Monday, November 26, 2018

Superman the Movie: A Forty-Year Appreciation


"You’ve got me! Who’s got you?”

Is this the best line in a superhero movie? Forty years on, when I think of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, this is the first thing that comes to mind. And the helicopter rescue sequence associated with it. I waited in rapt attention for this scene because it is likely the quintessential Superman moment. It did not disappoint last night. In fact, as the goosebumps rippled over my arms, I got a tad emotional.

This was Superman.

The tagline of the movie was “You’ll believe a man could fly.” Here’s the thing with Christopher Reeve’s performance: You’ll believe he really is Superman. Maybe it was my ten-year-old self seeing this hero on the big screen for the first time, but of all the actors who have played Superman, Reeve is the one who made me believe it was actually a man from another planet. Who was also from Kansas. And it did it all with acting. No CGI. No special effects. Just Reeve, in costume, changing his voice and posture, making you believe Clark Kent and Superman were different people.

Speaking of Clark, Reeve sells himself as the bumbling country boy from Kansas to a T. I really loved his sly winks *to himself* when he, say, catches the bullet or when he shows up, as Clark, in Lois’s apartment after flying over the city with her as Superman. There’s a reason Reeve’s version of Clark is also probably the best out there…although Henry Cavill, if given a chance, could have done it well. But, again, he would be channeling Reeve, too.

He and Margot Kidder exudes chemistry. I really appreciate how she, in 1978, portrayed Lois Lane as a modern woman, smoker, working in a newsroom which had been a mostly males club for so long, but one who still needs a little help when she’s hanging out of a helicopter. She’s always out for the hustle, making sure she’s on the front lines. The rooftop interview scene is so good. You even get Superman basically falling in love with Lois on screen. Heck, both of them. And he’s not saving her from some giant robot. They are just talking and acting. Let’s be honest: in this day and age, when you have lots of side projects on TV, how cool would it have been to have had a Lois Lane TV show with Kidder?

I’m not sure who made the call—actor or director or scriptwriter—but, for my money, having Lex Luthor be humorous is genius. Yes, it’s likely a product of the times, but Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Luthor is probably the best. The only other one I truly enjoy is Clancy Brown’s sinister version in Superman: The Animated Series. But Hackman’s Luthor is sinister in his own way. When he delivers the line “By causing the deaths of innocent people,” you honestly believe it. I enjoyed seeing him make deductions and use his intelligence to figure out Superman’s weakness. Lastly, In an age when every aspect of a franchise has its own backstory, I don’t always need a backstory. But I would enjoy at least learning how Luthor and Otis got together.

Oh, is Ned Beatty’s Otis the only henchman in superhero movies who has his own theme song? It reminded me of the theme for Jabba the Hutt which would arrive five years later.

The music. John Williams was at the height of his powers in 1978. Star Wars and Close Encounters and Jaws were already under his belt. So were three Oscars. I haven’t heard the entire score is so long that it came out of the speakers fresh and new. Look, I know his Star Wars theme, his Raiders of the Lost Ark theme, and the ET flying theme are all good and light and positive, but is it possible to hear the Superman March without a grin on your face? I don’t think so. The Krypton music is eerie and otherworldly. The love theme is lush and romantic. And in sitting through the credits listening to the music, I found myself awash in greatness. I know there are folks who think Superman is the best soundtrack of Williams’s career. While I still hold Empire Strikes Back as my personal favorite (with Star Wars and Raiders close behind), I can certainly see their point.

On the subject of Krypton, I was again reminded of the very 70s-ness of it all. I have a great fondness of 70s SF films pre-Star Wars. The Krypton sequence fits perfectly in that pocket. Ditto for the flying sequence as Kal-El rockets off to earth. Oh, and the training montage.

As the opening credits rolled, I leaned over to my friend and said Superman: The Movie hit the jackpot with casting. Marlon Brando, of course, but Terrence Stamp, Glenn Ford, Jackie Cooper, Hackman, Beatty, Valerie Perrine, and Susannah York. To say nothing about then newcomers Reeve and Kidder. I can’t think of a single character who needed to be recast.

