Writing Advice you may be Missing

Anyone who reads my postings knows that I love film. Movie have been a part of my life as long as I can literally remember. The advent of home media, first VHS/Betamax, then DVD and Blu-rays has been heaven for the cinephile in me but it has also become a boon to my writing.

A common piece bonus material included in DVS and Blu-ray’s is the commentary track. Here writers, directors, producers, and actors will record a liver running commentary as they watch the film. Sometimes these are funny and filled with behind the antics, or peeks into how the magic of movies works. Those sort of commentary track are fun and I enjoy them, but there are commentary track where the writers and directors will spend the two or so hours talking about the story. What made them want to tell it, what it means to them, and how that approached the challenges.

If you are a writer and you are not listening to these you should. Heavens knows everyone looks at writing and stories from a different point of view, but seeing those points of views can illuminate your own, expand your vistas for crafting a story. These are lectures from professionals and all you need to do is block out a couple of hours – or more in the case of Peter Jackson and his endless Lord or the Rings running times – and soak in the teachings.

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Movie Review: Kong; Skull Island

 

The other day I was speaking with friend who also enjoys movie about Jackson’s remake of King Kong and he commented that he enjoyed the film it got back to New York. Now if you agree with that sentiment then Kong: Skull Island likely right in your wheelhouse.

The movie has the usual first act set up of meeting the characters, providing just enough depth to satisfy the requirements of a major tent-pole action film, and getting the relationships into a rough geography.

With the housework behind them then next two-thirds of the movie is action on Skull Island. Meeting fantastic beasts, being chased by monsters, the thinnest of explanations for why we haven’t seen these giant kaiju monsters before, and then wrapping all up with a message of ecology and humility.

This movie is competently crafted without glaring idiotic errors but that landed the final product, in my opinion, just okay. It was fun and engaging on the surface but it lacked the grip to hold my unbroken attention and my mind wandered.

Now as with all things your mileage may vary and I want to repeat that this is not a bad movie. I am happy I saw it, and the spectacle is enough to justify the big screen viewing. The film does more work establishing the shared cinematic universe to come than it does in servicing its own story and that’s the biggest flaw.

There is a button that follows the end credits but if you want it unspoiled do not read the title card announcing that this film is a work of fiction. (I did read it *sigh*)

Overall a fun film for giant monster fans but I’d keep to the matinee price level.

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Retire This Trope

The other night on Hulu I watched some of the movie Deep Impact. If you haven’t heard of this Earth versus Comet movie it is because it was utterly buried at the box office by that stupidly insulting example of Michael bay’s work, Armageddon. Beside show casing Elijah Wood before The Lord of The Rings, this film was a serious attempt to convey a story about a comet on a collision and the difficulty in diverting it.

Overall this film scores well in its science. It has some concept of the distances and energies involved. In fact the ship dispatched to divert the comet is powered by an Orion drive, something we had considered building; a ship that flies on a series of atomic explosions.

The movie did engage in one of the oldest trope in SF movies, the astronaut who gets separated from the craft and flies off into cold limitless space.

People, this is not the problem Hollywood would have you think it is.

Everything in space is about velocity. Velocity determines the size and period of your orbits. Go fast enough around the Earth and you are in orbit around the planet. Go faster and you may leave the planet but then you are orbiting the sun. Go a hell of a lot faster and you leave the sun’s influence and now you’re orbiting the center of the galaxy.

If you are working over the side on a spaceship lose you grip you may float away, but your velocity did not change all that much. You are still in the same orbit as the ship you left. Yeah it is out of reach but guess what you can move. With just a tiny burp of it orbital thrusters, not its main engines, and they can come and get you. The same is true if that ship is on its way to the moon, or Mars, or even the outer solar system. The difference between your new velocity and your old one, which was the same as the ships, is going to be insignificant compared to the ship’s ability to change its velocity.

But you know, I am starting to get an idea for a story…

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Taxation is NOT theft

A popular concept usually pushed by those on the right side of the political spectrum is that taxation is theft and if they do not go that far they often go far enough to assert that you have no right to the product of another person’s labor. This is usually presented as their case for why any form of socially provided health insurance is not only something that disagree with but something as morally wrong.

I do not buy those arguments.

