On Patreon: Recommendation: YEARS AND YEARS (TV Show)

Every week subscribers at the $5 and above level on my Patreon get a new recommendation. Sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes a book, sometimes a song, sometimes a self-help technique. Each week I not only recommend something, I write about it with some depth. This week I’m recommending the show Years and Years, now playing on HBO. This is a peek at the piece; to read the entire thing, which is much longer, become a $5 or above subscriber at Patreon!

Have you ever, in these past three years of the Trump administration, said to yourself “I wouldn’t believe this if it were in a movie/book/TV show!”? Russell T Davies has taken that up as a challenge with his limited series Years and Years, the scifi TV show so absolutely relevant and believable that it has given me a number of anxiety-related stomach aches in just three episodes.

The premise: we follow a British family over the course of 15 years, starting in 2019, as the world continues on its current path. Each episode fast-forwards through a year, replicating the breakneck sense of our current society hurtling out of control. And holy shit, does Davies think we’re going to dark places.

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1776 And The Imperfection Of America

How to celebrate the birthday of America when the nation has become its worst self in the past three years, when the southern border is a nightmare that looks to educated eyes like the precursor to the worst European atrocities of the 1930s and 40s, when there is a kleptocrat wannabe martinet in office rolling out tanks in front of the Lincoln Memorial, when the ongoing reality of a sexist white supremacist system has become impossible to ignore? How do we look at the Fourth of July and feel good about any of this?

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Resist The Algorithms

You don’t have free will. One of the grand questions of philosophy is being answered today in laboratories as we come to better understand genes and the workings of the brain, and it’s becoming very clear that we actually do not have free will.

Sure, we get to make choices, but they’re incredibly constrained. It’s like in a video game RPG, where you’re given an onscreen prompt that allows you to make three different choices – yes, the choice is yours but is this really free will? In real life those choices are dictated by things like genetics (my love of sweets is likely handed down to me over the generations), time and place of birth (all of your woke beliefs wouldn’t exist if you had been born in Alabama in 1835, for instance), your biochemistry (people with toxoplasmosis, a parasite related to cats, have higher risk-taking behaviors and die in car accidents more often), and your upbringing. Yes, you get to pick from three options, but the entire world of options is never, ever available to you. That’s before we even get to physical, legal and economic constraints.

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Why We Must Ensure The DUNE Sequels Get Made

My Dune-mania is in high gear. Having read, and loved, the script for Denis Villeneueve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal and defining work of science fiction (or at least one half of an adaptation; the movie coming out next year will only get so far as Paul Atreides coming to Sietch Tabor, becoming Fremen and falling in love with Chani), I dove back into the original books. Herbert’s Dune series, six novels in all, is unlike any other science fiction epic and is, to my thinking, almost unadaptable in a modern landscape. Which, I believe, is why they must be adapted.

Spoilers for Dune to follow, but minor ones – ie, stuff you’d assume happens in a story like this.

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Sober Up For DOCTOR SLEEP

Quick note up front: this site is currently being swarmed by trolls sent from anti-SJW/GamerGate type site, so all comments are being pre-moderated. Sorry for the temporary inconvenience.

Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix is a masterpiece. Wildly divergent from the book on which it’s based, Flanagan’s show is a brilliant examination of trauma, especially generational trauma, and how people react differently to it. Each of the adult Crain children represent a different method of coping – or in some cases, denial – with trauma. Plus, it’s really creepy and cool and fucked up. In fact I’d go so far as to say it’s scary, a word I too rarely use when describing horror films.

So with that under his belt I give Mike Flanagan the benefit of the doubt… even when it comes to Doctor Sleep. In fact, Hill House might be the thing that makes me believe Flanagan is the actual best director for this film.
Trailer after the jump.

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Now On Patreon: Love Beyond Death: STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK

This blog (and my ability to pay rent) is supported by my Patreon, where subscribers get exclusive content. This is an excerpt of a much (much much) longer article that is available on the Patreon to subscribers at the $10 and above level. To read the whole thing, support Cinema Sangha at Patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Everybody knows that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the best in the franchise. And everybody loves the fun and silly vibe of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, released 35 years ago this week, is stuck in this terrible underappreciated place, the movie that paved the way for the concept “the odd numbered ones are bad,” and is almost totally dismissed. But it shouldn’t be! Search for Spock is great, if flawed, and it works remarkably well as a reaction to the darkness that defines Khan

One part heist film, one part men-on-a-mission movie, one part sweeping epic romance, Search for Spock is the most intimate Star Trek movie ever made. The scale of these films kept reducing; Star Trek: The Motion Picture includes a 2001-riffing journey through psychedelic imagery, while Khan brings the story down to a beef between two old enemies centered around a planet-destroying superweapon. But Search for Spock goes even smaller, because there are only personal stakes here. In TMP V’ger threatened Earth, while in Khanthe Genesis Device was a threat to all life in the galaxy. But by the time we get to Spock, we learn the Genesis Device doesn’t really work. Yes, it’s a powerful destructive force, but in the world of Trek it’s not clear how important that is or isn’t (couldn’t the Klingons destroy a planet from orbit anyway if they wanted to?). No, what’s at stake in Spock is Spock himself, and he doesn’t hold some key to stopping a threat or the answer to a riddle that must be solved; he is being saved simply because he is Spock, and he is loved.

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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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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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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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