Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Little Whitepaper That Could

I’ve just tossed 250 words of my original post.  That’s awesome.  It tells me I’m maturing as a writer.  I’ve also been cleaning out my files because I’m about to move offices and I found a document I wrote in 2006.  I was exceedingly proud of it at the time and it got me a lot of attention.  I skimmed through it, as one does when one is supposed to be shredding and packing.  What I found made me laugh.  The ideas were solid, but oh the error.  Grammar mistakes I’d never make now.  Sentence structure that confused without adding content.  And exclamation marks.  In business writing!  Ha.  It’s a wonder I ever got promoted.

But it also underscores a truth that we all (as writers) know and, in my case, often don’t take the time to actually consider.  We are usually our own worst critics.  We think what we’ve written is better than saran wrap and send it off to be published (or read by friends) before taking the time to actually read what we wrote rather than remember what was in our head.  Or, in this case, condemn what we’ve written as horribly illiterate and destined for the recycle bin when, in point of fact, it’s quite good for the audience of intention.

That’s a curious turn of phrase.  Audience of intention.  Can I say that?  Does it makes sense?  Comments from the English department, please.

Looking back, I can see that the piece of writing I no longer consider up to snuff actually impacted policy.  We changed how we did business because the decision makers that read it understood my proposals.  At the time I failed to grasp the significance that the people I gave the document to had to pass it “up the chain” for that change to happen.  I moved my audience and they said, “You have to read this.”

I recently heard a story from a friend of mine who still works in that section.  He said they have a new initiative going now – told me what it was – and I said, “It’s about time, I was saying for years that needed to be done.”  He said, “I now.  It got started because somebody found your whitepaper.”  A new person, an old desk, and somewhere in the detritus that had been left by the previous occupant was a crumpled copy of my whitepaper on the topic.  It inspired him to action.

Isn’t that why we write?

Monday, August 25, 2014

The New Plan

I’m supposed to be writing a Christmas play.  Actually, it’s supposed to be done already.  I didn’t think it was going to be a big project, a dozen pages or so and I already had it pretty much figured out from when I was writing one last year.

Turns out that I was way off.  My idea didn’t work when I started writing.  Maybe it’s because Falling Star was too fresh and they are too different.  Maybe it was a bad idea.  I tried a different idea.  Still no dice.  Then a third.  And still nothing that worked.  Scarry.  Is it that my standards for a first draft are off?  Am I too critical of the idea and it was actually good?  Am I actually facing writer’s block?  I have to confess I never thought it was real.

I was thinking I might just let it slide.  You know, “pretend” that I was too busy.  Which is a crock, of course, because writing is about the only thing that I consistently have time for thanks to the reality of a fairly long commute and the inability to retire yet.  Besides, that’s unprofessional and against my nature.  Last night I had a conversation with a young woman who rendered an outstanding flute performance of my favorite hymn and she asked about the play.  I confessed that I was blocked.  She made a joke that jolted my thinking and released a torrent of inspiration.  I am hopeful that this will work and I can have a workable draft by the end of the week.

Either way, it inspired today’s fiction that was originally going to be about flatware, another idea that likely wouldn’t have gotten very far.

The New Plan
by Jon Stark
August, 2014; 475 words

It was the perfect day to be somewhere else.  Gus was tired of chucking rocks.  The summer had drawn on just a tad too long.  School wasn’t exactly what any of them wanted next, but change – any change – would be better than the status quo.

“You know we never came up with a name,” said Roy.  He was the only one of the three that was standing, the sun slightly in his eyes so that he squinted in a manner suggesting a person with below average intellect.

“That’s because all of your ideas are lame.”  That was Stan.  The heat and boredom had sharpened his sarcasm to the point that Xacto blades seemed dull by comparison.

Roy wasn’t dissuaded from the topic.  “How about Renegades, Rebels, and Rogues.”  Gus didn’t bother to look up.

Stan replied, “Or Lameboy and his two ex-friends.”  That got a chuckle from Gus.

“The summer’s almost over, we’re out of time.  Next year we’ll be graduated and out in the world and it will be too late.”  Roy’s voice sort of squeaked at the end.

“We could go to the movies.”  Stan.  Always wanting to go to the movies.  Even though they’d already seen everything.

