Thursday, September 7, 2017

Truth or Lie

Crystal Collier’s blog takes its place as one of the more amusing ones in the blogosphere. A typical entry has her wry take on the world around her, complete with relevant (or irrelevant) pictures and memes. Then she’ll introduce someone’s novel, complete with a back cover blurb, link to Amazon, and a bio of the author. Then come the lies.



The author comes up with three unusual statements about him/herself. Fellow bloggers get to guess which one is the lie. From the pool of those who guess correctly, one will win an e-book copy of the novel.


This is a nice blog to follow. And it’s not just because I won this last time. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Optimistic Hiroshima Movie: In this Corner of the World

In this Corner of the World is a beautifully animated, memoir-style movie. It focuses on Suzu Urano (married name Hojo). She starts out as a hard-working little girl who loves to draw. When she eventually does marry, she’s not quite certain of her bridegroom’s name. We see a real slice of life as she adjusts to married life in the 1930s.

During the war years, she uses ingenious methods to keep her family fed as the rations they’re issued keep diminishing. Then something horrible happens in 1945. Her home town was a suburb of Hiroshima, and she lives just a train ride away.



In this Corner of the World is not meant to make Americans feel guilty, or to argue the Japanese side of the war. It simply shows what everyday life was like in a bygone era. And despite what happens, it is ultimately a hopeful and optimistic story—although you have to stay through the end credits to really see this. (I’m told that in Japan, it’s normal to sit through the end credits, so often little extras are shown during or after.)

Many of the background scenes are hand-painted. Whether or not you’re an anime fan, you’ll want to see this movie.


For my review of Your Name, click here

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What if Buffy had Never Been?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer changed popular culture in more ways than one. It paved the way for the incredible dominance of urban fantasy in novels—these are the novels set in our modern times that tend to have women fighting vampires, werewolves, etc. At one point, as I was looking at the science fiction/fantasy shelves of a bookstore, a fellow walked by and complained about the lack of science fiction. “It’s all vampires now!” Although urban fantasy is currently shrinking, it’s still an established part of such bookshelves.

Those who are not into such novels would have noticed the uptick in TV shows set in contemporary times featuring vampires, werewolves, etc. They must have wondered what was going on!

Buffy also changed pop culture in another way. Their musical episode “Once More, with Feeling” was so successful, other TV series went on to have special musical episodes. I find the song “Walk through the Fire” to be one of the greatest popular songs ever written. It’s copyright, so I can’t show you it on this blog, but I’m sure you can find it. That soundtrack is definitely worth owning.

But what if Buffy had never been?



I’m talking about a slightly alternate universe. Many people wonder why Buffy wasn’t that successful in its first season (actually only a half-season in length). Why? It was up against Ally McBeal.

For those of you who don’t know, Ally McBeal had a very different portrayal of the feminine. It featured Ally literally swooning over men she met, and it dominated among young female viewers. As I watched the first season of Buffy and saw how fantastic it was, I knew that many young women who should have been watching it were wasting their time watching Ally McBeal. I was quite concerned Buffy wouldn’t make it.

But for its second season, Buffy was no longer on against Ally McBeal, and the rest is history. But what if Buffy had been cancelled?

Urban fantasy would not have dominated the bookshelves. TV shows with contemporary vampires and werewolves would have been far fewer. Even the movie scene would have changed, since I don’t believe the Twilight series would have been such a raging success without Buffy paving the way. I know that Ally McBeal had its share of musical numbers, but without the success of the Buffy musical, other TV series would not have dared to write entire episodes as musicals.

Joss Whedon, who was the driving force behind Buffy, is now directing The Avengers movies, which are changing expectations for movie blockbusters. But without the culture-changing success of Buffy, he would have just been some guy who felt sorry for the blondes who got killed in horror movies.


So instead of pop culture featuring variations of Buffy kicking a vampire’s head in, it would have been dominated by stick-figured women swooning over the men they liked. Now, isn’t that a nasty alternate universe?  

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. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Holy Obituary, Batman—Adam West Passed Away

Adam West said of his Batman series that it was morality tales for children, but done in a way that adults could enjoy. And he was right. The kitschy, overly-polite style was great for children as Batman and Robin slugged it out with bad guys, and it entertained the grown-ups as they watched the show. And the actors—Caesar Romero as the Joker, Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin (who really didn’t like being reminded of that role later in life), and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. They were fantastic for their roles, and Julie Newmar was a purr-fect fit.


public domain 

The actual Batmobile was at a science fiction convention. I was surprised at how small it was—like a tiny sports car. In the TV series, it really did have a jet engine in it. No fooling.



And the music! If you’re in a band, jam to that original “Batman” tune sometime. That was from a time in the 60s and early 70s when there was The Addams Family theme music, and “Best Friend” from The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Great stuff.

So farewell, Adam West. Thanks for stopping when the light said Don’t Walk while you were chasing criminals, and for not throwing a live bomb in the water because you saw some baby ducks there.


Click for my comments on Powers Boothe and John Hurt

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