Set It Up‘s light touch is a worthy diversion into romantic comedy

Set It Up‘s (2018) light touch uses a surprisingly snappy comic script and on-screen chemistry among the movie’s leads to offer up an entertaining diversion when viewers need a break from the rat race. The movie never takes itself too seriously, and dabbles just long enough in its characters for viewers to buy into their stories and care about what happens to them as they romp through New York City and discover what really matters.

The movie’s plot is about as transparent as it gets in romantic comedies: Two executive assistants—Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell)—are run into the ground by their narcissistic bosses. Charlie’s boss is Rick (Taye Diggs), a venture capitalist while Harper is forced to content with marquee sports reporter Kirsten (Lucy Liu). Harper is an aspiring sports writer who hopes Kirsten will recognize her talent and give her a shot at an article. Charlie is a buttoned up aspiring investment analyst who Charlie hopes will promote him to a better paying job in his VC firm.

When Harper and Charlie happen to run into each other while trying to fulfill their boss’s mercurial and piqayune tastes for last-minute, take out dinner, they hatch a desperate gambit to create some personal space.
Harper and Charlie figure if they can connect their bosses romantically, they will spend more time with each other than harassing and assistants. Harper convinces Charlie to concoct and implement a plot to hook the power brokers up.

Set It Up‘s plot is incredibly transparent, but Deutch gives the character of Harper just enough quirkiness to keep the banter moving. Charlies is largely along for the ride, but he grows with Harper even as he is challenged to his ethical core as their plans begin to unravel. The two never quite become full partners, but Charlie does serve as just a convenient foil and plot device. He comes into his own, restoring some important balance to Harper’s cleverness, energy, and eagerness to drive a solution home.

Of course, Harper and Charlie’s issue are not just their repressive work environments. Their own insecurities are holding them back as well, and the evolution of these assistants into more mature workers with a purpose allows Set It Up to rise a tier or two above less memorable movies. For writers, Harper’s realization that she needs to simply write, even if her writing is bad, will resonate as an all too true epiphany that that separates the wannabes from the actual writers. (Yes, most writers have their first manuscript burrowed away in a desk drawer, never to see the light of day for good reason.)

While not the best movie of 2018, Set It Up is an entertaining diversion worth streaming when you a comfort movie with a few laughs is just what you need to get through a tough day or period at work.

3, 2, 1, launch! Calusa Spirits official book release set

Calusa Spirits completes a trilogy in the Pirate of Panther Bay series

Calusa Spirits, the action-packed third book in the Pirate of Panther Bay series, is set to launch on—you guessed it—International Talk Like a Pirate Day! The official book release will be on Wednesday, September 19, 2018 from 6 pm to 9 pm ET. I don’t think we can get Ol’ Chumbucket or Cap’n Slappy to make an appearance. We can, however, take up their mantra by making this pirate day super fun and by releasing a grand high-seas adventure in an award-winning series.

Calusa Spirits makes the Pirate of Panther Bay series a true trilogy (although six books are planned in the series). So, Southern Yellow Pine Publishing is hosting an on-line virtual book launch with more than 10 prizes for people participating in the fun. Participants can call in and ask questions, talk to other fans (and readers), or just watch it unfold on Facebook. Continue reading

The story behind the cover of Calusa Spirits

The cover for Calusa Spirits is great, and I think thing it’s the best one in the Pirate of Panther Bay series. But what is the story behind the cover of Calusa Spirits?

A picture really does paint a thousand works, and Babski Creative really helped pull major themes together as well as capture the mood and tone for Calusa Spirits, the third book in a six-part series from SYP Publishing.

Let’s break it down.

First, you really get the sense that Isabella and Juan Carlos (on the cover) are searching. They are treading into completely new territory, emotionally and physically in Calusa Spirits. In the image, Isabella retains her trademark focus, ready for battle. Juan Carlos is behind her, but he is not passive. He’s searching too. I think readers will really get the sense they are a true couple, partners. In fact, while their journeys are rocky and full of traps–some really exciting escapes are necessary in this installment just to survive–an important sub-theme is how they come together as a couple, more than romantic partners. The last scene in fact has a pretty dramatic twist that hinges on which direction their relationship goes. We see this unfold in the story, but the cover art really conveys elements of this, too. Continue reading

I’m back! Florida Writers Conference 2018

I have once again been invited back to join the faculty of the Florida Writers Conference !

This year’s conference (the 17th annual conference) will be at the Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs, October 18-21, 2018. The theme is “Where does our muse live?” Other speakers will include former prosecutor and crime novelist Linda Fairstein as the National Guest of Honor; Florida Writer of the Year Heather Graham, (author of 200 novels and novellas!); and Peter Meinke will be heralded as Florida’s Poet Laureate. Continue reading

War memorials use immersive design to create visceral stories

The Entrance to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

A few unexpected extra hours in Washington, D.C. recently allowed me to visit the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The experience left me with a powerful insight into how immersive physical design can create a visceral human connection to their subject.

All three memorials are incredible displays of physical art. They evoke solemn meditations about the conflicts and the sacrifices our citizens have made over the last seventy years. The World War II Memorial, in particular, was amazing in its ability to communicate the breadth of the conflict and America’s engagement. Its design makes it impossible to capture the entire memorial in one setting, surely an intentional design feature. Visitors are overwhelmed physically with a sense of scope of the conflict. Continue reading

Hotel Artemis Struggles at Check In

Hotel Artemis seems to have everything it needs to be a successful film but manages to fall flat anyway. Why is a bit of a mystery. The movie has a strong cast, and the characters should have enough back story to create compelling arcs that drive the movie’s momentum.

