4 June 2007

Life is a great big bang-up— / Wherever there’s a hang-up, / You’ll find…

Posted in I don't wanna believe that all of the above is true, I'm a sweetheart genius reckless jerk, maybe everything that dies some day comes back, people you've been before..., this property is condemned at 12:07 am by indecisive79

Warning, spoilers (for multiple movies/shows, actually, but mostly just S3):

A friend of mine recently reported that people who had read the Spiderman comic books liked the third installation of the franchise better. Possibly. But the problem with Spiderman 3 wasn’t knowledge about comic books. (And I should note that I think comic book movies always have to be evaluated on how they hold together as movies; it’s OK if you understand more if you’ve read the comic books, and I’m certainly willing to allow for certain latitudes based on conventions that apply in the comic book genre but not really anywhere else, but they need to stand by themselves from (and be judged by) a narrative /film aesthetic perspective (and by the way, they actually can do this and still be (mostly) true to the comic book, if the comic book was a good storyline to begin with).) I’ve never read a Spiderman comic book, but I thought the first movie was great and the second was pretty good (perhaps it was these expectations that lead me to judge this movie so harshly, or perhaps that I’ve seen A Simple Plan recently; Sam Raimi just has too much talent to create this kind of film). However, the third was kinda-OK for nearly two hours until it became utterly unwatchable in the third act. The dialogue completely fell downhill, the New Goblin’s butler came in as a deus ex machina to completely change things around unrealistically, and they tried to end the movie on a sappy note in which everything turned out well (even the two deaths, one to an incredibly underdeveloped character, and the other a sacrificial death of someone seeking (and desperately needing) redemption, can’t really be called sad in any sense).* Remember the note of sadness, the tragic loneliness that was Peter Parker’s plight at the end of S1 (~ “I can’t get close to people b/c I’ll only put in danger those I love”) or the tension-filled relationship that ended S2 (Parker and MJ are finally together, but Parker’s commitment to helping people still is leaving a rift in the relationship, revealed in MJ’s only slightly forlorn “Go get ‘em tiger.”). S3 really had nothing like this to give a sense of the complication of life (except maybe the Sandman’s potential legal problems…).

But the real fault of the movie is that by the end of the movie, there was no real villain except a meteorite. A METEORITE! When a meteorite fulfilled a villain role in the Superman movies, there was Lex Luthor (or others) behind the employment of kryptonite, but in this movie, the meteorite, a malevolent force that nonetheless had no apparent personality of its own, temporarily ruined Peter Parker’s social life and ended up destroying the annoying kid (sorry, one of the many annoying kids) from That 70’s Show (for which it should be applauded, by the way), but that’s not enough to really make it the only villain.

The other possible villains really weren’t too villainish. As I said above, Venom/Topher Grace’s character was underdeveloped, and he was more the victim of circumstance than evil; he was really mad (who wouldn’t be) at Parker for stealing his blonde girlfriend (who, by the way, looked (and acted) much better as the blind redhead in The Village)**, but then that black goo fell on him, forcing him to become evil. The Sandman was too noble, trying to provide for his crippled daughter (how manipulative can you get!) and being himself a victim of a science experiment; the one man that he killed (if I remember correctly) was Peter’s uncle, which was an accident by a desperate thief (oh, and by the way, happened two movies ago, though we only found out about it now). Yes, I like complicated villains, but not utterly redeemable ones, which The Sandman becomes at the end (yes, the whole forgiveness motif at the end could have been a nice touch, but it is much more affecting/effective if that forgiveness isn’t so completely deserved; that’s certainly the Christian story, anyway; for a great vision of this kind of forgiveness, watch The Mission). And the best friend/New Goblin becomes Spiderman’s sidekick until he dies about fifteen minutes later (in both screen time and story time). So none of those three could be real villains. Leaving only an inanimate object. And for any kind of action or comic book movie to work, you have to have a villain. A real villain with an actual personality (and yes, inanimate objects can have personality if you try hard enough; take, for example, Frodo’s ring; the black goo, creepy as it was, didn’t have it). You can actually go pretty far without a real hero (say, for example, Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher), but not without a real villain. Some reviews claimed that the problem was too many villains, which @ the 1:30 mark I agreed with, but at the end, there weren’t enough of them.

*I think Joss Whedon is right about this: in order for a happy ending to work, there has to be a tragedy that the survivors go through, like the death of a well-liked, well-developed, good character (hello Anya, Wash, and the entire cast of Angel (OK, bad example, since it wasn’t that “happy” of an ending; it was quite cool, though, to see a show kill off nearly everyone (well, except Harmony and Lorne); in S3, Grandma Parker might have worked, perhaps, but I doubt it)).

**Which I only saw recently; it worked poorly as a “go ahead, try to outsmart me kind” genre of movie (but then again, I’ve always thought that way of watching a movie was rather childish, especially when otherwise very smart people do it), but interesting as a utopian attempt to solve/protect oneself from the potential dangers of living in society.

18 March 2007

Disqualificatory cynicism?

Posted in bein' caught in between, like all true believers, people you've been before... at 9:32 pm by indecisive79

“‘Cause like all true believers, I am truly skeptical of all that I have said.” -OtR

I think I’m somewhat of a strange person in at least one way (and my two or three readers can certainly add others): I am simultaneously utterly skeptical/cynical of a great many things, but I also have typically have an oddly realistically-optimistic view of the world. For example, I know that my chosen field of study has severely limited job possibilities, which I make jokes about all the time, yet I am almost completely free from anxiety over my future, figuring that something will turn up when the time comes. But it seems that many people see only the skeptical/cynical side of me, which they tend to interpret as pessimism. Which brings us to a comment I heard today that brings up a topic I’ve been meaning to write on:

It was indirectly but not very subtly communicated to me today that because I’m cynical about a particular subculture which I grew up in (i.e., American evangelicalism), I really have nothing of value to say in critiquing that subculture. This strikes me as quite odd, especially because it came from someone who is highly educated and seems to be fairly smart; perhaps I misunderstood, but let’s assume for the remainder of this post that I didn’t. Part of this reaction, perhaps, is a bit defensiveness, since she has a greater level of integration (pun intended…) into that subculture, of working professionally in it, even though she has lived in it a shorter amount of time than I have. Regardless, what this person said disqualifies me from identifying and addressing those things which have made me so disaffected with that subculture in the first place. Such thinking strikes me as being particularly apt for this subculture, and is in fact one of the (many) things about the subculture that I tend to be quite skeptical of. I don’t think it’s unfair to label evangelicalism as a whole as extremely resistant to self-criticism, a very non-Over-the-Rhine-ish conception of what it means to be a true believer.

As I was growing up in the church, everyone noticed that I was quite the bright young budding potential scholar, and I was continually encouraged to pursue my studies to the fullest. I was taught to be afraid of going off to college because it was a very hostile place that was going to attack my Christian faith from any and all angles (imagine my surprise when it never really seemed to be an issue with anyone; turns out, if you’re not an ass, people tend to get along with you—who knew?). Yet I wasn’t pushed away from going off to school. Quite the opposite—I was told that we (i.e., evangelical Christendom) needed good Christian scholars to go to university, get grad degrees, and become professors in order to tell all those secular humanists working in academia that they’re completely wrong on all sorts of issues (note—I have since found out that secular humanists are indeed wrong about many things, an unfortunate consequence of their being human just like the rest of us). What was assumed, of course, is that my goal should be to go to college to be able to defend evangelicalism. I don’t think it even occurred to most people who were encouraging me in my studies that I might potentially learn something from the university; I was to go there to teach them how they are the ones getting everything wrong. To make a long boring story short and boring, I actually found a wide variety of areas to explore, new ways of examining the world that didn’t fit into the neat evangelical categories, and often criticized the too-narrow visions that evangelicals typically prescribe. I figured that if evangelicalism was worth anything, it would have to withstand a skeptical view, a skepticism that I am still ruthlessly employing. Even the close oversight of a campus ministry association wasn’t able to keep me from asking the truly difficult questions that, quite frankly, evangelicalism as a whole hasn’t even realized have been asked of it. I have become so disaffected with evangelicalism that I’m not sure I identify as one anymore (especially insofar as being “evangelical” is tied to conservative politics, resistance to real peer-reviewed scientific discovery about the origins of the earth (and the concomitant acceptance of the non-science of “intelligent” design), pragmatic/realist/unchallenging conceptions of art, and “book-“/gift-store kitsch (Testamints, anyone?)), but I still hold out hope that what I’ve learned can hopefully be used in a constructive way to aid evangelicalism…or at least to destroy it in a productive way.

I suppose one of the cliched morals of this story is to be careful what you ask for; evangelicals asked me to start thinking, and a good chunk of my thinking has been dedicating to identifying and critiquing the shortcomings of the evangelical background that I grew up with. But perhaps even greater is this: I think that to be a true (rather than merely passive) believer (of anything), one must be truly skeptical, one must test ideas, and not being afraid to ruthlessly critique when ruthless critique is warranted. I maintain that doing this actually shows an optimistic streak, because criticism implies a desire for something better, something truer and more authentic. But what could I possibly say to help. After all, I’m just a cynic…

29 August 2006


Posted in children hug his neck unaware of their inheritance, people you've been before... at 1:43 am by indecisive79

So I thought this was really bad.  But then I saw this.  Judging from the site, the latter might be a bit self-critical, but still!