Saturday, July 28, 2007

One Last Harry Post Before I'm Pottered Out. --or-- Yay, America!

Look at that cover. The image just to the right. Isn't it glorious? Mary Grand Pre has done a magnficent job with the covers to the Harry Potter novels, especially since she appropriately ditched the original goofy montage motif with the last three. Though Order of the Phoenix remains my favorite strict cover, I have to say that Deathly Hallows is my favorite complete jacket. The entire image that comprises the cover, spine, back cover, and front and back flaps is, in my humble opinion, masterful. Here it is, all by itself:

When it was released a few months ago, I and my friends debated what the image meant. Were Harry and Voldemort working together? They didn't seem to be fighting each other. What was coming at them out of the sky? How in the world were Harry and Voldemort working together to repel the unseen beast/person/object that was out of the frame of the picture? Who are those shadowy figures in the background--are they the Deathly Hallows? And did the curtains on either side mean anything? And finally: Why in the world did it look like Harry and Voldemort were working together? It whet our appetites for the final installment like nobody's business. Now that I've read the novel and understand that scene, I applaud it as a cover choice all the more; it's nothing short of brilliant artistry and marketing.

By contrast, thank heavens we didn't have to deal with these dreary, bland, boring, borderline offensive covers of the UK versions of the book (across the pond, they have separate children's and adult editions):

Seriously. Seriously? The children's edition looks less like Harry Potter and more like Archie, Veronica, Jughead and the Big Bank Bust-up!, while the adult edition retains a certain understated dimestore paperback Michener/Crichton/Collins vibe, no?

Way to go, America (and Scholastic in particular). You got this one right by a mile.

Setting The Record Straight.

If you were to search the book section for my name, you would be faced with a list of imposters. Yes, my books are on there, thanks for buying, but there are a few other "Adam Palmers" that turn up with the search, most of whom aren't even really named "Adam Palmer." Anyway, all actual me-approved/-written books are listed in the topmost, left-hand column here at Dregs. Accept no substitutes!

Mainly, I just didn't want you guys thinking I'd written this compendium of sub-Letters from a Nut-style "hilarious" fake correspondence. I'm sure this gentleman is a nice guy, but he ain't me.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Spoiler-Free Blog Post + Go See Once.

Yesterday was a landmark day for me. I finished reading one of the best books of the year and then promptly saw one of the best movies of the year.

The book: I was expecting big things from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it most definitely did not disappoint when all was said and done. Even though it read like a greatest hits album at times, with J.K. Rowling pointing out various quotes and objects we’ve heard and seen along the way, she wrapped up the story magnificently and in such a satisfying manner.

Now, she isn’t going to win any style awards anytime soon, that’s for sure. As a writer, I couldn’t help but read it wearing my Editor Cap, and seeing things like “Ron said sycophantically” sure made me cringe. However, the Potter universe has never been about groundbreaking prose along the lines of Michael Chabon or Susanna Clarke—Rowling excels at character and story, and both can be found in full force in the final book.

I’ve read reviews from fans saying it’s “the greatest book ever,” which... not even close. Let’s not get carried away. Yes, it’s the best Harry Potter book, and in terms of wrapping up the series, it’s masterful, but it ain’t Hemingway or Dostoevsky. Come on.

Then there are fans who are mad that JKR didn’t answer every question they ever had (to wit: What were James and Lily Potter’s occupations? Really? You’re obsessed with that?). These are people who would never be pleased unless Rowling had chucked narrative momentum out the window and cranked out a 2000-page compendium of every possible factoid in the Potter universe. Rumor has it, she’s planning on compiling an “encyclopedia” of just that. After she takes a break.

So, what did you think of the book? Have you read it? Will you? Do you think Harry Potter is of the devil? There’s a comments section a-waitin’ below for you. However, please refrain from posting anything close to a spoiler.

And now, the movie: When I first saw the trailer for Once, I had no idea what to expect. My interest was piqued, to be sure, but I couldn’t quite get a read on the movie, what it would be like. I’d heard it was a rethinking of the movie musical, where the songs really flowed in the narrative, sort of like an Irish Dancer in the Dark, but without the flashy numbers. These songs aren't happening in anyone's imagination, so there's no choreography or jazz-hands; just quiet, acoustic guitar/piano songs that sound like hearts breaking.

The soundtrack is magnificent; the movie is breathtaking. Yes, it’s about music, but it’s about more than just that. It’s about that mystical bond that music makes between people. There’s about a ten-minute sequence early in the film when Glen Hansard (of Irish band The Frames) shows Marketa Irglova (some Czech pianist who was seventeen at the time of filming) a song he wrote, teaches it to her in a shop that sells musical instruments. So he fumbles through the song, laughing at the silliness of it, then asks if she wants to give it a try. And when they sing and play? There’s as much, if not more, magic on the screen than in the very magical Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, playing next door.

