Saturday, September 25, 2021

Madea Goes to Jail and the Transience of Identity

Picture this: It's late on a Saturday night, you are bored and want to watch a movie. But not a good movie, because there is something wrong with your brain. So you head over to [STREAMING SERVICE] and you see a film you've heard of, and one you're pretty certain you have a good hold of despite that. Madea Goes to Jail. What follows is a harrowing experience that can hardly be represented in words. But I guess I'll give it an shot.

Initially, the film presents itself as what one might expect. Madea, played by Tyler Perry, is an ornery old lady who apparently fucked up one too many times, and now is going to jail to meet a wacky cast of characters and learn a lesson or something. But then Madea leaves the courtroom. We stay and watch some completely separate characters. The actual main characters. Candy is a sex worker brought in on prostitution charges, and the prosecutor, Joshua, recuses himself as he knew her at some point in the past. What follows is a crash course in human misery, as every bad thing that could happen to a person happens to Candy. After one night back working on the streets, she is abducted and raped by a pimp, who plans to hold her captive until she escapes and seeks shelter with Joshua. When a local minister sets Candy up for a job interview, the man interviewing her sexually assaults her.

I could go over the laundry list of calamity that befalls Candy, but I think you get the point. What makes this film so bewildering to watch is that each of these scenes of tragedy is interspersed with scenes of Madea and her family being zany. You settle into the tone being dark and emotionally wracking, then Madea shows up for a sassy back-and-forth with Dr. Phil. It is impossible to get your footing with this movie. The listing says "Comedy." The description mentions nothing of tragedy.

What is the deal with this? I must mention I had never seen a Tyler Perry film before. Everyone I spoke to who has seen one of his films sat back like a jaded old schoolmaster and said, "Oh yes, they're all like that." One person's only comment was that it was a "funny movie." How could someone see every heart-wrenching event that takes place and come away with a bunch of yuks? It's simple. It's all in the name.

This film is billed as a comedy, and so that is what people see of it. Once they see Tyler Perry's name, they gloss over the details. Madea is a (supposedly) funny character, and her name is in the title, ergo the movie is a funny film. The content is almost irrelevant when we have nice little titles and genres to tell us what it is.

When does description cross the line into prescription? Is the film a comedy simply because it is labeled as such? Is it a comedy because it has some funny parts? Can it be a comedy even though most of the runtime would be better described as drama? Too often we take things by appearance, by how we think they should be sorted on first glance.

Most of the time with media, that works. If a movie is billed as a comedy and stars a comedic actor, we get what we expect. Sure, one or two sad things might happen in the film, but its primary purpose is to make you laugh. You pick what you want and that's the end of it. Life is rarely that simple.

The worst experience of your life can follow a moment of rare gaity.You can find yourself laughing at a funeral, mere minutes after crying the hardest you have ever cried. People can call you one thing your entire life and one day you realize you never fit in that mold at all. Films are made with intent. Indie or mainstream, somebody wrote a script and a bunch of people took their time to pick what parts they wanted in it until it appeared on your screen. Life has no intent. Things just happen. People just are.

The moral of Madea Goes to Jail arrives late in the film. While Madea and Candy are both incarcerated, Madea tells the group that you cannot be a victim, that you have to take responsibility for the things that happen to you. Shortly afterwards, both Candy and Madea are released from prison when it is revealed that the prosecutor has been padding charges, making all the cases she litigated invalid. Not a single thing about their escape from that situation was in their control. The film expects you to believe this moral it espouses while directly contradicting it with events portrayed in the film itself. It bills itself as a comedy, while bombarding me with more unfortunate events than those billed as dramas.

The labels we use are so inadequate at capturing life. So few things can be boiled down to a couple easily comprehensible terms. But we need them. You can't just think about everything all the time. We have hobbies, jobs, people to meet and things to do. You have to boil things down to handle everything being thrown at you day-to-day.

But there are times when you can't. When the words you used to describe yourself turn into a prison, a list of dos and don'ts. When the things people have said to you don't match up with what you can plainly see. When you've been submerged in an ocean of easily classified Comedies and Dramas, there falls into your lap that which defies these conventions. And though every signpost and label says it's one thing, you know it's not. It is not so easily categorized. The only question is:

Where do we go from there?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Some Spider-Man Trailers (2021)

I hear the calls, the pleas, for people to know what their most obscure Spider-Man obsessed weirdo thinks of these new Spider-Man properties on the horizon. Worry not, for I have come to answer the call. Let's see what this shit's about.

