Mel’s Movie Madness: March 2016 edition

Though I have seen more movies recently, I’m going to focus on four: Ant-Man, Deadpool, Sword of Destiny, and Pixels (believe it or not).

Ant-Man

I watched it recently on cable and enjoyed it. Marvel is doing a fairly consistent job of offering an entertaining movie experience, in my opinion, anyway. [Please note: I’ve also watched Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I wasn’t as thrilled with that movie and other reviewers have done a much better job than I can of pointing out its shortcomings.]

I liked the brief frame at the beginning of the movie with a young Dr. Hank Pym facing off against an aged Peggy Carter and Howard Stark, denying them, and the government, access to his technology.

I also appreciated the decision not to pursue this as Hank Pym’s story, per se. I think it makes for a much richer backstory in a more global sense.

Paul Rudd does a good job portraying Scott Lang, an engineer turned ethical thief burglar, who, upon his release from prison determines that he will not, for the sake of his family, continue to pursue his criminal ways. Sure, he was a geeky Robin Hood, stealing the ill gotten gains of corporate America and returning them to the victims customers from whom they were originally obtained, but his ex-wife, now dating a cop with a hate on for Lang, would never let him see his daughter again.

Re-enter Hank Pym, now retired and attempting to foil his former protégé from enacting a corporate takeover and selling Pym’s secret technology (which he has reverse engineered) to the highest bidder.

Pym needs someone expendable, not his daughter, Hope, who has remained in the family tech firm as a spy and who would like nothing more than to carry on her father’s legacy. In short, Pym needs Lang.

Pym’s been hiding more than the Ant-Man suit, though. Hope’s mother, A.K.A. Wasp, was lost in the quantum realm (not adequately portrayed, but we have no scientific context, so what the hey) during her last mission with Pym and was the main reason Pym decided the technology had to be hidden.

Lang is recruited in a so-convoluted-as-to-be-absurd sting operation and his determination to go straight crumples at the first real challenge, but overall, I found the movie entertaining and the denouement satisfying in a sappy way. The teaser in the credits was also satisfying and sets up the next instalment nicely.

Deadpool

I had to drag Phil out to see this one in the theatre. I knew from the trailers that it was going to be all kinds of irreverent, politically incorrect, and infantile humour. Right up our alley (lol).

From the opening freeze frame to the Ferris Beuller’s Day Off teaser in the credits (there was a second, plot-oriented one as well), we loved it. I know a lot of critics have stated their disappointment in the film, but I respectfully disagree. Let them say there’s no accounting for taste. I’m good with that.

Wade Wilson is a killer. He manages to function because of his startlingly off-colour and scatological sense of humour. Post Special Forces, he works as a mercenary, but we have a perfect “save the cat” moment when we get to see the nature of (at least one of) his current assignments. He protects children from bullies.

After he finds the love of his life, the clichéd hooker with a heart of gold (but really, isn’t it a perfect match?), karma catches up with Wade in the form of cancer. There is no cure. So, in desperation, he signs up for the experimental treatment of all experimental treatments, enforced genetic mutation.

Wade’s lucky (kind of). His genetic mutation expresses itself as immortality. He can, essentially, survive any physical injury, even dismemberment. His cancer is cured. The price? He now looks “like an avocado had sex with an older avocado . . . your face is haunting.” It’s really not that bad. Admittedly, he looks like he’s had first degree burns over 100% of his body, but it doesn’t make me want to vomit (c’mon, it’s Ryan Reynolds).

Then, the guy who transformed Wade and tried to kill him kidnaps Wade’s girl. The game is on.

Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are there mostly to highlight the contrast between the typical X-men we’ve met to this point and Deadpool. Actually, they may provide analogues for the two negative reactions audience members might have to Deadpool as well.

