Seeing RED

Caught the 2010 movie RED starring Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban, Helen Mirren, and a hilarious John Malkovich.

More proof that stars of yesterday are aging because now they are playing characters who have to deal with the drudgery of retirement.  Tough enough for folks that live regular, 9 to 5, jobs. An anathema for those that worked for the military and/or intelligence agencies.

Bruce Willis plays the straight man to a cast of eccentric characters as a retired and deathly bored ex-CIA operative who strikes up a phone relationship with Sarah, his case worker, at the government pension processing center, by tearing up his pension checks as an excuse to keep calling her.

Willis is marked for death because of something from his past and he gets the band back together to find out whom is behind it.  The twist is that his ‘band’ are also all retired and bored with it.  Pretty standard stuff so far.



The twist is that they are all classified as RED – Retired and Extremely Dangerous.  John Malkovich shines as the ‘MadDog Murdoch’ of the bunch having been tortured one too many and hence his grasp on reality is tenuous at best.  This is a fun cast that plays the age aspects of the movie conceit to the hilt along with new fast rising star Karl Urban – as the young gun hired to track and eliminate Willis.

BTW, Urban has just signed on to take the lead in the new JJ Abrams/Joel Wyman upcoming SF/Cop buddy drama which pairs Urban with an android partner.  My interest is certainly piqued given Urban’s work with LOTR, Dredd, and of course, as Bones in the Star Trek reboot.

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Little China Girl Wins Over Wily Wizard


The Walking Dead

S03E13 Arrow In The Door Post – was a real snoozer.

Character development is fine, though for pacing, mixing it up is always better ie last week’s episode.  The problem here was the scene between Rick and the Governor was dragged out far too long.  At max their meeting should have been no more than 10 minutes of screen time.

As for the rest of the characters their moments signify little because, given the show’s track record, most of it is likely to be swept under the rug any how.  Properly structured the first half of the episode should have dealt with the parlay. The second half should have showed each side gearing up and the episode should have ended up with them about to meet in battle.

We already know where the story is going to go and now we have to wait for the show to catch up to us.

The ‘giving up Micchone’ idea is a total story stalling tactic.  Rick has already acknowledged that the Governor is going to kill them all so the supposed struggle about giving her up carries zero dramatic weight or emotional investment at all.  So any anguish Rick is feeling at the end of this episode is all sound and fury signifying nada.

This episode highlights how the show stumbles when it tries to handle more than two or three characters at a time.  Especially compared to the previous week’s episode.

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Spartacus

S03E06 – Spoils of War – introduces the end game for Spartacus and his followers.  The show continues to deftly handle character and story.  With a newly coiffed hairdo and shave, for the first time this season, Caesar finally looks like Caesar.  No longer sporting a rebel look, the transformation is amazing.

Another sign of a strong show – even its transitional episodes are engrossing because they build character while laying the story groundwork for what is to come.

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Oz The Great and Powerful

Sam Raimi pulled it off.  

Making a prequel to the original Wizard of Oz – a classic in the truest sense of the word – that honors it and at the same time creates a movie with modern sensibilities, is an awesome feat. 

Finley



Gorgeous to look at and well acted too. James Franco, Milas Kunis, Michelle Williams, and Rachel Weisz all comport themselves well.  Especially James Franco as the titular charatcer.

Two of the more endearing characters are Finley – the BellBoy Monkey and the China Girl.  Especially the girl.  A totally CGI creation but such a wonderful character – whose real world double is a little girl unable to walk.  The bond that forms between her and Oz provides the movie with the majority of its emotional thrust.

Little China Girl



This movie meshes with the original beautifully.


Well done Sam.

Buds and Spuds

Justified is a well written and acted show that is fun to watch.  It is no small feat to pull off the story and character beats the show has over the past four seasons. For all its dramatic acumen it is not a show that stays with me.

It is also one of the more over-praised shows on TV right now.

With each successive season the show’s shortcomings become more and more apparent. Beyond Raylan Given’s boss Art we still know very little of the rest of the Marshall office’s staff.  Tim and Rachael have been given little to do.  Justified also proves that a protagonist is only as good as their antagonist.  Season 2 brought us Mags Bennett and her boys and the tension through that season has yet to be attained or surpassed since then.  Seasons 3 and 4 have had their moments but the villains presented since then have been of lessor stature.

The show is shackled on two fronts.  First,  keeping Boyd Crowder as an ongoing character hobbles every confrontation he and Raylan have.  Which is a shame because these two men are so alike but on different sides of the law.  The show would be better for having a final confrontation between them and moving on.  It would also solve the aforementioned problem of freeing up precious screen time to flesh out the other Marshalls.

Secondly, Raylan Givens is not a sympathetic character.  So any empathy we are supposed to feel on his father’s death has to come from our feelings about our fathers because the show has never shown us any positive moments between the two.  Raylan is a chip off his father’s shoulder even though he would vehemently deny it.  Empathy for Raylan is a hard commodity to come by because the very things that make him a good cop are the very things that prevent him from living a normal life.

Sorry Raylan but you reap what you sow.

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White Collar is one of those ubiquitous USA network shows that is breezy, fun, and yet ever so slight.  If Justified flitters away from thought shortly after it airs, White Collar is gone from mind even before the end credits roll.  USA prides itself on shows with characters and White Collar certainly has those.  I started watching the show because of Matt Bomer – who was on Chuck and Tim DeKay from the criminally cancelled in midstep HBO series – Carnivale.