It moved me.

You remember how, when you saw That Thing You Do!, you wanted to rush out and tell every musician you knew, or every person who’d ever been in a band, to go see it? This movie, while completely different, has the same effect. It is a wonder to behold, and if you love music, you will love it.

Do yourself a favor and see it. [NOTE: The movie was made on a shoestring budget and therefore has a very “indie” feel, with choppy editing and some bad sound in places. Also, since it was made in Ireland, where the F-word is often a substitute for the word “the,” it contains copious amounts of swearing. Just thought I’d warn you.]

Friday, July 20, 2007

This Is A Giant Tire.

This is not how large The Bean has become, but, to Michelle, it might as well be. The poor gal still has eight weeks of pregnancy left on the schedule, yet has untold number of people coming up to pat her belly and say, "Oh my. When are you due?" When she says, "Mid-September," they always give her that wincing look of pity people give when they feel bad for you. You know the one, like they're tasting spoiled tuna salad on the back of their tongue but are trying to be gracious to the five-year-old child who made the "snack" for them in the first place? That's the look.

I always tell Michelle, when asked "When are you due?," to look back at the person quizzically and say, "Due?" Alas, she has not, to date, done it.

Still, The Bean is on pace and doing well. Perhaps she'll roll right out of there when the time is right. And if she does, what with the other three biologicals, we'll have a complete matched set of tires, plus two spares!

And... perhaps I've carried the metaphor too far.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Tall Order.

(Sorry for the Entertainment Weekly/People Magazine-style headline there. I couldn't resist.)

So, I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night, and, as is my bent, I went to my moviegoing screen of choice, the fabulous IMAX theatre. Like the IMAX slogan, when it comes to movies, I like to "think big."

Actually, in addition to the bigger screen and the thumping sound system, the IMAX theatre costs a good two dollars more than the regular theatre, which tends to weed out text-messaging teenagers who are going to the movie strictly to kill time or hang out. They're going to save the extra couple of bucks to get something with ice and whipped cream at Starbucks afterward.

I saw the previous two Harry Potter pictures in the large IMAX format, and it was a treat both times, so I was really anticipating this release in the IMAX format. I diligently watched the teaser trailer months ago, then the full trailer a few weeks ago, and planned on checking out the film on opening weekend, if at all possible.

And then I heard the disastrous news: Warner Brothers was going to release the IMAX version of the movie with the last twenty minutes converted to 3D. They'd done the same thing with Superman Returns, and I heard from different sources that it was a mess. I wasn't thrilled that the studio had dampened my enthusiasm for the picture by forcing me to watch it in 3D if I wanted to watch it on my favorite screen.

Nevertheless, I decided that, if I was going to see 3D for myself, I might as well try it out now. I ventured to the theatre for the 7:45 showing, got there at 7:42, and saw it was sold out. On a Tuesday night. I decided to attend the 10:45 instead.

The movie, by the way, is fantastic. Many critics have said things like "the magic is gone," but that's far from the truth. It's still completely magical, and there's a sequence in this one that I feel is the most delightfully magical of the series. I absolutely loved it--they did a great job adapting the book for the screen and maintaining its deep feel.

But the last twenty minutes of the movie are in 3D, and it was, as I feared, a disaster. I can see the appeal of the 3D technology, because [SPOILER ALERT] seeing the kids riding thestrals, with the thestral head zooming out at the screen at me, was remarkably cool. However, in the picture, the camera does a slow pan past the thestral to rest on Harry, and in a normal setting, the thestral's head would dip out of frame, no big deal. Here, the thestral's head doesn't dip out of frame--it is quite suddenly lopped off, replaced by a thestral neck protruding out of the screen at me in glorious 3D.

Very disorienting.

Sadly, the format is apparently around to stay, as this movie had the highest-grossing opening weekend for an IMAX movie ever. And the climax of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince cries out for the same treatment, so I fear I may have to break my IMAX streak and see that movie in the regular theatre. What have we come to?

"It's Called An Illusion, Michael."

Ran across this fascinating tidbit yesterday on NASA's very-good-in-a-kinda-nerdy-way Astronomy Picture of the Day website. Check out the image below:

Would you believe that the two squares labeled "A" and "B" are the exact same shade of grey? Because they are. If you're like me, you probably already looked ahead a little bit and saw this proof:

These images were created by some guy named Edward H. Adelson, and were used by some other guy, apparently for some project at MIT. At least, that's where I got this explanation from:

"The first trick is based on local contrast. In shadow or not, a check that is lighter than its neighboring checks is probably lighter than average, and vice versa. In the figure, the light check in shadow is surrounded by darker checks. Thus, even though the check is physically dark, it is light when compared to its neighbors. The dark checks outside the shadow, conversely, are surrounded by lighter checks, so they look dark by comparison.

