Monday, December 30, 2013

What I Read in 2013

At the end of 2012 I used Goodreads to make a list of all the books I read that year, and I think I'll do that each year since I enjoy the process of reviewing how my reading went. For example I didn't realize I had doubled my reading this year until I began to compile this list! My reading really slowed way down near the end of the year, so I had initially thought I would have a smaller list this year.

Here they are in the order in which I completed them along with my star ranking from one to five with five being a book I thought was great and would read again. Four stars is a book I really enjoyed but might not want to read again. Three stars means I liked the book but wouldn't read it over again, and anything less means it had issues for me.

1. The Passage by Justin Cronin ****
2. Swords and Deviltry by Fritz Leiber *****  I read these decades ago in my teen years and loved them, so I decided to reread the series this year. I still love the first couple but found the quality diminished as the series progressed.
3. Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber **** and a half
4. Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber **** and a half
5. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson ***
6. Swords Against Wizardry by Fritz Leiber ****
7. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking ****

8. The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber **
9. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie *** and a half
10. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie ****
11. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie ****
12. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters ***
13. Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe *** and a half
14. Sword and Citadel by Gene Wolfe ****
15. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold **** and a half

16. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Howard Chaykin **** and a half
17. The Beholder by Ivan Amberlake ***  Ivan is a writer friend of mine and I'd love nothing more than to give him more stars, but this book is intended for a different audience than me.
18. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller *** and a half
19. The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell ****
20. Roma by Steve Saylor **
21. The Castle in the Forest by Norman Mailer **
22. Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell ****  Continues the retelling of the Arthur legend begun in The Winter King. This whole series was excellent.
23. Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey ****
24. Excalibur by Bernard Cornwell ****
25. Urban Legends of Rock and Roll: You Never Can Tell by Dale Sherman ** and a half
26. 11/22/63 by Stephen King ****
27. The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company by Glen Cook **** and a half
28. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia **
29. The Complete Prose by Woody Allen *  I love Woody Allen's movies, so I was aghast to read just how terrible his writing can be
30. The Twelve by Justin Cronin ****
31. Shift Omnibus by Hugh Howey ****
32. Dust by Hugh Howey ****
33. The Terror by Dan Simmons **** and a half

34. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien ***
35. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury ** and a half
36. Finches of Mars by Brian Aldiss ** and a half
37. The Return of the Black Company by Glen Cook *** and a half

Friday, December 27, 2013

Acting in New Movie

It's a little frustrating to write about things that happened quite some time ago, but I've learned that when it comes to acting, it is necessary due to nondisclosure agreements. Since I like to use this blog as a semi-diary in order for me to record (as much for myself as for anyone else) interesting things that have happened in my life, this post is going to talk about events of October 9, 2012.

Leading up to that date, I had a somewhat unhappy experience. I was contacted by a casting agency and asked if I would audition for an interesting part in a Swedish movie based on a bestselling book called The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Despite the mouthful of a title, this book was a big hit in parts of Europe, selling more than two million copies before it was even published in the United States.

It's a comedy somewhat along the lines of Forrest Gump or Being There, i.e. the main character is a somewhat clueless fellow more interested in finding his next drink than anything else, while everyone around him seems to think he is either a genius or at least very useful. He manages, over the course of a century, to be involved in many major events, from the development of the A-bomb to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The unhappy experience I mentioned is due to the fact that the date they told me the filming would happen in Budapest was at a time I had to be out of the country for work. I tried to get out of it but couldn't, so I didn't go to the audition. A few weeks later I was contacted by an assistant director for the film who had gotten to know me during the Die Hard 5 filming and she asked if I would be willing to be a featured extra. They had changed the date of the filming to a date when I would be available! Naturally I was a little upset at not even getting a chance to audition for the real part, but I still wanted the experience, so I agreed. It was a great decision, because it was a fantastic experience.

I got up at 3 AM the morning of the shoot and they had a taxi waiting to take me to the studio, where the nice wardrobe folks fitted me for a couple different outfits (since the part called for scenes in different decades, from the sixties and seventies). I met the other featured extras, two American-Hungarian men, one Hungarian woman who spoke decent English, and an American woman that I knew. Together we made up the CIA agents for the Paris office during the sixties and seventies, along with one actor playing our boss (in the role that I had wanted to audition for). The ladies had some very entertaining hairstyles done up by the makeup women, and then we piled into a van to go to the filming location, which turned out to be one of the same buildings in which parts of Die Hard 5 had been shot.

They introduced us to the director, Felix Herngren, who seemed very nice. They had initially told me to keep my beard and mustache, but now they decided I had to shave it off due to the time period. I was halfway through shaving when they called me to do the first scene, so I had to rush through the rest of the shaving and run to the set.

Unlike being a standard extra, being a featured extra means that you get to be front and center working with the regular actors and you even can get some dialogue. Felix seemed to like improvisation, so he kept telling us what the situation was for each scene but wanting us to simply improvise what we might say, while the regular actors had their actual lines.

The first scene was really nice. It took place in the office of our boss, the CIA Director for Eastern Europe in Paris. In the room with him was the Swedish main character, played by Robert Gustafsson, and the young woman that I already knew. If I give all the details of all the scenes we shot, this will go on forever. Hopefully these scenes all make it into the film so you can see for yourself what we did. What I liked most about the first scene was realizing that for me all of the people working on the shoot vanished from my mind each time they prepared to yell 'action'. I became completely absorbed in really doing the scene as if we were truly there in real life, and I wasn't nervous in the slightest. The director was great at giving adjustments, and we did the scene a number of times with different camera angles.
Selfie done between takes by Mr. Gustafsson
I must have shot six or so different scenes, and they also used me to do a voice-over part that would be used as a tape recording that Gorbachev would listen to--a recording of me speaking with Ronald Reagan about tearing down a wall at Camp David such that Gorbachev thinks Reagan is actually talking about the Berlin Wall.

I was proudest of a scene where the camera was going to slowly move about the main CIA office while all of us agents were doing various daily work. My job was to sit on top of the front of my desk and ad lib a telephone conversation. I noticed that my 'boss' seemed to really like what I was doing with my ad lib, because during later takes, he began joining in on it with me, turning it into a three way conversation with the made-up person on the other end of my line.

It was an exhausting day that lasted sixteen hours, but it was exhilerating also. I wasn't bitter about not getting the shot at the main CIA Director role, because the actor who played it was not only really good, he was also very nice. Unlike other actors that I have so far met, he often hung out with us and talked and joked like a regular guy, and we appreciated that.

I don't know when the film will debut in the U.S., but it premiered overseas on Christmas Day.