That Which Makes…Me

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A friend told me recently that I’ve been slacking off on the blogging. When I pointed out that my last post was less than a month ago, she proceeded to slam me for my movie review. “Not that it wasn’t good,” she said. “But what does it have to do with you–or writing?”

Well…nothing. I try not to write too much about me or my writing. I consider my blog to be less about me, more about things I think other people should think more about. I wish there was an emoticon to accurately convey the look she gave me then. It was somewhat unnerving.

Anyway, because she nagged and I could come up with nothing else to appease her, I’ve decided to share a bit of myself. Here are three things you probably didn’t know about me:

1.  I do everything in spurts. When my blogging is regular, it’s probably because I wrote four articles ahead of time and scheduled them to post at specific intervals. I can keep my house truly, spotlessly clean for several weeks, only to struggle to do the bare minimum for days. I wrote a book in three weeks, the next over eleven months. I have no self-discipline. At all.

2.  I have a habit of texting people who are in the same room with me, and carrying on long, absurd conversations we’d never say out loud. Believe it or not, this isn’t to poke fun at another. It’s merely a demonstration of my persistent immaturity.

3.  I love the smell of a perm. If you’ve spent much time in the salon, or decided to curl your locks yourself, you must remember the eye-watering chemicals involved. For whatever reason, I can’t get enough of it. My sister perms her hair once every year or so. When she does, I make her sit next to me.

We all have our areas of weirdness, some more profound than others. For now, that’s all I have to share with you. (Oh, and the picture had nothing to do with any of this. I just liked it.)

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The Wolf of Wall Street

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Leonardo DiCaprio existed before Titanic (uh, the movie). I’m always surprised that people don’t remember this. The dude was on Growing Pains, for crying out loud. He’s spent twenty five years acting. He has more credits to his name than a lot of actors twice his age. He’s done comedy and drama, psychological thrillers and epics. He’s one of the few big-name actors I can still believe in any role. I don’t watch his movies thinking, “That’s Leonardo DiCaprio pretending to swim/fish/fight/whatever.” He embodies the characters he plays, enabling me to forget who he is long enough to believe the performance.

Do you get that I like him? That I have much admiration for his skill? That I think he’s just swell? Good. Because it wouldn’t be right to completely trash this movie if I didn’t mention that first.

The Wolf of Wall Street (AKA The Longest Movie Ever Made) was difficult to watch–primarily because I spent half of it wondering when the credits would finally roll. I think anyone who writes a great deal gets to a point where they edit automatically. They examine everything with a critical eye. Dialogue is dissected for relevance. Every scene is considered for effectiveness. Performances are weighed based on facial expressions, tone of voice, body language.

Performances here were great. Mr. DiCaprio knows how to act and he didn’t fail here. Jonah Hill nailed the creepy/funny supporting role, and Matthew McConaughey was…well, Matthew McConaughey. That might be the last nice thing I have to say here.

Many, many scenes could have either been cut or trimmed. With a machete. I understand character-building. I get that every fictional world needs a firm sense of environment. I’d never argue that. This film, however, went much too far. It’s like the director thought that two hours into this, I still hadn’t comprehended how disgusting these people had become.

I HAD.

When I watch a movie I’ve been looking forward to, I settle in. I get snacks, a drink, and kick my feet on the couch because I have no intention of getting up until it’s over. With The Wolf of Wall Street, I found myself wandering around the house, using BS excuses to leave the room. Honestly, I can’t tell you how long this movie was, only that I was ready for it to be over long before it was.

The worst part is that, with proper editing, this could have been fantastic. The hook was good. From the commercials, I knew this was my kind of movie. It’s suits displaying their jackass-ishness for the world to see! It’s Leonardo Di-freaking-Caprio! It’s fun! It’s funny!

And it was. About half the time. The other half I felt like I was being beat over the head with points already made. As if the director looked at the script pre-production and decided this could make an epic movie…if they strung it out long enough.

My opinion? It would have been better if they hadn’t.

