Saturday, July 30, 2011

Movie Review: Friends With Benefits

Friends With Benefits is the Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis version of No Strings Attached (Natalie Portman/Ashton Kutcher) which came out in the spring. Both movies feature pretty people, slick dialogue, ultra trendy lives, and absolutely nothing new or original. For my four dollar matinee, I was amused and the theater's air conditioning was cranking (crucial on Day 25 over 100 degrees in Texas). However, I'd hoped for something more.

Here's the writing analysis of this review: Rather than being drawn into the movie, I found myself thinking "No one really talks that way" and "Oh, the dirty language wasn't necessary there." I'm no prude, but it felt forced. Watching movies, I want to escape, and so I hold the writing to a higher standard. Part of the problem with movie comedies these days is the television comedies are better, especially on cable channels. They are smart packages with snarky dialogue and often racy themes. Consequently, a film like Friends With Benefits has to try harder to appear cool and wicked sharp, and whatever the nifty lingo is today. It's tough to pull off.

That said, I was entertained and I did laugh at various lines. Justin and Mila looked like they had fun together, trying to be just "friends" enjoying "benefits" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more). New York has never looked better. The characters enjoy spiffy jobs, spacious apartments, and breeze in and out of the most awesome places.

Mila's spacy mom shows up - Patricia Clarkson is the go-to actress for wifty wisdom. I found her character annoying, because Clarkson is such a good actress and deserves better. Justin's scenes back in Los Angeles with family were better. His father, played by Richard Jenkins, is declining due to Alzheimer's. Excellent actor and those home scenes were touching and demonstrated how this movie could have been raised to a higher level.

Summer fluff trying to be edgy. Go re-watch Midnight in Paris instead. That's clever writing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Book Review: War

Sebastian Junger wrote a riveting book, War, about his embed in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan (2007 - 2008). He worked with photojournalist, Tim Hetherington, and their reporting ultimately became the haunting documentary, Restrepo. Junger's ability to place his readers in combat, to introduce us to the memorable young men serving our country, and to describe war without a crazy one-sided agenda, is sublime.

The three sections of his book - Fear, Killing, and Love - sum up War. This is a difficult read in that, for me, I hate that this book even has to exist. You enjoy these young men and wish that they could be growing and developing in other circumstances. However, the Army is their job and they chose it and they are truly working hard to stay alive, accomplish a mission, and look out for their fellow man. You can tell from his reporting, the respect Junger has for these men.

Excellent writing and perspective highlight this book. I was engaged the whole time I read it, and then once it was over, War did not leave me. I sniffled for men who died, and now I worry for those men who are home safe, and yet forever changed.

Here are a few excerpts:
p. 144 War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them. It's insanely exciting. ...... Combat isn't where you might die - though that does happen - it's where you find out whether you get to keep on living.

p. 146 There's so much human energy involved - so much courage, so much honor, so much blood - you could easily go a year here without questioning whether any of this needs to be happening in the first place.

p. 234 The only thing that matters is your dedication to the rest of the group, and that is almost impossible to fake.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Critique: Opinion NOT Fact

Enjoyed Saturday morning at Trinity Writers' Workshop. Such an eclectic group of writers and personalities. I did not read today, but I often learn more from hearing, sharing, and learning from others' works.

Just like a family, TWW has a vast variety of personalities and sometimes one can sense that someone's on edge, got their dander up, and not pleased with a critique.

Well, tough dookies, as we say when we invoke First Amendment. Not everyone likes everyone's work. It's opinion, not fact and you have to truly take a critique with a grain of salt. Sometimes a cliche fits the moment.

I know for some readings, I have not truly heard enough of the story to give a full assessment. Nonetheless, I can say that , for that chapter, I'm interested. I want to know more. Or the writing is not worthy of the full story. That happens sometimes. I might not like the genre or even know enough about it (i.e. Christian romance). However, I can decide if I like the writing itself and I feel qualified to comment, correct, and suggest action/pacing/tension for that chapter. The author can than accept my judgement, throw it out as crap, or have hurt feelings. Oh well.

Group critique is truly equitable. Sometimes one person's comment can generate a whole free form discussion and evolve into a new path for the author. It's often carried through to lunch and beyond.

