First Impressions: I Am A Killer (Netflix)


As a culture, we are on a huge true crime kick right now. The one-two punch of Serial and Making a Murderer basically guaranteed that a slew of gritty investigations into real life crimes would be beamed into our eyes and ears for the foreseeable future. The latest docuseries (at the time of this writing) to fill our insatiable appetite for all things criminal is Netflix’s I Am A Killer. What sets Killer apart from its peers is a de-emphasis on narrativizing the crimes in question by dolling out crucial details and investigative discoveries piecemeal. Instead, as the title implies, I Am A Killer is about the human element in these stories. The predominant mode of storytelling is the talking head, often placed matter-of-factly in the center of the screen. This makes the series a breath of fresh air, in my opinion. This is a series that boldly asks you not to indulge but instead of empathize with the people involved. As entertaining as deep dive investigations can be, they can’t help but feel a bit too lurid and a bit too indulgent in the face of the human stories being presented here.

In the first two episodes, we are introduced to James Robertson and Kenneth Foster. These men provide a study in contrasts, as Robertson laughs about the crime that put him on death row while Foster makes honest attempts at redemption for an act performed roughly twenty years ago. The filmmakers are smart to use there ten episodes to put a magnifying glass on ten different people. Mainly, the breathing room afforded by each case getting its own hour allows the filmmakers to really get in deep and give everything the attention it deserves. More than that, it is a bold statement that declares a certain worthiness on the part of the subjects. James Robertson may be a remorseless killer but he’s still human, as is Kenneth Foster. There is a question asked by multiple characters in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy: “Even though I am no better than a monster, don’t I, too, have the right to live”. I am only so far into the series now but I Am A Killer almost certainly thinks the answer is “yes” and it extends that answer to whether or not these men deserve to have their stories told.

Robertson is definitely the most unsavory of the two people featured thus far. His pale skin, heavily bagged eyes and missing teeth can’t help but evoke a lot of our preconceptions about what a criminal looks like (he would look right at home getting punched in the face by Batman). His largely regretless attitude towards his crimes compounds the initial uneasiness he provokes, as we learn that he killed his cellmate simply to avoid close management (a term for solitary confinement that seeks to gain some distance from all of the negative press solitary has gotten over the years). What the first episode reveals over the course of its run time is that Robertson’s ragged look is not that of a man who is inherently dangerous but instead the look of a man who hasn’t seen the sun in decades. See, Robertson has been in and out of the prison system since he was 12 and a lot of that time – he was tried as an adult for the first time when he was 17 – has been spend in solitude. This story ends up being a great look at how the prison system and criminality have a symbiotic relationship with each other, instead of the diametric opposition one might expect. In addition, through a cousin of Robertson’s, we see how empathy succeeds were “tough on crime” punishments often fail.

On the other hand, Foster’s story zeroes in on the themes of responsibility for one’s self and one’s actions in the face of imposing external factors while also examining the role of compassion and forgiveness in the lives of victims. Foster was driving a car when his friend chose to get out and shoot somebody. Due to Texas’ parties law, he too was held responsible for the shooting. The reason for the law given by a Texas DA in the episode is that people could simply manipulate others into committing crimes and evade prosecution because they didn’t do the act itself. If that is the intention of the law, then it is not obvious Foster’s death sentence is in the spirit of it. There are multiple perspectives on the event in question, including a remarkable one from Foster himself that the filmmakers do save until the very end of the episode, but proximity and even tacit acceptance doesn’t amount to manipulation and equal culpability as far as I can tell. Still, Foster’s role in the crime undeniably triggers our retributivist impulses and things get more confusing and challenging as we meet both the families of both the victim and the perpetrator. As with the first episode, the filmmakers also explore Foster’s own history and how it played a role in the man he is today.

I am looking forward to watching more of this thoughtful and empathetic series. I like the deft, matter of fact way that the different perspectives in the show are presented and balanced. On top of that, I like that true crime trends are being challenged by remembering that these events are first and foremost events in people’s lives, not exciting narratives designed for our consumption. I know that documentary is narrative and that these stories are, first and foremost, stories. However, they are stories with their heart and mind in the right place and I, so far, am grateful for having heard them.