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The Things Celebrities Do To Their Children

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I think we all know I love to pick on celebrities. (It’s the main reason I never want to be one. Seriously. Ever.) My criticisms are usually for over the top stupidity, disgusting selfishness, or a combination of the two. Come on. Some of them are pretty ridiculous. I’ll excuse a few things as the result of being in the public eye 24/7, but when they’ve left all logic behind to embrace the worst aspects of humanity–when they flaunt their lack of respect for everyone else on the planet–well, that annoys me.

My complaint today comes from an article I read about a famous person who decided to prove to the world that they don’t like their kid. What am I talking about? The names they dump on poor, unsuspecting infants.

Because I couldn’t find a link that wasn’t filled with slow-loading ads and forced me to click through a slideshow that resulted in more ads, I decided to compile my own list here in an easily-scrollable manner. Now, shake your head in condescension with me:

1. Barbara Hershey named her son “Free.”

2. Gwen Stefani dumped “Zuma Nesta Rock” on her kid.

3. Jermaine Jackson:  “Jermajesty”

4. Penn Jillette: “Moxie Crimefighter”

5. Rob Morrow:  “Tu”

6. Frank Zappa:  “Moon Unit”

7. John Cougar Mellencamp:  “Speck Wildhorse”

8. Jason Lee:  “Pilot Inspektor”

9. Sylvester Stallone:  “Sage Moonblood”

10. Bob Geldof and Paula Yates:  “Fifi Trixiebell”

11. Shannyn Sossamon:  “Audio Science”

12. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West:  “North West”

13. David Duchovny and Tea Leoni: “Kyd”

14. Ashlee Simpson:  “Bronx Mowgli”

I think that’s enough. I’m not even going to bring up Gwyneth Paltrow. Really, what’s a fruit here or there when you have people naming their kids “Blanket,” “Pirate,” and “Camera?” Yes, these things really happened.

And they make me sad.

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Finally…

I love finding new authors. To stumble on the voice of a writer who makes me unaware of the passage of time, who can make me laugh and sometimes cry, is a gift. Each time I discover a new favorite, I spend way too much money gobbling up their backlist, then waiting impatiently for them to write me another book.

When I happened upon Brian Katcher’s work, he had only two books to his credit. This is extremely frustrating. (Yes, I know I have only two books to my credit and I’m slow getting the third one out, but we aren’t talking about me.)  I’ve read Playing With Matches and Almost Perfect until the bindings started pulling apart on the paperbacks. They’re wonderful, each for incredibly different reasons. I had no little confidence that, no matter the premise of Mr. Katcher’s next book, I would love it. He just had to write the darn thing! Like…now!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, he finally has. To celebrate the occasion, I thought I’d put up my second ever book review.

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Normally, I’d post the official blurb from Amazon, but I like mine better:

Sherman Andrews has had a ten year plan since he was eight. At seventeen, he’s going places–specifically, the Missouri Scholars Academy:  a summer college program for smarties. Determined to be an award-winning journalist, he begins researching an article he hopes will further his academic pursuits.

This is where things go wrong.

From an old photograph, Sherman begins uncovering records of deaths, disappearances, and cover-ups on an almost unbelievable scale. Worse, the organization responsible is still around…and they know Sherman is putting his nose where it doesn’t belong.

With the help of Charlie–the cute, chubby student librarian at the historical society, and Denton–a mental patient with some bizarre theories, Sherman must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice to keep his own dreams alive.

*

Everyone Dies in the End begins with a violent attack in a church. It gives us immediate reason to invest in the mystery of this book before turning us over to our main character.

To be honest, it would be easy not to like Sherman Andrews. He’s the kind of kid who should be wearing a pocket protector and thick black glasses taped together over the bridge of his nose as a warning to others:  “I’m on an academic mission.”

However, told from his point of view in first person, we get inside his head and learn right away that there’s more to Sherman than his uptight behavior might suggest. We get, for example, his sense of humor. It’s subtle sometimes, but it is there. This guy sounds exactly like what he is:  an occasionally obnoxious teenage boy.

