An Elegant Solution

For those of you who are against gay marriage, I have a perfect solution for you that will not bother anyone else, even if your state approves gay marriage.

Don’t marry a gay person.

There. Wasn’t that simple? You won’t have to deal with the whole gay marriage question because it will be solely the problem of people it actually affects.

BTW, anti-gay marriage crowd, my ex-wife and I reached this conclusion as our marriage came to an end:

The biggest threat to marriage today is heterosexuals.

Yep. Those damn straight people with sleep with anything of the opposite gender.

Damn you, straight people! Damn you all to hell for threatening marriage!

Take Your (Yellow) Medicine

Yellow Medicine Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
[Full disclosure: Neil Smith published my first short story. He also owes me a beer. Bet he didn’t know that about the beer, did he?]

Deputy Billy LaFitte is trying to start over in rural Minnesota. A former Gulf Coast cop, he was brought down by graft and divorce in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. His ex-brother-in-law Graham, the sheriff of Yellow Medicine County, throws him a lifeline, bringing him north.

Not that Billy’s found God or learned his lessons. He still shakes down meth dealers for protection and occasionally helps himself to a female suspect if she’s willing. But Billy has his friends, too, including psychobilly bass player Drew.

When Drew, a friend with benefits, asks Billy to get his boyfriend out of a jam, he agrees, figuring a night with Drew would be a fair enough exchange. Unfortunately, when Billy chases Ian into hiding to keep him from the bad guys, the bad guys, two Malaysian drug distributors, show themselves, making Billy an offer he has to refuse.

Billy says no. The bodies pile up, and Malaysians make sure the finger is pointed at Billy. If Billy would just come clean, it’d all be over. But Billy’s instinct is to cover his ass while trying to clean up the mess. By the time it’s all over, Billy finds himself face-to-face with Muslim terrorists (although not very bright ones) and an ambitious rogue federal agent named Rome, for whom Billy’s head on a platter is the ticket to a cushy office in Washington.

Smith works best with the morally questionable protagonist, of which Billy LaFitte is the latest. He doesn’t shy away from painting him as a bad guy in the beginning, but then just as easily gives us a reason to care. Drew, for instance, is more than an easy night in the sack for Billy. He’s in love with her, even if that love isn’t returned. Moreover, as the death toll rises, Billy starts seeing himself as Drew’s protector.

One interesting aspect of the story the role dogma plays. The terrorists are dogmatic to the point where they will justify anything, even sins of the flesh (One terrorist is caught with a cute blonde girlfriend in Detroit). However, their devotion to the cause has cracks. One character doesn’t like his leadership role challenged. Several are shown to be so zealous that they don’t think things through.

LaFitte’s former in-laws, too, are dogmatic. Flashbacks depict Billy’s father-in-law spouting scripture to destroy his marriage. And yet…

As with the homicide detective from Smith’s novella with Victor Gischler, TO THE DEVIL, MY REGARDS, we have a man for whom faith and dogma are merely tools to get through life. Graham, Billy’s former brother-in-law and his boss, thinks Billy is redeemable, and at some point, Billy starts to believe him. However, over a dozen people are dead by the time he realizes this.

But if there’s one person in all this who is truly evil, it’s Agent Rome. Rome is a Homeland Security agent who doesn’t care if Billy is innocent or not. He has himself a home-grown terrorist, and if he can paint Billy as a collaborator and a traitor, he can write his own ticket.

In the beginning, Rome seems to be an ally, working undercover at a Sioux casino. When he reveals himself, he claims to want to get Billy out of a jam, but soon, all he cares about is running Billy into either witness protection or federal prison. And he’s not above anything to do it, including, possibly, murder.

Of all of Smith’s novels, YELLOW MEDICINE is the most complex. Like the previous two, he gives us a sharp sense of place, this time cold, damp norther Minnesota. LaFitte is probably his most complex character to date. All in all, probably Smith’s best novel yet.

View all my reviews.

In Less Than Six Months…

Our long national nightmare is over.  I neglected to mention the six month mark last Sunday.

Someone once told me it could have been worse than Bush.  I asked how?

“Gore could have won.”

“I understand that, but you said it could have been worse.  How?”

“Gore could have won.”

I owe Tod Goldberg another dollar for using the word “fucktard.”

Attention, Slackers…

I have finished Neil Smith‘s Yellow Medicine and hereby order all of you to do the same.

I am now reading Victor Gischler‘s Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, possibly The Great Gatsby of our generation.  Make your children read it.  In fact, pregnant women should read it to their fetuses*.

Then I’m gonna read Reed Farrell Coleman‘s Empty Ever After, because dammit, a man’s got to know his limitations.  And who better to show me those limitations than Moe Prager?

Now you know how to spend your summer vacation.  Get crackin’.  It’s almost August.

*Warning:  May cause irrational pre-natal fear of lemurs in newborns.  Consult your physician or Steve Wilkos before reading to unborn fetuses prior to third trimester.  Use only as directed.  Terms and conditions may apply.  See dealer for details.  Offer void in Albania, Dubai, and the parts of Pakistan both Obama and McCain want to bomb.

Why So Serious?

Let’s get this out of the way right now. The hype about Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight is, frankly, short of the mark. He owns this film in a way no other actor could have.  The Joker was on screen less than five minutes, and I already wanted to kill him. No wonder Ledger found himself a bit disturbed. Now that’s acting.

