Saturday, May 30, 2015

Amazement and Wonder

When I write I try to come up with something that evokes the feeling of amazement and wonder in my readers. It's something that every young child knows implicitly because everything is new to them. The first time you try ice cream, ride a bike, or run from Godzilla. Children will run around in circles because there are so many new things to see and experience. You hear them say things "Wow", "Weeeeee", and "Mommy I found chocolate on the ground." It's not chocolate.

As an adult it's more difficult to evoke that feeling. Everything has a "been there, done that" feel to it. Some things may make you smile like a fond memory of a good time or an old friend or a good time with an old friend resulting in a walk of shame in the early AM. Worries weigh on our minds and it never seems like we have enough time to stop and smell the flowers. To evoke that feeling of wonder takes something truly magical. The first time I read Jurassic Park evoked that feeling. I'm sure we've all had it at one time or another, but it's not often that you have that sense of awe.

This is why I try to look at everything like it's the first time I am seeing it. You notice new things all the time, wondrous things. A pothole in the road, the song of a bird, the click of a PEZ gun firing, or a new wrinkle on a lover's face that makes them even more beautiful. So how do you extract this feeling and convey it to the reader? It's like trying to flap your arms to hover like a hummingbird while sticking your nose in a flower. I've tried and people told me I looked ridiculous with my arms flailing like that. I'm just happy no one took a picture, but maybe they should have.

With this I challenge you, my friends and fellow writers, to go out and see the world through a child's eyes, filled with wonder and hope. See everything as if for the first time. I would love to hear about your experiences or anything new you notice. The comments section is always open, but for now... *shoots you in the face with a confetti cannon and runs away* WEEEEeeeeee....

Friday, May 29, 2015

San Andreas

Rated PG-13 / 1 hr 54 mins / Action - Drama - Thriller

What is it about?

Ray, played by The Rock, is a first responder with Fire and Rescue. He flies one of the animated helicopters from the Pixar film Planes. Thankfully it wasn't voiced by Dane Cook. He is supposed to go camping with his daughter and Smokey the Bear, but then there is an earthquake and forest fire in Nevada. Apparently Albert Haynesworth won on a slot machine and managed to jump half an inch. Ray was called in to respond to the resulting disaster. Lawrence, played by Paul Giamatti, has devised a way to predict the earthquakes with his research assistant. Fortunately his assistant isn't a big name actor, so they kill him off in the Albert Haynesworth earthquake. The squiggly lines on his computer screen say that the big one is coming to California. Ray now has to turn his helicopter around to save his daughter.

You will like it if...

You like disaster movies that are all about action with as little story as possible. The best comparison would be to the movie 2012. It's not filled with as much adrenaline, but it's not far off the mark. The special effects for the tsunami and the earthquake itself are stunning. At points I thought the theater was shaking, but that may have just been the guy I paid to kick my seat whenever the earthquakes happened. The problems come in with the main character's daughter Blake. She takes over big portions of the movie for no reason other than to have all the teenaged boys look at her breasts as they bounce. They are very nice as is the rest of Alexandra Daddario, but she's not the greatest actress. At points it feels like she is Mario and all the mushrooms with power ups have been laid out in front of her, but none of the CGI people can see them as they flail and get crushed by falling buildings. Another thing that bothered me is that The Rock plays a first responder, but instead of helping with the rescue effort he only cares about his ex and their daughter. He never once calls in for help or tries to help anyone else. He's made out to be the big hero, but the amount of people he saves from the earthquake can be counted on one hand. Ultimately San Andreas crumbles under the pressure, but has enough action to make it entertaining if you don't think about it too much.

Next Week

Entourage and/or Spy

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Tomorrowland


Rated PG / 2 hr 10 mins / Action - Adventure - Mystery

What is it about?

