Call Disney, we have a new story for them.
I’m not kidding. The novella Saint
Call Disney, we have a new story for them.
I’m not kidding. The novella Saint
Few films manage to give me the creeps, and those films that do usually include insects or spiders. But Unlocking
When his worst fears come knocking, an agoraphobic man’s love for the girl next door is put to the ultimate test.
Irish director/writer Stephen Crilly wrings an amazing amount of emotion out of a short and simple 13-minute film. After just a few minutes following the life of Charlie, (in an awesome performance by Tom Maguire) I promise you will experience the panic he feels. And just when you think you’re becoming agoraphobic yourself, the anguish follows Charlie inside his apartment, and you’ll feel like the walls are closing in on you as you watch.
The plot of the film is straightforward, and involves the topic of agoraphobia. The protagonist, Charlie, suffers such extreme agoraphobia that stepping more than a few feet outside his apartment makes him panic. But motivation comes calling in the form of the girl next door, played by Grace Kelley, whom I’ve decided I could stare at all day long. Le Sigh. She is a lovely juxtaposition to the horror Charlie goes through. Acting was great, and much of it was done without lines of dialog.
Post production was high quality. Well done sound, lighting and direction made this short, dramatic film really pop. I’m not ordinarily a fan of the free-floating camera style (overdone to nauseous levels in The Blair Witch Project) but the floating camera work in Unlocking Charlie really give the film an uneasy quality, adding to the tension.
All in all, Unlocking Charlie is a quick, dark character study. Watch Unlocking Charlie here for yourself:
Imagine a group of Hollywood fat-cats playing high-stakes poker, drinking whiskey that’s older than they are, and bitching about how this country sucks. Suddenly, one of them has a revelation about the real world outside their tiny microcosm…
“Damn, you’re right,” spouts another, the $50 Cuban cigar dropping from their mouth. “It’s all dog eat dog!”
“We gotta tell someone! Get Brad Pitt on the phone!”
I suspect that’s how movies like Killing Them Softly get started. And X-million dollars later, people in the real world can watch it and say, “No shit. Who signed off on this?”
Can’t remember now how I got roped into watching a movie that I didn’t know existed ten minutes earlier. It seems that the high-profile names of Brad Pitt, ex-goodfella Ray Liotta and ex-Soprano James Gandolfini were expected to be a sufficient marketing strategy. It wasn’t.
This was my first exposure to a film where there were more production company credits than movie previews. There are at least six production companies and about twice as many “producers” involved, Brad Pitt among them. Don’t get me wrong, I think Brad Pitt is an awesome actor, and while he doesn’t disappoint in this film, his presence isn’t enough to carry the movie. The plot is supposed to do that, but the plot in Killing Them Softly is weak. Other reviewers have called it “subtle” but the plot is actually thin. I mean thin, as in, a veneer for a political message: The “United” States is a myth. President Obama is lying to you when he tells you we are all one people. It’s every one for themselves.
Like I said, welcome to the real world, eh? But this is the movie’s message, repeated several different times. Killing Them Softly is a petition, and the list of producers are the ones who signed it.
After watching it, I’m not entirely sure what kind of movie Killing Them Softly is. There was too much Quentin-Tarrantinoish-off-topic talk for this to be an action film. All the plans made were shared with the audience and things generally went as planned, so it wasn’t a wacky, heist/caper. It’s no mystery because the audience knows exactly what’s going on the entire time. The only real mystery was why James Gandolfini appears in the film as a drunken, washed up hitman named Mickey, with a big debt and a heart of gold. His acting is superb, but his character had nothing to do with the entire film, except the fact that he was in it for about half an hour. Then he disappears, never to be seen again.
Maybe the Hollywood fat-cats have a lovely explanation for Killing Them Softly. Maybe James Gandolfini is our repressed ID, Obama is our superego, and Brad Pitt represents the zeitgeist of a generation.
Or maybe I’m trying too hard.
The Occam’s Razor theorem says that the correct conclusion is usually the simplest. In that case, the movie was made by people with more political agenda and money than plot. If nothing else, it’s nice to know that we still have freedom of speech, and that anyone with an opinion (a couple million in cash) can make a movie.
