Friday, July 20, 2018

The Android Ate My Homework

Almost two months ago on Critique Circle, someone posted a query.  The writing of the query was meh, but there were some big plot holes in the story itself.

The idea was that this movie studio guy named Otis (because so many studio execs are named after the town drunk from Andy Griffith) sees an android in a brothel in the year 2025 and so he decides to replace his star in a movie with an android.

A weird contrivance is that the android can't do the actress's voice, so he tricks the real her into dubbing the part.  This was the first plot hole.  It's 2025 and they can't synthesize a voice?  They already did that for Roger Ebert back in 2010 or so.  After his jaw was wired shut after surgery a company used clips from his TV show and interviews and stuff to synthesize his former voice on a computer.  So if they could do that in 2010 why can't they do that in 2025?  I mean if you're trying to create the voice of a famous actress then obviously there's footage of her speaking all over the place:  movies, interviews, awards shows, and so on.  Duh.

Then really the whole premise wouldn't fly legally.  I mean you can't just make an android to look like a living person and claim it's that real person in your movie.  I can't just make an android of George Clooney and make Ocean's 14 or The American 2:  Electric Boogaloo and say George Clooney is actually in the movie.  I'd get my ass handed to me in court for using his likeness and falsely claiming he was in my movie.  So the actress in this story would have plenty of legal recourse--unless Otis tricks her into signing a waiver.

Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think even with dead people you have to contact their estate to get the rights.  Like with Rogue One when they used zombie Tarkin, I'm sure they had to contact Peter Cushing's estate and get permission--and maybe pony up some dough.  If it's someone historical like Lincoln or JFK then probably not, but I'm pretty sure you do if you're going to create a digital or robotic Elvis or Michael Jackson or Marilyn Monroe or someone like that.

So the whole premise of the story doesn't make sense!  I guess like I said about bad movies, bad stories can follow their own faulty dream logic.  But really before you're getting a query ready, you should probably make sure your story premise actually makes sense.  I doubt this dude will go change anything, though clearly he needs to.

As I like to do with movies, I rewrote the idea to improve it.  In this case to eliminate the weaknesses I saw:
You don't want to hear it, but just for my own amusement here's how I'd rewrite your story to eliminate the problems I see. 
Otis (though could we get a better name? I keep thinking of the drunk on Andy Griffith) has finally acquired the rights to [some big superhero property] incumbent upon he casts the property owner's favorite actress, Lola, also known as "The Blonde Barracuda."  That night Otis goes to see Lola and immediately sees a big problem: she's pregnant! And she says the baby is his.
Otis is considering his options (cancelling the movie and being fired, trying a body double, using a motion-capture suit) while getting drunk at a local watering hole.  He starts to hit on the hot female bartender only to find out she's an android! Otis asks the owner of the place where he got the android. Then he calls up his long-suffering assistant Elizabeth to get him an android that looks like Lola. 
Elizabeth has served Otis for years and even gotten an expensive makeover to try to get some interest, but still he sees her only as a go-fer.  She goes to the android factory and decides she'll sabotage Otis by ordering a refurbished android. She figures when the project flopped and Otis is ruined, he'll need a shoulder to cry on--hers.  When the android arrives at the studio it looks like Lola but the voice system is damaged. With filming set to begin soon, there's no way the android can be repaired or a replacement purchased in time.  Elizabeth secret celebrates, but she's thwarted when Otis gets an idea. 
He goes to Lola and asks her to dub in her real voice for the android's lines.  In exchange Otis will acknowledge their child and sign a very unfair child support agreement. 
It seems like the project is saved, but as production begins, Elizabeth continues trying to sabotage things at every turn, until finally ratting Otis out about the android.  He has to work a little studio magic to convince reporters that the android is a real person.  
Enraged, Elizabeth tries to kill Otis, but is stopped by Lola. By the time of the premiere, Otis and Lola are together and Elizabeth is thinking up ways to sabotage them from her jail cell.
A Hollywood ending!
I actually thought of how to use this for an Eric Filler gender swap story too.  It involves a little rejiggering with the idea so you can't say I'm plagiarizing it.  Just using it for inspiration.

In the 1960s a producer named Gus recently had an expensive flop, which put him on the shit list of studios.  A studio head calls him in with a script for a movie.  The only hitch is it has to star his ex-wife Lizzy or they'll lose the rights.  But when Gus goes to talk to her, he realizes she's pregnant!  She'd be showing by the time they'd have to start filming.  He tries to find a lookalike, but when his top choice falls through, he goes to a woman who gives him a potion that lets him become Lizzy.  So he has to go to the set and complete the movie as her. I've been writing it for the last couple of weeks so it should be done in the next month or so.

