Hugo, Automatons, and Early Movies

Liz: Yesterday, I watched the 2011 movie Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Caberet by Brain Selznick), and today I stumbled across blog posts on early movie projectors and automatons–both of which play a major role in Hugo. Funny how that happens. So I decided I to write about them.

220px-Hugo_PosterFirst, Hugo. I enjoyed this film with its giant clock, 1930s French music, orphaned Hugo Cabret (played excellently by Asa Butterfield of Ender’s Game) who finds a home, its message that we all have a purpose, and, as mentioned, its early cinema history and automatons.

Summary: Orphaned clockmaker’s son runs the clocks in a railway station in Paris while stealing food to survive as well as stealing mechanical parts to repair the automaton his father found in a museum. His life gets complicated when the toy maker he’s been stealing parts from takes his father’s notebook of automaton sketches. Hugo and the toy maker’s goddaughter try to get the book back, discover why it upset the man so, and avoid the railway station inspector, who considers it his duty to send orphaned kids to the orphanage.

The story was moving and the history intriguing. Playing off his clock maker’s father saying “there are no spare parts in machines” and his own visualization of the world as one huge machine, Hugo says that  each person is a “part” of the world. As a machine, the world would have no spares and, consequently, everyone in it would have a purpose. Hugo’s seems to be to fix broken things and people, like Papa George, the toy maker. A person who isn’t filling their purpose in the world would be miserable–would feel broken.

Okay, on with the fascinating history.

The Draughtsman-Writer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

The Draughtsman-Writer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

Automatons are mechanical men and were popular in the 1700s and 1800s. If you’ve seen Hugo, one particular historical automaton will sound familiar.The “Draughtsman-Writer” automaton boy sits at a little desk and writes and draws. He arrived at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA in a pieces, part of his body possibly partly ruined by a fire. His inventor was unknown. However, when put back together, this writer of  three poems and artist of intricate drawings revealed his mysterious maker by adding “Written by the automaton of Maillardet” on the edge of its artwork. Maillardet was a well-known Swiss clock maker and mechanician. For more information, check out this blog post.

Poem by the "Draughtsman-Writer" where he reveal his maker, Maillardet.

Poem by the “Draughtsman-Writer” where he reveals his maker, Maillardet.

Early cinema history. I can’t say much about this without giving away some of the story’s mysteries, so forgive me if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book. The story tells about the life of George Melies, a French magician turned movie producer. In 1895 he witnessed the Lumière brothers demonstrate their Cinématographe to the public. He tried to buy it from them, but they refused and he ultimately made his own machine and began screening movies and then producing and acting in his own.

Voyage to the Moon film


In 1896 his camera jammed, and from the resulting film, he discovered, essentially, how to  photoshop, to manipulate time and space in films. He developed double exposure (La caverne Maudite, 1898), split screen (in which performers act opposite themselves [Un Homme de tete, 1898]), and the first dissolve (Cendrillon, 1899). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a magician should be responsible for the illusions in movies.

Probably the best known image from Melies's films, or early films at all. From Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Probably the best known image from Melies’s films, or early films at all. From Le Voyage Dans La Lune

Moving picture technology actually has its roots way back in the 1830s. For more information on the early machines and inventors, check out this post (focusing the phantoscope and American movie history) and this post (a brief history written to commemorate the first commercial movie screening).

Austenland: Leave the tea and biscuits at home


Jane Hayes has a problem. She suffers from a severe case of Austenmania, and I mean mania. Her bedroom, littered with porcelain teacups, stuffed dolls, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth in Darcy regalia, looks like a 5th-grader’s shrine to Pride and Prejudice. That this woman managed to go on dates boggles the mind. So it comes as no surprise that when Jane sees a commercial for Austenland, a themed British estate with period actors that promises romance with an Austen-type hero, she cashes in her life savings and flies her sad, sad self off to England.

Hayes gets a rude awakening on her arrival. The “bronze” package she bought — the cheapest available — seems reserved for Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. The management snubs her, gives her drab gowns, a tiny bedroom on the top floor, and excludes her from fun activities. To make matters worse, the Darcy-type period actor, Mr. Henry Nobley, is in the extreme pre-Elizabeth Bennet stage. still-of-jj-feild-in-austenland

Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Feild) looking haughty.