I recently reviewed Randal Plunkett’s short film Walt and
The story starts with the main character (Conor Marren) regaining consciousness in the woods. He has blood trickling from a head wound, and no idea where he is or what happened. We follow him backwards and forwards in time as he investigates the local area in the present, interrupted by flashbacks of memories from the past, (including the delicious Emma Eliza Regan.) Time-hopping can be a frustrating experience if done incorrectly, but the writing and editing in Out There are so clean that you always know exactly when and where you are in the story. It’s fun to discover the story along with the hero as he recovers his memory.
Unfortunately, what happened in the hero’s past is just as horrible as what’s going on in his present, and the two storylines converge in a horrible decision and an ending that gave me goosebumps.
Similar to the style of Walt, this story eases you in, taking the time to descend through genres of mystery into thriller/suspense and finally, horror.
Once again Randal’s work is impressive in both pre and post production. The acting, set design, cinematography and editing in Out There are all worthy of large-scale distribution. One thing that really stood out for me was the sound. Having worked at a recording studio and recording audio for film, music, and audio podcasts for over a decade, it’s safe to say I’m more sensitive to audio than your average person. But too many movie makers overlook (or underestimate) the effect of the sound. What kind of music to use, how much to use, and even when to leave it out are things that more movie makers should work on, but Randal Plunkett and his crew have a really good grasp of how to use sound effectively. From the score to the ADR to the foley, the sound in Out There is excellent.
Check out the trailer for Out There below:
Like I said, pretty niche, and not for “Anyone Starting Anything.”
Guy Kawasaki was “one of the individuals responsible for the success of the Macintosh computer” and currently works in a venture capital group garage.com. So he definitely has the credentials to back up what he is writing about. Guy has seen firsthand what it takes to grow a startup into a mega-corporation. He provides no-nonsense advice on partnerships, bootstrapping, seeking venture capital, marketing, etc. Nothing you won’t find in other books, but Guy does add a healthy dose of realism, and his writing is fresh, insightful and easily accessible.
Chapter 11, “The Art of Being a Mensch” really should be required reading for Anyone Starting Anything, and should be read First, before the rest of the book.
Despite just reading a book on how to be more creative and think like a genius, I’m going to give a fairly un-creative and un-genius review of it. (Not that the book didn’t work, mind you. I’m just lazy.)
The tools and methods in this book are must-haves for authors. The BAMMA (Brain Attack Multiplied by Morphological Analysis) technique alone is worth the cost of the book, and will have you coming up with (no joke) millions of ideas in minutes. [Read more…]
Maybe they weren’t low enough.
Production-wise, Alex Cross was fine. Sets were great. Stunts were good. Effects were good. The sound was excellent. The only music I remember was a song about “drivin’ in my Caddy” which reinforced the fact that much of the film was sponsored by Cadillac. I forgot to look, but I’ll bet there is a “Cadillac Waxer” in the credits someplace.
This movie does threaten to steal the title of “worst camera work ever” from the Blair Witch Project. One person I was with walked out of the movie close to the end because the camera flopped around so much. It would have worked better if the director had actually stepped into the shot and told the audience to increase their tension. Yes, it was that bad. Face it Hollywood, shaky-cam takes people OUT of the movie. In this case, literally out of the theater. Get a tripod.
You’ll need to let go of any preconceived notions you had from watching Morgan Freeman play the character Alex Cross in Kiss The Girls (1997) and Along Came A Spider (2001). Tyler Perry’s version of Alex Cross in this 12th book of the series is a completely different creature, and many reviewers are not pleased by that difference. But according to a Today Show interview with James Patterson (who helped produce the film) Tyler Perry is more like the character from the books than Morgan Freeman.
Of course Tyler Perry is no Morgan Freeman, but I’m willing to let him make the character his own, and I had no qualms about his acting abilities. Tyler does a good job… with the script he had. In fact, this can be said of all the other actors in the film, which calls attention to the real problem – the writing. Alex Cross is daytime T.V. quality at best, and not Hollywood. As a writer, it pains me to see something with such a strong pedigree do so poorly on account of the writing – something that should have had quality established way before anyone shook hands on a movie deal.
