Monthly Archives: July 2012

The American Hero

If you want to learn about a society, you look at the people they revere as heroes; the men and women that they hold up on a pedestal.

For example, if you look at the old Greek myths, their heroes were bloody warriors with long lineages that stretched back and far. They were men of honor who bore their burdens with savage ferocity.

With Americans, you have to look to our comic books.

As silly as this might seem to someone who hasn’t been paying attention to the major box office draws of the last decade, comic books reflect who we, as a culture and a people, worship as heroes.

First, there is The Individual. It is always someone who has, by Fate or by choice, who has gone alone. They have shunned (Bruce Wayne) society or been shunned (Peter Parker). They must define themselves by themselves. They cannot allow society to dictate who they are. Even when it’s a team of heroes working together, they’re on the fringes of society (see: X-Men).

Second, The Vigilante; we like the hero who is apart from the Law. This builds off the earlier point: we like someone who doesn’t allow legal red tape to stand in their way. We want someone to stand up and strike a blow against what’s wrong in the world without having to wait for cops and judges and juries. We want speedy justice.

Almost never do we see the legal ramifications of a hero’s actions.

Thirdly, he cannot kill. At least, not willfully. There must be compassion. There must be mercy. The hero must be better than the rest of us. He will not let bloodlust or rage govern his actions. The hero stands apart from us in every, emotional, way. They must make the decisions we would not be capable of making, which is why we trust them in the role of the Vigilante.

Our heroes, the ones we revere in culture on television and movies and pulp fiction, are men and women emotionally unavailable, socially on the edge and disregard the law as beneath them.

In short, Americans revere sociopaths in flashy garb and gaudy dress.

-D-

4 Comments

Filed under Pop Culturing: Movies, Books, Comic Books and Other Arts

Movie Review: Dark Knight Rises

If you didn’t see my earlier entry, let me recap here:

I really love the Batman movies. The ones by Christopher Nolan. I’ve been watching them repeatedly since Batman Begins came out seven years ago. I’ve obsessed over them and in no gentle way.

Partly this has to do with the fact that I grew up with the best cartoon Batman ever and partly it has to do with the general awesomeness of what Nolan accomplished with all three movies.

With the newest movie, Nolan has tied it all up, neat and tight. From beginning to end it’s a thoroughly satisfying narrative. He has managed to tell a story with all three movies in a way few directors could (Peter Jackson cheated by doing all three at once and using a single unified source. George Lucas uses plot holes to shore up a cliched story-arc.) They’re not perfect. I will not defend them to the death. There are gaps in logic and weird puns and stumbling lines and some oddly terrible actors hiding amidst stellar performances.

Speaking of which, Anne Hathaway surprised me. I’ve never had much of an opinion about her or her acting, but she took a character I could care less about and made me care. She was funny and bad-ass and stole almost every scene she was in.

But then, in general, The Dark Knight Rises  manages to hit all the right notes. And here and there, they hearken back to the two earlier movies without hitting the audience with a sledgehammer. There are mirrored lines and motivations and scenes that vibrate along those sympathetic wave lengths that make you turn to the person next to you and say, “Remember from Batman Begins when that thing with the thing happened?”

And at the end, satisfaction, because it feels like this was how it was always going to end.  It doesn’t feel contrived or forced. It’s a natural outcome of events as dictated by the actions of the characters.

And it was the best ending for a series I’ve been following for seven years.

Godspeed Batman.

-D-

4 Comments

Filed under Pop Culturing: Movies, Books, Comic Books and Other Arts

The Dark Knight Rises: Prepping

Ever since Batman Begins, I’ve been a little crazy for Batman. I read all the news. Got excited about the casting. Debated the merits of Katie Holmes and how she was going to ruin it.

When The Dark Knight was announced, I nearly exploded from joy. The Joker! Maggie Gyllenhaal! Two-Face! More Batman!

I became certain that I would die before it came out, that I would miss what was surely going to be the best movie ever.

And, now very soon, the third and last movie in the trilogy is coming out and I’m going to be there, front row center. Not literally. Those would be terrible seats.

This time, I have to be there at the  start to see the end. Expect a review tonight or tomorrow.

And expect it to specked with my tears.

-D-

4 Comments

Filed under Pop Culturing: Movies, Books, Comic Books and Other Arts

Learning the History

If there’s one thing that I’m particularly weak on, it’s my horror history. I don’t read a lot of horror to start and I read even less of the older examples of the genre. Sure, I’ll pick up some pulps or read more Lovecraft than can fill the forgotten tomb city of R’lyeh, but for the most part I stick to mysteries and detective novels and anything written by Stephen King.

But I think it’s long past time for me to go back to the old classics and relearn the old ways. I started with Lovecraft, because he is a compelling author, if stylistically repetitive after awhile. The more I read him, the more I like him and the more unnerving his stories are.

And then I went to Bradbury, because  he writes some truly chilling, relentless horror under the guise of Sci-Fi. “The Long Rain” and “Mars is Heaven!” are two of his creepier stories. “The Long Rain,” in particular, makes me want to curl into a ball and just stop reading. It seems never to end, much like the Venusian rain.

