Saturday, January 25, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 12

Right away, Ana decides to go for a run to clear her head, and we have to endure a lot of unnecessary details about exactly how she dresses and how she looks and her iPod headphones and her hair and a lot of weird shit like how she never uses her sneakers but they smell funny, which is... what? I mean, how do they smell funny if you don't use them? They should smell like new shoes.

Well, at least Ana gets that the contract is legally unenforceable, because duh. She really shouldn't be focusing on that as much as the fact that she just gets sick at the thought of what's in it. Of course, that would require the capacity for critical thinking and we've seen what she's capable of (and no, constantly reminding us what a burden your friends are and how you can't do anything with your hair is not the same thing as critical thinking).

Then she has to "endure" Kate trying on clothes for her upcoming trip to Barbados, because being an awesome friend is such an exhausting chore, you guys, I mean, what the fuck is this, being friends means sitting through a fashion show now, cheeeee. I hate this bitch. If you don't want the obligations of being a friend, don't have friends.

Then Ana decides to send Christian an email saying "Okay, I've seen enough. It was nice knowing you." Which she thinks is just this hilarious joke, because, you know, what oversensitive person would see that and not immediately think, my, how witty? Let's save the whole conversation about how hard it is to get across tone in an email for later and just agree that was a deeply stupid idea. And she worries as the day goes on and he doesn't reply. Like, will he not get my hilarious, flirty banter? What a couple of dopes.

Of course, this is Christian Grey, monstrously abusive asshole, so he does what any child not getting his way would do, and goes to her apartment to confront her, because he doesn't care about boundaries. Actually, she's too busy listening to Snow Patrol ("That's what kids are listening to now, right?" I imagine her asking a co-worker's son) to notice that he's basically materialized right in her bedroom.

Again, this is Manipulation 101: she says she doesn't want to see you, so make sure she knows she can't get away from you no matter what.

And, of course, she plays right into it. "Christian Grey is sitting on my bed." She's so hungry for more orgasms that she can't concentrate.

[Brief aside: right in the middle of this, she tries to describe her bedroom, ending with the characteristically Jamesian descriptive "It's all pale blue and cream." Listen, if you don't care what anything looks like, maybe just stop embarrassing yourself and ignore it.]

So, of course, he's offended, and he keeps using the word nice sarcastically because of what she said, and they have that thing that's supposed to be flirty banter but is really just a bunch of words falling out in random order, and then he starts basically kissing her into submission.

This is really creepy behavior. I mean, EL James clearly thinks this is sexy, but it's just more manipulative abuse. She doesn't want me? Too damn bad. She's getting me, anyway. I can do whatever the fuck I want and if she complains or tells me no I'm going to still do whatever the fuck I want, because she's not a person, she's a toy I want to play with.

And, as usual, there's the extra-manipulative edge of him constantly telling her that she's just so damn special that he can't help himself, like it's her fault for chewing on her lip all the damn time. "He wants me, and this does strange, delicious things to my insides. Not Kate in her little bikinis, not one of the fifteen, not evil Mrs. Robinson. Me. This beautiful man wants me. My inner goddess glows so bright she could light up Portland." Abuse accomplished!

So then he ties her up, he orders her around, he threatens her with punishment, he quiets her with the threat of humiliation and embarrassment, he makes her beg for it so it's her idea, all of that shit. They fuck, and she comes over and over again, and Christian hilariously continues to say "Oh, baby" and Ana tells us "I am just one ball of sexual tense need" because it's hard to write sentences that make sense with one hand down your pants. (Seriously, the sex scene here reads like one of those embarrassing things that someone writes because they're literally just too caught up in the fantasizing to write anything that makes sense. I know, because I wrote stuff like that once, and it didn't make sense, either, but then I turned 16.)

And then there's more of what EL James thinks flirting is and Ana says "I was going to e-mail them to you, but you kind of interrupted me" and Christian responds "Coitus interruptus" and then probably smiles like a little kid at this half-joke because HA HA HA HE IS SO CUTE AND FUNNY SO EVERYTHING HE SAYS MUST BE CHARMING RIGHT ORGASMS GUYS OMG HA FUCKING SHIT HA.

Christian seems relieved that her "nice knowing you" email was a joke, because he clearly--almost threateningly--doesn't think it's funny joking about this. The thing is, if any of this were for her benefit as the contract attempts to claim, he would've let it go. Alright, she's not going to sign it, I'll find someone else. Instead he comes to her house and tries to fuck her into changing her mind. So he's not planning on ever taking no for an answer. Think about it, Ana.

Eh. You won't.

