Spiderman Gen X movie reviewThe new Spider-man movie almost makes the Marvel comic book hero obsolete.

There was a time when certain realities could only be represented in comic books or literature. If you wanted to “see” a man fly, you had to imagine it -- god forbid! -- or wait for Jack Kirby to come up with a Silver Surfer. Doodling half-naked Wonder Women into the margin of our English homework, my generation had to suffer through cartoons such as the Superfriends and Batman and Scooby Doo just to hear what our favorite heroes really sounded like.

Spider-man is the best comic book adaptation yet. Combining great acting, innovative special effects and a genuine quality that’s difficult to put your finger on, this Spider-man lives in our world.
The movie is so good, in fact, so wonderfully true to the genre, that it makes the comic book hero somehow seem flat and lifeless by comparison. Tobey Maguire, who plays Spider-man and his alter-ago Peter Parker, is absolutely convincing as the webslinger. Pathetically likable, Maguire makes Parker live in a way that even Christopher Reeves and Michael Keaton couldn’t duplicate with Spidey’s DC counterparts, Superman and Batman.

Spider-man is wonderfully unreal. Leaping from building to building in a kind of graceful fall, he is plastic, fluid, full of energy. This is the Spider-man I’d always imagined: Lithe, mercurial and charismatic. Swinging on spider webs and slithering up walls like a salamander, Spider-man is really a groundbreaking special effects event.

(Yes, he does sometimes look a little goofy, but so what? People can’t do these kinds of things in the real world, you know?)

The story has been changed a little, since we now know that radiation won’t imbue a person with superhuman strength, invisibility or god-like intelligence. In this version, Spider-man is bitten by a genetically altered spider. Spidey’s myth of origin is unchanged other than this slight alteration and I don’t see how even purists could object to this update.

When Parker discovers that he’s somehow acquired superhuman powers he tests his new body like any science geek. These early scenes are a perfect blend of David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Superman. Parker is astonished by his new abilities, but there’s also a lingering disquiet in his actions, as though he is terrified by what he is becoming.

His world is upturned just as he becomes confident with his new powers and by the time a strange green supervillian (the Green Goblin, played by William Dafoe) has made his appearance our friendly neighborhood Spider-man has embarked on a career in crime fighting.

The Green Goblin is more than Spider-man’s foil: He also stands in as his rolemodel, his father figure. This sets up a peculiar dynamic as orphan Parker comes to grip with the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with power. Goblin offers an example to the younger man, an opportunity to express his deepest, most horrific desires.

Spider-man plays with the idea of the power of masks and alter identities. A costume can help transform a nerdy wallflower into a superhero, but it also has the power to humble great men. The mask empowers a kind of violence in people. They have the weird ability to free some from their social responsibility, unleashing the very worst id desires into the world, as in the Green Goblin, and yet they can also bind individuals to a somewhat unrealistic social altruism.

The hero is mostly just a projection of the super ego. Spider-man, however, is as much a victim to the mask’s power as the Green Goblin. Both men give up something of their personalities to play their roles. Neither individual can assimilate their personalities into their new, powerful bodies. Scientist businessman Norman Osborn, who is the Goblin’s better half, whimpers to the mask, begging it for guidance, and Parker is so diminished by the power of his Spider-man persona that he doesn’t trust anyone with his secret.

At one point Goblin calls Parker on the phone asking, “Can Spider-man come out to play?” Both men understand the meaning of these counterfeit selves, the fragile mother-bonds that hold their worlds apart. But Spider-man / Parker is still a boy coming to grips with reality and his place in the world whereas the Green Goblin / Osborn is a man who has allowed his worse psychotic desires to rule his life.

And this is, I think, the point. Spider-man is appealing because it’s about all us little boys flirting with power, madness and an indomitable desire to fly.


Scotland, PA

Gen X review Scotland, PAThe last thing the world needs is Joe Dirt resurrected as Mac Beth or Shakespeare in the hands of self-important jackass filmmakers pretending that camp is something they’ve just discovered at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.

Yet this is exactly what the new film Scotland, PA is all about. The only aspect distinguishing this horrid, messy, drab puppet show is the artless way it dishes out its one cheap gimmick over and over and over again, until you wish these vandals would just burn a copy of Shakespeare’s collected works and be done with it.

Arthouse films have a built-in defense mechanism that safeguard them against criticism. If a trendy, low-budget indie film is applauded or admired it’s the classic underdog made good. If it is rejected as too rough, campy or cerebral, however, the movie-going public just isn’t ready for it yet: It’s too real, man, too deep, too pregnant with importance. They tried to ban Joyce too, you know, and wasn’t it Picasso or Warhol who said the enemy of art was good taste? 

So we accept the high importance of films about nothing simply because we think we must’ve missed the point.

Well, I get the point and still think Scotland, PA is crap. The kitsch re-envisioning of Shakespeare’s MacBeth against a tawdry background of muscle cars, fast food restaurants and bad – really bad – clothes, Scotland isn’t so much a movie as a collection of ugly scenes stitched together with opaque humor and bad faith.

Linking Shakespeare to popular culture must’ve seemed a novel idea to these filmmakers. Only complete ignorance of past ironic Shakespeare adaptations such as My Private Idaho, Hamlet and even Shakespeare in Love could justify their relentless attack on the material. Only zealousness of an extraordinary level could produce such a proud monument of stupidity, crassness and bad taste.    

Scotland is about a couple of struggling 30-somethings in the mid-to-late 1970s. Unable to succeed at the local burger dive Mack and Pat McBeth (James LeGros and Maura Tierney) decide to murder the owner of the restaurant, steal his money and ideas, and go into business themselves. Using his idea of drive-through service, the two begin raking in the cash after they’ve bought the owner’s sons out.
But no murder is simple and when quirky vegetarian police detective Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken) is called in to help with the case they find themselves having to perform more violent acts to cover their tracks. The McBeths are just ordinary losers driven to extremes, but recall: This is an adaptation of the Bard’s own Mac Beth and the filmmakers have made the tragedy ironic and funny. Clever, no?

Well, no.

Deconstructing Shakespeare is only interesting if he’s reassembled in fresh, intriguing ways. I think there should be some justification for ruining a perfectly good story. Artists with no talent, skill or ambition should invent their own stories to trash and leave others’ works of genius alone. Pulling the wings off of butterflies is only a meaningful activity for those who have the power to represent something greater than the thing would have had if left unmolested.

Camp is a cowardly, unimaginative, uninteresting exercise in masochism. It’s the work of postmodern twits who relish and revile trash culture simultaneously. Fascinated by what disgusts them, they’re the worst kind of imitators because they don’t even have enough integrity to emulate what they admire. Lazy, slothful and dumb, camp is intellectually dishonest and artistically suspect.

Our memories are negotiated through faded media images and consumer goods. That discarded He-Man or G.I. Joe figurine used to be our god, and isn’t it fun to point out how silly we used to be? Isn’t it hilarious to reveal our petty, little adolescent dreams for what they are: Mostly pretty pathetic garbage from a mostly pathetic consumer culture. Manipulating these images in order to show how disposable and banal our dreams are is mean-spirited, ugly fun.

Like David Spade’s Joe Dirt before it, Scotland targets the 1970s and white-trash culture. (Talk about taking some chances, eh?) It’s too bad that it’s laced with sarcasm, because writer-director Billy Morrissette captures the details of the decade very well and James LeGros and Maura Tierney are much better than their material. I wonder what these folks could have done if they had decided to make a real film.

I think we should stake this Joe Dirt guy – bury him in holy ground like the filthy bloodsucker he is – and declare Scotland, PA a wasteland.

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