Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007
Waning Moon
Mars Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Cloudy and cold
3-5 inches of snow predicted

I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate my feelings about the assassination of Bhutto, and I can’t get it down properly. Saddened, angry, concerned – just don’t express the gamut of emotion that I feel. But I did want to acknowledge it, and not act like I’m ignoring it.

The year-end GDR Wrap-Up for 2007 is in the post below this one. I kept in what I stated last January and then updated where I am now, for comparison/contrast. I’m frustrated because the only thing I seem to have done is the career transition. Which is huge, but I wanted to get more done.

I’m going to ramble on about the National Treasure movies a bit more, since the first one was on again last night and I checked a few things, and then I’ll shut up and go back to my life and MY characters. Geez, between yesterday and today, it sounds like my existence is revolving around two darned movies, for crying out loud, and it’s not.

The next paragraph may have character spoilers for the second film, but if you skip it and go to the paragraph beyond, there aren’t spoilers, just character studies.

They changed houses between 1 and 2 and never dealt with it, thinking we (the audience) are too stupid to notice. In the first film, Riley is smart and resourceful and funny and inventive. He’s a great foil for Ben, and a great balance to the Ben/Abby teamwork. In the second, he’s treated like a joke, he’s miserable, has no sense of self-esteem, and keeps trying to prove he’s valuable. It might make sense at the beginning, that he hit a rough patch since the end of the last film, but as 2 moves on, he should regain his confidence, thanks to Ben’s confidence in him. Instead, Ben is dismissive. That hurts Ben’s character as much as Riley’s. And, in the first, Riley’s always the gentleman. Ben rushes forward; Riley’s the one who turns and gives Abby a hand when she needs it. That dynamic set up between the three of them, subtle, but there, worked beautifully, and is missing in the second film. In the first film, Riley actually saves Abby’s life, when she’s so focused on the Declaration that she nearly gets run over by a truck. It would have been a good touch to see her do something helpful for Riley in this one. Or get to see them do anything except run through the basement of the Library of Congress. The fun of the first film is you get to figure things out WITH them; in this one, they already have the answers and simply reveal them to each other. The sequence in Buckingham Palace, as ridiculous as some of it is (hey, buddy, no backpacks get through security after 9/11), is the only one where that sense of fun and discovery is retained. I missed it in the rest of the movie. I got more and more frustrated, because I felt characters were sacrificed for badly constructed machinations. And, as someone whose own work is character-driven, and who is drawn to character-driven material (the best action/adventure movies are all character driven), I got more and more frustrated.

A reader emailed me a question yesterday about why I think Riley Poole is such a good character. A big part of it is how perfectly Justin Bartha portrays him. It’s a case of the actor finding the details in the character and communicating them in a way that connects to the audience. Riley’s a smart, resourceful guy, especially in the first film. He’s not just the sidekick who gets killed off two thirds of the way through the movie. Yeah, it’s Disney, they can’t kill him off. You root for him, for a good portion of the film, you ARE him, He embodies the regular guy in the audience in many ways, but smarter, which is what you want for fiction. You don’t necessarily want to be as obsessed as Ben, although you’d want to be friends with Ben and want to help him on his quest. Ben and Abigail fit so well together, especially in the first film, because they’re both obsessed. Riley is their counterpoint, their reality check.

Ben is smart enough to know that history is written by the victors until somebody comes along to make more discoveries and rewrite it. A prime example in our time is Aaron Burr, back in Revolutionary Times and into the early 1800’s. In his time, he was tarnished as traitor, and Hamilton as hero, especially after the duel. As the centuries have gone by, and more information comes to light, it looks more and more like Burr was original and committed and on the verge of crazy in the right way, while Hamilton was the control freak and the asshole. Actually, in my opinion, based on my research over the years, both men could be brilliant and both could be assholes at times. They were too complex and interesting to be just one thing – as all truly brilliant people are.

