My Childhood Destroyed

It was 1984. Indy was exploring temples of doom, Beverly Hills cops received lessons in diversification, Nightmares on Elm Street were prevalent, Arnold, one of Fonz's friends, taught a kid Karate, feets were loose, a Schwarzenegger-looking robot went on a Sarah-killing spree, and a neverending story was told.

On my 13" television I saw a fuzzy commercial about a ghost movie. All I saw was electricity that transformed a woman into a satanic looking dog. "Nope. Ain't seeing that," I said to myself. Ghost movies weren't my thing because I scare easily. Even Gremlins freaked me out, despite Gizmo's cuteness.

"Hey, for my birthday," my best friend said, "we're gonna see Ghostbusters."

My mind flickered to the satanic dog. "Isn't that scary?"

My friend shrugged his shoulders. "Probably."

Being the good friend that I had been, I went with him and a slew of other brave kids and sat in the movie theater that seemed darker than usual.

The silver screen lit up, showing the main branch of the New York public library. A lone librarian strolled down a narrow hall of shelves, putting books away. As the old lady passed the card catalog, one by one, they slowly slid open. The cards flew upward like a geyser, chasing the frightened woman away. Then we see her scream from flashes of bright light. And I forgot how dark the theater was.

I saw Ghostbusters five times in the theater. Of course in the theater. There was no other way of watching movies until it came out on VHS. And no, I'm not talking about VHS the movie.

Ghostbusters became one of those 80's movies that helped define my childhood. I ran around with my friend, wearing an empty backpack, holding a small branch, chasing ghosts in a field where I used to live.

Over thirty years later, the remake has made it to the theaters. When I first heard that the four main characters would be all women, I was perturbed because the whole thing felt very heavy-handed, but I didn't put much thought into it.  Apparently there was a massive movement against the all female cast. There were rumors that Sony deleted mysogynistic comments about the new movie from their site. And a Roger Ebert reviewer said that Sony could have put more effort in making a better movie than removing those comments.

And I have to agree.

As a storyteller, I'm always itching to find out why certain stories work and why others don't. It was difficult for me not to compare the remake to the original. But in this case we should from a comedic perspective.

In the original, the comedy emanates from the situation the characters are in.

In the remake it feels like the cast is playing to the audience. When that happens, we're taken out of the story because we're forced to watch them 'talk' to us rather than enjoy what's going on in the scene.

An example from the original:

We're introduced to the first Ghostbuster, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. He sits behind a desk in front of a contraption with a few flip switches. Facing him are two students, a female and a male, who have volunteered to test their psychic ability. Venkman holds up a card without revealing the face, a star.

The male student puts his fingers on his temple and thinks. Nodding, he says, "Square."

Venkman flips the card over, revealing the star, and says, "Good guess, but wrong." He flips a switch and shocks the student with a blip of electricity.

The good doctor looks at the female student, a slight smile crosses his lips, and pulls another card. "Tell me what you think it is."

She thinks for a moment. "Is it a star?"

The male student snickers. I would too. We just saw a star!

"It is a star," Venkman says, putting down the card without revealing what it truly was.

The male student looks at the card, looks at the girl, and can't believe what just happened.

The rest of the scene is more of that, and it's funny because the intention of Peter is completely understood without telling us. Not only that, he's destroying the results of his own study for the purpose of getting some ass. And the male student finally blowing up at the doctor at the end of the scene is its climax (good structure), giving the comedy punch. None of this is played for the audience. There are several layers at work that it messes with our minds, making us laugh.

Back to the remake. It seemed that a lot of the comedy is forced. I think part of it is because they tried to redo some of the original stuff. When the first three lady Ghostbusters encounter their first ghost, Kristen Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, goes to talk to it like Venkman did with the original casts' first ghost. The class 4 entity throws up on her, covering her in more slime than Venkman ever had to suffer. It's not funny because it's not a new take on the paranormal. And much of the remake is filled with playing to the audience rather than creating situations that are funny.

The only character that seemed to be in the moment is Kate McKinnon's character, Holtzmann. Her wacky spectacles helped, but often she just sat there in her scenes and let them be funny rather than working so hard for the comedy.

I think a lot of remakes don't work because they're trying to reproduce what has worked before, rather than creating something new, a different perspective or take.

If you look at Chris Nolan's Batman, Bruce Wayne is shown as a human being with all of the vulnerabilities of a real person. There was a story arch that stretched over the trilogy, which meant Nolan wrote an origin story, progressing to Batman becoming a symbol, moving to an arthritic hero where its purpose has been fulfilled.

There are layers of storytelling because Nolan uses Batman to tell us something deeper than what we see as the Dark Knight. And that's genius.

Compare and Contrast

A hallmark of a good story, outside of the story arc, is the character arc. We wanna see our character transform to the person they should be. Despite our dislike for change, Newton’s law I suppose, we want to improve, grow, get better, become greater than what we think we can be. Even people who aren’t storytellers know something is missing if nothing changes in a story, whether it be the overall or character arc, because we’re asking ourselves, What’s the point?

