Sunday, August 28, 2005

More Junk Movies...The Emporer Has No Clothes

I'm a movie fan. I used to go to at least 2 movies every month in the theater.

Until this week, I think the last movie I'd seen in a theater was Batman Returns, which I liked more than I expected to. But nothing since then has interested me. During this year, in general, I've probably only been to about a movie a month in the theater. Netflix and buying videos has picked up the slack. This summer's movies have done nothing for me at all.

Now, I do expect that to be a little different this fall, as, suddenly, I'm seeing trailers and reading about movies that sound either like fun (Just Like Heaven, Prime and In Her Shoes) or that they could be really good movies (Little Fish, Elizabethtown, Serenity, The Fountain, Match Point, and King Kong). But this spring and summer have been a joke. Yeah, sure, I looked forward to Revenge of the Sith, after waiting for 28 years to see the first Darth Vader-Obi Wan showdown, but still! While the fight itself was pretty good, so much of the rest of the movie was an over-long video game that I wanted to scream!

This week, I made the serious mistake of seeing not one, but two movies in the theater. The first one, Must Love Dogs, I saw only because I've always liked John Cusak, Diane Lane and Elizabeth Perkins.

Big, big, big mistake.

It was hard to empathize with any of the characters. Oh, sure, with Diane Lane a little. But hearing Lloyd Dobler's (Cusak's memorably lovable slacker from Say Anything) dialogue come from a 40ish man was disconcerting in the extreme. The characters were all over the place, but so were the reviews for this movie. So while this chick flick disappointed me, I wasn't really all that surprised.

On the other hand...

Many reviewers from Cannes talked about how wonderful Bill Murray's latest, Broken Flowers was. It's still (as of 8/28/05) ranking an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes from 130 reviewers, and a comparable 8 at IMDB from 1,748 voters.


After a year of mostly disappointing movies, this movie is just another of a pretty bad lot.

Don't get me wrong - I love quiet, well-observed movies. I love movies where there's no real violence. I love movies where weird characters wander in and out. I love Robert Altman-style flicks. I don't even mind movies without a real conclusion. I should have adored this movie.

I came close to hating this movie, but I stayed with it until the end (which is an odd reflection of the vastly better Tom Hanks film Castaway).

At least one person in the small audience watching walked out of this movie after 20 minutes, never to return. A number of people at the end kind of went "What happened?" Makes you wonder how the critics universally loved this movie, because there's nothing (and I mean nothing) there, beyond some cryptic performances by some of our better actresses.

I'm not the biggest Bill Murray fan, but I liked him in Groundhog Day and in Lost in Translation. With the right material, he's an interesting actor. This was categorically the wrong material. The problem is much more with the writing and directing than with the acting. But the acting just doesn't make the material any more interesting.

Here's the problem - the movie is, from start to finish, absolutely and completely illogical. There isn't a true moment anywhere in the movie.

Maybe it's a movie about a man who never really had a life and has a long nightmare about "what might have been." What if a woman I'd been involved with came back and told me I had a child I never expected to have?

First problem - Don Johnston (Bill Murray). People keep talking about him as a "Don Juan," and that point is further driven home by the fact that Johnston is watching a movie about Don Juan. But he completely fails to relate to people (men OR women) on any level. Granted, he is shown to be financially well-off. Money certainly can make many people attractive. But he was apparently involved with these women earlier in his life when he wasn't wealthy.

Second problem - Winston (Jeffrey Wright). At first, I thought Winston was Don's paid assistant. Turns out, he says he works three jobs, has aspirations to be a writer, is married and has five children. How in the world would he have the time to help Don to the extent he does? I liked their friendship, and the way Winston was trying to get Don to get involved in his own life rather than be a passive observer. But does Winston simply never sleep?

Third problem - Lolita (Alexis Dziena). Like Jeffrey Wright, my problem is not with the performer, but with the way s/he is written. The kid is named Lolita. So how does she behave? Exactly like Lolita. It was like she walked out of the book/movie of that name. And, at one point, she just walks naked in front of Don. In real life, have you ever heard of a 15-year-old girl walking naked in front of a 55-year-old male stranger? (In front of a hunky, 18-year-old male stranger, maybe, but in front of someone old enough to be her father or even grandfather? I don't think so!)

