Sunday Night Potpourri: Shallows and Spiders Edition

We’re moving into night two of a three-day weekend, and I haven’t posted in a few days, so here we go…

***

Yesterday the Spawn and I went down to Real City for lunch at her favorite restaurant (her treat) and a movie (my treat.) The movie in question has been out for a while, so we didn’t figure the crowds would be too terrible; all the same, we decided to go ahead and swing by the box office to select our seats before lunch. Good thing we did — the theater was already booked nearly solid. We were only about three or four rows from the front, although we at least got our positions in the middle of the row.

From there it was back to the mall with the restaurant. I usually order for both the Spawn and myself on these expeditions, so as we were walking in, I asked her if she wanted an extra hamburger patty, as is typically the case.

“No,” she said. “I don’t have two-patty kinds of money.” Subtle, kid. Real subtle. So I went for the single patty on my burger as well. I alerted the server that we had a movie to get to, and she was wonderfully quick and efficient.  The Spawn gave me her debit card to pay for the meal at the tableside computer terminal. As I was going through the process, the Spawn commented on what a good job the server had done. Conveniently enough, she said this just as the machine asked how much of a tip we wanted to leave. I showed her what a 20% tip amounted to. “That’s a lot,” the Spawn said.

“It’s actually pretty standard,” I said. “And you said she did a really good job.”

“Okay,” the Spawn said with a sigh. “But I thought the normal was fifteen percent.” Welcome to adulthood, kid. At least I didn’t have to break out the stories about my mom waiting tables at a Nashville cocktail lounge beer joint, or about Mrs. M’s tenure at a place about a step and a half above a fast-food joint. So score one for the Spawn’s sense of politesse.

Even so, she came out ahead by the time I paid for our movie tickets, popcorn, and drinks. (Yes, we got popcorn — it’s one of the few snack foods the Spawn can eat without worrying about her allergies, so it’s de rigeur, even if we did have lunch not much before.) We got settled in as the place filled up.

The movie was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and both the Spawn and I had a blast. On Friday, I had spoken to a couple of colleagues about the movie, and both had been pleased. I see why. The movie is visually striking, combining the sort of computerized animation we’ve grown used to in recent years with an aesthetic that is much more “comic-book” than the usual crop of superhero movies. Indeed, the frequent use of elements like Kirby dots and narration boxes appealed to the long-time comic reader in me, as did the background of halftone dots and Zip-A-Tones.  That last took a little getting used to — at first, I wondered if there were focus issues or if we were watching a 3-D print by accident. There were other nods to fans of my generation: In one scene, Miles Morales (who becomes the Spider-Man of the film’s primary universe) moves along a streetscape with a restaurant called Romita‘s Ramen in the background, and the name of Steve Ditko also scrolls past on a character’s cell phone directory. There is the obligatory Stan Lee cameo as well — it’s a pity to think we’re running out of those.

But the thing I think really makes the movie special is its sense of fun, which I think is what drew so many of us into comics to begin with. Yes, there’s drama and the villains are genuinely menacing (and bonus points for using Tombstone as one of the Kingpin’s henchgoons), but there’s a lot of knowing laughter here as well. We live in an irony-poisoned time, but the self-referential aspects of this movie avoid much of that because they’re delivered with what appears to be genuine affection for the material, rather than with the condescension that comes with too many post-modern/”deconstructive” takes on pop culture.

Part of the film’s appeal, of course, is the arrival of various Spider-folk from the assorted parallel universes posited by the plot. Along with Miles and a Peter B. Parker Spidey (essentially the one I grew up with), we encounter Spider-Gwen, a chibi robotic Spider-kid (a little girl named Peni Parker), and Spider-Ham (a funny-animal version of the franchise character). However, my favorite is a Spider-Man Noir from a monochromatic universe where it’s 1933 and “Wherever I go, the wind follows. And the wind… smells like rain.” Likewise, he loves “egg creams and beating Nazis,” and “ Sometimes I let matches burn down to my fingertips just to feel something, anything.” But again, while it’s parodic in some ways, it’s affectionate parody. And that makes a world of difference.

After the inter- and post-credit sequences, again calculated to win the affection of late Boomers and early Gen-Xers like me, it was time to head back home. But it made for a very fine afternoon, and it’s the most fun I’ve had at a comic movie since Scott Pilgrim. Recommended.

***

It was actually a nice week for media, as earlier in the week Matt Goldman was kind enough to hook me up with an advance copy of The Shallows, the third in his Minneapolis-based adventures of P.I. Nils Shapiro. In this one, a high powered attorney is found dead in one of those 10,000 lakes we’re always hearing about, with a fishing stringer rammed though his lower jaw and connecting him to a dock. He happens to have an attractive wife who had planned to divorce him, and we meet her, her boyfriend (an artist), and a client of the victim’s firm who just happens to be a right-wing populist who has snagged the GOP nomination for Congress. Meanwhile, Shapiro is trying to move on with his personal life, including trying to figure out where things stand with his ex-wife and continuing bedmate.

shallows

In that regard, it’s a pretty classical take on the P.I. character these days. The plot is sufficiently complicated to keep us happily turning pages, but the real strength of the novel (and for my money, the key element of the best examples of the genre) is the first-person narrative voice. Writing about the late Robert B. Parker, Lawrence Block noted that Spenser (as ventriloquized by RBP) is just such an ingratiating character that seeing the mystery solved is secondary to the simple joy of spending time with him. And of course, we can see this in such important characters as the Continental Op, Marlowe, Travis McGee, and Block’s own Matt Scudder (and I would contend his Bernie Rhodenbarr, the burglar who finds himself forced into detection, is a perversely spun  specimen of the type.) Anyway, Nils Shapiro is another of the charming knights in dented armor, and he’s welcome in the club.

Because of the book’s present-day setting and political subplot, I can’t help but wonder a little bit how well it will date — it may be a bit too topical in that regard, but that’s for readers to worry about down the road. Right now, I found The Shallows to be a really good read, and I think you might, too.

***

Well, since I only get one more day to sleep in, I think I’ll carpe that old noctem. But before I do, why not a little music? The Great Scots were a Haligonian band who came to the USA in 1965, getting caught up in a colonial version of the British Invasion hype.

greatscots arrive1

… and teen girls across America wondered just how traditional the gear was…

They cut three fine garage rock singles, and discovered the hard way that having permanent US visas might have helped them get gigs, but it also made them draft-eligible. Bassist Dave Isnor got snapped up for the Vietnam War, and that put an end to that, although Allmusic reports that the guys all live near one another now and reunite every Labor Day. Which ain’t bad. From 1966, here’s a tough little proto-psych number, “The Light Hurts My Eyes.”

See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Family, Literature, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Sunday Night Potpourri: Shallows and Spiders Edition

  1. dave schutz says:

    I learned percentages from watching my dad figure out twelve per cent on restaurant tips. Embarrassing!

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