Is There Something On My Face?

After my post about All You Need Is Kill the other day, it only seemed appropriate last night to give Edge Of Tomorrow another watch for a little compare and contrast action to see if my preference for the movie over the book would hold up.

Overall, it did. To me, a movie is the superior way to tell this story. The repetition of the same sequence comes across better and does the job more quickly than it can be done in print – there’s less heavy lifting to convey the point. As a bonus, it also allows for some moments of humor that don’t come across in the book as well for me – Cage getting taken out by the truck on the battlefield and then on the base before correcting his timing. Let’s the pressure off just enough while also communicating the repetitive nature of his situation.

More than that, the change in the main character comes across much better visually than in the book. The accumulation of all those reps through the day begin to hang on Cage like an extra layer of grime and the look in his eyes changes from the salesman at the beginning of the flick to the hardened veteran by the end. Maybe other people got that from the book, but it works better for me visually.

Then there’s all the things that were changed from book to movie… which is just about everything. I like the idea of Cage being the marketing guy who is brought low rather than just another recruit – it makes the journey that much more significant. Having the story focus on a single battle that has higher stakes works much better for me. Giving the Mimics an intelligence beyond that of a an engineered virus and adding the idea of the Omega worked better for me as well because it gave the story some kind of closure – a single goal as opposed to “we just gotta kill em all everywhere”.

Oddly enough, some of the negatives from the movie were also present in the book. The explanation of the Mimics on Earth was never that well explained, but then again, I didn’t feel it was really that good in the book either. Bill Paxton’s SergeantFarell always seemed one-dimensional to me and I wished there’d been more of him, but reading the book and seeing a failed attempt at fleshing that character out made me realize that it makes sense for him to be exactly who he is in the movie. The ending of the movie felt a little too cute sometimes, but the book’s ending was so lackluster that I really enjoyed the ending of the movie.

So, to sum up, if you thought the movie was okay… maybe try reading the book. It’ll make you appreciate the movie some more.

All You Need Is A Good Movie Adaptation

It’s rare that I enjoy a movie more than the book. After all, taking all the details of a well-written novel and compressing them into about ninety minutes is a nearly impossible task. And that’s before taking into account the mechanisms that work really well in print which don’t translate at all into motion pictures. Throw in that the special effects inside your head are always a bit more vivid than the screen and it’s a recipe for disaster.

As with anything in life, there are always exceptions. And I ran into one this past weekend.

I was in search of coffee and something to pass the time with while waiting for my daughter’s ballet performance Friday afternoon. On a whim, I picked up Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s book All You Need Is Kill, which is the source for the Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt movie Edge of Tomorrow. Over the next two days, I devoured the book and realized about two thirds of the way through that there was no way, barring a last-minute save by the author, that I was going to like the book better than the movie.

Thinking it over, I think it’s similar to why I prefer John McTiernan’s version of The Hunt For Red October more than Tom Clancy’s book. The movie leaves out a bunch of stuff that might be interesting to the hardcore audience but that, if not outright boring, would be not as interesting to the general public. An author certainly has to worry about losing his audience, but I tend to think that readers are more patient by nature than a watcher. That’s not to say superior, it just has to do with the initial buy in. Someone going to a movie is setting aside a couple hours to be entertained and then can get on with their life. Someone picking up a novel is making a much longer commitment. Every minute on screen is precious whereas pages come a little cheaper.

There’s also the matter of inner monologue and dodgy dialogue between characters. The thoughts of a character can be incredibly valuable and inform the reader about who that person is… or they can show just how thin the character really is. Same with dialogue between characters that makes a reader roll their eyes. It happens in both mediums, but I think readers will forgive a bit more just because of the investment.

Overall, I thought the book was good and the concept was really good, but it just works better as a movie. Some of the ways that they showed the main character’s progress throughout the day was illustrated so much better on the screen than the page. Also, there was a clarity to the goal that felt lacking in the book – even when the main character succeeds, I wasn’t totally sure why. The movie had a resolution to it whereas the book says “and then we kept going”.

