31 December 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 12

  • Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
  • In the Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson
  • The Go-for-Gold Gymnasts: Balancing Act, Dominique Moceanu & Alicia Thompson
  • Tokyo Heist, Diana Renn
  • Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card
  • Unemployment, Aaron Lake Smith
  • Miss Fortune Cookie, Lauren Bjorkman
  • Prophecy, Ellen Oh
  • The Central Park Five, Ken Burns & Sarah Burns & David McMahon
  • Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik
  • Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard
  • Anna Karenina, Joe Wright
  • Pitch Perfect, Jason Moore
  • Les Miserables, Tom Hooper
  • Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

Made it Ma, top of the world! If this was a race, I would have stumbled across the finish line at the last second, timing it so that I crossed just as the alarm went off. (There are some inept analogies in there. I am not a runner.) The point being, I successfully finished the fiftyfifty.me challenge, with 50 books and 81 movies knocked out in 2012. Anything is poooosssssible!

Moving into December, it really looked like we might not finish. I was eight books short and Lilly had a few more of each to go. As co-founders of fiftyfifty.me, I felt like we had to finish. We had a moral obligation to get through it all. I mean, we can't fail our own challenge right? That would just be embarrassing.

Some travel woes really helped me out, as I got through three books in record time. Mid-December I was stuck in Baltimore due to heavy fog and then had to reschedule my flight back to San Diego. Let's just say that there's nothing better for uninterrupted reading time than delayed flights -- and also long train rides.

During the last week of December, Lilly was jamming through both movies and books while entombed on her couch, while I selected a few short items to rip through myself. I mean, Unemployment by Aaron Lake Smith is a smallish zine. Are zines books? Existential fiftyfifty.me questions like this came up often the past few weeks. In this case, the answer is a resounding "yes." I do feel slightly guilty though, as anything that short really shouldn't count. At least by my personal standards.

However, in my defense, there were some books I read this year that I didn't count on my total because they were for writing research and I didn't want to put them on my list for fear that someone would read those same books and then steal my idea and make it better. A very real possibility since the idea is only so-so. Taking those research books into account, I can honestly say I read fifty books this year. Scout's honor. Here's a chart showing my reading/watching for the year.

Yes, I watched thirteen movies in June. Clearly I must have had summer mumps or something. On the reading front, I totally collapsed in August-September, so that resulted in my year end cram session slash panic. Currently we're working on getting fiftyfifty.me ready for 2013 so I'll post about that when the new site's good to go. I also want to take more time to reflect on what reading fifty books did for me this past year. I mean, besides making me ultra-smart.

Some notes and recommendations from December stuff. While locked out of my apartment one sad morning, I sat in the bookstore and read through Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist. It's real short but there are some great graphics in it and the book was pretty inspiring. Camped out at the lone chair in Greenlight Bookstore, I felt a surge of creative power flow through me. I itched to do something wildly productive and thuddingly artistic. Unfortunately, I was keyless, phoneless, and wearing no socks. C'est la vie. By the time I got back into my house, it was nap time.

Reading through Ender in Exile, I got mad at how lazy it was. Of course I had to read it but I wasn't happy about it. There were literally chapters of just talking heads and exposition. Having been recently admonished that my own writing suffered from the same problem, I was frustrated/jealous that Mr. Card was getting away with it. "Look, he can do it, why can't I?!" Oh right, he's a bestselling author who can do what he wants. Ah, power. How I lust for it. Mainly I was just upset that I didn't know about Ender in Exile, published in 2008, until now. And I call myself an Ender fan, for shame!

As for movies, it was a good run to end the year. I thought Anna Karenina was beautiful, and now I think I should probably read the book. Going movie to book probably saved me a lot of hand wringing over inaccuracies, although I can't imagine how even the biggest Anna Karenina fan couldn't appreciate Joe Wright's clever adaptation and much discussed staging. It was brilliant. And even though I saw Kick-Ass twice, I couldn't place Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky. This ridiculously handsome guy is the same actor? Seriously?

We were going to double down on Les Miserables and Django Unchained on Christmas but nobody else wanted to sit through five hours of movies so we split it up between Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Les Miserables got mixed reviews from our group but I loved it all -- even with some of the spotty singing. Django was, well, Django. Not as good as Inglourious Basterds but close enough.

And if you're looking for a light watch, Pitch Perfect is the way to go. It's not like Glee on the big screen (thankfully), and it's also not "this generation's Clueless," but it's got plenty of hilarious lines and now I have a problem resisting the urge to prefix "aca-" to everything. Aca-bitches, stand up! Sidenote: If I could sing I would be so obnoxious with my talent. I would harmonize to all your sentences and statements. A goal for 2013 is to get invited to a riff off. Also, I have begun casting for my Les Mis wedding flash mob already, just in case I ever stumble into a relationship, an engagement, or an acoustically perfect venue. Remember, love is nothing compared to "One More Day."

Lastly, I think I want to recommend Rust and Bone, but I'm not sure who to recommend it to. The movie features killer whales, Katy Perry's "Fireworks," and Marion Cotillard, so it should be irresistible to all humans, but it wasn't exactly the film I was expecting. I'd hoped for Rust and Bone to stay with me longer, but it slipped away quietly. Rust and Bone did make me want to check out Jacques Audiard's other work though, starting with A Prophet.

So here it is, the end of 2012 and mission accomplished. I'll leave you with a photo of Shamu and friends that I took myself earlier this summer, from the first rows of the Splash Zone. We got completely drenched but it was worth it. The Shamu show is not nearly as good now that the trainers don't go into the water -- for good reason -- and I am torn between loving Sea World and reading too much about how orcas suffer in captivity. Is there really more we can learn from them? Set them all free, even if that means my season pass will purely be used to eat funnel cake.

Sea World's savvy secret: the funnel cake is killer. Another not so secret secret: alliteration and puns suck. Especially together.

23 December 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 11

  • Just Kids, Patti Smith
  • Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, Kirsten Miller
  • Gear School Volume 1&2, Adam Gallardo
  • A Story of Debt, Ashley Riordan
  • The Trip, Michael Winterbottom
  • Skyfall, Sam Mendes
  • Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2, Bill Condon
  • Life of Pi, Ang Lee
  • Lincoln, Steven Spielberg

November was all about the books, as I'd cleared the fifty movies months ago. Plus, there wasn't really a standout of the bunch, unless you count how much anticipation there was to watch the conclusion of the Twilight Saga. I can't even talk about the best part of that movie -- or rather, my theater experience -- because then I would be spoiling the ending. Twihards, ready your hearts.

One thing about Life of Pi: If you were hoping to see more bioluminescent whale in the movie, you will be sorely disappointed. The trailer contains most of the glowy blue whale the movie does. Watch the film to support Ang Lee, but set your expectations low for the whale.

I already gushed hard about the Kiki Strike series, and it's to my great relief that there's a third one in the works. It's called The Darkness Dwellers and it drops in late January. I haven't been this excited about a series in awhile and I'm already sad that I'll probably consume Book 3 in a few hours and then have to wait for more. I have some people say that they start to read slower to prolong a book experience. Usually I speed up to get to the end. However, with this next Kiki Strike I may have to try the slow down strategy.

The other book I'm 100% behind is Patti Smith's Just Kids. Part of me was resistant to it because it was ubiquitous -- you know how that happens -- but I'm happy to report that Just Kids is every bit as good as the critics claim. Having no prior knowledge of Smith's work prior to Just Kids, I found myself wondering what the heck she was famous for. The book starts with her as a young poet trying to make it in New York, then she paints, then she writes music critiques, then she kind of acts, then she gets a haircut and becomes popular for her androgynous look, and eventually she becomes a rock star. The other main person in her memoir, Robert Mapplethorpe, undergoes a similar all over the place artistic journey. Reading about their struggles and successes was both depressing and inspiring.

