Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Yawns

This is not a negative blog. I try to report only on positive things. But once in a while, things are so frustrating, I want to comment.

I almost fell asleep a couple times during Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I haven’t been this hyped up by the previews for a movie and then so disappointed at the reality of it in fifteen years. The main problem (and this is so ironic after attending a writers workshop yesterday) is that I couldn’t view Valerian as a sincere person. He was not a character I could sympathize with. And besides, Dane DeHaan sounds like a nasally version of Keanu Reeves.

Cara Delevingne as Laureline is even worse. She is a one-note cold fish towards Valerian throughout.

Yes, there are lavish special effects in Valerian. But it’s mostly a matter of telling, not showing. Here we are told there are some exotic aquatic aliens. There we are told there are exotic programming aliens. And that is it. They play no role in the story. The movie features elaborate CGI sets, but mostly they are rushed by. 

Click below to read the spoilers. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Simba’s Journey

I attended an all-day writing session today taught by Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey. In it, he takes elements of The Hero’s Journey and other sources to help writers understand story structure and archetypes. So why am I starting out with The Lion King?

Vogler is quite influential in Hollywood and has often been asked to help with screenplays (the screenplays are his specialty, not novels). He was allowed to have some influence on The Lion King. As he told it, the first ten million dollars’ worth of animation had already been done, which would have been the first quarter or third of the movie.

He watched in particular the scene where a baboon lifts up the young Simba. He suggested that something like stained glass should be in the sky, with a beam of light coming down to rest on Simba. At that, the animators started furiously scribbling away at their versions of the concept. The other people shivered—that kind of shivering people get when they are deeply affected by something. He knew then that the concept was a keeper.

So they redid that first part of the animation, even though it cost them an extra two million dollars to do it.

I highly recommend Voglers’ The Writer’s Journey. Vogler himself emphasized we should not slavishly follow the story structure in it. I agree. Joseph Campbell in The Hero’s Journey stated that all great stories in recorded history have the same structure. That is not really true. But I was already writing my novels somewhat in the style of The Writer’s Journey, so it was a treat to hear Christopher Vogler go over it in person.

Also helpful, though not discussed at this Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference, is Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla. Although both authors write in terms of movie-making, their insights also apply to novels.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amazon Kindle Ripped Me Off

So I ordered a copy of The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith as a digital book for my Kindle. (It’s historical fiction set in ancient Rome.)

It never arrived on my Kindle.

I did all the troubleshooting Amazon recommended. I made sure I had a good wireless connection. My software is updated (I previously downloaded something just a couple weeks before.) I synced to check for items. My payment was valid, I wasn’t filtering incorrectly, and I did a full restart. I tried downloading it multiple times. Nothing.

To my horror, I discovered there is no way to complain about a missing e-book. If it’s a book made out of paper, they have an incredible tracking system and do everything they can to make sure the customer is satisfied. But for the digital editions, nothing. (If you’re a Dune fan, imagine Kyle MacLachlan saying, “For the father, nothing.”)

I found a cheap, used paper version on Amazon and bought that. In the future, if this happens again with a digital edition, what should I do? Should I go over to Barnes & Noble? 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Call to DEFCON One

I assume you’ve heard of Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis. A photograph in the news accidentally revealed his phone number. It was on a sticky note on some papers he was carrying? Zowie.

A student at Mercer Island High School here in Washington state noticed it. He called the number and asked for an interview. Guess what happened?

public domain 

Secretary Mattis agreed and gave the student a long interview. He not only gave factual answers to the student’s questions, he apparently gave him the benefit of his wisdom on a number of topics.

So if you find a similar opportunity, be bold enough to call, or ask, or chat. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll be told no. Or they’ll sic the dogs on you. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rockets’ Red Glare—Not

For the Fourth of July, I went to the Downtown Park in Bellevue (Bellevue is a suburb of Seattle). They have a large, artificial waterfall that is keenly engineered. A fairly new cement walkway allowed this point of view, which I’ve never had before.

The Bellevue Square mall is on the north side of the park. As I’ve noted before, the Microsoft store inside is so confident of their brand, they don’t even put their name on the front of the store.

Their open-air design has the work hard, play hard kind of feel. Notice a guy on the right is wearing a VR helmet to show off that system. (Click to enlarge.) 

Not far away is their sworn enemy, the Apple store. And they don’t have their name on the front of the store, either.

Same design. But they have achieved a slacker cool kind of vibe.

So back outside. It’s hard to convey the crowd size with one picture. 

A real treat was a performance by the Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Below is from the reverse angle.

They started with a medley from the recent Star Trek movies. In a word, fascinating. They quickly went on to a medley of Leonard Bernstein’s works. This must have been quite challenging for the conductor (who is facing us in the above picture), because of the variety of Bernstein’s styles.

Since I had to go to work the next day, I left before the fireworks show. But I could hear their booming explosions as I drove off. 


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