“We’ve already seen everything,” said Gus.  “Besides, I don’t feel like walking downtown.”

“I’ve got a transit card,” said Roy.  “But I don’t feel like the movies.”

“What do you want to do, then?” asked Stan.

“I don’t know.  What do you feel like doing?” said Roy.

“Don’t be coy.”  Stan stood up and kicked at the gravel on the side of the street.  “I guess we could just ride around.”

Gus shook his head.  He’d had a bad experience two summers ago riding into town.   They’d picked up a homeless woman, wrapped in some sort of quilt despite the heat, and she smelled like Stan’s feet.  Worse, actually.  It was awful.  His mother had said that’s what the corpses smelled like in Iraq.  Gus had spewed violently and nobody could even smell that.

In the distance they could see an approaching bus.  “Now or never,” said Roy.  Stan shook his head.  So dramatic.  But he walked toward the stop.

“I wonder where it goes,” said Stan.

“Lafayette,” muttered Gus.  “Says so, right on it.”

“I’ve never been all the way down to Lafayette,” said Roy.

“Me neither,” said Stan.  “Let’s do it.”

Gus shook his head.  The bus pulled up.  He didn’t move.  Stan and Roy stood at the stop.  The doors opened.  Roy got on, handed over the pass.  Stan got on, waited.  Gus didn’t move.  “Come on, Gus,” said Stan.

Gus shook his head.  “Not happening.”

The bus driver cleared his throat.  Stan said, “We’re going to the end of the line.”

Gus held his ground.  “You need a new plan, Stan.  I’m not hopping on the bus.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

TGI Joe Friday

I have a friend at work who likes to spend time in my office.  I don’t blame him, not only am I cool cat to hang with, I have one of the best views on the floor – made even better for him because he doesn’t have windows at all.  Our conversation tramples free-range over pretty much everything but generally falls into one of the cardinal directions of work, military service, fine dining, or film – a discussion of Casablanca is very efficient.

Recently he told me that Dragnet, Adam 12, and Emergency had all become streamable on Netflix.  I loved Emergency growing up – to this day, when someone says, “We’re on our way” I silent add “Rampart” every single time.  Every time.  Then I hear the siren sound in my head.  I’m really surprised I didn’t become a fireman.  Anyway, I remember that I watched Adam 12 but couldn’t tell you anything about it and the closest I ever came to Dragnet was handing over the video cassette of Dan Aykroid’s movie to rental customers.

It was time to check out some classic TV.  My friend’s description of Dragnet was just too juicy to miss out on.  Slang.  Public Service Announcements disguised as “on the nose” dialogue, and more voice over narration that you can shake a stick at.  Henry Morgan is just a bonus.

Dragnet lived up to its reputation.  I like it way better than Cops.  Even my children watch it.  Sort of.  There’s a lot of Candy Crushing going on too.  But a funny thing happened on the way to queueing up Dragnet – I spotted Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

We love it.  I remember the opening and the opening only from decades ago.  We’ve watched a couple of them and their great, if you are interested in a good story and observing how film has changed in the last 60 years.  Not all of my children like it, but their reactions have been very educational for me as a story teller.

1.       “That guy is annoying.  He says the other guy’s name every single time he talks.”  Parents observe.  “See?  He did it again.  ARRGGGGHHH!”  I think that the main character’s name was the single most often used word, squeezing out ‘and’, ‘the’, and ‘red bellied sap sucker.’  Today’s audience doesn’t like that – it’s condescending.

2.       “Dad.  What did he do?”  Hmm, sort of the point of the show, right?  “No really, Dad.  What’s going on?  I mean, its obvious right?”  Not the way Alfred rolls.  More to it.  “So tell me what’s going on, what did he do?  No, really, I NEED to know.”  The shows run about 25 minutes.  At minute 11 my daughter couldn’t stand it.  The suspense was too much.  Awesome.  I haven’t seen her react like that to anything.  And she loved the twist, the story “after” the story.

So the takeaway?  You don’t have to be nostalgic to enjoy an old program and a great story will reach across generations, bending convention and medium, to draw the audience in.  Black and white?  Who cares.  Cheese Whiz for dialogue?  So what.  Create an alluring mystery and then deliver on the promise – it will be a populist winner every time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Roland on the River

This is not what I was going to write until I got in my truck to drive to the train station this morning.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  It reminds me of the sort of story I wrote when I was in high school although, hopefully, it's a bit better.

