This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Virtues of Thank You Notes

December was always my month.  There was my birthday and a mere two weeks later, Christmas.  Additionally, my mother celebrated Three Kings Day so my brother and I would get an extra little bonus gift on January 6.  As a kid ( and even today ) December was one of my favorite months with its festivities and gifts galore.  Shortly after New Years though, my mother would sit us down at the dining room table.  In front of our groaning faces, she'd set down a box of notecards and a couple of pens and hand us a list of items we'd received and who'd sent them.  There, we'd have to sit, sometimes for hours, until we'd completed all our thank you notes.  

We hated, HATED writing those thank you notes.  Why, why write a thank you note?  It took too much time when we could be doing so many other things.  Childhood wasn't going to last forever and we wanted to be able to enjoy the gifts we'd just gotten before we outgrew them in the months ahead.  

My mother had established the thank you writing ritual early on.  My brother and I glared at each other each and every year, knowing full well that we had no way of getting out of writing those damn thank you notes.  

Today, things have changed dramatically.  I love giving gifts (often more than receiving them.) And now, as an adult, I'm become a stickler for thank you notes. Yes, it still takes time, which I now have even less of, but I eventually get around to it.  It's been so ingrained into my being at this point in my life that I can't imagine abandoning it.  

I absolutely believe that in a digital, fast-paced world, people appreciate a handwritten thank you note even more than in years past.  So, if you're way too busy to handwrite something, phone a friend a thank you, e-mail them your thoughts, let them know you appreciate what they've done.  People notice and you'll feel good about giving back-- even if your gift is merely your words of appreciation.  As I grow older, I've learned that words of appreciation are worth just as much ( if not more than ) those tangible gifts we all enjoy unwrapping on Christmas.

In the coming weeks, I'll sit myself down at my own dining room table and write my thank you notes.  The first one will be written to my mom-- who started the thank you note ritual we'd always hated and the same one we now embrace. 

Copyright 2008 KLiedle

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From The Mouths Of Movie-goers...

As a writer, I often observe and listen.  Secretly, I've always wanted to be a spy.  If I were a true spy, however,  I wouldn't be able to tell anyone that I was a spy and what fun is there in that?[unless I get to play-act in my own rendition of Burn After Reading.] So, instead I'm an eavesdropper, sometimes a sleuth, and a writer.  

Quite often, I get to listen and observe moviegoers.  Here in L.A., there are people with clipboards that watch audience reactions to previews and movies and then they jot down little notes-- where the laughs were, what sequences fell flat, if a preview worked or flopped, and the demographics of the people sitting in the seats: age, race, gender.... In a sense, they're movie spies and [not surprisingly]  they're employed by the studios.  

I also enjoy watching several audiences and noting how they react to the same movie.  What I've learned is that it's true what they say: Every single audience is different.  A movie like Four Christmases that makes one woman howl with laughter may be only mildly amusing to the couple sitting in the next showing.

When it comes to a movie being a success or a flop, moviegoers have more clout than they get credit for-- [sorry critics.]  

Here are a few reactions and/or things I've overheard about some of the biggest films this year:

On Rachel Getting Married:

" It's too shaky... I can't take it.  How can they even call that a movie?"
(From a forty-something who needed a glass of ice water to get over her Rachel-induced motion sickness)

"Now, that's the kind of wedding I'd like to have!"
(One twenty-something girl to another upon exiting the theatre.)

On Towelhead:

Upon exiting the theatre:  Silence.

On Synedoche, New York

"What's with that burning house?"
( A question posed to Charlie Kaufman at a Q&A at Arclight Hollywood.  Kaufman skirted the question brilliantly and answered exactly: Nothing.)

"It's so depressing... I want to shoot myself."
(A thirty-something guy talking to his buddy.)

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
(not released yet)

"I think it'll capture peoples' attention with its sentimentality... and it'll garner award noms, no doubt.  Brad Pitt's a shoe-in.
( An unidentified Nielsen employee)

"THIS is a job..."
( The courier lugging Benjamin Button's many, many reels after the theatre's elevator went out) 

Note: Benjamin Button has a run-time of 2 hours and 55 minutes and David Fincher is probably still working on his director's cut which could very well have a run time double that!

Slumdog Millionaire

"I've seen the ending so many times, but I'm gonna go watch it again..."
(A studio publicity person at a Q&A screening with Danny Boyle.)

"Where can I get the soundtrack to Slumdog?"
(An out-of-breath woman in the theatre gift shop.)

"That is how movies are supposed to be."
(An older gentleman to his friend after exiting a late-night screening.)

Observation:  Two Indian women in the middle of the theatre crying softly as Jamal and Latika reunite.  They stay for the entire credits and walk out of the theatre slowly... in utter silence.

"Slumdog's got a chance for Best Picture.  This is a good year for it..."

On Milk

"I wasn't interested in the subject matter at first, but when I saw it, Sean Penn pulled me in.  His performance was outstanding.  It's easily one of the best films of the year..."
(An unidentified Nielsen employee at a test screening for an upcoming film.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Time, A Wrinkle... Or Two.

