Saturday, July 13, 2013

Spiral

I have mental disorders.

I can't take effective medication for them, because the two types of effective medication I've been given made me too numb to care or made me want to kill myself.

Prozac made my high blood pressure worse.

I can't afford some drugs because I have no insurance.

My anxiety is worse because I have high blood pressure.

My high blood pressure is worse because I'm so fat.

I have agoraphobia, which means I'm afraid to go out sometimes because I worry something bad will happen and it's not safe outside. I have anxiety anyway, but the agoraphobia makes it worse. Very often, I have an edge of panic.

The high blood pressure causes things to move through my body very quickly, so I go from worry to anxiety to dread to full-blown panic very quickly.

It's exhausting.

When I'm exhausted, I get depressed.

When I'm depressed, I don't do anything.

When I don't do anything. I get fatter.

When I get fatter, I get more depressed about how I'm fat and I'm poor and I'm unemployed and I'm uninsured and I can't even find a medication that's effective at evening me out. The only one that really works okay is Xanax, but it just makes me even more tired. When it wears off, the anxiety returns even worse. I get irritable. My high blood pressure adds to it.

My high blood pressure, which is especially bad because I'm so fat because I'm so depressed because I have anxiety disorders which are made worse by my high blood pressure which is made worse by being so fat which is made worse by being so depressed because of my anxiety disorders.

Do you see why I can be so suicidal at times? Because I'm going around and around in a spiral and I can't always see how to get out of it. I can't see the exit.

Sometimes I exercise, and then I feel good, and then I start to even out, and then I start to feel better, and then my health gets better, but it's just so hard to keep it going because I become discouraged easily or because someone says something to me that I obsess over and I remember that I'm a shitty person whose feelings don't matter and who probably never has a chance of being happy because it's not like things get better, anyway, right?

I'm up against the worst thing in the world: my own inadequacies.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #3

"The Menace of the Miracle Man!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky
(March 1962)

In their short history, the FF have faced monsters and aliens. Now they face hypnosis. I'll let you decide if that's a downgrade or not.

The villain in this issue is the Miracle Man, who uses his powers of hypnotism for evil, mainly by making people believe he has amazing powers and by appearing to bring the statue of a monster (a piece of movie publicity) come to life. I'm not really buying that anyone's ability to hypnotize a crowd is so incredibly good that even people wandering onto the scene from somewhere else or see it happening on television (as the Fantastic Four do) will instantly be caught up in the illusion. It seems more likely that they'd wonder what everyone was freaking out about it. Or maybe the Miracle Man really is so good that he doesn't even have to have eye contact with you at all. Hypnotism can work that way, right?

It's all rather silly, but this is also an important issue of Fantastic Four for a number of reasons. First, Sue Storm designs their classic costumes in this one (Thing even gets a full uniform with a helmet, though he discards those rather quickly in favor of just wearing the pants, and later just trunks). No talk of unstable molecules yet, but Reed does pay Sue the compliment that she should work for Dior. (I kind of like that compliment just as one of the little touches that remind the reader that these comics take place today, right now, in your world, rather than in some fantasy version of New York. It's what set Marvel apart.)

The FF also have their own headquarters now, inside the Baxter Building, which gives us this little gem.

They've put some thought into this thing, rather than just giving Reed a lab and an office. I think you could possibly argue that it's this kind of thing--the willingness to explain how and why things works in the embryonic Marvel Universe--that has conditioned fans over the years to expect adherence to continuity and in-canon explanations for everything, but at the same time, it also shows that Stan and Jack have thought about people who would ask questions and are having fun with it.

This is also the first issue where we see the original Fantasti-Car, the one that looked like a floating bathtub. I like that one better than they one they have later. It's just weirdly charming. Love the explanation that it's air-powered.

At this point, one of the things I find kind of sweet about these early issues is the naive idea that the key to power is in external force--and not only that, but in a small, self-contained external force. The Skrulls sent four spies to one city to scope out an invasion. The Miracle Man just has hypnotism and a tank. It's simple, but not simplistic, and going back to this time period in comics, a time when superheroes were much less cynical, can be really refreshing.

This one's a mite silly, but it's still fun.

