Tag Archives: films

Thank You, Stan, For All Your Inspiration

From CNN Article

The prolific Stan Lee sadly passed away today at the age of 95.

Click here to read CNN article.

Lee brought us some of the most enduring characters in the genre, including X-Men, Spider-man, Doctor Strange, Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Captain Marvel. The list goes on and on.

Personally, his characters have been an inspiration to me, and continue to inspire me. I will miss his witty cameo appearances in the Marvel films. Thanks Stan, for all your inspiration.

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House of Penance: Issue 04 – The Addictive Power of Violence

HouseOfPenance_04

I really like this series and its exploration of issues of sin and atonement. The artwork is dark and surreal and the writing is sparse yet moving. But this installment in the series also explores the related issue of addiction, specifically addiction to violence.

My favorite definition of addiction is that it is the constant searching for something outside yourself to change the way you feel within. For this reason, you can become addicted to anything that elicits a powerful feeling inside, and violence can certainly fall into that category. I have known people in my younger days who were addicted to the adrenaline rush of violent behavior, starting fights for no reason other than the thrill of the fight.

In this issue of the graphic novel, there is a scene where several men who are serving their penance for violent acts discover a room that houses confiscated weapons waiting destruction. The men stare through the glass with a deep longing in their eyes, like the recovering alcoholic struggling with internal conflict as he stares through the window of a liquor store.

If we honestly look at our society—the films we watch, the books we read, the games we play—we are forced to admit that we are a society that is addicted to violence, and yet we act surprised and abhorred when we hear stories of people actually committing violent acts. Now I am not condoning the censorship of violence in the arts, just as I would not condone banning alcohol, but we need to acknowledge that violence, just like drugs, is addictive and remain vigilant with ourselves.

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Back to the Future: Issue 1

BTTF

I picked this up at the Asheville Comic Expo (ACE) about a month ago and finally got around to reading it. As you can tell from the cover, it is a limited edition printed solely for the expo (the bag Marty is holding has ACE logo on it). I figured it was a cool collectible from the expo, but it is also a very well-written and nicely illustrated comic.

The issue actually contains two stories, or the beginnings of two story threads: the first tells the story of how Marty initially meets Dr. Brown, and the second begins a tale of Dr. Brown getting recruited to work with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project.

I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by how good this first issue is. I was not expecting much. I kind of thought it would be silly and kind of a milking of the films, but there is really something creative happening here that augments the films. I would like to read the subsequent issues, but frankly, I am following more than my share of arcs right now. I can’t in good conscience commit to another series. So I will be content having read this one. That said, if you are a “BTTF” fan, you should check this out. I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I did and likely start following the series.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.

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“The School-Boy” by William Blake

SchoolBoy

I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
O what sweet company!

But to go to school in a summer morn, –
O it drives all joy away!
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.

Ah then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.

How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring!

O father and mother if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay, –

How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?

As spring gets ready to move into summer, this poem came to life for me as I read it, and I connected with it on a deep level. My garden is alive and flourishing; there is a bird’s nest with baby birds woven into the vines of my front stoop; the kids in the neighborhood are outside playing. This all brings back the joy and excitement that was summer in my youth.

In this poem, Blake addresses the tendency of educational systems during his time to crush a child’s spirit of joy, wonder, and creativity, preparing that child for a life of conformity and the mundane. The image that comes to mind is from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” I would like to think that this is just a dark page from our past, but that is not the case. When I read about cuts to funding of the arts in schools, the banning of books from school libraries, the tendency to impose constant structure on children as opposed to allowing them to explore through play, I am sadly reminded that society is still attempting to impose conformity on the young.

The other night, I watched “Dead Man” with my daughter (if you are a fan of William Blake and have not seen this film, I recommend watching it). She said she liked the film but felt she didn’t get a lot of the references because she was not familiar with Blake’s poems. I’ll have to share this one with her. I suspect she will relate to it.

Thanks for reading, and here are a couple short videos that you might enjoy.


 

Pink Floyd: Another Brick in the Wall

Scene from the film “Dead Man”

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Star Wars: Princess Leia – Issue 3

Leia_03

I really love this series. Leia is such a great leader and we need more women leaders in graphic novels, literature, and in the real world. In this issue, Leia and Evaan locate another group of Alderaanian survivors, but they are suspicious of Leia. And when the imperial forces descend on them as a result of a traitor, then the group turns against Leia.

One section of this issue that stood out for me was a brief discussion on hope.

Evaan: Never seen you give up hope, ma’am.

Leia: Hope led me to the rebellion, and Alderaan paid for that. Now my hope has led the empire here. I don’t think the galaxy can survive much more hope from me.

I have grappled with the question of whether hope is a good thing or a bad thing. Hope can cause people to remain in bad situations, thinking that they will change. Hope can create expectations which can lead to disappointment and disillusion. Hope is one of the plagues in Pandora’s Box. But loss of hope can also lead to apathy, to despair, and to the diminishing of the determination needed to face challenges. Hope has certainly carried me through some dark times in my life. I think hope is one of those things that transcend good and evil, since both good and evil can result from it. At least, that is how I feel about hope right now. I suspect my feelings will change again.