In that moment, I stared at my facial features in a full-length mirror.  My eyes were drawn to my lips. In close-up, newly formed 'smile lines' stood out like parentheses enveloping my mouth.  I reeled in horror... 
I was all of sixteen and it didn't take much to set me off on a dramatic tangent:

"I have wrinkles!" I shouted.

"What are you talking about?," asked my mother.
"Wrinkles!!! Look, look at my mouth! Aaagghhhh!!!!

"Oh, honey.  Relax.  Those are just smile lines."

I didn't relax-- I vowed never to smile again.  I couldn't bear to have those 'smile lines' reproduce.  

Yes, I do smile again and I've continued getting older--against my will.  However, as I progressed through adulthood, I've learned to be at peace with it.  I've learned to relax.  Another birthday just passed by the other day, but I was OK.  Honestly, those 'smile lines' really haven't changed that much since I first spotted them at sixteen.

I always thought it was so unfair that all of us have to get older (and watch the others around us get older) as each year goes by.  Wouldn't it be better for all of us if we got younger as the years progressed, instead of the other way around?  Way back when, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald thought the same thing.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film based on a short story written by Fitzgerald is set to open in theatres this month.  Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is born into the world as an old man and each year, he appears to be getting younger.

"I'm not as old as I 

To my sixteen-year-old self, this would've been a dream.  Starting off older would allow me to 'end' my life with the good years of being young and vibrant.  Unfortunately for Benjamin, the others around him continue to get older in the traditional fashion.  

I recently got to see Benjamin Button and the number one thing that the story demonstrates is that no matter what we're handed in life, there are always complications.  We may be handed what others would consider a gift or a talent (like Benjamin) but there's always a trade-off.  

"Nothing lasts..."

As director David Fincher said: "What we wanted to show is that no matter what direction you're going, life is sti
ll complicated, life is still hard, life is still not a cakewalk..."

This week, I got older [again] but it was okay.  Life may not be a cakewalk, but my birthday was.  I chose to have fun with it-- to skip my way through the day-- and treat myself well.  At sixteen, I wish I'd known how important it is to be good to yourself.  People may come and go and time will pass, but you are with yourself always... for the long haul.  Relax, smile, and as my horoscope said, "Be kind to that face you see in the mirror." 

I'm still learning how... 

Copyright 2008 KLiedle
Photos: flickr/ban-den (balloons), flickr/mylaphotography (giggly girl), flickr/Ooh La La Photography (skipping girl)

You can change or stay the same.  There are no rules to this thing.  
You can make the best or the worst of it. 

(Benjamin Button/ 2008 Paramount Pictures)

Monday, December 1, 2008

December's Holiday Entertainment

December has arrived and it's a winter wonderland, even if it's only in my mind.  
Today was HOT and sunny [again] in L.A. but I can close my eyes and recall the light, fluffy snowflakes and the beauty of the first snowfall of the season.  Don't get me wrong though... I certainly don't miss my ice scraper or having to "warm up" my car in the dead of winter.  However, as a SoCal girl, I do have to try harder to drum up my holiday spirit when the weather her thinks it's still summertime.

Holiday entertainment does wonders for that.  It's only a matter of time before the rush of Christmas specials hit-- including all my classic favorites: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph and Frosty. During Christmastime, I always feel the excitement.  It's like I'm seven again-- the only trouble being that I have a December birthday so my *new* real age never ventures too far from my mind.  Every year though, I drag out my most favorite holiday movies: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, A Christmas Story [of course], and Elf.  I also spend many evenings hunkered down wrapping holiday gifts and curling ribbon.  For me, a good holiday movie is the best backdrop to my holiday preparations.

December is  also a time for Hollywood to host a jingle bell serenade of their Christmas, but [mostly] Oscar fare. 

Four Christmases (starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn) is the first, strictly holiday movie to hit a screen near all of us.  It opened here in L.A. late last week.  I haven't seen it yet, but I only expect a fun, little holiday movie and not much more.  I don't expect amazing performances or an Oscar caliber script.  If it brings cheer and a few laughs and makes me feel all warm and gooey like a marshmallow inside, then it's good for me.  I feel the same way about Yes Man (Jim Carreyand Bedtime Stories (Adam Sandler), both being released later this month.  We're not talking award movies there, but fun, popcorn flicks... and like a really good, sugary Christmas cookie, we all need movies like that during this time of year.

But for the serious cinephile, it's also never too early to gauge Oscar buzz.  During this holiday season, we can sample from leading contenders in films such as: Milk, Australia, and Slumdog Millionaire (all now playing.)  

I also look forward to other top contenders such as Doubt (Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Che (Benicio Del Toro,) The Wrestler (Mickey Rourke), and Last Chance Harvey (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.)  With all the goodness of the holidays, take time out from shopping, from stress, from work, and from the world to sample all that Hollywood has to offer before 2008 comes to a close.  I know I will !

Copyright 2008