Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Mondays - Inkheart

What might happened if reading a book out loud brought its characters to life? Would it be incredibly cool, or would disaster ensue?

Me? I'm going with the incredibly cool option. My apartment literally hemorrhages books and that's before accounting for the bulging boxes in my closet. If you were to ask me what resonates most about my favorite stories (all 200 or so of them) regardless of venue (movie, book, tall tale), I'd immediately say the characters. Strong characterization makes or breaks any story. So the idea of a silvertongue who can bring characters to literal life simply by reading out loud from a book is really just delicious.

Imagine having tea with Elizabeth Bennett. Or riding on Aslan's back. Or anything regarding Aragon (much of which probably couldn't be printed here.) Possibilities abound. But what if instead of Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennett shrieked to life? Or if the White Witch came off the page sans Aslan? What would happen if, in lieu of Aragon, orcs and goblins came to life instead?

This is the story of Inkheart. Things get a little meta if you look too closely. Inkheart the movie about a book called Inkheart that comes to life, is adapted from Inkheart the book by German writer Cornelia Funke about a book called Inkheart that comes to life. Follow? Yeah, took me a minute too.

In Inkheart the movie, Mo Folchart (Brendan Fraser) is a book doctor specializing in antique tomes. He is also Silvertongue, a man able to read characters from books to life. Mo first learns of this double-edged talent when while reading to his baby daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett), several unsavory characters from the novel Inkheart come into his living room from out of the book - while his wife Ressa (Sienna Guillroy) is sucked into it.

Twelve years later, Mo travels Europe repairing antique books, always searching for another copy of Inkheart (his was stolen by the bad guys) that he might read Reesa back into the real world. He and the unsuspecting and uninformed Meggie are pursued by Capricorn (Andy Serkis, formerly Gollum from LOTR) the big bad that emerged from Inkheart all those years ago. Capricorn wants Mo to read his dark master to life so they might take over this world. This dark master is called The Shadow and if your mind immediately went to "only The Shadow knows" then you and I are in the same slightly off-kilter place.

As our story begins, Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) a fire juggler who also came out of the book that fateful night, has located Mo. Dustfinger longs for Mo to read him back into the book and will do anything - and betray anyone - to make that happen.

And we're off to the races.

Inkheart the movie isn't perfect. There are several plot holes. Why did Mo never think to visit the book's author until Meggie mentions it? And if someone has to go into the book when someone else comes out, who exactly has been sucked into what book as Capricorn has had another imperfect silvertongue reading his fiends to life for years?

The movie also get a little cartoonish in execution. Serkis enjoys more than one scenery chewing turn, though he is still incredibly effective with the creepy when he really wants to be. The story cribs here and there from Tolkein and Lewis, not to mention the overt allusions to Baum's Wizard of Oz that were wholly incorporated into the plot. But imitation...flattery...etc. Still, some aspects of the film were at times just too convenient or conventional.

And I don't care one bit. I had a blast with this movie. My total delight in the concept carried me straight into a willing suspension of disbelief that extended to any cinematic hiccups.

I simply gorged on the sumptuous scenery of the Italy with its mountains and riviera. Then there was the cast; only a Harry Potter film could envision a better roster. Helen Mirren puts her classy two cents in as eccentric Aunt Elinor whose (but of course) lakeside Italian villa is filled with priceless books she treasures as old friends. The delectable Jim Broadbent adds his indubitable charm to the proceedings as the eccentric author of Inkheart (the book inside the movie, not the author of the actual source material. Srsly, a flow chart would have been a good idea here), though he does take a little too long to figure out that his all too real characters are three dimensions of dangerous. But his glee at seeing his creation viscerally brought to life is enchanting. What a total trip that would be for any writer.

Paul Bettany is, as always, an acting treasure. He gives life and layers to Dustfinger that far outstretch the limits of the film. (In another, less confusing, meta moment, Bettany's wife, actress Jennifer Connelly, shows up in brief flashbacks as Dustfinger's mate.)

My favorite moment, though, was in the bowels of Capricorn's castle, when Mo and Meggie are lead past all the creatures Capricorn's imitation silvertongue has read to flawed life. Flying monkeys, a unicorn, the minotaur...a zoo full of mythical creatures that made me feel like I was among old, somewhat psychotic, friends.

The big finale fully delivers even with its blatant homage to Sauron and the LOTR series. I was significantly involved to yell at the screen for Meggie to stop gaping and get on with the reading already! And the HEA feels well earned by those characters who get to experience it.

If reading is fundamental, then imagination is quite simply essential. Books put the imagination to flight and this is amply evident in Inkheart a story where imagination quite simply changed the world.

Inkheart rated PG for fantasy adventure action, some scary moments, and brief language, something that never appears on this blog.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Weekend Tidings

During the early afternoon drive-by drop off of food for dinner with my grandfather last Sunday.

DD: Is that your car at the curb?

K: Yeah. You saw it last time.

DD: It's a station wagon.

K (confusedly): What?

DD (patiently): It's a station wagon.

K (looking over my shoulder): It's a small SUV.

DD (nodding firmly): A station wagon.

K (understanding): Yeah Dad-dad, it's a station wagon. A Japanese station wagon.

Later that night over cheeseburgers (that I made):

DD: Why'd you want to buy a station wagon?

K (resigned to it): I like it.

DD: Yeah, but why do you need it? Or is it just because your sister has one?

K (smiling a little wickedly): Little bit. I drove hers when I was out there in June. I really liked it. I wasn't looking for one specifically. I happened to find one I liked, the price worked, and voila.

DD: But whatd'ya need a station wagon for?

K (after a beat): I'm compensating for my lack of children. It's a crutch, I know. I look in the rear-view mirror and imagine all the children I'm never going to have buckled in the back seats. I know! I'll strap the cats in back there as placeholders for all the kids I don't ever want to have.

DD (laughing): Yeah. OK.

K: Eat your burger.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie Mondays: John Hughes

I was saddened to learn of the death of director John Hughes. Since his passing a few weeks ago, I've read a number of obits filled with first-hand accounts of how Hughes impacted lives, both personally and professionally. But my Pavlovian association to any mention of John Hughes is an immediate regress to the holy cinematic quintet of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Some Kind of Wonderful.

For me, to remember John Hughes is to remember not so much the direct impact of his films but more how my life revolved around them at the time. The things I did - with able assists from friends and my sister - during them or because of them still resonate as some of the better moments of adolescence. My eulogy for John Hughes, therefore is to recall some of those moments in association to the Hughes movie that inspired them.

1. Sixteen Candles: Oh, how much did we desperately want Michael Schoefflling to show up on our sixteenth birthdays and whisk us away?! Didn't happen. Shocking, I know. The first of many teenage disappointments I learned to live with. As usual, it's the quotes that stay with me such as "What's happening hot stuff?", "Automobile?" and "Lake. Big lake", and so many more.

I think the scene where Joan Cusack is wearing a brace (was it mouth gear or a body brace? I can't remember) and attempting to drink from a water fountain is a snapshot example of Hughes' uncanny ability to show teenage dilemma. It's a small but brilliant moment of an awkward teen already singled out for looking different, alone, mostly friendless, desperately trying to appear casual while talking herself through the difficult-for-her experience of drinking from a water fountain. Which of us has never similarly bluffed our way through a socially awkward teen experience? Hell, that's me just getting out of the car and into the office building some mornings. It's OK, Krum. Just in the door and down the hall, there's a nice cold Coke waiting for you. You can get through this morning, really. Here it's pathos and humor beautifully and heart-tweakingly sewn together, a quintessential John Hughes trait.

2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off: Reportedly, music was always an important component for Hughes in crafting his movies. It's fitting then that my biggest association with this movie is the memory of sitting in the top row at the Millburn Theater with MD so we could get up and dance to Twist and Shout. For me, there is no Danke Schoen without Ferris Bueller (sorry Wayne Newton) and I will forever associate the tune Oh Yeah with Jeffrey Jones' long denouement down the school bus aisle.

Though speech writing for Nixon is only one of his many impressive accomplishments, I will always associate Ben Stein with the immortal, deadpan delivery of "Anyone? Anyone?" and "Bueller? Bueller?". Like Star Wars quotes (they really do apply to nearly every situation in life, but that's another post) I find myself rolling this one out almost without conscious decision into appropriate moments regardless of professional or personally situation.

It's sad, I know, but I still do Cameron's version of "swing, batta, batta, batta" when I'm at a baseball game, though I don't limit it to baseball because that would be boring. This movie was fun, a joyous dream of our heartfelt desire to blow off school and have an adventure. As Ferris says, Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

3. The Breakfast Club: I think of all his films, this is the one that is remembered as Hughes' best, unequivocally the best high school film ever. A youth pastor friend of mine maintains that this is the best example of what it's like to be a teenager. For years he'd tell his staff to watch it as sort of a training video for youth work, though I'm sure it'll never be found in the church cannon.

My then best friend and I would write quotes from The Breakfast Club on torn scraps of paper, furtively passing them back and forth in what I think was French class. While scanning the IMDB page, I was struck at once at how many Breakfast Club lines were still in my lexicon.

So it's sorta social, demented and sad, but social.
Answer the question, Claire.
Being bad feels pretty good, huh?
You mess with the bull, you get the horns.

And while nearly everyone quotes that last great voice-over kiss off as the ultimate summation for this film, I prefer this one: We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all.

4. Pretty in Pink: I have a sharp memory of bitching a teenager's angst long and too loud with my best friend over dinner in a Secaucus strip mall, feeling so grown up, before going to see Pretty in Pink - again. We slipped into the back of the theatre to watch the closing scenes of the showing before ours because we just couldn't get enough of that final romantic embrace. Also? That ridiculous tux Blane is wearing to the prom? Twenty years later, it's still ugly.

That same best friend and I heartily wished we could make clothes as awesome as Andie's prom dress. We thought Annie Potts rocked and loved watching Ducky embody Otis Redding. I've heard tell that Jon Cryer improved the immortal line "Blane? That's the name of a major appliance! That's not a name!"

We loved the music, we adored the Romeo and Juliet angst, we thought James Spader's girlfriend was a t
otal skank, and we wanted a best friend like Ducky who sticks to his Duckman shoes even at the prom. And to this day, I can't see a Carmengia and not immediately flash onto Pretty in Pink. Demented and sad, but sorta social.

5. Some Kind of Wonderful: OK - I'm including this one for my sister. I've never been gung-ho about SKOW, but she loves it unconditionally. We used to passionately argue whether Some Kind of Wonderful was better than Pretty in Pink and, more importantly, whether Andrew McCarthy was cuter that Eric Stolz. I like the parts that don't have anything to do with the girls, the detention scenes and anything involving Duncan and his delinquents is always good for a laugh. I guess my penchant for the bad boys was broiling even then. And Hardy? (Good grief, where did Hughes get these names? The Preppy Handbook?) Hardy's final comeuppance is a marvel of cathartic revenge.

I'll confess, like any girl with a pulse at that time, I swooned over the closing lines: You look good wearing my future. But I didn't find Amanda Jones particularly worthy of all the adoration and I wasn't as charmed w
ith tough girl/smart ass Watts as I gather I was supposed to be. And never, not even then, not for one moment, could I understand unloading a college fund on diamond earrings and the perfect date for a girl who barely gives you the time of day. You do NOT spend that kind of money on a girl - especially not when you're seventeen. At least use it to pay for art school! Jackass.

Once, all of this and more was incredibly important to me. Now, it's a fond footnote from a tumultuous period, one it's good to reflect on and remember, but boy howdy, not to return to evah again. It's sad that it took a good man's death to remind me of how very much I like and once passionately loved John Hughes' best films.

RIP John Hughes, you neo maxi zoom dweebie.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

There's a Reason I'm This Way

My sister sent me an e-mail today that included a PowerPoint slide show attachment. The slide show featured really adorable photos of animals. mammals, and even one or two marsupials including, among others, dogs, kittens, cats, dolphins, squirrels, otters (I think), and a kangaroo. Yes, a kangaroo and yes, it was cute, which is a lot coming from me because I rarely do cute. Attempt to resist the automatic lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! association.

The attachment also included various positive reinforcement statement revolve around a general wish for God to bless friends and loved ones. And it had the standard accompanying message that should I forward this e-mail to everyone I've ever met in the whole of my lifetime, puppies and blue jays would dance around me with joy, riches would be bestowed, men would clamor for my attentions (like they don't do that already?) and tonight, at 11:23, someone will call me with something I want to hear, not to be too ambiguous about it.

What. Evah.

Okay, I admit, I did enjoy the utterly adorable photos of the furry cuties.

Then I arrived at the punchline. "Angles exist. They just don't always have wings. We call them friends." Aw. And, somehow, yech at the same time. Just a bit too saccharine for me, however welcome the core sentiment. But the typo amuses me, especially in the midst of this involved PowerPoint slide show. Someone invested a lot of effort here only to have the ha ha mistake be the part that resonates most.

I sent a reply to my sister with tongue firmly planted in cheek:

Me: Thx for this. I didn't know that angles had wings too.

My sister: You are welcome. Figured you could use a smile.

The whoosh from my point fleeing, nay, hurtling straight over her head was strong enough to reach all the way from her office in Phoenix to mine in Jersey and rifle my hair. Now that's talent.

See? There's a reason why I am this way. And if anyone ever figures it out, I trust they'll be sure to let me know. I'm betting on genetics playing a part in it, particularly those that come from the side of the family that begins with "P" and ends with "olish", but you never know.

