Sunday, August 31, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Dear Dr. Horrible,

I recently watched the three acts of your sing-along blog. It was brilliant, of course; filled to the brim with Whedonesq wit, melodrama, and ridiculously entertaining sing-along bits. I am tempted to buy the series from iTunes, but I think I will hold out for the official DVD which should be stocking-stuffer worthy around Christmas time. *fingers crossed*

Having now embraced the wacky world of Dr. Horrible and co. (and with plans to make my own Captain Tight-Pants Hammer fan t-shirts), I find myself befuddled over one thing - where has the adorable Neil Patrick Harris been all my life? Oh, starring in a sitcom, you say? Hmm, will have to look into that.

Your fan,

PS: Willing to do the weird stuff. ;)

During the rather traumatic Writers Strike of 2007-08, writer/director/god Joss Whedon worked double duty at the picket line and on the guerrilla filmmaking front, investing his creative time, energy, and cash in a low-budget musical web series. He believed the best way to stick it to The Man was to model independent Internet distribution to prove to studio executives that web series could be successful and that the talent involved deserved their fair share of the revenue.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a true team-effort combining the talents of a whole brood of Whedons (Joss, brothers Jeb and Zack, and future Whedon-by-marriage Maurissa Tanharoen), as well as Whedon alumni Nathan Fillion (Buffy, Firefly/Serenity), Felicia Day (Buffy), and alumn-via-association, the aforementioned Neil Patrick Harris.

Dr. Horrible (Harris) is a wannabe master villain who maintains a web blog through which he shares his villainous deeds with his Internet fan base. When not working to perfect his Freeze-ray device to guarantee him a position in Bad Horse's Evil League of Evil, Dr. Horrible is fending off his archnemesis, smarmy Captain Hammer (Fillion), while trying to win the heart of doe-eyed, frozen-yogurt-loving Penny (Day). The entire cast sings their way through three acts of witty banter, thrilling budgeted action sequences, and blossoming love, wrapping up the 44 minutes in true Whedon-fashion - for better or worse.

The buzz is that in addition to a soon-to-be-available soundtrack and DVD, there is a sequel in the works, and possibly even a theatrical production (but only if the Powers That Be cut Whedon a break for once). At the very least, fans are hoping that while sing-alongs of Once More With Feeling were stricken from theaters last year, Dr. Horrible may break free of the computer screen to make it to big, midnight screens across the country. Screens with curtains. Lacy, gently wafting curtains.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No Plot? No Problem!

As the end of August nears, a very important month looms in the distance. It is a month of tribulation, trials, and tears, where patience will be tested and carpel tunnel syndrome intensified. Thirty fitful, sleepless nights, and thirty bleary-eyed, exhaustive days.

It's not the holiday shopping that will ultimately do me in, it's the writing. And I'm looking forward to it.

Last November, I participated for the first time in the world-wide writing challenge National Novel Writing Month (affectionately abbreviated as NaNoWriMo). I met the NaNo goal of 50,000 words but didn't fully understand what I did - and didn't - do right until I ingested (figuratively, not literally) the book No Plot? No Problem! by NaNo creator Chris Baty.

So, Mistake #1 was buying the book from Amazon in mid-October. Turns out there's a rush on the NaNo books in the weeks immediately preceding the novel writing month, and the book ends up out of stock and on back order. No Plot? No Problem! finally made it to my door a month later, but by that point I was too deeply entrenched in writing a book to bother reading one.

Mistake #2 was assuming that stringing together 50,000 random, more-or-less coherent words in one Word document was enough to declare myself a NaNo winner. Turns out that shoddily written or not, your book is supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and that thing that comes after the middle and, like, wraps it all up.

Well, two out of three ain't bad for a first timer, I suppose. I'll do better this November, and I'll be sure to keep Baty's (paraphrased) advice in mind:

  • A deadline is all you need to write a book, and the 30-day deadline, while obscene, is not a bad place to start. Inevitably, along with a deadline, a writing utensil of some kind comes in handy.
  • If you can sucker them into it, include others in your writing adventures. If you can't find someone to write with you, find someone who cheer you on, bet against you, or ridicule you mercilessly if you fail. Apparently, all forms of encouragement are helpful.
  • 50,000 words/ month = approximately 1,667 words/day or 1.158 words/minute. Doesn't sound so hard, right?
  • Write ceaselessly in 15- or 20-minute blocks of time and then reward yourself with chocolates. Mmmm.
  • Make a list of all the things you like reading in good books and make another list of all of the things you don't like reading in bad books. Try to include the first list in your novel while ceremoniously burning the second list. It's as simple as that.
  • Week two is the most painful and demoralizing week when most NaNoers throw in the towel if they don't have the incentive of looming failure and disappointed significant others to spur them on. It gets easier after 30,000 words. Week four is where you're supposed to, like, plan out how you will wrap everything up in the last 5,000 words or so. Damnit.
With No Plot? to back me up (or to rip to shreds in the throes of a NaNo-inspired fit of madness), 2008 is going to be a winner! Like, for real this time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Peak Age of Physical Perfection

