Monthly Archives: March 2018

#FridaysWithBQB – Interview #7 – Sean P. Carlin – A Couple of Gen Xers Talk About Movies, Screenwriting and Zombie Prison Breaks

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Author Website

I first virtually met Sean P. Carlin in 2015. Wow, has it been that long? I was surrounded by hideous undead brain biters during the infamous East Randomtown zombie apocalypse which, if you’re one of the 3.5 readers of my blog, then you know that was a thing that actually happened. Check out #31ZombieAuthors on Twitter for more information.  I was interviewing authors of zombie fiction, getting their advice on how to keep my brains safe and low and behold, Sean reached out on Twitter to offer what assistance he could.

By the way, the rest of you people reading this offered me no assistance against the zombie hordes whatsoever, so you’ll all have to live with that guilt and shame for the rest of your lives. Sean, on the other hand, can go on with a clear conscience.

My God, 3.5 readers. Look at that smile Sean is flashing. What reason could anyone possibly have to be that happy? Did he just win the lottery? Did someone give him a cookie? Has he concocted a maniacal, supervillain plot to hold the world for ransom?
Perhaps all those reasons and more are in play, or maybe he’s just pleased that his novel, “Escape From Rikers Island” will be out soon. Maybe he’s happy he’s a screenwriter during a new golden age of television and cinema, where streaming technology is making it possible for more projects to be greenlit than ever.

Maybe it’s just gas? I don’t know. Let’s ask him.

BOLD = BQB; ITALICS=Sean

QUESTION #1 – Sean, I’m utterly miserable 24/7. I’ve tried yoga. I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried tai chi and chai tea (at the same time.) Nothing ever works. I’m stuck being a mopey prick. So I must ask, why do you look so happy in the picture above? Is it due to any of the reasons I listed above?

And while we’re at it, are we really in a new golden age of TV and movies thanks to streaming or is that just something I made up in a fever dream? I did eat some bad taco salad earlier so hallucinations on my part are entirely possible.

RESPONSE #1: Well, that particular photo was taken in Badlands National Park in South Dakota in 2016, during a three-week road trip my wife and I took through the western United States, so I was in a pretty good mood! (I think I’m also somewhat smiling in goofy disbelief at the sheer force of the wind blowing against my face, as evidenced by the Ace Ventura–style sweep of my hair!)

But, regardless, I consider myself a pretty happy guy! I’ve got a wonderful wife, the best friends a man could ask for, and I get to “traffic in my own daydreams” for a living, to borrow the phraseology of UCLA screenwriting chair Richard Walter. Not too shabby.

When I get gloomy, and God knows we’re living in some strange days, I try to remember something my late father once said: Each of scored an invite to the Big Party — life itself. When you stop to consider the astronomical odds against simply being alive, and the finiteness of that life (however long it may last), it’s hard to justify wasting such a miraculous opportunity on perpetual cynicism and negativity.

On the subject of wasting time (just kidding — sort of): Are we in a Golden Age of Television? In terms of both an abundance of quality material and creative opportunities for writers of all different stripes and backgrounds, yes, I would say so. Television has certainly eclipsed cinema with respect to the narrative and thematic complexity of its storytelling. Movies simply don’t matter the way they once did; they don’t drive the cultural conversation like they did in the twentieth century. Television — if one can even identify the medium by that antiquated designation anymore — has assumed the mantle of cultural conversation-starter.

That said, though, there’s too much of it. There are something like five hundred scripted shows in production at present across the various platforms, and most of them are structured in this ongoing, serialized format, which requires you to watch every episode, in sequential order, for years on end. You know what I’m saying? If you’re going to commit to a show like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, you are required to start from the beginning, follow every episode, and stick with it for however many seasons its open-ended, ever-expanding narrative can continue to run. Sometimes that’s fun, but more often than not, I’m starting to find it exhausting. It’s such a breath of fresh air, in a way, when a show like Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville comes along, a series in which each episode tells a closed-ended, perfectly self-contained story with a resolution and — anyone remember these? — a point. You can watch any episode of The Orville, in any order, and follow the story of that particular installment without confusion. Unlike virtually every other drama on TV right now, it doesn’t demand to be watched week in and week out. Good for MacFarlane for daring to be square. Who would’ve imagined, back when we were growing up, that old-fashioned, standalone storytelling would one day be subversive?

QUESTION #2 – I’ve got to be honest. I interview a lot of authors on this fine blog, but I’ve never read any of their works. I’d like to, but I don’t have the time. (FYI if you’re reading this and you’re an author I interviewed, please know I’m not talking about you. I read all of your stuff and it was great. I’m talking about all those other chumps who aren’t you.)

All that being said, “Escape from Rikers Island” sounds like something I’d actually be interested in plunking my hard earned money down for. In fact, in January, I made 12 cents off of a book I self-published on Amazon, so I’ll probably put that towards a copy of your book.

The description you give on your blog intrigues me. A detective has to work with gangbangers he put behind bars to escape a zombie infestation that has broken out on Rikers Island, the infamous New York prison. I can see it now. Backstabbing, intrigue, revenge, and brain biters. Surely, if one of the zombies doesn’t eat the detective’s brains, one of the criminals with a grudge against him will try to bash them in.

Not gonna lie. I can see this as a movie. I’d go see that and eat lots of popcorn to it. Tell my 3.5 readers more about this. What inspired you to write what will surely turn out to be a masterpiece? More importantly, when this book becomes a bestseller, will you remember the little people, like me and my 3.5 readers, or will you go all Hollywood and forget us all?

RESPONSE #2: Far from my ensuring my seat at the table in the halls of Hollywood power, I’m actually hoping Escape from Rikers Island will signify my long-desired escape from L.A.! The concept was originally devised as a spec screenplay in 2011; we even had Ice Cube attached to star and produce for a Los Angeles minute. But as is so often the case in the movie biz, the project didn’t move forward, and I moved on to other things (that also didn’t move forward!) with other producers.

Eventually I grew frustrated with the inability to get new materials sold and/or produced in Hollywood, and I’d been privately entertaining the notion of writing a novel, anyway. This was in 2014, when the riots in Ferguson were making headlines, and that, along with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (among, unfortunately, many others), were catalyzing this uncomfortable (but overdue) national conversation about the militarization of the police, and their strained relationship with underprivileged communities. At the same time, the stop-and-frisk program of racial profiling was coming under intense critical scrutiny in my hometown of New York, and I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll revisit Escape from Rikers Island, but this time do it as a novel where I’ll really have the canvas to explore some of those sociopolitical issues with depth and nuance.” Because the real-estate limitations of a screenplay just don’t allow for that kind of philosophical digression or thematic complexity.

So, yes, EFRI is about a white NYPD detective and a black gangbanger — men on different sides of the law who also happen to share a complicated, contentious history with one another — who are forced to set aside their considerable differences and work together to escape New York’s sprawling, 415-acre detention center during a sudden zombie-like outbreak among the 15,000 inmates there! It’s a mashup of two popular subgenres I’ve never really seen combined: the “prison break” and “zombie outbreak” narratives. That was an exciting place to start, because I could immediately see all these very familiar tropes and conventions “remixed” and presented in a new way.

