Movie Review: The Force Awakens

The following is a spoiler-free take on THE FORCE AWAKENS:
In a nutshell, in typical JJ Abrams fashion, Disney’s first outing in the STAR WARS ‘verse is heavy on explosions and visual effects but light on character and plot. Characters are flat, and come and go so quickly from the scene that it’s difficult to find anyone to identify with. Poe Dameron made a promising first impression and would have made a wonderful heroic character, but he never got the chance. Where in the original trilogy, the three main characters spent the entire second act working together towards a common goal as a unified team, in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Poe, Rey, and Finn never quite seemed to find their rhythm and spent more time wandering off doing their own thing than building a heroic team.

I felt adrift and disengaged from the film until Han Solo showed up. At last! Here was someone I had an emotional attachment to. Unfortunately, the old, familiar characters we know and love likewise seemed to wander aimlessly, as though even they were unsure what they were doing in the movie. Solo was in an entirely different story that seemed more interesting than the one the young heroes were pursuing. Yes, there was a unifying goal, but by the second act even the bad guy got bored with it and moved on to something else.

 
mcquarrie_earlystarwars_520It took a while for me to realize why elements of the movie felt so familiar. Abrams made the movie Lucas had originally intended Star Wars to be. I guess because I avoided all blogs, articles and potential spoilers, I didn’t realize that the inspiration for the story line was Lucas’s first draft of Star Wars in which the Luke/Leia character was a warrior “princess” (Rey) and Han Solo/Obi Wan Kenobi was an older mentor guiding her on her quest. Not only that, the look of THE FORCE AWAKENS was drawn from Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art from before the first actor was cast or the first set built.
 
Kudos to Disney for going back to the very beginning. I give that nod to early STAR WARS lore an “A” for effort.
 
Lucasfilm veteran, Lawrence Kasdan worked on the script and co-produced. Lucas/Spielberg protegee Kathleen Kennedy was one of the producers attached to the project.
 
In the back of my mind, I knew all that.
 
Was it good? Did I enjoy it? Did it live up to its hype?
 
Much of it was predictable, but I enjoyed it. Nothing could quite live up to this level of hype. I cheered when old familiar faces popped up. The story was too fragmented and at times seemed to ramble, while subplot and backstory were much more interesting and should have had more screen time. Some old friends were under utilized (R2D2, Luke Skywalker.) So were some new friends for that matter (Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma.) Some plot points defied logic.
It is the kind of movie you want to see more than once to go back and catch the subtle nuances, now that you know what’s going on and who the players are. I’m hoping to find it tighter and better crafted on second viewing.
 
Star Wars fans will not be disappointed. Action/adventure fans will not be disappointed. Personally, I didn’t feel the ending satisfied. It felt more like the second book/movie in a trilogy than the first. It was almost like Abrams said, “Hey, we’ve got two hours of material now. Time to wrap. Where can we stop for now?”
 
In short, Abrams was marginally more respectful of the Star Wars franchise than he was the Star Trek franchise. Dialogue was snappy and sassier than the traditionally stilted Star Wars speech patterns. Character development was minimal and it was hard to get emotionally invested in the new characters. There are too many questions unanswered, leaving fans scratching their heads and trying to play catch up before the end of the first act.
 
As a die-hard Jed-head, I have a love-hate relationship with THE FORCE AWAKENS. As a writer, I am by turns glad I didn’t have to write it and critical of sections that seemed like the writers had no idea where to go from there and fired off special effects hoping the audience wouldn’t notice the man behind the curtain.
I would still like to see a Joss Whedon interpretation of the Star Wars legend, though I feel JJ Abrams actually considered the fans expectations of the newest Star Wars movie. I can’t help but think Whedon could have done a better job and told a more satisfying story, given his penchant for effectively balancing character development, intrigue, and heart-pounding action, a balancing act Abrams has yet to perfect.

THE FORCE AWAKENS is an action-packed romp, but it lacks the elusive spark found in the other films in the franchise.

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The Website Twitter Doesn’t Want You To See

After all these years, Twitter has flagged the website for Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday as being automated or spam and won’t let us post the link. What is so subversive about a bunch of Science Fiction and Fantasy writers posting snippets of their work? Please share and spread the word. This is censorship!!!

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Where Can I Download Sovran’s Pawn For Free?

