Here’s an example of positive masculinity from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
A Wu Tang, Kung-Fu Hip-Hop Mashup
I was kind of excited when the show opened with a hip-hop track and the promise of some forthcoming kung-fu. There is a lot of overlap between hip-hop and kung-fun, at least in my own opinion, and nothing represents this to me more clearly than the Wu Tang Clan, but you also have Afro Samurai and the fight scenes in Boondocks among many other examples. I’m not an expert here, but the connection is there, and Iron Fist did precisely nothing with it.
Occasionally Danny Rand would do his awkward faux-Tai-Chi meditation before a fight, and he’d play some cool music, but it had no connection to the rest of the story at all, except that when his plane went down he had an iPod. They could have gone somewhere with this connection, in the story itself. It could have been an interesting mashup in style following on Luke Cage’s heels. But, no.
A Vehicle for a Breakout Asian Star
What was Mike Colter doing before Jessica Jones and Luke Cage? I don’t know either. But we know now, because Luke Cage was awesome. If I saw Mike Colter on the street, I’d half expect to see him in a bullet-hole hoodie. On my Facebook and Twitter feed, black nerds were going wild about Luke Cage. All nerds were going pretty wild, to be honest.
Iron Fist could have been that kind of breakout moment for an Asian actor and martial artist. I mean, he’s a similarly obscure superhero – it isn’t like there is a huge existing fan-base for Iron Fist. They could even have met folks half-way with someone like Lewis Tan, who read for Danny Rand while they were casting.
I can’t believe that Hollywood isn’t bursting at the seams with handsome, charismatic Asian actors who would love to be cast as something other than Triad Thug #6. Come on.
The Anti-Batman Billionaire Story
We already have Batman Begins, where a white billionaire goes to Asia to learn supernatural, or at least superhuman, martial arts. We have Doctor Strange, the millionaire white guy who goes to Asia to learn magic from a white woman who is the leader of a mystic Asian sect. Danny Rand could have been interesting as a commentary on these stories. He’s part of a trope – OK. That gives you the chance to comment on the trope in an intelligent way. But, no.
A Humorous Meditation On Its Own Failure
More and more as the series progresses, we have the refrain that Danny Rand is a terrible Iron Fist. I think the show could have made more of this. There’s every indication that he went off half-cocked, barely having earned the power of the Iron Fist before he inexplicably flees his calling and responsibility to…I guess get into fist-fights with corporate security guards and whitesplain Asian culture to people.
But it would have been more interesting if they had leaned into this idea that he is not a very good Iron Fist. He earned this cosmic power, just barely, and then ran away. He’s petulant and obtuse and socially awkward. He grew up in a mystical monastery and is totally unequipped to deal with adulthood and the modern world. He tries to solve everything with martial arts, and it never works. This could have been funny, and endearingly awkward. Think of a stereotypical homeschooled kid with supernatural kung-fu powers. One does not have to be very smart to make that funny.
But, again, no.
I was recently listening to an episode of the Two Pastors Podcast dealing with fear, anxiety, anger and hatred, and it got me thinking. I really enjoyed Inside Out, in part because it very effectively and dramatically incorporated a lot of research on core emotions that I have been learning about for the last few years, particularly based on the work of Paul Ekman. (If you have ever heard of a “micro-expression” then you’ve heard something of Ekman’s work) In brief, Ekman and others have identified five (or maybe six) core emtions based on universal human facial expressions and bodily cues. In the context of Inside Out, there were five core emotions: anger, disgust, fear, joy and sadness. To this list Ekman and others might add surprise, but that isn’t an important one for what I want to talk about.
I’ve used ideas around these core emotions, and their healthy expression and function, in situations like pastoral counseling and the spirituality groups I led for the behavioral health program at a hospital in San Francisco. I’ve also used these ideas a lot in my own life, not only trying to increase my EQ but also better understand myself and better manage my own mental illness challenges (depression and anxiety).
I found this really cool matrix based on the Inside Out emotions online that show show these five core emotions can combine to create other emotional experiences. I liked it, but I didn’t think it was quite right, so I made my own:
One of these that I think I need to explain is the combination of joy and anger, I decided to characterize as triumph. Previously, I had fiero and also righteous anger in that slot: fiero I get from Ekman – he thought there was a particular facial expression for the feeling one experiences in something like a crucial sports victory, and he didn’t think there was a good English word for that feeling, so he used an Italian one. But just imagine the exultant, gritted-teeth, clenched fist emotion someone might exhibit right after they score a goal. This emotion might be distinct from righteous anger, but righteous anger was another example of how I understand a combination of anger and joy. I decided to go with triumph, however, but I’m not as confident about that one as I am with others.
