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NoCuFoNi Update & 4 Film Recs

Novel Cutting Fortnight (NoCuFoNi) progress: -4183 words. That’s out of an original 23,918. Which is actually more like 17% instead of 10%. My argument for not shooting for 20% per scene is that this includes the exorcism of a character. I clung too long to a nine-page scene that was rewritten down to a couple of paragraphs. Sometimes, showing is *not* the best thing to. Showing unimportant things does not help the story.


Good stuff I’ve watched lately, two documentaries and two comedies:

Facing Ali (2009) – This is billed as tribute to Muhammad Ali by ten of the boxers who fought him over Ali’s long career, but it’s also the stories of these ten boxers. How do these men, all of whom were notable in their own right, cope when their professional lives intersect with someone as famous, as "charged" as Ali? It’s a good ten stories. It’s also a very well-produced film, weaving restored archival footage with interviews.

American Grindhouse (2010) – Good documentary on the history of exploitation films. Some of the earliest films really were exploitation flicks, offering quite a bit of skin and violence. Also, the "noir" genre has been reframed  for me as a film-making style that attempted to keep pace with non-studio films while working within the Production Code. (Available via Netflx’ View Instantly)

The Infidel (2010) – What happens when a British Muslim finds out that he was adopted and his real name is Solly Shimshillewitz? And his son is engaged to the daughter of a devote cleric?  Well, the reality probably isn’t as funny as this movie. Sometimes the humor goes a little awry, but Omid Djalili does a really good of being conflicted about who he thinks he should be. This movie works for me because, while it relies on stereotypes, it pokes fun at the stereotypes of both cultures. (Available via Netflx’ View Instantly)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
(2009) – If I were ten, *this* would displace Night at the Museum as my favorite movie. Adult me still found it pretty darn funny. Comedically, this movie is full of call-backs: humorous things that are set up early in the movie and paid off later. And that makes it pretty smart for a kid’s film. It has the usual lessons, but again, it’s kids’ film. It doesn’t aim at being subtle. (I was amused by this quote from the Commen Sense rating: "Although no grand life lessons are offered, the movie does center on a son’s need for fatherly encouragement and the idea that you shouldn’t compromise who you are just to be popular." Apparently those lessons aren’t grand enough.) (Available via Netflx’ View Instantly)

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Recently Watched

Aside from Inception at the theater, I plowed through a few other movies on DVD and Netflix Instant View while Eric was away:

In preference order:

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) – It deserved the Best Picture Oscar it received. I held out on watching this film because I had feared would be like Crash or Babel: issue-centered, preachy, and with a plot centered around very bad things continuously happening to the characters. Reif’s recommendation of it prompted my viewing. Considering that it’s a Danny Boyle film, I should have known better. Yes, while bad things happen to characters, Slumdog Millionaire finds beauty in the setting, much in the same way that City of God does. Plot-wise, I think you have to look at it as a morality tale, or maybe even fairy tale. Virtue is definitely rewarded.

Steel Toes (2006) – Pretty much a two-actor piece starring David Strathairn and Andrew W. Walker. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t based on a stage production because it very well could be. It’s writing is that fine.

Below (2002) – A classic Western-style ghost story set on a WWII submarine. Creepy, but with the occasional cheap scare.

The Governess
(1998) – Set in the 1830s about a Sephardi Jew that becomes the governess for a Protestant Scottish family after her father is killed. Gorgeous movie. Every shot is lush and beautiful. I knew nothing of Sephardi Jews and the Scottish patriarch is obsessed with fixing photographic images, a science that is just taking off in the early 1800s. Unfortunately, the drama between the character got in the way of these more interesting, but non-story based aspects.

Milk (2008) – Sean Penn is a great actor, but the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) covers this story better.

De-Lovely (2004) – Kevin Klein and Ashley Judd are good in this, but it ended up being much too musical for me.

A Single Man
(2009) – The most boring movie about gay relationships since Brokeback Mountain.

Australia (2008) – Haven’t finished this movie yet. I checked how much movie was left at the 1 hour, 38 minute mark and was shocked to see there was an hour left. That was a looong 1:38. Kelli says the rest is worth it. I’ll get back to it one day.

Two films I watched with Eric:

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
(2009) – We watched this about a month back and I sort of forgot about it. I liked it when I watched it. Terry Gilliam films are variable and this is my favorite since 12 Monkeys. The change in actors (Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Ferrel all playing Tony) works very well. But, in the end it just wasn’t a movie that stuck with me.

Book of Eli (2010) – I really liked the Hughes Brothers’ last film, From Hell. The washed out look of this film was intriguing to me, and who doesn’t want to see Denzel Washington kicking bad guy ass? Alas, there’s a catch to this movie. A twist. And they cheat.

