Last week I was invited to the private advanced screening of Beat Girl at W Hotel at Leicester Square just next to the M&M World (don’t know why I mentioned that, but I passed the hotel so many times before but never got in). After screening of the movie there was Q&A with the casts, writer, and producer — probably the first kind of press event that I went to. I’m no stranger to Indie cinemas though, as I love my indies as much as I love my blockbusters.
Beat Girl tells the story of Heather, a classical piano student in a mission to get to her dream school. Life is tough though. With the death of mother, Heather needs to move in with her estranged father and half-brother, both of whom aren’t emotionally supportive, and half-bro is especially not welcoming. After a shoplifting rescue of the brother, Heather meets Toby, the owner of a CD store who happens to be cute and a rather successful DJ. Short of money and hearing how much a good DJ could earn in one night (that’s £1000), she starts taking DJ lessons with him.
Here the two worlds start to clash. The late nights prove to be disruptive to morning classes. And classical piano student does DJ-ing? Outrageous! How dare she! How will Heather handle the tension and pressure between her day and night world? The question whether to follow what one loves against the expectation bestowed upon one is hanging throughout the movie.
Afterwards we had Q&A with Louise Dylan (Heather), Craig Daniel Adams (Toby), Melanie Martinez (writer), and Nuno Bernado (producer). First thing I noticed was that the girl and boy playing Heather and Toby are both so much more good looking in real life! — they almost looked completely different for some reason. Very odd. And Craig Daniel Adams talks in Scottish accent in real life which sounds so cute (what’s so irresistible about Scottish and Irish accent?), that is suppressed in the movie.
I threw question about the inception of the story, and it was soon obvious that the story is the brainchild of the producer Nuno Bernado based on his personal experience when he was young. Melanie Martinez the writer came over when the story was pretty much set, then she wrote it and probably fleshed it out more.
I always have great interest in the making of a movie — Indie or otherwise, probably more so for Indie. To be able to come up with a full length movie with small budget is such an achievement. Also working so close to the movie industry, I do have quite a few friends who try to and actually make small films. It is something quite close to my heart.
There was some talk about comparison with Save the Last Dance (the movie which I absolutely loved back when I was in high school!), but Beat Girl is probably targeted for a younger audience. It is a gentle coming-of-age movie about following your heart.
Beat Girl also reminded me a bit of a Certain Indie Movie that also has music as its majority theme — Once. Once is Irish, made with even smaller budget (Once – €130K, Beat Girl – €500K), it has gone to win Oscar for Best Original Song and be critically and commercially successful. It’s just recently made into a musical that has taken Broadway and West End by storm.
Compared with the two older movies (both of which I loved very much), Beat Girl admittedly falls a bit short. For a music theme movie, I thought the soundtrack isn’t strong enough. And for an Indie movie, it is not edgy enough — it is all a bit too gentle and too safe.
Another point of interest is the promotion of the movie. Beat Girl uses all kinds of social media channels, including Pinterest (Beat Girl Pinterest page) which they started even before the movie was out. I thought this one was particularly brilliant. You can use Pinterest to make some kind of story board, flesh out your story ideas, and gauge the audience, before going to make the real thing. There are also book written after the screenplay and game based on the movie. The last two I’m not so sure of. It seems like the energy could’ve been spread a bit too thin for something that wouldn’t work at all if not done properly. (I know, I am a reader and a gamer :)
We do need more Indie cinemas and people making more movies. All the gadgets available to everyone now are already better than the professional gadgets 10 years ago. Technically everybody can make movies and what with the Internet leveling the playing field. In the future we would be able to sell movie anywhere around the world via the Internet.
Lower barrier. More people. Wider market. Exciting time.
Beat Girl coming out in the UK on the 10th of May 2013 and 29th of May in the US.
I was invited to guest blog at The Good Web Guide so this week I’m Blogger of the Week! Check out the front page — I am side by side diagonally with the CEO of Pottermore! And here’s the permalink if you read this post after this week.
Mee at Good Web Guide
I could write about anything, but the editor suggested a few topics related to blogging. And I thought well I could totally write about that! Some of my friends IRL would know that I sometimes try to shove off blogging tips to people who don’t have interest to blog… uuum.
