My Site Is Now Mobile-Ready

So, I have been lax about making my site responsive to various screen sizes, but yesterday, I decided to fix that. We’ll see if it works out.

The iPhone is better. Well, I have been a bad web designer, in that, I have not made my site very nice for phones or tablets. I spent some time yesterday trying to remedy this issue, and I think I did. It’s nice to go to a site that is very readable with a phone.

It’s tricky business, though, what with all of the various phone and tablet sizes. I mean, I use an LG Optimus G (because Android phones are better), and its screen size is only a few pixels smaller than a jumbotron (JUMBOTRON VS. MEGABUS! KIDS SEATS ARE JUST TEN BUCKS!). It’s tough to make the size optimal for all of the various screen sizes, though I think I’ve done it with a fluid enough approach that it’ll work.

You’re really scratching the bottom of the barrel this time. So, I have an assignment for my loyal reader(s). I’ve done testing on the devices I have, but I was wondering if you all would test my site on your electronics (phone and tablet and jumbotron) and let me know if it is working well. There will be different functionality with each size. For example, on the smallest screen size, the top menu will disappear, and it’ll just be the blog.

You’re asking for favors now? Anyway, I know this is a bit of an imposition, but I want to make my site a good experience for my readers, so any feedback you could give in the comments would be welcome. Thanks.

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The Conversation Review

I love reviewing older movies, and along those lines, I take a look at the classic Francis Ford Coppola film, The Conversation.

It’s always old with you. Well, yes, I am a bit of a sucker for classic film, though there are still a few movies made today that know how to get to me. Anyway, so I was sitting around the other night with nothing to do, waiting out the impending snow storm (Snowpocalypse II: This Time It’s Personal!), so I decided to throw a movie on the projector. I ran across an old Coppola film he made in the time between The Godfather and The Godfather part II called The Conversation.

The movie stars Gene Hackman (one of my all-time favorite actors) and also features a young Harrison Ford, Robert Duvall, John Cazale (Fredo), Teri Garr, and more. On rotten tomatoes, the movie received a 98% on their tomatometer, which, as far as numbers go, seems pretty good. Suffice to say, I was intrigued.

Your approval means nothing to me. Well, that’s just it. I’m not sure I would say I approve. The movie is set in the 70′s, and, unlike the Godfather movies that Coppola does such a nice job of making feel like they could have been made yesterday, this movie feels extremely dated. It is all about the dangers of technology, and yet, by today’s standards, the technology is quite laughable. Maybe that was part of the problem, but I don’t think so.

I don’t often mind when things like dated technology come into a movie, because what matters most is the human conflict. I think Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul is a fantastic character (as almost all Hackman characters are {minus his Lex Luthor}), but the movie is terribly paced. And maybe that goes part and parcel with a movie about bugging people’s conversations. It’s hard to make long scenes that involve nothing but play, listen, rewind, play, listen, and rewind stay compelling.

So, you didn’t like it. I get it. I guess I’d say that. I mean, it’s certainly not the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a very interesting concept for a movie, and of course, the acting is superb, but though this movie is only 113 minutes, it feels like it drags. It’s definitely not one of Coppola’s best works. I do like the chances he takes with this film, but at the end of the day, I think they fail.

Still, if you’re stuck inside, wondering if the snow will entomb you and your days on this world may be few, it may be worth checking out. It’s possible I’m impatient and my attention span has become limited to a YouTube clip. I dunno. Anyway, below is the trailer. Make up your mind for yourself.

Aren’t you forgetting something? Ah, yes. A while ago, I’d come up with a rating system for movie reviews (that I have not been using). It goes as follows:

  • “Theatre One”: This is a great movie. You should watch this movie any chance you get in theater. This is the kind of flick to see on opening night and then come back the following day.
  • “Dollar Theatre”: This is a good movie. It’s fun, and you should go out of your way to see it.
  • “Laptop-Worthy”: Laptop-Worthy movies are just that. You’re bored, and you need something to kill time? Try these.
  • “DMV Phone”: If you’re absolutely desperate, and you can watch movies on your 4″ phone, these movies can be appropriate.
  • “NEVER EVER EVER”: There is never a time that is appropriate to watch these movies.

I will try to remember to use this system from now on. On that note, I would say that The Conversation is Laptop-Worthy.

