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[SPOILER WARNING. SERIOUSLY. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN OBLIVIOUS, ER, OBLIVION, STARRING THOMAS CRUISE MAPOTHER III BACK AWAY FROM THE INTERNET NOW. Thank-you.]

I know, I know. Oblivious… I’m sorry, Oblivion came out almost a year ago. But it’s new to me. As in I’ve only just seen it. The reasons for this are many, but come down to: $. And my movie $ were spent elsewhere last year. (And I didn’t even think of seeing M. Night Shyamalamdingdong’s After Birth).

I’m not saying Oblivious, I’m sorry–Oblivion–is bad. It’s… entertaining. To a point. It’s entertaining in the ways the most Hollywood “high concept” pictures are entertaining these days.
In fact, I imagine the pitch going something like this:

Studio flunky #1: “We’ve got this great piece. High concept. Dystopian future. Like Hunger Games.  Only not.”

Studio Exec: “Tell me more. What do you mean like “Hunger Games?”

Studio flunky #2: “Well, it’s like Hunger Games in that it’s set in a Dystopian future. That’s what’s like. But you know what? Think more in terms of alien invasion. But not.”

Studio Exec looks perplexed, but give his best “Temba, his arms open” look and gesture: “Tell me more.”

Studio flunky #1: “Yeah, it’s dystopian like Hunger Games, but if you think more like Independence Day meets Michael Bay’s The Island you’d be closer to the mark.”

Studio flunky #2: “Yeah, that’s totally it! It’s Independence Day meets The Island! Cause we’ve got an alien invasion and clones!”

Studio Exec: “Clones? Where do the clones come in? And who’s it got? Who’s attached to star?”

Studio flunky #1: “Well, you know how ID4 had Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum? We think we need to mix it up like that, too…”

Studio flunky #2: “Yeah, instead of those guys, we’ll have Morgan Freeman and Tom Cruise!”

Studio flunkies #1 and #2 in unison: “And it’s a total misdirection! We start in media res, and make the audience think one thing–when it’s totally something else! Tom Cruise is a clone!”

Studio Exec: “Tell me something I didn’t know.”

Studio flunkies exchange a bemused look.

Studio flunky #1: “There’s of course a love interest, a resistance group on earth, and cool special effects. And a happy ending!”

Studio flunky #2: “We think it’s got legs. It’ll do boffo box office.”

Studio Exec: “Where do I sign?”

————–

I call the film Oblivious, because, #1 the studio heads have to be completely clueless when such hackneyed tropes get used over an over again; and #2, they count on us, the movie going populace, to be completely oblivious when they do so. The story really does borrow heavily from both The Island and ID4. There is an invasion, but it happens before the movie’s beginning. We think (are in fact told) that humanity won the war, but ruined the planet (when the the truth is we did not). This is totally telegraphed, and by the time the big twist drops, we know. I knew what was coming: Tom Cruise is a clone. Not only that, but like Bay’s before: there is no Island (in this case, Triton). We’ve seen it all before. We’ve seen it done better…

I wanted to like Oblivion. I really did. But the ending? Ugh. Total Hollywood! Not only do they blatantly steal the “blow up the alien mother ship” sequence from ID4, they take the sacrifice the Tom Cruise character makes, and take a dump all over it with a tacked-on, schmaltzy happy ending. A sacrifice is a sacrifice precisely because it costs somebody something.

But not, I guess, in Hollywood.

Where far too many folks are, you guessed it, oblivious. Or maybe I’m just cynical and jaded.

Nah.

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At the outset, let me just state that I loved The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Now let me tell you why:

The movie opens on Walter, alone, in his apartment, dressed for work, futzing around on social media. More specifically, he’s trying to work up the courage to send a “wink” to a coworker on eHarmony. He finally does, and… it doesn’t work. He can’t send the “wink.”

This begins one of the movie’s funnier subplots (it’s no spoiler to say that this involves Patton Oswalt, as he’s listed in the credits. You’ll just have to watch and find out how the whole eHarmony subplot is resolved). In fact, because I’m something of a literature nerd, this is but one instance of a Chekhov’s gun in the film. Chekhov’s gun, for the uninitiated, is a rule established by dramatist Anton Chekhov stating that one cannot introduce a gun in the first act that is not used later on.

