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Mirror of Ambrose
James Enge

jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-17 00:59
Subject: “Enos Marmor Iuvato!”
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, movie review, review or meta-review

Movies don’t generally do space adventure well. The best sf movies involving space travel are mostly science fantasy (e.g. the Star Wars franchise). Which I also like, but which is different.

So I was excited to hear about Mars, an independent film mixing rotoscoped live action mixed with animated footage. Waking Life… in SPA-A-A-A-ACE? Had to see it.

Now I’ve seen it and I have to admit I’m a little let down. How can a movie be so dull when it features Kinky Friedman playing the President of the United States?

Lackluster acting is part of the problem. The dead-voiced, unconvincing performances of Howe Gelb (as NASA somethingorother Shep McWhatsisname) and Paul Gordon (as billionaire astronaut buzzkill Hank Morrison) brought the temperature down to lukewarm whenever they were onscreen.

But the finest actors in the world couldn’t have saved the script, which is an incoherent jumble that doesn’t quite tell any of the various stories it touches on.

There are some good bits, here, though: some comicbooky animations of space-travel via ion-cannon; the idea of terrestrial life infecting the Martian landscape; artificial intelligence kindling in landrovers; love and last chances in an alien landscape and in a half-empty mission-control room; a daring extravehicular repair mission in deep space.

Good intentions and good details don’t quite make the movie work, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time. There were nice performances by Cynthia Watrous and Michael Dolan running the earthside operations for a robotic Mars rover, and the lead actors (Zoe Dean and Mark Duplass) did well with a romance that was predictable but understated.

Not a must-see, but maybe worth seeing once. With a better script, a low-budget/low-fi movie like this could really be great.

MARS – The Movie [HD Trailer] from Geoff Marslett on Vimeo.

[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-13 19:00
Subject: Keep It or Chuck It?
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, keep it or chuck it?, review or meta-review

I moved at the beginning of May this year, for the first time in ten years, and the event reminded me of something I had been vaguely conscious of for a long while: I own too many books.

At one time I would have denied this was possible. But that was before I had to lift all those damn boxes.

It was also before the e-reader revolution got well underway. Nowadays I have to ask myself: Do I really need a copy of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure? In the unlikely event I want to read the book again, I can download a version from The Gutenberg Project or Google Books and read it on a handheld device.

So I’m going to chuck my hardcopy of Jude the Obscure.

A tougher choice was my copy of Neider’s edition of Twain’s Autobiography. But a definitive edition of the autobiography is coming out from University of California Press; I already own volume 1; the text is being released online; and Neider messed with the autobiography to construct a narrative form Twain never intended. Neider’s Twain gets chucked.

But I’m keeping both my copies of The Mysterious Stranger. One is the definitive tombstone edition from Library of America. The other was given me by my grandmother, now long dead. Both are unchuckable.

In the middle, between the must-be-chucked and the unchuckable, is a very large range of books, most of them genre paperbacks, where some sort of evaluation has to be made.

Sometimes the evaluation will involve a reread, and I thought I’d post the reviews here, in an attempt to bring the blog back from the near-death state it’s been lingering in of late.

It’ll be sort of like Keith Phipps’ Box of Paperbacks Book Club, except there’s more than one box, and except that I’m not going to review every volume, and also no one is paying me to do this, and I’m not Keith Phipps, and there are some other smaller differences.

First up: Gunner Cade by Cyril Judd (if that is his real name!) in a 1983 reprint edition from Tor.

“He was quiet…mostly kept to himself.”
Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-12 17:29
Subject: Tosher
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, politics, review or meta-review

I hate it when people start a piece of writing with “According to Webster’s Dictionary” or similar cringes before the audience. But whenever I think of Daniel Tosh (which is seldom) I can’t help but think of the (British English) definition of “tosh”, which is “nonsense, trash, bullshit”. I checked out the etymology today at the Oxford English Dictionary and didn’t find one. (Aside to the OED: Be ashamed.) But one of the early appearances of the word was in cricket slang, where it referred to “bowling of contemptible easiness” (a “meatball” in terms of American baseball slang). So maybe it’s a variant of “toss”–a throw that’s contemptibly easy to hit.

The takeway, I think, is “contemptible easiness”. Is there a better way to sum up Tosh’s schtick than that?

Normally the guy doesn’t appear on my radar, because I have more reliable sources of funny stuff on the internet (starting with the internet).

But I’ve been hearing and reading stuff about him lately because of this business, where he apparently was trying out a riff on rape jokes, a member of the audience objected, and he speculated about how funny it would be if the audience member were gang-raped, then and there.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-11 14:56
Subject: The Re-Mazing Spider-Man
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, movie review, review or meta-review

Can You Spot the Double Entendre?

I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man last weekend, like millions of my fellow Americans, some of whom had seen it before.