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Inside Llewyn Davis Review

What do you know about music … or movies? So, last week, I had the chance to see the new Coen bros. movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. As most Coen bros. movies are, it was breathtaking. I’m constantly impressed by their ability to take on new forms (Western, Comedy, Action, etc. Maybe they’ll do Sci-fi next? {Why couldn’t they be directing the Star Trek or Star Wars reboots?!}) and create brilliant works of art.

I am a Coen bros. fanboy, it’s true. They’re one of the few reasons I still feel that same sort of giddy excitement I used to when I was a teenager going to the movie theater. I was first exposed to them by the movie Fargo, and it has been on my top ten greatest movies list ever since. And while Fargo and No Country For Old Men are in a league of their own, I would say that Inside Llewyn Davis is just a notch below.

Oh yeah? … How much? What makes the Coen bros. great, to me, is their absolute commitment and fidelity to whatever genre or form they choose. As in, they find what is amazing about a particular genre, and they play that card as well as anyone. They’re not trying to reinvent anything. They’re like a restaurant that makes a stupendous cheeseburger. It seems simple, but they focus on the quality of the bun, of the meat, of the cheese. They don’t stuff it with capers or drizzle gold leaves on the meat. They just do it right.

And with this movie, they brought in lots of musical talent to get the feel right. Marcus Mumford was brought in as an Associate Producer, along with many other names. Heck, even Justin Timberlake (who I have found nothing but disdain for {sorry, ladies}) shined in this film, both in his acting and his music. Oscar Isaac, the film’s lead, who I had never before seen in a film to my knowledge, was outstanding.

OK, OK, so you like musicals. No surprise there. Well, that’s just it. It’s not about the music. It’s a powerful character study about an extremely real, human, flawed, and identifiable character. All of the characters in this movie are complicated and compelling, and the writing is top notch. Yes, absolutely, the soundtrack is fantastic (I just bought it yesterday), but you’re not going to see your run-of-the-mill music movie. This is about the man, and it’s powerful stuff. Check out this trailer:

Pretty good, eh? It’s a super limited release, so it’ll be hard to find in theater, but if you can, if it’s less than three hours away, make a road trip and watch this film. You will not be disappointed.

2 Comments Posted in Movie Reviews Tagged , , ,

Where are America’s Leading Men?

I don’t go to the movies much anymore, and frankly, I just plain don’t watch too many new movies. I have some directors I watch regularly, but I think one of the big issues in movies today is that there are no good leading men.

What do you know about leading men? So, I’ve been thinking about this lately: Who are America’s leading men? I mean, when I think of leading men in movies (and by leading men, I mean actors that can carry a movie and are identifiable in their acting style by showing some humanity and humor, etc.), I think of the guy to the left, Humphrey Bogart. Bogey could carry a movie. And we have a long history in this country of great leading men in film: Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, Harrison Ford (what happened to you Harrison?), De Niro, Pacino, Hanks, Jimmy Stewart, etc. But who are today’s leading men?

Yes, there are some actors from across a pond or two who can carry a movie. I’m thinking of Christian Bale, Huge Ackman, Michael Fassbender, etc. But when I think of younger American actors, it’s disappointing. The names that come up are Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Gosling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (though I loved him on 3rd Rock From The Sun), and Leonardo DiCaprio. I don’t think of any of those guys as solid leading men. Yes, they have decent performances here and there, but I don’t think they have the prowess of some of the older actors I’ve mentioned in terms of carrying a movie.

Everything used to be better, eh? Well, I think the most egregious on the list is DiCaprio. A lot of people rave about his work, but I don’t see it. The guy is humorless, and he lacks the humanity of some of these other actors. Yes, he can act, but that doesn’t make him a good leading man. Sad thing is, I think he’s probably one of the best we’ve got. But I’ve heard him mentioned as similar to De Niro (I imagine that comparison is made simply because of the Scorsese association), but I think that comparison is ludicrous. Imagine DiCaprio as Vito Corleone, or in Raging Bull, or in Taxi Driver, etc. I can’t.

Sad thing is, I think DiCaprio’s best work was Catch Me If You Can, which was a movie in which he shared the lead with a competent actor, Tom Hanks. But this is the reality of the situation: when people name Marky Mark as one of America’s best younger actors (his brother Donnie is a better actor), it is truly a sad day.

