My mom was always massive on French films. She always brought me up with films like La Haine. And films like that sort of change your perspective because you start watching and you think, "Oh well I'll give French films -- or I'll give Spanish films a go." And then you become more knowledgable on [them] as well.... One of my favorite films is True Romance [by Quentin Tarantino] just because you could put it on and it give you everything that you need... down from the acting, the directing, the shots, the story, the script. Everything is there for you.
The importance of staying curious
FILMCLUB is an education charity that visits schools and teaches young students about film by hosting interviews, holding screenings of diverse movies, and helping students get into the industry. They emphasize intellectual development and creative exploration simultaneously, hoping that each complements the other as students explore both. Young British actor Nico Mirallegro (Hollyoaks, Upstairs Downsairs, My Mad Fat Diary) recently sat down for an interview at his old school to speak with the audience about the importance of finding something that you like doing, working hard, pushing yourself, and seeking out ways to teach yourself about your chosen profession. Check out the full interview below.
Last year, Twitter released its short-form video app Vine, which allows users to take 6-second videos (in however many increments they can fit into those six seconds) and upload them to Twitter. Needless to say, it has caught on. Given the availability and proliferation of things available 24/7 that allow us to film whatever we want, why does being restricted to 6 seconds appeal to us? And is it really possible to tell a good story in 6 seconds or less?
Before Vine came along, the YouTube channel Five Second Films was churning out at least one film daily since 2009. With the motto, “Wasting your time, but not very much,” they adhere to the rules of a 2 second beginning title, a 5 second film, and a 1 second end title. It’s surprising how much storytelling can occur in that short time frame: there is (usually) a premise, a motivating agent, a conflict, and some sort of resolution or punch line. Post-production adds music, special effects, or other elements that inform the viewer and round out the daily visual offerings. Do these videos have to contain tidy resolutions to be considered stories? If you think so, then you might say these are well-crafted five-second jokes instead. Regardless of technical classification, however, the fact remains that a satisfying story with memorable characters can be told in a very short amount of time.
By these standards, Vine’s 6-seconds is practically a luxury. Users have moved beyond simple everyday life documentation to fairly sophisticated set ups. Some record songs or patterns so that they loop perfectly and infinitely. Some use other media (films, TV shows, etc.) in combination with props or additionally recorded video to create jokes or capture satirical commentary on modern life. In May, Ryan Gosling refused to eat his cereal.
Despite nearly every person in the Western world possessing a camera phone for the better part of a decade, why have we just now become obsessed with making little films? It seems we almost needed to be given permission. But didn't YouTube do that? It has been urging us to "Broadcast ourselves" since its inception in 2005. In a way, yes. But the anonymity of YouTube (i.e. that your video got so easily lost among a sea of professional YouTubers, educational videos, news clips, etc.) meant there was little chance of it being seen. Besides, YouTube has moved steadily in the corporate direction (hello, ads) as well as being tied to the larger Google name for years now. For Millennials who have flocked (ehem) to Twitter in recent years, breaking barriers between your favorite celebrity and your BFF, it's a no-brainer that Vine would become the platform of choice. Little commitment, instant results, high reward.
Welcome to the new age of micro-filmmaking.
The Magic of a Gif Wall
If you've ever been on Tumblr, you've probably seen a gif. They're essentially digital flip books on 3-10 second loops that capture a funny, sad, or otherwise particularly expressive moment from a video clip or other visual medium. They can actually be quite effective as a medium for storytelling. Depending on the selected images, gifs manipulate the story being told, no matter how relevant or accurately they depict their source material. Reaction gifs are probably the best example of this. There are whole websites devoted to one actor's face standing in as an online reaction to a completely unrelated event.
Gif walls are the natural evolution of one gif (which is awesome) to a group of them (moar awesome!) that either depict a sequence from a video clip or are related to one another in theme or by quotes plastered over them. Confused? Here’s an example of Kirsten Dunst’s reaction to director Lars Von Trier’s controversial comments about Nazis in a Cannes Q & A.
Besides allowing you to dissect every movement of every facial muscle in gleeful detail, the most interesting thing about gif walls is the way they chop up a story into simultaneously replaying parts. Think about it: when you’re watching a video, you’re ingesting the information of that video in linear time. It makes sense because you hear the words in order, see the images succeed one another in logical fashion, and thus extract a sense of understanding from whatever you have been shown. You also are at the mercy of whatever sequence the editor, writer, and director have chosen to show you.