I never read the story this film was based on, called Cross, but here are some issues with the movie version that make me wonder how it ever could have evolved from a bestselling novel:
Alex Cross is a detective/criminal psychologist. When a houseful of people are found dead, one of them tortured to death, Alex is brought in to investigate. He begins to track down an assassin nicknamed The Butcher, and also nicknamed Picasso, played excellently by Matthew Fox. Despite the fact that Alex is a detective and Picasso is an assassin who killed a house full of people, there’s an awful lot of time spent motivating Alex to catch/stop him. I won’t bore you with details, but things get personal, then things get More Personal, and then EVEN MORE PERSONAL to the point where you wish we could just get back to the real story of who hired this assassin and why he killed a houseful of people. Who hired him? Why?
Apparently we aren’t supposed to care about all that. All the global conspiracy and espionage are sidelined to focus on Alex and Picasso as they battle each other physically, mentally and emotionally. Every scene in the movie tries so desperately to elicit an emotional response that the film threatens to burst under its own emotional weight, while the more interesting storyline disappears until the very last few minutes of the movie, when everything is resolved in a long distance phone call. Talk about anti-climax.
The astonishing leaps of deduction that Alex Cross makes would make Sherlock Holmes gawk in wonder:
These are just a tiny taste of the impossible leaps of intellect the audience has to swallow in one short scene of the movie. The entire movie was filled with them, and the only possible explanations are that Alex Cross is psychic, or that James Patterson is a lazy writer. It must be the latter, because any detective with such strong psychic abilities should have been able to figure out the killer and the motive over their lunch break.
I can’t imagine that fans of crime fiction would tolerate plot gaps chained together by magical deductions of this magnitude. Audiences have to suspend their disbelief, but this is like putting your disbelief in a gimp outfit and locking it in a closet.
There is a short scene in which Alex and his partner bypass security and break into the police station, and then beat up two cops to steal evidence. The scene is ludicrous, unnecessary and so absurd that audience members were snickering, myself included. Why didn’t he just bribe the guy in the evidence dept with a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts? And where did Alex Cross suddenly learn police security system hacking? Why not steal a nuclear bomb and blow up the whole city? Then you’d get the bad guy for sure!
It’s clear that James Patterson wants to raise his character to a name-brand franchise like James Bond or Jason Bourne. The problem is that those films are plot-driven, while Alex Cross tries to be character-driven, and unfortunately, the personality just isn’t there to support the film. Some reviewers are blaming Tyler Perry for this, but I blame the writer. I went to see a story about a cop trying to stop an assassin hired to kill off high-ranking businessmen in a global conspiracy….
…and instead, I saw a story about a boringly bland, psychic, daddy-cop who gets a half-movie’s worth of motivation to catch the bad guy he was assigned to catch anyway, and then in the second half of the film, he breaks almost as many laws and kills almost as many people as the bad guy. And at the end, the real bad guy behind all of this is nothing more than an afterthought, wrapped up with a two minute phone call.
There are many people who encourage authors NOT to self-publish because of quality issues. I don’t generally agree, but here is a shining example of an author self-producing his own movie, and the results are embarrassing. You can watch the movie Seven (ironically starring Morgan Freeman) to see what I think James Patterson was trying to accomplish, but don’t waste your time on Alex Cross. I can only hope the books aren’t this bad.
In the winter, Buck Hill is a good place for skiing/snowboarding that’s not far from Minneapolis. But during October, it’s transformed into a community of horrific fun.
Frightmares at Buck Hill is not a haunted house. It is more like a haunted village. One admission fee ($20 Wed-Sat and $18 on Sundays) gets you a wristband that lets you stay as long as you like and you can keep going through the different attractions as many times as you want till they close at midnight. they stop selling tickets at 11, but you really will want to get there early so you have a chance to see everything. Lines for the attractions are all outdoors and can get quite long, so dress warm and give yourself plenty of time.
