Saturday, April 26, 2008

It's the little things...

I'm always blabbing about how the movie selection at sea is completely nonsensical. Which, of course, is not a complaint. Today one of the crew was letting me look through a collection of dvd's that he had with him and he explained that he had watched most of his dvd's a thousand times so he had borrowed his kids' collection. I thought this was great, since I'm a total sucker for kid's movies and can't wait to watch Chicken Little and Open Season sometime, but today I settled on Zoom: Academy for Superheroes.

Why not? I really didn't know anything about it except that it was big budget, so it should have good special effects and it has Tim Allen in it, so it shouldn't take itself too seriously. And I like super hero flicks and kids-kicking-ass movies are always the best. If you don't expect too much and just want to be entertained, this kind of thing can be perfect.

And really, based on the criteria that I just laid out, it was perfect. Special effects were spot on, the visual presentation was great, the story silly but you could roll with it, the movie made fun of itself and was slap-stick goofy. I really wanted to just like it, just enjoy the schlocky comic-ness of it, but a couple of things stuck in my craw and just ruined the whole damn thing (ok, didn't ruin it all, I still enjoyed it, but pissed me off enough that I'm sitting here tapping away about it).

It is always the little details that fuck things up. Just a couple of slightly different changes and it wouldn't have left any bad taste in my mouth. The one that was the tipping point is a stupid one; I'll concede that right here at the beginning. The whole schtick of the movie is there are these sort of weirdo outcast kids who have special powers who are brought together by the military to turn into this super team. One of the team members is the requisite hot redhead with psychic powers. You'd think I'm getting in a huff because this is such a blatant Jean Grey rip-off, but no, I just let that go. Cheesy "let's throw together a super team" movies are always ripping off classic comic heroes. It happens. But to introduce her to us, they show a scene in high school where the cheerleaders are treating her like shit and she makes the cafeteria food attack them, so all in all a completely satisfying scene. For the record, I don't hate cheerleaders, kind of actually love that they exist and plan on watching the Bring It On sequel that is in this same movie collection, but we all knew some cheerleaders who were straight-up bitches and who deserved more than anything to have cafeteria food explode all over them. So anyway, I like this girl from the start. The actress playing her is so unbelievably beautiful, but in a quiet kind of way and she plays the character well.

So everything goes great and they win (suprise!) and they have a stupid back to their daily life sequence. This was painful and idiotic enough as these things inherently are, but, aside from the little princess girl's bit which was kind of cute and didn't make you hate the director, the rest of them were nothing except cringe-inducing. Part of what made them so obnoxious is how they were obviously supposed to show how these outcast kids were now socialized and included and celebrated by their families and peers. Don't they get that we liked the kids because they were outcasts and weirdos? Show that they've learned to deal with their differences, but don't put the fat kid on a soccer team and DON'T DON'T DON'T turn the hot redheaded outcast into a fucking cheerleader!!!! Again, I have nothing against cheerleaders as a whole though I will concede that as a rule teenage girls who become cheerleaders tend towards the dark side. But high school is a dark time, we all tended towards the dark side in our own little ways back then. I just don't want my cheesy fun movies to feed up evil cheerleader nightmare bitches as the foil to the cool outcast that they treat like dirt and then after showing me how likable and fun she is and giving her super powers to show me an after-the-adventure sequence about how she is now using her superpowers as a cheerleader!!!! Let her and her hot super boyfriend be all cute and obnoxious teen-lovebirdy but don't turn her into the evil thing you started out pitting her as different from. Look, she'll show those bitches; oh look, now she is one. Good job, geniuses.

So I warned you that this was something stupid to get pissed off about, but I'm blogging about it. Blogging is all about petty rages over things that are too stupid to actually discuss in real life (though had I watched this movie with my friends instead of here in solitary confinement, I'd be having this conversation in realtime, but we can pretend like I am socially savvy enough to not waste actual quality time on such petty complaints). The second major complaint is perhaps a little more cogent.

