Movie Weekend

Martin J Heade
The Great Gatsby (2013): When the trailer crossed my path, I thought this would be fantastic! Moulin Rouge-style hectic, saturated cinemetography to capture the dissipated party scene and the Buchanans' self-absorbed ennui - what a great combination!

Well, half right. The party scenes worked, but Baz Luhrmann wants me to have empathy with Daisy, Nick and Gatsby? Not happening. I think the novel's artifice is its power; one might as well weep for the interior life of a bishop or rook cruelly sacrificed to a literary checkmate. Doubtless a generation of high school english students will suffer through this on slow afternoons and write essays on 21st C interpretation of a 20th C literary classic.

Or maybe the artifice was in the cinematography? The movie felt flat, aided by some choices on depth of focus, especially in the Jay-and-Daisy scenes (notably when they sneak out of the party and make out under the trees). It seemed just weird at first, but now I am conidering whether that was an attempt to distance the viewer.

With that said, I was underwhelmed by the execution of Myrtle's death. One can imagine the power of setting the accident against "Love is Blindess", but the movie didn't earn my investment in the moment. It also didn't earn the pool scene, see again artifice vs empathy.

Blue Jasmine (2013): Picked up largely to play a game of Spot the Onsite Shooting. The cinemetography was pretty. The acting was good. The script was not really my thing, which got in the way of a truly satisfying Geography Bingo.

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What I've Done (and Read) This Year

Martin J Heade
After three years of storage, I hung up wall art. It only took two trips to the hardware store (six months apart), moving a bedstand and a bed, maneuvering a 10' ladder through a 6' door, and about three hours.

Oh right, I also read more books.

Actually, I listened to more books: in late December I started Dun (Frank Herbert) (1965). When I finished that in late January I turned to A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle) (1962) which was read by the author, a fascinating experience; and when in February I finished that I tried The Forever War (Joe Haldeman) (1974). Audiobooks are in some ways more intense than reading a novel - one cannot skip ahead - but also can be more shallow, if one's attention wanders. The book-reader also makes a difference, more on that below.

It wasn't my intention to re-read three disparate and excellent science fiction works back to back; it just worked out that way.

Dune was a great road trip book. It moves so slowly. The ratio of contemplation to action gets pretty grim. Plots within plots within plots! Wheels within wheels within wheels! At a mellow reading pace! Perhaps the slow unfolding is why I have such a distorted memory of the novel; a great deal of the middle had been compressed in my memory.

Listening to A Wrinkle in Time was much like a bedtime story from a beloved grandmother. L'Engle's reading helped me really appreciate Meg's passionate frustrations, both from her perspective and the perspective of someone who is not (currently) struggling with the challenges teenage girls face. It also kept my sense of humor alive through some very Meg Murry-ish days.

I last read The Forever War in late high school or early college. At that time the SFnal, vertiginous effects of time dilation really stuck with me. This time the story's roots in Vietnam parallels were more obvious: time and experience, or more recent ambiguous conflicts. For the most part I listened to The Forever War in a few circumstances - while driving, that sort of thing - but in the last chapters I desperately wanted to read through the chapters I didn't remember to the sections I did vaguely recall. But I was also enjoying the reader's rendition so much I didn't want to pick up the physical novel! I hadn't expected the auditory component to become such an important part of the reading/listening experience. So I spent a weekend doing house chores with a war-novel-by-way-of-smartphone stuck in my back pocket.

My current physical reading is Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Franciso (Jason Hnederson( (2013). I am bogging down in the first chapter, hampered by a focus on mobility in the cars-bikes-trains sense, with - so far - very little contemplation of the body's ability to get up and do. I love cycling, but I would not recommend it to people with limited strength, or medical conditions which impair endurance.

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Road Trip?

SF: Golden Gate
I'm considering a San Francisco to Portland road trip on or around the first week of March. Suggestions for to-do items and people to see ([personal profile] loup_noir?) are welcome. Left to my own devices, I will probably make a few motel reservations, throw a bike and several thousand calories of travel-friendly snacks in the back seat, load an mp3 player with audiobooks and singer-songwriter guitar anthems, and see what happens. Road cycling is likely; skiing is unlikely. Powell's is essential.

