For more about Allison and her books visit her website at For now, please relax and brace yourself for the occasionally coherent ramblings of Allison's mind.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Allison: The Peter Principle, Upon Further Review

I can’t stop thinking about the Peter Principle. As you may recall the Peter Principle attempts to explain the ubiquitous incompetence in the world around us. The theory is that we rise from positions of competence until we eventually reach our final level achievement: the place where we are in over our heads and can no longer move up. It is there where we remain, mired in misery as we try to fulfill duties we’re not equipped to fulfill. The theory focuses on the corporate hierarchy, but I think it’s applicable to our general station in life. It’s wry, dismal, plausible, and heavily weighted toward external forces “pushing” and “pulling” us up.

My questions are, what are the internal forces at work, why do we go along with it, and what’s the alternative?

I think it all boils down to our innate desire for achievement clashing with our definition of the very same. We’ve been ingrained since birth to “be all you can be,” “not be content with mediocrity,” “reach for the stars.” I used to think that was a worthy goal. Now I’m wondering if the well-intentioned message only legitimizes the impossible. Are we creating burdensome expectations for ourselves and our children? A collective mentality where we slander contentment by calling it stagnation?

It’s a scary prospect to be tasked with “reaching your full potential.” Especially when it’s nearly impossible to define. How do you know when you’ve reached it? According to the Peter Principle you don’t reach your maximum level of achievement until you crash and burn in massive failure. It’s sad, but makes sense. If you succeed, you’re only expected to succeed more, at a higher level. Eventually, it will be too much.

And if success is moving up, how do we explain the high rates of depression and dysfunction among those at the top. We aspire to emulate them, and use them as our gauges to measure success, but none of us wants the consequences of our ever-falling heroes. Maybe we’ve gotten our definition of success all wrong. Maybe we need to step back and start training ourselves to strive for contentment instead. See? I can hear the backlash already. “Are you saying it’s ok to tell your kids it’s fine to be retail clerks for the rest of their lives? What if they could be a neurosurgeon??” The short answer? Yes, I think I am ok with that.

If my son has the skills and abilities and wants to be a neurosurgeon, I will do everything I can to help him reach that goal. If he has the skills and abilities and wants to be a retail clerk, I will do everything I can to help him reach that goal. But I’ll tell you this much, I’d rather raise a happy, content retail clerk, than a miserable neurosurgeon. I’d also rather raise a happy, content neurosurgeon than a miserable retail clerk.

Ok, so how do we avoid a life of collective failure if we’re brainwashed to believe that unless we’re moving up, we’re not moving. Could I achieve higher ranks in the corporate world than I have? Probably. No, definitely. But I’d have to give up my writing, music, and relationship with my family to do it. That doesn’t seem like a logical trade-off to me. So why can’t I shake the culturally-accepted mislabel that I’ve stagnated? Because I know people who are “disappointed” that I didn’t achieve textbook success as society defines it. I don’t have an impressive business card. I don’t have letters with periods after my name. I could have, but I don’t.

It’s sad that I’m happy with my life, and only the errant notion that “I haven’t reached my full potential” is keeping me from being completely content. But what’s really waiting for me at my highest level? I don’t know, but I’m not convinced I should give up the blessings I have in the present for a possible future. Many people are in a position to pursue their “full potential” and advance our society, become our headlines, provide our entertainment. We can be grateful for them, but I don’t think we should envy or revere them.

Maybe one day there will be a way for me to investigate the possibilities of my own potential. Maybe I will be the headline I could probably be. Maybe I’ll be miserable there and wish for these days of peaceful anonymity. But until that opportunity presents itself, I need to banish any insecure feelings of failure simply because I’m content in my life of satisfying, extreme competence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Michael: I Don’t Get Spring

I don’t get spring. I mean, I get it, I just don’t get why everyone’s all 100%, “it’s so wonderful it’s spring!” (Although, the idea of Allison twirling around like an idiot in her driveway has its appeal.)

Think about it. What is spring? It’s pollen clouds, loud birds, tree crap all over everything, yard work, wedding season. What it is not, is predictable, and I like to know what I should wear in the morning. You wake up and toss on your parka because it’s 40 degrees and by lunch the sidewalks are filled with high school kids shivering in their beach wear. (Note to high school kids: temperature isn’t relative. When it’s 65 in July you wear a sweatshirt. When it’s 65 in April you wear a bathing suit and are cold. I’m not following.)

Plus, there’s always that one guy in the neighborhood who forgot it’s spring and lets his grass hit three feet before it dawns on him we’re back in mowing season.

Spring is when you discover your grill became a mouse condo over the winter, your new mountain bike still needs to be adjusted, you’re a whole lot fatter than you were when you packed away the shorts, and you have to sit through countless sub-par attempts by your brother’s kids trying to catch, throw and kick things.

And by the way, no one wants to turn on their air conditioning or heat in the spring. So you either freeze or sweat wherever you go.

That’s spring.

Cat update: I took some flak for my rant against cats. Nice try, but I stand buy it. I still think any living creature that spends more time trying to eat a feather than doing basically anything else on this planet is not smart. I don’t care what kind of “evolutionary rationalization” you throw at me. It’s dumb. Don’t eat feathers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Allison: 2011 Princess Day Ruined

There is one day every April that I like to call “Princess Day.” It’s the one day a year when the universe tries to explain that it doesn’t hate me, and the annoying tree above our driveway spits something other than seed-studded bird poop on my car. It’s “Princess Day,” and this year it was ruined.

