Eye of the Beholder

Having been touted as “the most beautiful love story ever told” upon its release, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is considered an absolute classic by many and deservedly so, ranking right up there with other films established in the so-called “Disney Renaissance,” such as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Aladdin, just to name a few. Adapted from the French fairy tale of the same name, the film follows the tale rather closely, telling the story of a prince who is transformed into a “beast” and the relationship he develops with the woman he imprisons, and later falls in love with. This post will not attempt to argue the love-hate relationship established between its main characters, known simply as “Belle” and “Beast,” nor will it try to somehow twist and turn what is, in essence, a love story between what would seem like two unlikely acquaintances, into some sort of social commentary on abusive relationships, the empowerment of women in said relationships, and so on and so forth. What will however be looked into, is the overall theme the film tries to pass off–of finding the inner beauty in someone through sacrifice and redemption–and how, through its usage of the “fairy tale” backdrop, the film seems to lose this message along the way, however unintentionally, to appeal to a much broader audience, one unwilling to accept any other outcome than what it deems desirable, even if it means turning a kind-hearted Beast back into the cold-hearted prince he once was.

A prince learns the lesson of being humble and kind to those less fortunate than himself the hard way. That’s completely understandable, given the fairy tale atmosphere, especially in a world that all but thrives on the transformation of people into animals to prove a point, especially ones that revolve around true love. Because clearly, talking animals who tell a woman to kiss them is where true love really lies. But where other films merely rehash that premise, Beauty and the Beast takes a different approach. After the opening scene, where the transformative curse is placed upon this prince, we pretty much never see this enchantress-turned-beggar ever again; not even a mention. What we are left with is a symbolic rose, a magic mirror and an entire house full of servants-turned-household furniture. Now granted, the ordeal of reversing the transformation process is an important one for the main character, but it shouldn’t feel like the only motivating factor. What I felt the original French fairy tale did better than Disney’s interpretation, is that it kept the curse aspect of the story a secret until the very end, leaving a sense of mystery behind the Beast’s origin, as well as allowing the audience to believe that this woman, Belle, was falling in love with a Beast, in every sense of the word, further pushing ahead on its theme of loving someone for who he/she is on the inside. There was nothing in the back of one’s head shouting, “It’s okay—he’s not really a Beast. He’ll change. This is after all, a Disney film.” The relationship evolves just the same in both versions, with initial tensions between Belle and the Beast. The gradual mutual understanding the two form, with the Beast rescuing Belle and her, in return, treating his wounds, seems genuine and one buys into the concept immediately, even if we subconsciously, through one scene alone, know that the Beast is suffering from more than just loneliness.

Therein lies my problem. What could’ve been, or at the very least, tries to be, a remarkable and poignant tale of a prince seeking redemption through the sacrifice of love and happiness, thus seeing how that real transformation changes him for the better, seems to fall victim to its own “happily ever after” layout. This is not to say that Belle and the Beast’s relationship shouldn’t have reached the “love” stage, with Belle professing her love to Beast, breaking the curse, or the Beast professing his love of Belle to a clock in one of the film’s most emotional moments. But the end result, watching the Beast almost die, the last petal of the rose crash to the ground, and Belle profess her love, would have had an even bigger impact if the Beast, of whom it should be mentioned he’s never even given a name outside of “Beast,” both survived and didn’t transform back into the hardened prince he was. The story attempts to justify this closure as somewhat of a lesson learned, and how being a Beast is nothing more than imagery, portraying what being an arrogant and selfish person turns one into. But it is through being a Beast for most of his early life, that the Beast learns how to be a true human being. And it is the Beast that Belle falls in love with. This notion that somehow Belle is rewarded for making the right decision is absurd. She fell in love with the Beast. And now that Beast is a prince without a name—not the person she’s grown close to and not the person she’s bonded with. The imagery of seeing a prince with Belle, that same prince we haven’t seen since the beginning of the film itself, seems to be a shot to the arm, insulting to the viewer, as to say, “We told you we wouldn’t keep this guy the Beast the entire film.” More emphasis seems to be given to “being human” rather than behaving like a human being. In a particular scene, the household furniture discusses being scared of the prospect of never transforming back to their servant, human selves. But that’s understood, to be a human being over a clock or a candle stand is a noble desire. But the Beast–that’s who he becomes, who he is, and who he is destined to remain–because it was an important part of his developmental process. Being a prince made him jaded, and cut off to the outside world. And so he was transformed into something that, to the outside world, seems to fit those characteristics better than a human being; an animal, a hybrid between man and animal, a Beast.

It would have been different, had we seen the prince’s early, his not so humble beginnings, showing the audience what turned him into the coldhearted person he was. But none of that is ever shown, or mentioned. We watch an entire film through the eyes of either the Beast or Belle, and how they begin to relate to one another. And it’s not even indicated by the film itself that it wishes to inform Belle of the Beast’s pre-transformation lifestyle. In fact, the film does quite the opposite. Belle isn’t supposed to know of the Beast’s former life as a prince, as she’s supposed to fall in love with the Beast as is, with nothing else but “true love” driving her motivation. When Belle stumbles upon the encased rose, she is scared away by the Beast. And what the original fairy tale does better than the Disney adaptation is that it makes Belle gradually figure out that she does indeed love the Beast she originally despised. On one specific occasion, in both versions, the Beast sends Belle away to her home so she can aid her ailing father, but where the two narratives differ is the ultimate decision for Belle to return back to the Beast. The film has Belle attempting to reason with the townspeople that the Beast is a gentle soul, her friend, only to have them form a mob, lead by Belle’s spurned lover to kill the Beast. In the fairy tale, there is no villain to speak of, so when Belle returns to her home to see her family, she begins to feel bad about overstaying because she promised Beast she’d only be there a week. She feels so bad in fact, that when she notices in the magic mirror that the Beast is dying, she rushes over to him and professes her love. It works, in the context of the story, because it’s a genuine emotion, expressed from the heart, at being away from someone she’s gotten close to. The entire subplot of the spurned lover and the town’s revolt against the Beast only draws attention away from the real love story unfolding every time Belle and the Beast are present on screen.

There are those who will argue, that it’s just a love story between the beauty and the beast, hence the title, but an important component to the film is the transformation. After all, the whole reason the prince is transformed in the first place is because he refuses to help an elderly beggar who appears “ugly.” But I’d like to argue that why couldn’t the enchantress have been doing the Beast a favor? By turning him into what he himself despised and teaching him the lesson of lost love and the idea that one can very much spend an entire lifetime being lonely, with no one to ever reciprocate love back, seems like the bigger message here. In the scene where Belle discovers the rose, she also notices a portrait of a prince, with familiar blue eyes, but with huge gashes torn through it. It symbolized something the Beast hates, or has grown to hate: himself. He seems to have moved on, and the only thing that scene emphasizes is the fact that Belle can start to somewhat, however lightly, connect the dots. It feels like a cop out scene, if only to have Belle realize that maybe there is, in fact, a reward to be had by falling love. But the image of the Beast scaring her away and the rose, symbolizes that the Beast himself no longer likes to think back to that time in his life anymore. Granted, it could all very well be pent up rage, but it makes sense for the Beast to learn to eventually live with himself as is. He very much feels a void in his life, the lack of love turning him into perhaps an even colder person than he was pre-transformation, but connecting to Belle changes all that, and he does it, through the Beast persona. There are those who would argue that he was merely doing it so he could return to his human self again. But would that not be a selfish reason to fall in love? Wouldn’t the entire premise of true love be hereby rendered false, or at the very least, under false pretenses? It doesn’t make sense. There was simply no reason for the Beast to turn back into a human being just because he and Belle were in love. The Beast should’ve come back to life, having found true love and then set his servants free from their current forms. This way, the message of love conquers all, even mere appearances, and the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder still stands true, even more so now, that the Beast remained the Beast and Belle remained with the Beast. Having the Beast turn back into the prince does nothing more than harkens back to a plot point that was never mentioned again after the opening of the film and would have been better suited to be a mere curse rather than a reason to have the film end with the obligatory prince and princess dance around a spectacular ballroom while onlookers stand by. Imagine how iconic the last frames of the film would be if it was Belle and the Beast, reprising their earlier dance.

Numerous films have attempted to explain the logic that physical appearances mean nothing when it comes to love, yet almost all of them fall back into the tradition of having one of the characters “grow” by reaching a level of acceptable physical appearance. She’s All That attempted to turn the free spirited art student into a prom queen and Shrek, relying on breaking every Disney convention, had the unlovable ogre fall in love with a princess he never cares for, only to turn said princess into a bloody ogre as well. It’s as if people just aren’t prepared to see a monster and a beauty, or any woman for that matter, fall in love with a hideous looking C.H.U.D., with the only notable exception being Frankenstein and his wife, but she was built that way. It seems that in animation, it’s just easier to follow the “true love” formula if there’s two attractive people in the lead, where as in live action, the audience is all but willing to see Katherine Heigl with Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), or Jonah Hill with Emma Stone (Superbad). That’s particularly okay, because we can somehow relate to real people who may not be physically desirable, but when it comes to animation, the double standard applies itself in spades. Would the film have suffered if it hadn’t changed the Beast back? It’s highly doubtful, as it was a Disney film and the ending would still remain a rather happy one, with the two lovers reuniting. But unlike The Little Mermaid before it, Beauty and the Beast chose to change itself for the sake of the viewer. In The Little Mermaid, it made sense that Ariel would have to give up being a mermaid if she ever wanted to imagine a life with Prince Eric. But there’s no such sacrifice needed from Belle. She’s merely to love unconditionally this Beast, who is still not given a name, even after he becomes the prince society deems he should become. And isn’t that real tragedy of it all—that beauty was the beast—that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, yet that eye belongs to Beast, but Beauty never will.

Jealous King

The Killing Joke

It’s unfortunate, that after a rather passionate post expressing the importance of the First Amendment, I find myself talking so soon about the Second one, albeit under entirely different circumstances. Let’s just hope Canada doesn’t decide to quarter its troops in American homes, or else I’ll have to write up an absurd entry about the new found validity of the Third one.

By now, we’ve all heard of the deadly shootings that took place in Aurora, Colorado at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, but also the shooting at a block party in Scarborough last week, or at the Eaton Center last month; and if not those, then surely we remember Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Gabriel Giffords, and Columbine, to name just a few.

I was 9 when Columbine happened. I would consider myself far too young, and perhaps far too sheltered, to really remember if it had any profound effect on me at the time. All I remember is flashes of two men in trenchcoats. I was a senior in high school when Virginia Tech happened. It struck more than just a chord with me. It had happened the day before I would take flight for Florida for my senior class trip to DisneyWorld. I had friends who had applied there, and had even visited the campus as recently as the week prior to the shooting. Two months ago, I watched God Bless America, and there’s a scene in which the two main characters shoot people in a movie theater because they talked too loud, or texted during the film. I laughed. It was funny. Two months later, it’s no laughing matter, as a similar scene in The Gangster Squad trailer has caused Warner Brothers to not just pull the trailer off the web and from theaters, but they’re in the process or removing the scene from the film entirely, and reshooting scenes around it. They’re not delaying the film by a few months, they’re actually undergoing reshoots on a film that is fully completed, just to avoid the unfortunate hurdle that is reminding people of an act that bears no relation to the film itself.

Where do we draw the line? What’s the appropriate reaction? I don’t really have an answer (or a point) with this post. It just irks me. No, that makes this sound like someone took the last piece of cake. This problem, of people feeling the need to lock and load to solve their problems bothers me, in a very disturbing way. What bothers me more is how we, as a society, have actually come to accept this behavior, to the point that we can parody it. It’s dare I say normal, or at least as normal as corruption in politics (but that’s an entirely different post altogether). Why does it take such tragedy to unite us, that too for about a week (a month if we’re lucky), until at least the next one befalls us? I’m tired of events like this being treated like a mere human interest piece by the media, following the same, sickly pattern of who can get down to the scene of the crime first, who can interview the first victim or perhaps even a victim’s family member (regardless of where they reside or what the actual relationship is like between the two), find out who the suspect is and mob his or her family, and worst of all, filling in the void before anyone has any relevant information with rampant speculation as to why and how it happened. It’s counter productive, and even that’s an understatement.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state,
the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That’s the text from the Second Amendment. This is not supposed to be my way of preaching gun control or further buy into (or even refute for that matter) this paranoid notion that Obama’s going to take away your guns. But shouldn’t that debate be happening? Shouldn’t it have been happening years prior, before any of the aforementioned incidents took place? I can only speak for myself, and hopefully, some of what I am saying echoes with the rest of you. If a 23 year old can see there is a problem, and a 6 year old can be a victim of that problem, and an entire country can be held hostage by the fear of that problem, then should there not be a national dialog taking place on that problem?

I don’t care which side of the Second Amendment you stand on. This isn’t about the mere “right to bear arms” anymore. It’s high time we became that “well regulated militia,” concerned about the security of our people, from people who take advantage of and grossly misuse being able to have weapons of any kind. To those who live and die by the Second Amendment, I’m here to say we’re not going to take away your guns, but we sure as hell would be glad if you used your right to keep guns away from people who share your view but have put a twisted spin on it. Not even that, but I’m just about positive that those who commit these heinous acts of violence have no idea what the Second Amendment is. A first grader who takes a gun to school and accidentally shoots a classmate has no idea what a “militia” is, or that “bear arms” could mean anything but an actual bear’s arm. Surely this potential PhD student had to know what the Constitution was and what the Amendments were, because he prepared his home for the Fourth, and he’ll be pleading the Fifth, and he’ll no doubt be getting the Sixth.

This brings me to the politics of it all. What the [expletive] Congress? What do you do? Like seriously, what do you do? It’s not enough that one of your own takes a bullet to the head? What will it take for any of you to put away your partisan bullshit? When did gun control, or even the safety of the very people who elected you, become the sole responsibility of one political ideology or party? I understand Republicans have international issues (war) in the bag and Democrats all but take the cake on most domestic social issues (gay marriage), but surely we can agree that our citizens are being shot, regardless of their views. Veterans, gays, priests, children, students and even soldiers are being killed for no reason. I know the media will spend numerous a weekend special trying to find out the motive. Maybe he was bullied in school, or maybe he grew up in a rough home, etc. I don’t care. I’m not not saying these aren’t factors, but when it came time for this man—this 24 year old medical student, someone I’m sure is a lot smarter than you and I, at least in the academic sense of the word—to buy guns and to buy ammunition, he did it as easily as walking into this local shop and on Ebay. He had no past record, so the background check is kind of moot. But he acquired three guns and tons of bullets and enough intelligence (term used loosely) to turn his home into a Saw-like maze for anyone who stumbled upon it.

Again, I have no idea how we can possibly solve this problem, short of overhauling gun laws in this country and possibly the Department of Homeland Security, but saying nothing seems like the norm around here regarding these issues, and I didn’t want to contribute to the silence. We mourn and grieve quietly, but we also talk about this issue quietly, and that’s a problem. When it happens, we’re told that it’s not the best time to talk about gun control and we should focus on the victims and bringing the suspect to justice. When we’re bringing the suspect to justice, we’re told not to talk about it because it’ll hinder the process of finding out why he did it. And after we convict the suspect, we’re told we still can’t talk about it, out of respect for the families that lost loved ones. When can we talk about it?

I don’t expect these types of stories to go away. Lord knows that’s unfortunately far too unrealistic given the times we live in, but as I mentioned above, this unnerving sense of normalcy that creeps into us, when such events do take place, is disturbing. We unite behind such tragedy and immediately fall back into a pattern. It’s ironic, that at a time like this, the words of a fellow Joker come to mind: You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan.’ But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds! I hate to say it, but I agree. We don’t care when a drug cartel is wiped out, or if soldiers are killed (so long as it’s in war). We expect that to happen. We think it’s the right thing to be done. Using that logic then, a theater being shot up should not happen. It should go against some code of honorable violence, that schools, shopping malls, and coffee houses shouldn’t be targeted; that innocent civilians shouldn’t be targeted. But none of us are innocent. We’re guilty of letting these things happen time and time again. School was my escape, my second home. The movies were, and will forever remain, my second family. Yet they found me. They found us at our safest. I don’t know how, and I don’t care why. We’ve turned life to death and death into a joke; a slow, tiring process of court and insanity appeals.There’s only one thing left to do. Lock them up in Arkham, toss away the key, and burn the place down.

Joker, Kill the

My heartfelt condolences to all the victims, their families, and the countless others who have been affected by not just this tragedy, but others like it.

12:05

It’s the middle of the summer, a cool 76 degrees. That’s Fahrenheit, because Celsius just isn’t hot enough for me. I don’t want to be 26. It’s kind of a low point. But you’ll glow at 40, and you won’t even know me. Fall. Leaves. Why now? Why the contrast? I don’t need that breeze. I don’t need that Time. I don’t need–

Dead leaves dance across the sidewalk,
staring at a life gone by,
atop tree trunks, bellowing in the wind.

Shades of pumpkin and pastel greens
swirl around unsuspecting days,
stopping long enough to catch her smile.

A huddled sun peeks from the clouds,
gently grazing her face,
afraid of the gaze that’ll follow.

I saw it. I can’t help it. It’s everywhere. I’ve had the same backpack since I was in eighth grade, single strap, with little to no changes in all those years. Graphing calculator got stolen during gym class, so I took my brother’s. Numerous pens, different brands of cigarettes, broken Hitlers, and chopsticks. Family called me “420,” I was Loki, you were low-key. They just wanted the facts, not wrapped in beautiful packages of words, that didn’t have stats, job descriptions, or my country’s name. Said it wasn’t my job to be making Platoon references, even though the greatest casualty of staring directly into her gaze was innocence. VHS covers don’t lie.

A moment in time,
pieces of the wind
we’ll never get back, we’ll never remember.

See everything clearly,
reject those summer days,
the winter of our lives.

The fall of our falls
is falling; is failing,
its beauty escaping.

Lost in the crowd, Kate was always the hardest to find, to tell, to convince. Break those bangles, all eighteen of them. Your hand in his hand? Only way it’ll happen. Red shards of glass clash against my steel one. I was never a fan of un-bridaled passion. Escape the island, I have to stay. Stuck in the flash, in the back, it stops me from moving forward, and I can only imagine what the sideways have in store. Time’s frozen, yet her hands still move, guiding me, directing me, motivating me to pick a number.

I took the road less traveled,
and this what I saw.
Autumn’s on its way out but not without a fight.

Free spirits, landing on her shoulder,
its veins telling a story that was never told,
of intertwining destinies, a path long forgotten.

She calls it a perfect experience,
fit for words, fit for memories;
fit for Queens and lonely Hearts.

Aces. Full House. Blackjack. I was never good at cards. I was never good at 21 and cross out Shephard, candidate at 23. I never read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I love the dead air on a stormy night. It’s the little sparks of music, those voices trying to break free from the radio, from an emergency distress signal and static. Adele, you want to set fire to the rain? Bitch, I want to dance in it. “Do you think we’ll be in love forever?” Damn it Lana, that’s the only time you’ll ever see us together.

Petals in the distance,
roses even further.
jack-o’-lanterns never had a chance.

Dead leaves dance across the sidewalk,
staring at me, at a life gone by.
They don’t deserve to be crushed under my dreams.

You should have kept the letter torn, should have left the rose to die, should have deleted the email before laying eyes on the subject line. No bulletproof vest, no last minute kiss, no lasting bonds or fake relationships, based on nothing but friendship, deep admiration, respect, and love. He’s laughing at you; she’s doing the same, wondering why you can’t even bring yourself to say the name–that inspires, torments, and leaves me empty in its wake? Sweet dreams taste bitter, lost in the morning rubble.

Just broKen

A Gift No More: In Defense of Stand-Up

Category 1: Richard Pryor. George Carlin. Eddie Murphy. Robin Williams. Louis C.K.

Category 2: Twitter. Tumblr. YouTube. Facebook.

Both of those categories are about being heard, but only one of them is ruining comedy. Both consist of strong voices, but only one of them is doing it in a way that attempts to drown out the other.

By now, I’m sure we’ve all heard about Daniel Tosh’s “infamous” incident at The Laugh Factory involving a female audience member’s interruption, citing that jokes about rape are never funny, and his subsequent reaction, asking the audience if it would be funny if she were to be gang raped by five men at that exact moment. I want to stress this, because I know how some of you will take this. This isn’t a defense of his comments, nor is it a defense of rape. You’re free to make your own minds up about what happened and why, and whether or not you agree or disagree with the backlash that followed. That’s not my job.

This is my defense of comedians everywhere who attempt (and no doubt fail) to push the boundaries of their craft. This is a defense of the environment they find themselves in. This is even a defense of those that find themselves in disagreement with them. This isn’t a defense of the issues that are brought up and discussed on stage, or in television, and/or film. This is a defense of comedy, particularly stand-up, something I feel will soon become a dying art, or rather, go completely underground, because we as a society no longer understand how to, and perhaps openly choose not to, accept different ways of thinking, framing, and delivering a thought.

A bit dramatic? Sure. But this is the world we live in.

In comedy, context is everything. Delivery is everything. Audience is everything. But all that changed. There used to be a time, when you got to see an act at a venue, and it was exclusive. There used to be a time when people would buy cassette tapes or vinyl records of their favorite comedian and play it out, memorizing every word. Somewhere, between CD/DVD sales of live performances and the advent of people capturing everything on their cell phones, that relationship was lost. It no longer became about the comedian on stage and his or her relation with the audience. It became about one voice, or a few voices, from that audience, taking it upon themselves to lead a crusade against something he or she did not personally like.

Daniel Tosh, or Tracy Morgan before him, or Kat Williams before him, or Michael Richards before him, or the plethora of other comedians who’s careers on stage take a turn for the worse (sometimes they’re never to be heard from or about again) because of hecklers know it’s a possibility; it’s a risk. Lord knows hecklers have been a part of the stand-up game for as long as stand-up’s been around. There will always be people in the audience who don’t appreciate all the material, and sometimes it’s just people who like being loud and insensitive, no doubt in response to the comic on stage who’s also being loud and insensitive. But last time I checked, freedom of thought, of speech and expression still means something, on both sides of the stage. Last I checked, this was America.

Here come the Constitutional scholars out of the woodwork to explain to me that such an argument is baseless, for what’s being spewed by these comics is hate speech, and racist, and warrants the wrath that follows from an unknown face and voice from the depths of the Twitter-verse, or a YouTube video that gets a few thousand hits, or God forbid, an angry Facebook or Tumblr response that reads like it was written by a lawyer and less like a disgruntled fan. If Twitter, or Tumblr, or even Facebook had existed when the likes of Carlin, Pryor and Murphy were performing, we may not revere them today. They might as well not exist. There’s a reason those performances are considered legends today. There’s a reason today’s crop of comedians look upon them and try to emulate them. There’s a reason their body of work, despite being considered offensive and off putting at the time, has somehow managed to stand that very test of time.

Justice Holmes, in United States v. Schwimmer, cited something that has never left my mind, and is a fundamental principle that I feel is lost in society today. He writes in his dissent, about “the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” Robert Jackson, the United States’ chief prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials stated, that the “freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

Think about it. How many of us can even tolerate a dissenting opinion these days? About anything? Someone didn’t like the same movie you did? Blasphemy. Someone didn’t vote for the same presidential candidate as you? Treason. There’s a reason a group of neo-Nazis can march in a parade in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Skokie. There’s a reason the KKK has a website, and even gathers openly to share its particular views. It’s the same reason a group of people can protest the funerals of dead soldiers, and make derogatory remarks about gays. It’s the same reason South Park has stayed on the air for so long, despite the numerous calls for its cancellation and/or death (okay, so maybe that’s just for the creators). It’s the same reason that jokes on a number of different topics, from cancer to AIDS, religion to genocide, and the Holocaust to September 11th, are littered in the comedic marketplace of ideas.

No one is saying you have to agree with the material. By all means, dislike it, despise it, and disapprove of it; and even make your voice heard. But remember that you were not alone in that environment. There were others. And they were probably laughing. It’s called pushing the boundaries for a reason. Everyone’s got their threshold. No one says you have to cross yours. But yours is not everyone’s. I don’t want to live in a world where stand-up acts don’t take risks. I don’t want to live in a world where stand-up acts don’t get to bomb after their tenth, or twentieth, or even fiftieth time on stage for a mere three minute (if they should be so lucky) set. Failing is a huge part of evolving in this act.

So no, Daniel Tosh’s comments about rape will not be remembered as comedic gold. But if his saying them is automatically considered dangerous to society, based on the words of a few, then trying to censor, silence, and/or downright forbid such remarks is also a dangerous path to take; again, based on the words of that few. Daniel Tosh may have failed at whatever he was going for with that comment. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be allowed on stage and/or television again. He may not agree with you, but he’s not calling for your immediate removal from your job or from your lifestyle, and you’ve probably said much worse things in the private environment of your own home, or with close friends and family, that hasn’t taped and put online for the world to see.

 

Paradox Lost

It’s somewhat fitting that my first post on this site was about a reboot, as that’s kind of how I feel at the moment. After the demise of my beloved UTM/TV, the need for a new creative outlet emerged, and Subtle Water graciously provided me with such a space again. I suppose this is the part where I lay out what you can expect of me on this site.

Oh, and my name. It’s Jas.

You’ve already read (because I assume like that) my take on The Amazing Spider-Man. With any luck, you’ll soon be reading about The Dark Knight Rises. And no, I don’t plan on only reviewing comic book related films. It’s not my fault they delayed G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Though I get the feeling that Peter is overjoyed at the absence of Matt Damon in The Bourne Legacy. And I might even review Total Recall. My God Hollywood, is anything coming out that’s not a continuation and/or a reboot/remake of, an already established flick? Rest assured, I’ll probably answer that in a post of its own down the line.

But it won’t all be reviews. I like to think of myself as a writer too; not a particularly good one, but just enough to pass myself off as one, getting faint praise every now and then. I can write just about anything, from short stories to poems, and even scripts. I’ve been working on a few projects on the side, and I’d like to share them with you now.

There’s WNG[Redux], a podcast I hope can become as big as its predecessor, because simply reading about our absurd thoughts on things isn’t enough; you have to listen to them, on a bus, in your car, and if I do say so myself, they make for an excellent listen when you’re trying to go to sleep (don’t ask me how I know this).

The next project that I’m working on is a web series taking the best (or so I think) of a sketch comedy show I used to do over at UTM/TV and mixing it with a storytelling touch very much inspired by Louie. I’m still writing it, but if all goes well, I hope to have it in production early next week.

That’s all for now. I’m grateful to Peter and Seb for thinking that I would be a good addition to the Subtle Water family. I very much look forward to working with them, as well as all the other writers linked to the site.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this post get too long. Welcome to Paradox Lost.

Spider-Man: Turn of the Dark

The Amazing Spider-ManThe Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Directed by: Marc Webb

Written by: James Vanderbilt,
Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves

Cinematography by: John Schwartzman

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field,
Martin Sheen, Rhys Ifans, Dennis Leary, Irrfan Khan

Rating: C+

I was thirteen in 2002; just thought you all should know that.

The film presents the origin of Peter Parker into Spider-Man, and from the opening scene, it is clear that he will be far from the “friendly, neighborhood” type. After his parents leave him under mysterious circumstances, Peter (Andrew Garfield) is taken in by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). We get a glimpse of his high school life, meet love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), school bully turned best friend Flash Thompson (oddly, no Harry Osborne to speak of, and only passing references to his father), and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Before long, the story sets into motion everything most of us already knew was coming: ties to OsCorp, a spider bite, and oh, did I mention a giant, genetically altered, mutant Lizard?

Adequate. I walked out thinking what I had just seen was strictly adequate. That’s not a knock against it by any means; in fact, it’s rather rare that I find a film so middle of the road. For a reimagining of a highly successful Marvel franchise, I found myself caring for all the wrong things and everything else that maybe should have made some lasting impression, I found to be dull, mere afterthoughts in the narrative.

It would seem that every film, at least those caged in the so-called “superhero” genre, takes its inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005). The inspiration however, has become a running joke, because other than name dropping that particular title, that rebooted DC’s Caped Crusader for the masses, as a way of lending credibility to a more “dark and realistic tone,” no one ever finds it necessary to follow up on what made Begins good: it’s a true origin story. It’s not just the first half hour of an origin story, but a fully realized origin story, that’s happy to be and do just that: lay out the character’s beginnings, and nothing more. It’s reminiscent of another great origin story: M. Night’s Unbreakable (2000), one of the greatest comic book films (and origin stories) ever made.

By now, anyone reading this knows the tale: “with great power comes great responsibility” (never once uttered in this film), guilt for Uncle Ben’s death, and the complication of being Spider-Man, having enemies, and being in love. The Amazing Spider-Man was being touted as “the untold story,” yet it is precisely that “untold” story that I didn’t care about. Why? Because neither did the film. It didn’t care to tell you anything. It chose instead to remain untold until most likely the sequel in two years. Also, it’s called The Amazing Spider-Man, yet I couldn’t care less that Spider-Man was even in it. So while I didn’t care about how he got bitten, I enjoyed the discovery of powers scene in the subway.

The absolute biggest thing this film has going for it is the chemistry between Garfield and Stone. Gwen Stacy is finally realized from comic to film and its amazing and tragic (for those familiar with her comic arc) to watch. To bring Gwen into the narrative alone was probably all the persuasion one would need to accept this reboot. I found myself more engaged in the Gwen/Peter/Gwen’s father arc, than I was in whatever the Lizard/Connors was doing under the watchful (yet never seen) eye of Norman Osborne. The entire film could have been Spider-Man going vigilante to find Uncle Ben’s killer and crossing paths with Captain Stacy at every turn, sprinkling hints of Connors and Osborne, and the rest. Instead, Peter finds himself riddled with guilt at every turn: his parents left him, he thinks he’s the cause for Uncle Ben’s death, and on top of that, he helps create the Lizard. The only thing going right (and simultaneously wrong) is his relationship between Gwen (and her father), respectively, which to me, was far more engaging. So while each arc is presented to the best of its ability, each arc also suffers because it isn’t presented quite as fully as it should be.

It’s a shame really, because everything about this film, from the direction to the actors is uniformly excellent. Garfield brings a whole new level to Peter Parker that we’ve never seen before. He’s an absolutely natural actor, capable of displaying Peter’s angst, yet never failing to get cocky with his abilities. Stone is perfectly cast as Gwen, a character that hasn’t really been given a fair shake in this particular medium. Rounding out the solid cast is Sheen and Field, who do the best with what they’re given, and even Dennis Leary nails Captain Stacy. Director Marc Webb gets it. He gets a free pass from me, due to (500) Days of Summer (2009) alone, but he understands character dynamics, and the relationships between them. It’s somewhat telling if I’d rather watch Parker and Gwen on screen, or Parker and Captain Stacy, or Parker and Uncle Ben, than Spider-Man swinging around the city, preventing robberies, and fighting the Lizard on a bridge or in a high school.

You’ll notice I didn’t make much mention of the Lizard yet or Dr. Connors, played by Ifans, and that’s precisely because his character was probably the only thing that did nothing for me. He’s the film’s central villain, and I was more fascinated with Captain Stacy’s hunt for Spider-Man, Spider-Man’s hunt for his uncle’s killer, and even a Stan Lee cameo (that is probably worth the price of admission alone), to care. The Lizard isn’t just weak; he’s just, dare I say, unnecessary, because it’s not like we get any glimpse into his relationship with Peter’s father, his work for the OsCorp company in general, and within minutes of the end credits, we’re told that he was absolutely useless because after everything he did, he’s locked up in a cell and someone in the shadows is asking him if he told Peter the secret about his parents. Up until that point, even I had forgotten about the so-called secret of Peter’s parents. So sure, Connors is a flawed human being out to perfect society (and repair his missing arm), but he’s not really all that misunderstood. He becomes the Lizard and goes on a rampage to turn society into genetically altered mutants exactly like him. He’s not a redeeming villain, but then again, nor is he all that vicious. He’s just there, wreaks some havoc, and his story slightly ties in with Spider-Man.

The last scene in the film is probably the most grating to me, because it perfectly sums up what rubbed me the wrong way, about not just this film, but films like it. It’s a shot of Peter’s wall, with pictures of his parents, his uncle, and a police sketch of his uncle’s killer. Loose ends. His parents are never explained, his uncle dies without much fanfare (only a montage of Peter trying to find the killer and then just stopping once the Lizard arrives), and his uncle’s killer, who’s presumably still out there on the loose. Hell, there’s a moment in the film when the Lizard releases a toxin that turns SWAT officers into lizards themselves. But after doing so, we never see them again, until the end, when they’re turning back into humans again. There were a dozen SWAT Lizards running around and the film makes no mention of it. What was the point? Also, what the hell happens to Irrfan Khan’s Ratha? One moment, he’s on the bridge, about to be killed by the Lizard; the next he’s saved by Spider-Man, and then is never seen or heard from again. He was Norman’s right hand man, clearly his stand in during this film, and nothing is ever said. He’s just forgotten…until the sequel perhaps.

Loose ends. We’re a society now that’s absolutely comfortable with what I’ll call “set-up” films. Films used to stand on their own, even when they were part of a (usually unplanned) trilogy or franchise. But now, I have to go into the theater knowing that there will be two more parts following the film I’ve just watched, and that soon enough, all will be revealed. It just might take a decade.

I realize this review makes it sound like I absolutely despised this film, but I really didn’t. It was, as I said, just adequate. It was good enough that it’ll keep me interested in the franchise going forward, as all the actors involved do a phenomenal job at selling the story, but something just felt off. I’ve managed to go the entire review without once mentioning Raimi’s vision for the character, so I’m not about to end the review citing a “been there, done that” attitude, as I’d like to judge the film on its own merits. But that’s the one improvement I would make. I don’t want to compare the two, but look at how well developed Doc Ock was in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (2004). The Lizard needed more of that. Hell, even Captain Stacy needed more of that. The two characters were vying for the more dominant arc, and both of them were simply adequate, presenting just enough to get by.

For the most part, Webb, Garfield, and Stone delivered, but it’s a film that I probably won’t appreciate until I can watch it in succession with its successors.

Dear Sony, Columbia, and Marvel: Bring back J.K. Simmons. If Judi Dench’s M can cross over in the Bond universe, so can J. Jonah Jameson. Make it happen. That is all.