Monday, June 26, 2017

The Best Dickens You've Never Seen


I've been thrilled lately to find that my three youngest daughters actually enjoy watching Dickens with me, so I'm taking advantage of it whenever possible.  Over the last month or so we've done David Copperfield (BBC version with Daniel Radcliffe), Great Expectations (BBC version with Gillian Anderson), Oliver Twist (BBC version with Tom Hardy), and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (a BBC version where they finished it).  You might notice the "BBC" theme in that list...I find that I almost always enjoy their versions better than bigger budget Hollywood versions, and that includes non-Dickens material, like the long Pride and Prejudice version with Colin Firth that we also watched recently, happily choosing it over the shorter theatrical one.  I'd like to write some things about that great classic sometime, but the Dickens' story we watched this past weekend is the most fresh in my mind right now...

Some observations about the 2009 BBC version of The Old Curiosity Shop, in no particular order:

  • There are only 31 reviews of the movie on Amazon.com, so apparently it is relatively unknown among the Dickens film corpus.  Which is a shame, because I think it's great!  But that's one of the purposes of this blog--to introduce others to some "lost treasures" I've had the privilege of finding.
  • Toby Jones chews some major scenery (and a hard-boiled egg, shell and all) as the villainous Mr. Quilp, whose evil comes back on his over-sized head, of course (this is Dickens, after all).
  • Terrific casting for the lesser characters (like a pre-Hobbit Martin Freeman as an opportunistic puppeteer) and nice little touches like Sally Brass's slightly visible mustache.
  • Speaking of casting, one of the reasons I like the TV versions better is that Hollywood would have cast actors for Little Nell and Jacob that are as attractive as supermodels, but the ones here--though not unattractive--actually look like real people.  It's less distracting and more involving.
  • The scenery and set design are so beautiful... I love the rich warm colors in most of these British period pieces, and in almost every scene of many of them.  The Old Curiosity Shop was particularly beautiful to look at, from the bustling city and town streets to the English countryside, with the darkly symbolic but gorgeous snow in the later scenes.
  • The 90-minute run time of this adaptation was welcome, because it's nice to have a Dickens experience that don't last over six hours like Bleak House and Little Dorrit (great as they are), and this particular novel is one that actually benefits from some streamlining.

I personally liked the changes the writers made in the story (mostly for streamlining purposes, and to reach an emotional payoff in a shorter time), but I'm glad they didn't remove the themes of the gravity of sin and the glory of redemption, which were central to Dickens.  Nor did they shy away (as Bleak House and Little Dorrit unfortunately did) from the overt references to those gospel truths and their Divine Source.  In the novel, the guilty grandfather says after his repentance, "Aye! Thank God! I have prayed to Him, many, and many, and many a livelong night, when she has been asleep.  He knows."  And when he follows Little Nell into the next life, his body is laid "in the church where they had often prayed."  In the movie, there is less time to develop Dickens' powerful illustrations of human redemption, but they are still captured well by the writers in climactic moments that combine together disparate events in the longer novel.

When the Grandfather finally comes to his senses and sees the destructiveness of his addiction, he cries out "Forgive me!" to an unconscious Nell and then adds under his breath, "God forgive me."  Then later when she is awake but dying, she graciously volunteers "I forgive you" before he even begins to seek it from her, providing for us a picture of initiatory sovereign grace, even as her death itself echoes the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ by serving as the efficient cause of the personal redemption of her Grandfather, and others as well.  Even the gradual conversion of the careless Dick Swiveller occurs according to biblical principles--he is won over by the character of a good humble woman and a call to a cause greater than himself.

Speaking of biblical themes, I was fascinated in perusing the novel after watching the movie to find a section in which Dickens comments briefly on an idea that he explored later in much more depth in his novella The Haunted Man, which is that even the greatest evils in this world (like the death of an innocent) ultimately have good purposes in God's plan.  (Perhaps this was also a lovingly ironic stab at his readers, many of whom had complained bitterly at his decision to let the dear girl die.)  So I'll leave you with this favorite paragraph from the book, in which Dickens philosophizes after he recounts Little Nell's funeral and says that the mourners had "with tranquil and submissive hearts turned away, and left the child with God...."

