The Dinglehopper

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Anticipating Fight Club 2, the Continued Commentary on Failed Fathers

Fight Club comic book sequel Chuck PalahniukAccording to a USA Today interview with Chuck Palahniuk, a Fight Club sequel is in the works. As commenter BigDukeSix states on The Guardian article on the same topic, “I am Jack’s growing sense of doubt.” I too initially thought only of the impediments to Fight Club 2 living up to the legacy of the original, not so much book, but film by David Fincher. Because if you live in my house, you believe the film is greater than the novel.

The sequel is taking the form of a 10-issue graphic novel published through Dark Horse and illustrated by Cameron Stewart, which initially struck me as an oddly confined narrative format. The limits of prose in a graphic novel are profound – allowing maybe six sentences a page, mostly dialogue with phrases of exposition or narration. Furthermore, though graphic novels are visual and can be cinematic in a storyboard sort of way, the form lacks the kinetic movement and editing surprises the film version offered. For instance, the flashes of Tyler early on in the film, before the narrator actually meets him, would be difficult to suggest in comic book pages.

However, upon further thought, there is a brilliance to making the sequel a graphic novel mini-series. Most importantly, the comic book form is a bridge between novel and film. Fans fall into the categories of those who love the novel, those who love the film, and those who love both. The graphic novel allows an in-road for everyone to relate to. Additionally, if the story is good, and Fincher is directing, I’m all for a second film. In that case, the graphic novel can serve pretty easily as an initial storyboard, depending on how the artist conceptualizes the frames. And Cameron Stewart, the graphic artist on the project, described it thusly:

Fight Club 2, especially for those like him who were first exposed to the movie, “is as much a meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to Fight Club as it is a sequel.” And instead of embracing realism, his style for the series tends toward the “cartoony” because it was “more appropriate for the density of the story and for some of its more absurdly comical moments.” (Truitt, “Chuck Palahniuk reconvenes his ‘Fight Club’”)

Even five years ago, a sequel to Fight Club would have seemed like an absurd money-grab, but reading Palaniuk’s reasoning makes a lot of sense to this new(ish) mother:

The original book was “such a tirade against fathers — everything I had thought my father had not done combined with everything my peers were griping about their fathers,” says Palahniuk, 52. “Now to find myself at the age that my father was when I was trashing him made me want to revisit it from the father’s perspective and see if things were any better and why it repeats like that.” (Truitt)

In fact, it reminds me of the way Richard Linklater approached the Before series – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Linklater would not even consider making a sequel until he had enough life experience to offer a new perspective and wisdom on the central couple, Jesse and Celine. At that point, he would meet with his actor-collaborators, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and they would collectively script the next chapter of these characters’ lives. Likewise, the original Fight Club is told from the perspective of a lost son, a young man whose father has failed to raise him into adulthood. Fight Club 2 makes the narrator the father of a 9-year old, finding himself now failing that son. Further, his son is now at the mercy of Project Mayhem. That’s a perspective change that intrigues me greatly.

However, I’m less enthusiastic about a less ambiguous Tyler Durden. Palaniuk has teased: “Tyler is something that maybe has been around for centuries and is not just this aberration that’s popped into his mind.” Tyler works, in part, because of the mystery of him. I suppose it’s a necessity to explore what Tyler actually is. Will he be a supernatural trickster figure? Will he be an archetypal shadow? Some other type of god or demon? A manifestation of a shared psychological aspect of humanity?

Fight Club 2 is scheduled for May 2015. I know I’ll be reading it.


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An Educational Celebration of World Religion – Children’s Book Review of Mahavira by Manoj Jain

Mahavira-cover-by-Manoj-Jain

From the Amazon book description:

Imagine a world where no one gets hurt, a world where no one is teased or bullied, a world where there is no fear or anger. Six centuries before the birth of Jesus, in the faraway land of India, there lived a great spiritual teacher name Mahavira (which means “very brave”), who imagined just such a world. He showed kindness to every living being and emphasized the practice of nonviolence, compassion, and forgiveness. The religion of Mahavira was called Jainism.

Mahavira by Manoj Jain and illustrated by Demi is a beautiful introduction to the eponymous hero and Jainism’s values for children and adults alike. Especially for Jainists and those who celebrate world religions, this would be a must-have.

The artwork by Demi is reminiscent of ancient Indian scrolls. It gives it a timeless nature and shows the value of traditions.

