Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!

From a film about the last time we had an end of the world event based on the date...



Hope you land an assignment or sell a script before December 21st!

- Bill

Why I Hate The Post Office

I am standing in line with several USPS boxes filled with stuff, addressed, customs forms filled out, money ready for payment - completely prepared. The three people in front of me are completely unprepared - one just has the item to be mailed, no address label, no nothing. Another has not filled out their address label and has a used box with a bunch of writing on it including two addresses that must be marked out, one has not filled out customs forms. After waiting for the people in front of these three (who may have been unprepared, but I was too far away to know) and waiting for these three unprepared people who could have easily done what I had done and doing all of the crap out *before* getting in line, it is my turn.

My first items - no problem. Then I get to a USPS box and the postal worker tells me that I need a different customs form. Different than the ones that worked fine with the other boxes. "Why?" "The size of the box requires the over 4lb customs form." "But the box weights exactly 3 pounds. I have the under 4lb customs form - and at 3lbs, that is correct, right?" "No. You must have the over 4lb customs form for this." "But it is *under* 4lbs - wouldn't that be the wrong form?" "I will not mail this without the over 4lb customs form." "But it is *not* over 4lbs! Have I filled out the correct customs form for under 4lbs?" "Yes." "What is the weight of my parcel?" "3 pounds." "So this is the correct customs form, right?" "No. I will not mail your pacvkage unless you have filled out the over 4lb form." "This makes no sense to me." "Next customer please."

So I call the USPS, and after a long time on hold I get a human, who begins by telling me that I am correct. That the rules say I have filled out the correct form. I think this is solved... but it is not. Because after going over this several times the person on the phone says that there *is* a glitch in the system - and the computer will not accept the under 4lb customs form on this size box. I ask if I would be breaking the law by using the wrong customs form, and get put on hold for a long time again. Then I get transferred to International Mail where they tell me I need to use the under 4lb form if my package weighs less than 4lbs, and *not* to use the over 4lb form. This is international stuff, and you can not break these laws! I mention that the person that transferred me told me that the USPS box requireds that I used the over 4lb form no matter what the weight. They tell me that is wrong. They put me on hold while they consult some international dude - maybe a lawyer - and then come back to tell me that I am using the correct form, but it seems the PO computers have a glitch and will not accept this form, and she tells me the easy way to do this is just break the law and use the incorrect form - though she can not tell me to do that or advise me to do that. I ask, who does the prison time if I get caught? She says - not the post office. I ask if there is a legal way for me to mail this package. She says "No." WTF???? I say I do not want to break the law - especially if it is the post office that is wrong, here. She gives me a phone number to complain to a voice mail... and that's that!

So, already the post office hires slow moving people, allows unprepared customers to get service, and has a computer system that makes the employees go through a half dozen options when all I want to do is mail a danged package first class with none of the extra stuff they want to charge me for... but now they want me to break the law because their computer system is flawed?

This will only end when the US Postmaster General either does time (for forcing me to break the law) or calls me to apologize personally.

They are in debt because they are run by idiots.

Someday, a real rain will come...

See? I couldn't end the year with nice happy stuff about movies, I had to complain!

- Bill

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

These Films Are Treasures (2011)

Every year the Library Of Congress' National Film Preservation Board selects 25 films that are pivotal in the history of American Cinema to save and honor. These are 25 of the very best American Films. Every year I post the list, this year I'm also posting the NFPB's descriptions of the films as well - you may never have heard of some.

Allures (1961)



Called the master of "cosmic cinema," Jordan Belson excelled in creating abstract imagery with a spiritual dimension that featured dazzling displays of color, light, and ever-moving patterns and objects. Trained as a painter and profoundly influenced by the artist and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, Belson collaborated in the late 1950s with electronic music composer Henry Jacobs to create elaborate sound and light shows in the San Francisco Morrison Planetarium, an experience that informed his subsequent films. The film, Belson has stated, "was probably the space-iest film that had been done until then. It creates a feeling of moving into the void." Inspired by Eastern spiritual thought, "Allures" (which took a year and a half to make) is, Belson suggests, a "mathematically precise" work intended to express the process of becoming that the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin has named "cosmogenesis."