Have you ever written something and then someone told you the whole premise makes no sense?  Do tell!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Obnoxiously Miserly Habits of Non-Wealthy People

As part of my job, I open a lot of envelopes from people.  What soon became apparent is the annoying extremes people will go to to save a few cents on an envelope.  A lot of people send in birthday card envelopes.  Or window envelopes they salvaged probably from bills they received.  One guy takes it to an extreme by like taking paper or maybe an old envelope and taping a bunch of old bits of ads to it.  Then he writes "cut here" on one end.  But guess what?  No one ever cuts there.  Because we have a machine that opens the stupid things.  And I have a letter opener.  The people who use window envelopes often spend time cutting their payment coupons and sometimes taping them so the address shows up.

When you think about it's pretty pathetic.  I mean, a box of envelopes costs a buck at the dollar store.  Even at Wal-Mart, Kroger, etc they're around a dollar.  And security envelopes too, which would be good for the guy who every month sends in a check between two strips of black construction paper.  But to save like two cents, they go to all this effort.

I think though everyone has something they get miserly about.  I mean when I go to the grocery store I'll stand there for five minutes debating which brand of tuna is the best value.  Or I'll save myself a whopping twenty cents by buying store brand Atkins bars even though I don't like them as much.

The really dumb thing is then I'll just throw in some candy or Shrimp Chips or a Son of Zorn Pop Vinyl on clearance.  I worry so much about saving a few cents and then waste whole dollars.

I think the gas pump is a place where miserly behavior takes hold.  If gas goes up twenty-thirty cents a gallon, you get people who drive off or get pissed off and break stuff.  Or people lining up for a mile at the station that's like ten cents cheaper.  But have you ever done the math on it?  My gas tank holds 13 gallons but obviously I never buy the full amount, so at most it's more like 12.  So even if gas spikes 30 cents, I'm paying $3.60 more.  That's barely a coffee at Starbucks!  It's not exactly going to wipe me out.  Maybe one less coffee.

Yes I know it all adds up.  Still, like I say, I waste way more than that without thinking about it.  As I'm sure most people do.  We're miserly about some things and splurge on other things.  But really, can't you save yourself (and me) some hassle and just buy a box of number 10 (or the smaller size) security envelopes for a whole whopping buck?  I mean with like 40 in a box you're covered for almost 4 years!  That's about a quarter per year!

Or you could pay online and not need any fucking envelopes.  Think about it.

Monday, July 16, 2018

On the Road With Bad Movies

One thing about bad movies is that generally they have their own system of logic that doesn't really follow real life.  They're like dreams that way.  Bad dreams.  I mean, where else would the girl run UPstairs to escape the maniac with the knife?  Or decide that a creepy old house/cabin/motel is the perfect place to spend the night?  Or where every sheriff/cop ignores the obvious warning signs about a killer/demon/zombie apocalypse?

There is one convention that's popped up in a few bad movies I've seen on MST3K and Rifftrax.  It's the convention that when you're traveling, basically you can take shelter wherever you feel like and do whatever you want.

In the MST3K version of A Touch of Satan (which sounds like a terrible perfume), a guy is driving in the country and sees a dirt road through a meadow.  So he simply drives onto the dirt road and throws himself a little picnic in some trees by a stream or whatever.  And then meets a girl who turns out to be an evil witch.

Or in Tourist Trap, three hot girls' car breaks down and while walking around they spy a pond.  And promptly go skinny-dipping.  Until the property owner comes around and tells them that the pond fills up with water moccasins at night.  Eek!  Then later two of them are turned into mannequins by the crazy property owner.  EEEK!

In Hillbillys in a Haunted House, the eponymous hillbillys (and I'm using their spelling) are traveling and their car breaks down or something.  They see an "abandoned" house and since it's night they decide to just break in and spend the night.  Then it turns out there are some bad guys using the house as a hideout.

In Bloody Pit of Horror a film crew and some hot chicks see an Italian castle that looks deserted.  So they decide to break in and take some pictures with the hot girls and the old furniture and torture dungeon.  Until it turns out there's a crazy guy living there who calls himself the Crimson Executioner and tortures several of them to death.

My favorite is Ghosthouse, where this guy named Jim Daylen and his little sister and brother(?) and his girlfriend are traveling in an RV.  They see an "abandoned" house and decide to park in the driveway.  Then Jim Daylen breaks in and goes upstairs to set up his HAM radio in the attic.  The radio sends out the sound of his death before it happens.  Because the place is haunted by an evil spirit.  Later there's this guy named Pepe who hitchhikes to and breaks into the ghosthouse.  He starts rummaging around and is actually surprised when the dusty old box of croutons is full of roaches.  I mean even if the box were intact who wants to eat raw croutons?  Later in the movie, long after they've been terrorized by a ghost, one girl goes inside to take a shower and is surprised when blood comes out of the faucet.  If the house is abandoned why the hell would the water work in the first place?  And after you've had a ghost try to murder you and your family/friends already, why would you want to take a shower in there?  See what I mean about operating under a different kind of logic?

In all these cases no one ever stops to consider whether they're trespassing or breaking and entering.  If a house looks abandoned and you're tired or bored it's fair game, right?  Somehow I don't think the police would agree with that logic.  OK, in a post-apocalyptic wasteland you can use those rules, but not in conventional society.  Yet time and again we have people in bad movies breaking into places or trespassing on private property for the sheer hell of it.  And as you can see there are usually terrible consequences.