The Unexpected Joy of Meditating In A Mall


Meditation is a big part of my life and has been ever since my anxiety collided abruptly with the stressfulness of university and my uniformly miserable self care habits in 2016. As a guy who was being woken up by his own heart beating out of his chest and starting to have legitimate, full blown panic attacks, I needed help pretty bad. When I got help, one of the first recommendations made was 10 minutes of daily meditation. For the uninitiated, meditation is basically nothing more than sitting still and focusing on your breath for extended, preplanned durations of time. At least, that is the foundation of it. There are plenty of variations that work well for some people but not others and there are disagreements about fine grain details (eyes open or closed, seated or laying down, etc.) but what I have just laid out is really all you need to get started. Just recently, after two years of semi-consistent practise, I found an opportunity to expand on the way that I meditate that I found quite productive. To put it simply, I meditated in the mall.

I work in the mall and my job can be stressful. It’s not an unmanageable amount of stress but it can be somewhat fast paced and keeps me on my toes. As such, I find I benefit from prework meditation on days that I anticipate will be busy. However, the unexpectedly busy days are more difficult to plan for. I had often considered just sitting down in the mall and meditating there but I had never quite been comfortable with the idea*. When actually considering why I was uncomfortable with the thought of public meditation, I realized exactly why I had to do it.

Let’s take the first and most obvious reason: it’s too noisy. How are you supposed to meditate when people are walking out of the movie theater speculating about the post credits scene of Ant-Man and the Wasp or trying to explain that when they said “no pickles” they actually meant more like “light pickles”? Personally, I think this perception that meditation can be hampered by distraction is misguided. There are two major roots of the misconception that I can see. Mainly, people think of meditation as involving some kind of Buddhist nirvana feeling that would be disrupted by all the chaos. In my experience, mediation actually benefits from a little background noise. It’s about honing your focus, after all. The chaos around you can act as additional plates on a bench-press or an uphill slope during a run. It challenges you to exert more control over your focus and thus be more mindful. The second problem is an offshoot of the first. Newcomers specifically get frustrated because background noise makes the meditation harder and it makes it easier to quit. That may be true but my advice to meditators who have this frustration is to commit to the attempt, because I think the results can be worthwhile.

There was another big roadblock to my meditating in the mall and it has to do with the way anxiety can skew our perception of the world. You know that person who is constantly worried that people are listening in on your conversations? Or the person who thinks that someone who is laughing loudly in public must be laughing at them? I like to avoid blanket statements but 9 times out of 10 these thoughts have anxious origins. Without any justification or positive evidence, this person is worried that people are paying attention to them and, worse yet, the people paying attention don’t like what they see. You might know this person, or you might be this person but the point I’m getting across here is that with mindfulness and calm comes the realization that everything isn’t about you. People are just living their lives. They are laughing because of something their friend or family member did. They are looking at you because you remind them of a person they used to know (or maybe they’re just daydreaming? The possibilities are endless). You are bringing in self directedness and negativity all on your own and both self directedness and negativity are what I would use to describe anxiety to a sketch artist. To come back around to my main point, I was worried people would think I looked goofy meditating in the food court. Or worse yet, maybe they would mess with me in some way. It may seem silly but I briefly imagined someone waiting to scare me when I opened my eyes or balancing something on my head.

After contemplating these twin motivations, I knew I had to meditate in public. I say public because it doesn’t have to be a mall. This advice applies to any area that is dynamic and filled with people as opposed to the solitary meditation areas we are used to (for me it is my dining room chair). I am happy to report that I was right. There was something profoundly satisfying about coming through the other end of my meditation to see that (surprise surprise) nobody seemed to notice that I had done it. Even if they had noticed and privately thought it was weird, from my perspective it was identical to them having paid no mind to me at all.  Not only did it put my self-conscious fears to bed, it enhanced my practise by demanding more of my attention. I had to shift focus from movie chatter and returned orders as well as my own negative and unproductive thoughts and come back to my breath.

