Some More Movie Review Things

  • Superman v Batman: This was a fun film to watch. Gal Gadot stole every scene. The magic of the movie is it keeps you engrossed enough not to notice all the weird, strange flaws. To a point. Then you have to wonder if Superman is just kinda, well, dumb. There’s this whole, convoluted setup for a name reveal—a reveal that is only necessary because Supes is dumb. Yay! Plot advancement through stupidity! Special effects and the atmosphere of the movie were fantastic, though. Did I mention Gal Gadot steals every scene?
  • Triple 9: Good movie. A nice mix of suspense and action. It was nice how much sense it made. The characters and their actions were mostly believable.
  • Vigilante Diaries: A little low on budget, and it shows. Characters were interesting and the plot seemed decent. But for some reason after about 30 minutes I stopped caring. Didn’t finish the movie.
  • The Hateful Eight: A Tarantino movie that is filled with instances of “Show don’t Tell.” Except in this case, he tells… then shows the telling. A good 30 minutes could have been cut from the movie without anyone noticing. The narration added insult to injury.
  • The Family Fang: An interesting movie with an interesting premise… but I found it quite boring. The acting was superb, yet the film didn’t keep my interest. It was more fun to imagine other plot variations.
  • It Follows: A creepy horror story which focuses on the people rather than the monster. The struggle is less about defeating the creature than using the conditions of the ’curse’ to get it to victimize someone else. Oddly, the director’s choice to make up a e-reader dated the movie more than using a real e-reader.
  • London Has Fallen: A good, solid, action flick. Which, like most action movies, ignores more than a little common sense. The characters acted plausibly for the most part. Yet elements of the situation were so forced it was ridiculous.

Wayward Pines’ Wayward Writing

I watched the first season of Wayward Pines over the last few days. Episodes 1-4 conveyed a decent amount of suspense and mystery. The show was enjoyable. Some confusing spots but no major interruptions in immersion.
Then came episodes 5 & 6.
Two episodes which, while the writing/direction attempted to make them interesting, were a info dump. Exposition everywhere. A bunch of flashbacks. Which might have been forgivable if it weren’t for the rest of the season.
The last half of the season was a mixture of solid—often amazing—acting and directing which suffered from terrible writing. Did the writing team change half way through the series?
Episodes 7-10 were a morass of “plot advancement through stupidity”. It’s one of my pet peeves. The writing pulled me from the show, wondering “why did he say that?” “Why did she do that?” “This makes no sense.” “Why is someone who is trying to convey information saying the WORST possible thing?” This wasn’t sporadic. It occurred repeatedly in every episode.
When reasonable, intelligent characters turn into inarticulate morons, it makes their actions implausible. Once it starts, a show never seems able to recover. This one certainly didn’t.

Spoilers below!
The show becomes even worse if you stop to think about it for a bit. The guy in charge says he wants the town to become self-sufficient. How would that be possible? There’s no farm land. How are they generating electricity? There’s no solar panels. Is there a nuclear reactor somewhere? Why don’t the abbies climb down the cliff? If the abbies are such amazing predators, why didn’t they pick off the exploration teams? If the abbies exist in such huge numbers, how did they build the wall in the first place? If they have freaking helicopters, why were the exploration groups sent on foot? Who the hell calls a group of predators a “herd”?
How did the ark project stay hidden during the years when everyone was in cold storage? During the first few decades, there would have been ample opportunities for discovery. Government corruption only helps so much.
What was with the unquestionable loyalty of the soldiers? Those guys had been around for years, if not a couple decades, with their only purpose to protect the town and facility. When their boss decides to kill everyone, they’re okay with that. Well, maybe I can give it a pass. It’s part of the stupidity parade of the last half of the season.

