Saturday, April 19, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 24

Somehow, this is singularly the most boring chapter in the book. Unless you're actually caught up in this shitty excuse for romance, in which case I imagine it makes your insides tingle. See a doctor about that.

In this chapter, they're just all lovey-dovey for a while. Christian wakes Ana up early for a surprise so they can "chase the dawn." They talk about music; it all sounds like a shitty writer trying to write a real, mundane conversation, but it's so pointless. Again, we don't have to spend every second of their lives with these two. He's got Britney Spears on his iPod; apparently a former sub, Leila, put it there. Foreshadowing? Do you care?

We also learn more about his former subs, but really only that Mrs. Robinson's actual name is Elena, and that he had four subs including Leila who wanted more from him, but he wasn't willing to give more until Ana because she's so amazing and blah blah blah.

They go out in a glider, but mostly it's just Ana fretting about how anxious she is and then, when she finally enjoys it, belaboring that idiotic Icarus metaphor she keeps trying so hard to not make seem ridiculously stupid. The whole thing is, at heart, just EL James telling us about how she's seen the original Thomas Crown Affair, because that's where her entire description of the glider comes from. (This whole sequence, by the way, goes on for paaaaaages, including a bit where Christian talks into the radio using a lot of jargon, and it's unintentionally hysterical.)

Then they go to IHOP, of all places, and they talk even more boringly about how horny they are and how they're really having a for reals relationship, y'all, (including painfully needless descriptions of their original buttermilk pancake breakfasts) and then the waitress is totally dazzled by how gorgeous Christian is because we need yet another reminder that he's amazingly sexy.

Somehow, I always picture this.

I mean, sure, we're all in love and he's so cute, you guys, and he loves me so much and he remembers what my favorite tea is so that means he loves me and it makes up for all of his abusive, controlling dickbag behavior, even though at any point you could just switch out Christian Grey for Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave and the change would be unnoticeable.

Oh, jeez, they even do this.

"'Do I disarm you?'

I snort. 'All the time.'"

Twilight fanfiction credentials reaffirmed!

Ana wants to pay for breakfast, since she could actually afford it, but Christian refuses her nice gesture, calling it "emasculating."

So Christian drops off Ana at home, and then some more of their stupid email flirting, and then Christian tells Ana she talks in her sleep, and the rest of the chapter is going to be her fretting herself into insanity about what he must have heard her say, because we need to manufacture more drama for the last two chapters. Then Christian has to go back to Seattle to deal with some kind of situation, again for the sake of drama.

Oh, and Ana gets a call from pre-Raphaelite lady and she gets the job as assistant to "Mr. Jack Hyde," which will probably be an endless source of drama in the next book. Will Christian and Mr. Hyde have to wage in a battle of wills over Ana's very soul? Who will win? The representation of "the classics" or the representation of modern lit? Christian or Jack? Edward of Jacob? Are you on Team I Don't Give a Shit or Team You Couldn't Pay Me Enough to Read Another of These? Drama, drama, drama. So dramatic I need Dramamine.

Anyway, this was probably the best chapter in the book, if only because it was so pointless and brimming with things that a real editor would have recommended trimming down that it was easy to skim through.

Almost over... almost over...

Caturday, Katurday

Friday, April 18, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #47

"Music to Scream By" by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart & Don Heck
(September 1963)

I've said it before, but I really like what Ernie Hart and Don Heck are trying to do in a limited space with Ant-Man and the Wasp. It's turning into these adventures of a brilliant but stuffy professor and his hip sidekick. Last issue, they went on a Mediterranean vacation that, in its way, played out like a hi-fi sci-fi version of a New Wave picture. This time, the landscape the story plays out on features jazz music and a touch of Indian mysticism. It's another way that Marvel Comics is set firmly in its present.

