Tag Archives: writing

Amazing, in a one-sided kind of way

Even with the way that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” phones in an attempt at deep characterization with its antagonists (Electro and Harry Osborne), it’s hard for me to see the movie as a failure.   Its being chalked up to that is more about it not being exponentially profitable, rather than its critical reception. But as much as I appreciate a big screen version of Spider-Man so close to the one in the comics, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” just isn’t as cohesive and thematically sound as its predecessor.

What shines through in the sequel is the buoyancy of a character whose life could easily be defined by tragedy. The Andrew Garfield iteration of Spider-Man has that in an extroverted way that’s thrilling to see in a live-action format. And between him and Emma Stone playing Gwen Stacy, they form the movie’s most successful dynamic — one that’s particularly refreshing in the framework of what Spider-Man movies have been, as Gwen is this amazing young woman who would have fallen in love with Peter Parker even if he had never become Spider-Man. It’s hard to the say the same for Mary Jane as written in the first “Spider-Man” film.

There’ve been a few great versions of Peter Parker outside of film (mostly animated), and a hallmark has been that Spider-Man, for all of his joking, is a character who genuinely tries to reason with any villain he can see some good in — or at least this is where some of his more interesting, endearing moments have come into play. Comics can feature a pretty black and white kind of world, and if all there is for Spider-Man to do is web indistinguishable thieves and beat nefariously one-dimensional super villains, that’s just not a solid platform for storytelling that speaks to the human condition.

The scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Spidey saves the life of Max Dillon (the future Electro as played by Jamie Foxx) is a solid attempt at making Spidey likeable, but after Max’s transformation — when Spider-Man is getting through to a pre-rampaging Electro until an overzealous cop sends him reeling — that’s it. Spider-Man doesn’t try to reason with him ever again, which isn’t the case with how he relates to the Lizard (who was the villain in the first film). Of course, Max is (a bit) more of a stranger than Dr. Curt Conners was to Peter, and there’s less of the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic.   But Max all too quickly becomes an embodiment of bitterness, with the reasons for this having been set up as minimally as possible: a balding black man with a comb-over (though that much was supposedly Jamie Foxx’s decision), someone with self-image issues who is obviously partly defined by frequently being ignored and powerless. Harry Osbourne (the movie’s other underdeveloped antagonist) can make an appeal to Max-as-Electro’s humanity, but Spidey can’t? After Max becomes Electro, Gwen is the only character who keeps cares the tiniest bit about who he was before that.

More than in any other Spider-Man movie, this Peter Parker has a chasm between his world and those of his antagonists. As affecting as the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy storyline is, it would have been even more so if more time had gone into developing both the antagonists and the idea that, as hard as he might try, Spider-Man can’t juggle everything. The movie’s script isn’t deep enough to show him trying.

Even coupled with that, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is still enjoyable thanks to Garfield, Stone and company. There’ve been rumors that Garfield will be replaced in whatever the next Spider-Man would be, and that’d be unfortunate. He’s already done a thoroughly great job with whatever material he was given. And as much as he’s a fan of the comics character, he’s a fan of the idea of Spider-Man, whom he said “maybe … represents the underdog and those marginalized, those who come up against great prejudice…”

(The source of that one quote:  http://collider.com/andrew-garfield-jamie-foxx-interview/ )

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lightness

Have you ever started a post and thought, Nah, this is really not substantial enough. (?) The idea that everything needs to have the utmost weight can be pretty counterproductive — at least when it comes to blogging, which in the long run seems to do well with the occasional sense of lightness.

So in the vein of lightness, this post is partly to show the cover of the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems. Dickinson’s poetry was, of course, extremely lighthearted. I think one of the original blurbs for this book was “In these pages, the glass is always half full … of delight!” And okay … probably not, though it isn’t at all uncommon for her writing to have this whimsical approach to wisdom — like, isn’t it funny to be wise in this particular world?

I was surprised by the kind of craftsmanship and design that went into the cover of something published in 1889. While this particular publication of her work featured tweaks to Dickinson’s poetry she didn’t sign off on, the cover really does evoke a sense of her poetry. Flowers that are a bit wilted, but hanging on.

I think she was a great writer, but I don’t think all of her poetry successfully communicates beyond herself (and not just because of the difference in vernacular from the late 1800s and now).  Some of her poems are probably a bit more tentative than others, and yet they’ve all been around long enough to be part of the canon and blindly esteemed as Literary. Apart from that, it’s pretty cool that someone can be a great writer and not always be great at creating work that clearly connects with people.

Sentimentality and the work of Shinichiro Watanabe

Some of Watanabe’s greatest influences are from American culture – the elements co-opted by ‘cool’ specifically, and shows like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo are often appreciated along that line. But I think this minimizes Watanabe’s particular kind of sentimentality, which in and of itself is sort of the opposite of cool. (Read more of my piece at Den of Geek: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/anime/30651/sentimentality-in-the-work-of-shinichiro-watanabe)

Tuning in to tune out

Original illustration by Robert Pinero.

