13 May 2018

another look

Source: Heroic Hollywood
With the upcoming release of Solo: A Star Wars Story this month, I thought it was time to re-watch the full series, episodes 1 - 8, plus 3.9 (Rogue One) and, I'm guessing, 3.5 (Solo), and rank them for your edification.

Note, i'm publishing as i watch, so prior to the new movie, the first three episodes are going to be ranked top three - because i'm ranking them relationally.  A movie will only get ranked #1 if it is better than the one watched just before it...

Episode I: The Phantom Menace - 1999 (dir. George Lucas) - Rank #4
While Jar Jar Binks remains one of the most unfortunate characters in the sci-fi pantheon, and he occupies altogether too much screen time in this film, this movie suffered from unfair expectations when it was first released.  It had been 15 years since Return of the Jedi, and now we were only going to get back story - what had happened before. 
The Pod Race is, perhaps, the best action sequence in all of the Star Wars series.  (I think this is true, but will monitor for any alternatives as I watch through the series again).  This is the first view we get in all of Star Wars of Coruscant. 
The light saber battle with Darth Maul also has to be the greatest sword-fight of the series, n'est-ce pas?  The theatrics and the choreography are worthy of Oscar consideration if that sort of thing were awarded.  Our former (or soon to be) mentor, Obi-Wan is the hot-headed upstart who is over-eager to end Darth Maul after Qui-Gon Jinn is ended himself.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones - 2002 (dir. George Lucas) - Rank #1
The second episodes always seems to go dark, but in this first trilogy, it's more of a balanced affair. At a most basic level, Episode II had a lot of work to do that is put upon prequels: creating a love affair that creates Luke & Leia; setting up a Clone War; showing the start of someone 'turning to the dark side'; providing context for the resentment that Luke experiences in Episode IV regarding his father and high-falutin' space-faring... 
There was a recent review (in fact on May the 4th, 2018), which I cannot find, that looked back at Episode II with newfound fondness, and I'm inclined to agree.  Although there is clumsiness here - heartfelt emotion has always been a bit beyond the series, but let's not forget we're dealing with an action adventure here, folks...
While the action sequences are inferior to Episode I, this is a better movie.  Seeing Jedi in action, "on the case" as it were, both in the heat of pursuit and with Obi Wan bluffing his way on Kamino, is a joy of seeing life in Star Wars before everything feel apart.  That Kamino sequence is actually quite marvelous, and introduces us in a very new way to the storm troopers.  In The Clone Wars cartoons (which I will skip here), we get to know them even more, which makes the fall in Episode III and moving into IV all the more painful.

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - 2005 (dir. George Lucas) - Rank #3
This movie would make a lot more sense if one has watched The Clone Wars series. The motivations, and how we find ourselves in the midst of this all. Overall, this is not a great film, but once again it performs a lot of necessary work.  The revenge in the title definitely implies that things will go poorly for our friends...
The temptation of the dark side has been, for most of the movie series, a bit obscure.  Love and commitment lead pain.  Pain leads to suffering.  Suffering leads to the dark side (i may have skipped {or invented} some steps there).  Once again, though, The Clone Wars cartoon offers another alternative path at least away from the Jedi way (if not directly to the Dark Side).  Ahsoka Tano, one of the most interesting characters in TCW, studies as Anakin Skywalker's Padawan learner.  Before the end of the series (and therefore the beginning of Episode III) Ahsoka had left the Jedi Order to seek a better balance.  
Episode III is not a great film, but it does some of its parts well enough.  I would say that it's a full step above Episode I, because Jar Jar Binks does not speak.  But it's also some fine high drama.  I think the film helps us feel the pain and tragedy of Anakin's betrayal.  It also shows some great battles, but also the great Star Wars Universe moments of Order 66, meeting Chewbacca, (but most awfully) seeing Anakin fall and ultimately murder.  