Roland on the River
by Jon Stark
August, 2014; 1200 words

Roland had grown old, but he still loved the river and he hadn’t forgotten.  Three days a week he walked down the hill to the edge of the water, the sand and driftwood long given way to boardwalks, piers, decay, revitalization, and now the very grand Promenade.

He set up his easel, placed the canvas, laid out the charcoal, and let the sun seep into his weary bones.  The river flowed and he remembered.

His hands drifted over the blank canvas for a few minutes and then he took up his colors and sketched, eyes closed, memory pouring out.

A passing couple paused to watch him.  “She’s beautiful,” said Tina.  “You make it look so easy.”

In the beginning it was always easy.  It wasn’t until later that it got rough.  In the beginning he was a boy, playing here with his friends.
The three boys carried sticks and smashed them against everything they found.  Roland had an old rag of a shirt, salvaged from the flotsam on the shore, tied to the end of his.  They were loud and in the depth of summer.

The girl was sitting on a giant piece of driftwood staring across at Indiana.  “Hey! Girl!  You can’t sit there,” said Roland.  It was, after all, not her adventure.

“My name is Mary, not Girl and I can sit here if I like,” she shot back.  The other two boys looked at Roland.  Roland looked at Mary.  Mary packed a lot of defiance into her 8 year old body.

“Okay,” said Roland.  “But watch out for the pirates.”

“There ain’t no pirates,” said Mary.

“If you’re going to sit there, you need to watch out for the pirates, they’re chasing us,” said Roland.  He looked back for dramatic effect.  She wasn’t buying it.

“You should come with us,” said Rick.  Roland shot him a look but he pressed on.  “We can keep you safe from the pirates.”

“There ain’t no pirates,” repeated Mary, “And even if there was, I wouldn’t need you to keep me safe.”  But she went with them, down the river and through the thickets and mud, racing the paddle wheel that ran between places that were just names.  And she went each day after that too.
Roland answered his door and found Mary standing on the stoop.  “Let’s go,” she said.  Her hair was still short, rough and uneven from cutting it herself, but she had grown while he hadn’t and now towered over him.  It didn’t matter.  He was smitten.

“We’re going,” Roland hollered over his shoulder.

His mother came into the hallway, a dishtowel over her shoulder.  “Who is we?”  Then she saw Mary and waved.  “Hello, Mary.”  Mary waved, then grabbed Roland’s hand and pulled him into the afternoon.
They were sitting on the stoop drinking lemonade when Roland’s father pulled into the driveway.  Roland was speechless.  He father climbed out of a silver Thunderbird, grinning from ear to ear.  “Give me a hand with the top, Sport?”

Roland leaped up.  “Is this ours?”

His father beamed at him.  “Sure is.  I got a promotion today.  Off the line and into the office.”

Mary frowned.  “Office?  I’m never working for the man.”  It would have sounded funny coming from someone else, but to Roland, it made the rest of the world make sense.  He wondered, in that moment, if a brand new car, blinding with chrome, was worth working for the man.

But he didn’t have long to think about it.  “Come on,” said Mary, suddenly up and jogging across the lawn.  Roland’s father watched them go.
The fair charged admission but they didn’t need to use the gate.  Roland and his friends followed Mary through a hole in the fence and were engulfed by the carnival.

Mary watched the Ferris Wheel turning.  “I bet you can see the river from up there,” she said.  Roland agreed.  They ran over to get in line but then Mary stopped.  “I don’t have that much money.”

Roland dipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out his change.  “I’ve got enough for both of us.”

She scowled at him.  “I don’t want your money.”

“But you want to ride.”  He still didn’t always understand her.  “I want you to be able to go.”

Mary shot into the crowd.  “I’ll ride it, but not on your dime.”

Roland lost sight of her.  “Forget her,” said Rick.  They wandered the stalls and cheered when Harry knocked over all of the milk bottles and won a stuffed bear.

They finally spotted Mary again, bussing tables at Cleo’s Fair Faire.  “What are you doing?” asked Roland.

