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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/10/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 37, Whole Number 1325
Table of Contents
Al Lewis Live (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I just noticed our local radio station WBAI still has a program called "Al Lewis Live". That is rather surprising, I guess. Perhaps there was more truth to "The Munsters" than I realized. [-mrl]
What I Did Not Like About SPIDER-MAN II (Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see that discussion and publicity is already starting about SPIDER-MAN III and the film is in production even as I write this. There is something about a publicity release showing him in a black suit rather than his usual red one. It is being readied for May of 2007. But if I want it to be better than SPIDER-MAN II, have little time left to express my complaints about the last film. Now I realize most of America liked SPIDER-MAN II. I am not responsible for that, but I should get out my list of complaints about the film. People may want to review the film to refresh their memories, and there are a zillion copies out on DVD.
The film SPIDER-MAN II was released In June, 2004. Now I had liked the first SPIDER-MAN film, rating it a 7/10, and the critics seemed to be very favorable on this sequel. I had high expectations for the film. Perhaps they were too high. When I actually saw the film it seemed to me to be an unending stream of poorly thought-out ideas. I told myself at some point I would try to collect all the bad touches in one article and, well, this is it. There will be spoilers in what follows and it assumes the reader has already seen the film.
Let us look first at the physics of Spider-Man. Part of this may be explainable by things I do not know about his powers, I suppose, though they should have been explained in the film. A spider can actually fall a great distance without being hurt, because its weight is a small fraction of an ounce. A man of 160 pounds or so is more likely to be injured when he falls even a moderate distance. However, three times in this film Peter Parker falls a distance of something like ten stories. He always recovers very quickly without much damage. Maybe he suffers a little pain in one scene. It is not clear what would have to be done to his body to withstand pressures like this, and it certainly does not seem to be something that could happen from some strange contact with some scientifically modified spider. I suppose there is no point in watching the film at all if you don't suspend disbelief on his. I list it here as a matter of completeness but I suspend belief on this one just like on his ability to in five seconds go from street clothes to his superhero suit. It is all that spider's doing.
But Peter Parker also seems to have been a materials genius. He puts stickum on his hands or has natural spider ability or something that keeps him stuck to the vertical side of a building while catching his aged aunt who has been picking up speed falling ten stories or more. How he has the muscle strength to pull away from a wall that he is stuck to that strongly I really have no idea. Things he does at the end that web should rip his arms off. Again we have to suspend disbelief on this one because it is basic to the Spider-Man character.
However, various people, not just Spider-Man, hang on a single strand of this web and are accelerated at rates that would have the web cut right through them like the ribbon on a pack of gum. This web material must be a miraculous substance that any chemical company would want to get their hands on. And they can. Spider-Man seems to leave samples of this webbing all over the city yet nobody synthesizes it. I believe in the comic Peter Parker actually invented this substance, but never thinks to sell it to get out of his desperate financial straits. In the film it is a natural product of his body, like silk from a spider's body, though it does not come from his thorax but his wrists. Other forces that Spider-Man's body is subjected to and survives include being thrown dozens of yards through a window. Also there is a scene in which just the web and the tensile strength of Spider-Man's body stop a speeding train. I will suspend disbelief on this also because it is the definition of the character.
Before this he tried to stop the train by standing in front and dragging his feet. It doesn't work and he only kicks up some railroad ties. Even being dragged through the streets by the train does not harm him. He must have tremendous muscle power just to do the whole Spider-Man swing thing. He propels himself at a speed many times that of an automobile and does it by muscle-power alone. He certainly does not inherit a strong tensile strength from spiders, but these are all long-standing assumptions about the character as he is written in the comic. But as my friend Nick Sauer points out, Spider-Man is really the Marvel Comics version of Superman. Okay, let me accept that Spider-Man has this sort of strength. I will give the stories that. But let me look at his chief villain.
Doc Ock seems to have some fairly amazing physical characteristics himself. This is the guy who has four mechanical arms attached to his body. At one point he picks up a taxi driving at him and tosses it in the direction from which it came. Newton's Laws say he would have massive recoil throw him backward unless he with his arms was extremely massive himself. He does have those arms, but it still seems unlikely. Of course, Doc Ock is a pretty amazing guy. He creates a fusion reaction like a little sun levitated over the ground a few feet from spectators and they do not seem to need to be shielded from it. It is not really clear what this whole thing with tritium and the sun is all about, but it looks very powerful. (Tritium is a gas, by the way. It is an isotope of hydrogen.) Luckily in the end the whole self-sustaining, fusion-reacting, highly radioactive mess, when it get out of hand, can be flushed away by simply dropping it into a river. Look out below. And the thing looks as hot as the sun. Why does it not vaporize the water and give off a cloud of radioactive steam that would kill everybody in the city?
Of course, the Doc's judgment does not have the best track record. He didn't think the reaction would run away in the first place. He didn't think that welding those arms on his body might cause a problem either. How did he attach metal to flesh? We see it happening, but it doesn't make sense. It would also be hugely painful. For that matter, what do the mechanical arms have to do with his physics experiments anyway? Anything close enough for them to manipulate could not be much further from the doctor, so they do not protect him much. But can't he work on one new innovation at a time? Anyway, doesn't he think the little sun he drops in the river will cause a few problems to the good people of New York? I guess New Yorkers have to be strong enough to adapt to anything. One tough nurse tending during Doc Ock's surgery is seen scratching deep ruts into a surgical steel table with just her fingernails when the Doc goes wild. Everything in the room is surgical steel including the steel surgical chainsaw. (Just where would you get a surgical chainsaw? Don't ask.) And what about those arms? We are never told why they have daggers at the center of each claw. They are controlled by artificial intelligence, but they seem to go well beyond that level of understanding. We never understand how the octopus arms work. They seem to tap into his spine and become part of his physiology. It is not clear what powers they give or why, but Doc Ock seems to recover very quickly. There is something mystical happening that between him and his metal arms that is never explained.
Speaking of those arms we never do get to see the scene I wanted to see. Doc Ock goes wears a full-length coat when he goes out. It appears to have holes for the octopus arms, not even long slits. I really wanted to see how he takes the coat off and puts it on. That must be something to see.
More next week. [-mrl]
Jingles (letters of comment):
Regarding Mark's comment about being Evelyn's Jingles in the 03/03/06 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein asks, "Does that make Evelyn Wild Bill Hickock? Or Joker? :-)" [-pir]
And Charles S. Harris writes, "I definitely grew up in the '50s, and I remember Andy Devine, but I didn't remember that he was called Jingles. Had to google." [-csh]
DEATH MATCH by Lincoln Child (book review by Tom Russell):
Two thumbs up from Tom Russell:
Some time ago Mark wrote about his graphical method of note- taking while reading a novel. Plot plotting. Mark's technique wasn't necessary for this straightforward, fast-reading, hard- science-fiction, who-done-it "thriller" by Lincoln Child I found on our library's Best Seller table.
As a quick review of sorts, here are the notes I took:
I do like vocabulary-stretching. And ancient science and technology.
My computer is still functioning after visiting these google-found urls:
Comment: One dialogue in DEATH MATCH is so familiar in phrasing and tone it must be a tribute to a well-known work by a well- known science fiction author.
If I had three thumbs, I'd give this book two thumbs up. [-tlr]
SORRY, HATERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: A woman for no apparent reason twists people's thoughts and actions intentionally trying to cause a disaster. The idea could and previously has been done well, but here it makes for a thoroughly unpleasant film experience. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10
Richard Matheson wrote a short story, "The Distributor", about a man whose sole goal seemed to be to sow evil in a small American town. It was not for the distributor's benefit in any obvious way--it apparently was just something he did. The short story was very effective. Stephen King expanded the idea into the long-winded, over-inflated novel NEEDFUL THINGS. It was not as good as the Matheson story--not as succinct or potent--but it still had some power. Jeff Stanzler tells a similar story when he writes and directs SORRY, HATERS, taking the idea again and giving it a political context in post-9/11 America. The result is a muddled exercise into a sort of hatred pornography.
Central to the story is Phoebe, scarily played by Robin Wright Penn, a good actor who obviously took this role very seriously. Phoebe seems to be the host of a New York counter-culture radio show called "Sorry, Haters". But there is more illusion and self-delusion to Phoebe than there is reality. One night Phoebe hires a cab and thereby meets Arab driver Ashade (played by Abdellatif Kechiche). The cab trip turns out to be to Englewood Cliffs where Phoebe spies on and harasses her ex-husband. Along the way she hears that Ashade has a brother incarcerated at Guantanamo who is being sent to Syria where he will probably be tortured and murdered. She offers to help Ashade by having her lawyers solve his problems. Ashade happily goes on and in the next few days Phoebe jerks him around and frustrates him, stoking the already smoldering fires of his anger and fear.
We never really know what is driving Phoebe except that she seems to have deep-seated psychological problems. Her favorite day in her recent history was September 11. This was one day when she thought that everybody in New York felt as helpless and agonized as she is every day of her life. So she hones and develops Ashade, making him into the weapon that will express her own anger. Her conversations with Ashade are solid bigotry as she vents her spleen against the world.
It is not clear what this is all about. Perhaps it is intended as a statement that America's enemies are entirely of America's making. If that is the case, it would need a better evidence than this fictional story. The film is shot on digital video, a new inexpensive medium that has the advantage that it is cheap enough that just about anybody can make a movie and the disadvantage that it is cheap enough that just about anybody can make a movie. The film is well acted by Penn as well as by Sandra Oh and Élodie Bouchez, who appear in supporting roles.
The low production values give the film a little more realism than it might otherwise have, if one can apply the word "realism" to a film like this. I just am not sure what Stanzler was trying to say. If he is saying that terrorism is actually caused by angry, white American female bigots who have real attitude problems, I have to say that was never my impression. If he is saying that Phoebe represents America creating its own enemies, I still think he is wrong, but that at least would be a message. Perhaps the film just does not bear thinking about. I rate SORRY, HATERS a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A lot of celebrity autobiographies are clearly written by ghost writers. Christopher Lee's autobiography, TALL, DARK AND GRUESOME by Christopher Lee (ISBN 1-887664-25-4), is not one of them. The style is so distinctive, so evocative of how Lee sounds when he speaks, that it must be written by Lee himself. Another sign is that it does not follow the usual "rule" of making sure the reader is clear on when things are taking place. Lee rarely gives a year for an event, although one can fix the dates in the later parts by what films Lee is talking about. However, none of this matters, because Lee's life is fascinating. For example, he was particularly interested in playing Rasputin, because of something that happened to him as a child: "I was once actually hauled out of bed to meet two men and shooed downstairs in my dressing gown, admonished to run the sleep out of my eyes because I would want to remember I'd met them. Well, I do remember them now--Prince Yusupoff and the Grand Prince Dmitri Pavlovich--though I was trundled back to bed without being told that they were two of the assassins of Rasputin." And when he was seventeen, a family friend took him to witness the last public execution (by guillotine) in France. Oh, yes, he talks about his movies too.
LEAVE ME ALONE, I'M READING: FINDING MYSELF AND LOSING MYSELF IN BOOKS by Maureen Corrigan (ISBN 0-375-50425-7) is about her experiences in reading, both as a girl growing up in Queens, and as a book reviewer in her adult life. Corrigan focuses on three categories of books, as she says: "I especially want to look at men's and women's lives as they've been depicted in three mostly noncanonical categories of stories: the female extreme-adventure tale, the hard-boiled detective novel, and the Catholic-martyr narratives." By "female extreme-adventure tale", Corrigan does not mean women mountain-climbers, but women who endure domestic abuse, societal mistreatment, etc. Examples she gives include Anne Bronte's THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL, or for that matter, almost any Bronte novel. Interestingly, though Corrigan talks a lot about the women in the Brontes' novels, she does not even mention any of George Eliot's female characters, though Eliot's Dorothea Brooke in MIDDLEMARCH and Dinah Morris in ADAM BEDE are very memorable. (And it's not even clear that Eliot's characters would contradict any of Corrigan theories.) "Catholic-martyr narratives" was perhaps a bit more central to Corrigan's life than to other readers since she attended pre-Vatican II Catholic schools. They include such books as KAREN (about Karen Killilea, though perhaps as much about the author, her mother Marie) and Dr. Tom Dooley's memoirs. KAREN rang a bell--I'm sure I read it back in school over forty years ago, indicating that that sort of inspirational book was probably promoted as much in public schools as in parochial ones. Corrigan's reminiscences of growing up reading will strike a wonderfully familiar and nostalgic chord with anyone for whom books were a major part of their childhood, as well as providing an interesting perspective on these categories.
DOWN HERE IN THE DREAM QUARTER by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-12268-3) is a 1976 collection of Malzberg's work from 1972 to 1976--and it contains two dozen stories and essays. A couple of points are worth noting about it. First, Malzberg in his comments says that the story "Transfer" was held at the offices of "Fantastic" three years before actually being published, and then, Malzberg says, "Barring one published letter in the fan columns of those magazines I have never received comment upon it." However, since this collection was published, "Transfer" has been reprinted at least four times. Some stories just take longer to percolate, I guess.
The other point is that of "Seeking Assistance" (published in the April 1976 issue of F&SF), Malzberg says, "It is meant to be my farewell to the practice of science fiction." Although he said there would be later stories published, they were written before "Seeking Assistance", and says that that story "is in point of chronology the last I will ever write."
Which is why THE MAN WHO LOVED THE MIDNIGHT LADY by Barry N. Malzberg (ISBN 0-385-15020-2) does not exist. It does not contain thirty stories and essays written between 1976 and 1980, and is obviously just a figment of my imagination. Well, okay, luckily for all of us, Malzberg changed his mind about writing science fiction. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Sex is the Tabasco sauce which an adolescent national palate sprinkles on every course in the menu. -- Mary Day Winn
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