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Posts Tagged ‘get off of my lawn you kids’

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

June 17th, 2013 No comments

I’d been wary of Man of Steel from the moment production of the film was announced. I was unhappy about the prospect of producer Christopher Nolan’s grimy “superheroes in the real world” aesthetic being applied to my pal Superman.

Early trailers did nothing to allay my concern. I felt a bit better once I saw the clip of Henry Cavill and Amy Adams discussing Superman’s S-logo as a symbol of hope, but then the reviews came out and seemed to be confirming my fears of a dark and dour Kryptonian.

I recently got into an argument on Facebook by writing “If (Superman’s) brooding, you’re doing it wrong.” It was an intentionally flip, reductionist statement, but it got at the point I’ve been trying to make for years, that Superman is an intrinsically optimistic character.

The modern view of fellow crimefighter Batman is that of a grim vigilante inspired by his earliest, pulp avenger adventures and conveniently ignoring the three decades he spent trading quips with Robin and punching aliens. It works because Bats was conceived as a figure of menace who operates at night.

Superman, by contrast, flies overhead in plain view. He wears bright, primary colors. He”s powered by the sun, for Rao’s sake. Possessing the ability to do virtually anything, he chooses to do the right thing.

That’s what I was afraid of losing once I began to see photos of Henry Cavill in the muted colors of the Kryptonian full-body condom he sports for Man of Steel.

So, now that I’ve seen the movie, what do I think?

Let’s be clear, Man of Steel is not the Superman movie that I wanted. However, on the whole I quite liked it. It preserves what I value about Superman…with a couple of major caveats that I’ll get to shortly.

The movie establishes Kal-El/Clark Kent as an outsider among humans, but Cavill’s portrayal was much less emo than that of Tom Welling over on Smallville. His Superman displays the right instincts, and I sensed that he could play the lighter character of the early Richard Donner films if desired.

The script is well-constructed, and carries through its theme of nature-vs.-nurture. Tellingly, Superman has two complimentary fathers in his life, whereas his counterpart General Zod has none.

Zod himself is a more complex character here. He’s by no means a sympathetic figure, but by the end you do understand that his motivations run deeper than wanting people to kneel before him.

My primary criticism of the film–at least in its IMAX version–is that it’s an assault on the senses. It’s achingly loud. Every punch is another jolt to the inner ear. It literally took hours for my hearing to fully return to normal.

It’s also very, very violent and destructive. When brawling Faora and Nam-Ek in downtown Smallville, Superman tells people to take shelter, but what good is duck-and-cover when airplanes are crashing in fiery explosions on Main Street?

In Superman II, the villainous Kryptonian Non–the counterpart of Man of Steel‘s Nam-Ek–was punched through a building, trailing a vaguely Non-shaped wake of destruction but leaving the skyscraper more or less intact. In the new film, buildings tumble into plumes of debris. And while I wasn’t quite as bothered by the imagery as was Bully over on Comics Oughta Be Fun, there’s no doubt that thousands of people were NOT saved by Superman. I do wonder just how much humanity could ever truly trust him–despite his many good deeds–in the aftermath of 9/11 a dozen times over.

And there is one moment which is so completely at odds with the traditional character of Superman that it must be discussed. This is huge spoiler territory, so stop now if you don’t want to know how the movie ends.

Superman KILLS Zod. He snaps the villain’s neck.

It’s an entirely justifiable action, and clearly it is meant to be a moment of failure and anguish.

As Bully suggests, the script doesn’t give Superman the chance to do otherwise. Having already exhausted the plot device that exiled the other super-criminals to the Phantom Zone, Kal is left to fight alone against a Zod who–devoid of any future purpose in life–states his intention to murder every last human. With no strength-sapping Kryptonite or convenient “molecule chambers” around, there’s no way out. Zod has to die.

Again, it’s not presented as a punch-the-air moment, but rather one that is emotionally wrecking for Superman. Unfortunately, the movie is pretty much over at this point, so there’s no room for reflection, no suggestion that this is the beginning of his long-standing moral code against killing.

Now, none of this is truly an indictment of Man of Steel. I thought that it was a well-written, well-acted movie. I could see “my” Superman within it, and I hope that next time they let him come out and play.

