Archive for June, 2011

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The World Still Spins Without You

June 21, 2011

Tomorrow it will have been one year since my father passed away. I don’t often talk about it because I never wanted to be “that guy” who made a big deal of it or let it define me. I think this has been accepted so I don’t think about that too often, even though that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it in general.

Though I always inject bits and bites of my own life into my writing, this was something I did not have any desire to show anyone. The first and only time I ever have committed this to ink was for an assignment in writing class in my last semester of college. I forget what the general theme was supposed to be, but my idea spiraled out of control and I ended up with a poem about what had happened nearly a year’s past. I think it made people uncomfortable; I don’t blame them for surmising I was a bit loopy. I realize nobody really knows how to react to it but me. I understand what I come from: a name that has been passed down for many, many generations, and I am the next in line. That’s something you can’t easily explain to everyone else.

Many people  proclaim their father is the strongest man alive; I was not exaggerating when I said mine was. He was wiry, yet he held up planks that supported the entire house’s frame. He performed physical feats I still cannot believe possible by a man of his age at 40 or 50 years, or his 5’11” frame.  He came from a past of physical excellence–documented in how oddly broad my shoulders are–and although the consistent bend and tear of life’s little problems did wear him down, he managed to smoke a pack of cigs every day and still do yardwork unheeded by the tar in his lungs. However, he was a computer programmer, first and foremost;  there from the very beginnings of Internet connections and the ascension of the Macintosh. He was, as I recall, the greatest source alive on how to fix any electronic component that existed. He took courses on things like that in college, but dropped out to pursue repairwork of hydraulic equipment and other mechanical things. A repairman never, ever entered our house, nor did any sort of plumber or electrician. Everything that had been installed or fixed or jostled with was his own handiwork. We once took apart an entire classic car and sold the pieces, one by one. When I was younger, I didn’t really appreciate the sweet science of it, and maybe I never will; but I do respect the level of finesse he had for these things. In the same way, I did suspect his own stark confusion with the things I had begun to write, the quirky, twisty things the family heir had begun to jot down. The bloodline was stocked with firefighters, engineers, and programmers–to be somewhat artistic and cerebral was probably a strange thing to see spawn from that group. Regardless, he did want me to do what he hadn’t done: finish school. I hated school. If I hadn’t promised him I’d see it through, I might have challenged it and dropped off near the tail-end. This was, ultimately, my only reason for getting any kind of degree.

I do feel regret that I could not talk to him one last time. I feel remorse that he was, for the most part, consumed by paranoia, disappointments, and rage towards a life that may have cheated him well beyond his fair share. I grew up fairly frightened of him, to be honest. His anger and torment at what I could not perceive when I was so young still stays with me, as I mentally remind myself to consistently play it cool, turn the other cheek, show mercy and reserve judgment. To enlist in his old angers and frustrations would be wrong; I do not wish to fall into what made him so crestfallen with the planet. And thus, I’ve become a much more easygoing person in the last 5 or so years, subscribing to the notion that your anger can potentially destroy your inhibitions towards happiness.

“Life sucks, and then you die,” he once uttered, en route to his many interviews after former juggernaut of programming, Merrill Lynch, made him a victim of massive layoffs. He had been promoted many moons ago, and things had been going well. But, corporate standards demand less workers, less pay, and so he found himself in the brushfire. I remember he said he would go to church every day in the city, in Manhattan, on his break. He claimed he had simply run out of places to walk to, which was a wholly heartbreaking thing in itself to hear. I don’t even know if he was particularly religious, or if he sought shelter somewhere, anywhere. It is hardly blamable, given the timeframe; he watched the Towers fall firsthand, days after presuming they were invincible and mirrorlike, capable of reflecting even God.  I wish I was smarter, or at least knew what I do now—doesn’t everyone? I could have said something instead of dreaming about the next goddamn Mario game.

