Movie Review

Have you ever watched a movie so bad that it’s good? Maybe you have a favorite, a guilty pleasure from certain times or places. A crap movie that, by virtue of nostalgia, or absurdity, you absolutely love. Then there are those shows you loved as a kid, recall fondly, but they simply don’t hold up to your adult sensibilities. Lately I’ve found that many of the movies and television shows I liked as a kid I now find boring, slow and predictable. Styles have changed.

We have entered a new golden age of entertainment.

Yes, I’ve heard this before with respect to specific media—movies, television, books—but it all comes down to writing. So many people are vying for so few openings that all the creative industries have bred cut-throat competition, where people write harder, explore deeper topics, expand non-traditional markets. All of this dog-eat-dog for our entertainment.

Then came a recommendation that opened my eyes to the gold all around me. One of those off-the-cuff suggestions that always go ignored. This time bordered prevailed. I actually watched what was recommended. I was not disappointed. This wasn’t a movie so bad it was good. This is a movie so bad it’s genius. A movie so fantastic it could only be written by a film student studying an era. Whether a spoof or an homage, this film did not simply copy movie themes of the 1980s, but captured the experience. As best as my young self can remember. Movies, television dramas and cartoons, music and comic books.

The writer (also the director and star—yeah, it’s that kind of a movie) embraced writing clichés much to my delight. 1985 Miami with a dystopian Lower East Side feel. Random shootings, burning buildings, overwhelmed police, business as usual.

Okay, first off, remember my last post about knock-out scenes? Well, this took the concept in a different direction that worked. The action star is battling a maniacal robot, then the tracking goes out. A detail only connoisseur of VHS tapes would appreciate. When the tracking comes back the fight continues hanging from the skids of a helicopter. Tracking goes out, comes back, they’re fighting on a crane, all guns and lasers, back and forth. Tracking goes out, comes back again, the hero crashes backwards into the Hubble Space Telescope (which entered service in 1990, but I’ll forgive the continuity issue.) Then the robot and hero are about to clash in front of a full moon when tracking goes out. At last the hero stands over and shoots the robot dead with a cool, dry one-liner at the end. The entire sequence took about forty-five seconds. The idea of cutting out the how and only showing greater and greater action moved an introductory scene out the way fast while using a characteristics of 1980s technology to do it.

My second favorite cliché—the hacker. He appeared out of nowhere and turns out to be the world’s best, of course. This movie hacker could even hack time, but things go wildly wrong. The skinny nerd with glasses, an awesome ‘80s mullet and a wispy mustache who slowly faces the camera when introduced to signify his importance nailed the weak camera work from so long ago. Again, whether a spoof or an homage, it worked for this show where it couldn’t have for anything else.

(Exposition warning) Computer hackers have become the wizards of urban fantasy, able to whip up fixes to keep the characters moving through a story with little or no consideration as to how. Some hocus-pocus, geek-speak and voila. It’s fun to listen to professional programmers discuss the unrealistic abilities non-programming writers bestow upon their fictional hackers.

Reflecting it does seem there were never more instances than in 1980s shows of buddies standing back to back, guns drawn, shooting in all directions. So this movie had to have a back to back scene. Make them scantily clad women, a Viking with an Uzi and a barbarian with a minigun. A MINIGUN! One rides a giant wolf, the other a tyrannosaurus rex. Throw in some heavy metal montages and how can this be anything but the greatest movie of all

barbariana-gif

Yeah, that’s the minigun.

 

time!

 

Plus Kung freakin’ Fu!

Whoa. Slow it down.

Got a little off topic.

Some people I’ve talked to absolutely hate this movie. I can respect that. The plot’s ill-defined, there’s action, but no tension and the wild characters make no sense. Even when the main character dies, there’s no sense of dramatic loss. He is eventually hacked back to life. And the bad guy (Adolf Hitler) escapes. Where’s the closure?

Despite those shortcomings this movie spoke to me. It hit on so much of my childhood. Video games, skateboards, boom boxes, even the fonts nailed it. The hero epitomized all the action stars into one. Sunglasses, red bandana, black leather jacket, collar turned up, laying casually on top of a Lamborghini in front of a giant palm tree framed sunset. More than the nostalgic imagery, the purposefully bad acting, the plot that did more to serve the scenery and the guns that never ran out of bullets made me consider how bad eighties action movies were written compared to modern works.

