Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thoughts on X-Men: Days of Future Past

This film is based on the iconic story from Chris Claremont and John Byrne (with Terry Austin, Tom Orzechowski and Glynis Wein). It's a story I was old enough to read in single issue form as it arrived in the mail wrapped in brown paper. That's my history with the story in the spirit of full disclosure.

DoFP is the sequel to X-Men: First Class, which I liked well enough. The cast is pretty near pitch-perfect between the two films and the writing is interesting. Set in (roughly) 1973, the premise is that - well, you probably know all this already. If you don't you can check out the film's IMDB page as easily as anyone else.

The world of the future (ten years ahead) as we know it is not just apocalyptic, it's dying. The armies of Sentinels are more than formidable and there's a distinct sense of doom to go with the gloom. Mutants who haven't appeared before are the last hope of any kind of salvation. They have a plan and it's a holding action at best. Anyway, Logan is launched back in time and the story begins.

These two films, First Class and Future Past, are really Raven Darkholme/Mystique's story as much as they're about the dynamic between Charles and Erik. Despite major changes in the players from comic to film the movie story rolls right along. This movie is a comic book in nearly every aspect, connecting to all other X-films in meaningful ways. Lots of things are right about this and it's easy to get sucked into the story.

Hanging on the abilities of Kitty Pryde and using characters in ways that they never were in the comics, Future Past excels at updating and combining X history in interesting ways. Everyone in the film is incredulous when confronted with the time traveling aspect of the story despite the fact that they live in a world where genetic mutation creates super powers. The biggest moments of the comic story play out in new and interesting ways. This may be the best X-movie of them all.

Don't expect perfection, though. It's got its moments of whoa wait a second (at the end especially) but overall it's the kind of film I dreamed of as a kid getting my copies of Uncanny X-Men in the mail all those years ago.

If you're a fan of the X-Men this is a worthwhile investment of your time.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

And I'm thankful to be entertained
but silly things. Aren't you?
I'm thankful for the doctors and nurses who work every day of the year regardless of what else is going on in the world. They sacrifice everything regarding their families to help people like me in their worst moments. The people who kept me alive are foremost in my mind but this one goes out to all the medical professionals in my life and those of people I love.

I'm thankful for good police who work every day of the year too. They get lost in the clamor and rancor over the situations that aren't always a result of bad police. Too many people do really good work to keep our lives and property safe and they genuinely care about the law. I know some good police and they are good people too.

I'm thankful that I live in a place where I can consider these things and rail against greed and corruption. This gratitude is year round but especially today it's important to be grateful for all the things I have that others don't. I remember that not everyone has the luxuries I do; that not everyone in my town, or my neighborhood, has everything I have.

I'm thankful for so much more too: my wife, the kids, a good job, enough money to pay the bills, books to read, things to watch, food to eat, art, music... The list goes on and on.

If I were to go out today to shop or see a movie or interact with anyone outside of my family I would remember to say thank you for them being there. I won't be out there with the throngs but if you are, be genuine and sincere and show your gratitude with a smile and 'thanks'. They'll appreciate it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thoughts on Interstellar

I felt like this nearly the entire film. Short version, I loved it.
I don't know why it took me three weekends to get to the theater to see Christopher Nolan's epic Interstellar, but it did. I finally went, suspending my disbelief and anxious to be entertained.

This film is 2 hours and 49 minutes long. Jeez, am I going into the wormhole myself? I thought on the way over to the theater. Also, how's the science? I've heard Neil deGrasse Tyson kind of say some things that led me to believe that it might not be as accurate as possible. And despite trying mightily to avoid spoilers on the Internet I've seen a few criticisms that could have lessened my enjoyment of the film.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm a fan of Nolan's. I like the principal actors, all of them. I bought the soundtrack before I saw the film so I'm a fan of Hans Zimmer's too. I've been eagerly anticipating this film since the first teaser trailer too. I wanted to like this movie.

And I did.

Without giving away major spoilers I was satisfied by the story, the science and the visual aspects. As a piece of fiction, it made me laugh, cry and walk out of the theater pleased to have spent my time so enjoyably.

