The Rebellion Awakes

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, where have you been living, under a rock? Because it’s been out for like 3 weeks already.

One of the recurring jokes during the run up to the premier of The Force Awakens was about how Star Wars told the tale of a young man’s journey to Jihad. Luke has all the hallmarks of the nascent terrorist: no family to speak of, isolated, idealistic. He even grew up in a desert, and is converted to a little-understood religion by a bearded radical. This is a funny, because like most jokes, it contains a bit of truth.

In the original Star Wars trilogy, the terrorists are called Rebels, because they have tacit support from a disenfranchised branch of the government, but they use asymmetrical tactics and seek to overthrow a government they see as illegitimate. When we meet Leia, she’s smuggling data hacked by spies and is on a desperate mission to recruit a religious fanatic so well-known for his military prowess, that he is currently living as a hermit under an assumed name.

So why do we root for a ragtag army of rebels led by religious fanatics fighting to rebuild a semi-mythic state? To the Rebellion, the Old Republic is the “shining city on a hill,” that “more civilized time” Obi Wan tells Luke about, filling his head with promises of a past golden age that, thanks to the prequels, we know is bullshit.

One of the (many, many) reasons the Prequel trilogy fails is that the heroes of that story aren’t the underdog radicals, but unwitting agents of the burgeoning Empire. They don’t realize until too late that they’ve been manipulated by a despot into helping him overthrow the established order and install himself as the supreme ruler of a crypto-fascist regime. It’s hard, on an emotional level, to get behind that cause. And we know, going in that this is the end game, because these are prequels and we already know what needs to happen. The Republic must fall and here, Lucus presents us with the agents of that downfall: our hero’s younger selves. Told in reverse, it’s the story of youthful idealism failing to the realpolitik of middle aged compromise. We can understand why this might be a resonant theme for George Lucus, but for the audience at large, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Despite all the British accents, Star Wars is an American myth and as such, it holds to its heart an unrepentant admiration for the rebel with a just cause.

Part of the the narrative of the founding of the American Republic is that we were and still consider ourselves to be the scrappy underdogs of history. Americans are exceptional because we were the one case when the rebels were the good guys, and so our stories reflect this. We identify with the myth of the righteous rebel because once upon a time, it gave birth to the American dream. That it was, from a certain point of view, as Obi Wan would say, also a bloody insurrection on the part of colonial subjects to the British Empire is one of those implicit truths we prefer to ignore. It doesn’t do well for national moral to admit that we are a country founded by traitors. But they were successful traitors!

Which brings us to The Force Awakens.

Thirty years after what we were led to believe was another instance of successful rebellion in the name of greater freedom from tyranny, we find the galaxy far far away still rent by civil war.

The factions in this version are a bit ill-defined. Obviously the First Order are bad guys, because like all bad guys, they have snappy uniforms and like to recreate Leni Riefenstahl films. But the Resistance is a bit harder to pin down. They aren’t officially part of the New Republic, which gets nuked by the Starkiller. We’d feel bad for them, but we didn’t even know they existed until about five minutes before the sun-gobbling ray gun that’s totally not a Death Star blasts them to space debris.

So the Resistance are The Rebellion: The Next Generation, fighting the good fight against the First Order so the Republic doesn’t have to? I guess? Anyway, it’s never really been clear just what the political structure of this galaxy has been. The Old Republic was a unicameral senate comprised of democratically elected royalty, so, yeah. Vague hand wavy ideas about democracy grafted onto a fairy tale structure that requires a royalist backbone. It’s problematic, to say the least.

You can almost see why some Conservatives root for the Empire. It sweeps away the bureaucratic deadlock of a faux republic full of princes and princesses, which slots neatly between the Tab A of American Rebellion and Slot B of Neocon Imperialism. Plus you know, Darth Vader is pretty cool, as villains go. Better to be ruled by the mechanical iron fist of a strong leader than a committee of girly princesses, am I right?

With his helmet off, he does look a little like Vladimir Putin.

