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SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE DVD Review

September 30, 2010 1 comment

Now here’s my Apocalypse review hot off the presses.  Again, beware spoilers!

Whatever they say about the decline of video stores, quite a lot of people seemed to be renting Superman/Batman: Apocalypse in the day or two after its release. I went there Wednesday (it came out Tuesday, I think) and there were plenty of shelf cards representing checked-out copies, but the only remaining copy in the store was lost in the piles at the checkout desk. It took some time for the clerk to unearth it.

So was it worth it? Well, more so than its predecessor Public Enemies was. The story had potential, but the execution was superficial. It jumped from set piece to set piece without a lot of analysis or character exploration. For instance, it never explains why, if Kara was launched from Krypton at the same time Kal-El was, she’s younger than he is now. I think I read that in the comic, it was explained as some kind of kryptonite-induced stasis, but the movie skips over the question altogether (not to mention the question of how she could hitch a ride on a kryptonite asteroid and even be alive).

Also, when a large “meteorite” crashes in Gotham Bay and sends a tidal wave into the city, how come the only person who investigates the impact site is Batman? Where are the police and the military?

As with the previous S/B movie, the characters don’t show a lot of intelligence. As Batman was chasing Kara, it was pretty obvious that she was confused and afraid, trying to run away rather than attack, but Batman treated her like a common thug. That’s weak. Batman’s a keen observer of human(oid) behavior. He should’ve recognized that the best way to handle her was to calm her down, not scare her more. But no, Batman’s role in this story was to be the “bad cop,” the one who didn’t trust Kara, and he wasn’t allowed to have any more dimension than that, even if simple common sense had to take a hit.

And then you have the silliness of Wonder Woman and her Amazons trying to take Kara by force for training rather than just talking to her good friends Clark and Bruce and convincing them that some training on Themyscira would be good for the kid. This is the same problem Public Enemies had — all the characters defaulting to brawn over brain at the drop of a hat.

Too many ideas are crammed in and make it feel cluttered; maybe it worked better in the comic, but with a Jeph Loeb story, I can’t be certain. Like, why would Darkseid clone an army of Doomsdays? And why would he clone them so badly that the Inverse Ninja Rule was in full force? The original Doomsday was an unstoppable force, an enemy Superman couldn’t defeat except by sacrificing himself. Here, Superman takes out a whole horde of Doomsday clones with very little effort, and even Batman is able to kill a few (which raises some awkward questions about Batman’s characterization, even allowing for the “they’re not really alive” dodge). If the role of these entities was merely to be a bunch of mooks for the heroes to take down en masse, isn’t it overkill, as well as a non sequitur, to use Doomsday clones? Wouldn’t Parademons have been a better choice?

And I would’ve liked more exploration of how Kara was subverted by Darkseid — and how she was brought back. For a while, it seemed that Kara had switched over willingly, as a perhaps understandable response to how she’d been treated on Earth, an act of teenage rebellion against authority. That would’ve made sense and been interesting. But instead, after her rescue, she wakes up and is instantly back to normal, suggesting that the whole thing was just brainwashing and rendering it all meaningless from a character standpoint (not to mention, how did they deprogram her??).

Moreover, how did Darkseid even know Kara had arrived on Earth, let alone what her name was? And hang on — Darkseid not only knows that Superman is Clark Kent, but knows where his family lives?? If that’s so, why are the Kents even alive? Darkseid’s totally the kind of guy who’d bump them off just to hurt Superman. The illogic here reminds me of the early Power Rangers shows, where the villains are the only people who do know the heroes’ secret identities, yet somehow never try to kill them in their sleep.

(And is it me, or did the Smallville sequence pretty much copy the Smallville TV series’ design for the Kent farm and its main house? It definitely copied the “Creamed Corn Capital” sign from the show.)

The greatest strengths of this movie are the animation and direction. There’s some truly spectacular action here; director Lauren Montgomery has a real flair for that, as well as a real flair for character animation. There was some marvelously imaginative fight choreography. (I particularly liked a move where Wonder Woman caught Lashina’s lash, wrapped her foot around the cord, and stomped down to pull Lashina off-balance.) And the animation, by Moi Animation Studio in Korea (who also did Montgomery’s Wonder Woman movie and worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender), was significantly better than in Public Enemies.

The character designs were based on Michael Turner’s work in the comics, so I didn’t expect to like them much; the way he drew women was creepy to me, with disturbingly pale eyes and anorexic figures. But while the female designs here reflect elements of his style, they come out much better-looking than they do on the comics page. I particularly like Wonder Woman’s and Barda’s designs here. However, the Turner-styled male characters look kind of odd, particularly Superman, whose eyes and lips are oddly effeminate here. And the character design on Darkseid is the worst version of him I’ve ever seen.

As for the voice work, Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy are their usual stalwart selves as Superman and Batman. Susan Eisenberg has really matured into the role of Wonder Woman; her vocal performance here conveyed far more power and majesty than it did in Justice League/Unlimited, though I’m not crazy about versions of WW that stress her martial side to the detriment of her nurturing/diplomatic side. Ed Asner’s Granny Goodness was more hard-edged and toned-down than it was in the DCAU, and thus less interesting.

And the newcomers? My reaction to Summer Glau as Kara was mostly positive, but not completely. In normal conversation, her delivery’s a little flat, which isn’t ideal for a vocal performance. But in Kara’s more emotional moments, I felt Glau did an excellent job, showing a good deal of range. And she’s very, very good at exertion grunts, an important skill for an actor in action animation. Maybe it’s because she’s such a skilled physical performer that the vocalizations associated with physical exertion and strain sound so convincing from her. (I’d be curious to see video of her recording sessions. I wonder if she acted out some of the motions.)

The great disappointment here was Andre Braugher as Darkseid. Braugher’s an impressive actor with a strong voice and presence, so I was surprised that his version of Darkseid came off as kind of a lightweight. He didn’t seem to be putting a lot into it, just generally being Andre Braugher rather than bringing anything specifically Darkseidish to it (like deepening his voice or speaking more slowly). Maybe it’s just that Michael Ironside’s Darkseid is such a hard act to follow, but this just didn’t do it for me.

So overall, it’s worth it for the returning cast members, for Summer Glau, and for Lauren Montgomery’s top-notch action direction. Just don’t expect much plot or character logic.

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SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES DVD Review

September 30, 2010 2 comments

I wanted to review the new Superman/Batman: Apocalypse DVD movie, but first I want to repost the review I wrote elsewhere for the film it’s a sequel to, Public Enemies, plus my review of the original comic thereof.  These films reunite DC Animated Universe cast members including Tim Daly as Superman, Kevin Conroy as Batman, and others, but are in a separate continuity, adapting the Superman/Batman storylines from the comics.  Beware spoilers!

