Archive for June, 2012

‘Prometheus’ reconsidered

June 28, 2012

I got to watch Prometheus in IMAX 3D. I think the ticket cost $14.50, but oh my, was the visual experience gorgeous. (Caution: Spoilers ahead!)

The script, unfortunately, was not improved by the experience, although I did get a smidgen more insight into the character of Charlie Holloway. He is very intelligent, yes, but also impulsive and blinded by his vision of contact with the Engineers.

Holloway mutters a key line to himself in the scene in the storage room, the one with the giant head. Having wandered off alone, after taking in the details, he says something like, “It’s just another tomb.” Well, it’s just the most fantastic tomb ever discovered by humans, but this sentence and Holloway’s pensive delivery establishes that the scientist was — in his way — as determined as Peter Weyland to meet the Engineers.

Thus it makes sense that as soon as the decapitated Engineer head explodes, Holloway — already clutching a bottle of alcohol — proceeds full speed ahead to get his drunk on. You can’t have any enlightening conversations with aliens if they’re all dead.

Sadly, none of the other plots holes in Prometheus could be cleared up by my second viewing. Why did Weyland pretend to be dead? Don’t know. Why does the ship keep on losing track of Fifield and Millburn? Not sure. Why does the Engineer pursue Dr. Elizabeth Shaw after his ship crashes? Unclear.

Stegner seeks a true lie in his novel of the American West

June 26, 2012

Is it possible to salvage a life gone wrong?

That’s the question Wallace Stegner sought to answer in 1971 when he published Angle of Repose, his novel of an artistic New Yorker married to a rough-and-ready engineer of the American West. Their story is told as a rather speculative family history being assembled by Lyman Ward, a wheelchair-bound retired historian whose first-person narrative frames the book.

Lyman’s grandmother was Susan Burling, a pretty woman from a modestly well-to-do farming family in Upstate New York. At a rather stuffy Brooklyn party on Dec. 31, 1868, she met Oliver Ward, a bright but untrained engineer who longs to accomplish grand things as a self-made man of the West.

Susan’s interest in Oliver is tepid at best. Then the man she fancies, the brilliant and upwardly mobile magazine editor Thomas Hudson, becomes affianced to Augusta, her best friend. Ward, who has functioned as a sort of backup plan, soon returns from his Western travels, and an engagement quickly follows.

Oliver’s passion for Susan burns brightly from the start. But like a fire built from freshly cut wood, her love for him never bursts into full flame unless conditions are favorable. She constantly measures her marriage against Thomas and Augusta’s seeming idyll, and her union usually suffers by comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Another glorious Ridley Scott mess

June 25, 2012

So I’ve seen Prometheus, the new Ridley Scott movie. Summing up: What a glorious mess.

The setup is intriguing. About 80 years from now, archaeologists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover evidence that an alien race which they call the Engineers created humanity.

More accurately, they have found what appear to be star maps in artifacts from ancient human civilizations scattered across very different places and times, meaning that these cultures never had contact. The leap of faith — one of many — that this professional and personal couple make is that aliens are our makers. Corporate honcho Peter Weylanda (a heavily made up Guy Pearce) buys into this theory and dispatches a scientific expedition led by Shaw and Holloway aboard the eponymous starship to what they believe is the Engineers’ point of origin.

Prometheus is helmed by Captain Janek (Idris Elba) but under the nominal control of icy corporate bureaucrat Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Further muddying the lines of command are the actions of David, an incredibly intelligent and very meticulous android who answers to a mysterious authority. The identity and motives of David’s true master constitute something of a third-act revelation — although anyone who’s paying attention should be able to identify the person lurking behind the curtain well in advance. Read the rest of this entry »

Hard-luck hard drive?

June 22, 2012

Today was disrupted by the…disappearance of the internal hard drive of my MacBook Pro.

I had no advance warning that the nearly three-year-old machine was about to go on the fritz. I operated it very briefly as I rushed to get ready (after having exercised) to get down to the Southpoint Mall’s Apple Store, where I was going to take a class for a side project on which I am working. After the lesson and lunch, I went to Bean Traders off of NC-54, ordered some tea, opened up my laptop and waited.

But no matter how long I waited, the unlock dialog requesting my password never popped up properly. Read the rest of this entry »

Apocalypse tomorrow: Two books contemplate life in a land of death

June 14, 2012

There are few topics in life as interesting as death. Sure, endless reams of paper and reels of celluloid have been expended on money, love and adventure. But death may hold more fascination than any of those.

Consider the countless murder mysteries in print, on film and on television. Think about tales of espionage, adventure stories, science fiction TV series and movies: Almost inevitably, the lives of an agent, a crew, a nation, a galaxy hang in the balance. The prospect of mortality helps sharpen the poignancy of medical dramas. Death overshadows and underscores war, horror and historical narratives.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that there has been much speculation about the end of the world and everything after. Recently, I read two such books: The Pesthouse, a 2007 novel by British author Jim Crace, and The Road, which American writer Cormac McCarthy published in 2006.

Crace begins with a fascinating premise. Several generations ago, apparently, for reasons unspecified — perhaps the exhaustion of fossil fuels? — America lost its ability to generate electricity. The nation, and possibly the rest of the world, has fallen into a primitive state roughly equivalent to the 18th century. Metal is now an exotic substance. For all intents and purposes, medicine has vanished. Artifacts of our contemporary existence are viewed as indecipherable ruins. Read the rest of this entry »

Burned and bummed out

June 14, 2012

I had been driving for a few hours after my visit to Little Talbot Island State Park on the Atlantic coast, on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Fla., when I felt it. “It,” of course, was that tell-tale irritation familiar to anyone who has carelessly exposed skin to too much sunlight. My three hours of eating, reading, lounging and wading at the beach had left me with a souvenir.

Semipermanent blush. That is: sunburn.

I got home around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday. After unpacking the car, I stripped and inspected myself in the bathroom mirror. Most of my normally pale back was crimson. So was much of the top of my left foot. There were also a few red spots on my right foot and by my inner right ankle. Stray blotches were scattered across my chest and belly; there were a few on my arms and legs, too.

Before heading into the sunshine Monday, I had tried to coat myself thoroughly with sunscreen. While lounging on the sand, I had applied a second coat to my shoulders, which painful repeat experiences have taught me to be particularly vulnerable to solar radiation. Unfortunately, I had considered and rejected the notion of applying a fresh layer of sunblock to the rest of me, and I had paid for that omission.

I was burned, and my back and my left foot were yelping. Read the rest of this entry »

Beach banality

June 13, 2012

On my way back to Durham, N.C., from Tallahassee, Fla., I stopped at the beach.

After searching the web for the ideal beach to visit near the state capital, I got a brain wave: Jacksonville is on the coast. Jacksonville has beaches. And Jacksonville is approximately three hours closer to my destination than Tallahassee or any Gulf of Mexico beach near Tallahassee.

So around 9:30 a.m. Monday, I headed east from my motel and kept on going until I hit the Interstate 295 loop around Jacksonville. Some maneuvering delivered me to Heckscher Drive on the city’s east side, where I paused by the St. John’s river ferry. In fact, I parked in the lot of a bar I mistook for a restaurant.

But when I walked in and asked what they had for lunch, I was told I was in a liquor store. I walked out with a bag of potato chips and a can of soda. Then I drove to the gas station across the street and picked up two pouches of trail mix, a chocolate bar and a large bottle of water. There was some confusion on my part as I searched for an ice cream sandwich, which I thought I had seen advertised on the iceboxes outside the convenience store. In fact, the iceboxes were for bags of ice; the store had no ice cream due to one of its coolers being broken. Read the rest of this entry »

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