I want to acknowledge that there is a certain irony to meditating in a mall to cope with the stress of existing while living in a modern capitalist society. I have heard legitimate grievances about absorbing practises with anti-materialist origins to keep the consumerist juggernaut chugging along. My short answer to these concerns is that any advice I have is for the here and now. I am all for working towards large scale change that makes it so we don’t need to constantly be coping all the time, but until then the pressure is on and meditation can be the make or break for a lot of people between functionality and total shutdown. So, in the mean time, I am looking to find the positivity in public meditation and offer help to people looking to stay present and function better in their day to day lives…at least until the revolution, comrade.

I’m not saying that you should go seek out public areas to meditate in or that you are wrong if this style of meditation really doesn’t work for you. This is mainly a recommendation for meditators looking to try something new, change it up and maybe get a bit more out of their practise. I sincerely hope this is helpful to whomever tries it and I have sincere gratitude towards everyone who took the time to read about my experiences.



Eighth Grade Review: A Empathetic Look at Anxiety, Youth and Love In The Modern Age

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I cried all the way through Eighth Grade, the excellent debut feature of Bo Burnham. This experience was a new one for me. Usually my cinematic crying experiences are limited to a couple tears rolling down my cheek or that thing where your eyes get a bit red but no actual liquid comes out. I should explain that there were tears of joy as well as tears of sadness through the screening. Still, I’m not sure I could overstate the visceral emotional reaction I had to the movie. The main reason why I am framing this discussion in terms of crying is partly because good film criticism involves working backwards from the actual experience of watching a movie. What the movie actually makes you feel is an incredibly important part of analysing and understanding it. More than that, I bring up my emotional response because Eighth Grade is a movie that places such a high value on empathy that I want to be totally transparent and communicative about those emotions. This movie is arriving at a time when it’s sorely needed and its mission statement of placing empathy above all else makes it a truly radical and worthwhile experience.

When I say radical, I don’t mean it like how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might mean it. I am talking about the radicalism of Antifa or the Black Panthers. We live in a time of diminished empathy. I don’t mean to say that North America was ever a bastion of empathy and kindness. However, from where I sit, it is undeniable as refugees are turned away because saving their lives might stifle economic growth and as a buffoonish cartoon character still presides over the United States due in large part to his promise of erecting a giant monument to hate that we have an empathy problem. This problem isn’t just an insiders/outsiders thing either, it is also generational (to name just one way we are bad at empathizing with each other). This is a time where the young blame the old for destroying the planet and ushering in a neoliberal hellscape from which there might be no return and the old blame the young for being self absorbed, whiny and perpetually “triggered”.

Eighth Grade feels like a movie aimed squarely people who digest anti-millennial hot takes with glee. It is a movie that has the courage to treat the life of a middle schooler as having real weight and importance. It asks us to empathize with Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) as she goes to pool parties and agonizes over her lack of popularity. Burnham has the wisdom and technical filmmaking skills to make these things feel like life and death because, despite being conditioned to view young people’s lives as unimportant, this stuff subjectively feels like exactly that to them. The main way that Burnham addresses this generational divide is through the relationship between Kayla and her father, Mark. They are always framed in wide shots together, occupying opposite ends of large frames as they fail to communicate their positions to one another again and again as the film goes on. Mark is far from the crotchety and disgruntled guy that a you might think would represent his generation on screen. Even though he has his flaws, he is an example of what Gen Xers ought to be. He is persistent, willing to be patient with his daughter as she learns to articulate herself and always responds to her problems with love.

It is a sad fact that “love is radical” reflexively evokes comparisons to the perpetually stoned and lazy hippie archetype because it’s the actual truth. Underneath all of the compelling drama and visceral cringe scenes,  Eighth Grade is a movie about learning to love yourself, love your family and love even the scariest, most unpleasant parts of life. I was exactly like Kayla until, if I am being honest, recently. Anxiety dominated my life in a really big way until I finally decided to seek help for it midway through my university degree. Until I made the best decision of my life and talked with professionals about these issues, anxiety chipped away at my confidence, self worth and ability to articulate myself in a big way. It still does, in fact. I persistently work on learning to love myself and others. I work on being okay with the fact that my nervous system will conflate sharing an idea with my professor or boss with being attacked by a stampede of machine gun wielding dinosaurs. This film really gets what that journey can be like and the honesty and reality of the depiction is unlike anything else I have seen in a movie.