"A second trick is based on the fact that shadows often have soft edges, while paint boundaries (like the checks) often have sharp edges. The visual system tends to ignore gradual changes in light level, so that it can determine the color of the surfaces without being misled by shadows. In this figure, the shadow looks like a shadow, both because it is fuzzy and because the shadow casting object is visible."

So, I guess that means our eyeballs and brain are just screwy, eh? Not so, says the MIT dude:

"As with many so-called illusions, this effect really demonstrates the success rather than the failure of the visual system. The visual system is not very good at being a physical light meter, but that is not its purpose. The important task is to break the image information down into meaningful components, and thereby perceive the nature of the objects in view."

Call me fascinated. If you'd like further proof that the squares are indeed the same shade of grey, click here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Debuting At #20 On The New York Times Best-Seller List.

Scraping into the top 20 for hardcover nonfiction. Way to go, Brian. I guess my sleepless nights really were worth it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Good Idea.

If you're looking to kill some time this summer and you've already purchased/read Knuckle Sandwich, I highly recommend this here book pictured to the right, a little sequel from the very excellent Brothers Hafer called From Bad to Worse. Cleverly, this title ties in perfectly with the novel the preceded it, Bad Idea, also an excellent book in its own right.

I do hope I get some sort of title attribution for the sequel. When Bad Idea was released, I was handed a free copy by one of the Hafers at ICRS (boy, were we kindred spirits there, stranded among booths featuring Christian pirates and whatnot. Shudder.) and read almost the entire thing on the plane ride home. So entranced was I by it that I contributed an endorsement to the book that ended something along the lines of: "Here's hoping they have an even worse idea in the future."


Anyway, the Hafers are quality chaps (Jedd was kind enough to submit a delightful endorsement for Knuckle Sandwich that graces its inner pages) and both of their books are capital reads, especially for teenagers and young adults. You shan't go wrong!

But read my books first.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

An Assignment: Compare And Contrast.

I recently read two interviews on Entertainment Weekly's website with hyperkinetic director Michael Bay (most recent triumph: Transformers) and famously non-commercial German directer Werner Herzog (most soon-to-be-recent triumph: Rescue Dawn). Here's a sample from each:

Entertainment Weekly: I'm told [Executive Producer Steven Spielberg] worked a lot with the Transformers' screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to bring a certain innocent tone to the film. The motto seems to have been, ''It's about a boy and his car.''
Michael Bay: "Yeah. That was the hook to the movie. But I added a stronger military thing at the beginning to make...the stakes higher. But originally the tone was very suburbia. We kind of changed that and made it edgier. I like the idea of the suburbia. I specifically shot this a little bit more suburbia, meaning, like, I would never put actors at a Burger King, but it's what people do, you know what I mean? Or in [lead character Sam Witwicky's suburban] house. It's not a sexy house. But it's identifiable, and more accessible."

Entertainment Weekly: You did have some commercial success recently with the documentary Grizzly Man. But you were snubbed for an Oscar nomination for the movie, perhaps because you've alienated yourself from a lot of people in the documentary community for the liberties you take in your nonfiction films, like scripting lines for your subjects.
Werner Herzog: "That's okay. We need a new approach to reality. Cinéma vérité is basically the answer of the '60s and, in my opinion, just the accountant's truth. We are in a situation now where there is a huge onslaught on our notion of reality, from reality TV, virtual reality, the Internet, digital effects, Photoshop, WrestleMania — all these things pretending to be reality. Since the early '70s, I've been working towards a new form of dealing with reality, going for something that illuminates us, something that is like an ecstatic truth. Whatever departs from facts is wonderful. I'm not so much into facts."

Your assignment: Check out the complete interviews and find the similarities and (rather glaring) differences between these two very different directors. Post thoughts to the comments section. Links are as follows:
Michael Bay Note: this interview contains mild swearing.
Werner Herzog

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Latest On The Little Man.

As I mentioned in another post, our adoption has stalled in the Ugandan court system because of something like six little words in our ruling that need to be removed. We've been given a favorable ruling, but it contained wording that said, essentially, that we had to come back to Uganda in three years to finalize our adoption, and the US doesn't allow such conditions for adoptions. Until those words are removed, we're stuck in a (very long) holding pattern.

Well, we have some tangential good news. Because our entire case has been so screwy, the orphanage started taking their adoptions to another court located in Jinja, which is where the orphanage is located, instead of Kampala, which is the capital city of Uganda. So they had some favorable rulings through the Jinja court, which was good, but those rulings had the same wording ours did, which was bad.

Now in our case, we asked the judges to remove those words from the ruling, and they got very upset with us. In Jinja, however, the lawyer asked for the words to be removed, and the judge was kind about it and actually did it. So there are now two (I think--maybe three) adoptions going through. The rulings have been modified, and the kids are on their way home.