Ledger’s Joker, while acknowledging the past efforts by Cesar Romero’s campy clown and Jack Nicholson’s enraged prankster, takes the character into darker waters than anyone had imagined. Ledger’s Joker is chaos incarnate for the sake of chaos.  Heath Ledger makes both Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter look like a weak James Bond villain.  (Incidentally, both Cox and Hopkins would make excellent Penguins and wash the bad taste of Burton’s freakish version out of everyone’s mouths.  Christopher Nolan, write that down.)

Director Christopher Nolan already took Batman in a different direction when he created a real world version of the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne is created in a much more convincing manner. Alfred is a loyal schemer, much more than a cardboard parody of Reginald Jeeves from Jeeves & Wooster. Gotham City is not the bland, washed-out nightmare vision Tim Burton has already overused to the point of parody. No, Nolan’s cops, clean and corrupt, are very real. And Gotham?

Gotham is so real in Nolan’s vision of the DC universe you can almost see the exit signs to Metropolis on the freeways. The Dark Knight amps this up a bit. The Dark Knight is about how far people will go to confront evil. The Joker’s parallel to modern terrorists, right down to hijacking $68 million of the mob’s cash and convincing them to pay him half of it to kill Batman, needs no subtlety. The Dark Knight is about three good men – Bruce Wayne/Batman, Jim Gordon, and newly-minted DA Harvey Dent – wanting so bad to destroy the criminals who control Gotham City that they’re willing to sell off pieces of their souls to do it.

Jim Gordon does it by looking the other way when he thinks it’ll serve the common good. Batman does it by crossing a few ethical lines that make even brilliant technical wizard Lucius Fox want to move away. And Harvey Dent?

Batman fans know what becomes of Harvey. But rather than the psychotic prankster played by Tommy Lee Jones in the dreadful Batman Forever, Aaron Eckhart’s Dent is a man who gives Gotham City all of himself in order to save it and is rewarded with death and disfigurement. Transformed into Two Face, he becomes Batman’s evil twin, one to whom no one is innocent any longer.

If only for Ledger’s performance, The Dark Knight is light years ahead of Batman Begins.  The Joker here is a terrorist more evil than Osama bin-Laden, if only because he lacks any other cause than wanting “to watch the world burn.”  But it’s not just Ledger.  Ledger merely does what is required of him, which is to be an unreasonable force of destruction, one for whom death is not a sufficient deterrent.  But credit must also go to Christian Bale, who gives Bruce Wayne and Batman humanity.  If Ledger is over the top and terrifying, Gary Oldman, who might have played the Joker in an earlier era with as much venom as Ledger squeezes out of the role, is the opposite, the quiet voice of reason against the Joker’s madness.  Michael Caine, of course, is excellent as the voice of Bruce Wayne’s conscience.  Aaron Eckhart plays the cards he’s dealt with an underdeveloped Dent and Two-Face and does well.

Nolan must be given points for bringing in Maggie Gyllenhall to take over Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes.  I liked Holmes in Batman Begins, but she doesn’t have the chops be a foil for the likes of Heath Ledger or hold her own with Bale, Caine, and Oldman.  Gyllenhall, on the other hand, sells Rachel Dawes all over again, an older, more seasoned actress to handle a much darker film.

I was disappointed in the development of Dent as Two Face.  Nolan had a terrific take on the character, a maimed vigilante out for revenge.  However, Harvey Dent, who as the District Attorney comes off as the guy you’d want McCain or Obama to name their running mate, never gets enough time after the transformation to grow into the grieving, enraged villain.  Also, the horror show appearance, which defies reality in what’s billed as a “real world Batman,” mars a terrific effort built around Heath Ledger’s psychopath in bad make-up.  In short, there’s no way Two Face could carry on a normal conversation with the damage to his face.  It’s one point (and the ONLY point) Joel Schumacher scores over Nolan.  Then again, one wonders why Schumacher didn’t go this route while Nolan would opt for Tommy Lee Jones massive scarring.

That’s the biggest flaw in the movie.  The only others for me were technical.  A scene where hostages were bound up to look as though they were holding other hostages was a bit confusing.  And throughout the streets of Gotham, Chicago is showing.  Not that I mind, but while Nolan does a good job creating a fictional city that’s bigger than New York, it almost threw me out of the story when the Joker and Batman do battle in front of an office I worked in over the most recent Superbowl weekend.  (Nice job painting out the Sears and Hancock buildings, btw.)  But if those are the biggest flaws, other directors should be so lucky.

The question now is how Nolan tops this.  The answer is he doesn’t.  The Penguin is on deck, and if Nolan is wise, he’ll stick to the franchise’s new-found love of the real world.  Instead of one of Tim Burton’s upchucked nightmares or Schumacher’s poorly executed camp villians, Nolan could go with the dapper Penguin.  After all, the mob is out a boss.  The Joker is likely in Arkham (most likely for good, with the loss of Heath Ledger).  And after such a dark, dark movie, it might not be bad to lighten up a bit and put Batman up against a dapper don in a tuxedo for getting really dark again.

Think about it, Mr. Nolan.  Don’t make the same mistake they did with Spiderman III.