I had an eye-opening experience last night. I found a discussion thread in which someone was trying to find out how to download my books for free. On one hand, I’m delighted that people want to read them. On the other, I feel as though I’ve just had my purse stolen.

I was conversing with an acquaintance the other day and she was bragging about how she’d illegally downloaded “thousands” of MP3 files. She couldn’t understand why I was aghast. Her rationale was that she couldn’t afford to download so many if she hadn’t found pirated sites. I couldn’t believe she couldn’t understand that she’d stolen from someone else.

You see, every book of mine that someone illegally downloads is a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread that is taken out of my kitchen. When my children stand at the checkout line and ask for a candy bar, it’s the difference between yes and no.

It doesn’t seem like much to the person who stole the book. THEY got a free book. It’s the world to my kids.

Put another way, how would you feel if you worked twelve or more hours a day for six months to a year for no pay and at the end when your check was due to come in, someone decided to help themselves to your wages. That is what piracy is, whether it’s MP3 files, book downloads, or the latest movies. The creative people who make the music, books, and films that others enjoy are entitled to just compensation for their labors.

I am not wealthy. I get no huge advance. My royalties would have to increase mightily to be considered modest. I can’t afford to absorb the losses incurred by book piracy and free downloads.

Please, if you feel you have to steal my book to read it, I’d rather not have you for a fan. I can’t afford you.

What Is Your Type?

I love Buzzfeed. They come up with some of the most inane, time-sucking polls and quizzes in existence. I’ve taken many of them. I know where I should live, which 80’s song best describes me, what my romantic style is like, which 80’s action movie hero I am (Indiana Jones), and I even know which Star Wars character I am, (Han Solo.) I know what kind of warrior I am, (Pirate – big surprise there,) and what my personal style is. The one quiz I never needed to take was the one to tell me what kind of man is my “type.”

It started out as a joke with my friend and editor Laurel Kriegler because the question pops up with amazing regularity, “Who is Blade Devon?” I have  addressed the issue here in my blog and in interviews. I’ve fielded questions and taken suggestions on social media. Nobody seems to buy that Blade was originally inspired by Errol Flynn. He must be based on someone else, someone walking around today.

Poppycock.

But I had to look closely at the question. Who is he? Well, I have to say that physically, Blade is my “type.”

I read an article about Francois Brunelle, a photographer who located what he calls “couples” or people who look alike; doppelgangers, if you will. They are strangers with uncanny resemblance to each other and Brunelle photographs them together. Curious about the coincidence, I read a little further on the subject and found a reference to there only being roughly 500 facial “templates” or types. (My apologies, but at the time, I didn’t realize how important that little tidbit would be so I didn’t bother bookmarking the article.) The idea that there are only 500 or so facial types triggered a memory of the “Golden Ratio.”

Malemask_printable - CopyThe Golden Ratio, or Phi, is a mathematical formula for calculating the symmetry of the human face that we link to beauty. Dr. Stephen Marquardt has made quite the study of it and is considered to be the expert on Phi. The idea is that the features of most attractive faces have a higher percentage of alignment with Marquardt’s beauty mask. This made sense to me because when I studied art and drawing many years ago, I studied proportion and the Golden Ratio.

Now where am I going with this?

Well, if there are only 500 or so different facial types, and a certain percentage of those are symmetrical enough to fall into line with the Golden Ratio, then perhaps there is a formula for finding the face of Blade among the faces I consider my “type.” I took several photos of  attractive men and I studied them for similarities to Blade. I divided them into two categories of men generally considered attractive and men who strongly appeal to me personally. I limited my search to men with the basic bone structure I attributed to Blade:  high cheekbones, long, lean jawline, barest hint of a cleft in his chin, devilish smile… Okay the lopsided, devilish smile isn’t exactly bone structure, but it helps to narrow the choices, especially when it comes to choosing between twins, and I also limited my pictures to those taken of men when they were between the ages of 25 and 35, or thereabouts.

I found an interesting collection of men who do fall into that category. Here are a few whose handsome faces have made an impression on me, one way or another –

 

100blade - CopyAnd it was while going through these pictures, looking for some clue about Blade that I found something I wasn’t expecting, and I found it in the person of a young Sean Bean. Yep. That’s a tattoo and it says “100% Blade.” Interestingly enough, he got that tattoo when his favorite football team won a championship. It has nothing to do with me and is a happy coincidence. You believe me, right? The grin on his face tells a different story, but ignore it…if you can.

