Archives for category: movies

​I should know by now that something amazing may be encountered at any time. Shopping is a particular activity that provides opportunities for random fascinating conversations. Once, among the treasures of a Macy’s purse sale, a woman noticed my subtle Phantom of the Opera T-shirt and struck up a conversation about the musical, different versions, Michael Crawford, Broadway in general, and eventually my obsession with all things Wicked. Best Buy was host to a chance conversation with a young army veteran who worked there. We both enjoyed exchanging tales of foreign travel and historical landmarks so much that he would subsequently spot me across the store and come over to resume our conversation, as if it hadn’t been weeks since our last encounter. And a handicapped man at Walmart once told me about his sad, courageous life, obviously a very rare occurrence, spurred into an unfamiliar need for a sympathetic ear after a car almost ran him down in the parking lot. A simple shopping trip can lead to memories that become woven into the fabric of daily life.

Yesterday, I stumbled into a conversation with a sales girl at Pier 1, while lamp shopping. As random discussion will, it started simply, with my love of art glass. Eventually it wound around to some of the cool glass I’m finding among my mother’s things, from Depression Glass, to antiques, to very old photographs. My century old badly faded image of my maternal grandmother, in Edwardian attire complete with a giant hat similar to the awesome ones I was dazzled by in the movie Howards End, tends to trump anything most people have in their family collections. Many modern families don’t even have more than a handful of old pictures, if that. The woman I met had what will probably be the greatest antique photograph story I’ll ever hear.

I mentioned that many people find my mom’s stories of her life fascinating, since she lived through so much history. When I said she was born just a few years after the Titanic sank, this articulate and intelligent young woman quietly stated that more than one of her ancestors were on the Titanic. One of them was a member of the orchestra that famously accompanied the doomed ship on her tragic swansong. A particularly poignant event that’s become a point of consternation among those deeply interested in the fated first and last voyage of the most famous ship in history was that the orchestra member’s wife was charged for his lost uniform. Imagine being informed that your beloved lost spouse’s company uniform must be paid for…as it was lost to the depths of the sea. These are parts of the story I’ve heard about in countless TV documentaries. It was breathtaking to talk about them as someone’s family memories.

People Who Died on the Titanic

​I just watched Solace, and, along with a general impression, moments and images still flash through my mind. Ironically, it reminded me stylistically of the TV series Hannibal. It used unexpected imagery in artistic ways, embedding impressions flawlessly in the viewing experience. The irony of course is that Anthony Hopkins starred in Solace, long after he made Hannibal Lecter a horrorhousehold name. It’s probably entirely coincidental that the Hannibal Lecter TV series he had nothing to do with had so much in common visually with the movie Solace. It’s very odd, though.

His John Clancy is my favorite of his characters in quite some time. Rich and deep, Clancy gives his portrayer a lot to work with, which he does to perfection. A touch telepath who wears tragedy like an uncomfortable overcoat, he reluctantly helps an old friend find and stop a killer. Along the way, he finds a new friend, a strength he thought he’d lost, and possibly a measure of peace.

For all its artistic beauty, the movie shows crime scenes in real and surreal detail. Some of Clancy’s vision are bloody and violent. All of it leads to a showdown played out on mental as well as physical planes. Emotional trauma is at the forefront of many moments, particularly a satisfying ending I thought I glimpsed early on, from mere hints of foreshadowing. Or perhaps bits of writer’s instinct. 

Jeffrey Dean Morgan played his old friend Joe, a dedicated cop with a secret he knows Clancy knows. The eventual reveal and quiet acknowledgments revealed as part of the story’s unfolding the burdens such a man as John Clancy must bear. Morgan’s excellent performance was a reminder of what a wonderful actor he is, for those who can’t help being caught up in the dark days of the Negpocalypse that is his role on The Walking Dead.

I’d seen trailers for Solace for some time. They didn’t do justice to this tight, taut, and mesmerizingly vivid film.

Solace Trailer

Anyone who’s read my musings here for any length of time will have noticed that I’m interested in a very wide variety of topics. That interest in just about everything started when reading classics like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities as a kid. It spread, as opportunities for travel grew as an adult, and became pretty much a cofoundation of my life with writing once telling stories decided to become my life. Today, TV, movies, and the internet, along with books, feed my voracious appetite for information. What better time for an information junkie to be on the planet than during our great Information Age?

