Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Look! Up in the Air! A Methodist!

posted by burb

A Jewish comedian claimed not long ago that he grew up thinking that all the comic-book superheroes were Jewish, because, like, say, Goldman and Federrman, all their names end in “man”: Spiderman, Batman, Superman…

A report on MSNBC this week examined more seriously the topic of religion in comics, which are growing more concerned with faith, according to the story. The American superhero’s origin in Judaism have been explored, both in fact (click here for an essay on Superman and the Golem) and fiction, most famously in Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.” MSNBC’s reporter interviews several academics who point out the growing interest comic-book writers have taken in religion, to gratify an their audience that is increasingly adult, and, like the country as a whole, increasingly religious.


The theme pops up too on Progressive U., a national student blog, in an interesting essay about the essential religious nature of comics. The author portrays comics as modern pop mythologies—you know, the boogie-man stories equivalent to cave paintings that we flatter ourselves our society doesn’t indulge in anymore. Comic books, the essay claims, allows us to feel awe—mostly concocted but sometimes taking a share of reality, as in the nearly wordless 9/11 installment of “The Amazing Spiderman.”

For the record, with due respect to my Jewish brothers and sisters, Batman was an Episcopalian, and Superman a Methodist, as you can read here.


The Greatest Movie You Don’t Want to See

posted by

I saw “United 93,” so you don’t have to.

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, because it’s excellent, maybe even great–original, innovative, riveting, heartbreaking, unforgettable. Many had feared that the film would be exploitative, but “United 93″ is exactly the opposite of that. In telling the story of the fourth plane on Sept. 11–the one that crashed as the passengers attempted to retake it from the hijackers–the filmmakers do away with all Hollywood conventions and opt for a documentary-style reenactment. We don’t see the characters’ back stories or their surviving relatives; no husbands kissing their wives good-bye for the last time, no lucky latecomer who just missed the flight, no orphans remembering their lost mom. Nothing, in fact, that we’d expect from a disaster-of-the-week film.


Instead, director Paul Greengrass tells the story in real-time, from just before takeoff to its tragic crash in a Pennsylvania field, jumping back and forth between the goings-on inside the airplane, the confusion among air-traffic controllers, and the too-little, too-late efforts by the military to retake American airways. Even the passengers’ rebellion against the terrorists is presented without adornment, not as some sort of macho militaristic battle, but as what it was: The last desperate, heartbreaking attempt by a group of doomed people to take control of their fate.

Watching “United 93″ was truly like re-experiencing Sept. 11. My heart started pounding the minute the plane’s doors closed, and it didn’t stop until after I returned to my office when it was over. Yes, this movie is a respectful, fitting memorial to the deceased heroes who fought back and prevented their flight from destroying the Capitol or another Washington building. Yes, I learned a lot about what these passengers must have went through, and gained some insight into how the air-traffic controllers and military officers reacted–sometimes as heroes, sometimes as bumblers, sometimes as both at once–to an unprecedented situation.


But is all of that a good thing? Do we want to go to the movies to re-experience the greatest American trauma of our time? Not me. Don’t get me wrong; I am not someone who thinks all movies need to be happy, and I believe that film plays an important role in how we as a society talk about and work through important issues. But I don’t see how this particular film furthers that conversation; it’s certainly well intentioned and very well made, but it ultimately fails to go deeper than the surface. And we’ve all experienced that surface–in endless news coverage and in our own horrific memories–too much already. I can understand showing this movie at the planned United 93 memorial or at Sept. 11 memorial commemorations. But as one of the choices at your local multiplex, it’s hard for me to understand why people would choose to bring themselves back so viscerally to that traumatic day–or what they’d get out of it.


Sequel Summer! (What a Shame)

posted by doug howe

May is about here and with it comes the kickoff of the summer movie season, which looks like it will be far different than last summer, when May’s bombs and semi-bombs included “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Monster-in-Law,” and “Kicking and Screaming,” all landing with a box office thud that lasted all summer long.

It looks like the studios are making up for it this year, kicking off with “Mission: Impossible III” this weekend, followed by “Poseidon” on May 12, “The Da Vinci Code” on May 19, and “X-Men: The Last Stand” on May 26. I hope they’re good, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice that they’re certainly safe, at least for the studios. “M-I 3” and “X-Men” are sequels, “Poseidon” is a remake, and “Da Vinci” is the screen version of the book that’s been a best seller for what seems like a thousand weeks.


The trend will continue throughout the summer with sequels and remakes, including another Superman reincarnation in “Superman Returns,” another Johnny Depp turn in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” a modern version of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” called “You, Me and Dupree, ” a big-screen “Miami Vice,” and “Garfield’s A Tale of Two Kittens.”

In the business of movies, these are as much franchises as they are films, which is good for business and hopefully entertaining for us. But I don’t expect too much new to be said for the spiritual person looking to learn and reflect on life through art, as franchise films can’t really risk saying too much. That’s a shame, and I hope there’s room in the market for films which still try and say something. A franchise which did that would be even more welcome, at least by me.


Roar, TomKat, Roar!

posted by burb

Tom Cruise fans—those who read the gossip mags these days with paper bags over their heads—must wonder, Why does Tom do it? Why pounce on Oprah’s sofa? Why pooh-pooh post-partum depression? Why placenta? Why does he insist on announcing that the birth of his child was “very spiritual”?

Okay, the last of these is the least of his recent embarassments, but it’s one that rallied me to Cruise’s defense. I had a twinge when the prankster squirted Tom in the face with a water gun shaped like a microphone, but I tilted when Tom’s claim about “spiritual” childbirth popped up in nearly every headline about his post-partum chat with ABC’s “20/20”; the media is either proud of Tom’s perceptive description of watching childbirth or wants his comment entered as another data point that he’s gone off his nut. I suspect the latter.


Since his cringe-inducing performance on “Oprah,” we’re all to understand that Tom has taken permanent leave of his senses or is intolerably self-obsessed. “Is there any experience that isn’t totally intense and utterly incredible with this man?” wrote one columnist. Isn’t that, though, just about the best definition available of “spiritual”? The same question, asked about the Dalai Lama, would come off as praise.

Similarly, instead of using Oprah’s sofa as a trampoline, should Tom have mewled that Kat is his best friend? Okay, Tom could tone down the kooky pseudo-psychiatry and lay off the placenta. Or better yet, take some acting roles that measure up to his “private” weirdness. Artists are supposed to revolt us, challenge us, be rash and generally be in the vanguard. So I say, Take pride, Tom fans. You have nothing to lose but your bags.

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