We're gonna start off with the thing I am less likely to hate entirely, and that's the recently announced sequel to the PS4's Marvel's Spider-Man, called Marvel's Spider-Man 2.

Seeing as how I really liked the first game, I have high hopes for this one. I haven't played Miles Morales yet because the PS4 version seems to be not-great in terms of performance, and I'm not buying a PS5 until they make a Spider-Man version that bundles with the new game. No Elden Ring for me until 2023.

For obvious impressions, looks like we'll get Kraven and Venom as villains in this game, which in most other media I would find to be too much, but the first game balanced a lot of villains at once and did a real good job, so I'm not worried. Kraven as a big bad would be cool, but he might just be a first act villain to be replaced by... Venom? Doc Ock wasn't in the trailers too much, so there's likely a lot of surprises ahead.

Now, who's gonna be Venom? The post-credits sequence of the first game hinted the symbiote was being used to cure Harry Osborn of whatever disease he had, so he might be a likely candidate. They could introduce Eddie Brock, flesh him out as a normal guy before the symbiote gets all gooey on him. It's pretty much a sure thing that Peter will get it first, because that's the kind of blatant fanservice the first game was so good at.

On a more speculative note, how's Miles Morales going to factor in here? In the middle of the trailer it looks like Peter and Miles are performing a takedown together. Could this mean co-op? It could just mean Miles is an AI-controller partner, like your Last of Us or something, but co-op is my dream. Two Spider-Mans, working together! That would be so rad. Normally I'd be a bit mad at the 4 robot legs Spider-Man sports during a couple clips in the trailer, seeing as how they're either a Superior thing or a MCU thing, but there was already a suit in the original game that gave you robot legs for a short time, so I can't be too mad.

At any rate, glad we're finally getting something about it, and hopefully we're all still alive by 2023.

On a more recent note, (And I mean really recent)

Venom 2! I had some problems with the first one, but over time I've come to appreciate it a bit more. At least they didn't make the symbiote some symbol for inner darkness, instead it's just a shitty asshole in the form of goo who calls Eddie a loser. You take what you can get.

Carnage has been a sore spot for me since they announced that Woody Harrelson would be Cletus Kasady. For reasons I do not have time to explain, I hate Woody Harrelson. For reasons I have just enough time to explain, he's not great for Carnage. Cletus is supposed to be a young, wiry guy, full of twitchy psychopath energy. Harrelson is old. I honestly think Robert Pattinson would have been a better choice, but unfortunately for all of us, he's Batman.

I was wondering how they would give Kasady a symbiote, since it's not like Cletus and Eddie would be sharing a jail cell, and it looks like they just had him fuckin' bite Eddie. It's pretty a pretty crazy thing for a crazy man to do, but... does it make any sense? I might be asking the wrong questions.

I like how even though Venom is clearly the symbiote wrapping around Eddie and making him all buff and big, Carnage looks to be made entirely of goo, so much so that he can just open a hole in his chest. Hopefully when the fight starts it's a little less confusing than two very similarly colored lumps of goo smashing into one another.

There's a couple shots of Shriek in the trailer, probably in the same prison as Carnage. In the comics they had a relationship, and it seems pretty likely here too. I'm anticipating what they'll do with that whole thing. Since the first Venom wasn't so bad in the end, I'm not dreading this. Whether or not I'll see it in a reasonable timeframe is a different matter.

Now for the bad one.


Listen, I am willing to admit this is just me. I'm the malcontent here. But MCU Spider-Man. I don't like him. The last two movies have been him fighting Iron Man villains, either trying to impress Iron Dad or following the orders of Grandpa Fury. Hell, in Far From Home it seemed like he didn't even want to be Spider-Man. And don't get me started on the glasses!

The point is: MCU Spider-Man and I don't get along. And I wasn't too enthused by the reveal of yet another new suit before the trailer even dropped. So, in the context of my regard for the previous two films I want to say:

This doesn't look as bad.

