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Archive for the tag “movies”

FILM-BASED FACE-OFF: JAMES LEER VS. THE 12TH DOCTOR

So, there’s this movie my favorite movie is the best movie ever is Wonderboys. (I’ll whup any soul what says different.) This was the 2000 cinematic adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel set at a small college over the course of a weekend in which the lives of pot-smoking professor Grady Tripp (played by Michael Douglas), still working on the follow-up to a hugely successful novel seven years later, and his very brilliant, but very odd, writing student James Leer (played by Tobey Maguire), are turned upside down.

I’ve watched this movie, um… *counts on fingers* *takes off shoes for additional counting space* Let’s see…

Seven billion times.

Okay, not really, but I do watch it at least once a year. It’s an annual event like Christmas. Or underwear rotation. I don’t get tired of it. The characters are still interesting. the dialogue sparkles. The plot sustains. And, bonus: After so many viewings, the things you loved at first are still there, but other things emerge from the background. There’s always something new to appreciate.

I recently had this year’s Wonderboys viewing. (My shorts are doing fine, too. Thanks.) And here’s the startling revelation that jumped out me.

James Leer is a timelord.

Like from Gallifrey. Doctor Who, anyone? The most obvious first indicator is how James dresses. Dark pants, long dark coat, white shirt buttoned up to the collar. To whit:

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Okay, now check out this guy:

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Eerie, isn’t it? Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor dresses a lot like James Leer. The prosecution rests.

Consider also, each man is never without a particular item which gives him his power. James has an ugly, green knapsack with books and videos and his precious, completed first novel manuscript; the thing that unlocks his future. The Doctor has his sonic screwdriver; the thing that unlocks doors. Unless they’re wood.

James is a brilliant writer. The Doctor is brilliant at everything else. I’ve never actually seen him write, though. It’d be weird if it turned out he was illiterate, wouldn’t it?

James knows all about what’s happened in the past, mostly as the past pertains to suicides of famous actors, but still…The Doctor, a time traveler, knows all about history too; and may have married Marilyn Monroe.

James has socialization issues. He’s arrogant, laughs at inappropriate times, thinks nothing of helping himself to a stranger’s bourbon and smoking a doobie in the person’s living room. The Doctor has trouble remembering faces from one minute to the next and is fond of telling people to “shut up, shut up, shut up, shut-ity up up up.”

So the question is: Is James Leer the Doctor, or some other time lord? He’s not really evil, so probably not the Master or the Rani. He could be some other time lord like the meddling monk or Professor Chronitis. Or he could be yet another surprise, formerly unknown, incarnation of the Doctor himself (we’ve had a lot of those the last couple years).

I think this is a pretty air-tight case. Go ahead. Prove me wrong. Just try.

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PUT STEVE CARELL IN A VAN

People love to take shots at Hollywood. “There are no good ideas,” they say. “The only way they can make money is to put a muscle dude in tights and film him beating up a green screen,” they say. Well, the knocks might be well-earned. If Hollywood drags poor Batman out one more time, he’ll be suing Gotham for negligence when his walker skids on some wet pavement and he busts a hip.

But the dirtiest of the dirty little secrets about Hollywood mojo has yet to come out. And it has nothing to do with Jennifer Lawrence naked. How does Hollywood make money? Hint: it’s not new ideas and bold innovation.

Here it is…

You ready?

No, you’re not. Just take a deep breath…

Okay, then. Here’s how Hollywood rakes in the cash.

By putting Steve Carell in a van and having him drive around.

I don’t mean like in real life. I have no idea what Steve Carell drives. It might be a van. Or maybe it’s a Prius. Or a horse-drawn chariot or some sort of sled powered by alien slug creature pedal power as in the little watched Hanna-Barbera cartoon “The Flintstones Eat Cave Mushrooms and Hallucinate About Space.” Real life Steve can drive whatever he wants.

But movie Steve Carell, that dude needs to ride in a van. Whatever else is going on in a film, putting Steve Carell in a van in a movie works really well. Little Miss Sunshine – about a family road trip in a Volkswagen van – came out in 2006, cost $8 million to make and grossed over $100 million.

Carell’s new movie is Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. It’s been out for a month as of this writing, cost $28 million to make and has so far grossed $78 million. No road trip in this one, but lots of driving around in a minivan while family hijinks ensue.