Theft is the illegal taking, without consent, of property that does not belong to you. Taxation, outside of despotic governments, is a legal process simply on that factor alone it cannot be considered theft however there is more to my counter argument. Without Consent, you consent to taxes by maintaining your citizenship. In a free nation you can leave, in unfree states you cannot. (It would be wise to remember that walls can keep you IN as well as keeping others OUT.) There numerous celebrities who have surrendered their US citizenship. You hate our taxes and what they are being spent on? Leave. Stay and fight for what you want, but if you stay you consent and the taxes are again not theft.

The no right to another person’s labor is usually employed to argue against those who would claim that healthcare is a right. I am not going to get into if healthcare is a right or not, rights are a social construct and invention not found in objective reality so which ones exist and for whom is a very sticky argument.

However those who use the ‘no right to the labor of others’ argument are at best short sighted. ALL rights require enforcement from the state to be protected, for the state to maintain those functions it must tax and that is to acquire the labor of others for the protection if your rights.

You have a right to trail by a jury of your peers? Well that court systems is pricey, and you only have that right because it is being supported by the labor of others.

As I said this is not staking out the position that healthcare is or is not a right, but these arguments against it as nothing more than clever and flippant sound bites devoid of thought or substance.

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Mad Max: Fury Road – Black and Chrome

For Valentine’s Day y sweetie-wife gifted me with the deluxe Blu-ray for Mad Max: Fury Road which included not only tons of bonus material, which I adore, but the directors version of the film in glorious Black and White. I have spent the last few nights watching the movie in its ‘Black and Chrome’ edition.

(I saw the film in the theaters and one on Blu-ray in color so I didn’t feel too bad breaking it into thirds to watch it after my evening’s work was done.)

Much like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that I like and appreciate more with repeated viewings. The story movies at a breakneck pace, throwing character development and backstory in amid the action. I watched it this time with subtitles turn on and followed the story a little closer without losing dialog to accents or the massive noise of the extended chases. Specifically I understood the through-line arc for the character Lux a little better this go around.

The film plays beautifully in black and white. Stripped of color the stark unforgiving landscape is particularly powerful and the characters seem harder and more raw.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I couldn’t hazard to guess which version may end up my default screening, B&W or color.

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It’s Not That Simple

The graphic here, or one very similar to it, is an example of a member i see shared quite a bit on social media. It is generally shared by my friends on the

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/01/07/everything-chuck-hagel-needs-to-know-about-the-defense-budget-in-charts/?utm_term=.97db4021446c
Credit: Washington Post

left side of spectrum as an example of the wasteful and needless spending by Washington when no other country, by spending, can even threaten us.

Something as complex as the United States and it’s global obligations can not be summarized with a single graph. (Or even a short blog post, but I just want to illustrate the scale of the complexity not delve into it.)

Is history there has been Pax Rome, the peace that the Roman Empire brought to the world with is vast military. There has also been Pax Britannia, same thing many centuries later with the British Empire astride the world, we are now in the Pax Americana.

That enormous military budget isn’t just about defending our borders, it is much more than that.

It’s our commitment to defending the freedom of Japan, South Korea, Western Europe, and many other allies. Some have suggested it would better if those allies simply carried their own load, but that looking at it from the wrong way around. Yes, we could cut back and force those allies to spend their own treasure and blood. Doing that increases the chances of war. Right now you attack an American ally you risk war with America and that deters such conflicts. Remember small regional wars can escalate out of control into global conflicts.

The second great function of the US military is upholding international law. Pirates off the East African Coast? the U.S. Navy is there. Iraq and Iran threaten neutral shipping with a terrible war, the U.S. is there ensuring the safety of those neutral ships. Withdraw our force from around the world and you threaten global commerce. he very commerce that make you prosperous enough to have that smartphone to share that graphic.

Of course one should ignore the humanitarian mission undertaken by the US Military. Typhoons, Earthquakes, man-made disasters, the US Military is often first on the scene providing vital supplies and logistics.

None of this is cheap. and all of this is vital. Now that is not to say we don’t spend too much, or to support any particular budget proposal, but the answers and questions are far more than what can be addressed with a snarky comment while tweeting a graphic you saw on Facebook.

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It Means What you Think, but that is not what was Meant

At one of the panels this past weekend the classic SF/Horror film The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was mentioned. Naturally when the film came up people started discussing it’s message and meaning.

Of Course it is an allegory for Communism and the soul crushing power of the totalitarian state.

Of Course it is an allegory for McCarthyism and crushing power of political terror forcing everyone into the same march.

Of Course it is an allegory for Social Conventions and the crushing power of culture, particularly that of mid-20th century America to crushing people into conformity.

Which of these is correct?

