Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tagged by a Candy Cane

Christine D'Abo tagged me with a holiday get to know you questionnaire. Love when that happens. Especially when I don't have anything to blog about and lack the time or energy to come up with anything original. Thanks Christine!

Your Name: Maureen

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Depends on what's in it... If there's brandy or really good rum, I'm going for egg nog. (Has to be good egg nog, too... not full of a gazillion artificial ingredients) If it's really great chocolate made with milk (none of that powdered add water stuff) I'll go with hot chocolate. (am I picky or what?)

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa is a wrapping machine.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? My house has white outside... but I'm ashamed to say they've been up since the previous owners. (they don't show that much in the summer, honest.) I'd prefer colored. Can't get too gaudy at Christmas is my motto.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Haven't for years... Good idea, though. Need more kisses.

5. When do you put your decorations up? Late... (Like most things I do.) Probably not until a week before Christmas. (earlier if I'm having a party or something.)

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? There's nothing better than turkey dinner for me... But my mom's home made butter tarts run a close second.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Coming down the stairs with my sisters in our nightgowns to the bright glare of the light on my Dad's old super 8 camera. My Dad was serious paparazzi material. Also, although the tree was always up well before Christmas, my parents used to stay up most of the night and seriously turn our house into a wonderland. That first glimpse of the living room (once we got over being blinded by the camera light) was always magical.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? People are often shocked by this... but I don't think my parents ever pretended it was true. As soon as we were old enough to ask questions, we pretty much knew Santa was a story. I remember one Christmas where my older sister and I decided to torture our mother by not telling her what we asked Santa for after visiting him at Eatons. "Why do you need to know, Mom?" But it was all a joke.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? When we were kids, we used to open one. Traditionally the one from my Grandmother on my mom's side... But I don't really remember when that tradition started or when it ended...

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Ummmm... I don't understand the question.... Drunk? I like lots of decorations. Lots of colors. Lots of lights. The tackier the better.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love fresh fallen snow. Hate driving in it. (but good snow tires help)

12. Can you ice skate? I used to skate well... but apparently it's a skill you lose if you don't use... All these little muscles in your shins and feet you don't realize you have until you try skating again.... ouch.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? No one thing really stands out. I remember some strange thing from childhood like a chemistry set and a woodburning kit. Things I'd really wanted and got.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Seeing my niece and nephew play with their new toys.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? See above re: butter tarts. My sister makes a mean Bouche de Noel, too. (Yule Log.)

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Our family's in transition and I think we're busy building new traditions... My favorite from when we were kids was a strange one. Spagetti christmas eve. I think it was because it was so easy to cook and my mom was always so busy. I remember one year there was a power outage and she cooked it on a Coleman stove. A wonder we didn't die of asphyxiation.

17. What tops your tree? A Mexican tin angel I bought in California.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving for sure. I love Christmas shopping and always go way overboard.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Tough one... I think The Huron Carol. Do Americans know that one? If you don't, you should. Beautiful.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? I'm pretty ambivalent on the candy cane, but given all the other yummy alternatives at Christmas, I'm going to jump off the fence to the yuck side.

Okay... Eileen Cook, Maia Caron, Mel Francis, Sara Hanz

You have been tagged.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Crazy Weather

Okay, the weather may not be the most exciting blog topic, but we Canadians love to talk about the weather.

And this month it's strange. Yes, this is a huge monster country so the weather is pretty diverse, but normally this time of year you can count on a few things. One of these things certainly isn't snow in Vancouver or Victoria... They never get snow, even in the dead of winter, never mind November.

Yes, it's normally getting cold on the prairies by this time of year, but the minus 40 windchills they've been having in Edmonton, Calgary etc. are insane.

And... it's balmy where I live in Toronto. Okay, not exactly tropical, but my thermometer said 15 yesterday, which is almost 60 degrees Farenheit. In the sun, you don't need a jacket. We often have snow by now. Maybe not the kind of snow that will last all winter, but perhaps an early blizzard that's annoying and turns to slush and reminds us of what's heading our way in January and February.

Instead, we're getting the nice fall weather we really didn't get much of in October. Yipee.

My apologies to my fellow Canadians suffering in less favourable weather conditions. I'm sure we'll get ours, too... Soon...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Agent Hunting

Just in case any of you have yet to discover the wonderful group blog The Debutante Ball, I thought I'd post a link to Eileen Cook's post today on how she found her agent.

click here

(How's that for a lazy blog!) Not Eileen. Me. LOL

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

My flag's at half mast...