With a gif wall, however, you have the capability of seeing linear time AT ONCE.
I’ll say that again. You’re watching events -- which as they occurred, were recorded, and played back all happened in linear, sequential time -- in a wall of images that says, “Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!”
It’s amazing that the human mind can scan a gif wall and get the gist of an event instantly. I can look at a gif wall of clips from a season of a show, for example, and feel differing, opposite emotions near simultaneously. Or I can watch a set of gifs that depict the main theme of a movie. Realistically though, my eye sees and my brain processes one thing at a time. I may move from one to the next with imperceptible speed, and I may do so at the speed I choose, but even while scanning multiple pictures they must enter my consciousness in some defined order. Does this lessen the impact of the events depicted? Does it compromise the integrity of the individual emotions to experience layered ones instead? Does it change our perception of a canonical story to view it out of sequence – indeed, in whatever sequence we should desire?
I do not know the answers to these questions, but I think it’s a fascinating development that we would deliberately dissect, reorder, and reconsume our media. Talk about personalized.
As a communication major whose field depends on the free and open exchange of information (via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, radio, newspapers, email, phones calls, text messages, and more) the implications of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing efforts, the United States government’s policies towards its own people, and the coming fallout affect me in practical ways. Whether the revelation of the NSA’s illegal (yes, illegal) monitoring of civilian data without a warrant changes anything; or whether this will some day affect my ability to speak freely without fear that I am being watched or measured in some unseen way, has yet to be seen. In the mean time, it is my duty to keep the discussion in the public eye.
Following the unfolding story surrounding Edward Snowden’s NSA intelligence leaks, I’ve encountered a frequent and frustrating argument used by people to support their apathy: “I don’t have anything to hide!” It’s barely an argument; more a statement of defiance. Ironically, this sentiment aligns with the unbroadcasted reasoning behind the NSA’s actions (and the existence of PRISM, the perpetuation of the Patriot Act, the FISA court, etc.); namely, that good citizens have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear. (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was its ugly cousin). That we are willing to go along with this narrative in exchange for marginal increased safety reveals an inherent flaw in people’s understanding of privacy – one that is not surprising given our current rewards-based culture. Americans have become so accustomed to receiving privileges for good behavior (and conversely, punishments for bad behavior) that we seem to have forgotten the difference between a privilege and a right. A privilege is a temporary, conditional benefit given by someone in power to a limited population. A right is an unconditional and fundamental component to personhood that exists equally regardless of class, caste, sex, gender, station, etc. The problem with confusing rights for privileges is that privileges, by nature, can be taken away.
Along with Civil Rights; women’s rights; gay rights; and every person’s right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” the right to privacy is also described in the United States Constitution as self-evident and unalienable. This means that regardless of those who might try to convince us otherwise -- and regardless of who forgets -- these things cannot be taken away since they are inherent to personhood. The government, therefore, is not the arbiter of our rights. Just as they cannot truly take them away, they cannot truly grant that which already belongs to a person. The role of government, then, is simply to safeguard these “unalienable rights” against anyone who would threaten their equal distribution and enforcement.
The Fourth Amendment states it is
“the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
According to the Fourth Amendment, the government has no right to my personal communications, thoughts, behaviors, etc. unless I grant explicit access or they have “probable cause” (admittedly – and deliberately by the Founding Fathers – a vague stipulation). That is why it is a federal offense to open someone else’s mail (ironically the only form of communication guaranteed privacy, though it is photographed for tracking purposes). Emails are not currently considered the same as a piece of mail sent by the United States Postal Service, despite practically replacing its function in our society. Email and physical mail (along with text messages) are arguably the modern equivalent to “papers.” Yet the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has granted itself access to all of these under the claim that a law passed in 1989 allows for exceptions to be made to the Fourth Amendment for “special cases” – in this instance, terrorism. Essentially, under the blanket claim of “investigating terrorism,” the government considers that just cause to indiscriminately access and store your data, without a specific warrant, even if you have not personally done anything suspicious. This is unconstitutional.