What Just Kids did for me was to make me realize that if you're an artist, everything can/should be your art. Your interests, your obsessions, your life, it can all just be a part of it. In fact, it pretty much has to be. Smith's book led me to think about how being an artist is more about a mentality than what you can do. "I take photographs, I paint, I sculpt, I write, I sing, etc."

The reality is that you set out to explore the world and take it in with an artist's curious sensibility and expression, and then you see where that goes. And if you don't have the necessary technical skills, you learn'em.

For quite awhile, I followed Ashley's blog, Writing to Reach You, as she chronicled her journey getting out of over $20,000+ in debt. Using an impressive amount of discipline and sacrifice, she cleared it all out in under a year and half. That's pretty amazing, especially since she was concurrently getting her PhD, working multiple jobs, and still being a regular person with regular social obligations and stuff. Ashley's been out of the red for a few years and now she's compiled all those blog entries into a free eBook! Go to A Story of Debt to check it out and download it.

I wish more of my favorite blogs did this actually, as I'd love to have complete copies of old favorites like Technicolor.org or Hipstomp. Instead I find myself trolling through the Wayback Machine to read everything. Is there a service that can turn websites into ebooks? I'd pay handsomely for that.

12 December 2012

Outrageous, So Contagious

Having been in New York for awhile now, I've slowly accumulated some items and detritus of staying here life. Like a bed, got one of those. (Well, a mattress.) There are towels on hand for guests too, a big step forward. And I have three types of hangers. It's all impressive stuff. My roommate has started making noise about getting a toaster oven, although I prefer a plain old toaster. So many decisions when you stay put in one place for longer than three months yeah?

Also, my friend lent me his big JBL HLS810 speakers. These make any space comfortable, as I think I'd rather have music than couches. I mean, living room dance space is always at a premium right? Our apartment is right above a street side window, and across from a school, so it's important that we blast age appropriate music. Luckily my collection of teen pop is quite extensive. Don't kid yourself, the Carly Rae album is actually kind of good. "You were here, and then you left / Now there's nobody, nobody / Now they're all just second best..."

Having decided to remain here for a little while longer, there's also been a slow accumulation of winter clothes. Jackets, scarves, long sleeved things, beanies, gloves, what is this madness? And when you peel it all off and need to put your pile -- plus you -- on that single narrow bar stool? Impossible.

My purse recently went through a harrowing experience -- it was jacked from me on the mean streets of Fort Greene. All of its contents were stripped bare but the purse itself was unharmed, left discarded on the street next to a subway station. I won't go into the gory details as my purse is still suffering from inanimate object PTSD, but the thieves clearly had their own definition of spread love, it's the Brooklyn way. I should probably consider carrying a more threatening bag. Something spiky.

In honor of its courage front in the face of danger, here's a winter version of Purses Organized Neatly. Last fall's version is here. Two things I'd like to highlight. First, if you're an iPhone user, you know how hard it is to keep your phone charged. I recently got an external battery pack for it and now when I go into a room, I'm no longer sweeping my eyes around for outlets. For $25, the Monoprice 3000 mAh charger comes recommended. I can't recall if we learned about milliampere hours in school, but if I ever get a chance to make up SAT questions, I'd frame everything in terms of practical electronics stuff. Then kids will be sure to pay attention. "If the iPhone 5 has a battery capacity of 1440 mAh, what's the best price/power ratio for Mophie's line of products? Please show your work."

Also, to sing the praises of whoever makes these ubiquitous convertible fingerless gloves to mittens. The convertible part isn't new to me, but the thumbs are now covered and designed with a slit so that you can pop the top down to use your touchscreen. It's likely this is not a novel thing for you cold weather regulars, but to me this is genius. I want to say bravo to the glove designers, and to the many copycats who have since made this item widely available and affordable. I have purchased two pairs of these magical mittens from vendors on St. Mark's -- the first ones were whisked away with the purse -- and am on the search for the perfect color. At $5-10 a pair, my thumbs have never been warmer, or more efficient.

While I'm here, I'd like to R.I.P. my Canon camera. Not so much the camera itself -- nobody uses a point and click these days -- but the Delkin Snug-It's case that I housed it in. That case was the coolest thing in my "protect all electronics" arsenal. Its black skin was pleasurably tacky but not sticky, supple yet strong, much like how I'd imagine Shamu would feel like. And the best part about the case was how the opening for the lens flowered open like a sea anemone. Without this surefire conversation starter by my side, I don't even know how I'll talk to people anymore.

Speaking of killer whales, the unexpected use of "Fireworks" in Rust and Bone was just the best. I wouldn't recommend the film to everyone, but it had some wonderful moments for those with patience. Plus, orcas!

21 November 2012

Five Times Five

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) What Claudia Wore. Babysitter's Club fans, this one's for you. Everyone else, this is also for you. 

(2) Signing Tour: The Reality TV Show. I would like to expand on this and take it to the next level. The level where it actually happens.

(3) Life in Publishing Tumblr. I usually can't do animated GIF blogs but this one is just too good. Plus a companion Why Authors Are Crazy version. Whoever you anonymous geniuses are, thank you.

(4) Let's Discuss Disqus. As Disqus is my preferred commenting platform -- Blogger's generic comments are the worst -- here's Forever Young Adult's breakdown.

(5) Help Revitalize Books of Wonder. If you go to any children's book events in New York, you know about BoW. Now they need some help so go donate at their Indiegogo campaign!

16 November 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 10

  • Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
  • Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett
  • Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, Kirsten Miller
  • Don't Get Too Comfortable, David Rakoff
  • Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, Alison Klayman
  • The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Argo, Ben Affleck
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
  • Cloud Atlas, Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer

After two highly lackluster reading months, I finally pulled it together and got some books out of the way. I'm on book #38, with a dozen left for November and December. That's doeable, I believe. Best of all, October's reads are all highly recommended. For our inaugural two person book club, we did Kafka on the Shore. Unfortunately, I thought we were doing 1Q84 and I read through most of that before realizing we had agreed on a different Murakami. I feel like I should get some fiftyfifty.me credit for 1Q84, since it was originally published in three volumes. But that seems to be cheating and I'm not that desperate to pump up my count yet. Sadly, until I loop back to 1Q84, I won't find out what happens to Aomame the assassin and Tengo the writer. "Aomame" is kind of a great name right?

Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty is about friendship but also alot about pursuing a life in writing. I coudn't stop raving about it after ripping through the whole thing in one sitting, and have pushed the book upon anyone who would listen. Regrettably, nobody has listened to me yet, as per usual. That's okay though because I finally got to read some David Rakoff and now aspire to be as curmudgeonly as he. It'll be a tough trick to pull off because in comparison, Rakoff is ten times more observant, a thousand times funnier, and also a million times better writer than I/me. (Which admittedly, I guess, isn't saying much.) In Don't Get Too Comfortable, Rakoff skewers our culture of narcissism and excess. In solidarity, I want to hate all the things he hates. I also want to be his Instagram friend. Sadly, he is deceased.

Another book I've been pushing hard is Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City. Here's the tagline: "Five delinquent Girl Scouts, one secret city beneath Manhattan, and a butt-kicking girl super spy." What else do you need?! Well, author Kirsten Miller's blog also contains a series called The Irregular Guide to New York City and it explores many of Manhattan's lesser known -- and often subterranean -- secrets. Check out Chinatown's Bloody Tunnels or The Mystery of Track 61. I'm zipping through book two of the series and am relieved another one is about to come out. They are ridiculously good in all respects and I wish there were more books like this. I also need a Kiki Strike in my life to lure me into capers and adventures.

As for movies, not a bad one in the bunch for October. The Ai Weiwei documentary is a must-see, not only because Weiwei is such a compelling artist, but also because of director's Alison Klayman's really great editing and presentation. I couldn't believe it when I did some post-watch research and found out that this was her first documentary effort. Regardless of how familiar or unfamiliar you are with Weiwei's work and his political activism, Never Sorry will resonate. We watched it with my friend's parents, who immigrated from China in the Eighties, and it was interesting to get their perspective on the film. They explained some of the play on words we didn't know, such as caonima and why Weiwei hosted a river crab feast as protest.

