Friday Flix: The Conjuring

friday flix jae scribblesAnd we’re back with another edition of Friday Flix, but this week, things get scary—real scary. On my way into work last Friday I heard one of the local DJs talking about this new movie coming out called The Conjuring. I hadn’t heard about the movie prior to this occasion and when they were calling it the scariest movie they’d ever seen I was intrigued. The DJ also mentioned how this movie was fairly clean as far as scary movies go AKA not a gory slasher, which I hate.

I love a good scary movie, but usually what’s available are gory, blood fests and I say a big NO THANKS to those. I called up my bro, whom I knew would also love a good scary movie, and we headed out right after work to catch the last matinee. Besides, it’s always a little nicer if a movie really freaks you out that it’s still light outside when it’s over.

What is The Conjuring even about? From IMBD.com:

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.

IN ADDITION TO GOOD SCARES IS A GOOD STORY

Slasher films are usually terribly predictable and without the scares would probably make terrible movies in and of themselves (and let’s face it, some are even with the scares). The Conjuring does a great job of combining story with scare so you’re even more invested in the characters and even more concerned when the scary starts to hit the fan.

We start the movie with Ed and Lorraine and one of their previous cases that’s its own kind of creepy. The back of your writer mind will probably wonder what it has to do with anything. Don’t worry yourself, there was a point and it’s coming later in a terrifying way.

But what I liked about it, is it set the stage for our main protagonists. It gave them credibility and since they are talking to interested parties on a sort of lecture circuit it makes sense later that the family would be able to contact them for help. Those of you doing multi-protagonist stories, I would highly recommend this film as a study on how to incorporate both stories and make them matter.

The writers took great care in giving us plenty of scenes to get to know and like both the haunted family (the Perrons) and the Warrens. But in those scenes they laid the groundwork for later scares and kept the tension running high. One of my favorite laying-the-ground-work moments had to do with the children playing a game involving clapping, kind of like Marco Polo. When you view the movie, watch for how something innocuous can turn into something terrifying later on. It just worked so well!

EVERY CHARACTER HAS PERSONAL MOTIVATIONS

Do you know what a flat character is? Someone who has the depth of a piece of paper. When creating characters, if we want to make them believable, we have to give them a back story. That is not to say we dump back story on the pages, but that we know it whether or not we ever show it.

To put it in simpler terms, each character must have a life going on outside of the current story. What would they be doing if your story wasn’t happening?

The Warrens, they hint at in the beginning, have had something go wrong in their demon hunting days. And like good storytellers, the writers don’t let us know what that is until it’s absolutely critical.

We also get lots of little moments from the Perrons as to why they would choose to stay in that haunted farmhouse. They’re in dire financial straits, and even when living on the street sounds more appealing than living in that farmhouse, the writers give us another important reason why they can’t leave.

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this story unfold coming from the perspective of a story maker. I think you will, too.

IT’S JUST PLAIN FUN

Okay, aside from some good story telling, they just have a lot of fun with it and couch in a lot of good scares. The camera angles, the acting, and pacing all contribute to a good ride. There are lots of red herrings in the sense you think something will go one way—in fact you’re convinced—and it turns out completely different.

I loved how they used different objects to build suspense, like the music box you see in the previews. They even had a reference to Wait Until Dark, another good suspenseful movie I highly recommend.

the-conjuring-lili-taylor-matchGranted, it’s not the most brilliant movie you’ll ever see, but it comes as a breath of fresh air amidst an environment of remakes and reboots. Plus that it’s loosely based on a true story helps with the spook factor.

ONE THING THAT SETS IT APART

Often at the end of thriller or horror flix I’ve seen is that you leave thinking, Thank goodness they made it through that! -or- Thank goodness it’s over! And I’m not saying that won’t cross your mind, but at the end of this movie comes an interesting emotion to consider: hope.

Even though they went through a horrible deal, and we go right along with them, I felt a lot of positivity at the end. It seems the message of the movie was we are stronger than those things we have to face. And that uniting together as families can give us that strength.

I was surprised to walk away feeling in some parts uplifted, even though most of my reason in watching this film was for a good scare. That’s why I’ve been recommending it to nearly every person I see.

Granted, it is a VERY scary movie, and if you can’t handle it, you probably shouldn’t try. But if you appreciate a scary movie sans gore, crudeness, and much foul language, this is a flick for you.

But maybe try it at the matinee. 😉 Enjoy the trailer.

Have you seen The Conjuring? Did you love it? Do you want to see it? What do you like/hate about horror movies? What do you wish we would see more of? What do you think, are demon hauntings real or just freaked out people hallucinating?

Friday Flix: Man of Steel

friday flix jae scribblesIt’s that time of the week again. This week with Friday Flix we go super—at least Superman is in this one. Was I excited for a new Superman movie? Definitely yes! Did the movie live up to my expectations? Well, let’s just say Man of Steel was Man of Stilted. Disappointed? I was too.