“I’m going to ride the Ferris Wheel,” said Mary.  An hour later she caught up to the boys.  “Let’s go.”  Mary pulled Roland away and, as the sun set to their west, they rode the Ferris Wheel.  She was right.  She could see the river.  She could even see Indiana.  Roland saw Mary.  And she let him hold her hand.
Roland and Mary had 5th period civics together when they were juniors.  Mr. Ross told Mary that she couldn’t be president.  Told her it was a silly idea for a girl.  Governing wasn’t like mending dresses or baking cookies.  Mary told him that the world would be a better place if the president did bake everyone cookies.  Roland agreed.

Mr. Ross didn’t and Mary found herself on the wrong side of his red pen for the rest of the year.
Mary didn’t leave for college when Roland did.  She never answered his letters.  When he came home at Christmas she was gone.
The three boys, home on summer break and with an afternoon off from work, crashed along the bank of the river.  They came across a collection of flotsam carefully laid out and, hidden in the shade nearby, was Mary.

She looked terrible, even for her.  Roland tried to give her a hug but she shooed him away.  “This is my place now.  You boys need to run along.”

“What are you doing?” asked Roland.  “I thought you were going to be president.”

“I am president.”

Roland tried to talk to her, to catch up, but she wasn’t interested and finally walked away from him.  When he followed, she dove into the river and swam away.  “Where are you going?”

Roland didn’t see her again for nearly 10 years and then it was even worse.  Some boys had been playing by the water and found her washed up among the logs and trash.

He couldn’t explain the emptiness.  Somewhere inside he’d thought she would always be there.  Strong, rough, the embodiment of growing up along the river.

He paid for the funeral.  Nobody else had stepped forward to claim her.  The mortician had taken his time.  She was beautiful.  He paid for her to be buried in the cemetery north of town, where she could see the river and, in the winter when the leaves had fallen, all the way to Indiana.
Roland sketched lightly.  He was nearly done.  The lines were distinct, sharp but with an unmistakable grace.  You could almost see the water lapping against her, the wheel turning in the background, and smoke rising from the stacks.

“They don’t make them like that anymore, do they?” asked Tina.

Roland shook his head.

“What’s her name?”

The finishing touch.  He scrawled “Proud Mary” across the stern.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nice Parking Job

Looks like this didn't go out when it was supposed to.  So you get it today.

I went on a business trip recently.  Had to fly.  No big deal, in and of itself, but part of flying is parking.  Sometimes getting a parking space is more challenging than getting through security.  Generally, at my preferred airport, it’s a pretty short walk from the garage to the gate.  There’s usually plenty of parking too.

But not when you fly midweek and the walk is a lot longer if you happen to be flying on the airline based out of the far terminal.  It’s not three miles far, but it’s a bit of a trek.  Fortunately I did find parking on the top deck of the garage and there are a few moving walkways – not that I’m lazy and don’t like to walk, but I travel with three days in a carryon so it gets heavy, especially when I need a suit and have to use the garment bag instead of the roller.

But that all happens beyond the parking.  I drive a full size truck.  I wanted to get an Audi TT but my wife pointed out that I couldn’t tow the boat with the TT so I bought the truck instead.  Some folks find it challenging to park.  I have a CDL, parking the pickup just requires a little planning and patience.

I’ve been parking it for a few years now.  I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  You could even say a little OCD about it – I take great care to be in the middle of the space.  When I pulled my bags out of the  truck at the airport garage I was pleased to note that I had successfully achieved that small, mental illness indicating, goal.

When I returned from the trip I found my truck just as I had left it, parked in the center of the space.  I put my bags in it and climbed inside.  I noticed a note tucked under my windshield wiper.  The first thought I had was that it was from my friend who was also on a business trip and does things like that when he spots my truck.

I got out, retrieved the note, and read the script scrawled on the Marriott stationary.  It read, roughly, “Dude, nice parking job.”  That made me feel pretty good, I have to admit.  Maybe even proud.  I kept reading.  “I couldn’t even get into my car.  Jerk face.”  It appeared that the first part was sarcastic.  At least he signed his name.

I had to wonder at the note.  Was it a joke?  Was it serious?  I’d have gone with joke except I’ve meet too many people.  And I’d spent a very long time in airports recently.  I think it was serious.  But seriously, I was in the middle of my spot.  If he couldn’t get into his car that meant he had to be in my space.  Like the guy on the plane sitting next to me.

