July 26, 2015

Movie Review: Irrational Man **

No, that image at left is not from Irrational Man, it's how I felt while watching it.
Oh my god. THE most boring movie.
It's an unconvincing story of a depressed college professor who finds his zest for life in planning the perfect murder. Joaquin Phoenix's character is the anchor of the story, but he isn't invested in his character or his lines; he seems barely able to remember them. Emma Stone and Parker Posey are the reasons I didn't walk out - they make the film come alive when they're on screen. But that's not nearly enough.
Two out of five stars for Irrational Man. And that's generous.

July 22, 2015

As You Get Older...

Older singles lose millions in online dating scams

screams the headline on CBS This Morning.

The story is about a 76-yr-old lady who is looking for love. She meets a guy online (on the very first day she goes on the site!) who "said sweet things and was very charming." She never meets him in person but they communicate by email and phone for four months. Then, all of a sudden he's stuck somewhere in Africa and becomes very ill and has to have a kidney transplant   that's costing $4000/month  and the next thing you know the sweet little old lady is out $300K.
Yes, I said THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS.
The lady is trying to get her money back from Match.com (good luck with that). She thinks they're responsible.
I might have some sympathy for her if she'd sent him $1,000 or $2,000, or even $10,000 before she realized it was a scam. But $300,000?
Barbara Hannah Grufferman
The news report's expert is Barbara Hannah Grufferman, who they say is "with" AARP. I can't find any indication that she does anything other than write for AARP. She's a journalist and wrote a book called The Best of Everything Over 50, but as far as I can tell she is not an expert on aging. On this report she makes this ridiculous and insulting statement:
"As we get older our ability to decipher deceit declines."
I'm not an expert on aging either (unless you count my firsthand experience) but my bullshit meter is working just fine. And, taking Alzheimer's or any other type of dementia out of the equation (because that's a whole other issue), my 'expert' opinion is: If you are this gullible when you're old, you were this gullible when you were young. Age has nothing to do with this kind of stupidity.

July 20, 2015

Movie Review: Trainwreck ***1/2

If I were rating Amy Schumer she'd get five stars; she's so charming and funny and her face tells stories even when not saying a word. She's a surprisingly terrific actor and a very appealing on-screen presence.
But I'm rating the film, so it's a star and a half less than that.
What I really like about Trainwreck is its humor and sweetness and relate-ability, and how heartwarming it is. And LeBron James. Who knew he could act? I found myself waiting for him to come back on screen.
What I don't like about Trainwreck are the sophomoric bits that feel like a stand-up comedy routine and go on too long - like the tampon bit, for one. They aren't needed, they slow down the action and they distract from the heart of the film.
If they'd cut this film the way it should have been cut, by at least 20 minutes, I'd have given it four and a half stars. As it is, there's much to enjoy about Trainwreck but I can only give it three and a half stars out of five.


July 17, 2015

Book Review: Old Souls at Night by Kent Haruf *****

When I began reading Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, one of my favorite authors, I felt sad on a number of levels, not least of which is that this is his final novel, as he died last December at 71. I hadn't known he was sick and his death broke my heart.
I felt sad because the characters in Our Souls at Night are sweet and familiar, even though I hadn't read about these people yet, but Haruf had a way of creating characters I could see clearly in my mind, even though he
doesn't describe them to any great degree.
Is this his best work? No. But it's a sweet story of old love with characters that feel real, like people you'd want to be friends with.
I was sad because the story is sad, I was sad because I didn't want the book to end. I'm sad because I already miss the work Kent Haruf will never write.
Kent Haruf is one of America's finest authors. If you haven't read his work start with Plainsong and then read everything else he's ever written. And finally, end with Our Souls at Night, a sweet goodbye.
Five out of five stars for Our Souls at Night.
 

July 14, 2015

Traveling to Montreal

Walking up to Mount Royal
Montreal is a taste of Europe without the eight hour plane ride; lovely architecture, great food, beautiful port, French speakers...
View from Mount Royal
Mount Royal Chalet
Top of Mount Royal

Notre Dame
Notre Dame
Notre Dame
See more pictures here.

July 12, 2015

Movie Review: Infinitely Polar Bear ****1/2

Infinitely Polar Bear, the based-on-life story of a manic-depressive father of two young girls, hit a little close to home for me, having been married to a manic-depressive some years ago. Much of it felt familiar and sad, though we didn't have children, and I wasn't nearly as understanding and supportive as the loving wife/mother in this film, played by the luminous Zoe Saldana. And being married to my ex wasn't as much fun as it is sometimes depicted in the film (although we had our good times), but yes, there is humor in everything.
This is a poignant story, authentically told and beautifully acted by all. Mark Ruffalo is perfect, and utterly believable, in this difficult role. What a fearless actor he is to open the film with a scene riding a bicycle in his red Jockey shorts. He's not exactly buffed out.
If you have no experience with manic-depression Mark Ruffalo's character may feel exaggerated and contrived, but get beyond that and you'll connect to this family stuggling to survive.
Four and a half stars out of five for Infinitely Polar Bear.

