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Showing posts from March, 2017

A Movie Nerd With Kids Reviews "Ernest & Celestine" (2012)

The Plot at a Glance
Ernest & Celestine, like many of the movies I stream at random for my kids, is apparently based on a series of children's books that I never heard of.  Either this speaks to my literary ignorance or it's just that I haven't had a reason to read kids' books in over twenty years and a lot of cool stuff came out between then and when Lulabelle was born.

Anyway, this movie is about an adult bear named Ernest and a kid mouse named Celestine who become unlikely friends.  They live in world where bears and mice are physically segregated; the bears live in a city above ground and the mice live beneath them.

Ernest and Celestine are both starving artist types.  Ernest has dedicated his life to music and performance, but lives in a remote shack in the woods and wanders into the city only to beg and busk.  Celestine likes to draw and paint, but is forced by her orphanage (of course she's an orphan) to work as a dentist's assistant, which means she…

I may have learned the wrong lesson from "The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness" (2013)

One of the conflicts that I think any artist must grapple with, regardless of format, talent, or fame, is where to draw the line between art for art's sake and art for commercialism.  It's not an easy border to suss out.

On the one hand, there's the angsty, punk teenager part of me that wants to scream, "I'm not a sellout, man!  I write from the heart!  My art is pure!"  And on some level that has to be true - I'm sure as hell not making any money off my books right now, yet I'm still putting them out there, and I'm even keeping up this dumb blog just to remind myself to keep writing.

But on the other hand, I'd really, really like to make some money.  It would be a dream come true to write for a living - to kick back at my desk eight hours a day and go through the whirlwind of the creative process and make sales calls with an agent and figure out finances and all that shit knowing that my annual salary is secure and I can live comfortably.  It…

Hipster Holy Grail: Senorita Justice (2004)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews Although the title implies that you'd at the very least have some Mexploitation fun - if not full-on T&A / mindless vigilante violence - Senorita Justice delivers very little joy.  In fact, I'm not sure it even delivers very much justice.

My Rating: 1.5 / 5

Week in Review: 3/26/17

Movies I Watched in the Last Week
1) Ernest & Celestine - This is a sweet, gentle kids' movie with beautiful animation and upstanding morals.  In short, the kind of thing that I roll my eyes at whenever I'm feeling cynical.  But when you're done rolling your eyes and you're willing to pay attention, give this one a watch - it's very good.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The damningest of faint praise for "Alice Through the Looking Glass" (2016)

It's better than the first one.  And that should absolutely be taken as an insult.

Alice in Wonderland (2010) is one of my most hated movies.  (Fun_Dad seemed to like it, though.) It's on the short list of movies that make me just plain angry.

It's not just that it's a bad movie.  Trust me.  I've seen 3,000 movies by now, including every Leprechaun, Species, and Tremors sequel.  Bad movies are kinda my bread 'n butter.  Bad movies come and go.  They vanish from my brain almost as soon as I see them.

Alice 2010 isn't a "bad" movie - it's an aggravating one.  It's plotless, mindless drivel stuffed to the gills with forced fun, unearned quirk, and dime store philosophy about individuality.  If I was Ebert, I'd have saved my "hate, hate, hate" review for it instead of North.  And I say this as a Tim Burton defender - I'll even excuse Dark Shadows.  But not Alice 2010.

Horror for Kids

One of the stories I'm writing this year is a horror/adventure that I'm hoping to aim toward the Young Adult market.  Or, to be more accurate, I'm writing a story like usual, but I'm making it a little bit shorter and I'm trying to keep it clean.  YA be damned - it's a book for anyone.

My goal is to put something together that hopefully captures the spirit of all the movies and stories that got me in the right mood for Halloween when I was a kid.  So, not "mortal terror," but definitely spooky.

The thing I remember best from my favorite kid-friendly stories - or at least kid-appealing, since some of that stuff wasn't actually kid-friendly (I'm looking at you, Monster Squad) - is that they all used horror as flavor rather than substance.  That's basically my definition of "Halloween Horror," anyway - there's a whole genre that's more in love with the idea of being scared than in actually scaring you.

So, obviously, I'm…

Hipster Holy Grail: Backstreet Justice (1993)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews
I don't want to give Backstreet Justice too much shit.  It's an okay crime thriller/mystery with a halfway decent female lead and an intriguing, if sometimes dense, criminal plot.  If only it didn't take itself quite so seriously, it would be a recommendation.

My Rating: 3 / 5 (Almost Good Movie)

Week in Review: 3/19/17

Movies I Watched in the Last Week
1) Moana - I have no thoughts on this that haven't been stated already by the millions of other people who loved it.  It's an excellent movie.

My Rating: 5 / 5

"The Great British Baking Show" does it right

Lately, Steph and I have been relaxing with / falling asleep from exhaustion to back seasons of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix.  There's nothing specifically original about the concept - a bunch of bakers gather and complete challenges given to them by the hosts, and then each week one of them is the winner and one of them is sent home.  Literally the exact same premise as every other competitive cooking show ever made, also known as "25% of all modern television."

But where TGBBS really stands apart from most of the other stuff is in how it presents its drama.  It's a surprisingly good lesson for anybody who's putting together a story and wants to make sure they set it up right.

