Monday, April 02, 2012

Please Mr. Hollywood Producer, Make This Movie For Me


There are a handful of books I remember reading in my youth, ones that really stuck with me such that thinking about them - or rereading them - puts me back in a very specific time and place in my life. One such book was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which I read when I was around 13 years old and remains my all time favorite book ever to this very day.

But a close second is the classic Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. The edition pictured above is the one that I read when I was young, and I still own this book today. The pages are yellowed and the cover is so worn it's cloth-soft. There are more recent editions with way cooler covers, but I prefer my copy. The other day, at the library, I found Johnny Tremain on CD which I checked out to listen to in 10 minute bursts in the car as I zipped here and there during the week. But these snippets were too much of a tease, so I broke out the book and reread it again.

And again, I was completely captivated by the story of Johnny and his experience during the early days of the Revolutionary War. If you haven't read this book, do so. You won't be sorry.

Disney made a movie. It was horrible. Well, maybe not horrible for the time - 1957. But now, it's excruciating to watch a single second of it. The acting is amateurish, the dialogue just silly. The colors are over-bright and over-saturated. The costumes are laughably inaccurate (check out Johnny's Davy Crockett fringe jacket). The depiction of mid-1770s Boston is too clean and sanitized. And the Disney-fied version holds none of the dark, haunting undertones of the book. It's like what would result if Disney created an amusement park ride called The Wonderful World of Revolution!

Which leads me to beg anyone who reads this and who has any connection with the Hollywood Movie Making Machine (6 degrees of separation put into action), please, please, please - this movie is begging for a remake. It needs the Last of the Mohicans or The Patriot treatment. It needs to be made real, with dirt and blood and brooding.

Mostly, it needs a fantastic actor to play Johnny Tremain. Because Johnny (along with Ponyboy Curtis) is the first fictional character who ever haunted me for days and weeks after I'd finished his story.

Heck, years and decades later, I think about Johnny Tremain. I remember when I first read this book oh so many years ago, the song Into the Night by Benny Mardones was in rotation on the AM radio dial. To this day, when I hear this song, I think of Johnny Tremain. Not that the song or lyrics have anything at all to do with a young man in the time of the American Revolution. Just that the book made such an impression on me at the time, other aspects of my life latched on and became permanently connected with the experience.

That's one powerful character.

(Side note, and nothing to do with Johnny Tremain, but the song My Eyes Adored You by Frankie Valli reminds me always of Laura Ingalls Wilder because I was reading These Happy Golden Years when it was popular on the radio. Am I really weird?)

So I'm officially starting the petition. With all of the remakes and remakes of remakes out there, Hollywood is clearly hurting for ideas. Johnny Tremain is a fascinating story about an amazing time in our country's history. It contains tragedy and heartbreak, love and romance, war and violence, villains and heroes, oppression and victory.

No car chases.

But there are a couple of close calls with pitchfork-and-torch-bearing mobs chasing down Tory carriages that might appeal to that male ages 13-25 demographic.

It's a guaranteed blockbuster. I promise.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Davy, You Will Always Be My First


RIP Davy Jones.

You were my first ever crush. The first guy who made my knees melt.

When you sang I Want to Be Free, I believed you were singing to me.

Oddly, you became a teen heartthrob the year before I was born, but I found you in afternoon Monkees reruns. You opened the door to the world of harmless, celebrity crushes.  Shaun Cassidy. Christopher Atkins. Rob Lowe. Boris Becker. So many others came after you.

But you were the first and the one I'll always remember.

You will be missed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Perfect Heroine


If I could be any fictional character on a televisions series, it would be Amy Abbott (Emily VanCamp) from the canceled family drama, Everwood.

To anyone who has ever watched the show, pointing out that Amy has Ephram Brown's (Gregory Smith) undying love and devotion would probably be enough explanation of why I'd love to be her.

But Amy Abbott is a great character in her own right. She's extremely smart but does stupid things. She's pretty and popular but still insecure and grounded. She's from a privileged background (father is a doctor, mother is the town's mayor) but isn't a spoiled, entitled shop-a-holic. She loves her older brother, Bright (Chris Pratt) but fights with him like real siblings do. She's a great friend without being too saintly. The girl makes mistakes, but she can admit when she was wrong and apologize sincerely.