At least the dorky metal band in Rock n Roll Nightmare (also called Edge of Hell) rented the house where they were terrorized by puppets demons.  Way to buck convention, guys.  That's why they're rockers, because they're rebellious like that.

Anyway, this summer if you go on vacation, maybe you should try just breaking into anywhere that looks abandoned.  Or just skinny-dipping in any body of water you come across.  I'm sure it'll work out fine for you, just like in all these movies!  So put on your headphones, microwave a croissant, and hit the road!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Recent Batman Comics Make a Nolan Bat-verse Revival Possible

Since my job is pretty boring, I usually have a lot of time to think about stupid shit.  The other day I was thinking about recent Batman comics they could use for their stalled solo movie.  And then it occurred to me that some of Tom King’s recent Batman comics would be a perfect way to revive the Christopher Nolan Batman movies.  I know Christian Bale hasn’t expressed any interest in returning but after 6 years maybe he’s ready, especially financially.

The perfect revival story (with some tweaking) is the second story arc of Tom King’s Rebirth-era Batman comics called I Am Suicide.  In that Batman, Catwoman, and his personally chosen Suicide Squad go to Santa Prisca to steal the Psycho Pirate from Bane, who controls the island.

At the end of the Nolan Batman movies Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle had run off to Europe under assumed names to live it up.  Bane was presumably killed in the final battle to liberate Gotham, though really you don’t see a body or anything, which paves the way to make this happen.

So we start in Europe somewhere.  Bruce and Selina are hanging out when they’re suddenly surrounded by armed goons.  There’s a scuffle until a black woman shows up--Amanda Waller whom you might remember from the Suicide Squad movie.  She gets everyone to stand down and then she, Bruce, and Selina go off to talk.

She reveals that in the old days Bane did some off-the-books work for her.  After he “died,” her agents took the body that was barely alive.  They injected it with an experimental drug codenamed Venom and Bane came back to life stronger and meaner than ever.

To make it worse, Bane took the head scientist who made the Venom drug and bust out of there.  From her sources, Waller knows Bane is working on producing the drug in the prison he came from.  They’ve tried storming the place but failed.  Since Batman is the only one who’s defeated Bane, Waller decided to track him down.  They make the offer he can’t refuse:  clean up her mess or she exposes that he’s still alive and ruins his retirement.  Reluctantly he says yes, and Selina agrees to help. (If we need to stretch the story then the location can be less sure so they have to do a little tracking.)

In the comics they recruited Bronze Tiger and Punch & Judy but I suppose they recruit some different characters who are maybe established already like Captain Boomerang or Katana or Deadshot.  (Not Harley Quinn.  Ugh.)  Scarecrow with his fear toxin might make a good ally.

Then they head off to the desert.  Their plane is shot down but they’re able to escape.  Still, now they have to hoof it through a lot of desert with few supplies.  And there are a lot of unfriendlies among the locals who hinder them.  But the team bonds along the way.  (You could have Batman in a duster and goggles like in the Knightmare sequence of BvS too.)

By now Bane is tipped to their arrival.  He’s contracted Deathstroke to work for him and sends him out to bring down the Bat and company.  During a sandstorm or something Deathstroke and goons fall upon the team.  There’s a fierce battle but in the end Batman and the rest except for Selina are captured.  They’re taken to the prison to face Bane.

Meanwhile, Selina sneaks into the prison.  She finds the scientist and his team working on the Venom.  With his help she’s able to locate the rest of the team and spring them.  Meanwhile Bane is beating up Batman out of spite.  That is until the alarms sound.  Then Batman reveals that getting captured was all part of his plan.  Now they really begin to fight while Deathstroke and goons go to find the rest of the team.

There are some fights between the team and goons with Selina knocking out Deathstroke using some cunning strategy.  Then they get the scientists and haul ass.  Meanwhile Batman is fighting Bane and finally gets the upper hand.  He leaves an unconscious Bane in one of the old prison cells he used to inhabit, leaving him, Deathstroke, others for Waller to clean up.  (More fight specifics would depend on which characters you're using.)

Later Waller meets with Bruce and Selina to thank them and say that she’ll keep her part of the deal.  They’re free to go.  That night in a secluded place Bruce proposes to Selina...and then you could use more of the engagement story arc for sequels.  If you want a cookie scene then Waller could sneak away a sample of Venom maybe even to Lex Luthor.

So there we go we used some of the old and some of the new.  Is it perfect?  No, but is it better than what they’re likely thinking of doing?  Probably.

Friday, July 13, 2018

When Nostalgia Goes Bad, Part 2

A few months ago I posted about when I played some old video games and realized they weren't as good as I remembered.  Here's another nostalgia fail:

Back in April I was bored on a Sunday afternoon and on the Roku Channel they had Short Circuit 2, which I remembered was not a great movie, but since I couldn't think of anything else to watch, I decided to put it on.

