AD ASTRA: God Is Dead

This contains spoilers for Ad Astra

Near the end of Ad Astra the camera pans over screens showing exoplanets, captured for the first time in some kind of detail. The images are the kind we’re familiar with when it comes to our own outer planets – fuzzy, distant, with indistinct geographical features that require the interpretation of scientists to look like anything other than squiggly lines and discoloration. And yet over this is a Brad Pitt narration – the continuation of a film’s worth of droning Brad Pitt narration – that informs us how beautiful and amazing these images are. 

This, I think, sums up a lot of what I don’t like about Ad Astra, a movie whose title is To the Stars, but which is pretty intent on telling us there’s no good reason to ever go there. It’s not that images of exoplanets are boring, it’s that the film’s imagination is limited to indistinct pictures of them on screens. Cinema can take us anywhere, and yet Ad Astra takes us to an underground Martian base that looks a lot like the service corridors beneath a football stadium. And movies can make us believe in anything, but Ad Astra asks us to believe there’s nothing. 

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PTSDeep Space Nine (Ode to Aron Eisenberg)

Earlier this year I went to see a screening of What We Left Behind, a documentary about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The crowd was what you would expect – dorks, geeks, nerds, freaks. You know, Trekkies. I was at home. Waiting in the long line to get into the movie I heard a commotion up ahead, felt ripples of excitement echoing down the line.

It turned out that Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog on Deep Space Nine, was working the line. A little guy in a knit cap, Eisenberg bounded up and down the line of expectant Trekkies with a big smile on his face, laughing and joking with just about everybody. But what was most amazing was seeing Eisenberg recognize fans he had met at conventions, hearing him ask follow-up questions about things they had discussed at Star Trek Las Vegas or some other meet n’ greet. 

Eisenberg was in his element, truly vibing with the people, feeding on their excitement and love and reflecting it back tenfold. The people in that line felt included and appreciated in the way that fans hope to feel included and appreciated, the way they hope to be acknowledged and warmly welcomes by their favorite stars. It was really something else, and after the screening Eisenberg hung around (with some of his co-stars) and did a Q&A that went on so long that I bounced after an hour. His energy, at the time, seemed endless.

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Is JJ Abrams Coming to Rescue the DC Movieverse?

Today’s big news is that JJ Abrams and his Bad Robot will be leaving Paramount to set up shop at Warner Media in a very lucrative deal that will see JJ producing movies, TV and games for WB. It’s a big move, and it’s part of WB’s recent signings intended to try and safeguard some talent from being tied up at Disney forever and ever.

The word is that Warner Bros wants JJ to create original, new franchises, and that’s admirable, but I’m not sure he’s the guy. Let’s put it this way: he’s never done that. He’s created/produced some successful TV series, and I think he’ll probably do more of that with Warner, but he’s not launched a new movie franchise yet.

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IT CHAPTER TWO: The Only Thing Scary Is The Broken Tone

This contains some spoilers for IT Chapter Two.

It’s not that IT Chapter Two isn’t scary, it’s that IT Chapter Two doesn’t even seem interested in being scary. It’s as though the filmmakers decided that the tone of the first movie was a little too dark, a little too tense, and decided to lighten it up… and they lightened it all the way up. There are a couple of moments that are intense – the opening hate crime, for instance – but almost every single scare in IT Chapter Two is either immediately undercut by a joke or is interrupted by a joke at its heaviest moment

Somehow, Andy Muschietti turned IT Chapter Two into a comedy.

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The Radical Optimism Of Richard Linklater’s MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

James Stockdale was shot down over North Vietnam in 1965. He spent seven and a half years in the hellish Hỏa Lò Prison (aka the Hanoi Hilton), where he was tortured and abused. Stockdale made it out – you might remember him from the 1992 Vice Presidential debates, where he infamously began with “Who am I? Why am I here?,” reinforcing his image as a doddering, confused old man – but many other men didn’t. Years later, when asked what kind of man didn’t survive the Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale said:

Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

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Somebody Stole My Tips

I work at a drive-thru coffee shop, a national chain. I would say it’s a living, but it isn’t, since I just make minimum wage, but that’s supplemented some by the tips (and honestly the benefits are the real reason to work there). I used to work at a cafe and the tips there were good, but the drive thru tips sort of stink. I’m not sure why – I think some of it is that the speed of drive thru makes the kinds of customer connections that lead to tips hard to create, and because people aren’t trained to tip at other drive thru establishments – but since I started working at drive thru my weekly tips have really nose dived. 

