C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Downsizing: A dire warning for writers

I finally saw Downsizing, a (black?) (comedic?) sci-fi movie with Matt Damon on Netflix. Anyone who writes should see it. It’s a clinic in how a story can go terribly awry.

There are so many approaches to writing. I’m not usually so Judgy McJudgypants. Someone objected to my use of foreshadowing in one of my series, for instance. You know what? Hop on the bus, Gus. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover…um, I mean, there are lots of ways to write and they aren’t all for you. That said, Downsizing is really bad. 

(Warning: very mild spoilers follow.)

The movie is so bad it’s fascinating. It can’t decide what it is. Kristen Wiig is in it for a hot minute and you’ll soon miss her. I like Matt Damon in most any movie. Christoph Waltz is being Christoph Waltz, for God’s sake! That almost always works! The cinematography is pretty, the actors are able and the premise gets lots of points for originality. This is a watchable mess. However, you’ll soon understand why the film wasn’t a hit. The marketing couldn’t hit a target because the plot was so incoherent.

This movie falls down in the writing and directing departments. At first, the story fails because the plot takes too long to get going. The show starts 10 years before the action begins! They invent a science (and hey, look, I’m sympathetic. That’s hard. I just did that in my latest book.) Sadly, the plot has no destination once it’s finally on its way. This thing is all over the road. Is it a goofy marriage story? Sci-fi utopia? Sci-fi dystopia? Cli-fi? Apocalypse? A mid-life crisis? Is it about a person finally asserting their personhood and making some decisions, daring to be selfish…or unselfish? The director didn’t know, either. You’ll be left a little baffled.

(For a much better movie about a mid-life nebbish figuring out how to take control of his life, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with Ben Stiller. Or the original with Danny Kaye, for that matter.)

When we’re talking novels, it’s often a good idea to “come in late.” In other words, you plop the reader into the action. No info dumps. Get the story up and moving and sift the needed detail and character development amid the action as needed. This is not always so. A common trope in the zombie genre: They don’t show you how the apocalypse begins. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and BOOM! Zombies! Same with a movie I love, 28 Days Later. Swimming against that tide, I devoted the first book in the Plague of Days trilogy to the fall of civilization. It’s interesting to me to see how things come apart when societal norms and services break down. In AFTER Life, Inferno, my new zombie apocalypse, we start in media res and get right to the action.

Necessary ad: AFTER Life, Purgatory was just released. 

This post continues below.

AFTER LIFE COVER 2

In the end of Downsizing, the main character arrives at a decision. This is the confusing climax of the movie. You really don’t know what to root for. Did Matt Damon win or lose? You will not understand whether his decision is a brave choice or if he’s just being weak and caving again. (At least I wasn’t sure. They even make the mistake of undermining the global emergency. You won’t even be sure how serious the peril really is. What are the stakes? Who knows?)

Your parents can be a wonderful example or a serve as a terrible warning about what you don’t want to become. So it is with Downsizing. As a writer, you probably won’t like it but you could learn a lot from it. I did.


~ Robert Chazz Chute sometimes comes off as crotchety. He’s really Canada’s sweetheart. Sorry, eh? Check out his latest releases at AllThatChazz.com.

 

Filed under: Writers, writing, writing advice, , , , , , ,

San Andreas, The Rock, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and Bad Reviews

I cleared my calendar and, full of energy, I looked forward to an afternoon of writing. Then I accidentally ran across a negative review of one of my favorite books. Worse, it’s one of my favorites that I wrote. I didn’t agree with the review. In fact, this person might have been reviewing a different book because the reviewer made a point that…honestly, I have no idea what they’re talking about.

And so I started thinking about the futility of trying to please everyone and, yes, this is part of the business…it happens to all who dare… be mature…and blah-de-blah you’ve heard all that crap before. We aren’t supposed to have feelings. Certainly some reviewers write reviews as if we don’t. I’m still human so, I admit, I didn’t tough it out and set my jaw and type on bravely. My enthusiasm died. Instead of writing, I retreated to a darkened theater alone to watch a disaster movie because that seemed like the metaphor for my life.

From Wikipedia:

The Kübler-Ross model, or the five stages of grief, is a series of emotional stages experienced by survivors of an intimate’s death, wherein the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

And so…The Writer’s Five Stages of Grief after a Bad Review:

1. Denial.

“No! Can’t be! That book is really good! Maybe even great!”

2. Anger

“My book is fantastic, dammit! Whose house have I got to burn down to get some justice in this cock-eyed universe?”

3. Bargaining

Maybe if I talked to the reviewer… (instantly rejected as a terrible idea, but that bad idea always flashes by.)

4. Depression

“What’s the point? Maybe I could do something else to finally prove my worth to Dead Mom.” When I read that bad review (and reread it over and over) I thought I might write a blog post entitled, Writing in the Post-enjoyment Age, or something similarly grim.

And then…a light.

The movie started. San Andreas is a really cheesy movie that makes me want to see the original 1974 Earthquake starring George Kennedy, Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner. San Andreas is packed full of tropes and cliches and plot holes and a startling amount of product placement and a few unintentionally funny lines that sound like a rehash of a dozen movies.

But you know what? That’s some tasty cheese! I forgot about my bad review and watched the Pageant of Crazy that is this disaster movie. I couldn’t quite decide who was prettier, Dwayne Johnson or Alexandra Daddario. (She edged him out for gorgeous, but The Rock makes me want to work out more and get huge.)