Casey is trying to save a NASA launching pad for her father. She also wants to meet Baymax from Big Hero 6. Once the pad has been disassembled her father will have to find a job at Hasbro making Frozen toys. Casey can't bear the thought. The police catch her breaking into the site. When her father bails her out there is a pin with her things. A pin with a T on it. When she touches it she is transported to another land filled with amazing technologies. A land filled with possibilities. A land with a yellow brick road. Wait.. wrong movie. Athena is the one that gave her the pin to recruit Casey for a mission. A mission to save the future of Earth. A future that ends in destruction and death. This time it's not Wreck-it Ralph's fault. To do so she must get to Tomorrowland, and to get there she will need the help of Frank Walker.

You will like it if...

You like SciFi Disney adventures. I don't know why this movie isn't labeled as SciFi. There is interdimentional and interplanetary travel, robotic automations, jetpacks, etc.. Apparently Fox News is denying science fiction now because they are offended by the word science. The special effects are awe inspiring, but you can tell they are meant to inspire wonder in a child's eyes. There are several scenes where characters crash to the ground and slide on their face for several dozen feet, but when they get up there is not a scratch on their face. Not realistic in the least, but this is a Disney movie made for kids so it is to be expected. The story is interesting even if it follows one of the usual Disney formulas. Be a princess, get kidnapped, someone rescue me, rinse repeat. Well maybe not that formula, but one that has been used repeatedly. Kids will love it and it's interesting enough to hold adult's attention too.

Now time for a PSA announcement. If you don't talk through movies then you can skip this. I did not enjoy this movie when I went to see it. It had nothing to do with the movie and everything to do with the people sitting behind me in the theater. There was a family behind me that was talking throughout the entire movie. It wasn't the kids OOooing over it. They were quiet. It was the adults, the people who should know better, who were commenting on the movie. In particular one guy who was speaking at a level of "Can you hear me down in front?" It wasn't insightful commentary either. I implore you all to please respect your fellow moviegoers. Most of them do not want to hear your comments. You are in a public place where people are expected and encouraged to be quiet. Speaking loudly like you are at home is extremely rude and can ruin the experience for others.


Next Week

San Andreas

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Howling Into The Void

There is a lot of conflicting information out there on the interwebs about everything. Writing and promotion are no exception and they go hand in hand together whether you are an indie or traditionally published author. Unless you are a mega star of the industry like James Patterson, Dan Brown, or Paris Hilton then you are not going to have a promotional budget large enough to buy a stick of gum. More and more the onus of getting the word out on any book you write is going to be on you. So how do you get the word out? How do you get any minuscule bit of traction going?

The short answer is you don't. Writing is a long game. You start off way behind and overwhelmed, and many writers give up well before the finish line. The very first thing you have to ask yourself if you really want to be a professional author is "Do you really love to write?" Well do you? Punk?

You're training to fight Chuck Norris and his roundhouse kick and all you have is your pet turtle to train you. He's not even teenaged or mutant or ninja. If you don't love the fight and can't stick through the training then now is the perfect time to give up. I know that sounds like shitty advice, but if you're not in it for the love of the game then get out. If you can't stick to it until you do climb that mountain of success using mighty Odin's beard then the best advice I've heard is to not waste your time.

People point to the overnight successes in the industry. They are the exception not the rule. There are many reasons for their success but talent and hard work are first and foremost. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time gives them that extra push to reach the top of their mountain a bit quicker. Many of those author's "overnight" spans 10+ years, but no one sees that through their rose colored glasses.

So what does all this hard work writing have to do with promotion? Well... it's all about a snowball that we're trying to get rolling. I've been hearing a bunch of authors bemoaning their twitter or facebook following not clicking through the links they post. They say that it's worthless to promote books there, and they are partially right. Spam doesn't work. Green eggs and spam don't work. Spam and hash browns don't work. Spam, spam, and more spam doesn't work either. The problem isn't with facebook or twitter or any other social media platform. The problem is in how they are used. There are so many authors trying to puddle their wares that those links end up being the white noise that everyone tunes out. I know I don't read everything that is posted on my raw twitter feed. I probably don't see tweets from half of the people I follow on twitter. Most of them post nothing but spam and it's really easy to ignore it.

