weekend filler


-- चार हजार दो सौ पचास-पांच --

Fairly eventful weekend, although I'm not sure I have a huge amount to write about it: I hung out with a different friend each day between Friday and Sunday. And in each case, it was to go see a movie. Only one of them yielded a movie review, however.

That would have been the first one: on Friday I met Laney at the Capitol Hill Light Rail station at 6 pm, and we went downtown to see Black Panther at the Meridian 16.

And I really cannot understate how much I loved this movie -- and a superhero movie, no less! But, even when it's a superhero movie, I go out of my way to support films that are made by and feature the massively under-represented. I mean, provided they are still decent films, anyway; one "Madea" film was more than enough for me. But, it's still the whole reason I went back on my general rule of avoiding superhero movies and saw the surprisingly good Wonder Woman last year (which I gave a solid B -- a definitive step up for the cesspool of films being offered otherwise of DC Comics adaptations). But Black Panther is in a league of its own, and I would argue even transcends the superhero genre.

I've mentioned already that superheroes seem to be the new American mythology, the next step of cultural myths in a post-Star Wars world. Sure, Star Wars still taps into a mythology that arguably contains far more passion than that of the superhero films, but those feelings are also far more concentrated among an aging population. I really think that when it comes to cultural mythology, the youngest among us today are far more dialed into the superheroes than they are to Star Wars. Superhero movies are the Westerns of the 21st Century. Okay, of course and sure, Star Wars is itself nothing more than a space Western, with far more direct references to actual Westerns. But when it comes to widespread -- and arguably overdone -- cultural impact, the past decade in particular (but including the decade before it, what with the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man initiating their franchises, as well as Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy), superhero movies are really where it's at.

I'm not at all saying this is necessarily a good thing. By and large, superhero movies are now throwaway, derivative paragons of pointlessness. But I say that as a 41-year-old who is by definition increasingly out of touch. I can still see how these things are fitting into our culture. And by the way? In the 20th century, Westerns became so ridiculously pervasive that the genre also contained decades' worth of throwaway, derivative paragons of pointlessness. I see this as just another revolution in the same cycle.

But, like, say, Unforgiven did in 1992, every once in a while a film comes along that reinvents the genre, ignites it with something truly fresh. And this can happen even when the film is derivative, by the way -- it's easy to say that Black Panther is derivative (Gabriel wouldn't shut up yesterday about how much it borrowed from Star Wars -- and all I could say was, hello, Star Wars ripped off Westerns), but you can really go back and forth with that argument. If there are only seven basic plots to any story ever told (or three, or thirty-six), then by definition any story told has no choice but to be derivative; it's unavoidable. It's in new combinations of elements that makes a story fresh -- and this is precisely where Black Panther succeeds incredibly.

To me, Black Panther is extraordinary largely because it impressed me as much as it did, when I have for so long been disillusioned with superhero moves. Avengers: Age of Ultron was kind of the last straw for me -- a well-reviewed film (66 rating on MetaCritic) that I thought was definitively stupid, the last movie I wanted to see that followed the exact same story arc of heroes so invincible you have no reason to get emotionally invested, who protect either the entire planet or the galaxy or the universe from total annihilation. After that, I decided, enough with these idiotic superhero movies; there are better and more original things to see in the movie theatres. Occasionally I would feel duped by movies hailed as exceptions to this new rule of mediocrity, Deadpool being perhaps the best example. People far and wide revered it as delightfully irreverent, the first R-rated superhero movie, and sure, it had its moments. I laughed a fair bit, which is the only reason I gave it a grade as high as a B-minus. But again, the plot trajectory was exactly the same, and by the time the so-called "climax" arrived, I was bored stiff, because its unique humor was replaced by the very same shit every other superhero movie was ending with. (Even Wonder Woman suffers from this very same flaw, by the way.)

