November 18, 2017

Thoughts on Justice League

I'm with the majority viewpoint on the DCEU: Wonder Woman was amazing and everything else before that has either been bad or awful or insultingly lame, and which movies coincide with which descriptive change depending on my mood, so suffice it to say I am not the biggest DCEU fan out there. Which is a real shame because I absolutely love the DC lore, the comics, and especially the DC Animated Universe by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini which was my introduction to comics and superheroes in general. I have a great love for the animated universe and tend to hold other iterations of the League and its origin story up to that version of it. Which might be unfair, but I only do that because the Justice League Unlimited series managed to capture perfectly what these heroes are about and what the Justice League itself stands for.

Going into this movie, then, my expectations were both very low and very high. I wanted this to recapture in some way the spark of genius that the DCAU managed consistently, while also recognizing the majority-poor company it kept in its own franchise. I went in with severe reservations, so imagine my surprise when I walked out of there thoroughly pleased with what I saw.

This movie is not a good movie, but it's a fun movie, the kind of fun this franchise as a whole has been missing. The comedy moments help, but it's more about those little nuggets of character introspection and synthesizing of their core ideas into little scenes that help make this movie float for me. Batman's line to the Flash, "save one person, then you'll know what to do" really captures for me not only who Batman is but what being a hero is too, that it's not just about stopping the bad guys but helping the good guys and saving people. And this movie has sprinklings of this kind of optimism throughout which helps to distract from what really doesn't work.

The character interactions are Justice League's strongest points; the one-liners mostly land, the conflicting personalities are very much there, but beyond that this does recapture for me what this team of heroes is supposed to be, the first line of defense for humanity. And having the discussions about that hinge on the death of Superman and what that death has meant for these heroes was very good. I finally felt like I was watching a movie about the Superman that we all know and love or at least know or at least are aware of rather than the walking tree that's been in two of these DCEU things so far. Superman in this movie is probably one of the best versions of the character we've gotten in live action. He has that boyscout charm that does feel a bit dated now, but also an aloofness that really pushes him forward into this world in a great way, an attitude about him that resonates with the core aspects of the character, hope and justice. Also, and this is just an aesthetic thing but I feel it worth mentioning, they finally got his costume and cape the right shades of blue and red!! Thank god! After all the color-starvation of the other Snyder DC movies, this was a joy to watch on screen.

The weaknesses of this movie are many, but I think they can be boiled down to three. The villain sucks, the external plot is very simple and not in sync with the internal character conflicts and explorations, and it feels overstuffed and simultaneously vacuous at the same time. DC has had some amazing villains, the Justice League alone has a pretty kick-ass rogues gallery. Steppenwolf is a difficult villain to do because he's not really a character, he's all muscle meant as a prelude for Darkseid. Moreover, a lot of the Darkseid/Apokolips stuff is really meant to be an external means of exploring the internal character of Superman. So having all that dumped into this movie, where Superman isn't the main focus and doesn't even have much to say on the matter when he does show up, it all just feels very unfinished and uncommunicative. I don't get why they went with this villain.

Tied in with that is the overall external plot of the film. It's simple, which is fine if it means we get as little screen time devoted to it as possible to leave room for exploring the character stuff. Well strap in because the first half-hour of this movie feels like an hour and it's almost all plot-related stuff. Very mundane, very plodding. The good guys end up having to stop a bad guy and they do. But it all feels very out of step with the internal character drama that's going on right alongside it; the quips feel out of place in the climax, and Superman's presence totally didn't jive with me in the final act. Having apocalyptic armageddon happening all around you only to have the guy with the bright red cape show up with a smile just feels off. It's an external plot that is begging for some internal juice, but the juice they do have isn't the right flavor. (No, I don't know what that really means either.)

Finally, the runtime. Now, DCEU movies have had a serious problem of being overlong, so in that respect this movie is such a breath of fresh air! Clocking in at just under two hours, this has the brevity to feel light and quick once it picks up its feet, and that helps a lot. But I also will say that I think it could have used another twenty minutes just to explore more fully the character interactions and main themes they were trying to sprinkle into the movie. I'm sure there'll be a Snyder three-hour monstrosity that comes out, and if that's the case, I honestly wouldn't be opposed to watching it, especially if it's more scenes of characters talking instead of action.

