Wednesday, June 19, 2013

broken needles

I have lost count.  It was either week three or week four in the root canal chair yesterday.

It doesn't matter which.  Because I will be logging some more chair time over the next few weeks.

Nothing major is wrong.  It takes time to clear out the old root canal material.  And the dentist has discovered an infection that continues to drain.  She relented yesterday and put me on another round of antibiotics.

For two weeks, she worked on the tooth without anesthetic.  That was fine because it is essentially dead from the prior root canal.

But, because she was working around the infection in the gums, she whipped out the hypodermic needle.

I chose that verb purposely. Unlike dentists up north, who treat our fears as if we are children, she makes no attempt to hide the tools of her trade.  And there is a good reason.  Her injections, though lengthy, are absolutely painless.  The sight of the needle coming at me does not engender a reaction.

It was not always thus.  I grew up terrified of injections of all sorts.  From the health department folks at grade school.  From the dentist.  From the doctor.

During the second grade, I had the answer.  I would become the Superboy of the comic books and the evil needle wielders would be foiled by my impenetrable skin.  I was rather disappointed that my mental powers were not up to turning my frail body into the boy from Krypton.

But Superman is back in popular culture.  This time on the 3-D screen in Man of Steel (or el hombre de acero, as it says on the marquee in Manzanillo).

I went only for one reason.  Christopher Nolan was involved -- as co-producer and co-credited with the "story," but not the screenplay.  He managed to turn two of his three Batman movies into well-choreographed, and better-written, moral ballets.  And, of course, Inception is a masterpiece.

But Man of Steel doesn't even come close to the target.  And that is too bad.  Because most of the elements for a good movie are there.

Starting with the very clear message that the Superman "S" does not mean what we all think it means.  It is a Krypton symbol for hope.

And that is the raison d'être of the film.  Hope -- even if it is only the hope of surviving through the next day.

You can feel Nolan's social conservatism in the story.  A father sends his son to Earth.  In the process, the son not only teaches good and moral behavior, but lives his life by that creed.  Superman has always had a messianic edge.  But the subtext gets played on the top in this incarnation.

The movie is populated with good actors.  Unfortunately, their talented is too often wasted. 

Amy Adams is given an opportunity to break out of her ingenue personality as a potty-mouth, in-your-face reporter.  Stockard Channing, she isn't.  As a result, the romantic tension with Superman rings false.  I would have been less surprised, if she had run off with Antje Traue's Faora.  It may have made for a more interesting story.

Henry Cavill was assembled to be Superman.  He certainly has the look.  Even though that look includes costumes that he must have borrowed from his sentence in The Tudors.  He is forced to face a good measure of Nolan angst -- when diversity results in the extinction of one people in favor of another, can it be good?

But his character never flies.  He does, but not his character.  That may be because it is very hard to write an interesting story about someone who is as instinctively good as Superman.  After all, Milton's most intriguing lines in Paradise Lost are Satan's.

And that role goes to Michael Shannon's General Zod.  Just as Cavill was born to play heroes, Shannon was born to be a villain.  But a rather nuanced villain whose motivation we not only understand, but can feel his conflict within ourselves.

General Zod and his faithful few survive the death of Krypton.  The have come to Earth to retrieve the ability to reestablish their race.  Unfortunately, that will mean the destruction of he current occupants of the planet.  Thus giving us the eternal philosophical struggle.  Between Descartes and Pascal.  Between Nietzsche and The Messiah.

All that sounds interesting.  But the mixture does not work.  Most of the story plods.  And, just when the director decides the audience cannot take any more (and I would say that is usually about five minutes too late), we are treated to an almost-unimaginable level of violence that may fit with the story, but is so overwhelming as to be distracting.

The movie ends with an obvious reference that there is more to come.

On the other hand, we don't need to go.

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