Tag Archives: movies

(Not) Getting Things Done

There is so much to do, I hardly know where to begin. Life these days has become so interrupt-driven that I desperately try to recall what life was like when I was a kid in the late 70s, when the only thing there was to interrupt you was the telephone or the doorbell. Not only is it virtually impossible to finish something I start without interruption (I can’t remember the last time I made it through a 20 minute sit-com without stopping), there is no longer a straight line between two tasks. There are roadblocks and detours all the way.

Take this weekend for example. I’ve been reading Rick Atkinson’s An Army At Dawn, his Pulitzer prize-winning book about the war in North Africa from 1942-1943. There was a passage in there in which Roosevelt, hinting at where he would be making a clandestine trip to, showed a group of friends a new film called Casablanca. I scratched a note to myself to watch that movie again. It has been a long time since I’ve seen it and I’ve mostly forgotten it.

There was lots happening on Saturday. Two basketball games (one for the Little Miss and one for the Little Man) as well as a surprise party to attend in the evening. At some point, when I had five minutes, I started to look to see if Casablanca was playing on any of the streaming services we subscribe to. That led me, somehow, to The Dick Van Dyke show, and I was reminded that we never finished watching the last season and a half or so. I decided I wanted to finish that, and made a note of it.

My search took me back to the Apple store, and there I saw that Rambo: Last Blood was out. I’d seen the first movie years ago, but never any of the others. I was curious, but it seemed silly to jump and watch the fifth movie when I’d barely seen the previous four. It turned out, however, that there was a special on the 5-pack and it was ridiculously cheap, so I bought it. I set about watching the first several movies, always fragmented. I never watched one straight through. On Sunday, I watched the last two. I was, of course, no closer to Casablanca.

Atkinson’s book reminded me that I wanted to re-read Andy Rooney’s My War. I read it when it first came out, and I thought it was a great memoir of the war years as a reporter for Stars and Stripes. A few years ago, I read Timothy M. Gay’s Assignment to Hell which was about many of the WW-II reporters, Rooney included. So I decided to start reading it, and put Casablanca on the back-burner. At this rate I’ll be lucky if I ever manage to see the movie again.

My desk is cluttered with pages of lists torn from a yellow legal pad. One list one do it these days. I have a list for things to do today, a list of things I need to get done for a work project, a list of things to do around the house. I wanted to go to the store today to get some WD-40 because the bathroom door has been squeaking. But it rained much of the day and I decided I would squeeze in some extra walking before it became too rainy to go outside. I never did get the WD-40 and the door is still squeaking.

There are all kinds of systems that purport to tell you how to better manage your time. I’ve tried many of them, and am suspect of all of them. Instead of getting things done, I am learning systems. I’ve come to the conclusion that feeling busy is not the same as being busy. I am busy at this moment, as I write this. I am busy writing. Feeling busy is the sense of utter chaos at everything you have to do, coupled with the knowledge that it is hopeless. There’s no way you’ll get it all done.

I managed to write this entire post without interruption. That’s not saying much, since I was supposed to be cleaning off my desk so that it wouldn’t be so cluttered when I start work in the morning. That’s okay. I’ll clear off my desk in the morning, in order to avoid some other task that I should be doing instead.

Thoughts on Interstellar: Worthy Grandchild to Tau Zero and The Forever War

If memory serves, I first encountered time dilation in a visceral way in November 1997. That is when I read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. The effects of relativity play a significant role in that novel. I next encountered it in Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, which I read in January 1999. I read the books in the wrong order. Anderson’s novel, which was based on his short story “To Outlive Eternity”, was first published in 1970. Haldeman’s novel was published a few years later.

The two novels took different approaches to time dilation: that effect that relatively has on time when one approaches the speed of light. Anderson’s book examined the extremes, reaching out for the end of time, the end of the universe, the end of all things–all within a single human lifespan. Haldeman’s novel took the personal approach, looking at the effect of time dilation on a few individuals, over a much small time scale.

