Posts categorized “Projects”.

Booklist 2011

Today in the Tournament of Books, it’s Model Home by Eric Puchner vs. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, with the verdict rendered by …. me? Wait, seriously? Who let me do literary criticism?

Well anyway, mistakes were made and I think it’s best we just move on. But I am going to check two novels off my goal of reading 20 recommended books this year. Check! The other check!

I still have two more ToB novels to judge, which brings my required reading for the year up to four. As for the remainder my 2011 Booklist, I asked you for suggestions. Based on your feedback, here are the 25 books I have selected. (Twenty-five rather than twenty so I can abandon a couple of books if I don’t care for them.) Non-fiction books are denoted by an asterisk.

I’ll be reading Anil’s Ghost this week, followed by the ToB Finalists. After that: Black Swan Green. I’ll post a reading schedule for it, and every other book I tackle this year.

Thanks again for your recommendations.

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Best Picture Reviews: The Rest

Just under the wire!

One of my self-assigned tasks was to view and provide capsule reviews for all 10 Best Picture nominees prior to the Academy Awards. I previously covered 127 Hours, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3. The rest are below.

Spoiler warning! As in, I don’t make much of an effort to avoid them. Be careful.
 
 
The Fighter

I’m a total sucker for boxing movies: Rocky is one of my favorite films of all time, and there are few documentaries I’ve enjoyed more than When We Were Kings. That said, entries in the genre tend to follow a fairly predictable pattern. Thank goodness, then, that The Fighter is “based on a true story”. The truth in this case isn’t necessarily stranger than fiction, but it does introduce some plot twists that a screenwriter might have dismissed out of hand were she penning the piece from scratch.

Also biasing me toward the film is the presence of Mark Wahlberg, of whom I have been a fan ever since them underwear ads. And it’s a testament to Christian Bale’s range that you can tell yourself “this is the same guy who plays Bruce Wayne!” while watching his performance, but you can’t quite get yourself to believe it.

I don’t see The Fighter winning–is the academy really going to give a boxing movie the Best Picture award twice in less than a decade? (Million Dollar Baby won in 2006, recall.) But of the ten films nominated, this is one of the few that I recommend to friends … if only to reassure them that it transcends the subject matter.
 
 
The King’s Speech

I don’t even know who is nominated for Best Actor, but if Colin Firth doesn’t win I will eat my hat. (Reminder to self: wear marzipan hat today to hedge bets.) Firth gives the definitive portrayal of “misery”–not “depression”, not “sadness”, not “brooding”, but the very specific emotion we mean when we say “miserable”, that toxic combination of frustration, defeat, and self-loathing when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable task or situation. Firth is to misery in The King’s Speech what Nicholson was to batshit insane in The Shining.

Firth’s performance is so amazing, in fact, that I am kind of conflicted on this film, at least in regards to the Best Picture award. On the one hand, I actually think this was the best of the ten nominated; on the other, I kind of think the “Best Actor” award would be sufficient, as that’s what makes the movie work. Had any other actor in the role of King George, I suspect The King’s Speech would have been a snoozer.

Also: Twitter jocularity.

 
 
True Grit

I don’t know how many Westerns I can enjoy until I can no longer say that I don’t generally enjoy Westerns, but I am one closer to that number for having seen True Grit. (Last month I saw The Proposition, which also put me closer to the tipping point.) I have no reservation about saying that I loves me a Coen Brother’s movie though, and they don’t disappoint here. The film does seem a little more straightforward-Hollywoody than some of their earlier works, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing: films like Fargo and Barton Fink never let you forget that you are watching a Coen Brother’s film, but in Grit they mostly keep their eccentricities in the background, allowing the audience to instead focus on the story and performances.

And what performances they are. Jeff Bridges has mastered the bizarre skill of seemingly mumbling his words beyond comprehension while still remaining perfecting understandable, and Matt Damon is predictably great as the kinda-heroic Texas Ranger. But they, and everyone else in the film, is overshadowed by Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the 14-year-old girl at the center of the narrative. I was convinced that she, Steinfeld, could not possibly by 14, and was actually a young-looking classically trained actress of 22 or something; a glance at her IMDB pageshows she was born in 1996, though. What the amazing?!
 
