Archive for January, 2005

Buffy the Vampire Slayer



The problem with doing a series retrospective on a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t the fact that it’s hard to find a spiritual connection, but that it’s hard to choose which spiritual connection to go with. Joss Whedon is a self-proclaimed atheist, yet he is also the perfect case study for the fact that God is “hardwired” into men’s hearts. If we are created in God’s image, then much of His character and essence is part of the fabric of our being and will come out in our art. In an episode of Alias, Sydney Bristow was exhorting a dying man to give her some information. She says, “I don’t know what your beliefs are. If you have a faith. If you expect that something follows this life. You might have none. But if there is a chance that there is something else, that we face the consequence of our actions in this lifetime . . . this is your last chance to do what’s right.” That pretty much summarizes much of what was the core theme of BtVS.

Click to enlargeWhen seen as a whole, which is easily done now that the show is out on DVD, one can see that Joss Whedon has woven an entire theological and redemptive model into the show’s mythology (and it bears little resemblance to the eponymous movie that spawned it). The theology of the show starts by acknowledging the reality of evil. One of the best things about the horror genre is that it most starkly, of all genres, paints in hues of Good versus Evil. That conflict is not only at the heart of all stories, it is the universal story. We live in a world of suffering and sin. Taken to an extreme point would be Buffy’s hometown, the ironically named Sunnydale, which sits on a Hellmouth, a symbol of life as a portal between one reality and the next. It’s a convergence of mystical forces that serves as the excuse for monsters to appear so commonly. Not only is evil real and accepted, it is meant to be opposed.

Another tenet of this theology is that evil is the fault of the evildoer. People, and demons, have choices and are accountable for them. One of the best things that the show does is show the consequences of people’s actions, typified by this exchange between Buffy and Giles:

“I told one lie, I had one drink.”

“Yes, and you were very nearly devoured by a giant demon snake. The words ‘let that be a lesson’ are a tad redundant at this juncture.”

Not only is evil to be opposed, but it can’t be opposed with evil, because that only strengthens the cause of evil. Evil must be opposed with good. The show does interesting things with the idea of redemption and forgiveness. Those that at different times have given in to the dark forces? Angel, Faith, Willow, and Spike?have to be redeemed, and then they set about to atone for their sins. These are not presented as easy paths, nor is forgiveness easily earned.

Click to enlargeFrom the beginning, Buffy Summers is set up as a messiah figure. She is, after all, the Chosen One: “Into each generation a slayer is born. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil.” She has been given a cup that she doesn’t want to drink from: her mission, her calling, is one she would rather run from or ignore rather than embrace. It’s not wrong to long for a “normal” life. Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero Has a Thousand Faces, would call her the prototypical reluctant hero, in the tradition of Frodo or Luke Skywalker. It’s tough for a teenager to be burdened with the idea that she’s the fulfillment of prophecy:
1) as the slayer/Chosen One and
2) that she is destined to die. This idea of responsibility for others, using your special abilities for the sake of helping others, sets the course for Buffy’s role in the show.

Click to enlargeThough Buffy is one in a line of slayers, what sets her apart from all the other slayers, the isolated heroes of their times, is her friends. Dubbed the “Scooby Gang,” they are her closest friends, a fantastic foursome of Buffy (the slayer), Willow (the witch), Giles (the mentor), and Xander. On the surface, Xander seems the odd man out, capable of little more than wisecracks. But only in the seventh season is his role fully defined: he’s the heart and the vision. It is the fact that Buffy is grounded in love?love of her family and friends, that she has a community and is not as strictly isolated as previous slayers?that makes her great. Theirs is the power of presence, a power that literally proved to be the tide turner in the climactic battle in Season Four.

For the first three seasons, the show played on the metaphor of high school as hell. Themes of humiliation, alienation, confusion, and loneliness taken to the proportions of the demonic. Buffy is like Spider-man’s alter ego, Peter Parker. She has these cool powers, but is burdened with this overwhelming sense of responsibility. She struggles with school life, and her personal life, but she has the hero part down. Still, she was misunderstood, even mocked, by those she was there to save. Nor were her friends, her disciples, the cream of society’s crop. They were the nerds and outcasts of the world.

The show is a meditation on death (“I live in the action of death,” the Primitive, the first slayer proclaims) and the afterlife (Angel had been consigned to hell for a time and Buffy brought down from heaven, with vampires and other demonic forces trapped somewhere in between). Horror revolves around not only the idea of death, but exploring the very real human fear of it. When told that she was prophesied to die at the hands of her enemies, she had her Gethsemane moment of reluctance, then went willingly to her death. Upon her resuscitation, she was more powerful than ever. In a later episode, she descended into hell to free some captives. Death and resurrection are constants in the show. The whole idea of vampires is wrapped in these notions and steeped in religious imagery. It’s as if God is ever-present, yet off camera. In one episode, “School Hard,” a vampire says “This is the most fun I’ve had since the crucifixion.” Think of the iconography of vampires as true anti-Christ figures: they are people who die and three days later are resurrected and, through the sacrifice of blood, born into eternal life. They can be killed by a wood stake through the heart, by holy water, or by the sun’s light. The cross is lit
erally Buffy’s salvation.