Original illustration by Robert Pinero.

Commercials for a certain top of the line brand of headphones are my latest pet peeve.  Leave it to some of the most manufactured personas in music to capitalize on escapism by branding their product as its most vital “option” . . . And okay, while that is essentially what all branding is about, it’s always sad when something that used to be not so branded becomes heavily so.  Sad as watching as it happen to a cow’s butt (and I don’t even like cows).   There had to have been a time when sneakers were just sneakers.  Some brands were known for their relative quality, and some weren’t.  But then advertisers linked sneakers to professional athletes and their “god-like” quality of being victorious¸ and then, in the period after that, to fashion.  The wardrobe-matching potential of footwear and anything electronic/portable have obviously been a boon to their respective brands.

So the appeal of headphones is no longer just about music; it’s about music in the context of being surrounded by people, either to drown them out, or so they can notice the status-marker you have that happens to play music.

Lately I’ve had more sympathy for people who keep their heads glued to head- or smart phones in between everything — except for people who do such behind the wheel or while trying to cross the busiest of crosswalks.  If you’re not lucky, society hasn’t made getting to and from anything easy.  There’s less breathing room, less of everything, and the world asks more of you to get that.  (Always worth noting that note less of everything exists because of someone else’s greed.)

I was talking the other day to someone who suggested that, without smart phones, one would be actively trying to avoid making eye contact if you weren’t in a place you felt comfortable.  Some people are oddities wherever they go, and avoiding the awkward social component of that has to be appealing.  One of the reasons we listen to music, in the first place, is because it can make the world feels like it’s not such a mess … except for jazz, which some people maybe like because it’s a “brilliant” mess.  Yeesh, I say.

Anyway, if you’ve got headphones on, maybe you’re tuning in to something that makes the world seem less uphill.  Of course, people are also — and perhaps more frequently — trying to stay in tune with the latest flickering idol of a non-existent attention span, or validate their stupider tendencies.

Now they’ve got headphones perfect for the person who wants the world to be in sync with his or her own usually loud and abrasive soundtrack.  ‘Cause while someone may be disenfranchised from the things that society says really matter, one can loudly play music that suggests he or she is some kind of big wheel.

Ah, headphones, keeping you distracted from life — and depending on the brands you like, another stylish component of the image of the multi-media show that is “life” itself.

Quite proud of this

And you can be, too (well, of having read it).  An excerpt from my piece on Sleepy Hollow and diversity at the great Den of Geek: “What separates Sleepy Hollow from other shows? It doesn’t completely disavow the ethnic backgrounds of characters played by people of colour – and not in the Seth McFarlane way, where without different backgrounds and the general existence of women there would be no one to say ‘Ha ha, you’re ______’ about, thus eliminating a good percentage of the show’s comedic material…”

being liked

Pinero art

Pinero illustrative visual

The reception of words on a blog often seems to go hand and hand with what visual they accompany.  It’s natural that a visually appealing post would be a boost, but really, much like the average person looking someone else over, the likeability of any post is usually summed up in an instant.  Or, if your blog features a picture of you in which you’re attractive in any conventional sense, bonus points on the likeability.  Perhaps it should be said that liking any post so quickly is often a pretty thin version of the sentiment.  I’m not harping on human nature (too much), it’s just that as posts by some of my favorite bloggers decline or stop altogether, it reminds me that I like reading a blog when it’s sort of like the antithesis of reality TV (or some crappy indie movie): lots of great text, probably not too concerned with image, and easily passed over for lack of glamor.

What do I like in a blog?  Attempts to figure out the human condition, and not just the condition of the ones whose looks are idealized on TV, is key.  Good humor.  Funny dog stories (’cause there are no funny cats in real life — except, possibly, if you’re using sixties slang).  Also, the occasional entertaining whine session, though I guess that goes back to good humor and even a bit of the human condition criterion.

It’s an effort to keep up a good blog, in the first place.  And it seems especially so when it’s something done simply for its own sake.  As mentioned before, I don’t typically find a whole to relate to in most of the big journals on the web.  But I know that they pay their writers, and beyond myself (well, maybe a bit for myself), I wish there were comparable venues for those who write interesting cultural commentary outside of a coffee shop — or wherever else only has smiles for the presentably upwardly mobile.    Something to help more folks keep going.  To that end, I have to wish that there would be more likes for these folks as well.  As flimsy and slightly shallow as they can be, there can also be  a sight for sore eyes.

Sometimes, though, I have to wonder if it’s all just people preaching to a choir.  And maybe that’s the problem, everyone wants to see themselves in some group that never really challenges them.  That’s often where it’s easiest, but if you’ve managed to drag yourself away from TV to eke out a thoughtful post about  culture beyond gardens that no one seems to care about, thanks.  And if you made a garden interesting by writing about something more than how pretty it is, even more thanks.  When I’m not writing myself, I’ll be reading.

