Monday, March 26, 2007

Spinelli Is the Man

"He comes to know how painful a minute can be, how unbearable an hour. Though he cannot put his understanding into words, he understands that time by itself is nothing, is emptiness, and that a person is not made for emptiness."
p. 82, The Loser, Jerry Spinelli
Jerry Spinelli is an amazing writer. He writes books marketed as young adult fiction, but don't be fooled. He really writes modern contemporary literature in the guise of young adult books.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Little Venting.

I'm just venting here, but I'd really like to have my own classroom and teaching full time somewhere instead of substitute teaching. Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to make money and gain "experience" that future employers (aka principals, committees, etc.) will look upon fondly and hopefully help get me a teaching position. It's just that I've had a really, really bad day and I'm starting to get burned out. Maybe if I can just get that screenplay at least halfway finished by summer. Or if those darned producers will pick my application for one of those game shows or SURVIVOR.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Favorite Movies of 2006

Last month the Oscars were held. I didn't watch them. There were several reasons for that this year, but the biggest one was that I hadn't seen any of the Best Picture nominees. Everything I've written or said about BABEL, THE DEPARTED, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, THE QUEEN, and SANDS OF IOWA JIMA was totally based off of reviews and interviews I've read and clips I've seen and general word of mouth from film critics and film reviewers I trust. I wanted to make that clear before I give my list of favorite films for last year. Another film that I didn't get to see and I wish I really had the opportunity to was PAN'S LABYRINTH. I became fascinated with the film flipping through a magazine last summer that had some pictures and a general synopsis of the story, but since I didn't see it, it won't be on the list either. So, without further ado, here are my favorite movies of 2006.

9.Talladega Nights--The film wasn't going to win any awards. I'm not even a huge fan of Will Ferrell (I like him, but Phil Hartman was more my comedian). However, I found it to be the funniest film I saw in movie theatres all year. I was quoting lines after having seen the movie once (usually it takes me a couple of viewings before I am able to quote lines like that) and in the early weeks of this current leg of substitute teaching some of those lines helped me break the ice with some students.

8.Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest--This movie was the top grossing film of the year. At one point it even looked like it might be able to dethrone Titanic from the mantle that it sits upon so undeservedly (but it didn't happen). In all honesty, the film probably isn't as good as Pirates of the Caribben: The Curse of the Black Pearl. There are moments that are clearly derivative and cliched. I was also disappointed that the film wasn't a stand alone piece. However, the movie did a great job of just being a good old fashioned high epic movie. Movies shouldn't always be made to deliver important messages or cause people to think; they're also meant to entertain (though the best films will do both).

7.Stranger Than Fiction--Fans of Will Ferrell might not actually like this movie because Will Ferrell doesn't play a usual Will Ferrell character. I really like the movie, though. It made me think about what makes life meaningful and redine my definition of a hero.

6.The Prestige--The best mystery/suspense film I saw all year (including films I watched for the first time on DVD or cable). The movie doesn't have just one twist, but two. I figured one out early on, but the other one kept me guessing. Christopher Nolan is an amazing director and he had not only a top-notch, A-list cast, but all the major actors can actully act and do a great job of it in this film. I especially enjoyed David Bowie's performance (yes, the David Bowie of music fame) as famed scientist, inventor, and rival to Edison; Nikola Tesla. Usually the simplest solution is the correct one.

Lady in the Water--There were a lot of people, including many people who I often agree with in movie tastes, who did not like this movie at all. For many people, they just didn't get it. Lady in the Water is a modern day fairy tale. Plain and simple. Granted it's a bit over-the-top at times and there are certain elements that don't seem to jive upon first viewing. But, think back to when you were a kid and someone told you a bedtime story for the first time. If you had been capable of thinking about the story, there would have been lots of things that wouldn't have made sense. Sometimes that happens in fairy tales. Fairy tales aren't necessary reality. However, they are a way of understanding living, life, and how everything fits together. Also, if your a film-tech-junkie this film has some pretty impressive cinematic techniques. Shyamalan might be a control freak, but he pulls off some pretty impressive stuff that's so well done most viewers don't even realize what they've just seen.

4.Cars--upon initial release Cars was panned by critics acrossed the country and was claimed by many to be Pixar's worst movie. Some of these critics changed their tune later as the movie ended up showing in theatres until early fall, became the top-grossing animated film of the year, and was the top film of the year next to Pirates. It's easy to see why critics on the coasts hated it early on because it celebrates many of the things that we in the rest of the country love: racing, Route 66, and small towns. The movie lost the Best Animated Oscar to Happy Feet and even though I love penguins, Cars is a much better film.