ChoppedLiver

ChoppedLiver

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with a few friends and a bunch of new ones. We were enjoying the rare warm sun of San Francisco with everyone teeming the streets with their dogs, boards, and wheels in the midst of the many picnics and people soaking in the rays. During the hustle and bustle, two acquaintances scurried up to my friend who said, “I’ll forward his info to you.” One of the girls thanked her and gave her a grateful hug. I’m standing there thinking, What am I, chop livah?

Dadudadudaaduuuu...Hawaii Five O

Dadudadudaaduuuu...Hawaii Five O

The guy they were referring to was tall, athletic, good looking, had a great career and a great personality to boot. So I get my imaginary list: I’m short, excuse me, height challenged; no one can tell whether I’m Filipino or Vietnamese even though I’m neither of those, but who can tell in the first place; still working on my five pack, I’m missing one, genetics I guess; I have a day job with no want for advancement; I tend to rely on humor too much and wonder if it’s a defense mechanism. So I understand the excitement over the new guy, who I’ve gotten to know, and is a cool dude.

Stress and self-loathing bubbles in my chest, a victim mentality wells in my mind, and I feel like nothing. At this point, my confidence is dead and dying. Uh. Right.

They all look like me

They all look like me

When I taught kids, one of the main things I imparted was not to compare oneself with any other. We are all perfect in our own way because there doesn’t exist one ideal perfection. In regards to nature, and the arts, if there was one ideal, then we’d die out pretty quickly because we wouldn’t be able to adapt. Art would all look the same. It’d be a horrible, horrible thing. Sorta like Hollywood movies. Oooh. No I didn't! Comparing ourselves to something else is pointless; we don’t wanna be like someone else, we inherently wanna be us, but accepted as well.

So what do I do about the above situation? Nothing. There is nothing to do because I know myself, I know what I offer, and like all other humans, I have many facets that lend well to whatever it is I want to do or be. It doesn’t make for good storytelling, we wanna see the trials and tribulations of self discovery, but I’m not the story here. My characters are, though, I have gone through the trials and tribulations, as it lends well to writing. At least that’s what I tell myself.

She Said, She Said

You Lookin' At Me?

You Lookin' At Me?

One of the coolest things about all art is the interpretation. Debates go endlessly about movies, books, paintings, poems, sculptures. And who's to say who's right and who's not when we can't even agree what's art and what isn't.

In trying to get feedback on my book, I've been giving out copies to my friends and family to get initial reactions, both kneejerk and constructive. I had readers who are fans and non-fans of fantasy, which is my genre.

One of my readers stated that my main character was highly sexual and emotional. I wanted honest opinions and here we are!

My kneejerk reaction was of course to defend.

My toof?

My toof?

But I'm here to learn so I asked her question after question, trying to keep an open mind.

None of my other readers had mentioned any of this. And just in case they missed something my friend hadn't, I asked one of them specifically about the above points.

Yummy!

Yummy!

Highly sexual was something that really surprised me. I asked her what made her think this. She said that my hero thought about his wife's scent, was enamored by her silky hair, and in a key scene couldn't sleep due to the absence of her breathing next to him. I asked another female reader what she thought about this without mentioning what my friend thought. She said my hero was in love with his wife that it was about love.

Who's correct?

Both.

There's a saying. What you hate in others is what you hate in yourself. When I look at the lives of these two women, I can see why both thought the way they did.

I'm not saying they hated my book, but often what we see in art is often a reflection of us, an aspect anyway. I mean, haven't you listened to music that reflects how you feel in the moment? We listen to love songs, or angry alternative, when we've broken up with someone. Or listen to ambient music when we want to be calm. Or listen to heavy metal or techno when we're working out.

Is that garlic I smell?

Is that garlic I smell?

And knowing how 50% of sold books are romance novels tells you what women are feeling or needing.

My friend's second point, complaint really, about my hero being emotional was also interesting.  For one, he is.  It being a complaint is a judgement on the character. Kinda like saying someone being short is not good. It's not their fault.  My hero just turned out that way.

This brings us to the definition of art. First off, I don't think it can be defined. It's like defining the soul. Or God. You can't. But a famed photographer once said that art is the language of the soul. Isn't that where inspiration comes from?

But if you want to see a cool and heated debate of what art is, check out an articleRober Ebertwrote about how video games aren't art.

[poll id="30"]

Girlfriend Experience

One of my favorite critics is Roger Ebert.  I've watched his show Siskel and Ebert, a TV movie review show that made the two thumbs up famous. On hissite, he had reviewed a movie call TheGirlfriend Experience. In meandering around Neflix, I had come across this movie that stars Sasha Grey, directed by Steven Soderbergh, director of the Ocean's Eleven movies, The Informant starring Matt Damon, just to name a few.

Suggestive Poster?

Suggestive Poster?

GFE is filled with unknown actors except for one, Sasha Grey. She is a porn star. Don't ask me how I know this. I just happen to be really smart. Ahem. GFE is an actual term used by escorts who give the girl friend experience. They usually charge by the hour or clients can arrange overnight stays, which seemed to be Chelsea's (Grey) bread and butter.