The slapdash backstory doesn’t help. The movie is set in riot-torn Los Angeles in 2018. Water has been shut off by the private contractor in charge of the water supply, although the reason is never explained. Gangs seem to run unchecked. Riot police patrol the streets keeping the mobs at bay. The city has imposed a curfew to quell the violence.  The city utility cuts off electricity at seeming random points. This dystopian activity is supposed to provide a setting that creates tension and conflict. It doesn’t in part because the story’s internal logic is never quite explained. Continue reading

What sailing ships tell us about storytelling

As a kid, I was fascinated by sailboats and sailing ships. I loved reading adventure novels such as C.S. Forester‘s classic Horatio Hornblower series. I also enjoyed building models. So, one birthday (or Christmas), my parents gave me a model sailing ship. The model was never built. I could never muster the enthusiasm to spend the hours working on the rigging, sails, masts, etc. to complete it. In retrospect, my reaction may have been my first practical lesson in visual storytelling.

One of the first lessons novelists (and screenwriters) learn is that conflict drives story. Conflict forces characters to act; they are forced to resolve the conflict by making a decision. A story where characters do not have to make choices isn’t very engaging. Readers (and audiences) invest in characters based on the choices they make and how they react to these choices. The various pivot points in those decisions determine the plot.

So, how does this apply to my model sailing ship? Continue reading

Discount on Contemporary Film and Economics expires soon

Routledge has set the official publication date for my newest book, Contemporary Film and Economics, for July 19th. More information, including a table of contents, can be found here. Pre-orders using the 20% discount can still be purchased at the Routledge website:

https://www.routledge.com/Contemporary-Film-and-Economics-Lights-Camera-Econ/Staley/p/book/9780815367055

Just enter the coupon code: FLR40.

I attempt to bridge the worlds of economics and film in this book, showing how economic thinking can illuminate plots and conflicts that directors and producers may not even be aware of themselves. As a movie reviewer and author of a feature-length screenplay (registered but as of yet unproduced), I thought I could also show how economics could deepen stories.

I appear to have hit the mark:

“Translating economic theories into stories that anyone can relate to is one of the more formidable challenges I face as a teacher of economics.  Staley’s Contemporary Film and Economics accomplishes that feat in a way that is entertaining and subversively educational by showing us how some of our favorite films reflect the principles of economic theory, even if they don’t know it themselves.” — Jason Stephens, Associate Professor of Teaching at Columbia College of Chicago and Chair of the Board for Kartemquin Educational Films.

“Sam Staley brilliantly merges the lens of the director with the lens of economics to provide powerful insights to economic concepts and analysis. Contemporary Film and Economics starts in Hollywood and then digs deep into the world of economics.  Covering important topics such as growth, development, entrepreneurship, and political decision making, the author moves the reader from the silver screen to the everyday choices that produce wealth and prosperity.”  — Joseph Calhoun, Director, Stavros Center for Economic Education, Florida State University and co-author Common Sense Economics.

I am very excited to have this book out and in print!

Movie Review: Fine acting can’t lift Ocean’s Eight above a predictable plot

Source: IMPawards.com

Ocean’s Eight is the newest addition to the Ocean’s “heist film” series rebooted by Ocean’s Eleven in 2001. Ocean’s Eight focuses on an all-female heist crew, so it represents a somewhat revisioning of the franchise. The film also includes a bevvy of good actors. Unfortunately fine acting can’t lift Ocean’s Eight over what is a very predictable plot.

This is unfortunate. The movie as a whole is tightly written, the dialogue well written, and the characters well drawn. Few holes are left unfilled, so the story ties together well. The cinematography is visually excellent, and the setting–The Met museum in New York City–is elegant and appropriate for a big heist. The problem with the movie is its lack of suspense. Audiences will enjoy the ride, but they won’t be on the edge of their seat.

In Ocean’s EightDebbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side, Gravity, Speed), the sister of series protagonist Danny Ocean, takes the lead and assembles an all female team with the help of biker girlfriend Lou (Cate Blanchett, Blue JasmineCarolLord of the Rings trilogy).  Their relationship hints at being romantic, but unfolds more as deep intimacy. The romance never quite makes it onto the screen. Debbie, for example, is directed to her own room by Lou’s in her sprawling renovated warehouse apartment. Continue reading

Review: Solo entertains but doesn’t break ground in Star Wars Universe

Solo: A Star Wars Story opened to less than enthusiastic audiences, but the numbers are likely to improve the longer the movie spends in commercial theaters. Director Ron Howard really shows his craftsmanship in putting the film together, making Solo a fun ride as a sci-fi action adventure. My full review with complete links can be found over at the Independent Institute’s blog here.

The movie was billed as an “origin” story for the iconic space pirate Han Solo from the original trilogy. Solo, however, is best viewed in a more conventional light rather than an integrated part of the Star Wars canon. Viewers don’t really get a lot of new information about the real origins of the character, and Solo is just not bitter enough at the end of this one to believe he is the cold-stoned smuggler he plays in A New Hope (Episode IV). Moreover, Harrison Ford owns the character.

Nevertheless, Alden Ehrenreich settles into the role well. The plot, which is grounded in his star-crossed love for Qi’ra is believable thanks to great acting by Emilia Clark of Game of Thrones fame. Audiences will empathize with most of the characters because the story gives each a soul. They just can’t be true to themselves because of the dark world in which they are forced survive. Continue reading