And I could’ve set the story in any old prison — one of my own invention, even — but Rikers Island is such a fascinating, labyrinthine place with a bizarrely sordid history, and what makes it all the more compelling is how little most people really know of it. And I’m talking about New Yorkers, mind you: Most lifelong residents couldn’t even find Rikers on a map! And I thought, “Yep — that’s my setting.” And when you put two men who really don’t like each other in a place that’s dark and dangerous under normal circumstances, and then throw the undead into the mix, all the tensions simmering between them are exacerbated, and you don’t know if these guys are going to survive each other, let alone the zombie outbreak in this inescapable fortress.

So, I took the premise, plot, and set pieces from the screenplay I’d developed a few years earlier, and then I used the breadth the prose format afforded to really dig deep into the psychologies and characterizations of these two native New Yorkers: to learn their backstories, to portray the complexity of their lawman-and-outlaw dynamic, and to use their perspectives as guys who grew up as lower-class kids in the outer boroughs to say something about the world as it is right now. I think good horror has always done that; certainly Night of the Living Dead, the first contemporary zombie tale, operates on two levels beautifully: It’s a chilling monster story with a profound sociocultural conscience.

Question #3 – Is the zombie genre dying? Is it dead…er, or undead? Personally, I love “The Walking Dead” but I do think the “survivors banding together to traverse the zombie infested landscape” bit is jumping the shark. Perhaps that’s why authors are turning to new ways to put humans amidst zombies, i.e. in your case, a prison full of brain chompers. It’s not that people are tired of zombies but just that authors need to find new ways to put brains into peril. Thoughts?

RESPONSE #3: I don’t think any genre is ever dead. Sometimes they become creatively depleted for a time, until someone comes along with a new spin. I remember a few years ago, when Twilight was all the rage, and people were saying, “Vampires are in vogue again!” When weren’t they, exactly? I mean, at what point during the twentieth century alone did vampires fall out of fashion? During the silent-film era, we had Vampyr and Nosferatu. Then Bela Lugosi reinterpreted the archetype in formalwear. Hammer came along and brought vampires out of the shadows of expressionism and into living Technicolor. Then Anne Rice took the genre and reimagined it as a domestic drama — Ordinary People with vampires. The Hunger gave us lesbian vampires, which was kind of a big deal in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The Lost Boys was, incredibly, the first to do teenage vampires, which became its own subgenre with Buffy and Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. Every time the genre starts to slip into self-parody — and we’re certainly there now with the whole emo-vampire thing — somebody comes along again with a fresh take on it, and everything old becomes relevant anew.

Zombies are no different, really. Max Brooks repurposed them for the post-9/11 era, as an allegory for bioterrorism and so forth. What Kirkman did so brilliantly was that he took this zombie-apocalypse narrative we love — notably Dawn of the Dead, but pretty much any of them adhered to the same basic template — and said, “But now what happens?” In the closed-ended structure of the Dead movies, Romero used the metaphor of the zombie apocalypse to comment on some sociological concern, be it civil rights or conspicuous consumption or what have you. With The Walking Dead, it’s the structure itself — the open-ended, nonlinear, What now…? format — that is the social commentary, such as it is, of the show: In a Digital Age that has completely upended our traditional understanding of beginnings, middles, and ends — of linear narrative arcs — The Walking Dead becomes a reflection of a worldview in which there is no resolution, no helicopter that’s going to show up in the final reel to airlift us away from the existential intractability of our problems. And that’s exciting… for a while. But it can become tedious, too. And I think the viewer fatigue with the show you point out indicates a longing for a conclusion — Where’s the damn helicopter already? — or some kind of point to it all, like we get each week from The Orville. But to those waiting for that, I would refer you to Lost: It ain’t gonna happen because the entire point of the show is that it’s simply meant to keep expanding until, like the well walker from season two, it finally collapses under its own bloated weight.

And then perhaps the genre will go into remission for a while, until someone figures out a way to reinvent it. Certainly with Escape from Rikers Island, I made a very conscious choice to subvert popular convention and tell the story of a contained outbreak, not an apocalyptic one. In that sense, structurally, EFRI is much closer to Jurassic Park than it is to The Walking Dead. One way isn’t better than the other; you just have to make a creative decision that best serves the story you’re trying to tell.

Question #4 – On your blog, you discuss how every villain has a backstory. Villains aren’t born. They’re made. They all have some reason why they turned bad. As you point out, Jason Voorhees was left to die by incompetent camp counselors, while the ghosts in “Poltergeist” weren’t happy that suburban homes sprouted up on their burial grounds.

I find myself in agreement. Let’s face it. Darth Vader carries “Star Wars.” In any given story, is the villain more interesting than the hero? Should any aspiring writers who happen to be reading this put extra effort into crafting their baddies?

RESPONSE #4: I think every character in a story should be as interesting as possible! The theme of a good story is reflected in the protagonist’s arc: If you look at Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane is a man who rejects faith in favor of science; he lives exclusively in the quirky intellect of his own head (hence his surname). And then the Headless Horseman comes along, whose very existence challenges Crane’s worldview, because this is a supernatural creature, unexplainable by science, without a head! Protagonist and antagonist are perfect physical and spiritual opposites, and through that opposition, the story’s thematics are fully and richly explored. That’s an extreme, almost on-the-nose example, but I think it illustrates why a hero and villain should be designed to work like counterparts in a Swiss watch, each one indispensably integral to the story’s conflict and, ultimately, its meaning.

Some story models, like the superhero genre (of which The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are a part), require a more defined or overt villain than others. (There’s no villain, after all, in When Harry Met Sally…, or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, or even Star Trek IV.) But a good villain should definitely have a logical point of view and corresponding agenda, and should always be designed with an eye toward how he affects the protagonist externally (the story’s major plot conflict) as well as internally (the hero’s transformational arc). Darth Vader is certainly one of the all-time greats, because in addition to being visually striking and psychologically layered (we learn a bit more about him in each movie), he serves as a stark example for the idealistic, sometimes overeager Luke of what can happen when great power isn’t tempered with moral discipline. Being the Chosen One comes with a terrible burden of responsibility, and true heroism is often far from a Romantic ideal; the Luke of Return of the Jedi understands that in a way he simply didn’t before his harrowing confrontation with Vader at the climax of Empire.

Right now, the high-water mark in cinematic villainy has probably yet to be surpassed by Heath Ledger’s Joker. And it’s an amazing performance, for sure, but absent Ledger’s captivating interpretation, you still have a very dynamic characterization right there on the page: The way he challenges Batman ideologically gives The Dark Knight a depth it wouldn’t otherwise have — that the original Burton movie certainly doesn’t have — if he was merely a physical threat. Batman, like Luke Skywalker, is made wiser for his contest with the nemesis; there’s no story without either one of them, so both are equally important.

Question #5 – Can we talk about “The Last Jedi?” You wrote an extensive post about it, focusing on Gen-Xers’ feelings towards it. I’ll get to Gen X in the next question, but I’d like your overall thoughts on the film. Or rather, I’ll tell you what I thought and then you can tell me if I’m right or wrong.

I thought this movie sucked with the gale force wind of a thousand hoover vacuum cleaners. That’s not a charge I toss out easily, as my 3.5 readers will attest, I’m fairly kind to most movies I review.  I mean, hell, any movie that has been made is better than mine, because I haven’t made one, so who am I to judge?  But I stand by my claim here.  It really sucked.