Spirituality as commonly practiced in our Western, individualistic mindset has been about one’s personal salvation. While preaching a “gospel” of honor, loyalty, and friendship, Buffy exemplifies a less self-centered mindset: she’s out to save everyone. While she lives by Mr. Spock’s code from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” she goes out of her way to save even the one, “not willing that any should perish.” Whereas the BtVS spin-off, Angel, has redemption as its central focus, at the center of Buffy is the theme of sacrifice. This culminates in Season Five. The “Big Bad,” as the major villain of each season is sometimes called, is a mad god named Glory. She seeks to bring down the walls that separate realities, in essence, break down the gates of hell. The blood of the “savior’s” family line is needed to stop the ritual. Rather than sacrifice her sister, Dawn, which was intended, Buffy sacrifices herself. self-sacrifice, rooted in love, is the only act to bring salvation.

Season Six examines the ramifications of Buffy’s condescension from heaven. What am I talking about? As the season opens, Buffy is dead. Dead and buried dead, not the technically her-heart-stopped-beating dead of Season One. Her friends set out to rescue her soul from hell. While the precedent had been set, Angel had been consigned to hell (expected, since he did spend over two centuries as the scourge of Europe), you kind of have to ask yourselves what your friends must think of you if they assume that at the moment of your death, you must be in hell. The arrogance/naivete of such an assumption has tragic consequences as her friends succeed in yanking her from “heaven.” This is reminiscent of what is called Jesus Christ’s condescension in Philippians 2:5-11?the idea that God would take His essence, wrap Himself in human likeness, and humble Himself by coming from heaven to be like one of us on earth. However, Buffy is not Christ, and being yanked from “the powers that be” (the stand-in for God in Whedon’s mythology) sends her into a tailspin, and the darkest season of the show (though it did produce the greatest episode of the series, the musical Once More with Feeling). Part of this is the realization, or acceptance of the fact, that part of the burden of her chosen calling is the fact that it will always cut her off somewhat from those around her, even her family and friends. Because there can be only one, only one to make the tough decisions with no rule book to guide her.

Only one, until Season Seven.

Click to enlargeIn this, the last season and a return to a lot of what made Buffy great, Buffy goes missional. The “Big Bad” of the season was actually a villain let loose in Season Four: the First, the original evil. During the course of the season, Buffy and her compatriots come to realize how overwhelmed they are: the nature and perniciousness of this evil is too pervasive. The plan that they come up with involves drawing on Buffy’s essence. The mythology of the show tells us that only one slayer can operate at a time, but there must be many potential slayers at any given moment since, should the current slayer die, one must rise to take her place. The Scooby Gang in essence lets loose the “Holy Spirit,” a scene very much reminiscent of Pentecost, activating all of the potentials to carry out their divine mission. Buffy as Christ figure is still present, especially in the series finale as her side is pierced by a sword and later the shadow of a cross forms on her blouse.

Buffy is in the line of “The Suffering Servant.” Hers is a life of constant struggle. Hers is a life that by necessity forgoes any hope of a true personal life. Another hallmark of the hero’s journey is true love denied or sacrificed, in this case, the doomed romance of Buffy and Angel. Think Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo was undead and Juliet was given the charge of killing him. She loses family (her mom) and friends (Ms. Calendar, Tara, Anya). She loses her life both figuratively (her life, due to her calling, is no longer her own) and literally (she dies, twice). She is called down from the peace of heaven for the sake of her mission and humanity.

What I don’t want to be lost in all of the analysis is the fact that the main reason that Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked for so long is because of its great writing, great acting, and great dialogue. It is one of the wittiest shows, full of pop culture references and witty repartee, to ever hit the airwaves. However, in a lot of ways, BtVS is a truly postmodern religious experience. What we ultimately learn from Buffy is that true spirituality is about the journey. On the show, everyone is on a journey and along the way, the characters increase in complexity if not likeability. But it’s the journey itself that shapes them, not the distance not even the destination or completion of the goal or defeat of the villain. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is in essence, a parable with Buffy as messiah, the Scoobies as her church, and the demons as the temptations of life. Or, as Willow says (in the episode “Lie to Me”), “The dark can get pretty dark. Sometimes you need a story.”

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The Complaints from the “Religious Right”

Click to enlargeAs with many things, there are those who cannot watch shows like Buffy. They have defined what lines they cannot cross for themselves insofar as what they can watch and handle. That is fine. This becomes less fine when they define their lines as the only “proper” lines that everyone should follow. The chief complaints center around two things prevalent in the show: the use of magic (the occult) and sex. But let me start off by saying that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a Christian show. It doesn’t espouse a Christian cosmology (not a Christian version of creation, demons, or the afterlife), but it does leave much open as springboards for dialogue.

The show embraces a reality that we would more comfortably like to deny: we live in a mystical world and there are spiritual forces in play. Too often the show is seen as not being a true battle of light versus darkness, but as using the occult to banish the occult, evil to fight evil. One of the things overlooked is that our very existence is defined by a battle between our own “good” (our spiritual selves) and “evil” (our human nature).

