Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Judging a Film by Its Book Cover

I wonder if studios know how tough they make it for themselves when their reps give you a survey before you walk into a theater. As soon as I get one of those creamy, would-be soothing sheets, my senses go on alert. My skin draws into goosebumps. The hair on the my nape goes on end. It asks me my sex. A woman yammering behind me distracts me for a second and I check female (MISTAKENLY). It asks me my age. Range. Ever since I was 3 I've been thinking of my age as a precise crisp number, not a range! What's with the trick questions!?! Race. Of course. Hollywood bastards. That way they know which opinions to put in the throwaway pile. Well at least they put "Black/African-descent", and not "African-American" like some stupid forms.

[Imagine the indignity of a Nigerian or Kenyan, just visiting the country and deciding he wanted to check out a movie, only to have a form shoved in his face that tells him he's "African-American." Who pulled the switch on my passport? Or think of the Brit or Italian national for that matter (yes, there are Black Europeans! Even a few whose forebears went there voluntarily!!)? Or how's this for mindbending: you're an Indian from Uganda. What do you say then? Huh? Or how pray tell should Theresa Heinz-Kerry answer on such a form? Didin't think of that one now, did ya??? Silly surveys, trix are for kids.]

But even this little entreaty cannot thwart the coming of my hypercritical self. Like some angry green giant of a movie critic lurking in my subconscious. Mild mannered Bruce Banner that I am would normally be amused momentarily with ridiculously huge mustard yellow polarized glasses. Even the stubby little pencil that comes with the form hearkens back to simpler days when there was nothing one couldn't do with a pencil. No stray mark was indelible. No mistake permanent. Alas, such bliss was only momentary. A palliative, soothing the conscious self to relinquish its hold as monster beneath secured glasses to their perch whilst thumbing the top of his ballpoint like some terrible inky detonator. This friends, was my tenuous grip on reality as I sat down to see the long awaited "V for Vendetta".

For me, two books-made-film have been the standard bearers for said genre: "Lord of the Flies" (the original black and white version), and "Fahrenheit 451". One could argue "Grapes of Wrath" or "The Godfather", and I know the Frodo for President crowd is out there gnashing its teeth in anticipation of locking down on my throat, lithe and tender like a goose. Sorry, Charlie. Get in line behind the "Bridges of Madison County" fans. This is my inch, and I ain't givin' it. Okay. One exception. "High Fidelity". But only 'cause it's John Cusack.

Needless to say, this raises the bar damn high. And 9 times out of 10, even the best (adapted) movies, are mediocre in comparison to the novel. Perhaps even more so with a graphic novel, because unlike a text novel where one must completely imagine settings, and faces, and actions, a graphic novel lays all these out with precision that defies the sharpest camera lenses. Hell, why even make a graphic novel into a movie? Good question.

Well, having eagerly anticipated and now seen "V for Vendetta", I can say why the adaptation is worth the effort.

1) Living parable. Science fiction stories are our modern-day parables. It draws together magic and wonder to warn us of our very mundane human frailties. The story of V is about creating freedom in a society that out of fear has forsaken it in deference to "security". And this was written in the 80's??? Taken as is, the story in its original form is as timely as ever. Well worth a (re)read, even after seeing the movie. However, there is something quite jarring when one sees news footage of the day, OUR day, cut into this fictional cautionary tale. And such a skillfully executed update infuses the parable with new lifeblood. Making a powerful message even more potent by connecting to the accepted and turning it on its head.

2) Flesh, blood, and tears. I don't go in much for movies with a lot of crying. I'll admit it. It scares me. I don't like to cry, and I find the weepy tearjerkers totally manipulative, and I leave them feeling violated. That being said, the most powerful scene in the movie and graphic novel involves Evey Hammond (played by Natalie Portman, "the actress that defines our age" said one WAY too enthusiastic moviegoer walking out behind me when the movie ended) reading a letter she finds in her cell and sobbing and kissing it when she finishes it. These were tears of tremendous sadness and an eternity of pain, but also of defiant and unconquerable love. Her tears are painful, wrenching, triumphant, and joyful. And to have such a scene played by a tremendous actress like Portman (yes, MagnoliaFan walking out behind me was right, but he should have come to that conclusion after seeing "The Professional", as any TRUE Portman fan would have...hah!) is like having a chiropractic adjustment administered to your heart. A visceral moment on paper given bone, flesh, and tears on an IMAX screen no less. My eyes mist and my heart swells simply thinking about it.