I really must mention Logan once again, because that one is uniquely impressive in that it reinvigorated a franchise -- X-Men and Wolverine films -- that by that point basically rendered Logan to be X-Men 10, none of its installments having been all that great in well over a decade. And this film was yet another with a white guy as its lead, playing a character now having appeared in nine films. Except this film was set farther into the future, with new and inventive ways of looking at how their abilities (and even their characters) deteriorated over time, with key characters now at the end of their lives, lending the story a new poignancy. It was just very well done, and I only went to see it because the critical consensus was so astonishingly high (77 rating on MetaCritic), and I was very glad I did. Still, this was a kind of film that was basically the exception that proves the rule.

Black Panther is a whole different ballgame. Its authentic African influences, its clearly pointed uses of obvious cinema influences (want a black superhero? check; a black James Bond? check; black martial arts movie? check), its quasi-Shakespearean emotional stakes (echoes of The Lion King), its redemption arc steeped in a global history of slavery that no other superhero movie could even imagine -- they all combine to make a truly unique blockbuster movie experience that is more than just its nifty action sequences. Gabriel yesterday complained about its lack of character development, which is something I regard as entirely beside the point. These are characters intended as archetypes, and very effectively used as such. This film is also very clearly the beginning of a franchise unto itself, in which further installments will hopefully allow for more nuanced character development seemingly missing from this one.

It's no secret that my favorite movie of all time, Batman Returns, which itself came out in 1992 when I was all of sixteen years old, is itself a superhero movie -- today a bit of an irony with my general disparagement of superhero movies. But you have to understand that, in 1992, the single other superhero franchise to exist was Superman, by then already fourteen years old. Tim Burton's Batman series was only the second such franchise to come along, and superhero movies to enjoy that level of success and exposure only came out every three years, if that. These days superhero movies come out what seems like every three months, countless of them being part of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" that renders a whole lot of it incomprehensible if you haven't seen every single one of them -- and that very much includes the post-credits sequence of Black Panther, by the way. Until that point I loved how well Black Panther very much stood on its own, and that post-credits sequence made zero sense to me. Apparently it had something to do with Captain America: Civil War, which I never bothered to see, and I still am in no rush to see. Although I have recently taken to watching a few of the superhero movies on DVD that I actively avoided in theatres, since it doesn't cost me anything extra, with mixed results (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II: surprisingly fun; Spider-Man Homecoming: bleh).

Black Panther as its own film -- before that incomprehensible post-credits sequence -- avoids all of the pitfalls of superhero movies in the modern era. The film is by far at its hokiest when the character T-Challa (Chadwick Boseman, who is great) is dressed as the actual "Black Panther" character, and mercifully, that is actually done sparingly -- there is a relatively limited amount of screen time showing the full panther suit, and maybe even more screen time showing T-Challa's own face. This is the inverse of most superhero characters onscreen, and allows him to have far more personality than most. I have also been saying for ages that these movies are only ever as good as their villains, and the market saturation of superhero movies has produced countless forgettable villains -- not so here: Michael B. Jordan as "Killmonger" is as nuanced and empathetic a villain as we have seen in years.

One of the best lines in the film is when a character facing death chooses it with a reference to slaves who jumped ship into the ocean to their deaths: "because death is better than bondage." The power of that sentiment cannot be overstated, especially coming from a film in a genre that until now ignored both minorities and women -- and in this instance offers a community heroes never before reflecting their own, and could not be more feminist. Wakanda's special forces is all-female, after all, and I have always loved watching women kick ass -- a sentiment that, for me, goes all the way back, again, to Batman Returns, and Michelle Pfeiffer's iconic portrayal of Catwoman (herself a nuanced villain who could also be used as a hero). This movie has that in spades, with Lupita Nyong'o (here finally getting to play a character who is one of the liberators, rather than a member of the downtrodden), Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright all consistently kicking ass, in their own very specific ways.

Black Panther keeps things on a comparatively micro level, which is also a relief -- you'll see no supervillain or alien race threatening the annihilation of the planet (or the galaxy, or the universe) here, no massive destruction of entire cities where you find yourself ruminating on the collateral damage the filmmakers are clearly ignoring (remember the countless skyscrapers being knocked down in Man of Steel?). I guess the villain here does have a kind of plan for global domination, I'll concede that. But even that is very well contextualized into the very real, dark fantasies of an oppressed population the world over. It makes actual sense, and taps into real-world fears and desires. This is a film cram packed with multiple levels of meaning that arguably no other comic book adaptation has ever managed. I can only imagine what it must mean to black audiences in particular, and my assumption would be that what I can imagine only scratches the surface of the reality.

