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Perfecting Plot: Charting the Hero's Journey (Red Sneaker Writers Book Series) (Volume 3)
Perfecting Plot: Charting the Hero's Journey (Red Sneaker Writers Book Series) (Volume 3)
by William Bernhardt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.99
29 used & new from $4.95

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read, July 14, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Having just completed, this the third short tome so far in Bill Bernhardt's Red Sneaker Writers Book Series, I can honestly say that I learned a lot. It's all about the fundamentals, folks. Dynamite comes in small packages and these books are an incredible value. Re Bernhardt's advice to writers contained in this series (of which Perfecting Plot is the best...or at least contained the information I needed the most at that moment): Learn It. Love it. Live it.


This Is It
This Is It
Price: $14.88
166 used & new from $0.47

28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is It: the best concert no one will ever see, October 29, 2009
This review is from: This Is It (Audio CD)
This is a review of the movie, don't have the CDs...yet.

Buried within the previews before the movie started was a plug for some musician babe named Orianthi. The Girl leaned over to me and said, "I've never heard of her." I hadn't either.

Well, we have now. She is a white-hot guitarist featured on the new documentary of Michael Jackson's rehearsals for the ill-scheduled This Is It shows that the world would have been seen in England, starting this past July.

This Is It is a love letter to Michael Jackson's fans, which, of course inhabit most of the planet. And it is fascinating. About fifteen minutes into it, I realized I was watching MJ being a human being, meticulously working on every detail of his last live appearances (yeah right).

Filmed in a documentary format and slightly grainy , you feel as if you're seeing something forbidden, something that wouldn't have remained buried in a box in somebody's archive if it hadn't been for Michael's demise (and financial straits).

During the press conference, part of which if shown at the beginning, Michael says, "I'm going to be doing all the songs my fans know and want." And boy do they. As expected, the set list draws heavily from Bad, Dangerous and especially Thriller. Probably the most interesting part of the set would have been the Jackson Five numbers, the rehearsals for which show a seventies big-round lettered background and airy pop numbers.

As for Michael's performance...well, the song rehearsals are just amazing. Between the songs, as it shows Michael's hard work and perfectionism is plain interesting. We get to see Michael as a human being, the guy just like us that we've known he used to be, and that we've always hoped was still there, behind all the weirdness.

It's a cliche to say that the best musicians torture themselves and everyone around them to replicate the precise sounds they hear inside of their heads. However, were Michael Jackson stands apart from all other musicians is that he can replicate any of the sounds he wants to hear with his mouth. He sings a high falsetto for Orianthi to play as he admonishes, "This is your time to shine!" He keeps at her until she tortures her guitar strings to wring out the exact note.

Another time on the terrifically-rearranged intro to The Way You Make Me Feel, he tells his musical director to slow down the tempo, spelling it out for him, "Do it like you're getting out of bed." Then, when the same guy comes into the melody of the same song, Michael wants him to hold the pause longer, saying, "Let is simmer. Just let it simmer."

The definition of a self-actualized person is a person so secure in themselves that they could walk into a black tie event wearing tennis shoes and not notice they were dressed inappropriately. Some of MJ's attire during these rehearsals pushes that point. Mostly he's wearing tight red pants and different sequined ones. One of his outfit looks like something straight out of the movie Beetlejuice, with wide white lapels and too-pointy shoulders. Other costumes replicate the looks we've come to know from the videos, a red jacket for Thriller, the yellow zoot suit for Smooth Criminal. Michael knows how important dress is to the overall package as the rehearsal of Beat It ends with him throwing down the red jacket he'll be wearing and pretending to stomp it out, telling everyone, "It's too hot, too hot to handle."

Could he have made it through the grueling schedule of fifty shows? I doubt it. Even viewing the footage, which certainly was the most flattering of what was shot, it is apparent that we are watching a sick man. Next to Michael, all of the dancers and even razor-thin backup singers look plump. His health also appears to show up in his voice, which, even enhanced and amplified, a lot of times sounds thin. It's obvious that some of the songs were lip-synched. At one point Michael evidently feels the need to rationalize the state of his voice, repeating, "I've got to conserve my throat."

I think Micheal would have played as many shows as he could handle, maybe half of 'em, then called off the tour due to health reasons, which over the years has always seemed to be his m.o. when things were getting too intense. I'm sure tickets would have been refunded, then perhaps another five date rescheduled, "The Last of the Last," with tickets for double the price of the original. Then another five, until all fifty dates were done. I think Michael would have pulled every dollar out of those shows, and everyone would have known what he was doing...but would have paid the prices anyway, and when the smoke cleared we'd all have realized that, once again, the King of Pop played us again...but we wouldn't have cared.