Ironically, I enjoyed “The Force Awakens.” However, (SPOILER ALERT), the ending of that movie gives us this broad, sweeping scene where Rey meets the long-lost Luke Skywalker. The two lock eyes and you’re like, “Oh my God! Rey has found the master who can teach her the ways of the Force!”

So, I went into “The Last Jedi” expecting a lot of awesome training montages where Luke would become the Mr. Miyagi to Rey’s Daniel-san, but instead, all I got was an old man whining about his misspent life. At no time ever does he offer Rey anything in the way of practical advice and I just felt like if I wanted to see an older person bitch and moan about lost youth, I’d just record myself, but no one wants to listen to that, so I’m not sure why anyone thought people would want to hear such ennui from Luke Skywalker.

In short, I came in the hopes of Luke teaching Rey awesome light saber tricks and instead, I got to watch an old man turn a young girl into his discount psychiatrist, telling her all his problems, that frankly, she probably didn’t want to here.

Am I right? Wrong? What say you?

RESPONSE #5: Boy, it’s so hard to know where to start with The Last Jedi. I thought — and there are many who disagree — it was a very sloppy, indulgent, tonally uneven piece of filmmaking. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blockbuster movie that displayed such open contempt for its own fan base. It’s hard to guess what Rian Johnson was thinking when he made it, and I certainly can’t find logic in the decision to hire a nostalgic director for the first one, then pass the baton to an iconoclastic director for the second one. I think Disney needed from the outset to pick a creative direction, one way or the other but not both, and see that vision through. Trying to have it both ways has been, it would seem, a mistake.

But that actually goes to a much bigger challenge Disney is now facing with this franchise. They paid through the nose for one of the very few branded IPs that everyone adores: Star Wars is the holy grail of four-quadrant appeal. But what I don’t think they took into account was how the very history of the series complicates its relationship with the different generations of fans, right? On the one hand, you’ve got the first-generation audience who grew up with this series in real time, and thusly feels very proprietary about it; they’ve also spent the last thirty-five years both waiting to see Luke Skywalker back in action, and wondering if that would in fact ever even happen. So, for them, The Last Jedi is the culmination of literally a lifetime of hopes and dreams, a reunion with a childhood hero they didn’t know for certain they’d ever see again.

On the other hand, you’ve got the third-generation fans, for whom forty years of history is binge-experienced — compressed and consumed in short order, like a season of television that streams on Netflix — so what a ten-year-old expects from Star Wars isn’t what a forty-year-old does. The “return of Luke Skywalker” doesn’t carry the same emotional weight or sense of expectation for them, therefore they aren’t disappointed with his controversial depiction in The Last Jedi, or Anakin’s in The Phantom Menace, for that matter; to their eyes, it’s all just one more episode in the never-ending continuum of the saga. And they’re not wrong to feel that way — it’s simply the perspective they have on the narrative, having made no temporal investment in it. It’s the difference between showing up for the harvest versus having sown the seeds and tended the crops.

Consequently, Disney finds itself trying to service two incompatible and irreconcilable demographics. And I suspect what you’re going to start to see moving forward is a Star Wars that exclusively caters to younger and newer viewers. Even the nostalgic-to-a-fault J. J. Abrams is limited now in how much fan service he can indulge in Episode IX, what with the onscreen deaths of Luke and Han, and the off-screen death of Carrie Fisher. For better or worse, Star Wars is going to be a new thing now, for a new audience, and my generation is going to have to learn to accept that and, if they don’t like it, move on from it, because, if we don’t, Star Wars will only continue to disappoint us — that much is undeniable now.

We all wanted these new movies to put us back in touch with the child within. I’m honestly not sure that would’ve been possible even if this sequel trilogy hadn’t been so ill-conceived from Day One. Some very questionable choices got made — from signing the original troika to the project and then not giving them any storylines together, to teeing up a big backstory for Rey only to tell us, “No, there isn’t one, actually, and you were idiots for expecting otherwise” — and there’s no reversing that now. But the good news, such as it is, is this: We are finally free to let go of Star Wars. We don’t have to keep retuning to this franchise with Pavlovian fealty, because the thing we wanted so desperately from it is never coming to us. But there can be solace in acceptance, though acceptance by nature is bittersweet, because we only have to learn to accept things we wish weren’t so.

QUESTION #6 – You mention in your post you saw “Return of the Jedi” in the movie theater. I did too. Ergo, I’m going to venture a guess we are roughly within the same age range. (How do you stay well preserved? Are you a vampire or something? I wake up everyday looking like someone clocked my face with a brick, but I digress.)

In your post about fan reactions to “The Last Jedi,” you discuss how Gen-Xers love their 1980s pop culture and how they often are let down by modern day reboots. As you paraphrased Roy Batty, the villain from “Blade Runner,” all those feelings that Gen-Xers had about the pop culture from their youth are gone, “like tears in the rain.”

I agree. Whenever I watch a reboot of a franchise I enjoyed in the 1980s, I try to remember a) it’s about today’s kids. I had my time to be a kid. Now today’s movies must appeal to today’s kids and b) a reboot doesn’t take away the old movie. The new “Ghostbusters” didn’t remove the Bill Murray classic. I can still watch Murray and Akroyd clown around with proton packs on their backs any time.

Ultimately, if a franchise has to be changed in order to make today’s kids happy, I’m for it. Where I get critical is when the source material is tinkered with just for the sake of change, i.e. some Hollywood suit just wanted to do something different just to make it his/her own.

It’s a double-edged sword. In some respects, 1980s source material may not hold up for today’s youth. Then again, there’s a reason why the source material was so popular, so radical deviations from a tried and true formula may leave the filmmaker with egg on his/her face.

OK. I’ll stop rambling on and on and ask what you think about all that.

RESPONSE #6: In order to fully appreciate how we came to be stuck in this Era of the Endless Reboot, you have to look at Gen X’s place in history from a sociological standpoint. (I am an Xer myself.) Barring an actual zombie apocalypse, which I think many of us would welcome at this point, we are the last generation in the history of humanity — really consider this for a moment — that will retain any memory of the bygone analog world in which every moment we experienced as we experienced it wasn’t being recorded and posted online, and one could actually run down to the grocery store and be out of reach for twenty minutes without setting off a family-wide panic. In the span of a single generation, human civilization went from a linear sense of reality (as we’ve understood it for the past several millennia, and as reflected in our closed-looped fictions like Star Wars: A New Hope and Night of the Living Dead and TOS and TNG) to a hyperlinked one (as exemplified by Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and Mr. Robot). Make no mistake: We are deeply traumatized by the passing of the analog world into the new, ever-on, always-interconnected Digital Era. Millennials don’t have this problem, because they were born into a digital world. (They have other issues as a result of that, but that’s a different matter.)