Bambi (1942)




One of Walt Disney’s timeless classics (and his own personal favorite), this animated coming-of-age tale of a wide-eyed fawn’s life in the forest has enchanted generations since its debut nearly 70 years ago. Filled with iconic characters and moments, the film features beautiful images that were the result of extensive nature studies by Disney’s animators. Its realistic characters capture human and animal qualities in the time-honored tradition of folklore and fable, which enhance the movie’s resonating, emotional power. Treasured as one of film’s most heart-rending stories of parental love, "Bambi" also has come to be recognized for its eloquent message of nature conservation.

The Big Heat (1953)




One of the great post-war noir films, "The Big Heat" stars Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Graham. Set in a fictional American town, "The Big Heat" tells the story of a tough cop (Ford) who takes on a local crime syndicate, exposing tensions within his own corrupt police department as well as insecurities and hypocrisies of domestic life in the 1950s. Filled with atmosphere, fascinating female characters, and a jolting—yet not gratuitous—degree of violence, "The Big Heat," through its subtly expressive technique and resistance to formulaic denouement, manages to be both stylized and brutally realistic, a signature of its director Fritz Lang.

A Computer Animated Hand (1972)


Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, renowned for its CGI (computer generated image) animated films, created a program for digitally animating a human hand in 1972 as a graduate student project, one of the earliest examples of 3D computer animation. The one-minute film displays the hand turning, opening and closing, pointing at the viewer, and flexing its fingers, ending with a shot that seemingly travels up inside the hand. In creating the film, which was incorporated into the 1976 film "Futureworld," Catmull worked out concepts that become the foundation for computer graphics that followed. Watch it here!

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)




Robert Drew was a pioneer of American cinema-verite (a style of documentary filmmaking that strives to record unfolding events non-intrusively). In 1963, he gathered together a stellar group of filmmakers, including D. A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock, Gregory Shuker, James Lipscomb, and Patricia Powell, to capture on film the dramatic unfolding of an ideological crisis, one that revealed political decision-making at the highest levels. The result, "Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment," focuses on Gov. George Wallace’s attempt to prevent two African-American students from enrolling in the University of Alabama—his infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door" confrontation—and the response of President John F. Kennedy. The filmmakers observe the crisis evolve by following a number of participants, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Gov. Wallace and the two students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. The film also shows deliberations between the president and his staff that led to a peaceful resolution, a decision by the president to deliver a major address on civil rights and a commitment by Wallace to continue his battle in subsequent national election campaigns. The film has proven to be a uniquely revealing complement to written histories of the period, providing viewers the rare opportunity to witness historical events from an insider’s perspective.

The Cry of the Children (1912)


Recognized as a key work that both reflected and contributed to the pre-World War I child labor reform movement, the two-reel silent melodrama "The Cry of the Children" takes its title and fatalistic, uncompromising tone of hopelessness from the 1842 poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. "The Cry of the Children" was part of a wave of "social problem" films released during the 1910s on such subjects as drugs and alcohol, white slavery, immigrants and women’s suffrage. Some were sensationalist attempts to exploit lurid topics, while others, like "The Cry of the Children," were realistic exposés that championed social reform and demanded change. Shot partially in a working textile factory, "The Cry of the Children" was recognized by an influential critic of the time as "The boldest, most timely and most effective appeal for the stamping out of the cruelest of all social abuses."

A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)




Largely forgotten today, actor John Bunny merits significant historical importance as the American film industry’s earliest comic superstar. A stage actor prior to the start of his film career, Bunny starred in over 150 Vitagraph Company productions from 1910 until his death in 1915. Many of his films (affectionately known as "Bunnygraphs") were gentle "domestic" comedies, in which he portrayed a henpecked husband alongside co-star Flora Finch. "A Cure for Pokeritis" exemplifies the genre, as Finch conspires with similarly displeased wives to break up their husbands’ weekly poker game. When Bunny died in 1915, a New York Times editorial noted that "Thousands who had never heard him speak…recognized him as the living symbol of wholesome merriment." The paper presciently commented on the importance of preserving motion pictures and sound recordings for future generations: "His loss will be felt all over the country, and the films, which preserve his humorous personality in action, may in time have a new value. It is a subject worthy of reflection, the value of a perfect record of a departed singer’s voice, of the photographic films perpetuating the drolleries of a comedian who developed such extraordinary capacity for acting before the camera."

