Unseen Movie Reviews #1: Caddyshack

I’ll start this final review with some films that nearly made this list:

  • 12 Years a Slave — There’s no way I’m not going to see this eventually
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — one of very few superhero movies I’ve skipped. The first film in this Andrew Garfield reboot was very disappointing, and the reviews convinced me the sequel was equally forgettable. 
  • The Fifth Element — an acclaimed sci-fi action film, but I’ve seen plenty like it

And now, for our winner…

Why I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Seen This Movie: At the time it came out, this 1980 comedy classic starred just about every one of my favorite comedians. If they had somehow snuck in Steve Martin or Robin Williams, I definitely wouldn’t have skipped it, but the cast they had should have been enough.

The One Time I Came Close To Finally Seeing The Movie: I was at home one weekend while my wife was on a business trip, and my toddler sons had just gone down for their naps. I flipped through the channels, and saw this movie had started thirty minutes earlier. I leaned back in my recliner… and my younger son woke me an hour later.

Why I Probably Won’t Ever See It Now: While it satirizes the country club world, the friends of mine who are serious golfers adore this movie, which tells me it is a very loving satire. And the country club is not a world that interests me much.

The One Image I’ll Never Forget, Even Though I Haven’t Seen It: Enjoying the best round of golf of his life, an elderly man plays on through a driving rainstorm, and is when he raises his golf club in victory, is struck by lightning.

The One Line I’ll Always Remember, Even Though I’ve Never Heard It: “It’s in the hole!”

I Haven’t Seen This Film, But I Have Seen: Tin Cup, a 1996 romantic comedy starring Kevin Costner as a journeyman professional golfer; think Rocky Balboa with a nine-iron and a better sense of humor.

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Reasons for Rising

Writing in the Pointed North blog, Brittany offers some “un-advice” for becoming more of a morning person. Being nocturnal myself, I easily took to waking up when the sun gets warm soon after changing careers last year. Some time around December, I became dissatisfied with my lack of productive writing, and decided to explore whether there was value to be had in getting my ass out of bed earlier. Since then, I have been writing more, and I don’t think that’s an accident.

Yet seeing the benefits of getting up in the dark hasn’t made any one morning any easier. This will always be a struggle, and I’ve had to rely on a few coping mechanisms. For what it’s worth, here’s my list of bromides for getting up early:

You must have a raison pour se réveiller

I don’t know how to pronounce it, but that’s French for “reason for waking,” at least according to my online translator. I’ve found it far easier to get up early when I have an appointment, a task, some commitment that I don’t want to avoid. This needs to be as specific as possible, nothing fungible like “I need to start on chapter 2,” or “I’ll feel better if I get on the exercise bike for 30 minutes.” If you have a gym membership, sign up for a class, preferably one that charges a nominal fee if you skip without cancelling within 24 hours. If you have a favorite place to write, challenge yourself to get there when they open, and reward yourself for making it happen. If you meet with someone regularly, schedule an appointment for breakfast. Make getting up early not something you’d like to do, but something you have to do.

Don’t be afraid of being tired

This was a big hurdle for me, feeling I had to be fully rested in order to be productive. It might be true that my best productivity comes when I’m at my energy peak, but it’s also true that those moments are rare. The math I’m going to perform is probably going to be off, but six hours of 70% productivity beats 3 hours at 95%. (Somebody tell me I didn’t royally eff that one up.) I’m not at my best when I get up early, but I’m getting a lot more done than I would while sleeping.

Treat yourself

“You have to get up every day” is common advice given to night owls seeking to change their ways. For me, though, knowing there’s one day a week where I can indulge myself and get up whenever I damn well feel like it helps me get through the tough mornings in the days before. It will likely screw up my schedule for the following day, but the energy I get from turning off my phone, shutting off the alarm, and telling the family that whatever happens tomorrow morning will just have to wait is enough to carry me through a week of rough days.

I’ve been getting up earlier for four months now, and like I said, it remains a struggle. But what is worthwhile without effort?

Technology’s Role in Driver Retention

A former employer of mine, a software company for the trucking industry, has asked me to write occasional articles on their company blog. I’m hoping to use this opportunity to research topics and discover unique and interesting angles on them. And the pay is decent — that always helps.

My first article is about the high level of driver turnover at many trucking companies, and how technology can either reduce or increase that problem.

Unseen Movie Reviews #2: The Graduate

Like fine literature among intellectuals, great movies so dominate populate culture that we have no choice but to be familiar with them. Much as I’ve never read a certain American literary classic but can tell you most of its plot and recite many of its famous lines, there are films I know so very well despite never haven seen them. So far in this series, I’ve fabricated memories of a horror classic and an epic fable of the American south; the next entry is a bit more contemporary. 

