Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Romantic Movies

Romantic dramas and comedies, hmmm…

I’m in a strange mood today. For better or worse, I’ll jump off into the deep end of this pool. This isn’t a genre that I normally check out when I hit the DVD store or channel surf. A lot of so-called “romantic” movies put me to sleep. Don’t care for films like An Affair to Remember or A Star is Born (any of the 83 versions of this tale) or Bridges of Madison County or Last Tango in Paris. I wish someone would put Baby in the corner permanently (Dirty Dancing) and the ship would sink sooner (Titanic) and “love means never having to say you’re sorry” is one of the lamest remembered quotes ever (Love Story). I’d rather watch a B TV western or a Z horror movie than be forced to sit through Jerry Maguire or Doctor Zhivago or Summer of ‘42.

But a few creep under the radar and I’m hooked. Completely. Thoroughly. Here are my top ten in alphabetical order (why alpha order – just cuz):

The American President
As Good as It Gets
My Fair Lady
The Quiet Man
Roman Holiday
Shakespeare in Love
Singin’ in the Rain
What Dreams May Come
You’ve Got Mail

On a second top ten list would be: The African Queen, Love Actually, Moonstruck, The Music Man, Pillow Talk, Pretty Woman, Sabrina, Sleepless in Seattle, To Catch a Thief, and Working Girl.

Good grief, maybe I’m a closet romantic.

Quick put on a Clint Eastwood shoot-‘em-up or anything with a lotta explosions.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


(Warning: Don’t read any further if you don’t want to know the endings of several movies.)

Last night I watched The Skeleton Key with Kate Hudson. Intriguing storyline steeped in Old Southern atmosphere. I was hooked. Then I reached the end. And the bad guys won. Ruined the movie for me as it did in Darkness. Didn’t like it.

There are only three possible endings: 1) Good guys win. 2) Bad guys win. 3) Nobody wins.

Back in the days of Old Hollywood, only two of the three endings were allowed. Good always defeated bad and, occasionally, nobody won. Examples of no one winning would be John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of Sierra Madre.

In the Sixties, the old Product Code was replaced with the Ratings Board and things changed. We saw new characters like the anti-heroes in Cool Hand Luke and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In those films, Law-and-Order destroyed Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) and Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) to protect Society. They played outside the rules and had to be stopped. The title characters in Spartacus and Braveheart rebelled against the corrupt powers in control and forfeited their lives for their actions.

In most movies the good-guys-win scenario is still used because it works. In Jaws, Alien, Aliens, Independence Day and countless others evil is defeated. The audience roots for the heroes to beat the bad guy (or thing) and they do. Usually at the high cost of supporting characters but they do. And we cheer. But occasionally (suspense-thrillers and horror movies being the prime culprits) evil wins out over good. Does it work? Does it make a satisfying story?

The answer: Sometimes. Or as my old novel workshop instructor used to say often -- Depends.

Chinatown, The Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver (yes, Travis Bickle is a bad guy), Witness for the Prosecution, and Body Heat are examples of the bad guys winning and the endings in these films are terrific. I don’t think they work in The Usual Suspects, Frailty, and Arlington Road. In The Godfather I and II, Michael Corleone defeats his family’s enemies but loses his soul in doing so. Look at Michael in the beginning of the first film – he’s a young, decorated veteran. Slowly he becomes worse than his enemies. (He was always smarter.) The Godfather films’ endings are much more powerful than if he’d been killed at the conclusion as would have happened in Old Hollywood. Other thrillers where the bad guys win include Basic Instinct, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Primal Fear.

In the horror field, the odds are even money on who will win between the good guys and bad guys. Sometimes the main good character survives but so does the bad guy. Examples of this type of ending would be Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Other times, the bad guys flat out win. Examples would be Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen (a personal favorite), Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Stepford Wives, Fallen, Jeepers Creepers, and Final Destination.

Do they work?