Luckily, Jane can vent her frustrations with Martin, the handsome stable hand. Their relationship develops quickly — a little too quickly. One minute he’s pitching hay in the barn and the next they’re making out to the strains of a cheesy 80’s pop song.


Jane (Keri Russell) and Martin (Bret McKenzie)

None of the other relationships evolve smoothly, either. Character development in this film sacrificed itself on the altar of time in favor of farcical scenarios. I found myself thinking, “When did that happen? And why?” I assume Jerusha Hess’s book, on which the film is based, elaborates more on this and Jane’s troubled romantic past, which is mentioned but never explained.


Austenland tries too hard, but isn’t completely lacking in charm. That’s largely due to the cast, who strove to make this a watchable film. In the end, the plot good-naturedly pokes fun at “Janeites,” only to fall short of its potential and succumb to Hollywood rom-com predictability. If you enjoyed the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, though, you may find the film’s occasional nods amusing, as I did. Also if you’re a fan of Nelly. And that’s all I’m saying.

Beaver couldn’t make it to the showing, sadly, so I’m rating it by myself: 2 carrot sticks (out of five).

Bibliomaniacs, Bollywood & Brits

“Too few people,” writes Eugene Fields in The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, “seem to realize that books have feelings.”

If that’s true I have a few miffed – if not positively irate – books in my possession. Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain adorns the coffee table, neglected for weeks (given the topic, I’m sure it understands). I picked up Julie Powell’s “Cleaving” two weeks ago and now it’s hidden under Breakfast at Tiffany’s and School of Rock. But The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (nonfiction, Allison Hoover Bartlett) saw eager page turning and I’m proud to say I have reached page 112. Aha!

Anyway, that’s what I started reading in May. Bartlett describes the antique book culture, bookstores, libraries, so vividly I want to rush out and buy armloads of books. Smell the pages, feel the coarse paper on my fingertips … And then I remember the books I read as a young child, books like King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, Piggins, Wednesday is Spaghetti Day, and my very own copy of Madeline my mom bought at a Houston book fair.

Piggins the mystery sleuth/butler. 

That’s when I sympathize with bibliomaniacs. But book theft? No way.

I also read the Harry Potter series voraciously over the past two months. After that I saw several film adaptations, and have this to say: they are but poor shadows of the originals. I prefer my imagination.

After that I watched the French film Le Concert (breathtaking music, moving, humorous), British film The Scapegoat (promising beginning, dull ending), Indian film Barfi! (off-beat, thought-provoking, beautiful), and started on the Japanese anime series titled One Piece (funny and weird).

Note: The Scapegoat reminded me of a Mexican telenovela called La Usurpadora: Two women who look alike switch places with not-so-unforeseen consequences. If you’re choosing between the two, I suggest checking out the telenovela.

Love is Unconditional

A few weeks ago, when first introducing our latest theme of “Love Ain’t Easy”, I promised a special guest post from a friend who has just released her first novel. Here is it! Tanya Eavenson, author of Unconditional, has given us a sneak peak of her novel, and if you leave a comment, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a free ebook copy of Unconditional. 

Without further ado, here’s Tanya Eavenson:

Picture2 As an author, people at times have asked me if my characters are influenced by movies or television. I guess I would have to say it depends on the story.

Right now I’m in the editing process of a Historical Romance set in 1889 called The Rescue. During the time of writing this story, I had been watching a lot of Big Valley and learning about horses from a local horse farm. The things I learned played out on TV whether it was roping or saddling a horse. However, it was different when it came to my newest release Unconditional.

I guess you can say Unconditional was inspired by brokenness. Many families, both churched and un-churched, find themselves struggling in their marriages for one reason or another, but I believe if we fight for our marriages and follow after Christ, He will be the One to grow in us an uncommon love, an unconditional love for our spouses.

See, I’ve experienced this first hand. I, too, almost went down that route with divorce papers in hand. I told myself many things at the time, but the truth. I was focused on our failures, not the hope that with God, all things are possible. The question was, were we willing to save our marriage at all costs? Would we fight for each other, whether we felt like it or not?

Tanya Cover Here is the blurb from my novel Unconditional:

He will fight for her at any cost…

Elizabeth Roberts can’t remember her past, and the present is too painful. She turns to nightclubs and drinking to forget her infant daughter’s death, her husband’s affair.

