Monday, January 22, 2018

Are stories that never end really made to last in popularity?

It must be my month to be quoting from Steven Spielberg, seeing as I quoted him in a post just last week.
I never thought I'd be saying this, but I'm getting tired of The Walking Dead. I was so into it for years, and now I just am kind of tired of these characters clashing with each other and the whole "zombie" thing. It's more or less an apathy of sorts that's settled in. It's weird because I thought that my fervor for all things zombie was unquenchable. And here's the thing: my malaise is visible in Star Wars too.

I'm not really excited for Star Wars: Rebels to return with all new episodes to finish out its story arc of getting the rebellion started and to cap off the series. I'm not really excited for episode 9, and I'm not really excited for "Solo," which is going to tell the backstory of Han Solo. Hmm. I'm also wondering if other people feel that way about things that never end. So far, the Marvel stuff has remained immune to the malaise. I'm super-excited for Avenger's: Infinity War and for The Black Panther.

But there's the argument that Star Wars is fundamentally different too. I mean, Star Wars is nothing without the "war" part...and maybe that's why it fails in my head. A war has a beginning and an ending and George Lucas told that story. These new films just destroyed the happy ending that we got in Return of the Jedi so that there could be more war. Presumably, it'd have to be a never-ending war or there's no more movies that could be made, right? Does anyone actually want to sit through movie after movie of a never-ending war? How fun is that? And what if Disney doesn't go in that direction? What if the war ends? Then what kinds of stories could you actually tell that are entertaining in the Star Wars universe without some kind of "big bad?" If there was such a story, why didn't they start telling it at the end of Return of the Jedi instead of creating the hot mess that is The Force Awakens?

It makes me wonder if stories that never end (are open-ended so that there can always be more story) are really made to last. If I'm at all a "canary in the coal mine" example of a person's tolerance, I'd say that in general, the answer is no. I'd say people appreciate endings, but then, I'd most likely be wrong. For example, have any of you heard of the Dr. Who, South Park, the Simpsons, and Supernatural on the CW? These four series are examples of one that seem to have no end to them, and they are immensely popular. So maybe there's something wrong with me in that I have some kind of upper threshold for consuming the same old stuff over and over again.

I don't know why I'm feeling this way about my staple of "junk food-esque" entertainment, but I am. Maybe, it's just the winter blues. Who knows?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Why do people focus so much on income inequality when the emotional and physical needs of millions of people are being ignored?

People in the United States are obsessed with righting the wrong of income inequality. Ask anyone who is destitute, and you will hear about all the suffering wrought by it. And just for the record, I agree 100%. Income inequality is a tremendous danger to society. It's wrong, and the solutions to it (if any) are very complicated. However, there's another ill in our society that I think is just as damaging that no one seems to care anything about: emotional and physical inequality.

You can pull up articles on the web if you'd like. Just google the term "touch deprivation" and you'll be led to a lot of scholarly articles that talk about how some old people, people who live alone, people who have no partners or never found "the one" or in the case of polyamory, a taste for multiple partners when all they wanted was a single person who would hold their hand in a movie. You will see that it's a huge growing problem in our collective society...this growing apart...this reluctance to touch another human being. Imagine what it is like to have no one willing to touch you for years at a time for whatever reasons. You go about your years eating food, sleeping alone, filling your days reading books or watching t.v., and no one cares. No one touches you. Ever. Someone might have a conversation with you...from six feet away. Someone might sit on the couch with you...with pillows arranged as armrests to keep a territorial bubble of "no touching." Imagine the awkwardness of asking a friend, " you think I could get a hug?" Then seeing the discomfort in dudebro's eyes as he says awkwardly, "uh...sure...I guess..."