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Recent Movie Watching

I’ve been totally wiped out the last couple of days. Was feeling good Tuesday. Went for a run and had lunch with Betsy and Cathy. Then came home and was useless. Yesterday, I had a energy drink before disc. And after disc. And then went to bed at 10:30 and slept 10 hours. That’s about twice as long as I usually sleep.  Which I suppose might be part of the problem. Today, I’m waking up and need a good productive day.


Renewed my Netflix account. Primary reason: pretty much the entirety of X-Files is available on Instant Watch. It’s not as good as I remember. But we’ve also been catching up on movies. Aside from Avatar we/I have seen:

With Eric:

  • The Men Who Stare at Goats – Amusing, but uneven. Really disliked the ending.
  • Up in the Air – Yes, I will watch George Clooney in anything. Liked this movie more than  Goats, but it drug about two-thirds of the way through. Montages are evil.
  • The Lovely Bones – I had to go back and read some of the novel to make sure I wasn’t delusional. For a team that did such a good job adapting The Lord of the Rings, Jackson, Walsh and Boyens do a terrible job with the source material. I’m sure it’s not the easiest novel to work with, but jeeze. Boring. I’ll need to go watch What Dreams May Come to get the image of a boring heaven out of my head.


  • Antichrist – I had heard things about this movie. It’s sort of a collection of disturbing scenes connected by sex and psychobabble. Not for everyone; not really for me.
  • Good Hair – Chris Rock’s documentary on "good hair." Fairly interesting.
  • Dreams with Sharp Teeth – Documentary on Harlan Ellison. Didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know about Harlan Ellison.
  • The Fisher King – I had strangely missed this movie time and again. It’s decent. I always appreciate Terry Gilliam’s fairy tale sensibility.
  • World’s Greatest Dad – Another good film that suffers from a poorly done ending. Granted, I’m not sure how you could end it differently. Also, montages are evil.
  • The Children – Well done low-budget British horror. Intense and makes good of the premise that kids can be a little creepy sometimes. (Not available on Netflix, but
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Avatar and a few words on World Building

Our Netflix account has been reactivated and I’ve been catching up with some movies I’ve wanted to watch. Including…


I had been advised to see Avatar in the theater, in 3D or IMAX or whatever. I didn’t. I waited for it on DVD. This is a very pretty movie. The effects are really, really good. If anything, James Cameron continues to be valuable because he pushes the technology forward, and I like that he does that. It gives other film makers (even subtle film makers) more tools to work with. More tools are good! This makes the rest really disappointing to me. The plot is derivative. I might have been able to forgive that if the micro-level writing was good, but it’s not. The characters have no dimension and speak in cliches. Nothing happens that you wouldn’t expect to happen. If the effects weren’t gorgeous, this would be a B-movie at best, a SyFy movie-of-the-week.

Then there’s the world building. Everything has a cause and an affect. The military/corporation have power armor, but there’s no low-grade exoskeleton for a paraplegic? Not to mention that if you can grow avatars, fixing some spinal damage should be trivial. Putting aside the fact that there are mountains floating in the air, where is the water for the waterfalls coming from? None of these mountains seemed to have glaciers. There are little lizard things with wirly-gig sails that dizzyingly spin them around. What’s up with that? Is that a form of locomotion? Mating dance? Predator confusion method?* Why do the Na’vi have reinforced bones on a low gravity world? Why are the Na’vi blue??? In real life, there is a reason we are the color we are.

I’m not saying that there can’t be explanations for these things; I’m just saying that there’s no evidence that it’s been worked out. Because that’s not the fun part of world building. World building might begin with the phrase, "Wouldn’t it be cool if…", but that stage shouldn’t last long. In fact, in the course of writing and building worlds, most ideas are shot down with "That wouldn’t work in this world." Then you start thinking about what would work, and usually the solution is much cooler than expected.

Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe my expectations are so high that our own work won’t measure up. What I do know is that Avatar is the antithesis of all the things I wrote about in my post on inspiration. It’s not the rainbow I love. It’s that the rainbow is beautiful *and* has such an elegant explanation behind it.

* I do this in real life too. I see a video of cute otters "holding hands" and wonder what the reason for that behavior is. Same for the weasel war dance. What is up with that?

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“I’m f-cking Irish…

…I’ll deal with something being wrong for the rest of my life."

Truer words were never spoken in a movie.

I’m not a communicator. Forget every cliche about feminine talkativeness. Forget that the only thing I ever got into trouble for in school was talking in class or being late due to talking before class. That’s conversing, not communicating. And I can be very determined to solve any problem all by myself. I can sit in front of a manuscript, determined to sort it out and get snippy when help is offered. It doesn’t make for easy collaboration.

Eric has more patience than anyone gives him credit for.


Speaking of Scorsese/DiCaprio, saw Shutter Island at the theater on Friday to kick off spring break. This movie relies heavily on (spoiler in the link) a conceit that I strongly dislike. But I do think it does a very good job with what it’s trying to do, and looks great.