Magic, like many other concepts in the show, is symbolic of other things. At times it has been a symbol of growing romantic or sexual interest (as in Willow and Tara’s relationship). Sometimes it has been used to explore the nature of addiction (including Willow falling in thrall to a magic “dealer”). It has been a symbol for the nature of absolute power to corrupt absolutely (as in Willow’s “Dark Phoenix” storyline that culminated season six. As

an aside, it is no accident that I reference the “Dark Phoenix” storyline taken from the X-Men comics. Joss Whedon is not only a huge fan of comics, and currently writes Astonishing X-Men, but patterned the character of Buffy on one of his favorite X-Men, Kitty Pryde). The main lesson always presented is that magic isn’t something to be trifled with or approached lightly. It’s very real and very dangerous. And the show has always been clear on one thing: it is not moral to use evil, to use the powers of darkness, even to a good end. This is a constant source of temptation and the show never shied away from discussing the attraction of the darkness. Faith, another ironically named vampire slayer, succumbed to this temptation early on, falling in love with her power and the thrill of combat.

And there is the idea of consequences.

Magic is something that Willow started to dabble in during Season Two in order to contribute something to this ongoing fight against evil. In Season Six, she pays the consequences of such dabbling.

There are positive lessons to be learned from Wiccans. Thoreau said that with a keen awareness of the natural world one could find truth. God has created all things and declared them “good” (even “very good”). We’ve abandoned the a sense of “creation spirituality” from our spiritual walks, so it’s little wonder why people return to older religions in an effort to reclaim it. All spiritual people should enjoy God’s creation, embracing it the way God intended for us. We need to recover the mystical part of spirituality, learning to exist in harmony with God, others, and creation.

Then there’s the sex. By the end of the third season, all the major characters have lost their virginity and in the fourth, Willow engages in an ongoing lesbian relationship. Sex, especially repressed sexuality, is commonly linked to horror. That being said, sex not only plays out as a metaphor on the show (beyond its own titillating aspects) but the show does something that few others do: deal with the consequences of it. When Buffy loses her virginity to Angel, the consequences are tragic. Angel turns evil, first becoming a cad, the typical guy who doesn’t call the next day, before fully returning to his murderous self. And as his return to evil plays out, Buffy is forced to kill him and send him to hell. When Oz, Willow’s one-time boyfriend, runs around with a female werewolf, he realizes that one cannot live totally in thrall to one’s desires without leaving wreckage in the wake.

Look at the lexicon of the show: heaven, hell, the apocalypse, souls, evil are all taken as givens. The show, while never preachy, is a series of cautionary tales about what happens when you go too far, too fast. It is also a show that rewards a viewer’s patience and intelligence: none of its themes are tidily wrapped up within the hour, and some take episodes, if not seasons, to play out. It is simpler to live in a black-and-white world, to have a series of rules to live by. Living in the freedom of the gray areas is uncomfortable. The show refuses to take the easy route. A lot can be learned about how to tell stories, the use of visual imagery, and even the power of dialogue from watching the show. In this media-savvy world that we live in, the show resonates because it allows culture to infiltrate it, digesting and absorbing it, then turning around and infiltrating culture.

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Do All Black People Look Alike?

So I was cruising the internet, trying to find out when Dave Chappelle Season Two will be released on DVD. My boys (Malcolm on the left, Reese on the right), looking over my shoulder, start yelling “Daddy!”

I’m torn on how to interpret this. Is it a matter that it is genetically imprinted in white folks that we all look alike? Or is it a matter of wishful thinking on the part of my kids, already tired of their ghetto fabulous lifestyle? You make the call.


Redneck Night Out

How much do I love my wife? She talked me into going to SuperCross.

Now, I like to consider myself a cultural diplomat, an African-American male who builds bridges between cultures the only way I know how: I invite my friends to do things that explore my culture and they, in turn, invite me to explore aspects of their culture. After all, we still live in an age of racial tension and apprehension, where cultures can live side by side one another and still be virtually ignorant of how the other one lives. A policy that all of my friends have agreed to in order to avoid the inevitable misunderstandings that come with racial bridge building is simple: have a soft heart, a thick skin, and a sense of humor. With that in mind, since I had taken a group of my friends to the Black Expo, one of my friends thought it only fair that I go with her to Supercross.

Um, okay. This is exactly what I had in mind.

I didn’t know anything about Supercross, not that I’d admit that to my friend. It’s kind of like one time when a woman asked me out by asking if I liked jazz, to which I said “Heck yeah” despite the fact that I couldn’t tell you Louis Armstrong from Louis Vuitton. I’d seen the commercials for this dirt bike racing extravaganza (you know the drill: “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday … we’ll sell you the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge”), which I took for the motorcycle equivalent of a monster truck rally. However, just like I went to the library to research jazz so that I wouldn’t sound ignorant, I decided to get as much information as I could. Not knowing where else to turn, I asked my redneck-at-heart friend Chip* (it was either that or ask my country club buddies Rusty, Dale, or Cleetus**).