But we had the Rebels and now we have the Resistance, which is very French Underground, and builds on the grafted-on World War II imagery from the original trilogy. It also ties into the romanticized rebel ideal that motivates a lot of American politics today (I’m looking at you, Oregon Militia dickheads).

By making callbacks to the original trilogy, The Force Awakens brings that old school rebellion, DIY ethos into the 21st century. Which is a savvy storytelling decision, as it taps into our cultural mythology, rather than trying to tell a hamfisted political alegory. This in turn reminds us how important the rebel with a cause story is to us. It’s vital and necessary, because democracy is, to a large extent, built on cycles of rebellion.

The devil in the details lies in how the powers-that-be decide to react to that rebellion. Do you try and stomp it out with one Death Star after another? Or do you recognize that gradual change is an inevitable part of human culture and society? Because if there is one thing Star Wars and history both teach us, it’s that if you make gradual change impossible, you make armed rebellion inevitable.

Obviously one makes for good storytelling while the other makes for stable governments and livable planets. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to keep my Nazi analogs in a galaxy far far away.

Who Made This?

At the end of every episode of the X-Files, there was the production card that identified the show as being created by a particular production company, in this case, Chris Carter’s Ten thirteen productions. I bring this up because the tag line of that production card always stayed with me. A simple statement, spoken by a child: “I made this.” It wasn’t just a boast, but a reminder. Someone made the preceding show. It didn’t just appear on your screen, beamed in from outer space. It was consciously made to sell you an idea.

I started thinking about this when the controversy over The Interview erupted last week. What struck me most was how muddled everything became over something as simple as a movie. Though perhaps simple is the wrong word. Movies are complex, deceptively so. We forget how much time and attention goes into editing them into a coherent narrative, that we overlook the gaps in that editing, and pretend that the real people saying fake things up there on the screen are still conveying some sort of truth, even if that truth is that Seth Rogen and James Franco have clearly smoked more weed than is advisable.

Facts are funny things. They’ll serve liars just as well as they will crusaders for truth and justice. Sure, Sony spiking the film is a horrible no good very bad thing to do, as is the DPRK (or whomever) hacking Sony and issuing threats of terrorism over a movie. But you know what else is a bad idea? Making a comedy about assassinating a sitting head of state. Even and especially if he is an egomaniacal troll with delusions of grandeur. This is a man who had his ex girlfriend executed by firing squad. What did you think was going to happen when he saw a simulacrum of his own face, with his own name, melting on screen? He’d laugh?


But what gets left out of the story is how the moviemakers are trying to pull a fast one. The Interview doesn’t get transmuted into gold because it’s become controversial. But by doubling down on the claim their freedom of speech is being trampled, they elevate the status of their stoner comedy, demanding it be respected as an artful political statement, while still claiming it’s just a movie and the dude whose avatar they immolate on film should just chill out.

The Interview is suddenly Schrodinger’s movie, both political art and crass commercial product, all depending upon which side of the dependent clause you’re reading. And all because James Franco and Seth Rogen deserve… something. Attention? I know we white guys have been feeling the sting of the social justice warrior lash of late, but prolonging an international incident because of misplaced privilege is a new low, even for movie stars.

And let’s not kid ourselves, The Interview is a lead-jacketed stone, designed to sink. How could it be anything else given its stars, subject matter, and the tendencies of Hollywood comedies? The famous duo who brought us Pineapple Express were never going to produce a thoughtful, nuanced rendering of a tragic and strange land run by a third generation ninny raised to believe he is a god-king. That movie would be glorious, probably French, and definitely made thirty years ago, but it was never going to be extruded through the marketing-constricted orifice that is Sony Pictures in 2014.

Sony, for their part, were justified in canceling it. Sony is a Japanese based multinational corporation, concerned not with upholding the dubious free speech claims of two wealthy white actors in another country, but with making a profit. And the potential risk presented with releasing a stoner comedy is not great enough to throw against the unknown variable that is North Korea, who has of late been throwing missiles into the Sea of Japan. Still, they handled the situation like utter tools.

And I’m not even sure why the matter required a response from President Obama. A multinational corporation based in Japan gets a bloody nose and the person who holds a press conference isn’t the VP in charge of InfoSec or even the CEO, but the President of the US? If even Obama can no longer tell where a multinational corporation ends and the United States begins, we’re all screwed.