And that’s where all the incessant recapitulation of 1980s ephemera — Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Transformers, Lethal Weapon, Cobra Kai — comes in: It’s a coping mechanism. We’ve escaped into the bedtime stories of a less-complicated era — Star Wars serves as a reminder of the straight-line, analog pleasures of the lost world in which we came of age — and we’ve kind of gotten ourselves addicted to that nostalgia. Which would be bad enough in itself, but as the current custodians of pop culture, we’re force-feeding today’s kids the stories and heroes of a previous century, and I think that’s a pretty irresponsible abdication of our cultural obligation (and I’m calling out filmmakers like J. J. Abrams for it). They deserve their own heroes, their own legends, not our warmed-over second helpings. But, then, we’re not really making Star Wars or Transformers for them; we’re making it for ourselves. Which makes us a generation that’s submitted to willing infantilization, doesn’t it? So when we start finding ourselves prematurely put out to pasture by the Millennials — which is, to be clear, already happening — we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. We’re a generation about looking behind, not ahead. And our pop culture is a pitiable testament to that.

So all the reboots, therefore, act as a sort of Groundhog Day-like time warp in which we get to perennially relive the eighties — that fragile, fleeting, blissful moment right before our collective worldview was irreparably shattered. I mean, that’s the essence of Ready Player One, isn’t it? While the world is going to hell around us, we’ve retreated into this immersive, orgiastic virtual-reality simulation of an eighties pop-cultural time capsule. It’s The Goldbergs meets The Matrix. Ready Player One is just an exaggerated fable of what we’re actually doing, and we should be troubled by what it says about us.

BQB EDITORIAL NOTE:  Yikes, you’ve convinced me.  I think I’m going to go lie down in the grass and let the moss grow over me, but first, let’s carry on with this interview.

QUESTION #7 – I think your use of the “tears in the rain” quote sums up Gen-X’s attempts to relive youth via reboots to no avail succinctly. My parents were baby boomers and all they had to offer me from their time was literally 90,343 cowboy movies. I can’t even imagine what watching TV from 1950-1970 was like. “Do you want to watch a cowboy movie? No thanks, I’m already watching another cowboy movie.”

All the cowboy movies were the same too. Stoic hero wants to save the town. Villain wants to destroy the town. Townsfolk turn on the hero, tell him to let the villain win or else things will get worse for the town. Hero displays great courage and has a shoot out with the villain in the end.

Somewhere around the 1970s, Hollywood retired all the six-shooters. We got “Star Wars.” We got “Aliens.” The 1980s gave us “Terminator,” “Goonies,” and a slew of Schwarzenegger and Stallone action flicks.

Ultimately, movies, at least when it comes to special effects, were just starting to become great when we were kids. I suppose there’s an argument that many old black and white films were good too, but I didn’t really appreciate those until I became an adult.

What I’m saying is children of the 1980s got to see things that were never seen on film before. It all even got better in the 1990s. “Jurassic Park” ushered in a whole new era of CGI.

It was fun, but now that the special effects have been around for so long, we’ll never be able to relive that simpler time when all of the stuff we were seeing on screen seemed like real life magic, will we?

RESPONSE #7: We’ve mythologized the 1980s the way Boomers did the fifties. But even at that, our parents didn’t fetishize their childhood heroes and fantasies the way we do. That’s an idiopathic characteristic of Generation X. I will certainly agree, as someone who experienced it firsthand, that Lucas and Spielberg and their contemporaries, in the ’70s and ’80s, conjured a level of cinematic wonder and wizardry the likes of which had no precedent, and stories like Ready Player One are nothing if not a sincere and loving paean to that. (And now we’ve come full circle, with Spielberg directing the RP1 feature adaptation.) As you observe, those were magical movies. They were more than movies; they were visions. And when you couple that with the fact that they were the first movies we ever saw, it made for some very profound childhood impressions, but perhaps it also got us hooked on that special brand of astonishment to the point where we’ve spent our adult lives chasing that initial high. That’s what I mean when I say we have an addiction to nostalgia. We want those analog pleasures back — we would happily trade every convenience of the Digital Age for them — but they’re tears in rain, like you say. The analog world isn’t coming back. Our innocence isn’t coming back. Ever. It’s all gone. But it doesn’t mean we can’t find new pleasures and meaningful experiences yet, we just need to learn to live in the here and now. We’re still at the Big Party, after all! Let’s make the most of it. Let’s agree, collectively, that the Skywalkers had their day — those stories were indelible and cherished parts of our formative experiences — but this is a new day now. I’m reminded of that old Guns N’ Roses lyric: “Yesterday’s got nothin’ for me/ Old pictures that I’ll always see/ I ain’t got time to reminisce old novelties.”

QUESTION #8 – I thought the 2014 reboot of “Robocop” was actually pretty tight. It captured the spirit of the movie, the ennui of a man who sort of remembers his past but doesn’t really, how he’s this badass machine yet there’s not much of the human part of him left so he doesn’t feel very whole. There were updates for modern times yet I walked away thinking it was a reboot that did the original justice.

Have you seen any reboots out there that Gen X and Millennials can agree on?

RESPONSE #8: The one that springs to mind would be the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, though I confess I haven’t yet seen the third movie. That’s no easy feat they pulled off, operating as a faithful prologue to the Charlton Heston classic — and giving it a contextual backstory that’s enlightening rather than redundant (à la the Star Wars prequels) — but also existing as its own thing that doesn’t require franchise familiarity to enjoy. They also, like the original, have something directly relevant to say about the folkways of the era in which they were produced, which good sci-fi, like good horror, ought to do.

It also took tremendous courage on the part of the storytellers to make Caesar the protagonist, and not sideline him in favor of a human surrogate. Michael Bay’s Transformers movies made that mistake: Rather than letting the robots be the main, front-and-center heroes, as they were in the old cartoon series, they got skittish and told the story through the eyes of a human character — first Shia and later Mark Wahlberg. I bet they worried that audiences wouldn’t relate to a nonhuman protagonist (which is pretty ironic considering how emotionally vacuous Bay’s movies have always been). Planet of the Apes proved that audiences can empathize with an anthropomorphic hero even in a live-action movie. I mean, yes, they had the benefit of photorealistic CGI and Andy Serkis’ motion-capture mastery, but it was the artful characterization of Caesar that made us empathize with him. Those movies are very emotional, in complete contrast with Transformers.

QUESTION #9 – Suppose my 3.5 readers are aspiring screenwriters. What’s the first thing they should do to get started?

RESPONSE #9: I hold bachelor’s degrees in both cinema and English, and it was only when I became a working screenwriter that I realized how little I knew about storytelling craft. Why doesn’t college — or even high school — offer a basic Storytelling 101 course? Instead, they talk a lot of theory. And theory is interesting, and not without value, but someone who wants to learn the nuts and bolts of storytelling — for any medium — needs to learn, practice, and master three fundamentals: structure, genre, and characterization. And to do that, you need to study a codified methodology — a program of unified principles that can show you how you build a story from the ground up and create an emotionally engaging narrative experience. You can write a great script intuitively once, perhaps, but in order to know how to do it on command, you have to develop your toolbox. So, for that, I would recommend studying Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey for mythic structure, Blake Snyder’s three Save the Cat! books for an overview of the ten types of genres (or story models), and David Freeman’s Beyond Structure workshop to learn the techniques of effective characterization. That’s all you need to know to master the discipline, and it’ll only cost you about $300 total, versus what you’d spend on a degree to learn nothing especially useful. But you’ll need to reread and practice those materials often, for several years, before they become second nature.

