May 31, 2009

Nano Film Review #24: Star Trek

Can't believe I took this long to post a review of Star Trek, considering I've seen the thing twice already . . . in IMAX. And the second time around it was better.

The bottom line: this is a fun, fun movie. Fun in a way that Star Trek has not been in a long, long time.

The soundtrack is simply amazing. Michael Giacchino is fast becoming one of my favorite film composers. I've always liked his Lost and Fringe music, and I enjoy his Speed Racer soundtrack. But his Star Trek score is awesome. Check it out here:

It's sweeping and bold and epic and personal. Like the movie itself.

The writers and director did a better job than they had any right doing with their two-pronged goal: create a Star Trek story that will satisfy old Star Trek fans and create a story that will satisfy people who never watched Star Trek before in their life.

Judging by the box office, they succeeded.

My new rating system is simple: Yeah or Meh. Star Trek = YEAH!!!

~ Ben

May 30, 2009

THE WAY OF THE WRITER: Inspirational Quote

“We pursue great art because we are convinced that great art -- combined with great storytelling -- can change the world.”

Phil Vischer, Big Idea founder

May 29, 2009


So Spider-Man's Satanic divorce, which I blogged about here before, has officially been retracted . . . in the Spider-Man newspaper comic strip.

Mary Jane just walks out, Bobby Ewing style, after taking a shower. The whole unmarried thing, in the newspaper comic, was all a dream!

Wow. Even more impressive: there's still a Spider-Man newspaper strip?


Okay, so all the moral implications of my earlier postings still apply, but it's an interesting footnote . . . in one arm of the Spider-Man publishing universe, he's happily married.

~ Ben

May 22, 2009


I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the "whys" in my life. Why do this, why do that, and why not this other thing?

And since writing is such a big part of my life, I have to tackle that question: why write?

And to be honest, it's not as easy a question as it seems. This question is different than the question you often see in books and articles about writing. That question, while asked "why write?" is almost exclusively interpreted as "why DO YOU write?" And it's usually answered with a "I write because I have to" or "I write because if I don't I'll go crazy" or some other bold statement about how writing is their destiny or their passion or their obsession. Nothing wrong with that, but that's not the question I'm asking here.

My question is more along the lines of, "Why take the time to write?" or "What makes writing so important?"

Writing is not a solitary activity. While the act of creation may be, the end result is meant to be shared. And this gets to the beginnings of my answer: Why write? To share that writing with another soul.

Bringing us to another question: why do we want to share? The answer to that question is probably more difficult than the answer I've come up with. We want to share because we want to connect with other people.

("Only connect" was a quote lifted from an E.M. Forster novel to be the mantra for a writing program I went to back in 2000.)

This is where the role of the writer becomes, to some degree, dangerous, though. Because once you make a connection with another human being, you are put in a position of power. What are you going to do with that connection? There is a great responsibility, and one that many writers seem not to take too seriously. Many readers as well. "It's just a story" or "It's just ink on paper" are often flippant remarks used when writers are asked to defend why they have written this or that -- and these remarks greatly downplay the power of words, the power of story.

The power of connection.

When that connection is made, between you and your reader, what is the result going to be? Do you intend to make them laugh? Make them cry? Make them wonder? Make them lust? Make them angry? Make them repulsed?

There is a deep spirituality in even the worst works of art, because any art that has caused a reaction has done so because it has made a connection. I'm reminded of this exchange of an elderly couple from a Seinfeld episode, as they are looking at a painting of Kramer:

WOMAN: I sense great vulnerability. A man-child crying out for love. An innocent orphan in the post-modern world.
MAN: I see a parasite. A sexually depraved miscreant who is seeking only to gratify his basest and most immediate urges.
WOMAN: His struggle is man's struggle. He lifts my spirit.
MAN: He is a loathesome, offensive brute. Yet I can't look away.
WOMAN: He transcends time and space.
MAN: He sickens me.
WOMAN: I love it.
MAN: Me too.

The point being, when you create art, you're hoping to make a connection, and unless it just gets tucked away in a folder or a drawer or a box, you will.

So, if that connection is why we're doing it, are we actually thinking about the connection?

Because, well, now I'm going to quote Spider-Man. Please forgive me. "With great power comes great responsibility."

But there's truth in that pithy comic book saying.

The writer . . . the artist . . . the poet . . . I believe that, in light of the things I've just said, those people dedicated to making connections through art have been the most important people in society because of those connections. Because the artist has the power to cause people to think . . . to lift people up so they might see the face of God . . . and to bring people down that they might experience the depths of Hell. Yeah, I may be getting into a little hyperbole there, but only a little. There is a spirituality in art, something that transcends the merely physical. In many ways, to me, art and it's powerful influence on humanity points to the presence of God.

I believe that being a writer -- whether the greatest bestselling author or a 'zine publisher who sells four copies of their poetry 'zine that they photocopied at Kinko's -- is, yes, a destiny, a passion, and an obsession because of this powerful connection between reader and writer. It's different than any other relationship, because it is one way (usually). The writer creates a story or an essay, and the reader imbibes it.

Why write? To connect. Why connect? That's the question that every writer should be asking as they write.

I'm no expert, but I hope sharing my experiences and thoughts in "The Way of the Writer" is something that will help fellow writers think about, learn about, and be encouraged about their craft.

~ Ben

PS -- This month's issue of Writer's Digest contains an AWESOME interview with Stephen King and Jerry Jenkins, together. I highly recommend it.

Samurai art by Tim Baron, (c) 2009

May 13, 2009

The Future of Publishing

With all the new technology, there's a lot of exciting stuff happening . . .

And a lot of depressing stuff . . .

Because of the economy and digital competition, print publishing is on life support. It's not dead, and won't die soon (I don't think paper publishing will EVER die). But it's hurting. Mom and Pop shops are closing left and right, unable to stand under the pressures of the economy, when combined with competition from Wal-Mart (and stores like it) and Amazon. Amazon and Wal-marty type stores equal convenience and low prices -- you can shop for just what you want in the privacy of your own home, or while you're at a store you're already visiting every week. Those bookstores that are staying afloat are doing so because they manage to offer something else: unique service or coffee or atmosphere. But even the chain stores aren't immune. I'm not sure about Barnes & Noble, they seem to be doing well, but Borders has been on the cusp of bankruptcy for what feels like a long time. In the comic book realm, there's been a number of shake ups, including much higher price points on products and distribution difficulties.

These factors also make small press publishing harder. Wal-Marty-type stores aren't going to carry something with no history or "hotness" to it. Mom and Pop Shops that are still in business can't afford to take a chance on a book that they might not sell -- it's a financial risk. Amazon will carry anything, but in all of these scenarios the end result is the same: people are not likely to stumble on your product if they are browsing the shelves.

Print publishing and its future looks bleak.

But, there are some exciting things happening as well. Because while all those doors are closing to small press publishers, and increasingly to larger publishers who are trying to promote new material, the same factors that are causing the problem are actually opening new doors.

Amazon's Kindle DX is an incredible machine, a nearly paper-like book reader. The iPhone and iPod Touch are making some pretty interesting book applications and readers in a much more compact (and diverse) format. (Games, music, internet, social networking, communication -- all on a device that can fit in your pocket.) (Not to mention the Google Android and the other iPhone-like devices . . . I'm just partial to Mac stuff.)

Publishers who are not thinking digitally are missing the boat. Every hardcover a publisher sells in a store should come bundled with a disk that has the book in a format that the Kindle, Sony e-reader, etc. can read (at least, it should be a PDF -- although that makes piracy easier), so readers get the digital book but also the paper book. I don't know why no one is doing this, but they are foolish not to. (Licensing fees may be the reason, and in that case publishers can't be faulted.)

I predict, though, that in the next year or two we will be seeing a new product from Mac. I'll even go so far as to name it. They will call it the TouchBook. (Laugh at me when I'm wrong; but admit it, it's not a bad name.) It will basically be the iPod Touch, with a screen about the size of a small laptop. But it will be a touch screen, that you can use a stylus with, with optional plug-in keyboard (although it will retain the touch-style keyboard). It will be an artistic canvas, a desktop publishing composer, a video viewer, a music player, a book reader, and an internet connection. I don't know much about how Mac reveals stuff to the public, or their development process, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens soon.

That's all pretty specific, but even if they don't do exactly that, a product like that will be available soon . . . and these types of things break down all sorts of walls that used to be in the way of publishers. Suddenly, printing costs aren't as much of a factor. In comic books, I see comics being made available in two formats: one strictly digital, and one strictly collectible in that it comes in paper with a digital format. Just like my hardcover book publishing idea.

The only factor in this equation that has to change is price. When the reader prices finally come down, more people will buy them . . . and more people will use them. And more publishers will be able to find their niche audience easier.

Yeah, it's not all "sunshine and gumdrops" . . . but it's also not all "rainy days and Mondays".

I'm excited to be a part of this new frontier.

~ Ben

May 8, 2009

What Goes Around . . .

I have a vivid memory of a story my 7th grade English teacher told.

He told how he was driving and some kids threw a snowball at his car. He hopped out of his car to yell at them, but instead of yelling he just started laughing. The kids ran away, of course, and he kept laughing . . . because he suddenly remembered doing the exact same thing when he was a kid.

What made me think of this? Well, I'm working right now. The doorbell rings and I go to the door and there's no one there. I walk outside and see, half a block down, a kid watching my door.

I think I made him uncomfortable, because I just stared at him with a goofy grin on my face . . .

Remembering Mr. P's story from 7th grade . . .

And remembering when I did a similar thing as a kid . . .

~ Ben

May 7, 2009

Nano Film Review #23 -- X-Men Origins: Wolverine

I didn't hate this movie as much as most people seemed to. It's a movie for people who liked the X-Men movies. Lots of X-Men characters pop up, and lots of lame plot devices and plot holes. There's some fun action, some good SFX and some bad SFX. Yeah, there's problems and BIG changes to characters and their comic book roots, but I say: "Who cares?" I walked into the theater expecting pure dreck, I walked out of the theater thinking it wasn't that bad. It wasn't that great either, mind you . . . and it won't be as good as Star Trek.

Recommendation: Non-comic fans -- see it at a dollar/second run theater; Comic fans -- stay away.

~ Ben

PS -- "Boo-hoo, they changed Deadpool," some say. I say nay! Rather, they set him up to be exactly who you want him to be if he gets a movie of his own . . .

May 6, 2009

Fun Star Trek Stuff from the (Tholian) Web

Bear with me, you may enjoy some of this post even if you're not a fan of Star Trek.

Yeah, I know I haven't been posting on my blog much lately. Part of that comes from work related craziness, but most of it comes from personal and creative issues that have occurred. I'll just leave it at that for now.

Most of that is behind me, now. I've got a few reviews I need to post, and some ruminations on writing (under the "Way of the Writer" subtitle) . . . but for today, I've got something important to talk about:

Star Trek.

I'm going to see it tomorrow at 7:00 in IMAX. Seeing Dark Knight in IMAX was an amazing experience. So amazing, in fact, that I have not rewatched the movie since. Yeah, it was a great movie. Amazing. Near genius. But . . . I'm afraid to watch it on my little living room TV, with the possiblity that I'd sully the IMAX experience.

With Star Trek, I'll be seeing it again regardless. In three weeks, I'm getting together with some friends from high school for a special reunion: seeing the new Star Trek movie. I'm not sure if I'm the only one from the group jumping the gun to see it early . . . but, it's only in IMAX for two weeks.

Anyway, to get ready for Star Trek here's some fun Trek related videos. Enjoy!

(BTW, I've decided I'm a Trekster, not a Trekkie or a Trekker. Why? I just think that Trekster sounds, at the same time, both COOLER and GEEKIER than Trekkie or Trekker.Why else? I just rewatched the movie Trekkies, where they debate the two terms and frankly, I think it's all a bit silly.)

First, some context -- an awesome preview of the new Trek movie:

So, next, a video from The Onion that sharply parodies the actual reactions some Trekkies and Trekkers have about this new Star Trek movie:

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Sadly, I've read and heard some people saying things just like that. I'm just hoping for a fun filled, optimistic sci-fi action movie.

Next, we have a re-enactment of a classic scene from the best (second best, depending on my mood) Star Trek movie, the Wrath of Kahn, as performed by a Kindle and an iPod Shuffle:

Talking Gadget Theater has more scenes from other movies. I find it pretty fun and funny.

Finally, we have the Burger King "When Kingons Attack" website, which I found funny and disturbing (everything with the Burger King guy is just plain disturbing). It's college humor, and took me back to the days of purple nurples, atomic wedgies, and such . . .

The Kingon Defense Academy.

So anyway, last night I curled up for a nice episode of Fringe (created by J.J. Abrams), tonight I'll curl up fur a nice episode of Lost (created by J.J. Abrams), and tomorrow I'll not be curling up (unless I have a row to myself) for the Star Trek movie (directed by J.J. Abrams). When did this Abrams guy become the gatekeeper for stuff I like?

~ Ben