Friday, June 19, 2015

Positive Review! (it feels good)

The first prose story I had accepted for a print publication was "You Gotta Give Good..." in the steampunk anthology, New Orleans by Gaslight.  I'm proud of that story.  Anyway.  I popped over to Amazon to get a few copies of the book to have when Dan and I head to Baltimore in September for the Baltimore Comic-con, and I got lured into reading the reviews, most of which are a couple years old, when the book was published.  I was kind of glad I did (emphasis mine):

This anthology has been a welcome escape from dry academic reading for grad school. All of the stories are well-written, action and adventure with rich, relatable characters, in a world I would love to become lost in. Often, even in these works of fantasy, the themes are both tragic and highly relevant, such as in Crescent City, allegorical of the gross mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; and Super Dome, which deals with the horrors of war. My favorite story in the book is You Gotta Give Good. Buy it. You'll see why.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Another great episode of the ITMODcast dropped today--the Remember the Alamo segment on John Ford & John Wayne's THE SEARCHERS.  It's another fantastic conversation, revolving around my favorite film genre, centered on my favorite director/actor combination.

But, if we move away from The Searchers, as they do in the episode, we find that one of the hosts, Brad, can't enjoy The Magnificent Seven because he's unable to divest the film of its debt to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

Brad, I understand, but how can you not be all in after this opening scene?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Always Late to the Party – Man of Steel…some thoughts

Man, oh man, oh man of Steel…people hated on this film something fierce when it came out.  But, we do reserve our strongest online opinions for those things that matter most ß sarcasm. 

Ahhhhh, the interwebs. 

The expectation, from myself and those who know me, was that I would hate on this movie too.  I was born in ’72, am an 80s child, and Christopher Reeve’s Superman is my Superman, full stop.  What Reeve did with the duality of Superman and Clark Kent is phenomenal.  You not only believed a man could fly, but you believed he could trick everyone with a pair of glasses, boring hair, and a slouch.  I love that first Superman film in the way one can only love those things we are introduced to at a certain age.  Superman: the Movie will always be the top of the heap for me, even with the ridiculousness of Gene Hackman’s Luthor and his sidekick, Ned Beatty.  So, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel had a rough hill to climb if it wanted to make a serious impact on me. 

Let’s bullet-point this:

·         Lois Lane: 
I loved the fact that she used her investigative skills to discover who Superman was, before he was even Superman.  We’ve been told for years that Lois Lane is an award-winning journalist, but we’ve never seen that in the films and rarely, if ever, in the comics.  Having Lois track him down demonstrated her ability and made her more than just a cipher. 
Added bonus: this changes the dynamic of the relationship between Clark/Superman & Lois in a way that is novel and interesting.  Big props for this storytelling point. 

·         Pa Kent: 
Man, this portrayal by Kevin Costner sure did have a lot of detractors.  And I get that.  This Pa Kent does not teach his son to be the hero the world needs.  He does not instill in Clark the selflessness embodied by Superman.  This Pa Kent was selfish and scared of what would happen to his son, if his secret was discovered.  That’s not Pa Kent. 
Despite the fact that this interpretation missed the core of this character, I was impressed with how consistent the characterization was throughout the film, including the tornado scene.  His motivation came from wanting to protect his son, at all costs.  And though I disagree strongly with this characterization, I, as a parent, fully understood and empathized with this Pa Kent. 

·         Krypton: 
I did enjoy the visualization of this alien landscape.  It was a bunch of flash with stunts we’ve seen before (did anyone believe Jor-El wasn’t going to be caught by something when he stepped off into that freefall? No.), but it was cool.  And I’m always down to watch Russell Crowe onscreen.  So, put this one in the plus column.

·         The Kiss (amid the ruins): 
Where did this come from?  It’s possible I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but this felt completely forced, especially amid all that destruction.  I didn’t feel they built up the romance well enough (which, to be fair, can be said of 95% of the romances in Hollywood films), and the fact that they were surrounded by all that destruction…Superman is selfless.  One could argue this is Superman before he’s truly become Superman, except that one’s moral core is formed through one’s childhood.  So, even if he’s new to using his powers, he should not be new to feeling empathy for others.  Bad narrative choice here.
o   Aside: we rarely see Superman putting others first during the destruction of Metropolis – the sidestep of that oil tanker (which he could have stopped, avoiding the destructive explosion) is the prime example of this – which is odd, since that seemed to be at the forefront of his mind before he discovered and put on the spandex.

·         The Battle with Zod et al: 
Yes, Superman needs action.  And we got that with Man of Steel.  But it was so over the top, from my point of view, that it just pulled me out of the narrative.  It was ridiculous, the figures looked obviously animated, and the speed with which they moved made things muddled.  Somehow, the Flash television show does a better job with super-speed battles than this feature film did. 
o   Beyond how it looked, a lot of people were upset with the wholesale destruction of Metropolis.  It felt too real for them, reminded a lot of people of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  And I get that.  But, viewing this film through the lens of my personal experiences, I didn’t agree with this criticism.  Anyone who’s read Superman comics or watched Superman/Justice League cartoons has witnessed a similar level of destruction.  When Kal-El can let loose with his full force, and has an equally strong foe, there’s bound to be a lot of explosions and crumbled buildings.  It is part of the appeal of superhero stories.  And have Michael Bay films or the Marvel films shied away from cartoonish examples of destruction?  (if they have, apologies, I haven’t seen many of them, though I remember some dynamic explosions in the ones I have) 
o   (another aside: why, as a general rule, is violence something we don’t usually discuss in our entertainment, but sex and sexuality are always being put upon by righteous people? ßrhetorical)
o   Why didn’t Superman lead Zod away from Metropolis or Smallville? 
Good question.  That is what Superman should do.  It’s his M.O.  And I don’t know that I have a good answer.  Superman/Clark seems to have a bifurcated characterization in Man of Steel.  Before he attains “the suit” he is the mystery man with great power who assists people, anonymously, apparently out of the goodness of his heart.  He puts others first and often sacrifices his latest identity in order to save people, then moving on to become someone else.  And yet, once he has the big red S on his chest, he seems to regress in his characterization, unthinking of all those millions of people suffering and dying as a result of his battle with Zod.  It’s strange.  One one level, it makes sense with what we see of his upbringing by Pa Kent, and yet it goes against everything the audience learns of him while Lois is trailing his mysterious deeds.  I don’t know. 
That said, as I watched the battle beginning with Zod threatening Clark’s mother, which throws him into a wild rage, it never felt like Superman/Clark had time enough to breathe or even consider taking the battle away from the city.  Sure, the writers and Snyder, as director, set it up that way, but there really was no respite for him to consider the consequences.  He was just reacting.

Ultimately, I was less bothered by the actual battle and destruction and more annoyed with the actual execution of it onscreen.  So, let’s call this one a wash.

·         Superman as Jesus: 
Did you catch it?  DID YOU CATCH IT?  Subtle, Zack Snyder ain’t. 
Obviously, they are going to utilize this metaphor in the upcoming Batman v. Superman film.  Of course, I shouldn’t be coming to Hollywood blockbusters for nuance. 

·         His powers, and did the filmmakers do anything “new” with them?: 
Even as horrible as Superman III is, the scene where Superman crushes a piece of coal into a diamond, along with that opening scene where he freezes the top of a lake and carries the sheet of ice to the refinery to put out the fire, are scenes that stick in the memory, because it was a new way, onscreen, of seeing Superman use his powers.  Though much of what we see in Man of Steel isn’t new, we did get a new way of experiencing his heat vision, and I thought it was pretty great.  I liked the visualization of it, along with the way it was used (even if the final scene with Zod doesn’t work).  So, chalk another one up for Man of Steel.
·         Zod’s Death: 
Doesn’t work. 
I understand what they were going for with this, but the filmmakers missed the mark.  Snyder seemed to want to draw out the tension of this scene by lingering on the heat vision as it just burned into that one spot beside the family who are unable to move away from that wall.  What?  Superman is holding Zod’s head still, why doesn’t he do something other than that hackneyed move where you pull your hands apart and the person’s neck you were holding breaks?  (Is this even real?  It’s at least a cliché we recognize.) 
For this scene to work you don’t need to up the tension; you need to have it be a split-second decision.  Then it would have felt true to the narrative.  Zod starts his heat vision, Superman plows through him and finally kills him, or Superman uses his heat vision on Zod and kills him, or Superman drives an I-beam (there must be some just hanging around in the rubble) through Zod and kills him.  Bang-bang.  It has to be quick like that, or it doesn’t work.  And it wasn’t quick.  And it doesn’t work. 
The core of the idea is an intriguing one, and an idea that John Byrne left for others to play with when he was writing and drawing Superman in the mid-eighties, but they dropped the ball on this one.  

All this being said (written), this wasn’t a bad movie.  There’s a lot to like in it.  Ultimately, I was bored with Man of Steel and likely won’t be checking out the follow-up.  I’ve got too many other things I want to read/watch/do.  Plus, I view Superman as an aspirational character, a hero to look up to.  He needs to be differentiated from the grimness of Batman because they are different characters with different backgrounds, who work well within their distinct milieus.

But, I suppose forcing Supes into the grim ‘n gritty box that’s worked so well was the safe bet.  Too bad, because we already had that grim ‘n gritty hero, the Dark Knight, and it’s difficult to have the darkness of Batman without it being offset by the lightness of others, like Superman.  Ah, well, what do I know?  I guess it’s official, I’ve become the curmudgeonly old man who wants you off his lawn. 

So, get off my lawn!