What sours their post-balling convo is that he sort of casually mentions that he's still friends with that woman who seduced and trained him when he was a teenager. Ana's totally horrified by this, but mostly she's really, really, insanely, driving-cross-country-with-a-shotgun-in-the-trunk jealous about it. She's also--rightly--pissed off that he has someone to talk to about all of this, and she has no one. He offers to let her talk to one of his former subs about it, and she turns him down flat, mainly because she's even more jealous that he still talks to former subs. Duh, Ana. He probably gives some of them jobs. I'll bet some of them are actually those women you felt so smugly superior to back at his office. And quit calling them "ex-girlfriends," because they were never girlfriends, and you never will be, either.

Christian offering to let her talk to a former sub is pretty skeezy, too, right? I mean, he's going to pick out the one she should talk to, he's going to arrange it, he's basically still in control of the conversation. It's more control. He sets the stage, he controls her access to information... Ladies, did you love this book? Congratulations, your dream man is Kim Jong-Il.

Her stupid reaction to this is to get jealous and petulant, and his reaction is a thousand times worse: "God, I’d like to give you a good hiding. You’d feel a lot better, and so would I." He is literally telling her that he wants to be able to punish her just for not doing what he wants her to do.

And this gigantic red flag of abusive fuckery is met with her thinking--even as she's telling him to get out and he's basically laughing about it--"I don't want him to go" and "I wish he was normal" and he keeps touching her face like he does which is super-manipulative and she tells us "But now I feel like a receptacle--an empty vessel to be filled at his whim." Well, shit, if that's how he makes you feel, don't be with him. You can find fantastic sex with someone else, you know. And then she again feels like Icarus flying too close to the sun, which is not at all the fucking point, you shit-eating clod. You are so wrong they can see how wrong you are from the International Space Station.

"'Anastasia,' he whispers. 'What are you doing to me?'"

PLEASE SOMEONE JUST MURDER HIM AND LEAVE HIS BODY BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD FOR THE BEARS TO DEVOUR. Or, better yet, cripple him and leave him alive for the bears to devour. Preferably after he's been in one of those motorcycle accidents where he falls and hits his head on the pavement and then he's just pulled along by the momentum of the crash and he breaks one leg under his bike and as he's skidding his face is literally just being peeled off and a trail of blood is left behind him but it's Sunday and no one's around so he just bakes in the sun and finally the bears show up and they eat him slowly because this is the only fate for Christian Grey.

Okay.

Sorry.

Got a little dark there. What's happening?

Okay, Ana is "enduring" more of Kate's genuine concern for her friend's well-being, but this is why I fucking hate Kate so much. Ana's trying to tell her what she can about her concerns, and Kate writes off Christian's creepy fuckery with "He has commitment issues" (these twats and their pop psychology) and then asserts "I'd say he's completely smitten with you," which is enough to make Ana fall in love all over again, because like most people who are antisocial and claim not to care what people think, Ana eats attention like candy and can't distinguish between good attention and bad attention.

I was trying to see the good in you, Kate, but you are awful. You don't hear a woman talk about how abusive a man is and tell her, Well, he clearly is head over heels for you. You're as bad as those parents that tell their 5 year-old girls that a boy only shoved her on the playground because he likes her. Yeah, that's it: get her to equate inappropriate physical hurt with love right away, so it'll be that much easier for some man to convince her after college that beating the shit out of her is the same thing as romance. Stop insisting Christian loves Ana, Kate, when it's obvious to the rest of us that she's just the new toy.

Anyway, you should know not to take Kate seriously right away when her first question is the very stupid "What did that creepy good-looking bastard do?" Oh, go fuck yourself with a rusty saw, Kate.

We end with more email. Christian's all "Sleep well, baby" (ugh) and Ana actually emails him a list of problems she has with the contract. A lot of them are pretty assertive, so good for her. She wants a one month trial instead of three, she asks him to define what he means when he says he can use her body sexually "or otherwise," she's putting her foot down on the mysterious food list, she's bothered by not being allowed to masturbate (even though she says again she never does it), she questions why she can't touch him or look in his eyes, and "no fisting of any kind." There's other stuff in there, too, which... look, she's still stupid to go through with it, but at least she has some concerns about this bullshit. At least she's trying to assert herself and demand some measure of control over what happens to her.

Christian, surprised that she has such a long list (it's not long enough) and that she's still awake, intimidates her into going to bed.

Fuck you.

Fuuuuuuuuuuck you.

Special Bonus 50 Shades Bullshit

This came out yesterday:

It's official. Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day? Is that some kind of sick joke?

I read in a batch of movie news that they're toning down the sex in order to get a better rating? Toning down the sex? What else is the point? What are they going to focus on? The romance? There is no romance. I have such a problem with people who think this shit is romantic. This chapter is a good place to stop and talk about it, because here we have Ana literally crying because she just wants Christian to want to have a normal relationship, and Christian does not want that. The reason he doesn't stay over at Ana's place isn't because she's upset about the other women in his life--that actually comes after he reminds her that he doesn't sleep with anyone.

So you have two people who want completely different things. What do you do in that situation? Well, you don't sit around and cry and hope it suddenly changes--you move on with your life. One day, you'll find someone else who makes you feel like the center of the universe. You don't just fixate on the one person you want who will never treat you the way you want to be treated. Don't you deserve love and respect? You do. And you know who you deserve it from the most? Yourself.

Of course, there are two more books, so it's not like Ana's going to wake up anytime soon.

Remember our friend the abuse cycle? Christian's clearly in the Honeymoon Phase again. He's trying to be a perfect partner so she won't leave. But he's also on the cusp of the Planning Phase, because he also feels like he's losing control of the situation (ugh, things would be so perfect if I could only beat you right now for talking back to me, lamby-pie), and now he's got to plan how to take control again. I wonder if he'll be able to make it until after she signs the contract to get to the Set-Up Phase (waiting for a time when the abuse is justified) or if he'll just go right into Abuse again.

The worst thing about this book is that the relationship is an abusive one, and EL James either won't acknowledge it or just has no idea herself that it is. She's writing this book about a dark, tragic man who's really just a broken little child who needs the love and guidance of good, sweet, virginal, ordinary-but-amazing Ana to heal him. That's not how it works. I guaran-fucking-tee you that at some point Ana wonders if she can just heal him with love and understanding, and then everything will be the perfect relationship that she really wants. It's all going to be "Well, I'm being beaten and abused and can't touch him or look him in the eye, but... I think I can change him."

Ugh! Ugh! A thousand times, ugh!

This is some crazy bullshit.

This is not life.

This is not how it works.

This is not my beautiful stapler.

I'll have some coffee with a carcinogenic sweetener.

Hold on a minute: just one more jelly donut.

Where's my liquid paper? WHERE'S MY LIQUID PAPER?!

My head.

Oh, and if you seriously think that you need to be broken or mentally ill or have severe emotional issues in order to be kinky, please shove your Dr. Laura book down your throat until you choke. Thanks.

How about an extra tag of bullshit?

I am now currently... exactly 50 pages away from being halfway through this book.

I need to shorten these posts.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Michael Sporn 1946-2014

For years now, I've been reading the blog of Michael Sporn, a veteran animator and animation director who worked with John Hubley, R.O. Blechman, and Richard Williams. I always found his take on modern animation very, very interesting. Over the past year, I started to worry that something might be medically wrong with him; his blog started to become full of jumbled, sometimes unfinished thoughts, and spelling errors that went beyond simple typos. It seemed like the man was in some kind of pain and, sadly, he was. He died on Sunday of pancreatic cancer.

I'm very sorry to hear of his passing. He was an invaluable source of inspiration and history, particularly in a medium which is still all too undocumented. I'll miss reading his thoughts.

Brief TV Report

:: I'm annoyed that it's going to be a month before I get a new episode of Parenthood so everyone can watch a bunch of adults play in the snow professionally. But you all know I don't give a shit about the Olympics, so why get into it again?

:: Dropped Trophy Wife, dropped Suburgatory, thisclose to dropping Pretty Little Liars if they don't stop spinning their wheels. Is there any way that show won't have a disappointing ending? Maybe I'll catch up with it when the whole season's online, or something.

:: This week's How I Met Your Mother was the first episode I genuinely liked all season.

:: This week's American Horror Story: Coven was the real season finale to me. They killed off literally all of my favorite characters from this season. Next week's finale, with the witches competing to see who the new Supreme is, is the one dangling plot thread I have absolutely no interest in, because all of those characters are annoying and terrible.

:: Sometimes I feel like there's nothing wrong with Nashville that just taking Hayden Panettiere off the show wouldn't fix.

:: Last night's The Greatest Event in Television History was my favorite so far, and I really hope all of this talk about being the last one ever is just talk, because I would gladly watch one of these every six months.

:: Has anyone else seen Space Dandy on Toonami? I really dug it. Reminded me of Heavy Metal. I don't really care much for anime, and this is the first one I've seen since Usagi Drop that I've really been enjoying.

That is all.

Powder-Burn

This is one of the surviving episodes of Jim Henson's Sam & Friends, the Muppet skit show he did between 1955 and 1961. I don't know what year this is from specifically. Fun stuff done by Jim between the ages of 19 and 25!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #44

"The Creature from Kosmos!" by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart, Jack Kirby & Don Heck
(June 1963)

At last, it's the issue that completely re-tools everything that's been so boring and silly about Ant-Man. It takes a double-length story to do it, but in the end it turns out to be worth doing.

The issue begins with Henry Pym, returned from his latest adventure, remembering the wife he used to have. This is the first time we've ever heard of her, of course--this whole thing's a bit of a retcon, which is pretty much what this character needs. In fact, I would argue that the main problem I've had with Pym this whole time is that he's never been a character; like the premise came with a name and the character himself was just never really thought out.

But yes, Hank married a Hungarian woman named Maria Trovaya, the daughter of a former political prisoner who gained asylum in America. Rather unwisely--it is the height of the Cold War--Maria convinced Hank that they could go to Hungary for their honeymoon, so she could show him the places where she grew up, but Maria was taken by Soviet agents and killed as an example to those who would flee. There was nothing at all Hank could do about it, and so, remembering Maria's old saying, "Go to the ants, thou sluggard," he threw himself into his work, specifically to fight injustice in the world. That phrase is what inspires him to become Ant-Man.

So now Ant-Man has a past and a motivation--what drives him to fight for justice is the murder of his wife and how powerless he felt to do anything about it. Congratulations, Dr. Pym: you're finally a character.

After that reflection is over, Hank is visited by another scientist, Dr. Vernor Van Dyne, and his young daughter, Janet. Because this is the Marvel Universe, Janet's first thoughts are about how handsome Hank is; his first thoughts are that she looks like Maria, but then he feels bad because she's so much younger than he is.

Dr. Van Dyne has come asking Hank for help with his special project: a Gamma Ray Beam which he hopes to use to make contact with another galaxy. Hank's not interested, so Dr. Van Dyne continues on his own, where his experiments actually bring a creature from the planet Kosmos to his lab: a creature called Pilai, the greatest criminal Kosmos has ever known!

Pilai uses its powers to kill Dr. Van Dyne before escaping; just looking in the creature's eye is enough to kill the man.

Janet, upon discovering the body, calls Hank for help, but he dismisses her as a "bored society playgirl" wasting his time--until the ants tell him he's wrong, because he's a prince of a guy. Hank, as Ant-Man, discovers that what killed Dr. Van Dyne was pure fear; Janet thinks his experiment killed him somehow, and she vows to discover the truth no matter what.

(The dialogue here is so 1963; Ant-Man is impressed that Janet has cast off her "bored flighty shell" to display "determination, strength of character," and Janet dares Ant-Man to dismiss her conviction as "a woman's intuition.")

With Janet stating her wish to avenge her dead father, Ant-Man tells her to call the FBI and then goes outside to confer with his ants, who have fled in fear. The ants tell him that they're afraid of the creature from outer space, because even though it must be kin to the ants--it secretes formic acid--its alienness is frightening.

Hank decides now is the time to finally take on a partner to share his burden, and invites Jan to his lab, where she agrees to become the Wasp. He implants specialized cells within her that will cause her to grow wings and antennae when she shrinks. Immediately, they go into battle against Pilai, who is now facing the National Guard, who have no idea how to stop this formless terror. Meanwhile, Janet, caught up in the wonder of being the Wasp, admits she's falling in love with Hank, which Hank immediately rejects, saying he doesn't want to be in love ever again, because he couldn't bear losing someone again. Janet doesn't take that well, and resolves to prove herself to him. Clearly, there's a lot riding on this battle.

When the ants again flee before Pilai, Hank gets the idea that formic acid is the key. He loads 12-gauge shotgun shells with an antidote to formic acid, and then has the ants laboriously carry a shotgun and the shells all the way back to the battle scene, so at least we're not retconning away all the really stupid elements of Ant-Man stories. (Seriously, is time not a factor in any of this?) This is really the kind of thing where you wonder what the point of being ant-sized really is, because in order to maintain the illusion of really being an ant-sized human, Hank has to get the shotgun all the way to the top of a building and then fire it while remaining ant-sized. But it happens, so there you go.

In the end, the day is saved and the partnership is confirmed, their feelings clear, even as Hank will try to bury his and Jan will try to bring them out. Dynamic established.

Stray observations:

:: "Go to the ants, thou sluggard," is a slight twist and shortening on Proverbs 6:6; "Go to the ant, thou sluggard, observe her ways and be wise"--an admonition to find the dignity and pride in labor.

:: What is the age difference between Hank and Jan supposed to be? I've never been a hundred percent clear. I know it got retconned later, but here... I figure Hank is supposed to be about the same age as Reed Richards, which Stan Lee previously established as early-to-mid-thirties, so I figure Jan--given her youthful patter and the slang she uses--is probably around 21. Interestingly, that's something like the age difference between Reed and Sue, and Reed doesn't feel guilty at all!

:: This is the first time we've seen the ants directly speak to Ant-Man. It's kind of off-putting. I don't care for this device. It takes the mysteriousness out of it.

:: The art this issue is credited to Jack Kirby, with inking by Don Heck. Although Pilai looks very much like a Kirby Monster, Don Heck's ink overtakes the character art, looking much more like his style than Kirby's. I feel like Kirby's contribution to this retool was pretty minimal; even the layouts look more like Heck than Kirby, with the exception of a few pages. The Wasp's costume seems pretty clearly a Kirby design, though. (The Wasp's costume is wonderful; very much the sci-fi of the time.)

:: This issue was scripted by "HE Huntley," a pseudonym for cartoonist Ernie Hart, who was freelancing at the time but who had been in the Timely bullpen in the forties doing the funny animal comics, most notably creating Super Rabbit in 1943.

He was on the company's Atlas staff in the fifties, too, editing teenage and humor comics. The decision to have him script this issue--a very modern, science fiction adventure--seems like it shouldn't work, but it really does, probably because he already gets the zippy humor and the flirty banter this comic wants to go for. It's not exactly The Thin Man, but Hank and Janet already have a solid chemistry, and that's a credit to Hart's experience in humor and teenager comics. It really works and saves the story from some of its more self-serious leanings.

Thank goodness that earlier Ant-Man era is over and we can start having some fun with this series!

(Even if some of it is going to be the lame sexism of the era, of course. Yeesh.)

Next Marvels: The introduction of Spider-Man's greatest foe!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

B is for Biography

Here's something I've mentioned a few times that has actually become a very interesting part of my therapy: over on Tumblr, I've been doing what amounts to my own biography. It's over at The Autobiography of a Frog.

I'd wanted to do something like this for some time, because I have a terrible memory. I really do; I've found over the years that I can't remember a lot of details from my own life, except for times when I was really embarrassed or really hurt or really guilty or ashamed or sick or something really, really negative. Why can't I remember more of the times when I was just insanely happy?

I asked my therapist what she thought of this, and she told me that at some point, a long time ago, that schema of worthlessness had taken such a hold in my mind--become so internalized, to the point where it was as second nature as breathing--that it had managed to actively stop me from creating long term memories of positive times because my brain just rejects any evidence that I don't suck.

If that sounds incredibly sad... well, it is.

But, rather than feel sorry for myself, I decided that was the impetus I needed to pull out the family photos and my old school records and all of the mementos I've been carrying around, and then get on Wikipedia and try to retrace, as best as I could, the events of my life.

This is where it helps that I'm such a pop culture kid. I used to get so excited as a kid about movies featuring creatures and outer space, that I've always been able to sort of remember each year by what the big movies were that came out that year. 1981 was the year Raiders of the Lost Ark came out. 1982 was the year I was terrified by E.T. and fascinated by The Dark Crystal and in love with The Secret of NIMH. 1983: Jedi. 1984: Gremlins and Ghostbusters. And so on and so on. I was always into music and cartoons and time has only increased my love of some of those things, so my biography has become a real mash-up of so many things.

See, the depressing thing about the family photos is seeing how many of the photos my Mom--who has had her own problems with anxiety and depression and self-esteem--has gotten rid of over the years. I was recently shocked to see that our summer of 1982 trip to Guam barely exists in the photographic record anymore, because only about six or eight pictures didn't get thrown out. And it's depressing for me, too, because it really does seem like more pictures of my sister exist now; for every six or seven pictures there are of her, there's one of me. I don't even have pictures of myself in my Halloween costume in 1981 and 1982. That's kind of a disappointment. I have no idea what I went as.

So my biography has become more about re-creating the time period and what I remember from it. I post commercials, songs I love, reminders of TV episodes that were favorites, movies that came out, pictures from comic books, from fashion magazines, from adult magazines, art from the time period, historical events, short films, and pictures of myself, all in an attempt to contextualize and recapture the feelings and memories from times I've blocked out of my mind. It's not always successful, but the attempt is worthwhile. It gives me something to focus on and an unconventional way... well, it's not really unconventional, because it's basically scrapbooking, isn't it? I'm scrapbooking a past I want to recapture, because I feel like I don't even know myself sometimes. So I'm trying to remember where I came from.

I've just recently started 1983, which is the year I turned 7 and started second grade. It's been fun spending time with this happy kid who sometimes lets his fears get the better of him--I've already been rest-of-my-life traumatized a couple of times--but who has all of these hopes and fascinations. The hopes too often faded, but the fascinations are often still the same. I like reconnecting with him. I hope that as things get harder for him, I can stay this close and ride it out. It'll be interesting to see. It's surprising how effective and therapeutic this all really is.

ABC Wednesday

Swifty

Film Week

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

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012)
Well, it's an interesting idea, but it doesn't really come off. The movie starts as an interesting, deliberately-paced, surprisingly quiet movie about a motorcycle stunt rider (Ryan Gosling) who discovers he has had an infant son with a woman (Eva Mendes) he met while touring with a fair. For the first third of the movie, we follow Gosling as he attempts to do right by the son he didn't know existed, finally driven by desperation to start robbing banks. Eventually, he's cornered and killed by a cop (Bradley Cooper), and we follow the cop for the next third of the movie as he discovers the corruption in his department and tries to use his new status as a hero to leverage a job with the district attorney's office. Cooper's cop is haunted when he--a new father--discovers that the man he killed had a son of his own. The narrative then picks up fifteen years later, as both sons meet each other in high school and become friends, and old hurts that have never gone away bubble back to the surface. It gets less compelling with each narrative shift, and the thread of the narrative feels like watching three episodes of a miniseries all at once. It's two and a half hours long, but feels far longer, and becomes a punishing, joyless commitment. Like I said, it's an interesting idea, but the film doesn't manage to pull it off. The stuff about Ryan Gosling was interesting enough. The next hour and forty-five minutes ends up feeling like an extended epilogue that never ends. **

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013)
I really try to stay away from discussions of this kind of film anymore, because usually they're just long lists of all the ways people are dissatisfied for whatever arcane reasons. For me, the only thing this movie really suffered from is the second-act syndrome that most "middle-part" movies have, where there's no real beginning and no real ending, because they've got to continue narrative threads, starts new ones, and resolve none of them because they're setting up the final act. But I went in expecting that. No one seems to remember now, but this is the same way everyone felt about The Two Towers until Return of the King came out. Hell, if you go back and read reviews from 1980, you can see how many people were dissatisfied with The Empire Strikes Back for having no closure. It's the luxury of having a resolution in Return of the Jedi that makes Empire everyone's favorite Star Wars movie.

Anyway, I've said it before: I just love being in Peter Jackson's Middle-earth, and it did take me until the third time I saw An Unexpected Journey to get used to the more storybook type of design he's using in these movies, but now that I'm down with it, I love it, because it's more important to me that he gets the emotions and characters across. So, just to be different, here's a list of things I loved about the movie.

:: Far fewer shots this time of Thorin just posing like a romance novel cover. Really, all of the posing. Now that we know the characters, PJ can stop introducing them. And I still knew them all by sight, which I didn't think I'd be able to remember.
:: The CGI isn't always perfect, but it never gets in the way of enjoying the movie. Smaug himself is a tremendously impressive (and truly, truly scary) creation. Benedict Cumberbatch is great as his menacing voice.
:: More Sylvester McCoy is always welcome.
:: I am the first person to tell you how much he despised Kate on Lost the entire time it was on, but I adored Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in this movie. I do love what they're doing with her and Kili to emphasize how they'll be on opposite sides during the War of the Five Armies.
:: I also loved Orlando Bloom. When did he turn into such a badass? It's like a decade later he finally has the gravitas to make Legolas truly interesting.
:: I was really glad they kept in the spider dialogue.
:: PJ has a real knack for casting animals. Those magnificent ponies, those beautiful pugs in Laketown, Beorn's highland cows, and the most wonderful pig I think I've ever seen.
:: Lee Pace as Thranduil is really compelling--just perfectly not human--and his throne room is one of the most impressive sights from these movies, for me.
:: I loved the escape down the river on the barrels. Was it realistic? Who cares? It's perfect, fun, adventure-movie stuff. (Just like the highly-criticized escape from the goblins in the first movie; yes, they look choreographed, but so does ballet, and I like that, too.)
:: Somehow, all the stuff with Gandalf was the least interesting stuff in this movie to me, and I actually didn't mind that. Very curious to see how they'll resolve that in the next one, and if it involves Galadriel, because I'll never turn down more Galadriel.
:: I need that insane oil painting of Stephen Fry. Love how it looks like a twisted Vermeer.
:: He's not getting as much acclaim as some of the main cast, but I can't say enough how much I love Ken Stott as Balin.

Long story short: enjoyed the hell out of it, can not wait for the next one. I love that, at its heart, it's a war story. It's a unit of guys behind enemy lines trying to recover a treasure in an old fort. As long as Peter Jackson doesn't waver from that central idea, and as long as his love for the characters continues to shine through, I really don't care what he adds to the story to fill out time. I'm still being entertained, and that's the one concern that overrides everything else. ****

FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (2014)
I never read this novel as a kid, so I wasn't sure what to expect. All I knew about it is that there were kids in an attic and some incest happens. I wasn't prepared for how much emotional turmoil I was going to go through with this--especially with it being a Lifetime movie, so I guess I expected something much trashier and more exploitative. This movie is pretty committed to how emotionally wrenched around the kids are after their father dies and they movie in with their grandparents, only to find they have to be shut up in a room, their existence kept secret for the sake of propriety. I was pretty worn out after it all, but I thought it was quite good. Credit especially to Ellen Burstyn as the grandmother, who goes for a simmering menace instead of the histrionic screaming I was prepared for. And Heather Graham, as the children's ever-more-unbalanced mother, is quite good. Well done, Lifetime. This one was like a real movie. ***1/2

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Messy and Uncomfortable Health Report Update

I have not eaten solid food in over 30 hours.

Oh, hey, did you know that sometimes you can have anxiety so bad that you can't hold food down? I do, now.

I woke up yesterday around 6am with an urgent need to use the bathroom. I really don't want to go into too much detail, but it was really bad. And later, there was vomiting. And later, a repeat performance of the first one.

Now, this has been a problem in the past. For years, it seemed like every time I was supposed to go and do something I didn't want to do--family gathering, for example--and I would feel too guilty to just say no, I would suddenly get very sick. For the longest time, I thought I was just unlucky; it didn't occur to me for a very long time that, subconsciously, I was making myself sick to give myself a socially acceptable excuse not to go and do whatever I didn't want to do. That I didn't want to do because of the creeping agoraphobia--which took years to develop before I even noticed it--and because of my schema of worthlessness that says that, no matter any evidence to the contrary, no one wants me around.

I didn't catch on to what was happening until I went off Lexapro and resolved to go out more--so, two years ago, basically--and realized my body was still doing it to me even when I wanted to go out somewhere. Having figured that out, it actually didn't bother me again for a long time... until yesterday.

Yesterday was my final therapy appointment with my original therapist; she's leaving the agency this week, and as of next week, I'll be with someone new. I've worked to try and become comfortable with this; she asked me to not personalize her decision, and I think I've done that well. I know she's not leaving because she doesn't want to deal with me anymore. But, until yesterday, I never really let myself realize just how deeply I didn't want her to go.

I seem to be developing, very quickly, more and more physically painful symptoms of anxiety.

I used to just be jumpy and nervous. Or I would be angry and shouty. Or I would shut down for a while. And there have been panic attacks, crying fits, and suicidal thoughts. But for the past couple of months, I've also developed actual physical pain. I spent most of last week with incredible pain in my neck and shoulders, and sometimes down my upper arms. It manifests in my ankles, too, and makes it hard to walk.

I had it every night last week except for Thursday. Because Thursday we went to the movies and I braved weather that normally would've kept me shut up indoors, so I had a great time and felt proud of myself, so I was feeling too good to be anxious. Which shows you this is all psychological and anxiety/stress-related.

So yesterday, I woke up with severe gastrointestinal problems. The pain was intense throughout my whole body as I left for my appointment. Even as I was walking down my apartment building's stairs, one of my knees locked up and was too painful to bend. My lower back hurt so badly that I could barely walk. But I did. Because I had to go and have my last appointment. But at every turn, my body was trying to stop me. My subconscious, my schema of worthlessness, my deep-rooted feelings that I don't ever deserve to feel better or to do anything good for myself, it was all working against me. This stuff is all going to be so much harder than I imagined to let go of. I know all of these things are trying, in a whacked out and bizarre way, to protect me. But they're trying to hurt me, too--physically and emotionally.

But I went. It was sad, but hopeful. She says I've made a lot of progress. Lots of people do, even though I can't always see it and even though my schema won't always let me take credit for it. We agreed that the GI issues and the pain were stress and anxiety and grief--because until yesterday, I really hadn't let myself feel how hard it was going to be to not have her in my life.

And I know this other therapist I'll be with; we've worked together, and we'll probably work well together. We do over the phone already. But it won't be the same, and you know me: I kind of hate that. I'll have to work really hard for the first weeks to not clam up and to keep being honest and to work all of this out.

We also thought my feeling so terrible would go away soon after I got home, but it didn't. Those GI issues kept up. In fact, they still haven't stopped. It's possible that I felt so low that some kind of virus slipped through my defenses or something got to me, but it was every hour on the hour yesterday and pretty much up until midnight last night. It's less frequent now, but I still haven't eaten anything. I tried to eat some yogurt yesterday, but I actually fell asleep while eating it--I was falling asleep constantly yesterday--and I couldn't keep it down.

By early evening, Becca was talking up the possibility of taking me to the hospital, which is just foreign to how I think of things working. I couldn't make any decisions, anyway. I was at my lowest functioning ever, just sleeping and then waking up to use the bathroom and then sleeping some more. She wanted me to take a couple of alprazolams to try and calm myself down, and I did, but within twenty minutes I vomited hard. That's the guilty part of me, the part that thinks I don't deserve to feel better at all. That's psychological, too. My horrible feelings about myself have very rarely manifested themselves through such physical punishment.

I've been slowly feeling better. I can't really bring myself to think of food; even thinking about eating makes my stomach curdle, but I just craved a Pepsi this morning and kept it down. Becca should be home from work soon, and I've asked her to bring me some apples, because fruit is the only thing that sounds like it won't make me sick. I haven't had any of my daily medication since Sunday and I haven't eaten and I just kind of feel nothing.

At times like this, it's really hard to see the progress I've made or even tried to make. In my less lucid hours yesterday, I just asked to die because I couldn't go on feeling like that and I didn't have any more hope of ever feeling better.

I'm trying to think of a hopeful way to end this, but... well, at least I can stay awake today and am in the bathroom less. I can't wait for apples. Hey, maybe the good part of this is that I'll change my eating habits a bit, because none of the stuff I usually eat sounds appealing to me anymore.

It feels like that whole episode is winding to a close. So at least that's something.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Song of the Week: "Into My Arms"

Songs for Becca #1. This coming December 20 is going to be mine and Becca's 20th anniversary together. I never thought I'd be doing anything for 20 years, much less spending it in a happy and stable relationship with the love of my life. So, on and off this year, I'm going to use Song of the Week (now in its seventh year!) to post songs that make me think of her, that are meaningful to us, or that are simply her favorites.

This song, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, comes off one of Becca's all time favorite albums, 1997's exquisite The Boatman's Call. Cave himself doesn't care for this video, which I understand; it's a spare, somber work that conveys a sort of melancholy optimism, but the video's director seems to have taken the tone to be straightforward depression. The song is both a love ballad and a breakup song that ends somewhere in hope. I like that feeling.

What Is Star Wars Canon and Does It Matter?

I see the news that Lucasfilm, with their move to Disney and with Marvel about to take over the license on Star Wars comics, has officially put together a Story Group to establish what elements of the many derivative works are canon and what aren't. A lot of fans were excited by the announcement, but I just kind of shrugged it off. If you enjoy the works themselves, does it matter if they're officially anointed? Or is it just a matter of needing validation?

I ask because, when it comes down to it, I simply don't care about the Expanded Universe. I was excited 20-odd years ago when Heir to the Empire came out, but I never really got into the whole thing because I just never thought it was very good. To a lot of fans, though, it became more the preferred version of Star Wars than the Prequels. I liked one or two novels here or there, but I stopped reading them pretty early on because a lot of them seemed like the same thing over and over. Same with the Dark Horse comics. I would read a good story here and there, but mostly they just seemed repetitive and too concerned with being "cool" rather than really expanding the universe in an interesting way.

But, as I said, there are a lot of fans who love that stuff and are genuinely worried that the move to Disney is going to erase that work. But I've often felt like, you know, if you deeply enjoyed that work and it enhanced your enjoyment of Star Wars and it became integral to the way you enjoyed the Star Wars universe, does it matter if Lucasfilm proclaims it official?

I guess for a lot of fans, it does. I just can't bring myself to care about Mara Jade or Grand Admiral Thrawn or any of that stuff. It's not that I'm jaded or too above it or anything; it's just that I don't enjoy it. That said, I do enjoy The Clone Wars and the old Marvel comics. You have Mara Jade? I have Plif the Hoojib. You have Jaina and Jacen Solo? I have Jaxxon. I have Ahsoka Tano. I have things that are integral to me and my enjoyment. 20-odd years ago, no one cared about acknowledging anything David Michelinie or Mary Jo Duffy wrote in the 80s as any kind of canon. But you know what? I'm fine with it. The boy who made sure his Luke Skywalker action figure also had a little bunny rabbit from a pack of farm animal toys so he could say it was Plif didn't grow up to be someone who took it personally when Lucasfilm chose not to acknowledge it. I could still enjoy them without official approval.

What I'm saying is, it seems like the works based on Star Wars are so vast, and there's such a deep well to draw from, that it's transcended its origins and can now become whatever you want it to be. Let's be honest: a great deal of the anger at the Prequels comes from the fact that George Lucas almost completely ignored the Expanded Universe and did what he wanted to do with his story. EU fans needed validation then, and they're demanding it now. I've had too many conversations with fans that were angry at me for not giving a shit about the X-Wing novels in my life to really want to be someone who takes continuity and canon very seriously. It's tiresome.

Just enjoy what you enjoy. Not everyone thinks Boba Fett is cool. Not everyone wants every SW story to be about how yet another person had a run in with Han Solo, Center of the Galaxy. And me personally... I really don't care about canon tiers and whether or not a story "counts."

Not everyone gives a shit about Hoojibs or Lahsbees or Iskalonions or Zeltrons or even Ewoks or Gungans, but I do. And it doesn't affect my enjoyment if you don't. And it shouldn't affect your enjoyment if I do. Star Wars is big enough for the both of us, and I do not envy the guys who have to parse through two decades of Expanded Universe in a possibly misguided attempt to be all things to all people.

Whatever movie you make next, people are going to complain about it, anyway.