The similarities between these films don’t end there… (Since Alexander is relatively new, I’ll try not to be hugely spoilery about it. Still, mind your step…)

1. In Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day (Phew. Let’s just call it ALEXANDER), there is a defined “destination”: Mom, Dad, brother, sister, and Alexander all have stuff that’s got to get done and places everyone needs to be before Alexander’s birthday party. In Little Miss Sunshine (LMS), the family has to get from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, CA by 3:00 Sunday so Olive can dance in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

2. In ALEXANDER the minivan…well, it sustains some suburban battle scars. In LMS, the van loses its clutch, horn and side door.

3. In ALEXANDER, Carell’s character is, literally, a rocket scientist. But now he’s unemployed, trying to stay upbeat for his family. In LMS, Carell is the “#1 Proust scholar in the country”‘ but now he’s unemployed…and suicidal, but he does say lots of inspiring and funny things.

4. In ALEXANDER, the family watches in horror from the audience as one of their own makes a fool of themselves on stage. In LMS, The family watches in horror from the audience as Olive busts a move to “Super Freak” on stage.

5. ALEXANDER features an inappropriate dance routine by a trio of male strippers – The Thunder Down Under. LMS? See Superfreak.

6. In ALEXANDER, the Mom blows a big assignment at work. Dad flubs a big job interview. In LMS, Richard Hoover loses a book deal for his 9 step motivational program.

7. In ALEXANDER, the sister gets loopy on cough syrup. In LMS, Grandpa snorts heroin.

8. In ALEXANDER, Carell is beaten by a kangaroo, nearly eaten by a crocodile, and set on fire. In LMS, he’s suicidal.

9. In ALEXANDER, the brother is primed to drive his date – the “hottest girl in school” – to prom  as the high point of his life, but loses the tux and flunks his driving test. In LMS, the brother, Dwayne, has one goal in life – to fly jets – only to discover he’s color blind, meaning he can’t fly.

10. In ALEXANDER, the family comes together in the end and realize that’s all that matters. In LMS, well you know…

Eerie, huh? They’re kind of the same movie. Throw in Iron Man and you’d have quintessential Hollywood as we know it.

Drive on, Steve Carell, you magnificent bastard. Drive on.

DAMNED BY THAT EXTRA HOUR

THE SCENE:  A Victorian era London dining room. There’s an iPad on the table and a TV in the corner running a Colbert episode and an empty KFC bucket, but never mind. It’s Victorian if you believe it. You want to nit-pick, write your own damn movie.

Seated around the table are three men with lots of facial hair and handle-bar mustaches – they could be extras from the There Will Be Blood sequel “There Will Be Blood 2: Attack of the Clones”.  The red-headed one, DAVID, pours brandy for the others from a decanter resting on the table on top of an issue of US Weekly. Dammit.

DR. HILLYER: Well, I see George is late again.

TOM: George? Who’s that?

DAVID: I think you mean Bill, Doctor.

DR. HILLYER: Are you sure? Isn’t this the film “The Time Machine”, the story of Victorian era inventor H.G. Wells who builds a time machine in hopes of travelling to a far-flung future where mankind has moved beyond the violence and pettiness of the modern age only to find that in the future, even as late as 1960, human nature really hasn’t changed all that much?

DAVID: No, Doctor. It’s not.

DR. HILLYER: Shit.

A door slams. Elderly Mrs. Hudson wanders in from the set of a Sherlock Holmes movie to scream as BILL enters, collapsing into a conveniently placed empty chair. His clothes are filthy and torn, with just enough of his rock-hard pecs exposed to convey this is a manly nerd, but not so much as to make circa 1960 censors nervous.

DAVID: My God, man! What happened to you!

BILL: It was awful, my friend. Bloody awful.

DR. HILLYER: The Time Machine! Am I right?

TOM: I think he’s supposed to tell us that, Doctor.

DR. HILLYER: Drink your brandy, Tom.

BILL: No, Doctor. He’s right, I must get my story out while it’s fresh.

DAVID hands BILL a brandy.

DAVID: What did happen, Bill?

BILL (exhausted, smiling sadly at his dear friend) I have been ravaged by the whims of fate. Buffeted by the time winds, beaten against the shore of eternity.

DR. HILLYER: There! You see? I knew that BarcaLounger with the sundial on the back was a time machine!

DAVID: Please, Doctor. Go on, Bill.

BILL: It was the first Sunday in November, this very year.

TOM: Two days ago.