3.Apocalypto--There are a lot of people who haven't seen this movie because of the sub-titles. You shouldn't let sub-titles scare you away. There are others who stayed away because the violence. Apocalypto is a violent picture, but what any basic horror picture nowadays and you'll see more blood and gore than you will here, not to mention that the violence in those pictures is completely unncessary whereas in this film its almost crucial. There are others who didn't see this film because Mel Gibson directed it. You shouldn't let that keep you away because Gibson has shown in each of the four major features that he has directed that he is an incredibly talented director. The film is in many ways a parable for our time. Parables don't just make good stories, they can also change your life.

2.Children of Men--out of all the movies I knew were being released last year, this was the one that I was anticiapting most. On a technical level, it's a masterpiece. The story is gut-wrenching. I found myself in tears at the end. There are many who would classify the movie as a tragedy of Shakespearean levels. It's not really a tragedy, because it ends in hope and in a true tragedy there can be no hope; in a true tragedy evil wins in the end. No, Children of Men is a comedy of the truest kind: one full of darkness, bleakness, violence, anguish, pain, and suffering, but in the end it fills one's heart full of faith, love, and hope.

1.United 93--the biggest surprise of the year. It's a movie about the day that changed the world forever. The performances are lifelike and real. It's the closest regular feature I've ever seen that appears to be like a documentary. The film doesn't preach a message, but illustrates how under the most distressing and horrific of circumstances ordinary people can rise up and achieve something heroic.

Honorable Mention:
As a final note, there's one movie that everyone should go see, but it's really rare to find right now. It's called Tremors 9. The movie is a horror-parody and doesn't pretend to be anything, but. I don't know if anyone will enjoy watching it, but the people making it sure seemed like they had a ball during filming.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Justin Timberlake.

Is it just me or does Justin Timberlake sound like a girl when he sings? I was riding along with my brother to the movie theatre the other day and as he was flipping through the stations he stopped at a song and said, "Guess who sings this?" I said, "I have no idea, but it sounds like a girl." He said, "Nope. It's Justin Timberlake."
On a completely different note, at the moment one of the books I am reading is a memoir entitled ME, MYSELF, AND BOB by Phil Vischer. the guy who created VeggieTales. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I've struggled with bitterness in my life before. Read a thought-provoking meditation about bitterness from Ben Witherington here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Something or Other.

Forgive me if this all seems a little incoherent. These are just some of my thoughts I’ve been thinking about the past few days. They aren’t as structured and cohesive as I would like them to be. I don’t know if any of it will make any sense, but I learned a long time ago it helps me to write things out and I learned just a few years ago that it often helps others to read the things I’ve written.

Today I substitute taught as an aid in a special education class for students with behavior disorders. It’s in a class that I’ve worked in before. I’ve acquired many, many interesting stories from my days working there. I really didn’t want to be there today, though. My brother is home from college and we hung out last night and I didn’t get to bed until late and then it took me forever to fall asleep. I had been asleep for a little over three hours when I received the phone call asking if I could come in. I didn’t want to come in. I wanted to sleep longer. I wanted to get up late in the morning and try to do some writing until afternoon, but I’m poor and in debt and I need the money, even if I won’t see it for another month from now. So I went in. It was a hard, hard, day. It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen in my over two years of student and substitute teaching, but it’s up there in the top ten. There was so much crap that I had to shovel through that I just didn’t want to deal with, but I plowed through anyway.

I’ve been reading several books lately about teaching. Seeing that I don’t have an actual teaching position yet and I can’t afford to take graduate classes at the moment, I’ve been doing the whole self-reliance act and reading books, articles, and magazines in an attempt to “improve” my teaching (even though I don’t have a class of my own, yet).

Perhaps it’s because I had a rough day. Perhaps it’s because of the reading I’ve been doing. I’m sure part of it is because I tend to be a very self-reflective person anyway. Whatever the case, I’ve really been questioning this whole teaching thing. I look around and many of my friends and peers have successful careers and are starting families. I’ve had several conversations with several friends in the past few months who have recently bought homes. My closest friends from college are all either married or engaged. I don’t see anyway how any of those things will happen to me anytime soon. If I allow it I find myself getting jealous and that just makes it worse. So, I try to focus on the tasks at hand and be thankful, but it can be so difficult.

This was not how things were supposed to happen. Just a few scant years ago I was supposed to have moved to Orange County and started a graduate film program. At this point in my life I should have had a graduate degree in film directing and video production. I should have been living in a hip, but moderate apartment near L.A. I should have been working my way up in the film industry and be on the verge of being offered my first picture to direct. I should have had a serious girlfriend by now and be planning on when and how I was going to ask her to marry me. I should have found a literary agent by now and at least have a young adult novel on its way to being published. I should be mostly out of debt by now. This was how things were supposed to have been.

