Saturday, July 30, 2011

Things I Remember: The 1970s (Cont'd)

1. In the 1970s, the Miami TV station now known as CBS4 (call letters WFOR) used to be Channel Six (call letters WCIX) and was the big independent station in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market. It was on Channel Six that I watched such vintage shows as I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, Family Affair and – in the late 1970s once I got into it – Star Trek: The Original Series. (Channel Six, in its last year as an independent station, also aired the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

It was also on Channel Six where I first watched many of the older movies I’ve reviewed online at Amazon, Epinions and Viewpoints. Before cable and videocassette recorders took off in the 1980s and changed the way Americans watched movies at home, the only way most of us were able to see older theatrical releases on the “boob tube” was by watching edited-for-TV editions of films which were no less than two or three years old on the three major networks’ “night at the movies” shows; older – and thus cheaper for “indies” to acquire – flicks along the lines of 1933’s King Kong, 1953’s Titanic, John Wayne war movies from the 1940s and ‘50s and dubbed-to-English Japanese sci-fi creature features along the lines of Godzilla, Gamera and Rodan.




2. The Bicentennial year: 1976 was not only the year in which I turned 13, but it was also the United States’ 200th birthday. There were many celebrations and ceremonies leading up to the Big Day on July 4, including a flag raising that I, as a Boy Scout of Troop 396, was involved with. There also were the cool Bicentennial quarters, lots of red-white-and-blue commemorative items – including custom-made license plates you could buy at the Division of Motor Vehicles – and a Burger King ad jingle that began with the line “Two hundred million people/no two are quite the same….”

3.
Disco. I never did like disco, but from around 1975 till 1980 it was as pervasive a musical genre as hip hop now seems to be. Disco groups and singers not only performed original music intended more for the dance floor than for casual listeners, but they also “adapted” classical music and movie themes by taking the basic melodies and adding the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa beat associated with disco. (My high school chorus teacher, Ms. Owen, didn’t think too highly of disco; she used to call the pulsating bass rhythm the “rabbit foot” and said it was monotonous to listen to.)


© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things I Remember: In the 1970s

Jaws was a very big deal back when I was 12! (C) 1975 Universal Pictures
It's been a very long time since I've read Stephen King's The Stand (in either the original or the Uncut, Unabridged editions), but among the many details and characters in that huge doorstop of a novel, King had one of his main dramatis personae (Frannie Goldsmith) keep a journal in which she sometimes wrote about the pre-Apocalyptic world so that her unborn child would have some idea of what life in the pre-plague years had been like.

Because I have not cracked The Stand open since at least the year 2000, I am not sure if Fran merely jotted down lists of people, places, events, foods and other slice-of-life items which were part of her life or if she wrote more detailed descriptions, but I figured I would try to do something similar here, not only to give readers a glimpse into pre-21st Century America but also to help me jog my own memory about my younger days.

From the 1970s, starting around 1972, I remember:

1. The last major air attacks on North Vietnam in the spring and early winter of 1972.

2. Apollo 13 (because of world-wide coverage)in April 1970 and Apollo 17 in December of 1972, which is the only launch I watched on color TV after we moved back to the States.

3. The 1972 Presidential election and the Watergate scandal which led to President Nixon's resignation in August of 1974. Naturally, when I was 11 I didn't understand the whole sorry event and was often bored when the Watergate Hearings were on TV.

4. The phenomenal success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws in the summer of 1975; I did not get to go see it in theaters because Mom thought I was too young to see it (at 12) and she didn't want to see it at all. Nevertheless, most of my friends saw it, and so did many others, making Jaws the first "blockbuster" of the modern movie-going era.

5. Even though cable TV was slowly (but surely) being introduced as an alternative to over-the-air broadcast television, most Americans relied mainly on three major national networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), a regional public TV channel affiliated with PBS and a handful of local VHF and UHF television stations for their TV news, sitcoms, dramas, children's programming, game shows and educational shows.

6. Swanson's TV dinners: my mom taught me how to heat these up in the oven (a big conventional one, not a toaster oven!) so I would learn how to do things on my own. My favorite was the Polynesian Dinner.

© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TV Movie Review: John Adams (HBO Miniseries)


As a rule, even though I am a history buff and love historical films, I am not a big fan of biographical films about politicians, especially politicians who lived way before the 20th Century.

I suppose it is because (a) Hollywood biographies tend to cherry-pick through the subject’s life to reinforce certain story points the writers or directors want to make, and (b) pre-20th Century set movies tend to be costume dramas as well as history lessons. These are unavoidable realities, but I tend to feel restless when I sit down to watch any flick set before 1860.

So when a friend of mine loaned me his three- DVD set of 2008’s HBO miniseries John Adams, I was quite prepared to simply set it aside for about a week and then return it, unwatched, with a polite thank you note attached.

Since I really don’t know as much about the American Revolution and the early days of the Republic, I figured I ought to at least watch Part One to see why John Adams had gotten so much good buzz.

Luckily, Kirk Ellis did such a great job of adapting David McCullough’s book about the second President of the United States, played wonderfully by Sideways’ Paul Giamatti, that I watched all seven parts and found it worth watching.

Also starring Laura Linney (The Nanny Diaries, The Other Man) as his wife Abigail, the series covers pivotal events in the first half-century of the young American nation. Its focus is on Adams, a brilliant, vain and sometimes arrogant man who nevertheless helped the cause of America’s independence in various ways and, as President of the United States, was able to avoid an unnecessary all-out war with France even though it cost him a second term in the then-new White House.John Adams also examines the man’s complex and sometimes stormy relationships with other Founding Fathers, especially Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson) and Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane). His family life – a loving partnership with his wife, but an often difficult and even tragic relationship with his two sons and one daughter – is depicted as well.

Director Tom Hooper and his film crew and editors did a fantastic job of recreating the late 18th and early 19th Century political and military scene of America’s birth as a nation, and the pacing and tone are excellent. What could have been a boring bio-epic is instead a very moving and interesting look at one of the most underrated Founding Fathers.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review: Neptune's Inferno





Although the naval battle of Midway (June-4-6, 1942) is often called the "turning point" of the Pacific War between the United States and Japan, many historians consider the six-month-long Guadalcanal campaign to be the true pivot point on which the tide of battle turned in favor of America and her Allies.

Midway, for all its merits as an "incredible victory" for the U.S. Pacific Fleet and a morale boost for the nation six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, had been a defensive engagement; the breaking of Japan's JN-25 naval cipher code, cool-headed leadership on the part of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the availability of three U.S. carriers, bad planning on the part of the Japanese, the carefully-laid ambush of the Japanese carrier force, the bravery of U.S. aviators and a great deal of good luck all contributed to stopping Japan's eastward advance and a possible invasion of Hawaii.

However, the United States could not have defeated Japan by merely holding the Imperial Army and Navy to the territory that Japanese forces had conquered in the first six months of the war; to beat the enemy, American naval, ground and air forces would have to advance across the vast expanse of the Pacific in a series of combined-arms assaults against a plethora of island strongholds which stretched from the Aleutian Islands off Alaska all the way to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.

Guadalcanal, one of the islands in the Solomon chain, was chosen by Admiral Ernest J. King - the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations - as the target of America's first offensive in the Pacific, spurred on partly by the discovery that the Japanese were building an airfield on the island's northern coast. This airbase, in theory, could have allowed Japanese bombers to threaten the long sea line of communication and supply between Australia and the United States.

After outmaneuvering the ambitions of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to lead an Army-dominated drive against the Japanese in the formidable base at Rabaul, King and the Navy carried out the hastily-planned Operation Watchtower, the landing of the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and two smaller islands on the morning of August 7, 1942, exactly eight months after Pearl Harbor.

Because the Guadalcanal campaign was a complicated series of air, land and sea battles which took place over a six-month-long stretch of time, James D. Hornfischer's Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal deals exclusively with the purely naval aspects of what was a true trial-by-fire for the American surface fleet in the Pacific.

Though most of the public remembers the Pacific War for the pre-eminence of the aircraft carrier as the heart of the modern U.S. Navy, Hornfischer's book points out that although carriers - or the absence of them - were both strategically and tactically important for both sides, the naval struggle for control of the seas around what the Japanese would later call "Starvation Island" was fought mostly by cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, submarines and a handful of battleships.

Neptune's Inferno
- an apt title, given the fact that a total of 67 warships (29 Allied, 38 Japanese) and nearly 9.000 sailors (almost 5,000 of them from the U.S. and Australian navies) went down to watery resting places - is a fascinating account that tackles both the Big Picture of overall Japanese and American strategy and the narrower, more focused point of view of individual ships, their skippers and their crews. (The Marines' land operations are mentioned, too, of course, but only briefly and in context to the sea battles.)

The narrative is incredibly detailed; Hornfischer's accounts of the various engagements are so vividly descriptive that the reader can see the flashes of a cruiser's eight-inch main battery flash against the darkness of a night in the South Pacific or the splashes of shells "straddling" their targets, smell the sickening scent of burning flesh, oil and blood, feel the heat of the tropic sun or the bone-jarring concussion of torpedoes striking a ship's hull, hear the klaxon sounding the call to "General Quarters" and know the many intimate details of life aboard a warship in 1942 and 1943.

