Monday, July 14, 2008

My Date With The Not-So-Jolly Green Giant

How can you not love eyes like this?

This summer*has truly been the Summer of Superheroes in my mind. We started off with Iron Man. Now Hellboy and Batman are on their way. I might even consider arguing putting Indiana Jones in that category – no ordinary human being could do such amazing things. I am pretty much excited about them all. Even though I am not a fan of Hellboy, the visuals in the trailer are starting to convince me. However I'll talk about my latest super hero experience this season: The Incredible Hulk.

Before I go any further I have to warn you that when it comes to the Hulk I'm prejudiced. He is definitely an awesome superhero though sometimes I question that term because he's not really the kind who's out to save the world. He's just a big, unstoppable force who's basically always on the wrong side of the U.S. military. Perhaps it's this unusual slant that makes him interesting. Or maybe it's poor mild mannered Bruce Banner who's plagued by this monster inside of him that could break out at anytime. In that, he's not too different from the rest of us. We all have to keep a check on our emotions, and a lot of us have to fight to keep our tempers down before we get out of control. In poor Bruce's case, the results just happen to be more far reaching, with bigger explosions, holes in walls etc. In short, the Hulk is a manifestation of the conflicting personalities in all of us, and I think I can relate to that. Maybe that's why I like him.

However I must say what kicks Hulk up a notch on my coolness meter is the transformations. I think the old tv series started it off well. Remember when some witless thugs would push Banner aside, and he would conveniently fall behind a counter or something. While the thugs go about their business, Banner's eyes would take on that eerie green glow, and then you start singing (or at least I do), "Now you're gonna get iiiiiiiiiiit." That's what a Hulk movie has to have: a "Now you're gonna get it" moment.

The old tv series did a good job building up the tension in these scenes, and I remember waiting eagerly for this moment in every episode. When the first movie came out I was ready to see the Hulk in another incarnation, to see another type of transformation. I mean Lou Ferigno and Bill Bixby did their jobs well, but if there is any hero who needs a little special effects work, it would be the Hulk. While Lou Ferigno is an intimidating looking guy, I wanted to see what a man mountain of a hulk looked like. It's impossible for an ordinary man –no matter how buff- to become this big green Frankenstein. (On a side note, what exactly happens when Banner changes? How can his body create that much muscle mass out of nothing so quickly? Perhaps it's some sort of quickly dividing cells? That might hurt. And where do they go when he changes back? Hmmmmm.)

I've heard a lot about what people thought about Ang Lee's Hulk movie a few years back. I've heard the complaints and the fuss, that it was too thoughtful (how is that possible?), that it took too long for the Hulk to appear, (uh, they were trying to build the story), that it was confusing (a little but not that much) and that it was boring (nope) – in short, I don't agree. It wasn't the greatest movie ever, but there was some good work put in there. I respect Ang Lee as a director – his body of work alone is so varied, you've got to be a leetle awed by that. I love how he tried a different format, tried to make a story which was about the man as much as the monster. Besides that, I cannot believe any movie that features sweet faced Eric Bana and one of my favourite actresses Jennifer Connelly could be all bad. This movie also generated one of the best trailers I have ever seen. No lie, I actually watched it over and over in fascination. Check it out here:

Anyway, what did I think of the new movie? Didn't I already say I was prejudiced? It would be hard for me not to enjoy a Hulk movie, but this one had a lot to like. Instead of Eric Bana, this one has Edward Norton who does a good job here as he does in every movie. You ask Edward Norton to play a mild mannered man struggling to come to terms with a terrible curse, and he does it right. Of course, no matter how bad you feel for Banner, you're still waiting for him to bring down hell on himself again, so the Hulk can make an appearance. The requisite slugfests which follow are great, and at one point, I witnessed one of the most intense hand to hand fights I've ever seen in a movie. Besides that, this movie doesn't forge any new frontiers, but I had lots of fun, and that will do for now. To summarize, I'll post the review I posted on Facebook i.e.
Hulk run round. Hulk smash up stuff. Good fun.
So there you have it, so far my Summer of Superheroes is going fantastically. What with discovering Robert Downey Jr for the first time (yup never really knew anything about him before. Iron Man made me a convert) and seeing Indiana Jones in action again, things are going well. Next stop The Dark Knight and the most unkempt Joker I have ever seen

* Yes I use the term "summer" even though I live in the West Indies. These are North American movies so I feel justified

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Adventures in Lit Class

Let me know if this is weird to anyone out there, but quite often when my friends and I from St. Joseph's Convent Port-of-Spain meet up, our reminiscing about our adventures in school often meander around to the books we read then. I wonder if anyone else does this? I can explain why we do it. It's probably because we spent so much time poring over these books, discussing them, sometimes hating them (and man did we hate some of them) that they are forever interwoven into our memories of crazy teachers, mind numbing tests, the lame (or adorable) boys across the street and that time a pervert took up a vantage point across the street (remember that guys).

