Parkour Right There

By Piper Bayard

Parkour rocks. Maybe because it’s magic to those of us with bad knees or fear of heights. Maybe it’s because the guys in the parkour movies are ripped and don’t wear their shirts too often. But it’s probably because it takes amazing athleticism.

Parkour, or l’art du deplacement, is the art of moving fluidly through the environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing, and jumping. It is often practiced in urban areas where there are plenty of buildings to jump between and railings and walls to jump over.

David Belle Parkour Eleazar Castillo wikimedia

David Belle

image by Eleazar Castillo, wikimedia

The founder of parkour is actor and choreographer David Belle. The son, grandson, and brother of rescuers in the French military fire service, he bases his art on the teachings of his father. His movies include District B13, B13—Ultimatum, and Prince of Persia.

Check out David Belle in this clip from District B13.

Of course, not everyone is a David Belle.

Though with time and hard work some few develop real skills.

Ronnie Shalvis and Devin Graham even combine parkour with a popular computer game. The joke in our house is that the animated figure in Assassin’s Creed walks like a runway model, and, of course, that his outfit makes him so anonymous on the streets. Ronnie doesn’t just wear the costume and jump over things. He studied the walk.

If you have a few minutes, the Behind the Scenes–Assassins Creed Meets Parkour is rather interesting. You’ll find it as an option at the end of this video.

So are you ready to go jump off your front porch? 

All the best to all of you for a week of easy landings.

The End is Near (and we deserve it). . . . ‘Balloon Boy’ Trading Cards

Remember the dad in Colorado who made a shiny balloon in his back yard and then hid his kid in a cupboard, cut the balloon free, and told police his kid was in it?

Michael Fruitman (the name is a clue) bought the balloon at auction and is now using it to make trading cards. And people are buying them. The silver lining if the end is near is that we never have to hear about that crazy balloon dad again. Click the title below for the full story.

‘Balloon Boy’ Trading Cards Take Flight

Blogs and Articles in No Particular Order

National Best Selling Author Roni Loren last week called our attention to the fact that bloggers really can be sued for using photos they find around the internet. But she also brings us something hopeful this week. A Bright Side — Writers Building a Photo Sharing Community

A good companion to that article is August McLaughlin’s blog, Blog Images Made Easy: Tips from a Non-Graphic Artist.

Lee Child Debunks the Biggest Writing Myths over at Writers Digest.

Interesting article via Best Selling Author Larry Enright. Book Printed in Ink that Vanishes after Two Months

image from SusieLindau.com

Get this. A beaded Volkswagon. Really. From Susie Lindau, Catching the Love Bug.

Copyright vs. Trademark…Fight! Do you know the difference? A common question answered by author and publishing law attorney, Susan Spann.

In praise of randomness. Nigel Blackwell says Don’t Let Randomness Die.

And just in case you’re feeling bad about yourself today, check out Donna Newton’s WARNING: Read Only if You Want to Feel Intelligent. It’ll boost your self-esteem like a Jerry Springer Show.

Our fun video of the day is from Richard Snow. His son is a movie stunt man, Mike “Smo” Snow, and this is his Mike Snow Stunt Reel 2012.

Now for our Poll Daddy political campaign style question of the day.

All the best to all of you for keeping your kids out of the cupboards.

Piper Bayard

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: RED

Per a request from our reader, Ellie Ann Soderstrom, Holmes and I sat down together a while back to review the movie, RED. RED is a movie about a retired black-ops CIA agent who puts his old team back together when someone tries to assassinate him. Both Holmes and I found this film delightful, and we weren’t even drinking guinda that evening. . . .

RED Movie Poster

Bayard

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s what I think of as a “Nolan Ryan film.” For those of you who are not adherents of the faith of Baseball, as I am, Nolan Ryan pitched a perfect game in 1991 at the age of forty-four. In other words, he was an old dude showing the puppies how it’s done. Likewise, RED is a tribute to the timeless adage that age and treachery will win over youth and skill every time. I don’t know about you, but I like that theme more and more with every passing year.

As an author, one character I particularly appreciated was Frank, played by Bruce Willis. Frank is a kick-ass former government agent who reads romance novels and is sweet on Sarah (Mary Louise Parker), a customer service representative he’s only ever talked to on the phone. This caught my heart right away because there’s really something to that notion of the sensitive tough guy.