Maybe it has to do with seeing the movie first. Reading the book, I couldn’t help hear the sergeant speaking in Bill Paxton’s deep Kentucky accent because the book never fleshed out the character enough to make me think any differently. It also doesn’t hurt that I think Tom Cruise was perfect for the role – he pulls off the smarmy jerk that you still want to root for really well.

Which is sort of what I want from this kind of story anyways. Give me a couple interesting characters, some decent spectacle, and hang it all on an interesting premise. It’s not the book’s fault that it should’ve been a movie the whole time I guess.

Look Here, Don’t Look Here

Apollo Robbins is really good at what he does, and what he does is steal. He gives the stuff back, but still. Renowned as one of the world’s foremost pickpockets, he is a keen observer of human nature and adept at misdirection.

It made me realize how often I use misdirection in my daily life. Not for pickpocketing, but professionally, personally, and creatively. In writing, there’s always things an author wants the reader to be paying attention to, but there’s also some things that need to be kept hidden – or at the very least forgotten about until it’s time to bring them back to center stage. On the job, I might be trying to pull attention to one spot on a page and use a combination of whitespace and color to create a certain look, but nothing that will compete with what I’m trying to draw attention to. That’s a low-grade form of misdirection from my point of view, but it’s still there.

Personally, we’re all trying to keep our ugly spots and secrets hidden. Think of a first date – are you wearing the comfiest clothes you’ve got or the ones that make you feel confident because of how they make you look? The more comfortable we get with people, the comfier the clothes get. No more look over here at these really nice jeans and don’t pay attention to that blossoming zit on my cheek that I’ve been working to hide all day!

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Like most people, I’m caught between the pull of wanting new experiences and the comfort of the familiar. Do I wan to try that new restaurant or stick with my traditional go-to spot? Should I take a chance on that new TV show or go back and binge Parks & Recreation again?

The idea of repetition as a means of understanding is something I’m thinking about today based on a bit from The Art of Noticing newsletter form last week. The concept of repetition as a means of understanding isn’t a foreign concept to me. As a musician, I’ve learned that it’s not just repetition in order to get things correct, but to understand the song itself and how best to serve the song beyond playing the right notes. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the idea of Hunter S. Thompson, as he was starting out, re-typing the works of Ernest Hemingway to feel the rhythm of the words and how they felt under the fingers.

There was a great restaurant in my hometown years ago that was run by an excellent chef who’d been trained in New Orleans. The menu was always changing and was full of things I couldn’t pronounce, let alone identify. However, knowing how good my first meal had been there, I made an active decision to always try something new and not repeat my meals there. Granted, it wasn’t hard because I couldn’t afford to eat there very often. However, it turned out to be a great exercise and helped me get over some picky eating habits from my childhood in the bargain.

Did I stop eating at my other favorite restaurants? Definitely not. So there’s balance – finding the joy and deeper layers that repetition offers while also making room to discover new things. After all, I could re-read the entire Tom Robbins catalog over and over for the rest of my life (and probably will), but I’d have missed out on some killer books the last year if I hadn’t given Neil Gaiman and Zadie Smith a try.

I’m realizing that it has as much to do with mindfulness as it does with the repetition. There’s a lot of things that I can do over and over without much thought, but I won’t get much out of it except marking it off my list of things to do. However, if I’ve made an active decision to look for new things in The Godfather or Charles Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell as I’m going back for another watching or reading, that’s where the joy of discovery comes in.

Sure, I could stumble on something, but it helps to have my eyes open.

Out of Order

I’ve been tearing through Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods over the last week or so and came across an old friend. (spoilers to follow)

About a quarter of the way through and along came a spider. Or, more specifically, a demigod who takes the form of a spider, Anansi. The scene had the feel of a surprise introduction in a movie or TV show. A character that wasn’t expected or, to flip it around, someone you’ve been long expecting and are excited to see. Anansi was introduced via his wardrobe and appearance, slowly clueing me in to who he was. After reading Anansi Boys last year, I was excited to get a chance to hang out with this character again.

Of course, I had the whole thing backwards. American Gods was published in 2001 and Anansi Boys in 2005. My “he’s back!” moment was really his introduction.