Sometimes I felt like I’d seen it before, too–but as someone who’s been following Spidey’s career for well over 40 years (albeit intermittently and lazily, since that clone-saga-thing) I have a high tolerance for repetition. On balance, I liked it a lot.

My sort-of-review below the jump.

_____

The best thing about the movie was undoubtedly Andrew Garfield’s performance. It was animated and geeky and emotional.

In passing: I’ve seen a lot of people praising Garfield by slamming Toby Maguire’s performance, but I think that’s ridiculous. Maguire didn’t write the incarnate dumbness that was Evil Disco Peter Parker–he was just the guy under contract to play it somehow. He did a great job in Spider-Man and the sequels are Not His Fault. (I’m sure the paycheck helped console him.)

But Garfield is really good–like a Steve Ditko drawing come to life–all the way to life.

Ditko's PP thinks, "Sheesh! Garfield's parents hadn't even met when I was drawn!"

Garfield never once convinced me he was a teenager. (He’ll be 29 this year.) But if there’s some time-lapse in story chronology between this movie and the next one, that’ll be less of a problem. He was really good at acting like a teenager, particularly one suffering from the gangly awkward geekitude that was always the Peter Parker trademark.

Romita's Peter Parker, heroically enduring the awkward problems all teen geeks face.

The supporting cast is also good–the standout being Denis Leary as the irascible Captain Stacy.

The plot is ridiculous in the manner of a comic-book movie, because it’s a comic-book movie. But it looks like they’re writing it less as a series of standalones than as a trilogy. (The director is Marc Webb, insert joke here, but I refer to the film-makers as “they” because this is obviously not the sort of movie where one person’s artistic vision reigns.) Rest assured that the Lizard and his evil reptilian ways will be defeated by Spider-Man and his plucky girlfriend. But, for instance, the plot of Who Killed Uncle Ben–though carefully woven into the story of this movie, is left unresolved.

Also, much of the movie’s action takes place at Oscorp, and Norman Osborn (apparently suffering from some debilitating illness–or is it his son who’s the sufferer?) is mentioned several times. But he only appears once, as a shadowy figure in the inevitable teaser plonked down among the credits. (I was hoping Nick Fury would show up and reject Spider-Man’s application to the Avengers, but you can’t have everything.)

S.H.I.E.L.D. Does Not Want You!

In the new movie, Peter’s father was the guy who actually developed the radioactive spider that will eventually bite Peter. He worked for Oscorp, crossed Norman Osborn somehow, and then he and his wife were killed (OR… WERE THEY?) in a plane crash (OR… WAS IT?). I like this and I hate it. In a decade-plus, with thousands of these spiders working away in Oscorp, no one else has been bitten by them? (OR…. HAS SOMEONE BEEN?) Or maybe Richard Parker use his own DNA (and/or his wife’s) to develop the cross-species-magic-nanotech-radioactive spider, and that’s why Peter alone is affected this way. (OR… IS HE… ALONE?) (SHOULD I… STOP DOING THIS?) (O…. KAY!)

In any case: they’re leaving some questions open to build at least a 2-movie, maybe three-movie plot arc–in the shadow of the bat, as all superhero movies are these days. That’s a good thing, I’d say, as long as they don’t surrender to the temptation to make the middle movie mere filler.

(Middle elements in a trilogy can be a pain-in-the-ass to write. Don’t ask me how I know this.)

The tragedy of Uncle Ben suffers a little by comparison to the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, partly because, here, it’s left as an open case, partly because the present movie has to zag where the original movie zigged. Uncle Ben, ably played by Martin Sheen in irritating dad mode (my children laughed appreciatively at these parts, for some reason), doesn’t say anything as memorable as “With great power comes great responsibility.” Instead he sputters something like, “I believe that people with the ability to do good things have a responsibility to do them”, which sounds like a Google-translate for something that was much crunchier in the original Latin. Also he leaves a phone message that Peter gets after his death where he concludes, “You are my hero.” This is touching in a Hallmark Card sort of way–not so much in a Cliff-Robertson-struggling-tosay-his-last-words-and-letting-go-of-Peter’s-hand-as-he-dies way.

Similarly, there’s a clumsy echo in the new movie of the scene in the older movie where the common people take the part of Spider-Man. “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” one guy shouts.

The parallel scene in this movie is when a crane operator whose son Spider-Man saved earlier sees that Spider-Man is wounded and can’t websling with his usual agility, but he needs to get to Oscorp in a hurry because of a ticking bomb scenario. So the crane-operator gets his fellow crane operators to swing out their cranes to give Spidey a clear path to follow.

I’ll pause to let you wipe the tear from your eye.

In general, when the movie ignores the fact that there have been other Spider-Man movies and just does it’s own spider-thing, it works really well.

