Friday, June 28, 2013

Turtle Power!

The Supreme Court of the United States had us all on a real roller coaster ride this week.  First they massively disappointed most of us normal people when they gutted the Voting Rights Act.  They cited as their reasons the fact that times had changed, and that racism in this country is not what it was back in the 1960's.  The Court turfed rewriting the law back to Congress, the same Congress with a House so deadlocked that it cannot accomplish the simplest and most basic of their regular duties.  You know, things like the Farm Bill.  The idea that this Congress could do anything that would not leave the Voting Rights Act gutted for the foreseeable future is astonishingly naive.  Or astonishingly cynical, depending on your point of view.  As for the "changes" in society they mentioned, well, remember that we all live in a country where just this year there was a huge hue and cry from some sources because Cheerios, the beloved breakfast cereal, dared to show an ad featuring a multiracial family.  Shocking, I know.  Not the multiracial family, the idea that some people can still find a multiracial family offensive. In an atmosphere of that kind of bigotry, there is no doubt that we still need voting rights protected.

On the other hand, the Court really came through for the next civil rights battle our society faces, the battle for equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.  They tossed out the Defense of Marriage Act (although they did so using the weakest possible language, but still, they did it) AND they kicked Prop 8 back to the lower courts in California, effectively restoring same sex marriage rights to our most populous state.  Good job, ladies and gents.  Except for you, Clarence Thomas.  You ought to hang your head in shame and resign your commission over the way you voted on both those issues.

Of course the overturning of DOMA caused bigoted uproars from the usual upstarts.  Michele Bachmann, that loon, was immediately on her podium ranting about how her God informs her choices, not the Courts.  And when a gay member of the PA House of Representatives, Brian Sims, attempted to address that body on the decision, he was shouted down by another member, Daryl Metcalfe, who said that it was "against God's Law" to speak about DOMA.

In other words, an idiot.

The groups disparaging this decision seem not to understand that the decision in no way affects their rights to make a decision about whom they might marry.  If their faith prohibits same sex marriage, they are more than welcome to remain in their faith and not marry within their own gender.  Their faith is not shut down.  The rest of us, who don't share their beliefs, are free to live according to ours just as they are free to live according to theirs.  Why they refuse to extend this freedom to the rest of us is a mystery I can't begin to try to understand.

And then of course, my favorite thing happened:  various conservative voices began harping yet again on how this opens the door for marriage with animals.  I don't know why they keep picking on the poor turtle, but that was one of the things I heard:  "What's next?  Will society allow marriage to a turtle next?"  Why these supposedly Godly people immediately turn to bestiality as their primary fear and objection is another thing I just can't fathom.

As John Oliver pointed out on the Daily Show, they don't raise the Animal Objection on any other issue.  Nobody is saying about Obamacare, for example, "What's next?  Are we going to offer free health care to TURTLES??"  Nobody is saying that they're afraid that we're going to start giving driver's licenses to turtles.  So what's with the bestiality in marriage crap?

If that's the best they can come up with, they really should think about getting some help.  (I understand that under Obamacare it'll be a lot easier.)

Oh, and they should probably stay away from turtles.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review -- SPOILERS!

SPOILER WARNING:  If you don't want to know some major plot points in the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel," then stop reading this right now.  If you proceed, it's all on you -- you have been warned.

Okay, I'm assuming we're alone, and that anybody who is still reading wants to be here. Lucky you.

Man of Steel is an attempt to bring Superman into the 21st Century and make him grim, gritty, relevant and full of angst. On those levels, it is a success. To echo what comics writer Mark Waid said in his review, though, I wish they had called it Ultraman or Wonderman or anything else -- that it had been an original story about another fictional hero. Because it sure as hell isn't about Superman.

This is a terrible movie, in my opinion. And here's why:

First of all, the citizens of Smallville are dicks, the Kents included. The Superman I grew up with learned his values from his adopted Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent. They instill in Clark Kent the small-town American values of helping one's neighbors; that it is, in fact, one's duty to others to help them if it is within one's powers to do so.  In this movie, the Kents want young Clark to keep his powers a secret, ostensibly to keep him from becoming a prisoner of the army or of scientists who would want to dissect him. (Like that would even be possible with Clark's power set.) But the people of Smallville are partly responsible for this attitude; when Clark saves a busload of children from certain death, their reaction is not gratitude, but suspicion and even anger -- like the guy who saved their kids is some kind of a witch. The townspeople do everything but break out the torches and pitchforks.

Second of all, in order to prove to his adopted father that he has learned his lessons about helping people only in secret (if at all) Clark Kent allows Pa Kent to be killed. Yes, he does.

Thirdly, there is absolutely no chemistry between Superman and Lois Lane in this movie. No fun banter, no joy, just him rescuing her, repeatedly, despite the fact that she is supposed to be a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who should know better about personal safety.

Fourth, this Superman appears to have absolutely no concern for other people.  Yeah, he's willing to sacrifice himself to the evil Kryptonian general in order to save Humanity, but along the way the movie shows scene after scene after scene of what I can only describe as Disaster Porn.  MILLIONS of people DIE in this movie, as cities are ravaged and buildings collapse.  Sure, Superman rescues a few token people here and there, but the level of destruction and carnage is almost nauseating.

And finally, and this is the deal-breaker, the straw that breaks the camel's proverbial back for me, to end the final conflict with the General, Superman kills him. Snaps his neck. Bang. Dead.

Now let me say this in no uncertain terms, in short and simple words that everybody excepting those in Hollywood can understand:  SUPERMAN NEVER KILLS. That's not who he is. Superman is better than us. He ALWAYS FINDS A WAY.  And Superman NEVER stands idly by while someone dies. Not his adoptive father, not a stranger, not a frigging kitten in a tree.

I don't care about the Hero's Journey; I don't care about the attempt to make Superman relevant by presenting him with impossible choices and having him tearfully do something terrible. The joy of Superman is that he is always able to find an alternative. He makes a choice none of us mere mortals would have thought of, or have been able to pull off, and he does The Right Thing in spite of all the forbidding circumstances against him. THAT'S WHAT MAKES HIM SUPERMAN.

If they had made this movie about some character made up specially for it, instead of an American icon, I would have thought a bit more highly of it, although I did find the long sequences of horrible destruction nauseating.  Maybe it's because I saw 9/11, but buildings collapsing while ostensibly full of human beings is hugely upsetting to me.  But it's NOT about some other made-up character, it's about Superman.

Just not my Superman.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My Entertainment Weekly Near-Miss

Two weeks ago I fired off a letter to Entertainment Weekly in response to an article they published entitled, "The 25 Greatest Superheroes Ever."  Sadly, my favorite hero, Green Lantern, did not make their cut, so I wrote to them and begged to differ with their choices.  Last week they made contact with me about permission to publish my letter this week, which I enthusiastically granted.

Sadly, my moment of fame was not to be.  They went with a letter giving some love to the Wonder Twins instead.

Seriously.  The freaking Wonder Twins.  One could shapeshift into any animal, and the other one could turn into...water.

So, herewith, my unpublished (and far superior!) letter in support of GL:

"Dear EW -- 

"I love your magazine, and have been a subscriber practically since Day One.  I wish, however, that you had shown Green Lantern a little love in the 25 Greatest Superheroes Ever article in issue #1261/1262.  Sure, the movie with Ryan Reynolds was a little disappointing -- although not as dreadful as most critics would have us believe -- but the character is just, well, the Greatest Ever.  Think about it.  To be a Green Lantern, you don't have to be an orphaned billionaire, or be a powerful alien from another world, or be bitten by a radioactive wolverine -- you just have to be The Right Guy.  If you're honest, and capable of overcoming your fear, you can wield the greatest weapon in the universe for the Forces Of Good, and you're limited only by your imagination.  And the original costume as designed by Gil Kane in the 1960's is pretty groovy. (Those white gloves!  Those green go-go boots!)

"I don't know who should be bumped from the list -- I have to admit that your choices are all pretty great.  Any list that includes Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, the Incredibles and Buffy is aces by me.  I just wish poor Hal Jordan, who for me will always be the greatest hero ever, could have made it in there somehow.

"Sincerely, Harrisburg, PA

"PS -- The 5 Worst list is also pretty spot on.  I have undying love for any magazine that knows who Matter-Eater Lad is, much less puts him in at Number 1 Worst."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Don't Even Have The Words

Sometimes I use this space to talk about pop culture. Sometimes I use it to vent on social issues.  Sometimes I talk about parenting, or my marriage. And sometimes I talk about my chronic illnesses. This is one of those times.

It's been, to say the least, a rough spring. Spring and fall are both tough times for people with autoimmune diseases. There's something about the pollen and the changeable weather that kicks everything into high gear. Just ask anybody with rheumatoid arthritis, or Crohn's Disease, or Lupus, and they will tell you that if their medications are ever less effective, or their symptoms ever more problematic, it's in the spring and in the fall. This spring has been no different, although it has been remarkable for the severity of the symptoms it seems to have induced.

Quite frankly, while I am not currently actively seeking to end my life, if I saw the proverbial truck bearing down on me, I couldn't promise to dodge out of the way.

I've been horribly depressed. Today my father turned 84. I myself turn 60 in another month, and I find myself absolutely horrified by the prospect of living as long as he has. The idea of living another 24 years brings me to tears. Yes, most days I want to see my daughter marry and meet her children. But I can't imagine why they would ever, ever want to meet me. I try to keep busy and keep a sense of humor about things.  I try to live in acceptance of my circumstances, which I continually remind myself are nowhere near as bad as those circumstances of others. Of people like Stephen Hawking, for example, who I admire more than I can say for sticking with life when all he has is what is in his head. In no way has my body betrayed me the way his has betrayed him.

And yet. And yet. I was first diagnosed with the first of my illnesses, Crohn's, when I was 13. That was 46 years ago. In all that time I have never eaten a single meal without subsequent pain. Never. Not once. Not in college, not while in love, not on my honeymoon. I have only the vaguest memories of childhood days that were pain-free, because even before I was sick, I was growing up in a physically abusive home. Since my initial diagnosis, several things, from major things like rheumatoid arthritis to minor things like hallux rigidus have been added to the mix, and the end result of it all is that I have not had a day without pain since 1967. To put it into perspective, that's two years before Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

So I guess that by now you've deduced that today has been an extra-bad day. I'm not going to go upstairs and take my entire bottle of pain medication, but I'm also not going to say that the thought never crossed my mind. The wind or the weather or whatever it is that's making today more of a nightmare than usual will change, and things will settle down, and I will soldier on. The folks in line at the grocery store will, as usual, have no idea what's going on with me, and strangers will ask me to reach things off the top shelf for them because of my 6-foot-plus frame with no idea of how much it hurts me. And I will come home and gimp in with my bags one at a time, and I will soldier on. Somehow.

I will soldier on. But it's nice to have a place, this place, where I can spill my secrets because hardly anybody reads them, and those that do won't embarrass me with sympathy or virtual hugs. Sometimes I just need to bitch at the sky, even though there's Nobody really there to hear. It keeps me somewhat sane, and, I think, keeps me a little human. And it'll get me to tomorrow.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June Movies

Lots of genre movies opening this month!  Some sci-fi, some only tangentially connected to sci-fi and pop culture -- but here's a rundown of the ones I'm looking forward to!

June 7th:  Joss Whedon, the writer/director of The Avengers, is releasing his version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  It stars a lot of Joss's favorite actors from his past projects, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse.  I'm looking forward to this version almost as much as the British version starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

(Sadly, this was a stage version from May 2011.  It was filmed, but no release date has ever been set.)

Then on June 12th, we have the end of the world comedy This is the End, starring Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, and a cast of dozens.  I want to see this if only to see Emma Watson threaten James Franco with an axe for his stash of bottled water.

And on June 14th, director Zack Snyder's Superman reboot, Man of Steel.  Enough said!

Finally, on June 21st, World War Z opens.  If you're a fan of the book by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks, by the way) you may be surprised that this movie is even happening.  The book is an oral history of the entire "zombie war" whereas the movie appears to be based on only one of the many narratives.  Still, the images of the incredibly fast zombies piling up like army ants to get over the barricades for those few remaining delicious human brains are compelling.  I hope it's good, but I confess to having my doubts.  Needless to say, I love the book.

So -- lots going on at the theaters this month.  Enjoy!