Robert Altman died. No more Robert Altman movies. That's so sad.

I know, I'm making him dying all about me, about how I'll be deprived, but I love his films. Just a few weeks ago I watched NASHVILLE again. Actually, it might have been my first time all the way through. I'm pretty sure they cut it when they show it on TV and it's not the kind of movie that does well with commercial breaks. "I'm Easy" was one of my favourite songs when I was about twelve and the first song I learned to play on the guitar. (Not too impressive, very few chords, but hey...) And that scene when Carradine sings it... when Lily Tomlin, and Shelly Duval and Geraldine Chaplin and Cristina Raines are all convinced he's singing to them... Amazing. And such a beautiful song.

SHORT CUTS has to be my all time favourite movie, and MASH and THE PLAYER and GOSFORD PARK and COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN and THE COMPANY are all favourites, too.

Less loved, but seriously liked: COOKIE'S FORTUNE, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION and others...

Robert Altman. The cinema will miss you. I know I will.

Monday, November 20, 2006

O.J.'s contract cancelled!

There is a God.

This just reported in a Publisher's Lunch Extra:

Monday, November 20

Faith Restored--Simpson Cancelled
News Corp. just released this statement: "News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch today announced that the company has canceled publication of the book If I Did It as well as the corresponding FOX broadcast network special.
Mr. Murdoch said: "I and senior management agree with the Americanpublic that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown-Simpson."

If he still gets some of the advance, I sure hope the Goldman and Brown families get it like they should.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brain hurts. Head about to explode

Why? I just spent 36 of the last 60 hours at the Robert McKee Story seminar.

I went into the weekend with fairly low expectations for at least four reasons. (One may well question why, then, I paid the exorbitant entry fee... but that's a whole other topic...)

The reasons for my lowish expectations...

1. I don't have the time right now to spend 36 hours in a classroom, so I thought I'd spend the whole time chomping at the bit to get out of there and actually write, rather than hearing about writing.

2. I've been to so many conferences this year, I thought I was "craft workshopped out".
Not that I think you can ever learn too much about writing, or stop learning... But I do think that once you hit a certain limit over a period of time, you need a chance to absorb, to apply what you've learned to your work, to see if those lightbulbs will stay on or burn out, to grow as a writer, to develop new problems that you might work out if you go to a great workshop.

3. I own McKee's book and while I admit I've only skimmed most of it, I've read the first third (maybe quarter) quite thoroughly, and based on that, I didn't think he'd have anything to say I hadn't heard or read in one way or another from someone else.

4. I have this theory that McKee's popularity has more to do with cult induction techniques than what he actually has to say. In other words, when you put a large group of people in a room for 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, with breaks so short that you barely have time to pee or eat. And Oh! Something I didn't realize until I got there the first morning. Twelve hours a day. One food break. That's right. One. We got 3 fifteen minute breaks (each barely long enough to pee, because of the lines for the toilets) and a single one hour break (barely long enough to eat, because there's no place to eat close by, so you spend most of the time, using the toilet, running somewhere to get food, waiting for your food, and paying for your food, leaving only maybe 3 minutes to actually eat it...)

But I'm a convert. Yes, the man is an arrogant, misogynistic, uncouth dinosaur who thinks his opinions (including many which have nothing to do with writing) are fact. But he's brilliant.

Or maybe I'm just under the cult spell....

I expect the drunk writer talk blog will be dedicated to McKee talk this week...

Must sleep now....

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction: Mandatory Film Viewing for Writers

Okay, calling something mandatory is a little over the top. But seriously. If you're a writer, you should go see the film Stranger Than Fiction.

It poses an interesting question to writers... What if your fictional characters were real? What if the words you wrote on the page had consequences for an actual human being? What would you do?

Writers of popular fiction are taught to throw rocks at our characters, to put obstacles in their path, to consider "what's the worst thing that could happen to my character" -- and then make it worse, to give a character two choices: sucky and suckier, to make sure every consequence of a character's actions is the opposite to what they expect.

No matter how you say it, we live to make our characters' lives hell.