No men on a ship were wiser to the way things worked than the sailors who stood invisibly in the wardroom's midst. The white-jacketed mess attendants and cooks - a lowly caste within S Division, which saw to the supply and sustenance of the crew - mostly were black enlistees. Like all enlisted men, they cultivated what scraps of control and power were left to them. The ladder of ranks and ratings had its peculiarities, with voids on middle rungs and true power residing at the bottom and the top.

Battleships and carriers had separate dining facilities for junior and senior officers. On cruisers, all the officers dined together except for the captain, who had his own cabin. When he was in command of the San Francisco, (Admiral Daniel) Callaghan made a practice of eating with his men. He used the wardroom to break down barriers and accelerate the growth of his young officers. The mess attendants and cooks had as good a view of the goings-on as anyone.


Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal is not just a tribute to the bravery and skill of America's naval personnel during the bloody campaign, but it also points out that the fleet's officers, particularly some of its admirals and ship captains, were capable of making terrible mistakes. Some, such as Vice Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher's decision to pull the carriers out of the Guadalcanal area three days after the initial landings, nearly doomed Operation Watchtower by forcing the amphibious ships' commander, Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, to retire the transports before the Marines' supplies were offloaded. Other officers, including the commander of the USS Chicago, acted inexplicably badly in battles such as the deadly fracas off Savo Island on the night of August 8, 1942, when a Japanese strike force of cruisers and destroyers surprised and sank four Allied heavy cruisers and damaged another, along with two destroyers, with only moderate damage to three Japanese cruisers.

The book also examines the good, the bad and the ugly elements of the battle from the Japanese side. Hornfischer points out the strengths of the Imperial Japanese Navy - better training at night fighting, superior torpedoes and dogged determination on the part of some admirals - as well as its weaknesses - underestimating the Americans' ability to adapt to tactical situations, unclear strategic goals and the piecemeal commitment of naval, air and ground reinforcements to Guadalcanal based on poor intelligence analysis of Allied forces and intentions.

The book is illustrated throughout its four parts with maps which chart various stages of each naval battle, as well as two inserts of black-and-white photos from various archives. There are also helpful order-of-battle and organizational charts to help the reader understand who the "players" are on the various watery "playing fields" around Neptune's horrible inferno,

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Being a Star Wars Collector



It’s hard to believe this, but 34 years after I was given my first Kenner Star Wars action figures – R2-D2 and C-3PO – and a Landspeeder for my 15th birthday, I’m still one of those geeky guys who buys collectibles based on the characters, vehicles, creatures and locations shown in George Lucas’s space-fantasy saga.

Several years ago, for instance, my neighbor Maria drove my mom and me to the Mall of the Americas to go pick up my new prescription glasses. I didn’t plan on going on a major shopping trip – what with the economic slowdown, my shaky finances and all – so I left my credit card at home. However, I did take a $20 bill given to me on my birthday just in case I had a chance to browse around for an inexpensive DVD or music CD.

Because I have been collecting Star Wars figures since I was in junior high (middle school to younger readers or people unfamiliar with the designation), I also harbored a slim chance that the KB Toys store at the Mall of the Americas still existed. After all, the chain had declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy and, like Linens-N-Things, was supposedly going out of business. Maybe it wasn’t too late and I’d find at least a “peg warmer” figure from Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Legacy Collection.

As it turned out, I was too late. KB Toys was not “supposedly” going out of business; it had already done so, and the space it had occupied in the mall was now vacant, with a FOR LEASE sign displayed all over the front and its security doors closed. If any figures had been available during the going out of business sale, there were none now. All the Star Wars collectibles had been snatched up by eager collectors or scalpers.

Well, I thought, that’s that. I’ll have to go online one of these days and go on a virtual “figure run” when I can afford it.

Luckily for me, Maria wanted to stop by the Circuit City store closest to our neighborhood; the now-defunct electronics chain was finalizing its liquidation sale and Maria wanted to see if there were any bargains to be had. I sort of did, too, so we wandered around the few remaining shelves – mostly stocked with unpopular PC games and DVDs that no one wanted - for a few minutes.

In that same shopping mall there’s also a Wal-Mart store, and though I was sure that there wouldn’t be too many good Star Wars collectibles on stock, there bound to be a few. After all, I had purchased a TIE Bomber and both Trash Compactor Screen Scenes in Wal-Marts in Miami and Tampa over the years.

After a fruitless detour to the Movies section just in case a good DVD was to be had for less than $20, I headed off – a bit self-consciously, I might add – to the Toys and Games Department. I hadn’t been there since 2003, so initially I lost my bearings, ending up first in a section devoted to Barbie, then in another which featured comic book-derived toys and figures.

Finally, at the end of one aisle, I saw the Star Wars subsection of the Toy and Games department. As I expected, it was not as nicely stocked as I’d have wished, but there were a few Star Wars: The Legacy Collection items to choose from.

Because my collection is rather short on items from either Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith or the various Clone Wars franchises, I looked for clone trooper figures, figures of Anakin Skywalker/young Darth Vader, or even the new Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, but I didn’t find any . Nor were there any really interesting Cinema Scenes or Battle Packs.

There were, however, several Star Wars Comics Packs, which consist of a “bundle” made up by two figures and a reprint issue of one of the Dark Horse Star Wars comic books. I opted for the Grand Admiral Thrawn & Talon Karrde/Heir to the Empire Comics Pack, mainly because I have Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of novels.

I still felt a bit self-conscious about walking to the cash register with my newest find, but I couldn’t help it. It might seem a bit insane and something straight out of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but I still get a kick out of being a Star Wars figure collector.

Now, if only I could get more shelves…..

Return to High School

Is there life after high school?
Moving on is simple. It’s what we leave behind that’s hard.” - Author Unknown

What is it about the whole high school experience that has such a powerful hold on our imagination, our emotional compass?

Two years, five months and several odd days after visiting my alma mater with one of my Class of 1983 classmates, Maggie Wunderlich, I’m still somewhat bemused by how many memories can get stirred up by the simple act of opening a door and crossing one’s old high school’s threshold.

I had last visited South Miami Senior High in the spring of 1989; Conchy Bretos, then the person in charge of Miami-Dade Community College’s Recruitment and Retainment Department, knew that I had attended that school from August 1980 to June 1983. I was a somewhat respected college-level student journalist at the time, so Ms Bretos thought I’d be suitable to explain to a ninth-grade English class what Miami-Dade was like in comparison to high school and what the College had to offer.

I went, of course, and I improvised my way through a somewhat awkward presentation. I also handed out about 30 copies of the current issue of the South Campus’ student newspaper where I was then a staff writer. I thought I’d bombed, but Ms. Bretos was happy with both my performance and the students’ response. She sent a memo to her boss and mine (the Director of Student Publications), telling them that I’d done a good job and that she thought we should go again in the future.

For some reason, this never happened, and I thought I’d never return to South Miami High.

That is, until my friend Maggie, who’s now married (with children!) and living way up in Michigan, came to Miami to attend a wedding.

Maggie and I had not seen each other for a long time – at least not since 1985 – and we lost touch of each other during our college years. But thanks to Facebook, she found me and we reconnected online…

Anyway, Maggie wanted to hang out with me for a while on the day before she and her family had to fly back to Michigan, and she thought it would be nice if we could go see our old school, for old time’s sakes.

On the way to the school , we talked about some of our memories of those days. She and her older sister were in the same grade I was in, and Maggie was in both my home room and newspaper class. And for some reason I seem to have retained more memories of high school than she, because there were many instances when I’d bring up a teacher’s name or an incident that happened in our “tour of duty,” and she’d say, “I don’t remember that!”

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad; it’s what you do in between that counts the most.” - Author Unknown


Once on campus, I felt a strange combination of My God, this place has changed and déjà vu. Some things, naturally, looked different – there is a new building where part of the parking lot used to be and the paint scheme has changed some – but the front entrance was still in the same place and so were some of the benches outside.

“I always knew that I would look back on the times i cried and laugh, but I never knew that I’d look back on the times I laughed and cry.” - Author Unknown

The biggest change, of course, was the post-Columbine emphasis on security. Where in 1983 – or even 1989 – there were no security procedures to follow, Maggie and I had to have a Visitor’s ID pass made before we could go to the Main Office.

We also couldn’t – for the obvious reasons of security and non-disruption of classes – wander about the whole campus in search of the handful of faculty members still at South Miami High 26 years after our graduation. (Maggie and I actually talked to two of our former teachers; she spoke to Mr. Branstetter, her English teacher, and I saw my former Algebra I instructor, Ms. Castaneda. She guided us around as much as the rules and the time of day allowed; she even took our pictures with our digital cameras.)

“It is hard to convince a high-school student that he will encounter a lot of problems more difficult than those of algebra and geometry.” - Edgar Watson Howe

The strangest of the changes was that two of the school administrators – whose names escape me right now – were fellow members of the Class of 1983. I couldn’t remember them, and I’m not sure if Maggie did, either, but they were pretty gracious and took time from their work routine to talk to us.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Writing 101: Adapting Prose Story From Prose to Screenplay Format - Part Four

Adapting a literary work, no matter if it's a novel, play, short story, poem or a non-fiction book or magazine article, is a process which requires a lot of careful analysis, patience and a knowledge of how film differs from the various written media.

The biggest difference between, say, a novel and a movie derived from it is that though both tell essentially the same story and feature the same protagonists and antagonists, the form in which they're presented and (of course) "consumed" is very different.