What was my point here? Whether good, bad, or no one wins the ending has to be perfect for that particular story. Robert Towne’s screenplay for Chinatown is a perfect example of excellent screenwriting. It’s beautiful. Still director Roman Polanksi rewrote the original ending and Polanski’s ending is on-the-money. It is the right ending for that story.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lesson in Storytelling

The other night I watched the western Wyatt Earp (1994). The movie was co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It stars Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Dennis Quaid, Michael Madsen, Bill Pullman, and many others. Top of the line in all aspects. There is no debate about that. Wyatt Earp is the life story of a western lawman. I know the true story and the Hollywood version of the true story. It has been dramatized in film before, most notably in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946) with Henry Fonda, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and Hour of the Gun (1967) with James Garner. It is an intriguing story that can resonate with each generation’s retelling.

Wyatt Earp despite its top-line cast and crew, despite its scope and earnest aspirations, does not work. It’s stiff and, the worst of all movie sins, boring. But it can be a learning experience. Watch it.

Then watch Tombstone (1993). This film was written by Kevin Jarre and directed by George Cosmatos. It stars Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Powers Boothe and Michael Biehn. It tells the same basic story as Wyatt Earp involving the same historical characters but in an hour’s less time. This movie works. The characters are vivid and more developed. The dialogue is memorable and individual. The suspense and action more involving. This film is in my top ten of westerns.

Watch both films. You’ll see the difference. It will be clear. Compare the dialogue and characters; hold up side-by-side the dramatic tone and suspense. Watch, learn. Now I need to review my latest writing. Did I create a Tombstone or a Wyatt Earp?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Story Responses
Received 4 responses to short story submissions I'd sent out. None were sales. Oh, well. Back in the mail they will go. One was a 125-day from Vestal Review, a flash webzine. (Had to resubmit this one. The editor, a good guy, couldn't find the original submission. Responded to the resub in less than a day.) One was to City Slab -- it was 125-days, too. The editor of Lone Star Stories responded the same day (it was an email sub by the way). The last one was 179-day response to a story I had withdrawn six weeks ago when an editor expressed interest in the story for his new anthology book. Do I move this from the "withdrawal" category to the "Rejection" column or leave it where it was? Decisions, decisions.
Rejections don't sting like they used to. I don't take it personally. You have to risk rejection in order to sell. I always remember that for the longest time Babe Ruth held the home run record in baseball. He also held the strike-out record. You can't hit the long ball if you don't swing.
My rejections stand currently at 385. But sales of fiction stories, reprints, and nonfiction articles stand at 79. That's about 19% if I don't count withdrawals and magazines that folded before responding. 13% if I include all submissions without reason. Not too bad. Can't complain.
In fact, I think I'll swing for the bleachers.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Part 2
People continue to amaze me. I gave my assistant her "walking papers" today.
This is not about my ego. At first I was stunned by the investigation results. I felt betrayed. After all I trained this person, trusted her, and supported her aim to rise in management. At first I was pisssed but I shouldn't have been. There is only one person whose actions I can control. And that's me. There is only one person whose view of the world I can truly understand. Mine. I can't feel what another person is feeling (or believes) because I haven't lived their life. I can try and I do try but a lot times I just shake my head in disbelief.
This person was stealing product and giving it to friends and people she wanted to impress. We have several witnesses, several signed statements. Of course, my assistant never expected the staff to tell. She was too well respected and "loved" by the staff. That and no one wants to be labeled a snitch.
She forget one important thing though. Most people (despite what the news headlines say) are honest. Most people are not thieves. And they resent being made unwilling accomplishes.
When I told just part of the investigation results, she interrupted with the respond that this was a witch hunt -- that I had set her up because she didn't like one of my "pet" staff members. She added that the store would not survive without her. Oh, jeez, I guess I should be afraid.
Our store is a small cog in a big company. Most of us just want to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and go home to our families. We don't want to hurt anyone or be hurt ourselves. And if during the course of our work we can bring a little smile into one of our guests' lives then it's all cool. And if it disappears tomorrow perhaps someone will miss us a little.
But if it does end tomorrow I want it not to be for something stupid that I did and thought I could get away with it.
Okay, I'm done with the soap box. Who's gets it next?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

S/F Films in 1981

Second year in the decade and a good year for s/f movies. At least in my humble opinion. Here we go:

The Oscar for Best Picture that year went to Chariots of Fire. Don’t remember much about this movie. It could be good; it could be bad. I don’t remember much about it except that it’s about athletes competing in the Olympics at the turn of the last century. This is what I do remember; it’s an early example of a music video. There’s a slow-motion scene of athletes running along the beach to a tune by Vangelis (and, yeah, I had to look up the composer's name).