Many years ago my husband, who is a history teacher, got hooked on a television show starring a young Sean Bean called “Sharpe’s Rifles.”  I must admit, I also enjoyed the show…and once commented that if my characters ever needed to be cast in a movie, “that guy” would make a great Blade.

I suppose it was with that in the back of my head that I went searching through stock photos, looking for a model who could stand in for Blade. I had my criteria. I knew my “type.” I was looking for a “Sean Bean  type.” I was looking for “that guy.”

game-of-thrones-season-4

Quite by accident, I stumbled across a very talented photographer named Andrey Kiselev who had recreated an image reminiscent of the iconic Game of Thrones poster (the one featuring a pensive and weary Sean Bean.) I dismissed the picture because armored guy with a sword wasn’t exactly the look I was going for. But something about the picture drew me back for another look.

 

Conqueror
© Photographer: Andrey Kiselev | Agency: Dreamstime.com

The model definitely had a Sean Bean look to him, rugged, handsome, a little dangerous with a glint in his eye. I just knew he’d have a lopsided grin. So I took a closer look at the photographer’s work and, sure enough, in other photos of him, he had that crooked smile I can’t resist.

 Brutal style
© Photographer: Andrey Kiselev | Agency: Dreamstime.com

But I didn’t want a smiling Blade on the cover of my book. I wanted a man with a concerned look, a man who looked ready for action. I was looking for a man who was like a tightly wound spring, all potential energy just waiting for his moment to act. That’s when I found “that guy.”

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I have no idea what his name is. I’ve seen him on only one other cover, in the guise of the ancient warrior with a sword and a battle weary look. But he has the bone structure, the lopsided smile, and as I’ve seen in other pictures, a wealth of charm and charisma, and a certain warmth. For my purposes, this guy is the public face of Blade…and definitely my type.

Yes, I have a type. Like I said, I limited my search to pictures of men between the ages of 25 and 35 (though the model I chose appears to be a bit older,) I stumbled across an old picture of Sean Bean that I wasn’t expecting.

tumblr_n9ojikabNL1reij4fo1_500 - Copy
Sean Bean and his daughter

When I saw it, it drove home to me just how ingrained “my type” is. I had to do a double take because at first, I mistook him for someone else. Someone who is most definitely more my type than anyone else.

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My husband Dale and our daughter

I showed these pictures to my husband and after being taken aback, Dale threw back his head and busted out laughing.

Yes, he agrees. I have a type.

That Voice

WhoopiDaltonDuring a television interview while she was involved with Timothy Dalton, Whoopi Goldberg said something that resonated with me about her attraction to him. She leaned forward and canted her head as she is wont to do and lifted her finger to her ear explaining that Dalton had the kind of voice that a woman wants to wake up to, “right here.”

Oh yeah, I nodded with complete understanding. Dalton definitely has THAT VOICE.

There is something about THAT VOICE. It isn’t a particular accent that curls my toes. It’s a tone, a deep-chested timbre to the low, male voice that is foreplay for my ears. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way about certain tones of voice. My husband has a thing for throaty female torch singers. He’ll say of his favorites that they “make my eardrums hard.” He says my voice is never sexier than when I’m so sick that my voice sounds like I have a three pack a day habit.

Oh, I’ve heard scientific reports on human attraction and sexuality talking about tone of voice and why it appeals. Yeah, yeah. The bottom line for me is that certain men just have a voice with depth and resonance that for lack of a better term “makes my eardrums hard.”

Matt LeBlanc turned it into high camp on the TV show Friends when his character Joey would affect a smoldering look, a rakish smile and intone, “How you doin’?” My husband is possessed of THAT VOICE which he rolls out for his own amusement and quotes the Joey line. Having THAT VOICE is like having a super power. One must never use it indiscriminately. With great power comes great responsibility.

sean-bean-biography-228x300I can think of a handful of actors and singers with THAT VOICE. Dalton, of course is one, as are Sam Elliott, Sean Bean, and Russell Crowe. In my mother’s day, it was Sir Richard Burton, Lee Marvin, and Telly Savalas. I will admit that I adore hearing their voices. As far as singers go, I’m partial to crooners. Dean Martin still makes me swoon. Simon LeBon’s performance of New Moon on Monday has been quite accurately referred to as “panty dropping.”  Jim Morrison had it, too. For a real treat, I love to listen to Duran Duran cover of The Doors’ Crystal Ship. I can’t decide who did it better, Morrison or LeBon. They both make my eardrums hard.