Wyrde’s Mexican-Italian burgers

  • Take burger meat from fridge, let warm to room temp (10-20mins)
  • Get spices for the burgers. 1/2 tablespoon or so per burger of: garlic, cumin, ground red pepper, and Italian seasoning (or mix your own italian seasoning from basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, sage, and cilantro)
  • Cheese: I like Munster, Colby Jack, and Mozzarella. A big pinch or decent slice of each per burger.
  • Drop pan on burner while making the patties. (Cast Iron if you have it). You want the pan nice and hot for the patties.
  • Add the spices to the hamburger and knead for a good, even coating.
  • Make a ball of hamburger for each patty, then split the balls in half. Flatten out each half and put a pinch/chunk of mozzarella in the middle. Push the halves together, like ravioli. Don’t overdo the amount of cheese in the middle.
  • Once you have the burger patties made, cover each side with a light pinch of kosher salt and black pepper. Lightly oil each side, bonus points for coconut oil.
  • Let the patties set for a minute or two (especially if you have a cast iron skillet). Prep the skillet with oil (generous amount for cast iron, lighter for other types)
  • Place your patties in the pan, taking note of the time. A good sized patty will take about 3 minutes for first side, 2 for the second for medium.
  • Now’s a great time for prep your buns. Buttering and toasting. Extra points for minced garlic and Parmesan cheese.
  • When the patties are done, let them sit for a minute or two in foil for the juices to soak back into the meat. The rest of the cheese can go on top to slowly melt.
  • (Great time to clean the pan.)
  • Assemble the burgers and patties, add your sauces and extras, plate and serve.

Week two of too many movies

In an attempt to improve my understanding of films, I spent another week watching more movies than I should have. It was research. Honest!

Here’s my thoughts on a bunch of them:

  • “Pandemic”. Oh, look. It’s found footage. Directors, what people think about found footage is that you don’t have the skill to film like a real director. Fuck off. On top of that, the movie was rather crappy. Every bad situation is a result of the characters being idiots. From the start. Plot advancement through stupidity is lazy writing.
  • “Earthfall”. I’d like to give a TV movie the benefit of the doubt but… c’mon. Seriously? Would it have been that difficult to make the meteor CGI believable? Not to mention even an attempt at plausibility with the premise. Btw, suddenly accelerating the Earth by 240,000mph would have turned us all into jelly. Gravity isn’t magic.
  • “Invasion of the Pod People” is an Asylum film. That right there makes it horrible beyond reproach. Add to that some really shitty sound editing and you end up with a film that’s almost physically painful. Synchronicity’s audio was painful on purpose, this movie’s was painful through neglect and incompetence. And WTF was up with that woman that was supposed to be a supermodel? She was a two-bagger.
  • “Shark Lake”. I love how the romance subplot ended. Other than that, meh. Nothing remarkable enough about the movie to comment on.
  • “Midnight Special”. This one sneaks up on you. So many things it could be at the beginning. As the movie builds momentum, it goes in a wonderful unexpected direction. A good example of doing the unexpected without being outrageous.
  • “Precious Cargo”. Robbers, robbers, and more robbers. Though I have to wonder if movies get promo money from De Beers for making diamonds sound so awesome.
  • “Zootopia”. Disney/Pixar hits it out of the ballpark again. The DMV scene was brilliant. They also avoided the “give the animal caffeine for super speed” trope. The lamp shading added to the film without overburdening it.
  • “I am Wrath”. An action movie where nearly everyone steals the scene from Travolta. I have this pet theory that the more screen time Travolta has, the worse he acts. Give him a bit part or a cameo and he’ll nail it. A main role… and he’s yawn-worthy.
  • “Navy Seals vs Zombies” is movie on an obviously low budget. Unlike many such movies, they actually try their best. There’s a few logic inconsistencies, the acting is a bit weak at times, and some stock footage, but overall it wasn’t a bad movie. Not a great movie, but unlike some I’ve seen recently, it wasn’t physically painful.
  • “Alice in Wonderland”, 2010 Tim Burton. Creepy and surreal, Tim Burton toys with the Uncanny Valley. There’s an odd disconnected feeling through the film—not in a surreal, dreamlike sense. More like the actors were doing their very best to play a part, but were not entirely certain just what the part was. Elfman’s score is awesome. Also, was there some memo passed around in the late 90s which required future versions of the iconic Alice to be played by an adult?
  • “Term Life”. A cops and robbers movie that is almost chill. It hits all the major tropes for the genre, but with a more relaxed attitude than usual. Well written, well directed, and very well acted. A solid movie in any way I could think of.
  • “Gods of Egypt”. There were no mummies. I feel a bit ripped off. Other than that, a great action flick with a few great lamp shade moments. It was nicely done, with a good amount of epic. The hip and edgy dialog may not wear well.
  • “Allegiant”. The some-number movie in the franchise, in which 75% of the problems encountered by the main characters could have been easily resolved simply with a moderate amount of communication. Even though it ends in a way that makes it seem like the series will continue, I can’t help but think it’s over since someone finally shot the guy that caused most of the problems throughout the series.

A Week of Movies

Since I’m currently writing my first screenplay, I thought I’d take the time to do some research by watching movies.

It was research.

Honest!