Deadpool exacts his revenge without remorse. He kills. Unapologetically. Even as Colossus tries to “show him a better way” and Negasonic Teenage Warhead reacts with a solid “meh” to everything he says and does, Deadpool bulldozes through his nemesis’s minions, has an epic throw down, and saves his girl.

Of course, he must then face said girl’s displeasure because he left her without a word months ago.

It’s all good in the end, though.

You just have to leave your maturity at the door and enjoy the movie. Seriously.

The Sword of Destiny

This is a Netflix original movie and a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Michelle Yeoh returns as Yu Shu Lien, the only survivor of the first movie. [This is the Chinese tradition. Most stories, except those for children, are tragedies. Please don’t hate a movie because of its genre or tradition.]

Li Mu Bai’s legendary sword, the Green Destiny, becomes the focus of a warlord who wants to possess its power in order to ensure his military domination of the region.

Yu Shu Lien once more becomes involved when she travels to honour the death of the man who has been entrusted with the sword’s protection. She is soon reunited with Meng Sizhao, also known as Silent Wolf, the man she was to marry prior to the events of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She thought he’d died fighting the warlord Hades Dai, but Silent Wolf only thought to offer her the choice to marry her true love, Li Mu Bai, and let everyone think he’d died.

There is another young, star-crossed couple, witches, vendettas, and a lot of fabulous martial arts battle scenes. The Sword of Destiny isn’t as epic in scope as the first movie, but it is a solid follow up.

Though it may be a spoiler, they eschew the traditional ending for one more suited to Western audiences.

Pixels

This movie surprised me. I hate Adam Sandler movies on principle, but this one was bearable. Colour me amazed. There were many cringe-worthy moments and a number of huge plot holes, the effects were cheesy (but that’s probably because they were all based on 80’s video arcade games), and the acting was over the top, but it actually has some storytelling chops. And I laughed my ass off. Peter Dinklage in a mullet—gah!

Crazy, eh?

Warning: This one is totally spoilery.

The movie begins with critical backstory. In 1982, Sam Brenner and Will Cooper attend the World Video Arcade Gaming Championships where Ludlow “The Wonder Kid” Lamansoff joins them and they dominate the competition until, in the final, Eddie Plant, the returning champion, defeats Brenner at Donkey Kong.

From this experience, Brenner learns that he is a loser, and it is the lie that defines his life.

Flash forward to adulthood and Brenner is a member of the Geek Squad while his buddy, Cooper, is President of the United States (yes, strains credulity, but bear with it. It’s actually one of the least absurd events in the movie).

After meeting up with his bud, the President, at a local media event, Brenner has to install a new gaming system. The boy, Matty, informs Brenner that he’s received the system not because it’s his birthday, but because his parents are getting a divorce.

Brenner bonds with Matty over gaming, and comforts Matty’s mother, Violet, by revealing his own sad story on infidelity and betrayal. They are both called away after an awkward personal moment and each accuses the other of following them all the way to the White House, where Violet, Lieutenant Colonel Van Patten, has been summoned to an emergency meeting, and Brenner has been called in for moral support.

A strange alien attack has taken place, pixelating a US Military Base in Guam. Brenner recognizes the form of the attack as one of his 80’s video games, but his insane suggestion is dismissed, and so is he.

Lamansoff, now a conspiracy theorist, has hidden away in Brenner’s Geek Squad van and reveals himself to Brenner. At Lamansoff’s basement lair, he reveals a video taped message from the alien enemy. They’ve used 80’s television to deliver their ultimatum.

After the World Video Arcade Gaming Championships, a time capsule of all the arcade games was sent off with one of the deep space probes. Aliens retrieved it, and interpreted it as a declaration of war. They have created light weapons based on all of the 80’s video games and Earth will have three lives, and three chances to beat the aliens. If Earth fails, it will be destroyed.

Brenner and Lamansoff take the tape to President Cooper, and while the military dismisses them again, the aliens attack and destroy the Taj Mahal with Araknoid. They only have one chance left and the President gets the military on board. Violet creates light canons to fight the aliens and Brenner and Lamansoff try to train Navy Seals to fight them.

