Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: My Year in Review

2008 was a landmark year in my life. It was a year of transition: ends, beginnings, redefinitions, and, most of all, getting back to the core of who I am and what I want out of life. Looking back over my tangible accomplishments, it's also been a fairly productive year.
  1. I wrote or rewrote five screenplays totaling 489 pages and 93,500 words.
  2. I wrote five pieces of short fiction and one free-verse poem, totaling 10,300 words.
  3. In the last two months of the year, I wrote the first 90,000 words of a novel.
  4. I wrote some nonfiction essays and brainstormed/planned a number of others.
  5. I wrote 88 blog posts (make that 89, I guess, including this one).
  6. I started jogging, kept coaching little kid soccer, and took fencing lessons.
  7. I participated in and won ScriptFrenzy for the first time and also served as the municipal liaison for the Kansas City area.
  8. I participated in and won NaNoWriMo for the fourth time.
  9. I reached my goal of reading 24 books a year for the second year in a row.
  10. I watched 151 movies and learned a lot about the art of cinema.
Beyond the accomplishments, the year sneaked in a number of valuable lessons as well. Here are my Top 3.
  1. Appreciate the present, and do not cling to what is not so. I've learned to better appreciate the ebb and flow of life. Things come and go, and we cannot control it all. There is beauty in every phase of life, even in the moments of melancholy.
  2. Do something every day that moves me one step closer to my goals. Even if it's something minuscule, I try to do at least something. No day should be wasted.
  3. Most importantly, I made the decision to be authentically and unapologetically me. After many years of trying to fit the mold of what I thought I should be, I realized that what I should be is, simply, me. It has been the most freeing decision of my life to date.
So, with 2008 behind me, I've set up some goals for the coming year. I like to call them New Year's Initiatives rather than resolutions. Eleven worked well for 2008, so I'm going with that for this year, too.
  1. Finish the first draft of Fairytale Redux.
  2. Adapt a novel for the screen.
  3. Edit/re-write SoS.
  4. Rewrite M. Valentine.
  5. Write a stage play or a comic book script for ScriptFrenzy 2009.
  6. NaNoWriMo 2009.
  7. Visit a place I've never been before.
  8. Read another 24 books.
  9. Finish a themed short story collection.
  10. Write another spec screenplay.
  11. Film a short.
So, cheers to 2008 being over, and here's to 2009 being the best year yet. Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008: The Year in Movies

I saw a total of 151 movies this year, which, if you're counting, comes out to about one every two and a half days. Out of those, 46 were new releases. Below are my ratings of those new releases, along with an explanation of what I tend to mean by those ratings.


5 stars
(Must See)

4 stars
(Should See)
Definitely, Maybe
Bigga Than Ben
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist


3 1/2 stars
(Worth Seeing, But Not Groundbreaking)
Iron Man
Hellboy 2
What Happens in Vegas
X-Files 2: I Want to Believe
Bottle Shock
Tropic Thunder
Burn After Reading
The Duchess
High School Musical 3
Mamma Mia!

3 stars
(Take it or Leave it)
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Baby Mama
Made of Honor
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Kung Fu Panda
Get Smart
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Hamlet 2
Ghost Town
Yes Man
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Seven Pounds

2 1/2 stars
(Only See if You're Interested in the Genre/Actor/Some Other Factor)
There Will Be Blood
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Tale of Despereaux

1 star
Prom Night

Additionally, I thought I'd list the 4- and 5-star rentals/purchases. If you haven't seen these, they're worth adding to your Netflix queue.

5 stars
Ordinary People (1980)
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Once (2007)
Harvey (1950)

4 stars
(or a strong 3 1/2 stars)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Rear Window (1954)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Tootsie (1982)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The Lion King (1994)
The Full Monty (1997)
Wilde (1997)
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Almost Famous (2000)
Hedwig & the Angry Inch (2001)
Amélie (2001)
Conversations with Other Women (2005)
Shopgirl (2005)
Angel-A (2005)
Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut) (2005)
Joyeux Noël (2005)
Children of Men (2006)
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Eastern Promises (2007)
Meet Bill (2007)
Ratatouille (2007)
The Orphanage (2007)
Stardust (2007)
The History Boys (2006)
Return to Me (2000)
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
Son of Rambow (2007)
Then She Found Me (2007)
The Visitor (2007)
All the President's Men (1976)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recap: 28 December 2008

I love being on break from work. Probably too much. I've been off for five days. I've got to head back in tomorrow for two, and then I'm off for another five. When I'm off from work, I get to spend my days doing the things I love most: writing, reading, watching movies, and hanging out with friends & family. It's really a shame I have to pay bills and whatnot...