For the four seasons that Everwood ran, Amy endured a lot of pain and drama - her first boyfriend languished in a coma for months after a car crash left him with a severe brain injury, she suffered from a bout of depression, skirted on the edge of the drug scene while dating a bad-boy, discovered that the love of her life had fathered a child with another woman, watched her mother battle cancer - yet Amy never came off as pitiful or martyr-like. And when the show ended and Amy earned her (presumably) happy-ever-after, the satisfaction of a story well told was profound.

The writers of Everwood did a great job creating a well-rounded heroine in Amy Abbott. She's a great model for how to create a flawed character who is likable and realistic.

And I'd kill for her wardrobe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire


I didn't watch Game of Thrones when it aired on HBO. To be honest, I'd never heard of this book, nor of the uber-successful fantasy series by George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. On the whole, I'm not a huge fantasy reader. Other than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I can't think of any other fantasy series I've ever read in its entirety. Well, except Harry Potter. Does that count as fantasy?

Anyway, it came to pass in mid July that my children were going to the movies, specifically to see a show that I had no desire whatsoever to watch, and I found myself needing to kill two hours before I had to pick them up at the theater at the mall. I took a tour of Target where I spontaneously picked up a copy of Game of Thrones. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I headed to Portillo's and treated myself to a chocolate cake shake (okay, it was my birthday, so I felt justified) and cracked open the giant brick of a book.

And now I'm totally hooked. What a fantastic story.

Mostly, I'm in awe of what an amazing writer George R.R. Martin is. His ability to pace such an astoundingly long and epic story with a cast of hundreds is an inspiration. Every single chapter - which is told from the point of view of a different, key character - moves the story forward by leaps but never feels rushed. Specifically, Martin has some preternatural gift of knowing which POV character to use to make the narrative edge-of-your-seat fascinating, and at the end of each chapter, I'm turning pages like crazy wanting to know what happens to that particular person next. But by then, he's already turned my attention to someone else and the process is repeated.

Oddly, as well paced as this series is and as much as I'm always wanting to read more, even into the wee hours, it is taking me FOREVER to get through these books. Seriously, it took me a full month to read Game of Thrones. And that was with reading at least some of the book every single day and buying a smaller, mass paperback copy to take with me on my beach vacation. I picked up the next title, Clash of Kings, immediately upon finishing GoT and have been working on it diligently, yet I'm only about half way through the book.

Part of this slow reading is because the books are long. I'm talking close to 1,000 pages each. And they are dense, with so much information you can't afford to skim. Too much happens in too short of a span of pages. Not that I'm even tempted to skim - the story is great and completely engrossing. Perhaps Martin's descriptions of castles and dark forests get a bit windy, but there aren't too many paragraphs I haven't read every word of.

I'm now wanting very much to see the HBO interpretation. We don't have HBO, and I have no desire to pay for HBO just so I can have access to 10 hours of its programming. It doesn't appear HBO has any intention of putting GoT on DVD any time soon, so I guess I'm out of luck. I'm just going to have to wait.

Then again, it's going to take me a year to read all the books, so it's not like I don't have a way to kill the time until then.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In The Dark


We've just spent the past 48 hours without electricity after a powerful storm rolled through our area on Tuesday evening and knocked down trees, branches and power lines.

The first 24 hours in the dark are always kind of fun. We dig out our No Electricity Box that contains candles, flashlights, oil for our old oil lamp and a Coleman camping lantern. The kids light candles all over the house and my husband and I fret about someone starting a fire. It's like camping out, and we joke about how hard it would have been to live 150 years ago. We wonder how we would have spent the time and marvel that people functioned as well as they did. I always marvel at the fact that it's only around 150 years we've been living with better lighting in our homes.

The kids wonder what to do and think it's a great boon to dig out the board games for entertainment. They actually read real dead tree books and interact with each other face to face instead of via text. And when things get really boring, they - gasp! - head outside to take a walk or play a game of basketball. Both my husband and I think perhaps it would be a good thing for the electricity to go down a few times a month.

The second 24 hours aren't so much fun. The storm hit just as I was in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, so I had a dishwasher full of dirty dishes. I also hadn't yet run the garbage disposal which meant one of my sinks wouldn't drain well and I worried about odor.

Also, after two days, the laundry had begun to pile up. My daughter and I headed to the laundro-mat this morning. I have to say, there is something nice about investing two solid hours to get ALL of the laundry clean, dried, folded and sorted rather than the days-long process of doing one load at a time. Maybe not as convenient, but now I don't have to worry if we'll run out of clean towels until at least the end of the weekend.