Some people might have been offended but I thought it was pretty funny.  I mean, to go to the effort to write a note?  That’s like the people I went to school with that always insisted someone had stolen their pen.  What is it about our nature that makes us blame other people for what we do – or don’t do?

That’s too deep of a question for me to answer, but it did remind me of how personal everyone’s viewpoint is.  It underscores that a rejection of my work is not a direct criticism but rather a personal preference.  I’ve written a few things that my wife loved and nobody else does.  And the opposite.  In fact, there a few stories I’ve written that I really liked and she thought were quite dumb.  But that’s teaching me to trust my own instinct, and reminding me to seek markets that publish what I like rather than what everyone else likes.  I mean, look at Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I love that movie.  Everything about it.  She fell asleep.  Personal perspective.

Speaking of falling asleep, I’ll probably be falling asleep on the couch after bringing that back up.  I hope no giant boulders crush me.

Friday, August 15, 2014

It should have been called Convergent

I read the book Divergent a few months ago.  I enjoyed it.  It wasn’t Hunger Games – far too much of the familiar, not enough of the original, but the storytelling was good and I was interested in reaching the end.  Certainly a good YA book, or for anyone interested in reading stories set in dystopian futures.

I have been waiting to catch the movie since.  Last week I had my chance.  Tom Petty suggested to us that “Waiting is the Hardest Part” but I’m going to respectfully disagree.  I haven’t been that disappointed in a movie since Jurassic Park 2.  Or maybe Tron 2.  Nope, Tron 2 was better.

It wasn’t terrible so much as a waste of time.  Unless you like Theo James in which case you think the movie was the best ever, Dad.  I am not sure if Theo can act, he didn’t get much of a chance.  The plot followed the book pretty closely but, in its execution, showed me exactly why the book felt a little flat to me.  The plot is not very good.

Which is to say that the plot is a fine plot, but we’ve seen it a million times.  There’s really no twist and the “up the stakes” moments are way to contrived and leave us with no place to go emotionally.  What really worked for the book was the interaction of the characters during training and how Tris finds her way after leaving her family and belief system behind.  The plot was just there to get everyone out of the kitchen and doing something while they chatted.

In the movie, all of the extra bits were taken away and we were left with a pretty bare plot and a “grand scheme” that wasn’t explained very well.  Book adaptations are hard.  Everyone says so.  You rarely hear anyone say, “The movie was better than the book” unless they are talking about Forest Gump.  Given that state of affairs, the screenscribe must be prepared to take certain license to create a visually oriented story based on the book, rather than a direct transcript edited for length.

Perhaps the most significant bit missing from the movie was the continuous fear about being dropped from training.  This section of the book was taught, emotionally charged and suspenseful because Tris was not only battling the Dauntless born, but her new friends (also her competition) and herself.  One of the defining scenes in the book was completely redone in the film – and moved far later in the narrative – removing any sense whatsoever of the “sibling rivalry.”

The supporting characters were also not drawn, or cast, very well.  If I had not read the book I’d have had no idea who any of them were.  As it was, my kids were lost during the story because to them, the same guy was doing all sorts of completely different things – and then he was supposed to be dead but wasn’t so what was up with that?

Ms. Roth should be congratulated on her novel.  It is an admirable work at a level I am still striving to reach.  The teens I’ve talked to all love the film and, since they are the target audience, it appears to have been a success.  But for me, the overall experience was like going to Disney and having it rain every single day.  All day.  And my clothes are in the world of lost luggage.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Have You Ever?

Have You Ever?
by Jon Stark
August, 2014; 650 words

The mouse made his way carefully across the open floor.  There were no land marks, no touch stones, nothing to guide him except for his extraordinary luck and a tendency to walk in a straight line.  He spent most of the distance worried that the sliver in his back left paw would pull him off course.

Turned out to be a needless distraction.  He reached the kitchen table only a few feet from where his two friends were gathered and right at the point where a hunk of marmalade covered toast had fallen.  It was that luck.

He made his way over to the others, busy chomping at their own haul of breakfast leftovers, and gave a warm hullo.  They greeted him in return, but considering how hungry they were and how small the scraps they were finding were compared to the giant, belly filling hunk he had obtained, they skipped most of the small talk.

