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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I Don’t Believe In YESTERDAY

When Jack Malik wakes up from head trauma to discover nobody else remembers The Beatles he runs to his record collection to double check whether the band ever existed. Flipping through vinyl albums, he starts yanking out records in the “B” section. One of the albums that falls to the floor is a David Bowie LP.

This moment solidifies the sheer, shitty laziness of Yesterday when it comes to its central conceit. The idea that hundreds of people got together to make a movie that centers on the question of “what if the Beatles never existed” and yet they allowed a Bowie record – out of all the artists they could have referenced here – to be in the movie shows how little they care.

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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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TOY STORY 4 Renounces God, Gives Woody Closure

This contains spoilers for Toy Story 4.

That Toy Story 4 is a mess, narratively, is undeniable. It’s probably the worst of the franchise from a storytelling point of view, and the finality of its ending feels like a kindness – let these characters rest, or rather live forever in parks and toys but never again in a movie.

And yet there’s something impossibly charming about the film, and even though the story is a Frankenstein-ed together disaster of disparate setpieces and unserviced characters, there’s a lot of wisdom and beauty to be found within the film. As a critic I see Toy Story 4 as a big old wreck, albeit an often delightful one, but as somebody looking for something deeper in my entertainment I see Toy Story 4 as a wellspring of great ideas about healing, boundaries, change and acceptance. 

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ROCKETMAN Finds Ecstatic Truth In Movie Musical Falseness

The music biopic is dead, a rotten bloating corpse that stinks up the joint. Yes, the Queen movie made towards a billion dollars, but we all know that success is no measure of quality. The very form itself is rancid, unsalvageable. We all know this, and yet Rocketman has the audacity to be released into theaters, giving us an exhilarating jukebox musical-style take on the genre, and in doing so presenting a beautiful, raw and honest portrayal of pain and healing… even if it is largely full of shit. 

This is the fascinating dichotomy at the heart of Rocketman, one that mirrors a myriad of dichotomies in subject Elton John’s life. The movie is factually inaccurate, and yet it is undeniably true. John himself was surrounded by people and love, and yet was alone and unloved. He was shy and reserved, and yet he took to the stage in increasingly silly outfits. He sang someone else’s lyrics and yet his songs were incredibly personal and honest. 

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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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JOHN WICK 3: Is John Wick The Bad Guy?

This contains spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

What does a John Wick movie owe us? Action, for sure, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, gives us that in spades. It is some of the most accomplished hand-to-hand fighting action we’ve ever seen in an American film; I’ve seen it compared to the work in The Raid, which is high praise and – while I wouldn’t quite go that far – indicates just how excellent the fight choreography is in this film.

But I think a John Wick movie owes us more. What has made this franchise so successful – the third film is the biggest earner yet – is the strange combination of ass-kicking, weirdo world building and a deep emotional core that motivated it all. The first John Wick was a sleeper hit not because Keanu Reeves was a star – the film came out in one of the occasional valleys in Reeves’ mainstream popularity – but rather because we cared about what happened. It took a standard revenge plot and made it special by making it about a dead dog. We’ve seen revenge fantasies driven by dead wives and children, but there was something so tender about the dead dog that we all fell head over heels for John Wick, the assassin who really just wanted out of the game. 

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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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