Justice League is not great. It's obvious fan-service, and it knows it, a novelty film amongst a genre that was once niche and now hugely popular. It has awesome action, comic-book-novelty character beats throughout, and an easy moral message that is "superhero" in the best way. If you've been waiting for a fun representation of the DC superheroes that is also set in this amorphous Snyder-verse where no one wants to live, then this is your movie. If you're looking for a good movie with the DC heroes plugged into it, this won't work for you at all. But I didn't have high hopes for this and I walked out with a big grin on my face, so take that for what it's worth (probably very little because my tastes are weird).

November 12, 2017

Thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery

The fall finale just wrapped, so I figured I'd give my thoughts on the first season so far. This is all just off the top of my head (and what's been bubbling in my brain for the past few months) so take it for what it is.

I love this show so far! I've seen some criticisms of it, mostly aesthetic, other accusing this of not capturing the Trek of old. Well, I love the aesthetics for this, and I think it captures the spirit of the original series wonderfully with all the zany planets and cool aliens and moral messages that are baked into more episodes than not. It doesn't feel as pat as some of the other series came across either, it's all very genuine I feel. The episode where they send down an away team to survey that planet was like stepping back into a pair of old comfortable shoes with them actually doing some exploring and finding new life forms, it was all very competently well done. It's been years since we've had a Star Trek show on the small-screen, and although it's on our laptop screens this time instead of on TV, there is still a giddiness I get whenever I sit down to watch this. It does very much feel like I'm watching a show that will be historically significant in Trek fandom and perhaps beyond.

Discovery takes cues from all the previous Trek series--I get a distinct Deep Space Nine and Voyager feeling when I watch this show's action, but also have fond memories of Next Generation on the character front. And even with all this background being pulled along, the show does still manage to feel somewhat original and interesting, taking new spins on old ideas like the debate about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few, or the confrontation Burnham has with Georgiou in the pilot about mutinying against her. There's a legitimate tension there and in other spots in the show as well, and that's great because it keeps character conflict at the forefront or at least not on the back-burner for most of the runtime of any episode.

The cast and characters are solid. Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham brings a fresh presence to the Trek universe, and it's great that we get an actual POV character in Trek instead of the usual ensemble cast that, barring Deep Space Nine, never felt like they reached their fullest potential as people because they were all clamoring for space and solo episodes. Saru and Lorca are fine but don't do much for me, though Doug Jones does put a lot of heart into his role when he needs to, which is good to see. Anthony Rapp as Stamets still hasn't grown on me, even with his spore-drive mutation kicking in, but again when the chips are down and emotions are called for, he does give it his all. I do wish they'd commit to rounding out his and Doctor Culber's romance instead of just kind of having it there in the background; neither character feels fleshed out enough to explore that fully yet, but still, it always feels tacked on. Speaking of tacked on, man, how 'bout that Tyler character. God, what a White Guy eyesore. This character has very little to offer; even with his PTSD and trauma, this guy is just so wooden. I really dislike his romance with Burnham too; it's all so rushed. Mary Wiseman's Tilly is enjoyable though! Far from being the annoying sidekick I thought she would become after her introduction, she's probably how I would feel if I were serving on a starship, so that's cool. Everyone's clearly really excited to be on a show like this, and it shows through and through! There's a drive and energy here that keeps the show moving forward and buoyant in its quieter moments, and it's such a joy to watch.

The visuals are breathtaking! I haven't been this visually engaged with a Trek series since around season five or so of Deep Space Nine, but Discovery has a slick look that punches up the old Trek ship designs and star systems for the modern audience in a great way. The ship itself doesn't look great in a still photo, but when the camera is panning around it and it's in motion, man does it look cool! The sets are great too. They have a few Abrams-y lens-flares and take more cues from the reboot franchise than I'd like, but they also have a good spacious feel and I don't feel boxed in like I've felt when looking at, say, the sets of Voyager.

Every time I finish an episode, I'm left in great spirits! It's just outstanding to have a Star Trek TV show back on the airwaves again, especially since the last one didn't happen, and the one before that was Voyager, over twenty years ago. I am thrilled that Discovery is on the air and that it's getting back to the roots of Trek, being diverse in cast and large in ideas. I cannot wait to watch more!

November 4, 2017

The Gym

Over the past month I've started going to the gym on a regular basis.

I hate exercising. Or, more accurately, I hate the getting ready, the mental preparation I need to do when walking to the crudely angled brick building that is my school's gym, looking like it grew from some alien building blueprints next to all the other buildings at my school that have that typical classroom or library or dormitory layout; the gym is this weird labyrinth of angles and cuts of walls. And approaching it, I force myself to think about other things, as if to look at the building alone will dampen my abilities once inside, meager as they are anyway.

