Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites

With great power comes great responsibility.

I have accepted the fact that I am a “movie guy”.  Sure, everyone loves movies.  Just like everyone loves music, and food, and oxygen.  But some people are so intuitive (extremely picky) when it comes to movies, that casual movie watchers learn to go to these “movie guys” to ask about how good a certain movie is that just came out.

I have literally heard this sentence more times than I can remember in recent years: “Hey, you’re a big movie guy.  What did you think of (names a movie)?”

Of course I am always happy to help out a friend or family member in choosing how to spend 90 minutes of their time.  But part of being a Movie Guy is knowing which movies not to watch in the first place. 

Basic “Do Not Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated G or PG but is not a cartoon.

2)     The word “heartwarming” has been used to describe this movie.  Or the word “movie” is part of the title of the movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, any Country Music star, Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, or Larry the Cable Guy.

4)     In the trailer for the movie, the last scene shows a muscular man with an angry and serious look on his face, walking away from a building or car that blows up, while the man just keeps walking towards the camera, unaffected and unconcerned.

5)     Simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution.

However, there is the other side of the token:

Basic “Do Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated “PG-13” or “R”.

2)     The words “clever”, “groundbreaking”, and “genre defying”, have been used to describe this movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or any Jewish comedian (besides Gilbert Gottfried or Pauly Shore).

4)     In the trailer of the movie, the words “Rolling Stone”, “4 stars”, “brilliant”,  and “Peter Traverse” are all flashed on the screen.

5)     After watching the trailer for the movie which includes a song clip by Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, or Pete Yorn, you don’t fully understand what the movie is about, but are still intrigued.

Of course, no basic formula can absolutely predict whether a movie will be good, or even more importantly, whether or not I will like the movie.  Because who cares what Siskel and Roper say.  The question is, how worth my time was the movie?  Time I’ll never get back.

I know I was supposed to like it, but The Blind Side just really didn’t do it for me.  The previews showed everything that happened in the movie.  It didn’t make me feel all warm inside.  The movie was predictable, familiar, and too long.  The kid annoyed me.  And both the acting (except for Sandra Bullock) and the writing came across to me like a straight-to-DVD Christian movie.  Sorry, rest of the world, The Blind Side wasn’t for me.

It would be an overwhelming, intimidating, and daunting task to officially conjure up which movies are truly my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  And most likely, only a few of them would match most other peoples’ favorites.  But just off the top of my head, just because I’m curious,  I’m surprisingly going to give it a shot…

#1) I Love You, Man

#2) Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

#3) Garden State

#4) Sideways

#5) Vanilla Sky

#6) Fight Club

#7) 500 Days of Summer

#8) Forrest Gump

#9) Castaway

#10) Rocky 3

Yes, it’s true.  In the likeness of how a connoisseur often is with wine, I am a movie snob.  For what it’s worth, I can help others by giving them my self-proclaimed professional opinion about any movie I’ve seen.  But what if I’ve never seen the movie before?

Then, chances are, it’s probably not worth my time to watch it.  Or it hasn’t arrived yet from Netflix.

Advertisements

The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground: My First 20,000 Hits on WordPress

Thanks for 20,000 hits.

It seems like only six weeks ago that I was thanking my readers for this site getting its 10,000th hit in Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the GroundWait, wait a minute… It was.

That was on April 11th.    How did that happen?  Why did it take seven months to get the first 10,000 hits (September 2009 to April 2010) but only five and a half weeks to get 10,000 more (April 2010 to May 2010)?

Here is a reflection/tutorial for anyone wanting to know more about how to obtain and build a readership and following by using a WordPress website, based on what it took for me to get my first 20,000 hits.

Just like the first million dollars are the most difficult for a multimillionaire to make, so is the case with getting any new form of art off the ground and flying.  It’s the snowball effect.  I have now posted over 250 of my writings on this site alone.

Each month that passes, that’s another 20 to 40 new posts to add to the library to be recycled.  On any given day during any given hour, there are more people reading my older stuff than my new stuff.  Then the new stuff becomes the old stuff and is read by newcomers.