Instead I find myself struggling to earn enough cash to simply pay my bills. There’s usually just enough to go around and I know it is by the grace of God, but sometimes I find myself angry about it. Why is there never more than enough? Lines from Fiddler on the Roof (“If I were a rich man”) keep floating around my mind. I’m an “itinerant substitute teacher” moving from town to town, school to school, room to room. I usually have no idea where I’ll be from one day to the next or if I’ll even be anywhere. I’ve tried to find a part time job to help out, but most places I could work won’t have me because I can’t be reliant to work the day time hours—if I get a call to sub I’ll take it. The places that don’t care about that won’t hire me because they say “I’m overqualified”. I used to hear about that happening to people and wondered how that could be true. How can you not give a job to a person because they are “overqualified”. I still don’t understand it, but it’s happened to me several times. It can be a drain.

Yet, I do take some comfort. The nomadic existence I have both chosen and been forced to live keeps me humble. It doesn’t lessen the frustration and confusion I might feel, but it does lift my spirits somewhat.

I really have no idea where I will end up in this life. I can’t say for sure where I’ll be living in a few months. I don’t know what job or jobs I will hold and even though I feel and want to teach, I don’t even know how long that will be. I do know that despite the difficulties I face and the doubts that arise, I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing at this moment. That doesn’t make things easier either, but knowing that will allow me to sleep tonight more peacefully. Also, writing this out near the end of the day has made me feel much, much better. The panic has lifted and for now peace resides.

Monday, March 05, 2007

February 2007

Books Read:
Eragon by Christopher Paolini
If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Sold Out Warning by Ronnie McMullen
The Grim Grotto: Series of Unfortunate Events #11 by Lemony Snicket
America Alone by Mark Steyn
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherin Paterson
Oops: What We Learn When Our Teaching Fails Edited by Brenda Miller Power and Ruth Hubbard

Movies Viewed for the First Time:
The Happiest Millionaire
Freedom Writers
Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen
Ghost Rider
Peter Pan*
Number 23
Old School
Kingdom of Heaven

February was a bit more productive for me than January 2007. However, I'm still not up to speed. Maybe it's because I'm pretty much working full time and have also been trying to do some serious writing. I don't know. Whatever the case I still didn't read as many books are see as many movies as I normally do during a month. Perhaps I'll be able to pick up the pace in March.

A few notes on some of the books I read. I really enjoyed Eragon. Yes, the novel is derivative, but all great stories are like that. Paolini tied a lot of good elements together in a unique way and brought a new variation on what is virtually a classic tale that has been rehashed throughout time (Beowulf, Wagners Ring Trilogy, or Tolkien for other examples). The paperback version of the 2nd installment of Paolini's trilogy is due in March and I plan on picking up a copy of it then and reading it. I've heard it's not as good, but I'll withhold my judgment until I read it.

I read If You Want to Write several years ago. Since I've been working on my own writing, I thought I would go back and re-read it. The book is basically one long piece of encouragement to Artists from all mediums. I really didn't remember much about it after reading it the first time and now I remember why. I don't need book-length encouragement notes. I'm looking for more practical advice and/or stories about other writers. If You Want to Write is neither.

The Grim Grotto was excellent and I'm looking forward to finishing the other two books in the series sometime soon. I really can't recommend Sold Out Warning unless you're interested in conspiracy theories and the like. The book is basically about how the Bible and UFO stories tie together. The author makes some interesting points, but I just don't buy into all of his beliefs. America Alone is worth reading, though it is written from a politically conservative spectrum. Bridge to Terabithia almost made me cry. Oops is a series of stories about teachers writing about some of their biggest failures.

As for movies, I had seen Peter Pan when I was a kid, but it was so long ago that it isn't listed on any of my lists so it was like seeing it again for the first time. Freedom Writers is a cliche-riddled movie about a teacher who is able to reach out to a group of inner-city students. I knew this and could point out all the usual devices, but it still got to me anyway. Apocalypse and the Beauty Queen is a terrible movie, but a friend of mine helped make it so we watched it at her house. Please don't waste your time doing the same. Both Ghost Rider and Number 23 were major let downs. Old School was just plain stupid. I did enjoy Kingdom of Heaven. There were points that I could obviously tell scenes had been cut out and that hurt the overall film. I know there's a directors cut available and I'm going to try to get my hands on that and see it before summer.

I don't know if I've learned much from the reading and movie-watching I've done this past month. I know that teaching is a difficult profession, but it's something I still feel called and wish to pursue. Writing is difficult, too, but if I can ever discipline myself to finish the things I start and am able to find an agent, I think I have a shot at least of getting something published. But I don't do these things for fame or glory. I do them because I like them. Until next time.