Travel the Road Less Taken

Critics. What's the saying about critics? If you can't do, critique? That's not it, but something like that.

When I began writing, one of the things I had done was read Roger Ebert's movie reviews. There were times I agreed, and others when I disagreed, like when he gave four stars to PROMETHEUS and one to KICK ASS. Either way, I always learned something about story and film. With Ebert's passing, I'm left with no critic that I really trust.

That's a monstrous woman

I read a favorable review on RogerEbert.com for the movie GODZILLA. I saw the film and was smiling because the monsters destroyed Honolulu and San Francisco; two of my favorite places in which I'm very familiar with. They got some details wrong, but who cares?

One of the commenters of the review stated Hollywood can't come up with an original idea, therefore the remakes. How many Superman, Batman and Spiderman movies have been made? How many gawd dayem Paranormal Activity movies will there be? The fifth will be released late 2014 per IMDb.

Another commenter responded more profoundly: Would the market support original movies (indies)?

And this is the crux of the issue. Will the market—dat be us, folks—support it?

I've spent endless hours researching literary agents. Their initial acceptance is whether they like your writing. They'll say talent, voice, original idea, perfection are what they look for. But it comes down to do they connect with what you've pored your heart into?

From reading hundreds of agent interviews and blogs, I know that they ponder who they can pitch your book to. Because you can have all the talent in the ten dimensions of multiple universes, but if they don't think they can sell your book, then they'll reject it.

It's not you, it's the passion that is your book. Ouch.

Who's behind me?

People think Hollywood has a very narrow view of what can make money, and they wouldn't be wrong. There are several indie movies that have made it big (please don't say the Paranormal Activity franchise), but the likelihood of that happening is small. And there have been many blockbusters who've failed as well, which is why the suits in Holly's wood (sounds kinda dirty but I can't picture why) are hard pressed to greenlight projects unless there's a market for it—dat be money, folks.

Worse, is that the suits in the publishing world are even tighter. So tight that if you stick a lump of coal up their asses you wouldn't be able to take it back out. Plus, that would be painful. And smelly.

So why write? Some passionately declare it's their passion. Others call it their calling. Me? It's just what I do. I love to storytell. So sue me. Wait! Don't. Seriously. Don't.

In spewing the end of the world, I suggest that we all try new things. Watch indie movies. Read mid-list authors. Take the road less traveled, unless you get lost easily. Then maybe carry a GPS device. 

Roger Ebert

Those who can’t, criticize 4/4/13

In Asian numerology, this is a bad sign. In Chinese, the number four is a homophone of die, words that sound the same but spelled differently. Well you ain’t spellin’ in Chinese, but those two characters sound eerily alike. So Asians tend to think da numbah foh is bad ruck. And at the same time, they love the number eight because it sounds like prosperity and fortune. So when house hunting, we slanty eye folks tend not to buy a home with a number four in the address.

Now, of course, if I wrote the date as 4/4/2013, then there’s really no importance to that date except a death of an icon, Robert Ebert.

I’ve been a fan of Siskel and Ebert since my childhood days. And I’ve always been a huge fan of movies. As a storyteller, I’ve always read critiques from people who I’ve grown to trust. Mick LaSalle is one. His use of the little man in a chair is sorta like the four star rating that Ebert used.

Little Man

Little Man

But a lot has been written about Ebert, his genius, giving, and kind nature. For me to add to it since I’ve never met the man would be useless. However, finding critics of anything in your field of art is always a good idea.

Two thumbs up to Jimmy Ng and this site

Two thumbs up to Jimmy Ng and this site

There were reviews of Ebert’s that I totally agreed with, both good and bad films. Then there were ones that I completely and vehemently disagreed with. His assertion that KICK ASS was just too violent and ludicrous I thought missed the point of the movie. And his four star review of PROMETHIUS was missing the issue of the vast plot holes it presented. Even if the plot holes were on purpose to make a statement, it was a bad statement lost in the sea of holes.

Open yoh mind, be fohmless, shapeless like watah...

Open yoh mind, be fohmless, shapeless like watah...

So what’s the importance of reading critical reviews, especially if I’ve expressed in other articles not to listen to reviews good or bad because they can blind you to your works’ truth? Reading others’ view of a story outside of our own works, for example, can open your eyes to different aspects and opinions on storytelling.

In his review of PROMETHIUS, he talks a lot about the strong women in the movie and that made me think about the women in my books. Are they strong? Or do I move them into the position of supporting wife, daughter, background fodder?

My point: Well written reviews can open your minds. On slow days at work (ahem), I often find myself reading Ebert’s reviews, including old ones, and the Suntimes.com has done an incredible job of importing reviews from the days before the Internet. My quest was often to learn and expand my definition of what a good story was—is, a never-ending journey.

And that leads us to his legacy. His reviews will remain in the blogosphere, and his ability to open minds will be far reaching.

Transformers

Transformers, more than meets the eyes. Transformers, robots in disguise. I loved that show. The cartoon movie after the original TV show ended got critical acclaim. Watch it. You'll see why.

I love movies. I'll watch anything from mindless blockbusters to sappy, chick movies.