Whose voice does it for you? I’d love to know.

 

The Women Who Inspire Me

Wow! Has it been over a month already since I last posted? How time does fly.

Even writers need time off and this girl is no exception. I am a bit of a workaholic, but only when it comes to writing. When I am in the throes of a book, it consumes my every thought every minute of the day. Not a problem if you’re single and childless, but when you have a husband and three rambunctious children at  home, it can create issues. After the flurry of wrapping up the end of the school year activities of recitals, awards ceremonies, parties and the like, I took a much needed break.

I kicked things off with a girl’s getaway weekend on Anna Maria Island, Florida with my BFFs, an amazing group of women who have encouraged, and inspired me for nearly a quarter of a century.

IMG_0662Our linchpin, Robin, is the very lady who got me my first paying job as a writer for the Tampa Tribune back in 1990. At the time, she was a photographer/multimedia specialist for the paper. She twisted an editor’s arm to give me a shot, then gave me a kick in the pants to produce. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the years, Robin’s career path has rambled through Real Estate, retail sales, and a few other ventures while she and her husband put themselves through school. She has a Master’s in Education and is a science teacher. She is the bright sun around which our system of sisterhood revolves. The credit for this enduring cadre lies solely at her feet. She brought us together. She organizes the getaways. She is the brains of the outfit. The fact that she has stood by my side through my best and worst days and loves me still is a testament to her big heart and forgiving nature. She was kind enough to wait until I had my eldest son before she and her husband decided to start a family. From the start our boys were inseparable. She is the only other parent I know who relies on canine obedience training as a basis for raising children. An avid reader herself, she has threatened me with dire consequences if I do not produce BARRON’S LAST STAND in a timely fashion.

Robin’s sister Kim is an ICU/Critical Care nurse by day and our cruise director by night…or whenever. Kim has a sense of glam and whimsy that takes a simple weekend and makes it into an event. There is no such thing as a simple meal with Kim around. Both sisters are foodies and when you send them for groceries you end up with gourmet fare that makes you wish you’d brought trousers with elastic waistbands. They both inherited their artist mother’s sense of aesthetics. Kim has a romantic eye for beauty. A sensualist by nature, Kim’s goal in life is to wring every drop of pleasure from the experience as possible. Kim reminds us to be in the moment. For someone like me, always looking at the overall plot and how it all works together, Kim brings my brain to a screeching halt and reminds me to stop thinking and breathe — enjoy the salt air, the warm sun, the cool water, and the decadent smorgasbord of the senses all around me.

Michelle is the steady hand at the helm. Robin and Michelle have been besties from childhood. Michelle served briefly in the US Army as a mechanic, but her dream was to fly. So, Michelle took lessons, got her license, and has flown the news chopper for local television and currently flies crews out to offshore oil rigs. Michelle is the voice of reason in our group. She is the soft-spoken conscience who asks the right questions, listens from the heart when we need to vent, and cuts through the crap when we try to delude ourselves. Her opinion is valued because it is seldom volunteered. Her wit and wisdom keep us laughing. Though we know we’ll never keep up with her, it doesn’t stop us from getting off the couch and following her out the door to our next adventure as she heads out with a gleam in her eyes.

We have raised our children together, helped one another move, scraped each other up off the floor when life kicked us so hard we didn’t think we would ever get up again, cleaned each other’s homes, celebrated triumphs and grieved losses together. We have forged memories and laughed until our sides ached. We have been friends so long that we are more family than anything else. No matter how far we move from one another, we always manage to come back home, back to our cadre of sisters. These are the women who knew me when I was young, thin, and full of big dreams. These are the women who have held my hand through every mistake, and put up with every embarrassing gaffe and misspoken word I’ve ever cringed to recall.  We have all fought health issues, financial setbacks, marital problems, and dramas enough to keep Women’s Entertainment in screenplays for the next decade. We are one another’s biggest fans. We get together as often as time, family, and careers will allow.

They are as much a part of me as the characters I create. You will find a bit of each of them in every character I write, as well as shades of our friendship in the relationships between the characters in my books. They are my sounding board, and my compass. These are the women I look to for guidance when I lose my way. They are the sisters of my heart and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I just thought you should meet the women who inspire me.