The look of The Amazing Spider-Man is very warm and retro. Even the cold dirty water of the East River running under the Williamsburg Bridge at night has a warm blue Mediterranean glow.

I was pleased that they went back to the source material and made Gwen Stacy high school sweetheart of Peter Spider-Park, as God and Stan Lee intended. The vibe between Stone’s Gwen and Garfield’s Peter was plausible and convincing. I’m afraid she’s slated for a refrigerator in a future installment… but there are worse fates for a young actress in a superhero series, as Kirsten Dunst could explain.

Another successful use of the original material is the arc of the Flash Thompson character. He is a bully in this movie–later he reaches out to Peter in his grief, still later reveals himself to be a fan of Spider-Man. In the brief screen-time allotted to this tertiary character, he underwent a plausible and moving transformation. And this is not the sort of thing you have to have read the old books to get: it’s all there in the movie, and it works.

Flash Thompson--Amazing Spider-Fan

In summary: People who don’t like comic-book movies will not find this to be the movie that changes their mind. People who do like comic-book movies will love this one, and they’d been ungrateful bastards if they didn’t.

[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-08 14:33
Subject: Renegging: Bad reviews and bad ideas
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, review or meta-review

Maybe I’m more haunted by the Zeitgeist than I think. While I was mulling over my post on negative reviews this weekend, writers stung by bad reviews were bouncing all over the internet.

For instance, a guy who bragged about his cunning plan to give a one-star review to the woman who had the temerity to give him a two-star review on Amazon. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.

(I link to the Making Light entry because the reviews themselves have been expunged. Also I don’t want to drive traffic to the guy’s site. He doesn’t even have lists of things!)

A more productive response to a bad review (not just a negative review) appeared at Salon.com around the time of the King slapfest and I was remiss in not mentioning it before. (This came up in the comments section, along with other good points by Charles Stross and others.)

In passing: Making Light is one of the few places on the internet where reading the comments section is not a waste of time, due to their ruthless and humane moderation policy.

[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-07 19:17
Subject: Negging: On the art of negative reviews, and containing two (>2<) lists
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, review or meta-review

I was reading an extremely negative review of my third book the other day, and found it a strangely painless experience. I felt like I was watching a cat chase the red light of a laser pointer around a room: there was something essential about the process that the cat (and the reviewer) just didn’t get.http://www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/are-laser-pointer-toys-really-safe-for-my-cat

That’s not necessarily the reviewer’s fault. It’s a writer’s business, especially a writer of genre fiction, to make an impact of a certain type on the audience, and if that fails to happen it’s most likely the writer that’s to blame.

On the other hand, I sort of feel that if someone thinks the last eighty pages of one of my books is genuinely irrelevant to what has gone before, they weren’t reading attentively enough to have their opinions taken seriously.

Shortly after reading that dumb takedown of one of my own books, I read a dumb takedown of Stephen King.

Jump into the dumb!Collapse )

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jamesenge
Date: 2012-07-04 11:41
Subject: Purfuit of Happineff!
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, music

Checking in here to wish a happy Independence Day to my compatriots, a happy Wednesday to all.

[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-05-11 13:51
Subject: Roming Again
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, rome

Having gotten married and having moved all our worldly possessions to one flammable location, and placed them under the protection of a pair of fire-breathing slavering beasts and a gang of meth-addled bikers, Diana and I flew off to Italy for a few weeks of workingvacationmoon.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-05-07 19:33
Subject: Moved to be moody, and moody to be moved
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, schlurm

THE SIXTEEN STAGES OF MOVING

1. I want to move.

2. I hate to move.

3. I ought to move.

4. I hate to move.

5. I have to move.

6. Find a place to move to.

7. I will pack up my things. Tomorrow, sometime. Or the day after.

8. Oh. I move tomorrow. I guess it’s time to pack.

9. So. Many. Boxes. Of. Books.

10. I hate to move.

11. How important is a cleaning deposit, anyway?

12. Ow.

13. I hate to move.

14. Moved.

15. I’m glad I moved.

15b. But I am never moving again.

15c. And next time I’ll do it so cunningly that there will be no stress whatsoever.

16. I want to move.

[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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jamesenge
Date: 2012-04-03 01:35
Subject: Make Womb! Make Womb!
Security: Public
Tags:crosspost to lj, movie review

As fate and my innamorata would have it, I watched (within the space of a few days) two movies based on old Ira Levin novels: The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby.

It seems crazy to give a spoiler alert about movies a couple generations old, so I’ll cut to the chase. Both stories end with the main character, a woman, happily at home in the heart of her family, and in an extended and supportive community.

In other words, these are nightmares.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )[Originally published at Ambrose & Elsewhere. Comments there are closed due to spambery--but not here on LiveJournal. You can also reach me on Twitter, or on Facebook.]
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