I know lots of you at Bookie Mee are avid bloggers, so I’m really preaching to the choir (or fellow priests?). But if you’re one of those who’s been thinking to start a blog, check out my top tips for building a successful blog (or two). And those of you my swanky fellow bloggers, let me know if you have anything to add to those tips! :)
I could’ve written about How Blogging Changed My Life. But I’ll save that story for another day.
Just recently, right after War Horse, I had been thinking whether I might get invited to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Sometimes the universe listens, and lo and behold! The invitation indeed came forth. The striking blue posters since have been popping up all around London, and I was really looking forward to seeing the play.
I read The Curious book sometime in 2008 during a read-a-thon (oh the days when read-a-thon was a manageable size), and I loved it straight away. It is one of those books that I bought multiple copies of, and gave to people. I wondered how people would translate such a unique book into stage play.
First thing that hit me was that the boy playing Christopher was older/bigger than what I imagined him to be when I read the book. He is 15 in the book. I guess boys are pretty grown by that age, so the casting was alright (Christopher played by Luke Treadaway – who also happened to play in War Horse stage). Somehow I imagined him closer to 11-12 years old back then.
In any way he is quite a tricky character to play, because as we know, Christopher is autistic. He has problem with interpreting people’s emotions, understanding behaviours, and generally acting “normal”. It is something that I can relate with, the whole confusion and pressure to be the “normal” — to be the same as everybody else.
Christopher’s problem also highlights things that we usually take for granted, like interpreting the reaction of human face and body language. It reminds me how complex humans are, and how far away we are from having robots duplicating our ability to read all these millions of tiny, often subtle, signals we send to each other. Christopher excels in math and logic, but he has trouble understanding his fellow human beings.
The play begins with a dead neighbour’s dog killed by a giant fork, and Christopher is present at the scene of the crime. After convincing everybody that he does not kill the dog, Christopher goes off to try to find the answers to the who and why. Started somewhat lightheartedly, it gets sad pretty quickly, as we learn about the situation at home, featuring a stressed father, and a separated mother.
The stage is very clean and modern, with the shape of a square box. Lights, projectors, and moveable props are used, and there are storage spaces behind the walls and under the floor where they can take things from. It is another unique way of using the stage that I had not seen before.
It was very interesting to see the book brought to live on stage. I encourage you to check out the trailer below also to get more sense of what to expect. Very worth watching if you happen to be in London! And if you do, don’t leave your seat immediately after the show ends, because in a short while Christopher would appear again and do his Math presentation, just like the appendix in the book :).
As another nice touch, notice the seats when you get into the theatre. If you remember, Christopher is fascinated by prime numbers (who doesn’t? I remember being fascinated by them too when I first learned about it!), so they number all the seats in the theatre and mark those ones that are on prime number positions!
I read Life of Pi the book in 2003 and was blown away by it. It was one of the first books I read in English, when I was just a student in a foreign country struggling with adopting a second language. It set me up to read hundreds of books in English since then. It is a book very close to my heart.
Who would’ve guessed it would come up to this in 2013? The beautiful movie adaptation won Oscar for best visual effects but the company who worked on majority of the effects filed for bankruptcy. My FB feed was filled with friends being concerned about the state of the vfx industry. Hundreds of vfx artists were protesting on the street leading to the Oscar, claiming they would also like “a piece of the Pi”.
Always funny how life turns out. Some books play a role in your life more than others.
Break Into Travel Writing in the Teach Yourself series came to me at the right time as I was looking to learn more about travel writing. Written by Beth Blair from the TheVacationGals.com, the book boasts to teach you how to “travel the world, and get paid for it!”, and who wouldn’t want such thing, right? :)
As I’m doing a full time day job that I love, the whole getting paid thing is not something I have immediate need to pursue. However I always have interest in writing, journalism, and what leans more to travel writing lately. And since this book is very recently published just in late 2012, it contains a lot of information on recent trends, online outlets, travel blogging — things you probably wouldn’t find in similar book a couple of years back. Timely for the raise of blogging as media platform.