So, back to the film. The premise is fabulous, the performances great and the story worked. For me, anyway. I even bought the attraction between Will Farrell and Maggie Gyllenhall. (That girl can act! I mean, she has my man Peter Sarsgaard at home and she made me believe she wanted Will Farrell.)

Okay, sorry for the Peter Sarsgaard distraction. I find him distracting And he isn't even in this movie.

Back to Stranger Than Fiction... For most of the film I kept thinking, how are they possibly going to end this? And that's a good thing. In my opinion, the audience shouldn't be able to see the end coming, except in films following genre conventions... which this one does not. When I first saw the end coming, I was disappointed. It felt like a cop-out solution out to me. But by the time they actually got there, it worked. I loved it. It moved me. And it makes a comment about happy endings, but I don't want to explain how, because it will ruin the ending.

I highly recommend this movie, particularly for writers.

What if your characters were real people? Dream come true or worst nightmare?

Little post script... There was a very funny minor character in the movie--a psychologist working at the IRS. He only had one scene, but it was great. I didn't recognize the actor -- and I normally recognize actors (see my Phantom of the Black Dahlia post). And then, during the end credits, one of the main actors listed was Tom Hulce. Tom Hulce, I thought? Mozart from Amadeus? Larry Kroger from Animal House? Who did he play??? So I waited until they listed the cast. He was the hilarious psychologist. Very funny.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Christian Bale night and too much of a good thing

Okay, I don't want the title of this post to imply one can ever get enough Christian Bale. Not me, anyway. I've been fascinated by him as an actor ever since he did Empire of the Sun as a young boy.

The other night, I went to see The Prestige and Harsh Times back to back and I'm pretty sure I could've sat through another film with Bale in it if one had presented itself. (I highly recommend Rescue Dawn, but don't know when it opens. Keep an eye out.)

My too much of a good thing comment refers not to Bale, but to his moive The Prestige. Now, don't get me wrong, I liked this film, mostly. It's my kind of movie. But something about it didn't work 100% for me and it got me thinking... Did the filmmaker try to do too much? Did he try to combine too many interesting elements? Did he overdo it?

Spoiler alert... I'm going to to try to avoid spoilers here.. but if you haven't seen the film and plan to, you may want to stop reading now, or skip down to Harsh Times.

The Prestige has three timelines and through the first half or so of the film, it was sometimes hard to tell which timeline we were watching. At the time, I found this disorienting. It was exacerbated by the fact that two of the timelines had similar elements.... In one, Hugh Jackman is decoding Christian Bale's secret journal and in another Bale is decoding Jackman's. Also, one had Scarlett Johannson and one had Piper Perebo--who look remarkably similar. (Not that you'd mistake them in the movie... I'm just saying... I'm sure that's how Piper got cast.) Another source of confusion was the accents... Part of the film is in London and part is in the US, but the accents weren't used as cues, with plenty of of American accents in London and vice versa... And we had an Australian actor (Jackman) playing American, American actors (Johannson and Perebo among others) playing British, and a Welsh actor (Bale) doing cockney. Not to mention David Bowie doing a quasi-German accent. And each of the actors occasionally slips and lets his/her real accent show. I think Michael Caine might have been the only lead actor using his own accent?

Combined with all that, the plot has multiple double-crosses, devious plots and the two major characters are illusionists by profession. So, I guess one is bound to get a trifle mixed up.

But--big but--by the time we hit the last quarter or so of the film, I actually decided that all that initial confusion actually works in the movie's favor. The disorientation felt purposeful, a devise the filmmaker used not unlike the misdirection techniques used by his illusionist characters. In my opinion, it made the story a puzzle to work out and more interesting to watch.

So where did it break down for me? I think it was the sci fi element. Maybe it's too much to expect us to believe in all these magical illusions and sort out the double crosses and timelines and also buy what actually happens. (This is where I'm going to be vague to avoid spoilers.)

Still it was pretty cool. Okay as I write this, I'm decidedly warming up to this film. I've got to get one of my drunk writer buddies to go see it so we can discuss.

On to Harsh Times.

I first saw this film over a year ago at the 2005 TIFF. I remember being kind of blown away then. Overwhelmed anyway. So I decided to see it again.