"Oh! it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty, universal Truth. When Death strikes down the innocent and young, for every fragile form from which he lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of mercy, charity, and love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the Destroyer’s steps there spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to Heaven."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

If Kaleidocide Was A Movie (Main Characters)

Kaleidocide, the second Peacer novel and a sequel to Silhouette, was released on December 10, 2013.  I wanted to share what some of the characters and places look like in my imagination (or close to it, anyway), and what those things might look like if Macmillan Films is able to develop one for production.

Luke Evans would be a great casting choice for Michael Ares.  He's British, is the right age, and looks cool in sunglasses.  The fourth picture below fits what Michael would have looked like hanging out at the cottage in the vineyards, while talking to someone in his net glasses.




 
Naomi Watts would make a great Lynn, and here she is pregnant, like Lynn is during the events of Kaleidocide...
 


I based the character of Terrey Thorn on a younger Russell Crowe, as he portrayed a character with a similar name and role in the movie Proof of Life.  He's too old to play the part now, however, so Simon Baker might have to fill in...
 


Terrey's team of Japanese cyborg triplets, or the "Super Sheilas" as the Aussie protection man calls them,  might look something like this...
 

The Chinese general Zhang Sun could be played by action movie legend Chow Yun Fat...
 

And finally, Angelee is a beautiful young lady of Korean-Japanese descent, like the one in these pictures (and she's even wearing the same swimsuit and shawl as in the novel)...
 

 
 
 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

If Kaleidocide Was A Movie (Weapons and Locations)

Kaleidocide, the second Peacer novel and a sequel to Silhouette, will be released on December 10, 2013.  In anticipation of it, I wanted to share what some of the characters and places look like in my imagination (or close to it, anyway), and what those things might look like if Macmillan Films is able to develop one for production.

Here are some of the weapons in the book.  The handguns are the double-barreled "boas" that Michael wears, which can be switched between "killer" and "stopper" rounds as need arises.  Below that is the Alliant "Trinity" that he used in his assault on a power plant in Taiwan, which he relives as a holographic memory in a couple chapters of the book.  The Trinity is called that because it has three barrels, for killer rounds, explosive rounds, and a razor-sharp monofilament grappling line that can carry Michael through the air and also carve up anything in its path.



 

 
Here is what Michael and Lynn's home on the highest point of Stags Leap in Napa Valley might look like, with some of the views from the house.  (There is a secret base in the mountain under the house, complete with a hangar bay for the aeros, hidden by a hologram at its entrance.)








 
And finally, this is the actual interior of the Marin County Jail, built into the hillside at the Marin Center, where a climactic action scene begins.  At the bottom is an exterior view of the hexagonal top of the jail, with the skylights in the center.  Imagine the cyborg Min standing on the floor of the jail as the enemy assault team arrives, and then blasting open the skylight windows high above and leaping out of them to engage the helicopters in a ferocious battle!
 

 


Monday, October 21, 2013

If Kaleidocide Was A Movie (Secondary Characters)

Kaleidocide, the second Peacer novel and a sequel to Silhouette, will be released on December 10, 2013.  In anticipation of it, I wanted to share what some of the characters and places look like in my imagination (or close to it, anyway), and what a movie might look like if Macmillan Films is able to develop one for production.

Here are some characters that I hesitate to call "minor," because they're all so important to the story, but they are not as central as some others I'll get to in a future post.  First, Korcz and Stephenson would look something like this (Stephenson especially, because I based him, visually and in some other ways, on my friend Paul, who is in the picture below with his wife Trish).


 
 
And here's what Tyra (the "cupbearer" in the story) and Tara (Michael's ex) might look like.  For Tara it was hard to find a picture, other than one of Vanessa Williams, because she is African American with blue eyes (and incomparably beautiful, of course).
 

Stanford Glenn is a high-ranking American leader who lobbies for access to the Sabon antigravity technology and seems to know more about Michael's predicament than he is letting on.  Idris Elba is great in everything he does, so he would be great in this role too...



