This review is more personal than most because the film is as personal as they come. That said, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the movie is an extremely well made version of what it is. The movie feels largely plotless, which serves it well in an unexpected way. If “on a general trajectory to what feels like nowhere in particular” doesn’t describe adolescence than maybe I just had a strange one. Burnham also leans heavily on POV shots to convey Kayla’s perspective as well as a repeating theme of slow tracking shots both towards and away from her.  Through these shots, we are always made privy to Kayla’s tendency to be hyper critical and self focused while also being reminded of her status as one microbe in a vast social ecosystem. This is strong filmmaking that I wasn’t sure Burnham would have in him. Any praise I have for Burnham’s direction is met equally by the astonishment I have towards Fischer’s performance. She is so convincingly inarticulate and so authentically layers her performative social persona on top of her anxious, hyper-aware personality that the film often feels like a documentary. Kayla arrives from scene on as a complex, multifaceted human being and Fischer is magnetic for every step of her journey.

My reaction to this film is deeply subjective but, if you can help it, don’t write off this review because of that. The best movies find universality in specifics. I have never been a performer who is coping with his perceived irrelevance but The Wrestler resonates with me every time I watch it. I’ve never found out that I was, in fact, a superhero and had that information solve a lot of my midlife crisis issues but Unbreakable is my favorite movie of all time. I have no doubt that you will see yourself reflected in Kayla’s experiences as I did because when it comes to anxiety, popularity, self worth and socializing we are only really different in degrees if you don’t count serial killers. There is so much more to say about this film and even in this somewhat lengthy review I feel like I have barely scratched the surface. I urge you to see this movie in a theater while you can, it’s as vital and endearing a debut feature as I have ever seen.


Sicario: Day of the Soldado Review – A Victory Lap For The Bad Guys


One of the most compelling things about Dennis Villeneuve’s Sicario is how effective it is at conveying the outsider status of Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer in the hypermasculine atmosphere of Matt Graver’s (Josh Brolin) anti-drug taskforce. The movie has gender at the forefront of its mind, with incredibly loaded imagery designed to evoke sexual domination and rape at multiple key points in the film. So, I was surprised to hear that we were leaving Emily Blunt’s character where she was the end of the last film; bullied, broken and intimidated by Benicio Del Toro’s enigmatic Alejandro and focusing on Alejandro himself as well as antagonist Matt Graver. It seems that my fears were well founded, as Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a macho affair that does very little to compliment the themes of the first movie. By the end of the film’s two hour runtime (it feels more like 3 hours, if I’m being honest) I was left wondering why this film exists at all. It’s a boring, superficial follow up to a fine movie that deserved a more worthy successor.

It would likely be as tedious for me to recap the finer points of the plot as it would be for you to read them. It is a standard modern political thriller, where every conversation is happening in either an office or a military base and every conversation is about intangible goals, details and locations in a way that it is almost impossible to pay attention to. Basically, Graver has been called in to exploit the fact that the unnamed US President is going to declare the Mexican drug cartels terrorists. For some reason, provoking a war between the various cartels will allow the CIA to capitalize on the ensuing anarchy. To do this, Graver calls in his main man Alejandro to stage the kidnapping of Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), daughter of an important Cartel leader.

What does successfully carry over from the first movie is the damning depiction of various arms of the United States government. The CIA of the Sicario movies – which is the most realistic version in cinema that I can think of – is comprised of cold pragmatists who even manage to perform ostensibly noble causes like combating the drug cartels and do them in the most disinterested and egoisitc way possible. There isn’t even a lone hero who swims against the tide, there is no Jack Bauer who fails to tow the line. This is a film about the same terrible people that we met in the first movie, with no fresh eyed outsider to slow them down.

