Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Job of Playing Jobs

            Last night, I was Facebook messaging a friend pretty late at night when she finally asked me point blank: why aren’t you asleep? An hour earlier, I had gotten home from the movie theater after seeing Ashton Kutcher’s new movie, Jobs.
            “I can’t sleep because I’m mad I didn’t invent the iPod,” I type back. A seemingly infinite series of haha’s follows. Even though it sounds ridiculous, this is truly the reason why I couldn’t sleep last night.
            Whether you like his personality or not, Steve Jobs changed the world. The movie portrayal of his life does an excellent job of showing us everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What I really liked about the film was that they didn’t make Steve Jobs into something that he wasn’t. They didn’t sugar code it: Steve Jobs was an asshole. However, he had a vision, and acted upon it. Whether you agree with his methods or not, you cannot deny the simple fact that Steve Jobs was a revolutionary.
            Ashton Kutcher did a phenomenal job staying true to his role. He didn’t shy away from the tough scenes, and when he was supposed to be mean, he was mean. He pulled it off, despite the fact that we’re all used to seeing him playing “the good guy.” Steve Jobs is no Kelso from That 70’s Show. However, the fact that he was able to play a character so out of his norm goes to show that Ashton Kutcher is the real deal. And let’s face it, he is more than capable of pulling off the long hair of the 70’s.
            When he received the Ultimate Choice Award at the Teen Choice Awards, he gave a speech that now has over three million views on YouTube. In this speech, he talks about the desire to upset the norm, to be innovative, to take risks. This speech made me realize why he did such a great job portraying Jobs. He believes in the importance of visionaries.
            Which brings me back to my point: Why couldn’t I have invented the iPod? Why can’t I revolutionize the world? Well, as corny as this is about to sound, this movie answers my question with a simple you can. The dichotomy between Jobs’ horrific personal choices and his brilliance in the world of Apple Computers kept me entertained from beginning to end. Although I thought the end came too soon, my overall “grade” for this movie was a “thumbs up.”
            And as the credits rolled, they showed pictures of the real-life innovators next to their actors. This was definitely a pat on the back to the casting directors, who were able to find talented actors that looked EXACTLY like the characters they were playing. In particular, I thought Josh Gad did a fantastic job with his character, Steve Wozniak. When Steve Jobs lack of emotion made a few scenes hard to watch, “Woz” filled the void with his genuine, heartbreaking input.
After the screen finally went black, I walked out of the movie theater, drove home, and opened up my Mac to check Facebook, with a newfound appreciation for my little silver best friend.
            SIDENOTE: I didn’t put this together until I saw the movie, but Jobs named his company Apple to make a correlation between these new “home computers” and the apple in the garden of Eden: something you just have to have. How clever of you, Steve.
            For those of you who want to watch Ashton’s speech at the Teen Choice Awards, a YouTube clip is below. I strongly recommend watching it! Even though the audience wasn’t really listening, it’s a good message for everyone to hear.


            NOVEL PAGES WRITTEN: 133

Monday, August 19, 2013

High Hopes

            Last night, I saw the movie The Butler with my mom, dad, and sister. With such a studded cast, including Forrest Witaker, Oprah Winfrey, Lenny Kravitz, Cuba Gooding Jr, Alan Rickman, James Marsden, John Cusack, Terrence Howard, Alex Pettyfer, and Mariah Carey (just to name a few), The Butler set the stage for some high expectations. However, this super star cast was not the only thing that gave me such high expectations as I was grabbing a rickety red seat in the movie theater.
            When I saw the trailer for The Butler, I cried. I don’t know if that’s something you’re not supposed to admit, but alas, it’s true. I cried watching the trailer. It gave me chills. It even made me create a new note on my iPhone for “Best Movie Trailers”. Both the dramatic music and the clips they pulled from the movie made this trailer an amazing experience all on it’s own. I have a new respect for trailer-makers; it takes a special talent to condense a two-hour movie into two minutes, and still make it so powerful. For those of you who don’t have the time to go sit in a movie theater for two hours, I encourage all of you to please please please watch this trailer!!

