Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Postmodern Paradigm? Pure Power Pop?

Anti-Matter Vatican What???
Dan Brown's Angels and Demons (2009): adapted from the novel by Dan Brown by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman; directed by Ron Howard; starring Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Ewan McGregor (Chief Pope's Dogsbody McKenna), Ayelet Zurer (Woman Who Knows All Things That Langdon Does Not Know Especially Italian, The Map of Vatican City, Anti-Matter, and Whatever The Hell Bio-ub-Nuclear-Physics Is), Stellan Skarsgard (Swiss Stellan Skarsgard), Nikolaj Kaas (The Non-Albino Albino), and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Suspicious Red Herring Cardinal):

Pure postmodern power pop!

In The DaVinci Code, Harvard Symbologist (not an actual thing)  Robert Langdon battled a conspiracy that hides the true nature of the relationship of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. The conspiracy was dangerous because, um, it might hurt the great-to-the-Nth-power-child of Mary and Jesus. 

Wait, were the stakes that low in The DaVinci Code?

But now, in a tactic ripped from the escalatingly epic pulp space operas of EE "Doc" Smith, Langdon returns to battle a conspiracy that intends to kill all the popes and blow up Vatican City with an Anti-Matter Bomb stolen by The Last Illuminati from the Anti-Matter-Bomb-Making facilities at the Large Hadron Collider in Poussy, France.

Anti-Matter Bomb? WTF?

Angels & Demons is enjoyable nonsense. Tom Hanks looks a lot more relaxed than he did in The DaVinci Code. He runs around Vatican City trying to save the four most likely candidates for Pope because he knows more than anyone about Italian things even though he still cannot speak or read Italian despite Italian things being the focus of 90% of his academic studies and 97% of his exciting adventures.

Tom Hanks is joined in his awesome world-saving adventures by an Italian biosphere genetic astrophysicist who knows everything about Vatican City, the history of the Popes, and Anti-Matter. 

Jesus, these people have weird fucking skill-sets!

The only thing that would make Angels&Demons the greatest movie ever made about anti-Catholic conspiracies deploying Anti-Matter Bombs against the Vatican only to be thwarted by an Italian woman with a crazy skill-set, Forrest Gump, and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) would be if the self-flagellating, Opus Dei-serving, super-Albino super-assassin (Paul "The Vision" Bettany) showed up to turn over a new leaf like Jaws at the end of James Bond in Moonraker and help Langdon, Robert Langdon save the Vatican. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Deep Thoughts With The Discovery Channel

"I'm a symbol for Harvey Weinstein!!!"

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (DS9) became by its third season and remained to its odd, rousing Star Wars Meets Lord of the Rings finale the second-best Trek series of them all, trailing only The Original Series

The above is fact, by the way, and not IMHO.

DS9 also had the funniest yet most respectful homage to the original series with the episode "Trials and Tribble-ations." 

"Do Klingons still sing songs of The Great Tribble Hunt?"

This week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery ("Set ten years before the Original Series!" because "Set ten years after the Earth-Minbari War!" would have got them sued by Babylon 5) ... oh, God, we're back in the Mirror-Universe, made so memorable when it appeared, created by Jerome Bixby, on the original series... Set 11 or so years after this episode of Star Trek: Discovery!

The Pakleds killed everyone in my universe!
Mirror Spock with a goatee! Uhura's midriff! Evil Chekhov! Evil Scarface Sulu! The fight in which Kirk splits his pants! The fight in which one can see clearly for the longest time in Trek history that stunt doubles are fighting because Spock's stunt double has an afro! One of Kirk's most rousing speeches!

NextGen avoided the Mirror Universe, probably wisely, though I assume Mirror-Picard had hair on his head... in the shape of a goatee!
There's more hair in the Mirror!!!

100 Trek years and about 30 real years later, DS9 treated the Mirror Universe seriously, revealing in Kyra and Bashir's first plunge through the looking glass that Kirk's rousing speech had great results for aliens and unintended disastrous results for humans. 

