Movie reviews generally don’t work when the reviewer gets too opinionated. Politics, for instance. Just kind of common sense “the movie guy” shouldn’t vent his issues with this candidate or that major event all over your nice, unsuspecting blog visit. I don’t even have to be qualified to tell you that, do I? I’m not qualified, by the way, not in the least, but then, who among us is? Look ma, no hands.
It should be noted, however, that this movie reviewer is a human being, and as is the annoying habit of most human beings, he can’t help actually having an opinion. And a unique perspective, he might add.
I might add. Sorry.
I’m a Millennial, which means Aaron Sorkin’s new political courtroom drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7, is perhaps made with me in mind. After all—and it’s clear as day for everyone with news access to see—the events surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention closely mirror protests and riots happening at this very moment, all over this country, chiefly led or supported by people my approximate age.
It feels like if you’re in your twenties or thirties in this day and age, you’re expected to be a revolutionary in one sense or another. At one point I had a nice job as a technical writer, and as the young blood, the fresh meat, revolution was supposed to have been my forte. That word, revolution. I wonder if most people understand what it means before an honest to god revolutionary moment has broken out. They definitely understand afterward, as did the eight men put on trial for an alleged conspiracy to incite a riot and provoke Chicago police into acting violently against Vietnam War protesters during the ‘68 DNC. This whole thing is so tied up in politics, nostalgia, and bright yet somehow startlingly foggy memory that it binds up my fingers and makes it difficult to type the full length of this review. And that’s saying something. I haven’t even gotten out of my bathrobe yet.
Truthfully? I’m more of a peacemaker than a bomb thrower. I think I recognize a time and place for the latter, but as the former, I can’t get behind violence for the sake of ideas, the most transient of all puffy white clouds in humankind’s mental skyline. The Trial of the Chicago 7 seems bent on assuring me revolution is a positive thing. Should I take the film’s word for it? I wonder. In fact, I find I’ve always had to wonder.
Aaron Sorkin is known for precisely two things: incredibly sharp pacing, dialogue, and character work that’s often rendered too slickly and can add up to less than the sum of its parts. And The West Wing. That too.
That this film has been in the works for fourteen years doesn’t surprise me, nor does Sorkin’s clear intention to finally produce and release it just before the 2020 general election. Yes, it’s star-studded and wonderfully written, and yes, it’s also too whimsical and nonorganic to present the events of that time and place with any kind of genuine honesty. Basically, all the historical components are there. These young men, they couldn’t have understood what they were in for. Sacha Baron Cohen is too old to play Abbie Hoffman but knocks it out of the park regardless, and Jerry Rubin is basically turned into a two-hour-long stoner joke.
But what the heck? It’s not as sensationalized as an Oliver Stone movie, and I believe general consensus circa 2020 is that these eight men stood for something noble and endured a fascist political trial under a federal judge who had no intention of doing anything less than screwing them to the wall. Again, this seems to be Sorkin’s intended memorandum, and again, I don’t think I’m all that interested in agreeing or disagreeing. I’m the movie reviewer, after all. The movie is what it is, and my role is cut and dry.
Except to say this. If violent (and I must be frank, even nonviolent) revolutions are so effective, why do human beings always seem to wind up entangled in them? My mind works this way: there will never be a positive and lasting human revolution until and unless human beings themselves, on both an individual and collective level, revolutionize their own archaic hearts and minds. This nonsense of us versus them, this grand illusion, it has plagued us from the very beginning. I don’t bow down to more of it, and I realize I might be alone in that kind of thinking.
Also, very simply, it must be asked if Sorkin himself is aware of the ability of commercialized entertainment to stoke passionate societal flames almost as easily as calling for blood from behind a podium. The potential responsibility inherent in such an acknowledgment, it may be too much for his kind of star power. Regardless, his new Netflix film is easy to enjoy, to digest, and to dismiss. And really, isn’t that the best sort of popcorn entertainment?
I could engage with The Trial of the Chicago 7 a bit further, but not easily, not without being forced into more politics. Systemic racism is addressed, for instance. But not in a way that will satisfy people sick to death of the anglo-savior storytelling trope. Again, nuts to politics, what about the beating heart of a man gagged and shackled in the middle of a US courtroom? That would be Bobby Seale, the event depicted without teeth but after a fashion, I suppose, accurately enough. What about a growing awareness that essentially, we have the same soul, the same tormented passions? Does that kind of thinking seem present or absent in today’s politics? Or the politics of 1968? Or of any other era for that matter?
The wheel keeps spinning, the bomb throwers throw, the peacemakers do their best, and somehow, one way or another, all of it seems destined to end up on my TV.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 a seven out of ten. Good enough for government work, if government work is indeed on offer.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
My wife and I watched this series, all five available seasons (at the time), in one big gory splurge. Maybe that was our mistake. It is addictive viewing, it has memorable characters and every episode ends with a cliff-hanger.
I’ll be candid and admit that we have been in an emotional slump. My wife and I have had a difficult year. That being said, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to expose ourselves to such villainy and gore. I can imagine that viewing this series one episode at a time might be less harrowing. But who does that? Are you kidding? In this age of Streaming?
Nah! Binge viewing is the thing we do. Doesn’t everybody grab a series and watch every episode, one after another? Don’t deny it. TV isn’t a guilty pleasure any more. TV is survival, an alternate reality in which to hide from our terrifying world.