Now, there's a point later in the movie where Johnston dreams of that moment. It might have made a little more sense for him to have dreamed of her naked then - that he was never "Don Juan" but might have wanted to be. True, a moment like that would have looked like it dropped out of American Beauty, but I think it would have made more sense.

Fourth problem - Dora (Frances Conroy). Dora is so repressed that she makes Ruth from Six Feet Under look like a wild woman. So how can Dora, who seems even more repressed and internal than Don, have had a relationship with Don? You can kind of understand the "opposites attract" relationship that Don and Laura or Don and Penny must have had. But Don and Dora? A photograph Don seems to have taken of a younger Dora implies that they were rather different people in the mid '80s (even if Dora looked more like a '60s flower child than an '80s woman). But what happened to them?

No matter how much you enjoy Frances Conroy or Jessica Lange or Sharon Stone or Tilda Swinton (who's only very briefly in the movie and is completely unrecognizable), it isn't worth going to this movie to see them.

Eleven years ago, many of us found Four Weddings and a Funeral very enjoyable. That said, many of us were wildly frustrated by the character of Carrie (Andi MacDowell), who behaved quite illogically. Imagine a movie where none of the characters are quite so colorful and all of them act completely illogically. And there you have the problem with Broken Flowers.

Another problem is with the "road trip" itself. You see Bill Murray getting on planes and "flying around the country." At one point, his rental car seems to have a Colorado license plate. It's obvious from the scenery that he never really leaves the Northeast. It turns out to have been completely filmed in upstate New York and New Jersey. No surprise there.

So maybe the whole movie is just one man's "fantasy trip." If that's the case, the movie was just impossibly dull, dull, dull. And maybe that's why so many Cannes reviewers loved this movie - they're mostly 40-something white guys who can relate to Bill Murray. Sorry folks, this 40-something white woman was totally and completely bored by the exercise.

Will anyone ever make an interesting and/or enjoyable movie ever again? I've been thiking about going to see Constant Gardener as I do like both Ralph Feinnes and Rachel Weiz. But is seems to be marketed as a "thriller," though many of the reviews make it sound like an interesting chracter study. I'm not prepared to go to the movies only to be pissed off again. I might just wait until I can see the final version of Serenity in about a month (I saw the prelminary version in June and it was extremely promising). I might even wind up going to Cronenberg's A History of Violence only because I really like Viggo Mortensen and feel Maria Bello is one of our most underrated actresses.

I should add - I'd never paid directly to see a Jim Jarmuch movie until today, and I'm unlikely to ever do so again. I've never paid directly to see a David Cronenberg movie before, though I saw Dead Zone on cable and adored it and generally liked The Fly as well. I don't like violence (in movies or IRL), and it apparently spills out of A History of Violence. On the other hand, this flick is apparently one of the few to "dare" to depict sex between a married couple, something that's not even inferred in many movies these days! So, maybe I will see it in the theater. Consensual sex ought to be much more common than violence in movies, and it is either rarely seen or poorly depicted! At least History of Violence is unlikely to bore me to tears the way Broken Flowers and Must Love Dogs did.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

How Well Travelled Are You?

OK, this one is Charlie Stross's fault...

Your Travel Profile:

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Midwestern United States (100%)

You Are Extremely Well Traveled in the Northeastern United States (86%)

You Are Very Well Traveled in Canada (80%)

You Are Well Traveled in the Western United States (58%)

You Are Well Traveled in the Southern United States (54%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in the United Kingdom (38%)

You Are Somewhat Well Traveled in Western Europe (21%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Eastern Europe (20%)

You Are Mostly Untraveled in Southern Europe (7%)

You Are Untraveled in Africa (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Asia (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Australia (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Latin America (0%)

You Are Untraveled in New Zealand (0%)

You Are Untraveled in Scandinavia (0%)

You Are Untraveled in the Middle East (0%)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

My Armadillocon Photo Report

We had a great time at Armadillocon in Austin, TX over the weekend.

Report from Texas

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I'm DONE with My Novel!

Well, almost!