Once inside, it's the changing that I hate, that physical transition from school clothes to workout clothes that represents for me the fact that this is always going to be something separate from normalcy until it becomes normalcy And once I'm in my workout clothes, most of my identity is left in that changing room locker, because for the next hour I'm all numbers and numbness and random thoughts. My focus is on my body getting better or feeling something, which is not what I'm used to thinking about when I think about my body. The gym, when I go there, represents the antithesis to my normal train of thought regarding my body; the gym is there to help my body get in shape or stay healthy, while my normal regard for my body has been that it is not healthy, that it could stand to get in better shape.

I do stretches, two miles on the bike, two miles on the treadmill, then core stuff, and then cool-down stretches. The whole process takes about forty minutes. When on the bike or the treadmill, I listen to the audiobook for A Storm of Swords or  a playlist called RUN that I made. It has three songs on it, because there are only three songs that I like and listen to frequently enough to be familiar with that have a tempo fast enough for my feet to pedal or run in double time to the beat. My running is mechanical for the most part, but the treadmill helps me focus because it displays various numbers that make me feel good about myself and my progress: I've burned 100 calories and have completed a mile and a half; my session is half over as I pedal harder, watching the mile marker tick up faster and faster. And then I'm at two miles and I stop and look around, expecting something about the environment to have changed during my time on the bike; nothing has. So I go to the treadmill. And so on and so on.

Before starting at the gym a month ago, I hadn't exercised at all since high school, and after that first workout session with a friend who is way more into exercising and fitness than I am, my arms were sore for three days. Now, there's a physical satisfaction I get when I'm in the gym, like I can conquer the world after my workout, and that feels awesome. Petty, perhaps, but awesome. Exercising helps me feel mentally more put together afterwards, the physical exhaustion making room for a mental spur of energy, and that's great.

But still, the feeling of tiredness that I get when approaching the gym itself hasn't gone away. I think that's because I'm not seeing immediate physical results, so the futility sets in, and the anxieties over how I feel about my body start to needle their way into my thoughts too. It's interesting that a place that hinges on physical fitness and health can bring about thoughts of inadequacy and irrelevance. Or maybe that's just the current cultural context in which we live. I don't know.

Anyway, I'm exercising now, trying to stay healthy and all that. It's at least better than not doing anything.

October 28, 2017

On My Nightstand, In My Queue

This week was very long, but it did contain some highlights. Right now, I'm reading a book by Mike Scalise called The Brand New Catastrophe, a memoir about his being diagnosed with acromegaly and how he lives with it. It's a very funny book, which is part of the point; he came to my school to do a reading from this book and one of the things he stressed about it was that this was supposed to push back against overcoming narratives so common in memoirs about a person with illness or disability. And the memoir does just that and it's fantastic! Lots of laugh-out-loud moments in here. I'm really liking all the idiosyncrasies and just plain weird scenarios that happen to this guy or how he views things. It's a striking read, and the talk was good too. He talked about how he wanted to show the medical community as a peopled community, which is something that many recovery narratives tend to gloss over. The talk got me thinking a lot about disability studies and activism and how this memoir might fit into that or push against it and I'm still thinking about what kind of pedagogical moves this memoir could make. I always like going to on-campus events like this, where the English faculty bring in a writer and have them talk about their book; often these people aren't very high up on the author celebrity list but their work is amazing and their insights into the writing craft and such are clear and eye-opening. They always make me want to keep going with my own writing too, so that's cool.

I'm also reading the newest John Green book, Turtles All the Way Down. I've not been a fan of John Green at all, but I'd heard some buzz about this one from the disability activist and crip-studies communities so I thought I'd check it out. It's not really gripping me, but I appreciate what I am told is the very accurate narration of someone with OCD; that is something to be commended, to have this inner voice that sounds like what a disability feels like. I'll see where it goes--I've yet to cry when reading one of Green's books, but I'm told this one has quite the tearful ending.

So I've been reading those. I don't read for pleasure as often as I'd like anymore. I'm too busy with school or the Internet or ...well, yeah, mostly those two things I guess. It's kind of amazing how all-consuming the Internet can be. So when I do get to read something for fun, it's always this nice relaxing activity.

