Friday, May 31, 2013

Now You See Me

Rated PG-13 / Runtime 1 hr 56 min / Crime, Thriller

Synopsis

The movie mostly follows FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and his pursuit of some street magicians who have somehow managed to rob a bank in France.  The group of magicians call themselves the Four Horseman. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is an illusionist, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist/hypnotist, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) seems to be a jack of all trades.  According to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), the group is going to strike 2 more times.  Rhodes is in a race against time to catch them in the act before they steal more money.  They aren't keeping any of the money, so why are they doing it?

Acting

As great as this cast seems, the main plot follows Mark Ruffalo.  He is a decent actor in a supporting role, but he doesn't quite have the charisma to pull off the lead.  Morgan Freeman is excellent as usual as a former magician who makes his money debunking and giving away the secrets to magic tricks.  Woody Harrelson has the most likable role, and really delivers here.  Jesse Eisenberg also does very well with his understated way of delivering witty lines.  Isla Fisher is underused, but she looks quite stunning as usual.  Franco is mostly a minor character, but he gets to participate in all of the main action and chase scenes.  

Story

The script is very well written.  The movie is perfectly paced.  There aren't any spots I can think of where the movie dragged.  There are several twists and turns in the story that will keep you interested.  The magic tricks are mostly done by CGI animation.  Many of which are easy enough to figure out with help given by Morgan Freeman's character.  My main complaints have to do with the underdeveloped love subplots.  There are also enough hints throughout that the major reveals in the movie are predictable.  However, it doesn't detract from the entertainment value as it would in most movies of this type.  


The Bottom Line

This is one of the most entertaining movies I have seen this year.  It's not a great movie though.  In some aspects they try to do too much, and in others they don't do enough.  The CGI animation also takes away from the magic tricks a little.  The hastily thrown in love story seems forced also.  The clever dialogue and twists in the plot more than make up for the shortcomings.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

Rated PG-13 / Runtime 2 hr 12 min / Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Synopsis

The crew of the Enterprise in this alternate reality are boldly going where no one has gone before..  again.  This time there is a terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch) that is threatening to take out Starfleet's leadership.  The terrorist is one of their own, and knows all of their secrets.  Kirk (Chris Pine) is tasked with stopping him.  The usual cast of characters are there to help.  I could really sum up this movie in one sentence.  I just don't want to give too much away.

Acting

Just like the first movie in this reboot series, everyone gets some face time.  Sometimes this is good, and other times it seems like they are trying too hard to keep everyone involved.  Zachary Quinto and John Cho are both excellent in their respective roles.  Of course, Spock has a much larger role and gives Quinto more of a chance to shine.  Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana are good in their own roles, but aren't given much to do in this iteration.  They do have their moments, but not nearly enough of them.  Chris Pine and Simon Pegg both still seem miscast in their roles.  Pine does a serviceable job, but you can't help but to compare him to Shatner.  Pegg is much too campy for his role.  Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job of looking menacing in his role as the terrorist.  One thing did irk me about his performance.  He seemed to be speaking as if no one could hear him, and we all had to read his lips to understand him.  

Story

This is a well written movie that has high ambitions.  There are a few mistakes that are repeated from the first Star Trek movie.  One is trying to keep everyone involved as a major or semi-major character.  It ends up looking forced in some cases.  They really could have taken one character in particular out of the movie, and I don't think anyone would have noticed.  They also have a few lines that were thrown in that make the actors look like they are saying, "Look at me! I'm playing (insert Star Trek character's name here)."  All they are missing is a thumbs up towards the camera.  There are fewer of those moments than in the first movie, but they are very noticeable.  Keith Urban seems to be the best at delivering these lines, but it looks painful anyway.  These are relatively minor gripes for an otherwise excellent film.  The story has a few twists and turns that keep it interesting.  The special effects are spectacular just as they were in the first movie.  The sparks from the volcano in 3-D are well worth the price. 

The Bottom Line

If you liked the first one then you should like this new Star Trek movie.  It is wildly entertaining with beautiful special effects.  There are also tons of one liners that had the audience breaking out in laughter.  At the showing I went to the audience applauded the movie several times.  This is a must see for anyone who enjoys science fiction or action movies.  J.J. Abrams has fine tuned the formula he used for the original reboot of this franchise, and improved on nearly every aspect.  This one ranks right up there with Wrath of Khan as one of the best Star Trek movies even if it doesn't quite knock Wrath off the top spot.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Outlining

If you are going to write anything of some length then I feel like this is a critical part of the process.  When I first started trying to write a novel back in college, and again just out of college, I would start off with lots of energy and ideas.  By the time I would get 20-25 pages in all of that energy would be gone.  So what does that have to do with outlining?  Outlining is what got me over the hump.

The key to doing just about anything successfully is to be prepared.  You have to have a plan.  Inspiration will hit you, and that's when you have that strong urge to write.  That is the best time to put together your outline.  Your outline will help you push forward when you are running out of ideas or not in the mood to really write anything.

So how do we get started?  Here's the steps I took to build my outline.

