The Graveyard Book

It’s rare that I get excited about a new book coming out.  It’s even more rare that I get excited about a book from an author I’ve never read.  And yet, here I am, excited.

Perhaps it’s the season.  Anything called The Graveyard Book seems somehow seasonally appropriate.  Perhaps it has something to do with the synopsis of the book, which reads like a children’s book.  I love children’s books, and I can see countless libraries shelving this one in the YA section.  Perhaps it has to do with the promotion tour for the book, which involves reading a chapter of the book in cemeteries and graveyards around the country, which I find moving.  Perhaps it’s the fact that each reading is accessible for free on the author’s website, meaning you can hear the whole thing before you buy it.  All pretty awesome stuff.

But wait, there’s more.  The author, Neil Gaiman, is also the writer of one Stardust upon which a movie was based.  A movie with a wonderful cast that I happened to enjoy immensely.  Although I haven’t read the book, the movie was delightful.  The plot was fanciful enough that I know I will enjoy other books by the same author.  I may not know his writing style (yet), but from what I do know, I’m sure it will be a delight.

Mutt Williams and the search for Elvis.

George Lucas has gone on record recently as saying there will be no continuation of the Indiana Jones franchise without Harrison Ford.  Obviously, there’s no Indy without Dr. Jones, but I dislike the idea that we’ll have yet another ‘Indy’ movie only once Lucas comes up with another good idea.  Looking at the most recent ideas he’s come up with (and I’m talking about the “first” three Star Wars and the soon-to-be released Clone Wars animated mess), I’m not terribly impressed.  And additional talk about a future animated show and bringing the old moves to 3D are also not impressive.  They’re piddly ideas probably only good for squeezing out revenue.  Where’s that big sweeping vision (complete with hokeyness) Lucas used to be known for?

And what, exactly, is wrong with saying goodbye to one era of a franchise and moving on with the next?  What’s wrong with closing the book on Indy and saying hello to Mutt Williams, who’s young and cocky enough that his foolish mistakes would still be believable?  What’s wrong with embracing something new, invigorating, and fresh?  Let Indy have a role in a new series, yes, but allow a future great to grow.  That’s the story of life – the old die to make way for the young.

Dream Big.

Get Smart will premier in just a week.  Despite my childhood love of the series, I view the new movie with some trepidation.  I love the quirky voice of Maxwell Smart from the old shows, first known to me as the voice of Inspector Gadget.  I loved the way he was silly man who everyone knew was silly and yet they trusted and somehow he always came out on top.  And while I trust Steve Carell in this role, He can’t give me the first thing and I’m not sure the movie is really going to give me the second.  It seems from the previews that Agent 86 is down on his luck and must win out against the day for a Hollywood ending.  I’ve had enough of people’s inner strengths eventually being realized.  Whatever happened to the bumbly fool we knew was a fool and loved for his foolishness, not just his success?  To have others realize Max’s flaws as flaws seems to go against the grain of the original show, leaving all of us still hoping for the day we will succeed, rather than being loved for our own current foolishnesses.

Another part of the show that was always doomed to fail was the technology used in the series.  The explosive lollipop didn’t explode, the pinky-ring recorder malfunctioned, and the shoe phone was out of service.  But that didn’t stop the inventors from coming up with new foolishnesses, or the agents from trusting and trying them over and over.  The current movie should be more of the same (I hope), if a little more based in reality.  While many of the devices that will be used in the movie are exaggerated, I wonder if the ridiculousness of the gadgets and their malfunctions will still be an integral part of the plot.  I hope so.  Because if we’ve lost the ability to make fun of our obsession with newer and better stuff, we may be sucked down in the whirlpool.  I want the ability to see where we’re heading, the ability to poke a little fun at our own preoccupations with science, as well as the ability to think about the wonders the next ten years will bring.

Is that karma?

Sharon Stone is getting a bunch of flack for a comment she made regarding the earthquake in China recently.  She raised the question as to whether or not the earthquake might be punishment for the Chinese ‘not being nice’ to Tibet.  While it’s a little unclear exactly what she’s talking about (not being nice?  are we in preschool?), I still think there have been overreactions.  Ng See-Yuen of UME for example, is now talking of banning her movies from his theaters.  So let’s ban the legitimate work of countless actors and filmmakers for one person’s possibly disparaging remarks?  Especially when Stone’s comments were possibly meant to be forgiving?  You can decide for yourself – the interview clip is below.

While I myself take offense with the way Stone talks down to the interviewer, there’s a positive spin on the whole thing.  She’s trying to say ‘we should all learn from the Tibetans, and forgive, and unite to help each other when things get tough’.  She’s trying to say her initial reaction to the disaster was negative, but that she reconsidered and eventually felt sympathy for those in need.  She’s trying to continue to garner support for the cause of Tibet’s independence at a time with China’s disaster is pulling attention away from a cause she values.  We can all see and understand that, even while we wish she had done so in a more sympathetic fashion.

Finally friends, if such a disaster really were just punishment for civil rights abuses in Tibet, it wouldn’t have been centered in the western provinces.  It wouldn’t have been centered where a variety of minority groups without real political power would suffer.  It wouldn’t have destroyed a landscape that is beautiful and remote and arouses sympathy around the world.  Sichuan and the other provinces affected are not responsible for Tibet.  Just as I do not always agree with my own government, I continue to love and respect the Chinese people while not reserving the same respect for all the actions of their government.

I’m Mr. Yosuke Nakamura

What do a veterinary hospital, a policeman trying to be friendly, and the rooftops near Tokyo all have in common?  All of them were involved in returning one lost parrot, Yosuke, to his home.  Similar to Dory Finding Nemo, this particular parrot had learned its name and address through excessive repeating.  His family had actually be training him to talk to strangers and repeat the necessary information for the past two years, in the event he escaped his cage and was lost.  The plan worked successfully, and the smallest Mr. Nakamura is safely back at home in Nagareyama, near Tokyo, after an overnight stay at the veterinary hospital where he announced his name and address.

What was most curious about the situation was the parrot’s refusal to talk to the police, despite his training to speak to ‘anyone willing to help’.  The policeman who first found the bird on the roof of one of the Nakamura’s neighbors, says he tried to be friendly, but that the parrot was unresponsive.  Did the family have some sort of fear of the police?  Had the parrot been watching too many cop shows?  Was he waiting in vain for his lawyer to appear before questioning?  Or is it something more simple?  Did the family train the bird only to respond to people touching it, or only to those who might have had more familiarity with birds?  Could they have trained something into the parrot without realizing it?  An interesting question into the mind and education of birds.

Where’s my Prince Caspian?

I was startled while online today to discover that the ‘Books iRead’ program on Facebook also allows access to online copies of some books.  Currently, in fact, there are 16,306 titles available.  At the top of the list: C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  No doubt it’s all as a result of the upcoming movie, but still, the idea itself is intriguing.  Not only are places like Google Books and Project Gutenberg getting all the text they can get their hands on for all of us readers, but even social networking sites are promoting book browsing.  I love it!

Unfortunately, the Facebook copy from Harper Collins is incomplete – small sections of pages throughout the text are missing.  The Google Books copy is the same.  Perhaps they aren’t the same pages, and I could get a complete read by combining the two of them – I didn’t check.  Still, it makes me wonder.  Do they really think they’re going to sell another copy of the book by cutting pages 36-39?  Why not just make it all available?  Lewis is long since mouldering in his grave – no doubt that’s why they’re making the movies now, without need for his consent.

To close, Project Gutenberg contains only one work by Lewis: Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems.  This is due to the fact that all of his other works have not yet fallen into the public domain.  I doubt these poems are of great significance to modern times, as I’ve never heard of them.  However, it does make me wonder what we’re waiting for in regards to the rest of the his works.  I mean, I’m all for giving children their inheritance, but there comes a time at which the past can no longer claim rights over the future.

Back around, around again.

When it comes to the things we want, it seems we move in endless circles.  There’s always something – a promotion, a better place to live, higher achievements – worth striving for, that seems just out of reach.  Even our causes seem to move in general historical trends.  We all want freedom.  We all want to right to choose our own lives.  We all want the ability to support and give good things to our children. We see these same desires around the world: in Ireland, the Middle east, Eastern Europe, Burma, and elsewhere.  We see them reflected in the eyes of others, perhaps even those we do not share language or understanding with otherwise.

If you’re an oldie ( I will not comment on the potential ‘goodie’ aspect of your nature), or if you just like old movies, you may have seen one called Donovan’s Reef, starring the Duke.  I don’t really remember much of it, since I saw it under the coercion of superior parental force when I was young.  What I do remember most vividly is the haunting beauty of the Hawaiian children of Doc Dedham.  I can see them laying flowers in front of the Dedham house where their half-sister, Amelia (from Boston, where I am.  Freaky), is staying.  I can see the procession in which the eldest daughter sits regally, as daughter to an island princess.  I can see the windswept headland where the fate of the island’s royalty is described by a small plaque.  True, the movie is a romantic comedy in the true form of its time, but these are the moments that have stuck in my memory.  I am doubly unsure how much of this movie can be linked to fact.  Gasp-Hollywood portraying social issues realistically?  In the 60s?

That half-regret, half-beauty still exists in Hawaii.  What could have been in Hawaii, without the US?  What are we to do, besides apologizing for the past as Clinton and Congress did in 1993?  Do native Hawaiians still have some right to their own monarchy?  Some of them feel they do.  They want that freedom, that they feel has been stolen from them.  But what of those who feel most comfortable as a State of the United States?  What of their voices?  And would such a break, at this point, even be possible?  Perhaps this is a case of no right – or even good – answers.  But there is a sense of striving, of longing, that remains, perhaps more poignant for its impossibility.