I read Perks of Being a Wallflower awhile ago -- way before I knew what YA even was -- but didn't remember much about it. The movie itself was impressive, especially when I realized that the book's author, Stephen Chbosky got to do the screenplay and directed as well. I don't know how many authors get to direct their own movies, much less pull it as well as Chbosky did. The film's soundtrack is kind of killer too. Pretty much I hate Chbosky for accomplishing everything I've ever wanted to do. Okay I don't hate him, I admire him...

Both The Master and Cloud Atlas were overly long but mostly worth the watch. I didn't know about the whole 70mm hype around The Master so I kind of want to see it again, even though I didn't love the film. I have never been so excited to listen to a movie's Slate Spoiler Special. Afterwards I was like , "Please, just someone explain to me what I just watched." I'm not sure who to recommend The Master to, except cinephiles. Actually, upon reflection, Cloud Atlas wasn't a pure recommend either, but I was entertained throughout and I think my interest was pre-piqued by reading about the adaptation of a so-called unfilmable book. Here's the article: "Bending Time, Bending Minds."

Man, this got long. Usually I only talk about the high and lowlights but I guess October was just a banner month. Coming up next, I just read these two great articles about Truman Capote's interview of Marlon Brando and now I need to see some of young Brando's standout movies. On the Waterfront or A Streetcar Named Desire? The answer is clearly, "both."

15 November 2012

Stay Stay Stay

Currently pushing: Letterpress. If you're into word games, Letterpress is for you. I hate Words With Friends for many reasons but this is a delight. And the intuitive and simple design is outstanding. Go try it out, you won't regret it.

After a bit of calculation, I realized I hadn't left the confines of my Brooklyn block for almost three weeks. Between Hurricane Sandy, work, deadlines, the election, the start of the basketball season, and a general downturn in weather, I basically only left the house to eat. And then I figured out I could get ninety percent of my meals delivered over, so why leave? Of course, you can't just hermit up forever. Or so people tell me.

When my roommate came home the other day and declared that it was beautiful and hot out, I knew I had to take a break from writing because otherwise my brain would explode. With a few precious hours of freedom, I bolted out to the city. After some shopping, dinner, and a movie, my phone battery died and I was left to figure out the way home without electronic assistance. (The bane of my existence so far is the crappy iPhone battery.) Predictably, I got off at the wrong stop -- the trains are slightly different post-hurricane -- and ended up far away from my house.

I didn't mind though, I wanted to take a long walk anyway. It was three in the morning, with nobody around, and since this could be the last warm night in New York for some time, I was happy to just set off in the general direction of home and get there eventually.

When I'm out here, I carry a small compass to orient myself. Unless you're pretty familiar with the whole city, or just have an outstanding sense of direction, it's kind of hard to know which way you're facing when you pop out of the subway. Also, I am not good with direction based directions.

People out here love to say, "It's on the west side of the street." Dude, I have no idea what that means. Is it on my left or my right? Unless the Pacific Ocean is nearby, I don't know which way west is. A compass solves all these problems. I recommend everyone carry a compass. Pro tip.

As I belatedly discovered however, my faithful compass is now broken. I wandered the wrong way for awhile, until I noticed that I hadn't hit the Barclays Center like I'd expected. Most of the cabs going by slowed down, figuring correctly that I was lost. Just once I would like to look like I blend in with the neighborhood/environment enough so that people don't wonder what the heck I'm doing there. Oh to be belong! A couple of miles and two hours of walking later, I arrived at my front door, shining bright in-between a coffee shop and a pet supply store.

This is the most exciting thing I've done since Halloween.

I am concerned that the time for long walking nights are over, as the very next day returned us to chilly weather. The good news is that I bought a semi-proper winter jacket -- as opposed to the light one I used through the wind and snow two years ago -- so I'm sticking around New York for some portion of the winter at least. The bad news is that my compass is busted and I could be lost forever.

Which, I guess, really isn't all that different from when I had a compass.

18 October 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 9

  • Golden Girls #16 (Camp Confidential), Melissa J. Morgan
  • Premium Rush, David Koepp
  • Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish
  • Bad News Bears, Michael Ritchie
  • Looper, Rian Johnson

So this is what it feels like to be in a slump. Last month I read one book. This month I read one book. I'm so behind I'm even behind on my blogging about being behind. It's mid-October and I'm currently at thirty six books read and counting. If I'm halfway decent at math, that means I'll need to push through fourteen books by December 31st. Totally doeable of course, but I'm embarrassed I've fallen off-track so fast.

Both Lilly and I are/were a bit worried that we wouldn't finish a challenge we started, but since her recent trip to Europe, she's semi-back on track. Clearly the way to start reading more is to take trips where the going takes a lot of time. And it helps if there are long plane rides involved.

I am going to reveal another secret to getting lots of books under your belt: Read short books. Yes! It's that easy. I am already stocking up on middle grade titles for the final push. It makes me feel a bit like a cheater, but if I have to, I'll throw down some sub-200 page books. For damn sure. Nobody can say how long a "book" should be! (Defensive rant over.) Also maybe I'll read a few plays. I really need to game plan the next two months so I can hit my 50/50 goal. Also, this is the last you'll hear of me complaining/distressing about where I am in the challenge, from now on it'll be enthusiasm and full force forward!

In other news, over at the fiftyfifty.me site, we had our first finisher, Selina, and her guest post is a wonderful recap of her reading and watching year so far.

I guess the thing I want to tell everyone to do is watch Looper. I don't know how Joseph Gordon-Levitt is simultaneously in everything at once but Looper is definitely a winner. I know you've probably heard all the hype by now, so do whatever you will with it, but it's not often a movie comes along that's so unexpected and entertaining. Sure, it had its flaws and inconsistencies, but writer/director Rian Johnson is consistently interesting and someone I've been following since Brick.

Also, I read half of 1Q84 before realizing it was the wrong book club book. So I went four hundred plus pages in before having to switch Murakami horses mid-stream. From what I could tell, it was interesting with an assassin and a sort of ghostwriter. I hope to return to it but am afraid if I leave it down for too long, I'll forget everything and have to start at the beginning. Is it better to have terrible reading memory or excellent? Discuss.

Okay, just kidding. Don't discuss. The answer is clearly: excellent memory. I hate how I read things and don't recall anything but the bare bones just a few weeks later. It makes it hard to engage in conversation for more than three seconds about something. On the other hand, twist endings are able to surprise me time and time again. Which is kind of an asset right?

05 October 2012

Five O'Clock

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) McSweeney's Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do. There's a reference to Balki Bartokomous. That is all.

(2) The Klein Pyramid of Literary Quality. I like when people try to structure things. Also, I'm totally into Cheryl's podcast, Narrative Breakdown.

(3) Bad Little Children's Books. These are just wonderful aren't they? "A Good Place to Hide the Body Parts."

(4) CBC List of Recognized Publishers. I found it of interest to see how many books each publisher pumps out annually. Yes, someone published zero...just like me!

(5) Writing in the Dark. "I sometimes think I would give anything to be a morning person -- one of those writers who wakes naturally at six, does an honest day's work by noon, and is free to socialize all evening." Never I say, never! #niteowls4eva

03 October 2012

It's a Small World After All

Managed to get out to KidLitCon this past weekend. KidLitCon is for bloggers, by bloggers, and it's on its sixth year. Seeing as the conference was in New York, and so am I at the moment, I just had to go. It wasn't easy, mind you, as getting up before the crack of 3PM is not easy for me. Not to mention staying awake and paying attention for a full twelve hours. How do you people do it?