Game of Thrones is High Fantasy. It has the medieval world-set, the armor, weapons, horses, castles, all that stuff that goes into High Fantasy. It has dragons, magical creatures and a looming menace that evokes our own present-day world with its apocalyptic terrors. As we watched we found that our depression began taking on a more vicious edge. Our dreams were disturbed. My wife muttered curses in the night and I went on a sleepwalking excursion, standing at the window completely unaware that my junk was exposed beneath the wrinkled edge of my t-shirt. I think I was waiting for some demon to creep into our home to steal our souls.
As a writer I must always ask a question of the story I’m writing: Is this story worth being told? If I apply that yardstick to Game of Thrones, I’m not sure it passes muster. Without the genius of Peter Dinklage playing “the imp” I wouldn’t have gotten sucked into the plot. Acting is an interesting process to watch. Great actors take good roles and define them for all history. Dinklage will hereafter always be known for his Tyrion Lannister role. Before Tyrion he was a famous dwarf and an actor. Now he is far more famous and completely identified with his character. No one cares that he has short legs. He has earned RESPECT. He carried Game of Thrones on his talent. The series is unimaginable without the work of Peter Dinklage.
There were so many beheadings, throat slittings, impalings, knives to the gut, arrows through the throat, squished eyeballs, spear thrusts through-and-through that it became like a creeping poison, leaking from the TV screen and crawling along the margins of the room, heading straight for our vulnerable psyches. We have no one to blame but ourselves. No one forced us to watch this wretched excess of medieval mayhem. We watched. We were sick with flu, flattened with fibro, fucked up with gastric distress, hamstrung with hernia….and we watched ten thousand extras get squashed by rocks and broiled with flaming oil. Oh, what a violent series! Add a healthy dollop of perfect naked titties and asses, muscular adolescent boys all frolicking with one another and whaddayaknow? It’s really all sex and violence, tits and ass. I can imagine the producer shouting on the set: “Did we book enough tits today?” He points to a Production Assistant. “We’re running out of tits! You, boy! Go find some tits, get out there on Sunset and round up a few dozen nice tits. Get some handsome boys while you’re at it. We need some asses, too….make sure they’re eighteen and have them sign their releases.”
Game Of Thrones. It was a relief when Season Five ended. We’d had enough. It was like eating a whole bag of miniature Reeses Pieces. It made us sick.
It was delicious when we started. Then it got a little cloying but we couldn’t stop. Then we wanted to puke and still we couldn’t stop. It was crazy! Get us to some Hallmark Entertainment, or….some Disney. No, wait. When you look deeply enough into Disney you find shit that’s even more creepy than Game Of Thrones.
Now, the temptation to watch Season Six looms ever more seductively.
A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good. His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv.
Catch “Art’s Visual Media Reviews” the fourth Friday of every month. Better yet, sign up for email of follow on WordPress to catch all the great content on Writing to be Read.
(For more on Captain Marvel, be sure to check out my full video review)
As far as Marvel movies go, Captain Marvel feels refreshing, if a bit familiar. It carries with it little of the eccentric energy found in other recent Marvel flicks like Thor: Ragnarok and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but it also requires less of audiences who have yet to drink the Marvel Kool-Aid. Much like 2018’s box office behemoth Black Panther, the hero in question is not a white male, and as the star of a major Hollywood production released in the #MeToo era, that makes all the difference.
Which isn’t to suggest Marvel Studios’ latest doesn’t give plenty of nods to what has come before, and perhaps in a more lucrative vein, to what’s still headed our way. We finally learn how Nick Fury lost his eye, for instance, but filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are also thrilled to butter us up for that big late-April showdown called Avengers: Endgame (check your calendars, kids. Don’t forget to pre-order all the toys, and oh yeah, maybe a movie ticket or five).
If superhero tropes and comic-isms are as indecipherable to you as Kree battle language, odds are good the scope and scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rings hollow. Some of us have been on board since we were kids, leafing through our favorite monthly Marvel comics like little back-issue hording zealots. But if your speed is less Captain America and more … well, any other movie ever made, really—it’s safe to take heart. Captain Marvel is a pretty good jumping on point.
Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is an Air Force fighter pilot with super-powered amnesia. A strange event in her past wiped her memories clean and granted her incredible abilities, the sum total of which she’s dutifully employed freedom-fighting for a race of intergalactic warriors known as the Kree (best personified by her squad leader, Yon-Rogg—played by master geek-movie thespian, Jude Law). When the Kree’s deadliest enemies, a race of green shapeshifters known as the Skrulls, capture Carol and bring her back to Earth, the nascent Captain Marvel must team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (an impressively de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) to discover the secret behind the pivotal accident. Plus, you know, she’ll get to rock out to an unquestionably righteous and eclectic 90s soundtrack.
The fact that this movie takes place in 1995 only adds to its charm. There are era-specific nods and in-jokes aplenty, including a fun Stan Lee cameo that’ll tug at your sense of nostalgia. The film’s setting also means that most of the super-heroic hi-jinks found in the other 20 MCU movies have yet to occur. It’s a prequel more than anything else. Rounding out the cast are an unexpectedly funny Ben Mendelsohn as Skrull commander Keller, Lashana Lynch as Carol’s best friend, Maria Rambeau, and a de-aged Clark Gregg, happy to take a break from playing Agent Coulson on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to play … a younger-looking version of the exact same character.