El Mariachi (1992)




Directed, edited, co-produced, and written in two weeks by Robert Rodriguez for $7,000 while a film student at the University of Texas, "El Mariachi" proved a favorite on the film festival circuit. After Columbia Pictures picked it up for distribution, the film helped usher in the independent movie boom of the early 1990s. "El Mariachi" is an energetic, highly entertaining tale of an itinerant musician, portrayed by co-producer and Rodriguez crony Carlos Gallardo, who arrives at a Mexican border town during a drug war and is mistaken for a hit man who recently escaped from prison. The story, as film historian Charles Ramirez Berg has suggested, plays with expectations common to two popular exploitation genres—the narcotraficante film, a Mexican police genre, and the transnational warrior-action film, itself rooted in Hollywood Westerns. Rodriguez’s success derived from invigorating these genres with creative variants despite the constraints of a shoestring budget. Rodriguez has gone on to direct films for major studios, becoming, in Berg’s estimation, "arguably the most successful Latino director ever to work in Hollywood."

Faces (1968)




Writer-director John Cassavetes described "Faces," considered by many to be his first mature work, as "a barrage of attack on contemporary middle-class America." The film depicts a married couple, "safe in their suburban home, narrow in their thinking," he wrote, who experience a break up that "releases them from the conformity of their existence, forces them into a different context, when all barriers are down." An example of cinematic excess, "Faces" places its viewers inside intense lengthy scenes to allow them to discover within its relentless confrontations emotions and relations of power between men and women that rarely emerge in more conventionally structured films. In provoking remarkable performances by Lynn Carlin, John Marley and Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes has created a style of independent filmmaking that has inspired filmmakers around the world.

Fake Fruit Factory (1986)


An expressive, sympathetic look at the everyday lives of young Mexican women who create ornamental papier măché fruits and vegetables, "Fake Fruit Factory" exemplifies filmmaker Chick Strand’s unique style that deftly blends documentary, avant-garde and ethnographic techniques. After studying anthropology and ethnographic film at the University of California, Strand, who helped noted independent filmmaker Bruce Baillie create the independent film distribution cooperative Canyon Cinema, taught filmmaking for 24 years at Occidental College. She developed a collagist process to create her films, shooting footage of people she encountered over several decades of annual summer stays in Mexico and then editing together individual films. In "Fake Fruit Factory," Strand employs a moving camera at close range to create colorfully vivid images often verging on abstraction, while her soundtrack picks up snatches of conversation to evoke, in her words, "the spirit of the people." "I want to know," Strand wrote, "really what it is like to be a breathing, talking, moving, emotional, relating individual in the society."

Forrest Gump (1994)




As "Forrest Gump," Tom Hanks portrays an earnest, guileless "everyman" whose open-heartedness and sense of the unexpected unwittingly draws him into some of the most iconic events of the 1960s and 1970s. A smash hit, "Forrest Gump" has been honored for its technological innovations (the digital insertion of Gump seamlessly into vintage archival footage), its resonance within the culture that has elevated Gump (and what he represents in terms of American innocence) to the status of folk hero, and its attempt to engage both playfully and seriously with contentious aspects of the era’s traumatic history. The film received six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Growing Up Female (1971)


Among the first films to emerge from the women’s liberation movement, "Growing Up Female" is a documentary portrait of America on the brink of profound change in its attitudes toward women. Filmed in spring 1970 by Ohio college students Julia Reichert and Jim Klein, "Growing Up Female" focuses on six girls and women aged 4 to 34 and the home, school, work and advertising environments that have impacted their identities. Through open-ended interviews and lyrical documentation of their surroundings, the film strived, in Reichert’s words, to "give women a new lens through which to see their own lives." Widely distributed to libraries, universities, churches and youth groups, the film launched a cooperative of female filmmakers that bypassed traditional distribution mechanisms to get its message communicated.