So what does work? How do you promote and gain a larger following? How do you win at this game where you are an author writing stuff and then a dump truck of money pulls up to your lawn?  I don't have those answers. I am just like anyone else howling into the void of the twitterverse trying to get a food pellet and hoping that one day I will be one of the success stories. 

The best promotion is word of mouth from someone else. The best way to get that is to put out a quality story then another and another. Keep writing until the bones in your fingers poke through your skin, and then wrap them up in bandages so you can continue to write. It all revolves around hard work. This is part of the reason why I haven't been blogging as much. I'm trying to get my first novel out, then my second, and so on.

Social media isn't the best way to get the word out, it's the best way to interact with your friends and fans. That is how people who enjoy your work will find you. If you're Mr or Mrs. Spammy Spamerton then they are probably going to tire of you. Social media is all about individual interaction. People want to see your face on there, not your ass. So hit me up sometime. All my social media accounts are linked to my smartphone.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

Rated R / 2 hr / Action - Adventure - SciFi

What is it about?

Max is caught by some marauders and taken to the Citadel. The old man that runs the city can barely walk, but he has cool plastic armor that makes it look like he has abs from the movie 300. This isn't Sparta. He also has a gaggle of crazy mutant children who look like relatives of Sloth from Goonies. The old man holds the key to a clean water source that he uses to enslave an army that worships him as an immortal god. Furiosa has been sent to exchange water for gas at Gas Town. I know where to go to get bean burritos! She uses the opportunity to run, and just to piss off the old man she takes all his wives/concubines with her. The old man will do anything to get them back. During the first encounter Max escapes and joins the ladies on the run. Bow Chicka Wow wow!

You will like it if...

You liked the original Mad Max films or movies with epic car chases. After the initial few scenes, this movie is one epic car chase. In terms of style this movie is amazing to behold. Each vehicle brings a different flavor, but not cotton candy! Every tribe has it's own unique look and feel. Some of them are squishy like a stress ball. The world building and background to the film is amazing. Similarly the stunts are as fantastic as you would expect from a Mad Max film. They even have guys swinging on stripper poles. It isn't as sexy as it sounds. The movie is a straight up adrenaline rush action movie. It's very good for what it is, but it falls short of being a great movie.

Why does this movie fall short of greatness? I'm glad you asked! In many of the action scenes it seems like it was shot with a slower frame rate which gives the illusion of speed, but it also makes everything jerk around like a teenaged boy. It's an interesting gimmick, but overused in Mad Max: Fury Road. The script is lacking as well. While the world around the movie is intricately detailed down to the grains of sand, once you're past that there isn't much going on other than the characters running from the bad guys. Some of the dialogue in the slower moments feels awkward. What makes it even worse is that this is a Mad Max movie where Tom Hardy has very few lines. He feels like a side character sometimes that could have been replaced by Elmo from Sesame Street without anyone noticing. Overall it's a fantastic ride of adrenaline filled action set in a beautifully detailed post apocalyptic world. If you like that sort of thing then you should go see it (you probably like that sort of thing).


Next Week

Tomorrowland or Poltergeist
Vote in the comments!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

James Patterson and #GetKidsReading

I recently read an article on the Publisher's Weekly website written by James Patterson. James asked for us to share our ideas on how to push kids to read on twitter using the hashtag #GetKidsReading. Whether it's War and Peace or Charlie and The Chocolate Factory children need to read. My response wouldn't fit into 140 characters or 280 characters or all the characters in Disney's arsenal. I'm looking at you Goofy. Don't even try it.

