‘Spotlight’ is a Film for Writers and Character Study

If I’m allowed to make a recommendation for all writers, it is this: See the 2015 Oscar-winner Spotlight. And watch it a second time.

In Spotlight, Boston Cardinal Law has a chat with Marty Baron of the Boston Globe.

Tom McCarthy’s film is all-around brilliant. What’s amazing to me is how subtle everything is. It’s a very quiet film. There’s no violent action, no in-your-face confrontation, nothing that seems over-dramatized at all. (Suffice to say, there also isn’t any comedy or romance). Yet, there’s plenty of tension and menace, magnified by the overall subject matter. (This film is about the Boston Archdiocese’s cover-up of widespread sexual abuse by priests.)

The movie humanizes both the journalist heroes and the villains (of the cloth and of the fountain pen), and most every smile is, in fact, a facade. In a way, the filmmakers got to cheat on a few things. They assume the audience has a working understanding of a big-time newspaper (where things are always complex, and timing and legal issues must be considered) and of the gravity of the whole saga. There’s little tension between the journalists and editors working on the story because, in real life, there wouldn’t be room for it. What they’re working on is so huge and horrible, it can only be eclipsed (in the film) by 9/11.

The long hours clearly take their toll. One quick scene shows Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) struggling to get the dishwasher rack in properly. She bangs it, her husband asks if she’s okay. No response, none needed. The story never calls for an awkward domestic moment: “So what did you do today at work, Honey?”

In the end, what that gives us is a 2-hour build toward a satisfying crescendo. There isn’t an erroneous scene or a wasted word of dialogue in the whole movie. That, by itself, is amazing. Some of my favorite moments were the slight or gradual facial reactions to verbal jabs and tough questions. The heroes mine for information, constantly digging for truth. Without dark TV music or flashy cut-scenes, the weight of what isn’t said almost becomes its own character.

I could probably base a college seminar on this movie alone.

One Writer’s Year in Review

So, 2017 definitely had its ups and downs (like all times in life).

Rather than focus on general life stuff (got older, gained more weight than I could stave off with exercise, drank 200 gallons of coffee, suffered 500 hours of depression) I’m looking at the year the way Kai Ryssdal would.

My accomplishments for the year:

Blog posts (including this one): 63.

Short stories: 2 (Fur, Droplets of Regret)

Poems: 3

Words: Too many to count, honestly

Novels published: 1 (Tempest Road)

Novels worked on: 2 (Frozen at the Wheel, Destruction [Woman at War, book 2]

Books I’ve read: 21+ (Your Republic is Calling You, Artemis, The Secret Life of Bees, The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-time, Old Yeller, My Sister’s Grave, Persepolis, Finding Zoe, Reputations, A Laird for Christmas, Born a Crime, A Long Way Gone, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Gone Girl, The Prince of Tides, The Illegal, The Short Drop, Long Way Down, Broken Pieces, All the Light We Cannot See, The Bridges of Madison County, maybe more…)

Sales: (And this is where Ryssdal would probably shake his head and say, “Give it up, man.”) Estimate 25-30 books

Reasons to give up writing: 2 (Not enough people see/read the books, not enough money in it)

Reasons to keep going (shaking my head all the way): Too many to count!

Justin Edison's three available books on a shelf

Justin Edison’s three available books on a shelf

Happy 2018, Everybody!

 

Twenty (Rhetorical) Questions I Have about Star Wars Episode VIII

(not in order)

1. Why’d they dig up Hugh Hefner to play the bad guy, Scary? (Scarry? Snape? Sinistar?)

Justin Edison's humor blog on Star Wars VIII with chief bad guy Snoke being compared to Hugh Hefner.

2. Is Luke Skywalker really going to drink that?

3. Why’d they put Leia in that scene where Gamora gets blown out the window? (Wait, which movie is this?)

4. How does gravity work in space, to make those super-high-tech bombs fall onto a target?

5. Why does Hugh Hefner have a Cuisinart going in his paper-walled throne room?

6. What happened to all the other ‘kids’ Luke Skywalker trained before the Kylo Ren debacle?

7. Why was Ben Solo (pre-Kylo Ren) listening to orders from Mar-a-Lago, or wherever?

8. Why did they replace the ghost of Yoda with the ghost of Yoda’s pale, cranky, crazy uncle?

9. What was supposed to be down that beach hole before the producers replaced it with a Jack-n-Jill bathroom mirror (or the Mirror of Not Quite Erised, or the Mirror of New Year’s Regrets, or…)?

Justin Edison's humor blog on Star Wars VIII with Rey above a wicked beach hole.

10. Why’d they center the whole movie on a senior citizens scooter marathon? (Move aside, Jason Bourne!)

11. Why didn’t Kylo Ren, after the huge fight with Rey, get to the bridge (of the wrecked ship) and scream, “Yeah, this bitch is mine now!”

12. Where did Luke Skywalker Houdini himself to this time?

13. Who let a teenager write the opening sequence? (“Still holding for General Hux.”)

14. How do Rose and Finn survive playing bumper cars at 60 m.p.h.?

15. Did Rey ever apologize to the Hyatt Rock Island housekeepers for, you know, knocking over their cart of toiletries?

16. How did Amazon Prime deliver the Empire’s, er, First Order’s gorilla walkers (and Kylo Ren’s shuttle) since they couldn’t have been brought down from a dying battle cruiser?

17. General Hux? Really?

18. First Order TIE Fighters only have the range of a Nissan Leaf on half-battery?

19. Why were the sacred Jedi texts located there, in a tree, on a rainy ocean island?

20. What is the limit for lifting lines of dialogue straight from previous movies?

How the GOP Has Made Villainy Easier

Without warning, my friend Prubius launched into a lecture on the Mitasterites. “Well,” he started, “the short version is that they have so completely carved up their own planet and their own species. That caste system they have is one example. By the socioeconomic view, forty-three percent of Mitasterites now fall into the three strata below the slave line, and another thirty-one percent are stuck in the so-called Mighty Mid group. These people never eat tuna steak or travel off-planet. Our own soldiers live like princes by comparison. The caste system keeps people where they are. Everything serves industry, there.”

-from Endgame (Woman at War 1)

 

When I was crafting the backstory for Endgame–as the narrative takes place within the context of a war–I knew I needed texture and credibility for the ‘bad guys.’ The Mitasterites couldn’t just be cardboard cutouts to shoot at and run from. Even though they don’t much chance to show personality in Endgame (other than ruthless behavior, such as offering up 1,500 boys as sniper-fodder for propaganda) they still needed to be real enough to me.

These days, it’s very easy to look around and find a model for bad behavior: The GOP. Most everything they have done or opposed (under President Obama) has signaled a cold indifference to individual’s lives (those beneath a certain tax bracket, at least).

[I’m not so typically one-sided, to be honest. The GOP and conservatives used to represent ideals and views that made for healthy debate. Not anymore.]

The party may be on a regrettable road to fascism (yes, look at the latest tax-code revision, if you doubt it) and the leadership harbors a worrisome far-right view. (Bigotry, xenophobia and pandering to extremist views, to name a few.) They’ve made it easy. My fictional Mitasterites are just much farther down that road: Disregard for the majority of individuals–and the environment–in favor of a military-industrial complex which ultimately pursues wealth through aggression. For really, in the modern world, what is war? Nations may squabble over borders and ideological views. In a universe where a party has its own planet, border disputes and threat don’t really wash. So the government has to crank up the propaganda machine and conjure another set of excuses to conceal the truth: Somebody wants to make a lot of money. Human (or Mitasterite) cost is immaterial.

While this draws a lot of parallels from the vast armies of WWII (the buildup, the extreme nationalism, the inevitability) it also allows for plenty of internal fighting. Naturally, not everyone just gets in line with evil intentions. So heroine June Vereeth’s surprise new boss in Destruction is an admiral who has defected from the Mitasterite ranks. Tohk-Mahsda, a middle-aged woman, is utterly furious with her home-world and the government which has taken over. She’s not alone, of course.

It isn’t difficult to imagine her anger, her feelings of betrayal. How would a government–or political party–choose to sell the lie that they want more than serfdom for three-quarters of the population? When the desires of wealthy oligarchs outweigh the needs of the overwhelming majority, and institutions of scientific fact and free press and environmental stewardship are trampled and disregarded?

If the Mitasterites (or those WWII armies) are at the far-right end of the spectrum, what’s uphill and sliding down toward them?

Justin Edison's Destruction, second in the Woman at War series, will be out in 2018.

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

Blackout: a Pioneering Term from Destruction

Writing my first sequel (ever) for Endgame has given me a few challenges.

One of those–natural for a sci-fi series about war–is penning my first space battle since I was, well, a teenager. What would it really be like? Since everything in the book is seen from heroine June Vereeth’s perspective, the moments were a combination of what she hears (communications) and the too-fast objects moving across various display screens. (She’s on a space station, not in the battle. Bonus: The worries and concern from watching something you have no control over.)

Since I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG, one of the questions that bugged me was how did the Enterprise crew see what was happening at some far-off outpost or near a cosmic rift. Bridge stalwart Lt. Warf says “On screen,” and, bam, there it is! Piece of Cardassian cake: You’re watching something from a two million kilometers away. No mention of satellites or camera-bearing probes. (The tech in that show was always frustratingly fool-proof, too.) If only.

So, how would we see such events in space? Especially when we’re nowhere close to them?

Introducing the term blackout, playing a minor role in Destruction. A blackout is an SUV-sized pod which would detach from a larger ship, like a battle cruiser, ahead of an event. The craft would move to a spot two miles away (things move pretty fast in combat) and sit stationary, offering tactical and radar assistance. If there are multiple vessels engaged in battle, the third-party view would give the good guys something of an advantage. For one, ships couldn’t hide behind others (a concept which sounds far-fetched but actually makes perfect sense in scenarios, such as in Ender’s Game).

Justin Edison's Destruction teaser featuring red lights on a black background with 'blackout' lettering in yellow.

I’m not pioneering the term ‘blackout’ of course. But, of the dozen or so definitions that appear (the term first being used in 1913) none refers as slang for a ship. That’s exactly what it would be. With space, of course, being quite dark, it would make sense for techs to use dark metal, or just paint the thing black. Then, while the pod was in use, it would make even more sense for all the lights to be turned off. Otherwise, a Mitasterite fighter makes a quick loop out and eliminates this tactical nuisance.

It might be fun to write a comedy piece, too: A mismatched couple (Felix and Oscar, or Elliott and Todd from Scrubs) arguing in the ‘dashboard’ light while all hell is breaking loose twenty seconds’ flight away.

I honestly try not to take myself too seriously, so there’s potential.

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

Endgame is available now!