He didn’t mind.  The sun was warm on his fur and he turned toward the window to let it fall fully across his face.  The floor shook slightly, then more dramatically.  He backed up until his tail found the table leg and then he scurried up it, hiding in the cool shade at the top.  He could hear one of friends doing the same thing.

The tremors drew stronger and soon everything in the kitchen shook.  It was the Good Wife and she was early.  The shaking stopped.  The mouse listened.  He could hear one of his compatriots scurrying about under the table.  What was he doing?  She was going to see—

A scream erupted quite close to him and he fell from his hiding place under the table.  He dashed away and barreled headlong into his friend.  They sprinted off, side by side.  The woman screamed again, but now in rage rather than fear.  Something heavy hid the floor behind the mice.  They picked up speed.

His foot hurt and slowed him down, he kept brushing shoulders with his friend.  He knew he was slowing.  Behind them, the woman crashed into the edge of the table and began to swear a blue fury.  The jolt sent the last mouse tumbling and he landed on the woman’s foot.  She howled and kicked and went flying through the air, lending quite ungracefully on his two friends.

The woman came at them again and the three amigos dashed ahead again.  The mouse thought they should be at the wall by now.  They had been running for a very long time.  His foot hurt.  His side hurt.  His shoulder hurt from banging against his friend all the time.  Of course.  His bum foot was pulling them in a circles.  They were running around the kitchen in a giant circle, chasing the woman as much as she was chasing them.

She whirled on them suddenly and they belted into her, flopping and rolling, disoriented.  She brought her carving knife down with a jackal’s ferocity, hacking and smashing, slicing and dicing, but missing the mice who, for their part, were in a total panic and kept running into each other.

At last they found themselves in a line facing the same direction.  They took off toward the wall, the mouse with the lame foot now being guided by his friends.  The woman dove for them, the giant blade crashing down, severing their tales and embedding itself in the old floor.

The mice shrieked and ran even faster, striking the wall at full speed and then slipping along the baseboard until they found the entrance to their home, safe in the cool darkness of the wall.

Of course they didn’t notice the darkness part, being blind mice.  Outside in the kitchen, the Farmer walked in and found his wife vainly trying to pull the carving knife out of the floor.  Three little tales lay on the floor in a line.

“My goodness,” he said.  “I have never seen such a sight in my life.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

Extracting Inception

This change in the post schedule is messing with me.  I keep getting confused about what I’m supposed to be writing.  I could claim that it’s my ball and we’ll play whatever game I chose, but that sort of defeats the challenge – writing to deadline and prompt.

After thinking carefully, I recalled that Friday is when I look at a specific movie, script or screen.  It’s supposed to be script, but I don’t always read as many scripts as I should to become an awesome screenwriter.  Watching movies can also be helpful, if you watch for such key things as structure, dialogue, character development...

I watched Inception this week for that very purpose.  I saw it in the theater and enjoyed it.  It’s #1’s favorite movie.  After seeing way too many previews for Interstellar and reading a few interviews with Christopher Nolan, I was ready to study his mind twisting thriller rather than just go along for the ride.

There is a clear protagonist and the fundamental question is asked within the first few minutes – “What is real?”  The rest flows organically and the film isn’t afraid to ponder deep questions ranging from “Why is the point” to substance abuse.  Over and over, our hero is presented with the argument that we should make/chose our own reality and each time he fights back with a resounding, “No!”

I like that.  In a world guided by situational ethics, the dedication of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character to one absolute truth is both remarkable and admirable.  He sacrifices tremendously for truth.  Not that he’s a shining knight, he has his flaws and is less than honest with his team. There’s also the underlying conceit that what he does is illegal.  Sort of an Ocean’s 11 approach to the law.

The visual effects are very good and Mr. Nolan gets away with a lot because he filming dreams so it doesn’t have to make sense.  But it’s far from random.  Each scene is carefully structured and builds to the climax.  The story guides us so seamlessly that it’s easy to miss that we’re being set up.

The pace slows in a few places but it picks back up quickly and reminds us that Inception is not a shoot ‘em up.  It’s a serious look at how we see ourselves and our world.  I finished watching thinking that I definitely needed to find a copy of the script.