On DVD, watched a small movie called The Maiden Heist, a comedy with Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy. It was serviceable, and funny in places, but nothing terribly special. On the other hand, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes or so.

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Storytelling Fails

As is tradition when I’m in Omaha, Tess and I went to a movie. We usually pick something that we like, but really no one else in our family would care for. Which means, often it’s a horror movie. Last summer it was Drag Me to Hell. A couple visits before that it was 28 Weeks Later. Both of those were better than expected. This trip, we saw Legion. Honestly, I had no hopes for this movie other than seeing Paul Bettany angelically kicking ass. Therefore, my first criticism is that there wasn’t enough Paul Bettany angelically kicking ass. There’s some, but it wasn’t really good enough. My other major criticism is that the story was poorly told. Yeah, other people have picked on the "eh" special effects (that weren’t that bad) and the cliche nature of the story (there’s a "fallen" angel and a pregnant woman…what are you expecting really?), but do a good job telling me a story and I’ll forgive those things.

At the beginning of the movie, there was a section of set up for Michael (Bettany’s angel) and background for the human characters. This was unnecessary and boring. They should have started the movie when the old lady walks into the diner. You can give me all the rest after that moment. Second, (and this might be a bit a spoilery) there are two tests: a test of strengths and a test of weaknesses. The latter was handled better than the former, but still could have been tighter. The writers could have used this structure to present all the crappy exposition they forced into the first fifteen minutes of the movie. The ending needs help too, but that’s not surprising without a strong middle. I maintain that this could have been a decent movie with focus and restructuring.


The next book on my reading list was The Seven-per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. I started it and put it down after 32 pages. At some point in my life, the thought of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud "together again for the first time" intrigued me. Unfortunately, now the concept seems cheesy, perhaps because I have my own thoughts on Holmes’ psychology and find Freud to be generally wrong. But I could have gone through with the book if the writing was good. It’s not. The levels of "meta" got in the way. This is Meyer writing, pretending that this was a manuscript of Watson’s, whose psuedonym is Arthur Conan Doyle. There was some effort to justify the inconsistencies in Doyle’s works, through Watson’s voice. To me, that’s un-needed. *That* isn’t an interesting story. My craft lesson? Always be aware of what story you’re telling and how you’re telling it. The telling shouldn’t get in the way.

The next book on the list, the last book that I brought to Omaha with me, is Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution. It’s short and, since I wasn’t feeling good yesterday, I ripped through half of it. Luckily, I have left many books here from my college days and another unread Holmes-by-others anthology was on my mom’s shelves.

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Book #4 – Stephen King Goes to the Movies

Book #4 – Stephen King Goes to the Movies by Stephen King

This book was fairly disappointing.

As I was browsing around PaperBackSwap or maybe Amazon, I caught sight of it. Ooo, I thought to myself, right up my alley. I love it when writers talk about movie adaptations. The interplay between the two types of story-telling intrigues me. Unfortunately, King doesn’t have much to say on the subject. Each of the five stories in this anthology are accompanied by only a page of commentary. Really, this book seems to be an excuse to anthologize five disparate stories.

I’m not a huge King fan, but I can’t deny that he deserves a hard look due to his popularity. Two of the stories were rereads for me.  "The Mangler" and "Children of the Corn" are from Night Shift, the first King I read back in high school. They’re decent stories though during this reading I was amused  by King’s interpretation of Nebraska geography. (From the northern most point of Highway 17 to Grand Island is 165-ish miles, to North Platte (which I could see being the author’s choice, but not an editor’s choice) about 80.) The movies are not good, though it’s mildly amusing to watch Robert Englund chew the scenery in The Mangler.

"1408" is the gem of this book. It’s a tight, unsettling short story. It’s King at his best. Unlike Carrie, this story has "found footage" that is only alluded to instead of shown. Ambiguity lends itself well to horror. In many ways, this story feels like a brief version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. In fact the more I think about it, the more parallels I see. Not a bad thing, in my opinion. I haven’t yet tired of good solid haunting stories. The movie is good too and this project is on King’s favorite adaptation list.

While I own Different Seasons ("The Body" is my favorite Stephen King work), I had not read "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." I’d seen Frank Darabont’s movie adaptation which, while good, is slow and methodical. (Darabont has also written-for-the-screen and directed The Green Mile and The Mist. I haven’t seen the former, but the latter is one of the bleakest horror movies I had seen in a long while. Well worth a watch.) The story is slow and methodical as well, maybe too much so. As a writer I’m at the stage where lean writing is my friend, and it seems that there could be areas of "Shawshank" that could be left out.

Which brings me to the last story of this anthology: "Low Men in Yellow Coats." I did not read more than the first section of this story because it had no hook for me. Nothing compelling happened in the first 24 pages. The movie Hearts in Atlantis works better, but is somewhat unfocused in its structure. Unfortunately, "Low Men" takes up half the book. Too bad "The Mist" wasn’t included instead.