I was more effected by The Forever War than by Tau Zero. The notion that time slows down as a person approaches the speed of light fascinated me. I remembered a commercial for Omni magazine which described the twins paradox. All of that stuck with me, and I remembering wondering if a parent traveled close enough to the speed of light, might not their children grow older than them while they were away?

The thought eventually led me to write a story called “Flipping the Switch” that deals with that very paradox. Although I first started writing the story in late 2008 or early 2009, it wasn’t published until 2013, when it appeared in the original anthology Beyond the Sun, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

And then, a week ago, I finally got around to seeing Interstellar. While I am not generally a fan of science fiction movies (something that people have a hard time believing, since I write science fiction), I really enjoyed Interstellar. I was the best science fiction movie I’ve seen since Contact. I watched the movie, and then, later that same evening, I watched it again. I know that some people complained that, despite the best efforts, some of the science was not accurate. Others complained that the dialog was poorly written. I enjoyed it all. Most of all, I enjoyed seeing the paradox that I envisioned in my story come to life in a well-executed conclusion. Indeed, the ending of Interstellar reminded me, in some ways, of the ending of Isaac Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man.”

I also loved the vision of robots in Interstellar. The AIs of that world reminded me of the AIs that populate Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict novels. Their versatility was impressive, but I also enjoyed the personalization: you could define humor, honesty, and other elements to your taste.

Contact was a more cerebral movie than Interstellar, but Interstellar made me feel like I was traveling to alien worlds. It is a movie that I know I will enjoy watching again from time to time.

Windows Into the Past

Pictures”, is what my grandpa used to call them. He’d never say “movies” or “films.” They were always pictures. Usually there was some kind of adjective to go along with them: a “rotten picture1” or a “funny picture2.” Regardless, they were always pictures to him. I like the term and I try to use it from time-to-time, antiquated though it may be.

I began thinking about pictures before heading into the office this morning. I saw that 80 years ago, if you went to the local movie house, you’d probably be able to catch a matinee of College Humor (a funny picture, grandpa would say) starring George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Bing Crosby. I don’t know what it was about seeing that combination (I am a fan of all three actors, but a big fan of Bing) that set my mind running, but I think it was the sudden, striking duality time took at that moment. For, you see, 80 years, by modern historical standards, does not seem very long at all. And yet, at a very personal level, 80 years seems like a lifetime.

It seems strange to me to think that 80 years ago, you could find Bing, Geoerge and Gracie on screen together; stranger still if you consider the movie had to have been made a least a little while before its release. 80 years seems so close, and yet two of the three actors have been dead for decades; George for 17 years. And yet consider how much the world has changed since you could walk into the local movie house and see College Humor for a nickel.

I took a history and film class in college as an elective. It was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken and one thing I took from it was that any picture is made in the context of its time, and therefore mirrors that context back in everything about it. It can’t be helped and it can’t be avoided. A science fiction film made in the 1930s tells you a lot about the 1930s. So does a drama, or a comedy, or an arty film.

If film had existed 80 years before 1933–back in 1853–Bing and George and Gracie would have been able to watch a picture filmed in the decade before the Civil War. Such films would have carried the context of those times as well. Of course, motion pictures did not exist in 1853, but they did exist in 1933, and we have managed to preserve them, and ultimately that will have the strange effect of bringing the past closer and closer to future generations.

Driving into the office, I considered that in the year 2172–when I would be roughly 200 years old–people will still be able to watch College Humor with Bing and George and Gracie. It will likely still be understandable, as it is today, although our culture has evolved somewhat. And whereas I wonder at the fact that 80 years seems like such a great gulf, the folks who see the picture in 2172 will perhaps marvel that what they are seeing is really 240 years old. If we could watch a 240 year-old movie today, it would have been produced at roughly the time of the American Revolution.

Movie are windows into the past. When I consider that 80 years ago, George and Gracie and Bing were alive and well and making movies, good or bad, like College Humor, well, there is something nice about that. And something sad, too, because they are all gone, and their movies remain behind, like ghosts, doomed to repeat their lines over and over again so long as there are people to watch them.

