Archive for December, 2008

2008 – Year in Review, part 3 (Movies)

Since I will be out of the country (and away from an internet connection) at the time the new year rolls in, I decided to start my “End of Year” reviews early. In this installment, I talk movies from the past year…

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) (N) – The movie made me interested enough to wonder how the book reads. Nice character work to keep events grounded in the confines of the ship.

Quantum of Solace (2008) (T) – Nice action sequences… I was a bit confused by exactly how soon after Casino Royale this was supposed to be taking place, but a good movie nonetheless.

Green Street Hooligans (2005) (N) – A bit violent at times, it is actually a good look a relationships in a sports-driven society, that can take things just a little too far.

Casino Royale (2006) (N) – Very nice “establishing” movie, and I liked the “hanging” ending… interested to see how Quantum picks it up…

21 (2008) (N) – Who doesn’t like poker movies? And a nice twist ending… and the lead is actually English!

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007) (N) – Not quite as good as the first, but still pretty darn good.

Once (2006) (N) – Actually very good, and with an “indie” feel the way the shots worked out. Actually went looking up the other music by the leads.

The Miracle Match (2006) (N) – It’s USA soccer in 1951, preparing to face England in the first round of the World Cup…

Children of Men (2006) (N) – Interesting concept, with very dark events. The best part was Michael Caine

December Boys (2007) (N) – Actually very good. Almost a happier-premised “Stand by Me”, if such a thing is possible.

Bourne Ultimatum (2007) (N) – It’s Bourne, all over again. A solid action movie.

Rent (2005) (N) – Starring the original Broadway cast. Interested to see how the stage version and the movie compare…

The Human Stain (2003) (N) – Not sure if I would read the book, but an interesting character study…

Blow Dry (2001) (N) – Alan Rickman not playing a bad guy. And “Filch” not being “Filch”… and Josh Hartnett with an English accent?

Hellboy II:The Golden Army (2008) (T) – Much more fantastical than the first… The tooth-fairies were very hard to watch without squirming a bit.

Hellboy (2004) (N) – Nice action, interesting character twists.

The Hours (2002) (N) – Interesting way to twine three stories together. A very worthy award, Kidman disappeared in the role.

The Incredible Hulk (2008) (T) – I liked the “on the run” feel. I’m not saying the Ang Lee version was bad, but this one just felt more natural…

Hot Fuzz (2007) (again) – It’s a good, simple, action-oriented plot. With some interesting names popping up, and some new twists on old gags…

Iron Man (2008) (T) – Very nice. It would be very difficult to see anyone else as Tony Stark.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) (T) – It’s a good yarn. Not my favorite IJ movie, but not a complete failure, either.

The DaVinci Code (2006) – A relatively faithful adaptation, but the pacing in the book is better.

Passion of the Christ (2004) [Definitive (2007)] – Very aggressive and intense scenes. Worth seeing once, to truly appreciate the events.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) – I actually liked the pace of the story, and the interplay of the relationships over time.

Henry V (1989) (N) – One of Branagh’s early Shakespeare movies… and I was surprised to realize how many others I recognized, including Christian Bale.

Lolita (1962) – Kubrick established that he likes handling questionable ideas. Makes me interested in reading “that book by Nabakov” to see how close the translation…

A Clockwork Orange (1971) (again) – I actually like the film, still… more for the themes than the images, but I wonder what it would have been like if the last chapter HAD been in Kubrick’s copy.

Bonnie & Clyde (1967) – Very forward (for it’s time) in terms of voicing character quirks (ED) and violence (the final gun fight).

Citizen Kane (1941) – Interesting film for camera & editing techniques, as well as showing different aspects of the central character. Out of the context for it’s time, though, much of the controversy it saw when it was first released is lost.

Birth of a Nation (1915) – Considering the work itself – a very good movie (technically) for it’s day – with smoke staging during combat scenes to make things bigger than they actually were, and using close ups, intercuts and camera angles – cutting edge stuff in 1915. The story lines, though, leave a lot to be desired, especially in the 2nd half. And the entirety runs for three-hours.

Grapes of Wrath (1940) – A watered down version of the book, spun just enough to make it past censors…

V is for Vendetta (2006) (N) – Made me curious to read the graphic novel, as well as the history of Guy Fawkes. “Remember, remember, the 5th of November…”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) (again) – Always a fun watch, even if a lot of the book is left out.

