does this happen to people all the time?

I was driving into the sun. I couldn't see the signals without nearly blocking them out with my hand. There were dark streaks on the pavement--those must've been people. Those driving towards me, I realized, would never guess that those of us driving the other way were nearly blinded. To them, we just looked exceptionally well-lit. I slowed down, afraid I would run into one of them. I wished for sunglasses, and wondered why is the light like this in winter?

I'm becoming convinced that "it's always darkest before the light" is a convenient distortion. Isn't it always lightest when it's darkest? Fall kills all the leaves, and they glow warmly in the cold before dropping off entirely, removing all obscurity but the bare limbs. Whenever I go outside it's pure glare--the cars are white flares, even the nearest mountains are nearly the color of the sky. If it snows, the ground becomes painful to look at.

I couldn't see the speedometer because it was all green. When I finally turned off from that street perfectly aligned with the sun and arrived at my brother's house, everything was still green, as it is, as if the leaves are haunting us (it's all about the trees, clearly). But it would sound strange to mention after-images. What can one say but hello?

27 November 2013

Ender's Tears

"Ender? What kind of a name is that?" It's a question with the ring of a margin note, like the rest of this script. There's a boot camp for kids in the sky, and Harrison Ford (Colonel Graff) and Viola Davis (Major Anderson) occupy its panoptic center, but it feels more like the writers' room. When Anderson first meets Ender, she informs Graff "he has a complex response to authority. He doesn't want to displease the stern father figure [Graff]."

She has also installed a game on Ender's military-issue iPad called "Mind Game," for which she argues "we need a way to monitor his emotional state." Graff, true to his scarily on the nose role of Stern Father Figure, says "I don't care how he's feeling--I need to start toughening him up." He's doubly wrong: We do need a way to monitor Ender's emotional state.

Though he really just has two: aggression and remorse. The sibling psychodrama of this is skimmed over--he just makes one remark about how he has to "balance" the emotional excesses of his brother and sister (the brother is basically a sociopath, the sister has too much empathy). He seems awfully free of delusions about the difference between himself and his siblings. I shouldn't expect too much of this movie, but May We Be Forgiven does this better.

Anyway, he beats up bullies and then feels bad about it. When this pattern escalates to wiping out an entire alien species, he's devastated. Given the relative timeliness of the release (there are drone pilots and some heavily 9/11-flavored posters that say "never forget"), the horror of actually annihilating another race by preemptive strike is not a bad statement at all. But--maybe because this is a film with a cast of children, and the producers were therefore uncomfortable with anything too disturbing--the movie goes on to include the redemptive beginning of the next book, so that we might be released from the gravity of annihilating the other. Ender realizes that there's still an alien queen alive, and goes to find her. Whereupon he cries, and she caresses his tears. She bestows her only egg on him so that he can "travel the universe" on a heroic mission to find the egg a home. The story gets deprived of meaning because it all becomes merely something to provide meaning to his character.

On Downton Abbey a husband learns that his wife was raped and he assures her "no, no, you're more precious to me because of what has happened to you." It's not quite the same thing, but Ender's Game is at least half as gross. The important thing, apparently, isn't that an ethics includes others (as would be appropriate in a story that explores the nature of empathy), but the depth of feeling one has for their suffering. Ender is that bleeding heart who reads about starving children in Africa, feels terrible, and writes a check. The movie would have it that the problem with tyrants (like Graff) isn't the way they understand the world outside of themselves, but their heartlessness.

In other words, Ender is a subject of true feeling. I suppose this isn't a surprising way for a movie to humanize a character from a novel. I don't remember reading Ender being dependant on likeability. Granted, I don't remember the novel all that well, because I read it when I was a teenager. But I remember it being more disturbing. What happened at the school was far nastier than the fairly normal boarding school antics that made it to the movie, and Ender himself was nastier. At times I felt like I was watching an inspirational sports film. Hooray, Ender's team of misfits win through ingenuity, leadership, and team spirit! The only hint of Ender's intense ruthlessness here is when, confronted with the unwinnable Mind Game, he gnaws out the game proctor's eye socket. (He's a mouse, and the proctor is a computer construct.)

The adults are far less convincing than the children. Viola Davis seems bored. Ben Kingsley as Mysterious Guru is the worst. At least Harrison Ford has those wonderful ears, which preempt his face in expression.

19 November 2013

Thor: The Jumpy World

The main thing about Thor is: he jumps. Like a yellow lab tethered to a stick, he's flung as much as he flings his hammer--an object of which he "will try to be worthy." I have a sketchy feeling there's something reversed about that, but I'm certain that villains stop thrown objects. Hence the hero's motivating envy, because his life is all topsy-turvy. Thor hops between planets more impulsively than we hop between countries. He appears behind a woman with a magical umbrella to shelter her from the storm that follows him around (a bit troubling, I know). He, ahem, crosses stars to save the damsel he sneaks up on. His brother, the ur-trickster, is no help. It's not even clear the writers know what he wants.