  1. Anything with too much sex or violence fell into this category for him.
  2. The Goonies fell into this category for him.

On Ribs, Texting, and L.A. Story

Last night, around 2am, I couldn’t sleep. It was my ribs again. The cough that I’ve had since before Christmas finally seems to be waning, but the damage is done. My right ribs and the soft matter just beneath them feel shredded. The slightest pressure irritates them. I’ve taking to sleeping on my left side, but even that doesn’t completely solve the problem. So when the Little Miss woke us up around 2am last night, I had trouble getting back to sleep. As often happens, I let my mind wander. Kelly was also having trouble sleeping and had gone downstairs for a snack. After a while, I considered texting her to ask if she was okay. I thought I’d text her: “R U O K” but I wasn’t sure that would make sense to her. (Are You O.K.?)

Considering that, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies, L. A. Story. I’ve written about L. A. Story before. But tonight, as I was laying there in mild pain, trying to get back to sleep, I had a sudden realization. In that scene where Steve Martin first encounters the signpost, and the signpost asks him, “R. U. O. K.?” Martin is essentially predicting the “texting” phenomenon that would arise a decade later. Indeed, when Martin’s character doesn’t understand what the sign is saying at first, the sign responds, “Don’t make me waste letter.”

Moreover, there is another scene which anticipates social networking. While driving to brunch with his disgruntled girlfriends (played by Marilu Henner), Martin asks, “Who are we having brunch with again?”

Henner replies, “Friends, and friends of friends…” When I heard this line last night, I immediately thought of Facebook, and how you can share things with friends, or even with “friends of friends.”

As you may have guessed, I ended up watching the entire movie last night between the hours of 2 and 4am. I’d guess that I’ve seen the movie one hundred times, but there are new little things I notice each time I watch it. The funniest new thing I noticed last night:

Early in the movie, when Harris is at the stationary bicycle park, quoting Shakespeare about L.A., we see in the background a man fall off a recumbent bike; apparently he is having a heart attack. I’d noticed this many, many times in the past. But what I never noticed before is, as the paramedics are carting away the fallen man, another man quickly jumps onto the recently occupied bike. I’d never noticed that before and it was a very funny touch.

Each time I watch L. A. Story, I expect to find it has lost something. This has happened with other movies that I’ve admired. But it has not happened with L. A. Story, at least, not yet. I get into the movie and laugh, and recall my own years (nearly 19 of them) living in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the most startling revelation, watching the movie last night: the movie came out in the summer of 1990, nearly 23 years ago. Steve Martin is currently 67 years old, which would have made him about 44 in 1990, and more than likely 42 or 43 when the movie was made. He was only two or three years older than I am right now when the movie was made. That’s a little scary for a guy who saw the movie opening weekend, in a movie theater in L.A.–and was only 18 years old at the time.

Thoughts on The Hobbit

On Sunday, Kelly and I left the kids with their grandparents for a few hours and escaped to see The Hobbit at the local theater1. It was playing in 3D/48fps and that is how we saw it. The theater was at a large, outdoor shopping mall here in southwestern Florida and while the mall was packed with holiday shoppers, the movie theater was empty. I mean empty. Indeed, until the previews were over the movie was beginning, Kelly and I were the only two people in the theater. I think there ended up being a grand total of 6 people.

Not to bury the lead: I loved the movie.

Then again, I expected to. I really enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and had no reason to doubt that I wouldn’t enjoy this one. I went into it not having read The Hobbit in more than 30 years, and with the understanding that, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was an adaptation of the book, not a strict canonical rendition. What this amounted to in reality was that I couldn’t begin to tell you how the movie differed from the book. Except for the very beginning, of course, which I liked and thought was well-done and a good way to introduce the new movie.

I’ve read complaints online that the movie was slow to start, that they didn’t get out of the Shire for the first hour or so. It was a while before the band of adventurers left the Shire, but that didn’t bother me at all. I enjoyed the story throughout, and found the humor both whimsical and amusing. It was a little tricky keeping track of all of the dwarves, but even that faded into the background of the larger story.