The chalet/bar has live music, dancing, food, and drinks. As we were told by our host “A Haunted House without alcohol is just a Museum.” There’s an outdoor stage where Kevin Hall runs down a series of fast-paced magic tricks. Bonfires and spooky lighting enhance the mood of the central courtyard area connecting all the events, and there are monsters that WILL try to sneak up on you. They love the screamers, so if you’re a screamer, be ever-watchful.
There are four primary attractions:
The only outdoor attraction, and my personal favorite. The Haunted Hollow starts with a ride on the “magic carpet” if you are familiar with skiing/snowboarding, the magic carpet is simply a conveyor belt that carries you up to the top of the hill. There were no scares on the way up, but once at the top, you are in for an anything-but-leisurely walk down to the bottom.
Lights, smoke, a corn maze and disturbing characters lie between you and the exit.
We were advised to hit this attraction first, to take advantage of the last bit of sunlight, and to avoid the chill of night. But then again, darkness would ramp up the intensity of this attraction.
This is your classic haunted house, and I mean that as a good thing. A quality scare, although I don’t remember anything specific about it except the end which I won’t give away, but you won’t want to miss it.
This attraction was originally created as an insane asylum, but unfortunately it burned down a mere three weeks ago. The organizers have done a marvelous job of rebuilding it, turning it into a series of dungeon laboratories and now called Inferno.
Come and explore THE INFERNO, where the gates of hell have been unleashed and the tortured souls of the past yearn to share their pain and fear with all who enter.
Doctors, laboratories and inmates behind bars – all the scariness of an insane asylum moved underground. Best part was trying to get through the operating room, where the doctor was persistent that I get on the table for some kind of transplant. I didn’t wait around to see exactly what he wanted to transplant…
This was a fun surprise, you get a pair of 3-D glasses when you enter. Once you are inside, the neon oranges, greens and pinks really turn the place into a cross between a 3-D movie and a Duran Duran video. There was a spinning tunnel I’d challenge anyone to try walking through it without using the handrails. Those who get motion sickness can simply close their eyes and use the handrails to get through.
Overall a cool effect, but it may not work as well for everyone. If 3-D movies give you a headache, you could certainly go through this without the glasses and still enjoy it.
Overall I give Frightmares at Buck Hill an A. They really have done a great job with the whole event. The entire event is PG-13, and overall scariness was around 7 out of 10. And it’s a great dollar value. Keep in mind that you can go through the attractions as many times as you want, so give yourself some extra time to stop off at the chalet for some pub grub and a glass of Mold, then go back and revisit your favorite scare.
I recommend groups of 2-4 people. If your group is larger, break it down into smaller groups and stay close together for a better experience as you go through the attractions. There is a group discount for groups over 20.
Keep the weather in mind. Although three of the four attractions are inside, the lines are all outside, and you could be standing there for a while.
Get there early. It wasn’t very busy when we first arrived around 8PM and there were hardly any lines at all. By the time we left at 10:30 the lines had grown to a reasonable size, and I’ll bet you could wait for an hour to get into some of the attractions at the peak times. I’d expect it to get more busy as word gets out and as we get closer to Halloween.
Frightmares at Buck Hill
15400 Buck Hill Rd
Burnsville, MN 55306
I suppose I should be flattered by the massive increase in requests for critiques and reviews of films, books and other dark fiction artwork. Looks like ten years of blogging is starting to pay off.
But, with great SEO comes a great bunch of whack jobs wanting your attention.
Case in point: I was recently contacted by a PR firm representing a Hollywood film company promoting their new horror flick. I should have known better from the trailer and the press release, but I watched the film, and it turned out to be Torture Porn. Putting it nicely, this person isn’t making movies. What he has made is so astonishingly violent and awful that I wouldn’t even recommend it to Rob Zombie.
The way I put it to the PR company was, “I don’t think I’d be able to give you the charitable review you would like.” But that’s PR speak. What I really
Film THAT, and I’d review it.
You see, it isn’t the graphic violence that I’m opposed to, its the fact that there was NO PLOT. Because without a plot, there’s no reason for the violence to exist in your film in the first place. What am I supposed to critique? The soundtrack? The special effects? Your clever selection of ways in which to hurt people?