Additional highlights include a cute but vicious orange cat named Goose, though I won’t spoil the big reveal here, and the marvelously named Air Force marvel, Mar-Vell (a somewhat spaced out and liminal Annette Bening). For the most part, Captain Marvel gets by on its charm. It’s best described as an above average superhero origin story, but unfortunately, there remains a certain amount of roughness in its narrative. Big chunks of exposition get belted out from behind scads of green creature makeup, and the grand finale carries enough logic gaps you may find yourself wondering, “She was just fighting that guy. So now who are these people?”
A lot of early buzz surrounding this movie included controversial comments made by Larson herself, but really, if a storytelling medium largely created by boys for boys can’t come to grips with a few girls getting in on the action whenever they damn well please, there’s less hope for this world than any of us could have ever imagined. Captain Marvel as a character has been blasting across the universe since the late sixties, but it was only in recent years that a woman donned the suit. And Larson does a fantastic job portraying Danvers on film. She is cocky, self-assured, funny, compassionate, caring, and once her full powers get unleashed, wonderfully formidable. A certain kinship evolves between her and Samuel Jackson’s Agent Fury, and moments spent in the Louisiana home of her best friend Maria prove that an intergalactic badass can be all about family, too.
Audiences are likely to get more out of the experience if they possess a running mental lexicon of all things Marvel, but unlike last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and the forthcoming Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel is likely to be a fun time no matter what prior knowledge you have going in. If you’re burned out on films featuring god-like people beating the holy Skrull out of each other, you may be better entertained elsewhere. But as Thor Odinson once famously declared to the world-eating demon Surtur, “That’s what heroes do.”
It’s a very geeky multiverse we live in, people.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Captain Marvel an 8 out of 10.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The first Wednesday of every month, you can find him dispensing writerly wisdom in Jeff’s Pep Talk, right here on Writing to be Read. The best of Jeff’s outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.
Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – Short Stories – So Much More!
You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today!
The entries are rolling in for the paranormal fiction contest and each one must be read. Stories good enough to recieve invitations to the anthology will also need to be edited. In order to accomodate a time budget for all this contest judging and anthology compilation activities in addition to my other life responsibilities, you can expect to see a few changes in the Friday Reviews.
One good change is we’ll be seeing more of Jeff Bowles. Last week he stepped in with a movie review of Glass that was brutally honest, but captivating. That review was so well recieved that he’s agreed to share a movie review with us on the third Monday of every month. His review of Glass was knowledgeable of the genre and written well enough to be mistakeing for one of the top critiques. If book reviews are hugs for authors, then Writing to be Read wants to hug the film industry, too. If you want to keep up on many of the latest movies, be sure to catch Jeff’s Movie Review (working title) each month.
I also plan to make two reviews each month instead of four, for books in the genre to go along with the monthly theme set by the genre the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author for the month. In February my guest author was nonfiction author Mark Shaw, so the February theme was nonfiction. My supporting author interview was with nature writer Susan J. Tweit and my supporting post was about my own nonfiction endeavor with the first post in my new bi-monthly series, “The Making of a Memoir“. My reviews were both of nonfiction books of different sub-genres: Mark Shaw’s How to Become a Published Author and a compilation of poetry artwork and writings about mental illness, theLetters of Mayanthology.
March’s theme will be science fiction and fantasy, and the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author will be national and international best selling author Kevin J. Anderson. He’s written more best sellers than there is room to list here and I’m thrilled to have him on Writing to be Read. My supporting post will be about my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. I’m still searching for a author for my supporting interview, but my reviews will be for Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal. If you want to be sure not to miss any of these great science fiction and fantasy segments, be sure to sign up to email or follow on WordPress to get notification of new content.
Before I wrap this up, let me just remind you all that there is still time to submit your short story to the WordCrafter paranormal fiction contest. The deadline is April 1, so don’t drag your feet on this one. The entry fee is $5 and the winner will recive a $25 Amazon gift card and a guaranteed place in the WordCrafter Press paranormal short fiction. Email your submissions to kayebooth (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you confirmation instructions for submitting your entry fee.
About as unbreakable as a piece of ill-tempered… well, you know.
Glass (2019) – Not Much Super, Not Much Hero
by Jeff Bowles
During the closing moments of Glass, I couldn’t help but think director M. Night Shyamalan had squandered the opportunity to build something both timely and unique. In the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which dozens of bigger-than-life characters exist concurrently and pop into each other’s movies like those annoying neighbors from down the street (you know the ones), it’s not unusual to expect some pretty big stuff from the superhero genre. And after all, Shyamalan began laying the groundwork for this trilogy of his long before The Avengers or The Guardians of the Galaxy had ever graced the silver screen, so it’s safe to say he had the market cornered on expanded comic book universes.
Shyamalan teased an unexpected and suitably epic showdown in the end credits scene of 2016’s Split, and while that movie was the best flick he’d made in years, the director who finally seemed to be getting his groove back has… well, lost his groove again. Glass is a lopsided mess, a film in search of a reason to exist. The only thing that saves it from complete mediocrity is the strength of its performances, chief among these being James McAvoy’s continually stunning, though in no ways realistic, portrayal of a man with so many personalities his personalities have personalities have personalities.