This leads me to the film’s first big problem, which is that it has no real emotional center. The investment that came from taking Macer’s POV in the first movie isn’t replaced with anything worthwhile. There is an attempt made at around the one hour mark to elicit emotion when Alejandro and Reyes start going through their obligatory Logan arc and we see the more vulnerable Alejandro that we assumed had died with his cartel-victimized family. That being said, this simply doesn’t work like the filmmakers clearly wanted it to. Maybe it doesn’t quite click because Alejandro’s actions in the last film were so despicable that this movie couldn’t quite erase them or maybe it was because the film bludgeoned me with so much tediousness beforehand that I was numb to it but I found myself rolling my eyes at yet another story of a tough killer who has his emotional armor cracked by an aggressive yet vulnerable girl.

The film is as handsomely shot as its predecessor, though the sinister and thudding score of the previous movie is used with such abandon here that it starts to take on an almost comedic tone. The repetitious music makes the movie feel like an overlong sketch in the vein of Too Many Cooks, where the joke starts to be “just how much of the movie can we make punishingly dull and aggressively emotionless”. At one point two characters were flying in a helicopter together with the same foreboding music playing over the scene and I thought “This? This needs to be depressing and bleak as well”? One thing that the use of the same music in multiple scenes can do is invite comparisons between those scenes. We think of them together and compare the emotions and actions of one scene to the other. This is impossible, as the repetitious and simple score used this much creates on omnipresent mood that pervades over every inch of the movie. Imagine if 90% of The Avengers had the theme from the iconic panoramic shot of the team playing over it. That shot would probably be robbed of its iconic status because of it.

The technical filmmaking in general falls short of the original film. New director Stefano Sollima has little respect for narrative economy and there is an entire B-plot that concerns a wannabe Sicario named Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriquez) that fails to meaningfully pay off. Similarly, the action is more prevalent than ever in this movie but it is all dull and boring. Tracking shot over the shoulder of a character, cut to that character firing an assault rifle and then cut to his targets falling over. Rinse and repeat, with none of the scenes having internal narratives or any sense of exciting escalation. The action doesn’t have to be exciting, mind you. It does, however, have to be memorable and useful to the overall film and unfortunately it’s just not. By the time we reach a completely useless and extended scene near the end – the details of which would be too spoilery for a general review – I was wondering if the filmmakers had any sense at all that their movie would actually be watched by an audience.

There is a certain type of person who will like Sicaro: Day of the Soldado. It has a macho uber-seriousness about it and it will likely kill with the “they don’t make movies for adults anymore” crowd but I just found it dull. I love the first movie and I wish they had furthered the narrative of that film more organically but Day of the Soldado doesn’t even work on its own terms. Let’s hope they figure out how to make the teased third movie work, because I’m not sure I can sit through another film as uninvolving and seemingly never-ending as this one.




The Incredibles 2 Review – Maybe Just Rewatch the First One Instead?

the-incredibles.jpgThe Incredibles 2 opens with a short introduction from multiple people involved in making of the movie. Director Brad Bird, as well as most of the main cast, assures us that they have taken their time with this film and that it will be well worth the 14 year wait since the first movie. This is a weird decision, as nobody in the theater needs to be sold on Pixar’s pedigree or the prospect of watching an Incredibles sequel. It is an even stranger thing to do when the product you have made is not particularly good, as is the case with The Incredibles 2.  Bird and Co. have made Incredibles 2: Incredibles Harder, a sequel in the repetitious and unnecessary mold of Die Hard 2. Unlike the second Die Hard film, that can’t use “we wanted to fast track this one to capitalize on the popularity of the first” as a justification for making an underwhelming retread of the first movie because, as Samuel L. Jackson told me just before the film started, it is a labour of love that has been worked on for 14 years.