Another key note: of the five core emotions, each has a healthy and necessary function for us, even though we think of most of them as “negative emotions.” In fact, of those listed, the only obviously “positive” one is joy. But one thing I loved about Inside Out is that each of the emotions had their place in one’s health, and a person couldn’t get by without all of them. Just like in real life.
Where one emotion intersects with itself in the matrix, I just listed an extreme form of that emotion, each of which is probably less healthy in its own right. But how these various combinations map to “health” and so on is a whole other discussion.
For now, just check out the matrix and tell me what you think. For me, it was helpful just to write out, if nothing else.
Here’s what I had to say, in brief, about Scott Pilgrim vs the World:
This was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was like watching someone play a video game, only more boring. It was sometimes slightly clever. If only it had a story, or a single interesting character, or anything meaningful to say.
I don’t remember feeling that detached from a movie in a very long time; possibly ever. It was totally unengaging. There’s a feeling that I really enjoy, when a movie makes me feel as if I am outside myself, if only for an hour or two, during which it is an engrossing, immersive experience. Even very bad films can make me feel this way if there is an engaging character, or even a really funny scene. Anything.
I might have connected to Scott Pilgrim’s character, if there was any character there to connect to. But he’s kind of a confused-looking place-holder who trudges his way through what passes for a plot.
If there was something genuinely attractive about Ramona Flowers, that might have worked. But there was hardly a flicker of life in her, but alas. She was the MacGuffin, and an empty one at that. All I knew about her was that 1. her hair changes color frequently, 2. Scott Pilgrim likes her and 3. she has evil exes. Nothing about her that wasn’t on every promotional poster for the movie.
Where I really checked out, though, was the first battle with the first evil ex. That was a scene that was so awful that I literally squirmed in my seat with embarrassment for the filmmakers. I think the fight scene was supposed to resemble a Bollywood musical number. I’ve watched a few Bollywood musical numbers, and this piece of tripe was a far cry from them.
There were occasional sight-gags, and I’ve never seen a movie that was presented in the same way, as an old-school style video-game with level-ups and coins bursting out of downed foes. That was…slightly clever, I suppose.
But there was no world for Scott Pilgrim to inhabit. One method would have been literalism – these supernatural music-fueled fights break out. Another method would have been for the musical fights to be going on in Scott Pilgrim’s imagination, with the humorous return to reality after the fact. The filmmakers went for neither; God knows why. Rather it was what I experienced as a miasma of imagery – and I mean that in the Dictionary.com sense.
Part of my disappointment was that the movie could have clearly been so much more. It could have said something.
It just didn’t.
Or, more likely, it did, and I’m the only person I know who didn’t get it.
Maybe the graphic novel is good.
Honestly, at this point, in light of the load of feces that was the 3 prequel films, I read this news with a strong sense of dread. However, there is a rumor out there that Lucas out at Skywalker Ranch is working on a series of sequel movies to the original films – episodes 7-9 or even episodes 10-12. They will purportedly take place 100 to 1000 years after the originals, and will not focus on the Skywalkers.
If George Lucas writes these sequels themselves, I will come out and say right now that they will be complete and utter garbage – one more gobbet of spit in the face of ever Star Wars fan.
On the other hand, maybe he learned his lesson and will hire a talented writing team to put together some well-written scripts, and new classics will be born.
I’m not betting on it, though. I think that if the rumor is true, he’ll write them himself, and they will be another abomination.
I saw the film Religulous a few nights ago. I don’t have time for a long post, but I can break the film down pretty easily.
The first 80% is pretty funny, Bill Maher being Bill Maher, meeting various kinds of religious people and having conversations where it is clear no one understands each other. But is actually genuinely hilarious.
At this point, leave the theater.
Because the last 20% is a long-winded sermon from Maher, a bunch of warmed-over New Atheist crap, where, in constrast to everything that has happened in the film so far, he claims that religion will lead to a nuclear holocaust. Seriously – he has dramatic scary music playing and mushroom cloud after mushroom cloud in the background.
Its incredible hypocrisy – half of the conversations he had in the film were actually pretty amicable, and the head of the Vatican Observatory genuinely shut him down entirely. You can literally seem him thinking “Damn, I accidentally let myself talk to an intelligent, reasonable Christian. Back to the drawing board.”
Look, Atheists – I totally respect where you’re at. But you put out a film like this, and I realize – there’s no reason to assume you’re any more intelligent or reasonable than Fred Phelps or Pat Robertson – that you have your idiot windbags too, just waiting to disgorge a long sermon about the evils of every position but their own.
At the end, Pam turned to me and asked, “Can I have my money back?” I couldn’t blame her.
This is deliciously unrelated to theology (unless you really want to get into it I suppose, since at this point I can probably find something theological to say about anything) – Kung Fu Panda is an awesome movie.