How Do You Know You’re Good Enough as a Writer?

I am up late tonight. I don’t have insomnia per se at the moment, but I am only now starting to feel sleepy–and it’s 4:00 a.m.

I am, of course, surfing YouTube. I came across this gem of UCLA professor Richard Walter talking about how does someone know that he/she is good enough to be a writer. Even though he is talking specifically about screenwriting, I can relate to a lot of what he says.

Check it out.

Photo of man wearing a coronavirus mask
Prevent the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19 for the sake of yourself, your friends, and your family.

The Saturday Night Special: La Noria

This film is from the YouTube channel Short of the Week. I will probably be watching them a long more often. Short of the week says about what you are about to see:

“From seasoned animator Carlos Baena (ILM, Pixar) and a crowd-sourced community of over 100 people, “La Noria” tells the tale of a grieving young boy who one day encounters dark creatures that turn his life upside down.”

“LA NORIA Directed by Carlos Baena A NightWheel Pictures Film https://www.lanoriafilm.com/ “The minute you press play and the initial images of La Noria wash over your eyeballs, one’s immediate reaction is a simple “wow”. Maybe you’re more jaded than me, and the sheer insanity of modern CG animation fails to move you, but speaking for myself, despite 10,000 hours of short film watching under my belt, a life-long love of animation, and the existence of recent photo-real short films like Garden Party, the level of design polish in great, commercially-minded 3D animations can still take my breath away. Fortunately La Noria has a couple of minutes of setup in the beginning, because shortly thereafter my breath taken away again for altogether different reasons.

“The annals of CG horror shorts in this sort of mainstream style is rather limited—”9”, by Shane Acker, certainly played in this space, and “Alma” is a creepy holiday classic. Both films are over a decade old though, and neither can really match “La Noria” for sheer terror. From the monster design which feels ripped out of some the most twisted corners of the Resident Evil game franchise, to the tense horror-chase mechanics, this film is, in spite of its seemingly kid-friendly design, truly adrenaline-producing.

“The story itself is a touch less impressive, but ultimately satisfying. It has elements of heart-string pulling, as it focuses on a ferris wheel-loving child who is torn up over the loss of his father. Gathering photos and other mementos together into a sort of shrine, the child’s heart-ache seems to birth the darkness that soon threatens him. Details from the photos hint at a back-story—the military uniform his father wears for example—and naturally create associations in one’s mind to the work of Guillermo Del Toro and his masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth”. While this setup is nicely pulled together into a cathartic and feel-good ending, it is mainly table-setting for the action, which is intense, and in comprising the bulk of the 11min runtime, quite long by short animation standards.

“One can’t question the exquisiteness of this action—a spooky old mansion, replete with string lights and stained glass windows, provides a splendid backdrop for scrambling chases and doors frantically being shut in the face of grasping monsters. More so than even the design quality, it is in these sequences that the experience and skill of director Carlos Baena seems to show.

“Baena has over 20 years of experience in animation with tenures at Industrial Light & Magic, and Pixar on his resume, with credits that include work on massive franchises such Star Wars, Toy Story, and Jurassic Park. Produced under the banner of his own production company, NightWheel Pictures, Baena took advantage of his status as co-founder of Artella, an animation platform that allows for virtual collaboration, in the creation of the film. Baena used the platform to source a diverse crew of independent artists to work on La Noria, with over 100 contributors ultimately joining the project, hailing from all over the world.

“The result paid off—not only is “La Noria” a stunning showpiece for Baena and Artella, it has received widespread acclaim, winning dozens of awards, including Best Short at Tokyo’s prestigious Short Shorts Asia. Dropping online this week with an exclusive post on Variety, the celebration from worldwide audiences is sure to spread. As for Baena’s next steps, he is currently set up at Paramount Pictures. Details on his projects there are under wraps for now, but with luck, we’ll be seeing a feature film from Baena on the big screen in the near future.” – S/W Curator, Jason Sondhi

CREDITS

Written & Directed by Carlos Baena Produced by Sasha Korellis & Carlos Baena

VFX Supervisor: Yasin Hasanian

Music by Johan Söderqvist

Sound Design by Oriol Tarragó

For more information:

lanoriafilm.com/

facebook.com/LaNoriaFilm/

twitter.com/LaNoriaFilm

instagram.com/lanoriafilm/

Let me know your thoughts on this film.