The first Incredibles ends with each family member assuredly looking at one another as the Underminer (John Ratzenberger) emerges, each knowing exactly what to expect from the other. They strike a team pose while framed in a wide shot, visually conveying that they have learned to work together as a cohesive unit. This is a great ending because we see how far they have come from their frustrated squabbling and inability to get one the same page as one another early on in the film. Bafflingly, The Incredibles 2 begins by undercutting the exceptionally well realized character development that we saw in the first movie. Picking up immediately from where the last one left off, the family has instantly regressed from a functional unit back to the squabbling, perpetually frustrated individuals we met at the before they went to Syndrome’s Island.

This shift back to a familiar status quo is followed through on with tenacity, as the film has the same basic plot as the first movie. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) have switched places but we are nevertheless watching one of them prioritize heroism over family while doing hero work for mysterious benefactors while the other is confined to domesticity in the interim. Violet (Sarah Vowell) is once again after the affections of her generic teen heartthrob love interest from the last movie (due to a strange contrivance she is even pursuing a date with him in this movie despite getting one at the end of the last film). Of course, there is also Dash (Huck Miner) who…wait, they didn’t actually give Dash anything to do this time.

It would be one thing to do the same movie again but the shame of it is that Bird is doing everything so much worse this time around. Bird dealt with Bob’s secret superhero time with an incredibly effective montage, which served to limit the amount of time that the family spent apart and kept things moving at a steady pace. The pacing in this film is so much worse, as Bird has just opted to make two concordant movies about Elastigirl’s superheroics and the rest of the family respectively and then shuffle them together in the edit. To add insult to injury, the Mr. Incredible half of the movie ends up being hugely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.  The movie drops his obnoxious arc about being jealous of Elastigirl with no clear resolution, so the audience can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers spent so much time on it. At least, the Elastigirl stuff fairs better, with a number of well directed action scenes injecting some much-needed life into the proceedings.

Bottom line: Incredibles 2 is bottom shelf Pixar that does nothing to justify its existence. The plotting isn’t as tight, it’s not as much fun and it mostly feels like a now-or-never cash grab on the part of the filmmakers. I rewatched the first movie immediately before seeing this one and it holds up like nobody’s business. Just go watch that movie instead, you’ll almost certainly be glad you did.


Book Review – Fit At Mid Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey


I recently finished reading the excellent Fit At Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey by Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs. Full disclosure, I had Samantha Brennan at a professor in a graduate seminar at Western University and, her class being one of the highlights of my university experience, my opinion on the book might be skewed slightly. That being said, one of the things I loved so much about Dr. Brennan’s class was the way that she seemed to make a conscious effort to buck some of academic philosophy’s most obnoxious trends. This class made an effort to pursue objective fact while at the same time not being presumptuous enough to think we can just fire up our armchairs and will ourselves beyond the vail of subjective experience. This trend is continued in the Fit at Mid Life, which talks data, trends and fact while telling the compelling story of two women on a personal journey to better themselves. I am happy to report that what works about Dr. Brennan’s classes also works in the book, which had me just as invested in whether or not Tracy would reach her goal of finishing an Olympic distance triathlon as I was in educating myself about the fitness facts.

Easily one of the most refreshing parts of reading this book was its emphasis on cultivating a new attitude towards fitness that’s all about function and health. For example, in one section of Fit at Mid-Life in which the authors put there philosopher’s hats on and go about defining fitness, mental health is not left out of the discussion. This inclusion may seem like a small thing but hearing people wise enough to include the other half of health in a fitness discussion read to me as nearly revelatory. This is just one of them many small delights of the book.

One other such delight was reading a discussion of health and fitness that didn’t try to reinvent the wheel. Fitness is interesting because as complex as it is, it is also simple. The never ending succession of people on the internet trying to tell you when/how/where/what to eat in ways that contradict the last thing you read by a seemingly equally qualified professional is unproductive and exhausting. You’ll find no claims like “make sure to only have sugar while standing on your head and juggling avocados, while also singing Shake it Off by Taylor Swift” in this book. Instead it approaches fitness discussion by sticking to what we know and know well, while busting some harmful myths about dieting and exercise in the process.