Really, McAvoy is an exceptional actor, one of the best of his generation, so casting him in a role like this takes a certain level of calculated genius. In his latest turn as mental patient Kevin Wendell Crumb—also known as Patricia, also known as Hedwig, also known as Barry, also known as The Beast, etc.—the Scottish-born actor gets to strut his stuff in some pretty bombastic ways. Scenery-chewing has never seemed so dignified, though. Shyamalan is clearly as in love with Kevin as audiences have become. He garners most of the film’s run time, which begs the question, why not just make a Split 2?
Glass of course acts as the capstone to a three-part story that began in the year 2000 with Unbreakable, the follow-up to Shyamalan’s debut masterwork, The Sixth Sense. Bruce Willis made for a pretty inert “superhero” all the way back in Y2K, and not much has changed. David Dunn still spends most of his time brooding and behaving like a working-class Bruce Wayne—a Bruce Springsteen Wayne, if you will—minus the car, the cave, and the Born to Run.
After a brutal encounter with Crumb, who’s been extraordinarily busy kidnapping and murdering young women since we saw him… kidnapping and murdering young women in a different movie, Dunn finds himself taken psychiatric prisoner and locked up in a dank, hopeless mental health facility somewhere in Philadelphia (no Philly Eagles jokes, please). Imagine his surprise to learn his arch nemesis has suffered the same fate, the eponymous Mr. Glass, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Willis mostly seems bored with his role here, but he’s seemed bored in the majority of the movies he’s made in the last fifteen years. Jackson, however, clearly enjoys the opportunity to dust off an old fan-favorite and add another franchise notch to his belt. Mr. Glass spends too much time on the sidelines in this, his own movie, but once things really start cooking, he’s just as nerdy and evil as ever. Glass makes for an excellent counterpoint to Crumb, and in a surprisingly subtle performance, Jackon proves he’s still good for more than an eyepatch and the odd credit card commercial.
Back when Shyamalan released Unbreakable, good comic book movies were a rarity. Rarer still, mainstream acceptance and veneration for what is America’s oldest visual storytelling medium. Everyone likes comics these days, it seems, but in Glass, an overreliance on played-out comic-isms comes off as cheap, laborious, and self-conscious. Even the dastardly lady who’s thrown these colorful weirdos together, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), can’t tell if she should balk at the notion of real-life superheroes or wipe them all off the face of the earth.
The movie sports a larger supporting cast culled from the other entries in the series, including Mr. Glass’ mother and Dunn’s still slightly unhinged son, but none of them are served particularly well, and in fact, the heroic Casey from Split (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) suffers a puzzling reversal of character that all but nullifies her prior life and death victories.
In truth, Glass struggles to find a beat, content for the most part in giving us context and backstory for everything we’ve already seen. Plot development is kept to a minimum, the classic Shyamalan botched twist ending is still classically botched, and the big final showdown concludes in such a disappointing and franchise-killing fashion, I had to ask myself why the entire exercise was even necessary. In my opinion, it wasn’t. M. Night Shyamalan is not a director’s director by any means, but even he knows obfuscation and bad timing are the deaths of tension.
Mr. Glass himself believes comics are a secret history of the world. And I suppose they are in a way. As a popular media artform, comic books have a long history of extraneous filler material. It’s just too bad Shyamalan capped off his grand trilogy with a story destined for the bargain bin.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The first Wednesday of every month, you can find him dispensing his writerly wisdom in “Jeff’s Pep Talk” right here on Writing to be Read. The best of Jeff’s outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars.
Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Short Stories – Video Games – Music – Entertainment – So Much More!
It’s 2017! Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday that I was venturing forth to start Writing to be Read on Today.com. Most of you won’t remember. It was supposed to be a site that would monetize my blog, so without a clue as to what I should write about, I jumped right in. I wrote about all kinds of things and at the end of every post I published one of my poems, in order to cover the full scope of the literary world, or something like that. That was in 2010, seven years ago. Wow! Unfortunately, several months later Today.com folded and the sight just disappeared, along with all the writing I had done there. In a panic, I found WordPress and re-created my blog here.
Since then it has be remodeled several times until it is what you see here today. As I said in my Looking Back on 2016 post last week, this past year has been a good one for Writing to be Read as it has grown in popularity. So to start the new year out, I’d like to take a closer look at what I hope to accomplish with the blog this year. In last weeks post I mentioned a few ideas I wanted to see come to fruition: author and screenwriter profiles, more screenwriting content, coverage of more writing events, and guest posts by authors, screenwriters and other industry professionals. That is the shape I foresee for Writing to be Read.
But, you know, this blog wouldn’t be anywhere without you, the reader. Watching my statistics, it’s you that determines what content I create. It’s you that make the number of followers climb, you who increase my page views. With this in mind, I know I can’t move forward without asking you what content you would like to see here in the coming year. Are there topics of interest you’d like to learn more about? Do you have questions you’d like to have answered through one of my posts? And while we’re at it, who would you like to see profiled or interviewed? What books or movies would you like to see reviewed? What topics would you like to see investigated? What events would you like to see covered? What kinds of things will keep you coming back for more?