When the aliens attack next, using Centipede, the Seals prove unable to master the patterns of the game and anticipate the attack. Brenner and Lamansoff must take over and use their expertise to defeat the enemy.

The next challenge is issued. Pac Man will attack New York. Eddie Plant, who is serving time for fraud, is sprung from prison and Toru Iwatani, the inventor of Pac Man, is recruited. Though the team, now called the Arkaders, defeat Pac Man, Toru is injured and Eddie ends up in the drink.

At the victory celebration, Matty discovers that Eddie had cheat codes etched into his aviator shades. Eddie confesses that he used the same trick to defeat Brenner in 1982. The aliens announce that the Arkaders violated the rules of the game and Earth is now forfeit. They abduct Matty.

The Arkaders are stripped of weapons and abandoned; the military will take things from here. Cooper absconds with four light canons, and joins Brenner, Lamansoff, Violet, and a contrite Eddie in an attempt to avert disaster.

The final confrontation pits Brenner against the alien leader in—you guessed it—Donkey Kong. Matty and two other captives stand in the place of the princess as the prize. Brenner struggles until Matty reveals Eddie’s cheating during the battle against Pac Man and back in 1982.

Brenner rallies, beats the game, and saves the world.

Like I said at the outset, this is a deeply flawed movie, but the storytelling works well enough to save it.

I won’t necessarily recommend it, but I had to mention it in this review because it demonstrates the power of solid storytelling.

Yeah. That’s kind of the way I felt O.o

See you on Tipsday.

Mel's Movie Madness

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Jan 31-Feb 6, 2016

I’m all about the Writerly Goodness.

Most common writing mistakes, part 48: No conflict between characters. K.M. Weiland. Helping writers become authors. Then, she helps us figure out which scenes to include in act one.

Using a scene template to craft perfect scenes. C.S. Lakin. Live, write, thrive. Later in the week, she continues her scene structure series with this post: Scene structure: Beginnings and magic ingredients.

Chuck Wendig gets a little punchy with his headline: The pros and cons of pro cons (for writers).

Emmie Mears guest posts on Terribleminds on the issue of impostor syndrome.

Donald Maass says dialogue should do more than fill the silence. Writer Unboxed.

Juliet Marillier shares her experience as an ‘older writer’ on Writer Unboxed.

Jo Eberhardt ofers up her lessons learned about crafting secondary characters that count. Writer Unboxed.

Tiffany Lawson Inman gust posts on Writers in the Storm about seven fight styles every author should know about.

Chris Winkle offers five signs that your novel is sexist. Mythcreants.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch addresses the issue of writer voice (or the lack, thereof) in her weekly business post.

Joanna Penn interviews Joseph Michael, The Scrivener Coach, for The Creative Penn Podcast.

Andrew Rhomberg shares some important statistics on Digital Book World. Start strong, or lose your readers.

Some hope for the long suffering submitter: Scott Edelman sells to Analog after 44 years of submitting.

A new literary movement: method authors. The Independent.

Mental Floss lists 11 words of the year from around the world.

The book most people lie about having read is not what you think it is. The Telegraph.

Last week was national storytelling week. Bustle lists 15 books that will help you start your storytelling career.

Craft your own origami book marks. Rocket News 24.

A new play, “Pig Girl,” takes on the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women. CBC.

Katy Waldman shares what she learned by joining Emma Watson’s feminist book club. Slate.

Can historical fiction be considered serious literature? Why are we even asking this question? New Republic.

See you Thursday!

Tipsday

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, May 3-9, 2015

Gots a bumper crop of Writerly Goodness this week!

Writerly news from the Sudz: Wordstock returns 🙂 The Sudbury Star.

Kristen Nelson shares four negotiating tactics of good agents.