Why all of them, of course. A piece of art means to you what it means. That is not to say that was its intended meaning. Various interviews have revealed the actors, director, and writers, harbored not direct allegory. Some going so far as to say they merely intended to craft a good thriller. (check that box) Do not confuse the message you take away with the artist’s intent.

A perfect example of this is the recent on-line war between John Carpenter and the Alt-Right over the meaning of his film They Live. As I mentioned in passing when I recently discussed that film here, it could be read in an anti-Semitic manner. Now if you know anything of Mr. Carpenter you know that the intended message was on attacking Yuppies, Capitalism, and Consumerism. However those of the Alt0Right saw a different theme, one that is easy to see if that us what you *want* to see.

And there is the great truth of art, everyone brings their own life experiences and filters the process through them. What you see as a clear symbol is to someone else just a jar of baby food.

When you talk about tv shows and movies and what they really meant, be wary of putting your meaning into someone else’s mouth.

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Sunday Night Movie Sadako vs. Kayako

While this is billed as my Sunday Night Movie, I started it Sunday evening but finished it Monday. After the energy expended at Condor 2017 I simply pooped out and couldn’t watch it all in one go, particularly since it is subtitled and required a greater mental focus.

I first learn of this film last year when a friend and I drove up to Los Angeles for an after evening at Universal Studios, taking in their Halloween Horror Night, and then scooting over to Hollywood for a late screening of 1979s Dawn of the Dead in 3D. (Verily that was cool.) While my companion took care of his pre-show bathroom break and concessions the trailer for this film played.

If you do not recognize the names these are the ghosts or spirits from The Ring franchise (Sadako) and The Grudge (Ju-On) (Kayako). So as you can see it is not just American that is interested in bad guys fights such as Freddy vs Jason.

Overall this was better than the aforementioned Freddy vs Jason. The cast is comprised of fairly likeable and relatable characters competently acted. The film’s action is contemporarily set and so they had to dance around a few issues since Sadako does her bad magic via a VHS tape. Also for the sake of compression, I assume, they reduced her kill curse from seven days to two.

(If you don’t recall The Ring or Ringu the Japanese original version, if you watch the tape then your phone rings and a voice tells you ‘seven days’ and when that time has passed you die. Ju-On was centered on a house where a spirit of vengeance visited violence and death on all who lived there, for this film that has been compressed to simply entering the haunted home.)

The production values are decent and there are plenty of both in your face jump scares and atmospheric scenes that rely on tension for their effect. I was particularly fascinated by an exorcism scene. It was quite interesting watching one that was non-western and not driven my a monotheistic religion.

Of course the main event for a film of this type is the throw down between the two powerful spirits. (Though at one point both are referred to as ‘ghouls’ and I wonder what the original language translated as.) On that score the big confrontation is rather spare and short but better that than overly drawn out and tiresome.

In terms of tone it borrows more from Ringu than Ju-On. It has a conventional western narrative structure rather than the sequence of incidents that Ju-On utilized. In the final resolution it leaned more in the direct of Ju-On.

I enjoyed my viewing but not enough to see a need to purchase a copy.

Sadako vs Kayako is currently streaming on Shudder.

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Condor 2017 Post convention report

This weekend was Condor, San Diego Longest Running SF convention. I participated in six panels, attended several more, and hung out with friends, artists, and writers. All in all it was a great weekend and I had a terribly good time.

I think every panel I participated in was crewed by intelligent, engaging, and entertaining people. The discussions were lively, and covered a broad range of topics from the merely amusing to the deeply serious. Just the sort of things I look for in a convention.

Panels I attended were of the same caliber. In addition to the panels I had lively and good discussion with friends and fellow members of the Horror Writers Association, a fine group of people.

The only thing that really marred my weekend was Saturday night as I drove home a experienced a suddenly migraine. It last throughout the night and even a bit into the next morning after I awoke. I still made it to the convention, took part in my final panel, and had a good time, but once I got home that evening the pain returned.

Here’s hoping your weekend was as fun but without the pain.

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Condor 2017

This weekend is Condor, San Diego local SF convention. I will be attended as panelist and fan.

Here are the list of panel that I will be participating on if you want to stop by and listen.

Friday

Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Tropes 12:00 noon

Writing What you Know 1:00 Pm

Mad Scientists in books and Film 3:pm

Saturday

Horror in Harry Potter 1:00 pm

Bad Science in Movies & TV 7:00 pm

Sunday

How Big will Science-Fiction Get? 2:00 pm

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Literary Saboteur

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