Saturday, January 3, 2015

Bill Hicks is not bitter, so neither am I

Every now and then, I find myself depressed and angry and feeling more than a tad bitter.  When I do, I like to recall the late, great Bill Hicks and his rant about how a painful moment in his life led him to have a dream, a dream that motivated him.

By the way, if you don't know Bill Hicks, then you may not realize just how sarcastic I'm being, and you may be unprepared for what you will hear if you press the play button on this one.  So, don't listen to this clip unless you're ready to hear all the words and deal with some very powerful imagery.

I do know Hicks, so for me sometimes this bit is just the right pick-me-up.

So sue me.

Friday, January 2, 2015


is one of the most powerful and relentless movies I have seen this year.  I admire it, but I have to say that I cannot recommend it except for the intensity of the experience it provides. 

Foxcatcher is a two-hour-and-fourteen-minute beating.  The three leads--Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carrell--deliver superb performances in the service of a brutal, grinding story.  Tatum's portrayal of Mark Schultz is pitch perfect, at least as far as the film's plot goes.  (I know almost nothing about the real person, Mark Schultz.)  A driven but not very intelligent man who knows he lives in his brother's shadow, Channing's Mark Schultz is easy prey for Steve Carrell's John du Pont.  Ruffalo's David Schultz is a good man grappling with conflicting loyalties and responsibilities.  You won't always like Mark and David, but you will care about them.  Carrell's du Pont, on the other hand, is creepy from start to finish, so creepy that in even his most sympathetic moments you can't help but worry about what type of man he is.

I don't want to spoil the movie for you--though the fact that it's based on a true story means you can do so easily enough if you choose to--but I will say that even when the horrible ending came, and even knowing it was coming, I found it shocking. 

As I said earlier, I admire this movie, and I am glad to have seen it, but I recommend it only if you want to see great performances and a powerful, grinding story--and are willing to take an emotional beating to do so.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Into the Woods

I have never seen the play from which this movie stems.  I don't know the songs.  At least among many of my friends, this ignorance is unusual.  It allowed me, though, to come to the film as a fresh viewer, one with no preconceptions of what it should be.

I left wondering what all the fuss was about and fundamentally disliking what little message it has.

Let's deal with the message first.  Yes, I know that fairy tales were originally darker than the versions that most people know today.  I have read original versions of many fairy tales.  I think it's telling, though, that the lighter versions have far outstripped in popularity the darker ones.  In the course of showing us the dark sides of some of these fairy tales, this film basically delivers the message that life is hard and will beat you down.  Okay, we'll all die at some point, and life often is hard, but I find little value in art that tells me only that.

The music was pretty, though often repetitive.  The lyrics were clever.  The actors did a fine job.  All the ingredients were there to make a fine film.

I still left feeling that the film was overly long, having been bored in many spots, and ultimately being dissatisfied with the message.  If you loved the musical, I assume you'll enjoy the film, but for me it was a bust.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On the eve of the New Year

I wish for you that in 2015 you

find new friends

show current friends how much you care

act bravely

act wisely

read, listen to, or watch something wonderful as often as possible

summon the strength to chase your dreams

give all the love you can comfortably manage, and then give a bit more

receive all the love you can comfortably handle, and then get a bit more
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Three holiday views of Holden

When Holden is not busy trying to smooth the rough edges of the Cone Man or save our deer and squirrels from other-dimensional poachers, he spends time contemplating the universe and its many secrets.  For those willing to watch closely, he shares the answers to those secrets.

In this shot, for example, he is letting us know that, yes, there is a guiding force to the universe.

Click an image to see a larger version.

That force does not, however, bring kibble often enough.

Here Holden makes clear that vigilance is the price of freedom--and also package delivery. 

Woe be unto those who try to sneak a cardboard box onto our stoop. 

Finally, as he so often does, Holden likes to remind us that if we will only stare deeply enough into his eyes, we will realize that though the guiding force of the universe does not deliver his kibble when it should, we have free will and could fix that problem on our own.

If only we would listen and act more.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Interview

is one of the dumbest movies in a year filled with dumb movies.  Yes, obviously I watched it; I felt I had to know what the story was, and I will watch almost any film.  A small group of us viewed it using YouTube's pay service at my house, so the cost was minimal--and keeping the cost low was about the only smart choice I made involving this film. 

According to Variety, with data courtesy of the folks who hacked Sony, Sony paid Seth Rogen $8.4 million for his role in the film, and they gave James Franco $6.5 million.  So, basically, Rogen and Franco conned Sony into paying them a combined nearly $15 million dollars to film a mutual hand-job, a bromance love letter of epic proportions.  Good for them.  Sony, on the other hand, needs to find the exec who greenlighted this one and send him/her off for some sort of prolonged punishment, perhaps a hundred repeated viewings of this film.

I won't lie:  I did laugh at times during the movie.  It contains some funny bits, and even a few touching moments.  The vast majority of the time, however, I alternated between wincing and watching in stunned amazement as these two stars created this ode to each other. 

If, like me, you feel you simply must know what the fuss is all about, watch The Interview.  Otherwise, almost anything else you can do with your time is likely to be more productive and make you happier.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kindle Unlimited is bad for writers

Amazon has been pushing its Kindle Unlimited all-you-eat reading service for some time, and writers are getting upset.  The writers should be more than upset; they should refuse to participate.  This service is bad for writers on multiple levels.

John Scalzi did a good job discussing the problems with Kindle Unlimited, so I'm not going to repeat that material here; check out his summary and then come back. 

I want to focus on a few key points.

First, none of this should surprise anyone.  Amazon has a history of being a ruthless competitor that likes to control as much of the playing field as possible, and this move is in keeping with that tradition.  If Amazon can make bookselling a zero-sum game that it controls, then it can both increase its own profit and boost its already huge share of the market.

So, what to do about that?  Don't participate.  I understand that for writers, particularly self-published ones who've made all their money on Amazon, this is a rough choice, but if you do give in, you are essentially giving Amazon control of your future.  For readers, yes, it's tempting to get all you can read for one cheap monthly price, but as I've written in a recent entry, if you want to keep seeing work from artists whose creations you love, you have to support those artists.  It's that simple.

Finally, recognize that decisions like this happen all the time.  You vote with your money.  If you want to enjoy all that cheap reading, support Amazon--but expect to hurt artists whose work you like or not to find their work on the service.  The same is true with grocery stores, local shops, you name it--the most powerful vote you can cast is with your money.

As for me, well, to the best of my knowledge, none of my books are available on Kindle Unlimited or any other subscription service, and I have no plans to offer my books on any such service.  I will also not join such a service; I prefer to pay the writers whose works I read.


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