Sunday, May 28, 2006

Movie Review of X-Men: The Last Stand
A friend and I had tired of viewing Netflix DVDs on our 13-inch monitors and thought that over the Memorial Day Weekend, we'd treat ourselves to a visit to the big screen. The next question was what to see on the big screen. Oddly, it turned out that we were individuals who shunned fads. Both of us had neglected to read the Da Vinci Code and I myself had to admit to only knowing what "Sex in the City" was all about until several years after its debut on HBO when I was able to rent all the DVDs from Netflix and watch the smashing conclusion with Mikhail Baryshnikov, which is to say that we didn't want to see the Da Vinci Code.

I, instead, suggested that we see the third X-Men movie, having read positive reviews with intimations of a drug that had been found to cure the mutants of their weirdness. It offered the possibility of an intelligent movie that was fun at the same time: moral choices with character development and lots of computer animation.

I was game and so was my buddy. So despite the fact that I had confused the movie times with another theater, we found ourselves in front of the big screen, having missed all but one of the noisy trailers and quickly sitting down for a recap of the last two X-Men movies as Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) recruit young mutants from the sofa of their parents' living rooms. (This might be, I thought, a science fiction version of Harry Potter.)

Quick Disclosure: I am unfamiliar with the two other X-Men movies preceding this one, and score low on series trivia tests.

The movie was overall entertaining. Storm (Halle Berry) knows how to roll her eyes into her head until the pupils disappear better than anyone I know, if you go in for that sort of thing. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is hunky enough, but didn't have the real pathos of Lon Chaney's Wolf Man. (Is it wrong to ask for depth?) Mostly, as the movie ensued, I bemoaned all the lost opportunities to grapple with some tantilizing issues. For instance:

Why does Magneto flash his concentration camp tattooed numbers on his arm when some young mutant upstart insists on seeing his mark? (Forgive me if this is explained in previous episodes.) What I really want to know is how his experience has turned him into a sort of warped genius, in some ways not unlike parents who survived the Holocaust not ever discussing the pain of that experience with their offspring, but succeed in fucking them up nevertheless.

Why is the choice to take the drug and lose mutant individuality not a bigger moral question?

Only Rogue (Anna Paquin) grapples with the issue, if only for a few moments of screen time. Her special powers don't allow for physical contact with other human beings and she wants to get close, really close to the Iceman (Shawn Ashmore). But what about other more philosophical issues that could've been explored? Sure, a few of the characters proclaim, "There's nothing wrong with us," and in the end, regular hum-drum humanity gets to co-exist with the mutant population who now have a representative in the White House in the character of Hank "Beast" McCoy.

But what about examining parallels with the thousands of people in the United States who rely on mood-enhancing drugs to control their neurosis, which is not a judgment call, only a question. At what point does the quality of our lives become so terrible that we surrender ourselves to the cure or to the pill, or to an operation? The choice for HIV and AIDS patients is surely about life or death. But what about cases that are more subtle? What if someone doesn't want to be chosen by their special gift and grows tired of its demands?

Then I was confused by the internal "them" and "us" scenario -- the older more schooled X-Men who've benefitted by Professor Xavier's tutoring on how to use their gifts (don't let the power control you, something many of us learn in driving school), versus the younger tattooed and pierced hordes who team up with Magneto to kidnap and kill a bald boy who's hidden in a drug company's corporate headquarters on Alcatraz Island. His DNA is the source of this miracle drug.

As a group, Magneto's crew are a lot less sophisticated then Xavier's, who've had the benefits of a sort of ivy league education in the mansion. So what kind of comment is this upon public education as school becomes increasingly focused on passing tests and less upon critical thinking? Is our educational system producing unruly children who consider violence a viable solution?

A few other questions: Does it really take blowing up and moving the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz to accomodate one of the punky mutants, the Juggernaut (Vinnie Jones), who's never learned how to swim? You'd think that an intelligent older guy like Magneto could come up with a more energy-saving solution.

Then what about the human population at large? How do they feel about the mutants merging back undetected into their ranks? Neighborhood populations always seem to be uneasy when child predators are paroled back into their communities.

And what about the nature of life once a grand mutant like Magneto, now stung with the drug's needle, is condemned to sit at a park bench, trying to stir the pieces of a chess board with his outstretched finger? How does it feel to be ordinary and to sit around remembering your old glory days?

I applauded for a moment where there's a scene with Patrick Stewart on the mansion's lawn, discussing the nature of violence. But it comes and goes too quickly.

I know. I'm too serious, and the film is based on a comic book. However, why not think graphic novel? I bemoan lost opportunities to explore provocative questions that the script raises. I refuse the notion that a sci-fi thriller can't do that. (What about 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick?)

Maybe I'm one of those mutants who expects more.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Houdini's Cousin in the Storage Unit
She was moving from a 10 by 15 into a 5 by 9, downsizing whatever she'd packed into plastic boxes with seals that popped when I lifted them like they were filled with effervescent secrets, household remains, until she'd decided to make the pile smaller so she gave stuff away -- not the piano, it was her husband's, he played -- to people who kept driving up in cars until the pile was small enough to move to the second floor where we stacked her stuff, me and PeeWee who had a stroke six months before and Freddy who bought PeeWee $15.00 worth of gas that morning so he could get there. She said how I was a magician for getting her shit into one space, and I said that's why alot of people called me Houdini and I wondered how he did those tricks, and she said she knew. Really, I said. Really, she said, because she was Houdini's cousin her father use to tell her it was all muscle control, he'd expand his chest when they chained him up, and after they dropped him into the river, he'd let out his breath and escape from the slack.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

String Theory
A woman walks down a path in early spring,
a firetrail that runs along a creek,
bloated with the excess of winter.

But today golden poppies are arched to the sun,
as the woman spots a brown snake, new in length,
stretched across the road, its tongue

begging for hand-outs from every rustle.
She bends down to see the solicitor.
But seeing happens so quickly,

even if with her own two eyes,
as dragonflies piggyback around her,
she touches the string of snake with an outstretched finger.

Her act is an instinctual thing,
while observing is an acquired art.
Never mind. She's in the thick of it now,

follows the snake through water, to the other side
of the water's bank, until she turns into snake,
and twining around him, even his cold blood feels warm.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Un Dia Sin Imigrantes
It happened in Spanish.
My father stood behind a kid wearing a T-shirt
printed with "Hecho in Mexico," and waved to me
from across the street pointing to a digital
camera like he knew how to use one.

I haven't seen him in years.
He didn't drive either, said he didn't have time
to learn, worked six days a week supporting three girls.
My mother was the one who drove.

She was there also, her arm chain-linked through his
like in the olden days when they were still alive,
watching from the stand as everyone marched up 14th Avenue--
grandparents, uncles, Moms, Dads,
kids stuffed inside strollers and backpacks.

They waved harder now,
began to chant "Si Se Puede" in a broken language,
and the sound of their letters
stamped through the air.