Other observations:

:: This issue has my favorite cover in the history of Fantastic Four.

Third issue in, never got better.

:: Ben seems especially short-fused in this issue, ready to beat up anyone and everything at the slightest provocation. He needs to be restrained, as usual. He also reminds us again how humiliating it is being the Thing.

:: Johnny, on the other hand, decides it's time to go out on his own, mainly because he's sick of Ben digging at him all the time. It's a set-up for the next issue, but it's interesting that this time it's someone other than Ben talking about walking out. Johnny is, pardon the pun, hot-headed. His temper can be just as short as Ben's, but it's nice to see a realistic teenager. Hey, sometimes they have to walk off and blow off some steam.

:: Reed seems downright paranoid in this issue, even for a Cold War-era scientist. Right away after catching the Miracle Man's act, Reed worries what could happen if the Miracle Man ever decided to use his powers for evil. (At this point, no one realizes it's just hypnotism.) Then, when Johnny flies off, he wonders aloud how dangerous the Human Torch would be if he ever turned against his friends. Jeez, Reed, let the kid calm down for a couple of days before you suspect him of becoming evil, he's just a kid. You could argue, probably rightly, that since Reed suspected the Miracle Man and the Miracle Man turned out to be evil, Stan and Jack are just building up the tension in a cliffhanger, though.

:: Sue gets something to do! She becomes invisible and tracks the Miracle Man to his junkyard hideout. She's given away by a dog that senses her. There's also the suggestion that without Sue around, the three men in the group quickly deteriorate, fighting among themselves. Reed even laments how they don't get along.

:: It's established for sure here that the Fantastic Four are known celebrities. They don't have secret identities; everyone knows who they are. There's almost a sense that they work for the city, but that's not entirely accurate.

:: I love that the Miracle Man actually sends a letter to the police commissioner that reads "I, the Miracle Man, declare war on the whole human race! I intend to conquer the Earth!" Seems only fair. No internet yet.

:: Since this only the first-ever letters page in Fantastic Four, Stan can be forgiven for a little padding...

Letter by Marvel freelancer (and this issue's inker) Sol Brodsky, puffing up the boss a bit. In 1964, Sol Brodsky would become Marvel's production manager and basically Stan's right hand man.

:: Ironically, the ad on the back of the front cover is for a book called How to Hypnotize.

Not my favorite issue, but a real turning point in cementing the look and feel of the burgeoning Marvel Universe and the series itself.

Next time: the return of a Golden Age comics character.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

A FANTASTIC FEAR OF EVERYTHING (2012)
Simon Pegg stars in this dark, weird, quite funny film about an agoraphobic writer who is researching a book on serial killers and has become obsessed with the idea that someone plans to murder him. His issues--some of which are traumatic and which are kind of hitting me where I live--come to a head when he's forced to go to a launderette to wash clothes for a meeting with a BBC executive. Pegg is great, of course, and I just really got into it and stuck with it the whole way. ***1/2

DRACULA (2012)
Maybe Dario Argento is just used up. Dull, soporific version of the Bram Stoker novel that somehow makes the story of Dracula seem even more boring than it already is. I love Rutger Hauer and Asia Argento, but they're sleepwalking through a film that looks like an awful student project with the most ridiculous CGI I've seen since the 90s. Thomas Kretschmann is a potentially good Dracula, but he's so over the top and stupid in this movie... I just hated it. Zero stars.

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Four college girls rob a diner and use the money to head to Florida for spring break. I expected to hate this maligned film, but I was totally fascinated by it. It looks glossy and shallow, but I think it's interesting and even vital in the way it takes our expectations of gender roles and twists them around. I think a lot of the negative reviews are responding to two things. First, on some level, male reviewers seem to not know how to take a movie about college girls basically acting like men and not getting punished for it. There aren't a lot of consequences in this movie. Hurt feelings, yes, but the girls aren't exploited: for the most part, they're willing participants in what happens to them, even taking control of it in the end, and that aspect especially seems to piss off a lot of people. It is unsettling, but when you think about why it is, you get one of the films main points: that we're not used to seeing young women in movies who act like young men act in movies without seeing them have to suffer in some way. In a lot of movies, the things that happen here would ruin their lives, and this movie is somehow able to stand back from moral judgments, and that's fascinating.