This issue's villain is Trago, a jazz man, trumpet player, who is caught robbing a club after his set. He goes home to India, where he finds a man named Ghazandi, who has mastered some of the mystic arts. Trago learns to play notes that will hypnotize snakes, and then to play notes that will hypnotize humans. Ghazandi himself won't even play those notes, because one false note could mean hypnotizing the player rather than the audience. Which, of course, is what happens when Ant-Man and the Wasp finally face him. He's hypnotized people and is going to make them rob banks for him (always comes down to the banks), but Ant-Man gets inside his trumpet and bends one of the plungers, producing an off-note that hypnotizes Trago and wipes the memory of his entire career as a trumpeter, including the robbery attempt, the trip to India, and learning his hypnotic powers. Hank and Jan decide, eh, no harm done. His crime spree never happened, and now he's just a happy guy playing trumpet in jazz clubs.

The real tragedy, apparently, is Ant-Man's faithful ant friend Korr. I guess we can assume that this is the same ant that Hank's been riding around on for the past year, but he's never been named before, and other than seeing him talk that time, we've never really explored his role in the stories. Generally, the ants are just mindless ants. But Ant-Man calls to Korr to save he and the Wasp from Trago's music, and Korr even gives his life trying to defend them from a snake. Hank is really, really shaken up by the loss, so much so that he leaves the jazz club during the happy ending so he can go home and mourn.

It's a really nice attempt to flesh out the cast, but the sacrifice isn't really felt, since the ants had never been, well, humanized, so to speak. We never even knew Korr's name before, or if it was even meant to be the same ant every time. Though Ernie & Don have proven quite good at pulling off a breezy, involving story in a limited space, there just isn't enough room in these stories to pull off that kind of gravity. It's another thing that makes me wish this creative team had more room to grow this incarnation.

Alas, it's only one more story to go before the next shake-up.

Stray notes:

:: I know Orientalism isn't cool, but it is nice not to have any of the pidgin English you expect from comics in the 1960s. Other than the massive one about India being full of occult powers, there aren't any other stereotypes at play, which is nice.

:: Unless, of course, you count Jan's fascination with diamonds and Hank's condescending annoyance with it.

Sheesh. That's still one of my problems with this book. Admittedly, it's a lot worse when Stan Lee does it, because he just doesn't seem to have a mode for her yet outside of "spunky" and "girl."

:: When Hank first goes to the jazz club, Jan tells him about the music. He doesn't even know who Count Basie is. In 1963? Daddy-o, you are impossibly square.

:: There are two separate occasions in battle where Ant-Man realizes he's forgotten his gas cylinders. Always be prepared, dude. You're a crime fighter, remember? Interestingly, the second time he realizes his mistake, he implies that he had been preparing to fight Trago while human-sized. I thought that was Ant-Man's big no-no? What is even the story with that anymore? Is he even maintaining that illusion now? Because it's kind of silly. And people have seen the Wasp human-sized already, anyway.

:: The text narration keeps referring to Ant-Man as "Antman."

:: This is the part where I always tell you how much I love Don Heck's artwork.

But look at it! How can I not love this? Oh, man... sadly, Ernie & Don only have one more issue together before Stan Lee reclaims the book and turns Ant-Man into Giant-Man, but how I wish he'd instead kept the creative team and given them more room and just turned it into one of those great 60s spy-fi thrillers. The Ant from UNCLE. Look at Heck's art; it's just begging for it! Or at least I am!

At least we have this issue to enjoy.

Next time: the Strangest Super-Heroes of All!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tick-Tock Sick

Dig that clock.

I've been listening to this a bit lately as sort of a reminder to take it slow when I need to. This was a 45 that Jim Henson put out in 1960. It may have been used on Sam and Friends, but even the guy who made this video admits there's no evidence of that, just a supposition based on the time period and the style of the music. Jim's crazy beatnik side comes out in a novelty song about the relentless passage of time, something that was also the theme of his great 1964 short film Time Piece. It's also just fun because of Jim's lyrics, especially in that fast-paced middle section.

Swing it, clock.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N Is for Nice

I first heard Kermit the Frog say that it's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice. That's something I haven't always taken to heart, but I'm trying.

It's been hard for me to be nice over the years, because I think sometimes people mistake being nice for being weak and have a go at you. And sometimes, I am weak. My self-esteem and my emotional health have been so worn down over the years, and recovery isn't as easy as I had hoped it would be.