Dear Chip,

I figured, fount of knowledge and sage-like wisdom that you are, that you would be the person to turn to for advice. This weekend I am going to a strange place to be surrounded by strange people. It will be a different culture, different ways, and different language.

I am going to Supercross.

I have gotten concerned phone calls from friends once they have learned that I was planning on attending, warning me that this is a redneck event that I have no business attending. I have taken it as a given that the first cry of “Yee-Haw” is my cue to exit, but I was wondering if there were any other phrases or helpful information that you could give me.

Thanks for your insight,

Maurice

To which he responded:

Maurice,

1. Keep in mind that if they invite you to go out in the woods on a gator hunt, that there are no gators in Indiana.

2. If you are running for your life, it is always a good idea to head north.

3. Bubba is not a friend of yours, no matter what he says.

4. Don’t order a drink with a sissy name. Stick to something served in a longneck bottle.

5. Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep.

6. Bocephus is the nickname for Hank Williams, Jr.

7. Don’t expect to use reason to win an argument.

8. Rednecks do not like to be call a “puss” by black guys.

9. Keep in mind that two people may be both brother and sister as well as husband and wife. It may be necessary to use a scorecard to keep track of the family trees.

10. Bubba does mind if you dance with his girl, no matter what she is telling you.

11. There is no such thing as a “catcher” in horseshoes.

12. Leave your latest copy of “The Final Call” in your car.

Hope these help,

Chip

Not that I lacked confidence in Chip’s words of wisdom, I still wanted another ambassador to act as my guide. So I called up my trailer park-living buddy, Gerald (last name withheld because I haven’t asked him if it were okay to run my mouth), because, as I told him in my invitation, when I think of white trash, I think of him. He responded by questioning the marital status of my parents at the time of my birth, but agreed to go anyway. To my shock, he’d never been to a Supercross before. He also said that the one condition of his going was that I not wear any “Down With Whitey” T-shirt. I want to point out two things for the record: 1) I wasn’t planning on wearing any of my more militant gear [no “Black and Beautiful”, no “Dig the Skin I’m In”, no “Fear of a Black Planet”]; and two, I don’t own anything with the word “whitey” on it. My goal was to sneak in relatively unnoticed, wearing native gear, until I realized that I owned no denim items or any flannel wear.

As you may have gathered by now, I went into this situation with more than a few prejudices. Admittedly, I expected to see the worst kept teeth since my visit to England. I expected to see chewing tobacco and lots of it. I expected to see nothing but pick-up trucks and Camaros in the parking lot. Okay, I wasn’t disappointed by that last one: I’d never seen such variety of trucks and RV’s (I will spare you any commentary about 1) bringing an RV and 2) what kind of overcompensation issues anyone may have been trying to prove by owning trucks who’s wheels were almost as tall as me).

I would also like to point out that the word “shee-oot”, which I’m not sure is supposed to have two syllables, is not in any dictionary that I own.

And we aren’t even inside yet.

A guy come up to me–me, the only Black guy in line–and says “I don’t know why you’re buying tickets when there’s a lady giving away free tickets downstairs.” I smile, thank him, and wait for him to leave, fully armed with the information about gator hunting. I turn around and my wife and friend, neither of whom were privy to Chip’s memo, were halfway down the stairs. A more trusting sort, all they had to do was hear the word “free”.

A woman from a local radio station really was giving away free tickets. Go figure.

Once we took our seats, I made a joke questioning whether or not Truck-a-saurus would be making an appearance. It was at this point that my diplomats informed me of the redneck scale of events. Supercross was the upper class redneck event. To get more rednecks, I’d have to go to a monster truck show (at which point I expressed consternation at the insinuation that rednecks and trucks could be associated together); and if I wanted to see some true hillbillies, I have to go to a tractor pull. Apparently there is an analogous situation with Formula One, Indy car racing, and NASCAR. [The other job of my diplomatic core was to safely escort me out of the building if I made a “white trash expo” joke too loudly. Which Gerald ended up making instead, because “it’s okay” if he does it. I get that reasoning and accept it for what it is.]

The national anthem was performed by “national recording artist” Wayne Knox (say it with me: “who?”) and then enough fireworks went off that I thought the Dirt Rider Blimp was going to go out like the Hindenburg. [And by the way, did I miss the meeting that decided to insert the lyrics “wee-hoo” into the anthem?].

The event itself was surprisingly fun. The crowd was extremely amiable and just into having a good time. My wife, a huge fan of the sport, tried to explain to me the intricacies of the sport, though, as a male, I don’t need any sport explained to me by a woman (have I mentioned that I’m also a bridge builder between the sexes also?). I picked up on the sport pretty quickly: a race would start, there would be a crash, one guy would get way ahead of everyone else and win. The only problem was that everyone wore day-glo colors, like a bunch of angry Power Rangers (though I did notice that the ones in green seemed to have anger management issues), and I couldn’t tell the individual riders apart.

FYI, there is no smoking allowed in the RCA Dome, despite the fact that we choked on the exhaust.

