Guardians of the Caribbean

Many movies are either sequels, prequels, remakes, or reboots these days, and I saw two of the former this month, and here we have a double review. I don’t have a whole lot to say about each film, but I did want to give my thoughts on both.

To start, in the heavens above, with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2:

landscape-1468945290-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2

I really, really love the first volume of Guardians. It is unexpected, raucous, hilarious, offbeat, and just plain fun. I was really hoping for more of the same from Guardians 2. What I got was mostly that. It went in different directions, while keeping the same elements in place. What I also got was a tale of fathers and daughters and sons.

Ahem: spoilers.

Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, meets his father who seems nice but then turns out to be a philandering, posturing, jack-ass who (I did say spoilers, right?) killed Peter’s mother. Gamorra’s adopted sister, Nebula, returns with a massive girl-on for Gamorra, who in her mind always seemed to steal their adopted father’s, “Mad Titan” Thanos, love and affection. When Peter finds out the truth about his dad, he turns on him, with help from the Guardians, and kills him, in the process realizing that the man who raised him, Yondu, was his real daddy. Finally, during the battle, Gamorra and Nebula realize that they both were fighting for the same thing: survival, and neither cared at all about their “father” and have more in common than they thought.

What I loved was the father/son/daughter storylines. I am a sucker for good family stories, and this one delivered the emotional goods. When (look, ye be warned) Yondu dies saving Peter from his father, I got genuinely choked up. When Gamorra hugged Nebula, I got choked up. Good stories do that. I also love the wacky Drax who might finally be healing from the loss of his family, and the odd-couple of Rocket and Baby Groot. When I wanted them, they were there, doing their shtick, but doing it well. The soundtrack was awesome, as in the first film, and I love getting more of the Ravagers and the crazy denizens of the galaxy.

For my money, Guardians Vol. 2 was exactly what I wanted. I look forward to what happens with the Guardians after they meet the Avengers and how Vol. 3 plays out.

Now to the seas below and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales:

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I also really, really, love the Pirates franchise. Ever have. Always will. Perpetually. Well, if I am honest, I don’t love On Stranger Tides as much, but I’m totally drunk with rum on Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. But this is about Dead Men…, and this film introduces a new element into the supernatural Caribbean which is ghosts. And zombie sharks. I shivered just typing that. No thanks. But I egress, or digress, either.

Anyway, Jack, who isn’t quite the same pirate he was without the Black Pearl, is reduced to robbing banks with Gibbs and other various miscreants. Enter (yup: spoilers here, too, matey) Will and Elizabeth Turner’s son Henry who is looking, like father like son, for a way to free his father from the Flying Dutchman. He, like most people in the Caribbean it seems, need Jack’s magical compass to find the Trident of Poseidon to do that. Jack, Barbossa, and a host of new and old faces race to find the Trident while being pursued by the aforementioned ghosts of a Spanish warship led by a ghostly and vengeful Capitan Salazar who has a score to settle, like most people in the Caribbean it seems, with Cap’n Jack.

Barbossa’s (still) daughter and Will’s son find the trident and save everybody. Except Salazar. He dies. And Barbossa, the elder and less hygienic. He sacrifices himself to save his daughter from Salazar. How touching.

I loved the call-backs to previous films in the franchise, and the epically beautiful fight scene at the bottom of the ocean over the Trident. I loved down-on-his-luck Jack and Barbossa’s not-a-witch daughter. I loved that the Pearl finally gets out of the bottle.

What I didn’t like is that David Wenham had so little to do as the British Navy’s representative at sea. I think his character just wasn’t needed at all and he was a waste of a good actor, sadly. The climatic final battle was too short. Also, and this was just bad luck, not enough of the pirates made returns, in cameo form or otherwise. And Jack’s compass, didn’t Tia Dalma give him that?

Despite the flaws, I loved this film more than the last one, but not as much as Curse of the Black Pearl. I cannot wait to go sailing with Jack, the curse-free(?) Will and the rest of the blaggards and see if Barbossa can outwit death a second, or is it third? time.

Yo ho and all that.

Earth’s Mightiest Poems

I made it to Barnes & Noble this week earlier than ever before in the morning, just after the store opened. On a Friday, that meant the store was mostly empty and quiet, just perfect for a bit of poetry play and rhyming.