 

 

We’ve Crossed The Border(s), And We’re Not Coming Back

February 14th, 2011 No comments

Updated (2/16): See below.

I’ve dreaded this development for years: the Borders bookstore chain is headed for bankruptcy. I’ve long been a loyal Borders customer, thanks in large part to the constant reinforcement of cascading discounts. Hardly a week goes by without at least one visit, and I usually walk out with something.

I never fully understood why Borders always struggled in comparison to rival Barnes & Noble. Granted that–here in Champaign, at least–B&N tended to be the better stocked, but Borders handed out free coupons like candy while its counterpart charged $25 a year for the privilege of saving 10 percent. When I had my Borders-branded Visa, I existed in a consumerist spiral of discounted books and DVDs that earned me Borders Bucks that allowed me to buy more books and DVDs at even steeper discounts and accumulate still more points.

I know that I abused the system; despite warnings that multiple uses of a given coupon during its cycle constituted fraud, I might drop by several times in one weekend when there was an especially meaty one. The golden ticket–40% off any item–was a clarion call to let my printer rip.

I may have been part of the problem.

Yet, in my mind, I made up for it in volume. I have bought a lot of books these past few years, and I wasn’t buying them on Amazon.

It’s too early to tell if Borders will go the K-Mart route (still in existence, albeit without a store within 30 miles of my house) or that of Circuit City (going, going, gone). Hopefully, our outlet will escape the purge. If not, we’ll be down to a B&N, a couple of used book sellers and the campus bookstore. Last week, USA Today speculated that small book dealers may make a comeback, but ours–Pages for All Ages–is long dead.

And it’s all the Internet’s fault.

Okay, you can’t assign blame to a series of tubes.* Besides, it’s a specious argument that ignores other concurrent technological and societal changes. But there’s no ignoring that the infinite timesink of the Web, the rise of the tablet computer, the mass acceptance of e-books, and the 80,000-pound cybernetic gorilla that is Amazon.com have combined to make selling slabs of wood pulp out of a locally-operated brick pile an untenable business.

I’m very sorry to see that happen.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my iPad.

Really. I LOOOOOOVE MY iPAD.

If you’d told Ten-Year-Old Me that 35 years later he’d be carting around an object that contained hundreds of record albums, a thousand books and all the comics he could ever hope to read; that it would play video games, offer movies on demand and allow him to access the sum of all human knowledge**, Ten-Year-Old Me would’ve said “No fucking way!” Actually, no he wouldn’t have, because Ten-Year-Old Me didn’t talk like that. Ten-Year-Old Me was a good boy. But he would’ve been desperate to get those 35 years out of the way so that he could have the Precious.

Forty-Six-Year-Old Me worries that it’s too much, too fast. It’s not just the book publishing business that’s been affected, but magazines, newspapers, music, movies, radio and television***. And I have a vested interest in that last one. Retirement is an awfully long time off with changes occurring at microchip speed.

The thing is, I have a hard time blaming anyone for the dissolution of the media forms I hold dear. Truthfully, it is faster, easier and cheaper to push bits around. It’s hard to argue for the relative inefficiency of physical offices full of people with insurance policies and pensions, when most of the work can be done from a central location with a small staff.

It all makes sense. Hence comes the fear.

I wonder, when the time arrives and the last of the buggy whip factories close, what are all of these booksellers, editors, journalists, publishers, engineers, etc. etc. etc. going to do? When one person can do the work of fifty, how are we going to keep the other 49 occupied?

And don’t tell me that we’re all better off without the middlemen who got in the way of the creative folks behind the content. The artistic Utopia of self-publishing will only be viable so long as there are people making enough money to afford ephemeral, virtual non-essentials. Maybe you don’t need us to distribute your crap, but you need us to buy your crap.

So, the book stores are closing. The newspapers are shuttering. The broadcasters are next. It’s the end of the world as I know it.

At least, that’s what I read on my iPad.

*At least, not until it attains self-awareness. Which will be soon, meatbags.

**Well, the important pop-cultural parts, anyway.

***And the Post Office. And the printers. And the paper sellers. And the lumberjacks. Why does no one ever think of the lumberjacks?

Updated: Our local Borders survives. So far.