surrender becomes power

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Maybe there’s no such thing as a 100% terrible movie that you get absolutely nothing out of? No, really. Hear me out. There are many, many epically bad films out there but is there always at least something redeeming we can pull out of a movie? For example, there are lots of films that I love which are really awful pieces of shit that no human being should sit through. Yet due to their campiness and sheer horrible nature they somehow become accidentally hilarious and genius. I mean watch Starship Troopers or Showgirls or Center Stage and tell me didn’t enjoy them in the same way you enjoy a bag of Cheetos. It’s not good for you but you sort of don’t care. As a lifelong movie nerd, I came to the hard realization years ago that not every movie is supposed to save your life. Maybe the writing is atrocious, the performances ridiculous and the entire production a bloated mess and you can still get something out of it? Or maybe not. But surprisingly, I did actually get something out of Suicide Squad when I watched it the other night.

Oh, this isn’t to say that I thought Suicide Squad wasn’t a bad movie. It’s a really bad movie. It’s a movie so bad that I found myself shaking my head in disbelief for the entire overstuffed 2 hours and change of the film. It’s so bad that it comes real close to becoming the kind of camp Camille Paglia wrote about. The kind of camp kids get stoned to watch and make fun of. And perhaps in time it will become that sort of camp. But for now it’s just a really big budget film where seemingly everything went wrong.

The film, in case you didn’t know/didn’t care, is based on a DC comic where a team of popular villains is brought together to fight against, uh I think, it’s alien terrorists? Sure, let’s go with that. Bless the poor person at Wikipedia who spent 1,100 words writing about the plot of this film because trying to describe it is like trying to describe a cup of noodles that got spilled on a compost bin which was then accidentally set on fire. But if that poor soul at Wikipedia can do it, I’m willing to give it my best shot, dammit! Anyway, this group includes Will Smith as Deadshot, a human machine gun who’s real superpower is making Will Smith the least annoying actor in the cast, Harley Quinn, a twisted sledgehammer wielding riot girl who looks like every girl you smoked crack with at a rave, a crocodile guy, a cholo who can set stuff on fire and some Aussie a-hole with biceps and a boomerang. They were recruited by Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis who must have lost a bet to wind up in this shitshow) who now–get this– controls their lives by an app on her phone which can kill members of the squad if they step out of line. From there, it’s a whirlwind of explosions and guffaw inducing plot twists until the big action packed showdown at the film’s climax.

In a film packed to the gills with awful stuff, I’ll narrow it down to two elements that were noteworthy. First off, the acting is really, really bad. When Viola Davis, whom I always find to be a tad over the top, gives the most nuanced performance, we are in trouble. Margot Robbie looks the part but she’s sports a Jersey accent that fades in and out from every scene. Let’s just say she does better in scenes where she kicks ass. Jared Leto as the Joker has already been given a place in history as one of the worst Jokers of all time and rightfully so. Nicholson is still the best movie Joker, by the way, and this is not open for discussion. Every scene he’s in is cringe worthy which is too bad because I’m a fan of Leto, the freaky androgynous sensitive actor/musician. But decked out in gold pants, bad tattoos and a grill(!), his Joker is a joke.

Secondly, the music. Oh my god. Look, I could have picked the script, the direction or the editing to talk about but the sheer shittiness of this soundtrack tell you all you need to know about Suicide Squad. I mean it has an Eminem song on it, for crying out loud. Eminem is musical late night Taco Bell. Sure, lots of people must do it but nobody talks about it. Yet here it is right in your face: an Eminem song and an old one at that! But given that the track shares soundtrack space with “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Super Freak” and “Spirit in the Sky”, we can only assume that the film’s music supervisor was a wedding deejay from Orange County.

I spent my two hours with Suicide Squad laughing and rolling my eyes and occasionally checking the time readout on HBONow. It’s a slog and a disaster but I had a good laugh watching it. I won’t recommend it unless you’re like me and enjoy a really bad movie from time to time. In which case, please watch it and report back to me so we can make fun of it together. Still, believe it or not, I actually got something out of it and it came from Jared Leto’s bling covered mouth:

“Desire becomes surrender. Surrender becomes power.” – The Joker

He says it in a scene, which in an act of some kind of movie PTSD I’ve forgotten, but it’s a line I couldn’t forget. After all, the whole idea of surrendering becoming power is what recovery is all about. I didn’t get my power back until I could surrender to the fact that I had a problem. And the amazing thing about this power of surrender is that once you do it, you surrender all of the time and get even more power from doing it. Omg, Joker. Mind.Blown. But in all seriousness, this is an incredible concept and when I’m in a spiritually fit place, I can still surrender. I’ve surrender about financial situations, relationships, my physical limitations, my character defects. Through this act, I get power back which sounds nuts. But it’s certainly been my experience. If I’m in the right place, I’m surrendering all day long– even if it’s just surrendering to how terrible a movie is and enjoying it anyway.