By telling the life story of Mahavira, the book offers lessons about love, compassion, and forgiveness to approach the world through non-violence. Though the Jain religion is small in number, these values are held world over, and are among the most important values we can teach our children, no matter their spiritual upbringing.

Attention, librarians, this is definitely a great addition to your children’s collection.


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Graphic Novel Review – Damian: Son of Batman Deluxe Edition

I came upon this graphic novel absolutely cold. The only thing I knew was it was Batman adjacent and that Grant Morrison wrote it, and that was enough to be interested. Turns out I was only 3/4 right. Most of this collection, the part that collects Damian: Son of Batman #1-4 is written and drawn by Andy Kubert. Only the stand-alone story, Batman #666, is written by Morrison.

So I also read it without any back story–just jumped right in like an idiot. After doing some research, I find that Morrison’s issue predates the Kubert issues by 5 years or so. In fact, it appears Kubert is filling in the storyline that Morrison touches on in flashback. That could have been useful to know. It also makes me wonder why the Kubert issues are published first in the collection.

The whole Damian story arc is an alternate Batman timeline. Damian is the genetically-perfected spawn of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul–and he has the ambiguous morality to go with the genetics. His internal conflict comes from not wanting to fall in line with either of his fates–to kill Batman or become Batman–but it seems his fates have a way of falling in line with him.

DSOBM_2_1The Kubert story fills in the early history of Damian taking on the cape and cowl. He fails to prevent the death of the Batman, Dick Grayson, and in his guilt goes on a vengeance spree to find the killer. Damian has put himself in a dangerous place–somewhere between villain and hero. He must work out for himself how to take on the cowl and fight the scum of Gotham in his own way.

The art throughout the book is strong, and it masked some of the weaknesses in Kubert’s writing for a while. But Kubert doesn’t always trust the story is being told graphically and inserts redundant or hammy dialogue. The electronic journal that gives us Damian’s thoughts is a mediocre vehicle, and I found myself wanting to be rid of it. All in all, the Kubert storyline was simply okay. My biggest problem with it was some oddball character decisions. Wouldn’t Bruce Wayne first try to talk it out with Damian? After all, he also knows the drive for revenge when loved ones are murdered.

bm-666-022My engagement and enjoyment ramped up considerably when I got to Morrison’s issue. Suddenly the story had depth. There were literary and religious references structuring the plot and artwork. Morrison gives us Damian 15 years into the future. His backstory (worked out by Kubert) is only hinted at in flashback. The writing is crisp, the dialogue flows, and the stakes are high. If you read this collection, it will be for this issue.


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Review: Oliver and the Seawigs

When Oliver’s explore18187690r parents go missing, he sets sail on a rescue mission with some new, unexpected friends: a grumpy albatross, a nearsighted mermaid . . . even a living island! But the high seas are even more exciting, unusual, and full of mischief than Oliver could have imagined. Can he and his crew spar with sarcastic seaweed, outrun an army of sea monkeys, win a fabulous maritime fashion contest, and defeat a wicked sea captain in time to save Mom and Dad?

I haven’t read this sort of book for a very long time.  But as our toddler gets older we’ll need to know how to transition from Brown Bear Brown Bear What do You See? to Midnight’s Children.

With that in mind I’ve started taking a look at children’s books. Oliver and the Seawigs begins with the end of adventure.  Oliver’s parents have purchased the first permanent home he’s ever known and he’s eager to establish himself in his new room.  His parents, however, immediately notice some strange islands in the bay and set off to explore them.

The book follows Oliver as he befriends one of the islands, oh yes, and the albatross upon it and goes in search of his missing mom and dad.  It’s a tale of underdogs and can do spirit, confidence and individuality.  Everything the postmodern child needs.

What’s great about the book is the perceptiveness, kindness, and agency of Oliver and his friends.  They help one another because they can, just because they happen to be traveling in the same general direction.  There’s a clever mixture of the factual and the fantastic, just enough to remind the reader that anything might be possible.

What might not be is a somewhat unreconstructed colonial attitude evident in the nature of both the characters and the authorial intrusions.  And there’s a significant plot point based around conventional gender bullying.  Neither is too egregious, though.  If anything, they provide an opportunity to have meaningful conversations.

Recommended for readers interested in Junko Tabei, moai, and cryptobiosis.


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Review – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Part II, the Human / Inhuman Dichotomy

sean-young-blade-runnerRead Part I, wherein I give an overview of my reading experience and explore the classification of simulated and real in the novel.

