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Are You Not Entertained?

Russell Crowe isn’t the only one asking.

Social Media is a paradox. You can connect with people around but still feel alone. You can learn something new while also feeling like you’re killing brain cells. You can make friends with fellow cinephiles while also finding dozens of amateur Jay Shermans.

His legacy is alive and well on social media.

No matter what you’re talking about online, you can find someone who yucks one’s yum. This is no more prevalent, in my opinion, than in the world of entertainment, especially in films.

In writing novels and scripts, I have had to learn, and apply, storytelling techniques to craft a coherent tale. As such, I think I might have some insight into what makes a good story. And while I know there are few, if any perfect cinematic stories (Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark make this small list) exist, some films are clearly better than others. And although I have this experience with story, there are plenty of books and films I like that many people consider less-than-stellar.

And there are many folks – both on social media and in real life – who gladly remind me of that and mock me for it.

But, at the end of the day, films and fiction are entertainment. They are meant to provide an escape, to whisk you away to far away worlds and invest in characters who are about to go through hel, to reach their goal – or not. And if you enjoy the journey, whether it exhilarates you, makes you laugh or cry, isn’t that the point?

I saw Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness yesterday, and I enjoyed it. Was it perfect? No. But the cameos were awesome, and the action was good. I was invested in the story and the characters It was an entertaining two hours. To me, it served its purpose. And I will gladly let those who seem to dislike everything voice their opinion. They are allowed to feel that way.

A lot of times when I enter a cinema, I see a story play on a big screen – where these tales are meant to be told (that’s another post) – and come away feeling something. And as long as I enjoy it, that is enough for me. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

I have Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark for that.

Sometimes the Old Ways Are Best

Damn right, Kincade

The sequel to Chasing Betty is done and ready to go to my editor. I have another novel done that my writers’ group is working on.

That has allowed to me pursue my other writing passion: screenplays. In particular, the one that made the Top 40 Scriptshadow Tournament a few years back.

While I didn’t make it past the first round (American Idol style voting), I got some great feedback. I decided, at the time, to set the script aside to focus on shorts and Chasing Betty.

Now, with the novel side good, I am busting it back out. My process starts with printing out the script and reading it. I make notes in the margins and create a plan of attacking the rewrite.

I did that, but I also decided I needed some input on the fight scenes – it’s an action film, after all – and I consulted with my friend, who has black belts in multiple disciplines. He also has experience with filmmaking, a hug plus. He gave me some great ideas, which I was keen to incorporate.

The only problem? I couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.

I decided to put down the laptop and go back to the way I drafted Chasing Betty and other stories: blue pen and yellow legal pad.

Studies show the color blue inspire creativity, and most of my creative work has been crafted by this old school method. There is something about moving my hand on the page, each stroke and movement building letters, then words and finally, a complete and (I hope!) entertaining tale.

The computer can certainly do it faster, and, if you know me, neater. But the act of doing, of using your hands, brings out the story inside, aching to be told.

It’s tried and true, having worked for two millennia. Because of this method, I’ve got the basic outline of what I hope is my final draft of Brick House, one I plan on sending out later this year.

Sometimes, like Bond in Skyfall, you need a reminder from Kincade of the old ways to complete your mission. Whether it’s taking out Silva or completing a draft, once in a while, you gotta go back to the tried and true.

Cinema Second Look

I am introducing a new series today: I am calling it Cinema Second Look. We are going to revisit films that are misunderstood, miscategorized, or got something wrong. I often have these debates with friends and cinephiles and I thought a blog post might be a fun way to expand this into the interwebs. And after seeing The Secrets of Dumbledore over the weekend, I figured we’d kick off with another Jude Law film, one of my favorites.

(Courtesy of Den of Geek)

I remember the buzz and sheer excitement of  Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow when it was announced. There was no other film like it at the time, (or since, for that matter). I was immediately hooked when I first saw it. The cast was huge, with Jude Law as the eponymous hero, one of five films he headlined in 2004, as well as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, arguably at the top of her box office earning power. Hell, the film even had Laurence Olivier in it, and he’d been deceased 15 years at the time of the premiere!