I am an upstanding American citizen. I do not have anything to hide. I voluntarily put information on Facebook and use Skype to talk to my friends and family, none of whom are a threat to national security. So why am I bothered by it?
Because I am an upstanding American citizen according to what is considered terrorism right now, and right now only. If Congress, the Supreme Court, and/or the President see my rights only as privileges, I have no guarantee that tomorrow the criteria for receiving such privileges will not change. It is impossible for anyone to have true freedom if some in a society are simultaneously being denied it. Partial denial of rights to some belies a larger mindset of confusion regarding rights vs. privileges. If one group can be denied, violated, spied upon, or discriminated against based solely upon the unregulated discretion of their government, then any group can (if the narrative fits). There are justifiable exceptions. We assent to this in cases of incarceration, where a person has violated the accepted terms of living in a society. But they are exceptions precisely because the norm is freedom.
All genocide, all separation of people groups, all demonization begins with the systematic revocation of rights according to what a government believes is in the best interest of its people. It begins gradually and in secret, always with the illusion that people still have their rights, and usually under the mantra that some small thing must be sacrificed for the greater good. Jews in Germany – legal citizens, some decorated World War I veterans, business owners, members of their communities, etc. – were initially not allowed to have bicycles, pets, be out past a curfew, or walk in public without ID papers before being stripped of citizenship and all other human rights. The gradual implementation of offenses committed against them might not seem entirely objectionable today if they were justified as being done in service to the needs of the nation. We might even go along willingly:
“I don’t know how to ride a bike anyway, so what’s it to me?” and
“My neighbor’s dog barks late into the night and annoys me; it’s a good thing!” and
“I don’t have anything to hide!” and
“I’m proud of who I am; I don’t care if they know my family history!” and
“I’m a citizen who fought for this country!”
But even in cases where willing suspension of rights occurs, it must not exist indefinitely. The longer a government has power, the less likely it is to remember that such power must be returned, and the less likely it will be to voluntarily relinquish control back to its people. Incremental gains in safety may be achieved, but at what cost to privacy? So far, it seems the freedoms that have been exchanged are not proportional to the amount of safety we have received in return. The government can always ensure its protection of the rights of its own people; it can never guarantee complete safety. No government has the power to control others, or predict what other people or countries might do; it cannot say that something will “never” happen, even with the most powerful military in the world. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is proof of that.
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei recently wrote a piece for The Guardian in which he shared his thoughts about the revelation of PRISM’s existence:
“I lived in the United States for 12 years. This abuse of state power goes totally against my understanding of what it means to be a civilised [sic] society, and it will be shocking for me if American citizens allow this to continue. The US has a great tradition of individualism and privacy and has long been a centre for free thinking and creativity as a result.”
Why do I care that my government is spying on me? Besides of its unconstitutionality, its assumption of guilt, its abuse of power, and its ultimate inability to deliver 100% safety despite its sacrifice of my freedoms. I care because if I can lose my rights, anyone can, in which case none of us is truly free.
This past May, legendary special effects creator Ray Harryhausen passed away at the age of 92. His contribution to the film industry is immeasurable, having invented the process of “dynamation,” the precursor to digital compositing used in virtually every film today. Dynamation involved shooting the individual components of a scene at the needed scale, then layering them over one another so that full-sized actors, stop motion figures, animatronics, etc. could appear on screen at the same time in the proportions necessary to the story. He was best known for Jason and the Argonauts (1963), the Sinbad films (1958, 1974, 1977), and his first film as a technician (for which he won an Academy Award), Mighty Joe Young (1949).
Much of the demand for these hands-on effects (called practical effects) has dwindled in recent years thanks to the increased power of computers, innovations in rendering software, the recent push by studios to convert to 3D, and the success of films like Avatar, which saw audiences embrace entire CGI worlds. However, those who are still working in practical effects (and those who choose to utilize them in their films for budgetary or other reasons) have become champions of their fields, insisting that something tangible is lost to the audience when CGI replaces effects that can be pulled off with real actors and set pieces.
For example, last year’s The Impossible shot all of its major flood effects in tanks and on sound stages using scaled models of the resort in Thailand. The decision was made for them by budget cuts (which reveals how expensive computer effects are, if a tank the size of a football field is cheaper), but director J.A. Bayona was later thankful to work with practical effects because of the shooting environment it created. Naomi Watts said of her one month in the tank with Tom Holland, who played her son, “Although it was very difficult, I’m glad that we weren’t on a green back drop with arms flailing; it would have been a very different performance.”