During the first part of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, while I was still disoriented by how not-noir the novel was compared to Blade Runner, there was one scene where I got my bearings and found the two versions in sync – when Rick Deckard performs the Voight-Kampff test on Rachel Rosen. This may be the only scene in the book that the film delivers without much adjustment.

After that there were many divergences, especially in the portrayal of the androids.

What a disappointment the Nexus-6′s are as antagonists for Deckard, especially Roy Baty, who is a major badass in the film – and iconic – Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in Rain” speech is unforgettable. As far as the book is concerned, Deckard seems to be far too worried about this job considering how easy they all go down. Baty especially needed to be fiercer as the culminating retiree. He sets up an alarm and trap for Deckard that will chemically induce anxiety, giving the androids a chance to escape or kill him. But Deckard never trips the alarm, missing a great storytelling opportunity for PKD and making the androids look like chumps.

DoAndroidsDreamSignet1971-185x300Getting past that, what’s important about the androids is how they are similar and different from human beings. They define humanity through their lack of it. So PKD starts by eliminating three of the major components most people associate with humanity: biology, intelligence, and emotion. Biologically they are nearly indistinguishable from the humans – and here is where the simulated / real question comes into play. They appear utterly realistic, like the electric animals. Only a DNA test can determine their artificiality. Intellectually, they are humanity’s superior. This is shown most starkly when the Baty gang interacts with Isidore, the “chickenhead.” Emotionally, they are in step with humans, acting on what seems to be authentic feelings. Presumably out of rage and a desire for revenge, Rachel decides to kill that which Deckard loves most – his new, authentic goat – when he goes ahead and retires the group of Nexus-6′s that she’s tried to protect by seducing him. But PKD establishes the simulation of emotions by humans through the mood organ and thus eliminates it as a defining human trait.

What diminishes the androids is their lack of empathy. Rachel is easily the most human of the androids. She nearly convinces Deckard to walk away from his mission, even bounty hunting in general. After having sex with her, he admits that he’d marry her if the situation were different, if he weren’t married and if human-android marriages weren’t illegal. He likewise admits he doesn’t know if he can retire the final three androids. She knows intellectually she’s got him on the hook, but her lack of empathy allows him to escape. She unempathetically gloats that she’s done this before, including to the heartless bounty hunter that disgusts and disturbs Deckard. Empathy would have told her not to reveal this information until Deckard had turned in his resignation and the Baty gang had escaped to safety. But now he realizes their love-making was merely utilitarian. His feelings are hurt. He’s going to retire her doppleganger right in the face.

This lack of empathy is most affectively demonstrated through the spider scene. All hail the effectiveness of PKD’s writing here! I don’t like spiders. But when Isidore finds the spider, a presumably real one, it is a joyous moment, a moment of freaking hope even. This place is such a wasteland, they don’t even have spiders. And when Pris takes it and starts cutting its legs off, it is devastating. I found it to be the most disturbing, gut-wrenching scene in the book. Isidore is traumatized by it, as was I. PKD takes a generally repulsive creature and makes it a symbol of blessing and life. That’s some good writing.

The other place where the lack of empathy in androids is made significant is in the melding with Mercer using the empathy box. I’m going to speak more to Mercerism in Part III.

Considering all of this, PKD is clearly saying that empathy is the lynchpin of humanity. The fascinating, keep-you-thinking bit is the paradox of this – both Isidore and Deckard end up empathizing with androids, though the androids cannot empathize back. Isidore doesn’t find much contradiction in this, though he is devastatingly betrayed by his android-empathizing in the spider-mutilation scene, leading to his emotional breakdown. Deckard, however, becomes nearly undone by his empathy. As a bounty hunter, he cannot empathize with his prey and get the job done. His empathy will likely cost him his life. So while each of these characters are held up as fully human beings, embracing their empathy, they are both vulnerable because of it.

 


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Review – Birth of the Living Dead and Doc of the Dead

Birth of the Living Dead PosterNetflix Instant is streaming two documentaries focused on zombies. The first is Birth of the Living Dead, a documentary all about the making and significance of George Romaro’s Night of the Living Dead, ground zero of the modern zombie. The second is called Doc of the Dead, which takes a wider angle view of the zombie phenomenon, looking at the history of zombies in folklore and film, examining the metaphors of zombie-incarnations, and then even exploring the survivalist’s market for zombie apocalypse readiness and the ever-growing zombie walks. Conservative zombie fans should stick with Birth of the Living Dead (and you shall know ye by the rage that arises with fast-moving zombies). Those who are a little more liberal about their zombie fascination should also seek out Doc of the Dead.