This time I worked along two avenues, one with two forms that mix and match a poet’s own words to form new poems, and the other in exotic forms in the vein of the haiku.

My theme today was the Avengers.

the Avengers
the Avengers

The first two forms I worked with were the Cento and the Clerihew. Both ostensibly re-work an existing poet’s lines of poetry to form new poems. Instead of taking an existing poet and his words, I instead worked from another medium that I enjoy: film. For my centos I remixed lines from the three Iron Man films to form poems. A cento also uses the name of the purloined poet as the first line of the poem, and in this case, the name of the movie. There is no meter or rhyme scheme.

Cento 1

Iron Man
Yeah, well, vacation’s over,
there’s the next mission, and nothing else.
(Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.)
What you’re asking about: it’s me.

It’s not technically accurate,
I’m just not the hero type.
(Yeah, I can fly.)
The truth is: I am Iron Man.

Cento 2

Iron Man 2
It’s subtle, all the bells and whistles,
It’s a high tech prosthesis,
The suit and I are one:
It tastes like coconut. And metal.

The point is: you’re welcome,
I am your nuclear deterrent,
I’ve successfully privatized world peace:
it’s about legacy.

Cento 3

Iron Man Three
Let’s track this from the beginning:
we create our own demons,
the prodigal son returns.
Technically, I am Iron Man.

(I broke the crayon)
Everybody needs a hobby,
my armor was a cocoon:
I am Iron Man.

For these centos I tried to encapsulate what each film was about, speaking to both the plot and theme. And, as I said, all are composed entirely of lines spoken by Tony Stark/Iron Man.

Next was the Clerihew which is again formed by lines from an existing poetical work, for which I again used lines from a film, in this case, the first Avengers film. The clerihew uses the name of the poet for the first line of two couplets. There is no set length, and again, it is non-metrical and non-rhyming.

The Avengers

Thor
Who controls the would-be king?
Do I look to be in a gaming mood?
This is beyond you, metal man!

Tony Stark
Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?
Have you ever tried shawarma?
We have a Hulk.

Bruce Banner
So this all seems horrible.
I’m always angry.
Puny God!

Steve Rogers
There’s only one god, ma’am.
Put the hammer down.
We have orders, we should follow them.

Natasha Romanoff
These guys come from legend.
I’ve got red in my ledger.
This is just like Budapest all over again.

Clint Barton
You and I remember Budapest very differently.
Ever had someone take your brain and play?
I see better from a distance.

For better or worse: a clerihew. I tried to capture the core of each character, and also do a sort of call and response from one stanza to the next. In actual fact, each stanza is its own clerihew, as a proper clerihew is only four lines long. This is, truth be told, a super clerihew, just as the Avengers are a super team. Neat, huh? My cleverness knows no bounds, apparently.

Next up I tackled some more exotic forms. First, a Japanese form called the tanka, which is a five line poem consisting of lines of 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. Again, the Avengers gave me inspiration.

Hulk

Banner is a man
who got hit with gamma rays.
The man’s a monster
who turns tall and strong and green.
The Hulk is always angry.

Cap

Steven Rogers fights
for the small and helpless man.
The military
experiment made him strong,
time made him legendary.

Thor

He’s a demi-god
Thor from the realm of Asgard
He wields a hammer
a weapon to pound, a tool
to build a much better world.

After that I wrote a tanaga, a Filipino form consisting of four seven syllable lines, all rhyming.

Romanoff

Natasha’s a widow black,
a spy with assassin’s knack.
Fear and cowardice she lacks,
she shuts down the tesseract.

Finally, after all that, I wrote a Persian form called a Ghazal, which is written in couplets that rhyme the final word before an ending refrain. The ghazal is typically signed by the author in the last line.

The Avengers

There are six who fight: the Avengers.
In Loki they inspire fright, the Avengers.

Romanoff, a woman with widow’s bite,
Hawkeye, possessed of keen sight, the Avengers.

Thor, whose hammer throws light-ning
Captain America stands for the right, the Avengers.

Hulk, he smashes with green might,
Iron Man, a modern metal knight, the Avengers.

Though the world’s in a plight,
I, Redbeard, love to write the Avengers.

Do remember that all my poems are basically explorations of a form or style of poetry and are not claiming to be exemplars of said forms. They merely adhere to (most) of the rules of the form, no more, no less. Thus they are not great poems, or even good poems, but they are poems. I enjoy writing them, and as always, I hope you enjoy reading them.