And I wasn’t the only Black person there. There were four other black families there, though I did get nervous whenever any of them were gone at the bathroom too long. (And before anyone makes a comment about me actually counting, when we went to the Black Expo, a friend of mine, out the clear of the blue, said “eight.” When I asked him about it, he said “I never believed you, but when you are this much in a minority, you can’t help but count how many of you there are”).

My personal highlight was watching the race featuring the 8-year olds. There’s nothing like watching little kids wreck and watching ‘pa’ scream from the sidelines.

We left before they showed the final race, which was due to be shown on national TV. That was all I needed: to be spotted on national television, at a motor cross event, sitting behind Larry, Darrell, and Darrell. That would definitely get my ghetto pass revoked.

* He really is named Chip

** I don’t personally know anyone named Rusty, Dale, or Cleetus

*** reprinted with his permission. More or less.

Elektra


Click to enlargeSo, there once was a male super hero franchise that featured a strong female equal yet polar opposite. Eventually, some Hollywood suit decided that said “good girl gone bad villain” would make for a good spin off unto herself and fan boys of said male super hero would surely flock to said movie. It was simple Hollywood math: Hot chick + comic book + rabid male fanboys = hit movie (with an eye toward a franchise). It didn’t work for Catwoman (spun from Batman). [It probably won’t work in the future, so someone tell the Hollywood exec who’s thinking about this to spare us the Jinx movie (spun from the James Bond film, Die Another Day)]. It didn’t work for Elektra (spun from Daredevil).

The truly frustrating part is that, like Daredevil, they almost get it right.

Click to enlargeDon’t get me wrong, I am Exhibit A for said Hollywood math. I am their prototypical target market. I’m a big Jennifer Garner fan (grade A hot chick and star of cult/hit show Alias and perfect choice for the role of Elektra Natchios). I am a comic book junkie (fan of Daredevil comics from Frank Miller’s legendary run). And, yes, I am a red-blooded, rabid fanboy (it’s no coincidence that the last movie I reviewed was Blade: Trinity). I wanted to love this movie.

Click to enlargeDo I need to demonstrate my Elektra credentials? Owner of her first appearance, in fact, her every appearance as written by her creator, Frank Miller. Elektra: Assassin is one of my favorite comic book mini-series of all time. It is here that we learn that “The Hand”, the secret group of ninjas that trained/corrupted Elektra, view themselves as “the hand of the Beast” (thus explaining the beast imagery in the movie). I love Elektra and have long salivated at the possibility of her solo in a movie.

Click to enlargeHere’s the flaw in the Hollywood exec’s thinking. They think that if they take the Alias fans, add the comic book fans, add the Daredevil movie fans (both of us), and those fans who’ll simply go to see anything with Jennifer Garner in a skimpy outfit, that would make a great crossover market, especially if those guys take their girlfriends. There are two problems with this theory: 1) all those fans are the SAME market and 2) those guys don’t have girlfriends. Okay, cheap shot at fandom, but let’s face it, these type of movies make their money from repeat viewing. I’ll admit to seeing Batman six times when it came out. But you have to give those fans something worth watching again, something to mentally chew on beyond Jennifer Garner’s midrift.

You just won’t find it here.

There is a lesson to be learned from the movie Catwoman: don’t make radial departures from the source material. Granted, Elektra was fairly wasted in the Daredevil movie. What should have been nearly operatic tragedy instead was little more than “insert love interest here” material. In fact, watching Daredevil didn’t leave one pining for an Elektra movie.

The back story of the movie manages to make no mention of Daredevil. This wasn’t the chief offense of the movie, because Elektra can very capably stand on her own apart from Daredevil. Even ignoring the Greek myths from where she drew her name, the tragedy of Elektra begins with the loss of her father. The story of Elektra, at its heart, is about a girl who lost her way, due to the death of her father. She turns to the dark side, then finds the light through her death and resurrection. You might think that this falls into the category of “geek night out” nit-picking, but that’s the problem with the movie: I and my fellow army of geeks know the back story, so we can fill in the blanks. We bring her mythology to the table when we dine at this cinematic venture. Those left with only what the movie provides leave especially hungry. The movie doesn’t make clear any of the motivations for our heroine. Click to go to 13 GOING ON 30Jennifer Garner, who demonstrated some of her range in 13 Going on 30, looks lost in this movie, like she doesn’t get the character any more than we do. Thus we’re left with her granite faced method of emoting. The best we can puzzle out is that Elektra’s pain turns on the death of her mother, making this more a revenge flick. See, we can’t handle the subtle dynamics and themes of a girl loving her father too much, but revenge we get.

Click to enlargeThe story, such as it is, involves Elektra, high priced assassin, being hired to kill a father (Mark Miller, ER’s Goran Visnjic in the “insert male love interest here” role), in and a daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout). She instead befriends them, seeing in the girl who she once was. Well, the girl turns out to be “The Treasure”, a unique warrior. “The Hand”, led by Kirigi (Will Yun Lee), wants the Treasure for themselves, or at least out of the hands of Stick (Terrance Stamp, another perfect choice) and his disciples, in order to tip the balance of the war between good and evil in their favor. The movie defines “unique” differently than my dictionary as Elektra, Typhoid Mary (Natassia Malthe), and Abby are all defined as either this unique warrior or the treasure. This is part of the problem with the movie: I, as the comic book geek, know who all the players are while the movie provides no real sense of them.