During my own reflections I have found that I am overall rather pleased with the books that came my way during my seven years of exposure to school literature. The selections were supposed to expose us to a variety of classical books which touched on different cultures, and they didn't do too badly. Now a days I can smugly say I've actually read Chinua Achebe and Derek Walcott and Tennessee Williams. Even though, the aftermath of some of our literature lectures resembled a battlefield with fallen convent girls sprawled on their desks (not dead but sleeping the sleep of the dead), I still vividly remember some of the insights expressed by our teachers, and the ideas which dawned on me. I loved good class discussions on good books – when everyone had something to say and the reflections and ideas zipped back and forth. Those were joyous times for me.

And we read some good books, especially as we came to the last years of school. I was introduced to Jane Austen in SJC. Saw my first Shakespeare film then too and it's still one of my all time favourites. Perhaps I might never have picked up these books if they had not been introduced to me. Even the books some of us disliked gave me new perspectives and opportunities. I don't like Hardy's "Tess of the Durbervilles" but I love his "Far From the Madding Crowd". I am not a huge fan of Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" but I still was inspired by her "flow of consciousness" narrative. I do not think it's possible to read what is considered good literature without getting something out of it. I learned how to define true love as we examined Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities". I got a better appreciation of poetry from Wordsworth's lyrical ballads and I learned to love many works which are still a part of me today. I was surprised to find that my university education didn't have the same effect on me. I suppose my SJC exposure will remain as one of my greatest inspirations.

So in appreciation for these great influences I'm going to do my own tribute to my literary education – the best of times and the worst of times, and I'll start with.....


I don't remember who among my classmates noted that the books we read tended to be depressing. Whoever made that observation was right. There seemed to be a conspiracy among our literature teachers to expose us to the most gloomy texts among the recommended reading lists. In Form One, we read Patrick O'Brien's "Island of the Blue Dolphins", not a terribly sad book, but it had a tasty selection of unhappy situations. In later forms, it just got worse. Second year featured John Steinbeck's "The Pearl", a story of how the discovery of a spectacular pearl brought tragedy and destruction to a guiltless fisherman and his wife. You certainly didn't put down this book with a sunnier, more hopeful view of the human race.

Later on, we tended to study authors as well as the books they wrote, and it became quickly apparent why some of these people wrote the unfortunate tomes which dotted our literary landscape – they were a pretty messed up bunch themselves. Poor Virginia Woolf, besides living through years of sexual abuse from her half brother and the throes of bipolar disorder, apparently sometimes heard birds singing to her in Greek. I personally thought that I would not recognize what languages birds were singing in, but I assumed this was a confirmation of her brilliance mixed with her mental problems. Anyway the poor lady eventually drowned herself. However Tennessee Williams could quite easily compare notes with her. After all he spent a troubled life dealing with his mentally ill mother and abusive father before presumably killing himself by swallowing a bottle cap. (My question here is: Why?!) The fact that evidence has surfaced lately that Williams' may have been murdered doesn't stack up to a whole lot in the scheme of things – not to Tennessee anyway.

Please be assured, I am not of the school of thought that every book should have a gloriously, happy ending. Authors have a right to miserable lives just like everyone else. (They do seem to tend to have miserable lives more than the average person which does not bode well for me, but I digress.) However, we did seem to have a dirge of downers at SJC. This became more apparent to me when I made a comparison with my brother's reading material at his all boys school. He read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" in Form One and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in Form Two! Some sort of prejudice was apparent there; I'm sure of it. Are girls more likely to enjoy the tragic and disheartening? Is it necessary to ensure that boys be exposed to the fun, the magical, the uplifting? Someone needs to look into this, but once again....I digress.

Don't get me wrong, depressing books don't equal to mediocre ones. I could wish to be as brilliant as Woolf, Williams, Steinbeck et al for a hundred years and not come close to their brilliance, but their stories didn't touch me and some of my classmates. But the great thing about books is that we are free to change our feelings and opinions about them. I often wonder if I would still feel a bit impatient with Tess Derbyfield of "Tess of the Durbervilles" or feel a little world weary of Blanche DuBois' fragile instability if I took a look back at these stories years later. Who knows? It's definitely worth a try, but I have a particular affection for the books which I felt a connection with almost at once – the stories done by my fellow kindred spirits.....


Once people hear you like to read, they are inclined to pick up any book that comes to hand to give as presents assuming the notorious book lover would be delighted to get anything with words printed on a page. I have no doubt that there are people who would gladly devour anything that is handed to them, but unfortunately this does not work with me.

