December 29, 2008

My goals for 2009

I’m too self-skeptical to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’ve set the following goals. (These could also be considered my list of Big, Fun, Scary Things for 2009.) This list is subject to additions, deletions and alterations at any time.

  • Find a permanent job. I’ve been doing the IT contracting thing for a while now, but that puts me in a volatile sector in a volatile career field. Choosing a place to settle down is a gamble. What if they have massive layoffs, or move the office to a distant state? (Both have happened to me, and I had been happy in those jobs.) What if the company looks good on paper, but turns out to be another Dickensian, Dilbertesque or Kafkaesque environment? (I’ve worked in all three. A sense of humor is mandatory.)
  • Start learning Polish. I’ve often threatened to learn a second language. In addition to high school Spanish, and German and Koiné Greek in college, at various times I’ve toyed with Italian, French, Latin, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Icelandic. I couldn’t ask for a cup of coffee in any of those languages. Polish, with its scarcity of vowels, is intimidating, but I admire Polish culture and have enjoyed many Polish writers in translation.
  • Start learning yoga. I have the For Dummies book. I don’t intend to become a human knot, but I would like to become more fit and less stressed.
  • Start meditating. I’ve meditated sporadically, by which I mean about five times a year, for a couple of decades. I need to start revving down my type-A personality. I might even begin sleeping eight hours a night. (Why is everyone laughing?)
  • Write a play. I’ve written plays before, but that was in my dadaist period; they made no sense and were completely unstageable. (As I recall, one ended with the destruction of the universe.) I’d like to script something that could actually be performed.
  • Write song lyrics. I’ve written the lyrics for two or three songs in my life, and I still don’t know what I’m doing. I hope to learn. Composing melody is beyond me.
  • Write at least one poem a day in April. I do this every year for National Poetry Month, but I think it still counts as an adventure. I usually end the month with at least one or two keepers.
  • ScriptFrenzy. This is the cousin to National Novel Writing Month; the goal is to write a full-length film screenplay in one month. Unfortunately, ScriptFrenzy coincides with National Poetry Month. (There goes my “eight hours of sleep” goal.) I’ll be collaborating with my wife, Anne, in this adventure.
  • Create my personal website. I’ve owned the domain for years. I keep tinkering with the site design. It’s time to just do it.
  • Publish a piece of fiction—for pay—in currency, not copies. Just to prove I can.
  • Make a good start on that philosophical-epic-dramatic poem I have notes for on a million scattered scraps of paper. (Working title: “Polyphanic Idiographies.”)
  • Recycle the abandoned items on this list for 2010.

January 6, 2008

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd

Filed under: Movies,Musicals,Reviews — crcb @ 5:47 pm
Tags: , , ,
Mood: tonsorial
I’ve been familiar with this musical for a long time. I’ve seen it on stage, I’ve heard the Broadway cast recording, and I’ve seen the Angela Lansbury/George Hearn version on video. I approached this movie with equal parts hope and fear; the hopes were mostly fulfilled, and the fears mostly groundless.
Director Tim Burton understands well the differences between stage and screen, and he adapted Stephen Sondheim’s musical wonderfully to a more intimate medium. Sondheim has expressed a preference for actors who can sing over singers who can act, and that’s what we get here. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter sing well enough (at least, if you already know the lyrics and can fill in the occasional inaudible word), but the acting is outstanding. The interpretations of the characters are both darker and more vulnerable than others I’ve seen: Sweeney is more obsessed, Mrs. Lovett scarier and more pathetic, Judge Turpin less conflicted and more self-aware. One small part is changed in a big way: Toby is no half-wit, but a streetwise, gin-loving urchin who hasn’t — until the end — lost his innocence.
I do have minor quibbles. The relationship between Todd and Mrs. Lovett is too distant for all of the lyrics to make sense, for instance, and Antony is a little too sweet and sensitive. But on the whole the movie works as (take your pick) a revenge fantasy, a dark comedy, or a modern Victorian melodrama.
It might be too early to call, but I nominate Sweeney Todd for the best movie of the 21st century.

December 11, 2007

Movie Review: Beowulf

Filed under: Movies,Poetry,Reviews — crcb @ 1:56 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Mood: vulpine

I was probably twelve when I first read Beowulf. I most recently read it when Seamus Heaney’s translation came out. There was no way I was going to miss this movie.

Of course, I saw it in 3D. Every movie should be in 3D. It’s really the only way to view a movie. If the technology becomes widespread, however, let’s hope moviemakers get tired of the let’s-make-them-duck gimmicks.

The movie version turns the epic poem into a comic book. I don’t mean that pejoratively. There are some good comic book movies out there, and I don’t care what their original inspiration was. This one, however, is only decent.

First of all, I’m not a fan of the technology used. It’s an uneasy blend of live action and animation. I suppose the studio didn’t want to spend the special effects budget needed for live action, but in trying to make it photorealistic, they shut off many artistic options. (With live action, we could have had real naked shots of Angelina Jolie–but then, we would have seen the spot between Anthony Hopkins’s groin and thigh, too.)

Second, the gimmicks. I’ve mentioned one above, the “It’s coming at you!” trick. Even more annoying was the coy hide-and-seek with Beowulf’s genitals (he fought Grendel naked), which went on far too long.

Third, the story. I don’t want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it. Let me just say, the book will not ruin the story for you. You can safely read it. Grendel’s mother’s motivations are inscrutable, even for a demon. But then, no one in the movie acts with any kind of psychological consistency. The characters are 3D in appearance only. The battle scenes could have been more enjoyable if the laws of physics had been given at least a bit part.

If you like science fiction/fantasy movies, you won’t waste your time or money with Beowulf. If you miss it, though, you should feel little regret.

August 8, 2007

Random Thoughts on ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in the Movies

Filed under: General,Prose — crcb @ 5:46 am

Mood: self-inflicted

  • English-speaking Russians, no matter how fluent, cannot master the tongue-twisting word “no.” They must resort to their native language and say “nyet.”
  • In romance, the meanings of “yes” and “no” are reversed.
  • One of the funniest lines in comedy: “No! No. No, No, No. No! Yes.” (Used to good effect by both Monty Python and Eddie Izzard.)
  • Robots find the word “yes” too complicated; they prefer the simpler alternative, “affirmative.”
  • A lawyer can insist on yes or no answers to complex questions, despite a witness’s oath to tell “the whole truth.” A useful question for a defense lawyer might be: “Did you actually see my client shoot her husband five times, and chop up the body, and pack it in freezer bags, and load the bags into an ice chest, and drive to the bridge and dump the cooler into the river? Just answer yes or no.” If the witness didn’t follow her to the bridge, he has to say “no.”
  • An English-speaking, Russian robot would say “affirmative” and “nyet.”

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