Click to go to BLADE:TRINITYThere are two things that Elektra shares with the other comic book-cum-movie dud, Blade: Trinity. One, it has lots of action to gloss over a lack of characterization. You have ninjas and kung fu sequences, Click to go to  HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERSbut in the last year, we’ve seen grand and elegant fight sequences in movies such as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Frenetic action and jumbled quick shots aren’t going to cut it. Two, its main villains, ninjas instead of vampires, should be threatening by themselves but are dispatched too easily (and thus don’t seem all that convincing as a threat).

Click to enlargeUltimately, this is a story of the war between good and evil, in the big picture sense, fought in the shadows. While kind of a reminder that though there are battles fought in the heavenly realms, the true battleground is often “within the heart of a single individual”. And it is individuals who tip the balance. Elektra is a lost soul, we’re told that rather than shown this, with a tragic past that she hasn’t learned to get past or make a part of her. [Comic book geeks know that it is that pain that the Hand used to get a foot hold in her life, turning her to their side for a time. The Hand is the corrupting influence, the sinful nature that she battles against. In the movie, it is unclear what exactly she is struggling against.] Evil, represented by the Hand, can lurk anywhere, even within an ordinary looking corporate office building. Elektra’s is a path of violence and pain while searching for “the way”. Though she doesn’t want to see Abby on such a path, she knows that everyone has a path that they are called to walk. The journey is the test, as “some things cannot be taught but have to be lived to be understood”. Elektra has been a resurrected into a new life learning that “your second life is not always like your first … sometimes its even better.” And though she may stumble on occasion, she gets back up. It is that battle that makes her heroic.

Any adaptation, be it from a novel or a comic book, makes narrative choices in order to get at the essence of the character and story. This was a rated-R tale that was made PG-13 and lost its way. I have only hinted at the much more interesting story that this movie could’ve told. We don’t see Elektra’s darkness that the movie hints–for example, made explicit in the comic book with her being a member of the Hand–Click to go to DAREDEVILso it is difficult to see her redemption. Like Daredevil, I liked the movie more than it deserved, probably due to a fanboy filling in what the movie fails to deliver. There is plenty of “cool” here, but not a clear or strong enough narrative to tie it all together and give it meaning. Like it’s heroine, Elek

tra needed to find its heart.




My Top Television Picks:

#1 The Wire. The most densely written and demanding show on the air, it reminds me of my spiritual life: messy, practical, and triumphant. without the drugs.

#2 Deadwood. Proving that the western, as a genre, is far from dead, I can’t wait for season two.

#3 The Shield. Season two dropped off a bit, but the third season found a return to great form.

After the top three, the rest of my top ten are interchangeable depending on my mood:

Wonderfalls. Four glorious episodes were all we had, but the DVD with the unaired episodes will be my solace.

Arrested Development. It’s almost unfair to call it a sitcom. It rises so far above the form.

Lost. Along with Alias and 24, the serial thriller has returned for real. Alias drifted a bit in 2004. 24 was strong enough to make my honorable mentions list. But so far, Lost delivers the goods.

The Sopranos. I’m tempted to call this the best television drama I read all year. It and The Wire were densely written and turned on subtle characterizations, but The Sopranos aimed for being art.

Desperate Housewives. This is not your typical guilty pleasure evening sudser. The show has wit and depth.

Angel (the last 14 episodes were in 2004). Sorely missed mix of horror and humor.

CSI. The sole representative of the cop “brand” shows (the three CSIs or the three-five Law and Orders) because it is the best.

Honorable Mentions:

Best dramas: Boston Legal (despite their fluctuating tone issues), House, Rescue Me, a resurgent NYPD Blue, The O.C., 24, Nip/Tuck

Best sitcoms: The Simpsons, Scrubs

Best reality shows: Amazing Race, The Apprentice, Survivor

My Top Movie Picks of 2005

To be fair, I haven’t seen Sideways, Maria Full of Grace, Collateral, or Ray and I have a feeling that they would be high on my list.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – with The Truman Show and Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey continues his run as pop culture theologian.

Hero – poetic violence and beautiful cinematography. you can’t get much better than a pretty kung fu flick.

This does seem to be the year of good sequels:

Kill Bill – Vol. 2 – this quieter sequel to (or other half of) Kill Bill – Vol. 1 feels more like a western, but is a genre lover’s dream.

Spider-Man 2 – one of the few sequels that surpasses the original.
everything about this was better: action, effects, acting, and story.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – um, ditto (see Spider-Man 2)

Shrek 2 – picks up where the original left off.

Speaking of which, this also seems to be the year of stand out animation, but topping that list is The Incredibles. This wasn’t just a great animated film, this was a great film period.

Eulogy for Sally (Relax, She’s Fine)

The thing about marriage is that when you marry for life, one partner will probably have to bury the other. It’s a somewhat depressing thought, actually, sobering is the better word for it. I like to remind myself of this fact every so often to make me appreciate the time that I have with my wife and to keep my priorities focused on what is truly important in life.

That being said, I write eulogies for my wife like some people write love poems. Hey, my wife knew the kind of romance that awaited her when she said “I do.” I figure it this way: 1) she gets to see the kind of things that I will say about her when she’s gone; and 2) she gets to veto some of the things that I will say. Here’s one example:

I lost my wife this week and Reese and Malcolm lost their mother.

But don’t be too sad for us.

I had to explain to them, like I had to explain to some of you, that she’s gone on to where she’d rather be. She’s gone on to what was the goal of her life: to be with her Savior, Jesus Christ.

So don’t be too sad for us.

We lived with her and we loved her on a daily basis. I’m not going to suddenly re-remember our life together through rose-tinted glasses, that is was pure bliss or anything like that. Our first year was tough. Let me tell you, living with me and loving me will test your capacity to love and remain sane. But I wrote something in my journal during our first year that summarizes all I want to say about our life together.

5/14/2000
A memory of my wife:

Tonight we stayed up until 10:30 pm watching the movie Clockers. My choice on the movie, a Spike Lee joint about inner city drug dealers, the ‘clockers’ in question. She watched it with me, not because she had some burning urge to catch up on her Spike Lee movies, but because she wanted to spend time with me, watching what interests me, learning what I like, and simply being with me.

She loves me, what can I say?

She then went upstairs to feed the four kittens she brought home Friday. You see, she comes home and says “Honey, I’m baby sitting this weekend” knowing a) that I’m immediately thinking that we are watching her brother’s seven kids and b) I have such a great love for kids. She then whips out this box of constant meowing. In the wife handbook, I believe that is rule #37: don’t give your husbands a choice. Had she called home to ask “can we watch these four kittens, abandoned by their mother at my job, where they are likely to be crushed by all the cars that we move about, and whom no one else could watch?” OF COURSE I WOULD HAVE SAID NO! So she just brought them home. We took them along with us during our normal Friday night: to the movies, then over to a friends’ house. Saturday they ran errands with us. Sunday they watched movies with us.

She loves animals, what can I say?

One of our errands Saturday was working out together, so her muscles were sore. She convinces me to give her an oil massage. So I straddle her torso and begin to rub her back and shoulders. I work my way down to her legs as she lets out contented moans. She starts to caress my legs. Then what does she do? She accidently farts. She tries to keep a straight face, but she can’t stop laughing. Which only makes her fart again. Which makes me laugh. I kiss her good night because we’d only end up staying up and laughing like Beavis and Butthead the rest of the night.

She loves our marriage, what can I say?

Of course we’re not perfectly suited for each other. We have little in common. Don’t like the same stuff. Don’t have the same temperaments. We just work. I can’t explain it. I guess that’s the mystery of love. And marriage. Two people not perfectly suited, because neither was perfect to begin with.

I know what you’re saying. Did he just say fart at his wife’s funeral? Yeah, I said it. I read her what I planned to read at her eulogy as one of our date nights. Yeah I know, there’s nothing more romantic than a husband coming up with stuff to say at his wife’s funeral while she’s trying to eat dinner. But I figured she’d want to know what I thought about her while she was still here and she could tell me to reign it in a little if need be. So she knew exactly what I was going to say.

So don’t be too sad for us.

Yeah, we’ll grieve and we’ll miss her, but when we took our vows, we said until death do us part. We realized that one of us might survive the other. That one day we might die. So we lived and loved as if each day was our last. And we grieve, not just for our loss, but for yours too. She was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a friend. She was my wife and Reese and Malcolm’s mother. But she was God’s child first. She’s with her Savior now. And we will see her again.

What did Sally end up saying? She vetoed anything that involved her farting. She didn’t want that to be people’s last memory of her.

(yeah, right, that’s my favorite part of the eulogy)

Negative Talent

Can someone have so little talent that they actually have “negative talent”? Well, I consider myself too new to the world of writing to make that assessment (a b.s., cop-out answer since it’s not like I’m new to reading. I just don’t want this “writer” to start pissing in my blog.).

A controversial (more for his behavior within the writing community rather than his writing) writer posts this story. You be the judge.

I bring this up, not to unnecessarily pile on to this writer, but because of the response given by master craftsman, Ray Garton. To wit:

“I’ve read some bad fiction in my time, but NONE of it comes CLOSE to Nick Pacione’s “Leviathan Ghosts.” It’s absolutely unreadable. It’s so bad that reading it actually caused me physical pain. A sharp, piercing pain, like a hot poker being stabbed into my eye, resulted from just reading the first few paragraphs. There’s a lot of bad fiction out there, but none worse than Pacione’s. Only one thing is made abundantly clear in “Leviathan Ghosts,” and that’s the fact that Pacione has absolutely no talent as a writer whatsoever. Not only is this bad writing, it’s completely incompetent, and I’m stunned that anyone would actually put his name on it. But now I know how bad he is, so I can avoid him completely in the future — at least something good has come from my exposure to this toxic collection of sentences (I can’t bring myself to call it a story).”