The Amazing Spider-Man’s stunt coordinator Andy Armstrong was thrilled when director Mark Webb agreed to forgo CGI where possible. Andrew Garfield was more than up to the challenge of getting in the right physical shape for his stunts, and much of what is seen on screen is him fighting, running, jumping, or hanging from a subway train ceiling. Comparitavely, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) used a CGI Spidey for many of the flying shots, whereas Armstrong insisted that the mechanics of an actual stuntman flying through that arc would be more believable.
Even as computers get more sophisticated, these films (both released last year) demonstrate how using an organic process, where the laws of physics can take over in unexpected or unaccountable ways, is sometimes the better choice.
The Visual Language of Gatsby
The Great Gatsby did well in theaters this summer, nearly hitting the $150 million mark despite being vilified by many critics and Serious Book Readers alike. Luhrmann is known for his use of (some say unnecessary) CGI to create over-the-top spectacle, not so different from the effect of a circus or magic show. It's not subtle, but it's not meant to be. A lot of the ability to enjoy his films comes down to personal preference and willingness to understand Luhrmann’s intent: if you assent to what you’re seeing on the screen as intentional, Gatsby can (and should) be judged against that standard, not some greater “realism” scale. Luhrmann’s storytelling is in the details, real and rendered.
Moulin Rouge, for example, was shot entirely on sound stages. The resulting “staleness” that can accompany CGI worked for that world thematically because it embodied Satine’s physical and emotional prison, underscoring the hopelessness of her situation. Fortunately for Gatsby, Luhrmann learned how to better mix real landscapes with computer-generated ones from production on 2008’s Australia. Regardless of whether you liked or disliked that story, the film was technically proficient and visually stunning. The Great Gatsby, being the tragic romance that it is, benefitted from the techniques used in both Australia and Moulin Rouge.
In Gatsby, Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Godfrey allowed enough grit to come through so that, once again, visuals aided story beyond simply filling up the screen. Like the juxtaposition of East Egg and West Egg, old money and new money, a world on the cusp of development and technological innovation that still relied on the old and inefficient, the effects provided a visual component to the theme of competing dualities. Godfrey’s VFX are like the shiny yellow car zipping through the junkspace of the train yard. If you assent to the fact that Baz Luhrmann uses his effects like no other filmmaker – not meant to disappear but rather create dissonance in service to the story – these stunning effects can be appreciated on another level entirely.
The Great Gatsby VFX from Chris Godfrey on Vimeo.
[REVIEW] This is the End
This is the End is definitely not for everyone. It has all the hallmarks you’d expect from Judd Apatow’s protégés (penis jokes, rape jokes, lots of pot, and a relentless air of not trying too hard), but a good deal more pathos and commentary happening than we’ve seen before. Written and directed by long time creative partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, this debut is arrogant yet self-critical, perfect for the generation it was designed to mirror.
The set-up is simple enough: While visiting pal Seth Rogen in LA, Jay Baruchel is struggling to enjoy the celebrity culture he purposefully tried to escape. Seth suggests that they attend James Franco’s housewarming party, insisting it will be a good time and if Jay doesn’t like it, they can leave. Later at the party (hilariously peppered with fun cameos and outrageous situations) Jay isn’t having a good time. He steps out to get some air, Seth follows him, and the apocalypse begins.
The surprise of the film isn't that the actors so winningly played hyper-realized versions of their public images (or countered them entirely, in the case of depraved!Michael Cera), but that multiple times throughout I caught myself thinking, "Wow, they really just went there." Though pushing boundaries that genuinely shocked (there is a scene where the guys accidentally play soccer with a guy's freshly severed head; later a devil rendered in such a way so as to leave nothing to the imagination) the moments were "realistic" in the sense that they might have actually happened to a group of actors suddenly caught trapped at the end of the world. Rogen and Goldberg know how the public perceives them; they present the party from the point of view of someone who assumes that celebrity parties are nothing but raucousness and debauchery. It’s a credit to their keenly observed script that it’s believable when Franco’s fortress of a house keeps the partygoers from sensing their dire situation.