Over the years, I’ve known a variety of individuals who could reasonably be classified as, “bad-ass dudes.” Each and every one of them had a soft spot. . . . Some well-developed aspect of gentleness. . . . From a Hell’s Angel who photographed flowers to a Delta Force original who taught aikido to the softest, greenest civilians Continuing Education could send him. So the fact that Frank in the movie was a retired spook who read romance novels made him real and well-rounded to me right from the start.

As a belly dancer and a woman, I loved Helen Mirren’s evening dress with combat boots. As Mama always said, “Shoes and handbag make the outfit.” Mirren was brilliant in the role of Victoria, the high-class cross between Florence Nightingale and Attila the Hun that Frank used to work with.

I think this movie would be great fun for anyone who enjoys colorful, well-developed characters in extremely unrealistic situations.

Holmes:

If you’re looking for a serious spy story sort of movie, this wouldn’t be it, but if you want a laugh, this is a good movie for you. I don’t want to criticize the what-ifs because they weren’t trying to be serious. Even “old hands” from the Reagan Era can enjoy this movie. Just relax and don’t take it seriously.

Regarding the trick of putting bullets in a skillet and heating them up to make them fire. . . . Bullets only sound like they have been fired from a weapon if they are fired in a weapons chamber or test chamber. Bullets heated in a skillet would sound like the cheapest grade of half wet firecrackers. Also, pan frying bullets won’t fire the bullet, but shell casing fragments could fly fast enough to hurt your eye. Do not try this at home.

Joe, Marvin and Frank questioning a prisoner

As far as the Retired Extremely Dangerous designation is concerned, there is no big file of REDs. The two basic categories of retired CIA agents are “Retired and Willing to Work for Free” and “Retired and Not Willing to Work for Free.”

We rate this movie a .357, which means we wouldn’t resent paying prime time prices if we were willing to tolerate the prime time crowds, which we’re not. (Click here for rating system.) It was a creative, entertaining movie, and we can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to enjoy it. It’s not deeply meaningful or life-changing, but it’s good, light fun. The script was well-written, the actors did their jobs well, and the production was high quality. We recommend this movie as an amusing way to spend a couple of hours of your life.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Mechanic

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

By popular request, Holmes and I went to see The Mechanic, a film about a hit man who kills his friend, and then takes in his friend’s son as his protégé. Jason Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, the hit man, and Ben Foster plays Steve McKenna, the pup he takes in. So here’s what an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations have to say about this film. . . .

Overall, we think The Mechanic will rightfully appeal to people who like lots of action and explosions in their movies. There are several fun scenes that we won’t comment on because we don’t want to ruin the movie for you. However, Holmes and I agree the whole premise has a few drawbacks.

The first thing we spotted is that you don’t wait at the bottom of a pool to kill a guy, especially when you only have a small bottle of compressed air to breathe off of. What if that guy decides to shower or cozy up to one of his molls before he swims? You suffocate. And with four guys wielding machine guns outside the pool? No. You slip in when no one’s there, put a toxin in his swim goggles, and get gone, because the best place to be when your enemy dies is in another country.

Ben Foster as Steve McKenna

We also agree that no professional in any business knowingly pairs up with a mentally unstable, reckless individual. Even if Arthur had a momentary lapse of judgment out of compassion for his friend’s son, the first time the protégé deliberately disobeyed instructions, he’d be out the door wearing cement shoes. Professionals involved in any aspect of covert operations, legal or illegal, avoid associating with people who are obviously self-destructive because they just don’t recruit people who are going to burn down their world.

Now to our individual comments. I’m leaving this mostly to Holmes because of his expertise in covert operations.

Bayard:

As an author, I appreciated the smooth shifts in the antagonist focus. The Mechanic sorts through the bad guys and the good guys by bringing you along with the one consistent good guy. It’s an effective and artful way to traverse the twists of intrigue without dropping you into a high-speed blender.

And speaking of blenders, I liked that scene. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Holmes liked it, as well, and thought it was one of the more plausible scenes in the film.

The Fantasy:  Handsome Arthur Bishop Always Wins

I don’t have any comments as a dancer, but as a woman, I can say that Arthur Bishop is a most appealing anti-hero. Very powerful and sexy with his own brand of integrity. Reality check to the ladies, though. Having a hit man for your love interest would have to seriously suck, no matter how handsome or smooth or classy he is, and most of them aren’t.  I mean, this is a guy who values cash above human life. Not only that, he’s gone all the time, he can’t say where or how long, and don’t even think about calling him. He’s the one going places and doing wild things. You’re the one working as a waitress in a sleazy bar, just hoping he’ll call.