The first hour of the show is near perfection. We see Krypton, the trial and banishment of Zod, Ursa, and Nan (and the setting up of Superman II), and then the destruction of the planet. Now, forty years later, as a parent, the longing and desperation of Jor-El and Lara sending baby Kal into the void with only the hope that he would be safe is poignant. But the Smallville scenes? Holy cow. Those hit me. And those shots of Clark and Jonathan, his death, the funeral, and then Clark and Martha out in the field? You honestly forget you’re watching a superhero movie. Brilliant stuff.

Alas, the movie is not without its flaws. With an additional forty years of consuming stories—including writing my own—much of the latter half of the film is disjointed. It would have been so much better if there were words on screen like “Three week later…” or some such. As it is, the film comes off as almost happening in the same day. Which it doesn’t, but it feels that way.

But all that is nitpicking, especially when you get the best of both worlds: you get to see Superman doing super things—helping the bus on the bridge; making sure the railroad doesn’t derail; making a new dam—but then he turns back time and it’s all good. And with Luthor’s intelligence, you ever wonder if he figured out Superman changed time? Or would he merely realize his plans were foiled? Ditto for the other characters, too.

But that’s neither here nor there. They’re just fun things to ponder.

Forty years. Hard to believe and, yet, not. I was ten when I saw it in 1978. I’m nearly fifty now. Lots of life, lots of events, lots of other Superman stories, both in print and on screen. But this film remains a gold standard in superhero films and Superman films in particular. I’m keen on finding and watching the Donner cut of Superman II. I’ve never seen it, but always enjoyed Superman II. Superman The Movie is that perfectly placed film and story that straddles two eras: the Golden and Silver Age (and a little Bronze) of comics before the current era we’re in. It’s like a love letter to all that came before. From the vantage point of forty more years, it’s stature grows even more. Heck, as the credits rolled last night in the theater, applause erupted from the gathered few—young and old alike.

We now live in a golden age of superhero films. There’s nothing filmmakers cannot do when you couple their imagination with computer technology. Make no mistake: it’s awesome when we get to see Cavill’s version of Superman fly or punch Zod or slam into Doomsday. And I really enjoy The CW’s Superman as played by Tyler Hoechlin. And I watched Lois and Clark loving it…mostly. Didn’t watch Smallville.

But I think we can all agree that when you think of a live action Superman, one name comes to mind: Christopher Reeve. He was and is and will forever be Superman. He made me believe a man could fly in 1978. Forty years later, he still made me believe he’s the best Superman. And, despite its flaws, Superman The Movie is the best version of Superman on film.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018 – End of Week 2 – Mid-Book Revamps Are Okay

As of today, all NaNoWriMo writers have reached the end of the second full week. And we have reached the halfway point in the month. By the numbers, as of today, all writers should be around 28,000 words in their 50,000-word novels. First of all, if this is where you are, Congrats! You are more than halfway through the month of November and more than halfway through your book. It’s an awesome feeling, isnt’ it? Just wait until you type “The End.” That never gets old, no matter how many books you write.

I experienced an interesting bit of serendipity this week. On my current non-NaNoWriMo novel (started 1 October and aim to finish by 30 November), I hit a snag. I’m halfway through the story and I found myself a bit adrift. Unlike previous books, I’m writing this without an outline. Writing into the dark, as Dean Wesley Smith does. Every now and then, I get backed into a corner and I have to think my way out of it. What that entails for me is to put a halt to writing the current scene and ask myself a few questions about the scene, why I’m even writing it, and where do I think the story is going from there. Naturally, this process puts the kibosh on new words, but it also opens the door to the next scene.

