Summer 2015 Box Office

I have never seen as many movies in a single season as I have this summer. Some of them are still hanging around, so if you haven’t seen them yet you still might have time.

In order of recommendation:

1. Jurassic World

Shame on you if you were a fan of the original and haven’t seen this yet. It’s great. Lots of humour, lots of action, lots of dinosaurs. What else do you want from your summer entertainment? Highly recommended.

2. Terminator: Genisys – If you were a fan of the original, you have to see this. Don’t worry about any of the sequels (or the television series, or the book). Accept it as a reboot and not a remake, and sit back and enjoy. Especially the first thirty minutes when you think you know what’s going on. Recommended.

3. Avengers: Age of Ultron – Warning – you are not seeing this for the plot. I just wanted to remind you of that before you sat down. They added a slew of new characters; the team is getting a little unwieldy. But mostly fun. Recommended.

4. The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I never saw the original series, but I enjoyed this. They did the 60s well. It was a cute Cold War/spy movie, without going over the top like James Bond did. It’s quieter, but very funny. Very Guy Ritchie. Recommended.

5. Ricky and the Flash – Meryl Streep was good. Kevin Kline was good. (Not surprising for either actor). But the secondary characters stole the show. Mamie Gummer played Meryl and Kevin’s daughter, and Rick Springfield played Meryl’s lead guitarist. (I didn’t know it was him until the credits rolled.) They did wonderful jobs. Unfortunately, Ricky is not a very likeable character, so while the movie was well done, I didn’t particularly like it. Recommended for half-price Tuesdays.

6. Inside Out – Maybe it’s better if you are a kid. Overall, I found it very depressing for a cartoon. Not recommended.

7. San Andreas – I was expecting it to be not good. I was disappointed. Not recommended.

Book vs Movie

ZooI’ve really been enjoying the summer TV series Zoo, based on the book by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. And, as an avid reader, I decided to check out the source material. The book is almost always better than the movie (or TV show, in this case), and considering how good the show is, I thought I’d scored a winner.

Disclosure: I haven’t read a James Patterson book since he started using co-writers. And I’d only read a couple of his stories before that. So while I knew the name, I didn’t know the writer.

It turns out that Zoo is one of the few instances where I enjoyed the screen version better than the original written material. I liked the changes made to the characters, the images on the screen better than the description on the page, and the style of storytelling better than JP’s signature writing style.

I’m having trouble remembering the last time this happened. It’s rare when I find a movie to be as good as a book, let alone better. I’m betting it was another mini-series or full-length series rather than a movie. Two hours (three if you stretch it) doesn’t seem to be enough time to properly tell the story of a 400 page novel.

I’m not counting the movies I’ve seen that have inspired me to read the source material (Dune, the Lord of the Rings trilogy). I’m talking about being better than the book.

What have you watched that was better than the book?

Non-repeatable Phenomenon

fortune-favors-the-bold-virgilI recently wrote a post about the Sharknado trilogy and what it takes to make a fun monster movie. But what elevated Sharknado above its contemporaries – such classics as Two-Headed Shark Attack and Mega-Piranha? The answer is a Hollywood term called a “non-repeatable phenomenon”.

How it translates to non-industry people is “we have no freaking clue why this one took off and we haven’t managed to duplicate the success of it yet”.

Everybody knows what a movie formula is. Most blockbusters follow it with a checklist. Series like Fast and Furious and James Bond have refined it to a “T”. Audiences liked what they saw the first time, and the movies producers reproduced it with only enough chances to keep it from being identical. Series are vital for movie studios, which is why if a movie does even slightly well, you can be the next year you are going to see the same title with a number after it.

But then you have the weird ones, the movies nobody expected to make a splash. The quiet ones like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which left producers scratching their heads, counting the box office take, and asking “how can we do that again?”

The truth is, most of the time they can’t. The movie hit with audiences because of a combination of actor chemistry, an entertaining story, the phase of the moon and whether or not anything else was in the news cycle. MBFGW owes its success to the word of mouth of people who wandered into a quiet theatre instead of one filled with explosions and fell in love with a Greek girl and her overbearing family. TBEMH came out with a star-studded line-up that appealed to the often-ignored 50+ demographic. (They did make a sequel to TBEMH; lightning did not strike twice.)