There are numerous instances of this technique on display in Walter Mitty–none of which actually involve a gun. (If you see it, pay attention to: the aforementioned eHarmony subplot, a piano, a skateboard sequence, and a wallet). I bring this up because there is nothing wasted in this movie–the storytelling is tight, and focused. Within that framework, Ben Stiller has crafted a motion picture filled with great whimsy and flights of fancy. It is simultaneously grounded, and yet has its head in the clouds.

What a difference, say, from his 90’s era film, Reality Bites. In watching it, one gets the sense that, yes, reality can bite, but this is no reason to lose heart. In its opening sequence, in drab apartment, inside an even drabber building, that wistful tone is expertly portrayed: Walter is altogether too close to being a man who has lost heart. But it is upon arriving at work that day, when he learns of his company’s impending demise, that his journey begins. In storytelling terms, this is the inciting incident: the catalyst by which a character is forced to act. Walter’s is two-fold:

First, his company is reorganizing, and its next issue will be its last;

Second, a photographer with whom he has closely worked for sixteen years, has sent  negatives, stating that number 25 is his best work ever, and represents “the quintessence of life.”

Thing is, this negative is missing. Helping Walter track it down are his associate, Hernando, and a coworker named Cheryl.

Thus begins Walter’s journey. What begins as a quest for excellence becomes so much more. Walter thinks he is on a trip to find a photographer, but really he’s on a quest to get his heart back.

Isn’t that the same path we’re all on? We want to reclaim our hearts. We know there’s more to life, but have somehow lost it upon the way. On his way, Walter transitions from imaging himself to be a hero to actually being a hero.

He goes from existing to living, from surviving to thriving.

There are potholes on the way, the  temptation to lose heart arises again, but he digs deep, and gets the job done.

And if Walter can, so can I.

So can you.

So go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. You’ll be glad you did.

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As with his previous book, 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo, Allain has writting another winner. He knocks it clear outta the park! It’s smart, yet simple, clear, and actionable. Anybody wanting to build a tribe can follow these steps. Bryan shares the lessons he’s learned from:

Over 10 years of blogging,

Putting on his own conference,

Reaching out to people he admires.

This book is packed with such practical wisdom that it would be cheap at twice the price! It really is that good.

Don’t take my word for it–pick up a copy, and put the steps into practice. And watch your tribe grow!

Click here to get your copy on Amazon. Starting tomorrow, October 30th, the book is free (through November 3rd).

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What you can do to help:

1) Do Bryan, favor, and read Community Wins, or Bryan’s previous book, 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo.

2) Leave favorable reviews on Amazon.

3) Tweet out your love: “@bryanallain is at it again with #CommunityWins. Check out @randomlychad’s review at http://randomlychad.com”

Iscariot is the forthcoming novel from Tosca Lee. It is due to be released on February 5th of next year. I was privileged to receive an electronic galley from NetGalley. (For my book-loving friends, this is a great way to read, and review, upcoming books).

I’ve made no secret of how much I like her work, and have even had her here on the blog for an interview. Her work resonates with me, and her work ethic inspires me (I’m told she engaged in a marathon 19,000 word writing session as the deadline for Demon: A Memoir encroached upon her).

Every writer, I think, needs a muse, and I’ve found a writer in Ms. Lee that inspires me to greatness. I may never achieve her level of success, never be more than a guy with a blog–and a dream–but at least I’ve got a star to shoot for (though I may crash back to earth). With that in mind, here’s my advice to those of you write: consider a writer you’d like to write for, give yourself an “ideal audience,” and shoot for that every time you sit down at the keyboard. I’ve picked Ms. Lee because she crafts gorgeous sentences, includes vivid descriptions, is a crackerjack at research, and very ably draws her readers in.

What does that digression have to do with her forthcoming book, Iscariot? For me, it represents a return to form, to the first person narrative of her earlier works, Demon: A Memoir, and Havah, the Story of Eve. If you have been following her career, you know she has been engaged in writing a trilogy with mega-bestselling novelist Ted Dekker, called the Books of Mortals.