If I had one complaint, it would be that I wanted the philosopher’s hats to be put on a little bit more often and for slightly more lengthy durations. The fact that this doesn’t happen is by design and it’s not a flaw in the book by any means. I think I just crave a philosophical discussion of fitness and exercise that I can’t really seem to find anywhere right now. Still though, to demand that from Fit at Mid-Life would be to watch Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables and be mad that Hugh Jackman didn’t play Wolverine in it (I’m just kidding, you should never watch Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables). This book is about breaking down stereotypes about gender and age while also providing tangible, subjective stories that, on top of being compelling in their own right, ground the discussion in reality rather than pure theory.

The last thing I want to say about my experience reading the book is how much I enjoyed it despite the fact that it isn’t something many people would think of as being “for me”. I got more than a few quizzical remarks and questions about why I would read a book that seems specifically targeted at age and gender demographics that are very much not my own (male, 24). To that I say, reading books that aren’t “for you” is almost always educational and enjoyable in some way. At least, this holds true for me. There are obvious exceptions, such as movies or video games that populate their narratives with sexualized, two dimensional female characters. That’s the bad kind of “not for you” and women who avoid these stories are definitely not in the wrong. The good kind of “not for you”, however, can be transformative. This book gave me a lot of insight into what it’s like to be a woman in physical fitness spaces and this knowledge will almost surely affect how I conduct myself in these spaces in the future. I have certainly been guilty of presuming that older women in the gym are eagerly awaiting my instructions on how to properly lift weights. Hell, I bumped into at 70 year old woman in a Indigo store a couple of days ago and she was holding this book. I assumed she was hesitantly thinking about dipping a toe into the water of physical fitness but it turns out she was a marathon runner who could probably kick my ass in a great many physical activities.

Fit at Mid Life also gave me knowledge of what an active lifestyle looks like at age 50, which may not apply to me now but certainly will some day (unless scientist finally get off the couch and make putting human brains in robot bodies a reality). My assumption going into the book was that my body would slowly get slower, weaker and less effective every year after my 40th birthday. Research covered in the book that shows age isn’t the barrier to physical activity that many believe it to be was illuminating. I won’t go into the whole thing here but, suffice it to say, certain cultural preconceptions of what aging people can do end up creating a sort of feedback loop. “I know my body is going to get weaker so I’d better not run so much” is, as it turns out, something of a self fulfilling prophesy.

In a lot of ways, this book is appealing to me because of my attitude towards new and different perspectives. After all, Fit at Mid-Life is all about women doing things that aren’t deemed to be “for them” and, unlike my experience with picking up this book, this is actually an obstacle or at least a point of frustration for them. Still, I want to encourage anyone who would hesitate to read this book or any others like it because they don’t think of themselves as that book’s core demographic to check the book out anyway, as it might give you what this book gave me, a valuable new perspective and a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.

Revisiting Superman (1978): The Perfect Superman Movie

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Superman is held in very high esteem amongst most comic book movie nerds. Snyderverse megafans aside, everyone seems to be able to respect that Richard Donner set up shop in a industry landscape that was a far cry from our modern one and made a film that perfectly presented the most iconic version of a beloved hero (speaking of our modern climate, what’s weirder: that Oscar nominee Josh Brolin just finished playing Thanos AND Cable in movies released a month apart from one another or that most people don’t even think of this as being strange?). Superman regularly turns up on “top five best comic book movie” lists, was recently the subject of a thorough examination on Moviebob’s popular Really That Good video essay series and is fondly remembered by everyone who hasn’t recently tweeted out #ReleaseTheSnyderCut. So, I am now left wondering why my recent revisitation of the film left me feeling disappointed.

For my relationship with this film, context matters a lot. I had put off watching it forever due to a then still sadly engrained bias against what I sometimes incorrectly perceived as “dated” special effects (honestly, Superman looks better than most of big budget movies made in the 90s) and partly because, as a younger person, I self consciously believed that I was somehow above an earnest, old movie about a big, blue boy scout. Flash forward to one neck snap later, when my then girlfriend and I were leaving Man of Steel. I vividly remember discussing the film for 3 hours afterwards, with interludes about what we even wanted from a Superman movie at all and what elements of the character we deemed fundamental. It was at this point that we viewed Superman and it arrived like Lois Lane, throwing away the kryptonite of gloom, bad editing and tornado induced suicide that was Man of Steel at the last second.

