Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Updates!

A lot has happened to our little writing community since I started this blog oh so many years ago. Much has changed. Many bloggers I visited regularly, especially industry blogs, aren't around anymore, or exist now only as archives.
It was time to update the links, and the page as well.
This one is much more fitting with the theme of my last book ;)

What am I missing? Where are the great middle grade, YA, or Steampunk bloggers that I haven't discovered yet?
And if I don't have a link to your blog yet, let's get that fixed!

Monday, October 18, 2010

One Hundred Wonderful Movies #2

Has there ever been a film more quotable than The Big Lebowski?
A film so awesome it inspired it's own annual festival (that didn't involve space travel of some kind)?
A more perfect celebration of Sam Elliot's mustache?
I think not.

This is the Coen Brother's first entry on my list of all-time favorites. Joel and Ethan Coen are among my favorite directors, and there is no better introduction into their deceptively simple style of storytelling than with the Dude himself.

The Big Lebowski is a delightful bit of absurdity that at first seems to be a random collection of hilarious setpieces, and slowly evolves from general wackiness and gratuitous recreational drug use into a genuine mystery, albeit with characters so inane and self absorbed it's difficult to care about any one of them. And yet they're all somehow so lovable. Walter and his temper, Donny and his total irrelevance, the cold, calculating Maude, Bunny (we're all quite fond of her) and especially the Dude himself.
The Big Lebowski centers around a happily rut-embedded old hippie who spend his days drinking white russians and bowling, and loving every minute of it. That is, until a misunderstanding involving a wealthy man (or is he??) with the same legal name as the titular Jeffery Lebowski (because they got the wrong guy, man... everyone knows he's the Dude.)

What follows is a classic Coen brothers tale, told in a simple fashion, but with a quite densely layered story under all the nonsense. And you can pick out just about any line of dialogue, throw it out into the world, and someone will join you in a volley of Lebowski-isms. Plus, the soundtrack is absolutely classic.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Hundred Wonderful Movies #1

Okay, this year was kind of a snooze at the local cinema.
Since January, there have been about five movies I've really wanted to see in a theater, or bothered to, for that matter.
Youth in Revolt, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, Inception, and The Social Network.
(I rank them 5, 4, 2, 3, and 1, respectively. Social Network gets points over Youth for starring Jesse Eisenberg, Inception gets major points for Joseph Gordon Levitt, looses some for being in a race with no real competition)
(Note, I still need to see Get Low and Ondine) Still scheduled for release sometime this year are The Rum Diary, The Black Swan, (in which Darren Aronofsky decided not to cast his wife, so he could make it extra "adult" apparently) King's Speech starring Colin Firth, and The Tempest. (wow, really? yes, the actual The Tempest. Ooh, that's spectacular. I know, right??) Also, the Coen Brothers are remaking True Grit. But until they actually debut, it's been a rather slow 10 months for us film people.
Good news, we have Netflix, and all kind of things "on demand". (How do I sign up for Dr. Pepper "on demand"? Where's the button I hit for that? Isn't this A'merca?) So, if you're looking for something to watch you may have missed the first time around, I'm going to make a list, in no particular order, of my 100 favorite movies.

Starting with (again, in no particular order) The New World.
Terrence Malik is the kind of director who turns up every decade or so with an offering of lyrical, heartbreaking cinematic poetry, only to disappear again until the next Transit of Venus, or whatever it is that entices him to get back in the director's seat. In 2005, he shot the million feet of film that would become The New World (His next film Tree of Life, will premiere in 2011)






And so it goes. For over 135 minutes, or 170 in Malik's rerelease, hardly anyone speaks aloud, and every frame is completely captivating. There are no theatrics, almost nothing explicit. The film diverges from the historical record to focus on the legendary but probably fictional love story between Pocahontas and John Smith. The relationship between them is delicate and subtle, (partly because the actress was only 15) but it still manages to illustrate love and a true connection between souls with sincerity and brilliance. Smith and Pocahontas don't need to speak for us to understand exactly how they feel - her surprise and curiosity, his deep inner conflict and mistrust of his own feelings. Inaccurate as it may be historically, it's one of the best depictions of true love on film.