What I Watched

  • Joyeux Noël (4 stars): A film about German, French and Scottish troops who call a cease-fire over Christmas during World War II. Sad, funny, moving and optimistic. Great movie for the holidays, or really anytime.
  • The Tale of Despereaux (2½ stars): This one was really quite a disappointment. The animation was cute, but the sound mixing was awful with some characters barely audible and others booming for no apparent reason. The narration was odd, at best. More importantly, the different threads of the story never seemed to tie together. I haven't read the book, but the translation to screen seems to have been less than successful.
  • All the President's Men (4 stars): Watched this in preparation for seeing Frost/Nixon. I hadn't watched it since high school, and it stirred the journalistic strings of my heart once more. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as "Woodstein" are, of course, fabulous.
  • Slumdog Millionaire (4 stars): If this doesn't win the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, I will be astounded. Simon Beaufoy ties everything together beautifully in what was obviously a challenging narrative. I wasn't blown away by this movie, probably due to all the hype, but it was definitely a strong and solid film. Grabs you at the beginning and doesn't let go until the Bollywood send-off at the end.
  • Seven Pounds (3 stars): I appreciated what this film was trying to do, but I don't think it went far enough. I can't say too much without giving things away, but I wasn't as emotionally impacted as I'd hoped to be. The closing scene didn't help matters. Will Smith and Rosario Dawson both gave excellent performances, but I just left feeling kind of empty.
  • Frost/Nixon (5 stars): Best movie I've seen this year. Michael Sheen is spectacular. Nixon was long out of the limelight by the time I was old enough to remember, but Langella creates a character that is both despicable and heartbreaking. Supporting cast? Stellar. The story itself, though of course dramatized from the truth, is riveting. Excellent, excellent film.

What I'm Reading

Confession time. I'm reading Twilight. There, I said it. Next confession: I totally don't get all the excitement surrounding this book. Do the sequels get better? Can someone please explain the appeal? I don't think I've gotten too old to not appreciate teen angst, but if I have to read about how Edward's touch left Bella breathless one more time... I'm determined to finish and to read at least the second book, but seriously, if there's anyone out there who can help me understand this phenomenon, I'd honestly appreciate it.

I've also managed to get myself into a situation where I'm reading three (technically four) books at once again. Hoping to get Twilight knocked off the list, then I'll finish up A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Vile Village (Book 7). I'm also reading Good in a Room. The technical fourth is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which has been put on hold until the new year when I can devote a little more time to such a huge tome.

What I'm Writing

This hasn't been the most productive month for me, but after the marathon that is NaNoWriMo, I think that's OK. I'm still working on finishing up Redux, and then I've got to decide what to tackle next. M. Valentine needs a rewrite, SoS needs an edit and at least 20 pages added to it, and Tea still needs a better third act. Beyond that, I've got several other new projects in the queue. So, I've got choices, but I think perhaps I have too many choices. I'm still anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 words out from being done with Redux, so I guess I've got time to figure it out.

Hope you all had or are having a lovely holiday. Stay tuned this week for my Year-End Wrap-Up!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recap: 22 December 2008

This month has been crazier than expected. I've not gotten nearly as much writing done as I'd hoped. In fact, this has been my most slackerish month of the year, which, after churning out as much as I did in November, I suppose is OK. I have at least managed to catch a few movies recently.

What I Watched
  • An American in Paris (3 stars): Hard to go wrong with a classic Gene Kelly musical. The end sequence is a lot more interesting if you know that they're paying tribute to five different French impressionist painters (including Manet, who's my favorite painter).
  • I Really Hate My Job (2½ stars): Helmed by Oliver Parker, who's done a number of Oscar Wilde adaptations (including 2009's Dorian Gray), this film would have fared better with a more sparkling and perhaps Wildean script. The similarly-themed Caffeine did a better job of embracing its character-driven quirkiness.
  • Little Voice (2½ stars): I had high hopes for this movie, so I was really disappointed to find an almost total lack of character development. It seemed to be trying for a Benny & Joon-type vibe at times, and other times I wasn't sure what it was going for. The character motivations were unclear, which made the characters' arcs seem very uneven most of the time. Perhaps it plays better on the stage, but it seemed like a potentially very moving story was really mishandled in the transition to screen.
  • Yes Man (3 stars): I was pleasantly surprised by this fairly standard romantic comedy. It really wasn't anything like Liar Liar, despite what the previews suggested. It was nice to see Jim Carrey play the straight man to zanier performances throughout a portion of the movie.
  • Pillow Talk (3 stars): A fun, classic Rock Hudson-Doris Day flick. Funny, charming, and all that jazz.

