Friday, March 25, 2016

It's A Bird! It's A Bat! It's Supermess!

Reel To Reel: Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense Sci-fi violence and mild language

A coworker of mine emerged from Batman V. Superman calling it "a trainwreck," and jesting, "I think I'll go home and cry." Clearly this was a movie matchup fanboys were drooling before they found themselves basking in disappointment. This film had potential as the starter of a Justice League franchise for Warner Bros. and squandered it all. It supposedly draws from classic DC Comics storylines, but I have to think some studio suit said, "We have the rights to Batman and Superman, and that Alien Vs. Predator thing seemed to work, so why not this?" Sometimes, studio people are the last people who should be making movies.

It's not that the concept is bad by definition. We have the upcoming Captain America: Civil War featuring a superhero showdown. Deadpool did it quite well. But when you match up two big beloved cape-wearers, it better be good. And good, this isn't. It requires seeing Man of Steel as a prerequisite but not any of the various Batman franchises. The film's execution runs from plodding to murky through the first two acts, including scenes which only increase the murkiness.

We begin with a tangent from Man of Steel, where General Zod's forces are destroying Metropolis as they try to make it habitable for Kryptonian lifeforms. This has more than a few uncomfortable parallels to 9/11, which perhaps was intentional. Caught up in this mayhem is Bruce Wayne (Affleck), who sees the death and wreckage and blames it on Superman (Cavill). Conversely, Clark Kent is seeing way too many stories about the Dark Knight's vigilante justice and wants to stop him. They don't know it yet, but they're about to have a common enemy: Lex Luthor (Eisenberg), a young tech mogul who wants to stop Superman and thinks the key to doing it is getting kryptonite from the wreckage of the failed alien invasion. He needs help from Congress on this one, which is already starting to see Superman as an unelected unilateral agent of justice. Here's where you make up your own political jokes. While we get to the title showdown eventually, we get to see Lois Lane (Adams) look for the maker of some rogue munitions that turned up in Africa while she was chasing down a story, got taken hostage, and got saved by Superman (again).

The film gets bogged down in the psychological baggage of Bruce Wayne and the loss of his parents to a gunman. This is where you Superman fans have to stand up and say, "Hey, Kal-El lost his parents and a whole planet, too!" Equal time is going to be a issue. So will this: Batman is throwing away the "no guns" rule. At least Ben Affleck turns in an enjoyable performance after all the moaning and groaning from fanboys when the casting announcement went out. Cavill picks up neatly where he left off, although I have to be honest with you: Christopher Reeve will always be Superman for me. Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor more like The Riddler from the Batman franchise with a hint of The Joker thrown in. Hey, as long as we're mashing up universes, why not merge characters, too? Oh Gene Hackman, how we miss your smarmy charm as Luthor. And are we in Gotham or Metropolis? Sometimes it's unclear who's on whose turf. How far apart are these cities in the film's universe? Perhaps it's along the lines of Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

Yes, Wonder Woman (Gadot) is in the film, if you count this riff on Xena the Warrior Princess as Wonder Woman. I count it as a disappointing tack-on for a superhero who has long deserved to have a film of her own. (When they make that film it has to have Linda Carter in it somewhere.)

The Avengers is what you get when you put a bunch of comic-book heroes together and get the chemistry right. Batman V. Superman is what you get when you forsake chemistry for brooding darkness and try to build a single film around three super-duper superheroes who frankly need their own space.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Make America Hate Again

I've been restraining myself, perhaps even censoring myself. While campaign season has devolved into disturbing new lows, I have held back my commentating fingers from the Facebook status update and this blog. This is the "silly season," one friend has told me, a friend whom I love and support even if we're divided on a lot of things politically. I decided to trust her on this one, and I decided to trust the better angels of my nature. It's not like I didn't have other things to blog and status about, like making that new 18th Century outfit for a ball in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I felt the wave of inspiration creeping back into me on that mildy chilly Saturday morning, as I walked to the historic city's Old Capitol, a building I've toured at least a dozen times before. Every time I come back, I learn something new, or at least I'm challenged to think about why we have the freedoms we have. That's why Colonial Williamsburg does what it does so well. During that tour, we sat around a table where patriots once sat, and your servant had the opportunity to read a clause from a document urging the free exercise of religion apart from the Church of England. The warm feeling of a heritage to be proud of stuck with me, even if the exact wording did not.

Introducing Laird Christopher of Dunans, all for the ball in the outfit your humble servant made himself! #HUZZAH #WilliamsburgBall
Posted by Christopher Francis on Saturday, March 5, 2016

When ball time came, and I had adorned myself in my satiny homemade fineries, I found myself surrounded by dancing friends. I bowed countless times to many ladies, who returned them with curtsies -- which I never really saw because I bowed so low. I turned and led my partners in a courtly and regal matter through nearly two dozen dances. We laughed and enjoyed ourselves even through the mistakes. We worked as a team, uplifting and blessing each other. The afterglow from that evening left me nearly sleepless.

Then the next day at a Presbyterian church in Williamsburg, where I dressed in my kilt and long coat in honour of the church's Scottish heritage and in praise to GOD, I found myself once again surrounded by friends. Few times have left your humble laird feeling so close to Heaven, so close to HIM.

Lines lead up in "Leslie's Valentine"
Posted by Williamsburg Heritage Dancers on Saturday, March 5, 2016

Circling around during a lively dance! Though it is blurry, you can see a little more of the skirtiness of the coat as we twirl around.

Posted by Christopher Francis on Sunday, March 13, 2016

Giving courtly honours to my beautiful partner. I know your servant is bowing quite a bit lower than would be...