July 3, 2015

Writing Tip: Editing is Like Housework


I'm an evangelist for having your manuscript edited. Crucial, if you're self-publishing. Here's another great article about the value of having a good editor.

WHY DO YOU NEED PROFESSIONAL EDITING FOR YOUR NOVEL?
By JIM DEMPSEY

Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done. Here are five reasons why professional editing is a necessity for your writing.

Novelists love stories and are often motivated to write by the effects a story can have on a reader. There’s a real power in being able to touch the emotions of someone, a stranger, who lives far away or even far in the future. Most writers have felt this long reach that words can have. It has changed their lives. It has made them writers. And what better reason is there to write than to inspire others to follow their dreams?
And yet, too many authors waste that opportunity. They confuse their reader with awkward phrasing, distract with careless typos, or turn off a potential buyer with a poor quality product.
A well-edited novel, on the other hand, will have that power to reach the reader. It will attract attention, seep into the reader’s thoughts and emotions, and might even cause them make a change, to make a tiny difference. And a good quality product will always sell better than a cheap fake.
If you’re not already convinced, here are five more reasons why you need professional editing for your novel:

1. Investing in a professional editor is money well-spent

Editing is like housework, it goes unnoticed unless it’s not done.
Professional editing is an indispensable, not just a desirable, part of a novel’s journey to publication. Editing can make your good novel great, get readers talking, reach the ears of professional publishers, and catch the eye of movie producers. An editor will make sure the reader remembers the dazzling plot and characterization, and not the problems with grammar. It takes teamwork to craft a polished and captivating novel that could become tomorrow’s bestseller. In short, authors need editors.

2. Honest, objective feedback

Lots of authors ask friends and beta readers to take a look at their novel. Most people are flattered by the request and are happy to help.
While any feedback is welcome and can help improve the manuscript, friends tend to give a lot of positive encouragement. They can gloss over some of the novel’s shortcomings to avoid causing offense. And there could be those who are just a little bit jealous and who will gladly recount a whole list of failings.
However, professional editors are experienced at giving criticism. They are systematic and thorough, covering not only familiar issues of grammar and punctuation, but also matters of style, pacing, dialogue, plot twists, and fact checking (to name but a few). Above all, the feedback they give is honest and objective.
Like the author, editors want readers to focus on the narrative and not the misspelt words and absent apostrophes.

3. Editors work together with authors

Authors are proud of their work. They have spent many hours perfecting the text, gone to great lengths to check the spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and reacted to comments and corrections from their beta readers.
But that’s unlikely to be enough.
Friends and beta readers will do their best, but they have their work, family and other obligations to consider. They can probably only get to your book in their spare time, reading a chapter or two a night.
Professional editors spend entire working days, even weeks or months, on a single novel. They work until they have a thorough understanding of the story. They are, therefore, in a much better position to point out contradictions in characters’ behavior, inconsistencies in syntax, and irregularities in the flow and formatting.
None of this is done in isolation. Editor and author have to work together. It’s the editor’s job to be honest with the author when suggesting improvements (such as rewriting, restructuring, or cutting sections) while respecting the author’s message, meaning, tone, and style. Both author and editor have a shared interest in producing a work that gets¬ – and keeps ¬– the reader’s attention. What’s more, with experience and knowledge of the book-selling market, an editor can suggest ways to take the novel in a direction that might better attract the eye of a publisher or agent, if that’s what the author wants.

4. An editor is a sounding board

Authors often pour their deepest feelings, and even secrets, into their novels. And, for that reason, they are often cautious about who reads their early drafts. They put a lot of thought into selecting beta readers, and they do this with some trepidation: friends could spot some of the more autobiographical elements in the novel, or they might think they recognize aspects of themselves in the characters (however tenuous). Some might even wonder why they’re not featured.
In such cases, authors can benefit from the impartial opinion of an editor. An editor takes a bird’s eye view of a novel, and can identify the elements that work and those that don’t and suggest the necessary changes. While editors often get to know authors well throughout the editing process, especially in the case of full, substantive editing, they are not concerned with your private life. They won’t be annoyed or flattered if they appear or not in the final version (although a credit is always nice).