To get back to Riley: You’d want to be Riley. He might not have the background in history, but he knows how to find things out, and he’s got a great learning curve. He makes himself irreplaceable in the team, even though he doesn’t realize it. He’s just totally who he is, and totally up for doing whatever it takes to support those to whom he’s loyal, and in whom he believes. We’d all like to be that good a friend as well as have that good a friend.

You believe he doesn’t get the girl and he has trouble finding dates, because, in life, that kind of guy, smart, but with self-esteem issues, ALWAYS goes for the girl who’s going to treat him like crap. He’ll go for the pretty, shallow young thing with lots of money, or the ambitious, manipulative young thing who wants a lot of money and expects the guy to pay for everything. He’ll never fall for a woman of substance, because it would never occur to him. He’ll always be hurt and, eventually, alone because these twinkies keep using him and dumping him. And the women who used to regularly fall for HIM (because they recognized he’s smart, funny, and a good guy), but whom he always ignored because he’s off busy chasing the shallow things, eventually outgrow his kind of guy and fall for guys who appreciate them. That’s how it happens in life, anyway. In fiction, there’s always the possibility that Riley will actually gain enough self-respect to fall for a woman who’s smart and resourceful. And that gives the people who relate to the character hope, and the people who tend to fall for that kind of character hope. Riley’s all about hope. To me, he’s the lynchpin of the movies, which is why I got so frustrated in NT2. In other words, he’s interesting and important to me for what he represents in the mythology of the stories. If I was to compare him to a tarot card, he’d be The Fool in the Major Aracana – standing on the precipice, ready for his hero’s journey, with infinite possibilities in front of him. The Fool isn’t a weak or foolish character; he’s a symbol of hope and joy – despite his cynical and sometimes sarcastic repartee. Riley is the every day guy embarking on the wonderful journey. The original NT set that up for him, and then didn’t fulfill it in the second movie. Now, if there’s a good character arc in a next movie, I might accept this arc within context of a trilogy, but if they just keep making him a joke because twenty-three useless, talent-free middle executives thought it was funny . . .you’ve lost a viewer.

And I’m not even going to discuss the poor research done by the writers in the second film. In the first were delightful historical tidbits then blown into unique mythologies that served the vision for the movie. Even when it stretched credibility, there was enough cleverness involved that you forgave it. In the second, it was sloppy – whether on the writers’ parts, or because some stupid mid-level executive made “changes” and figured the audience was too stupid to notice. And it lost me.

And now, back to my life.

I actually had to turn down hockey tickets tonight between the Rangers and the Canadiens – that was hard. But I can’t rearrange my schedule to go, so I had to say no.

And I’m thrilled that the Patriots won last night! I’m not a football fan, but I do like the Pats, and I used to have family in Foxboro, so the tiny percentage of football loyalty I’ve got goes to them. I’m thrilled that they had a perfect regular season.

I had a FANTASTIC morning on Hex Breaker. I’m almost at the climactic scene and then we wrap it up. I’m exactly where I want to be. With any luck, I can finish it on retreat the next few days and then have nearly a week to polish it before I send it off. I love this piece.

And more adventures with these characters are swirling around in my head. And the ideas for two short stories that have nothing to do with anything else that I’m writing, but could be kind of fun.

I’m off to my friend’s place (to do more laundry) and then off to my retreat. If I don’t check in for a few days, I hope everyone has a fantastic New Year!

Devon

Hex Breaker – 19,975 words out of est. 25,000

PS Diane, thanks for the Writertopia info. It NEVER works for me — the bar will NOT appear in here, no matter how many times I follow the exact coding it says to put in. I have never, ever, ever been able to get Writertopia to work.

I need to create my own word bar. Because relying on these other people’s crap just doesn’t work.

Published in: on December 30, 2007 at 11:09 am  Comments (5)  

Saturday, December 29 2007

Saturday, December 29, 2007
Waning Moon
Mars Retrograde
Saturn Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

Finished the work for Confidential Job #2. Now I have to type it up. Phew! Over 20 pages of notes on this one! I got about 12 pages typed yesterday; will try to get the rest done today.