The Movie

Finally saw the movie. The story is just as ridiculous as I’ve heard. Superman is grossly out of character. I don’t care how much he dislikes Luthor, he would obey the law and respect the office of the President of the United States. The idea that you can disregard the authority of an elected president just because of personal dislike is the way Rush Limbaugh thinks, not the way Superman thinks. Okay, granted he was in danger from the kryptonite in Metallo, but still, he resorted to violence way too readily.  Superman obeys the law. All Luthor had to do was, say, issue an executive order banning him from using his powers, or get the INS to deport him as an illegal alien, and Superman would’ve followed the law. Sure, he might have hated the idea of Luthor as the president, but he would’ve responded within the system the way a good American citizen would, through political activism and voting, not by beating up the US government’s duly deputized enforcers. At most, I could see him engaging in civil disobedience a la Dr. King or Gandhi, refusing to follow the policies enacted by Luthor but not fighting back when they came to arrest him. I mean, it’s Superman, the living symbol of truth, justice, and the American way. People would rally to him. He could build up a whole massive political movement that would tie Luthor’s hands. He could stir up support for impeachment hearings in Congress.

Pretty much everyone in the story defaults to fighting rather abruptly and with little justification. The characters are way too broad and caricatured. Luthor in particular is pitifully portrayed, becoming a joke as he descends into krypto-steroid-induced madness. Even with Clancy Brown doing the voice, this ranks down with the Luthor in Brainiac Attacks for sheer lameness.

The whole thing’s irritatingly macho, too. Not just the instant resort to fighting, but the fact that virtually all the female characters were marginalized aside from Power Girl, who comes off as rather passive and indecisive and is largely just there to show off her bust, and Amanda Waller, who’s kind of a strong character here but is undermined by the sheer grotesqueness of her character design.

In fact, all the character designs were pretty unappealing. Everything about them was taken to ridiculous excess — excessively huge muscles, excessively huge bosoms, excessive obesity, excessively spiky anime hair, whatever. It didn’t look very good. And the heroes were so encumbered by their preposterously overinflated muscles that their movements were rather stiff (and the morbidly obese Waller was no better off). It’s a bad design style for animation. Maybe a really good animation studio could’ve done more, but the Korean studio (Lotto Animation, apparently) that animated this did only a workmanlike job.

Oh, and it turns out there’s air in space. The kryptonite asteroid’s slipstream was animated as though it was undergoing atmospheric resistance and turbulence, and Superman’s cape was flapping in the breeze while he was in space.

Interestingly, Daly was playing Superman deeper-voiced and tougher than in the DCAU, while Brown was playing this version of Luthor with a lighter delivery — but Conroy’s Batman was the same as it’s been for a dozen years. Well, why mess with what works? I also enjoyed hearing Alan Oppenheimer’s brief turn as Alfred, and earlier as the general appraising Luthor of the asteroid. CCH Pounder as Waller was good to hear again, though she didn’t come across anywhere near as strong and intimidating as the DCAU’s Waller. Otherwise, the parts were mostly too small to say much about the performances.

It was good to hear Conroy, Daly, and Brown together again. But that’s the only really worthwhile thing about this one, and it’s disappointing that the reunion of these three definitive performers is such a bad movie overall.

The Comic

Well, I just happened to come across a copy of the Public Enemies trade paperback in the bookstore, so I read it out of curiosity. And it gives me a little more respect for the movie.

There are some ways in which the comic is better. I quite liked the opening pages telling Superman’s and Batman’s origin stories in parallel from their own POVs, both visually and in narration. The ongoing dual narration throughout is fairly interesting. And I owe Ed McGuinness a bit of an apology, since his Power Girl isn’t quite as top-heavy as the movie’s version.

In many respects, though, the movie handles things better. It drops the random tangents like the older Superman coming back from the future to kill his past self (huh?) and Luthor trying to distract Batman by planting evidence that Corben killed the Waynes (even though he doesn’t know Batman is Bruce Wayne, so there’s no possible reason why he’d think that would preoccupy Batman unduly). And it makes the Metallo fight more integral to the story rather than just a random incident.

While the movie does a poor job setting up the events that lead to the bounty on Superman, the comic does even worse. Luthor just claims out of nowhere that the meteor is something Superman brought down deliberately to wipe out Earth? As if anyone would possibly believe that? Okay, it’s an obvious pastiche of Bush and the alleged Iraqi WMDs, but it doesn’t wash. Lying that a known dictator has WMDs is at least credible, but claiming that Superman is out to destroy the world? Why would anyone believe that for a second? It made much more sense in the movie — Luthor frames Superman for murder and even explains the change in his behavior by invoking kryptonite-induced insanity. And since it didn’t really make a lot of sense in the movie, that makes the comic’s version look even more arbitrary and absurd.

And while I found the movie’s Power Girl to be a relatively passive character, she’s given a much more substantial and active role in the movie than in the comic. The same with Waller, who in the comic was merely a minor player in Luthor’s administration and ended up under arrest at the end, but who in the movie was a stronger counterbalance to Luthor and ended up turning on him, IIRC. So while I felt the movie was lacking in a strong female presence, the comic was far worse.

The movie also made better use of the gimmick of Superman and Batman disguising themselves as Captain Marvel and Hawkman. In the movie, they actually use those disguises to let them infiltrate Luthor’s base of operations. In the comic, there’s a passing reference that they were going to use the costumes that way, but then they just end up storming the White House by force, so the costume switch is totally without purpose.

Still, there’s plenty of stuff that’s equally stupid in both versions. The rocket, for one thing. And the whole “billion-dollar bounty” thing. Does the President even have the legal authority to issue such a bounty? Even if he does, unless Luthor’s drawing from his own fortune, I doubt he could get Congress to allocate tacking a billion dollars onto the federal budget. And would convicted or escaped criminals be eligible to collect such a bounty?

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Vacation: Greenfield Village

September 29, 2010 2 comments

Greenfield Village is a place Henry Ford put together as a sort of outdoor museum — he shipped historic buildings from all over the country, had them dismantled and reassembled brick by brick, or built replicas of them, and put them all together in the same place so that people could take, essentially, a walking tour through American history, particularly the history of technology and innovation.  For reading about the whole thing, you can go here:

http://www.thehenryford.org/village/index.aspx

I’m just going to talk about the parts that interested me and that I got photos of.  Which is basically two things, the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park complex.

Here’s the outside of the bicycle shop (click any photo to enlarge):

Complete with me reflected in the window, but okay.  This was originally in Dayton, Ohio, and as an Ohioan I’m a bit miffed that it ended up in Detroit.  But it was done with permission, not swiped like the Elgin Marbles and whatnot.  There’s a vintage bike and some paraphernalia in the window, plus a sign saying “FREE AIR” for bike tires, a service my local bike shop also provides (courtesy of a hose sticking out from a hole in the wall, so you don’t even have to go inside).

Here’s the inside:

Sorry for the blurry picture.  I imagine that originally those protective glass cases on the counter weren’t there.   That enclosure to the right is the office, I suppose:

This shop is where Orville and Wilbur Wright paid the bills for their aviation research, but it’s also where they actually developed and built their first flying machine.  Here’s the bike repair shop in the back:

Uncle Harry was  rather amused by the heavy cast-iron bike stand down there, around the back wheel of the bike in the foreground.  Here’s another angle:

This section is behind a glass divider separating it from the place where the tourists stand and the docents deliver their speeches.  The main room has several photos of the historic flight at Kitty Hawk, and a display case containing a miniature of the original flyer.  The case also contains samples of the actual materials used in the flyer, donated to Ford.