Sean Connery Has Died at Age 90

If you haven’t heard, this morning CNN is reporting that Sean Connery has died peacefully in his sleep.

Of course, he was one of my favorite actors from the time I was a child. He is one of the first actors I remember from my childhood. Having been born in 1957, I grew up with 007. I dreamed of being a spy. It is therefore not surprising that later on in life, when I entered military service, I went into Naval Intelligence, though of course I had no delusions of becoming anything remotely like the flamboyant spy Sean Connery portrayed.

I have read only one James Bond novel, Casino Royale, which was a terrific, fun. I recommend it highly. The film starring Daniel Craig was as reasonably close to the book by Ian Fleming as films go. Forget the silly 1967 parody starring Peter Sellers. Fleming’s writing style is clear and concise, though not as abrupt and terse as Hemingway’s. This was a book designed (or at least so it seems to me) to be an enjoyable summer read on the beach.

When I get more time, I hope to read more of the bond novels.

As will millions of others, I feel the loss even though I haven’t seem him in a movie since 2003’s (unfortunately abysmal) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Requiescat in pace, 007.

Notes on “The Possession Experiment”

About 3:00 I finished talking to my wife (in Texas) via Messenger intending to go to bed soon. But first, I thought, I will watch a little of a movie on Amazon. In all the times I have told myself that, it has never worked out as I planned.

I chose the 2016 horror flick “The Possession Experiment”, which is about a college student who starts out writing who intends to interview a priest who conducted and exorcism as part of a project for his theology class. However, he eventually decides to go much further and actually be possessed by a demon.

It is now 4:44 a.m. and although I am drawing close to the end of the movie, I paused to write down a few notes.

  1. This is a good movie. It’s not great, but it is not bad and it is fun.
  2. The movie, initially, has a lot of dramatic tension for the first two-thirds, but no gore. At the hour mark though, the gore and horror began and keep building.
  3. The acting is good…for the most part. The actors playing Brandon (the protagonist), Clay (Brandon’s classmate), and Leda (a medical student they hire to monitor Brandon’s vital signs during the possession) all do well. I think Clay does the best though. One failing of the movie is that the lines written for Brandon’s dad sound like they were written by a drunken eight-year-old, though the rest of the writing is reasonably bood. It does not help though that the actor playing Brandon’s dad is terrible and is awkward in his delivery. He might do well at narrating corporate workplace safety videos, but that’s it.
  4. I like the character of Brandon. The actor (I don’t know his name) does well portraying a college student who is a little “out there” to begin with and who becomes increasingly twisted as the story progresses. That said, I think the actor portraying Clay does better and the actress playing Leda (I disagree with the idea of calling all performers actors by negating their gender; I give credit where credit is due) does well also.
  5. There is at least one major gaffe when the trio goes to the place for the exorcism and brings a woman with them, but who she is is not revealed (not even her name) until a few minutes later. I was startled to see an additional character following them into the spot chosen for the possession with no mention of her being made previously.
  6. Nevertheless, this movie is worth watching.
  7. The horror ramps up in the last half hour.

That’s all for now. I might write more later but felt I needed to get those thoughts down right away.

Hasta luego. Wear your mask.

UPDATE 1:47 p.m. October 25:

Of course, I finished watching the movie a few minutes after the last post. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed the ending. The horror and tension ramp up more and more the closer one comes to the ending.

I recommend watching this movie on Amazon as part of a subscription or renting it from Redbox or another low-cost source, but I wouldn’t buy the DVD or pay for a theater ticket.