 
Winter’s Bone

I saw True Grit Friday night and Winter’s Bone Saturday night. Unless you see the films back-to-back as I did, it’s probably not apparent that the movies have essentially the same plot: young girls with nerves of steel, aided by violent ne’er-do-wells, set out to right the wrongs caused by the death of their fathers.

Unfortunately, Winter suffered from the comparison. The first hour of the film reminded me of one of those multi-stage video game quests, as the protagonists goes from person to person, only to be told that her princess is in another castle. I understand that this was intended to be a kind of guided tour of Ozark drug communities, but plenty of documentaries that have already trod that ground.

Things pick up in the latter 90 minutes, but they had kind of lost me by that point. And although I had no desire to see the filmmaker go all Lars von Trier, the kinda upbeat ending struck me as a bit much.
 
 
Inception

I saw Inception twice in the theater, something I have not done that since The Matrix. It also belongs to my absolutely favorite genre of film. Given that, I’ll leave my appraisal of the film as an exercise to the reader.
 
 
Black Swan

Best Picture, rilly? I mean I liked Black Swan okay–it also falls in my favorite genre, and hey: masturbation. But this really seemed like a pretty standard thriller to me, albeit one made high-brow by the inclusion of erotica and “Swan Lake”. I mean, would this have been nominated if it revolved around the production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch or something?

I’ve always considered Natalie Portman to be a pretty good actress, so her high-caliber showing here came as no surprise. But the pretensions of the film are belied by the performance of Mila Kunis, who drags the whole thing down to the level of a high-school drama.

Honestly, the more I think about it the more I am convinced that Portman is the only element that elevates the film above that of a routine popcorn flick. Even so, I’ll be kind of bummed if this is the role for which Portman wins “Best Actress”, especially considering that Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right) are more worthy of the award this year. Still, it’s probably not wise to bet against her. As Angelina Jolie’s win for Girl, Interrupted proved, the academy loves a beautiful, rail-thin crazy chick (or at least, in Portman’s case, the portrayal thereof).

By the way, if you’d like to see the whole “events in the lives of actors begin mirroring the plot of their play” thing done right, do yourself a favor and watch Slings & Arrows: Season One, available via Netflix Streaming.
 
 
The Kids Are All Right

So let me get this straight: this is a movie about women, written by a woman, and directed by a woman, and it’s up for Best Picture? WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE PEOPLE!

To be fair, Winter’s Bone is also about a woman, as well as written and directed by Debra Granik. So it’s a twofer this year. But was either Granik or Lisa Cholodenko, director of The Kids are All Right, nominated for Best Director? I find out I went to the Nominations page of Oscars website. Answer: Nope! But this was in the upper-right corner, so I guess it’s all good:

Well anyway, the real ground broken by The Kids Are All Right is in showing same-sex marriage to be fundamentally the same as any other, with ups and downs and joy and tedium and sperm donors. (Well, that last part is a bit unusual, I guess.) It’s also effing hilarious. I previously referred to The King’s Speech as “the best of the ten nominated”, but The Kids Are All Right was easily my favorite. ★★★★★

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Booklist 2011 – Suggestions Sought

In 2005 I asked readers of defective yeti to pick a year’s worth of books for me. They did, and I wound up reading some of the best literature of my life. I still harken back to the comments that entry when I am in need of a novel to devour.

I haven’t been reading as much in recent years, but for some reason signed on to the 2011 Tournament of Books, becoming a judge for the first time ever. And to that end, I spent January reading my assigned tomes: Model Home by Eric Puchner and Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. (The details and brackets of the 2011 ToB were anounced today. check them out.)

From there I moved on to the Uglies quadrilogy, a teen sci-fi series that was recommended by a dear friend. Fun! But these novels each take like a day to complete, and I need to have something lined up if I want to maintain my momentum.