According to Ebert's research on IMDb, Grey has starred in 161 adult films, and she now has her own company managing other girls. I've done no research into Grey.  That is a lot of movies.  I know guys who haven't had sex that many times.

For Soderbergh to choose a woman who has sex for money to play a woman who has sex for money seems obvious. But why choose Grey? Mainly because of who she is and the depth she carries. Further proof of depth was revealed when she listed her top five movies on Current's Rotten Tomatoes show.  I've heard none of those movies because most of them were foreign films.  Her explanation of why she chose them indicates her depth.

Porn stars are not known for their acting ability, nor are they even required to. And for a woman who I think would have thick skin, Grey plays Chelsey with a level of sensitivity and vulnerability.

The movie takes place during the 2008 presidential election, follows her through several of her transactions, while following her boyfriend's as well. He's a personal trainer who's trying to get a clothing line up and explores more lucrative job opportunities.  Chelsey's clients talk mainly about the downed economy, telling her what she should do with her money.  I couldn't help thinking how we're all selling a part of ourselves. Chelsey may be selling her body, but how many of us work in meaningless jobs, selling parts of our souls.

The character arch seemed to be a tragic one. We're lead to believe that she is special, that she's the creme of the crop in the escort industry. But as the film moves along Chelsey realizes that she's not. A bit depressing since we get the same sense that her clients are also nothing special despite their wealth. Chelsey is expensive.

I liked the movie. It's was an experimental film by Soderbergh. Did I need to see it? I guess so, having watched it.

Flashbacks

A fellow writer and I were talking about flash backs.  Flash backs takes us back to a time before the current moment of the story, be it novel, TV show, film, etc.  And, as this zombie dog growls, there's a guideline in storytelling that states don't use them.

The reason is simple.  The threat of death to the character having the flashback is removed.  Makes sense. Makes even more sense when the reader/audience is supposed to be connected to the main character, the heroine.  We see a lot of supporting characters die.  Rarely do we see the main character die before the climax.

Then the hero can die.  Otherwise, who will finish the story?

The problem is exacerbated when we're reading a series, watching Showtime's Dexter (I watched four seasons knowing Dexter wasn't gonna die), or a movie franchise.

But can flashbacks work?  Yes.  Here are some examples:

Pulp Fiction

Memento

Slumdog Millionaire

Pulp Fiction shows pieces of the story out of order.  And we don't know who to really support or connect to until the pieces start to fall together like when loyalties form between enemies Butch Coolidge, Bruce Willis, and Marsellus Wallace, Ving Rhames.  Where before we were rooting for Butch to get outta there before Marsellus Wallace gets to his ass.  Then a cop has Marsellus Wallace's ass, literally, after being kidnapped.  Butch is about to escape but decides to save Marsellus Wallace's ass, literally.  And at the end of that scene, we feel for both characters.

Memento directed by Jonathan Nolan, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, was critically acclaimed and has a cult following.  Basically, it shows the movie from end to beginning because the main character has short term memory loss.  A piece of genus.  Here, the end scene shows someone shot, but we don't know who.  And as we watch the story barrel to the beginning, we're in anticipation of who died and what happened.

I loved Slumdog Millionaire.  Talk about a sleeper hit!  Most of the movie depends on flashbacks.  But the goal is to figure out whether Jamal Malik, played by Dav Patel, was cheating.  As we go along for the ride, tension rises because of the things that happen to Jamal, and whether the supporting characters will live.  Some do.  Some don't.

So do flashbacks work?  Hell yeah.

Just as long it serves the story.

Do you know any other movies, shows, or books that depend on flashbacks?  How about any movies, shows, or books that have the main character die before the climax?

How to be Ageless

One of the things I indirectly explore in my fantasy is age. I was out with some friends the other night and one of the girls harped on my age, worried I'd be the oldest. Among the group, I was the oldest. I'm thirty six. It's a freakin' number. Mentally I feel real good. Physically I feel fantastic. Spiritually, I feel present when I want to be. I'm still learning. Maturity wise, I'm in my early teens. I laugh at farts. I crack up at groin shots in movies. I tell jokes no one ever gets. Or if they do they don't want to let me know cuz it'll show how imature they are. It's part of my sensibility. One thing I don't do is think about my age. I love writing my book, working on this website, fantasizing about my stories, watch almost half of the movies that are released, including the crappy ones. I do things that I love, I eat healthy six days out of the week, exercise 4 days a week, and laugh as much as possible.

This, to me, is how to be ageless.

Stop thinking about it and delve into what you love. For age IS a number, never a state of mind or a place in your life. There are teenagers in the world who are millionaires. Who's to say they can't be because they're so young?

Don't place limits on yourself because of age.

Look at all that Bruce Lee has accomplished. He graduated from Washington University. He started a small chain of martial arts schools. Got married and had two kids. Developed a philosophy of martial arts that is still prevalent today. Did some tv acting. Through that he became a huge movie star in Asia that gave him the opportunity to star in a Hollywood movie when most industry leaders said he'd never make it as a leading man in America. He'd published several books. All this and more was accomplished by the age of 32.

Don't focus on your age. It doesn't matter. Do what you love, and love what you do. And if you allow it, everything else will fall info place.