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January Reading

Kate Nepveu links to a drift compatibility discussion, and I think one could argue Julie and Maddie are TOTALLY DRIFT COMPATIBLE on that SpoilerCollapse ) alone. *sniff*

Which reminded me that I have read books!

Code Name: Verity (Elizabeth Wein) (2012): WW2 fiction about two friends, English and Scottish, spy and pilot, and a mission in occupied France that goes sideways. Emotional wrecking-ball which had a great deal of research poured into developing a line of argument the author's story could have happened. Spoilers, all the spoilers.Collapse ) Marked as teen/YA, but I'd rate this at the more mature end for the grim experiences as a captured spy and related emotional wrecking-ball qualities.

I reread large sections of Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler) (2000) in January. Mild, pervasive spoilers, assumption of familiarity with the story under the cut.Collapse )

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Book Log Catch-Up

Martin J Heade
A few 2013 leftovers:

Star Wars: Razor's Edge (Martha Wells) (2013): Alliance-era hijinks. Light on plot in favor of plans going off the rails and better living through banter. I found I quite enjoyed Leia and Alderaani pirates survivors TOTALLY PIRATES have adventures. There are scrappy Rebels, and people who got in over their heads who are offered a second chance, and piratical villains who are painted wicked evil, so there's no question who the good guys are (Leia and Han and the Rebel original characters, of course! And Luke and Chewie). In the minus column, I picked out the wicked Imperial spy on the first try (but passed the character over as "too obvious", wasting a bunch of time worried other characters were the spy), but then, I did not pick this up for subtlety. I picked it up for Leia Organa using wit and skill to achieve her agenda. If there had been more plot to hang this on, I would happily have read another hundred pages of this novel.

Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite (Michael P. Ghiglieri, Charles R. "Butch" Farabee, Jr.) (2007): Nonfiction. Subtitled "Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in America's first protected land of scenic wonders", Death in Yosemite sets itself a high bar for dramatic retelling. It doesn't always meet that bar. Since I wasn't reading exclusively to be gripped, but also to be educated on how to avoid becoming a statistic, I was okay with that.

What did I learn?Collapse )

Interesting statistics: waterfall and climbing deaths get significant press, but auto accidents, non-falls drowning, and hiking/scrambling mishaps are the top three Yosemite killers. Then it's "big wall" climbing deaths. Young men lead almost every category other than homicides, where they're overtaken by young women.

This isn't a book that necessarily reads well straight through, but is very interesting in pieces, especially when shared with others. I quite enjoyed several conversations about backcountry camping and national parklands that spun off this book. Recommended for people who might be headed in those directions.

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Recent Movies

Martin J Heade
Brave (2012), check. Entertaining, not groundbreaking, with surprise Mumford overlaid on the closing scene and credits. Solid entry in the "spunky young woman has an adventure and does some growing-up", with an interesting mother-daughter relationship.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, check. Cleared expectation bar set by Hunger Games, held my attention surprisingly well through the 2h26m runtime. Thumbs up to Jennifer Lawrence's acting choices. Based on book reviews, unusually little desire to read the original novel.

The next Hobbit movie is out next week; peer pressure may get me into a theater, spiders and all.

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October and November Reading

Martin J Heade
Saga, Volume 2 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples) (2013): Continuing the adventures of Hazel's star-crossed parents against the backdrop of a galaxy-spanning conflict. Continues to hit my buttons, especially the end-of-volume cliffhanger.

Kenobi (John Jackson Miller) (2013): Star Wars: the western! If you think about it too hard I am not sure it makes sense, but while I was reading it entertained me. The novels focuses mostly on non-Kenobi characters (OCs?) entangled in the life of xxx Oasis.

When the King Comes Home (Caroline Stevermer) (2000): Hail Rosamer, daughter of rural wool merchants and artist's apprentice, has less than no interest in politics. Politics find her anyway in a quarrel with a former co-apprentice, whuch tumbles her into larger intrigues.