  • “Kill Command”, surprisingly decent. Some of the cgi was off (and they had a lot of it), but generally the plot and pacing were well done. I loved how they launched recon drones then seemed to forget they exist.
  • “Deadpool”, very well done in a lot of ways. Very typical of superhero movie genre in construction, but with a unique, irreverent flair throughout. Well done on the 4th wall comments. The writing actually made the flashbacks fun and interesting. Deadpool is the kind of movie you just know that people got fall down a puking drunk at the wrap party. And someone else is going, “I don’t get it… we replaced all the beer with Odool’s.”
  • “10 Cloverfield Lane”, a movie that tried to turn boring into interesting. Succeeded in parts. Goodman was very good.
  • “Countdown”, another low-expectation movie that was surprisingly decent. Though the ADR was horrible. And there were some jarring ‘advancing plot through stupidity’ moments.
  • “The Force Awakens”, wonderfully directed, written, and very much a homage to Star Wars.  A lot of really great moments. At the same time, while it was a fun movie, it didn’t feel new. It was too much of a homage. Still, there were some scenes that gave me chills.
  • “The Expanse”, not a movie, but I watched the last half of the season. Well done Sci Fi, lots of geeky eye candy, good acting and directing for the most part.
  • “13 Hours – The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is the first Michael Bay film I really liked. Uncommonly believable.
  • “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was surprisingly good and really rather fun. The few moments of “WTF” were well overcome by the general entertainment.
  • “Jane Got a Gun”. Eh. It was alright. Solid acting. The flashbacks, which seemed overdone, contrasted nicely with the feel of the rest of the movie.
  • “Naked Weapon” was sooooooooooooooo Hong Kong action. 2002 HK action movie at that. Usual blend of “that doesn’t make sense” and awesome martial arts choreography–except when it was ridiculous. Even then, it was great. Can something be stupid and great at the same time?
  • “The 5th Wave” was okay, but the side story was a lot more interesting than the main “love conquers all” teenage crap.
  • “Mockingjay part 2” Meh. Some well-written suspense, but… meh. As usual, Sutherland stole all the scenes.
  • “Synchronicity” is a 2015 movie ripped from the 80s and directed by a dick. I wonder how many people walked out of the theater because of the ear splitting noise. Oh, and the usual “love conquers science” and “science is magic” tripe. Hey, film makers. Just because the main character has a headache doesn’t mean you should induce one in the audience (and I listen with volume normalization!). Eat a bag of dicks.
  • “Freaks of Nature” was a lot of fun. Lampshades a lot of tropes. Generally follows internal logic. Decent plot. Some real funny. The action scenes tended to be chaotic while still being easy to watch. Nice job.
  • “The Sand” (aka Killer Beach) sounds like a crappy movie, has the blurb of a crappy movie, and the first few minutes reinforce that this will be a crappy movie… then it turns into an awesome movie. The monster wasn’t the whammy of the film. It was the acting. Like walking into a seedy, run-down greasy spoon diner and ending up with the best burger in the world. Don’t let the cover fool you. (Ps: while whatching, even though you *know* something is about to happen, and have a good idea *what* is going to happen, they movie still builds tension and anticipation very nicely.)
  • “The Trust” had one of the more interesting endings I’ve recently seen. I liked how the characters acted. Reasonable considering their backgrounds and motivations.

Writing with Savage Worlds

There’s a game system called Savage Worlds—it’s one of my favorites. Savage Worlds brings to life the Cinematic Action and Adventure of pulpy books and movies from the 40’s and 50’s. That said, it’s marvelously capable of a wide variety of settings. As evidenced by a staggering number of settings.

Savage Worlds is a mildly-crunchy system (meaning it has several dice and rules that give modifiers), with skill-based characters (as opposed to class-based or templates), and a subsystem of Edges and Hindrances. In my opinion, one of Savage Worlds best features is how the design makes it as fun for game mastering as playing.

Edges are special rules that benefit a character, usually by giving a bonus or removing a penalty. Hindrances are special rules that limit the character, but do so in a way that rewards the player.

How is the player rewarded? Another aspect of Savage Worlds is the “Bennie”, short for benefits. Bennies are points the players collect (usually represented by some form of token—poker chips are popular) which they spend to re-roll dice. Players use bennies to save their character’s bacon.

Players earn bennies a variety of ways, but one of the easiest is to role play hindrances. Since hindrances include things like Loyal and Heroic, it is easy for the good guys to act good in the face of adversity—or logic. Running into a mine field to rescue people is worth it for the bennies. (And there’s plenty of Hindrances for antiheroes and evil characters as well!)

