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. 

Continue reading “GAME OF THRONES And The Perils Of Self-Betterment”

Can GAME OF THRONES Give Us A Happy Ending?

This includes mild spoilers for the first episode of Game of Thrones season 8.

When Game of Thrones premiered – way back in the FIRST Obama term! – its season-ending refutation of heroic tropes was groundbreaking. Ned Stark being executed, despite being the hero and being noble and seemingly the only guy in Westeros who wasn’t a piece of shit, hit like a hammer. George RR Martin’s novels had eviscerated the hopefulness of heroic fantasy years earlier, but his cynicism coming to television was revolutionary, even post-Sopranos (there’s a difference between rooting for bad guys and rooting for heroes who get roundly defeated at every turn).

But the world of 2019, in which Game of Thrones is ending, is vastly different from the world of 2011. Everything has changed in the past eight years, from sexual norms to our very national character; we went from a hopeful and oblivious nation to one that has memorized the warning signs of fascist takeover. The thrills we got from seeing the good guys get kicked in the teeth are gone, and more than gone watching the good guys get kicked in the teeth feels too much like the real world outside our doors. So how can Game of Thrones end in a way that feels true to its story and themes while not leaving us in nihilistic despair?

Continue reading “Can GAME OF THRONES Give Us A Happy Ending?”

Last Week’s DISCO Gave Us An All-Time Great STAR TREK Moment

There are great moments of heroism and personal sacrifice in the history of Star Trek, moments that illustrate the best of humanity in the worst of situations. From Kirk allowing Edith Keeler to die in order to save history, Picard holding firm that there are four lights, or Spock quietly getting out of his chair and heading to engineering at the end of Wrath of Khan, these moments are some of the most beloved in the almost 700 hours of Trek canon.

Not every Trek gets a moment as good as these, but last week Star Trek Discovery got its own – and it was a moment that I think ranks high in the pantheon of great Trek. If you’ve been watching the show this season it might come as no surprise that the moment centers around Christopher Pike, new captain of the Disco, who has been such a wonderful and invigorating addition to the show that fans have taken to Change.org to start petitions demanding actor Anson Mount get his own spinoff series.

See, Pike would need a spinoff, he can’t stay on the show, since he’s a character deeply embedded in Star Trek lore, and his future is well-known to fans. It’s a dark one.

Continue reading “Last Week’s DISCO Gave Us An All-Time Great STAR TREK Moment”

SHAZAM! Earns The Exclamation Point

Being a hero is a choice, one that’s never too late to make and that never has to be made alone. That trinity of concepts is the beautiful and emotional throughline that holds together the light, breezy and fun Shazam!, taking this superheroic riff on Big and elevating it to a place that resonates on the same emotional and thematic frequency as Donner’s Superman, a movie as focused on the small humanity of heroism as the big superhumanity of it.

Based on one of the least cool DC characters, a character who was ingested into that universe in a business deal but who has never quite found his place in the pantheon (not for lack of trying or lack of quality comics), Shazam!opts to embrace everything that makes its source material so out of step. It’s a family movie, a funny movie, a loving movie, a hopeful movie, a movie whose hero earnestly says “Holy moly” a couple of times. Most of all it’s a kid’s movie, just as Shazam (or Captain Marvel as he seemingly cannot be legally called in this film) is a kid’s hero. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive or condescending way, but rather that the character represents the positive peak of the wish-fulfillment possibilities of the superhero genre.

Continue reading “SHAZAM! Earns The Exclamation Point”

I Met The Wrong Saint

So there’s this woman, Amma the Hugging Saint. A Hindu guru from India, she travels the world hugging people as part of her teachings. This is no dude standing in the Comic-Con lobby with a “Free Hugs” sign; Amma plays to stadiums. You show up and get a number and wait HOURS to get shuffled through and hugged. They’re all-day/all-night events. The hugs are supposed to be amazing and healing – not in the ‘laying on the hands’ sense, but in the emotional/spiritual sense.

And get this: last year my friend Travis saw her, and when she hugged him he felt this intense, overwhelming love… and my face popped into his head. He texted me with excitement after the hug, and I thought the whole thing was strange and beautiful. Even setting aside any possible cosmic/supernatural stuff going on in this energy transfer moment, it was really sweet that he thought of me when he was experiencing a moment of pure love.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and Facebook serves me up an ad for Amma’s return to Los Angeles. This story has been in my mind, and for the past few months I’ve felt like my spiritual practice had plateaued; with the disgrace of my teacher Noah Levine and the dissolution of my main spiritual community, I had turned into a guy whose entire practice was solitary and book-oriented. I had not been on retreat in a year, I had not sat with a group in six months, I had not listened to wise teachers anyplace outside of my earphones while driving to work. I wanted a shot of something stronger in my spiritual practice – I wanted to meet a holy person.

Continue reading “I Met The Wrong Saint”

US: Face Your Jungian Shadow… And A Bad Ending

This review contains complete spoilers for Us.

When Get Out got to the Coagula my heart sank. The movie had been doing so well and then it got to this explanation for the underlying mind-switching and I was deeply concerned. You can really kill the magic of a story by going here, and too often filmmakers don’t understand that we don’t actually care how the magical stuff in a movie happens, we just want to be assured there is a reason.

Thankfully, Jordan Peele kept Get Out moving at such a clip – and kept the Coagula so weird and so aesthetically connected to the film’s themes – that it was only a bump in the road. The movie didn’t get bogged down in the Coagula, and I didn’t walk out with the logistics of the Coagula itching at my brain.

I wish I could say the same about Us.

Continue reading “US: Face Your Jungian Shadow… And A Bad Ending”

Now On Patreon: FIGHT CLUB Tried To Warn Us

This is a preview of a longer essay available to $10 and above Patrons at the CinemaSangha Patreon.

Fight Club was the “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US” of this whole MAGA/Proud Boys/GamerGate/MRA/brocialist/dirtbag left moment, a warning cry from the last moments of the 20th century to the 21st, gone unheeded.

More than unheeded it went profoundly misunderstood; the very people it was warning us about took it to heart and saw it less a cautionary tale and more an instruction manual. Like the film’s Space Monkeys they flocked to the cult of Tyler Durden, unaware of his hollowness. It can be no coincidence that two of the most subversive movies of 1999 – Fight Club and The Matrix – spawned memes and trends that appeal to the most toxically masculine, despite neither film coming from the imagination of a cishet man. The Wachowskis, trans women, gave the alt-right and friends the idea of “Red Pilling,” and Chuck Pahlahniuk, gay man, gave the trolls Project Mayhem. We can never actually get to post-irony because we’re so fucking steeped in it.

Continue reading “Now On Patreon: FIGHT CLUB Tried To Warn Us”

JURASSIC PARK Is About Social Media

Jurassic Park used to feel a little retrograde to me. Not in terms of FX, which still dazzle, or story, which remains a classically tight adventure tale, but in terms of the film’s underlying themes. Jurassic Park is a throwback to an older form of movie, the kind that reached peak popularity in the 50s – cautionary tales about science gone amok.

By the time Jurassic Park came out in 1994 we had largely stopped making films like that, and if we were making films like that they were about science in the wrong hands. The nuclear threat that had driven the 50s Atomic Horror films that give us the backbone of the Science Run Amok genre was over, and the environment, which had fueled a resurgence in Nature Run Amok movies, had been relegated to PSAs and polite charitable giving. No, by 1994 we were in the early stages of the home computer revolution and we were in the post-Cold War mood of an unlimited future. History had ended, and technology was going to usher us into a great new world. The dotcom boom waited just around the corner!

Within that mindset, and within the mindset of ‘new is good, tech progress is good’ that permeated our culture for the next 20 or so years, Ian Malcolm’s admonition felt downright old fashioned.

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should,” he said.

Continue reading “JURASSIC PARK Is About Social Media”

CAPTAIN MARVEL Never Quite Takes Off

At some point in Captain Marvel it dawned on me: this movie is set in the 90s. Maybe it was when Carol Danvers stood in front of a wall plastered with posters for Smashing Pumpkins, Bush and PJ Harvey. Maybe it was when she wore a Nine Inch Nails shirt and Nick Fury told her the grunge look was good on her. Maybe it was when every song that played in the movie was a well-worn 90s track. Maybe it was when everybody sat around comically waiting for a CD-ROM to load. Maybe it was when Carol looked up info on Alta Vista. Maybe it was when the movie had a close-up of a record player playing Nevermind.

The movie’s brutal reliance on 90s references could be just an irritating tic, but I think it actually gets at the fundamental problem that lies under the surface of Captain Marvel – this is a movie more constructed than crafted, and those needle drops feel like part of the construction, a knowing attempt to get in on the ‘90s kid’ generation and their desire to have their own childhood chewed up and spit back into their faces. Big parts of this movie feel inorganic and airdropped in, and those big parts are especially frustrating because Captain Marvel is peppered with small moments of absolutely organic beauty and charm.

Continue reading “CAPTAIN MARVEL Never Quite Takes Off”

APOLLO 11: Audacious, Triumphant And Necessary

Early in Apollo 11 there is this impossibly clear, incredibly close-up shot of the Saturn booster rocket taking off, lifting the Apollo 11 mission towards space. In this shot you can see the enormous nozzles which funnel the thunderous fire created in the main cylinder of the rocket, and the clarity of this shot lets you see every rivet, every overlapping plate, every spot where human hands had to touch and manipulate this metal to create the miracle you’re seeing before you.

It’s an overpowering moment, especially in IMAX. The screen is so huge that you almost get a sense of the scale of the thing (almost – it’s clear that these rockets are so big and the thrust so immense that even the IMAX screen shrinks them down), and the sound is so intense that the deep bass rumble almost disrupts your atoms. But it isn’t just the physical scale of it all that is overpowering; what makes Apollo 11 a brilliant film is how it captures both the material achievement of the mission and the spiritual achievement. In moments like that we are not only in awe of the size and fury of the rocket, we are overwhelmed with the knowledge that humans came together to do this thing, and to do it well.

Continue reading “APOLLO 11: Audacious, Triumphant And Necessary”