On second viewing, there is much to admire about this film made by David Ayer (Training Day).. but I'm not sure I can give it my highest ringing endorsement. A low budget film to be sure (a boom mike almost comes down to hit Eva Longoria in the head in one scene) I never expected this film to get a wide theatrical release. I expect it wouldn't have, if Bale hadn't recently made a few commercial films. (like Batman Returns and The Prestige.) It certainly is a film that goes for shock value -- I think that's why it stuck in my mind the first time I saw it during a week of many, many films.

I don't want to give even the hint of a spoiler... If you're going to see this film, you're best going into it completely cold... But I love this quote from Rick Groen's review of the film in The Globe and Mail. "Harsh Times opens with a deadly nightmare and ends with a vast bloodbath -- in between, things get a little gruesome."

Pretty much sums things up. Christian Bale should take out a patent on psycho characterizations.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Shooting yourself in the foot

Why do so many aspiring writers get so angry about the industry? Yes, we get rejections. Yes, they can be arbitrary and subjective. Yes, there's plenty of conflicting advice out there. Yes, lots of good books don't get published. Yes, lots of mediocre ones do.

If you can't accept these things, (and others), don't try to be a published writer.

What's got me riled up?

One of my e-loops has a visiting agent this week. Great opportunity for un-agented writers to ask questions, get a feel for said agent, etc. Also, apparently, a great opportunity for a writer to be rude and ensure said agent will never accept him/her as a client.

This particular agency doesn't respond to queries unless they ask for a submission. Fair enough. "We'll contact you if interested" is a pretty common practice in the job hunting world. It's perfectly fair for a literary agency to do this.

The agent also explained how rare it is for a query to catch his eye. Really? This was news to people? Anyone who has spent even a minute in this industry also knows this is just the way it is. Agents get oodles of queries and can't possibly request pages from all of them. He explained this quite well from his perspective in his post.

Why then, would a writer reply with a really snarky note to the agent suggesting that if the agent isn't looking for submissions, why he didn't just state that on his website and not accept queries.

I want to scream at this writer.

He is looking for clients. If he weren't, he wouldn't be answering questions on the loop. He wouldn't be looking at any queries. He accepts queries in hopes of something truly exciting (to him) catching his eye and finding a new great writer.

Dear writer: All he told you was the truth--that he can only request pages for a very small percentage of the queries he gets in. This is true of all agents--especially those who are well-established.

Okay. Rant over. I'm done.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Continuing on my mini-reviews of films I saw at the festival that have recently hit the theatres... I thought I'd touch on Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Freakin' hilarious. Super offensive.

It's hard to describe just how offensive this movie is. Offensive to residents of middle Asiatic countries, offensive to Jews, offensive to blacks, offensive to gays, offensive to women, okay, basically offensive to human beings.

But hilarious.

I already blogged about the midnight premiere of this movie at the TIFF... (Donkey carts, a broken projector and Michael Moore on the first night; Dustin Hoffman sitting in the audience the back up night.) But I don't think I touched on how truly funny the film is.

Part of me thinks I should be ashamed of myself for finding this movie so funny. It makes you wonder when joking about something crosses the line. But perhaps the reason Sasha Baron Cohen's satirical comedy works so well is that every topic he tackles is so far far over the line.

Also shocking is how little some of the unsuspecting people he interacts with in the movie react to his blatent racist and sexist comments. Many don't bat an eyelash. Scary comment on American society.

Friday, November 10, 2006

What American Accent do you have?

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: North Central

"North Central" is what professional linguists call the Minnesota accent. If you saw "Fargo" you probably didn't think the characters sounded very out of the ordinary. Outsiders probably mistake you for a Canadian a lot.

The West
The Midland
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

Outsiders mistake you for Canadian a lot. LOL.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How does Kate keep her eyebrows plucked?

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting my aunt, who is not a fan of Lost. I made her watch it anyway. When I asked why she didn't like it, her major complaints were things like: why hasn't Hurley lost more weight. I admit I've wondered the same thing, on occasion, but they explained that partially with the food from the hatch, and I was surprised during one of the early episodes this season to find out how few days they've actually been on the island. (42? Can't remember, but it was fewer than I thought.) And really, worrying about those kind of details misses the point and the fun of Lost in my opinion.

Still...watching it tonight I had to wonder... How does Kate keep her armpits so hairfree? Her eyebrows so nicely plucked?