Indeed, I found the movie to be thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable, a good start to this new trilogy. It was the first movie I’ve seen in 3D and even the addition of 3D turned out to be an aid to storytelling as opposed to a distraction from it.

The most disappointing aspect of the movie is that I have to wait an entire year to see the next part. But I can forgive Peter Jackson for that. Besides, at my age, with two little kids running me ragged, the year seems to zip right by. It will all pass in a flash and before you know it you’ll be reading about the 24-hour-long Tolkien marathons people will be making.

  1. This was my first time to a movie theater since April of this year. I really don’t get out to movies very often.

An Alternate Star Wars

I was watching Star Wars1 with the Little Man. It was his first time seeing that particular movie and he had endless questions about the good guys and the bad guys and the good guys ships and the bad guys ships. It was fun watching him watch it.

But what struck me most about this re-watch—the first time I’ve re-watched Star Wars in at least 10 years–is how the ultimate fate of the galaxy rest on the utter incompetence of the Imperial leadership.

Very early in the picture, R2-D2 and C3P0 escape from their ship in an escape pod and plunge down to the desert planet of Tatooine. There is a moment when a gunner on board the Imperial ship is ready to shoot down the escape pod, but since no life is detected, they let it go. Why do they let it go? Were they wasting lasers somehow by shooting it down? It seems to me that an Empire with the capability of destroying a planet doesn’t have much concerns over available energy. There should have been an order from on high to shoot down anything that jettisoned from the rebel ship. That no such order existed shows an appalling lapse of strategic thinking within the leadership of the Empire–and no wonder they ended up losing.

But consider: suppose such an order had existed. Would it have been followed? If it was not followed, that would demonstrate further incompetence within the machinery of the Empire and serves them right.

But now consider: what if such an order existed and what if it had been followed and the escape pod carrying the two droids was destroyed as part of a routine chain of command? The pod was carrying more than just the droids. R2 carried the plans to the Death Star. If those plans were destroyed, the Rebels would not have found a weakness. Furthermore, without R2 seeking out Obi-Wan, it is unlikely that Luke would have been pulled into the fray. He may have lived his whole life on Tatooine, quietly, while the Empire continued their dominance.

All of this, I considered as I watched the movie with my little boy. It seems now to be a gaping hole in the overarching plot of the movie. It doesn’t make the movie any less fun, but it does bring to mind the notion that even the low man on the totem can have a truly significant impact in the fate of the galaxy.

  1. When I refer to “Star Wars” I mean the original, that I first saw in the drive-in theater with my parents in 1977.

A Lord of the Rings/Hobbit Marathon, Three Years Hence?

With the first part of The Hobbit coming to theaters mid-December, I started thinking about the inevitable 24-hour marathon watchings that will start taking place roughly three years from now. My logic goes something like this:

  • December 2012: The Hobbit, Part 1 released in theaters
  • Fall 2013: The Hobbit, Part 1 released on BluRay (or equivalent)
  • December 2013: The Hobbit, Part 2 released in theaters
  • Fall 2014: The Hobbit, Part 2 released on BluRay (or equivalent)
  • December 2014: The Hobbit, Part 3 released in theaters
  • Fall 2015: The Hobbit, Part 3 released on BluRay (or equivalent)
  • December 2015: The Complete Extended Edition Hobbit released on BluRay (or equivalent)

It makes sense that the individual BluRay versions would be released shortly before the next installment as a primer for fans. This means a release of the final film on BluRay in the fall of 2015 with no new movie coming out. However, there will be, of course, the extended editions, which might arrive in time for the holidays of 2015. If that is, in fact, a rough schedule of events, then we can expect to start reading about the first marathon 24-hour watching of all 6 films back-to-back in late 2015 or early 2016, little more than three years hence.