Something almost magical happened back in February.  Suddenly, people started subscribing (getting all my new posts through e-mail); on top of that, the number of hits that month quadrupled from the month before and have been steadily increasing since then.  So really, after that fifth month of this site’s active existence, things exploded.

On December 30, 2009, I went to www.godaddy.com and paid 10 bucks for the domain name www.scenicroutesnapshots.com.  Yes, it’s too long of a name.  And when I tell people audibly, they often don’t understand what I’m saying.  But it’s a name I believe in because it best represents what I write about (Dr. Deja Vu: The Scenic Route).  And really, once a person goes to the site once, they can easily go back to it again.  Besides, people don’t end up on my site because I told someone about my site, they go to my site because of Google searches, facebook links, and cough-cough-Twitter-cough cough.

Another huge part of it is this- I accidently found a niche.  I half-heartedly decided to start doing a recap of The Bachelor when the Jake Pavelka season premiered in January, not realizing that people actually cared about it.  But they do.  Very much so!  Much of the quadruple increase from January to February has to do with my Bachelor recaps.

So aside from the snowball effect, and aside from finding an unlikely niche, what else has helped readership growth?  I want to know, not just for myself, but also to help other fellow writer friends.

I believe in something I call “learned talent.”  Which may be a phrase I just made up.  Basically, I learn from other people’s talent mixed with my own trial and error.  It’s the writer’s initiative to become better through regular practice and a willingness to cater to readers while still staying true to self.  And that concept is something that is often given as advice from the judges on American Idol to the contestants as they make it past the Top 10. Be you, but also stick with what you know works and what other people will like.

Particularly in writing, “learned talent” has a lot to do with the writer’s “voice”.  The tone, the choice of words, the subject matter, the level of professional distance.  I am not as talented as any legendary writer I could name in this sentence.  But just like an actor can change their accent or demeanor for a role, so can a writer “tweak” their own writer’s voice.

Because I believe, like a Rubik’s Cube, (The Truth and Irony about Solving a Rubik’s Cube) it’s all about figuring out the formula and acting on it, I am under the educated impression that what I lack in talent, I can make up for in simply learning how to write in a voice that leads with confidence and optimism and what I call “business-casual professionalism”.

A lot of this comes down to Rule #7 of my Writing Code:

“Write about weird stuff but make it seem normal. Or write about normal stuff and make it seem weird.”

My current literary role model is Michael Chabon, whom through his series in Details magazine, I learned better how to get in touch with my nostalgic side and hopefully make it seem interesting; not too technical or too abstract.  A happy medium that invites the reader to connect to the same train of thought.  In one of his newer books that I recently began reading, called Maps and Legends, he reiterates my #7 Rule:

“Let’s cultivate an unflagging reading as storytellers to retell the same stories with endless embellishment… The key, as in baroque music, is repetition with variation.”

Retell the same stories with endless embellishment:  Be original yet never really break new ground.  The familiar with the fresh.

Repetition with variation:  Take a subconsciously familiar thought and then put a new spin of originality on it.  So that readers feel a sense of comfort (the old familiar thought) along with newness (the author’s personality and his or her unique perspective).

And really, isn’t that really what’s for sale here anyway?  The writer’s personality?

Facts are only so important.  So is a plot.  But ultimately a story or an article is only as entertaining as the person telling it.  And a lot of the reasons we think a writer is “good” is because we relate to them, in some uncertain invisible ways.

Whether that writer reminds us of our own self and the way we naturally think, or they remind us of one of our friends, or ultimately our alter-ego, Tyler Durden (the man who the nameless protagonist of Fight Club imagines himself to be friends with), there is some reason we feel connected.

Of course, just like doctors and lawyers refer to their work as their practice, I too recognize that this site is and always will be a work in progress.  This is me paying my dues.  Learning as I go.  With an end in sight.  Or maybe I should say a new beginning in sight…

Below are the reader stats for this site.  This shows hits per month.  September 2009 is when I exclusively began writing for this site.