Holmes

This movie is not for everyone. It’s an action flick, and there’s more action than flick here. The writers, producers, and directors seemed to follow the tried and true approach of adding more explosions, gunshots, and noise whenever the writing became difficult.

I would say that the acting is better than the script. The conversations appear to be some writer’s first impression of what conversations in the real world might actually be like. Given the vast number of unemployed writers who have life experience and social contacts, I find the lack of polish and effort regrettable. With the bare minimum of dialogue taping together the action scenes, this was the script version of Queasy Cam.

Also, in movies, as in real life, chase scenes and shootouts are much more dramatic after a calm interval. Part of what makes action interesting in an action movie is that contrast. The Mechanic would be better by a whole notch if they left out 10 minutes of violence and replaced it with 10 more minutes of character development, setting, and dialogue.

I thought the sex was just enough that I would not bring any of my nieces to this movie. The visual and verbal allusions to sadomasochistic sex do fit the hit man’s character, but, in my view, they create a smaller audience for this movie. If you’re a dad, and you find yourself willing to share these scenes with your daughter, consider giving your daughter up for adoption while there’s still time for her to develop sanity. For that matter, I wouldn’t bring any guy or gal under the age of fifteen to this movie.

Now, if you’re curious about the plausibility of this movie, here’s my take. Let’s not bother with the procedural errors because you weren’t hoping that this movie would be an assassination manual, and if you were, I wouldn’t want to help you, anyway. . . . So the plausibility of this highly glamorous, 5-star living Murder Incorporated racket is nill. Why would you pay $50 million to kill somebody when you could pay 20 sleazebags $10k each and see who gets him first?

The idea of some big organization with several teams of assassins all working together in a collegial environment, completing hits at a breakneck pace (no pun intended)—it just doesn’t happen. With that many people involved, the risk of them turning state’s evidence would be beyond control, not to mention the supply and demand issue. These are killers who don’t share a goal or a value. Their only value is money, and there’s no way to hold a group of people together without some other common value. Organized crime struggles with this every day. If you want to know the reality, read the news about Mexican drug cartels. They are what happens when the only common ideology is wealth.

Our Rating:

With a little more character, setting and script development The Mechanic could have been a .357, but, as it is, we have to rate it a .38 special. (Click here for rating system.) There were enough creative action scenes (action as in murder) to make the movie worth seeing for action movie enthusiasts. It has lots of nice explosions and creative use of such things as a bus, a garbage truck, and a garbage disposal. It’s certainly an improvement over the original Charles Bronson/Jan Michael-Vincent version, but if you require plausibility in a movie, stay home and read a good book.

If you’re interested in learning about the life of a real hit man, check out the book Blood Relation. In it, journalist Eric Konigsberg interviews his uncle Harold “Kayo” Konigsberg who was a freelance hit man for various Mafia families and is responsible for more than 20 murders.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: Black Swan

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Black Swan is a psychodrama about a ballet dancer, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who flips out in her quest for perfection. By popular request, Holmes and I recently went to see it so we could give you a review from the perspective of an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations.

Holmes and I agree that Black Swan puts the psycho in psychodrama. Aside from the fact that we’ve both spent a great deal of effort eliminating psychos from our lives, and sitting in a room with them for two hours isn’t something we would ordinarily choose to do, we also agree that it was an excellent movie. Beware, however. Do not take your kids. As far as this small town girl and this rather worldly boy are concerned, Black Swan stretches its R rating to the limit.

We both also thought the queasy cam effects, while reflective of Nina’s growing instability, were a bit much. By the way, queasy cam is that documentary-type, shakey image that promotes a feel of instability and makes you seasick just watching it. Holmes says it well for both of us. “Charlie Chaplin and his pals went to great lengths to develop methods of avoiding that effect, and I wonder how horrified he would have been to see such violent camera work.”

Now on to our individual comments. . . .

Bayard:

I knew nothing about Black Swan when I walked in except for what I got out of the SNL skit the other night with Jim Carrey.

As an author, I was impressed with the character development and the plot movement. With no visible back story, we know soon enough that Nina is a head case. This is well represented throughout the movie by her relationship to her skin. Also, I appreciated the smooth ebb and flow of tension, with each wave building on the last. The exception to this for me was the gratuitous lesbian love scene. That theme could have been handled with much more class and subtlety.