Cat Muldoon, whom I hosted on A Biblio Paradise, has a question about what readers want from a writer’s blog in the comments from yesterday’s post. If you can leave a comment in response, that would be a big help for her. Thank you!

Okay, if you haven’t seen National Treasure: Book of Secrets, skip the next nine or ten paragraphs, because there are spoilers. If you have, or don’t care, here’s my opinion.

There were too many writers and no coherent vision. It started okay, the stuff with the Resolute desks and the Book of Secrets was all clever and fun and in the spirit of what made the first one great. But, first of all – the house that Abby and Ben lived in – different house. What happened to the historical house Ben bought at the end of the last movie? Completely different architecture. You think we wouldn’t notice? Second, although I liked the part of Riley writing a book and the scenes at the signings, etc., were something to which every writer can relate – I don’t believe for one second that Ben would not have read the book. Not only would Ben have read it, he and Riley would have gone out to dinner and debated it point by point. It diminishes Ben’s character to have him ignore Riley’s book. Their friendship was established too strongly for him to do that, and Riley is willing to drop everything to help Ben again, and Ben knows enough to go to Riley for help.

In general, I felt Riley was short-changed in this script. In the first NT, Riley Poole as sidekick broke fresh ground. And it wasn’t necessarily the script – it was Justin Bartha’s performance. He gave it a spirit and a sense of fun and intelligence that transcended both script and genre. In this film, Riley’s lost ground. Instead of gaining confidence and self-esteem from his previous experience, he’s lost it. He’s gone backwards. I understand that he’s always afraid he’s not good enough. But to constantly keep throwing himself on the sword, metaphorically speaking, because he’s hoping they’ll let him know they value him – didn’t work for me. Ben would have let him know he valued him, especially after everything they went through last time. I understand the mirror relationships of Abby/Ben and Patrick/Emily, but Riley’s character was left in the cold, and not in a good way. He didn’t necessarily need a love interest, but it was out of character for them to treat him the way they did. He’s too important to the team.

Ed Harris was wasted. His character was inconsistent, unbelievable, and not at all threatening. Ed Harris can pin you to the wall with a look – he wasn’t utilized properly. His opening scene was terrific, and the rest lost ground from there. Also, in the last one, all of Ian’s team was strongly, swiftly characterized. In this one – Wilkinson’s henchmen were unmemorable and largely ignored. There was never a THREAT, and the chase scenes were lame – except where Ben stopped in time not to hit the dog and the dog licked the camera.

Again – if Ben’s going to be that careful of a dog in the midst of a chase, he’s not going to abuse Riley the way he does. There was never a sense of tension in the chase scenes, either from the bad guys or the cops. It was frustrating.

Now, getting to the mystery/treasure. This lost city of gold was in Florida. So how did it get to underneath Mt. Rushmore? Did somebody move it when the mountain was carved? Wouldn’t someone have noticed it? And, if the city HAD been moved, then the engineering devices, wheels, etc. used to hide it would have had symbols native to the Black Hills area, or, at the very least, to the time that Rushmore was carved (since it was supposedly carved to hide the city), NOT to Central and South America carved on them. Or, if that’s where the city was all the time, again, it wouldn’t be all a mishmash of Central and South American symbolism – it would have been native to the region – Arikara, at the time of the city, and later Cheynne, Kiowa, Pawnee, Crow, and Sioux. The art would have resembled the work coming across the Bering Strait from Russia through Alaska and Canada and down, not up from Central and South America. And, supposedly, Helen Mirren’s character is fluent in Olmec. The Olmec were Mesoamerican, situated west of the Mayan. They were NOT in the Black Hills near Mt. Rushmore. I’d have to take a closer look at the glyphs on the two panels, but, from what I could see on screen, they were NOT Olmec (yes, I’ve done research on the Mesoamerican glyphs). There might have been one or two, but it was not straight-up Olmec. It looked to me like a mishmash of Toltec and maybe some Mayan or Aztec in there.