It’s probably not fair to compare 2010s movies to 1980s movies. Consider 1950s to 1980s. Movies in the 2040s will be magical compared to today.

Looking back there is so much to criticize about ‘80s action shows that seemed so awesome at the time. Shows now need more story, more justification, more intrigue, more choreographed flippy martial arts fights, better special effects, deeper character arcs. All that seems to get lost to time, to nostalgia until something so over the top comes out and shines a light on what has become unacceptable, but in a fun way.

Here’s a list of movies, shows and things that I thought I noticed thematic references to.

  • Immediately Buckaroo Bonsai for the sheer absurdity, though it lacked the same excuse-for-a-bad-movie-produced-by-cocain-addicts-to-score-more-cocain-money kind of feel.
  • Every 1980s movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan the Barbarian, The Running Man, Predator, Commando. Maybe not Twins.
  • Lethal Weapon.
  • The Warriors.
  • Rambo. Not First Blood.
  • Karate Kid.
  • Bruce Lee movies for the awesome numchuck (I know how I spelled it) action using the ripped off arm of a Nazi.
  • Miami Vice.
  • Knight Rider for sure.
  • Cartoons—Transformers, GI Joe, M.A.S.K. (Yes, there was a cheesy PSA on teamwork from a talking dinosaur at the end.)
  • Bits and pieces from tons of comic books.
  • In the background there was a Tron video game. How much money did I spend on that one…?
  • And my favorite—the old school skate board, though I wouldn’t ride one today. Too bulky.

And the name of this movie. The first movie I’ve ever reviewed for writing. The only live action film I’ve ever wanted to discuss. Hold on to your seats. It’s…..Kung Fury!

Go here. Watch. Laugh.

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Anonymous Book Review 4—Cage Match!

Two books, head to head. Both hard sci-fi. Both brilliantly written by super authors. Both nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award. Both explore the reaches of human expansion. Neither written for the casual reader. Get out your dictionaries, folks, and settle in for ring side seats to a no-holds-barred, cage match main event!

In this corner, book 1 weighing in at 640 pages, written out of California… Crusher!

And in this corner, book 2 weighing in at 470 pages of fine print, hailing from Great Britain… Bruiser!

Boxing Photo

Crusher: Drawn from an author with a Ph.D. in English, this is a sweeping scenic masterpiece set in a fully realized solar system completely colonized by humans. He’s meticulously detailed the nuances of various terraforming techniques, taking into account the unique circumstances around the inner planets, outer planets and multitudes of asteroids. And then the full descriptions of the hollowed out asteroids, each one simulating an individual biome of Earth as safe deposits for endangered animals, was nothing less than stunning. Stunning over and over again for hundreds and hundreds of pages.

Bruiser: This one, written by a mathematician with a Ph.D. in aeroengineering follows a washed out astronaut billionaire who funds his own venture into space to mine the asteroids and colonize the universe. Bruiser’s characters are all quick with math and the numbers move the story. This book was fast paced and all over the place. All the info dumps you could ever want with plenty of math, physics and philosophy behind it all. The info dumps generally lasted a paragraph or so inserted into dialogue with obvious take aways. I absolutely loved them, but then I like math, too. A decent working knowledge of scientific notation is required to contemplate the scales and expanses discussed in this novel, so I can see why it didn’t review so well on Goodreads.

Crusher: I found the main plot… flimsy. Almost as though the author invented his vision of the solar system then contrived a reason for a character to fly around and reveal the marvels of his imagination. Was so-and-so’s death natural or murder? Oh, yes, I guess it was natural—540 pages later. Cliché political turmoil—bad Earthlings wallowing in misery while space people have solved all problems. And every other plot and subplot detail had similar outcomes. Unfortunately I can’t even say the flimsy plot carried though the book. It disappeared for several hundred pages, replaced with more description and a benevolent revolution force down from above that had no consequences on anything.

Bruiser: This book had a well defined plot, ambitious and glorious. To spread humanity throughout the galaxy so that the species may survive into infinity. The main character drives his mission forward by bucking the system and building his rocket from leftover NASA technology. Later it’s revealed that he’s suffering from cancer, has no children, yet still wishes to leave behind a legacy. Despite the heavy subject matter, the author keeps the tone light. But the main character is shown that, despite his best efforts, humanity will eventually go extinct when the very protons of existence decay to nothing. In a subplot, mysteriously genius children gather to build secret devices to change the nature of nature… on a universal scale, one that could spawn a billion billion new intelligent species, but the cost for such ambition is the human race with the only solace that one day, hundreds of billions of years out, one of those species might become smart enough to put the pieces together. Whoa!!

