STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE Is Still A Miss 20 Years Later

This piece is two years old; I wrote it in February 2017 and posted it on Facebook. Today is the 20th anniversary of the release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and I wanted to commemorate it but didn’t have the forethought to sit down and watch the movie again. But this piece, which represents my latest revisit of the film, feels pretty spot-on to me still two years later. I’ve gone back to the Prequels again and again, hoping each time the changes in me have changed the way I see the movies. This has not been the case. In fact, this post came after I bought the Prequels on Blu as an attempt to revisit them in full in a spiritual/Buddhist light. I never made it past Attack of the Clones.

Note: I have made minor edits to this for clarity and grammar, but not for content. This piece is maybe more jargon-y than I would write today, but maybe that’s a problem with me today. I reference a thing I wrote about Yoda’s fear/anger/hate/suffering bit that I have not published on this site; maybe I will at some point. Finally, this was written before The Last Jedi, which I think has a top tier John Williams score.

I just finished the book The Dharma of Star Wars, which finds parallels and examples of Buddhist teachings in the Force and the Jedi, and it really impressed me. Much of the book’s content related to events from the Prequel Trilogy, and it made me wonder if these films – which I had maligned for so long – were actually brilliant Trojan horses smuggling dharma into the minds of impressionable Western children. The book’s pretty good in general – out of all the Buddhist stuff I’ve read/listened to in the last few months it’s the work that moved my understanding of ‘no self’ furthest. So I decided to give the Prequels another shot, with a Buddhist perspective. 

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POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU Is The Most Aesthetically Important Blockbuster Of The Century

We have the technology to create anything on the screen, and we keep using that technology to create realistic things. JJ Abrams helped usher in an era of monsters that are based on real biology, that look like they could really exist, which has led to a glut of boring and samey looking CGI monsters. The Transformers movies gave us robots that had every single gear, piston and rivet that would be needed to change from a humanoid to a vehicle, and that meant incomprehensibly complicated designs that had no personality. And even going beyond CGI, our superhero movies have these depressingly low-imagination tendency of keeping the characters in tactical outfits, basically less colorful and less wild versions of their iconic comic book costumes.

Realism is the disease. Detective Pikachu is the cure.

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Your Worst Day Is Your Best Day: The Wisdom Of James Gunn

James Gunn is a good writer. You can tell from his movies, and his novel, but you can really tell from the interview he did with Deadline this week, the first interview he has given since being fired from and then re-hired for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3. The interview seems to be an email one (there are too many well-placed semi-colons for this to have actually been transcribed by someone at the site, imo), and in that medium Gunn gets to really write his responses in a way that lets them sing. If he’s not writing these I’m even more impressed – this is some great speaking, and I say that as someone who has met James Gunn a bunch and know he’s a great off-the-cuff speaker.

Anyway, there’s a section in the interview where he talks about the day that he got fired. He leads in saying that, like many of us, he got into the arts because he wanted to be loved, to be adored, to be seen.

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This Has Always Been What GAME OF THRONES Is

This has always been what Game of Thrones is. Last night’s episode has torn the internet asunder, but I feel like it was only fulfilling the premise of the entire series; if anything last night’s episode is proof that the show has strayed too far from George RR Martin’s cynical worldview in the past season or two, lulling us into a fantasy football version of ‘who will take the throne?’ But the story has always been suspicious of anyone who wants the throne, and has always shown that those who vie for it, even for the best of reasons, are eventually monsters. 

What you have to keep in mind is that A Song Of Ice And Fire, the book series from which Game of Thrones is adapted, is George RR Martin’s answer to Lord of the Rings. Martin is a huge fan of Tolkien, but he started this series as a critique of the Manichaean good vs evil concepts that LOTR baked into pretty much all high fantasy afterwards. More than that, he took issue with the idea of ‘Happily ever after.’ Don’t just believe me on this, here is Martin himself, talking to Rolling Stone:

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You Will Probably Have A Bad Experience While Meditating

When I went on my first silent meditation retreat I had to fill out a form. It included questions about whether I had ever been suicidal, if I was on any medication for mental health issues, and asked for the phone number of my psychiatrist, if I had one, or for the phone number of a mental health crisis contact.

I thought it was funny at first, but after about 36 hours in the desert I got it. This was one of the big breakthroughs in my meditation practice – it’s not always going to be pleasant. And it’s not supposed to be.

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The Unexpected Spiritual and Emotional Wisdom of… SNL?!

There’s this thing in recovery we call ‘pulling a geographic,’ which is when you decide all of your problems are actually caused by the city/town in which you live and so you move, often drastically. The problem with pulling a geographic is that actually all of your problems are caused by you and how you respond to bad things happening around you, and bad thing will always be happening around you. It’s the nature of the world!

At first this SNL sketch from last night seems like it’ll be a parody of ubiquitous package tour commercials I grew up watching on NYC local television, but then it morphs into something way wiser, which is crazy. I’m not going to do that thing people do today with SNL, which is to dissect this butterfly, but I will tell you my own experience with this exact phenomenon.

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How AVENGERS ENDGAME Changes The MCU Forever

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

There is a delicate, unspoken balance that must exist in a superhero universe. For a superhero story to work, the world in which the superheroes live must resemble our own – with the exception that it has superheroes. The impacts of superheroes can be explored… to a point, after which the whole house of cards tumbles down.

The balance is precarious. Go too far in one direction and you find the audience asking why Tony Stark doesn’t solve the energy crisis or global warming, or why Shuri and the Wakandans don’t cure cancer. Yes, characters can go into space, but we can’t have a colony on the Moon. Go too far and the science fictional world of superheroes – a world one day in the future – becomes a world that is gradually unrecognizable, that is fully futuristic science fiction.

Avengers Endgame creates just such a world, and beyond simply ignoring it I don’t know how future films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will deal with it.

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AVENGERS ENDGAME: More Event Than Movie

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

When is a movie not movie? This isn’t some kind of riddle, but rather an attempt to figure out how to approach a film like Avengers Endgame, which feels not quite like a motion picture as we define them and more like an event. It’s an experience first and foremost, a movie second… and I wonder how much that matters. How much does it matter that the ending works more as fan service than as logic? How much does it matter that the movie completely betrays Steve Rogers’ character to get to a teary-eyed smile at the end?

Thinking about Endgame I find myself thinking about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, the epic blockbuster comedy from Stanley Kramer. It’s stuffed to the gills with superstars, and it was originally bladder-shatteringly long (197 minutes! A comedy!). In terms of things like ‘plot’ and ‘structure’ it isn’t strong, but it makes up for all of that with the charm of Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett and Ethel Merman and Phil Silver. It features a stunning parade of cameos, including Jack Benny, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton It’s not nuanced or subtle, and it’s hugeness and broadness is part of the point; it’s a big screen comedy released at a time when the movies were feeling TV nipping at their heels. 

It’s all really familiar. 

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Now On Patreon: THE BEACH BUM Takes Us On The Road Of Excess

“I’m a reverse paranoid. I believe the world is conspiring to make me happy.”

– Moondog, The Beach Bum

This review contains full spoilers for The Beach Bum.

That a new Harmony Korine movie should be morally disagreeable, juvenile and more than occasionally offensive is no surprise. That it should it be joyfully wise, subversively kind and the single most anti-materialistic work of a moment in time steeped in bourgeois socialism is actually very surprising, and The Beach Bum is perhaps one of the most wonderfully and uniquely meaningful movies of the moment, which is also a profound surprise. 

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GAME OF THRONES And The Perils Of Self-Betterment

This week’s Game of Thrones was one of the best of the whole series (I’d put it up there with the best of TV in the 21st century, tbh), and it was only possible because the show has lasted eight seasons. On paper the episode is a slow one, a bit of a stall before the big battle next week – billed as the biggest battle scene ever filmed for television – but in reality it was the beautiful payoff of eight seasons worth of story and character. What we got this week was an episode where almost all of our main characters showed us just how far they’ve come since the first episode (or their first appearance). 

When GOT started it seemed like it was a show that would be about deconstructing heroism and chivalry; Ned Stark’s death was the real battle cry for this, and the way that the bad guys won again and again hammered it home. The Stark children have either been killed – RIP Robb, and remember Rickon? – or become incredibly hardened to survive in this difficult world. Arya is a killer, Bran is a humorless mystic and Sansa is an iron lady who takes absolutely no shit. 

But there’s been another track happening – bad characters have, slowly but surely, been redeemed. In fact some of the show’s worst people – characters who, in the first season seemed absolutely like villains – have become some of the most honorable, decent and caring characters remaining. 

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