Derek Johnson Muses

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Batman to Tomb Raider: a New Lara Croft

I recently have been reading Tales from Development Hell by David Hughes, who recounts the struggles of some recent high profile films that got made and some that didn’t, even after ten years of  false starts and rewriting. One that particularly interests me is the miserable Lara Croft series. There seemed to be two opinions from the people who worked on making the two films in the early 2000’s: one, there was something more to the adventuress than most video game characters, and two, no one has any idea on how to make it a good film. But here’s my shot.

Most video games don’t translate we’ll as films. Sometimes, you do get a Resident Evil franchise, which has its cult fans but makes no impact beyond the younger, tone-deaf crowd. But Croft is a character that is familiar, even if she’s an Indiana Jones rip-off. The modern cinema is riff with familiar but remodeled characters. You just have to follow the right model.

If it were me, I’d look at Lara the way Christopher Nolan looked at Batman, or the way the 1960’s were re-imagined through Don Draper. The ideal woman to play Croft would be someone with a mix of skills, toughness, intelligence, and woundedness. Instead of Megan Fox, I would write with Maggie Gyllenhaal in mind. And I wouldn’t make her someone who had to be a mean girl, but who just happened to be so.

For the story, I would start with a small flashback with Lara as a 12 year-old girl with her father and/or mother, right upon recovery of an artifact. Then a villain comes in and steals the artifact and kills Lara’s parent(s), leaving her with a fragment of the artifact, like a “penny”. Then, after flashing forward to an introductory action sequence, I’d show her in England, teaching children.

In the mid-point of the film, I’d insert a male lead who has been betrayed by the villain, and who Lara is forced to trust, but doesn’t trust. The plot would be about finding artifact which the “penny” would fit into, opening the door to another world, and thus, Lara finding out what her parent(s) died for. And strongly consider an ending akin to Casino Royale, with (spoiler alert) Lara’s love interest dying to save her towards the end of the film.

Driving the main points in the script would be character, choices, and the question of who Lara would be in real life.  I don’t know if this approach would yield a great movie, but it would minimize the risk of an embarrassing failure. If a serious movie fails, no one cares. When an action comedy fail, it can look horrid. Just look at The Killers; Ashton Kutcher had to go back to TV after that. Or consider the first Batman franchise. Probably wont happen but I can dream.

Lady Croft, I presume?

Was The Walking Dead Too Trigger Happy? (Spoilers through Ep 3×12)

Warning: The following post contains spoilers through episode 3×12 of The Walking Dead. For those of you waiting for it to come out on Netflix, I envy your financial restraint.

While I’m in the minority among cult show fans, I like Sarah Wayne Callies on The Walking Dead. I enjoyed her on Prison Break, as she is an actress who brings a lot of depth and has a real “Average America” look. So when Lori died on The Walking Dead, I was disappointed. I speculated that Lori might die (as she did in the comics), but I hoped it could be done the right way.

I was somewhat disappointed with how early Lori was killed in the show, in the fourth episode of season three. My thought when it happened was “soon, but maybe not too soon.” Rick and Lori still had issues to work on in their marriage, but I was willing to see how the aftermath of her death would play out. Robert Kirkman stated that he’d dreamed up big arcs for characters, only to end up killing them, and a lot of characters on TV end up getting killed off way later than they should. My philosophy is, if a show makes a mistake killing a character, it will very obvious after six or seven episodes.

After so many episodes, I was annoyed that Lori has appeared four times: the phone call in episode six, the two ghosts appearances in eight and nine, and in a picture in episode twelve. If you’re going to portray her four times in eight episodes after you killed her, it is questionable whether or not Lori should have been killed to begin with. Especially now, Lori could have had a huge role guiding Rick now that he’s burden with the threat of Woodbury. Herschel is the only voice of reason for Rick, and there’s only so long Herschel can survive with one leg.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying Lori’s death was a mistake. I’m saying, if you are going to kill her, go all in. Don’t show her more than once.

To be fair, TWD is going to have more deaths on it than the average TV show, just because it’s a world where 95% of the population is flesh eating zombies, and all the advances of modern technology are lacking. If there wasn’t a higher death rate than other shows, it would look completely unrealistic.

That wasn’t the only questionable move TWD has made this season. Rick kicking Tyrese’s group out of the prison was downright idiotic. (What, where else were they going to end up other than Woodobury, with a guide of how to get into the prison?) But Lori’s early death could end up making the show unlikable and without heart, like 24 in its sixth season. To all the fans who found Lori whiny, I would say, who doesn’t come across as whiny in the lead female role of a male-oriented serial drama? Any of Jack’s 24 girlfriends or Kate on Lost faced the same complaint. Prison Break fans campaigned to bring  Callies back to their show. Outside of Michonne and Maggie, is there one female character on TWD the fans like?