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Episode 3.25) - 2018 (dir. Ron Howard) - Rank #2
It is very difficult to rank (at least this) Star Wars Story alongside the other episodes. Similar to the prequel episodes, there is a lot of nostalgia that factors in to the viewing joy of this film. However, at its core, this movie is a heist picture and it seems fairly successful at that... (except it has a few too many heists).  If this were Solo: The Kessel Run (aka Solo's Eleven) instead of a Star Wars Story, the structure of the film would've been allowed to be 1) get a gang together (and meet the characters as they meet each other); 2) plan the job (and learn everyone's individual motivations as the plan comes together); 3) do the job (and watch as it all seems to be falling apart, but then comes together in the end). 
This movie has a lot of filling in the blanks work to do as well as we have seen in the first three episodes. EW had a cover story that focused on the birth of the most important friendship in all of Star Wars (the shower scene is very hilarious and perfect), and a lot of post-release commentary has been about the fan-bits that they got right and wrong (how neat that they made it work that making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs ISN'T just a dumb writing mistake from the '70s!).
 In the end, this movie has a lot of heart - it's just not where we expect to find it.  Much has been made of the less than plausible love affair between Han and Kira, but it seems to me that it's just one in a series of several formative loves (perhaps even four loves, as Sarah Welch partially posits in a neat post on a site called thinkChristian).  What Welch misses (or skips) is the pushing back on C.S. Lewis' ideas about love.  Solo, I think, argues that friendship - the relationship of Han and Chewie - is the greatest and most important bond in life (and that idea bears out in the course of the rest of the episodes).

And sure... this list doesn't need to be final - there are plenty more - but to my mind, this is the one to keep on file for the long run...

02 April 2018

Game, Seth, Match

I watched the surprisingly fun The Mummy reboot (or sequel?, i couldn't quite tell...).  It was pretty immediately forgettable, but harmless.  I'm surprised to read that it was so actively hated (except perhaps because it stars Tom Cruise).

Most notable to me was the inclusion of Set (or Seth) as a major player.  Seth was nearly my first name, I'm told - being my father's preference. 

Names have always been of interest to me.  Ever since I read A Wizard of Earthsea, and contemplated the importance of the true name of a thing (or being or person).  In the world of Earthsea, knowing a true name gives you the power over a thing. 

When i was young, i was disappointed in my middle name, Seth...  I kept it a secret when i could (in the reasonless way that kids tend to do).  Joel was a handle I was proud of - rare enough so i only knew a few of them.  It was biblical, meaning "Yaweh is God" (Jo-el), and had a short, simple, and somewhat interesting prophet narrative in there beside Amos.  Seth, on the other hand, was born - seemed like a replacement for his dead brother.  Other than a whole lot of begetting, which led to Noah, his role seemed pretty insignificant in life.

But then i learned that Seth was also Set - Egyptian, exotic... and he was a god of chaos, perhaps not of mischief, but he seems like he would probably get on well with Vodou's Gede (i didn't necessarily know all that when i first learned who my namesake could be).  

28 March 2018


Seven years ago today, i was hoping to make a bit of a difference.

The election and the political climate was a mess.

source: www.meteoweb.eu
It's odd today on the eve of the upcoming election that there is not much to say - vote for Rebecca Dallet - but in 2011, we were in a different and scary moment in Wisconsin... and in America.

Rounders is playing in the background right now - and that movie is a conglomeration of poker cliche's.  But it's also a movie about bottoming out.

It's a bit like the moment of your life when you realize it all hasn't been set up for you (apologies for those of you who haven't realized this yet).

Edward Norton is the finest actor of his age...  He's so good - and it's lovely to see him do most everything.  Win and sometimes lose at cards... Get hit by tanks because he's the secret Hulk...  realize he's not friends with the coolest guy in the room,,, but instead he IS that guy!

It's a Rob Roy situation, and a maddening life swatch kinda situation... 

06 March 2018

Ready for Ready

It started with my damn Apple news feed...  An article about Ready Player One, that i did not need to read.  But, it had the promise of classic 80s video games online.

Source: Polygon.com
I do not love the algorithms that know what we will want to read, and present it to us.  I have read (and watched) this all before.  Dystopias come in many shapes and sizes - but a lot of them rhyme.

I knew as soon as it came out, of course, that Ready Player One was going to be a book (and then a movie!) for me.  It's in my lane, but i resisted.  In part, because Vernor Vinge's exceptional book Rainbows End felt like it was being ripped off (at least in the descriptions i heard of Cline's book).

With the premiere of Spielberg's movie fast approaching, i recalled while playing a couple of (dozen) rounds of Joust that i had downloaded the audiobook of Ready Player One (narrated by Wil Wheaton!) a while back during one of my stints of Audible membership.  I knew that if i didn't listen to it before the movie premiere, i would likely never read the book.

And so i dove in a few nights ago... and i am HOOKED.  The geek culture made relevant, and powerful.  It's so good - not great, but tons of fun, and referential.  I've finished a third of the novel - i love the Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey nod, and feel like i may finish the rest in not too many days. 

And then will probably just go straight out and see the movie as soon as it's out too... because because.

21 February 2018

Mike Judge - Prophet

Two of the more brilliant films of all time in my life have been Office Space and Idiocracy

The two films anticipated life on earth as i have come to know it... in many ways.
We all suffer the times that we are born into.  Gandalf, perhaps, said it best, when he explained to Frodo:

Frodo: "I wish the Ring had never come to me. ... Gandalf: "So do all who live to se
Source: https://ktismatics.wordpress.com
e such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

Judge's films imagine eras that seem so familiar, but were both (in their way) revelatory of a future state that we all knew was coming but didn't want to believe. 

I am a man of odd emotional effusions.  Shiva's death on TWD in many ways was in many was sadder than those of the rest of the Kingdom earlier in the episode.  I can't watch or hear any part of Emma Gonzalez' speech last week without crying.  Deep Impact, ID4, Jurassic Park - action movies often work to elicit lame emotional responses (or pile ons), and i am afraid i'm often susceptible to them.  Real or simulated, pop song or news broadcast or Hallmark movie...

Humor, like melodrama / sob stories, are emotional manipulators.  A comedy film allows itself to make extreme arguments without being scrutinized.  In Con Air, Steve Buscemi's serial killer character says that even though he is seen as the crazy one, his definition of insanity is reporting to the same job for 40 years only to be told one Friday that you're redundant, being let go, and left to flounder.  Office Space makes much the same argument.

Idiocracy is a movie that makes the argument that US Americans are de-evolving.  Becoming stupider due to a decades-long anti-eugenics program.  It's essentially Republicanism run amok.  The Trump presidency looks a lot like 2 or 3 administrations prior to President Camacho.  Idiocracy was a funny movie when it came out - and prescient.  It felt right, but now it feels like it's actually unfolding in front of our eyes.

Comedy is an opportunity to say out loud - to scream!!! - everything that you see that is wrong with the world.  When i saw Ricky Gervais a while back, he talked about growing up in a funny family (i was raised in a funny family).  He said there was one rule when he was growing up... that was, "if you think of something funny to say, you must say it."

05 February 2018

John Cusack - AIROAPG

I went last night to see Say Anything in a public venue with (i'm gonna say...) 1000 (300?, i'm really bad at estimating) people.  I've never been one to choose favorites, but the oeuvre of John Cusack's is something worth celebrating.  It doesn't mean that everything he's in or has made is amazing, or even great or even good...

JC said something interesting in the "A Conversation with John Cusack" following the screening.  Tiffany Ogle had the unenviable job of trying to provoke JC into conversation, which he didn't seem inclined to join.  Ogle was asking some fairly banal questions around favorite memories or behind the scene stories of film making.  JC said 2 things that were a bit interesting - that he liked "anything that had worked" and comparing successful film making to a batting average in baseball.

