The End Of The DCEU Phase Zero

Marvel set up their cinematic universe in phases. The first phase was leading up to The Avengersthe financing deal the then-fledgling studio got would allow them to make The Avengers pretty much no matter what, although they had contingency plans in case the solo movies bombed (there had been talk of releasing the movie as an Iron Man sequel, for instance).

Since then the phases have been largely delineated by the Avengers movies, with the solo films swirling around and leading into the next team-up movie. It has, to put it mildly, worked. The planning has not been impeccable, but it has been strong enough so far to overcome director changes and the vagaries of public interest.

The DCEU (DC Extended Universe, what the fans call the DC Comics Movieverse) has not been so lucky. The DCEU has seemed like a cinematic encapsulation of the phrase “Man plans, God laughs.” Looking to compete with the MCU, DC’s parent company Warner Bros in 2014 announced an ambitious slate of superhero films… and the wheels started falling off almost immediately. Two of the films from that slate – Justice League, Part Two and Cyborg, are functionally gone. Another, The Flash, is supposedly happening, but has been plagued with the kind of director turnover that can only be attributable to the production office being built on a cursed burial ground. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was savaged by critics and came up short at the box office. Justice League was destroyed by critics and audiences, and was essentially a bomb, not only failing to crack the gold standard one billion dollars worldwide, but actually earning less than every previous DCEU film.

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Elon Musk Is On A One-Man Mission To Prove Money Doesn’t Make You Happy

If I were rich, I would be happy.

This thought came to me more than once this week while cleaning up trash and swabbing out toilets at my day job. But once I confronted the thought it melted away; two years ago today I was making about 400% more money and was about 200% unhappier. I wasn’t even that much more comfortable, to be honest. Somehow I managed to spend all of that extra money and had basically nothing to show for it.

“Money can’t buy you happiness” feels, when you’re poor, like one of the nastiest lies that rich people feed to you. It sounds like a maxim designed to keep you down, to make you stay satisfied with your wretched lot in life, to keep you from encroaching on their hallowed halls of aristocracy.

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Burt Reynolds Was My Friend

With the passing of Burt Reynolds another age of Hollywood comes to an end. I had the chance to see Reynolds in person earlier this year, at the Egyptian Theater during a double feature of his masterpieces Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper, and at 82 he had the same kind of charm and warmth that made him such a great movie star.

But there was something else to Reynolds that separated him from other stars of his period, and other stars that came before him. You see, Burt Reynolds was my friend. No, I never met him. I never exchanged messages or phone calls with him. I’m not even sure I ever attended the same event that he did, at least until that night at the Egyptian. But he was my friend nonetheless, and that was the quality that made him so endearing to a whole generation.

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BLINDSPOTTING: Being A Felon, A Human, An Optical Illusion

This contains spoilers for Blindspotting.

There’s an optical illusion at the center of Blindspotting, the famous image of a vase that, when viewed with the right perspective, becomes two faces. This optical illusion becomes the driving thematic element of the film, and I think it also becomes the meta thematic element of the film – how you look at Blindspotting, what your perspective is, will dictate what you see in Blindspotting.

For some it will be the gentrification that permeates every block in modern Oakland, transforming the city in which Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) grew up, transforming it around them storefront by storefront. For some it will be the constant threat of police violence that hangs over Collin, a black man just trying to walk down his own street, haunted by seeing another black man gunned down while fleeing the cops. For others it will be the ways Miles desperately grabs for identity as he drowns in a sea of anger and resentment, a white man growing up in a black culture in which he can never truly participate, and yet apart from the white gentrifiers invading his community.

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TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES: Disrespecting DC, And It Works

Here’s the great yin and yang of our time: DC’s movies are terrible, while their TV shows tend to be rather delightful. Marvel makes the best movies, but their TV shows lean towards the very bad. Weirdly the only place where this dichotomy is broken is when it comes to animated DC movies – they are actually really great, better than the live action DC movies and stake out their own weird space in the superhero universe.

Lego Batman was a blast, and I think was one of the better Batman movies ever made. It really got to the heart of the character, while also poking a lot of fun at the character. And now Teen Titans Go! To The Movies has arrived and is a better DC Universe movie than any of the live action DC Universe movies, and it accomplishes that while being wildly irreverent and disrespectful… but in a truly loving way.

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Holy Shit, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Great

In June Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, identifying as a Democratic Socialist, won a Democratic primary in New York City against a sure-thing incumbent. It was a total come-from-behind victory; when people complained the media hadn’t paid enough attention to her I thought to myself “You guys are missing what makes an underdog story an underdog story,” but whatever.

In the weeks since she’s been getting a lot of love, but I’ve maintained my usual irritating skepticism (which has been tempered from the thinly veiled cynicism I used to hold to something closer to the true “I do not know” freedom from judgment to which I aspire). Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender a year ago; not at all a disqualifying thing, but she has no record or history as a legislator or even a major activist. To make any judgment seemed, to me, to be premature.