On Gender Inequality in Modern Myths

I am not a scholar of myth, ancient – modern – or in between, nor am I a professional historian, sociologist, or qualified authority on gender. What I am is a keen observer of people and things.

The world is changing.

In my lifetime, I have seen the rapid empowerment of women in my society go from a backswell to a prominent and unignorable fact. In like manner, I have seen the treatment of women in popular culture change radically. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much being said about the lack of female roles, or the lack of gender diversity. Today: it is sneaking in everywhere. And I am not that old.

This battle for gender equality in life and fiction started long before me, though I hope desperately that it may grind itself to a halt in my lifetime. I will be grieved indeed if it does not.

However, my own thinking in this area has undergone change, and sadly I confess that I am not completely there. But lately a few things have caught my attention and have turned the lights on for me. I want to discuss the portrayal of females in popular culture, as well as their roles in popular culture. By portrayal I mean: what they look like. By role I mean: what they do.

Portrayal. It is the stereotype, and still the dominant way of displaying a female within pop culture, as an icon of beauty, of sex, and little else. Personally speaking, I sexually prefer women, and I think the female body is powerfully beautiful in all shapes and sizes. Therefore, for me, it is very hard to separate my personal enjoyment of the female body and the effect that has on my perception of women. Generally speaking, when one objectifies something, it becomes more difficult to see that something for what it really is. When one gets into the habit of recognizing women only for their sex appeal, one has trouble seeing them as people. (I only use women here in this context, because, like I said, I am a person who sexually prefers women. That’s how I understand this paradigm best. I works for men who prefer men, men who prefer women, etc.)

To analogize a bit, I’ll put this in other terms that I am also quite familiar with. I use, and am quite a fan of, Apple products. That is iPhones, iMacs, iPads, iPods ad nauseum. I tend to objectify them, if I am not careful, and hold them up as exemplars of modern technological engineering. In certain cases, Apple has made some fantastic products. Some of them are quite good. But I can tend to see them as objects of beauty rather than what they are: a phone, a computer, a music player, a tablet, and really, when you get down to it, no better at their job than anything any other company makes. In this modern era what any piece of technology is able to do is pretty amazing. My point is that I see my iPod as a gorgeous object for something which merely allows me to experience my music.

Yes, I just compared beautiful women to iPods. I apologize. Please don’t send me hate mail or refuse to have sex with me (simply because of that). I only try to wake up the mind to what I am realizing: women are so much more than just a hot body. They are people, precious souls, and irreplaceable members of human society and advancement.

Consider this picture, a recent comic book cover:

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman
This is the brand new, Issue #0 reboot of DC Comics’ Wonder Woman from last year, 2012. It tells me three things, visually. One: Wonder Woman has massive breasts. Two: she has a thing for chrome. Three: she can fly? To be clear, that is exactly what I am supposed to notice and in that order. When I first see the comic book, I won’t have time or capacity to read the title. There, staring me in the face, are breasts. Then I see other things, then I read “Wonder Woman” and go “well, yeah”. This is wrong. Wrong. I shouldn’t need to have a massive pair of mammaries thrust in my face for me to be interested in a comic book about a woman. What isn’t wrong is that she is beautiful. That is all well and good. But beauty is skin deep, culturally defined, and transient. What is really important about Wonder Woman? She fights for truth, justice, and gender equality. Her magic lasso makes it impossible for anyone ensnared in it to tell a lie. Wonder Woman fights crime. Wonder Woman, being a powerful woman herself, is very committed to making sure every woman is given respectful treatment. So why show her boobs first?

I’ve been aware of images like that my whole life. It didn’t really bother me or make a dent in my brain until very recently. Sure, I had an intellectual understanding that such comic book covers objectified women and that it was wrong, but it didn’t mean anything to me until this week when I saw another image. This is entitled Miss America and comes from Fan Art Exhibit.