I mean something produced by Christopher Nolan should be awesome, right? That’s what I thought, too. Let’s just say if you like spectacle more than you like story then this movie is for you.

The description from IMDB.com :

A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

Kind of sounds boring already, doesn’t it? So what is it about Man of Steel that was Man of Stunk? Let’s get started!

THE THING ABOUT BACKSTORY

Backstory is not a bad thing. If you have been in writing long enough you understand that while backstory is necessary you don’t want to clutter up the beginning of your story with a lot of flashbacks and info dumping. If you caught any of the previews, you know Man of Steel will do a little bit of backstory because it’s necessary to understand where Superman is coming from—especially those who don’t know much about the Supes.

However, the problem with backstories or flashback is that it slows the story down. You’ve got to know when to put it in and when it’s appropriate. If you just put it in there willy nilly you’ll bore your readers and your story won’t have much meaning.

The issue I had with the backstory in Man of Steel was that the writers spent hardly any time having us get to know Clark Kent in the present. We see a lot of scenes of him rescuing people, and an awful lot of brooding, but there weren’t very many of those getting-to-know-you moments except in flashbacks.

I guess the point they were trying to make the movie is that he was kind of a misfit/loner in the beginning, uncertain of himself. But it doesn’t work well for a movie if your main character is just breathing and not interacting because we can’t see what’s inside of his head on screen.  We didn’t really get to connect with Supes and so when supposedly important battles would happen, I found myself not caring because they hadn’t created any real meaning. The only affinity I had for Supes was young Supes. In fact, part of me wished we could just watch that part of the movie instead.

Oh wait, they’ve done that.

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Mini-Reviews: Museum of Thieves, Mockingbird, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

God bless my Kindle and the wonderful ability it has given me to read more books. Now that I’m working on firing my 5am coach—again—I should be able to get more reading done on the train commute (vs. the car because I’m late). But, I still have managed to squeeze in three books, and here they be.

MUSEUM OF THIEVES

I believe it was Kati over at Mystic Cooking that first brought this book to my attention. Aside from the totally awesome book cover, this is a great MG, semi-dystopian read by Lian Tanner. It brings up some interesting social ideas too, specifically how much freedom we as a society are willing to trade for perceived security.

The main character is Goldie, a girl who eagerly awaits being set free from always being chained to a guardian or her parents—literally. But when a bomb explodes, the city leaders rethink letting the children off the hook so early. Goldie can’t take the imprisonment anymore, however, and runs away. She encounters the Museum of Thieves—a sanctuary for people like her—and soon learns that the ‘safe’ world she came from is much more nefarious than she ever imagined.

If you love visual-writing that doesn’t go over the top, this is the book for you. At times you almost care more about the museum itself than the story because it’s so fascinating (but don’t worry, the story is still excellent). Characters are well written and arc wonderfully, and for me there never was a dull moment. This book is certainly worth a look to see how the author married description with story so they worked together to hook readers. Great read!

My grade for this book: A+

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Friday Flix: Fullmetal Alchemist – Brotherhood

friday flix jae scribblesIt’s been a long time, friends, but welcome to another edition of Friday Flix. This week we’re doing it anime style in the foreign fantasy lands of Amestris, something like the European industrial revolution as far as setting goes. For those unfamiliar to the anime scene, there are actually two series titled Fullmetal Alchemist the first premiering in 2003, the second in 2009.

Why two series? Well, the original only followed the manga (Japanese comic) story line for half of the series, then went off on its own tangent. Now, I should note I was a HUGE fan of the original series. And when I was in Japan, it was still quite popular. I found me one of these.

Fullmetal Alchemist charm

I own the original series on DVD and there are bits of the story I think they do better than the new series (of course, the contrary is also the same). But, that having been said, is the 2009 series worth watching? You bet your sweet bippy it is!

The description from Hulu.com:

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric hoped to resurrect their mother’s corpse when they attempted human transmutation, but their reckless defiance of alchemy’s Law of Equivalent Exchange resulted in no miraculous reunion. Their experimentation with forbidden science plunged the boys into a hellish nightmare; half of Ed’s limbs were torn from his body, and Al awoke to discover his young soul transferred to a suit of armor. There is but one way the Elrics can restore what was lost – find the fabled Philosopher’s Stone. In a land marred by war and persecution, where truth comes only with tragedy, they undertake their desperate search. Every step closer to the mythical Philosopher’s Stone brings the broken brothers deeper into the darkest shadows of reality. Sinful abominations, both unnatural and human, will try to keep the boys from their redemption – but the Elrics must forge ahead if despair is to be transmuted into peace.

There are English dubs available as well as Japanese language with English subs. I tend to do original language and since I once heard the original series’ voice for Edward and vomited, I decided Japanese it is.