These are the movies from 1981 that I do remember. And clearly. (Yes, I wonder about me sometimes, too.)

First is one of my favorite movies of all time – Raiders of the Lost Ark. The advertising tagline was: “The creators of JAWS (Spielberg) and STAR WARS (Lucas) now bring you the ultimate hero in the ultimate adventure.” And it was true. A terrific film. Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones and Karen Allen is Marion (the best of Indy’s leading ladies). And let’s not forget Paul Freeman as Belloq. He’s on my top-ten list of best villains.

Also that year: Superman 2 -- this movie is one of the best of the comic-book/graphic-novel adaptations. The Road Warrior -- the best Mel Gibson as Mad Max films. Both are solid entertainments.

In 1981 there were several good (but not great s/f) movies. The list would include: An American Werewolf in London, John Carpenter’s Escape from New York with Kurt Russell, John Boorman’s Excalibur, Outland with Sean Connery, Scanners with its classic head-exploding scene, Time Bandits, and Wolfen. All have their flaws but are definitely noteworthy.

At the other end of the scale were the sequels to Friday the 13th and Halloween. Freddy and Michael deserved better than these follow-ups. Damien grows up in The Final Conflict: Omen 3. The first movie in the trilogy is terrific, this film ain’t. On the bad scale were also: Clash of the Titans, Little Shop of Horrors (the musical), and Michael Crichton’s Looker.

On most movie guides they have the listing BOMB. I created a new one for the last film of this list – CRAP BOMB. Once I heard an actor (I think it was George Peppard) asked why he made a series of bad films. He called them his “alimony movies.” He said he took the projects so he could make his alimony payments. I bring this up because Richard Harris is in this film and I hope they paid him a lot of alimony money. The film on my CRAP BOMB list is Tarzan, the Ape Man. John and Bo Derek took a beloved character and “crapped” on him. I’ve seen home movies on old 8mm that were better than this. I’m done now.

Coming soon: 1982.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fun, Fun ... Not
Back from the GM convention in San Diego. Went okay. Met some nice co-workers and was recognized for my store's successes. Not awarded but given a honorable mention. Not too bad considering my store is one of the quietest in the company and we beat out 155 other locations in two categories.

But, putting a damper on things, was a personal investigation I did at my store just prior to the convention. I discovered that one of my assistants (and my most senior staff member) has been stealing. Caught her and have witnesses. She's dust. Period. End of discussion. Damn. Sometimes people surprise you. They do incredibly stupid stuff then when they get caught (and they always do), they act like it's your fault. Oh, well, screw it ... and her. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time as they say.

Personal life in the toilet, too. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to get outta bed in the morning. Well, things will get better. Or they won't.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Speculative Fiction in the Movies: 1980

Since I’d done a list of terrific and influential S/F in the 1970s, I decided to review the decade of the Eighties. I got as far as 1980. S/F was well represented in that year. So here’s my list (sure hope my resource material is correct):

The Oscar for Best Picture went to Ordinary People (not a good omen).

It should have gone to what has become a classic: George Lucas’ The Empire Strikes Back. For my money this is the best Star Wars film in the series. Slightly ahead of the first (or is it the third?) film in the series. This movie rocks. The characters are all in place and a few new ones have been added. Luke learns the ways of the Jedi from Yoda then faces mano-a-mano one of the great screen villains of all-time – Darth Vader. Leia and Han fall in love as they battle the Empire. Lando makes his first appearance. C3P0 and R2D2 are still the comic relief and let’s not forget Chewie or Jabba the Hut. The beginning battle on the ice planet Hoth would have been a climax in other films. Cool movie even with the cliffhanger ending (we moaned and groaned about that because we knew it’s be three years or more before the next film was released – then we went back and saw it again.)