Martin Hill Ortiz presents his analysis of 50 years of bestsellers. It explains a lot about how things have changed. Very interesting. In three parts, with more to come 🙂

Brenda Hiatt shares some interesting stats in her Traditional Publisher Survey. It’s from 2013, but it’s still interesting . . .

Roz Morris explains how to transition from academic writing, business writing, or journalism to fiction.

K.M. Weiland not only explains why unnecessary scenes are bad for your readers, but she also discusses the various types of unnecessary scenes and how to identify them so you can get ‘em outta your novel.

In Katie’s Wednesday vlog, she discusses how minor characters help make for a memorable protagonist.

Stuart Horowitz discusses how to plot without using a formula on Jane Friedman’s blog.

Therese Walsh posts part four of her multitasking series on Writer Unboxed: How to meditate when you’re too busy and why it matters – with Leo Babauta.

Donald Maass guides us through the process of using change to stir the higher emotions of our readers. Writer Unboxed.

In which Chuck Wendig critiques your story (that he hasn’t read). Read this amazing feat of digital prestidigitation and see if he doesn’t manage to do it (curse you, Wendig—you’re too brilliant for me).

Why being a debut author isn’t a dream come true (see the URL title for additional perspective: nipple deep in a mudpit of despair—oh joy). Buzzfeed.

Why your brain loves good storytelling. The Harvard Business Review.

Michael Hyatt discusses the power of persistence in his podcast.

16 modern poets you should read. Brit+Co.

The history of the ampersand:

And . . . the history of the interrobang‽

10 brilliant novels that have one fatal flaw. Charlie Jane Anders for i09.

May SF&F books that everyone will be talking about. i09.

Women in science fiction, a podcast from The New Yorker. Interestingly, I’m currently reading Pain, Porn, and Complicity, which explores some of the same issues. Interesting stuff.

Are our heroines too perfect? i09’s Observation Deck.

How Game of Thrones finally fixed its three weakest characters. Vanity Fair.

Holy cow! Where did all of that come from?

Come back for more curation on Thoughty Thursday where I will feed you interesting stuff to get your big squishy (brain) generating ideas 🙂

Tipsday

Storytelling in learning

Can you see why this might appeal to the Learning Mutt’s sensibilities?

Last week, I attended a great Webinar by Roger Courville of the 1080 group on incorporating stories into training.

 

 

His tips (in brief):

  • Keep it short and sweet;
  • Keep it relevant;
  • Keep it entertaining; and
  • Bring it back to your topic effectively.

In the past, I have also attended a Webinar by Nancy Duarte regarding her particular angle on storytelling.  Her focus is more on presentation, which, as Roger pointed out, has a different purpose to training.

She looked at the three act story/play structure and saw a “shape” that could apply to verbal discourse.  She analyzed Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs to see if her theory worked, and it did.  She offered critical insights to presentation, and you can look up her TEDxEast lecture on the topic here.

I’ve also attended a Webinar by Terrence Garguilo of makingstories.net.  His point: stories beget stories.  Tell an effective story, and your participants will begin to create stories of their own going forward.

Overall, storytelling in training is a powerful tool.  It’s one of the oldest social networking strategies in existence.

I would encourage you to look up, follow, and/or attend Webinars by these fine people.

How I have used story in training:

  • In design, I use a metaphor to ties things together.  It could be a knightly quest, or planning a road trip, but tying your material into a metaphorical frame work will help to keep everything on track.  This can (and should) extend to the visuals you use/create for the course.
  • In written materials, to link to external resources that are “nice to know,” or might set learners off on a learning tangent.  A lot of blog posts utilize this technique to connect the reader to useful information.  There have been times when I’ve spent upwards of an hour following links from a single post I’ve subscribed to, discovering and learning, connecting the dots.
  • In-class, I’ve used practical stories of my own or other’s experiences to engage participants.

Do you use stories in your training?  In what ways?  Are there opportunities in your training to adopt storytelling as a tool?