DR. HILLYER: Thank you, Captain Obvious.

TOM: I will have you know I served under Captain Obvious in the Boer War. A finer soldier, you’ll never meet. Except you won’t, because he’s dead. Walked right into a clear ambush. Ironically, should have been… obvious.

DR. HILLYER: This is all preposterous.

DAVID: We’re getting off topic here. Please go on, Bill.

BILL: Early that Sunday, I slept the sleep of the dead, tired as I was from the previous night’s labors in my laboratory.

DAVID: Building the time machine, Bill?

DR. HILLYER: I knew it.

BILL: No, actually. I was working on a way to get even meaning out of 140 Twitter characters.

DAVID: But where have you been the last two days, Bill?

DR. HILLYER: Traveling in the fourth dimension, were you?Along with the first three dimensions, which, as we know are height, width, breadth?

TOM: How long have you been waiting to get that in?

DR. HILLYER: Drink your brandy, Tom.

BILL: No. No. That’s not it.

DAVID: You weren’t lost in the time vortex, bearing witness to the glories and depravities of history? Basking in the promise of Earth’s future?

BILL: No. Not at all. Sunday was the end of daylight savings time. I set the clocks back. Could have gotten an extra hour of sleep, but the goddamn cats don’t give a shit about daylight savings time. They want to eat when they want to eat. And they want to eat right NOW. I haven’t slept since.

End Scene

Waits by the phone for the Oscar people to call.

 

TIME TRAVEL IN FILM: LOOPER AND THE TIME MACHINE

I realized something late last night.

No, not that you can, in a pinch, use Welch’s grape juice as a mixer with bourbon, which is true (though it’s best sipped with a crazy straw)

What I actually realized is that as huge and ubiquitous bedrock of the science fiction genre that the time travel story is, there really aren’t that many movies about it.

I don’t mean time travel like, guy from the past mysteriously wakes up in the future (or vice versa) and finds his dog or lunch or girl or something. I mean time travel with somebody climbing into a time machine, moving back and forth in time on purpose, maybe losing the time machine and getting it back, and long, ponderous meditations on what it means to muck about in time.

Other than the Back to the Future trilogy, I can think of exactly two:

Looper

The Time Machine

Sure, Terminator sent Schwarzenegger back in time to wipe out John Connor and change the future. And sci-fi action films have done that kind of thing. But traveling through time is a vehicle to tell an action story. Those movies aren’t really about time travel as a thing in itself. Looper and a The Time Machine are.

Quick summary:

The Time Machine is a 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1895 novel “The Time Machine” directed by George Pal and staring Rod Taylor. The movie opens on January 5, 1900 when inventor H.G. Wells hobbles into a gathering of his friends, dirty and disheveled. He tells them that he has just returned from the future in a time machine he claimed to have invented at their last dinner party on December 31, 1899. The character Wells is disillusioned with all the violence in the world and longs to see the future where, he is certain, man surely has evolved beyond its brutish ways. His friends scoff, Wells pouts. They leave. Wells climbs into the time machine which travels through time, but not space, and which looks like Captain Picard’s chair on the Enterprise bridge with a “Price is Right” Plinko wheel on the back. Disillusioned by apparent decade after decade of constant war-making, he travels all the way to the year 802,701, which appears to be an idyllic paradise. He quickly, discovers, though, that it is not.

Looper is a 2012 film starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the year 2044, Levitt is a small time hit man who is paid to execute people the mafia sends him – people from the future because it’s easier to cover the crime. Hit men who do this are called loopers. They are highly paid right up until their employer-from-the-future decides to terminate the contract by sending the hit man’s future self back to 2044 to be executed, thereby closing the “loop”. Eventually, the future Levitt (played by Willis) shows up and escapes the hit. Much intense action ensues.

These are very different films. The Time Machine is a very optimistic “there’s hope for mankind” type film. Even when Wells discovers future humans have squandered technology and rejected education, he dedicates himself to showing them a brighter future. There are lots of weighty speeches about the potential of mankind. There’s also a nice bit about the mechanics of time travel, travel in the fourth dimension (one character even asks to be “reminded what the other three dimensions are”.) Wells carefully explains the operation of his time machine in great detail, except entirely glossing over the whole “how does it actually travel in time” thing. The thing looks super cool, though, and the movie is so fun and hopeful that you really don’t care.