Monday, November 06, 2006

Marie Antoinette

Okay, I know this movie's been open for a few weeks and is old news... But I was out of town when it opened and in spite of being very excited about this movie, didn't get to it until tonight... I'm a big fan of Sophia Coppola. I also liked the idea of using modern music and sensibilities in this film to make Marie Antoinette's situation more relatable. To emphasize how very young the last King and Queen of France had been.

I wasn't at all discouraged about the lukewarm reviews or the booing the film received in Cannes. I figured the movie was bound to piss off the French, who wouldn't like an American filmmaker using American and British actors to tell the story of this important (albeit Austrian) woman from French history. I've also learned over the years that I often like films the reviewers don't...

But the movie fell flat for me...

There was much to like. It's great to look at and I actually think Kirsten Dunst was very good in the role. The look she gives the camera during the opening credits was worth whatever they paid her. I also liked Jason Shwartzman as the King and found their developing relationship cute and kind of sweet.

So what went wrong? It occurs to me that this film is a good example of why storytelling is so important. But I'm not typically a stickler for straightforward storytelling in movies. (Me and my drunk writer buddies often disagree on films because of this, I think.) I do like movies that don't tell an obvious story as long as it has compelling characters I love watching... And some of the characters in Marie Antionette were interesting... Notably Antionette herself...

But this film just didn't work for me. It spent a lot of time (a lot) showing us how much time it took for Louis and Marie to figure out how to make a baby... (Did we need to see him turn away from her in bed or prematurely ejaculate so many times? Did we need to see more than one letter of concern from her mother on the topic?) And then, after spending too much time on that, and an inexplicably long time watching her walk through gardens, it basically skipped forward to the revolution, with the most abrupt movie ending I've ever seen. Maybe cutting off the end of the movie, was supposed to symbolize cutting off her head?

Anyway... didn't work for me. I also didn't see why Sophia bothered to show Marie having an adulterous affair, without really exploring how this affected her or her marriage. A wistful look out a window one bored afternoon was all we got. Was the affair just to show she'd had good sex at least once in her life? Or just to get a sex scene into the movie? Didn't feel like it needed to be there, to me.

Sorry Sophia. I guess not every movie you make will be perfection for me.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fun Quiz

Fun? I guess that says something about me that I find taking a little mini-test fun. Sometimes I do miss school. Is that sick or what?

You paid attention during 97% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

Anyway... I want to know which question I got wrong! I thought the test was pretty easy. I'll bet it was the religion one. Since when are religious topics taught in high school anyway?

Have fun if you do the test. :-)

What is it about Princess Diana?

I went to see The Queen last night not because I'm obsessed with the monarchy or Princess Diana, but because I'd heard Helen Mirren was amazing and the film was getting really good reviews.

I thought the film was good... and shows the other side of a media frenzy story we all know from the other side... (The Queen's tepid response to Diana's death.) But other than the great performances I didn't think the film was amazing...

What I did find amazing is how, after nearly ten years, I can still cry when I see the images of people putting flowers in front of the various palaces in London after Diana was killed. What was it about that woman?

She was a twit, in my opinion. The worst kind of upperclass bimbo twit. Yes, she did have a bad marriage that wasn't entirely her fault. We can feel bad for her for that. Yes, she did do a lot of good charity work. We can admire her for that. (But most of the Royal family do charity work--notably Princess Anne--yet they don't get the same media coverage for it.) Yes, she appears to have been a very good mother. Good for her. Doesn't make her less of a twit.

But I was wrecked when she died. Devastated. I teared up for months each time I saw her photo on yet another magazine cover. And I teared up big-time several times during the movie last night, even though the character we were supposed to be sympathetic with during that movie was Queen Elizabeth II, not Diana.

For me, I think my unnatural attachment to Diana comes partly with my age. She was exactly a year older than I am and when she got married at such a young age in such an elaborate ceremony... Even though I hadn't thought I had an ounce of Cinderella fantasy in me... Seriously... who wouldn't get caught up in that spectacle as an eighteen year old or whatever I was. My sisters and I had a party in our parents' basement and a bunch of our friends spent the night. The big plan was to stay up all night and watch the wedding in the morning while drinking champagne. Sadly, we fell asleep at some point, but we only missed a little of the run up stuff around 5:00 am EST.

But I remember it so vividly. I also got up to watch her funeral. I figured if I could get up at 5:00 am for a wedding, I should do it for a funeral.

I can't believe it's been nearly ten years... or that I can still cry about it.
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