Two of my particular sources of fascination have long been medical science and ocean travel. Sailing ships and their adventures are attractive for their drama and romance. The concept of transferring navigating the globe in vessels of canvas and wood lends itself perfectly to extrapolation into space. Trade the canvas and wood for titanium and transparent aluminum, and you’ve hitched your wagon to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, though he used the analogy of a wagon train traveling the great unknown. Some of us are born adventurers, whose passion for the stuff of myth and dreams leads us to explore space in our minds and on paper…and for some lucky few, in real life. As writers of science fiction, we may invent diseases horrific and space born, but none may be more horrific or devastating than the one I just read about in this National Geographic article.

Often I don’t eat very much at all or enough fruits and vegetables. If left to my natural appetite, I eat one carb heavy meal a day, with a little grazing on the side. I have had the habit of making jokes about it, saying something like: “Time to eat a salad or some fruit. Don’t want to give myself scurvy!” After reading this article, I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to make light of such a terrible illness.

I’ve known about scurvy since ninth grade general science. Rickets too, which led to a similar joke, because I don’t like to drink milk. The very idea of scurvy carried a slight air of mystery and romance, because of its connection to sailing expeditions. Ninth grade children weren’t informed in their textbooks of just what it did to the human body. Now that I’ve been enlightened, all traces of romance and mystery have disappeared. All that’s left is an education on an obscure medical crisis that was also absolute tragedy.

Some of my favorite fiction to write involves medical backdrops. I have a feeling a space faring version of scurvy now lurks in my futuristic writing future. Anything can be expanded on, tangented from, and transferred to space. Scurvy included, though it’s going to be hard to “improve” on this very real horror from our earthbound past.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/01/scurvy-disease-discovery-jonathan-lamb/?google_editors_picks=true

This article is a real eye opener, giving rare insight into how much money a bestselling author may make and the dire straits they may be in anyway. It’s all too easy to look at the the potential success of a novel or memoire, with starry eyes and dreams of fame and fortune, but we don’t often come across a successful author talking openly about hard times. Cheryl Strayed does just that here. I haven’t read her books, but I did see the excellent movie adaptation of Wild. I was shocked and dismayed to learn that what seems like a lot of money just helped pull her out of financial quicksand, much of it acrued while writing her books. Her entire situation was actually downright scary. It’s a wonderful thing to dream of a bright future, especially for authors who live on dreams more than money much of the time, but it’s also valuable to know the harsh reality some authors face. On the off chance of attaining great success, it would be very wise to heed the cautionary tale that was part of Cheryl Strayed’s real life.

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A pale blue sky laid its canopy over the field blanketed mountain, as I approached a special place in Rising Fawn, Georgia. I had hiked down to the waterfall at Cloudland Canyon another time, without knowing the area was the home of a remarkable hero. When I did know, it was arranged for me to meet the man known then more by word of mouth than any prominent fame.

I was a little nervous. Congressional Medal of Honor recipients are a rare breed, which makes meeting one a rare honor. As soon as you are in their presence, any nervousness melts away in the warmth of your welcome. Stepping into the home of Desmond and Dorothy Doss was like visiting grandparents you’d never met. Complete with cookies and a cool drink.

As is usually the case with true heroes, Desmond Doss was a humble man. Exuding kindness, he offered a handshake and a sweet smile that in no way diminished his reputation as the
hero of Hacksaw Ridge. I can understand why he met his admiring public by appointment. Being prepared insured the experience would in no way disappoint those who made a special trip to meet him and shake his hand. I think, perhaps, it also gave him time to breathe and ready himself for the inevitable trip back in time that visitors would set him off on.

There was the matter of his cochlear implant, as well. It was explained that facing him directly to speak would help the marvelous technology to pick up sound and help him hear. It was a bit disconcerting for me and probably less than comfortable for him, but he made no complaints, just praise for the device.

He gave a sort of informal presentation and answered questions, with dignity and grace and the far off look in his eye that is so common among the WWII veterans who are able to share their stories. Being in his presence was a quiet, sobering, unforgettable experience. One that I’ll never forget. I’m glad to be able to remember it once again and share it on this Veteran’s Day.

I can’t let the 50 year anniversary of Star Trek pass without marking it as special to me. I stumbled into The Original Series long after its original run. I’d seen the movies and some franchise episodes. I liked them, but it was reading the novels that made me love them so much that I wanted to write my own Trek fiction. This avalanche of inspiration led me to watch… everything Trek. All that amazing Star Trek goodness inspired me to not only play in Gene Roddenberry’s sandbox, but also to continue what I learned from that into creating original fiction.

The end result to date of falling in love with Kirk, Spock, and Bones is that I won publication in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies VII, VIII, and Ten. The thrill of seeing my byline on those pro sale stories will forever be a landmark of my life, as a reader, a writer, and a human. That experience instilled in me a great love of writing and a work ethic that has led me this year to another longheld dream come true, being published in Analog.

Today, on the date when Star Trek first aired 50 years ago, I salute The Great Bird of the Galaxy. He enhanced my life in ways he never knew, but that I will treasure forever.

I just finished watching a thrilling thriller that bombed at the British box office. It made just $141 in a weekend. I’m so used to seeing box office figures in the millions that I had to go back to check the numbers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a movie with such a high caliber cast make just $30 per theater on opening. My taste in movies often goes against the critical reception, and this time is no exception. It’s always strange that two people can watch the same movie, then have diametrically opposed reactions to it. In the case of Misconduct, I seem to be swimming upstream in my enjoyment of this movie. Ah well, all the more reason for me to run toward something critics flee.

My title for this post is tricky. On its surface it is what it is. The case at the center of Misconduct is about as open and shut as they come. Not. Well, sure, it seems so at first. It’s obvious who the white hats are, and equally obvious that Anthony Hopkins’ character is a very bad man. A corrupt  big pharma exec, with a ruthless black heart. But…but…but he does seem to care about his beautiful young girlfriend, when she’s kidnapped. Those but…but…buts keep coming until the final frames. By the time of fade out, I felt as if my center of intellectual gravity had shifted…several times. As I waited for the mental room to stop spinning, I realized the biggest but…but…but was the floppiness of this slick, red herring riddled twisty thriller. It may be fair to say every movie is at the very least somewhat different for every person who sees it. In this case I seriously feel as if I saw an entirely different movie than the critical pariah that bombed so badly in Britain.

Anthony Hopkins was riveting, but of course I feel that way about his Barclay’s Big commercial, so consider me at least slightly prejudiced on the subject. On the other hand I’ve seen at least…seventy five of his movies and only disliked two, while still admiring his performances, so I can speak with considerable authority on his prowess with whatever script he crosses paths with. The man is brilliant. Pacino is no slouch, of course, and I always like Josh Duhamel’s tall, charming, talented, good looks (not necessarily in that order). Those three came together as a multipronged powerhouse, of obfuscating cinematic glory.

The plot boasts as many twist as the Iron Throne does sword points. Yes, it is confusing. It is extremely complex. It takes a nimble mind to keep up. Maybe you have to like the three male stars as much as I do to even try, but the reward for the effort is sitting back in awed comprehension of a puzzle with not one missing piece. It falls together in a way that makes you want to hit somebody. Several somebodies. But there’s more than enough blood and bruise makeup on display to make you realize several some bodies have already been hit hard enough for one movie. So you mentally applaud,  and in my case start the search for the next Anthony Hopkins movie in the quest to see them all.

Now about that title. Beneath the surface it’s a nod to the beautiful, seamless camera work in Misconduct. I started noticing the way we watch externally, as characters glide from one location to the next. They often traverse rooms, even buildings, with an elegant grace that is so organic that it almost seems they’re transported elsewhere by nontraveling motion. This way of handling scene transition is not only visually beautiful, but technically so as well.

The reason I’m so attuned to that kind of thing is that when I first started learning the art of crafting a screenplay, I had trouble with scene changes. I didn’t realize it at first, but as I started the extended period of proofread-and-rewrite that is such an integral part of the process, I came to see that I had not yet learned the how and where of location transition.

This odd sticking point may be due to the fact that I was a novelist first. With fiction writing, the narrative flows subconsciously, often intuitively and assumptively for both writer and reader. With screenplays it’s more technical. The script is all about what the camera sees.    Physical transition is a series of opening and closing doors. While you don’t need to describe these doors, or acknowledge their existence even, you have to make sure you clearly get a character out of a location, without zipping him into a different room as if by magic. Unless you’re actually writing Harry Potter. Then you can apparate him to your heart’s content. What you can’t do is have muggles disapparate into walls.

The more you write, the more automatic proper transition becomes, but while learning it takes concentration. I was busy remembering proper slugline structure, to CAP or not to cap, and how many lines were trying to slip into any given action block. Eventually, I came to realize that while I concentrated on all that, I was slamming cameras into walls and doors and quite possibly people I’d forgotten to move out of the way.

Watching Misconduct glide people along from an external vantage point made me realize there’s always going to be more and more and more to learn about ways to make what a screenwriter sees in his head translate to the screen visual. Thus, location transition doesn’t always have to involve opening and shutting doors, literally or figuratively.

So, another movie I went to the opposite corner with the critics on. And the box office. I wonder what the handful of people watching in each almost empty screening thought. I’d like to think at least some left thrilled with the thriller they just saw, and wondered what movie the critics who panned it had seen instead.

Misconduct–Official Trailer #1

Barclay’s Big Commercial