One aspect of the narrative that really resonated with me was how the structure of shared dreaming worked.  Two supporting characters discuss it, a sort of master/apprentice, and that freed up the protagonist to be used later, adding a twist to the plot based on his issues with construction/navigation while they were all dreaming.

It was also interesting how a supporting character was able to drive the story and draw plot elements from the protagonist.  If Leo had been the one to reveal everything all the way through, we’d have become quite sick of him.

There’s a bit of violence but it isn’t anything we don’t see on TV.  Ditto for the language (except for the seeing part, it’s more of hearing for that).  If you haven’t seen it and enjoy twists, turns, and deep questions, I recommend Inception.  It's Shutter Island without the sick feeling.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"But what if I wanted it more than the person who has it?"

I binged on movies last weekend.  Which for me means that I watched one on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  I don’t like to watch back-to-back films in the same day.  Or even watch a TV show after an afternoon movie.  In fact, if the film I’ve watched was good, I don’t even like to read before I go to bed.

Cinema is an event.  Not as much as it once was, perhaps, but that’s because we choose to jump right into the next thing.  I far prefer to sit with a film.  Let it sort of wrap around me.  Contemplate its story, theme, and emotion.  There’s plenty of time for the rat race tomorrow.  I’ve never understood how someone could want to know the end before the beginning or have a conversation/play a game during the movie – you are going to miss something and you are making me miss it too.  (Nothing against those people, I also don’t understand why people chose to eat mushrooms.)

First up was Prisoners, the script I wrote about a few weeks ago.  The film didn’t disappoint.  I don’t think there was a single funny line in the entire thing.  Even the “fun” scenes where the actors seemed to be enjoying themselves was underscored with ominous music and a style that tightened your gut.  It was a methodical unraveling and well done.  My wife, however, was a bit perturbed that the “best scene in the script” was cut from the final film.  That’ll learn her to read scripts.  On the other hand, it was filmed exactly the way we both envisioned it.

Next up was The Eagle which, I believe, was added to my Netflix queue by #2 because Channing Tatum is in it.  I enjoyed it.  Also a serious drama, but this one was Action Drama rather than Thriller/Crime Drama.  Nothing pretentious at all, it was about story.  A gory story.  It was almost on the nose about how awful the Romans were and how pointless war is.  I don’t disagree, it’s just… I didn’t want to watch a civics lesson rife with editorial.  But don’t let that dissuade you.  If you have the stomach for decapitation, primitive surgery, and UFC style bludgeoning contests – or you like to see Channing Tatum without a shirt – feel free to watch it.  The story was good.  It also passed my Donald Sutherland test.  (Short parts = good movie.  Big parts = bleh.)

Then #3 and #4 convinced me that I should take them to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  Okay, it was my idea and they thought it was a good one.  I wanted to go because it’s about the only non-sequel, non-R action movie out this year.  I also wanted to feel old by complaining to myself about the $9.50 matinee ticket price.  That’s alright, you can still get a popcorn and to sodas for under $20.  A nickel under $20.  But the complaining will give you the wrong idea.  It was much, much better than I thought it would be.  If you liked the first Iron Man you will like GotG.  What struck me most was that story took prominence over CGI.  There was lots of CGI, but it wasn’t distracting.  And the dialogue.  Oh my.  I want to write that sort of repartee.  Awesome.  The best lines were all exchanges.

And they were good lines.  My boys are still quoting them which they NEVER do.  I haven’t seen them that excited after watching a movie in a long time.  The studio worked very hard to make sure that when they kicked off this franchise they did it well.  I was disappointed by some of the content choices, but relatively speaking they did show restraint.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hot Chocolate

So today sort of snuck up on me in my sleep.  I didn’t realize it was here until the alarm went off.  Bummer.  I think that, perhaps, the very best part of a vacation is that alarm clocks play an extraordinarily small part.

Hot Chocolate
Cole sat at the table, expectant and vacant.  This is what he did.  Behind him, Alex, a.k.a Mom, hummed softly while dumping a packet of Swiss Miss – the kind without marshmallows – into an old Steelers mug.  She took a spoon from the drawer and placed it inside the mug.