Before I went to Scotland for Worldcon in late July, I was looking over my novel and realized that while I was doing a good job of "showing, not telling" through the first 20 chapters or so, much of the last 20,000 words was "telling, not showing." That's a problem. In non-fiction writing, you want to explain things directly. In fiction writing, you want the reader to pick up the clues and figure things out for him/herself. But I was compressing the text because I didn't want the book to go on for too long.

So, after thinking it over, I've decided Unexpectedly is either two short novels or one long one. The first short novel had a very natural ending at the end of Chapter 19. The themes came together very well there, and while there are a few loose ends, it stands on its own.

8-17-05 - I sent out a query letter to an agent saying I had finished my first novel.

By saying "I'm done" with the first 19 chapters means I can focus better on the second related novel (or "the rest of the novel").

I don't think this is going to go on and be one of those "never-ending projects." I think it'll top out in the 150,000 - 170,000 word range. Unexpectedly wound up running 83,000 words (384 double-spaced pages, which I think means it would be about a 190 page novel). The second novel (Even More Unexpectedly? - need to come up with a similar title that evokes a connection without sounding too silly) is probably also in the 80,000 word range. Or, who knows, maybe I will be able to publish this as one longish novel (is 400 pages too long for a first novel that isn't heroic fantasy?).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Some Novel Progress

I've felt pretty crappy since coming home from Scotland, but, gradually, I've been doing some work on my novel. Probably not the bunch of work I need to be doing late in the novel, but a little work on the beginning. I updated my Novel Experiment site this morning with some updated old material and a little new material. I think today will turn out to be more of a writing day. And, it has been. After a few weeks of "treading water" between being on vacation and being sick, I broke 100,000 words today.

Jim and I will be fan GoHs at Armadillocon this weekend, so I asked for a reading and got one. It'll be at 10:30 on Saturday morning, and I expect to be reading some of Chapter 3 and maybe a scene from Chapter 5. While the book definitely has some speculative stuff happening late in the novel, the portions I'll be reading are pretty much contemporary novelish. We're on a bunch of good program items over the con, and it's starting to sound like my voice will be in better shape than it was at Worldcon.

While I spent an awful lot of Worldcon being sick, I came back with my feet, legs and back in much better shape than usual, despite a huge amount of walking on Wednesday and Thursday. This was probably due to the fact that I've been walking more this summer, and I invested in a pair of Hush Puppies "Bounce" shoes. (Photo of me and my shoes - the BBC's Simon Willis is on my right - thanks to Keith Stokes for taking the photo.) Yes, they look like your mother's or grandmother's shoes. But I'm really glad I got them, and will probably always have something similar in the future for times when I'll be doing a lot of walking.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Photos from Interaction

Slowly, I'm starting to add photos from Scotland to my site.

I have some up at: I tend to be very chronological in my photography. These photos are of the con between Tuesday and Saturday. However, I took most of my photos on Sunday.

If you're a fan from TheOneRing.Net, I have Alan Lee and TORNsib photos up too.

I've made almost no progress on the novel since returning home. I just haven't felt very well. I'm sleeping a little better, but that could be because I take Nyquil at night to help me with my cold/laryngitis/et.c. I hope I'll have my voice back before Armadillocon!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Scotland was COOOL!

If you wonder why none of my Web sites have been updated, it's because we were in Scotland working on the World Science Fiction Convention AKA Interaction. Courtesy of USAirways, we lost a day of our vacation (GROAN!). But, we finally got off to Glasgow (via three different airlines), then took a bus to Edinburgh.

We LOVED Edinburgh, a very historic city some 40 miles east of Glasgow. I took an obscene number of photos, and will try to put a few up tomorrow.

Worldcon went surprisingly smoothly and most people seemed to enjoy themselves. This is a good thing. I got to liase with the press (I appeared on a BBC news program last Thursday night, talking about Worldcon), with Alan Lee (who was Interaction's special guest and was just a great guy) and got to meet Susanna Clarke (who won the Hugo for her giant magical novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell) and Ian McDonald (who didn't win a Hugo for River of Gods, but who looks great in a kilt). And Charlie Stross, who won a Hugo himself, also looked great in a kilt!

More soon, but, first, some sleep...

(Yes, my throat is better - thanks!!)