Last night, for our second-ever movie night, Gina, Mike and I watched the David Lynch original Dune version. Afterwards, Mike told me it had been one of the biggest box-office flops of all time. I was shocked and amazed. A flop? Dune? The wonder of Frank Herbert’s genius? No way! Of course, when I first saw it myself, I remember it being boring. Perhaps disturbing as well, but primarily boring. The director ended up hating it, and the cult crowd that loves it now I am totally unsure of. Why had I even suggested we watch this thing?

And then I realized that even the first time I’d seen the thing, I’d probably already read the book. Or else, more paradoxically, when thinking back to the original boring movie, I’d confused both the book and miniseries versions with the older David Lynch version. And besides David Lynch being disturbing and weird, the movie isn’t really bad, for what it is. It’s just so much less than the book, rather than more. Of course, the miniseries had 5+ hours to say what the Lynch movie had to do in 3, so of course there had to be some skimpings on things like character development. But the book – the book had everything. Politics, religion, business, biology, environmentalism, history, poetry, arts, morals, drug addiction, relationships, you name it, it was there. There was even some economics, though its outlines were vague. Pretty much every modern problem was allegorized in the book, and done well, and somehow all compiled into a master work. War in Iraq and Muslim extremism? It’s in the book. Human impact on the environment? It’s in the book. American supremacy? It’s in the book. Religious indoctrination? It’s in the book. Political and corporates maneuvering? It’s in the book. That’s why I love the book – it has everything.

People always say all kinds of things about The Martian Chronicles, and how they’re really about life in the 50s, and what that environment was like. Dune was written in 1965, just 15 years later. Of course the world had changed significantly in those years, but Frank Herbert was writing something more than a distillation of his time. He was writing a classic, because his work has become timeless, as the cycles of humanity make his work still applicable today (whereas I have difficulty relating to most of Bradbury’s stories). Yay Frank Herbert!

The stories we want

Looking online for sparks of coolness, I was pleased to discover this little article documenting some of the ways the bigwigs are now approaching storytelling.  Basically the article gives outlines of how a variety of disciplines are trying to make thier storytelling more vibrant with today’s community.  How can you make things more welcoming for content sharers and those who ‘remix’ content without getting your copyright tromped on?  What constitutes a “legal” remix, and what threatens the copyright with a variety of content mooches?

As a blogger, I understand the annoyance even cold, hard companies might have with content mooching.  I get annoyed when spammers try to steal entire posts and use them to boost ad revenues on their own sites.   I mean, I put this stuff out there just to think ‘out loud’ and give vent to things – what about people who actually have gone through the process of legally protecting their work?  How do they feel about content mooching?  Not grand, I’m sure.

But still, a part of being in the culture of the time has to do with putting your work up for comment by the public.  Where, after all, did spoofs come from?  And this kind of revisionist use of existing material ultimately gives the original work renewed vigor.  Would I have the same admiration for the shadow play of Errol Flynn if I’d never seen Robin Hood: Men in Tights?  Probably not.

In the end, imitation is supposedly the highest form of flattery.   And if television is already capitalizing revenues through websites and memorabilia, if films are making the majority of their money from products related to the film (but not from theater revenues only), there needs to be some big adaptations taking place.  My advice – limited releases.  Make certain screen shots or film clips available, specifically for editing.  Release more than the usual film trailers – give us games, online interviews, outtakes, anything that might spark related interest in the film.  I first found out about the Baudelaire orphans from an online game, before I’d even heard of the books and long before there was even rumor of a movie.  I could even deal with ad content on various websites, along with interest-building content.  Just give me more.  Give me options.  Above all, give me creativity.

Speaking of creativity, this website about the conference itself is great.  I recommend the Web Awards section.

10,000 BC and the Tain.

I don’t really go to movies and I don’t really watch TV.  Not because I don’t like movies or television, but because they are simply not a requirement for my life.  Most of the time, I’m too busy with other things.  Sure, I have a Netflix subscription, but it’s the one-at-a-time subscription, and I actually have to make time to watch it when it comes.  Nevertheless, I am oddly drawn to the occasional cheesy movie.  For example, the most recent film I saw in the theater was The Spiderwick Chronicles.  I know, it’s sad.  What’s worse is I dragged Mike with me too.

Still, I do have some sense of rationality when it comes to movies.  For example, I thought 10,000 BC probably wouldn’t be the best movie.  What were they thinking, really?  It’s not funny – were they trying to make things along the lines of Troy and 300?  Let me explain – if we’d had any epic prehistoric battles, they probably would have been passed down orally somehow.  Where do you think myth comes from, anyway?

But, if filmmakers are looking for more epic battles to sell, I have the perfect suggestion: the Táin Bó Cúailnge.  Not only does it have the requisite battle scenes between a variety of posturing heroes, the landscape of Ireland is beautiful, majestic, and a great place to stage really bloody battles.  Plus, if you add in some of the pre-story stuff, there’s all the other parts necessary to a good movie – sex and marital jealousy, magic, revenge, mythical heroes, and ‘honor’.  Plus lots of weird Irish place-names, which makes even the worst actors sound kinda cool.   But then, I’m sure somebody will probably mess it up, even if they get the perfect script.  I mean, look what they did to Beowulf.

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