It was nice to watch a movie that didn’t seem as self conscious and embarrassed of its own source material as Man of Steel is. There are colours, smiles and many other staples of the funny books that Zack Snyder was all too happy to kick to the curb in his Nolan emulating, fun devoid reboot. Christopher Reeve’s Superman was (and is) the stuff of acting legend, with his performance being able to definitively answer the question of why nobody realizes Superman and Clark Kent are the same person. You could never believe that Reeve’s Clark was a superhero, even if you saw him lift a car with his own two hands. The way that he minimizes himself in crowd shots (a testament to the quality of the scene blocking as well as Reeve’s physical acting) has you almost forgetting he’s there in the same way that Lois always seems to. Incidentally, a brilliant choice by Margot Kidder and/or the filmmakers is to have Lois never really look directly at Clark. This inattention is a byproduct of Clark’s meekness as well as Lois’ ambition and tendency to multitask. All of this comes together really nicely in what is as perfect an early Lois/Clark dynamic as has ever been realized in any medium.

If you noticed that I was gushing in that paragraph, it is because there are certain elements of this movie you just can’t help but gush about. Donner’s perfect use of tone that distinguishes the various chapters of Superman’s life, the performances of literally every actor in the film, the unabashed commitment to the source material. It’s all so great. Why, then, was I left feeling so cold?

I guess it was because certain things just stick out in today’s political climate now in a way that they didn’t back in 2013. This is partly due to my increased political awareness and partly because institutions like the police, the presidency and the USA itself have had their flaws and failures exposed by the magnifying glass and microphone of social media. When Lois quips that Superman would have to put every elected official in America behind bars if he were truly committed to justice, Superman responds with “I’m sure you don’t believe that”. In 2013, this kind of claim was antidotal. It was a refreshing optimism that cured my disinfatuation with grim and gritty comic book movies. In 2018 however, it is just one frustrating way in which the conservatism inherent in so many superheroes manifests. Superman spends the movie catching criminals and gleefully handing them over to the Metropolis police department. He has faith – which he is never actually asked to justify – in the American political system as it currently functions (as distinguished by having faith in the principles that the system *should* be a product of, which would be far more permissible). He also manages to drop Lex Luthor off in prison at the end of the movie*. The problem with that ending of course being that using “gets dropped off at an American prison” as narrative shorthand for “justice is served” is naïve at best and propagandistic at worst. The police, the prison system and America as an institution are never examined, questioned or even paid that much attention to. Instead, these oppressive and deeply flawed systems functioning without any depicted flaws or any onscreen questioning is the baselines reality that Donner’s Superman lives in.

In a way, this does make Superman the definitive cinematic representation of the character of Superman. He, like many superheroes, fills us with happiness, optimism and hope when the world seems bleak. Superman is charming, funny and comforting in a way that conveys the warmth of his best stories. However, he, like many superheroes, is an adamant defender of the status quo who would rather unilaterally intervene in circumstances he doesn’t understand and offer a quick, easy “solution” that tempers any lingering worry that the world isn’t a simplistic fantasyland in which the right man punching the right guys often enough will fix anything or help anyone.

I still love Superman and I am happy to revisit it at new times in my life and have my reactions change as I do. The desire to hold on to the good feelings offered up by simple, uncritical pieces of art and media rarely have good consequences. The fact is that Richard Donner made the perfect Superman movie but, as I get older, the perfect Superman movie gets further and further away from my definition of the perfect movie full stop. I am just interested in continuing to see how my relationship with Superman and, well…Superman continues to grow and change in the coming years.

*This post assumes the truth of a number of controversial social positions for the sake of brevity. I would love to hammer out the details of why these systems shouldn’t be exalted and what exactly Superman should do instead but that is another post for another time