Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Video Essay: Building a Beautiful Future

A big piece of my novel's catalyst was to upend mystery genre expectations, but I'm hardly the only one to do such a thing. Subverting genres has been something storytellers have been playing with for almost as long as genres existed (hell, the sublime superhero parody Mystery Men came out about eight years before the launch of the MCU). So I'm going to keep it short and sweet this week with an excellent example of subverting genre expectations.

I'm talking,of course, about Her.

Yeah, that's that movie about the guy who falls in love with his computer. Two things if you haven't see Her: 1) that log line is not an exaggeration and 2) that shouldn't prevent you from checking out this lovely film. There aren't any spoilers for Her in the video below, so no worries there.

Instead of discussing plot, this video essay by the fantastic kaptain kristian takes a look at one of the ways Her upends expectations: by presenting a version of the future devoid of dystopias, apocalypses, mutants, zombies, or cyberpunk aesthetic. It's the type of thing I didn't really catch when I saw the film, but having it pointed out in this video... yeah, this is thoughtful, brilliant stuff.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Write On: Ready, Set, Go, Face Plant!

Seems like a long time since I’ve given an update, eh? Yeah, funny thing happened…

I was just about ready. I’d compiled my list of prospective agents, and then re-sorted it once I figured out exactly how to categorize my writing. I’d sketched out a query letter (which I’ll talk about some time soon, just can’t even right now). I was just about ready… but not quite.

A bit more research! I told myself. I didn’t want to just be ready – I wanted to be ready. So I started googling the agents at the top of my list. Turns out one of the agencies had a blog. Okay, great. I start reading… and here’s an interesting series: nine posts on story openings to avoid.

I read the first post, and then spend the next 15 minutes kicking furniture and cursing up a storm because of course that’s exactly how I opened my story. 

The agent is absolutely correct: While I poured my heart and soul into creating a striking, brooding image of a lonely young lady reaching the top of a hill as the sun set on an icy winter day, nothing is actually happening – and that’s the problem. All that ruminating is great for conveying exposition, but it also means I wasn’t starting at the true start of the story. It’s the literary equivalent of a movie that opens with endless voice over or text scroll. Boooooring!

So I had to throw on the brakes and reconsider my opening. It took some time, but I found the starting point I needed. In case you’re wondering, it looks a bit like this:

I guess it could have been worse: I could have opened with #8.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Bad Movie of the Month: Reefer Madness

I may not be devoting all of my time and effort to covering bad movies these days, but that doesn’t mean I stopped loving them. So once a month, I’ll spread a little bit of that love…

Is summer over already? Yes it is. Time for all the kiddies to head back to school with bright, clean sneakers and a wheelbarrow full of new school supplies, and time for me to get back to... doing the stuff I always do, I guess. 

The whole back-to-schoolness got me thinking I should take our Bad Movie of the Month back to school. Bad Movies 101 is now in session, and today's lesson will be all about the great-granddaddy of bad movies. There are older cult films, but as best as I know, this is the first so-bad-it's-good movie experience. I'm talking, of course, about...

Contrary to popular belief, propaganda films aren't limited to World War II. Even back in the '30s, propaganda films were commonly used in another kind of war – the War on Drugs. Yes, long before Nancy Reagan made a Very Special Appearance on Diff'rent Strokes to “Just Say No,” there was a War on Drugs... specifically on the "unspeakable scourge" of marijuana. Reefer Madness, originally titled Tell Your Children, fights that war. One ham-fisted scene after another. 

The ham-fistery starts right out of the gate with this scrolling text: "The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly increasing numbers. Marihuana is that drug – a violent narcotic – an unspeakable scourge – The Real Public Enemy Number One!

It goes on like that for three whole minutes, even going so far as to describe the effects of smoking up. And while I'm not well-versed in the ganja, it's pretty apparent that the makers of this film have never, ever been anywhere near marijuana. 

After those three minutes of reading, we get… more reading! Newspaper headlines tell us all about the evils of dope, and that we should all "Come! Hear! Listen!" to the esteemed Dr. Alfred Carroll talk about "Tell Your Children." Which doesn't make a lick of sense to me, but people come out in droves just the same. After outlining exactly how one can grow, process, roll and even hide pot – just what you want in an anti-drug film – Dr. Carroll tells a tale that happened in this very town. 

Mae and her beau (and pimp?) Jack are drug dealers who host parties for potential/current clients. We very quickly see the effects of “the dread marihuana” when a piano player sneaks off for a joint and starts tweaking and twitching like Seinfeld’s Kramer on too much Mountain Dew. Jack’s new marks include Jimmy, his sister Mary and her boyfriend, Bill.  They seem like good, wholesome all-American teens, the kinds who enjoy tennis, hot chocolate and Romeo & Juliet, though by "teens," I mean "actors well into their '30s." Good to know that's not limited to '90s television.  

One of the "teens" of Reefer Madness, in mid-madness.
When Bill first joins Jimmy at Mae's place, he clearly does not approve of all the decidedly not family-friendly partying but crumples like a paper cup under the slightest bit of peer pressure. Unfortunately for Bill, “the dread Marihuana” is even more addictive than Angry Birds, and seemingly overnight, Bill is cheating on Mary, screwing up in school and acting like Bobby Knight. 

Meanwhile, Jimmy gives Jake a lift to his supplier, and smokes up a bunch while waiting in the car. Naturally, that makes him crazy!  Jimmy drives like a mad man and runs down an elderly gent trying to cross the road, which is more the actions of a street punk from a Troma film than a pothead. What were they lacing their weed with back in the ‘30s?

Mary goes to Mae’s to find out what the Sam Hill is going on with her brother and Bill, and gets assaulted by Jack’s creepy buddy, Ralph. Bill hallucinates that Mary is hooking up with Ralph, and goes on one of those crazed pot-fueled berserker frenzies you always read about. Jack steps in, a gun is pulled, and suddenly it’s the inspiration of Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.”

Yes, Reefer Madness aims for Hamlet-level tragedy: an innocent life is lost, another hangs in the balance. “Let’s make an example of this kid!” shouts the jury foreman, because suddenly this film takes place in Texas. There’s even a character who ends up pleading guilty to “fostering moral delinquency” (though I can’t imagine how much jail time that would land someone) before committing suicide. Yet another character is sent to a mental institution for life due to his “reefer madness.”

So instead of Hamlet-level tragedy, with its cheesy performances and bizarro depictions of marijuana use, the film is about as sad as a scantly-clad Will Ferrell running wildly in public. It’s no mystery why it’s such a popular midnight movie or why NORML latched on to it in the ‘70s for circulation around college campuses: This movie is pure, un-cut camp.

A true original! Congratulations, Reefer Madness: You are the Bad Movie of the Month.

First Post: The Story So Far

Hallo. I’m Scot Nolan, though you might know me from reviewing and discussing bad movies over the past ten years as “Nolahn.” But this ...