The tone of the game changes with the supply of bennies. With a few bennies, combat becomes a desperate struggle. When a large supply is at hand, a fight proceeds rapidly with lots of daring stunts. A pile of bennies encourages the player to take risks. The Soak roll, the main way a character resists damage, uses bennies.

Attributes, skills, and derived stats give basic descriptions of the character, but the Edges and Hindrances make the character shine.

Hindrances also subtly encourage players to role play—something that may lead otherwise reluctant players down the dark path of investing emotional meaning in the game. It’s in their best interests to go beyond simply playing the character to role playing it.

From a writing experience, Savage Worlds is a great system to look at for creating basic, believable, characters. Especially for a pulpy, heroic setting. (Though, as I mentioned earlier, the system works for other genres quiet well. I’ve used it to run games ranging from hard science fiction to gritty contemporary police investigation.)

The Hindrances are handy, one or two word, descriptions used to bring characters to life. Hindrances aren’t necessarily negative. They are keys to how a character acts in a situation. A character with Heroic runs into the burning building to save people. A loyal character sticks by their friends, defends their squad, and protects their neighborhood. Vengeful characters seek retribution on those that wrong them.

Think of the fun with descriptions like Arrogant, Big Mouth, Clueless, Code of Honor, Mean, Outsider, Poverty, Stubborn, and Vow (a small selection of various hindrances). Some hindrances even cover a range of possibilities rather than a specific issue, like Delusional, Phobia, and Quirk.

Hindrances have a paragraph or so of description in the game, but their names spark the imagination.

Savage Worlds is published by Pinnacle Entertainment: https://www.peginc.com/product-category/savage-worlds/ Here’s an RPGNow System Search for even more Savage World’s goodies.

Have fun. Play on. Write on!

The Stuff of Amber

There’s an old tabletop role playing game called Amber Diceless Roleplaying. A good portion of the book is dedicated to game master advice, most of which easily applies to writing. The biggest lesson in the book is to show, not tell. Sound familiar?
Reading through the game, there’s a treasure trove of ideas and concepts that make writing flavorful.
One of my favorites is Stuff. In Amber, stuff comes in three flavors: Good, Zero, and Bad. The points the player has left when character creation finishes becomes Stuff. If the character has a positive amount of points, they get Good stuff. With an exact balance, they get Zero stuff. And if the player has spent extra points, the character has Bad stuff.
When playing the game, Stuff has two major uses. One is to decide the outcome for random events. If the results of a challenge or action are so even that the GM can’t easily decide, then it’s up to the character’s Stuff. Characters with Good Stuff succeed, those with Zero succeed with some consequence. Bad Stuff characters will fail.
That last part is a significant element of the game—if you “cheated” the system by using extra points, your character will have a hard time. That isn’t to say they will fail in any endeavor—they will fail if chance is an issue. Bad Stuff characters turn into planners, leveraging their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. It’s a great character development tool. The game discourages GM’s giving the Bad Stuff character a break—the hardship is the balance for the extra points they spent.
The other major usage for Stuff is a GM’s guide for how the world will treat the character. Three characters with different Stuff may walk into a scene and their perceptions, as dictated by the GM, will be different. A Good stuff character will generally notice the positive elements of a scene. Zero stuff characters will experience a mixed or neutral environment. Bad stuff characters will receive a negative impression.
The example in the book is of a Good, Zero and Bad stuff character walking into a bar.

  • Good Stuff: A friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The bartender smiles easily, other patrons are laughing at a joke. Smiles and waves greet a good stuff character.
  • Zero Stuff: It’s a nice enough place, the bartender nods politely, the other patrons are chuckling. Patrons nod polite greetings.
  • Bad Stuff: They walk into a bar with deep shadows and an oppressively low ceiling. The bartender grunts a grudging welcome. The other patrons snigger at some joke, likely at the character’s expense.

It’s a neat enough mechanic, but why am I bringing it up?
Because while I was explaining Stuff to someone, I discovered I was unconsciously using it for characters in my stories for years. Without realizing it, I’ve been using this system to help make my characters interesting.
Amber Diceless is one of the first, if not the first, roleplaying game in the ’narrative storytelling’ style. Amber charcters are strong, dynamic figures who may well have backgrounds of deities and world-shapers. It’s a game about telling broad, sweeping, epic stories—driven by the characters.
Worth checking out if you get the chance.