People might say, "Well it can't be harmful." But the studies done suggest otherwise because it adds tremendous discontent and misery into society that has dangerous ramifications. So people whine and scream all day long about how their financial needs are not getting met, yet they could care less that there are millions of people out there whose emotional and physical needs are also not getting met. I don't know if I have an answer as to why this is happening in society. Maybe people are growing afraid of others because touching the wrong person could label them "pariah." Maybe people are selfish, and they only want to touch those (and be touched by those) whom they find attractive. Maybe our society is so awesome at creating boundaries that we have effectively given everyone the tools they need to make impenetrable barriers between each protect everyone from harm. Maybe that's it...a pervasive fear that somehow, somewhere, someone will be harmed. Pack everyone in Styrofoam, kids included, NO TOUCHING! SCREAM IF YOU ARE TOUCHED!! #METOO even if the touch was a passing glance, a brief "skin on the elbow" thing.

Humans are gross and disgusting creatures. Maybe people have forgotten that, and they pretend that they are not a gross and disgusting creature and that somehow, by touching another human, the grossness might rub off on them. Maybe it's narcissism finally birthing it's terrible child: a society wherein we interact with one another through a screen instead of face to face. A screen is so much cleaner, it can be sanitized, and it can be free of dirt if one is willing. And the images can be photoshopped so that they are seen in only the best light. Maybe this is how the great civilizations fall...when they rise to the point that everyone thinks of themselves as too perfect to actually soil themselves with the possibility of another person's slight imperfections.

Again, I'm not sure what's happening culturally in America today. But I know it is happening because I talk to lonely old people every day (and those ages keep dropping to younger and younger folks) as a part of my job. Anyone else noticing this? Anyone else feeling physically and emotionally deprived?

Just a thought: maybe the people screaming about income inequality already have their emotional and physical needs met by persons in their lives. In this case, maybe the only "hole" in their lives is money. I hate to think of what this means: they probably don't care or even have the empathy to believe that someone else doesn't have it as rich as they do in that department. If someone doesn't have any empathy for another person's suffering, it sure does make it difficult to want to help them out. In that aspect, maybe we are all just screwed because no one is going to help anyone out at all.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Is Steven Spielberg the G.O.A.T.?

I had an interesting conversation at brunch this weekend. I asked the question: Is Steven Spielberg the greatest of all time? People immediately had lots of things they wanted to say on the topic. Others just shook there head, "No." I assume they said "No" so quickly because they reject the notion that any one person could be considered the G.O.A.T. of any field. Some people just reject the notion of exceptionalism. One person asked, "What is your criteria for measuring?"

I suppose my criteria consists of 1) box office haul, 2) awards and accolades, 3) how well-received and iconic the movies that he's made are, and 4) how much they have influenced culture over the years. For those of you who don't know too much about Steven Spielberg, a rundown of his film credits off the top of my head include the following (in no particular order):

1) Jaws
2) Close Encounters of the Third Kind
3) E.T.
4) Schindler's List
5) Raiders of the Lost Ark
6) The Color Purple
7) Jurassic Park
8) Minority Report
9) Saving Private Ryan

And even his box office bombs have some entertainment value to them. For example, in War of the Worlds I love seeing the scene where the train goes flying by and every cabin is on fire. That's a pretty emotionally packed scene. And then there's the scene in The Lost World where Julianne Moore falls onto some glass and it starts to crack. That scene sends chills through me every time I watch it. It's even better with surround sound.

One quote that Steven Spielberg said that stuck with me ever since I read it was, "Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use your dollar as a bookmark?" It's very simple, but it's a kind of window into his mind. He has a knack for looking at the obvious and then showing it to people in a way that most had never thought of, and maybe that's one reason (or one measure) of how we could arrive at the correct answer of someone being labeled "The Greatest of All Time."

Can they look beyond the obvious to find myriad ways and angles and flavors and perspectives to an old story?

Do you legitimately enjoy the directing? It's a good question, right? I cool was it in Jurassic Park when the impact tremor of the T-Rex made the water on the dashboard of the jeep begin to shimmer and jump? That was pure Spielberg.