Months and Years

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2009 5 21 2 76 550 552 465 532 2,203
2010 628 2,508 3,357 6,072

Manspeak, Volume 12: Transparency

In college I read a book called The Birth Order Connection. If I felt like exaggerating the truth, I could say it “changed my life”. Thanks to the direction of the book, I became better able to understand others based on what order in the family they were born.

Typically, the first born children (or the “only child” of the family) are the most straight-laced, the most concerned with not getting into trouble, and the bossiest (almost every US President has been a “first born”). Middle born children are the most easy-going, the least resistant, the peace makers, and when they become adults are the least likely to get divorced. And usually the last born children are the most free-spirited, the most fun, and the most mischievous.

http://yourtotalhealth.ivillage.com/birth-order-your-personality-8-facts-that-might-surprise-you.html

As I began sharing what I learned from The Birth Order Connection with my friends at college and even back home, I realized something: Most people were amazed because of how much my prediction accurately described their own personality, but some, I offended. A few didn’t like being told who they were based on a researched psychological analysis. Interestingly, these two or three that didn’t like what I was telling them were females.

It would be a few years later before I understood why no males were annoyed by the impressively accurate personality predictions outlined in the book.

Here’s what it all comes down to: As a guy, I know for a fact that I absolutely, definitely, completely want to be understood by people. I want to be “see-through”. I am not a mystery to be unraveled or a phantom to be discovered. I am simply a man- there’s not much to figure out about me and I want to keep it that way. Arguably, much of the motivation I have in writing this never-ending series is simply that: to be better understood despite my gender which is infamous for not talking about feelings, and also to help those who have trouble understanding men.

In fact, when I am in a situation where I feel others don’t understand me or can’t relate to me, I get really frustrated. This can lead to a feeling of loneliness and eventually anger, and possibly depression. This is perfectly demonstrated in the first 15 minutes of the movie Where the Wild Things Are, which is not a kid’s movie, but instead an accurate look at a boy who is crossing into the lonely, scary, strange world of adulthood.

On the contraire, the same is not necessarily true for women. I learned this after reading the book Wild at Heart, which explains that women want to be pursued. They want to be a mystery. They want a man who will take the time to discover them day after day. That’s the opposite of how I’m wired to think and act.

So how did I offend those females back a few years ago when I accurately explained their personalities based on their birth order? Because I was attempting to “figure them out”. That’s completely different than rediscovering a woman. The idea of figuring out a woman is insulting because it insinuates that a woman is that simple. And obviously that is not the case.

But I was simply approaching the situation from the way I see things as a guy. I feel complimented if someone takes the initiative to figure out me out. While I do mature as I age, I don’t change often. I’m set in my ways. I can be figured out. It’s not an insult, it’s an honor.

Men are transparent. They like a formula that works and will faithfully apply that formula everyday as long as it continues to work. Males become frustrated when the pattern is broken. Predictability is good.

This poses a problem for men because most women don’t want to be “figured out”, but do want to be pursued and discovered. For a guy, that in itself is a confusing statement and request. It’s more romantic if he proves himself each new day, willing to learn and do what it takes to please his mysterious woman, yet he must remember that that the job is never complete because a woman can not be figured out.

So how does a man who needs to follow a simple formula properly treat a woman who thrives on not being solved like a puzzle? He remembers a simple formula: Don’t treat a woman like she’s a puzzle to be solved.

All this irony is making my brain hurt.

transparency

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

Manspeak, Volume 7: Bromance

It’s not simply a fad. It’s much more complex than that. It’s not simply a gimmick to make more money in the theatres. It’s a clue that we as Americans have missing been out on something. The newfound popularity and acceptance of bromance is simply a realization that men were meant love each other, not just women.

America is good at teaching men masculinity: Rocky, Rambo, The Terminator, He-Man, GI Joe. It’s been ingrained in us our whole lives. We don’t have a problem accepting the fact that men are meant to be tough. Men are born to protect and defend. I think we do that pretty well. But while the bald eagle holds 13 arrows in one claw, he also holds 13 olive branches in the other.