Y'see, TGBBS, like any cooking show worth its salt, doles out a lot of unexpected obstacles to its participants.  They'll be given incomplete recipes for obscure dishes and judged based on their technical skill in filling in the blanks, or maybe they'll have very li…

Identity, Race, Representation, etc.

Last year I lamented any time I was in a writing slump for more than two weeks, which makes it kind of strange that I haven't yet posted about the block I've been having for the past six or seven weeks.  Partly that's just due to the usual: babies, work, sleep deprivation, and so on.  Partly it's due to a severe second-guessing game I'm playing.

When I start a story, my first goal above all else is to write something that I find compelling and worth people's time.  My secondary goal is to make sure that whatever messages or values go with that story are viable and worth spreading, even if I don't have an explicit moral in mind.  My third goal is to pepper in as many not-white-men as possible.

It's that third goal that's been tripping me up lately.  It's the kind of thing that, ten years ago, I would have had no qualms about doing.  "Well, obviously, there needs to be more diversity in literature, and I might as well be part of the solution!…

Hipster Holy Grail: Fatal Justice (1994)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read ReviewsFatal Justice is what you get when you take the tasteful interpersonal drama of Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever, add the tense, whodunit paranoia of Twilight, and mix in the pulse-pounding action intensity of The First Wives Club.  I don't think I would recommend it.  This movie bored me so much I couldn't be bothered to go back and pull screen caps from it.

My Rating: 1 / 5 (Workman Bad Movie)

Ghostbusters (2016) was pretty good

You guys wanted a blog post about Ghostbusters in 2017, right?  Okay, cool.

Steph and I finally caught up last weekend on this one and we both had a good time with it.  There's tons to love here and much to be applauded.

I was surprised at how both Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy played the straight characters and took such a backseat to letting pretty much everyone else - including Chris Hemsworth - take the comedy spotlight.  It speaks to both of their talents and confidence that they pulled off really wonderful leads who could just be Ghostbusters without having to gawk at the camera constantly for laughs.

I had giddy, childish glee at all the different gizmos that Kate McKinnon's character invented throughout, and I'm excited to see my daughters grow up in a world where they can (I hope?) buy toy versions of them.  Of course, they'll have to watch the movie first... and seeing them react to it in a few years when they're old enough will be a ton of fun, too.

The formula behind my slumps

Just a quick post today, since I'm still pretty busy juggling my legitimate day-to-day obligations.  But an important one... I think.

I've been in a writing slump lately, as my last four or five Week in Review posts would tell you. I was looking back on my output throughout those posts and realized something important.  My most productive chunks of time all seem to come up when there's two things at play:

1) I'm really busy at work with general, routine business; BUT
2) I am not busy at work with writing or researching new materials.

Hipster Holy Grail: Break a Leg (2005)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read ReviewsBreak a Leg is narratively kind of a mess, with some confusing structure and stakes that come and go.  But as far as the content goes, it's a recommendation.  It's one of the few movies where an actor plays an actor whose talent and frailty are both believable.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5

Week in Review: 3/5/17

Movies I Watched in the Last Week
1) Ghostbusters (2016) - This wasn't quite what I was expecting, and I wonder if the subtle changes in the tone and approach to the subject matter worked in tandem with misogyny in general to create the nonsense backlash this movie had last year.  I think I was kind of just picturing Ghostbusters with women, and what I got was more like post-Ghostbusters fandom... with women.  That's not a bad thing at all.  Just different.  Anyway, long story short: I liked it.

My Rating: 4 / 5

The post wherein I gush about the screenplay for "Finding Dory"

One of the big challenges I have with writing a story is finding ways to both set up a proper story structure, but also insert fun action or comedy sequences.  Or, to put it another way, how do you do your homework (i.e., tell a competent story) and still have time for fun (i.e., blow shit up)?

It's sometimes a delicate tightrope act.  As a reader and a moviegoer, it bothers me when something is shoehorned in merely for the sake of putting energy in a story.  Like, say, a car chase.  Sure, it's fun to see something flip over, but if it doesn't mean anything at the end, then you're basically just making an episodic grind.  "Plot, car chase, plot, shootout, plot, car chase."  It gets old and predictable very quickly.

This is one of the reasons I really appreciate Pixar's movies.  Their screenplays are usually excellent examples of how to do exactly this, and Finding Dory offers more of the same.

A specific example: there's a sequence fairly early on whe…

White People

Over the last couple months I've been letting the draft of my post-apocalyptic comedy book rest while I digest the news.  I've been on a mission to get perspective, not only from those who supported Trump, but also those who are most going to be affected by his hate.

It's important to me that I understand this for lots of reasons.  On the most superficial, self-interested level: my novel is about this exact conflict between disillusioned, angry white Americans and immigrants.  I want to make sure the voices on both sides in my fictional world are genuine.  I want to be empathetic, not judgmental.  I want my story to live and breathe with real characters, not to cough and gasp out the sides of my ranting cake-hole while I pat myself on the back for being so socially conscious.

But on a more important, long-lasting level: I need to quit being lazy.  When I look back at my politics from younger years up to now, I imagine a hockey stick curve of awareness.  I lived in blissful…