I encountered “Princess Day” my first April in our new home. It was a warm late April morning as I sauntered toward my car for an early band practice. The birds sang, a glassy sheen spread over the lawn, and my favorite heels were decorated with sticky flower pedals and grass clippings. Then I saw my car.

Even as I moved toward it, the light breeze continued to shower a faint spray of tiny tree pedals over me as though I were royal fairy bridesmaid #3 for the fairy queen’s spring wedding. I raised my hands to the sky and did a slow twirl with an angelic smile. Ok, I didn’t, but in retrospect I should have done that. Especially if neighbors were watching. That would have been awesome. Anyway, I didn’t, because I was too shocked by my newly christened pink flower car (and annoyed at the grass and flower crap on my shoes.)

That’s just the lead-up to princess day. The quintessential moment, however, when all your dreams come true and the universe grins back, is when I back my car out of the driveway and put it in gear. A quick glance in my rearview mirror reveals a giant cloud of ethereal magic pedals sweeping off my car and floating in a breathtaking cloud over the street. A battalion of wedding planners couldn’t orchestrate a more fantastical moment, and for a brief second I don’t dislike nature. Convincing me to like nature: that, my friends, is Princess Day. It happens every April. And it always makes me smile.

This year, it rained. Hard. No pink flower wonderland, no climactic gear shift cloud, no royal fairy weddings, just gooey pink streaks on my windshield and irreparable damage to my shoes.

It’s official. The universe hates me.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kindle DE Store: Yay, Amazon!

It's just come to my attention that has opened up their Kindle DE store which now makes "Case Study" available in the USA, UK, and Deutschland! Go, Amazon!

Expectations: My Approach to Romance

Don’t worry. This isn’t a dating column. Although that would be fun. I’d love to have a “Dear Prudence” like advice column where I can offer my thoughts on random questions. The less I know about the topic the better.

Anyway, back to the post. We’ve discussed what inspires my books and characters. We’ve also discussed the motivations of my villains. Now it’s time to address another literary minefield (and gold mine): Romance.

I’ve already disclosed that I write primarily about humans and human nature. It’s a very short leap then to the fundamental human behavior of seeking, forming, breaking, nurturing, and thwarting relationships. If you’ve read the earlier posts about characters and villains, it shouldn’t be a shock that I approach relationships (romantic and otherwise) with a similar complexity. Just as I don’t believe a hero or villain is purely good or evil, I also don’t believe relationships can be one dimensional, are sole driving forces in our lives, or are entirely healthy and predictable. They certainly aren’t static.

And let’s be honest, no one believe that. A lot of us don’t read because we want reality and that’s ok. There are plenty of good books and authors who know many people read their stories to escape life and be captured in a fanciful whirlwind of passion, promises, and longing gazes. Isn’t that essentially the definition of romance? I think so, which is why we’re having this conversation (ok, monologue.)

I’m just saying that I’m not one of those writers, and I think it’s only fair to tell my readers what to expect from me. Don’t expect romance from my books, but be prepared for the exploration of relationships on a profound, beautiful, and infuriating level. There may be love, but it’s not unconditional, and sometimes doesn’t overcome the odds. There may be passion, but it’s rarely indulged and frequently one-sided. Consequences are considered, poor choices are made, life happens.

I want the reader to fall in love with the characters, even if those characters struggle with each other. My goal is for readers to understand even if they don’t agree. To offer hope to the extent that we all hope even in the face of disappointment. To explain resignation, acceptance, errors, longing, joy, compassion, and jealousy. I try to capture the many facets of human relationships and confront the gamut of corresponding emotions. I know that doesn’t appeal to everyone.

“Case Study” probably spends the least amount of time on the topic of romantic relationships, though Jesse and Michael certainly face their fair share. “Franklin Academy,” however, centers on the mystifying, frustrating, magnetic, and intense connection between the two main characters. The relationship between the leads in “302 Johnson Hall” is so complex and intriguing, it anchors the entire book in one room with the spotlight on two characters.

“The Caracalla Trilogy” comes the closest to escapist “romance.” Since it’s basically a romanticized imagination of a fantasy world at its core, everything about the characters and themes takes on a surreal sheen. Even so, the relationships among the key players are as intricate as the twisting plot, and leave plenty of room for speculation.

I’ve used a lot of words to say that I’m not a romance writer. I do, however, like to explore love and passion, and it’s a frequent theme in my books. Sometimes, the central one. As always, I’m not declaring that a right or wrong approach, it’s just what I do. I’m a psychological spelunker and a character creator. Romance for me must follow the same rules as everything else in life and my writing: complicated, unpredictable, subject to whim, bias, delusion, and hope.

So yeah, if you’re looking for a juicy love scene, you will be disappointed. I’m a lot more interested in what’s going through their heads to inspire the choices they make than, ahem, describing the mechanics of choice.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jesse: Are you financing your trip to the game?

It’s a cliché, I know.

“It’s so expensive to go to a professional sporting event these days!”