  1. Get your major plot points down on paper.  - Brainstorm all of your ideas, and write them all down as you think of them.  Don't worry if some of them don't seem that great.  You're not going to be able to make everything work, and some of these ideas will be discarded.  Write them down anyway, and save them.  You might be able to come back to them later, or use them in another story.
  2. Organize your ideas. - This is where you need to make some decisions on how you want to present your story.  Take all of your plot points, and put them in chronological order.  When do you want the main character to confess their love for his/her crush?  Before or after the big conflict?  This will serve as your timeline.  You will add/subtract/reorganize as needed throughout this process. 
  3. Make a scene. - Break down your ideas into scenes.  Pretend that your writing is going to be made into a movie.  Who knows?  Maybe one day it will be!  Write a short description for each scene.  Here you can plan out your entire story.  You have a basic timeline, and now you get a chance to flesh your ideas out on a small scale.
  4. Balance it out. - Some scenes will be longer than others, and I am all about symmetry.  I try to balance out my chapters to make them roughly the same length.  You can skip this step if you don't care about chapter length, but it will be kind of strange to have one chapter that is 2 paragraphs and the next 24 pages. Group shorter scenes with larger ones here to get an idea of how many chapters you will need to write.  You also get a good idea of how much more you need to write later.
  5. Expand and/or contract. - Does your story seem overly long or woefully short?  What can you do to fix that?  This is another chance to brainstorm some more minor plotlines, or trim some of the fat that you don't really need.  It's easier to do this now before you start writing than it is later when you have more time invested and thousands of words written.  With the current timeline planned out it's easy to see where any new ideas fit in.  
  6. Put it all together. - Number out the chapters you are set to write, or you can name them at this point.  Take the scene descriptions that you have grouped together, and put them under the appropriate chapter number or name.  You can use those scene descriptions as the synopsis for each chapter, or you can write a new one.  
And there you have it!  The outline should now have broken down the story to the point where each chapter is a manageable short story that you can easily write.  Keep in mind that the outline is just a guide.  You may find that you may want to switch things around.  Better yet you will come up with ideas while you are writing that you want to add.  Don't worry about following it exactly as written.  Plans change and evolve, so expect the same once you start writing.

I found some other resources and articles on outlining that I found interesting, but I must admit that I didn't read them until I started writing this post.

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/01/25/outlining-novel/ - This site gives a good description of what outlining is and why you should.

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ - This site describes the "snowflake method" which is pretty interesting.

http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php - This appears to be the most recommended outlining software.  I haven't tried it, but it looks useful.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ironman 3

Rated PG-13 / Runtime 2 hr 10 min / Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Synopsis

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is back again for the 3rd (or 4th counting the Avengers) time. He is haunted by the events of the Avengers movie, and is having trouble sleeping.  There is also a new threat in the form of a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).  Pepper Potts (Gweneth Paltrow) has an old acquaintance in Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who is also somehow involved with The Mandarin's attacks.  James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) plays sidekick once again to Tony as War Machine/Iron Patriot.

Acting

This ends up being the Robert Downey Jr. show through and through.  As charming as he can be, the other characters aren't given a chance to contribute much.  Not even the villains.  While Downey Jr. delivers the one liners and wittier dialogue with zest, the scenes where he is supposed to be having a panic attack are just plain awful.  I usually like Guy Pearce in most of his prior roles, and I thought he would fit right in after his recent role in Lockout.  He does about as well as he can for what he is given to work with. Still his character never quite reaches the same level as the villains in the previous two Ironman movies.  The other characters in the movie have little to no impact on the story.  Paltrow doesn't have much to do, and doesn't seem to have as much fight in her as in the prior two movies.  Cheadle gets more of a tag along role which is disappointing.  He even beefed up quite a bit.  I feel like they should pipe in "I'm Sexy and I Know It" as his theme music.  Kingsley did the best job of everyone playing The Mandarin.  Unfortunately it turns out that he is but a minor character in the tale.

Story

The script for this movie is not going to please fans of the comics.  I apologize in advance for any mild spoilers here.  The Mandarin is one of the main villains for Ironman in the comics.  In this movie he is relegated to be a less than minor character.  Also how does War Machine become Iron Patriot?  They are two separate people in the comics.  Even if you don't know the comics well, there are inconsistencies throughout the movie.  There is one scene where the bad guys just find Tony Stark.  He's in hiding, no contact with anyone, and he's declared dead.  Yet the bad guys find him in some remote town anyway.  I also have some issues with the ending.  A couple of scenes towards the end kind of make sense but not really.  Those kinds of things just irk me to no end.

The Bottom Line

This movie ranks right up there with Spiderman 3 and X-men United as being a huge disappointment.  This movie is better than either of those train wrecks, but it doesn't live up to the hype that the previous two iterations built up for this franchise.  Not to mention the amazing Avengers movie. It ends up being an average somewhat entertaining superhero movie.  I read a few reviews before I went to go see this movie, and quite a few of the reviewers were claiming that this was the best Ironman movie out of the series.  It seems like they wanted to like the movie so bad that it didn't matter how blatantly average it was, or they were smoking something.  I understand that being a fan of Ironman makes this a must see, but maybe wait until it's at Redbox for this one.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Currently Reading: Legend

Author: Marie Lu
Website: marielu.org

I'm not really sure what this one is about, but I heard some good things about it.  It looked like something I might enjoy, so we'll see!




The Shadow of Wrath

Author: L.W. Patricks

I just finished reading this tale that about a boy who is taken from the streets, and forced to fight for his life in an arena.  I noticed several errors in the text that distracted me at times throughout the story, and many of them are at or near the beginning.  Some scenes are beautifully crafted while others could have used another edit.  It is still an entertaining read if you can force yourself past the errors.  

Patricks crafts a dark world.  There is no escape.  If something bad can happen then it probably will.  The author tries to show you just how evil the villain is at every turn.  The setup makes it seem like the ending is predictable.  Patricks leads you in one direction for so long that you don't expect it when it goes in another.  If you enjoyed Gladiator or Spartacus then you may enjoy this as well.  In fact a few of the scenes feel like they are pulled straight from Gladiator.