Friday, June 28, 2013

Progress Report

I have three creative projects currently in process. The first is this blog; I aim to communicate with the outside world from this mysterious location between my ears, with a goal of sending a message daily at least weekdays.

Then there's the continuing adventures of Myke Phoenix, stalwart protector of Astor City. Conceived nearly a quarter-century ago, Myke finally was revealed to the world in 2008. I began churning out new adventures early this year for Kindle, two new stories within three weeks. The next batch will probably come out in a flurry, too.

Finally, there's Uncle Warren's Attic, the podcast. Been 80 of 'em. I don't want to produce an 81st without plans for more beyond that. Working on that. No, really.

On the side there's the day job, and the animals, and the yard work. I can't use them as an excuse for any lack of visible progress because last summer, when we moved twice and built a house, I managed to write a novel (also available for Kindle, by the by).

A friend of mine left a simple motivating comment not too long ago during a dry spell: "Writers write." I call myself a writer. So I'm writing. By the way, if you call yourself a writer, you should be writing, too. Today and every day. It's easy to call yourself a writer. But what have you written?

Monday, June 17, 2013

U.W. at the Movies: Oz The Great and Powerful

If you’re going to do a movie called Oz The Great and Powerful, you’re inviting comparisons to “the” movie about Oz, which has stood up for 74 years. This movie compares well in many ways, but in the end I’d say it takes itself a tad too seriously.

It’s new on DVD, and having missed it on the big screen, I find James Franco is a better wizard than I’d been led to believe in the various reviews I’ve encountered. He doesn’t have the flamboyance of Frank Morgan or the over-the-top showmanship of W.C. Fields, for whom the original movie character was written. What he does present is a scoundrel who somewhat regrets he’s a scoundrel and wishes to do better, and at that Franco does a nice job.

Oz The Great and Powerful borrows some of the familiar tropes from “the” film, including starting out in black and white and converting to color when the story flows from Kansas into Oz – with the added treat of filling out the widescreen frame. That was nicely done, and done better than the film manages other links to the original.

As in “the” film, characters from Kansas find themselves in Oz but in different form. Here’s the girl he couldn’t help, here’s the good friend he doesn’t appreciate, and here’s the good woman in his life. But at the end of “the” movie, we’re presented a logical explanation of the similarities. Here those similarities are apparently little more than a remarkable coincidence.

Don’t get me wrong, as a fan of “the” movie – it’s on my short list of all-time favorites – I really enjoyed Oz The Great and Powerful, much more than Disney’s previous attempt to reboot the franchise, Return to Oz back in 1985. But I’m also one of the precious few who kind of liked Return to Oz (which actually did a better job of integrating the “real” L. Frank Baum story into the film, or at least the immortal W.W. Denslow and John R. Neill imagery, than even “the” Oz movie).

It’s all effective fantasy and a smashing good story. It just doesn’t have the whimsy of “the” film. They just don’t seem to be having as much fun as the group seemed to be having back in 1939. Here, when Oz meets the munchkins, there’s much ado and the little people begin to dance and cheer and sing. The reluctant wizard makes them stop and chill. It’s a cute scene, but it exemplifies the difference: This Land of Oz needs a little more warmth, a little more whimsy, a little more joy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

U.W. at the Movies: The 25 seconds that I enjoyed in 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

I'd rather not dwell on one of the longest 170-minute stretches of my life and the likelihood that I will not hurry to watch the second and third segments of "The Hobbit" motion picture experience. I guess I just wasn't prepared to see what I remember as a charming and enchanting novel converted into an action film packed with computer-generated images of slashing, slicing and dicing, one after another after another.

But in one of the quiet scenes I found one 25-second statement that was worth hearing and repeating. When Gandalf the wizard is asked why hobbit Bilbo Baggins is along for the ride, he replies, at first, "I don't know," but adds:

Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I've found. I've found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay – simple acts of kindness and love.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

W.B. at the movies: Star Trek Into Darkness

The first Star Trek movie in the new series established that the early death of James T. Kirk’s father (who in Shatner-Trek lived to see his son become a Starfleet officer) sent the proverbial time-space continuum off in a different direction – essentially restarting the story with Kirk in need of a father figure and Spock’s eternal struggle between Vulcan logic and human emotion complicated by his rage over a madman destroying his home planet and killing his mother along the way.

The second Star Trek movie further explores the possibilities of this alternate universe, replaying familiar scenes with roles reversed (or not) from the first go-round. For someone fortunate enough to have been sitting in front of a television set the night of Sept. 8, 1966, when “Man Trap” launched this 47-year mission to seek out strange new life, there are plenty of fun little nods to what went before as the new crew makes its own way.

Infuriatingly (although I am NOT a Trek geek) I found myself struggling to accept the very first sequence of events, which finds the starship Enterprise parked in a place where starships were just not designed to park. It says right here on Page 171 of my treasured first printing of The Making of Star Trek that I bought for 95 cents in 1968: “The Enterprise is not designed to enter the atmosphere of a planet and never lands on a planet surface.” When you learn how much care went into the design of these mythical space vessels, it’s kind of dumb to violate the principles behind that design. (I am NOT a Trek geek!) But once that opening sequence was over (with a hint we may revisit this planet someday), we were in for a satisfying ride.

Having encountered the “spoiler” behind the actual identity of the mysterious villain named John Harrison (I put “spoiler” in quotes because rumors this villain would appear in the second movie began flying shortly after the end of the closing credits of Pine-Trek I), I was able to watch for and enjoy the various similarities and divergences from the original Trek canon.

The torch has been passed to a new generation: The actors have done a wonderful job of inhabiting iconic characters while making their own identifiable contribution to the legend. The filmmakers have accomplished something the old crew was not able to do – created two consecutive very good Star Trek movies.

I did not walk out of Star Trek (2009) or Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) with the same OMG-that-was-great feeling that I had when I walked out of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but I do find myself hoping it won’t be another four years before we revisit this story. And now that we’ve really established the new cast and laid down how the new Trek is different from the old, I hope next time they really do go where no one has gone before.