The two leads have great chemistry but the blue skies mentality behind USA shows means that the basic configuration of the show is never going to change even when the characters have grown to a point where the original premise is showing signs of strain.  This strain has been compounded by the show that sets up game changing finales as season ending cliff hangers only to restore everyone back to their original state an episode or two into the next season.  Factor in a series which has no overarching storyline and the rinse and repeat nature of the stories has diluted my enjoyment of the show to the point that I am no longer interested in watching it.  Interestingly enough the same thing happened for me with Burn Notice.

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Stomping Tom Connors passed away at the age of 77.  A Canadian icon he eschewed any thoughts of seeking his fortune outside of Canada and berated the Junos – the Canadian version of the Grammys – for honoring Canadians who had attained their fame outside the country.  A northern version of Johnny Cash, Stomping Tom was a one man act who performed without a dedicated back up band.

His songs such as An Okie From Muskokie and Bud the Spud captured the Canuck spirit so very well.  His, ‘Good Ol’ Hockey Game,’ was the Canadian equivalent of the American, ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame.’  It became a standard ritual for the rink crowd to sing along to Tom’s hockey game song.

So long Tom!  You were one of a kind.

Of War, Walking Dead, & Wizards

Finally got around to seeing Inglourious Basterds.  Tarratino’s alternate WWII history is a great mix of intertwining storylines and superlative acting.  I really enjoyed this quite a bit.  Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa was just brilliant and played the bad guy with much relish. Polished, refined, charming, and able to speak several languages including English, French, and Italian; Landa is very much a coiled snake that lulls his victims so they lower their defenses and then he strikes with lightning, brutal violence.  Brilliant!

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The Walking Dead works so much better when the cast is pared down to minimum numbers.  For the first time in awhile the danger of the zombies felt palpable again.  Also a much overdue episode for some quality screen time for Micchone. I really liked how the show used Carl to give us a glimpse into her character – though how she got the picture out of the cafe begs question.
I place this one with the season premiere as my favorite episodes of this season.
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Finished Dresden Files: Blood Rites, the 6th book in the series, by Jim Butcher.  Man, Butcher really puts Harry through the ringer.  Dresden showed more power as a wizard than ever before but the cost of that was a permanent(?) physical infirmity and the discovery that his newly found power is tapping into a source of dubious nature.  We learned more about Harry’s family background and the discovery he has a half brother, who just happens to be a vampire.  Harry finds upon his body a sigil mark of a talisman he believe securely locked away. He also learns his mentor, Ebenezar McCoy, is the Wizard’s clean up man, who gets to break all the rules that he taught Harry should never be broken, and all other Wizards live by.  Powerful stuff.


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All that and the slow teasing that the feelings between him and his long time police contact, Karrin Murphy, maybe moving beyond friendship and heading towards something more.  Given Harry’s track record that would be a dangerously bad idea.

Oh and Harry ended up with a dog too.  Of course it is no ordinary dog.

Spartacus – Bloody Chess Match & Fiction Frission

Spartacus S03E05 – Blood Brothers: much like last season’s 5th episode – was brilliance.  Spartacus and the Roman Military Leader Crassus have been engaged in a mental chess game match all season.  In this one Spartacus made all the right moves and yet was still out manuveured by Crassus. On the action front this show continues to set the high bar on action sequences with swordtacular battle scenes. Again and again.



And like last season’s show shifting 5th episode which saw the gladiators leave the arena and their slavery behind forever, Spartacus has lost the city.  Just as he was poised to draw out and divide Crassus’s forces.  To the hills they must flee! 

Crassus has gained the upper hand in battle while at the same time the rift between he and his son, Tiberius, has now become permanently irrepairable.

The foreshadowing irony of Caesar stabbing Spartacus in the back was most delicious indeed.

Brilliant, brilliant writing.

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I’ve taken stabs at fiction writing here and there but never have I experienced that AHA! moment when unrelated items have coalesced into a new and unique idea that other writers talk about.  Part of my problem is that I have read so many takes on how to write the process has become overwhelming plus my own unintentionally created roadblock of wanting to write something big and epic so that it will move people.  A bittersweet story much like Frodo sailing off to the Grey Havens after saving Middle Earth.


That’s a tall order for any writer.  Especially one starting out.  

So I’ve refocused my direction and am now directing my energies to smaller pieces.  I mentioned in a previous post that I had sent off a piece for a 200 word micro-fiction contest. That’s about as small as one can get!

Genre fiction is where I wish to write in be it SF, Fantasy, or Horror.  I have seen it said countless times that genre fiction is about the characters.  Take a character and put them in unusual circumstances.  Such circumstances arise when you take two previously unrelated ideas and put them together in a brand new way to push your characters.

Well I have achieved that AHA! epiphany.  The catalyst for my moment of insight was a lovely piece of writing over at Flash Fiction Online – “Beholder” by Sarah Grey.  This is a small story about technology versus man that elicits, for me, a big emotional response.

That’s the kind of story I want to write and Beholder gave me the spark to put two disparate ideas together. So I am working a piece that takes something I do often – walk our dog and a concept from a TV show.  I have it all mapped out in my head.  I know the whole story and how it will end.  

How well putting those two ideas together works is throttled only by my skill as a writer to tell it.  Exciting!  And scary.