offering from the mind behind the ‘80s cult classic “Eddie and the Cruisers.”
Described as, “Part mystery, part love story, part mordant commentary on America’s waning presence worldwide,” the novel tells the story of a trio of Elvis impersonators working out of a club called Graceland in Olongapo, Philippines, a town close to Subic Naval Base, a former U.S. Navy installation which shuttered in the in the ‘90s.
In their act, Baby Elvis (who portrays the youthful Presley), Dude Elvis (who does the movie years) and Biggest Elvis (the oldest and fattest of the trio) reenact the King’s life in a kind of condensed musical biography/thematic concert to screaming fans every night.
Their popularity grows, among the locals and the military, in the tawdry, anything-goes town, and the already successful act becomes more than that, almost a religion.
But there are dark forces at work against the group, and all that showbiz money has attracted the wrong sort of attention. Is Biggest Elvis as doomed as the original?
A truly poignant commentary on American cultural imperialism and the perfect portrait of a long gone time and place, “Biggest Elvis” will translate practically effortlessly onto the big screen.
I’d like to see Matthew McConaughey pack on the pounds and portray the titular character, with Jared Leto getting my nod for the “Dude Elvis” role.
Ideal director: I want to say Quentin Tarantino, because of his obvious love of rockabilly shtick and the book’s dialogue, which is truly worthy of his attention, but the Q-man has proven to have little interest in adapting other people’s writing (“Jackie Brown” aside). Fair enough. So, I’m going with Paul Thomas Anderson instead.

3. “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” by Timothy Egan 

The true story of famed photographer Edward Curtis, as researched and recorded by award-winning journalist Timothy Egan, has garnered much praise — and justifiably so. It’s a book burning to be a biopic.
Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer and a famous portrait photographer, the so-called “Annie Leibovitz of his time.” He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But, when he was 32, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his great idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.
He spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than 80 North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance — 10 years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate.
It also took a terrible toll on his health, reputation, family and sanity.
Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of American Indian culture in existence.
I see Leonardo DiCaprio as the dashing, obsessive Curtis, and a real chance for thespians of the Native American persuasive to snag some long-overdue spotlight in this one.
Ideal director: Scott Cooper, he of “Crazy Heart,” “Out of the Furnace” and “Black Mass” fame.

To be continued …