Well, it is, and I have the floor today. So here’s an analysis of my trip to the baseball game last night. Now, thankfully I didn’t have to pay for every piece of this, but many do. Here’s what a trip for two to the ballpark cost us:

2 Tickets: $90.00
Parking: $15.00
2 Pork Sandwiches: $19.00
1 Medium Coke: $4.00
3 Beers: $21.75
1 Bag of Peanuts: 3.75
1 Obligatory Souvenir That You Know Is A Rip-off But You Have To Buy It Anyway: $8.00

Total Event Cost: $161.50

That’s insane.

It’s so expensive to go to a professional sporting event these days.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holly: “Game of Thrones”…no verdict yet

Let me start by saying I did not read the books. Please don’t write to me and explain that if I’d only read such-and-such I would understand such-and-such. I didn’t, and I bet HBO is assuming 97% of its audience hasn’t either. If a book can’t stand alone as a movie, it shouldn’t be a movie. Having said that, the show did a decent job introducing the players, even if I couldn’t tell you any of their names.

The premiere opened with a lot of promise as a dark medieval drama. That would have been a great show and we’d be having a very different conversation right now. There’s a lot of period drama out there right now, but not much period suspense. The show opens with a snowy, spooky forest, monsters, and plenty of legitimate scares. I actually did my patented “mute the TV because it’s not as scary that way” move which is reserved for the best fright moments.

And then, just when I’m ready to set my DVR to record the series permanently…we get a completely different show. Somehow we go from medieval horror film to Camelot soap opera. We meet Noble Viking Family #1, Evil Lanyard Ken and Barbie, a very disturbing white-haired duo, and of course, the always entertaining Peter Dinklage.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love period soap operas, I really do. But I’m already watching several of those. I was excited for something different, and when that hope shattered in the second scene, I was disappointed only because they’d raised my expectations. So now that we know it’s a standard medieval soap opera, let’s deal with it on its level.

I can support Noble Viking Family #1 and they’re probably the reason I will try Episode 2. The shocking end to Episode 1 will change the dynamics for this loving family. This could either elevate the show or destroy it depending on how they progress. And yes, I know the illegitimate son thing has been done a million times before, but I’m still a sucker for the earnest outcast even if the show felt it necessary to remind us 15 times that he’s a bastard child. (We figured that out from the first lingering gaze between him and Step-Mom. Then confirmed it with the wolves. Then, just in case you still didn’t get it, we discussed it another 10 times to make sure we got the hint. Don’t worry, I’m still cool with it and cheering for our strong-but-melancholy-young-man-who-just-wants-to-make-something-of-himself.)

I could do without the creepy white-haired duo though. As if their incest moment right out of the gate wasn’t uncomfortable enough, they decide to cast an actress that looks like everyone’s 14-year-old niece. Look, I get that we were SUPPOSED to be uncomfortable with that storyline. I get that we were supposed to be disturbed by her “wedding night scene” with the
“Baywatch” guy. Just because I get it, doesn’t mean I want to see it. I have a pretty open mind and strong stomach when it comes to stretching my perceptions for fiction done well, but this pair could be a deal-breaker for me and this show. I’ll give it another shot and see where they’re headed, but if I have to watch barely pubescent doe-eyed girl get graphically used and abused by everyone around her much longer, we will have a problem.

I know this review seems unfocused and void of strong opinions either way, but that’s actually the perfect reflection of my feelings on the show. The verdict is still out on this one. It didn’t immediately capture me like “Camelot” did; it didn’t repel me with surprising indifference like “Boardwalk Empire” either. I’ll give it another shot and hope for more Peter Dinklage. Speaking of which, if you’re curious about the incredible acting chops of this recognizable star, check out “The Station Agent.” There’s no indifference about that movie.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Allison: Random Blog Updates

For the record, I actually play “Wonderwall” pretty well. It’s not as excruciating as Michael makes it sound…my blues improv, however, ok fine. I’ll grant that’s probably torture. I practice my solos with the backing chords in head phones, so I can see why that would cause bloody eardrums to those on the outside. And I know more than 4 notes. Jerk.

The Flyers actually won last night. (That’s F-L-Y-E-R-S, Cass.) Glad she’s finally jumped on board with hockey even if it’s only for a cute guy. Or guys in this case. At least it’s not for the uniforms this time. That’s why she cheered for Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Then again, that worked out pretty well for her. Crap, now I have to think about the tragic Germany/Spain semifinal again. We just began to recover from that.

Moving on. I bet Holly, lover of all things medieval, is planning on checking out HBO’s “Game of Thrones” tonight. She’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow if she does. There’s a lot of hype for this one, but of course, there was a lot of hype for “Boardwalk Empire” and Holly got through half of episode one. She is even a huge fan of Michael Pitt and Steve Buscemi. And period drama, prohibition era history…yeah, pretty much everything that show embodied. Except…not. Too bad. Hopefully she fares better tonight.

Excerpt: Case Study… Chapter 8. Jesse and Kevin talk movies...and Boy Scouts.