Just to give you an idea of the content outline, there are chapters on the life of a travel writer, to be the expert, print and online travel writing outlets, press trips, pitching idea, writing style, article development, blogging, social media, photography/video, networking, self-branding, and other extras.
I admit I skipped the chapter on print outlet and 2 chapters on writing style and article development. A few months back I attended Bradt Travel Writing course which covered exactly those topics, and it’s a bit too soon for me to read about them again, coupled with the fact that I’ve got self-affirmation that I have little interest in print travel writing (except for books). It seems a bit silly for me to pursue something I myself don’t read.
The chapters I was most interested in were the parts on blogging and social media, and the rest of the chapters are relevant to them as well. Depending on how familiar you are with those topics, you’d find some information very useful, and some are a bit unnecessary. The first chapter for example contains a packing checklist, which I think is rather out of place. I assume someone who’s interested in travel writing is already an avid traveler to some degree.
But as the book covers quite a wide range of topics, it could work as a checklist in your repository of knowledge and skills — filling in the ones you’re not familiar with yet, and confirm the ones you are. For me one of the most useful was the list of websites scattered all over the book, whether it’s blogging or writing related. Almost all of them were new to me, including the myriad of travel bloggers mentioned in the book.
You get the industry insider tips of the trade and I think that’s what the book is all about. In just 230 pages it does a pretty good job in telling you the practical dos and don’ts of travel writing and blogging. If you’re thinking to start a travel blog, get the book and read it. It might save you several months of scrambling around to get to know how things work! :)
Thanks to Teach Yourself book series PR for sending me a proof copy!
Fingersmith was a really fun book to read from beginning to the end, though I thought it almost touched the borderline of being “wordy” (being 550 pages). The first twist (probably the biggest too) left me in a state of euphoria, as I got so excited that I did not see it coming at all. I love unpredictable book!
If I have to describe the book in two words, it’d be Lesbian Dickens (stealing that from a goodreads reviewer which I totally agree with). The style of writing is in the style of those novels written by real 19th century writers, but a couple of things gave it away, like the use of swear words (very rare, do not worry) and the fact that there’s lesbian relationship. I don’t think those ever appear in real Victorian novels. But that’s one of the fun things about it I guess! (I knew about the LGBT aspect before I started reading)
If there’s one thing that I did not quite like, it was the ending. It kept me from giving this book a perfect score unfortunately.
(Spoiler ahead, highlight to read)
I just thought the author took the easy way out: Kill all the obstacles! I had a really bad feeling once one of them started dying, and true enough the rest followed.
(end of spoiler)
This book though has set me firm to read more Sarah Waters books (Fingersmith is my first). I am currently looking forward to read either Tipping the Velvet or the Night Watch next. Probably not this year as I try to read just one book per author per year, but we’ll see!
Interesting fact: Fingersmith was beaten by Life of Pi for 2002 Booker Prize, and by Bel Canto (Ann Patchett) for 2002 Orange Prize (it got shortlisted for both prizes that year). I have to agree that Life of Pi is a probably better book, but I read mixed reviews for Bel Canto.
Last Tuesday I was invited to see stage play adaptation of War Horse at New London Theatre. I received the invitation before Christmas and was ecstatic when I read it, as the play has been looming over me for a while!
First, a little back story. As regular readers probably know I work in visual effects industry for movies. My company was working on the visual effects for War Horse the movie (2011) when I just arrived in London. That was the first time I learned about War Horse, from the movie that was adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo. At the time I did not know what it was about, except that it’s about a horse that’s probably involved in a war (doh!), and that to make the movie they could not possibly use real horse at one of the scenes because they did not want any horse get hurt. (So if you’ve watched or intend to watch it, you can probably guess which scene it is. All effects/3D horse! Can you tell? :)
That way the book has been on my radar, though since I’m not a fan of war stories, any kind of war stories, I never really intend to read the book. The play though, intrigued me. Why would anyone make a stage play about horses?! How big of a challenge is that?! I read and saw posters about the puppets and thought they might work like puppets from Sesame Street of some sort. So I was in for a total shock, when I finally saw the stage play with my own eyes.