The first movie was about a robot that's struck by lightning and comes to life.  The military wants to capture and/or destroy the robot but its creator (Steve Guttenberg) and a food truck lady who was apparently ahead of her time (Ally Sheedy) save the robot.  And then don't appear in the second movie, because they were smart, not that we ever really heard of them much after 1989 anyway.

The second movie focuses on Steve Guttenberg's assistant, who has made toys of the robot and moved to New York.  When I watched the opening credits though I realized that the Indian assistant was played by Fisher Stevens.  I remembered seeing him in the 90s CBS series Early Edition (with Kyle Chandler who went on to star in the Friday Night Lights series) and the thing is, he ain't Indian.  He's white and Midwestern like me!

So the star of this movie is a white guy wearing brownface and talking like Apu from The Simpsons--who is also voiced by a white guy.  That made it kind of icky to watch.

The thing is, when you're like 10 years old you don't really pay attention to that stuff.  It doesn't even occur to you that Indian guys or black guys or Asian guys might actually be white guys in makeup.  Some things you know are made up (like talking robots) but why would grown ups lie to you about that?  And back then we didn't have the Internet like IMDB to look up stuff so easily.  So I can let myself off the hook for not noticing back in the 80s, right?  Right?

The irony is both movies are supposed to be about tolerance and accepting those who are different, like a robot that's alive.  And yet the producers and director thought using a white guy in brownface was totally cool?  Really?  I mean come on, it was like 1985, not 1935.  But oh hey, we couldn't find a real Indian the millions of them in fucking India!  Or we needed the awesome star power of Fisher Stevens...who no one had fucking heard of outside maybe Chicago.

They should have known better, but I guess since there was no Internet to stir up outrage, they didn't really give a fuck.  And now I'm pissed off because I liked that first movie and it's forever tainted!  It's like finding out your favorite athlete was on steroids or cheated.  (You know, like Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong...)  I feel like such a dupe, not that I spent any money on it; I'm sure it was my dad's money back then.

It makes me wonder how many 80s movies are similarly tainted.  I rewatched Trading Places a few weeks ago and near the end when Dan Ackroyd gets on a train, he disguises himself as a rastafarian--in blackface.  The weird thing is he ends up in the same room as Eddie Murphy, who's disguised as an exchange student from Africa.  Shouldn't there have been some discussion of this disguise beforehand?  I mean, why would Eddie Murphy let him go around in blackface?  Pretty tacky.

I really don't want to find out what other examples are out there.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Medical Drama is the Cheapest Drama

A couple of weeks ago I was playing this book called The Animators on my Kindle Touch.  I thought the book was about two women who are the eponymous animators and some rivalry develops and stuff.  But then one of the women collapses with a stroke and I groan.  Ugh, not a medical drama!

Of course half her body is paralyzed and she has to go through rehab.  And her partner who had been mad at her is suddenly at her side helping her to recover.  Ugh.

The problem with books that rely on medical drama is it's just the laziest way to introduce drama or to solve conflicts.  Cancer is probably the one authors use most often.  Then you have strokes or some other paralysis.  The idea is if you have characters who are angry at each other or estranged or whatever they'll be brought together by this crisis and learn valuable lessons and shit.  Ugh.

OK, I've had a sister die of cancer and a father with several medical issues and quite a few uncles also die of cancer and you know what:  it didn't really bring anyone together.  It didn't teach us valuable lessons about life or some fucking bullshit like that.  You know what happens in the real world:  you go to the fucking hospital and you sit around watching TV, playing on your phone, doing Sudoku or crosswords or whatever, and other shit like that.  You basically just try to pass the time and hope like hell that your family member recovers.

At a hospice it's not even that.  My mom and I basically sat by my sister's bed for two days watching TV and waiting for the end.  We weren't sitting there hugging and crying and working out any long-standing issues.  We weren't arguing and then hugging and crying.  Maybe it's because we're Midwesterners; maybe in California or New York they do that other stuff.

I'm not saying this to make you feel sorry for me or anything.  I'm just saying that using medical drama to introduce and/or solve drama in your story is lazy fucking writing.  It's a cheap way to introduce drama or to bring characters together without having to do any actual plotting.  The only lazier way would be to have "God" or whatever deity hurl a thunderbolt down.  It's basically a deus ex machina.  And by now it's cliche.  I guess it's not surprising this was the author's first novel.  And it's not surprising hacks like Nicholas Sparks go to that well so often.

So from now on save the medical drama for TV.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Page to Screen: The Girl With All the Gifts (Spoilers!)

I first heard of this book back in 2016 when Rusty Webb reviewed it on Goodreads.  A while later the movie was on Amazon Prime so I bookmarked it but I hadn't gotten around to watching it when the book was on sale in the Kindle Store.  So I figured I might as well buy the book and then watch the movie afterwards.

Like Rusty I really liked the book.  It's a zombie story but it's one of those like Warm Hearts where it's not a traditional zombie story.  In this case it focuses on a 10-year-old girl named Melanie (or Test Subject #1) who is locked in a room every night after school.  The next morning soldiers come in, one pointing a gun at her while another soldier straps her down to a wheelchair.  Then she's taken to a classroom with a bunch of kids exactly like her.  Once a week the kids are fed a bowl of worms, which sustains them until the next week.