Hester Street (1975)




Joan Micklin Silver’s first feature-length film, "Hester Street," was an adaption of preeminent Yiddish author Abraham Cahan’s 1896 well-received first novel "Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto." In the 1975 film, the writer-director brought to the screen a portrait of Eastern European Jewish life in America that historians have praised for its accuracy of detail and sensitivity to the challenges immigrants faced during their acculturation process. Shot in black-and-white and partly in Yiddish with English subtitles, the independent production, financed with money raised by the filmmaker’s husband, was shunned by Hollywood until it established a reputation at the Cannes Film Festival and in European markets. "Hester Street" focuses on stresses that occur when a "greenhorn" wife, played by Carol Kane (nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal), and her young son arrive in New York to join her Americanized husband. Silver, one of the first women directors of American features to emerge during the women’s liberation movement, shifted the story’s emphasis from the husband, as in the novel, to the wife. Historian Joyce Antler has written admiringly, "In indicating the hardships experienced by women and their resiliency, as well as the deep strains assimilation posed to masculinity, ‘Hester Street’ touches on a fundamental cultural challenge confronting immigrants."

I, an Actress (1977)


Underground filmmaker George Kuchar and his twin brother Mike began making 8mm films as 12-year-old kids in the Bronx, often on their family’s apartment rooftop. Before his death in 2011, George created over 200 outlandish low-budget films filled with absurdist melodrama, crazed dialogue and plots, and affection for Hollywood film conventions and genres. A professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, Kuchar documented his directing techniques in the hilarious "I, an Actress" as he encourages an acting student to embellish a melodramatic monologue with increasingly excessive gestures and emotions. Like most of Kuchar’s films, "I, an Actress" embodies a "camp" sensibility, defined by the cultural critic Susan Sontag as deriving from an aesthetics that valorizes not beauty but "love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration." Filmmaker John Waters has cited the Kuchars as "my first inspiration" and credited them with giving him "the self-confidence to believe in my own tawdry vision."

The Iron Horse (1924)




John Ford’s epic Western "The Iron Horse" established his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished directors. Intended by Fox studios to rival Paramount’s 1923 epic "The Covered Wagon," Ford’s film employed more than 5,000 extras, advertised authenticity in its attention to realistic detail, and provided him with the opportunity to create iconic visual images of the Old West, inspired by such master painters as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. A tale of national unity achieved after the Civil War through the construction of the transcontinental railroad, "The Iron Horse" celebrated the contributions of Irish, Italian and Chinese immigrants although the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country legally was severely restricted at the time of its production. A classic silent film, "The Iron Horse" introduced to American and world audiences a reverential, elegiac mythology that has influenced many subsequent Westerns.

The Kid (1921)




Charles Chaplin’s first full-length feature, the silent classic "The Kid," is an artful melding of touching drama, social commentary and inventive comedy. The tale of a foundling (Jackie Coogan, soon to be a major child star) taken in by the Little Tramp, "The Kid" represents a high point in Chaplin’s evolving cinematic style, proving he could sustain his artistry beyond the length of his usual short subjects and could deftly elicit a variety of emotions from his audiences by skillfully blending slapstick and pathos.

The Lost Weekend (1945)




A landmark social-problem film, "The Lost Weekend" provided audiences of 1945 with an uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism. Directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by Wilder and Charles Brackett, the film melded an expressionistic film-noir style with documentary realism to immerse viewers in the harrowing experiences of an aspiring New York writer willing to do almost anything for a drink. Despite opposition from his studio, the Hays Office and the liquor industry, Wilder created a film ranked as one of the best of the decade that won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Direction, Screenplay and Actor (Ray Milland), and established him as one of America’s leading filmmakers.

The Negro Soldier (1944)




Produced by Frank Capra’s renowned World War II U.S. Army filming unit, "The Negro Soldier" showcased the contributions of blacks to American society and their heroism in the nation’s wars, portraying them in a dignified, realistic, and far less stereotypical manner than they had been depicted in previous Hollywood films. Considered by film historian Thomas Cripps as "a watershed in the use of film to promote racial tolerance," "The Negro Soldier" was produced in reaction to instances of discrimination against African-Americans stationed in the South. Written by Carlton Moss, a young black writer for radio and the Federal Theatre Project, directed by Stuart Heisler, and scored by Dmitri Tiomkin, the film highlights the role of the church in the black community and charts the progress of a black soldier through basic training and officer’s candidate school before he enters into combat. It became mandatory viewing for all soldiers in American replacement centers from spring 1944 until the war’s end.

Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-1940s)


Fayard and Harold Nicholas, renowned for their innovative and exuberant dance routines, began in vaudeville in the late 1920s before headlining at the Cotton Club in Harlem, starring on Broadway and performing in Hollywood films. Fred Astaire is reported to have called their dance sequence in "Stormy Weather" (1943) the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen. Their home movies capture a golden age of show business—with extraordinary footage of Broadway, Harlem and Hollywood—and also document the middle-class African-American life of that era, images made rare by the considerable cost of home-movie equipment during the Great Depression. Highlights include the only footage shot inside the Cotton Club, the only footage of famous Broadway shows like "Babes in Arms," home movies of an all African-American regiment during World War II, films of street life in Harlem in the 1930s, and the family’s cross-country tour in 1934.

Norma Rae (1979)




Highlighted by Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance, "Norma Rae" is the tale of an unlikely activist. A poorly-educated single mother, Norma Rae Webster works at a Southern textile mill where her attempt to improve working conditions through unionization, though undermined by her factory bosses, ultimately succeeds after her courageous stand on the factory floor wins the support of her co-workers. The film is less a polemical pro-union statement than a treatise about maturation, personal willpower, fairness and the empowerment of women. Directed by Martin Ritt, "Norma Rae" was based on the real-life efforts of Crystal Lee Sutton to unionize the J. P. Stevens Mills in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., which finally agreed to allow union representation one year after the film’s release.

Porgy and Bess (1959)




Composer George Gershwin considered his masterpiece "Porgy and Bess" to be a "folk opera." Gershwin’s score reflected traditional songs he encountered in visits to Charleston, S.C., and in Gullah revival meetings he attended on nearby James Island. Controversy has stalked the production history of the opera that Gershwin created with DuBose Heyward, who had written the original novel and play (with his wife Dorothy) and penned lyrics with Gershwin’s brother Ira. The lavish film version was produced in the late 1950s as the civil rights movement gained momentum and a number of African-American actors turned down roles they considered demeaning. Harry Belafonte, who refused the part of Porgy, explained, "in this period of our social development, I doubt that it is healthy to expose certain images of the Negro. In a period of calm, perhaps this picture could be viewed historically." Dissension also resulted when producer Samuel Goldwyn dismissed Rouben Mamoulian, who had directed the play and musical on Broadway, and replaced him with Otto Preminger. Produced in Todd-AO, a state-of-the-art widescreen and stereophonic sound recording process, with an all-star cast that included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll, "Porgy and Bess," now considered an "overlooked masterpiece" by one contemporary scholar, rarely has been screened in the ensuing years.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)



Jodie Foster, Sir Anthony Hopkins and director Jonathan Demme won accolades for this chilling thriller based upon a book by Thomas Harris. Foster plays rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling who must tap into the disturbed mind of imprisoned cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter in order to aid her search for a murderer and torturer still at large. A film whose violence is as much psychological as graphic, "Silence of the Lambs"—winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay—has been celebrated for its superb lead performances, its blending of crime and horror genres, and its taut direction that brought to the screen one of film’s greatest villains and some of its most memorable imagery.

Stand and Deliver (1988)



Based on a true story, "Stand and Deliver" stars Edward James Olmos in an Oscar-nominated performance as crusading educator Jaime Escalante. A math teacher in East Los Angeles, Ca., Escalante inspired his underprivileged students to undertake an intensive program in calculus, achieve high test scores, and improve their sense of self-worth. Co-produced by Olmos and directed by Cuban-born Ramón Menéndez, "Stand and Deliver" became one of the most popular of a new wave of narrative feature films produced in the 1980s by Latino filmmakers. The film celebrates in a direct, approachable, and impactful way, values of self-betterment through hard work and power through knowledge.