Miss America
Miss America
This is a digital manipulation of a shot of Captain America from the recent Avengers film. Obviously the creator has merged a female body with that of Steve Rogers to give us Miss America. I noticed two things about this picture. One, she has a bare midriff. I have no idea why she also doesn’t have a low cut top and copious cleavage as that seems more standard for female superheroes, but she does have a bare midriff, which is Item No. 2 on the “Make Her Look Uber Sexy” checklist comic book artists apparently have. This is the image that lent a machete to my intellectual thicket. Why the hell would a soldier wear body armor of any type that leaves such a vital (to life) area of the body completely exposed. This makes no sense whatsoever. The “sexy for sexy sake” did not pass the “it makes sense” test for my brain and I short circuited. I could almost buy a super hero like Wonder Woman wearing less than a bathing suit because, usually, she has a Superman level of invincibility. Therefore, armor is irrelevant (even if her wardrobe makes no sense for other reasons). But a genetically enhanced super soldier leaving the gut exposed? No way. And two, why is she called “Miss America”? The artist named her so, but why not Captain America? Captain is a rank and is gender neutral. And then the lights flashed on and I went “Ooooh.”

Don’t judge me too harshly, please. My point here is that society my entire life has been feeding me this idea of women and it is hard to break. By the way, I do want to point out that men have it no better, but it is less kosher to point it out, mostly because, as a society, men still have a majority of the power and influence so it is boorish to whine. But, do walk through a comic shop sometime and see if you can find a realistic looking man on the cover of anything. Go ahead, I dare you. I could not look like Captain America as he usually looks any more than any girl could hope to look like Wonder Woman.

Role. Most women in popular culture are eye candy, the damsel in distress, or non-existent. They exist to look pretty, to be rescued so the man looks heroic, or they simply aren’t there. I really, really enjoy the Lord of the Rings, both in book and film form. Do you know how many females there are in the main cast, in the Fellowship of the Ring? 0. Nine males. How about the Hobbit, how many women in the main group? Yeah, 0 again. There are 13 male dwarves, a male hobbit, and a male wizard. Even in Star Wars the ratio is still 5 to 1. (Han, Luke, Chewie, R2, C-3P0 to Leia). And what does Leia do in the first film? Gets captured by men and gets rescued my men. In the Empire Strikes Back? Gets rescued by men. In Return of the Jedi? Tries to rescue a man, gets punished by way of brass bikini, gets rescued my men and male ewoks. I love Star Wars, but it has a gender equality problem. Only recently, and very slowly, has this changed. Even the mighty Joss Whedon, who elevated women so spectacularly in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was shackled when he made Avengers because, yep, women were outnumbered on the super hero team 5 to 1. But Joss did what he could and made that one woman one of the most important and smartest of them all. Men break things, men fix things, men are the heroes. That is the message I’ve heard my whole life. And not only does it not make sense, it is stupid, and ignores completely the role women have wrested for themselves at great cost. Even in our long, patriarchal history there were women who did great things and stood high above men, but mostly they are ignored or marginalized. For shame.

How did this happen? That is a very long discussion. But, I blame two things: biology and laziness.

Not to ruffle feathers, but you can’t argue with evolution. The male part of the human species, rather generally, has more muscle mass than does the female part. Way back when we were fighting for evolutionary survival, that mattered. Men led because men could kill more, hunt more, build more simply because they were stronger. And, because all who gain power fear to lose it, once women let men fight for the power, men never gave it up. The majority of societies built since our meager beginnings have been male dominated (to my knowledge). Once we, as a species, kill our predators, kill our food, and build a fire, we like to be entertained. So we tell stories. We are smart, but not that imaginative, so our stories reflect everyday life. They are about warriors, hunters, builders. And, since what we see every day are men in those roles, men take those roles in our stories, our legends, our myths. Hence, laziness.

Since the dawn of history, until now, very rarely have we as a species deigned to allow women into our myths in any significant way, just like in real life. Sadly, it is only recently, and then only a little, that this is changing. Modern comics, tv, film, books are the myths of old retold again and again. Why else is Wonder Woman the lone female member of the Justice League (in popular consciousness) why else is Black Widow the only female member of the Avengers (again, in the popular consciousness, I am vaguely aware that in the comics Wasp was also a founding member)?

Humanity is a species slow to change. It has taken me 25 years. It has taken us millennia. I hope not much longer before women are in power, realistically portrayed, alongside realistic men is simply the way of everyday life and the stuff of legends. I advocate not for a reversal of the binary, but a destruction of it. Men and Women are equal in every way that matters biologically speaking. We should be socially and mythologically as well.