As the destruction flag unfurled before me, I remembered a review of San Andreas that complained there were no awe-inspiring moments. WHAAAAAAaaaat?

CGI is the star of this show! Nothing is left standing! C’mon! How could it not be awe-inspiring? What more could anyone possibly want from a silly disaster movie on a Friday afternoon?

Ah.

Somebody didn’t get what San Andreas was doing just like the reviewer didn’t get what I did. It wasn’t for that person.

That’s okay. I’m looking for 10,000 true fans who want to board my crazy train. There are other readers who do get it, and will. Just as people like music but they don’t like all music, people like books but my preferred form of Chazz jazz isn’t for them. It doesn’t make them wrong or bad necessarily. They just aren’t into my flavor.

Finally…

5. Acceptance.

Deep breath.

You can find what you’re looking for in the strangest places sometimes.

Back to writing….

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I invite you to partake of a couple of free ebooks, podcasts and a fair degree of whatnot on my author site, AllThatChazz.com

Filed under: writing, writing advice, , , , , ,

Ultimate Blog Challenge: The Dumb Reviewer’s False Standard Failure

There’s a certain sort of critic who really bugs me. As much as I enjoy the Slate Culture Gabfestpodcast, there’s an issue

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane.

English: Salvador Dali with ocelot and cane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that crops up from time to time which itches like pink insulation on a sweaty naked body in a summer attic. It’s a response that tries to intellectualize the visceral and make a good thing into a bad thing. Here’s the quote that gives me headaches:

“We liked it, but should we like it?”

So much waste of tuition money is revealed in that reaction. It’s a response to art that tries to detour around the heart and isolate the brain. It’s a dishonest afterthought. It’s snooty and, in trying to sound intelligent, is stupid.

I enjoy the movie Roadhouse, for instance. By some people’s standards, I suppose I shouldn’t. However, turn it on and try not to get sucked in. It’s not in the “So bad, it’s good” category, though some movies overshoot the runway and actually manage that. Roadhouse is fun and ridiculous and has a lot of funny lines, mostly intended. It’s just so watchable. It’s a visceral reaction. Can’t I enjoy it without the self-appointed cultural elite’s disapproval?

Art that achieves what it set out to do and entertains its audience is good art.

So says me, anyway. I could list dozens of silly movies and books that demanded little of me that I still enjoyed. The latest victim of this critical chaos appears to be Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.  I just read fellow blogger Jordanna East’s takedown of a bad review here. She’s not the only one to point out misguided reviewers complaining about historical inaccuracy in the movie. Good critics go to action movies with the expectation that it’s not meant to be a historical document. If it’s not a French movie in an art cinema, do not review it as if all movies are French movies in art cinemas!

That said, I’m all for elevating material. It’s a treat to run across sparkling dialogue that mocks expectations. (See the movie The Guard with Don Cheadle, for the best of that phenomenon in movies.) In my book, Bigger Than Jesus, I set out to challenge expectations, too, and not just in terms of plotting and surprises and reversals. I’m talking about getting at real emotion. There are consequences spread amongst all those jokes. The heroine’s fascination with the life of Salvador Dali means something to her, to the story and ultimately to the reader. I set out to make my roller coaster travel through unexpected places without slowing the pace. Elevating material can be done. It doesn’t have to happen all the time for everything, though.

Dalton’s reply to the big bad bouncer in Roadhouse serves equally well for bad reviewers. The bad guy turns up his nose and says, “I thought you’d be taller. You don’t look like much t’me.”

Patrick Swayze, as Dalton, smiles wide and says, “Opinions vary!”

Then bop ’em in the nose if you want to.

~ Like my flavor? Listen to the first chapter of my crime thriller, Bigger Than Jesus. I’m podcasting the book through the summer. Enjoy! (Or be a hero and just click the cover to grab it. Thanks for reading!)

Get Bigger Than Jesus

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Chuck Norris

I grew up watching Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee movies. (All other movies, too since I worked at a video store.)freefromchaos.com myspace graphic comments
freefromchaos.com

My favorite Chuck Norris movie has to be An Eye for An Eye in which Chuck and Mako beat the crap out of 35 guys who attack them in Mako’s home (with Uzis.) Chuck takes out only 25 (wimp!) and Mako kills the rest. They massacre the bad guys with their bare hands, a throwing knife, lots of kicking and the base of a telephone (which were heavier and more lethal then. Don’t try to knock anybody out with your cell phone these days.)  

At the end of this scene of carnage, the livingroom is littered with bodies. Then Chuck says, “Well, I better get going. Got a dental appointment” or something lame and leaves Mako to deal with the copious corpses. Chuck is a nice guy overall, but not the kind of friend you call on to help you move apparently. San Francisco must have an awesome recycling program.

The funniest Chuck movie has to be The Octagon. Lee Van Cleef shows up here and there, no doubt thinking he had been in better movies. The thing that makes me giggle is that throughout the movie Chuck does a voice over of many of his ninja thoughts as he wanders around. The device is so over-used that I end up filling in the next whispered thought. For instance:

Can I beat him?

Takura, where are you? I sense you are here…

If not for me, Takura would never have met her and she’d still be alive…

I feel guilty…

Did I turn off the stove?

Do I need to buy more eggs?

 

Filed under: movies, Unintentionally hilarious, ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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