The other negative reviews seem to basically amount to "What the fuck is this shit? I can't masturbate to this!" A lot of people expecting an exploitation flick were sorely disappointed, which I think is another point here. This is basically what Sucker Punch claimed to be but lacked the conviction to follow through with. This movie is able to confront its audience and their expectations without being aggressive about it, and that means something. I think this movie is far from shallow. It's powerful and vital. Good performances all around, but James Franco is especially committed to the role and totally mesmerizing. This is my favorite film of 2013 so far. ****

UPDATE 7/12: I've been thinking about something else the film illustrates, too. I feel like the girls have no moral qualms about robbing the diner because it's in service of getting something that the media keeps telling them they're owed: a consequence-free good time at spring break. I have a sister around this age, and I see a lot of girls especially (for purposes of discussing this particular film) of this age on Tumblr, and I read their posts. They're chasing this idea of social interaction that is largely a construct of film and television. I see these people lamenting how they don't have a lot of friends like on Friends and they don't have the same types of parties/drama as people on Skins and they seem to take these things as depictions of how friendships are supposed to look. They feel so entitled to a good time that they literally think they're oppressed and deprived if they're not constantly having fun. So if the girls in the film appropriate male symbols of power and use them in service of what seems like frivolity, it's only because the media has taught them to and they've internalized it.

HITCHCOCK (2012)
Not much as a biopic, but the tone is kind of fun and the performances are pretty good. Anthony Hopkins' impression of Hitch is cute, and the makeup is good, even if the movie never quite lands the way it wants to. I dug ScarJo, too, but that surprises no one by now. Part of the problem is that no one really has any realizations: Hitch bullies his wife, she tolerates his obsessions with his ice blonde leading ladies, but it's okay, I guess, because he loves his wife so much and she saves Psycho for him. We know he didn't really learn much or change much, because Tippi Hedren and that whole obsession is just around the corner, so it cuts a lot of the drama. It's pretty to look at--great production design, and I like Danny Elfman's score (but I always enjoy it when he writes this score). Good cast. Enjoyable, insubstantial. ***

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012)
Painful. Laura Linney plays a distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt's (a subdued, boring Bill Murray) who falls for him and gives him handjobs to help him relax. That's basically it. The movie mostly centers around the state visit of King George VI and the tension of that weekend, but it never really earns the tension or the drama it tries to create. It's also weirdly hostile towards women. FDR's relationship with Eleanor is played as contentious and angry, and his relationship with his cousin (the unfortunately named Daisy Suckley) is emotionally abusive; she just goes on and on telling us what a great man he was, justifying his selfish behavior, and it's just so damn annoying to watch. I can't believe Laura Linney is even in a movie that goes to great pains to justify its sexism. I hope she paid off her mortgage okay, because that's the only excuse I can come up with. The Blowjob That Saved US-Anglo Relations. **

BIRD (1988)
Clint Eastwood's biopic of Charlie Parker is quite an involving film. It's not really a straight biopic, but I like how it uses Parker's music (weaved into the film) and Forest Whittaker's excellent performance as a way to create a jazz-like impression of Parker's life. It's very compelling; Parker is an addict who seems to have accepted addiction as his cross to bear, but can't stand it in others. The women in his life (Diane Venora is very good as his wife, Chan Parker) become his enablers, as he charms his way into their forgiveness. We watch as he abuses his body and promises to do better, even as he knows he won't. When he died of an overdose, the coroner estimated his age at 65. He was 34. ***1/2

MOMMIE DEAREST (1981)
Whoa. I've never seen it and didn't know what to expect... this flick is insane. I've been around abusive people before, and I didn't regard this as a campy film (though it has enough moments that I thought a few times that I was disappointed that John Waters didn't direct it), but more as a horror flick. Yeah, it's over the top, but it's kind of terrifying, too. Couldn't look away from it. ***