And he's also the master of the long take (a single scene that's all in one shot that follows its actors around), which is a trick he uses that's virtually undetectable because he wants it to be that way. The effect is that he teleports you into another world. He didn't invent the shot, but it's fantastic for what it does for storytelling.

Look, for a guy that's seventy years old and has spent his entire career of 40 years making movies, I think that his resume kind of speaks for itself. A lot of his films are timeless. They've infused pop culture to ridiculous levels. I can think of half a dozen places where the bicycle in front of the moon (or something in front of the moon) has been copied. Jaws influences are everywhere from "Bad Hat Harry" film productions to "We need a bigger boat." Raiders of the Lost Ark has influenced everything from The Librarians to Tomb Raider.

The first season of Stranger Things was a love letter of sorts to Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter.

So is Steven Spielberg the Greatest of all Time? Is he the G.O.A.T.? I think he is. I'm curious as to what you think.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Is a vampire chronicles television show based on Anne Rice's books even a good idea?

It's possible that I have no limit for a vampire movie and/or television series. Upon learning that the Anne Rice Vampire chronicles are on their way to television via a pilot by Bryan Fuller, I got a little excited. The reason for this is that there was a time when Anne Rice was actually good. I started reading her work in high school. Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned were pretty amazing reads for me (at the time) and set my imagination afire. Before Rice, I hadn't really imagined that there could be something more to vampires than Dracula and Salem's lot. I never realized that they could be such "sexual" creatures. And yes, they were fresh monsters...not the stale "has-beens" that they've become today due to over-marketing and saturation of pop culture.

I was also an enormous fan of the mythology. I liked how Rice drew connections to a primal (and ancient) power that had its root in Egypt. The first time I met Akasha and Enkil in her books, and she described them as being carved from white alabaster, only alive, sitting in huge chairs, I was hooked. Then when Akasha drained Enkil to the point that it made him as transparent as glass, I just couldn't put the book down. It was kind of a "white walker" moment for me, and I just had to continue turning pages. I had to know more about these "gods," because there really wasn't any other word to describe them. They even had a kind of holy place/shrine that was really neat in its description. It's been ages since I've read these books, but I remember the pathways Rice described in the chamber that Lestat was sneaking around in.

I also appreciated the fact that Lestat was so homosexual. Anne Rice always treated us homo's with a nice touch, because she found the idea of gay sex to be quite arousing/erotic. Of course she always had the prettiest heroes. Lestat in the books (to hell with Tom Cruise) was a very attractive young man with blond hair and blue eyes...chosen by his vampire master because the golden hair would remind this boy of the sun and his blue eyes would echo the sky that he could never see again because he would be doomed to a land of night. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in my opinion were horribly miscast. As much as some people have said over the years that they liked the movie Interview With The Vampire, I really did not. I think I've seen it once and then caught snippets on t.v. here and there that I wasn't really that into and swiftly changed the channel. I do like the connections that I make with others though (who are fans of the books). My best friend Brad named a sourdough starter "Claudia." I smiled because I knew what it was a reference to almost immediately.

I pursued other Rice books of course, much to my chagrin. Tale of the Body Thief was terrible, and had such a different tone to it from the main vampire chronicles that I'd thought Anne Rice had lost her mind. But Memnoch the Devil killed any desire for me to pick up another Anne Rice book. Yes, it was just that awful and boring.

I feel a little sorry for Rice to be honest, and I think she's a decade or more too late. She had some super great ideas but got surpassed by so many other authors from Laurel K. Hamilton to the Sookie Stackhouse author to Twilight, that her story of "I want to shag a vampire; let me list the reasons..." is kind of lost on audiences at this point. Even though she was kind of the well-spring of all that, it's going to come across as cliche. And then there's shows that deal with vampires but are not vampire-based, which is probably how a series in the "Vampire Chronicles" is going to be. We've had Being Human, Midnight Texas, Preacher, Dracula, and the list goes on and on. There's dozens upon dozens of these kinds of knock-offs.

Hey...Fuller worked some magic with Hannibal (the television series), so maybe he can work some magic with Anne Rice's chronicles. I'll certainly be giving him the benefit of the doubt, but I won't be surprised if it fails.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

At brunch this weekend I dropped the mic by saying that the Last Jedi was controversial.

Picture courtesy of this video cast HERE
My friend Meg holds a Sunday brunch. She loves to cook, and there's lots of opinionated people who attend said brunch. Sometimes they talk about breast pumps. At other times they talk about their own personal oppression or #metoo. This week I didn't realize that I'd dropped a bomb when I said, "The Last Jedi was a controversial film."

"How so?" asked Jessica. "I saw it with Tim, and I didn't like it but I don't like Star Wars." Tim just giggled. So I was put on the spot.

"Luke Skywalker was a great hero. He went from a no-nothing farm boy to the destroyer of the Death Star, he became a Jedi Knight, and he redeemed Darth Vader to the light side of the force. That act in itself was responsible for Emperor Palpatine's death at Darth Vader's hands...arguably the only person who could have done that in the entire galaxy. So he went from that to a fear-driven hermit who tried to kill his own nephew. People are upset."

"What?!?" piped in Shae (another guest at the brunch). "I don't get that! I saw the film too. Haven't people ever heard of PTSD? Veterans who went out and fought in wars return home, and they can't handle what they've seen and become crackpots and hermits? Has no one ever seen this, because I know I sure have!"

That's when I say, "Those strong feelings that you have about the film? That's what makes it controversial."

Shae continues to say, "I think people need to spend more time around veterans and appreciate the sacrifices they gave to our country. Then they wouldn't be so free to criticize a war hero like Luke Skywalker."

At which point I say, "Look...I get that the film resonated with you, but Star Wars is fiction. It's a space opera. They have explosions that make sound in outer space. They travel faster than light. There's a magical thing called 'The Force.' Maybe a realistic portrayal of PTSD as suffered by veterans who fought in wars is not what some audience members paid for when they bought a ticket."

This of course stuns Shae into silence. Voices around the table ask me, "Well how did you like it?" I say, "I didn't particularly care for it. The Last Jedi was a depressing film."

"Depressing because it's realistic?" someone asked.

"Maybe. I don't want my Star Wars to be realistic. I want to be swept away by plot holes and fantasy." That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, a dozen arguments ensue just on that one point, and there are many bones to pick with The Last Jedi. Another controversy? Rose. Apparently, she was "frumpy" for a hero and the romance between her and Finn was incredibly forced. A third controversy? How about Rey coming from nothing and no one.

Ladies and gentlemen...if you haven't heard...The Last Jedi is a controversial film. is. It divided the fan base like Moses parted the Red Sea. And that's all I got to say about that.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Why does Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong not have a prequel?

I was watching King Kong this weekend, the Peter Jackson version, which is overly long yet asks of the viewer a ton of questions...and I started to think to myself why there is no prequel to this movie/story? Seriously. We live in an age where there are prequels to everything. There are prequels to the X-Men story started by Bryan Singer (both on television and in the movies). There are Star Wars prequels as everyone well knows, and there are prequels to Batman (Gotham anyone?) as well as one that's planned for Lord of the Rings (recently announced by Amazon if I understand the news correctly). Star Trek the original series? Check for prequel. Raiders of the Lost Arc? Yup. Young Indiana Jones.

Look...King Kong has an audience. There are all kinds of people who are into kaiju, and the huge gorilla story is a really good one. But just set your criticisms aside for a moment and think of the possibilities of good television ala Game of Thrones quality or some movie wherein the timeline of King Kong is rewound a thousand years and the following questions are answered:

1) Who built the wall before the island started to sink? What was this great civilization like? I doubt it had anything to do with the savages that lived there in the 1930's version of the film.