First of all, and most importantly, the horses, OMG. The puppetry of the horses is done by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company and it is something that has to be seen to be believed! They were sooo life-like that sometimes I forgot that they were not real horses. There was so much attention to details, like the breathing of the horses, and the little movement of their ears and their tails, even their neighing sound, the horse-y snorts and the blows. You can see the puppeteers holding the horse puppets but at times it felt like the horses were dragging the humans. It was absolutely amazing. At certain points my jaw was literally dropping, literally. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was beyond what I expected.
As an added bonus my companion of the night has read the book, just before the play (he actually started to read the book before I invited him to come with me, thus it was absolutely the right timing), so he was able to tell me the difference between the book and the play (for more of War Horse stage vs page we recommend this piece). As I learned earlier, the book is told from the horse point of view, while it is not the case for the stage play. So they did need to make a few adjustments for that — adding scenes and combining some characters.
As wonderful the first part of the play was, I thought the second part wasn’t as strong. My first problem was that we came upon some characters who speak French and German, which I did not understand one bit! Though it felt quite original as the war brought us to meet British and German soldiers, along with French peasants, the non-English dialogues were lost on me. My companion understands French and he has also read the book, so he liked it more. We both agreed though that the ending wasn’t as dramatic as we expected. I am now curious how the movie has handled that, and will probably watch it soon to find out.
All in all we absolutely enjoyed the stage play of War Horse, and if you get a chance I’d definitely recommend you to go see it. I have seen lots of plays and musicals and I would say that War Horse takes the trophy for the best use of props! Unlike the usual case, there’s no lead actor/actress here as such, because the horses were the main characters. And what wonderful characters they were!
We were not allowed to take photos, so pictures are taken from the War Horse website. Hope they entice you even more to watch it:
You can also see snippets of the movement of the horse in the video:
Happy belated new year y’all! I just came back from my 17-days road trip around Spain, Gibraltar, and Morocco a few days ago (follow Wandering Mee for travel related content), got a bit ill, got back to work, and overall am just trying to catch up with real life!
2012 has been an okay year reading-wise. As older blogging friends probably know, my reading has gone down terribly since I came to London in May 2011. But in the past couple of months I feel like I start getting a bit of the groove back. So I’m feeling good about 2013!
My plan is to KISS – Keep it Super Simple ;). Read books I’ve always been meaning to read. I’ll be prioritizing British authors and books that are set in London/Britain. Fall in the categories are Philip Pullman, Jeanette Winterson, The Secret History, Sherlock Holmes, Rudyard Kipling, Wolf Hall, The Hobbit / LOTR, more Oscar Wilde, more Bill Bryson, more Jane Austen, finishing Jane Eyre (I’m currently in the middle of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and Londoners, both of which are set in London/England and I’m feeling really good about them). Will occasionally fit in American or European authors and book that are set in Europe like Hemingway (Fiesta, Moveable Feast). (update: also E.M. Forster, Graham Greene)
Some books I read in 2012 that I would love to mention:
Three of them I never talked about in Bookie Mee, oh no! Though I’m sure I will mention some of them again, like Peter Pan, which I absolutely completely and utterly fell in love with. Words of J.M. Barrie pierced my heart, just like Oscar Wilde (who I also read this year, but have not mentioned, because I haven’t finished his whole collection of short stories). You know, the type that make your heart vibrate and hum. Love <3.
Half the Sky, what an important book. I am not new of stories of hardships in third world countries, but I admit I had to stop a couple of times when reading the book because it got too difficult to swallow. Very painful at times, but also very hopeful. Each chapter is closed with a hopeful inspiring story of real people doing real work out there. I have the deepest admiration for the couple journalists Nic Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and am now following their social media to get updates and opinions from the field.
Shortcomings in many ways surprised me in its rawness and honesty in portraying Asian Americans. I definitely will look out Adrian Tomine’s books again anytime in the future. Bill Bryson is another wonderful finding in 2012, an author whose books I want to read all now! I have to stop myself binging his books too soon. The Handmaid’s Tale helped me in getting my reading mojo back by being extremely readable. What to say, Atwood does good stories.