I thought that would be a good one to begin with.
99 to go!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Social Network

I graduated from college in '02, so I missed facebook by about a year and a half.
Not the current incarnation of facebook, with all the games and quizzes and family photo albums. The original facebook. You know, for kids.
Watching the Social Network made me simultaneously wish I was three or four years younger, and also totally relieved I wasn't three or four years younger. It also made me want to go straight home and delete my facebook account.

The Social Network opens with a conversation between Harvard freshman Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend. While discussing his goals and ambitions for the upcoming year, Zuckerberg calously offends his girlfriend in just about every possible way, but is still confused and deeply hurt when she announces she wants to end the relationship.

He reacts in a classically immature way, by rushing straight back to his dorm room to get drunk and post some malicious gossip about her on his blog. In the same night, he whips up and posts a website that lets users rate the hotness of the female undergrads. Fasmash, as he calls it, is so popular that it crashes the Harvard network within a few hours.

In the first ten minutes, we've learned two very important things about Zuckerberg. He's a frighteningly talented programmer, and he's also incredibly vindictive and petty. Throughout the rest of the film, Zuckerberg's actions are surrounded by a haze of ambiguous motivation. Is he acting the part of a shrewd entrepreneur, or reacting as a jealous, insecure kid shaking his fist in the air and shouting "I'll show you!" ?

The raging success of Facemash gets the attention of a trio of young entrepreneurs on campus, Divya Narenda, and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. They pitch Zuckerberg and idea for an exclusive website that would basically help Harvard guys find girls that want to hook up with Harvard guys. Yes, these are the big ideas of 20 year old guys. Zuckerberg immediately runs to his best friend Eduardo Saverin with an idea of his own. Zuckerberg's idea borrows a bit from the Winkelvoss's HarvardConnection, but it also incorporates a bit of Myspace, and essentially just expands the already existing Facebook sites run individually by many of Harvard's school houses.

Did Zuckerberg end up backing out of the Winkelvoss's project simply because of immaturity and a lack of foresight? Or did he intentionally screw them over because they were exactly the kind of guys his girlfriend jokingly suggested she preferred to Zuckerberg himself? Either way, with Saverin's help and initial investment of 1k, Zuckerberg's site, The facebook, is up and running in a few short months. From that point, things move at a freakish pace, with the facebook expanding from Harvard to a handful of schools, to nationwide in a few short months.
Zuckerberg and Saverin succeed in getting the attention of Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who meets with them to discuss business, or so they think.

There is immediate tension between Saverin and Parker, with Parker coming off as a greasy, opportunistic weasel, but also the guy with the corporate connections Saverin wishes he had. It's Parker's involvement that really gets the site from a project to a viable business, but it's also the wedge that finally splits Saverin and Zuckerberg. This was my only real problem with The Social Network as a whole. The film alternates between scenes of the founding of facebook, and the eventual avalanche of lawsuits by nearly everyone involved or remotely connected. We know that Saverin is suing his best friend for hundreds of millions of dollars. But when it comes down to the pivotal scene, where Saverin is cut out of the business, Zuckerberg is conspicuously off stage. What was his involvement in that decision? It's left very vague, probably as a result of non disclosure agreements attached to everyones multi million dollar settlements.

In the end, Parker ends up looking sad and desperate, Saverin comes off looking like a charming, trusting, betrayed but loyal friend, and Zuckerberg is exactly the same as he was in the first scene. A brilliant, awkward, immature, insecure kid. The only difference is, he's worth a billion dollars.

The Social Network draws immediate comparisons to Startup.com, the 2000 documentary that was supposed to chronicle the rise to success of another trio of sharp young entrepreneurs in the new landscape of internet business. Instead, it was a dramatic depiction of the 90's .com bubble popping. The only difference is that the facebook founders were fighting over real dollars, and the Govworks.com guys were so busy dividing up shares and squabbling over control of the company, they never really bothered to create anything that worked before they tried to sell it.

Zuckerberg would have been old enough to understand the .com mania, and the ensuing destruction of the new era of internet business. In that context, many of his decisions make perfect sense. He makes the right moves for the business, and it is a smashing success. The problem is that he also makes the best decisions for himself, and at the end of the day, he's standing alone at the top of the hill. He gets his revenge, even against those who tried to help and support him.