Take, for instance, Stephen King's It, a 1000-plus page doorstop of a novel which is set in two different time periods (1958 and 1985) and has a huge set of characters and situations, as well as a complex plot and a very "big" finale.

Before ABC-TV aired the television miniseries based on the novel, my friends and I often wondered how such a huge novel could ever be adapted into a satisfying audio-visual experience. After all, It not only had a large group of dramatis personae, including a seven-member group of kids (and their adult counterparts), a whole fictitious small town in Maine and an antagonist with many manifestations and destructive supernatural powers.

I was of the opinion that It was far too huge, too complicated and too full of King inside jokes and self-referential material to work even as a miniseries. The final confrontation between It and "The Losers' Club" would require a hefty special effects budget if it were to even come close to its literary depiction; I honestly did not believe it could be done in a satisfying manner.

Others, of course, thought It could be made into either a miniseries or a feature film, although they admitted that the TV mini approach would be the most likely form of adaptation.

As it turned out, ABC did commission a miniseries of It, which was released (I believe) in 1990. And, just as I figured, it was not as good as its source novel version.

The basic plot of It revolves around seven misfit kids (Bill Denbrough, Mike Hanlon, Stan Uris, Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrak, Ben Hanscom, and Beverly Marsh), who live in the small town of Derry, Maine, and eventually bond as friends even as bizarre events, including the death of Bill’s younger brother Georgie, push them into confrontations with both the local bully, Henry Bowers, and the more terrifying Pennywise the Clown, the manifestation of an evil creature that only kills the ones who believe he exists…kids.

Known simply as It, this creature appears in Derry in 30 year cycles, preys on its victims, and then vanishes temporarily, perhaps to hibernate.

This point – that It terrorizes kids because the power of children’s imagination is so strong – is one of the novel’s central themes, and it clearly is one of the TV movie’s stronger suits as well. It derives its murderous powers – limited as they are to manifestations of It-self as a murderous clown and a none-too-visually-convincing monster at the climactic rematch – from the fact that It is “everything you’re all afraid of!”

Maybe it was for convenience’s sake, or maybe it was to make the movie more linear, but the screenplay eschews the novel’s shuttling back and forth from the Losers’ Club childhood years to the present and clearly sets Part One and Two in two distinct eras – Part One telling the story of the kids in 1960, and Part Two taking up the narrative 30 years later.


To be fair, having read the novel three times over the past 20 years, I can understand what a challenge it must have been for Lawrence D. Cohen (Carrie, The Tommyknockers) and co-writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace (Vampires: Los Muertos) to even attempt to tackle a sanitized and slimmed-down film of a novel which featured not only violent deaths of children, oodles of profanity, razor-toothed vampires and homophobic murderers, but also “guest appearances” by characters from Christine and The Shining.

The not-so-bad changes from page to screen started when Cohen and Wallace decided to change the chronology of It so that the part involving the seven kids from Derry (Bill, Mike, Stan, Richie, Eddie, Ben, and Beverly) and the evil It and its personification Pennywise the Clown) would take place in 1960 and the “present day” confrontation between It and the now adult “Losers’ Club” in 1990. It’s a puzzling change, but a trivial one, since it only alters the “reappearance of It cycles” from 27 years to an even 30.

Also necessary: a deletion of some very controversial sexuality and a toning down of the language used by the characters; it might sound prudish to non-American audiences, but I doubt that ABC’s Standards and Practices division, a.k.a. “the censors,” would have allowed a line such as "BATTERY ACID, FUCKNUTS!" to be uttered by anyone on prime-time TV, much less by a juvenile actor such as Adam Fairazl, who plays young Eddie Kaspbrak.

The strongest bit of the “mini-mini” is the first half of It. The “how the Losers’ Club met” storyline has, of course, been much simplified for the film, but the interaction between the seven kid actors – Jonathan Brandis (Young Bill Denbrough), Brandon Crane (Young Ben Hanscom), Emily Perkins (Young Beverly Marsh), Seth Green (Young Richie Tozier), Faraizl, Ben Heller (Young Stan Uris), and Marlon Taylor (Young Mike Hanlon) – is believable and is reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s cast in Stand By Me. Even in its PG-13 sanitized form, the whole essence of the novel’s first confrontation between It and the kids is superbly retained.

The weakest part, oddly enough, is the second half, which is set in 1990 and has spread its now-adult Losers all over the country, with only librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid) as a watchman of sorts remaining in the town of Derry. Bill is now a Stephen King-like horror novelist (one of his books, glimpsed in a scene here, is titled The Glowing); Ben is a renowned architect, Richie is a radio DJ, Bev is a fashion designer…and so on and so forth.

They also now have no memories of their 1960 stand against It, but this will change once something dreadful happens in Derry and Mike starts making phone calls to his fellow Losers. It, he tells them, has awoken….

The Losers as adults are all played by good, even great, TV and feature film actors – Richard Thomas, Harry Anderson, Annette O’Toole, Richard Masur, Reid (best known as Venus Flytrap in WKRP in Cincinnati), Dennis Christopher, and John Ritter, who, incidentally, was really appropriate to play Ben, because he minored in architecture as a student at the University of Southern California.

Yet, for reasons only known to them, Cohen and Wallace altered the Losers way too much, making Harry Anderson’s Richie Tozier a cowardly skeptic who is reluctant to accept the return of It and, thus seeks to avoid the confrontation. They also minimize or ignore much of the Losers’ back story and/or the people in their lives, including Eddie’s dominating mother and her spitting’ image, Eddie’s wife Myra.

The one character which efficiently bridges the two parts, of course, Pennywise the Clown, the scary-yet-familiar manifestation of It. Played to the hilt by Tim Curry, Pennywise is one of the creepiest, scariest villains/monsters ever to be depicted on any screen.

Though scary in parts, Part Two really suffers from its rather limited budget. Not only does the lack of money show onscreen during the should-have-been-great-but-isn’t final confrontation (with the “real” It showing the limitations of early CGI technology), but the novel’s truly epically-disastrous finale – which I badly wanted to see – is gone, a drastic change forced upon Wallace by the lack of money for the effects that were needed.

The Process of Adaptation, or: The Writer's Dilemma



When I began adapting Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken into its as yet untitled screenplay sibling, I thought that it would be a somewhat easy project because its source is a short story with a small cast of main and supporting characters and only a few settings – the narrator’s college campus office, his apartment, a cemetery in Miami-Dade County, and the high school he had attended back in the early 1980s.

Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken (or, as it was originally titled, Reunion) also has a very simple structure – it’s an extended flashback to the narrator’s final day as a high school senior in June of 1983, with a “present day” (1998) frame which serves to set up the main story and give it what I hoped at the time would be a poignant epilogue.

However, because I have learned – from both watching movie adaptations of novels such as The Hunt for Red October and reading how-to books along the lines of Sy Field's Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting - that adapting a prose story to a movie script is essentially like writing a new screenplay from scratch, I have gotten seriously stuck in the decision-making process about how the movie version will differ from its point of inspiration and how “true” some of characters and situations will be to the original vision I had when I wrote the short story back in 1998.

Part of the difficulty in going farther along on my script – I have only two thirds of a sequence written in my Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0 file – is that now that I am aware that I do not have to be a “slave” to the source in my adaptation, I’m not sure what kind of story I want to tell once I do finish the “chorus room” sequence which serves as the climax of Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken.

In my original concept for the screenplay, I was going to stick to the plot of the short story as much as possible. I would, of course, have to shift my storytelling focus from internal reflection on the part of the narrator to a more dynamic and visual experience that would capture the essence of the characters’ experiences in high school, especially those that lead up to the ending I originally conceived.

However, adaptation doesn’t merely involve paring down a piece of literature – with all its adjectives, internal monologues and thoughts, settings, characters and situations – into the “simple” elements of the screenplay format. It requires a totally different mental approach.

As Field writes in Chapter 14 of Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting:

Adapting a book into a screenplay means to change one (a book) into the other (a screenplay), not superimpose one onto the other. Not a filmed novel or a filmed stage play. They are two different forms. An apple and an orange.

When you adapt a novel, play, article, or even a song into a screenplay, you are changing one form into another. You are writing a screenplay based on other material.

In essence, however, you are still writing an original screenplay. And you must approach it the same way.


Field spends a few paragraphs explaining the differences between, for instance, a novel and a screenplay, especially focusing on how a novel can take you into what he labels the characters’ internal’ mindscape by describing thoughts, observations, feelings and emotional needs, whereas a “screenplay deals with externals, with details – the ticking of a clock, a child playing on a street, a car turning the corner. A screenplay is a story told with pictures, placed within the context of dramatic structure.”

Of course, I knew before I even started adapting the sequence set in the music department of South Miami High that I would make changes in the script. Some of the dialogue I wrote in 1998 sounds all right in the prose version but doesn’t quite ring true when I think of how high school students talked in the 1980s, so I have tweaked some of the dialogue in the screenplay so that it sounds more true-to-life.

What has proven to be more of a challenge, however, is that when I make some time to think about the screenplay and visualize the finished movie version, I am suddenly faced with a plethora of choices.