Voted NICEST IN MIRROR U 5 years in a row!
Kirk's speech got Goatee-Spock to successfully make the Evil Earth Empire less war-like. But everyone in the Mirror-Universe was the dick version of themselves except when they were dicks in the original universe, in which case they were either nice or dicks depending on random plot necessities.

The Terran Empire of TOS's Mirror-Universe episode "Mirror, Mirror" was gone. Now all humans were slaves of The Alliance, the Evil Team-up of the Mirror Universe's all-evil Klingons, Cardassians, Bajorans, Vulcans, and so on, and so forth. Everything was just as bad or worse. BECAUSE THE MIRROR UNIVERSE SUCKS!

DS9 would treat the Mirror-Universe seriously for several episodes until someone in the writers' room realized that the Mirror Universe became sillier and more improbable every time one had to think about it to write another episode. So in the last DS9 Mirror episode, DS9's Ferengi characters send the Mirror Universe off with triumph for the Terran rebels and a lot of metafictional snark about how the Mirror Universe no longer made any rational sense.

Unfortunately, Star Trek: Enterprise , ie., the Worst Trek Of Them All (fact and not IMHO), went to the Mirror Universe in its semi-OK fourth season, 200 years BEFORE DS9 and 100 years BEFORE TOS (so I guess... 90 years BEFORE Discovery). In a standalone two-parter, blah blah blah... Oh, right. The Constitution-class Defiant lost into "Interspace" in third-season TOS episode "The Tholian Web." What was I saying? French toast, please!

Jesus, Shatner, you're supposed to wear pants!
We learn that this TOS Defiant whose only real plot purpose was to allow for Kirk's rousing, recorded speech that he left for McCoy and Spock in the event of his death to be viewed by Spock and McCoy on their 17-inch TV before they realize because of a screaming Uhura in a bathrobe that Kirk is still alive and apparently a bit of a Peeping Tom when he's stuck between universes! Oh, Kirk! MeToo! Ha ha!

So the Defiant no one has ever given much of a shit about before now REALLY fell into the Mirror Universe a century earlier than when it left its original universe. A hundred years earlier because this plot-conveniently allows it to appear on Enterprise because, remember, Enterprise took place a century earlier than TOS.

Defiant's century-better technology allowed the Terran Empire to crush the multi-species rebellion then waging and become the Terran Empire we saw in "Mirror, Mirror."

SIGH. They should have called the two-parter episodes 'Ouro' and 'Bouros' but I'm expecting way too much here.

In this week's Discovery, we are in the goddam Mirror Universe again because Trek writers can no longer create new ideas

The New England Patriots NEVER WIN HERE!

Our Discovery lead character, Michael Burnham, is a human woman named for the great American model-actress Michael Michelle who was so great in the last three seasons of HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET... honestly, I don't know. 

Burnham seems to be named 'Michael' so people can comment on how weird it is that a human woman is named 'Michael' even though it's the 23rd century and every second person, human or alien, is named Glorp or Mendacious Orchid or whatever.

Mr. Worf's adoptive parents.
Michael Burnham is Spock's human, adopted sister. She was raised by Spock's parents (Vulcan Sarek and human Amanda) from the age of 6 after, I swear to God, Sarek seems to find her at the same Khitomer massacre that resulted in orphaned Klingon Mr. Worf (DS9, TNG) to be raised by Chekhov's brother Piotr and his half-Pakled wife Mrs. Piotr.  

The massacre isn't Khitomer but it might as well be because it's the same concept, re-used by the new Trek writers because Trek writers can no longer create new ideas. 

Spock's step-sister Michael Burnham has never been mentioned before the first episode of Discovery (2017) because she wasn't created until they started creating Discovery.

I wonder if she ever hung out with never-mentioned-before-1989 Sybok, Spock's half-brother only appearing (or ever mentioned before or since)  in 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. What weird family reunions the Mr. Spock Family must have every, I don't know, 11 years.