So there you go, sort of mini-reviews of much loved books :)
I also feel like mentioning some books that were out in 2012 that I’m dying to read below. I’m such a bad reviewer, I would rather wait until everyone reads first before deciding that I want to read them too! So note that I have NOT read the books below! :)
Building Stories by Chris Ware, Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I’m dying — DYING I tell you! — to read Building Stories! Graphic novel that comes in board-game-like packaging?! I just need to wait until I succumb and buy it! The same with Grimm Tales. I’m a BIG sucker for original fairy tales — I devour them like candies, so original Grimm tales with notes sound like absolutely my thing! Mine! (I’m probably more excited about the notes than the tales even) The same with Greek mythology, nom nom nom! It’s really only a matter of time before I get to these three books!
Another three that intrigue me: Gone Girl — Gillian Flynn, Joseph Anton — Salman Rushdie, Ready Player One — Ernest Cline
Both Gone Girl and Ready Player One are highly influenced by my favourite podcasters Michael from Books on the Nightstand and Gavin from The Readers :).
I haven’t read many, or any reviews at all in fact, for Joseph Anton. But Salman Rushdie is someone I had heard since I was small, from my dad. Far before I knew his books, far before I read in English. I heard the stories of him being chased after by Ayatollah Khomeini for writing Satanic Verses, and it stuck with me until now. So it was rather an out-of-this-world experience when I had the chance to see him talk about Joseph Anton a few months back, somewhere near Soho. He was a childhood story then, and he is a living author now. Living to tell the experience of being hunted by the Muslim extremists and going into hiding (Joseph Anton was the fake name he used during that period). I may not get to read Joseph Anton anytime soon, but it’s definitely one I would read in the future.
Just a little personal story, after I went to his talk that night, I wrote my dad an email after: dad, do you remember when you told me the story about Salman Rushdie, back when I was in primary school? He’s able to write his story now after 15 years in hiding and I went to see him talking about it.
And he was quite impressed to say the least. First probably because I do remember everything he told me, and second that I have now seen him in person.
*cough* excuse the little father-daughter moment :)
Google celebrates the 120th anniversary of the Nutcracker Ballet today! Don’t you think the image looks wonderful?
That’s sort of an opening to the bunch of books that I received for review in the past couple of months and look forward to reading, which fittingly starts with:
Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, illustrated by Maurice Sendak
I was very happy to receive this classic that the famous Nutcracker ballet is based on, sent all the way from RandomHouse New York! It’s big, beautiful, and has colored illustrations by Maurice Sendak (who I mentioned sometime ago). It looks so Christmas-y, and I would definitely spend some time reading it during the Christmas season if I’m not going for a road trip to Spain for 17 days (also a way of telling you that I’ll be off starting from 22 December). So sadly the book has to wait.
Frankenstein Galvanized by Mary Shelley, published by a new publishing house red rattle books that “is dedicated to publishing literary classics but in unique editions that offer fresh perspectives from experts.” The book contains the 1818 classic Frankenstein text, plus 8 essays and commentary. I was thinking to read this around Halloween, but then time passed…
The Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe is one of a recent publication by Peirene Press. I have always wanted to try one of Peirene books. I have Beside the Sea on my kindle too. The Sea of Ink is about a 17th century Chinese artist – very unique to say the least considering the author is Swiss and the book is translated from Swiss German!
Break into Travel Writing by Beth Blair is one of the books in Teach Yourself series. I was given a few choices and I picked this one because of my recent interest in travel writing. A rather odd story comes with this book, as just last week Beth Blair the book author found the post I wrote about (as linked above) and tweeted it. I thanked her and asked if she found my travel site from her publicist, and both of us were very surprised to find that no that is not the case, and she just happened to find my post on the Internet (her publicist just told her the book was passed to “someone in London”). It was a rather weird episode for both me and her, and shows how the world gets smaller with social media!
I was offered by Whole Story Audiobooks to pick one audio book from their website. Anything I like! There’s nothing like “pick any one you like and we’ll send it to you for free” that makes you go all wild-eyed and Tasmanian Devil like!
I was looking for a non-fiction in particular. I have tried fiction on audio a couple of times, and while I quite enjoyed it, the habit didn’t stick with me. In the past year I have spent lots of time listening to history podcast, so I’m thinking that maybe non-fiction on audio is the way to go.