WHY IT’S AWESOME

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (aka Philosopher’s Stone) briefly touched on this idea of alchemy, and FMA runs full blast with it. Much like Voldie wanted the stone to get his body back, so do the Elric bros. That’s the power of a Philosopher’s Stone. Although when the Elrics realize what it takes to get a Philosopher’s Stone, they’re faced with major moral dilemma. So think scientific wizardry at the turn of the century.

One of the main characters is an empty suit of armor. Try working with that characterization. Even better, the massive, intimidating suit of armor has a little boy’s voice. Alphonse Elric quickly became one of my favorite characters (although the Elric bros tie on favs).
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Seven deadly sins run amok throughout both stories. It’s interesting to see how each character plays out their sin, be it Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, etc. This is some serious creativity, taking old things and making them new. And above all, you come to love these Elric brothers as if they were your own siblings or kids. You want them to succeed no matter what, despite any flaws or difficulties that come their way. That’s some good storytelling!

2004 vs. 2009

So are they both worth watching? Purists will say skip the 2004, go straight for 2009. I say don’t count 2004 out. Even though they did their own thing with the story, the idea is still interesting. Plus it makes for an interesting study on how a story can go two separate ways depending on choices we make. What a perfect case study for us writers to see what worked better for each storyline.

I liked Barry the Chopper from 2004 better than 2009. The former was much more terrifying and left our boys in a lot more trouble. 2009’s BTC seemed too juvenile, reminiscent of Pokemon episodes. And that’s another complaint I have about the 2009 series. It seemed a lot more juvenile in the beginning. I felt like 2004’s was a bit more mature throughout, although 2009 does get crazy awesome in its ending. For those of you who are in the know, compare Rose’s story line between the two.

I liked Hohenheim from 2009 better than 2004. Good gracious, Hohenheim 2004 is almost completely useless to the story except that he’s the Elric bros dad. He’s shows up like he’s late for rehearsal and gives a half-baked performance before leaving the bros to do what they could have and would have done on their own in the first place. 2009 Hohenheim? He’s a bad a** mambo jambo who knows how to use alchemy like a boss. And did I mention he’s a big part of the reason the story is happening in the first place? You really dig Hohenheim 2009. 2004? Meh.

Something that bothers me about anime in general is going off on side character stories just as soon as the plot is getting good so they can drag it out. Ugh, I don’t care about the half animal dudes’ backstories and everyone’s brother and sister and cousin and so on. Maybe I’m remembering 2004 with rose-colored glasses, but good gracious is 2009 riddled with filler bits all over the place. Sometimes I wondered when the Fullmetal Alchemist of the show would be back on screen again. It got a bit Peter Jackson for me at times.

But all that being said, the ending of 2009 is beyond your wildest dreams and makes everything worth it. Well, minus a really long wrap up. Please, don’t do this in your novels. It kills the satisfaction.

Also, I just missed this video from the 2004 series, since it was my fav closer.

CONCLUSION

I really think it’s worthwhile watching, not only for the pure awesomeness of the story, but to compare different paths the story took and understand that our novels may do the same thing. I know with SHADE it started on a very different path than it’s on now—and that’s okay. Think parallel universes. Which one is better? Whichever one gets you to the strongest story.

Have you seen either of the FMA series? Do you agree or disagree? Any other series you would recommend?

Mini-Reviews: Paranormalcy, Everneath, If I Stay, The Wise Man’s Fear

Ever since I got my shiny Kindle, I’ve been reading books more regularly because of the convenience. For those with little time, I highly recommend some kind of e-reader. Even if your funds are severely limited, often you can check out many e-titles from your library.

Okay, let’s get down to the books. I have mostly positive things to say about all of these titles. Sometimes when I do book blitzes that isn’t the case. It’s always a relief to read a slew of good books.

PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White

I love a good title and the more I read Paranormalcy the more I realized how perfectly fitting this title was for the story. We start with a girl named Evie who’s somehow able to see paranormal creatures, no matter what disguise they don, be they vampires, werewolves, or whatever. She’s lived her whole life working for this secret agency, presumably an orphan and her only real friend, a mermaid. The thing Evie wants most of all? Just to live as a normal teenager.

Then she meets Lend, a teenage boy who’s anything but normal, except that he has the ‘normal’ teenage life she’s always dreamed of.

The story is told in first person via Evie’s POV. On the first pages we get an immediate sense of voice and I definitely felt like this was a teen’s head we were inside. White does a good job of balancing typical teenage girl mashed with ‘secret agent’ girl. There are plenty of twists to be found, the romance between Lend and Evie was both believable and sweet, and villains are well done. All in all a very enjoyable read.

Note: It’s definitely a ‘for teens’ kind of book and probably moreso for ‘teen girls’ but the pacing never slows down and you really want Evie to succeed.

My grade: A+

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