The Problem

Education is one of the subjects I am very passionate about (not like that!). Unfortunately all too often our representatives in government whether at the state or federal level are quick to make cuts to the education budget when money is needed for their $70 hammers and $500 toilet seats. The teacher's union has also helped to dumb down our children by negotiating for tenure and denying merit based raises for their teachers. This gives teachers an incentive to not care as much as they should. It's easy for the good teachers to lose their enthusiasm for the job given the challenges that are put in their way. Now what does this have to do with children reading? Many parents rely on public education to teach their children how to read and write while many teachers put the onus back on the parents. It's like the Republicans and Democrats pointing fingers at each other to assign blame, but no one doing anything to fix the problem.

Solution

There are potentially many solutions to this problem. Many of which will never see the light of day. No they aren't vampires. At least I don't think so. You might want to pack a crucifix and wooden stake for this next part just in case. I don't want to address the ones that would take an act of God to enable. Like getting the government to fix anything. You can write your representative in Congress if you want to try. I want to discuss potential methods that will motivate kids to read. Kids have an attention span that can be measured in milliseconds. Their favorite cartoons don't hold their attention for long, so how do you get them to pay attention to a book long enough to read?
  • Provide opportunities - Make books available to them. This is easy for those of you who read a lot, but you also have to provide books that would appeal to them as well. What you like to read might not be what they like to read. There are tons of free ebooks available on the Kindle store. The public library is another great free option. Parents should make time to read to or with their children even if they are just reading a different book quietly in the same room. If you designate a reading time for them then they won't be able to fill that time with something else like running around in circles screaming at the top of their lungs.
  • Let them pick the book - Children are more likely to be read and finish a book if they are interested in the subject. For teachers instead of assigning one book to everyone, give a list of books to choose from. All too often children are forced to read books they have no interest in reading, and many children skip or skim those books. Let them explore with Dora, sling web with Spiderman, or crush on sparkly vampires in the twilight. Where's your wooden stake?
  • Don't force them - Sometimes the book you pick for yourself is going to be a dud. I usually move on to the next one if it can't hold my attention. The same is true for children. If you force them to read something that they don't enjoy or aren't interested in then the reading experience gains a negative connotation. They'll start associating reading time with vegetables or watching paint dry.
  • Provide incentives - Get pizza or ice cream before or after reading. Celebrate their progress. Talk to them about how fun reading can be. Make it an event. Invite your children's friends to join in. There are many ways for a parent to provide incentives.

Ultimately you're not going to get children to read unless they want to. Make it easy, make it interesting, take the pressure off of them, and make it fun.

I remember being a young kid going to the library with my mother. I used to love the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. I remember holding my spot in the book to read through each option available. I also picked up the classic tales of Sherlock Holmes. Those stories were a bit too dense for me at the age I picked them up. I remember reading the first case in the book four or five times trying to find what I missed, trying to make sense of it. I didn't finish that one. As I got older reading for pleasure went by the wayside. I spent more and more of my time playing sports and video games rather than reading. It wasn't until college that I began to read for pleasure once more. Jurassic Park was the book that pulled me in and rekindled my love for the written word. I also had a fantastic teacher my freshman year of college who gave creative options for each paper I had to write.

Here is the link to Patterson's article: http://publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/columns-and-blogs/soapbox/article/66489-searching-for-a-few-good-ideas.html

Friday, May 8, 2015

Hot Pursuit

Rated PG-13 / 1 hr 27 min / Action - Comedy

What is it about?

Officer Cooper was born and raised to be a cop. Her father was a cop and she grew up in the back seat of his cruiser. She's very uptight because her father drove her to prom and scared the crap out of her date. She chases down her dates as if they are criminals and not in a hot 'I have handcuffs' kind of way. Officer Cooper has already gotten herself into the Chief's dog house. She set a drunken frat boy on fire because he called 'shotgun'. She thought he had a shotgun in his shorts, so she used a Tazer on him. Her electrifying personality didn't win her any friends, and she is demoted to glorified secretary. She doesn't get to take dictation. She gets her chance to get out of the dog house by going with a federal agent to transport two witnesses against a drug lord. Two groups of assassins come to kill the witnesses. In the confusion of the shootout the main witness and the federal agent are killed, and Officer Cooper escapes with the other witness. Now they're on the run from the assassins.