All you do is complain, bro. I mean, there’s nothing to be done with this. I feel like this is probably one of the reasons that movies are struggling in the US, and I feel like many people accept these actors as decent because they haven’t allowed themselves to experience these other classic actors. In essence, I wonder if today’s movie watchers simply don’t know better. I don’t know, but I hope that’s true. I know the black-and-white screen can be intimidating, and some people get immediately turned off by it, but classic films are worth giving a chance.

Wrap it up, Scorsese! OK, OK. People like what they like. Maybe I am just picky. Maybe I am in love with old things … this may be true, but it’s also possible that we’re buying into inferior products. This is my assertion.

So, who is your favorite “young” American leading man? I put young in quotes, because I’m willing to accept anyone under forty-five.

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Thank Cyclists and Walkers

For a while, I’ve been cycling or walking to where I need to go whenever I’ve had the chance. With this has come some abuse from drivers. This is why drivers need to lay off the horn and thank people that choose not to drive.

What a hipster you’ve become. Back in 2008, I used to work for a software development company called Atomic Object. I loved working for that company, and I still enjoy it when I am thrown a contract web design job now and then. They’re a fun, productive company that values their workers, but I think the thing I take most from that job is their lack of reliance on cars.

Grand Rapids, at least to me, is not what I would think when I think cycle-friendly cities, but at Atomic Object (from this point referred to as “AO”), almost every employee bikes or walks or runs to work. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s built into the culture there. So much so, that the company volunteered to buy me a bike helmet. So, I got an old road bike and starting riding every day to work. It was great. I got in better shape. I saved money on gas and registration and insurance (I parked my car for about a year), and it was a lot of fun.

Well, la dee da. Since then, when I’ve had the chance, I try to walk or cycle when I can. But the thing is, car drivers aren’t often too happy about it. I’ve had numerous people honk their horns at me, shout obscenities at me, and on a few occasions, run me off the road. Many car drivers seem uninterested in the signs that declare “Share the Road,” and feel that cyclists are simply nuisances that slow them down for a few seconds.

Now, I will admit that many cyclists are rather annoying. They don’t follow the rules of the road. They run red lights. They take up too much of the lane, but many many cyclists are good citizens … and if I judged car drivers by how many of them broke rules or were inconsiderate, well … it wouldn’t be pretty.

So, what are we thanking you for again? So, cyclists are good for the economy … or more accurately, they cut costs. Think about it. By cycling instead of driving, I (and millions of other cyclists) cut down our purchasing of gasoline, which decreases demand, which should (though sometimes this is hard to see) cut down the cost of gasoline. Not only that, cyclists and walkers are exercising more, which is improving their health, and in this world where our medical costs are all tied to each other, this is beneficial to the population as a whole. There is the environmental aspect, and, no matter how you feel about environmentalist, you must admit that the world is a little better place to live with less exhaust to breath in. And then there are more practical benefits, like that each cyclist or walker you see, that’s one less person who will take a parking spot. Especially in urban environments, this is huge benefit.

Is this where you “teach” us a lesson, oh wise one? I’m just saying, I know cyclists and walkers can be minor inconveniences, and when you’re in a rush to get to work because you woke up ten minutes late or just have general road rage, it’s hard to be patient, but just remember, what they’re doing is beneficial to you too. So, stop with the honking, the shouting out windows, the driving people off the road, and the complaining, and be thankful for cyclists and walkers … and cyclists, please follow the rules of the road.

There. My sermon is finished.

About time.

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Ender’s Game Review

In this blog, I take on a very important topic to some: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I have some very strong opinions on the book and the movie.

Tread lightly, sir. So, last summer, at the behest of one of my nerdy friends, I finally got around to reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I’d been bugged to do it since I was a teenager by the nerdy wing of my friend group (basically all of my friends when I put it that way), but just hadn’t wanted to do it. Still, wanting to be able to talk about the movie intelligently, I finally picked up the book and gave it a read.

Now, a note on Science Fiction and Fantasy in general. I do not often read these genres. I love Bradbury and Asimov and Philip K. Dick and Lewis and Tolkien, but that’s about where my interests end. Generally, I’ve found that I do not appreciate the sort of hard Sci-fi and Fantasy that often lacks real and interesting characters. (Plus, with Fantasy, I feel like it’s such a narrow genre, it ends up often feeling like a constant attempt to replicate Tolkien. You can read more on my feelings on the Fantasy genre here.)