A world of regrets is not my intention. I know that just because you remember the past doesn’t mean you have to carry it with you; the what-ifs and the have-nots weigh you down, break your spine, and eventually cripple the will to move onward. It is useless to regret things when they have come and gone. Instead, I do remember the good things. I remember the first time we cruised in the classic Jaguar he had just bought, which was the first time he put in his Jeff Beck CD, therefore cementing my love of music and all things classic rock. I still think of him every time I hear our favorite song from There And Back, “El Becko.” I recall the car shows we used to go to, watching the rockets engulf the track and taking pictures of it. I remember shooting crossbows, several fishing trips, a few desperate computer viruses we conquered, my first beer being a Coors Light (I cannot stand the taste of that shit now) and learning to care for our dogs. He wasn’t around as much for me as he could have been due to the high-end jobs he possessed when I was younger, so my memories are scattershot. But I do know he had good intentions, even if he struggled through inclinations to simply hate the world that had done him so much wrong, like his father before him had done.

I won’t guilt people by ending with “you better appreciate yore fatherz.” I don’t know your fathers, I don’t know the dynamics, etc. But I will say that what I understand to be most important is that happiness is deserved of everyone, and no one ought to think otherwise. To live in consistent anger and frustration is easy, but working past that takes a little bit of conviction. I wish my father had tried to understand that.
You can’t change people sometimes. You can’t change everything sometimes, and accepting that is crucial to making any kind of progress. And sometimes, there is a greater lesson still in realizing you can’t always effectively metabolize that revelation into something that helps—you can’t transfigure yourself in accordance to what needs to be done. Being fake does not help.
But there’s still that certain nagging instance that people do put up walls. They think they do not deserve good things. And that is perhaps the most difficult thing to realize of all, and that is probably the one most outstanding thing I’ve learned in one year’s passing. This is followed by the notion that time is never, ever wasted striving to make the world you live in a much better place. At the risk of sounding like an after-school special, I will counter my statement by admitting I do believe all happiness does originate from within self-reliance, self-respect, and overall doing what makes you happy. But beyond this, the best thing about realizing that is perhaps sharing that with others, because no life is worth living in sadness. Judge me all you want for sentimental shit; this is what I will always believe.

By disappearing, the world still spins without you; though I find my pace altered a bit.

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X-Men: First Class

June 10, 2011

I am a fan of the X-Men. The films as of the past few years? Not so much. And so, prepare for a very long review of the new X-Men film, as well as a little background behind what makes comic book movies trickle along so slowly in their genre.

I grew up on the 90’s TV series, which was one of the most well-done animated shows I’ve seen. They utilized the characters well, there was enough action to satiate your warped teenage brain, and there was a prevailing message of “they fear what they don’t understand” broadside the usual drama and interactions that you might expect from a secret faction of superpowered mutants. I won’t wax poetic, but—it worked. It took the classic Jim Lee lineup and did something fairly grounded in continuity, giving fans of the comic something truly fun to watch.

The films are a different story. It’s difficult to put a man in yellow spandex and spats and still take him seriously. This is pretty much the problem with all comic book adaptations: taking it seriously. However, the gothic, surreal Tim Burton Batman flicks and the Chris Nolan features have done exemplary jobs in showing us that comic books can indeed become a reality and not be completely silly, mainly by remembering to include the human, emotional aspect behind the leather and tights. A good example of this was Spider-Man: Spider-Man worked because the comic is, at heart, about a young man who is still maturing along with his powers and still has to worry about paying the rent in between bouts with megalomaniacal scientists. It was hard to fuck that up, though Spider-Man 3 did show us that with more comes less—that is, too many characters enjambed into one story causes a meltdown. So what happens when you have to cram an entire team into a single, 2 hour movie?

Ask anyone what their favorite X-Men film is, and they’ll almost always say X-Men 2. Sure, the first one was okay, but things really meshed together in X-Men 2. The focus of unity (I mean, it was in the damn subtitle: United) was the draw factor here, playing Magneto’s cards against the stolid Charles Xavier in a decisive match of wits and leadership. The issue of humanity’s capability to do harm or create life was the crux; things like Wolverine’s origins, Stryker’s own psionic son, and Nightcrawler’s battle with faith were admirable side-plots, as well. And the grim finale—the final sacrifice–reels in what I thought was a prevailing, almost spiritual journey. Though I still had major issues with how the writers handled X2 as yet another “Wolverine and Friends,” pushing aside Cyclops and Storm and a hammersmash of minor cameos, it was a fun story. There was a great deal of movement; I enjoyed it. I just hated that they minimized so many roles.  Why does everyone hate Cyclops? Read the comics. He’s an incredible personality and probably one of the strongest figureheads in the X-Men. He was, after all, part of the first class.