Crusher: Effectively the main character did nothing. She (ostensibly for pronoun purposes) drifted back and forth, interacted with the various environments and showed the reader this solar system though her eyes, but that was it. As far as the plot, one character that got very little time on the page moved the plot along the most. The main character came along simply because she was the granddaughter of the original victim. She wasn’t pleasant, carried a cynical mood and seemed bored with her own existence. In discussions it was suggested the character was a commentary on living an unnaturally long life without needs. What would you become if you didn’t have to work and lived for 200 years or more? Very interesting concept, but nothing spoke to that topic and a resolution never offered. That left a miserable character. At one point she threatened to scream if she didn’t get her way. She betrays her friends and reveals a secret to her quantum computer on a whim who then talks to another one who comes up with the details of a plot in progress and the solution. When the main character decides to act on the solution the other quantum computer already alerted the appropriate authorities. At the end her only character arc came as she goes against her previous declarations and gets married. Oh, and she’s flexible which made her good in bed. I’ve got to say, this author wrote a weak gynandromorphic character.

Bruiser: Dashing, rich, astronaut, who wouldn’t want to be this character? Except for the cancer, but everything else seems fun. He flies by the seat of his pants in all situations, never giving in, extending his opportunity until something comes up. He makes snap decisions and lives with the consequences, even stealing uranium from Scotland, throwing a fictional U.S. Senator out the door and blasting into space while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is coming to arrest him and a psychopath is shooting at his ship. Sure the character is a trope, but it’s more fun than following a mope. One issue I had was in the beginning the main character followed the math, physics and philosophy while his ex-wife is the ignorant foil who needs explanation, though, she too, is quick with the math. At the end, after she dies and everything is being explained, he becomes the dullard who continuously asks for simpler explanations. I understand it had to be written that way if the author wanted to reach a greater audience than Ph.D. candidates in astrophysics, but the change in character was a little annoying.

Crusher: After the main plot disappeared and the author got elbows deep in a preachy tangent that encompassed three years of book time, the actual writing turned bad. I mean really bad. The author intruded on the story the entire time and everything, even the action scenes, were written very passively, but a one hundred page section must’ve been skipped by his editor. Cause and effect all wrong, repeated clauses, explanations of narration, purposeless exposition, rambling paragraphs that went nowhere, huge sections devoted to random incidences that had zero bearing on the plot. Oh, look, she’s disobeying for a good cause. What? Her grandmother’s death is still suspect, the person who killed thousands of people, destroyed an entire city and tried to murder millions more is still at large? Go play with the animals while we all wait.

Bruiser: It had a soggy middle bogged down in technobabble. The main character and his ex-wife are plunging themselves farther and farther into the infinite number of universes which proves to him that no intelligent life exists anywhere but Earth and illustrates the Big Bang, the Big Crunch and numerous other bizarre universes in various stages of development. It was a chance for the author to take his audience on a trip though grad-student level thought experiments. I found it long and tedious, but at least it served the plot.

Crusher: The entire book is predicated on a date. All the annoying extracts make this date seem important. The time line is working to this date and then… nothing happens. The supposed plot’s conclusion relies on one person’s weak evidence and a look, a knowing look, the main character received several years earlier. Sure the main character got the guy the job who witnessed the evidence, but that was coincidence. Case closed, we got the bad guys. Even the epilogue says nothing happened on or around that date. There was no point to the entire story. Everybody lived mopily ever after. He’s telling the story of a privileged, yet unremarkable person experiencing frustration and futility. The author set out to write in this fashion specifically to defy the common expectations of readers.

Bruiser: A time line also drives this story, but everybody dies in the end. I mean everybody. Earth is obliterated and humanity blasted extinct. The main character and his ex-wife even die twice. Actually the entire universe collapses into a nearly perfect vacuum. The entire time I was pulling for a happy ending, but the stakes were too high and it defied my expectations. But there was a reason, a conclusion with a purpose, and so I can accept the dreary end.