I mentioned to Gabriel yesterday that I read on Twitter someone calling Black Panther "one of the most important movies ever made," and he immediately dismissed it as far too soon to make such broad pronouncements. This tweet was not by just some random schmo, by the way -- granted, I had never heard of Baratunde Thurston before seeing the tweet, but evidently he's a comedian very much associated with both the re-launch of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and also with The Onion, among other things. My argument is that he is more likely than not to be right about this. I felt like Gabriel was thinking about it only in terms of its potential lasting cultural impact, and that's not by any means the only measure of "one of the most important films ever made." This could represent a definitive turning point, a film that is truly historic in a multitude of ways. It doesn't have to be something countless people are still talking about in six months, or in ten or twenty or fifty years, for that still to be true.

In any case, I loved the movie just as much the second time around when I watched it again yesterday, even with Gabriel's fairly ineffective attempts at denigrating its derivativeness. Even he was admitting how meaningful this movie's very existence is by the end -- especially once that "death is better than bondage line" came along, which literally had him in tears. I fully expect to see it at least once more before its theatrical run is over. I literally want to keep throwing money at it.

. . . Hmm. Well, I wrote a whole lot more about that than I expected to, didn't I? I didn't even mention how much Laney loved it too! Because she loved it. Easily more than Gabriel did; as she had zero complaints or criticisms, just like me. Well, okay, unless you want to count that post-credits sequence. We were openly like "what the fuck?" as we stood in the back of the theatre on our way out, and a guy in the back row actually turned around to explain to us how it had to do with the Captain America and Avengers movies. And I was basically like okay, whatever, don't give a shit, and we were on our way.

-- चार हजार दो सौ पचास-पांच --


-- चार हजार दो सौ पचास-पांच --

The movie I saw on Saturday yielded no review because it was a re-issue presentation by SIFF, of Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, as part of a series of film noir films. The guy who presented it said it was Hitchcock's favorite of his own films, which was certainly interesting to think about.

I met with Evan and Elden at the Egyptian to watch it at 12:30 in the afternoon. Shobhit and I had had pancakes for brunch not long before, though, and I think I may have suffered a resulting carb crash -- I nodded off several times, powerless to fight my drowsiness. As a result I was only barely following the story, and I think I may have missed one or two key things. What I saw was indeed pretty good, and I may try watching it on DVD again sometime when I am truly and completely alert for its entire run time.

Evan had invited me to join them for brunch beforehand at a new ramen place, but I just could not see how any ramen dish could be priced at fourteen bucks for any justifiable reason, so I declined. When I asked how the ramen had been, Evan told me they had been running late and barely made it to the movie, and would be going to get ramen afterward instead. I did not know this until after I bought popcorn, so it's just as well that I had no idea of this change. I was still quite full from the pancakes anyway -- although the pancakes were themselves a near-debacle. Shobhit used the blender Ivan left behind to completely blend a mango in with the batter, but, typical for him, he did not bother reading the directions, which often fucks up baking. Why Shobhit can't ever learn this lesson, I'll never know.

As such, the batter was far too top-heavy with blended mango, and no fewer than three pancakes wound up in the garbage because they would not cook like normal pancakes, and just bunched up like fried mango sauce. It took two times of adding more pancake mix, and then bringing out the large skillet and making much smaller pancakes rather than the plate-sized ones we usually try making, before they finally cooked like actual pancakes. Once that was done, though, they were quite good.

After the movie, it was about 3:00 by the time I got back home again, and Shobhit and I went on a Costco run that cost me upwards of $140, nearly totally wiping out my budget balance. But, I'll live: I'm over budget now, but next week's paycheck won't have the same number of large purchases (I also ordered an annual Movie Pass last week that cost me ninety bucks, but which will here on out -- once the damn thing finally comes in the mail, which it has not done yet -- save me a great deal of money on movie tickets), so things should ultimately even out just fine. We got back from Costco and made a stir fry using one of the Field Roast "fruffalo wings" samples as a veggie meat component, which I just had leftovers of for lunch.