The back room is the machine shop where the Wrights built the aircraft, and there’s a replica of its middle section (the original’s in the Smithsonian):

I was actually more interested in the machinery they built it with, though I didn’t get a good shot of it.  There was one steam generator that drove all the equipment via a series of drive belts.  You can see the main drive belt in the foreground right.  It went up to a ceiling shaft that was connected to the machines in the room by other belts; you can see a drill press here, but there were a couple of other gizmos that were also belt-driven off the same central power source.  It was really very ingenious.

(I didn’t have the heart to mention it there, but I’ve read that the first aircraft at Kitty Hawk didn’t actually get high enough off the ground that day to qualify as an actual airplane flight; aerodynamically speaking, it was functioning as a ground-effect vehicle.  It was only on later flights that the Wrights’ subsequent craft rose high enough to decouple from the ground and actually fly.  But that day at Kitty Hawk in 1903 was the one where the human eye could see a manned machine moving a considerable distance without any physical contact with the ground, so that’s what gets remembered.)

Moving on to  Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park complex, the drive belt principle was applied on a far larger scale in his machine shop:

There’s Uncle Harry and the seated Aunt Shirley on the left.  Harry was intrigued by those vertical coils on the generators, wondering what they were for.  Presumably they’re magnets of some kind, but Harry’s more a theoretical physicist (emeritus) than an engineer.  Maybe Uncle Clarence would’ve known had he come along.

Look at the conical drive wheel on the floor on the right, like a Devo hat.  Several more are visible here:

That’s a differential drive wheel of some sort, letting you shift speeds not unlike a set of bicycle gears.  It’s a bit hard to see how they would’ve worked; it would’ve been necessary to loosen and re-tighten the belts, and to make sure the increased radius on one drum was compensated for by a decreased radius on the other, or else you’d have to switch to a different length of belt, I guess.  The belts appeared to be rubberized canvas held together at the seam with staples.  They didn’t seem to be easily adjustable.

Let’s see, what else?  Well, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of Edison’s telephone lab with my telephone:

Here’s another of those generators, in Edison’s lab building:

This is a highly sensitive galvanometer (I think) that had to be put atop heavy brick pillars to keep it free of vibrations:

An Edison phonograph, the early tinfoil model:

Here’s a lousy, overly backlit photo of something really awesome:

What is it?  It’s a recording telegraph.  On the left is a rotating paper disk; as a telegraph message is received, a needle punches holes in the disk, recording the Morse-code message of dots and dashes.  This disk can then be moved to the other thingy on the right and played back, driving the telegraph to send out the recorded message at a later time or relay it to the next station.

Think about that.  Not only did Edison invent the answering machine, he invented the compact disc.  A circular medium that stores binary data encoded in pits in its surface.  (I’d also give him credit for inventing the computer punch card, but those had been around since 1725 for operating automatic textile looms).

Finally, here’s an overview of Edison’s workshop:

That chair in the foreground left is the one Edison himself sat in for a publicity photo with Henry Ford and President Hoover at the 1929 opening of Greenfield Village, two years before Edison’s death.  Immediately afterward, so the docent told us, Ford had the chair nailed to the floor in that exact spot, where it’s been ever since.  As you can see, when they had to replace the deteriorating floorboards decades later, they just worked around the chair.

I wish I had a better shot of the thing you can barely glimpse at the bottom center.  It’s a wooden box with a toothed gear and a narrow plank extending to contact the teeth.  I could tell by looking at it that it would make a heck of a noise, but I couldn’t figure what it was for.  So I asked the docent.  It’s a “corpse wakener” or “corpse rouser,” something like that.  Edison worked his employees to the bone and they often dropped off to sleep on the job.  But Edison was the only one who was allowed to take a nap (and he reputedly had a hidey-hole under the stairs for that, though the only thing we found there was a small cupboard).  So when an employee was sleeping on the job, the box would be moved behind them and the handle turned, giving them a rude awakening.  I hope it didn’t cause any heart attacks.

So that’s about it for my tourist photos.  We saw other stuff while we were there, like a pioneer-era house with women in period costume and character (sort of) showing us how they did their domestic work.  The demonstration of how wool is spun was rather interesting; they had a classic spinning wheel as well as a simpler drop spindle, which is a rather ingenious device — you just wrap some strands of wool around it, start it spinning in midair, and let it draw out and spin the wool fibers into thread as it descends to the floor, then repeat.  It looked kind of fun, though I imagine it would get tiring after a while.  The docent dropped character enough to explain how the microscopic scaliness of wool fibers allows them to bind together like that.

I also discovered they must’ve been shorter back then, since I bumped my head going through the door into the back room, where food from the garden was stored and hung to dry.  They could’ve posted a sign or something, like those signs on bridges and tunnels that list their clearance.  Shirley was more interested in the garden than I was, being an inveterate gardener herself.  I had a time-warpy moment when the Village’s 19th-century railroad train went by right behind this colonial-era garden and filled the air with smoke.

We also saw a bunch of Model Ts go by; Model T rides are one of the major tourist attractions, naturally, and there’s a section devoted to Ford himself and his work.  But that wasn’t something we were interested in.  What struck me was that the Model Ts (Models T?) were larger than I would’ve thought.  I wondered if they were that way for real or if they were oversized to accommodate passengers.  Probably the former, since they were 4-seaters.  I guess it’s easy to misjudge the size of something you’ve never seen in person before.

So anyway, that was my visit to Greenfield Village.  As cool as the Wright workshop and Menlo Park were overall, I think that just about the most interesting thing there for me was the drive belt systems, a really ingenious steampunk technology I didn’t know about before.  I’ve got to write something incorporating such a system, maybe in the steampunkish fantasy universe I’ve been dabbling in this past year.

Vacation: Detroit Zoo

September 28, 2010 3 comments

The Detroit Zoo happens to be fairly close to where Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry live; Harry and I actually rode past it on our bike ride Wednesday morning and glimpsed a couple of Bactrian camels from the street.   But Shirley, Uncle Clarence, and I got a better look when we went there later that day (Harry was busy at the university).  Here are some of the few pictures I took that turned out well, and some not so well.  (Click them to enlarge.)

I couldn’t get any good photos of butterflies in the butterfly hall, partly because I was kind of nervous; I’m spooked by things flying close to me, and by insects in general, even when they’re pretty.   But here’s the outside of the hall:

In the foreground, you can see Clarence on his scooter with the umbrella stand he attached.  He didn’t need the umbrella, though.  Shirley is barely visible behind him.

Here’s a nice exotic flower Shirley called my attention to in the butterfly hall:

That leaf in the middle that looks white is actually purple like the other two, but it’s overexposed.  The pinkish part of the flower is flat, kind of tongue-shaped.  I have no idea what kind of flower it is.

The bird section was next.  As with the butterflies, the patrons walk right through the area the animals inhabit, with no separation.  (When we left the butterfly section, a zoo employee made sure we had no hangers-on; they’re concerned about contaminating the local population with exotics.)

The highlight of the bird area was a pair of big, colorful parrots, I forget what kind exactly.  But I couldn’t get a good angle for a picture of them.  The best I could manage was a shot of

some ibises:

And:

Here’s a Ruppel’s Griffon Vulture spreading its wings.  It’s much more impressive in person:

The vultures had a bizarre way of moving that must’ve been some form of display: wings spread and raised high, heads lowered to practically knee level as they trotted toward each other.  The lowered head suggests submission, but the spread wings suggest aggression.  I don’t know what to make of it.  It was very strange to watch.