Freaks (1932) – Short by modern standards, but something that would easily fit into the Twilight Zone or Tales from the Darkside. And the Carnies are real.

Private Eyes (1980) (N) – I have never been to the Biltmore House, where the movie was filmed. MC suggested I watch it, just for the scenic value of the estate.

Sweeny Todd (2007) (T) – I had seen a campus production of the stage show. Would have liked some of the other songs (at least the lyrics for the opening) to be there. Some of the blood was excessive (but expected), and I like the “romantic quality” of the movie ending over the extra steps of the stage ending.

Peaceful Warrior (2006) (N) – Nice, with a feeling afterwards like Rocky…

Shopgirl (2005) (N) – I had read the book, and the movie helped a few details fall into place – like how to interpret Jeremy.

The Benchwarmers (2006) (N) – A fun comedy, that flows well.

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2008 Year in Review – Part 2 (Books)

Since I will be out of the country (and away from an internet connection) at the time the new year rolls in, I decided to start my “End of Year” reviews early. In this installment, I talk books from the past year…

For best results… read this post from the bottom up, to see how the year progressed…

Sue Grafton: F is for Fugitive –

Kate Mosse: Labyrinth – Good read. May take a little to get into, but (as a writer) liked looking at the characters in the alternating storylines and figuring out the past-present connections.

Pete McCarthey: McCarthey’s Bar – Not bad. A couple of places mentioned that I might like to check out. Nice text flavor, like listening in on a conversation.

Neil Gaiman: The Graveyard Book – Great. Easy read (but, it’s listed in the kids section, so I hope it would be) but bigger elements than one would expect.

T.C. Boyle: Tooth and Claw and other stories – Classic Boyle. Memorable images from individual stories; some are thicker in details than others when reading.

J.D. Salinger: Nine Stories – Meh. The stories were good, but I’m just not a fan of some of his style elements.

Tobias Wolff: The Night in Question: Stories – Not bad. There are a few “keepers” here, that I could see referencing for some of my own projects. Enough to make me want to look at some of his other works.

Clyde Edgerton: Lunch at the Piccadilly – Simplicity of style, with slice of life possibilities. A simple cast of characters, set in real-enough places.

Christopher Paolini: Eldest – Interesting twist in the series; much better (style) than the first book. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the series playing out.

Michael Crichton: Travels – Interesting accounts from some interesting expeditions. Saddened at his passing, but interested in seeking out some of the other (older) works… some of which were in my dad’s collection.

Steve Martin: Born Standing Up – Some of his movies (lately) may be seen as hit or miss, but his writing is always good.

Gregory Maguire: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister – A bit think in some sections (details), but creative enough for a good story. May read some of the other works, after getting through more of my current collection.

Sue Grafton: E is for Evidence – Never a problem with Grafton’s books, except I don’t want to get through the series too quickly.

Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere – The first Gaiman novel I have read. Interesting story twists, and an example of crossing real and not-quite real that has kicked around in some of my own ideas. I have the BBC series in my Netflix queue, just for fun.

Kate DiCamillo: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – A very short book, but with a nice emotional element.

Kevin Brockmeier: The Brief History of the Dead – Nice idea for the afterlife, and I liked the pacing/sequencing between “living” and “dead” worlds… but not a big fan of the ending… but it posed some possibly interesting questions…

Neil Gaiman: Smoke & Mirrors – Eclectic collection of stories, a couple of which I have already referenced or used for material for a short story. A definite keeper.

J.D. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye – Not a bad book, but I’m not a huge fan, either. It’s a stylistic thing, that I’m just not a fan of…

Sue Grafton: D is for Deadbeat – I like the books. There’s a predictability in the pacing (after reading a few in the series) that lends itself to study material. Something to look at to get a feel for writing in the genre.

Sheri Holman: The Dress Lodger* – I liked the story. The details, while very rich, tended to bog me down in some sections. Not an easy work to get back into if you have to put it down for a while.

John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath – Interesting slice-of-life piece. Juggling the characters had to be an interesting feat when he was composing the work.

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huck Finn – Colorful, and subtle. People get so caught up on what labels are used (remember, it was written in the late 1800’s, but set in the early 1800s), that they miss the bigger picture.