And anyway, reading a score of recommended books is a 2011 Project of mine. So I again turn my lonely eyes to you, Internet. Below are the books I have already selected; please aid me in rounding out the list to an even 20.

The Current List

Candidates

Recommendations From Comments & Email

Please make recommendations in the comments; I will keep the above list updated as more are suggested. Please second those Candidates that you feel ought to be promoted to the main list (or steer me away from those that you feel I best avoid).

If you want to triangulate your suggestions a bit, I’ll tell you that my favorite books from 2010 were: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families (so good!), Little Bee, Zeitoun, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo SHUT UP I LIKED IT.

I’ll review each and every Booklist 2011 novel here on my site. That’s a defective yeti promise. Which means a promise likely to be broken. But I’ll try.

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Best Picture Reviews: 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3

One of my self-assigned tasks is to view and provide capsule reviews for all 10 Best Picture nominees prior to the Academy Awards. Here are the first three.
 
 
127 Hours

I don’t know what idiot at 20th Century Fox entrusted the 127 hours screenplay to Danny Boyle–a director best known for movies about game shows and zombies–but that idiot is a genius!. Of course that assumes there was a screenplay at all, and not just a five-page treatement that said stuff like “bunch of shots of the main dude riding his bike here” and “now he screams for like five minutes”.

Like everyone I was leery of this film due to the subject matter, and fully expected it to be quasi-horror tragedy-porn or inspirational triumph-over-odds glurge. Maybe it was, originally. But between Boyle’s direction, and the unmazing cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak (Mantle also did the cinematography for Slumdog Millionaire, it winds up being more of a meditation on existentialism. Somehow.

Not Best Picture material, but waay better than I expected. That said: WTF product placements? Seriously, the guy is trapped alone in a cave and they still figure out a way to plug a credit card? Shameless. If there was a name-brand urine, that’s probably what they would have shown Franco imbibing.
 
 
The Social Network

I am probably the biggest fan of Aaron Sorkin than has never seen an episode of The West Wing (it’s in my queue, I swear!), but Sports Night is easily one of my favorite shows ever, and I thought the dialogue in Charlie Wilson’s War was top-shelf. So even though I did not know he was the screenwriter for The Social Network as I walked into the cinema, I figured it out after about the first machine-gunned 17 words.

The story and pacing of The Social Network are fairly pedestrian, and the film’s accuracy has been called into question. But, as in pretty much everything Sorkin does, the plot is mostly there just so the characters can pontificate on the philosophical implications of the plot. That’s A-OK in my book, as social media (and Facebook in particular) is a subject of particular fascination to me. (Although I’ll confess to finding the final scene of the film waaaay too contrived.) I also concur with other nerdanaylsists in declaring that, even though it’s only 2011, we are unlikely to see a better use of “wget” in a movie this decade.
 
 
Toy Story 3

My enthusiasm for animated movies is well publicised but, in the case of Toy Story 3, that zeal was perfectly balanced by my innate wariness of any film that ends in a 3 (a phobia no doubt instilled by my childhood exposure to Superman 3). Thus, I waited to catch it on DVD. But it absolutely lived up to the dazzlingly high standard set by the previous two films, and managed to do so even though the novelty of talking toys had long since worn off. And just as Andy has matured, so too have the themes explored by the series, as this installment is less a routine adventure tale and more an examination of obsolescence and mortality. That doesn’t prevent the filmmakers from packing nearly every scene with clever sight gags and references that you only catch on your second viewing, though. Toy Story will rightly go down as one of the greatest trilogies ever made.

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2011 Projects

Last year, in lieu of making New Year’s Resolutions, I instead posted my 2010 Projects List, a compilation of twelve creative endeavors I had intended to tackle in the coming months.

I have decided to do so again this year. Post the 2010 list, I mean. I may as well, as I made very little headway on any of them.

In my defense, 2010 rather unexpectedly wound up being a year of career development (buy me a beer some time and I’ll tell ya the whole yarn), which left very little time for side projects. Also, there were some really great flash games released. The Crush the Castle series alone (1, , 2) is responsible for at least eight of those projects not even getting started.