“How’d it go? Must have been good if you didn’t come home last night,” Kevin asked as Jesse entered the living room.
“Actually, the opposite. It was a horrible nightmare. I didn’t want to leave Holly alone. She was drained from the emotional trauma of the evening.”
“Wow, that bad, huh? How could they not like you?”
Jesse let out his breath and shook his head. “That’s the worst part. I still don’t know if they like me. They put us through Hell, then gave us some ambiguous blessing.”
“Well, at least it ended ok.”
“I guess.”
“So, now what?”
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. They knew my dad.”
“Really…” Kevin replied ominously.
“Yes. They thought he was a great man. Although arrogant, apparently,” he added wryly.
“Well, at least they got half of it right.”
Jesse smiled. “Look at you, the eternal optimist.”
“Hey, one of us has to bring a little sunshine in here once in awhile. Our apartment can’t be a Russian film all the time.”
He chuckled. “Have you ever even seen a Russian film?”
Kevin shrugged. “Sure…well…what’s your definition of ‘seen?’ I walked through the room while you were watching one with those guys from your philosophy class.”
“That was Memento.”
“Yeah? So?”
“Not Russian.”
“Oh. Well, then, no.”
Jesse shook his head, still smiling, and feeling immensely fortunate to have someone like Kevin in his life. If anyone could make him smile and give him the proper perspective, it was his best friend. “So what’s on the agenda for tonight?”
Kevin shrugged. “I don’t know. I thought maybe we should do something totally wild. Like rent Lassie. The second season of course since, you know, you just watched the first one.”
Jesse laughed and ran his hand over his face. “Wow, you are never going to let this one go, are you.”
“No. I tried, but it’s not possible. C’mon, is she really worth that?”
He grinned and sighed. “Unfortunately, yes, and guess what? If she wants to watch season two, I’m inviting you as well.”
“I’ll bring the Girl Scout cookies.”
Jesse stared at him for a moment with a questioning look and then nodded. “Oh right…because only girl scouts would watch Lassie. I get it.”
“What? I thought that was good!”
“It would have been, but I doubt Girl Scouts sit around eating their own cookies.”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t. But it’s probably like drugs. You don’t use what you sell. Maybe they do, I don’t know. Next time I meet one, I’ll ask.”
“I bet they do. Don’t they compete or something? Their parents probably buy cases of them so they can have the highest amount of sales in their den. Do they have dens?”
“I think that’s Cub Scouts. Girl Scouts would have troops.”
“Oh…What are Cub Scouts?”
“Never mind.”
“No really? If you don’t tell me I’m going to go look it up.”
Jesse sighed. “Fine, they’re like pre-Boy Scouts, I think.”
“Oh…And those are the ones that do the knots, right?”
Jesse laughed. “Do me a favor, and don’t have any kids.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cassie: Hockey – not as bad as I thought

Allison loves hockey and insisted that one of us covers the NHL Hockey Playoffs. Oh, sorry, Colin just said I don’t have to say “NHL hockey” since “NHL” already has hockey in it. Plus, it seems they’re called the “Stanley Cup Playoffs” instead. How was I supposed to know that?

Anyway, it  turns out, Jesse’s the psychology, movie, and baseball guy; Holly’s TV and the voice of reason; Michael’s…well, we don’t really know…he just types and we’re stuck with what comes out; Kevin is music and football; which leaves me for hockey apparently. Since my brother Colin actually is a big hockey fan, I was also the only one who watched some of the games. So, here goes.

Wednesday night was my first real taste of hockey. I thought I would hate it, but I have to admit, it wasn’t bad. Some of the players are actually pretty cute. I wasn’t sure what to write about since I don’t know much about the teams or what’s going on. Colin is a Flier’s fan. Fliers? Flyers? I don’t know. Something like that. They lost last night and he’s furious, so I won’t talk about that. We did watch other games too though, and we still cared about them because the Flieyers (sp?) could win whatever whatever final and face one of the teams we watched. Yeah, I have no clue what I’m talking about. BUT, I do know that it definitely wasn’t what I thought it would be. Here are some myths I learned weren’t true.

Myth 1: Hockey players don’t have teeth. Alright, well, some don’t. But Colin says that’s because they’re the team’s “enforcers” and it’s part of their image. Most of the players do in fact have teeth, and as I hinted above, some actually have great smiles. This might not be as bad as I thought.

Myth 2: You can’t see the puck. Again, you kind of can’t. But the implication is that because you can’t, it’s impossible to tell what’s going on. That’s not true either. Even for a newbie like me, I just had to follow the players. If I looked where they did, I caught a lot of the action. THEY saw the puck at least. Also, usually someone ended up getting slammed onto the ice near the puck. That’s always a good clue as well.

Myth 3: All they do is fight. There actually wasn’t a lot of fighting in the games we watched. Colin says it’s because it’s early in the series. Later there will probably be more because a rivalry will be built. He says a lot of the time it’s part of the strategy. Fights are a good way to build momentum, or change it if your team is down. They also help protect a team’s stars. I guess if someone on their team hurts your star, your fighter guy fights their fighter guy. That’s so medieval. I love it. Oh, I just found out those are the guys with no teeth. Now it’s all starting to make sense.