Anyway, Discovery is in the Mirror Universe, show and starship (did I mention that the ship on the show is named Discovery?). Discovery's Mushroom-Powered Dizzily Spinning Instantaneous Improbability Drive (R) has malfunctioned and sent them to the Mirror Universe, which at this point is easier to get to than the washroom down the hall.

Michael Michelle of Homicide: Life On the Street is so excited at meeting members of the  multi-species rebellion against the Terran Empire that she nearly gets everyone from her Discovery (show and ship!) killed so she can give a rousing speech to the Klingon who leads this 'good' rebellion. 

Lead the War of the Rings Rebellion I do!
I will call this Klingon 'Bitey.'

So, finally.

Is this Discovery episode meant to be ironic to all of us who've watched Trek for a million years and know just what that multi-species rebellion has become by the last time we see the Mirror Universe in a 1999 DS9 episode?

Is this Discovery episode meant to be taken at face value, which is to say, are we supposed to ignore DS9? Have the makers of Discovery ever watched DS9? Are they just ignoring it? Or, as noted above, is this a case of metafictional irony?

Do the writers of Discovery remember the two greatest lessons about the Mirror Universe taught to us by Discovery's superior forebears TOS and DS9?:

1) The Mirror Universe only makes sense when you don't try to make any sense of it.

M) Everyone in the Mirror-Universe is the dick version of themselves except when they were dicks in the original universe, in which case they are either nice or dicks depending on random plot necessities.

I'm betting against irony, but one can dream.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Real Life (1979):

Real Life (1979): written by Albert Brooks, Monica McGowan Johnson, and Harry Shearer; directed by Albert Brooks; starring Albert Brooks (Albert Brooks), J.A. Preston (Dr. Cleary), Charles Grodin (Warren Yeager), and Frances Lee McCain (Jeanette Yeager): Albert Brooks' first stint as writer-director-star of a movie riffs on the seminal 1972 PBS documentary series An American Family and in the process moves presciently into the world of reality shows that stage and distort reality while pretending to document it dispassionately. Welcome to a movie that could be called, in all its hilarity and loopiness, The Coming of the Observer Effect. Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Goodbye To All That (Well, the National Football League, anyway)

Thank you, Jacksonville. Au revoir, NFL.

The increasing excruciation that has accompanied watching NFL games by myself since my father died in October 2016 is finally over, though it took me until yesterday to realize how much I'd come to dread NFL games.

Oh, I'll still enjoy watching them in large, drunken groups on the occasional Sunday and every Super Bowl. But that's because the group stuff is fun. The game isn't, and it's also too morally corrupt a league to patronize any more.

The New England Patriots aren't part of the problem -- they're the perfect exemplar of the NFL Today because they're also the perfect, awful team for those people who believe in Trump's America. 

They've been shown to have cheated on numerous occasions to secure titles. As with Trump,  it didn't matter.

Their head coach, quarterback, and owner are all strong supporters of Trump. When that seemed like it might lose them a few left-wing fans (it wouldn't have), they pretended they weren't supporters of Trump. So, caught in saying and being something unpleasant, Belichick, Brady, and Kraft were, like Trump, back-tracking, lying weasels. And Pats fans, like Trump supporters, lapped it up.

The NFL itself has become a joyless, morally compromised, poorly officated, boring league. Like America, it's been on this path for a long time. Unlike America, the NFL doesn't have a majority of voters who were screwed out of their President. It has hardcore fans who don't care who rapes, murders, or cheats AS LONG AS 'WE' WIN. 

The NFL is America Now, not all of it but the worst part of it. Its owners are pretty much all reactionary, right-wing billionaires who treat their players like property. Like America's Bad Self, it uses technology for stupid and pointless reasons, it lies all the time, and it used to be immensely popular.

