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Archive for the month “June, 2012”

DINOCALYPSE NOW by Chuck Wendig – My Review

For my first book review on the blog, I really wanted to write something profound about the state of modern literature, the power of the written word. I chose for my first review DINOCALYPSE NOW by Chuck Wendig. Here’s my sophisticated review:

This book is fun.

F-U-N

DINOCALYPSE NOW is written in the style of a 1930’s pulp novel. Inspired by the Spirit of the Century role-playing game from Evil Hat Productions, the book features the heroes of the Century Club defending FDR, and ultimately all of time and space, from extinction at the hands of dinosaurs, psychic dinosaurs, and warrior apes.

Here’s what I like most about this book. I’ve never played the game on which it is based (though it sounds awesome), but I still totally get the appeal. It feels like my childhood toy box full of action figures splayed out on the page of a book. I was a HUGE action figure kid: Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman, Superman, GI Joe, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Zorro, Indiana Jones, Dukes of Hazard, The Love Boat. (Yes, Love Boat action figures really existed. And I had some. Don’t judge me.)

Did I mention the book has psychic dinosaurs?

What does a kid with a box full of action figures do? Dump them all out and make them battle it out for supremacy over the whole family room/yard/backyard pool/bench seat in the back of the conversion van on family vacations. I even staged a battle once while on a fishing boat in Canada.

The cast list could have been drawn directly from my childhood favorites. Consider:

Flyboy Mack Silver = Han Solo

Fix-it queen Sally Slick = Kaylee from “Firefly” (not from my childhood, but the best comparison I can think of)

Amelia Stone = Princess Leia

Benjamin Hu = Zorro

Professor Khan = Ape from “George of the Jungle”

Jet Black = Luke Skywalker

And not just the Centurions. This book has an army of evil apes. Time travel. An old wizard dude who controls all of that time. Marauding neanderthals. And, oh what the hell, the Lost City of Atlantis shows up too.

So as I read about Mack Silver piloting his plane “Lucy” through a flock of soaring dinosaurs, I imagined The Love Boat’s Yeoman Purser Burl “Gopher” Smith piloting Bobba Fett’s ship through a long ago battle for supremacy over my living room. I’m right there again, an eight-year-old Centurion grappling with my own dinocalypse.

Thanks for the memories, Chuck.

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FRANKEN-DAD

It’s ben a little distracting around here what with all the banging and clanging coming from down the hall at Muppet Labs. Who knew being where the future is being made today could be so damn noisy?

Still, we’re quite proud here at Pepper HQ to be able to announce our own abomination in the name of science.

Here, let me show you.

*Inserts giant, old-timey key into oversized padlock that holds the chain barring the stout, wooden door. Chains clatter to the floor and the door creaks open ever so slowly. A tall man lumbers out wearing khakis, an officially licensed athletic sweatshirt, and sensible shoes. He looks a little bewildered.*

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…FRANKEN-DAD!

Cue Fay Wray screams

Fear not. He’s gentle. He’s harmless. Yes, a little cranky in the morning and around snack time. And yes, he breaks lots of stuff, but then he fixes it. In honor of Father’s Day this week, I have created for you the ultimate Father’s Day gift: THE PERFECT DAD.

Popular entertainment over the decades has been filled with memorable dads. Only now have we developed the technology to synthesize the best things about those dads and put them all into one pop. We have harnessed the best bits of those classic TV dads and put them into ours. Behold:

The shell is Jack Carter from TV’s “Eureka”, father to Zoe – tall, fit without being obsessively muscular, close cropped-no nonsense haircut. The befuddled grin and stubble top off the look. You can put him in jeans and he’s ready to go, but he can do a suit if you want the white-collar dad instead.

The wisdom is courtesy of “Brady Bunch” patriarch Mike Brady. A blended family of eight kids tasked with coming up with yet another set of hijinks each and every week drove mom Carol Brady and housekeeper Alice batty. Not Mike Brady though. Everyone would be freaking out about the latest crisis – Marsha’s busted nose, Cindy’s missing doll, Mommy can’t sing on Christmas morning, whatever – and Mike would shuffle in and be all like, “Chill, dudes. You see kids…” then he’d tell them what’s up and how to fix it. Everyone would go, “You’re right, Dad!” and be all happy again. Then Mike Brady could go off camera and drink or whatever he did to make it through such a demanding life.

The clothes are courtesy of Cliff Huxtable . Think about “The Cosby Show” and you remember two things, right? Pudding pops and the sweaters Cosby always wore. They just said, “I’m a dad,” didn’t they?

The urge to avoid confrontation and fix stuff comes from Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor. That guy was always rebuilding the lawn mower for more power, souping up the vacuum cleaner, whatever. Something would explode or otherwise meet an untimely end and someone in the family would get pissed. Tim wouldn’t know what to do so he’d go chat over the back fence with Wilson who’d give him marching orders and Tim would go carry them out. Our perfect dad, we believe, harnesses the Tool Man’s creativity, tempered by Mike Brady’s wisdom. If not, well, double-check your homeowner’s insurance.

The sense of humor is from Homer Simpson. Sure, Homer’s an idiot, but he’s a big-hearted, laid back idiot. Dads don’t always need the witty repartee of a Broadway play to laugh. Sometimes, they need “Spider-pig, spider-pig…!”

So, before I put Franken-Dad away until next year – Wave, Franken-Dad!  *Franken-Dad waves maniacally* – let me just say this: It doesn’t matter if your dad is tall or short, fat or thin, smart or dumb as a politician, funny or dry as paste left in the school supply box too long. He’s a dad, he does his best. And if he doesn’t, well, help him. He needs it.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!

Thanks to whoever put these pictures on Google Images

FIVE OTHER WRITERLY THINGS I COULD BE DOING

Up front, a confession: I pretty blatantly ripped off the idea for this blog post from the author Joe Hill because he wrote one on the same topic here: http://joehillfiction.com/. Thanks, Joe!

Joe is a successful, published author of many great things and yet he still aspires to do more. I, on the other hand , am the author of many (dare I call them great myself?) things, only a few of which have been published or performed. It occurred to me, though, that this post would still be a worthy exercise. Maybe the act of committing to a list of things I still want to do would provide some motivation for those days when the words in the things I’m already doing don’t flow so easily, when the struggle of toiling in obscurity with my latest project (not total obscurity – there is my novel IN THE ST. NICK OF TIME and a handful of short plays.) threatens to push me into vegging out on the couch in front of reruns because it’s easier.

There are so many other awesome writing challenges waiting for me once I get the hang of the ones already in front of me – novels and plays. Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to doing:

  • WRITE A MUSICAL – When I was like seven or eight, my parents took me to my first, big, professional theatrical experience: “Camelot” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. Honestly, I fell asleep (I WAS only seven, had a big meal, late evening show…), but the memory (of what I did see) has stayed with me. Chanhassen was almost a yearly event for many years after. Even though I don’t sing, dance or read music, and the tiny bit of acting experience I have has been in non-musical shows, I’m still intrigued by musical theatre. I think I’d write something more funny than serious, but with heart – more “Book of Mormon” than “Rent”, though I enjoy both. I’ll do the story and lyrics. Someone else can score it. Hmm…my six-year-old is taking piano lessons. Give her a few years…
  • WRITE A SCREENPLAY – I love writing plays. The challenge of telling the story completely with dialogue and stage directions is fun. There’s no room for lush descriptions and back story you might indulge in in a novel. Every word on the page in a play script goes on the stage. I don’t think, fundamentally, a movie script is much different, yet I’m intimidated. Why? Maybe because the scope of a movie – typically – is bigger than a play? Maybe because I’ve been on stage and have interacted with actors and playwrights and theatrical production people, but have never been behind the scenes of a movie? Maybe. I’ll work up to this one.
  • WRITE A TV SERIES – I don’t mean an episode of a TV series. I mean a whole season or series, start to finish. I think it would be fun to create a show on paper, cast it, see it come to life and then guide the actors/characters through multiple episodes or seasons. I’d either write something quirky like “Community” or “The Office” or something dramatic like “Sherlock” or “Breaking Bad”. Or maybe just something fun like “Doctor Who” or “Eureka”.
  • WRITE A GRAPHIC NOVEL – This one will be tricky. I can’t draw worth anything. I have a hard enough time with hand-writing something, much less trying to draw something recognizable (sorry, anyone on my team in a drawing game). Still, I envy authors like Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and others with the vision to see their stories in words AND in drawings. It’s a skill I’d like to develop.
  • WRITE A NOVEL…BUT WITH A COLLABORATOR – I’ve written lots of fiction by myself, but I’m a little intimidated by the idea of writing with a partner. So much so, I’d like to try it someday. With the right project, two heads probably would be better than one. Just got to find the right one.

Right. Enough dreaming of the future. Back to work on the present.

 

WHAT YOUR FAVORITE MOVIES SAY ABOUT YOU

What does your list of favorite movies say about you?

As anyone who tries to shop for me will tell you (in frustrated, gritted-teeth tones), I have wide-ranging tastes in movies, books, and music. I think this is good. It should make it easier to find something I’ll like. Others aren’t so sure.

However, friends and family might be relieved by the realization I had a while back that my favorite movies have a lot of common themes.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093748/ – Steve Martin as an uptight stiff and John Candy as the bigmouth buffoon thrown together on Thanksgiving on a cross-country road trip. An unlikely friendship is forged even as the world seems to conspire against their getting home. Martin as Neil Page: “Those aren’t pillows!” Hilarious.
  • Little Miss Sunshine – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0449059/ – Patriarch Greg Kinnear and suicidal brother-in-law Steve Carrell drive cute little 7-year-old Abigail Breslin and the rest of their dysfunctional family from New Mexico to California in a VW van with no clutch so she can compete in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant.  Lots of humor, but some very touching family stuff too. Carrell as Frank: “I was the #1 Proust scholar in the US.” Kinnear as Richard Hoover: “Everyone just pretend we’re normal.”
  • Sideways – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0375063/ – Paul Giamatti’s Miles and Thomas Haden Church’s Jack are lost, emotionally-stunted, middle-aged men on one last road trip through wine-country to celebrate Jack’s impending marriage and the hoped-for publication of Miles’s novel. These characters teeter on the line between funny and pathetic. It’s a testament to the actors’ skill that we root for them and that the movie so successfully weaves flat-out humor with some really nice friendship stuff. Jack: “If they want to drink merlot, we’re drinkin’ merlot.” Miles: “No way am I drinking any f-ing merlot!”
  • Wonderboys – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185014/ – During the weekend of “Wordfest” at a small liberal arts college, pot-head, one-hit novelist professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas), eccentric writing student James Leer (Tobey Maguire) and washed-up book editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) end up taking a hard look at where they are in life and where they really want to be. Another movie that expertly weaves the humor with the poignant. Tripp:”I’m your teacher, James. I’m not a Holiday Inn.”

I love these movies. I watch them all faithfully at least once a year and look forward to doing so the rest of the year. I have other favorties. There’s a whole set of holiday films I always watch at Christmas. There are others that I will always stop to watch on cable when I channel surf: Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Star Trek. But these four movies are the ones I always come back to; the ones I look forward to watching all year. These are the ones I think about the most and can quote from the most.

So, what does that say about me? I dunno. But I think what it says is that I’m drawn to road-trip movies for one. Three out of the four center on some kind of road trip. I can see that. You really get to know a person – see them at their best and worst when confined together on a train or in a car, when you don’t have the normal distractions of daily life to act as a buffer between the two of you. There is huge potential for humor and drama there and these movies play that expertly. The geographical journey is  a metaphor for the emotional one and somehow that just resonnates. Go figure.

The other commonality between these four movies is exploration of friendship and self-identity. All these characters have their opinions about themselves and their opinions about their friends/families tested. I think that’s healthy. We can get bogged down in the detritus of life.  I think it’s good once in a while to step back and reassess what’s good and not so good in your relationships and use that to grow. Characters in movies have to grow and change or there’s no story. People in life have to grow or change or there’s no, well, life.

So what are your favorite movies? What do they say about you?

 

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