I recently rewatched the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy (makes long plane rides speed by) and I think it clocks in just shy of 12 hours. Figure that the extended editions of The Hobbit will come in around the same (ironic for a single, much shorter book) and that’s where I get my 24-hours from.

I can imagine the parties being planned in advance and announcements flooding the social media three years in our future. And it would actually be a fun thing to do were it not for the fact that it is utterly predictable. Still, I’ll be interested to read those first posts from folks who give it a try–writing, of course, a day or more after the event when they’ve finally managed to catch up on sleep.

FAQ: How can you be a science fiction writer/fan if you don’t like sci-fi movies/TV?

I get asked quite frequently what I thought of the latest blockbuster sci-fi movie. “Do you have your ticket for Prometheus?” or “What did you think about the season finale of [fill in the blank with your favorite sci-fi show]?” This reached its peak after I posted the picture of the TARDIS that parks in our visitor parking area and the countless Doctor Who fans out there learned that I was a science fiction writer who had never seen a single episode of Doctor Who. “How can you be a science fiction writer and never have seen Doctor Who?” they asked. (Eventually, based on a straw poll, I did watch “Blink.” I liked it, too.)

Still, I get the question often enough to where it is worth having a post to which I can point the incredulous masses to explain why I’m not a fan of sci-fi movies and TV shows. There are several reasons:

  1. Written science fiction (which I loathe to call sci-fi) is a different art form than sci-fi on the screen. I grew up mostly with the former, not the latter. It was pure luck, I suppose, but those early influences stuck. Thus, given the choice between spending my time reading a science fiction story or novel and going to see a sci-fi movie, I’ll almost always choose the former.
  2. I don’t see much originality in sci-fi movies. It seems to me that the vast majority of sci-fi movies that are produced are based on works of written science fiction. Many of these works I have read and enjoyed and have images in my head that I don’t want altered by a director’s vision. Then, too, if I’ve read the book, why see the movie? It seems repetitive to me.
  3. My experience tells me that sci-fi movies based on the book generally suck. Obviously, this experience was gained through actually going to see sci-fi movies when I was younger. I had no reason not to go. Generally, however, I was disappointed. I can recall reading Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters in a single sitting, breathless by the end. When I lived in Los Angeles, I was invited to a focus group screening of the movie The Puppet Masters starring Dennis Southerland. It was horrible. That may very well have a been the turning point for me. When Starship Troopers was made into a movie, I never even bothered.
  4. I am a science fiction writer. I am not a director. I don’t have a director’s eye. I’m not sure why being a science fiction writer should mean one is also, ipso facto a fan of sci-fi movies.
  5. As a science fiction writer, I prefer spending my time writing. It is extremely rare when I have 2-3 free hours available period. When I do, I’d much rather spend those hours working on a new story than going to the latest sci-fi movie or watching a science fiction TV show.
  6. Economics. To go to a movie these days (assuming Kelly and I go together) costs about $20 for the movie. Throw in another $20 for popcorn, soda, a hot dog. Then there is another $30-45 for a babysitter. All told, that’s between $70-85 just to go a see a movie! It has to be something that really stirs my interest for me to spend that kind of money. (That’s between 7-8 Kindle books!)

The above items are generalities and there are exceptions to all of them, of course. Indeed, there have been sci-fi movies that I’ve really liked. Even a couple of TV shows. I’ll list some of the movies and shows that have made good impressions on me.

Continue reading FAQ: How can you be a science fiction writer/fan if you don’t like sci-fi movies/TV?

Movies that make me cry

Last weekend during the reception dinner that followed the wedding of some friends, our table got around to talking about weddings and the people who cry at them. There were quite a few (happy) tears at this particular wedding and so it was a natural course for the conversation. Kelly pointed out that she didn’t cry at weddings, and of course, neither do I. But then the conversation shifted from crying at weddings to crying at movies. A few of the people at the table admitted to crying at movies. Kelly pointed out that she rarely cried at movies (although I can remember her crying when she watched Jack the Bear a few years about–such a rare event that even the movie title sticks out in my memory.) She then gleefully said to the table:

“Jamie cries at Lord of the Rings.”

return of the king.jpeg

This seemed to amuse the people at the table, although I pointed out that I only cried at one specific point, toward the very end of The Return of the King when Aragorn says to the hobbits, “My friends, you bow to no one.” (Even now, just typing that my eyes have watered up.)