Myth 4: The trapezoid behind the goalie is for decoration. It’s not. It actually has a purpose. But I still think it looks nice. I forget what it does. Hold on. Ok, Colin says it’s for the goalie. He’s not allowed to go outside of those lines. It keeps him out of the “corners.” How an oval has corners, I have no idea. You know who has really cool uniforms? That Chicago team. The Blackhawks is it? Oh crap, I wasn’t supposed to say that apparently. Colin’s about to explode. Never mind. I only like the Fleyres. Flyers. I think I have a crush on Claude Giroux. Yep. He’s my new favorite Ice Hockey player. I hope they win the NHL Hockey award or whatever. Err…Stanley Cup. Shut up, Colin. Get a girlfriend and then you don’t have to watch the games with your sister.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Michael: Currently Forming a Committee for Sanity

Whose brilliant idea was it to let Allison take guitar lessons? I mean, come on. It was bad enough we had to listen to her play the piano and write her stupid songs all the time. So wait, I know, let’s get her a guitar! Great. Because now she can butcher the B chord in every room of the house. I really don’t think it’s ethical to make someone listen to “Wonderwall” so many times in one week. All I can say is I hope she slays it at her next lesson so we don’t have to hear it another six million times.

She’s also practicing her “blues improv” technique. Yeah, that’s about as delightful as it sounds. I’m thinking someone should tell her there’re more than 4 notes in the blues scale, but then she might actually try to play them. I don’t even want to imagine how that would work out.

And while we’re on the subject of complaining, why does everyone say cats are smart? I just watched the fat striped one eat a feather. Except it couldn’t do it. Do you think that stopped the cat? Nope, it just kept chomping away until it managed to swallow it. In my opinion, if something isn’t edible the first thirty times you try, a smart animal would decide it’s not edible. Eating feathers—not the behavior of a smart animal.

Ok, I feel better now. ….and there’s “Wonderwall.” Holy crap.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Allison’s Writing Blog: Now With Writing, Too!

We’ve been talking here at the blog, and realized, wait a sec, this is technically a writing blog. Shouldn’t we incorporate books and writing somehow? At least once in a while? Why yes, yes we should. And we have the perfect solution: we’ll add a new feature. We love features almost as much as we love lists.

We tried to think of a clever name like “Excerpt Tuesday” or “Today’s Excerpt” but let’s face it, those aren’t clever and who wants to be committed to a Tuesday? So, the name of this grand “new feature” is still pending, but that won’t slow us down. Yeah, you only WISH something would slow us down.

To get this thing off the ground, we will post an excerpt from one of Allison’s novels. It won’t be from the beginning, it might still be a work-in-progress; it may be funny, dramatic, or suspenseful. Heck, it might not even be good (Editor’s Note: We’ll try to make it good). It’ll just be a “hey, what’s up? Here’s what I’m working on…” to bring you into the inner circle.

As our blog, and your confidence, grows, however, hopefully all of you will get involved as well. We are opening this up to any reader (writer or not) and we’re probably more excited to hear your thoughts and see your work than share ours. After all, we’ve read our stuff many times. (He still dies in the end. Ok, not really. Except sometimes.)

If you would like to submit an excerpt for our “Yet-To-Be-Named Excerpt Feature,” just send it to me in the body of an e-mail and I’ll review it ( – no attachments please). As long as it’s not obscene (and yes, that’s subjective, so MY definition of obscene), I’d be happy to post it for you when our feature runs. If you’re a writer it can be anything you’ve published or are currently working on. It can part of a short story, novel, screen play, anything, as long as it’s from your head and your heart. (We like to appease the copyright gods).

If you’re not a writer, there are still plenty of ways for you to share. Hey, go ahead and write that guest post about your thoughts on shampoo, we’re fine with that! And you know we love reviews here at the blog. Movies, TV Shows, books, writing utensils. We’ve also never seen anything on sports that hasn’t piqued our interest.

Just keep it under 600 words (which sadly, to a writer, is basically your name and contact information, but you’ll manage). Also, give us your title and the type of work (if applicable). If it’s something that’s available for purchase, send the link and I’ll post that for you as well. Please include your name and location (city and country is fine).

Oh, one more thing, it has to be in English. Sorry, but I have to be able to read and understand it. Well, ok, I have to be able to read it. There are plenty of works that claim to be in English that I don’t get. (Scarlet Letter anyone? I know, you’ve been branded an adulteress. That sucks. Did you have to use every 8-syllable word in the thesaurus to whine about it?)

So that’s it. Simple, right? And now we can rest easy that we’re still a writing blog at heart. (But don’t worry,  more often than not we will still go off on every tangent under the sun).

Monday, April 11, 2011

Allison: We’re Not Film Snobs

Jesse’s essay this weekend (and really, what else was that but an essay) got me thinking. Are we film snobs? As a general rule we certainly prefer independent and foreign films but they also tend to be intelligent and unique which are characteristics that we prefer in entertainment.  It doesn’t mean we have a problem with those who don’t. You wouldn’t call someone a film snob because they tend to like only buddy comedies, right? Or 2-hour car explosions? Or vampire passion? And then I thought, wait, we like that stuff too when it’s done well. We even like some of that stuff when it’s not done well for no explicable reason.

So then I thought, I have no idea how to define a movie that I “like.” There are movies that are fantastic, but I would never recommend because I doubt others would think so. There are ones that I loved and have no idea why because I shouldn’t. There are ones that I’m not sure I even liked but watched multiple times and couldn’t stop thinking about for days on end. There are ones I would never ever watch again but it took my breath away.