As for North Korea, there’s debate if the DPRK could even pull off such a sophisticated hack. The FBI claims they did it, NK says they were framed. I’ll leave that one to the InfoSec experts:

2014-12-22 12.27.38

The people of North Korea deserve our sympathy, and some of our pity, in everything, but especially this. Before this is all over, someone is going to loose their life in that country, all because Dear Leader looked like a fool in front of the world. That he could look like nothing else is not this dead soul’s fault, and we will probably never even know their name. But sure, let’s pretend, because we’re Americans and have the privilege afforded by distance and willful ignorance, that the real victims are James Franco and Seth Rogan. They’ll have to suffice with crying themselves to sleep on their giant pillows in their shiny mansions, before someone hands them the equivalent of North Korea’s GDP to make another shitty movie.

We’re left with three simple facts: 1. North Korea is run by a dick. 2. Sony execs have their heads up their asses. 3. The Interview is a terrible movie. But none of these facts add up to a greater sum worth anything this overblown. It’s a just a movie, after all.

The problem is, we’ve let movies dictate our perceptions for so long that we have forgotten that someone else’s vision defines what we see or don’t see. And that makes us responsible, as an audience, to stay informed. It’s long past the hour of when you could simply be a passive consumer of moving pictures. It can be argued that this never was a luxury we had, only another idea sold to us, probably in some movie.

By focusing the lens of the story on the famous people who have been temporarily inconvenienced, we’re ignoring the real story: someone exploited Sony’s laughable IT security and made off with a metric shit ton of sensitive data. The powers that be are blaming North Korea, because it’s the sort of story that flatters us and fits a widely accepted geopolitical narrative: a jilted, image-conscious dictatorship spitting in the eye of the noble empire and bastion of civilization over a petty slight, with a pair of hapless but freedom-loving artists caught in the middle. Just ignore the projectionist in the booth, his curtain or the real reasons this particular story is being told at this particular time.

One theory I’ve seen floated is that this is being blown out of proportion by the US Government specifically to give weight to its claims of dire cyber warfare on the horizon, and thus grab back the relative freedoms created by the Internet. I don’t know about you, but if Seth Rogen becomes a dupe for ending net neutrality, I’m going to be pissed.

For all I know, North Korea did the deed, Sony did the best they could under the circumstances, and The Interview is a lost classic of political satire. But I’ve seen that movie and it feels like it needed another rewrite.

All politics is personal. And it doesn’t get any more personal than the images you let people put in your head. This goes double for viral videos, propaganda, or anything that has controversial buzz. Anything that wants your money as much as it wants your attention should be suspect. Never stop asking, “who made this?” because if the answer isn’t, “I made this,” than someone is selling you something and it may not be something you want to buy.

Update 12/23: In the last 24 hours, North Korea was kicked off the Internet by hackers. They’re back, but the hackers showed what some have suspected all along: the DPRK doesn’t have a robust enough Internet infrastructure to perform the sort of sophisticated hack that Sony experienced. Meanwhile, Sony announced they had decided to release The Interview anyway. Guess they decided there was now enough buzz for it to be profitable.

Still no word yet as to why the US is defending the honor of a  corporation against the sickly kid on the international playground.

Great Disturbances, Etc.

Via Xeni at BoingBoing comes the news that Disney has just baught Lucusfilm with the intent, “to release a new Star Wars feature film every two to three years.”

Alright nerds, before you start catterwalling about a million voices screaming out, etc., take a deep pull on your inhalers.

Everyone despaired when Disney bought the Muppets, but the new Muppet movie was great, revitalizing the entire franchise. Clearly Lucus doesn’t care about Star Wars, but Disney does (at least enough to recognize that there’s an audience willing to fork over a gigaton of cash for a new movie or 12).

Lately Disney has recognized that what they need to do is find someone passionate about their new toy and hand creative control over, like they did to Lasseter at Pixar, and Whedon at Marvel. It’s the perfect time for Disney to find some untapped talent who grew up with Star Wars, wants to make awesome Star Wars movies, and let them at it with the sort of talent and bottomless pockets Disney can provide.