For instance, do I want to keep the story’s frame-and-flashback structure intact, or do I change the narrative so it’s more linear by starting the screenplay in the fall of 1980 (the narrator’s sophomore year) and telling the story arc in episodic form? Do I delve more into why Jim and Martina (or Marty) cross paths in school but never get together, or do I focus more on Jim’s friendship with Mark (his best pal since elementary)?

(One recurring idea that I do have is for the main title: As the credits roll, we hear the “Call to Colors” bugle call that is played every morning at the start of a school day, then, over a montage of black and white photos which trace the Class of 1983’s progress from kindergarten in the early 1970s till 10th grade in 1980, the voices of kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, with the voices changing subtly as the kids age.)

So many choices can be liberating and challenging, yes. But I have always had trouble when faced with daunting challenges, especially when it comes to writing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Writing 101: Adapting Prose Story to Screenplay Format - Part Three



Comparison: Prose Story Excerpt and Its Screenplay Adaptation

For readers who are curious about the difference between prose format and screenplay adaptations, I present an excerpt from the short story I wrote in 1998 and its still-in-progress script version. (The formatting in the screenplay section may look odd so please bear with me on this.)

Two girls, walking backward and waving their hands in leave-taking, turned around and saw me standing there, leaning against the wall with my hands jammed tightly in my jeans’ pockets. They smiled at me; one of them, a tall, pretty redhead whose name I didn’t remember, walked up to me and hugged me.

“Well, fellow graduate, we’re finally outta here,” the redhead said when we were apart once again. “I haven’t had a chance to ask, but what are your
plans, Jim?”

I smiled sheepishly. “I’m going to college in the fall,” I said.

“Where are you going to school?” asked the redhead’s companion, a blonde from my fifth period art class. Her name was Maria Theresa.

“Ah, Harvard,” I said.

“Congratulations,” Maria Theresa said politely.

“Good luck,” said Redhead with more enthusiasm. She leaned close and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. I blushed, embarrassed because I couldn’t remember her name.

“Well,” Maria Theresa said presently, “see you at the graduation.” She led Redhead away like a woman leading her pet poodle. Redhead looked back at me over her shoulder and waved.

I stood there quietly, debating whether or not to go inside the chorus room. I glanced at my watch. It was now 2:22 p.m.; only eight minutes left. When that final bell rang, a school year – and a phase of my life – would end.


FADE IN:

INT. SOUTH MIAMI HIGH - MUSIC DEPARTMENT WING CORRIDOR - AFTERNOON

We see JIM standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall opposite the closed door of South Miami Senior High's choral practice room. He looks a bit on edge and is trying to catch his breath after his sprint down the stairs from the second floor.

As he stands there, the door swings open with a loud metallic squeak and two girls (MARIA and TERESA) step out of the chorus room.

ANGLE ON

MARIA AND TERESA

We SEE two girls in their late teens, dressed in casual attire (jeans, blouses, comfortable shoes, etc. which are appropriate for a high school's dress code of the early 1980s.) MARIA is the clear "alpha" of the two, not just because she's taller and a tad more attractive than TERESA, but she's also the more outgoing and has presence. She smiles at JIM.

BACK TO SCENE

JIM looks at the two girls and smiles back politely in recognition, though he clearly simply wants to go inside the practice room.

JIM
Hi, guys. What's up?

MARIA
Well, fellow graduate, we're finally outta here.

ANGLE ON

JIM

JIM tries not to look as though he doesn't want to talk to his two classmates, but we see his feet shifting ever so slightly as he holds his backpack in one hand.

BACK TO SCENE

MARIA looks at JIM quizzically but doesn't read his body language. TERESA glances at MARIA, then at JIM.

JIM
Yeah. Hard to believe, huh? It seems like only a few weeks ago we were 10th graders trying to fit in. In two days we get our diplomas. It's -
(beat)
Surreal.

ANGLE ON

MARIA AND TERESA

MARIA smiles at this. TERESA, not so subtly, looks at her watch.

BACK TO SCENE

JIM notices TERESA'S "let's get going already" body language; he feels the same way but is far too polite to simply press on past the two girls.

MARIA nods at JIM'S comment, then seems to remember something.

MARIA
I haven't had a chance to ask, but what are your plans, Jim?

JIM
I’m going to college in the fall.

TERESA, tired of being in the background, decides to speak up.

TERESA
Really? Where? Miami-Dade? Florida International? Where?

JIM
Um, none of those, actually. I was, um, accepted to Harvard.

MARIA, who's the more perceptive of the two girls, brightens up and smiles appreciatively.

MARIA
That's awesome!

ANGLE ON

MARIA and TERESA

BACK TO SCENE

JIM blushes. He's both proud of having been accepted to an Ivy League school and a bit wary about making a big deal about it.

MARIA knows that getting into Harvard is not easy, and she's clearly pleased.

MARIA
Congratulations, Jim!

She leans over and plants a quick kiss on JIM'S cheek.

ANGLE ON

JIM blushes.

JIM
Thanks!

BACK TO SCENE

TERESA
Congratulations.

JIM notices TERESA'S lack of enthusiasm but chooses to ignore it. His gaze turns, none too subtly, toward the closed door just behind the girls.

MARIA and TERESA exchange glances, the latter girl's body language clearly reflecting a "come on, let's go already" attitude.

MARIA
Well, it was good seeing you, but we have to get going. Graduation party at Dean's house later and we gotta get ready. See you at commencement?

JIM
Wouldn't miss it!
(beat)
I think Mark's having a party later, too - maybe you can drop by?

MARIA
Sure! Sounds like fun. But if not, we'll see you on Thursday at graduation.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My 2004 Review of the Star Wars Trilogy DVD Set




At last! Where have you been?-- C-3PO to R2-D2, A New Hope

Part One: A Fan's Dream Comes True at Last.

On Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004, Lucasfilm Ltd. and 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment released -- some might say unleashed -- the DVD edition of one of the most anticipated movie collections since the invention of this increasingly popular format: The Star Wars Trilogy. And despite some opposition from fans who (a) wanted the DVD set to include both the 1977-83 versions and the 1997 Special Editions and (b) are unhappy with further alterations made to the "Classic" trilogy especially for the 2004 DVD editions, The Star Wars Trilogy four-disc set has been selling briskly. (It's No. 1 in DVD sales at Amazon.com.)

I've been a Star Wars fan since 1977, so not only have I seen the existing five Episodes of George Lucas' space fantasy set "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" at the cinemaplex, but I've owned every VHS release since I purchased my one and only (and now long gone) videocassette recorder. When each film of the Trilogy came out on video, I'd go to the store and get my copy. When CBS-Fox Video offered the first boxed sets for Star Wars' 15th Anniversary, I plunked down whatever it was that it cost. When Lucasfilm and 20th Century-Fox Home Video re-issued the three cassette THX enhanced version in '95, I upgraded (giving my first boxed set to my older sister), even though I had to settle for the dominating pan-and-scan format; there was a specially packaged widescreen "collector's edition," but even the enticement of the superior format and a snippet of actual film frames from one of the films wasn't enough to get me to spend $100 on a VHS boxed set. I also have owned not one but two sets of the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition (SE) boxed set: I bought the first one in the fall of 1997, but after part of The Empire Strikes Back became unwatchable after someone had a mishap with the tape, I replaced it with the rare widescreen version of the 2000 re-issue. (I didn't toss the first set into a garbage can, however; I sent the boxed set to one of my dearest friends on the Internet so her three boys could enjoy them.) I never did buy a laserdisc player -- the direct precursor to the DVD player -- but I did watch A New Hope on one of my early consulting clients' laser disc players; I was amazed how nice the picture and sound were, but I also saw how unwieldy the laser discs could be. About the size of an old 33.3 RPM long play album and made of delicate materials, you had to handle them with extreme care.

Obviously, when Amazon.com e-mailed me on March 31st to tell me that The Star Wars Trilogy was available for pre-order, I promptly ponied up to my computer and, Visa in hand, hit the "Order" button for the widescreen edition faster than the Millennium Falcon can jump to light speed. At first I opted for Standard Shipping for "same-week" delivery, but three days before the release date I upgraded to One Day Shipping, and on Sept. 21st I had my four-disc set.

Part Two: "Now we find out if the Trilogy is worth the price we paid."

The three films that make up the Star Wars Trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, aka Episodes IV, V, and VI) comprise the second half of a six-film series that includes the films Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and the upcoming Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Set against the larger backdrop of the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire, both trilogies center on the Skywalker family, specifically on Anakin, the powerful but headstrong Jedi Knight who falls out of grace and becomes Darth Vader, Sith Lord and servant to Emperor Palpatine, and his twin children, Luke and Leia, whose role in the Galactic Civil War is chronicled in the "Classic" Star Wars Trilogy.

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: Originally released in May of 1977 sans Episode number or subtitle, the film still simply known as Star Wars is actually the midway point of the entire six-film series, but at the time of its production neither writer-director George Lucas nor the executives at 20th Century-Fox expected much from this Flash Gordon-inspired space opera about Luke Skywalker's heroic quest to rescue a captive Princess from the evil Galactic Empire and the beginning of his chosen path to follow in his murdered father's footsteps as a Jedi Knight. Although Lucas had written a complex screen treatment and outline that would evolve into the present two trilogies, he ended up paring down Star Wars' script into a workable three-act movie that would be able to stand on its own rights as a filmgoing experience, and at the same time be the launching pad for further adventures if it earned enough box-office "take."

