Category Archives: pop culture

The message of Star Trek Beyond


Let’s look beyond the message of Star Trek and see where it finds us.  First I’ll argue that this is an entertaining blockbuster with mediocre aspirations as a science fiction standard bearer.  Will you enjoy it as time and money well spent? Yes.  Will you think twice about it as you leave the theater? No.  If you accept the premise of mediocrity then ask me, why need we look further?

My answer takes the form of a postulated question.  Did you hear the message that mankind is its own worst enemy?

SPOILER ALERT GALORE

ICYMI: Idris Elba aka Krall embodies the role of the villain as a human, albeit one who’s enhanced far beyond mortal man.  You might say he’s kind of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and scifi Dracula.  My complements to the script makers.  There’s nothing like mining the best, most often copied material for another bite at the apple, or the neck, or the box office.  With the dollars at stake (2013’s Into Darkness more than $450 million in revenue- Beyond budget ~$185 million) would you risk original work when you can trot out tried and true formula?

And when our esteemed thespian, see Beasts of No Nation, asks as to his motivation, director Justin Lin’s reply; why you’re a disgruntled employee!  Talk about going postal.  And Krall delivers the mail with a rare combination.  Can you say spider and bee fetish?  His base of operations is a planet surrounded by nebula where spaceships maroon while their crews become entangled in a web-like comatose state which he uses to extract from them what he needs.  The product here is not honey but hate.  His forces, however, do swarm like no hive you’d ever want to stumble across. The Federation is nonplussed to wield any technology that can withstand Krall’s weaponry.

Here I suggest is where the message digs it’s foundation.  When we lift the lid on his coffin we discover Krall was heretofore our model citizen, warrior, officer and gentleman.  What happened was that the Federation took the highly trained and experienced combat veteran and gave him a civilian job, having ended all wars and the need for his old ways.  It has been thirteen years since numbered American soldiers have faced a two front war; one in Iraq and another in the minds of those afflicted with PTSD and other related issues.  Whether or not American combat veterans have experienced being more prone to violence once returned home, the message on screen was clear.  Captain Edison struggled with the loss of his military identity.  He faced a consequence of being rewarded for his sacrifice and bravery with being lost in space.  He was left behind.  Forgotten.  Edison was ultimately left for dead with little or no sign that his employers cared about either him, his subordinates, or his service.  As time passed his mental state deteriorated, eventually creating the fertile soil from which Krall emerged.

The direct line conclusion from the path  laid out by Beyond is that societies bare the risks associated with placing soldiers in harms way.  The results could reveal themselves long after the damage has been done.

I, or shall I say the filmmakers, offer you more messages than these.

The story’s overall theme that is revisited throughout hammers home one mantra.  Families and friends who commit to unite will strive together and reach their potential to overcome whatever obstacles arise.

The danger that often occurs is when we forget this belief and sabotage it through self destructive decisions.  Chris Pine’s Kirk does just that when the unending, unconquerable, infinite space defeats his sense of adventure, his desire to be challenged, and his dream of achievement.  The subject of his failure: purpose.  Zachary Quinto’s Spock takes a different route to reach the same end.  Grief, perhaps the strongest manifestation of what causes us to question ourselves, to the point we completely derail, is this half human’s Achilles heel as well. He chooses to abandon his celestial family to serve what he thinks is his ethnic responsibility to the fatherland, or what’s left of it.

The biggest reason why 13 films and 37 years of the Star Trek saga resonate with moviegoers is the bond that built the original Gene Roddenberry TV creation.  Beyond is on target with this piece and Karl Urban’s McCoy delivers the glue gun.  The series explored not outer space so much as it did the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  Their journey through the ups and downs of complex and conflicted emotions had more to do with their survival than any technological techniques they mastered.

McCoy reminds Spock why they mean so much to each other and why it matters.  When they bring that message back to Kirk, he takes his exercise of trust, inspiration, and leadership to another level seeing Uhura, Scott, Sulu and Chekov prove once again that their place is on the Enterprise and his home is with them.