So they assembled this super team and they bring them in and decide to have this stupid try-out bit. The whole try-out thing was dumb to start with since they had already shown us little a-day-in-the-life sequences for each of the ones who would be picked so it wasn't like we didn't already know who the super heroes were going to be. Still, it was kind of funny so I can't really hate on it being in the movie. I can hate on their casting for it. I'm not Mr. Super-PC. I get exhausted by political correctness as much as the next guy, but you can pull your head out of your ass and show a little bit of sense when you cast for shit like this. I don't care that the whole team was white kids. Big fucking deal, not the only superhero movie and every silly film doesn't have to be an equal opportunity event, but if you are going to have a team of lily white kids, do you have to have the casting sequence where every person not picked for the team isn't white and has lame-ass super powers? I mean, come on. So you want to have a little American Idol moment so Tim Allen can play Simon to Courtney Cox's Paula (and Chevy Chase's Randy Jackson), fine. Ha ha, get some laughs with it. And you want to have a team that is all white kids, again, I don't care. Fine, do it, I liked the kids they cast for the parts. Just make all the lame kids white too. Or most of the lame kids white... or even one of them! Because when you make all the lame kids black/hispanic/asian/mixed and all the super kids white, I can't just enjoy my cheesy damn movie and instead have to think about racial politics and if that is really what I wanted to be doing I'd have been watching The Color Purple (ok, so if they had The Color Purple on this boat, I would so be watching it instead but you know what I mean). This isn't a real super hero movie, leave the racial metaphors for the X-Men, just make your Tim Allen feel-good family fun flick. Having lot's of people of color for extras doesn't make the movie racially sensitive, it makes it racially distracting. It doesn't make me furious or troubled, it just makes me think whoever did the casting for the extras is an idiot.

So anyway, should you watch the movie? If you are stuck on a boat in the middle of the pacific ocean, completely cut off from society and facing a limited number of movie options like moi, then I heartily recommend it. You'll love it and it will be a nice break from Steven Segal flicks. If you are in a movie store and could pick anything you want? You could do worse and if you have the stomach for kid action movies, you'll probably enjoy it. It is worth watching just for the little blonde girl with super strength's outfits and temper tantrums.

blue magic

I've seen blue
eyes like that

they were also
yours: you looked

before turning to
walk away from

in the morning
sun they cast

that i now
find I'm still

A hunting we will go...

"But I feel like I shouldn't be reading this book. Well, not like I shouldn't be reading it, but like you should be reading it." Ben says this to me a couple of days before I head out to sea for this most recent trip while telling me about how beautiful The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is, which he was then reading. I've bought the book several times when I've come across it at used book stores, always intending to read it but never getting around to it. Of course these various copies are scattered across states and various places, so when my friend Ian who had been sick wanted to go to Barnes & Noble to escape his apartment, I jumped and was determined to find a copy for this trip. In bookstores I turn into a weird beast who easily loses all sense and is tugged from one book to another and lost in a trance, so when I staggered to the counter laden with books, Carson McCullers wasn't with me.

And she wouldn't have been with me on this trip, but sometimes a thing's time has come and even my absent-minded stumbling and procrastination can't keep it from happening. On a whim I stopped in this bizarre Japanese import store they have in the mall, which I've only ever gone in before for the inexpensive electronics but as I was leaving I noticed they have a book section. Mostly Japanese titles but there was also a substantial section of books in English, most of which were only a dollar! I started casually perusing and noticed that there were some good books and suddenly remembered The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and bam! Only one copy, but they had it for a buck. Having a funny feeling while looking through the cd section next to the books, I picked up a Reba cd which naturally was the one containing the song of the same title. Personalized recommendation, song, and hard copy in hand there was no way around this book except right through the middle.

I'd bought so many copies of it because I liked the title. This is largely also why I kept not reading it: fear that the book would kill the title. Maybe that sounds silly or just ridiculous, but some titles hit me and make some vague impression about what the book the describe should be like. Not a clear feeling or some ghost outline of story, but just leave an impression and something in me worries that if the book's impression and the title's impression don't feel the same that it would be somehow disconcerting. I know this is crazy and it is mostly subconscious but certain books I feel like I have to have a reason to pick them up to get over this hump and this was certainly one of them. If someone telling you as they read a book that they feel vaguely like they are cheating because you are the person who should be reading it can't get you to pick up a book nothing will. So I did.

And I have no idea what to say. Wow. There is so much that could be written about this book. The cross section of the characters. The running theme of messianic projection or of the blurring of gender and racial distinctions contrasted against the community/individual enforcement of black and white interpretations of each. I hope to dig deeper into the different subtleties when I've got more time and be objective and not personalize the story or its impact so much, but I'll need a little time. Partially because there is the sorting out of what was meant when I was told that I should be reading this book. In a way that totally makes sense and I immediately understood and further understand having read the book, but like the impressions certain titles make on me, the understanding is subconscious and it would make less and less sense to me if I tried to articulate it right now.

But largely I've just got to deal with this book the way I have to deal with any decent Southern writer. Every time I read Faulkner I'm blown away by his writing and feel like my head has been both beaten up and revived. Emotions flood back and I'm populated by feelings that come at me like they are out of a different lifetime and from a different person, and in a way are. This is not to compare McCullers to Faulkner. They are very different writers, but they write in the same emotional landscape and it is the same landscape that I grew up in. So in a way I can't read these stories without asking which character I could have ended up like if I hadn't escaped (that is the right word and not meant in a strictly geographic sense). Few of these characters ever escape.

Congratulations, you may already be a winner...

Years ago, I visited my brother in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he was attending St. John's College. I learned a few things on that trip, perhaps most notably that cutting a hole in the bottom of a jack-o-lantern carved from a giant pumpkin and wearing it on your head is one of the most miserable costumes you can imagine. It seemed such a simple idea that I wondered why more people didn't do it. In case you ever wonder the same thing for yourself, more people don't do it because 1) it is almost impossible to see out through a jack-o-lantern, no matter how big you make the holes, 2) a pumpkin large enough for your head to fit inside weighs about eight thousand pounds, 3) it is even more difficult to drink though than it is to see through, 4) your head is surrounded by a pumpkin, which are almost too hideously slimy to stick your hands inside while cleaning out; imagine wrapping that around your head, and 4) if you succeed in ignoring all these things and wear it around the party as if it were the easiest thing in the world (which you will do after spending 25 bucks on a vegetable and half a day trying to make it work), then drunk idiots will come up and ask if they can try it on, then realizing how horrible it is, they will point out all the aforementioned reasons it is a bad idea and give it back.

I didn't spend the entire trip with my head up the ass of a gourd, and one afternoon wandered into a delightful little book store. I love book stores, and recently had been delving into reading Latin American authors and here I found myself in this little out of the way shop specializing in Latino writers. I scooped up some Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a collection of essays by Mario Vargas Llosa and I also think this is where I bought my copy of nonfiction works by Jorge Luis Borges. I grabbed a couple of anthologies, some essays by Ocavio Paz, and God only knows what else. Seeing that I take more than a passing interest in the written word, the gentleman behind the counter struck up a conversation with me. He described all manner of intricacies of Santa Fe and the culture of the Southwest in general, and we started discussing Latin American literature. I told him I'd only just started delving in South American literature and asked him who he recommended. Hearing that I liked Borges (I just remembered, that is not where I bought his nonfiction works -they came to me via the used bookstore in Pensacola- I picked up his Labyrinths there), he recommended Julio Cortazar (which he pronounced "CorTAza", thankfully I had him write it down).

He was out of Cortazar at the moment, but he wrote the name for me on one of his cards which I buried in one of the books and found later. Searching used bookstores for his work, for a very long time I succeeded in only finding a very small collection of his short stories. The stories were vividly written, but also very dark. There was an ominousness that was hard to imagine and hard now to relay. These few short stories seared into my head the images from them, almost in a way that made me afraid to pick up another of his books. It wasn't that they were gory or really all that horrific, but the crispness with which the visuals were rendered contrasted so succinctly with the opacity of the greater story. They were more unsettling that horrific, but enough so that while I kept an eye out for more of his work I never entered into a determined search.

I eventually stumbled upon a copy of his novel The Winners. This ended up in a pile of books unread until this last Christmas I found that my sister's fiance had pulled it out of my collection. He didn't seem to be reading it; it was just waiting there glaring at me over the holidays until finally I packed it in my bags to help me get through the long days at sea.

Obviously I wouldn't be writing about it if I hadn't made good on my promise of action and finally read the book. This introductory commentary has gone on too long to be part of a rigorous analysis, but let me say that I need to go back to Santa Fe and thank that bookstore owner. I realize that I tend to either gush or spit venom when I write, and so I've been trying to temper both inclinations (are they different inclinations or simply the same one in different directions?) but not gushing about this book is difficult. The story, the characters, the way he writes, the language...

Enough of all that. This book forced me to revive my old habit of reading with a pencil, too many perfect phrases and challenging thoughts taunting me, daring me to lose them in the mass of text. I went crazy before this trip with buying books so I am laden with a retarded amount of bound paper to thumb through, but they've been given a difficult act to follow.