Looper, on the other hand is fun in a “this is bleak, gritty, dark shit” kind of way. BUT, unlike other movies that send bad guys from the future to muck up the present – Terminator, Time Cop, that kind of thing – this movie does take some time to ponder wibbly-wobbly nature of time (in the parlance of Doctor Who), the course of our own futures AND pasts, and time-travel is central to the story, not just a mechanism to set up an otherwise standard action movie.

I like these movies. Really like them. I get that, unlike with a lot of sci-fi tropes, the laws of physics pretty much dictate that time travel is impossible. Maybe that’s what makes me like real, straight-up time travel movies so much. “What if?” is never so powerful a question as when it goes up against “that’s impossible.”

That’s entertainment that means something.

OVERTHINKING FOR THE SAKE OF OVERTHINKING

There’s this guy, Adam Bertocci, with a website devoted to the classic sci-fi comedy Ghostbusters. The site is called “Overthinking Ghostbusters“. Go check it out. I’ll see you back here in an hour or two.

You thought I was kidding didn’t you? There is a LOT of commentary and analysis on the site. Hope you weren’t following that link at work. If so, you’re probably fired now for wasting time. Of course, that means you more time to finish reading this post! And others! All the posts! All day! Read! Read! Read!

Anyway.

Bertocci, a self-described pop culture fan. He declares he “became a Ghostbusters fan at the age of seven, and I’ve never looked back.”

His site makes a case for Ghostbusters having a place among the greatest achievements in cinema. Bertocci analyzes the presence of religion, gender, horror, politics and “the hero’s journey” in the film.

I wanted to write a gently mocking post about wasting good space on the Internet, about a misspent youth soaking up movies and video games rather than trees and other humans.

But then I thought, so what? I really like the movie Ghostbusters too. For that matter, I even like Ghostbusters II too..er II also. Whatever. They’re fun and hold up on re-viewing twenty, thirty years later as affectionate reminders of the eighties without all the embarrassment of the eighties.

So what if this guy puts out a website devoted to his favorite movie, filled with trivia and minutiae and, arguably pointless analysis? Is he any different from the face-painted football fanatic, the anglophile with the royal wedding on tape or the comic book collector who saves his pennies for the pilgrimage to Comicon every year?

Or any different from the anonymous blogger thrusting his unrequested missives on the world?

*Ahem*

So, when you’re done gulping great fistfuls of the Internet truffles this blog provides, go back and call on a Ghostbuster.

There are worse ways to spend your time.

OLD ACTION HEROES NEVER DIE, THEY JUST GET MORE PAY

In the eighties, I think it’s fair to say, a few names dominated the movie box office, at least in terms of ticket sales if not stellar artistic achievements. Schwarzenegger. Stallone. Willis. At least, I think they did. Clearly, I’m gettin’ old and the memory ain’t what it used to be.

What was I talking about?

Anyway, gather ’round kids and I’ll tell you about a time which seems quaint in the present political climate. With gun control all over the news, it’s hard to remember that in the eighties we gleefully lined up to see films that were nothing but explosions and gunplay. Those movies still get made, but it’s nothing like back then.

Consider Sylvester Stallone: Forty-seven “Rambo” movies (I counted. It was something like that.) Movies about a post-traumatic Vietnam vet who kills lots and lots of people. He did the eighty-four “Rocky” movies too (Again, look it up.) He didn’t kill anyone in those, though.

Then there’s former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from back when he was, uh, PRE-California governor. He made “The Terminator” and it’s sequels, of course; playing an evil cyborg from the future who travels back in time mostly to kill lots of things. He made a bunch of other movies too. They were all loud. Even “Twins”, though that may just be Danny Devito’s acting style.

And, finally, the third musketeer, Bruce Wills. He, of course, made holiday classic “Die Hard” (There’s a Christmas tree in one scene.) and it’s sequels. He made other movies in the eighties too, most of which were pretty forgettable, at least to me. (“The Sixth Sense”, a very good film, didn’t come along until 1999.)

We all at our popcorn (with the good, extremely unhealthy, butter flavoring back before nutritionists finally wore us down.) and had a good time.

Then the eighties ended.

We wound our cinematic way through the next two decades. Stallone continued to make the same kind of cheap dialogue, high action films he always did to modest success. Schwarzenegger got into politics. Willis made movies too, but they weren’t quite as bullet-happy for the most part.