We live in such a quick to sneer culture (a good example was the balcony of the post-Say Anything crowd), and even though film making technologies are less expensive than ever, the risk-taking in film making is at an all-time low.  JC's point was, I think (he needed a lot of interpreting, as he didn't seem inclined to elaborate much at all), that many films made in earlier days would not be made in today's environment.  The larger point was essentially that bad movies - which is to say movies that fail to do something interesting - should be made and the makers and the actors ought not be blamed for doing something that doesn't pull it off.

The act of art-making ought to be a risky proposition.  If you're sure something is going to be a hit, it's probably not that interesting.  Putting something out in the world should be scary - are they going to like it, hate it, get it?

And so, herewith I bestow a new label to my blog - the first in quite a long time - #AIROAPG.  For the name, I owe a debt to Benjamin Katz.  In the comments of this post, will be a retrospective of the complete works of John Cusack.  I've seen many of them previously, of course, perhaps almost all of them, but a fresh viewing seems worthwhile.

06 January 2018

... part of the background

Multiverse theory has been a part of science fiction literature for a long time.  It's part of my underlying philosophy, and, as an amateur theoretical physicist, it is the core of my understanding of the world.

I know "amateur theoretical physicist" isn't a thing as we ordinarily think of things.  Marshall McLuhan (and Robert Oppenheimer) knew that our obsession with specialization and expertise would be our undoing.  As leading experts in each and every field refine their skill and knowledge, their focus sharpens and their view tightens. An entire flowchestra of new ideas and different thinking is lost in this honing. And capitalism pours gasoline on the spreading conflagration of narrowing knowledge.

And so it is that I am an amateur theoretical physicist. As such, I have created a theory of the universe, and in particular, of dark matter, which has yet (to my knowledge) to have been disproven. I devised this theory in the late 1990s, wrote it down on a scrap of notebook paper, and promptly lost that piece of paper – but the theory goes something like this:
We live in a multi-dimensional universe. Sharing our same space are other us-es and more of what is ours and on which we stand, it’s simply not perceivable to us because we are ‘out of phase’ with it in some fundamental way. (This phasic concept is something articulated well in Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s not anything that I’m beholden to with regard to this theory).
Source: www.bnox.be
These neighboring universes may well be the product of probability (i.e. each time Schrödinger’s Cat is dead, it’s also alive in the universe right next door). If this is true, then these multiverse are also the product of choice – that is, when I turn left I also turn right and the two near twins split ways. As you continue down that rabbit-hole, all possible (and perhaps impossible?) worlds exist.
It’s also plausible that these neighboring universes are (perhaps also) a copy of our own, but at a different moment in time (this was the theory of that short-lived Terra Nova show, that stepping into the faraway past was not moving back in time in one's own universe, rather it was stepping into a parallel universe, which was existing at that long-ago moment).
Regardless of the makeup of all of these alternate realities, my theory is essentially that all of the matter and energy that makes up all of 'those universes' is perceived (though not seen or felt) as dark matter and dark energy in our own familiar world. The vast amounts of stuff in all the infinities of the multiverse outweighs the somewhat less vast (but not insignificant) amounts of the dark stuff in our universe.  It's 'dark' because our ability to perceive through the veil between universes is virtually non-existent.  The vastness of the amounts of it all gives us the glimpse we have. 
I account for this theory because it is an important part of my background noise.  My purpose in setting out today, though, was to investigate to what extent multiverse theory has become a part of most everyone's background radiation.

Not so long ago, any voicing of serious statements regarding an alternate reality was met with glances toward the wings (expecting madman collectors with those big sticks with hoops on the end to enter, naturally).  Of course still today, it's a scoffed at science, but the conversation can be entered speculatively.

More than any other response, I find that after a bit of mental drubbing - people eventually come to a point with regard to alternate realities where they say, essentially, "well, if they're inaccessible and can't be observed in any way, what difference does it make whether they're real or not?" 

I find this question both conclusive and inconceivable.  Scientifically, asking a question that may not be able to be answered (because it can't be tested, investigated, or observed) is an empty exercise.  Philosophically, cosmologically, theoretically, spiritually, psychologically, and in most other ways I think any interesting question is worth asking.  Particular when that question is central to the nature of our existence.