A New Hope introduces us to a civil war-torn galaxy where a small number of worlds is forming a Rebel Alliance against a tyrannical Empire. In an effort to crush all opposition to the Empire's New Order, Emperor Palpatine (offscreen in this film) has placed Grand Moff Tarkin in command of the Death Star, a huge space station with enough power to destroy entire planets. But after the Rebellion's first victory against the Empire, the secret plans to the Death Star have been stolen by rebel spies and entrusted to Princess Leia.

But the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator intercepts Leia's Tantive IV over the desert world Tatooine, and after a short and brutal firefight, Imperial stormtroopers led by Lord Darth Vader overwhelm the tiny ship's defenders and capture Leia, unaware that the Death Star plans have been entrusted to R2-D2, a short astromech droid who has fled with his protocol droid counterpart C-3PO aboard an escape pod.

The droids land on Tatooine's desert wastes and are snatched by the scrap-hunting jawas, who eventually sell them to Owen Lars and his "nephew" Luke Skywalker, who live in a remote homestead and make a living as moisture farmers. While cleaning the droids, Luke accidentally activates a hologram with a desperate plea from Princess Leia: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."

With those words, Luke's life as a moisture farmer on Tatooine will change forever as he is thrust in the middle of the Galactic Civil War. Rescued by Obi-Wan Kenobi from the marauding Sand People, Luke learns that his father had once been a Jedi knight and friend of Obi-Wan before his murder by the evil Darth Vader. Though he is reluctant to go off on a mission to Alderaan with Kenobi, the Empire's slaying of his aunt and uncle push him to join Kenobi so he "can learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi."


A New Hope's second half, starting with the fateful meeting in the now famous Mos Eisley cantina with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and culminating with the climactic space battle over the Death Star, is a fast-paced chain of cliffhangers intended to be an homage to the cheesy-but-thrilling movie serials of the Thirties and Forties. Will the Rebels get past the detention cell? Will the droids stop the trash compactor in time? Will Darth Vader face off against his former Master? Will Han Solo and Chewbacca go off to pay Jabba the Hutt, or will they save Luke during the last attack run down the Death Star trench?

A New Hope: The DVD: Although the 2004 DVD edition of Episode IV: A New Hope is essentially the same as the 1997 Special Edition re-release, there are a few tweaks Lucas added, mostly cosmetic changes to the additional material created for the controversial 20th Anniversary re-release. For instance, the scene where Greedo shoots first at Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina is still there, but it looks less jerky and added on than it does on the Widescreen VHS edition. Also, the CGI Jabba generated for the restored confrontation between the Hutt crime lord and Han looks a bit more like he does in both Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and the prequel Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Finally, the only onscreen English-language labeling (on the tractor beam control unit aboard the Death Star) has been replaced by glyphs in a Star Wars written language.

Glitch Report: As good as the DVD's content is, there appears to be a widespread glitch in this disc. When a viewer selects the Audio Commentary feature on the A New Hope disc or the English 2.0 Dolby audio track, the "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...." card suddenly switches from English to Spanish then back to English, then freezes at the 24-second mark. I've experienced this on not one but two DVD players, and I've heard some of my friends griping about similar issues.

Episode V:The Empire Strikes Back picks up the narrative some three years after the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. Despite their impressive victory at Yavin, the Rebels' destruction of the Empire's Death Star marked only the true start of the Galactic Civil War. Darth Vader, last seen heading into deep space in his damaged TIE fighter, made his way to Imperial territory and was given the assignment of eradicating the main resistance cell of the Rebellion. Somewhere along the line (and the movies never explained this), Vader discovered the identity of the X-Wing pilot who destroyed the Death Star. Some time after the Battle of Yavin, the Empire forced the Rebels to flee from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. Now, as the title crawl narrates, Vader, "obsessed with finding young Skywalker, dispatches thousands of remote probes into the deep reaches of space."

One of these probes crashes on Hoth, an icy world in the backwaters of the galaxy and so inhospitable that even smugglers avoid it. Its fiery descent is seen by Luke Skywalker, now a commander of Rogue Squadron, as he rides on his trusty tauntaun. However, before he can check it out, he's attacked by a Wampa ice creature and dragged off to its cave for future consumption.

Meanwhile, unaware of his friend's plight, Han Solo returns to the Rebel base and tells the commanding officer that he's leaving the Alliance to pay the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt the money he still owes from an incident predating his involvement with the Rebellion. When Princess Leia reacts angrily to his decision to leave, he tells her he knows she wants him to stay not because he's "a natural leader" for the Rebel pilots but "because of the way you feel about me." But their sparring is interrupted when Luke (now hanging by his ankles on an ice cave's ceiling) is reported overdue and Han recklessly rides out into the bitter cold of a Hoth night to find him.

Skywalker, aided by his untrained Jedi abilities, manages to escape from the Wampa before he becomes its dinner, and runs out into the teeth of a Hoth night storm. Before collapsing in exhaustion, the spirit of his slain mentor Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi appears before him and tells Luke he must "go to the Dagobah system. There you will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me." Ben disappears and Luke falls unconscious to the snow, but Han reaches him in the nick of time.

Although Han's tauntaun dies and the two friends must themselves be rescued by Alliance pilots, Luke survives and everyone is briefly reunited. But the Imperial probe that Luke failed to investigate discovers the Rebel base and reports to the Imperial fleet. Soon, Vader and his hordes of Imperial forces, supported by a fleet of Star Destroyers and lumbering armored transports, descend on Hoth, and the band of Star Warriors scatters. Luke and his astromech droid R2-D2 fly off to Dagobah to find Yoda, while Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO are pursued relentlessly by Imperial ships and the bounty hunter Boba Fett, who chases them all the way to Bespin's Cloud City.

The Empire Strikes Back took very big risks, such as surprising fans with its Episode V subtitle, having its big battle take place during the first half of the movie, giving the director's chair to Irvin Kershner, and making the ending a big cliffhanger with so many story threads left dangling. Would Luke complete his training with Yoda? Could Lando Calrissian be trusted? Who did Leia really love, Luke or Han? Most importantly, was Vader really Luke's father, as he claims at the end of the de rigeur lightsaber duel on Cloud City?

For three years, fans theorized and conjectured many different scenarios and grumbled about the unfinished feel of the ending, but Empire was a resounding critical and popular success. The script and directing gave Episode V depth and more personality shadings to the characters, the effects were even better than the first film's, and John Williams' brilliant score built on A New Hope's established musical themes and added new and more interesting leitmotivs that gave the Star Wars saga its operatic sweep. Empire is one of those rare sequels that in some ways surpasses its predecessor film, and almost 25 years after its release it still thrills and chills its many fans.

The Empire Strikes Back: The DVD: Like A New Hope, the 2004 DVD edition of The Empire Strikes Back is essentially the same as the 1997 Special Edition, except for one revamped scene; Ian McDiarmid, who plays Darth Sidious/Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in the prequels and personified Emperor Palpatine's aged version in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, appears in the hologram that confers with Lord Vader and warns him they have a new enemy, Luke Skywalker. McDiarmid, who replaces both a heavily disguised woman and the voice of Clive Revill, has a new bit of dialog that implies that it took a while for the Emperor to figure out who had destroyed the Death Star, even though it seems Vader figured it out some time before.

In addition, because Episode II established that Boba Fett is a perfect clone of the bounty hunter Jango Fett (Temuera Morison), Jeremy Bulloch's lines (all four of them!) have been dubbed over with Morison's voice.

The only other change I discerned is that in the 1997 Special Edition version, Luke actually screams as he plummets several hundred feet down the Cloud City tubes and onto a thin weather vane. In the 2004 DVD, Lucas has deleted this tacked-on revision and restored the quiet "I'm going to die, but at least the Force is with me" freefall.

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, written by Larry Kasdan and George Lucas and directed by the late Richard Marquand, closes the Classic Trilogy that chronicles the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia during the Galactic Civil War, which pit the Heroes of the Rebellion against Emperor Palpatine and his evil minion, Darth Vader. Although many fans consider Jedi to be weaker than The Empire Strikes Back, it is still a fitting conclusion to the beloved film series.

Even though Return of the Jedi was released 16 years before Episode I: The Phantom Menace, George Lucas intended it to be part of a six-film cycle, very much as J.R.R. Tolkien intended each volume of his Lord of the Rings "trilogy" to be part of a single novel. It clearly ties up all the events from both Prequel and Classic Trilogies, leaving it to authorized novelists to continue the Star Wars story in the Expanded Universe books and graphic novels.

As the film opens, it is a dark time for the Rebellion. Imperial forces under the command of Jedi-turned-Sith Lord Darth Vader have defeated the Rebel Alliance at Hoth and elsewhere. The Emperor has ordered Vader to capture Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker and turn him to the Dark Side of the Force before the boy becomes too powerful and destroys the two Sith Lords. To achieve this goal, Vader uses every means at his disposal -- the Imperial Fleet and bounty hunters -- to capture Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO and use them as bait to lure Skywalker to Cloud City on Bespin...and into a carefully laid trap.

Luke manages to escape, but now Han is frozen in carbonite and in the clutches of the vile Tatooine gang lord Jabba the Hutt. And as he, Leia, Chewbacca and new ally Lando Calrissian plan a rescue mission they are unaware that Palpatine has ordered the construction of a second, more powerful Death Star. If the Empire completes this planet-killing space station, the Rebellion is doomed.