Everyone in Black Swan is a nut job of some variety, and they are excellent nut jobs, at that. Just the kind you’d expect in any dance company, frankly. We have the frigid, obsessed Nina, her “sexual harassment lawsuit looking for a plaintiff” artistic director, Thomah (Vincent Cassel), and, the anti-Nina in the form of uninhibited party girl, Lily (Mila Kunis), who, in the real world, would be on the Lindsey Lohan fast-track to rehab. All beautifully written and played.

My favorite whack job, though, is stage mom Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey). She’s driven and obsessed with her daughter, yet all the while she reminds little Nina that she ruined her mother’s life. Damn near drove me crazy just watching her. I could swear she walked right out of the local PTA meeting for parents of  “gifted and talented” children.

As a dancer, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances. The dancers all have excellent posture and beautiful hands, and they manage to avoid my two major pet peeves of ballet. Their spins are vertical with no Leaning Tower of Pisa Turns, and they do not subject the audience to any Great Divide Crotch Shots. That’s where the man lifts the lady to grace the audience with the vision of her tutu framing her hoo-hoo as she splays her legs. Indeed, I’m happy to say I never once got the same view of Natalie Portman’s crotch that Mila Kunis did during their lesbian scene.

One more thing. In spite of artistic director Skumbag being a skumbag, he is 100% correct in his instructions to Nina. There is an essence to Dance that transcends perfect steps. As I always told my students, Dance is the elimination of thought between the music and the motion. Discipline gives Dance its tools of expression.

Aside from being in a room with psychos for two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Swan.

Holmes:

When I was five, my first crush was my teacher, Sister Miriam. I asked her to marry me. She explained that she was already married to Jesus. I pointed out that Jesus wasn’t here, and I was, but for some reason, she didn’t go for it.

A year later, I saw my first ballet, Swan Lake, performed by the New York City Ballet company, and I found true love. You have to understand that Swan Lake holds a special place in my heart, and I don’t like to see it messed with. It’s a ballet that, because it was the first one I saw live, has outshined every other ballet I’ve seen. So when I went to see Black Swan, it was like going to visit my pristine first love and finding a drunken convict on top of her.

I thought it was a very good movie, though, and I would have seen it even without the lesbian love scene. I found that scene both unnecessary and unnecessarily brief, not to mention unrealistically dry. They could have drawn out the action there without losing my interest. However, it was a fairly predictable and pedestrian trick, and it seemed like they worked pretty hard to fit it in. In fact, I think they just threw that in to get guys to go see the movie with their wives and girlfriends. It will probably work.

I’m being overly critical here, but in terms of psychosis and neuroses and such, it was a bit muddled. If Nina was that deep into her sickness, she wouldn’t have been able to hold it together to be the prima ballerina of the New York Ballet. They are on stage every moment of their lives and have to handle intense stress. If she was that crazy, she would have broken sooner.

The style of the movie was completely operatic, with many Hitchcockian devices which effectively enhance the story. I felt like I was watching an opera about ballet, as everything about the timing, the over-dramatization, and the acting seemed calculated to be visible to the people in the “back row.” There was no subtlety in the actors’ physical movements or in the story line. Anyone who likes opera, stage theatre, or zarzuela will like this movie.

Overall, I enjoyed Black Swan, but I could have used more Swan Lake and less queasy cam.

Holmes and I rate Black Swan at a .357, or, it’s worth the prime time price if you can stand the crowd. (Click here for our ammo rating system.) We certainly recommend this movie. The acting is excellent, the story line is engaging, and it uses old suspense movie devices to great effect in conveying the psycho nature of the drama. Not quite a life changer, but definitely interesting and unique enough to be entertaining.

All the best to all of you for a week without queasy cam.

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn: The Tourist

Holmes and I have always wanted to critique movies so we started with The Tourist. It’s an international crime thriller starring Angelina Jolie as Elise Clifton-Ward and Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo. We don’t want to spoil it for you folks so we won’t tell you what it’s about. But that’s ok. As with many movie reviewers, the plot is irrelevant to our critique. So as an author/bellydancer and a man with experience in intelligence and covert operations, we’ll skip comments about acting quality, which was fine, by the way, and provide you with assessments from the perspective of our specialties.

Bayard

As a bellydancer, I loved Jolie’s wardrobe. All beautiful drapes calculated to emphasize her curves and her seductive walk that any dancer might admire. I must caution, though, that if she continues to slink about in high heels with that exaggerated wiggle, she will end up with a serious case of tendonitis in her psoas.