His interactions with girls–in particular, Charlie–are (as is always the case with this author) sometimes cringe-worthy, but “true.” Ever wonder what the guy brushing you off is thinking? Read some of Katcher’s books. You might end up regretting that wish, because you definitely get the inside scoop.

I always say this author’s work deserves more than a YA audience, and that is especially true with this novel. The mystery has a very mature, universal appeal. The characters’ ages are younger, but the story is not limited to a high-school environment nor does it revolve around the typical angsty issues of most coming of age tales.

Instead, Everyone Dies in the End is a suspenseful, thrilling read with a good deal of humor, great dialogue, realistic characters, and a plot guaranteed to surprise you. Again, I’d recommend this to anyone.

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Recommendations (Part One)

I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t know anything, which might not be the best way to begin a post entitled, “Recommendations,” but bear with me. I started blogging only because I read a few dozen articles that said every writer should. I kept at it because I realized I like to talk randomly about various topics, and the community of bloggers out there are a wonderful bunch. I’ve found several sites I can’t stay away from, no matter how busy I get.

Because I like to share my finds, I thought I’d spotlight some of these sites, in the hopes that you will enjoy them as much as I have.

1.  Easy Reader

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This is the blog of an editor who very generously posts helpful tips and suggestions for writers. Aside from being a reliable source of solid information, she’s also hilarious. (And she gave me the idea for this post.)

http://ilovetoreadyourbooks.blogspot.com/

Go. Laugh. Learn.

 

2. theGOOD theBAD theBIZARRE

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Review site specializing in indie books. They write the most thorough, informative reviews I think I’ve ever read, pointing out for each (you guessed it) the good, bad, and bizarre aspects of every novel.

http://goodbadbizarre.com/

Worth checking out.

 

3. Forever Young Adult

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Another review site that takes a look at popular young adult novels from today and yesterday. If you’re looking for a new book to read, and you appreciate this genre, they have a good setup and a huge list of reviews.

http://foreveryoungadult.com/

If nothing else, read their review of V.C. Andrews work. Laugh out loud funny. I almost ruined my keyboard twice.

 

4. Fatshion Hustlings

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This is a personal blog I stumbled upon based on a racy headline. The writer has many articles regarding discrimination, but I wouldn’t call hers an “issue” site necessarily. She also spotlights television shows and movies, and her point of view is reliably witty and clever.

http://fatshionhustlings.com/

Check it out.

 

5. Celairen Art

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German based digital artist specializing in book and CD covers. I can’t recommend her work enough. Even if you aren’t in the market for commercial art, her site is worth perusing. The images are gorgeous, she offers a handful of backgrounds and designs completely free of charge, and she is the genius behind my own covers (which can be found on my About Me page).

http://www.celairen.com/

Go. Explore. Marvel.

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Disclaimer:  The pictures displayed for Celairen Art and Forever Young Adult are the property of those sites. Not everyone, however, had a handy image for me to borrow. Where none was available, I tried to find something similar to the background they use. When this was impossible, I  went rogue and instead inserted a picture I liked. My apologies to Easy Reader and GoodBadBizarre. In my defense, my choices were meant to be loosely-related to the content or mission of your site…and they made me smile.

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It’s Coming…

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A week from now, Easter 2014 will have arrived, with all the pastel sweetness we’ve come to expect from the commercialization of this holiday. Are you ready?

Me either.

Have I mentioned lately that I work in retail? No? Fabulous. I work in retail. Because of that, I’m already blinded by the pre-filled baskets, shiny plastic eggs, and miscellaneous paraphernalia of The Bunny’s return.

Supposedly, this started out as a religious holiday. In the retail world, little evidence remains. The focus is on gift-giving, dying eggs, and filling the perfect basket. Much as I mock the tradition, I will–at some point this week–subject myself to a round of shopping. I’ll get the plastic grass that will linger in remote corners of my house for months to come. I will stuff candy into eggs, and “hide” them where a four year old is capable of finding them. I will arrange a basket to showcase the gifts inside.

We don’t just do candy! How archaic! No, there must be gift cards and toys. Maybe a bubble wand or a package of pastel chalk off to the side, a large solid milk chocolate bunny front and center, some jelly beans (although no one ever eats them).