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (reread) – It’s been a few years since I first read it, and I had forgotten some of the smaller details that hadn’t carried over to the film. I have an extra copy (a paperback) for plans to mark up the text, as an exercise in writing… And I may go back and reread the entire series to see how things were put together (reveals, etc.).

Imogen Edwards-Jones & Anonymous: Hotel Babylon – A nice “guilty-pleasure” read, especially with my past work experiences. I have the BBC series in my Netflix queue, and will be interested to see how the series was adapted…

Eric Clapton: Clapton: The Autobiography* – Interesting insight into the music world, and someone that I can appreciate, even though he is not a heavy-hitter in my music collection.

* – Books that were “carried over” from 2007.

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2008 – year in Review – 1b (Resolutions)

Since I will be out of the country (and away from an internet connection) at the time the new year rolls in, I decided to start my “End of Year” reviews early. In this installment is a “resolution recap”, to see how well I did… And hints at what my 2009 list may hold…

I wrote them all here, and evaluate the results below…

1) Get my weight down to between 160-175 lbs.
–> Didn’t happen… If anything, I’ve actually gained a couple of pounds. But I have gotten Wii Fit, and MC and I have been walking around our neighborhood (when weather and daylight have permitted). Will I drop it all in the next year? Probably not, but I hope to make a dent…

2) Read between 26-30 new books during the year (meaning – reading a book for the first time)
–> Almost there… I will have 21 cleared within the week – 23 if you include the books started in 2007 and finished in 2008. And with another three weeks left (at this writing), I may still add a couple more to the list. (I’ll pop back and update with the final count after the new year)

3) Return to “Book 1” – the project started in November 2006’s NaNoWriMo. Continue the work, trying to push through to about a 1/2 novel… or about 100-150 pages, and shopping for critiques.
–> Nope… still stalled…

4) Write 8-10 short stories/articles/short scripts.
–> I sort of made this one… I know of four projects that were actually completed, and another couple of snippets that have been started – enough to be substantial, but not enough to be complete…

5) Complete 1st draft of a script idea I’ve been working with (working title: Four Corners)
–> Another “Sort of”… I feel like half of it is written, but once the class was over, the progress stalled.

6) Train to participate in the local Biathlon event (working up to around a 7-minute mile pace for up to five miles, and sustaining a 20mph pace on a bike for an hour).
–> Not so much…

7) Get an “A” in my graduate classes.
–> An “A” and a “B”… and the “B” was the script class for the first two classes. And I got a [ ] in my class this fall (Fiction Writing).

8) Clean, organize and purge my office (and keep it clean)… trust me… it is a bigger deal than one may think…
–> Still not 100%, but it’s better than it was. Moving the entire operation helped, making me have to actually go through things that hadn’t been gone through in quite some time…

9) Clean, organize and purge my attic space… a big undertaking, considering the attic has become one of the “catch-all” storage spaces…
–> Still a work in progress, especially since I don’t want to just move everything from that attic into the new garage…

10) Clean, organize and purge from the guestroom (the other “catch-all” storage space… which has made the room impossible to use for anything else… like, guests!)
–> The move made this much easier. The guest room has mantained managability, and has easily been tidied when people have stayed over.

11) Travel – at least 2 “decent” excursions, and a handful of weekend retreats – with some actually being “alone time” (read: no familial obligations).
–> A week in Vegas, and the pending honeymoon. Most of the other travels did actually include familial visitations, but we tried to find some time for side trips by ourselves… like shopping in Myrtle Beach when we visited some of her family near Wilmington.

12) Develop and maintain a daily writing routine (starting target: 500 words, or about 1 page a day), a regular blogging routine, and weekly postings to “Fictional Echoes”. Travel journals, and daily notes on life.
–> Hit or miss… The output has been sporadic – but the writing has been more plentiful than in years past.

13) Return to the “Call Center” project, aiming to complete a first draft.
–> Not quite, although I did submit the existing work-up for class, with some decent feedback.

14) Send birthday and anniversary cards, and regular emails. Send “Thank You” notes in a timely fashion.
–> Mmmm… stayed close, but missed a few, too…

15) Learn to write a query letter.
–> Not officially, nor has it been practiced.

16) Start building a marketing database/list of possible markets and submission locations – my personal version of a “Writer’s Market” if you will.
–> Started, after getting the 2009 Writer’s Guide, but still in progress.