You’re going to alienate your only reader, you know that, right? So, I would say, with that qualifier, that I did not particularly enjoy either version of Ender’s Game. And yeah, it boils down to character. The thing about Ender that bothers me the most is that the kid is flawless. He’s super capable at a super early age, never loses in any competition or fight, and every time he displays some violent behavior, he’s wholly justified because it was out of self-defense.

I know Sci-fi does not depend heavily on characters, and as one of my dear friends put it, “It’s about the big picture.” In this case, I suppose we’re talking about themes. And yes, Ender’s Game does make some interesting comments on the morality of war, even just war theory, but for me, that’s not enough. If Card wants to lay down a philosophy on war and how society justifies it, he’d have been better off writing an essay, rather than creating thin type characters to preach his message for him. I mean, we destroy Ayn Rand for this all of the time (rightfully so), but at least she had a fully fleshed-out belief system that no reader could miss (because she beats us over the head with it … again and again and again and again … ).

Well, it’s just you and me again. I feel like this story, while exciting, does little to let us identify with the main character, except perhaps through wish fulfillment. Think about it. Here’s a smart little kid who beats the daylights out of any bullies that cross his path. He’s not an amazing physical specimen. He’s not an athlete. But he kicks so much ass. What nerdy little kid couldn’t want to be that? And I feel like that’s the secret of the success of this book. And that aspect isn’t a knock. It works. We see this sort of wish fulfillment in lots of genres. For example, the Romance genre is full of wooden characters that are impossible to identify with as read people, and yet it’s super popular. This is real fantasy (and yes, I’m talking to you, oh whittler of mannequins and self-proclaimed Hemingway of your day, Nicholas Sparks {WARNING: do not read that interview unless you feel like both laughing out loud and getting angry.}).

You’re a wooden character. Fair enough. So, I think this book does something special for a readership that wants to escape their life and embody one much more unrealistic and exciting. I don’t think it’s a particularly good book, despite its heavy themes. This is just my take.

The book was better than the movie, right? Well, so, I watched the movie adaptation the other day at a very sketchy $2.50 theater. In this case, I kind of enjoyed the movie better. Though the movie was essentially set up like one long video game, it was nice to have victory after victory after victory by Ender trimmed down. And I feel like the movie makers did a decent job of trying to humanize the boy more, though not by much. I’m not saying I loved the movie. In fact, I think I enjoyed my bag of popcorn and cup of Mr. Pibb about as much (though I do love Mr. Pibb … I like it even beter than Dr. Pepper).

You apologize. Sorry nerd fans. Maybe I don’t get the story. Maybe I don’t get the genre. I try to be open-minded about Fantasy and Sci-fi, but generally I am disappointed by my excursions into those genres. What am I missing? Am I approaching them wrong? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

4 Comments Posted in Movie Reviews, Reading Journal Tagged , , ,

My First Video Blog

I’ve been thinking about doing some sort of video blog to liven up the site, so here is my experiment with iVideo.

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A Thought (or two) on Barbecue

And you people said I couldn’t write poetry. Did you see that clever rhyming title up there? Pretty poetic, eh?

Poetry doesn’t rhyme anymore, stupid. As some of you know (and some of you don’t know, but I’m about to reveal), I’m kinda crazy about BBQ. I love the stuff. But first let me lay out to you what I think BBQ is: Pig. BBQ should be pig. BBQ does not “Moo!” or “Cluck!” or “Nay!” (though BBQ’d horse sounds interesting, what with my longstanding disdain for horses and horsekind {meat and weapons-testing, I say!}).

That’s speciesist! Maybe so, but for me, the ultimate test for BBQ is a pulled pork sandwich. And no, not the sauce. I feel like good BBQ should not need sauce (though there is a place for it … just it shouldn’t need it), and it should be tender and spicy, with a hint of sweetness and varied textures on its own.

OK, we get it. You like BBQ. Way to go. Well, here’s the thing. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling of late, and I have to say that I’ve not been blown away at all by the BBQ in the South. I’ve been to cities in Georgia, as well as Nashville, Memphis, and others, and the BBQ places that people seem to rave about are, I dunno, decent at best. They always seem to be at these fast-food sort of joints that serve decent BBQ (not amazing, but good) on cheap white buns on paper plates.

I figured the South would be chock-full of amazing BBQ, but I don’t feel like it is (unless I’m missing something). I mean, some of the best BBQ I’ve had is from Detroit at Slow’s BBQ (though they are guilty of calling “Moo” and “Cluck” BBQ). My brother Seth also made some of the best BBQ I’ve had in his smoker the last time I visited him (It makes me want to buy a smoker… or try making the Alton Brown homemade smoker).