3) The Boom Bip. A dark mysterious figure emerges from the shadows. In an elegant frenzy of motion the villain and his henchmen lay thwarted in broken messy piles. We all derive a satisfaction from seeing the truly wicked get their comeuppance. Better still when this vengeance is served in digital surround sound stereo. The snapping of long bones, the swift cuts of the blade, the resonant thud of boot heel to sternum, a triumphant symphony of justice being dealt. One can always imagine using the freeze-frame images a graphic novel provides. But the wonder and magic of the samurai is in that split second pause between his killing stroke and his victims collapse where you can study his face transformed by anger, fear, determination, and possible death. Swiftness of motion, or the illusion thereof, and the power and fury of the bone-crunching deathblow are what make any action comic fan yearn for his favorite books to be made into films. Besides, what's an homage to Guy Fawkes without the thunderous, seat-rumbling, Parliament-leveling fireworks?

Final verdict. Go see it. Then I strongly recommend reading it. Both experiences will change the way you look at your surroundings, the way you breath the air around you, the way you share your life with others (or begin to if you haven't yet started). I have my gripes, of course, having read the book first. And having heard the author's (Alan Moore) own infamous misgivings about the production I didn't want to let Hollywood off too easy. But even in its shortcomings, the filmmakers succeeded where so many others have failed, and attempted and succeeded at things that neither directors, actors, artists, nor writers have dared try. And it's about fucking time.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Dog Eat Dog - Followup

About a year ago I did some pretty exhaustive research on pet foods, their processing and how that effects what products one should choose for their pets. Since then, I've searched around and tried out a few, and here is a short list of some foods that your local pet suppliers or veterinarian may carry:

I had her on Natural Balance when she was a kitten (under a year; though they're always kittens to their daddys). Not too long after she turned a year old, my local PetCo started carrying Pet Promise, and at the sales person's recommendation (on natural/organic pet foods) I got some for 'Boo to give a try. Well, she's taken to it like a fly to honey, a wolf to bunny, and a golddigger to money. I've even munched a few pieces myself and found it oddly tasty (not nearly enough dried meat nuggets made for human consumption). Since I'd seen Castor & Pollux Organix, I'd wanted to give it a try, but being the most expensive of the three (~$18 for 6lbs) I figured I'd stick with the Pet Promise and DVP (both roughly six-dollars cheaper).

I've found all the products above at my local PetCo store. I'm sure any other well stocked pet shops would carry at least one or two of these as well. And of course, don't forget your local organic pet suppliers.

Friday, March 17, 2006

See V for Yourself

The following are a set of links I passed along to a friend of mine about the movie V for Vendetta released today, to convince her and her husband to join me in catching it on IMAX tomorrow night. Hope it works on them. Give 'em a look and/or listen and let them work on you!

V For Vendetta movie site:

More on Moore:

Not So Comics

Moore Interviews

V for Vendetta graphic novel

UnRule Britannia: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot

P.S. Here's my synopsis of my own reading, prior knowledge, and research on V as well as on Alan Moore (the orginal creator of V), his other works, and their adaptations:

V for Vendetta was originally a graphic novel by Allen Moore, famed for "From Hell" (an epic tracing his exhaustively researched history of Jack the Ripper and his links with the crown and the Masons), League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (two volumes of a Victorian-era superhero team action. Move over Ben Grimm and Mr. Fantastic. Here come Alan Quartermain, Dr. Jekyll, and Captain Nemo!), and The Watchmen (probably one of the earliest comics to call into question the superhero archetype and deconstruct the genre as we, then, knew it).

V for Vendetta is the story of a dystopian futuristic England (circa 1993-1997) ruled by a fascist regime inspired by England's Thatcher/Torrie(sp) administration of the time. V is a vigillante with a mysterious past, most likely associated with human subject experiments in the concentration camps established by the ruling regime during its rise to power. His aim is to, a la Guy Fawkes' infamous gunpowder plot ("Remember, remember, the 5th of November), to usurp the iron-clad rule of the Norsefire Party ("Strength through Purity. Purity through Faith.") and its shadowy Leader.