17) Work on the 2007 NaNo Project – “Fantasy Gilligan” (with or without Chris, but preferably dragging him back into it so he can break out of his non-writing funk).
–> Nope…

18) Work with Ben on the “Player” script project (originally his script idea).
–> Uh-uh..

19) Finish 95% of my Christmas shopping by early November.
–> Doing all of the shopping while on the honeymoon. That was decided early in the year, otherwise things would have been done.

20) Work on my photography skills.
–> Marginally, but will be practicing on the honeymoon.

21) To watch at least 100 “new” films/items from my Netflix queue (which, as I write this, is sitting at almost 500 items – a lot are series collections, but still…).
–> Hmmm… currently at 20, but I plan to make it through a few more before leaving. Will update with the final count…

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2008 – Year in Review, part 1a (Overview)

Since I will be out of the country (and away from an internet connection) at the time the new year rolls in, I decided to start my “End of Year” reviews early. In this installment, I talk about the year in general, while part 1b will touches on the “Resolution Recap”…

Things have been interesting this past year, with a lot of changes happening in the household – the biggest of which is the background event of the year: the wedding. Much of the activity that has happened has had some bearing on the ceremony, and the resulting life together…

We travelled to Vegas in February, but the planning was already done in 2007. By the time we flew out to Vegas, the ball was already rolling on the Honeymoon plans, and things were starting to get ironed out for the wedding venue.

We bought a house… Well, a townhome. Something that has helped (although MC may still not quite fully agree) with my purging of the “extra stuff”. (The process is not complete yet, but it is much, much further along than it was a year ago.)

I started Grad School, and have completed 9 hours/3 classes… about a quarter of the requirements. MC has accepted a new position, which she will be starting after we return from the honeymoon.

We already have some travel plans in place for next year, and I am already looking at my calendar, trying to plan my year out, for productivity’s sake. But more about that in the “2009 Resolutions”.

Speaking of Resolutions… Comingsoon will be the recap post, comparing the hopes for 2008 to the reality…

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Merry Christmas…

May you and yours have a happy holiday season… Whichever holiday you celebrate.

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This will likely be the final “active” post of 2008…  I do have a few entries that will post in my absence, but today is the day that I think was mentioned several months ago… my wedding to Mary Catherine.

I am putting this together in a little bit of the downtime preceding the events this evening…  And tomorrow we leave the country for two weeks, and will not be that close to a computer (rather… blogging will be lower on the priority list during those two weeks…)…
Adios for now… I’ll post again upon the return…

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For All The Marbles…

I may have mentioned before that I have been playing in a Fantasy Football league for the last couple of years. It’s a closed (free) league, through ESPN, and is made up mostly of folks that do or have worked in the same area.

After a fourteen week regular season, and the first of two playoff weeks have passed into history, my team has made it into the championship game. The final (championship) game will be played this weekend – and I likely will not know the outcome until I return from my travels in January.

Just in case, like, you know, you care about fantasy football or anything…

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Traveling notes…

Since I will be gone for a few weeks, I thought it only fair to add the list of books that I will be taking with me. I will be taking four books – two Gaiman titles, a King, and The Painted Veil by Maugham. I don’t know how many of them I will actually get through before the year ends (or, during the trip), but that’s what I’m taking, and what will be the next few books from the queue.

The specific titles: Fragile Things (Gaiman) and Everything’s Eventual (King) are both short story collections, and will be the first books read. I am planning on alternating reads between the two books, and they will be the most likely to be finished (at least one of them). With less than 100 pages to go in Grafton’s “F”, these will be started long before the plane takes off on Sunday night.

After the story collections will be Veil, (originally published in 1925) to give a stark styllistic change from most of the other books that I have been reading for the last year, easily being the oldest (published) work recently read. If things are looking tight, I will probably just wait until January 1st to start this one, ushering in the new year with a clean start.

The other Gaiman book, Anansi Boys, will be the third novel of his that I will tackle, and will most likely not be started until 2009 – on the long flight back, if all goes well with Veil.

Beyond that, I will pull some more books from my shelves, and continue the reading streak.

Speaking of reading, a note on how I pick books…
First and foremost, in terms of getting books, I base on the author. If I like the style and content of a given writer’s work, then I will be more likely to get their books. As long as the content is relevant to my interests. Like Stephen King. I am more interested in his story collections, instead of his novels (I tried Salem’s lot about 20 years ago, but just couldn’t get into it, which probably soured me against most of his novels…) But I do want to try reading the “Dark Tower” series… And I have read his “On Writing”.