But there is one type of movie that is almost guaranteed to bring tears to my eyes every time, no matter how many times I’ve seen them: baseball movies.

Continue reading Movies that make me cry

Remaking Ferris Bueller’s Day Off


Let me begin by saying that, so far as I know, there is no remake of the classic mid-80s movie in the works. But think about it: you know it’s going to happen. You know that some young Hollywood producer without much of a sense of creativity is flipping through “old” movies to see what else can be remade. After all, they’re remaking Dirty Dancing. These days movies come in only a couple of flavors: franchise, reboot, remake, and the very occasional original stand-alone. (There are permutations, though, like franchise-reboot. Think Batman and Superman.)

And so this producer in Hollywood has already pitched the idea to someone, someone who was perhaps skeptical at first, but who, upon looking at the landscape, said, you know what, kid, you may be on to something.

I’d mentioned the idea of this cinematic abomination to a friend today and he didn’t think it would work. I agreed, it couldn’t possible work, after all, you are talking about a John Hughes movie. But my friend hit upon a thought so frightening that I almost dare not put it down in print. He said: “You know what they’ll do to make it work? All of the actors will be models. Cameron won’t be some lanky awkward guy, it will be Isaiah Mustafa.” He’s right, of course, that’s how it would go.

It sounds highly improbably and yet, if you think about it, you know that not only has the idea been pitched but young executive has asked for focus groups, demographics. They are wondering if this could be the next breakout comedy.

When this movie is announced–and it will be announced, they will get around to this one eventually–it will be, in my opinion the death of film as I have know it. No doubt the remake of Ferris Bueller won’t take place in Chicago, but it will involve a lot of 3D effects.

You can say I’m wrong all you want, but this blog post will be here when it happens, looming like an immense I Told You So.

Harry Potter, Cars 2, and going to the movies

I don’t get to the movies often these days. In the two years since the Little Man was born, I think I’ve been a grand total of three times, two of which have been in the ten months or so. I could say it’s because it is difficult to get away, but that’s not really true. We can get a babysitter when we need one. The truth is that I haven’t been particularly interested in what appears in theaters–and for those movies I am interested in, I have no problem waiting a few months to see the movie on BluRay. The entire glamour of “going to the movies” has evaporated for me.

Yesterday, Kelly and I managed to see the final Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. The last movie I saw in the theater was Deathly Hallows, Part 1 way back in November. The movie was entertaining enough, and the fact that the theater was a virtual ice box was a blessing in the heat we’ve been having. But the hoops you have to jump through just to see the movie were ridiculous. We arrived fifteen minutes before the scheduled start, took our seats and proceded to watch fifteen minutes of advertising disguised as a “pre-show.” I was interested in none of it. This pre-show advertising itself contained “commercials within the commercial” giving it a very recursive feel. Regal Cinema must be concerned people are going to forget where they are because they must have mentioned Regal in an ad every fifteen seconds.

Continue reading Harry Potter, Cars 2, and going to the movies

I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

i robot cover.jpeg

As I was writing my lastest Wayward Time Traveler piece for SF Signal, I couldn’t help but recall something that happened just before I went to Los Angeles last week. I was packing and went into the TV room to ask Kelly about something or other–and found her watching I, Robot on FX. This movie is the 2004 movie starring Will Smith and involving, as the title indicates, robots. I saw it a year or two after it came out, mostly out of curiosity, and have regretted it ever since. Not just because it was a terrible movie, you understand, but also because there was a masterful screenplay written for I, Robot by Harlan Ellison and–

I can see I’m getting ahead of myself here so let me back up and explain for those people who may not be as close to science fiction as I am.

Continue reading I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot