VICE: How We Amused Ourselves Into An Eternal War On Terror

“In a free society some are guilty, all are responsible.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

You have to face your role in the problems in your life. That’s a hard lesson to learn, because the instinct is to always blame others for your problems. But the reality is that you can’t control others, you can only control yourself, and so you need to look back at all the fucked up stuff in your life and say “What was my role in that?” By doing this you can move forward without making that same mistake again – whether it’s trusting someone you shouldn’t trust, staying in a relationship you shouldn’t stay in, or not taking part in the political process for a solid decade and change.

See, that’s a big part of what Adam McKay’s Vice is about – the way that all of us, out here amusing ourselves to death, let the Phantom of the Neocons slide into power and totally knock the Earth off its axis, creating the century of chaos in which we now live. It’s not an easy message – and maybe it’s coming at us with a little too much force by the end of the movie, a little too much finger pointing – but it’s a vital message for us all to internalize if we have any hope of saving the world at all.

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“Pain Don’t Hurt.”

When Patrick Swayze’s Dalton shows up at the hospital with a gaping knife wound in his side (in a spot similar to where Christ was speared by the Roman soldier. HMMMM…), Kelly Lynch’s Doctor Clay prepares to stitch him up. She asks if he would like a local anesthetic and he turns it down.

“You like pain?” she asks him.

“Pain don’t hurt,” he replies.

At first blush this sounds like lunkheaded macho bullshit, like a lot of what you find in the movie Road House in general, but it’s actually profound. And it’s deeply wise. It’s just some of the wisdom that Dalton displays (“Nobody ever wins a fight,” said in the same scene, is pretty great as well, if undercut by the whole entire motion picture).

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INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE Gives Spider-Man To Everyone

You can’t be Batman. People like to say you could be, but Bruce Wayne was a billionaire who had the ability to dedicate his life to training and self-improvement. You can’t be Superman – he was born that way. You probably can’t even be Captain America; sure, Steve Rogers was a scrawny dweeb before the Super Soldier Serum, but he always had a kind of intense heroic decency to which most of us only aspire.

But Spider-Man? Yeah, you could be him. Peter Parker was an angry nerd in the right place and at the right time, and when he got super powers he immediately behaved selfishly with them. He totally fucked up, got his uncle killed. And from that point on Peter never quite made the most of his powers; he was always poor, he was always harried in his personal life, and he was always hated by the police and media. Peter Parker was, and is, a schmuck. Just like you. Just like me.

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The Danger Of Makeover TV, or, “These Pants Don’t Fit Anymore”

I watched an episode of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo last night and it was… fine. I like these kinds of shows, and I get emotionally entwined with the people who are having themselves/their homes made over. I wept through both seasons of the new Queer Eye (which, by the way, really impacted my understanding of post-Industrial Revolution broken masculinity, and is a subject I’ve been taking notes on for the past year). I like watching all home makeover shows. I like the little dramas, and I like feeling inspired to take action in my own life.

But watching this show I suddenly realized something I had missed before, and it was the subtle way that shows like this reinforce really bad messaging about change, and how it works. It’s the exact kind of messaging that leads to people getting discouraged and dropping their New Year’s Resolutions, by the way.

At the end of the episode, after a few days of decluttering and tidying, this gay couple in WeHo sat down to discuss how this experience changed them. They both said they were dramatically altered, that their approach to life and emotions had been forever rejiggered, and that they cherished their now-tidy home. And I was suddenly struck with the thought “This is bullshit.”

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Why Does Batman Have A Secret Identity?

Secret identities are a big deal in superhero comics, and they have been since the inception of the medium, since its primordial days in the form of pulp magazines. While secret IDs have not played a major role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some of the best moments in DC movies (the classic, pre-DCEU ones anyway) have involved our heroes’ identities either being revealed or their efforts to maintain their secret. Superman II has a whole storyline predicated on Clark Kent’s double life being erased from Lois Lane’s memory, and one of my favorite scenes in Tim Burton’s Batman is when Bruce shows up at Vicki Vale’s place to tell her his truth.

Those secret IDs make sense for some of the characters – Spider-Man has a vulnerable Aunt May and later Mary Jane to protect from vengeful enemies, and Superman needs the downtime of being Clark Kent to keep his head straight – but it’s harder to unpack why Batman needs a secret ID. First of all, it seems like half of Gotham and his villains know who he is, and depending on which iteration of the comics you’re reading, many of his fellow superheroes and Justice League buddies know that Bruce Wayne is the Batman. It’s often a poorly kept secret.

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“Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.”

For years Yoda’s famous advice to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah vexed me. “Do or do not, there is no try” always struck me as fatally reductive, and too results-oriented. It felt less like spiritual wisdom and more like corporate motivational drivel.

In fact, the phrase calls to mind Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan, center of one of the most famous ad campaigns of the 20th century*. But as is so often the case with stuff that gets printed on motivational posters or superimposed on images of ladies doing yoga on the beach and then shared on Facebook, there’s true wisdom in there. You just gotta get past the bullshit to see the beauty.

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BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH And The Illusion Of Free Will

This contains minor spoilers for Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

I’m in the minority on Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch interactive episode – I find Charlie Brooker’s anti-humanism increasingly tiresome, and out of place in a world that desperately needs positivity*, and I also think that the meta-within-meta concept is student-level stuff and not half as clever as it thinks it is – but I was intrigued by the way the episode approaches the concept of free will. Free will is one of the underpinnings of our modern society – we all operate under the assumption that we have it, after all – but it’s less clear cut than that.

The usual free will debates are free will vs destiny, which fall into the theistic realm – destiny is a supernatural concept that requires some kind of a guiding force. But for the past few decades the real debate has shifted inward, to the self, rather than outward to God or the Fates or whatever. It’s possible that we don’t have free will because we are, essentially, robots whose programming allows us to justify the actions we are forced to take as choices we make.

You see this in Bandersnatch, as Stefan becomes slowly aware that he’s not the one making the choices in his life. In the context of the show this is a fourth wall break, but it read to me as being quite close to some of the stuff I’ve been learning about the human mind in the past couple of years, and that is quite close to research that has changed the way we look at the world and our place in it.

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Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life

Perspective is everything. Like in the picture above – using forced perspective, Peter Jackson was able to have Elijah Wood and Sir Ian McKellen together in a scene where one is hobbit-sized and the other human sized without resorting to computer trickery.

I think about perspective a lot when I’m driving. I don’t have a big car, so when I’m on the highway (and thanks to my commute I’m on A LOT of LA highways), I usually can’t see beyond the car in front of me. When traffic is being a pain in the ass I’ll get annoyed at the person in front of me, blaming them for the slowdown – get off your fucking phone!, I’ll think to myself – but when I get into the other lane I’ll get a new perspective on the situation. Sometimes the slowdown is for sure because of the guy in front of me, but sometimes there are extentuating factors.

Here’s one that happened a couple of weeks ago: I was mad at this SUV in front of me, just trundling along in the fast lane while other cars were whizzing by in other lanes. When I finally got an opening I pulled to the right and sped up, and as soon as I did I saw that the SUV was in fact trapped behind a big, slow-moving Lincoln. So I sped up to get a look at the driver of the Lincoln, and maybe give them a bit of stink eye or pull in front of them to remind them what a real driver does on the highway.

It was a little old lady in the Lincoln. Maybe six hundred years old, hunched over the steering wheel in that posture that indicates she’s sitting on a phone book in order to be able to see out the window.

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Review: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW (1964)

Pier Paolo Pasolini was a homosexual and a Marxist, an atheist and an artistic lightning rod. When he turned his attention to the life of Christ in 1964, many were shocked, especially coming on the heels of his latest short, which had drawn fire for being blasphemous. And yet his film The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is not a rebuke of Christianity or the Church, but rather is a profoundly simple celebration of the radical aspects of Christ’s teachings. Rather than a deconstruction, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew is a reconstruction of Christ, recapturing from the grips of the greedy and the powerful the peasant laborer who would become a prophet and Messiah.

Pasolini is one of my great cinematic gaps. As a fan of extreme cinema I have of course seen Salo, but that’s it – I have no other Pasolini in my eyes. This week I decided that with Christmas on the horizon and a desire to watch something meaningful (with work being as busy as it is I only get out to blockbusters lately), I would give Pasolini’s account of Christ my time. I am beyond glad I did.

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AQUAMAN: Warner Bros Realizes These Movies Can Be Fun

Attitude is everything. Aquaman has a fairly rotten script, and it is so green screen/stagebound that the few scenes shot on location are actually shocking. It is completely unoriginal, comprised mostly of swipes from other movies, from STAR WARS to CONAN, from the BOURNE films to DUNE, and a million others in between. This Aquaman bears almost no resemblance to the character as he has been depicted in comics and cartoons over the decades.

And yet there’s this attitude about the movie that makes it absolutely irresistible. There’s an enthusiasm that director James Wan brings that is palpable, that has the same energy as a golden retriever puppy that just wants to play with you and be loved by you. That same energy is shared by Jason Momoa, who looks more like Lobo than Arthur Curry, but who has a heart as soft as a jellyfish.

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