As with most Dekker books, the series contains labyrinthine plots, amazing twists, global conspiracies, etc. worthy of the best of Ludlum.

Iscariot is nothing like that.
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As I said above, it represents a return to form: the story is stripped (oh, it has its twists), the plot is simple, and the point of view is intimate. Ms. Lee makes perhaps the boldest choice I’ve ever seen a novelist make: she narrates the story from Judas’s perspective. To help put this into perspective, allow me a comparison from popular literature:

Author George R.R Martin is engaged in the telling of vast tale, encompassing many volumes, known as the Song of Ice and Fire. In this story, he has a character known as Jaime Lanister, who is the architect of the inciting incident that gets Martin’s story rolling. He is a character readers love to hate. Where Martin’s story differs from Lee’s is that his is a tale told from multiple points of view (there are alternating chapters). Jamie Lanister is not a point of view character until well into the series.

But when Martin introduces him as such, things change. The reader is forced to see things from Lanister’s perspective. At first it feels akin to having sympathy for the devil, but the monster quickly becomes a man. Lanister is human after all.

Likewise Lee, in her portrayal of Judas, forces the reader to see events through his eyes, and process life through his mind. Like George R.R. Martin, one of her great strengths as a novelist is the sympathetic portrayal of much-maligned characters. And it turns out that Judas Iscariot, arguably the most notorious traitor of all time, was just as human as you or I.

Not a cheery thought to contemplate, but a necessary one. For who among us, at one time or another, has not betrayed Christ?

The brilliance of this book–though it goes beyond the biblical narrative (as it must)–is that it sets Judas in the proper context of Israel’s history: his is an occupied state, the religious structure is oppressive, the Roman rulers are cruel, and crucifixion is all too common. People, Judas among them, are anxiously expecting a Messiah–one who will deliver Israel from her enemies. What they get–what he gets–is something, or Someone else entirely. For the curious, the story moves quickly from the setting of Judas’s childhood to the central relationship of the book: that of Judas and Jesus.

Yes, like Revenge of the Sith, the ending is known: Judas betrays Jesus. But what a journey getting there! It is nothing short of a tour-de-force! You will see Judas in an entirely new light.

Have you read any of Tosca Lee’s books? Will you read Iscariot when it releases in February?

Andrew Zahn Is On Fire!

randomlychad  —  September 19, 2012 — 13 Comments

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No, not that kind. We don’t need to call his wife, Sarah. We don’t need the Fire Marshall.

No, the kind of fire I mean is the one Andrew is marshalling. If you’re a creative type, or even if you’re not (or afraid to see yourself as one), he’s just released sleek, slick, powerful new eBook called:

The 10 Commandments for Creatives
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I guarantee reading it will ignite a creative fire under your a**. Andrew challenges us to see even mundane chores such as shopping in a new light (“As I took in the design of the label, I envisioned what a stack of them would like in our kitchen…”).

You see, the truth is: there are no mundane chores for the creative, rather life must be approached with the right perspective. So see labels in a new light, give yourself permission to smell the baking bread.

What Andrew is talking about is nourishing one’s soul–because we create out of our cores. As such, we must nourish them–feed them creative fuel.

Andrew also counsels us to celebrate what we have, instead of pining over what we don’t. Because this is poverty, and it disarms our creative selves. A great to short circuit this poverty–which sets the stage for envy–is to celebrate the accomplishments of others. Instead of carping about the job you didn’t get, or how successful so-and-so is, celebrate them.

Congratulate them–take them out for coffee.

Andrew says that celebrating others is the surest way to kill that green-eyed monster, jealousy.

I could go on. This short book is powerful, and power-packed, and I can’t encourage you strongly enough to buy it. Andrew has been kind enough to offer my readers a 50% discount through the end of September via the code “RANDOMLYCHAD.”

What are you waiting for? Set your creativity on fire:

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Click here to buy The 10 Commandments for Creatives

You can find Andrew on his blog, Creatives, and on Twitter @zahndrew