Tag Archives: movies

“Stranger Things,” “love letter to the VCR era,” taps into older, darker American myths

The 80s influences of “Stranger Things” are obvious — Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, the “Goonies” and other 80s movies that appealed to preadolescents of that decade. But Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker finds an older, darker influence: H.P. Lovecraft

The scientific worldview says that the universe is neutral. It doesn’t care if you live or die. But Lovecraft had a different view: The universe is evil. It hates us. And it’s supremely powerful, inhabited by entities who are to us as we are to insects, and are eager to torment us just for giggles. In Lovecraft’s view, the Earth is a tiny little island of relative safety that could open to that wider, hostile universe with a single pinprick of reality. In Lovecraft’s view, the pinprick came from miscegenation — racial contamination — Lovecraft was a full-throated bigot who hated and feared brown-skinned people and Eastern and Southern Europeans.

But Lovecraft has many heirs and imitators today, and they substitute other forces for racial impurity. In the case of “Stranger Things,” the horror is unleashed by US government scientific bureaucracy, as it often is in King’s novels.

Rothman identifies two target audiences for “Stranger Things:” Adults who were children in the 80s and view the series as a big ol’ nostalgia wallow, and children who look back on that era as a golden age before they were born, sort of like the 50s were viewed when I was a teen-ager in the 70s.

I’m from an older generation; I turned 20 in 1981. I enjoyed the nostalgia of “Stranger Things” because the period portrayed on the show was not all that different from the early 70s, when I was the same age as the show’s child heroes. As kids in the early 70s, we roamed freely around the neighborhoods on our bikes and engaged in nerdy pursuits without parental supervision. We didn’t have Dungeons & Dragons; that hadn’t been invented yet. But we played marathon games of Risk.

This idea of the universe being actively hateful and evil is a new one for me. I’m a rationalist, I don’t believe that the real universe is evil. An indifferent universe can be hostile enough at times.

But the idea of an actively hostile and evil universe certainly opens possibilities for fantastic fiction.

Joe Haldeman said that in science fiction, the universe is neutral and knowable through reason and science; in fantasy, the universe is unknowable; and in horror the universe is hostile. (I think he said that — he said something along those lines but I may be misremembering the specifics.) While science fiction and fantasy are usually paired together as “fantastic fiction,” science fiction’s actual closest sibling is the police procedural, Haldeman notes.

Are you ready for Mel Gibson’s comeback?

Kevin Lincoln, The Vulture:

When we first see Mel Gibson in Blood Father, French director Jean-Luc Richet’s stylish exploitation flick that debuted out of competition at Cannes and bows Stateside on August 12, his character is at an AA meeting. Gibson’s head is bowed, and he’s talking about the people he hurt, the kind of man he was while drinking; he’s attempting to both do penance for his past and turn himself toward a better kind of future. Jacked, tattooed, and weatherbeaten, Gibson is playing a man named Link, but he could easily be talking about himself.

Plenty of movies out there by people who didn’t ever say that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world

My review of “Star Trek: Beyond”

I’m trying to just talk about the movie itself here, and not about past Trek movies and TV shows and my own nearly lifelong relationship with the series. I can’t do it.

In the new movie, the characters seemed most true to the original series. In earlier JJ Abrams Trek movies, Kirk especially but all the characters seemed like children. Chris Pine is 36 years old now — a year older than William Shatner was when he started playing Kirk. He’s believable.

I had a lot of problems with the first two movies in this series. For me, there were a couple of themes that were always important to Trek. The Federation sought peaceful solutions to problems, and only resorted to violence when the peaceful solution proved impossible. Of course, this being a science fiction action-adventure series, the peaceful solution was impossible just about every episode. But they tried for peace first.

The new series of movies seemed too bloodthirsty. In the first two movies, Kirk and the gang were going after vengeance. True Trek doesn’t do vengeance. Vengeance is for the bad guys.

A second major theme of the movies was that the Federation was a meritocracy. Captain Kirk was born a nobody, an Iowa farmboy. He achieved his position through hard work and ability (and, sure, cheating on the Kobayashi Maru — but still that was his work). In the new movies, Kirk gets in Starfleet Academy because his Dad was an officer. He doesn’t get his position from hard work and talent. He inherits it.

But all that baggage is gone now. The new movie finds the Enterprise on a rescue mission gone wrong. Kirk has now earned the captaincy he previously inherited — and he has his doubts about what he’s doing. He’s burned out.

I loved the opening sequence. There’s a real sense of the ship being a tiny little bubble of comfort and safety in the indifferent vastness of space. I don’t remember that from any of the series or other movies.

The character interplay was easygoing. They’ve been cooped up together in this tiny bottle for three years. They know each other very well, better than family.

Likewise, I loved the bits at the end, after the bad guy has been vanquished.

In the middle…. too much action. I love a good action movie, but today’s action movies seem to be ALL action. It needs pacing.

Julie got motion sickness from all the swooping camera angles.

The sets and special effects were gorgeous, particularly the Yorktown, one of the most science-fictional things I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

I liked that every one of the major characters got a turn to shine. Scotty and Jaylah stole it. Or maybe Spock and Bones stole it. Or maybe it was Kirk and Chekov. Poor Anton Yelchin — I don’t remember him from the previous movies. In those movies, he seemed like just an extra with a few speaking lines and a Russian accent. He was quite good in “Star Trek: Beyond.”