Those three pillars of storytelling are what aspirants need to be worried about learning. Then, if you want to be a screenwriter, you can read Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting, which will teach you the formatting requirements of that particular medium; if you want to be an author, which has its own syntactic demands, read David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist; Dennis O’Neil’s The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics can give you an overview of that specific form. But that all comes later; first and foremost you have to commit to learning the fundamentals of narratology.

The last point I would add is that, as my mentor David Freeman is so fond of saying, there are no rules, only tools. Aspiring screenwriters often cling to absolutes, and they look to industry-standard instructionals like Save the Cat! to provide those: If I do X and Y, I’ll get Z. If my inciting incident hits on page 12, and my first act break on 25, I’ll have a story that works. If only. Storytelling is about applied craft, for sure, but there’s no magic formula. A hammer is only as effective as the carpenter is skilled at using it.

QUESTION #10 – My condolences. You’ve been convicted of cutting that little tag off your mattress in the first degree and have been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Sorry, but mattress tag laws are very strict.

You’re just beginning to adjust to prisoner life when a zombie outbreak, similar to the one in your novel, occurs. You look inside a random cell, hoping to find items you can use to save your brains from the undead.

Alas, the only three items you find are a) a ukulele b) an origami unicorn and c) a 50-foot long licorice whip.

How will you use these items to defend yourself against the incoming zombie horde?

RESPONSE #10: Do you have any idea just how resourceful and inventive prison inmates are? There’s no telling what they could devise from those three items! I’m not nearly as imaginative as someone who’s been confined indefinitely to a six-by-eight concrete box, but I’d wager they could use the origami unicorn as a “kite” — a coded message passed under cell doors — to coordinate an escape. The ukulele? Hell, that’s an armory unto itself: the neck and headstock could be fashioned into a stake; the strings used as garrotes; the body could be splintered into shivs. As for a fifty-foot licorice whip… well, how else you gonna climb down the outer wall? But you’re gonna want to use a tough, rubbery brand, and not the soft, chewy kind. Stale Twizzlers, maybe; steer clear of Red Vines. You’d think the chances of encountering any one of those articles in jail is pretty slim, but you’d be surprised the kind of contraband that turns up. Licorice is the least of it.

BQB EDITORIAL NOTE: My BQB HQ supercomputer indicates this response has roughly a 93.49% chance of successfully warding off a zombie attack, so good show.  Thank you for stopping by, Sean, and let my 3.5 readers know when we can get our hands on a copy of “Escape from Rikers Island.”

 

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TV Review – Roseanne

Roseanne, Dan and Jackie are back and it’s almost like they never left.

BQB here with a review of the “Roseanne” reboot…return?  I guess it’s a return.

There was a time when sitcom families lived idyllic lives, akin to the Cleavers, where Ward would come home to a perfectly clean house, a hot dinner, and a pair of slippers courtesy of doting wife June.

But by 1988, that was in the past and America was waiting for a family that looked more like the blue collar families that were struggling all over the country.

Enter Roseanne Barr, an overweight, loudmouthed comedian who got famous through a comedy routine where she’d complain about her dishes, her husband, housework, and so on.  Add John Goodman as husband Dan and typically bratty kids Becky, Darlene and DJ and of course, nosey aunt Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and you had the Connors, a working class, mid-west family working hard to make ends meet, barely keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and somehow finding the time to keep kids out of trouble…or at least, less trouble.

Roseanne was liberal for her day.  She’d advise her daughters to use birth control because she figured that she couldn’t stop them from engaging in hanky panky.  She was one of the first comedians to have recurring gay characters join the cast and there was always one social issue or another being discussed.

The formula was typical.  Chronically unemployed Dan would lose another job and question his manhood.  Roseanne would have to get a job and that would make him feel less manly.  The kids would act up and Dan would try to intervene only for Jackie to butt in and then Dan would go drink in the garage because he felt henpecked at every turn, whether it be from his wife or sister in law.  Ultimately, Roseanne and her big mouth would be the final arbiter and put the fear of God into everyone to obey and more often than not her big mouth led her family members to more or less a good path.

Twenty years later, the formula is still there and as I watched the two return episodes, it’s like the Connors haven’t changed.  If anything, though older, Dan and Roseanne actually look a little better since both have had serious weight loss since their younger days.  Darlene, Becky and DJ just look like older versions of themselves but it’s bittersweet as I grew up watching them grow up and now it’s like my TV siblings are old.

A point of controversy is that Roseanne and Jackie are at war in the first episode.  Roseanne, a paragon of liberalism on TV in the 1990s, has gone full blown MAGA, boasting of her love of one Mr. Donald J. Trump, whereas Jackie arrives in a “Nasty Woman” shirt and pink pussy hat, ready to protest in the name of keeping her rights over her uterus intact (is it filled with cobwebs at this point?)

Speaking of uteruses (uteri?) – huh, it must be uteri as the spellchecker didn’t go off so you learn something new everyday, Becky is attempting to become a surrogate mother at age 43, the wannabe mother employing her is noneother than Sarah Chalke, the other girl who played Becky as a kid when the girl whose name I can’t remember wasn’t playing her.

I’ve kept my eye on Twitter and Roseanne as a Trump supporter is catching a lot of heat, ironically from both sides.  Liberals pretty much want the show to be cancelled and all prints burned in a tire fire and Roseanne flogged in the public square for daring to portray a Trump supporter on national television as anything more than a fire breathing goblin.

Meanwhile, some conservatives say MAGA Roseanne is a sign they are winning the culture war while others say that Roseanne is only a conservative in name only and the show is still pushing liberalism (a grandson who dons girls’ clothing to go to school has ginned up some controversy.)

Personally, I enjoyed the first episode because I felt maybe it was something the country needed.  As the plot goes, Roseanne and Jackie, once close sisters and friends, haven’t spoken for a year over the 2016 election results.  They come together due to some wrangling by Darlene and talk it out.  Both view the other as having done something awful – voting for a candidate the other finds intolerable.  They joke about each others’ political leanings and then finally, agree to disagree and hug it out.  Soon, they are friends again.

Perhaps that is what this country needs more of.  Enough of the political rhetoric that is thrown way too easily on social media.  The point of America is that a whole bunch of people from all different countries, religions, backgrounds, etc came to a land where they could be free to be themselves while living alongside others who are different and in that spirit, we should remember that people who didn’t vote the way we want, regardless of which side you voted for, aren’t “the other,” aren’t all bad people, they just see the world a different way.  Find common ground where you can, agree to disagree where you can’t, nothing stops you from continuing to be friends.

 

STATUS: Shelf-worthy….though it made me feel very old.

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TV Review – Santa Clarita Diet

Hey 3.5 readers. Season 2 of Santa Clarita Diet is out and it’s just as binge-worthy as the first one. VGRF wrote a review last year when she performed a hostile takeover of my blog.

Check it out on Netflix. It’s rare that a show even captures my interest anymore but I chow down on these like they are candy. Funny and yet there’s a plot to it.

Bookshelf Battle

Zombies!  Murder!  Mayhem!  Sitcom stupidity.

Video Game Rack Fighter here with a review of Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet.  Meanwhile, enjoy your BQB free diet because that nerd will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever write on this blog ever again, ever.