Sheesh, at least this is Peter doing a thing on his own that he just wants to do, even if it's not crime-fighting. It really seems like he doesn't want to fight crime. But! Dr. Strange is more like your free-wheeling uncle who takes you to the old record shop and lets you have ice cream for dinner, instead of someone telling Peter what to do yet again. That doesn't utterly offend my sensibilities.

By now everyone's heard the rumors about this film featuring the two previous Live Action Spider-Man iterations, and every day that seems more likely. Especially considering Alfred Molina's back. I know a lot of people are real hyped for this, but once again I'm the needless contrarian. I want to make this clear, I loved Spider-Verse. It was phenomenal, the best Spider-Man movie ever made. So the last thing I want is a watered-down Disney bullshit take on it, where nobody on the production gets Spider-Man the way I do. Into The Spider-Verse got it.

I don't care to speculate too much on what form this multiverse is going to take. Maybe they'll just mash up all the previous universes by the end so we get Electro and Doc Ock in the MCU. It would be fitting if Spider-Man's new villains aren't even his again, they're just the villains of alternate-universe Spider-Men. I would like to see Andrew Garfield again, since he's my favorite. But overall I'm just not that excited. In any case, I don't know what the release situation is gonna be for this, theaters? Streaming? Both? It looks like they're aiming for a theatrical release, but as I think we've all seen the deadly virus propagating through the countryside doesn't really care what movie studios want. Ah well. I'll see it eventually.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Hell is Flamin' Hot

As I have gotten older, I find myself drawn towards interests of the mind, rather than those of the senses. But on occasion there arises the aesthete within, that which cares only for the novel, the decadent, an as-yet unknown sensation. This frame of mind arose upon hearing of a new beverage, one of limited supply. One that promised danger, a warning I would fail to heed. Mtn Dew: Flamin' Hot.

This is not the first such offer made available for special Dew. The first, my own personal white whale, was Cake Smash, a cake flavored soda I may never taste. Filled with such regret, I purchased the premiere beverage with unaccustomed zeal. Despite the dubious nature of the intended flavor, I ordered two six-packs, the maximum.

Remember that.

When one's future is primarily anticipated with an overtone of dread, a single notion of optimism shines all the brighter. And if one makes a bright spot their focal point, it is liable to hurt the eyes.

A week I waited with high expectations. Each hurdle met with the knowledge that soon, soon I would have something new. Each UPS notification was met with delight. I dreamed of ginger beer, of piquant spiced cider, all in preparation for the arrival. In the middle of the seventh day the two packages arrived.

It was mediocre.

The color is an unnatural, radioactive orange. The fragrance can politely be described as chemical. The primary taste is that of ambiguous citrus, neither orange nor lime nor a noticeable combination. Once one has quaffed a mouthful, there remains the question of spice. One may have forgotten. One could; for a moment. The heat remains beyond grasp of the senses until the very end, when its appearance is masked, subdued. It may be interpreted as the body's own response to what has entered it, such as heartburn or a more malignant reaction.

In short, it could have been worse. I was in no rush to drink the remaining eleven cans, but I had adequate storage, and the expiration date was months away. That could have been the end of it.

That should have been the end of it.

The following morning I brought a can for my coworkers to sample, with most impressions mirroring my own. I received a strange notification of an upcoming delivery from UPS.

"How odd," I mused. "I don't remember purchasing anything else."

I put it out of my mind. It may be from a crowdfunding campaign I had forgotten, or something bought while inebriated. Surely, nothing to get fired up about. The day passed in relative mundanity. Arriving home that evening, my mind lit upon the delivery that had occurred. I had but a moment to muse on possibilities before I saw what had arrived. A chill crawled up my spine. It was the same box as the day before. The tell-tale tape fastening it shut, emblazoned with an impudent fire imp. How odd. Perhaps it was a secret addendum to the soda, a gift pack if you will. I tore off the tape and opened the box, only to be greeted by the same six cans I had unveiled the day prior.

I was overburdened with Dew. My refrigerator was already packed to the brim with a soda I did not have much incentive to drink. But I merely shrugged. It was only soda. Perhaps there was an error in shipping. I set it, unpacked, in the basement. I had to go to bed. Another day of work awaited.