The first half of Jedi focuses on Han's rescue from Jabba's Palace on Luke's home world. It starts out subtly, with C-3PO (clueless as ever) and his feisty astromech counterpart R2-D2 being "given" as a gift to the Hutt as a token of goodwill by Luke, who hopes -- against evidence to the contrary -- that Jabba will see reason and negotiate. Then, a bounty hunter called Boussh arrives with Han's Wookiee pal Chewbacca, but later, when Han is thawed out in an abortive rescue attempt, it is revealed that Boussh is really Leia in disguise and she is forced to wear a skimpy outfit (later made famous in an episode of "Friends") and chained to the slug-like crime lord.

The film finally becomes full of action once Luke arrives at the palace to get his friends out of this mess. His first attempt to use his Jedi powers seems to fail, but later, at the Pit of Carkoon -- the nesting place of the awful Sarlacc -- the young Jedi uses the Force and his new lightsaber to help destroy Jabba and most of his minions. Han, Lando and Leia have some of their best moments in this sequence, with some of the best lines going to Ford's roguish smuggler-turned-Rebel-hero:

Luke (to Han): Han!
Han: Luke! How we doin'?
Luke: Same as always.
Han: That bad, huh?

***
Han: I think my eyes are getting better. Instead of a big black blur I see a big light blur.
Luke: There's not much to see. I grew up here, you know.
Han: You're gonna die here, you know. Convenient.

Mayhem ensues, but the Rebels manage to escape with their lives. But Luke has unfinished business with his Jedi Master Yoda, and the Rebels have just decoded the data stolen by Bothan spies. The Empire is building a new battle station near the moon of Endor, and the Emperor is supervising the final stages of its construction.

Luke now must go to the Endor system to face Darth Vader one last time, knowing that the fate of the galaxy now hangs on the balance.....

Return of the Jedi was altered in 1997 with CGI graphics to test some of the new digital effects and technology that would later be used in the current prequels, although most of the changes come at the very end, where the victory celebration on Endor is now supplemented by simultaneous parties on Bespin and Tatooine. There is a new musical number that replaces the original version's "Lapti Nek" and the Victory Celebration features new material composed by John Williams.

Return of the Jedi: The DVD: Although all the changes made to the Star Wars Trilogy have met opposition from many fans, most of the criticism is aimed at Jedi, particularly the replacement of Sebastian Shaw as the "spirit" of Anakin Skywalker in the "Jedi Spirits" sequence by current prequels actor Hayden Christensen and a brief shot of Naboo (Palpatine and Padme Amidala's home world in Episodes I-III) inserted into the galactic celebration. (There is a Gungan who shouts "Wesa free!"...and it's presumed that it's Jar Jar Binks...but is it?)

Packaging and Prequel Compatibility Notes:

Presentation is crucial in merchandising, and Lucasfilm knows this, so the design of the packaging is paramount, especially in Star Wars-related items. The slipcover box comes in two basic color schemes: silver with black for the widescreen DVDs, and gold with black for the fullscreen (pan-and-scan). On one side, there is a stylized depiction of Darth Vader's helmet and mask, while on the other side there's a bas relief of The Special Edition's Heroes of the Rebellion. On the spine, big embossed Roman numerals identify each Episode with the title underneath in smaller letters, while on the back cover the classic Star Wars Trilogy logo sits above a photo of the Death Star and a TIE Fighter.

The individual DVDs, including the Bonus Materials disc, have artwork similar in style to the Prequel Trilogy; the only difference is that the lettering of the logos on the front and spines is in silver, while that of the Prequels is in gold. Otherwise the photo-realistic rendition of the characters and the typeface used in credits on the back is identical.

Each disc's label side (upper surface) features poster art from the 1977-83 films rather than the Drew Struzan posters used to promote the 1997 Special Edition re-release.

The DVD opening menus and options selection screens are also identical to the Prequels. After all, it's one complete storyline so it's important that the DVDs from the two Trilogies are consistent in design, just as it's important that the music and continuing characters are part of the whole.

Extra Features of the Star Wars Trilogy

Episode IV, A New Hope
Commentary by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher

Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back
Commentary by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher

Episode VI, Return of the Jedi
Commentary by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher

Bonus Materials disc:
"Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy," A 2-hour-plus-long documentary about the creation of the Star Wars saga, with interviews and lots of never-before-seen footage from the making of all three films

Featurettes: The Characters of Star Wars, The Birth of the Lightsaber, The Legacy of Star Wars

* Teasers, trailers, TV spots, still galleries

* Playable Xbox demo of the new Lucasarts game Star Wars Battlefront

* The making of the Episode III video game

* Exclusive preview of Star Wars: Episode III

Update: In November of 2008, 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Limited (LFL) released, in conjunction with a similar Prequel Trilogy box set, a six-disc Star Wars Trilogy box set which dispenses with the Bonus Material disc described here. Instead, the new set includes the two-disc "Special Limited Edition" re-issues of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, which come with both the still controversial 2004 Special Edition upgrades and the theatrical (original) versions.

In keeping with its current trend of downsizing box sets so they take up less space on shelves, the 2008 re-issues come in packages modeled after 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's "slimcases" for Seasons 5-6 of 24. The cover art of the 2006 Special Limited Edition DVDs was kept, but the DVDs come in the more compact two-disc cases that have no breakable parts yet still can hold both versions of the Star Wars movies.

Also, 20th Century Fox and LFL seem to have fixed the glitch on Disc One of Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope. Now viewers who like audio commentaries can select this option without that annoying 24-second freeze and bizarre language version "flip" which plagued both the 2004 and 2006 DVDs of this movie.

Writing 101: Adapting Prose Story to Screenplay - Part Two



Once I made the decision to adapt my short story - Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken - as a no-frills, just-to-see-if-I-can-do-this screenplay, I had to start thinking about the story’s structure and how best to approach it so it works well as a movie.

One of the reasons for choosing this story instead of, say, my thinly-disguised recollections about my first time with a woman, was its simplicity. It is, in essence, a long flashback (with a dream sequence tacked on for good measure) set in June of 1983 during the main character’s/narrator’s last hours as a high school student, with a frame story set in what was “present day” in 1998.

Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken has several built-in advantages that make it fairly easy to adapt, at least in theory. It has only a small set of main characters. There’s Jim, the narrator, a college professor and best-selling author in the frame story, and a Harvard-bound high school senior in the main body of the story. There’s Mark, his best friend since fifth grade and, in his adult incarnation, a successful real estate agent. There are several minor characters who Jim encounters in the hallways and classrooms of his high school. There’s a funeral parlor receptionist.

And, of course, there’s Marty, also known as Martina Elizabeth Reynaud, the daughter of British immigrants and the girl Jim has loved - from afar - throughout much of his high school years.

The plot is also simple (I wish I were so conceited that I could say elegantly simple, but I’ll settle for “simple”): Almost 15 years after graduation, a successful Stephen Ambrose-like historian gets the news that his high school crush has been killed in an automobile accident. Shaken by the news, he reminisces about his last day of high school and how he couldn’t bring himself to tell this girl that he had feelings for her. The main part of the story is that flashback, with a sad little coda set a few days after the historian gets the bad news.

As I said a few days ago, I thought my screenplay would be somewhat easy to write in sequence, but after several abortive attempts to “start at the beginning and finish at the end,” I had to start at the story’s emotional climax, in a sequence I have labeled the Music Department Corridor Scene.

Now, you may be wondering if, since the story is so simple in structure and plot, the screenplay is perfectly faithful to the original source. This question, of course, is the most common when the subject of book-to-film adaptations comes up in conversations with avid readers. After all, the comment most often heard when a movie such as The Hunt for Red October or The Da Vinci Code is released is Well, it’s good, but it’s not as good as the book.

Of course, before I read up on the concept of adapting prose to screenplay format, I always wondered why movies based on novels almost always differ from the source. Events are switched around or omitted. Some characters either are composites or left out entirely. Dialog is altered. Settings are changed. Sometimes, even endings are altered dramatically.

After reading Syd Field’s Screenplay, however, I now understand why this phenomenon occurs. It’s not that a screenplay’s author is trying to remove flaws from a prose writer’s material or change things simply for the sake of changing them. It’s simply that the nature of the film medium is vastly different from that of literature.

A movie, in order to be produced within a certain budget and be watched by the average moviegoer, has to have an average running time of two hours. It must be produced with a careful eye on production costs, which means that casting, location shooting, set creation, costumes, music clearances, catering, special effects and all the post-production processes often dictate abridgement or re-inventing of a novel’s plot and ending to make the movie affordable to produce.

Additionally, in “action movies” based on novels, directors and producers often alter endings to make them more exciting. That’s why we see the Great White Shark in Jaws doing that jump-on-the-Orca attack at the climax of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster, or why every one of the Tom Clancy adaptations have such drastically different conclusions from the books.

So are there any such drastic changes in the screenplay version of Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken?

Thematically, no. The scene I am working on now only has a few variations in the dialogue between the characters, and one of the persons who had almost an inconsequental role in the prose story has a bit more to do in the screenplay version.