One interesting thing about my anxiety--one that surprises me--is that over the years I've become very uncomfortable with accepting compliments. I'm trying to work on that one. I used to default to the self-deprecating bit where you shrug off compliments or just don't agree with them, but I started to realize that doing that makes people feel like maybe they just shouldn't have given you the compliment in the first place. You know what eventually happens? You stop getting compliments, and it just confirms your belief that people don't think you're any good at anything. You create that in order to confirm your own biases against yourself.

I've started, at the very least, to just say thank you, even if I don't feel I deserve a compliment. And, in doing so, I've found myself much more receptive to receiving them. It's changing my attitude about myself in small but profound ways. That's something I really need right now, because I just haven't liked myself in a very, very long time. When you don't like yourself, you don't take care of yourself. And, well... no one else is going to take care of you for you.

I have a new doctor now, and she's very supportive, which is something I've never gotten from a medical doctor before. I saw her last week, and we were talking about some of my skin problems and such things, and I felt really, really self-conscious and embarrassed about it. I have lied to doctors in the past because I didn't want to feel like I was gross or like I just couldn't do certain things for myself. That attitude of always having to be strong or people think less of you. It's not helpful to lie to doctors. So I'm trying to be honest. She's aware of my mental issues, and she's very understanding. I feel like we're working together, rather than being talked to.

Anyway, I was there and I wasn't looking her in the eye, because when I'm afraid of appearing weak and needy I'm too uncomfortable to look people in the eye. We've talked about that. But I was telling her about these skin problems and doing that thing that I always do where I was sort of apologizing for existing and being a bother by existing, and I mumbled, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm so disgusting."

She stopped me and said "Don't say that. You're a person, and we're all people, and we all have a right to be comfortable inside ourselves."

I literally stopped talking. I couldn't speak for about 10 seconds because I was trying not to cry. She asked if I was alright. And I said "I just don't always think of myself as a person, and when someone treats me like I am, it scares me."

Because it's evidence against the assumptions I have about life. I operate from a deep-rooted belief that I'm no good and that no one could ever love me or respect me or be kind to me.

That's why I'm so dismissive of compliments. They sometimes make me feel uncomfortable because they challenge what I "know" to be "true" about myself.

I need to be more receptive to receiving, or at least acknowledging, compliments and kind words rather than shrugging them off or shrinking away from them, because it makes it easier for me to love myself and heal myself.

Kermit was right. It is important to be nice. But it's as important to be nice to yourself as it is to be nice to others.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

Yet another movie that I'm kind of surprised it took me this long to see; I remember when it came out here and everyone was talking about it. It's a sensual movie about the youngest sister in a Mexican family on a border town in the early 1900s. In accordance with family tradition, she will never marry, but is meant to stay home and care for her mother. She can only express herself through her food, but her emotional state when cooking affect the emotional states of those who eat it. I always think magic realism is an interesting device, and it's used especially well here. There's a sort of romantic grandeur that the story takes on, perhaps because it's framed as an old family legend. Very pretty. ***1/2

A new film version of Horton Foote's play, this one starring Cicely Tyson as the elderly woman who just wants to make it back to her childhood home. Tyson is a wonderful actress, and this is one of her great performances; she's very sincere and gets the desperation of the character across. Blair Underwood plays the son who is just trying to get back on his feet, torn between his somewhat aggressive wife (Vanessa Williams) and his mother, who longs to go home so badly and feels so minimized that she has to sneak away. This is a story that's told through a series of observant conversations, and this film is blessed with an excellent cast that finds the right note. An excellent movie, and not just excellent for a movie that premiered on Lifetime. ****

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #45

"The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(September 1963)

Tales of Suspense gives Iron Man five extra pages this month, giving the creators an opportunity to expand Tony Stark's world a little. Up until now, we've mostly marveled at his technology as he's fought off rival scientists, aliens, communists, and wizards. But this is the first time we'll see him (outside of his tangle with the Hulk in Avengers #1) fight a menace with super powers. Which makes Jack Frost Iron Man's first real supervillain.