Along with a billion other people this week, I've had my eyes glued to the Olympics ever since the overblown (and amazing) opening ceremony on 8/8/08. And like a billion other people, I've cheered for the athletes and their accomplishments, rooting for my home country and other outstanding athletes from across the globe - the flawless Jingjing Guo of China, the ecstatic Richard Thompson of Trinidad/Tobago, and the Canadians (because our neighbors to the north deserve to win some medals too).

And I've been rooting for Michael Phelps. I can't help but like the guy. Whether or not he is the greatest Olympian of all time is debatable, but it's hard to argue that he and his relay teammates have performed brilliantly in these games. I like his laid-back, slightly awkward personality. I like watching his exuberant family members cheering from the stands. And most of all, I like that he's gotten better with age.

There's been a lot of controversy this year over the age of the extremely young-looking female Chinese gymnasts. In 1997, the minimum age for gymnasts competing in the Olympics was raised to 16, to help protect the mental and physical health and well-being of the youthful athletes (many of whom, otherwise, would likely be pre-pubescent - some of whom still are). There is a history of age-falsification in gymnastics - the younger and tinier a gymnast is, the more fearless and flexible they are.

I will admit that watching the really young athletes just doesn't do it for me. They may be talented and fearless, but they're just kids. With age comes maturity and grace under pressure and a real sense of sacrifice and dedication. A sixteen year old may feel the weight of her country's expectations on her shoulders, but she has few other responsibilities - go to school, train daily, hang out with friends.

I love the Dara Torres(es) of the Olympics (41 year-old, three silver swimming medals in Beijing) and the Constantina Tomescu(s) (38, Romanian winner of the women's marathon), and the male Chinese gymnast Wei Yang, who at 28 years-old (twice the age of China's female gymnasts), will leave the games with two gold medals, including the coveted gold for all-around. These are the exciting athletes - the grown-ups who have made choices and sacrifices, who have families and responsibilities, who are aging but who prove that you don't have to retire at 17 just because the kiddies can jump higher or run faster. You can fight and win and get better with age.

I'm happy for Michael Phelps and his eight golds at this Olympics. And I'm even happier that this is his third Olympics and that he has also gotten better with age - from zero medals at 15 to six at 19 to 8 golds at 23. And if he decides not to retire and fights for more golds in London in 2012, I'll be rooting for him then too.

So what is the peak age of physical perfection?

I recently started playing with the Wii Fit, and each day I take a body test measuring my weight, balance, and agility, after which I am presented with my "Wii Fit Age". After a recent round of higher-than-average agility scores, I was awarded the Wii Fit Age of 20. And what is wrong with the Wii Fit Age of 23, might I ask? Was I honestly healthier and fitter as a 20 year old than I should be now? Did I pass my prime and enter physical retirement before I was legally old enough to drink?

I honestly hope that at the ripe old age of 23 (and Phelps' senior by 5 days), I still have a few good physical years ahead of me.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tropic Thunder and the "R-Word"

Tropic Thunder, a war movie satire has just premiered in theaters this week ... and I won't be going to see it.

Tropic Thunder follows a trio of hot-shot action hero stars who wind up in the jungles of Southeast Asia, facing real dangers while shooting a war movie. The buzz on the film prior to its release was the controversial plot line involving Robert Downey Jr.'s character, a white actor who undergoes skin-pigment alterations in order to play a black character in the movie within a movie. The filmmakers were careful to meet with African-American organizations (and even veterans groups) for focus groups prior to the film's release to make sure that the offensive lines that were toed were never fully crossed and that people would leave the theater feeling entertained rather than assaulted.

But Tropic Thunder representatives failed to meet with one very important, often overlooked minority group that became aware of offensive subplots through the film's advertisements and requested a meeting, only to be denied until mere days before opening night. Now dozens of disability advocacy organizations and individuals, led by The Arc of the United States, the Special Olympics, and the National Down Syndrome Society, among others, have called for a nation-wide boycott of the film.

Their reason? Numerous, offensive repetition of the "r-word" ("retard").