Of course, the NFL's popularity has been dropping in lockstep with Trump's ever since the end of 2016. Good. May it change or vanish from the Earth. 

What's also great about the NFL right now is that Donald Trump and Tom Brady are the same person. Oh, sure, they were often photographed together looking like two goggle-eyed homunculi until Brady's handlers told him to stop keeping Trump hats in his locker and going on dates with the Donald. Brady, like Trump, has no actual moral backbone. That's why I'm sure they're still exchanging texts and masturbating together to the nude pix of Giselle Bundchen that Brady send to Trump on a daily basis. Don't tell Giselle.

But Trump has always also been a charlatan, selling crap steaks and crap hotels and crap books with his name on it. Tom Brady now sells a dangerously stupid diet-and-health book to the masses. He is Trump -- stupid and dangerous and morally inferior to the squirrel who's looking in your window, much less a real human being. 

Per Philip K. Dick: Tom Brady, Donald Trump, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Pats owner Robert Kraft, the other owners, the coaches, and so many of the fans and players are not human if we assess humanity on the basis of Empathy: they are Reaction Machines. Wind them up and watch them go, but don't expect them to ever make the leap from Clockwork Orange to Real Boy. The NFL is now the league of the Droogs. Part of it always was, but now it's all, and there's no point protesting. If you offered Tom Brady or Donald Trump a dollar if they beat you to death with a giant ceramic penis, they'd do so. WINNING. Trump and Brady and the NFL. WINNING.

The great thing about saying goodbye to the NFL is that I no longer have to feel morally compromised whenever Cam Newton takes a terrible hit to the head. I mean, I can't stand Cam Newton, but I don't want to see him die on the field.

CTE has stripped some of the joy away. How many of these players will be drooling vegetables or homicidal maniacs in as little as next year? Well, potentially most of them. The right-wing, militaristic slant of the NFL has always been galling. Remember George Carlin's comparison of the pastoral terminology of baseball and the war-thundering terminology of football? Yep.

In general terms, basketball and hockey and baseball are all still 'fun.' Yes, they have their problems. But while I dislike LeBron James, primarily because he doesn't play for a team I cheer for, he's a great player who can speak out in a left-wing fashion on the issues of the day without being blacklisted by his league or muzzled, which is what would happen if LeBron James played in the NFL. 

Baseball is baseball, more multicultural every year. So too the ever-expanding multicultural, multinational rosters of the NBA and NHL. Football is a sport played primarily by Americans, its college nexus the Deep Red South, its ultimate appeal that of the primate bashing in the head of another primate in 2001: A Space Odyssey if we view the Monolith as both Observer of Violence and Eager Spectator. Which it is, because the producers of 2001 were running with Desmond Morris' long-discredited 'humanity descended from killer apes and our first intelligent act was a primate murdering another primate with a tool!'. The NFL is Desmond Morris. The NFL is the killer ape and the watching Monolith and every sucking scum in the world.

My father coached high-school football for 50 years. He loved football. He understood the game deeply, far more deeply than anyone I've interacted with since his death. Over the last ten years of his life, he'd almost reached a point at which he didn't want to watch the NFL any more because it had become so loathsome, so immoral, so obviously fixed -- and so, so boring.

So I complete his NFL journey today, and turn an eye to the CFL. Or maybe rugby. Or maybe learning a third language.

It seemed appropriate to end my marriage to the NFL today, on Sunday, January 14, 2018. Not because my once-beloved Steelers lost, but because of how they lost.

They went down 21-7 early to the underdog Jacksonville Jaguars. Their defense was terrible all day, a shameful thing to watch while thinking of the great, defining Pitt D's of Lambert and Greene and Polamalu. But Jacksonville's seemingly terrific defense was also terrible. Defense is basically something that's now terrible unless it faces a terrible offense, and sometimes not even then.

And 'Big' Ben Roethlisberger didn't look good early on. He threw a pick, he lost a fumble. At 21-7, it looked like underdog Jacksonville would romp.