Since I am incapable of throwing a book away, some of these untimely gifts remain on my bookshelf untouched. Such was the case when my aunt gave me a copy of Jane Austen's "Emma". Out affection for my dear aunt, I made an effort now and then. I glanced at long complex introduction or looked hopelessly at the first lines of the actual story, but of course I had no real interest in diving in. Then some clear sighted, far thinking genius among the St. Joseph Convent POS English literature teachers chose Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" as a book to study for A Level Literature. Oh happy day though I did not know it yet.

Instead, foolish me, I approached the novel apprehensively and read the first, surprisingly brief chapter, then I paused in disbelief. It was interesting; it was fun; it did not lose me with heavy, lugubrious prose. Could it keep up the momentum? Could it? It did. Though many years have passed, I will always recall my first experience reading of the romantic trials of Elizabeth Bennet as one of the most astonishing relationship with a book I've ever had. P&P was everything the critics always say and that you don't dare to believe – it was sparkling, witty, unforgettable etc. etc.

And so Miss Austen and I became lifelong friends, and I was flung with delight into the flood of adaptations, internet fan groups, fan fiction etc which went with it. The 1995 version of the book came out around that time and drew other fans into the fold. (If you haven't seen this movie, you must! I shall expound at a later date.) Miss Austen is now delightfully interwoven into my literary landscape and she and her following are always more than welcome wherever I hang my hat. Since then of course I've read Emma which is - like all of Miss Austen's work - so brilliant, I would be jealous of her if I didn't love her so much, so you see, never throw away those weird books your family, friends and co workers foist off on you. You really never know...

The Bard himself also came into my life more fully during my school career. I had gone through "Midsummer Night's Dream" by the time I'd reached Form Three and thought it was okay. I was mostly smugly proud of having completed at least one work by the intimidating playwright no one understood. But I had not yet learned the true joy of Shakespeare. And once more in my life a movie helped to bring that impression home. If you haven't seen Kenneth Brannagh's version of Henry V, you need to right away as it is one of the most thrilling movies ever. It's dramatic and wonderfully acted. Brannagh delivers the speeches of the Henry V in a gripping way which makes you want to jump into the breach on the next battle charge (even if you've never held a weapon in your life and probably would be crying for your mommy before the fight was half over). Our teachers had taken the entire class to see the movie, and I confess we understood very little of the intricacies of what was going on, but that didn't matter! We had escaped the confines of school for several hours and we were in a cinema. We were watching a show with lots of action and some stirring looking scenes and it ended with a lovely romantic interlude (one of my favourites up to this day). I for one had a wonderful time, and the fact that Shakespeare was to be said out loud, acted out loud and just scene came home to me from that moment. Thanks Kenneth. Thanks Will.

Of course there were other books and authors that worked their way into my universe in my formative years. I won't discuss them at length here. I am really glad that I had a chance to read "A Man for All Seasons" and "Ti Jean and his Brothers". As I say, the books got better as we got older, or maybe we were changing and getting better as we changed. Some stories were still sad like Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" but as I said that doesn't equate to not liking the story. The simplicity and power of Achebe's novel was a joy and though the tale was tragic it wasn't too heavy to bear. Isn't literature wonderful? Without my lit class I would not have experienced the bawdiness of Geoffrey Chaucer for example or the simpler poems of William Wordsworth. I definitely have another reason to appreciate my time in SJC during my best of times and worst of times.

Feel free to share your own literary adventures. Come on! Post already!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Our First Meeting

I've been planning to do this blogging thing for a while now, and as usual I've been thinking about it a lot and not actually getting around to it. Though I think I am justified in over thinking this a bit. After all it's a blog – a blog which can potentially touch the hearts and minds of millions if done in just the right way. That's an intimidating possibility. Can I write something that can touch the hearts of millions? I would be happy if I just caught the attention of a small, loyal band of followers – at –Duh, Dah, Dah, Duh - the Crossroads of Imagination!

What kind of weird, new age kind of title is that you may ask? Well, what I hope is that I can use this blog to reflect on creativity and creative thinking, but don't worry this is not as didactic as it sounds at first. Think of how creativity and imagination figure in the world around us. Creative people like Jim Henson, George Lucas, Diana Wynne Jones, Coldplay and Jane Austen inspire and delight us every day, and I love talking about them and discussing them and talking about them some more. So if you don't recognize some of these names you will. I'll probably spend a lot of time talking about the books, movies and television shows that inspire and fascinate me as well.

And of course, I'll be discussing my own travels in one of my favourite countries i.e. my own imagination which is truly an astonishing place as it is for each of us. This will mostly involve my discussing my efforts to make writing and editing a career. I hope that likeminded people, especially writers or at least people interested in literature, will come and share their thoughts as well.

And of course what better place could this great meeting of minds occur but at a crossroads of the imagination - a place where all these various creative thought processes can converge. What more can you ask for? I can't wait.