Action movies still got made, but movie-goers started demanding action heroes with more depth. They needed more back story, more heart. We also wanted movies that engaged in a wee bit less racial and cultural stereotyping of our villains. I can’t support this with statistics, but my hunch is that the attempts at traditional “action movies” these days don’t fare as well as horror or the latest Judd Apatow romantic/comedy something-or-other.

So, it seemed, the era of the action star might be over.

But wait…

Is that Ben Gay arthritis cream and mothballs I smell? No one probably uses Ben Gay anymore, but I know three guys back in the day who probably did. Could it be…COULD IT BE?????!!!!!

Yes! They’re all back! Willis! Stallone! Schwarzenegger! They’re all up on the big screen this year, wrinkles and all. (Except Stallone who looks freakishly cut. Look at those abs. Pretty sure they just enlarged a Rambo action figure and stuck his head on it in some sort of top-secret lab.)

Willis debuts on Valentine’s Day(!) in “A Good Day to Die Hard”, the fifth installment in the franchise. I’m actually not going to rip on the film because (1) haven’t seen it; (2) I was surprisingly entertained by “Live Free or Die Hard” which came out a few years ago. Yeah, there are lots of bullets and explosions, but it’s SO cartoony, you can’t take it seriously. It’s a video game with someone else at the controls.

Stallone is in theaters now with “Bullet to the Head”. Didn’t see it, but the title tells me it will pretty much be vintage Stallone. That’s good or bad, depending on your taste.

And Schwarzenegger returns to movies with “The Last Stand” playing a small town sheriff who’s not taking crap from anybody. It’s hard to picture Arnold as a “small town sheriff”. Andy Griffith, he’s not. Not even Jack Carter (that’s a shout out to “Eureka” fans) But, then, Arnold always has liked odd choices. Remember “Twins”? Or that one where he’s a pregnant DUDE?

The point is: these guys are OLD. And they’re still out there doin’ it. And doin’ it the way they did back in the day, updated cultural sentiments be damned. Why? Nostalgia for the eighties? Maybe. I’ve got some. I still haven’t solved the Rubik’s Cube. I’ll probably see the Die Hard movie because of my weird affection for the franchise. I’ll skip the others, but lots of people go. Lots of money to be made.

And I guess that’s the answer.

WHY DO YOU READ?

There are an infinite variety of vices and desires available for coveting in the world by an infinite variety of people. Today’s chosen affliction is: reading. I was going to go with tickling koala bottoms with feather dusters, but decided that might be just a wee-bit too much personal sharing.

So, reading it is.

When I say “reading”, of course, I don’t mean simply sounding out words and forming sentences and taking in information via written communication because you have to. Like taking your medicine. Or watching local TV news.

I mean pleasure reading – taking some of one’s own free time and spending it doing something a lot of other people only do strictly out of necessity. Books, comics, whatever tickles your fancy.

Is such reading a vice or a desire? Don’t know. But a lot of us do it for hours and hours a day, loving it, while others stare at us like we’re committing some sort of heinous act with gardening tools.

So why are some people pleasure readers and others you couldn’t make sit still in a chair with a book if you staple-gunned them to it? Don’t those people want to step out of their own daily drudgery for a while? Learn something new – about themselves or others? Experience a world different from theirs? Just plain have fun?

The answer, of course, is that most of these “non-readers” do all these things in other ways – watching movies, sports, interacting with other humans, whatever. My wife is an occasional pleasure reader; she’ll pick up a book once in a while, devour it, then she’s done for who knows how long. I, on the other hand, rarely go anywhere without two or three pleasure books within reach.

What makes us different? What it is that makes readers derive their pleasure from books when others get it somewhere else?

Damned if I know.

For me, being a writer too, I enjoy books because I appreciate the craft of authoring and publishing a book. I like to read a story not just for the entertainment, but for the professional curiosity of seeing how the author put the story together. I get that from movies too, but for some reason not in quite the same way. Maybe because a movie is a visual and auditory representation of someone else’s interpretation of a text (the script), but a book lets me interpret the words on the page however I want.

The test of a good book for me is not so much did the author give me a perfectly formed world on a silver platter, but rather, did the author give me the rules of the playground and then let me go play.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Why do people like to read? If you’re looking up blogs like this one on the Internet, I have to assume you crave the written word. So tell me why. WHY?????

WHAT’S IN A NAME? MONEY, FRIEND.