Toward the end things do get a bit preachy, as a terrific movie plays before, during and after a song dedicated to the environment. Michael even says something about "The world is sick, it's got a fever, and this is our last chance to heal it," then says something about only having four years to save it. Oh well, he seems absolutely and utterly sincere, but once again, we're another witnessing yet celebrity telling us about the earth's fate while oblivious to their own mindlessly wasteful personal consumption.

Toward the end, we see Michael and his entourage in a scene that we somehow knew they had. They are all in a circle and Michael is giving them a pump up talk. He tells them not to be nervous and to have fun. Then he articulates a distilled wisdom that we've always known was the key to why Michael Jackson is so great. He says, "People want escapism. Go out there and show them your talent."

In spite of all all the physical changes MJ's made to himself, there are moments where he's singing and the camera angle is just right, when you can see the little boy that was singing onstage with his brothers, the kid who's surprised and delighted us all for all of these years.

For two hours, This Is It delivers it's message non-stop: Michael Jackson was brilliant. And that the King of Pop was also the King of entertainment, whether it was dance, music video, Broadway-style production numbers, blues, rock and gospel.

And now he's gone.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2010 4:40 PM PST


Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived : Virtual JFK
Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived : Virtual JFK
by James G. Blight
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $39.95
40 used & new from $3.40

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived, May 25, 2009
(To be clear, this is a review of the film adaptation of the book.)

There is an excellent 30-year old BBC series that aired numerous times in the U.S., entitled, "Connections." In it, British journalist James Burke explores how, throughout history, often accidental minutiae ends up having profound impact on humankind.

Such is the premise of "Virtual JFK: Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived," which asked the question of if the "police action" in Vietnam would have happened if President John F. Kennedy hadn't been assassinated.

The filmmaker, Koji Masutani, distills Kennedy's major Cold War policy dealings of his roughly 1,000-day presidency into six major avoidances of war. From this, he postulates that Kennedy consistently avoided war and would have again in Vietnam if he'd lived.

The film spends a lot of time in Kennedy press conferences, the time when we see our presidents most publicly vulnerable and witness shades of their character as they're peppered with often-unfriendly questions in a sink-or-swim format. With the 20/20 clarity of history, we see how in this kinder, gentler age of journalism, the reporters grill him, but still stay respectful. We also see him charm the reporters with charisma and intelligence, which we now know was a necessary part of Kennedy's maintaining an inappropriate personal life in the face of their knowledge.

Since Masutani is so obviously an unabashed Kennedy fan, the question arises of how much footage was discarded during his research that didn't jibe with his conclusion. Kennedy also consistently spoke out of both sides of this mouth regarding troop escalation in Vietnam, his most salient words repeated by his successor, President Johnson, to maintain support for the war. In Masutani's telling, there is no black-and-white ideology. There are only angels (Democrats) and demons (LBJ for escalating troop involvement and Republicans, but Especially Anything Richard Nixon). When the personal side of Kennedy is shown he's young and flashing a million-dollar smile while hamming it up with his his siblings. Down time for Johnson is footage of his lumbering frame in a pool about to kiss his dog.

Kennedy's press conferences also seem to have been used as a template for President Barack Obama. While we watch Kennedy we hear the same cadences, the same "uhhh"s and similar logical expressions of identical ideologies from Obama. The same "youth and inexperience" claims leveled at Obama give us a sense of deja vu.

The events depicted are fascinating about quite uncomfortable subjects. We are subjected to a patient explanation of domino theory. We see a young Fidel Castro and are reminded of Adolf Hitler. We see Nikita Kruschev at the height of his power and can't help but wince at what he could have been. We watch Defense Secretary Bob McNamara coolly lay out how many Americans would die in a Soviet first strike launched from Cuba. Somehow the tone becomes ever more somber as the inexorable march to assassination overtakes the film. However, we're captivated and are compelled to watch, even with full knowledge of how the events played out.

Perhaps part of the film's worship of Kennedy shows in how it makes it appear that his policies were in now way shaped by his close trusted advisors, to whom absolutely no credit is given, from Robert Kennedy on down. The other major peacemaker in the movie is successor president Lyndon Johnson's VP, Hubert Humphrey, who vehemently disagreed with Johnson on the level of involvement in Vietnam. It's almost as if we're to believe that fully formed peaceful warriors descend from the heavans to help humankind resolve our warlike tendencies before being either cut down or defeated in an election.

A fair amount of time is given to President Johnson, who ends up being extremely sympathetic. The blustery, arm-twisting, greatest legislator-turned-President of the 20th century is shown as a soft-spoken and ultimately broken man who ends up bleeding into history over the thousands of American boys killed in Vietnam. Lady Bird Johnson as well, who actually gets more screen time than Jackie.

In spite of his personal shortcomings and political moral ambiguities, Kennedy was a peacemaker. Whether he would have avoided all out war in Vietnam will probably be forever open to debate.

In the final analysis, we emerge from the film thankful for someone of Kennedy's ilk during an all-too-long international nightmare.