So, Netflix has taken the iZombie idea of a zombie who can still basically function as a human who speaks normally and Dexter, where the protagonist murders bad people, except here she does it for food.

Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant star as suburban California realtors Joel and Sheila Hammond, just another boring couple living a quiet life with daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) on an idyllic cul-de-sac where all the houses look the same.

In the first episode, Sheila inexplicably dies and yet, does not die.  SPOILER ALERT: there’s a lot of vomit involved.

Sheila’s heart beat stops, she can be injured without being hurt, she loses control of…

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Search Engine Optimized Poet – Naked Photos of Stormy Daniels

:::Bongo Drum Beats:::

Hey there all you hep cats and hep kittens. Come on down to the East Randomtown Java Bean, where the poets always stink and the cups are never clean.

Next on the mic is the one and only Search Engine Optimized Poet…the only rhyme-smith whose beats bring in the web searchers’ feets, ya dig?

up-korora-beatnik-800px

Stormy!  Whoa, Stormy!

You have enormous bazoombas!

And now every man in the free world,

Is sucking up your videos like a big Roomba…

Vac?  Oh, I’m a hack.

Trying to give BQB’s blog a big ratings attack.

Cut me some slack.  “I’ll be back.”

That’s what Schwarzenegger did say.

What? You want to see Stormy’s monster funbags today?

Hooray!  They’re on the way!  But be filled with dismay.

For filled with silicone is the porn star’s way.

Nay!  The photos of the lady who banged the Prez are not here.

But follow this link, and perhaps Stormy’s storm front will appear?

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Top Ten Quotes from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

#10 – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

#9 – “Angry people are not always wise.”

#8 – “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

#7 – “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.”

#6 – “I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”

#5 – “You are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged; but one word from you will silence me on this subject for ever.”

#4 – “From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

#3 – “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

#2 – “I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding— certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of other so soon as I ought, nor their offenses against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.”

#1 – “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

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Daily Discussion with BQB – Choose Your Super Power

If you were able to be magically granted one of the following super powers, which would you choose and why?  Choose only one and discuss in the comments:

  • Ability to fart fire.  (You knew that was coming.)
  • X-Ray vision but it only allows you to see senior citizens naked.  You can look through anything else but like, when you look at hot chicks they’ll still have their clothes on.  Bogus.
  • Vivid, highly detailed memory of anything that ever happened on any Wednesday in your life.
  • Perfect parallel parking.
  • Perfect grammar.
  • Exceptional mathematical computation abilities at a high speed.
  • Mind reading capabilities but you can’t read the mind of anyone named Steve.  Thus, anyone named Steve will be your arch-enemy.
  • Super fast bicycle pedaling ability.
  • Karaoke master.
  • Ability to make others think you look hot even though you are very ugly.
  • Flying skills – you can fly, but you have to make, “put, put, put” noises like a poorly maintained engine is moving you, which makes it way less cool and impressive to the ladies.  Still, you can fly, but if you ever stop making the “put, put” sounds, you’ll fall.
  • Perfect comedic timing.
  • Accurate restaurant bill tip calculation skills.
  • Super fast speed with the exception that in New Jersey, your power is reversed and you are only able to move in slow motion.
  • Sonic masturbation.
  • Always the guy who brings the pizza to any party.  That’s it.  Show up to any party.  Pizza is mysteriously delivered.  Pizza delivery guy announces it’s from you, makes it look like you paid for it but you never have to pay for it.
  • Drink unlimited booze without getting drunk.  In theory, cool.  In reality, why?  It’s just like drinking a shit ton of old, expired soda.
  • Ability to travel great distances by being shot out of a cannon.
  • You’re the greatest painter in the world, but you can only paint pictures of Chester A. Arthur arm wrestling infamous 1960s bedazzled piano man, Liberace.  Still, your paintings of these two are superb and sell for millions.
  • Ability to separate all recyclable materials out of your trash by snapping your fingers.
  • Extreme foresight – ability to tell exactly how all your decisions will work out in the future.
  • Extreme hindsight – constantly reminded of how your bad decisions in the past got you to today’s intensely shitty present.
  • Eternal life, but you must play a kazoo while a Filipino hunchback named Raul beats you in the face with a smelly fish for five minutes, every hour on the hour, forever or else you’ll die.
  • Ability to stay in the lines when coloring in coloring books with crayons.
  • Unlimited money.
  • Unlimited sex (consensual, of course, you freak.)
  • Unlimited Arby’s coupons.
  • You can predict whenever any convenience store within a 50 mile radius is about to be robbed of all it’s slushee machine syrup by a man with athlete’s foot.
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Movie Review – Tomb Raider (2018)

A tomb is raided and other surprises in this reboot of a movie series about a video game, which you think would mean it is destined to suck but surprisingly, it doesn’t.

BQB here with a review of “Tomb Raider.”

Egads.  I suppose we should have realized it would happen sooner or later.  Millenial Lara Croft.  While Angelina Jolie, Gen X Lara Croft, reveled in flashing around her family’s fortune that allowed her to live an adventurer lifestyle, waltzing around the world in her tight short pants, twin hand cannons strapped to her hip as she absconds with the treasures of indigenous peoples in the name of saving the world (which to her credit, she did save it a lot), today’s Lara is different.

Millennial Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) covers up and, gasp, wears full pants.  She prefers a bow and arrow (I won’t get into the hand cannons but it is addressed), and she laments her family’s wealth.  It really eats her up inside that her long lost father, Lord Richard(Dominic West) left her with fat stacks of cash.  Why should she enjoy such a hefty bank account when so many others inherit nothing?

Ergo, when our tale begins, we find that this Lara has shunned Croft manner in favor of the life of a lowly bicycle courier until she realizes her treasure hunting father might still be out there, and she’ll have to follow in his footsteps (and assume control of the Croft dynasty) in order to find him and, of course, save the world from a devastating fate that is sealed in, you guessed it, a tomb.

Walton Goggins, best known for playing caricatures of dopey, in-bred Southern redneck baddies, dials it back a notch and plays the best, most believable villain of his career, the overseer of an operation that is blasting and digging up a remote Japanese island in search of the above mentioned tomb.

The verdict?  You’ll have to forgive me.  I’m a Gen Xer, so I yearn for Jolie’s candy apple tushy stuffed into short shorts.  Her version of Croft was hot and intelligent.  Vikander is pretty and intelligent, but it’s made clear she’s here to save the world with her mind and athletic abilities and not hear to be your eye candy.

SIDENOTE:  It’s weird how things tend to come full circle.  The old folks of my day told women to cover up.  The young folks of my day said women should be able to let it all hang out to express themselves, be proud of themselves and that doesn’t mean they’re to be treated as playthings.  Now the pendulum has swung back and now the young people are calling for women to cover up, at least in movies now.  Oh well.  I’m just along for the ride at this point.

STATUS:  Shelf-worthy.  I’ll give it to this film.  It’s better than I thought it would be, worth watching, though feel free to wait for it to come out as a rental.  It does have a bit more in the brain department than the originals, the plot is a better developed than the originals, though it’s also only developed as far as a movie about a video game will allow, which isn’t saying much.  Now is the time for common sense bow and arrow control.