Since Melanie can't remember anything before this place, it all seems perfectly natural to her.  It's like the little boy in Room whose mother was kidnapped and locked in a room and then gave birth to him; he doesn't realize there's a whole world beyond the confines of his prison.  Nor does Melanie, though she loves to hear her favorite teacher Miss Justineau's stories, especially the Greek myth of Pandora, the girl who was created by Zeus to open a box of horrors, at the bottom of which was one final thing:  hope.  Except for the being strapped down and eating worms Melanie seems like a bright little girl, maybe a bit too much of a teacher's pet type.  You know, the one who always raises her hand and knows all the answers?  The one who'd ask for more homework?

The thing is, though, Melanie is a "hungry" or a zombie.  The author makes no attempt to hide this; it's pretty much the first paragraph describing her as extremely pale and then the being locked up and being fed worms.  And then it also cuts to Miss Justineau, who has a conflicted relationship with her students and Dr. Caldwell, who wants to cut them up and find out what makes them tick--and whether they can cure the plague.  There's also Sgt Parks, a man with a badly scarred face who is in charge of the base they're on, especially securing the students.  He and soldiers like Private Gallagher went out into the ruins of the world and found these strange zombies who seem almost normal.

So then one day Parks takes Melanie to a different place:  Dr. Caldwell's lab.  She's learned all she can from other students so now she wants the best.  Parks leaves as there's a commotion outside the base.  Then Justineau busts in to try saving Melanie, though she's hit with pepper spray.  Hungries are attacking the base and eventually some get inside the lab, killing Dr. Caldwell's assistant and injuring her hands.  Melanie escapes and rescues Miss Justineau by eating a couple of men.

Eventually Melanie, Miss Justineau, Parks, Gallagher, and Dr. Caldwell get in a Humvee and escape into the woods.  Since they can't raise anyone at their headquarters of "Beacon," they decide to head south to get to the place.  Melanie is chained up; she still doesn't full understand what she is, but she has an inkling of it.

Their Humvee breaks down so they have to go on foot.  They stop in a couple of smaller towns, avoiding hungries and "Junkers," survivalists who haven't been turned but roam the land scavenging and basically living like savages.  It was the Junkers who sicced the hungries on the base to destroy it and the lab and everything.  Along the way Melanie proves herself as a scout to Parks while Miss Justineau and Parks get fairly close one night after they find some booze.  Miss Justineau confesses that before the plague 20 years earlier she had killed a kid by accident; before she could bring herself to tell someone the plague hit and there was no one to tell.  Dr. Caldwell's hands are getting worse, but she manages at one point to snag some brain tissue from a dead hungry to study later.

Eventually they get to London and find some really weird shit like hungries who have just fallen down and sort of mushroom-type things have sprouted out of them.  There's also a sort of wall made by fungus strands.  Melanie gets behind it and finds sort of trees with pods that Dr. Caldwell says are spores that could infect the whole world if they eventually open up.

Also in London they find this huge, armored vehicle.  It was a mobile lab sent into the city years earlier to study the plague and find a cure.  There's no one in the vehicle except the driver who shot himself.  While Parks tries to get the thing working so they can use it to drive to safety, Dr. Caldwell fires up the scientific equipment.

While Melanie is out, she goes into a theater and sees a group of kids hunting rats.  She soon realizes the kids are like her!  Except they never went to school so they're primitives for the most part.  They're led by a boy who has painted up his face like a mask of a monster and carries a baseball bat.

That night Private Gallagher sneaks out of the vehicle to go off on his own.  Some of the feral kids find him and kill him.  Their leader takes his jacket to wear as a trophy.  Parks and Justineau go to find him while Dr. Caldwell stays behind.  She's tricked into going outside and nearly killed by the feral kids.  She's able to kill one of them and take some of its brain tissue.  When Melanie comes back, Dr. Caldwell no longer has any interest in cutting her up: there would be no point in it as there is no cure to be had.  Melanie and those feral kids are a second generation of hungries, born from other hungries.  As weird as it is to think about, apparently zombies could have sex and conceive!  While in normal humans the plague is devastating, in the second generation the plague stabilizes so they can be pretty much normal with proper guidance.

Parks and Justineau find Gallagher but then are beset by the feral kids.  Melanie comes to their rescue and takes on the lead feral kid.  When she defeats him that makes her their new leader.  But by then Parks has been bit so Melanie puts him down at his request.  She then gets Justineau back to the lab and locks her in.

Later Melanie sets fire to the weird trees and pods, causing them to hatch.  Spores are released into the air and presumably they'll be spread by the winds to the rest of Britain and maybe even the world.  When Melanie goes back to the vehicle she tells Miss Justineau it was the only way to save the world because eventually humans (normal and Junkers) and hungries would have destroyed everything.  So now there will be no more humans, only hungries.  She brings the feral kids to the vehicle and Miss Justineau starts to teach them, only now she's the one locked in a cage.