On Friday, I had the chance to attend a publisher preview and upon sliding open the door, I was greeted with a huge conference room filled with editors and bloggers.  I had no idea the presentation would be on such a large scale. Silly me.  I felt like a total delinquent for rolling in late.

Aside from gifting everyone an incredibly huge bag of books, HarperCollins walked us through their upcoming titles.  I saw quite a few I've been waiting for, such as Ellen Oh's Prophecy, Debra Driza's Mila 2.0, and the Defy the Dark anthology edited by fellow 2009 Deb Saundra Mitchell.  I'm also pretty intrigued by Soman Chainani's The School for Good and Evil, which sounded promising and had quite the eye-catching cover -- one that I guess hasn't been released yet.

The main takeaway I got from the preview was this: there are a lot of books coming. Yes, a lot of books. I guess I knew that but when a room full of editors take turns presenting all of their titles, it becomes a deluge of blurbs, descriptions, and covers.  It really made me stop and think about how many new YA/MG/children's books are dropped each year.  I've heard the number for YA alone is something like 4,000+, which seems gigantic. Are there really that many?

It's at once intimidating how many books authors have to face off against each season, and also cool to see so many fun books coming out.  Plus, seeing all these books presented at once definitely opens your eyes to some trends.  For example, kids who go to sleep only to wake up years later are on the rise.  You heard it here first.  Or third.  Or fiftieth.

As someone who's never worked in publishing, and as a simple author not privy to many things, I found it educational to peek behind the scenes and see editors talk about the books.  In a way, it was like being at a marketing meeting, one where the publisher is enthusiastically pushing titles toward librarians and bloggers.  Normally I see books pushed by writers to agents, and agents to editors, but haven't had much experience at a different part of the food chain.  It makes me want to experience it all, from every level.  Quick, someone invite me to more things.  I'll be quiet, observant, and on time.  Promise.

Having never attended BEA or ALA or anything of the sort, I've never been around so many people who, in theory and in reality, share the same interest in these two things: blogging and books.  One hundred percent of people in the room you could talk about something you were both passionate about.  That rarely happens, at least for me. Usually big roomfuls of people and I only have one interest in common, or maybe none.

I should probably get out more.

There are fine recaps of the conference so I'll link to them below.  Before attending, I didn't realize the whole thing was volunteer run, so Betsy Bird (A Fuse #8 Production), Liz Burns (A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy), and Monica Edinger (Educating Alice) clearly put in a bajillion hours -- on top of their normal jobs -- to pull the whole thing off.  Really quite amazing. Thanks to them for their hard work and did I mention this entire thing was free?

I'm ready to cyber follow everyone who attended, since that's pretty much my hobby, which is handy since the main KidLitCon page has the links to everyone who went. There were some people I totally wanted to talk to but couldn't find the opportunity. I think it would've been ideal to have like rounds of meet and chats. Although maybe that is weird. Ah who cares, let's do it next time anyway.
Here's some of my highlights and stuffs: Spent the afternoon post-publisher preview and before dinner talking to Shelia Ruth about her many interests, experiences, and expertises. Among many other things, she's a judge for the Cybils; runs Wands and Worlds, a community space for children and teen fans of scifi/fantasy; and is a whiz at social media.

Finally meeting Sheela Chari after missing her at various events from coast to coast. Her book, Vanished, not only has one of my favorite covers but also features a plot centered around a disappearing instrument.  I can count on one finger how many books I've read in YA/MG with such a great premise, especially one featuring a minority protagonist. Also, Sheela's co-presenter, Michelle Schusterman (YA Highway) has an upcoming series, I Heart Band, that is about well, band.  Anything with band geeks I'm into, as I was the loneliest -- read, only male -- flautist for many a band in my youth.

Getting to hear Nova Ren Suma talk about her incredible blog, Distraction 99. If you aren't following it, I don't even know what you're doing with your life. Recheck those priorities. I saw Nova read from Imaginary Girls at Teen Author Reading Night last summer and have been a fan since. She did a presentation with Kelly of Stacked Books about running a successful blog series.

Trying to figure out if that guy two rows over was E.C. Myers.  I could only see the back side of his head and since I've only seen/conversed with him online, it was tough to identify him.  Authors should present full 360 degree photos for ultimate stalkage. Just saying. It could eliminate those tricky "is that?" moments.

Speaking of guys, at any conference where 90% of the attendees are female, the guys gotta say hey to the other guys, right?  Geoff Rodkey introduced himself to me at dinner and we got to talking.  Cars, explosions, guns!  Actually no, none of that.  He did tell me about his recently released book for middle graders, Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1.  I haven't had the chance to read it yet, but I assure you it's fantastic because after spending time with Geoff, I find it hard to believe he could have written anything less than stellar. I'll be reading Deadweather and Sunrise very soon, to confirm my hypothesis.

And in one of those New York coincidences, I literally ran into librarian Henry Drak on the corner by my apartment.  Eleven o'clock at night in Brooklyn, nobody else around and I see this dapper young man standing around lugging all the same tote bags as me.  Kismet I say.  Without him I never would have made it to KidLitCon the next morning on time, so for that I'm super grateful.

Finally, found out that one of the attendees was married to the lead singer of a band I love quite a bit. I don't even wanna say who it was, to protect her identity, but mostly so I can have this fact/secret all to myself.  I was giddy and may have fanboyed by proxy. Or proxy fanboyed, I dunno, whichever one makes more sense.

KitLitCon was great, let's run it back!

18 September 2012

Top of the Charts

Traditionally, Tuesday is when albums release, when incriminating Facebook photos from the weekend are posted, and when new books drop. This Tuesday is more special than all the rest though. Dare we call it historic? Let all future generations of humankind know that on September 18th, 2012, three Asian American YA authors released new books. Three!

Two major releases by Asian Americans would be a nice coincidence but three clearly indicates a conspiracy. Right? (What are those wily publishers planning next?) In a few years, when the entire young adult world is overrun and oversaturated by Asian American authors, you can point back to this Tuesday as the day everything totally happened.

And look at these books: a science fiction thriller, a scifi dystopian, and a contemporary revenge story. Delicious right? Lemme link you to them so you can read the wonderful blurbs and descriptions.
Malinda's a fellow 2009 Deb and I've been watching the creation of Adaptation from afar, start to finish. While her main blog is always full of great posts, Malinda also gives us a behind the scenes of writing and revising Adaptation's sequel. For people like me, who are always curious how other people work, Malinda's a person to learn from because she's a true professional. Seeing her output and discipline is both a challenge and an inspiration. You can read the first four chapters of Adaptation here, but you ought to just get the whole thing so you won't have to pause to take a breath.

Kat Zhang's debut, What's Left of Me, has been eagerly anticipated because I've been following her blog for quite some time -- since before she'd even agented or gotten a book deal. And now her debut is out! Kat sold the Hybrid Chronicles when she was nineteen and is still in college now, which easily makes her the youngest YAkuza member. (I believe.) When I was in college, I could barely get to classes on time, much less handle writing, revising, and handling all the stuff that comes with having a book come out. Clearly Kat is excellent at time management, among many other things. Watch her read from What's Left of Me, straight from a campus dorm room.

And everybody already knows Jenny Han, who wrote Shug, the best selling Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy, and Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream. Burn For Burn is co-written with Jenny's former New School MFA classmate Siobhan Vivian (Not That Kind of Girl, Same Difference, The List) and the two of them are currently on mega tour so go see if they're looping around to a venue near you. Doesn't Jenny have such a great URL? dearjennyhan.com. Also, check out Jenny's tour nails on her Tumblr. See the little bow on the left hand? Perfect.

To top off this historic day, how about also celebrating the release of Lish McBride's Necromancing the Stone? It's the follow up to 2010's Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and if these two aren't the cleverest titled books around, I challenge you to tell me what is.

If you don't know what Lish's titles are in reference to, well, I just feel sorry for you. C'mon, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner? Phoebe and Elton John? I want Lish to name everything in the world. Airports, sports arenas, job titles, babies, board games, new animal discoveries, my books, everything.