Birth of the Living Dead is for the fan of George Romaro’s seminal Night of the Living Dead. Alternatively, it’s for my film students after I make them watch Night during the cult classics unit.
Birth
mixes interviews with clips of the film and animated recreations of the making of Night. It gives the history of production as well as the significance of the film, not only for the zombie genre (which is obvious), but also for horror films, and even racial depictions. Romaro and his cohorts have a sense of humor about Night, understanding long after its creation both its merits and its faults. Interviews with film critics and fans emphasize the game-changing nature of the film. Birth-of-the-Living-Dead-1024x574Horror prior to Night was largely Gothic and campy. But Night used realism through non-professional actors and a banal, newsreel tone. Perhaps most intriguing is the statement about race relations the film makes. Romaro admits the part of Ben was not written to be a black man, and they felt they were being progressive when they chose not to change the script after casting Duane Jones. Thus, his race never comes up for any of the characters. However, his fate at the movie’s end certainly has the ring of race-based social injustice.

doc-of-the-dead-movie-posterDoc of the Dead is an odd duck. Because it deals with the zombie phenomenon with a wider angle, it seems it would also appeal to a wider audience than Birth of the Living Dead. However, it gets weird in a way that not everyone will appreciate. The film starts with mocked up news footage of a zombie apocalypse and a zombie-themed pop song through the credits. It seems geared at the fan of Zombieland who then goes on to immerse themselves in greater zombie films. Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead) are the celebrity interviewees, followed by zombie-lore creators George Romaro, Max Brooks (World War Z the book), and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead). Numerous other zombie specialists give their expertise, and there’s lots of interesting zombie info to be gained here. Pegg makes an astute metaphorical reading that zombies are like death itself. You can outrun it for a while, protect yourself from it, but the monster never sleeps, never tires, and you do. And eventually, it will get you. Robert Kirkman reveals his zombie apocalypse plan: jump off the tallest building he can find. I felt vindicated, since this is a variation on my own plan.

In the final third of the documentary, things get weirder. A porn parody of The Walking Dead? People in the survivalist industry who market realistic zombie shooting and hacking targets? One comes in an ex-girlfriend mold. Gross. The growing popularity of the zombie walks, where multitudes show up in their best zombie costume to parade around together? If that all seems palatable, then I fully recommend this documentary.

However, maybe don’t watch it right before bed. There are some scene clips and images that are difficult to cull from a mind in the dark.

Doc of the Dead got me thinking about why people would make a zombie plan. Here’s my hypothesis. Living post-911 under the threat of many global catastrophes from war to economic collapse to extinction by climate change, most people are at least subconsciously dealing with the fear of impending apocalypse. It’s too psychologically difficult to face the likely ramifications of climate change head on, but zombies are fictions. They’re not real. So we can imagine and simulate what social collapse and pandemic plague might wreak upon us and think our way through the scenario, and it’s fun entertainment. It gives a sense of control without requiring the full-on emotional terror of a real-world scenario.


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Frozen Friday: Oh! Snowman Pandering!

 

olaf1 Once the credits of Frozen were scrolling and the reprise of “Let it Go” was rolling over them, I felt pretty good about the movie.  Our toddler had been attentive and engaged and learned all the names.  It didn’t hurt that we both liked it well… “Dada, dance!”

Our toddler had climbed off the couch and was, yes this was really happening, was singing along.  “Mama, sing.  Mama, dance!”  And we had a little dance party.  As if by magic, liking it well enough became the first stirrings of enduring love.

There’s really nothing worse than liking something, let alone loving it, for Gen-X.  So, independently, we both started checking out reviews and criticism; sharing articles and thoughts.  In that context I encountered the following in The Dissolve’s review.

At its worst, Frozen feels clumsy, rote, or even pandering, in the case of that superfluous singing snowman, an adorable kid-pleaser with little story function except butt jokes and physical comedy.

That’s, like, and I’m being generous here, maybe 40% true.  I’ll allow pandering kid-pleaser.  Still, we can agree that this is a Disney animated feature, right?  This bizarre misconception was echoed in several reviews.  Olaf has no function?  With respect, you weren’t paying attention.  Our toddler was.

