28 March 2012

Retinal Pressure in the wild on Mars


In his Mars Trilogy, a favorite author of mine
KIM STANLEY ROBINSON
describes how the various shades of green exert a
RETINAL PRESSURE
when they are finally spied in the wild on Mars.

I wonder if his inspiration was in any part
WINTER IN MARYLAND
where is seems we are so long under browns and whites of
INFINITE MEASURE
or so it feels by the time Spring arrives.

I think of his colonists every year, at the
FIRST SIGN OF BLOSSOMS
and know with certainty that I empathize with their
RETINAL PLEASURE
at the end of the long rust and brown Winter.

     The above is a little experiment with putting words together, making it possible (and obvious) to pull a much shorter (rhyming) poem from the lengthier verse and yet still retain most of the original meaning.  Every Spring I fumble for the words to describe the joy I feel at seeing the trees and shrubs and grass (maybe not so much the grass) all waking up from their long sleep, and I believe that to truly comprehend my feeling you'll need to have read the Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Antarctica and A Memory of Whiteness make clever bookends to that trilogy, I think.

     The story arc of the characters and their long Winter as they terraform the red planet, and the payoff they realize as their hyper-extended lives witness the fruits of their labor are adequate analogues for the depth of feeling I have going from the excitement of the first chill of autumn to the inherent sadness of a late January evening to the simple pleasure of a spring green as its reflected wavelengths seem to cut directly into the visual cortex without all that mucking about with rods, cones, or neurons.  So what I'm trying to say is "Thank you, Mr. Robinson, for such great and inspirational stories."

19 March 2012

John Carter Reviewed

    In this era of one sequel too many and re-imaginings of movies that didn't need to be remade, it's a rare treat when the Action / Space Opera crowd gets a wholly original idea brought to life for our viewing pleasure. Just such an offering has been placed before us in the waning days of Winter 2012, a movie based on material so original that it's considered the Ur Space Opera, the material that Lucas, Roddenberry and almost everyone else who made a Science Fiction movie in the 20th century either stole from or found inspiring; A Princess of Mars, brought to the big screen by Disney and director Andrew Stanton as John Carter. Though crippled by a muddled advertising campaign and left to die of exposure by the critics, John Carter is a great film that you have to go see.

    NOTICE: As always with my reviews (sporadic as they are) I'm not going to dig into the plot, but I may mention things relevant to the story to make my points, so ye be warned of possible spoilers below!

  • Did you watch Avatar and wish that all those mind-blowing FX had some story substance (at least a story that we hadn't all seen at least twice before, i.e. Ferngully & Dances with Wolves)? Then you need to see this movie.
  • Did you see Clash of the Titans remade or Immortals and wish that there had been more flying ships and energy beams? Then you need to see this movie.
  • Are you a fan of Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars and always wondered what Croach the Tracker's people probably look like? Then you need to see this movie.
  • Do you like having a good time and watching good movies (see what I did there?)? Then you need to see this movie.
    John Carter, as I had so hoped in my previous post #SaveJohnCarter, lives up to my own billing as the origin story of origin stories. Giant ships locked in combat, a chemical that allows you to communicate in the native tongue, human and alien working together, weird energy beams, etc.; if for no other reason go to see the material that inspired all the other movies we love ("the ninth ray" is deliciously quaint, I must point out; very 1930's serial), but be pleasantly surprised when instead of spending two hours groaning about how you've seen it all before you marvel at how entertained you are at the majesty that Andrew Stanton has brought before you. Seriously, this guy did Wall•E, people. He knows how to tell a tale.

    Wait, what? Oh yes I did say two hours. It's not a 90 minute cartoon, folks, and the length is a blessing; there are so many fast-paced movies where the action is impossible to follow (I'm looking as YOU Transformers / Michael Bay) that it's nice to have a movie where I can tell who is fighting whom, what's going on, and I then have a few moments to consider what just happened before the next action sequence begins. This movie breathes, people. My butt wasn't even sore when it was over. You know how people complain after sitting through an unenjoyable movie that their butts hurt? Not the case here at all.

    Speaking of complaints, and before you think I'm a Disney plant (oh, for some of that sweet, sweet, Mickey Mouse money) I did have some issues with the movie. Firstly, I understand that because of budgetary, planetary alignment, and atmospheric issues they had to shoot in Utah instead of Mars, but I can control the tint of the photos I take with my iPhone on my iPhone. Are you telling me that in a movie where a goodly chunk of the characters are eight foot tall CG warriors with four arms, green skin, and tusks (so life-like; uncanny valley stuff, seriously) that they couldn't make the ground more rust-colored, nor the sky a little pinker? That would have been nice and not taken me out of the moment when Captain Carter gets himself teleported to Mars.

     Update: I conditionally retract this statement, because of this YouTube video: http://youtu.be/Q7UL8hvlk7k

    Speaking of being taken out of the moment, there's the soundtrack; specifically the orchestral music (the sound effects were pretty cool, especially the sound the little one-man flyers made. I want one of those, with all the levers and so forth). You spent so much on CG Thark that you couldn't afford a composer with an idea for an original melody? With a long weekend, a case of Red Bull, and Domino's on speed dial I could put together a more inspiring theme for the soundtrack on my iPad. I don't mean to imply that John William's Superman theme should have blared at us every time Captain Carter leaps into the sky (am I the only one to think that Superman's original power set was inspired by this?), but a compelling musical score adds a deeper layer to the cinematic experience. This score felt like Michael Giacchino was doing Stanton a favor, checking a box off on a list of "Stuff We Need To Make Movie". Giacchino brought us the score to The Incredibles, which I love, so we know he's talented. Maybe Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, et al have forced me to expect it, maybe I'm biased in favor of memorable brass lines because of my own instrument of choice, but the absence was noticeable to me. Obviously these are forgiveable omissions, and if John Williams has taught us anything it's that you can always go back and fix it later and then re-release it into theaters because we'll go see it!

    The fear, as I stated in #SaveJohnCarter, is that by failing to be a mega-blockbuster Disney will not only refuse to make the rest of the Barsoom novels into sequels, but that Disney and other studios won't want to take a chance on any new ideas (yes I see the irony) in the future. One hopes that once enough of us get the word out that this is a good movie that Disney might change their metal and their hearts, because I'm working on a novel that I think would be an awesome Sci Fi film, and I'd like to option it. I mean, GO SEE JOHN CARTER!

16 March 2012

Wherein I am late to the party: 21 by Adele

    It's reaffirming to listen to a break up album and realize that nothing in your relationship -- or your entire life -- can be analogized to what is being sung; it's high praise when that same album yet grabs you at some level deep beneath words, punches you in the gut, and insists that you listen to it until you know every chord and even the brass riff on that one deep cut that's buried too deep itself in the mix. 21 by Adele, as we all know by now, accomplishes that goal quite nicely.

    Without turning to Google I can already assume from the Grammy love I witnessed some weeks back that 21 has had plenty of critical love poured upon it, and I know I'm late (as usual) to the party -- unfashionably so (again) -- but I just got the album as a Valentine's Day gift (like rain on your wedding day, right?) and fell in love with Adele's voice and her album immediately. I put the CD in the car the morning after I got it and then into my laptop's drive at work. I had the Mrs. listen to it, she who is normally so critical of non-classical singers, and even she likes it! I'll not going into a lengthy analysis of the album, it's been done by those more qualified than I, but I will lament what I intimated earlier: I'll Be Waiting starts out promising, with a nice little horn riff, which is too soon buried in the mix under the rest of the awesome song. I'm very biased in favor of horn riffs, so it had to be said.

    I'm keeping this brief because I know just how late to this party I am, so I'll just say thank you, Adele, for this album. Also, not to lay any pressure on you, but I'm looking forward to your next album. If this is what you can do with a break up, I can't wait to see what comes from your next subject of choice. I have only one suggestion: more horns. I'm available for studio sessions, FYI.

12 March 2012

#SaveJohnCarter

(author's note:  Welcome to my 200th post.  I thought about making a special standalone 200 post, or posting my review of Adele's 21 which I'm still not happy with after a month, but instead I'm going with the below, something that has become more important to me as the day has progressed.  I hope you enjoy and are moved to action.)

     We are all aware of the Hollywood aversion to trying new things.  They're like Mikey when it comes to a script treatment that isn't a remake or followed by a Roman Numeral (note: write an original movie, but put a  Roman Numeral at the end of the title - I'll make millions!). And so we have John Carter.  John Carter, a contemporary vision of Edgar Rice Burroughs' (ERB) Barsoom novels, specifically A Princess of Mars (note I said novels.  There is more than one.  Hollywood could have their new franchise yet) cost just under $300 million to make, and only made $100 million world wide in its first weekend.  The word "flop" was laser-welded to this picture as soon as Saturday's receipts were counted, it would seem.

     I want John Carter to be a good movie. What I'm reading and hearing so far leads me to believe that it's either just an okay movie, or that it's a decent movie besotted by bad marketing, a director's vision out of control, in the finest tradition of Hollywood auteurs. Vulture explains the marketing issue well, and my two primary non-Internet sources of news (NPR/APM and The Express) have me concerned for this film, and for the future of risk-taking and innovation in Hollywood.

     I haven't seen the movie yet, but whenever the commercials air and the strains of Kashmir start up (I know, I know, the last time we had Kashmir in a movie we had Puffy -- as he was known then -- rapping over it, but it works this time) I turn to the Mrs. and tell her that we're going to see it, and she agrees with me.  I love that woman.  I understand that the material in the novels has been stolen and appropriated, borrowed and lifted wholesale from ERB's pages, but that's the point: his novels came first.  I want to see the original stories, I want to watch the proto-saga, see the origin story of origin stories, Space Opera itself being born on the big screen, 100 years after the original words were set down on paper.  I want to save John Carter.

     I want to save John Carter because if this movie doesn't end up turning a tidy profit then we'll be stuck with Iron Man XXXVII, where Tony Stark figures out how to put a distillery in his suit, 2 more reboots of Spider-Man with skinnier guys with poofier hair until Peter Parker looks more at home standing still in The Lorax than he does slinging webs, or God help us a third National Treasure movie.  My point is that Hollywood will want to take risks on original content even less than they already do, and we're already on our third Superman, folks.  Someone could be out there writing the next Star Wars, and the studios will pass on it because John Carter was an ok flick that had confusing commercials and ultimately broke even.  To do my part to prevent a future where our kids don't know the joy of undiscovered countries unbeknownst to their parents, I'm going to get to a theater to see John Carter as soon as I can.  Mind you, if it sucks my 202nd blog essay/post will be a retraction of "Save John Carter". But if it's awesome, or even just good, post 202 will be a link back to this one, reminding everyone to go see this movie.  For the children.

11 March 2012

736 Ducks


126 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
I imagine migration can be tiring - your normally hollow bones                                slowly filling with leaden fatigue
as hours on the wing rush by;
we've all been in that situation.

258 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
I pulled over to watch after the third mallard's
    explosive impact;
feathers everywhere.
It was an honest mistake they made in their group suicide,
      I briefly made the same
as I crested the hill that is now their downy grave.

301 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
Sun glinting on the shining-clean cars awaiting sale,
                 a sea of glass and chrome
too suddenly an entire dealership in need of windshield
      and dent repair,
but also flush in down and pâté and chaos --
         if that's your thing.

437 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
Surely their leader was relieved to've sighted what he thought
          to be a body of water (at last).
A cool spot to rest and maybe some duck weed for their
      empty stomachs; heavy lies the mallard crown.
Did he too late realize his error as he hurtled into the
 windshield of that Dodge like his cousin chicken at
Space Shuttle glass, or go to his final reward unaware,
     as so many of us do?

560 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
Did the second curse his leader in Donald Duck-like frustration
 as he too careened feet-first into an unsuspecting Chevy?
(It was a used-car lot, you see, all kinds welcome)
Or maybe not, but we've all been in that situation.

615 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
The remaining number of the badelynge bombarded the Buicks,
   Chevys, Fords, Nissans, and Kias mercilessly, cluelessly.
I knew for one oddly wet moment what it was like to be
     Francis Scott Key
 as feathery cannonball rained down
 on those decreasingly shiny automobiles,
    now not-so-gently used.
Just like Fort McHenry our Nation's Flag flew proudly
      over the scene,
       my co-witness to the crash-landing of that team of ducks.        Fatally.
     Into that car dealership.

735 ducks died today;
I counted - I was there.
That flag is still there, too, flying easily in the wind
 just as those ducks aren't.
The fading sun sets the red white and blue aglow,
  and the magic hour falls on that used car lot,
     as did 736 ducks, just hours ago.

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