Then there is the problem with charging. Cell phones. iPods. iPads. We have charging units that work off a running car engine, but you can only drive around so much. For years now my husband has been saying we need to get rid of our land line phone since we all have cells. But it's times like this when I feel vindicated for pushing back - once all the cell phone batteries run out, we're completely incommunicado. 

Not so cool was emptying out my fridge and freezer. I didn't bother trying to salvage any of it save some condiments, potatoes, onions and a bit of chicken that had remained frozen. I hauled six full garbage bags to the bin and felt tremendous levels of guilt for all of the bottles and plastics I failed to recycle. Without a working garbage disposal, there was no way to properly empty and rinse out the bottles to save them, so I threw things out whole. I hope future generations will forgive me.

As time consuming (and expensive!) as it was to purge the fridge, it's amazing how nice it is to start from scratch with an empty and clean unit. I've made my husband vow that we will not buy anything to put into it that we don't plan to use within a day or two because I'm not going to clutter it up again with half a dozen half-empty bottles of BBQ sauce or 13 varieties of salad dressing and ice cream sundae toppings. Gone, also, are those "experiments" we always manage to pick up at Trader Joe's or other high-end grocery stores, things that sound good on the label but either aren't a big hit or don't get used often enough such that three years later we still have a 3/4-full jar of roasted red pepper and artichoke tapinade buried in the darkest corners. Either we love it, we eat it all up or we hated it and out it goes immediately.

While I was the first one doing the happy dance when ComEd finally managed to give us back the power, I have to say that living in the dark has some real benefits. Last night, after eating dinner out (couldn't cook!), the entire family sat down and played a game together. We had a lot of fun, and my husband and I remembered how we'd always planned to have a family game night once or twice a month. Usually, we all go our own ways to plug ourselves into whatever electronic entertainment we've chosen for the evening, and no one wants to be bothered to spend time laughing and talking together.

Makes me wonder if the decline in western culture and the bonds of family might not be the fault of the light bulb. Way to go, Mr. Edison.

BTW, if you are looking for a fun, family game, I recommend Apples to Apples. While the Family Edition is great for older kids (and my kids do fall in the right age group), I actually thought the Junior Edition was more fun. But it's a great game that provokes lots of laughs.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fledgling Writer

My daughter likes to write. She's got a dozen or so notebooks with the beginnings and bits of stories. She reads like a fiend, and her work reflects her reading passions.

She's run into the same problems all writers do, that dreaded "what now?" wall. A general idea will come to her, she'll spend some time on character names and know the bare bones premise of what she wants to happen. But the details will elude her. She manages a scene or two and then finds herself at a complete standstill, story-wise. She's not at the no plot, no problem level, she's more at the no plot, no idea stage.

I've suggested some of my favorite strategies for getting un-stuck. Things like playing the what-if game, or pulling out a blank piece of paper and creating a brainstorming web. I explained to her the difference between pantsers and outliners and that while I have no doubt many amazing stories come out of the I don't know what happens until it happens approach, I personally need at least a rudimentary road map of where I want my story to go. She agreed and created note pages for "Beginning", "Middle" and "End". Problem is, she has no idea what to put on any of these pristine pages. She's stumped. Beyond knowing that she wants to introduce her characters and have them end up happily ever after in some fashion, there is a vast, empty void between those two points. Welcome to the wonderful world of writing.

I've also described to her my idea-generating process. How I usually start with a character that pops up uninvited into my head and maybe a vague idea for a story that would fit that particular person's state in life. Or how the germ of a story idea will come out of a news article I've recently read. Or how I'll hear a song on the radio and it will evoke some specific emotion that I feel compelled to try to capture in story-form. I never have problems with ideas. In fact, my problem lies in too many idea.

But I do get what it's like to struggle with plot. And unfortunately, I don't have any magic bullet solutions to give her. She's got to work her way through the process. Figure out what method does it for her. I told her to go back to some of her most favorite stories and study them, break them down and find the bone structure beneath the prose. What caused character A to do this or character B to do that? Who wants what and why can't he/she get it/have it? So what do they do about it? And what happens then? Plotting is both so very simple and incredibly difficult at the same time. Easy to recognize, hard to replicate.

At the very least, my daughter has a giant leg up on me writing-wise - she's only 13 and can spend the next few years burning away the schlock so that by the time she's ready to select a career and perhaps choose to follow writing, she'll be that much farther down the path. I didn't take this crazy hobby seriously until I was well past 30, and I still have plenty of schlock on the woodpile. I hope she sticks with it. I think she has talent.

And I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, April 14, 2011