I have to think that maybe the teaser was part of the problem.

Kids went nuts over the adorable snowman and the goofy reindeer while adults affected exasperated sighs.  I’ll admit it, that made me certain I never wanted to see the film.  Watching it again I feel differently.  Now I’m kind of impressed that they focused on the nose.

Olaf’s detachable nose illuminates the relationship between Elsa and Anna.  Mirrored scenes mark its shift.  When they’re kids, Elsa sculpts Olaf based on Anna’s silly expression and add’s the carrot nose.  Later, when she encounters the now sentient Olaf, Anna swipes a carrot from Sven’s stash and clumsily fumbles it into his face.  His greeting, “Hi, I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs,” not only defines his personality, it urgently recalls those simpler times.

That snowman is there not just to entertain kids, but to teach them how to watch the movie.  That’s not pandering; it’s edifying.  And it works.  They’ve seen the snowman at the beginning and during the “Let it Go” sequence already.  When he shows up as Kristoff and Anna are blundering through the woods, there’s grateful recognition.  I quote, “Oh!  Snowman talking!”  They’re hooked.

And that’s perfect, because Olaf is going to drive, foreshadow, and interrogate the action from then on.  That can get boring, though, hence butt jokes.  Eyes down here, kids.

But who’s the comic relief in the scene where Anna and Kristoff contemplate climbing the mountain to get to Elsa’s ice palace?  Is it Anna trying to climb in inadequate gear?  Is it Sven looking on mockingly?  It’s not Olaf.

“Hey, Sven? Not sure if this is going to solve the problem, but I found a staircase that leads exactly where you want it to go.”

Scenes like that are excellent.  They condense the action in a legitimate way.  Elsa made him right before making the stairs.  Of course he knows where they are.  Olaf picks up some authority there.  Eyes down here, again.

He also delivers a couple strangely prescient lines.  The first comes as they’re following him to the ice palace.  “I bet Elsa’s the nicest, gentlest, warmest person ever.”  “Oh, look at that.  I’ve been impaled.”  That’s basically what Anna’s headed for.  Boundless optimism and faith in her sister rewarded with a shard of ice to the heart.  Thanks for the heads up, Olaf.

olaf2

I’m a leaf on the wind.

The second warns the audience ever so subtly that their perceptions are still off.  Following a visit to the trolls, Kristoff concludes that they need to get Anna to Hans for true love’s healing kiss.  Olaf enthusiastically agrees.  “I’m coming! Let’s go kiss Hans! Who is this Hans?!”  The screen darkens and the question echoes.

I haven’t met anyone who caught that the first time through.  Olaf’s preparing the audience for a particularly nasty reveal.  On the one hand, he just doesn’t know who Hans is.  On the other, neither do you.

Once it all goes down in Arendelle, Olaf explains love to Anna and by extension to kids.  “Love is…putting someone else’s needs before yours,” is tucked in before the final action so that when Anna puts herself in front of Hans’s blade and subsequently thaws, a child can understand it.

That would be enough, probably.  But what about true love’s kiss?  Olaf uses Kristoff’s obvious, to the audience, affection as an example of love and Anna jumps to the wrong conclusion.  Olaf becomes the kindred viewer.

OLAF
No, no, no, no, no. You need to
stay by the fire and keep warm.
ANNA
I need to get to Kristoff.
OLAF
(clueless)
Why…?
(realizing)
Oh, oh, oh, I know why.

He hops around in an excited display of hope.

OLAF (CONT’D)
There’s your act of true love,
right there, riding across the
fjords like a valiant, pungent
reindeer king! Come on!

But, no, that’s not it.  Finally, just in case your toddler is two, Olaf explains what happened with Anna, how risking her life broke her curse.  In the story, it nudges Elsa into awareness.  As the story, it nudges the audience.

ELSA
…You sacrificed yourself for me?
ANNA
(weak)
…I love you.

Olaf realizes what’s happened. He’s so excited about it, he
lifts his head right off his body and exclaims–

OLAF
An act of true love will thaw a
frozen heart.

I respectfully disagree with the assertion that Olaf has no function beyond comic relief or manipulative marketing.  While he’s certainly representative of both of those things, he’s also integral to the plot and content of Frozen.  He’s essential to younger audiences for understanding the action.  He’s probably, with all his earnest functionality, helpful to understanding future stories.  And c’mon, the Olaf toys are the ones you can actually find.

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