Speaking of the Internet, how 'bout that second season of Stranger Things! Binged that this weekend, and it was fun. Not as mindblowingly solid as the first season, but still good. I'm also watching the latest season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Not to talk it up too much, but THIS SHOW IS THE GREATEST THING EVER INVENTED BY THE HUMAN RACE. I love this show!! It's a musical, so that's an automatic win for me, but it's also this fascinating and surprisingly nuanced look into the patriarchy, feminism, what those two ideas mean in today's world, how we've commodified empowerment, and it centers on this great character with deep psychological issues that the show delves into with verve and I like it a lot! This third season is pushing the envelope with its deconstruction of commodified feminism and how society treats the neurodivergent; this latest episode was almost all fireworks and it was fantastic! Always love watching this one.

New Star Trek: Discovery airs tomorrow too. That's a show I'm enjoying a lot as well; it's a very different Star Trek show than we've had in past, but I do like the darker direction and the visuals on this thing are just outstanding! Every shot of the ship makes my eyes water; the effects are great. I like that each episode has in it at least one moment of moral dilemma discussion, most of which so far have been quite substantive. I like the main character, and if the theory that many are going with turns out to be true--that this show is an origin story for Section 31--well, I think my pants will explode. Even if it's not, just having Star Trek back on the small-screen is a joy! I hadn't ever really watched a Star Trek show in real-time; the closest I got to was Enterprise which we all know didn't happen, so tuning in every week to watch ostensible TV history happen gives me great joy!

That's all for me this week; I have some papers to write and a thesis to edit (my god), so I've got to run. And no, I still don't know how to end these things!

October 21, 2017

Thesis and The Final Year

I'm pretty much at the midway point in both the writing of my thesis (I have almost a full first rough draft), and my penultimate semester as an undergrad student! That's super exciting, and I'm absolutely loving it!

My classes are pretty good this semester. I'm taking a civic communications and media studies course in the Black freedom movement which has been fascinating. We look at African American speakers and authors from the antebellum period all the way to contemporary Black Lives Matter activists. It's been neat to read the speeches and secondary material on people like Henry Garnett, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisholm, Maria Stewart, and so forth, and (perhaps depressingly) this is the first class I've taken that's focussed exclusively on Black historical figures, which... y'know, really just kinda proves its own point right there. In addition to that class, I'm also taking an Early Black Literature course, which focusses on Black authors from the time of Slavery to Reconstruction. As you can imagine, these two classes taken side by side talk to each other a lot, and that's been a boon in terms of thinking academically about race, social death, agency, gender, and so forth. The professor for the literature course is outstanding, too! My third class is a philosophy of art course... I guess they can't all be winners. Seriously, this class is the least interesting course next to that anthropology class I took a year ago. Philosophy is challenging but not in the fun I-want-to-figure-it-out way, more in the please-for-the-love-of-God-get-to-the-point way; my cousin majoring in the subject makes a bit more sense now honestly ;). At least the professor is a hoot in class!

 My gender studies thesis is basically a literary analysis of Black Iris from a queer and feminist lens, arguing that violence as a form of identity legitimation should be thought about and written about more in works of fiction, and more broadly criticizing the utopian depictions of queerness in fiction and advocating for a more varied depiction of queer people in literature. So yeah, it's a bit of a mess, but hopefully it'll come together by the end of the semester. Might do with this what I did with my Buffy thesis a few years back and post it up here, but I don't know. The thesis class itself is pretty good. There are eight of us, and being that this is a gender studies thesis class and all of our topics are interdisciplinary and so varied, we get a lot of interesting conversations out of the period; I'm definitely thinking more about queer kinship, the environment, gender and family, than I normally would have thanks to the other people's topics in the class. And the instructor is good too; she's also Canadian, so y'know, that helps.

I'm liking this semester a lot, and I'm signing up for classes for next semester soon. I guess that'll be my last time doing that, which is kind of scary! I always thought of post-grad stuff as being far enough down the pipeline to be hazy at best, but now it's pretty much right on top of me, and to be honest I have no idea what I'm going to be doing after this besides a trip to Australia (which is a whole other post that I'll get to). For now, I'm focussing mostly on the present; when points like this in life come up, I'm usually one to not dwell on the future because then I feel like it's too immediate and the stress ramps up.

As for the blog, I think I'm going to keep things lite for now, I'd like to ease back into it. I have some thoughts about what I want to blog about, but I think weekly entries like this one will be good. I really hate writing with a fanbase in mind--I wrote with that mindset whenever i did reviews of stuff and I think that really hampered their quality. So if I do go back to giving my thoughts on movies or shows or whatever, I want them to come from me, not form the me that I assume other people are wanting to read, if that makes sense. So we'll see what happens.