ANTOINE AND COLETTE (1962)
The second adventure of Francois Truffaut's Antoine Doinel, a segment from an anthology film, and one that's all too painfully familiar. Antoine is in love with Colette, a girl he loves so much but who doesn't love him back. I remember being in this position as a teenager, of loving a girl so much who doesn't feel the same way about you, and how you think there's some way to find the one key to winning her, like if you can just make her understand how damn much you love her then she'll be so flattered she'll fall for you, too. Never happens, though, does it? Truffaut captures that urgency very well. ****

NEW YORK WEENIE (2013)
The newest Mickey Mouse short. Loved it, as I've loved all of them so far. ****

EVIL DEAD (2013)
A lot of people bagged on this remake for being straightforward, but that's not what I didn't like about it. (The original was straightforward, too, something too many people seem to have forgotten.) What bothered me is that for all of the special effects and makeup it uses, it's completely hollow. It's like a lot of remakes of horror films: it has nothing to say about anything. It's just another dumbass gory action flick that's terminally dull. (It's also a body horror flick that knows nothing about biology, but, yeah, it's a dumb movie.) I honestly don't understand the point of this even existing, because there are no characters, no emotions between the characters, and nothing recognizably human. It's just intense for the sake of being intense, but not in a way that I cared about. The original Evil Dead made a point of trying to be more nihilistic and intense than any other of the slasher/horror flicks of the time. The remake basically tries to do the same thing without adding any innovation and totally fails. Boring. So fucking boring. *1/2

SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)
I loved Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, and I loved his new film, too. It feels fresh and original, even as it seems to nick some of it's style from Tarantino and Guy Ritchie's earlier films. It's funny as hell, and it's refreshing that a lot of the humor is character-based and reactive rather than just coming out of one-liners. The story is delightfully convoluted but all holds together, not afraid to take side trips and constantly commenting on itself, with a great cast that includes Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson. Farrell plays a frustrated alcoholic screenwriter working on a movie about psychopaths. He gets caught up in a dognapping scheme that escalates madly, but there's a lot of talk about connecting and eschewing violence that I was really surprised by. Sure, there's violence in the movie, but McDonagh seems very interested in what violence means and what committing it does to people. Tom Waits has an especially great, small role as a killer of serial killers. Fantastic stuff. ****

THE GUEST HOUSE (2012)
I'll be honest, this one looked like a low budget softcore flick to me, but I was surprised how genuine it was about its characters: a recent high school graduate who falls intensely in love with the woman living in the guest house. It has its faults, mostly in some of the acting outside of the leads (who are committed to the roles), and the very low budget doesn't add up to the best production values, but it has a strong grasp of character and really wants to explore how these two become so interested in one another rather than just being a cheap exploitation flick. Not an unqualified success, but not a bad film, either. ***

BED AND BOARD (1970)
After the events of Stolen Kisses, Antoine Doinel and Christine have married and are living a nice life in love and awaiting the arrival of their son. But Antoine suddenly becomes obsessed with a Japanese woman and his marriage begins to dissolve. It's interesting how Truffaut approaches this film with a light, comic touch. You can see why the women in Antoine's life keep wanting to forgive him. There's something about him that's just so... not needy, exactly, but that is looking for a mother figure. I've made women feel like that a lot in my life; this one hit close to home, but was quite enjoyable. ****

LOVE ON THE RUN (1979)
The final Antoine Doinel film, the now-divorced Antoine finds himself in a relationship with a younger woman, but also has a hard time committing to her and their relationship is unstable. Truffaut examines his approach to relationships through the eyes of ex-wife Christine and his teenage love, Colette, who comes back into his life. Truffaut was apparently unsatisfied with this particular outing, and while it's not necessarily the best of the five Doinel films, I liked very much how the main character and Truffaut surrogate comes to realize certain things about himself and why he's held back from giving himself over completely to a satisfying relationship without forcing his expectations on someone. ****

Swift

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Site Stuff

This weekend, I took down my old link lists and replaced them with one of those blog list widgets that update themselves. I really socialize mostly on Tumblr now and do most of my blog reading in Google Reader Feedly, so the links that were there kind of fell into decay. I was surprised at the number of inactive or just deleted sites I had linked.

I missed a few in the transfer, so if you see your blog isn't on there and you'd like it to be, just let me know, because I know I missed things. I've edited it three times because of accidental omissions. Just politely let me know "Hey, you missed me" instead of, say, being a dick in the comments.