For the purposes of proving we’re not film snobs, however, I decided to compile a list. These are not recommendations (though many are worth watching). Some make no sense on this list, but I’m being fair and impartial. Some we didn’t even like. These are just films we felt it necessary to see multiple times (at least in part), or they had such a dramatic effect on our psyches we had to mention them. Maybe the way to prove we’re not film snobs is to admit that we’ve seen these at all, which means the premise appealed to us enough to take the time to consider them.

So, yeah, it’s basically a meaningless list for the sake of being a list. I bet you can’t wait to waste your time reading it.

Without further ado, in no particular order,

Our Allison’s Blog “We’re Not Film Snobs” Compiled List of Films We’ve Seen and/or Left Our Jaws Open:

Disclaimer (ok, a little bit of further ado): This list is not comprehensive. Since everyone has different tastes and tolerance levels, these are not recommendations. In fact, several would be far from recommendations. This is also limited to relatively recent films. Oh, and it’s off the top of my head so I’m sure I’m missing dozens if not hundreds (see the first sentence). (I did have to research the countries, dates, and some native language titles. If I had known all those, I would have stopped here and declared myself the Queen of Film Snobs).

And now:

Last King of Scotland (UK, 2006)
Ever After (USA, 1998)
In Bruges (UK, 2008)
Das Experiment (Germany, 2001)
Donnie Brasco (USA, 1997)
Ondskan (Sweden/Denmark, 2003)
Ella Enchanted (USA/UK/Ireland, 2004)
Memento (USA, 2000)
Ha-Buah (Israel, 2006)
Rory O’Shea Was Here (UK/Ireland/France, 2004)
Requiem for a Dream (USA, 2000)
Kontroll (Hungary, 2003)
De Tweeling (Netherlands, 2002)
The 27 Club (USA, 2008)
Center Stage (USA, 2000)
The Recruit (USA, 2003)
Nói Albínói (Iceland, 2003)
Penelope (UK/USA, 2006)
Atonement (UK/France, 2007)
Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles (France/USA, 2004)
Starter for 10 (UK/USA, 2006)
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (multiple)
Cold Mountain (USA, 2003)
Elf (USA/Germany, 2003)
Moulin Rouge! (USA/Australia, 2001)
Amores Perros (Mexico, 2000)
La Habitación de Fermat (Spain, 2007)
Zoolander (USA/Australia/Germany, 2001)
Batman Begins (USA/UK, 2005)
Enemy at the Gates (USA/Germany, 2001)
Amelie (France/Germany, 2001)
Lagaan (India, 2001)
Le Silence de Lorna (Belgium, 2008)
Dans Paris (France, 2006)
Politist, Adjectiv (Romania, 2009)
Pride & Prejudice (France/UK, 2005)
The Hole (UK, 2001)
Candy (Australia, 2006)
Sleepy Hollow (USA/Germany, 1999)
Monsoon Wedding (India, 2001)
La Science des Rêves (France/Italy, 2006)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (USA, 2003)
Three Kings (USA/Australia, 1999)
The Dream Catcher (USA, 1999)
The Others (USA, 2001)
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (New Zealand/USA, 2001)
Delirious (USA, 2006)
The Boondock Saints (Canada/USA, 1999)
Underworld (UK/Germany, 2003)
Stage Beauty (UK/USA/Germany, 2004)

I’ll be merciful and stop there. We could probably fill an entire website with this subject. If you haven’t seen a single film on this list, you’re probably not reading this blog. If you have, you’re probably wondering how these films could possibly be on the same list. That’s ok. It’s just a random list for the sake of being a list. We love lists here at the blog.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jesse: “The Experiment” – Ein Disappointment

Strap in. This is a long one. But it’s about movies and psychology, so you’re lucky I stopped at all.

Reality: In the early ‘70s, Stanford University’s Philip Zimbardo conducted a now infamous study on the dramatic effect of human role-playing behavior. He simulated a prison environment using average university students that lasted only six days of the planned fourteen. Why? Because the illusion became real and the conditions that evolved for the prisoner students were so horrendous, Zimbardo was forced to call it off. The fascinating and horrifying results of this study impacted our understanding of human nature to such an extent that psychologists and researchers have referenced the Stanford Prison Study countless times since then. It’s inspired textbooks, novels, subsequent studies, and movies.

This brings us to the purpose of this post: evaluating the latest offering regarding this concept, Hollywood’s recent remake of the German film, “Das Experiment.”

I have to start by disclosing two facts:
1. I’ve seen “Das Experiment” several times. I was familiar with the Stanford Prison Study when I viewed it, which is what piqued my interest in the movie.
2. I have an IQ over 80.

And now, two things we can count on from Hollywood:
1.  The opening credits will be great.
2. The screenwriters, directors, and producers will assume the audience is incredibly dumb.

“The Experiment” certainly lived up to its obligation.

I was eager to see this film, and it began with promise. I desperately want to enjoy any bit of “entertainment” that can educate and/or illustrate an important psychological concept. The fact that our environment and circumstances can make even the most docile person become hostile is a frightening reality we can’t ignore. I really, really wanted to like it.

I didn’t.

The thing is, where “Das Experiment” relied on the actors to demonstrate the nuance of human behavior that could lead to such atrocities, “The Experiment” relied on a screenwriter smacking the audience over the head. The actual Stanford Prison Study required only human nature to escalate to the absurd, but “The Experiment” seemed to decide no one would believe reality. You could almost see the round table of writers scratching their heads as they tried to insert “Reasons” and “Explanations” into the script. “No one would believe this could happen. I know! What if we…?!”