And since these new movies will need to satisfy the Mouse Kingdom and the fans rather then the whims of some old fart more concerned about fancy cameras and loud sound systems, this could very well be a Good Thing (Other than the fact that a single corporation now owns 90% of mine and everyone else’s childhood, but it was either going to be them or Time Warner, so pick your devils, children).

The Propper Place to Start is At the Beginning

Over at io9, they’re showing off some tantalizing clips form the forthcoming James Bond film, Skyfall. And as usual, the comments have turned to the perennial discussion as to where to start as a new Bond fan.

If you just want to prep for Skyfall, go back and watch Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (in that order, as they’re direrectly related). Otherwise, the older Bond films can be watched in any order.

However, everyone has their favorites, so here’s mine:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while unpopular among many Bond fans, is actually a solid movie and closest in tone and style to the modern Craig-era films. It features George Lazenby as the most serious and dour of Bonds, but he brings a humanity and pathos to the character that was often overlooked before Daniel Craig. This movie has everything people say they like about the newer Bond films, but did it in the 60s. I think what puts people off is Lazenby’s skin tight ruffled tuxedo shirt.

Before Daniel Craig, the hands-down fan favorite Bond was Sean Connery. He’s fine but really his movies are mostly interchangeable. The stand out film was Goldfinger, which features a goldbug of a villain trying to steal all the gold in Fort Knox and one of the sillier henchman, Odd Job, the hulking Chinese bodyguard with a boomarang hat.

Bond Aficionados are divided on the Roger Moore films. Some of them are downright silly (Octopussy) while others attain a strange surrealist quality that is fun in its own right. For my money, The Man With the Golden Gun is the epitome of the mid 70s surreal take on Bond. It features Christopher Lee as the titular golden gun wielding assassin, his superfluous third nipple, and Herve Villechez as his dwarf henchman. There’s a protracted chase scene through the canals of Thailand, where Bond picks up a racist American on vacation form Louisiana to gawk at the funny looking Asians, a pair of schoolgirl karate experts with a Bruce Lee-analog uncle, and a secret base inside the lopsided wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. Also, the plot revolves around a solar powered laser gun. It’s awesome.

If you feel the need to be a completist, you’ll have to endure the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan era, where Bond sort of lost steam, as these were all made in the late 80s and 90s. It wasn’t his fault really. The Cold War was winding down and stateless terrorism had yet to become a real threat. Bond just has no real purpose in these movies, and that crept into the subtext, with rather contrived plots that existed solely to prove Bond was still a necessity, and, relying on tech McGuffins and unlikely bond girls who serve no purpose. Also, an invisible car for some reason. Goldeneye is probably the most enjoyable of these films, as you at least get a small but scenery-chewing performance from Alan Cumming as the nerdy computer scientist.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see if The Man With the Golden Gun is streaming on Netflix.

Pixar Movies, Ranked

John Scalzi did it first, so I’m of course going to copy him, because, why not?

1. The Incredibles
2. Toy Story 2
3. Wall-E
4. Finding Nemo
5. Toy Story 3
6. Up
7. Ratatouille
8. Brave
9. Monsters, Inc.
10. Toy Story
11. A Bug’s Life
12. Cars
13. Cars 2

1-5 are my top tier, and pretty much interchangeable. If I were to rank them again next week, they might be in a slightly different order, but those same 5 would be there. Same for 6-10.

The weird thing about A Bug’s Life is that it is a perfectly serviceable movie that is still better than most anything to come out of Dreamworks (except Kung Fu Panda 1&2, which manage to climb up tot he level of second tier Pixar, a feet some exec at Dreamworks is trying hard to prevent form ever happening again).

My personal theory is that Cars 1&2 are tributes to Disney. Tributes in the old sense, that they are offerings of merchandise-driven film Product to a hungry PR machine, made in order to secure the creative freedom to make things like Wall-E and the Toy Story trilogy, which no American movie company would green light or distribute in a million years.