The next day began in my usual sleep-deprived stupor. I regaled my coworkers with my tale of renegade Dew, secure in the fact that this was only a single incident, an anomaly I could laugh in remembrance of. But my cachinnation was short lived.

My phone sounded with another UPS notification.

It was identical to the previous message. But it couldn't be. There was no possible way I could get three shipments of soda on three subsequent days, almost entirely in error. A shadow clouded over my mind. Every limb became heavy with cold, carbonated, liquid dread. I had to know. But I was terrified to find out.

It was dark when I returned. A bone-chilling wind cut through my jacket. My hands shook as I approached my door. And there it was, sitting on the porch. More Mountain Dew.

I refused to believe it. Who did this to me? The light left my eyes. I saw my future in this Dew-saturated purgatory. Each day a new delivery of a soda I was beginning to resent. I sat down, staring blankly at the floor.

And cracked open a Mtn Dew Flamin' Hot.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Concept Corner: Jesus Christ Superstar

Tis the season! For guilt! That's right, with the changing of the weather comes the least celebrated Christian holiday, Easter, all about that wild cat Jesus and that whole dying and resurrecting thing he did. Most people who celebrate have a tradition of easter egg hunting, or maybe a big ham dinner, but for me it's been returning to an album (and subsequent film adaptation) that covers our boy JC in an interesting (and arguably heretical) light. Of course I'm speaking of:

Concept Corner: Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar was written in 1969 by aspiring musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, both of whom went on to become household names, Webber with stage productions like Cats and Phantom of the Opera and Rice writing lyrics for Disney films Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. But those were far in the future for this pair, who at the time were at 20 and 24 years old, respectively, with only one success to their names, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. They wanted their next project to continue the biblical theme, and after the prospect of a musical theater run was rejected by producers, the duo decided to make it an album instead, recruiting talent from both rock bands and musical theater. Of course, the album did gangbusters, leading to a theater run, a film adaptation, and numerous revivals. But we'll be narrowing the scope to the initial album, because that's what I do on this thing.

The Story

Disc 1

We open in the town of Bethany with Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus, voicing his growing concerns about the man and his movement. He worries about peoples' idea of Jesus' divinity, and how there could be backlash from the Israelites and the Roman government if things continue on their present course. [2. Heaven on Their Minds] Later on, the rest of the disciples badger Jesus with questions about their plans and future, to which Jesus rebuffs them that not only do they not want to know, they likely won't care if Jesus came or went. Mary Magdalene soothes Jesus' face, which prompts Judas to ask why he'd associate himself with someone of her profession (prostitute) since it will only hurt their cause and hasten retribution from the state. Jesus responds angrily. [3. What's the Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying] Mary Magdalene calms Jesus with myrrh for his head and feet, which again Judas criticizes, stating that an expensive oil such as that could have been sold to feed the hungry and poor instead of wasting it on one man. Jesus counters that the poor will always exist, but he will not, so cherish what is there for the present. [4. Everything's Alright] We're then brought to Jerusalem a couple days later on Sunday, where the Pharisees and High Priests have a discussion on what to do about this new messiah everyone's talking about. The possibility that his popularity leads to his followers crowning him King, provoking a violent response from the Roman authorities worries the Priests to the extent that they conclude Jesus must die to protect themselves. [5. This Jesus Must Die] Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus is greeted by a crowd of excited followers and chastised by the High Priest Caiaphas for the rowdy nature of the mob. [6. Hosanna] Simon, one of the apostles, eggs Jesus on, extolling that with his current popularity, Jesus could easily overthrow the Roman government. Jesus chides Simon, explaining how he has knowledge that far outweighs Rome and Jerusalem. [7. Simon Zelotes/Poor Jerusalem] The next day, Pontius Pilate, Roman governor, wakes from a dream he had of a Galilean with an unfortunate fate, and the feeling that he would be blamed [8. Pilate's Dream] Burdened by the knowledge of the future, Jesus has an outburst at merchants in the Jerusalem temple. Upon exiting, he is overwhelmed by the unfortunates that plead for his help, claiming, "There's too little of me," and "Heal yourselves!" [9. The Temple] Mary Magdalene comes to calm Jesus and lay him to bed. [9. Everything's Alright - Reprise] Apart from him, Mary thinks about how she has fallen for Jesus in a way she hasn't for any other man, and is even frightened of him and her feelings for him. [10. I Don't Know How to Love Him] On Tuesday, Judas comes before the High Priests to do something about Jesus despite his immense guilt for having come to that decision. They agree to have Jesus arrested, and even to pay Judas for his services. While he refuses the money, he tells the Priests where they can find Jesus and when. [11. Damned for All Time/Blood Money]

