Review: SHORT TREKS: “Runaway”

There was this party at Comic-Con one year where I got absolutely hammered and I cornered JJ Abrams. This was when it had been announced that Star Trek Into Darkness was happening, but we knew nothing else about the movie. I had enjoyed the first Abrams Trek, although I thought it was a mess; one of my least favorite things about it was Nero. I thought the character was hollow and empty and violated one of the main tenets of good Trek.

Good Trek, I slurred to poor JJ that night, doesn’t have a villain. It may have an antagonist, but it doesn’t have a villain. This is hard to argue because everybody’s favorite Trek thing is Wrath of Khan, a movie featuring one of the great screen villains. But I would argue that movies like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, neither of which has a villain, are the most Trek-y movies of them all.

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Why THE MANDALORIAN Will Probably Be Awesome

You may have seen the announcement about Jon Favreau’s live action Star Wars show, The MandalorianSet after the events of Return of the Jedi but before The Force AwakensThe Mandalorian will follow a gunfighter in a familiar armor as he travels the Outer Rim of the galaxy. You might look at the first image released and mutter, “What a bullshit attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Boba Fett,” and I get where you’re coming from. You’re coming from the POV of someone who hasn’t watched Clone Wars or Rebels.

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I Was A Blackout Drinker

I was a blackout drinker.

Perhaps you think you know what that means – drinking until I became a drooling mess, falling asleep in some bar booth or on a subway platform. If only it was that lame. No, drinking until you blackout doesn’t mean passing out, although later you may well wish you had. A blackout drinker is someone who, when a certain amount of alcohol enters their system, has a part of their mind shut off. I have heard the blackout drinker’s brain during an episode described as a VCR without a tape in it, but I think it’s even heavier than that. The blackout drinker is walking and talking, may seem absolutely together and not even obviously super intoxicated, but essential parts of their brain have been shut off. The blackout drinker is a danger to themselves and others.

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The Women Who Tried To Kill The President

In September of 1975, just weeks apart, there were two attempts on the life of President Gerald Ford. Neither was a success; the first would-be-assassin never even fired a shot, while the second’s shot went awry when a good samaritan intervened. But even so, these attempts were unique in the history of American political murder, as both assassins were women. And they were totally unconnected.*

Neither, by the way, had much of a beef with Gerald Ford personally. While John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald** held deep personal issues with their respective victims, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore were coming at Ford because of his position, not because of his policies. Ford was a hapless president, the only president not elected at all – he had been appointed Vice President by Richard Nixon after Spiro Agnew resigned, and he had ascended to the Oval Office when Nixon bugged out – and he was more of a blip in our history than anything else.

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Brett Kavanaugh Is A Coward

It’s very possible that Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t remember assaulting Christine Blasey Ford. It seems like Kavanaugh has been a heavy drinker, and if he suffered from blackouts while drinking he will never recall the incident. A blackout isn’t the same as passing out; a drinker in a blackout state may seem perfectly normal, but a switch has been thrown in their brain and they are no longer making memories. There are no memories for the drinker to recover. I’ve seen it compared to the old-fashioned VCR technology – you could set your VCR to record a TV show, but it wouldn’t record anything if you forgot to put a VHS tape in there. A person in a blackout has had their VHS tape ejected.

Or perhaps Brett Kavanaugh doesn’t remember assaulting Christine Blasey Ford because it was just not a big deal to him. He was raised in a culture, and lived in a community, where this kind of behavior might have been seen as fairly par for the course. That’s a pretty stinging indictment of our society, but it seems quite plausible. Kavanaugh came of age in a time very different from today, in a decade in which two of the most vaunted underdog movies – Revenge of the Nerds and Sixteen Candles – feature triumphant moments that we would now recognize as rape.

Neither of these options let Brett Kavanaugh off the hook. It’s just worth noting that he might very well have no memory of assaulting Ford. It’s worth noting that drinkers in blackouts also have a part of their brain turned off that regulates their behavior. It’s worth noting that he was raised in a culture where his values at that age may not have been positive. To judge his character today based on his actions in 1982 might be unfair. A lot of growth and change can happen in 30 years.