Twentieth Century (1934)




A satire on the theatrical milieu and its oversized egos, "Twentieth Century" marked the first of director Howard Hawks’ frenetic comedies that had leading actors of the day "make damn fools of themselves." In Hawks’ words, the genre became affectionately known as "screwball comedy." Hawks had writers Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, who penned the original play, craft dialogue scenes in which lines overlapped as in ordinary conversations, but still remained understandable, a style he continued in later films. This sophisticated farce about the tempestuous romance of an egocentric impresario and the star he creates did not fare well on its release, but has come to be recognized as one of the era’s finest film comedies, one that gave John Barrymore his last great film role and Carole Lombard her first.

War of the Worlds (1953)




Released at the height of cold-war hysteria, producer George Pal’s lavishly-designed take on H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel of alien invasion was provocatively transplanted from Victorian England to a mid-20th-century Southern California small town in this 1953 film version. Capitalizing on the apocalyptic paranoia of the atomic age, Barré Lyndon’s screenplay wryly replaces Wells’ original commentary on the British class system with religious metaphor. Directed by Byron Haskin, formerly a special effects cameraman, the critically and commercially successful film chronicles an apparent meteor crash discovered by a local scientist (Gene Barry) that turns out to be a Martian spacecraft. Gordon Jennings, who died shortly before the film’s release, avoided stereotypical flying saucer-style creations in his Academy Award-winning special effects described by reviewers as soul-chilling, hackle-raising and not for the faint of heart.

***

This will probably be the last Blog Post for 2011. I was going to post some links tomorrow, but decided I'll save them until next week... since many people are away for the holidays. I would like to thank all of you who visit the blog - listen to my bitches about the biz, read my rants, and laugh with me about this strange business.

Next year we will finish up the Hitchcock films, I hope to make Scene Of The Week a regular feature, and may get to the background of all of my films (promised 5 years ago when I began the blog!). Plus - more general bitching about the biz and some looks at some of my favorite films.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Your *Second* High Concept!
Dinner: Sweet & Sour Pork at 3 Brothers.
Pages: Not going to get anywhere near finishing this new spec before the end of the year.
Bicycle: No.
Movies: MI:4, SH2, GWTDTre, HUGO...



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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lancelot Link: Happy Holidays Everyone!

Lancelot Link Thursday! He's been making a list and checking it twice - gonna find out who is naughty and who is nice... Also making a list of links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Goat Protocol?

Big Stars - Bigger Flops!

10 Worst Santa Movies!

For Your Consideration...

And this week's chase...



HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL OF YOU! THANK YOU FOR VISITING THE BLOG!

- Bill

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book Report: Circle Of Enemies

Because it's the holidays and I'm working on a script, I'm rerunning this... it *does* make a great holiday gift!

CIRCLE OF ENEMIES by Harry Connolly.

Though I just finished reading a new short story collection by Lawrence Block, I’ll get to that next Tuesday... because I still haven’t reported on my friend Harry’s latest book CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, which I finished reading a week ago. Took me long enough! But I did a quick rewrite on a script and read some other friend’s scripts and have been working on the Action Book rewrite. I’ve been busy!

“I’m Raymond Lilly, and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve killed.”




This is the third book in the 20 Palaces series - and the best so far. The first book, CHILD OF FIRE, opens with car thief Raymond Lilly getting out of jail... Ray was waiting for trial, had a crappy public defender, was guilty as hell and figured he was going to do time. By when he went to trial, his public defender was gone and a high priced uber-slick lawyer was in his place, and the lawyer makes him a deal: If Ray never tells anyone what he saw, the lawyer will work his magic and Ray will walk. Oh, and Ray has to take a job with the organization so that they can keep tabs on him. Ray agrees, and moments later he is walking out of the courtroom a free man. Sounds like the Mafia, doesn’t it? But the twist is - the high priced lawyer works for the 20 Palace Society - a group of sorcerers. What Ray saw was some sort of magic thing... and his new job is the driver for Annalise - a sorceress assassin who tracks and kills anyone who uses magic who is not a member of the society. There’s maybe a good reason for doing this - using magic often opens the door to a dark world where predators live. If those predators escape, they can kill a bunch of people and possibly destroy the world. So only members of the Society are allowed to use magic... Annalise or one of the other assassins kills anyone else, and destroys the predators. Oh, Ray has another job other than driving her around - he’s her “wooden man” - her decoy, her bait. If there is a predator on the loose looking for a human to consume, Ray’s job is to lure it into Annalise’s trap. Um, his life expectancy isn’t very long. Kind of a miracle that he made it to book #3.