One last word regarding hope as it relates to this tale. I do not think it is a coincidence that hope focuses prominently here, since the original Star Wars film was subtitled “A New Hope.” What are your thoughts on hope? Feel free to share them below. Thanks for stopping by!

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Excerpt from “The Lords and the New Creatures” by Jim Morrison

JimMorrison

Jim Morrison died 43 years ago, but people are still curious about his death. Recently, Marianne Faithfull revealed that her former boyfriend, Jean de Breteuil, provided Morrison with the fatal dose of heroin. Click here to read the article.

Anyway, the news made me think about Jim and the Doors, so I located my copy of The Lords and the New Creatures and skimmed through it. The following excerpt caught my attention.

Cinema returns us to anima, religion of matter,
which gives each thing its special divinity and
sees gods in all things and beings.

Cinema, heir of alchemy, last of an erotic science.

Film is certainly an alchemical art. It combines visual imagery, written word, music and sound. Because film communicates both visually and audibly, it is the art form which provides the ideal escape, allowing us to immerse ourselves and temporarily lose our connection with the real world. It is when we lose that connection that we open ourselves to the divine essence within, or the anima. That moment when we connect with our divine essence is similar to sexual ecstasy.

While I concede that much of Morrison’s poetry could be classified as the scattered thoughts of a drunken individual, there are some moments of brilliance, as demonstrated by this passage. His poems also provide us insight into the workings of a creative genius who left us too soon.

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Star Trek: Khan – Issue #4

StarTrekKhan_04This issue takes a big leap forward from the previous one. Khan awakens in a secret Federation facility with amnesia. He is told that his name is Lieutenant John Harrison and that he is a Federation soldier who was injured on a mission to the Klingon home planet of Kronos. He is retrained and sent to destroy the Klingon moon of Praxxis, which he successfully does. As he watches the satellite explode, he experiences a flash of memory as he recalls his true self. The issue ends with him being called back to the base.

There are no “deep or profound passages” in this issue, but it is well-written and the artwork is good. The story moves along nicely and it ties the comic storyline in with the Star Trek: Into Darkness film. I have to say, though, that since Khan is such a fascinating villain, this adds another dimension to his character, one that inspires empathy. Khan is manipulated and used as a tool to carry out the violent desires of others, and as a result, he feels anger and resentment. Who wouldn’t? Any one of us would have the same reaction if we discovered we were lied to about who we are and coerced into carrying out the will of others.

I really don’t have anything else to say about this issue. Keeping this post short and sweet. Thanks for reading!

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“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg

HowlIf you read just one poem in your lifetime, it should be “Howl.” This poem not only captures and expresses the unspoken reality of post-WWII America, but it shattered social taboos and paved the way for artistic expression that continues today. It is truly a masterpiece.

The poem is much too long to include here. You can click here to read it online; or better yet, go and purchase a copy from your local indie bookstore. Ginsberg would certainly approve of that.

The poem begins with one of the greatest poetical openings ever, in my opinion:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

It is free-form poetry that has a distinct rhythm. I’ve heard it compared with Walt Whitman, and I can see that, but the rhythm is unique and heavily influenced by the jazz music of that period. Reading the words, the cadence makes me feel like I am in a smoke-filled basement and losing myself in hypnotic beats.

In addition to the long, winding lines of verse, Ginsberg brilliantly uses alliteration to create the musical feel of the poem. The following line is a great example of this, where he uses the “B” sound to accent the verse and drive the natural rhythm of the language.

who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,

The 1950’s were a time of repression. Thinking and acting in a way that didn’t fit in with the social mores could be very dangerous. As a result, people began exploring new spiritual and intellectual paths. Ginsberg expresses this searching and longing in the poem.

who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wondering where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,

who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward lonesome farms in grandfather night,

who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,  

who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels who were visionary indian angels,

who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural ecstasy,

Travel and mysticism were not the only ways in which Ginsberg and his contemporaries searched for meaning in their world. They also turned to sex and drugs, and for Ginsberg, this was open homosexuality, something that was not accepted at that time. Ginsberg expresses his homosexuality with frank openness, something which led to an attempt to ban the poem as pornographic. Thankfully, the courts upheld the artistic value of the poem in one of the landmark censorship cases.

who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,

who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,

who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,

who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,

The poem is divided into three parts. The second part focuses on Moloch. Moloch was a god worshiped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who required parents to sacrifice their children by fire. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch) Ginsberg adopts the symbol of Moloch and employs it as a metaphor for America. People were expected to sacrifice themselves and their children to a culture that demanded obedience, crushed individuality, and thought of people as nothing more than cogs in the great wheel of capitalist consumerism. It was a society where money was God.

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

The third section of the poem is all about how Ginsberg relates with Carl Solomon, to whom the entire poem is dedicated. Solomon was a writer who was influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism. He was institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital where he was subjected to shock therapy. (Source: Wikipedia) In the final section, Ginsberg uses the refrain “I’m with you in Rockland” to express solidarity, and most importantly, to assert that, like Solomon, we are all institutionalized. We are all trapped within the society that seeks to dull our minds with the continuous zapping of our thoughts. All creativity and deviation from the societal norms is systematically extinguished by a culture that demands conformity.

Again, I cannot stress enough how important this poem is. It is one of the most ground-breaking works of literature ever. While I have your attention, I’ll also recommend watching the film “Howl” starring James Franco, which has some great reenactments of the court sessions where Lawrence Ferlinghetti from City Lights Books was on trial for publishing Howl and Other Poems.

Finally, there is a “Footnote to Howl” which stands alone poetically. You can probably guess what my next post will be.

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“To Winter” by William Blake

WilliamBlake

O winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms, till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

This poem is one of Blake’s earlier poetical sketches and was written sometime between 1769 and 1777. I decided to read it because it seemed appropriate, now that we are in December.

I had to do a little research to grasp the deeper meaning of this poem. For me, the key to understanding the poem is in understanding the symbolism of Mount Hecla (or Mount Hekla). Hecla is Iceland’s most active volcano and, according to the article I read on Wikipedia, it was considered to be the gateway to Hell during the time when Blake was writing.

After the eruption of 1104, stories (which were probably spread deliberately through Europe by Cistercian monks) told that Hekla was the gateway to Hell… The Flatey Book Annal wrote of the 1341 eruption that people saw large and small birds flying in the mountain’s fire which were taken to be souls. In the 16th century Caspar Peucer wrote that the Gates of Hell could be found in “the bottomless abyss of Hekla Fell”. The belief that Hekla was the gate to Hell persisted until the 1800s. There is still a legend that witches gather on Hekla for Easter.

Once I understood the mythology surrounding Hecla, the poem made sense. Winter is the dark, cold, desolate time of the year, associated with death. Below the frozen wasteland is the fiery pit, pressing against the unbreakable doors, until the moment when it can burst through with explosive power, raining down fire and brimstone. But in the end, the beast is driven back down into the caves of sulfur, where is will wait until the next time it can break through the adamantine doors.

Mount Hekla: Source - Wikipedia

Mount Hekla: Source – Wikipedia

Maybe it is my anticipation for the release of the second Hobbit film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” but this poem also conjures an image of a dragon living below the volcano in the frozen north. I can picture the monster sleeping in its cave, but at any moment, it can awaken and burst forth in a cloud of fire, smoke, and ash.

This was not what I expected when I opened to the poem. I expected something dealing more with the season and the spiritual aspect of winter. Still, I loved this poem. Blake’s poetry never ceases to inspire me.

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“The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells

WarOfTheWorldsAs Halloween draws near, I figured it would be good to read some classic science fiction, especially since watching the old sci-fi films has been a long-standing Halloween tradition for me. And let’s face it; The War of the Worlds is one of the most classic science fiction books ever written.

I could write a lot about this book because it works on so many levels. First of all, it is a great example of how to employ scientific and technical writing into the art of fiction. As a professional technical writer, I found this very interesting. Wells includes a level of technical detail in his descriptions that is worthy of any technical document.

The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of the handling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine was digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the machine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basin along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little thread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked, the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended, telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mere blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.

Another aspect of the book that I found fascinating is the comparison between humans and animals. Humans are compared to insects, an analogy that is fitting. Humans have a hive mentality and the way we interact is not much different than bees or ants. Many of us are only concerned with the goings-on within our particular mound and do not give much thought to what happens outside our hive, until it affects us directly.

The connection between humans and animals is complex in this book, and there is definitely a social critique on our relationship with animals. The manner in which the Martian invaders treat us is frequently compared with how we treat animals. We exterminate them if they become an annoyance to us; we breed them and keep them as pets; and we raise and use them for food. The book suggests that if a superior species were to arrive or evolve, we would become just another commodity for use by the dominant species.

“Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them; train them to do tricks—who knows?—get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.”

While the technical and the social aspects of this book were intriguing, I have to say that what I found the most thought-provoking were the religious metaphors and symbolism I found throughout the text. There are a lot of religious references in the book and one could certainly dedicate an entire analysis to that aspect of the book alone. Some of these biblical references are overt, such as the following passage comparing the Martian invasion with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done? The morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my brain for the afternoon, and then—fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work—What are these Martians?”

In addition to direct references, the story is filled with hidden symbolic references to the bible. For example, in the following passage, the heat-ray evokes images of the cherubim with the flaming sword blocking the way to the Garden of Eden. It is almost like technological advancement has brought us to the point where we are no longer able to return to the Edenic state, where technology will prevent us from reunification with the Divine.

It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, this invisible, inevitable, sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by the flashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir.

I suspect you also noticed the symbol of the Burning Bush woven into the quote. When you read this book—and I encourage you to do so, even if you have read it already—you will find allusions such as this throughout.

To sum up, this book has earned its place among the ranks of the classics in literature. It works on many levels and each time you read it you will discover new things. When I first read it as a kid, it was just a really exciting sci-fi book about aliens and fighting. Now, I see it more as a profound social and religious commentary on humanity. I suspect that when I read it at age 80, it will take on yet another meaning.

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