Keep talking, Yankee! I guess I’m saying that I’ve been disappointed by the BBQ I’ve been exposed to in my visits to the South. Sure, I don’t know it very well. I don’t know these cities. I don’t know the little hole-in-the-wall places. But I had this dream in my head that BBQ joints in the South were like breweries in Michigan. Maybe they are, and I’m missing ‘em. But thus far in my travels, I’m not finding amazing BBQ.

If I’m wrong, correct me. Tell me where to go. I’m desperate to find it.

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The Weight

Here is a new poem I’ve written. It’s a little weird (since I don’t really write poetry), but it’s been fun to try. Anyway, here you go.

I feel a weight between my legs
pulling at my back and thighs like sumo squats.
It’s heavy with the weight of my father,
and his father, and his father, and his father,
and every father.

I feel it as you wait for me to lean in.
I feel it as I try to sweep away the near-invisible
strings from your body with my scissor-fingers.
I feel it as sex billows from your body
like dry ice, your face frozen in place.

With every crinkled lip, eyebrow raise,
shooed hand, thirstless look, whisper,
shift, silence, smirk,
The weight grows, my back and head bows,
and even my eyes
are pulled low to your feet.

What lovely shoes you have.

I wrap my arms around your feet
and kiss the scuffed brown leather
and gently loosen the yellow-striped strings
and lick the slack tongue.

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Vonnegut Month

I have decided that December is Kurt Vonnegut month for me. After getting burned out on forced readings and pretention, it’s nice to have a vacation in the beauty that is Vonnegut.


Nice Mustache, buddy. Thanks. Yes, I am growing a mustache. I’m also letting my hair grow out to be the best Vonnegut dopplegänger I can be. You see, I’m trying my best to be Vonnegut for this month. I’m reading a lot of his stuff, and it’s fun to sort of envelop and embody the man.

The reason I’m doing this is that I’m afraid that I’ve been sort of castrated (in a literary sense {not literally}) by a sort of writerly sensibility. I think that’s one of the downsides of working with writers is that we begin to trim the little oddities we all have in our natural voice, and pretty soon, we’ve shaved each other down to that very respectable, very stale college creative writer. In an attempt to avoid cliches, we become the greatest cliche of all, the MFA writer. (Oddly, there’s a decent Spongebob Squarepants episode that I think speaks to this sort of removing of rough edges called, “Not Normal.” Here’s a clip.)

You look nothing like Vonnegut. I know. But the reason I chose Vonnegut is that I feel like he’s an astounding mix of approachable, dark, hilarious, and irreverent. Those are all things I would like to be. I want to have no respect for the self-labeled “intelligentsia” (I had a professor in my undergrad anoint herself and other professors that way), and I want to let personalty traits come out in my writing again, particularly humor.

I mean, that’s probably been the biggest wake-up call for me of late. I’ve basically scrubbed myself right out of my fiction. It’s “acceptable,” it’s “writerly,” sure, but, as my good friend Dustin would say, it’s boring. And it is. I see it. It’s boring and I haven’t loved my work of late because it has become a form of pleasing a certain type of know-it-all reader instead of pleasing readers I actually care about (real people), but more importantly, myself.

Oh, what a surprise, you’re rebelling against authority. Yawn. Well, that’s just it, though. It’s not an authority figure, like a politician or a professor or anything. The thing I’m working against at the moment is a system I’ve bought into and participated in. I’ve trimmed people. I’ve stymied them. I’ve said, “Hey, why don’t you hide behind your words some more, eh?” It’s such a destructive mindset, and I don’t think it creates better writers. Or, maybe it can create better writers, but it does not create exceptional writers, in my opinion. It creates work that is technically good. It’s the sort of stuff that we say, “Well, it’s good, I guess. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

This is not one of your better sermons. Point is, I’m done with that. Scrubbing myself and my personality and what I find exciting and entertaining out of my work is maybe the cardinal sin of writing. Asking if work is “boring” or not, though the question seems simple, is actually a rather compelling way to think about writing, because at the end of the day, what are we doing but entertaining (or not)?

So, I’m curious, from my faithful readers, who would you embody to reclaim the reasons you went into your art?

1 Comment Posted in Writerly Thoughts Tagged