This issue also introduces us to members of Iron Man's supporting cast: Harry "Happy" Hogan and Tony's secretary Pepper Potts. Happy is a former and unsuccessful boxer who saves Tony after he's pinned while crashing his race car; Tony actually has a fatal heart attack but averts it when he's able to get to a hospital and plug his chest plate into the wall. This being a Marvel book in 1964, Pepper is mainly just in love with Tony from afar and kind of bitchy about it. Happy is enchanted by her, but she rebuffs him, and the two of them not get along and trading barbs is basically their dynamic. Sort of a Howard Hawks thing going on. I like it a lot more than watching the Wasp flirt with everyone, or Jane Foster pining over her weird Thor fantasies.

The story mostly just settles in and establishes a new dynamic, and it moves at a comfortable pace instead of whipping through the story. That said, the villain isn't much of a threat and the big face-off is actually the least interesting part of the whole thing.

Jack Frost is actually scientist Gregor Shapanka, who works at Stark Industries. Iron Man walks in on him trying to steal the formula for Stark's tiny transistors, so the police come and take him away. Tony drops the charges, though, because of the brilliant work Shapanka has done in the past. Shapanka then goes on to develop cryogenics, basically, although the story doesn't use that word. Shapanka knows he can freeze something and stop its aging process indefinitely, then just thaw it out later. Extrapolating from there, he creates himself a freeze suit than can turn him into what you see above, which will make him indestructible somehow, because things like bullets just freeze before they touch the suit. He does what most Marvel villains are doing; creating amazing technology with applications that would benefit humankind and would make you rich just through patents and licensing deals alone, and using it to rob banks.

Shapanka is defeated when he tries to get revenge on Tony Stark, but find himself fighting Iron Man. Iron Man uses some of the parts in his belt to turn his searchlight monobeam (that round circle on his chest) into a heat ray, which holds Jack Frost back until Iron Man can use more parts to whip up what's essentially a transistor-powered miniature furnace. It melts Shapanka's ice and allows the police to grab him.

Good thing Iron Man just happened to be here and all that stuff.

Stray notes:

:: This issue establishes that Stark Industries' main plant is next to "the new baseball stadium" and the site of the then-upcoming 1964 World's Fair. Next Tuesday will be the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964 World's Fair, an event that I find especially fascinating in recent American history and which you should read a bit about. There's also a great episode of Disneyland that you should track down if you can, called "Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair," which is all about the many great animatronic exhibits Disney and his Imagineers built for various sponsors, including "It's a Small World," the animatronic Abraham Lincoln, the Carousel of Progress, and those wonderful dinosaurs that are my favorite part. PJ Lifestyle has an interesting five-part series about it.

Man, we should really still be participating in World's Fairs. The next one will be next year in Milan. They still have these expos, America just doesn't take part in them anymore; Congress stopped allocating funds for it and the Bureau of International Expositions withdrew our membership in 2001.

This all makes the "new baseball stadium" Shea Stadium, which would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its opening day on Thursday of this week, except it was demolished in 2008.

This puts Stark Industries in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York. I love all of this stuff together, the mention of the World's Fair being constructed, etc. Not only does it put the Marvel Universe in a specific time and place that relates the the real world of the reader, but now, fifty years later, it puts it in a historical era that is very exciting and relevant to me personally. The World's Fair was a symbol of innovation; it's absolutely fitting to have Iron Man be that close to it. It feels vital and appropriate. Not only does Iron Man celebrate (though fictionalized) human ingenuity and technology, but Marvel itself is innovating comic books.

:: Tony, seriously.

You just had a near-fatal heart attack this morning. Could you please at least wait a day or two to light up the pipe?

:: Pepper pines.

It would help if he learned your name, toots. The first time we see her, Tony calls her "Kitty" instead of Pepper. I'm sure it's a mistake, but I just like to take it as another indicator of Tony's casual arrogance. Or maybe he's too busy making up ridiculous alibis for why Iron Man is always hanging around.

:: The way Don Heck draws women reminds me a little of romance comics, but he never did really draw romance comics, did he? Did you know he designed model airplanes after he got laid off for a year and a half from Atlas in the late fifties? I just read that today.

:: I still think it's hilarious how Iron Man is always attaching pieces to himself and slamming components together like Legos while fighting villains at the same time. It's just awkward and kind of silly. I mean, I know this is sort of cutting edge and up-to-date science fiction, but I'm from a later time and watching this now it's just kind of funny to see the powerful Iron Man scrambling to put pieces from his utility belt together and stopping to recharge himself. He's like a less-efficient version of Batman.

This is also the first time he uses his jet-skates, as seen in the top picture.

This issue is the first indication that Iron Man would benefit from a larger page count. Next issue, we'll be back to 13 pages, but eventually we'll get there. I've not ever actually read much of Iron Man past the first 10 or so issues, so I'll be interested to see what that looks like.

Next Marvels: Ant-Man vs. jazz music.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Song of the Week: "Crazy Eyes"

Songs for Becca #9.

Some people are surprised to find out that I sort of love Hall & Oates. I know, I know, they're supposed to be cheesy and feathered hair and all that. But I love them. I get caught up in their whole rock 'n' soul style. If you ever want to make me instantaneously happy, just throw on "Kiss on My List." It thrills me all over. But, you know, I don't mention it much because people just kind of have that "What the fuck are you talking about?" reaction.

Anyway, I play these guys a bit, and Becca doesn't care for their sound at all. I don't want to make some blanket assumption that she's not into soul music, but she doesn't really love a lot of the soul or R&B music that I have a tendency to play (unless it's from the 60s, because she likes a lot of that Atlantic sound). So, one day I'm playing this song, and Becca just suddenly asks: "What is this song?"

Me: "Why, do you dig it?"

Becca: "Yeah, it's really good. Who's that singing?"

Me: "John Oates."

Becca: "... what?"

Me: "This is Hall & Oates, it's just John Oates singing the lead."

Becca: "Wait, so... I like Oates??!"

I cackled about that for a good 20 seconds.

So, Songs for Becca #9: "Crazy Eyes," with Oates singing the lead, from their 1976 album Bigger Than Both of Us. (It actually follows "Rich Girl.")

This Was My Dream Job When I Was a Kid

Has anyone else watched Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge on Syfy? It's three weeks in and I'm really digging this show. This is exactly the show I've been waiting for from Syfy since they got into the reality competition business.

I've always, always, always been enthusiastic about creatures, and the contestants on this program are doing what I dreamed of for a long time: creating and fabricating realistic creatures and making them live. They've all dreamed of working for Henson (what creature enthusiast hasn't?). They're passionate amateurs or people who have been working on smaller projects. The show works like this: they're told what kind of creature they have to design and fabricate, put onto random teams, given two days to do it, and then given rehearsal time with puppeteers and/or creature operators. The creature then gets a professional screen test, and the results are judged by Brian Henson, Kirk Thatcher, and Beth Hathaway, all of whom have had extensive (and, for me, formative) experience in creature effects. The prize is a job at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.

For someone like me, who is passionate but never pursued this, it's an utterly fascinating show. They sketch and design a creature, give it a personality and a bit of story, and they all have various strengths in different areas. The best contestants are the ones who are open to learning from the other contestants; for example, one guy said he often used tinfoil as a base for creature faces because the shapes were so interesting. His partner that week found that... unconventional. Why would you use something so cheap on a professional creature? She said it would never occur to her to do so. But she wasn't bitchy or condescending about it; she trusted his method, and that week, their creature won the challenge. She learned something new. I dug that.

I also like that the designers are sitting and taking into consideration where the operators are going to go and how much room they'll have to move and breathe. The creature that lost the first challenge lost in part because it didn't have much room for the operator inside; his movements were stilted, and when he came out of it, he was feeling faint. If an operator's movements are stilted and he's not breathing well, it limits the dexterity and personality of the creature--besides just being damn uncomfortable!

The second week was a dream: the designers had to create their own Skeksis and the screen test was on an actual set from The Dark Crystal (including the Crystal itself). The Skeksis have fascinated me since I was 6 years old. They were nightmare figures for me until literally a few months ago. I used to not be able to watch The Dark Crystal at night because of my fear of those damn creatures. What changed? I got the movie on Blu-Ray, and the resolution was so good that I found myself mainly fascinated with the puppeteering and operation and performances and how they were done. Fear gone.

A little bonus for me: the series is hosted by Gigi Edgley, aka Chiana from Farscape, a Henson production and my all time favorite TV show. It's wonderful to see you again, Pip.

Anyway, great show, especially if you're a creature geek like me. I recommend it.