The story was outright blasphemy written then during the height of ThatcheReagan Conservativism and has powerful echoes today for the BlaireBush NeoReligious-Conservative cabal. The tagline of the film is "People Shouldn't Fear Their Governments. Governments Should Fear Their People!"

It's directed by the Wachovski brothers, and rightfully so, as one of the sub-plots of the story was most definitely the inspiration for the story of The Matrix and the character Morpheus, shadowy avenging abolitionist angel of the first film.

Alan Moore, as with the other films based on his work, angrily recused himself from the production process. Though I thought the Hughes brothers did a fantastic job with From Hell, the same couldn't be said for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, tagged "LXG" by the studio and DC Comics. [*NOTE: I have not yet seen LXG, despite my sister's endorsement of it. She's a picky movie-goer too, but she hadn't read the comics. Once I can put my anger aside at its inclusion of a "grown-up" Tom Sawyer, I'll drag myself to the video store to rent it. Until such time I shall remain the angry impotently fuming little man that I am.] But being that it's the Wachovski brothers, I'm banking on Moore's frustrations coming moreso from what had to be excluded in the interest of running time, as opposed to overzealous studio editing rendering the story and its message into milquetoast pap. I for one, am keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dear Senator Feingold...

I salute you for standing up for the rights of Americans and opposing the culture of fear being cultivated by our executive branch and your Republican colleagues in our Congress. I am tremendously disappointed in my own representatives and your other Democratic colleagues who could have made this brave stand with you but kept silent.

I have a quote from Benjamin Franklin on my refrigerator in honor of his 300th birthday:

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

I hope and pray that all serving the people in our government will emulate the courage, sense of duty, and honor of our service men and women - who are risking or have sacrificed life and limb overseas - before they squander our liberty and ultimately our safety.

God speed Mr. Senator.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Listening to...

Habeas Schmabeas. This American Life episode featuring Jack Hitt examining the suspension of one of the bedrock principles of our American judicial system, habeas corpus - writ requiring the government to explain why it is keeping an individual in its custody (habeas corpus - Latin. having the body).

Hitt interviews lawyers, professors, journalists, military officers and two former Guantanamo Bay detainees to explore what the suspension of 350-year old doctrine means for the prisoners, our soldiers, our democracy, and ourselves.

In the intro, Ira Glass mentions that since some 200+ Guantanamo detainees none have not been interviewed in any American publications or other media. Way to go, thislife.org!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Music Is Fundamental?

Check out the Phoenix article Pop Fundamentalism by Josh Kun. A fantastic read. Unfortunately my comment to the author/fellow-readers didn't keep its formatting so it came out as an illegible screed. So here's my comment with formatting:

[start comment]

I miss the days when religious or spiritually-driven songs spoke to power ("If you are a big tree, we are a small axe!", or "It's been a long, long time coming, but a change is gonna come. Oh yes it will."). Nowadays, with overt religiosity being the order of the day in circles of power, I hear someone outside the synagogue/mosque/pulpit invoking God's name, I check to make sure my wallet hasn't disappeared.

For my money, one of the best religious pop songs ever made was Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". Yeah, I said it! Check it out:

Now in darkness world stops turning, ashes where the bodies burning. No more War Pigs have the power, Hand of God has struck the hour. Day of judgement, God is calling, on their knees the war pigs crawling. Begging mercies for their sins, Satan, laughing, spreads his wings. Oh lord, yeah!

Who'd a thunk? The Right Reverend Ozzie nailed it! Of course this was before he developed the penchant for chewing heads of bats and pigeons. Nevertheless, "War Pigs" brings on the fire and brimstone a la Revelations, but points the flamethrowers at the true halls of power and the sentiments that fill them. And the lyrical gasoline burns as hot now as it did when they first wrote it.

Unfortunately, with Matisyahu and Madonna, they've taken on the soft targets (the consumeristic culture that butters their bread) and instead, fallen in lock-step or at least pander to those against whom their righteous pop fury should be unleashed.

Great article! You hit the nail on the head. When folks are so quick to point the fundamentalism finger at Islam, your article's an apt reminder that to see the mote in another's eye we must first remove the plank from our own. Thanks again.

