09 May 2007

Comics, Special Effects & Message

I sometimes fail miserably at popular culture. When B was little, he would be frustrated when I would confuse Batman and Spidey, the four indistinguishable (to me) Turtles with the PowerRangers. There were always clues as to who were the bad guys, but I couldn't have told you that Spidey's arch-nemesis was the Green Goblin or that the SandMan was not part of the Fantastic

But, I did like watching cartoons on TV and learned not to ask the "stupid" questions regarding who was who. In the end, it didn't matter what their names were or what the genesis of their mutant power was. Let's face it: cartoons do not well-developed plots. They have stereotypical characters. Is it any wonder that some of the superheros and their villains seem interchangeable? The outcomes are predictable. The message is always that the good, while challenged by evil, will triumph in the end. That is what we expect.

B and I went to see Spider-Man 3 over the weekend. I'd heard some buzz: that the most expensive movie ever made was a disappointment, great with special effects, but weak on plot. I wouldn't have gone on my own, but B suggested it. We sat on the second tier of seats, but still way too close to the screen. I started immediately to ask questions: who is that character? How was Uncle Ben killed? A few teenage glares quickly quashed the questions.

The movie was a little long. The special effects were amazing (although seeing people in peril of falling out of a NY skyscrapper was too realistic, even though I knew Spidey would come to the rescue). It's easy to see why this is one of the most expensive movies ever made -- there are special effects in almost every scene. The dialog? A bit forced. The plot? Thin and predictable. The characters? Stereotypes. The acting is not going to win awards, although Topher Grace and JK Simmons do a good job with acting over-the-top, emphasizing the one-dimensional comic book natures of their characters. There are a few laughs along the way. In short, what you would expect from a cartoon. What I liked about the movie though was that the message was not as simple as "Good triumphs over Evil", although, of course, that is what happens.

Spidey's dark side takes over during the movie, with the help of an alien substance, in true comic-book plotting. He is arrogant, self-centered, angry, vengeful. These traits hurt those he loves, and ultimately, himself. Of course, since this is SpiderMan, he realizes the problem before it consumes him and he sets out to make things right. Just as in real life, this isn't easy and his initial attempts are rebuked by those he has hurt.

But, in the end, there is a strong message about forgiveness. Spidey forgives, and so do the others in the movie. Those that do not, hardened by their hurts, are destroyed by their inability to forgive and accept forgiveness.

The plot is thin. There are scenes that don't make much sense. Some of the humor falls flat, but it's a comic book movie: you don't expect the plot to be elaborate and complex. Fans may not expect -- or like -- to see their favorite superhero battling his "dark" side, especially if that dark side is portrayed more as an unlikely alien possession rather than an obsession.

Yet, there is a truthfulness to SpiderMan 3. There is a dichotomy in everyone: we all are capable of doing good or doing bad things. Everyone struggles, to varying degrees, with the darker side of our beings -- anger, jealousy, self-absorption, hatred, revenge. And these undesirable traits can possess us if we choose to let them, or we can choose to set things right, not let them overtake our lives, and forgive those, especially those most difficult to forgive, for the hurts they have caused us.

A comic-book message? Yes. Good does triumph over Evil, in Spidey's world, and it can in ours too.

02 May 2007

Choosy Books

JenClair and Danielle both asked recently how one chooses books: book store recommendations? newspaper reviews? blogs? friends? book groups? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Add in an occasional rummage sale, an impulse buy at a non-book store like the grocery, and, what is the least logical, somewhat difficult to define, but most fulfilling means: book serendipity.

Yes, I think books choose me as frequently as I choose them -- and maybe even more often. And when that happens, it truly seems like a happenstance; a rare lucky break, pure coincidence. Sometimes a book almost jumps off the shelf and into my hands. It may be its location in the store or library that catches my eye. It might be an intriguing cover, or great notes on the dust jacket. An unusual title might pique my interest. Sometimes it is on the remainders table, a fancy generic label slapped on the front to indicate the deeply discounted price. I have frequently picked up books by authors I have never heard of (some of whom I will never hear of again) simply because the book was discounted; in return I have been rewarded many times over with the discovery of an unknown bounty comprised of real literary gems.

Mix the books from all of the sources together and it's easy to see why I have so many books "in progress", or on my nightstand, or flowing off the shelves of my bookcases.

01 May 2007

It's May!

I love May. Here is a picture taken in May a few years ago, in Monet's Garden at Giverney.

Have a lovely May Day!