And yes, I care. The movie wasn’t tight enough or clever enough to make me suspend my disbelief by this point. They’d already pissed me off enough so I was ready to nitpick.

I also felt cheated because it started as a Civil War caper and then turned pre-Columbian. I understand the throwaway explanation that the Confederates wanted the gold from the Lost City to defeat the Union, but still . . .again, if Wilkinson’s character had been better developed, the segueway might have worked, and I would have bought it.

Then, again, you have the oil that’s been there for years, ready to light up; the fact that no one is smart enough to check the electronics when Patrick is knocked out in his own house and nothing is stolen, and treating Riley like a stray dog who happens to be following them around, instead of the integral part of the team that he is. Helen Mirren, was, of course, wonderful. Nic Cage was good most of the time, but was a bit too mellow (lost the edge of the character) at other times, and sometimes even bordered on smugness, which doesn’t become the character. Justin Bartha did the best he could with the material handed to him. Diane Kruger was underused. I would have loved scenes of her and Riley actually DOING things, DISCOVERING things, instead of just running around. There was too much focus on Nicolas Cage instead of being an ensemble piece. It’s not that Cage can’t carry a movie –of course he can. But part of the appeal in this context is the sense of teamwork, and that was lost. They took a great ensemble piece and tried to turn it into a star vehicle. They equated BIGGER with better, instead of simply making it better. And actually doing research. It’s fine to create a different mythology, but it has to be rooted in the believable before it can fly. And this had no roots.

Now, the first film wasn’t perfection – it was lively and clever and fun up until they got to the treasure room, but I figured most of my trouble with that was because I have such strong opinions on Templar Treasure based on my own research. But I started disagreeing with so much in this movie so early on, and by the time the glyphs showed up, well, if I’d been watching at home, I would have been shouting at the screen.

So, yes, I was disappointed. Deeply, deeply disappointed, because I’ve been looking forward to this film since I heard it was in production.

But then again, they made $65 million dollars in the opening weekend, so it’s not like any of them CARE what I think! 😉

And then, last night, I saw, finally Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. More spoilers ahead, although I suspect most of you have seen it.

I was very disappointed. I felt they short-changed both Lupin and Snape’s characters, which hurts the rest of the cycle. Lupin’s gentle understanding and insight was so important in book 5. He needed to be there when they got Harry out of the house at the beginning, along with Tonks. The attack on the trip to Sirius’s didn’t happen, and that’s vital to the story. The fact that young Lily defended Snape from James in the flashback is also vital to the story, and that was cut. The gold statues never came to life in the fight in the Ministry of Magic, which was also important to the story. The fact that Hermione and Ron flew on threstrals they couldn’t see was never dealt with, and needed to be. Another important occurrence in the book is how badly injured each of Harry’s friends is during the fight in the Ministry – it’s part of what hurts Harry so much. And here, they just all sort of wandered out and watched him writhe on the floor. It’s as though the filmmakers got tired by the time they got to the end.

They handled the passage of time well, to show things escalating throughout the year, but none of the action sequences had enough action in them.

Phoenix was my favorite book, and they diluted it so much for the movie that I was disappointed, and I’m also concerned for the next two. They sanitized it too much.

Two disappointments, movie-wise in two days. Sigh.

Great morning’s work on Hex Breaker. Over 5K, and now I’m exactly where I want to be. I’d like to keep going, but I’m spending the day at a friend’s, and I need to get going.

So, let’s hope I can keep the HB momentum going. I’m delighted with the way it’s taking shape, and I’ll hit the 25K exactly when I should. Then I can do another revision and get it off before I leave for Philly.

Devon

Hex Breaker – 17,151 words out of est. 25,000

Of course, it’s too much to ask that the Zokutu Word Meter actually WORK when I could really use the morale boost!