Both books taxed my vocabulary. Bruiser with sciency terms. Crusher with obscure words and references. I’m familiar with the sciency words and in my opinion they fit, they were genuine. Now, I like a robust vocabulary in a book, but some of the word choices in Crusher seemed eccentric. He used the name of a 1960s performance artist as a verb and then never showed a mutilating act of art. It seems he threw the name in to prove he knew who the real artist is. And now, the pet peeve—“Sure, why not?” used twice in the narrative and about three times in dialogue. All the rest of the author intrusion was bad enough, but to shrug at his readers and offer, “sure, why not?” as an explanation to a part of his story in the narrative I found contemptuous. The bland and mopy characters, the thin, disjointed plot, the pretentious vocabulary, the over description, the narcissistic tangents and the endless name dropping I thought condescending, but those three little words revealed to me an author who doesn’t care for his audience.

I waited months to read both these book. I had no plan on reading them consecutively and had no idea how similar they were until I finished Crusher and got well into Bruiser. Scored on a ten point must system, let’s go to the cards!

Round 1 Scenery:                      Crusher=10                    Bruiser= 9

Round 2 Characters:                  Crusher= 8                     Bruiser=10

Round 3 Plot:                             Crusher= 8                     Bruiser=10

Round 4 Writing Style:              Crusher= 9                     Bruiser=10

Round 5 Cover Design:             Crusher=10                    Bruiser= 9

Round 6 Science:                       Crusher= 9                     Bruiser=10

And the winner by 58 to 54… Bruiser!!

While I loved so much of the detail in Crusher, this was never actually a contest. In Bruiser, genius children ride a nuclear explosion to the Moon! That was the knock out, right there.

The story that got away from me—word count and expectations.

            Is it supposed to be a short story? Around five to ten thousand words qualifies and I don’t mind a little embellishment so, yes, 10,000 sounds like a reasonable limit, right?

            Right, well, short story number one of my forced novel writing-editing sabbatical came in at 4,000 words. It simmered for a while so the outline came easily and the note cards worked great. Still needs work, but not too shabby. Expand some details, clarify some tricky spots, I don’t expect more than 5000 words tops. A true short story, but this one is not at the heart of the problem.

            Story number two of the tedious hiatus is composed of 6,700 words. A tale that spans the entire solar system wrapped up in a tidy package and after a little love, I’ll send it to appropriate short story outlets. Because, while long by some standards, it falls within the general word count category of a short story.

            At this point I’m feeling good about the quality and quantity of material being produced on this tiresome holiday. Time to indulge the nerd and jump on a project I’ve been thinking about for years. It’s silly and spends my limited writing time in a direction that doesn’t foster a career, but like I said, I’ve decided to indulge during this summer’s doldrums.

            Character lists, bios, maps of story arc, points of conflict, and a love interest all set in a tumultuous near history with a fully developed protagonist and a cliffhanger at the end. Maybe not the best style for an ending, but this is number two of a four part short story collection I intend to publish on a fan fiction website.

            Told you it was nerdy.

            The story is moving along nicely. Actually, too nicely. It clocked in at 6000 words by the end of the first act.

            Hmmm. Troubling.

            I could end it there. Kind of a happy ending, hints at the overall arc, but it doesn’t properly describe what I want to say.

            Okay, time for damage control. I can salvage it. There are 4000 words left to work with. I’ll wrap up the other two acts and get to chopping in the first rounds of edits.

            Damn!!

            The second act came out larger than the first and the denouement promises to be longer still. This is truly a story that got away from me. At this rate I’ll have a 20,000 word novella that I’m trying to fit into a short story collection. It won’t work. Twenty thousand words is what I wanted all four stories to total. But this story deserves justice, it needs to be expressed and the inner nerd says more.

            So what can I do? What choice do I have? No short story anthology will take something this long. It would be difficult to publish because novella markets are scarce, besides, it’s a work of fan fiction. I could be sued if I tried to make money on it.

            That’s right! Its fan fic! On a free website without constraints or word counts.

            While not an acute concern, word count has always gnawed at the back of my mind, yet when it came to a boundless format, I decided on a short story and truly believed all would be lost if I missed the target. Strange how after a while even the blinders become invisible.

            I fretted a full day over what it was supposed to be and forgot to ask if the story that got away ever needed to be a short story to begin with.

            And to the answer. It’s not supposed to be short or long, it’s only supposed to be a story.