The storyline that directly came out of Lori’s death, namely rick’s delusions, is one I detest. Maybe it’s because I’m use to my dark drama grounded in realism (24, Prison Break, The Following), but I just find delusional Rick to be campy and too easy. Anyone being that self-absorbed in a world of flesh eating zombies won’t last two minutes (and he almost didn’t). TWD is best off when it is grounded in reality, like Lost was.

The last episode as of this writing, “Clear”, did move The Walking Dead in a positive direction. I don’t think it is one of the “series greats” Kirkman touted it to be before it aired, but Rick seemed to realize he has to live with his delusions, and if that brings that storyline to a close, I’ll do jumping jacks. Michonne’s character was deepened too, and given how much fans want her to be a huge part of the show, that’s a good thing. All this points to is that The Walking Dead needs a mini-reboot as Season 3 ends and Season 4 begins, which a lot of shows need after three seasons.

I just hope Sarah Wayne Callies finds another show to do. Missing her on TWD, I found the Tarzan series the WB did ten years ago on YouTube and loved it, aside from a poor cast Tarzan. Maybe the CW could redo that show with SWC now; she’d be believable as an NYC police detective, and is the perfect Jane.

January Get-Up

It’s been a good couple of weeks around Seward. Since the mega-snow that fell around December 20th, the snow has gradually melted away, and I’ve worn shorts outside. Gradually, I’m starting to adjust to warm weather, and yesterday morning, my subconscious gave me a kick.

Friday morning, I woke up at three and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was particularly frustrated because I had just got my awake/sleep balance to where I wanted it to be the day before, and now it was going to get thrown out of whack again. Normally, I can’t sleep, I’ll get up and read after an hour or so, but this time, I spent most of the next two hours tossing and turning. I really, really wanted to sleep normally, but my body would not permit it.

I admitted defeat around 5:20 and decided to take advantage of my insomnia by going for a drive and taking some photographs. Idealizing my path, I envisioned taking the interstate west, stop at Starbucks in York for my morning coffee, and get off at Bradshaw or someplace. By then, the sun would be rising, and I could happen upon some structures to photograph.

I got as far as Tenneco before I realized that I didn’t want to drive in such think fog unless I had to. So I decided to turn back and head into Seward to get some coffee and breakfast at Amigos. The only thing worse than trying to drive in fog was trying to drive in fog without coffee.

So I went to Amigos and ordered a breakfast biscuit, a donut, and coffee. I caught up on Facebook and read the news, all the while trying to turn out the country music that was playing above me. Once I was bored, I decided to try taking Highway 34 out of town this time.

The sense of adventure from this new course lasted until I got two miles outside of Seward and found the fog even more intolerable. All of a sudden, I remembered that I had some trays and carts to wash, and I turned back toward home. Great plans, only to be abandoned.

Later on Friday afternoon, I went for a walk and realized that I hadn’t taken as much time to walk around Seward, even though I could. I’ve been writing a lot recently, trying to break ground on a new story, and I needed that head-space.

World Waking Up...

World Waking Up…

Roads Notes from my First Production Trip: Wisconsin

Tuesday-Left home ten until nine. Dropped off recyclables in north Lincoln. Get off at 84th street to go to Crane Coffee, but stop at Husker Hounds first; score a mesh shirt on sale. Then get a green tea smoothie and write on my IPod at Crane.

Lunch at the Corn Crib. Usually, I order off the menu, but to save time, I get a pre-made pork tenderloin out of the warmer. The flavor is authentic as it always is. Watch the weather channel and read Body Surfing by Anita Shreve. (Why am I even starting that book? I’m reading another five already.)

The Corn Crib in the Shelby, Iowa (I-80 exit 34)

Took a detour from I-80 MM 60 through 67 to shot some barns. Found several, and only had one mile of road to drive on. Took 1/2 an hour somehow, & when I got back on the road, found a text that said my meeting was at 3 instead of 3:30 Arrived 15 minutes late.

Wednesday-Got up at 5:38 and left at 6:55. It’s partly cloudy with scattered rains off and on, threatening to blind me with the rising if a sudden hard rain comes. But after I-35 MM 165, the clouds burn off.

At 8:39, stop & use restroom at MN welcome center. Grab hotel coupons. While most of the work is done, Owatonna is still working on their construction project from last summer.

As I dart through the MSP suburbs, stop in Woodbury for gas and a Quizno’s breakfast sub in a strip mall built for wealthy wives with stated parking time limits on parking individual spaces. There’s a non-chain coffee shop I’m intrigued by but don’t stop in. Cross into Wisconsin to be greeted by rain showers and sunshine. Not blinded, but a few never-racking miles.

Get off where I’m supposed to, but take a wrong turn and end up in the middle of Hoffman Hills State Park. Arrived at our growers, field tour lasts an hour. Plants hand high. Forget my camera and have to take photos on my way out.

Hopefully, this will be a field of gold in September.

