Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"I'll be home for...crap."

I kid you not. During my sister's piano recital (which she RULED, by the way), one sweet little boy stepped up to the piano, played the opening chromatic chords to "I'll be Home for Christmas," but had a little trouble with the beginning lyrics. The above title is a direct quote.

It's Christmas Eve Eve, the equivalent of "Dead Week" for last minute shoppers of the family. For other families that day would be tomorrow, but my family celebrates the Birth of Christ on the evening of the 24th, which moves everything up a bit.

This has been a difficult Christmas season in some respects. I love Christmas, and I love everything that comes with it - the baking, the tree, the lights, the choosing of gifts. I was sick - the first time - when we went out for our tree. It sat undecorated for a while, until I felt better enough to go on a rampage.

I've learned a lot about myself and sickness this month. I've discovered that if I'm sick for a while, the moment I feel a bit better I'll go on a bender. All of a sudden, come hell or high water, I find myself 100% devoted to getting something done. The first time it was the tree, which I decorated myself (Danny was sick by then). In my infinite wisdom, I started the lights at the top and worked my way down. It seemed logical at the time. Now...less so.

Things were equalizing, we were both healthy, until I got sick last week. Again. So when I started coming out of that one, I began wrapping gifts. All the gifts. I blew my nose, then wrapped more.

I take wrapping pretty seriously. There is something deeply, deeply troubling to me if the identity of the gift can be guessed just by looking at it. Starting at a young age, I learned how to ID my gifts. I thumped the front, feeling for a plastic window. I felt around the edges to see if it was a Nordstrom box (they had wide edges at the time). I pressed the paper down to try to see through it. I shook. I rattled. I annoyed my parents with my startling accuracy.

Oh, and I had my patented question: "Is it in its original box?"

Seriously. After that, my parents took the wrapping up a notch. Clothes for my American Girl doll were wrapped inside a standard garmet box...along with a seatbelt clip and some bolts. Christmas has never been the same. What's funny is that I married someone who does not have the same compulsion to examine his gifts. He's happy opening them and being surprised. Can't understand it.

Anyway, I got sick, I felt better, I wrapped. There is one gift I'm particularly proud of in its sneakiness - not only is the item entirely disguised, but I disguised it using a collection of objects I've been trying to get rid of for six months.

Then my Christmas cards arrived from Costco Printing, and I started in on those. Fifty cards. Twenty-four hours. I'm actually quite proud.

My sister's Christmas recital was the night before last. She played "Falling Slowly" from Once, and it was incredible. But as the rest of the 75-minute program progressed, I had some time to think about music. Particularly Christmas music.

Such as...have you ever though about how creepy the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" really is? It makes him sound like a KGB operative...he knows everything. Scary. I mean -

"He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake,
He knows if you've been bad or good,
Because he wiretapped your place. Hey!"

(Note: I tried to put in a line about printing seditious pamphlets, but I couldn't get it to fit. "Pamphlets" is a tricky word to rhyme with

Other songs I dislike:

"Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" - Too cute-cutesy. Like the phrase "fro-yo", but worse.

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" - I'm not sure how this works, since most people put their trees in corners or against walls. Maybe the line "Rockin' back and forth in front of the Christmas tree" didn't make it past the test group stage. Either way, there's no lyrics with any meaning or cleverness, and even if there were, I'd likely resent it anyway.

"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" - BO-ring melody, and that line about bringing us the figgy pudding has always set me off. I don't know anyone who has ever baked fig pudding, so demanding something so disgusting and likely unattainable is doubly rude.

There's my riff on Christmas music. As far as the rest of life, I need to work on my book today, which I'm officially halfway through. The plot is progressing well, and my character is currently outside of Amish country, which makes my life easier. I've had a copy of Amish Grace sitting around for a month, but I haven't been able to get myself to read it. Having read about everything to do with the Amish, I think I've found my limit.

Ideally, I might bake today. We'll see. But whatever happens, it won't be to the tune of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas," because I'm clean out of figgy pudding.

P.S. Australia review coming soon. In the meantime, go see it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Notes on Illness

I guess I jinxed myself. In my last blog I boasted of being healthy again.

Hah. Whatever. I just had all of the kleenex wads thrown away from the last bout (granted, some were Danny's), when I woke up with a tonsil twenty times it's normal size.

Seriously. It's like it took a cue from the Grinch's heart (that grows until the magnifying glass breaks, if I remember right). And my lymph node on that side is all huge and swollen. Hasn't been this big since I had mono, which was the last time I blogged about such a topic.

I hold to my previous statements (which can be found on my old blog at www.myspace.com/hillary_on_writing), such as the fact that Progresso soups are the best. They still are. In fact, the times I've tried some of the Campbell's (recently, their Italian Wedding soup), I've been kinda grossed out. The bits o' pasta were so far from al dente that it makes me queasy just thinking about it.