When his wife’s coma wiped out the memory of their marriage, Chris Roberts found comfort elsewhere. He can’t erase his betrayal, but with God’s help he’s determined to fight for Elizabeth at any cost.

She wants to forget. He wants to save his marriage. Can they trust God with their future and find a love that’s unconditional?

A fun scene:

By the way, the beginning of this scene was influenced when I couldn’t hold on to a boat dock years ago. =)


“Chris! Hurry!” Elizabeth’s sunglasses disappeared into the dark murky water.

On the pier several yards away, Chris laughed. “What happened? You’re supposed to be holding down the fort.”

“Not a moving fort. A boat drove by and waves rocked me around. I couldn’t hold onto the dock. My sunglasses fell into the water. And it’s not funny.” She threw her hands on her hips. “Those were my favorite pair!” She couldn’t resist the humor of the moment. Plopping her bottom onto the boat seat, she laughed. “How am I supposed to get the boat back to you?”

“Maybe you should use the trolling motor.”

Okay, she could do this. She rose and stood over the machine. Gently sliding the trolling motor into the water, she found the switch and planted her foot onto the lever and leaned it forward to head toward the dock. The boat lurched further toward the lake. “This isn’t working.”

“Play with it. Watch the direction.” He sat on the dock, legs hanging just above the water.

“You’re sitting. Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I’ll show him. Slowly she rolled her foot until the boat changed direction and headed for the dock.

Christ stood up. “You’re doing it. Just a little closer and I’ll jump in.”

She eased her foot off the pedal and headed toward the seats in the back when Chris jumped in. His weight tipped the boat to one side, throwing her off balance.

His arms snagged her from the boat’s edge, pulling her against his chest.

Words escaped her. Their lips inches apart. She lost her breath.

“I have you.”

“Yes, you do.” She giggled and pulled back from him, watching her steps as she secured her footing. “I don’t know if I should kiss you and get it over with, or wait until later.”

Chris jerked his chin up. “Well then, I’m anxious to find out what you decide.”

“I’ll let you know.” She smirked, and planted herself into one of the seats.

He leaned back into the driver’s chair, turned the key, and cranked the engine. “Are you ready?”

She nodded with a smile. Within moments they were racing across the lake, spraying water and leaving waves in their wake. Birds flew underneath a crystal blue sky. Chris would call it a blue bird day with not a cloud for miles, but she’d call it beautiful.

Elizabeth enjoyed the wind rushing past her ears, flipping her hair behind her, but when the wind died down as the boat slowed, she twisted in his direction. “Where are we?”

“I have to check my map, but this looks like a great place to fish. I brought two rods. Would you like to give it a shot?”

“I’m game if you don’t mind cutting out a nest again.” She rose from the seat.

“Optimism.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead.

She held his arm. “Don’t move yet, let me enjoy this moment.” She felt his body hesitate, then with soft kisses, his lips traced her hair line. “You’ve left me breathless.”

“I’m the one who’s having difficulty breathing. I better get those rods.” He took a few steps to the rod compartment and yanked them out. Chris shot her a smile before trolling over to the side of the lake in front of a cove opening.

“All right, stand over here.” He pointed.

“Do you want to cast it for me?”

“Why don’t you try first?” He showed her how to hold the rod with her finger on the reel and line as she cast.

“Are you ready?”

Chris laughed. “You’re not planning to toss me overboard?”

“No… but I suggest you stand back so I don’t hook you.”

Chris moved as she raised the rod. In one fine motion, she flung the rod forward. It left her hand. She hurried over the edge of the boat as the rod sank into the lake. A movement drew her eyes from the spot where the rod fell in and she turned to see Chris splash into the water beside her.

“Chris!” He disappeared under the water. Did he hit his head? He wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Alligators. Without another thought, she jumped in. “Chris!” She dove under.

“Elizabeth!” Her name sounded muffled through the water.

She popped up and tried to blink the murky moisture from her eyes. “Chris, are you okay? What happened? Did you bump your head?” She swam to him and searched for blood.

“No. I jumped in for the rod. That combo is worth three hundred dollars. I couldn’t find it.”

“That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” She smacked her hand on the water’s surface and swam back to the boat. “To think, I jumped into alligator infested waters.”

A smile lit his face. “You know what that means don’t you?” He helped her back into the boat, climbing up behind her, and shook his hair.

“What? I’m stupid?”

He tapped her chin. “That you love me. You’re willing to risk your life for me.”