If I am looking into a new genre (I grew up mostly reading fantsy, science fiction, or straight fiction), I initially go with author reputation – and if there is a series I start at the beginning. Like Sue Grafton. I had gotten interested in the idea of trying to write several mystery stories – but to write something without reading any is crazy. So I sought out Grafton, initially, and started with “A”. I liked it, both the flow and the story involved (and, the use of a serial character), and have been progressing ever since.

In picking out new books, though, while walking the aisles of the local B&N… I look for interesting title names, or interesting cover art… And I read the back, or jacket description. If it sounds interesting, or looks like it might be in line with a style/genre that I may like, then I will consider it.

I also used the same strategy when going through my dad’s book collection. If there was author recognition or series recognition (Frank G. Slaughter, or the Nick Carter series), then I added it to my collection. If there were some that matched my genre interests (the “Baroness” series, or Ted Mark books), I added them. In most cases,if there was a series involved, I kept almost all of the matching books.

In picking books out of the stack (nay, mountain) to be read, things often go about the same. I pick out books that look interesting, and that I haven’t gotten to yet. If there is a story or style that I have in mind, I may tend towards those sorts of works (short story collections during the middle of the last semester, when I was focusing on short stories for class).

I do also consider length, to some degree (if the story is good, the length won’t really matter). Understand, though, that length can vary by edition. My copy of the King book mentioned above runs about 450-ish pages, but entries under Amazon show the same book at 600-ish pages. The trade paperbacks that I have been getting for Grafton’s Alphabet series run about 300-ish pages – but I have seen older paperback versions sitting around 200 pages.

And I try to avoid repeating an author too quickly. Imagine watching a TV series on DVD, or a string of movies starring X, or directed by Y, or all related to Z (like, a specific event – A WWII movie marathon, or a Bond marathon)… before long, the enjoyment would wane. (That’s why I am just now on “F”, when I read Grafton’s “A” back in 2007… and she has written through “T”!)

That’s the nut shell… now it’s time to go do a little more work before I leave for the day…

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I have finished my semester, just waiting now for the grades to post. Things are in the home stretch, with little more than a week to go until the big day. There is a slight case of nerves, driven mostly from the concern over the RSVPs, and wondering if more people will show than we have accounted for.

I have spent most of the day pre-writing some blog posts… some of the “Year in Review” posts, setting them up so they will pop up while I am away… a few things to help close out 2008.

Meanwhile, the story mill has been doing some generating… I came up with a story idea last night – a sequel to another story that I have been kicking around for a while. A mystery, of sorts, using a serial character… that’s all I’m going to say, for now, but it’s something that I will be kicking around for a while, working out some of the details.

Which reminds me… I may want to go visit a couple of sites for character information & development…. hmmm…

I leave you with this… I have almost hit the big 2-0-0. Almost 200 posts on the books, and I think we’ll break it by the end of 2008!

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Gamer’s Lament

Long, long ago, in a living room far, far away…

I was a gamer… more hobbyist than die-hard-know-the-books-backwards-and-forwards-and-every-monster-stat-that-could-be-encountered. However, there was the story-teller part of me (or the writer’s part), that liked getting the “extra stuff”. This was back in the day when there were only two editions of AD&D to think about, and there were new boxed sets coming out every five minutes, and a half-dozen gaming worlds that could be chosen from. The market was pumped full of gaming goodies, and the wallet of a barely employed mid-teen could barely keep up.

Flash forward a dozen or so years, and the last time I actually sat in on a game was… at least five years ago.

Now, as I try to consolidate my horde of “stuff”, which includes a large stash of assorted gaming books and boxed sets, many of which are now out of print, I face the dilema, “To have, or let go”. I have already jettisoned most of the collection of Dungeon and Dragon Magazines, since they had just been sitting in storage (and, years ago I got the CD set for most of the Dragon issues). I have already decided to let go of the non-D&D materials (not that there were all that many, but still)… I had gotten them for ideas, anyway, back when I was actually gaming. Many of the other things, though… the modules and boxed sets, are now conveniently available online (with a little looking)…

I am leaning towards letting things go, just because they aren’t being used… but maybe I can hold on just long enough to pass the torch to another generation… or to find someone that may be interested in some of the stash…

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