The music, as always in the collaborations between Zimmer and Nolan, is integral to the film. It adds weight when it needs to and increases my sense of wonder. There's a food crisis that has changed the world significantly. There are no armies or marines any more. Drones are flying around aimlessly and crops are dying of blight. The new dust bowl is terrifying too. The family dynamic is well played and interesting. Nolan trusts the viewer to put the pieces together as he reveals them. Everything is there as far as I can tell after one viewing.

There are time shifts that the viewer has to keep up with, and not every emotionally charged scene is effective. The recruitment scenes are perhaps a little clumsy and even Michael Caine can't quite sell them but they're important to moving the plot forward so I forgave them and just let myself be immersed in the story.

Let me go back to the world of the story. It's important and it's easy to forget it once they launch and head out of the solar system. There's A LOT THERE but it gets left behind. The things that are going on ground the story in a reality that may be hard for us to conceive of. Official texts have been changed, robots are managing the heavy work of the farms, colleges are taking fewer and fewer students. This stuff is important and it colors every decision Matthew McConaughey's character Cooper makes in the film. He's got a lot of weight in there when he's floating around in zero gravity.

Okay, enough digression. Is the science perfect? No. Is the story perfect? No. But it's entertaining as both a distraction and a social commentary. I enjoyed the film from the start. TARS and CASE are interesting as artifacts in the story and as characters for comic relief. All the characters are well drawn, or at least drawn well enough to believe in. If you're planning on seeing it - go. Suspend your disbelief and look at it as a piece of fiction created with love and attention to detail.

I could be a lot more critical, but it's not my baby. I didn't create it, didn't shepherd it into being.  I don't have a stake in it other than wanting to be entertained. What I had was a great time at the theater and I didn't feel like I'd been watching a movie for nearly three hours.

That's the reason to go.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What's Happening

(Here's the tl;dr: the novel isn't a novel, 
it's essentially an outline for three novels. 
After three years of working on it I 
could give up but I'm not going to.)
Just in case anyone is still stopping by on occasion, here's an update.

I lost most of September and nearly all of October to stress and doubt about my writing among other things. But some really great things have happened during that time and I'm back on track.

The big thing is that the novel that I wrote starting back in 2011 during NaNoWriMo (with lots and lots and lots of revisions) is still here without representation or any publishing offers. I got a couple of requests for partials and one request for a full manuscript but ultimately everyone has passed on it.

I shared the book with my very good friend and sometime editor Sara who came back with nearly novel-length notes (not really there were a lot) even though she said she'd read for pleasure and I just asked for an opinion. You know, did you like it?

Well, she did like it which is consistent with the feedback I've gotten from other readers. But in her notes Sara told me that what I had wasn't really a novel. It's actually a detailed outline for three novels. I hadn't put enough detail in and glossed over some potentially interesting character development things. I hadn't built a world effectively enough. I assumed the reader knew things that I hadn't explicitly put into the manuscript.

So while agents and editors considered the book, they didn't get the whole story. Despite the fact that there were over 100,000 words there, it wasn't a novel. It was an outline.

My god, I thought, she's right. Absolutely right.

The hard lesson here is to not give up. It would be so easy to toss the whole damn thing out and start over on something new taking all the critique into consideration. After all I have tons of ideas.

But dammit, I believe in this story. I love these characters. I think this is a good book. Well, three good books now, right?

Add in that I visited a new writer's group in the beginning of September courtesy of my friend Holly where I got detailed and terribly useful critiques of a short story. That group gave me insights into my work similar to the things Sara had later on. It would be easy to give up on that story too. But rather than do that, I've realized I'm on the right track.

I'm trying to apply all this to all the things I've got in some state of 'done' and it's a bit overwhelming. Plus I've started a new job in the last month with increased responsibilities and new systems to learn...

Which I could use as further excuse to give up. I could use all of the criticisms to just let go, start over or quit completely.

That's what I'm saying here: don't give up. Even when you think you're done with something and it's not connecting with your audience, don't give up. If it's good you'll get there. I know I will. Even after three full years of working on this novel I'm not giving up. I'm trying to balance working on other things too but I'm not quitting this one.

I owe some folks a couple of things and I have to focus on those while I'm spending time rewriting. Look, if you believe in your work, don't quit. Make it better. Find a way.