I will decorate this basket until the wee hours of the morn, stressing over placement, before I finally wrap the whole thing in a colorful cellophane shell that will be ripped to shreds in seconds. Then, I’ll hurry back to bed for a quick hour of sleep before it’s time to “celebrate.”

I am, honestly, disgusted with myself. This knowledge changes nothing…and that kind of disgusts me, too. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I will first take the time to be thankful. To reflect on the true spirit of the holiday. To celebrate in more than a superficial, monetary way.

Then, and only then, will I sicken myself with chocolate.

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What Ever Happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

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I have a handful of favorites: authors, actors, singers, etc.  These people have earned such faithful loyalty that I will watch/read/listen to whatever they release simply because I have enough confidence in them to believe my time will not be wasted.

Occasionally, I suffer for this assumption. The truth is that no one is always great. Tom Hanks is my absolute favorite actor, but Lady Killers? Well, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The movie didn’t destroy my admiration for him, but when I noticed his next release, I bought it a bit less enthusiastically. Looking back, I can’t remember what that next move was, only that he was great and my faith was restored.

When it comes to M. Night, I can’t describe myself as a mere fan. The man was a genius. The Sixth Sense? Come on! Fantastic performances by every actor. Creepy without being over-the-top. There was a subtleness to his movies that always appealed to me.

Mel-Gibson-and-Rory-Culkin-foreground-and-Abigail-Breslin-and-Joaquin-Phoenix-background-in-Touchstones-Signs-2002-0

Signs was the opposite of Independence Day. There were no large-scale military maneuvers. No UFOs crashing into skyscrapers. No White House annihilated. It was an alien movie in which the aliens were almost beside the point. They provided the mystery, the tension, but this movie was really about the characters. It was (pre-crazy) Mel Gibson and (pre-crazy) Joaquin Phoenix, survivors of life, struggling to hold themselves–and their family–together.

Maybe the resolution was a little convenient. Maybe all the pieces fit together too neatly. Doesn’t matter. This is still one of my favorite movies, ever, because I was invested in more than the latest CGI effect. I was invested in the emotion of the story.

Fast forward a couple years and you get The Village.

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Now, I know this was panned by critics (as most of his works ended up being), but I enjoyed it. Again, you have (pre-crazy) Joaquin Phoenix, along with a stellar cast of less flashy actors…and, again, you have a somewhat bizarre ending. Maybe I’m naïve, or just a terrible judge of movies, but it worked for me. I thought the spooky feel was well-maintained throughout, that the characters provided compelling drama, and the overall result was exceptional. Screw the ending. I enjoyed the ride.

Which brings us to The Happening.

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It isn’t the end of the world. There are no zombies, aliens, or dangerous, deadly flu epidemics. This is, instead, the story of a bizarre happening. For whatever reason, people start going berserk. There’s a “plague” drifting on the breeze, infecting those present with uncontrollable suicidal urges. Tell me that’s not compelling stuff!

To top it off, we have a never-been-crazy Mark Wahlberg, the always entertaining John Leguizamo, and a fresh-faced Zooey Deschanel. They were all excellent. I bought into their fear and uncertainty, even as I marveled at the things going on around them.

If you’re looking for global devastation and widespread nation-wide destruction, these movies weren’t going to do it for you. His films excelled not at their fast pace or their special effects. They delivered real emotional impact instead. If appreciated for what they were, rather than the “issue” used as a backdrop for the characters to wade through, they were perfect.

At this point in his career, I’d have watched his attempt at an educational gardening video. That’s how much I liked his movies. Then…he disappeared.

Okay, he didn’t disappear. He didn’t even stop making movies. Looking over his film credits, he was steadily producing a movie every two years. But after The Happening, something changed. I didn’t even hear about The Last Airbender or After Earth until after they were on DVD and, though I watched them, I failed to love them.

The director I’d once known and loved was gone. Maybe he grew too sensitive to critic’s complaints. It could’ve been an issue with ego. I really don’t know. All I can say is that I miss the director of Lady in the Water, and the unique approach he had to filmmaking.

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