            However, with such high expectations, I was slightly disappointed by the movie. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it. I thought the actors all did a phenomenal job and this insider’s view of the white house kept me intrigued throughout the entire movie. Yet, I think they tried to do too much in too little time. Spanning the life of Cecil Gaines, this movie tried to cover his childhood, his adolescence, eight presidential terms in the white house, AND his retirement. I thought each of these snapshots were intriguing, and liked seeing the timeline of Cecil Gaines’ life played out on screen. However, the level of detail that they were able to go into was minimal due to the amount of time they were trying to cover. I wanted to hear more about Cecil’s childhood, get a longer glimpse of each of the presidents, dive deeper into his relationship with his wife and sons. Maybe that’s the problem with such a studded cast, there are so many good actors that you think they all deserve more screen time. But if they all got the screen time they deserved, the movie would go from being two-hours long to twelve hours. In particular, I wanted to hear more from Alan Rickman and James Marsden as Reagan and JFK. Like, what is Addison’s Disease? They never fully explained it, and it made me feel stupid for not knowing more about our thirty-fifth president. By skimming over so many years of our country’s history, director Lee Daniel’s made this movie for the history-buffs, who were able to fill in the blanks as the movie went on.
            Also, I didn’t think that Jane Fonda was a good choice for Nancy Reagan. There are certain celebrities who make their political views part of their persona, and Jane Fonda is one of them. While I understand that Fonda’s primary job is to act, her visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War forever changed the way the public sees her. With this in mind, casting her as a Republican first lady seems a bit distasteful. I don’t want to read too much into it, but I guess I just wish they had cast someone else.
            Even though there were elements of this movie that I was less than pleased with, I still enjoyed film a lot! Forrest Whitaker did a fabulous job taking us from point A to point B, and I fell in love with his character from the very beginning. Also, I’m sure it’s a good problem to have when you wanted the movie to be longer, meaning that everyone did such a great job that I wanted to sit in those uncomfortable theater seats even longer. All in all, The Butler is a movie that could have been better, but could have been worse, too. I think the trailer just set too high of expectations for me to give it an A+.

            NOVEL PAGES WRITTEN: 115

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"The Moment"

            With every long-ish story that I’ve ever written (or attempted to write), there’s always been the moment. This moment occurs a few days after I’ve started writing, when I just suddenly have all these ideas about where the story should go and I have to scramble to write them all down before I forget.
            The best way that I can describe the moment is by comparing it to losing your car keys. First, you have no clue where they are, and finding them looks like a dooming task that not even Harry Potter would take on. (Sorry, had to slip a Harry Potter reference in there.) This is the equivalent of writer’s block. While I can’t speak for all writers, or even most, I know that every time I can’t think of what to write, I immediately start to second guess my writing ability. Maybe I’ll never write again? Maybe I’ll never have another good idea? In other words, I come very close to a catatonic panic attack.
            However, this passes when I first think of an idea, and then another idea, and another idea. This is similar to when you remember where you last had your keys. They’re in the left pocket of your jean jacket! They’re in the bottom of your laundry hamper! It’s a great feeling because you finally realize that not all is lost.
            But then, you’re running to your jean jacket or your laundry hamper and your mind is racing at a hundred miles a minute and you panic. What if it’s not there anymore? What if I can’t write down all of my ideas in time and I lose them for good? Panic!!
            Then you get there, and you find the car keys and all is good again and you can breathe. You’ve written down all of your ideas so you can never forget them, and you feel good. You feel great!
            So why am I telling you all of this? Well, I just had the moment. Last week, I talked about false promises and showed you guys the newest story I’ve been working on. Well, here’s the next chunk. No false promises today!
We pulled away from the curb and the peeling green Volkswagen coughed a cloud of black smoke out of the exhaust pipe.
            Is it supposed to do that? I asked, looking in the rearview mirror as the old lady swiped at the cloud with her arms. Grandpa Mac shifted gears and my knees slammed into the dashboard. Of course Granpa Mac is the kind of guy who only drives stick, I thought to myself.
            She’s just a bit old, that’s all. Grandpa Mac patted  the steering wheel again and I wondered if maybe he really did think that the Volkswagen was his dog.
            She? I asked.
            The car, Grandpa Mac said slowly.
            I know you meant the car, but why’s the wagon a she?
            What wagon? Grandpa Mac asked, and I groaned.
            Nevermind, I grumbled, and he stabbed the radio dial with his index finger. A man with a scratchy voice who called himself Big Al was in the middle of a lengthy analysis of the last Cleveland Indians game, and I immediately stopped listening. Out the window, I saw a sign that said: Welcome to Akron. My head hit the thick glass window with a thud trying to get a better  glimpse.
            I thought you said you lived in Cleveland, I said as the man on the radio talked about batting averages.
            What? Grandpa Mac yelled, and I turned off the radio.
            I thought you said you lived in Cleveland, I said again.
            Well, the suburbs.
            Fine, the suburbs. I thought you said you lived in the suburbs of Cleveland, not Akron slash Canton. I rolled my eyes, but Grandpa Mac was busy merging onto the highway, checking his mirrors, to notice.
            Well, flights to Akron are cheaper. I thought it’d be easier on Cal, Grandpa Mac said without looking at me, too busy trying to switch lanes. The car jerked left and Grandpa Mac’s green Volkswagen cut in front of a big Ford pick up truck, and the soccer mom driving it honked her horn. Grandpa Mac tried to whisper, but I heard him say son of a bitch mother fucker under his breath.
            I’m sure Cal wouldn’t have cared either way, I said. It was supposed to sound like a compliment to Cal, but my tone twisted in the back of my throat and I know Grandpa Mac noticed.
            I know Cal wouldn’t have cared, but I care, he said.
            You aren’t the one paying for it though. The words fell out of my mouth like rocks and I didn’t know why I was saying them. Grandpa Mac pulled at the red tie around his neck and I realized that he had dressed up for me, because Grandpa Mac was also the kind of guy who only owned one tie.
            I don’t want to argue with you, XXX. Grandpa Mac punched the radio dial again with the flat of his thumb, and it was as though we hadn’t missed a bullet point of Big Al’s Cleveland Indians analysis. I pulled my fingers through my thick, wavy hair and slumped against the window.
            We finally pulled off of the highway, and I stared at a lonely gas station that had no cars or people mulling about. This is Ohio, I thought to myself as the light turned from red to green. Grandpa Mac cut a sharp right and the tires squealed against the gravel. As we drove down an empty road through what seemed like an endless expanse of farmland, I looked down at my pants and realized that this wasn’t the kind of place where boys wore skinny jeans.