This is the best part of the science fiction Beyond offers.  There is nothing new here.  That is the basis for my grade of C.  Star Trek gets a pass from me because it is a production that keeps the genre alive though it falls short of advancing it.  I hail science fiction because I see it as the best genre for bringing together the moral and ethical dilemmas within the human condition as they intersect with apocalyptic aspects of advanced technology.  The more we role play these hypothetical scenarios the more time we will have to consider them before we have to deal with them in our reality.  Are we ready to face global warming?

So I salute Star Trek Beyond.  Beyond’s success bridges the gap between great science fiction movies of the past…Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…and the next great scifi story which will take a rightful place in cinematic history.  As for the Star Trek franchise I offer only these words: Live long and prosper.

Why The Dark Knight is to blame for our current political quagmire.

It’s been 8 years since the epic Detective Comics based mega motion picture exploded into neighborhoods across this great land.  Hardly seems like it.  Yet the damage wrought by the creative carnage has spread like a malignant tumor into the very fabric of the American ethos. Spread to the degree that our political system sits precariously now, perched over a terminally ill cliff, with a diagnosis of death by self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Let me explain.  When popular culture crowns a product with a tiara of success, it generally conveys some level of artistic achievement that transcends genre.  Our addictive obsession with film and the cult of stardom which parasitically attaches to it pay homage to the idea that is espoused with the cliché ‘life imitates art’.  So when $1 billion is earned in box office revenue alone, not to mention DVD/Blu-Ray and merchandising, consider that more clue than hint.  When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences changes its award eligibility criteria, take that as more coronation than concession.  Multitudes of fanboys attending multiple theater viewings aside, both dinner debates in the homes of moguls and agent provocateurs, along with power lunches turned hushed lecture sessions in see and be seen west side eateries, speak to the level of penetration Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s experiment had into the collective consciousness of Americana.

Hyperbole!  You say.  Allow me to add wax.  What we have here is not a failure to communicate.  Our society has done nothing less than exemplify a failure to educate, to motivate, to compete, to shake loose the bourgeois trappings of prosperity a priori obesity, to care enough about each other, our children and ourselves.  And, for lack of a better phrase, to thrive.  As a result our institutions begin to topple.  Schools, private industry, the Congress, the White House, and SCOTUS, all frayed at the edges.  Forget about apple pie.  What happened to the foundation of our democrapitalism, organized labor?  Ask a millennial to define pension.  Don’t panic when you get a description of Orange is the New Black.  Symptoms.  Gotham City, USA has never looked so bad.  There isn’t anyone left that matters apparently, who can compare current events with the 1930s or the 1860s.  Are the recent 60s and 70s now thought of as the good old days?  Great revisionist history, Batman!

Back to the Caped Crusader, as you were.   Consider Bruce Wayne, with power nonpareil – as masked and armed – and financed the same.  Does that bring to mind President Barack Obama?  Then compare how our public is led to scorn the vigilante when he dares use his assets to do battle for the home team.  Why, some want him prosecuted!  Our hero.  Don’t they realize his intentions are to act in the best interests of those he would protect?  Metaphorically going halfway across the globe to rein in Wall Street villains in the persona of mob bagman Lau, he is thwarted by bosses Gambol, Sal Maroni, and the Chechen, when they take a contract out on him with The Joker himself, who we’ll call ISIS for arguments sake.  Gambol aka public education, Maroni aka an intransigent Congress, and the Chechen aka the exodus of middle class wage careers, conspire against him to attack his Achilles heel, foreign policy.

While his attention is diverted by an old flame Rachel Dawes, none other than Hillary Clinton, he’s hit with one sucker punch after another; Benghazi, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Israel, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty negotiations with Iran.  But who can blame him?  Rachel has a new rival for her attention, Harvey, the real Donald J. Trump, Dent.  He is the savior.  The man with a plan.  So easy, so easy, so easy, let me tell you.  So quick, so quick, so quick.  The Great White Hope, riding in on his white horse, is a stark contrast to our Black Knight.  AND light minded PEOPLE BELIEVE HIM.  Why he’s the legitimate offspring of E. F. Hutton and the most interesting man in the world.

But he’s not alone.  Championing his cause as the true blue representative of the people is Coleman Reese, who follows the Joker’s lead and attempts to expose Batman for the fraud he is, not addressing the fact that we never learn anything about our Joker other than what he cares to share in his fable-like musings. Stunt doubles for Reese include the Sean Hannity lead Fox News Network, backed by the understudies Limbaugh and Coulter et al.

Smack in the middle of this standoff is The RNC or Gotham PD, helmed by Commissioner Gordon – Reince Priebus.  Forced to carry the torch for Dent, Gordon, surrounded by corruption within the ranks, falls on his sword to save the convention ceremony and takes a bullet for the cause.  Laid up, he is helpless to prevent Dent from revealing his two-faced nature long hidden beneath the surface.  A latent xenophobic tendency which The Joker exposes with every hospital bombing and nightclub massacre.   Yet Gordon’s fate is sealed when he makes a deal with the devil to perpetuate a lie so that the public is convinced of Dent’s integrity.  Dent can’t be a fraud.  Everyone knows the Batman is to blame.  Don’t they?

In the end the Joker is defeated, and declared the loser.  Or is he?  At what cost to society was this victory purchased?  Has the interim damage opened such a crack in the foundation that constructors will be forced to start over with new blueprints?  Check back in November for the next episode titled: Doctor Strange.  Pray to God that this time art imitates life.

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The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’ | History | Smithsonian

With two rat terriers trotting at his heels, and a long wooden staff in his hand, J.R. Gavin leads me through the woods to one of the old swamp hide-outs. A tall white man with a deep Southern drawl, Gavin has a stern presence, gracious manners and intense brooding eyes. At first I mistook him for a preacher, but he’s a retired electronic engineer who writes self-published novels about the rapture and apocalypse. One of them is titled Sal Batree, after the place he wants to show me.I’m here in Jones County, Mississippi, to breathe in the historical vapors left by Newton Knight, a poor white farmer who led an extraordinary rebellion during the Civil War. With a company of like-minded white men in southeast Mississippi, he did what many Southerners now regard as unthinkable. He waged guerrilla war against the Confederacy and declared loyalty to the Union.In the spring of 1864, the Knight Company overthrew the Confederate authorities in Jones County and raised the United States flag over the county courthouse in Ellisville. The county was known as the Free State of Jones, and some say it actually seceded from the Confederacy. This little-known, counter-intuitive episode in American history has now been brought to the screen in Free State of Jones, directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games) and starring a grimy, scruffed-up Matthew McConaughey as Newton Knight.Knight and his men, says Gavin, hooking away an enormous spider web with his staff and warning me to be careful of snakes, “had a number of different hide-outs. The old folks call this one Sal Batree. Sal was the name of Newt’s shotgun, and originally it was Sal’s Battery, but it got corrupted over the years.”

Source: The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’ | History | Smithsonian

Divert the mainstream.

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So the Wired culture column Wired didn’t want to publish? I’m taking it elsewhere. Right now, it’s not a question of whether the column would have a home, but where. That’s a great thing.

But Wired, being Wired, had money. Most of the places offering to host the column can’t pay the rate that Wired could. But writing is how I make a living, and I already do plenty of it for free. So to make the column good, I have to make enough money to justify the time I devote to it.

So here’s my deal with you:

(1) A professional rate would be $500 for 1000 words. Patreon takes 5% and credit card and transfer fees add up to around another 5%. So if we reach $550 per column, I launch the column.

(2) For a year, I promise no less than one column a…

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Will Smith on Film, Failure & Love

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“I never would have looked at myself in that way. I was a guy who, when I was 15, my girlfriend cheated on me, and I decided that if I was number one, no woman would ever cheat on me. All I have to do is make sure that no one’s ever better than me, and I’ll have the love that my heart yearns for. And I never released that and moved into a mature way of looking at the world and my artistry and love until the failure of ‘After Earth,’ when I had to accept that it’s not a good source of creation.”

That quote was from an interview in Variety this year.

http://variety.com/2015/film/news/will-smith-after-earth-comment-most-painful-failure-of-his-career-1201432773/

In the article is a reference to how he dealt with that film, as it turned out to be the biggest failure of his life. I thought ‘what an amazing comment‘. Clearly Will Smith is both driven and successful judging by common standards. We often think of the famous as role models we should learn from and try to emulate. But in this instance I think I can take away something from this abject calamity. If Will Smith can learn a valuable lesson in this situation, then I most certainly could.

I sometimes think people like Will experience so much success, so little in the way of setbacks – every thing, interaction, or endeavor they encounter occurs relatively free from the gravity of what the rest of us deal with on a daily basis – that I rationalize the world has to be different for them. The same rules don’t apply.

But I am so wrong.

Will Smith was soon to discover that his father had cancer.

I would submit to you that there were a number of reactions for him to choose. And each would bring its own set of consequences. How do you suppose you would have responded? Perhaps I pose an unfair question.

Let me instead share what it is that I am able to gain from this story. Simply this.  We can learn at least one thing from every dead end that we come to. When we apply those lessons our lives are then changed for the better, regardless of how low we’ve fallen. I think I can appreciate the experience in that respect. I can find hope in that too. And hope is good.

So what did Will Smith say that he learned? Here is what he said. I think you’ll decide it was worth it.

“That Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole,” Smith said. “You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”

Movie Review: Ex Machina

It took Ex Machina for me to break a hiatus. While it entertains as well as it provokes thought and dialogue, this film strikes that delicate balance which every great science fiction seeks to achieve.

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ex_machinadAn artificial intelligence dealing with emotions is something we all have seen before! Films like Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner and Spielberg‘s AI are the ones which come to mind at 1st & most recently in Wally Pfister‘s directorial- flop, Transcendence. Yet, in my opinion this film stands all together in a different arena. Unlike others this film is more of a dialogue-driven psychological thriller that slowly works it’s way under your skin. This serves the story well, cramping up the tension as an age old Sci-fi plot-point emerges (as covered by the trailer): how will a sentient machine feel about having its plug pulled. The film has a simple story dealing with a deeply complex and philosophical topic: namely what makes humans human, you know the feelings & emotions. The story follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), an employee at BlueBook, the world’s ‘leading search engine’…

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The Time Robin Williams Read Narnia To His Daughter

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When I heard Robin Williams died the other day, I probably responded the same way as a lot of people. Shock. Surprise. Sadness.

Hardly a day goes by anymore without catching word of some celebrity somewhere who passed away, but this one is different. It’s Robin Williams.

Who doesn’t like Robin Williams?

From all accounts, he was one of the most well-liked actors in Hollywood, just an all-around good guy. The characters he played in Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Will Hunting are some of my all-time favorites.

So I was reading a little more about Williams yesterday when I came across something he said during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) last year. It’s applicable to this blog, so I thought I’d share.

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Thoughts on Boyhood

This is a MUST SEE film, Boyhood

Writing about things.

For the inaugural post on this blog, I’m choosing to talk a little bit about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the technical tour de force which follows a broken family through 12 years of highs, lows and, most importantly, all the things that come between. Boyhood‘s publicity comes mainly from the way that it was filmed: 12 years of narrative filmed over 12 years of real time, with the actors growing and ageing organically throughout the filming process. Not only do we get to see our protagonist, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grow from a six year old boy to high school graduate and college student; we also get to see his parents and sister transform completely, too.

As a character, Mason is often less than loveable: he spouts conspiracy theories and ‘deep’ musings on life, the universe and everything; he is reticient beyond belief, and maintains the kind of ‘special snowflake’ syndrome that…

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