Another goal I hope to accomplish is to continue to increase my following and have more reader interaction through comments. I appreciate every reader I have gained over the years. Some of you, I have come to think of as friends as well as readers. I also welcome new readers. If you are here for the first time, or maybe you’ve been here before but you haven’t subscribed to email or followed on WordPress yet, please do so before you click on the next website. I make no money off Writing to be Read. My only reward is to watch my followers grow and know I am being read. Subscribe, follow, leave a comment to let me know you were here, or do all three. With your help, we can make 2017 the best year ever for Writing to be Read.
This will be the last reflective post of the year. Next Monday’s post will find us in 2017. For my writing career it has been a slow take off, but I’ve seen progress. In July, I completed my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. With emphasis in both genre fiction and screenwriting, and two completed novels, Delilah and Playground for the Gods Book 1: In the Beginning, two full feature film scripts and one comedy series pilot script in hand, I eagerly jumped right in to get my feet wet in either the publishing and/or screenwriting industry. I began submitting my work to agents, publishers, and competitions like crazy. I received mostly rejections, as expected, and although I still haven’t found a home for either novels or scripts, I did manage to find a home for two poems and two short stories. Not too bad. While the poems, Aspen Tree and Yucca! Yucca! Yucca!, appeared in print, (in Colorado Life (Sept.-Oct. 2016) and Manifest West Anthology #5 – Serenity and Severity, respectively), my short story, I Had to Do It was published on Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and my not so short, short story, Hidden Secretswas published on Across the Margin.
2016 has been a pretty good year for Writing to be Read. The revamping of the blog site was completed in March, I’ve managed post things on a fairly regular basis, we were honored with guest posts by my friend Robin Conley, and my visits and page views have risen, with almost 2000 visitors and over 2,500 page views. Looking at this, makes me feel pretty good about the blog, as a whole. Another good change is the addition of screenwriting content, which I believe has drawn a larger audience by widening the scope of the content.
The top post of 2016 was my book review of Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy, which is an excellent tutorial on academic writing, including writing advice that every writing student should know. After that, the reflective post Writing Horror is Scary Businesswould be second in line. Other popular posts include my four part Making of a Screenplay series,( Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), my Tribute to My Son, and What Amazon’s New Review Policies Mean for Writing to be Read. More recently, my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing gave me the opportunity to interview some awesome names in the publishing industry: self-published authors, Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch; traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw; independently published author Jordan Elizabeth; and children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published under all three models; as well as Caleb Seeling, owner of Conundrum Press and Curiosity Quills Press – with the final installment summarizing the conclusions made from those interviews.
Sadly, I only attended two events that were reported on, on Writing to be Read in 2016 – the 2016 Ice Festival in Cripple Creek, and the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference in Gunnison, Colorado. What can I say? I’m a starving writer. This is something I hope to improve on in 2017 by attending more events to report on. One possible addition to the 2017 list that I’m very excited to think about is the Crested Butte Film Festival. The details are not ironed out yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Screenwriting content included this past year seemed to be popular. In addition to my Making of a Screenplay series and Writing Horror is Scary Business, Writing to be Read also featured Writing Comedy for Screen is a Risky Proposition, and a book review for Hollywood Game Plan, by Carole Kirshner, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone desiring to break into the screenwriting trade. Robin’s Weekly Writing Memo also included several writing tips that could be applied equally to literature or screenwriting.
Another project I’m particularly proud of is my ten part series on publishing, Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing, which I just finished up last week. In this series I interviewed nine professionals from within the industry to get the low down on the three different publishing models. My interviews included self-published authors Jeff Bowels, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, traditionally published authors Stacia Deutsch (children’s books) and Mark Shaw (nonfiction), and independently published YA author Jordan Elizabeth. To balance things out a bit, I also interviewed children’s author Nancy Oswald, who has published with all three models, Clare Dugmore of Curiosity Quills Press and Caleb Seeling, owner and publisher at Conundrum Press.
I am thankful for Robin’s valuable content and am glad that she will still be contributing Memos on a monthly, rather than a weekly basis. Although I was sad to lose her weekly content, I am happy for her as she moves forward in her own writing career and I wish her well in her writing endeavors. For those of you who looked forward to her weekly posts, you can catch more of her content on her own blog, Author the World.
2016 was a great year for Writing to be Read, even if it was kind of rough for the author behind the blog. You readers helped to make it a good year and I thank you. Now it’s time to look ahead and see what’s in store for 2017 Writing to be Read. I mentioned some of the things I hope to achieve above: more posts pertaining to the screenwriting industry, and coverage of more events throughout the year are two of the goals I have set for my blog. I also plan to add some author, and hopefully, screenwriter profiles into the mix. I had good luck with author profiles during my Examiner days, and I think they will be well received here, as well.
I also hope to bring in some guests posts by various authors or bloggers, or maybe screenwriters, just to give you all a break from listening to me all the time. I believe Robin plans to continue with Monthly Writing Memos, which will be great, too.
I look forward to all the great books that I know are coming my way in 2017, too. The first reviews you have to look forward to are a short memoir, Banker Without Portfolio by Phillip Gbormittah, a YA paranormal romance, Don’t Wake Me Up by M.E.Rhines, a Rock Star romance, Bullet by Jade C. Jamison and a short story, How Smoke Got out of the Chimneys by DeAnna Knippling.