So I think this bodes well for us, in that I can't foresee the high court, who holds our case, wanting to be outdone by a lower court. Of course, I'm thinking logically, which is a mistake when it comes to the Ugandan government. These people love their children, to be sure, but have a difficult time seeing that it would be better for the orphans to be united with their families.

Please keep praying for our adoption. Pray that God would change the hearts of these judges. And pray against child trafficking, which is suddenly very rampant in East Africa, which is causing a lot of these judges to take extra caution in their rulings. And if you think about it, pray for the plane ticket(s) we'll eventually need to purchase to go pick up the little man once our adoption has been granted.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Not Your Typical Beach Reads (But Worthy Of Your Time This Summer).

Michael Chabon has long been one of my favorite authors, ever since I read his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to his latest alternate history tale, the genre-bending The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

Though the delicious plot speeds up to the point where it starts to run off the rails in the final pages, Chabon is still an immaculate writer who knows exactly how to use his copious grasp of the language both to dazzle readers with amazing passages and to deepen his characters. He's so good that we the readers don't even realize what he's doing. Consider the following, lifted from page 2:

"According to doctors, therapists, and his ex-wife, Landsman drinks to medicate himself, tuning the tubes and crystals of his moods with a crude hammer of hundred-proof plum brandy. But the truth is that Landsman has only two moods: working and dead...When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket. It's like there's a film score playing behind him, heavy on the castanets. The problem comes in the hours when he isn't working, when his thoughts start blowing out the open window of his brain like pages from a blotter. Sometimes it takes a heavy paperweight to pin them down."

I mean, come on. It goes on like that page after page after page, with passages veritably screaming to be read aloud. My wife got so tired of me tugging on her sleeve and saying, "You gotta hear this."

If you can only read one book this summer, please make it Knuckle Sandwich, which is, in fact, your typical beach read. But if you want something that makes my book look like fiction along the lines of Danny and the Dinosaur, you'll do well to investigate Chabon's latest. (Note: This book is intended for adult readers only. There are no sex scenes, but there is some violence, and a few bouts of swearing. Also, the book is written in present tense, which originally felt a little off-putting to me, though I got used to it a few chapters in.)

Another book that doesn't really gel with beach reading but that is worth your time is Save Me From Myself by Brian "Head" Welch. I had the privilege of working on this spiritual memoir and found Brian to be truly, genuinely in love with Jesus. He isn't flaky like so many celebrity Christians are--he's legit, and he's very determined to stay that way. He was great to work with, and I think writing the book helped him exorcise a lot of demons from his past.

At first I thought it would be a pretty high-concept paycheck for me, but the more I worked with Brian, the more I developed a passion for telling his story. It can seriously change lives, and for that, I feel really proud for the work I did on the book. It's a definite recommendation for anyone who is or was a Korn fan, or for anyone who wants a sneak peek into the world of rock-and-roll stardom and all it isn't cracked up to be.

And I'd be lying if I didn't say working on this book was the perfect primer for Knuckle Sandwich. But I gathered you guys had already figured that out.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I Smell A (Quite Lovely) Rat.

This summer has already included the shockingly good Spider-Man 3 and also the surprisingly hilarious Ocean's Thirteen, and while those pictures pretty much met my expectations, I had really high hopes for Ratatouille. I expected a certain awesomeness, what with it being a Pixar picture and being written/directed by the ever-brilliant Brad Bird (he wrote and directed The Incredibles, which is not just one of my favorite animated films, but one of my favorite films ever).

Every Sunday night in our house is Family Movie Night, where we cook up a pizza and sit down to watch something together. Lately, we've been working our way through the fantastic series Planet Earth, but we decided this weekend to take the fam out for Ratatouille. I cannot begin to articulate how delightful the movie turned out. It's moving, it's thoughtful, it's elegant, it's funny, it's inventive, and it contains absolutely zero jokes about flatulence, bodily fluids, or someone getting kicked in the crotch.

Thirty minutes into it, my five-year-old son leaned over to his fifteen-year-old sister and asked her, "Ask Daddy if we can buy this movie on DVD." When it was over, my eight-year-old daughter said (I quote roughly), "I. Loved. That movie." In fact, she later told me that, when we got the DVD, she didn't want to watch it too much because (again, rough quote), "If you watch really special things like that too often, they become, you know, common."

Nevertheless, we'll see it again. I hope you see it for the first time soon.

Up next? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rescue Dawn, The Simpsons Movie, and the other summer movie I've been salivating over, The Bourne Ultimatum, which has a newly released trailer.

So, what do you guys think? Favorite summer movie thus far? Biggest surprise? Biggest disappointment? Most anticipated? Sound off in the comments section.

Yay, summer!