20 August 2009

cue the training montage music, please

I realize the last entry was pretty bad. You may have noticed something of a slower pace to the entries published here, if you still drop by at all. It's true, I'm writing less, and apparently when I do, in fact, write something, it's a bloody mess.

Yesterday's rambling, well, whatever it was (read it here, if you haven't already) was written over the course of something like four months, and I no longer have a real idea of when I first considered tackling the topic of movies ripping off other movies. It was the top draft on a pile that is getting smaller, due more to me deleting the ones I either can't remember* or no longer feel as strongly compelled to write. There may still be others, dredged out of the past (I do have this charming story, partially written, about losing my mobile phone in New York City from December 2005) but the pickings are getting leaner.

The entries directly preceding yesterday's also aren't samples of my best writing. I'm beginning to suspect that in order to really produce something of quality, consistently, I'd need to produce a much greater quantity.

Well, when I think about it like that, it just makes sense.

I'm out of practice. November marks the annual National Novel Writing Month and, as usual, I have that deep-seated desire to give it another go, to finally 'win' it by writing a 50,000 word book in 30 days.

I don't even recall if I wrote more than a paragraph last year, and barely more than that the year before. Back in 2004 or 2005 I actually made it to the thousands, not by much, but I think I ended up starting a second story entirely to do so. As much as reading my 50,000+ words from 2003 amuses me, I cannot in good conscience call it a novel, or even a book, in any conventional sense, though I do still hope, someday, to settle on a title and cover for it, and send it to a print-on-demand shop, just so I can own something that at least looks like a book I've authored. So the great American NaNoWriMo novel still eludes me.

And see, I've rambled again. Given my recent output here, I can't even delude myself into thinking I'd be capable of starting a novel, let alone finishing one worth reading. What I need to do is get back in shape, as it were. If there were a writer's equivalent of the retired boxer, atrophied and tired, needing more than just the determination and a rediscovered hunger for victory for one last bout against a seemingly unbeatable challenger, well, maybe somebody could finish out this extended metaphor in some satisfactory way.

It's too early for me to give up on this year's novel. It'll take some effort to get myself to the mindset to try to tackle writing it, but if I try a little harder around here, I may just have a fighting chance.

Of course, I need to think up a story first.

* I still have many an unpublished entry where I recorded merely the date and the system ID of the post that would've been published that day (and likely written several days or weeks later), though I've deleted over a hundred such drafts over the last year or so. Someday I'd like to have the number of drafts back at zero. That's probably a more realistic goal than writing a novel, and an attainable one at that, since all I'd need do is select them all and delete them, in a fit of defeatism at not finishing them properly.

19 August 2009

on theft and stealing

Three months ago* I watched two foreign films, though they were not totally unfamiliar to me. They shared a title, Ghajini, and a plot.

You see, they're both about a guy. He's the CEO of a growing telecom company, but finds himself thinking less about business and more about love when he meets a wonderful, outgoing girl who constantly surprises and delights him. She's a model-slash-actress who hasn't taken on any substantial roles, and he's letting her believe that he's also trying to break into show business or modeling. She's not the only person being fooled - in fact she's lying to the whole country, claiming that some telecom CEO has fallen in love with her, and the two are dating, even as she's more or less dating, unknowingly, that very same guy.

So, we can tick a few things off already - mistaken identity and a love story, love under false pretenses, even. Given we're talking about a Bollywood and a Tollywood movie, here, there are a few song and dance numbers, too.

But I neglected to mention something in the plot. The girl gets into some trouble. You see, she's got a heart of gold. she goes out of her way to help people, and incurs the wrath of some gangsters when she helps out some women on a train who would otherwise be headed for a life of slavery or worse. They come after her, murder her, and almost kill the guy, who happened to be nearby when the thugs show up. He was about to come clean about his deception, too. So the guy's beat up pretty bad, and the blow to his head left him with a terrible malady: he can't hold any new memories in his head for more than fifteen minutes. In order to keep track of anything he carries around a Polaroid camera that beeps every fifteen minutes for him to take a picture and record what's going on, who he's with, and what's he's doing. He has covered his body with tattoos with all the important details he knows about the girl's killer, and he's working on tracking him down for vengeance.

Oh yes, I know what you're saying. Polaroid didn't make a camera with an alarm, that's just ridiculous!

Or were you thinking the plot sounds awfully familiar. It's obvious that this Ghajini is inspired by Chris Nolan's Memento. Both of them are - remember there are two films here.

The one I watched first was the Bollywood one, starring Aamir Khan (better known for his starring turn in the period cricket blockbuster Lagaan). It dispenses with some of the more clever mechanics of Nolan's film, namely, showing scenes in reverse order, and adds cliche Bollywood touches like the songs and extra hour of love story, but the result is nonetheless enjoyable. With all its similarities, some would consider it a complete rip-off, even with those differences. It's more accurately considered a remake.

But it's not a remake of Memento. It's a remake of a remake of Memento. It was remade first in Telugu (Tollywood instead of Bollywood), and up until the ending, the two films are very, very close.

Without giving anything away, the two endings are different enough to make seeing both of them worthwhile.

But it's a fair assumption many people outside of the India wouldn't watch one of them, let alone both, due in no small part to the connection to Memento.

What brought this to mind, though, was something I read, about Warner Brothers taking out a full page ad in The Times of India. They were threatening legal action against any movies made "either in English or Hindi or other language, having a similar script, screenplay or story line or character sketches or interplay of characters or sequence of events" to Benjamin Button.

