That's your Mystery Picture for this week. What is it? Where did it come from? What if any significance does it hold?
I'm not telling.
But I will tell plenty about my new favorite movie, Oz the Great and Powerful.
By now, you may have seen some lukewarm Oz reviews. The New York Times is disenchanted, calling it an 'extravagant misfire' after babbling on about how much better movies were in the 1930s. The LA Times claims the movie is a 'rough slog' down the Yellow Brick Road.
I claim both reviewers watched the movie with their heads up their asses.
Oz the Great and Powerful is not a remake of The Wizard of Oz. It doesn't try to be. There is no Dorothy, no Toto, no Tin Man. Also, and noted with much relief on my part, there is no singing.
But there are visuals which make critically-acclaimed films such as Life of Pi and Avatar seem like cheap Saturday morning cartoons by comparison. And the new characters are just as engaging as any of Dorothy's face-painted retinue.
I dare anyone to tell me China Girl alone wasn't worth the price of admission. Go ahead, tell me that, and I will knock you down. I mean it. And Zach Braff's Finley, the flying monkey in the bellhop outfit?
Magical. And hilarious.
Without giving anything away, I can also say I loved the witches. Glinda the Good was spot on perfect, as the beleaguered defender of the peaceful folk of Oz. And James Franco's con-artist carnival magician turned makeshift wizard is unfailingly endearing.
This will sound of heresy to some, but I'll say it anyway -- Oz the Great and Powerful is a better movie than The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey.
Oz the Great and Powerful has everything -- visual feasts, engaging characters, suspense, humor, and heart. Ignore the bleating critics. See the movie. You'll be glad you did, or I'll eat a hot-air balloon.
The above is another piece of Markhat fan-art, created by Raevyn Tws (his Facebook page is here). Some say Markhat is pointing out the guilty party, but I maintain he is indicating to a bartender which beer he wants next.
Speaking of Markhat (see what I did there?), the new Markhat novel Brown River Queen is still available for pre-sale. It goes live on March 26!
I've blathered on and on about the book for weeks. I know that. But it's a good book, and I can hardly wait until people can dive into it.
The new Markhat book is underway, of course. I'm calling it The Five Faces. I've also toyed with the idea of a book narrated entirely by Mama Hog, who has no end of things to say about any subject you might care to name. If may wind up entitled Mama On the Town. But that is by no means a promise; just keeping the Markhat books written is about all I have time to do these days.
Just for the heck of it, here's a brief excerpt from The Five Faces, featuring an unusually vengeful Markhat:
FROM THE FIVE FACES:
Voices, from the top of the stair.
A match scratched and flared. The lantern bobbed off its hook. The door swung open.
Boots clambered down the stairs. A man laughed. Another cussed.
I divided feet by two and came up with three.
Three men, who didn’t know a damned thing about fighting in the dark. They held the lantern close to their faces. They took the stairs before their eyes had time to adjust. They swapped a bottle as they walked.
They never saw me coming.
Two went down before the third finished swigging at the bottle. I hit him in the gut with the butt-end of the stout club I’d found amid the trash. When he doubled over, I hit him in the mouth.
Down he went. I kicked him as he fell.
None of the three managed to stand by the time I joined them at the bottom of the stairs.
One did groan and make a half-assed attempt to rise to his elbows. I rewarded his determination with a sharp blow to the back of his head. He went down and went still.
The lantern rolled down, trailing small pools of burning oil. I snatched it up before it sparked a real fire.
“You’re going to give me a name,” I said. A pair of faint groans answered. “You’re going to give me a name, or I’ll kill every damned one of you, and enjoy doing it.”
More groans. Somebody spat teeth. I felt myself smile.
“Someone paid you to watch this place,” I said. “Who?”
The light still illuminated the pile of dead dogs not thirty feet distant.
I issued a dozen heartfelt kicks.
“Stop it, stop it,” muttered one of my supine friends. “Chuckles. Chuckles pays us. We don’t know nothin’, mister. We just got paid to watch the door.”
I dropped to my haunches.
“Chuckles,” I said. I waved the lantern near my talkative friend’s face.
He was maybe fifty. Whatever teeth he’d worked so hard to keep were scattered on the floor beneath him. I wasn’t sorry.
“Now, where can I find this Chuckles?”
A knife-blade glinted in the lamp-light. I brought down my lumber. Wet cracking sounds and a scream echoed in the dark.
Again, I wasn’t sorry.
“You were saying?”
“Everybody knows Chuckles. Keeps a table. Down at the Bastion.” He cut his eyes to his fellows “What the Hell’s the matter with you? We just watch the door. I don’t think Mort is breathing.”
“Worry less about Mort and more about yourself. This Chuckles. He run this place?”
“Hell if I know, mister, he just pays us to—”
“Watch the door. I heard. Tell you what. I’m going to pay this Mr. Chuckles a visit. But before I do, you’re going to give him a message. How’s your memory, pal? Think you can repeat what I’m about to say, word for word?”
He spat blood and glared hate.
“I’ll take that as a yes. My message is this – the dog fights end. Or I end you. Simple enough. Got it?”
He spat again. “You got a name?”
I don’t remember much from the days when Mom dragged all us Markhats to Church. But a line of Scripture came to mind.
“I am Death. You shall not know my name until I speak it in thine ear. Dread my name, and fear its revelation, for it shall be thy undoing, amen.”
I hit him again. He rolled over and howled, and I rose. I cast my club down beside him.
The other two lay still. If they breathed, I couldn’t see their chests rise or fall.
“I am Death,” I said. “Dread my name.”
I blew out the lantern and threw it as far as I could.
Then I climbed the thirty-eight steps, whistling all the way.
That's it for this week!