Sunday, July 31, 2011

Review of Cowboys & Aliens

Daniel Craig in DreamWorks Pictures' 'Cowboys & Aliens.'
Daniel Craig as Jake Lonergan in "Cowboys & Aliens"

Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood
"Cowboys & Aliens" isn't going to win an Oscar for best picture, but if you enjoy westerns or action movies, you'll like this one.  Daniel Craig channels Clint Eastwood to give us a modern version of the old-fashioned cowboy outlaw with a chance at redemption.  It's a risky movie melding the western with science fiction.  But the melding of the two genres is fun and "Cowboys & Aliens" is mostly a hit with a little bit of a miss.  I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the movie the most as it had that feel of the best of spaghetti westerns like "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly."

The movie starts with a close-up of Craig, beat up, dirty and bloody while still managing to look hot.  He's shoeless and confused, clearly unable to recall why he's in the desert or why he has a metal bracelet on.  The mystery of who he is, where he comes from and why he has the strange but powerful metal bracelet is revealed slowly.  And while the aliens make appearances on screen in wasp-like metal flying machines, the true nature of the aliens and their reason for being on Earth is also revealed bit by bit.

Daniel Craig is the stand out and he stays true to his stoic character throughout.  Harrison Ford is the weak link of the cast.  He plays Colonel Dolarhyde (a rancher - get it - dollar-hide), a grumpy, hard-ass former soldier who now is the big-cheese in town rancher.  Ford starts out strong but can't help but curl his lip from time-to-time in a Han Solo-esque sneer and by the end he's playing it sappy.

Daniel Craig's not afraid to get gritty in his role.  In one of the most bad-ass scenes ever, Craig's character beats a man to death with his bare hands, the blood splattering all over him.  He doesn't even wipe the blood splatters off his face as he takes the boots off the dead guy and puts them on.  Stone cold bad ass.  Next to Craig, Ford looks like he's uncomfortable in his skin as he struggles to portray a less than desirable character.  He ends up resorting to a mix of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, a cartoonish cliche.

But back to the good news.  The special effects are top notch.  One of my beefs with the later Star Wars movies is that the CGI takes over and the acting becomes stilted and ineffectual (George Lucas clearly preferring to work with computers over people).  In Cowboys & Aliens there are no lines of thousands of CGI aliens marching across the screen.  Instead they did a great job of interspersing the CGI aliens amongst the sagebrush, sand and rock to make it more lifelike.  There's plenty of hand-to-hand combat with the bad guys oozing gooey green blood.

If you enjoy a gritty western or action movie, you'll enjoy this offering.

Some of you may know that I have a particular interest in this movie because I have a work in progress that was originally titled "Cowboys & Aliens" (before I saw the trailer for this movie!).  See my previous blog post on the WIP here.  I was glad to see that the movie has nothing in common with my forthcoming novel except some aliens (and mine are very different).

If you've seen "Cowboys & Aliens," let us know what you think by posting a comment below or on my Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dear Lover: Show Don't Tell Applies in Real Life as well as Fiction

This is a fictional letter to a fictional lover and not (totally) autobiographical.

Dear Lover,
     Editors tell writers to "show" not "tell" their story.  Lover, I want you to show me your love, not dribble out empty words.
     Don't get me wrong lover, I enjoy hearing you say "I love you."  But if you tell me "I love you" then proceed to ignore me while I try to talk to you about a difficult time I had at work then all I remember is how you were insensitive to my pain, not the beautiful words you said.
     They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  A look, a hug, a listen or a gesture to show you care can be worth a thousand I love yous.
Words can be cheap, but actions go deep.  Lover, don't just tell me, show me.
     And by the way, doing a load of laundry or washing the dishes counts as a whole lot of show.
     Oh, and I love you.

What is your favorite way of being shown that your lover cares?  (Please, nothing explicit or raunchy - this is a PG-13 blog!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sometimes Life Hands You a Floater

swimming pool images

You're swimming in the aqua-blue pool.  Birds are singing.  Sun is shining.  Butterflies flit from the red throated salvia to the periwinkle blue pincushion flower.  You're at summer camp laughing with your friends.  All is right with the world, until . . .

There's something in the corner of the pool.  Something that doesn't belong.  Something horrific.

It's a floater, right there in the pool, ruining a perfectly happy moment.  Everyone out of the pool!

The other day my eight-year-old came home from summer camp and told me this story about the errant turd floating in the camp's pool.

Me:  There was a floater in the pool?

Daughter:  Yes and it was disgusting!

Me:  [Laughs]

Daughter:  Don't laugh! It's not funny.  Now I can't go in the pool ever again.

Me:  Sorry, it's just kind of funny, don't you think?  Like the cheese touch in the Wimpy Kid books.  Besides, it's like a metaphor for life.

Daughter:  It's not funny and I don't know why you're talking about meteors!

The next day she went back to camp and swore she wouldn't swim in the pool.  To her it was forever tainted by the piece of floating shit she'd found there the day before.  Never mind that it was going to be over 100 degrees that day and without swimming she'd melt like an orange push-pop in the sun.  The poop she'd experienced the day before, still fresh in her mind, threatened to ruin the rest of the summer.