And now I’ve moved onto Richard  Matheson. Matheson, unlike the other two, is a writer with whom I’m only vaguely familiar. I’ve read I am Legend and I’ve read one or two of his short stories before, though only a few I’d call horror. But I picked up an audiobook recently of his horror works and he is a writer of singular tenacity. His usual M.O. involves an individual and then the slow, tearing down of that individual; a thorough dissection of them, either through their own idiosyncrasies or through external events beyond their ability to withstand.

It’s painful to sit through some of the stories, because they grind slow, but exceedingly fine and on some levels, they’re capable of making me uncomfortable and uneasy.

And I’m learning from him, learning about things that I can take away and add to my own fiction. It’s those little pieces that I’m looking to take away, to add to my abilities and tools as a writer.

And I think I have an idea.

-D-

3 Comments

Filed under Horror: Movies, Books, Stories and More

The Cost of Wonder

In the stories I read and the stories I write, the world is a place steeped in magic and there are things beyond the ken of the average human being. The world is beyond the explanation of science and reason and what is seen is only the skin of the universe and beneath that is the space between worlds.

I populate that space with monsters and I’m not the only one. Horror writers, fantasy writers, the writers who wrote our first stories filled that abyss with creatures that would drive a body insane. It would break someone’s mind to see the things that the outer reaches of reality would contain.

Let’s assume that was true. Let’s assume that the world we live in and breathe in and take in is deeper than comprehension. Let’s assume that there are wonders that you cannot imagine. It’s beyond your physiology to imagine. There are wonders….

Assume the potential cost is your sanity. Assume that searching for these dark and wonderful and awful places could cost you your peace of mind and your ability for a good night’s sleep. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s likely. You will see a non-Euclidean geometry that will bend your mind’s rational thought unto the breaking point.

Imagine it anyway. Try to imagine it. Fill your mind’s eye with sights unseen and unheard and unthought.

Now, the question is, would you pay the cost? Would you risk it all to know that the world is less than solid? Would you risk everything for a glimpse of wonder?

-D-

2 Comments

Filed under Thinking and Pondering: Science, History, Analysis and Over-Think

Movie Review: Antichrist (Part 2)

I finished watching Antichrist and, as promised, here’s the second and last part of my review.

After I finished watching it, I needed a hug. It’s an emotionally draining movie; filled with disturbing images and grotesque elements. It depicted vile things and at the end, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had seen. I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again and I doubt I’ll ever be able to recommend it to anyone.

In spite of that and because of that, I’m more than willing to say that this is one of the best horror movies to be made in the last fifteen years. It went to the very limited of my comfort zones and stayed there for the duration of the movie. At no point was I ever relaxed or settling back down. It ratcheted up the tension and kept it here and didn’t allow for a moment of respite.

It’s  moments like this that I long for when I watch horror movies. I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be on edge. I want to be swept up in a tide of relentless energy.

It’s movies like Antichrist that give me hope that the genre will not be completely lost in a sea of senseless sequels and gratuitous violence. There is hope that people can go to the movies and experience true fear. Because if we cannot be scared in a theater, that leaves us precious few options.

-D-

1 Comment

Filed under Horror: Movies, Books, Stories and More

Movie Review: Antichrist (Part 1)

It is very rare that a movie scares me anymore. I’m not bragging. It just means I’ve seen too many scary movies. I know how it’s going to end. I know which characters are going to die at which points. I know where the monster will appear and what its name is. It’s all about knowing the tropes and the cliches and the very nature of the genre.

And as I’ve stated many times, fear is about not knowing. It’s about being surprised. It’s about not knowing what’s around the corner.

What’s great, truly great, about modern movies is there are no restrictions. Back in ye olden days, the good guys one, the bad guys died. Some secondary characters bit the dust, but you knew Bruce Strongchin and Betty Blondhairs would be ok in the end. As time went on and 70’s horror lost its sense of right and wrong, the hero stopped being safe. Movies started being shocking again. This was especially true in all those thousands of cult and Satan movies.

Movies could show more and more violence, so they showed more and more violence. And we got inured to violence and shock and horror and yawn. Horror has so much freedom now. It can go places and show things and tell stories that it couldn’t have told in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. So what does it do with this freedom?

Torture porn and the human centipede. Modern horror makers, for the most part, seem to feel the necessity to top themselves in an unwinnable attempt to be the most shocking and forget that the best way to scare is to show less and draw out the tension on a razor’s edge.

All this is leading to Antichrist. I’m not done watching it. I got so excited and so bursting with nervous energy that I had to stop in the middle and start writing about it. It made me uneasy. It made me scared and upset and worried and freaked out and oh, there’s no jump scares and there’s no psycho in the woods; it’s all just upsetting imagery and freaky visuals and a tight script and two actors falling deeper and deeper into madness inducing fear.

This is what the freedom allows. It’s not about being able to show every aspect of a decapitation from every angle in excruciating slow motion. It’s about being able to upset the audience. It’s about making people uncomfortable. That’s what good horror does. It’s uncomfortable and uneasy and it makes you squirm and when it’s done you let out that tension in one shaky release of breath.

I have to get back to my movie.

Part 2 tomorrow.

-D-

1 Comment

Filed under Horror: Movies, Books, Stories and More