Yet, for all that, the fact is that changes have, indeed, been made. I didn’t make them because I was thinking Oh, this is going to cost the producers a lot of money when this is filmed. Fields and all the screenplay gurus will tell you that you should never write your first draft with self-imposed limitations that reduce the scope of your original vision. You’re the screenwriter, so unless you are also the director and/or self-producing, costs, sets and casting issues should not come into play at this early state of the adaptation process.

Writing 101: Adapting Prose Story to Screenplay Format - Part One

Even though my writing career has taken many unexpected turns (such as my becoming a journalism student in high school and, more recently, becoming a regular online reviewer for such sites as Amazon, Epinions and Viewpoints), I’ve always dreamed about either writing a novel (doesn’t every writer?) or an original screenplay.

Over the past 30-plus years, the biggest literary projects that I’ve successfully completed (other than reviews and online musings) have been a trio of short stories which I’ve submitted to a website called Literotica.

Two of them, as you might have guessed from the website’s name, are about sex; I (rightly or wrongly) wanted to write a thinly-disguised account about my "first time" and share it with at least part of the world, plus I thought it would be a good “pushing the literary envelope” exercise.

The third major story which I submitted to Literotica was not about sex at all but rather my first major stab at serious fiction, a short story titled “Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken.” Originally titled “Reunion” when I originally wrote it in 1998, the story is about a 30-something college professor/historian who, upon learning that the young woman he adored from afar in high school has died in a car accident, returns to his home town and reminisces about the last time he saw her and reflects upon his inability to tell her how he felt about her when he had the chance.

In the years since I wrote (and rewrote) “Reunion/Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken,” the thought What do I do with this story and its characters next? has often crossed my mind. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever written (at least I don’t think it is), but because it is partly based on my life experiences (it’s set in my real-life high school at the time of my graduation), it could be either expanded into a novel or adapted into a screenplay.

As I said earlier, one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer was so I could someday write a movie script. This particular ambition was inspired, partly, by the fact that I like movies a great deal and wanted to somehow be a part of the filmmaking process.

Even though I’ve never gone to film school. I have learned over the years how to read and write screenplays. I’ve read “for the general reader” editions of all six Star Wars screenplays, plus one of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ve also read the more accurately presented screenplay for Stephen King’s Silver Bullet, as well as some how-to books, especially Syd Fields’ Screenplay.

Now, you’d figure that writing a screenplay on a computer with a word processing program such as Word Perfect or Microsoft Word would be easy-peasy, but it’s not. There are certain formatting requirements that can’t be replicated on either unless you are a whiz at code-tweaking and parameter-setting, and neither program has a “screenplay” template that meets industry requirements.

You see, even though screenplay format seems pretty simple since it’s essentially a combination of elements (Scene, Character, Dialogue, Action, Shot and Transitions being the main ones), it’s getting the physical document settings right that’s not too easy to do unless you have the right software, something along the lines of Write Brothers Movie Magic Screenwriter

So although I have always figured that adapting something I’ve written from prose to screenplay was something I could do intellectually, it wasn’t until I purchased a copy of Write Brothers Movie Magic Screenwriter a couple of years ago that I started making my long-held dream into a reality.

After installing, registering and learning how to use Screenwriter, I started re-reading “Love Unspoken, Love Unbroken,” looking for a particular section that lent itself to “easy” adaptation.

My first choice was to start with the story’s 1998 “Present Day” beginning, but even though I had a somewhat coherent vision in my head of what I wanted to “see” on screen for the opening sequence, I had a hard time choosing the right words to get the sequence’s cinematic tones to match the prose version’s elegaic and nostalgic moods correctly.

Frustrated but not wanting to give up, I then decided to adapt another scene from later on in the story. It doesn’t make too much sense out of context so I won’t reproduce that part of the screenplay here; suffice it to say that it’s based on this bit of the original story:

Two girls, walking backward and waving their hands in leave-taking, turned around and saw me standing there, leaning against the wall with my hands jammed tightly in my jeans’ pockets. They smiled at me; one of them, a tall, pretty redhead whose name I didn’t remember, walked up to me and hugged me.

“Well, fellow graduate, we’re finally outta here,” the redhead said when we were apart once again. “I haven’t had a chance to ask, but what are your
plans, Jim?”

I smiled sheepishly. “I’m going to college in the fall,” I said.

“Where are you going to school?” asked the redhead’s companion, a blonde from my fifth period art class. Her name was Maria Theresa.

“Ah, Harvard,” I said.

“Congratulations,” Maria Theresa said politely.

“Good luck,” said Redhead with more enthusiasm. She leaned close and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. I blushed, embarrassed because I couldn’t remember her name.

“Well,” Maria Theresa said presently, “see you at the graduation.” She led Redhead away like a woman leading her pet poodle. Redhead looked back at me over her shoulder and waved.

I stood there quietly, debating whether or not to go inside the chorus room. I glanced at my watch. It was now 2:22 p.m.; only eight minutes left. When that final bell rang, a school year – and a phase of my life – would end.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Epinions Review of a Really, Really, Really Bad Movie: Jaws - The Revenge



alexdg1's Full Review: Jaws 4 - The Revenge

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

One of the unhappy realities of a moviegoer's existence is Hollywood's penchant of exploiting a popular and critically-successful film that was intended to be a one-time affair and makes unnecessary (to the audience, anyway) sequels that are (a) rehashes of the first film, (b) not as well-made as the original, and (c) so illogical and awful that they can't be even be considered "so bad that they are good" guilty pleasures.

Jaws: The Revenge (also known as Jaws 4) is one of the best examples of totally worthless sequels. It makes More American Graffiti look like a masterpiece worthy of a zillion Academy Awards, and it is even sillier than Jurassic Park III (which doesn't even have a Michael Crichton novel to justify its existence on film).

Written by Michael de Guzman and directed by Joseph Sargent, this movie asks us to suspend our disbelief so much that we'd accept the following plot points:

1. White sharks can either come back from the dead or develop a sense of Mafia-like vendettas against members of a specific family.

2. White sharks can travel over 1100 miles from the cold waters off Long Island to the warm waters of the northern Caribbean to follow a particular person.

3. A person can have vivid flashbacks (through the magic of archival footage from Jaws) of events he or she did not witness in person.


Even more unbelievable than the above plot points is that someone, perhaps knowing that actress Lorraine Gary is also married to Sid Sheinberg, then the studio chief at Universal, greenlighted this absolutely awful movie.

For those fortunate souls who have yet to encounter this 87-minute rip-off of Steven Spielberg's classic 1975 shark tale Jaws, the basic story begins on a cold Christmas as Sean Brody (Mitchell Anderson), following in his late dad's footsteps as a cop, becomes food for the Great White Toothy Fish in a surreal scene underscored by a choir singing holiday songs.

Naturally, Ellen Brody (Gary, reprising her role from the first two films) is horrified. She's still grieving for her late husband Martin (who, mercifully, wasn't eaten by a shark), and she remembers all the horrible close encounters the Brody family has had with great white sharks. (I am still having an internal debate on whether the finned villain is a shark with the same ability to regenerate itself a la Stephen King's Christine, or if it's a family of sharks with an uncanny ability to track down members of the Brody family and whack them, Mafia style.)

Had I written the screenplay, I'd have had Ellen simply sell her house in Amity, pack up, and move somewhere in the Midwest, a locale far beyond the ability of even a super-shark to track-and-whack someone. That would have been the sensible thing to do, but because this screenplay's conceit is to have good old Mrs. Brody face off against the Shark With a Thousand Lives (or a Thousand Angry Relatives), this doesn't happen.

Instead, de Guzman and Sargent (who also produced Jaws The Revenge) ask the audience to seriously believe that Ellen goes to the Bahamas to join her surviving son Michael (Lance Guest), who is tempting fate in his career as a marine biologist. You'd think someone who, in the previous three films, has witnessed more shark attacks than Peter Benchley ever dreamed of when he wrote his beach-read of a novel would have chosen a safer line of work - astronaut, firefighter, soldier - but no. He had to pick a job that would make Ellen repeat her famous line from the first movie, "Get out of the water now!"

Once in the warm, tourist-friendly islands, Ellen meets and falls in love with Hoagie (Michael Caine), a local pilot. His role in this film is to create a sense of jealousy in Michael (a plot point that is introduced but, as you probably imagine, never resolved once the film goes into "who will the shark eat next?" mode. He also is there as a potential last-minute rescuer and/or more food for Mr. (or is it Mrs.??) Shark.

Also appearing in Jaws The Revenge is actor/director Mario Van Peebles, who plays Mike's Bahamian colleague Jake with a Caribbean patois which is as fake as the incredibly fake-looking shark. His particular purpose in this disaster is to provide some unintentional comic relief and, yes, to die graphically and in bizarrely-chosen slow motion.

To say that Jaws The Revenge is bad is almost like saying Saddam Hussein was simply a misunderstood head of state who was merely bad. It is excruciatingly awful, without any of the drama, human interest, and believable interaction between the human characters that makes the 1975 original such a classic. The script is inept, the direction by the usually reliable Sargent is careless and uninspired, the acting is lazy, and one of America's Funniest Home Videos has better pacing and production values than Jaws 4.