[end comment]

Monday, March 06, 2006

iPod w/Linux: Woes and Triumphs

As a Linux user who only recently hopped onto the iPod bandwagon, I've come to see us (Linux users) as the red-headed-step-children of the iPod community. In no way let this sound like whining. I was not only fortunate enough to get an iPod, but a VIDEO iPod and for FREE!!! Thanks to my brother's extravagant Christmas-time generosity, I can count myself among the iPod/MP3-player generation 2-3 years sooner than I would have on my own coin. A wise man would quit while he's ahead, but no one's ever accused me of being wise before, so why start now?

In my haste to get started, I downloaded just about every tool Google scraped up for me to use with the new technical wonder. From JPodder to iPodderX to Juice to gtkPod to Banshee to amaroK. And that's only about half of them. Long story short, some were vapor-ware, some were duds, and some actually kinda worked.

After some to-ing and fro-ing I settled on the combination of gtkPod and amaroK for my basic iPodding needs - moving existing music (cd's, gnutella, and other sources that shall remain nameless) to my iPod.

gtkPod cleanly and quickly synced the local audio files it could find to my iPod. The only catch was that it only found about 3/4 of my total music collection. Still not sure why. There are also some niggling little quirks in the interface that I won't get into now, but that frustrate the usability purist in me.

amaroK provides a very clean and professional looking interface with a wide variety of tools and options for syncing and playing and managing local audio files. My biggest complaint is that the syncing process requires a great deal of babysitting which is a pain when you're trying to sync most of your 1000+ CD collection. I'm still working on getting the remainder synced over and it's been a little tiresome. If anyone out there has advice, give me a shout.

Now when my iPod crashed a while back after all the experimentation I mentioned earlier, my iTunesDB got corrupted in the process. I believe it might have been jPodder that I used to build a new iTunesDB and start the recovery. I'll have to look back to make sure, as I might have just recovered an uncorrupted backup file, but I somehow remember having none, and nearly falling back to my roommate's PC as a last resort for salvation. In any case, neither of the other two mentioned could resolve this problem for me: yet another drawback of being held at arms length it seems, by the rest of the iPodding community.

Finally, I come to the iPod's most recent triumph, the video podcast. At Christmas time, the word was "Linux user? Sucks to be you!!" Now, I've found a client that for me, works for watching vid-podcasts locally. PenguinTV is a pretty sweet Python-based video-blog/vid-pod client for Morgan Freeman...sike! I mean for Linux. Once I installed PyCurl via YaST (OpenSUSE on my laptop) the PenguinTV setup ran without a hitch. Actually, just one hitch. You had to be logged in as or 'su' to root for the install to finish (directory permissions issue). But once I got past that, I was able to grab my favorite web shows, TikiBarTV and the This or That! Gameshow (starring my elementary school chum Julie Atlas Muz), and watch them on my laptop in no time. Can't wait to get home and try out Happy Tree Friends!!! Sadly, no word yet from the developers on iPod integration (synchronization in particular).

As I find new stuff or as new releases of the products mentioned above change significantly and overcome any of the headaches I'm still having (sync management, ltms support, video podcasts, etc.), I'll keep you posted...right here! Also if you've found something that works for you, feel free to contribute it to the discussion.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Passing of the Sower

I'm extremely sad to report that on February 27th, Octavia Butler passed on due to a brain hemorrhage, secondary to a fall.

Octavia Butler was one of America's pre-eminant writers, a Nubella and Hugo Award winning science-fiction/fantasy writer, a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient (the only science-fiction author to receive the award thus far), a pioneer in her field as a woman an African-American and a lesbian, and she was and always will be my hero.

I had secretly reserved hope that I would meet her in my lifetime.

I first encountered her work when an undergraduate on a particularly distracted evening of study. Sitting opposite the science-fiction shelves at the now defunct Hilles Library the spine of one book caught my eye in particular. It included a picture of a woman's face that also seemed part bird, part fish, and part cheetah. Opening the book and flipping through, the word "Agu" caught my eye. I recognized it immediately as an Igbo (West African language) name. I read on and saw more Igbo names and, and being that part of my heritage is Igbo, I was hooked. It was the first sci-fi I'd ever read that I felt included me.

It turned out to be Octavia Butler's Wildseed. I'd been in love and inspired with her words ever since.

Though she's a self-described "former Baptist" I wish Ms. Butler all of God's blessings, because indeed her courage, her creativity, and her work has been a blessing to me. God speed, Ms. Butler. Perhaps we'll meet in the next life.