You will like it if...

You are duty bound to watch any movie with Reese Witherspoon and/or Sophia Vergara. This is a buddy comedy without buddies or the comedy, so we're already off to a bad start. It's not the fault of the two leads. They try. Sophia looks stunning and does her outraged exaggerated latina routine to perfection. I found myself getting bored of her breasts at one point which I thought was impossible. Reese is cute and she tries hard to carry the movie like she has before. There are parts where they are able to pull it off, but others where their chemistry is way off. The problem is that they are in a handicap match against The Undertaker and Kane. The script is absolutely awful. The story has been done to death and it isn't interesting, but there are still movies like this one that keep coming out. The main difference is that those other movies are funny. This one tries to be like The Heat, but they forgot to add funny jokes. It's like they used google to find the most popular jokes that everyone had heard a million times before and said 'These are popular! We need to add them to the script! Comedy, comedy, comedy!' You've heard all the jokes in this movie without having to go see it, so don't bother. Hot Pursuit gets the hot part right, but everything else wrong.


Next Week

Pitch Perfect 2 or Mad Max: Fury Road
Vote in the comments!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Rated PG-13 / 2 hr 21 min / Action - Adventure - SciFi

What is it about?

The Avengers are helping Shield with cleaning up the Hydra threat going base to base. They are really after Loki's magic wand so they can play Harry Potter. Expecto Patronum! Hydra has been performing human experiments and have two super humans of their own who they call 'The Twins'. No, they aren't mutants. Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch aren't related to Magneto at all. They are experiments. Yea, let's go with that. Anyway Tony Stark asks to get more playtime with the magic wand, and he finds an Artificial Intelligence within. He tries to use it to build his endgame, the project he calls Ultron. He imagines Ultron to be a global police force. Ultron ends up as a peace keeping robot with a sad face. Ultron decides that the Avengers are the biggest threat to peace, and tries to exterminate them.

You will like it if...

You like Marvel superhero movies. This one follows the same formula of previous Marvel movies which has proven itself to be a winning strategy if you're playing checkers. King me! I prefer to play poker, and this movie disappointed me more than anything. I feel like they bluffed me. It's my fault though. I expected it to be as amazing as The Lego Movie, err.. the first Avengers or both of those. Don't get me wrong, there are several bright spots throughout. Hawkeye gets fleshed out as a character without giving him his own movie.. shame on you Marvel. You give Ant Man his own movie, but not Hawkeye? Why? There are many nuggets of the same comedy goodness that made the first movie so endearing. The special effects are also cool and shiny. Oooooo Shiny!

Now on to the bad. The action scenes are so crowded that it all ends up being one big blur. There are cool moments sprinkled within, but they are too few. I need more sprinkles! Vision is the name of that new character that they don't really introduce. I don't know why they left that out. There are a lot of inconsistencies within the script otherwise. Many things get glossed over as the story gets forcefully shoved forward to the next action sequence. The scenes that don't get pushed like this are the ones that develop Hawkeye, which feel like they should be part of a solo Hawkeye flick. I know, I have a stick and I'm using it on that dead horse. The last thing that annoyed me is how they have mutants from the X-men part of the Marvel universe, but they completely change those character's back stories. It's like the X-men and mutants in general are dead to the Marvel movie universe. E Tu Joss Whedon! Why would you do this? We're all ready to love this movie, but Marvel dropped the ball. Let's face it. No matter what I say, you're going to see this movie. Even though I was annoyed and disappointed, Avengers: Age of Ultron is still an above average comic action movie that most people will enjoy.

Next Week

Hot Pursuit or Maggie