My late father's favourite writer was Ernest Hemingway, and his favourite Hemingway novel The Old Man and the Sea. It's a short novel about a life-long loser who almost wins but then loses and may be crushed unto death when the novel concludes. He may be dead because he tried his best and failed again. 

It contains one of the wisest lines in all of literature -- "It's better to be lucky than to be good." That's true. Look at Trump.

And Big Ben, who've I've always sorta liked but felt morally compromised for liking because while never formally charged he does perhaps seem to have been a bit rapey ten years ago (thanks, NFL, for making me apologize for a rapist!) then proceeded to have his Old Man and the Sea game, exhibiting what Hemingway would have called Grace Under Pressure.

The Steelers lost by three. Ben had the greatest playoff performance in the Steelers' long and victorious history. But when the Steelers scored their last TD, there was only one second on the clock and they were still down by three.

And this was the sort of performance that is meaningful Outside The Ring. Normal humans lose more than they win, and then everyone loses when the clock runs out. 

We try to distract ourselves from the inevitability of death with many things, one of those things being an unhealthy obsession with professional sports teams. We pretend to ourselves, if we're smart and grounded, that there is some association between Winning and Morality. 

But there isn't in sports, there never was, there never will be, and the only lessons sports has to offer us come from playing it or, sometimes, actually contemplating why we cheer and what we like rather than simply being BIG FANS.

So after the only game during which I felt actual love for Big Ben as the clock ticked down and losing became inevitable, love caused by the recognition that Loss is the teacher and Winning is for suckers if all you're doing is watching and cheering. 

The only reason to Love Football is if you play it as an amateur and got camaraderie and success and failure and fun out of it. The only reason to watch any type of football is that either you have a family member or friend playing in the game, or you enjoy watching the game.

So I'll still watch football. And I'll watch the NFL as a backdrop to a fun social event. But this is the end, Ben, I hope for both of us. Get out before your brain is soup. 

And I'd say the same to all decent NFL watchers too: GET OUT. 


Leave this silly, overblown, corrupt game to the Trumpians of the world whoever they are, right-wing or pretending to be left-wing until their team comes into the equation and they become Monolithic observers and thus enablers of hooting primates trying to kill one another. 

The NFL is bad entertainment, it's morally bad, and it's bad for your character.

Golf sucks too as a spectator sport, but at least it's still entertaining and recognizable as the sport I watched 45 years ago. Though I can't say as I really like it. 

That fast-paced, small team women's rugby in the last Summer Olympics was sort of cool, though. I think I'll watch that.

To end with a quote from Hemingway, my favourite quote, first read not in a Hemingway work but quoted in a terrific Green Lantern/ Green Arrow comic-book story written by Eliot S! Maggin and drawn by Neal Adams, first read and puzzled over when I was perhaps 12:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

100 Years Of Trump In the Time Of The General's Labyrinth Of Cholera Foretold

Robbie the Robot is a Symbol  of a robot who can make bourbon

Should you get a chance, watch Forbidden Planet and the TOS Trek episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before" back-to-back.

Clearly, Trek episode writer Samuel Peeples watched Forbidden Planet and intentionally or not recreated a lot of it in the Trek episode. But the two have radically different takes on god-like power and the human condition.

In Forbidden Planet, Morbius is innocent -- he didn't know that the Krell iPhone player would create a murderous Creature from the Id while he was listening to Krell iTunes. And when he's finally convinced of this evil from inside, he throws himself at the monster to save Captain Detective Frank Drebin and his own daughter and, in dying heroically, saves them.

Cool contact lenses Brah !
Gary Mitchell, though, is clearly a dick from the get-go. He's sexist, he treats Spock like shit, he gropes a female yeoman when they're entering the galactic barrier, and he later reveals that he held Kirk in contempt before they met and manipulated Kirk into dating his first great love (Carol Marcus?). He even seems to resent taking a poison dart for Kirk on the planet of the Giant Dart-Throwing Rats.