Mull Historical Society on City Awakenings

mullalbum‘Mull Historical Society’ is the sometimes moniker of Colin MacIntyre, a singer-songwriter from the Scottish island of Mull.  After three albums under his given name, he’s taken up ‘Mull’ again for his latest, City Awakenings.  One of the things I like about his music is a tendency to go for broke.  He was good enough to answer a few questions in this Words Away interview:        

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You wrote on your blog about being in a SoHo store, hearing one of your songs on the place’s radio feed, and how that made you feel closer to home.  Beyond home, would you say that your relationship to cities is somewhat mobile?  City lights, for instance, are probably most pronounced when you’re coming or going.   

I suppose hearing my song played in Soho NYC (as I was buying a hat) made me feel closer to home because whenever I connect with my music — no matter where I am — it reminds me of being the child in the bedroom, writing and recording my first compositions and that authenticity.  I recorded hundreds of songs in this way, learning and having fun with it. So that makes me feel like home — home as in what’s inside you, what makes you connect with your upbringing and the beginnings of becoming a songwriter, in my case. I’ve lived in cities since I was about 20, but my upbringing on the isle of Mull in the Hebrides never leaves me. It’s like a constant tap, a source of belonging. I do like the movement in cities — what I do is observe, that’s how I create — and there is more to observe in a city. I think going home from that kind of city environment for me then does make me appreciate the contrast with my home (Mull) even more so, and you do appreciate the beauty all over again. So I would say it is that which is more pronounced.

I first saw a city (Glasgow) at the age of 6, so coming to the city was memorable and that’s what the song ‘The Lights’ is about. The child leaving the bedroom, and opening up your senses to their attack / beauty / whatever else it is. That’s been my adulthood — trying to capture what is around me. It’s usually people.

Dreams seem to play an interesting role in your relationship to cities.  You dreamed about the city as a kid, and obviously you find your way to a few.  In “Must You Get Low,” ‘song-narrator you’ seems to sing about how the city gave you a sense of identity.  Dreams, and parts in them, can be written.  Is there an element of a city to you that’s always dream-like?

Yes, you can find the romance anywhere — even in the hustle of a city. I love ugly industrial city buildings. I used to drive to the dump in North Glasgow just to appreciate a particularly ugly pile of concrete; those journeys formed one of my early MHS b-sides, ‘Ugly Buildings Are Beautiful’. The song ‘Must You Get Low’ was my take on a city, in that it has a heart and a beat and personality much like we do. So the verses in the song were looking at my relationship and engagement with the city as just a small part of that pulse. Another part of the song (‘We write Dreams so what’s your part here’) was imagining an Orwellian group running the city’s subjects — controlling their lives (which was my original fiction in the song ‘Mull Historical Society’ of a group, in that case, controlling the island). The third element in the song (the choruses) is about a relationship of two people living in that city. This is sounding like some form of song maths in the explanation — but really it all comes from a spark, a feeling, something that touches me that makes me want to capture it. The romance, the city, its people. If I don’t capture it then I’ll lose it and a bit of me with it.

This is sounding like some form of song maths in the explanation — but really it all comes from a spark, a feeling, something that touches me that makes me want to capture it. The romance, the city, its people. If I don’t capture it then I’ll lose it and a bit of me with it.

How much of a city for you is in the parts that don’t look so great under some lights?

I suppose some of this is addressed above. I like to focus on small things, micro situations that hopefully tell a bigger, more universal story. I think that’s because I come from a small community — I’m drawn to the small things. In my experience as a writer you can only capture what moves and excites you as the writer and hope it subsequently resonates with somebody else. Cities are the things you witness; there is also ugly and obviously some things you witness are disturbing, but if it affects you (me) then you want to document it. So a city is a lot of things all under one roof: Glasgow, London & New York are the cities which most influenced ‘City Awakenings’ — people are people wherever they are. And the stories are usually the same. Things shouldn’t always look so great under the lights. A lot of inspiration for me comes from the darkness.

Things shouldn’t always look so great under the lights.

Across the board, who are some of the writers who’ve influenced your own work? 

Here’s some — in no real order: Philip Roth. Bob Dylan. Paul Simon. The Flaming Lips. Bach. Mercury Rev. David Bowie. Per Peterson. Raymond Carver. Marilynn Robinson. The Beatles. Lou Reed. Neil Young. Radiohead. Belle & Sebastian. Mozart. Children’s toy music boxes. Television.

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Resources:

mhsloss

The tangible form of the latest Mull Historical Society album is slated for stateside soonish from http://www.xtramilerecordings.com. You can find out much more about Colin and where to check his music out at his site.