I hope all of you will join me here in the coming year. Follow me on WordPress, or subscribe to e-mail for notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox. Have a great 2017 and HAPPY WRITING!
I’m not someone who is particularly a fan of movies that are more about being artistically beautiful than having a solid plot, but after seeing The Neon Demon claimed to be horror, and several friends recommending it to me, I knew I had to see it. A great movie to me is one you can get lost in, either because of the plot, or the characters, or the setting/world, or even because it’s so visually stunning that you just want to stare and don’t care what’s happening. I wasn’t sure about The Neon Demon from the few trailers I saw beforehand, but it looked like it had potential so I decided to check it out despite it not being my typical choice of movie.
The Neon Demon is a movie that has so much about it that is so brilliantly, beautifully, and boldly done that it’s impressive. I could go on for a long while about some of the amazing craftsmanship that went into this movie (and I will below), but I felt like the movie also had one amazingly large fault—its plot. As I said above, a great movie for me is one I can get lost in, and while I can appreciate a lot of the talent, craftsmanship, and just pure artistic awesomeness of this movie, I couldn’t get lost in it for several reasons. I know I am not the target audience for this style of movie so I don’t fault it in the least, but I do want to discuss the things that I loved individually, as well as the things that kept me from loving the movie as a whole.
Cinematography and Sound
I am pretty sure that at least 90% of the shots in this film could be captured into a still frame picture and hung on a wall somewhere as art without question. It’s beautiful, and scene by scene. It’s captivating in that you want to look at it. The balance of colors and costumes, makeup and posing, works so well throughout that it really is enticing to look at even amidst the gore and violence. The opening shot of Elle Fanning as Jessie laying “dead” on the couch immediately has you intrigued because of the surprising prettiness of it all. You don’t know whether it’s real or a photo shoot and you can’t look away. The trend of that alluring beauty carries throughout the film, and it fits well given The Neon Demon’s themes of narcissism and vanity.
Right along with the cinematography was the sound throughout the film. The music used worked incredibly well to create these intense moments during scenes, but what I loved just as much was the use of silence. There are these intense moments where the silence is distinct, and it makes you focus even more on what you’re seeing. Many films or shows don’t use silence in a noticeable way and there’s always some kind of sound going on, but The Neon Demon embraced it at times to heighten moments such as the scene where Elle Fanning is at her first “real” photo shoot. I also appreciated the silences between characters in dialogue because, while they were long at times, I felt like they were used at appropriate moments for emphasis on specific elements or events.
The other major thing I have to say I enjoyed in this film is that I felt like every actor was captivating in their own way. The characters themselves may have had some flaws in their development (or lack of), but the actors who played them were amazing. Elle Fanning managed to walk that mysterious line of whether her character was predator or prey perfectly, and Jena Malone as Ruby was simultaneously disturbing yet sympathetic. Surprisingly, though, was the fact that Keanu Reeves almost stole the show. It’s not surprising because of who he is—he’s had plenty of great performances—but it’s surprising because of his minimal amount of screen time. Maybe it was just me, but every time he was on screen I felt like he stole the show. Some of it could be that his character was the most physically expressive of them all, and the most distinct personality-wise of all the characters, but I think a huge portion of it just has to be Keanu Reeves as an actor and his abilities.
As shown above, so much about this movie was great and worked incredibly well. I think the first area things really faltered for me was the flow. As I said before, if I’m going to get lost in a movie I have to have something to get lost in. For The Neon Demon, the most likely element for that would have been the pure beauty of it all, but the flow kept that from happening for me. While almost every shot was stunning and perfectly crafted, the flow between shots wasn’t always coherent of consistent. Just as I was being lured in by the imagery and about to stop caring about the plot, the tone or the story thread would abruptly shift and throw me out, leaving me wondering what the heck was going on. A great example of this is when Keanu Reeves’ character breaks into Elle’s room during the dream/vision sequence. At that point, the film’s tone and pacing shifted abruptly changing everything. We are in this vain and edgy world of modeling for 2/3rds of the movie and then suddenly we have potential rapes, necrophilia, murder, and cannibalism.
This is the real area that is the main flaw of the film. There isn’t much of a plot built up other than the idea of a young, new girl in town getting into the modeling industry and being preyed upon by others in LA who want something from her. I could handle that as a plot if that’s all it was, but there are so many elements in it that seem to lead somewhere only to be dropped away and forgotten, never explained, or not fully utilized. Because there are all these little threads and elements that are thrown in for either artistic pizzazz or random impulse, and because the main plot is so sparse, things get muddled.
An example of the random plot elements are things like the mountain lion appearing in Elle Fanning’s room. It is really used as an excuse to give Keanu Reeves’ character more screen time and to give her “boyfriend” and excuse to go pay off her debt and be her lapdog. In general, though, the whole set-up of the mountain lion randomly getting into her bedroom just seems weird, and like it’s going to be some kind of plot line later that is explained but never is. I did get the sense that it was supposed to sort of be symbolic that there are predators everywhere she looks lurking in the shadows for her, but that was obvious from the moment Jena Malone’s character laid eyes on Elle Fanning in the first scene and the film didn’t need an actual mountain lion to nail the point home. If the film just had the straight simple plot without the random side unexplained elements, like the mountain lion scene or the scene where Jena Malone’s character seemingly gives birth after eating Elle (which was also never really explained or returned to), then I think it would have been much better off.
