Putting food on my family

August 9, 2015 in Freelance, Misc, On Writing by pacejmiller


I was supposed to have started working on my book projects last month, but as of today I’ve still done jack squat. The excuse this time: making money.

I’ve always welcomed a bit of freelance work on the side as a supplement, though that aspect of my income has been sporadic at best. Some projects are great, while others are awful, and it’s usually hard to predict which before you agree to take it on. This year things have been more stable as I’ve built some repeat clientele and long-term collaborations, and last month everything suddenly exploded, especially towards the end of the month.

Just when I was getting in the mood to do some writing I was bombarded by five separate projects, all with relatively tight deadlines. The annoying thing is that some of them feed the work to you periodically and just when you think you’re done they send you more. And the shit clients tend to take forever to get back to you if you have a question, but when they need something from you they are always, without exception, in a massive hurry.

It’s frustrating especially because the state of the market is not great, and most of the time the clients can’t tell if your work is vastly superior than others, meaning it is difficult to charge what you deserve. And if you do charge what you deserve (at least by market standards) they’ll probably just go to someone else.

The problem is exacerbated by my analness. I just can’t stand when something is not up to par and just have to fix it, even when it doesn’t really concern me. Like this theatre production I was doing translations for had split the work between me and another freelancer, and just hours before opening night, they send me the “finished” slides so I can help fill in some of the blanks. And of course, I reviewed all the slides and saw how shit the translations were by the other freelancer, and I couldn’t help but fix them up along with all the other careless formatting by the production staff. They really appreciated it but I knew I wasn’t getting any more money. In fact, I had to chase them up for payment (which I hate doing but have had to do more than a few times).

I bitch, but when you get the opportunity to more than double your monthly income you just have to take it. As an eloquent leader once said, “I know how hard it is for you to put on your family.”

bush food

Besides, even when you add up the hours from my day job and the freelancing, I’m still working a lot less than I did as a lawyer. Plus I find the work relatively easy and stress free, so it’s a world of difference I’d gladly take any day of the week.

The onslaught is actually continuing but I hope things will slow down after this week so I can finally get to what I’ve been meaning to do all year. The good news is that I’ve been reviewing films like a trojan whenever I’ve been on public transport and have about 10 movie posts completed. I’ll release them gradually over the next week.

PS: Also looking to get back into reading after a long hiatus. Nothing gets me in the mood for writing like reading.

The Clock’s Ticking

July 5, 2015 in Blogging, Misc, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller


Is it just me or is time flying? Can’t believe it’s been more than two weeks since my last post. Health issues, visiting relatives, family roadtrips, work, freelance gigs, NBA free agency and general laziness have kept me from being more active than I should be. Hopefully, that is about to change.

About a year ago I made a pact with a friend, a bit of a dreamer like me but with more outlandish ideas about doing something with their lives to get out of the rat race and make the world a better place. We like to dream big, but like most people, seem to lack the persistence and resolve to follow through. So we decided to promise each other to take the initiative to get something done. Set a goal and work towards it. We decided six months or even a year was too short to get our butts moving, so we aimed for 18 months — the end of this year.

My goal was simple: to complete a first draft of something, be it a novel or a screenplay. There were times throughout the past 12 months where I have gotten into a couple of my pet projects, with great passion and enthusiasm, but never for very long. And now I don’t have very long left. Six months to produce something so I can keep up my end of the bargain.

To be honest I’m not optimistic. I was wrong in thinking that starting is the hardest part. The hardest part is always keeping it up the next day, and the day after, and the day after that. I’ve started so many times over the past year, only to stop after a day or two for whatever reason. The key is to not view that as a stoppage, but a bump in the road before getting back on track again.

Here goes. I’ve got a whole bunch of posts lined up and almost ready to post, so I’ll spread them out over the next week or two to give myself some breathing room to get into it without neglecting this blog. I’m still watching movies so reviews will keep coming.

Wish me luck.

What’s awesome and what sucked at Oscars 2015

February 24, 2015 in Best Of, Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller


Another year, another Oscars.

As with the last two years, I had a blast consulting for Taiwan’s TV broadcast team, who continue to awe me with their superhuman skills and awesomeness. Last year was a breeze with Ellen hosting, but we knew things would be tougher this year with Neil Patrick Harris doing his extravagant song and dance numbers. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad, with the majority of the event going according to script.

Anyway, here’s what I thought was awesome about this year’s Oscars and what I thought sucked about it.

Awesome: My predictions


I correctly predicted the winners of 15 categories:

-Best Picture (Birdman)
-Best Actress (Julianne Moore)
-Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
-Best Supporting Actor (JK Simmons)
-Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette)
-Original Screenplay (Birdman)
-Animated Feature (Big Hero 6)
-Original Score (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
-Original Song (Selma)
-Documentary Feature (CitizenFour)
-Production Design (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
-Visual Effects (Interstellar)
-Sound Editing (American Sniper)
-Sound Mixing (Whiplash)
-Makeup and Hair (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Even more awesome than getting these right is that in two categories the film I thought should win rather will win actually took home the gong:

-Best Actor (Eddie Redmayne) — I thought Michael Keaton had it in the bag, and judging from Batman’s reaction (and aggressive gum-chewing) it appeared he thought he had it in the bag too
– Adapted Screenplay (The Imitation Game) — I thought they’d give it to Whiplash, to be honest

My misses turned out to be:
-Editing (Whiplash)
-Cinematography (Birdman)
-Costume Design (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
-Animated Short (Feast)
-Documentary Short (Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1)
-Foreign Language Film (Ida).

In hindsight I should have gotten at least a couple of the first three right (the others were just wild guesses) but stupidly thought the Academy was going to give us some surprises.

Sucked: Boyhood not winning Best Picture or Best Director

I picked Birdman for both, but it doesn’t mean I’m not salty that Boyhood missed out on Best Picture and Best Director for Richard Linklater. Technically, Birdman is a brilliant film, but if we’re talking about the most revolutionary film, the most emotionally resonant film, the most memorable film, then Boyhood wins hands down. It’s not even close.

Damn, even that song they played every time they discussed the movie during the ceremony still gave me the chills every time.

The snub is worse than Forrest Gump beating Shawshank in 1995, or Crash’s highway robbery of Brokeback Mountain in 2006. This kind of moronic shit seems to happen every decade or so, where the Best Picture winner might be a very good film in its own right but doesn’t hold a candle to the film that should have won when you look back years later.

As for Best Director, I can see why Iñárritu won. Birdman is exceptionally directed, and in any other year I wouldn’t complain. But man, Linklater spent 12 years on this movie, and managed to turn 12 years of footage into one coherent, well-paced, and moving drama. The ambition, the foresight, the planning and the skill required to pull something like this off is unparalleled in the history of cinema, and yet Linklater somehow managed it. For me, that deserves the win.

Can’t decide if awesome or sucked: NPH as host

I can’t lie. I thought NPH was going to be the best Oscars host EVER, or at least the best since Billy Crystal. The track record was too good to ignore and his Tony’s performance was jaw-dropping.

But for whatever reason, whenever anyone hosts the Oscars they seem hamstrung by the occasion and end up producing something less than what they’re capable of. Last year Ellen was too safe. The year before, Seth McFarlane was too crass. And do I even dare mention the disaster that was Anne Hathaway (not her fault) and James Franco (all his fault)?

NPH’s opening number was solid — good supporting acts with Anna Kendrick and Jack Black plus some impressive special effects. But it felt like he was holding back.

NPH’s jokes were largely deadpan, with a few eliciting chuckles but others falling flat. I think he’s the type of charming performer who does best in planned situations, because let’s face it, his improvisation could have been a lot better. The Birdman underwear stunt was a good idea, I suppose, but it generated more shocks than humour. On the whole, however, he was perfectly adequate.

I’d give NPH a solid B- on the Oscars host scale, where Billy Crystal at his best is an A+ and James Franco is an F.

Sucked: NPH’s prediction box

NPH getting Octavia Spencer to look after a glass box containing a brief case with supposed predictions he wrote several days in advance probably seemed like a good idea on paper. A bit of magic. An elaborate set up. However, the great reveal at the end — which was supposed to be NPH’s final hurrah — turned out to be a shithouse dud. Maybe he had to rush because they were running over time. Or maybe the writers couldn’t come up with anything witty backstage. But man, what a downer to end the night. He probably should have closed with another musical number if time had allowed it.

Sucked even more: reactions to NPH’s performance

Look, say NPH was unfunny and crap if you want to, but all this stuff about him being racist, insensitive and offensive is just plain dumb.  People either think too much or not enough; they jump to conclusions and make connections that aren’t really there. The complained about him “picking on” the black celebrities in the audience, such as getting David Oyelowo to read out a bad joke about the Annie remake in his exquisite British accent. They called him racist for getting Octavia Spender from the movie The Help, to “help” him look after his glass box. They said he made fun for fat people for telling her she can’t go off to get snacks.

Seriously, people! Get a hold of yourselves! They were jokes! Bad jokes, perhaps, but jokes nonetheless. Did it occur to you that he was just trying to diversify the ceremony given its highly publicized excess of white nominees? Maybe he didn’t even get a choice and was told to do so by organisers, the same people who ensured that there was an abundance of black presenters throughout the evening.

I’m telling you, the offense is misplaced. If you’re going to be offended, be offended because you expected better jokes from NPH, not because he was being insensitive.

Can’t decide if awesome or sucked: Spreading the wealth

For the first time I can remember, every single Best Picture nominee took home at least one award. And this is in an era when there are eight nominees as opposed to the old five. Maybe it’s a reflection of a world where everyone’s a winner these days.

Birdman was of course the biggest winner with four — Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography. The Grand Budapest Hotel was the second biggest winner as it took home a total of four gongs: three technical awards — Makeup and Hair, Costume Design, Production Design — and Original Score. Whiplash was next with three — Best Supporting Actor for JK Simmons, Editing and Sound Mixing.

The others had one each. American Sniper had Sound Editing. Eddie Redmayne took home Best Actor, the only award for The Theory of Everything. The Imitation Game got Best Adapted Screenplay. Selma got Best Original Song for Glory. And Boyhood had the deserved Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette.

Everyone goes home perhaps not happy, but at least not empty handed. Even getting one of those Lego Oscar statuettes wouldn’t have been too bad.

Awesome: Everything is Awesome!

The most exciting part of the entire evening, and certainly the most scintillating performance in recent Oscars memory, has to be Everything is Awesome from The Lego Movie, as performed by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island. I knew the song wasn’t going to win, and they probably did as well, which is why they put in all their efforts in making the performance such an enjoyable one. And let’s face it, the movie should have not only been nominated for Best Animated Feature — it probably should have won it.

Awesome: Lady Gaga being normal and singing The Sound of Music medley

What’s going on with Lady Gaga? First she gets engaged, then she performs with Tony Bennett at the Grammy’s. And now she’s singing a Sound of Music medley at the Oscars? Has she become…conventional? Normal?

Whatever it is, she’s awesome. And her performance was awesome. She sounded like someone who could be singing in leading roles in Disney cartoons.

Sucked: John Travolta

I had a feeling they were going to do something to rectify John Travolta’s flub of Idina Menzel’s name (who has since become Adele Dazeem) at the Oscars last year. But that effort totally back fired with Travolta coming across like a total sleaze and mental case by touching Menzel’s face about four thousand times, or four thousand times too many.

Things got worse when people started pointing out what a douche he also was on the red carpet, when he grabbed Scarlett Johansson’s waist from behind and planted a big wet smooch for no apparent reason. The look she gave to the camera afterward said it all.

Awesome: Glory

Interesting that the musical performances, usually the most boring part of the Oscars, turned out to be the highlights of this year’s ceremony. Common and John Legend’s performance of Glory from Selma was a tour de force, bringing audiences to tears. David Oyelowo was captured with tears streaming all over his face. Oprah of course was crying. And for some reason even Chris Pine had a salty discharge running down his cheek. As my wife said, you never know with these great actors whether it’s genuine!

To top it off, Common and John Legend backed up the performance with one of, if not the best, speech of the night when they captured the award for Best Original Song shortly after. It was clearly prepared in advance, but it sent one of the two strongest messages of the night — the other being Patricia Arquette’s plea for gender equality.

Sucked: Nothing for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Take a good look at this photo. It is an ape. Riding a horse. With a gun in his hand. You can’t tell me this is not the best thing ever.

And yet not a single award. It even lost out on its only nomination for Best Visual Effects to Interstellar. Disgrace.

I’m hoping the Academy is doing what it did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when they waited for the final film, The Return of the King, to rain down the accolades it deserves. July 2016 is when the third film in the Apes series will be released, so I guess Oscars 2017 will be the year! Bwahahahaha!

Last Minute 2015 Oscar Predictions

February 22, 2015 in Entertainment, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller


Crap. Can’t believe the Oscars are going to be on in less than 10 hours. Fortunately, I’ve now seen all the Best Picture nominees and almost all of the films in the major categories. So without further ado, here’s who I think will win and who I think should win. By the way, I have not been following the buzz and betting odds.

Best Picture:
Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Prediction: Birdman
Should win: Boyhood

Best Actor:
Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Prediction: Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Should win: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Actress:
Nominees: Marion Cottilard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Prediction: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Should win: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), JK Simmons (Whiplash)
Prediction: JK Simmons (Whiplash)
Should win: JK Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Laura Dern (Wild), Kiera Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)
Prediction: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Should win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Director
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)
Should win: 
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Birdman, Boyhood, Foxcatcher, Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler
Should win:

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Inherent Vice, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash 
Should win:
The Imitation Game

Best Animated Feature
Nominees: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Big Hero 6
Should win: Big Hero 6

Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida Mr Turner, Unbroken
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: 
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Maleficent, Mr Turner
Into the Woods
Should win: 

Documentary Feature
Nominees: CitizenFour, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Virunga
Prediction: CitizenFour
Should win: Finding Vivian Maier