Lish also just successfully funded her Necromancing the Swag Kickstarter so while you may be too late to get some stickers, buttons, and totes, we can like, time share the t-shirt I'm going to get.

Go congratulate everyone on their book releases today, go go gadget!

14 September 2012

Tiny Furniture

New York, I have arrived (again). How long this time you ask? Well, it'll be anywhere from a month to more than a month. Any more specific and I'd just be guessing and making things up.

I came just in time, as one last week of summer humidity got blown out by a tornado. Of course, I packed only summer and winter clothes. Luckily, I also have a collection of semi-pants to use as in-betweens. They are advertised as bicycle knickers but let's just call them what they are: men's capris. I also do not own a bike even though my shorts try really hard to tell people that I do.

There are lots of bike carcasses strewn around my new neighborhood so I'm hesitant to invest in something that will surely be stolen. Or might cause me to end up in the hospital. I have enough trouble paying attention to the world and walking at the same time so adding additional speed is probably not a good idea. However, I did see Premium Rush the other week and it had some nifty bike skids that I would love to perform.

Sidenote: I wouldn't recommend Premium Rush unless you're a bike geek or really into Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Or Jamie Chung. Everyone should be into Jamie Chung actually, as she's risen from the The Real World vortex into Hollywood fame, and is way bigger than Jacinda Barrett ever was. Soon Jamie will challenge Paris' Mallory, Boston's Sean, and Back to New York's Mike the Miz for post-Real World accomplishments.

It's tough to stomach Jamie Chung's terrible accent though. And the general plot ridiculousness and heavy handed racial stereotyping in Premium Rush. It was very Eighties in that way. The ridiculousness, not the racial stereotyping. The stereotyping was spot on for 2012. Seriously, doesn't every white person play underground high stakes pai gow in Chinatown nowadays?

All these Real World name drops are relevant because the new season of MTV Challenge is around the corner. This time it's Battle of the Seasons and our fantasy league is gearing up to draft right now.

Here's the thing about New York, there's always too much to do! Swamped with moving, having guests pop in from out of town, getting work stuff done, cranking out some writing, and just, well, stuff, I've managed to squeeze in a few things. Like the Rumpus Loves NY event to see Stephen Elliot and Sari Botton. And then dropping by to catch the tail end of Kate Milford's The Broken Lands release party. I also attended a pig roast. And celebrated a birthday with eight desserts.

Of course, I totally forgot about Teen Author Reading Night. And I missed out on Zadie Smith reading in Union Square tonight. Worst. There's not a lot of writers I'd put anything aside to go watch, but Smith is one of them. All my online-ness and I didn't even know she was coming. Upcoming the next few weekends: Brooklyn Book Festival and KidLitCon. Both of which I hope to attend. I forgot that everything in New York is likely packed or sold out, even when you don't think it'll never be. Which is horrible for a no RSVP and last minute decision maker like me. #makethatchange

What has been cured in me is my napping problem -- hopefully only temporarily as naps are the best. There is no time to nap here though, none. Not when the weather is beautiful and the schedule is packed. And, just when I thought I was over this song, I'm so not. Frank Ocean forever.

09 September 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 8

  • Popular Crime, Bill James
  • Brave, Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
  • Total Recall, Len Wiseman
  • Safety Not Guaranteed, Colin Trevorrow
  • Ruby Sparks, Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
  • Bright Star, Jane Campion
  • Bourne Legacy, Tony Gilroy
  • Celeste and Jesse Forever, Lee Toland Krieger
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin
  • Expendables 2, Simon West
  • Make Believe, J. Clay Tweel

Well, the wheels completely came off the wagon this month. One book read. Just one. That is pathetic. I'll accept laughter and berations (not a word) via email or any social network. Even in person you can make fun of me. How can I expect to hit fifty books if I only got through one in August?

I was doing so well too, maintaining a minimum of at least four books a month. Now I'm gonna fall behind. Note that four books a month would not get me to fifty either, so I should really be trying to read about five books a month.

In my defense, there was a lot of fantasy football I was getting into this past month. August is a huge month for fantasy football geeks. You gotta buy the magazines, listen to the podcasts, look online for the ranking and projections. It's a ton of work preparing for multiple drafts. I know I know, that's hardly an excuse. But that's the one I'm going with.

Hey at least the one book I read was a good one. Bill James is more widely known for his advanced baseball stats, think Moneyball, but it turns out he also has had a lifelong obsession with crime books. In Popular Crime, he shows that he's an authority on the topic and presents us with a combination history, review, and appreciation of crime books. If you like reading about serial murderers and unsolved crimes, Popular Crime is the book for you.

With only one book read, maybe I compensated by watching a ton of movies. During one week I think I went to the theater five times. I think it was midnight Total Recall, followed by Safety Not Guaranteed the next day, then Ruby Sparks, which naturally led to Celeste and Jessie Forever. All of that was bookended by another midnight showing, Bourne Legacy. Overall I dropped in ten movies in August, pushing me way past fifty for the year. I'd feel better about this if I was closer on books. Oh well.

I loved everything about Ruby Sparks. I feel like it was written just for me. The premise is that Paul Danno is a writer who suddenly materializes his dream girl. It's Mannequin plus Stranger Than Fiction. While I'm no fan of Danno -- for inexplicable reasons -- he was great here. And Zoe Kazan. Oh let's talk about Zoe Kazan. I'm in love with her, it's impossible not to be after watching Ruby Sparks, which she wrote as well as co-starred in.

And of course her grandfather is Elia Kazan, director of A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront. Zoe Kazan is wonderful, and while Ruby Sparks plays to every Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope out there, it's fantastic and worth a watch. And I've been putting on the soundtrack while writing, which is like life imitating art imitating life imitating productivity. Or something.

Someone in Hollywood must have decided the end of summer is a good time to dump counter programming for all the explosion and action movies. How else to explain the release of so many faux indie romantic comedies? I watched them all of course. Because it's my calling. That and dance movies. If anyone ever successfully combines the two genres, it would be freaking over. I'd go buy that collectable special edition director's cut DVD right now. Twice over.

Who else is dead frightened/excited about a sequel to Before Sunrise/Sunset? It's set in Greece and titled Before Midnight. I'm so scared.

30 August 2012

When Tomorrow Comes

This is a love letter. Yesterday we went to watch Les Mis. Due to poor timing and massive demand for the 25th Anniversary Tour, we were forced to sit in the cheap seats with the commoners. Ugh, hate when that happens, don't you? Pushed to the back and way on the right, we had a tough time making out exactly what was happening onstage.

I mean, of course you can see what's happening, but can you really see? Having watched some musicals from the very front row, I can tell you that the view from the back is a whole different experience. Enter our savior: binoculars! A few months ago I did some heavy research into binoculars as I looked to pick up a new birding hobby. I won't go into the reasons why birding is important but if you want to be a better writer, you should just do it. For my next trick I'm hoping to legally change my last name to "Franzen." Then acclaim will surely follow.

Anyway, seated in the mezzanine but outfitted with my Bushnell Falcon 7x35's, we were still able to see everything. The dirt and grime on Thenardier's face. The scars on Jean Valjean's head. Fantine's beautiful blonde hair piece. For a mere $28.52 investment, we had gone from seeing two inch figurines running around the stage to an up close and personal intimate performance. It was amazing. Through the magic of magnification, we were able to practically experience Javert's obvious halitosis.

If only the guy in front of me hadn't been so tall and so fidgety, my view of the stage would have been perfect. Why move every fifteen seconds guy? If you can't sit still, why are you here? Oh right, girlfriend. Stop moving please! Actually the binoculars helped me see through his head. No, I'm not lying. Because of something science-y involving our built-in binocular vision, the view through the mechanical binoculars allowed me to basically eliminate his head from my view. I don't know how it worked but thank you intelligent designer. You are indeed mighty.