The end was somewhat obvious as the Pandora symbolism was pretty evident.  I mean, you know Melanie is Pandora and has to empty out the box of evil while leaving some hope for the future.  Once the big weird plants are introduced it became fairly clear what she was going to do.  Still, it was a nice twist though that instead of saving OUR world, she saves HER world.  Yet it doesn't feel like a betrayal, like if Luke Skywalker had saved the Empire or something, because there was no way to cure the plague.  Thus the only way for any kind of society to survive was to get rid of the old world entirely.  Though you have to wonder how long they can survive because they're carnivores so they need a source of meat.  Unless Miss Justineau teaches them how to raise livestock they'll eventually run out of food, right?

What I really liked about the book is that it does a good job of making Melanie seem like an innocent little girl--who just happens to eat people, cats, pigeons, or whatever else.  Her innocence is almost heartbreaking when you realize what's actually going on.  The other characters are all given some backstory so that not even Gallagher seems like a redshirt or Slipknot who's only there to die.

Now then, we get to the movie.  What surprised me was the author wrote the script because he really neutered his own story.  Kind of like Ernest Cline with Ready Player One I think he was a little too willing to change his story to get it on the screen.  What he ends up doing is cutting basically all the backstory and most of the stuff in the school, pretty much turning all his characters flat.  The script doesn't even convey Melanie's innocence all that well or her growth as it's in too much of a rush to get from one place to another.  Some of that might have been the director and producers cutting for time, but the end result is like a bad Cliff Notes version of the book.

There are also some poor artistic choices by the director.  Some racists "fans" might complain about Melanie being race-swapped from white to black.  That's not really the problem; the problem is the director has Melanie and the other kids look normal.  They're not supposed to look normal; they're supposed to look like death warmed over--like monsters!  Like how Frankenstein's monster doesn't realize it's a monster (at first anyway) these kids don't realize they're monsters though everyone else can see it.  Similarly the removal of Parks' scar makes him less scary than he should be.  They also race-swapped Miss Justineau from black to white and in this case I think it was a bad call.  Though she's a middle-aged schoolteacher, Miss Justineau is kind of a badass in the book, like Pam Grier in Jackie Brown or something; she's not some frumpy, bookish white girl.  They didn't really make any changes to Dr. Caldwell but they never really get into her backstory, which is that she was one of the alternates to go on the armored vehicle they find in London.  So it's kind of sweet revenge when she finds it later.  Also it brought home some of the desperation as the best and brightest are gone and all that humanity has left are also-runs like her.  Gallagher is basically a redshirt in this as they never get into his backstory, about how he pretty much grew up with this world his entire life with only a vague memory of anything else.

There are no mentions of the Junkers so there's no real reason the hungries are suddenly able to storm the base.  Most of the journey to London is cut out so basically they get there in a day.  That also cuts out a lot of time the characters had to bond or to divulge any history.

But probably the worst change is that Dr. Caldwell never tells Melanie there is no cure.  She still thinks there is a cure when Melanie destroys the world.  So now it does seem pretty selfish of Melanie to destroy humanity because it seems like an alternative was available.  There also seemed some insinuation at the end that Parks might be Melanie's father because Dr. Caldwell says the babies came from mothers who were infected after conceiving and he knew a woman who was 7 months pregnant when she disappeared; I guess the producers or studio weren't comfortable with the idea of zombie sex so they changed it.  Like most of the changes, not for the better.

Normally I say either the book and movie are the same or the movie is just a shorter way to get the gist of the book.  In this case I definitely recommend the book.  It's a lot better.  At 420 pages it'll take a little longer but it's worth it.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Cursed Words

Recently I finally got around to reading Tom King's A Once Crowded Sky.  It was actually an ARC though not one I got from Amazon Vine.  Anyway, because it was an ARC there were a few typos and such.  If I were the editor, though, what I would have marked the most were annoying, unnecessary contractions.

Something me and my possibly-deceased frenemy John Oberon agreed on is one of the lamest contractions is 're.  Some of the common uses like "they're" or "we're" aren't so bad but other uses it's pretty lame like "where're" or "there're" because if you actually say it aloud the contraction 're sounds exactly like the word "are" and really the only difference is one character for the space, so you're not really saving much effort.  I mean go ahead and try it.  Say, "There're four lights!"  Or, "Where're the Pop Tarts?"

Even if you don't say it aloud, you can think it and realize it's a pretty useless contraction.  An editor should really eradicate the useless contractions like that.

It's one of those things that when you think about it, it's pretty dumb.  Contractions're not always the best way to go.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

America is a Nation of Grumpy Bulldogs & That is the Problem

On this Independence Day, let me share a story with you overheard at work that perfectly summarizes America 2018:

One lady mentioned that there was an accident and someone died because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt.  And then she goes on to talk about how annoying it is that her car beeps a whole bunch of times until you put the seatbelt on.  But she outsmarts it by just outlasting it.  So every time you get in the car you'd rather have the car ding at you for ten minutes than just putting on your seatbelt?