Not so in X-Men: First Class.  The writers were given free reign on this movie, totally throwing out the origin stories we’ve grown so accustomed to. I mean, the original films weren’t that faithful at all in the first place—which I forgive anyway, since it’s not going to follow the comic to a fine point. But more than ever, everything has been re-imagined from the rubble of the previous two dour efforts, practically only holding on to the one universal, all-important factor that must stay true no matter what if you want to do an X-Men film proper: This movie is about the emergence of mutantkind to the public eye; and it happens through the actions of Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier.
And in that respect, it succeeds. James McAvoy is brilliant, cocky, yet eternally wise as the young man who would transform from eccentric evolutionary professor to superpowers shepherd in the “war to come,” showing signs of growth emotionally and psionically as the stakes grow higher. Michael Fassbender takes the role of Magneto with, as Professor X says, a “ground between serenity and anger,” effectively becoming sympathetic at some points due to his horrendous childhood in the German invasions, yet cold and helplessly brutal to the flabby, undeveloped human race who have done him so much wrong. I didn’t think anyone could possibly fill Patrick Stewart and Ian McKlellan’s shoes, ever, but by God did these two guys pull it off beautifully.

So what about the plot? Well, I already told you—it’s mutantkind’s emergence in the USA, in the late 60’s. But of course, we want to see powers being thrown around, so we need a man to throw them at. That man is Sebastian Shaw, the energy-siphoning leader of the Hellfire Club in Nevada. Shaw, a bit of a delusional geneticist, wants to jumpstart the Cold War, and in the ensuing nuclear devastation become the new god among the mutations that emerge. Basically, survival of the fittest is his motive, and he’s a bit of a nutcase. If you’ve read the comics, you’ll know that this ideology was not beyond Shaw—but it wasn’t his forte, per se. This is something more in line for Mr. Sinister or Apocalypse, though I guess those two are a bit too otherworldly for a first film. Anyway, Kevin Bacon’s portrayal of Shaw is another great part to the movie. Bacon’s the kind of guy who just oozes raw menace and confidence in even the smallest strides; he was probably the only actor going in that I had absolutely no worries about. It’s Kevin Bacon;  he’s evil, he’s great.

Where does that leave us with, you know, the actual X-MEN themselves? It’s a team effort, right? So that means we’ll see the FIRST CLASS. Like Angel, Cyclops, Iceman…wait, nope. The choices of people like Banshee, Mystique, Havok, and Beast seem entirely random—and honestly, I thought they were, for the longest time. I still do, actually. I was boggled that Cyclops’ angrier, more destructive brother gets in the flick, as does Banshee. Honestly, I love Banshee and I think he is criminally underused even though he was part of the second-ever team, so I actually did like that he made it into this roster. There is a montage showing the recruitment of these youngsters around the globe which sort of gives you better insight into their personalities; but a big complaint people make about the film is that there simply is not enough development around some of them, relegating some team members to only a few attitude-affirming scenes and battles. I agree, but there’s no way the movie can possibly accomodate every single person with their own giant arc. Any X-Men movie, past or future, will suffer from this…trust me. From what does exist, though, it’s a hell of a lot better than the awful writing done for Storm, Rogue, and Cyke in the first X-men movies.

Herein lies my glaring criticism of this movie: time. There simply is not enough of it. The movie is, after all, perhaps 2 hours or less by my count, and there is a metric ton of material to chew on in that short span of time. I cannot go on to spoil anything major, but trust me when I say that some relationships and moments in the film feel as though they should have been developed far, far longer. I’m not entirely sure how long a few scenes were in “real time,” but I do believe that some of the decisions and judgments made could not possibly make sense in the span that the characters were given.  Practically every major issue one might have with this movie will probably be based on the concept that “this could not have been decided after only X days, or X weeks.”  I guess this is what the training montage was for, but we still have no idea how much time really has been passing us.
Another gripe I had was that the other villains (Azazel aka Nightcrawler’s Pappy, some weird Riptide waterpower guy, and January Jones’ breasts) are rather one-note henchman. However, I suppose you could say that about the villains in the other X-Flicks as well; just thank your lucky stars Mystique has been given substantial character boosts.
One of the last things I’ll mention that people have issues with is the concept of how the X-Men get their names. I won’t say anything more than this, but bear in mind that the method, although cheesy, is altogether more satisfying than a 40-year-old man running around calling himself Cyclops.