The humor thrives against its played-straight apocalyptic backdrop. Much like the style of Edgar Wright's Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, the upcoming The World's End) the humor is in the pathos, not the situation. Because we understand that, yes, the world is in fact over (and there is little doubt from the scope of the destruction), and how (it's not aliens or another LA earthquake but the genuine, literal Armageddon), it's not a question of "how will our heroes survive?" but actually, "Do they deserve to?"
Perhaps the most jarring element is the early, straight-faced adoption of religious imagery and language (Franco quips, "Did you steal my Bible?" which immediately led me to wonder if the actual James Franco owns one, and was quickly followed by the humbling revelation that I know nothing about the private lives of these real people). So rarely do we see religiosity depicted seriously or respectfully that seeing it here equally mimics the gorier did-the-just-go-there feeling. It's all done from the perspective of many who fall into the Millennial demographic: maybe God exists, but I don't give the idea much thought; I just try my best to go through life without being too much of an asshole. “God” is never shown. This was the smart choice because it's not a film about whether God has the right to judge; it's a film about what happens when it's a given that he does.
The real villain is vanity, embodied by the Hollywood lifestyle of parties, excess, and petty pleasures. Though this group of actors is playing themselves, the film might be better understood as a morality play. Each character is a vice: Rogen is cowardice; Hill is ego (nodding again and again to his Oscar nomination for Moneyball); Franco is some mix of manipulation and selfishness. Danny McBride plays the character he always plays (grating, vulgar, self-involved) but to greater use and effect in the context of a world where those things could actually be assets.
Despite its semi-serious message, Rogen and Goldberg's script stays firmly on the entertaining side. The directing is confident and the lesson so ingrained that it could go unnoticed if the viewer only wanted to see a comedy. And though they poke fun at their own celebrity, there is a larger thought experiment happening about the worthiness of what they do as entertainers, even as they become successful. The film smartly asks how anyone who lives for themselves, even justifiably ("It's not like we didn't work for everything we have!"), could possibly be given admission to Heaven.
The answer might surprise a certain vocal American subset with its accuracy, if they didn't mind finding it among epic fights about jizz and not-subtle cannibalism. After all, hell on earth isn't pretty, and Rogen and friends make no attempts to pretend it isn't. Smart viewers will realize that the punch line is that no one realized the apocalypse had happened because of Franco's raging party, which says a lot about our current frame of mind in relation to celebrity culture. We might all just be partying at James Franco’s.
[REVIEW] Man of Steel
I waited until now to post this review because it is spoiler-heavy and I am hoping that if you wanted to see it, you will have already done so. It's still in theaters though, so if this changes your mind, you still have the opportunity to enjoy it on the big screen.
Full disclosure: Many critics of Man of Steel are discrediting it based on comparisons to Richard Donner’s 1978 version instead of assessing this iteration on its own merits. Having never grown up with Superman myself (the films nor the comics), I am assessing Zach Snyder’s latest version on the strength of discussion, what I know to be fundamental to Kal El through pop culture, and this film only. If you want comparisons to the comics or the original film, you will not find it here because I am not qualified to do so.
MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for MAN OF STEEL and CHRONICLE; minor ones for the TV show LOST.
- - -
My first reaction after walking out of the theater was confusion. I genuinely couldn’t tell if I loved Man of Steel or was disappointed in what I had just seen – a rare situation for me. I’ve since realized that my reaction is actually a reflection of the film itself: a mix of brilliant and cliché; earned emotional moments and wished-for ones; genuine character development and overwrought, self-indulgent action. Simply, the movie is uneven. Man of Steel is a spectacle, yes – beautifully shot in some places (while the CGI is lacking in others) – that attempts to say something profound as well. In some places, it does. As 2 hours and 20 minutes of story came to a close and the title card dramatically flashed (for the first time, since there were no opening credits), the obvious expected response was to be wowed. I wanted to feel as blown away as Hans Zimmer’s gorgeous score indicated I should. I wanted to have the same feeling that the 3-minute trailer gave me: a slow, steady build of hope rising from Krypton’s ashes and Clark’s inevitable inner conflict, punctuated by those deep, aching, rolling drums. I really wanted to go for that ride, because Superman is unlike any other superhero.
