Thursday, February 27, 2014

Franz Kafka Video Available on YouTube



I've created a video about the inner life of Franz Kafka using quotes from his writing. I was going to use a professional narrator, but the rough cut of the narration I recorded turned out to be visually interesting, so I used it.

The video features photos by Nancy Hill. It's available for viewing at http://www.youtube.com/oregonwritersspeak

Franz Kafka was the author of several dark novels, including Amerika and The Castle, that he wanted destroyed on his death. The title of the piece, 'You Have No Right...to Know My Name,' came from that desire to not have his novels published.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My Name is Samuel Clemens, a Video about Mark Twain



I've created a video about Mark Twain and how he had to balance being Samuel Clemens, family man and a failure at business and investing, and Mark Twain, a literary star and speaker.

The video features photos by Nancy Hill and the voice over of Sam Mowry, http://www.voiceofsam.com

Mark Twain was the author of many popular novels, including Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

RoboCop Vs RoboCop: An Issue of Tone




RoboCop Vs RoboCop: An Issue of Tone

In screenwriting, a difficult issue for new writers to deal with is tone. A problem in many first scripts is a shift in tone that undercuts the impact of a story. A script with a comedic tone turns to slap stick humor at the climax. A dramatic story (realistic) becomes melodramatic (unrealistic).

The current reboot of RoboCop shows how two movies can have the same basic story and plot (man who becomes mostly robot struggles to retain his humanity) and, because of different tones, turn out to be very different movies.

The original RoboCop, directed by Paul Verhoeven, was both an action film and a satire about the media and corporate greed. We were asked to care about the main character and his struggle to hold on to his humanity but also to enjoy the visceral thrill as his actions to solve his own murder led him to take on both hard core criminals and his corporate masters.

The current RoboCop starts on a satiric note about American, robotic peace-keeping in Tehran, but then shifts to a realistic account (for a movie) of how a near-dead detective is rebuilt in a mostly robotic body, and the complications involved from both a standpoint of science, morality, and corporation machinations. It felt like this took about half the running time of the movie, and the drama was low-key.

The main character, deep into the movie, does sets about to solve his own murder, which makes the plot finally feel like it's getting into gear.

Unfortunately for the movie, since it's taken on a realistic tone, and it takes so long for the plot to hit a higher gear, the movie invites a realistic assessment on what's happening. The problem is, it's tough to sell the idea that Americans would be against robots enforcing laws, when so much has already been set up via computers (cameras scanning crowds and using facial recognition software, scanners automatically recording the license plate of every car that enters a community). Also, a central issue in the movie about congress refusing to allow robots in law enforcement comes across as artificial, because it feels like the issue has already been resolved.

Another problem for realism, when it comes out that a .50 caliber machine gun will take RoboCop apart, no one shoots him with that (or if they do, he survives); and none of the several thousand bullets expended in his direction hit him in the mouth.

The original RoboCop was fresh and bracing and true to itself as a story, the current RoboCop comes across as struggling to be realistic and failing to be true to itself.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

Monday, February 10, 2014

I, Bill Notes on I, Frankenstein



I teach there's a difference between story and plot. Plot is about what happens, story is about why it matters.

When I saw that I, Frankenstein had a rating of 4% on Rotten Tomatoes (reviews by critics and movie goers), I wanted to see what had gone wrong.

The movie starts with a long distance shot in the mountains that looks ... fake, which becomes a standard for most of the visuals in the movie.

The movie also opens with Frankenstein's monster explaining his relationship to his creator, and why he killed Frankenstein's wife, and how Frankenstein tried to hunt him down, dying in the quest.

Instead of setting a story into motion with the introduction of a main character who embodies a story's promise, we simply have an introduction to a character.

When the monster returns to Germany to bury its creator, it is attacked by demons and rescued by gargoyles, who are fighting a war. So, before the purpose of the main character is set into motion toward some goal, instead the plot shifts to the conflict between these other characters. The upshot is that the monster doesn't want to be on either side of their war since he doesn't care what happens to humans.

And that holds for most of the movie, with the monster (named Adam by the gargoyle Queen), refusing to take sides, which also means the dramatic characters in the movie are the gargoyle Queen and the demon Prince, not the monster.

Adam does start to want something later in the film, to protect the scientist working for the demon prince, but that barely registers. He finally conveys his purpose in the last voice over of the film, that he will defend humanity from demons. He's picked a side.

The set up here is the same basic set up of John Carter, the Disney flop, with a main character who spends most of the film wanting to avoid siding with any of the warring factions on Mars.

Characters define themselves by what they want. A film with a main character who doesn't want something can be done, but it requires clear insight into storytelling. There's none of that in evidence in this movie.

The same group created Underworld, which had many of the same problems, but that film did manage to create a main character with goals, even while the first three films came across as a set up for a story the fourth film would act out. I gave up and didn't see the fourth.

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To read some of my longer reviews of popular movies, check out my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise, available on Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook.