Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Saving Spider-man

There are spoilers in this blog. That's how you know I'm a nerd because I pay attention.

Apparently the new Amazing Spider-man franchise with Andrew Garfield needs to be saved. Despite raking in some nice cash on opening weekend, it apparently is lagging behind the last franchise starring Tobey Maguire. While there are some proposals on the table to save this franchise, I have to ask myself, wearing my nerd hat, why should this franchise be saved?

I know it's worth a lot to Sony. My heart bleeds. But I'm speaking as a comic book nerd who has loved Spider-man for years and could not wait for a movie franchise to open when Tobey Maguire first landed the role. Of course, being a nerd, I had my reservations; Tobey at the time seemed too skinny, I didn't like the webslingers being a part of his mutation, and I was fully aware that the original girl next door is, in fact, Gwen Stacy and not Mary Jane Watson.

But I got over it. I was satisfied with the first 2 Spider-man films with Tobey and Kirsten. I didn't particularly like Kirsten Dunst being cast as the red-headed dream girl, but I accepted the iconic 'soaked in the rain upside down kiss in the alley'. It's been parodied enough times in pop culture to be considered an iconic scene, which, despite the obvious chemistry of Garfield and Stone, who we all know are real life main squeezes, never happens. Garfield and Stone don't have a single iconic scene like this; their relationship is full of angst, big eyes, staring, and emphatic declarations of independence (I break up with you Peter Parker).

One critic made the argument that the new franchise is losing its emotional core without Garfield and Stone together in the future. I strongly disagree. The scenes between the two star-crossed lovers in this film are more Twilight than Marvel. It's often prophetic, like Gwen Stacy's absolutely horrible graduation speech, which features the kind of statement about life that sound absurd coming from a teenager. Not to mention all the cute moments having ice cream which nobody came to the theater to see. The film builds up to Gwen Stacy's eventual demise in such a way that the emotional impact is not so much 'WHY?' as 'Oh, they actually did it.'

Then there's the new Peter Parker, very clearly a teenager, very clearly full of angst, who is about to put on his headphones, fall on the bed and have a timeout to emotional pop music. The old Peter Parker is clean-cut, geeky, nerdy, and a bit of a boy scout. It's only when he dons the mask that he becomes a smart ass full of quips and attitude. The distinction between Parker/Spider-man for Garfield is not that clearcut, although, he still is a pretty good kid. But would Tobey's Peter Parker dip the valedictorian at graduation? Nope.

And that's another fundamental problem I see with the new Amazing Spider-man. Garfield spends a lot less time being Spider-man in these films than he does being Peter Parker. There's more in this franchise about who he is, who his parents are, what Peter experiences, what his relationships are like. But it's the essential dual identity problem; we don't want to spend more time with one character than the other. We all want to see Superman films, but who wants to see the film about Clark Kent? NOBODY.

The new Amazing Spider-man films are better movies overall; they have good pacing, great effects, nice montages, solid acting, decent writing. They try to expand on background stories, with the many flashbacks to the Parker family tragedy and Peter's leftover emotions. The film attempts to tap into the complex feelings of abandonment, treason, ethics, and the constant theme of protection, and it's partly successful. It's a much more serious look at the underlying issues that intrigue all nerds at heart and part of the reason why nerds take comic books personally.

They don't resort to the sort of kitchiness that most comic book franchises use. That said, the kitchiness is a big part of what works; the Tobey series embraced the comic book franchise, stayed true to the dorkiness of Peter Parker, and had a little fun with their villains. Until the third film, which was admitedly a disaster, they didn't try to make Peter Parker cool. The new Amazing Spider-man films are better movies, but they aren't better Spider-mans.

I think the new franchise suffers from its attempts at pathos and complexity; this film wasn't as fun as the others. Who doesn't love the scenes where Spidey saves a bunch of people on a passenger train or when Doc Ock is wreaking havoc and poor aunt May gets caught up on a trip to the bank? I also think the timing of the franchise was poor; many people are beginning to tire of superhero films and the first 2 Tobey films were successful, so there wasn't a need for audiences to experience something new and redeeming. The first two were charming and fresh; the new series is dragged down by the dark side of Peter Parker's past, the tragedy of Gwen, underdeveloped villains and generic action scenes padded with emotional teenage exchanges.

But I am a true nerd, which means that I did pay to see this movie in UltraVX and I probably will watch it when it's on tv one day. I will also re-watch the old series and make comparisons and get angry and try to educate the unitiated and because I liked it less, I will only watch it 3 times and only buy the blu-ray combo pack because it was cheaper at Wal-Mart than the traditional DVD format. And I won't get the collector's pack with the Jumbo mug- oh hell, I'm a nerd, of course I'll get the collector's pack with the jumbo collectible mug, I still have the popcorn bucket from the original Tobey franchise and now my mom uses it for clothespins.

And as for the Amazing Spider-man 3 and 4, I say: dial it back. Don't try to be so smart. We like it when Spidey saves people, not when Peter Parker has a bad day.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Say it Aint So George

The world's most famous playboy bachelor is getting married. Yes, the 'M' word. George Clooney, the best single person on the planet by universal consensus, will soon be off the market and what are we single losers going to do now?

It used to be that when people pestered me about my single status, I could say that I was single and awesome like Clooney. How could anyone argue with that? The Carey Grant man's man, whimsical, handsome, well-dressed, polished, hilarious, handsome movie star who makes salt and pepper look as delicious as they do on the dinner table at a 4-star restaurant? Clooney, the one who inspires us to be cool, have lots of guy friends, play pranks on them, invite them over for basketball games when their wives give them permission, and pick up cocktail waitresses in Vegas- BECAUSE HE CAN.

When judgemental family members and smug married people told us that we were 'missing out' or that there must be something socially dysfunctional about us, we could look back at them and say 'Clooney', as if the name was a passport to some utopic secret night club where everything shines champagne bubbles.

But now, we've gone back to being basement nerds and crazy cat aunts. Now, we can all aspire to be like Kuthra- you know, the Indian guy on Big Bang Theory, the lonely, slightly alcoholic metrosexual astrophysicist with a dog small enough to fit in his man purse.

A Google search reveals that the second most eligible bachelor right now is Prince Harry, who is often used to being in line for something. Even HE might be getting hitched soon, leaving us all with a loveable minority character or Captain Sweatpants for help.

Thanks a lot for nothing, George. You were our last hope, a way to redeem ourselves, if not to others, at least to ourselves.

Now I can say 'I'm single and awesome like Prince Harry, heir to the heir to the throne of England.'

Or, 'I'm single and awesome like Prince Harry, you know, Will's brother.'

Which is still better than saying I'm a leftover, like the Chinese government is currently telling its young women. You have to give China high points for clarity. Subtle social pressure was not getting the job done well enough, so instead of espousing values or gently prodding peoples' most vulnerable feelings with tear-inducing Hallmark ads, they've gone right for the throat and become the collective tiger mom of their female population.

I might have just found my new tagline: 'I'm single and awesome and I will stay this way just to piss off the Chinese. Because I love leftovers.'

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dad-conomics

I've entered that phase of my adult life where I begin to view economics the way that my dad did. I call it dad-conomics. It's that point of your life where you stop thinking about what things cost today and focus more on what they used to cost; you know, the whole bit about how you used to be able to fill your car trunk with groceries for $17 and a movie was $2.50 'back in my day.' The standard of living changes, wages change, economies change, but no matter what, you're stuck in this strange prism of the way things were, rather than the way things are.

It's partly because money just doesn't make any sense anymore. How is it that salaries seem so large in comparison with our grandparents, yet we can't afford two cars and a two-storey house? Grandpa and grandma were pretty resilient and they didn't know what a latte was, but they could at least afford a 'decent' roof over their heads. But now that same house and two cars cost a million dollars, and how in the world did we come up with that?

The 'standards' have apparently changed. Everyone now wants a move-in ready, pre-fab home with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Hold on, now, who set these standards? Oh right, a bunch of rich people and marketing companies and our style overlords over at HGTV. The Kardashians. The people who sell high end paint. Social media. Construction companies.

There was a time when people used to build homes to last and they actually looked different from all the other homes in the neighbourhood. There was a time when people moved into their homes and slowly painted, renovated, added furniture piece by piece and upgraded over the course of their lives. But now everything has to be the same and immediately available and to standard, the end product being overpriced, bland and conformist. Hardly a home that you want to be proud of and grow in and spend the next 25 years of your life paying off.

But this is what income inequality ultimately looks like. The 1% of the population sets the impossible standards, the wage slaves try to keep up. The costs of homes is driven up, the desire for profits for the top tier increase and all of a sudden, a home of one's own becomes an impossible dream without two solid salaries (and maybe some help from the parents).

And never mind just the home; there needs to be coordinated furniture, accents, flat screen tvs and who doesn't have HD or high speed internet? Drip coffee? Puh-lease. Not when gorgeous actresses purr at you in commercials over cups of Italian espresso made from steamy machines.

Part of the problem, clearly, are our appetites, which is being manipulated by all streams of our media. Most reality shows or competitions are basically advertisements, heavily endorsed by the companies that manufacture food, music, home or beauty products- setting our standards and whetting our appetites for the things that they want us to buy. The endless cycle of consumerism is hard to break when everyone is selling you the best version of something.

But trying to keep up is taking our attention away from two important things: (1) we're falling desperately behind and (2) it shouldn't be this hard.

If we keep getting distracted by shiny objects dangling in front of us, we're never breaking out of the cycle. There is no good reason for highly educated, hard working professionals, often dual income households, to be struggling financially. You can blame the lattes, but what is that when compared to the staggering student debts most people rack up when trying to become professionals in the first place? What is that compared to the half a million dollar family home?

Whenever I look at house prices, it's like playing Monopoly. The dollar amounts don't even seem real. Park Place is great if you buy it the first time around the board, but it really sucks when you land on it and a few houses have been built. Is it just me, or does the entire real estate market look like a big, confusing, long game of Monopoly when you just want to go to bed because you've been playing for 6 hours with your siblings and nobody's winning???

No wonder dad used to frown so much.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Edit

Sources of news and information on the internet always want to provide you with a more tailored, personal experience. But wouldn't it be great if we could find a way to seriously edit the information that we see? To not be constantly exposed to content that bores or offends us?

I'm not saying that information restriction is the way to go. I'm saying that the power of deciding what we WANT to see should be ours. Everytime I look at a site like Yahoo, I always think to myself, sure, it's great that they want to give me diverse information, but it's not exactly organized the way that I would like it to be. The tendency to include celebrity news on par with what I would consider 'news' news often leaves me feeling frustrated. And since we live in a politically correct sphere where everything is tailored to things that we 'like', there are frustratingly few options to filter out the things that we hate.

I would love to one day see a function where I could list the things that I can't stand and have that work as the filter on the information that I see. You know what, Yahoo? I don't give a shit about Kimye's Wedding. I don't want to see a celebrity's new haircut. That study that says that running is bad for you and will kill you prematurely showing up the day before the running is good for you and will help you live forever posting is just plain confusing.

I want to put my preferences in: Please show me studies that prove that running is excellent, chocolate, coffee and wine are all good for your heart and shopping is the key to happiness. Stop raining on my parade, information website! And stop updating me on celebrities that I couldn't care less about- unless, perchance, there's one that has had a particularly awful day.

Can't you just imagine it? Putting in your settings and never having to see another Rob Ford article? Bieber- who's this Bieber you speak of? And did you know that a group of researchers in Illinois have discovered that bacon is actually good for you in moderation? How about that?

Think of the happier, more streamlined existence that you would have then. Think of how much less garbage and mind junk that would filter through your head at night. You probably could have lived without seeing someone's red carpet minidress. You probably could have done without that video of a cat who rolls toilet paper. I want to see more of what I like, but I also want to experience a lot less of what I hate.

What I wouldn't do for an edit feature of that type.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cheers to History!

A 5th grade teacher from Michigan may have brewed up some trouble unintentionally after letting her class sample non-alcoholic beer. Apparently, the teacher's intention was to teach her students what people traditionally drank in the 1700s, since beer at the time was cleaner than most water.

This is very true. Any historian will tell you that modern water out of a tap is a miracle that many people in the 1700s could only dream of. You know what any historian will also tell you? History is filthy.

The teacher in question probably had good intentions, you know, in the spirit of 'bringing history alive!' and all sorts of other enthusiastic teacherly notions. But the problem with historical accuracy is not that our society is seriously lacking in it, but the fact that you can't, and probably don't want to, duplicate history.

The 1700s was not a hygienic or safe time. Anyone with visions of 'bringing history alive!' for their students today could bring up some pretty unpleasant experiences. Like oral hygiene from the 1700s, fashion, transportation; ah, the joys and memories of underqualified so-called professionals yanking sore teeth with a pincer also used for removing coals from a hot stove, corsets that broke ribs, horses that traced a path of poop everywhere they trod. History is important, but a lot of us are happy that it's the past.

That said, beer has a rich history and has been a part of human civilization for millenia, tracing its origins back to the early Sumerians. Humans have been ingesting beer and wine for longer than any of the highly sugared processed drinks that are currently on the market; a good reason to skip soda altogether and enjoy a drink or two (unless you're the designated driver, another victory of modern invention).

A note to this Michigan school; your principal might want to have another talk with the teacher in question when it's time to study Russia. Sure, those potatoes you're bringing to class seem harmless enough, until it's time to bring history alive! once more.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Missed Opportunity of Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day. And when most people think of this day, they groan and moan about being single, or, if they're fortunate enough to be in a relationship, the obligations and expectations that arise out of a forced 'romantic' holiday. Valentine's Day today amounts to a large retail cash grab, an excuse to use emotional blackmail and slick marketing to convince people to spend money they don't usually have on overpriced dinners, flowers, chocolate and the evil empire that is Hallmark.

When I see Valentine's Day, I see a missed opportunity. Consider who Saint Valentine actually was and the relevance of his story. Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who defied draconic laws set out by the Roman state in times of war that couples could not marry. He's a political activist, as well as a romantic. He was martyred for protecting the fundamental right of people to love and marry freely without interference from the State. The State cannot tell you if you can marry or not; and in today's world, that argument can be expanded to WHO you can marry.

You know what I would like to see on Valentine's Day, other than Hollywood pumping out another bad formulaic movie that makes women look doe-eyed and hysterical? Other than the cheap chocolate hearts and paper trail Cupids? I would love to see advocates for marriage rights reclaim this important message and re-emphasize to the world that people are free to love. That people are free to choose. Millions of dollars are wasted on superficial trinkets and shallow expressions of love. Wouldn't it be good to see it put to better use?

I choose to see Valentine's Day as a reminder of the sacrifices people have made in the name of love and human rights. I hope that there's a time in the not-too-distance future where other people choose to do the same. Because marriage oppression is not a thing left to our distant past; for many in the world, it is still their reality and I can't think of a good reason why it should be.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Depression and Rebirth

While I've experienced sadness over the years, there was a distinct phase of my life where I felt what I can describe as depression.

I don't have any pre-existing conditions that I know of and have not been diagnosed by a professional medical team, but I do know when, in my life, I've been engulfed by feelings of extreme sadness, helplessness and the persistent feeling that I would be sad and alone forever. It wasn't me being 'dramatic', 'hormonal' or having an 'episode.' They were years when I felt like a waste of space.

When I was in junior high, I attended a school of racist bullies. Bus rides every day were full of taunts, insults, thrown projectiles, and various invitations to suck things. Going into the girls bathroom often resulted in the kind of thrown over the shoulder insults specially reserved for girls. The administrators and teachers would regularly confuse me with the only other Asian girl in the school- who had curly hair and looked nothing like me.

These same administrators all thought that I had an attitude problem, one which made the other kids in school hostile to me. They thought that I was the one who needed the help, working through my 'issues.' Not only did I feel horrible all of the time, suffering abuse, I was also made to feel responsible for it by the people who were supposed to help. Going through the awkward pain of adolescence in the Nirvana grunge era of suicidal lyrics and the thought that bullying was 'just a way of life' convinced me that I was worthless- and that this state was permanent.

My parents knew that this was more than my attitude and they pulled me out of that hell. I changed schools and neighbourhoods and got the kind of fresh start that helped me heal myself in my mind, until I didn't feel like I deserved to die.

Back then, bullying wasn't the issue it is now. It doesn't have nearly as much buzz around it and wasn't really acknowledged as being a real problem. Kids being kids, right? Life's tough, suck it up. 'Wait until you're older and you have REAL problems- paying bills, raising kids, keeping a roof'. Telling your kids to buck up in a situation where they feel despair by informing them that it just gets worse and this isn't even 'real'? Not a solution.

It's no wonder that I turned to other worlds for escapes. I love fiction. A good book is like a best friend. I love sci-fi movies that take place in galaxies far, far away. It's the reason why I'm a writer.

I've always been passionate about ancient civilizations. Egypt was one of my favourites. The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death and the afterlife, and this notion that death was a beginning, not an end. One of the main legends features the Goddess of the Sky, Nut, who gives birth every morning to the sun God, who dies every night at sunset. Every morning, he's reborn, brought back to the world, fresh, anew, the dawn of hope.

It's this idea that everything from the past dies with the end of the day and begins again with daybreak. That's how I feel about most people. Every day, when we wake, we have to build ourselves back up again from nothing- and some days, it's really hard to do. And some days, we do a less than stellar job. But every day, we're given a new opportunity to re-create ourselves. That thought gives me tremendous comfort and hope.