So here are the facts:
  • Someone died because he wasn't wearing a seatbelt
  • Car's seatbelt warning is annoying
So, rationally, maybe you should put on your seatbelt?  Nah.

That's America 2018 in a nutsell:  disregard facts and common fucking sense because...I don't wanna.  I'd rather risk death (or serious injury) or getting a ticket and have the car ding obnoxious for 10 fucking minutes every single time I drive than put on my seatbelt.  What's the benefit?  Ooh the seatbelt is so restrictive and chafing...I'm a big fat guy and I barely notice the seatbelt.  And it literally takes 10 fucking seconds to put it on!

Stubborn defiance is what made America Great the first time.  The British wanted to tax stamps, tea, sugar, and all that so we said Fuck That and overthrew them--with a lot of help from the French.  But unfortunately stubborn defiance has also held us back.  It's why the South didn't get rid of slavery until the 1860s--and only by force.  And why the South maintained segregation until the 1960s--though in many ways there's still a lot of economic segregation there and in the rest of the country.  So yeah stubborn defiance can help us defeat Germany (twice) and survive a civil war and Great Depression, but it also causes its fair share of problems.

And in 2018--really way before that--we have this 30% of the population that refuses to believe that our president is a monstrous, wanna-be dictator.  Or that taking away children from their parents and locking them up (both children and parents) is wrong--so long as they're brown.  Or in many cases even that the goddamned Earth is round, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The latter goes back to the seatbelt story.  I mean you have these "flat Earthers" who choose to believe that there's some massive conspiracy between the government, science, and private enterprise rather than the far simpler idea that all these pictures and videos and books and everything might be right.  You can argue and show proof and they'll still say it's "fake news!" because...they don't wanna change.

Unfortunately social media has given all these kooks and crackpots a forum to wallow in their ignorance.  That's made them even more dangerous than before.  Also unfortunately too many of them are too proud of their ignorance to recognize the problems it has created.

In America 2018 we unfortunately have a lot of grumpy bulldogs who stubbornly cling to beliefs that are objectively proven untrue, many of which are dangerous or destructive.  And when those people are put in charge it degrades our entire country and the world at large--the objectively round not-quite-spherical world.

Happy Fucking Fourth of July!

Monday, July 2, 2018

I've Been Framed!

A "framing device" is something used in books, TV, and movies as a way to anchor and provide context for the rest of the story.  It can also provide familiarity to a reader or viewer if it's used in multiple stories/episodes.  Think of The Twilight Zone, where Rod Serling as the narrator framed every episode.  It provided familiarity for the viewer and also reminded us that we were watching a story.  You wouldn't want people to freak out like the Orson Welles War of the Worlds broadcast.  Remakes of the series and similar shows like Tales From the Crypt used a similar device.

Another good example is the book and movie The Princess Bride.  The movie features an old man (Peter Falk) telling the story of the princess bride to his grandson (Fred Savage).  This provides the anchor for viewers and again lets us know that we're watching a story.

Since I've been watching it a bit in the last 6 months, Mystery Science Theater 3000 used the framing device of a guy being trapped in space and building robots to watch bad movies with him.  Over the 10-year run the framing device had to keep changing as the cast changed.  The first six seasons featured a human guy on the Satellite of Love and his robot pals Tom Servo, Crow T Robot, Gypsy, and Cambot.  Most of the first four seasons featured original show creator Joel Hodgson but after he left the show they brought in head writer Michael J Nelson for the rest of the show's run.  The first season featured the evil Dr. Forrester and a henchman named Larry, but for the next five years or so the henchman was TV's Frank.  Then TV's Frank left and for a season it was Dr. Forrester and his mother.  When the show moved to Sci-Fi Channel and Trace Beaulieu (who was Dr. Forrester and the voice of Crow) left, the framing device went through a few incarnations featuring a descendant of Dr. Forrester named Pearl, a telepathic alien, and a super-intelligent monkey.  You can always tell which season it is just by watching the opening song because they had to keep changing the words to fit the new story.  Similar shows like Elvira, Svengoolie, and Monstervision all had their own framing devices revolving around a host and often a supporting cast of colorful characters.

Like MST3K I created a framing device that evolved over time, though not because of cast changes.  It's not something I really had ever used before in writing.  When I started writing the 24 Hour Gender Swap series, I created a framing device in the character of Mrs. Vantu, the mysterious sorta-Gypsy woman who provides the gender swap potions and charms for each story.  So the first story--24 Hour Woman--starts out in first-person with a woman talking about her terrible sexist boss.  And then Mrs. Vantu sells her a potion.

In that first story there were a couple of details then that would carry forward.  Basically her entire house is frozen in time in the early 60s.  And that includes the woman herself.  And for whatever reason she has a lot of Elvis stuff around:  an ashtray, pictures, a pink Cadillac in the driveway, and even a Basset hound named Aaron.  (You know, a hound dog?  And Aaron is Elvis's middle name.)