Disc 2

That Thursday night, (Passover to be precise) the Apostles luxuriate on their position and the future success it will bring. Jesus, becoming increasingly agitated, cries out that one of those seated before him will betray him, and another will betray. This makes Judas confront Jesus, bewildered that Jesus would even let the betrayal occur if he knows of it, as if he wants to be arrested. Jesus exhorts him to get on with it, so Judas leaves, his enmity towards Jesus and the way he led his movement prevailing. [12. The Last Supper] At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays feverishly. He pleads to avoid the path set out before him, to be beaten and killed, or at least to know what will come as a result. After being granted no answer, he relents and accepts his coming execution. [13. Gethsemane] Judas arrives with the Roman authorities and High Priests. He identifies Jesus, and the disciples are ready to defend him violently before Jesus stops them. The emerging crowd wonders why Jesus does nothing to resist his detainment, becoming excited by the events. [14. The Arrest] People in the crowd identify Peter as someone close to Jesus, who denies the connection to three people. Mary Magdalene reminds Peter that Jesus foresaw what he just did, but how did he know? [15. Peter's Denial] Friday morning, Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate as a revolutionary, a new king for the Jews. As Jesus is from Galilee he's not under Pilate's jurisdiction, so Pilate sends him to Herod. [16. Pilate and Christ] When Jesus is brought before him, Herod asks for a show of Jesus' divinity. Jesus refuses, which sends Herod into a rage, refusing to deal with him. [17. King Herod's Song (Try It and See)] Judas sees Jesus's condition, bent and bloody from the beatings, and feels ever more remorse for what he has done. The Priests try to reassure him that what he did was just, but Judas knows he will be known as the man who killed Christ. After echoing Mary Magdalene's words about Jesus, he cries out in anguish that God chose him for such a task. As a choir chants, Judas commits suicide. [18. Judas' Death] Back before Pilate, Caiaphas demands that Jesus be crucified. Pilate is reluctant, and questions what Jesus had even done to deserve it, while the crowd demands crucifixion. Pilate relents, giving Jesus 39 lashes in the hopes it will quench the mob's bloodlust. He tries one last time to get Jesus to say any words in his own defense, but Jesus demurs. The mob calls upon Pilate's devotion to Caesar, so he washes his hands of the matter and allows the execution. [19. Trial Before Pilate] The afterworldly voice of Judas and an ethereal choir question what made Jesus come to the world at that time and that place, why he had to die, or if it all worked out according to plan. [20. Superstar] Jesus is nailed to a cross and dies, crying out in agony to God. [21. The Crucifixion] Jesus' body is taken from the cross and laid to rest in a tomb in a garden. [22. John Nineteen Forty-One]


Well geez that got pretty heavy! Well, any Passion-play is going to end like this, but how Jesus Christ Superstar gets there is what makes it special. Most people (at least where I'm from) are pretty aware of the whole Crucifixion thing, but most of the time Judas' role is simply that of the bad guy that make Jesus go bye-bye. By showing the political and personal motivations behind it, you're much less quick to judge Judas in this telling. Everyone is scared of Rome. They're the occupiers, the police, the main state power. And the way some of the disciples seem raring to go overthrow Roman control, it's understandable why the Pharisees and Judas would be so apprehensive at Jesus's following. Of course, with the High Priests, they definitely show more of a cowardice than a sincere concern for the Jewish people. It's interesting how Judas justifies all his actions by first saying it's what Jesus would want him to do, and once he sees the results of what he's done, blames God for manipulating him. Oh, and he might be in love with Jesus.