I liked that the women were portrayed as powerful and self-reliant, the equal of men. The second J.J. Abrams movie in particular was all about the white men, except for one scene where a female scientist strips to her underwear for no particular reason.

I loved the new character, Jaylah. I hope we see more of her in future movies.

I loved that we got to see some real alien-looking aliens, who didn’t just look like human actors wearing rubber masks.

I thought the main storyline was confusing. I get the broad strokes, but I was confused on the details. Who were all the other people on the planet with the main villain? Where did he get the swarming thingies he used to take down the Enterprise? What was the origin of the superweapon?

I could have used more Idris Elba acting, rather than just being a generic science fiction villain.

Overall, I liked it. Didn’t love it. Looking forward to the next movie, and the TV series in January.

Wonder Woman Comic-Con trailer. Looks great!

Great dialogue sequence at the end. Is that Lucy “The Office” Davis?

Overall, the clip reminds me of “Captain America,” in that it looks like a realistic historical movie cross-pollinated with a superhero fantasy. That worked quite well in “Captain America.”

Chris Pine is Steve Trevor. He reminds me of Matt Damon here.

Gal Gadot plays WW. She is not difficult to look at.

The movie is in theaters in June.

I’ve been off superhero movies for years, just because none of them look appealing and we don’t really watch many movies anymore. But recently we saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and liked it. So now I guess I’m back into superhero movies. Got some catching up to do.

“Her”

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I’m a science fiction fan and I’m interested in AI. People who know these things about me were surprised that I hadn’t seen “Her,” a 2013 movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with an artificial intelligence who lives in his phone.

I finally did see “Her” recently. The reason I didn’t see it before, and did see it then, actually relates to the theme of the movie.

“Her” is not really a movie about AI. Like most AI movies, it’s really about humanity — what makes us human.

What makes us human, according to “Her,” is physical reality — having bodies that exist together at the same time and place and talk to each other, even if we’re not even touching. There is very little human-to-human contact in “Her,” and very little touching, and what touching there is — between Phoenix’s character Theodore and a blind date played by Olivia Wilde — is bizarre and unsatisfying and sad.

People in the world of “Her” are dehumanized in ways that are recognizable extrapolations of today. Before we meet the AI that Theodore falls in love with, we see Theodore at his job. He works alone, dictating to a computer. He’s a futuristic Cyrano, ghost-writing personal letters on behalf of clients to families and friends — love letters, thank-you letters from a grandmother to her grandchild. The letters are incredibly personal, authentic sounding, and fake. You wonder if the recipient knows the letters are ghost-written, and if they do know it, whether it bothers them.

Later, Theodore, still alone, goes home and gets into some phone sex with a stranger, which starts well, but quickly turns hilarious, unsatisfying, and weird.

Theodore already does most of his interactions intermediated by machines, which is something we’re already seeing today, in the real world, so it makes sense that he falls in love with Samantha, a consciousness that exists in the machine.

Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, makes a point several times that the difference between herself and a human person is that she, Samantha, doesn’t have a body. And that’s a big deal, leading to an ending that’s ambiguous and bittersweet.

Despite Samantha’s bodiless condition, it’s possible that she is more human than the human characters of “Her.” Just a thought.

There are all sorts of other things going on with “Her” that will probably pop into my head from time to time. What’s the significance of the relationship between Theodore’s co-worker and his lawyer girlfriend? What does the movie mean when Theodore says, several times, that he and his ex-wife grew up together? The scene with the sex surrogate is priceless.

And now I’ll tell you why I didn’t see “Her” until now: Julie didn’t want to see it. Movies and TV are something I almost exclusively watch with Julie, which means I almost always only see the movies and TV we both want to see. If I’m going to do something alone I’d rather it be something other than watching a TV show or movie.

I do watch TV and movies alone when Julie is out of town and I’m home alone. That’s rare: usually I’m the one who travels. But it happened recently. We went to visit Julie’s family in Columbus, and I returned home two days before Julie. Alone in the house, I watched “Her,” and talked with Julie over Apple Messages, and talked with my friends and family on the Internet, experiencing nearly two days of nothing but relationships mediated by machines.

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Not as good as the original, but “charming.”

I’m failing to understand the controversy behind this movie. The original was very entertaining. It’s still just as entertaining even if the new one stinks.

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Pokemon Go takes money out of local communities and centralizes it to big corporations, and that’s what’s wrong with late capitalism, says Timothy B. Lee at Vox:

If you were looking to have fun with some friends 50 years ago, you might have gone to a bowling alley. Maybe you would have hung out at a diner or gone to the movies.

These were all activities that involved spending a certain amount of money in the local economy. That created opportunities for adults in your town to start and run small businesses. It also meant that a teenager who wanted to find a summer job could find one waiting tables or taking tickets at the movie theater.

You can spend money on Pokémon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokémon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokémon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California- and Japan-based global companies that created Pokémon Go.

There are, of course, some good things about this. Pokémon Go can be a much more affordable hobby than going to a bowling alley or the movies. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money on it. And the explosion of options made possible by online platforms creates real value — the average teenager has vastly more options for games to play, movies to watch, and so forth than at any time in American history.