Why I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Seen This Movie: If you were a cynical undergraduate between the years 1967 and 1987, enjoyed films, and had ambivalent feelings about the adult world into which you were about to enter, there simply was no way you could not watch this film. It was a perfect expression for the anxiety of a generation. And the soundtrack from Simon and Garfunkel was absolutely awesome.

The One Time I Came Close To Finally Seeing The Movie: One night in graduate school, my roommate rented this film and invited a buddy of ours over to watch. I was in the graduate student office, and a bunch of fellow students talked me into going out drinking with them. I had just done poorly on a paper, and decided to get bombed. The next day my roommate said I could watch it if I wanted, but I was too disgusted to allow myself even a pleasure so small as watching a movie. So I returned it.

Why I Probably Won’t Ever See It Now: A sentiment that once appealed to me so strongly no longer has any attraction. In “My Back Pages,” Bob Dylan said it with far more eloquence: I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

The One Image I’ll Never Forget, Even Though I Haven’t Seen It: Dustin Hoffman being seduced by Anne Bancroft. I mean, it’s on the friggin’ poster, after all.

The One Line I’ll Always Remember, Even Though I’ve Never Heard It: “Elaine! ELAINE!”

I Haven’t Seen This Film, But I Have Seen: The Freshman, a quirky 1990 dark comedy starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick. Like “The Graduate,” it follows the journey of an intelligent young man struggling to understand the world around him, but doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously. Brando plays a character who claims to have been the inspiration for Brando’s performance in “The Godfather,” Bert Parks dances and sings about a Komodo dragon, and Broderick’s attempt to ruin the film with his typically awful acting go unnoticed through all the bizarre plot twists.

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction

Benjamin Percy was the keynote speaker at a literary conference I recently attended. I generally dislike these opening addresses, and fully expected him to deliver yet another self-congratulatory homily, followed by a desultory reading and a perfunctory exhortation to “believe in your writing.” Yet immediately after being introduced, Percy pulled out a dry-erase marker, went over to a white board, and launched into an informative and engaging discussion of the craft of writing fiction — creating engaging characters, building suspense, the strategic placement of scenes, alternating between action and moments of repose. After compiling seven pages of notes over the next hour, I bought his book with the enthusiasm of a Marvel fan on opening night of an Avengers film.

I won’t reveal the advice offered in Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction, partly out of fear the author would hunt me down if I did (while affable and inviting, Percy can be physically imposing — broad shouldered and deep voiced, he seems capable of sprouting fangs or claws at any moment). I do feel safe in revealing his central theme, introduced in the opening essay and expanded upon in the following fourteen: the accepted distinction between literary fiction (think Antioch Review) and genre fiction (think Fantasy and Science Fiction) is arbitrary, and writers wholly committed to either category suffer from not adopting the best practices from the other. “Literary writers tend to overdo thoughtfulness,” he writes, “just as many genre writers tend to neglect interiority in favor of action.” Percy, who has published in both literary magazines and comic books, advocates eliminating this distinction, and combining “the careful carpentry of storytelling” with page-turning excitement that makes the reader want to know what happens next.

In his description of the worst qualities of literary fiction — elaborate prose, abstract ideas, and lengthy dialogue leading to underwhelming epiphanies — I recognized a lot of the problems I’ve been seeing in my own writing. To put it bluntly: Nothing happens. My characters talk (a lot, and to be fair to myself I’ve been commended for my conversations), but they live in a world where inertia is as common as air. Having recognized this problem, I’m contemplating (there I go again with the thinking) following the advice of what Percy calls The Exploding Helicopter Clause: “If a story does not contain an exploding helicopter [or similar spectacular event or character], an editor will not publish it.” As authorial recommendations goes, this sounds both reasonable and a heckuva lot of fun.

Percy is a storyteller, not an academic, and true to his calling he weaves an engaging memoir through his essays. We learn a lot about Percy — his childhood fascination with genre and later respect for literature, a wonderful marriage, early struggles and eventual successes in his writing career, unintended lessons about writing learned from his in-laws, a mortifying illness of a son that lead Percy to dread watching Toy Story, a decrepit home he and his wife refurbished — revealed not in chronological order, each anecdote chosen to underscore the ideas of the current essay. Among the more interesting facts we learn is that as a teen, Percy conducted a ceremony which failed in its stated intent to turn him into a werewolf. My trepidation around him seems fully warranted.

I was impressed enough by Percy’s keynote speech to have him autograph the book I purchased. He signed it with advice I imagine he includes with all his signatures: “Go the distance,” the title of the his last essay and a reference to Rocky, a film that inspired him through his early days as a writer. Stallone’s plucky pugilist, waking before dawn to run and beating a speed bag until his knuckles bleed, succeeds in his goal to leave his bout with the heavyweight champion standing on his feet — going the distance — and Percy sees in him a model of tenacity for all novice writers in their struggle to rise to the top of the slush pile: “you must develop around your heart a callus the size of a speed bag.” There could be no better end to Percy’s marvelous collection of essays than this eloquent metaphor based on a gritty work of pop culture.

