Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight

What is the difference between The Riddler and The Joker? Quite obviously The Riddler is an obsessive-compulsive type who grew up with a love of solving puzzles. Simply getting away with a crime would be no fun; he has to pose riddles that give someone as smart as Batman the chance of catching him. But The Joker is a full-blown psychopath, showing no sign of conscience or empathy as he goes on his killing sprees. When he is not depressed between his manic episodes, his goal is to conform the world to his own tortured persona.

Travis Langley in his Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight has given us a primer on abnormal psychology. The quite obvious hook is that while most psychology books are rather dull, he develops case files on each major character in the Batman universe, thus making it an entertaining read for anyone with an even moderate liking of the comic books. So while recalling the escapades of King Tut and Mr. Freeze, you’ll learn about the difference between biogenic and psychogenic amnesia and the problem of love turning into objectification along the way.

Although Langley’s work is not meant to be a history of the different versions of the characters, he gives surprisingly detailed thumbnail sketches of how they changed through the golden age, silver age, etc. of comics.

So if you want a primer on abnormal psychology that is not dry as dust, pick up Batman and Psychology. You’ll be glad to know he concludes Bruce Wayne/Batman is not mentally ill. If he were, what would that say about so many of us who admire him?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mythbusters—Say it Ain’t So

Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and Grant Imahara have been axed from the long-running everyman science show Mythbusters. They were sometime referred to as the “B team” of the show, but I often found their antics more interesting than those of the “A team.” There was the time they ran a convertible beneath a semi, only to have the convertible launch over the protective berm of the property and almost land in the street outside. Or the time they lit some coffee creamer, only to run in panic when they saw the size of the explosion.

Self and Grant Imahara

You may be surprised at my calling it a science show, since they also did gonzo stunts. But they often showed how real science is done. Instead of visualizing people in white coats inside a lab, think of how they would measure the lift of toy helicopters or set sensing devices around an explosion to see at what distance it would be fatal to a human body.

As I stated in a previous post, writers often have to write on subjects they don’t know much about. If some of your characters need to speak in a scientific manner, watch several episodes of Mythbusters. You’ll soon have your characters speaking about “proof of concept,” the need “to establish a baseline,” and setting up markers “to measure in precise increments” in a convincing manner.

This may jar some people, but I’m actually not that sad to see Kari Byron go. She was kind of too coy on camera. I much preferred Jessi, the stuntwoman they had on for a few episodes, including the one where they tested Captain Kirk’s cannon against the Gorn.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review: Follow the River

In the 1700s, Mary Draper Ingles has everything torn away from her when Shawnee Indians massacre her Virginia settlement. She watches horrified as a neighbor’s baby has its head smashed open, then her mother’s scalp is waved in front of her. Pregnant and with two young boys, she is taken captive and forced to ride and walk far beyond where any white people have settled. All she can do is memorize landmarks along the way, although she receives hostile looks when she glances back to see what a course back would look like.

She gives birth in squalid, unclean conditions. Only her dignified air makes the Shawnee leader respect her enough to grant her some material comforts as she is forced to continue the journey without pause, along a river larger than any she has seen before. Mary is determined to escape and return home, hoping her husband is still alive. But how can she make it all the way back on foot, all those hundreds of miles?

Follow the River by James Alexander Thom is historical fiction based on the incredible true story of Mary Draper Ingles, who walked an estimated eight hundred miles along the Ohio River and through the Appalachian Mountains.

Thoms describes the ordeal in vivid detail. In this passage, Mary recovers from her numbness after the massacre:

Her skin began to tell her of the humid valley air, the trickling of her own sweat, the crawling of wood ticks, the bites and stings of mosquitoes and no-see-ums, the rubbing of the horse’s hair against the inside of her knees, the whip and drag of leafy branches across her face and shoulders.

This description continues as Mary passes through scenery beyond her imagination, encounters Shawnee culture, plots her escape, and makes the arduous journey back.  

I highly recommend Follow the River as an engrossing account of an unlikely survival story, and also as a slice of life that exposes a violent period of American history. I have to make a couple of qualifications: If you didn’t like the part about a baby’s head getting smashed open, there are other gory details as the Shawnee torture other white captives. And for some reason, Thom has Mary daydream about having sexual relations with her husband, in too much detail. I have no idea why he did that, but it makes the book for adults only. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review of the movie Great Expectations (2012)

Pip is an orphan brought up in grinding poverty, but he’s good-natured—he even shows kindness by taking food to a violent escaped convict. But being raised by a semi-literate blacksmith, he has no expectations.

One day he is escorted to a large manor house on the whim of the owner, Miss Havisham. To say that Miss Havisham is eccentric is like saying the surface of the sun is a touch hot. She constantly wears her wedding gown from decades ago, when she was jilted on the day of her wedding. And the drawing room still has the wedding cake and other preparations from that very day. For that matter, the entire house has been preserved as it was in that one moment, when she received the letter telling her it was over. But not exactly preserved—rotting.

In the midst of all this is Estella, a young orphan just like Pip. Pip has been brought to play with her. But Estella has been trained by Miss Havisham to exact vengeance on the male half of the race. Pretty, flirtatious, but with a heart of ice, she educates Pip in the finer things of life while only showing him coldness. Poor fool, the young Pip falls in love with her.

One day Pip is arbitrarily sent away by Miss Havisham. Not content at being an apprentice blacksmith, Pip dreams of someday being a gentleman while hammering away. Then a lawyer shows up out of the blue. He informs Pip he has great expectations. An unnamed benefactor has decided to sponsor Pip to live the life of a gentleman. He is to leave for London immediately.

Pip thanks Miss Havisham and goes off to London, where he joins a gentlemen’s club and begins the difficult transition of becoming mannered. But what price lurks behind this sudden change in fortune? And when he sees Estella again, she is busy flirting with the most unworthy of these moneyed young men. Can he reach her heart?

This 2012 version of Great Expectations is a lush, dark, beautiful retelling of the tale. One of the standout scenes is when Pip (Jeremy Irvine) arrives in London in a foppish-looking small town concept of a gentleman’s suit, only to be greeted by the fresh butchery needed to feed the city, street urchins trying to sell him all manner of things, and lots and lots of mud. Then the thuggish behavior of the young gentlemen in the club, who are assured of incomes they never earned, fairly bursts off the screen in their thoughtless boisterousness. Other period details, from moss on a gravestone to the gems in Estella’s hair to the impending approach of the great paddlewheel of an oncoming ship are so perfectly portrayed that they stay imbedded in the mind’s eye. Some of the early scenes with young Pip and Estella are lit by genuine lamplight, which shows the effort taken to be authentic.

Although Jeremy Irvine and Holliday Grainger as Estella do their best, they are overshadowed by the older stars. Ralph Fiennes is unrecognizable as the convict Magwitch, and it looks scarily uncomfortable to be within several paces of him in his dirt-caked persona, muck and saliva hardening in his beard. And Helena Bonham Carter is just disturbing as Miss Havisham with her deathly pallor. She can dismiss Pip with an abrupt “Goodbye” that surprises, or seem to become lost within her wedding gown. She dominates almost every scene she’s in, even when she’s being wheeled around in her chair while lying almost horizontal. The one exception is when Holliday Grainger comes into her own, and as Estella, tells Miss Havisham, “You made me.”

This version stays surprisingly faithful to the book without any harm to the pacing. This is a movie worth clearing an evening for, to watch the macabre and splendid aspects of Victorian life compete with each other in this Dickens’ classic.

For those of you who saw the 2011 version on PBS, with Douglass Booth as Pip, Vanessa Kirby as Estella, Ray Winstone as Magwitch, and Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham, I’ll make a few comparisons. This is also a beautiful version, but instead of staying as close to the book, it was somewhat more of a reimagining. That is, they would take certain moods and themes from the story and find their own way of expressing them in a compelling way.

I’d have to say the newer version has the better cast. Gillian Anderson was impressive as Miss Havisham, but she played her in a scary way, rather than as an eccentric. I’ll make an exception for Ray Winstone. It’s true that Ralph Fiennes is quite the chameleon in his acting skills, but Ray Winstone has a face that’s been “lived in,” and he makes the better convict Magwitch.

The end of the 2011 version has more of a CliffNotes version of the fates of Miss Havisham, Pip, and Estella. It’s best to see this version first, than the 2012 version. It’s kind of like making sure to go to Disneyland before going to Disneyworld. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Drones Part II

To continue from my previous post, back on the 4th of July I was in an area park. I saw a feature new to me: a large mobile, several feet high. It had model airplanes attached to it, and they moved as the mobile moved. This was an incredibly neat thing to see.his was an incredibly neat thing to seeones. ttached d as the mobile moved.

But when I walked up to it, I saw the models attached weren’t airplanes. They were military-style drones. I was astonished.

I guess this is what happens when the Boeing Corporation is a major local donor. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...