Monday, April 14, 2014

Like It Or Lump It

Hell hath no fury like a fanboy out of lockstep.

Generally, you have to be afraid to stick your opinion out anywhere on the internet, unless you want to get into a smackdown of a particularly petty persuasion.  Post a thought, anyone who disagrees comes screaming out of the woodwork to spam all over the place about what an idiot you are, simply because they disagree.  A weird electronic shouting match ensues; in cyberspace, can anyone really hear you scream?

Fair warning, unwary reader: This post includes a movie review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  It contains my opinion of the film, with a bit of critical acumen backing it up.  But if you don't want to risk my opinion being at odds with your own, then don't read it.  Also, my critique of the film should in no way inhibit or enhance your enjoyment of the film or prohibit you from going to see it as many times as you want or that your pocket change allows.  Your opinion may differ from mine.  It's okay, that's what makes the world go around.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios' latest entry (After Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World) in its Avengers marketing maintenance plan, finds the titular hero pensively trying to fit into modern society and carve out a place for old-fashioned morality in the grey ethical landscape of modern intelligence services.  Despite being on ice for 60 years or so, Cap never has to worry much about the present, because his past seems to dog him at every instant, from the heartbreaking scene confronting the love of his life (who would have to be in her mid-90s), to the epic battle with former childhood chum and later best friend, Bucky Barnes.  Along the way, he's aided by The Black Widow, The Falcon, and occasionally Nick Fury.  Although there's a plot about Hydra taking over SHIELD and some shadow intelligence service stuff and a master plan to kill a whole bunch of people, most of it is non-sensical, expositional blather that serves only to set in motion a daisy-chain of ridiculous explosions and bone-breaking hand-to-hand combat.

Just to underscore the weighty subject matter -- your civil liberties are at stake, Americans! -- the very color has been leeched from the film, leaving a grey, ambiguous wash of digitally-enhanced malaise.  As if that's not depressing enough, any possible fun or attempt at humor in the script is tamped down with unmodulated performances and poor direction.  Chris Evans' Cap is so stoically serious that he ends up ceding the film to the more dynamic supporting heroes around him.  The Black Widow and The Falcon seem to occasionally be in a totally different film.  Even The Winter Soldier, with his dour glare and cyber-arm, seems to be having more fun than Cap.  At what point did super-hero movies take on the pretentious weight of religion?

While the explosion factor is high enough to satisfy even the most demanding video-game addicts, best to not probe into the whys or wherefores too carefully.  Early on, the movie is bogged down by a car chase in which Nick Fury is trapped, shot, and nearly crushed, but still manages to drive away with an assist from his very smart car, only to be met by The Winter Soldier at the precise location no one could have possibly known was on his escape route.  It goes on like that for another two hours or so.

Now, this is all an accurate analysis of the film and the story.  HOWEVER, if you like it, you like it.  Plenty of people did like it, based on the box office stats.  That's totally cool, because you're allowed to like whatever you want, regardless of abstract notions of quality.  Think of it this way: plenty of folks like eating and drinking things that are not only unhealthy, but by most objective standards, aren't "good" food.  Does that change anyone's mind?  Not usually.  So, you can cue up at the McDonald's drive-thru all you want, but don't argue that because you do, McDonald's makes good food.  In films, music, art, all the same notions apply: you can like whatever you want, but don't assume your enjoyment carries any kind of long-term critical weight.  If you don't believe that, go back and look at the top 40 billboard hits of 25-years ago and tell me how many of them you have actually ever heard.

That's a long way to go to get to the point, but fanboys, lighten up.  Just because I don't like something, doesn't mean it's a personal attack on you or the things you like.  I'm probably a bigger fan of Captain America in the comics than anyone; he was always one of my favorite Marvel heroes.  That doesn't mean I have to say I think The Winter Soldier is good, or even enjoyable, when I thought otherwise.  The louder and harder you try to shout me (or anyone else) down online doesn't make me change my opinion on the film, it just makes me change my opinion of you.

Of course, the rules of civil discourse demand I treat your opinions cordially and with respect, whether I agree with them or not. Feel free to argue with me; I couldn't stop you if I wanted to.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Coffee and Karma

If you were to speak of me with any of my old friends, you probably wouldn't be too far into the conversation before the word "cynical" was put into play.  While I like to think of it as a realist approach to life, many misinterpret me to have an overly-jaundiced view of the world.  It's not a glass half empty/full question, it's more that I'm focused on where the next drink is coming from.

You'd think that any realist approach would negate a relationship with religions, superstitions, ideas of karmic balance, etc.  That's not quite the case because I, like all people, have a spiritual side to me and I spend a lot of internal time considering big existential questions. My realist side prohibits me considering karma as some kind of cosmic ledger sheet with transactions that are totaled at the end of the day.  I think good and kind things are the way to live your life, regardless of payback.

Sometimes, though, you are confronted with evidence that's a little hard to ignore.

This morning, in a rare twist, my commute got me to my office well in advance of my first meeting of the day.  Rather than settle for office-brewed coffee, which is perfectly fine but never spectacular, I realized I had time for a trip to Joe Coffee to score a latte and pastry before chaining myself to my desk.  Walking past one of the little-used entrances to my building, I saw the homeless guy who sometimes camps there out of the wind.  He looked even more disheveled than usual and was fidgeting and picking something off his clothes.  Realizing I was going to buy a 4$ coffee of all things and this guy hadn't probably had anything to eat today, I reached in my pocket and gave him the wad of one dollar bills I was carrying, figuring I could always use my debit card for the coffee.  The guy looked up and nodded when I handed him the cash, then retreated into his own internal world.

I continued on to the coffee shop and, frankly, I was wondering how the homeless guy had made it through this particularly brutal winter.  I wasn't paying attention when I got in line and ordered my coffee and pastry, so I didn't see the handwritten sign explaining their internet was down and it was cash only to pay for items.  It's always embarrassing to be caught out without a way to pay for something and I quickly asked the barista to cancel my order.  Before she could do so however, the woman in line ahead of me stepped in, saying, "I'd be happy to buy that for you.  I know how that feels."  I thanked her profusely and she replied, "Just pay it forward."

"You're not going to believe this..." and I told her about my morning.

On the way back to my office, the homeless guy had already left, hopefully to use my money to buy himself something to eat.

The incident didn't make me less of a realist and I still don't think karma is a cosmic vending machine, but it's nice to know that the world can be a better place if we're all a little kinder to each other.