I also noticed that Jolie’s lip and eye makeup, while masterfully drawn, was so pronounced that there seemed to be three characters vying for center stage in all of her close-ups. Great for theater lights, but hardly what a classy woman would wear. Made me wonder if her lips and eyes are Union and had their own contracts.

My author side noticed that there is no clear-cut good guy in this movie. I spent the entire movie wondering who I should root for. The geeky stranger? The mysterious boyfriend? The cops? I finally decided my confusion was the movie’s goal because Elise was just as confused as I was. I wasn’t sure she was even on her own side, much less anyone else’s.

Since I write science fiction, though, I appreciated the fantasy quality of the magical Beretta that managed to pop off three shots at a time with an immobile slide and exactly no recoil. I hope Hollywood will start providing our law enforcement agencies with these.

As for Jonny Depp, his appearance was satisfactory, but he was the victim of indecisive characterization, made all the more extreme by his good job of acting. Ok. I guess I will give you a bit of a spoiler. Skip down to the Holmes section if you don’t want your movie-going experience ruined for you.

Did you skip down?

No, really, I mean it, Skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie. It will blow the whole thing for you.

Depp is supposed to be playing a master manipulator who even fools his lover, Elise, with his disguise as a geek. The problem is that he is entirely too much of a geek. I mean, if he’s really Pearce, the guy who pulls off this incredibly complex plan, why in the hell would he let himself be surprised by a bellhop and then trapped in a bathroom with bullets coming through the door? He wouldn’t. Pearce would know where all exits are at all times and how to use them. Sorry. The Tourist gets a fail on character consistency.

Pearce would never have been in this predicament under any name.

Ok. You can start reading again. You didn’t cheat, did you? No. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that. . . . Would you?

Holmes

Fortunately, this movie is unrealistic. Had it been realistic, it would have involved a great deal of tedium and boredom, which was what you were trying to escape when you went to the theatre. Don’t bother asking if this is how the criminals would do it or this is how the cops would do it. It isn’t. So just suspend reality for a couple of hours and have a little fun.

If you insist on worrying about it, here are some of the unrealistic aspects.

The big, European style black van with a camera on top that was following a few paces behind Elise? That’s how someone follows someone in Pink Panther movies or Mickey Mouse cartoons. It’s difficult to follow pedestrians in a vehicle without being noticed. You can use a vehicle as part of the mix, but to just drive along that way and stay with her was bizarrely cartoonish.

Also, a high-end, high-tech safe could not be installed in a remodeling project conducted on a Venetian mansion without the Italian treasury authorities and the European community authorities knowing about it. High-end safes are rare enough that they are easy for governments to keep track of, and governments do keep track of them. Authorities always want to know who the safes are attached to, what might be in them, and where the contents might come from.

As for the demolition job on the safe, it was one of the cheaper Hollywood safe jobs that I’ve ever seen. It would not have opened the safe, but it likely would have done a lot of damage to the room.

Here’s another unrealistic aspect that any middle school detective might spot. Since no one knows what’s going to happen, how do they know the snipers are what they need, and that all the bad guys are going to each conveniently be standing next to a window? Some bad guys sometimes spend part of their day not standing next to uncovered windows.

Us

Overall, Holmes and I give The Tourist a rating of .38 Special. That means we didn’t resent paying matinee price to see it. (See rating system below.) It had nice scenery, decent production quality, and good acting in spite of the character inconsistency for Tupelo and the confusion for Elise. We also agreed that it was reasonably entertaining.

If you’ve seen The Tourist, what did you think of it? What movies would you like reviewed by an author/bellydancer and a spook?

Bayard & Holmes Movie Ratings (We prefer ammo. Thumbs are so yesterday.)

  • Dud Chinese-manufactured ammo: Stay home and do housework. You’ll have more fun.
  • .22 rim fire:  Not worth the big screen, but ok to rent.
  • .380: Go to the matinee if someone else is paying.
  • .38 special: Worth paying for the matinee yourself.
  • .357 magnum: Okay to upgrade to prime time if you can stand the crowd.
  • .44 magnum: Must see this. Life-altering event.

All the best to all of you for not getting followed by a big, black van today.

Piper Bayard—The Pale Writer of the Apocalypse

Holmes—Student of sex, C4, and hollow points

Trailer for The Tourist