Set in the same universe as A College of Magics, some hundreds of years previous, and centering around attempts to resurrect and control Good King Julian, a near-legendary figure 200 years dead.

Hail is a splendid narrator: impetuous, impressed with herself and her budding artistic talents. Stevermer's narrative voice us aware of Hail's less than charming aspects, and channeled through the young woman takes on a friendly wryness.

The plot is as light as the voice. Hail is thrown around by events, rarely conscious of or concerned by the larger or long term consequences of the desires she acts on. The kingdom's instability, the implications of the magics wielded around her, the politics surrounding conversations between her kin, her friends, her mistress, are secondary ir lost on her. Hail wants to make art, and be seen making great art, and plot slips in around the edges of those passions.

The Other Half of the Sky (Ed. Athena Andreadis, Kay Holt) (2013): Being an anthology Going back to an old review, I recap:

Are the ideas compelling?
Do the plots interest me?
Is the spelling and grammer readable?
Have the spelling and grammar been mangled for good reasons that support the idea or plot?

I wasn't really in the mood for this collection. Most of the stories were competent, sometimes rising to greater interest or experiments falling short of success. Finders feels like setup or prequel for something interesting. This Alakie... mangled grammer, trying to support the idea, but fell short of capturing my interest; The Waiting Stars set up interesting worldbuilding and ethical conundrums; Velocity's Ghost has an interesting plot twist around education, propoganda, and long-term planning; Dagger and Mask and Ouroboros are passive-voice stories that didn't play well back to back. Cathedral has a male narrator pining for a female character whose actions are pivotal to the conclusion; it was annoying. And so forth.

Contents.Collapse )

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Yosemite Day Trip

SF: Golden Gate
What are some recommended activities for a late November day trip to Yosemite? The current plan is "show up; have fun; go home."

Please keep in mind that activities which don't happen this trip may reappear in December plans. I bought tire chains; if this is fun, or at least clears my head, I'll probably do it again.

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Martin J Heade
Gravity is everything I ever asked for from the movies:

1) Entertaining pseudo-science in something resembling science fiction
2) Female protagonist
3) Protagonist vs Environment storytelling
4) Characters informed by (a) good acting and (b) a creative team too busy making an amazing cinematic experience to get bogged down in the mistake that mean = intrinsically interesting character = good writing / plot / editing idea
5) Special effects employed to enhance storytelling / cinematic experience, rather than stopping the flow of events for 30 minutes of "wow, a lot of computing cycles went into the making of this movie".

Alfonso Cuaron has finally eclipsed my habitual mental tag, "that guy on the creative team that did justice to my favorite Harry Potter novel." From now on he will be "that guy who wrote and directed SANDRA BULLOCK IN SPACE OMG THAT WAS AWESOME."

The previews for Gravity were 47 Ronin (skip), Hobbit 2 (postpone to DVD viewing, for maximum avoidance of freaking giant spiders, ick), "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a Ben Stiller Man-Child, bless" (skip), "Grudge Match" (boxing comedy, skip), "The Monuments Men" (WW2 misfits, skip), a touching family comedy about those loveable Southern misfits (skip), and Chris Pine Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - no no no, the reason The Hunt for Red October is a great movie is (1) script-writing, (2) a workmanlike approach by the creative team, and (3) Sean "a great actor and smoking hot, at any age" Connery. Skip. Alas, the touching holiday movies do not seem to be touching me yet.

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Martin J Heade
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong (Prudence Shen, Faith Erin Hicks) (2013). At one point posted online, the graphic novel follows the high school robotics team and the cheerleaders in their Prisoner's Dilemma quests to fund their respective obsessions. For people who are familiar with Shen's fannish works, some of her favorite, usually entertaining tropes pop up: arrogant, socially oblivious Nate and his unlikely strong-and-silent associate Charlie, the bridge to the cheerleaders; Nate's band of snarky robotics fanpersons; friction with authority figures; Charlie's superficial conformity to other people's desires as a coping mechanism. Hicks' black and white art is on a similar level: enthusiasm and energy carrying the reader over some of the weaker plot points.

Mild spoilers.Collapse )

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