Kal El is not biologically human. Therein lies the entire dramatic arc and appeal of his story. To some extent, he must be humanized; he grew up in Kansas with human parents among the human race, and therefore possesses “human” values and morals (if there is such a universal thing). In Man of Steel, his earthly father Jonathan Kent foresees that Clark will one day have to choose what kind of man to be, and stand before the human race no matter what kind of moral character he chooses to embrace, either as dictator or protector. Pa Kent knows first hand – at least intellectually – that humanity will one day be at the mercy of this boy who has yet to discover his full strength. He also knows that Clark must choose this path for himself with the understanding that just because he can beat someone, doesn’t mean that he should. Restraint. Mercy. Crucially, Kal El’s humanity must exist in tension with the fact that he is, to some extent, pretending. He must always be capable and mindful of both. The temptation of directors and other storytellers is to overemphasize the human qualities because we are human ourselves. We are biased. This crosses a subtle but necessary line in the pursuit of relateability: Kal El’s inhumanity is also essential and must remain intact; otherwise his restraint, mercy, and self-control are rendered meaningless.
Zach Snyder did not strip Superman of his need to find balance. He chose to tell Kal’s emotional story against the backdrop of a literal bridge between two worlds: the Codex. Much like Lost’s simultaneous exploration of physical mystery and character arc (where the characters won out), Man of Steel could feel disappointing if the viewer understands the Codex to be the point of this whole exercise. Rather than biologically serve as a bridge between two civilizations, Clark defeats his enemy and saves earth’s inhabitants from extinction-via-terraforming. There is a clarifying moment where Zod reveals why he is so hellbent on perpetuating his own race at the expense of another: as a genetically engineered soldier tasked with Krypton’s protection, he loses his coded raison d’être should its civilization fail. Two things are presented in this moment. First, it is obvious that the fight that follows is kill-or-be-killed; and second, it is implied that Zod being engineered (and therefore apparently incapable of choice) makes him less “human,” i.e. less worthy of being spared. The audience, at least, is supposed to feel that when Superman inevitably kills him, it’s okay because Zod never would have stopped trying to destroy earth. Likewise, when Zod proves equal to Superman in every way (flight, strength, senses, eye-lasers) and begins zeroing in on a nearby family to mock Kal El’s attachment to humans, we are meant to say, “Well sure, Superman HAD to kill him because there was no other way.” Clark is sufficiently conflicted about killing Zod – he hesitates until the last possible second, wails afterward in sadness, and lets Lois hold him like a mother might comfort a child – and thus is borne our “gritty” Superman. But is this a fundamental violation of Superman’s character?
I don’t believe it is. Calling back to the earlier advice of his father, this is the moment that Clark becomes a man. Or rather, the moment Kal becomes Superman. Jonathan advised Clark never to reveal his true self – even if it meant letting a school bus full of kids die – because the world wouldn’t know what to do with that information. He advised Clark not to retaliate when a group of boys bullied him, instead urging him to ask where that feeling originated. “Will that make you feel better?” he asked, not antagonistically, but pragmatically. The truth is that in this adaptation, Jonathan Kent was well-meaning but ultimately driven by fear. There is an undercurrent of shame in his motivations that causes Clark to doubt himself, his gifts, and whether they could ever be used in the right way or at all (which kept happening anyway, as Lois accurately surmised). Clark’s decision to kill Zod was especially poignant because it meant ending a life and doing it in a way that potentially disappointed the memory of his father. But more than that, it signaled a transition.
Narratively, the destruction of the city didn’t violate Superman’s character because it was consistent with the internal struggle set in motion by Jonathan’s constant urging to be restrained. Morally, it occurred at the hands of Zod while Clark was clearly still working to understand the full strength of his own power; he was forced into a fight for which he was barely ready. Several scenes show Clark outmatched to a rather frightening degree; he spent a lifetime trying to downplay his strengths while Zod could quickly adopt new skills with relative ease thanks to his warrior identity.