Then there was Sharknado. Nobody still has any clue why Sharknado hit like it did. Social media had a lot to do with it. It got picked up on Twitter and took off. Not because, unlike my previous examples, it was a beautiful, brilliant story but because it was So. Freaking. Bad. But bad in an entertaining way. It was exactly what people needed on that particular Thursday night.

It was not the first shark-monster movie, nor has it been the last but something about it has fans loving it. There is just something that the imitators don’t have. And the producers didn’t stray too far for the sequels. They not only hit all the checkboxes, they hit them with nuclear weapons and had no shame doing it. People watched to be entertained but also so they could mock it relentlessly. That is part of the movie’s appeal. In this case it work.

Sharknado 3: Oh, hell no! aired two weeks ago. The producers littered the commercial breaks with ads for Lavalantula. Instead of sharks and tornados, they are trying to replicate Sharknado’s success with volcanoes and tarantulas. It was entertaining enough for what it was, but there was no spark of originality. They tried to plug different monsters and heroes into the same script and while we were dumb enough to watch and enjoy the original, we weren’t fooled again. Sharknado is the definition of a non-repeatable phenomenon.

Unless you’re talking about other sharknados.

July Reading List

free photo booksYou’d think that having a broken foot would mean that I read a ton in June instead of getting sucked into “Border Security” marathons, but, no, I didn’t read any more than normal. I saved it all for July as a reward for finishing my next novel. Here are some of my new and recommended books and authors.

PLAYING FOR KEEPS (A Neighbor from Hell Novel) by R.L. Mathewson. This author kept popping onto my radar but the hero sounded like such an ass that I kept skipping the recommendations. Then the first book went on sale and I said, “Fine! I’ll try it!” I was right – he was a complete jerk. But then he grew on me. And the love story made me laugh.  It’s a great contemporary book with relatable characters. So I bought the rest of the series.

CRAVING CONSTELLATIONS (Aces MC) by Nicole Jacqueline. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  This author kept popping onto my radar but the hero sounded like such an ass that I kept skipping the recommendations. Then the first book went on sale and I said, “Fine! I’ll try it!” I was right – he was a complete jerk. But then he grew on me. And the love story made me cry. This is a motorcycle club (MC) book, and runs a little darker than I usually read, but not so dark that I had to stop reading. Also, the first 4 books are a fantastic deal if you buy the boxed set. So I bought the rest of the series.

STEP by Roxie Rivera. Roxie writes the best Russian Mafia stories I’ve found. Step is the first of a related series, with a bad-boy rocker falling for a good-girl hotel maid. It’s a short story but it’s fun to see how outsiders view the characters from Roxie’s main series.

I don’t list all the books I’ve read here, mainly because I have a list of favourite authors and I try to bring new-to-me writers to your attention here. But if you want to keep up with all my books – and even talk about them – feel free to follow and talk to me on Goodreads.

Tips for making apple jelly

1. Don’t worry if your “apple juice” (strained water and juice from cut apples) is cloudy. It will clear up a lot as it boils off. Be sure to skim the foam – that helps too.

2. Take the juice and sugar up to a hard boil, not a simmer, or you will be boiling it for an hour.

3. Do not leave the stove when it is at a hard boil because if it boils over you are going to have hardened/burned apple jelly on your ceramic stove top and it is horrible to clean. Really, really stinking horrible.

4. Prep your jars and lids first because when it’s time to go, you don’t have a second to waste.

 

Beans!

beans 1Beans are my favourite fresh from the garden vegetable. They are delicious and easy to cook. In fact, I even blanched and froze some green beans last year, and it was like having fresh beans all winter.

This year, because of my broken foot, I didn’t get my garden in until July 2. Realistically, that is too late for anything. But beans grow and mature so quickly, I had time to get them in. So I did. I planted an entire garden plot full of nothing but green beans.

