Don’t Look For Helpers – Be The Helpers

These are difficult days. The sense of injustice and horror is overwhelming. Some days I think this must be what it’s like to be in a falling elevator – weightless, terrified, aware of the inevitable conclusion of the journey. Hopelessness can seem like the only reasonable reaction.

Thomas Merton, Catholic monk and great thinker, wrote this about hell:

Hell is where nobody has anything in common with anybody else except the fact that they all hate one another and cannot get away from one another and themselves.

They are thrown together in their fire and each one tries to thrust the others away from him with a huge, impotent hatred. And the reasons why they want to be free of one another is not so much that they hate what they see in others, as that they know others hate what they see in them: and all recognize in one another what they detest in themselves, selfishness and impotence, agony, terror and despair.

The tree is known by its fruits. If you want to understand the social and political history of modern man, study hell.

Continue reading “Don’t Look For Helpers – Be The Helpers”

We Must Fix Our Hearts Or Die

Something is wrong. You can see it manifesting in a million different ways, in your immediate life as well as in the state of the world. No one is unaffected by the current wrongness; it hangs over our lives like a miasmic cloud of toxins. Even the people who have things good feel uneasy and off, and for the people who have things bad this has been a catastrophic addition to their problems.

We can see the symptoms of the wrongness all around us. We see it in the big stuff, like the bizarre way we just ignore climate change as someone afraid of the doctor ignores a lump. We see it in the cruel policies of the US government and in the ways supporters of that government seem unfazed by the suffering of others – no, more than unfazed, they seem encouraged by the suffering of others. We see it in the rise of angry, hate-filled racist politics. We see it on Twitter, where the righteous destroy other human beings in order to get the thrill of dominance from purity, turning the platform into a kind of democratized Spanish Inquisition in which anyone can take on the role of Inquisitor and prove their moral high ground by crushing others. We see it in our friends and ourselves as sadness and isolation become the norm, as everybody we know is in a funk of some sort and so many seem to be struggling just to get through the day.

Continue reading “We Must Fix Our Hearts Or Die”

HEREDITARY Is The Camp Classic Of 2018

This contains full spoilers for Hereditary

Stephen King famously dislikes Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. As I watched Hereditary I thought a lot about King’s problems with the portrayal of Jack Torrance in that movie: “When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know, then, he’s crazy as a shit house rat. All he does is get crazier.”

There’s something similar happening with Toni Collette’s Annie in Hereditary. By the end of the movie she’s a raging crazy person in boots and a nightgown, but it’s not that much of a distance from where she starts out at the beginning of the film. Now, I know that’s part of the point – much of what writer/director Ari Aster is doing in this movie is talking about the transmission of generational trauma – but what this means functionally is that Collette, and the movie around her, very quickly get to 11 on their amplifiers. This is a movie that gets broad very fast, and as a result I spent a lot of time not quite sure if I should be laughing as much as I was.

Continue reading “HEREDITARY Is The Camp Classic Of 2018”

I Love Kelly Marie Tran And Rose Tico

Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and, I’m assuming, upcoming Star Wars movies as well) deleted her Instagram this week. There’s a lot of speculation that she did it because of unrelenting abuse from toxic (male) Star Wars fans who hate her character in a seriously obsessive, unhealthy and unpleasant way. As far as I know she hasn’t confirmed this; some people say Daisy Ridley deleted her Insta because she was getting harassed, but she has said she did it because she was addicted and needed to take her life back.

But let’s assume that Tran deleted because of the abuse. I spent the last couple of days wanting to write at length about how broken fandom is (something I’ve written about in the past) but a friend rightfully called me out on sinking into despair the last few days, and focusing on what’s wrong only leads to more despair. So I want to focus on what’s right: Rose Tico.

Continue reading “I Love Kelly Marie Tran And Rose Tico”

Brandpocalypse Now

The sequel to Wreck-It RalphRalph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, has released a trailer and it is… something else.

Obviously judgment on this movie should be withheld until the movie is seen; the original Wreck-It Ralph was a very charming film with some knowing and fun pop culture references. But the trailer for the new film makes it seem as if the references have been turned up to 11, and this time around it’s a full-on branding free-for-all.

Continue reading “Brandpocalypse Now”

We Live On Krypton

There’s a lot of Krypton retcon happening these days.

Let’s start with the world of comics, since there’s big news there: Brian Michael Bendis, one of the most Marvel-associated writers of the past few decades, has jumped ship to DC. After redefining Spider-Man and inventing Jessica Jones he was tempted away by the chance to write Superman, and who can blame him?

His first issue is out this week, Man of Steel #1, the beginning of a weekly Superman saga. The issue itself is… fine? In true Bendis fashion the whole issue feels like a prologue, or like the first five pages of a more complete comic book, but he loves that decompressed storytelling, so we get three pages of Superman meeting a new fire chief. It also introduces a new villain to the Superman mythos, one who seems to have a connection to the destruction of Krypton.

Continue reading “We Live On Krypton”

Who Was Buddha?

(The image above is Keanu Reeves as the Buddha in Little Buddha, a movie that actually does a pretty good job of retelling the Buddha’s story, and also feature a weird Chris Isaak performance)

Yesterday was Vesak, a Buddhist holiday that, with extreme efficiency, celebrates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment AND death all at once. It’s highly unlikely that all of those events took place on the same day, and as Buddhism is one of those ancient religions that is less interested in facts than modern religions are, nobody really got upset about it.

Vesak seems like a good opportunity to talk really briefly about just who the Buddha was, because it’s clear to me most people don’t know. I certainly didn’t know until a couple of years ago, and I had taken comparative religion courses and had a lifelong interest in religious mythology. I always thought Buddha was the fat guy whose statue you see in Chinese restaurants, but it turns out that ain’t him. In fact those fat Buddha statues couldn’t be farther from the real thing.

Continue reading “Who Was Buddha?”

The Tragedy Of Han Solo

This contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Fans complain that The Last Jedi did Luke Skywalker dirty, but I think that the end of Luke’s story tracks really nicely. Luke was never one for the hard work – he was always imagining some other life for himself. When he was on Tatooine he wanted to join the academy, when he was on Dagobah he wanted to go be in the fight. These were the times in his life when he needed to hunker down and do the hard work, the unglamorous work, and his instinct was to take off and find something more romantic and exciting. What’s more romantic and exciting for a holy man than fucking off and becoming a mystical hermit? When his new academy failed, Luke didn’t decide to put in the hard work of trying again (or tracking down Kylo Ren), but rather disappeared to a small island to live out his monastic fantasies. And for Luke to feel like a failure is perfectly in character – look at how quickly he quits on Dagobah. Luke’s first instinct is to give up.

Now Han Solo on the other hand… that’s a character who got done dirty, and I think Solo: A Star Wars Story makes his end even sadder and his final days even more pathetic. I never liked what JJ Abrams did to Han in The Force Awakens, but now it feels downright disrespectful.

Continue reading “The Tragedy Of Han Solo”

Droids Are People Too: The Life And Metaphysics Of L3-37

This contains spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Droids are sentient. We’ve known this since 1977, when we first met R2D2 and C3P0 and saw them make decisions as the Tantive IV was being boarded. It became clearer on Tatooine, where R5D4 faked a blown motivator to keep the two friends together, and it was quite clear when we learned about restraining bolts, devices intended to keep droids from making their own choices.

As the Star Wars saga has gone on we have seen that droids have rich emotional lives. R2D2 seems to shut down in response to Luke going missing. K2SO has a deep camaraderie with Andor. C3P0 suffers from what seems to be generalized anxiety disorder. And yet every character in the saga treats droids, at best, like pets. Most of the time, though, they’re treated like slaves. 3P0 especially is consistently dragged into situations that he does not want to be in, fighting for a cause that has no bearing on his existence.

Enter L3-37. Lando Calrissian’s droid co-pilot, L3 is a robot who is, in the parlance of the modern era, becoming woke. When we meet L3 in Solo: A Star Wars Story she is already sickened by the way droids are treated in the STAR WARS universe, and we see her trying to break up a bot battle in a seedy cantina. She appeals to the droids in the ring, and she threatens the referee. “You’re being exploited!” she cries (I’m paraphrasing here), a sentiment familiar to many marginalized groups over history. Droids are not allowed in that bar… except to fight for the death.

Continue reading “Droids Are People Too: The Life And Metaphysics Of L3-37”

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY Review

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a trifle. Solo is a puff pastry of a movie. Solo is a lark. But none of those things are inherently bad, and in fact they’re kind of refreshing. In the main Star Wars saga we get movies about the big, dramatic moments in galactic history. In Rogue One we got a movie about a small but vital moment in galactic history. In Solo we get a fun heist with some enjoyable double crossing and reversals that has plenty of connections to the larger Star Wars universe but that is more interested in exploring small parts of relationships rather than big pieces of canon.

It definitely feels like a prequel, but not to Star WarsSolo ends in a way that seems to be setting up a major storyline for some future media (a sequel? A cartoon? A series of comics? Masters of Teras Kasi 2?), and it expands out the criminal underworld of Star Wars enough to offer space for all sorts of other spin-offs. There is always a small universe problem plaguing the Star Wars films – everybody talks about the same six planets, after all – but I actually think Solo carves out enough new space (and illuminates existing space in enough interesting ways) to give the Star Wars universe a little extra breathing room.

Continue reading “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY Review”