Children of the Bandit

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We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.

                                                Jerry Reed, “East Bound and Down”

The title of this post could be “Procrastination.” True to the theme, I started writing this about a month ago, after Tim and I watched Smokey and the Bandit. But the holidays and other topics intervened.

I could use the same excuses for The Tremors on the PCH, the working title of the second book in the Lacey Becnel series. It’s the follow-up to The Incident Under the Overpass. In truth, I am not as far along as I hoped to be by this point. I’ve got an incomplete first draft, where I hoped to have at least a complete first draft by the time 2016 ended. While I’m not in full-on-panic-mode yet, I’m not ruling out the possibility of it striking. Soon.

Call it confirmation bias, but there are two things I read recently that made me feel a little better about my current state of incompletion.

First, Smokey and the Bandit. This is a movie I’ve only come to appreciate in recent years. Even though it is chock full of stuff I’ve long had an affinity for: big rigs, convoys, CB radios, car chases, romance, and alcohol. But it’s the song—“East Bound and Down,” by Jerry Reed—that’s pertinent to the point I’m trying to make. The lyrics at the top of this post have been in my head for the past month. (Because I have a long way to go. And a short time to get there.)

So here’s the first thing that assuaged my procrastination guilt: “East Bound and Down” was written overnight. Thank you, Mental Floss (13 Fast Facts about Smokey and the Bandit)

After promising he would come up with a song, he (Reed) didn’t have one at the end of filming. After (director Hal Needham) asked him about it, Reed promised he would have something for him the following morning. Despite being out all night, Reed managed to sing his new song “East Bound and Down” for Needham the next day. When Needham didn’t react right away, Reed said, “If you don’t like it I can change it. “If you change one damn note, I’ll f*ckin’ kill you!” the director replied.

I’m going to assume Jerry Reed didn’t compose it out of thin air—that he had been playing around with elements of the song, but just hadn’t gotten around to the actual composition. It’s probably more confirmation bias, but I could say I’ve been doing the same with Tremors on the PCH.

The second thing was a cover story on Vulture.com about Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men. (Thanks for posting that, Hosky).

This is a film I’ve only seen once, ten years ago, at the movie theater. It’s one of those films that made a big impression, and was disturbing enough, that I didn’t feel the need to own, or re-watch multiple times.

The article, by Abraham Riesman, is interesting. It draws comparisons to our current state of the world and the dystopian future (the year 2027) depicted in the film. But what really interested me was a behind-the-lens story Cuarón tells of a scene near the end of the film. It’s one long take where the main protagonist, Theo (played by Clive Owen) is racing through a refugee camp, dodging gunfire and explosions.

“I think we had 14 days to shoot the whole set piece, except by day 12, we hadn’t rolled cameras yet,” Cuarón recalls. On the afternoon of the 13th day, they were finally ready to film. But around the 90-second mark, Cuarón yelled “Cut” because, as he puts it, the take “was just wrong.” . . . The morning of the final day dawned, and they gave it another stab. The cameras rolled, the scene commenced — then camera operator George Richmond tripped and the camera fell. Five hours of reset later, Cuarón had only one chance left.

To sum up, they shoot the scene, and it seems to be going well, but Cuarón freaks out because some fake blood accidentally squirts on the camera lens. He yells “Cut,” but no one hears him because of all the explosions. He’s thinking all is lost, but his cinematographer assures him that the accident was nothing short of miraculous. In the end, it only added to the hyper-real feel of the film.

So, yes, I just wrote about Smokey and the Bandit and Children of Men in the same post. But, I guess, I find it pretty fascinating that both an enduring song, and an enduring scene, were born in the last possible moments under a looming deadline.

Dearly Departed: Carrie Fisher, 1956-2016

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“There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.’”

-Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

Of all the great talents we have lost this year, this loss hits especially hard. I shudder to think of what more might be in store in these last four days of this watershed year.

Why this hits hard: when you’re an adult, yet you still dress up as Princess Leia once a year, that means the roles played by Carrie Fisher have transcended run-of-the-mill stardom in your life.

But it’s not just her integral part in the whole Star Wars galaxy. I’ve admired Carrie Fisher the writer for decades now. I remember reading all the promotional material around Postcards from the Edge when I was in college. She published the book during my first year, and the movie came out toward the end of my time in school. I took note of both her honesty and fearlessness.

It was also around that time that I discovered Carrie Fisher was a much-sought-after script doctor. Back then, I’m not sure I knew that such a vocation even existed. I wish I could say I have since become a script doctor or ghostwriter of some renown, but I would not be emulating Carrie Fisher’s honesty if I did. But the point is that I still have that aspiration, due, in large part, to her.

And of all the work she’s done in movies, either on the screen or as a writer, there is one tiny cameo role that stands out in my memory. It’s in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. I think Carrie Fisher has less than two minutes of screen time. But the context, the comedic timing, the dialogue is all so pitch perfect; it’s hard to forget.

I’ll leave you with one last quote attributed to Carrie Fisher. I don’t know where it’s from:

I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.

I hope she realized before the end that she managed to accomplish this—in funny, fiery, and downright heroic fashion.

Rogue One

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So, I saw Rogue One on Friday. And I’ll try to keep what I’m about to write spoiler free. Since it seems I’m inherently unable to write a straight-up review anyway, that shouldn’t be too hard.

I feel kind of bad that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hasn’t received the same level of hype as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Though, to be sure, the amount of hype out there is more than sufficient.) Because I thought it was a really good movie, possibly a notch above last year’s offering. I enjoyed Rogue One more than The Force Awakens.