Jesus himself is a departure from how one would expect. Seeing as how this is his last week of life and he knows it, the stress is kinda getting to him. A lot of the more controversial Gospel passages are displayed here, with Jesus (essentially) dismissing the plight of the poor, wrecking up a bunch of vendors in a Temple, then telling a bunch of blighted people to heal themselves. Really it looks like those are to provide context for Judas' betrayal, but they paint Jesus in a pretty human light. Like, shit, ain't nobody gonna be real stable when your expiration date is less than a week away.

It's interesting to note that the nature of Jesus' following mirrors that of the Beatles. This came out on the tail-end of the 60's, where mobs of frenzied fans would meet the Beatles anywhere they went. People even came up to them with the belief they could heal the sick. The thing the High Priests remark upon when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem is how much noise the people awaiting him make. When Jesus is arrested by the Roman,s the crowd of people outside act as mass media reporters, questioning Jesus on his next move, or how this happened. I haven't seen any interviews confirming this, but I have to believe they wrote Jesus as this sort of Superstar because of Lennon's claim that the band had become "more popular than Jesus." The familiar (to listeners at the time) scope of Jesus' following certainly helps one understand the magnitude of it all, and why those in power would be worried.

At the time a lot of religious figures found the album (and subsequent play) to be heretical in nature, primarily because it doesn't show the resurrection, the main thing people know about JC. It goes a little deeper than that, his divinity is questioned a few times through the album, primarily by Judas, who thinks the God stuff is megalomania from becoming so popular. Of course, the evidence is there, if you look. It's chiefly in JC's prognostication, like knowing that he's going to die, or that Peter would deny him. But really, the album is more about the people and culture around Jesus, rather than Jesus himself.

The Music

The orchestration is your general late 60's rock deal, with lead guitar, bass, drum set, and Hammond organ, but with some additions like piano and some big band instruments like flutes, brass, and clarinets This is likely what Webber was familiar with given his stage background, and that he likely planned on making this into a stage show eventually anyway. Though the style is pretty clearly of its time, like most musicals it gets away with feeling like a classic rather than dated.

Something Webber does with the composition is fill the first half with a bunch of motifs that come up again in the second half, so a few songs are reprises of earlier ones, but you get little callbacks during certain moments. "Judas' Death" takes its tune from "Damned For All Time" but takes the motif from "I Don't Know How To Love Him" and ends with the guitar riff from "Heaven On Their Minds." The theme from "What's the Buzz" returns in "The Last Supper" when the apostles get ready to defend Jesus from the Romans. All of this lends the album its own sort of language, where the echos of previous songs inform the latter ones. It's something musicals do more often than concept albums, and it's a trick Webber would use later in his more popular stage productions.

As for individual songs themselves, "Heaven On Their Minds" is a marvelous opening track, a thesis statement for the rest of the album. The staccato guitar lends a tension to the song, the feeling that a dam is about to break. It transitions to a piano and bass arrangement as Judas pleads to Jesus, a more conciliatory tone. Murray Head, a singer and actor who had been in a production of Hair before being approached by Webber and Rice, makes an excellent Judas all the way through. From soft crooning to anguished cries, his range adds a soulfulness that's needed to humanize Judas.

"Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)" is one of the big standouts, a tormented song about a man facing his own inevitable death. Regal, yet mournful horns are joined by soft strings, punctuated by fervent questions to God.

I'd have to know I'd have to know my Lord
I'd have to see I'd have to see my Lord
If I die what will be my reward?
I'd have to know I'd have to know my Lord

Then Ian Gillan graces us with one of the best wails I've yet to hear. That "WHYYYY" is pretty much your benchmark for how good your JC is. (That NBC Live production did not make a good impression.) Gillan is most known for being lead singer of Deep Purple, and that metal connection seals the deal as my favorite singer for the part.

Jesus Christ Superstar is just a damn good album. Even though it's had many stage adaptations by now, none have had the same cast and energy of this initial release. If you don't have any exposure to this production, or even if you're familiar with the Live show or 1973 film, this album is worth a listen. The story, even with its Biblical roots, manages a new perspective, and provides food for thought even if one isn't religious. In short, it's easy to see how Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice got to be where they are today when they could make an album of this caliber at such a young age. I highly recommend you give this one some time yourself, or at least the film, which gave us gems like the one I'll leave you with, devoid of context: