Thursday, January 24, 2013


I think Kevin Bacon is a fine actor. He becomes the character, goes all the way. So I recorded the pilot of his new TV series, "The Following," thinking it had to be damn good.

Boy was I disappointed. Then I happened to read a big cover story in TV Guide (at the doctor's office) about "The Following." The magazine article talks about how bloody and brutal the show is, which is true, but they don't talk about the show's content. Or lack of content.

After all, isn't the point of drama to deliver some insight into human nature, some revelation that sheds light on the human condition? Shouldn't the drama be after some kind of truth? Shouldn't we learn something about ourselves?

Apparently not. 

For me, the trouble with "The Following" is not so much the brutality, which is almost impossible to watch. How many slit throats and bodies covered in blood do you want to see? The problem is that all that bloodshed serves no purpose. Where is the drama? The insight? The revelation?

I don't mean a message. Samuel Goldwyn is supposed to have said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." (Today it would be a text or e-mail.)

This new TV show almost leans toward meaning a couple of times. What is the price cops pay for dealing with all this horror? And how do they deal with it? The show starts to confront that question then shies away from it. Too heavy, I guess. We don't want to engage the intellect of the audience, do we? Why would we do that? We might strain their collective brain.

For any kind of insight into cop life that I have seen, you have to go all the way back to early Joseph Wambaugh's novels like "The Choir Boys" and "The New Centurions."

Those were great funny true books, full of insight into what it's like to be a cop and what that does to human nature. I remember one scene where two cops are dealing with a fatal car accident. A motorist's head has been severed. One poor woman pulls up and asks what happened. A cop holds up the severed head and makes a smart-ass remark.

Brutal, but funny in a macabre way. The brutality serves a purpose in the veteran hands of former cop Wambaugh. But not so in this new TV show.

The only purpose for the over-kill (so to speak) of brutality in "The Following" seems to be to convince us that the bad guys are really bad. They are evil and they are dangerous. Duh. I guess we couldn't figure that out with fewer bodies. These TV producers must think we are awfully thick-headed.

Have we sunk to this? Do we have to see buckets of blood and rooms full of dead people to be entertained?

I sure hope not.

I still admire Kevin Bacon's work as an actor. But I don't know if I can keep watching the show.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2013, Roger R. Angle

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I tried to watch two movies today. Couldn't stand either one. They had the same problem: Failed to make the audience give a damn.

I think movies and stories are all about caring. The reader or audience has to give two hoots and a holler about the story and the characters, who in turn have to care about something that is hugely important to them.

They have to give enough of a damn about something or someone to take a great, huge, scary emotional or physical risk. Otherwise we don't have a story.

Today's movies took two different approaches. "The Stratosphere Girl," is about a 15-year-old budding cartoonist who has a boring life. She needs to get away, and when I watched it, so did I.

It is very hard to show a character who is bored without boring the audience to tears. I lasted about 10 minutes. I probably didn't get to the good part, if there was one.

The other movie, "Sleepless Night," is a French thriller that plunges us into action right away. Two guys are pulling an armed robbery. Guns. Speed. Chase. Shoot-out. Bang-bang. A knife. Slice, cut, blood. Foot chase. Bag of cocaine.

You get the idea. But who cares? Not me. These two guys don't seem to care about anything except the bag of cocaine, which has no emotional resonance for me. For one thing, it is a big fat cliche. (The filmmakers needed a MacGuffin, and that was easy, I guess.)

Later, they show one of these thugs dealing with his teenage son, whom he loves very much. That is supposed to make us care. But it does not. We have already seen him shooting at people. So I am not going to care about him. It's too late.

I look back at my list of favorite movies and realize they all start with the main characters caring about something very much.

"The Godfather" starts with the wedding scene. The old man grants favors on the day his daughter gets married. He has to. He cares about the Sicilian tradition, and about his daughter, and his god-son, and so on. We see his power, and we also see his sense of honor, and his caring.

"Silence of the Lambs" starts with Clarice Starling working out on the FBI obstacle course. She wants to become an agent in the worst possible way. She cares about her work, and about stopping the killer, "Buffalo Bill." She will take any chance, any risk, to get the job done. Her caring makes us care about her.

When you write a story, show that your characters give a damn about something that is so important to them that they will take a huge risk for it. It can be an emotional or physical risk, or both.

You have to care about it, and so do your characters. Otherwise, we won't give two hoots and a pile of horse dung. If they don't care, we won't care. And there goes your story, and quite possibly your career.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle  

Saturday, December 22, 2012


For years I tried to give my novel writing students, both in private workshops and at various colleges, this advice: Don't seek success by imitating some famous writer you admire.

We already have a Dean Koontz, an Elmore Leonard, a Lee Child, a John Grisham. And in most cases one is enough, sometimes more than enough.

Not that you can't learn from them. You can. But you should also learn from the classics, the great literature of the past. I was talking to my friend Harry today, and he said that too many young writers today have not learned from Sophocles and the ancient Greeks, from Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hemingway, or Melville.

It is true. Learn from the masters, but don't try to become them. They did what they did better than anyone. You are not likely to do it better. We don't need another "Short Life Of Francis Macomber" or another "Hamlet."

But what you can do better than anyone is be yourself. Use your own life and experience as material. Faulkner found enough material in Oxford, Mississippi, to become one of the world's great writers.  

If you want to be successful, dig deeply into your soul and your psyche and your experience, and don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. I had an actor friend who said that was the most important thing. Be vulnerable. Don't try to be strong and tough and famous like someone you admire.

Here is a great little story about how a writer-director-actor named Mark Duplass and his brother made a mistake trying to make a movie like "Rocky":

They found success by making a short film about one of them trying to perfect the outgoing message on his cell phone's voice mail. It cost $3 to make and launched their careers.

Trying to imitate John Grisham or Sylvester Stallone, I think, is a way to avoid taking chances, and that is not the way to succeed. You have to strike out on your own, find your own material, your own themes, your own stories, and your own voice. 

Being a new quarterback calling your own plays may scare the hell out of you, but that is OK. Sometimes, you gotta throw the long ball, to continue the football metaphor. Even if you're a rookie.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle  

Saturday, September 29, 2012


A new review, of a book I just tried to read:

THE NERUDA CASE – by Roberto Ampuero 
(2012, Riverhead Books, Penguin Group)


I saw this recommended somewhere and tried to read it. But I found it very confusing. At the same time, I started rereading “Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand and her writing is a thousand times better, more engaging and clearer.

I can’t read this Ampuero stuff. I can’t tell where we are or what is going on. I found the sentences convoluted and confusing from the get-go.

The beginning: 
“What could be bothering the partners of Almagro, Ruggierio & Associates, who had asked him to appear at their headquarters in such a hurry?”

What? Why not just say they called him and they were on the rag? Even the names are boring. The sentence is long and wordy.

I managed to wade through the first chapter, but then I got lost again. Slow, boring and complicated. Not my kind of stuff.

Where did this guy learn to write, in a law firm?

His purpose seems to be to obfuscate. To bore. To cloud the mind.

He's a typical acadmeic. Required to publish, whether his work is any good or not. You might know he teaches at a university and is Chile’s ambassador to Mexico. This writing is sad.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I love a good thriller. I can't think of one, off hand, but I do love the idea of one.

When I was young, I read one whole Robert Ludlum book, a mechanistic thriller with lots of twists and turns and gut wrenching action. When I got to the end--I stayed up all night to finish it--I was exhausted, wrung out, sweaty and tired in a moral and emotional sense.

Then I found out that I could get the same effect, from another one of Ludlum's novels, by reading the first chapter, then skipping ahead to read one anywhere in the middle, and then reading the last chapter. And guess what. That took a helluva lot less time.

I find most "thrillers" unbearably boring. Lee Child, Dean Koontz, James Patterson, etcetera, etcetera. Most are a big fat snore, to me. 

Here are my notes about Lee Child's novel "Persuader," published in 2003.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

The first chapter isn’t bad, a fairly exciting action scene, although it doesn’t make complete sense. The last line of Chapter One is startling and turns the story on its head. It’s great, in a way. The second chapter explains why Jack Reacher was there, and then it gets way too complicated and repetitious for me. A paragraph or two of back-story would suffice. The narrative breaks two of the rules I tell my students: Don’t repeat, and don’t explain. The worst thing you can do is go through the planning of an action with the reader and then go through the action itself. The only time that works is when the action goes horribly wrong.

Here, the novel goes through the action and then through an endless explanation in flashback. It is so very, very boring.

I don’t care about any of this, not the characters, not the story, not the set-up, not the crime family, not the long-lost dead guy. Jack Reacher is a big fat cliché: ex-Army, highly trained with guns, other weapons, blah-blah-blah. Who cares? I ran out of gas on Page 38. I don’t know why anyone would read any farther.

 I tried to go back and finish Ch. 2. I sped-read it and when I finally staggered to the end of the chapter I was exhausted. Done. No more for me. I just didn’t care.

The writer’s main job is to make the reader care about what is going on, about the characters and the story.

The only person I could come close to caring about in this novel was the kid who was “kidnapped” and he was barely there. Just a few sentences, as I recall.

I have this friend Jack, who is a Renaissance man: engineer, avid reader, a graduate of CalTech. A man of many moving parts. I often use him as a literary scout and often read whatever he recommends.
So I called him on the phone to talk about Lee Child and the tough-guy hero Jack Reacher. My question: Why would anyone enjoy this crap?

JACK: It's all psychological. Some people need to feel powerful and even omnipotent, and these narratives feed that need. Like James Bond.

        RA: The second chapter does show that the idiot Jack Reacher is in control. But that does not interest me. I’m more interested in what happens when you let go, when you lose control.
Back to my own notes:

        Another insight: Mediocre writers attract mediocre readers.

        Escapist readers just want to get away from their humdrum lives. That explains why mediocre writers, like Lee Child, attract a lot of readers, who must have boring jobs and boring families and live boring lives. They are probably grinding along in their routines and feel just barely alive. Jack Reacher and his "adventures" must bring them to life. Sort of.

        Child writes in a familiar genre: macho-psycho-stupid fantasy fiction. I don’t care about all that shoot-em-up stuff. Boom-boom, bang-bang, you’re all dead. Who the hell cares?

       But a lot of people do care. I don't begrudge them their escape. But I do wish they liked more depth, more character development, and better writing. Then they might like my stuff. At least that's what I tell myself.

-- Roger
Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle


Monday, September 3, 2012


I've been trying to lose weight, and winning the battle of the bulge. As you know if you've been following this blog.

I started out at 174 lbs on March 28. Today I cracked 160. Am at 159 1/2. So far, so good. Started with a 44-inch waist and am at 40" today, around the middle, the largest part.

The secret is simple: calories. It doesn't matter what you eat, it's how many calories. Twice in the last week, I've had ice cream, probably the most caloric food you can eat. I drink an occasional beer. I had two cookies the other day.

But I don't eat huge plates of food that I don't need. I don't eat ten cookies in one day or eat a quart of ice cream in one sitting.

I try to stay under my baseline, which is 2,000 calories a day. (See my earlier posts.) And I stay active, working out every other day, most of the time -- 30 minutes cardio plus lifting weights. Moderately.

I don't kill myself at working out, and I don't starve myself.

But it's really simple. I didn't read any books, and I didn't join any support groups. I counted calories for a few days and learned how to eat, and how not to eat.

I try to eat foods that are low in fat and low in calories. I cut way down on the olive oil. I almost never eat butter. I eat Go Lean cereal with non-fat milk. I boil my eggs rather than fry them. I eat lean meat, soups, dry toast.

I find all this very satisfying. I often skip the ice cream or other desert. It's more important to me to lose weight. I eat as much as I need, not as much as I want.

Maybe this wouldn't work for everyone, but it sure is working for me.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle

Friday, August 10, 2012


I saw the new Jason Bourne movie, "The Bourne Legacy,"  on its opening day, Friday, Aug. 10, and I was sorry. 

What a load of hokum. All razzle-dazzle with no real story, no character development, no real movie. It's as if they spliced a lot of action sequences together with transition scenes that don't make any sense.

Some of the action sequences seem great until you think about them. I kept thinking to myself, over and over, Why are the characters doing this? What does this mean? And, most often, Huh?

Why is our hero in the Alaska wilderness? It's a training area. Is this a training exercise? No, that would make too much sense. Wait, he's not supposed to be there. But then why is he there? 

The black ops agency is killing its own people? Why is that? It makes absolutely no sense.

How does our hero find the hot scientist babe? If the bad guys are there to kill her, why don't they just go ahead and kill her? Why try to fool her first? Or are they really trying to fool the audience? Ya think?

Our hero and the hot babe are on the run--a mad, scrambling, crazy run--away from the government bad guys (the government is always the enemy in these movies, for some reason) and they just happen to have a laptop computer with them? Huh? WTF? How did that happen?

(This movie treats the audience like morons, in the same way the black ops agency treats its field agents like morons.)

Wait, our hero had a low IQ, and now he's brilliant? How in hell does that work? Where do we get that pill?

What is all this hokum about a virus and, I guess, genetic engineering? The movie has some 'splainin' to do.

Most of it is confusing, silly and pointless. I did like a few scenes, and I do like going to the movies. But Lord, this is a load of crap.

Check your brain at the door. And don't ask too many questions.

These Bourne movies have gotten worse each time. The first one is pretty good, one of my favorite action films. Then they go downhill. Why is that? I think these movies are made to be stupid, for a younger and dumber audience. For an audience that is incapable of critical thinking. 

In Hollywood, big dollars don't go with high IQs. The big studios, which have big bucks to invest in a blockbuster movie, don't care about intelligence or quality. They care about one thing: money.

So the movies get bigger and dumber. And so do the audiences. Hooray.

Welcome to the Big Brainless Blockbuster.

-- Roger

Copyright © 2012, Roger R. Angle