Jaws 4 - The Revenge: Major Cast

Lorraine Gary .... Ellen Brody
Lance Guest .... Michael Brody
Mario Van Peebles .... Jake
Michael Caine .... Hoagie Newcombe
Karen Young .... Carla Brody
Judith Barsi .... Thea Brody
Lynn Whitfield .... Louisa
Mitchell Anderson .... Sean Brody
Jay Mello .... Young Sean Brody


© 2011-2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved




Recommended:
No

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

Book Review: Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead



Ever since I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time in the spring of 1981, I have been a huge fan of George Lucas’s Indiana Jones, the fedora-wearing, whip-wielding, fast-quipping globe-trotting archaeologist-spy-soldier of fortune who risks life and limb going after “rare antiquities” imbued with supernatural powers.

Like many Raiders fans of my generation – I was in my teens when that first George Lucas-Steven Spielberg collaboration was released – I loved that film and its two sequels partly because of the non-stop action set pieces, partly because John Williams had composed a kick-butt score, partly because they mixed elements of the old Saturday matinee serials and the James Bond flicks, but mostly because Harrison Ford was so likeable playing the Man in the Hat.

Now, even though I own all four feature films and the three Adventures of Young Indiana Jones box sets, I only own a few of the novels and novelty books which fill in some of the gaps in Indy’s long career of chasing after ancient artifacts while facing such opponents as rival archaeologist Rene Belloq, Nazi agent Toht, Thuggee leader Mola Ram and Soviet operative Irina Spalko.

One of these novels is Steve Perry’s Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead, which has Indy and his British archaeologist/secret agent partner George “Mac” MacHale (who was introduced in 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) chasing after a black pearl nicknamed the Heart of Darkness in the tropical jungles of Haiti while evading competing German and Japanese teams which also seek the mysterious pearl.

Now, if you have a story set in Haiti with the title Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead, you can probably figure out that Indy’s worst foes won’t be the Nazis or the Japanese – though they are pretty worrisome as the story goes on – but rather a Haitian bokor, a houngan priest who is extremely long-lived and can control a veritable army of zombies.

As in the films, Indy is accompanied by an attractive woman; in this story it’s a lovely Haitian woman named Marie. She, too, has a bit of the sorceress in her soul, being a distant relative of the power-hungry Boukman, and part of the story delves into the mystical struggle between the two characters.

On the trail of Indy’s party are the rival Axis teams led by German SS Colonel Gruber and his Japanese counterpart Captain Yamada. Supposedly allies against America at this time in history, both men are sworn to get the Heart of Darkness for their own regimes, wartime alliances be damned.

But before they can beat Indy to the mysterious black pearl – the “McGuffin” of the story – Gruber and Yamada’s teams must first survive the terrain, the tropic heat and – most important – the dark powers wielded by the powerful Boukman……

My Take: I have long been a fan of author Steve Perry; he is best known for having written 1996’s bestselling novel Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire for Lucasfilm’s huge multi-media project of the same name, and has, with Michael Reaves, co-written several Star Wars novels, including the Medstar duology and 2007’a Death Star.

Clearly, Perry has a certain fondness for Indiana Jones (both the hero and the franchise); he tries to capture the essence of the fast-quipping central character and making a few offhand references to the events of the first three movies and at the same time “foreshadowing” Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in a brief but telling comment about Indy’s “lost love” Marion.

Perry also seems to have done his homework regarding Haiti and its culture, particularly zombie lore, even though I am sure he took lots of artistic license with his setting to make the story an Indiana Jones adventure.

Though the novel sometimes does get bogged down when Perry shifts the narrative from one group of characters to the others – everyone gets more or less equal billing in Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead – it is an enjoyable if not spectacularly thrilling adventure tale.

The one weak point the story has – in my view, anyway – is that there are way too many characters and their viewpoints and not enough action, or at least not enough action to bring to mind Harrison Ford doing his own stunts or the mental echoes of John Williams’ “Raiders’ March.”

However, Perry is a good storyteller and very good at writing crisp and easy-flowing prose, and his style – which can often be wryly humorous or even sentimentally touching – fits the Indiana Jones mythos suitably enough.


© 2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved

Writing 101: Quality or Quantity?

Quality or quantity?

As an online reviewer at various sites, I have tried – not always successfully – to strike a balance between being prolific and giving readers well-written, honest and balanced reviews.

Because how much I earn – which is not a heck of a lot of money – depends on how much material I produce, there is always a temptation to try to write as many reviews as possible within a month’s time. It does not matter if I am paid a fixed rate per article at one site or if I have to hope I have written about "hot" (i.e., popular) products which will bring in some income share at another site. If I do not write over 15 reviews a month, I simply will not earn enough money to make it worth my while.

The logical assumption is that it is acceptable, even preferable, to write as many reviews as possible within a particular span of time (a month, say). Some people actually do try to write two, three, or even four reviews in one day and keep up this pace for a month or even longer. Some are good writers with great typing skills and even sharper editing abilities – due perhaps to training as journalists or professional writers.

However, quite a few of the prolific reviewers in some sites (Amazon comes easily to mind) are not interested in quality. In the case of Amazon (which pays nothing to its customer reviewers), the impetus for writing tons of reviews is a semi-Quixotic quest for virtual bragging rights as to who is the site’s No. 1 Reviewer. (In the “classic” ranking system at Amazon, the No. 1 Reviewer was Harriet Klausner, who cranks out an average of 10 reviews a day.)

The problem with being overly prolific is that – as in Klausner’s case – quality is shoved unceremoniously to one side in favor of quantity.

While I am sympathetic to a writer’s need to earn as much as possible by writing as much as humanly possible, I am a firm believer in giving my sites – whether it’s Epinions, Viewpoints, or wherever else I contribute – quality copy. That takes a great deal of hard work, since good writing is not just a matter of being clever, funny, informative or fair-minded. It is also about the craft itself – choosing the right words, making sure a point is made clearly and deftly, and (of course) revising, revising, revising.

As someone once remarked about how to avoid burnout when doing the online review “thing,” you have to think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint, and always keep in mind that readers – even online ones – do appreciate quality writing. Or, at the very least, the site owners will remember your contributions and reward them in some fashion.

What I Believe

1. I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot and killed President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

2. I believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had no advance knowledge that there was going to be an attack on American installations on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941. I also believe that FDR did not “sit” on any intelligence reports that a Japanese fleet was on its way to Pearl Harbor so that American forces would be caught by surprise and thus enable FDR to drag the nation into World War II.

3. I believe that the Holocaust – the attempt by Nazi Germany to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe – did happen, no matter what David Irving, that bizarre Catholic Bishop Williamson, the President of Iran, and many Holocaust deniers claim.

4. I believe that President Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and is therefore a legal citizen of the United States of America, no matter what some nuts out there (including, for Pete’s sake, a Democratic lawyer!) think.

5. I believe that though the war in Afghanistan was and still is a very legitimate military component of America’s war on terror, the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003 was a costly and unnecessary blunder.

6. I believe that American astronauts did walk on the moon between July 1969 and December 1972.

7. I believe that true peace in the Middle East, while not exactly an impossible goal, will not be achieved during this decade.

8. I believe that denying gay or lesbian couples the right to marry is as un-American as denying civil rights and equal opportunities to African-Americans.

9. I believe that the Republican Party has focused too much on ideology and its insistence that government should have a small and limited role in people’s lives while lowering taxes for the wealthy. The GOP has been hijacked by two different groups - the Religious Right and the Big Money folks - and its biggest mouthpiece – Rush Limbaugh – is an insensitive and boorish jerk.

10. I believe that all friends – online as well as “in real life” ones – are human beings who not only need to be given friendship, support, and loyalty, but also treated with dignity and compassion.

11. I believe that anyone who goes online and “borrows” someone else’s articles, reviews, essays, poems and other works and claims them for him/herself is a plagiarist.

12. I believe that the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, for all its flaws (perceived or real) is not as horrible as many people say it is.

13. I believe that a true test of friendship isn’t how one acts towards friends in the good times, but when one’s friends are having a hard time or need help, be it financial, physical or emotional support.

14. I believe that one’s bad actions – online as well as in real life – can and often do hurt other people.

15. I believe in the concepts of forgiveness and giving people second chances. However, I also believe that self-respect and personal dignity do matter, so if people do not respect you after several attempts to get the offensive person or persons in your life to treat you right, you’re entitled to X them out of your life…permanently.

16. I believe that the Democratic Party also needs to become more centrist.

17. I believe in a woman’s right to choose.

18. As a corollary, I also believe in equal pay for equal work.

19. I believe that we Americans have become too celebrity obsessed and far too interested in vacuous entertainment. It’s all right to seek out escapism and fun…I do it all the time ….but when more people know (and care) about Britney Spears’ personal life than they do about big issues (global warming, Muslim fundamentalism, or the leftward veer being taken by many Latin American nations), we’re in trouble. Ignorance, sadly, is not bliss.

20. I believe that classical music still has a place in American culture.

21. I believe that friendship is one of the most important things in one’s life. I would like to be financially well off, yes, but I wouldn’t want to be rich and bereft of friends.

22. I believe in the Golden Rule – Treat others as you yourself want to be treated. Kindness and compassion are still important; if you treat other people like crap because you can’t handle stress or feel that life is unfair to you, don’t expect to have a huge Rolodex or online buddy list of friends if that is your dominant behavior trait.


© 2011-2012 Alex Diaz-Granados.  All Rights Reserved