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Irresponsible Speculation About The New Picard STAR TREK TV Show

What a time to be a Star Trek nerd. Not since the 1990s has Trek been so alive, with multiple TV shows, movies and all sorts of ancillary merch being available all at once. While the reaction to Star Trek Discovery has been mixed (I love it, and I may threaten to write about it weekly on this site when it returns next year), the response to the latest Trek news has been almost universally positive: Sir Patrick Stewart is returning to Trek in one of his most defining roles, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Stewart last played Picard in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis, hardly a fitting end for a beloved character. That was 17 years ago, and so that means there have been two decades of Picard adventures and life to which we have not been privy. The possibilities for what Picard could have been up to are endless, but I have some speculation about what we will see in this new show. This is just informed speculation, none of this comes from scoops, sources or insiders.

Here’s one guess that I haven’t seen other people making: Michael Chabon is listed as being on the creative team. He’s also doing a Trek short featuring an all-new character, Craft, in a short called Calypso. Could Craft be getting introduced in advance of his role as a main character in the Picard show? Could Calypso be a stealth prequel to this show? We’ll know soon enough, I guess.

Whether Craft is on it or not, the show will be personal. Don’t expect a series of galaxy-hopping adventures. The new Picard show is being conceived as a mini-series, so it’ll likely tell one story from beginning to end, and I bet it will be a highly personal one. Likely very small scale (I do know that Patrick Stewart’s quote is very high (as it should be), so a lot of the budget will be going to him) and likely related to Picard’s phase of life.

That could mean we will see Picard in his golden years at the family winery, or perhaps we will see him having retired into archeology. I will bet money that he will not be a starship captain or a Starfleet admiral. My guess is that he will be out of Starfleet altogether. If that is the case I hope the story isn’t Starfleet coming to recruit the old man for One Last Mission.

While Picard was involved in the attempts to negotiate historic peace with the Romulans I wouldn’t expect to hear much about them in the new show. Romulus was destroyed in the events of JJ Abrams’ first Star Trekand yes, that is canon in the Prime Universe. That said, the delineation between TV and movies is such that the TV folks may not want to touch anything that was established in the movies, or at least not make a major plot point out of it. It could be mentioned in passing, or obliquely, but I suspect the plot of the show will not hinge on the status of the Romulans in a universe where their homeworld blew up a few years ago.

Likewise I wouldn’t expect to see too many Klingons, including Worf. Discovery did a visual refresh of the Klingons (something that is not uncommon in Trek history, even if it is a little annoying to hypernerds like me) but I would guess that the powers that be don’t want to muddy the waters when it comes to TNG era Klingons, who are very visually defined. To have two shows on CBS All Access with very different looking Klingons would be confusing to the average viewer. And it’s not like Picard and Worf were besties.

Will other TNG characters show up? I wouldn’t bet on it. One of the things I liked about All Good Things, the TNG finale, was that it affirmed what I always thought: these people weren’t family. They were work friends, and when they didn’t work together anymore they drifted very far apart and didn’t keep in touch. I wouldn’t mind a cameo or a mention, but Picard and Riker didn’t have the relationship that Kirk and Spock did, or even that Kirk and McCoy did. I imagine they maybe send Christmas cards to one another.

There are a handful of characters from TNG who make perfect sense as guests. Beverly Crusher is one. Her relationship with Picard was complicated and largely unconsummated; while it’s sad to think that they’re still doing that dance well into their 70s it does seem quite likely. I could see her being remarried and Picard being a lonely, sad visitor to her life.

Wesley Crusher also makes a lot of sense. His relationship with Picard was complicated, and the series left him as a space-warping Traveler. There’s a deleted scene in Nemesis that establishes Wesley as returning to Starfleet and serving on Riker’s new ship (in the night shift in Engineering!), but deleted scenes are not canon. Perhaps Wesley shows up with his Traveler powers and goes on a journey with Picard, trying to understand this father figure who, frankly, treated him like garbage a lot. (But I think that was Picard trying to be loving. The character sometimes has emotional issues)

Data is a good choice for a cameo. He’s sort of dead/living inside the body of B-4. Dealing with Brent Spiner’s aging would make this challenging, but who knows. If there is a character on the show with whom Picard had the warmest relationship it was, for my money, the emotionless android. And he’s a beloved fan favorite to boot.

Then there are the TNG guest star possibilities. Q is a big possibility, although I’d like to see Q remain off the table for the rest of time. All Good Things felt like it finished Q nicely for us forever. If not Q perhaps Q’s occasional girlfriend, Vash. She was also Picard’s lover, and she shared his love of archeology. Vash was a wild child 20 years ago, but maybe now she has mellowed out enough that she and Picard travel around poking at ancient dig sites together.

I would kind of love to see Picard butting heads with a Deep Space Nine character or two. Maybe Jake Sisko, reporter and novelist, shows up to do a profile of the retired hero of the Federation. Perhaps Captain Nog is assigned to ferry the retired Picard to a dig site. Maybe Ezri Dax, psychotherapist, is doing regular sessions with a Picard who is still haunted by his time being assimilated by the Borg.

That said, I would not like to see the Borg – they’re too big a threat, and felt dealt with between First Contact and Star Trek: Voyager. Going back to that well directly would be too much, and maybe too fan service-y. Picard can certainly talk about them, perhaps even be monitoring the Collective’s attempts to rebuild itself after the finale of Voyager, but to have them show up would be too much (that said, what if the wild future of the Federation involved the Borg, changed forever by Janeway’s actions, petitioning for membership? And what if Picard’s deal was trying to block that petition?).

One subject I would like to see tackled is Picard’s Irumodic Syndrome. In All Good Things we see Picard 20 years after the show (ie, when the new series will likely be set) suffering from a degenerative brain disease that makes him erratic, swiss-cheeses his memory and causes him to be delusional. I’ll be honest, I don’t know whether Picard would still have that Syndrome after the events of the episode (and the old Picard of All Good Things looks nothing like PatStew of today), but I think it would make sense for Picard to be eternally watchful for its effects.

After Logan it’s unlikely that Patrick Stewart would want to take another of his characters into dementia, but I do suspect that PatStew, as a thoughtful and smart man, would be interested in exploring how Picard faces his final years. This is an important subject that we don’t discuss in our culture; everybody pretends that you live forever, or that your quality of life doesn’t have to be impacted by your age. It’s important to confront the realities of aging and death, even with someone as seemingly ageless as PatStew. I don’t want this mini-series to be The Death of Jean-Luc Picard, but I think it’s important that a 78 year old Picard be aware of his imminent end (even if Starfleets live much longer than we do. Realistically Picard could probably make it to like 130, which is how old Bones got, but Trek is about us today, and we don’t live that long). It would be cool if we got more Picard mini-series after this, but if not I would love for this to give Picard the kind of graceful exit he didn’t get in Nemesis.

Most of all I want this new Picard show to be modern. I don’t want the stiff beige world of TNG, an aesthetic I really hated. I hope the creators feel free to open things up and rethink the look of the universe. I would also love to see a show that exists almost totally outside of Starfleet, something we have barely explored in over 50 years of Star Trek. What is it like being a civilian in the Federation? What is the civilian’s relationship to Starfleet? That feels ripe for exploration, and a retired Picard is a perfect bridge to that.

One last thing: I hope the show doesn’t establish too much of the Trek status quo 20 years after TNG. I’d like a little wiggle room left for other shows/movies to explore, and I think it would be best if the Picard show didn’t act as some sort of info dump filling us in on two decades of politics, advances and adventures. But again, I think this is going to be a very small, very personal story, so there likely won’t be a lot of room for Picard to check in on the status of the Cardassians or how transwarp drive has or hasn’t changed space travel. What I hope the show explores is what it’s like to be this man, in his life, at this stage of his existence. That’s a good TV show, and that’s a valid part of the human adventure.

STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE INCELS

This short film is, frankly, INCREDIBLE. A parody of BrickRian Johnson’s debut film, but retold through the lens of the vocal minority of fans who hate The Last Jedi and specifically Kelly Marie Tran. As far as I can tell, these are the actual locations from Brickand the filmmaking and acting are absolutely on point. I love this – it’s pointed, it’s funny, and it’s damn well made.

The Beatific Running Of Tom Cruise

Acting isn’t about pretending. Bad actors think it is, and they try to fake their way through scenes, throwing up signifiers and tics that represent the emotional state they’re pretending to find. Acting is about truth, and it’s about discovering the truth in yourself and presenting it through a fictionalized lens.

Tom Cruise is a good actor, but I’ve always found it hard to see his truth in some of his most emotional scenes. Cruise is working at bringing that truth, but over the years I’ve come to the simple conclusion that Tom Cruise inhabits a world very different from our own. His truth is not our truth; the things he experiences are not what we experience. And I don’t mean this in some hacky class war way. I mean it in a spiritual way, and I suspect that Tom Cruise is the only guy for whom Scientology has ever worked.

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CASTLE ROCK Truly Shines

The only way Castle Rock could be more Stephen King-y would be if the lead character were a novelist. In fact, there are no novelists yet introduced on the show, a huge oversight if you ask me. Maine, as I understand from King’s work, is thick with novelists. You can’t run into an ancient curse or a terrifying entity without finding a novelist somehow tied up in the whole thing.

I don’t love writing about TV shows while they’re still airing – they could shit the bed at any moment! – but it feels important for me to tell you that Castle Rock is, three episodes in, quite good. And it’s quite good in a way that feels unique to the King ouvre; this is a show that gets what the experience of reading King is, and unlike almost ALL the adaptations ever attempted of the Master, it captures that experience. Again, Castle Rock could absolutely fall apart this week, but the first three episodes lay such a solid foundation that I could believe the show might be able to recover from a serious episode four stumble.

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