Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Avenging Superheroes - Part 1

Next summer the superhero movie to top all superhero movies is coming out: Avengers. And I couldn't have cared less a few weeks ago. My brother told me about Iron man, my friends talked about Thor, and still I didn't budge until the day the trailer came out and I watched it. I've never had my mind changed so fast, and all it took was one name. It wasn't the trailer itself that impressed me, it was the discovery that Avengers is written and directed by none other than Joss Whedon. (I think my exact reaction was "Why did no one tell me?")

Suddenly I went from not caring less about Avengers to being very, very interested in seeing it. But I was already behind the game. I didn't know any of the main players. So I set out to find the characters' original movies and watch them. This meant stalking the library for Thor, Green Lantern, and Captain America, and getting the rest on Netflix.

Ivan Danko
Iron Man 2

"Did you see Iron Man 1?"
"No, it wasn't available instant view on Netflix. The library had two copies, but managed to lose them both. So I read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia instead."

Besides, the villain in Iron Man 2 is more cool. No, seriously. Maybe not the character himself, but his weapons are cool. This is definitely a symptom of the villain being cooler then the hero...

Tony Stark is, in his own words, "a billionaire playboy philanthropist." He's also dying. I can't help but wonder, in a society as advanced as this, isn't there some better method of preventing shrapnel from penetrating to your heart? Can't you do surgery, or something? I feel very sorry for Tony; not because he's dying, but because the writer's are clearly putting him through everything for the sake of the furtherance of the plot.

My favorite character, though, was Tony's friend James Rhodes. I love that sort of friendship in a film. Romance is all fine and well, but romance is overdone. I like just seeing ordinary friendship built on mutual trust. James stole the Iron Man suit, but Tony trusted him with access in the first place. It was James who didn't trust his friend, which he later realized and apologized for and everything was happy.


Betty Ross
My mom talked about the Incredible Hulk sometimes, the man who turned giant green when you made him angry. As children we always thought that was funny. As a film, it's still funny. It's so totally an old superhero they're trying to bring up to modern standards, but I always got the Jolly Green Giant and The Incredible Hulk mixed up and so all I can think is "Oh, he's big and green!" I don't care how dramatic the music was, how flashy the cinematography was, or how long the movie was. Nothing can eliminate the entire dated feel of the storyline.

The cinematographer clearly thought he was brilliant, but he only succeeded in being distracting. There were a couple of really pretty shots, and there were a lot of really flashy ones. Instead of cutting from the character talking to see the look on the face of the character listening Frederick Elmes would show us both at once, in a split screen or an inset. I never knew which one to look at or pay attention to. To make things worse, the movie was way too long. 2 hours and 18 minutes is one way of measuring it, the fact that it took a full minute for anyone to say anything was another, and the really long and drawn out fighting/rampaging scenes was yet another.

Also, the villain is more cool then the hero! Bruce's dad can blend with the elements. And elementals are just plain cool. Also, elementals are the good guys. Raging green hulks are the ones you should be afraid of. The reversal of roles was confusing, disorienting, and dissatisfying. The real villain was the idiotic military commander who tortured Bruce into changing.

Incidentally, Bruce is also the name of Batman, so we have two superheroes with the first name. How shall we ever keep them straight?

Remind me what makes Hulk a superhero again?

In Conclusion
Patiently waiting for the library to get the other movies on their shelves. The last time it took two months. Meanwhile I'm going to stick to animated superheros like... Megamind!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Cliff-face and the PTO Shaft

[We have] seen the valley itself, which is as dark as pitch. We also saw there the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit; we heard also in that valley a continual howling and yelling, as of a people in unutterable misery, who there sat bound in affliction and irons; and over that valley hangs the discouraging clouds of confusion; death also doth always spread his wings over it; in a word, it is every whit dreadful, being utterly without order.
- Pilgrim's Progress
I had a friend once, an ex-Mennonite who'd been excommunicated because he wouldn't back down on what he believed. He was also a self-taught vet, and we spent a lot of time together in the barnyard. Sometimes conversations about what semen to order turned into discussions about theology, and he would sit at the kitchen table with my dad for hours. I sat on the other side of the room, listened, and wrote.

Mennonites are legalistic, even excommunicated ones. My dad is very not legalistic, and of necessity debate ensued. A debate that took an interesting turn, when it became a discussion about why it was necessary to discuss differences...

I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again; behold, on the left hand there was very dangerous quagmire, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom of his foot to stand on. The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good CHRISTIAN was the more put to it; for when he sought in the dark to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness, he would be ready to fall into the ditch.
- Pilgrim's Progress 

 Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. And it is narrow, very narrow. Dangerously narrow, so that keeping to the center of it is a difficulty even for the strongest. Perpetually one is straying to one side or the other, but on both sides lie dangers. The way my friend described it thus:

One one side of the path is the sheer drop of Legalism. Fearful of that the liberals stay as far away as possible. Too many friends have gone over that cliff and never made it back onto the path.

On the other side, however, is the spinning PTO shaft of License. I'm afraid of heights and want to stay as far away from that cliff as possible, but my friend had seen too many people chewed up in the PTO shaft, and wants to avoid it at all costs.

Time out! What's a PTO shaft?

That, my friends, is what makes this description so vivid. A PTO shaft is a moving part on the back of the tractor that makes things turn. It's what makes the blade of a bush-hog mower go round and round, or the bands on a hay-baler. It's metal, and it spins, and you do not get near it when it's spinning. You do not ride on the back of a tractor when the PTO shaft is engaged. You do not stand too close to a spinning shaft with loose clothes on. If something gets caught in that shaft it will wind you in, mercilessly. If the operator of the tractor is fast enough to shut it off you might get out alive.

It's a description only a farmer or someone who lives with tractors would understand at first glance, but it's a description farmers and people who live with tractors can not easily get out of their mind.

So you're walking along that cliff I'm so afraid of, but I'm dangerously close to that PTO shaft, and my hair is down. I'm calling out to you, "Get away from that cliff!" and you're holding out your hands to me, begging me to get away from the PTO. And we are both backing into danger.


You are my friend, and you trust me, and you hold out your hand to lead me away from the PTO and I take it to pull you away from the cliff, and we walk that way, each balancing the other, pulling each other back from the every present danger.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fear of Falling

"I realized, the moment I fell into the fissure..."
Riven's Star Fissure

Where angels fear to tread... even now, standing on the edge. It's that feeling you get. Right in the back of your head. Go on, go on, go on, go on, go on... ... It's not the urge to jump, that's too kind. It's deeper than that. It's the urge to fall.”
- Doctor Who; the Satan Pit

 Somewhere all my darkest fears are gathering,
It's not enough to save the day, I can't escape my nightmares.

- Chameleon Circuit; Nightmares

We're writers. As writers we take the role of God in our stories, dealing out life and death, happiness and despair. As writers we are entitled to a certain amount of insanity, and we revel in our power, make jokes about tormenting our characters, and gleefully keep a death toll. As writers we mirror and exaggerated real life, and what would any story be without a bit of conflict?

Then comes the darkness. The nights alone, with our pen and paper, typing out desperately the fate of our favorites. The more we love a character, the worse it seems we treat him. We grow out of fairytales and develop a vicious desire to show the world how bitterly hopeless life can be. We exalt in this rite of passage, in our ability to tear at our readers heart strings, and to bring people to tears with the grief and pain we depict.

And then, we look back on what we have written, and are ashamed. I wrote that. I was capable of writing that. And more then that, I enjoyed it. If I can write about it in such detail and with such pleasure, what is to keep me from crossing that line of reality, so fragile already in my mind?

We write because we have to. We are compelled to. And when we fear our own writing that is when we write the best. We argue, we debate. How dark is too dark? How violent is too violent? At what point should we cease to shed our characters' innocent blood? Even once we've convinced ourselves that what we write is true, is just, and is acceptable, we do not cease to fear it. We do not stop awaking in the night, haunted by the darkness in the world and in us.

We ask, is this our conscience calling to us? Is this an alarm telling us to stop? Is being a sadistic writer really something to be proud of? And, above all, how do I know when to stop?

When you stop being afraid.

When you wake up one day and the violence doesn't affect you. When your characters' cry for mercy and you no longer hear. When what you've written before really doesn't seem all that violent, and the scenes your friends cry over don't touch you. When you can't see the horror and the pain, then you have gone too far. When you become proud of the goriest parts of your story, instead of ashamed, then be afraid.

A construction worker far above the ground is afraid of falling. It's a long way down, and there's nothing keeping him from falling except his own will. Stand too close to the edge and you could fall over. He is afraid, and he stays away. Don't be silly, his friends say. It's perfectly safe. You couldn't fall off of here any more than you could fall off your front porch. “I've fallen off my front porch,” he says, and stays away from the edge. Still, his co-workers taunts haunt him. Perhaps it is silly to be afraid. Perhaps it's just something he needs to get over, this fear of heights. Or maybe this is the wrong job for him, if he can't stomach him. Day after day these things eat away at him, and over time he becomes less afraid. He stands up straight near the edge, he looks daringly down at the street below. He walks with confidence, bold and fearless.

That is when he falls.

Confidence betrays, you can no longer distinguish between bravery and foolishness. Fear the darkness. Be afraid of heights. Be afraid, and live. Cry for your characters; lie awake and keep watch for your demons. Be hesitant of blood and pain. Never wish to meet your villain. Never wish to be him. Shudder at your vulnerability, and never loose sight of the darkness. Stay away from the edge in case you lose your footing and find yourself...


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Doctor Seven

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth

 The last episode of Star Trek; the Original Series Season Two was the first episode of a new, spin off series. This was the only episode of that series to air, and no one is quite sure what became of it. Doctor Who fans will assert, however, that Gary Seven was either an impostor or the Seventh Doctor in disguise, for who else could possess the same marvelous technology?

Gary Seven's "Sonic Device."

The Tenth Doctor's Sonic Screwdriver

Gary Seven's manufactured credentials

Psychic Paper

However, there is one difference which we can be quite sure of... at least when it comes to the Tenth Doctor's incarnation. The Doctor is not a cat person.