Potpourri–A Bunch of Little (& Stranger) Things

This blog post is just a random collection of little things that I’ve been working on over the past week that really don’t deserve a full blog post.

Stranger Things
So I started watching Stranger Things Season 2 over the past weekend.  Right now, I’m really enjoying it.  The first episode is reestablishing the characters and introducing new characters.  I like the vibe of the show, so far, even after only one episode.  It is like getting reacquainted with old familiar friends after a long hiatus.  There’s a lot of 80s nostalgia that is really forefront in this episode and also several new characters seem like a good mix for the show.  I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

iPhone 7
So my iPhone appears to be utterly and truly dead.  After talking with Apple, I’m going to have to take it to a local authorized Apple Dealer and see if they have a phone in stock that I can exchange with it, or if I’m going to have to wait for Apple to send me a replacement.  Ugh, very frustrating.  I’m just grateful that it was in the 1 year warranty period for the phone.  I’ll keep you up-to-date on the phone situation.  I did, by the way, have a great Technical Support experience and the Apple Advisor was very patient with me as we went through the process.  I greatly appreciated that!

Star Trek Next Generation – First Season
I’ve started STNG and the first season is much “rougher” than I remember.   I knew Worf’s prosthetics & makeup underwent a redesign, but it looks worse during the first season than I remember.  Also, many of the trademark elements that made STNG what it was were either still being formed or hadn’t yet been implemented, so the show feels like an “empty shell” rather than the rich, inventive show that I remember.

Well, that’s all for now–this post will have to be short and sweet.  Till next time!

Advertisements

Finished Goosebumps

So, for Halloween, I thought I’d mention that I finished Goosebumps over the weekend (well, not really–it turns out that GB is on the list to go away from Netflix’s library in Nov).  As I had seen about ⅓ of the movie, I wanted to finish it before it left, so I watched it over the weekend.  I have to say that I liked it.  It was more fun than I thought it would be.

It is the quintessential Young Adult movie with a few scary elements.  It actually reminds me a lot of the Spiderwick Chronicles and Inkheart.  It has a lot of heart and isn’t a cynical cash grab like some other “YA franchise films.”  Some of the students at my old Middle School really loved this film, but it has enough for adults too.

Without spoilers, basically, the movie is a “What if?” scenario:  What if R. L. Stine was real (well, he is real, but real in the movie’s world) and the monsters in his books were also real and can literally leap off the page?  It takes some of the most famous characters and books from Stine’s work and creates CGI monsters to bedevil our protagonists.  There’s not a lot of teen angst and the love story is “sweet” (not saccharine, but really nice one that actually has a basis in the plot of the movie).  That being said, there are a couple of cringe-worthy moments that kids won’t mind, but adults will roll their eyes at, but on the whole it is a fun movie.  And, to be honest, the movie earned major cool points with me for having Jack Black’s R. L. Stine character take on Stephen King on who’s a scarier writer and a better bestseller.  The scene is small, less than two minutes of screen time, but it was a nice Easter Egg for a former Bookseller/Librarian Assistant like myself who sold/checked out countless Goosebumps books.

Overall Grade: B (Above Average)

Here’s hoping everyone has a fun (& safe) Halloween!

Mini-Review: The Mummy (2017)–No Spoilers

The-Mummy-2017_DhakaMovie

The Mummy Movie Poster, Image Source: Dhaka Movie

For the Labor Day Holiday (in the US), I watched The Mummy (2017).  I thought it was fun and the action set pieces were very interesting, but The Mummy tried to mimic several things from the previous Mummy movie (with Brendan Fraser) and didn’t do it as well as it could have.  Here is a short review (& rumination) on some of the reasons why the movie was not as successful as it should have been.