I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my first exposure to the various “punk” worlds; in this case, dieselpunk (though an argument could also be made for rocketpunk). My subsequent interest and love for steampunk comes back to this film.

Writer-director Kerry Conran evoked a world of yesteryear for this film, evident from the opening titles, with it’s epic soundtrack, which I still listen to weekly. It was a truly cinematic experience that I will never forget. And it should go down in history as a watershed piece of cinema, if not one of the most important films of the 21st century.

No, you didn’t read that last sentence wrong. I’ll explain why shortly.

The film started out as a short that Kerry worked on during his down time. There are various sources that stated he’d lock himself in his apartment and craft the short on his iMac. If I recall correctly, one outlet said Conran once staying in his place and worked on it for 31 straight hours.

It’s awfully sad that this film didn’t do well at the box office (only $15 million opening weekend and $58 million during its run), and was largely considered a disappointment. It led to Kerry Conran’s version of John Carter (his test reel for it can be seen here) and largely disappearing from Hollywood (making only a short film in 2012 – Gumdrop).

This second look isn’t going to try and convince you of the merits of the plot or acting: as Olly Richards says in a 2015 article on the film: it has”some stiff line readings and uneven plotting”, the film is momentous in how its made.

The entire film was shot in front of a green/blue screens. No sets were built for it, and very few props were constructed. The entirety of the film, including its very unique look on screen, were done in computers of 13 VFX houses- necessitated by a shift forward in release date.

Today, digital backlots are commonplace, used the world over to take moviegoers to unseen worlds, recreate the past or go anywhere that’s needed to tell a story. That’s it very common (and advanced to the point to be completed in less than 18 months) is, in large part, due to Kerry Conran’s vision – which is why it’s a historically important film.

Kerry doesn’t talk about his experience, and likely won’t ever direct a big-budget Hollywood film again. Because of his work, he doesn’t really have to, as VFX software is affordable nowadays. I’d love to see him make something. His imagination, as proven by Sky Captain, is vast, and I’d wager he has another unique way to tell a story.

Hollywood owes a debt to Kerry Conran, and sadly they won’t acknowledge it. Hopefully, someday, someone like AMPAS can recognize him, but until then, we have his wonderfully unique vision to enjoy.

And since the industry won’t say it, I will: Thank you, Mr. Conran, for creating something extraordinary that taps into our imaginations and helps us believe the impossible is possible.

My Oscar Picks

(I know the ceremony was last night – Damn, Will Smith! – but I had these picks done by last Wednesday night, as the weekend was going to be busy).

BEST PICTURE-Belfast-feel good film amongst a turbulent era – timely, given Ukraine-directed and written by one of the best thespians of his generation. I think it’s a shoo-in.

BEST ACTORWill Smith – I hear good things about Andrew Garfield, but I think Will killed it.

BEST ACTRESS-Jessica Chastain – haven’t heard much buzz for anyone else

BEST SUPPORTING ACTORJK Simmons – everyone loves him and he’s been everywhere this awards season.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS-I think Ariana DeBose has it; she’s won everything else.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – See Best Picture

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – I think Coda gets it because it’s not going to get anything else.

BEST DIRECTORJane Campion – People have gushed over her work, and she won the DGA award, which often mirrors the Academy.

BEST INTERNATIONAL FILMDrive My Car is getting all the buzz, so I think it wins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Flee Takes it.

BEST SONG Billie Eilish – it’s a haunting song and it’s Bond – they’ve won the last two Oscars in this category, I think they get the trifecta

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – Everyone loved Encanto but Mitchell vs the Machines is hailed as entertaining with a more powerful message. That’s my pick.

VISUAL EFFECTS, CINEMATOGRAPHY & SCORE Dune – good sci-fi seems to get all the technical awards, but never the big ones. That trend continues here.