Sunday, April 25, 2010

read: Lamentation

Lamentation  (The Psalms of Isaak, #1) Lamentation by Ken Scholes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What was it that kept me reading this book, even as it kept grating on my nerves and frustrating my brain's attempt to analyze it? A big attractor was the cast of clear-cut and appealing characters, each of whom were of a type, but only a couple were a stereotype. Another was the interesting world, which is something like medieval times, but not quite, and included some intriguing modern touches and hints that there is (or could be) a rich history. This made the fantasy a bit more like science fiction. Probably most of all is the unfolding story, with layer upon layer of intrigue.

But what did grate on my nerves? Let's start with some of the writing quirks. How about the use of "magicks"? Really? We couldn't come up with a new word or a different word for something that acts like magic, but isn't? Then there's the matter of repetition, of "magicks" and "Whymer Mazes" and "scouts" and "salted knives". It reads like a whole city talking about nothing but Rubik's Cubes and Quantum Leaps all day for years. And if you've got mechanoservitors and iron ships that are steam powered (the latter implied by the former), where is the industrialization that created them? Why does a worldwide society seem completely stuck in a single age, technologically and otherwise, for thousands of years?


Saturday, April 24, 2010

"How to Train Your Dragon" [B+]

I have to agree with all of the critics and fans, this is a great animated film. And I didn't even see it in 3D. I didn't need to. I could tell exactly which scenes were framed to take advantage of 3D. But I'm a little over that, myself.

Not much to say, other than good story, good characters, good pacing, fun times. One question: why do ancient vikings speak with a Scottish accent? I'm sure there's an explanation somewhere.

How to Train Your Dragon (IMDb)

Friday, April 23, 2010

read: On The Road

On The Road On The Road by Jack Kerouac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is another one of those books you always hear or read about, but never read. I listened to an excellent audiobook version read by Matt Dillon. He totally nails the voice of proto-hipster Dean Moriarty, as well as Sal Paradise the narrator and others.

This is definitely a character driven story. There is very little plot. Yet, you follow along, waiting to find out what each person will do next, hoping that they will eventually make a good decision. Pseudo-spoiler: they never do, not until the very end. Sal finally chooses sanity and home, over what his now burnt-out "friend" Dean offers.

Kerouac writes prose full of high style and colorful descriptions of America of the late 1940s - a literary snapshot of an era. That's the reason I give it high marks.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Write or Flight

I almost succumbed to the urge to just dive in and start writing this morning. The opening scene started trying to write itself before I got out of bed. But this approach has not worked out too well for me in the past. That gets me a few chapters before the plot peters out, the antagonist stays missing in action, and total frustration sets in.

Thankfully, I managed to coral that thought (though I need to jot down another note about it) and convince myself I need a better roadmap of where the story is going before I start.

Back to the outline. My high-level points looked pretty good, so I started drilling down on the first couple. I have to say, the story is starting to look fairly decent. If I can keep this up, I may have the outline done this week and be able to start really writing by Monday, maybe even this weekend.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does Noir have to be All Black?

My current writing project takes place in the 1950s and I have been seeing it as more or less a detective story (albeit with science fiction elements) in the hard-boiled tradition of the era (e.g., Hammett, Chandler, et al.). But after recently viewing several more noir films, of which many are based on such novels, it suddenly dawned on me that most, if not all, of these stories have no real winners, and perhaps no genuine heroes.

Yes, yes, you say, I should have seen that all along. That's the very definition of hard-boiled novels and film noir. Everyone is out for themselves. Everyone is a rascal. And nobody wins. Even the victims turn out to be guilty of something, if not the major crime. And sometimes an apparent victim is the antagonist, perhaps the murderer. The hero almost never survives the story as a genuine hero. They're one of the biggest rascals of all, in order to survive. And even the antagonist turns out, at times, to be a victim. What a world!

But in my mind, my protagonist needs to be a hero, at least for the most part. I guess what I've discovered is that in order to be hard-boiled, he's going to have to do something rash, and calculated, and wrong. Certainly, every protagonist has flaws. But this is probably something more, something dire, something with adverse consequences. It's going to cost him. And it may cost somebody else. But that's good. It's good to know these things about my hero and what it's going to take to make what I hope is a compelling tale.

Noir is black. And in literature, film, and art, black usually represents bad. But in film noir and hard-boiled literature, bad is what makes it good.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" [B-]

Enjoyment of this film is all about expectations. If you're expecting a serious war movie or deep examination of the heart of a warrior, you will be sadly disappointed. If you're expecting an all out Saturday-morning cartoon brought too life, you will be pleasantly surprised. The plot almost holds together. The production values and acting don't get in the way. Most of the CGI and effects work. The action is non-stop.

There are some plot holes. Why are they transporting such a small case over land, when it would be safer and quicker to take it by air? Why does the President of the United States have a British accent? Why is the Joe base virtually uninhabited when the warheads are being stolen, when it was populated by hundreds of 'Joes' just a few hours earlier?

Luckily for the producers, all of that is relatively easy to overlook. This movie is not the clinker that some comic/cartoon translations turn into. It's pretty fun.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (IMDb)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Appaloosa" [B]

This is not a thriller by any means. It is at times intense, but the pacing is stately, though not brooding. This seems intentional by director Ed Harris. It is not a buddy comedy or a romantic comedy, though it exhibits some undertones of both. This is absolutely intentional by writer Ed Harris. And it's not your classic Western. The shootouts are realistic and over before you know it and none of the characters are superhuman. No. This is gritty, down to earth, offbeat and competently done. Enjoyable if you have patience and interest.

Appaloosa (IMDb)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Sherlock Holmes" [B]

I suppose I didn't mind the somewhat revisionist tone Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. brought to the Sherlock Holmes mythos. Updating the classics for modern audiences is to be expected. The approach did excel in bringing the time period and characters to life. The problem is that what works in the Holmes stories, including this one, is the repartee between Holmes and Watson as they go about their detecting duties. And there was not enough of either, here. The plot was overwhelmed by fights and chases, with the detecting bits just tacked on at the end with quick revelations, where I half expected Adrian Monk to utter "Here's what happened." But at least with Monk we got to see him actually follow the trail of clues.

Sherlock Holmes (IMDb)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Zombieland" [B+]

It's great when a film knows exactly what it is and where it's going and succeeds in delivering on the promise. Zombieland is about surviving the zombie apocalypse with some amount of dignity and humor and killing zombies. It also manages to squeeze in some sentimentality and love. Not a family movie, but fun for discerning adults.

Zombieland (IMDb)