Cole didn’t see any of that.  He never turned around when she me his hot chocolate.  It wasn’t what he did.  Instead, he imitated a statue at table, waiting with the patience of eternity, while the world went on around him.

Alex resisted the urge to rub his head.  That wasn’t the sort of thing you did before the hot chocolate was done.  Sometimes after, he’d let you know when it was okay, but never ever ever before.  The kettle whistled and she took it off the burner.  Cole, naturally, paid it no attention.

It might have been imagined, but for a split second it looked like recognition in his eyes when the sound of the spoon against the side of the mug reached him.  When she set the steaming drink on the table he said, “Thank you.”

Alex always answered the same.  “You’re welcome, Pooh Bear.”

Wow, Jon.  What a dull story.  Hmm.  Maybe dull, maybe not.  There might be an expectation of something more.  To the point, if this was near the beginning of a longer story, you’d expect more.  And it wouldn’t be purposeless, there’s a bit about the characters here.

In fact, this is not my story.  It’s a scene from a movie that I have retold “in my own words.”  In the film it is a touching scene but nothing special.  It’s critical, however, because the single most powerful moment in the film, Mercury Rising is when the little boy (who was called Simon in the film) wants his afternoon hot chocolate and the enormity of his parents’ death crushes him.  That scene wouldn’t have meant much at all without the tender moment with his mother earlier.

Oh, and sorry for the delay, my computer went dead on the train this morning.

Friday, August 1, 2014

"I feel like you're breathing helium and I'm breathing oxygen."

Friday’s post.  Awesome.  If you’re reading the blog, it’s FRIDAY.  If you’re reading the subscription it’s SATURDAY and even better.  If you’re like me (which you aren’t, sorry) then it’s THURSDAY which isn’t as good as Friday but I’m on the train home so it’s almost that good.  And, back in the day, Magnum P.I. was on Thursday nights.  Then it was Friends and Seinfeld.  What is it now?  I haven’t had T.V. in years.

Which brings me to an interesting observation.  I enjoy reading screenplays as much as watching movies.  Sometimes, like today, probably more than the movie itself.  I read Before Midnight on the recommendation that it was truly terrific.  Um.  Terrific, unless you are Jason Everett Bear, is subjective and I didn’t think it was terrific.  I thought it was okay as a read and never plan to see it.  Why?  Nothing happens.  Which is to say that plenty happens, but not visually so it shouldn’t actually be a film.  It reminded me very much of a short story.

As a short story it was good.  Nearly the entire film is dialogue.  I’m talking 95% of the text is dialogue, the other 5% is scene headings and character names.  There’s a smattering of ‘R’ material including language and almost sex, but I suspect that’s only there so people will watch it.  You could certainly cut it and still have exactly the same conversation.

It’s two conversations, really.  A running dialogue between the protagonists and a dinner party that kicks off the second act.  Okay, a third.  The opening scene introduces us to Jesse during a lopsided conversation with a character we never see again.

It’s a fairly banal conversation too.  They mostly affect airs and try to sound profound but then drop to clever and crude.  It’s meant to emulate real life and they discuss real life quite a lot.  Mostly about how real life is nothing like a fairy tale and people don’t really fall in love forever and isn’t everything in the world all messed up?  (Of course they don’t say ‘messed’ up.)

The voice of dissent from that world view was not very strong and the closing scene never really answers the question although we know precisely how the main characters feel.  I myself absolutely believe in forever love and found the idea that it was a crock to be supported only by selfishness and a hedonistic desire to experience bliss every moment, always right, always the hero, and always with something better just at the next table.

Silly.  Any cocaine addict will tell you that high is relative and when you’re high you aren’t trying to get high.  It’s not being high that makes being high seem so good.  You can’t feel appreciated unless you’re felt unappreciated first.  And emotion needs to be refreshed.  Like Judo.  You want to control someone with a joint lock?  Don’t keep the pain on.  Ramp it up and then back it off.  Otherwise your opponent will get used to it and kick your butt.

So the script itself was well written and read quickly and, if the format was adjusted a bit, might appear in The New Yorker or The Atlantic.  The characters were well drawn and the voices were very distinct.  It was impressive, actually.  But dull as film.  Talk, talk, talk.

And it was depressing.  I’m sorry if you love it.  Just wasn’t my cup of tea.