Overall, I’d say that First Class is a very enticing movie, even to people who have cursory knowledge of the superhero genre. The movie gives hints of a high-octane spy noir in some of Magneto’s early moments (which probably explains many people quickly naming Fassbender as a potential Bond lately) and even in the Cold War scenario. It gives interesting reasons for the quirks in comic books, the costumes, and the control of certain powers. It’s a blockbuster flick, sure; but it does have a great deal more style and substance in the approach of how superhumans lived and formed a clique for acceptance and justice. I liked this more than any of the other X-Men, and I might go so far as to say it is my favorite film in the Marvel canon. It’s not without its flaws, but I feel as though it’s a step in the right direction. It takes the core—Xavier and Magneto, their friendship, and their inherent conflicts—and makes them shine brightly, even in light of huge time constraints. It’s a good blend of classic, cheesy comic book drama, outstanding acting, decent action, and a relevant message all mixed well to the flavor of a warped espionage element.
8/10.

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How Do You Build Words?

June 9, 2011

I cannot describe architecture for the life of me. When it comes to strange, surrealist garbage, I am become the incinerator; I devour that stuff easy. But writing about the way a building feels or looks has never been my forte. Granted, I haven’t had to really do this for any story in the past, but now I’m coming up to that inevitable moment where I require a visually succinct image of where I’m going. In the same way my sense of direction is on a goddamn bender, I know how things should look in the architectural but I don’t necessarily know how to talk about it. And so, research had to be done.

Another half-finished story required the type of research I couldn’t easily accomplish: visiting a morgue and knowing everything about the process of the occupation. Thankfully, there exists the Internet and I was able to at least glean some preliminary explanations of what actually occurs there, though I suspect I need more material–hence, a half-finished story.
Lucky for me, I suppose, I’ve lived in NYC forever and I have a good grasp about what buildings I wanted to mesh together to form a godlike structure of classiness. I knew I wanted to use the Rockefeller Center as a reference, and of course I immediately thought of the Empire State Building. In the case of the skyscraper, I was more curious about its interior—the exterior would not be as important. After all, it’s what’s inside that counts.

For my first picture, I came across this one. I apologize I did not keep track of where the hell each picture is from; just trust me, it’s either the ESB or the Rock!

Now, I liked the overall shiny gloss of this; it conveys a sense of finesse to the place. I also liked how there was an initial description of the marble used in the hallway and the grandscale lobby, which gave me a sense of how to properly point out and give names to the material used in the fictional version of this passage. However, it looked too much like a bank to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the cramped quarters here, but….I envision something a bit less confined. Claustrophobic spaces, I find, heighten intensity and anxiety and carry a sense of dread in them. I was going for a theme of airiness; a space aloft by way of how relaxed the atmosphere was. I needed something wider.


This was a bit better: it conveys a different drama than the previous picture, and it also possesses the scenic view of the city I had dreamed up early in the writing process. The black, onyx floors have that waxy feel to them, refracting things to make them seem even more elegant or spacious. Did you know that Onyx isn’t how they spell the Pokemon? I was flabbergasted that it was not the first Google result until I realized it was spelled differently. I figure that the pleasant mesh of dark, refulgent onyx below crackling marble and a variety of statues would be a regal attire for this imaginary building. And as for statues:


I wanted something that gave the appearance of nobility, though not quite heroic. I wanted something that wept, and this was one of the first results from the previous searches through the material of both buildings. For all the grandeur in the location, I also wanted that sense of underlying menace, and the bowed heads provide this better than enclosed capacity.

For now, hammering out the details will be a tad easier, though much work has to be accomplished in the vein of meshing together all these ideas. If I was skilled at illustration perhaps it’d be a breeze to convert that into literary merit, but I can’t draw to save my life. I do feel that characters can also add a dimension against the scenery, breathing meaning into it by way of their walk, their talk, the shadows they cast. So, in that respect, I’m not worried. After all, the devil is a gentleman and his taste is impeccable.