Overall, while there was so much brilliance to The Neon Demon and some truly amazing craftsmanship that made me want to love it, it was hard to do so when I was kept from being immersed in it. I could go on for a long while about different aspects of this film, but instead, I’ll end with a final thought I had when thinking about what to write here. The Neon Demon is primarily about beauty, vanity, and narcissism, and the film itself manages to be narcissistic. The film is so focused on being beautiful in every moment that it forgot to add real depth. Some could argue that the metaphor and symbolism of the film could be considered depth in place of a plot, but I’m not so sure because so much of that symbolism was not subtle.
Ultimately, whatever I think about the plot or flow, the film is definitely worth watching for anyone who appreciates cinematography, unusual art, or the just plain odd. I can almost guarantee you’ll be asking yourself “What the **** is going on?” at least once during the film, but I can also almost guarantee you’ll find yourself entranced by the beauty of some of the camera shots and scenes. Just keep in mind it does get pretty dark, and as mentioned above there are scenes of murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism, so it’s definitely not for everyone.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays and shares an occasional guest review on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
The first word that came to mind after seeing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was peculiar. The movie is peculiar. I went into the film knowing next to nothing about it. I haven’t read the book, I think I may have seen a trailer at some point but don’t really remember it, and I hadn’t looked into the story at all. All I knew about the film was that it was directed by Tim Burton, it was based on a book, and it was about some kind of school for gifted kids.
I am a huge fan of fantasy films, and I love Tim Burton’s work, so I was super excited to see what this movie had in store for me. That being said, by the end of the film I couldn’t quite put my finger on how I felt about it, other than that one word I mentioned above—peculiar. The film is just peculiar. It’s beautifully shot, and the actors, especially Eva Green, do a wonderful job, but the film didn’t leave me feeling satisfied. It left me with a lot of questions, and a few complaints.
Visuals and World
I like starting by talking about something I liked, and this film was visually beautiful. It had some great shots, and everything from the camera angles to the clothing was spot on for me. The style and artistic elements of Tim Burton’s films are always one of my favorite parts, and this film was no exception. The one thing that truly kept me hooked throughout was the visual element, and just the fact that I was enjoying looking at the film.
The other element I really liked was just the concept of the world. I loved the idea of Jake traveling through the time loops at the end, working his way back to the peculiars. I’m not sure I have a clear idea of how it would work, but I do think I got enough of a sense that it was believable. The details they gave at the end as well were just enough to create this sort of romanticized image of his journey back to the group without extending the final act unnecessarily, which was perfect.
I think the biggest downfall for me in the film was the fact that the real goal and conflict of the story took more than an hour to get to. I know because I looked at my watch when they finally started discussing Samuel L Jackson’s character and why they had to stop him. I don’t mind a long movie, and I don’t mind giving the plot time to build and unfold, but this film felt like it just took too long. Yes, the visual elements of the movie were stunning and wonderful, and it was a fascinating world to get lost in, but I wish we could have got lost in it while the plot was moving forward.
From the moment Jake first sees Samuel L Jackson’s character outside his grandfather’s house to the moment we finally learn he’s the antagonist almost an hour had passed. I usually have a good memory for details in a story, but by this point in the film I had almost forgotten that Jackson was in it and I was mostly just trying to figure out where the story was going. I feel like part of the problem that made the story seem like it was standing still was that Jake’s goal in the story initially was not to find out what happened to his grandfather, it was to see if his grandfather told the truth. The moment Jake arrives at Miss Peregrine’s we know that he was and then Jake has no real goal, no conflict. Yes, there’s still some information he can find, but he doesn’t actively seek it.
If there had been slight more focus on the thing that killed his grandfather, and more determination behind Jake’s search for answers, I think the time it took to get to the plot wouldn’t have been as bad, but it still went on too long. Getting lost in the world was great, but it felt like the plot paused for a short period of time while we got immersed in the world. Instead, entering the new world should have boosted the plot into action.
The one thing that really surprised me about this film was that there were three big plot elements that I felt were too big to have been missed. The first is a simple one—Jake’s parents. I love Chris O’Dowd, but the parents disappear from the story when they’re there at all. I guess I could buy the whole impulsive trip across the world for the story, but once they get there the dad becomes almost a burden to the plot. Instead of being a smooth element in the story, a problem Jake has to work around to get where he wants to go, it feels like the dad is forced into the story in a clunky way that makes it completely obvious that he’s supposed to be in the way of Jake’s goal. It’s never more obvious that the dad doesn’t fit in the story then at the end—he doesn’t even get a proper wrap up of his plotline! While I think Chris O’Dowd played the role beautifully, and he always makes me laugh, his character never comes back into the story at all, making it feel like the whole plotline shouldn’t have been in the movie.
The second thing that surprised me is the reveal of the twin’s powers at the end. Throughout the film I wondered about the two of them as they were the only ones to not have their powers clearly shown or mentioned (unless I missed the first mention). At the end when their masks are lifted and the woman turns to stone, it immediately made me think two things. 1. Oh, that’s cool. 2. Wait, why didn’t they just do that to Samuel L Jackson in the house when he first came into the time loop? Their powers defeat the whole movie.