In the second story a young girl named Margot buys a potion to turn her sister's ex into a bimbo.  At the end, Mrs. Vantu agrees to train Margot in the mystic arts--in exchange for Margot running errands and walking the dog.

In the third story a cop goes to Mrs. Vantu to buy a potion that turns him into a young woman so he can go undercover as a hooker in the hope of flushing out a serial killer.  At the end, Mrs. Vantu gets a portion of the reward for the killer's capture and a mention in the newspaper about her assistance, though nothing is said about gender swapping.

So then in the fourth story a burglar decides to break into her place now that she's flush with cash.  But he knocks over a potion that turns him into a little girl.

The world of the framing device was evolving, but the sixth book, 24 Hour Goth Girl kicked it up a notch.  It begins with an overly religious boy named Raleigh coming to Mrs. Vantu's house to stop her from practicing "black magic."  Mrs. Vantu in turn tricks Raleigh into drinking one of her potions.  It turns him into his polar opposite--a Goth girl.  (What a shock from the title, right?)

Mrs. Vantu sends Raleigh home with Margot, but after they're accosted on a bus, they wind up in a graveyard at night.  They meet another Goth girl named Eva, who takes them to a mausoleum owned by Mrs. Vantu.  Inside the mausoleum is a crypt for her brother, Ezra.  Raleigh and Eva start to hit it off, even making out.  Then later Eva reveals that she is actually Mrs. Vantu!

She tells Raleigh a bizarre story:  every new moon, the spirits at the cemetery come out and so Mrs. Vantu uses a potion to make herself young again, about the same age she was when her brother died.  And we finally give Mrs. Vantu's tragic origin story.  She grew up in "the Old Country" in Eastern Europe.  But in the late 30s the Nazis rounded up her family--except her and her brother, who sought shelter in the mountains.  Ezra helped Eva get to southern France to escape to America.  Ezra could have gone with her, but he decided to stay and fight the Nazis, though he died in the attempt.  So there's no body in the crypt, just an old doll that Ezra played with when he was little, which Mrs. Vantu uses as a totem to contact his spirit.

After learning all this, Raleigh doesn't want to be with Eva anymore since tomorrow she'll turn back into a middle-aged woman who's actually about 85 years old.  Raleigh makes nice with Margot to the point that when the potion is going to wear off, Raleigh decides she wants to be a girl forever.  She goes back to Mrs. Vantu's house, but she's still young Eva.  And while Mrs. Vantu is a wise, mature woman, Eva is a bit of a spiteful bitch.  She gives Raleigh a potion to make her a girl permanently, but instead of a Goth girl she turns out to be a nerd who has to go back to middle school.

In the next couple of stories, Mrs. Vantu's dog Aaron is dying and Raleigh becomes his caretaker.  At the end of the eighth book, Mrs. Vantu decides that while reality is being bent by a bickering middle-aged couple becoming young Japanese girls, she might as well save her dog and so Aaron is regnerated as a puppy.

At the start of the ninth book, a guy named Jack is driving in Mrs. Vantu's neighborhood when little Aaron gets out and Jack crashes his car to avoid hitting the dog.  He's badly injured from not wearing his seatbelt, but Raleigh gives him a potion to save his life.  Unfortunately she grabbed the wrong bottle and turns Jack into a little girl she calls Jackie.  As the day goes on, Jackie keeps getting younger.  When Mrs. Vantu finally returns home, she tells them that Raleigh administered the potion too late; Jack was supposed to be dead and so the potion is going to end up killing him so nature can correct itself.

There is a way to save Jack--a really dangerous way.  It's called "guided reincarnation."  Using a potion, Mrs. Vantu could get Raleigh pregnant and then just as Jackie dies, Mrs. Vantu would use a special charm to channel his dying spirit into the fetus.  Months later the baby would be born.  Using a different potion, Mrs. Vantu could age the child at an accelerated rate, so that after about a year Jackie would be the same as before the car accident.

There's just one hitch:  Raleigh uses a different potion to swap bodies with Jackie, not wanting to risk his life.  So now Jackie is a nerdy teenage girl who's impregnated with the fetus that becomes Raleigh.  Pretty fucked up, huh?

Over the next couple of books, Raleigh starts growing up again.  Jackie was kicked out by Raleigh's parents and so she and the baby are living at Mrs. Vantu's house.  Having a baby around--and a puppy and two teenage girls--really cramps Mrs. Vantu's style, especially since she can't smoke inside.

So there you go, the framing device has become a world of its own!  There's another story I've thought of but haven't really gotten around to writing.  The idea would be in the last days of Elvis, Mrs. Vantu sneaks him out of Graceland by turning him into a woman.  Ultimately the King is reborn as a baby girl similar to how Raleigh was reborn.  Part of the reason I haven't tried writing it is I can't really think of a good title.  24 Hours With Elvis?  24 Hours From Graceland?

Anyway, all of the books in the series haven't been released yet so I guess this counts as spoilers.  Not that anyone here will read those.

So, have you ever used a framing device?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Happy Fourth of July!  And belated Canada Day.


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