Characterization

We were supposed to understand and buy that the main character is a “rogue,” similar to Han Solo.  He is a man of questionable actions and intents, but ultimately has a “good heart.”  This doesn’t come through in the script.  This is told to us by other characters, mostly by the female lead, but we don’t actually get to see him be a good man or a scoundrel.  We just get to see him make several questionable choices that don’t really make sense.  The filmmakers needed to have given him one “trait” that he could have done over and over again to emphasize that he is “impulsive,” let’s say, or something similar.  He frees the mummy without asking the “expert,” but is unprepared to deal with the consequences.  If he kept doing impulsive things throughout the movie, then that would show us that he acts before he thinks and this would have been a problem that he could have worked to solve (or understand) by the end of the movie, but that’s not what happened.  Look at World War Z if you want to see characterization by showing rather than telling.

Dialogue

“Witty Banter.”  My bane in Ken Smith’s Writing Class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (at least during my early, formative days as a writer).  I had to learn that witty banter (a la Star Wars and Star Trek) doesn’t equal a good story.  Witty banter comes about with characters who are in opposition with each other, but who are also clever and know they’re clever and they fight not just with guns and swords (or phasers and lightsabers), but who also fight with words.  The writers used witty banter in place of true characterization and instead of making the characters seem human and real, witty banter was included to make the characters seem hip and cool.  The problem is that without true characterization, the banter felt (to me) forced and didn’t have the necessary zing to it.

Tone

Finally, there was a problem with the tone.  The movie wanted to be everything at once.  It wanted to be dark, funny, irreverent, clever, scary, and a blockbuster all in one go.  It had too many elements that didn’t mesh as well as they could have.  It was trying to channel the old irreverence of the Brendan Fraser Mummy while still trying to tell as serious story like King Kong: Skull Island or something similar.  It reminded me very much of the movie Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey in terms of tone.  It was angling to be a much more serious movie, but was undercut constantly by in-jokes, witty banter, and improbable plot turns that turned it into something more like a comedy than an action movie.  The same is true here.  It had the same type of protagonist, the same “ditzy” sidekick, and the same independent woman/dependent woman love interest.

Sahara_Amazondotcom

Sahara Blu Ray Cover Art, Image Source: Amazon.com

Now again, I thought it was fun movie, but even as I watched it my mind was critiquing it for the problems that it had.  Truly exceptional movies, however, have the power to withstand my inner critic and only upon repeated viewings do problems arise.  If the makers of The Mummy (2017) really want a successful movie franchise, then they’re going to have write it in a much more believable and consistent manner or audiences are not going to show up for future installments.

 

Comic-Con Week: “IT” (Stephen King movie)

pennywise_pinterest

Pennywise from IT (Image Source: Pinterest)

Okay, so I’m cheating a little with this one.  “IT,” the upcoming movie based on the Horror novel by Stephen King did make an appearance at Comic Con, but it was in a panel session and did not release a trailer to the public over the weekend (I think they called it the “IT” Experience).  However, yesterday they released a super-creepy official trailer to go with their super-creepy teaser trailer from earlier in the year.  So I’m going to feature it in Comic-Con week even though the trailer released afterwards.

So this movie–IT Movie Trailer–looks to be a full-on horror movie.  I don’t really like horror movies, but having said that, I may try to see this in the theaters.  I’m still undecided.  The thing that I like about this one is that, like Stranger Things, it follows a cast of children trying to overcome the “Big Bad” in the small town of Derry where they live (in this case a clown).  Stranger Things was influenced a lot by the works of Stephen King and I really enjoyed the themes and way that ST turned out.  From the trailers, this movie seems to have been inspired by ST, but wants to amp up the scare factor.  And that’s where I may have to “tap out.”  I may have mentioned it before, but I’m more into suspense than pure horror in that I prefer a mystery (it can be a creepy mystery), but I like there to be a problem to be solved rather than feeling horror and dread for characters.  I can’t quite tell which way this movie is leaning as there are aspects of both the creepy mystery angle and horrific jump-scares in both of the trailers.

Another thing is (again) the nostalgia factor.  I have read the novel (it’s been some time ago, however) and I have watched the TV movie version from the 1980s(?).  So I’m fairly familiar with the characters, plot, and conflicts, but I’d like to see the 2017 take on the work to see how it stacks up to the other forms that the story has taken.  And even if I don’t see it in the theater, I will probably see it at some point just for “completeness” sake.