Posted by Christopher Francis on Sunday, March 13, 2016

LATE BREAKING HISTORY: Let's go live to Willamsburg for this post-ball report. #WilliamsburgBall.

Posted by Christopher Francis on Saturday, March 5, 2016
Then I had to leave the past and go back to work.

One week later, I saw people in Chicago ready to tear each other apart live on CNN. Just one week earlier, I was submerging myself once more in my favourite town from the past.

I had to wonder, how did we get here?

I can't tell you the starting point, but I've found a lot of mile markers along the way.
  • When I saw people saying "Worst. President. Ever." about George W. Bush -- with the periods.
  • When people started talking about "red states" and "blue states."
  • When people started throwing moderates under the bus (despite kissing up to them later).
  • When Facebook became a place where we could easily and conveniently hate on people in a place that supposedly is for "friends." (Tip of the tricorn to my dear Auntie Susan for suggesting this.)
  • When GOP Representative Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" during President Obama's 2009 State of the Union Address.
  • When TEA Party members started piling on insults.
  • When people started kicking up conspiracy theories about President Obama's birth and just wouldn't let it go, no matter how much evidence you presented debunking it.
  • When Congress became a battlefield, not a legislative body.
  • When people started talking about "'Murica," not America.
  • When Senator Ted Cruz made a 21-hour filibuster (which technically wasn't a filibuster, but I say it was) on defunding Obamacare, an exercise that led to nothing but wasted time.
  • When GOD, guts and guns replaced the Constitution and Bill of Rights in some people's minds as the lynchpin of our free republic.
  • When Donald Trump entered the race.
  • When he proved he could boost his poll numbers by getting angrier and insulting just about everything with a pulse.
  • When he threw people out of his rallies, and people cheered it on.
I will probably think of more things to add to this list later, but you know where I'm going. The Trump phenomenon has come to a boil after years of warming up, and should it really surprise anybody that we're boiling?

I can only come to one disturbingly sad conclusion: We hate Congress, we hate Washington, we want to kill it, and Donald Trump is our hitman. Only Trump isn't armed with a pistol; he's carrying a 20-megaton H-bomb, because we would just love to see it nuked. He's our walking revenge fantasy. We don't care about the collateral damage. We don't care about the institutional damage. We don't care about the emotional damage. We just don't care, period. Dagnabbit, we're going to take our country back from those bums.

This is where you say, "What do you mean, 'we?' Is this the Royal 'We,' as in 'We are not amused?' Or are you talking about me?"

Yes, I'm going to talk about you. I'm going to talk about you because politicians don't come from another planet -- as I have said before. Somebody has to vote them in, and somebody has to accept responsibility for that vote. Maybe you didn't vote for that guy or that other guy. Somebody did. And somebody will vote for that guy or that other guy in the next election.

Tell me something, and tell it to me honestly: how many times, when you went into the voting booth, did you feel like holding your nose? You didn't feel like voting for anybody on the ballot. You felt like your candidates, your parties, and your country had left you behind. But still you voted for somebody, because somebody said you had to vote for somebody, and that the stakes were too high to waste a vote. Or you fell for that lesser-of-two-evils rationalization. Or you just sighed and said, such is life.

Ballots only show who you vote for, not who you vote against. They are bereft of nuance or conditions. You can't add in fine print or riders for the candidates to follow. You take the slate or you leave it. What if we had just left it? What if we had just written in, "None of the Above" every time we were presented with a lineup of less-than-desirable leadership? Through a sad pattern of compulsion, rationalization, and lowering the bar, we've slowly disenfranchised ourselves from the power we should have as the electorate. Or we just don't vote at all. People tell us in those get-out-the-vote messages that our vote is our voice. Why do we keep silencing ourselves?

I still believe some true servant-leaders run for office, but they're getting harder and harder to find. The more enlightened among us steer clear of politics. As I have told you before, who wants to work in the swamp that is Washington? Who wants to be dragged into the declining incivility and partisan warfare? Who wants to get pounded into the ground by dark money? Who wants to prove they're innocent of all the slimy, scummy behaviours we associate with politicians by default? The best and brightest among us in America know better than to run for office; they're too good for the job.

So now we're left with this vision of America microcasmed in Chicago: people who say they love America while they hate each other being influenced by politicians who say they love America but openly want to destroy it. It's a sad sight.

The long walk out of Williamsburg on the last day of my visit left your humble servant just as sad. I knew even before this blow-up we used to be better than this. We used to practice our honours. Politics might divide us, but at least we would dance together -- especially in colonial Virginia. No way would I swap centuries to live in 1700's America, but I know some beautiful things got left in our past, including our ability to come together. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson made up after some ugly campaigning.

I hate it when people take the inspiring outfits and flags of our Revolutionary War heritage and co-opt them for political purposes. That heritage belongs to everybody. Leave it alone. Politics has corrupted enough.

What's staggering is that so many people don't care. They want their hit man. They want their weapon. They will ignore or tolerate so many things so they can see their revenge fantasy against Washington executed -- and perhaps a few political enemies, too. I'm serious. How fortunate are we that we have not seen more political assassinations or attempted assassinations in this climate?

Yes, we've come to that, because we let it happen. Because we failed at the ballot box. Because we failed to encourage the right people to run and discourage the wrong people from running. Because we've politicized everything. Because we really don't love America like we should. Because it's more fun to hate than to love. Because we want revenge for the mess we don't realize we had a hand in creating.

I can't tell you how this will all end up. I can just pray.

And in the worst case, please bury your servant in Williamsburg. I already left my heart there.