Film Review: “Body Bags” (1993)

Poster for Body Bags

Poster for “Body Bags”, 1993

Last night, I managed (we live in a remote part of Arkansas) to hook up Roku to our bedroom TV and finally get a decent stream of TV into said bedroom. Now my wife, on summer vacation from teaching, has spent much of last night and today watching Shudder (I more than she having had a bout of insomnia). I expect this to continue for some time. She is a big horror fan, the more modern the better. However, she does enjoy some blasts from the past. She caught a glimpse of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” from 1974, starring Jack Palance, and instantly proclaimed it a classic.  This was immediately before succumbing to Mr. Snooze and Mr. Snore after imbibing our version of a Sea Breeze cocktail (1:1 Malibu Coconut Rum and Ocean Spray Cranberry juice, shaken and on the rocks). Shudder, by the way, is a fun, little Amazon Prime horror channel.

The first thing we watched together though was John Carpenter’s “Body Bags” from 1993. This is a cheesy film, but so cheesy that it is quite enjoyable. Wikipedia accurately describes it as “… a 1993 American horror comedy anthology television film originally made for television, featuring three unconnected stories, with bookend segments featuring John Carpenter, Tom Arnold and Tobe Hooper as deranged morgue attendees.” As Wikipedia also notes, it is most notable for its celebrity cameo appearances. 

The three stories are fun for television horror of the early 90’s. My first thought on watching about the first five minutes was that John Carpenter must have gotten together with some of his horror director pals and done this on a drunken goof. The stories are not worthy of any directors

Mark Hamill in Body Bags

Mark Hamill in “Body Bags” (1993)

involved. They are rather silly and amateurish in terms of plot, etc. The first, “The Gas Station” involves a pretty girl pursued by a serial killer on her first night shift at a local gas station. The second story, “Hair”, has Stacy Keach as a vain executive type undergoing a radical hair growth technique and then discovering its horrifying consequences. The third story, “Eye”, has Mark Hamill as a baseball player who loses an eye in an automobile accident and then has it replaced (unknowingly, of course) with the eye of a serial killer. You can pretty much figure out where that one is headed from that brief description.

Now, on to the interesting part: the celebrity cameos. Note that I said in the above paragraph that this film is not worthy of any of the directors involved. That’s because this film has cameos from most of the most famous horror directors of that era: Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Roger Corman, and Wes Craven. If you are curious about what these guys are like in real life, this is your chance to find out. I won’t go into long, meticulous detail about each of their roles. It will be more fun for you to just watch the film and watch them pop out here and there, then watch the credits to see if you’re right.

There are also a few other non-horror celebrities making an appearance: Stacy Keach, Sheena Easton (for you younger set, she was very popular and very hot in every sense of the word in the early 90’s), and Charles Napier. One horror star that crops up is David Naughton of “An American Werewolf in London” fame.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with much else. I have some writing to do and a light supper to eat, so I must be signing off.

Bottom line: watch this movie just for fun. Don’t take it seriously. It was obviously made to be camp and silly. Just enjoy it for the silliness and the trivia value.

 

Review of Titus Andronicus, October 13, 2019

Anthony Hopkins in the eponymous role of Titus Andronicus

After I watched Equus on Sunday, I decided to ramp up the drama into horrific tragedy by watching Julie Taymor’s  bizarre 1999 film version of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.

This film is bloody enough in its own right, but it transcends the usual graphic horror found in Stephen King novels or teen slasher flicks by showering the innocent as well as the not-so-innocent with the soul-wrenching agony of parents watching their children  and the children watching their siblings suffer horrible deaths and torture.

Think of Titus Andronicus as Shakespeare’s predecessor to Game of Thrones with the horror turned up a notch but without the mercy that occasionally pops up.

Wikipedia notes that Shakespeare wrote this to “to emulate the violent and bloody revenge plays of his contemporaries, which were extremely popular with audiences throughout the 16th century [per Joseph Quincy Adams’ Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus: The First Quarto, 1594 published by Scribner’s Sons, 1936].