I was reminded of the final fight in Chronicle where Matt is forced to chase Andrew around the city (with similar if smaller destructive results), clearly not wanting to fight but pushing the limits of his abilities because he had to. In the end, it’s all he can do to keep up with Andrew; the audience understands that it would be unreasonable to expect that Matt could simultaneously stop the villain while containing all resulting destruction. He rose to an occasion; in no way did he seek it. Clark and Matt are psychologically similar – neither understands the powers they aquire; as far as they both know, they’re just people with weird talents that require a special level of responsibility. The difference is that Matt, being a brand new character, could be seen for what he is while Clark is always seen by the audience looking backwards through the lens of what he becomes. There is a certain level of impatience for him to arrive at “Superman” so we can have our hero and watch him do cool things and save the world. What we seem to overlook is that Clark is the real Kal-El; Superman is a persona.
I watched this movie three times to analyze the last third of the film – specifically the fight between Clark and Zod. Though many were happy to conclude that the action was repetitive and overwhelming, I knew there was some subtlety being overshadowed by the action itself. The fact is that each conflict built logically from the last in accordance with Zod’s physical abilities and desperation. Faora stepped in when Zod lost the “Main Street” battle; Zod recovered and came back with the World Engine; and Clark was forced to take out Zod in a final hand-to-hand fight.
The escalation of conflict was always leading back to Clark. Even more importantly, it paralleled Clark’s inevitable journey towards acceptance of his identity. All of the hesitation, passivity, and introspection from our hero (that some claim made for an inactive protagonist, which I happen to disagree with) was essential to Clark’s transformation. His conflicted nature signaled his unwillingness to kill and his unwillingness to let people die if he could help it; killing Zod was necessary in the situation and was the culmination of his entire search for balance. Does this mean that during that particular fight, Clark couldn’t rescue every single person who might end up as collateral damage? Yes. But Clark’s transformation from reluctant and reactive to willing and proactive gives the filmmakers a good narrative incentive for Clark to adopt a policy of “no killing” (should they choose to go that way) moving forward.
Man of Steel is still a flawed film, but there’s more going on beneath the flashy surface than one viewing would allow you to believe. Most of all, it’s a great starting point for the inevitable franchise (much the way Batman Begins got the ball rolling for The Dark Knight). It took three viewings, but ultimately Man of Steel was everything I wanted it to be.
The TV Break-up Diet
So I'm gonna get personal for a minute, if you don't mind.
Breaking up is hard to do and we all know it. My chosen method of coping is to get outside the influence of my own thoughts for a while by binge-watching TV shows. It’s soothing to be able to care about someone else’s (fake) life for a while, especially if a series or season has wrapped and you can depend on minimal closure – something not always available in real life. And this might be inadvisable, (I believe they call it emotional transference?) but I also feel better when big life problems get sorted out, villains get what’s coming to them, and heroes live to see another day.
But I don’t need to tell you why TV is awesome.
My most recent break up hit me hard, you guys. Like, real hard. It was years of investment down the drain, thousands of tiny memories that suddenly hurt, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. It turns out that the guy was a bit of an asshole. HOWEVER, it was hard (read: impossible) to see any of this stuff objectively right after it happened. Like I said before, it was necessary to shut off the old noodle. You know how TV essentially shuts off the active beta waves in your brain and essentially puts you in a state of meditation? And how it transfers activity away from the centers that process critical thinking? Well, that was exacty what I wanted. Fortunately, it was this state that also allowed me to gain some distance from the immediacy of the painful events and begin to move on.
I also noticed, completely unexpectedly, that being in this receptive state allowed me to hear little truths. Beyond the catharsis of seeing closed story arcs and justice (which I consider to be truthful within the worlds they inhabit), I started noticing character parallels. I noticed that I could see flaws or pick up on communication cues that I couldn’t in real life, and immediately asked myself how I responded to them (or how I wanted my favorite character to respond to them). I took mental notes about what healthy reationships look like, what is toxic in relationships, and what it looks like to have confidence or healthy self-talk.
I know, BO-RING. But it’s not. It’s like… emotional wellbeing is exciting. Seriously. I’m tired of games, pain, manipulation, secrets, and all of the confusion that goes with them. So, for your heath, I present my TV Break Up Diet (your results may vary).
I feel I should mention that this list is not a recommendation per se. It’s very specific to my situation and what spoke to me at the time I needed it. And not a single one of these shows was something I started watching to find truth; I started watching… well, I’ll explain below. Suffice to say, I was surprised by what turned up in the following, but I am very grateful that it did.