It’s had me thinking the last day or so about how we all live our lives on slightly different timelines and that things that are new to us might be old hat to someone else. How someone else’s old friend is our new acquaintance. After all, how many times have you bee talking to someone about a favorite book or movie – something really well known like The Godfather or Weird Al’s UHF – and they’ve never seen it / heard it / read it. The automatic response is “how can you not have?!”

Creatively, it opens up new possibilities because as old as an idea might seem to me, it’s someone else’s first time around. In a more general sense, it has me thinking about grace and how one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being is patience. Sure, we know the thing and how to do or act with the thing, but someone else might not know or be as familiar. That’s when I have the choice of anger or grace. I really wish it was easier for me to choose grace, but like Jules once said, I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

That’s not to say grace doesn’t have limits. Last time I checked, there’s only one person with eternal grace and I’m not wearing that nametag. However, I know there’s ways and times I can do better.

Thank you, Anansi.

Moderate giftedness & temporary excellence

I was clicking through links on an old Austin Kleon newsletter (which I highly recommend) and came across this one on moderate giftedness. It’s an interesting idea that also started me thinking about my place in the world where creativity is concerned.

The upside of the internet and social media is that, like Sly & The Family Stone once sang, everybody is a star. You’re the star in your own movie, you can share what you’re doing with the world, and reveal the most intimate details of your life. It’s a great equalizer in that some unknown musician’s song is passing through the same conduit as the new T-Swift ditty and that your self-published e-book can sit on a virtual shelf next to Stephen King’s new novel.

The downside is the exact same thing. It’s a double edged sword because while more choices can be good, too many choices just crank up the background noise. There’s no contrast.

The idea that at one time, people were special because they were the best at something in their village or family. Now, that doesn’t hold as much sway because who needs to listen to the guy down at the local pub when you can get the best music ever recorded downloaded to your phone in a matter of seconds? Who needs to check out an indie film when you have streaming apps? And even if the pub singer has his music on iTunes and the indie film is on Netflix, what are the chances that you’ll find it?

As a musician and a writer, I’ve seen both sides. It was a thrill to record an album in a professional studio, get the CD’s, and then see our music on iTunes. However, it was always a struggle to get people to come to shows. Why? Probably a mixture of things, but the bottom line is that there’s a whole lot of things vying for our attention. For creative people, that can be an incredible downer.

So what’s the solution? For me, I’ve been trying to make my life a little bit smaller, bit by bit. Slowing down and concentrating on what’s in front of me. I still shift my eyes up to get the big picture, but without focusing on it all the time, I find it’s more awe inspiring rather than depressing.

Does it work? Sometimes. But it’s sure better than the alternative.

Winter Goals

I almost called this post “Winter Resolutions” until remembering I don’t do resolutions anymore. Maybe they work for some people, but for someone as easily distracted and prone to busyness as myself, they’re too wishy-washy and vague to be of much use. Several years ago, I ditched my new year resolutions and started in with yearly goals.

What I’m working out today isn’t a goal yet, but it’s heading in that direction.

Yesterday, I bumped into a concept I remember reading about a couple years ago. Usually, when something like that happens, it’s a tip off that I need to pay attention this time around. The article was about the Norwegian concept of koselig – a sense of coziness.

When I quit driving for FedEx, my winters improved immediately. How could they not? I went from driving around in a truck that had minimal heat, freezing hands and feet no matter what I did, dealing with snow storms, icy driveways, and all the rest. Going from that to sipping coffee from inside my warm living room watching the flakes fall was downright heavenly.

However, that’s been awhile and I’ve felt seasonal depression nipping at my toes the past couple years. Put it alongside a busy schedule and coziness starts sounding pretty good. So I’m trying to build a goal around being a bit more kos this winter.

I’ve started reading some other articles to get some ideas, but what’s struck me most is the idea of being at home with friends and family. The idea of setting aside some time specifically for that might sound obvious, but it’s a bit of a revelation to me. Call me a slow learner, I don’t care.

One of the other takeaways for me is just changing my attitude towards the weather itself – especially the part about there being no bad weather, only bad clothing from the first link. I’ve always struggled with finding outside winter activities as an adult. My one trip snowboarding was fun, but I mostly spent the day making craters in the mountain with various parts of my body. Maybe it’s time to finally find that winter activity and get going on it.

So there you have it, a goal in progress.