From now on, I'm bringing my binoculars to everything. Sure it might make me a creeper but I'm going to see the whole world so much more clearly. I love you binoculars, five star review and a hearty recommend.
Having not seen Les Miserables in over a decade, I kind of forgot most of the plot points. I know the songs backwards and forwards but enacted out on stage, all of it was kind of confusing. For example, there's a lot of period jumps. Jean Valjean as a prisoner, then as a young man, then as another young man, etc. All those rebels running around singing about furniture. Who were they fighting? And I really didn't remember the end, not at all.

What stood out most from my memory was Cosette's role. In the past, when I thought of Les Mis, I thought of "Castle in a Cloud" first. But upon another viewing, that's Cosette's one and only moment. She's not the main female lead, it's Eponine! (Or an argument could be made for Fantine too.) Essentially Cosette is there to look pretty and be the object of Marius' affection. Perhaps the difference is that when you're young, you identify with Cosette and the other little kid, Gavroche. But when you're older, you realize that they were just minor characters.

And poor Eponine. She's the embodiment of Meantime Girl isn't she? I kind of hate Marius for being such a jerk. How are you asking Eponine to deliver love letters in the middle of a siege? Don't you see that Eponine is willing to die for you!? What an asshole. He doesn't deserve to have "A Little Fall of Rain" sung to him. I'm Team Eponine all the way now. If you are Team Cosette, we are enemies. En garde.

December 14th could be amazing. Hugh Jackman is gonna kill it. Also, if you're watching Les Mis live, don't hum along to the music. Ahem, Mom...

25 August 2012

Trapper Keeper

Listening to: "Hot Cheetos and Takis." This song, my goodness. I'm pushing it on everyone -- with an admittedly so-so success rate, but you need to be into it so we can be friends. "Gangnam Style" was so last month, this week it's all about H-O-T Cheetos.

This is an informative article from AAWW's Open City blog about "Gangnam Style" though: "Beyond the Horse Dance: Viral Vid 'Gangnam Style' Critiques Korea's Extreme Inequality. Okay, fine, I'm not truly over this song yet. Not at all. I just requested that my friend please, pretty please, play it at her upcoming wedding. With luck maybe she'll play both of these songs. Snack, snack, snack...

Back in school, if I forgot my planner for a day, or geezes, managed to lose it outright, my life was over. I couldn't remember anything I had scheduled, or what homework assignments were due, or maybe even what day of the week it was. In college, your planner was your security blanket. Plus, sometimes friends would leave you a note on a distant date and they could be assured you'd find it. (If a note falls in a forest and it's not written in a day planner, does it get read? Chances are, probably not.)

Ah, memories.

Somewhere along the way I lost the need for a paper planner. But I know a lot of people still rely on them. For example, my sister, neat freak and slightly Type A, once left her planner after a visit back home and she insisted I FedEx it up to her. Next day air too. So super serious.

What do I rely on now to run my ultra busy life? Google Calendar of course! It's come to my attention that a lot of people use Calendar totally wrong. As a public service announcement, I need to just show you how it should be done. The rule is "one color for each type of event." Calendar provides you with a multitude of wonderful colors and no limit on how many individual calendars you can create.

I have one for birthdays, one for work stuff, one for writing stuff, one for upcoming bills, one for Celtics games, one for travel info, etc. The most important calendar I have is "daily" which is just the generic tag I put on things I'm doing. Like next week I'm hitting up Sea World and attending a friendship bracelet making party, those go under the orange "daily" calendar.

Since I know I'm absolutely horrible at remembering when things are supposed to happen, I just offload my brain to Google Calendar and rely on technology to keep me on task. And instead of asking when a friend is in town, over and over, I just jot it down in my Calendar. Plus, a great side benefit of using all these colors and event calendars is that it looks really impressive at a glance. People will commend you on your busyness and being so "I'm right on top of that Rose."

However, I never let anyone look too closely at my Calendar, as they'd realize it's all just fluff and I'm barely busy at all. Shhh, our secret.

If you're still about the paper planner, my friend Susie (boygirlparty) makes the best ones. That's a definitive statement. The absolute best ones. Plus her to do lists are ridiculously great too. Foxes, octopuses, elephants, you're gonna want them all.

15 August 2012

Fortress Around Your Heart

I have a friend who refuses to put any apps on his iPhone and I think it's crazy. "I like to keep it uncluttered." Listen, I'm a Virgo, I understand all about having to keep stuff clean and organized. But why have an iPhone that is stripped bare of anything but Phone, Mail, Messages, Camera, etc. That's like having a premium computer and not downloading any programs. "No no, I'm good with TextEdit." There are wonderful apps out there that make your life easier. I'm not saying you have to download all of them, just the few that you'd use often.

Historically I've been against paying anything for apps but I've recently changed my stance. It's completely silly to think that I'd pay $4 for a Jamba Juice but not 99¢ for an app. For example, I recently dropped a dollar to purchase the ad-free version of Chess for Friends. I've been using this app since 2007 and every time I've made a move I've been served up an ad. For a buck I ended the nuisance.

What's crazy is that even a week after eliminating the ads, I'm still trained to move my finger down to close an ad after I push my piece. I've been hard wired to be Zynga's pawn for five years!

Having said all that, I'd like to plug a few apps that might rescue you in this dark time. I used to download and try out every Twitter client. Some of the time I was on Echofon, some of the time I was on Tweetie (until it was acquired by Twitter), and I was always on the lookout for something better. Well, that something better is Tweetbot.

Tweetbot has a clean interface, wonderful gesture based actions, and allows me to switch between accounts easily. While it's not substantially different from anything freely available, the little touches add up to make it the best Twitter client available. I was a skeptic, but after using it for a few months, I'm glad I spent the $2.99. If you use Twitter regularly, I recommend you dig out a few dollars for this app too.

Also, Tweetbot just released a Mac client as a public alpha. Tell me how it is because I can't use it. My OS is still on Snow Leopard. I know, so embarrassing! And if you're heavy on the Twitter, you should probably be using a desktop client because Twittering via browser is just silly.

Next up, Stitcher. This one is free actually. Everyone knows I'm a guy who loves his podcasts. What isn't fun is refreshing them one by one, or syncing to my computer daily. Stitcher solves this problem by making it easy to refresh all your podcasts at once and then having them streamed whenever you need them. No local storage, more space for your games and music.

The only downside is that Stitcher doesn't have every podcast I listen to, and that can make it easy to fall behind for some podcasts. However, used in combination with the native iPhone podcast application, I've streamlined my podcast consuming to all new, way more efficient levels. Rejoice. Stitcher also makes it simple to discover new podcasts by suggesting stuff based on your listening preferences.

Here's two podcasts I'm into right now: Planet Money and How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner. Usually I can't stand a lot of NPR's podcasts but their Planet Money one I can get behind. As for HWYW, each episode starts with Julie droning on about her week and after awhile it gets kind of like she's your friend and you just get invested into knowing what she's been up to. Also, she has great guests like Rob Sheffield, Tavi Gevinson, Kurt Loder, Choire Sicha, and Patton Oswalt.

Actually, my absolute favorite podcast right now is Grantland's Reality TV Friday with Dave Jacoby and Juliet Litman. I've always loved Jacoby but when Juliet came on board a few weeks ago, their podcast chemistry made them my absolute favorite couple. Like in life. I don't know two people I'd rather listen to or hang out with. I know, strong statement, but it's absolutely true. I don't even watch the shows they talk about -- mostly Bachelor and Real World -- and I still can't wait to hear them banter and discuss the trivial each week. Here's a sample episode. And by "hang out with" I mean I listen via technology while they talk and don't even know I'm alive. It's a very one-sided relationship but I'm fine with that.

08 August 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 7

  • I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron
  • Edda, Conor Kostick
  • Code Name Verity, Lizzie Wein
  • I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron
  • How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
  • The Amazing Spider-Man, Marc Webb
  • Jarhead, Sam Mendes
  • Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan
  • The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano
  • Step Up Revolution, Scott Speer

I feel like my months are falling into mini-themes. May was dystopian, June was middle grade, and now July, heavy on friendship and feminism. For example, Caitlin Moran is being touted as the next Nora Ephron but that's really unncessary. Moran doesn't need to be the next anything. Her How to Be a Woman is hilarious and thought provoking without having to attach it to anybody who came before her. What's important is that both Ephron and Moran write essays that I could read over and over.

Next month I'm gonna go back and read Ephron's older essays and then turn my attention to whatever the male equivalent of this sort of writing is. Confessional, smart, and funny. (What is the male equivalent of these books?) Or I'll just stay in this lane and go either lighter with Sloane Crosley or heavier with Joan Didion. It's about time I went Didion right?
As for Code Name Verity, let me just say "wow." One of the best books I've read this year and I don't even want to tell you anything about it because it's much better going in without knowing much. Nominally it's young adult but it's not like any YA I've read. I don't know who was the lone dissenter giving this a three star review on Amazon but they were dead wrong. Code Name Verity is so great, and even if it doesn't sound like it's up your alley, you should read it. Man, I wish I could forget it so I could read it all over again.

And a quick head nod for Conor Kostick's Edda. A science fiction / fantasy YA that actually has some depth and interesting world building. Most of the YA stuff I read in this genre has only a light glossing of sci-fi, but Kostick's series actually has ideas and depth behind all the action and plot. That would make sense since he was "a designer for the world's first live action role-playing game." Plus he is a former European champion at Diplomacy, a board game I love and long to play often. Respect. I headed into Edda expecting some generic-ness and emerged wanting to check out Saga and Epic.

For the Dark Knight fanboys in the audience. Here's the deal: Dark Knight Rises wasn't that good. I'll come right out and say I'm not a huge fan of the franchise in general -- Batman's growly voice kills me -- but I can concede that it's done great things for the comic book movie. But this one especially was so hokey and littered with so many plot holes and inconceivables that afterwards I had to nitpick at each one.

Having said that, I did go back and watch it again. Upon rewatch, the first hour or so of the movie is spectacular. Christopher Nolan pushes the tempo, sets up the current day situation, and introduces Bane in a great way. However, when Bane becomes the star of the movie, putting Gotham under siege -- and Bruce Wayne gets tossed into the pit -- the movie lost me. Also, where was the fighting? Nowhere! Dark Knight Rises wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and I loved Anne Hathaway, but I think it was a clear letdown.

Also, while we're here, I wish Fox would just stop making Spider-Man movies so the rights could revert back to Marvel. Not that Amazing Spider-Man was bad, not with Emma Stone in it, but it's totally unnecessary. Let Spider-Man join The Avengers please! And while they're at it, let Wolverine scurry back to Marvel too.

One movie I will recommend from this past month: The Intouchables. Originally the trailer put me off because it seemed like too much of a sappy feel good story. But upon a trusted friend's recommendation, Lilly and I went to go see it.

And we loved it!

The movie had so much wonderful energy, an opening featuring "September," and an utterly charming Omar Sy. The Intouchables played like a light version of The Sea Inside or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Actually those movies had quite a lot of humor in them too, but more subtle.) It was nominated for all sorts of awards in its native France and it's definitely a perfect Sunday matinee.

There is some debate about The Intouchables' broad racial characterizations and its use of the black man as cultural liberator trope. The criticism is impossible to dismiss because the movie certainly plays into those stereotypes. While philosophically I agree 100% with those criticisms, I still think The Intouchables was delightful and worth a watch.

Also, Driss in real life is Abdel Sellou, an Arab from Algeria, conveniently blackwashed for the movie. Is that, like, a first?

06 August 2012

Five by Five

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture. I've been thinking this myself. How much nice is too nice? I think it should be two bad things said for every one good. Oh wait, that is not the golden rule. (Also Emma Straub's response.)

(2) The Best Blogs for Young Adult Books. A definitive list, finally! If I'm only following two of the top ten, does that mean I have crappy taste in YA blogs?

(3) Once Upon a Time: The lure of the fairy tale. The best article I've read all year about the Brothers Grimm. Coincidentally also the only article I've read all year about the Brothers Grimm.

(4) Jessica Corra. A personal blog of a YA author that is both introspective and well, personal. It reminds me of back in the day when blogs were intimate and quiet. Start with this entry, "Worth and the Writer." Jessica's
After You comes out Spring 2013.

(5) Social Media is Not the Bullet. If social media is supposed to be a marketing tool, I've been weaponizing it all wrong. Wait, it's not for posting overly enthusiastically about things?

(*) Also, this NPR Best-Ever Teen Novels is such a sham. Don't people see that it's all link bait? Don't you see?! "Voting is now closed. Check back next week to see the list of 100 winners." A hundred winners? C'mon. We all know the real winner here is NPR. (I would vote for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Where the Red Fern Grows but one would probably be deemed too violent and the other too sad for today's impressionable youth.)

03 August 2012

Step Up Revolution (2012)

A highly anticipated viewing of the new Step Up has led to this, another in my continuing series of dance movie reviews. Yes I went right away to the theater to see Step Up Revolution so you wouldn't have to. Okay I know you're gonna watch it anyway. Spoilers ahead, as per usual.

Tagline: "One step can change your world."

1. Plot (4)
Emily is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who... Ah whatevers. Emily is a rich kid trying to get into a contemporary dance company, Sean is a street guy who leads an underground dance crew. There's a lot of mumbo jumbo about not losing what's yours, fighting against the rules, and backstabbing daddy. Everything here is rehashed, some of them straight from previous installments of Step Ups -- not to mention a nod to Rent. If anything, there's too much plot in Step Up Revolution and none of the threads stick for even one second. We'll give some points for the switch of locale to Miami, which provides a much more picturesque backdrop after Baltimore and New York.

2. Can the lead characters dance? (9)
Considering Kathryn McCormick finished third in her season of SYTYCD and came back for the All Star session, she's at least above average. Of course, her first dance scene almost kills everything because she's pretty terrible. The initial move she does to impress Sean is lackluster and groan worthy. Of course, this was probably scripted because Sean immediately comments on how bad it was. McCormick's strength is definitely the contemporary dance numbers but she didn't stand out much matched against Jenna Dewan, Briana Evigan, and Sharni Vinson. In fact I'm pretty sure she didn't do any hip hop type numbers in the movie now that I think about it. I was more impressed with McCormick's abilities after watching her old SYTYCD clips: cha cha / solo and contemporary to Michael Buble.

As for Ryan Guzman, he's probably the best male lead dancer of the entire series. Strong statement, I know. My movie mate and I thought it was possible he'd been genetically engineered for this role. As it turns out, Guzman was a mixed martial arts fighter and a model with no previous dancing experience. He acquits himself well and he's not only the best dancer of the series, he's also arguably the best looking. He looks like a white Ricky Martin. Oh wait, Guzman is Mexican-American, but as he says in this interview, "I always heard I look white…[but] I want to help out my culture and progress. I definitely want to try to reach out and do as much as I possibly can." Go minority casting! Sort of. (Sidenote: When are we gonna get a non-white lead for Step Up? Never probably. Do we start a petition for this or just move on to something else?)

Also, McCormick looks like a dancing Winnie Cooper. Or a grown up Alyson Stoner, who played Camille, Channing Tatum's younger sister in Step Up and Moose's girlfriend in Step Up 3. Seriously look at them and tell me you wouldn't have been confused.

3. How're the dance scenes? (8)
While there were lots of dance scenes, only a few of them stuck out. The strong opening with The Mob shutting down Ocean Boulevard and dancing on top of low riders was cool (not to mention perhaps dangerous). Crashing an art show and using wonderful body paint and lights was something I'd like to see in real life. The ending with a bajillion dancers everywhere, some strategically placed trampolines and bungee cords, had a few "oooh" moments but overall the dance stuff lacked pizzazz. Throw in some practice scenes, a few romantic duets, a dash of Emily trying out for the dance company, a ho hum office dance, and that was about it.

One thing I'd say though, is that long gone are the days of Step Up dance montages in front of dull backgrounds. This fourth version staged every dance beautifully and it was all, dare I say it, very artistic. However, sometimes all that nice framing and cleanliness took away from the energy of the dances.

It felt like this movie needed one or two more killer dances to push it over the top. Of course, at this point in the series all the dancers are good and the choreography is clean but we've mostly seen it all before. Throw in some house dancing or something. Get Fanny Pak on the line.

4. How's the love story? (2)
Bleh. Guzman and McCormick had a meet cute scene -- where they engage in a mini-dance off at a beach party and throw sand at the 3D screen -- but aside from the initial spark, there was hardly any chemistry. There were some attempts to give them more of a connection but it didn't really work. I could be generous and say that Emily and Sean inspired each other to greater heights or saved each other from disaster but let's not kid ourselves. They were just empty vessels for an empty relationship. Throw in a very weakly motivated plot point splitting them up and then the inevitable reconciliation and we have something to double yawn at.

5. Rate the sidekicks (2)
For the first time I can recall in a trashy dance movie, there was no attempt to distinguish the secondary characters at all. Sure Sean's got a surly best friend -- the actor is a dead ringer for Josh Hutcherson -- and a crew that gets the freeze frame, color splash, ID treatment, but none of it matters. There's no charismatic or wisecracking sidekick for either lead, and nothing on par with the delightful twins from the last installment. Maybe it's not a bad choice to avoid shoehorning in sidekicks but we look for standout personalities in this advanced scoring system. Step Up Revolution fails big time here.

Twitch does return from Step Up 3 but he's hardly recognizable without his silly glasses. The only semi-memorable character here was a street artist that had ridiculous hair/tattoos and an unwillingness to talk ("Pictures are worth a thousand words, get it?"). I'm awarding two points here for short cameos by Madd Chadd and Moose but other than that there was nobody to get excited about. I mean, does Peter Gallagher as Emily's father count as a sidekick? Nah.

Oh wait, let's talk about Mia Michaels, who played the head of the dance troupe. I'm generally a fan of hers so I don't want to get too harsh here but damn, Mia was channeling some Ursula from Little Mermaid shit. In one scene Mia's lurking behind Emily and she looks like she's about to steal her voice -- or eat her.

6. Best line (1)
Worst lines ever from a Step Up movie. And that's saying something. Forget just having an absence of good/bad lines, the dialogue here almost took away from the film. First time screenwriter Amanda Brody tripped over the low bar here. The very low bar. I wanted to give this category a zero but since it wasn't a silent film, I'll give it one point out of pity.

If I had to pick a semi-quotable line, it was maybe "Don't you know how this works? I hold a drink in my hand, you dance around me, make me look good." And that's only because it's in the trailer which I saw like ten times.

7. Music (5)
The soundtrack was pretty weak. In theory Timbaland, M.I.A., Busta Rhymes, Lil'Jon, Ne-Yo, Bieber, Fergie, Far East Movement and others could add some punch but there was nothing good until the credits. If anything, I found myself enjoying the songs played during the scenes Emily and Sean are slow dancing together. The Cinematic Orchestra's "To Build a Home" for example. Nice track but that's not the type of music I'm looking for from a dance movie. My movie mate is still using the Step Up 3 soundtrack on her workout playlist two years later; I doubt anything here will have that long of a shelf life.

While I'm no fan of Pitbull, it's criminal that he didn't get more shine on the soundtrack, seeing as the movie was set in his hometown. Mr. Perez has a guest spot on Fergie's track but the song as a whole sucks. The Pitbull song that should have been on the soundtrack was J.Lo's "Dance Again," which is one of this summer's sleeper fun dance songs. Can we get a redo? Call Me Maybe Remix?

8. Fashion (7)
Utilitarian. Most of the cast was dressed in hip hoppy casual stuffs. There were a few interesting haircuts, especially on the lady DJ, and lots of Beats headphones -- overpriced and sub-par as we all know. Super abs boy Guzman sported a wifebeater throughout most of the movie and McCormick shimmied around in an array of see through tops and dresses. The slightly above average grade is given solely for the art museum scene, which featured some neat costumes and especially a glowy set of ballerina tutus. Nice work.

Oh wait, an added point for the Miami Heat hat that Guzman wears in one scene. It was not even a throwback but a fake throwback that had the biggest branding sign on the back. I'm thinking it was a custom. Come to think of it, Sean wears a lot of area specific sports caps. That means that the Florida Marlins hat made its first and quite possibly last appearance in a major motion picture.

9. Cultural Impact (2)
This probably marks the film that will kill the Step Up franchise. In theory they could crank these out forever -- since they are quite profitable -- but there was nothing new or exciting added to the formula. I mean, the story tried to add some depth by presenting dance as protest but that's just ridiculous. Flash mobs are not a political statement. Any art form can say something but this isn't the movie to explore those avenues. C'mon, at the end of the film The Mob sells out to Nike. Way to stand up against the man guys.

Suspension of disbelief for this film rivaled anything I've needed since White Nights. Aside from all the "we can affect change through dance" chatter, it was hard to believe that a guerrilla dance group could repeatedly invade private spaces and everyone would just let them finish their routines. Plus they didn't even bother to obscure their faces in their videos, making it pretty hard to believe the police couldn't figure out who they were. Okay I'm probably taking this too seriously.

Unless the next Step Up goes in an entirely radical direction, I fear this series is on the decline. Then again, we thought the same thing about The Fast and the Furious and Fast Five was awesome! I think the move is to bring back Channing Tatum. Sure he's too big now but just throw ten million at him and dare him to say "no."

10. Miscellaneous (4)
Director Scott Speer did a few episodes of Legion of Extraordinary Dancers and it shows. The look of the movie was nice but just like the LXD series, it was missing a lot of oomph during the dance parts. Jon M. Chu where are you? Come back to the franchise! Bonus fact: Speer is the on-again, off-again beau of Ashley Tisdale. Not that you cared.

In the movie, Sean's crew is trying to accumulate ten million hits on their YouTube channel to win a $100,000 prize. I find it difficult to believe that they couldn't get ten million hits -- especially after going viral and even horning their way onto national newscasts. I mean, the trailer for Step Up Revolution has 9,062,853 hits right now. They couldn't get to ten million? This detail really bothered me for some reason.

On IMDB, in the search bar, the text says "Step Up 4: Miami Heat" instead of the proper name for the movie. That must have been a placeholder before the final title was announced but it's kind of funny. (Oh wait, what am I talking about, I hate the Heat! Damn you for beating my Celtics. Damn you for taking Ray Allen!)

Ouch, Step Up Revolution came out with the worst scores of any dance movie I've rated. Way lower compared to my reviews for Step Up and Step Up 3. This doesn't mean it isn't worth a watch however. I mean, compared to stuff back in the day, the dancing here is spectacular. And if you were one of the old couples sitting to our right or to our left -- what were they doing at this movie opening day? -- you would be suitably impressed with what dancers are capable of these days. We've come a long way since Save the Last Dance and Honey.

Having said that, the low scores for a super lame story, no sidekicks, horrible dialogue, and nothing extra thrown into the mix really torpedoed the overall score here. This one's for dance fanatics only. Mia Michael's teacher says to Emily after her first audition [paraphrased]: "Your technique is good. Exquisite even. But you don't have any originality. Find some." That pretty much sums up Step Up Revolution. The motions are all correct but we needed more.

Of course, I am already looking forward to Step Up Whatever in 2014. Mark your calendars fellow dance movie addicts, Step Up 5 will need our full support!