2) Was the civilization a stand alone or did it have competitors? Was the island part of a larger continent that sunk beneath the waves? Did it trade with other civilizations like Rome or China (which would have been great at the time)?

3) How cool would it be to see the whole lost world aspect brought to the screen? Maybe there's an explanation as to the effect that creates the permanent mist around the island. Maybe there's a reason why the compass goes haywire there.

When I think about the possibilities of unmined story that are the essence of King Kong, I think that it's tragic that no one is looking into a prequel for this stuff. In the least, it could be a really interesting segway into some Cthulhu-esque territory of Great Old Ones and strange cities populated by beings not from this dimension who built cities using geometry that was very non-euclidean. At the most, it could be a fantastic setting for stories that depict the rise and fall of a great empire trying to protect itself via magic and technology from gargantuan creatures some of whom they worship as gods.

Anyway...just an that I felt was worth sharing.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Greatest Showman is a movie that I think will give you joy if you just allow it to hoodwink you into the musical story of P.T. Barnum.

For me, the surprising movie hit of December that seemed to come out of nowhere was The Greatest Showman. If you haven't seen it, the movie is remarkable on several levels, and for me and my friends that went with me (twice in fact) it's one of those "feel good" shows that just leaves you in a kind of wonder as you leave the theater. You can't help but want to talk about it, and if you happen to have a good sound system in your car, download the soundtrack to listen to on the drive home (I love you Spotify).

Reflecting on the whole experience, I suppose it is an apt tribute to the man that was P.T. Barnum. I know nothing of Barnum's actual life, except for a few quotes that are so famous that practically everyone has heard of them. "A Sucker's born every minute." That's one that I can think of right off the top of my head, and it wasn't in the film. However true or not true this telling of the circus showman is, I think its spirit was on point to what most of us feel about Barnum: that this rags to riches story is ultimately about what a guy can do who has legendary amounts of charisma and a way of seeing strangeness in a different light.

I recently became recaptured by the allure of the circus and carnival, because I picked up a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes written by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury's language is incredible as he describes two main characters in the book and sets the stage for events to come:

"So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.
     No not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze. But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began."

Just read the above passage and you can't help but get sucked into the story. What does the salesman with all that ironmongery want with the boys? Where does he come from? What's his business in Green Town? And there's a bit of foreboding there too with the placement of the word "wrong."

P.T. Barnum says something in the movie that made me think of this passage in particular. While trying to secure a loan to start up his "museum of oddities" he tells the loan officer that people are fascinated with the macabre...with things that are "wrong." We tend to stare at them, and he's absolutely right. We still do. Think of the traffic that builds up on the interstate when someone gets into a fender bender...all the gapers and gawkers staring out the window to see if they can spot a dead body.

And ultimately, the salesman in Bradbury's iconic story was probably channeled from P.T. Barnum, or at least what we have all come to know of him as a kind of collective conscience. In one poignant scene talking to a woman with an incredible voice, Hugh Jackman says (as P.T. Barnum), "People come to my shows to get hoodwinked, but just once I'd like to offer them something real." In my opinion, that's what the movie does best. With songs that are definitely not from the era (they would feel perfect on stage at The Voice) and written/put together by the creative geniuses behind La La Land, I think that if you allow it, the movie is capable of hoodwinking anyone into believing that a musical set to modern pop songs is indeed the perfect medium to explore a showman's life. This is from elephants to trapeze artists and to the persecuted freaks who get into a fight with bigots that ends up being so awful, it ends up burning down the building in which they perform. I think this is at the root of the tremendous split on Rotten Tomatoes, which has the critic score for this film as low, yet the audience satisfaction score is high. It is the opposite of what you saw with The Last Jedi, and quite frankly, I enjoyed The Greatest Showman much much more. The Greatest Showman entertained me, whereas The Last Jedi left me feeling depressed.

The Greatest Showman is a movie that I think will give you joy if you just allow it to hoodwink you. And I think you should do just that and go and see it in theaters now. That is all :).