Message Board of the Darned

This whole path of becoming a pastor isn’t a lock. There’s nothing like starting a new ministry, or getting involved in the nuts and bolts of an existing church to open your eyes to the politics, power struggles, and pettiness that goes along. I know that the ideal is that the book that is the governing how things ought to run in the church is the Holy Bible, but the reality is more like Machiavelli’s The Prince.

I say this because I was warned not to do anything too controversial. We’re in that delicate phase of raising money to start, until we can become self-sustaining; building a coalition of different groups with the same vision. And on too many occasions apparently, when told who the co-pastor would be, people have made comments like “Maurice Broaddus? Last time I saw him, he was wearing a coconut bra.”

[It was a luau. For my wife’s birthday. And my parties are … enthusiastic. Anyway, I looked good in a grass skirt. But, some people find that too disturbing an image for their pastor.]

So, no more me referring to communion wine as “Jesus shots” or advocating for a tastier savior (since those communion wafers are nasty).

But then there’s the grief for me advertising the message boards that I frequent. The chief offender being the Message Board of the Damned . Hey, you can’t castigate horror enthusiasts as being destined for hell, then be mad when they play into that image. But, in the spirit of conciliation, I am willing to make some compromises. With all due apologies to our hosts David Wilbanks, Robert Lee, and Loki over at MBOTD, I am staging a coup.

Welcome to the all new Message Board of the Darned.

To make those who obviously know God’s rules on who and who we shouldn’t associate with, here are the new rules:

1. Homosexuals are out. If they insist on hanging around, they need to be protested. Just the way Jesus would’ve wanted.

2. No cussing.

3. No boobies. We’ve all heard rumors about what goes on in the chat room. In fact, no sex talk at all, even from married people, because that a private thing that belongs only between a husband and a wife. No one needs to know if you actually “do it.”

4. No poop. We’ve heard the talk, but no more. Poop belongs in you or in the proper waste receptacles. Not on the board.

5. And I am hereby un-banning conscientious Christian objectors. Their wisdom only shines a light on others’ sin and makes all of us Christians look good.

Enjoy the new board. That’s what spirituality is about. Jesus died for no boobies and no cussing.

Idiots.

Christmas and Kwanzaa 2004: Final Report

Finally the Christmas season is over. It’s not truly over for us in the Broaddus household until after the first of the year because that’s the last day of Kwanzaa. Yeah, my interracial family celebrates Kwanzaa. In fact, my wife is the Kwanzaa expert in the family. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The full holiday report has to start at the beginning of December. That’s when I hold my traditional Christmas party. They started off as Murder Mysteries (you know, because nothing says happy birthday Jesus like killing off your guests). But, they quickly grew into huge, nearly unwieldy theme affairs, with this year some 40+ people fitting into our relatively small condo. This year’s theme: Christmas in the Old West. I went as the sheriff from Blazing Saddles, my wife as Jessie from Toy Story 2. But after my Christmas party, I pretty much bah-humbug my way through the rest of the season, sickened by the lack of perspective and priorities about what the holiday is about. Say what you want about my parties, they are about community, so much so that my neighbors crashed it.

Okay, to be perfectly candid, there is also my general laziness when it comes to shopping and decorating.

So my wife carries the torch of holiday spirit for the family. She put together our creche (a manger scene featuring a white Mary, Black Joseph, mixed Jesus, with shepherds and wise men of different races) and decorates the house. She bought the bulk of the gifts, um, including her own.

[As part of my Christmas tradition, I waited until the last minute to shop for my wife. Well, a foot of snow hit us. My wife, a fellow partaker of that particular Christmas tradition, went out anyway. I gave her my checkbook and said that since she was going out anyway, she could stop by this one store and pick up the gift I was going to get her.

Hey, she knew the romance that awaited her when she said “I do.”

Anyway, she returned and told me that though she liked what I was going to get her, apparently I had a change of heart and got her something much, much bigger.]

And she puts together our Kwanzaa celebration. I wanted our family to have its own tradition and I decided that Kwanzaa would be it (again, something I decided while I was still single, not knowing that I would marry a white woman. A friend of mine, Chesya Burke, likens me and my family to the black militant in the movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka).

Since there’s no strict definition of how it should be done, we adapt Kwanzaa for our family (meaning we gloss over some of its more leftist leanings). Here’s how a typical day of Kwanzaa goes for us:

-We light the appropriate number of candles (one candle for each day).

-We discuss that day’s Nguzo Saba (one of the seven principles).

-I make the libation statement (think of it as a toast) then drink from the communal cup which is passed down and sipped from oldest to youngest.

-We open our gift(s), homemade or inexpensive.

-We read a story from a book of African folk tales.

-We sing Harambee.

-Then blow out the candles.

This is our fourth year, and I think that we’re finally getting it down. The last day is a feast, but we cheat and go to my aunt’s house for a huge family dinner (food from three countries).

It works for us.