Book #3, CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, opens with Ray between assassin gigs working in landscaping in the Pacific Northwest. He comes home, takes a shower... and Melly, an ex-girlfriend (it’s more complicated than that - read the book for the relationship details), appears in his apartment. She’s from his past life as a car thief in Los Angeles... how did she know where he lives? How did she get in? While Ray is wondering all of this, Melly tells him that he killed her, and killed all of his other pals in Los Angeles. That their deaths are *his* fault... and then she just vanishes. A dream?

(Melly’s real name is Carmella - Harry does a great job of giving people realistic nicknames and even creating some confusion when different people have different nicknames for the same person.)

Ray grabs his stuff and drives to Los Angeles to look up his old car thief gang... and discovers that they have been cursed with magic - and have superpowers thanks to predators living inside them... eating them from the inside out. And now Ray is faced with an impossible choice: kill them or call Annalise to come in and kill them. These people are/were his friends! The other part of this is that Ray believes he is responsible for this... and so do some of this ex-pals. Ray tries his best to find some way to solve the problem without killing his old friends, and that requires him to figures out where the magic came from and then find the sorcerer who did this and see if it can be reversed... before his friends die one-by-one when the predators are finished with them.




The reason why I like this series is that it’s a weird combination of a Dash Hammett hard boiled detective novel and H.P. Lovecraft. Violent as hell. I don’t read stuff in this genre (Urban Fantasy) but I get the feeling from looking at some of the other stuff that pops up on Amazon when I search for his books looks more whimsical and “fun” and Harry is dark and violent and hard as nails. In Book #2 GAME OF CAGES Ray is forced to kill a whole bunch of people who have been possessed - and the end of that book is relentlessly violent. Though this book is probably less violent, it is more personal - and people you like die. No punches are pulled. I get the feeling the other popular Urban Fantasy novels are BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and this is THE WILD BUNCH. And, um, I like THE WILD BUNCH more than BUTCH CASSIDY (which may send me to Screenwriter Hell for admitting). These three books are serious stuff.

THE GOOD STUFF

Kindle version:



Since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who might want to read it, let me be vague about some of the stuff I liked about it - but still explain why I liked those things.

I really liked that this is Ray dealing with people from his past - that made this more than just an entertaining story. It deals with lost loves and ex-friends and guilt and remorse and every messy friendship situation you’ve ever had. I think that’s what earned this that great review in Publisher’s Weekly.

I think it’s a cool idea to give superpowers to low life small time criminals - because they don’t want to rule the world, they just want to make a few hundred more dollars. They are men (and women) of limited ambition and limited dreams - and they use these new powers in ways that totally fit who they are. Because it’s small time crime, it’s gritty and real and not some crazy Lex Luthor or James Bond villain plan.

The story takes place in Los Angeles, but is centered in the Studio City area where I live - and it’s kind of cool. Harry and I once had coffee in my neighborhood Starbucks in Studio City, and it’s kind of fun to try and figure out what real business gets a fake name for the book.

There’s a totally frightening suspense scene where Ray has to save a kid from being sucked into the world of predators that had me on the edge of my seat.

One of the great things is that Harry creates easy to understand “rules” for his magical elements, and because Ray is just a guy - Ray (narrator) often comes up with a description of these things that uses stuff we can relate to. “Drapes” is a good example.

Harry has *great* chapter ends, designed so that you can not put down the book. This makes it a great read, but also means you will be trapped reading the damned book and not get anything done. One chapter ends with Ray discovering a note threatening to murder a child... hard to just put the bookmark in and set the book down after that.

CHILD OF FIRE - Kindle version - 99 cents!



You’ll have to read the book to understand this - but the most frightening scene to me was when Ray is given some superpowers that have a side effect of maybe removing some of his soul and turning him into more monster than man. This scene works because you *care* about Ray and even though he works for an assassin and sometimes has to kill people himself - he doesn’t take any of that lightly. He does not like killing people - even if they have been possessed by predators within. He’s a thief but not a killer. And now that this has happened, I’m worried about him. Yeah, he’s fiction, but in the world of this series he seems very real.