            NOVEL PAGES WRITTEN: 107

Sunday, August 4, 2013

False Promises

            When I use the term “False Promises”, I promise you all (and not falsely… hehe) that I am not talking about politics. I’ve decided to re-coin the term for writers. I’m not sure how this will pan out, and in fact, it probably won’t, but just go with me here for a second.
            Next to politicians, Writers  can be the “next in line” for the biggest abusers of false promises. Constantly, I find myself starting a story, and promising myself that I’ll finish it, only to drop the plotline the following week. However, I believe that this lack of follow through can actually be good for us (as opposed to my politician counterparts.)
            So here we have it, is my first Public Service Announcement. For any writers out there like me, who beat themselves up about abandoning a hero or heroine at the beginning of their adventure, don’t feel too bad about it. A lot of times we just need to write to write, so to speak. At least, that’s what people keep telling me. “Practice makes perfect,” my piano teacher once told me. And although writing is hardly like piano, I think it applies. Sometimes, when you feel a story isn’t going anywhere, or you lose interest, you simply need to let it go, and thank it for a great run. (Okay, so maybe you don’t have to thank it out loud… people might think you’re crazy when they find you talking to your Word Document.)
            Why are you making this PSA? You might ask. Well, to be honest, it is because I’m breaking a promise that I made to all of you. I did not, in fact, continue my “The Complex” idea. While the title was seductive, I just couldn’t make myself fall in love with the characters or the premise. I might come back to it, but I don’t want to make anymore false promises.
            So after saying that I don’t want to make anymore false promises, here’s another. I HOPE (keyword here, hence the CAPS lock) to finish this story that I’ve just begun writing. I have the first scene here, and while I might play around with the format (maybe try writing as a screenplay? Thoughts?), I see more potential in this story than the last. Which is improvement, right? Maybe this blog post is more for me to justify myself, rather than apologize to you. But no matter the reason, here is what I’ve been working on this past week. Enjoy mi amigos!
I felt like a telephone pole, waiting at the airport, tilted to the side with the duffle bag on my shoulder. Still. There were only three people waiting for cars to pull up in front of the Akron/Canton airport, and I was one of them. A tall man in a navy suit and red tie mumbled into his blackberry thirty feet to my right. And an old woman leaned on her suitcase thirty feet to my left, unwrapping a purple piece of saltwater taffy. When a beat-up Volkswagen puttered up to the curb, all I could think of was my new life as a telephone pole.
            Green paint was peeling from the sides and I wished that it had stopped in front of the old lady, who dropped her taffy wrapper to the ground when she thought no one was looking. The silver handle on the passenger door was warm to the touch. I yanked it.
            “Grandpa Mac, unlock the door,” I yelled. A fat man in an Indians baseball cap drummed the steering wheel. I knocked on the glass and he finally turned.
            “You have to unlock the door.” I pointed to the handle and yanked it again. He laughed.
            “You have to wiggle it.” Grandpa Mac shook his meaty fist in the air and I bit my lower lip to keep from rolling my eyes. I yanked again.
            “Wiggle it,” he repeated, “just wiggle it.” The man in the navy suit looked up from his business call as I shook the door handle as hard as I could. I smiled at him and waved, and he turned his back on me.
            “I’m coming, I’m coming,” Grandpa Mac grumbled. His arms shook as he lifted himself off of his seat and stepped out of the car. I stepped back onto the curb as he shuffled up to the handle.
            “See, you just have to—” Grandpa Mac yanked on the door and it opened, “wiggle it,” he said, out of breath. I hopped in, setting my duffle bag on my lap, and winced as my knees hit the dashboard.
            “Sorry, the seat doesn’t go back anymore. It’s jammed.” Grandpa Mac patted the steering wheel twice like he was patting an old dog on the head.
            NOVEL PAGES WRITTEN: 105