I can't remember how we spent the rest of the evening on Saturday, except that we watched something -- TV of some kind. Oh, it was SMILF on Showtime, which I signed up for a free month subscription for just to see Rosie O'donnell on that show. But with two and a half episodes left, I got really annoyed with Shobhit complaining about how much he disliked the show, and so I went back to the bedroom to finish it there on my computer.

Otherwise, I've been going to bed quite early the past few days: at 10:58 pm Friday night, which is actually about right for me on weekends; but 9:42 pm Saturday night, and even earlier last night, at 9:23 -- in each case literally for no other reason than that I was so tired I was falling asleep. I mean, if not even porn can keep you awake, you might as well just close your eyes and zonk out. I got some out of Shobhit yesterday morning anyway, so that was nice, especially now that I never have to think about whether or not a roommate can hear us. Finally having the place completely to ourselves again really does have a great number of perks.

-- चार हजार दो सौ पचास-पांच --

So, Sunday then! I was unsure of how this day would go until yesterday morning, once I finally heard back from Gabriel. Shobhit worked yesterday noon to five, so I would have otherwise had the day to myself -- under normal circumstances not the biggest deal, but it was so soon after Ivan's departure that I felt like I was liable to feel unusually lonely if I had to spend the entire afternoon alone. I texted Gabriel on Saturday basically saying as much, and if by chance he would be alone for the day again then maybe we could help each other out with some company. It's really been quite a long time since Gabriel and I hung out twice only a week apart, but he has been talking about making a lot more of an effort to be sociable with friends, so maybe I'll start seeing him more often again -- I saw him so very few times last year (literally, I saw him eight times in all of 2017, which is a pretty small number for us on average). Between staying overnight with him last weekend yielding him two Social Review points and then yesterday, within eight days he's already got three points for the Winter Social Review I'll post next month.

Anyway, he had plans in the evening but no other plans for the day, and was appreciative to hear I was willing to bus down to Tacoma even though busing takes well over an hour -- I left home at 10:50 and walked downtown to catch the Sound Transit #594 express to downtown Tacoma, where he thought he was running late but actually got there right when I said my bus would arrive (I just arrived six minutes early). We then went down to Ruston Point and killed time at his favorite coffee shop, called Dolce Si, where the two people who run the place, Cicilians, and one of their employees, some young black guy with dreadlocks, apparently make his coffee to such perfection that no other place, or even any other employee at this place, comes close.

I ordered a chai tea. And although I would say it could have stood to be hotter, that aside, it was indeed one of the tastier chai's I've ever had. Chai can vary in taste and quality just as coffee can, and I've experienced a pretty wide variety of that as will. This was indeed one of the better ones.

Point Ruston also has a movie theatre -- it's where I saw The Last Jedi with Gabriel and Shell and Tess in December -- and so it was just after this that we went over to catch the 1:05 pm showing of Black Panther. Gabriel had asked me via text if 3D was okay, and I said I'd deal with it if I had to. I had already seen the movie, after all. He was convinced getting seats would not be a challenge because the movie was playing all day on four screens, but I ended up saying "I told you" -- he had to settle for two seats in the very front row. At least they reclined, which helps a great deal.

He wanted to try to snag hopefully unused disabled seating once the movie began, but those chairs were all taken; he even had us move one row back into what appeared to be empty chairs, which I was certain had been purchased seats -- after all, plenty of people don't bother to arrive until the movie is actually starting after trailers are done, now that you can purchase reserved seating in so many of these theatres. A couple came to say we were in their seats, just as I knew they would, but Gabriel himself commented on how sweet they were about it. So, we just went back to our seats in the front row.

And of course, I've already mentioned a whole lot of what Gabriel had to say about it, in the first section of this very entry.