Writers are sensitive creatures. We live in our little office worlds and emerge with paper. That paper can represent so much hope. Trinity Writers' Workshop is a group that seeks the best from its authors. The truth can hurt, but can also foster genius. Critique is the pathway light.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Hold Tight by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben knows how to ratchet tension quickly. In Hold Tight, he begins with a woman's kidnapping and murder. Then we meet Dr. Mike Baye, his wife, attorney Tia, teen son Adam, and pre-teen daughter Jill - seems like the perfect family. However, the parents are monitoring their son's computer. His behavior's changed and his "best" friend Spencer Hill committed suicide. Adam's uncommunicative. Lots of worry and tension.

Plus Coben has his reader witness another woman's kidnapping and murder. What's going on? Is all of this connected? Should we be worried for Adam, who's gone missing? Yowza!

Harlan Coben writes a tight paced mystery thriller. He throws a lot of balls in the air, keeps his reader guessing, and then slowly catches each ball and shows us more clues. Hold Tight is a very fun quick read. Interesting characters, sharp dialogue, some red herrings, and a taut finish.

I'm not going to say anymore, as I don't want to spoil anyone's read. Just hold tight and grasp at clues!!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Intellect vs. Instinct

I wish I could say I hung out in Asbury Park, NJ, and saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band jam in clubs. Alas, my family went to Ocean City, NJ (no clubs) and I was underage at that time anyway.

However, I watched a nifty documentary - The Promise: Making of the Darkness at the Edge of Town, and gained insight into Springsteen's (and the band's) work ethic, creativity, and energy. There's a lot of footage of Bruce pouring over his notebooks filled with songs and iterations of songs. The band all hung out and played riffs over and over and over again. They truly sought perfection.

Interviews with Jon Landau and Jimmy Iovine showed these young gun music producers/directors and the vested interest they had in raw talent. Hot off Born to Run, Springsteen didn't want to capitalize and go for easy. Instead, he was looking deeper into life themes such as questioning "What makes a man?" He wrote for the common American, the factory worker, and the blue collar life. Ultimately the songs for Darkness at the Edge of Town were only the beginning of Springsteen's continuous connection with his roots.

The documentary includes interviews with Bruce now, reflecting on those times and what he wanted to achieve. The man discusses his artistic instinct from that time versus artistic intelligence which comes from experience. He trusted his instinct to reject so many great songs and create a brilliant cohesive whole.

Worth pondering. I recommend the documentary, just to watch an artist at work, uncompromising and true.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Birthday Dad: My Writing/Editing Hero

Getting old ain't for sissies - Bette Davis

George Lewis Crowther, born July 15, 1931, is my father and my hero. He is still my spellchecker/editor and will politely email me any blog corrections. He trundles to the gym daily, mows his own yard, climbs steps to retrieve items upstairs, and hauls laundry downstairs to his basement. He works the New York Times crossword puzzle (in pencil, not pen), mails me amusing cartoons, and runs errands with his older sister. Dessert at every meal is the key to happiness.

My father gained his love of cars from his father, who died at a young age. My dad fondly recalls hanging at a local garage, hearing car discussions and debates. To this day, he takes the train with friends to the Philly Auto Show, hops in and out of shiny vehicles, and gathers brochures. Call him in for car negotiations - he can finagle a bargain.

An old man in a house is a good sign - Hebrew saying

Age is mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter - Satchel Paige.

Dad married his high school sweetheart, Juanita Shutters. They showed us kids - me, David, and Lori - how to be happily married. Truly, a respectful couple who worked together to build a really nice life. Mom's been gone close to twenty years now. Dad's maintained the house, done some redecorating, and stays up really late (that's his one bold break from life with Mom).

Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been - Mark Twain

Lots of smiles through the years. His work ethic, family ethic, and a sunny disposition have garnered good friends and good times. Emails replace phone calls, but the laughter zooms through the air. I'm very fortunate to say Happy Birthday, Dad! and to wish him good health for many years to come.

The family with an old person in it possesses a jewel - Chinese saying

We are rich beyond compare.
(not that you're old yet, Dad)


Monday, July 11, 2011

Sweltering Sage

Summer in Texas. I'm currently lacking imagination. Awake to 80s, Asleep to high 90s. Beware touching any body parts to exposed car seats, steering wheel, all metal pieces. Towels on lawn chairs prior to outdoor activity. The pool is a huge spa. Yes, I'm grateful for a pool. Now I want it not just wet, but cold.

Thesaurus words: heat, sweat, swelter, stew, simmer, boil, smolder, parch, torrid, tropical, sultry, stifling,suffocating, oppressive, hellish = Texas

There's always a bright side. The purple sage that bakes on the west side of the house burst into full glory.

The average number of days over one hundred degrees in a Texas summer is fifteen. We are on our fourteenth day, having started in May this year. The longest stretch was 1980 with over sixty days, and the highest recorded temperature of 113. I'm satisfied if we don't break that record.

I am working on flash fiction for the Hot August Nights issue of Doorknobs and Bodypaint. Surely, I have enough experience to write a steamy tale. Backdrop - a sweltering sage.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Plot Place: Motel Musings

Pulled into the Bent Tree Motel parking lot July 3rd. It looked clean and respectable. Pavement sizzled underfoot. No bars on the windows or empty broken beer bottles at our doorstep. No neon signs flickered, nor did any nefarious characters hover in the shadows. (Chances of a noir novel are fading fast.)

We were as incognito as you can get in a cherry red Dodge Ram rental truck.

Room 122. Door wasn't kicked in. Shades were even, without dust or residue. Bright bluish green carpet showed fresh vacuum tracks. There were no cigarette butts in the trash and no sign of a lipstick stained glass on the counter. The television displayed ESPN and the phone had a dial tone. C'mon, I need something to work with here - a trace of blood, a phone number written on a torn business card.

At least the window unit airconditioner lent a hum of despair. Could it keep cranking against 100 plus temperatures?

If we were on a stakeout at this motel, we could run next door for some greasy chicken. At least this offered local flavor versus the Dairy Queen or Arby's further up the block.

As night fell, the insects buzzed, an occasional firecracker popped and we jumped. A car backfired in the distance. Footsteps approached and we held our breath, but they trod to the next room. A key rattled, the door creaked open, and

a gunshot reverberated. We heard a cry and then silence .....

maybe I do have something to work with here. Nothing like a non-chain motel stay to fire the imagination.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Country Fourth

Happy July 4th weekend. This blog post is a rambling salute to freedom and an appreciation of America and her history.

Ray and I accomplished a few chores, floated in the pool, watched movies, and achieved laziness. All the while we contemplated gratitude to our Founding Fathers for sweating out the Declaration of Independence at Constitution Hall in 1776 Philadelphia.

Late Sunday afternoon, July 3rd, we headed east to Emory. Ray's cousin Margaret hosts a fabulous fireworks display and party and we were invited. The sunset first lit up the sky. An hors d'oevre to the main show.

My camera skill does not do justice to the pyrotechnic display. Close to an hour's worth of trailer loads of fireworks banged overhead. At least twelve guys choreographed the show - set, light, and run. Patriotic music swelled. It was impressive.


Morning - July 4th. Up bright and early, I stepped outside and laughed at my long-legged shadow.

Flags fly everywhere on the 4th of July. One adorned this mower.

None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free - Pearl S. Buck

Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: Hunger Games

I am late to the game on reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's first in a trilogy and the movie is being filmed with Jennifer Lawrence (awesome young actress) cast as Katniss. As a YA (young adult) book, it was not on my radar. However, as a movie fan, it caught my eye and I wanted to read it prior to the movie.

Well, I am hooked and shall be looking for parts 2 and 3 at Half Price Books. (Is that heresy? I'm a poor struggling writer. I did pay sale price at Amazon for this book). Set in the future, the United States is now arranged in Districts and District 12 is extremely poor coal mining country. Every year, two kids are chosen from each district to participate in "games" that lead to death. At a certain age, names are entered into the drawing and for each year plus for extra food points taken, each name can be listed multiple times.

However, this particular year for District 12, it's the first time for Prim, a child. Her sister, Katniss quickly volunteers in her place. Good move. This enterprising young lady can hunt, is athletic, and ultimately is a player. The other pick is Peeta, the baker's son, who claims to have loved Katniss since grade school. Words, actions, and the heat of the moment - wow, talk about tension.

So many twists and turns to The Hunger Games. The dystopian society proves interesting. Katniss is a heroine for the ages. Suzanne Collins' writing is clean and crisp. She creates a memorable world and characters. Her pacing is amazing and I'm hooked. With crisp dialogue and stunning visuals, the film will pack a punch.

I can see how this became so popular with younger readers and I'm happy to recommend this book for teens and adults alike. It's tight, clean, and exciting. The Hunger Games is only the beginning. Read it to find out who lives and dies, and what happens next.