February 27, 2009

February 22, 2009

The Oscars 2009: Politically Correct as Always

My long-time guilty pleasure has always been watching the Oscars. When I was young, I watched with reckless fascination and longing as gorgeous people careened down red carpets with practiced smiles and Vaseline-covered teeth. Now I carry the required cynicism--though I still root for favorites and get a kick out of opening song numbers. This year, the pared-down, old-school retro approach worked for the most part. Jackman's hosting was superb, great singer--not too flashy or pretentious. The sets were impressive. And no Jack Nicholson sitting in the front row looking sweaty and self-important. Robin Williams did not charge the microphone and practice a future stand-up routine. It was nice.

Maybe too nice? Speeches were short, sweet, thanking just the right amount of people. I'm sure we'll see in the papers tomorrow that Sean Penn forgot to thank his wife. All the appropriate political opinions were championed just the right amount. I was mildly surprised that the one-second televised delay didn't beep out Penn's commie, homo-lovin' sons-a-guns comments. The show was clean, polished, glassy. Nothing too edgy. In fact, Ben Stiller's mockery of Joaquin Phoenix's mentally-vacant appearance on David Letterman, was probably the most controversial item of the evening--if you can call it that. It all felt too-retro, too much an emphasis on perception. In some ways, I think this negates the freedoms Hollywood tries to champion--but that's another blog post.

The good: Kate Winslet's much deserved win for The Reader, Richard Jenkins' nomination for The Visitor, acknowledgement by Winslet of Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack--huge losses for quality film in Hollywood, Seth Rogan's stoner-dude skits, and Hugh Jackman's consummate hosting.

The bad: no mention of Ledger in the "Hollywood Remembers" sequence, no speech or memorial honoring Paul Newman, Michael Shannon losing to Heath Ledger, Rourke losing to Penn, the overly-long dance/music number near the end, Slumdog Millionaire's over-abundance of awards (good film--but not that good).

Here were my picks:

Best picture: The Reader
Leading Actor: Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Leading Actress: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei
Screenplay: Frozen River

Note to self: find the nominated short animations and documentaries and watch them. The clips shown were impressive.

And would someone please hit Barbara Walters with a shovel? She has to be the worst interviewer I've ever seen.

February 16, 2009

Writers' Union gets Whiter Teeth

Interesting bit of news for writers. Well, make that those writers who have earned a reasonable enough reputation for themselves. The Globe and Mail published the article Making the Literary Life a Little Less Precarious, which suggests a medical and dental benefits plan should be coming down the pipe.

The Writers' Coalition Benefits Package is said to level the playing field a little, allowing full-time writers to have access to extended benefits. I have to hand it to the Writers' Union, really. They've managed to wrangle a fair amount of help for writers...err, make that its members. They're on top of the various Internet publishing issues, such as Google's settlement with publishers and authors, and now benefits and pensions for struggling artists.

Pretty soon we'll have unionized writing, where all members have to sign contracts that allow them to only write literature that adheres to certain party lines. Next stop, large campaign posters for Stalin. Okay, I'm being facetious. If it means the union can help a guy pay for major dental work and still allow him to cover the rent, I'm all for it.

February 11, 2009

The Kwantlen Load 'Em Up Tactic

I am disappointed to note that some upper-level Creative Writing classes are falling into the same academic rut other disciplines (most notably English Lit) do. Quantity over quality--or at least an attempt to almost make the two synonymous.

In my Short Fiction class this semester, our usual course load of several original pieces of work, along with supplemental reading responses, has also been boosted by an elaborate "reading as writers" project. We get to examine three stories (by two authors) line by line, and come up with ten questions for each story. Out of the total thirty questions, we respond to twenty in paragraph form and then write a five page short essay on a particular use of craft by one of the authors. All things said, the project is worth twenty percent of your total grade and due one week before your first story.

Question: when are we supposed to write the story?

Look, I get that upper level classes need to push analysis and craft. I'm thankful for it, really. But isn't the point to take craft knowledge and apply it to our own writing? Could we not simply apply the aforementioned project tenets to our regular weekly readings and garner the same results?

Thanks to this unnecessary project, I get to read a slew of sub-par story submissions this week--mine included--that basically ignore every craft lesson implied by the preceding project. Why? Because we had to spend fifteen wretched hours analyzing the shit out of stories rather than writing our own. This isn't bloody English Lit.

Alright, I'm being a little facetious. But I've never understood the idea of crushing the student with work load, rather than ensuring they produce works of quality. What is of greater value to the prof? Six mediocre projects or three kick-ass ones? Who in their right mind would consider the former? Or want to read them?