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Archive for September 24th, 2010

Hachiko-inspired movie sidesteps big screen

The modern-day, Richard Gere-infused retelling of the story of a loyal Japanese dog named Hachiko won’t be showing in theaters in the U.S.

Instead the movie, “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” will make its American debut on Sunday on the Hallmark Channel, the New York Times reports.

The movie, which has already sold more than $45 million in tickets during its release in Asian, European and South American markets, is a contemporary retelling of the story of Hachiko, an Akita who, when his human companion, a college professor, died suddenly at work, continued for two years to return to the train station to wait for him.

Gere plays the professor and is also the movie’s producer. It was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, who also directed the Swedish coming-of-age film “My Life as a Dog.”

“Hachi” was shot primarily in Rhode Island, using three Akitas to play the different stages of the dog’s life.

“Hachi,” the Times reports, was not eagerly received by Sony Pictures Entertainment, the studio which controlled its distribution. Sony opted not to release it in American theaters.

“You think of all the people who really love their animals, love their dogs, love their cats, would embrace this specific movie,” Gere said. “But Sony just had no imagination for it. It was really bizarre.”

Hallstrom said the studio’s strategy was “a mistake of being overly worried about the size of the movie as opposed to the emotional impact of it.”

The Hallmark Channel, which broadcasts about 22 original movies a year, stepped in and bought it, and will premiere the film Sunday night.

Two charged with dog’s chainsaw killing

Two New Mexico men will face felony cruelty to animals charges for cutting a dog’s head off with a chainsaw, sheriff’s deputies say.

The act came to light after children, in the residence at the time, told authorities about nightmares they were having in connection with it.

Teddy Sexton, 32, and Corey Bowen, 31, face charges of fourth-degree felony extreme cruelty to animals, which carries up to 18 months in prison, San Juan County Sheriff’s Lt. Dwayne Faverino said.

The men allegedly were trying to put the 2-year-old pit bull down because it previously bit a 9-year-old girl who was visiting the residence, according to the Daily Times in Farmington.

“Sexton said this was the second time the dog has bitten someone and he felt it needed to be put down,” Faverino said.

He and Bowen, who live on the same property, attempted to use the knife to cut the dog’s throat, but they were having difficulty and grabbed the chainsaw, Faverino said.

A Children, Youth and Families Department investigator told deputies about the incident after being notified by several young children suffering from nightmares stemming from the incident.

Sexton told deputies the children were in the house when he killed the dog.

(Image: Google maps)

Sound reasoning: What would Charley think?

With a deep bass toot, the ferry to Connecticut began churning across Long Island Sound. I leaned over the railing and, as the water rushed by, felt a deep sense of accomplishment — for the ground we’ve already covered and that which we will be covering in the second phase of our trip.

Ace not being around — he was inside the car in the ferry’s gut — I gave myself, figuratively, of course, a pat on the back. This was a good idea — my highly original plan to copy (more or less) John Steinbeck’s trip. Others have retraced the route, and written about it, but I had the foresight to be starting off exactly 50 years to the day after Steinbeck did.

I had just settled on a bench, and had stopped patting myself, when Bill Steigerwald walked by, camera around his neck, notepad at his side, taking it all in and looking at passengers that way reporters look at people — like they are cuts of meat that might be worth tasting — as he pursued his highly original plan … to copy John Steinbeck’s trip.

So we sat and talked, comparing notes about our highly original plans to copy John Steinbeck’s trip. We decided, I think, that we liked each other, and concluded that though our goals our similar — a book, somewhere down the road — we weren’t barking up, or peeing on, the same tree.

Steigerwald, like me, was a career newspaper guy. We both accepted buyout offers from our newspapers — he in 2009, from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, me in 2008 from the Baltimore Sun — in hopes that, if we continued our writerly ways, we might survive in 21st Century America without having to become fast food cooks, Wal-Mart greeters, or strip club flaks. And both of us are now self-subsidizing our travels in hopes that some day, in some way, somebody might want to buy what we want to write.

We are both brilliant, in a stupid kind of way; or maybe we’re stupid, in a brilliant kind of way.

Steigerwald, who is traveling doglessly, is reporting on his trip — which will be a more precise retracing of Steinbeck’s route than mine — for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he also once worked. He, like me, is blogging about it daily.

Bill is 62, five years older than me, but I think we’re both among a large group of once-and-maybe-still-somewhat-idealistic baby boomer former reporters who jumped ship amid the industry’s downward spiral. Now we’re seeking a flotation device. In my case, at least, I’ve continued doing what I’ve always done — write stories — even though I’m not paid (other than by my fine advertisers) for it. I wonder if people who have left other careers do that — keep plying their trade even though the salary and benefits have stopped.  To some extent, I think yes. One’s job gets in one’s blood. So retired lawyers probably keep arguing long after their last case closed. Former politicians probably continue to lie. TV weather reporters likely continue to make erroneous forecasts.