Take a wrong turn and end up taking WI-HWY 29 into Eau Claire instead of I-94. Minus a Wisconsin map, I have to rely on my GPS, and find my way down to the interstate. Detour leads past Starbucks and I grab an iced caramel macchiato and a blueberry muffin while I check e-mail and social media Eat ravenously as my lunch was inadequate.

Around I-94 MM 111, there’s grafatti on a rock quarry. See a lot of roadside signs supporting Governor Walker, only two calling for him to be recalled.

Stop at rest stop about MM 137 to see if they have a Wisconsin road map. They don’t, but after observing the framed map in the lobby, I decide to get off at Warrens and see if there’s a cool cranberry-themed shop. There is, but it’s closed when I get there. I take backroads to Tomah, where I stop by a Humrid Cheese, a store I’ve observed several times. But fudge and summer sausage and cheese pack.

Photograph both the Wisconsin River and Ship Rocks on my way to the field. I really like the Ship Rocks photos and might frame one for myself. The field takes me too long to find, due to it being 5 o’clock and curved Wisconsin roads. Afterward, I get on I-39 and head down to Portage. I check the Super 8 first, but it’s full. The woman behind the counter tells me to check the Best Western behind Wall-Mart. It looks like a midlevel conference center, and I worry it’ll be over $100, but the corporate rate is $80 with tax.

Ship Rocks

I check the steak and seafood house across the street, but it’s got nothing I want. I go to Culver’s and order cheese curds, fries, and chili: three sides that cost as much as a value meal. I go back to my room and eat in front of baseball and the Western Conference Finals, but I got to sleep at 9:30.

Thursday-Zip Down to Madison on I-39. Some construction, but the sun is shining. Get off on US 151 to head downtown, find that it offers a few of the Camp Randall press box in the distance, like the one you get of Memorial Stadium’s when you’re driving west on Vine Street. Madison has college town feel akin to Eat Lansing and Berkeley: dingy houses with obvious snow wear, lots of trees, people wear odd clothing combinations. Before I get to downtown, I get stuck waiting for a train, so I check my GPS and write this.

Walk around the Lake Mendota and the river flowing into it. Pass a group of kids who must be in some summer day camp, three older African American guys fishing, and two girls who look be going kayaking. Admire the Lilly pads, then get in the truck and continue heading downtown. Like Milwaukee, the houses in Madison suddenly get nicer the closer you get to the lake.

Summer Lake

When I approach the Capitol, I realize what I thought must be the Camp Randall press box is really a building with a lot of glass windows. I circle the Capitol, and park on street, only to find my thirty-five cents net me 14 minutes of parking time. I make a quick run inside the Capitol, observe a protest against governor Walker, see where I want to eat on State Street, and move my truck into a parking facility I passed up on my way to park on the street.


I have lunch at Michalengo’s Coffee on State Street: turkey and asparagus on focaccia, with baklava for dessert. Unfortunately, they don’t take my company credit card. I lunch while staring at their bright, homey abstracts which seem strangely accessible.

Post lunch, I stroll down State to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which I technically don’t have time to go to. It requests donation, but I don’t have the right bills. (Actually, I do, but they’re stuffed down in my wallet.) I check out one of the floors sheepishly as the docent watches everyone like a hawk. The show is of abstract animals; I bail after a quick glance through, wishing I had the time.

Drive in circles looking for Camp Randall Stadium, and then drive around Camp Randall once before deciding to park there. Sneak and get a view of the field through a supply hall were some chair backs are stored. Field turf shimmers like a lake in the Wisconsin summer sun.

My Secret View of the Badgers’ Home Turf

After threading my way through Madison’s quaint, 1950’s box home neighborhoods, I get on Highway 14 to go to Dakota, Illinois where our next grower is. Most of the highways I have to use are county roads, and I am forced to use my GPS often. Lots of little towns and dairy farms, but I finally get there after another wrong turn. The farms here are closely clustered together, more so than in Nebraska and Iowa.

While I’m at the field, my Dad calls me to say he’s received the locations of our test plots in Wisconsin. Previously, I understood there would just be one or two, but now he tells me that there’s eight, some of which are east of Madison. He suggests that I go back up to Madison to start in the morning, but I decide to go to Freeport (which is only six miles away) and check the e-mail. This is the first time it would have been helpful for me to have 3G.

Freeport, Illinois is so much more run down than it’s neighbor to the west, Dubuque, Iowa. What a difference a state government can make. While Dubuque is defined by its shipping yards on the Mississippi and its agrarian fields to the west, Freeport is a run down factory town. Initially, I target McDonald’s for WiFi, but then I find the public library, which happens to be in a municipal building. I sit in the building’s main hall and check the e-mail: the first field is by Fennimore, Wisconsin, which is directly north of Dubuque, so I go there as I planned and spend the night with my friend Tom.


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