That's all for now. Hoping to have another update later this week.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Recap: 8 December 2008

It was an exciting weekend for me, at least in the area of media consumption, as I got to use my new HDTV and Blu-ray player for the first time. I'd been using a nice-enough big-screen tube TV, but the difference between it and the new DLP I'm rocking now is pretty amazing.

So, after massive amounts of help from my mom, sisters and sister's boyfriend, I settled down to watch my first Blu-ray movie, Prince Caspian. I was a bit disappointed to find out most of the special features in which I was most interested are not available on the US-region discs. In fact, the only region that gets Bonus Disc 1 (which includes the LOTR-appendices-type making-of features) is apparently Japan, according to NarniaWeb. That being said, watching one of my favorite movies of the year in high-def Blu-ray was quite fabulous.

What I Watched
  • Trainspotting (3½ stars): A funny but harsh (and honest) look at how heroin addiction affects the lives of a group of Scottish 20-somethings.
  • Ballet Shoes (3 stars): My sister and I watched this because we were interested to see Emma Watson in something outside of the Harry Potter movies, and, while it wasn't great, it was cute (and there was admittedly one part where I teared up). Apparently this is a rather beloved children's novel. I hadn't heard of it, but it does seem like it would make a rather charming little book.
  • The Visitor (3½ stars): This is the story of an emotionally-stilted widower who returns to his rarely-visited New York apartment to find an illegal immigrant couple living there. What follows is a sweet and often heart-breaking story about the widower's reawakening, so to speak, against the backdrop of the plight illegal immigrants face post 9/11. It's a pretty eye-opening tale, and, though it gets a bit slow at times, it's definitely worth seeing.

And just in case you're interested, this weekend's box office was filled with hold-overs. Where are all the quality, Oscar-bait films, I wonder?

This Week's Top 10
  1. Four Christmases ($18.2 million)
  2. Twilight ($13.2 million)
  3. Bolt ($9.7 million)
  4. Australia ($7 million)
  5. Quantum of Solace ($6.6 million)
  6. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa ($5.1 million)
  7. Transporter 3 ($4.5 million)
  8. Punisher: War Zone ($4 million)
  9. Cadillac Records ($3.5 million)
  10. Role Models ($2.6 million)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Memes: What to Give & What to Get

Penguin asked a bunch of their authors what books they're giving and what books they'd like to get this holiday season, and I thought, "Hey, that's a good idea for a meme." So, if you'd like to join in, here are the rules.

1. Post a link to the original list from the Penguin Group.
2. Tell us what books you're planning (or would like to) give this holiday season.
3. Tell us what books you'd like to receive this holiday season.
4. Tag others, if you so choose.

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman's newest novel is pretty much everything you want in a book: funny, sweet (but not cloying), honest, poignant, scary, adventurous, great for all readers, etc., etc., etc.

This was my first Neil Gaiman novel, and I think it's still my favorite. It's quite different from the movie in tone (but fairly similar in content). Often billed as a "fairy tale for grown-ups," it's a story about love, longing, evil and, of course, magic.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
I think I've already made my love for this story and for Oscar Wilde in general quite clear. With a movie adaptation coming out next year, this seems like the perfect time to introduce or reacquaint people with this excellent novel. Also, because of Wilde's way with words, it's a great starting point for people looking to get into the "classics" without being overwhelmed by the language.

A great way to introduce someone to the graphic novel medium. Beautiful art and an intense story. And again, with an adaptation coming out next year, it's a good time to do it.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
Hey look! Another book being adapted for film next year! Julie & Julia is the memoir of a woman who decides to cook through every single one of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And she has no training, and she lives in a tiny New York apartment, and she's going through a quarter-life crisis after turning 30. It's a fun story, obviously good enough to grab Amy Adams and Meryl Streep for the movie version.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
I've heard nothing but good things about this book, and a bunch of the Penguin authors agree. So, apparently it's going on my "to read" list next year.

Sandman / American Gods / Coraline
In the pursuit of continuning my Neil Gaiman education, of course.

His Dark Materials Trilogy
Controversial books always pique my interest. After seeing the film adaptation of the first in the triology last year, I'm intrigued enough to read them. Also, epic fantasy is a guilty pleasure.

Biographies by Antonia FraserI've found Antonia Fraser to be an extremely skilled biographer. Historical nonfiction has the tendency to err on the side of boring, but that's something from which Fraser manages to steer quite clear. I've read Marie Antoinette: The Journey and The Wives of Henry VIII, and I'm looking forward to reading another one next year.

PersuasionAfter being delighted by Pride and Prejudice and then not being able to force myself through Emma, I've decided it's time to give Jane Austen another shot.

Now that that's finally done, I'm tagging Brittany, Matt and Jen. Have fun!