And That’s Why Goonies is the Greatest Movie Of All Time

Over at Crooked Timber, John Holbo is discussing BFI’s Top 50 greatest films of All Time list. Like any such list, it’s subjective, peculiar, and bound to cause howls of outrage.

John does make an interesting observation though, that overwhelmingly, the top ten picks all come form the 1950s and 60s:

Is it sufficient to say that film critics – like all conservatives – have to pick a Golden Age that is sufficiently far back in time that they can imaginatively confiscate it for themselves, in effect constituting themselves as elite appreciators of what others do not; but recent enough that it has some damn plausibility. (As in investment, being seriously too early is the same as being wrong.) The spikes we see on the graph are akin to the average conservative American’s sense that the 50’s and early-to-mid 60’s were pretty great; then it all went to hell and now things are desolate and bad. But there is also the outlying, more severe conservative view that we have to go back further to find anything good. Before 1929.
I’m also reminded of something that old adman Gossage wrote, about ‘the shape of an idea’: “Imagine that a person sits in the center of a circle that represents his comprehension. He can comprehend anything within the perimeter, but the farther it is from the center the fainter his ability to criticize it will be. However, anything outside the perimeter is beyond his comprehension; he won’t criticize an idea placed out there because he simply won’t know what you’re talking about. So the trick is to place an idea close enough in so he gets it but far enough out that he’s not able to flyspeck it, only accept it.” Would it be too unkind to suggest that critics probably pick their Top 10’s by analogous operation? (Obviously I’m just saying that critics are incorrigible hipsters and coolhunters of the past. Duh.)
On the other hand, maybe film was just better before Star Wars; George Lucas (and Spielberg) ruined everything forever.

I have to agree. It’s boomer critics being boomers. For a film to make this list it needs to meet one of three requirements:

  1. Be fondly remembered from childhood (which as we all know, ended in 1963)
  2. Be fondly remembered from film school
  3. ?Be made later than 1966 but not after 1996 and evoke nostalgia for 1 or 2

So, yes. Subjective. But just for fun, here’s my top 10 list, (in no particular order):

  1. Some Like It Hot
  2. Charade
  3. Blade Runner
  4. Casablanca
  5. North By Northwest
  6. The Princess Bride
  7. Back to the Future
  8. The Royal Tenenbaums
  9. Close Encounters
  10. The Brothers Bloom

The qualifier being, that if you were to put any one of these movies in the DVD player, I would stop what I was doing to sit and watch them with undivided attention. You’ll note that I, being a product of Gen X,* have moved my Golden Age up to the 1970s and 80s with a few outliers from before my time, which I of course saw as a child on much-worn VHS tapes (I could watch Some Like it Hot just about any old time) and a few more recent choices as well (if you haven’t seen The Brothers Bloom you are missing out. It’s by the same director who did Brick and the upcoming Loopers).

And just to pick a fight on the internet:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is Spielberg’s best film.

It encapsulates all of his major reoccurring themes (life in outer space, father issues, mistrust of authority figures, obnoxious children, every-man confronted by the weird) without letting anyone of them steal the show. Plus it treats a numinous experience that contains mythic undertones without promoting an agenda. It glories in ambiguity, which is something few of Spielberg’s later films bothered with. Sometime in the 1980s he decided that everything had to have a clean edge, which is when he lost his.



*You’ll also note that I have committed the ultimate blasphemy as both a Gen Xer and a Science Fiction geek by not including any of the Star Wars movies on my list. Even though I still enjoy the original trilogy (and recently even acquired a copy of the theatrical versions I grew up with through means of dubious legality)  George Lucus, by meddling with his films to the point of breaking them, has been disqualified from inclusion. Perhaps in a few years, after Lucus has kicked off, and we can enjoy the films as intended, without his god awful special edits, they will make it onto the top 20.

Shadow Over Gotham

It seems every time a new Batman movie comes out, we have to have the same tired, one-dimensional arguments about Batman/Bruce Wayne’s political leanings. And no, I’m not even talking about Rush Limbaugh’s claim that Bane=Bain. That one is a nonstarter, even for the drug addled lunacy that normally comes out of that asshole. That a super villain invented in 1993 (by a conservative cartoonist, no less) is somehow a Leftist political metaphor about Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital problems… No. I’m just not even starting down that road.