Shakespeare knew how to work with his audience’s emotion.

Unlike other Shakespeare plays, this one is not based on a historical character. It is set in an unspecified time in Rome after the reign of Julius Caesar. Titus is a general returning from a successful campaign against the Goths (who defeated the Romans at Adrianople in 378 CE followed by the Visigoths sacking Rome in 410 CE).  He has brought with him the Goth queen Tamora and her three sons. To pay homage to the gods during the interment of 25 of his soldiers, Titus sacrifices the eldest son of Tamora, who begs for her son’s life. Titus continues with the sacrifice.

The emperor of Rome has died and just after the execution of Tamora’s son, the emperor’s son Satuninus ascends to the throne. Saturninus wants Titus’s daughter Lavinia for his bride and Titus gives her to him, even though she is in love with Bassanius. Just after Lavinia takes her place beside Saturninus,  Titus gives him an additional gift of Tamora and her two remaining sons.  Saturninus practically drools over Tamora. Lavinia immediately runs off with Bassianus, but Saturninus has the woman he craves, so he decides not to bother with Lavinia. This makes Tamora the empress of Rome. Things keep getting worse and worse for Titus and his family as only Shakespeare can do.  Lots of gore and blood and screaming. If John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Dario Argento, and Guillermo de Toro could team up for a movie, this would be the movie they would make, but in King James English. Lots of limbs and heads coming off.

Julie Taymor sets this in a fantasy time, where swords and guns, horses and cars,, togas and suits are used with anachronistic abandon. From what the Wikipedia article on Titus Andronicus says, she did this to show the timelessness of violence. In one of the few obscenities I will use on this website, I will say NO SHIT, JULIE. VIOLENCE IS TIMELESS. TELL US SOMETHING WE DON’T KNOW.

But then, her production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is also unusual including the gender of the wizard and main character, Prospero, is changed from a man to a woman. Still, If she hadn’t translated these films to cinema, who would have. I am grateful that I got to see them in whatever form, so long as they remain reasonably true to Shakespeare’s script. Setting a Shakespeare play in another time is not unusual. Kenneth Branagh did it with Hamlet and Baz Luhrmann did it with Romeo and Juliet.

Still, with Taymor the effect is still a tad weird. She starts out in the modern day with a boy of about 11 playing violent games with toys on his kitchen table. He is then whisked away to the fictional time and world of Titus Andronicus, where he spends several scenes loitering in the foreground and watching the main characters, before he becomes Titus’s grandson toward the end of the movie.

In my humble opinion, the movie could have done without the character of the modern boy. It’s too distracting from the story and the dialogue. I don’t mind so much the setting being in a fantasy time and world, but the boy is an unnecessary detail that adds nothing to the plot or to the overall story.

Personally, I would have preferred that the movie be more historically accurate, even though the characters are fictional.  Julie should have just picked a post-Christ era of the Roman empire and ran with it.

Mel Gibson could have done it better.

Anyway, if you are into horror, like I am (though I don’t go for really graphic stuff), this may be the Shakespeare play for you.

Overall, it was a decent production and NOT BORING. I was definitely wide awake and pausing the movie when I had to take the dog out. I don’t do that for all films.  The plot is intriguing and the characters sympathetic with good and evil in each, though often one outweighs the other.

As with all Shakespeare plays made into movies and sticking to the original script, the King James English is tricky to learn at first, but it can be done. I have watched several of these films and it takes a while to adapt, but it helps it you read the closed captions. Once you adapt to it, you will wonder what happened to the beauty of the English language over the centuries. There are some beautiful and incredibly poignant passages in the dialogues, made even more poignant when you understand the overall situation the speaking character is in.

I would write more, but I have a headache from being in the declining phase of a cold and will close it here. Maybe I will write more later. I have wanted to watch Titus Andronicus for a long time and finally got around to it today. I am glad I did.

I recommend this movie highly, especially for all Shakespeare aficionados.