Puff's plus - still my favorite tissue, although the most recent set of four I've purchased feels like an entirely different tissue, and not in a good way. I may set out to pick up a box of Puff's Plus Lotion, Aloe, and whatever other deluxe options they throw in. It's like buying a car, I guess, and the baseline model just isn't acceptable.

I had hoped I'd be lucky. I found a white patch on my tonsil and thought, "woo hoo! I'll go to my doctor, get antibiotics, get better, bada bing, bada boom."

No dice. White patch went away, strep test was negative, it's a viral throat infection that basically means my throat is trying to strangle me from the inside out. I get to drink tea. Lots of tea. Tea every hour.

I'm trying to figure out how to spice up some of the chicken soups. I added crushed red pepper to the last one, but I couldn't really taste it. I don't know if that's because I can't taste much - I only have one working nostril presently - or if I didn't add enough. I'm thinking of adding some curry to my creamy chicken corn chowder. Any ideas to mix it up? I don't think I'll be eating anything but soup, applesauce, and pudding for a while. Threw some cinnamon and ginger into the applesauce and warmed it up...that was yummy. I'm a little heartbroken because I've been to the grocery store twice, and I keep forgetting to pick up tapioca. Warm tapioca pudding would be good.
Anyway. Hoping this somehow manages to blow over fast. Most of my shopping is done but there are a couple stragglers. Wrapping is still nil, but worst case scenario I have quite a lot of gift bags and even more white tissue (referring to the wrapping kind, although I do have a lot of the blowing kind). The one upside is that when my head's not entirely fuzzy, I'm getting some good writing in. It's like writing late at night - fewer inhibitions.
Hopefully I'll get better soon. And until then - there's soup!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Twilight and the Evils of Voice-Over

I know this review has been a long time coming; all I can say is that I got sick after Thanksgiving weekend, and when I began to improve, Danny caught it.

Now I'm healthy (with just the tiniest cough), I'm 90% done with the Christmas shopping (although in denial about the need to wrap), I finished a chapter two days ago, and life is back on track.

So. Twilight.

The initial hype and fervor has passed, but impressive while it lasted. Before the film opened, all of the conversation fluttered around whether or not the movie would gross enough to warrant the sequels. I had a hunch it would - after all, this was a movie for the same demographic who made Titanic successful (weepy, squealy teen and preteen girls).

When we went, the theater was full of, yea verily, many weepy, squealy girls. How squealy? The scene: high school in Forks, Washington. Bella, sitting, minding her own business when who should enter (in slow motion, so you get all that good hair bounce) but the Cullens? There's Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, Alice (perhaps not in that order, but there isn't a poem for them like the reindeer) and...wait for it...wait for it...

It was like sitting in a theater full of happy shrieking eels. A bit overdramatic if you consider this particular vampire borrowed his hair from Elvis.

Back to the movie, except, if I'm going to talk about the movie, I need to talk about the book.

Twilight and its successors, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn, are prime examples of how good storytelling sells. Stephenie Meyer was extremely successful is writing books with a compelling enough story to launch the reader through a 2" thick book in 48 hours. The forbidden love story is classic in its archetypal roots and for that reason strikes a chord. The books are really less about Vampires than they are about a Romeo and Juliet story in which Romeo has impressive incisors and the ability to climb a pine with his bare hands.

The supporting characters are strong, particularly Edward's "siblings," and there's enough romantic confusion and romance to keep things entertaining. This is not to say that the writing didn't need a few more passes through the editing department. But we believe Bella as a serious, thoughtful teen who has completely fallen in love with a man who wants to eat her.

I know some people became frustrated with Bella as the series progressed; I thought it was unfair. She's 17 and dealing with International vampire culture. That she doesn't collapse into a paroxysm of trepidation is really to her credit.

The movie is so wrapped up in the thing which Twilight has become that it has difficulty really exploring its space, settling in, and becoming its own entity rather than a book adaptation. No one looks comfortable in their movie skin, with the exception of Elizabeth Reaser's Esme Cullen. For the Twilight fan, the film is a chance to see the book come to life. For the outsider, a lot of the plot developments and character motives would remain a little too mysterious.

The first half takes too much time trying to develop, but speeds up well during the second half. Funny, because the book did the same thing. Difference is that the book managed to entertain when nothing much was going on but Bella's reflections on Edward's physical perfection.

I would see it again, and enjoy it (unlike Bond, which I did see a second time and zoned out through the last half), and I'm genuinely looking forward to New Moon.

I was looking forward to it even before the directorship was handed off to Chris Weitz. As the director of Golden Compass and About a Boy (one of my favorite movies), I think he'll help bring the production values up a notch. Or ten. Because there's nothing wrong with making the movie not look like it was made for the Sci-Fi channel. I think the hand-held camera is great and looked terrific for the Bourne movies, but for films with a fantastical element I think the camera needs to be grounded more often, to aid with the suspension of disbelief.