Next, what would Saul Rabin's "ghost" look like?  How about these "almost real" photos of Clint Eastwood, who would fit the role so well, to capture the artificial intelligence construct that keeps alive the dead man's memories and knowledge (and some of his political machinations)...
 

 
Finally (for this post), the seven-foot Chinese cyborg Min is very difficult to find a visual representation of, because there are no seven-foot Chinese cyborgs in reality, of course, but also surprisingly there are none in comics or movies either.  This was the only picture I could find that somewhat approximated the way I imagine him.  He wouldn't wear a heavy leather coat in the climate of the Bay Area, but he does have two swords similar to this one that he can pull out of his back to wreak havoc on enemies when the ammo for built-in guns is depleted.  (Like it says in the novel, this gives new meaning to the term "shoulder blades.")
 
 

Monday, October 14, 2013

If Kaleidocide Was A Movie (Oakland and Marin)

Kaleidocide, the second Peacer novel and a sequel to Silhouette, will be released on December 10, 2013.  In anticipation of it, I wanted to share what some of the characters and places look like in my imagination (or close to it, anyway), and what a movie might look like if Macmillan Films is able to develop one for production.

In this series of posts, I'll start with more minor characters and settings, and work my way up to the main ones.  So here is what the ruins of Oakland might look like, in an early scene where the Japanese cyborg triplets fly some Firehawk helicopters into the city to smoke out an assault team waiting to ambush Michael Ares...




Here is one of the Firehawk helicopters that the cyborg triplets fly into the ruins to take out an enemy assault team.  And below it is what the enemy helicopters they encounter might look like.  They are called "Sikorsky Primes" and are painted a teal color to channel the ancient spirits of the xing lu cai se, or kaleidocide, initiated by a militaristic ruler of China named Zhang Sun.




Finally (for this post), here are some views of the Marin Center (including the entrance to the jail that is built into a hill) where a later action scene occurs, and a picture that is something like the huge car carrier that Michael's double and Lynn make their escape in by using the cars like remote-controlled missiles (you have to read it!:).  The carrier in the novel would be a more futuristic version, of course, and even bigger.








One Helluva Day! (Review of Day One, by Nate Kenyon)


Talk about a bad day! (And a good book) John Hawke never had a worse one, what with the killer AI sending every machine in sight, and even the cops and the military, to kill him (and a large percentage of the rest of the population). But the worst part is he's separated from his family, and doesn't know whether they've survived some very human evil. And this is the best part of the story, in my opinion, very much like the movie version of World War Z where the danger to the main character's family is the "macguffin" that drives the plot, and rather effectively. I'm sure Kenyon plotted and started this novel before he saw that movie, so it isn't a ripoff, but another effective version of the same hook. And the action is good, too. As a writer myself I especially liked how he introduced us to the characters' pasts while the disaster was starting and escalating, to keep our attention early. A few flaws, I thought, but definitely a certified page-turner. [Parental Info: Some R-rated profanity and gore, but no significant sexual content.]

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

If Silhouette Was A Movie (Main Characters)

Now that I have finished Kaleidocide, the sequel to Silhouette, and sent it off to the publisher, I have some time that I can do something fun that I've wanted to do for awhile. Macmillan Films is trying to get a movie deal for Silhouette, so I thought I would find some photos online that would show how I imagine the characters, locations, vehicles, weapons, etc. Is this how you imagined them when you read the book? Leave comments with your thoughts about them if you want.

No better place to start than with Michael Ares, the main character. He is from England, so how about Luke Evans, who looks something like the Michael of my imagination...



And then for Michael's wife Lynn, how about Naomi Watts...



Michael and Lynn are both in their thirties, Michael is ex-military (special forces) and Lynn was raised in an orphanage at the Presidio founded by Saul Rabin's late wife Kathryn. The glasses Luke Evans is wearing in the pictures could easily be the net glasses that Michael uses throughout the book, and Naomi Watts is not only beautiful, as Lynn is, but could also embody the domestic and innocent parts of the character's nature.

Interestingly, the two actors also have the same color eyes as the characters in the book.