Some advertising geniuses a while ago came up with the concept that you should “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” The idea of course, is that to make people buy something, you have to make them crave it. Looking at a slab of meat isn’t what gets the saliva flowing, it’s hearing the sizzle as it cooks. Thank you, Pavlov.

Science note: Pavlov was a scientist who showed that he could get dogs who had been conditioned to equate food with the sound of a bell ringing to salivate just from hearing the bell, even if he didn’t give them any food.

Pavlov was sort of a jerk.

Anyway, the same idea works for marketing. Whatever it is, if you can convince people they need it, they’ll buy whatever piece of crap you’re pushing.

“May I hit you with this bat?”

“No way!”

“Well, then can I offer you an enchanted evening featuring a reenactment of a scene from legendary director Brian DePalma’s  even more awesomely legendary film ‘The Untouchables’?”

“Sure!”

*CLONK!*

“Totally worth it!” <Passes Out>

Anyway, it’s clear that whatever you’re selling has to sound way better than it actually is if you want to make money. A lot of companies have been phoning it in. Consider:

Coca-Cola’s campaign “Have a Coke and a Smile” was okay, I guess. How much more fructose corn syrup in a can would they have sold, however, if the slogan was, “Have a Coke and a Screaming Orgasm”?

McDonalds has long said, “You deserve a break today.” Fine, but wouldn’t it be better to propose, “You deserve your own private island wrapped in a bow with Justin Bieber as your cabana boy”? It’s true eating a Big Mac probably won’t really get you that, but the odds can’t be any better by NOT eating a Big Mac, can they?

Recently, driving on the Interstate, I passed (note, I didn’t “stopped at”) a motel called “The Pleasant Stay Inn”. Sounds okay, doesn’t it? The pleasant stay. Peaceful, unhurried. Fresh flowers. A friendly wave from the staff. The beds probably even have clean sheets. But still pleasant can be boring. Why not take it up a notch? “The Bitchin’ Stay Inn” or “The Rock ‘Till You Drop Inn” or “The Condemned by the Board of Health, But Still Partying, Inn”.

My father always said, “Never stay at a motel called ‘Lakeview’ because there won’t be a lake anywhere near it.” Good advice, I suppose, but I think it kind of misses the point. The Lakeview Motel doesn’t have to sell you a lake or a view to make money. It just has to make you think whatever view they DO have is something you can’t live without.  Perhaps call it “Lake of Golden Egg Laying Unicorns View Motel” or “Lake That Time Forgot, But These Hot Nudist Cheerleaders Didn’t, View”.

No need to thank me, business owners. Checks made out to me will do fine.

YEAH…I GOT NOTHIN’

I typically do three of these blogerific missives each week. This week, I had a book review (The Arimathean by Sean Leary) and a pondering on dealing with life’s chronic stress (What Soothes the Savage You?) Good stuff.

So then it came time to write THE THURSDAY POST.

Full disclosure: I’m really tired. I have a day job. I have a family. I was out of town over the weekend, which is when I usually write these things. So now, as I do finally write this thing, THE THURSDAY POST looms larger, even, than a Monday algebra test.

So I sat down to write.

This is what came out.

Sorry.

Oh, I had ideas. Like, I thought about writing a post on how Romney and Obama finally go head to head in a debate this week. But politics…well, I love a good sparing match as much as anybody, but really there are people who know way more about politics than me who will write for days about the Romney/Obama thrilla in…where are they doing the debate again?

And does it matter really, what I say about politics? Nope. Does it matter much what MOST people say about politics? …Nope.

The only political opinion that matters in a campaign is the one expressed in the voting booth…assuming the machine doesn’t fail.

How many chads will be hanging this election day?

No. No politics this time.

So then I thought about writing a post where I just tell you a story. That’s fun, right? I’ve done it before. Go back through the archive and you’ll find my short story “Food Chain”, which I wrote just for you on the blog. “So, I could do another one,” I thought.

Yeah, only here’s the thing: When I’m not writing the blog or, you know, sleeping, I also write books. At this point, the only one you might have seen is In the St. Nick of Time. I work on my fiction storytelling a lot. For me, the blog is a way to write something else. Like when rock stars think they can act in movies. Or heart surgeons perform ritual sacrifices. You’ve probably got something like that too (put the knife down); a diversion that gets you out of your rut. No rutting here either.

So no story this week. Maybe another time though. The stories are fun.