There’s a great comparison of actual toughness and bravery when Ray works with an ex-soldier Talbot who is the “wooden man” for another sorceress-assassin. The ex-soldier is Mr. Macho and has a pile of guns (Ray doesn’t carry) and the way each reacts to the same situation tells us volumes about both of them. It’s a great way to show character - and expose how a reluctant man of action like Ray is the real hero. The same sort of comparison is used between Annalise and Csilla (Talbot’s boss) to show how Annalise - who seems to care little about collateral damage - really does have a heart. She may be a brutal killer, and she may kill people who get in her way... but she *tries* not to kill anyone who is not a target. Csilla? Um, if the whole human race got in her way, she’d just kill us all. And these are the *good guys*!




CIRCLE OF ENEMIES is just in time to expose the evil behind Google Plus “circles”... and is a fast, action packed read. Because it’s Ray dealing with the people from his past... and the “sins” of his past... the story ends up having strong emotions below the surface. Ray is a man who doesn’t let his emotions show - and he’s damned busy fighting people and *things* from the “Empty Spaces”, but the situations are filled with tough decisions and the regrets and guilt and messy relationships we all have in our pasts. Can Ray save his ex-friends... who are now his enemies?

Makes a great holiday gift for people who like twisted violent stuff!

- Bill

THE BOOK TRAILER:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lancelot Link: Goat Protocol

Lancelot Link Thursday! If you saw the trailer to the new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie and thought: A chimp could have easily climbed that building! Why did they call Ethan Hunt when they could have called Lancelot Link? Here is a list of links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Here are nine cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) The Black List! - Best As-Yet-To-Be-Made-But-Probably-In-Production-Already screenplays. Some are assignments, some based on novels, some by big gun screenwriters.

2) The Hit List (specs only) - this list is *only* for spec scripts - but again, many are sold or in pre-prod already. Still no list exists for script that did not sell but are freakin' great, and scripts by unrepped writers who have yet to be discovered that are freakin' great. Can someone get on that?

3) This is the time of year that studios post their screenplays that they hope will be nominated for Oscars, For Your Consideration.

4) SAG Awards SNUB Serkis!

5) Americans HATE Foreign Films!

6) Screenwriter's Round Table - from Thanksgiving time, I think I missed it.

7) How Ten Top Screenwriters Hone Their Craft - Hollywood Reporter Oscar Watch.

8) Biggest FLOPS of 2011!

9) Script Magazine sold to Writer's Digest - Yes, it's true. I'll keep you updated when I learn more.

And this week's Car Chase!



BOURNE SUPREMACY - I think I ran it before, sorry! But I'm not sure, so here it is... maybe again.

- Bill


bluebook

IT'S BACK!

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*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook! (coming soon)

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*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook! (coming soon)

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 155 pages!

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lancelot Link: Book Of Shadows

Lancelot Link Thursday! It's list and awards time! Though the Black List comes out *tomorrow*, we're getting a jump on the season with a list of our own - a list of links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Here are eight cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) British Independent Film Awards - the winners! Hey, and a shout out to the beautiful Johanna who produces the awards and runs them. She is just amazing! I've been to the BIFAs a few times, and Johanna is the reason I got the invitation.

2) BETTER than the Black List, it's the WISH LIST!

3) Best Horror Films of 2011! Congrats to my friend Keith who has *two* films on the list!

4) In Competition At Sundance - 2012!

5) WGA Awards Nominees.

6 Tis The Season For Tattoos!

7) That's Tom Cruise doing his on stunts in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL.

8a) Diablo Cody talks to Frank Darabont about NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3 at the New Beverly. (Thanks to Jeff!)

8b) Part 2 of the Darabont interview. The sequel!

Tomorrow I will post and tweet the link to the Black List as soon as it comes out. Meanwhile, here is this week's car chase!



NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN - Car and motorcycle!

- Bill



bluebook


NEW!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!


bluebook


NEW!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!


bluebook

NEW!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is almost *200* pages!
Only $2.99 - and no postage!
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