While the "r-word" originally stemmed from "mental retardation", an increasingly outdated term for people with intellectual disabilities, the word itself has NEVER been acceptable amongst people with disabilities and their supporters and has long been recognized as offensive terminology - or hate speech comparable to the more infamous "n-word". As journalist Patricia E Bauer explains:

The term “retard” has been characterized by disability rights advocates as hate speech that heaps insult and possible harm on a group that has a long history of being stigmatized and vulnerable. They compare it with racial, ethnic and sexual epithets and stereotypes that have historically been used by majority groups to target and humiliate minority groups.

Tropic Thunder representatives, including director and star Ben Stiller, have argued that advocacy groups are missing the point - the film was not intentionally inflicting harm and ridicule on people with disabilities but was rather ridiculing the self-serving Hollywood and actors who portray people with disabilities in order to win coveted awards.

But really it is the filmmakers who are missing the point. Even if harm was not intended, harm has been inflicted by the fact that the language is used repetitively and for humor without acknowledging that the language is demeaning and demoralizing. The casual use of the "r-word" in our media promotes that it is acceptable to use this language when referring to or communicating with people with disabilities.

The advocacy groups have every right to boycott the film and stand their ground even as the general populace rolls their eyes and insists "it's just a movie, stop making a big deal about it". It is just a movie but sitting back and allowing this language to continue to pervade our vocabulary is not acceptable. People need to be made aware that the "r-word" is just as reprehensible as the "n-word" - it's hateful language that "perpetuates the negative stereotypes that face people with intellectual disabilities every day". is a recently established website where people can be educated on the stigma of the "r-word" and pledge their support in the elimination of the derogatory use of the word from everyday speech. More than 5,600 people have signed the petition - join us and help to promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities. We all deserve to be respected and to be heard.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Miis

A friend and I had a bit too much 2 o'clock in the morning fun a few months back, creating these Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired Miis ... We'll have to finish the rest of the cast eventually, but in the meantime, enjoy!

In this entry: Buffy, Angel, Xander, Dark Willow, Giles, Spike, Anya, Drusilla, and Joss, the man himself. Notice the similarities?

And the man who inspired it all ...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

If You Can't Write 'Em ... Adapt 'Em

After seeing and really enjoying the charming fairy tale Stardust at the theater last year, I was inspired to read Neil Gaiman's original illustrated novel that inspired the film's story and visual design. A few months ago while browsing the shelves at Strand, I stumbled upon another Gaiman original - the slim children's novel Coraline. Coraline (NOT CAroline, as the youthful protagonist insists, even when trapped in a terrifying alternate reality) is pleasantly creepy and surreal, bringing to mind classic Roald Dahl fantasies with a bit of R.L. Stine thrown in for good measure.

I was surprised - and very excited - to discover today that Coraline is being adapted as a stop motion (!!!) animated film, due in theaters in February of 2009.

Having made this (belated?) discovery, I'm curious as to what other children's fantasy novels are in development as films in this post-Harry Potter, post-attempted The Golden Compass, mid-overblown Chronicles of Narnia film world ... Here's what I'm looking out for/what IMDB won't tell me unless I get IMDB Pro:

Inkheart - A ten year old girl discovers that her father can bring fictional characters to life - and must deal with the consequences. I read the book a couple of years ago but found it too dull/anti-climatic to bother with the sequel. With Paul Bettany and Helen Mirren in the cast, surely the adaptation won't be that bad?

I haven't read The City of Ember, but I've heard that the book is much better than the plot summary would suggest. It's about a city of lights with a failing generator - is lack of energy conservation to blame? The film is due out in October and stars Saoirse Ronan of Atonement fame. Saoirse will also star as the murdered Susie Salmon in the long awaited adaptation of The Lovely Bones - the novel is not for children, but highly recommended!

The much-hyped adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are is scheduled for 2009. I can't remember much about the book other than the fact that it was significantly shorter than 120 pages (standard screenplay length). Methinks that Van Allsberg adaptation techniques will be called in to round out the other 90 minutes, and with Spike Jonze at the helm, the filler will probably involve a wild thing crawling into the mind of another wild thing. It may not make any sense but it will probably be a lot of fun.

The Book Thief has been on my 2008 booklist all year (I'll read it after savoring the rest of my Anne Bishop fantasies), and the film appears to be in development, but at this early stage, IMDB won't reveal any details unless you pay. :(

Also in suspended development are adaptations to two more young adult novels I've read - and loved - A Great and Terrible Beauty from author Libba Bray and Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card's brilliant science fiction novel.

I still have hopes that author Peter S Beale will stop being screwed over for the money owed to him from the success of the 1982 animated film The Last Unicorn and finally permit the rights for a new live-action adaptation. In the meantime I will just keep busy planning my own adaptation of The Princess Academy. Oh yes, that one is begging to become a film.