If we had learned about their powers earlier and there was some kind of explanation about why they couldn’t use them all the time—such as on Jackson’s character—it would have ruined the reveal, but it would have kept the sequence of events justifiable. By not having this, we got the cool reveal of their powers at the end, but it makes all the other characters look stupid. The twins could have dropped into the pit with all the evil people and turned them all to stone. They could have done it the first time they saw Jackson. They could have followed Jake downstairs when he goes to rescue the birds and done it then. Not justifying the lack of use of their powers creates a huge plot hole.
Overall, I did enjoy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children despite the flaws. As I said above, visually it’s just a fun movie to watch, and seeing Eva Green embody Miss Peregrine was fabulous. She really is wonderful in the role. The plot holes and issues mentioned above are just things that made the movie go from great to just okay for me. I’ll have to watch it again at some point to see if there’s something I missed regarding the twins or the father, but overall I think the first word that came to mind when watching the movie is the right one. It really is peculiar. It’s fascinating, and alluring, and I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t get lost in it the way I wanted to no matter how hard I tried.
This week I had the pleasure of watching the movie, Dead Pool. (Not the one with Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, the 2016 one about the Marvel Comic character.) This movie was so much what I expected, but also so much which I didn’t expect. In Dead Pool, Marvel has given us an anti-hero we can’t help but stand behind.
Right away, in the first scene we learn that Dead Pool, aka Wade Wilson, has an axe to grind against someone named Francis. The rest of the first half of the movie is spent giving us the backstory, so we understand the reason that axe is so sharp. Our villain, Francis, aka Ajax, not only tortures Wade in some extremely cruel and unusual ways, but in essence, he steals his life from him, forcing him to mutate in ways that make it so he can never go back. Believing that he’s lost the one thing that means the most to him, his super-sexy girlfriend, Vanessa, (and she’s not even a super hero, she’s just human), Wade takes on the identity of Dead Pool and will stop at nothing to make Francis cough up the cure.
In the movie description, Dead Pool is described as coming out of the experiment with “a ‘dark, twisted’ sense of humor, but I maintain the sense of humor was there in Wade, an ingrained part of him that even mutation couldn’t change. As we get to know Wade through flashbacks, it’s apparent that he is the perfect anti-hero, not real likeable, an ex-special forces killing machine turned mercenary. But, we also see that he has redeeming qualities through his obvious love for Vanessa and his ultimate, unselfish sacrifice, walking out of her life rather than burden her with his terminal cancer. Even though he’s not the most likeable guy, it’s hard not to empathize with him.
Okay, so his character is snarky. This may or may not be a redeeming quality. He says whatever is on his mind, prompting many chuckles from viewers, he says the things average folks might want to say, and behaves in ways which are undesirable. But the guy is honest and straight forward, in a smarmy kind of way. He makes it clear that he’s no hero and he is not out to help anyone but himself, in his quest to get Vanessa, and his life, back. You’ve got to give him credit, even if he is kind of a jerk at times. One more reason why he is the perfect anti-hero.
In fact, his character reminds me a lot of the characters Jim Carey plays, especially in the way he talks incessantly and often doesn’t think about the possible consequences before opening his mouth, or his totally outrageous behaviors. The trait certainly ticks off Francis/Ajax, creating a tension between the two adversaries, which leads to Francis/Ajax pushing harder to cause Wade’s mutation. So, in fact, Wade brings his circumstances down upon himself. In fact, that may be Wade’s fatal flaw, but he doesn’t seem to ever learn when to keep his trap shut. But then, that could be because for an immortal, a flaw really can’t be fatal.
Wade/Dead Pool may not be the most likeable character, but Francis/Ajax, the villainous character who forced the mutation on him, is even more unlikeable. In fact, it’s easy to actively dislike Francis with his super-fast reflexes and total inability to feel anything, making him a truly bad guy, and providing us with yet another reason to root for Dead Pool. No doubt that’s why Francis/Ajax is the villain. His lack of feeling also makes him the perfect adversary for Dead Pool, who heals super-fast, but feels the all pain, both physical and emotional. They balance each other out.
I’m not usually a big fan of digital imaging. I think most of it comes off looking pretty fakey. However, knowing Dead Pool came from the world of comics, I think I expected it to not be realistic and the digital imagery works for me. Comic book characters are expected to do things that seem totally unreal. They have super powers that allow them to do these outrageous things.
Which brings us to the discussion of Dead Pool’s super powers. I’m not sure exactly how his mutation has affected him or amazing feats he is able to perform beyond miraculous healing, accelerated movements and super human strength. Although they are alluded to, they are not spelled out for us. He doesn’t breathe flames or shoot webbing to swing from building on. Apparently, he puts his red tights on one leg at a time, like the rest of us, (no phone booth transformations for this guy). He uses weapons to defeat his adversaries and feels pain when he’s injured, just like a regular Joe. And he knows his limitations, too, calling on the help of Colossus and Nagasonic Teenage Warhead when the going gets tough and Vanessa’s life is on the line.
In many ways, Dead Pool was your basic super hero movie. Guys with super powers get out there and punch the crap out of one another. On the other hand, it wasn’t what I expected in a super hero at all. Dead Pool doesn’t save the world, or even his city, and his motivations are selfish. I think this movie was well written with interesting and colorful characters who are full of surprises, is filled with action, and is very entertaining. I give Dead Pool four quills.