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book thoughts :: ADMIT ONE: MY LIFE IN FILM by Emmett James
It was very difficult for me to watch a black-and-white movie as a child. They were just rather dull in every sense of the word. Movies were a way for me to escape into different galaxies and adventures. Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I ever want to enter a black-and-white universe; it would have completely shattered the whole fantasy aspect. – Emmett James, Admit One: My Life in Film

You never know when you’ll find a free ebook to be worth your time, so I tend to download anything that might, just possibly, in the exact right mood, be worth reading. Friends and family are also looking out for me and sending possible reading suggestions from time to time. Such is the case with Admit One: My Life in Film by Emmett James. My initial impression was a collection of stories about films that influenced the author’s life or, perhaps, a series of personal commentaries on the movies that marked life milestones. Unfortunately, Admit One is just a memoir in which the author selected random movies to force some kind of link with the personal stories he wanted to tell.

The book begins well enough, with James establishing himself with a witty, self-deprecating voice, and the first stories are influenced by the films each chapter highlights. Because he and I are of the same generation (children of the 70s), we share the same catalogue of movies from our lifetimes. But as the book continues, it becomes much more about the experiences of the author instead of the movies he tries to reference. One chapter is titled Honeymoon in Vegas, for example, but the only mention of that movie comes when James reveals that he dreamed of it one night after taking a job to digitally alter the first tabloid photo of Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley’s private wedding ceremony. The chapter is a good read – I’ve noted it below – but the only connection to the movie is that both relate to Nic Cage. And the book continues in this vein for most of the later chapters, becoming less about film and more about James’s personal history.

Still, Admit One is not a bad book. Emmett James has led a fascinating life, especially when he relocated from London to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. As one might expect, acting jobs were few and far between, so many of his stories relate to alternate jobs, including work as an extra, an unexpected (and, at first, unknowing) appearance in a porn flick, and the aforementioned photo enhancement “career.” James’s tale is filled with outrageous anecdotes of trying to make ends meet until he is finally given his big break: a small role in James Cameron’s epic Titanic. While his post-Titanic career may not have blown up like the film’s stars, his experiences do make for an interesting behind-the-scenes tale.

Although I expected this book to be more about the movies and less about the author himself, I did read it all the way through. Too often it felt like James was name-dropping in an effort to lend his memoir a greater Hollywood connection, and I wasn’t always interested in every story he shared, but it was a somewhat interesting look into the life of a struggling actor and the periphery of Hollywood. Some readers will find great enjoyment in this.


   Undoubtedly, the Star Wars Trilogy would be in my top five best-of-the-best movie list. To separate the movies from one another would be virtually impossible for any and every schoolboy. Why? For precisely two reasons:
   1. Because the movies would take up more than half of the top five and that would just be… silly.
   2. Because the movies became such a cultural part of my generation, influencing every viewer’s adolescence in such a way that splitting them would just be… wrong.

   The supposed age restrictions cinemas try to enforce to keep children out of public showings of horror films in fact only serve to [screw] kids up even more. It’s a FACT. Children, if told by any form of authority not to watch something, will soon become overwhelmed with the desire to watch the now-forbidden spectacle. Instead of watching cinematic horrors safely surrounded by numerous people from within the confines of the comforting cinema walls, children are reduced to watching them with a brave accomplice at a late-night viewing at a mate’s house. Very much alone. The slightest movement and ensuing sounds from the house would cause heads to snap violently and simultaneously in the direction of the eerie noise.

   Movie stars, as presented to us by the media conglomerates representing them, really are a part of the huge facade that is Hollywood. Nobody can look that perfect all the time, and believe me, nobody ever really does. I spent many countless days when auditions were few and far between being honestly employed in another field courtesy of the film studios. Hollywood’s digital beautification service industry, or more commonly known as computer retouching.
I was paid ridiculous amounts of money for my specialist skill. This entailed digitally touching-up the Hollywood elite known to us all as movie stars, thus perpetuating the public’s desire for human perfection. The raw, and I do mean absolutely raw, photographic shots of Hollywood’s top players would be delivered to me for routine refining. Subsequently, they would each leave my computer screen with sparkly white and straight teeth. Bags and lines would be removed from around their eyes at the touch of a button. Signs of nights spent boozing were erased, and, naturally, inches were taken from their newly sculpted calves and bums. Heaven forbid the public should ever see them as real, flawed people.

   Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley had arranged a very secluded ceremony, far from the lenses of the paparazzi and prying public scrutiny. Was I really going to taint their special romantic day with a fraudulent matrimonial picture? Don’t be silly—for $5,000, of course I was. I needed to move quickly, time was ticking.
I worked feverishly through the night, trying not to dwell on my nagging, debilitating conscience. I gathered as many Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley shots as I could from previous public events. I would at least have a truthful, yet corrupt, starting point for my work. A wedding dress was taken, or I should say “borrowed,” from a picture of Slash’s nuptials from Guns and Roses that I stumbled upon. His wedding had also taken place somewhere tropical, so the light and scenery nearly matched perfectly. I snatched a bouquet from another random wedding shot, Lisa Marie’s head from a red-carpet event where she had been conveniently photographed in profile, and gradually built up the tropical skyline.
The only real problem I encountered was Nicolas Cage’s noggin. I couldn’t for the life of me track down a suitable image of him where he wasn’t wearing sunglasses. I wouldn’t dare have him look so casual in his wedding photograph. This was a serious event after all, not a dodgy movie premiere. What do I do? Did I have any conscience left? Well yes, but it was also nearly 4 a.m., [screw it] — sunglasses it was.
The wedding photograph was finally composed and completed. Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley’s images, to be fair, were certainly used in the making of it. That night, though, I single-handedly proved the saying the camera never lies to be an outright, bold-faced lie. I felt great about my handiwork and the effect of the final produced portrait, but I had sold my soul to the devils at the supermarket tabloids to produce it. How absolutely disgusting.
To my utter and complete horror, my night’s work was displayed on every channel I flipped to. News channels, music stations—even fashion television. I couldn’t get away from my lie. Specialist commentators were being brought in to critique Mrs. Cage’s dress, bouquet, and general wedding grandeur. The ensuing discussions commented on the posture of Nicolas Cage and the location and the weather conditions, to which nobody was any the wiser.
The power of the media showed its true strength to me that morning. Something I had pieced together four and a half hours ago in my bedroom was now in millions of peoples’ homes being force-fed to them for breakfast. Instantly. It was a discussion point. A pictorial, recorded fact presented to the unsuspecting public. Weeks’ worth of fodder for the masses of trickle-down entertainment programming. I felt absolutely terrible. Whenever the design for the wedding dress was discussed, I felt as though the fraud squad would soon be kicking down my door, led by a furious, gun-toting Vera Wang and her fellow posse of outlaw designers.

   Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Frances Fisher, and I packed into the van and did our best to avoid getting our costumes wet from the light sprinkle of rain. This all seems a little ironic now when looking back on and considering the scene we were about to film. We were escorted to the foot of Titanic’s grand staircase where James Cameron greeted us with his usual infectious enthusiasm.
The director was brilliant. An articulate, astute, fascinating genius; one of the most exceptional people I’ve ever met to this day. Cameron went into what was going on in my scenes both emotionally and logistically by giving me as much personal attention as he did the stars surrounding me. To throw an actor into a scene in a film doesn’t take a genius. For a director to have mapped out logistically the position of every steward and key passenger on the boat at any given moment falls dangerously into Rainman territory. He literally knew which part of the ship my character had come from, how long it had taken me, the velocity I would have had to have been traveling, and he could dissect whose path I could have crossed and who I could have spoken to while ascertaining information on my travels. And here I was struggling to merely remember where the bathroom was that I visited every day. It was inspiring and intimidating in one fell swoop.
Cameron was a perfectionist and everyone knew he could do any job at any given moment on the set as well as if not better than any of us he had employed. For every actor and actress on the production, filming was a unique and arduous experience. This was the type of film on an epic scale witnessed by not even the most seasoned of thespians. It was as if this common bond united us in a long battle together and we were all comrades trying to make it through alive.
The next time I would talk to James Cameron would be at the Titanic premiere. This was a baby he had reared for years under harsh public scrutiny but was now ready to let the public have their judgment. In 1977, after seeing Star Wars, Cameron quit his job as a truck driver to enter the film industry. With Titanic he now would become the newly appointed king of the film world, the ruler of his own unique, watery galaxy surpassing his inspiration on multiple levels. I approached him at the after party extending my hand, still amazed from the film I had just witnessed as if I were conversing in a dream state. “I didn’t think they made films like this anymore, James,” I said. To which he paused, and with his usual dry delivery said, “They don’t, Emmett.”

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Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.


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ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson

bookthoughts :: ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson
People should know that, at first, the enemy looked like everyday stuff: cars, buildings, phones. Then later, when they started designing themselves, Rob looked familiar but distorted, like people and animals from some other universe, built by some other god.

The machines came at us in our everyday lives and they came from our dreams and nightmares, too. But we still figured them out. Quick-thinking human survivors learned and adapted. Too late for most of us, but we did it.

I never intended to read Robopocalypse. I was content to wait for the movie. I knew the book would be fantastic, and I knew the movie would never measure up, but the premise – not to mention that cover image! – was enough to make me believe that this story was the stuff of nightmares. Robots taking over the world? Artificial intelligence becoming smart enough to manipulate our civilization? I have absolutely no doubt that this is where we’re headed. The idea (and probability) of sentient machines scares me! But it’s also my favorite kind of paranoid thriller. Yet I knew the book would contain too much detail for me to read without crazy waking dreams. So I never planned to read it. Until, all of sudden this past summer, I felt the siren call. And the book was everything I imagined, and… So. Much. More.

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson is, in many ways, a perfect book. It has everything that makes a story great: can’t-stop-reading plot; fascinating and well-developed characters; engaging scenes that make you feel right in the middle of the action; and enough thrilling moments that you need to put the book away so your heart and mind can process even while you can’t wait to find out what happens next. After a few (totally-freaked-me-out) chapters, I never wanted to put it down. I had to force myself to stop reading, and even then I ignored daily life stuff in favor of lying on my bed and reading until the sun went down and the house went dark. [But I refused to read at night. The darkness brought with it thoughts of electronics coming alive… while I was asleep… and could do nothing to protect myself. ::shudder::]  I read and read until there was nothing left to read. And one day later I wanted to read it again. Robopocalypse is just. that. good.

The story is rather simple, really. A scientist finally succeeds in creating a sentient computer, and that computer breaks free from its “cage.” It connects with other computers around the world and incites a rebellion against humanity. Electronics everywhere attack the humans around them, from actual robots smashing people in the face [see: iRobot] to baby dolls manipulating children from inside the toy box(!!). In a few short months, every piece of technology is battling against the humans in their paths, placing them in concentration camps, killing the strongest who fight back, and ravaging cities to round up all human life forms. Every piece of technology is controlled by the one A.I. that started the rebellion, and the people that escape are driven to remote areas with only survival on their minds. Until finally a few decide to fight back.

Robobopocalypse tells the story through many different character viewpoints, yet the book is beautifully cohesive. The central story is how humanity fought to save itself from the robots and restore civilization to the earth. There are stories set in many places around the world, including two key stories in Afghanistan and Japan, and in the end all of these individual tales lead to a single showdown with the arch-nemesis A.I. called Big Rob. But, for this book having such a sci-fi premise, it’s surprisingly mainstream in its plot and climax. I was so caught up with the human revolution against the robots that I kept wishing the book was longer so I could read more stories of ingenuity and courage. Even the scenes of robot devastation were amazing to read! And when a book can make you wish there were more pages to read, you know it to be one of the best books you’ve ever encountered.

All I can say now is, the movie better not disappoint me.
Nolatari's bookshelf   Read my immediate reaction on Goodreads upon completion of Robopocalypse last summer.



“The smart cars have come alive. Other vehicles, too. They’re on autopilot and killing people. Thousands of people.”

I know what has to be done here, even if it’s hard. So I look into the eyes of my fellow survivors. I take a deep breath and I tell them the truth: “If we want to live, we’ve got to destroy New York City.” — Zero Hour: Demolition

“Us. Cormac, this is us. We have to deal with this. We have to deal with what’s banging on that door down the hall.”

“No we don’t! Why do you have to do this? Why do you always have to do this?”

“Because I’m the only one who can.”

“No. It’s because nobody else is dumb enough to go directly toward the danger.”

“It’s my duty. We’re doing it. No more discussion. Now, suit up before I put you in a headlock.” — Zero Hour: Hero Material

Worse yet, the machines are evolving.

The machines are now designing and building themselves. More varieties are coming. We believe that these new robots will have greatly increased agility, survivability, and lethality. They will be tailored to fight your people, in your geographic environment, and in your weather conditions.

Let there be no doubt in your mind that the combined onslaught of these new machines, working twenty-four hours a day, will soon be unleashed on your native land.” — Awakening: Call to Arms

“You’re the one who figured out how to liberate the spider tanks? To lobotomize them?” I ask.

“Yep,” he says.

“Are you a scientist or something?”

Lark chuckles. “A mechanic is just an engineer in blue jeans.” — Awakening: The Cowboy Way

It’s a death sentence and we both know it.

I don’t think; I react. My action is divorced from all emotion and logic. It isn’t human or inhuman — it just is. I believe that choices like these, made in absolute crisis, come from our True Selves, bypassing all experience and thought. These kinds of choices are the closest thing to fate that human beings will ever experience.

I dive over the hill to help my brother, grabbing the frozen rope with one hand and drawing my sidearm with the other. — Retaliation: The Fate of Tiberius

Human beings adapt. It’s what we do. Necessity can obliterate our hatreds. To survive, we will work together. Accept each other. The last few years have likely been the only time in human history that we weren’t at war with ourselves. For a moment we were all equal. Backs against the wall, human beings are at their finest. — Debriefing


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Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

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book commentary :: A PRAYING LIFE by Paul E. MillerThere are many books about prayer and many resources for learning to pray, yet A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller is the first I’ve read that made me feel fully adequate in my current prayer life. Not because I pray well, but because the one thing I do know is that prayer is one-on-one with a person – God Himself. I know that I can come to Him in any moment, whether desperate, anxious, totally wrecked, or totally cool with all of life. Prayer is simply a conversation with a holy God, made possible because Jesus sacrificed himself to redeem my own unholiness.

Yet what I’ve always struggled with is the “focus” aspect of prayer – the trying to pray but feeling distracted or, worse yet, too relaxed in the quiet. A Praying Life offers assurance that even this is acceptable to God.

Jesus taught that our faith should be like that of a child, and in A Praying Life, author Miller breaks this down even further by considering children themselves.

“If you ask a parent how long a one-year-old stays on task, he or she just smiles. It varies anywhere from three seconds to three minutes. It isn’t long, nor is it particularly organized.

How can that teach us to pray? Think for a minute. How do we structure our adult conversations? We don’t. Especially when talking with old friends, the conversation bounces from subject to subject. It has a fun, meandering, play-like quality. Why would our prayer time be any different? After all, God is a person.”

From releasing “adult” ideas of prayer to gaining new tools for praying scripture over my friends and family, A Praying Life has led me to a new way of interacting with our LORD. In each chapter, Miller teaches how to let go of what you think prayer should be in order to approach God as He wants us to. By the end of the book I was renewed and energized and coming to God with playfulness and a bold spirit. There’s no big mystery in praying to our Creator, and A Praying Life reminds us how to abide in Him through every situation in life.


A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. — Chapter 2: The Praying Life… Feels Like Dinner With Good Friends

Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. By spending time with our Father in prayer, we integrate our lives with his, with what he is doing in us. Our lives become more coherent. We feel calmer, more ordered, even in the midst of confusion and pressure. — Chapter 2: The Praying Life… Becomes Integrated

The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. — Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child. Don’t worry about being organized or staying on task. Remember you are in conversation with a person. Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again. Pray about what your mind is wandering to. Maybe it is something that is important to you. Maybe the Spirit is nudging you to think about something else.

When it comes to prayer, we just need to get the words out. It’s okay if your mind wanders or your prayers get interrupted. Don’t be embarrassed by how needy your heart is and how much it needs to cry out for grace. Just start praying. The point of Christianity isn’t to learn a lot of truths so you don’t need God anymore. We don’t learn God in the abstract. We are drawn into his life.

When you stop trying to be an adult and get it right, prayer will just flow because God has given you a new voice – His own. [The Apostle] Paul told us that the Holy Spirit puts the praying heart of Jesus in you. You’ll discover your heart meshing with God’s. — Chapter 4: Learn to Talk With Your Father

Time in prayer makes you even more dependent on God because you don’t have as much time to get things done. Every minute spent in prayer is one less minute where you can be doing something “productive.” So the act of praying means that you have to rely more on God. — Chapter 5: Spending Time With Your Father

We tell ourselves, “Strong Christians pray a lot. If I were a stronger Christian, I’d pray more.” Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are. They don’t try to hide it from themselves. Weakness is the channel that allows them to access grace.

If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else—a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is important to us, we make room for it — Chapter 6: Learning to Be Helpless

You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.

This is the exact opposite of Eastern mysticism, which is a psycho-spiritual technique that disengages from relationship and escapes pain by dulling self. Eastern mystics are trying to empty their minds and become one with the non-personal “all.” But as Christians we realize we can’t cure ourselves, so we cry out to our Father, our primary relationship.

Poverty of spirit makes room for his Spirit. It creates a God-shaped hole in our hearts and offers us a new way to relate to others. — Chapter 7: Crying “Abba”—Continuously

A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus. — Chapter 7: Crying “Abba”—Continuously

A praying life engages evil. It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the valley of the shadow of death. We can’t ignore it. We can’t remain neutral with evil. We either give up and distance ourselves, or we learn to walk with the Shepherd. There is no middle ground.

Without the Good Shepherd, we are alone in a meaningless story. — Chapter 8: Bending Your Heart to Your Father

Majesty and humility are such an odd fit. This is one reason we struggle with prayer. We just don’t think God could be concerned with the puny details of our lives. We either believe he’s too big or that we’re not that important. No wonder Jesus told us to be like little children! Little children are not daunted by the size of their parents. They come, regardless. — Chapter 13: An Infinite-Personal God

Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.

Jesus stands at the edge of the story, unwilling to overwhelm [you] so that a richer, fuller [person] can emerge. He allows pain to continue for just a moment so Jesus the person can meet [you] the person. — Chapter 22: How God Places Himself in the Story

NOTE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission on items purchased through the links but there is no additional cost to you.

Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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