The irony though? It did actually happen, and I believed the logical build a whole lot more in “Das Experiment” than I did in “The Experiment.” I don’t remember thinking once about the sequence of events that took our hero Tarek Fahd from his initial incarceration on day one to the jolting end when the bloody participants were left staring into the camera.  And yet, I found myself shaking my head several times as Travis and Barris faced off in “The Experiment.” It was almost like the movie didn't trust its own premise.

I also didn’t like how “The Experiment” neglected the roles of the researchers altogether. One of the other fascinating phenomena of the Stanford Prison Study was the fact that Zimbardo himself was so absorbed into the role-playing that he also began to lose perspective. An uninvolved colleague had to snap him out of his role and alert him to the reality of what they’d created. I’ll admit that “Das Experiment” does venture a bit into the unlikely with regard to the ultimate fates of the researchers, but it at least doesn’t ignore their roles and makes them participants in the process. In the actual study, there was no physical violence, and certainly no death. I have to believe that no researcher, regardless of the principles at play, would allow a study to escalate to the death of a participant without intervention. “Das Experiment” deals with that issue. “The Experiment” doesn’t. They tried to tack on a weak newscaster voiceover at the end, but the movie had already lost me by then. I couldn’t even tell you everything they said. It was a copout no matter what it was.

Now to the ending, and the most egregious insult of the film. Let me make this clear, I didn’t expect subtlety. I was hoping for it, but I didn’t expect it. Like I said, Hollywood tends to cater to the lowest common denominator, so explosions and breasts, yes, subtlety and nuance, no. But I also didn’t expect to have a,

“Hi, audience! This is what the movie was about. We were trying to make a point. Did you get it?” moment.

But alas, it did… Because we’re dumb. What an irritating contrast that was to the conclusion of “Das Experiment” where we were given only the probing, shocked, horrified, confused, accusatory stares of the actors. I remember thinking, “wow,” and sitting in silence for a moment as I absorbed the message at the end of that film. The remake? It’s hard to be poignant when you’re basically chucking road flares at your audience.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m no xenophile. I’m not one of those self-righteous film snobs who automatically gives a film three stars because it has subtitles. There are plenty of fantastic films that are in English. Heck, Hollywood can even claim responsibility for a few of them. I will watch anything that looks interesting regardless of its language, culture, or theme, and I judge it on its own merits. I once sat through a seven-hour miniseries on War and Peace – in Russian. Also, make no mistake: I think Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody are great actors. Anyone who’s seen “The Last King of Scotland” will never question Mr. Whitaker’s gift. My problem with “The Experiment” was not the acting by any means. It was the basic construction and lack of faith in the audience.

From “This movie is a remake of a movie based on a book that was inspired by the real-life Stanford prison experiment.”

Yeah, that about sums it up. If you want the best version, research the Stanford Prison Study. If you want an interesting take on the psychological principles at work in that experiment, check out 2001’s “Das Experiment.” If you want to waste 96minutes of your life, or you’re pretty sure you’re really dumb, rent 2010’s “The Experiment.”

But whatever you pick, make sure you have a strong stomach and are open to some tough self-examination.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sam: The Peter Principle, We're All Idiots

Just finished reading The Peter Principle by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. Interesting stuff. The world is full of idiots because everyone rises to their level of incompetence. Good read. I buy it. 

If you’re smart enough to get to the next level, you’ll move up. You’ll keep moving up until you reach a point where you’ve passed your maximum capabilities and you fail miserably. It’s there you will stay until you die, forever screwing everything up. Multiply that by billions, and there you go. Our world.

Spent the morning demoting everyone in my company just to be safe.

*Editor note: Sam has clearly risen to his level of incompetence.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Allison: Blog Reader Appreciation Day

Hi, everyone! I just wanted to take a moment to officially declare today: “Allison’s Blog Reader Appreciation Day.”

Not so long ago this blog saw nothing but the occasional visit from my mom. And actually, I’m not entirely sure she ever looked at it. She probably still doesn’t, so never mind. (If you do, I love you, Mom!)

Anyway, it’s been great to see so many of you come on board and hang out with us here even if most of you are pretty quiet. I don’t blame you. What do you really say to half of the insanity we throw out there? Still, despite our randomness, you stick by us and we have readers from all over the world. We love you all dearly and decided it’s time for a special acknowledgement to all of you.

To those in Germany, stay tuned for a special post on "Das Experiment" in the near future (and plenty on the Bundesliga, I’m sure). In case you’re wondering, Daniel Mueller in my next novel Franklin Academy is German, but is not in any way a reference to Bayern Munich’s Thomas Mueller. Our son Lukas’ name, however, may have been inspired by Lukas Podolski…

To those in Canada, since my other half was born and raised in Toronto, Canada will always be near and dear to our hearts. We travel there frequently and visit with family and friends all over Ontario. You will see much rumination about those experiences. Maybe we can BBQ next time we’re up there.

I would also like to give a special hello to our reader in Indonesia. Even though I know you’re only a spammer trying to get us to buy a cheap laptop battery, I appreciate you stopping by. I hope you’re at least enjoying a laugh or two as you post your spam.