Amjad Hamid

He smiled like someone who would welcome me into his home.
We were also about the same age.

I know little about him, not even his name really —
Is the J silent?
Would he have pronounced the first letter of his last name with a glottal fricative?
Our first meeting would have been awkward:
Hi, nice to meet you…
and if he hadn’t picked up on my hesitation, I’d have opted for the silent consonant —
Is it, Am – ad?
I like to imagine him laughing at my clumsy greeting.

If I were really curious, I’d consult the WWW and discover the WWWWHW of his life:
Who was in his family,
What he did for a living,
Where he went to college,
When he joined his mosque,
How he was being remembered.

Why he was there last Friday

I’d rather not know these things.
Such knowledge would only bring the horror closer.

But I did hold his picture in one hand the other day,
an electric tea light in the other,
and along with a few hundred people in my home town
said a prayer in three religions united in one voice on a bracing cold day half a world away
that we could evolve into a world where nobody would have to mourn for strangers.

Value

Mitzie pulled on Heyward’s sleeve, forcing him to stop and see her pointing at the object.

“What the hell’s that doing here?”

Heyward shrugged. “Waiting for someone to put it out of our misery.”

Mitzie leaned over the what had once been the keyboard. “This had value, once.”

Her boyfriend picked up one of the vines. “And these once bore fruit you could eat.”

Mitzie stood, and folded her arms across her chest. “You judge all things by their current value?”

He turned, and resumed walking. “There is no value in another person’s memories.”

Dumbphone

[Instead of my usual “oh gosh that’s cool” appreciation of Sarah Doughty’s latest epigrammatic poem, I thought it would be neat to write a response.]

I have trained the ear of my soul
to not be distracted by the rumoring whispers of untrustworthy shades

You are my beacon,
steady through my mind’s fiercest storms,
and without your love I am dumb,
a phone with no signal.

Let us dispense with the mourning of broken memories,
and revel in the anxious joy of a new day’s discoveries.

Unseen Movie Review #3: Gone With The Wind

Continuing a series of posts I started last week, recounting fond memories of movies I’ve never actually seen.

Why I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Seen This Movie: This 1939 classic routinely appears on top ten lists of greatest films of all time, and while I was in college it played nearly every quarter either at the student union or at a vintage theater near campus. I watched nearly all the films I never got to see as a child in the rural town where I was raised, but there always seemed to be something that needed to be done each time I considered going to this show.

The One Time I Came Close To Finally Seeing The Movie: Maddie (name changed on the remote chance she’s actually reading this) was a smart, funny, and comely lass who shared my appreciation for classic cinema. One day at lunch in the student cafeteria, she mentioned wanting to see the showing of this film over the coming weekend, and asked if I was interested. If she had asked me to watch “Dawn of the Dead,” I’d have said yes. Unfortunately she had to go home to her parents that weekend, and our date did not materialize until we went to see “The Neverending Story” a few months later.

Why I Probably Won’t Ever See It Now: After my college days, I read a lot about American history in the Civil War era, and my study convinced me the war was inevitable. The Union states did not fight the war to end slavery or for any other noble purpose, but their victory over the Confederacy was absolutely necessary. For these reasons, I can’t appreciate any work that glorifies the South in the antebellum era.

The One Image I’ll Never Forget, Even Though I Haven’t Seen It: Clark Gable carrying Vivien Leigh up the staircase.

The One Line I’ll Always Remember, Even Though I’ve Never Heard It: Among several great quotes in the movie, one has become a personal mantra — “Tomorrow is another day.”

I Haven’t Seen This Film, But I Have Seen: Sommersby (1993), an insightful film about the aftermath of the Civil War, featuring great performances from Jodie Foster and Richard Gere.

Friday Fictioneers: Somewhere Else To Be

PHOTO PROMPT © CEAyre

Late for work, Alain rushed out of his apartment building and into the alley where he had parked his scooter, not noticing the pillow-sized living fur lying on its seat until he had put on his helmet.

“Jesus!” The ebony cat looked up at Alain, and blinked its olive eyes.

“Don’t you have somewhere else to be?” The cat shook its tail as if dusting the leather seat. “Look, if — ”

The cat leaped over the rear of scooter, and scampered into a nearby bush.

Alain shook his head, reached into his pocket — then realized he had forgotten his key.

 

If writing a complete story in 100 words or less sounds like your idea of a good time, check out Friday Fictioneers