Tuesday, May 08, 2007

. . . Yeah.

Nothing quite like having your internet out for the better part of a week. Especially when you had been meaning to get a lot of work done over the weekend and you just spent your days sitting around with steam pouring out of your ears. And then it gets fixed... and breaks again, courtesy of a totally gratuitous twenty-second power outage on Sunday morning. Lovely!

I have voice over IP through Vonage, so when the internet goes out, my phone goes out too. And I don't own a cell-phone, so even just calling the cable company to bitch requires hoofing it to the pay phone on the corner. However did our ancestors get by with smoke signals and tin-can and string operations?

Has anyone heard Love of Diagrams? I can't decide which they are cribbing from more blatantly: the Pixies or Sleater-Kinney. You could make a case for either. Of course, neither are necessarily bad bands to crib from, and at least based on their initial Love of Diagrams EP, they do a good job of putting these influences to good use. But, man, this is pretty damn blatant all the same.

Thoughts on Spider-Man 3:

- My first thought upon seeing the movie was something to the effect that international capitalism as a system is entirely inimicable to the human imagination. I mean, you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger example of a global entertainment phenomenon than the Spider-Man films. It's impossible to watch a movie like this without thinking of just how much money has been spent to create these films and how much money is made in the consumption of these films and associated merchandise. And even with all that money they can't seem to write a script that holds water. I knew it before but it's a point that exists to be reiterated: movie people just aren't that bright. The smart people either leave the industry or move to the fringes, because you can't stay at the heart of that animal and still be considered smart by any means. The vested interests involved in a production like Spider-Man conspire to strangle all but the most vestigial wit and intelligence from the proceedings, and this dearth of imagination is passed on to the consumer. We as a society reap the benefits when the imaginations of the body politic are atrophied beyond the point of no return. It's a spiral of ever diminishing returns.

- I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Spider-Man we see in the movies is a criminal bowdlerization of the Spider-Man on the comics page. It doesn't really have anything to do with the surface qualities, which are actually pretty well approximated onscreen, but the real heart of the character. Where's the mordant wit that Lee and Ditko used so well? The slapstick of Spider-Man, ultimately the most light-hearted superhero, despite his melancholy secret identity? Spider-Man works best on the small-scale, with his adventures taken in the context of moralistic passion play or breathless soap opera - not grand, epic heroism. Circumstances exist to deflate both Peter Parker and Spider-Man's pretensions, and the movies, by placing Spider-Man in a solitary universe, miss this crucial point. There aren't many superheroes who really benefit from the concept of a shared universe as much as Spider-Man: in order to really appreciate Spider-Man, you have to be able to place Peter Parker in a context where he just really isn't that special, and he has to work hard for his place in the sun. In the comics, he's an outlaw in comparison to the Fantastic Four or the Avengers, he's nowhere near as powerful as the Hulk or Thor, he lacks the self-confidence of Captain America, the righteous mission of the X-Men, the ruthless efficiency of the Punisher or Ghost Rider. He's special because he's the most average of "super" heroes, and without at least the subtext of existing in a shared universe, that impetus is gone. If Spider-Man is the big guy on the block - as he is in the movie universe - it's hard to really get at the heart of a character insecure enough to try and join the Fantastic Four for a paycheck.

- I have to admit I didn't pay much attention to the criticism that Tobey McGuire couldn't act - it never really jumped out at me as a particular weakness of the films. Maybe I just blocked it from my memory? Because, wow, he was horrid in this movie. It doesn't help that he still looks like he's thirteen. He either has this stupid look on his face like he's drunk or, when he's trying to be "sad", he looks like he's about to pass gas.

- Sam Raimi is the most tirelessly generic filmmaker working today. He's certainly flexible, but his overarching lack of style comes across as merely utilitarian. Say what you will about the Lord of the Rings films - and I still believe they missed the mark by a country mile - Peter Jackson definitely used to the almost unprecedented opportunity to create a distinctive, uniquely epic style. He earned his Oscar, even if the movies themselves were nowhere near as good as the attention to craft that distinguished them. Raimi, on the other hand, is simply boring. He has no style other than simply telling his story in the most effective and unambiguous manner possible. This may seem like a compliment from a certain formalist point of view, but really, the movies lack anything even remotely resembling a coherent aesthetic. Add to this the overexposed primary colors which permeate every single shot, and you've got a franchise that goes out of its way to look like a video-game. Dreadful, and certainly a far cry from the German Expressionism of Ditko's run, Romita's street-level pop-art approach or even McFarlane's neo-Gothic grotesque exaggeration.

- The screenwriting is so ruthlessly schematic and utilitarian that watching a Spider-Man film makes me want to go scrub my brain with steel wool afterwards. There's plot-based storytelling, and then there's screenwriting as the manipulation of action figures, wherein every character exists only so much as they can propel the plot forward incrementally. Obviously a big-budget action film is not going to be a character-driven study in mood. But there's too much plot and too many characters for the amount of time we're given. The screenplay is so jerky that I practically got whiplash from trying to keep track of every plot thread, and spent half the film calculating the precise coordinates of the B, C and D plots. Not perhaps the wholly transporting effect the filmmakers were going for.

- Giving the Sandman a backstory totally undercuts the character. He's one of Ditko's best villains: a gruesome gimmick wrapped around a relentlessly anti-social archtype. Obviously, the movies deviated from any kind of adherance to the Lee / Ditko model a long time ago - the violence they perpetrated on Doctor Octopus should be the subject of criminal prosecution - but the Sandman, especially, is ruined by the attempts at empathy.

- The less said about the emendations to Spider-Man's origins the better.

- I can't be the only one who was thinking throughout the film that Mary Jane was really much less appealing a prospect than Gwen Stacy? The Gwen Stacy in the film seems almost exactly who Mary Jane's character was initially conceived as. It's hard not to be repulsed by Mary Jane's dishwater-tears-and-hairshirt attitude - the lack of chemistry between Mary Jane and Peter Parker can't help but leave the audience wondering just why the hell they stick together through all this crap. Because, honestly, neither of them seem to like each other very much other than the fact that he used to get a boner watching her undress next door.

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