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Daily Discussion with BQB – What’s the Best Way to Make a Living as a Writer?

Hey 3.5 readers.

I’m asking the above question, not as it applies to most people, but to me, your old pal, BQB.

I’ve been working on a novel about an alligator who eats people on the toilet for over a year now.  The first draft is done.  The second draft, I think, could be done within a month, two at the latest.  It will need a third draft, I can already tell.  Earliest I can get it to the editor will be May – June.

Then it’s a whole process to get it edited and ready for publication.  Basically, if it gets up by Christmas that will be a win.

In short, it’s taking a long time.  I’m not sure at this rate I’ll be able to make a living as a writer.  Perhaps if Toilet Gator rakes in a modest amount of dough, that will give me the incentive I need to work harder, crank out another book faster.  There are a lot of people in my life who impose on me to drop whatever I’m doing to help them with their mundane bullshit.  If I can point to a piece of paper that proves I’m not just screwing around on the computer but am engaging in a money making side business, they’ll figure out how to live their lives on their own and get off my ass.

Anyway, long story short, I am wondering if perhaps I need to move away from novel writing and into just general blogging and opinion writing.  Sometimes I feel I’m at my best when I rant on a subject.  Blogging is conducive to the limited free time I get.  It takes nearly 2 years to get a novel out there, but I can get a post daily.

The issue would be is that I’d probably have to stop talking about pop culture and, sigh, news and politics.  Rant and rave about things going on in the world.  Actually pick a side and sigh, lose 50% of you because that’s what happens when someone expresses a political opinion.  I’m not saying that politics were ever peaceful, but I do feel up until like 2005, people were able to agree to disagree.  Now social media allows people to retreat into their bubbles and point fingers at, “the other.”

Eh.  I don’t really want a bunch of people to hate me.  I’m too adorable for that.  I might split the difference and try to rant about general life topics that you’d think everyone could get behind.  One of my heroes has long been Dave Barry, the humor columnist who is basically the Godfather of humor opinion piece writing.

He wrote humorous thoughts about everything from home improvement, to love, to just generally crappy little things that drive us all crazy.  I could probably do that, though the only thing I worry about is Dave found success during a more innocent time, whereas I could write something like, “Men, don’t you hate it when your wife yells at you when you forget to put the toilet seat down?” and end up getting a twitter campaign to label me a vile male chauvinist pig or something.

To express any kind of opinion these days, even a seemingly safe one like, “My word, what lovely weather to day,” is to risk offending someone so…I don’t know.

I think I’ll keep plugging away.  The first part (roughly 40,000 words) of the Last Driver is in the editing process now, and I’ve come too far on Toilet Gator to quit now.  So, I’ll see if Toilet Gator gets me anywhere and see where I am next year.

Just saying, at some point, I’ll need to turn a profit or quit, realize this is a young man’s game and it’s not my fault the world didn’t invent the gatekeeper bypass technology until I was an old bastard (people seem to be declared old bastards earlier and earlier now) and just go smell the roses and lie down in the grass and wait for the moss to grow over me.

Thanks for listening to my rant 3.5 readers.  If you wanted the short version its, do I a) keep novel writing b) change gears to write opinions and try to monetize the blog or c) just give up and smell roses.  Why does everyone smell roses?

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Movie Review – I, Tonya (2017)

Skating and knee-capping!

BQB here with a review of the skater girl gone (allegedly) bad, I, Tonya.

Despite hearing rave reviews, I delayed watching this thing because, like most Gen Xers, I felt I know enough about the story, seeing as how if you were sentient during the 1990s, then it was the only thing anyone ever talked about on TV for the longest time.

For those who were too young or, gasp, born after the events, here’s a primer.  In 1994, ice skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee while practicing at an ice rink in Detroit.  Blah, blah, blah, investigations ensued and what is usually a light, moderately followed sport (I mean, you rarely see that much controversy in women’s figure skating) became a ratings bonanza.

As a dark cloud of suspicion hanged over Tonya Harding, she and Nancy competed for America in the Winter Olympics even though questions loomed, i.e. was it even fair for Tonya to be participating if her opponent was clubbed?

By the way, what exactly happened leading up to the clubbing?  Doubtful we’ll ever know for sure, though Tonya, ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (a fun name even today) and ex-husband’s friend Shawn Eckhardt all faced some form of criminal liability.

Theories have abounded over the years of who exactly was involved in what, who asked who to do what, who knew about what, etc.  This film takes the premise that Tonya may have been aware of an attempt to prank Nancy with a false death threat to mess with her head, that Gillooly enlisted his overweight, dumb, delusional (he thinks he’s a spy/counter-terrorist operative though he clearly isn’t) to find a buddy willing to mail the letter from Nancy’s home state and somehow in all that mess, Shawn goes way too far and enlists a dumb flunky to bash Nancy’s knee.

Thus, if we’re ranking just by sheer stupidity, then based on this film, we’d put Shawn at top, Jeff in the middle and Tonya on the bottom.

Overall, that’s been the question that has long loomed over Tonya Harding.  If she was unaware of the attack until after it happened, then it’s not fair to blame her for the stupidity of her ex-husband and friend.  If she was involved or somehow knew what was going to happen, then she shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in the Olympics.

We’ll probably never know for sure and that’s usually the rub when trying to create a fun, engaging film about historic events.  None of us were there and accounts come from all different sides, often competing and conflicting with one another.

The film handles this well, making it clear we can never fully be sure what exactly happened in the events that led up to the infamous knee whack.  Fourth wall breaks are extensively utilized, often during which characters turn to the camera to critique another character’s claim.  For example, Margot Robbie as Tonya, fed up with being used as a punching bag one too many times by her abusive husband (Sebastian Stan) grabs a shotgun and knocks a cabinet door off its hinges with a blast that had been meant for Gillooly’s head.  She then scoffs at the incident, looks to the camera and says, “This never happened!” then throws the gun down.

Ultimately, characters are featured in straight interviews, leading to fully acted out sequences, and then occasionally characters break the action to tell the audience the other character is wrong and here’s what really happened.  It’s fun, funny, and handles the difficult job of sorting through a puzzle that no one could really ever put together fully and still be one-hundred percent sure of the outcome.

Between the news coverage of the day, and ensuing documentaries and yes, I think there might have even been a made for TV movie or two, I thought I’d heard it all about this case but this film really delves into Tonya’ life.

Specifically, we learn about her abusive mother, LaVon, played aptly by Allison Janney, who earned every bit of her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In the world of girls’ figure skating, i.e. a world of prim and proper skinny young girls with polished mothers who treat their children as prized possessions and fawn over their every accomplishment, the Hardings stuck out like a duo of sore thumbs.  LaVonn and her giant, outdated for even the 90s spectacles, sits on the sidelines, chain smoking, drinking out of a flask, and shouting every manner of obscenity at Tonya in an effort, she claims, to make her skate better, and even directs her bile at fellow mothers and coaches.  Hearing a skate mom drop words like “fuck” and “cunt” around all of the refined mothers is equally disturbing and funny.