Possibly the whistling ferry loader in charge of getting cars aboard the boat yesterday will keep whistling, waving his arms, complaining about “f***in’ management” and saying things like, “Give me a couple of minutes, I’ll wave youse up,” for at least several months after he starts drawing a pension.

With writers, though, I think that runs even deeper — either because we see it as somehow noble, or because we don’t know how do do anything else. Like dogs, we tend to keep following and sniffing along the trail we are on. It’s not a totally mindless pursuit. We do what we know how to do. We know there might be something good ahead.

Not knowing, either, how to board a ferry, I just followed the shouted orders yesterday. I didn’t get a ticket in advance, so I paid $61 for my sound crossing; Bill, clearly a better planner than me, paid $49.

I took him down to the bowels of the ferry, and we compared vehicles. He has a red sport utility much like the one I’m in, but his backseat — because he’s not toting a dog — is open, with a large mattress he can sleep on. I showed him my dog, then took Ace up on the deck, which I had assumed wasn’t allowed, but actually was.

Bill fell for Ace, but, as he wrote today, was kind of glad — after seeing how much space my dog took up in my vehicle — that he didn’t have a dog along.

We parted ways — both intent on continuing our highly original plans to copy John Steinbeck’s trip — agreeing to try to meet up again in Maine or Michigan or Montana. As he plans to complete his trip in six weeks, I’ll probably be lagging behind, though.

As I waited my turn to pull off the ferry, I wondered what Charley — now buried behind John Steinbeck’s house in Sag Harbor — would make of it all: all these literary/scholarly/newspaper/blogging types who, over the years, have seen fit to repeat the trek that he made with his master.

Silly humans, he might think, following their so-called instincts, which aren’t very good in the first place.

My guess is he would get a good doggie chuckle out of it all. He’d probably break into a poodle smile.

“Ftt,” he’d say.

Steinbeck home is source of discontent

 

Novels need conflict. Houses don’t. But the former Long Island home of John Steinbeck is smack in the middle of one that branches out in nearly as many directions as the mighty oaks in his former front yard.

It’s a modest two-bedroom bungalow, scenically set amid gigantic oak trees, on two acres that jut into Noyac Bay in the town of Sag Harbor — the house where Steinbeck wrote “Travels with Charley,” the house behind which Charley is buried, and the one we left from yesterday to retrace, at least in part, the route of the author and his poodle.

The house is also part of a long battle over the Steinbeck family estate. Jean Boone, the sister of the author’s third and final wife, Elaine, says it is hers. Thomas Steinbeck, John’s oldest son, disputes that.

“The house belongs to Steinbeck’s blood heirs,” Thomas Steinbeck, 65, told the New York Times.

The two parties have different ideas about what the house should become. Boone is against preserving the home as a historic site or museum because her family enjoys vacationing there. Thomas would like to see it become a school for writers.

Mrs. Boone, 81, says her sister Elaine left it to her upon her death in 2003, and that she plans to leave it to her family.

In 2004, though, Thomas Steinbeck and his niece sued the family of Elaine Steinbeck. The suit alleges a “30-year conspiracy” to cheat Steinbeck blood heirs out of royalties and copyright control, according to the Times article. The suit was dismissed in 2009, but Thomas Steinbeck appealed, and arguments will be held next month in Manhattan.

The appeal is mainly over the rights to John Steinbeck’s books, and, in it, Thomas Steinbeck does not lay claim to the Sag Harbor property, where John Steinbeck found the same salty-sea-air inspiration he did in Monterey, California.

Times reporter Corey Kilgannon received a tour of the property earlier this week, and noted many reminders of Steinbeck are still there, including marks on the wall of the kitchen where the author recorded the height of family and guests, including Charley. Steinbeck’s books and other belongings were removed from the shack in recent years, but other signs remain, including one over the doorway that says “Aroynte,” which the Times article says may be derived from an old English term meaning “Be gone!”

Other Steinbeck scribblings are on the walls and tool drawers, one of which reads, “Knives, Chisels and Bladey Things.” A miniature steel cannon Steinbeck used to scare the geese away remains in the living room, and the walls are still lined with photographs of Steinbeck.

Steinbeck set off from the house 50 years ago yesterday on his 10,000 mile trip with Charley in a camper named “Rocinante,” after Don Quixote’s horse. He returned 11 weeks later and wrote the book there.

“Elaine used to say that John enjoyed having no distractions,” the property’s caretaker, John Stefanik, told the Times. “The words just flowed out here.”