Living overseas in Asia taught me a lot about American men. Though I was told that there were a lot of transvestites in Thailand, it wasn’t until my second summer over there that I was able to recognize them. I then came to the conclusion that the reason there are so many men living their lives as women there is because it is not culturally acceptable to be gay in Thailand, at all.

So when it’s not acceptable in a country at all to be gay (as compared to America where it’s not popular but there’s a growing level of acceptance), to take out the possibly of any men around being gay, it affects the cultural behavior of a nation. Men can be close without any possible thought of the other thinking he is sexually attracted to him. And even more relevant, there is not so much a possibly of awkwardness because of that. In the Philippine’s, it is common for men show their friendship publicly by holding hands.

But before there was Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker, before there was Owen Wilson & Ben Stiller, before there was Joey & Chandler, there was a time when men truly weren’t afraid to hug and be close. It simply symbolized their friendship but was nothing more.

My eyes were opened when I read Moby Dick in college. The 1851 novel was written in the American-Romanticism period, and while the theme of Christianity is more obvious than Season 5 of LOST, something else that really captured my attention and even became the topic of my final paper for that class was the bromantic relationship between the protagonist Ishmael (a 5’ 9” New England native) and his ship mate Queequeg (a 6’ 7” South Seas tribesman of mixed race).

The two men quickly become best friends and the narrator, Ishmael, is not reluctant to elaborate regarding his friendship. They simply slept in the same quarters and were close friends, but reading it with today’s mindset can make it easily be interpreted differently:

“How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.”  -Herman Melville (Moby Dick)

Something else that really opened by eyes to bromance was when I started paying close attention to Jesus and His disciples in the New Testament. They were not hesitant to show physical affection for each other. At the Last Supper, look at Peter’s physical closeness to Jesus during dinner.

“Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, Peter said to Him, “Lord, who is it?”  -John 13:25

Imagine 12 dudes eating dinner in today’s society and one leans back on the other’s chest to ask him a question. Completely not acceptable.

Even this week I ran across something odd in the Old Testament as I was finishing up Genesis. This is where Jacob is blessing his sons before he dies:

“He called his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Now if I have found favor in your sight, please put your hand under my thigh, and deal kindly and truly with me. Please do not bury me in Egypt.”  -Genesis 47:29

In their culture, a son could make a vow to his father by placing his hand under his father’s thigh, or as my Bible’s study notes explain, it was a gentler way of saying his “procreative organ”. Think of how not acceptable that is today.

We’ve obviously come a long way since Biblical times regarding same-sex friendship and closeness. But even the culture that was present 158 years ago in Moby Dick paints a completely different picture compared to what is acceptable in American same-sex friendship today. The title of Moby Dick itself serves a perfect example of how far we’ve come. Add to that the fact that the story involves the close friendship of shipmates. That’s a lot of joke material for a 15 year-old boy to work with.

In fact, in recent decades there have been critics of Moby Dick claim that the book has homosexual undertones. Key phrase: “in recent decades”. For its time, the behavior found in the novel was not seen at all as a curious thing. It was normal back then.

I say it’s no wonder that today’s culture loves bromance. Men were made for close friendship with other men but are taught to hide their feelings because it’s not masculine to show them. When I think about it, several of my top favorite movies of all time have a heavy dose of bromance: Rocky 3, Plains Trains and Automobiles, Zoolander, Pineapple Express, Band of Brothers. And Hollywood knows it’s a winning formula.

The truth is, compare the box office sales of pretty much any Judd Apatow and/or Seth Rogan movie (bromantic comedies) to any romantic comedy made since 2005. Bromance wins every time. Romance, on the other hand, can be an unpredictable thing.

The best 3 minutes of recorded bromance, courtesy of 1982:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0qVUn4797g

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

bert-and-ernie

Originally posted in April 2009 on facebook as “The History of Bromance”, which helped inspire the Manspeak series.