Gary Mitchell is clearly Kirk's frathouse buddy whom Kirk feels great friendship for. But in actuality, Mitchell was always a prick. Kirk wants to believe that the galactic barrier changed Mitchell's personality, and Spock enables this by being nice and saying things like "That is not Gary Mitchell." 

What do you mean it's supposed to be 'T'?
But Spock, whom Mitchell is nothing but a dick to, is clearly being respectful of Kirk's misguided affection for his old frathouse kegger buddy. Gary Mitchell, Kirk's supposed best buddy, DOESN'T EVEN KNOW KIRK'S MIDDLE INITIAL !!!!!! Either that, or the 'R.' on that gravestone stands for 'Retard' and Mitchell was just about to explain this joke when Sally Kellerman hit him with some Force lightning, motherfucker!

Why is there a pink barrier around the Milky Way ?
To shorten this up, "Where No Man Has Come Before" predicted (and warned against) the Trump Presidency: it told a story about a guy who was always a dick who got away with it because some people thought he was funny and he wasn't ever going to sit in the captain's chair. 

But then Gary Mitchell wins the 2016 election and only a Jewish Canadian Iowan, a Jewish American Vulcan-Human, and special guest star Sally Kellerman can stop him. Note also that the woman given superpowers (Kellerman), while initially attracted to the Dark Side by Gary, soon sides with the good guys. Power doesn't corrupt her -- it ultimately lets her see the Evil of Gary "The God" Mitchell and fight against it. Absolute power corrupts only the corruptible!

Just like Trump in real life!

Thursday, January 11, 2018


  1. Something "changed the course of history." Look, unless you're a time traveler, you can't possibly know what the "course of history" was SUPPOSED to be. It's just history, even when it's startling or seemingly bonkers.
  2. The "foreseeable future." Unless you're clairvoyant, there is no such thing as a "foreseeable future." I don't care how good your models are.
  3. The "dark side of the Moon." You can tell where the dark side of the Moon is by looking at its phases. It's not the same thing as "the far side of the Moon." The dark side changes. The far side remains mostly constant, though slight inconsistencies between the Moon's rotation and Earth's mean that we see a little bit of the Moon's far side, on either side, depending on the day and time. The far side is not permanently dark. The dark side is not permanent.
  4. It's "vocal cords," not "vocal chords," as weirdly appropriate as the latter may seem.
  5. It's Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and Iron Man but it's Spider-man. Yeah, I don't know why Spidey gets a hyphen when most superheroes don't. Maybe because he's so amazing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

War Games (1983)

War Games (1983): written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes; directed by John Badham; starring Matthew Broderick (David), Dabney Coleman (McKittrick), John Wood (Falken), Ally Sheedy (Jennifer), and Barry Corbin (General Beringer): This Young Adult Cold War thriller holds up remarkably well. Not only did it make Matthew Broderick a star, it influenced American policy on hackers after President Reagan screened the film.

Broderick is certainly believable as a young hacker (dig that early 1980's computer tech!) who wants to steal some video games and instead talks the Pentagon's Artificial Intelligence into starting World War Three. What larks, Pip, what larks!

The movie succeeds in part on the charisma of all of its main actors, from the prissy, pissy Dabney Coleman as the Pentagon's chief computer scientist to Barry Corbin (later of Northern Exposure) as a grumpy, salt-of-the-earth General, John Wood as AI-designer Falken, and Broderick and Ally Sheedy as our high-school leads.

But the writing is sharp as well, though Broderick's ability to escape NORAD HQ in Cheyenne Mountain requires a certain suspension of disbelief. It's hard to imagine a big-budget summer movie today ending as this one does -- not with a half-hour action sequence, but with a bunch of people talking to a computer in a room. John Badham keeps things moving nicely, and his matter-of-fact cinematography keeps things rooted in at least the semblance of the real. Recommended.