If you’re interested my shortlist included Ghost Train to the Eastern Star by Paul Theroux and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. But at the end I picked Londoners by Craig Taylor. And OMG I could not pick a better audio I think. I have listened to the first few CDs (there are 12 CDs altogether) and I am so so so loving it. I cannot wait to tell you all about it in full gushing emotional way after I finish. So definitely look out for it!
So if you miss that first couple of paragraphs, I’ll be off for a road trip to Spain-Gibraltar-Morocco for 17 days and will be off the blog world during that time. Happy holiday season to you all and happy reading! :)
My favorite book club show The First Tuesday Book Club has recently come up with 10 Aussie Books to Read Before You Die, as voted by readers. You can go to their site to watch the whole show (this particular one is the latest show of the year December 2012).
The book list, plus comments from yours truly:
10. Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
I’ve watched the movie a couple of years ago. Enigmatic, beautiful, and very Australian (the Hanging Rock is a real place in the state of Victoria). I’m not sure if I’ll ever read the book. In fact most of the people in the panel seem to have a hard time reading the book without being highly influenced by the movie. So this might be the case of the movie being better than the book. (You have to accept that sometimes!)
scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock
9. The Secret River – Kate Grenville A historical fiction of an Englishman being transported to Australia for theft. Clash with the Aboriginal people. The panel agreed that it is a very important book, exploring an important topic, and there should be more books like this.
8. The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
A portrait of contemporary Australian suburban life, The Slap was #1 on any top book lists in the country for a long time. I happened to live there when it was out, so I went along and read the book. You may like it you may hate it, but it surely brings out strong reactions from people and interesting discussion points.
7. The Magic Pudding – Norman Lindsay Norman Lindsay wrote The Magic Pudding in 1918 to settle an argument with a friend who claimed that children only liked to read about fairies. Lindsay insisted that they liked to read about food. I went to one of the exhibition when I was in Australia, but have not read the book. This seems to be the quintessential Australian children’s book. I’m sure I’ll get to it at some point.
Illustration from The Magic Pudding. Notice the Koala character. Aussie much?
6. Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey Jasper Jones was everywhere in Australia when it was out just 3 years ago (I also happened to live there at the time). Somehow I never had the interest to read it. This book also seems to divide the panel, and Marieke went as far as saying it doesn’t deserve to be on the list. In short, Jasper Jones sounds like the Australian To Kill a Mockingbird (thatI have read).
5. The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay Bryce Courtenay is a very popular Australian author and he’s written tons of books though I’m never compelled to read any. The Power of One is not set in Australia, but in South Africa, with Anglo-African man as the main character. I don’t know what’s the connection between Australia and Africa. It reminds me of J.M. Coetzee, a South African who became Australian citizen a while ago (him, I have read). Courtenay was also born in South Africa, and he passed away very recently in November 2012.
4. The Harp in the South – Ruth Park
It’s very odd that I had never heard of this book prior to the show and the panel unanimously loved the book. It is set in Surry Hills – what used to be a Sydney slum. I lived in Sydney and my family live there, so I plan to read the book at some point.
3. A Fortunate Life – A.B. Facey
The only non fiction book that slipped into the list, A Fortunate Life is a non fiction account of a man who sounds like a very endearing character and master storyteller. Though the writing quality is arguable, the panel again unanimously loved the book. I still have doubts, but the book came up very high on the list!
2. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
The Book Thief has been on top 3 New York Times best seller list for 200 something weeks, just lots and lots of years. This one probably does not need an introduction, and I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. It is now currently sitting with highest average rating on my 99 books-to-read on goodreads! (If you’re a fan of Markus Zusak, he joined the First Tuesday shows a few times which you can watch on the site, looking very good.)
1. Cloudstreet – Tim Winton The number one on the list was not a surprise, to me or to the panel. Tim Winton is a much beloved author in Australia, he always tops the list of top Australian books, and it’s usually with Cloudstreet (published 1991). His last book published in 2008 titled Breath was huge when I lived there.
I’ve been meaning to read Cloudstreet, The Book Thief, and the Secret River for a while. Now I’m adding The Harp in the South and the Magic Pudding.
What do you think about the list? Do you have any favorites? Any book you intend to read?