Instead, we have the usual claims that Batman is a fascist, except when he’s a populist antihero. Or something. It’s all rather muddled, which of course is a clue that there’s something else at work here, and that maybe a complex psychological fable isn’t the proper place to be looking for political metaphors.

Way back when The Dark Knight came out, there were a few bloggers who saw an authoritarian/Conservative bent to the character. Similar things were said about Iron Man being a shill for the Military Industrial Complex and Superman as a tool of Jingoism. Pretty much any super hero movie gets parsed for liberal/conservative bias. And while there are any number of valid ways to interpret a story, looking at super heroes through the lens of politics always irked me, but I couldn’t quite explain why.* Luckily, John August has given it some thought as well and explains the issue far better than I could:

Efforts to place TDK’s Batman on a real-world political spectrum are doomed. Sure, he’s tough on crime, but he’s also anti-gun. He holds himself outside the law, but destroys his own phone-tapping technology. Is he a Conservative? A Liberal?2 A Libertarian?

Nope, he’s just Batman. And as a comic book character, he’s allowed to hold simultaneous incompatible philosophies.

Exactly. Batman can be all these things because he is hyper-real. He’s not a citizen or a politician running for office, he’s a psychologically complex avatar, a stand-in we can use to explore larger, slightly abstract concepts about Freedom, Responsibility and Justice. That’s what is so great about Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it’s a complex movie with psychological, mythic undertones.

If you go to a viewing of The Dark Knight Rises and all you see is a mentally-ill billionaire exercising his authoritarian impulses without restraint, then you were sitting way too close to the screen.


* Also, Bruce Wayne, Billionaire Playboy would never vote. It’s out of character for the disinterested playboy persona. He can buy whatever freedom he needs, which is a decidedly Republican attitude, but one that would go completely u acted upon, outside of large donations to the popular DA who doesn’t really need the gesture. And Batman, while concerned about the plight of the poor and the disenfranchised, wouldn’t bother pulling the Democrat lever, as he knows all politicians are crooked and fallible. So there.

Lost in the Mushroom Forest

This week, Boing Boing is running a series called Mind Blowing Movies, all about the weird and fun films they saw while growing up, which warped their wee little minds. I thought I’d play along, describing my encounter with… The Mushroom People!

When I was young, I saw this strange Japanese film on TV.

This was back in the days before 24 hour cable and streaming movies, when broadcast TV was run by local affiliates who had to fill large blocks of airtime as cheaply as possible. They did this by running blocks of  old sci-fi and horror movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It shows just how much has changed, as these days there is no way the Networks would ever let the local Affiliates waste six hours of add space on reruns of Buck Rogers serials, Roger Corman horror flicks from the 60s, or movies that didn’t even get top billing at second run drive-ins. But these were different times, man.

But unlike the other Saturday Afternoon fair, all I remembered for years about this movie was a haunting unreality, a sense of dread as these characters ran around, slowly turning into Mushroom People. Luckily, my Google Fu is strong, and a few years ago I was able to track down the movie and discovered it was called Matango, or as I knew it so long ago, Attack of the Mushroom People.

The film was made in 1963 by Toho, the same studio that made Godzilla. In fact the director, Ishiro Honda, made his name directing many Kaiju, most notably, several of the subsequent Godzilla films. But Matango is something altogether different. The Wikipedia entry mentions the odd parallels between Matango and Gilliagan’s Island, with the seven castaways representing the seven deadly sins. Which is intriguing, though in tone and ambiance, the film is much more in the vein of Lost, but with mushrooms.