I’m afraid the only other thing I got a decent picture of was this fountain:

The highlight was, of course, the tiger enclosure, but the tigers were napping (awwww) at the back of the trench, and the best shot I could get with my phone camera is this, in which they’re little more than blocks of pixels:

The rhinos were impressively huge, but I’m not sure it came across in the photo:

Finally, here’s my not-wholly-successful attempt to photograph a seal as it swam over the glass tunnel in the arctic enclosure:

There was a lot I didn’t manage to get pictures of.  There were some macaques in a glass enclosure and one put on a bit of a show for a little kid and his mom, coming right up to the glass, but I was too busy being amused to remember to take a photo, and no other good opportunities presented themselves.  I spotted a silverback gorilla, but it walked away behind the “rocks” before Shirley and Clarence could see it and before I could get a photo.  Some of the more interesting critters like the red kangaroo could only be vaguely glimpsed in the treetops, and the lioness was up on a ledge largely hidden by a tree.   No polar bears deigned to go for a swim for us, and the glass on the penguin exhibit was oddly fogged over.

Now, personally I’m not crazy about the idea of putting animals in small enclosures for display; I’d prefer it if they could all be in their natural habitats.  But things are improving in that regard.  Harry told me about how the Detroit Zoo used to keep elephants that they’d keep in an enclosure and then bring out for exercise in the yard, but fortunately they’ve now been moved to better living conditions.  That I’m particularly glad of.  We’re finding increasing evidence that elephants are highly intelligent, social creatures, perhaps on the same level of consciousness as great apes and dolphins, and captivity, particularly in the absence of a community, is as damaging to the elephant psyche as to the human.  So as impressive as it would’ve been to see elephants, I was more gratified by their absence here.  The Detroit Zoo was actually the first US zoo to part with its elephants on ethical grounds, and it is involved in conservation efforts for a number of the species it has on display.  I guess in a lot of cases these days, an animal’s natural habitat would be less safe for it than captivity, if there’s even any of its habitat left.

Wikipedia has more on the Detroit Zoo, including better pictures, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_Zoo

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The voyage home: addendum

September 27, 2010 1 comment

I forgot to mention that my drive home from Detroit wasn’t quite as trouble-free as the drive up.  When I started out, it felt like I was having slight trouble keeping the car moving straight.  I was afraid something might be wrong with the steering, but I convinced myself it was probably bumpiness in the road or something.  Anyway, when I stopped for gas just across the border, I got out of the car and it was incredibly windy and gusty out.  That was what was affecting the steering.

And when I filled up, I forgot to close the gas cap.  Luckily someone pointed that out to me when I stopped at the next rest area.  Later, when I got home, I discovered a smear of yellow paint on my rear bumper, but I didn’t remember bumping into any cars.  After a moment’s thought, I remembered that I’d bumped into a yellow thingy at the gas station when backing up to turn around — one of those things they put in that are presumably to keep cars from bumping into the gas pumps.  I don’t know what the term is.  So all in all, that wasn’t one of my most well-handled gas station visits.

I had to deal with some rain on the drive home too, including a few pretty heavy bursts.  Luckily the rainfall was brief enough that the road never became slick.  I made sure to slow down a bit for safety when the rain got stronger, but of course most of the other drivers just zoomed on ahead without a moment’s thought for safety.

The roughest patch of the drive wasn’t weather-related, but due to construction slowdowns in downtown Dayton that slowed traffic to a crawl.  I spent several minutes behind a big truck and had to brake pretty suddenly several times.  I got into the next lane at the earliest opportunity.

Given all that, I’m sure my gas mileage on the trip home wasn’t as good as on the trip up.  No way to calculate it, though, since I’ve done some city driving since then and it’ll be a while before my next fill-up (which will probably be at the start of my drive to New York next week — yeah, I’ve pretty much decided I will drive).

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My Detroit vacation (updated)

September 25, 2010 3 comments

Well, I’m back.  I didn’t much feel like blogging during my trip; I didn’t spend too much time online and I spent it doing other stuff.  So I saved it up for when I got home, and here I am.

The trip up to Detroit went pretty smoothly, particularly once I sorted out how to use cruise control.  Traffic was fairly light and conditions were good.  My bike fit in the trunk (with the back seats down) once I took the front wheel off (and I asked the bike-shop folks to show me how to do that the day before I left), so there was no trouble there.  I stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s on the outskirts of Dayton, and when I was about to leave again, I noticed to my amusement that it was across from “Cincinnati Street.”  Aaaaahhhh!!!  All that driving and I haven’t gotten anywhere! 😀

Anyway, there seemed to be a rest stop about every hour or so, and I availed myself of them to stave off fatigue.  I drove at the speed limit, and once I crossed into Michigan where the limit went up to 70, I stayed a bit below it.  All told, with all the breaks, it took me just under 7 hours to reach the home of Aunt Shirley and Uncle Harry.

I had a nice time.  Shirley and Harry were good hosts, and they have a nice house, a place they’ve lived for decades and raised a family in.  It’s very lived-in, full of pictures and knickknacks and stories.  I haven’t been there since childhood, since my father was something of a hermit family-wise and I tended to adopt that from him until he passed away and I rediscovered how much it helped to have a family.  But I still recognized things here and there, like the intimidatingly steep steps to the basement/game room and the foot-pump organ in the study.

Shirley and Harry are in their eighties, but quite fit, except that Shirley is recovering from a back injury and is less mobile than she used to be.  Harry’s been an avid bicyclist for decades, and even though he’s twice my age, I had trouble keeping up with him even on foot.  We took a couple of bike rides around the neighborhood, which is a good place for it.  It’s a pretty upscale suburb of Detroit, with quiet, mostly well-maintained streets, and it’s incredibly flat to a Cincinnatian.   Each ride was around 5 miles, according to Harry, and I doubt I could’ve covered that distance here in my neighborhood without wearing myself out on the hills.

The cuisine was vegetarian per Shirley’s preference, mostly using homegrown vegetables from a neighborhood gardening collective that Shirley participates in.  She reminded me of what an incredibly finicky eater I’d been as a child, but fortunately my palate has broadened, particularly where vegetarian fare is concerned.  Tuesday night, Shirley made a concoction I’m going to try to approximate at home sometime, consisting of veggie crumble (hamburger substitute), rice, canned diced tomatoes, onions, mild red and green peppers, and black pepper (I think that’s everything) (UPDATE: No, I forgot, it also had olive oil!).  It was quite satisfying.  I just had Cheerios and a banana for breakfast Wednesday, since Shirley was off to swimming and physical therapy, but lunch consisted of radish sandwiches.  I haven’t had radishes in ages, for some reason, and they were good.  We went to the Detroit Zoo that afternoon (more later), so we were tired and dinner was reheated pizza, but it was very good pizza from a new local place.  Thursday, we had homemade cinnamon-walnut-raisin oatmeal for breakfast, and it was excellent.  Lunch was the leftover veggie crumble-rice concoction, with more rice added and topped with Australian Cheddar cheese and cherry tomato slices, and it was even better than before.  For dinner, Shirley proposed a local Middle Eastern restaurant, and though my experience with Middle Eastern cuisine is limited to hummus and pita, I decided to take a chance and try it out.  I was adventurous enough to try a pita wrap containing falafel, tabbouleh, and tahini, even though I had no idea what the first two were before I entered the restaurant.  Well, I’d heard of falafel, but didn’t know what it was.  Apparently it’s basically meatballs made of chickpeas instead of meat.  Its flavor and texture remind me of veggie burgers, particularly bean-based ones.  Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds, an ingredient of hummus.  Tabbouleh is basically a finely chopped salad made of parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, tomato, and onion, but it struck me as a sort of salsa verde equivalent.  It was very aromatic and might’ve been a bit much for me on its own, but blended with other flavors it was okay.  I had it along with a strawberry-banana-orange-apple smoothie, and it was very satisfying.

A lot of my visit was spent talking with Shirley and Harry.  Shirley was full of Bennett family stories; her home has been pretty much the family hub for a long time, particularly when my grandparents lived right next door.   Harry had some intriguing stories too — he’s a physics professor, and he worked at MIT back when they were developing the earliest computers.  He helped solve some of the earliest programming problems, figuring out ways to make programs more streamlined and efficient, necessary when the whole computer had only a kilobyte or two of capacity.  So the fact that I’m able to write this blog and you to read it is due in some small part to my uncle.

On Wednesday, we were joined by Uncle Clarence, who is the second-youngest of Emmett (Sr.) and Mary Bennett’s four children, between Shirley and my father in age.  He resembles my father in appearance and sense of humor, though not in voice, and I gather they used to be more different.  There’s an old family picture I saw at my father’s memorial service and in Shirley’s house, and in it, the young Clarence looks strikingly like Groucho Marx, while my father looks kind of like me with short hair and a beard of almost rabbinical proportions.  Clarence is fairly quiet, except when he comes forth with a quirky observation or a pun that’s groanworthy even by Bennett family standards.  (When the family was in town after the memorial and we were driving around to see their old homes, we drove by Wentworth Avenue and I quipped to Clarence, “What’s a Went worth?”  Without a moment’s pause, he replied, “It depends on where you’ve been.”)  He’s a retired electrical engineer and an inveterate tinkerer.  He accompanied Shirley and me to the zoo, and while Shirley had a wheelchair, Clarence used a motorized scooter.   He didn’t make the scooter, but he modified it with brackets to hold his two canes (he insists a quadrupedal walking base makes more sense than a tripedal one, thus defying the Riddle of the Sphinx) and an umbrella holder on the back in case it rains.  And he made his own canes out of golf club shafts.

The zoo was nice, though the animals were mostly sleeping.  And there was a lot of walking and wheelchair-pushing involved, so Shirley and I were both tired at the end.   I’ll talk more about it in a separate post, with some pictures, though not many good ones, since my phone has limited resolution and no zoom.

On Thursday, Shirley, Harry, and I went to Greenfield Village, which is a rather unusual museum: Henry Ford went to considerable expense to bring a number of important historical buildings from various eras (or replicas thereof) together in one place.  For instance, Greenfield Village has Thomas Edison’s laboratories and the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop.  It was a thrill to visit those, and I’ll talk more about it in another post.  Better pictures there, since I could get closer to things.

So all in all, it was a very nice trip.  I set out for home on Friday midmorning, after a second bike ride with Harry.  They let me take an apple from their backyard tree as a snack for the road.  The tree wasn’t fruiting for a while due to the loss of the local bee population, but Harry had the idea to get a soft brush and pollinate the flowers himself, and thus they have homegrown apples (though the squirrels steal a lot of them, one of them doing so quite brazenly while we were watching out the dining room window).

Shirley and Harry recommended that I stop for gas right across the Ohio border, where prices were unusually low.  It was a good suggestion.  However, it wasn’t as needed as it might’ve been.  I’ve never been able to get more than 21 MPG on my car, generally more like 18-19, so I was expecting that the trip from Cincinnati to Detroit (about 270 miles) would take close to 15 gallons, i.e. about a whole tank.  But it took only about half a tank!  When I filled up outside Toledo, I calculated the mileage and got a whopping 32.5 MPG!  Okay, still not great in the absolute, and lousy next to Shirley & Harry’s Prius hybrid, but amazing for this car.

Which opens up an interesting possibility.  Assuming there’s no major increase in gas prices over the next two weeks, that mileage means that if I drove to New York Comic Con and back, staying in a motel overnight both ways, the cost would not be prohibitively greater than the cost of a Greyhound ticket (since computer problems prevented me from ordering a ticket far enough in advance to get a discount, which may be just as well).  And a few more bucks would be worth it to avoid another two sleepless nights on noisy, uncomfortable buses, particularly since I don’t have to pay for a hotel this time.  True, it’s a long drive, but I found the drive to Detroit and back to be manageable, and if I split this over two days each way, I’d only spend about 20% longer on the road per day.

So all in all, a satisfying trip and one that broadened my horizons.  I’ll have to do it again sometime.

Categories: Uncategorized

Upcoming travels

September 19, 2010 2 comments

I’m going to be doing (by my standards) a lot of travelling over the next few weeks.  This week I’ll be going up to Detroit to visit my aunt and her family, sort of repaying them for their trip down here for my father’s memorial service.  And this time I’ll be driving, since that should be less expensive than a Greyhound ticket, and since it’s a distance that should be manageable for me.  I’ve never gone on a drive that long — nearly five hours not counting rest breaks — but I got a fair amount of experience with long drives once my father moved into his retirement home, and even longer drives in those final few weeks when he was in the hospice way out in Blue Ash, and again to get out to the funeral home for the memorial.  So I figure I should be up to it, if I break it down into segments.  I’ll be leaving as early as feasible on Tuesday morning, so I have plenty of time to take as many rest breaks as I need.  I’ve read that ideally, for a long freeway drive, you should take at least a 15-minute rest break after every 80 minutes of driving.  That would mean about three rest breaks in my trip, which would correspond roughly to Dayton, Lima, and Toledo, I reckon.  But I’ll probably take more and longer breaks than that.

My aunt’s family are avid bicyclists, so I’m going to be bringing my bike up with me, assuming I can fit it in the trunk.  The front wheel is removable, so I should be able to fit it in.  It’s been too long since I was up there for a visit, but I recall that Detroit is a lot flatter and more bicycle-friendly than Cincinnati.

The second trip I’ll be making is to the New York Comic-Con on October 8-10.  This year I’m actually going in a day early, since my friend and colleague David Mack is putting me up, so I don’t have to worry about hotel bills (which get steeper and steeper every year) and can stay a bit longer.  This time I’ll be putting up with the long overnight Greyhound ride again,  since going by car would cost nearly three times as much (for fuel and motels), and I wouldn’t want to tackle a drive of that duration even if I did split it over two days.  So coming in a day early gives me a chance to get a good night’s sleep before the con (hopefully — I’m not sure how good my sleep will be in an unfamiliar bed, but at least I’ll be lying down).

Unfortunately, this year, Pocket Books won’t have an official presence at Comic-Con, so there won’t be a booth for me to use as a “home base” and there won’t be any formal signings.  I’ll just be wandering around, I guess.

So I don’t have as much professional reason to be at the con this year as usual, although it’s a good place to make industry contacts (and I’m going to get some business cards made up soon).  Mainly I’m just going since it’s a chance to visit with some of my writer friends and get a change of scenery.  I’ve been too much on my own the past few weeks, and I’ve been getting kind of depressed and irritable.  I need to get out and spend time with people.

My recommended daily allowance of irony

September 17, 2010 2 comments

Okay, so I noticed that my car was due for its regular 3-month oil change and checkup as recommended by a sticker that the dealership stuck on the windshield 3 months ago.  So I made the appointment yesterday and took the car in for service today.  While I was there, I passed the time by using their wi-fi to surf the Web with my laptop.  I decided to go to the New York Times page, and while I was there, in the car dealership for my regular oil change, I came upon this article:

The 3,000-Mile Oil Change is Pretty Much History

So I had to go to the dealership in order to find an article telling me I didn’t have to be there.  Oh, well.

But in the dealership’s defense, I think they may have updated their policy, since the new windshield sticker is going by mileage instead of date, and the mileage figure listed is 7,000 miles more than my current odometer reading — which, given my driving habits, is probably several years from now.  I probably shouldn’t wait that long, since the guy told me I’ll probably need my brake pads changed in a few months.

Anyway, on the plus side, I had one of those little plastic cards where if you get all the holes punched, you get a free oil change, and I had all the holes punched.  So I may not have needed to make this trip, but at least I didn’t have to pay anything for it (except the price of the gas I expended to drive there, plus 75 cents for the vending machine).

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Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES

September 16, 2010 6 comments

Just saw this film on DVD, and I liked it.  Yep, it’s a revisionist version of Sherlock Holmes in a modern action-blockbuster idiom, but in its own way it’s more faithful to the original stories than most filmic adaptations.  It had some good homages, not only to Conan Doyle’s original stories, but to earlier adaptations such as the Granada series with Jeremy Brett (homaged in the first shot of Baker Street, mimicking its titles, and in Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes voice, which showed some influence from Brett).  The characterizations were on target, the continuity details fairly good (allowing for creative license here and there), and the depiction of Holmes’s deductive methods and problem-solving was interesting.  Good to see a competent, intelligent Watson who’s learned to be almost as good a detective as Holmes, and it’s interesting to see the fact of his marriage worked into the story.

And as an action blockbuster, it worked pretty well, without too badly violating the plausibility of its setting (aside from some physical impossibilities like the cattle prod sending the big guy, Dredger, flying several feet through the air).  I was suitably entertained.

I have mixed feelings about Irene Adler’s role here.  I hate it when adaptations portray Adler as a love interest for Holmes.  That’s not it at all.  Holmes was fascinated by Adler because of his deeply rooted sexism.  He took it for granted that men were intellectual and women emotional, and that emotion was useless.  The idea that he could be outsmarted by anyone was shocking, but being outsmarted by a woman was beyond his ability to comprehend.  It contradicted his whole view of existence, and he was unable to figure it out — hence his fixation.  But on the other hand, I can understand the need to go in more of a “love interest” direction in a film like this, and it was handled better than in some adaptations I’ve seen (like that awful Sherlock Holmes in New York with a mindbogglingly miscast Roger Moore as Holmes), since Adler was the aggressor throughout and was portrayed as suitably brilliant, devious, and manipulative.  I think Rachel McAdams is too young for the role, and I’m not entirely convinced by her as a brilliant, cunning, strong-willed foe, but what the hey, she’s pretty hot.  (The one thing I repeatedly found myself thinking as I watched her was that she’d be perfect for a live-action version of Betty Boop.)

Mark Strong did an effective job as the villain Lord Blackwood, but I was more interested by the fact that he’s playing Sinestro in the upcoming Green Lantern film.  And as I watched him, I found myself thinking, “You know, he does look like Sinestro.”

I was lukewarm on Jude Law as Watson.  He did an okay job, but it didn’t really grab me.  The actress playing his wife-to-be, Kelly Reilly, is rather enchanting, however.  I hope she has a larger role in the sequel.

But as with the Iron Man films, it’s Downey’s performance that’s really the main draw.  And yet he manages to create a character very distinct from Tony Stark.  In a lot of ways, Stark and Holmes are much alike — dissolute, eccentric geniuses with self-destructive habits and abrasive personalities.  Yet Downey makes them distinct, largely through his vocal performance.  He really does do a very convincing English accent, at least to my ears, and brings more bass and resonance to his voice than I’m used to hearing in it (that’s the Brett influence).

At first I was unhappy seeing that Hans Zimmer did the score, since I was expecting another blaring wallpaper score like Inception had.  But he actually did a pretty distinctive and interesting score with unusual instrumentation and a more melodic, leitmotif-driven approach than I expect from Zimmer.

All in all, a pretty effective and entertaining film.  Sometimes I regret that films these days always have to be so big and elaborate and over-the-top, but as that kind of film goes, this is a good entry.  I look forward to the sequels.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

Chronological order?

September 16, 2010 1 comment

I’ve just finished rereading my two Marvel Comics novels (the ones I wrote, that is, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder), and I realized that for some reason I like to reread them a lot more than I do my Trek fiction.  Maybe because I’ve usually got a new Trek project in the works and that holds my attention.  Anyway, I’ve been giving some thought to rereading my Trek stuff, just to keep my memory fresh about it, and I thought it might be nice to read it all in chronological order.  So I thought I’d put together a list of the chronological order for my fiction (going by the main portion of the work as opposed to any flashbacks or prologues or what-have-you).  And I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone if I made the list here, since I haven’t done much posting lately.

So here goes, the chronological order of all published Star Trek fiction by Christopher L. Bennett, based on the assumptions I make in my own chronology, and numbered in the order they were published:

  • 6: TOS: “As Others See Us”: August 2269
  • 3: TOS: Ex Machina: October-November 2273
  • 7: TOS: Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again: January 2274; November 2279; December 2282; September 2283
  • 8: TNG: The Buried Age: May-August 2355; October 2358-May 2360; June 2363-January 2364
  • 9: TNG: “Friends With the Sparrows”: October-November 2371
  • 2: DS9: “Lov’d I Not Honor More”: January 2374
  • 10: VGR: Places of Exile: January-February 2374; August-November 2374; June-September 2375; February 2376 (alternate timeline)
  • 4: VGR: “Brief Candle”: February 2376
  • 1:  SCE: Aftermath: August 2376
  • 12: TTN: “Empathy”: October 2376 (Mirror Universe)
  • 5: TTN: Orion’s Hounds: February-March 2380
  • 11: TNG: Greater Than the Sum: September 2380-January 2381
  • 13: TTN: Over a Torrent Sea: (Prologue) February-April 2381; (body) July-August 2381

I didn’t include Seek a Newer World because it hasn’t been published and I can’t know how it might change if it ever does get the go-ahead; however, the version I wrote is set in October-December 2258, which would put it at the beginning of the list.  As for DTI: Watching the Clock, I don’t want to give too much away yet, but the main portion of the narrative takes place overlapping and after Over a Torrent Sea, in 2381-82.

So the most recent thing I’ve had published is also the most recent chronologically, and that will still be true once DTI comes out.  However, if SaNW had come out on schedule, then my most recent published work would’ve been set the earliest.

Some interesting patterns there.  I’ve got a block of three works, from #7 to #9, where the writing order and chronological order match up.  Moreover, of the first three things I wrote, each took place earlier than the last, and everything from #6 to #11 was moving forward chronologically.

In the coincidence department, my chronology lists Places of Exile as starting two days before “Lov’d I Not Honor More” begins and ending two days after “Brief Candle” ends.  Other than that, the shortest gap between two works set in the same timeline is between GTTS and OaTS, with only seven weeks separating them.  To date, I have no overlaps between works set in the same timeline, but that will change when DTI comes out.

So am I going to reread all my stuff?  I don’t know.  If so, probably not all in one clump.  But if anyone out there wants to read it all in chronological order, there’s your reading list.

Easy comb, easy go

September 8, 2010 1 comment

I discovered this morning that I have apparently lost my comb.  It’s a trivial thing to lose, but I’ve had that particular comb, a simple red plastic pocket comb, for as long as I can remember, a pretty sizeable fraction of my life.  And I get kind of attached to my stuff.

I’m pretty sure I must’ve lost it at the grocery store last night; I know it was in my pocket next to my wallet, and sometimes it got caught up in there, and I imagine it must’ve fallen out when I took out my wallet to pay.  Or something like that.

Anyway, I just got back from a trip to another, nearer grocery store to buy a new one for $1.49.  This one’s black and more angular than my old one.  Hmph.  I miss my old comb.

Speaking of my stuff, and speaking of stuff made of black plastic, I’ve realized that the problem with the printer/scanner/copier I bought the other day is that, well, it’s made of black plastic.  It’s this big black box taking up space, and I find it kind of depressing to look at.  I’m tempted to take a cue from Michael Okuda and get some kind of brightly colored tape to decorate it with.

Categories: Uncategorized

As for Lester’s SUPERMAN II…

September 7, 2010 4 comments

Recently, I did a post in which I discussed re-watching Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie followed by the reconstruction of his original version of Superman II, and concluded that both individually and together, they work better than I remembered.  I also concluded that Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut works much better than what I could recall of the final, theatrical version of S2 which was largely reshot by Richard Lester after Donner was fired from the production.  However, my memories of that film were rather vague.

Well, lately, BBC America seems to be forgetting the “BBC” part somewhat and focusing more on the “America” part; it’s apparently running a series of mostly American movies whose only real British connection is that their villains are played by English actors.  And one of those was Superman II (which, true, had a British director and was filmed largely in England, but still had nothing to do with the BBC as far as I know).   I wasn’t too eager to revisit that film, but I was curious to compare it to the Donner version, and I figured that since I’d had the nerve to comment on the films online, fairness demanded that I watch the Lester version so I’d have valid information to base my judgments upon.

And my judgments were correct.  Lester’s S2 is one film I don’t need to change my opinion of — or rather, my opinion of it has actually fallen now, since I hadn’t known just how much it fell short compared to what the story should have been.

Cutting out Marlon Brando was clearly a bad move.  It’s fishy from the start, when the recap of the first film under the titles manages to exclude all images of Jor-El even during the destruction of Krypton, and when the trial of the three villains is retconned to having an anonymous voice pass sentence on them.  (And the attempt to depict their “crimes” is baffling: Zod walks into a room, breaks one crystal, and then the room turns into their trial chamber?  So they were sentenced to the Phantom Zone for petty vandalism?)  More importantly, it badly undermines the plotline of Superman giving up his powers for Lois and then trying to get them back.  In the original Tom Mankiewicz version of the story, that’s a continuation of the Superman/Jor-El relationship, the son defying the father and asserting his independence.  It’s a strong confrontation where the risks, motivations, and consequences are far more clearly spelled out.  And later, when Jor-El sacrifices himself to restore Superman, it’s a meaningful climax with real consequences.  It makes sense: there is a way to restore Superman’s powers, but at great cost, and it can only happen once.

But in the Lester version, that whole arc becomes feeble.   It’s not so much the replacement of Jor-El with Lara that ruins it; if anything, Lara was unforgivably marginalized in the original film and this could’ve been a good showcase if she’d been written more strongly, if a real relationship had been established with her son (although it still wouldn’t have been as strong and unified an arc across the two films).  The problem is that the writing simplifies the tensions and difficulties spelled out in the original version and makes the whole thing so much more cursory.  Things aren’t explained as clearly and the emotions are far more superficial.  “Ma, I love her.”  “Okay, but you have to give up your powers for her.”  “‘Kay, fine.”  “Cool, go into that chamber.”  I don’t recall precisely, but I’m pretty sure the Jor-El version at least offered some explanation for why he had to give up his powers to be with Lois.

And then there’s how he gets his powers back — he goes to the Fortress, yells futilely, then sees the green crystal and picks it up… and then later he suddenly has his powers again!  It’s too random, too easy, with no consequences, nothing sacrificed.  And since Lara had clearly said that there was no going back once he gave up his powers, the ease with which he recovered them feels like a cheat and makes Lara come off as a liar.

Of course one can complain about the excess of comedy beats in the Lester version, and that’s valid, though it’s nowhere near as bad as the third and fourth films.  Most of the East Houston sequence was annoying and unnecessary — though I almost liked the running gag about Non struggling to make his heat vision work, since at least it gives him some personality.  And the comedy intrusions in the Metropolis battle, particularly that whole extended product-placement scene set outside a KFC, undermined the intensity of that sequence.

But the other thing that struck me the most here was how much Lois was weakened as a character in the rewritten scenes.  The Donner version of S2 opens with Lois simply looking at Clark Kent and noticing that he resembles Superman.  Unlike virtually every other incarnation of Lois Lane, she is actually perceptive enough not to be permanently fooled by a pair of glasses.  Then she does an experiment to test her notion, drawing Clark clothes onto a photo of Superman.  Thus convinced, she dramatically risks her life to prove her conclusion, jumping out a window to force Clark to change to Superman and save her.  He manages to save her without revealing his identity, and she’s left uncertain, but ultimately clings to her conviction when Superman shows up at Niagara Falls, and then she enacts another bold ploy to force the truth from Clark, shooting him with a blank so he thinks he’s been exposed and gives himself away.  Throughout, she’s perceptive, strong-willed, and in control.

But in the Lester version, she’s so much less of all of those things.  She doesn’t even begin to suspect the resemblance between Clark and Superman until she accidentally gets a glimpse of him without glasses.   Instead of being observant and deducing that they’re the same man, she stumbles upon the discovery.  She then tests it in a variation of the window-jump scene from the Donner version, but instead, she merely jumps into the rapids — still dangerous, true, but not as extreme and unambiguously life-or-death a gamble, and it’s not that hard for Clark to rescue her while still remaining Clark.  And at that point, Lois is completely convinced she was wrong, and doesn’t even suspect anything further until Clark “accidentally” stumbles over the rug and his hand lands in the fire.  Lois is taken completely by surprise.  They rationalize the stumble by suggesting that maybe Clark subconsciously wanted her to know, but that makes Clark the initiator and leaves Lois far more passive.  All in all, she’s a far less impressive character in this version.  (Not to mention that the shot of Clark taking off his glasses and changing his bearing to become Superman without changing clothes is far less impressive in this version, because his back is to the camera.)

One more thing I noticed was that there were a number of scenes where Luthor’s voice was evidently dubbed over by a different actor with a lower, gruffer voice than Hackman’s.   I recall hearing that Hackman refused to come back to work on the Lester reshoots, so I guess Lester had to go with a voice double for the relooped dialogue.  I wonder who the double was.  I can’t find a listing for a voice double on IMDb.

Bottom line, when the Salkinds fired Donner and cut out Brando to save money, they ended up undermining Superman II on many levels, and we were deprived of a much better story.  Which isn’t really news to anyone who’s familiar with this film’s production history, but now I’ve seen the specifics for myself.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

A bad day gets better

September 4, 2010 3 comments

I’ve been down with a cold for most of the week, and what with still being in an emotionally fragile state, being cooped up here alone for a few days hasn’t been good for my peace of mind.  When I’m forced to be sedentary for days, the nervous energy builds up and I get kind of on edge.  (Well, my “kind of on edge” is probably more like “extremely on edge” by most people’s standards.)  And it didn’t help that my DSL connection has been dropping out intermittently for the past few days, and especially today.  I’ve found that sometimes jiggling the receiver on my desk phone helps clear it up, even though it’s not dial-up — I’m not sure why that works, but sometimes it seems to.  But not so much today, and I got so frustrated with the constant loss of connection that I almost tried to snap the phone’s handset in half like a twig.  (Which isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds; I’ve been thinking I need a new desk phone, so I’m on the verge of considering this one expendable.)  Anyway, I was really an emotional wreck this morning.  Even reading one of my favorite books, Superman: Miracle Monday by Elliott S! Maggin (available here along with numerous other Maggin Superman stories), didn’t cheer me up.  (Admittedly, I don’t like MM as much as Maggin’s first Superman novel Last Son of Krypton.  But it has some lovely moments.)

So even though I wasn’t sure I was up to it, I decided to take a walk to the park.  And there were some really pretty clouds in the sky.

Clouds 9/4/10

So that was nice and calming to look at for a while.

As I continued my walk, heading up toward the university, I realized it was getting close to lunchtime and I decided to eat out.  Rather than going to one of my usual places like Panera, I decided on impulse to go to the Five Guys, where I got a hot dog a while back, and to try an actual honest-to-gosh hamburger.  Now, I mostly gave up red meat years ago for health reasons, and once I’d done so, when I occasionally got the urge to try a Big Boy or something for old time’s sake, I found I didn’t care for the taste as much as I remembered.  So I kinda stopped trying.  But a few months ago at Shore Leave, as I mentioned at the time, I was in a situation where a hamburger was the best available option for a timely lunch, and I thought it was not bad.  So I decided to follow up on that and see if Five Guys’ reputation for hamburgers was deserved.  I got what they call a “small” hamburger, one 1/4-lb patty instead of two, with cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and grilled onions, along with their usual exorbitant amount of fries.  And it was really a very good hamburger.  It would be trivial to say it’s the best one I’ve had in years, since it’s only like the third one I’ve had in years and the first of those was pretty bad, but it was so enjoyable that I thanked the staff on my way out.  I had a bit over half the fries that came with it and took the rest home for later.

So I was feeling better after my trip.  Then the mail came — and my long-overdue outline advance for DTI: Watching the Clock was in it, along with the second disc of The Middleman from Netflix.  It was just past noon, and when I checked my bank hours online, I discovered that the branch over in Hyde Park was open until 1.  So I drove over there and deposited the check.  And I figured while I was in the area, I should go to Staples.  My printer has been pretty much on its last legs, and my scanner died years ago, so I wanted to get one thing that did both and clear up some space.  The store clerk directed me to a reasonably priced, reasonably sized one on sale, I asked a bunch of questions, and it seemed to be the closest thing available to what I needed.  So I bought it and started heading homeward.

Well, kind of homeward.  I was heading toward an intersection where I’d have three choices: go down to the freeway to take the quick way home, make a left and take the more leisurely (though more direct) route home, or stop in the mall by that intersection and browse around the Joseph-Beth bookstore for a while.   As I neared the intersection, I realized I was feeling a little fatigued, so I decided stopping for a rest was a good idea.  So I spent some time browsing.  Then I went back to the car, but I was still feeling sleepy.  I needed caffeine and/or sugar to give me a boost.  So I walked over to the Starbuck’s in the mall and had an iced tea lemonade (in a size which I will properly designate as “small” no matter what overaggrandizing label they insist on using — really, how stupid is it that both their smaller sizes are given names that mean “large?”) and a blueberry scone.  Thusly caffeinated and ensconed, I drove home by the non-freeway route… but instead of taking the direct route along Madison to Woodburn to Taft to Calhoun, I decided just for old times’ sake to try a different route, basically the reverse of the school-bus route I used to take home from high school — which, come to think of it, would probably be the same route I used to go from home to school, but I don’t really recall that end of it.  Mainly I remember the route because sometimes I walked home, even though home was a 50-minute walk away.  Ahh, those were the days.  I wish my knees could still handle 50 minutes of nonstop walking.  They can handle close to that if I’m in good condition and I pace myself, but not quite.

So anyway, I decided to veer right on Dana and then turn onto Duck Creek Road, following it toward Montgomery.  As I approached Montgomery, I realized I didn’t quite remember where to go from there, but I figured I’d wing it; I’ve been around the general area enough over the years that I was sure I’d recognize something.  I was pretty sure I was supposed to turn left onto Montgomery, and that proved correct, because Montgomery then became Gilbert and that eventually brought me to the area around campus, at which point it was a familiar route back home.

So after a while, I decided to unpack the printer/scanner/copier and see about setting it up.  I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the box and discovered that the printer and its accessories, instead of being wrapped in throwaway plastic bags, were protected in a “greener” way, wrapped in a reusable tote bag and accessory pouch!  That’s a really nice bonus.   As for the printer, I had relatively little trouble setting it up, aside from an initial problem getting it to recognize that I’d installed the ink cartridges, which I cleared up just by turning it off and on again.  So far it seems to work fine, and I’ll just have to remember to try to use it more regularly to keep the cartridges from clogging.  I hope I don’t have too many problems acclimating to an HP printer after using an Epson for so long.

Now my main question is, how do I dispose of the old printer and scanner?  I’ll have to see if I can find better alternatives than just tossing them out.

So anyway, for dinner I decided to have a turkey sandwich and the leftover french fries.  So I looked online (between connection dropouts, which I was able to tolerate somewhat better than I did this morning) and found instructions for reheating fries in a toaster oven (place on the tray, coat somewhat liberally in cooking spray, heat at 350-400 for 3-5 minutes depending on preferred crispness).  It worked fine, and I had my dinner while watching The Middleman.  I watched two episodes straight through, but decided to save the other two for tomorrow.  The episodes on the first disc were a little underwhelming to revisit, but by this point they were hitting their stride.  Art Crawl!  Sheer elegance in its simplicity!  Half a drake deep!  Mutual of Omaha, how I miss this show.

So the day got off to a rocky start, the culmination of a less-than-stellar week, but it turned out pretty nicely overall.

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