So let’s judge him on his actions in 2018. And in 2018 he has shown himself to be a moral coward, a man without decency, and a person willing to throw his own humanity away to score a win.

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Mudita At The Wedding

Schadenfreude is the German word for the feeling of joy you get when something bad happens to someone else. I used to think that it was a credit to the Germans that they had a word for such a delicious emotion, but lately I’ve begun to think that maybe it’s a credit to English that we don’t have one. After selflessly generating a whole lot of schadenfreude back in 2016 I’ve come to look at this emotion in a whole new way.

It’s one of those easy emotions, cheap and dirty, one that makes you feel great in the moment – for a moment – but that leaves you spiritually hungover with the residue of unpleasantness. Negative emotions, even the ones that paradoxically make us feel good in the moment, don’t leave us feeling good in the long run. Schadenfreude is just our worst, most bitter impulses being fed and validated. As Morrissey, the master of negative emotions, sang in We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful:

We hate it when our friends become successful
And if they’re Northern, that makes it even worse
And if we can destroy them
You bet your life we will
Destroy them
If we can hurt them
Well, we may as well
It’s really laughable
Ha, ha, ha

You see, it should’ve been me
It could’ve been me
Everybody knows
Everybody says so
They say :
“Ah, you have loads of songs
So many songs
More songs than they’d stand.”

This song, pointedly, did not play at a wedding I attended last week.

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The Hasslein Curveball and Screwball Capitalist Asians

Friends! Things have been a little slow around here because I’ve been working quite a bit away from the computer. That’s a blessing – to have work and to be able to finally afford a place to live (yes, I got a place to live!) – but it’s also keeping me from my real love, which is yammering on and on about movies and stuff.

I have some stuff in the oven for the main site, but I have recently published two long pieces over at Patreon for subscribers at the $10 level. They’re quite different but I hope each is interesting in its own way.

The first is called “Screwball Capitalist Asians,” and it’s a look at how Crazy Rich Asians retools the screwball comedy for the 21st century, applying the class struggle aspects of those Depression-era films to an increasingly capitalism-averse 2018. Here’s an excerpt:

But the most defining features of the screwball comedies are visible in Crazy Rich Asians. The film, like the best of the Depression-era movies, is about class conflict. In this case it’s Constance Wu’s Rachel who is crossing all sorts of class lines – she’s not only American Chinese, she doesn’t come from a dynastically wealthy family. It’s not as extreme a class divide as the one in My Man Godfrey (a bum gets hired to be a butler and a rich woman falls in love with him), and it’s gender swapped from the usual heiress-falls-for-a-lower-class-rascal template (perfected in It Happened One Night), but the basics are the same.

In true screwball fashion, Rachel discovers that despite all their money the socialites and hyper rich of Singapore can’t make their lives work, and she eventually teaches the upper crust a lesson. That’s a vital part of many Depression-era screwball comedies, where the idle rich get some sort of comeuppance from the lower class person invading their space. The Depression audience liked seeing the rich put in their place (they especially liked stories where the rich could not function without the trappings of their wealth, but where the poor could sneak into high society), but they also wanted to live vicariously through the cinematically wealthy. Yes, all the money and houses and dresses won’t make you good/smart/happy… but they’re awesome to ogle in the meantime.

That’s a lot of what Crazy Rich Asians is doing for modern audiences. Much like Rachel we are both put off and seduced by the debaucherously rich world of the Youngs. They’re all but royalty, and we Americans continue to have a complicated relationship with royalty. We don’t want to kneel to them, but we do want to BE them. We are fascinated by their lives and dramas, and we swoon at their ostentatious displays of wealth and we sneer at their peccadillos and dramas. We’re tempering our envy with our disdain. Or we’re using our disdain to hide our envy.