When I picked her up at the end of the day she had her swimsuit on.

Me:  So you did swim today?

Daughter:  Yep.  They put a bunch of chemicals in the pool and didn't let us swim this morning, but we got in this afternoon.

Me:  So you're not still worried about the poop in the pool?

Daughter:  Nah.  But no one's going in that corner of the pool anymore!

If only the shit life hands us were as simple to take care of.  If only we could scoop the poop out, dump some chemicals on the festering problem and in a few hours we're swimming again, happy as if it had never happened.

I've been swimming in a pool of poop lately - at least that's what it feels like.  Aging parents taking ill.  Technology failures.  Getting sick on vacation in a foreign country (where you can't read the language and don't know if you've just purchased an antihistamine or a suppository).  Sometimes when it rains it rains a shit storm.

How do we get through it?  What to do when the pool feels like it's full of turds?

For me, I turn to comedy and writing.  Humor can lift me up out of the funk and get me back to a place where I can see the bright side.  Maybe not a bright sunny day, but at least out of the dark cave of gloom.  My daughter's floater in the pool did that for me that day.  I needed it.

Then I use my imagination and I write.  For instance, that floater has become epic in my mind.  I imagine the "Summer of the Floater" will be passed from kid to kid and that even long after the offending piece of detritus was removed, no kid will ever go in that corner again.

In the immortal words of Jim Morrison:

Jim Morrison"I'll tell you this man, I don't know what's going to happen man, but I want to have my kicks before the whole shit house goes up in flames."

What do you do when life hands you a pile of poop?  How do you get through it?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Indies are Democratizing the Arts & Why I Love Ben Semmens

This guy's voice is haunting me - in a good way.  The fact that I was able to discover Ben says a lot about the changes in how we are able to enjoy music, art and books.  The digital age has democratized our access to the arts.  Now, instead of "gatekeepers" deciding what we listen to (or books we read or art we see), artists can go directly to the public.

Many of us have known for years that the "best" music wasn't necessarily what was showing up on our radio.  Large corporations "own" the music business (and the book business and every other business).  Corporations cannot predict what the next big thing will be so they try to replicate the last big thing.  Sure, there are exceptions to this but for the most part, corporate supported art is homogenized.  In the past, if you're someone who likes the unique, the different, the truly new then you may have had to work to find it.

Not anymore.  The digital age has made it relatively easy for consumers to find new and interesting art.  I stumbled upon Ben's PledgeMusic page and heard "Constant Dream" one day when I was surfing the net.  And Ben is Indie.  Without the backing of a label, he sold over 60,000 downloads of songs from his first album Western Lights.

When I heard Ben's music, I could see why it might be tough to get a big label recording contract.  His voice is great, but his music is a bit tough to categorize.  If the corporation can't categorize it, put a label on it and get it onto a particular shelf, they're not very interested (especially for new or emerging artists).

When artists are pushing the envelope - going deep into creativity - their work can be hard to categorize.  Musicians may mix jazz with funk and add a little surfer vibe and what do you get?  Something that's hard to label.  But dang, that would be some cool music huh!?

It's the same with writing.  Some authors write mystery or romance or thrillers or sci fi.  But what if a writer mixes sci fi with western?  Or maybe mythology with action and throws in fantasy?  It could be a great story but may never see the light of day because an acquiring agent knows he/she can't sell it to a large publishing house because it defies quick and easy categorization.

Some consumers want the standard, the same, the thing that feels familiar.  That's fine.  There's plenty of that out there.

But for those of us who enjoy stretching ourselves a bit - listening to something we don't normally listen to - read a genre bending book - we are blessed with more choices than ever, right on our computer.

The beauty of iTunes and Smashwords and Amazon Kindle and other platforms is that individuals with something to say can say it and categorizing doesn't matter as much.  It's not actually taking up physical shelf space and it can stay there in perpetuity, finding its audience as slowly as it needs to.  An artist doesn't need to change their voice or mainstream their art to be heard.  Artists now are able to go directly to the people and don't need to get through the establishment "gatekeeper."

How democratic is that!  Vive la revolution!

If you like the different, the unique - if you like to take a chance - sample new things for the pleasure of every now and again finding something you love - then support the Indie artists of the world.  Musicians.  Novelists.  Poets.  Artists.

Here are two of Ben's songs for you to check out for yourself.

I'm not a Twilight fan, but this is the only video I could find for "Constant Dream" that I can share.  So if you love Twilight, keep your eyes open and enjoy.  If you can't stand the sight of Bella and Edward, then close your eyes and enjoy Ben's beautiful voice.

"Constant Dream" could be in the soundtrack for my forthcoming novel Emily's House.  It perfectly captures the way Emily feels at the beginning of the book.

Ben is working on his first solo album and I hope we don't have to wait too long to hear his new tunes.  Here's one that I hope he'll include (and the photo montage is nice too).

So check Ben out and let me know what you think.  And, if you have favorite Indies, share with us here.

Featured Post

An Interview with Hugh Howey, author of Wool

Hugh Howey Author of Wool Robyn and I were super thrilled to have the opportunity to interview bestselling author Hugh Howey for our Ma...