All of what I’m about to write has been touted before, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything: Rogue One is meant as a stand-alone story. There’s no crawl at the beginning, signaling it’s not part of the (now) seven-episode Star Wars story arc. Which I guess is why it’s not getting the same amount of hype as Episode Seven, or (I can only imagine) what next year’s Episode Eight will get.

A nice byproduct of the lessened hype: I didn’t need to implement the same level of planning as I did for The Force Awakens. Husband Tim and I prefer to watch the standard viewings—no IMAX or other vertigo-inducing formats for us. (Even though the IMAX poster is probably my favorite of all of them). So it was pretty easy to secure tickets for an early evening show, and we had our pick of seats in the theater.

Here, in no particular order, are the reasons I enjoyed Rogue One:

  • No cliffhangers. Unlike The Force Awakens, with everyone still wondering about Rey’s parentage, at the end of Rogue One, I was left satisfied that this story has concluded.
  • The director, Gareth Edwards, also directed 2014’s Godzilla.
  • Rogue One sufficiently explained something about the Death Star that had always bothered me.
  • Rogue One is a really good war movie, with the characters finding strength they didn’t know they had, making sacrifices, and doing a bunch of stuff for a greater cause than their own individual interests.
  • One of the first trailers for the movie led me to believe the filmmakers might try to make the lead character, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), a knock-off of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Which would have been a shame, because there’s no need to borrow from another storyline—Star Wars has the architecture for great female characters. So I was relieved that I didn’t get that sense at all. I loved the character and Jones’ portrayal. My only comment is that I wouldn’t have minded seeing a few more female combatants in the Rogue One crew.
  • K-2SO. I’ll try to keep this brief. Hands-down my favorite droid in all of Star Wars. While I love R2-D2, and was just as captivated by BB-8’s cuteness as most everyone else, K-2SO is everything I love in a mechanical humanoid character. It’s almost as if Douglas Adams’s marvelous Marvin the Paranoid Android got reincarnated into a reprogrammed Imperial security droid.
  • K-2SO, part two. Alan Tudyk. A.k.a. Wash from Firefly. Alan Tudyk is K-2SO. I’m going to make a fool of myself geeking out over Alan Tudyk. So I’m going to stop here.

Anyway, if you like war movies, and Star Wars, go see Rogue One. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Quarter Report

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I’ve written before about how I admire The Fast and the Furious’ Dom Toretto, and his ability to live his life a quarter mile at a time. And so we come to the last quarter of 2016, a year in which, by my account, it’s been easier to focus on each day, or quarter mile, as it comes. Because expectations any further out are likely to be blown out the water.

Water is a theme, here. In that Vin Diesel-y post from April, I wrote how I awoke at the stroke of midnight on April 1, 2016, the dawn of the second quarter. Oddly enough, the same thing happened on October 1, 2016, the dawn of the fourth quarter. While it seemed noteworthy that my phone read 12:00 on the nose the first time I awoke, it was not so unusual that I woke up several more times that night. Because I had pre-race jitters. I was due in the Gulf of Mexico in a few hours, as part of a triathlon relay team.

As much as I would love to write that the swim ahead of me was a quarter mile, 600 yards is actually closer to a third of a mile. Sure, I could take some literary license, but I tend to agonize over details, and it doesn’t feel right to fudge this one.

It was not my first time doing this race, the Santa Rosa Island Triathlon in Pensacola. I had done it once before, with the same team, four years ago. Or sixteen quarters ago.

I was excited—open water swims are a pretty big deal to me. I swim frequently, but not in open water. The stakes and the risks are too high. It’s a little like trick-or-treating.

Let me explain. As a kid, I wouldn’t go around on some random night soliciting candy. That’s almost asking for a trick. Instead, the activity is saved for a special occasion—Halloween—when everyone else is dressed up funny, hitting the streets, and begging for treats. Stakes lessened, risks mitigated.

Same for open water races. Everyone else is dressed funny, hitting the water, scaring away the man-eating sea creatures. And there are plenty of folks on jet skis and paddleboards to watch over you, and come to your rescue if needed.

All signs pointed to my swim being trick-free the day before the race. The water was clear and calm, and the flags were green. But then this happened the morning of the race, as I walked to the start:

A race volunteer, standing at the water’s edge, told me there were a lot of “moon jellyfish” in the water.

“What’s a moon jellyfish?” I asked.

“Really big, round, jellyfish. But they have short tentacles, so you should be fine,” he answered.

Great… I thought. Hope I’m not allergic to jellyfish stings.

Turns out, I’m not. I’m pretty sure I avoided the big ones, but I did finish the swim feeling itchy from the trillions of other tiny living things in the water.

So that’s the trick part. But there’s a treat, too. The best way for me to describe it is with a movie quote. At the end of The Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery’s Captain Marko Ramius quotes a poem:

And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.

(A side note—Captain Ramius credits Christopher Columbus with the quote. But that’s a fiction—the Internet tells me the screenwriter, Larry Ferguson, wrote it for the movie). Anyway, whoever came up with it, it’s memorable and rings true. Because I come away with a sense of renewal every time I emerge from the surf; snotty and salty and covered with microscopic primordial creatures.

Renewal ain’t always pretty.

That feeling is the reason why I’ll do another open water race, hopefully sooner rather than later. I may attempt to live my life a quarter mile (or third mile, or even a full mile) at a time. But some quarter miles are more meaningful, more engaging, than others. Those are the ones I’m seeking.

P.S. – my time improved from the last time I did this race, and my team members crushed their ride and run, respectively. We placed 3rd in Coed teams! And yes, there were more than three Coed teams. 🙂