So why post them again? Well, for starters, I have recently reconnected with my muse. Despite the radio silence on this blog, I have been busy behind the scenes, making appearances on NPR, participating in storytelling performances, and working on some stuff for The Morning News (more on that anon). So there’s hope. Also, having now become the poster child for the Peter Principle, it is unlikely I will again be promoted this year or honestly ever again. That will totally free up some time.

As before, my working definition of a Project is: a voluntary endeavor that requires a substantial chunk of time to complete (at least two weeks of effort), and one in which success is not dependent on third parties (i.e., writing a short story is a Project; having a magazine buy it is out of scope). I used to limit these to “creative” Projects only, but have thrown a few “Personal Development” items on this year’s list because, frankly, they are in dire need of doin’.

And so, the Projects 2011 list. “Log Lines” are intentionally vague–I have been told (and believe) that revealing too much about a creative project lessens one’s motivation to actually do it, as you get credit for the “great idea” and call it good. I will revise these entries with more information over the year as projects are actually undertaken (or scrapped).

Project

Category

Log Line

Status

Vending Spree

Writing, Internet

Consume and review every itme in my office vending machine.

About half done. Going to post on Tuesdays and Thursday until it is complete.

2011 Booklist

Personal Development

Read 20 recommended novels in 2011.

Have read two and am working through a third. Next step: put out a call for recommendations and assemble the 2011 Booklist.

Listfully

Writing, Internet

Lists! Everyone enjoys lists!

In progress. The website is registered, and I have already written some of the webscripts. Next step: put out a call for lists.

Bicycle Project

Internet

This involves three separate endeavors: an article for The Morning News, a related short story, and the realization of a t-shirt idea I have carried around in my head for a while.

Spring (i.e., the onset of cycling season) would be the logical time for this.

Karaoke

Game Design

Set collection card game with what I believe to be some pretty cool and original mechanisms.

Created some files for the prototype, need to print those out and start solo playtesting. Will document the progress of the game’s design on dy.

Birthday Treasure Hunt 2011

Game Design

This is something that I did more-or-less annually, until parenthood caught up with me. My 40th seems like a good time to resume the tradition, though. You can see summaries of previous hunts here, here, and here.

I currently working with my buddy Adam on a similar project, and will then transition to my own. My birthday is in March, though that seems a little too aggressive for completion. Perhaps July?

Twelve Articles for The Morning News

Writing, Internet

Technically I am a contributing writer for those guys, although lately I have been neither contributing nor writering …

Sending one in tomorrow, and I have two more queued up.

Girl of His Dream

Writing

Short story I started last year and then unaccountably abandoned.

Have written the first third, know the ending. Just got to pound out that pesky “middle part”.

Book proposal

Writing

I got the idea, now I just need the time …

Not started.

Screenwriting

Writing

I cut my screenwriting teeth on that script for The Office, now I’d like to do a full-length screenplay.

Have a few candidates, need to decide which idea to take on.

Lobby

Game design

A humorous party / negotiation game based on the congressional machinations.

Not started. Maybe contact Christian Leonhard & Jason Matthews for advice and inspiration?

Health Maintenance

Personal Development

I’m actually in better shape than I have been in years, but I need to (1) get down to 155 lb. and (2) shake my shoulder impingement.

Vegetables! We hates them forever!

I have more, but I’m going to keep it at a dozen for now.

And here are some Tasks that are currently on my plate. I’ll also limit this to 12 to keep Teh Overwhelm at bay.

Task

Associated Project

Status

Grow a beard

Looking awesome

Done!

Get the 2011 Make-Yer-Own Oscar Pool Page operational

Done.

Finish ToB write-up

Write 12 TMN articles

Done.

Assemble 2011 Booklist

2011 Booklist

In progress: I already have 10 novels. Put out call for recommendations and finalize list this week.

Write Non-expert piece for TMN

Write 12 TMN articles

Done.

Create 2011 Project database / page

Not started. Maybe get this done by 02/15?

Write first FF piece for TMN

Write 12 TMN articles

Self-imposed deadline: 02/28.