But here's the thing. I've listened to teachers of story, and those who teach writers of screenplays state one truth: The talent out there is amazing.

Really?

Sam Witwicky is the main character. His character arc is...wait for it...wait for it...committing and saying he loves Megan Fox. I understand not making yourself totally available to a girl, but common!

Then for him to be able to vow his love to this girl 20 million tons of robots have to fight eah other, military soldiers die, a famed Autobot dies, attempted assassination on his life, and being brought back to life from the brink of death.

Huh?

None of the other characters go through any change. Am I missing something? Well the girl vows her love, too. And, yes, I enjoyed it as entertainment.

But shouldn't that be a subplot?

Now, I'm not a screenwriter, nor do I have an interest in it, but I think there's still room for great screenwriters. As the saying goes, "There's always room at the top."

Review of Obsessed

Over the weekend I saw Obsessed, starring Beyonce Knowles.  I didn't know it was a comedy.  But first, let's start with the review. The story is basic.  A person get's obsessed with coworker.  Coworker is happily married.  The obsessed obsessively obsesses over the coworker and chases after him.  Ali Larter plays the obsessed.  Idris Elba plays the loving husband.  But the obvious draw to the movie is Beyonce.  And because she's a strong woman both in real life and in the movie, she takes care of business.  As expected she kicks Larter's ass.  Might I say a very nice ass.  Overall, despite being predictive, it was  entertaining.

How is it a comedy?

One of the climatic scenes in the movie is when the wife is led to believe that her husband cheated on her.  Elba, who plays the loyal husband, denies, denies, denies.  And then he denies some more.  Even though we see the movie through the husband's perspective, and he did everything to thwart Larter's obsessive obsession, when Knowles accuses her husband of cheating, all of the women in the theater were like:

"You go girl!"

"Oh, hell naw.  He lyin'.  He lyin'!"

"Das right.  Take it to him, girl!"

One lady turn to her friend.  "Mm hmm.  He did it.  He cheated on Miss Knowles."

I could not stop laughing.  As I said, I didn't know I was in for a comedy.  The scene continued at home where Beyonce proceeded to kick her husband out.

"Das right.  Das your house."

"Mm hmm.  Take control.  You deserve better."

"Oh, girl.  Don't listen to him.  He did it. Liar!"

The whole theater filled with catcalls and whoops, praising Beyonce for defending her womanhood.  I busted up laughing.  Not only because of the enthusiasm of the theater, which I suddenly felt to be the only guy in attendance.  But because the guy really didn't do anything.  He actually made no moves, no actions, and wasn't even tempted.  Still, the estrogen filled theater heckled him as if he committed the ultimate marital sin.

I felt compelled and yelled, "He didn't do nothin'."  Which of course fell on deaf ears.

Neverending Karate Kid

When I was a kid, I loved movies.  But there were certain ones that I've always connected to but never knew why.  Now, as I'm wiser, not necessarily more mature, I know why I loved certain movies, why I kept watching them over and over. One day I was rummaging through a fantasy book store and came across The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende.  The book was first published in 1979 in German.  Ralph Manheim translated it to English.  I must have seen the movie dozens of times.  I loved the characters, I loved the story within the story, and I totally loved the soundtrack.  So when I saw the hardcover, I bought it.

For parents and children, this is totally appropriate.  It's an allegory on life, and if you watch the movie with your kids, ask them what the movie means.  It's the one thing that I don't see parents doing is asking their kids what things mean to them.  Do it and you'll be surprised by what you find out.

When I mentor students, I always ask what things mean, or how they feel about the experiences they're going through.  It's also my main tool in getting them to open up.  Eventually, they spill the beans about anything that I ask.  I need to know what they're thinking, feeling in order to help them out.  Click here if you want to read more on talking to your children.

If you read to your kids, read The Neverending Story.  If not, then watch the movie.  Don't have the money to rent movies, well the whole movie is on youtube:  Part 1.

While I was perusing youtube at work, don't tell my boss, I came across the Karate Kid.  This is an interesting movie.  Not because of the awesome cat-like choreography.  To me the hero is interesting.

A normal underdog story goes something like this:  hero enters new world (town, school, wizard school), is overwhelmed by bad dude (love interest's ex, bully, the most evilest powerfulest wizard), gets a gift (learns the way of love, learns how to fight, learns he's a great wizard), and, voila, hero wins.

Most of the times, the bad buy is an actual bad guy.  Not in The Neverending Story or Karate Kid.  The antagonist is the hero's disbelief in themselves.

When we look at Neverending, Bastian, the hero, must follow his inspiration, his love for books, fantasy, and story.  It isn't until he fully gives in does he overcome the antagonist, self-doubt.  In Kid, Daniel must believe in himself.  He never got stronger, faster, or learned more karate then the bully.  The bully was never the obstacle, just the opportunity.  His teacher guided him to trust in his ability, to let go of his self-proclaimed weaknesses.  In doing so, Daniel prevailed, or what I like to term kicked ass.

I've always loved stories that have this undertone.  When I look at the characters I've written in my book, all of them at some level must deal with self-belief.  It's the one thing I hone in on when I mentor people.   I use stories to open conversations with children, to guide them toward their passions in life, their truth.