God probably sounds a lot like Mavis Staples

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Whatever you believe in that happens to be bigger yourself, that happens to be something you can’t explain, that thing that I just call God, because even though I am about as non-secular as you can get, I am also lazy and God is easy. That that thing, God, shows up in the most unlikeliest of places. Like a Rolling Stone article about a recently released live track from 2014 where the Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples cover a Talking Heads song. The song, which may be proof of a higher power in and of itself, opened a whole can of worms for me. Mainly, the undeniable miracle that is Mavis Staples.

The same article linked to the above disco gospel ballad by Arcade Fire and Staples released in January as a protest song which benefited the ACLU. As I listened to the lo-fi electro beat and the lyrics, which talk clearly about giving power and then taking it away I thought, “Of course, Mavis Staples would be here for us now.”After all, here’s a woman, who alongside her family, provided the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.Angry, teary eyed and yet somehow relieved, the song knocked me out.  Not one to slow down, Mama Mavis was also just featured on a brand new Gorillaz track. The song is another one with a powerful message made even more so when delivered by that incredible voice.

I have to be honest. Hearing these two songs back-to-back was incredibly emotional. Not only was I reminded of the fucked up times we live in but I was comforted by knowing that if there’s any hope Mavis will be around to help carry us through all of it. Raw, powerful and honest both songs pack a punch and one I didn’t expect just hanging out drinking coffee at my kitchen table. Speaking of things divine, the timing of my musical Mavis binge was certainly other worldly. I was planning on watching the documentary on her life Mavis! directed by Jessica Edwards, currently airing on HBONow, later that afternoon.

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The documentary, which was filmed in 2014 and made the rounds at festivals the following year before winding up on HBO, couldn’t be any more timely. While I am definitely not that annoying person who tells people they will or won’t feel a certain emotion when watching a film, I will say it wouldn’t be the worst idea ever to have a box of tissues nearby when viewing Mavis! Nearly 20 days of personal blogging has left me a emotional mess so my weepiness at the film could be considered suspicious however you’d have to be a Nazi Cyborg to not be moved by Mavis Staples and her incredible message.

For starters, the film profiles Mavis and Staples Singers incredible rise to fame as gospel singers who wound up singing songs of hope and message for the Civil Rights movement. The band’s personal connection with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is incredibly powerful. Pops Staples was inspired by King’s message and wanted to make music that did the same thing. Coming from Chicago, Mavis and her clan were shocked while touring the South to see the hideous racism and injustice happening to black people. And as Mavis herself notes, the struggle is sadly alive and well today and she’s vowed to keep singing about until, “Dr. King’s dream comes true.”

Staples’ list of collaborators and famous fans reads like a who’s who of rock and roll history. Bonnie Raitt, Curtis Mayfield and recent collaborator Jeff Tweedy are all mentioned or interviewed in the film but the dishiest celebrity dirt comes from Bob Dylan. Dylan, a huge fan of the group, apparently at one point asked Staples to marry him! She reaches ninja-levels of cuteness when talking about their flirtation which “may have included some kissing.”

Yet the tissues came in handy when the film showed footage of Staples working with Prince. The two made a record together that never saw the light of day, sadly, due to his all out war with Warner Brothers Records. As Staples describes Princes genius, we are treated to shots of the pair working in the studio together. While sobbing, I was reminded that nearly a year later, I’m still fucked up about that one.

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Near the end of the film, Staples and Tweedy listen to a newly restored recording of a song by her father from an album he never got to complete before he died. By this time, I was just a full-fledged tear waterfall and embraced my crying fest. It’s a beautiful moment and one Staples herself is touched by too. And of course she is because like all shining divine beings, she’s also incredibly truthful and human.

And that’s the thing about her voice. Far from the smooth voice of  an angel, Mavis gets a little rough and raspy. At times, she looks as if she’s exorcising some demons in the clips of live performances featured in the film. Mentioned more than once in the film, is her desire to keep telling the truth and to keep spreading a message and I’m convinced that’s what gives her voice that edge.

That’s why I’m pretty sure whatever my non-secular unicorn glitter god is it probably sounds like Mavis Staples. Raw, real, not always pretty but comforting to the depths of your soul. Yeah If God sounds like that than hallelujah. Plus with a career pushing past the six decade point, Staples certainly seems eternal. At the end of the film, the artist herself even hints at her own angelic future. “If you don’t see me singing here, look for me in heaven,” she says. “I’ll be walking those streets of gold and singing around God’s throne.”

Shoshanna On My Mind: Hearting HBO’s Side Characters

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Perhaps all of this is Samantha Jones’ fault.

My husband recently watched all of the seasons of Sex and the City. He’d never see them combo’d with the fact we just got HBO Now. The show has done some really fucking weird aging, by the way. Like nearly everything Carrie and Big do, which I once considered romantic, is kind of the most deplorable behavior ever which makes people the globe over despise American straight people. I used to want a Big and Carrie kind of love but now I realize I used to also really hate myself. The show also has some,shall we say, “whimsical racism” and backward homophobia- which is fucking bizarre considering the whole thing was pretty much written by gay dudes. I had a hard time rewatching the episodes for these reasons but I’d get stuck in an episode, thanks largely in part to Samantha Jones. Samantha Jones to this day remains the sole survivor of the group who you’d actually want to hang out with and who wouldn’t make you want to step in front speeding New York City bus. She’s the only one who tells the truth, she’s the only one whose personality doesn’t make you die inside and of course, she has all of the good one liners.  All of this Samatha-ness made me think, in a very Carrie Bradshaw way, “I started to wonder did I love HBO shows or did I just like the side characters?” Cue the burning cigarette as I type on a vintage Mac.

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I suppose I should give you some background info: The reason we went down the HBO Now rabbit hole to begin with is because of Game of Thrones. Look, I didn’t want to nerd out over some goddamn fantasy series. Really. But the storytelling is so good I had no choice. And now I’m some sheep all invested in these sword wielding weirdos. Such is life. Instead of getting cable or waiting until the series comes out on DVD(which we had been doing) we chose HBO Now. It was a good choice. I am invested in Game of Thrones despite really hating the poorly plotted mountain of misogynistic garbage that was season 5. A lot of that has to do with the characters too. Just so we are clear- a great Game of Thrones episode for me contains one or all of the following:

  1. Direwolves
  2. Tryion Lannister
  3. Dragons
  4. Brienne of Muthafucking Tarth

I don’t have time for 45 minutes of Sansa whining or John Snow brooding in a corner. Ditto whatever bullshittery they’ve cooked up with the Red Woman or the assortment of a-holes currently ruining the North at a snail’s pace. But I will put up with these things however if an episode has some great, juicy character stuff. Four minutes with Lord Varys or Davos, for example, can make some other not terrific scenes easier to digest. In general, I think season 6 is back on track because of that very thing. We are getting more character stuff and faster moving storylines that push along the action. And this season has had some incredible (if not heartbreaking) scenes featuring all of my favorite GOT things. And 10 minutes of Brienne with a sword goes a long, long way in my book.

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So the side characters aren’t the only reason I heart GOT but what about other HBO shows? We’ve also added Silicon Valley to the rotation. While I think Mike Judge is probably the best comedic chronicler of the mundane, this show has a lead character problem. Richard, our protagonist programmer waffles between endearing dorky and “Oh. My. God. Dude. Get it together”-ness. His dorkiness can also morph into uppity and judgey (says the guy judging fictional characters from his computer) and he can be hard to root for when you want to smack him in the head. Thank god for Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle. These side characters mixed in with an assortment of Silicon Valley tech misfits make Richard palatable. When the show is brilliant (and it frequently is) it lets these geniuses with zero social skills flounder in the real world and finds big laughs in parodying this universe that creates tech superstars. Plus, every single line that Kumail Nanjiani as Dinesh delivers is comedy gold. The guy can say more with his eyebrows than any other actor on the planet. This is a compliment, by the way. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are the frenemy, genius progression of Judge’s own Beavis and Butthead and utterly entertaining to watch.

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The one thing that all of these HBO shows have in common is fantastic casts. Casts so fantastic that they can, at times, make up for the weak parts of the show as a whole. Which brings us to Shoshanna. Shoshanna Shapiro, for those uninitiated, is quirky, motor-mouthed mess of early 20-something emotions who steals every scene in Girls. According to tv trivia, Shoshanna was intended to be a single episode character but I’m glad she’s stuck around. There’s a lot of feelings about Girls out there on the internet and a lot of feelings about Lena Dunham. While I don’t want to wade in well-tread waters, I will admit I certainly fell into the “this whole thing annoys the shit out of me” camp when the show first came out. But we’ve watched the first three seasons and I gotta say I’ve changed my mind. I mean yes the narrative can be shrill and annoying but I think that’s really accurate for the age of people they’re portraying. And when Dunham finds the funny in situations, the show actually soars. Shoshanna, played with comic precision by Zosia Mamet, personifies what’s brilliant about Girls. Simultaneously a parody of 20-something girls as well as a lost lamb in the New York City woods, Mamet pulls off a hell of a hat trick by creating a character that we both laugh at and root for. For the 40 scenes where you want to throttle Marnie and Hannah, you get one scene with Shoshanna and all is nearly forgiven. Point being, I’m sticking it out with Girls through its current season because I hear it keeps getting better and because it means I’ll get more Shoshanna time.

So wait. Did I even answer my own question? Did Carrie ever answer her questions? Who the hell knows. What I do know is an overflow of good side characters means there’s quality writing happening out there in HBO land and in TV land in general. Writers are clearly doing their thang if they can create people we want to see week after week, even it’s only for a few fleeting moments.

Cue the jazzy saxophone over the end credits.