Haven't heard anything yet about the script, IMDB still lists it with Melissa Rosenberg, but if they hand that one off, I think that's great. The film opens with a lot of voice-over which should have been cut IN THE FIRST DRAFT PEOPLE, DID WE LEARN NOTHING FROM FILM SCHOOL????? If you're going to use first-person narration, you had better be writing the great American film, and there had better not be vampires involved. Or werewolves. I'm sure this was all covered in class. In a perfect world, I would have the producers court Steve Kloves (of Harry Potter fame) or Jan Sardi (The Notebook), with a co-writing credit for Delia Ephron (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), a writer who has no issues getting into the heads of teen girls (She used voice-over in the form of letters, yes, but it worked).

This is really less of a review than a discussion. I'm okay with that. If you want to know what the movie's about, read the book. It'll take about 48 hours.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Open Season

The Golden Globe nominees were announced today, which means only one thing:

Oscar Season Approach-eth.

With that bit of joy in mind, I though I would repost last year's post-Oscar blog to get us all in the mood....

Me, Myself, and the Oscars (In Case You Were Wondering) (Orig. Post date 2/29/08)

I love the Oscars.

I know I shouldn't. I'm supposed to be all about the BAFTAs, or the Independent Spirit Awards, or whatever, because the Oscars are a commercialized popularity contest.

So accept it and move on. They're still fun. I've watched every year since I was sixteen, when American Beauty won, like, everything. But I was hooked. Still am. When else are you going to see Kristin Chenowith singing with a Jamaican drummer and a Bavarian-clad backup?

This year was a little (okay, a lot) more thrown together, considering that the writers have only been on speaker terms with ABC for a short while. In my pre-game speculation, I hoped this would mean we'd get some really great material. The writers had all that time off, should have come up with a couple funny jokes, some inventive scenes. I watched the WGA shorts.

The brains were not dead on the picket lines.

The opening animation looked as though, well, the writers still had picket-elbow. But never mind.

Best Dress: Jennifer Garner. Honorable mentions go to Anne Hathaway (who made up for last year's Valentino bow-thing), Renee Zellweger, and Cameron Diaz (of whom I am not a fan, but she wore pink).

Worst Dress: Tilda Swinton. I respect her as an actress, but a black curtain? To the Oscars?

Best Moment: Falling Slowly winning the Oscar.

Worst Music Cue: Marketa Irglova getting cut off.

Best Moment Jon Stewart will EVER have: Letting Marketa Irglova give a lovely speach. You know she's nineteen? Younger than Ellen Page?

Best Surprise: Marion Cotillard for La Mome.

Best Joke: "Even Norbit got a nomination, which is great. Too often, the Academy ignores movies that aren't good."

Best Bump: Cate Blanchett, who actually looked pregnant (as opposed to between roles).

Best Idea I Had For a Joke: "If the WGA hadn't settled, Jack Black was set to re-shoot the clips for us."

Best Heals: Kristen Chenowith (who's like, 4'11" in stocking feet) in six inch platforms.

Best Flub: Cameron Diaz: Cinnamontography?

Best Hair Makeover: Javier Bardem

Best Visible Tattoo: Diablo Cody

Best Propoganda: Sid Ganis's reassurance that the Academy voters are serious, without bias, and understand butterfly ballots. Come one. We KNOW that the studios call academy members to talk up their pics.

Best Presentation: Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway.

Best moment from last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5JAPkvnyso (stupid oscar people won't let me embed the video, but it's so, so, so very worth it.)

All of this is a pleasant distraction from the writing/publishing world, which is causing me large amounts of stress at the moment.

Thank goodness for the Bavarian backup singers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Take Another, I Blinked

The Christmas season equals Christmas photos. Trick is, if you're like me, you'll get the photos back and go "euh" (irony being that people have me take their pictures). Here are some tricks to lower the "euh" factor:

1. Tilt your chin down. Very few people have really, truly fantastic necks, and for some people, when placed in front of a camera they raise their head. No one needs a photo of your neck, and if the photographer is shorter than you are, you'll get even more neck than you bargained for.

2. Women - stand at an angle, keep one leg straight and place the other one forward, slightly bent. This creates a long leg line, slims your torso, and provides a defined jawline since your head will be turned toward the photographer.

3. Men - if you want to appear broader in the shoulder, stand square to the photographer, and for Pete's sake uncross your arms. If you're wearing a cowboy hat, do tilt your head up a bit - it will allow light to hit your face.

4. Another trick for women - did you know that the sunscreen in your foundation reacts to the flash of a camera? Well, it does - if you've ever noticed that you're looking particularly white, it's because the sunscreen particles reflected light - and not in a good way. If you know you'll be in a situation with flash photography, you may want to skip the sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the worse it gets.

5. If you're the photographer, always, always, always take more than one shot of an image you care about.

6. Smiling really is a good thing. Smile like you're in the middle of a tickle fight. It's Christmas, after all!

P.S. I know I'm terribly behind in my movie reviews, for both Twilight and Transporter 3 (and hopefully Australia after this weekend). So sorry! I've been sick for a week and just now getting my feet back, so hopefully those posts will be appearing soon...