What’s the big theme of the movie?  If you’re born into shit, then it’s pretty difficult to wash the shit stink off yourself, no matter how hard you try.  Undoubtedly, Tonya is a great skater, being the only American woman to ever land a triple axel, a highly complicated move.  Yet, try as she might, the judges and fans see her as an unpolished hayseed, a wannabe.  She’s a bit bigger and less classier than the other girls.  In a world where wealthy moms gladly spend all their time and money getting their little competitors to the best coaches and are able to shell out big bucks on costumes and equipment, Tonya’s only resource is her hard ass waitress mother who hurls all manner of abuse at her daughter, both verbal and physical.

Her only other resource is boyfriend, later husband, Jeff, who physically abuses Tonya constantly, and honestly some of the scenes where he flat out cold cocks her are a bit too much to watch.  Oddly, in a way, I can’t tell if the movie is trying to let Jeff off the hook by portraying him  as a somewhat charming dweeb who attempts to prove his manliness by beating on his woman and that because he’s a dumb redneck born into crap, he doesn’t know any better, or if they’re trying to say, yeah here’s the man’s savagery on full display but he does need to communicate with the audience and make an occasional joke to keep the story moving.

I empathize with the “shit stink you’re born with” doesn’t wash off vibe.  Sadly, so much of our entire lives are decided before we’re even born, and also before we turn 18.  How we are parented impacts our world view, our thoughts, feelings, emotions and even how others see us.

All the other skater girls have it made, if you think about the amount of money and time a parent has to be willing to put into making a child’s dream of Olympic gold come true.  Tonya has none of these advantages but tries to overcome them with the very little support she has, being attacked by mother and husband all the while, and still manages to be a competitor.

Something we can take away?  Perhaps, if someone gets the job done, we shouldn’t worry about how they look, or how they talk, or their personal life and so on.  If they get the job done, then they get the job done.  If we overlook the part where the job is getting done and focus on whether or not the person fits the usual mold, then we’ll never allow people the opportunity to raise themselves out of bad situations they were born in.

In other words, you can’t say, “Hey, if you were born into crap then stop being lazy and pull yourself out of it” and then also say, “Get back into the crap, you don’t belong here!”

Overall, we may never know fully how the attack went down.  If Tonya participated in it somehow, then she sucks.  If she didn’t, then she was a victim of a shitty life and a shitty family that followed her wherever she went, dragging her down no matter how hard she tried to escape it.  Ironically, had the attack never went down, she probably had a good chance of bringing home a medal of some kind.

One more thing – I get the willingness to want to sympathize with Tonya.  We all have stories about how we suffer due to things we can’t control, choices made by others that we can’t overcome.

Still, I always wince a little whenever it was suggested that Nancy Kerrigan was somehow the villain in all of this.  This movie sort of dances a toe into those waters but never goes there all the way.  Was Nancy one of those prim and proper girls with a supportive family and all the class and grace that the judges wanted?  Yes.  Did she still put a lot of work in?  Yes.  Did she deserve to get clubbed in the knee?  No.  Was she a bad person for getting upset that her knee was bashed and worrying about how all her work was for nothing if she can’t compete due to a knee injury (leading to the infamous “Why me?” tape).  No, she didn’t do anything wrong and if she was peeved for only getting the silver, it’s probably because the thought might always linger – maybe if she hadn’t been clubbed she would have taken the gold.

Then again, I suppose had the incident never taken place, all the 1994 figure skaters would have obscured their way into history.  Can you name another figure skater from another year (other than the most recent?)  Kristy Yamaguchi and Oksana Baiul are the only ones I can muster, and only because they were competing that year against Tonya and Nancy.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Deserved a bit more Oscar attention than it received.

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Movie Review – Magnum Force (1973)

A man’s got to know his limitations, 3.5 readers.

BQB here with a review of “Magnum Force.”

I promised a review of all five “Dirty Harry” movies and slowly but surely, I’ll get there.

The key to making a good sequel to a popular movie is to keep the essence of what made the first flick so awesome but at the same time, being willing to branch out just far enough to make the film stand on its own.  That’s done here and serial writers would be well-advised to pay attention.

While Dirty Harry’s catchphrase in the first film was, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” here, it’s “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Early in the film, Harry says this to one of the many bosses who spend all day polishing their brass but still want to chew Callahan out over why he can’t be kinder and gentler to the never-ending onslaught of scumbags who are trying to shoot him.  It’s meant as an insult but as the movie progresses, I began to wonder if it isn’t eventually turned into Harry’s mantra.

You see, in the ultimate twist of irony, Harry, who has long groused about the flaws in the system that allow criminals to go free, is pitted against…dun dun dun…a group of young, rookie motorcycle cops who have formed an execution squad, carrying out hits on bad guys who skirt the system time and time again.

Though Harry is often accused of going beyond the law himself, we, the viewers, know the truth.  Harry doesn’t go above the law…he just enforces the law, and he never backs down from a fight.  When other cops call it a day, Harry runs headfirst into danger, his .44 Magnum blazing, and gets the job done.

But as much as he gripes about how the system lets crooks walk, he, to use his catchphrase, “knows his limitations.”  He knows he is limited by the law and if he breaks it in the name of catching a crook, then he’s no worse than the bad guys he locks up.

Still, the setup is gut wrenching – Harry, the badass cop who bleeds blue, forced to do the unthinkable – to take on his fellow officers as though (shudder) he’s some kind of dirty, bleeding heart hippy.  Truly, Callahan’s worst nightmare.

As usual, there are a number of interludes where Harry is just out and about town, enjoying a bite to eat or doing some work when shit happens.  During the 1970s, airplanes were hijacked by terrorists pretty regularly, so I imagined crowds of that era cheered as Harry dons a pilot uniform to sneak onboard a pilfered plane only to feed the bad guys a taste of .44 caliber justice.  Today, movie goers would want to give the terrorists a cash settlement and put Harry in sensitivity training.

Further, the shootout in a department store is one of the best action scenes in the entire series, so you’ll want to check that out.

Moral quandaries abound as the film takes you into the lives of those baddies being offed by the motorcycle squad, from mobsters who start their own wars to a pimp who forces a can of drain cleaner down the throat of a prostitute who comes up a few bucks short.  On occasion, you might, sadly, find yourself rooting for the motorcycle cops but then you remember that while the system is flawed, the same system that occasionally lets bad guys go also keeps people from being like, “Hey, I don’t like so and so’s face so I’m going to say he’s a criminal for no reason and take it upon myself to blow him away.”  Vigilantism is never the way, no matter what Batman tells you.

STATUS: Shelf-worthy.  Overall, it’s a rare sequel that’s as good as the first.  Harsh as it may sound, we all need to know our limitations.  That’s the hardest part of life, isn’t it?  In theory, Harry would probably like to dispense his own brand of Magnum justice to the wicked, but he knows he’s limited by the law and as much as he complains about it, he knows he’s limited by it, so he won’t step over that line, though he occasionally wiggles his foot over it from time to time throughout the series.  Here, the crooked cops didn’t know their limits and thus, must face Callahan’s wrath.

“Know your limitations” is good advice for life, as much as we hate to hear it.  Don’t wait around for the perfect job, when a subpar gig will put money in your bank account.  Don’t wait around for the perfect lover when an imperfect person is willing to spend time with you.  If you never settle for less than perfection, you’ll never experience much in this very imperfect world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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