I went ahead and forwarded the e-mail to a few friends with the same addendum, that I didn't know that angles could have wings. One friend, who is in the midst of pursuing her English degree in creative writing, wondered if I realized I'd said angles and not angels (quick on the uptake there darling, as always) and my editor friend KB wrote back with a question, my response to which kind of sums everything up nicely.

KB: Are these right angles, acute angles, or obtuse angles? It's hard to tell with all the fur.

Me: Based on the responses I've been getting, I gotta go with obtuse.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Birthday Greetings Family Style

On the phone with my grandfather late in the evening on my birthday.
: Hi Dad-da

DD: Hey! How ya doin'?

K: OK. How're you?


K: I'm calling so that you can wish me a happy birthday.

DD (laughing): Well Happy Birthday!

K (laughing): Thanks!

DD: Did you have a good day?

K: I did, though I had to work.

DD: You just getting home?

K: Yeah. We went to dinner and got steaks. Then to a free outdoor jazz concert in the town next door.

DD: Uh huh.

K: Yeah. There was a keyboardist, a bass player and drummer with a vocalist. They were actually quite good.

DD: This was at your office.

K: What? No.

DD: I thought you said you just got home from work.

K: No, I said we just got home. Mom and I. We went to dinner and then to a jazz concert.

DD: Oh. I see.

K: The concert was really good. A keyboardist, bass player, drummer, and a vocalist. They had some really interesting arrangements and rather clever transitions.

DD: Uh huh. They were Japanese?

K (confused): What?

DD: Didn't you say you went to a Japanese concert?

K: I said it was jazz. A jazz concert.

DD: Oh! Jazz. I thought you'd said Japanese.

K: No. They were actually quite good. Mostly a mix of Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, that sort of stuff. And the vocalist sang a few pieces her husband had written in the same vein and they were quite lovely.

DD: Did she sing in Japanese?

K (with exaggerated patience): No, Dad-dad. It was jazz.

DD: It wasn't a Japanese jazz concert?

K: No.

DD: Okay.

K: It was part of an outdoor summer concert thing that the next town over presents each summer. Right near the hospital Mom was in, actually.

DD: Doesn't it bother the patients?

K: What?

DD: The patients. I'd think the music would bother them.

K: No - what? - it's - the park's a good 1/2 mile from the hospital.

DD: Oh. So it doesn't bother them?

K: I'd be surprised if they could even hear it. The half shell keeps the noise pretty enclosed. I mean, there's speakers so that the audience can hear the music, of course. But I think it's fairly well contained. (growing frustrated) I dunno! I'm not a sound engineer. I'd think the patients are more bothered by sirens than anything else.

DD: I bet it bothers them.

K (sighing resignedly): Well, I enjoyed it. I'd gone there last week to a Broadway review put on by a few choir friends of mine from church who are Broadway vets.

DD: Wow. That's nice.

K: Yeah. So I got a flyer that night, saw tonight's concert listed, and thought it'd be a nice way to round out my birthday.

D: And it was.

K: Yep. Full moon, nice breeze, good music, great night.

DD: Sounds good. And you understood the Japanese.

K (sighing wearily): Yes. Absolutely. I understood every word of Japanese.

DD (pausing to regroup): I thought you said it was jazz.

K: You've managed to convince me otherwise. Even though I was the one who was actually, you know, there.

DD: Did you drive your new car tonight?

K: My Honda?

DD: Isn't that what you have now?

K (warily): Yeah.

DD: Yeah.

K: Of course I drove it tonight. How else was I supposed to get there?

DD: Well, that talks in Japanese, right?

K: Absolutely. It greets me every morning when
I turn on the radio. Remember? It said Konichiwa when you were in it last month.

DD: It did?

K: Sure.

: Okay. You enjoyed the concert?

K: Very much. We got home about 20 minutes ago and now I'm waiting for Mom to get off the other phone so we can have cake.

DD: What kind of cake?

K: Chocolate truffle cake. And before you ask, no, it's not Japanese.

DD (laughing): No, huh?

K: Nope. OK, she's off. I'm gonna go eat cake.

DD: Well, Happy, Happy Birthday, Hon.

K (grinning): Thank you.

DD: And d
on't go over 75 on the highway on-ramps.

K: Never. I always keep it to 70 on on-ramps. 75's for the exit ramps.

DD (laughing): OK. Good.

K (laughing): Love you lots, Dad-dad. See you soon.

DD: Bye Hon.

K: Koinichiwa.