Another film company approached me with a heartwarming, coming of age film. Seriously, do you know who I am? Have you even seen my site?
To prevent time-wasters like these, I came up with a checklist for authors, filmmakers, production companies, PR houses, and other potential reviewees to consider before submitting books, movies and other art for review here at conradzero.com.
I love reviewing Dark Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror and Speculative Fiction in any formats: books, e-books, movies, music, websites, services, products, stories, novels, erotic pix, interpretive dance, etc…
However, I ask that all potential reviewees please consider the three simple items below:
Rule One: Know Thy Reviewer. This doesn’t just apply to me, but to anyplace you approach for a review. Oh, but it doesn’t hurt to blast the world with requests, right? Wrong. A little research will go a long way. Send people stuff they already like, and the chances of not only getting a review but getting a good review go up considerably. With that in mind, here’s lists of things I like / don’t like.
Notice that I have no bias for or against works of art because of who made them, how they were made, or how much money they were made with. I thought Clerks was awesome, and the Blair Witch Project sucked. I won’t automatically like/hate your book just because you got a publishing deal with Simon and Schuster, and I won’t automatically like/hate your movie because the budget was less than the blue book value of my 1996 Saturn SC2. And just because you’re a dark fiction author from Minneapolis like me doesn’t guarantee I’ll review your story, or like it for that matter, which leads me to my next point.
I do private critiques all the time for the MNSpec Writers’ Group and other Dark Fiction Author friends. While these are not the same as public reviews of finished works, there is one thing I do for both in the interest of giving critiques that are actually USEFUL to those reading them.
I try to find good and bad aspects of everything I review.
In other words, I guarantee an honest review, but I don’t guarantee a positive review. This isn’t “The Feel-Good Home Of Instant 5-Star Reviews!” There are plenty of other places that do this, and I don’t trust their endorsement of anything. If what you really want is ADVERTISING, then you can pay me to post a link to your “product” but if you want a REVIEW, then mine come with the good and the bad in one package.
So if your story has a horrible cover, typos galore and poor formatting, I’ll point it out. This works the other-way-round too, even if your story has a horrible cover, typos galore and poor formatting, I’ll still look for good qualities that make your book worth buying. Even the worst work has some redeeming quality, and even the best work could be improved. Midi-chlorians. I rest my case.
Aside from being rude and assuming, there are legal reasons you don’t send unsolicited work to anyone. Always get permission first. Pitch me your project and I’ll let you know if I’m interested/available to review it. Press Kits, website links, and e-mail requests are fine, but DO NOT send unsolicited stories, scripts, writings or other works.
The more you act like a professional, the more I will treat you like a professional. The more you act like an overcaffinated spazz, spewing review requests into every inbox when you’ve clearly spent more time marketing your work than actually working on it… the more you really do not want me to review your work.
If we’re on the same page, then for the fastest response – press-kit or pitch me by email: zero at conradzero.com
Batman Live is a combination of live theater, Cirque De Soliel, special effects and a jumbotron. I’d say 70% theater, and 30% of the circus stunts you know and love – trapeze, balancing, tumbling, rope climbing, ribbonwork, stilts and more. The show had some of the most amazing stage effects I’ve seen. The batmobile looked great, and the rocket launcher was incredible. Real fire and pyrotechnics make any stage performance better. Neil Simon should make a note of this.
But the best prop in the show was an enormous LCD panel that took up the entire backdrop, probably three stories high, and in the shape of the batman logo. This was used to great effect, for not only a backdrop for each scene that included motion (ex: Wayne manor got closer as characters walked toward it.) It also provided video transitions between scenes including some animated sequences.
Batman Live won’t change anyone’s life, but it was an amazing show. Obviously, those who like comic books and cartoons are going to enjoy this more, since it is less of a Circus themed with Batman characters, and more of a Batman play spiced with circus tricks and FX. If you have kids between six and sixteen who enjoy action cartoons, this is a great way to introduce them to theater. Older theater-goers will find this a refreshing break from Shakespeare.