Documentary Short
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Joanna, Our Curse, The Reaper, White Earth
White Earth
Should win:
No idea

American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Whiplash
Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Boyhood

Foreign Language Film
Ida, Leviathan, Tangerines, Timbuktu, Wild Tales
Should win:
No idea

Makeup and Hair
Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: 
Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Original Score
The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr Turner, The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win:
The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song
Everything is Awesome (The Lego Movie), Glory (Selma), Grateful (Beyond the Lights), I’m Not Gonna MIss You (Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me), Lost Stars (Begin Again)
Glory (Sela)
Should win: 
Everything is Awesome (The Lego Movie)

Production Design
Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Mr Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win:

Sound Editing
America Sniper, Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Unbroken
American Sniper
Should win:

Sound Mixing
American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken, Whiplash
Should win:

Visual Effects
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Should win:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Short Film (Animated)
The Bigger Picture, The Dam Keeper, Feast, Me and My Moulton, A Single Life
The Dam Keeper
Should win:
No idea

Short Film (Live Action)
Aya, Boogaloo and Graham, Butter Lamp, Parvaneh, The Phone Call
Should win:
No idea

Book Review: ‘A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions’ by John Dickson

January 25, 2015 in Book Reviews, Religion, Reviews by pacejmiller

spectator's guide

My dear Christian friend has been giving me religious-themed books as gifts for years, not so much as a tool to convert me but more as a friendly nudge in my ongoing spiritual journey. His latest present, decidedly in more neutral territory, is A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions by John Dickson, an Aussie Christian minister and religious historian who has written more than a dozen books.

Having read more pro-Christianity and anti-Christianity literature than most sane people, I found this book to be an excellent and insightful experience that achieves its central aim — to educate people about the world’s five major religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism (even though Sikhism, as I shockingly discovered, is actually more widely practiced than Judaism).

It would be natural, of course, to be sceptical of a Christian writer setting out to “introduce” readers to a book about four other religions, though unlike the furore sparked by Reza Aslan’s Zealot a couple of years ago, Dickson’s book barely caused a ripple when it was first released in 2004. Like Aslan, however, Dickson is a bonda fide historian with the credentials to back it up (he’s an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University), AND he tries really really hard to maintain a neutral stance in this book. If anything, he could be criticised as too cautious in his approach, as he sometimes goes overboard in defending himself to forthcoming doubters about his Christian background.

On the whole, however, Dickson does an enviable job of laying out the history and fundamental beliefs of the five major religions with fairness and respect. He starts with Hinduism because it’s the oldest, and ends the youngest of the five, Islam, which he spends perhaps a little too much time in defending — though to be fair, the defense needs to be placed in context because the book was written in the aftermath of 9/11.

The ideas and terms, especially those in Buddhism, are sometimes difficult to grasp, though for the most part they are described as simply as possible. The book is, after all, merely an “introduction” (it’s only about 240 pages),  so those interested in any particular religion are encouraged to conduct further research.  Most helpful is the summary section at the end of each chapter, where Dickson would boil everything about the religion down to a couple of pages of bullet points. A great cheat sheet for anyone doing an exam on the religions.

Another strength of the book is that it is not, at least on its face, proselytizing any religion in particular. Each religion is given roughly equal treatment, with the focus being on what the converts believe about their religion as opposed to whether the religion itself stands up to historical scrutiny. The message Dickson sends in the book, as summarised in a rather unnecessary final chapter, is that religions are not “all the same,” and that each religion deserves to be respected on its own merits. For me personally, I found the tone of the final chapter a little condescending, as though readers can’t make up their own minds from reading the rest of the book, but perhaps it might strike a chord with some of the agnostics out there.

The subtle way Dickson promotes Christianity in this book is by making readers read between the lines (and look, it wouldn’t be fair for a Christian minister to not even try, even if it’s subconsciously). By contrasting the religions against each other, Dickson highlights the unique nature of Christianity in that it is the religion with the most “witnesses” and the most  down-to-earth foundation, and that the Bible is probably the “reliable” religious text of the big five religions. When pitted against Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism look airy-fairy, Judaism seems archaic, and Islam is just all based on the words of a single man. There are lots of fundamental questions about all religions, but when framed in this way, Christianity appears to have the least. It doesn’t necessarily make Christianity a “truer” religion, but the book at least sows a couple seeds in that field.

I don’t want to suggest that this book is not balanced because it is — and much more so than I had anticipated. I’d recommend it to anyone with an open mind about religion and wanting to learn about the basics of the big five. It hasn’t turned me into a religious expert, but at least I now have a better grasp of general knowledge stuff like the differences in the central beliefs of Hindus and Buddhists and the ideological split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.


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