He took off his shirt, socks and shoes and laid them in front of the boat. “You could do the same.” He grinned. “I’ll get you the blanket.”

“Um… I’m fine.” Her eyes refused to turn from the man in front of her. Heat crawled up her neck when Chris met her gaze. Did he see her desire? Her heart pounded as she turned toward the water. She needed to focus on something else, but her thoughts went back to her husband standing inches away.

“Are you ready to eat?”

“Sure.” When she turned back around, she forced herself to meet his gaze. She almost laughed at herself, at how hard she was trying not to notice her own husband. Lord, I’m attracted to him. Help me to trust because You know my heart.

“Here you go.” Chris handed her a sandwich.

The heat returned to her cheeks. “Thank you.”


Thank you for visiting! Below is a few links where you can find me on the web so stop by and say hello. I’m looking forward to connecting with you! In the meantime, it’s your turn! If you’re a writer, what has influenced your writing? Maybe movies, TV, or music? Love to hear your thoughts, and when you leave a comment, you’ll be entered to win an ebook copy of Unconditional.



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Betrayal: A Novel by Robin Lee Hatcher

Betrayal Betrayal: A Novel by Robin Lee Hatcher

I have to admit I really like the hero’s name: Hugh Brennan. It reminds me of the name of the sheriff on the BBC series Cadfael, a character I always liked. I didn’t note any special reason for the name or connection to the story’s theme, but a good, pronounceable name is always a good thing in a book. Right? The heroine’s name, however, does fit well with the story. Julia Grace, widowed ranch owner, shows grace and mercy to the tired drifter (the handsome Hugh Brennan, of course) by giving him a food and a job when she could have sent him away in the interest of personal safety—she had no reason to trust him then. The surname name Grace fits her well, though it was tarnished by her controlling, brutish husband.

Betrayal is an apt title for the book, as it is something both Julia and Hugh know well. Betrayal, pain, and the love of God. Julia, now free from her husband’s abuse, wants only the solitude of her Wyoming ranch. Hugh, recently free from years of imprisonment for a crime his own father committed, wants to find his sisters in Idaho. But, as Providence would have it, Hugh’s horse goes lame while crossing Julia’s property. She needs help on the ranch, he needs a place to stay while his horse rests, so they strike a deal—he’ll stay for a few weeks and then help her drive her cattle to a buyer.

Of course, you know what happens then: they gradually fall in love but don’t want to admit it because of their hurt and broken pasts, there’s trouble (in the form of a conniving, land greedy former brother-in-law) that threatens to drive them apart when they begin to think there might be hope, and, after all that, a confession of love, and a happy ending. I won’t tell you how it happens, that would be a spoiler, but it does happen, and I enjoyed finding out how it came about.

Now that I’ve told you a bit about the book’s storyline, here are my other comments on it:


-I like stories of wounded hearts being healed, so that’s a plus.

-Encouraging spiritually with reminders of God’s love for each of us, of our status as new creations, and of hope for the future.

-Likeable, admirable main characters. I always prefer heroes/heroines I can respect.

– Good supporting characters in their gracious, loving neighbors Peter and Rose Collins

-Good descriptions of the land

-Is part of Where the Heart Lives series, but stands alone.


-The frequent switching from Hugh’s to Julia’s point of view was distracting. I’d prefer longer sections from each of them.

-There were too many hints from the author that they were falling in love. A few less “why should I care about her/him?” and “why was she comforted by his presence?” type of questions and comments would have improved it.

-A few less comments on how in love Rose and Peter were (there were a few sections from their points-of-view as well) would be an improvement as well. We readers get the idea.

Overall opinion: Cute, inspirational romance. I read and enjoyed the previous novel (Belonging) and look forward to the next one. These books are about Hugh’s sisters, from whom he was separated as child.

Confession: I received this book, and the previous book in the series, from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for a review. However, I’ve striven to give an honest review. Zondervan kindly sent along an extra of the books as a gift for my blog readers.

For a chance to win a copy of Robin Lee Hatcher’s books Belonging and Betrayal, please leave a comment about why you’d like to win the books, or in keeping with the month’s Western theme, tell me your favorite Western. 

A name will be drawn randomly for the prize. To have your name in the hat more than once, subscribe to the blog and tell me you did (or already have) in the comment. The winner’s name will be announced next week.