So that’s what I did this week for my current book. A mid-book brainstorming session. Complete with notes on a whiteboard. This book is the sixth Calvin Carter novel. The first will be published in January 2019 and this one won’t be published until November 2019, but I wanted all six complete before I start publishing so I can use the various covers in marketing material. I had a fun opening sequence, but I didn’t know why the mystery men stole the MacGuffin of the story. I knew that was an issue, but I kept writing ahead, confident the true reason would manifest itself. It did, but it took a mid-book reset to do it. Now, I at least know the next quarter of the book.

What is serendipitous about this process in 2018? Well, I encountered the exact same problem in 2015 when I participated in NaNoWriMo 2015. Each week this month, as I prepare for these posts, I revisit my own daily updates from 2015. I reviewed Day 11 through Day 17 of 2015. Guess what I (re)discovered? I hit snags back then, too. Of the seven days back in 2015, five of them involved not only writing but reviewing the scope of that novel. It seemed I was writing scenes that kept affecting subsequent scenes and I just had to keep going. Two things happened back then. One, I had my best day of writing at that point with 3,538 words. Two days later, I experienced my worst at 1,703.

Writing a novel is not a short process. It is long. There will be good days and there will be bad days. The key factor is to keep going. Just keep moving forward. You can do it.

And the theme for this week is simple: if you have to stop or slow down and reassess your novel from the vantage point of the middle, do it. What’ll happen is that you will likely open the floodgates for the rest of the book.

But here’s a more down-to-earth, nuts and bolts piece of advice: If you are truly stuck, finish the scene/chapter you are currently writing. Look no further than that. Just finish this scene, and trust your creative subconscious to help you along. Chances are good you will see light at the end of the tunnel.

So, NaNoWriMo folks, how are y’all doing?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

NaNoWriMo – End of Week 1 Encouragement – Stay Flexible

Look, I know where you are because I’ve been there.

Today marks Day 10 of NaNoWriMo 2010. It’s also the end of the first full week of writing 1,667 words a day on a novel that’s aiming to be 50,000 words. If you want to think of it this way, 1-3 November of this year (last Thursday through Saturday) was the ramp up. The prelude if you will. I’m a person who likes to view the calendar in weeks. So basically, you have nearly four full weeks to write a novel.

Yes, you can do it.

I’ve been right where you are now. Yes, even there. Let me show you.

Back in 2015, when I successfully completed my first NaNoWriMo, this was my daily line item: Day 10: 2023 (22,193 total; 27,807 remaining). I’ll admit I jumped way ahead on the first three days, writing 3,464, 2,325, and 2,637 words respectively. Here’s what I wrote about Day 2 back then: “First NNWM day on a work day. Rose at 5:00am. Wrote 1,244 words before work on the laptop. Wrote additional 796 words on the iPod at breaks during the day. I finished off the night with another 285 to round out a chapter.”

So I had some cushion. Which was great considering Day 4 back in 2015. I only wrote 1,709 that day. What happened? Technical issues. Here’s a note I wrote back then:

“The theme of today was flexibility. This morning’s writing session was interrupted when my Mac wouldn’t start. So, I shifted to connecting my iPod Touch with my Apple keyboard. I managed 1100 words or so, but knew I needed to make up the deficit. I wrote some on the iPod at the day job, but deadlines and meetings ate up all my break time. Not much writing done during the day.

Throughout the day, my mind wondered if I had lost all my data. I diagnose the problem, fixed the drive–took apart my laptop and extracted the drive to repair it–and got it working again. Finished the day at 1709 words.”

If there’s one thing you must keep in mind as you write your story this month is to stay flexible. Writing a novel is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Yes, I know writers who can craft a novel in a week. That’s not me. But I can write one in a month. I know because I’ve done it numerous times.

And you can, too.

Just stay flexible.

Don’t get too bogged down in the daily weeds. Maintain the overall goal: 50,000. Some days, you’ll blow past the 1,667 mark. Others you may fall short. You can make it up. Don’t lose sight of the end goal: a completed story. In the end, it won’t matter if you didn’t reach your daily goal for a third of the days and exceeded it on the rest. All that matters is a 50,000-word completed novel.

Let me know how it’s going. And tune in next week for another pep talk.