Stranger Things: Mini-Review (No Spoilers!)

stranger things

HORROR FOR A NON-HORROR FAN

I just finished watching Season 1 of Stranger Things (ST) and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I was afraid that the series wasn’t going to live up to the hype set up by online fans of the show.  However, after watching all eight episodes, I have to say that I really did come to enjoy it.  It started a bit slowly for me (Episodes 1-3), but the middle episodes (4-6) really ratcheted up the tension and while the resolution was good (7-8), they weren’t nearly as impactful as the middle episodes in my opinion.  This, I think, is why I didn’t rate it higher.  When it is good, it is excellent, but the slow beginning and the not as impactful ending really made the show seem not as suspenseful as it could have been.  Now, I didn’t “binge” watch it, but rather watched it one episode at a time on Saturdays (as a reward to myself for getting through a “hard” week), so perhaps that had something to do with it, but in my mind, a really good series should be able to be watched either one episode at a time or “binged” watched without it making a difference.

The one thing that the show really gets right (and makes the bulk of the middle episodes) is the idea of mystery and suspense.  These episodes drip feed the story to the viewer in just the right amount of atmosphere, suspense, mystery, character development, and plot progression.  We discover more about the characters, the world, the mystery of what is going on, and how all of this came to be in the middle episodes and that is what makes this show so great.  While there are horrific elements, the goal is less on trying to scare the viewers and more on creating tense and suspenseful encounters to place the characters and I really appreciated that as a viewer.

STEPHEN KING “LITE”

Okay, so I’m not really a “Horror” fan.  When I say that, I mean that while I have read some horror novels and seen some horror movies, they do not make up a major component of my genre experience (unlike Fantasy and Science Fiction).  I read authors such as Dan Simmons (in his “Horror” phase) and British author James Herbert (who would now be considered Dark Fantasy instead of Horror).  I’ve also seen movies such as Alien and others like it, but in general I prefer the feeling of wonder and excitement to that of dread and horror.

I used to read Stephen King (his 80’s and 90’s work) and ST gives me a Stephen King “Lite” vibe.  It has a construction of a less intense and less horrific version of Stephen King’s It.  I think that it is the focus on suspense rather than horror that really helped me to become invested in the series.

GOOD RESOLUTION (FOR THE MOST PART)

I liked the ending, although I have to confess, that I wanted the “love” subplot to go differently than it turned out.  The resolution of that subplot seemed forced and cliche and relied on a character change that wouldn’t have happened in real life based on the way the original boyfriend acted in the earlier episodes.  The character does a complete 180 change in behavior that was hard for me to accept based on his earlier behavior.  Also, the creators set up the early episodes giving the “new” love interest a lot of pathos by showing his backstory, his motivations, etc., but because of the old boyfriend’s abrupt change in behavior, this doesn’t go anywhere.

The ending of the main plot, however, seemed to end well and left itself open for a sequel, as shown by the Super Bowl Ad.  It definitely seems that while things resolved, it doesn’t seem like the sequel will be forced or unnecessary.   I’m actually looking forward to it.  I think it will take the show into some very interesting places.

RATING: Season 1 Grade: B+ (Above Average)

If you like suspense and mystery and don’t mind a few chills and scares, then this is a great show to watch.  Even though the cast includes a mix of child and adult actors, they all do a great job and are completely invested in the world that the show runners created.  I look forward to Season 2 later this year.

IMPLICATIONS FOR MY WRITING

I learned that putting characters that I like into dangerous situations helps to create suspense because you’re invested in that character and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to that character.  This tension is what creates suspense and why I think that the middle episodes (4-6) are so good.

Also, I learned that I shouldn’t change a character’s behavior mid-way through without a good reason (perhaps externally).  The show runners obviously wanted to show that the “old” boyfriend had a change of heart, but his change wasn’t earned well enough/strong enough (in my mind) to result in the change that occurred.  I need to remember to make any change in the character that deviates radically absolutely explicit to the reader to make the reader believe that the character could change realistically in the way I show by clearly showing the internal/external struggle that forces that change.