Meanwhile, what kind of story is Thor in? At first I thought (with glee) he was in a princess plot. His stern, battle-scarred father (so stern he has to speak in tedious implicatives to say anything kind) wants him to have a practical marriage to the warrior princess (an obvious choice, as she appears to be the only female warrior in the nine realms, and indeed, one of two non-mortal females). But he doesn't love her, daddy. Sadly that is not the story. There is a kind of metaphorical rape-revenge plot, which seems totally thoughtless. Jane gets unwillingly invaded by a malevolent liquid called "the ether," which makes her faint, turns her eyes black, and violently dispatches anyone who tries to touch her other than Thor. For half the movie she's just wandering around asking "how do I get it out of me?" Once the evil elf man sucks it out of her, somehow it becomes power to wield instead of burden to bear. Hm.

Is that the story? There's also a caper. The gang of vaguely recognizable warrior-buddies rescue Jane, free Loki, and dash off through Loki's secret passage. On the way there, one of the gang turns it into a pirate movie for five seconds, swinging by rope from one ship to another. There's also a few minutes of Star Wars, all pwee-pwee dogfight and destructive sperm trying to enter a well-protected sphere. And some grave Peter Jacksonesque mythological backstory, complete with CGI battles with elves. By the way, about the ether, Thor tells power-hungry Loki "you cannot wield it."

Fittingly, the overarching plot becomes in the end about the colliding of worlds. Things fly wily-nilly in and out of portals. Thor is in his element, jumping around blind trying to stop bad things. In this case, he must stop the elf from bringing about that venerable standby of diabolic plots: the destruction of the universe. This vampirically pale man has plunged his dagger-like ship smack in the middle of Greenwich, like a burning cross, or a to-scale Google Earth pin. Because with a flourish lifted from Ancient Aliens wingnuttery, all the great wonders of the world point to Greenwich. All the portals float overhead there, variously inbibing and disgorging villain, henchmen, hero, sidekicks. It does seem the logical aesthetic climax of such a mishmash of tones and genres. It felt much like a firework: a bunch of sparkles and pops, accompanied by a concussive bang and a dispersal of glowy bits.

To be honest, I would prefer the barriers between worlds didn't collapse. Thor and Jane are more bearable when they can't reach each other. The pining shakes them up a bit, and for that short moment they have pathos, even if it can only be signified by a black cloak or a half-hearted date. When they meet, the instant affection runs an iron over them. I think this long distance thing is working just fine for them.

17 November 2013

Enough Said

The title gives the impression of a movie fed up with speech. And its dialogue feels driven by pity for speaking. There are few lines whose comedy is seperable from the empathetic cringe they induce. But are words really the issue?

The warp of the movie is awkwardness, the weft, aggression. When Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) blurts something blunt, she gives a shot of color to a surprisingly drab California cloth of mildly painful fake warmth. The pain is nothing more fantastical than everyday interpersonal drain--that seemingly impossible rule that, contrary to Paul McCartney's maxim, the love you take is just a little bit less than the love you make. As a messuse, Eva gives the strength of her hands and in return she puts up with her clients' unwelcome intimacy. They babble, they groan, they have bad breath, they don't offer to help her with her massage table up two flights of stairs. The debt is repaid in money, as it tends to be. The math may not work, but it has to.

(One needs a hand massage to give a hand massage.)

More than a decade later, I still remember Ben Bova's Mars for the dust. It got into everything. Well-marinated in their own granular atmosphere, these are not characters that connect. The closeness of Eva and Albert's (James Gandolfini) dates is just close mutual scrutiny, with a bit of irony to make the lines they're drawing around each other bearably sketchy. Their flirting is somehow composed of anti-play, that substance that can be found in children's assessments of their peers.

Throw a few of these miserable couples together, and we get an exchange of cheery bile (a dinner party). Every pet peeve is aired; everyone lives up to their cariacature.

But Enough Said performs a jaw-dropping feat of instrumental delusion. I have too strong a desire for truth-telling, so I was revolted, but I have to congratulate the movie's one act of imagination. It might live, after all. Relationships are only hard because they can be "poisoned" by too much critical talk. It's true that once criticism gets rolling, it's hard to stop, but here there's a convenient scapegoat: Albert's ex wife, who has aired everything she couldn't stand about him. It's perfect for Eva. She gets an actual person on whom to offload all her negativity. She doesn't have to partition herself.

7 November 2013