book review: dirk gently’s holistic detective agency – the interconnectedness of all kings

I love Douglas Adams’ work. So much so I have to prepare myself mentally before watching someone else’s interpretation of it. I have to do the whole “These people won’t make what is in your head and that’s okay. Appreciate it for what it is.” thing even before watching something that’s not too bad. But building new stuff using Adams’ work gets me extra squirrelly.

The Dirk Gently novels were my introduction to Douglas Adams and I don’t really know why I thought I’d be able to handle a Dirk Gently comic that wasn’t an adaptation. The Interconnectedness of All Kings by Chris Ryall & Tony Akins & Ilias Kyriazis is the Dirk Gently comic I picked up at the library and I did not enjoy it. There’s a wrong tone to the whole thing that’s trying to mimic Adams and failing. The jokes about assistant vs associate are lazy. Adding in a flock of young wannabe detectives doesn’t make the story better, but it forces what could be interior dry jokes into mugging for the camera flamboyant bullshit.

So yes, I shouldn’t have read this. On the plus side, it didn’t take up much of my life and validated my decision not to read that Eoin Colfer sequel to the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that came out a few years ago.

book review: dialogue

At some point I’m pretty sure I read Robert McKee’s Story. I imagine it was at a time when I still thought writing would be the thing I’d do (as opposed to whatever it is I do now). Last week while I was on our main floor desk I was faced with McKee’s 2016 book Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for Page, Stage, and Screen on our “Interesting Nonfiction” display and I took it home.

It’s fine. I enjoyed the breakdowns of dialogue in screenplays, scripts and prose. There was good stuff about the way scenes build through speech, and the construction that goes into building a satisfying scene. I was also reminded of Adaptation and how these forms can make crap as easily as they can make art.

movie review: cloud atlas

After reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas I would have said it was the perfect example of a book that couldn’t be filmed. Now, to prove me wrong, there’s a Cloud Atlas film by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer.

It’s really good. [SPOILERS AHEAD]

I mean, yes, when adapting a story that has 6 storylines and a unique structure (the book starts with a story from the 1850, tells half of each story which extends into a post-apocalyptic future and then goes back through time to finish each story) into film, it’s going to be changed. And the Wachowski’s are not making a subtle film here, so the changes are not going to err on the side of subtlety. The biggest change was intercutting all the stories together, so you bounce from Neo-Seoul to 1970s San Francisco to a Pacific voyage back to the 1930s composer all at once. And it worked. Each of the stories did have its own tone to it, but the reuse of actors in all these different roles made it feel like one movie.

Obviously, everything was less detailed than in the book. The conflicts within characters, obviously couldn’t come to the fore as much. If you love the book, this might bother you. I felt that most in the 1970s nuclear plant story and the 1930s composing story. If I hadn’t read the book I think I’d have been wondering where the depth to those storylines was. The movie had to pick one viewpoint character for the nuclear story, and chose wisely in sticking with Luisa Rey, but a lot of the intrigue in the book version of that story for me had been in the indecision about things. Similarly with the composing story we don’t have the sense of interiority that the book gave us.

But the simplicity of film worked so well in the two futuristic storylines. The story of the post-apocalyptic Valley people was done in excellent dialect and the interior parts of Zachry’s fear of the devil could be shown dramatically with the devil all around him. Visually, Neo-Seoul was great: the streets made of light for flying cars were awesome, and this was also where the best fight scenes were. I did kind of hate the facial prosthetics the white actors were wearing to look Korean. I had to think of them as something a bit more alien than Korean people to keep my cognitive dissonance down.

There were also a few very “movie” moments that I could have done without. Ending the film was obviously going to be difficult because of how it abandoned the novel’s structure. The Adam Ewing ending of “And now I am off to join the Abolitionists!” was such a Hollywood happy ending I had to check my copy of the book to see if that was wholly made up (it was not, but is expressed as a hope in a journal, not a dramatic fireside confrontation). The other big ending change was turning far-future Zachry into the person telling the whole story on some far planet. Which, again, was not subtle. And the 1970s “Don’t call me a wetback” line seemed gratuitous, though I guess it fit the kind of movie that era would produce.

But those quibbles are just that. I love stories that are cut up and told like this. Where you’re looking at the commonalities between stories and drawing connections in the process of watching. After the film was over last night one of the people in the theatre said “I have no idea what that was about but I think I liked it.” Nobody said anything similar when I was done watching Skyfall last week. Cloud Atlas demands something from the viewer that a lot of movies don’t, and I want more movies like it.

book review: the children of men

Disclosure: I loved the movie version of P.D. James’ The Children of Men and without having read the book made the assumption that they would be very similar. Because I am strangely naïve about movie adaptations I guess? I’d have thought I was a cynic in these matters by now, whatever. The book in this case is very different from the movie.

The best way to think of it is to consider the two stories to be parallel tales about the same world. In this world, there have been no babies born for decades. Humanity has inexplicably gone sterile. Here, the book and movie part ways.

In the book the protagonist Theo is in his fifties and is a history professor with no real students anymore since even the youngest people are over 25. The youngest people are known as Omegas and they terrify the aging populace, since they were brought up doted on and knowing they would be the final humans ever. Theo is the cousin to Xan, the despotic ruler of England. A bumbling bunch of fools ask him to talk to the ruler to make some sort of change. Against his better judgment, he does so.

The book is about that relationship between Theo and Xan, who are both not-young men. Theo has all this guilt from accidentally killing the daughter he and his ex-wife once had, which plays a big part. The bumbling fools are trying to be terrorists to get England changed, but they aren’t effective. There is talk about the Isle of Man, where the prisoners are exiled to, but the book doesn’t take us there. The climax in the book takes place in a woodshed near Wales. It’s very different.

I like the movie version better but I love the idea that both stories happened, with different participants and results. If more stories from the childless future intrigue you, the book is worth your time. If you mainly loved Children of Men for that amazing Steadicam shot, there’s not a lot for you in the book.

book review: seven sons

My friend Jamie did a paper on the different versions of this Chinese folk tale sometimes called Five Chinese Brothers, in which these identical brothers have superpowers that help them survive a town that’s bent on killing them. Seven Sons is an adaptation of the story set in the American old west in a California gold mining town.

In this version the seven brothers (who are nameless) live outside town with their mother and most people in town think there’s only one of them. When a couple of kids end up dead even though a brother tries to save them a mob forms and tries to take revenge, but their powers and that of their mother interfere.

Framing all of this is a story of a graffiti artist who escaped into a shop and is old this version of the story as “the real one.” And then the afterword goes into a nice explanation of the different versions of the folk tale. It’s all very layered and I was really impressed with the story. The art is this roughly inked style that feels like it could have come out of that time, but done with calligraphy brushes. I quite enjoyed it, especially with the priming of hearing about Jamie’s work doing this research.

book review: hicksville

Hicksville is a comic by Dylan Horrocks about comics and their creators in all their weird diversity. It’s amazeballs.

There are a lot of stories going on here, but they all circle around the fact that Leonard Batts has showed up in Hicksville, New Zealand to do research on Dick Burger, an international superhero comics magnate from the town. Nobody in the town wants to talk about Dick. And there’s Sam, a local comics creator (though everyone in Hicksville is a comics aficionado) who’s been fired from his last job for not being funny enough. There are more people too, including characters in everyone’s comics.

Huge chunks of story are told in minicomics by the characters involved (including Sam’s trip to LA where he’s given the opportunity to sell out), and there are scenes from the Captain Tomorrow comics, and there’s this crazy historical comic about New Zealand being pulled into the Southern hemisphere that dogs Leonard wherever he goes. In the end Leonard stumbles on THE GREATEST LIBRARY IN THE WORLD (emphasis mine).

The whole thing deals with comics as an art form, as a way of making a living, as movie-fodder, as fiercely debated local gossip. If you care at all about comics you should really really read this. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it.

book review: tale of sand

Tale of Sand is Ramon K. Perez’ interpretation of an unproduced script by Jim Henson. It takes place in a desert with a man in a small town being feted and then chased to a rock that looks like an eagle. It’s a surreal, near wordless chase scene, with intrusions of the script that forms its skeleton. My absolute favourite bit of the book is when the hero reads a fragment of screenplay that says he uses the key to the city as a walking stick, so he looks at it and does it. The intrusions of other characters into the chase (including the chaser, a tall dashing man with an eyepatch) has this whole fabulous feel to it. It’s a hard book to explain, but Perez draws it hella beautifully.