The way it works at my coffee shop is that everybody shares tips, and all the tips of the week are pooled and parceled out by hours; ie they count all the tips, divide that amount by the number of hours worked total, and that gives an hourly tip rate. Then you get that rate times your worked hours; ie, if the tips are worth $1 an hour and you worked 20 hours, you get 20 bucks. 

It’s not a lot, but it’s spending money. I saved up about six months worth of tips and used it to finance a trip to Las Vegas for the big Star Trek convention this summer, and it was a delight. Sometimes I use the tip money to buy food, or to get a record. It’s a small sum that feels extra and brightens the week.

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Why I Liked The Ending Of YEARS AND YEARS

A few weeks ago I did a Recommendation of Years and Years (if you don’t know, $5 and above Patrons at my Patreon get weekly Recommendations of all sorts of stuff, and it’s not just a quick thing – I write about it), even though I hadn’t finished the show. In the modern era I hate doing this, because too many shows don’t stick the landing, but I was loving it so much three episodes in (out of six) that I felt the need to write about it.

The show had already aired in the UK and I heard from some blokes that actually the series did not stick the landing, and that the ending was pretty terrible. This kind of put a damper on my viewing, and I held off a couple of weeks on the final episodes of Years and Years, waiting until the whole show was done so I could blow through the final eps.

Turns out I loved the ending. 

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Now On Patreon: KNIGHTRIDERS: George Romero’s Flawed And Ambitious Masterpiece

This site – and my life! – is made possible by the patrons of the Cinema Sangha Patreon. Patrons at the $10 or above level get special, extra deep reviews of movies, like this one of George Romero’s Knightriders. To read the entire piece – of which less than a third is printed here – become a $10 or above subscriber at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

What you have to understand about George A Romero is that he chose to stay independent. Over the course of his career he made films with studios – with mixed results – but when Night of the Living Dead was an unexpected smash Romero could have cashed in and left Pittsburgh behind. Except that wasn’t who he was, and the filmmaker stayed home and stayed indie. 

For the next decade he busted his ass; he followed up Night with some forgotten films, and along the way he made a quiet masterpiece, Martin. It wasn’t until ten years after Night that he again struck gold, this time with the sequel Dawn of the Dead, also independently produced. Instead of going Hollywood Romero opted to pivot from that success and make what might be his most personal movie, the movie that explains his intense desire to stay indie for as long as possible: Knightriders

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BLINDED BY THE LIGHT: A Cheesy Ode To The Universality Of Art

The cultural conversation around representation is vital, and it’s improving not only the lives of people, it’s giving us better stories and better creators. It’s a net positive. But I think there’s an aspect of this discussion we’re not having all that often, and Blinded by the Light really gets to the root of it – the faces we see onscreen may be specific, but their stories are universal.

Blinded by the Light is a nice movie. It’s nice in a way that Bruce Springsteen’s songs are not; where The Boss sings songs of rough edged losers seeking redemption while exploding the limits of a stifling society, the lead of Blinded by the Light is all soft edges and polite rebellion. It’s the kind of movie to which you can safely take your parents, the kind of movie where the racists who give the film’s Pakistani trouble family are (except for one scene, which might be one of the film’s best scenes) easily identifiable by their white supremacist drag. You can tut-tut at the Nazis while not getting caught up in questions about the larger structure in which this is taking place. Bruce is deeply concerned about the larger structure. Blinded by the Light is not. 

But for all its harmlessness – and this is such a harmless movie that I considered making this review simply the review given to Earth in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Blinded by the Light manages to engage in some really interesting thematic stuff, and it has a gooey heart that is, in the end, irresistable. Plus it’s packed wall-to-wall with Springsteen songs, some of them played in their entirety. 

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About All The Spider-Man Mishigoss

Yesterday the internet was aflame with the news that, in the wake of the ultra-successful Spider-Man: Far From Home, Disney and Sony would be parting ways on the Spider-Man character. It’s pretty big news in terms of modern blockbuster filmmaking, but it didn’t feel too surprising to me.

After all, Venom‘s success was the worst thing that could happen to Spider-Man – it convinced Sony it knew how to make these movies.

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