In nursery school, beans are what the kids plant to learn about how things grow. Mostly, because beans are very quick to sprout. Give it 1-2 weeks, and they are up. And you can watch them see too, they do it so quickly.  The above picture is was taken about noon on Tuesday.  The picture below was taken at 9am on Wednesday.  Honestly, it’s pretty cool to watch.

beans 2There is one problem with planting an entire box of seeds at the same time, and not staggering them by three weeks like I intended. They are all going to ripen at the same time. So, in about 5 weeks, if you are in my end of town and want some fresh beans, stop by. Even with all the blanching I’m going to do, I’m going to have lots left over.  Lots.

Why Sharknado is awesome

Sharknado 1

July is an awesome month for sharks. I’m not talking about the horrific, real-life shark attacks that have been in the news lately. I’m talking about Hollywood sharks. Jaws’ descendents. Mother-f*cking sharks in a mother-f*cking tornado.

There is an art to making a good bad shark movie. The basic premise must be something so outrageous that your suspension of disbelief is thoroughly activated. In the case of Sharknado, don’t tell that it actually could happen and quote me documented incidents of fish and frogs being picked up in storms. First of all, you’re ruining my suspension of disbelief buzz. Second, you can’t compare a half-pound frog that lives on land to a half-ton shark that lives in water. And third, it’s not supposed to make sense. It’s a Sharknado.

Obviously, the most important thing is the shark-monster. If it was a hybrid designed by humans, the creator must be completely mad and have horrible operational security so it can easily escape into the ocean (no tanks for shark-monsters.) Also, it should be designed to be either completely indestructible; a small soft spot about a couple of square inches big so the hero can destroy it is acceptable.

Hybrid or not, the shark should be bigger, badder and have more teeth than a normal shark. It must also be able to survive for long periods out of water. (I know sharks don’t live long out of water but this is for a movie shark.)

Sharknado 2The next trick has to do with the characters. If you are thinking over the top, you aren’t thinking big enough by half. Nothing is too insane for bad shark movie hero or heroine. The situation is already beyond what normal people can handle. Only the wackiest solutions will do at this point.  And they will work too, because the good guys thought of them. Crazy plans suggested by evil people or those in authority who aren’t the hero and heroine will fail badly, causing massive property damage and loss of life. For instance:

SPOILER ALERT – in the first Sharknado, our hero, Fin (get it? Fin vs shark) dives into a falling shark’s mouth with a running chainsaw. Then he carves his way from the inside out to make his escape. AND, at the same time, he pulls out the girl the shark swallowed. THAT is a real hero, folks.

Not to mention, a proper bad shark movie should be set someplace warm, so all the characters are required to wear bikinis and swim trunks. Equal opportunity ogling is important.

Next is the body count. Your movie had better have one that reaches double digits or your audience will be very disappointed. They must include: the person in authority who denies there is a shark-monster, a randy couple doing the nasty in the water (or on the shore or on the dock), and a surfer, waterskier, or swimmer. Of course, you can do multiples of these victims. Bonus points for non-traditional shark attack victims. Do not attack kids. You can attack a pet (usually a dog) but that is iffy and may piss people off.

Sharknado 3Finally, there is the technical aspect of such special-effects masterpiece. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Or that piddly little matter of continuity. Make the action scenes as exciting as possible, and then do what you have to in order to get to the next one. For example:

SPOILER ALERT In the first one, the sharknado drops a deluge of water (and sharks) which sweeps down the side of a hill until it gets to the house. The water fills the living room and main floor, including a shark or two. The hero and his family battle the sharks as they swim for the front door. In the next shoot, they open the door and step out onto the front steps. They aren’t pushed out in a gush of water, they just walk. That is perfectly fine storytelling, people. Realism is highly overrated. (Also, again, you are watching a movie called Sharknado. How real do you expect it to be with your suspension of disbelief working overtime?)

Anyway, with this primer, I invite you to spend the next three Wednesdays with me as I live-tweet Sharknado (tonight, July 8th), Sharknado 2 (July 15) and the world debut of Sharknado 3 (July 22). I’ll be watching on SPACE Channel, but I believe Americans can get it on Sy-Fy.

Did I miss any bad shark movie rules?