Thanks.

Tippi of Africa

How have I never heard of this?

Go here to read about Tippi Degré, the daughter of French wildlife photographers born in Namibia. Her childhood sounds absolutely amazing.

Monday, July 08, 2013

I Made Another Cake

I got a fair bit agitated again last night, and the energy needed to go somewhere instead of burning me out, so I decided to bake a cake again. Actually, it was cupcake mix, so it's a smaller cake, but I just really wanted a cake. I haven't had cake in months, so what they hey.

Yellow cake with chocolate frosting has been my favorite cake since I was a kid. My mother-in-law got us the mix on her most recent trip to the food bank. I made the frosting from a recipe I found online for buttercream frosting. At first I thought I'd made it a little too bitter (I only put in about half of the powdered sugar the recipe called for--a recipe I'd already cut in half because the cake was so small).

I started it late. The anxiety was really getting to me, so I couldn't just go to sleep. It was after midnight when the cake was done, so when it finally cooled and I frosted it, I covered it and put it in the fridge overnight.

Somehow, the cold settled the frosting a bit and it tasted a bit sweeter than it had the night before. It was a good little cake. Becca and I had a very satisfying piece of it this afternoon.

I know it's not much, really, but it makes me feel accomplished when I do these things. This is only the third time I've ever baked anything that wasn't a pizza (and then usually a frozen pizza). It makes me feel like I'm doing something constructive instead of just spiraling into my anxiety and the inevitable emotional outburst.

Feels good, man.

I Want a New Duck (Movie)

Not that it'll ever happen, but with Lucasfilm and Marvel now owned by the same company, I am in a minority of people who want to see Howard the Duck come back to the big screen. If I were to pitch a project, it would be a Howard movie that takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but just a little bit to the side of it... Not an important part of, say, Phase Three or whatever, but just a bit on the outside, commenting a little on the whole enterprise, while getting meta about the forms of comics and the psychology of superheroes, much like Steve Gerber's great run. But the villain wouldn't be some world-ending threat; it would be Dr. Bong, forcing Beverly to notice him. It's not even something SHIELD would consider a real threat.

I'd want to keep the climax of the comic, too, even though Gerber didn't write the issues that resolved the storyline, with the whole Iron Duck bit and Beverly choosing Howard over Dr. Bong. I don't know, I think given the success of the Iron Man movies that the Iron Duck costume (made out of a fire hydrant) would be funny, even knowing that there are fanboys in the audience who would just absolutely hate that.

Also, I would change Bev just a little bit, and I think that would really piss some people off. I'd make her Darcy from Thor just because I want Kat Dennings to play the role. Maybe she's working with SHIELD or something, just to cement the connection that it takes place in the same universe. Investigating a weather anomaly that turns out to be Howard arriving on Earth, and then this Dr. Bong thing happens. I don't see her as an agent, but as some kind of scientist or something. I've just thought for about five years now that Kat should be in a Howard the Duck movie.

It will never, ever happen, but since we know we're getting Black Panther and Dr. Strange (and no Iron Man 4) in Phase Three, I just thought I'd throw this unattainable dream out there.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #2

"The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls from Outer Space!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Klein
(January 1962)

The Marvel Universe will be home to a great many alien races, but I have to confess that the Skrulls are some of my favorites. Mainly because they just look so neat. I love their design. And they would eventually give us the Super-Skrull, one of my favorite FF villains.

This story starts with a great reversal of the previous issue's beginning, reintroducing us to each character, but instead of the heroes gathering, it's the inverse: here they're stealing jewels or destroying oil platforms.

This criminal rampage turns out to be the shape-shifting Skrulls attempting to discredit the Fantastic Four, figuring that the FF will be imprisoned and they'll be free to carry out their conquest of the planet. So we can assume at this point that the Fantastic Four are no longer shadowy characters of mystery, but publicly-known entities. It's not really explained how it happened, but it suits the FF much better. In a touch I find kind of charming, the foursome find out they've been declared public enemies while vacationing in the woods at a hunting lodge. The idea of the Fantastic Four having a hunting lodge is just something I find cutely old-fashioned.

Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben give themselves up when the Army comes calling, which is another nice touch. They submit to the law because they're the good guys and they don't want to hurt soldiers who are just doing their jobs. They do, however, escape the compound where they're being held in order to solve this case of mistaken identity on their own. Lee & Kirby have a great couple of pages where we see each team member figuring out how to escape their individual cells, thus showcasing for us once again the unique talents, temperaments and powers of each character. (And in a nice touch, Sue is the first to escape--she simply becomes invisible and rushes past her guards when they open the door to feed her.)

I like the way they play the Skrulls as fifth columnists merely infiltrating Earth for the future invading Skrull armada. I also greatly enjoy the self-referential way that Reed Richards convinces the Skrull captain that the Earth cannot be conquered: by showing him clippings of Kirby monsters from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery and claiming they're photographs of Earth soldiers. I love the way Marvel Comics actually exists in the Marvel Universe (though at this point there's not really a Marvel Universe yet and the line isn't even called Marvel Comics). Extra points for guts: while our four heroes are doing this, they're also pretending to be the four Skrull spies in disguise!

(There is a Kirby mistake; when the FF return to Earth there are only three Skrull spies left, leading to debate over the years to what happened to the fourth one.)

I do feel a little creepy about the way Reed punishes the Skrulls. They basically beg to defect to Earth, but Reed says they can't be trusted, haves them transform themselves into cows, hypnotizes them into believing they're just dumb cows, and then leaves them in a field. So now they're content, cared for, completely removed of their agency and consciousness, and waiting to be made into burgers. So... victory? That's pretty cold, Reed. Pretty cold indeed.

All in all, though, a pretty great issue, if you get past the chilling ending of basically brainwashing the bad guys.

Some other observations:

:: Still no costumes yet.

:: How immediately did Human Torch become the breakout character of the book? It's the second issue, and he's already being given a slightly larger role. Here he gets to lure out the spies by pretending to be one of them. My favorite character, though, is still the Thing.

:: Speaking of, the dehumanization of Ben Grimm continues. Once again, everyone's still referring to him as "Thing" instead of "Ben," which still rankles me. There are at least two occasions in this issue where Reed tries to calm him down with "Easy, Thing, easy." How could you not want to punch Reed in the face when he does that? I mean, I know it's his superhero name and all, but when you're just hanging out at a hunting lodge not fighting villains? Not cool. If I got mad and my best friend said to me "Easy, fatty, easy," I would bite off part of his ear.

How can you not feel sympathy for the guy? His humanity's just trapped inside this rocky body. One of my favorite passages, though, is immediately after this when Reed gives us a slight recap of how they became the Fantastic Four. He just straight blames himself for everything that happened. When Sue wonders if Ben's anger is getting out of hand and dangerous, Reed actually counsels patience and says "It's my fault that he is the way he is." So Reed's not as bad a friend as his cavalier attitude sometimes makes it seem. He still comes across as arrogant, but in a way it's nice that he won't afford himself any self-pity.

:: If you didn't feel sorry enough for Ben by now, this happens after the FF return from space, having gone through the radiation belt that gave them their powers a second time. And this is only the first time Ben has a temporary, fleeting reprieve from his new appearance. Look how sad he is in that last panel. Poor Ben!

:: During the origin recap, Reed says that the ship they were piloting when they hit the radiation belt was meant to take them to Mars. How long did he think it was going to take?

:: I like how the Skrull rocket ship is disguised as one of those rooftop water towers.

:: Kirby outdoes himself in this issue; the action is visually dynamic and weird, particularly in the imaginative ways Mr. Fantastic uses his powers, at one point moving his whole body through a tiny, tiny hole.

Another really enjoyable issue of a great comic book.

Next time: hypnosis!

Song of the Week: "Come Dancing"

I was seven when this Kinks song came out. It was everywhere for a bit. It took me years to realize that this was actually the same band that sang "Lola," and that that was the same band that sang "You Really Got Me." Great longevity there; I have a two-disc career-spanning Kinks collection that is just a fantastic listen. This is one of those songs like Madness' "Our House" that just makes me miss being a kid.