The sense of dread and something intangibly odd is present from the beginning, and at several points, could run off into a typical monster movie direction (going into the haunted house, answering the evil telephone and stopping mid escape to have sex, so the bloodthirsty maniac can catch up), but instead, this film subtly subverts all of those tropes. Though, I guess subverting them is the wrong idea, as the movie predates most horror films (and thus most horror film cliches) and so isn’t consciously subverting any of them. But we’ve come to expect lazy writing wearing it’s metaphors inside out in an attempt to appear post-modern or Ironic with a capitol I, and so we often expect there to be certain monster movie cause and effect at play. Matango instead lets the character’s drive the story to the inevitable conclusion, skirting into the monster movie world, but staying close to the blurry edges so that it still overlaps the naturalistic world. This way, we manage to get most of the way through the film before the men in rubber suits show up. We see their silhouettes and brief glimpses of them but just enough to make the full out Mushroom mayhem at the end seem plausible rather than contrived. In this sense, it has a nice Lovecraftian turn to it, slowly pushing us int the fantasy world one twist at a time, so that when we realize we’re in a monster movie, it’s too late and we have had some moments of genuine suspense.

What is most striking though is the bleak tone. The characters overtly critique Japanese society and civilization as a whole, ultimately deciding that maybe we’d all be better off in the jungle eating mushrooms instead of living in the soporific splendor of Tokyo (or New York, or Los Angelas or wherever). This sort of nihilistic edge is hard to find in any film, let alone one made in 1963.

These half remembered images of lugubrious mushroom people and the beshroomed forest in which they lived eventually found their way in to my novel, The Machine of the World, proving that the best thing a parent can ever do is let their children watch, unattended, whatever weird old movies they can get their hands on. It’s the only way to be sure they’ll grow up to write science fiction novels and entertain strange notions. otherwise, they might want o be a doctor or lawyer or something tedious and useful.

Defending the Pirate Code

Over at io9, Charlie Jane has a list of the best and worst movie threequels.  Normally I’d let this pass as link bait, but I had to step in to defend Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which was placed in the worst category.

I’m not sure why people are so befuddled by the second two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Yes, the story is unusually complex for a family-friendly adventure, but that’s half the fun. The trilogy does a wonderful job of creating a mythology and world and following it through without it ever becoming a series of hand waves without resorting to ass-pulls and hand waves. That’s good story telling. Gore Verbinski has proven himself a master at managing humor, drama, pathos, silliness, and existential horror and fitting them altogether in a way that is unusual and fun. In short, the Pirates Trilogy does everything we regularly bitch and moan about movies not doing with character and story.

It’s easy to pick apart the flaws of a movie but much harder to conceive of what they should look like if they were good. PotC trilogy is what Star Wars tried to be and missed, by adding teddy bears and excess plot roundabouts just to show off stuff that could be made into toys.

It was pointed out to me that the fish men are just as much toy fodder as the ewoks, which I will concede, with the caveat that the fih men still work as both cool monsters in that world, and serve the story far better than killer teddy bears form outer space.


I also had to step in and defend Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, which is not only not as bad as Charlie Jane makes it out be, but also on the grounds that it is in fact not a threequel at all. Despite having a III in the title, The Search For Spock is the second film in a trilogy that starts (with a bang) with The Wrath of Khan and ends with The Voyage Home. As both a movie that stands on it’s own, and as the middle part of a trilogy,The Search For Spock holds it’s own. Even if you don’t go in for the admittedly maudlin friendship story, The Search For Spock solidifies the revamped Klingons as the heartless badasses we’ve come to know and love, due in large part to Christopher Lloyd’s performance as Kruge.

Snubbing the Muppets

I’m trying to remember the last time the Oscar nominations were so boring but just can’t find it. I knew it was a long shot to expect the Muppets to get a Best Picture nod (even though it was far and away the best movie of 2011) but not even for Best Original Screenplay?  I suppose Best Original Song will have to do, but it deserves so much more than that.

Looking over the list, you realize just what a slow year it was for movies. My Week With Marilyn was tailor made for the Oscars because there’s nothing Hollywood likes more than its own mythology but can we please get over Marilyn Munroe? She’s been dead for fifty years and wasn’t even that great an actress. And while I enjoyed Midnight in Paris, any year in which Woody Allen’s 835th movie gets four nominations is slow, by any measure.

Though I will not that this is the first year in a long time that Pixar hasn’t been nominated. I’m sure that will change next year.