For those in Ireland, Holly wanted to do an entry on a recent Irish film she saw, but I asked her not to because of the controversial nature of the subject. (If you’d like to have a private discussion, by all means, please contact me via e-mail I always love constructive dialogue on any subject and learning as much as possible about other people, cultures, and the world that houses all of us).

*Quick Aside: That goes for anyone. E-mail me if you have something you want to say but aren’t ready to go public. If I receive your comment directly through e-mail I will assume you want it to remain private unless you state otherwise. Just put “blog” in the subject line so I see the context of your message.

To those from the United States, hey, how’s it going? Why haven’t you bought my book yet??? Kidding! …but you should. AND, we love you too.

We’re all in this epoch together regardless of who we are, where we’re from, to what we aspire, or where we’ve been. We’re all pieces of the same blip in history and have the same obligations to respect and understand each other even if we don’t always agree.

So one big, giant hug all around, and thank you for being a part of this journey. Hopefully this is only the beginning!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kevin: Friday's Fiasco

I apologize ahead of time, but this is going to be a venting post. Some of you may remember we were supposed to play a show Friday night. If you came out, I’m sorry and I hope you didn’t spend too much on drinks. If you lost your shirt, hopefully you at least had better luck with that smokin’ brunette by the coat rack than Devin did. (Sorry, dude, you’re the bass player. Only grandma’s impressed.)

Anyway, where to start. First off, we get to the club and find out we’re supposed to go on at 8, not 9 like they originally said. THEN, as if that doesn’t suck enough, they tell us we have to use their equipment because of some coding thing they got slammed for the night before. Uh…excuse me? You mean that 100 dollar 20 watt starter amp you’ve got balancing on the crate by the stage? You can’t mean that. You can’t POSSIBLY mean that. But they did. Oh, they did. I’m exaggerating slightly, but it was seriously the biggest piece of junk I’ve ever seen. My sweet Les Paul sounded like the Wal-Mart “Joys of Electric Guitar Starter Kit.” I swear I felt poor Les literally cough a few times throughout the night. We should have just bagged the show right then, but Chris wanted the hundred bucks since we already drove down to the city (and Devin wanted the Brunette by the coat rack). Which is BOGUS, because they didn’t make Chris use their crappy drums and Devin’s amp actually wasn’t terrible. Go figure.

Anyhoo, so we’re creeping through our set and we’re about to launch into the killer chorus of our new tune “Forget Me Not,” and of course my pedal decides NOT to work. So that’s great because I programmed the PERFECT distortion just to blow their minds. Instead, I get a clean strum of the first bar. It sounds like a freakin’ third-grader’s 2nd guitar lesson. Jason’s giving me the evil eye until he figures out what happened. So he covers the rhythm for me and I take over the lead. Which is also fantastic since there’s this sick riff in the bridge that would make Jimi Hendrix shudder, but I guess I pulled it out enough to not look like a complete idiot.

I could go on and on but it’s too depressing. Katie says it wasn’t that bad, but Katie’s an angel. So “not that bad” to her is ear-shattering awful to the rest of us. I can tell you one thing though, we will not be playing there again. No way. No how. Les is getting a surprise tune-up just for being a champ and putting up with that nonsense. Oh, and Sally my Orange amp got a huge hug when we got home. I love you, babe!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Allison: Tim Horton's

Hi, everyone. It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, I know. (Other than the ghost edits intended to preserve at least some semblance of sanity on this website.) Recent events and posts, however, left me in a position to make a personal interjection. It would be remiss of us to shower accolades on Sweden, Germany, and various regions of the United States, without acknowledging our other favorite land that’s near and dear to our hearts, Canada.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Canada, and after Holly’s brave confession yesterday, it’s my turn. Here goes:

At first, I didn’t get Tim Horton’s. I mean, I got that it was a coffee shop. I got that there were four on every corner. I even got that they were packed from open to close every single day. What I didn’t get was why. It’s a coffee shop. Less expensive than Starbucks, slightly better quality than Dunkin’ Donuts. So what.

A chain coffee shop is fine. A packed coffee shop is fine. Four coffee shops on every corner seems a bit excessive, but ok. Taken together, it was insanity to an unseasoned tourist like me.

And then I went to Tim Horton’s. And yes, now we have to go every day. And yes, we don’t always go in the morning. And yes, it’s completely awesome that wherever we are in the greater Toronto area we can find a Tim Horton’s faster than we can find a gas station or a street light. And yes, I love Tim Horton’s. I still have no idea why, but as soon as we cross the border, the switch goes off and Tim Horton’s joins the ranks of fiber, protein, and vitamin C as necessary for physical survival during our stay.

Don’t believe me? Mention Tim Horton’s to any Canadian and they will smile. They know. Maybe I’m just jealous because I’m not sure I can think of the equivalent in our country. Do we have such a tangible piece of national identity? That’s not rhetorical. Please post comments if you can think of something that binds all Americans like Tim Horton’s binds Canadians.

I’m sure there are Canadian’s who don’t like Tim Horton’s. There are probably even some that have never been inside one. But they’ll still understand your question when you ask. Speaking of which, when my fellow band-mate interviewed my hero Trevor McNevan of Thousand Foot Krutch and FM Static she asked if I had any questions for him. TFK’s my favourite band of all time. Of course I did. I’m the “friend” referenced in the last one.

I told you so.