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Terminator Salvation: Rise of the Deus Ex Machina, May 23, 2009
The first Terminator movie, released twenty-five years ago (!), was a brooding masterpiece of hopeful nihilism. T2 provided powerful lessons in empowerment and introduced a kinder, gentler Terminator, one more appropriate for a future Governator. T3 was more of the same and successfully teed up potential story avenues for multiple interesting characters. The latest chapter, Terminator Salvation, drops the ball.

Like the latest Star Trek movie, T4 is an origin story and in this one, set in the year 2018, we have for the first time, a prolonged look at an adult John Connor and get to see how he meets the incomparable Resistance fighter, Kyle Reese, the hero of the original film. And therein lies the problem with Terminator Salvation.

Because Reese eventually is ordered by John Conner to go back in time to ensure his mother's survival, and thus the birth of John Conner who eventually defeats Skynet, we know that ultimately Conner and Reese have to make it through the travails of the current chapter. We know they are in no real danger.

The new Star Trek prequel somewhat got around this dilemma by delivering constant dollops of focus on the main characters (and by placing the action in a parallel universe). However, T4 effectively abandons the intense interpersonal human drama and watertight logic of its predecessor movies. In fact, even cursory scrutiny leads one to believe that in the next ten years humankind will know how to subsist despite no visible means of agriculture, produce an unlimited supply of ammunition for automatic weapons and be able to surgically transplant vital organs without such complicating factors as the need for matching blood types or a sterile operating environment.

The cast does as good a job as was possible with the material. Connor is played by Christian Bale, who ably reflects the literally world-weary Resistance leader. Anton Yelchin, who plays Reese, pretty much steals every scene in which he appears. And although Blood Moongood (are you serious?) is fetching as the winsome Blair, her fairly whiny presence as the only major female character only underscores how much the series has veered from T1 & T2 director James Cameron's penchant for strong female protagonists. After the first two movies, I felt like I knew Sarah Connor, and, uh, Blair is no Sarah Connor.

One of the two most interesting aspects of the film is in the character of Marcus Wright, played by Australian actor Sam Worthington. To continue with the parallels to Star Trek, Marcus is a red shirt. In other words, when the leading characters on the enterprise beamed into hostile territory, we knew none of them would suffer mortal danger, so to show that the aliens were Really Bad People who could do Really Bad Things, a crew member who wore a red shirt usually bit the dust. In an irony introduced midway through the movie, Worthington's character ends up being the most human of all.

The other high point is in the special effects. The visuals in T4 are stunning. This world of Skynet is filled with original Terminator models for as far as the eye can see, liquid metal Terminators and Trojan Horse Terminators that release Motorcycle Terminators. There are even mammoth Jurassic Park Terminators capable of snatching up hapless Resistance fighters in their huge grasping fists. In a continuous CGI-generated shot lasting several minutes toward the beginning, we follow John Connor as he takes over a helicopter, flies it into the air, then ultimately crash lands. By the end of the exhilarating sequence, my head felt like one of the trademark crushed human skulls present in every one of the movies. Gone are the days of shoestring-budget effects and multiple crushed AMC Gremlins.

Unfortunately the trend of the Terminator movies has been to progressively move toward the Holy Grail of Big Budget Special Effects and away from well-told and soul-stirring science fiction, which, at its best, explores the pesky troubles that result from humans being ourselves and then being forced to solve our moral dilemmas which are inevitably of our own making.

On a perhaps not totally conscious level, we respond to the Terminator movies because we recognize our times. The original movie tapped into Cold War dread and fear over the formidable reach of the Evil Empire. T2 was right for an optimistic time of glasnost. The third installment fit into the current age of terrorism, with an "the enemy was within" denouement. The message of the latest is, I don't know...Skynet could afford massive armaments by leveraging L.A. real estate?

Watching Terminator Salvation is a lot like riding a roller coaster ride: thrilling while it's going on, but over when it's over. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, intricate battle scenes and mind-blowing spectacle can't replace basic concern for characters. In the end I wasn't allowed to care nearly as much as I wanted to.

Admittedly, the bar is high, but that's why movie makers earn the big bucks. Hopefully next time there's no "MCG" turning the franchise into fast food "McTerminator" movies. We fans can only hope that when the Terminator installment next comes back, it is more Harlan Ellison and less Harley Davidson.

Grade: C

Some of Dreamer Action Figure's other scribblings can be found on My Space. "Terminator Salvation: Rise of the Deus Ex Machina" was originally titled, "Salvation from the Trend in the Terminator Movies, Please" and was written after reading a couple of reviews of other films written by a friend in his local newspaper. It's become something of a tradition for me and one of my brothers to see the latest Terminator movie on the day it comes out. I suspected something was afoot when we arrived more than thirty minutes early in anticipation of the crowd and walked into a totally empty theater.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2009 8:41 PM PDT


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