See and review all “Best Picture” nominees before Oscar night

Overambitious? Have seen four so far; six to go before 02/27.

Update: First three capsule reviews here.

Rework and playtest original game “Crash Course”

Not started. Schedule a playtest night.

Fix the endgame problem and playtest original game “Day Trader”

Not started. Schedule a playtest night.

Write something for Jay is Games

I should totally like do that!

Tangled Web

Screenwriting

Need to do something with this. Maybe just release it into the wild and call it good?

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Vending Spree

I am consuming and reviewing every item in my office vending machine. vendingspree.com.

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Projects 2010

On New Year’s day of 2009 I opted to skip the resolutions and instead simply vow to do a dozen “projects” over the coming twelve months. That decision, and some of the projects that resulted from it, are documented here.

I did so again for 2010. But this time I actually listed a number of projects that I intended to tackle. Most of these, I’ll be honest, were ideas I had intended to do in 2009 and never got around to, or ideas from time immemorial that are on the verge of being forgotten rather than executed.

Before I get into The Litany, a quick primer on what I consider to be a “project”. First, it has to be creative. I hope to cycle a century this year, and watch all three of the unabridged Lord of the Rings films, but neither of those endeavors counts. Second, it has to take a substantial chunk of time to complete–at least a week of effort is my admittedly loose criterion. And third, success of a project should not depend on third parties. Writing a short story is a project; having a magazine buy it is out of scope.

In collating these, I realized that they largely fell into three categories: Writing, Game Design, and Internet. Some belong to multiple classifications, and are listed as such.

And so, the Projects 2010 list. “Log Lines” are intentionally vague–I have been told (and believe) that revealing too much about a creative project lessens one’s motivation to actually do it, as you get credit for the “great idea” and call it good. I will revise these entries with more information over the year as projects are actually undertaken (or scrapped).

Project

Category

Log Line

Status

Vending Spree

Writing, Internet

This gimmicky writing challenge may be the next project I tackle. Just need to figure out how to host it: here on dy, in conjunction with The Morning News, or on its own dedicated website.

In progress: vendingspree.com

Twitter project

Writing, Internet

Idea for a website that leverages Twitter to maximize my blah blah blah please paypal me venture capital ASAP.

This one involves a fair about of programming. Investigating how much of the code I’ve written for similar projects is the first logical step.

Google Maps project

Internet

Doesn’t have the potential of the Twitter project, but would be fun to launch

Infinite Summer 2010

Internet

I’m not entirely sure if I.S. is going to return this year, but it’s something I ought to that pondering.

Thinking about thinking about.

Twelve Articles for The Morning News

Writing, Internet

Technically I am a contributing writer for those guys, although lately I have been neither contributing nor writering …

Waaay behind on this one, as my editors well know (Sorry Andrew.)

Girl of His Dream

Writing

Short story I started last year and then unaccountably abandoned.

Have written the first third, know the ending. Just got to pound out that pesky “middle part”.

Sear

Writing

Short crime story I have been carrying around in my head for about a year.

Not started.

Book proposal

Writing

I got the idea, now I just need the time …

Not started. I may begin in August.

Screenplay

Writing

I cut my screenwriting teeth on that script for The Office last year, now I’d like to do a full-length screenplay.

Have a few candidates, need to decide which idea to take on.

Karaoke

Game Design

Set collection card game with what I believe to be some pretty cool and original mechanisms.

Created some files for the prototype, need to print those out and start solo playtesting.

Birthday Treasure Hunt 2010

Game Design

This is something that I did more-or-less annually, until parenthood caught up with me. You can see summaries of previous hunts here, here, and here.

Given that my birthday is less than a week away, I’m a little behind schedule to say the least. But holding these things well after my birthday was as much a part of the tradition as anything else.

Lobby or Crash Course

Game design

Two different games; I ought to do one or the other (if not both)

Crash Course has a prototype in need of tweaking; Lobby is nothing more than a concept at this point.

Computer game

Game design, Internet

Create a browser-based game using Flash or somesuch

Have an idea for the game, haven’t started learning the language.

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