That struck me as a little bit odd. I know it's fairly common for there to be Bollywood movies borrowing pieces, or plots, or sequences of events from popular Hollywood movies (and, heck, some that aren't so popular*. I remember watching Partner and wondering how they could've gotten away with such a close ripoff of Hitch.

Well, it turns out in that case some legal action was threatened, and there may well have been some sort of settlement. But it made for some interesting quotes:

Producer Parag Sanghvi:

Seven hundred films are made every year. Can all of them be original?

Director David Dhawan:

It’s rubbish. How many producers can they sue? Five hundred films are made here that are inspired by Hollywood films.

I can't imagine Sony and Will Smith lost out on too many rupees from Indians paying for a version of their movie, in the local language, rather than buying the DVD of Hitch. But what do I know?

I do know that Hollywood producers work through official channels to secure the rights to remake popular foreign movies, and can get in trouble when they don't.

But, from an artistic standpoint, what's the harm? Is the original film somehow damaged by the existence of the copy? Did Johnny Cash's excellent rendition of "Hurt" in any way diminish the artistic merit of the Nine inch nails original?

Where do you draw the line? Innovations get copied. Watch a movie like Citizen Kane or A hard day's night or any number of groundbreaking films (hell, even The matrix. Sure, you can think back on other movies that have copied those techniques. Sure, some of the derivatives are equally as interesting, if not better. But does it make the originals any less great?

Well, maybe not The matrix. Influential and great aren't necessarily always the same.

* At least I think it was over three months ago I had the idea. That's when I'd dated the draft, but sometime in between I lost my train of thought, as well as the motivation to write the article. All that I'd written was "Ghajini, Ghajini, and Memento. Also, Coming to America." and I've tried to remember what I meant to say about them. Looking at the dates, that's when I'd just watched Coming to America, and the other two, two weeks previous.
** There is, from what I have read, a Bollywood remake of Who is Cletis Tout?. I recently also enjoyed Maalamaal Weekly which bore eerie similarities to Waking Ned Divine.

12 July 2009

on the buying of books

I don't think I've ever bought a book for somebody else*. For that matter, I don't buy myself many books, and generally the only ones I buy I either:

So, cheap or rare children's books for Natalya aside, I don't buy many books. I read a lot of them, however, and what started me thinking about this was a brief aside in Nick Hornby's Shakespeare wrote for money wherein he mentions he recommends a good book to buy for new mothers (Beth Ann Fennelly's Tender hooks: poems). I read that (Hornby's book, not the poetry), and thought for a moment if there were any people I knew that I'd give a book as a gift, and then, thinking back, tried to think if I'd ever given one. Again, I can't think of ever buying a book for somebody I didn't already know liked or wanted that book.

What's wrong with me? Lots of people buy lots of books for people. I read a lot of books, and I know a lot of people who read books, and for some of them I can even reasonably gauge if a book I've read would interest them.

I don't mind recommending books, in fact, after I've enjoyed a book, I rather enjoy telling people about it, like, say, when I mentioned to skippy that Paul Melko's The walls of the universe is a fun read with good characters and a great story, even if the book leaves the possibility of a sequel open.

Come to think of it, I'm the same way with movies. I have no reservations pleading the case for an underrated, or overlooked hidden gem of a film, but I haven't found myself actually giving those movies to people. Perhaps I'm happy to merely point people in the right direction.

Maybe it's the fear of rejection. Merely giving somebody a pointer to something leaves the responsibility for actually obtaining that book or movie, and that transfers some of the negativity onto the person, and off of me, if it turns out to be less than enjoyable. After all, it's not like I'm the one who bought the book.

I do know that I have a weird neurosis about receiving gifts, particularly things such as movies, book, and video games that can be purchased many places. Even though it's somebody else buying it for me, I'm almost always certain it cost too much, that I could've found a much better price.

Maybe that gets to the heart of it, then. Perhaps it's just I'm too cheap to buy books and movies. The other purpose, other than to blather on and on without a point, for this very post is to test out a plugin I'm updating for Habari to insert Amazon Affiliate links for books and movies, so that I can make some small pittance of a commission if people decide to buy something. Or if they want more information.

Maybe they'd reserve it from their local library. To be honest, that's what I'd do.

*Two disclaimers on that:

  • "I don't think" because I've long known that collectively, the people I know remember more about myself that I ever will, so I've given up on making blanket "I've never ..." declarations.
  • As mentioned above, I've picked up many a book for other people, either because it was convenient for me to get for them, or because I knew they wanted that specific title. In that regard, it's no different from picking up groceries, the way I see it.

10 April 2009

blocking the DiggBar in Habari

Challenged by RandyWalker and inspired by John Gruber's post about blocking the DiggBar, I whipped up a quick plugin to do just that for Habari.

After all, why should all the other blog engines have all the fun?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The DiggBar is a new feature that adds lots of great features to pages and sites linked on Digg. And to do so, it shortens the URL (to one starting with http://digg.com/) and loads the target in a frame.

In a frame?! I thought we were done with frames half a decade ago.

There are myriad reasons why this is a bad thing, and not all of them involve Digg stealing revenue, and other sites have covered it better, but in short, it's a bad thing.

So, how can you avoid it framing your Habari site?

DiggBar Blocker

You can download* it here: Current Version.

Unzip that in your /user/plugins/ directory, and activate it in your admin plugins page.

By default, it will provide a brief message ("This site does not support use of the DiggBar.") and a link to the correct page with your URL on it. I also added an option to bypass the nice message, and just reload the target outside of the bar.

If you have questions, comments, suggestions, please leave them below or submit a ticket on the Habari-extras Trac.

* Or view the source here.