We then walked over to a place called Fish Brewing Pub & Eatery, for a late lunch / early dinner that was so filling that I skipped any more meals for the rest of the day. In my case it was mostly because the veggie wrap (which was decent) had onion rings as one of its options as an included side dish, and I was stunned by how many it came with -- I couldn't even eat them all! Gabriel ate the last two of them, and later Shobhit acted like a baby about my not bringing them home to him as leftovers instead. Right, I want to carry an extra bag of leftovers on my 90-minute, two-bus trek back home, during which the food would just get untenably cold on soggy? Great plan there. (Shobhit, clearly wanting something close to onion rings, had made himself a version of pakoras -- deep fried breaded potatoes and vegetables -- for dinner when I got home, and actually at first refused to allow me even one bite. Real mature, right? Well, he had a change of heart within minutes, at least, at which point I had only one small bite, which was all I wanted anyway.)

Anyway, this was when we had plenty of time to talk, both about the movie and about the state of his personal life, which I won't get into. I will say the setting itself was memorable, both for the restaurant itself and for the view. I honestly think Gabriel himself complicated things by ignoring the PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED sign and just going straight to a table when we went in. "Are we not going to wait to be seated?" I asked, and Gabriel was basically dismissive of it being much of an issue. And then, of course, it took a while for someone to come to our table, because quite clearly no one realized we had seated.

This was about the same time Gabriel told me this place was still so new -- opening last month or maybe the month before -- that they still have kinks to work out and do not have the best customer service. Well, once a waitress finally knew we were there, that young woman gave us excellent customer service. She clearly had frustrations with other things about the place over which she had no control, such as the unprofessionalism of mismatched menus with certain items just blacked out with permanent marker. She did forget about Gabriel's order of oysters, and then not only declared she would take care of it as an apology, but brought him a dish with an extra one on it.

My onion rings were indeed excellent, by the way. I just kind of wish now I had gotten the black bean burger, which Gabriel said was very good, rather than the veggie wrap, which I really got because it sounded healthier. It wasn't bad, don't get me wrong, but as Gabriel noted, how can you even make a veggie wrap all that special?

Anyway, Point Ruston is a series of shops and restaurants (and a theatre) along the coastline in Tacoma, rather near Point Defiance. The view there is stunning, just as it is from Gabriel's house in Salmon Beach. The weather was quite varied yesterday, and certain places even had snow. Weirdly, on my bus ride down, Federal Way alone was covered -- I looked up from my book and suddenly I was in a winter wonderland, buildings and trees all covered in white. The hell? It was pretty wet still, so the road was clear and there were really no traffic issues as a result. And by the time I got into Tacoma, it was just cold and not snowy at all. Gabriel did tell me later he barely escaped a sudden squall as he left home to come and get me, and there was a sudden downpour of hail -- which Shobhit also experienced, texting me from Capitol Hill while I was on the bus.

By the time we got out of the movie, the sun was out and it was mostly clear skies, and our table at the restaurant was right by a window that overlooked the dock or boardwalk or whatever they call it, just beyond which was the water, and also a huge anchored container ship that was slowly twisting around in a large circle. The ship had a rather dumb name that Gabriel noticed: Seattle Bridge. Still, it was interesting to watch it slowly twist around, like a container ship version of the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle, which makes one revolution per hour. That's what this ship seemed to be doing.

Gabriel gave me a ride back to downtown Tacoma, with just minutes to spare before I caught the 594 bus northbound again at 5:20 pm. The #11 I transferred to in downtown Seattle was eight minutes late, so I had a fair bit to wait in seriously cold and gust-windy conditions -- it was already 33° by that point, and that temperature with gusty winds is fucking cold, especially when I had not had the presence of mind to layer under my pea coat. Thank God it wasn't raining, at least.

Anyway, Shobhit and I later got past the pakora stupidness when I reheated a sample blueberry cherry apple pie I brought home late last week, in the oven. The pie was pretty small, 9" in diameter at most, so each of us having a slice that amounted to a quarter of the pie (thus between the two of us we ate half of it) was actually not a huge amount -- pretty comparable to any average pie slice, actually. I figure we'll finish it off tonight.

-- चार हजार दो सौ पचास-पांच --


[posted 12:20 pm]