This, I think, is a key factor in the huge success of Crazy Rich Asians. The underserved demographic aspect cannot be overlooked – from anecdotal evidence I can tell you that this film was playing to huge Asian crowds weeks into its run – but that isn’t enough to have propelled the film to this level of success. It should, in the next week or so, pass Sex and the City to rest just under the top five romantic comedies of all time, box office-wise. The Asian community coming out in force made a difference, but, as with Black Panther, the film needed more diverse audiences to get where it is.

The other piece I published this week looks at Escape From The Planet of the Apes‘ villain, Dr. Hasslein, and explains why he – like Killmonger in Black Panther – was totally correct.

This makes Hasslein dislike the apes, but what really drives him over the edge is the revelation that Zira is pregnant. All of a sudden he’s faced with a predestination paradox – could the future where mankind is experimented on by talking apes be caused by this baby being born? He can’t be sure, and he is driven to stop the birth of the child.

The President isn’t so certain. After all, the future from which Zira and Cornelius arrived is a thousand years off. None of my voters, he reasons, will be around to be mad about it.This isn’t his concern. Someone else can deal with it later.

Hasslein has a little meltdown about this, and he delivers a rant that I love. I love it because he’s absolutely, 100% right.

“That’s what I’m worried about. Later. Later, we’ll do something about pollution. Later, we’ll do something about the population explosion. Later, we’ll do something about the nuclear war! We think we’ve got all the time in the world!! How much time has the world got?!! Somebody has to begin to care!”

Forty five years after Escape from the Planet of the Apes we can see what happens when no one begins to care, or not enough people care. We live in a world where climate change is not a threat but an omnipresent reality. We live in a world – predicted as far back as in the days of Escape from the Planet of the Apes – in which monster storms are routine, where drought and extreme temperatures are annual events, and where the city of Miami has already begun to disappear under the sea. And even with all of this… we think we’ve got all the time in the world.

You can really feel where Hasslein is coming from. Yeah, the ape domination is a thousand years off, but isn’t part of being a grown up doing a little long term planning? If the human race is grown up, it needs to start thinking in terms of the big picture, not just how the stock market is doing this week. All of our problems stems from a species-wide inability to look past the immediate moment and make plans, or to put things into perspective. Everybody I know is very concerned about climate change. Very few people I know actually carpool.

There’s more to it, and just because Hasslein was right doesn’t mean what he does is correct – and therein, I think, lies the intriguing moral nuance.

If these pique your interest, please consider becoming a patron at Patreon. I hope that the content alone is worth your subscription, but if it makes any difference you should also know that the Patreon has become a major source of support for me. I am working three jobs besides this blog (I consider this blog a job as well, so I have four jobs!), but the Patreon is the key that allows me to know I will not starve month to month and that I will be able to keep a roof over my head. As the Patreon grows I hope to be able to shed one or two of these jobs and focus more energy here.

Besides these longer pieces I also publish weekly recommendations at the Patreon page, some of which actually run fairly long as well. But even if you can’t support on Patreon at the higher levels, just a dollar a month is very meaningful and a way of saying that you appreciate the writing that I’m sharing.

Thanks again for all your support thus far. I’m moving at the end of the month and like I said, I have three other jobs at the moment, but I’m dedicated to carving out the time to focus more energy here in the coming weeks. Your patience is appreciated.

 

 

CASTLE ROCK Blew The Ending

I need to learn the most valuable lesson about writing TV criticism: don’t do it until the season is over. Maybe wait until the whole darn show is over. Again and again I’ve gotten really excited about a show and recommended it, only to see the show sink into a morass as soon as I’ve pledged allegiance. My timing is bad.

The latest show to fit into this pattern? Hulu’s Castle Rockwhich had an extraordinary first actI was really smitten with the show, and at the beginning it seemed to be setting up an exciting world and great characters, tying lightly into the Stephen King megaverse but mostly getting the King flavor absolutely right. So what the hell happened?

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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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