So THEN, I thought, I could do a dissertation on the philosophical underpinnings inherent in the entire Disney canon vis-a-vis Pixar’s usurpation of the dominant themes of good versus evil and talking potato heads who dump loads of plastic face pieces when they get scared.

But who really wants to read THAT again.

I could do a post about writing. But that’s  a little existential, isn’t it? I’m not really sure what “existential” is, but this sounds like it. Or maybe it’s meta. “Whoa, writing about writing is so meta.” Yeah, that feels good too.

But no. There are a lot of great writing blogs. (Like this one) And I’m sure in the coming weeks, I’ll write about writing. Just not into it today.

So I am at a loss. What SHOULD I write about this time? This THURSDAY POST will be the death of me. What will I do. WHAT. WILL. I. DO?

Oh, hey, look at that. It’s done.

BOOKSTORES: SPENDING TIME WITH AN AILING FRIEND

I had occasion recently to spend a long time wandering my local big name bookstore. This is normally something I really like to do and this time was no different. Still…something was off.

It was a busy Friday afternoon. Lots of people coming in: seniors, college kids, teens, children and their parents. They were everywhere: fiction, non fiction, science fiction, kid’s books, videos. All departments were hopping. One teenager spent FOREVER in the graphic novel section. Yay! A book and mortar bookstore thrives!

But here’s the thing…

No one was buying.

Well, a few people did.

Not many though.

And nobody even looked at the guy manning the e-book reader counter.

There were a couple other, bored-looking employees at the registers. One of them, desperate for something to do, kept shuffling over to straighten books.

At the help desk, a Scottish-sounding gentleman was asking about books on, appropriately enough, Scottish law. The man was there a really long time, looking more and more defeated and the employees on the phone and computer were becoming more and more exasperated. If that guy gave up and left and got on the Internet, he’d probably find what he wanted in no time. And the store would lose a sale. But that’s exactly what was going to happen.

It struck me there had to be a better way. How cool would it be if instead of just the hourly employee who happens to work in the store because she likes books, the store had a real-life librarian on staff? I mean a professional researcher with access to phones and computers and knowledge who could then give the customer a list of potential titles. The service would be free. If the title was available for sale by this retailer, great. If not, well, a little free advice makes goodwill that could become a sale later.

But they didn’t do that. I actually don’t know what happened with the Scottish guy, but I suspect he bought elsewhere. And the employees shrugged. Oh well.

Except not, “oh well.” “Oh, well,” makes stores go out of business. Bookstores these days are nothing more than a warehouse for books; big rooms with shelving and overpriced coffee. Problem is, lots of customers can make pretty good coffee at home for less and you can’t find cheaper shelving than on the Internet. Bookstores have a problem and, as far as I can tell, they aren’t doing much to fix it.

The customer who has a specific need, like my Scottish friend (Sorry, I just really like the accent. Also, it makes me think of David Tennant, which makes me think of “Doctor Who”, and I get all happy.) is one problem. As for the more casual browser, like me that Friday afternoon, the tactile book experience is a point in favor of brick and mortar, but there were many times that day when I was looking at a book and suddenly missing being able to get “extra features” like I could on the Internet – reviews, author interviews, whatever – right there and then before I buy. Some bookstores (not this one!) have terminals so customers can search book inventory. Why not set up touch pads around the store to give us access to that other stuff? A lot of bookstore websites already have those things on there. Just give us a way to see it in your physical store too. That would make me more inclined to buy now rather than hold off to order later from someone else.

Despite the chatter of (non-buying) customers, the store felt really quiet. Wouldn’t it be great – or at least arouse curiosity – if there was a book reading going on in one corner by an author, a fan, young or old? Maybe some local actors could stage a scene in another corner. You can’t get that online. You COULD get it in stores.

But they don’t do that either.

And I’m starting to notice it more.

The store’s board game section seems to have expanded over time. It may sound like heresy, but I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad thing. Games are fun, challenging, a good way to interact with other actual humans. Why couldn’t  bookstore host a game night? Or events where new games are introduced? The Geek & Sundry site sponsors a web-based show called Tabletop hosted by actor Wil Wheaton. Each episode features a new board game with a brief explanation how to play it and then you can watch people do just that. Sounds boring (I was skeptical too), but turns out it’s a lot of fun to watch. Why couldn’t bookstores do something like that? Gets people in the store. That’s the goal, right?

You’re my friend, bookstore. I don’t like to see you suffer. Please take care of yourself. For all of us.

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