But other terrific s/f films were released that year: The Shining (I loved King’s book and, for me, with a couple exceptions the movie was a disappointment), Superman 2 (one the best of the comic-book hero movies), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (we’d have to wait until the second film in the series for them to get it right), Mad Max (this introduced Mel Gibson to the world), Friday the Thirteenth (this welcomed Jason to the world), The Changeling (classic ghost story with George C. Scott), and Brian de Palma’s Dressed to Kill.

Plus there was Altered States, The Awakening, Battle Beyond the Stars (Roger Corman “big” budget film – a space opera remake of The Magnificent Seven), Death Ship, The Final Countdown (Kirk Douglas and the USS Nimitiz are transported back to Hawaii just prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor), The Fog (a John Carpenter head-scratcher – why did they remake this?), He Knows You’re Alone (notably only because it had Tom Hanks’ first role in it) The Howling (strange little werewolf film that doesn’t take itself too seriously), Saturn 3 (how could you go wrong with Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett and Harvey Keitel? – watch this film and see how), Somewhere in Time (time travel romance) and Terror Train.

1981 coming soon. (After the GM convention in San Diego probably – gotta pay those pesky monthly bills that keep cropping up.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


My copy of the signed contract for The Nest and my share of the option arrived in the mail today. I am beside myself. The science fiction-horror tale that Mark and I co-wrote is going to be made into a movie. A production company paid us real money for it. This is too coooool. A long-life dream has come true. Big smiles all around.
The Nest.
The experiment succeeded ... now no one is safe. A top-secret bio-research lab has gone on maximum alert. No one inside the building or any of the first investigators have emerged. Now a beautiful scientist and a team of Special Forces soldiers have entered the ten-story building to search for survivors. What they find has never walked the earth before. In the vein of Alien, Jeepers Creepers, Predator and Die Hard.
Updates will follow as they occur.
Okay. Once more: YIPEEEEEE!!!!!

Confession (Shhhhh.....)

Another Halloween has come and gone. I survived but I wasn't sure my cat, Sabrina, was going to. All the little ghosts and goblins and fairy princesses coming to the door freaked her out. She hid under my desk for the entire night. About half-way through Tuesday she seemed to come back to normal. I have a scaredy cat.
Okay, confession time. Don't tell anyone. I write horror stories and thrillers. I've killed off more characters in gruesome ways than you can think of. I try to keep up on the current market trends. I check out Fangoria regularly to see what's new in the genre. I check out the horror site at Barnes & Noble. I plan on renting Devil's Rejects and the new House of Wax to see what they are about. (Okay the one movie has Paris Hilton being murdered and that alone is worth the rental cost -- but I digress.)

The other day I rented Lost. Hadn't seen the show but wanted to see what all the fuss is about. It's mildly entertaining. Too much unexplained stuff. Even X-Files, one of my favorite shows of all time, had problems with this. Big build-up but lame pay-off. Endings are a bear. Plus the only interesting characters are Locke, Sawyer, and Hurley. Okay, the Said character had possibilities but they haven't done much with him so far. The main characters are too one-dimensional. Oh, well.

Now the confession ... I also picked up the first Disc of Desperate Housewives. I'm hooked. I shouldn't be. This isn't the type of show that usually interests me. There are, of course, the mystery elements. Why did Mary Alice kill herself? Who's Dana and is she the skeleton in the toy box? Who is Mike and what's he doing in the neighborhood? (If you know the answers to these questions -- please don't tell me.) But that's just part of why I'm hooked. It's funny, it's written well, and I like the four main characters. I hate to think what Susan's ditzy-accident prone life would be like if her daughter, Julie, wasn't there to save her from herself. Susan is just a plain likeable character. Lynette, too. Trying to take care of her kids and nothing seems to work. You feel for her. Loved the moments when she ordered the boys out of the car and left them, and when she told the alpha mom at the new school to step outside. Bree -- the Stepford version of June Cleaver. She's scary. Although I can't picture June telling Ward that she's willing to do anything he wants sexually. Then there's Gabrielle ... playing Mrs. Robinson with the teenaged gardener. Waiting for that to explode big time. I'm done now. Don't tell anyone what I just shared with you. I have my reputation to protect. Shhhh....